I will always remember getting to 40. How could I forget?
Men seem to worry about reaching 30, and 50, but for me 40 was the one that made the difference.
There is no way you can kid yourself any more that you are that bright pretty young woman
who has just left university. Even in your 30s, you can fool yourself that you are just in a slight extension of your 20s.
But 40 no. All your friends have kids, invariably more than one, usually two – one of each because your friends have ordered lives. Some of your friends or work colleagues have died.
Your female friends are dyeing their hair – not to look young and glamorous – but to hide the grey. (Not me – no grey hairs when I got to 40 – thanks mum).
Anyway, determined to face up to it bravely, I planned the annual holiday. By some strange quirk of fate, Helpful Partner has his birthday the day before mine, so we had started taking our holidays at birthday time.
Sometimes we celebrated on his (as it came first), and mine was a more restrained affair. Sometimes we partied for two days. And if they fell over a weekend we turned it into a birth-weekend. So much more fun than just a birthday. We have been known to make a birth-week out of it too.
This year, my birthday was clearly going to be the event. After much rejection of virtually every destination in the world, I decided on three weeks in Spain. Part back-packing, just to prove I WAS NOT OLD, and the hire of a villa plus car for a week.
I say villa but that is a bit grandiose as it was actually a quarter-detached house, ie a semi and a back-to-back all in one. And there was a brill pool about 10 yards away which was always pretty empty in the morning as all the Spaniards were still in bed.
I digress. For my 40th we had back-packed down the coast to Valencia and I had splashed out on a decent room which even had its own shower. Not too much of a splash mind, about 25 quid instead of 15-20 quid.
Our daytime activities on that momentous day have faded somewhat in my memory. I think we wandered round and didn’t have much to eat. The previous day we’d eaten at La Luna (C/San Ramon, don’t know if it is still there, unlikely I guess), which was good but we didn’t want to eat at the same place again. I think by 4pm we’d managed a few small tapas. Like tiny tapas.
I blame it all on the Rough Guide to Spain, sixth edition, p688. This was where I read all about Agua de Valencia. Water of Valencia is something of a misnomer. Anything further from water you can’t imagine. Freshly-squeezed orange juice (yum), champagne (cava I should imagine), and vodka (ouf). I think they do it with gin too. It’s slightly irrelevant as the orange juice masks the spirit and it tastes like a rather interesting Bucks Fizz, which pales into insignificance next to Agua de Valencia.
So I was determined to try it. When it got to a civilised (British) hour to try this racy cocktail for my birthday, we hit the bars. Now one of the best things about this delicious concoction is that the bartender makes it up freshly for you and it comes in little jugs. Actually they are not very little at all. You can get some three glasses of Valencian Water (hah!) out of one jug.
“Do you like it?” says Helpful Partner.
“Yes,” I said (bit of a stupid question I thought but he is a beer drinker).
“Have another one,” he said.
So I did. And then we went to another nice olde bar, wooden floors and dark, you can imagine it, and I had a couple of jugs there too.
In fact it was very dark in there. I really couldn’t see very well. I staggered to the toilet, and gazed meaningfully in the mirror at this 40-year-old woman.
And opened the reservoirs. “Boooooo. I’m never going to be young again. Booooooo. I’ve had the best years of my life. Booooooohooooooo. What am I going to do for the next 40 years? Booooohoooooohooooo.”
Eventually there were no more tears left in the reservoir, just a few dribbles, so I made an undignified exit and appeared back at the bar, somewhat baggy-eyed and probably looking ten years older than when I had gone to the toilet. Helpful Partner had finally twigged that he had been a bit over-generous in plying me with Agua de Valencia. He finished off the remaining jug and dragged me home. I think. Who knows?
I did not feel well the next morning. Not at all well. Sensibly, I had planned down to the finest detail exactly what we were going to do. Stagger halfway across the city with an incredibly heavy rucksack to the bus station to get the bus down to Alicante and pick up the hire car and go to the villa. This was a great plan originally but on the morning of the Biggest Hangover Ever it was not such a good idea.
Helpful Partner was not sympathetic and we lurched off to the bus station. The bus driver was clearly not sympathetic. BUMPETY BUMP went the bus. BUMPETY BUMP went my head. The horrible sun was not sympathetic and shone brightly at me even behind dark glasses. Up and down, up and down endless sick-making hills. I super-glued my head to the headrest and tried to look not very ill/sick/vastly hung-over. More sort of the I’ll-just-doze-off look and hopefully not vomit on the bus.
I can still remember it all too vividly. But it did make me think I needed to change my life.
Agua de Valencia. Your life may never be the same again.