Tuesday 10 March 2009

What's my age again?

My Mum's favourite poem is called Warning, by Jenny Joseph. I'm sure you know the one. It begins like this:

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.


Anonymous said...

Body of a 59 year old? Reader, she’s lying. Big time.

Mac. If you agree to stop calling the contents of your pants ‘downstairs’, we’ll think of another word for menopause just for you. I have an image of menopausal in my head, and believe me, beautiful, sexy, young Mac, it just aint you.


Shimacat said...

Ha! I like it. Especially the glittery make-up to the supermarket part.

But will you learn to cook? About an hour for a baked spud, if you do it in the oven, which gives you good spuds, but isn't very energy-efficient. More efficient and faster to do it in the microwave, but then you get soggy spuds.

However, as I'm on the GI diet and haven't eaten a potato for a year, I'd ignore all that. Of course, if you're reading back through your blog in years to come, you'll wonder about this potato-related comment, having forgotten about the Twitter bleat about timings of jacket spuds...

Lisa Lynch said...

See now, using words like 'downstairs' is precisely why I'm menopausal. Forget blaming the cancer, I brought this on myself.

Anonymous said...

Bet Callum is still wondering,'who was that somewhat punky, cool girl with balls of steel?"
Actually, scratch that, it's probably "who's a pretty boy then?" On repeat. Bless him. P.S. Another word for 'downstairs' - Nether regions. What do you reckon TiLs?

Anonymous said...

I'm a twenty-something girl from Finland and I started reading your blog after you were in the British Glamour.

My mother's aunt went through The Bullshit in the 60's and she is one of the coolest people I've ever met. And now, after reading your amazing, witty and refreshingly honest blog, I have so much more respect for her. By the way, she's turning 90 this year and has to take only one medicin per day!

Thank you for writing this blog and I wish you all the best!


Ps. I've always wanted a tattoo like yours!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous! ‘Netherregions’ is worse. (As is ‘undercarriage’ and ‘front-bum’, before you ask.) You might as well call your boobs ‘lady-bumps’. No more of this. What would Callum Best say?

Anonymous said...

'lady-garden' & 'girls-front-bottom'are my current favourites (use with liberal application of irony or tongue firmly in cheek...)

Yet another great blog.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

The term "Giney" has become quite popular with us. Not too crass and kinda cute as well.

You can say it on the train and no-one raises an eyebrow (much)

Marc B said...

I like lady Lady Garden. There's also a very funny all female sketch group by this name.

By the way...mind of a 29 year old? Who are you having on?

Anonymous said...

I quite like 'The Midlands' as a generic term for the lavatorial area of ones anatomy. Surely that cannot offend anyone!

Unknown said...

'Lady box'? 'Sideways smile'? Not having one, I am not allowed to comment on suitability, only offer suggestions.

Anonymous said...

I have always been a fan of "flange".

Make of that what you will.

Anonymous said...

You could always go the Mills & Boon route and call it your "Quivering Love Pudding"

Unknown said...

A friend of mine always used to call hers her, "tuppy". No idea where it came from, or if I like it or not...just thought I'd add! c

will_full said...

I've recently become a fan of Va-Jay-Jay... It's a hideous word but has a certain poetry. When refering to them in conversation I tend to use 'girly bits' but that's cos I'm a boy and would blush at anything more descriptive.

p.s. I've always been a fan a va-jay-jay... it's just the word that I'm a recent convert to.

jane__w said...

My mate A refers to one's ladyness as "knicker bacon". Grim I know, but funny.

Anonymous said...

A friend used the term Crumpy - reminded me of crumpets which put my off them for a little while.

On a new note - an ex used to call my boobs 'The Ladies' which I always rather liked.


Anonymous said...

Va-jay-jay is brilliant, I love that one.
How about "rat"...not very nice.
"Woo-woo" makes me laugh, though I recently had a cocktail of the same name which was disconcerting.

I do know some very crude ones as well, but they are just awful so I won't add them here!

Anonymous said...

My lovely Italian friend talks about farfallina's (from Butterfly)and pistolina's for boys. It sounds wonderful with her accent and I like the idea of a butterfly as a description especially after flange ... yuck yuck yuck!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy saying flange, but if you want something a bit cuter, "foofer" is one my ex used

Anonymous said...

Froo-froo or Hoo-ha. Or occasionally Hoo-hoo if I've had one too many and can't make my mind up.

Wicked post this one, gave me goose bumps reading your poem. Heck yes, your 30s are going to be flipping great!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine recently pointed out to me how rude the word "Goodge" sounds, and its possible placement in "Show us yer goodge". Makes it awfully hard to walk up Tottenham Court Road without sniggering. Having said that, I smirk every day at the announcement of "Cockfosters".

Outwith bedroom, I have always enjoyed the gentleness of Noonie (short "oo" as in "book")

Another amazing post. After every one, I shake my head in wonder at how incredible you are at writing.

Anonymous said...

i'm thinking perhaps a good read of the vagina monologues will give you some more words Lisa! X

Anonymous said...

I think refer to it as your penis and you'll confuse and scare people in equal measure and make me laugh a LOT. x

Anonymous said...

Aww. Very pretty! :) Good luck on not catching the tattoo-bug! I have six now!

Also best of luck for 'Operation New Tit'! Say hello to Smiley Surgeon for us! :)

Antipodeesse said...

Allow me to contribute the ever delicate 'Meat Curtains'.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

It made me laugh how all the comments have now become about names for vaginas (I'm a midwife so the real word doesn't concern me!)...the tattoo looks great and I love that the picture is a thumbs up...

Well hell I might as well add to it eh?! I've always liked 'special place'...


Freudus said...

Ach, amid all this comedy gynacology your rather wonderful poetry has been all but ignored. Tattoo looks ace, btw.

(For the record, I can't hear the word 'flange' without giggling like a 11-year-old boy)


Clairey said...

I never normal comment but as I have sat here choking with laughter on my lunch in an office full of people (mostly my superiors who may not be amused at all this lady-bits talk as I am!) I have to add 2 I have heard recently, Coochy and Fairy... personally I am a fan of lady-garden!

Brilliant blog Lisa - I am so inspired by you. All the best C xx

Anonymous said...

Along the same poetic theme; I landed on your blog via a friend (Gemmak500).

At the risk of looking like I'm promoting myself (which I'm really not) and at the further risk of looking like a bit of a knob:-

I'm a poet and had the dubious pleasure of being inspired/provoked by various people who managed to end up with a diagonosis of cancer of one form of another - this includes a very good poet friend of mine and both of my step-sisters as well as my step-brother's wife. After a while you start to think there might be something in the water...

Anyway, I've performed this poem several times since I wrote it at the end of last year after reading about Gemmak500's dad and also after standing feeling very humble and a bit out of place at the local race-for-life. It seems to strike a chord with so many people who are part of the great hidden gang of those affected by cancer.

I hope it makes sense to a few people here although, in a way, I hope it makes no sense at all.


Fight It. Don't give up.