You Know You're Over 40 When…

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.

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):

pub-pint-glass

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

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

habitat-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

Before

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

After

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:

vase

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 Have To Work Your A*** Off To Lose Weight

Or to my American readers: You Have To Work Your A** Off To Lose Weight

Birthday-Cake--PigMe at my 30th birthday party (artist’s impression)

Now, first things first: I used to be a bit of a porker. And before you say “Don’t put yourself down, Andrea!”, trust me: there was a time when nobody could put me down. Because I was too heavy to lift up.

My first noticeable weight gain as an adult (as opposed to as a baby, when it’s positively encouraged) came when I was a student. Looking back, I don’t really know how this happened, because I was a vegetarian – and like all good vegetarian students in the ’90s, I consumed mostly lager, Hob Nobs and chips. But amazingly, put on weight I did (as Yoda might say, if Yoda ever became a porker) and this pattern continued gradually, continually, throughout my 20s.

In my mid-30s, it finally hit me what had happened, thanks largely to every woman’s friend: holiday bikini pictures. Fortunately, around the same time, I stumbled upon a book called ‘The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet’ (a sort of precursor to the Atkins Diet) and the shock that I wasn’t just fat but also, apparently, some sort of addict led me to shed two stone and three dress sizes, merely through changing how I ate. Well, not the way, so much – I still put food in my mouth, like some kind of crazy homo sapiens – but by the kind of things I ate and when I ate them. I was no longer eating in my sleep, for example, and this made a huge difference.

But since the age of 40 – ie for nearly two years now – the weight has crept back on. This is partly due to the cliché of being in a happy relationship – something which is very lovely, of course, except that this happy relationship has in turn led to me having one too many celebratory ‘fizz and chips’ nights. Frank and I would initially have these evening meals of Prosecco with fish and chips to celebrate special occasions; but then we’d start celebrating the end of the working week; and then the fact that it was a Tuesday; then we’d celebrate being alive etc etc. It was a slippery slope, largely due to the amount of mayonnaise.

In short, my inner glutton escaped, went on the run and was impossible to recapture, despite being fat and thus unable to go far. I couldn’t look at a cake without putting weight on. Mainly because after looking at the cake, I would eat it.  In fact, my desire to eat Evil Carbs started to feel like a Pavlovian reaction (fun fact: this phrase comes from an experiment in which a group of dogs were fed pavlovas!) and once again, I realised I needed to rein myself in. The final straw was the zip bursting on not one but two pairs of trousers, in some sort of comedy, Looney Tunes fashion. You can ignore the slowly growing muffin top; you can ignore the fact that jeans feel a little tighter. You can’t ignore the fact that your clothes are physically turning against you.

But hey – as I’d lost weight in my 30s as a result of simply changing my diet, I thought this was all I would have to do this time round, too. And apart from anything else, I’d seen Lorraine Kelly, Carol Vorderman and a whole host of other… well, female daytime TV presenters, mainly, slim down quite dramatically in their 40s and 50s. So obviously I thought: how hard can it be? The media is full of women d’un certain âge going from un certain weight to a much lower one. In fact, I’m sure that this was what subconsciously kept me going through my early 40s’ weight gain: the knowledge that when I decided to shift it, I would just have to change my diet again and soon enough I would be wiggling around London in a wiggle dress, solving highly complicated maths problems and winning Rear Of The Year.

But guess what? It’s not that simple. Especially the maths problems.

Because I tried, but the fat simply would not move. I’d eat only healthy carbs. I’d cut carbs altogether. Then I’d realise that was stupid, and eat healthy carbs again. I’d try truly drastic things like walking up the escalators on the Underground instead of letting them move me through the twin miracles of science and engineering. But none of it worked.

At first I wanted to blame Lorraine and Carol for making it look so easy. But then I realised I should blame cakes myself. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t blame cakes myself. Because the simple truth is: losing weight once you’re over 40 isn’t as easy as losing it when you’re d’un much younger âge. Instead of simply altering your diet it requires a change in physical habits. It requires something apparently known as ‘exercise’.

