Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Nought to 60 in No Time At All

Click the image to read the whole magazine online

For ten years now, I’ve been a regular contributor to the Tetbury Advertiser, a multiple-award-winning community magazine run by the Tetbury Lions. As well as providing a valuable community news service, it donates any profits from advertising to local good causes. I’m proud to be a part of it. 

The monthly deadline is around the middle of the month prior to the cover date, so I wrote my column for the February issue around the time of a very big birthday…

When the calendar flipped over to 2020, I was very pleased. I’ve always liked round numbers. 18 days later, another round number was due to enter my life: I was about to turn 60.

It was hard to understand where all that time has gone. But when I wondered why I was having trouble sourcing a new refill for a favourite pen, I realised I’d had the pen for 42 years.

For the Love of 60

headshot of Grandma in a beret
My beloved Grandma – always me + 60

Despite my natural aversion to growing old, I have always loved the number 60. Write it in Roman numerals (I’m currently learning Latin), and it looks like the suffix of a luxury car model:  LX.

At primary school, 60 was my favourite times table answer. My love affair with maths ended as soon as we got beyond arithmetic.

I also liked 60 because it was the age my beloved grandmother turned just after my entry into the world. Throughout my childhood she was therefore my age plus 60. To my childish imagination, this seemed a significant bond, almost like us being twins, despite her being a Victorian.

The Perks of Turning 60

Back to 2020, and as my big day approached, there were reminders everywhere I went. Signs enticed those over 60 to claim extra points at Boots, 25% off at the local optician, and a significant discount with a railcard.

A few days before my birthday, I found myself in a hospital’s charity bookshop. I’d been meaning to read more Graham Greene since enjoying his autobiography last year, so when I spotted his name on the spine of an ancient Penguin (the book brand, not the bird), I pulled it off the shelf without checking the title.

A Special Vintage

headshot of Debbie Young against Cheltenham Lit Fest logo
Reading at Cheltenham Literature Festival at the tender age of 56 and channelling Grandma’s love of hats

It turned out to be A Burnt-out Case, set in a leper colony in the Belgian Congo. (Whoever donated that novel to a hospital bookshop lacked tact.) Wondering when it was published, I consulted the copyright page. You’ve guessed it: 1960, same vintage as me. At secondary school, I wrote a history essay (possibly with that now empty pen) about the Belgian Congo gaining independence, but I couldn’t remember the year it took place. I looked it up on line. Who’d have thought it? 1960.

Finally, when I woke on the big day, I was relieved to realise that not only did I feel no older than the day before, but that my grandmother, if she were still alive, would next month turn 120 – exactly twice my new age. That pleased me immensely – and made me feel much younger. Then her daughter, my 89-year-old aunt, wrote in her birthday card to me that the sixties are the best time of your life. So, all in all, I’m sold on the idea of turning 60 now. So let the good times roll… and with discounts!

CLICK HERE TO READ THE WHOLE OF THE FEBRUARY ISSUE OF THE TETBURY ADVERTISER FOR FREE ONLINE


For the Love of Knitting

One of the many traits I inherited from Grandma was a love of knitting – the theme of my latest book, The Natter of Knitters.

It’s now available as a cute compact paperback the size of a picture postcard – the perfect size to slip in a birthday card for knitting addict friends! -, as well as in all ebook for

cover of The Natter of Knitters
The first in a fun new series of quick reads

mats.

It’s a quick read – a short novella, about 20% the length of one of my novels – and features Sophie Sayers and friends from Wendlebury Barrow, as well as introducing new ones, such as the officious Mrs Fortescue, organiser of the village yarnbombing event, and Ariel Fey, self-appointed defender of local sheep.

Posted in Writing

The Big Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop

I seem to be going in for tongue-twister titles lately – but don’t blame me for this one! I’ve been tagged in a blog hop that was started by Susie Orman Schnall, author of On Grace (US LinkUK Link).

It’s the 40th Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop, and the premise is that the blogger is going to a friend’s fortieth birthday bash in an exotic island resort. (I should be so lucky!) The challenge is to list a few of your favourite things that you’d like to add to the swag bag for everyone in the group.

You can read the original post HERE. I was tagged by my editor Alison Jack, who is also an author.She recently presented me with my own swag bag – a neatly branded bag containing a lovely hardback copy of her own novel, Dory’s Avengers, which is now nearing the top of the to-read pile by my bed. You can read her post HERE.

Inevitably in this blog hop challenge, one of the items is a book! Read on to see what I’ve chosen…

Book

New cover of One Night at the Jacaranda
A jolly, uplifting romp for a 40th birthday bash

My favourite book of all time is Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, but somehow this doesn’t seem right for a 40th birthday present, nor for reading on a tropical island. I think I’d have to go instead for an uplifting, jolly book that I’ve read recently that struck me as a great beach read: One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper. Not entirely frivolous, as there are also serious themes in there, but it’s mostly about making the most of life and starting over, following many characters after a night of speed-dating. A great wake-up call for anyone who hits 40 with the feeling that life has passed them by. This book will encourage them to see that it really hasn’t. (As I can also assure you myself, being on the upper side of 40.) The ebook is just 99p on Amazon UK for the month of June, but I’d splash out and buy the paperback – and also get it signed, as it’s written by a friend of mine!

