Thursday, 8 October 2009

You are only as old as you feel, right?

The other day my teenage daughter told me that I had started "acting like an old person" ever since we moved to England.

What do you mean by that?  said I, maternal indulgence blending with indignation.

When pressed to explain this statement, and its condemnatory tone, she started ticking off her evidence:  gardens; old houses; making jam; Jane Austen. 


However, more than once this week I've had cause to remember this conversation.  For instance, I received a letter addressed to "The Anglophile American House Guide" when I was at Jane Austen's House today.  Although I don't recall this particular encounter -- oh dear; isn't that a sign of the aging brain? -- apparently I had a lively conversation about literary tourism with a certain gentleman one day.  He kindly sent me a variety of brochures, and he encouraged me to visit Shandy Hall, the former home of Laurence Sterne.  (Do you suppose he is suggesting a tryst amidst the scenes of Tristram Shandy?)  Old houses: tick.

Actually, I don't really think it's the interest in old houses that is aging me; it may be a symptom, but it's certainly not the cause.  I suspect that has more to do with the teenage daughter.

For reasons too lengthy to go into here, but having something to do with adapting to the local culture, my oldest daughter is applying to go to boarding school next year.  It is sort of like going to college two years early, both emotionally and practically, and requires all sorts of gauntlet-running -- including hours of exams and interviews.  On Tuesday, while she was undergoing these mental tortures, I had many hours to explore the small town of Malvern

By the end of the day, I do believe that I had the measure of the place.  Not only had I visited all four bookstores (one independent; one chain; one second-hand; one charity donation shop), but I had also visited the local museum and several other sites of interest.  I suppose that I could have gone shopping, or written letters, but I am a perpetual tourist in England.  New place?  Needs must explore.

For geological reasons that I won't pretend to have grasped, Malvern has two outstanding features:  hills and pure water.  During the Victorian era, when water cures were all the rage, the rich and famous flocked to the place to be wrapped in wet towels and doused with gallons of cold water.  (Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin are two examples which come to mind.)   There were some nay-sayers, of course, but there were many true believers, too.  The Museum is full of testimonials and descriptions of the hydrotherapy -- which sounded rather like water torture to me.

In the centre of town, this goddess of water keeps an open-tap policy.  Apparently, it is not merely decorative; indeed, I saw more than one person fill their water bottle from the source.  Don't you think it is a charming twist on a drinking fountain?   (My daughter thinks that taking pictures of non-human subjects is another sign of being an old person.)

My best find, though, was a place that no less an authority than The Guinness Book of World Records deemed the world's smallest commercial theatre.  Amusingly, The Theatre of Small Convenience is located in a former Victorian Gentleman's Toilet.  (I suppose that all of that water had to go somewhere.)  This is the funny bit:  the theatre seats 1.2 people.  Yes, that's what the official Guinness Certificate says.

Showing now:  Molly and the Man of Letters.  After the brisk summer season, the theatre keeps limited hours.  You can catch the show at 12:30 pm on Saturdays . . . so don't be late!

What do you think counts as a person's .2 allowance?  A small dog?  A large belly?  A bulging book bag?  I could only wonder.

As I wandered around the beautiful campus of Malvern College, and admired interesting bits of statuary, I did feel a bit old, actually.   And I realized it had nothing to do with gardens, or the fact that I enjoy visiting eccentric little museums, or anything of that sort.

Instead, it seemed to be rooted in my deep relief that I was not the one taking all of those tests.  All of that academic striving?  All of that tiring business of trying to figure out who you are and what you are going to do in this world?  I think that I'm too old for that.


Kelly H-Y said...

Loved this post ... you're not old! You're just wanting to learn new things ... and that keeps you very, very young! Love the pictures ... especially of the fountain!

marja-leena said...

As Kelly said! The trouble with teenagers is that they think parents are so old no matter what. Suddenly that changes in their mid-twenties or when they become parents.

Meredith said...

The thought of going back to school does make me feel weary. It feels *wonderful* to be past all that!

If that makes me old, well, obviously I'm in good company.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Please tell your daughter that, by her standards, I'm about a hundred and three!! And oh so happy to be so!

dogimo said...

Needs must! I've never heard it in that order. I must needs press you for the degrees of difference between must needs and needs must! If indeed there are such. I love the soft glow of the not-quite yet archaic, just before it passes officially out of common usage. Or maybe it has already, but we can always bring it back!

Isn't there something awry about the attitudes of the crownèd heads? They seem inclined at odd angles, that ill-befit the erect and regal bearing one expects from royalty. The second one almost seems to be in the stocks!

French imports, perhaps.

Sarah Laurence said...

