I’m 39 weeks pregnant and we’re a month into living in a new house. I’m huge, exhausted, excited, distracted, anxious… so it’s fair to say my thoughts have been a bit of a jumble of late.
I turn 36 today and it was only when I acknowledged the mental chaos I’m currently experiencing that I realised what I want to say to mark yet another birthday.
And it’s this: The older I get, the better I get at figuring out WHY I feel the way I do. With each year that passes, I gain a little more self-awareness. And that’s more useful than any birthday gift you can wrap.
Becoming a mum has helped a lot. I can’t expect my daughter (or her imminent sibling) to undersand their feelings if I can’t comprehend my own.
I try hard to make time to work out what’s behind my response to situations. Am I tired? Hungry? Feeling inadequate? Intimidated? Distracted by a timetable my daughter has no idea I’m trying to keep us to? So enormously pregnant I fear my stomach may BURST any minute?
Because nobody’s response to anything is just about what’s happening in that moment. There’s always more to it. Our history, our physical and mental wellbeing, our worries, our hopes, our fears… they all play a part. It’s a wonder we get through the day we’re carrying so much invisible weight around.
When I consider where my reaction is coming from, I handle things so much better than when I don’t. And I feel happier with who I am too.
But of course I’ve only learnt this by reflecting on all the times I haven’t managed things so well. I’m a fallible human being so I’ve let my insecurities, bad habits, and misunderstandings get the better of me LOADS of times. And I’ll 100% do it again. Age can’t magically protects us from that. But the better we know ourselves, the better we get at slowing down and seeing things for what they are.
So at least I know why I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. And I try to bear that in mind when I feel like overreacting to the smallest thing. (What do you MEAN the bakery has run out of jam doughnuts?! I NEED ONE.)
I’m about to have a baby and become a mum of two. It’s no surprise that I’m feeling 400 emotions at once.
What I like about being older is my understanding that there’s no point wasting energy fighting tricky feelings. It’s better for all of us if I acknowledge and lean into what’s driving them instead.
Whether it’s the nervousness I feel about the physical turmoil involved with birth and its aftermath, or the desperation I feel to bring our baby into the world safely and do a good job for them and their sister, it’s all OK. I can’t have all these wonderfully grown up experiences without them.
The only promise I can make is that I’ll do my best and keep learning from every high and low that comes our way. I’m confident my 37th year will be filled with plenty of both…
Every year to mark my birthday, I write a list of lessons I’ve learnt or things I want to say at this point in time. It’s a therapeutic ritual and I recommend it.
So here are 34 things I know about myself and the world now I’m 34 – yet another age that doesn’t feel anywhere near as old as I thought it would…
1. I know that when I sit on the sofa with a drink at my feet and think “I’ll definitely remember that’s there, there’s no way I’ll spill it,” what I’m really saying is: “I look forward to kicking that all over everything in a few minutes.”
2. I know that cheesecake is the world’s most overrated food and I do not apologise for this opinion.
3. I know that there is one person in every group of friends who is in charge of organising get-togethers and who LOVES to complain about how nobody else ever does it and then FREAKS OUT if anybody else ever tries. And hello, yes, that’s me.
4. I know that a solo trip to the cinema is one of the greatest gifts a person can give themselves and I’m just sorry I didn’t realise it sooner.
5. I know that the more energy I put into trying to make somebody like me, the less I will end up liking myself.
6. I know that periods can be a painful, inconvenient nightmare, but there is something undeniably joyful about selecting your biggest, most comfortable knickers to get you through those first, bloated hours.
7. I know that one of the things I find scariest about being a parent is the amount for which your children will forgive you.
8. I know that there’s a huge difference between someone who wants you, and someone who wants you to want them, and that unfortunately it’s not always until you’ve experienced the former that you can recognise the latter.
9. I know that splitting the backside of my favourite pair of jeans open taught me this about clothing: Just because you can do something up, it doesn’t mean it fits.
10. I know that realising I’d done the above just seconds before I left the house to go to brunch taught me you should ALWAYS CHECK YOUR REAR VIEW BEFORE STEPPING OUTSIDE.
11. I know that I sometimes absentmindedly rest my hand on my stomach, trying to protect a baby who now lives out in the world.
12. I know that there will come a point when I have to stop calling my daughter a ‘baby’ and I will get there in my own time. Do not rush me.
13. I know that the way you feel when you see your partner unexpectedly tells you everything you need to know about whether you’re spending your life with the right person.
