What should we talk about today? It can’t be clothes because I seem to be living in jumpers and jeans so I think it has to be a midlife lately – August. I know that lots of you are on holiday, as are we usually. In fact this is the first August since 1997 that I haven’t been away somewhere or other and it feels strange. We spent May, June and July constantly on the move, mostly for work or family reasons with short breaks here and there. And so because of that we decided to spend August resolutely at home, reasoning that it would be great to enjoy long sunny evenings in the garden after work and then… well let’s not talk about the weather. I can tell you that I’m really missing our usual family holiday though, having lots of laughs with the boys and headspace to stop and think about life too. I love the summer pause when you reflect before gearing up to what always feel like the serious months of autumn and winter.
As I’ve said a few times recently, one of the biggest adjustments when your children grow older is the quite dramatic change of rhythm to your own life. Rather than your time being driven by their needs you have a mostly open calendar and so many more choices to make. I know the boys would quite happily have come away on the bank of mum and dad but covering five adults is always a lot and with the cost of everything being so much higher this year it just didn’t make sense. And as we work for ourselves we react to retailers’ demands. It’s an understatement to say that they’ve been erratic this year so we’re having to wait until we can find a slice of time to take.
So, Mal is spending a lot of time at a retail HQ and I’m busy at my desk. You know what I’m working on… Christmas. And it’s a good thing that we hadn’t planned to be away this month because Christmas strategising is running later than ever for retailers this year as they try to anticipate the zeitgeist. I won’t go on about it too much because I can imagine that your brains are squealing at the very thought of it. All I’ll say is that there’s a lot riding on the hope of a late burst of sunshine to boost the nation’s mood before we plunge towards the final quarter of the year…
Midlife lately August – friends and family
Let’s move on! Even though I keep wishing we were somewhere fabulous, being at home is giving us a chance to catch up with some of the people we’ve been neglecting. Last weekend we had longstanding plans to go camping with Nicky and family. It was an idea that the boys came up with at Toby’s wedding last year, one last adventure together without wives or girlfriends to recapture the magic we had every summer until our last trip here which was in 2015. They were keen to do all of the things we used to do like dam building…
… this time though the boys wouldn’t be bundled off to bed while the adults sat round the fire with a few glasses of wine, now they’d be able to join in. There would be one last game of tin can lurky, adults versus kids and one last wild swim in the freezing river Duddon.
I look back at the photos and realise just how simple our summers were then. I brought the boys back from London to live here for the northern people and northern values… the superb schools… and so that they could grow up enjoying nature, passing on the things I used to do when I was little – making daisy chains and dancing ladies as well building dams and jumping off rocks.
Looking back at those times reminds me that one of the first great pleasures of being a mum was being reawakened to the astonishing beauty of the world. During the week I’d be busy in my urban glam role at Selfridges but at weekends I’d slow right down to their pace, watching a line of ants carrying crumbs of bread or bees drifting from one flower to another. When you see the wonder of it all through a child’s gaze it’s like taking your sunglasses off and seeing everything in full colour again. As adults we stop doing it and it’s a real loss when we walk through our days missing the detail of everything that surrounds us.
Anyway, eight years later we were all keen to have one last camping weekend and we timed it to celebrate the middle one’s birthday. The forecast for Storm Antoni cancelled our plans but thankfully the boys still came home. The middle one had just arrived here and so we all rushed out to the station to meet the eldest. Happily our friends Matt and Sarah opened a new pub on the London platform a couple of years ago so we have somewhere to wait when the trains run as late, as they usually do. It was the last time we’ll all be together until Christmas and even though we have FaceTime, I’m sure lots of you can relate to this feeling of getting your hands back on your children again.
The eldest’s office runs summer hours which means they finish at 3pm on a Friday which is a nice innovation for London post lockdown.
The older two have a bit of disruption going on in their lives so they went out to the village pub after dinner to ponder it all, I’m glad that they have that bond. And with slightly sore heads the next morning they didn’t do much until it was time to go out with our lifelong buddies. You’ll remember Nicky’s boys Toby and Josh from the wedding last year and of course we have Liv to add to the clan now too.
Sunday was a relaxing day at home, I cooked a big roast and realised how much I miss doing it – but it just isn’t worth it for two is it? And then Monday was the boy’s big day, he caught up with friends and then we had a games night. I did what I could to make his much loved Malteser cake look a bit prettier and submitted to the dreaded Monopoly!
In a flash it was time for them both to go . We dropped the eldest back at the station before waving goodbye to the middle one and Ted clearly felt the same as me. Just as the boy was about to set off he realised he had a stowaway in the boot! That dog so loves his boys…
… but he had to stay behind with boring old us.
