PUNCHING ABOVE YOUR WEIGHT

I will put the finished table in our warm courtyard. I have chosen joyful colours of yellow and orange, with peaceful ones of blue and green. I want to incorporate mirrors to catch the light and shells from the beach I live so far from.
If my mother could see me now, maybe she can, I don’t know, she would consider my work. “A waste of time, Noreen. Haven’t you got anything useful to do?” She would have disapproved of my lifestyle. Mum wasn’t a lover of art or a lover of love for that matter. She lived her life neatly without leaving anything behind and when the time came she got on with the business of dying as she had got on with the business of living. Head down, no complaints. And Dad, he married Maureen Pollard from next door before the year was out. He found mum hadn’t left anything behind either.
*
I use special glue for my tiles but I also have to use tile grout and sealant. I have drawn my design and collected sea shells and marbles. A reminder of family holidays perhaps. Why is it the things you want to forget that stay in the mind and the things you cherish start to fade away? I catch a stray marble and am grateful I haven’t lost mine yet.
*
The ocean takes me back to the four of us on holiday, me, Roger and the kids. Jessie refusing to take off the cardigan she wore over her bathers. I tried to coax it from her before deciding to let the sun do its job. Like the tale of the old man in his coat and the contest between the wind and the sun. It didn’t work with Jessie, always stubborn. Her skin so fair and lightly freckled I fancy she had the right idea. As for Dan, he ran towards the ocean as soon as he could stagger on two plump legs. Skin the colour of caramel and hair as dark as rain clouds. I tried not to have favourites.
Roger and I sat in our deck chairs, me with my huge brimmed sunhat feeling glamorous and him with his battered fedora. He’d sat on it before we’d left home but still insisted on bringing it. His long moustache obscured part of his face but I knew furtive eyes covered by mirrored sunglasses checked out the bikini-clad talent doused in coconut oil.
We didn’t fear the midday sun in those days, we wanted to make the most of our holiday. We’d turn up at nine with not a smear of sun cream between us and didn’t leave before four. Back at the boarding house with tight red skin, you could almost smell burning flesh. Dan just got darker, I couldn’t imagine where he got his olive skin from. A throwback to forgotten generations? An Italian uncle who’d snuck in on our bloodline? Not that we were pedigree mind. Common or garden Australian, right down to our Hills Hoist and beetroot in a can.
Halfway through our holiday our deckchairs skirted the shoreline, the occasional wave caressed our toes. We dozed off, hats over our faces. I’d checked on the kids before, Dan building sandcastles and Jessie fashioning herself a sand coffin, never one to look on the bright side. If she’d grown up these days we’d have taken her to a psychologist, as it was Roger and I exchanged a look, gazed at the ceiling and got on with it.
I’m straying from the story, Dan’s story. We heard an anguished voice pleading for help and our eyes snapped open. A bald headed man leaning over a child, our child. I stood and screamed whilst Roger hurried to Dan, scattering beach umbrellas and sand in his wake.
“Get the bloody surf life saver”, Baldy yelled.
The beach closed, just out of season, Roger had to scramble to a payphone to call emergency services. I ran to my baby boy, hovering over him, blubbing and trying to hold him.
“Get out of the sodding way! I need space for fucks sake.”
I sat there sobbing as a bald stranger blew life into my son’s lungs. Between breaths he swore at me, terrible words but I deserved them. I’d failed Dan, I’d fallen asleep. An ambulance arrived and efficiency took over with men in overalls. Later we discovered from the newspaper that the bald man was an Anglican minister. I didn’t think religious men swore. The article said, “Cleric Saves Boy While Parents Sleep.”
Why would I want to re-create a beach scene where we nearly lost Dan? Of course we lost him anyway. He left home as soon as he could, went south and put himself through Uni; became a Marine Biologist.
“Marine Biologist! What the hell is that? He could have joined the family business, but no, not good enough for him. You bloody spoilt him Noreen.”
Roger had shoved me towards the side window where his van was parked. Thompson & Son Plumbers. “Where’s the son, Noreen? Where’s the bloody son?”