14. I know that each of us has to take responsibility for our relationship with the internet and to choose to live a life where we feel in control of it, and not the other way around.
15. I know that it’s hypocritical of me to talk to my daughter about the importance of sharing when I find it so very difficult to share her.
16. I know that carrying a yogurt in your handbag is the riskiest game a human being can play.
17. I know that just because you’ve walked into a room and feel like you’re wearing the wrong thing, it doesn’t mean that you are. It’s always OK to dress like you.
18. I know that of all my life goals ‘That I will one day get on top of the washing’ is by far the most ambitious.
19. I know that the more evenly spread the balance of power is between two people, the better their friendship will be.
20. I know that every friend you make isn’t necessarily meant to be in your life forever. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t still worth knowing each other.
21. I know that if you value your time and your energy you shouldn’t even think about chopping a butternut squash. Just roast the bastard for an hour and a half and then do what you need to do with it. Save your blood, sweat and tears for a more worthwhile activity.
22. I know that just because somebody’s on their own it doesn’t mean they’re lonely, and that just because somebody’s in company, it doesn’t mean they’re not.
23. I know that if you want to make a dream a reality, you have to start being able to talk about it whilst looking people in the eye.
24. I know that though migraines are the bane of my life, they have taught me a lot about how much activity, stress, and socialising I can handle. Your body knows what you can take, so listen to it.
25. I know that I’ve never been to an actual swamp, but I have been in the bathroom after my husband has been in the shower, so I’m pretty confident I know what one looks like.
26. I know that it’s always a good time to remind the person you’re spending your life with that you love them just as they are, mess or no mess.
27. I know that you have two choices: spend your time doubting whether there’s space for you and your creative work, or spend your time creating that space by doing it.
28. I know that the gap between what you imagine putting your child to bed will look like (reading them a bedtime story, rocking them to sleep, singing them lullabies) and what it actually looks like (being repeatedly kicked in the face/poked in the eye whilst you lie down with them to help them ‘settle’, saying ‘Yes, that’s a lovely tongue’ when they choose this moment to show you their entire mouth, getting so good at pretending to be asleep yourself that sometimes you do drift off) is VAST.
29. I know that there will come a time when I don’t sit with my daughter in my lap every night, reading her the exact same books before she goes to bed, and I miss it already.
30. I know that we trick ourselves into thinking that we’re working towards an end point in our lives where our achievements will be added up and evaluated. And I know that the older you get and the more milestones you tick off, the more apparent it becomes that that end point doesn’t exist.
31. I know that one of the greatest gifts my daughter has given me is total abandonment of my sense of self-consciousness. I will sing in the street, I will moo, baa and neigh on the train, and I will dance like she’s the only person watching. In so many ways, she has set me free.
32. I know that the moment things go wrong, you realise just how happy your life made you as it was, but that we don’t have to wait till then to notice.
33. I know that at 34 there’s still so much that I want to do, but that for the life we’ve built so far I am grateful.
34. I know that it never ceases to amaze me since we started our family how quickly our time together passes by. And that all I really want for my birthday this year is more, so much more of it.
It’s birthday time for me 🎂 and this year I’m turning 31. It’s not Big News like turning 30 was – there’s no ’31 things to do before you turn 31′ lists to read. (I assume because people think the only thing you really need to do by this point is recover from turning 30).
Nope, it’s just a middle of the road, hardly worth mentioning sort of age, and I’m fine with that. It’s nice to go under the radar for a little while.
But just because 31 isn’t considered to be a particularly remarkable milestone, it doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. Regular readers will know that it’s become something of a tradition for me to write a list as long as my age to mark my birthday – a decision I imagine I will regret enormously by the time I turn 75.
When I turned 29 and 30 I jotted down a series of things I had learnt. So this year – in the interests of keeping things fresh – I’ve opted for a list of things that continue to surprise me about living in the world. Because the older you get, the longer that list becomes.
1. That there are people who do not like Jaffa Cakes.
2.That after almost 11 years together, the text message I’ve sent my husband which has provoked the most positive response to date said: I’ve managed to fix our WiFi.
3. That the lyric ‘My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone’ was all it would take for me to like Justin Bieber.
4. That, rather than a hilarious joke, ‘This train is delayed due to a lack of driver to drive it’ is a commonly used excuse for transport disruption.
5. That the amount of money you spend on a pair of shoes has absolutely nothing to do with how much they are likely to hurt your feet.
