How to tell if a woman is over 40…

a-ha 11

a-ha 11 (Photo credit: thierry.cote)

Do you think she’s in her late thirties or early forties?  How often do we guesstimate someone’s age? All the time.  At my age, the obsession of looking young/old for your actual biological age becomes fanatical.  So to make this job easier, I thought I would devise a little test which will accurately pin down whether a woman is under 40 or over 40. I realise this is of no great consequence nor life-changing in anyway but it’s kept me amused for the last half an hour and on a Monday I’ll run with anything that I find semi-amusing.

So, here goes, a woman is over 40 if…

– she has begun to express a desire to or has actually started to visit garden centres on a regular basis.  The odd trip to a garden centre to buy a ready planted-up hanging basket does not count and should be taken as a sure sign that a woman is still in her thirties. The sign to look out for that this has been replaced with regular and much longer visits is the acquisition of a garden centre loyalty card.

– she suddenly cuts a fringe into her hair.  This budget Botox alternative is a desperate attempt to cover up the wrinkles on the forehead but is almost as obvious an admission of ageing as the inability to raise your eyebrows after Botox.

– she has a glass of water for every glass of wine. This is a combination of middle age sensible, responsible behaviour and a morbid fear of the forties’ hangover. Although largely effective at avoiding the “hammer in the brain” feeling the next morning (and for the next 5 days when you are over 40), it does have the rather undesirable side effect of requiring numerous bathroom visitations through the night.

– she visibly shudders at the mention of wearing little shorts with opaque tights underneath. Never in the history of fashion to my mind has there been a trend which is so not designed for the over 40s. Any woman sporting this trend is either under 40, an ex-supermodel or frankly delusional.

– she knows exactly who Morten Harket and John Taylor from Duran Duran are. Say no more. Enough said.  She also knows who Harry Styles is but is acutely aware that she is old enough to have gone through school, university, two years of a job and then given birth to him.

– she remembers writing SWALK and LOL (original meaning) on letters. She also can’t quite bring herself to writing ‘u’ for ‘you’ and ‘4’ for ‘for’ when texting and always texts in full sentences – noun, verb, object etc.

– she always tries to stay in on either Friday or Saturday night.  The ability to manage two nights out in a row significantly diminishes after the age of 40 and becomes nigh on impossible after 45.  Anyway, staying in with a bottle of wine, a takeaway and Ant and Dec on the TV is ideal, isn’t it?

– she remembers when the Blue Peter garden got vandalised and it couldn’t just be fixed with double-sided sticky tape and “who shot JR?”.  These were her first encounters with crime.

– she suddenly understands the point of a lip liner pencil. Having always thought it was yet another one of those beauty cons, she now realises that without it she runs the risk of being mistaken for a clown in Billy Smart’s Circus.

– Finally, she starts blogging and banging on about it being her time now….

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Mad Science

Mad scientist

Mad scientist (Photo credit: BWJones)

You know how the saying goes…if you fall off a horse, you’ve got to get straight back on again.  Well, it’s taken me 2 years but I have held another “Mad Science” party for my son’s birthday and I have survived.

Two years ago, this would never have seemed possible.  That party – twelve 7 year old boys in my house (first huge error), one mad scientist and two shell-shocked, utterly horrified parents – ended with me bursting into tears of sheer relief when they all left and only narrowly avoiding an extended stay in The Priory.  The only word I can think to describe that party is apocalyptic – “Lord of the Flies” South-West London style.

It was a seminal moment in my child-rearing – the moment at which we lost total control.  The boys were in charge and it wasn’t pretty. I genuinely think I suffered with a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder after that party.  One thing was certain – never ever ever would I hold a child’s birthday party in my house again.  I have kept to that.  The other thing I thought was certain – never ever would I wish to hear the words “mad” and “science” in the same sentence let alone combined with the word “party”. Somehow my resolve weakened on this.

That brings me to today – “Mad Science” party 2.  Not content with twelve 7 year olds, this time I upped the stakes and we had twenty four 7 year olds (all boys), one mad scientist (female) and four potentially shell-shocked, utterly horrified parents (yes, this time, I shared the annual burden of the birthday party).  Before the party, as I contemplated my idiocy in agreeing to endure another two hours of utter hell, I tried to work out what sort of person would choose to endure such a party again at a significant financial cost with absolutely no visible upside.  Clearly, I am a lunatic.

Well I survived and you know what….it wasn’t actually that bad.  Admittedly the memory is already fading at the edges thanks to the indecently large glass of wine that I am currently attacking like some sort of slightly deranged, dehydrated dipsomaniac.  The mad scientist certainly earned her money this afternoon and I am fairly sure she is reconsidering her career choice (she’s just completing her teacher training) after 2 hours with 24 boys, a load of goo, dry ice, bunsen burners, potentially lethal chemicals and a non-launching rocket.  I am also certain that being a mad scientist and spending 2 hours trying to control a roomful of crazed 7 year olds must be one of the most effective forms of contraception on the market.

