Sunday 6 February 2011

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Last Sunday I had a mind-blowing experience. I went on a trip through a desert. True, lush vegetation could be spotted in the distance but in order to get to it, I had to negotiate plenty of arid land. My only companion was a 4x4 that helped me navigate the cracks, potholes and rare little bushes I found on the uneven terrain. Last Sunday I had the experience of a lifetime.

Sorry, I forgot to mention that this happened in the comfort of my own house. To be more specific, the above scenario took place whilst I was sprawled on the couch in the lounge.

Because last Sunday I travelled across someone's face.

It's not everyday that you're greeted by an A2 image of someone whose oeuvre you've adored all your life. Someone who fronted a band you followed and whose music you still worship. Yet, that was exactly what happened last weekend when I opened the New Review supplement in The Observer. There, on the front page, the smirk of one Robert Plant (above) was all the encouragement I needed to sit down and enjoy one of the better interviews I've read for a long time.

However, as I devoured every word of the exchange between Ed Vulliamy and the erstwhile Led Zeppelin singer, a niggling thought kept pestering me. In fact, the intrusive reflection came with a name attached to it: Miriam O'Reilly.

If you live in the UK, you will probably have heard of and/or read about the former BBC presenter's win in her age-discrimination case against the corporation. O'Reilly (right), who is 53, was axed from the show 'Countryfile' a couple of years ago when the programme moved from its regular Sunday morning slot to the evening time. Prior to the change, the ex-BBC presenter faced a barrage of insults: from one director allegedly warning her about her wrinkles to another one mentioning Botox. Even a cameraman apparently waved a can of black spray in front of her to cover her white roots. Unsurprisingly, her ability to perform her job was not once factored into the equation.

The reason why O'Reilly's name was on my mind as I read the interview with Robert Plant was that I kept wondering what a similar image on the front of a Sunday supplement with a fifty- or sixty-something woman would read like. It's a rhetorical question, though, for the answer would be: the main focus would be on her age and looks.

A recent piece on Annette Bening and her starring role in the film 'The Kids Are All Right', concentrated more on the fact that at 52 she hasn't had 'anything' done, than on her thespian skills. Thought the article was mostly positive, I kept asking myself at the time if I would ever read a similar feature on Jack Nicholson or Harrison Ford's facial features.

It's not a secret that as a society we're not very often comfortable with the idea of ageing. And that's putting it midly. What is disconcerting is that this attitude is more conspicuous when women are the subject of the discussion. O'Reilly follows in the footsteps of Anna Ford (62 when she 'left' her job as a newsreader at the BBC, rumours say that she was forced to go), Arlene Phillips (ex-judge of 'Strictly Come Dancing' and deemed past her use-by date) and Moira Stuart (another ex-newsreader at the BBC who apparently did not fit in the corporation's plans for HD television). Is ageism, then, intrincately linked to sexism?

In an almost comical turn of events, days after O'Reilly's win, Ed Davey, the government's employment relations minister, announced that the coalition was planning to phase out the retirement age at 65. That means that employers cannot force people out of their jobs on account of their age. If only the BBC executives had waited another couple of years! They'd probably still have their former Countryfile presenter, they wouldn't have lost face with the British public and should any of those folks in the shires complain about O'Reilly's wrinkles (unlikely, I know, I'm sure that they have mirrors in their big, massive mansions), the Beeb would have retorted, ' Well, guess what? She can stay for as long as she wants. The government says so'. But no, that wasn't the case and now there's a lot of head-scratching and soul-searching at Auntie's headquarters.

And if the above doesn't sound ironic enough, here's a further twist. Just a few weeks ago scientists in Boston suggested that there might be treatments soon to slow or even reverse the process of ageing. So, in less than a fortnight middle-aged and elderly citizens of this nation were treated to a cocktail of news through which they discovered that they could work for as long as they wanted to, provided that their employer was not the BBC, or a similar media outlet. And should life do what it always does and run its natural course, would you believe it, there's this magical potion/cream/pill that can help you, yes, you, oldie! delay the process of ageing, or even reverse it. Ha! You'll look eighteen again, you'll even look younger than your grandchildren. In fact, people will probably stop your offspring in the street and ask them how old their newborn (that's you) is. And still people thought that 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' was just a movie. It's the blueprint for the future, my dear fellows!

