You Know You're Over 40 When…

You Can Help Your Twentysomething Teammates In A Music Quiz

pub_quiz_cartoon

It was enough to strike fear in the heart of any fortysomething.

It was a work night out.

But this time, I was game. Because this work night out was a pub quiz.

Like any normal person, I enjoy pub quizzes. And like any normal person, I never organise myself or others enough to actually go to any pub quizzes. So while enforced fun – a work night out – is, in some ways, this fortysomething British person’s idea of hell, I don’t mind it if the fun being enforced is something which I am too lazy to enforce upon myself.

So there we were: my colleagues and I, about 35 of us in total, in a basement bar off Oxford Street hired for our exclusive use that night. There we sat, with our free drinks and free sharing plates – two things designed to make us talk and mingle with That Person Who Works In That Other Department Doing That Job Which You Don’t Fully Understand (which they did – I found myself reaching for cheesy nachos at the same time as That Nice Chap Who Does Design Stuff) – while the quiz masters quizzed us. Masterfully.

As far as I’m concerned, the only thing better than a pub quiz is the music round of a pub quiz – so imagine my delight when it turned out that this pub quiz was devoted entirely to music. Every round was a case of Name That Tune, if Name That Tune involved playing a song long enough for you to hear the chorus (and therefore usually the title), and didn’t involve people buzzing in when they could, in fact, name that tune.

Which probably makes it sound easier than it was.

I didn’t find the Noughties or the Nineties rounds that easy. But fortunately, four out of my five teammates were in their twenties, so they did. When it comes to Noughties music especially, I realise that it’s simply a case of me either not being familiar with the song in question, or being vaguely familiar with it, in the sense that I heard it once when I was walking around Primark but couldn’t tell you the title or the artist. (Similarly, I know the names of plenty of current pop stars and bands, but couldn’t name or sing a single tune by them – but I suspect that’s a subject for another You Know You’re Over 40 When… post).

But I knew I would come into my own. And that it would be during the Seventies and Eighties music rounds.

And sure enough, when those came along, my fellow fortysomething teammate David/Dave and I metaphorically rolled up our sleeves, took the pen and answer sheets, and prepared to do our worst. And by worst, I do of course mean best. Because a) we didn’t want to let our teammates down and b) as two of the oldest people in the room (my colleagues are, to a – young – man, in their 20s and 30s), I’m sure that we subconsciously wanted to show The Kids that old people do have a use, even if that use is only Seventies and Eighties music rounds in pub quizzes. Of course, I say ‘we’ but I can’t speak for David/Dave. Hell, I don’t even know what to call him. We’re pretty pally and he’s a nice bloke in his forties, so both of these things would indicate that he’s a ‘Dave’. And yet we’re not friends, as such, and he uses David in his work email address – both things which would make one err towards calling him ‘David’. As a result, I am permanently slightly terrified that if I call him ‘Dave’ I have overstepped a line of over-familiarity; but if I use ‘David’ I am being overly formal. Naturally, being British, I am most terrified of the former. I would rather David/Dave thought ‘Why doesn’t Andrea called me Dave?’ than ‘I wish Andrea would stop calling me Dave’.

But back to the pub quiz. Where, having played our joker on the Nineties music round, our team are comfortably, nay, smugly ahead; and where the Seventies and Eighties – aka the Fortysomething’s Specialist Music Rounds – are about to take place, and thus music-lovers David/Dave and I are about to be carried aloft on the shoulders of our younger colleagues.

The Seventies round included tracks by Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and other people not called Bob, such as Buggles. The Eighties one saw the likes of A-ha, The Human League and Bon Jovi – and the fact that the quiz masters played each song for so long was an utter delight, as our table sang and half-danced along to every track, easily the loudest and seemingly most joyous team, partly because we were comfortably in the lead, and partly because we were drunk. The fact that David/Dave is slightly older than me, and thus has older/darker/maler music tastes than me, meant that we complimented each other perfectly – him leaping on The Jam, me leaping up on hearing Flashdance.

But while the beers and questions flowed, the night was to hold two unfortunate surprises.

One: we didn’t win. Despite having been ahead – and despite David/Dave and I being utterly confident in our answers – somewhere in between the second gin and tonic and fourth beer, somewhere in between the sharing plate of pitta with hummous and the sharing plate of nachos with cheese, something went wrong. We have no idea what. It would unfortunately appear that despite being over 40, I can still be guilty of an over-confidence one would associate with the young. That said, being over 40, I managed to console myself pretty quickly because I no longer sweat the small stuff in quite the way that I used to. Plus I’d had free nachos.

Two: the quiz masters named the Fifties/Sixties round the ‘Grandma and Grandpa’s Music round’. Yes, any pop music quiz which has rounds devoted to decades is bound to make any fortysomething with almost universally twenty- and thirty-something colleagues acutely aware of their age (and not necessarily in a bad way – we’d had a blast and our knowledge was definitely appreciated). But the assumption that the music of the Fifties and Sixties is what your grandparents listened to makes you acutely aware not just of your age but that you are living in a world where, rather like the one in The Truman Show, everything may look just as it always has, but occasionally you’ll notice that things have slightly shifted; that things aren’t quite as you feel they should be – because they’ve changed, despite you feeling unchanged.

Or to put it another way: you know you’re over 40 when the pub quiz masters are clearly much, much younger than you.

You Would Always Prefer To Be Sitting Down

baby badge 2

There’s been a lot of talk in the so-called media recently about standing up for pregnant women. Not so much in the figurative, let’s-go-on-a-march-in-support-of-pregnant-women, sort of way (“What do we want?” “A realistic portrayal of pregnancy in the so-called media! Also: a good night’s sleep, especially in the third trimester.”) but in the literal sense. Literally standing up for pregnant women. So that they can sit down in the seat we were hitherto occupying.

I can sympathise with their plight. Not pregnancy – that’s not so much a plight as a blessing/condition, plus I’ve never been pregnant (ah, ‘Never Been Pregnant’: the sequel to Drew Barrymore’s charming romantic comedy ‘Never Been Kissed’! Still unsure as to why that never got greenlit; a journalist going undercover at an ante-natal group is surely COMEDY GOLD. Note to self: write this screenplay).

