Patti Smith is 68. Debbie Harry is 69. Julianne Moore is 54. Madonna is 56. Please let me know if you need any other famous women's ages. Happy to help. I used an internet search engine, you may have heard of it, it is called Google. I simply typed in ‘How old…’ and put in a woman’s name and just like magic the answers came up. You’d think they would lie. You’d think they would be ashamed of getting old. I blame that film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In fact I blame all of this ‘getting old in public' trend on Helen Mirren, 69 or that Maggie Smith, 80. All these mature women parading on television as if age doesn’t matter, when it obviously does. Don’t these people see the news, watch any adverts, don’t they know that ageing is a battle? As Pat Benatar, 62 might sing ‘Age is a battlefield’ - It’s a war against father time and mother nature. The fight to stay young and beautiful is urgent and constant. Dye your hair. Dress your age. Cover it all up. Showing your age is weakness. Oh do shut up. Act your age and not your shoe size. My shoe size is 40 - what is your point?
The Brits and the Oscars were a massive whitewash and the lack of diversity was embarrassing. I have no real interest in awards and prize ceremonies, I think shiny trinkets feed the wrong end of the machine that makes great art and music and books. But I had insomnia this week, I fell into a black hole and have been on twitter too much. One of my tweets was on breakfast television. This week has been totally weird, mostly I have been bombarded with the age of everyone, time passing and death.
This week I sat in a room where death was happening. It was awkward. Death is awkward. We filled the silences with tea: the making of the tea, the drinking of the tea and the clearing away of the tea. This is all we can do. Make tea. Put on a brave face. Make more tea. It is another kind of quiet when people die. A quiet that burns and smolders with unsaid thoughts. We sat in silence, flowers in a vase that say, I don't know what to say. Aware of the ticking of the kitchen clock, I said, the clock is wrong, we shook our heads, then we continued quietly staring into nothing. I stood at the sink and took my time washing a teaspoon. Outside the kitchen window a brave yellow crocus pushed its nose through February's hard, cold, dead, mud.
My Jamaican grandmother taught me to believe that I have to work twice as hard in life because I am a brown girl. We all have to work hard, she told me, it is a hard life. But we have to pick our fights. Take your pick, pick your battles. You might be reading this and you might feel you have to work harder because you are skint, because you didn’t come from money or go to a posh school. Because you’re black, from another colour or another religion. Because you don’t fit in. Because you never do as you're told. Because you are a woman over the age of 35. Because you’re an outsider. Because you are difficult to pigeon hole. Because you are not following the strict formula, because you have gone off road, because you dance to your own tune, because you have thrown away the map, broken the rules, danced on the tables, ignored your biological clock, fuck off, clock, fuck off, the clock is wrong, I just said that, the clock is wrong.
Just look at all the obstacles a person has to get past just to get a fair and equal wage for an honest days work. I liked that Patricia Arquette, 46, said what she said at the Oscars, but its nothing new. That's an awful lot of fences to jump and gates to kick down every single morning, just to work, just to be heard, just to get treated equally. Lets dump all of these compartments, these boxes and these limits. Stop listening to what they say you cannot do. You! You can do what the fuck you like with your own life. Remember that. As long as you are learning then you're actually alive. If you are not learning and living and growing and changing, then what are you even doing here? You're wasting time, you are frozen, under ice.
