At 19 I became politicised and interested in the feminist movement. I read Greer, Dworkin, Steinem and subscribed to Spare Rib, a feminist magazine. I didn’t buy into de-feminisation as a reflection of those beliefs, if I wore dungarees, i … Continue reading
When i was 8, my school had become a Steiner school. This was great for kids who were bright and self motivated, but difficult for the shy ones, like my brother.
Our classes were now a mix of ages and abilities. Instead of the old form system, we were in groups, red base, green base and so on. PE was dropped for eurythmics, we gardened, we sang a lot and engaged in lots of creative play. We also learned standard English and Maths and French.
By now, I was settled in my little group of mis-fits, but when the school uniform, that great leveller, was dropped. I became an outsider again.
With the help of Bill and Bette, I was outlandishly dressed at all times. My clothes came from one of the first children’s boutiques and were miniature adult copies of the latest fashions. Dressing a lively, tomboyish child like this was unwise. I was forever getting the expensive clothes dirty or torn. My mother would beat me severely as a result.
Things were disintegrating at home and as they fell apart, my mother would take out her frustrations on me. I was scratched, beaten and bruised under the smart clothes. I would cower on the floor,literally seeing stars,like a cartoon character, as the blows rained down on my head.
She would always take me shopping afterwards, in a fit of remorse, although she never, ever, said sorry. My father was around less and less. I wasn’t to know that my mother had refused to share his bed anymore because she was convinced sex was shameful and disgusting. She moved into my room, so I now had no privacy at all.
At the age of eleven, I woke to hear my mother and father shouting downstairs. I went and sat on the landing, trying to hear what it was about. They were far more likely to sulk when they disagreed than fight, so I knew there was something very wrong.
I heard my mother accuse my father of having an affair. He admitted it. She said she would kill herself and if she didn’t, she would not speak to him ever again as long as she lived. She kept that promise until death. Unfortunately, for my brother and I, we were going to live through the pain of it.
My father remained in the house for another five years. My mother threatened my brother and I with her suicide if we ever spoke to my father again. You’ll be taken into care, she used to rail. Little did we know that a care home may have been a healthier environment to grow up in, compared with what we were about to go through.
My father existed in our lives like a ghost. We’d hear him coming in late at night, his key in the lock, the taps going on in the bathroom, the sounds of him brushing his teeth and then walking past our rooms to his bedroom.
He’d leave an envelope of cash on the hall table every week to pay the bills and the housekeeping. My mother didn’t use it to pay the bills, I found out years later. She’d hide the final demands and the summons in rubbish bags in the loft. As children we had no idea, but were pleased about the new toys and clothes we suddenly had more of.
We were forbidden to see Uncle Bill and Auntie Bette and she sent their Christmas gifts back unopened. Eventually, things caught up with her, the parish priest and the doctor were called and my father settled the outstanding bills.
Having refused all help, my mother’s mental health was disintegrating fast. Fits of depression where she lay in bed issuing listless orders about the housekeeping were interspersed with high, crazy periods where we would go on mad shopping sprees and have no money for food at the end of the week. We’d sit down to a meagre supper of bread and jam.
The violence towards me became worse. She’d swear and curse at me. I was a whore, a witch, the devil. She tore at my clothes, beat me with a broom handle.
I would never know what kind of mood she would be in, so I developed an acute sense of hyper-vigilance. Even today I can instinctively feel a subtle shift of mood in others, I can sniff out a toxic person in a room of strangers. My observation of body language is acute, out of the original necessity to protect myself.
I was at grammar school now, taking the tube every day, making sure I got home on time or risk another beating. I always looked pristine in my smart new uniform and felt at home with the girls that were just as bookish as me. People would stop us in the street and ask us the name of our school because of the distinctive uniform. Older men started taking an interest, offering to shelter me under their umbrellas or sit behind me on the bus, muttering obscenities.
One afternoon, four of us were travelling home on the tube. A crazy looking man stood in front of us. He got out his penis and masturbated, spraying all over the floor at our feet. We were petrified and very relieved when he got off at the next stop. What was most disturbing is that the other adults in the carriage did nothing, just averted their faces, staring into their papers or out of the window. Nowhere felt safe.
