I think a hot flush might be something that you get in poker involving kings and knaves. I’m not certain but I suspect gunslingers and cardsharps the world over are having hot flushes all through history and even right about now most likely, what with time being a big elastic band ball of matter and anti-matter and interstitial universes.
Right now my reading glasses are steaming up because I am having a Hot Flash. This is also something that they sell at the Chicken Shack takeaway in town and it involves wings and industrial amounts of chilli powder. However, it is also, as any woman over the age of about 50 knows, a side effect of your body deciding to mothball your womb and its attendant plumbing and pipes.
It’s a bit inconvenient because my hot flashes last quite a while, sometimes as long as twenty minutes or even an hour. During this time I can’t read I can only perform tasks that are slightly further away so unfortunately there’s no excuse not to do the vacuuming.
I was listening to Woman’s Hour the other day about various ways of tackling menopause. One lady suggested being mindful rather than embarrassed by Hot Flashing. I assume, in this instance she was talking about menopause and not just about awkward park situations involving raincoats.
Actually can you even buy a raincoat anymore? I’ve just thought, it must be hard work being a flasher these days. Apart from anything else there are a million and one ‘dick pics’ being sent so you’re sort of flooding the market. I mean in my young day, when we still wore skinny rib jumpers, no one had even seen a penis save for those crudely scratched into the surface of the wooden desks or pencilled in and popping out of the pages of a maths topic book. These markings were, thankfully, few and far between. Nowadays is anyone at all shocked? Plus cagoules and waterproof jackets tend to finish at the waist. No one has time or inclination for a full length, old school Mackintosh.
Anyway, mind wandering off, whistle it back. Phwrrrrrrrrrh.
Back to being mindful about hot flashing instead of embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed. I’m uncomfortable and not in a social sense but in an overheated sense. I spend most of my days and nights slicked in sweat. The heat begins to radiate out from a small incendiary space in my neck and chest. I mean heat too, it begins as a scorch and builds to a sort of isotopic thrum. As a writer I’ve tried to observe it and I have come to an odd conclusion. It’s like magic. Mother Nature decided on a firework display to mark the end of an era.
This has been brewing in my messed up menopausal head for some time but the mindfulness lady on Woman’s Hour pinned it. She suggested looking at it as a lovely natural process and trying to think calm thoughts because adrenalin only makes it worse.
Stuff calm thoughts. I’ve started to think of it as a superpower. The thermic energy is so overwhelming I have to keep turning the thermostat down so, on the plus side, this household is making a saving on the heating. When I feel the spark light up I greet it and wonder how much heat I am actually generating. I can probably boil the kettle with a finger. At last, the true meaning of Girl Power.
Last weekend my husband and I opted to have a wander around Penarth, a Victorian seaside resort outside Cardiff. On the cliff top walk we encountered a papiermache folkloric Head of Bran being rolled down the hill to the pier alongside the spectral sheet and skull ensemble that is the traditional Marie Llwyd. There was much Welsh, much singing and a certain otherworldly sense was brought to the white painted lobby of the Pier. It was unusual and intriguing and gave a certain piquancy to the day. I mean, how often do you see singing schoolchildren rolling a giant’s head down a cliff top?
We enjoyed the cliff walk which offers the twin pursuits of coastal nature and house-gawping. I love to nosey at other people’s property, especially that built at the seaside. I’m always very jealous of anyone that has a deck overlooking the sea. There were, it must be said, some truly awful examples of housebuilding, awful that is, to my eyes. You can pretty much keep your ultra-modern glasshouse with its innovative or post modern boxiness, clad in zinz of course and with Kevin McCloud no doubt drooling on the doorstep. Instead come on over to my place.
Old. Victorian. Or Georgian. Or anything vaguely cobwebbed, darkly Gothic or misshapen. I like steps and tall windows. Castles are good of course, especially the bleaker ones on a coastal hilltop. Ornate porching, several stories, a good view through to your kitchen helps and leaving your curtains/blinds open at night so that I can have a really good nosey in always pleases.
An abandoned house breaks my heart and Penarth delivered. On one turn off, as we walked towards the Turner House Ffotogallery, I spotted a truly abandoned relic of a place. The building had once been some Victorian coal barons home, a sizeable detached Victorian villa called ‘Normandy’. There would have been red velvet and gaslight, a scullery maid to red raddle the step and possibly a cook. Chaise longue here, piano there. Now, there is no roof, only timbers. Windows are knocked out and blank, a forest of buddleia grows in the eaves so that the house looks as if it has hair, balding and patchy. Oh be still my aching chest pump. I was busy at once snapping pictures, missing the shot where the jackdaws, who are now chief residents, all rose as one out of the triangled remnants of the roofline. We moved further along the pavement and my other half suggested crossing the road would offer a few different angles and better views of this poor wreck of a place.
What we got a better view of was the house next door, Ashdene Manor, an even bigger and more beautiful wreck. Ornate ironwork overhung the long defunct verandah and porch. It rose out of the wilderness of garden and spoke to me.
Doesn’t happen to you? No? Perhaps you aren’t listening. This house spoke out loud, as clearly as if I had once lived there, in another time and another space. Ghosts looked from the windows, called to each other down the crumbling and darkened halls.
