You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “the physical”

You Would Always Prefer To Be Sitting Down

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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 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.

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Barrie Mann: sports teacher, news-watcher, dad

You Love Talking To Strangers

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*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 Pack A Dressing Gown For A Weekend Away

(And slippers, if it’s going to be cold.)

dressinggown

I last went to Barcelona 10 years ago. And the last time before that was 10 years before that. Clearly, Barcelona and I are only destined to see each other every 10 years – like relatives who live on the other side of the world, or in my case, Bristol.

Ten years ago, I was in Barcelona to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. It was a weekend fuelled by mojitos and as a result, my memory of it is a little hazy, although I do remember that a) it was a lot of fun and b) the Sagrada Familia still wasn’t finished.

I’d first seen the Sagrada Familia when I was 20 years old. I made several trips to Barcelona around that time because my then-boyfriend had moved there to teach English as a foreign language, which I think was a legal requirement for all language graduates in the early 1990s. I remember the buzz of a city preparing to host the Olympics; the construction of tower block flats down by the sea; the dusty parks and the flower stalls on the Ramblas; the fact that the Sagrada Familia still wasn’t finished.

This time, I’m taking my boyfriend on an Obligatory Couple’s City Break – because while I’ve not been to Barcelona for 10 years, he’s never been at all. I’m looking forward to discovering it with him – and it will, I’m sure, feel like discovering rather than rediscovering. Partly because of those mojitos, but mainly because a lot can change in a city in 10 years. Look at London, my hometown, for example. In the past 10 years, Oyster cards and Boris Bikes have arrived, the South Bank has become a wonderful place to hang out, and Jamie Oliver restaurants have popped up everywhere. Sadly, not everything is progress.

The other thing that’s changed in the past 10 years is, of course, me. When I was 30, a suitcase packed for a late spring jaunt to Barcelona would have included Alka Seltzer, strappy sandals and not much else. But now?

Now, I pack a dressing gown.

(As well as Alka Seltzer and strappy sandals.)

This is partly because I’m staying in an apartment rather than a hotel – another change from 10 years ago, when apartment rental sites like AirBnB were few and far between, and a city break was synonymous with a hotel stay. Now, it’s possible to live like a local by talking to that local online and staying in his or her place – and to do so for the fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel. A hotel where, yes, you might get a dressing gown – but it won’t be your dressing gown, will it?

And that’s the thing. A dressing gown is the adult equivalent of a comfort blanket. It gives you a sense of home – of self – wherever you are. If I don’t take my dressing gown with me to Barcelona, I will simply be staying in some stranger’s flat. If I do take it, it will suddenly be my place that I’m padding around in. It will feel as if I live in Barcelona. And yes, this fantasy might only last for four days (the required length of an Obligatory Couple’s City Break). But for those four days, I’ll be opening the balcony shutters, looking down on the narrow street below, drinking real coffee, flicking through the channels on Spanish TV… all in my dressing gown. I’m already picturing Frank and myself like David Hockney’s friends Mr And Mrs Clark, only without Percy. Unless we managed to pick up a stray gato from the streets of Barcelona – and even then it’s going to be tricky, because we’ll have to find a white one.

Of course, it helps to have the right dressing gown. I’m sure that most dressing gowns, if you wear them regularly enough, will give you that sense of self and comfort wherever you are. But the very fact that my dressing gown is goddam blooming lovely is another reason I want to take it with me wherever I go.

I bought it five years ago at Singapore airport. I went there for 24 hours (Singapore, not the airport – the Tom Hanks film The Terminal may be based on a true story, but it’s not mine) while I was working as a jazz singer in a hotel in Malaysia. It’s a long, patterned Chinese-style silk dressing gown in midnight blue and I fell in love with it at first sight. I’d always had a soft spot for this type of robe – it’s a classic, after all – but it was only now, while staying in South East Asia, that I suddenly felt I could justify owning one. As a result, I padded around my Malaysian hotel room in my classic Chinese-style dressing gown and classic Chinese-style free hotel slippers, feeling even more like… well, a jazz singer working abroad than I ever did.  All I needed was to have a good cry while wearing too much mascara to truly turn into an ageing Judy Garland-esque diva. (Reader, it never happened.)

