Thursday, 24 December 2009

Why I hate shopping

I’m sure it’s true that Christmas shopping expands to fill the time available. I’m the sort of person who’s more inclined to celebrate Buy Nothing Christmas than the sales but I still find myself drawn to what passes for a high street in the small town where I live. (Just one more bag of satsumas and my Christmas will be perfect...) I’ve even found myself going round the shops in the small city near where I live.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Everybody's going surfing...

The internet is 40, apparently. I have to say I was surprised. But looking back at the mid-90s, when I first became aware of it, even that feels like a long time ago.

I remember when we still called it the information superhighway. (These days, there are times I feel like I’m in the bus lane. Thanks, Virgin Media.)

I remember working in an office when we were so excited at our ‘You’ve got mail’ message. And it was someone sending jokes to everyone he knew who had email. Because there were so few of us it was all you could do with it.

I remember when Friends Reunited was cutting edge.

...I’m getting nostalgic about the internet??

I loved the internet straight away, for the same reason I love going to libraries. All that information waiting to be discovered. I love Web 2.0 even more. All those conversations waiting to be had.

For a while I wondered whether loving the internet so much was a Bad Thing. Then I read a heartwarming story in the Guardian. Ivy Bean is more than twice my age and social networking keeps her life, well, sociable. I hope I have as many ‘followers’ when I get old.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Don’t ask me questions

It’s always tempting when you get to middle age to say that things were better in the old days. But in the case of the BBC, it’s got to be true. If Robin Day had been chairing Question Time, the BBC would never have shot themselves in the foot the way they did on Thursday. But now, thanks to a publicity stunt that misfired, the nastiest politician in the country has won the sympathy vote.

Yes, N*** G****** was scary. But so was the programme. Impartiality? I don’t think so.

Question Time in the 1980s was probably the greatest influence on my political education: brain food, not showbusiness. Question Time this week was really about entertainment, if you like that sort of thing. And I’ve never liked circuses. I recently complained that you could no longer have that ‘did you see’ conversation about last night’s TV. This was the exception: everyone seemed to have watched it, and to have an opinion. It was event television. But it wasn’t Question Time. There was just one thing that made me feel a bit better. The two people on the panel who talked the most sense were, it has to be said, the women.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day: is climate change the new rock'n'roll?

It’s Blog Action Day*, and thousands of people around the world are blogging about climate change.

Is it being green the new rock’n’roll? I’d like to think so, but I suspect it’s not. Not yet anyway.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Poetry

Today is National Poetry Day. Some of us brought poems to work. I loved this one, translated from the Japanese: I have always known That at last I would Take this road, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today. NARIHIRA

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Electric dreams

The best bit was when they gave the family a power cut.

The first episode of Electric Dreams on BBC4 put a modern family into the 1970s. They start in 1970, then move on one year per day and get the gadgets to go with it.

It felt almost authentic. I don’t remember anyone having such extreme interior decoration, and we couldn’t afford a Teasmade or video games. But the arrival of the stereo (joy) and the colour telly (horror: I decided my parents had sold out) were right on time.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Don’t throw your love away: frugal is now fashionable

Being a frugal type, I like freebies so I was happy this morning to find the council giving away free recipe books. It's all about their campaign to get us to stop throwing away food.

Sadly, it turned out to be one of those things where the bureaucrats talk to us as if we were children. Or stupid. Well, maybe we are stupid. Apparently, ‘we’ throw away 700,000 unopened packets of sweets and chocolates a day. Now, that really is a waste.

All the same, I found my ‘guide to using up leftovers’ just a little bit Janet and John. (And yes, I know I am showing my age by not saying ‘Peter and Jane’). Actually, I do already know how to get four meals out of a roast chicken. Doesn’t everyone? As I was thinking along these lines, I came across the bit that said ‘A long time ago, we used to know how to turn leftovers into new meals. Ask an older relative for help.’

Damn. I think they mean me.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Later

Quiet night in front of the TV with Husband. A rare occurrence. It’s time for Later with Jools Holland. The perfect therapy for grumpy middle-aged people.