When this slowly dawned on me, I was initially filled with cakes horror. My relationship with exercise isn’t so much estranged as ‘Look, we never even had a relationship, exercise!’. But then I realised that this new need for physicality was actually as it should be. Because now, in my early 40s, I have occasional lower back pain. I have knees that can’t stay in one position for too long. I have a general lack of girlish sprightliness – as demonstrated all-too clearly on a recent country walk with my boyfriend, during which I tackled each stile with a slightly laboured 10-point turn.

Yes, there’s no denying it: in its reluctance to shift weight and its small aches and pains, my body has been telling me that drastic action isn’t just desirable now, it’s actually necessary. My body has been telling me that I finally have to, in the words of Reel 2 Real, both move it AND move it.

So I thought. I thought about how many hours a week I spend sitting in an office. I thought about how I want to form a new habit that I can make part of my life and do anywhere. I thought about how much I hate gyms. I thought: ‘What would Carol Vorderman do?’

And I decided to take up running.

Now, before you go saying: “BUT YOU CAN’T RUN AWAY FROM YOURSELF, ANDREA”, let me say: you’re right. I can’t run away from myself, mainly because I can only run for about 60 seconds at a time, and it’s not at a terrific pace when I do so.

But I can run away from the fat me. From the fat, future me with respiratory problems. It’s like Sliding Doors: if I go down one path in life, I will end up a hugely overweight middle-aged woman with severe health issues. If I go down the other, I’ll be Gwyneth Paltrow in a brown wig. See? Scary.

So now I’m running. I’ve started the Couch To 5K program – which will give me £5k if I get off the couch, or something – and already, I love it.

I love doing something completely different from my other activities, which are generally cerebral/computer-based/alcohol-related. I love knowing that I’m doing something nurturing for myself. I love running in my local park – which has views of London stretching from the Shard to the Millennium Dome, and which is full of other runners, children playing and dogs walking their owners. I love seeing the buds coming out on the trees and I love the long shadows those trees cast in the evening sun.

I also love the fact that one day, I’m going to be able to levitate.

That’s right. When you’re a really good runner, you start levitating. I know this because all the photographic evidence points to it:

woman_running_jogging

Woman-Running-on-Beach

running woman

Incredible, no? And yes, you might tell me that these snaps are merely the human equivalent of the famous Sallie Gardner At A Gallop photographs – which not only proved that horses have all four hooves off the ground when they gallop but also led to the development of motion pictures, most notably the motion picture Seabiscuit.

But I prefer to think that these women are so happy, so joyous and so bloody fit that they’re levitating.

And someday soon, cakes god willing, I will be too.

Your Glastonbury Stage Of Choice Is The Acoustic Tent

glastonbury-pyramid-stageNot the Acoustic Tent

I have been to the Glastonbury Festival three times: in 2002, 2003 and 2004. I had to double check that those were the dates (thanks, Wikipedia, for your memory-jogging lists of stage line-ups) because, not unlike the Sixties, if you remember Glastonbury, you probably weren’t there.

Not that I was high on drugs, you understand. It was, I imagine, the beer and wine – consumed in large quantities from paper cups – which destroyed those key brain cells. And at the time, it seemed worth it.

Because there’s no place – or rather, experience – quite like the Glastonbury Festival. The combination of non-stop live music, good friends, green fields, and overly priced food and alcohol makes it a delight.

When I popped my Glastonbury cherry in 2002, it wasn’t just some cheap two-night stand – it was love. I spent a blissful, sunny weekend with my then-new boyfriend (and some other people, apparently) watching the likes of Coldplay, Alabama 3, Nelly Furtado, Manu Chao and, of course, Rolf Harris. I’ll never forget Chris Martin opening Coldplay’s Pyramid Stage-headlining set with the pounding chords of Politik; nor Rolf’s incredible didgeridoo solos.

Having enjoyed the experience so much, I eagerly returned in 2003. Once again, it was a wonderful combination of sunshine, music, friends and overly priced food and drink – and I saw terrific sets by the likes of Radiohead, REM, Moby, Souad Massi and Jimmy Cliff. If there’s more fun to be had in life than sitting in the blazing sunshine with a paper cup of beer in your hand while Jimmy Cliff plays live, then I’m not sure what it is. Possibly doing all that and then returning to your luxury caravan in the VIP area… I don’t know. I’ve never done that.

But despite my lack of VIP experience, I still loved the festival, and went back the following year. Only: two things changed.

The first was the weather.

Never listen to a Glastonbury old-timer who assures you that the festival is just as much fun – maybe even more so! – in the rain.

