Monday, 30 May 2011

Cougar Goes Camping

Half term. And, for me, that means the chance to get on with some writing while the kids drift in and out of the house making few extra demands, except for the odd meal, drink and snack. Perfect.

 I love having days off at home. I like being able to take my time over all the things that are either rushed or don’t get done in a usual working week. I love drinking at least a pint of Earl Grey at the breakfast table, taking leisurely baths, pottering in the garden – even hanging up the pile of discarded clothes in the bedroom and having the chance to regain some sense of order.

Summer Holidays, Easter holidays, and even Christmas holidays always seem to come with a pressure to “DO” something. People always ask what your PLANS are, what you are going to DO, where you are going to GO – but half terms come and go more quietly, with less expectation from the outside world and so, for me, are a wonderful opportunity to quietly wallow in the gift of extra time.

But this half term, Ad Man’s 11 year old son has announced he wants to come and stay, so AD Man has taken a week off work, and my planned week of pottering is instantly replaced by a flurry of plans for Father/Son bonding activities.

“Why don’t we go camping?” suggests Ad Man.

“Or, we could stay at home and do some day trips..” I offer, hopefully.

“But I’m on holiday,” he protests. “I want to DO something.”

Of course, I should be more sympathetic. For Ad Man, the usual working week means getting up before the birds have even realised it’s time to start chirping, and then commuting two hours into central London to work a full day, before commuting the two hours home again. He goes for months hardly seeing the house in daylight, so I can understand that he wants to make the most of his time off.

I try a bit harder to be sympathetic – but camping, in a now chilly May.. really?

“It will be great,” he reassures me. “We’ve got that new tent, with separate sleeping pods, so the boys can have their own space, and we can snuggle up together. And there’s a new camping cooker… “

Not wanting to seem churlish, I weaken. But fast forward a few days, and I’m somewhat regretting my decision. I’m on a windy ridge in Dorset, trying desperately to tame three square metres of flapping tent fabric, while Ad Man runs around shouting instructions above the noise of the gale that is whistling between us. Meanwhile, of course, both his son and mine sit cocooned in the warm car with their noses in their mobile phones and oblivious to it all.

“We’ve nearly done it!” Ad Man yells, trying to keep morale high while gripping furiously onto three airborne corners. But it’s beginning to rain, and out of the corner of one eye, I can see a family further down the field rushing in horror after their tent which has taken off and is now flying away from them and over their parked Audi Estate.

Finally, against the odds, we manage to hammer in the final peg, and I have to admit that the tent is a triumph. It sleeps eight and has a central living area that is tall enough even for Ad Man to stand and walk around in. But it towers above everything around it like a WAG-style mansion in a field of modest semi-detacheds, and, not used to such grandeur, I feel rather embarrassed as I unpack the car and shuffle in and out with our bedding and supplies.

It has now taken us nearly two hours to set up home in a field and the boys are starving, but it’s too wet and windy to barbecue the family pack of burgers and sausages we’ve brought with us. Instead we decide to try and cook inside the tent and so balance the new camping stove precariously on top of the dog’s metal crate (I'd rather call it 'bed') in the awning area. Then, to keep the dog safely away from the food and cooker, we zip up the fly screen so that the boys, dog and I are sealed in on one side, in the main body of the tent, while Ad Man and his new cooker are screened off in the awning. 

It’s a preposterous set up, but unable to think of a better way of managing the situation, we spend the next 20 minutes, repeatedly unzipping a small gap in the fly screen  in order to pass cooking utensils, burgers/sausages and ketchup backwards and forwards between Toyboy chef and us diners – as if it were some sort of sophisticated mosquito-proof serving hatch. Of course, even when the frying pan catches fire and threatens to engulf the tent in flames, it does nothing to deter Ad Man’s enthusiasm – so I try to be a better person myself, ignore my desperate craving for a glass of wine and not to growl at the boys if they want something from “the other side” of the screen.

Amazingly, we manage to finish dinner without any trips to the vets or A & E, but then I look at my watch and groan. It’s only half past eight and it’s still light, but it’s also still blowing a gale and all I really want to do is go to bed.

Ad Man, on the other hand, decides to brave the wind and sets himself up outside in a chair, with beer, Kindle and pipe, so he can take in the great outdoors, and enjoy the view of Corfe Castle and the steam train meandering through the hills.

I’m exhausted from a day of being ‘plucky’, and so retreat to my ‘pod’, but under the shadow of a hoodie, a sleeping bag and Melin Tregwynt blanket, there’s not enough light to read the weekend Guardian, so I give in and go to sleep..