As I grew older, my mother’s attitude towards me became stranger. I was not allowed tampons, because only sluts used tampons. I developed early, so was bought a bra, then at weekends she would dress me up to the nines to go shopping with her and seem to take a vicarious pleasure in men’s reaction to me, by walking a few paces behind.
I could never get any time to do my homework,because there would always be things to cook and clean. I used to work on the bus or tube, or go to school early to catch up on assignments. Many times I did no homework at all. I learned to speed read and write quickly. I just about kept up my grades.
One night, we were sitting uneasily around the TV. Uneasily, because if a couple started to kiss or behave sexually in any way,it would throw my mother into a rage. She’d grab the nearest china ornament and hurl it at my head. Sometimes I managed to duck, but sometimes it hit home. I don’t know why her anger was directed at me. It was the late 70’s and there was a sexual revolution going on – and I was too young to be a part of it.
That evening she was in a raging fury. There was a horrible smell in the room, like decaying fish. You’ve being having sex, you filthy whore, she screamed. You’ve been parading those streets like a bitch on heat. I know. I can SMELL the filth on you. Show me your filthy knickers before I kill you.
I ran, but wasn’t quite fast enough. She grabbed me by my hair on the stairs. Think you can hide it from me you disgusting bitch. Think I don’t know what you are? She tore at my clothes then, leaving four long scratches down my back. Ripping my knickers from me, she held them up in triumph and I ran, locking myself into the bathroom.
I was shaking and sobbing. I was 13, still a virgin and had never had a boyfriend.
I heard her banging and crashing around the house. My father wasn’t there and my brother did nothing. I stayed in the bathroom until all was quiet, then I snuck out and slept on the landing. I was too terrified to go to bed because I knew she was in there.
The next day, we discovered that an electrical plug had burnt out, which accounted for the horrible smell. I went off to school and tried to tell my friends what had happened. I got the feeling that it was so terrible, they didn’t believe me. Not even when I showed them the scratches on my back.
I hated the thought of going home, not knowing what I’d find. So I walked instead of getting on the bus and tube. I knew I’d be in trouble for being late, but I needed time to clear my head. As I walked, I could see a group of girls from the comprehensive school ahead of me. I crossed the road and turned into a side street, but they’d seen me. I was one of the hated grammar girls and I was on their turf because I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was going.
One of them pulled my hair so I fell backwards as my bag was snatched out of my hand and it’s contents scattered into the road. Fucking bitch. Snobby cow. Let’s get her, they said. And I was curled on the ground like an embryo, being kicked and punched and spat on. I held onto one of the legs that was kicking me and tried to pull myself up. Another fist connected with my jaw. I heard a ripping sound as they tore into my blazer. My mouth was bleeding.
A man came along – leave that girl alone you animals. Like a flock of crows scared from a piece of carrion, they rose as one and fled. The man picked me up. I was in a mess. Large clumps of hair had been pulled out and were matted to my head. A front tooth was loose and my lip was cut on one side. My uniform was dusty and torn and my knees were grazed where I had hit the floor. He helped me gather up my belongings and took me to the police station.
I didn’t do very well in describing my attackers, there had been too many of them and they had attacked me from behind. I had spent most of the attack trying to shield my face from blows. The police tried to be reassuring. There was a gang of girls that had done this kind of thing before, they said. They would find out what they could from the school in the morning. In the meantime, I wasn’t to walk home alone in future.
They drove me home in a police car. My mother was in a fighting mood, the moment I stepped into the hall. Where have you been? Why are you in trouble with the police? You bring shame on this house – all the neighbours saw you. What have you been doing now. How did you get yourself into such a state? You’ve been with boys again, haven’t you? You filthy slut!
There was no point in trying to explain. She started to punch my already bruised body. I stood there and took it, like a punch bag. She eventually got tired of lashing out at such an unresponsive subject and swerved away cursing and swearing.
