Nods wisely to herself.

‘Don’t work things out do you? You’ve got to fink fings frew.’

She stabs at her nut with her forefinger, then she leans on the bar looking over at me.

‘For instance: when it’s foggy what do you think?’ She pauses but doesn’t wait for me to speak. ‘I’ll tell yer what you think: delays of transport, nasty coughs, bad chests, black snot in yer hankie – am I right?’

She nods before I utter.

‘Getting lost’, I say.

‘There yer go, getting lost the lady says.’ As if she’s addressing punters from a barrow, flogging fruit.

‘But, my dear, fog is all about finding, finding marvellous things.’ She sounds quite lyrical.

‘It means Bond Street opened up to the poor, smash and grabs, heists of unaccustomed size in unexpected quarters. It means large scale nickage and petty thievery, bottles of booze, fur coats and lovely jewels. Fog is definitely a fucking equalising factor my dear.’

Does an emphatic final draw on her fag, her entire face collapsed like a bellows to get the full essence out of it.

‘Even galleries, picture galleries in Bond Street been known to give up their booty to the liberating tea leaf, in a really good pea souper. One like we had last winter for instance.’

‘Never heard you so loquacious Frannie.’ She gives one of her creaky winks in which she moves her lid so slow you can almost hear it. Takes a sip from her lemonade, looks at me so I get the feeling this is what the whole pantomime has been about.

‘Hear Tiger’s got a collection of real pictures downstairs.’ Her voice is less flat now, a jerk of interest in there.

‘Do what?’

‘That’s what I hear gel.’ Lights another fag, blows smoke over me. ‘Could always have a look mate couldn’t we?’

‘Where’d you hear that Frannie?’

She looks at the cellar door……


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I have a feeling. Backed up by some evidence that a new buzz word has come about. Last Friday on a news programme, an educator (!) used this word five times in one speech about education. As in robust education, robust practises but nothing about what this meant. I am no doubt old fashioned in my understanding of the meaning of robust: a rosy cheeked peasant of stout frame comes to mind. Or a robust wine: plonk? In my old Oxford dictionary another definition is: sensible, straightforward ,not given to subtleties I see. And that could figure in our education system. But six times in one speech?

I have heard it used several time since, and not about healthy people ot  strong equipment  and I am on the aural watch with ears a’twitch. Will this be the new ‘basically’?

We will see!

And why do I mind?


We speak jargonese with a consummate ease

that has to be heard to be disbelieved

we witter away but what do we say ?

At this moment in time and basically too

we try to convey new concepts to you

dressed up in a blanket of complex verbiage

concealed from the mind,

obfuscating sense

Why do we do it ? we really don’t know

It makes us feel smart in our idiot show ….


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I am not sure how many of my readers will have had the speculum experience. It was profound. I encountered my first friendly speculum in Newcastle in the late seventies on my first venture to a women’s conference.

Feminism had come to me after I sent for various magazines in The Guardian, Along with Spare Rib and Shrew was one called Women’s Voice and this was delivered to my door by a member of IS( International Socialist) an excellent woman brought it to me and I became part of a group which included a Communist, several Labour Party women an IMG ( International Marxist group) member and a few nonaligned characters including me and a wonderful doctor called Helena who willed specula when she very sadly died  at an absurdly early age.

The group was a marvellous revelation for me: A group of women prepared to argue the toss with very little provocation, to raise their voices with no comeback and women who never spoke of soft, or hard, furnishings or nappies. We were all in agreement about the pro abortion campaign, anti apartheid and all against nuclear weapons and for the moment that was enough. It felt like coming home, a sisterhood, a gaggle of friends who accepted me. We would have our meetings, go to the pub afterwards and often we went skinny dipping at Sandbanks. I think I was in love with the entire women’s movement. I was the only one of us who could get away to go to the Newcastle Conference. I felt I was carrying the banner for us all…

In spite of traversing from Southampton to Newcastle with not a word addressed to me, having my bed given away by my roommate and a rather random disco I was intent on getting the very most from the experience of being with so many women .

I had not encountered a speculum before though I had been prodded and poked ‘down there’ but I hadn’t liked to enquire as to the instrument. In fact I was not sure what one was, but all was explained to us by an energetic enlightened woman who would have made an excellent saleswoman. Some of us paled a little when the process was explained. I had on my new dungarees and the very thought of removing them – with the entire attendant undressing horrified me and along with my ancient baggy knickers I felt compelled to refrain.  But there were a couple of women all too eager to step up –as it were – and cast off their underwear. We watched cautiously, we less bold women but we were impressed and when we were offered a mirror for self examination, I for one was rather keen to see my nether regions in glorious close up. I adjourned to the privacy of the loo and later, at home I gave myself a comprehensive once over.

In fact I think this experience was extremely important. It demystified a part of me that my mother referred to as ‘down there’ and though my own generation had both cute and scabrous names for our vaginas – we had never thought to have a close look at them. The process of learning to love that part of ourselves, not finding it ugly and unacceptable was difficult for some women though I went to it with some alacrity. I had always enjoyed sex and I found that this increased my enjoyment.  I had also had female lovers from time to time and my new fanny fascination made this more fun. The vagina has had a bad press from males, smelly, peculiar, ugly, to be used but not loved? All this stuff that we have read, heard, internalised (?) Now I hear that the fashion is for a totally hair free territory ‘down there’. I am not quite ready for this, I like my bush.  While the penis has been admired, compared, looked at with adoration and exposed with wanton abandon we females have been told to cover–up and deodorise. Keep it safely in your knickers…

The conference carried on with many workshops on equal pay, violence against women and equality in the home, among others. I teamed up with two women who came on the minibus with me and we made our carnivorous way to curry houses in Newcastle town. Apparently our conference drank more beer that any other one that year – though this may be a legend. Every workshop I attended included an extremely aggressive woman who yelled at the group leader/facilitator ‘You want to try being a working class dyke in Brighton’ I told her that I had no inclination to accept her offer and she got very angry, grabbed me in a terrifying manner and shook me until  my teeth rattled. I shut up.

