What kind of older person are you going to be? I ask because it’s an important question and I’m worried you might not have thought about it. I hadn’t until recently but, with my children growing up – both at school now; no babies in the house – there is a sense of life moving on, with the invisible, terrifying speed of an enormous river. If I am lucky, I will get there and (judging by the way decades seem to be evaporating) sooner than I think.
The problem is that you can’t embrace something and be at war with it at the same time and, in our culture, ageing is something you fight. Do I want to do this? Almost-40 seems to be a good time to decide. I’m more or less at the summit, the top of the hill between youth and age. For the first time, I can see both clearly. I understand my 21-year-old self much better than I did when I actually was her. Growing up was so confusing – a tumultuous mixture of luck (good and bad) and happenstance. I don’t want to grow old in the same way. There’s no knowing what life will bring, of course, but I’m a planner. I need to know the direction I’d like to go in, even if things end up taking a different course. I want to live with intention and purpose. I look at women older than me who are at war with themselves and it scares me. How do I not become them?
To be optimistic, to face the future with open eyes, heart and mind and without clinging to the past – those are my goals
I need alternatives. So, I’m collecting role models – awesome older women from every walk of life. There’s Grace Jones (67, with a “fucks given” score so low it’s actually now less than zero. Grace is in the minus fucks). She shocked the Daily Mail last week by flashing photographers at her New York book signing. Probably best for their coronary health that they didn’t meet her the same night as me. She arrived for our interview in tears and a floor-length mink, and proceeded to regale the crew with an unbroadcastable tale involving herself, Andy Warhol and the film Love Story, before mounting a stuffed polar bear and biting our handsome director on the nipple. As I say, role model. I’m a music lover and, as such, I’m incredibly grateful that so many of the women who inspired me as a teenager are still at it, showing all of us a new way to be 50, 60, 70… Madonna, Siouxsie Sioux, Deborah Harry, Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Pauline Black, Chrissie Hynde, Viv Albertine, Neneh Cherry – they are all superheroes: as smart, cool, vital and creative as ever. Not all of my heroes are famous. There’s Other Grace, the 104-year-old street artist who made the news for "yarn bombing" her home town of Selkirk recently. My mam (who really should run the world), my late gran and my great auntie Bertha, from whom I inherited an evil sense of humour, good legs and a love of capes.
A straw poll of The Pool offices reveals that I’m not alone in looking up to older women who live life on their own terms. It turns out our team are making lists of their own. Yoko Ono, Iris Apfel, Meryl Streep, Marina Abramovic, polka dot-obsessed artist Yayoi Kusama, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Hulanicki, Anjelica Huston, Baroness Trumpington and the Many Mothers motorcycle gang from Mad Max Fury Road (both on film and in real life – apparently, they did all their own stunts) are just a few of the heroes whose names came up when I asked. They’re all completely different, but there is a common thread: they are women who live life on their own terms. They live fearlessly and bravely. They might not all be loud, but they are strong. They stand out in a world where older women are expected to blend in, to disappear. On our list there is a dearth of beige, a paucity of shrinking violets. Instead, it is bursting with ideas, colour, life.
So often, when women talk about ageing, we really mean how we look – but the process is also about who we become. It’s about how we live. To be optimistic, to face the future with open eyes, heart and mind, and without clinging to the past – those are my goals. I can see the person I might get to be one day in the distance. The path between us isn’t completely clear, but I’m not too worried about that – there are some incredible women ahead, paving the way. I’m ready for the journey; what about you – are you coming?