Well, that’s if you can call a night of gale force winds, Ad Man snoring, flapping tent fabric and resonating car alarms a “sleep”…

The next morning I realise I have to do as my granny always told me and ‘be true to myself’.

“I’m going home,” I tell Ad Man.

“I know,” he says.

And so now, I’m back in my kitchen, drinking my Earl Grey, and writing. Everything is as it should be. But of course, there’s that little part of me that wishes I was in that windy field in Dorset where Ad Man and the two boys are still battling bravely on. Fickle, me?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Juggling parenting, Michael Buble and a toyboy - a Cougar needs more time

“Darling,” I said.

“Yes” said Ad Man, slurring, from 100-plus miles away.

"It’s 3am. I’m trying to sleep.”

“Yes, but listen – it’s our tune…!”

I groaned and buried my head in my pillow while the muffled tones of Michael Buble told me that I was his ‘getaway car’ and his ‘Everything’..

First the pleasure, then the pain.

I guess it was inevitable that after managing to sneak off alone with Ad Man to France, I’d pay for it when I returned.

After a glorious week of  beach walks, seafood and Chablis, we’d come home to the usual mayhem of dog, cat, dead fish and kids  - and the realisation that Daughter’s A level work was not exactly on schedule.

I’ve never been one of those mothers who gets very  involved in the minutiae of their children’s school work – but even I could tell that Daughter’s past week had been more about boys, parties and Facebook than the Cold War and Hamlet. There was nothing for it. I needed to take her away from all distractions so she could recover some focus.

Our self-imposed exile was in Devon, at my mother’s house. For four days.  Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anywhere else that would be free – well in monetary terms at least. It meant four days of biting my tongue and trying to limit my mother’s wine intake. I hoped one day Daughter would thank me for it.

The plan was that I would take the dog, and Son G would go to his Dad’s house – so this meant Ad Man had four days  to himself – probably for the first time since we’d all moved in together.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, before we left.

“Not much. Probably watch a box set of Glee, sit alone on the sofa and miss you.”

I gave him a big hug. “I’ll miss you too.”

“Or I might phone Simon..” he added casually.

And there it was. Of course, Ad Man had already spotted an opportunity to make the most of his freedom, and was planning to do what any young man with a Saturday night to himself would do..

“You’re going clubbing?”

“Mmmm,” he replied, feigning distraction. “No, I expect we’ll just have a BBQ and watch some Top Gear together.”

“Yeah right.”

I could hardly complain. After all, Ad Man gave up his friends, his curry house, and his nights at Watford’s Reflex to come and live with me on the south coast. And while he has embraced his new role as a suburban step dad in the same good natured, sunny way with which he meets most challenges – he inevitably misses his friends and his old – well, young – life at times.

Tempted by blondes and Tinie Tempah
And so, late on Saturday night -while I was trying hard to relax in my mother’s guest bedroom, surrounded by more floral decoration than Chelsea flower show could boast – Ad Man and his mate Simon were in central Southampton downing a cocktail of lager, sambuca, lager and sambuca, and dancing to Tinie Tempah surrounded by a host of 20-year-old peroxide blondes.

I trusted him completely, I just wished I was there too. Not for the blondes and the Tinie Tempah so much, but just to be able to dance with him, get a bit drunk with him and have a laugh with him – rather than having to be the grown-up, at home, supervising the revision progress.
The fact that he was out indulging in youthful pastimes, just emphasised the dichotomy I so often feel these days;  that while one part of me is growing older and has the responsibilities that come from being a parent of teenage children (something I wouldn’t miss for the world), the other part of me still feels young and rebellious and refuses to accept a life of slippers ,TV suppers – and floral wallpaper.

Which is why, when he called me from our living room at 3am, to play ‘our tune’ down the phone, I wasn’t angry – just frustrated. Frustrated that I wasn’t there to dance to it with him, as we did on our wedding day, and on that lovely, crazy night on the Isle of Wight, in a deserted restaurant, where they didn’t mind that we took over their music system and played it over and over again.

The older I get, the more time I need. I need time to work, time to be a parent, time to be a friend and time to be a lover too –and there just simply isn’t enough of it to be all of those things. I want to be a good parent above all, but I also want to dance with my Ad Man too…

The next day, mission almost accomplished, Daughter and I packed up the textbooks and the dog, waved goodbye to my Mum and did the three-hour drive back home – to find Ad Man still in bits.

“I think I’m getting old," he said looking pale. “My body just can’t take the late nights and booze anymore.”

