Christina Patterson: It's time we grew up and started respecting the wisdom of age

The Saturday Column
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The Independent Online

I am, according to a recent survey, too old to wear a miniskirt. I’m too old for leather trousers, or a boob tube. I’m still allowed to have long hair, and I’m still allowed to wear knee-high boots. But not for that much longer. I’ll soon have to tie my hair in a ponytail, and I’ll soon have to swap those boots for stilettos.

The "survey" was conducted by a nutritionist for a diet-food delivery company. It was conducted, in other words, by a company that has a vested interest in making women feel bad. The study wasn't about what female Independent columnists should wear when they weren't (against the rules, apparently) hunched over their laptops in leggings and vests. It was asking women what other women should wear. And the women, in a spirit of what you couldn't really call sisterly generosity, decided that over a certain age they couldn't wear much at all.

The survey reminded me of a poem called Warning, which was once voted the nation's favourite post-war poem. "When I am an old woman," says the ostensible author of the poem, "I shall wear purple". She will, she says, wear it with "terrible shirts" and "a red hat that doesn't go". She'll "make up for the sobriety" of her youth and spend her pension "on brandy and summer gloves". She'll "pick the flowers in other people's gardens" and "learn to spit".

The poem was written in 1961. Now, it sounds like something from another world. It sounds, in fact, like something that might shock the women in the diet-food survey, who may have forgotten to add the colour purple to their list of prohibitions. In today's version, the woman in the poem would be more likely to mention bikinis and Botox. She'd spend her pension on sauvignon and spaghetti-strap tops. She'd ditch the flowers and focus on picking up young men. But she probably wouldn't feel the need to mention any of this, because she's probably doing it already, and she probably plans to carry on doing what she's always done.

Many women, or at least many women who don't take part in diet-food surveys, are refusing to adapt their wardrobe, or their behaviour, to their age. So, of course, are many men. The journalist Catherine Mayer has, in the fine tradition of big-selling non-fiction books with snappy one-word titles (think Blink) even coined a word for it: "amortality". "The defining characteristic of amortality," she says, "is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death."

The book gives many examples. Her father, she says, still dives in his 80s. He still lectures, teaches and writes books. Her mother still runs a PR company at 77. And then there's Hugh Hefner, still notching up playmates, publicity, and wives, at 85. Hefner's path to eternal youth – to marry a woman many years younger – is one that's been tried and tested down the centuries, and found to be jolly nice for the man. And then there's Simon Cowell. Cowell's model of Peter Pandom – cosmetic dentistry, and Botox as a routine, "like cleaning my teeth" – is more recent. But it's not just his looks that he's keen on preserving. "All the things I used to like as a kid I still like," he told six million viewers and Piers Morgan. "My tastes," he added, "haven't changed at all."

I doubt that many of us ever really feel 85. Or 77. Or even Cowell's 51. I feel 29, though I'm very clearly not. But if my tastes hadn't changed at all since childhood, I think I'd be a bit worried. I'd be worried if I thought that the Bay City Rollers were better than Beethoven and that The Little House on the Prairie was better than War and Peace. I think I'd be worried if my response to life's setbacks – and you can't reach mid-life without a few setbacks – was always "It's not fair!".

I reserve the right to wear a bikini, if I want to. I'm happy to ditch the boob tube, but I'd like to keep the vest. I think I'd rather die than wear leather trousers. I think people should be shot if they wear Ugg boots. I'd like, in other words, to carry on wearing what I like, and what I think suits me, and I trust my friends to tell me when it doesn't.

I don't want to look 29. I don't want to be treated like a woman of 29. I want to be treated like a woman who has lived a bit, and learnt a lot. I don't want people I've never met to send me emails saying "Hey" and signed with lots of kisses. I don't want to be cool. I don't want to be hip. I don't want to get down with "da yoof", unless "da yoof" have something interesting to say.

What I want is to live in a society which appreciates the energy of youth, but which also respects the wisdom that comes with experience and age. I want to live in a society where young people can get jobs, but where people over 50 aren't too "unsexy" to employ. I want to live in one that recognises that its population is getting older, and doesn't see this as a nuisance, and doesn't think that older people, and in particular older women, should be shut away.

I'd like to live in a society where people stay fit, and intellectually agile, and productive, for as long as they can, but aren't written off when they don't. And where those who can no longer look after themselves are treated with respect. And where people can shed some of the conventions that forced people into certain kinds of behaviour at certain ages without also shedding every last shred of what used to be called dignity.

I'd like all this very much. And pigs, in Ugg boots, might fly.

BBC in the pink, and the green, lilac and black

Whatever else they complain about, BBC employees at its new Salford offices are unlikely to lament the lack of colour. Catering areas are pink. So are the telephone booths, and so, apparently, are the "collaboration pods", which are also known as "thought wheels". These are like love-seats, but instead of being joined at the bottom for canoodling, they're joined at the top in a big, semi-circular hood. The hood is padded, so your thoughts can be nice and comfy, too.

The idea, presumably, is of a sacred circle of intellectual communion. The pink bits are meant to be about collaboration. Lilac is for the orchestra, and black is for the kitchens.

For those who want quiet, there are soundproofed glass pods. For those who want a bit of gravitas, there are "history walls". For those who don't, there are rope monkey bars. BBC bosses say this is the most "dynamic" and "egalitarian" workplace in the world.

Some people might think a good way to make a place egalitarian is not to pay the boss 800 grand. Others might think dynamism bears about as much relation to office furniture as "creatives" do to creativity. Tolstoy, as far as we know, managed without pink padded pods. So did Shakespeare. So did Jane Austen. And so did Woody Allen, who says that none of his work will be remembered. Which probably means that the rest of us should either top ourselves, or find comfort in the fact that misery, rather than sets straight out of Play School, is often the best author of art.

Good old Duke of York rescues Fergie again

As one Duchess tries to escape the attentions of the media (not helped by an official from the Seychelles Tourist Board so bursting with pride that he couldn't resist a right royal slip-up), another is, as always, baring her wounded soul. In an interview this week, the Duchess of York told Oprah Winfrey, and the American people, that she "sort of wore a hair-shirt" on the day her nephew married his girlfriend, and it was "so difficult" not being invited that she had to go to a jungle in Thailand.

"The last bride up that aisle," she told Oprah, "was me." She also said that her former husband had reminded her that their wedding was "so perfect" and that he had tried to make her feel part of the occasion by talking "all morning" to her on the phone.

The Duke of York may not be Britain's biggest asset on the trade, or any other, front, but as an ex-partner – to a woman who was filmed trying to use him as a money-spinner – he's clearly worth his weight in weapons, if not gold.