For those of you who aren’t Jane Austen fans, I should explain that Elizabeth Bennett is the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. An independent-minded, intelligent and accomplished young woman who ends up with the dashing Mr Darcy, the stand-offish millionaire who owns half of Derbyshire yet only has eyes for Lizzie – despite her being socially beneath him.
What was particularly galling about my realisation wasn’t that I would never marry a millionaire from up north but that actually, I now had more in common with her embarrassing, match-making and meddling mother, Mrs Bennett.
It hit me with the shock Boris Johnson must have felt at the Brexit result. I’m not a young woman any more. It felt a little like the time, a good few years ago, that a mum in a shop told her child to ‘mind that lady’; I looked around for the lady before it dawned on me that she meant me.
Most people agree they don’t feel their age (except for the aches and pains) and I stopped maturing somewhere in my very early 20s. I’ve spent years trying to convince my children that I’m not actually a grown-up who can be turned to in emergencies. The fact I can have a mortgage and a job and a car is some sort of mistake, surely. There’s a whole string of things I shouldn’t be left in charge of – small children, animals, a magazine…
And yet here I am, having just celebrated a milestone birthday. How the heck did that happen?
In our youth-obsessed society, getting old is about as welcome as Paul Hollywood at the Bake Off end-of-series wrap party. We don’t boast about our age and the Bible’s assertion that ‘grey hair is a crown of splendour’ is washed away in a L’Oreal home hair colour (because I’m worth it).
To soften the blow of beginning another decade age-wise, I decided to compile a list of things I’d always wanted to do, to make this a life-affirming experience. I wanted the same number of ‘adventures’ as years of my life, but got stumped for ideas – ironically, in the early 20s.
The plan wasn’t to do things that terrified me, like jumping out of a plane, but enjoyable treats that were also cheap – or better still, free. So my list includes watching the sun rise, having a water fight, stargazing and learning to arrange flowers rather than plonk them in a vase. I’ve been told that Champagne goes well with fish and chips, and I want a ‘proper’ picnic complete with wicker basket, wine in real glasses and napkins.
I’m not calling it a ‘bucket list’ because those are things you want to do before you kick the bucket. This is more of an ‘age distraction’ list.
People’s bucket lists tend to be a lot more extravagant than my desire to go to the pictures on a weekday afternoon when I should be at work. Among the top 10 most common ambitions are to go on safari, walk the Great Wall of China, go whale watching and see the Northern Lights.
The website TotallyMoney.com has looked at the top items and worked out they would cost £18,519. Apparently people are willing to spend up to £10,000 on average, meaning there are going to be quite a few unfulfilled dreams.
The list also reflects the view that you have to travel to get a really great experience. Not true.
Being woken by the dawn chorus outside my bedroom window in summer never fails to delight me, despite the fact that I’m not usually a 4am kind of a girl.
Lying on my back in the grass at Severn Valley Country Park, so still that a caterpillar crawled around on my foot, is a memory that has stayed with me for 20-odd years.
This summer’s camping break with my children, who are too old now to holiday with us regularly, meant far more than standing with a crowd of strangers looking at the Grand Canyon could ever do.
As I celebrated my big birthday, my daughter tried to reassure me that there were advantages to getting greyer and wrinklier.
“Well, you’ll be wise,” she said, although I’m not sure that is valued much these days, when we seem to put very silly people on pedestals.
But if being wise means knowing what really matters in life, and letting go of everything else, I’ll take it.