You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “career”

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 Realise It’s Increasingly Unlikely You’ll Be The First Person To Do Something

thatcherMargaret Thatcher, Dream Snatcher

Maybe it’s because I’m a relentless optimist. Maybe it’s because people – not you, other people – say life begins at 40. Maybe it’s because John Lennon called me a dreamer (he did. He said “People say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one”, which was clearly a reference to me. Well, people like me. And him).

Whatever the reason, a part of me still clings on to the belief that I will Achieve Something Momentous In Life. And it’s a fact that once you’re over *whispers* a certain age, the feeling that you’re going to do this begins to diminish somewhat. And the feeling that you’re going to be the first person to do this thing doesn’t so much diminish as laugh in your increasingly lived-in face.

When Margaret Thatcher got into power in 1979, I was fuming. Not because I was a leftie – I am, but I was eight at the time and didn’t have strong political views – but because Thatcher, the Iron Lady, had instantly scuppered any dreams I, the Iron Baby, had of becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister. I was incensed! The only way I could console myself was to listen to Roger Whittaker’s children’s album really loud.

As life went on, I tried to put that early defeat behind me (and to be honest, the Roger Whittaker albums helped). I dreamed of being the first person – not just the first woman – to do all sorts of things, or at least to feature in one of those ‘Ones To Watch’ pieces in newspaper weekend magazines. Amazingly, though, these features weren’t paying close attention to The Ones To Watch In Independent Cinema Management, or The Ones To Watch In Digital Television Companies That Are Clearly Heading For Failure, and focused instead on things like British theatre and entrepreneurial business. BORING!

I soldiered on. I switched from career to career – each time getting older as I started a new job, but each time feeling just as young and full of hope, because I was starting afresh. But I had, I now realise, a personal glass ceiling. I would reach a certain level of success in each field… and then move on. This wasn’t down to a dreadfully short attention span, I hasten to add, but rather a form of self-sabotage. I understand now that – even if I had the wits and talent to do so – I was afraid to succeed at A Grand Level, afraid to be ambitious. I’d constructed this glass ceiling myself, and it was following me around like Charlie Brown’s rain cloud.

Now, I may not have completely smashed that ceiling, but I’ve at least punched a great socking hole in it, and continue to try and do so with every new challenge or opportunity that I face (although as we all know, the former is actually the latter in disguise – right, kids?!). But to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how less afraid or how more ambitious I am now – because the fact remains that one’s chances of being The First Person To Do Something aren’t just diminished by age but by the fact that in order to be The First Person To Do Something, you usually need to be Jolly Good At Something by the point at which you hope to be the first person to do it. Or at least you need to have discovered and then channelled your focus, passion and ambition before the age of fortysomething.

The London Olympics, for example, might have inspired us Brits to get off our fat arses and… watch the opening and closing ceremonies. And maybe go and see some sport. But the fact is: no matter how many Jessica Ennises and Chris Hoys there are (there might be a few – I’ve not checked the modern phone book, LinkedIn), we, the average Joe/Jess/Chris, are unlikely to achieve their records because they’ve worked bloody hard at being brilliant at running/jumping/cycling/stuff for years. Similarly, Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s just become the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars, started acting at school and got his first lead film role at the age of 14. What’s more, according to Wikipedia, at school “he was introduced to his three most prominent interests: woodworking, acting and fishing” – so who knows what Day-Lewis could have gone to achieve in carpentry, too. Probably make amazing fishing rods.

In short, you have to Get Your Shit Together And Work Really Hard At Something For A Long Time if you want to achieve great success. Which is how it should be, of course. I don’t expect any shortcuts in life – except perhaps from Charing Cross station to the Embankment, along that little walkway thing. But I’m increasingly fearful that I’m running out of time. Increasingly fearful that not only has that ship sailed, but I wasn’t the first woman to captain it.

For example, here are a few things I’ve realised that I can never be the first person to do. (Or you. Sorry about that.)

  • First person in space
  • First woman in space
  • First dog in space (thanks a bunch, Laika!)
  • First woman to swim the Channel
  • First woman to guest-star on The Muppets (that’s still going, right?)
  • First female Chancellor of Germany
  • First black President of the United States

I realise, of course, that I can never be the first person to do any of those things above because I was born just that little bit too late and/or just that little bit too British. And crucially, I’ve never had a strong enough interest or ability in astronomy, swimming or politics (The Muppets, on the other hand…).

But as I said at the start, I’m still holding out hope. That glass ceiling is increasingly full of holes and looking more and more precarious. Plus, as I explained here, I’m definitely one of life’s late starters. Who knows what I’ve still got it in me to do… after someone else has done it?

roger

There’s Only So Much New Technology You Can Embrace

switchboardoperator

This week, I was dragged kicking and screaming onto Google Plus. Or Google+, as it’s known by some. Or G+, as it’s known by people with busy lives.

I didn’t want to set up a Google Plus account, but had to because of my job. The place where I work is internet-based, you see, and extremely good at harnessing all the amazing internet-based things which make it one of the biggest and most successful websites around. Such as: getting everyone who works there to use Google+ (oh god, I’m starting to use the lingo already).

