Please stop showing off; I’m trying to eat out.

Please stop showing off. I'm trying to eat out.
Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

On a recent trip to Florence, I was struck by the authentic individuality of the restaurants and coffee shops.   For example, the organic pasta restaurant I tried served pasta, breads, salad, wine and spirits.  I don’t speak much Italian, but I suspect the sign on the door said: “If you’re looking for a burger and a beer – or even a pizza – look somewhere else.”

In Britain by comparison, the overriding quest to appear cosmopolitan and chic or niche is fake because it’s diluted by our demands as well as being over manufactured.  Can everyone just stop showing off please?

In order for you to appreciate the ‘gastro’ experience, without which you’d simply be having a pub lunch, there’s probably a piece of greaseproof paper underneath your crusty, avocado-topped ciabatta, with some pretentious nonsense written on it. Be warned: the paper you’re tearing with your knife will, no doubt, find its way into the ingredients, adding no nutritional value I can fathom.

In an English restaurant and bar a while back, I was struck by how uncomfortable the experience was simply because the management had decided to create something uncommon.  To begin with, all soft furnishings had been removed which always makes a place, especially one with music, shockingly noisy and the iron furniture was not only hard, but so ridiculously high, heat from the overhead light fittings seemed to scorch my scalp.  I had to take a run-up to get onto the chair, but despite being many feet from the ground, the table was so much higher up, some of us were at eye level with the strange doodahs our food arrived on.

I’ve come to expect my gravy to arrive in an oil can and my chunky chips in a plant pot.

Seriously, where have all the plates gone?  After struggling for a while to lance my meat served in a bowl designed for a medical emergency most probably, I politely requested the flat surface traditionally used for the purpose. The waitress returned with a side plate and looked puzzled when I said: “No thanks, I’d like a dinner plate to eat my dinner off.”  Either that or take it away and cut it up for me.

I’ve come to expect my gravy to arrive in an oil can and my chunky fries in a plant pot, but as I’m not going to sketch a still life drawing, I’d rather have the right crockery if it’s not too much trouble.  There’s now a website where you can upload photographs of the most imaginative plate alternatives, so widespread is the batty practice, although posting photos of our food on social media has surely added to the trend of reclaiming unusual objects from the rubbish on which to offer food.

At the other end of the hospitality scale, many coffee shops now expect us to manage with just a napkin as a barrier between the cake and the probably unwiped table because their dishwasher is designed to take only cups.  Mind you, I’m always grateful for a cup rather than a cardboard receptacle, the only benefit of which is choosing the name to be written on the thing while passing the time in the queue.  Drew likes to hear them shout out: “Max Power?” presumably to feel like a superhero for a moment.  I usually settle for “Bunty”.

Queueing for coffee is unavoidable since those clamorous, complicated coffee maker arrangements became standard.  Watching the ‘barista’ drag a dubious looking rag over a tube, before dispensing your fluid of choice through it, combining it with whatever drained that way beforehand, is never as thrilling as Tom Cruise mixing a cocktail to music.  And you know those chocolate sprinkles splattered in the general area of your foaming drink, without any thought given to avoiding the rim where it crusts unappetisingly in seconds before transferring to the corners of your mouth, leave you looking like a sad clown at the end of a hard day at the circus.

While we’re on the subject of chocolate: despite asking for hot, hot chocolate – it never, ever is.  Perhaps there’s a health and safety restriction, but if I’ve read “hot chocolate” on the menu and I ask for hot chocolate, I’m unlikely to be satisfied with lukewarm chocolate.  In Florence, I was lucky enough to sample the artisan hot chocolate served in glass ‘fairy’ cups with saucers, which makes our thin, pale, powdered effort seem pathetic.  I was drinking rich, melting, deep brown chocolate, or rather spooning it into my face, it was that thick and sticky.  I stopped at one glorious place noticing the chocolate fountain in the window only to be stunned by the wall of liquid chocolate behind the counter, slithering and ‘glissading’ perpetually.  Mmm …

domenico-loia-274169-unsplash
Photo by Domenico Loia

Er, did I mention I was in Florence recently?