Ordinary people with annoying daily lives – that’s most of us, then – need an outlet for some of that frustration; someone to hate. Some people go to football matches. We do heckling the telly. Husband doesn’t like football, which is one of the reasons he’s my husband.

We are united in our dislike of pointless sport. And our hatred of bad pop. Next big thing? Flavour of the month? Bring them on. We’ll demolish them in a few well-chosen words. One of them being ‘shite’. We don’t necessarily agree about everything. I find derivative art-school incompetence less annoying than dull jazz musicians who ‘can play’… Then Newsnight comes on and we remember who the real enemy is.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

I'm not a number IV

I’ve had an invitation from Saga to take out insurance. Just to make the invitation more enticing, they offer a ‘free mini Sudoku game’ when you phone for a quote.

Is this their idea of how the over 50s spend their leisure time?

As far as I’m concerned, this definitely falls into the category of ‘life’s too short’.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes

Or should that be 'smoke and mirrors'? Which magazine has found out that ‘anti-ageing’ eye creams don’t work. Surprise. At no cost to you, the reader, here are the top three ways not to get wrinkles: 1. don’t smoke 2. don’t sunbathe 3. be a bit overweight. What does ‘look visibly younger’ mean anyway?

Monday, 17 August 2009

If you're happy and you know it clap your hands

I sat down happily last night to watch 100 Years of Girl Guides on BBC4. Then I realised that I actually remember - and celebrated - the Guides' 'diamond jubilee'. That means the 60th anniversary. That means it was 40 years ago. And that means I must be really old. They never taught us to Be Prepared for that.

Monday, 3 August 2009

The times they are a-changin’

In the year or so since I’ve been writing this blog, a few things have happened. I’ve turned 50*. I’ve kept it quiet. And I’ve started to get used to the idea.

Being in your fifties is definitely something that takes getting used to. But when you do, it’s not that bad. There are times when it feels like freedom.

The past decade has been interesting experience. There’s a lot of difference between being 40 and being 45. Being 45 did feel like a turning point. I wouldn’t quite say it’s all downhill from there but you start to realise you look different, and you know you creak more. After 45, you can’t pass as ‘young’ so easily. By the time you get to 50, that doesn’t seem to matter so much.

It’s a different sort of turning point, more mental than physical. And mostly positive. I read somewhere recently that 50 year olds are ‘complacent’. I hope I’m not. I might have the occasional ‘I did it my way’ moment but that’s down to relief as much as anything. I wouldn’t dare to be smug. I know this freedom won’t last; I know that the older you get, the more scope there is for bad stuff to happen. But I’m going to enjoy it while I can.

*I also turned 51.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Going to the chapel...

I might have given the wrong impression in a recent post if I suggested that I never go to weddings any more. I’ve been to two this year. And one of them was my own. I’ve been a bit embarrassed telling anyone about it, after ten years with Partner (who, I suppose, I must now call Husband). It got out eventually and people sent flowers and said nice things and it was all rather gratifying in the end. But it made me think about how you approach things at 21 and how you approach them thirty years later. The main difference was not letting my mother get involved. Don’t get me wrong: my friends talked for weeks about the buffet at my first wedding. But there were things that weren’t as good, like having to say ‘who are you?’ when people came up to congratulate me. While planning our event, I was amused to read an article about a young woman agonising about how to do a ‘feminist’ wedding. If you know what you want, it’s easy to ditch everything else. Every time people asked ‘what hymns are you having?’ or whether I’d booked a photographer, I laughed. Hymns and Bible readings? No. Church? Yes - because it meant something. Bridesmaids? No. Confetti? Yes - because I like some traditions. Suits? No. Wedding dress? No, but a new party frock - just because. (Husband decided on the day what to wear. And the tie was from a charity shop.) The guest list was small, as was the bill; we spent the rest of our money on a holiday. Just one thing was the same: my mother made the cake.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

