Her & 'The Change' In Me

One show-One woman- Four voices of the Menopause

Now I know in lockdown, I should be practising for the show one way or another.  As I will soon be panicking once a performance rears its head and I can’t remember a word of it. I will then go into that familiar self-pity wailing, why didn’t I go through it at least once a week? I must admit it truly was a shock to me, once I realised my brain did not have a superpower photographic memory when it came to my own writing. I really believed because I wrote it there would be an imprint on my brain where I could read it off as if I had an internal library to refer to. In fact, it’s easier to remember someone else’s words. I have a familiar process now, I write then when it comes to learning the words, it’s as if someone else has smuggled in to my subconscious and completely rewrote it without any referral to moi. I have found myself analysing recently and reflection seems to be a past time during lockdown and what an incredible eighteen months it has been to reflect upon. It started after approaching Leicester University to support the project Her and The Change in Me. Now imagine if you will me aged 51, grey as you like including a couple of brain cells, presenting clips of Dolly Slatemen and comparing her to the likes of Cat Slater, Bet Lynch and Mildrid from the iconic comedy George and Mildrid seventies sit-com. My audience on this occasion was a room full of academics. It was my intention to persuade them to believe in a concept to gather data around the menopause, with an array of familiar social characters as engagement facilitators. A Doctor, A Judge and a pub landlady called Dolly Slatemen. 

After a couple of weeks Leicester University agreed to support the project, it was as if someone finally believed in me and what I do. It’s not that I have never had enough confidence, I guess I never felt worthy. Why do we do that? Maybe its impersonators syndrome, I will have to research that one, but I’ve got enough in my head tonight. Whilst this was going on, I had reactivated my membership with an extra’s agency. Who then asked if I wanted to apply for a role of an old woman for an upcoming ITV programme called  ‘A Confession’ The role was for a Mrs Clemence with a couple of lines, she is accommodating the police at her home for surveillance on a suspected murderer? At the time she is being a little nosey and asking what’s going on. I decided I wanted to go for it. The next morning, the youngest who always gets dragged into my adventures (well that’s how I try to sell it) was told to film me, whilst feeding me lines. I left my dressing gown on and gave Mrs Clemence a bit of attitude. (trying to think of ways to stand out) As the youngest was on his way to college, I was also getting attitude.  The audition went off, I quickly received an email to say that unfortunately I did not get the role. Maybe Mrs Clemence was too much Bad Girls, however there was more text and it further read would I consider going for another role, just think a rough diamond. The next morning, we were due to travel to France on a romantic trip just me and the husband. I could not tell him of this adventure luring in the background as I felt it would take over and after having such crap year, I didn’t want to risk any interruptions. So, as we left Essex and headed towards Dover in our over packed holiday time machine, the three-day submission deadline was at the forefront of my mind.  I would have to wait for the right moment. 

Fast forward. It was one hour before the audition was due to be submitted. The previous night we had arrived at our current destination, a Chateau just outside Nimes positioned in the middle of an industrial estate. There really was no mention of this when I booked using my Tesco vouchers. Because it was a Sunday no food was available not even a Kit-Kat, to be honest this was a blessing in disguise as it would have most certainly cost a weekly shop at Tesco’s itself. So, our first romantic meal together of the holiday was in a roadside café. Anyway, I left my make up on as I had plans to wake up in the middle of the night and film my masterpiece under the guise of going to the loo.  I gingerly got out of the bed and crept into the bathroom. After a couple of sentences and realising any projection of my voice in this floor to ceiling tiled tomb like room, any attempt of recording sound felt like I was connected to a boom. I then began to think how on earth was I going to explain this one if he did wake up. I decided to go back to bed, after all I could hardly be a rough diamond whispering in the bog. The next morning, the other half made indications that he might try the pool out. I was lying in bed still fully made up. Pretending to read my “France” magazine, whilst eyeing up his every move. He put on his swimming shorts. “Are you coming for a swim”? he asked. “Nah, got a bit of a belly ache.” I replied, the acting had started already. As the door closed, I jumped to attention and quickly carried out a minute audition on my phone.  Two days later, in another French bed and breakfast that was more us. You know the type upon opening the door you are miraculously able to get straight into bed.  I received the news of my successful audition. Excited was an understatement. However, as I tried to explain the whole thing over a glass of wine, it soon dawned on me I didn’t have a clue what I had just been successful in. 

The day came and I made my way to the shoot location somewhere in Borehamwood. No one was on set and I began to think was I in the right place? Then the production manager came over smiling, which I must admit is kind of unusual when you are an extra. He gave me a script to look at, encouraging me to read it and look up the story. Although I didn’t have any lines I sensed it was essential to know the situation. I was beginning to feel a little important. Believe me if you ever want to know an extras life, Ricky Gervais does it perfectly in his comedy ‘Extras.’ The manager then told me to go and sit in a caravan and not on the extra’s bus, the little diva in me was gloriously jumping around in my deluded brain, I had arrived. I sat patiently reading the script over and over, but nothing was sinking in. I gathered it was a true murder story but still had no clue who was in it. I was playing Gina Godden in a scene with John Godden and Stephen Fulford. I was then called for costume as I looked around the space filled with rails of clothes and accessories; my eyes were drawn to a cast list on the wall. To see Imelda Staunton smiling down indicated this was a big production. I then noticed Christopher Fulcher as John Godden and then Martin Freeman as Stephen Fulford. My little diva had now suddenly disappeared and was no longer giving it large. Shit, this was amazing and terrifying all in the same moment. I did not show fear or was it excitement to the costume crew, who were now patiently waiting for me to leave. In a trance like state I made my way back to the caravan and adrenalin was on full alert, if I had trouble earlier you can imagine the state of me now. I still could not absorb the script. I decided then and there to just go with it and respond to anything that came my way. After a very short car journey I was guided to a set amongst a real-life estate with terraced houses. Cameras and lights filled the area, Martin Freeman was talking to the director Paul Andrew Williams. I was just trying to concentrate on acting cool, which I must add is something I have never quite pulled off in all my life.