So that was last weekend, at least we still have the youngest at home for a little longer and now we’re here a little more we can make the most of having him around. Both he and his girlfriend will be heading off on their years abroad next month. She’s picking up where he finished by going out to Dijon for her first term and then working as a translator in Madrid until next summer. He will be teaching in a tiny village in the mountains in Spain – more about that soon but first we have to make it through the absolute hell that is getting a post-Brexit work visa. Not only does he have to gather a seemingly endless number of paper documents – medical/insurance/educational/employment/financial… but some have to be legally authenticated by a Hague Apostille and then translated by an approved translator. Only when that’s been completed can he book an appointment with the Consulate to get his visa – but we’re experiencing endless delays with each piece of paper… and time is ticking away.
It’s strange when you have to go back into a system that’s run in a very analogue way isn’t it? Having to source pieces of paper with official stamps and authenticated copies is making me feel as if I’ve travelled back to about 1983. Everything takes so long and there’s so much phoning around and explaining to do. It makes you realise how much easier most things are post-internet… but not post-Brexit!
Midlife lately August – movies
Anyway, away from the stress of all that there are good times too. I bet you can’t guess what film we’d been to see here (and yes the boy is wearing swimming trunks, the nearest thing he had to pink trousers). And just in case you’ve been somewhere far, far away it was, of course, Barbie. I’d be really interested to know what you made of it if you’ve seen it.
IdLF at Uniqlo jumper past season; River Island jeans past season; Boden flats past season
We all really enjoyed watching it although I was never a Barbie fan, it was Sindy all the way for me. Even at the age of seven I thought Barbie was a bit flaky – Sindy always had the cooler doctor/teacher/librarian outfits and in fact I still have them all wrapped up in the cellar. However Barbie’s clearly reinvented herself and we all laughed all the way through the movie, so much of it is so clever and the messaging is both clear and important. You can’t fault Gloria’s monologue, just in case you haven’t seen the film, here it is:
It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.
You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people.
You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.
But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.
You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.
I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us.
So yes, it’s a film that’s filled with powerful moments of recognition and acknowledgement but I have to say that I left feeling a slight unease which continued to grow afterwards. It took me a while to work out what was bothering me and in the end I realised that it was the polarised negativity towards all males. I know that’s the point, as a woman who worked on car magazines in the 80s I had lots of experiences of the patriarchal attitude towards women. I eventually snapped when we were expected to take an Easter egg in for the publisher and sit on his knee for a ‘cuddle’ while we gave it to him. When I refused point blank I was told I’d have to submit or resign. So resign I did and I’m still proud of my 24 year-old self for being the only one with the tenacity to walk away.
I can imagine that we all have stories like that and hopefully the Barbie movie will empower a new generation of women with tenacity as well as clarifying an understanding in boys and men. However, I’m sure that there are a lot of us here who as a result of our experiences have worked particularly hard to bring up boys to value women as their equals and so I just wish the movie had ended with a slightly more balanced outcome.
Speaking as someone who has more exposure to young men than women I’ll say that it isn’t easy being a young male right now either. Pressures are intense and suicide rates amongst men are at an all time high. Over the last few years we’ve sadly had direct experience of that in men we know of all ages. I wish there had been a little more nuance to the movie and even just one progressive male character. But I know I’m bound to see it through my own lens. I’m sure there will be lots of you who view it differently and I’d like to feel a bit better about something that’s being so avidly watched so please do give me another angle on it in the comments.
Midlife lately August – out and about
Blimey, I didn’t know that was going to be so heavy when I started typing, let’s move on! What else do I have on my camera roll? This was from a flying visit to see family in Newcastle. It was Ladies’ Day weekend and so whether you’re going to the races or not, local glamour rises higher than ever, even just for a meal out.
Zara dress (SS23 sold out); Massimo Dutti sandals (SS23 sold out)
By the way a few people have asked how I’ve managed to stay tanned when we’ve had such bad weather this summer. Before we went to Kenya in February I started using two things. These exfoliating gloves are just so easy to pop on every time you have a shower and they keep your skin glowing
And then I use Summer Body which is cheap as chips but doesn’t streak. I started with the light and now use the dark which really isn’t dark as you can see from my skin. It’s so much easier than the faff of fake tan with its build-up issues.
Back to Newcastle and the following day we popped out to see Oppenheimer before driving home. I thought I might not make it through the three hours without falling asleep but the moral quandary held me captive. Yes there are some sound issues but I don’t think they’re bad enough to spoil it.
Boden racer tee (SS23 sold out); Jeans (now in the sale); Stories sandals (SS18); Whistles jacket (SS17)
And so that’s a little hotchpotch of midlife lately August. As I type this at 7am on Thursday the sun is already hot and our waterlogged garden looks as though it’s steaming. I believe it’s here for one day only so I’m going to do what I have to at my desk and then log off for the afternoon. I’m going to walk down to the shore with the youngest for an ice cream. Seize the simple summer moments when they come my friends, the best thing about all of the rain we’ve had is that it makes them even more precious.
Disclosure: ‘Midlife lately August – simple summer moments’ is not a sponsored post
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