Sunday, 7 November 2010

Celebrating femininity

The TV programme "Friends" was very popular. It was about a number of friends comparing life and seeing how others react to it. How much better when the friends are flesh-and-blood people, not artificial TV creations, known since they were 18.

I met up with eight of my university friends yesterday. We all studied English in the same year, several decades ago. We regularly enjoy a meal together and undertake a guided walk, led by one of us.

Last year, we walked around the site of Whitehall Palace; this year, we did a fascinating guided tour through hidden streets north of New Oxford Street where George Orwell (Ministry of Information in Senate House during the war), T S Eliot (offices of Faber and Faber), Virginia Woolf (house), W B Yeats (flat), Charles Dickens (house), Dorothy Sayers (flat) and many more authors. patrons or scientists lived or worked. We took tea in the charming Museum of the Foundling Hospital, supported by Handel in Corams Fields. We had a real debate on the corner of Tavistock Square on the merits of Dickens' abandoned wife, Catherine. Apart from Stratford-upon- Avon, Hampstead or Southwark, this one mile square area is the literary capital of England. I came away determined to read more of Dorothy L Sayers, a friend of C S Lewis (and a Christian).

It is fascinating was to see how one's feminine peers cope with modern life. We see, not just in ourselves, but in each other, how women in the late twentieth, and early twenty-first century have weathered the trials of life. Trials have included strenuous and still busy careers, marriage, motherhood, serious illnesses, bereavement, poverty and comparative riches. One told how her children's book had been dumbed down for publication without being told. Another talked about the likelihood of losing her job due to severe cuts in higher education. Some, like me, talked about diversifying, before becoming vulnerable through age.

Everyone had their coats on after tea. We were talking about a charming knitted hat that one had made, with great skill. Suddenly I saw us all, again, at 18, not looking dissimilar, in a cafe in Oxford - just as we once were. It is a gift when, for a split second, one feels again the never-to-be-erased pulse of that brave new world of youth and endless opportunity, in which anything could happen. It was then a world still belonging to men who would feel they would conquer it. But it was beginning to be a world in which women who endured it, could give creatively, and enduringly too. In my view, their "feminine best" would equal, or outstrip the "best" of their more stridently feminist peers.

Feminine sanity, patience, care and perseverance have the most enduring effects on the world, through outstanding and educated children. But my peers will also leave behind them, academic and other books, websites published, unmeasured effects in the public realm on children, education, business, health, drama, renewable energy, disability and high brow literature; unknown numbers of people offered support or information, husbands loved and catered for, unknown numbers of meals delivered, houses swept, and gardens replanted.

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