My mother, Ann, who is 82, was asked to write an article for VIP magazine. “Who do you think you are, Rosanna Davison?” I teased, uncharitably. “You are just jealous,” she observed, accurately.
It transpired that the clever people at the celebrity magazine wanted her to compose some “life lessons for every decade”. No better woman, I had to agree. She sent the article to me to check over, the way I sometimes send her my columns.
Her advice, soon to be on shelves and in doctors’ waiting rooms and hairdressers across the land, was sensible and sound. She advised young women in their 20s not to be messing with their eyebrows, excellent counsel which will probably be ignored by most VIP readers in their 20s, but they can’t say they weren’t warned. For the 70s she suggested: “Stop dyeing your hair.”
The one that really caught my eye was what she wrote for people in their 50s: Being 50 there is no need to pretend any more.
I turned 50 last week and have been celebrating. There is no need to pretend any more, so to be completely honest since October 1st I’ve been having an extravagant birthday month and make no apologies for tearing the complete arse out of it. It was still October last time I checked the calendar and this Libran is not yet finished celebrating.
I’ve had some lovely presents. Gold hoop earrings so huge they’d take your eye out, candles that look like the Poolbeg towers, a giant vase that looks like a boiled sweet, the promise of a trip to Rome.
But I just want the same thing I’ve always wanted. The present I thought I’d be given at 30. And again at 40. I want to feel at peace and not like somebody who needs improving.
This, I should clarify, is an existential rather than a physical aspiration. For example, I’ve long ago come to terms with the fact that my body shape does not conform to popular culture’s narrow notions of attractiveness. And I don’t mind about the dodgy knee, an appendage that sometimes objects when I try to do “squats” – and who can blame the knee for objecting really? I mean the abhorrent word “squats” would make anyone balk.
I’m more fascinated than appalled by the creeping, almost violent hotness which at this time of my life comes out of nowhere several times a day, attacking my face, releasing instant, streaming sweat on cheeks and neck and forehead that I mop up with tissues at the dinner table while my daughters look on compassionately. “It’s only the menopause, exciting times,” I tell them so that they know there is something really hot to look forward to in their 50s.
Right now this minute is the time to start properly appreciating yourself not for what you aren’t but for what you are
I view all of these things objectively, as though from a distance, with the equanimity I learnt about on those 10-day silent meditation retreats: oh look, my body is ageing and changing and deteriorating and profusely, unexpectedly sweating. How interesting. What I find less interesting and more worrying is the sneaking suspicion that I should have done more. Copped on more. I should be more. By now.
There is no need to pretend. A friend who is a few years past 50 told me this significant birthday might put me in a funny place mentally speaking, and I didn’t believe her but I do now.
I keep thinking of my father, Peter, dead at 41, a choice he made for himself, a choice that meant he would never reach the age of 50. “I can’t stick it any more,” he wrote in a note to my mother by way of explanation, exhausted from years living with an incurable mental illness.
I think of my gorgeous friend Aisling, gone at 46 years old. I remember standing at her graveside a few winters ago as the song she chose for this moment blared out across the tombstones and floral arrangements and lovingly placed robins. The song was Wild Is the Wind, sung by David Bowie in one of the best vocal performances of his life.
Aisling, a gifted storyteller, knew we’d never forget the scene. Wild Is the Wind coming out of a speaker, sung by a recently deceased rock star as the wind whipped around us, forcing our hands deeper into pockets. Aisling who always kept a couple of bottles of champagne in the fridge so she was prepared for any moment that might require extra fizz. Who would have made a massive fuss of me if she was still about to see me turn 50.
She always knew how to celebrate. More importantly, she always knew why and when to celebrate. She knew about living. She didn’t want to pretend.
If the people at VIP wanted my tuppence worth I’d tell readers of all ages that right now this minute is the time to start properly appreciating yourself, not for what you aren’t but for what you are: a living, dying, glorious, messy, sweaty kind of miracle.
I’m 50. I don’t want to be improved. I just want to be. And I don’t want to pretend any more.
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