Archive for the ‘midlife’ Category

Reclaim cool bars!

In Food & Drink, midlife on September 5, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Why should cool bars be the preserve of the young?

I’m the first to admit I don’t get out enough these days, but that doesn’t mean to say when I do go out I only want to go to child-friendly restaurants, book groups, or pub quiz nights. In fact only the last of those do I go to with any enthusiasm. Read the rest of this entry »

#56 Oh dear…

In midlife on August 28, 2010 at 11:41 am

There’s nothing like being on the cover of a magazine to make you realise how old you look. Even with all that photoshopping, tonnes of slap, and sucking my belly in really hard, I’m still thinking: fewer pies, more expensive moisturiser. Read the rest of this entry »

#54 Shoot

In Kids, midlife on August 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm

It’s not every day that a national newspaper wants to shoot me for the cover of its magazine – and there are many, many reasons why, as anyone who has ever seen, or tried to take, a picture of me will testify. Read the rest of this entry »

#53 The Midlife Manual

In midlife on August 6, 2010 at 10:46 am

With The Midlife Manual due for publication on 2 September (‘Don’t turn 40 without it!’), my co-author and I are now obliged to start blogging, tweeting, facebooking, and no doubt stumbling, digging and didgeridoing by way of trying to raise its profile enough to encourage someone to buy it.

As we are continuously being told: ‘no one buys books any more’. In fact my co-writer was made redundant from his position of Books Editor of a leading listings magazine for precisely this reason, though strangely (and perhaps illegally?) I notice they have since employed a new ‘books editor’ suggesting that even if people don’t buy books, they still want to read them. Just as people no longer want to pay for music, but they will always want to listen to it.

Sadly we are no Radiohead and can’t afford to offer our creative output for download at a nominal 1p (plus we happen to like the physicality of a book), so the socially networked marketing campaign must begin. Read the rest of this entry »

#51 Feet

In midlife, White collar denial on July 21, 2010 at 10:33 pm

It’s hard to relax while an Eastern European woman is wrapping your feet in cling film.

It was my first proper pedicure (I know! At my age!) and while the results were silky smooth, there is nevertheless someting culturally uncomfortable about having somebody working on your feet.

Perhaps its the supplicatory position required by the practitioner, or latent imagery from Sunday School stories of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet (John 13: 3-17 if you’re interested), made slightly scarier by the fact that mysterious groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Anabaptists and Amish still practice it. (I’ve never had my shoes shined either.) This is all made even more awkward when you consider that this is a woman who is brilliant at her job (Hell, I don’t even HAVE a job) and whose services cost more and are more in demand than those of a freelance journalist. Read the rest of this entry »

#48 Life, death and nostalgia at the car boot sale

In Gratuitous nostalgia, midlife, Tales on June 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

I thought a car boot sale was just about getting up too early on a Saturday and making a quick bit of cash; turns out they are a philosophically-charged hotbeds of self-examination, rites of passage, relationship diplomacy, and even life and death.

Having just filed the last tranche of the 40,000 or so words required for the forthcoming book Welcome to Midlife, which I’ve co written with the far more literary than myself John O’Connell, (published by Short Books this autumn), I thought I’d make a bit of much needed cash at the school car boot. (Writing books is a privilege, but it pays bugger all.) Read the rest of this entry »

#32 Pub Quiz

In midlife on February 17, 2010 at 12:11 am

As cheap and cheerful entertainment goes, the pub quiz is king. Apparently quizzes now run a close third behind darts and snooker as Britain’s most popular bar room sport, with almost half the pubs in the country now hosting one. find a pub quiz near you

I’ve no idea whether pub quizzes are a British phenomenon (though it should clearly be a 2012 exhibition sport) and the few sources I can find suggest they didn’t really evolve until the 1970s, but a generation who grew up with Top of the Form, Blockbusters and Ask the Family got given Triv one Christmas and is now lapping up Weakest Link and  …Millionaire. (Or QI and Celebrity Mastermind if you like to think of yourself as an intellectual.)

The pub quiz I go to is less than 150yds from my front door. This is what passes for a Big Night Out for me these days. It is held in one of the area’s last unreconstructed boozers, or at least half unreconstructed: a curious hybrid where the front half is stripped tables and Sky Sports, but the saloon remains exactly how it was 20 years ago – red velour banquetttes, wildly patterned carpet, wonky frosted glass wall lights, mismatched wallpaper, and a nicotine brown ceiling which, bearing in mind the even tone and the fact that smoking has been banned for two and a half years now, must actually be painted that way. Apparently they do occasionally renovate, it’s just that they always renovate it exactly how it was.

It once flirted with a wine list, but soon reverted to its red v white arrangement, though to be fair they did upgrade from the previous house vintage, the worryingly named  ‘Esperanza’. As far as cocktails go, you are looking at a spirits shelf that contains things called ‘Aftershock’ and ‘Micky Finn’. It has even been known, on more than one occasion, to run out of bitter.