Roger’s voice quivered and his eyes filled with water. I could see a chasm opening up in the middle of our family home. Working class roots but Dan wanted more. It made me feel both proud and heartbroken. And envious it was he who had got away.
*
The ocean design had lived in my head for weeks. It would give me a rush of freedom, the one I get whenever I stand at the seas edge, looking into forever. Nothing much changes over the ages, if you stare out to sea, without glancing back at beach towels and garish umbrellas.
*
Jessie still lived at home, she hadn’t found her path. She was always lost, I just hadn’t noticed it. I didn’t know how to deal with her so she hung around like an overstuffed armchair, sitting in front of the telly, eating TV dinners. I couldn’t do a thing with her. It was not how I’d imagined things would turn out when the kids were small and saw adventure everywhere. When everything Roger or I said had been their world.
That night as Roger and I lay in bed with rain hammering on the tin roof, I thought I’d like to leave. To walk out and keep walking until I walked off the edge. I wasn’t a clever woman or even a kind one, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have plans for a better life. The rain went on and on, a wonderful sound. I felt safe and tucked up, reassured that everything would be okay, despite laying down every night next to a man I no longer loved.
*
I spread the adhesive on the table. I have arranged the tiles in a design on a sheet of cardboard next to me and I systematically add each piece. I work quickly and with some skill, art is new to me. I have tried a lot of new things in my middle years. I place the yellow tiles in a curve and scatter seashells along the shore line, adding blue and mirror tiles, waves that catch the light. I discard the tiles that aren’t quite right, that don’t fit. Some might have worked once but no longer have a use.
*
One morning as I sorted the dirty laundry into piles; food and coffee stains, I tried to think of where I would go if I did walk. I had always dreamed of Europe, the architecture and the food, so different from home. All that art, you’d think Venice would sink from it. Or America, ‘the land of the free’, they call it but on the evening news they didn’t look free to me. Stake-outs and drive-by-shootings. Not America then. An Aussie beach, the magic white light of the sun on waves that turn into infinity. Nothing resonates, I simply don’t know. Does anyone? Who doesn’t feel in the wrong place where the right place is somewhere else, carrying on without you?
By the time I finished shoving my family’s clothes into the top-loader, I knew the place I wanted. Not a country nor a distant city with dreaming spires, a space inside me where I could be separate from my family. A place I didn’t have to share. A place I could hear women all over the world yearning for. A room of my own but not with a rocking chair and a collection of imported china objet d’art, a place deep at my core, a shimmering oasis that is truly home.
That was the day the top loader went bung. I phoned Roger.
“Not my area, Nor. Phone Gav from Fixit Repairs.”
A sharp intake of breath from Gav and he announced he couldn’t be here until Tuesday.
“That’s fine. I can go a day without it.”
“Next Tuesday, love.”
*
I don’t want to lose the balance of light of my mosaic. The orange tiles are too bright, too much like an everyday beach scene. The orange of strapless bikini tops or the colour of sun baked skin. That’s not what I want. I don’t want garish beach huts and life savers flags.
*
Experimenting with curse words, I shoved a load of soggy washing into a bin liner and carried it to the car. The bag heavy felt as heavy as a dead body and I wondered how many wives had carried their dead husbands to a secret grave.
It wasn’t a body, only the detritus of bodies, pants and t-shirts, bras and knickers. In the laundromat a middle-aged woman sat reading a book. I listened to the wonderful rhythmic sound of clothes tumbling around to the whirr of a motor.
“Bugger!” I had forgotten to bring change. I riffled through my purse several times, each time expecting to find a different result.
“Can I help you?” A smooth cultured voice with upright consonants.
“I don’t have the right change.”
“Let me.” The woman held out a palm filled with 50 cent and 20 cent pieces.
“I couldn’t.”
“Don’t be silly.”
I accepted the coins and put my load into the machine, as big as a monster. I sat on the wooden bench smoothed by decades of shuffling bottoms.
“Thank you.” I handed back the remaining silver coins to the woman.
“You’ll need those for the dryer, you don’t come here much do you?”
“I haven’t been in a laundromat since school. I used to do the washing for my mum.”
