One thing I'm definitely getting more of on this holiday is male attention. It's confined to older men - fifty-plus, anyway. It isn't so frequent or insistent as to be a problem. But it's something I'm coming to be aware of more and more, and I can't ignore it as an issue in places where I come across a lot of older men, such as Caravan Club sites and National Trust properties - or indeed any locality where mature or retired people with leisure tend to congregate. It affects how I present myself and how I may need to behave.
Until a year or so ago, I thought I was invisible, because older and unattractive. At one time invisibility was the thing I absolutely most wanted, for reasons some of you may easily guess. But I'm clearly now all too visible to men of a certain age group, and I need to ponder why I am catching their eye. For one thing, I don't want to offend or worry their wives or lady friends. If I can work out what things are turning their heads, I can tone them down, and do what I can to control what happens.
I hope this doesn't simply sound conceited. None of my own encounters have been troublesome - or troubling - yet. But some analysis is clearly needed, so that I might pinpoint what is going on and be on my guard. All the women that I've discussed this with say that while it's nice to be noticed, and natural to enjoy any interested glances, they too want all such attention on their terms, and not to find themselves in a situation where some man has them cornered and possibly embarrassed.
My basic position on men remains much as it has been for some time. However charming men might be, not one can offer me anything that is missing from my life. I do not want an entanglement, and looking for a male companion is most certainly not on my agenda. This does not rule out my being amiable towards them. I do wish that I could for instance 'win back' that older male friend I had, of twenty-four years standing up to 2009, whose cultured company I used to enjoy once a month - the one who couldn't cope with the news that Lucy was launched, and backed away in profound sadness. He'd find now that all the things we did on our days out - the nice lunches, the afternoon teas, the historical places we visited like churches and old houses, the secondhand bookshops, the antique shops, the museums - are all things I still do on my own, and that really the essence of our meetups wouldn't have altered. (Maybe I will send him a Christmas card with a letter in it this year, and sound him out)
But an easy, ambling, chatty day once in a while is all I'd want. I would back off fast if any sort of touchy-feely affection crept in, whoever it was; and any suggestion of sex, no matter how oblique, would have me firing Fiona's engine up and racing out of it at warp speed with tyres squealing and both turbos blasting.
Despite this, I consider myself free to look at men as much as I like, and to consider objectively their possible appeal, both collectively and individually. Indeed it has become natural to do so, and if I behaved differently it would be thought odd. So if I casually receive some friendly words from a man of maturity, I don't shy like a nervous mare. I adopt a relaxed and friendly air, even if inwardly wary and assessing the situation for any problems. I don't mind speaking to any interesting, intelligent and sensible man or woman, so long as they treat me as an equal and give me unqualified respect - and, of course, a deliciously validating conversation! But people with darker intentions exist and I want no truck with them.
I have not yet got to the central issue of this post: why do men bother with me at all? What spurs them on to chat with me?
Not so long ago I'd have said I was unattractive enough to arouse negative curiosity and speculation. But in the last year I think the HRT has finally smoothed me over and plumped me out enough for me to get by very well as a typical middle-aged lady of comfortable appearance. One who will never get her waist back, nor lose her tummy, but nevertheless still looks pleasant and even attractive to the older male eye. I'm saying that, to certain men in the sixty-to-eighty age group, I seem unusually fresh and lively for an older woman - and certainly better-preserved than many of the ladies in their circle. Such men seem to fancy themselves as charmers and raconteurs, knowledgeable about all the finer things of life. Well, a spiel of this sort from a nice old boy (a 'retired colonel' as one of my Brighton friends has it) is one thing; the same from a slobby character outside a pub is another. But in either case I'm pretty sure that the plump-yet-firm flesh on my lightly-tanned bare arms calls to these fellows like a siren. They want to softly rest their hand on that flesh, and squeeze it gently. My mission, should I accept it, is not to let them.
Another attraction, noted before in these annals, is that I clearly like to talk. Many older men like nothing more than to engage a woman in a jolly good chat. It's not necessarily a chat-up. In a caravanning context, it'll be a conversation about the delights of caravanning as a pastime, or as a way to have long, cheap holidays, or to see remote parts of the country in comfort. But topics such as family, pets, personal finances, local places worth seeing, where to eat, indeed any topic at all, might also be chewed over at length. And thus on both sides an impression is obtained as to what kind of person the other really is. I've noticed that men generally eke the chat out longer than women do.
Men are also intrigued by spirit and feistiness in a woman. Once more, caravanning illustrates the point very well. It's an activity that tends to allocate male and female tasks on a traditional basis. Men normally do the heavier, dirtier chores outside the caravan, such as the towing; manoeuvring the caravan onto the pitch; unhitching it from the towcar; levelling it; winding down the corner steadies; setting up the water, electricity and gas; setting up the awning; and fiddling with the TV dish. And later on, replenishing the water and dealing with the toilet cassette. This is, almost without exception, men's work. Meanwhile the wife or lady friend busies herself inside the caravan, making meals, phoning sons and daughters, and playing games on her tablet. Men always do any cooking attempted on the gas barbecue, and they open the wine bottles. All this is time-honoured and utterly normal.