6. That the glare I gave the man on the train who said “I’m on my way to London Houston” didn’t turn him to stone.
7. That I once offered a friend one of my pick n mix sweets and they took the single, giant fondant filled liquorice lace I was clearly going to save till last. WHO DOES THAT
8. That it’s possible to select an outfit to wear at at 8am, and then realise you hate it more than anything you’ve ever seen in your life by 10.
9. That after two years as a glasses-wearer, I still fail to anticipate what will happen when I open the oven or dishwasher door whilst wearing them.
10. That eventually my life would be divided into two halves: Before I started enjoying gin, and after.
11. That there is nothing quite like the incredible sense of achievement one feels following the successful usage of drain unblocker.
12.That intense feeling of loss a woman feels when she looks in her make-up bag and discovers that her blusher has shattered into a million pink, dusty pieces.
13. That there is nothing more frightening than the prospect of hearing a recording of your own voice.
14.That there is so much happening in the world, and yet I still feel the need to correct people when they say ‘I’ when they should be saying ‘me’.
15. That I still get invited to parties.
16.That I ever thought simply wearing my sunglasses over the top of my glasses would fill the gap that only prescription sunglasses can. (And how unbelievably heavy that felt on my face).
17. That I get worryingly close at least once a week to sending an email that features the word ‘afterboob’ instead of ‘afternoon’.
18.That there would come a time when somebody saying they spent an afternoon reading a book – rather than looking at any kind of screen – would seem like the greatest demonstration of willpower the world has ever seen.
19. That my husband expects to receive the kind of praise one might reserve for a person who has just run the marathon for simply putting a wash on.
20.That nothing on this earth – not purchasing an appropriately ripe avocado, or figuring out what level of postage to put on a package, or attempting to cook one of Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals in less than an hour – is more difficult than finding a Friday night on which all members of a female friendship group are free to have dinner together.
21. That the simple act of removing the Facebook app from my phone has done more for my mental health than any holiday ever could.
22.That one minute you swear you will never let a single crumb come near your precious new phone or laptop, and the next you’re tapping at the keys with peanut butter-covered fingers like there’s no tomorrow.
23. That expression friends make when they discover that you’re left-handed. Like they don’t really know you at all.
24.That however hard you think it is to make a human being love you, it’s a walk in the park compared to trying to befriend a cat.
25. That just because a hangover isn’t there when you wake up, it doesn’t mean it’s not coming for you in a few hours’ time.
26.That admitting that you suffer from anxiety is like mentioning that you own Adele’s album ’25’ – dude, everybody’s got that.
27. That I remain incapable of having a conversation with someone who is crying without also crying myself.
28.That some gluten free brands have the audacity to call the crumbly slices of disappointment they produce ‘bread’.
29. That I now live in a world where recognising people because you’ve seen photographs of them on the Internet is considered evidence that you have strong social awareness, and not that maybe a restraining order should be issued.
30.That for so many of us it’s not until we reach our fourth decade on earth that we start to realise what it is that we want to do with our lives.
31. And that if the speed of the last 31 years has taught me anything, it’s that we don’t have time to spend a single second doing anything else.
As I lay awake after the first big night out I’ve had which wasn’t at a wedding for the past approx. five years – feet burning, ears ringing, room doing an unhelpful spin – I wondered how on earth I used to do this every night. Because there was a time when that happened. I won’t be too specific but let’s just say MSN messenger was a BIG DEAL back then.
Yesterday’s frivolities brought my 30th birthday celebrations to a close in the best way possible – with drinking and dancing and hanging out with the kind of friends that you want to stand on a stool in front of and declare “I LOVE EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU” until you realise that’s a bad idea as your ability to remain balanced even when you haven’t drunk anything is limited. Best to just text them all afterwards instead.
But aside from other people’s nuptials and birthday parties, big nights of boozing and shape-throwing just don’t happen so much any more. And for that reason, when they do come around, I have to spend a few days getting myself physically and mentally prepared for it. For example, this week I:
– didn’t go out on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening in the interests of storing up as much energy as possible for last night (much like a hamster loading up its cheeks with nuts or bits of carrot, except I just stocked up on sofa time, Orange is the New Black and sweets).
– considered my pre-party diet very carefully. I had to make sure I ate enough so that I wouldn’t get drunk at the first whiff of alcohol, but not so much that I’d need to lie down in the corner of the bar mid-party and have a nap – OR look so bloated that everyone would think they were at a baby shower instead of a 30th. A very tough balance to strike.
