Even in these extraordinary times life can be fun and exciting. It’s lovely to have the excuse of a new-decade birthday to be thoroughly pampered and treated and I’m definitely making the most of it. Three adult children and my husband giving me extravagant presents, and along with the children’s other-halves and the grandchildren we all went off to a glamorous holiday villa to celebrate in France. It was the joy of having an August birthday, but, such is life, Covid intervened…
As soon as we’d arrived the rumours started and even changing our Eurotunnel crossing to miss out on a second week we were still caught out. Only by a day, and now we’re back and on day 4 of our 14 days in quarantine. We are counting the days off by the hour!
And with time on my hands this latest birthday has made me stop and think. I’ve packed a lot into the many decades, though, I tell myself, and feel determined to make the most of this next one and pack in a whole lot more…
There have been moments over the past years when I’ve wished I could have been older younger, so to speak, and known it all then. I’d love to have been wiser, cannier and more confident, to have already learned from experience, in that wonderful long-ago bloom-on-the-skin time of being young, but despite all the many mistakes and emotional upsets – when not quite everything could be put down to youth – my twenties and thirties were the most amazing and exceptional decades.
I was a photographic fashion model for much of the time, which wasn’t always the life of undiluted glamour it’s cracked up to be; the dawn starts to do photo shoots (like 5 a.m. outside Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue to be before the crowds) being photographed in furs – people wore them in those days – under baking lights in the summer months… Then back in the 60s we had to put up with all those feeling hands that today would have the men hounded from their jobs and set upon by every social media outlet. At the time we just got on with life, brushing off passes, dealing with any situation and rather enjoying the wolf-whistles from builders high up on scaffoldings.
I saw much of the world, modelled in Paris and New York as well as London and had some unique experiences, not least three months in California in the early 60s staying with Frank Sinatra while helping my first husband with a book he wrote, “Sinatra and his Music”. We’d met Sinatra in London and he’d agreed to a book, saying, ‘You kids come on out to LA, stick around, come with me to Las Vegas on the inaugural flight of my new plane…’
I recently wrote all about that phase in my semi-autobiographical novel, “Tell the Girl”.
Those times were amazing, the travelling, the excitements, the emotional ups and downs, but modelling is one of those careers that dwindles, it gives you up gradually, but doesn’t go hand in hand with older age!
I’d always wanted to write and had a few pieces published in the national press, a column in Harpers Bazaar and a women’s magazine called “She” (if anyone remembers that.) So, I’d kept my hand in and when a literary agent got in touch and asked if I’d ever thought of writing a novel, I’m afraid her letter went to my head. I had to have a go!
It took many drafts and endless perseverance, but having learnt the hard way (no university or creative writing courses, rejection slips too) and not given up, I had my first book, “Glass Houses” published when I was 65.
Now, six novels on, I’ve written a seventh, which has yet to be published. It has a working title of ‘Love at War,’ is based on a true story and set mainly in Cairo and East Africa in the early years of World War 2.
It’s been frustrating to have finished it just as we went into lockdown, I felt very spare and have begun to plan another novel, since it’s hard not to be scribbling with purpose, so to speak, but lockdown has been a lovely time to experiment with new creams and make-up, despite the limited audience I had to appreciate the results!
I couldn’t start the day without a little bit of pick-me-up makeup that doesn’t look too painted on – even seeing only my husband all day who’s already seen me sans makeup in the harsh light of early-morning. I love the LFF online range and my best new discovery, which I’ve been trying out in the last months, is the new eye cream.
I feel very lucky to have someone to want to look good for, which was a joy in lockdown, and to goad and tease, although teasing cuts both ways of course. We can pick each other up on oldster pomposity, linguistic antiquities, vagueness and, in my case, smug superiority when seeing someone even older and more shrunken than I am, doddering down the street.
Shrinkage, though, is definitely a bit of a problem. ‘You’re stooping,’ he says, with immense satisfaction and I go all defensive and say that he stoops too and loses inches of height, standing slumped and bent kneed and looking like an ‘S’ bend.
We decided to have a private code, like the couple in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, as a way to alert each other to any times in public when we’re bent over like hunchbacks. walking down the street. The couple’s code in the Coward play was “Solomon Issacs”, shortened to “Sollocks”, but we settled on “Blue”. And now nothing straightens my backbone faster than hearing the word murmured in my ear. I snap to my full height on any mention of the word, blue, whether about forget-me-nots or the intense colour of a clear summer sky. So now our secret is out. We may have to change the word.
Deafness is another area of hot competition; whose is worse? Forget the miss-speaks of Hillary Clinton infamy, miss-hears are an hourly occurrence in our house.
Me: ‘I’ve decided against getting one of those new smart mop things they’ve been advertising on tele…’
He, absently: ‘But they collect a lot of dead bodies.’
Me, incredulously: ‘Dead bodies?’
‘Yes, those smart moth things you got last year, they worked quite well before…’
Then it’s his turn.
Me, half-listening to the radio: ‘Are they telling us how to make masks?’
He (cracking up): ‘No, it’s some chap telling his elderly father not to fast.’
Not that we are alone in the deafness stakes. Sitting on the right of my host at a pre-covid dinner party, I was rather taken-aback when he leaned forward and fiddled with my decollate. ‘Just fixing this mini mike,’ he said, ‘it talks to my hearing aid.’
I could resort to hearing aids too, but for my vanity and stubbornness. And I get by, or so I fondly think. I nod solemnly (and sagely, I hope) when I haven’t quite caught the drift, as though listening intently and in deep accord. It isn’t a full proof solution. A nod, however solemn, can be met with looks of shock and incomprehension. And then the snide query. ‘Have you actually heard a word I just said?’
But age is only a number and as long as you can see the comedy and keep looking your best, there’s a lot of happiness still to be had.