No, I sympathise because I, too, would like people to give their seats up for me. Because I am over 40.  Which is, quite possibly, a plight.

Is this ageist? No. For it is simply a fact of life that, at this age, my knees aren’t what they were (nor are my legs, to be honest, but that’s more a vanity issue). Is it sexist? Again, no. Because I can guarantee that most men over the age of 40 would prefer to be sitting down, too. Louis CK, in fact, has a routine about this. His desire to always be seated is so strong that, given the choice between sitting down and having sex standing up, he would choose sitting down. (And to clarify the headline of this blog post: I mean that I would always prefer to be sitting down than standing up. I wouldn’t necessarily prefer to be sitting down than lying down. Especially if that lying down involves sex. Sex standing up, however? I’m with Louis.)

I am now, for example, secretly happy when I log on to book tickets for a gig and all the standing tickets have sold out, thus forcing me to buy seated ones. Like a hunting animal in a David Attenborough documentary or Dustin Hoffman looking at a box of spilled matches in ‘Rain Man’, I have a speed-of-light ability to zoom in on the free seat/s available on a train (a skill honed by years of commuting on overland trains into central London). And I feel a tiny twinge of pain any time I suggest to my boyfriend – who, importantly for the sake of this anecdote, is 13 years younger than me – that we sit down on the Tube and he says: “We can stand, it’s only a few stops.” IT’S NOT ‘ONLY A FEW STOPS’ WHEN YOU’RE OVER 40. It’s the difference between life and… a not-quite-as-comfortable life (ah, ‘It’s A Not-Quite-As-Comfortable Life’! The sequel to…). And if there’s just one seat free in said Tube carriage, my boyfriend will always insist that I have it – partly because he’s a very selfless person, and partly because he understands the needs of his lazy, over-40 girlfriend. And while I hate to not be standing next to him and thus able to easily talk to him, this hate, I must admit, is more than made up for by the joy brought on by THE MERE ACT OF SITTING DOWN. Plus the fact that I now have his crotch at eye-level. Silver linings.

Of course, there are times when I stand. As I say, I have commuted into central London for years now – ninety per cent of the time, I have no choice but to stand. Also, I have a desk job, so there are times that I appreciate that I should stand – that indeed it is preferable to stand – because I’m sitting on my 40-something arse for 40-something hours a week. In fact, as a result of being fed up of sitting on said arse for so long (you can have too much of a good thing) I have been known on occasion to want to stand.  But there’s still a difference between wanting something and preferring it. I want a nice two-bedroom house in Brockley, for example, but I’d prefer a three-bedroom one.

All this said: no matter how much I weep with joy at the bagging of a vacant Tube seat, like the last eight-year-old left standing/sitting, at the end of a particularly hard-fought game of musical chairs, I would, of course, give up my seat for a pregnant woman, or an elderly person. I’m not a monster, you know. I’m just over 40.

dog on trainThis pooch? Over 40 in dog years.

(photo: ihopeyourbagiscomfortableasshole.tumblr.com)

You Like The Same Music As The Prime Minister

FRANCE-BRITAIN-DIPLOMACY-HOLLANDE-CAMERON

They say that you know you’re getting older when the policemen start looking younger. Or as I will no doubt be putting it at some point: You know you’re over 40 when… the policemen start looking younger. And the doctors. And teachers. In fact, just about anyone in a position of authority.

Similarly, when you’re in your 40s, the Prime Ministers also start getting younger (as well as pluralised: the only thing worse than a Prime Minister getting younger? ALL the Prime Ministers getting younger). Yes, once you’re over 40, your leader is now statistically more likely to be the same age as you. Or at least the age gap between you is lessening. There was quite a gulf between me and Mrs Thatcher, for example – I was eight when she became Prime Minister, and as a result, I couldn’t relate to her very well. Chiefly because she wasn’t by all accounts a ‘pony person’.

But now? Now, I am 42 and our Prime Minister is 46. So I really shouldn’t be all that surprised that he and I share similar musical tastes. Although naturally I was surprised, and by ‘surprised’ I do of course mean ‘filled with a sense of disappointment bordering on horror’.

I imagine it was different in The Old Days. I doubt it was much of a surprise/disappointment/feeling bordering on horror – or quite such an indicator of the ageing process – to like the same music as the Prime Minister in, say, the 18th century. Back then, everyone listened to Music From The Old Days – or as it is known in some circles, ‘classical’ music – so your only sense of connection (or sign of age) would presumably come from liking the same classical music as the Prime Minister. I hear, for example, that Pitt the Younger was a sucker for a bit of Scarlatti.

That said, I’m sure that all our modern Prime Ministers have enjoyed classical music, too. Posh people tend to. And, modern or not, all British Prime Ministers are posh.

But back to current times – where the only thing worse than liking the same music as the Prime Minister is that the Prime Minister in question is David Cameron. Being reminded once again that I am now at an age where I could be ruling the country, but am instead mainly writing blog posts and watching cat videos, is galling enough. But, as a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal egghead communist, learning that I share these tastes with Cameron is the icing on the cake that the Tories think the peasants should eat (while sitting in front of their massive TVs).

It’s only appropriate that I discovered this horrifying news through the most horrifying of channels, of course. The Daily Mail. It was this article which revealed Cameron’s musical tastes (and penchant for making pancakes of a weekend), and the first name that leapt out at me was First Aid Kit.

First Aid Kit are a wonderful duo who sound like they were born a) in the Sixties and b) in California, despite being a) in their 20s and b) from Stockholm. And I’ll be frank: the only thing more irksome than discovering that the Camerons like them (Sam is particularly keen, apparently) is guessing that they’re fans in exactly the same way that I am. I’ve listened to one First Aid Kit song over and over again, and their album a few times, but I’ve never checked out their full back catalogue or seen them live. I just know the Camerons are fans in this way too, ie. barely fans at all. I can’t even rise above them on this front.

But if the First Aid Kit revelation was a blow, the following extract was the knockout:

“Mr Cameron revealed his musical ‘guilty pleasure’ was listening to Bruce Springsteen.

Mrs Cameron ‘doesn’t like The Boss’ so he can only listen to him when she is away.

In 1985 he queued for hours to see Springsteen in France in ‘one of those concerts that went on for four hours.

