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8 October 2017

Everything is going wrong, it seems – until I’m reminded that not quite everything is

It’s just the normal midlife cocktail of domestic worries, teenage children and ongoing health issues.

By Tracey Thorn

It’s been a funny couple of weeks. No, “funny” isn’t the right word. Stressful. A bit up and down, a bit changeable. Too much happening at once.

I’m in the final throes of this album I’m making, so I’m at the stage of checking mixes, which means listening to the tracks in a way no one ever will again – ignoring the tune and the lyrics, but poring over the tone of the snare drum, the level of that backing vocal on the second chorus. It’s the nuts and bolts of making a record, quite fun in its own way, and would be absolutely fine if there hadn’t also been other things going on.

I won’t bore you with the details. It’s just the normal midlife cocktail of domestic worries, teenage children leaving home and ongoing health issues, which have all conspired to happen at the same time, leaving me tense and sleepless.

One of us falls victim to a street crime, and though no harm is done, a little bit of harm is always done, isn’t it? It’s upsetting and leaves you shaken, as if you weren’t already. A small scar, to add to others.

At a routine check-up with my GP, I see him glance at his screen and clock my date of birth, which leads to him coming up with a shopping list of tests needed sooner or later. Another mammogram. A possible bone density scan. Cholesterol and blood pressure. And Ben, too, has another round of his usual appointments, letters of referral lying by the kettle, all the fun of the fair.

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Back home, I try to take up mindfulness again and buy some herbal sleeping tablets, which don’t work as well as the proper ones, and a “relaxing pillow spray”, which, when I squirt it everywhere that night, gives me hay fever.

In the middle of it all, I turn 55, and it is my first birthday ever in which there is no card to open from either parent. I realise that I now qualify for the senior aerobics at the local gym. Ben asks whether I’m planning to join. “No, I’d probably put my back out,” I say. Then he gives me my present, which is all the old camcorder films of the kids, transferred on to discs, labelled with the year, and put in order in a CD wallet. When I see it, I burst into tears, partly because it is a lovely present and partly because it’s been that kind of week.

The night before the second daughter is heading off to uni, I have a dream in which our youngest – who will still be at home for at least another two years – has a girlfriend and gets her pregnant. They have twins and decide that the best plan will be for everyone to come to live here with us, and so suddenly we have twin babies in the house again.

At first glance I think, “Well, it’s not hard to interpret this dream, is it? I WANT MY BABIES BACK.” But thinking about it again, I remember that in the dream I was actually quite pissed off about the situation, and said to Ben, “Oh, God, imagine what it’s gonna be like, all the crying at night and everything. We won’t get a wink of sleep. It’ll be a nightmare!” In other words, my brain, fast asleep, was saying to me, “You think you want your babies back, but you don’t really. You’ve passed that stage now. You did it all, and it was wonderful, but now you need to let go. It’s all good.”

And as if to prove to me that life now is good really, I go for dinner with seven girlfriends to celebrate my birthday, and they’re the best kind of friends, ones who order a starter and pudding, and a grappa to go with the pudding, and they give me a range of presents that show how well they know me. Martini glasses and a notebook. A bottle of de-stress muscle oil and allium bulbs. A pair of really good kitchen scissors and some art magazines.

I look at us around the table, all of a certain age, and I think of what’s happened to each of us in the past few years – divorces and cancer and losing parents and waving our kids off out the door, and here we all are, raising a glass of fizz, and hanging on for dear life. Dear life. 

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This article appears in the 04 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich got richer