Not showing off, am I?

 

Advertisements

Honestly Hating Exercise

matthew-kane-92229
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 ground, 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 test 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why this woman won’t change

Are you trying to change your man?   Well, he’s hoping you don’t change.

Why this woman won't change
Photo by Brittany Gaiser on Unsplash

For the first time I can remember, since moving in with Drew, I live much closer to the countryside than the coast. I often whine about needing to get back to the beach to hear the waves, but I seem to be taken in the opposite direction whenever we have some time off together and in that direction is the countryside.

Drew finds his calm in the country; my calm is on the coast.

He may be proud of his wax jacket and Toggi boots, but playing the country gent’s missus is not my brace of pheasants. I mean it’s alright now and then, but where is the sand? The light? The water? The fish restaurant? The fun? And what happened to the people? Perhaps the deer and donkeys ate them all.

I grew up not too far from where I live now, but it might as well be. Our village is a slow-moving trail of noxious fumes away from where I work, my grown up children and my beach-loving grandchildren.  I visited them yesterday and it took me longer to drive there and back than I was able to spend with them.

Much like theirs, my childhood was a series of summers spent splashing in the sea until the sun went down and the sausages were cooked.  I remember how on waking at the weekends, beach bag packed the night before, I would nervously pull back the bedroom curtains and will the weather to be fine.

Drew grew up running around the national park trying to catch and mount the grazing ponies.  During our formative years, before we knew of each other’s existence, I was leaping over crashing waves gulping salty air while he was climbing over wooden stiles inhaling dung.

When the weather and the water were too cold for swimming, I’d spend hours squinting at the pages of my books which occasionally flapped in the sea breeze. Drew, then, would have been learning to shoot, a hobby he still enjoys and although he only ever shoots clays, the fascination for guns is distasteful to me.

Which reminds me to tell you about the bank holiday weekend when Drew ‘taught’ me to handle his in a field in Fordingbridge. Calm down – I’m talking about his rifle!

I now know the following:
you don’t shoot a gun, you fire it;
you don’t pull the trigger, you squeeze it;
it takes two people to lift it up if one of them is me;
it’s always best to point it at the sky;
the wide end should be placed firmly in the shoulder area of the markswoman or she will be propelled backwards shouting ‘bloody hell’ as the weapon goes off!

Well at least I tried.  If our interests differ, there are plenty of things we enjoy doing together which we hadn’t tried before we met, such as antiquing and visiting art galleries. I may be seascape to his landscape, but we are alike in the important ingredients.  We share the same values and humour and so we can support each other’s passions, or sometimes just leave each other to enjoy them. We don’t need to be the same for this to work.  And we don’t have to do everything together either.

Our differences add to our experience and broaden our outlook.

I’m quite happy to scoop up supplies in the supermarket while he washes the cars and even happier to meet with a writing group while he takes his motorbike for a blast with other like-minded blokes.  But it doesn’t matter if our separate excursions don’t coincide and I’m left at home toiling at a computer while he’s out having a pint with his brothers.  I won’t jealously guard his free time from those he likes to be with and wouldn’t expect him to pout if I leave him behind.

We are a couple, but no matter how happy they are for us, everyone in our lives doesn’t always want or need us showing up together because our relationships are our own and in most cases, those people have been around longer than we have known each other.

Drew jokes how women hope to change their men while men hope their women don’t change. Being together enriches our lives and increases our family.  And for us, our differences  fill in the gaps (he’s my calculator; I’m his dictionary), add to our experience and broaden our outlook.

Lately I’m appreciating the cream tea and country pub aspects of the sticks and learning to love rivers.  Drew is happy to indulge me at the seaside on a sunny day if it involves ice-cream and puts a smile on my face.

Why this woman won't change
Photo by Ilya Ilyukhin on Unsplash

 

 

Threads

Mother of the bride memories

threads
Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

I’m writing this in a Cretan hotel room early on the Friday morning before my daughter’s wedding.  The wedding gown, hanging on the door, hides here from view until Sunday when I have the privilege of dressing the bride, my beautiful girl, probably for the last time.

