Today’s my 33rd birthday. When contemplating this grand old age as a child, I thought I’d have a job, a dog, a husband, and a house. Low and behold, I am in possession of all these ‘markers of adulthood’, to use psychiatrist speak, but I still don’t feel like a proper grown up. Not in the way I thought I would, anyway.
To child Madeleine, adulthood looked like Grace Farrell in Annie, all silk stockings and slips worn under proper dresses. It looked like Jean Harlow, cigarette in one hand, champagne coupe in another. It looked like Kylie in a sequinned crop top without an extra ounce of flesh anywhere on her body. Adulthood was a sophisticated state of being – and I imagined I’d be suitably soigne by the time I hit my fourth decade.
It didn’t quite pan out that way: yes, the house and the dog and the husband and the job all make me sound terribly together, but actually, I still see women who look like Grace and wonder how they avoid having ladders in their tights, chips in their nail polish and crinkles in their shirts. I never iron, I don’t cook daily to a soundtrack of jazz, I don’t have anywhere near perfect skin and I know how to spell an awful lot of words I’ve never had the confidence to utter in public.
A few of my multiple shortcomings laid out under your nose, I’ll now delve into some of the things I’ve learned. 33 of them, to be precise. One for each year, though obviously most of them were accrued up this end of life as my early years were understandably taken up with learning how to eat and sit on a loo. But before I begin, I’ll throw a little Socrates your way:“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Well, quite.
1. There is no such thing as an unhealthy food, just an unhealthy diet. This is the best food-related advice I’ve ever been given, and something I bear in mind whenever I’m tempted to berate myself for gobbling multiple slices of cheesecake.
2. Being the right temperature is a joy unto itself, and should be recognised as such.
3. In the interests of achieving number two, I’ve found that wearing only excellent fabrics or nothing at all to bed helps enormously.
4. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, and I’m inclined to agree. I used to place great stock in the opinions of those who delighted in tearing me down. I don’t quite so much anymore, and I feel far surer of myself since deciding their opinions counted less than those of my champions.
5. Sometimes friendships come to an end, and that’s fine. Sad, but fine.
6. Kate Moss is the only person in the world who looks good when half cut.
7. … And few nights out are worth an epic hangover. I’ve accepted that three drinks is my limit, and that water sipped between them helps matters enormously.
8. … But some nights are REALLY worth the hangover, and I now give myself over to those with abandon.
9. Aristotle: “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Apply to everything on the internet.
10. My personal make-up thing is to wear quite a few products, layered very finely so as to make them virtually imperceptible. I like people to think I look nice, not that my make-up has been applied well.
11. Chin hairs once found cannot be left alone. Carry tweezers.
12. A dog is the best companion on the planet (sorry, Graham).
13. … And walking in the park with one is the best way to exercise. It has created oases of calm in my day, and has forced me to gulp in fresh air with regularity, and it also hasn’t taxed my knees.
14. Actually, walking in the park is one of the best things in my life full stop. The rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other forces a kind of calm on the mind and orders thoughts.
15. Daytime candles and mid-afternoon baths belong in the canon of proper luxury.
16. Saying no is bloody great and once you’re over the initial sting of FOMO, there’s nothing more freeing than allotting time to those you’d really like to spend it with.
17. … And I’ve increasingly realised that person is me. Alone time is hard to come by when you live in the middle of London, but if I can find it – especially in the middle of the day, it’s heaven.
18. … But loneliness is awful and harrowing and scary. I’ve found Monty dog to be a good antidote, along with chats on the phone to my closest friends. Good podcasts also really help when I feel surrounded by too much silence.
19. This is true: ‘… you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald.
20. So is this by Jane Austen: ‘angry people are not always wise.’
21. And this, by Leo Tolstoy: ‘It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.’
22. No man has or ever been or will be more beautiful than Elvis.
23. When people talked to me about balance when I was younger, I should’ve paid more attention. It makes all things better.
24. … Which is why I am ringing in my birthday but sitting quietly, candle flickering away, dog snoring at my feet, writing. (But have also planned a party so that I can stick to no. 8.)
25. It’s too bloody easy to shunt one’s own problems onto other people. I’ve now realised that when I feel too much loathing or love for another, it’s because of some faulty wiring in me.
26. Also, I no longer think people are either good or bad, but rather a huge sack of contradictory feelings and impulses, some of which make it out the bag and are often flummoxing.
27. … And I’ve come to think that this is a good thing. It makes people endlessly interesting, and reminds me that nothing is fixed.
28. Reading is second only to walking in my pecking order in my list of simple joys.
29. Turning all the notifications off on my phone bar it ringing is one of the best things I did in the past year and I’d really recommend it. Now, I go to my phone unbidden and read what I’d like, when I’d like to read it.
31. Equally, no skincare product will work as well as good nutrition, time outdoors, and less screen time, but if I had to assemble an arsenal right now, it would include Dr. Levy 3 Deep Cleanser, Dr. Russo Retinol, Sisley Gradual Tan, Bioeffect Serum, and Exuviance Night Renewal Gel.
32. … Also, no facial is as good as daily skincare and all the lifestyle stuff, but God can it perk skin up. My favourites are here, though I recently also had a good spot-busting one at Skin Laundry in Liberty London which was excellent if you worry about pores and have limited time.
33. Give things away. Not in the Kondo sense necessarily, but she did start my wave of flushing out unnecessary things. Charities need clothes and make-up and other useful things (Refuge and Smart Works Charity are great if you want to support women), and I have recently started to give more money to homeless people I encounter (I don’t mean loads of money – I’m a journalist and on a journalist’s wage – I just mean enough to buy a hot meal and maybe a place to sleep). Doing both hasn’t left me wanting in the slightest and, if anything, I have benefitted from a sense of being useful far more than those to whom I’ve given things.