There were cars driving by, no one gave the old girl a second glance as the brickwork flickered with all the lives ever lived there, the cold winters, the hot summers, the spilt milk and scalded porridge of a flickerbook of lives.
As a small child, after my dad bought a car, we used to go on various jaunts and, of course, to visit our grandparents in the nearby towns. I would be slumped in the back after an evening at my Grandma’s house in Little Hulton, full of prawns and salad cream and Tunnocks teacakes as a general rule. My grandmothers were not great cooks, it must be said, a fact brought about by World War and a lack of ingredients rather than a lack of skill. My grandmother’s go-to family tea was a table groaning with celery sticks, iceberg lettuce, prawns, tinned ham and salmon all to be drowned in the tangy vinegar splendour of salad cream. There would be butter to slather over crusty bread though never when it was ‘too new’. My grandmother had an odd dislike of fresh bread. There would be pop, a beverage which she always referred to as ‘mineral’. Cream soda and dandelion and burdock were my favourites. Tea. There was always a pot of tea and white tea cups.
We didn’t always have tea there. Often we just drove over for an hour or two to visit. My paternal grandparents lived nearer, eventually moving to live at the bottom of the road and we would also ‘pop’ in there, my dad reading the Bury Times as my grandma attempted to out talk the budgie, Joey. Other times we would be in the car returning from a trip to the cinema or the theatre, Bolton Octagon being a favoured haunt of my childhood.
As we drove up Heap Brow, a steep incline towards home, there would be a small road sign stating that in that direction, pointy bit indicating right, we would find ourselves firstly in Pilsworth and then Indian East. We never turned towards Indian East, our route lay with a left turn towards home.
I would always look out for this sign and on my more daydreamy evenings I would ponder what Indian East might be like. I didn’t know anyone at school who lived there. And when we had travelled that route sometimes there was nothing very interesting, some fields, the warehouses and yards of the industrial estate and a lone pub, whitewalled and stranded. I would forget about the existence of Indian East then, taken up with the view from the car window and thinking of other daydreamy things. Only when we passed the sign did I recall ‘Oh yes…Indian East. I must have missed it.’.
It was a shining beacon of a place, harbouring all my childish hopes for a town. Green space and old buildings, possibly half-timbered, on wilder days they had turrets. The streets of Indian East would be higgledy-piggledy and you had to walk there because if you drove, well, as the years rolled by it appeared to me that the road broke its promise and seemed not to take you there. There must be a turn off that I missed. There was magic in this idea, that this place could only be reached on foot. It was hidden from view. It was quiet, the silence only broken by the song of birds, the whirr of a lawnmower, someone singing as they hung out the washing. The Indian aspect of its name puzzled me. There were plenty of Indian ladies in Bury. They clacked around the market in their glittery golden sandals, their jewel like saris bundled under heavy winter wool coats. Occasionally you might glimpse a soft, brownskinned midriff as a lady bent to tend to her grandchild in a pushchair. They were colourful, like fairies to my child self. They had long hair, plaited like Rapunzel and elaborate earrings.
Perhaps, I thought, Indian East is like that. Everywhere in Indian East is colourful and gilded. I had an idea that there were boats, something like a gondola, which might transport people along the River Roach from the centre of Bury. If there were unicorns then you’d find them in the stables at Indian East. Fires there were obviously lit by dragons.
Food of choice in Indian East would be cake, Battenburg probably because it had the colour scheme. I had it all worked out. An eco-system all to itself; it would be sunny in Indian East when it was not in Heywood. They had a lot of thunderstorms too, when the sky would turn bruise black. My favoured weather system. They also had more snow, ten feet deep at least when ours was only slush because Indian East was hidden in a valley, hence its lack of visibility from any of the major roads.
One day, I thought, when I’ve passed my driving test, I will drive to Indian East. Clearly we never got there because my dad was never driving there, we were always heading elsewhere, even when we turned in the direction of Indian East. We were on our way to Pilsworth Road or out towards Heaton Park.
One afternoon in the 1980s the truth of Indian East was revealed to me. It was, literally, a revelation. As a child I had read the sign, very clearly, from my seat in the back of the car. Indian East. I had never questioned my interpretation of this road sign. The words had conjured up the place, with its every last letterbox. I had no reason not to believe in the existence of Indian East. It was on a road sign. They didn’t make road signs to places that did not exist. I had built a city on the back of my reading skills.
I was having driving lessons by then, scooting around the environs of our town in Mr Purvis’s Mini Metro and we stopped at a junction on Pilsworth Road. Mr Purvis gave his usual careful instructions; he was a Geordie man, very patient. As he imparted driving knowledge I looked up at the road sign in front of me. There were two places listed. Bury, right and to the left Ind. Est.
Wait a moment. Ind. Est?
I looked around, at the warehouses, the tarmacced yards and drives, the high security fencing and the sets of traffic lights that Mr Purvis liked us to practice going through, junction after filter after cross hatched junction.
In one moment a city fell. The spangled ladies of Indian East vanished in their market coats, shooed into the gondolas and skiffs by the burly chested security guard from Industrial Estate. They had no place here, no place anywhere. The sign had never read ‘Indian East’ at all except to my childish eyes and I had never corrected the mistake.
To say I was heartbroken, would not be hyperbole.
I stalled the car. Mr Purvis waited patiently, puffing on his hundredth cigarette as I sorted my gears and started the engine.