I booked a week in Menorca with a girlfriend, it was done at great speed, a lot of negotiating with my husband and family, and then when I realised we were really on our way, I sat on the new Laker plane in a stunned state. I was so excited, I could hardly breathe. I had been feeling used by everyone for a long time. I often woke feeling dead, decayed, and old, yet I was not quite 40. The year was 1979.
It was a couple of years before the film Shirley Valentine came out, but I too had reached a time when I was questioning how my life was, and if I could change it. Mid-life crisis hits many women, and men, and I was the classic age, I was just coming up to 40. Life for me was a blur of being ‘all things to all people’, a typical day is recorded in my diary.
1979. June. A typical day. “Started well, did daughter’s room first, put away all the clothes which were strewn around the room in heaps, changed the sheets, cleaned the windows and vacuumed, looks like a bedroom again now! Cleaned both boys rooms. Washed some dresses by hand, and put a load in the washing machine. Cooked a chicken. 9:30am. Tidied the rest of the house, and then cooked some pork as Mum and Dad were coming,then did sprouts, carrots, swede, stuffing, masses, of potatoes, a rum and nut cake and a lemon and orange sponge, also made a strange jelly with fruit in. After Mum and Dad left, I sewed V’s jeans, took dog out, cleared up , Ben went to bed early as he had a bad back.”
All my days spent running errands, getting medical prescriptions , collecting dry cleaning for family, taking slides for developing for husband’s business. Delivering his finished work to factories and customers. Shopping cooking looking after the needs of my ageing parents. Working and doing markets to make extra money. Too many things crowded me. I had just read a book called The Women’s Room and was realising I lived my life for everyone else.
Quote from The Women’s Room, “So I learned to take what I could get, joy on the wing or something like that, I don’t think in terms of forever, because forever is not something I can hope for”. The book told of how women can have someone else’s will imposed on them… Belonging to someone always seems to mean that love stays — as long as you do as they wish? I wanted to swap domestic drudgery for ‘joy on the wing’. My friend said she had a place we could go for a getaway. One scant week to escape.
I deserted them all a few days before my 40th birthday. Anne and I arrived in Menorca and found the villa high on a cliff, a pretty place with beautiful purple flowers rambling over it. We had to climb a rather rough boulder strewn path, but it was perfect, white and clean and looking out to the sea. We flopped on the beds and I unpacked about a dozen T-shirts. I think I wore three of them! The villa belonged to a friend so we were lucky, as our plans to escape had been made in haste. We were staying in the small township of Mahon, which had been a fishing port, but was gradually welcoming more tourists. Anne and I found a bar and had our first drink and meal. It was a freedom I didn’t quite know how to handle. We sunbathed and drank wine, and sat on the patio doing our nails, it was pure indulgence and I savoured it. We laughed the whole time, giggling as we stumbled home on the rocky path, danced at the caves disco, and sat in the bar, or watched people on the beach. Anything else that happened stays in Mahon, forever our secret, but it was harmless fun really.
My birthday was quite spectacular, we knew the barkeeper and he made a tower of wine glasses and poured champagne in them, all for me. I had already had a martini or two so I was slightly less than sober after sampling the wine. Anne leaned me against a wall, told me to stay there and ordered a taxi. We got back to the villa safely. I did not feel like celebrating the actual birthday next day… but survived okay. I spoke to my husband on the phone, but was feeling rather fragile. I never regretted my ‘Shirley Valentine’ experience. It left me still seeking answers, but I stayed and worked and continued to be a Mum. My husband met me, looked at the glowing tanned new me, and said, “Hmm, that is the last time you go away on your own”.