Birthdays and Boobs

Last Monday I started working in the garden. The task in hand was to re-build the enclosure around the oil tank. The tank and enclosure were installed back in 2007, when I began the renovation work on the house. Over the years the wooden enclosure has fallen to bits. We’ve decided to replace two sides of it with a stone wall which will be 6 feet high and about 20 feet long. First, though, I had to remove the rockeries around the enclosure and then take down all the damaged timber. Next up was to dig a foundation for the new wall and put in some concrete footings. All of this involved moving tons of stone and earth, all by hand, and come Friday afternoon I thought I was going to keel over…

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(interesting, innit)

When I did the oil tank back in 2007 I was still in my early 40s. Now I’m in my early 50s and am feeling it. In fact, today is my 52nd birthday. I find this somewhat surprising, because I always say that I’m one of those people who shouldn’t really be here. This goes back to when I was a young child, just 18 months old, and I was very, very ill. My body became covered in big, black blisters – it looked like I’d been napalmed. The blisters were incredibly painful to touch. The doctors didn’t know what the disease was, and for want of any better ideas they put me in the tropical disease unit of Guys Hospital (this in 1960s London). I was in that unit for six weeks and during this time I was given the Last Rites on two occasions.

My dear mother, who was a young woman at the time, just couldn’t handle my distressing condition. It was my grandmother, Lil, who held vigil during those weeks when I was hovering between life and death. Lil was quite a character and lived to the grand old age of 95. She suffered with bad nerves all her life. Her hands shook continuously. Lil used to tell people that her bad nerves were a result of living nearby the heavily-bombed Woolwich Arsenal during the war. Actually, the bad nerves stemmed from her father, my great grandfather, who was a very violent man. If I tell you that his nickname was ‘Razor’ you might get some idea of what I’m talking about.

My grandmother, Lil, a photo taken when she was well into her 90s, and shortly before she died. My grandmother Lil, who sat beside me when I was just 18 months old and dying, all those decades ago…

Lillian Foster in her 90s

Grandmother Lil lived through the horrors of two world wars. She was a working class woman, who knew all about misogyny, which was, and remains rife in society.

Laura Bates is a feminist who drives some people mad. Here she is giving a talk at the Oxford Union last November…

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