Gardens, old homes, making jam and Jane Austen, hmmm… aren’t acting like an old person, just an Old World person, ie a Brit.

I think you are the only other person that I know who would visit 4 bookshops in one day and call it checking out a town. Sounds good! Maybe our children can form a support group.

A 1.2 person theater? Do I dare ask where the stage is?

I do think the best perk of aging is knowing yourself. Excellent post!

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

This was a terrific post. Pensive.

I love your relationship with your daughter. I have that blessing, as well. A daughter that makes me think. ;-)

willow said...

Well, you're certainly not alone, because that evidence classifies me as old, too!

Delwyn said...

Hi Bee

when my kids went off to uni I was very envious...I wanted to be starting out all over again...I felt the excitement in the air and the promise of futures untainted by 'old' parents...

Happy days

PG said...

Well, I was interested in all of those things (with the exception of Jane Austin) when I was younger than your daughter, and have remained so; her (to me) odd sounding statement is probably more an indication of what's going on inside her, rather than with you. If anything, you are very trendy at the moment; jam making, frugality and sewing, interest in our own culture (eg, old houses, gardening) are all hugely popular with many *youngsters* who are discovering it for the first time. Just take a look at the lastest online edition of UK Handmade.
Your daughters strike me as being very lucky young ladies despite the difficulties your older one is going through.

A Cuban In London said...

Well, if liking old houses is a sign of old age, I must be reaching Methuselah's now. I love old buildings and whenever I am outside London or abroad make it a priority to visit an ancient edifice.

Great post.

Greetings from London.

Beth said...

A definite plus about getting older – we can learn and absorb knowledge via books, museums, touring old homes (!) etc. and never be tested on it. No exams!
As for figuring out who we are? An ongoing process...

rachel said...

I used to say that the only downside of bringing up a child to have the freedom to express its own opinions was the expression of those opinions!

I'm glad you committed your daughter's words to your blog, because that way she (and you) can have a good laugh about them once she's grown out of being a teenager! Although she did make me laugh, as did many of my son's rather pronounced views at her age....

Anonymous said...

Well, as a teen/ young twenty one reads high fashion magazines
then 'shelter' one when nesting
then one reads "The New Yorker'
I've always like old houses.
Does R. expect you to be hip for ever.
How very trying to have ancient parents who thought they were cool.
Yes, I do have to see Malvern again very soon.
Haven't been there for 40 years. YIKES.
The Museum must be new.
ie put there during the past 40 odd.

Nimble said...

Well it's all in the service of individuation but you deserve better.

@dogimo: I use "needs must" too. Here's a good discussion of the construction. Watch those archaicisms, Bee!

Meredith said...

By the way, I've left you an award over on my blog.

And in case I didn't say it before, I love your blog!

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

I think as you get older--you want to learn more. I know this is true for me. I am wanting to learn how make to make jam and in a few years go back to school to get my masters. I am also reading more too!
Tracy :)

Kristen In London said...

Oh, I've just discovered your blog and am so happy to read of someone else reproducing teenage angst in dialogue (mine's not a teenager till next month, but the clock's ticking). They can make one feel very, very old with just a few well-chosen phrases, can't they? I'll be a loyal reader, now.

Taffiny said...

it all sounds wonderful.
You can only venture to feel old, when you feel too old and tired to venture out on such adventures.

Goodness no I don't envy her the exams and all that striving to become. Oh I am glad I get to keep my 8th grader here with me longer ( two years early, would be much too soon). But how great for you and your daughter, that you are raising a confident young woman. (said 8th grader is whining for me at the moment. So off I go...)

Anne said...

Oh, Bee! If gardens, old houses, making jam, and Jane Austen are signs of being old, I must be ancient at 27.

The Suitor went to a sort of boarding school for the last two years of high school, and had a great experience. Are you caught a bit off guard at the prospect of facing the beginnings of an empty nest two years earlier than you had anticipated?

I'm not at all sorry about being through with some aspects of school, but there are some that I do miss. That might have something to do with how much I adored my undergraduate institution, though.

Chairman Bill said...

You're not old - merely a candidate for the Womens' Institute.

Hang on.....

Star said...

You're not old, just getting older. There is a difference. I'm glad you're enjoying looking at the history in this windy isle.
Blessings, Star

Reya Mellicker said...

People of all ages enjoy looking at funny old sculptures, and attend museums by the thousands every day.

We were just talking about rampant ageism at my house last night (begun when I said even though she has been restrained so far, I'm disappointed that Madonna has had "work" on her face).

Why is it wrong to act/look our ages (whatever that age may be)? Why is youth better than age?

Both phases have their benefits but also serious challenges.

I didn't do anything wrong to become 56 years old. All that happened is that I didn't die yet.

