Why we need so many knickers

By the time you reach my age, you’ll have been through many phases of knickers, starting off with something serviceable then probably shrinking to something scanty, and back again on occasion.

Photo by Serhat Beyazkaya on Unsplash

When I was old enough to choose my own briefs, I remember my mum voicing her disgust at the scarcity of fabric.  But knowing her mother (my grandmother) was from the era of the bloomer, I’m pretty sure Mum was considered racy herself.  So modest was my grandmother, she couldn’t even name what she wore under her dress and referred only in a whisper to ‘undergarments’.  I may have inherited this revulsion as the word ‘panties’ perturbs me if uttered aloud and as a small schoolgirl, I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘navy blues’, so my uniform unmentionables were known as ‘nabynoos’.

Life was so much simpler when you could buy your undies of choice in a multipack and one style worked under every outfit.  For a while, the range of knicker types a woman requires has been expanding not least because much as we love how feminine lace lingerie looks when choosing from the drawer in the morning, we must weigh up the pros and cons of committing to it for the day.  Will knowing you’re wearing something sexy be worth the discomfort or will the scratchy surface and lack of stretch simply get too distressing?  I can be quite moody if I’m uncomfortably conscious of my pants.  But that’s nothing compared to the irritation caused by accidentally wearing them the wrong way round – these days, knickers are often illogically smaller at the back than the front.  And as for gussets: I’m pretty sure the word indicates strength, support and width, so what’s been going on there then?

In Australia, thongs are what we call flip-flops which suggests they don’t bother with the bottom strap variety – how sensible of them.  There surely has to be an extremely good reason to decide to spend the day with a wedgie.  I’m not certain what the difference is between a thong and a g-string, but one does sound slightly more slicey than the other and now we are expected to deal with the c-string which, in case you were wondering, has no strings at all.

Just like the kitchen cupboards we can’t reach, these garments are likely to have been designed by misogynists – for men.  I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the boyish excitement of glimpsing his consenting other’s netherwear, especially if he bought them for her, but what he imagines will look sexy doesn’t often allow for her spare tyre flopping over the top and quite possibly concealing the entire triangle of fabric which barely contains her lady region.

 Industrial strength knickers with armholes anyone?

Folded up at the other end of the knicker drawer, we can choose between ‘Bridgets’ (sturdy control briefs, the source of surprise for Hugh Grant’s character who had finally managed to get Bridget Jones on her back) and the whopping ‘Hollys’.

Why we need so many knickers
Holly Willoughby

When asked on telly how she got such a smooth line in her dress (by the bloomer-wearing drag comedian Mrs Brown) Holly Willoughby disclosed her underpinnings started at her navel and came down to her knees and then revealed her expansive, flesh-coloured underwear to prove it.  Quite remarkable for someone who’s modelled lingerie for years.  But Holly is now a mother of three.  As a mother of three myself with more than a few years on Holly, I’m wondering if the next phase will be industrial strength knickers with armholes.

I recently ventured with Drew into a lovely lingerie shop saying: “You can’t ever come in here without me or you’ll look like a perv.”  I needed some Hollys to wear beneath the weather-girl style dress I’d chosen for my nephew’s wedding. While Drew sat on a velvet chaise trying not to make eye contact with anyone, I disappeared behind a swish curtain and squeezed myself into the ugly, tight instruments of torture hoping the seams wouldn’t split.

The effort required made me very hot but even under all three different lighting settings (day, night and dusk), I couldn’t see in the mirror where all the extra flesh had gone.  What I could see, however, didn’t resemble a human abdomen in any way.  And I simply hated how they felt, so braced myself for the reverse procedure which was when I noticed the livid, red wheels on my skin.  I was having such an extreme reaction to something in the fabric (fibreglass perhaps?) that Drew had to walk very close behind me on the way out while I had a good ol’ furtive scratch.  He even began to talk quite loudly to mask that noise you just have to make when relieving a powerful itch.

From comfortable ‘nun’s knicks’ through fun frillies to bedroom pretties, our drawers are full (pun intended) but if they’re not on show, do we really need so much choice?  Do you honestly care about the neighbours seeing them on the washing line? When I moved in with Drew, he felt uneasy unloading the washing machine because it meant handling my briefs without me present.  To me, with a lifetime of dealing with it, our underpants are just laundry at that stage.



Miss, Mrs or Ms?

Photo by Lorenzo Spoleti on Unsplash

   When the customer assistant asked for my name, I hesitated.  Should I offer my married name, although I am no longer married, or my maiden name?

If I give my maiden name,  at least I know how to answer the next question:  “Is that Miss or Mrs?” I didn’t marry my dad, so it’s Miss – obviously. But giving the name still on my bank account, passport and bills throws me into confusion because that one goes with Mrs and I haven’t been anyone’s missus for ages.

