The Japanese believe that when something has suffered damage or has a history it is more beautiful; broken objects are often repaired with gold to make a feature of the flaw. I love this idea. It’s called kintsugi.
This could be my 50+ alternative to getting a tattoo. I could embroider my appendix scar, laughter lines and stretch marks with gold thread and embrace their design. I think this could catch on. From a distance it would just look like I was getting down with the youth and wearing metallic tattoos a la ‘Love Island’
Thankfully taking a more age appropriate approach to ‘Love Island’ this week, I watch a tv programme based loosely on the Shirley Valentine premise that single middle aged women going through a life crisis need to visit a Greek island to find themselves – and potentially a new partner – I find myself muttering at the screen. Here we go again. All the women are beautiful and their stories touch a chord, but in some cases botox and fillers make it hard for their faces to articulate what their eyes are saying. I want their returning sparkle to be complemented by laughter lines around their mouths, but for some this is no longer physically possible and they speak pieces to camera with amazed – and frankly alarming – eyebrows. Thank goodness they are still able to pout sufficiently to down a glass or three of Ouzo without some unseemly dribbling. Better still, plastic or not, all the women come to the conclusion that it is female friendship and laughter that is missing in their lives, not taramasalata and olives featuring in a sunset romance with a local Kostos. No repairs needed after all, and they return with golden tans to define their experiences.
Continuing my people watching with the residents in the care home where mum has been in respite, I contrast their authenticity with the veneer we’re all encouraged to wear. For example, when I arrive after lunch, Agnes, a female octogenarian, greets me in reception wearing a particularly flamboyant pair of silk pyjamas patterned with bright red love hearts. She asks me where I’ve bought my top because she likes it and then tells me she, ‘couldn’t be arsed,’ to get dressed today because, ‘there is nothing in the wardrobe that takes my fancy’. She asks if she can borrow my top and I feel that a clothes swap could be quite liberating.
Derek then joins mum and I for a coffee on the scorching hot veranda, wearing a thick fleece, scarf, shorts and lime green surgical stockings. He tells me he is an Ofsted inspector but has decided not to wear a suit today because he feels it is turning chilly. Derek tells me he, ‘bloody loves life’, that, ‘teachers are rubbish,’ and then breaks into a repeated chorus of, ‘show me the way to go home,’ with no irony whatsoever before going off in search of chocolate cake.
Mum’s not settled well in this home, unfortunately, and I can see she’s caught in some twilight world between Derek and Agnes. She still cares deeply about what she is wearing and frets that she is putting on weight, ‘eating three meals a day and taking no exercise’. She takes no enjoyment from the chocolate cake that Derek returns with – she eats it because she believes it is rude not to finish food, but she also considers it to be, ‘naughty, naughty’. I remember the comment of one of the ladies on the Shirley Valentine crusade, ‘If you get to your sixties and you’re still asking, ‘does my bum look big in this’, then you need to get out more.’ I feel sad that mum is calorie counting, sad that she just can’t get out more and sad that I’ve inherited this legacy of food shame.
Mum is still dragging one leg and though it’s a miracle she’s still with us, I wish there was some gold fretwork I could blend around her nerve endings to bring some life back into her foot. When mum is on form she has the best and most contagious laugh in the world and it would be lovely to hear her use it and to amuse the other residents by slobbing about in her dressing gown – or even her purple track suit. After a life of conditioning, she cares too much about appearances and can’t see how golden her flaws are in showcasing her history. I long for Shirley Valentine to pop in and share some wisdom with her before it’s too late for kintsugi to be admired and appreciated.