I remember that Zoe Haeckelthrope, who had a minor in sociology and clearly thought my feminist consciousness needed raising, used to tell me that the Male Gaze objectifies women. If that's true then after a month of working here I ought to be a statue.
It's nothing dramatic and never gets creepy, with the exception of one guy who honked my boob and was bustled out the door so fast I almost missed it just by blinking, but I am clearly considered a local beauty spot.. Truth to tell, I rather like it. I get to effortlessly bring some pleasure into peoples' lives and those people are consistently nice to me. Zoe was right; my feminist consciousness does need raising.
Right now the Three Amigos, as they are collectively known are doing their best to entertain me by giving a fine demonstration of what would be mansplaining except that they really do know more than I do and they are out to entertain me not talk down to me. Mind you, just looking at them is kind of entertaining. It's like they were put together by a film director.
Magnus is well over six feet tall, slim build, with long dark hair and a beard and moustache with hints of silver in them – basically, think of a younger version of Christopher Lee's Saruman. Stan, aka Stan the Man or Jammy Stan (I know; apparently it means 'lucky') is a few inches shorter, medium build, with very white teeth and thick hair and beard so dark as to be blue-black. Stan is white but something about his colouring makes me think a not very remote ancestor was something more exotic. Lastly Kit Branston is a burly, heavy muscled, ruddy faced, red bearded man who would be the very picture of a latter day Viking warrior bar the fact that he's a shade under five feet tall.
All three had been invalided out of the army with injuries that, if they bothered them at all, they never let it show. All three were now studying at the University on army veteran scholarships, or supposedly anyway. Since the University was twenty miles away and they always seemed to be around I had my doubts.
Of course they had other duties. All three of them were members of the Home Militia, made up of men who were were too old or medically unfit for front line service but could still be formidable on their home ground. The idea was that they would be the last line of defence when the Canadian hordes came pouring across the border, killing, burning and raping. Since I was already here I figured they were falling down on that one. Of course I lacked the inclination and, in one case the equipment for any such catalogue of atrocities.
Still, regular college attendance or not there was no question that they'd learned stuff somewhere. They positively rejoiced in obscure knowledge
“Don't tell me you don't know the tale of Cuchulain,” says Magnus “And you with a name like Aoife Donnelly?”
“Cuchulain, the champion of the men of Ulster?”
“Which wasn't his real name by the way” put in Stan “It means 'The Hound of Cullen' and it was a nickname he got after strangling a dog.”
“What? He was a dog strangler??” I'm a cat person myself, but this was going too far!
“It was a monstrous hound that was trying to tear his throat out at the time. We aren't talking about the family labrador here.” said Magnus
“Um, still not ideal but more understandable.”
“But that isn't the important story about him. No the real tale is what happened when Ulster was invaded by the men of Connacht.” said Stan
“Led by Maeve, the Queen of Connacht” added Magnus
“Have you two rehearsed this?” I asked suspiciously
“No,” Kit reassured me “They just know this story really, really well. It's always like this. You're being complimented though, they only inflict this rigmarole on people they like.”
I manage to restrain my preening. It's nice to be popular. Of course, being young, single and professionally obliged to listen with interest helps. The fact is I'm pretty sure I could net myself a boyfriend without difficulty if I put my mind to it but I just can't bring myself to do it. For a start I'd have to open by explaining that I'm pregnant which is a bit much to spring on someone on a first date, or alternatively conceal it until they'd well and truly fallen for me which just seems manipulative and mean. So I'm going to wait a year or two, so when I do start looking it's too obvious to need explaining that me and my child are a package deal.
There's another reason I don't like to think about. The truth is I just can't get Michael out of my head. I think about him constantly. I want his smile and the smell of him and the warmth of his arms around me and his touch. I ache for him.
I realise with a jolt that I've lost track of the story. Luckily so have Stan and Magnus, who are now engaged in a passionate debate over whether Cuchullain is a demi-god (being the son of the god Lugh) or something else entirely as Stan insists Cuchullain was also part fairy on the other side of the family tree. The two of them are locked in battle over who someone called Cathbad the druid married and I'm trying to make sense of it when I notice that Kit is staring ostentatiously into the middle distance with a strange expression on his face.
That's when I realise that in following the story I'm leaning so far over the bar counter that I'm giving a fine display of the contents of my scoop top to anyone who cares to look, which is why Kit is chivalrously not looking.
“Oh my God.” I can feel myself blushing from my toes to the top of my hairline as I scramble upright. Magnus and Stan look at me in surprise and I realise they were so absorbed they didn't even notice!
“What just happened?” asks Stan
“I'm not telling you!” I reply firmly “Now skip the family trees and get to the story.”
So they do and a real Greek tragedy of a tale it is too chock full of foredoomed heroes, magical prohibitions, tragic last stands and capricious gods. Someone really should make a movie out of it. I reckon all it needs is a love interest and I say so.
“Arghh!” Magnus grimaces at me
“That would take away the simplicity of the story,” Stan argues “Really the whole focus, the point of it, is that dreadful day when Cuchulain and Ferdia, the greatest champions of Ulster and Connacht, each the other's closest friend, are trapped and driven by honour and duty and country and circumstances they can't control or escape, into facing each other in a duel where one must die. That is the drama and the tragedy of the tale, and anything that distracts from that diminishes it.”
What if Cuchullain could persuade his father or one of the other gods who flit through the story to turn Ferdia into a girl, so these two who love each other so much could face off as man and woman, not bull headed warrior and mutton brained hero? I wonder. Would that give them a happy ending, or would it just make things worse?
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