I finally watched ‘Calendar Girls’ the other night – it’s a movie I’ve shied away from watching for the last decade, for some obscure (i.e. I probably do know deep down, but don’t really want to go there) reason. But here we are right now, with my husband temporarily laid up with a broken foot, watching a lot more TV together, including all those movies recorded on a whim but never actually replayed. Life is telling me that now is the time.
So at long last I’ve finally seen Calendar Girls – and much as part of me truly enjoyed it far more than I expected to, another part of me nevertheless found it very uncomfortable viewing. It’s a lovely, heart-warming story, but yet… there’s something both comforting and suffocating about the rural lifestyle portrayed that hits an excruciatingly raw nerve somewhere deep within me.
The Calendar Girls are middle-aged British women, as I am a middle-aged British woman. They live their relatively invisible, unremarkable everyday lives in a relatively small-minded out-of-the-way place, as I have done in the past… and escaped from… and in so many ways remain terrified of going back to. But the odd thing is, I also truly miss the comforting ‘knowing-who-you-are-ness’ of that slightly insular village community way of life.
In so many other ways, though, I’m the perfect Women’s Institute candidate, although I have never in my life been a member. I love baking, cooking, sewing, arts and crafting. I love being a homemaker, and I absolutely love the idea of the camaraderie and sisterhood and life-long friendship imbued in such traditional women’s groups. I am, and always have been, very much a home bird rather than a party animal.
But nevertheless there seems to be something about the thought of returning to that potentially stifling parochial, pastoral environment I grew up in, then married and bore my children into at so young an age, that truly freaks the hell out of me. I can feel the panic rising, slowly rising, rising, rising as I write, silently drowning out my dormant desire for achieving a quieter, country life in my later years.
The sheer breath-taking strength of my ambivalence amazes me. But what is it that scares me so much about returning to what is, at heart, the only world I knew before moving to London? Am I afraid of feeling written off, feeling dismissed as an irrelevance, feeling even more stuck, more stagnant in life than I do now?
And I can’t help but wonder if it is not only the bittersweet reality of a rural lifestyle that sits so uncomfortably with me, but also perhaps the vanishing visibility of so many middle-aged women that I find so unpalatable? Am I really so uncomfortable identifying with my ongoing middle-age that the thought of being brought face to face up close and personal with other women’s everyday menopausal realities and vulnerabilities in a movie brings me out both in a cold sweat and a hot flush all at the same time?
It seems that yes, I am, and yes, it does… but why should it be that so many middle-aged women seem to just fade away over time, wherever we live, our once-vibrant colour gradually growing more grey and opaque, our outline along with our existence becoming less defined with each passing year until we appear nothing more than an ethereal amorphous shadow of our once-young selves? It seems such a sad epitaph, and is perhaps a potential reality too far for me to want to face up to at this moment in time…
I don’t see myself ever bravely baring all in a Women’s Institute calendar, however tastefully done, but nevertheless the creative seeds of curiosity are now sown and I’m left with the growing need to find my own way to make my peace with my passing years, somehow come to terms with being a mature woman in my fifties, and learn to embrace the current season of my life with the same voluptuous vivacity as the original, real-life Calendar Girls on whom the movie was based…