Claire Black: Time of the month to break big taboo

ONCE upon a time I was the editor of a magazine.

Heather Watson set the ball rolling by alluding to girl things. Picture: Clive Brunskill
Heather Watson set the ball rolling by alluding to girl things. Picture: Clive Brunskill

This sounds like a glamorous job and I think if you’re Anna Wintour it probably is. But I’m not, so for me there was less glamour and more stress, less swanning about at parties and more meetings with the advertising department. In fact, that’s what there was most of: meetings.

Once, when I flopped back at my desk after a day of them, I caught sight of myself reflected in my black computer screen. I was wearing a shirt with a breast pocket. It was the pocket that drew my eye because there in it, as had been all day, were three super tampons poking up proudly like fat, Cuban cigars. No-one had mentioned to me that they were there. How could they? Of all the things that we are allowed to say about women’s bodies – that they are too fat or lumpy or hairy – we are not allowed to mention that they bleed once a month.

Menstruation is taboo. Why else would there be so many euphemisms about curses and decorators and “women’s troubles”? So no wonder there was a ripple of shock when tennis player Heather Watson, who suffered the most unshocking of fates when it comes to British tennis players – being gubbed in the first round – gave her press conference at the Australian Open last week. What had been the problem? “I think it’s just one of these things that I have,” she said, “girl things.”

Periods! She meant her period. She was feeling dizzy and tired because she was menstruating. And anyone who ever has will have no problem empathising. It happens.

I have heavy, short periods. I’m usually pretty floored on the first day – tired, upset stomach, sore back, sometimes sore head – and every few months I’m so floored I have to go to bed with a hot water bottle and some painkillers. I imagine some of you are appalled by what I’ve just shared. But why? Why is the only thing acceptable to say about periods absolutely nothing? How come they must be hidden, not just in conversation, but physically too? Sanitary products are more about discretion than anything else. They are marketed mainly by how successful they are at disguising the fact that we need them.

And I’m not above this. I don’t always carry my bag to the toilet when I need to change my tampon, but I do try to get it into my pocket as unobtrusively as possible. It’s the same when I buy a box of tampons or sanitary towels – no-one ever asks me if I want a bag for them. They are simply put inside a bag. After all, who in their right mind would want to advertise that they need them?

But this is a madness.

Heather Watson has kickstarted the discussion about the impact of menstruation on women athletes – it turns out some take the pill to alter their cycle, others have injections. Annabel Croft, a former British tennis No 1, revealed she used to wear a pair of knickers “like a shower cap” to prevent leaks on to her tennis whites.

But we should use Watson’s example to open the discussion for everyone because it affects all women, not just the sporty ones.

Caravanners tow Mears off pitch

RAY Mears is the kind of man who can survive for years in the wilderness with only a toothpick and a ball of twine. That’s probably just as well, because if the caravanning community gets its hands on him he might find himself banished into the wilds forthwith.

Mears has made the fatal miscalculation of seriously offending people who spend their leisure time towing their beloved homes-from-home on single axles around the highways and byways and, for good measure, all those who enjoy the lovely views from their static vans.

OK, fatal might be overstating it – as far as I am aware, caravanners are not known for their violent tendencies – but Mears has hacked them off to such an extent that he’s been disinvited from the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show in Birmingham next month. Ouch.

This is a particular blow for the woodsman given that he had been booked to speak at the event for a five-figure fee. They’ve disinvited him from accepting that too, unsurprisingly.

What could he have done to cause such offence? He only went and called caravans “hideous” on the BBC’s Room 101, claiming they spoil the Devon countryside he loves and should all be painted green.

Good at survival, not so good at manners.

Building blocks of genius

My 17-month-old son is struggling to get his head around Duplo bricks. Every time he pulls them apart he shrieks, “Oh no!” and looks appalled at the devastation caused. That they stick together again has, so far, eluded him. But I’m hoping that he will persist with his multicoloured baby Lego and become the next Shubham Banerjee.

The 13-year-old from California has just been given funding by computer giant Intel to develop a lightweight Braille printer he made from Lego, called Braigo. Hope is it will go into mass production. It is a fraction of the weight of a standard Braille printer and, at £200, costs far less than the £1,300 conventional model. «