Last week, from Monday to Friday, the normal presenters of BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour stepped aside and five notable women of contrasting age, background and experience had a go instead. One of these (on Monday 14th September) was Kim Cattrall, a former star of Sex and the City during its six-year run on TV up to 2004. I paid special attention to the programme she presented, as she was going to say something about her attitude to being nearly sixty, but childless and on her own.
I must say at once that I was never a regular watcher of Sex and the City, and in fact only caught one or two accidental glimpses of it, at very long intervals. M--- didn't watch it. It generally clashed with something else, anyway. And in any case, we weren't living the big city life. Neither of us had ever done much dating, nor presently needed to. And sex wasn't a ruling feature of our lives, or at least not mine.
I think the programme was mostly about confident women in command of their own lives, and calling the shots where men were concerned - sex included. At the time, I needed no such freedom or control. M--- and I were getting on well, and our joint lifestyle seemed destined to continue in its mostly-happy course for the indefinite future. My unexpected early retirement, and its eventual consequences, was around the corner: but we did not know it. I can't speak for M---, but I felt content and very fortunate to have such a like-minded companion. Looking back, I can now discern several signs of disharmony and potential discord, ignored or brushed aside at the time; but all of it could have been accommodated within a tolerant relationship, had it lasted. It just goes to show how easily things can fall apart, when relationships are suddenly put under great pressure. My 'lucky' retirement opened up a wonderful life of leisure - but also time for self-examination and a revolution in self-perception. M---'s overmastering dream of a lovely house in the country, a natural and seemingly-feasible ambition surely, led to a disastrous property investment and a financial crisis that tore us apart.
Anyway, Kim Cattrall had been half a dozen years without sharing her day-to-day life with a man, and had no children of her own. She was also now fifty-nine, and even if looking good, had two-thirds of her life behind her. How to face what remained? What indeed was really left to look forward to? What was the most satisfying way forward, as she saw it? There were clear parallels with my own life. I was only four years ahead of her. It concerned me to know.
If you can, listen to her on the BBC Radio iPlayer. But this is what I took away for myself.
On age. It was a big so what. She didn't feel essentially different from ten years ago, and decrepitude seemed very far off. Professionally, however, her age now mattered - only 'grandmother' or 'grand dame' parts were going to be offered to her, wicked or otherwise. If these did not appeal, then her in-front-of-the-cameras acting career was over. But she could still tutor and guide a new generation of actresses.
On men. She had got used to having her own space, spreading herself across the full width of the bed in reality and metaphorically. And she enjoyed it. She felt free. Friends had filled the relationship gap.
On being childless. Yes, she'd been accused of avoiding her real destiny as a baby-producer, and therefore of not being a mother, not being a full woman. But she rejected that. A woman did not have to undergo childbirth to prove her womanhood, and she was not diminished if she did not get pregnant, or for any reason could not. Nor did you need to have your own children to be a mother. She considered her work with young students, guiding them, nurturing their acting talents, being a role-model to them, had strong elements of mothering in it. In some cases a bond that was half-professional, half-personal, as is commonly the way with those who teach and inspire.
You can see that all this got me nodding in agreement! It seemed to support the very thinking that underpinned my own life at sixty-three. So at least one other woman felt as I did, that the game wasn't over, that I could play it to my own rules and not according to someone else's notions of what was proper, that I didn't need a close companion to validate my right to do what I wanted, that I had importance and a purpose, and most definitely could affect the lives of others for the better, if I so chose.
Well, I do so choose.