In short: my dressing gown makes me feel both comfortable and glamorous. It’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer (it’s almost like those Chinese people knew what they were doing when they designed it). And as result of all these things, it’s now a must-have when I pack a suitcase: whether that’s for an Obligatory Couple’s City Break Somewhere On The Continent or a Week With Family Over Christmas In Various Parts Of Britain. And when it comes to the latter, I now also pack slippers. Which is no doubt another idea that my 20 or 30-something self would have been horrified by. To which I say to her: “Just you wait”.

SagradaFamilia

The Sagrada Familia. Estimated completion date: 2028.

You Have To Work Your A*** Off To Lose Weight

Or to my American readers: You Have To Work Your A** Off To Lose Weight

Birthday-Cake--PigMe at my 30th birthday party (artist’s impression)

Now, first things first: I used to be a bit of a porker. And before you say “Don’t put yourself down, Andrea!”, trust me: there was a time when nobody could put me down. Because I was too heavy to lift up.

My first noticeable weight gain as an adult (as opposed to as a baby, when it’s positively encouraged) came when I was a student. Looking back, I don’t really know how this happened, because I was a vegetarian – and like all good vegetarian students in the ’90s, I consumed mostly lager, Hob Nobs and chips. But amazingly, put on weight I did (as Yoda might say, if Yoda ever became a porker) and this pattern continued gradually, continually, throughout my 20s.

In my mid-30s, it finally hit me what had happened, thanks largely to every woman’s friend: holiday bikini pictures. Fortunately, around the same time, I stumbled upon a book called ‘The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet’ (a sort of precursor to the Atkins Diet) and the shock that I wasn’t just fat but also, apparently, some sort of addict led me to shed two stone and three dress sizes, merely through changing how I ate. Well, not the way, so much – I still put food in my mouth, like some kind of crazy homo sapiens – but by the kind of things I ate and when I ate them. I was no longer eating in my sleep, for example, and this made a huge difference.

But since the age of 40 – ie for nearly two years now – the weight has crept back on. This is partly due to the cliché of being in a happy relationship – something which is very lovely, of course, except that this happy relationship has in turn led to me having one too many celebratory ‘fizz and chips’ nights. Frank and I would initially have these evening meals of Prosecco with fish and chips to celebrate special occasions; but then we’d start celebrating the end of the working week; and then the fact that it was a Tuesday; then we’d celebrate being alive etc etc. It was a slippery slope, largely due to the amount of mayonnaise.

In short, my inner glutton escaped, went on the run and was impossible to recapture, despite being fat and thus unable to go far. I couldn’t look at a cake without putting weight on. Mainly because after looking at the cake, I would eat it.  In fact, my desire to eat Evil Carbs started to feel like a Pavlovian reaction (fun fact: this phrase comes from an experiment in which a group of dogs were fed pavlovas!) and once again, I realised I needed to rein myself in. The final straw was the zip bursting on not one but two pairs of trousers, in some sort of comedy, Looney Tunes fashion. You can ignore the slowly growing muffin top; you can ignore the fact that jeans feel a little tighter. You can’t ignore the fact that your clothes are physically turning against you.

But hey – as I’d lost weight in my 30s as a result of simply changing my diet, I thought this was all I would have to do this time round, too. And apart from anything else, I’d seen Lorraine Kelly, Carol Vorderman and a whole host of other… well, female daytime TV presenters, mainly, slim down quite dramatically in their 40s and 50s. So obviously I thought: how hard can it be? The media is full of women d’un certain âge going from un certain weight to a much lower one. In fact, I’m sure that this was what subconsciously kept me going through my early 40s’ weight gain: the knowledge that when I decided to shift it, I would just have to change my diet again and soon enough I would be wiggling around London in a wiggle dress, solving highly complicated maths problems and winning Rear Of The Year.

