Hilary Fannin: It felt radical back then to be filling in a menstrual diary
Discovering an old teddy bear and well-thumbed editions of the Irish Women’s Diary and Guidebook in the attic brought it all back
I decluttered the attic, moved a desk into it and made myself “a room of my own”. Sounds simple; it wasn’t. Among other unexpected consequences, I became uncomfortably friendly with a tribe of moths that had taken up residence inside a couple of dog-eared teddies. These were glassy-eyed old bears, balding and chewed, familiar co-conspirators in that whole now-distant childhood bedtime ritual; bears who, for years, had been quietly timesharing the eaves with the Christmas decorations.
I picked one of them up, the one that had been given to us, second-hand, in London, by a skinny, cancer-speckled neighbour of my late mother-in-law. We thanked her warmly for the unexpected gift; we with our small children to blame for our long sleepless nights. We thanked her, igniting some strange resignation and mild rage in her dry, yellow face. The bear can’t have been easy to part with. He was a nice old thing, who wore his Harrods logo, embroidered on to one of his paws, with as much dignity as he could muster, which was only to be expected given his auspicious beginnings.
“We could call him Harold,” I said to my small son later. “Harold from Harrods.”
He looked at me blankly, in that disconcerting way three-year-olds have, a look of pity and mild despair that you just know will be repeated time and time again in your entwined lifetimes.
“His name is Tony,” the child said, a fact that was, his expression seemed to indicate, blisteringly obvious to everyone but me.
In my small, independent attic republic, I hunkered down, picked Tony up, felt the canker of larva underneath his threadbare pouch, remembered him propped up at the end of the cot, sharing his reassuringly impassive, uncritical gaze with a raging toddler, while I tried, usually unsuccessfully, to slip down the stairs to do some exhausted weeping into a tea cup or, more probably, a wine glass.
“Sorry, mate,” I said. “Sorry, Tony.”
I tried to beat the moths out of Tony’s interior, leaning out of the ever-so-handy Velux (thank you, Mr Credit Union) window, bashing the well-born bear off the suburban roof as seagulls the size of flying dogs eyed him up, their shadows darkening the tiles.
I pulled him back inside, minus much of his interior life. He slumped forward like a weary upper-class drunk after someone has taken away the pig’s head, switched off the karaoke machine and put back on the old school tie. RIP, Tony. Comes to us all in the end, pal.
Next to the pest-infected bears was a box of well-thumbed editions of the pocket-sized Irish Women’s Diary and Guidebook, produced by Attic Press, my loyal companions back in the days when I quite fancied myself as a member of the sisterhood, despite regularly indulging in that most unfeminist of self-inflicted tortures: lying on the floor to zip up my skin-tight Sloopy jeans and spending the entire day not daring to sit down again.
Each diary had a menstrual chart, which was the thing I really loved about them; a chart clearly laid out at the start of each year, numbers and dates spread out across two squat pages. Year after year I circled the days like promises. It felt radical then, back in the day, back in the last gasp of the 1970s and the pupa of the 1980s, to be filling in a menstrual diary.
Why would you need to mark down, to remember, to know the ebb and flow of your cycle, if you weren’t already playing Russian roulette with your ovaries? If you weren’t already spending Monday mornings lying on the bathroom floor with your fingers crossed, trying to remember prayers or mantras to get you off the hook, just this once, and this once, and this once again?
Eventually it dawned on me that the advice the diaries had to offer was applicable – more than applicable – to me too. I turned to the useful telephone numbers printed at the back of the book, dialled, schlepped all the way down South Great George’s Street in the drizzle (and me a northsider), found the Family Planning Clinic, slipped inside, and added my name to the hundreds gathered inside in their manilla folders.
I came back out again with six little packets of bright yellow pills, postponing parenthood and its strange box of tricks for another day, postponing my teddy-bear-preservation responsibilities until I was old enough to really screw it up.