If I answer the Miss or Mrs question with: “I don’t really know,” I sound like one of those newspaper stories about a bewildered individual apparently suffering from amnesia who remembers how to play complex piano concertos but is stumped when asked, “Who are you?”

Many women are opting not to change their names on marriage, but what happens after divorce?

I asked my divorce solicitor what I had to do should I ever decide to ditch the one I’d been using for years and use my birth name again.  She told me there were no legal requirements as that’s technically who I still am.  It sounded more of an identity issue suddenly and as my identity was firmly connected to my children at the time,  I wasn’t in a hurry to have a different name from theirs.  It did mean there were no further legal charges though, so we should keep it between us or someone might decide we should pay to be ourselves.

I’ve heard there is a rising number of women in their forties, fifties and sixties filing for divorce since we’ve been better positioned to choose independence over a bad marriage. Is the choice of name (with which goes a title and therefore a declaration of marital status) tricky when you’ve likely been using the same one for more than twenty years?  We know many women are now opting not to change their names on marriage, but what do those of us, who chose to change, do about it after we get divorced?

In my experience, a mature woman who no longer has a husband, but has kept her personal title and husband’s name is sometimes presumed to be widowed, which can be awkward and, for someone like me, difficult not to joke about when it happens.  No kids, of course I don’t really wish your dad was dead, I just meant I’d rather not have sole responsibility for my mortgage.

Feminists of all ages rightly object to being made to declare ourselves married or not by having to tell anyone who asks whether we are Miss or Mrs when usually all that’s required is confirmation of whether or not you’re a man – oh hang on, that’s not good either.

You’re probably thinking why not use ‘Ms’?   Nobody actually likes ‘Ms’, that’s why. Apart from the lack of confidence when pronouncing it (muzz? mizz? Was this even a word before it became an abbreviation?) a lot can go through a person’s mind on hearing ‘Ms’ – their own prejudices mostly.  Their faces indicate they’re puzzling over whether you’re a bitter divorcee, a radical (man-hating) feminazi or a little too fiercely proclaiming your right to be attracted to other women.  All rather negative.

And then if you really can’t be bothered with the admin to change your name back, but find yourself living with a different life-partner, it’s sometimes necessary to have to point out that he’s Mr Someone and you’re Mrs Someone Else.  At hotel check-ins, you will appear to be having an affair with each other. If it bothers you, simply avoid eye-contact with the staff rather than try to explain. No one cares in that context except you and it might even make your holiday a little more exciting.

Consider this: if remarriage is your ‘ambition’ and you’d like your certificate to show Miss Whatshername married Mr So-and-So, rather than Mrs Whatshisname married Mr So-and-So, you’d have to revert to your maiden name to be able to change to a new married name.  Do you follow me?

Does any of this really matter?  Well, yes it does because how women of all ages are identified in society is at odds with their independence from the men in their lives and their rights to equality and to privacy.

The next time you’re asked:  “Is that Miss or Mrs?”  shake it up a bit if you dare.  Ask ‘Why do you need to know?’ Ask ‘Are you married?’ Say ‘I’ll tell if you will,” or whatever you feel like.  None of which means you’ll be able to play a piano concerto any better than you can now, but you’ll be making a point worth making.






Honestly Hating Exercise

Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash

Are you secretly too ashamed to admit you aren’t exercising all the chuffing time?   I used to dread hearing the words “at the gym” coming up in conversation with anyone in case they realised I’ve barely been to a gym since they were called gymnasiums. But now, at last, I’m beginning to feel comfortable with honestly hating exercise.

If you’re anything like me, please remember: we are entitled to this attitude without judgement from the others.  Don’t be embarrassed.  I’ll bet you are busily rushing around, on a daily basis without having to make an appointment with someone whose purpose it is to coach you in whatever rushing around substitute is currently fashionable.  Or if you’re not, that’s your business.  I won’t sloth-shame you.

I learned a long time ago that I don’t belong in a gym.  It was after having my daughter – a year’s membership being the ‘thoughtful’  post-partum gift from her father.

I had hoped for something a little less exhausting as a push present, but I was carrying extra weight and definitely out of shape, so I eased my lactating orbs into my most supportive maternity bra and borrowed one of his loose t-shirts as mine were all too snug to stretch over my wobbling form.

After warming up for a while, the one rowing machine became free, and as it seemed less intimidating than the rest of the equipment, I arranged my ample backside on the seat positioned a few inches from the floor, and gripped the handles.  I hadn’t noticed that the shirt was hanging down behind me, close to the wheel which glides the seat along.  It became harder and harder to row until I started to choke and the penny dropped.  The hem was caught up in the mechanism beneath me which was winding the t-shirt up.  I was strangling myself with every strenuous stroke.

