Middle aged.  When I hear the words, I think of my parents, of the generation above me.  Other, older people.  However, the reality is that I am middle aged and my parents are old (sorry guys).  I mean if we assume that the life expectancy in developed countries stands at 80, then 40 or so is middle aged.  I am over 40.  Ergo, middle aged.

Of course when I was in my teens and early twenties (it’s a long time ago, but I do remember it vaguely) I thought that middle age was the equivalent of death.  I saw my parents as relics, stuck in a bygone era where kids listened to their parents and never did anything cool or against the rules.  As with all young people, I assumed that my parents were born middle aged and boring.  The truth is that when I was a teenager, my mum was in her thirties, she was younger than I am now.  Still, now that I am wearing the comfortable shoes and a sweater for the draught, I still feel young.

When I say I feel young, I don’t actually mean that I physically feel young.  Let’s get this out there right now.  I do not feel physically young.  But, if I am honest, I have always felt physically older than I actually am.  I mean when I was a young teenager, I looked like a young adult.  I have always looked older than I am, and as a young person looking older isn’t always an advantage.  People expect you to behave in a certain way.  The disadvantages are that all behaviour that could be associated with your actual age is deemed ‘acting up’ which means tantrums are out of the question, and adults who find out your real age stare and comment as if you are a circus freak who can’t hear them despite being two feet away in the same room.  Also, boys your age don’t ask you out because you make them feel short.  On the plus side, I have never been asked for ID.  Ever. And cigarettes? Alcohol? Porn? Cinema Tickets? – I’ll get it.

Anyway.  Gone are the days when you are a hero for buying cigarettes and alcohol.  These days it is never an advantage to be perceived as older than you are, and for the most part I am not, except when you ask children, and they assume that because you can drive, you were around to witness the dawning of the Ice Age.

But what of middle age?  What is happening to me?

The most obvious one is where you discover a startling similarity to one (or both) of your parents.   So, it is with alarm that I note the frequency with which I follow my sister around the house switching lights off, and how often I mutter to myself when I gather up all the empty water bottles from everywhere and refill them to return to the fridge.  I mean, how much water can one person drink?  The answer is – at least 2 litres within an hour of coming home from work.  I can barely manage to drink a glass of water a day, and she drinks at least 4 litres.  I wish I could say that I am exaggerating  but I am not, she is some sort of irrigation project all on her own, and she has the lovely complexion to show for it.

So, like Dad, I switch off lights and equipment religiously, moan about filing and bills and general untidiness.  This of course is completely unfair, as I definitely contribute to the untidiness at the flat, although I can say in my defence, that I am not a millipede, so have considerably less shoes.  The point is that I have become ‘one of those people’.  ‘Those people’ that I always thought my parents were, but I was too cool to be.  A practical person.  A person who thinks about things like ‘how much is this costing?’ or ‘will it make a mess?’ or ‘where will we put it?’ and finally – “is this necessary?” (To which the answer from D is always “no, but it’s so pretty…” )

As for the similarities between me and Mum well, it’s practically impossible to tell us apart at this point.  All of my nephews and nieces confused us and called us each other’s names when they were young.  It’s not that I physically resemble my Mum, I don’t really.  It’s just that we are alike.  We gesticulate the same way, we talk a little too loudly (my excuse is that I am becoming hard of hearing (like my Dad!)) We both like to be at home, we both like to prepare ridiculously early for things.  (The running joke in our family is that Mum peels the carrots for Christmas lunch in August).  We are both punctual, efficient and we adjust the collar of my sister’s coat every single time she goes out.  So, am I becoming like my parents?  Check and check, both parties represented, thank you very much.

I am more offended by the increased negativity I seem to have developed to be honest.  I used to be unable to see disadvantages in everything, you know, the confidence of youth.  I even smoked for years believing that I would be the one person whom smoking would not affect aversely.  I never carried out risk assessments in my head every time I did anything.  Now I feel I would be extremely employable as an insurance assessor.  I know that being a nanny affected my ability to be relaxed around children.  Call it an occupational hazard, but when you are responsible for other people’s children, you cannot just sit there and watch them balance precariously off the highest rung of the climbing frame without tensing and standing nearby, arms outstretched, prepared to go and catch them before they splat onto the cement.  Even watching an unsteady 18 month old cross a living room and narrowly avoid every bloody table corner and trip over near pointy furniture takes years off your life, I genuinely think that this job has made me age prematurely .  But now, even when we are sitting around and someone suggests going out, I twitch inwardly and think, about things like parking restrictions and tube changes and outside temperatures and wind chill factors.  It is a habit I am trying to get out of, but in my head, it happens every time, and I am frightened by how often I have talked myself out of stuff.