I know I probably shouldn’t say this but I don’t believe I’m alone – children’s birthday parties are an ordeal, something to be endured, an annual burden.  But they are a necessary rite of passage and I remember (just) the excitement I felt in the build-up to my birthday parties when I was a child. Of course I wouldn’t want to deny my children that excitement and celebration.

Two things bug me though: firstly, children’s parties were simple affairs when I was a child – some games, home-made cake and a party bag full of nothing much.  Nowadays, we are expected to shell-out hundreds of pounds on entertainers or hold our parties in ever more exotic venues, buy in the cake (gone are the days when an 8 inch round with chocolate buttons on it sufficed; no, now kids expect an entire football pitch replete with favourite team and realistic-looking icing turf) and a party bag brimming with the latest must-have toys.

Secondly, “thank you” would go a long way. Not from the kids at the party – they were all very polite; from my own children.  After every party we hold for our children, the conversation goes like this: me: “Did you enjoy your party?”, child: “Yup”, me: “Do you have anything to say?”, child – silence, me: “It would be really nice if you said thank you after all the effort we’ve made”, child “thank you”, me “not now, before would have been good…”

Time to collapse in a post-party heap.  Ticked that box for another year.  Conquered my fear of “Mad Science” parties.  Yes, it has been a good day on the whole.

Things I shall never do (or never do again)

Cartwheel - Evolution #1

Cartwheel – Evolution #1 (Photo credit: Thomas Z. Photographie)

The  sun has at last been out this weekend and my children have come blinking mole-like into the daylight from enforced indoor imprisonment for the last 5 months.  Hurrah!  Finally they can partake in wholesome activities like cricket rather than the definitely less appealing screen-based activities which form such a large part of their lives, particularly in winter, only relieved of course by the odd game of Cluedo (see previous post).

As I sat outside and watched them play, my daughter who is currently going through a purple-gymnatics-rapunzel stage (sometimes all at once), attempted a roly-poly (technically called a forward roll I believe).  For one insane moment, I thought I might show her how it’s really done and then thankfully I remembered the “cartwheel incident”.

A couple of years ago, showing off, I thought I might demonstrate my childhood gymnastic skills by cartwheeling on the beach.  It became abundantly clear half way through the cartwheel that this was possibly one of my more foolish decisions.  Too late. 38 year old women who only irregularly partake in exercise should never attempt anything that they did with ease in childhood.

My cartwheel was less beautiful circle in motion and more immediate and somewhat explosive irreparable puncture.  As my son pointed out at the time, he had learnt something from my cartwheel demonstration just not what I had intended – how not to do a cartwheel and how to keep a straight face when your mother starts her gymnastic demonstration with the grace and flair of Olga Korbut but ends it splattered on the sand looking as though she has been run over by said cartwheel. Utter humiliation.

So somersaults are something I shall never do again. It got me thinking. What else will I never do (or never do again)?  I will never dive or even jump off a diving board again. My relationship with swimming pools has definitely changed over the last decade. When I was young and on holiday, you could never get me out of the pool – pools and I had a largely harmonious relationship.  Now, it’s a little bit more fractious, and honestly I’d be perfectly happy to spend 2 weeks in the sun sitting around a pool without ever getting in it.

Why? Well for the reasons outlined above with regard to my gymnastics prowess, it would be potentially mortifying to dive/jump/bellyflop off a diving board at my age – the permutations for embarrassment and humiliation actually make me shudder.

As for swimming itself…I know it sounds a bit pathetic but I don’t really like putting my head in the water now – not because I’m precious about my hairstyle (far from it…largely as I don’t really have a hairstyle as such to be concerned about) but I just don’t really like it.  A nice leisurely, but regal, breaststroke is about all I can manage these days with my head firmly out of the water.  I’ll leave the more energetic strokes to those a little younger than me.  To be honest, I never really got the point of backstroke anyway – why would you swim on your back, unable to see where you are going, towards a concrete wall?  Backstroke is pointless and to my mind potentially dangerous.

What else?  Oh yes, I am unlikely to spend an entire day (unless ill) watching back to back soap operas like I (obviously occasionally) did at university.  There was a brief period after the birth of each of my children when I dabbled in Neighbours, Home & Away, Hollyoaks and even, on a particularly bad day,  Doctors, but I managed to wean myself off them once I no longer had the excuse of sitting on my sofa for hours ostensibly feeding a baby.

