This morning I was in a rush squeezing into my dress for work. It felt tighter than usual. So while my husband was trying to do the zip up and I am huffing and puffing and wondering why the dress feels so small, our son, who had been observing the ‘squeeze-into-a dress-two sizes-too-small-operation’, rushes to point out that: Well it’s because you turned 40 yesterday. Ouch. Yes, turning 40 means that you wake up to find that you’ve put on 10kg overnight, and that your breasts hang somewhere south of your knees. Don’t you just love it when you turn middle-aged and many of your (unlucky) friends who’ve already turned 40 greet you with ‘It’s not that bad! Welcome to the other side.’ But you know, I don’t want to be on that side. It’s like the bloody twilight zone to me. Thanks but no thanks. Instead, can I go back 15 or so years?
Just in case you are wondering, I think our 6-year old son wasn’t really all that aware of the connotation that middle aged people are (often) overweight and strategic areas of their body start to migrate to a different latitude. I think he in his 6-year old’s mind is still under the impression that every extra birthday means that you grow taller (and wider).
But forty! Christ. How the hell did this happen? Where did the years between 20 and 40 go? In my teens, time used to crawl like myself embarrassingly often on my way home from the pub in my twenties. The year between turning 17 and 18 was like a triple life-sentence in Alcatraz since in Finland (like most places) you can’t go to pubs/clubs until you are 18. Our friends turning eighteen one by one, and me and my twin sister having been born in October meant that (based on the Finnish school system going from January to December, instead of e.g. the English system going from September to August) we were one of the last ones in our class to turn 18. I suppose, our payback extended from this January to October, when those friends who where making their way home from the pub on their all fours several months before me and my twin sister, now turned 40 several months before us.
Us living in Japan has made me more aware of my age. The gorgeous Japanese women, who practically don’t age between the ages of 20 and 60 make me look like a dehydrated raisin in comparison. I suppose one benefit of looking like that is that no man looks at me twice over here – let alone attempt to flirt with me. That’s if you enjoy being like thin air to everyone around you. You see, Japan has a big problem with (drunken) men harassing women. Consequently, for instance, trains have specific train carriages only for women. Men aren’t allowed in these carriages, so that they can’t try to sneak their phone under a woman’s skirt and take a photo. I haven’t had a problem with this. No-one has harassed me – other than a deer buck who tried to pull my skirt up when we visited the close by city of Nara. I suppose some of you might say: Well, that’s better than nothing. You are 40, so you should take it when you can get it.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I met up with a middle-aged Finnish-American couple in Kyoto, who we had never met in person before. I overheard the Finnish lady telling my husband about her young Finnish female relative going to visit them in New York and added that: She’s blond and pretty like your wife probably used to be when she was young. These kinds of comments are just rolling in. I’m starting to think it is not only your breasts but also the bags under your eyes that all of a sudden drop to different latitudes when you are approaching forty.
I think one reason why I really don’t like the idea of being forty and certainly do not feel like I am forty is because I have a relatively good memory – unlike some of my peers whose memory abilities are comparable to that of a demented spatula. My husband and his brain are heading towards that spatula-like state worryingly fast. For instance, pretty much every time when my husband’s done a food shop, I find bags of fresh mushrooms in the freezer and refill-bags of hand soap in the fridge. Our car has also been pretty much permanently lost for the past 3 years. We know it is parked on a street somewhere relatively near our house in Brighton, but my husband can’t remember where he parked it.
My memory, on the other hand, is still as sharp as ever (touch wood). I can still remember how scared I was of a big bull at a farm near our summer cottage back in 1979. I can remember what my husband had for dinner in a random restaurant on a random night 10 years ago, and at a stretch, I might even remember what the couple in the next table had. I can remember the musky smell of old toys and food in my nursery when I was about 4 and have many more memories of our childhood than my twin sister. I seem to remember a lot of old stuff. Perhaps that’s why I am so shocked to realize that I have actually just turned 40.
I actually didn’t wake up in my own bed that morning when I turned 40. Don’t get too excited about a potentially juicy story. You see, I was invited to give a keynote speech at a Japanese education board’s conference in a nearby prefecture, so me and two of my colleagues stayed in a hotel out of town the night before the conference/my birthday. On our way to the hotel, we stopped at services to fill up, have coffee and, for my colleagues to empty the shop of souvenirs (see photo below). After all we were 50 km from home and as my colleagues are Japanese they needed to buy a gift for pretty much everyone they knew from their dentist to the kitchen porter of their favourite soba-noodle restaurant. A fifty km distance in Japan is treated in the same way that ‘abroad’ is treated in Europe. Souvenirs are a must; a Japanese person cannot return home empty handed. I’m not Japanese so – showing some pretty bad manners – I just bought a couple of toys and things for my kids to take back home with me. That is it.
Before we got to the hotel, we stopped once more at a supermarket to get some bottled water. My Japanese colleagues like to plan and be prepared for any eventuality and did not want to leave it to the conference organizers to remember to provide water for my talk. While in that small rural supermarket, I think I must have had some kind of temporary desire to be young and show some spontaneity and irresponsibility. So, out of the blue, extempore, without thinking about it twice I bought a rice cooker and 5 kg of Japanese rice. You can’t accuse me of not having been rock and roll on the eve of my 40th. No, this old hag still knew how to have a good time! In the name of honesty, when I was lugging the rice cooker and the two bottles of water out of the supermarket, it occurred to me that I don’t even like rice.
Until the last minute, I was hoping it was an elaborate scheme on my husband’s behalf to throw me a surprise party. I would walk into the conference hall and be greeted with ‘Happy Birthday!’ and go like: Oh, you shouldn’t have. But since you’ve traveled several thousand miles to get to Japan (predominantly from England and Finland) let’s party. But no, when I walked onto that stage in front of the 450 language teachers I did not see any familiar faces or hear ‘Surprise!’. So, I was forced to collect my thoughts and talk about first and second language acquisition for 80 minutes with my mouth foaming like that of a rabid dog’s (see photo below). After the presentation, I relaxed and had a glass of wine and a lovely lunch with my colleagues in a building designed by the famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando (see photos at the bottom of the page). We then headed back home with our souvenirs and my rice cooker + 5kgs of Japanese rice.
Ok. That’s it for this blog post. I think I’ve said everything I needed to about turning 40 to get it off my chest which is, as you might recall, hanging somewhere south of my knees.