Should You Lie About Your Age?

Oscar Wilde said “One should never trust a woman who tells her real age; a woman who would tell one that would tell one anything.”

Well, that’s me bang to rights. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading my blog posts over the past four years, I will tell anyone pretty much anything.

I haven’t lied about my age since I was about sixteen, trying to buy a vodka and orange at The Shuckburgh Arms off the King’s Road in Chelsea.

Side note: For those of you now fondly remembering The Shuckburgh, notorious amongst school kids in the 1980’s for their lax checking of age ID. It eventually closed after a series of drug raids, and is now a branch of Baker and Spice.

I may not have told an outright age fib since then, but I am guilty of obfuscating, skirting around the subject and not correcting assumptions.

When I was promoted to Advertising Account Director at the age of 25, I was aware that I was unlikely to be taken seriously by my ancient, experienced clients (who were probably only about 35, practically babies), so I’d imply that I was several years older.

More recently, I’ve avoided telling people how old I am because I’m aware of all the assumptions that are made about women ‘of a certain age.’ I don’t want to be written off as irrelevant, past-it or dull. Age shouldn’t be important, but other people always seem to find it so.

“Age is not important, unless you’re a cheese.”

Helen Hayes, American actress

I’ve discovered that avoiding telling people your age isn’t easy. In these days of endless security checks, the world and his wife seem to constantly need to know your exact date of birth.

I’m always doing the ‘scroll of shame’ on the internet, where I roll the date back further and further until eventually it lands on my birth year.

And if, like me, you’ve been unlucky enough to go through a major health issue, you find that every conversation with a medical professional starts with them asking for your birth date. I know this is necessary in order to ensure they don’t mix up two patients with similar names and lop a leg off someone waiting for a mastectomy, but even so, it just adds to the indignity.

Side note: I discovered that surgeons are so terrified of this happening, that – once you’ve disclosed your date of birth – they draw big arrows on your skin with an actual Sharpie, pointing at the body part requiring attention.

My children never let anyone forget my age either. They’ll announce to all and sundry, shop assistants, mums at the school gate and cold callers, whether they’re interested or not, that my mummy is fifty.

Lying about your age is even harder in this era of the internet and the digital footprint.

The singer, Sinitta, is often caught out lopping five years off her age. This made things tricky for Simon Cowell, who she dated in the 1980’s, since it implied he’d had a relationship with a 14 year-old. Knowing how upset Sinitta was about her approaching 50th birthday, Simon threw her a huge party. She told everyone it was actually her 45th.

Eventually The Sun published a copy of Sinitta’s birth certificate. It turns out she is now 55, but just two years ago, on Celebrity First Dates, she claimed to be 48. Viewers took to Twitter in their droves. There is no longer anywhere to hide.

The writer Liz Jones also found this out the hard way. She lied about her age for years, and talks openly about how hard it was having to remember that you’re supposedly too young to remember Bagpuss or The Clangers, having to hide your passport from your boyfriend and keep up with the endless cosmetic treatments required to maintain the illusion. Liz Jones only confessed her real age to her husband two weeks before her marriage, when forced to by the Hackney Town Hall registrar.

The truth is, denying your real age – either outright or by omission – means denying more than just a number.

For me, one of the great joys of the past few years has been reconnecting with old school and college friends. How can you go to a thirty year school reunion if you’re only 43? Liz Jones says “I was quite relieved when my mum developed dementia because it meant that she could no longer inadvertently blurt out my date of birth.” How is that okay?

Also, I have learned a huge amount over the past five years. I think I’m a wiser, more experienced, more compassionate person than I was at 45. Why would I want to deny that? Why can’t we celebrate everything that we’ve been through? Everything we’ve learned?

Anyhow, in denying our age, we are just accepting and propagating the horribly harmful myth that once a woman loses her youth, she loses everything. It’s no surprise that few men feel the need to fib about how old they are. Age is a feminist issue.

It’s time, my friends, to OWN our age, experience and wisdom. If we don’t, then how can we expect anyone else to?

I am 50. I got here via much trial and error and lots of ups and downs. I have much to teach, but still – I’m sure – a great deal to learn.

There’s lots more on ageing brilliantly and disgracefully on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page, including a hilarious article by Lisa Timoney on all those little things that make us realise how old we are. Anyone else find themselves fancying Captain Birdseye? If you ‘like’ the Facebook page, it’ll keep you updated.

