All the world’s a stage; women merely players

It seemed like a good time for my 10-yearly health check with Shakespeare.

The Bard suggested man has seven ages and, up to a point, that might go for women too.

“At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”

I can relate to that although I think the nurse in the local maternity unit passed me across to my mum after a few days.


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Once upon a time new mums got a bit of bed rest when they gave birth. These days, you’re out of the door ten minutes after the final push. It was probably all that mewling and, especially, puking that put off the health professionals.

Back in the ‘80s, new mums were made to feel they were milking it a bit (no pun intended). We were always being told that over in rice-growing nations, expectant mothers harvesting the grain just nipped to the edge of the field, gave birth and then went straight back to work.

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“And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.”

The second age and I was just such a schoolgirl. We all had shining, morning faces in the ‘60s when the when the wind chapped the cheeks and the vigorous application of soap and flannel stung them into a glossy, pink sheen. Today, of course the schoolboy would have a backpack and if he whined enough mum would probably drop him off in the Volvo.

“And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.”

Yes, well, I was about 15 when I discovered boys. I had always known they were there but I didn’t think there was anything at all interesting about them until then.

There were no woeful ballads, just elaborate hearts and flowers drawn all over the cover of my school rough book in tribute to just about every boy that spoke to me. If that sounds a bit desperate; it was a bit desperate.

I was the only one without a boyfriend, although theoretically I was going steady with Robert Redford.

Eyebrows didn’t really feature in my imaginings but one of my friends was very enamoured of Davy Jones of (Hey, hey we’re) The Monkees who had just the eyebrow Shakespeare might have been thinking of.

Then the sexes and women diverge for a few years as Shakespeare’s man gets full-on macho.

“Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t know the strange oaths and without the occasional strategic plucking, I could have been bearded like a leopard but I wasn’t much for avenging honour or picking quarrels.

There wasn’t much opportunity for that when I was working at the building society.

“And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part.”

Beard aside, this appears to be about where I’m at today. A fair round belly (check) with good capon lined (chicken supper, check) with eyes severe (it’s the varifocal squint, check) and beard of formal cut – if I could hide the scraggy neck, I would. This magistrate is full of wise sayings and informed advice but it doesn’t take a JP to be able to hand down homespun wisdom to anyone who’ll listen.

You wouldn’t want to be working on the supermarket checkout when I decide to impart some modern instances. There is no escape.

For example, how come cars with blinking hazard lights can park on double yellow lines? Why are pushchairs 10 times bigger than toddlers? Why did the supermarket that increased its store size, reduce its parking? Why do noses and ears keep growing when everything else stops – is it nature’s way of saying ‘please don’t breed any more’?

“And so he plays his part,” says Will, obviously tired of this lumpen, middle-aged bore.

Last week came another depressing sign that I am showing my age. My beautiful daughter, a fine soprano, sang a Schumann song cycle in the original German at a lunchtime concert.

Afterwards a member of the audience, congratulated me for having a fabulously talented daughter and said: “I saw you mouthing the words as she sang.”

I was appalled. Did I really do that? I didn’t even know any of the words. What was I mouthing; pretend German?

And that is only the fifth stage.

It gets a bit depressing when you start painting your toenails to match your bunions and it’s not going to get any better... or is it?

“The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound.”

At last, something to look forward to – a smaller bum. There is hope. It seems my trousers are going to get too big for me and, this being 2010 rather than 1600, all I have to do is buy some new ones in a smaller size. The poor old Tudors had to make things last a lifetime; no M&S, you see.

I’m not too bothered, either, about my big manly voice getting higher. Perhaps I shall be able to sing soprano again and surely improvements in dental health and hygiene will stave off the whistling.

“Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

That’s a long time off... although, do tomatoes taste of anything to you?

(All the World’s a Stage comes from Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It. Well, even if you don’t like it, you have to laugh, don’t you?)

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