Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

At what age is one officially expected to embrace adulthood, in these days of perpetually extended adolescence? I turned 40 last week, so I suppose that this is crunch time.

But the truth is that - although I made the traditional appalled face when the looming birthday was mentioned: imagine Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit, caught in a wind tunnel - I was looking forward to it. I have been observing what happens to women after 40, and there are various paths from which to choose.

You can buy elasticated slacks and let everything go to heck thereafter; or, like Madonna, you can step up to a manic gym'n'Botox regime and arm-twist a weary world into admitting that you've 'still got it', whatever 'it' might be. The first has the whiff of despair, and the second of desperation. Far better is what might be termed 'the French route': carry on much as before, with added investment in vaguely scientific skin creams, and the occasional rakishly high heel, just to show you haven't been sewn into your slippers.

On the day of my birthday, however, I developed a nasty ague, the kind that - like an expensive firework - is mined with delayed surprises: a shivering fit here, a red-raw throat there. On day two, I awoke to find that a demon with a glue gun had sealed my eyelids in the night. Conjunctivitis! Forget the French route, we were heading fast down the medieval dirt-track. When I prised one eye half-open, I could see a small pink orb, like that of a maltreated albino rabbit, swivelling in the mirror. Welcome to 40. As Professor Brian Cox once opined, in the days when he was but a humble keyboard player in the pop group D: Ream, things can only get better.

Fortunately, there is already one event to look forward to: the chance to vote No to AV on 5 May. My polling card is poised on the mantelpiece. There are many reasons to shun AV, which compels the voter to grade parliamentary candidates according to the intensity of one's dislike (like forcing a child to rate, in order of preference, liver, chicken gizzards and tripe). But its worst aspect is the threat of more coalition governments.

People think of coalitions as a recipe for sensible compromise, when really they are full of surly brinkmanship and diffused responsibility. Nick Clegg traded the chance to take a stand on university tuition fees for an AV referendum, thereby exchanging the exercise of power for the promise of additional clout in the future. …

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