I recently visited an old university friend who I haven’t seen since 1995. Those halcyon student days in Leeds – spent living on “Britain’s most burgled street” (Chestnut Avenue, LS6) and occasionally attending the occasional university lecture when not in bed - resembled a combination of ‘Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’, ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘How Not to Live Your Life’ and ‘Shameless’ (the McGuire characters featured heavily). While certain memories from those days are hazy, others are so clear that the Leeds student antics could almost have happened yesterday. How can 16-17 years slip by unnoticed like that? Will I suddenly turn around again, take stock, and find that I’m 57?
While meeting my friend – who ran a successful surfing magazine from her Leeds HQ for several years - her hubby made a comment about the passing of the decades: “We suddenly realised we were fed up with reviewing trainers and hoodies. We were getting older than the readers. When you’re 40, you have to decide on the look.”
Since then, I’ve taken his comment to heart. It creeps up at unexpected moments – late at night when contemplating life; in the daytime when I’m choosing a fresh outfit; and when I see teenagers strolling past in a selection of “Claire’s Accessories combined with worst of Primark”, or with the waistband of their jeans hanging under their bums. There’s no doubt about it: yours truly is getting OLD and any look involving bums-out, trainers-in or printed slogans must be avoided at all costs.
So what is “the look” for 40? Is it the look when I’m dashing to school with the kids at 8.55am, like a crazed wildebeest, panicking about being a few minutes late; the look when a dried-on red wine stain must be scrubbed from the lips; the look at a festival when the dress-up bag has been raided (however, the look is definitely not zip-up, furry animal suits or Wellington boots when it’s not raining or muddy).
Is the look Primark, M&S (Caitlan Moran says Per Una garments make everyone “look a little bit mad” and I think she’s correct), Karen Millen or – my favourite - the latest haul from the charity shop and car boot sale?
I think that over-analysing what is “the look” or the ‘hybrid of looks” makes everything look a tad unfortunate. And why should I care how it all looks anyway, huh?
Another friend, who is currently 47, had a habit of saying “not bad for 40” when she first turned the decade (she is now more concerned with “middle aged spread”). Possibly because I’d rather be “very bad for 40”, my six year old boy has given me withering looks about the prevailing look at times during the last year.
And, is it just the look or the look and feel? ‘How Does it Feel’… when we kiss the sky? And is everything really the way it looks anyway?
Harking back to the 80s, I remember a song called ‘Camoflague’ by Stan Ridgeway. While recording my favourite Top 40 tunes, I spent months imagining that Stan was actually singing “Camel Claws”. In view of the nature of the lyrics, my error was quite apt:
Things are never quite the way they seem…
This throwaway ditty, which goes on to mention “I was awfully glad to see the big marine” (I bet you were, Stan, nudge-wink), can be applied as an effective mantra for life these days. So here are a few WORDS OF ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE from DR JO WHO IS NOW 40, a la William Burroughs:
- Situations aren’t always the way they seem so don’t imagine the worst and act as if your assumptions are a fait accompli / a proven fact. This is known as “awfulising” and it tends to make scenarios W-O-R-S-E. We don’t want to awfulise, now do we? This ‘put the brakes on your imagination’ mechanism can be applied to everything from “such-and-such didn’t accept my friend request on Facebook so he/she clearly hates me” to “such-in-such is sleeping with my partner – I just know it!”
- Having said that, hunches can often be correct, are some sort of primal instinct, and we probably shouldn’t ignore them. Maybe ‘they’ really are sleeping with your partner.
- People, in particular, aren’t always the way they seem. Don’t believe clever presentation and personal hype - it’s what they’re really like that matters. Press the ‘play’ button on ‘Portrait of Dorian Grey’ for a useful example.
- Don’t waste days/months/weeks/years (delete as appropriate) on bad relationships. Before you know it, whole decades will have been laid to waste while you bicker over whose turn it is to buy the frozen peas and pick the dirty socks off the floor. As suggested by the blurb for a self-help book on Amazon, “if it hurts, it isn’t love”. (All consensual fetish-type activities are exempt from the proviso, of course.) As an addition to the above, open relationships might work for some people but I personally think they suck like a cyclonic Dyson with a dysfunctional “off” button.
- It would be easy to sink into the escapism of addictive behaviour(s) – whether your ‘poison’ is booze, drugs, porn, chocolate, junk food or lurrrve addiction – but, really, it’s boring for whatever mates will put up with it, as well as being expensive and ‘morally bankrupting’. So just say “no” like they told us in ‘Grange Hill’, back in the 80s, alright?*
- Don’t live in the past. Nobody likes it when interpersonal communication descends into a gruesome dissection of “that incident 10 years ago when you got off with my mate and weally weally hurt my feelings…” What’s wrong with focusing on present annoyances instead?
- Don’t sleep through the party (or through life) – you might miss out on various (or all) forms of fun. However, no matter whatthe 'fun level', it is inadvisable to sleep with the partner of your friend/boss/any crazed person with psycopathic tendencies.
- If you are being negative, everybody will avoid you. Just as a watched kettle apparently won’t boil, the phone won’t ring if you’re in the deepest, darkest, dankest mode. So sort it out before venturing into public (but don’t try to rectify it with a bottle of vodka).
- Don’t borrow money you can’t pay back. Even if it’s just money for drinks at a party. You don’t want everyone chasing you around with baseball bats… or handbags.
- Watch out for the camel’s claws and the big marine.
Disclaimer: I didn’t say I can or do stick to my own advice.
Although we should definitely live in the present, being 40 has tended to make me reflect as follows: “Wouldn’t it be handy to REWIND to certain pivotal moments in life, erase them, and then re-record the ‘footage’ for a more favourable ending. With a handy rewind button, how everything looks could be given a rigorous post-production edit.”
In the words of The Cardigans:
Erase and rewind
'Cause I've been changing my mind…
Ah well. I guess it’s too late to edit the last four decades NOW THAT I’M 40, so I’d better lie back with a chilled glass of Prosecco and slip a more positive tune from Prince into the player. So here goes:
You've got the look
You've got the hook
You sho 'nuf do be cookin' in my book.
Your face is jammin'
Your body's heck a slammin'
If love is good
Let's get 2 rammin'.
You got the look
You got the look!