The signs of Deep Middle Age are coming at me at a pace now, like white horses in a Hothouse Flowers song. I say “oof” when I sit down – and when I stand up again for that matter. Full disclosure: I’ve been doing it for years, but it has more meaning in recent months.
“Oof,” I say, out loud, on my own with nobody to hear. “Oof,” I say in company, not caring how it sounds. Some unsolicited advice from the Deep Middle Age Advice Bureau, whether you are here with me now or will be one day: embrace it. Lean in to it. Childhood had its moments. Crazed youth was a cherished roller coaster. But these are the days, if we are lucky enough to have made it here, of slow living. Quiet reflection. Deep Middle Age Angst, yes, but also the lesser acknowledged Deep Middle Age Appreciation.
This much-maligned time is being dissected and fetishised in countless self-help books. But it is only what it is. What it’s always been. So I look for signs, for lessons from the bowels of Deep Middle Age and take notes. Reminders are everywhere. Eyes peeled.
[ Róisín Ingle: ‘I love you so much,’ I shout unconvincingly to my struggling self ]
I like big books and I cannot lie. My mother gave me The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, for Christmas. It is nearly 700 pages long, which would normally make me queasy. I devoured the book in the first days of the new year, curled on a friend’s sofa in front of the fire between long games of Scrabble. I lost myself in the world of freedom-loving Isabel Archer and charming aristo Lord Warburton and odious Mr Osmond and late-19th-century Rome, Florence and London. As I reached the final pages an older friend came to visit. “I am jealous that you are reading it for the first time,” she said. I used to feel bad and slightly ashamed about all the books I should have read that I have not yet read. Now in Deep Middle Age I make a list (Middlemarch, by George Eliot, obviously) and will slowly work my way through. All for joy. No performative reading here. No pressure.
I love big old books by dead people but still crave new words from very much alive young writers. A hugely anticipated second novel from a stunningly good young author, a book not out until May, arrived in a padded white envelope, and I gave thanks for the privilege of my job. I savoured each page and intelligent observation and in my head composed an email to the young author full of praise for her cleverness, her original jokes, her unique way of seeing the world.
I am seen in a new way. Perceptive friends gifted me a delicate tiny plant in a tiny bottle of some kind of clear solution. Younger me would not have appreciated this miniature miracle. “Plants make you happier,” I read on the side of the box. It was made in a “slow pharmacy” in Seoul, in South Korea. I got a large plant from my brother for my 50th birthday. It is still alive. Thriving even. That’s the plan. Going forward.
[ Róisín Ingle: Trust me, you don’t want to be a Twixmas person ]
I worry about my mother more than I used to. I am older so therefore she is older too. This is also something to lean into. But I struggle.
After dinner my brother and his young son, arm in arm, sang Rainy Night in Soho. These are the days and these are the moments
There is beauty in broken things. The small statue I was given years ago by my sister, of a young couple sitting closely together, heads bowed, was smashed accidentally by a daughter or a partner. Maybe both? Neither can look me in the eye with regard to the small statue of a couple that for me symbolised something important. There was a grand plan to get it fixed, but it will not happen now. In Deep Middle Age, I put the pieces in a small box beside my desk to remind me of something important. Something else.
I spend whole Saturdays cooking. For hours on end the teenage children are off living their busy lives and it’s the simple things. A leg of lamb, every once in a while, just to fill the house with the smell. Homemade flatbreads. I usually, lazily, order them from a local restaurant, but it was still closed for the new year, so I mixed self-raising flour and natural yogurt with a bit of baking powder, kneading it for the couple of minutes Jamie Oliver suggested. Then after the lamb was cooked, Persian style, slathered in aromatic spices and butter for five hours, I fried the flatbreads, on a hot griddle pan, marvelling as they puckered and puffed. I made a parsley and garlic butter sauce, drizzled it all over them. After dinner my brother and his young son, arm in arm, sang Rainy Night in Soho. These are the days and these are the moments.
A cardigan of dreams. A friend, also in Deep Middle Age, has taken up knitting. I asked her for a snood, mostly because I like the word, but she made, instead, a voluminous cardigan in the softest, chunkiest wool of bright blue and shocking pink. It arrived in the post, covered in giant bubble wrap. It’s a hug in garment form. I have barely taken it off.
[ Róisín Ingle: I’m in denial about something distressing. Perhaps you are too ]
Getting up earlier. Going to bed earlier. This is new.
Mozart every day. This is also new. An older friend told me she listens to Wolfgang Amadeus each day without fail, and because she is wise, now I do too. “Hey, Google,” I say. “Play The Marriage of Figaro.” It is 5.30am.
Reminders are everywhere. Eyes peeled. A card arrives in the post to mark the death of my former Sandymount neighbour Des MacMahon, who ate life up for eight decades until his final moment, last year. On the front of the card, a picture of Des with a blue jumper jauntily tied around his neck, Panama hat on head, knapsack slung over one shoulder, hand on hip and that steady mischievous gaze implying he was ready for another adventure in a life already full of them. And inside the card to mark his time on earth, a quote from the late writer Gabriel García Márquez “...it is life, more than death, that has no limits”. Oof. And again oof.