I remember being quite upset on my 20th birthday when I couldn’t wear my ‘Bored Teenager’ badge any more. Instead, I made myself another home-made badge out of a newspaper headline from the NME. It said ‘Too old to pose’ (yes, I do remember the news item it came from but that would be one trivia step too far). This came back to me the other day while talking to someone at work about feeling old. I am old enough to be her mother (in fact, I am older than her mother). But in comparison to someone who has just left university, she is now a grown-up. Which means adjusting your self-image, probably just as much as I’ve had to in the last few years as a middle-aged person. Maybe feeling old, like feeling poor, is only to do with comparing yourself to other people. So if it seems unfair to me when people under 30 complain about their great age, that means I can’t say anything about feeling old in front of friends who are closer to 60. There is a time - probably around the age of nine and three quarters - when you actually want to be older than you really are. Maybe the rest of us should just forget about birthdays.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I'm not a number III

“Boden, it seems, will not rest until I have given in and bought into their lifestyle” says Clare at It’s not just me… is it?

I know the feeling. After years of being on their mailing list I recently bought my first Boden garment. It wasn’t quite like buying my first pair of Doc Martens at the age of 40. In fact I felt like a class traitor. But I couldn’t resist the retro rose print. And I am now at an age (and shape) where the words ‘semi-fitted’ are the holy grail of fashion.

But that doesn’t mean I am going to buy their lifestyle. Or their marketing messages, despite all the chummy emails from Johnny Boden. This man went to school with David Cameron and the man who writes Purple Ronnie. (What is it with old Etonians and twee?) These people are not your friends. They are actors.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Get it on

I’m chatting with a bunch of 20-somethings at work and they’re talking about how the wedding invitations are all starting… Which made me start thinking about life stages.

For me, it’s 50th birthday party invitations. Two parties in the past month, both great fun and both with a lot more personality than the off-the-peg rites of passage that the youngsters have to put up with.

The latest was a 1970s themed event, which made me ponder as I haven’t done since university about the propensity of English men to put on drag. It also opened an old debate: who was the prettiest – Marc Bolan or David Cassidy? Bolan won. Possibly on the grounds of being dead.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Friday, 29 May 2009

Don't treat me like a child

The Guardian has profiled two people about being ‘older women’ in the workplace. Is this an issue? It’s what you make of it.

There have been times, working among twenty- and thirty-somethings, when I’ve felt invisible. There have been other times when I’ve felt accepted. But that works both ways.

The generation gap is always going to seem wider if you’re looking downwards from a great height. The woman in the article describes her younger colleagues as ‘babies’ and ‘children’. The Guardian writer mentions ‘prejudice and discrimination’... Looks like it works both ways.

Yes, I have felt overlooked by ultra-fashionable types. Yes, I have felt marginalised by the preponderance of 80s pop music at works dos. And yes, it did hurt a bit to hear a colleague agonising over her ‘quarter century’, when my own half-century was approaching. But she wasn’t to know about my birthday: I was keeping it quiet.

Many of my colleagues don’t know anything about life before mobile phones, the internet, or student debt. That doesn’t make them stupid. It just means they see things differently.

It took a bit of getting used to, but after a while you stop noticing. Just because someone has different cultural references doesn’t mean they have nothing in common with you. There have been times in my working life when the people I’ve clicked with the most were the youngest ones in the office. Partly because they hadn’t been in the organisation long enough to get institutionalised. Partly because we shared the same values. For the women who want to dismiss others as ‘babies’, ever heard of ‘respect’? I believe it’s quite a buzz word among the young.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Saturday, 18 April 2009

School's out

More proof that the 1970s was definitely another world. I came across an old school magazine while helping my mother clear out her loft. On the last page, after the lists of prefects and embarassing ‘creative writing’, was the title ‘News of Old Girls’. And what was the news? A list of girls who had graduated from university? A list of interesting and fulfilling jobs that they had taken up? No, a list of marriages. Just a list of marriages. So all the previous pages highlighting positions of responsibility, showing off exam results, and displaying creative talent, led to this. Changing your name. What exactly was the point of all that education?

