Spectator on new middle age

WE are sitting in the gar-den on a rare summer evening, drinking wine and talking facelifts. And eye jobs, Botox, liposuction, Restylane, Ten Years Younger, wheat-free, low-carb, Weight Watchers and personal trainers. This is the rural heartland, where Clarin’s sunblock is an extravagance, but we are con-

fessing just how far we’d go. Very Far is the answer, but only if it were painless, not hugely expensive, safe and secret. No one would go to Poland, but perhaps New York, especially with the exchange rate.

‘I could do it, but I wouldn’t admit it,’ says J. ‘If you hear that I’ve gone to work for the Red Cross in Darfur, it means that I’ve gone to Copenhagen for a facelift. ‘We all agree that Ten Years Younger is creepy but compulsive viewing. We’re also unanimous that a more interesting programme would be Ten Years Younger Without a Knife. I confess that I’ve just bought Boots’ Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum. It promises ‘to reveal younger-looking skin in just four weeks’. K admits that she’s had Restylane injections, but it wasn’t called that. ‘It’s not that painful. I did it before my daughter’s wedding. Now, I do it once a year.’ Names are scribbled down.

Welcome to the New Middle Age, where, with time and money and discipline, you can stop the clock. Physically and verbally. Some future Margaret Mead might find it began with the Feminist Gloria Steinem. Interviewed on her 50th birthday, she was told: ‘You don’t look 50.’ Gloria replied: ‘This is what 50 looks like now.’ But, in fact, Gloria Steinem was always a long-legged, long-haired beauty with the kind of looks that don’t stray. Most of the New Middle Agers have to rely on yoga, dentistry, low-carb diets, serums and, en fin, the scalpel to fulfil the rest of the mantra: 50 is the new 30, 60 is the new 40.

My own urge to look 10 years younger has a surge each August when my birthday rolls around, an anniversary I share with Philip Larkin. In 1966, he wrote: ‘I feel I am landed on my 45th year as if washed up on a rock, not knowing how I got here.’ I’m just as stumped, and proof is seen in the stack of books by my bed: Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, Virginia Ironside’s No! I Don’t Want to Join a Bookclub, and Late Youth: An Anthology Celebrating the Joys of Being Over Fifty, a ragbag of literary, acidic nuggets of truth, far more reassuring than my other pile of books which promise to rejuvenate me if I drink litres of water, eat everything raw, exercise for two hours a day and never touch wheat, coffee or sugar again.

We are the first generation in history to have such a long youth. I’d like to show my gratitude by not being too greedy or too cranky, but as soon as I finish writing this, I’ll have a glass of wine (to keep my arteries happy), along with six almonds (nature’s antioxidants). I’ll do the crossword to ward off Alz-heimer’s when I return from the long walk that’s good for my bones.

Larkin began to worry about growing older early on, writing On Being Twenty-Six: ‘Talent, felicity-/things withdraw,/ And are succeeded by a dingier crop/That come to stop.’ How was he to know that we would develop exfoliants for the dingier crop, nutrients for talent and feli-city. Mind you, if these miracle ingredients had been available to Larkin, we might not have his slim volumes of poetry, good companions for the time when we finally grow up.