As a woman of a certain age (50 and three quarters) I find that my mood swings are a bit like those giant swing boats they used to have at the fair. You remember the fair? The physical place you went to for dangerous mechanical fun before Oculus Rift arrived and you didn’t have to leave the house? These days my dangerous fun is supplied by ‘menopause’. Yeh, grown men look away now. Cowards. Yes. I’m here to tell you, it’s like being a werewolf and every day is a full moon.
Take this week for instance when the idiot in the sunglasses picked a fight in the car park at the local ‘out of town’ retail hell. I do not like these places at the best of times but this trip was a necessity as the fridge decided to go bust. In a re-enactment of ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ this noodlebrain almost hit our car as we were reversing into a space. It seemed a perfectly normal thing to do, reverse into a space in a car park. It appeared to be what the function of a car park is. The High Plains Drifter seemed unaware of this as he donut-ed around the corner. Not his fault probably because, what with the tyre smoke, the overcast weather and the polarised windscreen and shades he could see very little, possibly his own reflection, no doubt a source of endless joy for him.
He was snarky and bumptious when he first got out of his car to abuse us. Time was when I would take this on the chin, feel upset but get over it. Not these days. One minute and a moodswing later and the Bandit was running for the revolving door at Pet Parlour because it appeared there was a bad tempered lioness in the car park. The bad tempered lioness followed him into Pet Parlour because she had not finished with him. There were going to be gizzards trailing from her canines or someone was going to know about it. Snarling and foaming at the mouth I was trapped in said revolving door and tranquilised. My husband has become my wrangler, on hand with a soothing word, a comforting hug, or, on one or two seriously fraught occasions, a whip and a chair.
So then we bought the lovely fridge. I am not generally speaking a gadgetty person. I don’t, for example, have a wi-fi kettle although right about now I fancy one. Does wi-fi mean that you can operate it telepathically? I just have to think about tea and…? No. Course not. What a stupid invention! Grrrrrrrr. Rwwwoooooooarrrr. Snarl.
The other issue with being a woman of a certain age is that my emotions are at def con 1. This meant that I was teary eyed at the frosty white LED lighting inside the fridge compartment. I filled up at the dimensions of the vegetable drawer. It was like a snowscape, an ice palace for my spinach and carrots.
The door swung shut and my mood with it. From the white light of the contraption, my mind swivelled to The Darkness. Of Everything. I have to keep the radio turned off these days in case Gypsy John Humphries has more soothsaying to declaim on Radio Four. Nothing in the news is good and most of it, I have found lately, is also speculative. Oh no, oh heck, here it comes. Take cover.
If a psychic appeared on ‘PM’ and did a card reading of the future they would be scorned. Oh no, pish and nonsense, Eddie Mair might suggest, you don’t know anything from looking in that crystal ball. Pack away that Tarot Deck, those scraps of paper tell us nothing. Personally I see no difference in what a Seer might suggest as a possible Post-Brexit future and the outcomes predicted by so-called political and economic‘experts’. Just because you use a graph in your forecast does not make you right. An economist or pollster has no more idea of the future and is less interesting. Pompous and arrogant dullards anyone? Wrong every single time? Give me a patchouli scented velvet boudoir and some hooped earrings any day. At least if a gypsy reads your tea leaves, YOU GET A CUP OF TEA AT THE VERY LEAST. RWWWWOOOOOARRRR.
And breathe. Yes. In. Out. Calm. Zen. Think of…something. Puppies. No? Kittens? We are way past kittens. Orkney. Yes. That will do it. Brodgar. Sea. Stones. Moss. Lichen. Reach for that.
My rants at the radio are usual. I have always done that. However, the ‘certain age’ situation means that my ranting is more frequent and aggressive. They used to be short and sharp and end with me being easily distracted by the pressing need to sprinkle tarragon into the sauce for the chicken or wrangle potatoes. Now it ends in hot tears and the throwing of knives, leaving a sense of raging despair. But then, there are days when crossing the road brings much the same emotional response.
Or there was the incident in the library the other week when the mum asked her daughter, “What book shall we have today?” and the very small girl reached out of her pushchair with open arms and declared with intense passion and delight,
“ OWLS. I want a book about OWLS! Can we pleeeeease have OWLS!”
I had to look away in tears.
My age has also brought the wisdom that most people are idiots and need punching. I include myself in this bracket. I have to use the ‘scan as you shop’ system at the supermarket these days in order to cut down my human strangers contact time. My shopping expedition requires my Ipod so that I can disconnect from the world and not end up in a brawl. How long does it take to choose some sliced ham? Why are you wandering around in your pyjamas sipping a takeaway coffee? GET OUT OF MY WAY! You see?Look away for your own safety.