But guess what? It’s not that simple. Especially the maths problems.

Because I tried, but the fat simply would not move. I’d eat only healthy carbs. I’d cut carbs altogether. Then I’d realise that was stupid, and eat healthy carbs again. I’d try truly drastic things like walking up the escalators on the Underground instead of letting them move me through the twin miracles of science and engineering. But none of it worked.

At first I wanted to blame Lorraine and Carol for making it look so easy. But then I realised I should blame cakes myself. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t blame cakes myself. Because the simple truth is: losing weight once you’re over 40 isn’t as easy as losing it when you’re d’un much younger âge. Instead of simply altering your diet it requires a change in physical habits. It requires something apparently known as ‘exercise’.

When this slowly dawned on me, I was initially filled with cakes horror. My relationship with exercise isn’t so much estranged as ‘Look, we never even had a relationship, exercise!’. But then I realised that this new need for physicality was actually as it should be. Because now, in my early 40s, I have occasional lower back pain. I have knees that can’t stay in one position for too long. I have a general lack of girlish sprightliness – as demonstrated all-too clearly on a recent country walk with my boyfriend, during which I tackled each stile with a slightly laboured 10-point turn.

Yes, there’s no denying it: in its reluctance to shift weight and its small aches and pains, my body has been telling me that drastic action isn’t just desirable now, it’s actually necessary. My body has been telling me that I finally have to, in the words of Reel 2 Real, both move it AND move it.

So I thought. I thought about how many hours a week I spend sitting in an office. I thought about how I want to form a new habit that I can make part of my life and do anywhere. I thought about how much I hate gyms. I thought: ‘What would Carol Vorderman do?’

And I decided to take up running.

Now, before you go saying: “BUT YOU CAN’T RUN AWAY FROM YOURSELF, ANDREA”, let me say: you’re right. I can’t run away from myself, mainly because I can only run for about 60 seconds at a time, and it’s not at a terrific pace when I do so.

But I can run away from the fat me. From the fat, future me with respiratory problems. It’s like Sliding Doors: if I go down one path in life, I will end up a hugely overweight middle-aged woman with severe health issues. If I go down the other, I’ll be Gwyneth Paltrow in a brown wig. See? Scary.

So now I’m running. I’ve started the Couch To 5K program – which will give me £5k if I get off the couch, or something – and already, I love it.

I love doing something completely different from my other activities, which are generally cerebral/computer-based/alcohol-related. I love knowing that I’m doing something nurturing for myself. I love running in my local park – which has views of London stretching from the Shard to the Millennium Dome, and which is full of other runners, children playing and dogs walking their owners. I love seeing the buds coming out on the trees and I love the long shadows those trees cast in the evening sun.

I also love the fact that one day, I’m going to be able to levitate.

That’s right. When you’re a really good runner, you start levitating. I know this because all the photographic evidence points to it:

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Woman-Running-on-Beach

running woman

Incredible, no? And yes, you might tell me that these snaps are merely the human equivalent of the famous Sallie Gardner At A Gallop photographs – which not only proved that horses have all four hooves off the ground when they gallop but also led to the development of motion pictures, most notably the motion picture Seabiscuit.

But I prefer to think that these women are so happy, so joyous and so bloody fit that they’re levitating.

And someday soon, cakes god willing, I will be too.

Your Glastonbury Stage Of Choice Is The Acoustic Tent

glastonbury-pyramid-stageNot the Acoustic Tent

I have been to the Glastonbury Festival three times: in 2002, 2003 and 2004. I had to double check that those were the dates (thanks, Wikipedia, for your memory-jogging lists of stage line-ups) because, not unlike the Sixties, if you remember Glastonbury, you probably weren’t there.

