Everyone agrees that Erica, the community centre manager, is ‘a bit full on’ – a cross between a cheerleader and a referee. Whether she’s telling our sponsors sob stories to get donations, dressing up as a carrot for Healthy Eating Week or settling territorial disputes between the ballroom and line dancers, she throws herself at everything like a labrador entering a duckpond.
Sadly, for the past few months, she’s not been the bossy Erica we know and tolerate. Instead of keeping our noses to the community grindstone, she’s been hiding in her office, fanning herself and Googling herbal remedies. Not being one to suffer in silence, she decided to organise an informative evening event.
‘What do you think I should call it, lovie?’ she asked me.
I said, ‘How about Menopause Monday?’
Erica never can tell when I’m joking, so Menopause Monday became a reality. Every group using the centre received an invitation, to be ignored at their peril. The Lady Mayoress was roped-in as guest speaker, Erica took the chair and I was put in charge of refreshments. For the grand finale, everyone was expected to write about their experiences of the change of life on post-it notes and stick them on sheets of sugar paper to create a colourful display. Bub, the matriarch of the Over-Fifties Club, was ‘meeting and greeting’ in the foyer when I arrived.
‘Hi,’ I said to her, ‘I’m really looking forward to this evening, aren’t you?’
She pretended not to hear me, which was unusual.
From where I stood, wrestling with the urn controls and guarding trays of home-made cake donated by the WI, I had a clear view of proceedings. It didn’t take the Mayoress long to rattle through her all-purpose welcome speech and escape to another appointment. Then, a perky young district nurse began a presentation that included some rather lurid slides. Clive, the active pensioner who is Bub’s live-in lover, was sitting with Yvonne, a fresh-faced fifty-something divorcée who kept whispering in his ear. Marlon, who runs the youth club, was slumped in the back row with his mate Tony, the yoga instructor, both of them looking rather green. The bulk of the audience was made up of Bub’s posse, several of them with resentful adult children in tow.
Bub was nowhere to be seen, so I roped in Marlon to be deputy urn-wrangler while I went looking for her. I was about to give up when I noticed a light under the storeroom door. That’s where we keep what Erica calls ‘bric-a-brac’ donated for jumble sales: chipped china kittens, garish condiment sets from airport gift shops, pottery vases only their makers could love. I opened the door to find Bub sitting on the floor, surrounded by sparkling clean junk. She was dipping each hideous item into a bucket of soapy water and drying it as carefully as if it were about to be featured on Antiques Roadshow. One thing I’ve learned about Bub is that when she’s upset, she washes anything that’s not moving. I said, ‘Are you all right?’
‘Course I am,’ she said. ‘Shut that door, and don’t tell Erica I’m here.’
‘She’ll notice if you don’t take part in the sharing session,’ I said.
Bub shrugged. ‘Can’t be helped. I ain’t doin’ it.’
‘Why on earth not?’
‘Because I’ve got nothing to bring to the table,’ said Bub.
‘Of course you have,’ I said. ‘You baked those brownies.’
‘Not that kind of table, you muppet. I mean, I don’t want to talk about the menopause.’
My surprise must have shown on my face, because Bub went on, ‘I’m too embarrassed, because my womb ain’t never given me a day’s trouble. My periods was regular as clockwork, until they wasn’t, and then they was gone. What can I say to all them suffering women? And don’t tell me to pretend, because they’d catch me out in no time.’
‘That’s amazing, Bub,’ I said. ‘Get out there and share your secret.’
‘There ain’t no secret. I’ve just been lucky. My Mum didn’t have no trouble with the change – nor did her sisters. There’s no sense in boasting about your genes. Doctors can’t prescribe those.’
I said, ‘You don’t have to say anything, just look sympathetic. Your friend Joan’s in there. Come and keep her company.’
Bub laughed out loud. ‘Joan must be seventy if she’s a day. She’s trying to kid everyone that she’s young. Don’t encourage her!’
‘The menopause is a huge issue for women. Why don’t you want to show solidarity?’
Bub put down the brass monkey set she’d been polishing and stood up, rubbing her back. ‘I’ve been showing solidarity with women’s issues my whole life,’ she said. ‘There’s always been some hot topic that all the girls was dying to talk about. When I was a kid, it was when you’d have your first period, although we didn’t hardly know what a period was. We chatted a lot about our new breasts, too, because, big or small, nobody was content with what nature sent them. First bras was a very big deal. Once we’d got our boobs under control, we had to discuss how many visits to the cinema you could make a boy pay for before you let him put his hand up your jumper. For a while it was going on the Pill and losing our cherries, then for years we talked about nothing but weddings and saving up for our first homes. That bit was fun. Babies come along next, which was a bit up and down, but once you’d popped a couple, you were into your stride. Then, to top it off, once we’d done all that ourselves, we had to watch our daughters go through it.’
‘You’ve lost me, Bub,’ I said. ‘What has all this got to do with the menopause?’
She stopped picking dried banana off a one-legged Barbie and faced me, hands on hips. ‘What I’m trying to say is, I’ve supported every women’s issue, ever since we was little girls wondering when we’d grow willies like our brothers. I’ve done my bit, so Erica can stuff her menopause.’
‘Everyone else is taking part. Even Clive is watching the presentation.’
‘He’s only here for the cakes,’ said Bub.
‘If he’s tempted by sweet treats,’ I said, ‘You may like to know that Yvonne’s sitting next to him.’
Bub snorted as only she can. ‘Is she indeed? That cow went to my school. We used to call her ‘Eave on yer knickers, ‘ere comes yer Dad’. I’ll give her hormones.’ She pulled off her rubber gloves, tweaked her scraggy bun of hair and dashed out of the store. Following her into the meeting, I heard her call out, ‘Make room for me, you sweaty lot! Somebody turn down the thermostat!’
Loarn is currently trying to place her first crime novel and working on a range of short stories she aims to self-publish this year. Her day job is supporting hearing-impaired university students, she also volunteers and has recently passed British Sign Language Level 2. ‘Menopause Monday’ is the fifth instalment in her series ‘Up the Community Centre‘.