I took myself upstairs, to my/our room and wearily undressed. I went to put my clothes in the laundry basket but it was empty. Puzzled I put on my nightdress, washed my teeth and lay on the bed crying until I slept. At that point I felt so unhappy and alone. I wanted to die.
The next day, I found my soiled underwear all over the house and garden, in cupboards and in the flower beds. As I gathered them up, my mother screamed at me. Don’t think you can hide anything from me, you whore. I know when you’ve had sex, it will be all over your filthy knickers. It comes out of you like badness, like evil.
I have no idea how I got myself together to go back to school. I wore my raincoat and a cardigan, instead of my blazer, knowing I’d get a de-merit mark on my report for being improperly dressed. I felt persecuted everywhere I went. I was desperate and unhappy and at the start of my teens.
It’s funny that you sometimes get what you wish for. A few weeks later, I became ill. There was a gnawing, shooting pain in my stomach that moved to my left side. I vomited something that looked like coffee grounds. I remember my mother insisting that I help with the laundry, despite my being bent over, sweating and grimacing with pain. I did what I could, trying to fold bed linen like I was in a trance, far away from my physical self. That night, the pain got worse and I vomited black sick and bile in the bed. The doctor was called in the morning. He immediately got me into an ambulance. It was peritonitis, so they operated immediately. I remember feeling the sweet escape of the anaesthetic rising like hot bubbles into my arm as I watched the second hand on the clock tick into darkness, hoping I would never wake up again.
Why do most of today’s movie stars look so similar and so damn dull?
They must be the product of mass studio research that dictates that young, male cinema goers are threatened by really handsome men and young women are attracted by the easily attainable “boy next door” look.
Billy Zane played a bit of a git, but his brooding intensity was far more sexy than Leonardo’s earnest boyishness.
That hand on the steaming window, while Di Caprio and Winslett shag in the car made me think she was trying to escape his inexpert sloppy kisses rather than being in the throes of ecstasy.
Just NO, NO and yuck to this little lot. Justin Beiber is the sickliest little chap I’ve ever seen, i couldn’t even find a shred of maternal “aah factor”” for the creepy little creature.
Jim Carey would drive any sane woman running to the hills. Could you imagine all that gurning and manic hyper energy in the bedroom. What a turn off. I bet he’d have special voices and hilarious names for his sexual organs.
I’d opt for a life-time of celibacy if he were the last man on earth. I bet he wouldn’t fancy me much either!
Mr. Cage, with his strangely simian features is just plain odd. His ruination of the sexy italian character in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was such a disappointment. Just not sexy.
The men with a certain Je né sais quoit for me are a motley bunch, possibly not every girls cup of tea. Attraction for me is a mix of idiosyncratic factors and i go through strange phases, so there is never a clear-cut type. Here’s my current choice that make me go “phwoar” for different reasons.
Bill Nighy. A very diffident English gent, self-effacing,
funny and weirdly deeply sexy.
The delicious replicant in Bladerunner, Rutger Hauer,
If I could have one made as a personal pleasure model, this would be the spec.
I know! He’s gay. But no matter. I fancy his brain, his wit, his conversation and his presence. I sat next to him one night in a bar in London and my heart was all a-flutter.
A contemporary of Mr Fry, Hugh Laurie, but only in his role as House. Not the indulgent blues musician of reality.
Hell, yeah! An apple a day…Liam Neeson is my fantasy Irishman, striding through the moors, in a big Aran jumper, showing off his broad, manly shoulders.
And boots…big riding boots …sigh…
I’ve spent a lot of time in Ireland and never met a man like Mr Neeson, they tend to be more like this, sadly. In Ireland they are known as “confirmed bachelors and you can see why. Call me shallow as much as you like!
Which actors do you find attractive? What do you think of the current crop of Hollywood male talent?
The oil executive’s wife
Meeting this woman, was like meeting a member of the ruling classes. Her enunciation was fruity and clipped, just like that special upperclass affliction that BBC announcers had at the birth of television and older members of the Royal Family have to this day.
I, sorry, one, had to struggle to decipher her. A ham sandwich became a hem sendweetch, a small garden became a perch art tha beck (patch at the back).