I was directed into a front room and told to sit on the sofa, my eyes darted everywhere absorbing everything. I knew I had to believe this was my home, I was watching my telly and I had picked out this sofa that I sat on every night. The crew gradually came into the area, cameras started to whirl or was it my brain? The strange thing about this moment I suddenly understood what it was to become part of the mise-en-scene, the set. It didn’t matter what I looked like in the conventional sense, I just had to look like I belonged. I heard action and then the room came to life, I was in character. John Godden opened the street door and I could see Stephen Fulford enter the room. The policeman told us the horrific news of the discovery of a young Becky Godden and I cried real tears and found I couldn’t stop….

A Confession ITV photo credit Shutterstock

When I first thought of this title, I knew it was the right one when I started to debate it in my head. So, after I debated in my head for a bit. I thought it was then time to debate it with you lot. Out here in cyber space.

What does Disco Minge mean? And what the hell has it got to do with Menopause Day…I shall tell you.

At a gig in Brentwood, yes the very heart of the Only Way is Essex. The audience were asked if they were aware of any symptoms of the menopause. They are then encouraged to add anonymous suggestions via their phone, to immediately appear on a projector on stage. Whilst this was happening, a single voice from one of my homeys shouted out “Disco Minge.” It was a great moment as the audience roared with laughter. Soon there was a moment of quietness. You could almost hear everyone including me thinking, well what does that mean? I in turn asked the contributor and in a bullet kind of prompting each other kind of way, she said “You know, when.. you’ve been dancing, and… “ We both simultaneously looked down at our bits and I then said “Ohhh and you’re all…” Now rolling my hands forward, we both said together “Sweaty.” The official term (said very loosely) in the urban dictionary found on line and not on the Dark Web I hasten to add is as follows:

This refers to state of the minge. After a night clubbing the minge will get sweaty and unpleasant to the taste and smell.

Placed above an advert for toenail fungus and under “Get this wording on a mug.” There was a slight bad taste in my mouth and the only discos I’ve ever eaten have been the ones in a crisp bag. However, it got people talking there was a sense of relief in the audience. ‘Well if someone can say that. Then surely, I can mention the hot flushes I’m getting’ was the vibe I felt. People started to contribute quite freely to the conversation. This is the magic of comedy and what it can achieve, it shines a light on taboos and reveals them for the social constraints they are. I did not really think of this again until the week of World Menopause Day, I was doing a show at Leicester University. No, that’s a bit of lie really, I had looked up Disco Dick and yes ladies don’t think we are being singled out. It basically has the same meaning. However the disco dick doesn’t get bogged down by such a taboo, no its out there giving it large. Theres even a band called Disco Dick and the Mirrorballs. Not even making that up.

If the Disco Dicks can do it….

Anyway, back to the World Menopause Day the gig. It was an interesting one in that it was immediately post work for the wellbeing staff with tea and coffee. Laid out in a brightly lit lecture room with me and my meagre set on half the stage. We were trying a new system for collecting data such as symptoms of the menopause and instead of the audience input being shown immediately on the projector, I found I had a couple of minutes which felt like hours of nothing. In my head I started a debate, shall I or shan’t I? Which fascinates me for a couple of reasons, one that I am now able to even consider this whilst performing, as on many previous occasions I don’t even remember being in the room. I also realised I was summing them up, the room felt too restricted. I began to think about taboos that could be discussed alongside the menopause? I could hear my angel on one shoulder and my devil on the other egging me on. No, Do it, No, Do it, No, Do it, OK.

Hearing the words spill out my mouth felt as wrong as the quietness in the room. Again, in my paranoid performer brain I thought I saw mouths drop in shock. “No one’s ever heard of Disco Minge then?” I blurted. Out of nowhere I heard a little giggle, my eyes shot across the room to the left and a younger woman had her hand to her face trying to tuck the a-wall giggle back in. It was too late she had let it escape, to my rescue – I hasten to add.  My newfound partner in tabooness was mortified, she realised I had now directed the attention of the room on to her “So you’ve heard of it then?” I asked. Her face told me she had no intention of getting involved in my reckless behaviour. But I was dying on the spot here and I was going to take someone down with me, if all else failed to get a laugh out of this one. I found myself talking in the same bullet way as I did with my Essex Homey. “Dancing… you know… “Me, nodding like the Churchill dog. “Sweaty” was said together. We were both aware of the whole audience staring at her, and I kind of didn’t know how to help her. Still not sure, I put another question back at her, little reruns of Laurel and Hardy were playing in my head whilst my angel and devil were having a major domestic. 