When I would dress her as a child, I never stopped to think of the time I would be helping her into the most important dress of her life.  I was instead negotiating an agreement on which outfit was most practical or appropriate before the last button was done up and she would slip from my grasp to change into something else, or even undress altogether on more than one occasion.

From a very young age, my daughter had her own ideas about what she wanted or didn’t want to wear, so it makes me smile when she looks at old photographs of herself and asks why I let her wear THAT?  These days I find myself  listening to her suggestions as to what I should wear and even gamely traipsed off to London with her before the wedding so that she could select my ‘Mother-of-the-Bride’ outfit, which turned out to be something completely different from what I had in mind.  I won’t be wafting around like Meryl Streep in Mama Mia after all and hopefully will bear no resemblance to anyone from My Big Fat Greek Wedding either.

When she was about 7 years old, after a particularly cheeky and wilful episode, she calmly sat at the end of the table, half-listening to my exasperated ranting – all directed at her.  She waited patiently until I had run out of steam, looked me up and down in my new outfit and asked: “So who told you orange goes with pink?”  I suppose she had a point.

I wonder if choosing a hot country for her wedding has a subliminal connection to how she was swaddled  as a winter newborn and left in her moses basket close to a radiator, so afraid was I that my first baby would freeze.  She’s lucky I didn’t cook her! And as a toddler she would be wrapped in layers of woolies, gilets, padded coats, gloves, hats and scarves until she wobbled like a weeble – remember them?

I remember those moments when she would wait to be called with her dance classmates, all in pink leotards singing hand-clapping songs together:

When Susie was a teenager/A teenager she was/And she’d say/Ooh ah!/ I lost my bra/I left my knickers in my boyfriend’s car.

That line somehow found its way into the innocent version of  When Susie Was she’d learned and when asked why Susie would’ve lost her underwear, she suggested Susie must have been changing for ballet.  Obviously

Susie had a busy after-school schedule of dancing, piano lessons, gym club and swimming too.

I have so many memories of vibrant dance wear and swift backstage struggles to switch between costumes before the next dance piece and her uncomplaining compliance as arms went up in the air to have one creation whipped off before the next was pulled on, balancing on one foot, then the next to change dance shoes beneath a wide width of tutu or diaphanous folds of flowing fabric.

I remember our battles over sensible school shoes, just as I had battled with my mother and later the urge to throw a cardigan around her when she and her friends would be getting ready in her room for a night out, wearing less than I would wear to bed.

And now as we all gather here in Greece to celebrate my daughter’s marriage, I remember what I have gained since she came into my life when protecting my fragile baby was uppermost in my mind, much like the delicate wedding dress and veil in my care now.  As others gasp at the stunning bride, I will congratulate myself for creating someone as breathtaking as she is to look at, but the credit for her beauty is not mine as it radiates from within her and shows in her pretty face, her ready smile and her ever sparkling eyes.  Mine, no doubt, will be brimming with tears.

 

What Goes Through Your Mind at a Funeral?

 

what Goes Through Your Mind at a Funeral? closetdramabog - wordpress
Photo by Firesky Studios on Unsplash

 

Be honest.  What goes through your mind at a funeral?

If, like me, you have been attending them from a young age, you might find yourself thinking about funerals you’ve been to before the one you happen to be attending at that moment. If so, does it make you feel guilty to realise you have been remembering someone other than the person whose life you are supposed be celebrating?  I’m not saying I compare them you understand, rather I’ve noticed that funerals don’t get any easier the more experience of them you have and, if anything, they have a cumulative effect.

Painful as they are, we feel compelled to arrange and attend funerals as a mark of respect and from a need to make sense of our loss.  Despite knowing every life surely must come to an end, our minds mostly have difficulty accepting that someone who was here with us, suddenly is no longer and so we gather together with our thoughts.  But while thoughts are private and individual, are they really that much different from the thoughts of our neighbour?

