Sunday, May 30, 2010

If the hat fits!

Anybody who has ever railed against the invisibility of middle-aged women (i.e. me) should have a look at the Red Hat Society, where they have taken invisibility and painted it all shades of purple. It's like dress-ups for adults - as long as the hat is red, the clothes are purple and the bling is way over the top. Absolutely glorious!
I met eight of these ladies last weekend at a discussion group about middle-age, which they managed to turn into bucketloads of fun. In fact I get the feeling that there's not much they wouldn't turn into bucketloads of fun! This is a society without committees, or positions, or rules and regulations. It started some years ago when an American woman gave a friend a red fedora, along with a poem about growing old disgracefully (see below), for her fiftieth birthday. The gift was a big success, with other friends requesting the same, and about a year later they all went out for lunch wearing their red hats - and the society was born. Nowadays there are chapters (groups) all over the world, each with their very own Queen (the woman who starts the chapter).

And I think there's some lessons here for all of us. Not only that being pro-active brings its own rewards, but that it's okay to just have fun. Feed that inner child. Kerry (aka Queen Bubbles 'n Baubles) tells of meeting people, particularly women, who simply cannot get their heads around the fact the society does nothing concrete - no sport, or arts, or crafts, or baking, or volunteering, or raising money for charity. Is it really so hard to imagine doing something purely for yourself, even if it sounds silly or eccentric or self-indulgent? And maybe those who find the concept the most challenging are the ones who really need it the most!

Warning: When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
(by Jenny Joseph)
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Everything's thinning - except me

The early results of the survey indicate that women find one element of middle-age particularly annoying, and that is (insert drum roll): deteriorating health or, as many put it, those little aches and pains. So far 42% of respondents have nominated this as the single worst thing about middle-age, while weight gain comes second at 15%. And boy do I sympathise.
At some stage, probably at around the age of fifteen when I was particularly obnoxious, I formed the assumption that my health and/or fitness would never be an issue. I'm not sure on what evidence I based this but I packaged it up and carried it around for the next thirty odd years. At which point fate stepped in and tripped me up (perhaps I should sue). Now it seems like barely a week goes past without a fresh niggle, and sometimes I head off to the doctor's with a veritable list. Last Monday alone I started off at the gynaecologist where he informed me (rather brusquely, I thought) that my uterine walls were thinning, after which I paid a visit to the orthopaedic surgeon where he told me that my knee cartilage was thinning. And then I finished the day at the hairdresser's where, after some muttering, she intimated that my hair was thinning - and looked at me oddly when I started laughing (admittedly with an ever-so-slight tinge of hysteria). But, honestly! How ridiculous. I started the day off quite cheerfully and finished it with thin hair, cartilage and uterus. Sort of like a hat (which no doubt I'll soon need given the hair situation) trick. But my question is that if everything is thinning so industriously, then why am I the least-thin I've ever been in my life? How does that work? And, more importantly, who can I complain to?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just like that

One of the things that I find particularly remarkable about middle-age (amongst many!) is the fact that it always seems to hit with such a surprise. I mean, nothing in your life will have come with a lengthier lead-up time and yet still it's as if one day you look in the mirror and holy hell (I've moderated the usual language here), you're middle-aged. Just like that.

I can remember a conversation I had once, around 33 years ago, while sitting in a beer garden at Nelson's Bay (along the NSW coast). It was summer, with late-afternoon sunlight dappling across my sweet vermouth and coke, and I was wearing a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a lemony t-shirt that depicted a sun setting across my boobs (ah, how prophetic - and how ironic that I can remember exactly what I was wearing 33 years ago but I can't find where I put my car-keys this morning). Anyway, for some reason the conversation turned to being forty and I can vividly remember actually recoiling with distaste. What, me forty? Perhaps not being a size ten? Or having these smooth tanned legs? Or looking drop-dead spunky with my spiral perm? Or liking sweet vermouth and coke? Impossible to visualise.

Yet now forty has not only come, but gone - along with my size ten figure, my spiral perm and (thank god) my liking for alcoholic drinks that straddle the fence between confectionary and crap. Funnily enough, even if Doctor Who landed on my front lawn with the Tardis and offered me the chance to go back, I wouldn't take him up (although, depending on which doctor I scored, I might very well invite him in for a little time-travelling of our own). Because although I view my youth with much nostalgia, I'm pretty damn content with what I've done and where I've been in the meantime. So it's rather like looking at baby photos of my offspring. I smile as I run my finger across the curve of a plump cheek, and even emit one or two wistful sighs, but then I close the album with a sense of relief that I'm no longer cleaning mustard-coloured poop out of baby crevices, or negotiating a pram through peak-hour shopping, or fishing duplo out of the toilet bowl. It was fine while it lasted, and now it's over. Which is probably just as well when I recall that along with the size ten figure and the smooth tanned legs, I also had a level of intelligence that would have made Homer Simpson seem like Stephen Hawking. Not just because my education had been severely lacking (for instance I joined the RAAF at 17 believing that Perth was somewhere north of Brisbane and that Adelaide was little more than a rumour), but because my firmly-held opinions were... well, daft. My pearls of wisdom included:
  • it's not really cheating unless it's pre-meditated.
  • Rock Hudson can't possibly be gay. You can tell.
  • that women's lib stuff is all irrelevant - but why oh why can't we RAAF women be posted overseas like the guys, or even given a choice of jobs beyond just admin or cooking or stewarding?
  • marijuana shouldn't just be made legal, it should be compulsory. Then everyone'd be a little more relaxed.
  • the rhythm method is a totally reliable form of contraception.
  • riding one's motorcycle without a helmet is an inspired way to blow-dry one's hair.

I'm not sure if it was all that sweet vermouth, or maybe my spiral perm was a tad too tight, but believe me the world is a lot better off with me at fifty. And, most probably, so am I. So why is it there seems to be this general perception that middle-aged women spend a great deal of their time mourning a lost youth? Or am I just being a) sensitive, b) paranoid, or c) just in a bad mood because I still can't find the car keys?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Firstly I'd like to metaphorically fling open the blog doors and invite you all in (but please don't mind the mess!). This blog will be part of a twelve-month journey that, as mentioned above, will culminate in a non-fiction book exploring the trials and tribulations of middle-age for women. I'll be posting something each week (most probably on Sundays as that's my day of rest), and I really do want as much feedback as possible. Not just because I need a range of viewpoints but because I'm basically rather lazy - and the more material I get from you, the less I have to dig up myself. So please do comment, and join in, and send anecdotes and opinion - whether you agree with me or not.

To start with I'd like to introduce an survey I've put together, which is designed to explore the background stuff. In other words it's a fishing expedition! But one which shouldn't take more than five minutes so if you've got the time (and/or the inclination!), please visit: survey