“Rubbish,” I said. “You’ve got years of partying left in you. Maybe you just went a bit heavy on the sambuca.”

“Maybe,” he agreed, but wincing. He clearly wasn’t ready for the mention of liqueurs quite so soon.

Then I pulled out our slippers, and we both gratefully settled down for a night in together, in our own home, with supper, in front of the TV. It seems there's only so much dancing and drinking even a toy boy can do..

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Delta Goodrem dates Nick Jonas - eight years her junior - shock!

According to the Daily Mail: "She announced her split from fiancé Brian McFadden less than two months ago.
But it appears that Delta Goodrem, 26, is wasting no time in moving on.
The Australian singer has been pictured holding hands with Nick Jonas, 18, on a cinema date in West Hollywood."

And still the shock and horror at a mixed age relationship continues. Twitter is bursting with 'WTF' and "weird coupling" and "what is the world coming to" sort of statements.

One tweet even claimed that Delta was old enough to be Nick's mother! At just eight years older, that is pushing it slightly, I'd say.

And all this coming  from our younger, more 'liberal' and  supposedly 'unshockable' generation.

We have a nation that will happily watch someone die on television but reels in disgust at a mixed age relationship...

Why even Benjamin Franklin recommended the older woman to the toy boy

I always knew that us Brits could be a conservative bunch, and of course few of us find change easy, but even I’m struggling to understand why people still find it so strange that a younger man might actually enjoy the company of an older woman, when such relationships have been going on for, not just decades, but centuries.

This week I was sent an email drawing my attention to a letter that statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin sent to a friend, discussing this very topic, back in 1745!

To be strictly accurate, he was suggesting to his friend that, if he ever fancied playing away from home, he’d be well advised to do it with an older woman, rather than a young one – and some of his reasoning is  pretty sexist -  but I was still struck by the similarities between what Franklin says about the admirable qualities of the older woman and what my younger man, Ad Man, told me he found appealing.

For those of you new to these pages, in the early days, I asked Ad Man about what it was that the younger man could possibly be gaining by dating the older woman, and this is what I reported back in the blog:

The older woman has more to talk about By the time a woman hits 40, she’s usually been to a few places, seen a few things, and realised that there’s more to life than what’s happening in X-Factor and the new handbags in TopShop (though that’s not to say that we don’t like those things too!) We’ve got somewhere in our careers, seen some ups and downs, and know that you need more than perfect hair and make-up to make an evening interesting. Twenty–three-year-old Megan Fox  may tick a lot of boxes for the Toy Boy, but her conversation certainly isn’t one of them.

And here is Franklin, back in 1745, saying much the same thing – though with less mention of X Factor:

“Because as they (older women) have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.”

He goes onto say:

When women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.”

Fortunately for me, the work the Suffragettes, Women’s Lib and the Feminist movement have done over the past hundred years or so has ensured that Ad Man views me with rather more respect than Franklin feels due to give the older women of his time. But, strip away Franklin’s assumption that an older woman’s beauty fades (and that is why she works harder to please her man) and essentially you have Ad Man’s second point – that older women are not so self obsessed as their younger counterparts:

It’s not all about ‘me’ Talking about yourself for too long is a big turn off for men - and so many 20-somethings are yet to emerge from their egocentric chrysalis. The joy of the forty-something is that she has developed the skill of asking people questions. More than that, she is genuinely interested in someone other than herself. Think, who would you rather have a chat with - Kate Winslet or Peaches Geldof?

And finally, although Franklin rather crudely points to how an older woman’s face and neck will inevitably show signs of age and gravity taking their toll (the unfortunate women of 1745 had less sunscreen, moisturizer and Botox around to help them out, of course) – even he is aware that, when it comes to turning out the bedroom lights, the older woman still has more to offer, thanks to her extra years of experience:

“Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.”

I only hope that Franklin's wife o French mistress, never got to see what he'd written about lank and wrinkled faces!  I suspect that she would have preferred Ad Man's 21st century interpretation:

We’re confident Age definitely brings an added confidence. The cougar knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want, and she knows how to sweat her assets. Such confidence is sexy – men of all ages are unanimous in that – and that extends to the bedroom too. OK, so the 40-year-old’s body may have the odd flaw, but at least she’s happy to keep the light on and show off the bits that count – and that keeps a toy boy very happy.

Well, plus ca change – as the French, and pretentious, might say! Who knows, maybe another 300 years from now, when older women are still being vilified for dating younger men, someone will pull out my blog, and marvel at how it was happening even back in 2011!!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Growing old together - the statistical advantages of living with the younger man

Apparently living with a ‘toy boy’ now makes me something of an academic talking point too.. 

