Lately there seems to be always more women around than men. It shows up especially at birthday parties. Of course in the age group of people in the range of 65 to 85, many men have carked it. It is a known fact, which some women, who might not have rowed quite as well in the gondola of happy marriages, seem to think it ‘fair justice!’ As soon as one enters the room, and provided one arrives about half an hour later than the agreed time, one gets lots of beseeching female eyes concentrating instinctively on scanning another solitary male, albeit even when accompanied by a female.
The reason could also be that men, instead of calmly dying, don’t like social gatherings anymore and prefer being at home in the recliner watching sport or some pseudo documentary of bearded Vikings on horseback shooting arrows at random into a stone-walled Yorkshire dale below. Anyway, whatever the reason, in our limited social events experiences, women often outnumber men at least five to one. This was the occasion last night. It was our neighbours 82 birthday to which we were invited.
She is a very busy neighbour who knows everybody, having lived in this green spruce& conifer town for most of her life. To be fair there were four men and about twelve women. The men were all huddled in a group and the women spread in a semi circle around the table of food and drinks. I noticed an empty chair between two women and quickly headed for that one.
My other choice would have been to join the men who seemed to know each other. I did not wish to impose on whatever they were so keenly talking about. They often talk about success and achievements. I am more into failures, far more interesting.
After settling in and given a drink I just sat there cross legged with a smile and feeling confident my denture was firmly into place. The woman on my right made the initiative. She asked where I lived. The woman on the other side joined in and in no time were we talking about what we had done so far in life. I had made a fortunate choice. The woman on my right who was born before the war, started talking about an experience decades ago. The laws in Australia at the time were still Dickensian. A woman could not get served alcohol in a pub except when seated in ‘the Ladies Parlour.’ Most times, the favoured drink at that time for ‘ladies’ in the ‘ladies parlour’ was either a sweet sherry or a shandy which is a beer watered down with lemonade.
Anyway, I soon steered the subject over to the different toilet cultures experienced in overseas countries. This is were the party really got swinging. Fortunately both women had travelled a lot and knew the subject of overseas toilets even better than me (I). I regaled how in those early Australian times the word ‘toilet’ was never used for women. It was as if women were so delicate and nice, that they never had a need for ablutions. They just did not go. That’s why a toilet for women were referred to as ‘ ladies rest rooms, ladies powder rooms, even …in Hyde Park, Sydney…ladies reserves’, as if women were rounded up in some kind of South African style Paul Kruger Park behind wire fences.
The woman on my right, Helen, told the story of having driven during the fifties,through one of the most isolated parts of Australia, behind Broken hill, the ‘never never’ country of hundreds of miles of dirt road. It was driving straight into the blinding western sun. For hours on end. She finally arrived at Ivanhoe and headed for the only pub in town and wanted a cool beer. The bartender said he would not serve a woman in a public bar. In those times it was just not done, especially not in an outback town ‘beyond the black stump’. She said; I went outside and bawled my eyes out. The bartender relented and said she could have a shandy on the veranda outside, provided she would also eat a meat pie.
Can you imagine? We laughed heartily and it was a great night.