Not that I was high on drugs, you understand. It was, I imagine, the beer and wine – consumed in large quantities from paper cups – which destroyed those key brain cells. And at the time, it seemed worth it.

Because there’s no place – or rather, experience – quite like the Glastonbury Festival. The combination of non-stop live music, good friends, green fields, and overly priced food and alcohol makes it a delight.

When I popped my Glastonbury cherry in 2002, it wasn’t just some cheap two-night stand – it was love. I spent a blissful, sunny weekend with my then-new boyfriend (and some other people, apparently) watching the likes of Coldplay, Alabama 3, Nelly Furtado, Manu Chao and, of course, Rolf Harris. I’ll never forget Chris Martin opening Coldplay’s Pyramid Stage-headlining set with the pounding chords of Politik; nor Rolf’s incredible didgeridoo solos.

Having enjoyed the experience so much, I eagerly returned in 2003. Once again, it was a wonderful combination of sunshine, music, friends and overly priced food and drink – and I saw terrific sets by the likes of Radiohead, REM, Moby, Souad Massi and Jimmy Cliff. If there’s more fun to be had in life than sitting in the blazing sunshine with a paper cup of beer in your hand while Jimmy Cliff plays live, then I’m not sure what it is. Possibly doing all that and then returning to your luxury caravan in the VIP area… I don’t know. I’ve never done that.

But despite my lack of VIP experience, I still loved the festival, and went back the following year. Only: two things changed.

The first was the weather.

Never listen to a Glastonbury old-timer who assures you that the festival is just as much fun – maybe even more so! – in the rain.

It’s not.

Here is Glastonbury in the sun:

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Here is Glastonbury in the rain:

glastonbury_mud

I’ll make no bones about it: it’s rubbish. And even if you have wellies and jumpers and at least one cagoule, it’s not so much the damp or the cold that gets to you, but the tiredness that ensues from the fact that you can’t sit down anywhere. You walk around and around and around… endlessly, achingly. During a sunny Glastonbury, you’d just park your denim-shorted bottom on any available patch of grass, but you simply can’t do that when it’s a rainy year. Mainly because grass doesn’t exist anymore. Because it’s mud.

Secondly, popular music was entering its Quite Difficult To Listen To Blokey Guitar Music Phase (this is as opposed to the Very Easy To Listen To Blokey Guitar Music Phase, which took place in the Nineties and was dominated by Oasis). In 2004, Kings of Leon, Muse and Franz Ferdinand were all main acts on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage – and over the next few years, they would be joined by likes of The Killers, The White Stripes, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys, none of whom are my cup of warm beer. The acts I enjoyed most at Glastonbury in 2004 were Paul McCartney, Sister Sledge, Keane, Bonnie Raitt and Amy Winehouse. Clearly, I would be more at home listening to that sort of music at, well, home, than being at Glastonbury listening to bands I found it quite difficult to listen to.

But mainly, it was the mud. I wasn’t high enough, mad enough or tough enough to enjoy the mud.

01_mainNot me

So the love affair was over. Glastonbury and I were through. I had been badly burned – unfortunately not by the sun – and I vowed that I wouldn’t return, lest the weather was terrible again. It’s not been a decision that I’ve ever really regretted. Especially during the years that it’s rained.

Besides, as I say, mainstream pop music and I were seeming to part company. I mean, I was always really a Jazz World Stage kinda girl (Bonnie Raitt, Souad Massi and some of the others I mention above all played that stage, for example) – and so, when the line-up for this year’s Glastonbury was announced, I looked through the list below, and wondered who would be playing my favourite stage – the Jazz World one – this year:

glastonbury-2013-lineup

Except, as the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed, there’s no Jazz World Stage anymore! I have no idea when this changed – presumably when someone decided that it was possibly quite patronising to call anything other than white Western music ‘world’ music; or perhaps Jazz and World had some sort of big falling out due to musical differences – but realising this made me feel rather out of touch.

