When I found out I’d passed my 11+ I cried. All that slog had paid off. It may have taken endless revision, sitting in a hall with a bunch of kids once a year for 24 years, and latterly some serious backhanders to the local authorities, but finally, now, aged 34, I can count Key Stage 2 examination glory amongst my successes.
Not really. Passed first time, aged 10. I think my parents would have taken me back to the shop if I hadn’t so the pressure was on.
That pass marked the start of a change. Because it meant that I got into my local girls grammar school of choice, and that ultimately would find myself in the company of, well, just…girls. How would I fare without boys? I wondered.
Who was going to do all the orange squash belches after necking a Kia-Ora carton in one? Who was going to chomp Space Raiders into mulsh then flob it on whoever had the newest shoes? Would all that stuff have to stop now that I was a lady-in-training?
Well of course I fared very well. I loved my new friends, I worked harder and performed better than I ever would have if I’d had the distraction of boys once hormones kicked in, and it just became ‘normal’. Boys were creatures on the bus, they were weekend things. And there were discos with the boys school to hook me and my pals up with studs. We pretty much all took it in turns to snog the same set of boys for about three years. Value for money.
When I left my cosy girls grammar years later and went to university, I had a rude awakening. Here was I with my arms full of books, being met by men doing their flies up as they walked down the corridor. Their winkles were in there. Ugh. Here was I sitting in a lecture hall, smelling the manly composites of Lynx, yesterday’s t-shirt, and hour-old farts. Here was I suddenly conscious that someone with stubble was staring at my boobs while I squinted at lessons on the whiteboard. And then I would leave seminars to go back to my halls of residence where there were…more boys. Men. I did not live with men. It had mostly been my mum, my sister, and I since I was five. How odd it all was.
But I adapted. We all do, all the time.
Since then I have not really encountered any environments that divide the sexes like my days at school. Men are everywhere now, we’re all mixed up in the jumblesome stuff of life, and so I have similarly not had that sense of being part of a singularly girly world. Until last week.
I have been contributing to a new magazine set up by Sarah Millican, Mickey Noonan and a gang of other indomitable dudesses to challenge the material on offer in established women’s magazines that all exist largely to make us feel bad about ourselves. It’s called Standard Issue. It’s a fabulous mix of stuff by some brilliant ladies and I am very privileged to write for them. It’s been nine months – long enough to brew a baby – of hard work.
To celebrate, last week Standard Issue staged a massive gig for Comic Relief, and while watching the cream of the country’s female comedians take to the stage, I felt that feeling again. Despite there being men in the audience, it felt like the best kind of girls club. Not to the exclusion of boys – all are welcome in our treehouse – but something for, by, and of our own sex.
And it sort of felt like school, but it felt grown-up and important and inspiring, and it definitely felt like home.
Check us out if you fancy – http://www.standardissuemagazine