And the reason I didn’t want to set up a G+ (well, I do have a busy life) account is this: there’s only so much technology I can be bothered with these days.

***

In 1987, I sat my O Levels (younger readers: these are a bit like GCSEs, only harder. American readers: these are a bit like SATs, only harder). One of said O Levels was Computer Studies – which mainly involved writing essays about barcode systems and daisy wheel printers…

DAISYWHEELPRINTER

…and very little actual computer work. I’m sure that Computer Studies is very different now. Kids probably learn how to code, and create apps, and hack into government systems.

Similarly, the computer games I played were the very early ones: Space Invaders on an Atari, Pole Position and Track And Field at arcades (but only when on holiday), and of course, the ones where you’d put a cassette in a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 and wait half an hour for it to load, like Frogger, Pac-Man and Manic Miner. I hasten to add that I personally didn’t own an Atari, ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64, but was lucky enough to have friends who did. I have fond memories of spending school lunchtimes at Caroline Hughes’s house, for example, where we’d eat our sandwiches in five minutes flat, listen to Tears For Fears while we waited 30 minutes for a game to load, play it for 15 minutes, and then dash back to school. Good times. Especially if one of us had achieved a new High Score.

The Eighties weren’t just about computer games, though. The other significant technological advancement to enter my life came after my mum won £1,000 on the Premium Bonds and celebrated it by treating the family to a VCR. This was a particularly big deal as a) we were not a fancy, gadget-y household and b) VCRs were only just becoming popular in British homes. As a result of both these things, we bought a Betamax. It took many, many years – and the slow, painful dearth [sic] of Betamax rental films in our local video shop – to convince my parents that they should switch to VHS.

When I was at university, I wrote my essays by hand, of course, and research was limited to books in the library and searches through microfiches. And in my first jobs – which were working as the assistant manager of a virtual reality ride* in the Trocadero, and then as the assistant manager of an arthouse cinema** – I would cash up at night with the aid of a calculator, a sheet of paper and a bottle of Tippex, with background music emanating from a dusty little cassette player. And then I’d send through the details of the takings to head office via a fax machine. It was quite the day when we introduced credit card bookings, I can tell you.

(Fun fact: A projectionist at the cinema once handed me a cassette demo made by one of our front-of-house staff and his mates. I put it on as I totted up the day’s takings, and as I half-listened, thought to myself: “They’re pretty good… they sound like Primal Scream”. They were The Beta Band.)

By the time I was working as a comedy promoter a few years later, things had improved tremendously. I had a computer. Oh, yes. Although given that I’d attended typing classes as a teenager, it’s a wonder I didn’t do this when I first used one:

And we didn’t just have computers in that office. Oh, no. We also had internal email. Still, that was nothing compared to my friend Jill, who had begun work at a big conference company where you could email people outside the building. I couldn’t quite get my head around such futuristic nonsense.

But fast forward later still, and I’d got a DVD player, seen The Hamster Dance – and the rest is all a big, internet-shaped blur…

***

When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, I read a piece which made the point that the team of people who were moving into the White House were the first generation to really embrace – not avoid, or reluctantly learn to use – all sorts of new technologies as part of their day-to-day lives.

And while Obama’s a little older than me (happy 52nd birthday for August, Mr President!), I think the same holds true for us fortysomethings. In fact, off the top of my head, here’s what I reckon I’ve adapted to/learned to use over the years, in chronological order. As far as I can remember. The electronic waves from all the gadgets might have addled my brain:

Cassette tapes, computer games, VCRs (Betamax and VHS), personal stereos, word processors, the PC, CDs, the Gameboy, remote controls, email, the internet, mobile phones, texting, DVDs, the iBook, iTunes, the iPod, Flickr, the Macbook, digital cameras, blogging, html, MySpace, Facebook, Skype, podcasting, mobile phones that can take photos and stuff, emoticons, Spotify, Twitter, wifi, the Kindle, 3G.

While it’s no Blitz, it’s quite a lot for one generation to have gone through, learning how to use all that lot. Well done, everyone.

But now I want to shout “ENOUGH ALREADY!”. And I’m not even American. Or Jewish.

I have Spotify playlists and an (increasingly redundant, thanks to Spotify) iTunes library – I can’t keep up with 8 Tracks, too. I have a Flickr account to store my photos, and a digital camera and mobile phone to take them with, so do I really need to bother with Instagram? And I’m afraid I don’t have time to see what someone’s pinning on their Pinterest board (although I hear it’s likely to be a picture of a cupcake) because it’s all I can do to check my emails, comment on my friends’ Facebook statuses and tweet on Twitter.

I’m not about to go off and live in the woods. Partly because there’s a distinct lack of electricity out there, plus I’m not the world’s greatest camper. But as I stare at the ever decreasing circles of Google Plus, I would rather like it if everyone just slowed down a bit with this whole technology thing, please. I’d just like to catch my breath, have a sit down, and get my head fully around the things which I’ve probably still only got it half around.

