I’ve always had a tense relationship with the F-word. My first encounter was aged six at school when I was made to sit next to Alan McChesney. We took an instant dislike to each other, mine driven by the constant green mucus that used to ooze out of his nose and tremble in jellied strands until he swiped his face with his jumper.
Anyway, he introduced me to the F-word by scratching it onto his big flat rubber in pencil, showing it to me and sneering, “You don’t know what it means.” Of course, I pretended I knew exactly what it meant, but was clueless. So, when I got home, I asked my mum to explain it to me and she hit the roof!
When she insisted I tell her who’d said it to me, I just couldn’t bring myself to dub Alan in – it’s amazing how young you learn that being a tell-tale is not a good look. Instead, I lied that our teacher had said it to us. She soared above the roof at this point and rang the school – I’ve now blanked the consequences from my mind.
After that, my use of the F-word veered erratically from overuse in a vain and unsuccessful attempt to be cool. Or, hearing how it sounded coming from my middle-class mouth, I sporadically stopped using it and sounded uptight as a result.
When the kids arrived, my F-word uptightness reached new levels as I didn’t want my babies to be sullied by it. This led to me one day having to sit in my car for 15 minutes waiting for some teenagers to finish their expletive-ridden argument in the market square before I could get out with the children! Worse, if anything on TV featured the F-word, we ended up using a bizarre form of reverse Tourettes whereby the whole family shouted ‘Walrus’ at top voice to drown out the word should anyone utter it on screen. Don’t ask – I literally have no idea.
With said children fast approaching 18th and 21st birthdays in the next month, you’d think that by now I’d be somewhat more comfortable with the F-word. In actual fact, I totally agree with Stephen Fry that swearing is an important part of communication and that, with the right timing, the F-word can be hilarious.
However, it seems I am now faced with a new F-word. One that fills me with far more angst than the other one. Three years ago I had a ‘big’ birthday with an ‘0’ at the end. And I still can’t bring myself to say the word.
At a medical appointment this week with a practitioner who looked about 12 I was asked my age and, for a fraction of a second, I thought of lying about it! That has NEVER crossed my mind before. That’s what OLD people do, right? So, does that mean that now I am officially old?
I’ve felt like a thirty year old trapped in an older body for the past 20 years. Maybe it’s because, living in London, it has seemed like you can do lots of cool stuff irrespective of your age and no one cares. Like going to a music festival last weekend in our local park where I’d never heard of any of the acts and could have been the mother of most of the festival-goers! Eating out at the latest pop up restaurant where enjoyment of food is more important than how many birthdays you’ve had or the size of your wallet. And friends always complement me on my clothes as I love fashion and believe I have found a style that is age-irrelevant and not age-inappropriate.
However, the biggest indication that I am now entering my third coming-of-age is probably work. I have run a small PR agency for over 20 years and we are really good. We’ve won awards and created amazing campaigns that have skyrocketed our clients into the consciousness of their target audience. But, over the last six month we’ve lost several pitches as a result of ‘chemistry’. And yet, that’s what always won us the business before, while the proposals we’ve presented are amongst the best we’ve ever created.
I don’t have categorical evidence that this is the case but now I’m in my forty-tens (yes, yes, I know I’m in denial), I wonder if I need to hang up my PR shoes? It is a notoriously image-based industry and I can’t help but think that given the choice of a fresh young thing with native digital skills versus someone older and more experienced, youth is winning out – however subliminally that decision is made.
Having received a phone call a couple of days ago that we’d lost another pitch I nipped down to the office café to get some caffeine to pick me up, only to have the pimply barista call me ‘dear’. Another first for me.
Under my breath, the only response that I could think of was, “F**k off!”
PS if anyone has any top tips on what an excellent but not so young PR should do next, answers on a postcard please……..