Still, that was nothing compared to my next realisation: that the only stage I’d be really interested in hanging out at at Glastonbury this year, if I was going, would be the Acoustic Tent. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’m TOTALLY hip and down with The Kid – I like First Aid Kit and Alabama Shakes and I know one song by Frightened Rabbit. But really, look at the line-up at the Acoustic Tent:

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 19.39.28

The Proclaimers? Martin Stephenson & The Daintees? Stev(i)e Winwood?! NOW you’re talking!

Yes, siree. You could plonk me down in that tent – and I would have to be sitting down, I just can’t stand for that long any more – and I’d be as happy as Larry. With ‘Larry’ being the 18-year-old me.

And it’s not just that it’s the music of my youth. It’s also that I’ve realised I enjoy music by older people – in my heart, I think I always have – and as I’ve got older myself, it makes more and more sense to me, in an unconscious, instinctive way. I listen to James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell… and in the case of jazz musicians, sometimes they’re so old, they’re dead. As a result, unsurprisingly, I’m now more drawn to the likes of Lucinda Williams (60), Gretchen Peters (55) and Stev(i)e Winwood (64) than I am to a band whose collective age is one of those numbers. So the Acoustic Tent would indeed be my Glastonbury stage of choice – and I’d probably only have the urge to leave it when The Rolling Stones and Kenny Rogers were performing over at the Pyramid Stage.

But while (a) liking the acts playing the Acoustic Tent and (b) not knowing the music of approximately 70% of the rest of the festival line-up are both good indicators that I’m over 40, another, of course, is that I’m not going in the first place because the whole thing seems like too much of an effort.

I like to think that I’m fairly hardy. I’m not some dreadful figure of a pampered, city woman like Carrie in Sex And The City when she spends a weekend at Aidan’s house in the woods, tottering around in high heels and complaining about nature. I like going for country walks as much as the next person who has walking boots they wear every six months.

But the fact remains that these days, I’d rather spend £200 on a weekend in a boutique B&B which gets good reviews on TripAdvisor. These days, I like my home comforts. I like a good night’s sleep. I like a hot shower. I like a nice duvet. I like an indoor toilet. I like sitting down.

In short, really, it’s about the mud.

Glastonbury_2005_Mud_at_Other_Stage

 

You’re Mistaken For Your Boyfriend’s Mother

Firstly, before I start: I realise this might not be one of those “No! You too?!” posts about an experience that is instantly recognisable to everyone.

I realise that being mistaken for being your boyfriend’s mother might be a somewhat niche experience. Limited, possibly, to women. And specifically: women with younger boyfriends.

But bear with me. Because I do believe there’s some universality in the story I’m about to recount. Some universality in the realisation that you are physically older than you feel inside. Some universality in the return to a place of youth, only to realise that you are no longer part of that world. Some universality in the fact that YOU ARE SLOWLY, INEXORABLY EDGING CLOSER TO THE GRAVE. In a good way.

The story begins just over two years ago, when I met Frank. Two things immediately struck me about Frank when our eyes met over Twitter. One, that he was nice. Two, that he was cute. Four, that he was young. Three, that I’m not very good at maths.

When we met in person, these things were even more apparent. Even the maths bit – turns out Frank was a whole 14 years younger than me, and it took me a while to calculate that. And he was even cuter in real life. In fact, when I described him to other people, I found myself telling them that he looked like “A young Tom Hanks. You know, sort of Big/Splash era.” Which I regarded as a very wonderful thing, because I had a huge crush on the Big/Splash era Tom Hanks.

tom-hanks-bigFrank

frankTom

In fact, if Frank ever met Tom Hanks, it would probably look something like this:

tom hanks big

Except without the upper body nudity. Possibly. And: don’t tell me it’s physically impossible for Frank to go back in time and meet the young Tom Hanks, because I’ve seen Big, and that proves that all kinds of weird sh*t is possible. As does Splash, now I come to think of it.