Beauty product

Box of Olay Daily FacialsMy favourite beauty product happens to be one that would be perfect for a tropical island trip – those little single-use facial washcloths made by the Oil of Olay people. It’s a really handy travel product (and good at home too), very refreshing and feels rejuvenating at least, although it doesn’t actually smell of Oil of Olay and it isn’t pale pink either, unlike the classic Oil of Ulay (as it used to be called) that I associate with my mum. (Read more about that in “The Scent of a Mummy”.)

Snack food

Box of Lindor chocolatesWell, that would have to be chocolate. In a cool bag so it doesn’t melt in the tropics. Lindt Lindor balls, the red ones – no contest.

Music album

Album cover of Buena Vista Social ClubThree contendors here – boxed sets of Mike Oldfield, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, or Buena Vista Social Club – all music that I can happily drift away to any time, whatever I’m doing. They’re all largely without words, or at least without words in a language that I can understand. Perfect relaxation music. Not sure whether Cuba counts as tropical, but I guess the Cuban Buena Vista Social Club would be the most appropriate for the setting.

My choice of any extra treat

Spiral bound notebook with Tardis image on coverAs an old-fashioned girl, and a writer, it may come as no surprise that my extra treat would be a beautiful journal of some sort, to make the point that your 40th birthday is the first day of the rest of your life, and that the adventures are just beginning. Maybe a five-year diary, or an undated journal with a beautiful cover. I particularly like my Tardis notebook – I’ve had to buy several of those to give to Whovian friends, and I also use it as a prop when I’m public speaking about social media. (“Think of Twitter as your Tardis, enabling you to reach anyone, anywhere…”)

Passing it on

With my virtual gifts stashed inside, the blog hop now passes on to two more bloggers for their suggestions, from opposite sides of the globe!

First up in England, like me, is Sarah Dale, an occupational psychologist.  Given her career, the bag will be in safe hands with Sarah! She has also written a couple of thoughtful self-help books, one of which, Bolder and Wiser, celebrates the benefits that come with growing older. Aimed at 50+, it’s a book to inspire any woman reaching a landmark birthday, whether 40, 50, 60 or beyond. Sarah lives and writes in Nottingham, where she’s just been appointed head of PR and marketing for the city’s Festival of Words this autumn, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about that.

Then the virtual swag bag will zip round the globe to Australia to Rebecca Lang, an editor and author, whose short story Army Dreamers I really enjoyed reading earlier this year – an evocative, eerie tale set in the outback. Rebecca is based in Sydney. I’ve never met either Sarah or Rebecca in person, but have got to know them through the fabulous Alliance of Independent Authors, which brings together self-publishing writers with high standards all around the globe.

Their posts should go live on Monday 16th June, but you can get to know them in the meantime just by clicking on their names here, which will take you straight to their blogs.

Thanks again to Alison Jack for tagging me – her post is of course already up, so you can read that one now too!

What would YOUR choice be for the 40th Birthday Swag Bag? Do share, via the comments! Or contact any bloggers further down the chain if you’d like to take a turn and be tagged too!

Posted in Family, Writing

The Only Certainties in Life: Birthdays and Taxes

My mum and my daughter together
My mum gets an 80th birthday hug from my daughter, who’s still wearing her Christmas onesie

Yes, I know the REAL saying is “there are no certainties in life but death and taxes,” but I’m an optimist, and without birthdays there would be no deaths, so take that, Benjamin Franklin!

There’s been an air of finality in  my study this week, because since my last post here I’ve despatched two things that I was glad to see the back of:

  1. January
  2. my tax return

The only redeeming feature of January is my birthday, which leaves the last two weeks of the month with nothing positive about them at all.

Actually, when you get to my age, even a birthday isn’t something to celebrate, other than to rejoice in the fact that you’ve made it through another year without necessitating an obituary – UNLESS of course it is a very special birthday, preferably with a 0 at the end.

Celebrating My Mum’s 80th Birthday

Such was the most recent birthday of my lovely mum, who celebrated her 80th birthday on 31st December. When your birthday falls on the last day of the year, you can’t avoid celebrations even if you want to, as most of the rest of the country will be marking the day in style.

Photo of Oil of Ulay before it was rebranded OlayLike my father who turned 80 in September 2012, my mum is an inspiration to anyone who is frightened of old age. While a lifetime Oil of Olay habit (branded Oil of Ulay when she started using it, before pan-European labels mattered) might account for her flawless, smooth complexion, I don’t think even that old beauty trick can take the credit for her lively mind and spirit, and her willingness to tackle new challenges.