Joking aside, the obsession with age we're witnessing nowadays borders on the sinister. And the fact that it is women who feel more of this pressure to remain young, could be construed as yet another misogynistic attempt to rein in the female of the species. In a few weeks, a famous ceremony will take place in a certain part of LA. Along with the glitz and glamour there will probably be muted mobile phones in the audience vibrating to the sound of messages left by some of the stars' plastic surgery specialists with clear indications on which un-Botoxed eyebrow to raise whenever a cameraperson is in the vicinity. It goes without saying that any attempt at laughing on the part of the aforementioned celebrities will be deeply frowned upon (no pun intended, but oh, the irony of it!) by their medical advisors. Preposterous as this scenario might seem, it's already made inroads into our daily, un-celeb life.

When I took my imaginary trek across Robert Plant's face last Sunday, each line, wrinkle and furrow told me a unique story. It was a tale that combined triumphs (we can safely say that Led Zeppelin was the summa cum laude of rock'n'roll) and pitfalls (One of Plant's children, his son Karac, died aged five in 1977 and the singer almost packed it all in at the time). Botox those cracks away and you're left with no history. As one of the Zep's more famous songs goes: 'There's a lady who's sure/All that glitters is gold', we had better reassure the lady in question that she is the glittering gold, wrinkles or not. And I'm sure that she'll enjoy her journey up that stairway to heaven even more.

© 2011

Next Post: ‘Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts’, to be published on Wednesday 9th February at 11:59pm (GMT

Photo of Robert Plant by Gregg Delman

Photo of Miriam O'Reilly taken from


  1. I watched Jon Bon Jovi the other week on Larry King and was hooked on how good looking he was. It felt like he'd been around forever. I wikied and found out that he is at the perfect age of only 48! And more, he's remained married to his high-school sweetheart!

    In the book, I can't remember the book title, how could I not, but the author was of Rome, Caesar and such. The title has to do with birds, I think, Richard Chamberlain was in the series, it took place in Australia, anyways, in the book there was a scene of this woman who tried to seduce the hero of the book and she was actually old but didn't look so and quotes from the book, something about describing her as an old egg or something, remind me to grow old gracefully.

    Thorn Birds, that's the book.

  2. someone, don't ask, someone quotable, i'm sure;
    once said "you know you're getting old
    when the main topic of every conversation
    is your age." or, something like that. . .


    a couple of years ago a hot little number transfers
    into our office and i ask my buddy
    "hey how come she's always acknowledging you
    and returning your smile, yet she ignores me altogether?"

    "have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?"
    was his response, and as they say nothing would ever be
    the same for me.


    i would NOT have guessed this was a picture of
    Robert Plant. Dorian Gray in later years, maybe.
    your metaphor describing his face
    as an arid desert is spot on. at best i was expecting you
    to turn me on to a gravelly-voiced singer from off my radar.

    the first thing that came to mind when you identified him was
    a jingle : It's been a long time, been a long time,
    been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time. . . . .


    call me shallow (if you must)
    but whenever i watch talking heads of the female persuasion,
    the LAST thing i notice are wrinkles.
    my gaze is directed BELOW the neckline.

    Betty White for example,
    don't ask me what her haircolor is..


    so producers believe that there a lot of people like me
    in the audience, or maybe they're dirty old men like me.
    hey what's the use of being old if'n ya can't be dirty?

    i imagine its pretty much the same for the ladies.
    right ladies? solid pecs, six-pack abs, . . . Adonises, no?

    look, if you're going to be entertained by someone's mind,
    TV is the last place you should look,

    not saying that people should be fired for aging,
    only that women are objectified by men like me
    and that there's a reason for it. maybe a terrible reason;
    but there it is: we're wired toward breeding.

    we spend a lifetime sexually out-gunned by women,
    but in the end, time is on our side.

    so there's the balance.


    okay, okay . . . . just kidding,
    hey its Superbowl Sunday Morning:
    thought i'd let the testosterone out of the bag early.


    please forgive,
    and thank you for another thought-provoking
    post, Cuban

    adios, time to java.


  3. Why does youthful dew
    trump the prowess aging earns?
    A cultural quirk.

    Thanks for la Negra.

  4. i wouldn't change a thing about Robert. and i agree, it's a shame that women who age "naturally" aren't as admired for it as are the men.

  5. That's Robert Plant? Wow. You made some excellent points, as usual, ACIL. I'm going to be 62 this summer, and I'm proud of every wrinkle. I hope your cold is better.

  6. We(women) have gone along with the practice. Had we refused to color our gray, continue to wear fake make up, etc, we would have been growing old as men do, with wrinkles, gray hair, love handles. We dress and act as though we are still teens looking to attract a lot of attention.

