Crow’s Feet

Around the corner from where I live is a dentist’s surgery.  Once a week, an A-frame board appears on the street outside announcing: ‘Dermabrasion clinic for fillers, lip plumping, smoothing of fine lines and crow’s feet.’ We all know, thanks to Philip Larkin, that the age of debauchery was born with the invention of sex in 1963, but when did thismadness begin?  When did offering to smooth one’s skin as a sideline to dental work become the treatment du jour?  I laughed in disbelief at the sight of the board; at the barefaced – and, I’m imagining, smooth faced – cheek of touting ‘beauty’ services to those who have toothache and need a filling or extraction. I don’t know about you, but my crow’s feet are the least of my worries when my second molar, lower left (always), is acting up.  Are we losing the run of ourselves?  Do I even need to ask that question?  I think we lost it long ago.  Maybe we lost it, as Pip suggests, in 1963, ‘between the end of the “Chatterley” ban and the Beatles’ first LP.’  Every year seems to bring a new ‘can-you-believe-it?’ moment. A change to culture and practice more jaw dropping than the year before.  But does it really, or does it only seemto?  After all, this generation doesn’t have a monopoly on vanity – ’twas ever thus.  The song, ‘Keep Young And Beautiful’ was written in 1933 with the dubious message: ‘It’s your duty to be beautiful, Keep young and beautiful, If you want to be loved.’

There will be those who care about their looks and those who don’t.  Those who have the strength inside their head not to worry overly about what the outside of their head looks like, and those who would take the path of Dorian Gray were it available to them.  Whether yours are wren’s feet or robin’s feet, blackbird’s feet or sea-eagle’s talons – you’ll either not give them a moment’s thought, learn to tolerate them, or rail against them.  Me, I just pull on the corner of my eye when penciling in a lick of eyeliner and hum Paul Heaton from the Beautiful South singing ‘Prettiest Eyes’: “Now you’re older and I look at your face, Every wrinkle is so easy to place, And I only write them down just in case, That you die. Let’s take a look at these crow’s feet, just look, Sitting on the prettiest eyes, Sixty 25th of Decembers, Fifty-nine 4th of Julys.”  I’m not that old yet, but I like the sentiment: how we might embrace our smile lines, thank them for all they’ve seen, witnessed, been through, and bash on.

Appropriately enough, I spied the crow’s feet offer as I was waking back from a Victoria Crowe (lovely coincidence) exhibition at the Portrait Gallery.  Taking time to linger over her work, I was taken by how Crowe doesn’t shy away from painting her subjects as she sees them – wrinkles and all.  One painting in the collection is of Dr. Winifred Rushforth, a Scottish medical practitioner and Christian missionary who spent time in India before locating back to Edinburgh to establish the Salisbury Centre – a place for spiritual, psychological and physical healing.  Winifred lived until she was almost 100, and sat for this particular portrait well into her nineties.  Although pictured with only one side of her face illuminated, her crow’s feet are unmistakable; a network of tributaries feeding into pools of eyes, watery with age.  The words on the wall panel next to the portrait provide a quote from her: “age is not measured by the fragility of the bones but by the strength and creativity of the spirit.”  Would Dr. Winifred have considered for one instant to have her crow’s feet smoothed out?  Not a chance. No more than she would have believed that sex began in 1963, Winifred’s age did not hold her back, it deepened her.

Annus Mirabilis, by Philip Larkin

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(which was rather late for me) –

Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.


Up to then there’d only been

A sort of bargaining,

A wrangle for the ring,

A shame that started at sixteen

And spread to everything.


Then all at once the quarrel sank:

Everyone felt the same,

And every life became

A brilliant breaking of the bank,

A quite unlosable game.


So life was never better than

In nineteen sixty-three

(Though just too late for me) –

Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban

And the Beatles’ first LP.

3 thoughts on “Crow’s Feet

  1. It never would have even occurred to me that my teeth need whitening, that my eyebrows need waxed, that my hair needs highlights, and that my laugh lines need ironed out if it hadn’t been for Hollywood, magazines, and television telling me so. I heard a quote once – “Vanity is the quicksand of reason.” How true it is!


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