I’VE JUST BLEACHED MY HAIR. ‘Midlife-crisis blonde’, I’m calling it. Annoyingly, I’m not quite middle-aged enough for it to fully warrant that kind of moniker, although I can imagine it’s my imminent 33rd birthday – all gifts and sympathy welcome, by the way – that made me do it, acting as a not-so-subtle reminder that you can no longer legitimately call me a spring chicken with a straight face.
A hair change, then, is my slightly sheepish equivalent of buying a bright-pink Porsche, or taking a salsa evening class and falling in love with the teacher, or starting to date a string of wildly inappropriate men. Bikers, for instance. Drummers. Someone so young that they can’t do the opening-credits rap to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Incidentally – if you’re interested in that sort of thing – the lowest you can go is half your age plus seven. For me, that would be 23 and a half. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I don’t make the rules.
Anyway, let me pre-empt any potential trolling and say that yes, I am fully aware that I am not old. I do, however, now involuntarily go, “Oof” whenever I sit down, which I think deﬁnitely puts me in the ‘knocking on a bit’ percentile.
I’m also, on average, what feels like about 20 years older than most people in my little expat circle, meaning that I’m essentially the token geriatric in swimwear, growing old as disgracefully as I can muster. In fact, around this time last year, two of my friends from back home informed me that they’d started taking folic acid. “Why?” I asked them, scrunching up my face. Then, sympathetically, “Is it your joints?” No, came the answer. This is apparently what adults do – alongside other mythical things like pensions and cooking – when they want to have a baby. Meanwhile, I was busy stockpiling unicorn pool ﬂoats and calculating the optimal time to book in for my eyelash extensions.
For that is what we do here: we extend. And not just our eyelashes or our hair. We extend our youth. We dig in our Louboutins, Botox our crow’s feet and ruddy well hold on tight, thinking that we can cheat age by ironically – among other things – tanning ourselves silly in our little hideout. At least, that’s what it can feel like. Back home they have babies; we have boat parties. They have mortgages; we have more boat parties. It’s no wonder every Peter Panicker looks to Dubai as their very own emotional penal colony; extraditing themselves here in Neverland, refusing to grow up and surrounding themselves with like-minded Lost Boys – and Girls – to boot. I should know; I am one.
I used to think I wouldn’t mind getting older, but, in retrospect, I reckon I actually got it confused with thinking I would just never get old. Things would stay in their place – jowls, mostly – not working-out would never catch up with me, and smoking would always be cool and coquettish, not a one-way ticket to something my best mate used to refer to as “cat’s-bum mouth.” Being a beauty editor, she was right. I am now the proud owner of countless tiny little lines around my mouth – most probably one for every year I’ve been alive, like rings on a ﬂipping tree.
It’s things like this that I’ll live to regret. The health nonsense. The taking-stuff-for-granted bit. The blithe conﬁdence that certain things last forever. But this is also exactly why I know that I have a good few more years of boat parties in me yet. I will be irrepressibly smug in the knowledge that – if I really wanted to – I could rally the troops and jet off to Goa next weekend, or survive on nothing but canapés and tinned peaches – for vitamin C, obvs – for three weeks at a time.
Inevitably, though, I will be dragged into adulthood at some point soon, possibly by my mother. She’s already bought me a mattress protector. But I’ll always know the way back to Neverland; second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning. Failing that, Emirates do a very reasonably priced ﬂight.