Thursday, 23 February 2012

part two

Stella strove

A tall imposing presence loomed over my desk.  I didn’t know why I would need a desk this large or who would ring me on a phone with that many lines.  “Do you know who I am?” the presence demanded, a bullying voice… fear, the worst nightmare come true of being shown up the new girl who knew no one, didn’t yet understand the rules - my next - the rules - what were they - searching for the witty reply that would gracefully disarm and charm him, or at least give me a point for being an individual, a human, not a pleb, wimp, stone crawler-underer.

I was rooted to my salary-girl chair wishing for the castors to slide me backwards into the huge filing cabinet behind me, just file me under student trainee, girl from the north, know nothing, clearly in the wrong place in a posh cut and thrust buying office in London’s west end in the ladies’ hosiery department who supply the Royal Family and the Prime Minister with their 10 deniers.
A miserable second passed before he - for it was always a he - had informed me of his name, executive rank, and the advice that I should know who he was, with the implied threat of being chaperoned out of the building if I didn’t greet him appropriately next time.  Then he turned on his heel and exited to prowl the corridors and not waste any more time on silly student trainees when he could be playing with the boys who fight over budgets, warring for territory on the shop floor so their girlies could fill it with the pick and mix of crimplene trousers and polyester blouses that was early eighties middle-of-the-road retail, any colour you like as long as it’s navy or beige, so that the boys can crow over how perfect their budgeting is and how they should be rewarded with more pocket money, personally and departmentally.

Luna felt

I still dream of Head Office as a permanent school assembly in the huge caverns, halls and staircases of that building with some headmaster/executive/paternal god-like person barking down - for they like a podium - a stair, a stage to stand on to five their bullying egos extra confidence, feeling we were the outsider, the girl from up north who said ‘dinner’ - not lunch - “oh, you sound so provincial”… learning that the rules demanded a veneer of sophistication to hide and protect the day-dreamer who wore her heart on the outside of her homemade clothes, I felt her lack of connections in The Family acutely even before I realised that they felt that if I wasn’t one of them then I must be against them if I didn’t share this religion, this dating agency, this theatre, this business, that was their whole world and Head Office like a submarine where they planned their next campaign to sell more knickers and yoghurts as they viewed their competition suspiciously through their periscope.

For this was the 1980s-Maggie Thatcher-rising-buy British.  Before we had everything designed by Conran & Co., when you bought a good quality all- round- pleated skirt to last from John Lewis or M & S because black/grey/navy/brown/red/green were always what you wore in winter, and in summer you wore pastels - even if you were too old for baby clothes and too young for bed jackets. 

I was studying textile design - I dream in colour, and luxuriate in texture.  My heart sank at the acres of old lady trousers with elasticised waists, shiny acrylic knitwear, the taxi drivers’ cardigans sold with the suede patches already on the elbows so they could be worn for 30 years, in colours to match the tea stains and grubby nicotine, the uniform neat polite sexless court shoes, American tan brown tights… - how did I get here?  I love colour, natural fabrics, the knit of an Aran taught by nana, the turquoise silk my Mum bought in an Indian shop on a day out in Liverpool, the favourite yellow and black polka dot dress, the clashing cerise, orange and reds of  the fabric stalls of Birkenhead market.

I dressed dressing-up-cupboard style in junk shops finds, antique 50’s lace and new look silhouettes I stitched with patterns from Mum’s post war coming out dresses inspired by my dance class and the American movies we watched on Sunday afternoons.  Here to grey respectable W1 to guys in suits running the best market stall for the aspirational housewife with the choicest wares from Leicester, Mansfield, Glasgow, Northern Ireland and Israel, all in our best selling new shade of navy. 

 The easy answer… money.  I wanted to work for the chunky hand-knit people, silk and cotton, 3D texture and colours like a butterfly’s wing – artworks of clothes that made my heart sing.  They looked at my work - said, “We’ll hire you but we can’t pay.” 

Pay desperately sought by the girl from Liverpool where shipping and sugar were closing down - I fell into the arms - literally, for I tripped over the doorstep at my milk-round interview - of a grey suited Manager who, he later confessed, was charmed by my pink hair and hand frayed Paul Klee colours pinafore and enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm, (the 3 rules of presentation).  So for £4Kpa I sold out. I stayed at a hostel near Notting Hill with telephone numbers on the wall for anyone lonely for cheap love.  All I saw were the market stalls, colours and the freedom. 

I soon made friends with the secretary in yoghurts who shared with a Sloane-y girl always wearing jodhpurs soaked stinking in the shared bathroom. My lovely, homey, big hearted secretary friend bought home free samples on which I subsisted, my 4K being just enough to pay for the box room, tube fares, a sensible skirt, and evening classes at St Martins where I could go and print my invisible soul in big colours. 

Luna reflects

Do I sound bitter? 

I was. 

We spent a year measuring tights on surreal plastic legs to check the suppliers weren’t stinting on the nylon and looked over unwashed wearer trials of ladies’ stockings to calculate how many wears make a hole while the princesses applied their make up.  I found them spoilt in their princess worlds - we would never put lipstick on or order a leg wax in front of the man at the next desk.  That would not be nice girl behaviour, but I would tell anyone why I could change the whole industry if they would listen!  I saw a place with so much money and slack it would pay for a team to go to the US, first class, to buy a pair of socks, but would patronise British designers who were starved of funds and inspiration in their dust filled studios off the quiet corner of the factory.  I resolved never to buy in to that isolation.  I saw an industry struggling to change - a lovely quality-end sock knitter who went to Florence to the yarn fair and came back excitedly with a supplier of yarn in colours other than navy and grey.  “What are they called?” our queen bee demanded.  “Filati” they said. 
They never found the company name.  Filati is Italian for yarn.  My queen bee was a brave feminist who wouldn’t put photos of semi naked girls on the front of hosiery packaging and instead commissioned lifestyle shots about comfort/colour/image and purpose until the floor bully caught up with her and made her progressive opinions history. 

Stella survived…

My ally was a Polish technologist with a sense of humour, too old or usually too high to care about politics, who feel asleep in meetings and smoked weed at the office party.  I had a worrying moment with him in a car in Sherwood Forest when he cursed that he had forgotten the supply of meths he needed for tonight, before he explained he restored antiques for his escape plan of a shop, we fast became firm friends and fellow dreamers.  We travelled a lot to Northern Ireland together and giggled at the armed soldiers searching his luggage of used ladies’ tights at the airport checkpoint.  It wasn’t high pressure unless you were the secretary correcting the maths of the incompetent merchandisers’ (pre-computers): she had a cockney heart-of-gold and a weak bladder so would sit wriggling in leg crossed agony while the documents were typed for another round of budget negotiations.

I remember you.  I was your protector.  I remember the white-faced girl coming into the office with her sensible skirt and her home knit sweater.  You looked fragile and fierce as I told you were going to spend 3 months looking at holes, snags, runs in tights - your face said, “I’d rather die.”  But your Protestant ethics showed as you delivered an intelligent report which I knew no one would read. 

I remember your 21st birthday.  You were as green as the avocado you had never tasted before.  We took you out and got you drunk on pina coladas in St Christopher’s Place.  You usually took a sickie on office lunch party days but we all knew you just couldn’t afford the bill and were too proud to say so.  As proud as the tulips I chose for you from the flower stall at Finchley Road.  Should I have bought daffodils trumpeting their fleeting beauty, springtime flowers from an old man?  I have watched too many tulips fade here - get plucked by one of the barrow boys, curl back their petals to show a heart so open, then get cast aside to droop and bend their stalks once strong and firm and feminine.  I have come to appreciate old things.  Things which will stand the test of time - and see me out - from my retirement to an antique shop.  Where I massage beeswax into the cracks and crevices of old dried up pieces which will grace a Hertfordshire kitchen and support generations of fairy cakes, scribbles and wine glasses. 

What was my favourite colour, I remember you asking me.  “White for Rolls Royce, black for women” I replied.  You giggled and I resolved to make you laugh again.  We all deserve to enjoy life.  It’s what I have learnt during my time here.  My god is a jealous god.  He promised Israel to us and only us.  How like a man.  We all want to possess beauty, security, riches.  I sell those dreams daily.  And my oak tables will hold the places for the birthday parties, the binges, the tea and chats, the cheese rolls of christening, weddings and funerals, and see many sales, re-possessions and legacies.  My legacy to you is experience.  Yours to me was innocence.  As transient as those tulips - as you pay for experience of your own.

The bosses did not have ‘engaged’ lights on their office doors for private and delicate staff appraisals of the written type only.  I found I had seduced someone without trying when I naively invited him back to my hotel room for a coffee while travelling.  His face fell as the hotel out the kettle, cups and instant, thoughtfully provided me and I realised how naivety both protects and exposes you.

 The stories of what others had done were part of the mythology of the industry.  The fashion trade invited a look at what was attractive, but also seemed temporary in every aspect of its collections of clothes, people, and relationships.  One queen bee saw me admiring her diamond and ruby rings and scowling told me she had looked at a lot of cracks on the ceiling to get these.

Luna lives

Most politics and people spotting, including the dating agency bit for the princesses went on in the dining room where we would spend half an hours having tea and crusty rolls with butter and marmalade in the morning about 9.30am. If you were travelling this ritual was transferred to the first class dining car of the 8/8.30 St Pancreas to Leicester where the boys ate kippers or fried breakfast - the works - but if you were a girl it was only seemly to have tea and toast. The latter was £4 and the breakfast was £7.50 and there was a hierarchy in what you could get signed off for your expenses. The hierarchy was most transparent in anything to do with dining. If you were a pleb you went for lunch a block away for warmed up TV dinners - fish and potatoes followed by a thick and creamy yoghurt was pretty good. However, if you were a big, clever, important and therefore short of time you were promoted to the downstairs dining room and you could see and be seen the other mover and shakers. Getting out for lunch allowed me to indulge my hobbies, especially when I was returned as a graduate on the riches of £10k pa to shop the whole of Oxford Street and metamorphose into the best new self-image Top Shop/Miss Selfridge or the classy new Benetton could offer, especially if you had a review coming up.

Reviews were meetings where the girls got to show the boys the clothes they had poured heart and soul - or as much as was politic - into for the last 6 months. They were a chance for the bullies to put their feet on the table, swagger, and chat up the girls who were wearing what would make outsiders think this was a cocktail party. One selector was notorious for getting my range passed by the opportune wearing of a see-through blouse. Even if you did not buy into this you were still fair game. As I showed a £5 million baby wear range for the first time in my career, terrified in sensible investment black ‘all round’ pleated skirt and smart shiny new silver and white striped blouse the, very handsome, exec. On the front row of the massed ranks of our 20 strong buyers department and hangers on asked me “You are a nice little girl. Are you wearing suspenders?” - Again, the fear, embarrassment, anger and wordless search for a witty reply. The only way to save my dignity was to stick to my script - “This year we are planning to introduce a new line in extra soft white matinee for the high spending first time mother to swaddle her precious new baby…the handle of these garments is dreamily warm and tender for baby’s skin…would you like to feel…”

The sexual tension in those offices was palpable, from ladies’ hosiery where the merchandisers flushed as the resident and necessarily shameless models walked round in 30 denier super sheer support and we examined the crutch fit, to men’s underwear where the hints made my best mate shiver as she adjusted the fly on their boxers. Flirting was a weapon in our armoury if we wanted to use it. Shameless eye batting and button fiddling earned a colleague of mine an unassailable relationship with her budget rolling executive.
This wasn’t working for us – time for an alternative universe - So I took my spirit off and hung around St Martins to see if there were any paid design jobs going for her and fell for a fashion student going places… maybe he could take us there.  He had a contract with Pierre Cardin to design sportswear for the youth market.  Bright colour blocking in man-made fibres with the sheen of a couch potato’s bottom was what was wanted.  We bought the pantone pens in the colour palette and made up pseudo designer names for them as we coloured in piles of variations on the shell suit:

            putrid peach

            vomit yellow

            medallion man maroon

            street crime black

            neon orange

            shit brown

            vile violent violet
High on solvents from inhaling too much marker pen we worked prolifically to three in the morning, then realised the tubes had shut and it was a long walk to the suburbs from the room over the shop in St Christopher’s Place.  We made pot noodles and drank beer and designed lives of rags-to-riches for the boys and girls we had been sketching, mixing up the neatly segregated piles of girls wear/lads wear as Sharon met Steve, they opened a kebab shop together, then a chain, she had hopes of moving out of town but he blew it all on cars, so she bought a one way ticket to Marbella and never came back.

