Saturday, January 02, 2016

Becoming madam

From Goya's Witches and Old Women Album
I was in the small hardware shop near St Bartholomew's Church looking for an old style of curtain rail runners that the big DIY shops don't stock anymore. I asked the man at the till. He found me a packet but then I realised I needed another. I went back to the racks, couldn't find one of the same make and held the sample up to another I retrieved from the back, trying to judge if it was right. I wanted to be sure. 

That was when I heard him say 'madam'. I'm called 'madam' more and more frequently and with the same inflection. My daughter or son might call it passive aggressive. I hear nothing passive in the inflection.

Given that many men are with younger women, women who are with men my age might only now be entering menopause. They are still dyeing their hair and straightening it. They still go on hen nights and girls nights out.  I'm done. I'm on the freedom road with only a dodgy knee at the moment and root canal treatment next week.

Which of course the man in the DIY shop doesn't know. He can't see me carrying bags of horse manure. Does he see anything? What IS behind the constrained growl in 'madam'?

On bad days 'madam' makes me fear men of my age are not compatriots. Close friends are exceptions. Friends' husbands or partners are exceptions (as a rule). I sense others are growling like a dog in front of a mirror. 
From Goya's Witches and Old Women Album

Tainted with spoiled girl or brothel keeper, it's shorthand for 'annoying old bag'. So when someone calls me 'madam' with a particular inflection do they think they're getting away with it? 

Because he didn't say: "I found you the right ones, what are you looking for now?" "Do you need another packet?"I sensed the man at the DIY shop saw something else when he looked down the aisle of his nearly deserted shop at me measuring up my curtain runner and said: "Is there a problem with the packet I found you, madam?" There was hesitation before the emphasis on 'madam'.

Did he see me pulling out stray hairs on my chin and above my lip, choosing comfortable shoes above heels, browsing in Millets and Wyevale instead of Top Shop and Miss Selfridge? Did he see me washing plastic bags to re-use them, awake at 4 am with a trashy charity shop novel, making a pan of soup to last the week? Was all that on his CCTV?

I curse myself for caring, for the hyper-sensitivity of a hangover, because liberation is to not give a fuck. But like giving anything up, I'm dragged back to caring.  

A woman half my age at a workplace starts a sentence: "Given your age and your size.....", Facebook hammers home failure, the man at the vegetable shop looks through me and expresses surprise when the young man he serves says I was there first. 'You could be sisters,' another man in another DIY shop says about me and my mother. Yup, there's only 21 years between us. A woman I know expresses surprise I have a waist.

Now truly in the age of 'madam' and to stay sane, do I tell the truth loudly, drop stuff and leave it on the floor and appropriate 'Sir'? Is it better served with a laugh - does 'madam' perhaps deserve the response: 'sire'?