Remember when we were young? Remember the first time you realised adults are not always right? More depressingly, do you remember the moment when you realised that sometimes adults ARE right?
I read my youngest daughter’s GCSE English controlled assessment last week. She informed me she had deliberately picked a subject that would make her teacher squirm – revenge for all the nagging and the withdrawal of support when he felt she could do it all on her own, not to mention his reluctance to return my phone calls. The result was a stark reminder to all that teenagers have a voice that deserves to be heard. There is wisdom in youth but with the added ability to cut the crap and tell it like it really is…
Mr Furkin’s Torture
by Bethany Rhodes
Picture this: you’re in your bed, on your new white sheets, sleeping peacefully. You’re having the best dream you’ve had for a long time. Until suddenly you get woken up by a call from Satan. Someone, or more likely some THING, seems to be blending your insides with a nail infested mallet. Immediately you find the strength to turn the light on and investigate this horrific torture. And there it is. You lift up your covers to find the blending was legit and the tears of your pained uterus seem to have stained your sheets with the perfect combination of suffering and disappointment. Today you will hear about the pains of a girl’s everyday life.
It’s not just the beginning that’s the problem; it’s the whole way through. And can we get through it comfortably? Nope. All we can do is wear a nappy in our pants to catch the tinted rain as it falls out of our nether regions. Do you know what that means? We have to walk around all day with the constant feel of the life draining out of our body along with the paranoia that maybe, just maybe it has spilled over and everyone can see our embarrassment. Of course there are other options. Such as inserting a phallus like object up your “bikini biscuit” and leaving it there every day to absorb the juices of Mother Nature before they even come out of your body, and leaving it until given a chance to take it out.
Oh but it doesn’t end there. Did I mention the pressures of showing any emotion through this eternity of restrictions? We are incapable of doing anything enjoyable, because as soon as we do, we anger the red sea. Even simple emotion is too much to handle through this period of terror. Laughing, crying, fuming, yelling or just breathing! Good luck with that. Oh and speaking of emotion, it doesn’t only control you physically. It literally controls your feelings. You can’t go anywhere without getting a punch in the hormones over nothing. Oh look you dropped a fork, better go break down in tears. What’s that? Someone accidentally brushed past you? Time to hide in your bedroom for the rest of the day and think about what a failure you are.
On top of that, God forbid you get ill. I’d like to see you try coughing or sneezing at all without having an explosion in your pants. Bet you didn’t know 52% of pants owned by women have had to be disposed of due to the immense amount of stains left on them. It doesn’t surprise me really. I mean think about school. I wonder how many opportunities we get to aid this annoyance. Considering we aren’t allowed out of lesson without a toilet pass I’d say at most once every 2 hours. Imagine walking around for 2 hours with that discomfort. Oh not to mention that we’re sitting down most of the time. So that means after every lesson, standing up is like a Niagara Falls of doom.
So now you hear the world saying that taking a blow to the male genitals is a lot more painful than periods. First of all, let me mention that 8 times out of 10 people hurt boys there for them behaving in an inappropriate manner. Second of all, if the amount of pain we go through for a whole week is compressed into the time period of half a second, I’m sure we would die from shock. Last of all, Let me tell you the story of the girl who didn’t realise a huge cyst on the inside of her uterus had been there and burst, pouring blood everywhere, because she thought it was just a cramp from her red flower.
Among all of this, women in society are still expected to stand up straight, be polite, act normally (or in a “lady-like” manner if you prefer), and show no sign that world war 3 is happening right there in her underwear because it would be rude and inappropriate to. Don’t underestimate this time for us, period.
It was my birthday last month. Naturally my children thought the best way to mark the occasion would be to buy tickets for me to see their favourite band with them. Of course the ‘buying’ part of that scenario was covered, after much eyelash fluttering, by my mother. On the day, one of the group (a friend of my daughters’) wasn’t able to go, so I even had the luxury of taking one of my friends along in her place! I was truly blessed. As it happens, the band we went to see – Two Door Cinema Club – are quite listenable. And so it was, on a pleasant Saturday evening, my friend Emma and I drove a group of teenage girls (and one boy) to Alexandra Palace, parked our cars at (as it turned out) the wrong end of the car park and made our way across the cool grass to the Palace. The London skyline from the top of the steps was nothing less than beautiful and I must admit, seeing the buzz of excitement from the kids made the trip worthwhile. I wouldn’t have minded sitting outside while they went in to have their eardrums blasted by Churches and Everything Everything before the main act.
We were near the front of the queue, so had a pretty good spot, standing centre-left of the stage. As the crowds piled in, Emma and I encouraged our group to stick together. It’s inevitable in a crowd that people will move around and you’ll get the odd chancers trying to shoulder their way to the front. Maybe I am a little old fashioned, but having been to regular gigs – standing, seating, pogoing, from field to festival hall – I believe there is a certain etiquette that goes with the territory. One girl in front of us thought it was reasonable to ‘save space’ for several of her friends. Squeezing four people into the space of one displays a deficiency in spacial awareness and is certain to piss off anyone standing behind you. A couple to my left were less than impressed, as were several others nearby. The girls responded with ‘we can’t do anything now, we’re already here’. A response that had an effect similar to covering a fire with a petrol-soaked hankie. I am ashamed to admit I considered my daughter’s request to hand over my chewing gum as she wanted to put it in one girl’s hair. The girl had been shaking her hair in my daughter’s face for about an hour, but consideration is all I gave.