‘That was my guilty pleasure. I queued for hours and I was right at the front and I just thought he was fantastic.

‘So, when Samantha is not around there is a little bit of Dancing in the Dark or something like that, or, Born in the USA, so that is my guilty…but actually I like his stuff like Nebraska and all the rather grim dark stuff, so that is my guilty pleasure I suppose.’”

As readers of this blog will know, I adore Bruce Springsteen. The man, the music, the person whose track Wrecking Ball has been covered so spectacularly by Miley Cyrus that it sounds like a completely different song. And so my thought process on reading the passage above went something like this:

1. David Cameron likes Bruce Springsteen. This is awful. Bruce is far too amazing to be appreciated by David Cameron.

2. David Cameron likes Bruce Springsteen. This is good. Bruce is amazing, and I’d like everyone to know and appreciate his music.

3. Except perhaps David Cameron.

4. Samantha Cameron doesn’t like Bruce Springsteen. Good. This gives me one more legitimate reason not to like the Camerons.

5. David Cameron thinks that liking Bruce Springsteen is a “guilty pleasure”. Good. This means I can go back to hating David Cameron again, and the world is in its rightful state once more.

Yes, with Cameron’s stupid, falsely self-deprecating statement – “that is my guilty pleasure” – balance was once again restored in the universe. To like a musician so much that you queue for hours to see him but at the same time be unable to wear your love for that music with pride – to feel that you can’t be seen to enjoy it without a veil of irony – is bad enough. But to do this about Bruce Springsteen, a man with more talent, smarts and empathy in his guitar-picking finger than Cameron has in his pancake-eating body, is staggering. And yet, of course, not. This is David Cameron.

May I suggest, Prime Minister, that the only thing you should feel guilty about is that, while listening to “that grim, dark stuff” of Springsteen’s, you don’t seem to understand its message (here are two handy links for you). Perhaps if you did, you wouldn’t dumb it down as a guilty pleasure – and, slightly more importantly, you wouldn’t be so inclined to push through policies that hit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. If you want to feel guilty about something, may I suggest that it’s that – and not listening to ‘Nebraska’? Just a thought. Now, back to First Aid Kit: I’ve got an entire back catalogue to work through…

A 75-Year-Old Hits On You

Cala GaldanaThe view from our holiday apartment on a non–rainy day

It was Sunday, the last-but-one day of our holiday in Cala Galdana (the only resort in Menorca to rhyme with ‘have a banana’), and for the first time in the entire stay, it rained. Constantly, steadily, from the moment we woke.  As I stood on our balcony and felt the washing we’d put out – which, also for the first time, wasn’t drier than it had been the night before but wetter – I looked out at the grey clouds hanging over the sea in the near-distance. A sea that was now opaque grey rather than clear turquoise. As if someone had drained Mediterranean overnight and replaced it with the English Channel. And then added pedalos.

All the Spaniards had packed up their tiny niños, tiny bikinis and even tinier Speedos and left the resort the previous day. And just ike that, overnight, the weather had turned. Clearly, this rain was proof – along with Penélope Cruz  – that God is Spanish.

But I didn’t mind all this too much. In fact, none of us did. The only thing more comforting to a British person than a cup of tea is crappy weather. A week of unfettered sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s, while glorious, is frankly disconcerting to an Englishman. Bad weather in the Balearics is thus, in some ways, the perfect compromise. The grey skies are less misery-inducing, because you know they’ll pass soon enough; and the temperatures that accompany them are still several notches higher than those you’d experience in England. You can forgo a day at the beach or a day by the swimming pool because, frankly, you’re not really used to spending the day at a beach or a day by a swimming pool. No – endless sunshine is just too easy, and we Brits don’t like things being easy. Slightly inconvenient or downright difficult? Yes. Easy? No. Show me an Englishman who’s listened to The Eagles’ famous song, and I’ll show you an Englishman who’s failed to take its core message on board.

As a result of the weather, it was, finally, a day I felt that I could go for a run and not end up like the classic cartoon man in a desert – dishevelled, bearded and crawling towards an oasis he thinks he can see up ahead – and so I did. And I didn’t, indeed, end up like such a man. Mainly because I don’t have a beard. I was, however, dishevelled, returning to our apartment like a wet, horribly out-of-breath dog whose owner (me) had taken it (me) out for a too-long, too-fast walk in the rain.

After my run, and a hugely enjoyable game of Catan (which had been packed for such a day like this, and which you really should play if you never have), we Brits abroad – me, my boyfriend and our Holiday Chums Simon and Zoe – did what all good Brits abroad do on a rainy afternoon: head down to a local bar. Because if you can’t hang out by a pool, you can at least have a game of one.

Cala GaldanaIf Carlsberg Estrella did pool bars

We’d been to this bar before – not just because it had a pool table but also because it possessed, for me, an important, nay vital, asset. Namely, rattan sofas. You can plonk me anywhere, and as long as it’s on a rattan sofa, I’ll be happy. (When on a trip to Homebase, B&Q or any outdoor furniture emporium during the summer months, this is the equivalent of leaving me in a crèche.) As a result, sitting on a rattan sofa in a bar in the Mediterranean with a cerveza in my hand is like dying and going to heaven. And further proof that God is Spanish.

So there we were, hanging out and playing a game of pool badly, as was our wont. Or at least my, Frank and Zoe’s wont – Simon is rather more skilled at the sport, due to many a happy (or as he would probably put it: unhappy) hour spent at JFK’s pool bar in Peckham. Never was the phrase ‘pot luck’ more appropriate than when Frank, Zoe or I sank a ball.

And this fact didn’t go unnoticed by a white-haired, large-bellied gentleman in a pink shirt, who came to watch us play.

At first, he simply stood, leaning against one of the pillars that was keeping the indoor-slash-outdoor pool area roof up, and us (and the rattan furniture) dry. Stood, leant and watched.

An unspoken unease ran through all four of us. No one had simply leant against a pillar – a pillar too close to our pool table for comfort – and watched us play before.

Then he said: “Are you trying not to pot any?”

Because he was English, of course. Because we were in Cala Galdana – a place where there were more Brits than Spaniards. Especially since the canny Spaniards had all buggered off the day before.

