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Woman’s Hour

Despite an 11 year old who is generally awake later than we are, my husband and I still cling to the remnants of childfree evenings  courtesy of Netflix.

Our current boxset is Designated Survivor which, from the vantage point of episode 5, is a pleasingly bonkers tale of the US under threat. It’s perfect post-work viewing: no matter how bad a day you may have had at the office, it doesn’t come close to being catapulted without warning into being the leader of the free world.

Watching it last night through the wrong end of a bottle of wine, two of the three main female characters struck me. Hannah is a high-flying FBI agent with a nose for a plot; Emily a sort of Girl Friday to Keifer Sutherland’s accidental President.

Emily and Hannah are Serious and Dedicated Professionals. We know this because they don’t miss a beat despite personal grief (Hannah) and apparently work round the clock (Emily). But that’s not all. They are both impeccably thin, impeccably groomed and don’t betray by a wrinkle in their designer suits or hint of puffy ankles above vertiginous heels that they might be tired or fraught or somehow otherwise human.

Unrealistic images of women on screen are hardly rare. What was it then that made me pause for thought? Perhaps it was the contrast with the memory of my own look at work that day (trousers shiny, hair sadly not; a bare minimum of makeup thrown at my face in a sort of half-hearted tribute to Grown Upness) that made me realise that their appearance wasn’t just unrealistic, it was nigh-on impossible.

Because I’m 41, and because I’ve been living with this nonsense for a long time, I indulged myself by imagining what everyday life would look like if I tried to live up to this ideal of successful womanhood.

I would get up at 4am, to do an hour’s lonely exercise. A shower then, of course, before spending 30 mins carefully layering on expensive pigments (but not too many) and an hour or more ironing my frizzy hair straight so that I could look appropriately natural to be taken seriously. Clothes? I would ensure that weekends and a large chunk of my salary went on stocking a varied and appropriate wardrobe. Sure, this is all time and money which I currently spend caring for my family, but perhaps I should just sleep (even) less and work (even) more. I’m a woman, aren’t I?

Because I’m 41, and because I have decreasing patience for this nonsense, my hackles were still raised when I caught up with Weekend Woman’s Hour earlier this afternoon. Having a blissful hour to myself (in the kitchen, of course; I know my place) I listened in to a piece from Hull (one of the worst places in the UK to grow up as a girl, apparently) on International Women’s Day.

This is what the three young people interviewed said about their experience of girlhood:

There are more restrictions on girls and what they wear. “I had to think about how I looked at school, whereas before I had just thought about being there to learn”

There’s pressure: to look right, to send naked photos, to be attractive, to be sexy

“Around the age of 10 or 11…I felt pressure to look a certain way. I wasn’t allowed to be myself. I was trying to like make-up and be interested in hair, but I just didn’t really care”

The last speaker, though, had found a way to deal with this.

Now there is a lot less pressure on how I look. I turn up to school with messy hair, and no-one cares”

So perhaps, despite the apparent evidence, there are ways for girls to cope with the overwhelming pressure to become what women are supposed to be?


But the speaker in question, at around the age of 10 or 11, realised that they were transgender. Messy hair and haphazard clothes are not a problem, apparently, once you’re called James.

I wouldn’t presume to know anything of an individual’s circumstances on the strength of a 30 second snippet on the radio. James is entitled to privacy, and the respect of a stranger who has no idea what his life involves. My concern isn’t James, it’s the tone of the discussion as a whole.

Woman’s Hour – and Jenni Murray in particular – have had their fingers burned talking about trans issues in the recent past. That  might be why, following the above, the conversation moved blithely on, with not even the slightest attempt made to draw even the most tentative of possible conclusions from the stories told.

I have a 9 year old daughter. She’s been learning since she was born what society expects of girls, and I don’t flatter myself that what we say at home will counterbalance to any great extent the influences she receives. The best I can hope is that, like every woman I know, she will scramble through a variously miserable adolescence and early adulthood trying to find a way to make her given role fit, until she’s shrugged it into something approaching comfort or has found the confidence to discard it altogether.

Before I was 41, when I was already tired of this nonsense, I hoped that by the time my daughter became a woman she would no longer have to measure herself against the unrealistic, let alone the impossible.

