Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

60 is the new 40

February 16th, 2020

I went to two 60th birthdays in England last week. Both quite off-piste and telling as far as birthdays go. One was organised by a woman, several months in advance, the other a husband, several days in advance.

My friend Queenie invited 40 of her closest friends, all women, to a charming Italian restaurant in north London. The table settings were a study in pink with candy-coloured heart sponges, crowns, and wands.

Queenie’s husband Nick made a surprise appearance, gave a loving roast and then skedaddled home before the singalong got going – yes singalong.

Queenie, a psychotherapist and no, that’s not her real name, knows what makes her happy, what fills her cup. She’s confronting this transition to old, as Nick tactfully put it, by celebrating her birthday with only women – her 40 besties– and singing ‘You’re so Vain’, ‘Sugar, Sugar’, ‘Jolene’ and ‘Cecilia’ at the top of her lungs.

Queenie shows zero  signs of slowing down – she works really hard, follows all the latest fashion pages and is always making new friends. Her personality is as big as she is small. Here she is with Stretch last June.

When Stretch heard that not a single male made it onto Queenie’s guest list, he  made me promise that I wouldn’t do the same thing when I turn 60 in a decade or two. Maybe Stretch should take a leaf from Maurice’s book.

Maurice is married to Jessica, one of my long-time besties.

She turns 60 in a few days. Maurice insured that he was on Jessica’s guest list by throwing her a surprise party. Hard for her to argue with something she doesn’t know about. And what a surprise party it was.

Not only was it really fun hiding in the dark and shouting ‘Surprise’ to a stunned birthday girl, but I learned a lot about rocks, a secret passion of mine. The party took place in gorgeous, but trés hilly Dartmoor.

So while Queenie hosted her friends in a cosy, warm, wind-free London venue, Maurice chose to toss us out into the elements, more of a sink or swim feel, in south Devon, about a four hour drive from London.

Prior to our arrival in Dartmoor, Maurice had promised us- mostly middle-aged, not particularly in shape city dwellers- that there would be a choice between two hikes, one easy and one hard. We all knew which one we were choosing.

Sadly, there was a slight miscommunication, and only one hike was on offer- the hard one. Our tour guides for the day Debbie and Amanda led us  up hill after windswept hill, with Debbie (the chattier one although I wouldn’t call either chatty unless it was to do with rocks) – stopping frequently to point out a rock here, a rock there, an invisible rock in the horizon  and the story behind those various rocks or tors as they are called in Dartmoor.

Debbie also pointed out a significant ditch dating back to the Bronze Age or maybe the 18th century, it was hard to hear with the gale force winds whipping past. I wasn’t quite sure if Debbie said this was a Norman ditch, or Norman’s ditch, but apparently, it was a must-see ditch.

I wouldn’t say this merry group of urbanites was ideally prepared for the rugged tors of Dartmoor. I had to borrow waterproof boots – two sizes too big- thick socks and a shell jacket. My city boots and cute red coat weren’t going to cut it on the muddy, windy terrain of south Devon. However, the hand warmers I found at the bottom of my handbag did prove useful.

Here’s Sandy using one to prevent hypothermia.

Maurice planned quite an elaborate lunch for us mid-climb at a lovely pub with a huge crackling fire, delicious roast chicken, gravy, fries and chilled Chablis.

Just kidding- we lunched  on ‘nature’s picnic basket’…

feasting on…

As we climbed the umpteenth hill, I asked another guest, Arabella, who had planned on taking the non-existent easy hike option what her favourite part of the day’s climb was:

Tea and I haven’t had it yet.

To be fair, Maurice’s itinerary was perfect for Jessica. Jessica is my one true hardcore athlete friend, the steeper the incline, the happier she is. And I wouldn’t call Jessica a foodie- Costco’s lasagna has been served at a dinner party or two. Like Queenie, Jessica is very curious, always up for a challenge, works hard and is a glass half-full kind of person.

She’s thrilled about this for example….

If this is the new face of 60, where do I sign up?

February, 2020