‘Our mothers’ fifty is not our fifty. We have no map, no blueprint, no nothing. We have no sense of what is and isn’t age-appropriate, or even of whether age-appropriateness is still relevant. We’re supposed to be grown-up, but we seldom feel it.’
Part guide, part memoir, part manual, India Knight’s In Your Prime seeks to provide proper, weighty answers to the questions women are asking themselves now. Find out more in this exclusive extract from the book.
I’m forty-eight. That’s two years away from fifty, arithmetic fans. I don’t feel old. Do you feel old? I don’t feel young, either, but I don’t mind about that at all, because I’d rather be the person I am now than the person I was at twenty-five, so anxious and unsure about so many things, so tentative. I prefer forty-eight, and how. Plus I’m kinder, wiser, more patient, less judgemental. These are all improvements. Still, it’s weird. I sometimes feel like a small child gazing up at a mighty statue called The Fifty-Year-Old with a complicated mixture of bafflement (‘Eh?’), derision (‘What, me? Ha, I don’t think so, matey’) and awe (‘Bloody hell’). Fifty: the full half-century. It’s absolutely absurd, and also absolutely the verifiable reality, and one of the things that annoys me about it is that I am this far away from saying that I am nearly ‘fifty years young’, a phrase that has traditionally made me want to tear off my ears and throw them on the ground in disgust. I make sounds when I sit down, too. I go ‘Ooof’ in a really satisfied way. I like getting into bed so much that I actually groan with pleasure – ‘Wooooargh.’
Presumably you’ll pick this book up because you’re of a similar vintage (it’s written for women aged from about forty to about sixty-five, roughly, but it’s elastic, I hope. If you’re eighty-two – welcome). Is it weird for you, this ageing malarkey? I feel exactly like I always felt, except better, in so many respects: more confident, more self-assured, more unwilling to take any crap. I mind more about the things that are important to me, and I’ve stopped minding about the things that aren’t. Boof! They are gone.
I don’t mind any more what people think about me: nobody can like everybody all the time. I don’t worry about what to think, or rather about what I should think. I don’t feel that I have to pretend to be interested in stuff that I really don’t care for – like jazz or economics – in order to feel sophisticated. I’m at ease with myself, with my family, with my children. I feel liberated from all of the piddly, annoying anxieties and stresses that clogged up bits of my twenties and thirties. I genuinely feel like this is a brilliant time. Like I’m in my Prime.
The window of Prime is finite, is the thing. It’s not very big. Prime comes before a fall, you might say. On the other side of Prime lies possible decrepitude – first our parents’ and then our own, with all of its un-jolly adjuncts – all of the stuff we don’t ever want to discuss. I mean, I don’t even discuss the menopause with my friends. We sit around going, ‘How do you tell? I haven’t had a period in three months. Does that mean I’m in it?’ And then we all shake our heads, saying, ‘Dunno,’ and feeling genuinely baffled, and we move on. The menopause is truly the last taboo, and that seems utterly nuts, given it’s coming to all of us, and soon.
I wanted to write this book to help us all to maximize the Prime and to make sense of it, and then, once that was done, to lift the curtain on the un-jollities, because knowledge is power. So this is a book designed to function as a sort of manual: it’s got advice about bras and Botox and advice about ailing parents, care homes and dementia. It tells you what make-up to buy and how to be a better step-parent. It has pointers for middle-aged sex and dating (I forgot ‘think twice about getting on top’, but I’m putting it in, as it were, here: seriously – if you’re wondering why not, put a mirror on the floor and straddle it. Now look down. Yep. That’s the view). And yes, of course the menopause is in here too, along with thoughts about – among other things – fashion, partying, what to do about annoying friends you’ve grown out of, and the traumatizing question of vaginal atrophy.
Also, are you banned from Topshop? Should you be wearing more navy blue? What are you supposed to do – where are you supposed to shop – if you want to look cool, not mumsy, even though mumsy is what you are? What about mutton? Is leopard print ‘the new neutral’, like magazines tell you, or are you now late-period Bet Lynch? What’s going on with your teeth, by the way? Do your glasses make you feel clever, or just old – should you consider eye surgery? Does your dad have dementia? Is it bad to want to wear Big Pants all the time instead of anal floss? Two of your friends are dying – how can that be happening? Does your stepdaughter hate you? Your feet hurt. WTF? That permanent soreness in your elbow – you should probably go and see a doctor about it, eh? Have you considered lying about your age? Oof, ugly bras with big thick straps are so comfy, aren’t they? Macular degeneration – what’s that when it’s at home?
All of this stuff is made doubly, triply confusing by the fact that, traditionally, at forty-five you would almost certainly have been a grandmother. Today, you may be the mother of a toddler. You may even be both a grandmother and have a young child of your own. What does this make you? What’s it called, and how do you manoeuvre through it?
This book contains all of the ‘wisdom’ I’ve accrued: everything useful I could possibly think of about navigating the passage to nan-dom and, crucially, navigating it joyfully. Because while even I’m not Pollyannaish enough to suggest that nothing gets worse, it’s also true that an awful lot of things get dramatically better. We’re in our Prime. Up and at ’em!