Laura Dockrill’s turning 30. Grab a cuppa, settle down and brace yourself.
When I was young I had a clear vision of who I’d be aged 30. It was a scrambled cocktail of a woman who looked like a Spice Girl mixed with Jet the Gladiator; muscly, strong, wild and colourful with probably a pierced belly button.
For my job I would be an author like that brilliant Jacqueline Wilson and so I’d need all those hundreds of silver rings on my fingers but I also knew my neighbour, Elaine (who I was clinically obsessed with) had just turned 30 and she wore gold hoop earrings and drove a red car. So I’d need those things too except my car would always have the roof down and my hair would be long and wave out in the breeze.
By the age of 30 I also would be a mum to two children; Scrunchie and Panda. I’d live in a house like the Walt Disney castle. I would be smart, cool, funny and a great dancer with a stunning singing voice and great at cooking.
By the time I was 30 I would love the taste of olives, fish and mushrooms and maybe even smoke cigarettes, rather than just looking forward to inhaling freezing cold air in the winter months and pretending the condensation was a nicotine puff.
I would use long words like ‘elaborate’, never lose socks, keep secrets, speak French, tie my own shoelaces, drink sparkling water without my nose tickling, know how to blow up a balloon and use a corkscrew.
When I kissed somebody I would have to make that breathy noise and know how to take my own coat off backwards while still remaining locked in a kiss. Just like I’d seen in the films. There was so much to look forward to. I couldn’t wait.
Hold on. Why am I still that same little girl just in an old body? I’m so young and old at the same time, like an ancient chihuahua. Am I going to be arrested for this?
Why didn’t I prepare when I was 26? I wish I had battened down the hatches and prepared for this vortex that I was about to suddenly glide into.
“I thought about hiring out a basement and buying tinned food and holing up for a month and letting the birthday bypass me like sleeping through a storm. But no, that wasn’t what I wanted my 30-year-old self to be like. No. I had to face this.”
Why didn’t I scrub the hard bobbles on the backs of my arms off more vigorously? Use the vitamin E cream to melt away the silver wormy stretch marks? Buy the better bra and wear the straps a bit higher? Yank those boobies up? Why didn’t I use eye cream sooner? Night cream earlier? Have some routine sorted about a weekly mani/pedi/wax/fake tan? Why have I only just got into taking iron tablets? Why didn’t I do the gym before? Why didn’t I stop biting my nails? I feel like I never see grown women with bitten-down stubs with chipped pink nail varnish on… why am I still doing it?
Why didn’t I listen to Radio 4 every day? Read the newspaper every day? DO a hobby like fencing or opera. Something so that I had something to show. I knew I shouldn’t have given up the recorder.
All of this reminds me of how much I love going to the theatre. I love sitting there before the show begins, with a plastic glass of terrible wine. I love staring at the empty stage, enchanted by the captured frame, full of excitement and thrill, muttering to a friend, fanning myself with the programme (like 30-year-olds do) and thinking HERE I AM… this is so ‘adult’.
If there was an example of being an adult, it’s me, here now, with this wine and this friend in this chair. This is what I like. Then I start having a pleasant sort of rush of terror – I suppose you could call it an anxiety attack – thinking about how I’m going to come to the theatre more often and I need to become a member of all the theatres immediately. I’ll go to the theatre so much that I’ll be able to reel stage actors’ names off the top of my head and be that person that my friends call up on a Friday only to find my phone off. “She’s probably at the theatre,” they’ll say.
But then I forget to go for another six months. The same with the knitting and the karate and the guitar and the art galleries and the gigs and the ballet.
I was turning 30 on May 28 and I didn’t even have a thing. I was completely thingless. And so on May 1, I panicked. Course I did. I thought about hiring out a basement and buying tinned food and holing up for a month and letting the birthday bypass me like sleeping through a storm. But no, that wasn’t what I wanted my 30-year-old self to be like. A coward. No. I had to face this.
So… I had to get all my edits done. It felt like this was the deadline of ALL deadlines. I didn’t want any trails of unfinished work leaking into my new years of adulthood, spoiling my future. Everything up until now was a fancy-dress rehearsal for actual real life, the main show was about to begin and it HAD to go on.
I wouldn’t have the same brain once I turned 30. I would only want to write serious novels and political plays and drink black coffee. I had to think about that. I ran to the dentist and spent £400 on teeth trays and bleach (WHY DON’T WE GET A NEW SET OF TEETH AT THIS AGE? OK, SO WHAT, THIS SECOND SET HAS TO LAST US FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES? WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL?).
I gymmed it four times a week, a frantic blend of cardio and weights and yoga and Pilates… MINDFULNESS… another thing nobody told me about. Meditate, meditate, panicking about meditating… surely that’s defeating the point of meditation?
I had already become vegetarian but it wasn’t enough… why wasn’t I ONLY drinking almond milk these days? Why were all my ideas so half-baked? Thirty-year-olds need to be fully baked. And I was so tepid. And pale. I booked a holiday. I had to be tanned if I was going to do this 30 thing. Got a wax. Tried to grow my nails. Got my friends to pluck my greys out in the park in the daylight sun. Why hadn’t I done all those things that I said I would do. Why couldn’t I just knock up a loaf without using a recipe?
I don’t even have a ‘usual’ at the pub.
I know I’m old now because strangers call me ‘that lady’ or ‘woman.’ Not ‘girl’. People listen to me when I complain in a restaurant. My opinion has suddenly become valid. I used to be so happy that I was a double priority if the Titanic sank again and I was on board. Great, of course they are going to save me, I fall under two categories; female AND a child. I’m definitely getting in one of them lifeboats.