On Monday evening, I was enjoying one of those rather special, quintessentially English moments, watching my son playing cricket for his under 15s team at a leafy green cricket ground. I was relishing the warmth of the setting sun on my face and the gentle sounds of laughter and leather hitting willow, when another parent strolled over to me and struck up conversation.
“Ah, I was hoping to run into you.”

As we’ve only ever exchanged a few pleasantries in all the time we’ve known each other, I was a little surprised.

“I was wondering,” he continued. “If I could use you in my teaching?”

It turns out that Mac is a demographer - or to be more precise, a Professor of Longitudinal Social Statistics – and, from his point of view, the fact that I’ve chosen young Ad Man as my partner, has made me a more interesting statistic than most other 40-something women. For some reason, I found this strangely satisfying.

Surely, being a widow
 doesn't mean it's the
end of your life?
He explained that, according to research, most women, as you’d expect, tend to settle down with someone who is a couple of years older than them. That, combined with the fact that most men tend to die younger than women (men seem to achieve about 75 years on average, and women 80) means that most women can expect to have seven-plus years of life on their own, at the end of their days.

“So,” he continued, “I always suggest to the female students in my seminars, that they should be finding themselves a toy boy – someone ten years younger ideally. But of course they always la..”

He stopped, the word ‘laugh’ frozen on his tongue, suddenly aware that, if he finished his sentence, there was a chance I might be hugely offended at the thought of a roomful of students laughing at my love life. I helped him complete his point to try and reassure him that I really was fine about it.

“So you want to use me as living proof that women actually can hook up successfully with younger men?”

“Well, yes!” he said, relief written all over his face.

“That’s fine by me!” I replied.

But later, it made me think about my twilight years, and how I may feasibly end up spending them. And found myself strangely unsettled by what Mac had pointed out. Inevitably I suppose, we tend to look to our own parents’ lives as an indication of what may lie ahead for ourselves. My father died way back in the Eighties, and my mother has lived alone ever since, so I suppose, subconsciously, I’d always imagined the same would happen to me. Of course, if I’d given it any real thought, I’d have realised that was now pretty unlikely, as my father was 16 years older than my mother – and not ten years younger, as Ad Man is.

Halle Berry will never have a
day to herself in her retirement
Mac’s recommendation to his female students that they embrace the Cougar lifestyle came from an assumption on his part that they would rather not be prematurely widowed, and would prefer their husbands to be at their sides until the very end. But having been witness to my mother’s lifestyle, in comparison to that of her married peers, I wouldn’t be so quick to agree with him.

I think of my mum as 78 and single, not 78 and widowed.  The word ‘widow’ to me smacks of tired resignation to a quiet life of meals for one, headscarves and shopping trolleys with wheels, whereas my mother’s life is far more about cracking open the Chablis at 6pm, scouring the shops for designer clothes and going on exotic holidays. The only trolley she owns is her golf trolley, which is hauled around the country club as a quick precursor to lunch or drinks with ‘the girls’.  Although my father is still very missed, he was always a man who erred on the side of caution and thrift, so the upside of his absence is that there is no longer any need for her to compromise or bargain for what she wants. If she spots a great handbag, she buys it; if she fancies a new flower bed, she digs it herself, in the spot of her choosing – and, like the bright, blousy tulips she has planted there, she has blossomed in her second single life.

If anyone ever wonders why she hasn’t remarried (and with her glamorous sense of style, persistently auburn hair and twinkling green eyes, there’s been no shortage of interest), her answer is always the same:
“Why would I want to wash someone else’s socks?!”

As I’ve been brought up to be just as independent, and happy in my own company, I suppose I’ve always assumed my retirement would be similar. But, my chat with demographer Mac, made me realise that of course it won’t be..   Ad Man and I are statistically very likely to be stuck with each other now, right to the end, which means a lifetime of compromise and bargaining – not to mention the washing of socks..

But then, I reflected, the compromising and bargaining with Ad Man is actually part of the fun of being together - even though it has its frustrations at times. And I can’t imagine him not being a part of my life as I get older - even if he has a view on where the flowerbeds should go.

My mother was in her twenties when she married my Dad. So, by the time he died, they’d already shared 30 years together, whereas Ad Man and I are still just beginning. If I’m lucky, like my mother, I’ll get 30 years or so to share with Ad Man – and that’s a statistic I’m quite happy with after all.