This is not a ‘destination pub’, it is a local. If you lived on the other side of London, you wouldn’t choose to come here. If you lived on the other side of the main road, you’d possibly consider nearer options. But I don’t. So I go.

Some pubs boast celebrity comedy pub quizzes, we have a man with holes in his socks. But he’s a nice man who compiles the quiz out of a sense of civic duty, gives £1 of our £1.50 participation money to charity (the rest goes into the jackpot),  and is always smiling. There’s the usual rivalry between two teams who take it in turns to win, but when the top prize is a crate of beer and the second a bottle of wine to share, no one else really minds. It’s more fun just to pick sides and cheer them on.

When the ugly rumour circulated last week that the quiz, or rather quizmaster, might go as the management wanted to ‘try a new format’,  there were strong mutterings on the local gossip forum.

So if you can’t get there before the end of this month, or live on the other side of the main road, you can still replicate the experience by painting your ceiling brown, pouring yourself a Spitfire, arguing over a witty name, and answering these (most of which our team got right):

Who claimed ‘An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.’

Who said: ‘I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’?

What was the last No1 of the 1980s?

In which city is the Hallé orchestra based?

The name of which capital city translates as ‘I see a mountain’?

Which poet wrote about ‘Matilda who told such dreadful lies’?

Where did the Beatles give their last public performance?

If you were to sail west from Lands End, which country would you hit first?

‘Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?’ Which book?

Which two countries fought the battle of Flodden?

And because there was always a waterways question: What river does the Scottish city of Perth stand on?

The jackpot question,  ‘Which 1980s band had a singer called Fish?’







(look away now)

Who claimed ‘An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.’

Agatha Christie

Who said: ‘I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’?

Isaac Newton

What was the last No1 of the 1980s?

Band Aid II

In which city is the Hallé orchestra based?


The name of which capital city translates as ‘I see a mountain’?


Which poet wrote about ‘Matilda who told such dreadful lies’?

Hilaire Belloc

Where did the Beatles give their last public performance?

On the roof of the Apple building, Savile Row, 1969

If you were to sail due west from Lands End, which country would you hit first?


‘Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?’ Which book?

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Which two countries fought the battle of Flodden?

Scotland & England

And because there was always a waterways question: What river does the Scottish city of Perth stand on?


The jackpot question,  ‘Which 1980s band had a singer called Fish?’


#15 The great mince pie challenge

In Food & Drink, midlife, White collar denial on December 2, 2009 at 5:18 pm

December is here, which means mince pie season. Hurrah!

Surrounded by delis and upmarket bakeries as I am, the pickings are rich. But I have a moral dilemma: how much is too much to spend on a handmade mince pie during a recession? Read the rest of this entry »

#13 Grey

In Down and Out, midlife on November 25, 2009 at 2:53 pm

When the whole recession thing started to trickle down to street level, I asked a stylist friend who cuts hair how she was faring. Was she losing clients? ‘Oh no! My ladies say that they’d rather go without food than not have their hair done.’

Personally I’d rather shave my head than forgo good food, and yet I find myself at a follicle crossroads. One word: grey. It is seeping in from the temples and springing from the parting and there is little I can do to stem the tide. The image in the mirror has become a spiteful reminder of my slide towards middle age and anonymity.

In the past, the occasional £75+ to obliterate it with warm chestnut or camouflage it with highlights kept me in blissful denial, but now I can’t imagine ever having that much spare cash again. And even if I did, I’d probably spend it on cheese.

It seems unfair that a man with grey hair is seen as distinguished, even desirable, yet for women it’s still something of a social taboo. (When is a woman ever referred to as a ‘silver fox’?) But then, men are also allowed to be old; women aren’t.

But if men like my husband can make male-pattern baldness cool by teaming a No1 cut with a Cos shirt and APC jeans, then perhaps women can make grey a fashion statement.

First we need role models, of which there turn out to be depressingly few. After wracking my brains, all I’ve managed to come up with is: Jamie Lee Curtis; Susan Sontag; Indira Gandhi; fashion designer Helen Storey (she was big in about 1990); Vanessa Redgrave; Rogue out of X-men; Alexandra Cabot from 1970s Hanna-Barbera animation series Josie and the Pussycats (see above); and Dame Judi Dench. A motley crew only able to carry it off either by having been already revered in their field when they lost their melanin, or being cartoon characters.

Far more numerous are the women who I refuse to believe aren’t grey: I give you Madonna, Arlene Phillips, Elizabeth Taylor, Dame Shirley Bassey…

Perhaps we can take heart instead from a New Scientist article which claims grey hair can protect against cancer.