The woman smiled, she closed her book and placed it in her lap.
“Don’t let me stop you.” I indicated her book with the slight angle of my head.
“Well actually I’d rather talk, if you want to.”
“Yes, I don’t get much of a chance to talk. My family don’t go in for it.”
“Families can be tricky and I must confess, I have a perfectly good washing machine at home.”
“Why do you come here?”
“Dirty clothes are a great leveler.”
I frowned and she continued, “It’s hard to pretend over soiled underwear.” She held out a beautifully manicured hand, her nails painted shell-pink, “Saffron Hughes.”
I took her hand, “Noreen Thompson. Do you really have a machine at home?”
“Yes. I know it sounds sad but I’m not. I used to work as a croupier on a ship. Very social and busy, I miss it sometimes so I come here for company.”
“Gawd, there’s no peace at my house, there’s always a row going on. Have you ever married?”
“Yes, three times.”
“No!”
Saffron counted on her fingers. “Nathanial, the accountant, dull. Timothy the Future’s Trader, unfaithful, and finally Gerald, the high court judge who preferred men.” Saffron looks down at her hands. She plays with the space on her finger where three different rings would have been. She has other rings, large and elaborate but they make her ring finger seem all the barer.
“I only have Roger the plumber and he’s still hanging around after 20 years.”
“That’s nice.”
“No. It isn’t.”
The following week Saffron sat reading a different book, her blonde hair falling in her eyes. I dumped plastic bin liners full of washing which spilled stained clothes onto the floor.
“Hi. I’m organised now. I have the right change.”
I sat down next to her and she lowered her book. I marveled at the irony of a beautiful woman spending her time in a laundromat by choice. It made me feel sad.
“I’ve a couple of tickets for the opera on Friday night. Would you like to come?”
I was silent for a moment. “I’ve never been to the opera. I wouldn’t know what to wear.”
“Don’t worry, it’s the performance people come to see. We’ll be in semi-darkness. It’s Madame Butterfly.”
*
I smooth the grout. It’s the grout that keeps it all together, prevents the tiles from separating and going their own way. I watch it dry knowing my mosaic will last. I will brush on sealant so the table can live in our courtyard, among pots of flowers and wisteria climbing the walls.
*
I dressed carefully that Friday night. I couldn’t afford a new dress but I managed to find something at the op shop, a clinging jersey dress with a vee-neck. Salmon pink with a black silk rose sewn above my left breast.
“People like us don’t go to the opera,” Roger said as I headed to the door, car keys in hand. “Don’t punch above your weight, love.”
I slammed the door and started the car, glad I hadn’t cooked him any dinner.
I met her in front of the auditorium, Saffron in black with earrings that sparkled, she made me so proud to be with her. A beautiful, cultured woman who saw something in me, plain Noreen. I was aware of Saffron in seat next to me, the lights went down and I became more aware of her. The soft curve of her body in the black dress, the rise and fall of her chest. A spotlight brought to life two figures on the stage. There was to be a wedding between an American Naval Officer and a Japanese woman called Butterfly. She wore a traditional kimono and as soon as I heard Butterfly’s incredible voice I began to cry softly and I didn’t stop until the end of act one. But nothing prepared me for the pain and release of Butterfly’s final scene as she bravely said goodbye to her son and the curtain fell.
Saffron and I stay seated while the audience leaves the theatre. She looked at me.
“It gets some people like that, Noreen. You’re very lucky. There’s not much that makes me feel that deeply.”
I smiled as my tears dried on my cheeks. Saffron touched my face gently.
We met once a week, sometimes the opera, sometimes plays or musicals. We went to restaurants and afterwards walked in the park if the moon was full. She paid for me when Roger refused to give me money. Saffron offered with grace, making light of my embarrassment.
*
I apply the second coat of sealant and step back to admire my work. I hear the door close. Our new house, chosen because of its sunny courtyard so unlike the standard Aussie backyard.
“You finished it!”
Saffron gazed at the table. “It’s perfect, Noreen. Can you see us, sitting with our glasses of Chablis, watching the sun go down?”
After dinner we sat on the doorstep, the table wasn’t dry, and I didn’t think of Roger or Jessie, or even of Dan. I sipped my wine in the clear cold night, finally home.

