This is me on 19th July 2008, my 50th birthday. We were holidaying in America and I’d just been handed a glass of pink champagne by my husband as I came out of the shower. Despite those happy circumstances and the smile on my face, I felt miserable. This made no sense: hitting 50 wasn’t that bad, surely? My second marriage had brought me contentment and my work as a freelance copywriter was going well. But I couldn’t shake off the realisation that my life was definitely at least half over. What did I have to show for it? And more to the point, what could I look forward to?
One thing I’ve learnt in middle age: in order to stay happy, I must keep busy and always have something to challenge me. So I came up with a bucket list, although in the spirit of asserting that I’m only halfway through my life, I named it my ‘F***-it I’m Fifty’ list. I’ve steadily worked through it ever since, and a recent review surprised me just how far I’ve come.
Drive a Tractor
We live next door to a farm so making this happen was easy. And the actual drive was pretty simple too, although tractors are definitely designed for people blessed with far longer legs than mine. I went around a field twice, with our farmer neighbour in the cab beside me.
Verdict: It may be more gripping if you’re pulling a plough and have to concentrate on keeping the lines straight.
Go Up In a Hot Air Balloon
I felt nervous as we rose into the air, but after our pilot demonstrated how he controlled the balloon I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. We skirted Kelso then travelled north-east over rural Roxburghshire. The Scottish Borders looked beautiful from above, and seeing familiar places from this unconventional viewpoint revealed treasures invisible from the ground, like a small knot garden in the middle of nowhere. And it was so quiet up there, with just the sound of the burner occasionally firing. Our flight was over far too soon. The landing, in a stubble field, was bumpy but no more so than we had been told to expect.
Verdict: I loved it and definitely want to travel in a balloon again.
Do a Sponsored Walk
In early 2010, my friend Wendy invited me to do the Edinburgh MoonWalk with her, raising funds for breast cancer charities. Although I considered myself relatively fit (we had three dogs at the time), power walking 26 miles felt more than I could realistically achieve. However, there is also a Half MoonWalk, so we signed up for that. I gradually lengthened my afternoon walks with Bella the collie, and when the night came in June, felt confident I was up to the challenge. Wearing our MoonWalk bras decorated with turquoise ostrich feathers, feather boa and sparkly stick-on flowers, we took just under four hours, finishing at 4am and raising over £2,000.
Verdict: I was delighted at the generosity of our sponsors and how much fitter my training made me. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but I try to sponsor a MoonWalker every year.
Get a Degree
At the age of 40, I studied English and Scottish Literature for a year at EdinburghUniversity. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but unfortunately we couldn’t afford for me to continue, something I always regretted. So, in 2008, straight after our holiday, I signed up to continue my studies, this time with the Open University. That year at Edinburgh saved me two years with the OU, so four modules (my favourite being History of Cinema and Television) and a seemingly endless number of essays later I gained a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Humanities.
Verdict: One of the hardest yet best things I’ve ever done. I relish learning new things, and will be taking classes in tap?dancing and criminology this year.
Finish Writing My Novel
While I was a student at Edinburgh, I had an idea for the opening of that crime novel I always wanted to write. I worked on my manuscript sporadically over the years, but in 2010 I started to devote more time to it, and in 2012 I finished the first draft. In November 2013, having seen friends successfully self?publish, I brought out No Stranger to Death as an ebook and a paperback. It’s been very well received and so far has collected only 5-star reviews. I’m now writing the sequel.
Verdict: Writing a book is even harder than getting a degree, and self-publishing throws up yet more challenges. That said, an author friend likened it to having a baby: as soon as you hold your creation, all that went before is forgotten and you can’t wait to repeat the experience.
Be an Artist’s Model
As happens to many women, the menopause played havoc with my figure, so much so that it took years to pluck up the courage to ask a local artist to do some nude drawings of me. It felt curious (and rather chilly) to stand, sit, then lie motionless for half an hour at a time with someone I don’t know studying my body. She did three charcoal sketches, and I had my favourite framed as a Christmas gift for my husband.
Verdict: I was happier with the results than I expected, and now view my body less critically than before. My husband seemed genuinely pleased too.
Of course, I haven’t accomplished everything on my Fifty list. I never took Bella the collie to agility classes (she’s too old now) and I can’t believe I thought I’d ever read all the books on my shelves before buying more. However, writing then tackling my List has introduced me to lots of new experiences and made me realise how much one can achieve in middle age.
When I hit 55 last year I added some new aspirations to the List. These include holidaying on a canal boat, riding pillion on a motorbike, showing one of my hens (or at least some eggs) at the local agricultural show, and getting a tiny tattoo of a book on my shoulder. The boat trip is happening in July, my brother-in-law owns a Harley-Davidson . . . and I’m still thinking about that tattoo.