I ring the Oldest and Dearest Friend. ‘This menopause,’ I say, as the dogs gambol in the meadow and drink from the burn, ‘how big do you think it is?’
She pauses for a moment. I can hear her thinking. ‘Well,’ she says at last, ‘it did send our mothers mad.’
‘I suppose it did,’ I say, rather mournfully. ‘Magsie went mad for years. Although,’ I add, ‘she was very eccentric by that stage so sometimes it was hard to tell. There were,’ I say, ‘a lot of specialists.’
‘Specialists,’ says the Oldest and Dearest. ‘Do you think that is what we will have to have? But think,’ she says, ‘of the power of hormones. Think of testosterone.’
I do think of testosterone, quite a lot .Years ago, a very wonderful man called Anthony Clare wrote a book about men. He was troubled by what he called ‘masculinity in crisis’. I remember some terrifying statistics about prison populations and violent crime – all the huge percentages were young men, under, I think, the age of twenty-seven. Clare thought that this could not be put down to societal problems or even psychological causes. He thought it was the shattering effect of testosterone. Testosterone gets boys into fights and crashes cars and puts tempers on a hair trigger. Much later, after the financial crash of 2008, there was a study which showed that these same young men, with their driving hormones, were much more likely to make highly risky investments than women or older men.
But then, I think, testosterone was probably what helped the species survive. It drove off the marauding tribe over the hill and killed the woolly mammoths and hunted for food. Testosterone flooded the battlefields of both world wars. The young men who took to the air and poured off the landing crafts and manned the capital ships saved the democracies in 1945.
Hormones, I think, are absolutely terrifying.
The Oldest and Dearest Friend and I compare notes. We both get days when we can’t see the point of anything, when we struggle even to do the washing up, when we want to shut the door and make the world go away. I’ve just had two of those in a row. The Oldest and Dearest tells me of a beautiful woman we both know who appears on paper to have a dream life, with everything one human could wish for, and who sometimes feels so lost that she hardly knows what her name is. This middle of life, we think, may be more complicated than we thought.
The Oldest and Dearest is, like me, a little bit muddly. There are days, she says, when she looks in sorrow at her bedroom and cannot even face doing the sock drawer and wishes instead that she could have a nice lie-down. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘that would be very sensible. Churchill insisted on a rest every afternoon when he could not be disturbed. A nice kip after lunch.’
She suddenly laughs. ‘Yes, yes,’ she says, ‘winning the war is much more important than tidying the sock drawer. Fuck the sock drawer.’
For some reason, we find this blindingly funny. We become breathless and speechless with laughter. ‘Fuck the sock drawer,’ we stutter at each other.
And, just like that, everything is all right. The wisdom and sweetness and funniness of an old friend is stronger than any hormonal hijack. I don’t know what is going on in my body at the moment but I think it is big. The sympathetic heart of my friend is, however, bigger. The blah menopausal mood, thick as fog, heavy as cement, demoralising as failure, is utterly driven away.
I put away the telephone, still laughing, amazed that I feel so much better. I get on my red mare and pony my little bay mare out into the meadows and look at the autumn trees. Mares are often accused of hormonal lunacy but these two are as soft and steady and calm as Zen mistresses. I ride with one finger on the rein and gaze at the beauty, of them, of the trees, of this dear old Scotland.
You can’t do everything on your own, I tell myself, sternly. Sometimes you have to reach out for help. You have to admit to weakness or frailty or simply being human. And then someone you love says ‘fuck the sock drawer’ and everything is all right again.