Back in 2000, when I was on the verge of moving to the UK, I had to fill in a few hours and bought Bridget Jones’ Diary and read about half of it, but had to leave it behind, there wasn’t a centimetre of space left in my suitcase and boxes. I enjoyed what I read, I watched the film, and I never realized I hadn’t finished the book until last weekend when I re-read it. What a difference 15 years has made – in the meantime my daughter reached Bridget’s age, and I find myself identifying with her mum. Remember the book? Remember that the mum was filled with energy, erupting out of the life she had decided was a rut, and having herself a whale of a time, when she should have been totally focused on Bridget’s very complicated life? She found her daughter a job, she got herself into a bit of a scandal and was extracted by the effortless Mark Darcy, she enjoyed herself very much, yet all I had retained, over the intervening years, was Bridget having a very exciting affair, meeting a Mr Will Do Nicely, and her dad being miserable because her mum was playing up. I am delighted by her mum, even seen as she is through Bridget’s rather disapproving eyes.
Most of us have a mental image of ourselves in our heads, which is very roughly somewhere around our thirties. (Inside every older person there’s a younger person wondering what the blazes happened.) Whether you are forty, sixty, or eighty, you think of yourself as in your thirties, and it’s always a sobering surprise when you remember you’re not going to vault that fence, you can’t party all night without paying for it the next day, and you think that people who are really in their thirties are wasting precious time and should get out there and do things.
Bear with me, I’m making a point. We’ve established that you, whatever your actual age, are in your thirties. Now think of your parents. Not the way they are, or were, the way you think of them in that split second when someone says parents. In their late fifties, early sixties, right? Just there. Part of the furniture, part of the wallpaper, and ageless, albeit in an older way. So when people in their late fifties and early sixties suddenly jump out of the wallpaper and dash about, we can be slightly resentful of them for not behaving as they should.
Well, until we get there ourselves and suddenly realize we’re still thirty-something at heart, but that we probably don’t have all the time in the world after all, and there are a lot of things on that to-do list that haven’t yet been ticked off. Don’t expect support or encouragement. Just go do them.
I think that might be why the characters in my books don’t, on the whole, have families (Vivian being the exception) because families really would not approve of them enjoying their semi-retirement so much. They can be whoever they want, just so long as their health and vigour holds out, and they are ageless. Just like us.