Or this beautiful illustration published in Bronwen Meredith’s “Vogue Body and Beauty Book” 1977 entitled The Beauty of Grey Hair, 1920s. The caption reads:

C.R., The Beauty of Grey Hair, 1920s by Gatochy.
‘Thanks to her sophisticated charm, a carefully picked wardrobe and assiduous care the grey haired woman can be charming. Pity the poor deluded woman who weeps over her jet black hair, because she didn’t realize gray hair is much more distinguished. The pot of hair dye did its job — and deprived her of her greatest beauty.’

If only. Pixie Geldof may have flirted with grey at the Elle Style Awards, but until someone persuades Kate Moss to appear at Glastonbury with a prominent grey streak, or Madonna to go au naturel, women will continue to spend a fortune on (self) deception. Or, when they’re broke, simply avoid mirrors.

#6 Learn to love housework

In Homeworking, midlife on October 19, 2009 at 11:17 pm

The day I caught myself congratulating myself on the whiteness of my white wash was the day I knew things had gone too far.

There is a certain type of parent I used to cross the playground to avoid, the ones who make you feel inadequate with their impeccable organisation, or wear you down with their boundless enthusiasm for cake sales and book bag notes. They aren’t, it should be noted, all women, but, if we’re honest, a lot of them are.

Then, with a bit more time on my hands, I got to know some of them. They are invariably bright, funny, skilled, interesting people who once did demanding jobs but, through choice or circumstance, now don’t. At least not one that involves financial remuneration and social status. Without them, schools would cease to function. Seriously.

Job satisfaction comes from doing a job well, and having such a job gives you much-needed self esteem, structure, and focus. Without it, you feel like you are at best drifting, at worst, worthless. So what do you do when you don’t have the luxury of an actual paid job? You turn to your other roles to provide what is missing. Which is exactly what these parents have done. While the working parent may congratulate themselves if they actually know where all their children are at any given time, the professional parent will be whipping themselves over something trivial such as forgetting a packed lunch. The working parent knows that they can only do so much, and praise at work makes up for minor domestic disorganisation. The profession parent works hard but rarely gets such positive reinforcement, however smoothly they run their home.

Earlier this year, Radio 4 serialised a wryly amusing book by Andrew Martin   ‘How to Get Things Really Flat: A man’s guide to ironing, dusting, and other household arts’ (Short Books). As well as offering some useful tips on home economics, it successfully evoked the primitive pleasure of a job well done.  [I have since also encountered the phenomenon of extreme ironing, but that’s something best left to another post.]

So it is that over the past few months I have found myself:

* ironing my son’s school polo shirts before he puts them on in the morning (you can’t see them under his sweatshirt, but he likes it if they are warm)

* buying extreme cleaning products such as Vanish Oxi Action, Neutradol carpet freshener, Dr Beckmann’s Glowhite and Ariel Excel Gel (brilliant cleaning from 15 degrees)

* stockpiling this season’s junk mail catalogues (Book People, Bright Minds, Yellow Moon) in anticipation of some well-planned Christmas shopping

* rationalising the hat, scarf and gloves box

* taking the empty juice cartons to the recycling bank

* washing the cloth shopping bags

* freezing left over coq au vin  and remembering to defrost it again in time for an evening meal

* making my own stuffing

* washing the filter in the Dyson, as advised every 6 months

* sewing name tags in things that could easily have got by with biro initials on the washing instructions label

* dusting the shutters, slat by slat

* buying the ingredients to make my own pizza

I now have time to shop locally on a daily basis for fresh food as I need it, rather than over-buying meat then throwing it out. I never have to buy ready meals. I can do the laundry on days when it is sunny enough for it to dry, rather than packing it into a weekend and hanging it on the radiators. I  can be in to receive deliveries or tradespersons. I have time to deliberate over special offers to ensure I get the best deal. I have painted a room. I have erected flat-pack furniture. I have fixed the leak behind the washing machine. I can pick up my children from school, rather than subcontracting the task at great expense, allowing them to invite friends round in the week or just hang out in their own rooms and play with the toys they previously never saw. I can encourage them with schoolwork. Explain long division. Read a bedtime story.

When I had a full-on, full-time job there was always a nagging concern that we were all getting further removed from a hands on relationship with the home, no longer able to so much as paint a room or change a washer, paying other people to do our cleaning, our childcare, our meal-making. On rare occasions, cleaning would even feel good, as if it was a physical reconnection with the home, sort of nurturing the house. It is no accident that cooking is often seen as an act of love towards you family or friends.

But what is a healthy balance? When at a party I teased the brilliantly energetic head of our school parents association about a minor blip in an otherwise faultlessly-organised money-spinning event, she looked crestfallen. When I reassured her that of course I was only joking, she simply stared into her glass and slowly muttered ‘I really have to get a job.’

And when I once found myself uttering the words ‘This is a really nice pinny,’ were things already beyond hope?