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Celebrating strong women

According to the UN, International Women’s Day is “a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.”

To me, International Women’s Day means celebrating women who have been inspirational to me, and there have been many.

Emily Dickinson: “I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too?” (sums up my answer when people ask me who I think I am or why the hell I get this column space each week).

Nancy Drew: “When threatened with a hairbrush by a vicious woman, remain calm and speak in cold level tones.”

Anne of Green Gables: “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it... Yet.”

Sylvia Plath: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart, I am I am I am.”

But these were people in books. I’ve known inspirational women too.

Sara was one of those girls who was so pretty there was no way she could be nice with it. Not with a face that opened doors and made men talk to their shoes, ears going red.

The way she could make baggy jeans and a t-shirt look like a ball gown meant she had to be mean right? Wrong. She was even nicer than she was pretty. I was graced with her beautiful friendship for three years before I lost her, and her children lost a mother who continues to inspire my parenting.

She has been gone eight years next week, yet she is still the face I see when I’m struggling with my girls. She was a single mother, and she was a lion. It was not till I had three children of my own that I realised how incredible she was. She never let anything slip, she never dropped a ball. She always found the energy to explain, to correct, to chastise and cherish. She was a rare bird and her anniversary gets no easier.

My great aunt never had children of her own. She was 55 when I was born, and lived just along the road so was our go-to babysitter. I spent more time at her house than I did my own.

She taught me everything. How to tell the time, to lace my shoes, how to make tea in a pot. She taught me never to turn up at someone’s empty handed. She always got up at 5.30am. She’d start nagging me to join her by 6.30. I’d groan and pull my sheets (nurses corners) over my head. She’d tell me to get up, wash my face with a hot flannel.

When I was off school sick or feeling low, she’d make me put on her spare wellies (two sizes too big for me, padded out with Great Grandad’s darned socks) and go for a walk with the dogs. “Fresh air and a nice cup of tea always makes you feel better, love” she’d tell me.

Now I’ve been through some trouble in my life. I’ve suffered sexual abuse, heartbreak, chronic illness, anxiety and an eating disorder and I can tell you, hand on heart, my Aunt was right.

Which is why my daughters get woken with tea in bed, and know they are not leaving the house till they’ve had a hot flannel over their faces. When they are off school sick, they still have to come out to walk the dogs.

My aunt never had children, yet she knew how to raise me to raise daughters. She lived alone, no cleaner, no meals on wheels, until her last day. She was 84, stubborn, independent proper and proud.

She made dens for me out of the clothes horse and a tea towel and played patience with me on her hands and knees then chastised me and tutted at my hair. She was always telling me what to do and what not to do, that I talked too much, wanted too much, moved too fast.

She never once told me, but I know with unwavering certainty that she loved me. She inspires me to be someone deserving of unconditional love.

In other news, three men in Worthing dragged a cyclist from his bike, beat him, and stole his wallet and mobile phone. While on the ground he was kicked and punched several times.

Why do three people need to attack one man? Why kick and punch him after his wallet and phone have been stolen and he is in the gutter? Is it playing ‘Call of Duty’ making people violent or overly caffeinated drinks?

Maybe it’s time we introduced a ‘Decent Human Being Day'. Twenty-four hours of people keeping their hands, opinions and prejudices to themselves. Ah, we may as well try and catch the wind.


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