We did the British thing of sort-of-acknowledging him, sort-of-ignoring him. But then I started to feel that it was perhaps rude to ignore, or rather sort-of-ignore, him. And apart from anything else, I actually rather wanted to talk to him. As we’ve already established earlier in this blog, I actively like talking to strangers these days. So I found his presence interesting. We four had only had each other for company for a week, so a stranger spiced things up a little. Plus, he had grey hair. And looked a bit like Roy Hodgson. How harmful could he be? Probably no more harmful than your average England football coach.

“Are you staying in Cala Galdana?” I asked him.

“Yes – just over there.” He pointed to the group of apartments just across the courtyard, each with regulation white walls, green shutters and brown tiled patios. “My wife’s just getting ready for the evening. Thought I’d pop out for a wander.”

“Having a nice holiday?”

“Oh yes. We’ve come here before. We do a lot of travelling.  I’m 75…”

He looked at me, eyebrows ever so slightly raised, as if this last fact demanded some response. A very specific response. Which was clearly meant to be “Nooooo! Really?! You don’t look it!”

But I wasn’t going to give him that response. Partly because he was seeking it, and partly because it reminded me of elderly people on TV when I was growing up, who always seemed to get a round of applause on quiz shows or That’s Life or whatever when they said how old they were. They don’t do it so much now (as far as I know – I don’t really watch quiz shows and That’s Life hasn’t been on for years), presumably because people live longer these days and so reaching old age isn’t quite the achievement it was back in the ‘80s. Regardless, I never quite understood it as a child. Perhaps I will when I’m 75 and go around telling complete strangers how old I am, pausing for effect… or even better, a round of applause.

I also didn’t give him the response he was seeking because I just looked at him thought: you’re two years younger than my dad. I wish my dad was well enough to go travelling like you do. Poor dad. Lucky you.

Indeed, I almost replied “You’re the same age as my dad!” – but I instinctively knew that he wouldn’t want me to say this. After all, he’d chosen to come and chat to us as he clearly saw us as (almost) equals. He probably didn’t want to be reminded of his age, despite, ironically, being the one who’d brought it up.

So he gave himself the response he wanted anyway. “Yes, I’m still very lively…”

I attempted to pot a ball. I missed.

“Bit of a shame about the weather, isn’t it?” I said, changing the subject.

“Yes…” he held his hand up, as if to catch some of the falling rain. Which didn’t come, because we were under cover.

“But still, makes it nice and cool,” I added breezily. “I went for a run in it this morning!”

And then it happened.

He looked at my bare legs.

“Athletic, are you?” he asked. And I confess to you, dear reader, that he asked it in a not unlascivious manner.

One of two things happened just then, I told myself. He either meant to surreptitiously look at my legs without me noticing – or he looked at my legs in that way very blatantly and deliberately. Given my appalling powers of observation (trust me, I’m 42, I know these things about myself. I’m observant like that), the very fact that even I noticed how he ran his eyes up and down my legs means that he did it very deliberately. Which somehow made it even worse. Because it was intentionally flirtatious.

A 75 year-old man was flirting with me.

Until this moment, it had been a perfectly harmless chat with a perfectly friendly stranger. But now, as a result of leg-gate, he was a little too friendly for my liking.

So naturally, I addressed what I felt was an inappropriate, unwanted advance from a man I’d only just met.

“Erm… no… I… erm… not really! I just go for the occasional run! I hate gyms!”

I took a swig of cerveza. And continued to play pool, my companions clearly slightly relieved that I was engaging this man in conversation so they didn’t have to. And I changed the subject again.

And after we’d established that he was from Kent, and that he and his wife used to work as London tour guides before they retired, and that he claimed to know the part of London I was from, he started to make a move. Thankfully not on me, but towards his holiday apartment.

“Better head back to the wife. She’ll be wondering where I am!”

“Great. Have a lovely rest of your holiday!” I chirruped, feeling the relief running through my body… or at least my athletic legs.

And just like that, he disappeared into the night. Or rather: the rain.

Would he have come and talked to us if we were in our 20s? I very much doubt it. Would he have remarked on my athletic legs if I was in my 20s? Again, unlikely.

But now, at my age, it appears that I am fair game to a ‘lively’ elderly man. Which I wouldn’t mind if it the man in question was Clint Eastwood or Alan Alda – both of whom are, I’m sure, far too gentlemanly to blatantly stare at the legs of a woman they’ve just met as if they’re a starving cartoon animal hallucinating about steaks.

Will I have to run quickly past old people’s homes in future? Who knows. But thank goodness I have the athletic legs to do so, should the need arise.

Cala GaldanaThe courtyard by the pool bar/An Eagles album cover

The MTV Video Music Awards Are No Longer For You

*Note: by ‘you’ I do of course mean ‘me’

Now, in all honesty, the MTV Video Music Awards probably weren’t for you (me) in your (my) thirties, either. But if anything was needed to reassure me further of this fact, it was the sight of this year’s VMAs.

I say ‘sight of’ but of course I didn’t watch it at the time, not being a) American or b) 16. I caught up with clips and GIFs and photos not even the following day but the day after, being a) British (it was a Bank Holiday weekend) and b) 42. I wasn’t chomping at the bit to know exactly what had gone down – as I believe The Kids say – at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards and could quite happily wait until I was back in work on Tuesday. Because apart from anything else, my job involves me knowing – and being surrounded by people talking and writing about – what’s going on in the world, whether that’s the Middle East or an awards show. (Also: cat videos.) This means that I tend to have a slight knowledge of a lot of things, as opposed to a deep knowledge of several. As a result, I would make a terrible Newsnight guest, but, I hope, a good person to have at a dinner party, as long as I could keep the conversation flowing. If someone were to ask me to explain the intricate, complex details of the crisis in Syria or The Only Way Is Essex, I would have to make my excuses and grab another vol-au-vent. Or whatever it is they serve at dinner parties these days. I don’t know. It’s been a while since I went to one, as all my friends have children.

And speaking of children: back to the MTV VMAs. Watching The Artist Formerly Known As Hannah Montana shaking her bottom and sticking out her tongue, watching Lady Gaga strutting around in a G-string and a shell bra, watching the audience scream for N’Sync… all these things made me feel old. And while I’m aware that saying something ‘made me feel old’ usually has negative connotations, I don’t mean it in that way. It simply made me realise that I am most definitely far, far older than the VMAs target audience. I am most definitely over 40 because…

1.    Billy Ray Cyrus holds more cultural significance for me than Miley Cyrus
Can I name a Miley Cyrus song? No. Can I sing along to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’? Most certainly yes.

2.    Watching Miley Cyrus prancing around being sexually provocative in underwear slightly fascinates me – I’m only human – but it doesn’t shock me
Instead, it simply reminds me of this. Which is why I wrote this.

3.    I see Miley Cyrus twerking with Robin Thicke and think of her as a daughter I want to protect and him as a dirty old man
He’s 36, so he’s pretty much of my generation, and thus should know better, frankly. Pop stars, honestly. I also realise Miley is of course an adult and can do what she likes (she’s 20) – but I am old enough to be her mother. Which means I’m old enough to have married Billy Ray Cyrus. Which, frankly, feels odd. Moving swiftly on…

4.    I understand what ‘twerking’ is but have no interest in it
In this sense, I am old, but not yet John Humphreys. If this blog was called ‘You know you’re over 60 when…’ the title of this post would be ‘…you don’t know what twerking is’. Fortunately, I am young enough to know that it’s The Latest Craze (see also: Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake) but will happily let my knowledge rest there. Like I say: a little knowledge about a lot of things. This would be dangerous if only it wasn’t mainly things like ‘twerking’.

5.   I understand who Robin Thicke is but have no interest in him
And I think it’s a shame that ‘Blurred Lines’ has such horrendous lyrics because it actually has quite a nice melody line. And nothing appeals to an Eighties child like quite a nice melody line.

6.    I look at Harry Styles and Taylor Swift being all rude/coy/mean with each other and think “Ah, teenagers!”
Wait. They are teenagers, right?

7.    N’Sync reuniting means nothing to me
As per no. 5. above, I’m an Eighties child, not a Nineties one. I would only get excited if Bucks Fizz were reuniting. (NOTE TO BUCKS FIZZ MANAGEMENT: PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.)

8.    I am still slightly shocked that people just step out in clothes like this
How on earth did One Direction know where to look? Plus, she’ll catch her death.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Backstage

If I was to add a number 8 to that list, it would be this: that I realise the more things change, the more they stay the same. I may be surprised by Lady Gaga’s G-string (and note: I am not disapproving of it. I can’t abide the way some women criticise and patronise Rihanna/Gaga/Beyonce et al for their clothing/performances/photoshoots. This is, to my mind, slut-shaming, and we can’t lament teenage boys calling girls sluts if we, grown women, are doing it too) – but I also know that it’s been done before, a million times over. From girls screaming for Sinatra to girls screaming for One Direction, from Elvis’s pelvis to Britney’s schoolgirl uniform, young people will shock the old and make the establishment feel uncomfortable. That’s their job. Until they have actual jobs.

And as the VMAs proved to me, I am now ‘the old’, the establishment; and I watch a show like this (or at least clips or GIFs of it) feeling like an alien, like someone who is standing outside of something. I sort of get it… but that’s the whole point. I’m old enough to be the target audience’s parent – I’m not supposed to completely get it. And that’s just as it should be.

The VMAs has always been America’s version of the Brits: a popularity contest that rewards how many products have been shifted that year, and a live show that tends to be memorable for its shocking and/or car-crash moments. As a result, as an over-40-year-old, it is of course my duty to not take it too seriously, and to realise that I should leave it to The Kids. Maybe next year I actually will.

You’re Less Of A D*ck Than You Used To Be

(Note: The word asterisked above is not ‘duck’. Nobody is less of a duck than they used to be when they’re over 40, except perhaps ducks, because they don’t live to that sort of age. By definition, if you’re a duck that’s over 40, you’re likely to be dead, and thus you are indeed less of a duck than you used to be. 100% less of one.)

In his recent speech to students graduating from Syracuse University, the writer George Saunders said many wise, funny, beautifully written things. But two points particularly leapt out at me as I read it (and ah, if I’d only been a young person hearing it!). Firstly, Saunders essential point, the speech’s main message, which was this:

“Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

He goes on to note that to do just that – to be kind – “is hard”. And that brings me (or rather, him) to the second point:

“One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.”

As I read those words (overlooking such glaring spelling errors as ‘favor’ and ‘defense’), I nodded. Because Saunders had expressed something which I had noticed in myself.

Namely: that I am less of a dick than I used to be.

I was having dinner last week with a friend who’s a year younger than me; and she spoke about the time her dad went through something similar to what my dad is experiencing right now. My friend was 25 when it happened and admitted to me: “I couldn’t cope with it back then”. The implication being that she could cope with it – or at least have a better understanding of it, and a different response to it – now. Now that she’s older.

I told her I felt exactly the same way about my response to my father’s illness.

Because as I sit here back at my childhood home caring for my dad, like the lead in a Zach Braff movie whose soundtrack is not hipster indie bands but BBC Midlands Today, I realise I am, simply put, a better person than I used to be in my 20s, or even my 30s. George Saunders is right: I find it easier to not only show but to genuinely feel kindness; easier to be caring and more tolerant; easier to put myself second or even third (not fourth, though. I have my limits). Could I have coped with my father’s illness in my 20s? Possibly. But it would have been just that – coping, and probably barely so – rather than genuinely dealing with it. I would undoubtedly have found it harder to be open and loving and kind (and just as importantly: brutally honest); and I probably would have been getting blind drunk far more often.

I’m not saying that I was a total dick (or a total drunk) when I was in my 20s and 30s – nor that I am some sort of saint now. But I know that I have a better idea of what’s important now, and different priorities. Better priorities, I hope. I value kindness and sweetness in others more than I’ve ever done, for example; plus their ability to mix a good martini. This would have been unheard of in my 20s, largely because I didn’t drink martinis. Back then, I would have admired someone’s ability to mix a good tape (still a quality I would admire, to be fair, not least because of their initiative at getting their hands on a cassette tape).

