It was snowing. It was the first day of spring and it was snowing.
Big white fluffy flakes were tumbling out of a slate-grey sky and falling silently on the pines and silver birches. There wasn’t a bird to be seen, a crocus or a snowdrop, let alone a daffodil. I was in Bergman country and the winters are long.
It was snowing. It was the first day of spring. And it was my birthday…
Now, some people actually look forward to their birthday, but not me. On my twenty-fifth I realized with horror that thirty was only five years away and a kind of panic set in. Maybe it was a defining moment, I’m not sure, but it was certainly the point at which I decided never ever to disclose my age, even to myself.
I so understood Geraldine Page in the film Pete ‘n’ Tillie who fainted dead on the floor of a police station when pressed to state her age. On the plus side, no one in my family has to go to any trouble to put together a big celebration; they just give me a wide berth and send flowers.
I go into mourning the year before I reach a zero, but the whole tragedy really and truly begins around a seven – twenty-seven, thirty-seven, forty-seven and so on. So, you will appreciate reaching another seven in a decade I cannot bring myself even to name is a life crisis of serious proportions. Even Bergman couldn’t have done justice to the bleak prospect I was facing, although the view out of my window was what you might call a good start.
In my misery I decided to look for the positives about my situation. I was still mobile. Most days I can recall the name of the Prime-Minister and the current year, but not, you understand, the year I was born. And I still have a good head of hair. Apparently, I’m still employable.
Given that we draw to ourselves those things we most fear, earlier this year I received a phone call from a company offering to install a panic button in my home. I think the cold caller who had the great misfortune to get hold of me will remember our conversation. In a tone reminiscent of Lady Bracknell I excoriated him for failing to understand that I was not some toothless crone but a woman of some style and substance. And he should do his research. Maybe Madonna or Lulu or Helen Mirren would have handled the situation better.
There is a reason why our hearing diminishes and our eyes dim as we age: we don’t have to hear what people are saying about us or see our imperfections.
I haven’t quite reached the point where I wonder who that old woman is gazing at me through a shop window – OMG it’s me! – but I did have a nasty experience in a hotel bathroom. Take my advice if you are over the age of menopause – and to think I believed that was a crisis – angle the magnifying mirror down towards the floor, and leave it there. Those little laugh lines seen in super-magnification under LED fluorescent tubes will do nothing for your confidence. You may never be seen out in public again.
I spent the day before my birthday giving myself a pep talk about how lucky I was to have survived this long without the need for a hip replacement, incontinence pads or statins. I knew, absolutely knew, that there were some positives to reaching – well, I still can’t bring myself to reveal the number – so I did what every sensible silver-surfer does and Googled: The pluses to old age. I am handing on to you the benefits of my research.
1) You get fewer colds. According to John Upham of the University of Queensland, our immune systems having battled with assorted viruses over the decades have remembered how to deal with them. This is the reason that the 2009 swine flu outbreak had such a devastating effect on the younger generation as opposed to those over forty-five, as indeed was the case with the great flu epidemic of 1918.
2) Allergies decline and migraines peter out. You become less sweaty.
3) You do not care what people think of you, or at least care less. You positively embrace eccentricity.
4) You have better sex. According to research, the older we get the less inhibited we become.
5) Here’s a good one. Believe it or not with age the mind becomes sharper at a number of vitally important abilities. We may temporarily forget the name of the Defence Secretary but we can sauté fennel, whip up a meringue and remove the caramel from the burner at the exact moment it turns from golden to deep brown while explaining to a twenty-something why apostrophes are necessary. To be precise a study conducted by the University of Illinois established that older air traffic controllers out-performed the younger ones.
As I pondered this list of positives about the coming of age I had an epiphany. The Baby Boomers have been mowing down barriers since adolescence – we are the Generation of Innovation – so, surely we can do the same with the concept of ageing. We may have reached the Age of Invisibility but we are only invisible if we fail to participate. Being a woman of no importance has nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with engagement.
Consider a few of our Boomer icons – Hillary (currently running for the presidency of the United States), Angela (the most powerful woman on the world’s stage) and Christine Lagarde (CEO of the International Monetary Fund) – the Age of Invisibility has not dawned on them. Neither has it dawned on Mary Berry, Judy Dench, Christian Amanpour, Anna Wintour, nor indeed Woman and Home Editor, Sue James. These are but a handful of women who still turn heads as they enter a room, not because of their style statements or creaseless faces but because they command respect; their opinions count; they are brilliant at what they do.
Greatly cheered by such thoughts I dug out the application form that had been slowly wrinkling in my desk drawer and wondered anew if I wasn’t ready for a major career change. After all, taking on new challenges is one of the greatest secrets of staying young or at least current. Last year, in an effort to recruit more female spies, MI6 had posted an ad on Mumsnet in the belief that women in general and mothers in particular “bring a very human approach to gathering secret intelligence…”