Monday, 18 June 2018

40 Before 40

 I turn 40 tomorrow.

I. Turn 40.

What?! Apparently there's not even anywhere you can complain about these things, it just happens, unbidden, regardless.

As you may be able to tell, I am not excited or eager or even resigned about this birthday. I know it's a cliche, but I just don't feel 40, or look 40, and I certainly don't behave 40 (were I to even know how 40 felt like, looked or behaved). And yes, I know, life begins at 40, middle age has been pushed back, I'm still young, yadda yadda yadda.

The fact remains that I find 40 a huge, insurmountable, irreconcilable thing that's happening to me.

But, in the absence of any formal complaints process, I suppose I should make hay while the sun shines (i.e. while I'm still in my lovely, lovely 30s) and so I've nabbed this 40 Before 40 list from Hazel, who posted hers a year or two ago. The beauty of this 40 Before 40 is that, rather than a list of often time-consuming, frequently expensive challenges such as 'visit five new cities' or 'get a tattoo' (which, don't get me wrong, I love reading but don't have either the time nor the funds for at the moment), this is more an audit of what one has already achieved. And that I can do.

1. Understand, once and for all, to stop caring what other people think of you, and instead start caring what YOU think of THEM ? 
I wish I could say that I'd managed this but I haven't, and I'm not sure my anxiety-prone brain is properly configured to ever achieve this. Although that being said, there's recently been a couple of occasions at work when I haven't been invited to take part in things and my reaction has been nothing more than an interested reflection that, "Hmm, this would have really upset me a few years ago." So maybe I have, sort of, started to achieve this.

2. Buy a piece of artwork ✔
Not only am I honoured to have artwork in my house made by various family members for whom art is a hobby or, in some cases, their career, I also have a couple of original photographic prints bought from galleries in Cape Town.

3. Find your perfect red lipstick...and know how to not get it on your teeth ✔ 
And then accept that it's just not me. However much I love a slash of red lippie on other people, it's not a look that loves me and my small mouth. (And it's Mac Ruby Woo, btw).

4. Learn to gracefully accept a compliment ✔

I'm actually getting better at this, and have learned how tend to gracefully say thank you (and even manage to add another comment, the most common being "it has pockets!" when complimented on a dress, without being self-deprecating). Although I still don't like it when Thomas tells me I look beautiful, go figure.

5. Laugh until you cry ✔
All the time!

6. Skinny dip x
Not yet, and I suspect not ever.

7. Scream on a roller coaster ✔
Always. I have a love/hate relationship with roller coasters and can't help but scream when I ride them.

8. Stay awake until the sun comes up ✔
I did this far too many times to count in my 20s, but only a couple of times in my 30s.

9. Sleep under the stars ?
Does in a tent count?!

10. Try life as a blonde, a brunette and a redhead: nobody wants a boring look book ✔
And pink, purple, blue, green, black... When I was at university my family starting running a book on what colour my hair would be each time I went home for a visit. I've now been a redhead of varying hue for nine years, and can't see that changing anytime soon.

11. Have dessert without feeling guilty ✔
I never feel guilty about food. Honestly, if this is something people need to work towards achieving, I feel really sorry for them. Food is fuel and food is pleasure and it should never, ever be something you feel guilty about.

12. Learn your high heel 'too high' threshold and adhere to it. If you hobble, they're too high ✔

I'd say my ideal height is around 1-2", my innate clumsiness and poor relationship with gravity is not made for anything higher. But that said, I almost never wear high heels since I left teaching.

13. Find your signature style... But do still take fashion risks ✔
I'm a lot more comfortable and confident in summer clothes than any other season, and my signature style - midi skirt, tucked in tee, tan sandals, tote bag - is sadly only suitable for about six weeks a year in this country. Outside of warm weather, I struggle a bit to break out of my 'striped top and skinny jeans' uniform. But I guess that, too, counts as a signature style.

14. Find a whiskey you like x 
I have tried, but spirits generally aren't my thing and whiskey definitely isn't.

15. Eat by yourself in a restaurant ✔
I've travelled a lot on my own and so this came about as much by necessity than anything else. It's something I've become less good at doing as my anxiety has worsened in recent years, but for a long time it didn't bother me at all to eat alone.

16. Date the wrong person ✔

Several of them, in fact!

17. Go on a road trip ✔
My brother, Richard, and I did the Scottish Highlands and Islands by road about eight years ago.

18. Japan. Or Rio. Or Burma. Tick at least one of your dream destinations off your list ✔
If you'd asked me at 20 what my dream destinations were, I think the list would probably have read something like this:
South Africa ✔
Bali x
The Pacific Northwest of America ✔
Iceland ✔
Costa Rica x 
Three out of five's not bad, I don't think.

19. Have a crazy weekend in Las Vegas x
I can't think of many places that appeal to me less than Vegas, to be honest!

20. Go to the perfect music festival. (Sun, laughter and great headliners are a must!) ✔
I went to my first music festival the weekend I turned 17: Glastonbury 1995 had all of the above and set the bar high for my many future festival experiences. In my early 30s I loved Latitude Festival for its smaller vibe, but I haven't been back for years. We did talk about going for my 40th but that doesn't seem to have happened... maybe next year.