In fact there was rather a lot of anger in the air at this conference and the women who had driven us from Southampton decided to stay an extra day to join a lesbian only separate workshop, leaving us with no driver. I had to get back to work as did others in our group; fortunately one brave soul among us had a provisional licence and elected to drive us home. I look back on this conference as a learning experience in all kinds of ways but the speculum experience was the most important one – that and not to be a smart arse with tough women.

Coming back to my own lovely friendly group who, in spite of our political differences actually LIKED one another was a profound relief and I know that that feminism changed my attitude, and my life, in many ways and that the speculum was very much part of that.

This very week I heard of some new vaginal wipe to eliminate the odour ofa hot noni and I wondered what was wrong with washing? But no, there is profit in persecuting that particular perfume, remember the vaginal sprays of the seventies? all lavender coloured or pale pink with several floweryl perfumes. They were, apparently damaging to health and died a death. But undeterred here is another product to smear on our ‘front bottoms’ (my fave euphemism) let’s call a cunt by it’s own sweet name eh?

I should be interested to know of any other speculum speculations.



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First I have a few don’ts and they are emphatic!Do not succumb to the cauliflower perm syndrome ever. This is the one that very many ladies aspire to and has become a dreadful stereotypical look.It diminishes your look.

Likewise the beige anorak unless you intend to liven it with orange and purple flowing scarves. These scarves are ideal and can serve as a useful encumbrance to finding your purse, ticket, bus pass etc. do not be put off by  the increasing irritation of those behind you in the queue. Stand your ground and relish all the aggro you are causing but never giggle,that is going too far. This tactic depends on the expectations of the public – that the aged are rather dim and dopey, you can of course vary the colours of the scarves but really I suggest beige is always a bad choice. It speaks of taking a back seat – disappearing – a mistake this.

Men should also avoid beige at all costs and try not to shuffle. Walk tall if at all possible otherwise develop a distinguished stoop – practise in front of a mirror and think “urbane fellow of the world”. Never wear sandals and socks. My advice for men is necessarily sketchy but attitude is universal and all important.

Never apologise for being old, rather use it as a weapon. When on public transport look for the disabled seats and their occupants then glare, make your glare as furious as possible but with a tiny bit of pathos. If this doesn’t work and they continue to be absorbed in their electrical devices you will have to go on to stage two: seek the softest target and demand their seat. You will rarely be refused but if you are, then play the disabled card – remember this is war. Usually at least two can be guilt tripped in this way so any companion  can join you.

Purse fiddling is another tactic that works rather well and seems to come naturally to we oldies. When paying at the till insist on finding the exact money  among your copiously change filled purse – it is advisable to keep a special purse for this one – you can mumble about the price of everything if you like and enjoy the angry murmurings in the queue. Try not to look too triumphant as you leave but it is permissible  to have a quiet chuckle. They expect the old to be a bore, don’t disabuse them.

There are variations on this of course eg.  every time I fill my car I tell the cashier that if I had envisioned putting in over forty pounds worth of petrol in the tank I should have thought I had a Jaguar. Remember, being a bit of a bore is part of our vital equipment. Never give up your place in a queue to somebody younger and fitter than you. I have witnessed old people stating that they have more time than the recipient of this favour. Not so. We have far less time to waste in queues and don’t you forget it. Even if your next engagement is a date on a seat in the sun with other ancients remember that you are as important – at least – as anybody.

I have found that certain stereotypes do come into play as I have aged –(like wine I hope…a coming to fruition rather than a decaying) I have become rather keen on babies. I still prefer dogs of course but there is a scarcity of them while babies are legion. I talk to them and admire them on public transport and my old heart warms at the sight of a young baby and I do not restrain myself I gurgle in an unseemly way – using exactly the same voice that I use for dogs. The cut off point comes once they reach out with sticky hands and are capable of independent motion. I indulge myself in this weakness because I enjoy it and conclude that it is a natural self preservation tactic.

Indulge in the things that give you pleasure – within limits of course. So remember that now is the time to please yourself at last, forget all the rules that your mother told you, you do not have to put other people first you don’t have time. And if none of my suggestions appeal to you I am sure that you can contrive some for yourself – we are a brilliant lot of people we ancients and very inventive.

WE ARE WORTH IT! you better believe it…



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I have been host to a fair few creatures in my small neglected garden over the years. The first was Henry a rather glamorous cockerel who lived with me for more than a year. He never let me get close to him but deigned to eat my food and in return he sent out noisy messages of joyful greeting every day. Nobody complained, my area is pretty tolerant – but mainly because most of the neighbours didn’t know just where the crowing came from. He left suddenly driven by sexual desire I think and the police came round to inform me that he was perched  on a wall in the next street and asking me to go and collect him. He flew off as soon as I got close to him and in spite of several young men trying to catch him – he disappeared never to be seen again. I suspect to a cooking pot for a nice curry. I was sorry to see him go, he gave me focus. He also gave me lots of tweet material and he was definitely pleasing to the eye. I missed him.

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