When I discovered she was no Duchess, originally a nurse from Bangor, I knew I had trouble on my hands.
There is nothing snobbier than an aspirant. Except perhaps country house servants and sale assistants in designer shops. Aspirants have struggled up the social ladder in often shameful ways, once they’re on the highest perch, they’ll do all that they can to kick down anyone clambering behind them.
It might be a peculiarly British thing, but class jumpers are meticulous about the P&Q’s of social niceties and would pass out on the spot if anyone accidentally drank the finger bowl at a dinner party.
Those who are born on the top rung of the social hierarchy have the most impeccable manners. And they are more concerned about the comfort of their guests than the rules or formalities. If you drank the finger bowl at their dinner parties, they’d cheerfully drink it along with you, so that you would save face.
Anyway, Blodwyn, as I secretly called her, wanted to make anyone not meeting her exacting standards most uncomfortable indeed.
Now, I’m not minor royalty. I may be distantly related to a certain Irish poofter, but that isn’t going to cut it with Blodwyn. I’ve had elocution lessons at school and know which fork to use, but I lost my acquired snooty accent the minute I went to art college and it only returns when I’m very, very, drunk. As soon as my friends hear me burble loudly in a penetrating Princess Anne voice, they pour me into a taxi post haste. “Teke me haime, drivah!”
One particular gem I remember from Blodwyn was when she butted into a discussion I was having with her lovely, avuncular, husband about my view that gay fashion designers, finding the womanly form unappealing, design their clothes to fit androgynous, boy-like waifs with none of the female secondary sex characteristics, such as hips and tits.
We were laughing about this, when she came in with a corker: “Haven’t you heard of Donna Karan? She designs for short, fat women. Are you going to her Sale?”
Wow. That was a good one, worthy of Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford. Not only had she directly inferred that I was both short and fat. She had slipped in that I was cheap,too.
I got a kind of revenge later. Knowing her habit of snooping through drawers in the flat I shared with her son, I artfully arranged an 8″ strap on on the top of some underwear, for her to “discover”.
It was never mentioned, but I swear she avoided me from that day.
I soon learned how to get the attention I’d been missing as I grew older. I would sing and dance, performing solo at the top of my voice on my swing in the garden. The neighbours would applaud and the old Polish man from next door would sometimes throw me a bag of sweets from his upstairs window.
Although there were few books in the house, except for an outrageously expensive white leather bible with thick colour plates, I started to read: jam jars, cereal packets, road signs, anything my greedy, curious, brain could find.
Eventually, this became a “nuisance”, so I was taken to the local library and let loose in the children’s section, where I would borrow the maximum number of titles and devour them.
Around this time, my father’s boss and his wife, “Uncle Bill and Auntie Bette” took a keen interest in me. They were a wealthy, elderly couple in their sixties, who had never had children of their own.
They gave me expensive gifts from their travels, a life size chimpanzee doll, a koala family made from real koala fur, a pair of tiny hand-embroidered snow boots from Switzerland, a handmade red velvet dress, with a lace collar from Paris. I was their favourite little doll and my mother took to changing me five times a day, dressing me up in exotic creations.
Eventually, Uncle Bill used to take me to stay with them every weekend. Both my mother and father were working and I saw little of them.
Uncle Bill’s home was pristine. I had to remove my shoes to walk on the silk Persian rugs. They had puffy silk eiderdowns and exotic souvenirs of their travels; a porcelain geisha, a tribe of ivory elephants. Although I was a curious child, I knew not to touch.
Bill took me on long nature rambles in the woods, teaching me the names of trees and plants, lifting me up to look at the eggs in bird’s nests and we would sit quietly on fold up stools on the brow of a hill to sketch the landscape for hours.
I was taught about the world from a series of 1920’s encyclopaedias. The subjects ranged from classical myths, to miracles of nature and a particularly colonial view of people of the commonwealth. I was fascinated by the sepia photographs of strange tribes and customs, triple rainbows and fossils.
