Friday, 1 October 2010

Really, really nice things about growing older

From a physical point of view, this growing-older thing doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. Stuff that used to point up (breasts) point down. Stuff that used to be thick (hair) becomes thin. Stuff that used to be thin (ankles) becomes thick. Getting up is always accompanied by an oomphy sound, like an elephant getting poked in the stomach. And - I tell you this from personal experience - don’t try and do a cartwheel because it will hurt.

However, in discussion with various similarly aged friends, we came up with several pluses.

Walking

Remember when you were younger and your parents would encourage you to go with them for a ‘nice walk’ after lunch? And you would say, ‘Do I haaaave to? It’s so boooring!’ There was really little you could think of that you’d rather do less than a toadilly pointless meander up a mountain or along a beach (except maybe wash the dishes, tidy your room or get a job).

But as time goes by and your body becomes less willing to go for a 10km bike ride first thing in the morning or a 5km run after work, the value of a ‘nice walk’ becomes apparent. I never thought I’d say this, but here goes: walking is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s free, you need no specialised equipment, you can do it alone or in company, and it’s good for you physically (20 minutes of enthusiastic walking three times a week is all a normal person needs to stay relatively fit and healthy) and mentally (it takes you away from your computer and provides brain space for creative thinking).

And the dogs love it.

Having dogs

If you aren’t getting married and settling down in your youth (in which case a golden retriever becomes de rigueur, along with the people-carrier, plush leather sofa and washing machine), you’re probably not at home enough to be a good pet owner.

I had pets thrust upon me in my late 30s – a cat that turned up and refused to leave (despite frankly pitiless attempts to make it unwelcome) and a dog that did similar and almost immediately became deathly ill, resulting in an emotional and financial trauma that bonded us like shit to a blanket.

But, judging by the experiences of my friends of a similar age (mid-40s), I would have finally gone down the pet route anyway. Remarkably, even those who were not ‘pet people’ in their youth suddenly acquire and become doting owners of dogs and/or cats.

This has a salutary effect on your social life. Bizarrely, just as your kids reach they age where, if left unsupervised, they will no longer stick their fingers straight into an electric socket or plunge to their certain death in the swimming pool, and you can finally go out without worrying yourself half to death – you can’t go out any more, because the dogs will be too unsettled.

But that’s okay, because you’re happy to stay in.

Staying in

Remember when you were in your 20s and some ancient geezer at the end of the bar eyed up you or your friends, and you looked at each other and went, ‘Ee-uw!’? Well, that oldie was probably in his 30s. Because, yes, there does come a time when going clubbing is just creepy – you get too old for it (sooner, often, than you realise, especially – with apologies to the rational male readers of salma – if you’re a man).

And hanging out all night in the latest trendy restaurant with your mates, drinking enough to make you behave so badly that the manager actually longs for the days when he was a telesalesperson, also no longer holds appeal. As a grownup, you realise that the restaurant chairs aren’t comfortable, the person at the next table is having an argument with his wife, the lights are too bright or too dim, you’ve left your reading glasses at home and can’t see the menu, the music is execrable, the waitron seems to have been recently shipped in from another planet (one where they don’t have food), you ordered the chicken and you got the lamb, your wine glass is always goddamn empty, and when your Irish Coffee finally arrives, it looks a frog vomited in it.

And when it comes time to pay the bill and you split it between the six of you, you’re just pissed off at ending up paying for Joe’s Chateaubloodybriand, when all you had was two bits of dry bird, some overdone butternut and a floret of charred cauliflower. Oh, and, of course, the amphibian-spew Irish, which is going to wake you up at 3am with heartburn. And as you leave the restaurant, you hiss bad-temperedly at your friend/partner, ‘I could have made that at home, much better and for a fifth of the price.’ (See ‘cooking’, below.)

It’s when you’ve had a really tough week at work and Friday arrives, and all you want to do is get into bed early with a good book, that you realise you’re all grown up. And waking up well rested on Saturday morning, with your bank balance precisely the same as it was on Friday night and with all your personal belongings (including brain) intact, sets you up perfectly for a day at home, gardening or cooking.

Gardening

This bug hasn’t bitten me yet, but it has sunk its tines deep into my friend A’s thumb and turned it green. She says that gardening – much like walking – is good exercise and that it also clears her mind. She can happily spend hours weeding, mulching, pruning, top-soiling and the like. And, bonus, she has a gorgeous garden to show for it. (She does, however, also have dogs - a word to the wise: these two things are not always compatible.)