So a woman who turns up on her own in a big Volvo, manages to reverse the caravan onto the pitch unassisted, gets set up with a practiced efficiency, and deals with her own toilet waste without turning a hair, gets attention. No less so when I mess up in little ways that justify male intervention, possibly set in motion by nudges from their wives and girlfriends (as if their permission were needed). And I do mess up without trying. I've mentioned before that I don't often achieve a perfect reverse. And when hooking up the electricity, I regularly get the connectors at each end of the long cable mixed up. Any men watching must yearn to help.
So, to summarise, I think it's a combination of plump, well-preserved flesh, an approachable and chatty disposition, and the challenge presented by being the archetypal Independent Woman.
To end, a little story from a few days back. What actually happened when a pleasant but rather persistent man had me to himself. 'Twas in the courtyard of a country property you can visit. This courtyard housed a variety of specialised domestic workrooms and storerooms in which the house servants would, in past times, do their stuff. Not the kitchen, but the bakery and dairy and butchery, and various kinds of repair and maintenance activities not accommodated (or not wanted) in the main building. An elderly man with genial eyes was on duty, to inform and direct visitors. I arrived there at a quiet moment. That's why he could give me his undivided attention.
I was in no especial hurry, and in no mind to run away. I was used to receiving potted lectures on what there was to see. Usually I was quite happy to be informed. And this man had an engaging and cheerful manner. But after five minutes he started to become slightly more confidential, and his eyes more twinkling. Uh-oh! I was in for special treatment!
He started to tell me tales about David Lloyd George, a very popular and well-loved man in the region, and how in one story Lloyd George had wittily insulted a noblewoman at an important event by mentioning her in the same breath as a successful local prostitute. And then another story, about Winston Churchill and Lady Astor, whom he explained had a very ugly, almost masculine face. Lady Astor had been unpleasant to Churchill, and had said maliciously that if she were ever his wife she would tip poison into his wine. Churchill had instantly retorted that if she were ever his wife, he would drink it.
My elderly companion thought both men masters of wit, and chuckled heartily. Not to be thought lacking a sense of humour, I laughed even more heartily. But that only encouraged him. He told me frankly that wine and beer were not his drinks: he loved port. Port with a good ripe Stilton. I wasn't altogether satisfied with the way he said 'ripe'. Then he passed to the making of Christmas Pudding, and how it needed nine ounces of every ingredient, and a liberal mixing-in of brandy for extra richness and flavour. He liked the result to be black and moist, bursting with fruit, an intoxicating treat for the senses. I laughed heartily. It seemed best.
Then he moved on to more intimate matters, and showed me on a plan of the house and grounds where the more unusual toilet facilities might be found, meaning the old ones. With great enthusiasm he told me about the sit-down toilet for three tucked away behind some outhouse. And how courting couples, visiting together, would use it with their chaperone sitting in between, to prevent any hanky-panky. This
sounded unlikely, but I was much too polite to say so, and just laughed heartily. (I later found this three-seater loo, so perhaps he wasn't pulling my leg at all)
All the time, millimetre by millimetre, he was sidling closer to me. All the time, millimetre by millimetre, I was edging away, to maintain a minimum distance. He sidled, I edged. It was like a strange dance. But he was winning: his fingers were getting closer to my arm. Soon he would be touching it. So far there had been no chance to get away, no sign of a graceful excuse I could make. Godzilla had not come crashing through the woods, roaring. No eclipse had blotted out the sun. Nothing that could rescue a hard-pressed woman had happened. I wanted to say 'Oh look! Godzilla has destroyed the East Wing in his ire! I'd better go and get my afternoon tea before he attacks the Café!' I was stuck.
Then the cheerful young girl called Rachel who had greeted me at the house entrance appeared with a mug of coffee in her hand, and broke the spell. I bade a hearty farewell to my gallant cicerone, and headed firmly for the garden. He was a lovely man, but had too much of Lloyd George's eclectic taste for women in my opinion. Far too much.
If he had been born in 1930, he'd have been a boy when Lloyd George was still a very well-known public figure. And he would have heard much about the Welsh Wizard from his father. You know that March by Elgar known as 'Land Of Hope And Glory'? It's really called 'Lloyd George Knew My Father' and the proper words are:
Lloyd George knew my father,
Father knew Lloyd George.
And so on. Just so you know. Next time this happens to me, I will consider diverting the conversation onto Lloyd George's views on free trade. Bound to work.