It’s not.

Here is Glastonbury in the sun:

040624i

Here is Glastonbury in the rain:

glastonbury_mud

I’ll make no bones about it: it’s rubbish. And even if you have wellies and jumpers and at least one cagoule, it’s not so much the damp or the cold that gets to you, but the tiredness that ensues from the fact that you can’t sit down anywhere. You walk around and around and around… endlessly, achingly. During a sunny Glastonbury, you’d just park your denim-shorted bottom on any available patch of grass, but you simply can’t do that when it’s a rainy year. Mainly because grass doesn’t exist anymore. Because it’s mud.

Secondly, popular music was entering its Quite Difficult To Listen To Blokey Guitar Music Phase (this is as opposed to the Very Easy To Listen To Blokey Guitar Music Phase, which took place in the Nineties and was dominated by Oasis). In 2004, Kings of Leon, Muse and Franz Ferdinand were all main acts on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage – and over the next few years, they would be joined by likes of The Killers, The White Stripes, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys, none of whom are my cup of warm beer. The acts I enjoyed most at Glastonbury in 2004 were Paul McCartney, Sister Sledge, Keane, Bonnie Raitt and Amy Winehouse. Clearly, I would be more at home listening to that sort of music at, well, home, than being at Glastonbury listening to bands I found it quite difficult to listen to.

But mainly, it was the mud. I wasn’t high enough, mad enough or tough enough to enjoy the mud.

01_mainNot me

So the love affair was over. Glastonbury and I were through. I had been badly burned – unfortunately not by the sun – and I vowed that I wouldn’t return, lest the weather was terrible again. It’s not been a decision that I’ve ever really regretted. Especially during the years that it’s rained.

Besides, as I say, mainstream pop music and I were seeming to part company. I mean, I was always really a Jazz World Stage kinda girl (Bonnie Raitt, Souad Massi and some of the others I mention above all played that stage, for example) – and so, when the line-up for this year’s Glastonbury was announced, I looked through the list below, and wondered who would be playing my favourite stage – the Jazz World one – this year:

glastonbury-2013-lineup

Except, as the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed, there’s no Jazz World Stage anymore! I have no idea when this changed – presumably when someone decided that it was possibly quite patronising to call anything other than white Western music ‘world’ music; or perhaps Jazz and World had some sort of big falling out due to musical differences – but realising this made me feel rather out of touch.

Still, that was nothing compared to my next realisation: that the only stage I’d be really interested in hanging out at at Glastonbury this year, if I was going, would be the Acoustic Tent. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’m TOTALLY hip and down with The Kid – I like First Aid Kit and Alabama Shakes and I know one song by Frightened Rabbit. But really, look at the line-up at the Acoustic Tent:

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 19.39.28

The Proclaimers? Martin Stephenson & The Daintees? Stev(i)e Winwood?! NOW you’re talking!

Yes, siree. You could plonk me down in that tent – and I would have to be sitting down, I just can’t stand for that long any more – and I’d be as happy as Larry. With ‘Larry’ being the 18-year-old me.

And it’s not just that it’s the music of my youth. It’s also that I’ve realised I enjoy music by older people – in my heart, I think I always have – and as I’ve got older myself, it makes more and more sense to me, in an unconscious, instinctive way. I listen to James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell… and in the case of jazz musicians, sometimes they’re so old, they’re dead. As a result, unsurprisingly, I’m now more drawn to the likes of Lucinda Williams (60), Gretchen Peters (55) and Stev(i)e Winwood (64) than I am to a band whose collective age is one of those numbers. So the Acoustic Tent would indeed be my Glastonbury stage of choice – and I’d probably only have the urge to leave it when The Rolling Stones and Kenny Rogers were performing over at the Pyramid Stage.

But while (a) liking the acts playing the Acoustic Tent and (b) not knowing the music of approximately 70% of the rest of the festival line-up are both good indicators that I’m over 40, another, of course, is that I’m not going in the first place because the whole thing seems like too much of an effort.

I like to think that I’m fairly hardy. I’m not some dreadful figure of a pampered, city woman like Carrie in Sex And The City when she spends a weekend at Aidan’s house in the woods, tottering around in high heels and complaining about nature. I like going for country walks as much as the next person who has walking boots they wear every six months.