Friday, 10 April 2009

I'm not a number II

One of my Facebook friends recently commented "I refuse to be in the core demographic for ‘The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency’"... Personally, I refuse to be in the core demographic for anything.

It’s easy to get sucked into watching what I call SAGA telly: anything with nice scenery and people in anoraks and vintage cars. Yes, I like the British landscape and I own walking boots and a bicycle. But that’s not all there is. It doesn’t mean anyone knows who I am. Or what I want to hear.

Last Sunday I found Partner listening to Johnnie Walker presenting ‘Sounds of the 70s’. On Radio 2. In the 70s we listened to Johnnie Walker on Radio 1. Hard to believe now but at the time we thought he was pretty hip. On the basis, as I remember, that he played Album Tracks. In the daytime. These days, well for a good few years now, I’ve just thought he was pompous and pointless. A bit like Bob Harris (but then, Harris always was).

The only DJ from that time who was always cool, and always will be, was John Peel. That’s not to do with the fact he’s dead. It’s to do with the fact that he followed his own path, regardless either of fashion or of what people his age were supposed to do and like. Which is, basically, the Older than Elvis definition of cool.

So, ‘Sounds of the 70s’ is on the radio station that used to have ‘Sounds of the 60s’. (How long before it’s ‘Sounds of the 80s’?) There’s a fundamental flaw in this. There was no such thing as the 70s. It makes no sense to play an early 70s Stephen Stills song next to... well, something good. Or something from the other end of the decade.

From 1970 to 1979 there were several, very different, eras. From where I was, there were the Jackie years, the cheesecloth years, and the punk years... Shortly before the end of society as we know it. The problem with the concept of 'Sounds of the 70s' is, there’s no context. It makes more sense to listen to one of the ‘Top of the Pops’ LPs that we’ve been collecting from charity shops. This way you actually get a genuine snapshot of what was genuinely happening at a specific moment. Minus the hindsight and minus the value judgements: they include songs you’d forgotten about and songs you will never hear on the radio because they haven't been classified a ‘classic’. The concept of ‘golden oldies’ is for people who don’t really like music. Or who don’t have a memory of their own. Count me out.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Talking ’bout my generation

Finally someone has acknowledged what I always knew. I am part of the lost generation.

‘As in the 1980s recession, another generation is at risk of being washed up, never being connected to working life,’ writes Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, showing rather more sympathy to Generation Y than I can find myself. They’ve had it too good too long: we never had that chance. I just want to shout: what about us?

Somewhere invisible between the baby boomers and Generation X, we don’t even have a name. If the current lot are Generation Y, we must be Generation What.

We were on the receiving end of the Thatcherite recessions as we started out working life. And now we’re on the receiving end of the 21st century recession as we anticipate the end of our working life. Except it probably never will end, because we can’t afford to retire.

We were the ones who couldn’t get on the career ladder because hundreds of jobs were being lost every day. Who couldn’t get on the housing ladder because we didn’t have steady jobs. Who, in many cases, never even had the chance to think about a pension - and if we do have one, are likely to watch it disappear to nothing.

And we were the ones disenfranchised because as soon as we were old enough to vote, the wrong party kept getting in. For eighteen years.

I went proudly to university, one of the ten per cent they let in at the time; the first of my family to do it. I left with a 2.2 that’s now worth nothing because a 2.1 is the default setting for 50 per cent of the population. I spent the first few years of what should have been my working life signing on, re-training and on a job creation scheme.

I was one of the lucky ones. There are people my age who have never had a proper job. After I found my feet, I managed to find work. I’ve always been skint, but I’ve never been destitute.

But life has always felt precarious. Once, I imagined spending my twilight years in a nice retirement home, playing the Sex Pistols at full volume. (If it’s too loud, you’re too old. And if it’s not loud enough, you’re so old you’ve gone deaf.) Now, it doesn’t seem so likely… what was that line about ‘no future’?