– added an extra half an hour to my getting ready time so that I could put on liquid eyeliner. Sure, it looks nice but my main reason for choosing it is because once it’s on, it doesn’t move, whereas after a couple of hours in eye shadow, it’s not so much that I look like I’ve been punched, more like someone has slapped me in the face incredibly slowly, dragging every grain of colour across my eyes.
– decided to wear jeans with a very comfortable waistband. I was going to wear a dress that is very tight around the middle but I shunned it in the interests of being able to breathe – something that matters to be more and more as I get older.
– selected a pair of heels with a very strong strap to avoid stepping out of them and breaking my ankle mid over-enthusiastic dance move (FYI all of my moves fall into this category – if you’re going to go out, you might as well get an entire year’s worth of exercise done in one evening, in my opinion). Of course such a shoe doesn’t necessarily save you from a tumble but my rule is: if I’m going down, my shoes are coming with me.
I didn’t used to need all this preparation – I remember being at university and not even deciding whether to go out until 11pm whereas if you suggested that to me now I’d… well, I wouldn’t hear you because I’d be asleep.
But the good thing is that the less frequently that something lovely happens, the more you appreciate it when it does. Celebrating with friends, drinking cocktails filled with raspberries and lemon (oh and gin, loads of gin), and struggling to go to sleep because your feet are throbbing so hard from all the jiving that they’re just not used to, doesn’t happen every day (and for that my toes will always be grateful) so we have to make the most of it when it does.
I’m already looking forward to next time, whenever that should come around, just as long as I have plenty of warning. In the mean time, I’ll be sat safely on my sofa, nursing my poor feet back to their former glory and preparing them for their next expedition outside.
If my current state of exhaustion is anything to go by, I fear I may be 40 before I’m ready for that to happen.
When I was younger, all I thought about was the boys I fancied.
You know what it’s like when you’re young, there really isn’t all that much to think about. It’s that, what’s on TV, or which one of your friends you’ve fallen out with today (and trying desperately hard to remember why – was it because they wrote ‘Charlotte loves Maths’ on your pencil case – when they KNOW English is your jam – or because they took three crisps from your bag when you specifically said they could only have one).
I think I believed that if I thought about boys enough they would just magically fall in love with me (I can’t even blame Disney movies for it. I made that up all on my own). But – and spoiler for any young’uns reading – that doesn’t work at all.
But now that I’m older (I’ll be 30 on Saturday, in case you missed my telegram), and as the sense of urgency to do the right thing with my life grows at a rate so fast I wonder if I have time to sleep any more, my mind is focused on other things, like:
How I can get more time into my life to do the things I want to do? How can I make the days longer, or change the week altogether so that more of it belongs to me? What time does a person need to get up to truly fulfil themselves – is it 5am? 6am? But what if you’re not a morning person, by which I mean, inherently lazy until at least 10am?
How I can get more inspiration into my head? Over the last few months I have devoured books written by female comedy writers like I would previously consume marshmallows (although in the ideal scenario I would do both at once). And I can’t get enough of them. Tina Fey’s book Bossypants made me so happy that I never wanted my commute to end when I was reading it – and when do you ever hear a Londoner say that? I want to do things that make me think – talks, workshops, classes – to find endless things to write about, and to consume all the books that make me say YES I AM GOING TO LEARN FROM YOU (and ideally laugh at lots too and make people on the tube think I am a weirdo).
How I can do it all without burning out? Getting so tired that I feel sick has become a regular part of my life. I’d say about once every fortnight I have to send myself to bed like one might a five year old because I’ve become overtired and unreasonable. We have to build relaxation time in don’t we, but that should happen before we’ve got to the point where we think we might punch somebody just because they’ve asked if they can borrow our pen. I recently discovered the incredible power of having a bath and listening to Desert Island Discs, which I intend to do more of and strongly recommend. It’s like medicine but with added David Attenborough or Steve Coogan or Dawn French. I think I even prefer it to Calpol.
And how do you do all this whilst remaining a good friend, wife, daughter, sister, niece, mama to your pets? Because that sh*t MATTERS. There are people to see, lives to catch up on, and food to be consumed in the presence of others. And I want to do all of the things, achieve all of the stuff, whilst doing the most important thing of all which is just being a part of people’s lives, chatting it all out, and laughing or crying until we’re spent. Because what is the point of doing anything unless you have good relationships in your life? I mean, really?