When my brother was born, my mother was very ill. She had fallen badly when pregnant and had developed Bell’s Palsy that left her face disfigured into a sneer on one side, with a permanently arched eyebrow and downturned mouth.
I remember her spending days in bed, staring up at the ceiling, crying softly. My baby brother was in his cot at the end of the bed, listless but awake, so I’d tickle his tummy to make him gurgle and wind up my ballerina music box, which played The Blue Danube. He’d watch the ballerina in her white net tutu and golden bodice, twirl and then fall asleep to the slowing plinking notes.
I still played alone much of the time. So I existed in a fantasy world of princesses and fairies and families that lived inside trees. And books, of all kinds, devoured fanatically with a torch under the bedclothes at night.
I managed to disappoint my mother on my first day of school. I had stoically suffered the hour of preparation, my hair brushed 100 times, my body scrubbed pink in the bath. Worst of all was my stinging scalp as my naturally wavy hair was pulled straight either side of a searing parting and tied tightly with elastic bands topped with blue ribbons. Once she was happy with how I looked, she marched me down to the school gates, just a block away.
Unlike the other children who were sobbing at the thought of leaving their mothers, I ran, free and joyful into the playground. I was so happy to be joining the ranks of the uniformed kids that I had watched, at their mysterious games, from my bedroom window.
I soon found out that my precocious learning alienated me from the other children and exasperated the teachers. Myself and a German boy were taken aside, given the full set of the Peter and Jane reading books and told we could take them home, but had to read all of them. They were pretty basic. “This is Peter”, “This is Jane” and were prescribed teaching in the sixties. Needless to say, we polished them off, in a bored fashion, very quickly.
At a loss, the teacher gave us a new experimental teaching kit. It consisted of a large angled box, filled with colour coded cards. We had to read each card and answer questions on it. We then had to take an answer card and mark ourselves against it.
Unfortunately, this special treatment did not endear Alexander and I to the other pupils. We were sent to Coventry in the playground and called “clever dicks, brain boxes and swots”. Social leprosy at that age.
But children are born survivors and we soon gathered a clique of other outsiders; Elizabeth, who in her round spectacles and tweed pinafores already looked and acted like a miniature librarian, Jennifer, a newly arrived Jamaican girl, with intricately plaited hair and older brothers who looked like the Jackson Five and Johnie, a tiny, fey Arabic boy, who had something girlish about him.
We’d invent elaborate games, mini plays where we acted out the adventures of our favourite characters, while the other children played noisy, violent games of British bulldog and the girly girls skipped to ancient rhymes in groups of “best friends”.
I was chosen to play the part of the Virgin Mary at 6. That didn’t improve my popularity. I remember walking through the school hall, in my costume, holding the baby doll Jesus, with Joseph, a quiet boy named Ernest at my side, as I took central stage, singing my heart out, I was aware of mass approval for the very first time.
My parents were proud too – lapping up the comments of the other mums and dads, “She’s a credit to you” becoming the standard on which I would be forever judged.
When I’ve been thinking of my original spec for Mr Right, I got to realising how much it has changed over the years. The changes are shown in italics. What was your spec for Mr or Ms Right and has it changed over time?
Age: a few years older than me.
a few years younger, a few years older – within reasonable limits
Height: over 6 ft
anywhere between one inch and two feet taller than me (that rules out Tom Cruise)
Build: Slim, long limbs, long graceful fingers, musclular torso, looks after himself without being a sports bore.
still love long legs, but if he’s a bit squidgy in the middle,that’s ok unless he looks pregnant.Still like nice hands
Body hair: No – yuk!
I don’t mind a little. Total fur balls – especially those with big nose hair – no.
Dress: looks good in jeans, Byron-esque shirts, boots
has his own look and it’s not Jeremy Clarkson, confident and subtle style, no logos, no suits.
