Sunday, 22 February 2015

Being a woman

I was born in 1970, the year that The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer was published.

I remember the book sitting on the shelf in my Dad's study, and because it was towards the top of the bookcase, I assumed it was a sex manual - which is exactly why I nicked it when I was 14 and sketchily read it under my covers.

Bloody hell, was I cacking disappointed. If there was any sex in it, I hadn't got a clue what sort of sex it was. And by the time I got to the bit about women drinking their own menstrual blood, it was time to slip it unseen back onto the shelf, and try that book that said 'Kama Sutra' on the cover (whatever THAT was).

I do not know enough about feminism to write about it properly, like a proper person who knows things. I do know that I, and all the women of my generation, are indebted beyond belief to writers in the Age of Enlightenment, who defended the rights of women, and the Suffragettes, and social and electoral reform, and proper contraception, and probably even the second world war - plus the post-war feminists of course, including Germaine Greer. If I was born in 1870... well. If I wanted to write, I'd have probably done it in secret and under a male pen name. I'd have been a dab hand at using a mangle. I may have been called Fanny. And as for being a pilot - it was 20 or so years before the plane was invented and 60 years before the infamous Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic.

And so here I am, with a wealth of hope and opportunity being tantalisingly dangled in front of me. I could be a doctor, or a brick layer, or even - yes - a pilot. But I've also got to think about having babies because unfortunately, men can't do that yet. And there's this other related thing that's getting in the way. My periods.

Women and hormones


The day before my period, I feel so shit that I can hardly see straight. My head is banging and my spine aches. I feel really low and very cross at the same time. I've been to the Docs and there's nothing to be done. Just sit tight and wait for the menopause to pop it's delightful smiling head round the front flap and say, "YIPPEE! YOUR WOMB HAS DRIED UP!"

Millions of women suffer similarly. And you can handle it if your job is sedentary, or if it's not too complex, or if you're at home. But when I was flying - shit, sometimes, it scared the effing pants off me. You try and ride over it, forget about how you're feeling, for various reasons - the main one being that you are EXTREMELY BUSY proving that women are just as good, and able, as men at flying effing planes.

Which is stupid. Because one of the first things you learn as a pilot is not to fly if you're feeling ill. Even if you know that whatever it is that's wrong will not get any worse. Feeling off colour is just another layer of stress to deal with in the cockpit, and however well you think you're dealing with it, it will cloud your judgement.

My premenstrual-ness would affect my ability to talk on the radio, my landings, my navigation. I'm not saying I flew like a twat - I didn't (at least to my knowledge) fly dangerously - but I wasn't on my game. And when you're a pilot, you've always got to be on your game.

For example. A typical radio conversation with the tower when the painters were in would be something like:

Me:  Golf Tango Whisky Alpha Uniform ready for departure.
Tower: Golf Alpha Uniform, runway 27 out to the west, left turn, wind speed 9 knots, clear for take off.
Me: Ummm... say again, Gold - um...Aqua Dolphinium Uniform
Tower: ....is that you, Golf Alpha Uniform? Got the painters in again?
Me: *burble*
Tower: Just effing take off. We've got a jet coming in in a minute and you're cocking everything up. Piss off.
Me: Oh. Righto. Golf Alpine...oh, fuckit.

*Accelerates off runway and into carpark*

So I'm eventually getting round to the point I want to make. *Obvious Klaxon* Women are biologically different from men, and their lady parts present issues that men don't have. Our hormones and smaller body-frames mean that perhaps we are less able to do the physical jobs that men do. But perhaps our fundamental ability to bear children makes us naturally better at other things; roles that involve caring for others, as an example.

It's wonderful living in an age where women are generally offered the same opportunities as men (and yes, I know that there are exceptions). But I wonder if we (women) are sometimes guilty of forcing our square pegs in round holes. Not a euphemism. I know that this sounds like a comment from the stone age, and I am honestly not saying that we should all become nurses and primary school teachers - although many of us are, and damned good ones too. And I'm definitely not saying that we should simply stay at home and look after our children.  Only that we shouldn't ignore our strengths.

Because some of them are strengths that most men do not have.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Seeing your children through the eyes of others

We - that's me and the boys -  met my Dad's new squeeze the other day. I'm going to call her Irene. She's nice (and has provided good fodder for a future blog post).

Anyway, we all sat down at a table in a a pub. Bit awkward, making small talk, shuffling chair legs. Pretending to be engrossed in the menu. But Irene is staring at Teen. Teen has noticed, and is sweating slightly. He is making a strange gurgling noise, and his focus is fixed on the middle-distance - as it happens, on the large bazoomas of a rather attractive waitress.

"My, what an attractive young man you are!" says Irene. Very, very loudly.

Tween snorts with laughter and derision, forcing diet coke out of his nose. Teen has turned white - now red - now grey. Ashen. Then, suddenly, he mutters something about the toilet and dashes off in the wrong direction (as it happens, towards the waitress with the big bazoomas).

