My English teacher at what is now The King’s Lynn Academy, Robert Layton, introduced me to a poem by Jenny Joseph called “Warning”. It’s opening lines state:
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me”
Well, I was 15 when I first heard that poem and I am pleased to say I am still a way off wearing purple, but I did have the enormous pleasure of bumping into a group of women who belong to the Red Hat Society – an international organisation for older women that is now international in its reach.
The encounter took place in Norwich and at first I thought it was a hen party, just with some very old brides and bridesmaids. The women, about 20 of them, were all in a bar and as I peered through the window all I could see was lots and lots of floaty purple dresses and a smattering of bright red hats. And all I could hear was peals of laughter and the clinking of glasses.
I sat primly on the balcony of the same bar and dutifully ate a salad washed down with sparkling water but every so often my gaze was drawn wistfully to the women inside who were just having so much fun.
Eventually one of them came outside – to have a cigarette obviously – and we quickly got talking. The picture she painted was one that I will carry with me happily into my autumn years. The Red Hat Society is open to any women over the age of 50 and it offers the chance to meet up socially, go to shows, go travelling – it is really anything its members want it to be.
“All too often women melt into the background as they get older,” my new friend told me as she swigged on a gin and tonic and waved her cigarette around.
“We are determined not to let that happen, we want people to see us, remember us and know that we are still relevant.”
And, despite not being there yet, I know what she means. Young girls start out in life with so much hope and potential but all too often they become just someone’s mum, someone’s wife or someone’s grandmother. Women, whatever their age, should be any or all of those things and, like the Red Hatted women, so much more as well.