Am I a ‘grumpy old woman’? No. Am I an angry middle-aged woman? Bloody right I am.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Fool's Gold (remix)

I knew there was another reason I hated Spandau Ballet. It wasn't just the rubbish music, or the preposterous clothes. There was something else. As Michael Hann in the Guardian puts it: ‘Thatcherism on vinyl’.

At the time of writing, there are 304 comments on this article. The subject has obviously touched a nerve.

One of the threads is that the Guardian should not be carrying arguments about pop and politics. But it’s been obvious for ages that the Guardian is the NME for grown-ups; exactly the same relationship that Radio 2 now has with Radio 1, or punk rock has with country.

And the idea that pop is outside the important things in life has never really held water. What happens in our culture – and particularly pop culture – has as much to say about an era as who is in the government.

This is why I watch TV series like Pop on Trial and its sequel Style on Trial. Not because I am shallow but because what we wear and what we hear is as much part of our history as the traditional (men’s ) version of monarchs, politicians and wars.

The 1980s was one of the most divisive decades in this country. You had to take sides. Two decades on, it’s still dividing opinion.

It appears that Spandau Ballet are still relevant to our social history; that’s why we are still arguing about them. Not because they matter, but because, whether we like it or not, they still mean something.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Fool's Gold

I’ve just heard a TV news item about Spandau Ballet re-forming. Please no. It was bad enough seeing all those fat middle-aged punk bands back on the road, but at least they made good music.

‘They were incredibly stylish’ says a talking head, who is old enough to know better. No they weren’t. They were incredibly stupid.

Being all style and no substance is not the same thing as being stylish. It's the same thing as being a waste of space.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Not Stupid

Being a dutiful environmentalist, I went along to the ‘people’s premiere’ of Age of Stupid on Sunday. In case you haven’t heard, it’s a drama documentary about climate change starring lots of real people and Pete Postlethwaite. The real premiere was at Leicester Square, complete with celebrities and green carpet. The one I went to was in that temple of consumerism, the local multiplex. As I collected my ticket from the pre-paid tickets machine, a recorded voice told me ‘Don’t forget to visit the retail stand’. Under the circumstances, it seemed a bit incongruous. Actually, it would have been incongruous under any circumstances. It would be embarrassing to find myself saying ‘this is a Very Important Film’. But it is. It’s funnier than Al Gore’s as well. Go and see it. Please.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

In praise of younger men

I only recently heard about Madonna and Jesus, on account of I mostly get my news from the Guardian and Channel 4. And it’s not really what I usually describe as news. Still, you could say it’s good news for older women. Good news for Madonna anyway. I expect she needed cheering up.

I’d never claim to have much in common with Madonna, apart from age and a broken marriage (just the one in my case). But, around the time of my divorce, I did snog a young man who was born the year I did my O Levels. He was better looking than Madonna’s boyfriend, too. It wouldn’t have worked out: I didn’t have much in common with him, either, apart from a college course and a love of the Clash. But I have to say it did cheer me up at the time.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Take me to the mardi gras


What kind of idiot spends money on ‘pancake mix’? Instructions: ‘Just add water and an egg.’

Here is my recipe for pancakes. Get some flour. Just add milk and an egg.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Mad Men

‘Youngsters aren’t just fresher versions of us. They don’t know anything,’ says Don Draper in Mad Men. Don Draper is 36. He’s also a fictional character. But he’s right. At work, I know much more than the youngsters. And they don’t know the half of it. There’s hidden power in being old. On the outside, you look just like them, only older. On the inside, you have a secret weapon. You’re not afraid to say no.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

That'll be the day

I can’t remember if I cried... Actually, I don't remember Buddy Holly’s death at all. But I remember the first time I heard one of his songs. It was Everyday, it was 1973 and it was a cover version by the man who wrote American Pie.

The 1970s rock’n’roll revival was a wonderful thing. Wonderful for me anyway. Born too late to be there the first time round, the right age to discover it this time.