There's nothing wrong with acting consistently with one's age though in my culture there are so many prohibitions, ie. "Grow up!" "Don't be a baby!" and the infamous "You're acting like an old person."

For heaven's sake!!

LOVELY post today, btw. Sorry for the rant.

Dave King said...

I know exactly how you felt: our son and daughter have recently begun to offer to drive us to places to which we are perfectly capable of driving ourselves.

dancing doc said...

symptom - teen daughter
diagnosis-projected body image changes----i know it well- with 2 teen girls,i feel i have aged 2 centuries and hope to absorbed the equivalent wisdom 'cause it has been an enormous task to stay sane throughout!!! as sense of humor has been my only solace !!

B said...

Oh, but all those things are very trendy now, specially the jam making (and I know your jam is delicious so you must never stop making it!). I'd love to have been with you in Malvern checking bookshops... and I'm only 30, although that may make me old in your daughter's eyes! :)


Daughters, even as mothers themselves, do have a way of making one feel old. For instance, if one is only slightly deaf (she has an open-plan home with very high ceilings) the demand is to 'get a hearing-aid mom!' In retrospect, the boarding school experience sounds like a good idea - I never had that choice.
They should try it here in the USA and go to college from there because highschool here, from what I recall, was the pits for my kids.

JaneyV said...

This post made me laugh. It's probably some unwritten law of the universe that when a Mom develops interests of her own that don't involve our children they immediately dismiss it as a sign of our impending geriatric status. Bless.

Malvern looks fab. I love the theatre and the fountain. I found myself wondering how soul destroying it must be to be an actor always playing to an audience of 1.2 (.2 - what a hoot!). The celtic swirls on the fountain are interesting too. How old is it?

If it's any consolation I think the evidence collected is exactly what makes you so fabulous!

Barrie said...

There are days when I wish boarding school were a tradition here! AND you are not old. Neither am I. We're just older than our teens. Which is a very, very different thing.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Oh dear, Bee! Well, I'd rather be "old" than have to suffer through the teen years again. UGH!!!

julochka said...

it cannot possibly be a sign of old age to take pictures without people in them...that's just silly.

don't you remember? forties are the new thirties.

just hope she dod well on those exams so she's off to that school next year. ;-)

Bee said...

I think there is mostly consensus here: teenagers always think their parents are old! (Reya, my daughter is unreasonably offended by Madonna's ongoing efforts to be a pop star. She seems to think it is pathetic. All of the work-outs in the world cannot stop someone from being 51 . . . admired by some, and despised for others).

Thanks for the wonderful comments. They are a solace.

dancing doc said...

i hope you are feeling better-sore throats are icky! drinking pots of tea is my favorite trick! have a super evening at the ball!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Can you take one more story, dear Bee, of insolent offspring?

A couple of years ago, we were living in the top floor of a wonderful apartment overlooking the water in Westport. A big wind storm (common in that part of Ireland) came up and disrupted the electricity. It set off the fire alarms. Daring Daughter, aged 6, jumped up and pushed me out of the way to run to the door. She screamed "You're OLD! I'm too young to die."

The hell with Sarah's idea of a support group for the kids. I say we super cool mammys form a support group to deal with the little buggers. We could even watch films like this one:

Fantastic Forrest said...

Oh, and thanks for the introduction to Tristam Shandy and all the other goodness in your post. We may have to go to Shandy Hall together when I come over.

And maybe we could go to the Malvern Theatre if we just sent half of each of us in. Actually, don't want to burst your bubble, but the info I have is that it seats 12, or provides room for a standing audience of 16.

Malvern is also noted for the record for most people belly dancing at the same time.

Christina said...

my dear friend, you are not old. she will one day see, that what she thought of as old, was content. I started making jam, around the age of 8, I guess that makes me around the age of 612. I wish I could have been at those bookstores, with you. your my type of content girl! : )

jane said...

ok now i´m feeling ancient... besos!

Bee said...

dancing doc - I feel even worse today; but thanks!

FF - I SWEAR that the Guinness certificate says 1.2. The place is tiny . . . I have no idea how they could fit in 12 people and still have any kind of stage.

The story about your daughter is hilarious! My goodness that child was precocious. Support group, indeed.

Christina - Thanks, my friend.

Jane - At least I'm in good company!

Anonymous said...

If your daughter's list holds the real signs of being old, I was an old woman ever since I was young!

Merisi said...

O well, those kids do come with some pretty astonishing baggage! My oldest told me at the age of four, "Forget it, Mamma, you will never learn!" - all I had done was asking a third time what her preschool mate's name was. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, but please note that the link to the Museum website gives a 404.