Then I realised the only escape option was to slither out of the t-shirt, firmly wedged in the machine, and onto the floor. Covering my modesty with my sweat towel, I eventually managed to rip the shirt from the machine with my free hand, leaving a scrap of fabric lodged in the cogs to add to my shame.

The rowing machine was out of order for a while after that.

Nobody speaks to each other at the gym either, so I clearly didn’t fit in.  I wasn’t familiar with the protocol initially, but when I summoned the courage to return, I tried out a treadmill while music thundered around me and, to my amusement, the song was:  Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads.  I made the mistake of remarking on the irony to the miserable bag of bones pounding on the treadmill next to mine who threw me a glance, but wordlessly continued her futile effort to run at the wall we were facing.

Other Things I’ve Tried

Pilatesquite nice because much of it is done lying down and it’s not yoga – I didn’t want to have to change religion.

Zumba: doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be and for those of us who can’t tell a samba from a mambo, keeping up is a problem.

Hips, bums and tums: I mostly barged in the opposite direction to everyone else and being made to run around the exercise space for a warm up just about finished me off before I’d even started.

Callanetics: pulsing the muscle you’ve located to encourage inch loss.  Finding any muscles at all was problematic, but I persevered with some success until sheer, bloody boredom set in.

Jogging:  I was advised to jog for five minutes then walk for five and repeat.  For me, there’s little discernible difference between the pace of the two.

At the peak of my exercise enthusiasm, I would swim a mile on a Sunday morning before anyone in the house woke.  The pool was a very short walk from my home at the time and so I often managed to attend aqua-fit classes during the week too.  Then I moved house and almost two years later, still haven’t committed myself to a convenient pool or aqua class even though I know of two nearby.  Breaking a routine is a killer if you find it difficult to build up enthusiasm for exercise and I’m brilliant at excusing myself because I really don’t want to do it.

Come on –  let’s put an end to the shaming of non-exercisers who, like me, probably walk miles around their workplace every day, climbing flights of stairs and taking fresh air breaks whenever too long has been spent at a desk, then commuting home to the housework.  At the weekends, we might be walking for its own sake, outside, in real life, for free, rather than on an expensive conveyor belt, or sometimes on a Saturday night, we might be dancing like no-one is bothered.

So if you think ‘proper’ exercising at my age is even more important than before, my arthritic, overworked skeleton really is indifferent to your disapproval.


Autumn friends

Are friendships rated by how long they’ve endured?

Lindsey Kinsella looks at Friendship
Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

It’s not really fair to have more than one partner at a time, but it’s acceptable to have many friends. Different friends fulfil different needs and as our ‘requirements’ change, so do our friendships.  Some blossom; some wither.  If we’re lucky, new friendships form.  But do you rate these newer friends lower than your old chums?

The writer and politician Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797), viewed old friends as “the blessing of one’s later years” and noticed “half a word” could convey meaning between friends who have a history of shared experiences and conversations. I don’t disagree with Horace – it’s bliss to be in the presence of someone who knows you enough to detect your meaning from half a word, but is it necessary to be old friends to reach this standard?  How old is old anyway?

In my experience, there’s also joy in finding a connection with someone new.

For a period, my friendships were largely conducted chatting in the aisles of supermarkets while my toddler in the trolley scooped out the soft innards of the crusty bread baton up to the length of her arm. Later I became pals with other mums who had children in the same classes as mine at school.  Not all of those friendships survived my transition from mother of young children to the person I am now. I don’t feel they were less meaningful or important at the time though and I’m wise enough to know some friendships simply run their natural course.

I suppose my friendships were evaluated when I was in my forties – not particularly consciously.  I was single again after a long marriage, my ex-husband got custody of many of our joint friends and as my closest girlfriends all seemed to be in stable marriages, I felt as though I was pitied and didn’t quite belong. Sometimes I felt let down by those who were around for the good fun times, but not during my struggles because they found it difficult or upsetting.  So rather than roll my eyes at that, I began to socialise more with workmates and people I’d known growing up.  My autumn friends didn’t refer to me as someone’s wife or mum and I felt I was reclaiming my identity.  When one remarked how pleased he was to see the new version of the old me, I felt empowered by the reconnection and safe in the familiarity of the past we had shared.  I am lucky to have some old friends, newer friends and some new-old friends too – I haven’t even used them all yet.

I wasn’t welcomed everywhere, however.  Bouncing up to the first face I recognised at a school reunion, manically grinning to hide my nerves, I was dismissed with the words: “I never liked you.”  Apparently, a grudge against me had been borne since I was chosen to take the class hamster home for the holidays – in the seventies!  Some friendships are just not worth pursuing. Horace also said: “Nine-tenths of the people were created so you would want to be with the other tenth.” He was choosy was Horace.

