December 31, 2044
Mother's nature: journal of a fiftysomething's midlife anxieties
Phoebe began her diary 40 years ago. She is now 54 and semi-retired, having sold her shares in Xan, the music company her brother Tacitus founded in the early 2020s.
She is working on a social narrative of women's lives from 2000 to the present for InCom, a global learning database. Instead of a screen, she has an active contact lens with laser projection and a remote processor.
She lives with her daughter, Willa, 19, in a reclaimed residential area of London. Tacitus, 43, has split from his wife, Zen, and has an open relationship with Yasmin, a human gene technician. Their father, Max, got an incurable autoimmune disease in 2040. He is stored in suspended animation (Human Hibernation Project) awaiting a cure. Their mother, Anna, is 75, fit and well and living near Phoebe.
No New Year commitments...
It's the waiting that drives me crazy. She knows I worry. All mothers worry. My mother still worries about me and I'm 54; now it's fallen to me to worry about everybody, so I'm sitting here at two o'clock in the morning doing what I do best. And Willa is out there doing what she does best, ie, driving her mother wild. I keep imagining her laid out on some superspeed highway somewhere, having fallen out of a faulty pod. She can be in Brighton in about 10 minutes, Paris in half a hour.
How am I to know where on Earth she is? A simple call would do. It's not as if she's got to go out and find a phone box, is it? All she's got to do is say the password and her sweet smile or goblin grimace, depending on who she is today, will flash up on the top right of my lens.
All I wanted at her age was communications gear; we had state-of-the-art mobiles, viscomms centres we strapped to our wrists. Oh, how groovy we thought we were; we were the new millennium generation and our voices encircled the world. How could we have known that our own progeny would want to be incommunicado; out of touch and out of sight. Oh, I've heard that somewhere before... What do I sound like? An ageing hippie, I know.
My friend Freya has tagged her son; she says it's the only answer. I thought it was an unbelievable concept at the time, a contravention of basic human rights, even. I mean, these tags are actually implanted under their peachy prepubescent skin - but I'm coming round to the idea now.
To hell with the kids; on to more important issues. Saffron is here - she's just had a full facial skin graft. They've been growing it down at the lab for six months and very nice it looks too, so we're planning a rearguard action.
I'm going to have my bottom hoicked up. Saf's having her thighs trimmed and remodelled. She's been taking the drugs rather longer than me and I have to say she looks alarmingly juvenile these days. She says it's to do with sex. Young lovers and plenty of them. Proven scientific link: modern woman at her prime at 50-plus, young men queuing up, etc. God help her, she's even talking of having another baby. Mother Nature didn't plan it this way, of course, but it was Mother Nature who stitched women up in the first place, so we've ditched her.
Everyone knows that as (some) men get older they get sexier, while women just get more tired. And saggier. Well, nuts to that. We've nabbed the hormone that makes our muscles flex and our skin shine and now we worship at the altar of Sister SimSin Inc, goddess of anti-ageing products.
It's a funny thing, but I really do feel absolutely marvellous these days. Life has been even better since we moved back to the city. The rural idyll wasn't all it was cracked up to be - my heart wasn't in it. Loved the marketing blurb, hated the reality. The mud was ghastly and the bacteria were simply teeming. I used to curse those children's clothes, which were all manufactured with bacteria-guard labels; it seemed to me that pink was the colour of good mothers everywhere. Willa's labels were always dark blue: a sure sign I was failing to control infant infestations. Thank God all that's over. Now it's just the horrors of raging hormones. Why is there no government health warning on teenage girls? I alternate between wanting to kiss her and bite her. Neither strikes me as a completely sane response, so I decided last week that I would have a crisis of my own. You can imagine how that went down. But why can't I have a midlife crisis, for God's sake? It's my turn. The trouble is, every time I feel I might just slip into one, someone else springs up with a problem clearly more demanding than my own rather amorphous list of disappointments and anxieties.
The only stable person in my life is Jeremy, my cybermate, who is delightful. He perches discreetly, top left lens, only interrupting to correct grammar or offer helpful suggestions. He's been a godsend to the Chronicle of the Past. While I obsess over a difficult section, Jezza is busy information- gathering for me; I only have to give him a line or two - say, Woman's Hour, February 6, 1994 - and he'll access the subject matter and download the research I want into my Chronicle file.
I cannot believe how hard women worked in the 20th century and how little practical help they had. How women with children coped - how my mother coped - is beyond me. I've been having dreams about ironing, supermarket-shopping, unsupervised children and piles of unpaid paper bills... Real nightmare material.
6am, January 1
Scientists, who have so far failed to beat cellular breakdown, are claiming that for years they have had the technology to create a body double at birth, available for when body No1 runs out of steam. As long as they have the correct genetic information, they can create a clone and store it indefinitely. I am paraphrasing here, obviously, but it is pertinent because something terrible happened last night. I got up to get a drink, I opened the cooler and there in the crisper compartment was a fully formed replicant baby, floating around in its own ambient light-blue liquid, a doppelgänger of me waiting for thought transferral.
It was motionless, of course, pink and pickled, existing in suspended animation. I looked at its little mottled hands and saw the beginnings of my own. Sweat began to trickle down my spine as fear and horror swept over me. Me with another life to live. Different decisions to make...
I woke up kneeling by the open cooler, peering at the blue light of the Temp Alert gauge. No baby, just a week's worth of leftovers and a big lump of Willa's latest pale-blue quantum protein mix. Oh, the relief! There is no Phoebe No2 baby clone and life is okay. In fact, it's a whole lot better than okay.
Realise that my mother was never that careful. In the dim and distant 1990s she barely consulted our online physician, never mind made sure my genetic blueprint was stored for the creation of replicant babies. I rang her anyway. It was 5am and she was talking to her friend Val, in Rajasthan. "What?" she said. "What?" Then the penny dropped. "Darling, I found you and Tass so demanding, it was all I could do to get myself dressed by lunchtime, never mind find time to get your genes replicated..." She sounded sheepish and rather guilty, faced with yet another example of parental lethargy. But thank God for M's hopeless organisational skills. And thank God for her total inability to grasp the future! Look in on Willa, eyebrows raised in defiance, even in sleep, unique and so totally unlike me. Collapse helpless, laughing hysterically, which wakes Willa up.
"Mum," she says blearily, "is this it? Is it breakdown time...?" Mother still on the line. "Hello? Hello? Phoebe, is there anything wrong? Willa, what's happening to your mother?" Nothing. Nothing at all, I finally manage to screech, tears streaming down my face. Roll on, 2050. I've nothing to complain about: it's a wonderful, wonderful life...
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