I used to have patience with people and would try to see the good and the best, now I know I was fooling myself. In many ways I feel better, I cut straight to the chase of things and don’t waste time. I am delighted to find someone who is friendly or funny. I follow my instinct about people, it turns out I have an instinct, a terrible new radar. As I walk through town or interact with people I can feel the bad or good vibe and feel compelled to look away, to walk faster, to avoid. I no longer feel the need to try. You have to earn a smile. You will have to withstand the inspection of my gimlet eye. I am, on some days, a volcano of rage, ready to rise out of the magma with a growling and terrible vengeance. It is as if all the shutters are up. Everything, every speck, gets in.
You can call it menopause, there is even the ‘Peri-Peri-menopause’ which is the spicy version available in Nandos. Cronehood. That’s where I am. Let’s not fanny about over this. I’ve been a maiden and a mother and of course, if you are lucky, you get to be a crone. I was afraid at first. The fear is subsiding and is being replaced with an idea of who I am. The world discards its older women and I for one am now thinking ‘more fool you, World’. I admit freely that I am feeling disconnected but with that has come a notion that I am newly empowered. I don’t care what the world thinks of me any longer. I am me. I love my grey hair and my odd clothes. I scorn any fashion Nazi webpage that advises on ‘Hairstyles for Women Over 50’ or tells you you can’t wear sparkly eyeshadow or Doc Martens. Bollocks. You can do what the hell you like. Please yourself. Be Purple. Be a Goth. Be a Faerie. Be YOU. Grasp the fact like an escaping weasel.
Barriers have been taken down and I see clearly. Like Neo in the Matrix, I know stuff. I have instinct, intuition and wisdom that has been learned and earned.
On some days.
On others, well, here I must confess something. Wisdom has dragged alongside her, her lowly twin, Madness. I do not use that term lightly. Thought twists my brain, it shouts and barks like a three-headed dog. It rushes me with searing panic. It chooses only bad dreams. My mind lurches and swerves when I’m not looking. It is a bit of a struggle some days but, if I can see the madness coming, I can ride it. Like a broomstick.
If you see me wobbling about a bit as I scud overhead, you will understand that I am having a wild day, that the beast inside is clawing at me and chewing my mind. Understand that if you cross my flight path on such a day I will take you down, like the man in the library the other week who dinged the service bell just once too often.
Rest assured, I will cry about it later, when I’ve made my emergency landing.
I don’t wear a lot of make up, it must be said. This is nothing to do with not liking to wear it, I have, for instance, a long standing passion for lipstick, no, rather it’s the fact that I can’t draw.
Yes. Draw. If I apply eyeshadow, for instance, the effect is more Mondrian than Modigliani. I always think ‘sleek elegance’ but my short little workaday fingers are better with pastry than an eyeshadow palette. The brushes I handle best are the ones for painting ceilings and I take much the same coverage approach to my eyelids. Blot it. Sploosh it. This colour of ‘Boudicca Bronze’ looks lush and therefore I require more. I glance in the mirror and remark on my likeness to Andy McNab in heavy camo on a black ops mission.
Then of course I am distracted by the zoetrope of ideas that comes from the collection of words ‘Boudicca Bronze black ops mission’ and instead of rectifying the make-up situation I slump at the desk, lick the pen and start scribbling. Some hours and creative swordplay and chariot riding later my appearance causes a minor terrorist alert in Tesco and on ‘Points West’ Alex Lovell describes how a masked woman was apprehended in a Wiltshire supermarket, armed with a wicker basket.
Mascara next I think. Are you imagining Shelob? If you are that would be pretty accurate. If I am in full ‘party’ mode then my face looks as if I am, once again, Andy McNab, in full camom once more, but also being attacked by spiders.
Lipstick. When I was a teenager, my mum always used to say that if she lost track of me in Kendal Milne in Manchester then she only had to scout the lipstick counters. There I would be, my arms striped in various shades from ‘Aztec Gold’ to ‘Zydeca’. That’s the appeal of lipsticks for me. It is, in point of fact, not a vanity or beauty thing but a language thing. I LOVE the names they think up for lipstick. One of my all time favourite shades was a Miss Selfridge number called ‘Iron Maiden’ and another Mary Quant one from Boots that was ‘Tokyo Rose’.
The transformative powers of cosmetics begin before we even put them on. If we looked at the racks of lipstick without the names we might simply see the red and the, ew, sickly sort of pink, that one is a bit brown or beige, or possibly you’re at the Illamasqua end of the market and there’s a purple, blue or black. Meh, you might say and not be tempted. Words transform the sticks of chemical goop. Who doesn’t want to smudge a bit of ‘Moth’ over their mouth or indulge in a lip-squishing swipe of ‘Minx’? Mm? I do. Perhaps tonight, my lady, the pale stain of ‘Fable’. This is the stuff of myth. You are making yourself up.
My mum used to say ‘I’m putting my face on.’ and there was something in that. ‘Iron Maiden’ for instance was in a small lip palette and had to be applied with a brush and its effect was much like the pulling down of a helm before a joust. Yes, I am the Iron Maiden my subconscious would note, and I charged at the day.