It’s amazing how your brain and your focus changes.
Sometimes I wonder how we ever managed to fill our minds up before we became so grown up and serious. But of course we did – Neighbours was on, Monster Munch were delicious (I mean, they still are) and how on earth we were supposed to live this life alongside other people was something we were just beginning to understand – one tear shed over ill-advised stationery graffiti at a time.
I turn 30 next Saturday (feel free to DM me for my address so that you can send me cards/jewellery/hard cash) and, inevitably, I’ve spent a good amount of the last six months wondering why I have failed to achieve EVERY SINGLE THING IN THE WORLD before reaching this allegedly significant age.
I understand this is normal. Friends in the same position have said the same thing. Turning 30 seems to have a strange effect on us. We all seem to feel that by this time we should know exactly what we’re doing with our lives, that we should be excellent at doing it, and that now we should be free to sit back and chew on one of the vine ripened tomatoes we’ve casually grown in our back gardens whilst simultaneously nailing our careers, marriages and extensive voluntary work.
But I’m just not sure that’s true.
First of all, we need to give ourselves a break. We’re so quick to focus on what we haven’t done that we don’t acknowledge what we have. And in 30 years that will be a lot of things. All the lessons we’ve learnt, the friends we’ve made, the relationships we’ve had, the jobs we’ve done, the haircuts we’ve been through before realising that actually, yes, that forehead is best kept behind a fringe… So many things. So before we write the last three decades off, we’d do well to remember that they most definitely haven’t been wasted. I’ve watched Mrs Doubtfire 25 times, I’m currently on my seventh viewing of the full Cold Feet box set, and I’ve spent a good week of the last 30 years eating cheese puffs – so don’t try and tell me I haven’t used my time wisely.
Secondly, where did we get this idea that this was some kind of deadline? Alright, maybe you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, but that’s OK – working that out is, in itself, progress. And you’ve (all being well) got loads of time to ask yourself the right questions so that you can figure it out. People love talking to you about that sh*t because most are in the same position. Or if you’re one of those rare beasts that does know what you want to do but you’re just not there yet then WELL DONE, DO YOU KNOW HOW RIDICULOUSLY RARE IT IS TO EVEN KNOW THAT, and how marvellously exciting that you can now get on with doing it. Treat 30 like a wonderful new beginning, the decade in which you will get that job / write that book / FINALLY finish painting the bathroom. Carpe diem, hakuna matata and YOLO, dear friend. It’s all to play for.
Thirdly, it’s important to remember that success is subjective. I find it so interesting speaking to people I consider to be absurdly successful and sorted who think quite the opposite about themselves. Your idea of a day spent failing at everything might be another person’s idea of a really successful one because you had the balls to TRY whilst they were too afraid to even give their goals a go. We are all our own harshest judges which is why it helps to have a few chums nearby to remind us that we’re much better at life than we realise. And to occasionally just tell us to stop being a baby and GET ON WITH IT. That can be quite useful too.
And lastly, 30 is a good age. (I know I haven’t technically hit it yet but I imagine that the way you feel at 29 years and 359 days old is pretty similar). You know so much about yourself, what you like, what you don’t like, where you stand on important issues like whether cheese should go on top of the beans on a jacket potato or beneath (on top, obviously). You know what your values are, what kind of wife/husband/friend/sister/brother/shopping companion you want to be, and just how short your temper is when somebody pushes in front of you in a queue. This is all extremely useful information. And with it you can enter a new decade filled with good friendships, nice times and orderly queues, without ever being disappointed that all the cheese on your jacket potato has disappeared into a sea of beans.
Having thought it through, I think that turning 30 is going to be just fine. A time for new beginnings, bold choices and confidence in our selection of hairstyles. And who knows, maybe I will invest in that tomato plant after all.
If you’re lucky then from time to time compliments will happen.
Somebody might say they like your dress, or your new lunchbox or your selection of scented deodorant, and it’ll all be very nice for everybody involved.
But for those who have – at some stage in their lives – experienced some of the more unfortunate types of comments that can be made about a person’s appearance or existence, compliments can be a hard thing to comprehend.
When you’ve taught yourself to be permanently on guard, ready to play verbal karate against anybody who happens to dislike your shoes or your hair or some other crucial life choice apparently open to public scrutiny, a genuine compliment can take you by surprise. And, as a result, you are constantly at risk of taking a chop at any innocent dude who tells you that they think you have good taste in nail varnish or trainer socks, because you automatically assume they’re out to get you.
