It’s International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March. The theme this year is ‘building a gender balanced world’ but I want to talk about balancing support for mental health. This week, Keith Flint from the Prodigy killed himself. His green-hair picture is more shocking than the news story, because male suicide no longer surprises us. We tut and say, ‘tragic’ and turn the page.
There are always patchy reasons why it happened. Divorce, cancer. We need something to pin it on to make us feel safe. None of us are safe from mental ill-health.
Depression is not a weakness, it’s a deficiency. We have no problem taking cod liver oil, or an effervescent vitamin C tablet, but antidepressants are the social outcasts of supplements. The neighbours who leave mattresses in their front garden.
We can only see the world through the kaleidoscope of our experiences, beliefs, politics and persuasions. We cannot see someone else’s life from someone else’s perception, so we judge them from our own. I’m not scared of wasps. My brother is. This doesn’t make him weaker than me. I will take anxiety medication for the rest of my life, but I am not scared of wasps. I am not weaker than him.
My post-natal depression got to the point where I didn’t want to wake up. In my head the Stone Roses sang ‘Stop the world, stop the world, I’m getting off.’ Luckily, I had midwives and health-care visitors checking up on me. My struggle was spotted I was inundated with support. I told someone how I felt. No shame. I got some sleep. I ate oranges. I learned to love myself.
Men don’t get the same care offered when they become fathers. There is no male midwife-man to talk to about lack of sleep, financial worries, or the fact their wife has become a stranger since becoming a mother.
Men are being left out in the emotional cold. You don’t see Radox adverts of men relaxing in the bath, and spas advertise women with cucumbers over their eyes.
So, Hollywood star, Chris Pines did a full-frontal nude scene for his role in the film Outlaw King. This should be nothing shocking, literally. Female nudity is expected in films, but when because a man did it, the world went mad. ‘Pine’s penis dazzles’ claimed Vulture.
Its rare men get their equipment out on film, a monumental moment, cause for celebration. Rather than salute the 'done' part though, we all saluted the dong. Instead of applauding Chris for daring to bare, women went all giggly and rated it by size. Exactly how we’ve been judged for years. Exactly what we hate.
This was an opportunity for women to set the tone for how nudity should be received. Pine was all for women power. He said ‘“Florence [Pugh, his Outlaw King co-star] shows her breasts and her body and no one’s talking about it. Is that because she’s expected to do that as a woman, and I, as a man, am not? And why am I not expected to do that? Because it shows vulnerability or a weakness? I just don’t know.”
I get that women are sick of being objectified, and this was our change to show men what it’s like to be a piece of meat. Didn’t we grab it with both hands though? Vulture wrote an article called ‘How to see Chris Pine’s Penis in Outlaw King’. It detailed exactly when the big reveal comes (45.31) and included the sentence, ‘Feel free to go back and watch it again and again. Make an event of it. Pop some popcorn. Tell your roommates. It’s been a rough week. You deserve this’
I worry this puerile response to a penis is going to discourage other A-list actors to get their crown jewels out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not desperate to see more flesh from men or women in film or on TV but a change is a good as a rest.
So here’s to you, Chris. May your peen pave the way for other men. I salute your bravery. More power to your um, elbow.
Last weekend we decided to unplug the children from their devices and spend the weekend in the New Forest, without wifi. ‘We’re going on a lovely adventure. We’re going to yomp over the moors , practise orienteering and stroke wild ponies’ I told them as I packed a family jigsaw and word search books. ‘Nature not Netflix!’
Three hours, five arguements, seven toilet stops and a couple of U-turns later (Me: ‘I meant that left’, The husband: ‘the left that is actually right?’, Me: ‘yes. Shut up’) , we arrived at Beaulieu hotel. Nestled in the heart of the New Forest, lamplights gleaming in softly in the pink and navy sky, it looked idyllic.
The Labrador almost got us kicked out within seconds of checking in, when he cocked his leg against the reception desk. Luckily, the lady serving us was distracted by the miniature dachshund and I pulled him away just in time. Anyone who has a dog knows the terror of them going to the toilet in the wrong place. The theme of my weekend was set. Me, stood in the rain with the dogs, unable to relax in case they ‘whoopsied’ in the hotel, swigging Beechams for the cold I didn’t know I’d packed.
At 11am on Saturday morning, having eaten everything from the buffet and been in the small and chilly pool, we ran out of things to do. I was keen to have a nap.