I’ll admit my mind has wandered to wondering what’s so wrong with flowers these days?  We are often told, ‘family flowers only’ and a donation to a relevant charity may be made via the funeral director instead.  I don’t disagree with collecting money for a charity in memory of anyone, but flowers make a funeral smell good and give us something fresh and beautiful to look at while trying not to lapse into morbid imaginings.  Would you admit to staring at a coffin and picturing  what lies under the lid?  If you ask me, it’s difficult not to, no matter how wrong it seems.

In the five years since we have been together, Drew and I have been to eight funerals.  We are starting to lose count now, it might be nine, but even for people in their fifties, that’s a fair few.  All of them have been at churches or crematoria, so I can’t comment on any other type, but the tradition of congregating with a coffin before you surely means there are others picturing a cold corpse too.  So I’m in favour of flowers, especially atop a coffin – lots of tastefully, expertly arranged flowers.  But please not those floral tributes spelling out ‘Mum’ or ‘Grandpa’ or whoever. Seriously, if only ‘family flowers’ are allowed, make a good job of it; spelling out names or other words in flowers belongs in municipal parks or similar, not at funerals.  Just put their name on the card!

At a funeral, I always feel it’s best to have a look at the order of service before the proceedings commence and be prepared for the choice of music.  I have often tried to figure out what lies behind the musical choices and make the lyrical connection between the deceased and the song or hymn – which isn’t always particularly obvious.  I heard once that Robbie Williams was aghast at the popularity of his song ‘Angels’ when selecting funeral music although it seems a perfectly appropriate choice to me.  However, the popularity of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ has rendered it a cliche which is embarrassingly inappropriate if the deceased led a conventional life in the town where he or she was born, working for the local authority for example.  Though to be fair, that choice would almost certainly have been made by the deceased themself and who would argue with a last wish?

A word of warning here: if you choose music for a loved one’s funeral, think carefully about how often you might hear it again when you hadn’t been expecting to.  The sudden, unforeseen loss of my father when I was still a girl was the hardest thing I have ever lived through and it affects me still, almost forty years later.  It catches me unawares sometimes, especially when I happen to hear a particular piece of music which was played at his funeral, a piece I couldn’t hear for many years without silent tears streaming down my face.

When Elton John asked Bernie Taupin to revise the lyrics to his song ‘Candle in the Wind’ to be sung at the funeral service of The Princess of Wales, he vowed he would never perform it again afterwards.  No doubt this was to save himself from many distressing moments as well as protecting her sons from having to  endure hearing the saddest song of their young lives again.

You may have reached the stage when, at a funeral, you begin to consider what you would want at yours.  I know I have.  Were you so impressed or moved by a little touch that you have earmarked the idea for your own service? Cardboard coffin? Your portrait on an easel perhaps?  Flowers?  I want lots of lovely flowers.  And just to be sure, the music I’ve chosen is ‘The Flower Duet’ (Duo des fleurs) from Delibes’ opera, ‘Lakme’.  I don’t expect many people I know will follow the words because they’re sung in French, which is just as well. It ends with …

‘descendons ensemble’.

 

 

 

Men and Women at Work

Being part of the team

Men and Women at Work - closetdramablog on WordPress
Men and Women at Work

At the risk of offending equality campaigners, I’m aware that I’ve gravitated backwards regarding my working relationships with the opposite sex.  I’m surprisingly alright with it now that I’m closer to retirement age than I was when the natural male-female interaction became skewed for fear of  sexual inappropriateness or harassment accusations.

When I was much, much younger and prettier, I was sexually assaulted at the office where I worked.  It was a very physical attack which hurt and bruised me, but I meekly decided not to make a formal complaint for a number of reasons. Firstly, my attacker was senior to me with a wife and two small children.  Secondly, I was relatively new to the company and keen to progress in my career without inviting any unnecessary obstacles.  Thirdly, there was a culture at the time which cannot be compared with today.  In other words: things like that happened and I regretfully accepted it had happened to me. I never forgot it though.  No-one who has ever been sexually assaulted forgets how it made them feel.