Anyway, Frank and I started dating – because as well as being cute and young, he turned out to be incredibly smart, kind and funny. (Just like Tom Hanks, I imagine. I don’t know. He always seems very nice in interviews, though.) Frank may have only been 25, but he had an old head on young (pretty, amazingly soft-skinned) shoulders; and that seemed to click very well with the fact that I was 39 but felt much younger than I was.

Yes, I was with a man I was old enough to have babysat for – which was appropriate, as Big and Splash are perfect babysitting movies – but we were, and still are, incredibly happy together. And as a result of being happy together, we have of course introduced each other to families, friends… and alma maters.

Taking Frank around Sheffield University, its Student Union and my favourite student pubs, I was struck by the fact that not only was I no longer the right age to be a student, I didn’t even feel the right age to be a mature student. And the reason for that, it dawned on me, was because I was now the right age to have a child of my own at the university. This was almost as alarming as walking into pub after pub only to find that they had all been refurbished.

sheffield universitySheffield University. Naughty students are kept in the turret.

While Sheffield University, with its red bricks, one turret and badly refurbished pubs, was impressive – and I am enormously fond of both the university and the city – I was probably just as excited to see Frank’s old college as I was to show him around mine.

And ‘college’ is the correct – not Americanised – term here, because Frank went to Oxford Brainy University, and thus to a college. Specifically: Corpus Christi.

Coming from lower-middle-class stock, I am instinctively impressed by anyone who’s gone to Oxbridge. The sensible part of me knows that is a silly, outdated, possibly unreasonable reaction – but the inner me just screams OH MY GOD YOU MUST BE SO BRAINY I AM IN AWE AND I WISH I COULD HAVE GONE THERE AND DO YOU EAT SWANS?

Plus, Oxford is really pretty.

So we had a lovely day wandering around the city and Frank’s old haunts there (he used to be a ghost! Who knew?!) – including a pub next to Corpus Christi College called The Bear, the walls and ceilings of which are adorned with old school ties:

school tiesIs the class system dead – or merely a cheap form of interior decoration?

And after a drink in The Bear, we went to Corpus Christi -

corpus christiNice, but no turret

- where Frank went into the porter’s lodge, just on the right of this photo, to see if we could possibly gain entrance so he could show me around the place where he’d spent four years of his life.

I hung around in the doorway – as you do, when you’re somewhat in awe of Oxford despite being a grown adult – while Frank spoke to the porter, who was a bespectacled gentleman in his late 40s or early 50s, I reckon. Like I say: I’m not very good at maths.

“Hello. I was a student here about five years ago…” began Frank – and while it took a moment for the porter to recognise him, there ensued a little exchange between them, during which it was established that Frank’s last year at Corpus had been the porter’s first and that the porter did, in fact, remember him.

“Anyway,” said Frank – gesturing to me – “I was just wondering if…”

“If you could show your sister around?” said the porter with a smile, winking at me.

“Erm…”

And like that, we were in.

And no sooner were we in than it dawned on me.

By saying “your sister, the porter had uttered the age-old, cheesy, supposed compliment of imagining that a woman who is your mother will be flattered by the fact that you’ve ‘mistaken’ her for being your sister.

The porter thought I was Frank’s mother.

I wandered around Corpus Christi admiring its golden brickwork, beautiful gardens and impressive modern extension… but my mind was still back there in the porter’s lodge, where I’d been mistaken for being my boyfriend’s mum.

Now, in the porter’s defence: (1) Frank looks younger than he is. He still gets ID’d buying alcohol. Plus, as we’ve already established, he looks like a young Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks was 32 when Big came out, and as anyone who’s seen that film knows, he looked really young in it. Especially in the bits where he was played by a kid. (2) In his porter head, all former students are probably frozen in time – thus Frank is still, to him, 18. Which makes me, at 41, quite plausibly old enough to be his mother. (4) He was wearing glasses.

“But I don’t look old enough to be a student’s mother!” I cried… as I looked out over Christ Church Meadow. “Do I?”