We talked about having our own collection inspired by the poems of Dylan Thomas which we discovered we both loved; as we sketched out ideas in my sketchbook, in my head I was making up names for his gorgeous skin:

            crème caramel

            tan velvet

            mellow yellow

            chocolate coffee milk shake

I was starting to ache in places which reminded me that they weren’t supposed to be going to have sex as the whole conversation with myself about what is mating for if it does not lead to commitment and children would be way to scary for her in her blessed ignorance.  Then he passed us a beer and she melted and they had to redo several sketches the next morning as the beer/noodle, secretions combination made the colours run.  We worked together a lot after that and I was amazed at our ability to mingle work and pleasure and be so productive, although productivity of a more personal nature was never far from my mind. 

As family was obviously so important; when we sold a collection to Whistles we cut out the lay of fabric on the sun bed at his mother’s hairdressing salon.  After a baptism of fire by chillies in her supper - they all laughed as Stella turned pink then purple - I was part of the family and could turn up anytime, have my hair cut, be fed, get laid and make my own contribution to sorting out the swimwear franchise in the shed or stitching wedding dresses in the backroom.

I was enjoying belonging so much; made a friend of his menopausal mother whose thrifty therapy was to go to M&S, buy 3 outfits, put them away and gloat over them, then take them back next week and get 3 more.  I was constantly re-inventing myself too.  I got a reputation for helping with hair colouring in the Salon and soon boys skateboard-ed the suburbs with rainbows over their left ear.

I was obviously in the wrong place in my home-made clothes and wearing my dreams - intoxicated by my fashion friends at St Martins, wanting so badly to design.  I was in the wrong place.  Passed over for promotion again, subtly sent on a team-building course for being an unchangeable 100% stubborn super-plant and hearing someone observe I was the only gentile in that  department.  I was outside the loop.

I called a lunchtime cappuccino conference (hobby no 2) with my mate Sasha, a fellow design graduate who flirted better than I and had got promoted, and my cynical student trainee Fiona.  The scene: small coffee house off Baker Street.  “That’s the way the cookie crumbles”, Fiona’s immortal, existentialist offering on my observing that my delusions that I may change overnight and be seen as a good ‘fit’ with the system had again been shattered by the arrival of a new boss.  Miss efficient ex-secretary who had an affair with her exec and had me double filing and cross referencing all my style files.

“What’s occurring?” asked Janet of Socks, the generous Australian - generous with her men’s socks and with her cleavage and her laughter and hence a favourite of my boyfriend.  I explained.  Janet countered that I had no business worrying as I had a nice life and should enjoy it, as she knew how to party.  She had just received a letter from her Bank Manager pointing out that in view of her £2K overdraft £27.67 at the Finchley Tandori last Friday night seemed a little excessive.  I did have a nice life. 

But I wanted my patch, to make real in fabric and stitches anyway, all the pent up colour and design in my head.  Yes I had a good life.  I travelled a lot with my job; was wined and dined by people in the industry about which I felt a real passion.  OK salary, non-contributory pension scheme, carriage clock,  job for life (if you were really awful you got moved into broken biscuits or staff uniforms), company doctor, dentist, a head-swelling acre-age of desk, but no soul.

Then I got some horrid itchiness and whether it was an allergy to the chemicals at the Salon or just too much sex decided to take myself to the clinic.  Cervical cancer and I was firmly in the sympathy seat.  Tears and I blurted it all out to his Mum.  They were lovely.  Took me to the hospital in Soho and afterwards bought me loads of pistachio pastries and glub-jums… exactly the sound you make when you swallow one of those syrupy dumplings.  Onomatopoeia… it sounds sensual, sexy. I couldn’t bring myself to have sex for ages and when we did I had no feeling in my lasered inside places and things cooled.

And family was everything to them, so strong you could build empires on its Anglo-Indian foundations, and family was something we couldn’t do for him, for them, a son to take over the shop and look after gran. My guilt was eating away at her and making me edgy. She quit again, took the cowards way out and wrote a Dear John letter. He wouldn’t accept it, lets just fuck – you’ll feel better he said. But I couldn’t trust myself to feel better and not let him down.

Years later he sent us a photo of his firstborn - envelope postmarked California.  I was glad he had made it over there, in every way.  A son to pass it all on to seemed so much part of his destiny.  But maybe that was just my prejudice or pride.

I felt wounded and too hurt to risk that loss again.  We had a series of flats, cats and design jobs and I started listening out for healing stuff - homeopathy, spotting patterns - textiles and remedies were both about spotting patterns - and I was looking for a miracle cure so she could be whole again.  And I wanted us to research our genealogy - where did that hole in our DNA come from?

I was looking for clues.  Why us?  Why were we born without all working parts?  We had had glandular fever in our teens - that can make your periods stop - I remembered it was a pleasant time.  Us lying around on the lounge carpet playing Mum’s Beatles, Stones, Simon and Garfunkel.  A wistful, spacey, sexy soundtrack to our adolescent longings. Homeopathy said that every disease had an emotional/spiritual manifestation.  Did my sister we spend our teens in a throw back music world instead of punk rocking with our peers as we were unable to face making a stand outside the pack?  Our alpha-male was certainly dominant.  And he had strong views about sex before marriage and babies out of wedlock.  We were a church-going family.  But there was more to it than that.  I remembered first grope-ings at teen parties… out of her head with cider and guilt. Did we - could we - shut down my reproductive system as she was so shit-scared of getting pregnant?

I knew there was an issue in my Dad’s family.  We weren’t close on that side like my cuddly huggy nana with her apple-pie goodness and my poor granddad dying too young from liver cancer like others at the lead paint processing plant he cycled to every day.  “I didn’t have him for long enough.  We were so happy together.”  They cuddled up and ate fish and chips in bed as he convalesced.  She told me your belly button was to hold the salt…

Her sister Lucy came to live with Nana after Granddad died (our little sister sent her a cheer-up card with granddad a pin man in a hospital bed like a dead bug with legs in the air.  Straight to the point, and hilarious, tears and laughter - so close).  Lucy said Granddad was adopted from a girl who was the maid at the big house and had the cliché bastard by the randy son.  That explains the buck teeth and high foreheads that mingle with the salt-of-the-earth Cheshire salt miner’s features in our family. 

So unfortunate fecundity there, and there was certainly no problem breeding on my nana’s side as she was the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters.  Lucy didn’t have children but she said men made you do terrible things and she would give Stella extra pocket money if she didn’t do them.  This was the extent of our sex education along with plant diagrams and looking up ‘rude words’ in the dictionary with my cousins, until a gentle biker in black leather showed her which bits fitted together and ever since I have associated the smell of burning rubber with that anxious dry pain and understood why seemed so relieved that widowed by the war she could stop doing those things.   But with practice they became less frightening and juicier although I never like the rubber smell.

There was a different relationship on my Dad’s side - a distance, a sadness, not explained, only by a male parent’s lack of a vocabulary as underneath it I could sense a real hunger for family love, a desire to hold on to his daughters and never let them grow and go.

Into my life walked Dirk, my love-at-first-sight across Baker Street, in the pink kickers and pink mohair sweater of a past punk rebel, I recognised a soul mate.  I asked him to dance next time I met him, at a supplier do.  I was in homemade Chinese batik pyjamas, my design, and John Lennon glasses.  “No” he said.  Four weeks later we got to be more than just good friends over a bottle of Dad’s homemade blackberry wine.  We did the Andy McDowell telling Hugh Grant how many guys she had slept with conversation in a nice restaurant and still he seemed to think I was OK.   I had a rolling contract renewed on birthdays and Santa Klaas - Dutch Christmas - and I was as happy as an ambitious dreamer could be when a square peg in the round hole of a big office, bug ego, big money, small fry.

“What do you think Sasha?” I asked in the café over the cappuccino.  Sasha; the other enduring love of my life - spiky hedgehog hair, another northern soul, another flaky creative, another angry young woman, another knit with a sense of the ridiculous – she made me feel less mad, more real.  We trembled together under the tyranny of a fearsome pussycat pretending to be a tiger in Men’s cardigans.  Sasha was in tears over a 0.5mm error on a size chart which was felt to be the worst crime against natural order since the war.  We consoled each other over crusty rolls. We would be friends for life, I hope.  Sasha’s gift of an infectious giggle with an ability to drink most guys under the table made her a good ally in the after office pubs where she could be relied upon to get the inside story. 

 She was hotly pursued by many but found her-self unaccountably falling in love with the lodger form hell who had broken the washing machine.  A recent divorcee he did not know to use one having been possessed previously of a first a mother then a wife to take care of domestic technology.  He finally proposed when he tactlessly bought  Sasha a table for her new flat when she was doing the cool independent woman bit and he was taken in by the ploy too much ‘till she burst into tears at the house-warming gift.  The house was never warmed and they now live with the surfboards and the barbeque and his sister on Muswell Hill.

 “Either you sell out, get a see through blouse and learn to down more pints than the next guy while talking pocket money with the boys, or you move somewhere they want a girl who has a unique sense of style which even her mate cannot predict from day to day”, said Sasha.  So I bought the Drapers Record in the newsagent across the road and saw the ad: Buyer, children’s wear.  Rose Hedges international retailer of printed dresses and furnishings.  Double my salary, develop international product ranges for this new venture by the queen of florals and frills.

 Luna is angry

She doesn’t know, she’s getting on with that career and wasting our time… I was shouting at her- you have no eggs – you need to get help. Now! While you are young! Make life...You don’t know how much you need to make life. You are so careless of ours. You won’t talk to me like you did when we were a child. Now when you hear me you reach for a drink… time to shift my spirit, what would the doctor say?


Dear Mr Patel,
I am referring this patient, Luna Spirit, whom I have been seeing throughout her student years to you at your Soho Women’s Practice.  An interesting case; premature menopause, unusual in one quite so young.  I have prescribed HRT as she is underweight and I fear osteoporosis.  I would be interested in your comments. 

Yours sincerely,

Doctor Jean Foster.

Jean is writing a thesis on alternative approaches to hormone management. I spend less time with Stella and more time with Jean and her thesis.

 “In the traditional African Community someone who is sick or troublesome is considered to be bearing the ills of the community.  Healing the individual is to heal the community.  A sense of the disease and disquiet with what we see around us is almost universal.  If we could see the distress of others as the responsibility of us all we would begin to hear the message.”

