The Island Atelier


Standing at the top of the stairs without the slightest clue why I’m here. There was a reason and the reason was perfectly clear some thirty seconds ago when I was at the bottom of the stairs. But now I’m here and I have no idea why. I scrape the bottom of my mug of coffee to establish whether I have put the sugar in. Or not. The teaspoon draws forth grains of partially dissolved sugar. The sugar is definitely there but I have no recollection whatsoever of putting it there.

What is happening to my mind? It is the menopause. Perhaps, in the early stages, the forgetfulness is attributable to the sleep deprivation borne of relentless hot flushes. And then? Thereafter? There are any number of theories; none are helpful. There is little point in knowing that this state of mind is derivative from a reduction in the output of neurotransmitters unless the sequel statement suggests some means by which the diminished substances might be replaced.

I have my own theory: after 52 years of remembering trivia, my mind has gone into rebellion: it is simply sick to death of remembering trivia and has decided to put a block on such rubbish. ‘Why should I bother to tell you that you’ve come upstairs to sort the airing cupboard when you’ve done that every morning for the past seven thousand three hundred mornings? Is that not enough reminders? Have I, the precious pound of mince in your head, not served you sufficiently well on this issue?’ Of course it has. It has dutifully ensured the transmission of laundry from washing machine to drying zone for each and every day of the two decades of my children’s lives. And enough is – surely – enough.

The only certainty is that my ability to remember is radically impaired. Multitasking was never an issue. The essential switches from domesticity to work to all-things-more-desirable were seamless and flawless. Now they require a notepad and pen. At all times. Should either notepad or pen prove elusive, the consequent panic attack will precipitate the next Hot Flush.

Which seems to indicate a strong correlation between hot flushes and panic attacks. This can be verified by asking a menopausal woman an uncomfortable question. ‘Are you ready for Christmas?’ works brilliantly on Christmas Eve. Anything to do with sex works supremely well at any time of year.

The menopause cleverly brackets sex with trivia. ‘I’ve done my duty,’ mind and body declare in unison. ‘We have provided you with forty years of excellent service and, if you have been so foolish as to neglect the opportunities, then Tough Luck Fool.’ Biology is badly flawed in this instance for men and menopause do not accord. Men continue to want sex but Menopause counters their demand. Which precipitates Conflict and results in Guilt. The male guilt is most easily assuaged. It has a tendency to be of the short term variety that attaches to the single focus, single tasking mind that does not have the capacity to divert itself from obsessiveness by switching task. It’s only switch is to the frying of alternative fish.  

Which leaves the menopausal woman stuck not only with Guilt resultant from the combined failure of mind and body to facilitate sex, but the loss of the object to which sex attaches. For the fortunate woman, the loss is to something as inoffensive as Golf. In such instances, it is only sex which is lost. The less fortunate majority suffer greater loss: the loss of everything that ever was in adult life. In anticipation of this horror, and to avert catastrophe, the menopausal woman feels compelled to step backwards in order to go forwards. HRT. Which can buy another ten years of sex. Or cost the woman her life. If she draws the long straw, ten years onwards male biology will probably have caught up with female biology and sex will not be the issue. The replacement issues will be the cardiologist and the oncologist, the audiologist and the eye clinic. Most usually these issues will attach to the man. The woman will just be the support team, carer, laundress, cleaner, cook, taxi driver and general factotum. Note the word 'just'. 

'Just' is a crucial word in female vocabulary throughout a female life. It has no connection whatsoever to the Just of Justice. Instead it is the Just of Justification: that procedure whereby a woman justifies what she is doing in order to account for what she is not doing but which someone else is expecting her to be doing. Right Now. 'I'm just cleaning the bathroom.' Which is why I'm not right by your side and helping you to find your car keys which you and not I have lost. 'I'm just...' is a core phrase by which women undermine themselves. It is a crisp and concise statement of inferiority: a declaration that an inferior task is being performed by an inferior person at the expense of a superior task required by a superior person. 'I am currently at the mercy of your socks and hence am temporarily delayed from being at the mercy of your lost car keys. Please [just] bear with the demands of the socks for [just] a minute and then I will give my undivided attention to you and your lost car keys.' 

Where does 'just' wheedle its way into the language of women? Horribly early. Mother to small child: 'What are you doing?' Daughter reply: 'I'm just cleaning my teeth.' Son reply: 'I'm cleaning my teeth.' Put it to the test and the test will testify. 

The Feminist Movement has brought about huge and positive changes in the lives' of women but there are still many areas upon which it appears to have failed to have any impact at all. The self-subversion of women is high up on that list, as is the effect of the menopause. In the latter instance, the physiology of the female mind resorts to its only possible solution: shutdown. 

By going into shut down on trivia in middle age, the female mind is gearing itself to the learning of a whole new vocabulary: the vocabulary of old age:

‘Does the theatre have a Loop System?’

‘How many steps did you say?’

‘Is the auditorium wheelchair accessible?’

‘My husband can’t eat onions.’

‘Mother!’ my daughter exclaims, ‘I told you that yesterday!’ Yesterday she told me that her railcard had expired. Death does not result from the expiration of a rail card. So why would Mind bother to register this information when it’s preparing to psyche itself  into assimilating the entire contents of a medical encyclopedia and fathom the quirks of hospital parking in tandem? The menopausal mind might give its owner the appearance of being cruel, but that it’s not: it’s just taking a short nap between child rearing and the immensely challenging ultimate journey.

Stuff the reason why I came upstairs. It really doesn’t matter. I’ll go back down and I'll have a cup of coffee. Infinitely more pleasurable than sorting the laundry. Though I’d quite like to find my list…



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