I never dreamed I might have to convince her that it is the expectation, not her struggle to conform to it, which is the problem. That she doesn’t have to find aspiring to the impossible just fine in order to actually be femal after all. Or that Woman’s Hour, apparently, wouldn’t be in my corner for the fight.


Last Friday Night

There’s a pounding in my head…

I grew up in Newcastle. As soon as I reached my mid-teens, “going out” involved dressing up and heading to Dobsons in the city centre where Happy Hour meant you could buy a treble Bacardi and coke for £1.25. For less than a fiver, by 8pm you could be staggering merrily through the Bigg Market, chancing your luck with the bouncers, before teetering to the bus stop to catch the last bus home. House parties involved Diamond White and cheap lager; blurry fumbles on the coats and the crippling dread of Monday morning.

It’s a blacked-out blur…

The drinking culture was hidden in plain sight. As soon as I got my first Saturday job at sixteen, the hours between fitting customers’ shoes would be filled with veiled competitive tales of the night before. At school, then sixth form, the gossip of who had got most pissed and done the most outrageous things was a particular form of currency which seemed to buy admission to the coolest cliques, even as the rules changed and changed and changed.

Think we kissed but I forgot…

For me, emerging from a shy and bullied start to teenagerhood, partying seemed like a kind of get-into-jail free card. It seemed like the easiest way to change who I was, though I realise now it worked more like a badly-fitting disguise. A lot of the time it was fun, of sorts. But a lot of the time, it really wasn’t. Who I’d kissed? Well, I usually wouldn’t have been able to tell you. When you’re insecure to the point of turning yourself inside out; when you’ve learned, without quite realising it, that your value is inherently bound up in whether or not some bloke thinks you’re worth the honour of a shag, it makes a mockery of the vapid “empowerment” line we’re all sold. I wonder how many women, really, have sober one-night-stands – and why that might be?

Trying to connect the dots…

There have been two high profile cases recently involving alcohol and consent (fast becoming a caringly concerned gloss for “rape”). Two young men who, legal consequences aside, we’re given to understand have suffered the life-changing effects of innocently having sex with women so drunk that it required forensic examination as to whether or not they consented. The effects on the women are less important, it seems. “We must educate”, implore these young men, piously, presumably so that no man ever goes through the ordeal they have.

I agree we need to educate. But I think that the education we’re talking about is vastly different.

I have three young children: two boys, one girl.

I will fight like a tiger to teach my daughter that she is worth infinitely more than being considered fleetingly fuckable by any man. That she has the right, always and in every circumstance, to refuse consent to being penetrated. This is blunt language, but it’s a brutal world. And I am not so naive as to think that whatever I teach her will stand up against the cultural messages which tell her otherwise.


And my sons? The boys who, I suspect, will be the target of this “education”?

I will tell them that they have no right to the body of another. That their pleasure does not trump (in absolutely all senses) the integrity of the person in whom they seek to find it. That they cannot go through life assuming consent is the default, or that the onus is on their potential partner to demonstrate otherwise. That whatever she (and for the purposes of this, I do mean she) may  have said, or done, or suggested; whatever she wears, however she dances, however much she may have drunk, she never becomes a convenient excuse for release.

The bitter truth, though, is that they are all three educated all the time. Even though they’re still too young to be exposed to the kind of sex online which makes the stuff we saw as teenagers look like material for Topsy and Tim, they see pop videos and hear pop lyrics and read billboards and magazine covers which make it clear what society really thinks about their respective roles.

I don’t believe that alcohol reveals the true person, although in vino veritarse has a certain ring to it. But I do believe that it drops inhibitions to make people act in a way that they believe they are supposed to, in the way that they’ve been taught to, in a million subtle lessons we will never have noticed. And I believe that this, at least where sex is concerned, benefits one group far more than the other.

I am all for helping to educate our children and young people about the dangers of combining alcohol and sex. Just not, ever, to enable boys to find a way of safely screwing incapably drunk girls and getting away with it.








Do people still ask children what they want to be when they grow up? It’s not a question I’m aware of hearing these days; perhaps because the answer: “heavily in debt and renting till I retire at 94” is too guilt-engendering for the adult in question to cope with.

