You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “shopping”

A Pint Glass Is No Longer An Acceptable Vase Substitute

I wouldn’t say that I try to impress my boyfriend’s parents, but: if you’re reading this, Robert and Mary, you’re totally brilliant!

I jest, of course. I don’t try to impress Robert and Mary – as I am over 40, feel totally able to be myself around them, and they are very forgiving people. But I confess that I hope they like me, that they know how much I love and care for their son, and that they realise I am a Grown-Up who is capable of keeping a Nice Home.

Not least because I am possibly still trying to prove the latter point to myself.

As I flatshared through my 20s and 30s, never truly able to make a place my home because it was always someone else’s, I always hoped that I had it in me to be such a Grown-Up. And since buying my own little flat two years ago, I confess that I’ve found great joy in both creating my own home, and feeling house-proud as a result.

I’ve bought furniture. I’ve découpaged some of that furniture. I’ve framed photos – and not even in clip frames, oh no. I mean properly, ie like grown-ups do, ie with mounts.

I’ve also started buying flowers for the place. And by ‘the place’ I naturally mean ‘myself’.

I’ve bought flowers for myself before, of course, and not just because I was single. But now that I’m in my own place, I’m buying more – because I regard them as pretty much the easiest single thing you can do to a home to instantly make it a more joyous, more pleasurable and more pleasantly smelly place to live.

I don’t go crazy – I don’t always have flowers in the flat; when I do it’s limited to one bunch; and that bunch is probably made up of lilies, tulips or daffodils, ie flowers that cost between £1 and £7 and never more than a tenner. Yet because they’re ostensibly one of life’s luxuries, rather than necessities – even when they only cost £1 – I feel like I’m treating myself every time I buy them. Which only ups the pleasure rating, of course. If I earned more money or lived in a larger place, I could see myself buying flowers for every room – in fact, I could easily become like Elton John, who famously racked up a £290,000 bill for flowers because, as The Independent pointed out, he could. Although obviously I’m not saying I’d spend £300k on lilies – imagine the smell! – but merely the same equivalent percentage of my income as Elton John’s. Which is probably about, yes, a tenner. Clearly, for now, I am a poor man’s Elton John. The Phil Collins of flowers, if you will. (“I can feel it coming in the air tonight… because I can smell it as soon as I walk through the front door. It’s lilies, isn’t it?”)

But I digress. Because the point is: now that I like to have flowers, I’m wishing that I’d held on to more vases over the years.

During The Flatshare Years I often left vases behind or gave them to charity shops. And the only reason I had any in the first place was because I’d been given them. Without wishing to sound like a terrible ingrate, back then, vases felt so grown-up to me. TOO grown-up. They felt a rather unnecessary item to have in one’s home; a frippery that I couldn’t really justify owning. Not only because I only ever seemed to have flowers to put in them on birthdays – which was, conveniently, when I’d receive the vases – but also because I quite honestly thought: what’s wrong with a pint glass? Or a half-pint glass? Or a wine bottle? The latter makes a fine stem vase for a gerbera, for example.

Now, in my defence: not all pint glasses are created equal. When I talk about putting flowers in pint glasses, I don’t mean this sort – which you probably had several of in your kitchen cupboard if you were ever a student because you’d nicked them from pubs (well, you didn’t, obviously. Your housemates did):


Classic pint glass (from ‘The Hare And Hounds’)

No, I mean this fine figure of a pint glass:


Modern pint glass (from the ‘Fancy-Dan’ range at Habitat)

Now, not only does that latter not look like stolen goods but it also, to an untrained eye, looks not unlike a vase. And a few years ago – nay, a few weeks ago – I would have considered it to be a perfectly fine vase substitute.

But then Robert and Mary came to lunch.

Ahead of this event, I bought some daffodils. Because, as we’ve established, I now buy flowers; and secondly, I knew that these daffs would make for a pleasant table decoration come Saturday lunchtime.

Not having a vase of the right size – because I own precisely one vase, and it is huge – I put them in a pint glass. Thus:

daffs in a pint glass


Initially, I thought this was fine (and look! I wasn’t kidding about the découpage). But then over the next few days, something rather strange happened.

I found that, the more I looked at these flowers, the less they looked like an arrangement of daffodils in a glass vase and the more they looked like a bunch of daffs shoved into a pint glass.

I suddenly realised how pathetic they looked – and how, at the age of 41, with a home, a job, and curtains (not a sheet or duvet or ethnic throw) for curtains, I no longer had to choose which of my drinking glasses I was going to have to sacrifice for two weeks while it doubled up as a vase. A pint glass is no longer an acceptable substitute for a vase, I realised. Even if that pint glass cost £1.50 from Habitat.

So the next day, I bought a vase from, yes, Habitat. (Look, there’s one right next to my office. In fact it’s one of only a handful left in the country now, so I consider it my duty to help keep it going. Plus, it’s a good place to spend 20 minutes on a lunch break. Every lunch break. There’s nothing I don’t know about their bedding range.)

I chose one which I liked and which I thought my boyfriend would like, too, because this is how I think now (ie. unselfishly, thoughtfully, and with one eye on living together). And I put the daffodils in it. Thus:

daffs in a vase


My satisfaction at how much better this looked was equalled only by my satisfaction at knowing that I had successfully passed some sort of rite of passage. I was now a Proper, Over-40 Grown-Up: capable not only of hosting a lovely lunch, but also of realising what was no longer socially acceptable.

Lunch went without a hitch, and I don’t think Robert and Mary noticed that they were drinking out of vases.

And what’s more: the next time I was killing (lunch)time in Habitat, I found myself spending more time in the vases department. (I think it’s a department. It might be a section. I think the differentiation between the two is rather like biological classification: class/order/etc. I think a department is bigger than a section, but not as big as a floor. But I’m not sure. And I digress.) It was if some sort of spell had been broken: I no longer saw vases as dull, unnecessary household items but rather, as beautiful objects that were necessary to make the joyous, happy, smelly presence of flowers even more so.

I particularly coveted a round, glass vase in the Habitat collection (a collection being part of a section) – and in fact, I realised that the seed of Vases Being OK Really was planted some months before Daffodillunchgate, when I went to a house-proud friend’s for dinner, and she had one such round, glass vase with white roses in it, and it looked gorgeous.

So imagine my delight when, in one of my other lunchtime-killing activities, I found exactly such a round, glass vase in a charity shop near work. It cost £5, a mere fraction of the Habitat price – and if there’s one thing more satisfying than helping to keep Habitat afloat it’s helping to keep the YMCA going.

And here it is:


The only thing more delightful than how it looks, how little it cost, and how that money went to the YMCA, is the fact that the lady in the shop thought it was a goldfish bowl.

Which is sweet – but I had to laugh. Because as we all know, a goldfish bowl is not an acceptable vase substitute.

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?)


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

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…


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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: