The big Five-Oh - so is this it, am I destined for old age now?
Not exactly feeling nifty at 50, but thankfully I'm warming to the fact that I'm still here, writes Carol Hunt
Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30
Suddenly I find that I am surrounded by middle-aged people. Some of them are positively elderly. As in around 50 years of age. Just think of that - 50 years. A whole half-century already gone. The point of no return, when you know that the years you have left will be fewer than those behind you. On my 40th birthday I had a big celebratory bash. Some of you may still remember it. Myself, friends and family booked a hotel in town, hired a magician and a fortune-teller, ate, drank, danced and were very merry indeed.
I could comfortably fit into a Little Black Dress, dance for hours in stilettos and still remember most of my guests' names at the end of the night. We had a blast. Which may be why my brother was surprised when I refused point-blank to even acknowledge last week's milestone. But turning 50 is what happens to Other People - old people - and I had never thought I would be one of them.
I know that sounds irrational. I mean, I can count as well as the next person (if that person isn't particularly great at maths) but, in my heart, or spirit, or soul, or wherever the essence of us is supposed to lie, I'm still very much in my early 40s. But the calendar says differently. Last week I turned 50. FIFTY. I can't say I don't know where the years have gone to. I know exactly where they went. I'm not so senile yet that I can't remember - though there are some events that are deliciously hazy and others far too clear for comfort. Nor can I say that I don't feel as if I'm 50. I have no idea what 50 is supposed to feel like. All I know is that I don't feel any different than I did when I was 30 and 40, and consequently I don't want to admit to myself that I'm far nearer the end-game than the entrance. A couple of years ago, I wrote a very positive piece on ageing for this newspaper. I quoted a good friend of mine who was celebrating her 50th birthday at the time. She had organised a stellar party, invited all her friends and family, and was thrilled and looking forward to a new phase in her life.
Clever, charming and bitingly witty, she had survived breast cancer and had just been given the all-clear. I'll always remember that night and the glow of happiness which radiated from her. "What you need to understand is that growing old is a privilege," she told me. "It means you survived, are surviving. It means you're still here, you're winning."
My lovely friend had lots of plans. She was going to travel the world. She had taken up yoga and meditation. She was delighted to be 50. She didn't know she had little time for all her plans. Last Christmas the cancer returned, and she was gone. It was so sudden and unexpected, we were all left reeling. But this is one thing you notice as you get older. People around you start dying. You may know them very well, you may just be a nodding acquaintance, or you may love them very dearly - but the visits to churches and graveyards increase and, suddenly, it's people of your own generation you are watching being put into the ground, saying prayers over and wondering how all that life was so quickly extinguished.
When I began writing this column I didn't intend to be so morbid. I wanted to be cheerful about ageing. What I wanted to say is that many of us never seem to appreciate what we have when we have it. Earlier this year, I was taken to hospital with a suspected stroke (it wasn't). For a few hours, I thought I was dying. I swore to myself that if I ever got well and home to my family, I would never complain about anything again. I pictured myself sitting at home with my lovely kids and wondered why had I not known how lucky I was - healthy and happy with only First-World problems? Obviously, if you've read any of my columns since then, you'll know I still complain. But I know that my attitude has changed.
No, I don't like getting older. Do any of us really? I don't like the weight gain, the puckered lines over my mouth, the aches in my joints, the inexorable thickening of my waist. I'll admit it. I don't like being 50. But I like it a lot better than the alternative. I don't want to get to my eventual last moments with any more regrets.
I already have far too many. I finally understand what Nora Ephron meant when she wrote: "Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right now this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're 34." Because in 10 years' time I know I will look back on this article and wonder what the hell I was talking about. Fifty? I will snort. What were you on about? That's young. You should try 60!
And I will wish that I had still worn the bikini, drunk cocktails and had lots of sex and adventures (with you of course, darling husband, if you're reading this), while I was a youthful 50. And so, in memory of my beautiful, lively, ambitious friend, I won't put a bikini on - it's a wee bit cold for that - but I will wear a short dress and high shoes, go out on the town, order a cocktail, and maybe even wink at my husband (if that doesn't give him a heart attack). I'm 50. I'm alive. I have a lot to look forward to. We all do.