A FISH AND A BICYCLE

I hadn’t really noticed the media backlash to feminism until I read an article in the weekend newspapers recently. The first thing I did was research the internet. I found a post of young women holding up placards declaring why they weren’t feminists. They said they didn’t believe in feminism:
“Because I believe in equality not entitlements and supremacy”
“Because I don’t think being a woman is a disadvantage”
“Because I respect men. I refuse to demonize them and blame them for my problems”

What the? Entitlements and supremacy? You don’t have to hate men to be a feminist. You can even be a man and a feminist. Did the baton get lost sometime in the last decade or two?

I admit it was easy for me. Seeing my mum cook and clean all day, never getting a chance to sit down. She’d have time to shower and change, pour a sherry for my dad when he arrived home from work. My fifteen year old self was appalled. Five years after the Sex Discrimination Act and I still felt I was in a fifties movie, complete with pretty aprons and the smell of cup cakes wafting from the kitchen. I stopped reading Smash Hits and subscribed to Spare Rib, a feminist magazine. It took up most of my pocket money.

The movement started in the late 1800’s and the term feminism was coined by a man – a Utopian Socialist and French philosopher called Charles Fourier. Since then we have had the suffragette movement where women gave their lives to the cause. The sixties and seventies when women came out as thinkers, demanded jobs in so-called male arenas, marched for equal rights (I am Woman Hear Me Roar) and who could forget the post-feminism of the early nineties. I could actually as I never really understood it.

Basically feminists come in all shapes and sizes and I would bet that very few of them hate men. I don’t think women want to be men either – some do. However, that’s not feminism but something else entirely.

Having taken advantage of all the rights fought for in previous generations is it okay to turn our back and claim we didn’t want it anyway? It’s not about taking up a corporate job and banging our heads against the glass ceiling, it’s about freedom. The right to vote, the right to equality – politically, economically, culturally, and socially. If you think we have all those then you’re one of the lucky ones. In developing countries women are not allowed to attend schools or universities, they suffer genital mutilation. They are repressed and controlled. Murdered for adultery. If you are happy with your apartment in a nice neighbourhood, your well paid job and don’t care about the women who sacrificed themselves in the past, that’s fine.

But what would have happened if we’d turned our backs on the lives of men lost in wars? Would things have been different if it had been a man who threw himself in front of the King’s horse, chained himself to railings or endured the humiliation of force feeding in prison?

Who remembers the A Woman Needs a Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle poster? A bit much maybe, but funny. Shouldn’t we be more offended by Porn Culture and so-called Reality TV. Objectifying women and the dumbing down of our generation. In the words of Patsy Stone from Absolutely Fabulous – “It’s not objectifying women, she’s got the whip”. A lovely irony.

I won’t go into boob jobs and bum implants. Nips, tucks and fillers. If you’re happy with a strangely shiny face and bee-sting lips go ahead.

Madonna is a humanist not a feminist(?) Gwyneth Paltrow and Taylor Swift don’t like this F-word and Katy Perry is confused, Bless. There’s even an Anti-Feminist facebook page.

The definition of a feminist is simply this:- “The advocacy of woman’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexe”s. There I said it. It’s not subversive or frightening. It’s fair.

You can bake fairy cakes in a pink tutu. Knit clothes for your entire family. Even shower before you husband comes home. It’s not about man hating or refusing to shave your legs. Burning your bra or any of the clichés tied up with the Woman’s Rights Movement. Let’s stand alongside men, not four steps behind them.

And there’s still so much to do. We are a long way from being treated as equals – even in the so-called developed world.

PS I have been gifted a subscription to ‘Good Housekeeping’ by my mother-in-law and I’m loving every minute of it. I even have a pretty apron hanging up ironically in my kitchen.

NOT YET 50

I’m a Gen X – how did I get here?
We wore bin bags and chains. We turned our back on the disco kings and queens. I went to festivals before you had to pay for them. Before the TV crews or Kate Moss in wellies. I danced freestyle (still do – ask the old man).
I threw away my bra when I could have done with the support. I believed in the cause.
I read Classic Bike, Hesse, Huxley and Sounds magazine. I dressed like a librarian for work and a strumpet for play.
I’m not yet 50. Not quite. If I wedge my feet on the ground (like Bolly when she’s for the hose) maybe I’ll buy myself a couple of days. Burning the rubber of my DM’s. Sending sparks up my trousers.
You see. I’m not 50! Not for 364 and a one half days!

A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF

On my way up to my room to watch a film on the lap top (while the rest of the family gathered round some fantasy action movie downstairs) I told Son. No.2, over my shoulder, that I was watching a movie about Dylan Thomas, the poet. “He drank himself to death”, I shouted. It’s a hard sentence to say without sounding Irish or Welsh. He giggled. I hadn’t meant it to be funny.
It was a beautiful and poignant film about a wondrous poet who raged. And drank. And raged. And drank. It made me think of a cousin. Our family has a weakness for booze. And a propensity for madness. Maybe every family does.
My grandfather was a heavy drinker in a time when to be so could be seen as romantic. Many of his sons were the same in an era where romance and booze were not seen through the hazy glow of romance at all. One or two went far enough to be alcoholics. Another Irish phrase comes to mind – ‘Oh but he’s an awful alcoholic.’
My cousin, a brilliant and flawed girl, drank herself to death. She really did. And broke my heart. I waited years for that phone call, unable to change her fate. My Dad rang me with the news. It wasn’t the first time I’d said the f-word but never was it more heart-felt.
My first drink was given to me at about the age of 14. By my much beloved Nan. Homemade elderflower wine. She was babysitting me. When my parents arrived home I fell off the stool I was attempting to sit on. Mum seethed silent rage. Anyone who does that to my boys would get more than silent rage. But this was the seventies, when anything homemade was good for you. My mother still labours under the misapprehension that cider is merely apple juice.
I have always been the worst party girl. In that I was completely rubbish at it. A few drinks away from loving everyone in the room. Conducting group hugs with complete strangers. Copying strange accents until the owner of them wanted to throttle me. I’ve woken up a few times wondering what had happened at the end of a party. Who had I offended? It’s not a nice feeling. And the mixture of the drink and bipolar (my particular form of madness) is neither a wise nor pleasant one.
Son No.2 again. He’s doing a project on Van Gogh. “He cut his ear off in a fit of madness.” He looked at me from under his lashes. “Don’t get any ideas will you.”

SOFT AND FLUFFY

‘Should I take a towel from the drawer’, my son asks.
‘What are they like?’
‘There’s the aubergine one, or this’. He holds one up.
I can see sunlight through it. I wrinkle my nose. ‘Take my good one. It’s on the stairs.’
‘But that’s yours’
‘I don’t want your friends to think we have crappy towels.’
‘Only our close friends,’ he says confidently.
‘No. Not even them’.
Towels have haunted me all my adult life. When I moved unexpectedly to London to be with a man he took one look at my towels and dragged me into Marks & Spencer. Ah, he’s buying me lingerie I thought. But no. Even better than that. He bought me two big fluffy bath towels. Heaven. That’s not the only reason we have stayed together but it looms large.
These days I suffer from towel-envy. Not sure if there is a support group for this affliction. I sit on the beach eyeing gorgeous striped towels that have fluffy depth from the other side of dark sun glasses. Bright colours decorating the sand like a towel mosaic. One of my closest friends has French style towels. Beautiful, floppy pieces of elegant material. A cross between a posh picnic rug and a soft throw. Sophisticated.
My towels are frayed towels, holey towels, even hand-me-down towels from family. Towels I’m embarrassed to own. I only hang them on the line because we live on acreage. No one can see.
If my mum read this blog I know what she would say, after falling on the floor laughing. ‘I knew that would come back to bite you on the bum’, or some such wise words. She would be referring to my teenage years when I refused to use any towel twice. Once wrapped around my ample bosom and it went straight in the wash basket. I washed my waist length hair thrice a week. That makes 10 towels a week, 40 a month, nearly 500 a year . No wonder Mum spoke to me through gritted teeth until I left home. Don’t tell son no.1. He’s turning out to be quite like me .
But is that it? Or is the humble towel a metaphor for some other yearning in me. A strong desire to lay down my towel on a faraway beach or lounger crowded round a pool. Is it symbolic of my wish to travel?
Does measuring my threadbare towels against other people’s well-kept towels reflect possible self-esteem issues?
There was a phase a few years ago when middle-class people rolled their towels into a sausage shape. Displayed them on open-plan shelving. Mine are shoved unceremoniously into a drawer which often gets stuck.
Years ago a colleague was disgusted when her boss bought her a towel for Christmas. Perhaps she had hoped for jewels or a silk scarf. The towel was deep blue with gold edges. A sumptuous towel. I had visions of lying on a damask covered sofa wrapped in that towel, like exquisite gift wrapping. Or shaking it out on the sands of St Tropez.
I have one good towel. It’s white with red stripes – the colours of our local rugby team. Bought by son no.2 for my birthday. If we ever win lotto, I’m going to fly to the best department store in the country to buy up all their towels.
NB Despite my towel-needs I have never stolen one from a hotel room. I may be a bit strange but I’m not a fool.

