When I was in my twenties, in the 1950s, I was working and living in London and shared a rented flat with my mother. I was making £4 a week and my mother had her pension. We both supplemented our incomes by having extra jobs at night and at weekends. I worked as an usherette in the cinema or the theatre, or found typing jobs, and my mother did odd cooking jobs.
So, although we were poor, we were able to make enough money to go on holiday, which was usually a cheap package tour to Spain. One particular year, it might have been 1954, we went to Mallorca. I was excited at arriving in this strange new country, new surroundings. We arrived at our small hotel, feeling tired after our journey.
I started unpacking the suitcases, putting our clothes away in the wardrobe and drawers. My mother was resting on the bed, watching me, when she said:
“You’re just an old maid, really.”
I remember feeling very hurt by this remark, but I said nothing. It was indicative of our whole relationship. Later on in the holiday, when I remarked on the long curly eyelashes of our good looking tour guide, she expressed surprise that I had noticed them.
In truth, I was a romantic. In those days my one idea was to find a husband and have a family. I would dream of marrying a writer or an artist, and we would live in a ramshackle old house in the country, with a brood of children, an idyllic existence.
I have, in fact, ended up being an ‘old maid’ or whatever the equivalent for it is nowadays.
Thinking back, I can see now that my mother, though always very proud of my academic achievements, never paid me any compliments on my appearance. Once, when I was in my forties, she told me she did not like the way I was doing my hair. I remarked that she never told me when she liked my hair.
“Oh” she replied, “I never tell you when I like something, only when I don’t !”
This must be the reason why, for many years, I never had any confidence in my own appearance.
In the past, being an ‘old maid’ had a pejorative meaning, a lonely old woman who lived with her cat. Today there are many single women leading fulfilled lives. I never achieved my dreams, and although I live on my own, I lead a creative life, painting, singing and writing. I live in a small cottage, not quite in the countryside, and I have many friends. And yes, I do have a cat!