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Smallville: Struggle Of The Sexes

Peter B Farrell starts to prepare for a holiday in France - and at the same time keeps score in the battle of the sexes.

“Score: quatre - un;” or rather four to one in favour of the female gender.

With a holiday to France on the horizon, I was brushing up my schoolboy French, coupled with a view that feminism was gaining the upper hand in most walks of life, the latest evidence being the weather forecasters on TV.

Later, and being after 9 a.m. I reverted to English and drove my wife to town on the occasion of her annual dental check up.

“Arfanardlay.” This articulation or grunt heralded the arrival of the assistant receptionist as she came into the waiting room; but perhaps noticing the blank stares, she made a further attempt to connect with the real world.

“Half an hour, delay; the dentist’s had an emergency” she expanded; then beat a hasty retreat to the safety of her cubicle with the earphones and obligatory computer monitor.

The young man opposite us woke with a start and I passed on the emergency information; apparently he had travelled over 100 miles from London for his appointment, which said something for the current state of the National Dental Service.

My ‘call in at the library, travel agents and bank’ plan seemed preferable to staring at the horrific posters of “Dentistry through the ages;” and I agreed to meet up with my wife later in Mahler’s, the local restaurant. I passed the receptionist on the way out as she juggled with the keyboard and telephone. Current score 10 - 2 after noting the staffing levels.

Calling in at the library to renew my copy of the biography of Napoleon I also selected “Holiday French;” a video on the usage of well-known phrases for the traveller and with just three months to go I was determined to make a good impression in La belle France. It dawned on me that everyone I had come into contact with today was tagged and labelled and the female library assistant who scanned my ticket was no exception, being one of a quartet. Even if the manager proved to be male he was out of sight and therefore didn’t count. In desperation I pictured the Tour de France, an all male preserve with at least 150 cyclists in the pelaton…but I was clutching at straws.

Accumulated score 14 - 2.

I was the only customer in the Travel agents and had no sooner stepped inside, when I was bombarded with the latest offers from the staff who were all suitably labelled and performing on their keyboards. Bargain winter breaks in England, cottages that sleep eight, summer breaks in the Sahara, day trips to Iceland.

“No package deals, we’re planning a tour of our own, France.” Well, to be truthful it was my brother and his wife who were doing the planning and the driving; I just wanted some idea of where we got off the ferry, how to avoid Disneyland and where we were heading for.

I accepted a selection of brochures before crossing the road to the bank, although not before noting that the current score was now 18 - 2.

My endeavours at the bank involved checking my credit card in the machine, accessing the online-banking system (new month, new password) and being bombarded with insurance offers. The life-size cardboard cut out of the manager with the jam-jar bottomed spectacles - now a well known celebrity - didn’t count and the tally had risen to 22 - 3 by the time I had logged off.

Making my way to the restaurant I couldn’t help noticing the recent local anti-crime measures in the High street: two policewomen on foot patrol.

After eyeing their truncheons “Good morning Ladies” seemed inappropriate, I kept silent and unless their male counterparts in the patrol car made an appearance I would soon need a calculator; 24 - 3.

My wife, already in the restaurant had been given a clean bill of health by the dentist and was talking earnestly to three of her friends. I called up the waitress with thoughts of ordering croissants and café au lait; but resisted the temptation, or to put it another way “bottled out” and made do with the filter coffee and a Danish pastry.

“We’ll be there, you can count on us” were ominous words spoken by my wife (not for the first time). A week previously, we had signed a petition objecting to the proposed site for a waste disposal tip in the local area. The petition was to be presented to the Lord Mayor at a Council meeting this very day; our presence would add moral and vocal support. It had been a long time since the Poll tax demonstrations, when she joined a long line of protestors doing the conga in the centre of the City and singing, “We won’t pay the Poll tax…”

Later that day we filed into the Council chamber; with well over sixty councillors present and the public gallery full, the petition was presented to the Lord Mayor amid loud applause and cheers, the event being recorded by the local Press photographer.

I was suddenly uplifted.

The male councillors outnumbered their female counterparts by at least five to one, add on the Mayor and the photographer and the previous 24 - 3 became well…irrelevant.

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