Lucy Vickery presents this week's Competition
In Competition No. 2694 you were invited to provide the female equivalent to Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man.
Thanks to Phyllis Reinhard who submitted a pithy, witty entry that triumphed, she confesses, in a similar competition run by Another Magazine a decade or so ago. This disqualifies it from a place in this week’s winning line-up but not from being reprinted below for our pleasure:
Pampers, pull-ups, PMS,
Playtex pads, the Pill,
Provera as your HRT,
Then Pampers ...life’s a thrill.
The overall standard was high, and other competitors who impressed and amused were Noel Petty, David Duncan Jones, Jayne Osborn, Virginia Price Evans and Janet Kenny. The winners, printed below, get £25 each. The bonus fiver belongs to Bill Greenwell.
At first, a bib as floral as it’s pink:
And choral aunts who coo and buy her fluff.
The second act’s some alcopop to drink,
Some sulking hormones, and tattoos and stuff.
Objectified by testeronic men,
She strikes out on her own, designer-dressed:
The fourth act pins her down again, but then
It also frees her, baby at her breast.
At last she breaks away, is fearless, fitter,
And gives her tongue and talent fuller rein.
We find her next as Gran, the peerless knitter
Who rules the roost, has nothing to explain.
The last, alas, surrounds her with some nurses
Who squabble over channels, feed her scran.
Some stereotypes, you say, pervade these verses?
The same with Shakespeare, codifying man.
A man’s life gives him seven roles to play?
A woman acts all seven every day:
An infant’s love and need and lack of guile
Are present in her every tear and smile;
Though she outgrows the schoolgirl’s gap-toothed
And pigtails, she retains the coltish grace;
The pop stars on her walls are evanescent,
But adult love glows hotly adolescent;
She’s always the young single on the town
Whose lovers may but friends won’t let her down;
Always the wife and mother, life a blur
Of duties sprung from desperate need for her;
Always the workplace leader who enjoys
Winning on pitches once reserved for boys;
Always the madly wise, eccentric sage;
Always all ages, so don’t ask her age.
Her acts being seven stages: first, the sprog,
so unco-operative that nights are wrecked.
Next rebel schoolgirl, in St Trinian style,
whose broken rules the governors deplore.
And then the clubber, loudly off her face,
exploring every substance sold for cash,
but just as, in despair, her parents weep,
she falls: a mother now, whose only thought
her infant’s welfare. She turns Green eschews
the non-organic, is politicised,
and fiercer than a furnace. Circling years
make her a gran, marching in every cause
wide world and hip replacements will allow.
Then at a stroke she’s housebound, surfing far.
Last scene of all, dementia rules the game
and she’s sans passwords, log-ins, everything.
First comes the babe, all chubby charm and curls,
Whose dimpling smile could only be a girl’s.
Then step by step she grows to little miss
Who thinks a world entirely pink is bliss.
Next comes a stage of flux, of wild excesses
With hormones whizzing while she adolesces.
But from this seething broth of unknown urges
The cool, collected worker then emerges —
Becoming, as the cycle turns, a mother,
More various in this role than any other.
Time passes but its weight grows day by day
To leave the dwindling granny bowed and grey.
As senses, limbs and organs piecemeal fail,
Her body serves her only as a jail.
At last, the female and the male converge:
All that remains is for their dust to merge.
One woman in her time plays many men.
No time to mewl and puke for long, and by
The age of seven fiercely dominates
Father and brothers, only loves her horse.
Stage three: at Oxford, stockings blue, she treats
Varsity males with willy-shrivelling scorn,
Gets a starred first, then (fourth) a city job —
Her pay cracks ceilings made of purest glass.
Stage five, she weds a rising-star MP,
But juggles top career and children well,
Until in her sixth age she dumps the oaf
For fiddling with the Latvian au pair,
Remarries then an earl. Last stage of all,
Ageing but elegant, she sits in his
Great pile writing her memoirs, relishing
Her taste, her stocks, her shares, her everything!
We play the seven ages in our way.
Not cuddled more or less than baby boys,
but yet as schoolgirls, though we outperform
our slower brothers, fashion forces us
to ape our elders: looks, it seems, are all.
The next three ages we must play as one,
by scuttling on and off to change our garb
ten times a scene; redoubling-up our parts
as mother, lover, businesswoman, drudge.
And all the while, we must not let the years
advance across our faces or our forms.
The sixth age comes. We ditch our masks and
in purple eccentricity, before
we reach the final waiting-room, where we’re
neglected, starved, forgotten: but at least
we’re spared ‘Because you’re worth it’ at the last.
No. 2697: Bête noire
You are invited to take as your first line ‘How do I hate you? Let me count the ways’ and continue, in verse, for up to a further 15 lines. Please email entries, wherever possible, to email@example.com by midday on 18 May.