You know that thing they say: life begins at 30 – or 40, or 50, or whatever age it is that you happen to be approaching? I used to think that was rubbish made up to make people feel better about getting old. But now I get it.
This month I’m 32. I’m not quite sure how it happened. One minute I was making rock cakes in Mrs Ransom’s Food Technology class and chasing Martyn Bream’s green coat around the playground, now I’m a fully grown adult, seven years past the age I had imagined as a kid I would start having kids myself.
Life doesn’t begin at 30 – it begins when you’re born – but there are definitely phases, new waves, advents – lots of mini lives lining up, back to back, waiting to start. They don’t necessarily fit neatly into decades; they overlap and intertwine and you have to nip back now and again. But when I reflect, I can clearly see certain years when I changed and life took on another direction.
Somewhat self-indulgently, and to romanticise my little, unimportant existence, I have decided to give these phases titles. So, there was:
(Characterised by caravan holidays, windbreaks and watermelon on the beach, velour tracksuits, family Christmases, cokes with three straws, ham sandwiches on a Saturday, shell suits, Blind Date and Noel’s House Party, the 1990 World Cup, Hedgehog birthday cakes, makeshift fairgrounds in the garden, power cuts and the arrival of Partners the stationery shop).
Mood: optimistic, oblivious.
(Characterised by hormones, acne, dark school corridors, greasy sausage rolls, school plays, PE pants, shaving, veiny white skin, exercise books, a beating on the school field from a gang of older girls, Hooch, Reef, Bacardi Breezers, self-hatred, Stanislavski, bad poetry, bulimia, boys, Blur, Oasis, Spin Doctors, Spice Girls, house parties and puking).
(Characterised by insecurity, confusion, jobs (firework factory, pizza factory, greeting cards production line, warehouses), Australia (three months with a mate – first time abroad), alcohol, starting university (and leaving university due to falling in love).
Mood: headstrong but confused.
(Characterised by love, domesticity, overseas holidays, student loans, reading, mobile phones, cars, cooking, Spain, tapas, mussels, fillet steaks, Weight Watchers, the gym, big shops, graduation x2, grief, engagement, wedding planning, Big Brother and finding and losing a best friend).
Mood: content and unquestioning.
(Characterised by stimulation, self-reflection, social networking, sex, art, anger, confusion, love, discussion, learning, acting, singing, writing, grief, developing, failed domesticity, and finding and losing a best friend).
And that brings me to the present – the latest phase – although I think it started a while ago; in 2010, just before my 30th birthday, when my first play was produced.
Not long after that I lost my beautiful Nana, who was a massive part of me, ended a long-term relationship with one of the loveliest people you are likely to meet, and later chose to leave my brilliant job and colleagues who knew me well to start a new life in the Isle of Wight.
And here I am, working as a waitress in a restaurant where nobody knows my name. I am back to being 18 in one of those warehouses. We are all equal. There are no grades, no levels and no one cares if you’ve got a masters in journalism; if you can’t carry a case of wine while wiping down a table and appeasing a posh man who’s found a baby crab in his mussels then you’re a ‘retard’ (and if you want to survive, don’t tell them that their choice of language offends you).
I am living on traybakes and fries and my aching feet keep me awake at night. But something about this new life is making me feel alive. I like getting sweaty and physically tired. I like darting around the restaurant keeping customers happy and chatting to them about their lives. Something about this simpler existence is good for me at the moment. I wonder what this phase will be called. For now I shall just try and live it.