I have been reading this text by J Snowdon and wondering what is the message.  I don’t just hand out birth control.  In my village practice I see girls maturing sexually at a younger age, and I see increasing incidence of female cancer.  I see emotional illness with men made redundant becoming sexually impotent as their sense of their power and hope goes limp and lifeless.  I had out pills and provide a listening ear but I want to understand more.  I have starEd a thesis on the sex hormones with the Research Department.  The funding, of course, is from the Drug Company but I feel uneasy about limiting the body’s sexual expression and cycles to the simple chemistry of a pill.  As a feminist I feel our hormones are a large part of who we are and give us qualities society should value, not suppress.  Why are schoolgirls maturing earlier and why are some patients reaching the menopause earlier or more traumatically? - This girl is an extreme example of the two processes converging.

Conventional wisdom –that is research paid for by the drug companies – says that a woman after the menopause is deficient in hormones that maintain her bones, keeping her strong. So a patient like Luna would need Hormone Replacement Therapy, especially as she is of slight build, so her bones would not be naturally strong from carrying a lot of weight around. I made the appropriate prescription.

“How do you feel?”

Lousy a lot of the time.”

“Really – what have you noticed?”

“My moods fluctuate. I’m not in control of what I’m feeling. In the second half of the month I feel irritated by everything, and irrational. I can get really angry and take things people say to me way too personally. My anger comes out like a rash. I get all touchy and snap at the slightest thing, at nothing at all, and feel like throwing things. With alcohol it’s even worse, I feel trapped in my head like I’m going to explode.”

“That doesn’t sound like you.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking – it’s not me, it’s like I’m possessed. Something takes me over, intrudes on my life, my relationships, my personality. I feel drugged, out of touch with myself.”

I looked at her intently as she was telling me this. Her shoulders were tense, held high near her jaw. Her skin was spotty. She had put on a bit of weight. Her eyes were lightless.

“Not a good report” I said. “I’m sorry to hear this from you. But its early days…”

“Early days! How long is long enough to feel like this. I want to feel how I do naturally, not be programmed by some pills for the rest of my life just because some drug company found an angle it could sell on some chemicals it was messing around with.”

I sighed; Luna had highlighted one of the shortcomings of modern medicine. “Let me have some time to do some research. Leave off taking this prescription. Come in and see me again in a couple of weeks.

Luna was pleased. She really liked the Doctor. She didn’t act like she had all the answers. She trusted her to really think about what to do, meanwhile she was going to look for some answers of her own, if her biology was her destiny, then could someone read the map of her palm and tell her what road to take?.

Dr Jean Foster. Notes. HRT

 ‘HRT is one of the worst blunders of the 20th century... Any benefits have been demonstrated to be statistical sleight of hand. When you look at the data, the supposed protective benefits fall away.’ (Lynne Mc Taggart of What Doctors Don’t Tell You.)

 Fifteen years ago Dr. Grant wrote of a disturbing trend in America: “While it is becoming increasingly acknowledged that pill use is dangerous in the reproductive years, hormones at the menopause are still being heavily promoEd. The idea is that as hormone levels drop they lead to an excess of adrenal catabolic hormones causing upsets in calcium metabolism... unfortunately giving pill hormones to fifty year olds increases the risk of cancer...”

 Today this worrying trend saw a sales total for HRT in Britain in 1989 of £10 million, double sales of 2 years previously. It was estimated that by 2000 a quarter of British postmenopausal women would be using it[1]. My consolation is that the drop out rate for HRT is so high (20 % of women aged 50-64 are prescribed HRT but only 7-8% continue longer than a year[2]) as women find the ‘cure’ worse than the ‘disease’.

 The principle of HRT is that it supplies us with hormones when our own production slows down. Thus we can avoid the hot flushes, night sweats and other symptoms associated with the menopause. The consultant who prescribed it for me after I was diagnosed menopausal in my 30s sold it on the basis of how embarrassing it would be for me and my husband if I had to go and visit the toilet between courses in a nice restaurant, (oestrogen helps keep the sphincter muscle at the base of the bladder tight, as oestrogen declines it can become weak). With that one message he introduced the spectres of aging, lack of control and loss of attractiveness.

I was also advised that it would protect against osteoporosis, a risk that I choose to manage by lifestyle choices outlined later, and that it would protect me against heart disease. It was like being told, if you don’t take this you’ll die. Oestrogen is thought to have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol metabolism which could account for our much lesser risk of heart disease than men, an advantage which lessens at the menopause. (As homoeopaths we can speculate on the relative health of the heart chakra in men and women of child rearing age, as well as massive differences in lifestyle, aurum comes to mind for the partner still most frequently carrying the main burden of the financial responsibility.) Researchers tried to test the theory that oestrogen protects against heart disease by giving men oestrogen to see if it prevented a second heart attack, the study had to be stopped because of the dramatic increase in heart attacks among men given the hormone.[3] (See note for a different view on why women are protected from heart problems by their monthly discharge[4]).

Despite the slight basis for HRT’s claims to safeguard women’s health the take up rate was massive as women and their doctors were and still are influenced by the evangelists of the new elixir; titles like Estrogen: The Facts Can Change Your Life: The Latest Word on what the new safe estrogen replacement therapy can do for great sex, strong bones, good looks, longer life, preventing hot flashes), by New York’s Nachtigall and Heilman, now sound ironic, if not tragic, given what we know about unopposed oestrogen. In the UK The Amarant Trust, named for a mythical never fading flower, has been influential, as have writers like Wendy Cooper, with her book No Change: A Biological Revolution for Women. In 1988 a study of over 3000 British women showed that 25% had read this book and 48% identified friends/family or the media as their first sources of information about HRT. 21% had initiaEd a prescription from their doctor[5]. So we effectively have society making a diagnosis and recommending a prescription to suppress any mid-life female individual’s symptoms and emotions. As Dr Utian says ‘menopausal symptoms have included virtually any complaint a middle-aged woman cared to take to her physician... clinicians were... truly in the dark as to causation of symptoms and were inevitably forced to treat effect on an empirical basis rather than ‘cause’ on a valid scientific basis.. The majority of  clinical features ascribed to this period in the human life cycle were therefore mere assumptions and could have been no more than coincidental features in a generally aging population.’[6] Like this case of a 48 year old woman, still having regular periods and suffering from exhaustion for 10 years, her doctor suggested she was peri-menopausal; ‘now they’ve discovered I’m actually anaemic and I’ve improved vastly with iron, but it probably cost me my marriage’.

Alternative research shows that only 3 symptoms can confidently be attributed to the menopause;

·      menstrual changes

·      vasomotor effects - hot flushes and night sweats

·      loss of moisture and elasticity in the vagina.

Most women cope with this without the life crisis much talked about in the media, and are glad to do without the menses and the worry of contraception. These signs can be easily managed by diet and herbs, and if they are causing anxiety a remedy will get to the root of the problem. Contrast the supposed cure...

The Physician’s Desk Reference the standard text for Doctors in the US lists the side effects of HRT as:

·      endometrial cancer

·      undesirable weight gain/loss

·      breast tenderness/enlargement

·      bloating

·      depression

·      thrombophlebitis

·      elevated blood pressure

·      reduced carbohydrate tolerance

·      reduced glucose tolerance

·      skin rashes

·      hair loss

·      abdominal cramps

·      thrush

·      jaundice

·      nausea

·      vomiting

·      cystitis-like syndrome

Women also report feeling ‘not all there’. New information suggests that post menopausal women with higher oestrogen levels experience greater cognitive decline[7], while advocates of HRT claim that it reduces the incidence of Alzheimer’s...

Long term HRT increases the risk of breast cancer  according to a 1997 review of data by Dr. Beral of the Imperial Cancer Relief  Fund, however, she told The Times that the cancers involved are smaller, localised, easy to treat; this remark shows the medical paradigm that the cancer charities are stuck in, and it drives those with an alternative view to an angry response..  ‘When they have a cure for breast cancer, maybe then they can say it’s not dangerous, as long as it’s a disease that claims thousands of lives its a spurious argument’, responds Lynne Mc Taggart.

Some doctors are not waiting for the menopause to rush to our rescue with HRT, Robert Wells, Prof of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of California writes that, ‘woman can be a victim of menopausal changes.. Do not have to have stopped menstruating... to qualify for treatment... a physician who waits for a patient
To complain of terrible hot flashes has missed a golden opportunity to help her.[8]’ And they, the male doctors, consider us an ungrateful lot (we lack compliance is their way of putting it), I can hear the pique in the comment by Studd, consultant gynaecologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital... ‘in spite of its benefits (HRT) and evidence that she’ll live 1.7 years longer, a woman will still ask - will I put on weight - or - will I get breast cancer’, it is up to us to decide what quality of life we want and what risks we will take for longevity.

Xenoestrogen pollution.

“We plant trees for those born later, but what’s happened has happened and poisons poured into the seas cannot be drained out again... poisons poured into the seas cannot be drained out again, but what’s happened has happened, we plant trees for those born later.” Poem on the Underground.

One does not even have to order the hormone cocktail; it is served up to us through our food, water, and man-made environment with devastating effects on fertility and health for humans and wildlife. Animals are raised on synthetic hormones, oestrogens, progestogens and testosterone, to encourage weight gain; the animals become heavy, mostly due to fluid retention, even if they eat less: cows are given female hormones to increase their milk production. Synthetic oestrogens tend to accumulate in fatty tissue and so this problem runs right through the food chain. We also get hormones through our tap water which contains residues from the Pill and HRT. In the West it is thought that men’s sperm count may have dropped by 50% in the last 50 years and there is speculation around the impact of these chemicals added to by the discovery that high levels in some rivers were causing male fish to develop female characteristics.

This is making news in The Guardian, 31.8.99: “In 1996 in the British Medical Journal Dr. Irvine claimed that sperm counts have been declining by about 2% a year for the previous 11 years... It has been suggested that sedentary jobs, high stress levels, tight underwear and spending too long in the car could all be to blame. Other factors could include the use of hormone mimicking chemicals, such as phthalates, in plastics, food packaging, exhaust fumes, pesticides and detergents, and increased exposure to oestrogen, used in the female contraceptive pill... Pesticides and pollutants not only affect sperm counts, they also affect sperm quality and fertility... It could be a real concern to us and for the next generation. Our children’s sperm-producing ability could be affected... If... the causes of these changes reside in inter-uterine exposure then what we are looking at in the population is the consequence of exposure 30 years ago... There is potentially a huge problem.” This is not, however, front page news, the government has banned some pesticides (which are still on food we import), but this is not as newsworthy as banning beef on the bone, why?

Our environment is polluted with these xenoestrogens, substances which have an oestrogenic effect on the body. These substances are nearly all petro-chemically based and can come from packaging, plastics, foods and pesticides. These products are endemic in the West, we are talking big business. Studies have linked these chemicals to the increase in breast[9] and testicular cancers, and to endometriosis. That a by-product of the plastics industry, bisphenol A produces oestrogenic effects in humans became alarmingly clear when some male workers in the industry developed breasts after inhaling the chemical. A theory gaining in credence is that of oestrogen dominance, that we are all bombarded by the sea of oestrogens we now live in, and that this is causing changes in our bodies.  This particular hormonal imbalance is obviously a risk for those choosing hormone supplements, but it is one which is becoming harder to avoid.

What about are children, are the reaching puberty earlier due to better diet, or is it because that diet is loaded with the sex chemicals that their bodies would not have chosen to produce so early? It is known that use of synthetic hormones by the mother can affect the next generation, a large Jerusalem study found a significant increase in vascular skin malformations in children of pill-users[10].