These days I’d be lucky to get a life jacket. I have to fend for myself now. I’m expected to just talk to women in the gym with our boobs out and not mind; see a naked fanny staring back at me and just be cool with that. No big deal.
I’m meant to understand letters with my names on. I’m not allowed to creep down the stairs at a scary hotel on a book tour and explain to the reception that I think my room is ‘haunted’ and expect them to comfort me with a biscuit or better still say, “No worries, we’ll have somebody wait with you until you fall asleep.”
“I still own the same dresses from when I was 15. I must go through my wardrobe and throw it all away. I’m mutton now. I can’t dress in rainbow and glitter lambiness anymore. It’s cringe.”
My ignorance isn’t cute now is it? It’s DUMB. Lazy. Too late to ask questions. My drunkenness isn’t funny these days; it’s annoying. Blagging isn’t cool, it’s embarrassing. Sloppiness is a sign of weakness not creativity. My cheekiness is just rude now, not brave or ambitious. It’s too late for ambition anyway. The only thing I should be looking forward to is choosing my Crocs and my new sofa arriving.
I went to Topshop recently to buy a bikini and felt so confused by the whole experience. By the crazy, headachey music and the weird swimwear, which basically looked like pattern off-cuts sewn together with hairbands. I’d have more chance covering my bits with a few rags of bunting. The girls who shop in there don’t look like girls, they look like warriors. Of the Kardashian species. They are beautiful and scary. Don’t go in there.
“Penny… Helen…,” I ask my friends over tapas (see, tapas is so 30), “Where do I go to get a bikini?”
They both look stumped, “Marks?” they offer. As in THE Marks and Spencer. Yes. You see, I never knew how it happened… how we ended up going there, but it’s as simple as that. Your market outgrows you and, guess what, you don’t even see it coming.
This is the best I’m gonna look, ever. That’s why I now just buy £115 anti-aging eye cream in a fluster and then undo all the hard work by crying my eyes out at the horrid vile vain person inside me who would pay that much for eye cream. My eyelids bloated. Red. Raw. Baggy.
M&S have perfect bikini suggestions for me. Am I meant to dress like this grown up too? Sort of Tomb Raider weatherwoman meets Mary Berry, meets somebody who might look for dinosaur bones. I still own the same dresses from when I was 15. I must go through my wardrobe and throw it all away. I’m mutton now. I can’t dress in rainbow and glitter lambiness anymore. It’s cringe. People will laugh. I still wear the same perfume from when I was 15. A smell that causes fellow 29-year-olds to cringe on public transport because it smells like everyone’s first finger.
No. This can’t be it.
I don’t want to cling on like the old joke at the party still thinking that 2004 was a couple of years ago. I don’t want to see people on TV talking and think they look the same age as me until I notice the giveaway, ‘Naomi, 23, London’ underneath Naomi’s lovely glowing peachy face. That smug spring chicken. You know young people don’t even really watch TV now? You know that don’t you? You have to know who your favourite YouTuber is if you want to fit in.
I am so old.
Mum, help me be alive in real life. Mum.
“I’m not helping you. By the time I was your age I had two kids and was working a full-time job.”
“Nobody can tell you off for eating a cheese sandwich in the middle of the night. For sleeping all day. If you wanted to, you could just get on a train to nowhere tomorrow. Stand in the rain. You could just make a hat. You could write something down and make it happen. You don’t have to ask permission.”
Then she tokes on her spliff, pulls a bit of baguette out of her hair and asks me where she can learn to ‘do the splits’. There’s no point asking her.
Maybe it all becomes clear when we become parents?
What am I doing? I still get that uncomfortable itchy tickle up the back of my neck that I used to get when I used to put my Barbie’s leggings on. How am I meant to give birth? In fact I want to play Barbies right now. I want to put on matching pyjamas with my sister and roll up into a ball and push my brother down the stairs in a cardboard box and sit on my mum’s lap.
I want my dad to not think it’s weird if I still want to hold his hand when we cross the road in case “people think you’re my girlfriend.” I don’t want to look like Dad’s girlfriend. I want to look like who I thought I’d be when I was 30. A perfect millionaire with a dreamy personality. Not a fraud. Pretending I like goat’s cheese when I just want a Dairylea triangle.
I don’t prefer dark chocolate, COURSE I DON’T. I’m not INSANE. Pretending I know who to vote for in all these elections when really I just want to say, “Leave me out of all this please. I don’t know anything. I JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY. I JUST WANT TO BE FREE. I JUST WANT TO LIVE FOREVER!” I want to look forward to sleepovers and when papier mâché dries and when a cake is baked and packing a suitcase and, don’t ask me because I don’t know. I still can’t drive.
And it gets me so mad because I think about all the adults I used to listen to when I was younger and realise that they probably didn’t/don’t know either. That we are all just playing this giant game of pretend in a playground, acting that we are doing life when we don’t really know what life really is.
So force yourself. To not grow up. To not be ugly and boring in your heart. Be young and beautiful by listening to little, young you, running in the sea naked. Let’s see the positives about turning 30… that nobody can tell you off for eating a cheese sandwich in the middle of the night. For sleeping all day.
That if you wanted to, you could just get on a train to nowhere tomorrow. Stand in the rain. You could just make a hat. You could write something down and make it happen. You don’t have to ask permission. You just worry about being you. About liking you. Enjoying yourself. Hanging out with yourself.
That kind of thing… and the rest will follow, surely. Does it have to be harder than that? I think the trick is to just play the trick that everyone else is playing. You just have to walk around like you know where you’re going, like you know what you’re doing, like you know who you are… even if you think you’re eight. A Spice Girl. A millionaire. A tiger. A goblin. A hero. Immortal.
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Award Winning Laura Dockrill (best known for the Darcy Burdock series) writes, draws and talks.