As you may recall, I turned forty six months ago in a blaze of tedious daily posting. There was also an incident involving a horse and a lovely trip to Venice but I did not tell you about those. One has to preserve some corner of one’s jardin secret even if it makes life very boring for you, reading.
Anyway. The accepted narrative of turning forty these days is a little intimidating: you are supposed to rise like a self-actualised phoenix from the ashes of your youth with new reserves of strength, wisdom and body confidence. I know this from reading loads of magazine articles illustrated with pictures of Christy Turlington, looking serene and bronzed as she bares her beautiful teeth, saves some starving children and runs a marathon. Once you have stopped marvelling at Christy, these articles will instruct you on all the things you are supposed to have mastered by forty. At forty you are supposed to:
1. Know how to dress for your body/have some species of ‘signature style'. I will - sort of - return to this.
2. Be financially independent and stable - ha. I think this is outdated, actually, in our current economy, or so I tell myself. And anyway, things aren’t so bad. I mean, we’ll be fine as long as the children decide to go to free Belgian universities and no one gets sick, ever.
3. Have an innate confidence in your own abilities. I am interested in this and I am not at all down on confidence. I love and admire it in others and wish I could get it to rub off on me. The right kind of confidence is incredibly attractive and appealing, but where on earth does one acquire it? It sounds like it is just supposed to descend upon you, magically, as you open your fortieth birthday cards, so I fear it may be too late for me now. If anything, I am less confident, in the sense that I am more aware now than ever before of how little I know. I would never presume to tell anyone the things I have learned at forty because what the hell have I got to tell anyone about life? I spend most of my own sitting in the attic, fretting.
Related to this, you are also supposed not to care much about the opinion of others. “I don’t give a shit what people think of me,” I keep reading newly forty celebrities announce and I wonder how on earth that happens, because I care just as much as I ever did. Truly, the only way I can imagine not caring to excess about the opinion of others is beta blockers.
Confidence, then, is not so much a work in progress as a work abandoned and shoved to the back of a drawer. Perhaps that is why I watch so much Ru Paul’s Drag Race? In the hope of acquiring some of that fuck you bitchez drag queen chutzpah by osmosis?
5. Be able to cook, and host, confidently. I keep coming back to this one because I really, really want to achieve it, but I keep fucking up. We had some people round a couple of weeks ago as part of my ongoing attempts to acquire a social life and I cooked a Jamie Oliver macaroni cheese so awful we all just stared at it in horror. They are never coming back.
6. Love yourself (cf Ru Paul, again), inside and out. Hmm. For the last three months, I have had the worst skin I have ever had in my life, even in my teenage years and I have hardly been able to bear to look at myself in a mirror, instead preferring to pick and worry at my spots until my whole face looked like a medieval syphilis sufferer’s. “You have so many spots!” the youngest said a few weeks ago, wonderingly, when he saw me without my kabuki mask of mineral powder. I have not found this lovable. It is more or less better now (cod psychologists might relate this to finishing the damn book, but it may simply be because I totally gave up on personal grooming including cleanser whilst finishing book), but I do not find many other aspects of my person and character lovable: cowardice, thighs, insecurity, lack of eyelashes, disorganisation, teeth, tendency to hide my favourite foods from other family members, weak ankles, laziness, double chin… I don’t loathe myself as a regular thing, but if I were writing myself a school report on my character, it would definitely be a B- at best. ‘Could do better’.
7. You may also e.g. start a floristry business, have twins or retrain as a doctor according to these articles, but these seem - thankfully - to be optional.
I suppose it is a good thing that we are no longer supposed to put on a pair of M&S Classic slacks and give up on life in our fifth decade, but the corollary of this new orthodoxy is that against these redesigned performance indicators, I am plainly failing at forty.
There is, however, a bright spot. Because it turns out that all I needed to do in order to access the new reserves of body confidence and self-esteem forty was supposed to bring - thus ticking off at least one of the items on the list - was to buy a pair of & Other Stories cropped grey boyfriend jeans.
You will not be particularly impressed when I show you a picture of these jeans. You will just think they look like a slightly baggy grey pair of trousers and I cannot disagree, but for some reason they have effected a strange and wonderful alchemy on me and my wardrobe. They go with EVERYTHING (or rather, everything I still fit into, which is a much smaller subset of clothes), even the weird, too pale boots I bought online and could not be arsed to return and the tops that are slightly too short and midriff exposing when paired with other, lesser trousers. They are comfortable. They have got me wearing shirts again, which I love, but usually fear. Everything seems possible; I remember back when I had hair, that having a really great haircut had a similar effect. I have capitalised upon this feeling by going out and buying some new foundation and clearing my bedside table both of which would have seemed impossible a few weeks ago.
I had a near-identical experience two years ago with a pair of Gap Skinny Minnies (aka the Prozac Trousers) that also saved me from wardrobe ignominy and general slump-age, so it appears that my salvation mainly comes in trouser form. I don't really know what to make of this, but I am happy anyway and attacking the remains of forty with marginally renewed vigour. ALL HAIL THE JEANS. I have ordered another pair.
Here they are:
I am not showing you my face, because of the medieval syphilis/chins etc. Instead you can admire my new phone case which I love beyond all reckoning. Isn't it lovely? Cressida Bell.
What, if anything, has made sense of forty for those of you who are as decrepit as I am?