You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “travel”

You Would Always Prefer To Be Sitting Down

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There’s been a lot of talk in the so-called media recently about standing up for pregnant women. Not so much in the figurative, let’s-go-on-a-march-in-support-of-pregnant-women, sort of way (“What do we want?” “A realistic portrayal of pregnancy in the so-called media! Also: a good night’s sleep, especially in the third trimester.”) but in the literal sense. Literally standing up for pregnant women. So that they can sit down in the seat we were hitherto occupying.

I can sympathise with their plight. Not pregnancy – that’s not so much a plight as a blessing/condition, plus I’ve never been pregnant (ah, ‘Never Been Pregnant’: the sequel to Drew Barrymore’s charming romantic comedy ‘Never Been Kissed’! Still unsure as to why that never got greenlit; a journalist going undercover at an ante-natal group is surely COMEDY GOLD. Note to self: write this screenplay).

No, I sympathise because I, too, would like people to give their seats up for me. Because I am over 40.  Which is, quite possibly, a plight.

Is this ageist? No. For it is simply a fact of life that, at this age, my knees aren’t what they were (nor are my legs, to be honest, but that’s more a vanity issue). Is it sexist? Again, no. Because I can guarantee that most men over the age of 40 would prefer to be sitting down, too. Louis CK, in fact, has a routine about this. His desire to always be seated is so strong that, given the choice between sitting down and having sex standing up, he would choose sitting down. (And to clarify the headline of this blog post: I mean that I would always prefer to be sitting down than standing up. I wouldn’t necessarily prefer to be sitting down than lying down. Especially if that lying down involves sex. Sex standing up, however? I’m with Louis.)

I am now, for example, secretly happy when I log on to book tickets for a gig and all the standing tickets have sold out, thus forcing me to buy seated ones. Like a hunting animal in a David Attenborough documentary or Dustin Hoffman looking at a box of spilled matches in ‘Rain Man’, I have a speed-of-light ability to zoom in on the free seat/s available on a train (a skill honed by years of commuting on overland trains into central London). And I feel a tiny twinge of pain any time I suggest to my boyfriend – who, importantly for the sake of this anecdote, is 13 years younger than me – that we sit down on the Tube and he says: “We can stand, it’s only a few stops.” IT’S NOT ‘ONLY A FEW STOPS’ WHEN YOU’RE OVER 40. It’s the difference between life and… a not-quite-as-comfortable life (ah, ‘It’s A Not-Quite-As-Comfortable Life’! The sequel to…). And if there’s just one seat free in said Tube carriage, my boyfriend will always insist that I have it – partly because he’s a very selfless person, and partly because he understands the needs of his lazy, over-40 girlfriend. And while I hate to not be standing next to him and thus able to easily talk to him, this hate, I must admit, is more than made up for by the joy brought on by THE MERE ACT OF SITTING DOWN. Plus the fact that I now have his crotch at eye-level. Silver linings.

Of course, there are times when I stand. As I say, I have commuted into central London for years now – ninety per cent of the time, I have no choice but to stand. Also, I have a desk job, so there are times that I appreciate that I should stand – that indeed it is preferable to stand – because I’m sitting on my 40-something arse for 40-something hours a week. In fact, as a result of being fed up of sitting on said arse for so long (you can have too much of a good thing) I have been known on occasion to want to stand.  But there’s still a difference between wanting something and preferring it. I want a nice two-bedroom house in Brockley, for example, but I’d prefer a three-bedroom one.

All this said: no matter how much I weep with joy at the bagging of a vacant Tube seat, like the last eight-year-old left standing/sitting, at the end of a particularly hard-fought game of musical chairs, I would, of course, give up my seat for a pregnant woman, or an elderly person. I’m not a monster, you know. I’m just over 40.

dog on trainThis pooch? Over 40 in dog years.


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

You Pack A Dressing Gown For A Weekend Away

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


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

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

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

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

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

Now, I pack a dressing gown.

(As well as Alka Seltzer and strappy sandals.)

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

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

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

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

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


The Sagrada Familia. Estimated completion date: 2028.

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