Not so long ago on Brainy Radio (Radio 4), I heard a man talking about his autism. He described how, when he was 17, his stepfather died and he didn’t understand why his mother had to see her late husband’s body before they buried him. He said that this was a sign of his autism – but as I listened to his story (and I don’t mean to deny his take on it in any way; this was simply mine), I thought to myself: ‘That’s not autism, that’s youth’.

When I was 17, my best friend’s mother died. And I’m not proud – indeed, I’m ashamed – of how I dealt with this awful event. Because I didn’t deal with it at all. I didn’t know how to deal with it. Because I was young.

But now, to paraphrase Maya Angelou: I would know better, so I would do better. And one of the many gifts/consolations (delete according to your world view) of getting older is that we hopefully learn what is better. Both for others and ourselves.

Are there plenty of people who are over 40 and still dicks? Of course. Vladimir Putin. Rush Limbaugh. A whole host of others, many of them EDL members. But does anyone become more of a dick than they used to be when they’re over 40? I very much doubt it.

As for becoming more of a duck than you used to be: also very improbable. Just look at the ugly duckling, for example. He turned into a swan.

Kindness-cat-and-ducklingHe may not look it, but this kitten is over 40 years old

People You Remember Being Born Are Now Having Babies

prince george two fingersPrince George shows the paparazzi what he thinks of them

I remember many momentous events from 1982.  Or at least several.

My favourite pop band at the time, Bucks Fizz, scored not one but TWO number one hits, both of which I bought from Woolworths for the princely sum of 99p. A German woman called Nicole won the Eurovision Song Contest with a catchy song called Ein Bißchen Frieden and stunned the world (or at least the European part of it) by singing the encore in English, almost as if she knew she was going to win. I celebrated my 11th birthday – and used some of the money I got to buy a knock-off ‘Fame’ T-shirt from a shop in Wolverhampton – because Fame had hit our television screens that year, and instantly became The Only Thing That Was Better Than Bucks Fizz. In other televisual news, Channel 4 was born – and with it came The Only Thing Almost As Good As Fame, the sitcom Cheers (I like to think I had sophisticated tastes; plus, my mum let me stay up late to watch it). And that summer, I went on a Girl Guide camp, where we followed trails in woods, ate burnt lumpy custard, and heard through the radio the indisputable pop hit of the year (after Bucks Fizz’s singles), Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners. I remember being slightly confused by this song. Why did Kevin Rowland want her to take off her pretty red dress? What did he mean when he said his thoughts verged on dirty? And why did he look like he needed a bath? It was all very strange for an 11-year-old, not least because Dexys were grown adults who wore denim dungarees.

Slightly less confusing, though, was the birth of a baby that year to the pretty Princess Diana. Because she’d got married the year before, and that’s what happens, right?

Yes, in June 1982, Prince William was born. And looking now at pictures of William as a baby, it all comes flooding back. His enormous christening gown. Diana’s enormous shoulder pads. Charles looking completely at ease in his role as a new father:

prince-william-christening

prince-william-charles

When Chuck and Di (as an episode of Cheers once referred to them) left the hospital after the birth of Prince William, Diana was wearing a green polka dot, shoulder-padded smock dress with a large white collar. An unremarkable event, you would think, until its significance became clear last week – when, as Every Single News Outlet In The World pointed out, Prince William’s wife Kate Middleton stepped out in a green polka dot, shoulder-padded smock dress with a large white collar when she left the hospital with their first baby:

1374612594_kate-middleton-prince-william-princess-diana-prince-charles-467Spot the similarity

Sorry, what was that? It’s not the same dress? Silly news outlets!

But I digress. Because, unless you’ve been living under a rock – lucky you! – you may have noticed that The Artist Formerly Known As Princess Diana’s Baby is now a father himself. And yet it doesn’t seem like 31 years ago that he was born and given what seemed at the time a terrifically posh name: William Arthur Philip Louis. He, in turn, has just named his newborn George Alexander Louis, and it’s a sign of the times – or at least the expansion of the middle classes – that ‘George Alexander Louis’ doesn’t seem half as daft or utterly removed from our commoner lives as ‘William Arthur Philip Louis’ did in 1982 (or ‘Henry Charles Albert David’ did in 1984).  Old-fashioned, traditionally upper class names may have become the norm for British babies born in the Noughties – but back in the Eighties, they were the preserve of royalty and the very occasional celebrity. I’ll never forget Tracy Ullman calling her first child ‘Mabel’, for example. It caused consternation, not least because Mabel was a boy.

But now? Now, a ‘George Alexander Louis’ could be the son of pretty much any parent in Britain – and there’s surely no greater evidence of the royals modernising than the fact that William and Kate have decided to give their child a mere three names as opposed to four of five. Hopefully they’ll call their second one Ethan.

Like anyone who’s older than Prince William, I’ve watched him grow up – albeit from a distance because a) I don’t mix in the same circles, b) I don’t care that much about the royals and c) they have extremely tight security. I’ve watched him do all the things an average child would do: go on trips with his parents, start life at university, meet his future wife, appear on stamps.

Yet it doesn’t seem like 31 years ago that he was crawling around, preparing for life as a royal by not doing much. And I feel this incredulity at how quickly the years have flown by whenever I hear that someone who I remember being born – whether that’s a famous person or not – has a baby themselves. But flown they have; and I know that the most likely explanation for this is that time simply passes more quickly as one gets older, because each day/month/year becomes a smaller percentage of the life you’ve lived so far. This phenomenon probably explains why the 1,000 year-old Doctor Who thinks he’s some sort of Time Lord. He’s not. He’s just really, really old.

But aside from that presumably scientific theory, there’s another reason why I feel this way: these people still seem like babies to me because somewhere in my heart, I am still my 11-year-old self. I still like the bubblegum pop I loved back then, after all. And I still dream of attending the New York High School of Performing Arts. But more than this: I still can’t understand why grown-ups would ever choose to wear denim dungarees.

You Start Parenting Your Parents

photo (1)The view from my childhood bedroom

I knew it would happen at some point, of course. But when it did it was still a shock, and terrifically upsetting.

My 77-year-old dad has fallen ill; and I find myself back at my family home caring for him with my mum, sister and brother.