Stan Laurel face…

 “So where did you hear that”? I asked in a Laurely kind of way. The audience seemed to swing their bodies towards her and in silence shout, “Yeah, where did you hear that?” “At Glastonbury” she replied. With, I’ve got to admit a bit more authority than what I was showing. There was a sigh of relief across the whole audience, and dare I say a couple of chuckles. My angel was singing with its mates “Hallelujah”. It was a gift! This young woman saved my arse and the mood in the room lifted, again people just like in Brentwood seemed to relax and become more engaged. I am still pondering on why this is the case.

  • Easier to talk about after another taboo
  • No one knows anything about it anyway
  • Naughty conversation, not suppose to mention female health
  • Mention a trendy festival, all is forgiven

After the show a woman in her early forties told me she was so glad she came, of course as a performer this delighted me. But what made me feel even more purposeful is that she then spoke about her own mental health and that she had no idea how hormones in the menopause can affect this. Even when I reiterated, I was not a doctor, she still spoke about her relief and intention to self-educate about the perimenopause and all its connotations. These kinds of moments encourage me to continue with the show, there has not been a show yet when someone has not been in shock of their lack of menopausal knowledge. Why is the menopause still such a taboo? It is as natural as puberty and pregnancy in female health. It’s time that sex education takes the responsibility of educating younger members of society. There is no reason why future generations should be underprepared for a phase of life that is inevitable.

I mean really, if there is a band called Disco Dick and the Mirrorballs in this world (they’re pretty good actually) then surely, we can talk about the Menopause on other days other than World Menopause Day.

When you were a new-born, 
life was different then.
My arms would hold you tight,
Sometimes hours on end.
I remember singing softly,
So only you could hear.
It always got your attention.
stopping any tears.
As my heart grew bigger,
I never wanted you to fear.
Anything in life,
that may suddenly appear.
I would watch you,
holding your little hand.
And when I did let go
I began to understand.
For you
to make your own way,
you also had a plan.
I hope I’ve not failed you.
By giving
the tools you need,
to face life in your own way
with the power to succeed.
It’s not about
fame and fortune
as we both know
that’s make believe.
If you are not happy son,
theres nothing to conceive.
It’s time to have adventures,
all on your own.
You know where I am,
never feel alone.
The world is a far smaller place,
with so many things to see.
I sometimes wish....
I was with you
for the diversity.
But this is not about me
or the love we share.
I am writing to tell you
how much I care.
Some time,
write a little diary.
Put a photo on Instagram.
Tell me what’s happening,
any way you can.
all the experiences
and when you come home.
Tell me face to face again,
it’s better than the phone.
I’m so excited for you.
To see your dreams come true.
One thing is for sure,
I’m always so proud of you…..

My earliest memories of performing was in my nan’s front room singing into a reel to reel recorder. At the age of four, this absolutely fascinated me. How could my voice come out of me and then come out of this box of tricks? I would watch the reels go round creaking and shuffling louder than my Nan coming in from the kitchen. I must of been able to hold a tune back then, because I don’t remember being told to shut up. In our house, my mum always sang. She had a soft comforting voice and I find myself still singing her songs when I’m doing something like cleaning. I don’t know when I lost any ability I had to sing, but I did along the way. As I look back in my young adult years the next time I would sing on my own again would be in a karaoke bar with a few glasses of vino and I was bringing everyone around me down, not the house so to speak. Acting, continued a little longer into my childhood in one way or another. To be an actress for me as a child was my constant focus. I longed to join senior school, as I heard the school plays were massive productions that would be able to cope with my imagination. Lassie, Shirley Temple and Little House on the Prairie were my favourite reference points for my future career. After watching a real corker of a Shirley Temple one Saturday morning, I recall going into my parents bedroom in floods of tears and telling them how much I wanted to be an actress. My dad replied he always wanted to be a lorry driver, now if you knew my dad it would be a very quick realisation that he was talking total bollocks. At the time however, I felt such relief that things really were possible if you wished it enough.

Before i phones

Acting wasn’t really encouraged in my childhood, but I did manage to join the only drama club in Dagenham. Not to say there wasn’t plenty of drama in Dagenham. The club was to put on a float for the Dagenham Town show. This was beyond excitement for me, I can’t remember why but I was to go as Cinderella. My mum announced she would make me a dress from green and white crepe paper with my nans singer sewing machine. To add more authenticity I covered my nans shoes in tinfoil and placed them on a cushion. My thinking at this time was that my nan was the only person in the house who had a kitty heel. I know eat your heart out Kirstie Allsopp! I was an original craft master. My hair had been scraped up into a girly bun and I looked the nuts! At the club I met up with the rest of my drama comrades and we compared outfits, feeling like Grace Kelly I waved goodbye to my mum imagining the next time I would see her would be from the dizzy heights of the float. Whilst we waited a game of IT broke out and before I knew I was charging around, as the tomboy in me was starting to emerge. Somehow, my beautiful (which I did not know at the time was recyclable) crepe dress got caught in a door and ripped in half. I looked horrified down at my once princess ensemble to the call of everyone to get on the float. Did I give up? No… I just had to reinvent my self for the float. So I started to rip the dress all around the bottom. You know, to give the impression I was Cinderella coming home rather than going out. Years later I would often replicate this look on a Friday night out. The next time I did see my mum was not on the float but hobbling with one shoe on my foot and one shoe on the cushion. I guess in my head to add to the drama I had become a hybrid of the Cinderella and the Prince. As I walked along the crowd lined streets my mum stood with her mouth agape. I waved cheerily trying to analyse her face to see how much trouble I was in and carried on shuffling past her as quickly as I could.

