They are different to one another. Despite the problems the International Olympic Committee experiences, my father had a foolproof system to tell them apart. He reckoned women are the ones that dance backwards. Times have changed of course.

I’ve got four kids and when the first two were growing up we let them do what they wanted. However, we bought them gender specific toys and thought nothing of it, nor when grandparents and friends did the same. The grew up specific to our opinions of the roles of boys and girls and seem happy with them.

There was a gap until our third, a girl, and imposing roles on young children hit the instruction manuals and we allowed her her own preferences. She took to girly things with a vengeance. I wondered if this was peer pressure or schools, but there’s no way we could say.

Our last was a boy from the moment he emerged. He plays second row in rugby, the location of the big bruiser. Yet he is a gentle guy.

My eldest had any number of Action Man toys. A seemingly unending army of them. They are dolls, of that there can be little argument. It seemed odd to me first of all to see him playing with them, but I eventually realised that his toy soldiers were just much bigger than the little lead ones I played with. And, ironically given all the armaments you could buy for them, considerably less deadly.

I’ve been accused of actions that are ‘just like a man’ more since I’ve got my bus pass than I ever did before. I think, like gender, there is an expectation of how someone like me should behave, ie someone old. It is, I think, as pernicious as imposing gender roles.

I bought a book, ex stock, from my local library. Let’s ignore the logic of buying a book which, had I taken an interest when it was free to borrow, would probably have been retained by the library and available to borrow whenever I wanted it. I’ve done weirder things.

The process of buying it included a stamping and a record of ex libris on file. As I was given the book as my own the librarian said:

“I’m afraid we can’t switch off the alarm on the book. It will sound as you go out.”

I thanked the woman and walked towards the exit.

Coming towards me were three women around my age. They slowed so I was obliged to go through the sensors which, as promised, beeped loudly at me. The women looked concerned.

I did what I would have done all my life: I broke into a run and fled the building.

My wife brought it up at a dinner party and what was apparent was that there was a gender gap when the question of whether it was funny or not. The women were not to be placated. One said I should ‘know better by now’, meaning my age. She suggested that I would not like her to ‘wear a mini skirt’.

I said I didn’t mind, and it was taken as a joke. But I don’t care what anyone wears, as long as it is their choice. I pointed this out but they didn’t seem to think I meant it. It was my age.

When I was in charge of my force’s ID unit I was mentioned in an official document as an example of good planning. It meant little but my team was chuffed. The German police force was considering setting up an ID unit similar to English ones so they came to my unit. The nearness of Gatwick airport was not, of course, a factor.

My superintendent warned me not to say anything about the war, even as a joke. The ‘or else’ was left hanging in the air, despite it remaining unspoken. The Saturday preceding their Monday visit to me was a day we all remember: the 5:2 victory of our footballers over them. So I printed off a couple of A4 sheets which said: DON’T MENTION THE WAR.

I crossed out WAR and wrote above it FOOTBALL! I stuck them on a couple of walls in the office and awaited their visits.

There were three of them, two younger one, about 45 years, and an older chap, obviously the boss. They all spoke understandable English. I showed them around the facility then took them into the office. At first my little posters went unnoticed, but one younger chap became bored with the technical matters and gazed around the room.

It was obvious when he saw the sign. His eyes opened and he started to grin. He looked to the floor. I was then talking to the boss and the other chap indicated the sign to his opposite number. They both smiled; big, broad ones.

I smiled and the boss realised something was going on. He looked to his underlings, one of whom indicated the sign with a nod. In the end all three were just short of laughing. But no one mentioned them.

As they left one of the younger blokes asked if he could take the sign.

When I told my wife she was aghast. It’s a gender thing.

Of Women and Men

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