Impossible in a room with three children arguing over a bouncy ball, the husband watching sport on the TV and two dogs looking like they might squat or start doing the ‘three spins prior to poo’ dance any second.
Of course we ended up arguing. By 11.22 I’d packed everything up, slung it in the boot and the five of us sat snivelling in a moist car that smelled of dog farts and the garlic and tomato sauce the eldest made at school and we’d forgotten about.
In a last ditch bid to rescue the weekend, the husband took us to Beaulieu motor museum to see the car used in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Amazing what a vintage car and an overpriced cheese sandwich can do (okay, and a hissed threat to ‘act like these boring old cars are the best things you’ve ever seen or else. The best faker gets fudge from the gift shop.’
For two hours we were that family. The one you look at and think ‘look at that family, getting it right’ … and then an announcement came over the tannoy saying ‘can the owners of two dogs, one white labrador and a miniature dachshund, please collect them from reception’ (where they’d escaped and were barking furiously at people queuing up to pay).
Having been kicked out, we went for a long walk before dinner, which lasted three minutes. That’s how long it took for the Labrador to knock the eldest over in a cowpat, the youngest to jump in a bog and lose both her (new and expensive) trainers and the middle one to bounce her ball into a gorse bush.
My middle daughter is one of those people who really wants something, until she gets it. She wanted to go trampolining, so badly, until she did. Within seconds of the one-hour slot I’d queued and paid for, she appeared, panting and demanding an ice-lolly. I told her she could have one when she finished the session. I had it waiting for her. On the way over to me, she saw a Slush Puppy machine and wanted one of them instead.
It’s hard to teach kids the value of money. I remember, as a twenty-something, having less than a pound for lunch each day after paying rent and bills. I could have made sandwiches, but I lived with my brother who would have stolen and eaten them.
Luckily, I worked at a company with subsidised café. I could get a jacket potato and soup for 75 pence. I ate a lot of jacket potato. On payday I treated myself to a box of Birdseye potato waffles. Now I’m older, I can’t cane the carbs like I used to, but potato will always have a special place in my heart. I know we are supposed to shun all beige food and eat everything raw and green, but if I finally snap and murder the husband, my dearth row meal would include smash.
To be fair to my daughter, her enthusiastic greed is trumped by her emotional intelligence and kindness. I hid behind a pillar and watched her. She was in a queue, and each time she got to the front, she let the person behind her go. I asked her later why she did it and she shrugged and said, ‘they really liked it on there.’ I can teach her to be more frugal, but I can never teach her how to be thoughtful. She just is.
Last weekend I Marie Kondo’d my house. For those who don’t know, Marie Kondo is a Japanese organising consultant who goes into people’s homes, makes them throw away half their stuff, then teaches them how to fold what’s left neatly. First off, she knees on the floor and thanks the house. Her philosophy is to ‘touch everything in your house. If it does not bring you joy, thank it and give it away.’
Do you ever feel like running away, selling up and out and leaving everything behind? I can’t decide if it would be an adventure or a failure.
It can’t happen either way. The older we get, the more tied down we become. Marriage, kids, schools, jobs, mortgages, friends. Blessings, but sometimes trappings.
I have this vision of me in a new place with a new name being a new person, but I don’t think it works like that. You take yourself with you wherever you go. Isn’t it irritating, don’t you sometimes want a day off from yourself?
All we can do is continue to self-improve, like DIY for the soul. I hate DIY. I start it and realise I’m a corner cutting, fair-weathered cowboy. I have this list of things I want to reinvent about myself, like Bruce Springsteen ‘I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face’ and that’s just the beginning. I want a Scottish accent and a taste for fine wine and seafood. I want to not grimace if I find a wet slice of tomato has found its way into my sandwich. I want to hate bread. I want to love greens as much as my tortoise does, rip Cavlo Nero and spring greens apart on my hands and knees.
I want to be able to speak French. I want to rewind time and become a teacher and be really good at it. I want to have never said I liked cleaning when I moved in with the husband. I want to be able to cook amazing meals from the crust of an old parmesan and tinned tuna. I want to write poetry that makes grown men cry and be able to do reverse park with one hand on the steering wheel, first time.
All these things are possible, anything is possible, the problem is me. I lay awake for so many hours at night thinking about my self-improvement that I’m too tired to do anything the next day.
Meanwhile the dog isn’t trained to drop the ball and the kids are shaky on times tables and the pantry is a hiding place for ‘things I cannot be bothered to find a proper home for’.