So, from the mafia to the taffia.  They were either ginger men with freckles or dark haired with bears and business was done in pubs, in Wales, after last orders.  But I didn’t know that the day I went for an interview in a converted bus depot in Fulham.  It was a hot day under the corrugated plastic roof which I later learned made telephone calls with suppliers impossible when the rain drummed off it.  Today’s sunshine made it a green house.  Waifs in flowery dresses sat with their feet in buckets of water under their desks to stay cool.  My new boss was clearly feeling happy and generous for recently enjoying a very boozy lunch and I was hired on the spot.

“It was heavenly” I enthused to Sasha on the way to the Tube.  “There were roses round the car park, a jungly hanging basket had taken over reception and nymphs in prints were padding around in bare feet under the sunny glass ceilings.  My potential boss was wearing linen shorts and a white pique soft shirt.”  Sasha appreciated these details as only another fashion victim repressed by a mega store giant can.  We decided to take refuge in Jeeves for more chat.  We waved at the barman and retreated past the execs in pinstripes to our leather clad refuge snug.  He appeared efficiently moments later with our regular order of two large gin and tonics (easy on the tonic) and nibbles. 

“So did you impress them” asked Sasha between slugs, lighting a cigarette and inhaling without even looking which always terrified me as she frenziedly waved the flaming match around to extinguish it.  Sasha had been involved in daily consultation and three shopping expeditions re. the interview suit.  It was a shop suit breathing success from the shoulder pads down to the slightly short skirt which said I’m comfortable enough about being a career girl to wear fashionable things.  “Actually I think I looked slightly out of place”, I confessed.  I had realised that when I saw the redhead receptionist with ponytail tendrils in denim chambray behind the antique desk.  “So I rolled my shirtsleeves up, draped my jacket casually over one arm hiding my Fendi handbag underneath it.  I was tempted to pluck a rose from the arch round the door and stick it in my hair but then decided I would look like a Hawaiian call girl.” 

“But did she like you?” asked Sasha waving at the barman for refills. 

"Well, I think so.  She smiled ever such a lot and I don’t think she spotted the little ‘lie’.  Sasha raised her eyebrows enquiringly and murmured “oh no” sympathetically.  “Well, I didn’t mean to but I think the agency had got the wrong end of the stick when I was telling them how I ran the ladies gloves single handedly, and they had provided this organisation chart with me as chief prima Donna and I just didn’t like to disappoint so I added a few details about my buying trip to Florence last month.” 

“What, when you went with your boss “for inspiration” which turned out to be her buying three Benetton sweaters and shagging her new knitwear agent?” Sasha had worked this out from my account of them both going to her room ‘to look at swatches’ after dinner…

“Yes.  Well I gave them the briefest outline so their imagination could fill in the details.” 

Sasha looked shocked.  She tended to blush to the ankles at the merest hint of an untruth.  In fact her Art College Head told her she had taken her on for her sense of humour when she had stood up half way through her interview and said just forget everything she’d made up till now and asked if she could go out and come back in.  They didn’t have time to hear her real academic history but thought she was ‘a sweetie’ worth having.

“Well, I must have got on ‘cos I got to meet my boss’s boss and she was very relaxed.” 

Sasha took another drag, “How do you mean?  Very casual?” 

“Well, actually I don’t think she was very well.  My boss had a sofa in her office and she came and curled up in a little ball in the corner of it and kind of propped up her head on a few cushions.”  “Funny” said Sasha, “I’ve seen male executives do that.  She didn’t pat the cushion next to her invitingly?” 

“No, she just closed her eyes and murmured a few questions then said she’d look forward to me starting.  Well, then I had to see the Personnel Manager.” 

“I expect she gave you a camomile tea from a sprigged tea cut to soothe your nerves?” asked Sasha, who had clearly got the measure of the place. 

“Well, no.  Her office was all black leather sofas and those Habitat black wood desks and bookshelves with angled lights and she had on some kind of tight strapless top and a very short skirt with a blond bob.  Needless to say my jacket was straight back on, legs crossed to show my black lace tights, a sample from New York, handbag on knee like a shot.  She also cross examined me about just what career moves I had made to get to be big wig with a £25m budget in 3 years since college.” 

“Oh no”, Sasha tuned in and waved again for refills. 

“I don’t know whether I’ll hear from them again.  I do so want the job.  My boss said it would be like having my own business - you know, complete control, not just polishing paperclips.” 

Sasha sighed sympathetically and lit a fourth cigarette.

I joined a team of three buyers compared to the 3000 I must be leaving...  One was cute - there since the start - and wise.  She did knitwear and whisky with the Scottish Border boys.  The other new girl with me wore alarmingly little and tilted her pelvis towards you as she spoke in a way which suggested curiosity and a voracious sexual appetite.  She did swimwear and sheer fabrics in Portugal.  Sasha soon joined us in sunglasses and cloche hats as she too found men’s underwear too much to bear.  Then I hired Fiona as my assistant as I was in danger of drowning in orders from the UK, US, Japan, Australia, Europe. 

For the word ‘buyer’ was a misnomer.  We were there to take orders from the merchandisers/shop girls.  And now I learnt some lessons in International politics.

These British were atypical of the rag trade.  In an industry where you were always working on a collection for a least a year ahead the dress code among the in crowd was to show a healthy disregard for this year’s colour/style, unless it was directional, read expensive, or a vintage classic - or a good rip off of the above.  Hence the fashion editors’ enthusiasm for sleek dressing in black for all occasions showing you knew better than to waste your hard earned on the frivolous throw-ways we were selling to the hoi polloi. 

But in the power dressing 80s, think shoulder pads and brief case and the pathetic ploy of dressing more manly than the men, the Rose Hedges girls were wearing frocks!

In their puff sleeves and lace collars, lawn dresses sprigged with flowers, implausibly teamed with navy blazers and BMWs they descended on our design office like a county wedding party.  This group uniform looked strangest of all on their size 18 boss who fired memos like missiles from her Maidenhead office to the depths of Wales, the import/export guys at the Port, the Sloane’s of Fulham-not-quite-Chelsea.  For it was soon clear to me that if you had been there at the beginning when the life style cult of Rose Hedges had been launched by the brave lady by Bala lake and her ‘Ill have an empire wherever the sun shines’ husband, you got to set up an office wherever you wanted to be.  So those eccentric and improbable couplings in cities tastefully etched across the glass windows of the shops - Carno and Cairo, Belfast and Berlin, Poole and Paris were descriptive of the every day culture clashes in the company.  We were the football in the middle, the designers and product manager, buyers and technologists, pattern cutters and order administrators.  For it soon became clear that our lovely factories in Wales could not supply a company hungry for expansion to justify the popularity of the stock market launch which had seen punters queuing to buy shares. 

Now we had the power struggle after the death of the first designer manager whose name was her brand and her vision of a simple, pretty, comfortable country lifestyle - country living for the girl about town.  In the design office we had a vision.  And so did everyone else. 

The scary Americans fast talking and Gucci handbag bludgeoning us into doing things the Texan way, the New York way, the mid-west way - for they wore the cult of the individual as their constitutional right and never agreed with each other. 

The chic Europeans who intimidated us by their sheer style into delicious colour combinations which we would sell no more than 2 units of - for themselves to wear. 

The inscrutable Japanese who would never tell you what they wanted as it would be impolite, as it may put you in a position where you were not in agreement with them, which could not be as they did not know what they wanted anyway. 

The fun loving Australians who said it was all super and asked if you could supply it just for them in a beach neon palette of shocking pink, lime and orange. 

And the British, with our innate snobbery which does not deign to explain why we know better than any foreigner how things should be as that is just how it would be best.

So we stood and showed our beautiful children’s wear in tasteful translation of the new coral from Florence cleverly teamed with cunning chambray prints - not too pretty for an 80’s child to sneer at, not too contemporary for her grandma/aunt/mother to fondly fork out for their nostalgic vision of the perfect, innocent, untroubled, country childhood. 

Could you first remove the frill to make it cheaper? Demanded the Brits.

Could you add a frill for our shop in Madrid? Quizzed the Europeans. 

‘I’ll take it in candy pink’ asserted the American fruitarian, delicately picking at the single strawberry which was all she ate daily, despite the protestations of our Maria (a super pasta chef who made our lunches a carbohydrate addiction,) that she needed feeding up.  There was surely a danger than she would slip between the spokes of her exercise bike and have to miss a day’s work being expensively extracted. 

For working 24/7 was the one cult the Fashion trade agreed on.  Always chasing the next collection we produced 6 a year.  You were always late; late with the new colour, notoriously late with the deliveries from Portugal when no rain meant no water to dye our fabrics; late to the next meeting   of which there were double the amount you could meaningfully attend and achieve anything in between more than a coffee and a pee. 

Various strategies were adopted to never miss a day from illness, jet lag or babies.  The British boss swigged Bennelin from the bottle frequently, a firm believer in its prophylactic powers to prevent disease.   If any of her assistants looked peaky the bottle was meaningfully pushed in their direction.  Our samples came back from their offices stinking of the pharmacy. 

The Americans never went on holiday, which was a pity.  As we sat, soporific and stinking of garlic after another delicious bowl of pasta, the phones started ringing with the shrill tones of the angry, urgent American who had skipped breakfast to get in early to bollock you for your latest late, expensive and way too European delivery/non-delivery. 

Delivery was constantly talked about of garments flown round the globe by women who would be rushed in an ambulance from a board meeting if her contractions started early - for her to get on the phone from the labour ward to chase things along, or ‘expedite’ in the jargon. 

For the phone was our weapon against lazy, late suppliers of wrong colour, too big/small, poorly stitched/printed/pressed garments - and against each other.  For as our personnel grew quicker than our sales in an empire building exercise which threatened to steal every dollar our loyal happy customers were paying, we wasted hours, pounds, dollars, guilders, yen, francs warring with each other as responsibility was chased from the offices of anyone with anything to do with the gentlest, most feminine brand name in rural idyll dreaming. 

Consultants came and took more dollars without taking any responsibility to try to reconcile us to the business of doing business together.  The word ‘strategy’ was added to every paragraph of any memo winging its way from or to Wales.  Wales, land of feudal lords and castles, mountains to hide behind, roads to roam free.  Try running an international despatch operation along the winding sheep droves of roads of mid Wales.  “When they put a sign with a chevron by the road in Wales they really mean it” said Fiona who in all the years I worked with her never travelled in my car without her hand on the door handle.  Becalmed one day by the side of the M6 due to a sudden lack of petrol, I was never good at practicalities, and waiting for that nice man from the RAC we reflected on the latest meeting with our exec. 

He - for it was still a ‘he’ was a jazz loving Dutchman who felt that girlies didn’t understand strategy and so it was best fro him to overrule our carefully judged sourcing policy playing to the quality and cost strengths of our suppliers and get on all our goods made in the US as he was concerned by the fall of the dollar to the detriment of the buying power of our darling US babes.  Apparently the suggestion had arrived as an early evening command from the US, followed by the implicit assertion that to not comply would be cissy and the friendly threat - ‘I’ll touch base with you later’ meaning ‘I only want to hear ‘yes’.  I’ll give you a few hours to sort out your little local difficulties’.

We had just visited a lovely factory in Caernarvon where the girls still had the skills to stitch all the operations in a whole dress and so felt the satisfaction of creating a garment, just as our founder (female) had envisaged.  When another approach than humanitarian was suggested to her by her first accountant she had retorted to the effect that to believe business as just about making a profit was to miss the point about why communities create and trade, how these activities can add to the satisfaction of life as well as prosperity and security.  She was ahead of her time and deeply unfashionable in the ‘no-such-thing-as-society Thatcher years’. 