A WEIGHTY SUBJECT

I am at best curvy. At worst a bit of a plumpy. But it hasn’t always been this way.
I was a skinny kid, a skinny tween and a skinny early teen. I wore 4 inch heels to school at 14, looking like a pipe cleaner in school uniform.
When we moved too far away to attend the same school I visited my old friends in the school holidays and comfort ate on weekends at home. Double bills of horror films to the accompaniment of lumps of cheese and packets of crisps. My thrifty mum couldn’t keep up with school blouse button popping and my bra size went from 32B to 38DD in mere months. I’d stopped cycling everywhere at about the same time – it was easier to stalk the boy I fancied on foot. I felt more confident in my bigger body. I felt sensuous. I’d always thought myself pathetic as a thin girl. Now I was brave and courageous. Full of life.
About a year later I discovered that most boys didn’t like my overflowing flesh. They wanted a girl their mates envied. They wanted a girl who was hot. I looked down at myself in confusion. Was I not hot then?
My confidence evaporated. The ground beneath me swayed and broke up into pieces. I started to diet and fell in love with the feeling of abstinence. Hunger pains gripped me lying in my bed at night. I fought my will to eat. Sometimes I only ate apples, another time just one bowl of cereal a day. I refused to eat with anyone else so that I could stash the meal my mother had cooked me into a plastic bag to be thrown away later. This was real control and at the end of it I had a concave stomach. Hurray for me!
By that time I had reached the weight of six and a half stone I was a waif. Now it wasn’t just my mum on my case. My boyfriend was concerned. His mother said I was so thin I resembled a drug addict. When Karen Carpenter died from complications from anorexia I was getting the hard word from most people.
I was lucky. I wasn’t so emaciated that I couldn’t turn back. I still had enough vanity to be shocked that I may look like a heroin user. And although slim was the preferred female shape of the day, boobs and hips were sought after too. Writing this I am appalled that the body-fashion of the day should be relevant to young women but it was.
And it certainly is now. I could spit feathers at the skinny images of young women that are out there for our youth to see. The other day I saw a pathetic, but alarming, article containing drawings of what body shape men and women prefer in females. Women prefer a slim shape with a modest bust apparently. Nice swivelly hips. Whereas men were reported to prefer a version of femininity that wouldn’t exist without starvation, and a boob job not far short of Dolly’s. Not a human form, a blow up version surely.
There are naturally thin women and these are the girls who are picked to model clothes. I get that – they sell more. But to encourage further weight loss and air brushing away so called imperfections puts an unnecessary strain on girls and boys. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Why are we even focusing on our looks? Didn’t magazines used to have interesting articles in them? Instead of page after page of pouty ads for make-up, diet food and stuff we used to consider frivolous.
I grew up subscribing to Spare Rib magazine and reading Herman Hesse. If anyone caught me looking in the mirror I was teased. Look at her, how vain is she! I have wondered how I would deal with raising a girl, as one blessed with two sons. But it affects boys too. Son No.1 works out nearly every day and feels blobby if he doesn’t. When should I start to worry?
I don’t know the answers. I don’t really know how we got here. Fame culture, porn culture, reality TV? The husband blames Twiggy. Even I still involuntarily suck my stomach muscles in when watching celebs on the red carpet in their confectionery gowns. It’s hard to be part of an age when Marilyn, if alive today, would be considered fat. 