My mum would often tell that story, as from her perspective it was one of the rare times she had ever used a sewing machine and was rather proud of her creation. Plus it was the only Sunday the following weekend she ever remembered not having enough tin foil to cover the chicken. Something happens doesn’t it? As you get older, you loose the desire to play, be creative, explore what you can do or be as an individual without having to show something for it. It makes me question, at what point did everything you do have to be so productive and tangible? It has taken me a long time to understand the saying ‘A means to an end’ I think because a means to an end had always been held in materialistic values. I was brought up in a working class world, there was no room for such antics to continue that did not produce an income of sorts. Or is it from my menopausal acknowledgment of the physical changes in me as a woman, no longer able to conceive. A door has been closed on that means to an end and perhaps with that in mind my menopause has influenced my own self discoveries as an individual. In that my means to an end is now all about performing, everything I now do is somehow connected to my desire to perform. I now find I am revisiting tactics I used pre puberty let alone pre menopausal to continue with performing. For example I always appeared in the school play. The first year of the seniors was extremely exciting I had auditioned for the show ‘Half a six pence’ As you’ve probably realised from my Cinderela escapade I always had a secret desire to be the singing starlet. But somehow tomboyism had fully overtaken and I felt safe in this persona I had created. So I found my self auditioning for the comedy role, perhaps a little too scared to show how seriously I was taking things.

I got the role of the mother-in-law, she was extremely eloquent and rather patronising to the Tommy Steele character. Issued with a dress from the school drama cupboard that must of previously fit a 3ft woman with size double G breasts. I looked at this as my moment, it was my first show at senior school and at the age of eleven I drew on my great DIY craft master skills. I borrowed……..my nan said stole my auntie Susans bra who was staying with us at the time from America. I honestly believed she must of had a whole suitcase just for her bra. Anyhow, I found as many socks as I could to fill the cups of her harness to the brim. I entered stage left, my mum said it felt like ten minutes before the rest of my body made an appearance, after the stuffed breasts pointed there way to centre stage. That was the first time I heard real laughter on stage. My dad had made an appearance and I remember what a great feeling it was to see and hear him really belly laughing. I didn’t know but I was hooked back then.

Fast forward forty years and I am performing my own show, written and directed by me. Now I’m not trying to give it the large one here, I am trying to let you know its possible. You can achieve something that’s so important to you it becomes everything. For me it was the realisation it doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else as a means to an end. It’s not about money or trying to be famous but just doing something you love and feeling proud of it without being embarrassed. Last Friday I was asked by UNISON to perform the show in front of their members as part of the South Eastern AGM. What an amazing night, everything connected. Yet I performed the show in a complete different way. The room was brightly lit there were no theatrical tricks I could use to further entertain. It was just me, them and the alter egos and we had a blast. I think somewhere from the back I could hear my dads belly laugh.

Sometimes you can’t think too much about what has to be done, you just have to do it. 

That’s exactly how I am about to approach this blog. Who knew not keeping up with posts would cause so much guilt and stress? I can hear my mums voice now in her soft Irish accent, “Jesus, if you’re worried about that, then you can’t have enough to worry about.” On the contrary mum I’ve got loads going on.

Where do I start? Well to be honest with you, I really don’t think I will be able to get it all in this stab at communication over the world wide web. So, I am going to break it down into bite size chunks, in order not to bore the life out of you. In a quick version –since my last blog on the 1stApril I’ve moved house, taken on a pub, performed a show on my birthday, started HRT (I know, didn’t see that one coming) About to make a very small appearance in the forthcoming drama A Confession on ITV. I don’t say any-thing, but my eyebrows were nackered. Well it’s all that expression lark, more on that later. I have also got to start rehearsing for a show in October at Leicester University, and I have still not drunk a drop of vino or any other alcoholic substance since New Year’s Eve. So, lots to talk about…

I did question whether I would write a blog again, as work was starting to stop my thoughts from going anywhere outside this pub. I started to think I could let things settle down for a bit and get on with immediate job in hand. Somewhere in my sub conscious I know the show and all its components is safely bound cocoonlike, waiting for me to pick up a script, rehearse and release a new lease of life to Her and The Change in Me. A part of me thou got a bit nervous, as I started to feel comfortable in accepting the pub as my only focus of thought. What happened to the multitasking doer that I would often rely on myself to be? Was I still able to consider more than one job in hand at a time or was I even bothered any more about the menopause? I couldn’t understand why may enthusiasm had dampened, especially when I got such a feeling of camaraderie and purpose from writing and performing the show. Then I realised, I didn’t really care; it was as if I had returned to those days pre menopause when friends told me about their symptoms, and I would put invisible hands over my ears and sing loudly in my head, lalalala I can’t hear you. What had changed? 

I had started HRT and all those symptoms had disappeared.

Insights of a menopausal woman.