On my list of strengths you would see: a keen eye for pun opportunities; ability to remember everybody in the world’s birthday and thus make them think that I am a stalker/identity thief; and a permanent, unfaltering openness to dessert. And on the weaknesses list, among many others, would be: extremely limited willingness to participate in sporting activities (AKA laziness), heavy dependency on crisps; and an inability to accept a compliment without making (often sh*t) jokes. It’s like an illness, for which the cure is just to stop it.
So here’s how I intend to do that:
Step one: Remember that compliments are not traps
Contrary to popular school playground opinion, life is not actually a race to see who can say the nastiest thing about another person the quickest. And compliments don’t just exist to lure you into a false sense of security before hitting you hard in the face with the fact that actually, no, your eye make-up doesn’t look exceptionally even today, it looks like you put your mascara wand into the mouth of a dog and told it to poke you in the eye.
But this can be hard to remember, so those of us in verbal karate mode are always ready with an insult for ourselves just in case, such as these:
“Hey Charlotte, I like the new fringe!
Ah yes, whatever takes the focus off my face, eh?! (*This one doesn’t even work. A fringe does the precise opposite, FYI.)”
“Very strong handbag choice, lady!
Oh this? It was so cheap they basically paid me to take it off the premises! “
“Ooh have you caught the sun?
Nah, I think I kept my face in the oven too long when I was poking at some salmon I’d accidentally cremated last night – woops!”
…whilst the other person looks on, wondering if you’ve either gone mad, or perhaps you just didn’t hear them properly when they said they liked your hair/bag/face/voice and maybe they should write it down for you next time to be sure.
Step two: Remember that accepting a compliment doesn’t make you horrendously full of yourself
People don’t compliment you so that they can be outraged at your acceptance of their words. They don’t say “Well, aren’t you good at making a casserole!” so that they can then bitch amongst chums later about how arrogant it was of you to believe that they did indeed enjoy the way that you merged meat with vegetables and [whatever the liquid that goes into a casserole is] for their enjoyment. That would be a very strange way to live your life. Now, of course, it is possible to overdo it – don’t stop them mid-sentence to call and tell your mum, or to change your twitter handle to @COOKOFTHECENTURY – but beyond that you are allowed to just believe nice words when they’re said to you.
Step three: Just say thank you and carry on with your day
Yep. That’s it. Simple, eh?
Learning to accept compliments – and that the whole world isn’t trying to bring you down, one joke about your taste in necklaces at a time – is all part of our journey to becoming a truly confident human. Being an adult means having the freedom to – as much as possible – only spend time with people who bring us joy so, rather than constantly having to keep our arms up to fend off nastiness, we can let them rest by our sides, only raising up for a hug or a high five or take a well-earned slice of cake.
And it leaves our marvellously quick minds free for more useful activities, like playing along with Countdown or spotting opportunities to make a good pun.
Because life’s far too short to miss out on too many of those.
And, as is customary, I have written a list of things I would like to achieve by that time.
Is this just an opportunity for me to write down some funny thoughts I’ve had or is this an actual record of my hopes and dreams at this pivotal moment in my life? Or is it something in between. I’ll let you decide.
1. Find a mascara that remains on my eyelashes throughout the day. Not down my cheek, not – somehow – in the middle of my forehead, just on my eyes. Come on science, I’m on a deadline.
2. Remember once and for all that the phrase is ‘Off your own bat’ not ‘back’ and stop just saying ‘ba’ and hoping nobody notices.
3. Finally decide what type of book I’d like to write and START WRITING IT.
4. Do more drawing. I bloody love drawing. Stewie (top) needs some company.
5. Watch The Godfather Part II. No I haven’t seen it, yes I know it’s amazing, no I don’t know what I’ve been doing with my life, yes I have heard it’s better than the first one, no I don’t need to borrow your copy thanks, yes I have had this conversation a few times before.
6. Go to New York, get discovered as the next Carrie Bradshaw and commence living a disproportionately glamorous life considering the pittance I must surely earn from writing just one column per episode/week. I shall live the dream.
7. Find a black skirt that actually fits. This is definitely too ambitious in this time frame.
8. Learn how to cook an appropriate amount of potatoes to feed two people.
9. Buy a new pair of jeans. Oh god, I already can’t face it.
10. Spend more time at the wonderful British seaside. I love arcades, I love chips, and I love being at constant risk of having my entire lunch stolen by a seagull.
