You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the tag “ageing”

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 Like A Bruce Springsteen T-Shirt In H&M, Then Realise It Isn’t Actually Intended For You

(Note: the situation I’m about to describe can also be applied to a Fleetwood Mac Rumours T-shirt in TopShop.)

I was 13 when Born In The USA came out. But – being 13 – I didn’t quite ‘get’ it. In 1984, I was listening to Wham! and Duran Duran, and I didn’t understand why a sweaty, shouty man in a bandana was dancing in the dark, let alone on fire. (Mind you, I didn’t really understand Duran Duran’s lyrics, either. But then, who did?)

600full-born-in-the-u.s.a.-cover

No, Born In The USA only came to life for me three years later, when it became the soundtrack to a school exchange trip to Germany (turns out the Germans liked Bruce Springsteen, even if I didn’t). Forced to listen to Immersed in tracks like Glory Days, Downbound Train and Bobby Jean – under the summery skies of Bavaria, and occasionally through the PA system of a coach – Bruce, and his songs, suddenly began to make sense to me. Of course, this might have been due to the fact that I was now a wiser, more musically sophisticated, hormonal 16-year-old… But whatever the reason, I grew to love what is, of course, a glorious album. Although Bruce was still a little too sweaty for my liking.

And then later in the same year, I gained an American pen friend – a brooding, intellectual type from Massachusetts – who worshipped Bruce Springsteen and sent me cassette tapes of all his earlier albums, along with an end-of-year essay he’d written about the meanings and imagery in Jungleland.

As a result, I fell hook, line and New Jersey fishing boat sinker for Springsteen. More specifically: for his music, which was unlike anything else I was listening to at the time. The energy of songs like Rosalita and Badlands, the sheer sexiness and lowdown dirtiness of tracks like For You and The River, the plaintive cries of troubled smalltown Americans who wanted to flee their small lives – whether forever or just for one night – in songs like Born To Run, Hungry Heart and Atlantic City… Springsteen’s music was exotic and familiar all at once. I too wanted to leave my small town (Wombourne, Staffordshire), although unfortunately I couldn’t drive, which all of Bruce’s protagonists seemed able to do. And while I’d never known what it was like to make love in the dirt – let alone to do so with a girl called ‘Crazy Janey’ – I dreamed of it happening some day soon. Preferably with a boy wearing a denim shirt and a guitar slung over his shoulder… sigh…

Sorry, where was I?

Ah, yes. Standing in H&M. Looking at a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt.

I’d owned a Fame T-shirt as a girl, but never a Bruce Springsteen one. So imagine my delight when, as a fortysomething, I spotted one in H&M. bruceT As I stood there handling this cheap-yet-magnificent item of clothing, my delight turned to admiration as I realised what excellent taste the people at H&M head office had. “Wow, like me, they realise how under-appreciated Bruce and Born In The USA are!” I thought to myself. “Good for them! They’ve made a T-shirt for people who love Born In The USA, like me!”.

And then it hit me.

Standing in H&M, surrounded by H&M’s core demographic, it hit me.

This T-shirt wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for girls whose parents owned and appreciated Born In The USA. It was meant for girls who probably thought that this was quite amusing. That Bruce Springsteen is cool but only in an ironic, my-parents-like-him, way.

They say that if you remember a fashion the first time around, you shouldn’t wear it the second time. Thus the resurgence of Eighties looks in the Noughties was not aimed at people like me, but at kids who found it cool and ironic to wear Eighties fashions and had no idea how we suffered for our crimped hair and puffball skirts.

Likewise, this T-shirt wasn’t made for me, or any of my fellow fortysomething Springsteen fans. It was made for 21 year-old actresses:

graphic-tee-emma-roberts(That’s Emma Roberts, niece of 45 year-old Bruce Springsteen fan Julia Roberts.)

And 23-year-old fashion bloggers:Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 14.28.31

For me to copy this phenomenon – ie to wear a T-shirt resplendent with the cover of an album my parents owned when I was growing up – I would have to walk around with this on my chest:

Beethoven-SymphonyBeethoven’s Symphony No.6, as never seen on any T-shirt

And so I left H&M feeling slightly sad, and really rather old, because (a) I really wanted to wear that Born In The USA T-shirt, but (b) I realised that it was intended for girls young enough to be my daughter or niece. And to add insult to injury, (c) it then dawned on me that those clever people at H&M’s head office who had come up with the idea probably weren’t my age, either. That H&M’s head office is staffed by ironic twentysomethings whose parents like Bruce Springsteen.

Good old – and by old, I do of course mean young – H&M.

Oh, and that’s the other thing. You know you’re over 40 when it’s something of a struggle to call it H&M. Because in your heart, it was, is, and always will be: Hennes.

You Fall Over – And Stay Down

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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.

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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