The usual signs of old age became apparent in my parents from their late sixties. Forgetfulness, say, and increasing, then constant, health worries. And although, looking back, one can spot some of the warning signs – as one probably always can – what’s happened to my father still came suddenly, and dramatically.

He’s always been a stoical chap, my dad. Very much a man of his generation, he’s not one for emotional displays or sharing worries. He’s not only held the purse strings but kept them tied very close to his chest. He’s picked us up when the chips have been down. A PE teacher by trade, he loves sport – especially basketball and cricket – and reads and watches the news so avidly that I remember, as a child, growing up in a house where as soon as the BBC teatime news bulletin was over, the TV was switched over to the ITV one; and likewise, the ITV 10 o’clock news was always preceded by the BBC’s 9 o’clock version. (Any time there wasn’t news or sports on, you could normally find him checking both of those things on Ceefax.) Strangely, however, he was never much interested in discussing current affairs or politics. I grew up in a house where news was consumed but never dissected, where (again, fairly typically for his generation) my father would never reveal how he voted.

And although I found it hard to connect with some of these traits when I was growing up – I wasn’t interested in sport, and I was interested in talking about current affairs and emotions – my respect and appreciation for my father has grown and grown over the years. He and my mum have, for example, looked after my eldest, severely learning disabled sister all her life – something which wasn’t the norm for parents of such children in the ‘60s, and which they have done straightforwardly and unquestioningly for 48 years now. My admiration for them for doing this is boundless.

So when a proud, good man such as this is suddenly a shell of himself, suddenly in desperate need of help, it’s not just my – and my brother and other sister’s – instinct to drop everything, but also our duty. This man has looked after us our whole lives, and now it is our turn to look after him. There is something, of course, particularly upsetting in seeing one’s father – the one who most of all has been the strong one, the one to turn to – be so in need of such help. But help is naturally what you do.

And after doing so for just a week so far, my hat goes off to those who care for the elderly on a daily basis. Likewise, I can’t thank the NHS enough for the amazing care my father has received from them. At a time when our health service is in the news for the wrong reasons once again, it feels more important than ever to say: those who work in the NHS so wonderfully, compassionately and effectively, deserve nothing but praise. My father’s treatment has been caring, efficient – and free. And I thank my lucky stars that we live in a country where this is the case.

I knew, as I say, that this would happen at some point in my elderly parents’ lives – that there would come a time when we children would start to look after them. That time is now, and as I sit here typing this in my childhood bedroom (with two old teddy bears staring at me from a shelf), I feel lucky and privileged that I am able to help, and grateful for my amazing siblings. Sitting next to him on the bed the other day, holding his hand, my father said to me: “You’re a good girl”. “That’s because I was well brought up by a good man,” I replied.

dad

Barrie Mann: sports teacher, news-watcher, dad

You Love Talking To Strangers

gardenfence

*American voiceover* Previously on You Know You’re Over 40 When…
In a desperate bid to lose weight and get fit, Andrea has taken up running.
Now read on…

Before I started the Couch To 5k program, I couldn’t run for a bus. Now, 10 weeks later, I can run for 30 minutes straight – and were it not June, I’d be claiming this as some sort of Christmas miracle. It certainly feels like a Derren Brown mind trick – if Derren Brown was a woman called Laura employed by the NHS to talk in my ear and tell me to run over a soundtrack of library music tracks that sound a bit like The Lightning Seeds/U2/Nik Kershaw.

My running route is usually laps of my local park. Because I tend to run in the same location at roughly the same times (weekday evenings around 8pm, since you ask), I do, of course, occasionally see the same people. A lot of these people are the brave souls who take part in the local boot camp fitness groups (there are often two groups in the park simultaneously, in fact, and I am already penning a ‘Dodgeball’-style comedy in my head about the rivalry between them, which will star Owen Wilson and Kristen Wiig as the two instructors). And some of these people are fellow runners. Normally people who can run far better than me, and by that I mean faster and without looking as if they’re about to die.

But there’s one chap who I see more often than others – he would appear to like running on weekday evenings around 8pm, too – and he doesn’t run much better than me. He is middle-aged, stern-faced and he never, ever seems to be enjoying his run.  He looks as if he’s running because someone put a gun to his back, or at least the medical equivalent of that metaphor, ie a doctor put a gun to his back.

I clearly feel an affinity with this fellow because if anyone saw me running they’d probably think that I, too, was doing it under duress (which is true, to a certain extent. I love my runs, but only in the sense of love meaning ‘simultaneously hate and find incredibly difficult’). Plus, I’ve noticed that he a) runs as slowly as humanly possible, like me and b) tends to look at the ground when he’s running, like me.  The latter is a habit I have to constantly haul myself up on – although I realise that no one’s ever shown me how exactly I should be running. Should I be throwing my head back, like the young Sebastian Coe or Ian Charleson playing Eric Liddell in ‘Chariots Of Fire’? Should I run barefoot, like Zola Budd? It’s a minefield. (Note to self: try running like you’re in a minefield.)

I’ve passed my reluctant running friend many times in the park (despite our affinity, one thing we don’t have in common is the direction in which we run). So many times, in fact, that it feels that we should now be reaching the point when we acknowledge each other. With a nod, perhaps, or a raise of the eyebrows. Or a rueful ‘Here we are again, eh?!’ smile. That sort of thing. Hopefully we would build up to “Hello”.

Now, if as a child you were lucky enough to be taken on country walks with your family, as I was, then you’ll no doubt remember the feeling of slight embarrassment when grown-up strangers said “Hello” to each other (coupled with possible confusion: after all, we were explicitly told not to talk to strangers). Like talking about our emotions or not talking about the weather, being friendly to perfect strangers (note to foreign readers: mumbling “Hello” is friendly for us) isn’t in our British genes. But there’s an unwritten rule that one does this when out for a walk in the country. And while I realise that ‘a local park’ isn’t ‘the country’, and ‘running’ isn’t the same as ‘walking’, there’s something about running in my local park which makes me want to do the same.

