The first time I realised that I had officially achieved old lady status was when Nick Churchill interviewed me about my novel. We spoke on the phone and his voice went into surprise mode when he told me that he doesn’t expect old ladies to write ‘this kind of book’. I told him he had clearly been meeting the wrong kind of old lady and we laughed.
You see, old ladydom comes with no official announcement, no date is set in stone after which you begin to have permanent waves and buy a beige cardie in fact there are no rules to be obeyed, no guidance is offered: just expectations of mainly middle aged people. The young are far less strict – at least until late puberty when judgemental forces take over. The preconceptions of what somebody should do, wear and how they should disport themselves are incredible – they lay a trip on you, a trip of limitations.
Of course you don’t need to take any notice of these idiotic ideas about age and you can continue to behave as you always have. I intend to follow this path rigorously and I advise any old women to do so. I caused shock when I was young and hope to do so until I hit the coffin. But it isn’t as easy as it should be. Some people appear to believe that being seen with an old person is tantamount to being classified old.
Another particularly repellent attitude to the old is the ‘yes dear’ syndrome allied to a symbolic and dismissive pat on the head. I am amazed that more care home workers and medics are not slaughtered in pursuit of their work with the old as they tell them to pop on the bed pop their shoes off, the next logical move would clearly be a pop on the nursely nose.
Too many accept this as the natural state of affairs unfortunately but I stress that it is not compulsory, you are free to choose. You can choose to be stroppy instead, or bossy too but unfortunately your friends go into passive mode and retreat to their homes to become ancient. Quietly, in a fitting manner. Fitting to whom? Not me. They refuse to come out to play anymore and settle into a strange routine of healthy low fat food and country walks on Sundays, I have friends far younger than me who have gone this way.
I recently watched, avidly, a programme about remarkable old women, all but one of them were remarkable for their slenderness alone and their obsessive attention to detail in their appearance. Yes, they were inspirational indeed! One of them could do the splits at 90; as one who was defeated by the splits – or even the very idea of the splits at 9 I can hardly relate. Only one of these women was a sensible size and she was a ringer for our own dear queen. Not a look that appeals to me. But it was good for us OLs to see what is possible, like watching a ballet dancer do her stuff – yes, good to know it’s possible for the human body, but I think I always knew it was possible – so what? All these women were vibrant examples of age at its best – only if you want to be dedicated to your bodily health to the exclusion of fun – or what I call fun.
No wine drinkers, Guinness guzzlers here no gigglers at inanities or scandalisers, no lovers of cream cakes and fish and chips and nobody skinned up during the entire programme not even a roll up! A lack of humour was manifest it was all a serious business of staying gorgeous to look at and not a lot of fun.
So clearly this is not my way. I will continue to be a stroppy, argumentative giggler who finds life a mixture of bloody hilarious and slightly tragic. I shall enjoy talking to people I meet, listening in to conversations and giving out my own opinions until I die, hopefully engaged in all of these activities with a rollup in my hand and a pint within easy reach. And I swear: old age is not infectious or contagious it is not a health risk to have old mates –you are safe-ish!