Well that’s all lovely, but I had just spent over a year of my life writing and performing, getting people to take me seriously in a funny kind of way about how the menopause changed my life. The brain fog, sleepless nights, anxiety, weight gain…Hmnn one is suddenly realising why she didn’t want to remember anymore. The truth of the matter is women feel they are moaning about something that no one wants to understand if they are not currently in it. Men don’t get it and women only tend to support each other when they are menopausal. And here I was doing it, guilty again of the very thing I couldn’t understand what women do when the menopause is discussed. Blanking it with those invisible hands and silent singing lalalala. Now I had rejoined the pack. Two things happened prompting me back into a menopause reality. I had to go to the hospital for a hand injury and was not sure if I was going to be turned away. This was due to me not replying to any automated calls from the hospital due to a bad signal in the pub, if I’m really honest I didn’t have the time to look into it. Until a got a text to tell me I had an appointment, although I had a sack of potatoes to peel for the triple cooked chips. I know why? I would take a chance and see if I could get an x-ray. 

As I walked towards the parking meter a younger lady than myself passed me her parking ticket with over two hours still left on it, always gives me a buzz when this happens. One because the organising bodies charge far too much and two you would get a coronary trying to get a poxy space. Anyway, I had my x-ray really quickly and was in a good mood knowing that I didn’t have to spend any more time there.  The thought came to me, I should pass on the parking ticket. Normally cars fly around that car park and I should of got rid of that ticket within seconds, but I had to wait seven minutes. (This felt like a life time, the potatoes weren’t going to peel themselves) Low and behold as I was about to loose faith, a little fiat pulled in.  I waved my hand looking rather like a lollipop lady. I indicated to the parking space soon to be available and passed on my gift that had now taken on the power of a Willy Wonker ticket (In my head) The young man, who looked so happy initially was now looking concerned that I was being that little bit too nice and I am sure I saw him lock his car. 

Now, I’m not trying to get praise here for passing on a parking ticket, it goes on in car parks all over the country everyday. Well lets hope so. I just couldn’t get that way of thinking out of my head, to join together and pass things on. Then it started those familiar stirrings of a need to get out there again and talk about the menopause, but even more than that. Talk about how we should keep multi tasking keep thinking about doing what gives us a buzz. To find ways of pursuing what makes us happy whilst still trying to keep our heads above water. Now that’s multitasking at another level, I’m still not sure if I can do it. But I’m going to give it a bloody good go…

Aching limbs that would not go,

yet you carried a smile that never said no.

An inspiration to everyone you met.

There was a quality about you,

no one could forget.

In your company, laughter always came.

We are sure there are moments that

will never be the same.

But this is not how you would see it.

You would want the laughter to carry on,

to remember good times and maybe a song.

Although this is so hard to do,

without someone who was as special as you.

So with the tools you gave us,

we will be strong.

Look after each other, never leaving it too long.

Good night Mum, wherever you may be.

We will always love you,

throughout eternity…

Memorable outfits, we’ve all had them right? You know that ensemble you never quite got right. Well it turns out, looking back and a quick chat with my little sister, I had quite a few. The reason why I am thinking about it now, is because I never had to worry about my body temperature. It never came into the wardrobe conversation. I just went out, found the nearest bargain rail and I was sorted. That really isn’t the case now, I look at clothing in a whole new light. It was like a bolt of lightning when I realised hot flushes could be enhanced by what I had on my person. Now I know that sounds dim. It’s a bit like I never had to worry about calorie intake, until I realised there was no one chasing me when I ran for the bus. It was my own backside.

Tom boy days…

The first memorable crazy couture was for many reasons, but mainly because it appeared in the school photo for three years running. I loved this yellow T shirt so much, it appears I didn’t have anything else to wear. How is your luck? For three years I was caught in the school photo with the same yellow T shirt on. It was made of wool and wasps seemed to adore it as much as me. As I am writing, I have just remembered the wasp sting on the end of my finger. I had won a raffle at the school fete in the juniors, it was the first time in my life I had ever won anything. As I received the photo album celebrating the Queen’s jubilee (the first one) I felt something on my nose and flicked it. The wasp retaliated and my finger blew up like a fun sized banana. I received my prize through teary eyes as the Queen looked up at me, never did put a photo in it.

A few years later I discovered nylon polo necks and trainer bras. How on earth I ever thought this would be a good partnership, I don’t know. We were having a family day to my aunts who lived at the time on the other side of London. I felt the business with my silky nylon brown polo on, over the top of it, I wore a cream cable cardigan Val Doonican would have been proud of.

Giving it large in my Val Doonican.

Once at my aunts house, it was the normal awkwardness that happens when you haven’t seen your cousins for a long time. At fourteen, I was positioned in the middle of the family tree. I felt like I was one of the older ones, trying to act cool in front of the male members of the family. Whilst my little sister looked onwards tutting. The adults were busy chatting, my mum sipped at her sherry that I knew would last her all night. The teenagers, well I didn’t want to be called a kid were told to go in the back room. I thought about my next move very carefully, as I knew it would get attention. I really was out to impress. I took off the Val Doonican and my little sister stared in disbelief. I had decided earlier that morning, the tight brown polo was lacking in something. It occurred to me that my trainer bra needed to be filled. So, I got as many socks as I could to fill the limpid sacks of cloth. My sister had genuinely believed that my breasts had exploded, well for about ten seconds. She then went and got my mum. Whilst my cousin said, “do you want to come down the pub’. It wasn’t long before I looked up and saw my mum appear in the doorway with two little red dots on her cheeks and they weren’t from the sherry. I got the look to leave the room. Once outside she told me to remove my newly formed physique, as I placed my dads socks in her hands I knew I wouldn’t be able to go down the pub.