Of course, it’s not just the situation – it’s my age. Now I’m the grown-up, not the embarrassed kid; and more than that, now that I’m in my forties, something has unwittingly kicked in and I am just one curler away from being Les Dawson’s Cissie/Ada. In my 20s and 30s I was happy to people-watch; these days, I love to people-engage. At a bus stop. In a queue. Walking down the street. I am becoming that person, the Person Who Talks To Strangers Because She Can’t Help Herself, the person who would happily chat to a neighbour over the garden fence, if only she had a fence, or a garden. Whether it’s due to growing confidence, lessening self-interest or both (also known as ‘maturity’), I am more myself in strangers’ company than I ever used to be, and find other people more interesting than I find myself. I want to learn about others and hear their stories, whatever their age and background (indeed, the more different they seem from me, the better). I want to both ‘only connect’ and talk to them about ‘Only Connect’.

But back to my running friend.

I was doing my usual park circuit the other evening, eyes down and ears tuned into library music, when a woman running in the opposite direction stopped to talk to me. Well, to tell you that I was excited, dear reader, is an understatement. AT LAST! A FELLOW PARK RUNNER – A PERFECT STRANGER – HAS STOPPED TO TALK TO ME!

“Have you dropped a set of keys?” she asked – pointing out a set she’d just found on the ground. Quick check – no I hadn’t. A chat ensued, during which we decided it was best that she left said keys in the park café. Already thinking ahead, I said: “There’s another guy running around the park right now… I could ask him if they’re his.” While thinking to myself: “YES! YES! I’ve found the perfect way to acknowledge that middle-aged bloke who always runs when I do.”

“Great, thanks,” said the young woman. “Sorry to interrupt your run!” Yes, not only had a total stranger chatted to me, but she was genuinely NICE and FRIENDLY. And this, for me, is why we strangers should stop and talk to each other. Because each time it happens, it reaffirms your faith in humanity, makes the world a better place, and gives you a bit of a breather from a workout.

So I resumed my run around the park, and sure enough, fast (or rather, slowly) approaching me was my soon-to-be friend, the Middle-Aged Reluctant Runner.

Here was my chance.

“Excuse me,” I said. He didn’t stop.

“Excuse me, but have you dropped a set of keys? Only…”

“NO!” he barked, scowling and not missing a beat as he ran past. Slowly.

“Oh.”

Turns out that not everyone wants to talk to strangers. Not even when they’re over 40, too.

You Feel An Affinity With Female Stars Over 40

melissa mccarthy sandra bullock“Oh my god! They haven’t noticed that we’re over 40!”

First things first: I realise that feeling an affinity with female stars over 40 might not be something men feel. Both in the sense of an affinity with women; and also in feeling a similar camaraderie with male stars over the age of 40. This is, of course, because there are so many of them. You can’t go around getting excited whenever an over-40 man gets a leading film role/hosts a TV show/brings out a new album because then you’d live in a permanent state of excitement, like a puppy or a small child or a Radio One DJ. Successful men over 40 are the status quo. Literally, in the case of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt.

Such events are comparative rarities, however, for women – very sadly – which is partly why I’m so delighted whenever they occur. It feels as if every triumph of a famous over-40 female is in some small way a triumph for all of us. A small triumph for me, too.

I realise that when Meryl Streep picks up her awards she doesn’t mention me in her thank you speeches (I’ve tried telling her about it, but no: she continues to forget). And I am yet to receive my invitation to Jennifer Aniston’s wedding (Jen – call me!!). But now that I’m over 40, I feel connected to these women, by dint of the fact that we are in some sort of club. A club that’s FIGHTING THE AGEIST, SEXIST PATRIARCHY – with occasional breaks for gin and tonic.

I’m mentioning film actresses a lot because the cover story of the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter (apparently – I live in Brockley and thus there is a dearth of THR in our local newsagents) is all about the success of over-40 female stars in Hollywood; and as Catherine Bray notes in this recent article about the same subject, nine of the top 10-earning actresses in 2012 were at least 37 years old. Which is almost 40, right? (Remember: maths is not my strong point.)

The most obvious explanation for the success of these leading fortysomething actresses – such as Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz – is that they all became stars in their 20s, and their pay packets have risen as they’ve gained more experience and greater box office clout. That they’re continuing to be successful and powerful in their 40s is reassuring in itself – but one can only hope that this clout is maintained as they get older and that Goldie Hawn’s famous observation “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy” will, one day, no longer hold true. Especially the ‘babe’ bit. Although the woman that played that pig WAS terrific.

Of course, women in – or over – their 40s being successful and powerful shouldn’t be a big deal. But the fact is there’s still a long way to go. Another recent statistic showed that, out of the top 100 box office films of 2012, only 28% of speaking roles went to women (worse still: when they did speak, it was only to say “Help!”, “You’re my hero” and “It undoes like this”). The thrill of possibility that followed the successes of Bridesmaids (a film which proved that – shock, horror – you could have a comedy in which the protagonists just happen to be women) and The Hunger Games (a film which proved that – shock, horror – you could have an action film in which the feisty, occasionally violent, protagonist could be a young woman) seems to have died before you can say ‘Action!’. And as The Village Voice points out in a follow-up piece to the Hollywood Reporter story, by the time Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s comedy The Heat is released this summer, it will have been 84 (count ‘em!) days since the last major studio movie came out starring a woman. 84 days. 28%. You can’t argue with the maths. (Including six seconds: I think that was about the length of time Alice Eve stood in her underwear, for no apparent reason, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.)

But back to my close personal showbiz friends: the fortysomething female celebrities. As I say, there is no particular reason why I should be happy that Naomi Watts’ movie about Princess Diana is coming out – especially after seeing the first trailer. Or why I’m delighted to hear that Penelope Cruz will be a Bond Girl at the age of 40, and thus, for the first time in 007 history, be remotely close to the age of Bond himself (Daniel Craig is 45). Or why I’m secretly rather chuffed that Kristin Wiig turns 40 this summer and thus JOINS OUR CLUB *rubs hands*. But I feel all those things – and I feel them not because I’m a particularly huge fan of their work (OK, I am a huge fan of Wiig; just less a fan of Naomi Watt’s wig). I feel them because I, too, am a fortysomething woman. And because we’re all over 40, somehow we’re one.

(Note to self: Pitch idea to Hollywood for buddy movie called ‘Over-40 Club’. Tagline: “The first rule of Over-40 Club? You can talk about Over-40 Club, probably for too long if you’ve had a couple of glasses of white wine”)

 

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