Shopping for children’s clothes last week, though, I saw that Next have grasped the nettle…sort of. Among the varicoloured bits of jersey were two T-shirts which flirted with the idea of one’s destiny in life:

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 11.29.49                Spot the difference?

A throwaway tweet got picked up and shared a lot later on. Some of the comments that came in – several of the characters are women; the Minecraft one comes in other primary colours; we buy my daughter’s clothes from the boys’ department – were true, and I worried that I was guilty of an overreaction; of espying bias and agendas where none are intended. After all, Next – to their credit – had some pinkified Star Wars tops in the girls’ range, so there was a bit more nuance than the two opposites I had picked on might suggest.

The thing is, though, that this stuff does matter. A T-shirt here or there might not make a tremendous amount of difference, but the drip-feed really does.So too does the rigid division from birth onwards of what belongs to each sex. Of course a girl could wear the Minecraft T-shirt above, but the fact is that many girls won’t, purely because it is displayed in the boys’ section and because they have the notion of what is rightfully theirs drilled into them from such an early age.

It’s not a novel observation that children’s lives are increasingly divided along gender lines of somebody else’s drawing. Clothes are pink or blue, purposeful or sparkly, practical or decorative. Toys – even the supposedly neutral options – come in two colour ways; doubtless to maximise revenue from discouraging hand-me-downs, but driving nonetheless an ever deeper consciousness of what belongs to “us” as opposed to what belongs to “them”. Do you think I’m over-exaggerating? You didn’t see the reaction of my then-3 -year-old son on holiday, discovering that the mattress protector he’d slept on all week was pink.

Children, by their very nature, generally want to conform. They are primed to observe, mimic and assimilate the structures and rules of the society in which they live. There is nothing innate about using a toilet, or cutting up food with a knife and fork, but we expect it as a given of a child entering Reception. Is it really such a huge jump to suggest that if we tell them that a certain set of attributes are theirs, that they are somehow therefore required to have them in order to fit in?

So perhaps it’s up to parents to counteract this pressure. Well, yes, but doing so against a whole culture which tells them otherwise is almost impossible. Although we had doubtless been guilty of buying our son clothes and toys marketed at boys, we’d certainly never banned him from pink or given him to understand that it was somehow lethal to his very being.

On one level, this is little more than a bewailing of a particularly virulent form of capitalism. Standard advice for those who find it problematic has always been to tell children that there’s no such thing as boys’ toys or girls’ toys, any more than we’d tell them certain jobs are just for men, or a particular way of being just for women. Which works, to an extent, right up until children also start hearing that the things that they like somehow in fact define who they are.

My 8yo daughter, in some ways all things “girly”, has a passion for playing with cars. Her latest birthday list features a kitten, new hair accessories, a go-kart and “new modern cars” to go on her car mat. An older relative, seeing her list, made a throwaway comment that she was a tomboy. She gave him a slightly funny look, then went off, in her sequinned leotard, to watch YouTube instructions on French plaits.

Later that night, though; curled up next to me on the sofa, there came in a quiet voice: “Am I half a boy?”. She’s seen CBBC programmes, after all, about boys who come back to school after the summer holidays in a dress and hair bows; girls suddenly allowed to join the boys’ team in exchange for a buzz cut and a new name. Of course there is more to all of this than that, but she is eight. That’s all she sees.

In fewer years than I care to calculate, the differences for my daughter will become less about which pages she’ll fold over in the toy catalogue; which range of clothes she picks her jeans from. Her body will change, and with it, the way the world sees and treats her. She will have to run the gamut of periods; of body hair and breasts and those who think they make her a form of public property to be assessed and appropriated. She’ll learn that if she goes out into the world with her brothers, she’ll be held to a different standard of behaviour; judged against a different set of codes if God forbid, things should go wrong.

None of this is new, of course. Nor does it mean that I think that boys breeze easily into manhood. But she is one of the first generation to hear another message alongside all of this; that if she finds what’s assigned to her restrictive, if she chafes at the confinement or even finds herself reaching more naturally for flat shoes and trousers and a slick of suncream rather than a full face of contouring, that she isn’t actually a girl after all.

