This year, for my 40th, I went with some girlfriends to Ibiza for the weekend. This is what I learnt.
If you’re not used to leaving your children, it’s fine that 90 minutes into your journey your husband calls, begging you to come back already. What is not fine is him later sending you a picture, like this one, with references to how sad your one year old daughter is now that mummy’s gone and left her.
You know all that fantasising you do about solo travel, now that you have children? How when you hear about other grown-ups travelling you conjure up images of the Orient Express circa 1920? Belle Epoque Cote d’Azure? Turns out that travelling from Birmingham airport to Ibiza in July is actually not like that at all.
Turns out that travelling without your family can be a lonely, frustrating, over-heated experience. Turns out that after buying a bag full of toiletries from your local Boots the day before, you get to throw them all away at airport security because now you no longer travel, you forget about things like luggage restrictions. The fun thing is that you get to buy exactly the same stuff in the airport Boots, which you will then have to throw away again before you come back through the airport on your way home. Hooray!
You will worry that the gangs of teenagers travelling together en masse really do look too young to be unaccompanied by an adult. Especially when this mass of pissed, sweaty 19 year olds crush together to rudely block your path to your departure gate. Then you realise that actually they are waiting patiently for a door to be opened. And that they haven’t complained once as a cross, overheated, 40 year old woman runs over their toes with her wheelie suitcase, bashing their knees with her Boots carrier bag.
You will learn to be careful what you wish for. As you board the plane you will promise God all manner of things to not have to sit next to the hen party with the drooping floral head-wreaths. You will instead get to sit next to the world’s most miserable man, the one with the incongruously sparkly flip flops.
If one of your party, who is flying over separately, copes with a 24 hour delay with the kind of grace and forbearance last seen in Little Women, it’s best to keep quiet. You’ll seem like a much nicer person if you keep your own travelling woes about excessively polite 19 year olds and having to re-buy shampoo, to yourself.
Getting drunk on the beach is a fabulous idea. Paying £65 to go to a nightclub, not so fabulous. Amnesia’s shite music, self-congratulatory DJs and appalling prices (£9 for a bottle of water) are dreadful, although admittedly, as a middle-aged mother of three, you might not be their target demographic. But what will push you over the edge will be the décor. And when it’s the décor that’s offending you most in a nightclub, it really is time to go home.
Be cool. Because if three young men want to sit on some rocks on the beach, take all their clothes off and play bongos, that’s absolutely fine. You would not have raised an eyebrow in your twenties. Now you’re in your forties, and a mum, you are obviously even more mature about naked bodies. Except when the bongo players keep scanning the beach, to check everyone knows they’re naked and totally cool about it. Then it becomes quite funny. And when your friend makes you swim over to get a closer look and they just start staring at you, beating their bongos even harder, well then that’s very funny indeed.
The next day, the elegant thing to do is for your friend to ask the barman on another beach to create a special cocktail to encapsulate the experience of the bongo players. What makes things even more sophisticated is when she asks for this cocktail to be called Cocks on the Rocks. And whilst ‘I’m very fucking busy’ might not be the response she hopes for, eventually she will get her Cock on the Rock. It will be purple and red and taste strongly of Malibu.
Expect to pay the price for such fun. Your six year old might call you in the airport on the way home, crying because he misses you, which will lead to the shelling out of an astronomical amount for gift-shop guilt tat. Your three year old might greet you at the train station, naked from the waist down, face full of impetigo. To make up for your absence you should play lots of party games. Halfway through the mummy game, where you race to wrap each other in loo roll, do not be offended if your three year old tears off all his loo roll and shouts ‘I don’t want to be a mummy. I want to be a daddy instead.’
Parental guilt will not be the only cost involved. Once home your liver will no longer be talking to you. Nor, after being bleached not so much baby blonde, as baby-having-a-mid-life-crisis-blonde, will your hair. Nor, come to think of it, will your bank account.
However. If you get the chance to go away with girlfriends for the weekend, GO. The chance to just hang out with old friends for such a long time, is very special indeed. And anyway, who the hell else is going to sit with you in your pants, laughing at the naked bongo players on the beach?