Hilary Fannin: My first gathering inspired by hormonal fluctuations
I am suspicious of assumptions of like-mindedness, but I thought I’d give the menopause meeting a go
“The first-floor window looked out over Government Buildings. I watched a TV crew slowly assemble.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
‘The meeting is on the first floor,” the hotel receptionist said from her berth behind the polished desk. I must have looked uncertain. I was distracted by the deep-pile carpet, by the smooth marble walls, by clusters of women engaging in whispered conversation over gracious tables laid with late-afternoon tea, by the cravated man, breast pocket aflame with matching silk, rattling his newspaper with prosperous impatience.
“Would you like me to guide you up?” the receptionist asked. Her teeth were white as snow. I declined.
The first-floor window looked out over Government Buildings. I watched a TV crew slowly assemble, and impatient, excited men in navy- blue suits, guardians of our apparently elected representatives, milling around the gates, bursting to tell their secrets.
A second window revealed languorous crane arms, at ease under the low sun. Jobs for the boys, I thought, and more jobs for the boys. This must be what they mean by recovery.
Almost 60 women – most, it seemed, forty- or fiftysomethings – were gathered under a chandelier in a pale-blue room at the top of the stairs. They clustered around a linen-clothed table, perusing plates of fruit kebabs and sugar-dusted pastries. Tea was being served in china cups. I put a slice of lemon in mine (I like to live dangerously) and sat down, taking my place among an apparently well-heeled, well-moisturised, courteous and curious coterie.
My Second Spring, I was told, is named after a Chinese term for the menopause. It is a small forum, aimed at providing news and support for women during “the time of transition and growth that is the menopause”. A ticket to this particular My Second Spring gathering promised those in the menopausal creel, who may be feeling restless or underwhelmed with their midlife lot, a “nudge towards change”.
I am uncomfortable in groups and suspicious of assumptions of like- mindedness, but I had never been to a gathering predicated on, or at least inspired by, hormonal fluctuations, so I thought I’d give it a lash.
Did I mention that I’m also pathologically resistant to certain words and phrases? When the speakers used words such as “serendipity” and “mindfulness” and phrases such as “the practice of forgiveness and gratitude”, I tried hard to tell my lemon-tea-refreshed brain that these expressions were intended to soothe and encourage. Unfortunately, there’s a smirking adolescent, with a fag in her mouth and far too much eyeliner, who also lives in my bijou brain, for whom these gently reflective concepts sound like a provocation to headbutt the waiter, steal a bottle of vodka and vomit into the chandelier bobeche dish.
Anyway, despite the vocabulary issues, I quite enjoyed myself, especially when the “change facilitator” (yep, new one on me too) instructed us to stand up and adopt a “power pose” (think Eurovision choreography).
We were then asked to turn to a stranger and talk about things that made us happy and things that evoked passion. My neighbour and I pretty much settled on books and food for happiness, and were still debating passion when someone in another row declared that “customer service” was what rocked her boat, and somehow that kind of sucked the wind out of my sails.
We all sat down again for various talks, including one from an entrepreneurial woman who spoke about beauty and wellbeing and described a eureka moment under a tree in Italy when she conceived of her aromatherapy oil business. She also said, “We all know the value of a lipstick” and “I’m sure you’re all familiar with the scent of bergamot”. (Eh, no, actually, to both statements.)
I was starting to feel alienated, like the only gal in the room without a lavender potpourri on her cistern, when another entrepreneur with an organic perfume business told us that, long ago, young women were not allowed to smell a tuberose for fear that it would bring on a spontaneous orgasm. Which seemed to cheer everyone up.
When the forum was ending, and the room hummed to the murmur of satisfaction, I spoke to the event organiser, a lovely, committed woman in an asymmetrical dress who firmly believes in the power and support women of a certain age can offer each other through congregation, discussion and the sharing of ideas. She could be right. In any case and in all sincerity, I admire her chutzpah.
I passed Government Buildings on my way home. The boyos had dispersed. Rattling their stories in dark bars maybe. Conspiring over bloodied steaks. We all have our tribes, I suppose, some more fragrant than others.