It all started, and ended, with my last album cover. I’d gone for a close-up photo of my face, made up partly in homage to Liza Minnelli, and partly to create a kind of cartoon version of my image – choppy black fringe, big eyes, red lips. An iconic look, if you like, though I hate the word. And it worked. Lots of people liked the photo, and there were various comments along the lines of “Oh you haven’t aged at all! You look exactly the same as you did in the Eighties!”
While that’s flattering, it’s obviously not true. I HAVE aged, you simply aren’t seeing me first thing in the morning, without my make-up, or any little bits of photographic help (not much, darling, just a tiny touch here and there, nothing really). And I began to wonder: how long do I want to carry on looking as though I haven’t aged or changed? No one wants to become a slave to a past self. And there comes a point when glossy black hair is at odds with the increasing lines and wrinkles.
I’ve been dyeing mine since my thirties, having inherited a gene for early greying. But a few months after the afore-mentioned cover photo, I woke up one day and thought, enough! I am done. Bring on the silver and let it be now. So as summer turns to autumn, the grey is growing out, with some skilful blurring, and a few highlights here and there to help things along.
It’s a turning point, in so many ways. This September is my last with anyone in the house going back to school. Eighteen years of measuring my life in term times, the year being shaped by the recurring cycles of uniforms and name tags, pencil cases and protractors – all coming to an end. The youngest has one more year left of sixth form, while both his older sisters have left home and are currently in shared student flats.
I’ve ordered so much of my life around these school routines. In my head I hear echoes of Fleetwood Mac singing “Landslide” : “Well I’ve been afraid of changing/Cos I built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/ Even children get older/And I’m getting older too.” It’s a theme to which I keep returning, but that’s because there’s no escaping it.
My parenting continues, but has become something else entirely from what it once was. I hadn’t realised it would involve so much letting go. I remember how it used to irritate me when my mum said she missed us being little. I felt it reflected badly on who I was now – an awkward surly teenager, a misunderstood young adult – and that she had preferred me when I was smaller, less opinionated, more compliant. We all want to be loved for the person we are right now. I didn’t want to think the younger version of me was better.
And so I’ve been determined to let go of the kids as gracefully as possible, and to be just as positive towards the people they are now as the children they once were. I’m not great with change, but like everyone, life forces me into it, and so I’m embracing the letting go of my younger self too. I want to look my age. I want something to show for all these years. I want to wear it as a badge of pride.
To test this theory, my birthday arrives, and I turn 56. On that very evening I find myself at a production of Sondheim’s Company – a show that revolves around a lead character who is plagued with anxiety about being unmarried and not-getting-any-younger. The lead character is 35. My friend and I give each other a bit of a look.
Meanwhile at the gym I’ve just joined, the age limit for the senior aerobics class has just been lowered, from 55+ to 50+. Yes, you read that right. And I get the message, loud and clear. I am now six years into the senior part of my life. Part of me is terrified to attend, for fear it will be full of agile 70-year-olds in leotards, putting me to shame with their fitness. But as Samuel Beckett might have said, had he been confronted with an OAP exercise class: I can’t go. I’ll go.
This article appears in the 10 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How austerity broke Britain