I was happy being fifty; that was a good day. I was happy with what I saw in the mirror, even though my life was beginning to fray at the edges and life in my fifties was often difficult and sometimes traumatic. When I approached sixty, ten years of emotionally-intense living had passed and I was very conscious of where I was in my life, both in terms of time – approaching my sixth decade – and how I was spending my time, earning my living, relating to my family and friends and how I felt about myself and my life. I told myself and everyone around me that sixty is the new forty. A generation ago, maybe even as little as ten years ago, forty was regarded as middle age: I would suggest that now it is the beginning of maturity. At forty we are probably not even halfway through our lives. We still have a lot of living and learning to do.
When I actually became sixty it was a bit of a shock: it’s amazing the effect that a number can have. Just going from being fifty nine one day and sixty the next seemed like a huge leap. I suddenly wasn’t sure where that leap had taken me, involuntary as it was, and how I felt about it. I could now draw my State pension and travel on buses free! What section of society did I now belong to? Had I become a member of the ‘greys’? And if I had, what did that mean? Even though I thought it was great that I could get a discount on train travel when I bought my Senior Rail Card I inwardly shrank just a bit on presenting my ID to the clerk at the train station. “He knows exactly how old I am,” I thought. “I don’t know how old he is”. Then “Well, this is what sixty looks like”.
I looked around at other roughly sixty-year-old women and observed them. Of course, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, hair as well as skin. And that was interesting, but also, in a way, difficult, because I was part of this group that I was observing, and I observed them everywhere I went, and so I did not have the objectivity of observing something that I was outside of and detached from. I was observing myself as well.