Unlike a lot of people, Matt Beckford is actually looking forward to turning thirty. His twenties really weren't so great...and now he has his love life, his career, his finances -- even his record collection -- pretty much in order, like any good grown-up should. But when, out of the blue, Elaine announces she "can't do this anymore," Matt is left with the prospect of facing the big three-oh alone. Compounding his misery is the fact that he has to move back in with his parents.
What's it all about, Alfie?
Mum and Dad immediately start driving Matt up the wall, and emails from Elaine and nights out with his old school chum Gershwin aren't enough to snap Matt out of his existential funk. So he decides to track down more old schoolmates and see how they're handling this thirty thing. One by one, he gets in touch with the rest of the magnificent seven -- Pete, Bev, Katrina, Elliot, and Ginny, his former on-off girlfriend -- and soon the old gang is back together. But they're a lot older and a lot has changed and, even if he and Ginny still seem attracted to each other, you can't have an on-off girlfriend when you're thirty. Can you?
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Here's the thing: For a long time I, Matt Beckford, had been looking forward to turning thirty. I'd been looking forward to the day when, by the power of thirty, I'd own a wine rack that actually contained wine. Not much of an ambition, you might think, and you'd probably be right, but then again, you're not me. You see, in my world, when a bottle of wine enters, it's usually consumed in its entirely in anything from twenty minutes (on a rough day) to twenty-four hours (on a not-so-rough day). This is not because I'm an alcoholic (not quite yet) but is simply due to a liking for wine combined with the fact that I have no self-control whatsoever. So what's my point? Well, the point is this (stay with it): Wine racks by their very nature are designed to hold more than one bottle of wine. Some can hold six. Some can hold twelve. It doesn't really matter. What does matter are the big questions raised by the existence and desire for ownership of wine racks:
1) Who can actually afford to buy twelve bottles of wine in one go?
2) Who (assuming that they can afford it) would have twelve bottles of wine in the house, come in from a hard day at work, and resist the temptation to consume the lot?
3) Who thinks that wine racks are a good idea anyway?
The answer to 3 -- and, for that matter, 2 and 1 -- is, of course, thirty-people (as my girlfriend Elaine called them): the thirtysomething; the thirtynothing; the people who used to be twenty and are now...well, not so twenty. People like me. We who have scrimped, struggled, and saved our way through our twenties precisely because one day in the future we wanted to be able to afford to buy multiple bottles of wine, store them in posh wine racks in our posh kitchens, and...not drink them. Well, not all at once. We want to be able to show off the fact that finally, after all these years, we have self-control, a taste for the finer things in life, maturity even.
I wanted in. I was ready for it. Ready to embrace this brave new world! I had it all planned out. Right down to the last detail. That's the thing about turning thirty (other than wine racks): Before you even get there, you already think you know exactly what it will be like. Because it's the big milestone you've been looking forward to all your life that means you've arrived at adulthood. No other birthday has that same power. Thirteen? Pah! Acne and angst. Sixteen? More acne, more angst. Eighteen? Acne plus angst plus really horrible dress sense. Twenty-one? Acne, angst, plus a marginally improved dress sense. But thirty? Thirty really is the big one. Somewhere in your parents' house there is a list (or maybe just some random jottings) that you scribbled down when you were, oh...say, thirteen, about that near-mythical date in the future when you would be turning thirty. In your own inimitable scrawl will be written things like: "By the time I'm thirty...I want to be a [insert name of flash job here] and I'd like to be married to [insert name of whichever person you were obsessed with at the time]." What's clear from this exercise book is that even at the tender age of thirteen you've realized, as Freud once said, that when it comes to life, "All that matters is love and work," a statement that, if you're only thirteen, leads you to ponder two major questions:
2) Will I ever get a girlfriend?
1) What am I going to do with my life?
2) Will I ever get a girlfriend?
What am I going to do with my life?
The answer to the "What am I going to do with my life?" question was always pretty obvious to me, even at thirteen. While my schoolmates wanted to be everything from journalists to actors and lorry drivers through to spacemen, all I ever wanted to do in life was be a computer programmer. And I did just that. I went to university, got a degree in computing, and went to work for a company in London called C-Tec that manufactures specially designed software for financial institutions. Okay, so I didn't get to invent the next Space Invaders, Frogger, or Pac-Man, which definitely was my dream when I was thirteen, but I was at least in the right area. So that was that one checked off.
Will I ever get a girlfriend?
Of course, the answer to this question was yes (more of which later), but as I grew older it changed into the far deeper question: Is there a perfect woman out there for me, and if so who and where is she? Now, this was a little more difficult for me to answer, not least because, if I recall my more mature entries in the exercise book correctly, I wrote down Madonna.
I didn't really start thinking about girls until quite late (very late, judging by the antics of some of the kids at school), so by the time I'd given the subject any deep consideration my testosterone levels were more or less off the top of the scale. That's where Madonna came in. I remember clearly the first time I saw her on TV. She was on Top of the Pops promoting "Lucky Star," the U.K. follow-up to "Holiday," and I was blown away. She wasn't very well known in England at the time, so to my parents she was a mad-looking girl who wore far too much makeup and jewelry, with a penchant for religious imagery. But to me she was gorgeous. Even though I was a teenage boy from Birmingham and she was a twentysomething girl from New York, I was genuinely convinced that one day she'd be my girlfriend. That's the optimism of youth for you. "Someone's got to be Madonna's boyfriend," I'd reasoned at the time, "because if no one thought they could be Madonna's boyfriend then she wouldn't have anyone to snog and Madonna looks to me like someone who needs snogging on a regular basis."
