You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”

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.

Operation Yewtree Is Tarnishing Your Childhood Memories

Robin Williams once said that if you remember the Sixties, you probably weren’t there.

I don’t remember the Sixties because I wasn’t there. I do remember the Seventies, however – not only because I was there, but also because I was a young child and thus hadn’t yet taken any substances liable to induce memory loss (although I suspect Space Dust came close).

I was born in 1971: the year of decimalisation, the year that Britain voted to join the EEC and the year that Jim Morrison died (clearly Britain joining the EEC was too much for him). I am the same age as Winona Ryder, Ewan McGregor and Disney World Orlando. Sadly I’ve never met Winona or Ewan, but if I did, I’m sure we’d have a lovely time, especially if we all went to Disney World Orlando together.

My childhood holidays in the 1970s were more likely to centre around static caravan parks than exotic sun-drenched resorts, but they were no less happy for that. I grew up in a safe, middle-class home where my siblings and I were loved – even if that love extended to taking us not to Disney World Orlando but to Butlin’s Minehead, instead. So, you know, we at least felt liked. In short, I was lucky enough to have a happy childhood.

Unlike some in the 1970s.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which I really wouldn’t recommend, unless you’re doing some sort of Bear Grylls-style endurance feat, in which case: hats off to you!) or living abroad (again, I really wouldn’t recommend this), you will have seen the almost daily headlines as a result of Operation Yewtree. And if you’re in your 40s, it’s likely that each of these headlines will have hammered a small but perceptible, unexpected nail into the coffin of your happy childhood memories of the 1970s.

Operation Yewtree was launched to investigate allegations of child sex abuse by Jimmy Savile, of course – a man whose life as a DJ, TV presenter, charity worker and marathon-runner had always seemed, until the abuse came to light, glittering. Literally, given those gold jackets of his. After the initial shock of the news wore off, many of us moved into “Actually… Jimmy Savile? That makes sense…” territory. But the initial shock was exactly that. Shock.

Because Savile had been the nation’s uncle. The creepy uncle, sure. But our uncle nevertheless. To those of us born in the early Seventies, our memories of him aren’t dominated by his Radio 1 work or even Top of the Pops, but by Jim’ll Fix It, quite possibly because it was a show which centered around us: children. Jim’ll Fix It made kids’ dreams come true and thus, as kids watching it every week, we were all touched by its magic. We giggled at the Boy Scouts eating their lunch on a rollercoaster. We gasped at the slow motion demolishing of cooling towers. We were, in short, green with envy at every kid who was lucky enough to get on the show. Everyone had a Jim’ll Fix It wish, even if they never wrote in. Mine was to perform the kid’s speaking part on The Land Of Make Believe with Bucks Fizz. Sadly, it never happened. Mainly because I never wrote in.

(Of course, we now know that Savile was displaying behaviour typical of an abuser. He actively sought positions where he was around young people; and he deliberately made himself appear exemplary – and thus, in theory, unquestionable – through his charity work. I highly recommend reading this fascinating New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about an American sports coach who behaved in a not dissimilar fashion.)

As Operation Yewtree’s investigations have widened, what we’ve seen is nothing short of an unraveling. An unraveling of behaviour that at the time, if it was seen, was either swept under the carpet or considered acceptable; or if it remained unseen, was kept that way until now in part due to (understandable) fear. It’s also been an unraveling of names – a “who’s next?!” roll call of male celebrities who were at their height of fame in the Seventies and Eighties. Celebrities who mean a lot to you if you grew up in those decades – although some more than others, of course.

The naming of Freddie Star, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Gary Glitter and Dave Lee Travis – and I hasten to add that it’s only accusations against these men at the time of writing, and that they deny them – hasn’t affected me greatly because I don’t have fond childhood memories of any of them. As a kid, each of those men either gave me the creeps (Glitter), had a career aimed more at adults than children (Tarbuck) or both (Freddie Starr). That said, my first memory of observational comedy was Jim Davidson on The Comedians remarking that you always want to have a wee when you first step into a bath. I’m not sure my remembering this means that I was destined to work in comedy or simply that I did always want to have a wee when I stepped into a bath. Either way, I don’t think Davidson’s career ever improved on that high.

Rolf Harris – who has also been arrested, and who also denies the allegations against him – was something of a horrible shock, even for a nice middle-class girl who was more from the Tony Hart school of art. Rolf Harris, who delighted generations with his drawings of half-men, half-kangaroos. Rolf Harris, who pretty much single-handedly introduced the didgeridoo to the northern hemisphere. Rolf Harris, who seemed like the long-lost relative from Australia that we never fully ‘got’ and always vaguely baffled us. And by ‘us’, I do of course mean ‘me’.

But my biggest “Oh no! Not HIM!” moment came – as I’m sure it did for many others – with the arrest of Stuart Hall. Jimmy Savile might have been our creepy uncle, but Stuart Hall? Stuart Hall was our fun uncle. We all delighted in his irrepressible laugh at the shenanigans of It’s A Knockout – a family show that we did all sit round to watch as a family, and all enjoyed equally. And who could blame us? What’s not to love about grown men and women dressed in enormous Frenchmen/ogre/penguin outfits carrying buckets of blue or red water, falling over and spilling most of it? It’s A Knockout gave us lessons for life. Sometimes you will slip up. Sometimes you will do your best, but still spill most of the metaphorical blue water. Sometimes you’ll get beaten by a Belgian.

But the sheen has been taken off these memories by what we know now about these men, and it’s impossible not to feel betrayed somehow; or at least to think that we were naïve or impossibly innocent. And while we were those things, of course – we were only children, after all – our parents were innocent to it, too. Not only did we trust these men, our parents trusted them to ‘look after’ us through the medium of the television. And television – especially in the pre-satellite, three-channel era – was the source of so many shared experiences, not just with our own families but with our fellow Brits. As such, it was a hugely important and formative part of our growing up, of learning how to navigate the world and the people in it.

Of course, the tarnishing of our memories is nothing, nothing at all, compared to what the victims of these men actually went through – people who truly had their childhoods robbed and their lives ruined. Unlike some, I don’t regard Operation Yewtree as any sort of witch- hunt and I am, above everything, gratified to see arrogant, monstrous abusers being exposed and punished for the crimes they committed.

And I also don’t want to allow these revelations to affect my memories of what was a happy decade. For me, the Seventies were days spent watching Take Hart and reading (la la la la la) Look-In magazine; days spent roller-skating up and down – mainly down, to be honest – our little cul-de-sac; days spent recording the Top 40 by putting a cassette player in front of the radio and trying to cut out Tony Blackburn’s voice. Sunny days (quite literally – remember ’76?) and sunny memories.

Partly to remind myself – and my fellow fortysomethings – of this, I compiled a gallery this week for Huffington Post: 30 Great Things About Growing Up In 1970s Britain. I’ve included a few choice examples below (just click on each image to read its full caption). Yes, there might have been bad things about the Seventies – clogs, for example – but sometimes I thank my lucky stars that it was the decade of my early childhood. And given the recent revelations, I thank my lucky stars that I was safe.

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 Remember The First Comic Relief Single, And It Rocked Your World

Just to say: I done wrote a little ‘You Know You’re Over 40 When…’ piece for The Huffington Post UK (where I am gainfully employed) to mark Red Nose Day this coming Friday. You can read it here.

Living Doll

There’s Only So Much New Technology You Can Embrace

switchboardoperator

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

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

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

***

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

DAISYWHEELPRINTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s because my brain is now full.

Maybe it’s because I’m over 40.

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

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

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

You 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.

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