I donÕt lie about my age, or at least I havenÕt until now. But recently, while I loiter all alone up here in the low forties, my contemporaries get younger every year and seem determined to act their European shoe size, resolutely stuck at thirty-six. I must have missed the memo that went out on their fortieth birthday announcing the national rejuvenation programme. But come on - unless Britain lowered the legal age for sex and marriage to twelve, or there was a mass pre-teen university intake in 1975 Š who are these people trying to kid? I can match you chronologically the minute you mention that you watched Crossroads the first time round. Those oh-so innocent dinner party games of Ōwhat was the first record you ever boughtÕ are designed not to get to know you, or your tastes in music, but to date you within a month of your birth. So, please donÕt say it was Carole KingÕs Tapestry or John LennonÕs imagine and then tell me that you born in 1967. Where did you shop? The Ye golden oldie letÕs go back in time record store? I think not. Lying about your age takes more than a personal act of denial Š it requires a collective lie where all your similarly date-challenged friends collude with you.
So far I havenÕt been playing birthday amnesia, but itÕs lonely being at the top of your age range when your peers have returned to their lets pretend youth. Some of my friends who were the oldest of their siblings have miraculously become the baby of the family. A girl who was a year older than me at school is suddenly four years younger. Another friend who turned forty several months after I did, has reverted to Canadian time where suddenly sheÕs counting in dog years and is only admitting to twenty-six as a human. ThatÕs when she admits to any age at all Š usually sheÕs supremely closed and collagened lipped about it and refuses to be drawn on the subject. Meanwhile my sister has been fifty for more than a decade which means the gap between us Š once generational Š is so small that we should have been swapping sisterly sex tips in our shared youth when I only remember nursery rhymes; and surely the tiny tot in the bridesmaidÕs dress at her wedding was me? No I must be mistaken Š apparently she was only nine at the time. Thank god for the long term famous Š Madonna can re-invent herself as often as she likes but sheÕs always going to be Ōour ageÕ and no matter how much Cher resculpts her cheekbones Š her age is fixed indelibly as a matter of public record.
So why do we do it? The first time a woman lies about her age usually coincides with the moment that she starts looking it. ThereÕs the first, traumatic occasion when the person to whom she has just revealed her true date of birth does not reply with the knee-jerk response: ŌGet outta here - you donÕt look a day over thirtyÕ. A fantastically fit and attractive fifty-year-old friend used to happily admit her age. So what if she was eligible for Saga holidays and cheap mid-week senior train fares on GNER Š she enjoyed the look of disbelief on peopleÕs faces when she said she had a thirty-year-old son. That was until they stopped saying it. Suddenly her age is history and she insists sheÕs the so-called magic age of 42.
I donÕt get it. As far as I can see thereÕs nothing particularly magical about being 42 except that you can make it disappear a lot easier than all the other visible signs of ageing. Wrinkles take repeat applications of Botox, and love handles lots and lots of liposuction, but the only thing you have to do to make your age go away is to subtract.
I suppose itÕs because after a certain point on the calendar none of us want to act our age. Though I have no problem with my age, I do hate to admit the extent of my own delusions. The truth is that I still think IÕm a girl. In spite of being a mature woman of a palindromic years who has buried a parent, lost a child, given birth four times, undergone major surgery, had a nervous breakdown and a divorce Š inside IÕm still fairly surprised not to be doing homework and dissolving into giggles whenever a member of the opposite sex looks at me (as rare as the Queen sings rap Š one of the true consequences of ageing is that youÕre suddenly invisible to all men). I still wait for my prince to come - despite the fact that the prince has been asleep on the sofa for the past ten years clutching the TV listings - and believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the power of lipstick, love and living happily after. How can the middle-aged woman in the mirror possibly be me? IÕm living in a parallel universe where I still think all people over forty are boring old farts, where policeman are the same age as my dad, and where I can still fancy men of twenty without being locked up. And since I already lie about the number of alcoholic units I drink, how much I weigh and the total of my sexual partners.
What difference can a little number make?