These dress senseless experiences didn’t stop there. In my later teen years two dresses stick in my mind. The first was a pink fluffy number, with a wrap around belt I picked up down Romford market. I hit the local night club later that evening, and danced as long as the heat trapped in the dress would let me. I looked like I had wrapped a fire blanket from the local pub around me. You know, how teenage girls are given fake babies to take home for the weekend. They cry for food and produce toiletry movements, in order to give the young person an idea what is like to have a baby. I think the next class after, should be wearing fire blankets to give them a slight indication to how a hot flush feels.

The second dress was purchased again in Romford. It cost £5.00 and I bought it from Miss Selfridges. It was one of those button down shirt dress numbers, black with silver lines running through it and somewhat transparent. Can you imagine my delight, when I found a navy blue slip for £2.00 in Marks and Spencers to go under it. The only thing was, when I got home I discovered the slip was extra long. This did not deter me. I pulled it up over my chest, threw my bargain dress on and was ready to go for a night of boogey at Southend. Fast forward to 2am, I am outside a burger van in the rain singing….. ‘I’m singing in the rain’

Whilst my friends got a dirty burger. I felt as thou my arms were getting tighter, this did not stop me giving my rendition of Gene Kelly to onlookers. It was only when the burger van man shouted, ‘You’re dress is shrinking love.’ I looked down all the buttons had stretched, my dress was rapidly lifting above my slip. I had turned into the hulk. By the time I got back to our hired bus the dress had shrunk so much it looked like a bag of crisps I grilled once to make a badge. (Yes I did that too, but I didn’t have it on that night) As I sat on that bus shivering and sobering up, I was eternally grateful for my extra long slip.

In more recent times, namely menopausal. We had gone to Brighton to watch a Mickey Flanagan gig. I bought a last minute purchase in the lanes, it was a bit of bling and for a change I felt, dare I say, funky. It was great to be out. I wore my gold number with pride (It was around Christmas time) It occurred to me as I sat amongst the other eager punters for some comedy, I felt that whatever material was lining my new addition it had turned into cling film. This resulted in a hot sweat that made me identify with a roast in the bag chicken.

Since that experience I have been very careful of what I purchase to wear. Because the reality of life now, is that I can no longer wear synthetic materials and I normally have to swerve the bargain rail. I also have to adopt various techniques in order to deal with the rapid temperature change my body accelerates at. Believe it or not I didn’t do this straight away, it took a few hot sweats to accept these new patterns of behaviour.

  • Layer clothing – I now realise why cardigans exist
  • Wear natural materials
  • Get rid of the plastic accessories and replace them with a refillable water bottle
  • Always make sure you have a hair band and a little fan. Even if not very effective, psychologically it makes me feel better.
  • Not so much a clothing tip but a handy one, run cold water on your wrists always makes me feel cooler.

This is a story I wrote when I was twenty three. So funny to look back at it now, to think I thought I knew what a hot flush was……

Doris Sharpe pushed her way on to the train through the early morning commuters.

“Excuse me, please” she muttered as she wrenched her arm free from a bulky handbag, belonging to an equally bulky female passenger. They surveyed each other cautiously and apologies followed. Her eyes darted over the carriage, eagerly in hope of a vacant seat. There was no chance – especially being a Monday morning. The door closed, forcing everyone into position and the journey continued.

Doris contemplated whether to read her newspaper but decided against it, avoiding another battle of arms.

The start of another week of work depressed her. It had taken all her will-power that morning to force herself from the bed and not to telephone in sick. Realising now, that would have been fatal as Mr Parker her boss for over fifteen years was due to retire on Friday, his replacement was visiting that day.

“It’s going to be an informal introduction.” Vera, head of personnel had said, “he’s only thirty you know. I thought quite young for the position of M.D.”

She continued in her gossipy manner, then scurrying away undoubtedly looking for more snippets of scandal to impart. Typical Doris thought, for a member of personnel, particularly the head. Dwelling on the forthcoming meeting with her new boss, she wondered what it would be like.  It was bound to be an effort, as everything was lately, she thought.

Secretly Doris wished one day to go into the office and find on her neat desk a small brown envelope with ‘Redundancy’ splattered over it.

“Then what would you do?” her conscience asked. True, if she wasn’t at work caring for a man and earning, she would have to spend full time on her husband Bob. That option would surely drive her mad. 

That wasn’t fair. Doris thought guiltily of Bob; he was a good man, and over the years they had shared a relationship that if judged on the scales of life today would be above the average. However, monotony had slipped in, casting aside any spice she had once known. Robert their son, had left home recently, proving the strain of just the two of them more evident. She thought idly of the previous weekend and concluded that the most excitement she had experienced was to plant a fresh batch of begonias. Not forgetting the rather weak obscene phone call on Saturday morning. Life had become so predictable!

The train had come to a halt in the tunnel. Passengers groaned simultaneously, followed by a check for lateness.

