I realised, on Thursday at about 7.33pm, that I am 36 this year. This sudden realisation came about when my hairdresser asked me how old I was. "35" I answered confidently, because I am. "When's your birthday?" she asked me as she teased and primped the hair of my friend and hairdressing buddy Louise. "1st of June" said I. Gulp. This means, this year, I'm 36. My life flashed before my very eyes, right there in Shear Class. School, college, wedding, childbirth, a couple of Christmases, a few drunken birthdays and, bizarrely, a hot summers day in Greenwich Park. 36. No longer can I hold onto that allusion of youth that being "under 35" gives you. On 1 June I shall be four years away from the big four-oh. I'm not a natural blonde. I think it's only right that I tell you this. I have a combination of three different blondes skillfully weaved into my hair by Amanda - it gives me the perfect excuse for my ditsiness - but sitting there on Thursday, my head covered in meshes I thought "why am I bothering?"
When I staggered home to face David dozing on the sofa in front of Eastenders on BBC3 he must have had such a shock to be faced by his newly blonded wife with the poker straight shoulder length bob. "Wow darling, it looks lovely!" he yawned. "Yeah right" I said, flopping down on the sofa next to him while Junior Dog tried very hard to place my face. I must look so different. "I'm getting old. Do I look old? Or older? Is it more of a progressive thing? Do I look different now to how I looked at this time last night? Or is it not as sudden as that? Is it creeping up on me and everyone can see it except me Do you think I'm getting old?"
My beloved husband sat blinking at me, mouth open, words forming on his lips but nothing coming out.
He blinked at me a few more times before saying "Erm, well, everyone's getting older darling, it's how things are but, erm, you, erm, don't look much, I mean any older than you did say, last week.....or even, erm, last month...you, well, you look your age......look, what's happened?" Obviously his brain hadn't had time to formulate the right words.
"I'm 36 this year" I stated, suddenly in the mood for some chocolate. "36. No longer 35. I'm ringing Bea" I added, grabbing the phone while David headed for the Scotch bottle. "How did you feel when you reached 36?" I asked my lovely sister the minute she trilled "helloooo, the St John-Sykes household". "Dar-ling girl!" she said and then did the brittle laugh she does when she's not really sure what to say next. "What a question to ask someone at a quarter past ten!"
"So, how did you feel when you reached 36?" I pressed as David handed me a glass of wine. "I'll let you know when I reach 36!" she trilled. I was in no mood for messing around "Bea, you're older than me." I snapped. More brittle laughter and she then changed the subject so deftly to whether or not I thought Enormous Au Pair was losing weight - I was halfway through my answer before I realised.
"I'm 36 this year" I said gloomily as I replaced the receiver. "36. That's four years from 40." I added, showing off my maths skills to the accountant I married who was now searching the house for chocolate. He knows me so well. But not well enough to know I have a secret stash of Galaxy in one of my old handbags in the cupboard under the stairs. I didn't have the energy or the inclination to get up to get it.
"So what?" David said as he returned with the next best thing: a packet of hob-nobs. So what. A typical man's response. "It's the end of youth, the end of, oh I don't know, carefree days, of vitality, fertility - things dry up. First your skin goes, then your nails start going dodgy, your Female Bits start acting up, then come the hot flushes and shoplifting (I was using my mum's aunt as an example you understand) and the 'eurgh get off I've got a headache' and then you start forgetting things and start putting the milk in the bathroom and the toilet rolls in the fridge (mum's aunt again) and then......oh, it's just an end of life as I know it." A whole biscuit went into my mouth followed by a large swig of red wine.
"Erm, sweetheart, didn't you say the same thing when you were 30?" I vaguely knew him at the time but he maintains he remembers my 30th birthday extremely well - I'd got up on the karaoke stage at the pub my family, friends and I were celebrating in and sang, in quick succession, "I will survive", "I know him so well" (playing both the Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson parts) and "Cat Among The Pigeons". I'd then slumped onto the banquette and claimed my life was over. I remember nothing of this at all. Amazingly enough he still married me.
I glared at him and tipped more wine down my neck "Oh, what did I know? I was young and stupid."