Hair: dark, slightly flowing, wavy
his own hair. No hairlines so high it looks like a wig slipped. No friar tuck or greasy hippy styles
any colour but red
Face shape: square jawed, manly
maximum two chins, prefer firm jawline not surgically enhanced
Mouth: firm lipped, sensual
firm lipped, no droolers, dribblers or fish mouths
Personality: forceful, moody, complicated
none of the above = psycho
Humour: same as mine
Sexiness: other women throw themselves at his feet
subtle, sensual, experienced, imaginative – above too much hard work salving enormous ego/fending off bunny boilers
Career: poet, musician, artist
none of the above
Emotional type: Passionate, driven, unfathomable
kind, nice, loving, interesting and interested
Other: own car, own home
own teeth, own career, own income
Family: no kids
no crazy exes
Interests: whatever his interests, he should follow them obsessively and passionately
whatever his interests, they should leave room for me and give me space at the same time
Does that mean my standards have slipped – or does it reflect the reality of experience?
This is the initial outline for a book I am writing. I would really appreciate any and all comments, please send me a message with your thoughts, constructive criticism or otherwise. Thank you.
When I was born, I had a caul over my face. In a traditional Irish Catholic family, it was the equivalent of having the mark of the beast on my skull. In earlier times they would have drowned me in the village pond for having “the sign of a witch”. Instead, my mother saved the caul, advertised it in the newspaper and sold it to a superstitious sailor, who used it as a talisman against drowning.
Family lore has it that I was looking around at the world with huge staring eyes as soon as I was born, while the other babes slept peacefully in their cots. My mother suffered post natal depression, quite severely and, for her, I truly seemed to be an alien child.
My earliest memories revolve around being very hungry. I can sense sitting in a high chair and reaching out for more food. Fact is, I reached out for an opened can of baby food nearby and sliced off the side of my left index finger on the jagged edge. Today there is still a weird bump close to the nail, where it was stitched up. But I don’t recall anything other than the pain of hunger.
I can remember dim nights, alone in my cot, screaming for someone to come and save me from the dark. I had a baby bottle full of ribena, which I shook and shook in my impotent infantile temper, scattering purple liquid over my cot and the Disney wallpaper, but no-one came.
Later still, my father said to me “Things were great until you were born”, that early rejection still stings half a century later. I was different to them, a cuckoo in the nest, which was confirmed again and again as I grew older.
An intimation of this comes from another family tale, that the first ever word I said was “No”. It shocked my mother so much that she immediately wrote to her mother in Ireland, the experienced bearer of nine children, to ask what she should do with such a strange and difficult child.
Ironically, “No” was a word that I found difficult to use in adulthood.
My parents were very young and had no patterning in how to bring up a baby. Their social support systems were back in Ireland. Both had come from large families, where there was little time, money or affection.
My mother had been sent to a convent boarding school at the age of three, when her father died, with three of her older sisters. In the late 30’s these places had sprung up all over Ireland and were, without exception, industrial scale abusers of children.
Mum used to tell us tales of wetting the bed in terror, and then being made to stand, with the urine sodden sheet over her head in the corner of the dormitory next morning. Sisters were separated and the older children were given charge of a toddler or an infant.
The young carers were beaten if their charges soiled anything or cried, or in any other way upset the rigorous routine of convent life. Being children themselves, they disciplined their charges in the cruel, inhuman way a girl treats a naughty doll.
So the cycle of abuse continued, over many years. The girls were forbidden to see their own, or another’s naked body. They undressed under nightdresses and took baths in large cotton gowns. They were taught shame and any signs of affection were treated as nascent signs of that sin of all sins, lust.
Beatings took place arbitrarily and regularly. You could be beaten for talking with another girl. For having a close friendship. For refusing to eat the bits of gristle chopped up and mixed in with the unidentifiable pigswill that constituted dinner.
There were the occasional rebels that were made examples of. My mother’s older sister, Patricia, who made her own pyjamas so that she could run and leap over beds when the nuns came in for their beatings was caught and locked away until she learned to respect the rules.
There were incidents of sexual abuse. Visiting priests used to pick off the more attractive older girls and have them sent to their quarters for a particular kind of penance. The nuns, too, used to gratify their repressed lusts through savage violence or molestation if you were unlucky enough to fall under their glare.