Irene is unfazed. "What a lovely looking boy!" she says. "He looks Italian. Is his father Italian?" (More Tween snorting.) "Lovely eyes. Did you see his eyes?" she asks me. "Yes," I replied, "I am his mother. I have seen his eyes."

Whilst I might normally write Irene off as deranged, she is not the only person to have commented on Teen's looks. And there was an occasion when we were on holiday in Wales when he was swarmed by teenage girls (he was 13 - they were 16) which made me feel very ill indeed. So logically, I understand that he is good looking.

But when I look at him, I see an awkward boy with the face of my ex. A boy who has spent most of his life in my pocket, who is literally part of me, and who has built up layers and layers of love and arguments and laughter and sulking and angst and all the other shite that 'family' throws at you. I look at his eyes and see my child's eyes - they function and have my colour and reflect his feelings. The shape of them reminds me of my ex husband. And that's pretty much it. But others obviously see something else. Something....attractive. Sexual even. (Excuse me whilst I throw up in a bucket.)

He IS NOT A SEXUAL BEING! He is MY SON! Fourteen years old. Doesn't know his arse from his elbow. And if I catch any women looking at him, I will tell them to fuck right off and come back when he's 18.

But seriously (actually, I was being serious), all this has made me realise that there is more to my son than I thought. To me he is a moody teenager; to others he has a sexual edge (*shudder*) that I simply don't (or won't) see.

Tween, who I think is much more attractive (probably because he looks more like me) is yet to come out from behind the glass wall of puberty. Irene complimented him on his green eyes, but it was Teen that she couldn't stop looking at.

For fuck's sake. Put your tongue in. You're 72.

I just need to get used to it. There will be girlfriends (or boyfriends perhaps) and I will be nice. Charming. "Cake?" I will say, and while my back's turned I will hiss, "Hurt him and you will know pain..." and they will say, "Pardon?" and I will say, "What time is your train?"

And when she takes his hand under the table, I will pretend not to notice. And when she looks into his eyes, those eyes of his that remind me of my ex, I will quietly leave the room.


And then the fun began...

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Monday, 2 February 2015

Love at 44

My love life is arse about tip. It really is up the swanny.  I thought that, by now - over two years since my divorce - I'd be settled down with someone new. I'd be part of a bigger, blended family, living in a shabby house full of sweaty teenagers and marked sofas, drum kits and chaotic dinners. Come the evenings, there would be a log fire lit in the winter, drinks outside in the summer. My new partner would be bookish, funny, caring, witty, sexy. He would bring me a cup of tea in bed. I would tickle his feet. Our children, wary of each other at first, would given time all get on like a house on fire.

There would be board games, shouting, dancing.  Flowers.

Scrabble.

Instead, I am living a quieter existence with my own two boys in a little house that we have made home. I am happy here - in fact, I'm closer to my boys than I have ever been - but my choices of boyfriend have so far been shocking. Shite, quite frankly.

The Boyf, who I have written about often, chucked me (again) last week. We had a complex, long distance relationship, built on insecure ground. His ex wife hated me, and last summer her harassment led to me calling the police. I never met his son, and his daughter only once. He wanted nothing to do with my kids. He was depressed.

Not the most wonderful set-up for a serious partnership, I grant you. But I gradually got used to our on/off relationship, filling the 'off' bits with internet dates. These haven't been wildly successful; there was the guy who turned out to be gay; the guy who was still living with his wife; and the guy who wouldn't stop talking. I'm still seeing the last guy. He is, at least, extremely good at filling the silence when the kids aren't at home.

Dating in your 40s, second time around, is a completely different prospect to dating when you were younger. Yes, the pot is smaller, but you are changed, too - you are more self-assured, more independent, more knowledgeable about what you want. You're better at sex, simply because you've had more practice. You're not afraid to ask for what you like (and yes, I'm still talking about enjoying yourself in the sack). You are probably pickier with men, and find it hard to settle for someone who appears less than perfect. You'll have learned from past mistakes and are keen not to revisit them.

There are external changes, too. You might have kids - who need to be put first. You might be working all hours God sends to keep the wolf from the door, so simply don't have time to date.

You might just not have the energy to date any more.

To be honest, I'm getting to that stage. There's one man left that I have my sights on, but he lives a looooong way away. I hardly know him. He has his own responsibilities. But he has said lovely things, is gentle and funny and bright. He writes well. I imagine he might bring me a cup of tea in bed occasionally. And he might even speak to my boys.

And if he doesn't work out, I will cry. Either that, or go on an extremely long holiday. Or watch the entire box set of Game of Thrones in one sitting - with the curtains closed, surrounded by a mountain of Kettle Chips.

Actually, probably all three.

So if he's reading this - and of course he isn't, because if he ever read this blog then he wouldn't want to know me any more - then I'd like to say to him: My entire relationship with mankind rests on your broad shoulders.

Please don't let me down.