Thing is, within a few years I'd grown out of my Madonna phase and moved on to real people...like Linda Phillips with the nice smile, who sat next to me in geography, or Bethany Mitchell, a girl in the year above me at school whose tight gray school sweater left little to the imagination. Later still, however, I even outgrew Linda and, rather sadly, Bethany, only to move on to real real people, the regular ones that you don't have to worship, like Ginny Pascoe, my old on/off girlfriend.
I call Ginny my "girlfriend," but she was more accurately a girl who was also a friend who I sometimes snogged. We never actually gave what we had a name. It was more of an arrangement between us from the ages of sixteen to twenty-four. At first it wasn't even an arrangement, merely a bad habit. Fueled by Thunderbird, a potent sweet wine that was then every teenage drinker's tipple of choice, we'd pair off regularly at school discos, house parties, and occasionally even our local pub, the Kings Arms. However, as soon as Monday morning at school arrived, Ginny and I would always, without fail, feign amnesia, dementia, or just plain ignorance of such weekend couplings. This arrangement suited us both as, for a long time, I was in hot pursuit of Amanda Dixon, a girl with whom I had about as much chance of going out as with Madonna during her "Material Girl" phase. In turn, Ginny was in hot pursuit of Nathan Spence, who was not only equally beyond her pulling power but also had a "reputation," which -- in the most bizarre piece of feminine -- logic I'd come across at that tender age -- served only to make him even more desirable. We were never weird about our arrangement (like a lot of odd situations, the longer it was around, the more normal it became) and, best of all, it never interfered with our friendship. We were friends. And we were sometimes more than friends. And that was that.
As time moved on, so did Ginny and I...sort of. She went off to university in Brighton and I departed to university in Hull. Over the next decade or so, a steady stream of girls wandered in and out of my life. Each one, I thought, if only for a second, might be the one I'd turn thirty with. For the sake of brevity and minimal embarrassment, the list reads like this:
Girls that year: Ruth Morrell (a couple of weeks), Debbie Foley (a couple of weeks), Estelle Thompson (a couple of weeks), and Anne-Marie Shakir (a couple of weeks)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 8
Girls that year: Faye Hewitt (eight months), Vanessa Wright (on and off for two months)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 5
Girls that year: Nicky Rowlands (under a month) and Maxine Walsh (nine months)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 3
Girls that year: Jane Anderson (two and a bit months) and Chantelle Stephens (three months)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 10 (a spectacularly bad year for self-control)
Girls that year: Harriet "Harry" Lane (roughly ten months on and off)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 3
Girls that year: Natalie Hadleigh (two months), Siobhan Mackey (two months), and Jennifer Long (two months)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 1
Girls that year: Jo Bruton (a weekend), Kathryn Fletcher (nine months-ish), and Becca Caldicott (one month)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 0 (lost contact)
Girls that year: Anna O'Hagan (ten months), Liz Ward-Smith (one day), Dani Scott (one day), and Eve Chadwick (a day and a half)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 0 (contact still lost)
Girls that year: Monica Aspel (nearly but not quite a year)
Number of times got off with Ginny Pascoe: 0 (contact all but forgotten)
Following the events I will refer to only as The Monica Aspel Debacle, and with no Ginny Pascoe around with whom to find comfort, I decided at the age of twenty-seven that enough was enough and put my name forward for a transfer from the London office of C-Tec to its New York base. After all, I told myself, a change was as good as a rest, and what I needed was a rest from women so that I could concentrate on getting my career to the level at which it should have been. After only two days in the Big Apple, however, I met Elaine Thomas, an attractive, intelligent, slightly "out there" twenty-year-old student at NYU, who had a passion for bad food, long telephone conversations, and Englishmen. We fell in love and, following a ridiculously short courtship, ended up living together. Finally I allowed myself to relax because, after all this time, after all these girls, I knew which one I would be with when I was thirty.
And it wasn't Madonna.
And it wasn't Ginny Pascoe either.
It was Elaine. My Elaine. And I was happy.
Until it all fell apart.
Copyright © 2000 by Mike Gayle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an undemanding, reasonably amusing read. The relationship between the narrator and his sort-of-ex-girlfriend was interesting, as were the amusing asides about his former classmates. The whole end-of-twenties trauma seemed a bit overblown, probably because I'm past forty so I'd swop any day!
Nostalgia from an average man about his life when he hits 30. I think a lot of people should be able to relate. Easy read. This book could even be made into a movie.
Raising two infants (two and a half year old Mathew and ten month old Maisie) is hard work, but Martha loves being a mother and wife to Michael though at times she covets the freedom that her sister Eliza enjoys. Thirty years old Eliza lives with Greg the musician in his flat, but envies her sibling as she wants marriage and children with a man whose vocabulary was a shade wider than that of her nephew. --- Eliza dumps Greg fleeing to her sister only to find Martha heartbroken because Michael has left her. After a weeping fit, both siblings agree they must enter the dating game though their goals vary Martha wants the F fling with no commitments while Eliza desires the marital thing with total commitments. Martha meets Jack who wants more from her while Eliza goes through a horde of men seeking her Mr. Perfect husband. Neither has found love not even comfort with the hunks they have bagged. --- LUST FOR LIFE uses humor and sex to somewhat mute the overall serious tone of the story line that focuses on what one desires in life and relationships that enhance or impede obtaining these aspirations. Martha and Eliza are fabulous sisters both yearning to a degree to have what the other possesses yet clearly love and care for one another. While the supporting male cast augments insight into the sisters, the complex relationship between Martha and Eliza keeps the tale from spinning into an inane chick lit throwaway as each sibling walks in the other¿s moccasins. --- Harriet Klausner