My birthday: a grey morning of despair

Ellen celebrates her birthday

Ellen celebrates her birthday - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

On the morning of my birthday Mother Nature decided to give me a most unwanted present – my first grey hair.

There it was, a wiry silver strand, twisting its way out of the crown of my head as I stared in the bathroom mirror in despair.

As I grappled for the tweezers I let out an involuntary wail.

“I’m old,” I howled.

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Now don’t try to make me feel better.

We all know that wrinkles (I’ve noticed a few of those appearing too) and grey hair are sure signs of ageing.

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I just didn’t realise these things happened at age 34.

I felt sure I had a good many years left before I was officially “middle aged”, a presumption backed up by a recent survey which found that rising life expectancy and healthier lifestyles have pushed this milestone back from the previously assumed realm of your 40s to 53.

Unfortunately for me though, having read the small print of this study, I have discovered I am in fact, old before my time.

The research found that you are seen as middle aged if you enjoy afternoon naps, choose comfort over style, have taken up gardening and enjoy a quiet night in.

Buying travel sweets for the car and taking a flask of tea on day trips is also seen as a sign of getting old.

I’m ashamed to admit all of these apply. I also listen to The Archers, watch The Antiques Road Show and have joined The National Trust.

Dear me. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Once upon a time I would have been the first person on the dance floor and the last person to fall out of the nightclub at 4am. I knew all the songs in the top ten, would never dream of wearing an anorak, spent frivolous amounts of money on garish cosmetics and had a wardrobe full of tiny, inappropriate outfits.

And it appears that for a number of years – and despite the fact that I now rarely stay out past 11pm, listen to Radio 4, own a range of wet weather gear in a sensible navy colour, stockpile anti-ageing serum and only buy garments which wash well - I have been labouring under the misapprehension that I was still “cool”.

I believed that if you knew what jeggings were, conversed on Facebook and did Spotify, that would count. It doesn’t. Not since M&S started stocking the stretch garments, the kids moved to and music became peppered with sound-shattering expletives.

Have my children done this to me?

Have they turned me into someone who winces at a pair of hot pants, enjoys a Horlicks before bed and thinks the word “trendy” is trendy?

Yes, if a report by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention is to be believed.

Because while motherhood lessens the risk of some diseases and may, long term, be good for the soul, is it also true that having children makes you age more quickly.

Firstly there are the permanent consequences of pregnancy and birth - stretch marks, varicose veins, stubborn blubber.

And then there is the fact that mummies tend to become frumpier in their appearance – perhaps because they simply do not have as much time – or money - to spend on their clothes.

On top of this there is sleep deprivation, a chronic, vicious cycle which saps any life from your skin.

And the fact that many women suffer a bout of “mummy brain” – a loss of cognitive skills which make them feel older still.

The biggest change however is that psychologically, having a child is ageing because you are immediately and irrevocably shunted up a generation.

For me this shift occurred with the birth of my daughter six years ago when I was the first of my peer group to become a parent.

One day I was still a twenty-something go-getter, mentally and physically ready to work hard and play harder, and the next I was an exhausted lump lugging round a wipe-clean changing bag and slobbing about in a comfortable cardi.

I would like to think that now my baby-rearing days are behind me and my children sleep through the night, that in my 34th year I can start to regain some of the fun and frivolity of my youth.

After all another study recently found that it is at this magical age that women start to accept themselves for who they are and learn to be comfortable in their own skin.

They stop spending every waking moment yearning for lost youth and start to believe that an ageing body can be beautiful. It’s a lovely idea and I do hope that over the course of the next 12 months I too shall start to feel at ease in my more wrinkly skin.

In the meantime however, I must get on with booking myself a hair appointment. A little birthday treat.

Which brings me to the root of an age-old question: Blonde or brunette? And, more importantly, which will work best to disguise the grey?

Please email me at or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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