When I first came to La France Profonde I got great pleasure from seeing real old ladies, the kind who used to exist in the UK: the kind our children and grandchildren will never know. Now there’s a thought.

They had laps – big comfortable laps for little people to snuggle into; wraparound pinnies they'd bought at the market; solid, sensible walking shoes and untinted grey hair pinned in a bun.

They marched down the country roads to mass and market, tended potagers and tickled eggs from underneath broody hens in barns from another era. Often they worked alongside husbands who matched them in age and surprising agility, and together they tilled and raked their smallholdings.

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Coming from the city, I found these women both delightfully shocking and strangely comforting. They seemed to flow into the earth in an organic symbiosis.

And it jolted me back to the Ireland of my childhood and the couple who worked my grandfather’s farm outside of the city where we lived.

I just knew there would always be freshly gathered eggs for tea and butter-slathered toast alongside. (Nothing, nothing has ever tasted as good since.)

I just knew an old clock always ticked away in the kitchen; kittens and puppies blind-eyed nursing under the range; hens wandering in over the stone-flagged floors.

I just knew they would sit in companionable silence before rising for bed as the sun set.

No wonder I initially settled in to this strange, rural life as if a child snuggling under a down quilt with a gentle presence beside my bed lulling me to sleep.

Many of these women, even after all these years, are still there; a little slower, a little less present during the day and, sadly, as is the way, increasingly alone.

The men have died. There is no gloss to put on that – we women have always had the art of survival.

These days when I pass the once thriving farms I see all this. I see the empty kennel where a dog was always replaced for the one who chased cars and ultimately got hit.

I see the shrinking potager and the fallen roof tiles and the rotten wood that’s dropped off and is left to rot further.

But I see too the cars of their children who come for the unmissable Sunday lunch and hear their laughter and shouts as they sprawl around an outdoor table for hour after hour, enjoying the bounty their mother has nurtured.

Often I pass houses, in both village and country, and see a lone woman under a parasol outside her porch, podding peas or beans with no thought other than what she is doing at that moment.

I never pause too long for I will be fixed with the malevolent stare of a French countrywoman; malevolent until they take you into their hearts.

All these moments came to me this week as I "celebrated" my birthday. And no, it wasn't a significant one, just another year.

Rising, my heart sank as another notch was added to my totem pole of age. I peered in the mirror and swore I could see more lines etched on my greying face and I heard the ratchet of the reaper getting ready.

I do dwell too much on age, unlike the women about me or even the robust expats who, like my gym mistresses of old, stride ever out and upwards.

It doesn’t help on reading the UK papers online. It appears it is the duty of all over 50s and more to be sexually active, yoga toned, Laboutin heeled, Botoxed and lifted to some awful parody of youth.

I read stories of life changes that somersault women into a new/old existence equivalent to that of their 30-year-old selves.

And the underlying message is always the same: age is ugly, ageing is not allowed; quick fixes of diet and exercises will give you your old body back; look at X, look at Y, they’ve done it; buy this, buy that and give yourself a new look with an instant 10lb off.

I hate it, hate it and yet stuffed into my drawers are two recently bought swimsuits that promised all of the above. I looked instead like the meat in a sausage.

To get back to my size 8 figure I would need to starve once again … Oh, and the wine would definitely have to go.

It seems my love of wine trumps all and yet I despise myself as I edge ever closer to a 12.

For God’s sake, why? I’m an invisible woman now, as all women over 40 become. I seek not to attract but not to repel either.

I remember lying in bed, joyfully aware of my concave stomach and sharp hipbones, and now I run my hands over curves I do not want.

And I despise the fact I care. In truth I would like to be in a wraparound pinny with a big lap for holding babies. Well, not quite …

My birthday? OK. I have to be honest, although I hate it. I was 39. What? What?