    Women have come a long way, but not far enough. Our looks may attract attention, but our minds alone will guarantee that the entire message we express is received.

    It's the revolution we need still.

  7. Have I died and gone to heaven?
    Ooh, and good post by the way...

  8. Many thanks for your feedback.

    Ocean Girl, I was heavily into Bonjovi in my teens, but then again that was the era of 'poodle rock'. :-)

    Bare, good points. It is true that men are also objectified, but a cursory glance at the BBC's output in terms of male presenters will convince that the older the man, the better chances he has of keeping his job, or even being promoted to a better one.

    Judith, thanks a lot for that.

    Rosaria, totally agree with you. But there's a difference between feeling young and wanting to look young.

    Gran, my cold was over Christmas and luckily it lasted only a couple of days. Still, it didn't stop me from tucking into the turkey. :-)

    Many thanks. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. Mine was spoiled by my football team Chelsea losing to Liverpool 1-0. Despite the fact that we just paid (and this is deeply embarrassingin for me given the current economic situation) 50 million pounds for a striker, Fernando Torres. Bah, humbug.

    Greetings from London.

  9. A really eloquent post, Cubano. Yes, ageism is linked to sexism and it is so, so, tiring. Until women obtain the same level of power that men have, I'm afraid this double standard about appearance will always linger. Thanks for selecting a video of two wrinkled and gorgeous women.

  10. This was so interesting to me, particularly since you're British (or a Cuban in London!). I recently saw Mike Leigh's movie "Another Year" and was so struck by the "plainness" of the actresses, in particular. It was so refreshing to see such impeccable acting, such strong and real faces -- something that no American director would do nor an American actress. When our actresses play roles, they are inevitably given awards for looking ugly when they're really glamorous or letting themselves go despite their glamour. But given these events that you've written about, I'm not sure whether this isn't just a Mike Leigh thing.

  11. I'm reminded of the comment someone made about WH Auden: that if you flattened out the wrinkles his face would cover a tennis court. (It was often said that if you flattened out the interior surface of a human lung it would do the same). You're right, though, these things -not to our credit- are more usually said about women.

  12. Hi, A Cuban,

    Hilarious opening to your post! Actually the entire post was very entertaining. And like I love faces with character, like Robert Plants. But on TV, it is distracting if you are a news anchor, or presenter. I've been conditioned, I admit. Youthful dynamic looking folks should hold those type jobs; and the standards for men are different, a greying fellow looks distinguished, and a woman, aging. In movies, etc., different story.

  13. You're crawling across deserts with sparse vegetation and calling it someone's face, cracks me up (haha- that's a pun in itself!). Personality, a life lived. Yes! You are sounding like Ray Bradbury this morning. I don't know, if a woman wants to botox her face and lift her boobs and cut her ass in half-- if it makes her feel better, then I would say do it. To each their own journey. Its not my job to worry about what another person decides to do with their life just what I decide what I do with my own. ;-) And I like what Ray Bradbury says about life. I like what you say too. Great post (as always!).

  14. Excellent post, Cuban. There's a seriously unhealthy obsession with being young in our society.

    What truly worries me is that this desire to be young forever indicates a contempt for aging that can be truly harmful. It means that we're becoming a culture that rejects experience and wisdom in favour of sexiness and youth. There's nothing wrong with sexiness or youth but there is something wrong with an absence of experience and wisdom.

    And O'Reilly looks gorgeous with her wrinkles. There's nothing more ugly to me than those 40 and 50 something women who've botoxed up their lips and foreheads and eyes and look all skinny and stretched. It's graceless. I hope I don't think so little of myself that I resort to that when I'm that age.


  15. What a brilliant post. Why are men so much more fascinating and acceptable than women as they age? Such a strange concept and one I don't understand.

    I couldn't believe it when a colleague (in her late thirties) said how nearly all her friends had botox on a regular basis.

    I think I'm more worried about injecting something like that into my face and would rather have the wrinkles.

  16. My family don;t really 'do' wrinkles, being slightly chubby faced, we tend to fill out the incipient wrinkles with extra flesh. But I rather like them as a sign of life. Why would anyone want to look suspiciously smooth?

  17. You'll get no argument from 79 year old me on this one. I want to know more about that age reversing treatment.

  18. Interesting contrast between the aging of women versus men. It is a debate for all time-that of the differences between the sexes and how society reacts to them. I fear it will never end. Sigh. I enjoyed your reflections on the issue and you raise several valid points.

  19. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.



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