Doris resumed her thoughts of Bob and her unfulfilled marriage. What a wonderful uplift, if Bob dashed in this evening, interrupting preparations of the normal Monday curry (leftovers from the Sunday lunch) armed with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Resembling an overweight knight in shining armour with his bald patch glinting,  whispering sweet endearments and making mad passionate love to her right there and then in the kitchen.

“To hell with the curry, we’re going out this evening” he would say. “But that’s not Bob” intervened conscience, erasing away her dream of Bob and any exotic adventures.

The doors flew open allowing more commuters to cram their way into the already overfilled carriage. Doris suppressed a yawn and silently counted the stops for her departure. Gazing around the empty faces she tried to guess who had what occupation. One of her favourite past times whilst travelling. A young man caught her gaze and immediately smiled over the heads of other passengers, his fair hair touching his broad shoulders. Doris wondered dreamily how big his biceps were. He had the appearance of a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger crossed with George Michael. The smile was so pleasant, she found herself grinning hideously. Realising her action, she turned away quickly almost clashing heads with a fellow passenger. The heat rose from the base of her throat making a quick getaway full blast from her cheeks. She groaned and prayed it wasn’t a hot flush.

Oh, dear how could I get embarrassed she asked herself. “Because you fancy him. Go on make a play for it. Your whining how boring life is” her conscience replied. A vision of crumpled sheets in a seedy hotel room came before her.

This is stupid, he’s half my age, she thought. She was relieved the hot flush had now passed.

The train thankfully pulled into her stop. Regaining her composure, she slyly glanced towards him. The pearly white smile still beamed in her direction. He was now signalling for her to get off. Her stomach churned with anticipation, she followed him on to the platform.

Facing him she stood as seductively as possible thinking it wasn’t too late to ring in sick. She would deal with Vera tomorrow.

“Excuse me, but I have to ask you” he yelled above the croaking tannoy.

“Please do! Please do!” Doris answered silently.

“You are Roberts Mum, aren’t you?”

The crumpled sheets in a seedy hotel faded away.

In more ways than one…

In the show Her and the Change in Me, I talk about how my journey started in performing. Without giving any spoilers away, it started around seven years ago. I received a phone call from BBC Eastenders set to supply a beer tap and a keg for the night club. (Being involved in the beer industry, either via running a pub or setting up a mobile bar has always been a source of employment) Now, I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was to get this opportunity, to go to the television program set. My other half, could not believe I was going with him to set up. I told him, “Just pretend you need me to help you.” I didn’t want to look too needy, to any possible director that may lay his eyes on me. Of course, someone was going to spot me and beg me to be in the next episode as Cats cousin! I had my hair done and bought a new jumper. The reality was, I didn’t get spotted like Lady Gaga, we ended up getting stuck in traffic for around four hours on the M25, and having a row about what to have for dinner. The next day, I went to Lakeside Shopping Center in Essex and who should walk past me? Shirley and Heather from Eastenders. As far as I was concerned, this was a sign. So I contacted the Poor School in Islington, London for an acting course. Then I had a panic attack and rang a woman called Trisha in Southend for acting classes. So, I had acting classes to go acting classes.

That day I started something I have never regretted. Of course it has had its challenges, mainly self-made. For a start, I never actually believed I was doing something, I had longed to do since a child. To some readers this is going to make me sound ancient. My favourite shows consisted of Lassie Come Home, Shirley Temple and I really thought I was Doris Day.

The Windy City…..

I remember, I had pigged out on Shirley Temple and Doris Day and started crying. My Dad asked why? And I told him because I wanted to be an actress, he said he always wanted to be a lorry driver and he got his dream job. He was of course lying, but it made me feel better at the time.

After my Eastenders escapade, I joined an extras agency to get some kind of idea of life as a performer and hopefully a wage. I was extremely lucky, my first job ever was working on John Bishops Britain with an amazing production crew. Over the next few months, I sporadically played various roles. Mainly John’s mum and a significant headmistress. I was hooked. (A quick note, I have never met John Bishop) Since then, I have tried to be involved in performing in some way or another, whilst trying to earn some kind of income. Believe me it’s not easy, the wage you earn from this type of work is not enough to put a consistent dinner on the table.

I started to live two very different lives, one the part time performer and the other a full time mum, business woman and wife. I would jump from each role in between these lives. Never really believing I was a performer, I was just someone blagging it. Too scared, to go beyond dipping my toe into an alternative world away from civvies street. In hindsight, I believe now we are all performers in any role we happen to find ourselves in, or indeed the roles we pursue.

Without getting too deep, cause I just lost myself there. We will get back to this blog. After performing at Leicester Comedy Festival I finally felt like an actress. Something changed in me, I had discovered a purpose. The menopause. I realised, performing in order to continue the menopause conversation gave me a role to fulfil. I just seem to be getting drawn deeper into this dialect, I think it is the total shock of realisation that the Menopause is such a taboo subject. Only this week, the Education Secretary has undermined the importance of this stage of a woman’s life. When he stated schools will teach girls and boys about periods but not the menopause. Why not? It appears the only time women are supported throughout this time of their life, is by other women who are also in the menopause or by their partners who equally have no one to talk too. When you consider that the average life span of a woman at the turn of the century was 50 and then in the year 2000 it was 83 it is obvious more of us are alive. Then consider, how communities have restructured – The female work force between the ages of 55-59 is the fastest growing area of employment and has increased by 18.2% over the last twenty years. Women are often finding themselves in a work position or caring for younger members of the family totally isolated from their peers. I now find it totally understandable the nodding heads of agreement from the audience members when the word isolation was mentioned in the show. At least at that point we all managed to have a laugh about it.