I saw a future without the proud can do attitude of the Carnarvon factory.  One where New York sweat-shops and nameless, faceless people struggling to make a living in China by exporting through Hong Kong, would dominate my life.

And so it came to be until sitting in a lovely restaurant on a coral beach in Mauritius, discussing whether the girls we had seen in the factory, under age, were better off there with their mothers who were trying to improve their lot through the dignity of textiles, not sugar.  I proposed to my colleague that we would be better running Oxfam and wearing recycled clothes than chasing the additive hook of the latest new look.  And I returned from a holiday to find myself jobless as the empire building had resulted in the sacrifice of my department.

I remember you toujours ma petite.  I was your supplier of chic French baby wear.  You always wrote ‘tres jolies’ on the inspection report at all my factory.  We did our best quality for the English ladies.  I wined and dined you on foie gras and our good champagne, as is my nation’s privilege to educate in the fine things of life!  I sent my factory manager for the English lessons.  We were all very proud as he shook your hand and said ‘meny trousers’.  It seemed a good toast and we remember it always where we were togezer.  And you always flew to Parie where my office was as I did not like to make the long car journey on the auto routes alone, since I was wiv my wife in zat teriblee car accident.  Ezery time we passed a lorry I braked incase history repeated itself and you said to me “It’s OK Pierre.  It’s OK”.  Zankyou for zat. My manager he ask me how I make zee sale to as beeg Englesh designer label.  I told him I waz ze best salesman he ezer see and I got ze salary for ze electric car my wife drive along ze pavements of our louvley Paree.  We lost the touch after zat when we went bakrupt.  Well ze rag trade zey always chase ze cheapest theeng.  I represent ze factory in Morocco now.  He is sunnier than Lille, but ze food is terriblee - only sheep for us to eeat.

I looked around for the next thing in my life.  I invited my mates round for drinks in my Fulham flat, beautifully decorated in sample fabrics, and debated - Sasha, now doing the earth mother bit in a monsoon dress was very pregnant, Fiona, now quite the lady buyer, and acerbic as ever, and me -   we had the vultures with Beatles voices jungle book conversation - ‘so wha you gonna do? - I dunno - what d’you wanna do? - I dunno’.  We were in the garden of a Fulham populated by property developers, girls in pearls and Europeans on an up and coming Thatcherite buy-your-own-place council estate.  In a kind of tent of wet sheets provided by my noisy upstairs French neighbour who had a voracious, intimidating appetite for clippy heels on wooded floors and washing things.  The tent provided a Persil-smelling, sunlight defeating privacy at least from the next gardens designed for the lean over your fence neighbours, a variety not encouraged south of Watford Gap.

“I don’t know…I want to do something creative…that pays big bucks. 

Another buying job then - hit the Drapers’ Record again,” said Fiona, ever realistic. 

Sasha offered an alternative vision of having babies while holding up a profitable part time job with days off spent rocking the cradle with one foot while treading the spinning wheel for home designed and knit children’s’ wear with the other.   Having a boyfriend who felt families were something you did with your next boyfriend and expensive holidays were something you did with him, I hit the Drapers’ Record. 

I got a job in Watford at Mother’s-here and was reduced to commuting in the wrong direction (actually, any direction to try and get out of Fulham by car is futile unless you enjoy posing in convertibles but it is especially galling to spend an hour driving to the suburbs when you are forking out a London mortgage).  I got my shoulder length hair cropped, swapped my tana lawn print dress for what my boyfriend disparagingly called ‘bus conductor outfits’ - suits with shoulder pads so sharp you could spike your colleague/rival if she was in danger of invading your territory, and set about self destructing.

On my induction week I developed my ideas with HR as to why screwing suppliers on price was morally wrong and why I hated the arrogance of an old fashioned ‘fuck you’ approach. My cards were marked.  I wanted to develop collections of real clothes, not an excuse to decorate children with the latest cartoon character (10% royalty to Disney thank you), and to give them pretty play clothes, not flesh-exposing crop tops and cycle shorts.   Combined with outspoken ideas on the way to manage the design process I got up my bosses’ noses and lasted six months.  The bosses were the last stand of the feet-on the-table and all but pee-on-your-territory boundaries type I was actually missing the after hours decide-it-over-a-drink meetings in the pubs of mid Wales.  I saw a smack the Pony sketch years later which summed up this lot - two impeccably dressed bitches with dogs on leads as their accessory walk past each other sizing up the others designer outfit, and bark at each other as they pass.  I was in danger of becoming a human - impossible to admit as a buyer. 

I got the sack just as I had sold my Fulham flat to reduce the time spent in my BMW and increase my time available for friendship and fun.  I spent a summer painting flowers and moving into my own rural idyll and signed up for the MBA which was going to mean I could talk business with my accountant boyfriend and never need be a buyer again.

I remember her.  I ran her numbers until her number was up, and we had a meet up in Murphy’s.  She took comfort in Mississippi Mud Pie and I put away the martinis.  She was mad.  Sent me letters on the back of printed handouts of marketing matrices from the business school.  Seemed to be having fun though.  I remember a time when I was sober.  I must have been watching too many westerns ‘cos I put my money down on a bar in a one horse town in France where the channel tunnel would be if they ever finished it.  I enjoy a bet.  I made a break for the border one Friday night after work and posted my boss the keys to the company car from a Dover car park.  I raised my glass to a new future in the Routiers trucker’s bar on the roll on roll off ferry, and checked out how they keep punters happy in my new market!  That rag trade chews you up and spits you out- you are only as good as yesterdays’ sales.  A lot of my friends from those times got into other things…garden design, gourmet, golf, motherhood and ME.  Me, I’ve never looked back.  Cheers!


Before I get going I want to assure you its confidential….whatever comes up in this space, stays in this space…it’s your property.

Are you right or left handed…?  Can I have your left hand first…want to take off your watch…ring - it’s entirely up to you for comfort…

I was looking for clues – why me, why was I different, was the clue in my past – was it written into my hands – could you tell from the outside from my lines my biology, did something happen to me as a geeky teenager that screwed up my fertility – was I so worried about getting pregnant underage while not fully understanding the mechanics during cider filled fumblings, that I’d shut my hormones down… had something happened to me as a child, some freak accident that I couldn’t remember and was too awful for my mum to mention, had something gone wrong with me as a baby, an embryo, an egg, an idea, an energy…

Your hand shape - you have a very rectangular palm rather than square and the finger are shorter than the length of your thumb which indicates you have a fire hand.  Now irrespective of which sign of the zodiac you’ve been born to this will either match the sign of the zodiac or will enhance with extra qualities. Fire hand people are industrious people.  They are go-getters.  Sometimes dynamic, not always.  They’re busy people.  They have a problem, to be honest, in delegating, because they don’t believe anyone else will do the job to their own high standard.  They project to the world that they are quite capable, they run a tight ship - pile it on, I can deal with it - but on the inside they don’t always have the confidence and the courage that they express to the rest of the world. 

In fact they’re quite jelly-babies on the inside; they hurt very deeply but its  not something they like to be generally known because they feel it as a weakness and fire people can have an unfair reputation for sometimes having a short fuse and quick temper which is in fact a fallacy.  Its not true at all but placid, easy going people can tolerate a lot of  rubbish before they snap  - but when they snap everyone knows because its quite a large explosion and that’s probably where they get the bad reputation from but its just not true - pay more attention to that.

Now quite naturally allow your hand go floppy so it falls in the way that it usually would so.  You can see that for a child hand it’s a closed hand.  Your fingers are closing up quite naturally….its still a closed hand… your fingers are still quite close together which is alright but on a childhood hand its usually more open because children are more open to express themselves as they go and play…and all that sort of thing which implies that you haven’t had all that sort of childhood and in fact that you’ve learnt at a very early age to keep your cards close to your chest. For all of that though your thumb is at a good angle  which shows that your basic nature, irrespective of what you’ve learnt along the way is quite open and that you do communicate well to people, that you give people the benefit of the doubt until you’re proved wrong. 

Now there are 4 main lines on anyone’s palm: that is the lifeline coming round here, the head line, the heart line and the fate line.  There are many other lines which we’re going to investigate but I’m going to start with the lifeline.  …..We all have a potential life expectancy of about 76 years.  This is based on the age Auntie Mabel was and Granny and Grandpa were when they passed…so it’s our potential.  On your dominant hand we’ll see real life expectancy which is based on how you’ve conducted your life, so if its all drink, drugs and rock and roll you can expect that it’ll be much shorter but if its taken carefully then its likely to be much longer. 

The one thing I notice about your life line is that it comes out and actually touches your fate-line before it comes back in again, which implies that fate intervened in your life to make a big life change when you were young.  Starting off here your head line and your life line are joined for a good inch across your palm.  And that’s about average and that tells me that you pretty much developed at the right rate for you and that you weren’t wrapped up in cotton wool by any means but also that you weren’t catapulted out into the world…  As my mother would say…feel the benefit.  Now,  because your life line is the least well marked on your palm I’d have to say that you have suffered from weaknesses rather than illnesses and because there are thousands of worry lines I’d have to say that to some extent this is nerve related and stress related which you haven’t dealt with particularly well.  With an ideal childhood hand there’d be no worry lines but we have to accept that children worry just as much as the rest of us do but about different things but that’s none the less relevant.  However, at no point do any of your worry lines actually cross your life line so that’s a positive thing. 

So there was something when I was young – what was it, what could I remember, yes I worried, would I be liked, would I fit in – I was acutely self conscious to the extent of being outside myself… when things were going on I could sit outside and watch – see that girl on her first day at school getting trapped in the fold out bookcase, being sick in school assembly – I am so outside myself I can see the caretaker walking off with the sick-soaked-sawdust in a bucket even when he has walked back to his workshop and lit a cigarette… I watch my cycling proficiency test from the school roof – I see my father searching for when my best friend shut me in a box, though I am in a box… my best friend, he was my idol, who I wanted to be, taller and stronger than me and first up the old oak in the woods here we had our den, I was a bit of a tomboy, dreaded growing breasts, until I didn’t hardly, then I wanted them to fit in, and my best friend went off and played with girls who did have them… what’s she saying, now that’s nice..

You also have an inner line of mars here which is a line running on the inside of your life line and parallel to it.  Now I call this the guardian angel line because we’ve all got guardian  angels and when life has got too big for us to deal with life on our own our angels take a step closer and  when the matter is sorted then they step back and it shows on your hand that they’ve been looking after you….the fact that you have what I call a hug deficit wrinkle is not a criticism of your upbringing or of your parents but I feel that you’d have thrived much better with more physical affection in your life, through more hugs….around and also with more verbal encouragement and acknowledgement of what you did achieve.  Now, to say that all that is missing makes to imply that you had a terrible upbringing and that you had terrible parents but that’s not the case.  These are just observances that you’d have thrived better.
Irrespective of what you achieved on paper and in regards to your formal education at school you have a good, strong mind and one of the lovely things about it is that it is open and a closed  mind is no use to anyone so you’re always open to any possibilities.

The heart line on any one’s hand is the most difficult because it deals with how we interact with other people, our emotional side, our feelings, how we think other people perceive us and it’s a real roller-coaster and yours in particular is all over the place on this childhood hand.  I have to say it starts off with a series of feathers which goes to say that even had you been born in a vacuum with no external stimulus there would still be insecurities there because they come from inside.  Now the first big island we see is here, you see that big oval on the heart line - you see that there….this refers to time in your life when you felt let down by the adults around you and children feel let down by the adults for lots of reasons…as adults are our gods when we are little and they are just humans doing the best they can…I can see you’ve been totally let down here and its followed very closely by another big island so there are two quite specific instances in your childhood when you felt isolated and alone and not able to confide in anyone and not able to quite understand where you stood in the situation and what was expected of you and you would know what these situations are and could articulate about them very much differently now that you’re an adult, but this is very much how a child sees them, all down to the thing called  ‘these are my needs and they’re not being met.’ 