What You Learn From the Cancer Clinic

I have an appointment at the Breast Cancer Clinic tomorrow morning. I go three times a year; once for a mammogram, once for an ultrasound, and once for blood tests.

Tomorrow I have a mammogram, which feels much like having what remains of your boobs shoved into a Breville sandwich toaster, then waiting for what seems like hours while the chefs work out if there’s a fly trapped in there.

I dread these check-ups, as I know that, in the space of minutes, my life could go from being as good as it’s ever been to totally destroyed. However, I have learned some really important lessons from the cancer clinic. Here’s what they are:


Lots of very wise and clever people swear that a daily gratitude practice has changed their lives. We should, they say, keep a gratitude diary, or at least recite every day the things we are thankful for. Studies have linked gratitude to better sleep, reduced anxiety and depression, better relationships and higher satisfaction with life. All of that – for free.

However, it’s easy to forget to be grateful for the simple, but fundamental, things that we have – our families, our health, our homes. We naturally focus on all the general day-to-day niggles instead. Human beings are programmed to want more.

Every time I visit the cancer clinic I see women with no hair or eyebrows, destroyed by chemotherapy. I see people pale-faced and silent in shock from an initial diagnosis. I see men reeling from imaging life without their partners, the mothers of their children. It’s impossible to witness that and to not feel grateful, for just being here.


Confronting fear is like working a muscle. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

I spent many years avoiding fear. Whenever I was anxious about anything, I’d numb that feeling with booze. I wrote a whole book about that one: The Sober Diaries. Now I realise that all the best things in life lie beyond that point of maximum fear. If you avoid fear, you avoid growth.

Learning to confront my fears and work through them has changed my life. I’d always wanted to write, but was scared of failure, of rejection, of just not being good enough. My first novel is being published next year, and I’ve just started writing the second.


I spend much of my life with people just like me. Women with children the same age, people who live in my ‘hood, friends from university or school.

At the cancer clinic, you meet people of all ages and backgrounds, from all over London and further afield. Total strangers, but people with whom you feel a deep connection. It’s like meeting people at a baby clinic, but more morbid, obviously. You know that you have been through a similar life-changing experience, and that these strangers may understand you better than some of your closest friends.

Last year, I met a lady as I was leaving. We exchanged diagnoses, and congratulated each other warmly on not being dead yet. She looked at me intently and said “No-one really gets it unless they’ve been there, do they?” And at that point, I felt like I’d known her forever.


When I see someone in the waiting room who’s in the middle of treatment, I’m reminded of how it changes you. It can make you swing between being angry, absent-minded, selfish, withdrawn, reckless or fearful.

It makes me remember not to judge people – the guy who yelled at you when you were driving too slowly, or the friend who’s not returned your calls. We usually have no idea what’s going on in other people’s lives. If they’re not dealing with cancer, it could be divorce, redundancy or bereavement.


I used to feel immortal. There are loads of things I want to do with my life, but I always thought I had time. Now I know that that’s never necessarily the case. We have no idea what lies around the next corner, so you have to get on and do it. Now.

I’ve achieved more in the last two years than in the previous ten. And, instead of spending money on things, I’ve spent it on experiences, on building memories for my children, of incredible places and unforgettable adventures.

I know that cancer has made me a stronger, wiser and nicer person. So, am I glad I have to go through it? No way, but it does make me feel a little bit better about the whole thing. As does cake.

By the way, eagle-eyed readers may remember I promised a post this week titled Inappropriate Lust. I’m afraid I lost my nerve on that one. Maybe later! Stay tuned…

There’s lots more on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook Page including Mary Beard on how society is prejudiced against women who go grey, and Emma Thompson on why ‘being old is heaven.’ Keep your eyes peeled for a brilliant new post by Lisa Timoney on why she hates her husband for being thin, coming soon. If you ‘like’ the Facebook page, it should keep you updated.

Pelvic Floored!

When I was at an ante-natal class, back in the mists of time, I remember the midwife describing the pelvic floor as a hammock. It’s a kind of sling of muscles down below that keeps everything supported.

Well, back then, my pelvic floor was one of those tightly strung hammocks, the sort that’s pretty tricky to get into and has a habit of summarily ejecting you straight out the other side.

Now, however, three children and fifteen years later, my hammock is more of a low slung one that you climb into, only to find that your bum is actually resting on the floor.

