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Midlife Malady

Some people say reaching fifty was no big deal for them. I wish it hadn’t been for me. Increasingly, muscle rub, anti-wrinkle cream and prescription painkillers, compete for dressing table space with mascara, hairspray, and perfume. At fifty-three, my face looks in constant need of ironing; my naturally auburn hair is streaking grey, and my blue eyes only see clearly through varifocals. All this does not bother me; too much. Cosmetic surgery and aqua-aerobics may be the answer for some ladies, but not me.

Many over fifties eagerly drive, chip, and putt their way through midlife. Others prefer sweeping brushfuls of cadmium yellow and opera rose over virgin canvas. Then there are those who wax and buff the bodywork of the new motorbike, or sports car, parked in their driveway. As for me, I am sitting at an electric keyboard, pencilling in note letters on the sheet music of a rock ballad. By the end of the year, I will be playing ‘November Rain’ like Axle Rose.

There are ways of dealing with midlife, without turning it into a crisis. Mine was to write a list of things I have always wanted to do. As the grandfather clock starts its solemn Westminster chime, I smile as I remember last New Year’s Eve.


As Big Ben tolled in 2013, Eric and I were sitting on the sofa. Eric had dozed off, while I was wide awake, peering at my laptop screen.

I nudged him with an elbow. ‘I’m going to learn to play 'November Rain' on keyboard.’

‘Uh?’ He half-opened his eyes. ‘What keyboard?’

I tapped my finger on the mousepad. ‘The one I’ve just ordered from Amazon.’

Closing his eyes again he said, ‘Does it take headphones?’

I checked the keyboard product description. ‘Yes.’



We met in June 1987. I don’t remember the exact date, but after twenty-five years of marriage, the memory still makes me feel all warm and wobbly, and that’s nothing to do with the menopause, hysterectomy done and dusted fifteen years ago.

I remember sitting with my friend, Carla, in the beer garden of our local pub. I turned my head towards the dirty bass riffs of Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ , which were blaring from a black Ford Mustang crawling into the car park. When the driver’s door opened, a pair of spurred black cowboy boots, boot-cut jeans, leather duster coat, and Stetson, emerged into the sunshine. Carla winked at me, said he was my kind of guy, then called out his name and waved him over. I hissed something about not caring if he was a friend of hers. I wasn’t interested. As far as I was concerned, all men were born out of wedlock.

I was twenty-seven, recently divorced with three young children. The initial attraction of oppositeness between my ex-husband and I, had finally pushed us apart. I wore long black dresses and purple lipstick; he was a shirt and tie man. He brought the kids educational toys; I took them to the park to jump in puddles and chase rainbows. Hindsight, right?

So, there I sat, a mouth fully armed and loaded, ready to open fire on this guy. As he approached and pushed up the brim of his hat, I saw brown eyes and a hitched grin.

‘Love the boots,’ I said.

What can I say?

Two weeks later, Eric said, ‘I don’t suppose you fancy getting married?’ while slowly shaking his head.

Unsure if he was proposing, or looking for confirmation that marriage was not on my mind, I burst out laughing. A week or so later, he tried again.

Six months later, we married. A couple of things stick out in my mind about that day. There was the discussion about putting a nappy on Sarah for the service. She had only just started using the potty, and we did not want any accidents on my mum’s duck-egg two-piece. Then there was Aunty June, on Eric’s side of the family. She complained, often, and to everyone, that we were selfish getting married a week before Christmas, and who in their right minds got married in black leather anyway.

Along with ‘to death us do part’, I silently vowed that marriage would never change us. We would never sell out to suburban mediocrity. The kids were going to have the coolest parents ever. Sound familiar?

  Then Andrew was born. Three kids in the back of the Mustang had been a squeeze, four, impossible. A card in the newsagent’s window, an advert in the Exchange and Mart, and it was goodbye classic Mustang, hello practical Volvo estate.