Believe it or not I started writing this blog with – Olivia Colman won an Oscar for best actress at the same time telling the world she used to be a cleaner. What a legend!

This is the second time I have written and performed a one woman show. My first show was called Red Hat No Nickers telling the life story of Dolly Slatemen.

Dolly giving it more airbrush than hairbrush.

It is something I will go back to as I feel I haven’t quite finished it, a bit like when you’ve started a book and never found out the ending. Dolly does make an appearance in Her and The Change In Me and it was very reassuring to know she was there. I can slip into that character quite easily now, we have performed on numerous occasions and in the most surrealist environments. But an opening night of a new show….

Well that is the scariest thing ever, you just don’t know how it will be received. I was very fortunate to have an amazing audience, they threw themselves into the show. I asked them about symptoms and one fabulous lady shouted out buffering. “My mind buffers” such a great way to describe brain fog.  We laughed at some points and then some cried at some points – I hope it wasn’t my performance. (That’s a joke by the way) For me thou, the most memorable thing was, I performed as me. Now, that might not sound so crazy to you, but for me….Well it’s something I have battled with for years. Now, I sound like I’ve been performing for as long as Judi Dench. When in reality it’s only been for around seven years. The ironic thing is, when people meet me, because I’m not fresh out of drama school and a bit more (coughs) mature. I always get the feeling that they think I am far more experienced than I actually am. My mantra over the last decade has been…..

fake it till you make it

I won’t say it works all the time, I mean I wouldn’t get up on stage and belt out the Nessan Dorma. But I have got up and sang The girl from Ipanema, note I didn’t say I was any good. A word of advice here, don’t ever sing Always look on the bright side of life, that’s a nightmare. I guess the point I’m trying to make here, is all this time I was nervous of being me. But if I faked it, it worked. I don’t mean fake your personality but fake how you feel, tell yourself – I am not nervous, I am finding it really enjoyable, I can do this. After a small time I did find it really enjoyable, the nerves are always there but I was relieved I wasn’t a self masochist after all.

Nothing like getting on stage as yourself eh?

Here comes the really weird bit – it’s Dolly Slatemen I have to thank for that. If she hadn’t come along in my peri menopause I wouldn’t be sitting here, writing this blog, preparing for the next show in five days time. Quick panic attack, that’s not a menopausal one (I think) Quickly I remember the positives of the first show, yes people really enjoyed it and yes it was a great atmosphere. So back off panic stations, I’ve got this she says clinching her pelvic floors.

Another thing I do when I’m a little less confident, is to buy stuff to make me feel more equipped. So for example today, I bought a fluorescent pair of LED pouting lips. I know, why? Well they were £2.99 and I’m sure they will come in useful somewhere on the set. I’m certain this is a menopause symptom, just buying random shit. This thought has made me remember my nan with her thick rimmed glasses and extravagant hats. She practically lived in Romford market, with a habit of buying bargain scraps of material. To enhance her self made dressmaking status.

Back in the day!

Home made dress patterns were scattered everywhere in the house. With a singer sewing machine sat in the corner, at the bottom of the garden a shed full of bargain scraps of material waited patiently for the next big project. I can recall the times me and my sister would stand on a chair flinching, because of the pins she stuck in us designing a new outfit. She couldn’t quite see the difference (literally) between our skin and the cloth. We dreaded, when she announced she would make us another dress. The relief we felt when she came back from the market, added that bargain piece of the material to the pile in the shed was immense. We knew it would never see the light of day again, and automatically stopped flinching. See random shit. It must be hereditary because I do the same thing with note books. I keep buying them, thinking they’ll help me write a masterpiece. They lie there empty reminding me of my inadequacies. Whilst I answer the phone and end up writing messages not on the new shiny notebook screaming at me “Great Ideas” but on something I shouldn’t. Like someones college work, or someones photo. Before you say anything, I can’t see the notes on my iPhone, without the glasses I keep forgetting I have to wear now.

Me acting like a celeb first night of Her and The Change in Me

I did however buy an outfit recently to stop any hot sweats, as you can see I am having one right there. I’m going to tell you about this experience as the product did make me feel different. I saw an image of Meg Mathews from http://www.megsmenopause.com and I thought I can look like that. So I made a purchase from a company called http://www.webecome.co.uk and no, I haven’t hit celeb status where I get free merchandise. So, this company claims the clothing helps with hot sweats. I couldn’t think of a better way to try it out than my opening night. I bought the leggings and long sleeved top, black of course. The thought of my butt cheeks, in white leggings on stage has just given me a hot sweat. When the goods arrived they are packaged very nicely and would make a great present. When I unwrapped them, I thought the leggings wouldn’t get on my arm, let alone my legs. But after a while I stopped sulking and went back to them. I thought I might as well try them on, no one was in. I would not be seen trying to shoe horn myself into them. To my surprise they fit perfectly, feeling like a second skin. Throughout the whole performance I felt very comfortable and yes, it really did draw the sweat away from you. So I feel I have road tested them for you lot and can recommend. If you do get them, let me know what you think.

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