21. Have a home you love and design it with confidence and style ✔
Can I have more than one mark for this one please?! I absolutely love our house and have made it into the most perfect home for us. It's rare that I'm totally confident about anything, but my ability to design and style a room is something I believe in entirely.

22. Own a piece of jewellery that means something ✔
Almost a year after the wedding, I still find it bizarre that I wear a diamond ring every day; it's not a very 'me' notion. But my wedding ring means the world to me because it was my grandmother's wedding ring. It has two large diamonds in an original 1940s gold setting, and is the most beautiful and precious piece of jewellery I own.

23. Have a signature dish (even if it's really easy) ✔
I asked Thomas what my signature dish is and he said lasagne. I'm not a particularly adventurous cook but what I do make, I make well.

24. Take a trip by yourself ✔

I've done this a number of times, including two big trips to South Africa and a cross-country train ride of the USA.

25. Be proud of something you've achieved through hard work ✔
I think my teaching career is the thing I'm most proud of achieving, and that was certainly hard work!

26. Volunteer ✔
Frequently, if not consistently, since I was sixteen.

27. Find a form of exercise you actually like ✔
Does walking count? I can happily tromp the pavements for miles, so long as I have comfy shoes on my feet and good music playing on my headphones.

28. Have far too many books on your 'must read' list ✔

And on my to-read pile, and on my must-read shelf, and in my waiting-to-be-read room!

29. Have a dirty secret ?
I have secrets, sure, but I'm not sure any of them count as 'dirty'.

30. Kick a bad habit ✔
I started smoking when I was 19 and stopped when I was 27 (in the end, giving up was actually really easy - I had a bad chest infection and cold and couldn't smoke for two weeks, and then when I felt better I realised "Hey, I could just not start again" and I didn't).

31. Learn a language - whether its sign language, Swahili or some French ✔
I attempted to learn Dutch when I met Thomas but didn't keep it up, however I do still remember, and regularly use, some of the sign language I learned when my mum first went deaf.

32. Take a course, whether it's getting a master's degree or mastering pastry making ✔

Since finishing my undergraduate degree I've done a PGCE, gained British Sign Language Level One, and am halfway through an MA in Gender Studies.

33. Live in another country (for at least six months) x

This is something I'd still love to do, but Thomas has lived abroad a number of times and isn't overly keen to do it again: I think he's more realistic about the challenges it brings.

34. Wear leather trousers x
Even if I thought they looked good (I don't), I couldn't without thinking of Ross from Friends... "The lotion and the powder have made a paste!"

35. Buy expensive china, glassware and bedding... And use it every day for a week x
I suspect that what I consider expensive - Sainsburys, or IKEA's 'designer' range at a push - is not what anyone else would! Although saying that, I would love to be able to afford really luxurious, cool Egyptian cotton bedding, so maybe one for the birthday list? Although there's already the practical little voice in my head telling me it's only going to get covered in muddy cat paw prints!

36. Walk into Chanel and try on all of their little jackets x
I have little to no interest in designer clothes and can't imagine the circumstances where this might ever happen.

37. Invest in something custom made - whether it's shoes, a dress or a bespoke suit x
I can't see this happening before my birthday or, to be honest, ever. I'm much fonder of picking up vintage and secondhand bargains and then getting them tailored to fit me, which maybe sort of counts?

38. Have drunk sex with the lights on ✔
Erm, is this implying that having sex with the lights on is super daring? If so, my sex life has always been more kinky than I thought.

39. Call your parents and tell them you love them ✔

My mum is deaf so I'm in the habit of communicating with my family by email and post rather than on the phone. So if emails and letters count, then yes.

40. Write yourself a letter about why turning 40 is the best thing that ever happened to you x
But it's not, so no.

The oddest thing about my prolonged freak-out over turning 40 (seriously, it's been going on for about a year now) is that actually, as this list attests, I've done alright with my first 40 years. There are no huge "ohmigod why haven't I achieved x" gaps in my life; I'm pretty happy with what I have and where I am right now. If 15 year old me were to look at my 39-and-361-days old life, I think she'd be pretty satisfied; disappointed, maybe, that mental health is still a struggle, but otherwise thrilled that all the big box items on my teenage to-do list - the not entirely compatible combination of 1. Live a dissolute life of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, 2. Travel the world, and 3. Study extensively - have been ticked off.

I'm hoping that once the big day dawns tomorrow, I'll realise that life goes on as normal and 40 isn't so different to 39. But for now, you'll find me this evening sobbing into my cider and mourning the end of my youth.

Oh, and while I'm here: as I've got pretty much everything I need, I've set up a birthday fundraiser to benefit Mermaids, who work with trans and gender diverse children and teenagers and their families. This is really important work and if you were planning on sending me a card or giving me a gift, maybe consider donating a few quid to the fundraiser instead.

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