11. Start having the balls to say “I would like to be a writer who gets paid to write words, please!” when people ask me what I’d like to do with my life, and then have the additional balls required to make it happen.
12. Reduce my chocolate button consumption to just one bag per week NO I’M SORRY I CAN’T DO IT I TAKE IT BACK YOU CAN’T MAKE ME
13. Stop feeling the need to merge words together for my own amusement e.g. shoppurtunity, mumbrella, ex-snack-tly.
14. Never ever let anybody in the world know that – until the age of 24 – I thought that the direction of North, South, East and West changed depending on which way you were facing (like with left and right). This secret must die with me.
15. Go to the Lake District. I am an adult and I want to go for a walk.
16. Speak with confidence about where and what ‘East Anglia’ is.
17. Learn how to bake a cake that doesn’t break when I take it out of the cake tin. The GBBO crew would not think much of my presentation skills.
18. Sigh long enough and loud enough for my husband to FINALLY change the light bulb on our landing which broke three years ago. (I’m not tall enough to reach and – on principle – refuse to risk my life by standing on a step ladder to try.)
19. Stop being so passive aggressive. 20. Go to Budapest. The level of holidays on this list is already unrealistic.
21. Ooh and Istanbul.
22. Move this blog over to WordPress and make it look so good that the internet has to be completely redesigned to keep up with its wonder (or just so that maybe a few more people want to look at it. Either way.)
23. Either find a photography course and go on it or STOP GOING ON ABOUT IT.
24. Finally make a decision about what to do with my wedding dress. NB: Wearing it to other people’s weddings is not cool. I realise that now.
25. Invest in those blue Bertie brogues I keep dreaming about. The universe clearly wants us to be together. 26. Make an album of our wedding photos and have a physical reminder that there was indeed one day in my life when I wore the right thing to a party.
27. Get better at gardening. And by better I mean: actually do some gardening.
28. Learn once and for all that lying down whilst watching a film – no matter how enthralling – is a one way ticket to Sleepy Town.
29. Watch the end of all the films I’ve missed due to the above. (Current count: 732)
30. Organise an excellent party. And by excellent, I mean one that involves lots of sitting down, chatting, and a guarantee that we’ll all be tucked up in bed by 11.30pm. At our age we need all the beauty sleep we can get.
By my mum when I claimed my childhood bedroom was tidy, by my brother when I missed the goal yet again during an ill-advised game of FIFA, and by my husband when I suggested that it’s him that’s taking up too much space in our wardrobe (which by having anything in there at all, he clearly is).
So on Friday I went for such a test and, as a result, now find myself in possession of not one but two pairs of glasses. My tendency to sit on breakable objects means that I have to buy two of pretty much everything (which, when purchasing chocolate bars, is no bad thing).
My mum likes to remind me that when I was a child I used to pretend to be unable to read the little letters on the optician’s screen in the hope of being given glasses. But I wasn’t paying back then, was I. There was definitely no pretending when it was my credit card on the line. That F was just f-ing tiny.
But it’s OK because glasses are cool. They are an accessory that I have to spend money on for the good of my health. Like a handbag that cures headaches or a bracelet that stops eczema or a pair of shoes that makes the stomach ache I get after eating 120 grams of Fruit and Nut just magically disappear.
But there is no denying that glasses change the way you look. I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed but they sit right in the middle of your face.
My husband and I have changed a lot since we met at university in 2005. We were a lot younger then, much more casual about getting our hair cut on a regular basis (who wants to spend money on neat locks when you can buy chips covered with cheese?), and I wore borderline indecent skirts as frequently as I now wear my dressing gown (most of the day).
He didn’t sign up to be with a 29-year-old woman with half brown, half blond (and just a teeny bit of grey) hair and thick rimmed glasses. He signed up to go out with a 20-year old girl with young skin, and a penchant for parties, staying up late and consuming Jaffa Cakes with gay abandon (OK, the latter is still true though I will always use a plate now – this isn’t a zoo, you know.)
And I didn’t expect to end up with a 30-year-old man who thinks it’s reasonable to still not have unpacked his luggage after a holiday which ended five days ago (that point really isn’t relevant to this post but I just needed to get it off my chest). I guess nobody gets exactly what they bargained for.
