Evidence that a 60th birthday has Fran musing on change (and decay)
forty fifty oh-all-right-then sixty today.
'You're entering your seventh decade,' my (younger) sister wrote in my card, because that's what sisters are for: to cheer and encourage you.
Some things belie your age, though, don't they, however hard you cling to your youth? The down-turn of the mouth; the crows-size-11-feet around the eyes; the appearance of elasticated trousers in the wardrobe due to the baffling disappearance of what used to be your waist but now appears to be spare cookie dough.
Where do waists go? Are they with all the lost socks?
I found something else which illustrated the passing of time recently. Our holiday list.
I was packing for a mini-break with a friend: the first time I've been away for aeons.
'Where's the holiday list?' I asked my husband.
'What's a holiday?' he said, glumly. (Imagine Eeyore just after he's stubbed his toe.)
Over the last 40 years, we've compiled a list so that our family didn't forget to pack important items for holidays. Suncream. Toothpaste. Knickers. The children.
I found the list eventually, tucked in the back of last year's diary, waiting hopefully to be recommissioned. The boiled egg slicer in the back of your cupboard has the same look, as does the jacket you wore once before realising it was the wrong shade of yellow and made you look nauseous.
I've mislaid other things during the pandemic too. The dangly earrings I used to wear to social occasions. Lip gloss I used to wear before masks made it redundant but without the remuneration package. Confidence I once had that fellow shoppers wouldn't breathe particles of death over me. And faith I used to have in governments that they knew what they were doing.
Items on our holiday list have been added to over the years. Others have been changed or deleted, as family circumstances ebbed and flowed. It's a piece of social history now. I'll give you a flavour.
1. 'Medicines' started off in the 1980s as a couple of Paracetamol and a bottle of Calpol tucked into a shoe. The pills and potions now have their own dedicated bag and we're not talking dainty cosmetic purses unless you mean dainty for a blue whale.
2. 'Money'. Having our purses and wallets stuffed with cash used to seem so fundamental to trips away. We'd need coins for parking meters and ice cream vans, and bank notes for restaurant visits, tourist attractions and steam train rides. Now, cash payments seem slightly archaic or quaint. The card is king. I tried to board a London bus a few years ago during a city break by paying cash. The driver threw me off, staring disgustedly at my proffered coins as though I'd tried to pay for a journey with a cowpat.
3. 'Masks.' A very recent addition to the list
except for those occasions when we went on our Elizabethan Re-enactment Holidays with a Masked Ball on the last evening because of Covid.
4. 'Walkman and charger'. Do you remember Walkmans? Walkmen? Or, perhaps now, Walkpersons? Whatever the correct plural form, why bother even discussing it? They're off the list. Pff. Gone.
5. 'Address book.' We never went on holiday without this because we used to send postcards. But it began to seem silly sending a postcard to people to whom you'd already sent a hundred online messages. 'We're having a lovely time (as I said in the text) and the weather's great (as I said on Facebook) and we had fish and chips yesterday (as I told you and 362 others on WhatsApp and even provided a photograph as though you needed a definition of 'fish and chips').
6. 'Marking.' If you've read my teacher-memoir 'Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?' you'll know why this was on our holiday list for 15 years running. In the world of English teaching, the word 'holiday' roughly translates to 'Time to mark 60 mock exam scripts'. Sometimes, if we travelled by train, I would try to knock some of them off during the journey but the students could always tell. ('Miss, you've written something here I can't read. I think it says 'Improve your handwriting' but I'm not sure.')
7. 'Torch'. We use our mobile phones now.
8. 'Camera.' We use our mobile phones now.
9. 'Holiday information.' It's all on our mobile phones now.
10. 'Tickets'. Rinse and repeat.
I suppose we could call some of this 'progress', enabled because of technological changes.
And, inevitably, the list itself - currently a dog-eared piece of paper - will make its way to the 'Notes' section on my mobile phone.
But we all know what happens to information on our mobile phones when they crash and burn and we have to buy new ones.
If you see a couple in their sixties by the seaside, pink and blistered for lack of sun cream, and knickerless, you'll know what's happened.