But the fact remains that these days, I’d rather spend £200 on a weekend in a boutique B&B which gets good reviews on TripAdvisor. These days, I like my home comforts. I like a good night’s sleep. I like a hot shower. I like a nice duvet. I like an indoor toilet. I like sitting down.

In short, really, it’s about the mud.

Glastonbury_2005_Mud_at_Other_Stage

 

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

You Realise It’s Increasingly Unlikely You’ll Be The First Person To Do Something

thatcherMargaret Thatcher, Dream Snatcher

Maybe it’s because I’m a relentless optimist. Maybe it’s because people – not you, other people – say life begins at 40. Maybe it’s because John Lennon called me a dreamer (he did. He said “People say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one”, which was clearly a reference to me. Well, people like me. And him).

Whatever the reason, a part of me still clings on to the belief that I will Achieve Something Momentous In Life. And it’s a fact that once you’re over *whispers* a certain age, the feeling that you’re going to do this begins to diminish somewhat. And the feeling that you’re going to be the first person to do this thing doesn’t so much diminish as laugh in your increasingly lived-in face.

When Margaret Thatcher got into power in 1979, I was fuming. Not because I was a leftie – I am, but I was eight at the time and didn’t have strong political views – but because Thatcher, the Iron Lady, had instantly scuppered any dreams I, the Iron Baby, had of becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister. I was incensed! The only way I could console myself was to listen to Roger Whittaker’s children’s album really loud.

As life went on, I tried to put that early defeat behind me (and to be honest, the Roger Whittaker albums helped). I dreamed of being the first person – not just the first woman – to do all sorts of things, or at least to feature in one of those ‘Ones To Watch’ pieces in newspaper weekend magazines. Amazingly, though, these features weren’t paying close attention to The Ones To Watch In Independent Cinema Management, or The Ones To Watch In Digital Television Companies That Are Clearly Heading For Failure, and focused instead on things like British theatre and entrepreneurial business. BORING!

I soldiered on. I switched from career to career – each time getting older as I started a new job, but each time feeling just as young and full of hope, because I was starting afresh. But I had, I now realise, a personal glass ceiling. I would reach a certain level of success in each field… and then move on. This wasn’t down to a dreadfully short attention span, I hasten to add, but rather a form of self-sabotage. I understand now that – even if I had the wits and talent to do so – I was afraid to succeed at A Grand Level, afraid to be ambitious. I’d constructed this glass ceiling myself, and it was following me around like Charlie Brown’s rain cloud.

Now, I may not have completely smashed that ceiling, but I’ve at least punched a great socking hole in it, and continue to try and do so with every new challenge or opportunity that I face (although as we all know, the former is actually the latter in disguise – right, kids?!). But to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how less afraid or how more ambitious I am now – because the fact remains that one’s chances of being The First Person To Do Something aren’t just diminished by age but by the fact that in order to be The First Person To Do Something, you usually need to be Jolly Good At Something by the point at which you hope to be the first person to do it. Or at least you need to have discovered and then channelled your focus, passion and ambition before the age of fortysomething.

The London Olympics, for example, might have inspired us Brits to get off our fat arses and… watch the opening and closing ceremonies. And maybe go and see some sport. But the fact is: no matter how many Jessica Ennises and Chris Hoys there are (there might be a few – I’ve not checked the modern phone book, LinkedIn), we, the average Joe/Jess/Chris, are unlikely to achieve their records because they’ve worked bloody hard at being brilliant at running/jumping/cycling/stuff for years. Similarly, Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s just become the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars, started acting at school and got his first lead film role at the age of 14. What’s more, according to Wikipedia, at school “he was introduced to his three most prominent interests: woodworking, acting and fishing” – so who knows what Day-Lewis could have gone to achieve in carpentry, too. Probably make amazing fishing rods.

In short, you have to Get Your Shit Together And Work Really Hard At Something For A Long Time if you want to achieve great success. Which is how it should be, of course. I don’t expect any shortcuts in life – except perhaps from Charing Cross station to the Embankment, along that little walkway thing. But I’m increasingly fearful that I’m running out of time. Increasingly fearful that not only has that ship sailed, but I wasn’t the first woman to captain it.

For example, here are a few things I’ve realised that I can never be the first person to do. (Or you. Sorry about that.)