Of course that kind of thing can’t be allowed to happen – I’m opposed to that sort of thing!

In my second career as a teacher, my time has, up until recently, been spent with mostly female colleagues which is not unusual in education. But since the beginning of this academic year, I have found myself based in a male-dominated department of the large college I work in, alongside staff with whom I’d previously had little contact.  It’s been an unexpectedly pleasant change.

I realised they had all been working together for a long time and having two new female English teachers in their space was perhaps something they wouldn’t have chosen.  So mostly adopting a keep-your-head-down and get-on-with-it approach, I didn’t seek or expect much attention, so little attention, in fact, that on one occasion, I unwittingly managed to surprise all my male colleagues by emerging from a cupboard in the staffroom and shocking one of them into gasping: “How long have you been living in there?”

The two of us came as a pair, almost an invasion as far as our male colleagues were concerned, and we had been happily working together in another department for a while. A nickname has since been bestowed on my female team-mate (Hockeysticks, on account of her posh accent) and I suppose on me too as I’m sometimes referred to as The Other One and more recently, Typhoid Mary, on account of my insistence on continuing to work during a spell of illness, risking their health.

Within a few days of us settling in to our new environment, I felt it necessary to assure the guys that Hockeysticks and myself were classy enough to say F-, and the team leader laughed: “Now you’re part of the team.”  Apologising every time they realised some swears had been uttered was becoming a strain for them, but they were concerned about offending either of us.

No-one bothers to modify their language or conversation any longer which is why I was recently surprised to hear myself loudly deploring: “What has your foreskin got to do with me?”  A sentence I never thought I would need on a regular workday and one which had more impact than the often repeated: ‘Too much information!’ when relaxed conversation becomes intimate.

Humour is one coping strategy which clearly works for these guys. They would no doubt consider their humour sophisticated – all of them being academic, accomplished, passionate and professional, but they are not above taking a moment to be, or look silly and they know how far they can go.  Before a recent demotivating data update meeting (yawn), we were invited  by one of the team to don vivid, vastly oversized sombreros and it didn’t occur to us to decline.  It was a small attempt to ease some of the tension which builds up over the first term.  When eventually asked by the Director of Learning what was “with the hats,” everyone replied from beneath their brims, one after the other: “What hats?”

I knew I was beginning to be accepted as one of them when I was asked: “Can I come and stay with you until all this blows over?” during the beginning of term chaos and what sort of woman would seriously object to being addressed by a bearded workmate with the words: “You’re a woman; do you want some chocolate?”  I did fancy some chocolate and it was clearly meant as a joke, not an invitation to assert my feminist self.  Just ‘banter’ as the students would say.

That said, I have never been comfortable with touching my co-workers and actively discourage it in my classes.  Now however, it is not unusual to be given a hug from someone on the team when the moment calls for one.  The office/staffroom we are in is a pressure release unit where teasing, joking, listening and cake or biscuits are available for mini-meltdowns, struggling on through sickness and stress as well as the upsetting moments.  It’s normal to touch in circumstances such as these and now, when arms are opened to me, I won’t back away – not for fear of offending, but because it’s natural human behaviour, often extended because the one offering a hug needs to do it as much as the person who will be hugged benefits.  It is often said that we spend more waking time with our workmates than with our families which can starve us of warmth if our working relationships are cool.

The aspect of our identity which becomes the most important at any one time is the one that marks us out as different.

In our team there is clearly mutual respect. We don’t need legislation to remind us of our obligations to our workmates. We are individuals who are safe with each other and learning how to treat one another, not because we are all the same, but because we are not. The aspect of our identity which becomes the most important at any one time is the one that marks us out as different in that particular instance whether it is age, origin, skill, status or anything our identity is composed of.  None of my comrades would hesitate to lampoon another for any of these reasons, so why should making fun of someone because they are female (or male) be any different?

Recently in conversation with the team, I mentioned I realise I have an issue with objectifying women.  The response was: “Stop doing it then.”  I don’t know why I needed to mention it really.