How do you measure the calibre of your friends?

I recently went for cocktails with a close friend, made in mid-life, who told me she wanted to talk about our relationship. Almost choking on my cosmopolitan, I suddenly felt cornered, you know the way a man does when a woman starts a conversation about commitment. Surely she didn’t think I fancied her when I joked I’d never snogged a woman.  Then I thought: What did I do?  Is she breaking up with me?monika-grabkowska-317238closetdramablog.wordpress.com

Over the past few years, we’ve studied together, worked together, survived divorce together, both suffered losses and become grandparents.  I’ve known other friends a lot longer, but not many have I correlated with as much.

Now neither of us feel the need to study for more qualifications; I still work as a teacher, but she has moved on in her career; she lives alone while I live further away from her with my partner, Drew.  We no longer find ourselves in the same place unless it’s arranged. And that’s what she wanted to remind me of.  All our shared experiences and our relatable ones helped to form the bond we have, (them and the cocktails) but unless we pay attention, we risk losing it and that’s unacceptable to her. She told me: “There are some people you can say anything to.” And rather than testing my calibre in relation to her theory, she wanted to explain how that rare person is a true friend and should be cherished.

For Horace, a friend needs only half a word. I’d add that good friends can tolerate hearing any words you need to say.





















The Granny Grievance

A one-woman protest against the G-word


Firstly, let me get this straight:  I have nothing whatsoever against grandchildren. I won’t even bother trying to convince you of that by telling you how wonderful and loveable mine are – much more so than anyone else’s in fact.  My grievance as a British grandmother is how anyone yet to reach the grandparent milestone uses the word ‘granny’ as a default derogatory term to illustrate how something is old-fashioned, irrelevant and dull.

And it’s often inaccurately used to mean elderly.

Sometimes, when others also in their 50s congratulated me on becoming a grandmother, there was an undertone of ridicule. “Congratulations Granny” implied I had suddenly somehow managed to become elderly without them and was officially slipping into senility.  My response was usually, “I’m not your granny.” And anyway, my grandchildren call me ‘Nana’.

Even my colleagues had to be warned: “Granny in the room,” at a recent planning meeting when the G-word was used to stress how our resources should be up-to-date and accessible for our teenage students. It’s important to point out when others show ignorance or bigotry lest their ill-informed attitude should be allowed to influence others and perpetuate the myth that all grannies are ‘little old ladies’.

There’s been much discussion recently about female stereotyping and discrimination.  I’d like to add another layer to this abomination: age.  Mature ladies are offered even less respect than other women and girls.  I’m not asking for special esteem, but I’m neither silly nor unconnected and shouldn’t be dismissed.

The Granny Grievance
Nigella Lawson in a cardigan. Photo by Justin Lloyd/Newspix

If you must know, I was born in the same year as Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. I’m only three years older than Halle Berry. I’m younger than Iman, Sheryl Crow and Nigella Lawson and many others you wouldn’t expect to see in a pinny and pearls knitting cereal.

I’m at a funny age which doesn’t fit the granny stereotype: too old to be Jennifer Lawrence and too young to be a sassy senior such as septuagenarians Jane Fonda or Lily Tomlin (above).  The older lady, older than me that is, seems increasingly unlikely to be labelled as beside the point with the likes of Helen Mirren (72) and Diane Keaton (71) captivating us all.  I think I’ve fallen through a gap though.  Nobody seems to know where to plonk the fifty-several female in popular culture.

One fifty-three-year-old reader told me: “What you write needs to be read.”  And what is there for people like us who enjoy contemporary fiction, but can’t stomach any more romantic shopaholic stories which focus on the twenty to thirty-nine-year-old’s dilemmas?  I would have thought women in my age group read more than them, but we are even overlooked by studies.  I remember skimming a report on the reading habits of different age groups.  The findings showed American teenagers read books on their phones (if that’s not an oxymoron) and that 30 – 39 year-olds were less likely to be reading electronically.  Those older than 65 weren’t reading much at all by comparison.  Er excuse me – I’m over here in the demographic you ignored with a pile of books, a Kindle and … oh never mind.

Some of us are running marathons and companies.

Little secret: I was asked by therapist and counsellor Lisa Etherson what I thought should be included in her soon-to-be-published book about the love lives of the over 50s.  One of my points was that we are under-represented in popular culture, fuelling the misconception that all grannies are comical, crusty creatures who can’t keep up with the conversation.  I reminded Lisa that when we aren’t having sex, some of us are running marathons and companies.  And then we still might find the energy to run around after our grandchildren.  Just don’t call us grannies!


If you can recommend any literature (or films) with an interesting, midlife, female protagonist, I’d love to hear about them.  I’ll bet you find it difficult.  Better still, watch this space … I’m writing one myself.