However, at university, (obviously occasionally) soaps determined my daily schedule and it was not unknown for me and my best friend to spend an entire afternoon watching back to back soaps just because we could. Now however I have much more intellectually challenging tasks to complete such as deciding whether pesto pasta is on the cards for dinner (which it is today incidentally) or driving my “taxi” around the local area, picking up my non-fare paying customers and depositing them at their various required locations for tennis, football etc.  I do allow myself one little indulgence though – EastEnders.  Love it.  I always watch it and feel so hugely lucky and grateful for my little life – however miserable my day has been, at least I don’t live in Albert Square.

There are, of course, hundreds of other things that I shall probably never do or do again equally as trivial as the above.  There are lots of things, not just trivial things, which I wish I could do or wish I had done.  Equally there are lots of things that I can do now which I couldn’t have done when I was younger and that’s where the focus should be I suppose.  What would you never do now or never do again?

Woman, 40, makes anti-ageing discovery of the 21st century…

Shar Pei

Shar Pei (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OMG (heavily into my text lingo now that I’ve finally realised that LOL is “laugh out loud” and not “lots of love” which I am fairly sure everyone of my generation thought it was) – today has been a revelation.

I have discovered something totally life-changing.  I feel like I imagine Isaac Newton felt when an apple fell from a tree on his head and he formulated his gravity theory. OK, my discovery is not sort of life-changing in an understanding-the-world sense which gravity clearly is, but for me it was a Damascene moment.

What you’re asking?  What have I discovered?  Well, you know me, always keen to share.  I’m not going to keep my little secret from you like a scientist might with a new theory until he had tested it fully.  I don’t need to do that because it is so beautifully simple, so utterly straightforward…the “retouch” button in iPhoto.

As you know I have been sweating all the turning 40 stuff over the last few months and one of the things that has caused me serious angst has been the appearance of wrinkles, sneaky little things creeping up on me so that I have seriously begun to question whether I part-share the same genetic coding as a Shar Pei.

In a previous blog post, I debated to B or not to B – to Botox or not to Botox. I concluded that it wasn’t for me although I have been sorely tempted. In yet another desperate attempt to halt the ageing process (I’ve given up on reversing it to any visible degree), I have been trying out these CACI facials.  Apart from having a name which it is extremely tempting to mispronounce – it is pronounced “CAYSEE” rather than “CACKI” – it is yet another ridiculously expensive way of not having Botox. I think although I can’t be sure (far too much technical lingo for me) that a little probe thing delivers micro currents to your face and reduces wrinkles and yanks up your jaw and cheekbones.

It hurts. It is not supposed to but that is complete rubbish, it hurts. Also your teeth feel as though you are rubbing a metal spoon over them repeatedly. Does it work?  Well, I’ve had five sessions and only ONE person has said “you are looking well” – which of course could be referring to the fact that I have bothered to apply make-up that morning and so do not look like an extra from the Rocky Horror Picture Show rather than a comment on a reduction in my wrinkled forehead.

I had resigned myself to five more sessions and then a monthly “maintenance” – until today that is.  Today I discovered the “retouch” feature in iPhoto.  No more CACI facials for me, no Botox, just au naturel.

I downloaded my holiday photos this afternoon and for the first time started playing with the editing features (just the simple ones) and used the retouch button in what would be a particularly nice photo of my daughter without the piece of chicken nugget on her chin.  To my amazement – one minute chicken nugget on chin, next minute no chicken nugget on chin.

In a state of rising excitement, I flicked to a photo of myself – could it be…could it just be that this would work for my wrinkles.  Hardly daring to breathe, I started to “scrub” at my forehead with the retouch button – all gone, smooth as when I was 21.  Admittedly, I did have to be quite enthusiastic with the retouch button in order to erase all the wrinkles but it was so worth it.

For the next hour, I scrubbed at my face in every photo and watched the years rolling away.  This discovery was right up there for me with when I discovered eyebrow waxing a few years ago after years of painful plucking. The beauty of this is that most people in this internet crazy world will only see photos of me, not the real thing.  Let’s face it my friends and family know what I really look like and would know if I had Botox so I might as well not worry about them and just put out these ever so slightly doctored pictures of myself to the rest of the world.

However excited I am about my discovery, I suspect I am not the first but I don’t care if everyone has been doing it apart from me as I feel re-juvenated and exhilarated (although perhaps ever so slightly too smooth foreheaded).  Try it!  I highly recommend it as both an anti-ageing measure and as a natural serotonin booster.

Your Cabin Crew Will Now Point Out Your Nearest Exits…

airplane in sky

airplane in sky (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Hello, anyone there…?  I’m back.  Have you missed me? Deafening silence…

You probably haven’t noticed but I’ve been away for the last couple of weeks and haven’t been blogging.  Before you get out the bunting, throw street parties and issue special edition stamps to celebrate my return, I don’t want any fuss, any fanfare – I’m a very modest, unassuming person after all – but it would be nice if someone had missed my blogging/whinging/musings about nothing very much at all.