  • First person in space
  • First woman in space
  • First dog in space (thanks a bunch, Laika!)
  • First woman to swim the Channel
  • First woman to guest-star on The Muppets (that’s still going, right?)
  • First female Chancellor of Germany
  • First black President of the United States

I realise, of course, that I can never be the first person to do any of those things above because I was born just that little bit too late and/or just that little bit too British. And crucially, I’ve never had a strong enough interest or ability in astronomy, swimming or politics (The Muppets, on the other hand…).

But as I said at the start, I’m still holding out hope. That glass ceiling is increasingly full of holes and looking more and more precarious. Plus, as I explained here, I’m definitely one of life’s late starters. Who knows what I’ve still got it in me to do… after someone else has done it?

roger

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.

You Fall Over – And Stay Down

czj
There’s nothing I like doing more after work than indulging in a little window shopping.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Why are you shopping for windows, Andrea? And why are you after little ones especially?”. To which I’d reply: I don’t mean shopping for windows, silly, I mean browsing items I can’t possibly afford in the shops of London’s glittering Covent Garden area. Yes, I may be over 40, but I still can’t keep myself in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed. Why, just this week I ate not one but two packed lunches. It’s like the internet boom never happened.

Window shopping, therefore, gives me all the satisfaction of shopping (looking at sparkly things) without any of the pain (spending money, looking at a sparkly things in one’s wardrobe and lamenting ‘what was I thinking?!’ and falling into a spiral of disappointment, debt and self-loathing). Although, come to think of it, I get the same satisfaction when doing normal shopping, too – because what tends to happen is that I try on said sparkly things and instantly think they look terrible on me. And thus no money is parted with and no self-loathing or debt ensues. Win-win!

Anyway, on this particular recent post-work evening, I took my normal window-shopping route: from Tottenham Court Road to Charing Cross station via Covent Garden and the Strand. The Strand may not be on everyone’s radar as a must-do shopping destination, but lying, as it does, between Covent Garden and Charing Cross station, and containing, as it does, both a TopShop AND a Superdrug (where I can get my shopping fix, if all else has failed, by buying some paracetamol), I can highly recommend it.

I was laden down with bags as I entered TopShop. Not because I’d been buying anything (see above), but because I was carrying overnight clothes and shoes – at least two of them – as a result of staying over at my boyfriend’s the night before. I was also carrying my very large handbag, and a can of 7-Up. Yes, being a woman, I can multi-task.

Except that I can’t multi-task – if the ability to multi-task means the ability to carry a few bags, drink out of a can of 7-Up and walk without falling over.

Because after perusing the items TopShop had to offer on the ground floor, I decided to head down to its basement. This involved, as you might suspect, stairs. So I walked down the stairs, lugging my big handbag and my big carrier bag and drinking out of my can of 7-Up and…

BOOM!

A bomb went off.

Not really! I fell over. Smack onto my arse. So: an Andrea Bomb went off.

Now, falling over in public isn’t a completely remarkable thing. We’ve all done it. Especially women in romcoms. They do it all the time!

But what was remarkable was this:

I stayed down.

I stayed down for just that little bit too long.

I stayed down while the young, under-40 staff fussed around me and asked me if I was alright and started mopping up the 7-Up – which was quickly becoming even more of a health and safety hazard than 7-Up usually is – and I genuinely didn’t care what they, or any of my fellow window-shoppers, thought of me.

I stayed there, having a little sit-down, when I could actually choose to get up. When in the past, indeed, I would have got up immediately, swiftly, in the hope that no one had seen me fall.

In short: I stayed down like a little old lady stays down when she’s had a fall.

(Which is an important distinction, I hasten to add. You know you’re over 40 when you fall down and stay down. You know you’re over 70 when you ‘have a fall’.)

When I eventually picked myself up – a good few minutes later – I confess I felt that I’d behaved more like an elderly woman in an Alan Bennett play than a beautiful, yet klutzy, Hollywood romcom heroine. Also, it wasn’t just my pride that was dented. My can of 7-Up was a write-off.

But I consoled myself slightly with the fact that I had fallen down and stayed down in a branch of TopShop – as opposed to, say, a branch of John Lewis. The latter would surely be an even more worrying sign of ageing. Although it would mean that I’m finally living in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed.

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