“Do I, Frank? Do I really look old enough to be your mother? Please tell me I don’t look old enough to be your mother. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a huge compliment in some ways… You’re a good-looking lad…”

“Of course you don’t look old enough!” he said. And with that, he’d hit me on the arm, shouted “You’re it!” and we were off.  I do love being with a younger man.

tom hanks big

You Fall Over – And Stay Down

czj
There’s nothing I like doing more after work than indulging in a little window shopping.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Why are you shopping for windows, Andrea? And why are you after little ones especially?”. To which I’d reply: I don’t mean shopping for windows, silly, I mean browsing items I can’t possibly afford in the shops of London’s glittering Covent Garden area. Yes, I may be over 40, but I still can’t keep myself in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed. Why, just this week I ate not one but two packed lunches. It’s like the internet boom never happened.

Window shopping, therefore, gives me all the satisfaction of shopping (looking at sparkly things) without any of the pain (spending money, looking at a sparkly things in one’s wardrobe and lamenting ‘what was I thinking?!’ and falling into a spiral of disappointment, debt and self-loathing). Although, come to think of it, I get the same satisfaction when doing normal shopping, too – because what tends to happen is that I try on said sparkly things and instantly think they look terrible on me. And thus no money is parted with and no self-loathing or debt ensues. Win-win!

Anyway, on this particular recent post-work evening, I took my normal window-shopping route: from Tottenham Court Road to Charing Cross station via Covent Garden and the Strand. The Strand may not be on everyone’s radar as a must-do shopping destination, but lying, as it does, between Covent Garden and Charing Cross station, and containing, as it does, both a TopShop AND a Superdrug (where I can get my shopping fix, if all else has failed, by buying some paracetamol), I can highly recommend it.

I was laden down with bags as I entered TopShop. Not because I’d been buying anything (see above), but because I was carrying overnight clothes and shoes – at least two of them – as a result of staying over at my boyfriend’s the night before. I was also carrying my very large handbag, and a can of 7-Up. Yes, being a woman, I can multi-task.

Except that I can’t multi-task – if the ability to multi-task means the ability to carry a few bags, drink out of a can of 7-Up and walk without falling over.

Because after perusing the items TopShop had to offer on the ground floor, I decided to head down to its basement. This involved, as you might suspect, stairs. So I walked down the stairs, lugging my big handbag and my big carrier bag and drinking out of my can of 7-Up and…

BOOM!

A bomb went off.

Not really! I fell over. Smack onto my arse. So: an Andrea Bomb went off.

Now, falling over in public isn’t a completely remarkable thing. We’ve all done it. Especially women in romcoms. They do it all the time!

But what was remarkable was this:

I stayed down.

I stayed down for just that little bit too long.

I stayed down while the young, under-40 staff fussed around me and asked me if I was alright and started mopping up the 7-Up – which was quickly becoming even more of a health and safety hazard than 7-Up usually is – and I genuinely didn’t care what they, or any of my fellow window-shoppers, thought of me.

I stayed there, having a little sit-down, when I could actually choose to get up. When in the past, indeed, I would have got up immediately, swiftly, in the hope that no one had seen me fall.

In short: I stayed down like a little old lady stays down when she’s had a fall.

(Which is an important distinction, I hasten to add. You know you’re over 40 when you fall down and stay down. You know you’re over 70 when you ‘have a fall’.)

When I eventually picked myself up – a good few minutes later – I confess I felt that I’d behaved more like an elderly woman in an Alan Bennett play than a beautiful, yet klutzy, Hollywood romcom heroine. Also, it wasn’t just my pride that was dented. My can of 7-Up was a write-off.

But I consoled myself slightly with the fact that I had fallen down and stayed down in a branch of TopShop – as opposed to, say, a branch of John Lewis. The latter would surely be an even more worrying sign of ageing. Although it would mean that I’m finally living in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed.

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