“Crying is good for you,” my mum would sniffle after bursting into tears yet again for no reason. I was in my mid-twenties, ignorant of the uncontrollable changes caused by decreasing levels of oestrogen. Fast-forward thirty years and my own biological process: I’d say that laughter is the better medicine, of which I’ve swallowed huge spoonfuls with my closest friend, Julie.
I met Julie in another lifetime, working at the Manchester Business Reference Library, helping northern entrepreneurs establish empires while offering the lonely and dispossessed a warm refuge from the Lancashire drizzle. We forged our friendship giggling over interviews in Smash Hits, stalking Morrissey and making fun of inane questions at the library enquiry desk.
After I moved to London, Julie and I took it in turns hopping on the train travelling to and from Manchester; but since moving to the French Riviera, visits have become much less frequent. I built a new life here thinking there’d be plenty of time to catch up, but before I knew it, my mousy brown hairs were outnumbered by grey ones and I couldn’t remember the last time my old chum and I had enjoyed a naughty girlie-weekend. So I invited Julie to spend a few days in the sunny South of France, share a glass or two of champagne and indulge in a little disgraceful behaviour.
Leaving Nice airport, we drove along the Promenade des Anglais, with its backdrop of mountains, sea and sky that I now call home. Passing by happy crowds of locals and tourists, I pondered the particularly female problems of growing old.
“D’you know what I find worst about the menopause? It’s the spots. I never had them when I was a teenager, but now …”
“Really? I think the forgetfulness is worse. I’ve gone out of the house a couple of times and left the French windows wide open. And once I forgot to lock the back door.”
“Oh God, yes! I used to have a fantastic memory for films and actors. But in the past year, I’ve seen the same thriller twice. I got half way through and realised I’d seen it before. It’s a really good film tho’. What’s it called? That Titanic actor is in it.” *
“Huh. I forget words, too. I’ve started using an online thesaurus, although it doesn’t include rude words. I was trying to find a polite way of saying ‘w*nk’, but had to use ‘w*nk’ in the end.”
That evening, I treated Julie to a night out in Monaco. We started with a glass of bubbly at Jack Monaco and guffawed as we sat in its outrageous blue and orange thrones.
“Do you know what I’d like? Fish and chips. I bet they don’t do that here.”
I asked for a menu, but Julie was right, the dish wasn’t listed. Nothing else took our fancy, so when the waiter asked if we’d like to order, we declined.
“No thanks, you don’t serve British food.”
“But why come ’ere to eat like in England? ’Ere is Italian, we ’ave the best food in the world.”
“Rubbish! You can’t beat steak and kidney pie, or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.”
We snickered like schoolgirls as the waiter huffed and tutted and offered to bring our bill.
“A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined being so forward.”
“Oh I know, I lost all my confidence, but it seems to have returned.”
That’s something else that happens with the menopause, we agreed. Anxiety and panic attacks changed us from flirty gadabouts into gibbering wrecks. When we came out the other end, the relief at rediscovering our confidence led us to be more outspoken and less concerned about what others think.
“I know where we can go,” I said. “Cosmopolitan serves the best fish and chips in Monaco.”
Over dinner we discussed literature, feminism and family. We ordered red wine, served with good grace by our waiter, no doubt accustomed to the foibles of Monaco’s middle-aged expats.
As we left the restaurant, a sleek orange Lamborghini pulled up.
“Is easyJet doing sports cars now?” tittered Julie.
An elegantly dressed young woman stepped out, teetering on her nude prostitute shoes. Over her shoulder she toted a bag, out of which poked a Chihuahua’s curious little face.
Julie sniffed as we passed them. “Don’t people usually leave the restaurant with a doggy bag?”
We burst out laughing, arm in arm.
“Oh God, another thing about the menopause, you have to go to the loo at every opportunity, ’cos when you sneeze or laugh it can be so embarrassing.”
“And sometimes it just comes out when you don’t expect it to. I’ve taken to carrying a spare pair of knickers in my bag.”
“Don’t! Don’t make me laugh.”
“Well, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry!”
And I remembered what my Mum had said all those years ago. I know now what she meant. With the menopause, when you’re not laughing, you’re crying.
*“The Departed” stars Leonardo diCaprio.