GIRL INTERRUPTED

Remember those deep friendships with other girls. The ones you had growing up? A friendship that began by an intense dislike of another girl at school perhaps. Or envy of their hair, their long legs, their ease with other people. Startled by their rudeness, the sneering way they chewed gum.

You grew close and hung out on weekends. Stalked older boys or pretended to be cooler than you were in front of younger girls. Perhaps you got into trouble together. Smoking menthol cigarettes and drinking warm cider. Hiding from her older brother.

Scout hut discos. Dancing as if you had volts of electricity running through you. Finding your role models. Blondie, Madonna, Siouxie Sioux.

Once you left school you would plan to attend the same colleges, universities. The two of you would end up sharing a place with a girl called Ruth to make the rent. You’d try not to poison each other with your cooking experiments. You’d have crappy boyfriends who were always at the pub. But you had each other, a rousing cry, while you drank down a tooth mug full of Stones ginger wine. You wouldn’t date anyone who didn’t love your friend, your chum, your partner in crime.

I was reading an article in the newspaper about friends this morning. How important they are. Growing up together, never losing touch. Your friend. The coolest person you ever met. And I have that. I’m very lucky. I moved to a different county, a different city, finally moving to the other side of the planet. But she’s still there. In my heart, in my head, top of my facebook friends.

But as I read about the authors experience growing up with a great gal pal I was aware that things were different for me. I’m not asking for sympathy. I certainly don’t want you to feel sorry for me. Heaven forbid.

When I was 14, not long after I met my girlfriend, my family moved away. I was pulled away from my dearest friend. And life was never quite the same. While I had girlfriends at my new school, not many I must admit, I was always third wheel in some other friendship. I was ‘Ruth’. (Apologies to any Ruth’s reading but I had to pick a name). I still got presents back from family holidays and phone calls. But I wasn’t the first on the list. I was the ‘Sarah was busy, I was wondering if you might like to’… hang around the streets talking nonsense, try and get in the local pub where some spunky bloke hung out.

I’m still in touch with my friends, even the ones where I was third wheel. I mean, I live on the other side of the planet but facebook is good. It’s really good. After school I stayed on while Thelma and Louise left. Thelma lived overseas for a while. And Louise (oh how glamorous!) started seeing a much older man.

I needed my friend. My other-county friend. We still liked the same music, wore similar clothes. I didn’t look for another female substitute. I found a male one. A series of them. Beautiful, black leather jacketed, motorbike-riding young men. I had fun doing things I probably shouldn’t have done but there was no pouring over the tiny details over and over again. No swapping clothes (although I did wear my first love’s jeans to school, covered in motorbike oil). No giggled confessions.

There followed a number of relationships, lots of being thrown around on the back of a bike. Rock festivals, Easter camping trips in the snow. A wedding. A divorce. 20 years of being one of the boys.

It wasn’t until I had children that I started being one of the girls again. I was married for the second time, very happily. But I’d missed my rites of girly passage. I’d never played Rizzo to anyone’s Frenchy. I wasn’t even Sandra Dee. No regrets. It’s my story and I’m quite happy with it.

I have two sons who are my stars and moon. But if I’d had a daughter I would tell her to cherish her girlfriends, keep them close. Never let them go. While you’re trying to work out whether he’s a good guy or whether you should run, your girlfriend will be able to tell you straight. Immediately. Just by looking at him. It would have saved a lot of time.