Despite the inevitable intoxication, I can remember my 30th birthday celebrations quite distinctly. The theme was School Daze – and guests could dress as school pupils, teachers, or a childhood hero. Ant and I went as Han Solo and Princess Leia (the white nightie version, not chain mail bikini). I will never forget the image of Matty using all his strength (and a fair amount of talc) trying to help Ant on with his riding boots before the party started. They were so snug that they then had to be cut off again at the end of the night.
Since then, we have dressed up as ninjas, Sybil and Basil Fawlty, Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, Karen Carpenter and Frank Zappa (Dead Celebrities), Pagan deities, Disco Pirates, An evil magician and his zombie assistant, Yin and Yang, Village Eccentrics, the French Resistance, Alpine stereotypes, half of ABBA and Olympic Curlers. Will my love of fancy dress endure into my 40s? That remains to be seen.
What I do know is that already life is changing, and as I wave goodbye to my thirties, I can’t help but reflect back on the circumstances, people and events that defined them.
HomeLet’s start at the place where I have woken up most days for the last ten years – home. I was almost 30 when we bought our first flat, up on the hill above Kemp Town in Brighton. Four happy years there, and we made the move over here to Eastbourne, into our little house in Old Town. Goodbye IKEA flat pack (well, almost), hello second-hand G-Plan.
For most of my thirties, home has been a place to be myself and indulge in those things that make me feel more like me - music, food, sleep, friends, and of course, the significant other with whom I share these walls and all that is within. Inside my two thirty-something homes I taught myself to play guitar, learned to be a good cook, drank a swimming pool’s worth of red wine, threw more than a few decadent parties, set the world to rights with Ant and various house-guests, slept through the majority of Saturday and Sunday mornings, and had countless cups of tea in bed. Sure, some of these traditions will continue, but 40-something Home will definitely have a different list of pursuits at the end of it.
Ant and I lost the last of our collective grandparents during our thirties – putting us one step higher up the family hierarchy and a leap further away from childhood. This sense of being propelled into maturity was further fuelled by several weddings of younger siblings and cousins. By the end of my 40s, the children born out of these marriages will be teenagers, some adults. It’s a daunting prospect. The first of my nephews was born at the end of my twenties, then the rest came along in the last few years, giving me the wonderful experience of being an auntie. This is something that really influenced those years, as together, Ant and I relished the joys of caring for and entertaining these special boys, before deciding to become parents ourselves.
Reconnecting with family after my independent twenties was an important factor in many of the major decisions made over the past ten years. We came back to Eastbourne mainly to be close to family, and to ask for their support in our journey into parenthood. The last three years of my thirties has been taken up with the business of adoption – an involved process that resulted in us becoming Mum and Dad to two remarkable siblings. Their presence in this past year has felt like a seal closing the end of one era and a door opening up to a new one. That this has coincided with moving into a new decade of my life seems fitting and poignant. I will be spending the next ten years raising them and this will inevitably affect how the next phase of my life unfolds.
At the start of my thirties, I was working for John Wiley, commuting daily from Brighton to Chichester, to market business and finance books. Soon after, my commute got shorter and the books fluffier, when I joined GMC Publications in Lewes, where I was to learn all one might need to know about the specialist worlds of knitting, stitching and woodworking. There I stayed contentedly for two years, until the opportunity came up to join a start-up social media agency, also in Lewes. This roller coaster adventure has its highs and lows, and unfortunately did not end too happily, but it certainly developed my resilience – a quality that has come in very handy since having kids.
Thankfully the next career venture, and the one which would see me out of my thirties, has been an altogether more uplifting, fun and enriching experience. For three years (the last of which on adoption leave), I have been leading the social media strategy for The Body Shop’s UK operation. It is a brand for which I have had great affection since childhood, and I relished the opportunity to help bring its products and values (back) into the public eye. One of the highlights of my time at The Body Shop was a trip to India to visit one of its Community Fair Trade suppliers, Teddy Exports.
Although I recently decided not to return to work after my leave, I have a feeling that my journey with The Body Shop is not over for good. But for now, when people ask me “so what do you do?” (a question I loathe, by the way), I will tell them “I am doing the most challenging job of my life, raising two children.” This is a big change for me, after more than a decade of nose-to-the-grindstone 9-5 office life. I honestly don’t know what my forties will bring, career wise, beyond the next year or so, but I know that it will never be quite the same again.
In my thirties I graduated from camping holidays in a two man tent (think Nuts in May) and occasional cheap package deals in the sun, to a six berth motorhome and carefully planned independent trips all over the world. I visited Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, the USA (Texas, California, Washington and New York), Malaysia, Greece, France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and India, not to mention many wonderful breaks here in the UK.
I sang Leonard Cohen songs on the rooftops of Harlem, dabbled my toes in two oceans at the same time and watched the famous Skagen sunset, made a 700 mile round trip just to see Camille live, nursed a terrible hangover in the middle of a Mariachi festival in San Francisco, and drove through majestic scenery in the land of classical heroes – to name but a few memorable travelling moments. Although my yearnings to see the world are no less potent, I accept that holidays in my 40s are destined to be somewhat different in nature, with two young children in tow. Goodbye crazy adventures… for now.
FriendsIn my teens and twenties, socialising tended to revolve around messy nights out with fleeting acquaintances. It was a time to experiment in many ways. Since then I have learned to love the intimate dinner party, and nursing a pint of real ale while shooting the breeze at my local. The Big Nights Out have been fewer, but more memorable.
In between homemaking, working, looking after nephews and travelling, I was lucky enough to forge many special friendships during my thirties. I won't name them all here, in case I miss someone out and they're offended, but while I am in this reflective mood, I want to extend my thanks and love to those wonderful friends, old and new, who have been there for me in my thirties, and who influenced, entertained and supported me. It is because of these friendships and the love of my family that I can embrace my 40s with confidence and swagger.
So is turning 40 a big deal? No, not really. But being thirty-something was. And I will surely miss it.