An extract from Claudia’s brilliant new book Quite.
There are some wonderful things about getting older. I wouldn’t be in my 20s again, they were too nervy, too angst-ridden. Am I coming across the right way? Am I holding this fork correctly? When will I have a baby? What will I do with my life? And then I think I spent most of my 30s pregnant or nursing and worrying about milk ducts and sleep schedules and nursery rhymes. But my 40s have been great; my late 40s even better.
You’ve just got used to your face, you’ve just worked out how to slow-cook a ham and you’ve finally decided where you like to be and what you like to do. If you’ve got kids, things are hopefully getting easier as they’re older too.
Friendships are fully solid now. As a gang, we’re not letting anyone leave. Yes, one of us will make mistakes – we forget to call back, we get too pickled, we’re slightly self-obsessed – but we know it’s a phase, we have history and that’s important. We’ve all been through proper stuff too.
We’ve dealt with death, pain, sadness – our parents are older, or some gone already; our kids have tested us; maybe some of us have realised we married turds. We’ve had the big chats, the why are we here, the ‘I’m not happy’ conversations and we’ve pulled each other out. Of course there’s still drinking and howling but it’s multi-layered now, often profound.
If we’re lucky, by the time we hit our mid-40s we will have more financial security. Or at least a better understanding of money and how to take charge of what we do have. We’re old enough to realise that a 900-quid coat is a bit of a nonsense and we’re happy that we own a colander. We spend wisely (most of the time), we know that splurging more on Jarlsberg and less on sparkly clutch bags is better. We can take great pride in the objects we’ve collected, whether that’s an outstanding assortment of vases or a dazzling pile of high heels (remember when having one pair of ‘going-out shoes’ was the norm?).
We’ve come to care about things that we didn’t when we were 24. It might be the environment, it might be about equality, protecting women’s rights – maybe we volunteer for our local food bank or hospital. Some of us march, some of us raise money but we have something we care about (which isn’t just ourselves or our small circle). We’ve come to realise that giving back and being less selfish makes us feel better even than our fancy boots ever do.
And yet. I feel that alongside all of these advantages I should mention the effect of the ageing process on our bodies and our faces. Everything was springy once, everything was easy to handle; you could drink and eat whatever you wanted. You wanted to get into a tight dress on Saturday? Maybe skip lunch on Friday. Easy. Nothing to see here – just having some leaves and one olive so I can zip my jeans up. Age rather sh**s all over that. Your hormones mean that if you want to get into an unforgiving outfit on Saturday you will have to have juiced for three weeks prior. Your elastic face is, well, less elastic and whereas before a bit of lipstick and a big scarf meant you were dressed, this now looks a little tragic. Wait, this used to work. I’ve put on clean clothes, some tinted moisturiser and am chewing gum, why do I still look like Meatloaf?
But I have good news. I have found the body part that, even in our late 40s and beyond, we can really go to town with. Our necks are craggy and crumpled (this might just be me) and our knees are now made entirely of crepe. Bikinis are long gone as our stomachs are like an accordion made of skin. But because we’re older and know that eating and breaking bread and laughing with friends is vital, we refuse to pass up on cake or pizza or potatoes and all the other stuff that makes life great on a Thursday night.
So let me tell you about the area we can really focus on, the one that, for some miraculous reason, hasn’t fallen apart. Shoulders. Bare shoulders can shrug (excellent, involves no words but this gesture says everything) and they can twinkle and glisten under good lights. Wear strapless anything, wear a sweater that falls off the shoulder, don stuff with a wide neckline that means the clavicle is showing. With shoulders out we can flirt, we can laugh and we can take all the good of getting old and still hold on to the ‘Yeah, I’m going out and feel like an absolute sex god tonight.’ Don’t worry about Botox (I’m not surprised, this is just my new face), avoid the expensive creams that do nothing (yes, the advertising is compelling but she’s a supermodel and is 22) and don’t give a stuff about baggy knees. Just rely on the two bony bits on top of your arms either side of your neck. Shoulders and a sense of humour about the crumbling of everything else will get us through.
Quite will be published on 1 October by HQ, price £16.99. To order a copy for £10.99 until 4 October, go to whsmith.co.uk. Enter the code YOUQUITE at checkout. Book number 9780008421656. Terms and conditions: whsmith.co.uk/terms.