I remember the first time I gave any thought to pelvic muscle tone. I was about sixteen, and going to stay with a friend. She said by the way, don’t make my mother laugh. I asked why not. I shouldn’t have done, because she answered when she laughs her Tampax falls out. Needless to say, I spent all weekend terrified that I might be inadvertently amusing, and find Mrs Ponsonby’s (not her real name) tampon skittering across the kitchen floor.

About three years later, I encountered the other end of the pelvic spectrum, so to speak. I was travelling in the Far East, and was hanging out with an international group of backpackers who decided to go to one of the ‘girlie bars’ on Pat Pong. It was all part of the authentic Bangkok experience, they said.

They found a bar which didn’t charge an entry fee (we were all surviving on about $5 a day), but we discovered, once it was rather too late to back out, that they charged a fortune for drinks.

I paid for a small beer, which I knew would have to last me for as long as I was there. I feel deeply uncomfortable now, knowing how badly the women in that bar were being exploited. I didn’t understand any of that back then, I just thought what incredible muscle tone they had. They did a show where they fired ping-pong balls from their vaginas, as fast as bullets, into the audience. 

With a sickening ‘plop’ one landed directly into my very expensive beer. I left, but never forgot what could be done with an impressively trained pelvic floor.

My pelvic floor has held its own fairly well, all things considered. But there are times when I become rather aware of its age. My trampolining days are, for example, behind me. 

I also had a number of rather tortuous experiences a few years back, when some friends of mine and I clubbed together to hire a personal trainer once a week, to put us through our middle-aged paces in the park. On the upside, he was utterly gorgeous. On the downside, he had a penchant for a skipping rope. Every time he produced the rope, my pelvic floor and I would groan inwardly, and I was way too embarrassed to confess the reason why I hated skipping.

I’m aware that the gradual slackening of the old pelvic muscles is common in women of my age. I know this because I am being stalked all over the internet by advertisements for Tena Lady pads and something called pee-proof pants. I accept that my days of wearing Agent Provocateur are behind me, but waterproof undies really is a step too far.

Pelvic-floor wise, things are only going to get worse. I know that the trick is to do regular pelvic floor exercises, or ‘kegels.’ But, like flossing, they’re the sort of thing you do for a while, in a flurry of righteous enthusiasm, then forget all about. Someone told me that the way to remember was to get into the habit of doing your exercises whenever you’re stopped at a red traffic light. 

I tried this for a bit, but just became obsessed with looking at the other female drivers around me, trying to work out whether they were doing the same. What expression do you wear on your face, I’d wonder, when you’re tightening your pelvic floor muscles? Slight surprise? Mild pain? Or just a faraway stare?

In the interests of this blog post, I thought I’d Google how to strengthen the pelvic floor, to see if there was any alternative to boring exercises. I realise that typing that into a search engine will result in a doubling of the incontinence stalking. I’m taking one for the team here, you understand.

Anyhow, it turns out there are these devices called intra-vaginal probes (I kid you not. How long did it take the marketing department to come up with something that sounds so alluring, I wonder?) 

The claims made about these things are pretty impressive: no more frequent visits to the loo, no more accidentally passing wind (those embarrassing moments in the yoga class could be over), and even no more lack-lustre love life: you and your partner will both notice the difference. Gosh. I hadn’t actually worried about my love life, but now I’m paranoid that it’s a bit like waving an arm in the Royal Albert Hall. 

So, time for some reader feedback. Has anyone tried one of these things? Do you think that it’s worth buying one of these lovely gadgets and giving it a whirl? (Gosh, I hope they don’t whirl. That could be painful). Please let me know in the comments below. My pelvic floor is in your hands.

I’ll leave you with that unnerving image, and a reminder to check out the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook Page. This week there’s an excerpt from the brilliant book by my friends over at the Age Well Project, a wonderful blog post on mid-life crisis underwear by Lisa Timoney, and the genius monologue from Fleabag by Kristin Scott Thomas on why you should look forward to the menopause. ‘Like’ the page to stay updated!

Coming up on the blog next week: INAPPROPRIATE LUST!

I Want to be Helen Mirren

A few weeks ago, on an uncharacteristically warm February morning, I woke up with the realisation that I was now fifty years old. How did that happen? One minute I was in my school uniform, smoking behind the bike sheds and discussing whether or not our games teacher was a lesbian (she was), and the next minute I’m a fifty-year-old mother of three with a balding (but lovely) husband.