My mother remembered one girl who threatened to tell. She was locked in a cupboard and starved for days. The other children smuggled food in their handkerchiefs and tried to push pieces of it under the door.
All of this sounds positively medieval, but it was going on all over Ireland up until the 1960’s. The European courts are still bringing cases against these institutions, with millions of pounds of compensation being claimed from the Catholic church. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18447650
Unsurprisingly, my mother left the institution at 17, with mental health issues. She met a man at a local dance, got engaged and they decided to make a new life in England. Once there, her fiancé decided he didn’t fit into the English life and begged my mother to return to Ireland to get married. My mother refused, she wanted to make a new life, as far away from her painful memories as possible. She got a job, a flat share with a young English girl called June and enjoyed her first taste of freedom in the outside world.
Those must have been heady days for a teenager, brought up under such a malign influence. Having had no experience at handling money, buying her own clothes, working or taking care of herself must have been debilitating as well as thrilling.
My mother soon became known as an excellent ballroom dancer and attended tea dances and evening dances with big band orchestras all over London, where by now, there was a sizeable young Irish community.
It was at one of these dances, where she met my father. He was from a rural farming background. His eldest brother was born in a dirt floored traditional Irish cottage in a small village near the Northern Ireland border, to my grandparents who had been in service, he a head-gardener, she a housemaid, who met at Castle Leslie, one of the Anglo Irish aristocratic homes, so symbolic of Ireland’s ruling classes and often a target of rebel activity.
They married and settled together in the small cottage and my grandfather took up work at a local farm. Although dirt poor, they continued to have children, some of them dying in childbirth or in toddler years, until they had a surviving brood of 14.
When my father was born, he was not expected to live for long, he was a thin baby with a bad case of pneumonia. In the rush to christen him before death, he was hurriedly declared Peter, but no-one could think of a middle name. Local women helped my grandmother hold the new baby over a steaming kettle on the range and by so doing saved his life. He survived and would always be so thin that the other children nicknamed him Ghandi.
My father’s childhood sounds idyllic compared to my mother’s. But in such a large family, constrained by poverty to a tiny cottage beside a lake, life was still difficult. My grandfather turned to drink and violence, giving the boys savage beatings with his belt or a stick. My grandmother was exhausted by continual pregnancies and the demands of an enormous family, all born within a year of each-other. It was not an affectionate home.
At 14, my father was sent to work in the local leather factory. He had done well at school and his teacher had recommended that he continue his education. Economic circumstances dictated otherwise and he found himself in the fetid confines of the tannery, scraping the rotting flesh from animal skins which had been soaking in vats of lye. It was a dirty, smelly and hazardous job, so with some relief at the end of the week, my father would hand his pay packet over to his mother and with the other young men of the village, dress up for the dance-hall.
My father is a great mover, even today at 75. Painfully shy and thin, the girls loved to dance with him but nothing developed further. Eventually, at 16, he followed his older brothers to England and took up work on the building sites. Small, light and as agile as a monkey, he soon became a steeple jack and started to earn good money for the risks he was taking high above the streets of London.
So these two damaged people met, my mother giddy with the strangeness of liberation and my father a shy, country boy, with little experience of women. Their shared talent for dancing had brought them together.
I was born a year after their marriage.
Mothers in Law are uniquely disliked – my experience with boyfriend’s mother’s (not being the marrying kind) have lived up to the cliche. I’m sure there are some nice ones out there somewhere, but I’ve yet to meet them. Funnily enough, the father’s have been universally lovely – except this one…
The architect’s wife
My college boyfriend was rather well to do. While other art school kids were frightening old ladies by travelling on buses, N had a car of his own. I eventually met dear ma-ma when I was invited over to the massive Georgian detatched family home, complete with servant’s quarters, for Sunday Lunch.
His ma-ma was cooking, it was the housekeeper’s day off, an unpleasant smell of cabbage wafted over the house as I sat making small talk with N, his father and his rather strident sister who was home from ski-ing and could speak of little else.