These are deep waters, I know. I freely admit to a kind of ignorance here; a muddy sense of confusion between where opinions from the reading I’ve done meet prejudices and fears I may not be wholly conscious of.  I don’t know where we draw the line between teaching children that being different is ok, while ensuring that there is adequate support for those who need it. How we ensure that children have vocabulary and confidence to express what threatens their wellbeing, while not adding to all the causes that might threaten it in the first place. The truth is, this is new to most of us, not least our children themselves.

Maybe it’s no wonder we’ve stopped asking what they want to be when they grow up, after all.



Tax Attacks

When I was a child, the concept of financial planning didn’t get much more complicated than aspiring to a NatWest piggy bank. My parents were teachers, their parents blue collar workers; the really rich kids we knew were the ones with BMXs whose dads were riggers offshore.

It wasn’t until my world (though not my bank balance) expanded that I glimpsed what really growing up with money could mean. Not “with money” in the sense of having enough to have a comfortable life, but in the sense of having money with a life of its own beyond yours; money which demands shelter, nurture and advice.

1980s privatisations notwithstanding, I’d wager that for most of us, managing our finances involves a bank account, a pension (if we’re lucky) and a debt or two on one side, maybea bit of savings on the other. Tax is the bit that comes off our pay at source, or the amount we stump up after a sweaty-palmed calculation in late January. We’re vaguely aware of bonds and shares, trust funds and investment portfolios, but in the way that we know aboutthe existence of, say, grouse shooting.

I am no fan of David Cameron, but I am not particularly surprised to hear of his family’s apparent benefit from opaque financial planning. Under a system where there’s a fine distinction between the legal status of tax avoidance and tax evasion, after all, why wouldn’t he?

The issue here isn’t so much the affairs of one individual or even one group. It’s the interplay between the infrastructure of taxation and wealth management which, to someone not privy to it, seems designed for a mutual benefit that is simply not available to those of us who earn, and pay, and see the ever increasing caps on ISA and Child Trust Funds as something utterly irrelevant to our daily lives.

Yes, I would like a light shone on tax havens and dodgy financial planning. More than this, though, I would like a simplification of the tax regime as it applies to those of us who just earn and pay what we’re required to; a recognition that the self-assessment system is hopelessly inappropriate for low income self-employed; an acknowledgement that tax credits are labyrinthine and complex beyond the understanding of many of those embroiled in them.

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing, they used to say. Perhaps it doesn’t, if you have someone to hold your hand and walk you through the intricacies, let alone help you find a way to minimise what you pay. The rest of us, though, who can’t afford such a luxury, end up too often on the wrong side of something we’ve never been taught to understand; something which seems designed to trip us up, and where, in the absence of expert advice, there seems to be precious little credit for good faith.

Thats the real scandal.

An A-Z of Parenting (the primary school years)


A is for Answers. Those you are asked for multiple times per minute, and those you get back instead of the “yes, of course Mummy” you were hoping for.

is for Bedtime. The hour of the day which is apparently light years earlier in your house than in every other home in the land.

is for Cuddles. Especially the stolen ones, and those ones when you realise with a pang quite how much they’ve grown.

is for Drama. Also Storm/Teacup; Mountain/Molehill. (Generally an object lesson in the difference in perspective, courtesy of door slamming, head tossing and a wail to the effect that you don’t understand).

E is for Examples. As in, trying to set a good one, and realising too late that the muttered remark at the idiot in the car in front was anything but.

F is for Food. Which is either a cruel and unusual punishment (anything with an air of vitamins about it) or What Everyone Else In The World Has For Tea (anything else)

is for Giggling. Quite possibly the best sound in the world, even when it’s accompanying a conversation about farts.

H is for Homework. During which time loses all meaning and half an hour becomes endless aeons of pain (see also D)

I is for Image. Also known as the sudden mechanism whereby 75% of the wardrobe becomes unwearable overnight.

is for Judgement. As in “trusting your own”. Easier said than done.

is for Knowledge. A commodity whose value varies. Priceless to you; approximately worthless to those you’re trying to share it with.

is for Love. Nuff said.

is for Minecraft. Lego THAT YOU CAN’T STAND ON. Genius.

is for Noise. A sort of aural collage of handstand thumps, FaceTime pings and the “pyow-pyow” of an imaginary battle with Stormtroopers.

