Sunday, 25 March 2012

A Woman's Life

I was explaining to my younger daughter Elly, after a visit to my mother (aged 95) on Friday, that my sister (I promise that's the last female relation in this sentence) had attended a domestic science academy after leaving school. This was because of the quality of lunch. We were 8: my mother and sister, myself and my daughter, my cousin Mary and her youngest daughter Sarah, the outgoing carer and the incoming carer. Before lunch, Nancy put her head round the door before she set off down the drive to the lodge where she and her airline pilot husband live. In fact, now that I count heads, the only men present were Olly (aged 11 months) and Nancy's husband who could be spied in the far distance, with a wheelbarrow in his shirtsleeves disappearing into a clump of trees.At first I did not recognise him. 'Is that your gardener, Mum?' 'No. That would be Jonathan planting out his potatoes'. My sister was sent (not too strong a word for it), aged 17, to an establishment run by two women, Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume, called Winkfield after passing a respectable number of school exams, to learn how to arrange flowers and make delicious light lunches, pending marriage (it was presumed and expected by my father) to a man who would make some effortless kind of living ' in the City' or on running the family estate. Explaining this to Elly, it sounded like the Middle Ages. 'How dreadful' she said. Of course, my sister gradually escaped from these expectations, making herself into an internationally-recognised artist in her own right, as well as an expert in Duchamp and all things Dada. It is Gloria (A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle ) Steinem's birthday today, and 40 years since Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique that became an overnight best-seller, advocating what became known as 'feminism'. The moral of this story is not that learning how to prepare a delicious lunch is a waste of time - I wish I had. The moral is that the only constant to prepare our children for is change. To enjoy life, you must expect it and meet it cheerfully. After all, you never know when you might have eight to lunch.

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