‘Mirror, mirror on the wall,
who is the daftest of them all?
I am nearly fifty years old and suddenly alone. I had often sympathised with others, over the state of newly divorced forty and fifty-something’s, never really believing that it could ever happen to me. One never does. I was sideswiped by what I call a ‘Fast Tracker’ and never knew what hit me.
My husband Peter is a banker, that’s banker with a B! We had been married for just over twenty-five years when he suddenly announced that he had met someone else.
We had been together from the age of twenty and had shared so much over the years that I genuinely thought he was my best friend. We had met when Peter was at college and we were broke for much of the first ten years. It didn’t seem to matter. We were in love and even when the children came along, Elizabeth, Andrew and Kate, we still managed to have fun with the little money we had to spare. Peter worked long hours to provide for us and I felt we were a team. He was now a highly successful merchant banker and we had been enjoying the good life for the last fifteen years. Then one day, suddenly, out of the blue, it was over. I will spare you the hours, days, weeks of recriminations, crying, begging and generally demeaning behaviour that accompanies such an announcement since I have already been through the process and I have no wish to repeat it. But I will share with you my definition of a Fast Tracker.
A Fast Tracker is a girl in her late twenties or early thirties, who is on the lookout for a middle-aged, successful, wealthy, powerful man. This girl has no interest in going through the early years of poverty, screaming babies, mortgages and doing without. She has no desire to train a man into being the perfect husband; she wants one that someone prepared earlier. My husband was ripe for the picking. He was all that a Fast Tracker could desire, and being of an age that is easily flattered by a younger, toned, available female, he fell – hook, line and sinker. Incidentally, something he swore would never happen to him.
He was most generous, as he kept reminding me. Although I had not worked during our married life, he conceded graciously that I had brought up the three children more or less single-handedly and had done a fair job of it. He also appreciated my efforts around the home and the fact that his shirts had always been ironed, his cleaning collected and his meals cooked. The subject of sex was not mentioned, although I was tempted to point out that it was usually he who suffered the headaches after a long difficult day at the office. By the time he had outlined my leaving package, I felt like a redundant executive who, whilst applauded for past efforts, should really throw himself on his sword for the good of the company.
It all came as rather a surprise to me, which made me feel exceedingly stupid. How could I have missed the signs? Basically, there were none. He had been getting his cake and eating it too. Life at home had been no different including our Saturday night lovemaking. He had been as ardent as ever. How could I have been married to someone for twenty-five years and not known him at all. Apparently, he had been seeing this girl for over a year. I suppose, in hindsight, that it could have gone on for years, except that she had got pregnant – completely by accident, of course. Would I be cynical in suggesting that it was all part of the grand design, and a determination to get her man won the day? She should have been a Mountie.
She wanted the house, of course. It was beautiful and I had spent the fifteen years since we had moved in, making it the house of my dreams. It became a nightmare instead. I had no independent means of support. Peter agreed to pay me a one-off sum to enable me to buy a home and still have an adequate income.
The children had left home, and were now independent, so it left just me. He said that if I were difficult that he would simply sell the house and give me half the proceeds, so I would lose it anyway. In the end, for a quiet life, I agreed. It broke my heart, but I did manage to negotiate for most of the furniture and household appliances, as the Fast Tracker had decided that she wanted all new accessories for her new home. She did not mind a used husband but she was not into used furniture.
I managed to find a very pleasant little house, backing onto Epping Forest, in a suburb of Northwest London. The central line station was only a few minutes’ walk away and I was half an hour from my old neighbourhood and friends.
For the first six months though, I filled my days with decorating and transforming my new home into a haven. I had no wish to see anyone from the past as it reminded me so much of what I had lost, but gradually, I began to pick up the pieces and face life as a middle-aged single woman.
The children were angry, confused, bitter and then resentful in turn. Much of their negative feelings were directed at me. Why had I driven him away? What had I done to upset him? It must be my fault that he turned to another woman.
After a few months of recriminations, I snapped and told them that they could think what they liked. This surprised them as I had followed a very conciliatory line of parenting with them. Always reasoning problems out and hopefully dealing with them fairly when they went through the inevitable stages of teens and early adulthood. They were as shocked as I was, and after a few months of spending time with both their father and Stephanie (the Fast Tracker), and myself in my new home, I believe that they began to appreciate that there had been an external, unstoppable force at work that had simply cast aside the complacency that accompanies all those years together. This was combined with the fact that when they did visit their father he was usually busy changing nappies and feeding their new half-brother called Adam.