It’s a mask for the world. You can, in painting yourself in, also paint yourself out. I had a housemate at university who could not face the world without heavy make-up, skin blanked by pancake foundation, eyes marked out like Cleopatra. She would, if you happened on her coming from the bathroom with just her naked face on, turn her head away.
On some days when I’ve braved the make up bag I step out and I know, for a fact, that I have put the WRONG face on. I tend to brave it out. It’s too much of a faff to wipe it all off and start again so I spend the day being more assertive in the queue for the toilets because I’m wearing a couple of shimmering gold coats of ‘Warrior Goddess’ and a dusting of carbon black ‘Dangerous’.
If you encounter me wandering through the woods I might be wearing ‘Vixen’ lipstick with ‘Raven’ mascara, my eyelids swatched with ‘Goldfinch’. More likely, I’m sporting a swipe of freckles, a line or two of wrinkles and the best lipstick of all. Smile.
Take Pop Corn,Mix Well
The other evening we attempted to watch a film in the cinema but as the herd around us munched their way through nachos and other commercially constructed foodstuffs, the sound was like something from a Foley artist’s studio. It seemed we were sitting, not in our local fleapit, but on a gravel path that had a faint odour of industrial tomato. Machine piped cheese perfumed every breath. Someone at the back, who we thought had been breaking ground on an archaeological dig involving drilling through Lewisian Gneiss, broke their tooth on the cracknel toffee lurking within one of the rustly wrappers of their monster bucket of confectionery. In the flying dental fracas that followed they lost their glasses. Said item was found with the assistance of the glow from the radioactive isotope coloured Pick ‘N Mix selection that was sprinkled liberally on the floor. The lenses had been melted by the chilli sauce from a hot dog.
In theatres you get ice cream and coffee or booze in an interval and its protocols are polite and civilised. You have to finish your snacks before the second act commences. The idea of an interval in the theatre is to rest your senses, to allow you to discuss the action so far, critique the writing and performances, moan about the hard seating or the twangly music. You are also allowed to pop to the loo without having to make an entire row of people stand up to let you out.
In the cinema, I suspect there are some people who could probably tell you more about their sweets than they could about the film. Did you enjoy the new Tom Cruise epic? Oh yes, it was very chewy but I wasn’t keen on the strawberry flavour. It only gets two slurps from me.
In the theatre, if your mobile goes off the actors on stage might well heckle you in defence of their art. They’ve put a lot of time into the suspension of your disbelief and the tunnel they want to build into your soul and imagination. Film makers work on the same principle but their fate is not to be present when you are enjoying their work. They just have to cross their fingers that you will involve yourself. They want to tell you a story. They want you to sit in the dark and disappear into the world they have created. You are warned about switching off your mobile but that’s all they can do. No one polices the little white lights of people checking their Facebook for updates about their neighbours dead dog.
Filmmakers don’t really factor in the need for grazing either. I don’t understand it to be honest. I’m addicted to tea in much the same way as Thomas de Quincey fancied a bit of opium now and again, but even I can manage two or three hours without putting the kettle on. Why do you have to eat in the cinema? Also why do you have to eat crap? I hear the cries of ‘food snob’ and I bite my thumb at them, it has more flavour. ‘Junk’ food is not a nutrition group. Also Soylent Green anyone? I’m not mincing my words here, unlike the innards and gizzards scoured and centrifuged from the more recalictrant pig parts to make your ‘hot dog’. The ingredients list on most cinema junk foods reads like the Periodic table of elements.
When the Appocalypse arrives you will probably be able to make some kind of cannibalised fuel from the contents of the concession stand at the cinema. It will be nuclear fusion created from a meeting of pork, popcorn and carbon dioxide emulsified and activated by the sprinkly bits from liquorice alsorts and just the correct amount of cola cube.
The exact recipe for this proto-fuel will be given to us, by freak accident, in the forthcoming futuristic Tom Cruise space epic ‘Epiphany of Dust’. He will play Devon Twill, a man with an eye patch and a degree in chemistry who finds out that banana skins can power the world. This discovery fails to win him Nobel accolades. Instead he has to fight the evil aliens who want to continue our fossil fuel addiction, who want, in fact, to make us into fossils for their own fuel. No one who writes or produces this film will fully understand the importance of the science contained within. It will become a post-apocalyptic Bible. Survivors will use cinemas as fuelling stations, draining supplies of stretchy jelly snakes for fan belts and creating a world shortage of coltsfoot toffee, the uranium of the New Age.
Be warned. You won’t know about any of this if you were too busy scoffing your ‘meal deal’ and therefore WEREN’T PAYING PROPER ATTENTION.
In space, no one can hear ice-cream. But I’ll bet Tom Cruise can hear those bloody Nachos.
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