WTF? As my children would say.

There’s no denying it; it won’t be long before I am officially old. Although, as a breast cancer survivor, that’s by no means a certainty. But presuming I’m lucky enough to get much older, I thought it would be worth considering what kind of woman I want to be in my third act.

My first thought was Meryl Streep. I mean, who doesn’t love Meryl? She’s so gorgeous and poised and wise. But I couldn’t picture myself as Meryl. She’s just too aloof and elusive. 

I’ve always aspired to be elusive. When I turned up on my first day at University, that was my main aim. I wanted people to say “Do you know Clare Pooley?” and the response to be “Nobody really knows Clare Pooley.” Needless to say, by the end of Fresher’s Week, I’d told everyone my life story and innermost secrets, and here I am, three decades later, still over-sharing.

So Meryl is just too unattainable, and I’ve decided that Helen Mirren is who I’m going to be. Here’s why:

Helen Mirren would never wear beige

Once you get past fifty, people expect you to blend into the background, to start dressing for comfort rather than style, to wear beige. Helen Mirren is seventy-three, but would never be seen in elasticated waists or orthopeadic shoes, oh no.

In fact, when Helen was sixty-two, a photo of her on holiday in Puglia, wearing a bright red bikini on the beach made the front pages all over the world. And she looked amazing. She didn’t have a perfect body, obviously, but she wore the one she had with such panache.

So, from now on, whenever I’m buying clothes, I’m going to ask myself would Helen wear it? And I’m going to carry on wearing a bikini, however much my children grimace, and despite the fact that I only have 1.75 breasts (see above re breast cancer).

Helen Mirren swears like a trooper

I’ve never been a big fan of swearing. I’ve always thought it a bit obvious, expected and lazy. If I’m going to shout at someone, I like to do it with a little more originality. 

However, as you get older, people stop expecting you to swear. They expect you to say ‘gosh’ or ‘blimey’. Not Helen. She says fuck. Loudly, unapologetically and a lot. On live TV even. She says women have got to stop being polite. If I ever had children, which I don’t, the first thing I’d teach a girl of mine is the words ‘f-off.’ 

But never make the mistake of calling Helen ‘feisty.’ She says two phrases I hate in reference to female characters are ‘strong’ and ‘feisty.’ They really annoy me. It’s the most condescending thing. You say that about a three-year-old. It infantilises women. 

That told you.

So, in my sixth decade, I am going to drop the f-bomb with style. Regularly.

Helen Mirren is a girl’s girl

Helen likes men. She lived with the utterly gorgeous Liam Neeson for four years, back in the eighties, and has been married for over twenty years. But she says In my heart of hearts I love women more than I love men. I mean, sexuality aside – I loved my friend I had in college because there was a sense of camaraderie and physical closeness that doesn’t have to be sexual.

I totally agree, and I think that menopause, like puberty, is a time when female friendships are crucial. Who else can really understand what we’re going through?

Helen Mirren makes being child-free cool

I have no maternal instinct whatsoever, says Helen. Motherhood holds no interest for me…. I am so happy that I didn’t have children. Well, you know, because I’ve had freedom. And I’ve so loved my freedom.

For those of us without children, and those of us who are worrying about the ones we have leaving home, this is hugely refreshing. Instead of dreading empty-nest syndrome, I’m starting to think about all the things I could do and the places I could go.

Helen says I still have a Gypsy sense of adventure. I don’t think I have slept in the same bed for more than three or four months my whole life.

I have slept in the same bed for eighteen years. I obviously need to sleep in more beds.

Helen Mirren fights through fear

You’d think that after decades on film and the stage, Helen would have bags of confidence, but she says I still suffer terribly from stage fright. I get sick with fear…You just have to cope with it – take it on the chin and work through it, trying to use the adrenalin to perform.

And that’s what I’m going to do with the next decade. I’m going to take it on the chin and work through it. I’m going to perform. I’m going to cherish my girlfriends, and swear copiously, while travelling the world dressed in a bikini.

Just don’t call me feisty.

You can find all my blog posts on the ups and downs of life 45+ on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page, along with relevant newspaper articles and posts from contributing writers like the fabulous Lisa Timoney. 

Coming up next week: PELVIC FLOORED!