Another year older but still no excuse to 'dear' me

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 08:45 24/11/2012

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This has happened only since my hair turned platinum. 

Another birthday rolled around this week. I did the arithmetic beforehand and realised I am now the same age as my mother was when she died.

My mother never had a day's illness until she was diagnosed with the cancer that quickly claimed her. I was 33 at that time. I was devastated and knew my mother had gone too soon. But I still remember thinking - with the certainty of youth - that she was really quite old, and had lived a good long life. I was, in fact, somewhat comforted by this notion.

Nowadays I have a very different perception of age and I'm shocked that I could have thought that. Especially now I've reached that point myself. In my head, though, I still don't feel any more than 33, so it is extremely galling when bits of the body don't quite do what they're meant to any more and reminding me I'm three decades older than that.

A knee injury is plaguing me, while quite a lot of time and energy is expended on "maintenance" to smooth out wrinkles and shore up other potential problems. I'm cycling at the gym to strengthen the damn knee, slapping on the anti-ageing cream, enduring the pain of waxing and groaning at yet more sun spots.

I'm not sure my mother's generation spent as much time on such issues as mine does. Mum's beauty treatment consisted of having her hair permed and applying a goodly dollop of Oil of Ulan moisturiser to her face. Her fitness regime just happened as she went about her daily business and dieting was never on her to-do list.

She would be perplexed by my maintenance programme. I'm also not sure what she would make of my one-woman campaign to stop random people calling me "dear" in a tone that trivialises, conjuring up an "old dear", that might be reserved for an ancient, infirm aunty.

This has happened only since my hair turned platinum and I don't like it. ("Dear", that is, not the platinum.)

I've written about this before and I thought I might file an update from the battlefront.

Because, quite frankly, I don't know where to go next with the campaign.

It is failing miserably, because people tend to turn feral when I ask them not to call me "dear" and neither party comes out of it well. I try hard not to provoke. I've got a polite little speech about how being called dear makes me feel either nine or 90, and I'm neither of these ages. It is always delivered in a positive manner.

But it's not working, and a couple of times recently people have become downright nasty. Like the other day at Auckland Airport when I was flying to Sydney.

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I was pulled aside at Immigration for one of those random pat-down checks, and the woman who did it "deared" me throughout. "Just stretch out your arms, dear; turn around please, dear; legs apart please, dear," and so on.

All in a patronising tone.

So I made my little speech about preferring not to be called dear and she went from friendly to frosty in a nanosecond. "Oh," she said, adopting an unpleasantly hoity-toity tone, "and what would you like to be called? Ma'am, or madam?"

I was nonplussed. People don't need a label in a situation such as this and I bet she wouldn't have deared the 40-something man who had just preceded me at the checkpoint. But she wasn't in the mood for further education. "You may call me by my name," I said, "I'm Denise." She glared as I walked away.

I was still fired up in the adjacent duty-free shop, where I bought some booze to take to our friends in Sydney. The staff member called me dear a couple of times. I made the speech, he laughed (in a more friendly manner than Checkpoint Charlene) and flicked me aside with the line, "Darling, I call everyone dear."

Is it time to give in, give up? It may be, but I still don't understand the need to pin a verbal name-tag, a label, on people. It's not necessary, it's taking a liberty, and probably 90 per cent of my exchanges in shops, cafes and the like happily and efficiently take place without anyone dearing me.

The other 10 per cent have me beaten. And when I came back into Auckland Airport from Sydney on Monday week I wasn't about to argue with the man on the final Customs point before the exit. He deared me a few times, he stood between me and the arrivals hall, and it would have been foolish to annoy him.

Maybe my foolish youthful assumption that my mother was old at 63 is a widely held belief. Maybe I need to pick my battles better. This one's not endearing itself to anyone.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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