You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “love & relationships”

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

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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’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

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