Speaking of risk assessment I am reminded of when I was organising my 40th birthday party.  The venue I had booked wanted me to have insurance for the evening, it was in their T&Cs so I called the company they recommended.  The man asked me to describe the event.  I told him that it was a party with dancing, but also that I had hired a tattoo artist (not real tattoos, I am just not that cool) and a palm reader.  He says:

“You have to make sure that both those people have public liability insurance.”

“Ok, what for?” say I.

“Well in the case of the tattoo artist, there may be a possibility that one of your guests is allergic to the products they use on their skin.  These people may sue you because they got a rash.”

“But these people are my friends,” I said, wondering what kind of friends this guy has.

“That may be so, but you need for them to be covered.  The palm reader is even more complicated.”

“What could possibly be complicated about a palm reader?” I was thinking maybe she could sprain someone’s wrist while holding their hand or something.

“Let’s say she tells one of your guests something that they don’t like and they get depressed, or make a terrible decision, or cancel plans, or even alter the course of their lives.  They could sue you for bringing them into contact with this person.  You have to make it clear that you are not responsible for what she says.”

How off-putting would that be?  A large sign behind the palm reader saying

PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT YOU SPEAK TO THIS PERSON ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK

MARIA CANNOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT SHE SAYS OR ANY DECISIONS YOU MAKE AS A RESULT OF THIS CONSULTATION.

Just the kind of thing that attracts you to a palm reader.  I mean, this woman goes from party to party reading people’s palms for a bit of light entertainment.  Presumably she doesn’t tell everyone:

“Dye your hair blue, lose that dipstick of a husband, find God and join the circus. Life is too short and you may die (or travel) soon.”

And even if she did, I am going to go out on a limb and say that most of my friends would take it with a pinch – nay, a handful – of salt. I assured the man that my friends were neither hysterical, nor stupid.

He gave a short humourless laugh.  “Still,” he said, “If they don’t have public liability insurance, you will have to insure against that with us, it will increase your premium.”

What can I say? Insurance agents: the world’s jolliest people, no word of a lie.

Where was I? Oh yes, getting old.

Let’s discuss the stuff that is obvious.  The physical stuff.  The fact that I now can never sleep for more than six hours in a row.  What is the point of not having to be an early riser if I wake up every morning including weekends at an hour that would allow me to have a relaxing start to the day and still be at work at 08:30am?  There is no point is the answer. Also I can’t see stuff without either putting glasses on or taking them off.  Everything that requires reading that isn’t written in letters visible from outer space requires some sort of ocular adjustment.  If I am wearing my contacts, I cannot actually focus on the food on my plate, it’s too bloody close.   Ears – well I mentioned it earlier, but I am really going a bit deaf, and so a lot of things are suffering as a result.  My sister is the first thing that is suffering as she has to listen to the TV very loud.  Also, I am quite loud (although,  have probably always been a bit louder than most, I think it comes from being part of a large Greek family.)  My non-Greek friends have always thought that we argue a lot as a family, but we are in fact having perfectly normal pleasant conversation at a volume that suggests fury and acrimony.  Other physical symptoms include stiffness in my hips (what a cliché) and rheumatic thumbs (thanks Mum).  Oh and the noises I make when I have to move (I have already discussed these in previous posts – I am aware – I didn’t want you to think that I am also getting forgetful).  Generally, I feel like my body is like a car that you have had for just that bit too long and that regular servicing no longer restores to its former glory.  It still runs, but it’s temperamental.  Bad weather and bumpy roads now affect its performance.  The car is slow to start and sputters when you pick up speed.  And on days when the weather is wholly inclement and the car feels tired… it just doesn’t start at all.  It feels like I should be writing this in my sixties not my forties, but this is where it starts I guess.  The odd grey hair is no longer odd.  It is a question of how many you will find each day.  And I’m lucky.  I have inherited my father’s hair.  He is in his late seventies and his hair is still mostly dark.  To be honest though, since I have no intention of ever doing anything about my greying hair, I am not really in a position to complain.  I hate going to the hairdresser even more than I hate woody pears (you know, when a pear looks like a pear, smells like a pear, tastes like a pear, but has no juice. Ugh!).  It’s not the atmosphere or the expense or the fact that everything at the hairdressers smells of chemicals and takes an unnaturally long time.  Oh wait – yes it is.  Those are just the first few reasons I hate going.  Add to that the inane conversation about holidays and celebrity gossip, and the fact that having my hair pulled can still make me cry and going to the hairdressers ranks up there with my annual smear test. So dyeing my hair? Or in fact doing anything to my hair that isn’t over in 10 minutes? Yeah, not going to happen.

What then to do about all this?  Well I have given this a lot of thought and what I came up with was…

DENIAL.

I am going to pretend it’s not happening.  I will ignore the obvious signs and carry on as before, only slower.  After all, I am having fun, I am still enjoying everything I did before, it’s just that now, after a big night I need a week to recover whereas before a few hours and a big fry up would do the trick.  A small price to pay for kidding myself that I am still young-ish, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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