Her special request for her 80th birthday present was her own laptop, so that she could computerise the stories she’s drafted over the years by hand. We bought her a small, feminine netbook in a smart shade of red. 

My mum learnt to type on what my 10-year-old daughter recently referred to as “one of those keyboards that goes ping” – a manual typewriter. The class learned to type to music, carefully chosen to match their target keystroke speed.

selfie of the author and her mum
Me & my mum celebrating her 80th birthday with a selfie

As anyone of the same vintage will know, typing on a  typewriter requires a much stronger fingerstroke than a computer keyboard. It took her a little while to adjust to her netbook’s sensitivity, but she’s taken to the technology enthusiastically.

Not one to shy away from other modern trends, she also joined me in a “selfie” on her special day, and admired her grandchidren’s Christmas onesies.

I wonder what new skills and interests I’ll be acquiring when I’m her age? It’ll be the year 2040 then. Wherever technology takes us, I think I’d better invest in some Oil of Olay before it’s too late…

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these: 

Posted in Writing

My New Philosophy of Flower Arranging

This weekend, my lovely friend Susanne, whom I’ve known since I was 11, presented me with a beautiful bunch of spring flowers – anemones and tulips (my favourite). As I stuffed them unceremoniously into the first vases that came to hand, (well, we were in the middle of my husband’s birthday party), I inadvertently conducted a floral  experiment that’s brought out the philosopher in me. Or should that be the flowerosopher? I think I’ve just invented a whole new school of thought. Florists, philosophers – you decide….

Sometimes it’s good to be in solitary splendour, regardless of what anyone else is doing – but it can get a bit lonely.

Single anemone in a green IKEA vase
1) Standing, strong, alone.

Other times, there’s safety in numbers, all standing together, disciplined and firm.

Tulips and anemones stuffed tightly into a glass vase
2) Looking pretty but with no room for manoeuvre.

Best of all is when you can be together, but enjoy the freedom to be who you want to be and to go where you want to go in life.

Tulips and anemones loosely placed in a glass vase, arrange themselves
3) With room for manoeuvre, these flowers arranged themselves to perfection.

I know which I prefer.

Thank you, Susanne – you and I definitely belong in vase number 3!

Posted in Family

What A Difference A Day Makes

Humorous leap year postcard postmarked in 1908...
Humorous leap year postcard from 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hurrah! At last February is on its way out, and I’m so glad it’s not a leap year. This means that March – and Spring – will arrive one day earlier this year. 

There’s a world of difference between the last day of dreary, chilly February and the first day of daffodilly, Easter eggy March. Even more so for my husband, because the first day of March happens to be his birthday.

How frustrating leap years must have been for him when he was a boy, making him wait an extra day for his birthday. But this year I’d been expecting him to hanker after a 29th of February, to put off the dawn of an alarmingly significant  birthday.

60 – The New 40

Yes, I know that 60 is often considered the new 40, but for me, 60 absolutely spells old age. (I say that from the safe perspective of someone still many years away from their own 60th birthday.) This is because my grandmother was born exactly 60 years before me, and for me she was the archetypal old lady. I thought that 60 years was the perfect gap between a grandmother and her granddaughter. I’ve always liked a neat round number.

To anyone who doesn’t know my husband, you might think me cruel to have bought him a watch for his 60th birthday. You might be concerned that every time he looks at it, he’ll be reminded how quickly life is passing him by.

But is he downhearted? Oh, no. He’s positively chirpy. He’s even requested we celebrate  with a party, although he’s not usually a party animal. I don’t think I’ll be feeling as cheerful when it’s my turn to leave my 50s behind.

This is a complete role reversal.  Usually, I am renowned for my optimism, ever the Pollyanna. For Gordon, not only is the glass half empty – it’s also got a crack in it. So why the sudden about-turn?

Saving Grace

The reason is, he’s a Scotsman. He appreciates the opportunity to conserve his spending. As a child, he and his sister set up a club in their loft, of which the key rules were pinned to the wall: “No smoking, no swearing, save money”. Although he has a generous heart and is capable of acts of extraordinary kindness, he is also very fond of opportunities to economise. And so as February closes, bringing old age closer by the second, he’s  preoccupied with  the financial advantages that turning 60 will bring him: his civil service pension, his free bus pass from the council, discounted entry to museums, and 10% off on Tuesdays at B&Q.

I don’t think such rewards will buoy me up when I turn 60. Instead I’ll be clinging desparately to my faith in the powers of nominal determinism. (Oh, how I love to slip that phrase into a conversation!) Because, after all, by marrying Gordon, I became Mrs Young. We have no intention of ever getting divorced, and so, no matter what my age, I will be forever Young. If that’s not a good reason to marry someone, I don’t know what is.

Happy 60th birthday, Mr Young!

Badge saying "60 Years Young"