There comes a time in the life of every person when it is only practical to abandon certain hopes and dreams. You know that lovely flouncy little size 8 mini in the stained glass harlequin pattern you’ve kept since your pregnancy 26 years ago? Seriously, time to toss it. The same goes for the triple A ankle boots with the 6 inch heels.
And men, just because you can fit into that zip-up-the-front toweling jump suit with the wide belt and flares designed to show off your Cuban heeled boots, don’t dream of wearing it except to a fancy dress. And not even then.
There are other fondly held aspirations that might need revisiting: Learning ballet to any degree of proficiency after the age of 55 is unlikely, and just because after retirement one has the leisure to take one’s opera singing out of the shower and inflict it on the world does not mean you will be up there with Joan Sutherland. Or even Mimi Coetzee.
Most difficult to accept is that one will never write that best seller which would revolutionist literature and make one a house-hold name. Move over Tolstoy, Proust, Dickens, Bob Dylan – [I’m laughing as a write that – Nobel Prize for Literature? Really? They couldn’t find anyone better to give it to, like the late genius Leonard Cohen? Or James Patterson] – there’s a new kid in town.
I suspect we all have some secret fantasy: maybe being a successful and desired actor, graciously accepting the Oscar and going on the thank “Mom and Dad, and the Big Guy up there – Thanks God, I couldn’t have done it without you!”.
Winning Wimbledon, getting a gold medal for riding in the Olympics, having your own cooking show, or being rich enough to wear only designer clothes, and wear each ensemble only once. Whatever strange thing floats your boat.
And while admitting all this to oneself, it might be a good idea to be honest with other people because, let’s face it, there are certain white lies we clutch on to most of our lives. There is no disgrace in finally confessing you hate DH Lawrence, you always have – even back in the 70s when he was so popular and you told people you loved him.
Maybe you can’t stand the taste of sweet basil: your best friend liberally laces all her salads with the blasted herb and you’ve never said anything. Just a word in her ear and she’d leave it on the side, but you’ve never wanted to hurt her feelings.
And actually, you can’t stand nature programmes. You are not interested in plants or the life cycle of the dragonfly and David Attenborough sends you to sleep. Can’t we rather watch Jeremy Clarkson hamming it up in some vehicle? Or better still, a nice thriller?
My mother was a woman with absolutely certainty in the superiority of all her own opinions, and we had no such things as spades in our house – they were all bloody shovels. Diplomacy was a skill learned outside the home, and not one I learned very well, I fear.
In the days when you ate everything that was put on your plate, no argument, I was scared of parental displeasure but dared to be adamant about my dislike for Brussels Sprouts and Lima Beans; Cauliflower was disgusting, and liver and brains and kidneys made me sick. But despite literally throwing up when I forced the stuff down, I had to clean my plate every time.
They had old-fashioned ideas of child rearing. They assured me that I would soon grow to love the tastes and textures they were introducing me to. I just had to wait for my palate to mature and develop. Hmm. Funny thing – it never did. I still won’t eat any of those foods.
The other thing I was adamant about was that I hated babies. My adored brother was born when I was five and my life was turned upside down by nappies and feeds and the world revolving about this screaming, shitting, voracious little thug, whom everyone said was just the cutest baby ever ever ever.
It happened again four years later when my sister was born, but just in case I forgot the true horror of new-borns in the house, we spent a lot of time with my mother’s cousin who had six babies in less time than my mother took to produce three.
Like an elderly and disapproving cat, I removed myself and watched the menagerie from as far away as I could, with my nose assaulted by dirty nappies, my ears assaulted by petulant shrieks and wails, and my skin assaulted by the pinches and punches of my rough boy cousins.
That dislike was another thing I did not grow out of although everyone assured me I would. I have two daughters: I love them far more than life and I was a stay-at-home mother for five years. Still don’t like children.
One of my girls was a little demon and the other was an angel – a Renaissance putti with big round eyes, a tiny button nose, cascades of blonde curls, and a little rosebud mouth that continually lisped “I love ‘oo, mummy” A cuter, female version of Millais’ Bubbles. Very sweet. Still don’t like children.
And to be fair, children don’t like me either. When my Goddaughter was about three, she and her mum were visiting and I suppose I must have snapped at her: she curled into her mother’s arms and put her thumb in her mouth, regarding me with teary brown eyes. “I HATE Auntie Aubs” she announced.
Young mothers seem to imagine other women are just dying to hold their babies. I mean, everyone knows all women love babies, right? SO not right. Recently a niece-in-law offered me her baby to hold. I blame the family; they obviously hadn’t briefed her properly. When I said “No. Thank you” she was taken aback.
Fortunately my grown-up Bubble Boy was with me and asked if she could hold him because actually doesn’t mind babies. She’s a teacher and actually quite likes children.
When I worked, people bought their babies and toddlers to the office; some of us would make nice noises but then go back to our desks and keep our heads down, hoping that the baby-fest would move on, hoping that no-one would expect more interaction, especially as they all knew I didn’t like children.
What you need to understand is, it’s nothing personal. Don’t expect me to love your child because he’s yours and we’re friends. I’m also not going to like your Brussels Sprouts or your fried liver.
But there’s always some sadistic bastard who will say “Phumzile, go and talk to that nice lady over there; she’ll be happy to play with you while I just finish off this story”.
No. No nice lady. Horrid lady. Actually, not a lady – just a woman who has reached the age where she is not afraid to say “I don’t like babies or children.” and expects to be believed.