I don’t think it would be fair of me to bang on endlessly about white sand beaches, azure seas, cocktails and all the other holiday clichés.  There all true.  I don’t want to alienate my readers – particularly British readers who have endured the most vile of winters. So instead I thought I would share with you a couple of observations about the ordeal which is “travelling” – that time of huge stress which prefaces the white sand beaches, azure seas etc. I don’t know, maybe you are a cool, calm and collected sort of traveller…not me, despite my best attempts, travelling is always rather an ordeal, a case of the end result justifying the means.

Packing is a skill I still have not mastered after 40 years. It doesn’t seem to be particularly intellectually taxing or require any particular dexterity or co-ordination – I just can’t do it well.

I usually get off to a pretty good, controlled sort of start but as the deadline for departure approaches my packing becomes frenzied, bordering on manic .  I start packing things I could not possibly have any use for, just in case…for example, on this holiday I took not one but two full first aid kits.  Why?  Good question.  What is the likelihood of me needing the entire contents of two full first aid kits on one 10 day holiday? Remote but as I said, just in case…On this holiday I took enough Calpol to administer to an entire children’s hospital – enough to give each of my 3 children a 4-6 hourly dose for the entire 10 days and still only use 1/4 of my supplies – overcatering, perhaps, but just in case…On this holiday, I took 4 jumpers and 4 cardigans, to a place where the temperature at 3am never dips below about 24 degrees.  Why?  Expecting a freak snow storm in the Indian Ocean?  You never know, just in case…

I can only think that this extreme level of preparedness harks from my Brownie Guide days, motto “Be Prepared”.  If only I had known then how much excess baggage this would mean I would be forced to take every time I go away, then I might have reconsidered my promise “To do my best” etc and turned my back on the Brownies while I still could.  So those of you with daughters, consider carefully the potential long term effects of introducing your offspring to the Guiding Movement.

Airports make me behave in a very out-of-character fashion.  I am not a mad shopper normally – I like shopping as much as the next woman but for some bizarre reason airports turning me into some sort of supermarket sweep shopping freak. I feel like I am in a shopping version of “Countdown” – up against the clock, flight leaves in 45 minutes, got to shop, got to shop, got to shop…I find myself considering purchases that I would never even look at the other side of security – a combination, I guess, of tax-free, holiday fever and that old chestnut, preparedness – what if I can’t buy ‘X’ “over there” – ‘X’ usually being something that I would never ever have use for in this country so I have no idea why I feel it might be of use on a 10 day holiday somewhere else.

Finally, time to get on the plane.  Why, please tell me, do people queue at the gate to get on to the plane?  It makes me want to scream – “Weirdos, your seats are pre-allocated, no need to queue at this point.  We’re all going to get on eventually”. I guess this might be a peculiarly British feature – queueing being part of our national identity?

The days of fervently praying that you don’t get the seat next to the crying child are unfortunately a thing of the past for me.  I always get the seat next to the crying child…my child. The first 10 minutes on a plane (assuming you are turning right like me when you get on) are spent apologising…apologising to the poor person who despite their fervent prayers is sitting next to you and your screaming child, apologising to the person sitting in the aisle seat in advance for the number of times you are going to have to climb over them during the flight, apologising for practically knocking a fellow passenger out when attempting to put your bags in the overhead locker, then apologising again for having to climb over the person sitting in the aisle seat in order to reopen the overhead locker and get out the particular Peppa Pig book that your daughter wants right now and only now.

You take off – not before you’ve watched the safety demonstration avidly – as if you have never seen it before.  For me this is complete superstition – I could pass the British Airways safety demonstration test (if there is such a thing) word perfect – but I have this horrible niggle that if I don’t watch it, then this will be the time that I have to perform a complicated passing of the life jacket strings around my waist, securing them in a knot, fully inflating my life jacket (after I have gone down the emergency chute, having removed my high heels (?)), then using the little tube to top up the air before blowing pathetically on my little whistle  (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean???).  I’m afraid I am also always that person who surreptitiously kicks under the seat just to check my life jacket is there. Goes back to the Brownies again, “Be Prepared”.

Then off you go.  Within 3 minutes of take-off, at least one of my children has already asked me twice “Are we nearly there yet?”. Thank Goodness for inflight entertainment.  I swear my two boys, once settled in front of the screen, did not blink or utter a word for the next 12 hours. I don’t care whether that is bad mothering – flying doesn’t count, anything goes on a plane, survival is all that matters.

Destination reached – fanatical peering out of the plane windows to assess the weather.  Unbelievable, after 12 hours in the air – it’s raining…yes, we’ve travelled several thousand miles, endured so much…to step out into the identical weather we left in the UK, just warmer. Welcome to Paradise…