Nora Ephron once wrote: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.” This is a line that gets quoted a lot, largely by writers older than 34 who share Nora’s regret. The thing is, though, that when people like that – alright, like me – get to 65, we’ll probably be livid with ourselves for not wearing a bikini when we looked perfectly lovely at 40. And so it goes on. We keep saying we should have done things when we were younger – why not do them now?
Like my friend who wishes she’d gone to Anna Scher’s legendary drama lessons as a child, even though Anna Scher actually still teaches a group for adults, from 7:45 til 9:45 in Islington on a Friday night, and anyone can go if they live in London. (Anna Scher is 70 now. She can’t teach forever.) I have repeatedly tried and failed to persuade my friend to join that class, and the wisdom I’ve had to take home from that experience is that, actually, it’s me who really wants to go, not her. So, I’m going. In 2016, I’ll be finding a babysitter and spending a Friday night or 12 feeling weird about making up sentences to say out loud in an improv class with strangers. I’ve already experienced childbirth, so it can’t be any weirder than that. And perhaps, just like with childbirth, something amazing will happen afterwards, ie we’ll all get to drink gin.
What about all the stuff you didn’t do when you were young because you were trying to be a grown-up then? What about passions lost, because you wrongly thought reason was superior to love?
Basically, I plan to spend 2016 doing all the things I didn’t do when I was a kid. I already made a start this year, by starting piano lessons. I first had them when I was 12, with a teacher whose perfectionist approach didn’t work for me, and with my own grumpy reticence, which wouldn’t have worked for anyone. At 13, I concluded that I had begun too late, and that piano lessons should begin when you’re six, so I quit. Strange, then, that 38 turned out to be exactly the right age to start my piano lessons in earnest. And, before you ask if I’m any good, I have no idea. I’m delighted. I’m enthused. The best thing about being a grown-up learner, as opposed to a child, is that nobody cares if you’re “good at it” anymore. What you become is better than what you were.
And what about all the stuff you didn’t do when you were young because you were trying to be a grown-up then? What about passions lost, because you wrongly thought reason was superior to love? I remember, when I was 19, meeting a brilliant, quick, funny, beautiful American boy in a hostel in Barcelona. A few days later, he asked me to get on the train to the South of France with him, and I didn’t go, because I wasn’t supposed to be leaving Spain. I remember proudly telling my mum back in Yorkshire how I had made the sensible decision to stick to my plans and not go with him. She replied, to my great surprise, that I should have got on the train. I didn’t know then that life doesn’t give you endless opportunities to get on such trains.
I remember a few years ago, a corset shop in Notting Hill, where I’d been dragged by a friend who was extremely different from me. She’d convinced me to go to this most unlikely place for me, and take my top and bra off and try on something that seemed to be made out of a swan. It was fabulous – ridiculous – this white curvature of feathers around my breasts, searing my waist in, showing off my lovely back. It was stunning. I was stunning. But I laughed when I found out it cost £800, and quickly took it off, because how could I spend the best part of a thousand pounds that I didn’t have on something that I didn’t need? And so I spent £800 on late payment fines instead, because my bills were in disarray, not because I was actually penniless. I carried on being scruffy and messy, and wasting all my money on nothing or other, dressed up as some kind of moral superiority, because the friend who bought corsets was posh and I would never do something like that. I wish, now, that I’d wrapped my tits in a swan.
In 2016, I plan to wrap my tits in a swan.