O is for Optional Hearing. A strange condition which renders the sound of a sweet being unwrapped three rooms away pin-sharp, while the instruction to wash ones face is a muffled blur.

P is for Pyjamas. Items of clothing which are welded to bodies, especially ten minutes before it’s time for school.

is for Quiet. A largely forgotten relic of an earlier life which makes an occasional reappearance when Minecraft is engaged.

is for Radio. Capital in the car and on every other set within reach to ensure a wall-to-wall surround of the kind of music that sounds like someone’s hopping over hot coals.

is for Siblings. The components either of unbreakable alliances against you or implacable feuds you must resolve.

T is for Toys. Also known as random articles of tat which are of no interest whatsoever until it is time to leave the house or set the table.

U is for Untidy. Not so much a state as an apparent independent Being which wreaks untold havoc in the blink of an eye.

is for Values.There is nothing like passing them on to make you question your own.

is for Why? A question asked less and less, but which gets harder and harder to answer.

X is for X-Box. Like a youth club in your telly.

Y is for Young. They are, you’re not.

Z is for Zhurely that’s enough by now, I’m off for a glass of wine (see A-Y)


Leaving Mummy Behind

Once upon a time, I had motherhood sorted. I almost always packed the nappy bag properly, I could tell you the CBeebies schedule to the second, and I could reel off a stack of research on anything from carseats to caesareans. I didn’t know it all…but I knew where to found it out.

And then my children got that little bit older.

It isn’t that it’s harder, these days, it’s just that it feels harder to know when I’m doing it right (or wrong). There isn’t such a wealth of resources against which to check how I’m doing.  They’re people all of their own now, my three; no longer a composite project of bottoms to be wiped and tantrums to be managed. They have complex lives apart from me, and problems I won’t always know about, and although I don’t miss the icy-footed nighttime visitors, I do pine for the days when it felt like I could make the bogeymen go away.

Once the very first shock of the baby days was over, early motherhood allowed me to find myself, or at least find a sense of myself that felt good.  It’s a sense of myself that I’m losing again. Holding firm to principles is tough when it brings a beloved child into conflict with his peers; I find myself second-guessing my own “Yes” and “No”. In a masochistic sort of way, it’s a relief to be past the secure certainty of that fleeting phase of toddlers and pre-schoolers when making it to bedtime was promise enough of another chance tomorrow, but the flip side is the realisation that a lot of what is yet to come will be the same middle of instinct, compromise and (hopefully) serendipity that has characterised my own life so far

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve left Twitter, for a while. My eldest is frighteningly like me, and I’ve seen how very easily he could become addicted to his screen-time. And I can’t in good conscience tell him to spend less time on his tablet or X-Box while I’m glued to the words of a myriad of others via the phone permanently present in my palm. We sat down together earlier and I deactivated my account. I will miss it horribly, but it feels like the least I can do At least I’m acknowledging to him that sometimes it’s hard to do what you know you should



Don’t Call Me A Busy Working Mum

I have three children, a full-time job, and a to-do list with a life of its own.

I am a mum, and I work outside the home, and I am busy.

Yet I will never, ever describe myself as a Busy Working Mum.

It’s just a description, isn’t it? So why does even the sound of it make my teeth itch?

After all, I should be the perfect target demographic for all those adverts I see aimed at the Busy Working Mum, trying to sell me everything from frozen Yorkshire puddings to all-inclusive holidays. Last week, I even saw one offering ready meals just perfect for my lifestyle. I can only imagine that they promise to keep my efficiency and selflessness topped up to optimal levels as I whisk briskly through my days.

So yes, it may be a description, but it’s hardly a definition. It means precisely zero. What value is there in a label available to any woman with offspring in receipt of a salary and withheld from any who’s not? What, after we all, do “we” uniquely have in common?

It is nonsense to suggest that there’s some commonality of experience which binds together the woman doing a couple of school-hour days round the corner with the single mother scraping by on minimum-wage night-time shifts; the high flyer with a nanny clocking up a working week in triple figures with a part-timer whose parents or partners are on hand. Do we really believe that the simple fact of being paid for a portion of our time means that life is unavoidably harder, busier and more stressful than that of someone who doesn’t or can’t work for whatever reason?