Maybe it’s because my brain is now full.

Maybe it’s because I’m over 40.

Or maybe it’s just because I was badly burned by the whole VHS/Betamax thing.

*Virtual reality ride – n. A really rubbish experience that you were overcharged for in the mid-1990s, chiefly aimed at Italian teenagers wandering around Leicester Square.

**Arthouse cinema – n. A type of independent cinema which showed films no one wanted to see throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, until ‘The Usual Suspects’ came out in 1995, which was a hit and thus confused everyone.

You Set Up A Blog Called ‘You Know You’re Over 40 When…’

littlebollA56

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “How come it’s taken you so long to write this blog, Andrea? How come you didn’t start writing ‘You Know You’re Over 40 When…” when you were in your twenties?’.

I have no good answer, I’m afraid. Maybe it’s just taken me to be over 40 to understand what it’s really like to be over 40.

Or maybe it’s only now that I finally accept that I’m over 40. Now that I’m in my 42nd year. (Wait – I turn 42 this year. That makes this my 42nd year, right? Or does it make it my 41st? Math was never my strong point; mainly because I’m not American. Maths, I’m much better at. Though still not good enough to know if this is my 41st or 42nd year.)

Growing up, I often thought that it was ridiculous that women – and it was usually women  – lied about their age. Actually, I say ‘usually women’ but that should strictly be ‘usually famous women or women I’d been told about’. Because I was never aware of any women in my own life actually doing this. Probably because the only grown-up women in my life were my mum, my aunts and my teachers. The former, I knew the age of, as one does with family (unless you’re my friend Sarah’s flamboyant great aunt, who lied about her age so consistently throughout her life that not even her closest family – or she herself – knew how old she was). The latter, I of course didn’t know the age of, because, well, I was told that it’s rude to ask a lady how old she is. Plus it could land you in detention.

So throughout my life, I never lied about my age. Not even to get cigarettes. Mainly because I didn’t smoke.

No, I didn’t lie about my age – until I reached my late thirties. And then, I didn’t start lying, as such, but simply failing to reveal my age.

There were three main reasons for this, I’ve realised. Firstly: I simply didn’t – and still don’t – feel my age. I suspect this is true for nearly everyone (who doesn’t feel like an eight-year-old operating in an adult world sometimes? I mean, apart from actual eight-year-olds?). I’ve been stuck in a state of arrested development for a great part of my adult life so far – or as polite society might put it: I’m a late-starter. For example: despite being a Western, middle-class 42-year-old, I don’t have children, am unmarried, only just bought my first property, and don’t know how to drive. All of which will no doubt affect the nature of my witterings on this blog (the inability to drive possibly less so) and all of which probably give an insight into who I am, how I got here, and how I got here so late.

Secondly: In my thirties, I often got the “But you don’t look it!” response (these days, less so. But more of that another time). And while this made me secretly half-happy because I knew that it was meant to be a compliment, it also left me feeling secretly quite sad – because what it gave with one hand, it took away with the other. It was simultaneously complimenting me on something external while slapping down the reality of who I was inside. So while the external me was flattered, the inner me felt rather unloved. Or at least: unappreciated. When someone says that a woman ‘doesn’t look her age’, the implication is that this is a good thing, because she shouldn’t look her age. Because we don’t like our women to age.

And the third reason I was failing to reveal my age to people was because I did want them to think I was younger than I was. (Which I know must sound strange, given my second reason above – but women are complex creatures, right? For example: I am against anti-ageing skin products, but I do dye my grey hair. I like cats, but also dogs. And so on.) The reason I wanted people to assume this was simple: I’d started writing comedy.  Specifically: jokes and sketches for live shows, radio and TV. And contrary to what you might think, I can confirm that comedy writing isn’t dominated by men – it’s dominated by men who started doing it from a relatively young age. And so I thought there would be some stigma attached to launching a career in this in my late – as opposed to, say, early – thirties. So I kept schtum about my age, in case people dismissed me, or thought I was odd, because of it. After all, the only thing worse than a women who’s ageing is a woman who’s ageing, and odd.

And yet now, in my 41st/42nd year, I just don’t care so much. I don’t care so much about being over 40, and about what other people think of me. Or more accurately: what I fear they might think of me. I don’t want – or am unable (I suspect it’s a combination of both) – to hide my age.

But even more than not wanting or being able to hide it, I rather want to embrace it. And as I sit here – a glass of red on the go, ‘Kind Of Blue’ playing on the stereo* and my boyfriend sitting across from me playing computer games (he’s 13 years younger than me – and before you ask, yes, I do see that fact featuring in this blog) – I feel ready to embrace it. To celebrate it. Yes, goshdarnit, to blog about it.

Here I come, forties! Don’t try to get away from me! I can run faster than you! Actually, these days I can’t. Not with my stiff knees. But more about those later.

*Note to under-40s: A ‘stereo’ is a hifi unit. No, wait: a music system. You still say ‘music system’, right?

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