I try to learn from my mistakes, from the years I own and can chalk up to experience. Mostly my grandmother wanted me to be obedient. I loved her – But now when I look back, her choices and her example showed me that she was ruled by pleasing men. Sitting in my grandfathers kitchen, I remember this visual cacophony of garish colours, the loud wallpaper - If you have read Springfield Road I am transported into Chapter 45 - I remember this room. I remember being told how to bathe. I remember being told how put a chair under the bathroom door handle. Just in case. That’s old school. That was being taught how to survive and not how to live. That is exhausting, the difference between surviving and living. My grandmothers generation made mistakes and they learned to cope. My mothers generation made mistakes and they burnt their bras and took the pill and marched to Parliament. Surely armed with our books and our freedom and knowledge this generation of females should be flying. What’s this blockage? What’s this 1950’s bullshit? What is UKIP? Why do I feel like we are going backwards? And Madonna, it isn’t about her age, she's blazing a trail. I highly recommend you read this article, I read this yesterday, it is by the brilliant Bidisha here
There is a popular meme. It is of Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire. The caption reads “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels” I need to add to that, Ginger Rogers did all that Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels AND possibly suffering with period pain and headaches and wearing a thick brick of old fashioned sanitary towel and a sanitary belt - without the reliability of modern tampons, Feminax and Neurofen and other pain killers. It is likely she worked for half the money and was relentlessly contending with the daily prejudice of being a woman in an all male industry. Add to that the bitching press and bitchier competition wanting to know ‘who’ she is wearing and who she is marrying and divorcing, not what she is thinking or noticing how hard she is working to stay on the top of her game. Plus the constant pressure to compete and to stay slim and young and fresh .... and nothing in Hollywood has changed .... and all of this brings me to the question of the week. Why is the government taxing tampons? Good question. Read more about that here:
To be a female actress or musician, a woman in the entertainment industry, there is constant pressure to remain frozen, to stay slim and young. Imagine a writer, say Alice Walker, posing like Julianne Moore above to promote a book. It just wouldn't happen, because writing has to be one job where to have some grey hair and glasses shows you have lived and died and loved and lost one hundred times and got back up to write about it. Surely as writers, maturing is not just allowed, it is to be revered. Writing books has to be ageless and all about perfecting your craft as your story gets richer with longevity and time, you cannot rush a good book, or an oil painting or a classic album. You cannot rush any of the good things in life: a beautiful kiss, a glass of good whisky, a hot bath. As teenagers we all wrote songs of love and peace poems, but to still be fighting for love and peace and believing in humanity and the bigger picture in later years takes something else, some idealism, some belief and some magic. One of the biggest tricks about ‘growing up’ is to not grow up, I intend to apply that to getting older too. To not let circumstance or experience harden your veins with cynicism. You must live lively inside your dreams, protect your dream architecture from inconsequential and pedestrian things like bank statements and counting the years.
A choice to live a creative life will be tested constantly, financially and spiritually, you have to justify it and compete with your own bad self - not the media or the prizes or your age or weight or the shiny distraction of your contemporaries lives - but the life of the new work of your own making. Female celebrities aren’t given even that much grace and respect are they. Madonna, 56, has endured, just look at her life story, yet we still ask her to prove herself again and again. I am not convinced we apply quite the same level of unkindness and pressure to the boys and to my other heroes like Prince also 56.
Iggy Pop is 67. David Bowie is 68. Bob Dylan is 73. Mick Jagger is 71. Russell Crowe is 50, he gave the Brits award for best album to Ed Sheeran, who is 24. Please do let me know if you need more ages. Happy to help. Salena Godden is 42.
GIGS & LINKS:
"The tale is rich with reflections on memory and tradition, presence and absence, relatives and the past... I don’t know why, but I sometimes felt like I was prying on Salena, but it’s a book, a published book, and I was offered it."
'Cured Meat' Author Polly Trope reviews Springfield Road
March 7th: The Book Club Boutique: The Bankhouse / Hastings
March 9th: Grant, Godden & Gbadamosi / Kings Place, London
March 13th: Food For All: Return to Humanity charity gig
'All Things Considered' NPR Radio
BBC R4: 'Loose Ends' feat. Salena Godden is available Here
BBC R3: 'The Verb' Viv Albertine and Salena Godden on Mixcloud
BBC Scotland: Janice Forsyth 'The Culture Studio' Here
BBC R4: 'The Lost Legacy of Little Miss Cornshucks' itunes podcast Here
published by Burning Eye Books
published by Unbound