It wasn’t actually that easy. It wasn’t like today’s teenagers listening to the Smiths. All the music ever made wasn’t on tap in those days. We got drip-fed a bit at a time.

I heard Phil Spector filtered through Dave Edmunds and Roy Wood. Chuck Berry via ELO. Johnny Burnette via Ringo Starr. Elvis via Mud. They might not all have been authentic but in their own way they were great pop records. (I can honestly say I drew the line at Showaddywaddy.)

There were the occasional re-issue: Bill Haley, the Shangri-Las, Chubby Checker. There were documentaries on Radio 1. And there were films.

We went to see the film That’ll be the Day because we were in love with David Essex. We came out in love with rock’n’roll.

The soundtrack album (a double) was my musical education. Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers. Poetry in Motion, Runaround Sue, Runaway. And, of course, Born too late.

Friday, 23 January 2009

You're history

There are some things in life that are so ghastly you have to repress the memory of them.

Like the 1980s.

Until I sat down to watch Style on Trial: 1980s I thought I had forgotten all about shoulder pads and shell suits. Lazy people call the 70s the decade that taste forgot. I think not. Consider the evidence: Spandau Ballet, Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher...

If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that I hated the 80s. The New Romantics, the recession, really bad pop music, the north-south divide, style over substance, the idea that Madonna mattered, the loadsamoney mentality that’s got us into the mess we’re in today.

The 80s brought us ‘aspirational’, ‘lifestyle’, ‘the brand’. They invented consumerism as we know it in the 21st century. They made us shallow and they made us selfish and they made us forget what’s important in life (and it’s not your haircut).

And what those who celebrate those things forget is that for many people, there were no ‘lifestyle choices’. Back in 2009, every time I hear the television news I get a sinking feeling that’s the beginning of fear. Another business closing. Another group of people losing their jobs. It feels like the 80s all over again. The 80s that I remember.

‘Extreme excitement’ said one of the talking heads on the TV. Not if you were one of the 3 million unemployed it wasn’t.

Yes, I hated the 80s. Always did, always will. Didn’t even care much for them at the time. But watching that programme - and these programmes are always as much about social history as about frocks - I have to admit that they have had an influence on me, and one that goes further than the fact it took me 20 years to stop wearing black.

The idea that what you choose to wear says something about you (even if it’s only: I’m young, foolish and pretentious) is a concept I still hold dear. And the sexual politics of the early 80s - the decade that feminism went mainstream - still influences the way I see the world. I never did do power dressing, but I did struggle to be taken seriously in my chosen field. It's hard to imagine now, but it was only in the 80s that women really started to stake a claim to the workplace: I’m probably in the last generation of British women who left the education system expecting a job rather than a career.

Maybe I am a child of the 80s after all. But there are some things I will never believe in. ‘Stylish tracksuit’? That is a perfect example of something I was taught about in my 70s schooldays: it has to be an oxymoron.

Monday, 12 January 2009

...a new one just begun

This year I will resolve to stop saying:
  • A bit rock’n’roll.
  • Punk’s not dead.
  • You had to be there.
I hope I won’t have to say:
  • Is it me or is it hot in here?
  • Happy Christmas, war isn’t over.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Another year over...

Things I’ve learned in the past year.

You can be ‘friends’ with someone and know nothing about the really important things that are going on in their life.

Nostalgia is tempting. But not always a good idea.

Cynicism is tempting. But hope is sometimes better.

The only thing that really matters is the health of the people you love.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The joys of hibernation

Christmas Day might be sacred, but my Christmas hibernation is sacrosanct. I’m lucky: most women my age suffer stress and duty at this time of year. Due to a lucky combination of circumstances, I have managed to avoid all that. I’ve just had the best two weeks of my life: eating, sleeping and watching more TV than I would normally approve of. With the occasional bit of light reading, like the Guardian’s Saturday kids’ comic. Which is where I found the following piece of wisdom:
Here’s my best piece of advice for 2009: whoever you are: work hard, have fun, and be nice to people.
New Year resolution? That’ll do nicely.