If it’s not a definition, then it’s certainly not an identity. It’s not the badge of honour I see it used as so often on Facebook posts or comments underneath articles online. “As a busy working mum” they start, before going on to outline why the commenter wishes she had the time to do or be or worry about whatever the subject of the article is.

It’s a ludicrously controversial thing to say in this climate of “doing the right thing” by working, but having a job doesn’t confer any virtue or superiority in and of itself. I’m owed precisely nothing for working beyond the salary agreed with my boss. Sure, I pay tax and National Insurance, but that’s because I work, not the reason I do. If you disagree, and you yourself work fewer hours or at a lower wage than you could…well, that doesn’t really stack up, does it?

And if I reject it as an identity, then I sure as hell won’t accept it as a destiny.

In my husband’s and my fairly bog-standard journey to parenthood, there has been one solitary inevitable given in the combination of family life with employment: that it would be me who would need some period away from work while the babies made their appearance. All the rest, from (our relatively generous) maternity leave to who gets the call when little Jimmy barfs on the carpet at story time is the result of our society and its (and our) expectations. There is no particular chromosomal composition that confers a greater ability to RSVP to party invites and buy school uniforms, but “Busy Working Mum” in all her harassed glory suggests otherwise.

Perhaps I’m being over sensitive. Perhaps you wish you had the time to be bothered about it. Perhaps you’re right. But do me a favour. Look out for references to “busy working men”, or “busy working carers”, or “busy working daughters”. And if you don’t see them, maybe just wonder…why not?

The unforeseeable future.

I have a recurrent dream in which I am sitting an exam for which I haven’t revised. It’s not an uncommon dream, I know, but mine has the added fun of featuring an exam on engineering. Not only have I never revised engineering, I have never studied it. In fact, I am so far removed from every being likely to pass an exam in engineering, despite being married to someone who has done just that lots of times, that, dear reader, I once tried to pre-heat a metal baking tray in the microwave. Try that on a rainy day to liven up the children.

Why am I telling you about my dreams, my marital status and my culinary disasters? Well, mainly, because every time I have come to write here recently, I have had a strong sense of being in the wrong place. I have felt, frankly, like a bit of a fraud.

It’s almost six months since I went back to work, and it has changed me. Not in the sense of having less time to blog, or less interest, but more in a sense that I have lost my voice. Once upon a time I was anonymous here and on Twitter, with no responsibilities beyond my family. Over time, I have “come out”, so that (to my never knowingly underthought mind), it is now a doodle for anyone so inclined to link the professional me with the person whinging on here. My preoccupations of the last few months have continued to revolve around the conundrum of reconciling family and work lives, but with the complication that whatever I write feels like it will be taken as a personal reflection, a comment on my own situation or colleagues or employer, even when it isn’t.

There is more, though. I still want to write about motherhood, but it becomes harder as my children become older. There is a universality in the shits ‘n’ giggles of the baby and toddler stages that doesn’t apply as they grow up. I can’t disengage my own feelings and experiences of the problems and joys of developing friendships, school journeys and puberty from the knowledge that these are secondary to the fact that my children are actually living them, and – again because Real Life people read this – it seems an invasion of their privacy to write in any detail about the challenges involved all round.

And finally, there is just a feeling of it all having been said. There is so much excellent writing around, that adding to it with half-baked pontifications of my own feels like a waste of everyone’s time. I never felt as though I was writing for anyone else other than myself; even I am  bored of it now and would rather spend my time reading what might actually do me good.

I had an amazing experience in November, courtesy of Mumsnet Bloggers Network; sitting on a stage with real, proper writers. I think that gave and continues to give me an acute case of Imposter Syndrome, if I’m honest; inhibiting me from wittering on here in the acute consciousness of inferiority. I waxed lyrical there about the importance of making time to write, or indulge whatever form of creativity took ones fancy, especially as a mother, and then came home and did precisely nothing about it. Underneath it all, though, is a realisation that it’s not the writing itself I’ve had enough of, but just perhaps, this blog. And that it’s fine.

I saw a headline yesterday that made me smile, although the subject was anything but funny. It talked about a flood-affected bridge being closed “for the unforeseeable future”. I think that’s probably the best line to finish on. For now.


Ovary and out

I can’t believe, as I get older, how  quickly time seems to go by.