The rest of the evening was a barrage of drunken women trying with some might to push through to the front, seeing a group of younger girls as an easy route. I am not a slight person and must admit I am a stickler for good manners. With the support of the couple to my left and Emma to my right, with sturdy stances and wide elbows, the chancers were held at bay – even if they were a bit sweary about it.
A week later my brother took me to a gig at the Royal Festival Hall. Loudon Wainwright III is now in his sixties and feeling reflective. His songs still have the sharp edge of cynicism and comic timing, but the addition of readings from his father’s Time Out columns lent the show more poignancy than I’ve previously encountered. The audience here were a more mature bunch than the Ally Pally crowd; each person with comfortably wide padding under their seated bottoms and bathed in a gentle glow from the lighting operatives, which dimmed when the performance was about to commence. Loudon tends to leave space for requests near the end of his sets, of which I’m sure many of the audience were aware. I’m not sure he was appreciative of the frequent interruption to his set by shout-outs, uninvited. Mind you, I am certain he is more than capable of providing the squawking few with the verbal equivalent of a bucket of cold water should he feel the need. It was pretty disappointing to experience such bullishness from an older group. Did they not know of ‘the gig etiquette’? Maybe it is an invention of my own making. A secret only a select few are aware of…and I’m one of the chosen ones.
This does not just apply to gigs though. Etiquette – manners – p’s and q’s – dare I say it… respect. I get the impression it’s slipping a little everywhere I look. It seems to be fading into the same misty vagueness that grammar stumbled into. How often to we here the implied request “Have you got any…(insert item here)” without the follow up “I’d like one please” or similar?
Good manners cost nothing, so the saying goes. Why are they becoming an endangered species? I have decided the best form of defence is attack in this instance. From this point onward I shall make a concerted effort to smile at strangers, use full requests including pleases and thank yous, greet everyone with a time-appropriate salutation and acknowledge all approaches with good cheer. Maybe some of it’ll rub off?
On paper my start in life looks, at best, pedestrian. A happy childhood with supportive, loving parents and an older brother who I got on quite well with. Not an affluent childhood, but never lacking either (unless you count the time I was so envious of a friend’s complete set of Mr Men books in a custom wooden trolley that I wheeled it to my house, ran inside and hid under my duvet, pretending to be asleep, out of sheer guilt). I completed my high-schooling with average GCSE grades and a nice group of friends (give or take).
I was generally a well-behaved teenager too; no experimental drug-taking (at least, not yet), no ASBOs, no clandestine relationships with inappropriate elders (any amorous daydreams we red-blooded teens had about teaching staff would be thoroughly dampened by the thought of our lecherous PE mistress who insisted on overseeing compulsory shower time). At a time in life that is considered by children’s programmes to start and end with the popularity hierarchy, I was painfully middle-of-the-road. Not popular, not unpopular, not quite invisible either. Oh dear.
It was after this time that the story really begins, I suppose, because good stories tend to be based on drama, failure and some peril. As with most tales, I am ever-hopeful for a happy ending and as with most people, I am hopeful the ending is far, far away.
Where do I start? Chronologically, it would be with my failure to complete my A Levels. Or I could get into the drama of a failed marriage, which includes a reasonable dose of peril. Maybe my aspirations in the art world never quite getting off the ground will ease you in more gently. The trouble with reviewing the past, as a 40 year old, is that there is such a lot of it.
I think I shall start instead with “why”. As in “why now?”
My life, so I’ve been told, has evolved around other people. I have cared for and supported children, grandparents, parents, friends, partners, co-workers and strangers on the street for a good deal of my life. I don’t regret or resent this and I am certainly not suggesting I will stop – this is who I am and changing seems far too much like hard work. Besides, I don’t want to be a meanie.
Isn’t the big 4-0 meant to be a catalyst for change? I can’t call it a mid-life crisis because I’m not in crisis. I don’t even feel miserable. The greying on my temples I fondly refer to as my ‘go faster stripes’ aren’t a new phenomena – they arrived in my late twenties – but are indicative of the mounting years of life experience. I would just like to do something more exciting, having worked hard throughout my adult life, on very little income. To pick up speed, see new places, try new things.
Should I take up gardening now? Maybe go the whole hog and set up an allotment! I’ve always fancied giving my grotty little house a complete redesign. I suspect that would result in a structural disaster and much embarrassment. I have a list of places I’d like to visit. I may have seen New York three times before my 19th birthday, but I’ve never been to Scotland, or the Lake District. Come to think of it, there are large areas of East Anglia I’ve not stepped foot in (‘big deal’ you may think, but it’s on my doorstep so there really is no excuse). I have even toyed with the idea of visiting places with interesting (aka ‘rude’) names. So it could be that a trip to ‘Fanny Barks’ or ‘Six Mile Bottom’ is in order, or should I start with ‘Butthole Lane’ (I kid you not!)?
Wherever and however this leg of the journey starts, I’ve earned my stripes. Now it’s time to use them.