There’s nothing wrong with rose-coloured glasses
‘Family legend has it that one Christmas my present to my sister consisted of a solitary pencil. Family legend also has it that she pulled me off a bunk bed and broke my arm’
They say: “If age teaches you anything, it’s that days are long and years are short”. I particularly agree with this when I’m cleaning the house, sitting on a train or doing my taxes. But when I’m doing something fun, like painting a picture or reading a good book, then days are short too, which is annoying.
Why is it that time whizzes by faster and faster as we get older? Just when we’re in a position to appreciate things more, when we finally know ourselves well enough to identify the things we actually like and not feel obliged to do the things we feel we should like, then there’s barely time to do them.
Fifty years ago, when this magazine was launched, I was seven years old. Just one lesson at school seemed to last forever. A year was an unimaginable period of time. Lives could be transformed in a year. My siblings and I seemed to prove this point as there’s nothing like losing the last of your baby teeth and growing two inches in height to mark the passage of another year.
I was the second of five children. Sixteen months younger than my sister Louise, she and I shared a room for more than 10 years. Now, before I tell you the following stories, I must reassure you that Louise and I are and always have been each other’s most loyal supporters. Even when we were at different boarding schools we would keep in touch by post and to this day I still have many of the funny, encouraging and beautifully illustrated letters she wrote to me. But family legend has it that one Christmas my present to her consisted of a solitary pencil. Family legend also has it that she pulled me off a bunk bed and broke my arm. She also gave me a haircut, when we were aged three and four that involved cutting off my bunches at the ribbon and my fringe at my scalp. I liked my new look, I remember. My mother, of course, not so much.
We all know that the passage of time can skew our recollections, so stories of an alleged sibling rivalry, whilst much enjoyed (more by me than by my sister, no doubt) were all taken with a pinch of salt until just last week when we sat down to watch some previously unseen family films. In the space of 15 minutes there was grainy, celluloid evidence of a slap and a hearty poke, both from my sister to me. I announced that I could hereby rest my case. I still contest the ‘Pencil for Christmas’ claim though, which remains unproven.
My family actually has a name for stories that morph through time. Any story that has been exaggerated or added to for dramatic effect has been ‘Wool-shopped’. This goes back to the shop that my grandmother had for many years in Shoreham-by-sea. It was predominantly a wool shop but I have very strong memories of some of the other stock that she carried: hanging from the ceiling was a selection of unimaginably large bras. To this day, I have never seen such enormous, utilitarian and frankly frightening underwear. But it was my grandmother’s skill at telling a story that stays with me the most. Before her shop-keeping days she had been a successful actress in silent films and had a lot of good stories to tell about that. But even the most mundane tale could be funny or dramatic in her hands and would actually get more so with each telling.
But we all do it. It’s human nature to ‘wool-shop’ a story. Likewise we construct rosecoloured glasses to help soothe troublesome memories, but what is the explanation for the feeling of time accelerating as we get older? There aren’t any obvious advantages to that, surely? Scientists say it’s simply a matter of percentages. A year feels like a long time when we’re five years old as that amounts to 20% of our life so far. At the age of 50 it’s only 2% and our perceptions adjust accordingly.
So we shouldn’t worry about reaching an age where time whizzes by. We should just feel pleased with ourselves for getting that far. As this magazine should too. Bravo Cotswold Life! It’s been my privilege to write one of your columns for 4% of your 50 years. And I’ll try to keep the ‘wool-shopping’ to a minimum, I promise.
Above: Emma and Louise