Wow there’s something happening to me as the year closes. It’s something kinda wonderful and dear readers, if you haven’t already taken it up yourself, I urge you to do it right away. Along with wild water swimming, getting a first tattoo (more about this in a minute) and embracing boyfriend jeans and Dr. Martens (honestly the ultimate cool mid-life uniform) – it is a right of passage at a certain age to STOP being nice.
Kind is cool. Nice is not. My 93 year old Mother in Law warned me way back when “Don’t you dare call me nice. People who are nice don’t have any opinions.” (Believe me the one thing she doesn’t lack is opinions) .
I’ve always thought I’d cultivated a “nice’ exterior and been a bit of a people pleaser. It was only when a friend almost choked in laughter at the revelation that I was dropping the nice act – that I decided to re-evaluate. Slightly red faced, to her credit, she tried to explain “You’re smiley but that’s a very different thing to being too nice,” she explained. Pushed further she admitted “Debs, really we all know you are steely as hell underneath that gentle exterior” .
Whoa – that was definitely not how I’ve felt all my life. Heavens would I have had any friends at all if I’d shown the real self early on. There’s a thought.
But on closer inspection I began to like the fact that my South London background, being the youngest of three in a bonkers Irish family, holding my own in testosterone fuelled newsrooms and more latterly causing a hell of a stir around the injustices of how we treat children with cancer – I settled into the thought Yes I didn’t let nice get in the way too often. And for that I’m really pleased.
But like all things in life moderation is probably the key here and not being nice in the right circumstances takes some navigating. And not being nice DEFINITELY does not mean being a bully, lacking compassion and empathy – it just really means not putting up with bullshit, being bold enough to say no and nothing else (young women this is a skill worth cultivating), turning away from people or things that aren’t good for you.
I guess above all else it means respecting yourself , your values and opinions first and foremost. Never, ever veer from this path you youngsters – you’ll thank me later.
And all of this means that you have more time, space and an open heart to give to those who need your time, attention and love. It also gives you space to work on your internal values and decide how your life is going to be from here on in. In short not being nice gives you everything you need to be a very good person when you decide you want to be.
Watching the sad/happy/tender/nostalgic documentary on the wonderful Billy Connelly last night, Russell Brand (I’m a big fan) said Connelly got away with humour that from somebody else would have been discarded as brutal or revolting – because he had the audience’s heart. Ah the wisdom of crowds eh – he could push right to the edge of acceptable taste, because they all knew that his soul was good. In fact through the tears, I realised he has one of the most magical souls we’ve ever had the good fortune to have been around. Brand, too, if you look past the silly school boy pranks, is a deep thinker who has some amazing things to say about mental health – particularly for young men.
So I think the same is with ditching the nice act – it’s fine if underneath you are actually a good, decent person. It is not if you aren’t.
So back to the tattoo. There’s an Irish saying that each soul is born at a certain age and stays that way throughout their life. Some, hmm I’ve known a few, stay childlike throughout their lives, dodging responsibility and generally leaning on other people (I’ll stop there I think) and others, like me, are old souls from day one. I feel I’ve always been middle aged, always preferred a quiet night in with a book even if I’d spent a fortune on the latest leather trousers, never did drugs and as a journalist was once caught pouring a third glass of wine into a plant pot – as after two glasses I’d literally pass out. Not much rock and roll there I’m afraid.
Yes, I was the laughing stock of the newsroom for a good week after that.
But I never really minded and anyhow I got my revenge. As other more wild souls lament the passing of their youth, I’m feeling very much at home in my rounder middle-aged body and as staying in is the new going out – I feel the world has finally caught up with me. Honestly I can still shake with excitement in a Waterstones surrounded by all the different lives and opinions I can delve into. Love really is a good book.
BUT, this past year my personal stylist at Harvey Nicholls coerced me into stepping into these full on black rebellious Dr martens. OMG the world turned for me – it was love! Staring into the mirror I thought of all the cool rockstars from my youth – Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, Tina Turner … why didn’t I realise back then what a pair of boots could do. I could have been a contender …
Back home he nodded in approval but then muttered “thing is I’ve always thought you were more a Call the Midwife kind of girl”. Bubble burst, but I still love the boots.
And guess what, he doesn’t know this yet BUT I’m following veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, who got his first tattoo at 75, and getting my first one at 57. How about that.
It will be on my wrist and it will be of a Celtic Knot, these knots are complete loops and have no start or finish and are said to represent eternal bonds.
Underneath I will have written the two most beautiful names in the world – the names of my two daughters Hannah and Chloe.