Take today, for example.

I can’t believe that my eldest child is nearly ten. I can’t believe that it’s almost Christmas again. I can’t believe that it’s been a whole month since I last had to reach for the Tampax…oh, hang on. It’s not.

With the help of a lovely, gentle book I found online, I am currently preparing my daughter for the wonderful possibilities  indignities and inconveniences that lie ahead of her courtesy of her anatomy. And yet, at the same time after two and a half decades of uneasy co-existence, however (wanting my period to come, wanting it not to come), there doesn’t seem to be any such guide for me as I start the long and probably painful break-up with my own menstrual cycle.

It’s not the menopause, not yet, not really. It’s more a sense that my body knows what’s coming and is trying to make hay while the oestrogen shines, with all the subtlety of a child wanting the teacher to pick them to take the register back. I can see why, in the days before the Pill and the nigh-on standard issue vasectomy after the nigh-on standard issue 2.4 children, “change of life babies” were such a thing. No wonder that women got caught out when our bodies suddenly go from being fertile every four weeks or so to managing it almost twice a month. It’s hard enough to keep track of it all with an iPhone. It must have been murder when there was only the moon on hand

It’s a funny kind of feeling, having your body so thoroughly at odds with your mind; being broody despite not wanting any more babies. The car alarm went off at 2am yesterday,  and I was destroyed with sleep deprivation for the whole of the rest of the day. The thought of repeating the early years of my children’s lives makes me want to weep, even as I look at their giant shoes and incomprehensible Christmas lists and sigh over the small people whose world I once was. And yet, my reproductive system seems to have been taken over by Mrs Doyle, coaxing and cajoling with a bashful upwards glance that knows already it’s unwelcome. Ah g’wan. G’wan, g’wan, g’wan.

The pieces that have made up my life over the last twenty years or so: study, marriage, career, children – each one could have been interchanged with any other and brought me out in a broadly similar position to the one I’m in today. It’s easy, from the vantage point of a happy 40, to look back and think that I would have remained constant. And yet, now, I’m on the cusp of losing something I always knew I was expected to do, then that I was afraid to do, then that I almost gloried in the ability to do, I wonder where I was amongst it all. I wonder who I’ll be after.

And I’ll cling for dear life to the calendar in the mean time.




Mapped Out

I turned 40 in the summer, a time for taking stock and giving thanks for the many great gifts I have in my life.

Also, less inspirationally,  a time for making my peace with  the ones I never will have.

I would love to be able to sing, but I have a voice which my (singer) father likens to a bucket full of broken bricks. I would love to be able to draw, but I’ve never really got beyond the highlight of my junior school days and learning to make a house look 3D. Ish. And I would love to be able to find somewhere on the first attempt without getting hopelessly, tearfully lost.

It’s a shameful thing to admit to, being an independent woman of a certain age who can’t reliably follow a route she’s driven dozens of times without taking a wrong turning. Or to be the one who, even with the benefit of a SatNav, drives round and round the periphery of a destination while her children chirp merrily from the backseat “are we lost again, Mummy?”

It’s such a pathetically, stereotypically GIRLY affliction to suffer from, even though I know it’s less to do with the contents of my pants than the propensity of my brain to wander off at a tangent when presented with anything other than the written word. It is so much a part of me that I would say it was my calling card, on those rare occasions when I arrive where I’m aiming for without a sweaty, unplanned diversion on the way.

I can read maps, sort of, in the abstract. But give me a streetplan and ask me to relate it to what I can see before me, and it may as well be the sort of masterpiece I used to get home from nursery: random strands of spaghetti, held together with poster paint and glue. Worse, in a kind of cringing shame that I am not better at this stuff, I refuse to ask for directions and plough on, willing myself to develop a beagle-like instinct for sniffing out my destination.

Newspaper reports last week suggested that the risk of developing dementia is higher for those with a dark sense of humour and those who struggle to follow directions. I may not be able to find my way to the local garage, but at least I can see my future: laughing my head off, as I forget where I’m heading even as I fail to get there.

In the meantime? I’ll just have to stop swearing at my SatNav in the hope that she one day will tell me where to go without my ending up marooned in a bus lane or faced with a No Entry. Or get my daughter to do it for me.