I must say that, not having received any help in that department during our own children’s infancy, I was very surprised to hear of his current involvement. Stephanie obviously possessed far stronger powers of persuasion than I did, and in more departments than I had thought. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the first nappy sessions; I sincerely hope that he did not come out of the experience unstained.
Thankfully, my children are sensible, bright individuals and have their own lives to lead. They rang me and visited me in my new home frequently, and I was thankful that our love survived. Peter tended to throw money at them, in an effort to overcome the guilt he felt, and being practical they took it, but with a knowing smile.
After six months of decorating and curtain making and now being well ensconced in my bright little haven, I started to get bored. With only myself to look after, there were long hours to fill. This is where the comfort eating comes in!
I had satellite television installed and sat in front of the movie channels for several, unhealthy hours a day. I worked my way through multi-packs of chocolate bars and the large tubs of rich ice cream that tasted sinful. As this was the nearest I was ever likely to get to sin again in my life I decided to take it to extremes, with devastating effects on my body and morale. The forest beckoned, offering long walks through its leafy paths but it was ignored. My hips spread and gravity began to pull my body down along with my spirits. Eventually when the last of my skirts failed to fasten, and not wanting to spend my limited capital on completely replenishing my wardrobe, I decided that action was required. I would get a job.
I had avoided the thought like the plague. The main reason that I had not worked for the past twenty-five years was because Peter felt that I should be at home with the children. A pity he had not been quite so old-fashioned when it came to infidelity.
I had no idea where to start, so I rang my eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who was a legal secretary in the centre of London. She suggested that I go to the local temp agency and see if I could find something that did not require modern technology, just plain old-fashioned common sense – such as filing.
The whole prospect was terrifying, after all this time; I wasn’t even sure if I even had any common sense. It was certainly something Peter always assumed I was lacking. I went back to my daily movies and popcorn and put the whole subject ‘on the long finger’, as my Irish friend Mollie says.
A few weeks later and I was down to the last two items in my wardrobe. I was going to have to find some common sense from somewhere and pretty quick. Thankfully some arrived in the form of the local free newspaper, and instead of throwing it straight in the bin, and not having visited the video shop that afternoon, I sat down and read it from cover to cover.
There, in the appointments section, was a small advertisement:
JENKINS TEMPORARY AGENCY
Specialising in the mature applicant.
Call for an appointment today.
I called the number listed and got a very nice woman who told me to put a C.V. together, and to come in on Thursday for an appointment with Mr. Jenkins himself.
The next day, I let out the waistband of my last remaining decent skirt, unearthed a jacket that only just met across my middle, and forced myself into a body shaping girdle – their words, not mine! Unfortunately, the body shape it achieved was not quite what was on the packet, it pushed most of the problem areas upward into the bra cups, and I had difficulty breathing. However, it was the first time in my life that I actually had a cleavage. At least I could button my blouse without leaving gaps, and popping the buttons. With any luck, Mr. Jenkins would be so entranced with my new womanly shape that he would not notice the rest of the outfit.
Wednesday evening was spent writing out my record of previous work. I had never sat down and really thought about all the jobs that I had undertaken before the children came along, and I was honestly surprised to see how many different positions I had held. I included the weekend and holiday jobs that I had when at school, and college, because they were all experience. Right?
My parents had insisted that I go to secretarial college, so that I would always have something to fall back on. I obtained my typing and shorthand qualifications at the end of the year – although in those days we only had manual typewriters, so our speeds were not great.
After college, I really was not sure what I wanted to do. I had applied for a number of positions in offices, and remembering those early interviews made me smile for the first time in ages. I seemed to have had a new job every nine months or so. It might not look too good to a prospective employer, but I reasoned that the temp agency would want to know everything I had ever done, so that they could accurately assess where to place me. So, I wrote down everything, even the jobs I had been fired from. With any luck, if they did take up references, there would not be anyone there who remembered me.
Thursday morning arrived. I dressed, applied my make-up and practised smiling in front of the mirror. I looked like a cornered rabbit, with a nervous tick, rather than the sophisticated mature woman looking to return to useful employment. I just hoped that Mr. Jenkins would see the raw potential underneath.