March hosts two important occasions for womankind. The first is International Women’s Day. The second is Mother’s Day. What better time, then, to reflect on all the women who have taught us what it means to belong to this magnificent gender? To all the women who have, in whatever capacity, been a ‘Mum’ to me throughout this daft adventure I call life, I salute you. Here are some of them:
Obviously… but also most importantly. My mother, Christine, is Wonder Woman. She is a marvel of the modern age. She’s pretty effing difficult to live up to, at times, I’ll be honest.
I remember as a child, when Mum was busy holding down five jobs to raise me on her own, watching her go seamlessly from cutting the hedge with a chainsaw to making a stew from scratch (all whilst wearing denim hot pants and four-inch wedges) and thinking “I’d really like to be that capable, one day”.
My mum taught me some crucial life lessons. How to line a cake tin. How to accessorise. How to carry on smiling in the face of other people’s knob-headery (whilst realising they’re just inherently knob-headish and it’s not about you).
Today, she’s rocking her fifties sans botox, ranting the world into a better state, running her own personal styling business whilst working part time in her local pub organising the customer service into a well-oiled, smiley efficiency machine because she can’t bear the prospect of being idle for more than 30 seconds. She’s found love with my (equally brilliant) step dad, whose hobbies include winding me up about politics and agreeing with me that Mum is the most beautiful woman on the planet. Good times.
Elizabeth is my first cousin twice removed. Which actually means she is my nan’s cousin (just trust me on this one). Owing to some generational weirdness in my family, she is the same age as my aunt.
Elizabeth was Bridget Jones, way before it was even remotely cool to be Bridget Jones. She was the first person in our family to go to university, got a job helping children with learning difficulties and a little flat in Muswell Hill (before Muswell Hill was the ‘boho yup yup’ fest it is today) and stubbornly refused to get married and have babies, despite family gossip centring around her being “either a lesbian, a weirdo or both”.
It sounds strange now, but growing up Elizabeth was the only grown-up woman I knew who had a ‘proper’ career and wasn’t someone’s mum. She taught me that not all unmarried women were tragic spinsters. In fact, with her close-knit ‘urban family’ of groovy friends who always had something interesting to say, queue of male admirers and ability to do whatever she wanted with her Saturday nights, she made being single look really fun.
Elizabeth taught me not to fear alone-ness and not to settle for second best. She is the reason I remained single throughout my twenties, whilst friends were getting hitched and lecturing me about my fast-diminishing fertility window and waited to fall in love properly, not remotely worried about the prospect of it never happening at all.
Mrs Sheppard was my A-level English teacher. I went to a high-academically-performing, single sex school where tradition was prised and senses of humour were scant. So when Mrs Sheppard rocked into the classroom, taking the piss out of Blanche Dubois in a Streetcar Named Desire and branding Shakespeare “a bit of an egocentric tw*t, at times” I thought all my Christmasses had come at once.
I often felt misunderstood during my teens. I had zero interest in drinking, shagging or beautifying myself (I have made up for this since, I note) and loved books, politics and more than either of those things having heated discussions about books and politics. I was never bullied, but I was definitely perceived as a bit of an oddball, someone to be observed rather than befriended.
Mrs Sheppard ‘got’ me. She understood that I needed a combination of intellectual stimulation and kindness. She was the reason I chose to go to Aberystwyth for university, because she described so vividly revising for her finals sitting on Constitution Hill, overlooking the beach, as the sun set on the horizon. I still haven’t forgiven her for not telling me about the gale force winds and torrential rain which occur there, 51 weeks of the year.
In a world where otherwise magnificent older women are made to feel so apologetic about their age that they freeze their faces into a state of permanent gormlessness, Caryn Franklin gives me hope.
She’s achingly stylish but not in a way that suggests she’s trying to look younger. Often to be found rocking a headscarf, her silvery grey hair scraped off her face, wearing glasses and minimal makeup and just being breathtakingly gorgeous.
She has the sort of face you want to look at. She’s captivating and I often find myself gazing at her. Which is a bit embarrassing.
Caryn is everything I aspire to be. She’s wise, articulate and, unlike me, doesn’t yak incessantly for the sake of it in a quest to fill silences. Everything she says is considered, measured and ever so profound.
I saw her take down a rep from the Advertising Standards Authority during a debate at Parliament with a single raised eyebrow, once. One day, I shall possess such powers.
My Editor at Cosmo (where I have a column) who, being not that much older than me, would probably be horrified to discover I think of her in anything like a ‘mum’ type way.
I feel safe as a passenger aboard Louise’s metaphorical ship, because I always know she is guiding us in the right direction. Cosmopolitan has always represented for me a place where feminism isn’t about hating men, but about loving yourself, where it’s possible to care deeply about social issues but also get excited about a pair of shoes.
Louise encapsulates all of this and I’ll always be grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to make Cosmo my home. Louise is authoritative but not scary, confident but not arrogant. She takes things in her stride and I often find myself asking what she would do, if I’m feeling a bit intimidated. This, in my opinion, makes her the ultimate Cosmo Girl.
There are dozens more women who have made an impression on me throughout my life, but these are the five pillars of my personality, past and present, guiding me towards a future where, with any luck, I’ll be as fabulous as they are.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.