Today I’m 55 years old. That’s beginning to sound quite old to me – I’ve already outlived my parents by several years and that’s a strange feeling, I can tell you. Depending on which one I compare with, I’ve already had three or four years longer on this planet than they did.
55 seems like a significant sort of age even if it doesn’t end in a zero – I’m now definitely closer to sixty than I am to fifty and the likely time left to me can sometimes seem alarmingly short. I don’t feel this old, but then most people would say that. I don’t think I look too bad for my age, but then most people would probably say that too. And I think my attitudes, tastes, and outlook on life are all younger than many people of my age, but then they’d all probably say the same thing. The truth is you can never see yourself the way others see you and self-delusion is all too easy. The only thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t go back to being twenty again even if you did restore my waist to its former glory.
It’s been an interesting life so far. Bad things have happened – a damaging relationship with my mother, parents dying in a road accident, two divorces, one terrible marriage to someone who I now think had sociopathic tendencies, the ensuing loss of most of my confidence and belief in myself, an illness (M.E.) that took ten years of my life, and many other, smaller, things. But that’s just one way of telling the story. I can also tell the story of a father who loved me dearly and with whom I had a close relationship, the time and space my illness gave me to explore and think about my world, the stronger sense of self I ended up with after escaping my second marriage, the most wonderful dog companion I ever had who saw me through a lot of unhappy times, and the lovely, lovely man who’s been in my life for the last eleven years and to whom I’m now married. It’s the same life, just two different ways of seeing it.
I’m a lot wiser – I think – than I used to be, although the extra wisdom has made me realise just how much I don’t know and don’t understand. In many ways I don’t mind ageing and actually find it quite interesting. As a child I used to wonder what I’d look like when I was old and now I’m beginning to see.
I’m quite happy with how it’s gone so far but there is just one thing that bothers me. I used to be someone who had adventures and I don’t any more. Some were big and often ill-advised adventures: leaving Scotland and everything I knew to be with a man I’d only known for a couple of months, going a little wild while studying for my MA and effectively making up for an adolescence I never had, and – more recently – making a decision under stress to sell up and go back to Scotland to live and then being so miserable I was back again within six months, considerably poorer and somewhat wiser.
Some were much smaller and more enjoyable adventures: a night out with three Franciscan monks, who invited me to their study centre the next day, where I found the only other women were nuns and I was wearing a mini skirt; a motorbike trip through France where loads of things went wrong but somehow it was all still good; applying for – and getting – a job teaching IT when I knew a lot less than I – and they – realised about how to work a computer; crawling through a field on a summer’s evening to watch badgers; taking part in a river race where you had to launch yourself into a fast flowing river with only an inflatable mattress and a crash helmet, and then, partway along, jumping thirty feet into the base of a waterfall; a Thelma-and-Louise type holiday in a red sports car with two university friends who were ten years younger and considerably more gorgeous than I was, and who spent the whole time experimenting with intoxicating substances, except for when we were having sound healing and being regressed into past lives in Glastonbury – I felt a bit like the maiden aunt acting as chaperone, but I enjoyed it anyway.
I used to meet strange and interesting people, too. At university – which I went to late in life – there were people of all nationalities and some very eccentric academics with unconventional lives, one of whom lived with three women (not all at once; they took turns). Another, whom I went out with for a year, would only wear red socks and later took up unicycling and playing the didgeridoo. A third used to cook exquisite five course dinners for fifteen members of the philosophy society every week, and was said to be the only person who’d acquired a PhD purely on the strength of his wizardry in the kitchen.
My academic phase was followed by my ‘alternative’ phase, where I got to know people who dressed entirely in shamrock green, claimed to communicate with extra-terrestrial beings, built labyrinths, lived over converging ley lines, read tarot cards, modelled penises out of clay (I couldn’t make this stuff up), cleared ghosts out of houses, and many other weird and wonderful things. Now, I wouldn’t want to be around these people all the time – that would get quite tiring I think – but knowing them made my life richer and a whole lot funnier. (And a quick note to my more conventional friends – I want to reassure you I love you all dearly and wouldn’t swap you for anything– just so you know)
In the last few years there hasn’t been much of this kind of thing at all. My last real adventure was to go to art college, having only been drawing and painting for three months (before that, the last time I picked up a pencil or a brush was when I was thirteen so there was a bit of a steep learning curve). That led to my passion for photography, for which I’ll be ever grateful.
But since then? Zilch, nothing, nada. I’m living like the middle-aged person I undoubtedly am. I’m playing it safe and it needs to change. I used to be much more spontaneous – truly, it did get me into trouble on numerous occasions but I regret the things I haven’t done more than the things I have. I need a change or a challenge. And not the kind of everyday challenge like earning money and finding work, but something completely new and exciting and possibly scary, that will stretch me out of the complacent, contented shape I’ve recently grown into, even if it’s only for a few hours. I don’t know what it’ll be yet, but watch this space……..
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming “WooHoo, what a ride!”