There’s also a feeling of betrayal here as though someone let you down when you felt you could rely on them and you couldn’t and this has resulted in a closing down in this part of the heart line and perhaps you decided I’m not going to confide in anyone anymore, I’m going to deal with everything by myself, I’m going to keep myself to myself because I’ve learned that that’s the way to be, but fortunately towards the end of the line… if you like, on this hand, there’s just the starting of an opening out again, just a starting, so I feel that the other hand will have a much more positive heart line than this. 

That would be Stella - let down by me - putting her in danger when I should have protected her - just because of my need to really feel... she closed down and stopped communing with me - does she even know I'm still here?

The fate line that comes up here you are not responsible for in any way.  The childhood’s fate is merely dictated by the adults in control at that time.  The child has no control; it’s like a track that’s laid for you.  All you’ve got to do is stay on that track, if you like.  It’s a good fate line but its very, very straight and rigid which implies that there was no flexibility in your upbringing, that there were a lots of rules and regulations which you had to adhere to and a lot of lines drawn that you had to stay within the boundaries of those lines.  However, the fate line comes to a dead end quite suddenly…at this point here so I feel that this refers us to the same point where your life line touches your fate line in that something changed quite dramatically in your circumstances and in your late teens and one life style, if you like, came to an end and another one started. 

Well that’s easy, that was that day in the health centre – when the doctor looked up from her notes, looked into my eyes to check my reaction to the diagnosis she was about to give, I had that feeling, that sensation of déjà vu – I thought, as she started talking, I know what she’s going to say, I have heard these words before, looked down at this desk, at this brown carpet tile, floated past her through that window to the familiar comforting concrete landscape of the Polytechnic tower. I’ve felt these tears before, this shock, this pain, this pain like I split in two… I stumbled like before out of this student surgery, this is my karma – I don’t know why – that’s not for me to see, but I know this information the doctor gives me is a big piece in my jigsaw – gives me a reason why my body is different to my sisters’. One breast smaller with 3 black hairs, the same side has a foot a whole side larger… my biology holds my destiny, what’s it trying to tell me, where does the girl who played with her dolls go when she can’t go there, can never do the happy family thing…  now my hand is telling its side of the story…

This tells me you were a tactile child; that you did like physical affection even though it wasn’t forthcoming as much perhaps as you would have liked, or even as much as it should have been.  Feel is part of your learning experience and in fact you absorb an awful lot of information through your fingers tips - probably the sort of person who gets thrown out of museums for touching things!…..and as a child you’d have loved velvet cushions and fluffy thistledown and smooth stones.

Now this is your lunar mound and it’s nicely firm.  This tells me that you’re an incredibly creative child and that you had a vivid and fertile imagination which is very vital in childhood.  Children sometimes need to imagine a place to be, a place to escape, a different set of circumstances and something wonderful.  And that’s how children use their imagination... your lunar mound goes much lower which tells me that as a child you will have experienced psychic phenomena and that you will have been very in tune with your own intuition, but I feel that again, it was probably something that you learned to keep close to your chest because if you’d been a kitten and gone to the end of the garden and  felt something that you couldn’t see and rushed back to mum she would have said ‘Well done, you’ve used your intuition, you’ve chosen safe ground’.  As a child that doesn’t happen.  Mum marches you right back done the bottom of the garden, ‘Look, there’s nothing here, don’t be so silly, we’ll have none of your nonsense’ so you learned to keep it in.  There may also be an experience here of you being taken to an historical site, perhaps on a school trip, perhaps on a family trip, and feeling uncomfortable - feeling that you couldn’t breathe as you have done in some situations and this is you picking up vibrations perhaps from hundreds of years ago where there was bloodshed - where something dark happened in that space.  Similarly you could have wonderful feelings and emotions at a place where perhaps for centuries they had celebrated and wonderful things happened.  You would pick up that vibe too.

That was that day we went to the Witches Museum in Boscastle - sad,dark, damp atmosphere - chilled us to the bone - at least we could talk about it then and keep each other company that night... Oh I miss our chats - psychic phenomena indeed! I'm as real as Stella is!!


If leaving home on the 3pm from Liverpool to Huddersfield in a much too thin cotton jacket for a Yorkshire winter was scary at 18 in 1980 then moving to the Bedfordshire marshes to house share with two rugby playing types at 29 in 1991 was just bizarre.  I had flown the world First Class and now I was going to share a bathroom with the self-confessed Essex man from Bilarickie and an outdoors type who lived on warmed up dog pie and liked nothing better than to throw himself out of small aircraft without a parachute at weekends.  If poverty as a student was exciting and romantic, then poverty with a lot of ex-business managers all wanting a leg up the career ladder to pay back the 15K college fee for the year was daunting.  I had more to loose, especially a now fragile ego.  What I didn’t realise ‘till much later was - so did they.  It’s a gap year for the stuck in a rut.  No one gives up the best manager’s job in the world to be lectured by academics in tank tops on how to do marketing from a submarine-like lecture room on an airfield.

A great believer in education I had 11 GCSEs, 3 A’s and a B at A Level, a 2:1 BSc in textile design, my Duke of Edinburgh award, cycling proficiency, Brownie homemakers badge, Guides knotting badge, Rangers canoeing bade.  I had never seen a school like this.  There was a brain washing in the heroism of work-all-night to deliver your epic 5000 word masterpiece on just how the world will beat a pathway to your door to buy your better mousetrap.  Egos as big as Genghis Khan’s argued it out in study groups as to why they were so right they really had no need to be studying here and should tell the lecturers how things really were.  I discovered the world of fashion was a narrow, inspirational privileged one and that I was ideally suited for it, being a plant - read ideas person with no interest in completing/finishing and solely dependent on my one technique of inspirational leadership.  Great for enthusing designers, suppliers and selling to shop girls but singularly ineffective on engineers, accountants, strategic thinkers, human resource managers and marginally better on entrepreneurs looking for someone fool enough to invest with them in their  big idea, which of course I did not want to do as I didn’t want to play in anyone’s team but my own.

Looking back I think that year learning about busy-ness as Dickens would have termed it, taught me how little interested I was in business.  People, yes.  Ideas, yes.  Budgeting and pricing, just about.  Anything else had me handing in a caffeine supported C grade paper and heading off to a party.  I took refuge in my all time disguise - chameleon clothes and picked the perfect outfit for every occasion while writing a satirical column in the student newspaper about everyone else’s - it was a short column - there were only two possible outfits for the mainly male students.  Tank tops for the geeky academics including some outrageous intarsia ones if they were from the class, which played golf, and blue jeans with, check rugby shirts for the engineers, marketers, salesman, strategic thinkers (jumped up marketers and salesmen?) accountants and entrepreneurs.  For the girls there were all round pleated skirts for the human resource managers, blue jeans for the for the marketers etc and very short white shorts and tennis tops for the nubile Danish exchange students who were completing their MBA - God knows why - in the Bedfordshire marshes instead of Copenhagen.

The sleazy Irish course leader told us no one every failed.  We would hope not having paid 15K and given a year of our precious time.  For them to teach us everything you ever needed to know about how to run a successful business who could say what was the right answer to that little puzzler? No one.  So instead they taught us ‘a tool kit’ of accountancy, statistical, information system skills etc. etc. and sold us cute cartoon books on product, price, promotion, place/how to do marketing which patronised us.  Aged 25 - 50 we all had to pass a test on hard sums and regurgitate stuff out of books just like when we were kids.  Fear is a great leveller and stress is a great aphrodisiac.  We discovered the real point of the year out.  Make friends and crib from the guy who can do strategy in the European Union.  Once we all realised this is was one long party to the bemusement of the guys in tank tops who felt they were there to learn and important answer to an intriguing question, and would probably end up doings PhDs and joining the faculty.

There were some crap lecturers.  One asked the assembled ‘blue stream’ - yes, that old boarding school trick of competitive houses was used - to look at a ‘paradigm shift’ image composed of a positive image - two faces and a negative one - a vase - “can you all see them?”  “No”, a brave and embarrassed student put up his hand.  “Which one can’t you see?” demanded the arrogant lecturer.  Empathy was not his bag although he was supposed to be teaching consultancy skills.  “What can you see?” would have illustrated his point perfectly with matching his customer’s viewpoint.  To expect your customer to tell you what he/she doesn’t know is arrogance born of ignorance.

I survived the year with monthly purchases of Domestos to sterilise the increasingly disgusting shared bathroom and learnt some unarguable truths: 
1.                  That you can never expect a man to clean up the mess which he cannot see and would not care about if he could.
2.                  That men are immune to hint and subtle nuances to sharing cleaning responsibilities.
3.                  That the battle of the sexes is only played by the fair sex and the other lot are too busy working/having fun to dispute territory in the domestic arena.
I got 70% in my Finance exam despite not adding up any of the numbers.  I had a good eye for proportion and sums took me way too long.  I passed Stats. too, after extra cramming with a lovely lecturer of the tank top and twinkly eyes variety.  Bright as buttons and so wise he told me not to worry.  For the rest of my life no one would care or even ask to see my Stats mark.


What are we doing here? It was a submarine.  An Alice though the looking glass place where my kindly stats man had the smile of a Cheshire cat, the male students all seemed as alike to me as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Mad Hatters lecturers had their tea party daily in a corridor named ‘the Forum’ - echoes of  carry On films… straight lines, roman arches, for in their eyes they were setting the rules, making the matrices which governed the game called ‘business’.  “Ah busyness.  It’s all a game” says my father.  But more fool you if you think you now the rules. 

One thing working in fashion has taught me is: nothing works better for making money than intuition, so show me who can teach you to use your third eye, your far seeing behind the eyes visions and make them reality.

The only lecture I remember now was on chaos theory.  This described the world I knew.  Keep changing; keep evolving.  Watch nature… a dinosaur.  Too old and slow; becomes extinct.  How ants have the best organisations - have conquered the planet with their small scale ever moving mountains, curious unspeaking - no visionary leaders, no fat cats taking the profits, they are master engineers of a solution to every habitat they choose.  Eat your heart out Enron.  When you need food and shelter the only kind of numbers that matter are your brothers and sisters.  How do you get an ant to labour with a crumb four times his size and return it to the ant hill?   Offer him a pay rise?  A company car? Promotion to an anthill in Abu Dhabi?  Or raise him to understand that everyone else will do the same, share and will help with the work as soon as they see/sense him coming. 

Chaos theory… a butterfly's wings in Brazil cause a downpour in Bognor and your anthill gets washed away.  You build a more sheltered anthill and learn from the experience.  You don’t terrify the guy with the drawings for last times’ anthill, in a review meeting where his bollocks are pinned to the flip chart.  You all live in the anthill so you all move it, move it and build.  Do I sound like a communist?  Well, no, that’s OK for ants but what about the sick ants who need to save for a rainy day?  Do they get an allowance?  I must find out more about ants.  And what about the designers?  Do they get to have their ideas made real?  A bijoux anthill with large windows and softest sand floors? 

‘Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can?  No grief or hunger for brotherhood of man’.  But you see, I can’t do Buddhism.   There seems to me an innate contradiction between the designer who wants to make her mark, describe her idea in reality whether colours, fabrics, words, bricks, sand (do you know some American Indians use sand pictures as medicine?) and the Buddhist who knows this life is all a mirage, a trial of how we do with our Karma.  This time before we pass back into the greater whole, which we are all but many faceEd expressions of.

