If this isn’t the time of life for a little self discovery, then when is it?
I think it was when I was sitting at the seafront recently, happily munching into some fish and chips from a takeaway wrapper, that I realised The Change was complete. The most significant Change of all; into someone not remotely bothered to be sitting in the passenger seat of a faded Transit van eating takeaway food at the seaside.
My parents used to cast up to me that when I first went to University (In St. Andrews dontcha know – the young Royals just copied me), I had come home and rolled my eyes when they said “patty.” I archly informed them that it was pronounced “pat-tay.”
And while you might be able to forgive that as the arrogance of youth, I further confess to having developed serious airs and graces over the years as I moved to London; worked in investment then journalism, got a masters and an MBA and developed an even bigger hit for myself.
I’ve realized in my journey of self discovery that my saving grace was a down to earth background, but there were certain chain restaurants you’d have had to drag me into; certain fabrics and shops which would give me hives, and when we lost my father and my mother made me dance with her at family events; bust to substantial bust, my mortification was complete.
How truly wonderful, liberating and gleeful it was then to get older.
With a respectable and not terribly happy marriage behind me, I woke up on my fiftieth birthday, newly installed in a singleton flat, and cried.
Yet fate must have a rehabilitation unit for outwardly successful but miserable people since three girlfriends showed up in a taxi and insisted on buying me cocktails – until that particular milestone seemed like a very good thing indeed. But still I went home and couldn’t stop myself checking out the ex on a dating site, specifically so I could be disapproving.
Instead, I got hooked.
I spent several happy weeks dating all manner of men (my record was seven in a week). There was the chain-smoking electrician who arrived like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” so much smoke escaped like dry ice when he opened the door of his vehicle for our date.
Then there was the addled sex and drugs addict with a Harley, with whom I spent one of the most hilarious evenings of my life. We found each other so utterly alien that we got on like a house on fire and tossed a coin for the bill. (I lost).
But, it was the one who came to me as a blind date who completed my conversion into card-carrying, down at heel, tattier but so much happier woman.
In my defence, I was lulled into a false sense of security since the note from a colleague telling me I was going on a blind date said “Don’t argue, he has a 35 foot yacht.” When I met him, he also said he had a Porsche. And I was still in a place where I might have been sniffy, had I known enough to know it was pretty old – and it leaked.
Five years on, the Porsche is gone and replaced by a dented old truck with 130,000 miles on the clock. I spend a portion of my life unwashed and windblown on a sail boat – and if anyone ever tells you that owning a yacht is glamorous, they have never applied antifoul or stood downwind of a proper sailor.
My career in PR has also been augmented by one as a dusty builder’s labourer. Within a year together, we had bizarrely bought a derelict building and set to restoring it ourselves. We still couldn’t tell you what made us do it.
But who knew the joy to be had from aching muscles, and the enthusiastic sense of achievement from barrowing rubble in the pursuit of building your own home? The building was over 200 years old and I had to get a crew cut at one stage from going to bed, exhausted and covered in plaster, only to find that the plaster had been lime-based and I’d fried most of my hair.
We did the whole bit; lived in a caravan in the yard and I continued to do my high-profile job without benefit of running water at home. No one at work even knew.
And did I mention that my partner in all this is fifteen years older than I am and has the eating habits of a fussy toddler? He won’t eat vegetables, or very much in fact that’s not deep fried, so I’ve piled on forty pounds.
(And if this is the point when I lose your sympathy, then think on the fact you’ve stuck with me through divorce, serious life change, and becoming Trailer Trash – but would judge me on getting chubby?)
There’s sheer, liberating joy in the realisation that it’s values which matter; having the time to spend with people, and to see the worth in people, even as age makes us increasingly invisible.
In all the bits of my life which count, I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I have the added extra of having wholly unexpected and fascinating new hobbies.
One of the more relaxed of those is that I get to watch the glamorous and the downtrodden racing through airports on agonisingly high heels. I can observe those desperate to acquire, panicking as they encounter the acquisition mountain which lay hidden behind the last one. And to note the flicking gaze of insecurity of anyone who still believes the world exists to judge them – and that it would matter if it did.
But above all, I have true peace and gratitude that that’s no longer me.
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