When the kids were young, we would often drive to the beach early in the morning, while it was still dark. If they started arguing over whose leg was touching who, and looping the question, ‘Are we there yet?’ rock ballads came to the rescue, with a little help from volume control.

On Wittering beach, we'd huddle under blankets, peel back Tupperware lids. As we bit into slices of soft medium white and crisply fried bacon, we would watch as the molten sun peeped over the inky sea-sky horizon. In photos of such adventures, the kid’s eyes are glittered with laughter, flushed cheeks pressed together in a row of wide, dimpled grins. They were the best of times.

There is a family video labelled, Kids Rocking Out. As Iron Maiden screams ‘Run to the Hills’ from the CD player, Sarah is furiously flicking her long flame hair up and down, while braining toy drums with wooden spoons. Beside her, Andrew is enthusiastically windmilling an arm and twanging the strings of his red plastic guitar. Graham and Kirk are sitting on the sofa, arms folded, their backs as stiff as their gel-spiked hair, eyes narrowed at the camcorder giving it the, ‘you are all SO embarrassing’ look. All too soon Sarah, then Andrew, were sitting right alongside them.

The fifty-six-year-old French teacher who rode a Harley, he was cool. The friend’s mum with pink hair and silver nose stud, she was cool. Having a cowboy for a dad, and a hippy-Goth hybrid for a mum, was ‘not cool at all’, even though most of our kid’s friends seemed to think it was.

The next thing I knew, I’d hit forty, and the ‘cash if you die, cash if you don’t’ leaflets started dropping through the letterbox. Closely followed by the ones asking, ‘why burden your family with funeral costs?’ Nice.

Then came the day when the kids no longer needed ‘mummybiotics’, those hugs that had helped soothe scraped knees and later mend broken hearts. Mummy was now redundant.

The last to leave home was Andrew, in the spring of 2009. A week later, he popped in, black bin-bag in hand, and the need of a loan on his lips. I have never been so pleased to grab a bag of dirty washing or hand over twenty pounds.

It was around this time I wrote my list. I discovered Eric had a similar list, when a red, 1972 Mach 1 Mustang, snarled its 7.5 litre engine onto our drive.

‘I thought it would be a nice surprise,’ he said as I slammed the bedroom door in his face.

Things had changed. I had changed. I am now a green crusader, who wields her recycled sword boldly. Eric mourns for the days when he could drive his mighty muscle car, while blissfully unaware of the carbon footprints belching from its stainless-steel exhaust. My loyalties were divided between our past, and the kid's future. ‘Our time’, that Holy Grail of middle-aged parents, was turning into a poison chalice.

  In 2011, the recession hit us hard and eventually we needed to sell the mustang. Was I pleased? Did I celebtate the bonus of a green victory? No. I saw the sadness in Eric’s eyes as his resurrection of the past, and hope for the future, disappeared from his life.

In many ways, Eric has found change more challenging than me. He remains faithful to AC/DC and Iron Maiden, while I am a bit more of a music floozy, and have embraced Muse, Eminem, 50 Cent and 30 Seconds to Mars. Then again, Eric coverts the iPad, while I do not trust any technology that has a higher IQ than me.

            On comparing lists, we found Whitby Gothic Weekend on both. After Christmas, I ignored the political harbingers of doom, warning of a possible triple-dip recession. A week at a caravan park near Whitby for the WGW Spring Event, booked and paid for.

So much has changed in twenty-five years. Our local pub is now a Tesco Express. When we saw the band Magnum in 2007, the sensation of my internal organs moshing as sound waves blasted through my body, had lost its appeal. And we sacrificed our jeans on the altar of the elasticated waistband, long ago. Yet change has also brought the internet, mobile phone, Google, and eBay. Best of all, our kids and grandchildren now tell us we are, ‘the coolest dudes ever.’

One thing hasn’t changed, and I hope it never will. Last weekend, three generations giggled and huddled together under brollies and tartan blankets. As rain fell and waves tumbled onto the beach, the camera’s red timer light flashed.

‘Five, four, three, now everyone!’ I shouted.


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