Angela Neustatter 'Is my life over, or is the best yet to come?'

Watching Arthur Miller's new short play, Mr Peters' Connections, the other evening, I was struck by what melancholy nostalgia this vigorous trooper was serving up as he reflected on the losses that started amassing once he reached the second half of life. Less eloquently, in the same week, I had seen Britt Ekland, 57, quoted as saying she was "finished" as an actress and a desirable partner for a man in LA because of her age. Words redolent of Cher's pithier, "Fifty sucks", when she notched up her half-century birthday.

Watching Arthur Miller's new short play, Mr Peters' Connections, the other evening, I was struck by what melancholy nostalgia this vigorous trooper was serving up as he reflected on the losses that started amassing once he reached the second half of life. Less eloquently, in the same week, I had seen Britt Ekland, 57, quoted as saying she was "finished" as an actress and a desirable partner for a man in LA because of her age. Words redolent of Cher's pithier, "Fifty sucks", when she notched up her half-century birthday.

Well what a couple of old Jeremiahs they are at a time when you can hardly turn around but someone is chanting about Isn't it Great to be Grey? and all that . The sound of Marj Thorburn, seasoned and spirited therapist with Relate, declaring recently that sex often gets better for the over-50s rings in my ears.

But in truth, it's not that simple. Once we hit mid-life - and right now, a quarter of us erstwhile baby-boomers are there - you are faced with growing up.

My own abrupt fall from grace came when visiting my son during his gap year in Zimbabwe. It was several months since I had seen him and we journeyed up country to a remote park where, that evening, we booked into a small wooden hut for the night. As we sat reading our books, I felt wonderfully ageless, a traveller alongside my son, and our ages were immaterial.

He didn't see it quite that way. Turning to look at me squinting over the pages of the novel I was reading, he burst out: "You've really aged since I left England."

Filial love was a tad strained for the next 24 hours until I'd thought hard about why it felt so bad to be seen to get older, remembering the writer Anthony Powell growling: "Growing old is like being increasingly penalised for a crime you haven't committed."

But the curious thing was that I felt liberated, once dreams of ever being mistaken for a cool Babe again had run their course and that I had accepted I had to move out of the youth camp and into a life stage which is uncharted territory.

Not so long ago, Marketing Weekly carried an article describing the ageing baby-boomers as "a new generation of selfish oldies", discovering new freedoms, new priorities and above all the opportunity to behave badly. Hooray.

All the same, making the transition, forging a new identity isn't all plain sailing. As I mentioned when writing my book on mid-life, This Is Our Time, I celebrated my 40th birthday in high spirits and a spray-on outfit, defying the world to see ME worry about the odd wrinkle depicting a life well-lived. Yet within a couple of years my equilibrium had vanished and my certainties with it. An experience echoed, albeit in different ways, by many of the 150 men and women I interviewed for the book.

And one of the toughest parts is being told that we should no longer imagine we're OK as we were. And never more so than in how we dress. Listen to Lowri Turner, a stripling in her mid-thirties ticking off stars such as Cher at the Oscars: "The spirit may be willing but the flesh is just not of recent enough vintage to carry off spray-on Lycra and flannel-size skirts". I bought into that the day I went trotting off to Camden market to replace a worn out pair of leopardskin tights.

The feeling of no longer knowing who you are was expressed nicely by one woman I met: "I only know I'm too long in the tooth for Nirvana, not decrepit enough for Mantovani." And as Seneca told the ancient Romans: "The fates lead him who will. He who won't, they drag."

Of course there are losses: creaking bones, post-prandial dozing rather than disco nights and fewer opportunities on the whole for chandelier-shaking sex. But my aim is to echo the wonderful poet May Sarton, who said on her 70th birthday: "I am more myself than ever."

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