| 3.5°C Dublin

Middle-aged mutton is the new lamb, and life does begin at 40

In a matter of days I will be 44, which is officially middle-aged. In one way I am very lucky -- if I had been born in 1850 I would have been dead at the age of 40. But, as it is, half my life is now over. I work this out by presuming that I won't die tragically young and I will live out a natural lifespan and die at around 88.

I realise that the average age that women are living to in this country is now 79, but I am taking into consideration the fact that I don't smoke, I drink very little, I hate butter and cream, I keep fit and flexible, meditate, refuse to do silly things like bungee jumping and always take about 15 different supplements daily.

Given all these factors and also the fact that they are constantly experimenting with stem cells and could easily start marketing an age reversal operation within the next few decades, I may well pass the 100 mark, but I am being conservative.

Even still, this is an extremely daunting prospect, the notion that the curtain has come down on Act 1 and Act 2 will begin immediately. I don't know what is more frightening: the prospect of death looming so close and my not having achieved even the obvious stuff like buying a house or starting a family or making any money. Or the prospect of having arrived at middle age, that point in one's life which, as a teenager, seemed a fate far worse than death. If I think back to being a teenager (and it is not an easy thing to remember that far back) the mid-40s should be a time when a woman has passed her sell-by date as a sexually attractive being, and has settled into a hideously out-moded wardrobe of baggy cardigans and elasticated trousers and comfy shoes.

It should be a time for wrinkles and grey hairs and reading glasses and early nights. One should have abandoned anything remotely exciting in life, and taken up the gentler activities like golf and gardening and making jam, when one isn't having a little lie down.

Strangely, however, I don't feel any different at 44 than I did at 34. And, as I look around me at the likes of Cindy Crawford and Yasmin Le Bon and Elle MacPherson, I notice that for supermodels at least, being middle-aged does not appear to have any discernible effect on one's sexual attractiveness, and does not necessarily mean wrinkles or greying or glasses, let alone no longer showing off one's body in very skimpy clothing.

Last week Sadie Frost (also a middle-aged woman) was to be seen stripping naked for Grazia, without a care in the world, despite having had four kids. Everywhere you look these days there are women of a certain age getting their kit off, and I don't just mean Madonna, Sophia Loren is also still doing it despite being officially an elderly woman.

There was a rule when I was young that when you got past 30 you stopped being exciting and cool and staying up all night. You were no longer an impulsive and fun-loving party person. You had to stop wearing hot pants and mini skirts and things that showed flesh. This rule has gone out the window. If you have a fit body in your 40s (which is achievable with Pilates and such like) one is more likely to be criticised for dressing too 'mutton' than too 'lamb'. Thanks to the wonders of Botox and boob jobs, whether you approve of them or not, you have the choice to look younger than your years, if you wish it and can afford it.

As a child, I would have assumed that if you got to 40-plus and were not dead, you were at least doomed to never again snog cute boys let alone date them. Thanks to the likes of Sam Taylor Wood, Demi Moore and Madonna we can all see that this is not remotely true.

It would not even be too late for me to start having kids at my age if I wanted to, it seems, not that I would want to. As for partying and being cool, when I do summon up the energy to go to parties I am horrified (but also impressed) to encounter people like Vivienne Westwood who are old enough to be my granny and who can stay up much later and dance around the place more energetically than I can while still being outrageously cool and exciting. Judging by all of these facts, there has never been a better time to be middle-aged. If you want to, you can have almost all of the benefits of being a 20-something, as well as having the accumulated wisdom to know what to do with those benefits.

And the icing on the cake is that if you feel like it, you are also perfectly entitled to relax on the recliner, in your elasticated slacks with your feet up, and watch programmes about gardening. Which is something a teenager would never get away with.

Sunday Independent