But the changes that happen to our looks and our likes are all just part of the little story we build together – the khaki trousers from my ‘let’s dress like a park ranger’ phase, the unkempt curly hair from his student days, and the extra pounds of weight I’ll inevitably gain from the pot of mini doughnuts and melted chocolate I consumed last night just because it was Saturday. Whatever happens when I try to zip up my trousers tomorrow, I will never regret that decision.
Wedding vows talk about all the times it’ll be important for you to stick together – for richer for poorer, in sickness and health – but I really think it would be helpful if they covered a bit more of the day-to-day; something like ‘For bitchier for warmer; in fitness and in a disgustingly hung over state’ – because, if you’re lucky, those things will test you much more frequently. If you can look at a person who drank so much the night before that they couldn’t remember where the bedroom was in your one bedroom flat and tell them that that they’re scrumptious (or that they will be after a good shower) I’d say you can get through anything.
Whether it’s a new pair of glasses, an inexplicable fondness for camouflage coloured trousers or a bad trip to the hairdressers, we’re signed up for life, so we’d best make sure we like it. Because something tells me that there’s going to be plenty more change to come. We’ll get older, our hair will go greyer, and the pair of us will surely eventually discover the consequences of consuming our body weight in chocolate each day before bed.
And they’ll be no hiding from it either. Just like the table that needs dusting, the dishwasher that needs emptying and that weekend bag that is getting no closer to unpacking itself, in these glasses, I can see absolutely everything.
1. Your parents take the opportunity to remind you what you were like as a baby.
I, of course, don’t remember being a baby. I could hazard a guess that I was probably a bit pink, unpredictably tearful and partial to a nap (so not that different from now) but that’s all I’ve got. My mum, on the other hand, has all the memories anybody interested in hearing about my life as an infant could wish for. And each year on my birthday I get a new instalment, which I very much enjoy. There’s the one about how I was a lovely baby (her words), and how pleased they were that I was a girl, and the surprise they felt when it took just four hours for me to be delivered (beat that, Amazon)…. It’s just unfortunate that I also know that I was rather prone to tantrums and that I once threw up in her bed. Though arguably that was worse for her than me.
2. People don’t ask how old you are, just if this is a ‘big’ birthday.
You know you’re truly an adult when people are cautious about asking your age in case they offend you. They didn’t used to worry. Such questions would just lead to conversations about what you were legally allowed to do now that you’d reached the latest milestone. But by the time you get to 29, all your birthdays feel pretty big. And not because you’re suddenly allowed to smoke or drink or gamble; but because you’re far too tired and partial to the indoors to even think about doing any of it.
3. You no longer feel the need to open your presents as soon as you wake up.
When I was a child, going to sleep the night before my birthday was as impossible as it is for me to stay awake beyond 10 o’clock now. But things are different these days. It was my alarm that woke me up on Friday and it took me a good few moments to figure out what day of the week it was, let alone that it was my birthday. With age comes the knowledge that the longer you wait to open your presents, the longer it is until all the fun is over. I think it was about 9pm on Friday when I finally started doing any unwrapping. If one of my gifts hadn’t been a jar of strawberry flavour mushroom sweets it would have felt like a very mature affair. (And no you CAN’T have one.)
4. The majority of your presents could be described as ‘useful’
(Well, aside from the sweets. A girl’s got to eat though, you know). I can’t think of a birthday in the last five years when I haven’t received a cardigan or a handbag. This year I got both. And a lunchbox. These are the things I need in my life now. Glitter nail varnish and hair mascara (or whatever it is kids are into these days) are all very well but are they going to enable me to carry the recommended volume of blueberries I should eat around with me each day? Do they have a pocket that will hold my Vaseline? I don’t think so.
5. All you really want for your birthday is to hear from people you love.
Aside from a good book, a strong drink and the promise of a meal we don’t have to cook ourselves, all we grown-ups really want for our birthday is a little correspondence; the odd bit of post that isn’t a bill or a takeaway menu or yet another reminder that the local estate agent would just LOVE to sell our house if only we’d have the decency to move out. A card or a text message from a chum to wish us an enjoyable day is enough to make it almost worth adding yet another year to our total. Birthdays are an excuse to get in touch and say hello and remind somebody that you’re glad that they were born, which is always nice to hear.
The only dilemma such contact presents for me is whether to tell those asking how I celebrated my birthday the truth (i.e. that I was home, in my pyjamas and drinking a smoothie by 9 o’clock) or whether to lie and say I was on the tiles until the early hours. I think that by the time they’ve heard about the lunchbox, they’ll be able to figure that answer out for themselves.