I’ve been feeling a bit ropey for the last few days. People in the village say there is a bug going round. But I don’t have time for bugs: I have work to do and livestock to look after. (At one point, I decided that I was feeling slightly ill because of the Trump bug. Every time I saw the footage that is going round the internet of him ignoring his wife on the steps of the White House I felt faintly sick.)
Today, the buggery bastard bug got me, so instead of soldiering on I went back to bed and slept and slept and slept. My kind friend saw to the horses and I could cancel everything. I am typing this with palsied fingers and a rather swimmy head but I’ll be better tomorrow.
In the swimmy head, some random thoughts twist and dive. They are mostly to do with the fact that I am fifty in four days. I’ve been practising for this milestone for the last six months by saying in life and writing on the page ‘I am fifty years old’.
The rational part of me knows this is just a number and does not really mean anything. The irrational part is going: holy fuck, I am FIFTY YEARS OLD. The zeitgeist, which must always have its say, tells me that fifty is a big deal for a female. It is the age, apparently, when you become invisible. I’ve never had a problem with this. I think it’s because I was never a beauty. I’m exactly as visible now as I was when I was twenty because my schtick is not a dewy complexion and ravishing cheekbones, which may be ravaged by age, but bad jokes and antic conversations about the meaning of life and eccentric hats. The hats are getting more important as I get older and nobody can ignore a woman in a hat.
What I do have a problem with is the slightly odd idea that being fifty means I should be a grown-up. I don’t really know what this means, but my Mary Poppins voice is telling that it is something to which I should aspire. I’m not quite sure how to be a grown-up. Today, in the spirit of adulthood, I decided to deal with one of my piles. Even though I was feeling very tottery from the horrid bug, I stared beadily at the pile and thought I had its measure. My life is made up of piles – papers, laundry, clothes, things I can’t always identify. I shove the piles into baskets and corners and the Cupboard of Doom and tell myself tragically that because I am a creative I simply don’t have the organising gene.
This pile was of clothes. Why I can’t fold them up and put them away like a normal person I have no idea. Anyway, I dragged them out of their muddly basket and sorted through them, and there, to my delight, was a very old friend. It was my favourite cashmere cardigan. It was the one that never bobbled and never got moth and never shrunk in the wash and never lost its shape. ‘Oh,’ I said, out loud, ‘there you are.’
It’s about fifteen years old and I could not remember where I’d got it. Was it one from the glory days, when I had some cash and used to indulge myself? Was it from Harvey Nichols or that chic little boutique in Cirencester where the Beloved Cousin and I once bought the most elegant Danish coats? (Best coat I ever had. Nothing like the Danes for coats, I discovered.) I looked at the label, and laughed and laughed. It was from Marks and Spencer. Dear, dear old Marks and Sparks, in the days when they weren’t trying to do fashion, but simply made lovely, honest basics, the kind of clothing you really needed rather than thought you should wear because some magazine said so.
I don’t know why this made me so happy, but it did. I’ve never been a fashiony girl, although very occasionally I would go mad with a famous name. I have a Dolce and Gabbana coat that I bought when I was twenty-seven and it is so beautiful that it hangs now on my bedroom door and I gaze at it as if it were an artwork. I have a Vivienne Westwood jacket which is so groovy that every time I put it on I feel as if I am a character in a novel. But I never had the knack for modishness and now I spend most of my time surrounded by mud and hay and live in a uniform of Gap jeans and sensible jumpers and sturdy gumboots. It felt right that my favourite lost garment was not from some storied designer but from a shop which is as plain and British as Marmite and talking about the weather.
I thought about the plans I had for my landmark birthday. I was going to write a best-seller and give a huge party in the cow barn opposite my house and all the old friends would come and we would dance like we used to when we were eighteen. The rather shaming part of me thought they might bring loot. There might be more cashmere cardigans and the Fairfax and Favor boots I yearn for and perhaps a jewel. Because you know, fifty requires some serious presents.
As it is, I’m on an economy drive and there will be no party and I found my favourite old garment so I don’t need any presents. The family is scattered all over the place and my mum and dad aren’t here any more and it will be just like any ordinary Monday. Two of the people I love most in the world are going to give me a cocktail and that’s all I want. The only present of which I dream, I suddenly realise, is a lifetime supply of the good hay from the kind farmer. (Although if Amigo suddenly rang up and said they were choosing the red mare as their new model and giving her a set of their unbelievably smart rugs I would die of happiness.)
I won’t be dancing and I don’t think I’ll suddenly turn into a grown-up and I won’t stare at my face and cry because it has wrinkles on it. I think perhaps I might feel a little more galvanised: time is shooting past me and I’ve got to write all those damn books that dance in my head. The anticipation of fifty is a thing, but then I’ll be it and it won’t really be a thing after all. I’ll ride my sweet mare and watch the dogs race along the burn and I’ll discuss with my friend in the feed shed when we should ring the kind farmer and get more of the good hay. I’ll feel passionately grateful that I have this Scotland and these hills and these trees. It wasn’t where I expected to end up, when I was young and wild and urban. I found my way here quite by chance. But the peace and the beauty are perhaps my best present of all.