I always felt, when young, that there was a disconnect between myself and boys generally. We shared so little; just a liking for pop music perhaps. But they always knew more than I did, knew all sorts of things that were no part of my world. I was not like them.
And later, when at work, so often I felt my male colleagues were speaking from a different script in a different language. It was noticed that I reacted to situations differently, unexpectedly - a lot of male colleagues would have said strangely, or unnaturally - as if my brain were wired up in a non-standard way. Yet so far as I know, nobody ever thought I was unimaginative, incapable of getting to the heart of a problem, or undeserving of respect for my style of leadership. I say so because I was again and again offered (and took) responsible and high-profile duties (such as becoming Deputy Officer-in-Charge of a South London district office), which is surely evidence that I had the unreserved confidence of senior management.
But I was nevertheless considered a person who did not conform to norms. I was hard to assess. I wasn't predictable. I tended to wrong-foot and disconcert anyone who thought they were dealing with the usual kind of bland, play-it-safe, do-it-by-the-book investigation manager. The senior male managers above me could see I was an asset to the Department, but they couldn't understand me. The incomprehension was mutual. I couldn't see what was going on in their minds, either. We got along pretty well, and I was clearly well-esteemed at retirement in 2005, but there was no meeting of minds.
I think that our mutual bafflement is easily explained now. But I couldn't explain it throughout my thirty-five year career.
Currently I find myself even more disconnected from how men think. It doesn't help that I am surrounded by women in my ordinary life, with very few men to speak to. I am usually at ease with any I may encounter, but it's a challenge to figure out what is going on in their heads. Nephew, neighbour, or complete stranger - we can be as amiable as you could wish; but I haven't a clue what they are thinking.
I encountered an impenetrable male mind tonight. I was driving through Tonbridge in Kent, on the way home from a day spent with my cousin R---. It was around six-thirty. I was trying a different route through the town, and this involved a narrow section of road bridge over the railway. There was room for only one traffic lane, and this was controlled by lights. I was first in the queue at a red light. For a minute or so, I was the only one.
So there I was, waiting patiently. After a short while, I realised that I had pulled up short of the stop line. Maybe ten feet short. I had done it unconsciously. The stop line was really too close to the bridge. If I were waiting exactly on the line, opposing traffic coming off the bridge would need to steer sharply to avoid clipping the front of Fiona. So, without really thinking about it, I'd positioned myself to give them more room, and to avoid any possibility of an accidental collision. I think you'll grant that was sensible.
A man joined me at the red light. A shaven-headed, thirty-something character. He was driving a small dark blue Ford Fiesta. No doubt he sourly compared his car with mine. He most definitely noticed that I was a female driver, and that I'd stopped short. He began to show very obvious signs of frustration, and made 'move forward' gestures. That's how I came to notice him. I didn't budge: we'd have a green light soon, and the odd car or van was still coming over the bridge.
Guess what he did next! Having failed to get me to move forward a few feet, he made a big thing of driving round me and into the road space between me and the stop line. In fact he didn't have enough room, and ended up half over the line. Lucky for him that no policeman saw him in that position - it would be an offence to straddle a stop line.
Why did he do it? Did he think I was 'wasting' road space, and had an uncontrollable compulsion to fill it? Had he had a terrible day at work, and needed to assert himself, as a much-needed restorative? He gained nothing. The lights were still red. He couldn't drive off. He had to sit there until they changed. And I don't know how he would have fared if a big lorry had come over the bridge while he was stuck out like that.
We got a green. He moved forward, I followed. And, within yards of the other side of the bridge, he pulled in and parked. He was home. But the road was still narrow, and he had to stay seated with his car door shut until I had passed him. His red-light manoeuvre had not shortened his homeward journey by a single second.
Men in cars! That's all I can say.