Wednesday, November 22, 2006

No heroines

Spine asked me to blog from the annual conference of the IPHE's Women in Plumbing group, which he imagined as lots of tiny women standing inside steel pipes banging tools on the walls. His description reminded me of a Reclaim the Night march I went on once in Cambridge: we stomped through the covered shopping centre ululating and banging shop windows, and the winos fled into the shadows like silverfish under a spotlight.

They didn't provide blogging facilities, but I'm safe home now, and the right side of a lavender oil bath and my second-best pair of fleecy pyjamas. And this is what I might have blogged.

I listened to Ani DiFranco on the train to London this morning, to get myself in the mood for Women in Plumbing. I hadn't been on a rush hour tube since 7/7, and I hoped that if I got blown up someone would think to play 32 Flavors at my funeral (original studio version please).

I got to Waterloo by 9.15 and sat and ate a Mushroom Feuillette (so wrong yet somehow so right) remembering the time I went shaking to the Transport Police here to report the man who wanked himself off at me on a Sunday afternoon train from Canterbury. Hoped there was no subliminal link between this memory and the filling of the Mushroom Feuillette. [They never got him, of course, but that was partly down to me not pulling the communication cord on the spot (you are allowed to do this, by the way), and I did have the small consolation of a large policeman escorting me to the door, putting his hand on my shoulder and saying 'mind how you go now'.]

I digress, but I was definitely having gendered thoughts by the time I parked my bike helmet in the cloakroom at the mildly terrifying pillar of the establishment Union Jack Club, went to the ladies and became one of many, many people to come out of the cubicle and remark to the queue 'that flush could use a little attention'.

I got my coffee and my bag of marketing literature and freebies, and I took my seat. Excuse me, said the quiet woman next to me, are those safety boots? No, I said, I wish they were, my safety boots are a size too big and I have to wear extra socks with them. There were nods all round.

Later, she and I were talking about how hard it is to get work experience, and how lucky we were to have found someone to take us on. Does he ever touch you? she said. Well yes, I said, he's showing me how to do stuff, and he helps me across narrow beams, and it's a bit of a squidge if there's two of you up a stepladder. But does he ever... touch you, she said. Oh, I said. No. Well, we hug each other occasionally, but no. He doesn't touch me. Oh shit. Really?

Yes, she said. I don't know what to do. I really need my NVQ.

I told her about my driving instructor, and how I really needed my driving licence. But I was 17 then. We talked about what she could do, whether her college tutors might be able to intervene, whether she could write a letter to the IPHE.

Later, some glossy blondes talked about how much money you can earn in this business by beating men at their own game.

Let me be clear. I like plumbing, and I like a lot of the men I have met who are involved with it. Men are not there to be beaten at their own game. It's not a fucking competition. There should be a place for women in all construction trades, and it should be an equal and fair place. You take yourself seriously, you deserve to get taken seriously. Ray O'Rourke and his like should be hounded out of town, you should be able to get shoes that fit, and nobody should 'touch you'.

When I was on the train home I looked in my bag of marketing literature and freebies, and discovered a tube of strawberry flavoured British Gas lip gloss. Tell me this isn't the future.

joella

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