When I met ma-ma, she looked me up and down as if I was a rather disappointing show pony and said “Oh…I see…you’re pretty”. The way she spat “pretty” was as if she meant “shitty” and for a moment, that’s what I thought she said, so gaped a bit in shock. She then brusquely ignored me while she slammed down bowls of what looked like soup on the table.
The smell emanating from the bowls was sour, greasy and terrifying. It looked like she had scooped up the contents of a washing up bowl with a ladle, boiled it in a pan and then decanted it into bowls. The surface was shining with a mixture of unidentifiable scum and grease droplets.
I took a mouthful and gagged, trying to turn the gag into a polite cough. She had put water into a roasting tin a joint of lamb had cooked in and served it up as soup. No salt, no herbs, no stock, just hot water and congealed lamb fat.
How the hell was I going to get out of eating this? I looked around at the others, each had tight lipped grimaces after the first mouthful. Thankfully, a telephone rang out in the hallway. Old bitch face, sighed and slammed down her soup spoon to go and answer the call.
There was a pause when we all looked at each other. Then N, his sister and his dad wordlessly passed the soup bowls to the kitchen sink and poured the contents down the drain! The empty soup plates were replaced on the table, except for Ma-ma’s still steaming evilly. We bonded at that moment. And that’s why I can’t stand the taste or smell of roast lamb to this day.
Later, I had the deep joy of going on holiday with the family to their apartment in the Algarve. Mother had sorted the sleeping arrangements. She slept with N’s sister, her husband slept with N and lucky me was given the – erm – guest suite, a fold out bed on the balcony, with the melodic sounds of the local disco, thumping me to sleep each night.
When daddy wasn’t taking surreptitious photos of myself and his daughter topless on the beach (I kid you not – he presented them at a dinner party on our return!) N and I had to sneak off to get some time together. And as soon as we were in flagrante Mother would appear. Every time.
For some reason, I don’t think she liked me…..
An ex from the 1970’s contacted me on a social network site. The IM
conversation went something like this.
He: wow. I found you.
Me: oh. How are you
He: I’ve been looking everywhere, you’ve been hard to pin down.
Me: uh huh
He: I’ve been thinking about you ….
Me: have you, how funny!
He: Are you still stunning?
Me: (awkward pause) What do you mean?
Him: Have you changed much?
Me: Well …a bit older and wiser
He: Married? Kids?
Me: God no! u?
He: I can’t believe it – thought you’d have been snapped up…
Me: (very pissed off now) It says here you’re married with two kids?
He: uh yeah…not happy though
Me: that’s a shame
He: So want to meet up for a drink?
Me: No. I can’t, sorry.
He: Don’t be like that…you’re not the type to hold grudges
Me: (shuts down computer) oh I think I’ve got a probl..
A cougar dating company sent me a message in response to one of my posts. So, naturally, I had a look at their site.
The cubs in my area were mainly army personnel, baby faced soldiers, who looked so young and innocent, like so many Ashton Kutchers.
How young is too young? The idea of a much younger man doesn’t float my boat. The thought of all that energy and enthusiasm, combined with a lack of experience and technique makes me think of a Jack Russell humping my ankle. My first instinct would be to shake him off and give him a swift kick.
There’s also something Gary Glitter-esque about desiring that firm, young flesh. And I really don’t want to be someone’s sex coach, I haven’t got the patience.
These boys must have got their fantasies from the media and porn movies, after all, there are a plethora of MILF, GILF and I shagged my step-mom movies out there. These fantasy cougars have buns of steel, are sexually domineering and buffed and hairless. They deep throat without gagging and can perform quite remarkable contortions. Do they think that’s the reality?
Men have no qualms about this, so why should we? It’s not a lack of sexual confidence, or inhibition about our bodies. Hell, we could teach those boys a thing or two …and give them something to talk about in the barracks!
It’s just that I have an uneasy feeling there’s something Oedipal going on here. My maternal instinct is getting in the way. And do these boys, going out to fight, secretly want a maternal bosom to cling to because they miss their mummies?
It’s not for me. I’m more likely to lust after a man’s mind, not his body. And I prefer a lover with more experience and some tricks of his own.