The trials of turning 50

This weekend I’m attending a top-level Girlfriend summit. We are convening in Nassau and yes, this trip comes hard on the heels of my having spent three weeks in South Africa. So is it necessary? Yes. It is. I am adjusting to the painful realisation that I am now 50 years old, and need to discuss this with, and draw inspiration from, some of the Girlfriends.

My actual birthday took place when I was in Cape Town for two weeks with my family, and for part of that time we were joined from Australia by extended family. The Australian contingent delivered some very thoughtful birthday presents: an Oscar de la Renta negligée (size XL) and a string of pearls with a 1962 Australian penny attached as a medallion. Mr M himself had gone present mad, clearly fearing my wrath in print were suitable gifts not forthcoming.

Thus there was even a “stocking” before the main event, containing items as disparate as a garlic storage jar (CC#3 having broken ours a while ago) and some white chocolate (probably best left alone if I am ever to need anything smaller than an XL negligée). The final gift in the stocking was bought at the airport; a gentle suggestion that after 15 years of wearing the same perfume, I might like to try something new.

But this really was a present too far, for two reasons. First, if someone has worn the same perfume for 15 years, she is unlikely to desert her favourite scent. And second, even if she is open-minded about it, she is not likely to start wearing aftershave. Mr M’s defence that French is not routinely taught in Australian schools is in my view an inadequate reason for being presented with a boxed set of Issey Miyake Pour Homme. What is a girl to think when her husband gives her aftershave for her birthday? I rushed to the mirror to see if the waxing regime needs to extend to my upper lip.

The main presents included a garden bench, of which Mr M showed me a photo: “Somewhere for you to sit in the garden and work,” he said. Not sit in the garden and read a book? “When do you ever do that?” was his riposte. I also received an Anya Hindmarch bespoke purse, whose interior carries an embossed message from Mr M, and handbag (with message from the Cost Centres embossed). This last is not yet finished, so I am waiting with bated breath to read what they have said.

I got a clue from what they had written in the message book that Mr M gave me, and to which everyone at my birthday dinner contributed a thought. This was without doubt the very best present of all. Everyone had written their own page of comments, and I shall add to it by sticking in cards and emails that I received that day from people around the world.

The CCs declined to run their comments past their father. Thus Cost Centre #3’s tribute starts: “Dear Mum, happy 50th. Where would I be without you? In Dad’s care, or, maybe worse, CC#1’s.” Fortunately it improves after that, finishing with: “I’ve been on this planet for 13 years and every step of the way you have been there for me.” I would like to dedicate this comment to every other full-time working mother out there.

CC#2 is in his penultimate school year so had brought much revision with him, mostly in the form of past exam papers that he then gave me to mark. In his comments in “the book” he thanks me for the opportunity to learn from me, but then explicitly states that this excludes supply-side diagrams.

But however lovely the presents, however touching the comments, none of them could prevent the moment of depression that engulfed me in the gym when, for the first time, I had to type “50” in answer to the question asked by the running machine. How do other people feel about turning 50? For some reason 40 was not nearly as bad.

Which is why I shall be discussing this in Nassau with some of those who have gone before me.

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