So here I was out of my element, on an airfield with no clothing retailers, no pocket money.  So I acted on my sense of what kind of clothing retail fitEd with my developing spirit and offered Oxfam some free consultancy to be written up for the how to do marketing guru.  He was an amazing ego. If he couldn’t attend a lecture in Bedfordshire as he had to be in Bombay that day he made us a personal broadcast of our mentor coaching us in more matrices.  In the nearly empty ‘amphitheatre’ - for who would give up sunbathing on the football field if there was no one to tack your attendance - I spotted the Danish girls whose outfits I really liked.  Think Inwear, classic, slightly svelte, slightly sporty, and we embarked together on the Oxfam project. 

Underpaid earnest types in Oxford offices presided over this body-odour reeking chain of small dark shops populated by widows in florals.  A very eccentric law unto himself chose the fantastic selection of Fair-Trade merchandise - Rasta hats (a big seller), beaded curtains from Pakistan decorated with the Mona Lisa (did the Louvre get a royalty?)  What would Leonardo say if he knew she was keeping out the flies in Festiniog?  My Danish friends and I suggested the obvious.  Wash it, colour theme it, and put out what’s in season.  Increase the feel good factor by telling the punters that what is not sold here clothes kids in Calcutta or gets recycled into yarn for woollies in the wilds of Eurasia.  Employ managers who know how to use the tills so the feel good factor doesn’t evaporate by the time Granny Good has found her reading glasses and written down your cheque card number.  Our guru decided this was hardly MBA stuff and gave us a C - no matrices, no clever strategies.  And I notice they are still in business 10 years on and reported by the Economist last week as an opinion-former who big businesses respect since they won a settlement in favour of Ethiopia in the Nestlé case.

Anyhow, my friend and I enjoyed the shops in Oxford and sorted out our love lives - mine was a problem - while getting lost around the roundabouts of Milton Keynes.  Always go around the roundabout one more time became our advice to each other as we debated the pros and cons of the geeky tank top guy.  For the downside of being interested in being attractive is that you attract.  And like any flower constantly trespassed by wasps and bees you don’t choose who - they do.  She had a perfectly nice boyfriend in Copenhagen, never seen out without a coordinating belt, and whose large shoulders belied the strength of the hunter-gatherer capable of feeding a family.  She made the sensible decision and lived happily ever after.

She was the only one I kept in touch with from the Business school..  We always write at Christmas.    We had ‘girls just want to have fun’ together in that little car we Danish hired for the year to see a bit of England.  Let’s face it; the Bedfordshire marshes are not a beauty spot.  But we had picnics in Oxford, looked round the colleges.  Beautiful old buildings you have.  She was useless on the computer so I did the word processing and so we had our report done.  Difficult working with a charity. You can’t organise change too radically when you depend on the goodwill of volunteers to make a go of it.  People put a lot of themselves into these places.  I think charity makes us human. 

From what she told me of the rag trade they are so wasteful of resources, rivers run red if that’s the colour this season, downstream they still have to drink the water.  We are all together in this, don’t they know that?  We see that more in Europe although we Danish resisted.  We were boosted enough by winning some goals in the European cup to vote No to the Euro Zone for a while.  But we have to learn to share.  We are pack animals, we have to work together to survive, it is in our genes, the blue jeans we all wear in this global village.  We talk different languages but we all drink the same cappuccino and lager beer, dance on the beaches, blue sky rhythm and blues.  We all want the same - wealth and the freedom and to raise our kids in a civilised place. The enemy – the guy who worships a different god – they’re just human with wives and children.  We both decided for all our MBA we still had the little girl’s fantasy to get married and have children.  She was kind when I had a problem there.  Wrote and told me she had some problems too.  It’s nice to know you are not alone in that way.

Yes – family – that’s what we should be doing – but Stella had screwed up with Dirk who was the only guy I had considered father material - and she was still on the Pill …and I was reading Dr Jean’s increasingly worrying thoughts on the subject…

Chapter 3. The Context. Macro - Social issues, what are we buying; youth, control.

Remember folliculinum*...

‘She feels she is controlled by another. She is out of sorts with her rhythms. She is living out someone else’s expectations. She looses her will. She over-estimates her energy reserves. She is full of self-denial. She becomes a rescuer, addicted to rescuing people. She becomes drained. She has become a doormat. She has forgotten who she is. She has no individuality.’ (Assilem - from a homeopathic study of folliculinum*, an isopathic remedy made from the Pill to assist those with health problems after taking the Pill).

In the foreword of Feminine Forever published in the 60s an eminent doctor wrote ‘Women will be emancipated only when the shackles of hormonal deprivation are loosened’, and the hormone preparations of the Pill and HRT have held out to women since the carrot of control of our lives, freedom from unplanned and successive pregnancies disturbing our career, or hot flushes and confusion marking us out as ‘a woman of a certain age’ past our sexual sell by date.

Frances McCrea, an American sociologist has identified four themes that underlie the medical definition of menopause:

·      women’s potential and function are biologically destined
·      women’s worth is determined by fecundity and attractiveness

·      rejection of the feminine role will bring physical and emotional havoc
·      aging women are useless and repulsive.[11]

Each of these involves a social judgement about the role and status of women, and demonstrates the entrenched sexism, chauvinism, paternalism, of our public health service. Feminists have countered by celebrating words like hag and crone for which there are no male equivalents, and highlighting the denial of a role for aging women in modern Western society. Greer

Champions of the menopause as a ‘passage to power’ like Lesley Kenton contrast our prejudices today with the accepted role of the ‘wise woman’ in many cultures; historically she was the one who through whom the oral tradition of medicines like herbalism, as well as more spiritual approaches, thrived. In traditional Maori culture the older woman becomes a kuia who has the status to perform various rituals that younger women cannot perform. It is obvious to homoeopaths that the more positive experience of getting older, seeing it as a journey to power and respect within the community, will result in less, and less troublesome, symptoms. American anthropologist Marcha Flint argues that the relatively high incidence of menopausal symptoms experienced by women in Western society is a result of the negative status given to aging women in our societies so that menopause is a symbol of this and a transition from an acceptable role which I summarise as feminine carer and provider to an unacceptable and scarcely defined role, - a kept woman who is wrinkled and whose breasts sag? Flint contrasts our experience with that of women in the Rajput caste of North India for whom menopause is a liberation from purdah, a time to enjoy previously forbidden activities such as visiting other households and talking to, even drinking with the men. These women had virtually no symptoms[12].

I picked up a publication on the menopause in my local pharmacy which was published by the BMA in conjunction with a drug company which could only be described as fear-mongering. Wilson, see above, who advocated women forever feminine through hormone use, was doctor, evangelist and entrepreneur; he founded a private trust with the purpose of promoting oestrogens; in one year (in the 70’s, so allow for inflation) the Wilson Foundation received 17,000 US dollars from Searle and 8,700 from Ayerst Laboratories, manufacturers of hormones which Wilson claimed were effective[13]. This is small beer for a drug industry which saw worldwide sales of US based companies climb from 1430 million Us dollars in 1950 to 8070 million in 1972[14]. What motivates their concern for our bones and sleep quality? Their responsibility is to make profits for their shareholders, by selling more synthetic hormones. In the 70s up to three and a half million women were being given free oral contraceptives, so the British Government was paying roughly £50 million a year to buy hormone contraceptive pills for British women. What the real cost has been to the nation’s health we do not yet know. Yet successive governments who can quantify the cost of single mothers prefer to act paternalistically rather than take their responsibilities ‘in parentis’ and hand out the pills like smarties while their suppliers tell them, and us, it’s OK, they are safe, and by implication of their funding them they pass that message on to us.

As Sandra Coney writes of HRT in The Menopause Industry, ‘despite the lack of proof of safety or usefulness, these interventions are already on their way to becoming an accepted part of the health scene... women are duped by the apparent ‘normality’ of these interventions to believe that they must have been proved safe... they can be oblivious to the .. contradictory research findings and the biases of the various parties involved.’ In 1960 the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was allowed onto the US market on the basis of a trial on only 132 Puerto Rican women who had taken it for a year or more, three young women died without their cause of death being established. Despite the lack of evidence for safety soon what Dr. Grant termed ‘the greatest mass pill experiment in history’ was underway.

‘The person with a serious illness will be prepared to take risks for the chance of a cure; for the well person the risks have to be measured... against their present good health.’ This echoes the sense of Benjamin Franklin’s wise observation as true today as it was in 1787, that ‘There is a great deal of difference between a good doctor and a bad doctor but very little difference between a good doctor and no doctor at all.’ In making long term prescriptions for steroids how many of the medical profession can claim to be good doctors?

‘The pill... is a drug of such social and sexual convenience that its tragic consequences will continue to be disregarded until women fully realise what the consequences of such convenience are. Preferred ignorance has caused us to close our eyes to the enormous increase in ill health of young women since the pill was introduced and to the fact that the effects of the pill on allergies, vascular disease, mental health, cancer and congenital abnormalities are more powerful than smoking and show up in a much quicker time.’ wrote Dr, Ellen Grant, in ‘The Bitter Pill’, and the situation has not changed since she first published this nearly 15 years ago. Her testimony is remarkable as she was closely involved in the trial and development of the pill in a quest to find a solution to the problem of the spiralling growth of the worlds population, but she has become convinced that the health risks of the pill mean this can not be the answer and she has dedicated her work to pressing her case against the pill. She received an early warning on how this would be met by the medical establishment as she describes here:

‘At the beginning of the London trials we tried endlessly to find the right dose combinations to stop the women volunteers having side effects. Headaches affected up to 60 % of the women within a year of taking those progestogenic pills which had a prolonged late secretory effect and marked development of endometrial arteriole. But when I bought up the matter of the headaches and migraine - which I considered to be an early warning sign - at a Council meeting when a pill’s future marketing was being discussed, the reaction of members stunned me. There was utter silence. This silence, heard at so many medical gatherings since, seems to have grown into a deafening roar.’

She goes on ‘It is blocking brain hormones and acting on young ovaries. It is changing metabolism at a critical time of growth, sexual and emotional development. Human beings are not fully mature at puberty but go on changing until the end of their early 20s. The first, often irregular periods do not mean a girl has become a woman... We are assaulting our future genetic pool.’ Knowing what we do now about the vulnerability of young girls to hormones the current scale of the use of the morning after pill, which has a bigger dose of hormones than the oral contraceptive, for schoolgirls is a concern, for their future health and that of their children.

Dr. Kitty Little has described how pill steroids can cause abnormalities in bones, blood cells, blood vessels and stress coping mechanisms. In animal trials she discovered that young immature animals showed the greatest changes and her work has made her extremely concerned about the risk of long term osteoporosis, joint and back problems in girls given the pill at puberty. It is ironic that if her predictions are true these women will be offered more of the same - HRT - and spend their lives without a sex hormone to call their own.

This medicalisation of our lives is focused on women in an unbalanced way - where are the men who spend their lives taking synthetic hormones, who are called for internal examinations yearly, whom the media worries about hip fractures in old age? The ratio of published medical studies of older women  is in the order of 100:1 according to Mc Kinlay, the principal researcher in the Massachusetts Male Aging Study;  he warns of  ‘the treatment of a typical physiological process as pathological’.

