‘This is a man’s world’
I grew up in a family with 2 brothers and no sisters. My knowledge of human biology was pretty limited to the essentials. Apart from any obvious, superficial factors I had very little knowledge of the differences between the male and female body. I mean kids talked in school and I heard various rumours in my final year of primary school, but then I went to an all-male secondary school and things got a little confused!
I do remember the time in our family’s life when my mum bought a small battery operated fan. I think something was mentioned about ‘going through the change’ and it seemed to be the source of some humour. After a few years she didn’t need to use the fan anymore, it went into a drawer somewhere in the house and the whole thing was never really mentioned again.
Now I know there are some things in life that due to social pressures and cultural taboos we would prefer not to talk about. We might find some topics embarrassing. Sharing even basic facts of life might make us feel awkward, but you know what, I wish I had known more stuff earlier so that I could have been better prepared for life.
I wish I’d known more about death. It is odd that one of the entirely predictable things in life seems to come as a surprise. Is there ever a right time to talk about death to children?
Death was much more a part of living for my parents and grandparents. My grandmother had lost a brother to pneumonia when he was 18, my grandfather had lost friends in the first world war and my parents had seen death first hand whilst living through world war 2.
By the time I arrived in the 1960’s death only seemed to happen in hospital and was remote.
The first dead person I saw was my grandfather. I was 7 years old and I was asked if I wanted to say goodbye. My grandfather, Dat, was a big part of my life. He took me for ice cream and to the park and when my mum went back to be a full time teacher he and my grandmother cared for me most days. I’m still not sure how you sensitively teach a child about death but that image of the man who had held me, carried me and cared for me lying lifeless in a coffin has stayed with me ever since.
These days there are children’s books written specially to raise the subject sympathetically to allow parents to talk to their children… and to my mind that is a good thing.
I wish I’d known more about having babies, no not that bit, I mean actually having and caring for children. Before I was allowed to drive on my own on the road I had to have lessons and take a test. Before I started broadcasting I spent hours recording pilot shows, I mean nobody was daft enough to think I could just walk in and do it.
When I became a father for the first time they gave us a baby and we took it home. We had some home visits and thank God for caring parents with support and advice, but I don’t think I realised what a change and what a responsibility becoming a parent would be.
Nowadays there are pre parenting classes and books and post-natal meetings too. There seems to be more information available. In reality nothing can completely prepare you for the massive change becoming a parent brings to your life but hopefully we talk about it more… and again to my mind that is a good thing.
Mal and Carolyn – Jersey Park, Swansea
Which brings me to Jersey Park Community Hall last Tuesday. I had been invited by Carolyn Harris MP who is on another mission. We have known each other since we were kids. When Carolyn gets a bee in her bonnet I know I’ll get a call.
She has the ability to bring people together, cross party, in the House of Commons to get things done. When you are in opposition that’s the only way to get things done. It might seem odd to see her standing next to an MP with completely different political values but by the strength of her character and argument she has already managed to secure the Children’s Funeral Fund and persuaded the Conservative government to bring in changes to safeguard online betting.
Now for Carolyn, it’s the Menopause. That was how I found myself walking into a room of women in Jersey Park waiting to try on an electric vest.
Man, I feel like a Woman…experiencing a flush in the Manovest
Thinking back to my mother and the change, I presumed the reason I knew so little about it was because it was a ‘woman’s thing’ and women sorted that information out between themselves. At the start of the event Carolyn stood up and talked about her own experiences of the menopause. She said that she was almost as ignorant as I had been about the change, that older women in her family talked about it in hushed tones and didn’t include her in the conversation.
Looking back at her own experience of the menopause she didn’t realise that it wasn’t just hot flushes. The whole experience had made her question her sanity and led her to turn to medication to address those symptoms and not the menopause itself. A number of other women spoke about the damage that untreated menopause symptoms can bring to women and their families leading to relationship break downs, domestic violence and even suicide.
That’s all very well but how do you really get the other half of the population, men, to understand. You make them wear a ‘menovest’.
Lee Trundle…always looking hot!
Now I was already a little bit hot and bothered because there was a bigger crowd gathered than I had expected, and they were almost entirely female. Thank goodness eventually Lee Trundle turned up and almost immediately rebalanced the levels of testosterone in the room single handily!!
I put on the menovest and the operator turned up the heat. Within seconds I was experiencing a hot flush and it wasn’t very nice. Last Tuesday, Swansea wasn’t as hot as the previous weekend but the vest reminded me of what it was like living through that heatwave and made me think if this kept happening all the time for months on end when I least expected it no wonder women think they might go insane.
Jeremy Miles AS – Minister for Education and Welsh Lang
If the menovest was a way of showing what one of the 40 symptoms of the menopause can feel like the rest of the afternoon brought good news about how medical improvements can treat ‘the change’. Hormone Replacement Therapy is now better understood than in the past and is said to be a game changer. The trouble is the campaign to bring awareness of HRT has been so successful that supplies have often been difficult to obtain.
The following morning Carolyn was a guest on Good Morning Britain where she got Judge Robert Rinder to wear the menovest. He said,
‘Viagra developed in 2 years, £billions spent in research development and testing …. Yet HRT is hard to get & most doctors aren’t trained treating menopause!?
Don’t worry, Carolyn is working on that too…and to my mind that is a good thing.