When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
It's a poem I've been thinking a lot about lately. Which is hardly surprising, since it's written for menopausal women. Of which, thank you Tamoxifen, I am one. I just spent an hour's menopause-related Googling, during which I discovered a 'menopause scoresheet', can you believe, on which you can log the severity of your symptoms and learn... well, nothing you didn't already know. But there is an image of three smiling fiftysomething women at the top of the page, by way of we're-all-in-it-together reassurance. One of them is even wearing sports gear, clearly in preparation for an afternoon of tea and tennis at the Menopausal Ladies' Club, of which I'm now a scoresheet-approved member.
The thing is, this isn't exactly a club I want to be part of. Granted, I may be membership-eligible and I may share some physical similarities with these women, but at the moment I think of myself as more Mean Girls than Calendar Girls. And yes, there's the hot flushes (I now sleep with a cold flannel over my face – P calls it the 'wet hat'), the trouble sleeping (possibly not assisted by the wet hat), the change in my skin (not altogether unwelcome) and the joint aches of a woman twice my age. And, of course, the obvious downstairs changes – the loss of my periods, the libido issues and the fact that I am reproductively... what's the correct medical term?... oh yeah, fucked. But has The Change really changed me to the point where I'm ready for my Menopausal Ladies' Club welcome pack? Let's look at the (wildly generalised) evidence. Menopausal women bake, right? Yep, so do I. They watch their weight. Okay, so I just logged my Fat Club points over an episode of Loose Women. And they look after their gardens. Well, I suppose my daffs are doing well this year, but I think we all know that my bush-pruning tends to be more of the bathroom-based sort. But menopausal women don't, I believe, plan mad weeks at Glastonbury, rap into their toothbrushes or get stars tattooed on their wrists. Or do they?
Which brings me back to Warning – specifically the line, 'And make up for the sobriety of my youth'. See, I've always been a Good Girl. I did well at school, I passed up on a gap year to carry on my studies, got two degrees, met the right man, bought a flat, did well in my career, got married... you know the rest. (My favourite poem was always Solomon Grundy – go figure.) I've always acted my age. I never had a wild-child phase as a teenager. I've never got into serious trouble or been arrested. And yes, I had all the hard-drinking, bed-hopping, cringe-making fun that a British university education affords you, but I don't think I've ever done anything that could really be considered massively off the rails when it came to my Grand Life Plan. (I guess I'm just more Winslet than Winehouse.) And, until cancer came along, I'm sure I'd have dutifully plodded along and checked off the other predictable items on the to-do list: buy a house, have kids, get National Trust membership, retire...
But since I always considered issues like breast cancer, wig-wearing and menopause to be things that I'd have to worry about many years down the line – if at all – my carefully adhered-to Grand Life Plan suddenly looks a bit skew-whiff. I've got the mind of a 29 year old but the body of a 59 year old and, for the first time in my life, I've got no idea how to act my age. Which probably explains how last week, 15 years late for teenage rebellion, I found myself in a tattoo parlour with Calum Best. I suppose you'd call it 'making up for the sobriety of my youth' while, strictly speaking, still in my youth – one foot in Kurt Geiger heels, the other in Barbour wellies. (I should clear up, by the way, that the Calum Best thing was pure coincidence. We didn't call each other up one morning and decide to get matching tattoos. But his being there didn't half make the news easier for my surprisingly-celebrity-aware Mum to hear. 'What can I say, Mum, Calum Best persuaded me to do it.' 'Did he really? Well, he is rather charming. Now, less about the tattoo – what did he look like?')
In many ways I guess my tattoo punctuates the end of my old Grand Life Plan, and the beginning of a new – infinitely less rigid – one. (Or perhaps I've just had too much therapy and it is what it is – a star-shaped bit of ink.) I do like to think, though, that it marks the full-stop to many a sentence: the end of my active treatment (it's on my right wrist, beside the point at which my chemo needles were inserted), the reward for seeing through these difficult few months (it's no coincidence that the shape isn't unlike that of the star stickers that teachers award at primary school), plus the recognition that my life has changed irreparably, and that Solomon Grundy life-plans aren't all they're cracked up to be. That said, I'm pleased I stuck to the old plan for as long as I was able. I'm glad I was a Good Girl. It got things done. But now there is no plan to speak of – just a new tattoo and a blank page. And, while that terrifies and excites me in equal measure, I'm intrigued to see what comes next, once Operation New Tit is done with (11 days and counting).
The life-planners were out in force on the day Tills and I went to get my tattoo, as we discovered over a celebratory post-ink drink in the nearest licensed place we could find (a department store cafe, how very Kings Road of us). There we were, strutting in with our designer handbags while other women our age struggled in with designer prams. We clinked beer bottles while they shook milk bottles. We talked tattoos while they talked toddlers. And while, several months ago, I'd have been envious of the women on the tables surrounding us, I realised there was a lot to like about my screwed-up, Benjamin Button approach to age (welcome to The Curious Case of Lisa Lynch). So, in honour of my fucked-up, twentysomething menopause, here's my own Warning.
When I am 30 I shall have a short, punky haircut
And wear Vivienne Westwood frocks with New Look heels.
I shall spank my Premium Bonds on pedicures and shiny Mac gadgets
And five-star holidays, and flip the bird to my pension.
I shall teach my friends' kids filthy jokes
And swear at traffic wardens and wink at builders
And flirt with shy-looking teenage waiters
And pretend I'm in an episode of Skins.
I shall show off my tattoo in cropped-sleeve jackets
And wear glittery makeup to the supermarket
And learn to rap.