A treadmill is created for women, a process described eloquently by Ivan Illich: ‘Diagnosis... intensifies stress, defines incapacity... focuses apprehension on... uncertainty, on one’s dependence upon future medical findings, all of which amounts to a loss of autonomy for self-definition. It also isolates a person in a special role, separates him from the normal and healthy, and requires submission to the authority of specialised personnel. Once a society organises for a preventative disease-hunt, it gives epidemic proportions to a diagnosis. This ultimate triumph of therapeutic culture turns the independence of the average healthy person into an intolerable form of deviance.[15]

I heard exasperation with such deviance in the tone of Studd, consultant gynaecologist featured in Channel 4’s programme on PMT on 19.10.99 as he huffed and puffed about women denying themselves a hysterectomy, (his preferred ‘complete cure’ for PMT )by using alternative therapies ‘all useless,.. tragic... expensive, don’t work, women are denying themselves effective treatment’, he hoped they would receive ‘good sense’ and request a hysterectomy. His attitude is reminiscent of his predecessors who derived the diagnosis hysteria from hyster the word for womb.

I had thrown my caring, sharing side into the black hole of a man still exploring his commitment boundaries.  I had always been guilty of a love-the-one-you-re with approach to relationships.  serial monogamy meant there wasn’t a day between age 15 and 30 when I hadn’t had a ‘boyfriend’, partner, security blanket, sexy boy, true companion, and home, job, money, that was what life was about wasn’t it – security... well I had messed up with Dirk who was the only place I felt was really home...  And here I was: 30 with a shiny new MBA all dressed up and nowhere to go.

I went and bought Drapers Record in desperation once more and scared off several possible West End employers by telling them with my newfound expertise what I thought of their balance sheet and brand strategy.  I finally landed a job at a Children’s’ Furniture factory in the East End, in Bow, by the canal, selling cots to Mother’s here.  “Is there any reason I should know why you left “Mother’s here” after 6 months?” enquired my MBA company doctor-type boss.  If he was going to ask a question which belied his ignorance of employee contract - sack the day before end of trial period policy I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  “No, I just wanted to do an MBA!”  Only someone who had paid the 15k could buy into that, and he did.  I was hired.

Really a nice girl from the classy side of the Mersey, I thought I had seen life in the factories of Leicester and the Philippines and slummed it in Aintree and Hong Kong.  Now in the stink of the solvents, fags and chips of London’s industrial heritage I found myself working with the no-hopers.  I did not need to write up the case study - British manufacturer buys timber from Slovenia and finishes with a 20 year old kit and a ‘hand-made’ touch to quality to see that it would not compete with the Italian designed high tech produced at Eastern European prices competition.  Add to the culture clash of woodwork shop, old cockney cheeky chappie smart Alec.  Finishing shop - the Irish brigade (you know builder who says ‘I would never have done the job that way.  If you had asked me first … well that was the paint shop so you wouldn’t hold them responsible for the splinters which could have a baby’s eye out on the cot rails nor the dark green cots which should have been my carefully selected fashionable shade of mint if they had bothered to stir it first.  Then the packing shop, lovely Muslim boys who prayed before their vegetarian meals shared off the cardboard boxes - probably praying that Allah would not send the Quality Manager round to return them to the paint shop/wood shop with the shoddy merchandise they had been given to pack - or they would never make the bonus long overdue at home for their family.  Add to that a Welsh factory manager - ‘how do you expect me to work with these people?’ and an Eastern European designer with an inferiority complex who did a nice line in philosophy but could never be persuaded to update the design drawings so the quality manager never knew what he was checking his B55750 to…

Introduce some new designs, said my boss before he scuttled of for an important meeting… 

So I was reduced to bargaining with the finishing girl who applied the transfers to let me experiment with some new tasteful middle class aspirational nostalgic images while she experimented with another of the delivery lads behind the stacked stock we seemed to loose to the East End markets.

The isolation I had observed at twenty of creative people in factories was even worse when you were allergic to wood shavings and sent to sleep by solvents.  I looked for inspiration in Italian Vogue Bambino while the savvy sales girls observed which of the baby boutique managers our top salesman was laying by the trail of orders which followed his sexual conquests around the South East.  Inviting them to try out our new coir cot bed mattress he soon had them debating whether pink or blue bedding would be the most sensible stock item this spring.

I developed an award winning range of furniture no one would ever buy as it was flat pack, self-assembly and if there’s one thing new mums don’t have time for and dads hate to waste their weekend on it is flat pack self-assembly…I decorated a new showroom by the Thames, assisted by a Jamaican who was never available after lunch due to a more profitable business on the side.  I escaped seduction by one of the deliverymen who offered one on the coir mattress when I was working late one evening.  His line was ‘You’re nice, would you like a go?’  Everyone else had fallen for his handsome just been working out in a white vest look, and I was so over-tired it almost seemed an attractive proposition but I got in my car and fell asleep on the M25 once again.


That place reeked of failure. I blew around Bow with a breeze which stank of the stagnant canal, the sharp scent of vinegar from the fish and chips van, the high smell of solvents from the factory, the reek of poverty, addiction and self-abuse from the cigarettes everyone smoked a less than healthy and safe distance from the wood shop. It was a disaster waiting to happen to those too tired, sad or optimistic to get themselves out of an industry past its time – hanging on as a habit in the order books of buyers too loyal or lazy to defect to the East-European cots; the quality was fine as long as you picked out the ones full of lead shot with a metal detector.

Of all the dumb things she had done – Stella was wrecking our body with the toxins she was breathing in – I could feel microscopic pieces of paint in her airways and tried to make her sneeze them out – she thought she had hay fever! What was she getting out of this apart from the pay check – waiting for the butterfly of her designs to emerge from an eternal chrysalis. Sad and lonely, Stella couldn’t any longer shut out my voice from her dreams as she curled up in her habitual half of the double bed.


Sasha and I decided to review what she termed ‘self-destruct strategy 2 in the warm yellow kitchen of her NW1 house.  Over pasta with Sainsbury’s Carbonara sauce and white wine we reviewed the casualties of my split with my ex while her 2 year old traced drawings in the strawberry fromage-frais she had tipped over the farmhouse pine table in a desperate bid to get our attention. 

“Call me old fashioned” said Sasha, “but I think he’s a really nice guy and you could do worse than call Dirk, go out for a beer, ask him to marry you and start a family.” 

She made it sound so simple. And I so longed for a little girl of my own – so I went with my favourite fellow for the scariest date every. 

What do you wear to attract someone who has found you attractive even in your painting overalls for nine years?  Did I want to look glamorous, or would that seem tactless given the circumstances?  Too casual may be interpreted as just don’t care which if he said no was all I could hope for.  I was saved from deciding as he arrived early as I sat in my pyjamas getting some Christmas presents ready and he said we should make some babies instead of buying pressies for everyone else’s.

It was a wet spring in ’93 which saw me queuing daily round the M25 and through North East London where I watched tree campers with their banners and swampy style in message t-shirts trying to save the last local park from becoming a dual carriageway for the out of town commuters.  For it was the 90s of the cone hotline and uncaring conservatives.  I had come to care deeply about the mixed bag of people I worked with in Bow.  In order to get samples made and delivered to Fairs and buyers I had nothing but charm to try to get production to switch from whatever sales were chasing to make me a chunkier cot or carve a cute shaker style routing onto a bed head.  My boss seemed to think samples, production and orders required nothing but will power and a talent to kick ass.  I used secret strategies, smiles, confidence and tears of desperate frustration Production got more expensive with short runs for John Lewis and our delivery mens’ runs got longer and slower as they took pity on housewives and showed them what you did with a cot widget.

Seeing bankruptcy looming I decided that one way to gracefully get out of this situation was to get pregnant and envying Sasha her mornings in the park and afternoons baking fairy cakes I came off the pill.  Whenever in a meeting with my boss after that I flushed red repeatedly with what he must have interpreted as terrorist anger, but were actually hot flushes, as my hormones tried in vain to fight through the adrenaline I survived on and rebalance.

The annual company board brainstorm bun fight…  Curled up sandwiches provided the ammo which no one dared use.  The brave boys on the shop floor were blamed as the absent scapegoat in that honourable British tradition of management blaming the workers being too slow, lazy and sloppy to succeed with cheap materials, old kit, low wages and the most toxic environment and diet of grease buns and chips.  The boss turned from the flip chart for a moment of truth “Is it me?” he asked.  Silence.  “Stella, you’ve been quiet”.  About to speak up and do my best Cassandra act I was saved by the bell - the phone, in fact, for in true Thomas Hardy style the skies had opened and delivered a flash flood and lightning storm to match the electricity in the board room

and the factory were on the phone to say the canal was rising inch by inch over the shop floor.  We got back just in time to see wooden cot bases floating off down the canal while the brave boys were saving cot mattresses at a pound a piece while the computers with our precious customer orders shorted out in an underwater office. Like a rat deserting a sinking ship I made a mental note to quit while the insurance money left enough to cover my extended sick pay.  As I was feeling lousy, whether it was the fumes or the hormones I was falling asleep daily on the M25 and decided it was time to see my doctor.

I remember her.  She was my rival.  At the danger of sounding like a cheap horror film ‘she weren’t from round these parts’ she didn’t know the rules.  Never played by them.  She didn’t so much run with the ball as stick it up her jumper and take it off to play her own game.  It was OK for her to bugger off to her nice house in Hertfordshire in her company motor (I laughed to see her BMW flood with reeking water when the canal overflowed) I can’t do that…wouldn’t want to…my cousin works here, dad worked here.  There isn’t anything goes on in this place passes me by.  It was me told her to get those green cots in boxes before the boss saw them.  They don’t like green for furniture the cockney/Irish - just for St Patrick.  We’ve got long memories you see, and green pain used to be associated with baby dying.  Green pigment was made from arsenic in the old days you see…she didn’t know that…pure poison.

[1] Roberts, ‘Fourtysomething’, New Statesman and Society, 1990.
[2] Woodham, ‘Does she or doesn’t she... take HRT? and will it keep her young or do more harm than good? Experts are divided so no wonder women are ambivalent. ‘Good Housekeeping April 1999.
[3] Coronary Drug Project Research Group, 1973, Journal of the American Medicine Association, 226.
[4] Sullivan posed an alternative answer to this riddle in The Lancet 1981. Iron is continually stores by our bodies as ferritin, however women loose iron regularly through periods, after the menopause her iron levels will start to rise; a man of 45 has the same iron blood content as a woman of 70. At these ages they share the same statistical risk of heart attack. A 1992 study in Finland showed high iron levels to be a better predictor of heart attacks than high cholesterol; it is thought that cholesterol becomes stickier when in the presence of iron’s oxidising effects.[4]
[5] Hunt, ‘Perceived value of treatment among a group of long term users of hormone replacement therapy,’ J R Coll Gen Pract 38: 1988.
[6] Coney, The Menopause Industry, 1995.
[7] WDDTY Vol 9 no 9 Dec 98.
[8] Wells, ‘Hormone replacement therapy before menopause’, Postgrad Med, 1989.
[9] For example it was reported in The Lancet last year that pesticides made from organochorine compounds have a weak oestrogenic effect and this is suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer. Lancet 98; 352: 1816-20.
[10] Grant, The Bitter Pill, 1985.
[11] McCrea, The politics of menopause: the “discovery” of a new deficiency disease, Social Problems 31: 111-23.
[12] Flint, ‘The menopause: reward or punishment?’ Psychosomatics 16: 161-63.
[13] Seaman and Seaman, Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones, 1977.
[14] How to treat... menopause, New Zealand Doctor, July 1990.
[15] Illich, Limits to Medicine, 1976.

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