My ‘garden’ is a jungle for all but two weeks in the year. Once in September and once in December (and both times because the law in these parts decrees it), I have to employ someone with an industrial weedeater and biceps like The Incredible Hulk’s to level it to a point at which we can see the distant mountains. Then, for exactly one week, we live in perfect Pinelands-type order, in a fabulously landscaped setting. With the one disadvantage that getting rid of the ‘overgrowth’ also reveals a myriad ankle-breaking holes, copious mounds of dogshit, inexplicable rolls of rusting barbed wire, and several mouldy garden-furniture cushions (I wondered where those had gone).

Okay, so I’m not completely grownup yet. And Amanda also plays golf, something I’m not yet big enough to understand. But I do love cooking.

Cooking

‘I never got how my husband could de-stress by cooking,’ says my friend P, who’s been married for over a decade. Now in her 40s, she’s a convert.

P and I go back aways – back to the days of The Lounge in Long Street (anyone out there remember that – Claudine?). Back to the days of playing pool, drinking tequila and staying up all night. Back to the days of waking up in the gutter and laughing about it (‘Hey, doesn’t this feel comfortable? It’s like we belong here! Hahaha!’).

Then I had kids and had to wise up – basically, I had to learn how to cook things like fish fingers and mashed potato, and scrambled eggs on toast. (And to stay out of those gutters.)

P wasn’t best pleased. ‘Who are these small people and why do they keep interrupting our conversation?’ she would ask, ‘and why are we always in the kitchen?’

Because I was always in the kitchen, slowly but surely making food started making sense. I got interested in things like Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips (although, when it comes to those actual things, admittedly not for long). But: great pasta sauces and how to really roast a chicken. Why long, slow heat does different things to meat cuts than the quick, high version. What you can do with eggs. How to make, say, a pecan pie (something I always thought sprang fully formed from the belly of Pick’n’Pay, like prepacked soup veggies and Swingball sets). How to make koeksisters and vetkoek. Fajitas and tacos. Thai green curry. Chateaubloodybriand. (And if you really want to get into food, go here.)

Now, when I wake up with my brain inside my head (rather than having to be located with the help of a GPS) on a Saturday morning, I go and shop. For ingredients. I buy lovely fresh seasonal things, and sometimes some prime cuts of meat (we are lucky enough to have a working on-farm butchery in striking distance), and I cook.

P gets it. She’s also grown up now. (She had kids.)

Not finishing the wine

This might be a bit of a surprise as an inclusion on this list to regular readers of salma, who know that ‘We don’t have to finish it!’ is the utterly futile battle-cry of Opening Yet Another Bottle Of Wine Late At Night in my house.

But it was my friend N’s contribution, and in fairness to those who don’t live within visiting distance of me (and a nod to the less excessive of us oldies out there), it must indeed be included.

Because, look, it’s true. As grownups, we don’t always have to finish the wine.

(Refer to ‘gardening’, above.)

Going to bed to sleep

This was also N's contribution, although I must admit that I go to bed for many different reasons, and almost none of them are actually to sleep. I go to bed to eat leftover reheated penne arrabiatta and watch CSI New York (NOT Miami; I am going to have to get a whole lot older before I can appreciate Horatio ‘Aiyeeeeeee!’ Caine). I go to bed to cuddle with the dogs and/or cats. To read a good book. And sometimes, briefly, a bad book. To get warm. To chat with Johann (even though this once led to a ringworm epidemic). To play Solitaire (endlessly, until I realise I haven’t blinked for two hours and my eyeballs have dried out). To avoid having to get out of my pyjamas. To jot down ideas in my diary.

Not caring what other people think

Were you the odd girl at school? The fattie? The techno-geek? The ‘least likely to succeed’? These labels can be hard to shed, even after you’ve left school. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s (and so had been out of school for longer than I was in it) that I stopped being insulted every time someone called me ‘weird’ (which was – and still is – quite a lot) and began embracing my eccentricity.

It’s bloody brilliant to get to an age where you can just be who you are. As Sam Wilson, the editor of women24.com, says, about looking back at your 17-year-old self, ‘The bad news is your dress sense isn’t going to improve. The good news is you’re going to care a lot less.’

It may take us 40+ years to grow into ourselves, but when we get there, it's great. Who cares what other people think? This is who we are. We like ourselves. Live with it.

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4 comments:

Claudine said...

LOL! The Lounge sounds familiar. Prince of Wales / After Hours was my hang out.

Juno said...

So glad you've drawn more stuff. I am just in awe (and have always been) of your talent, my darling Muriel

Anonymous said...

Great blog Muriel. Have a look at:

http://catapoult.blogspot.com/

N.

Muriel said...

Tried to leave a comment on your blog, N, but I got a 'service error' message. Sigh.