Andy Bodle tells where the idea for “Womanology” originated.
“Woman is the unfathomable, incalculable mystery, the problem we men can never hope to solve.”
PG Wodehouse, The Heart of a Goof
“Hello, Beth.” I pulled my face out of the pushchair. “Hello, thing that made Beth.”
Jenny stuck out her tongue and vacated the handle. “You can drive today.”
Since Jenny and Dylan had moved into a three-bed semi in Leytonstone, and her movements were restricted by the pushchair and its contents, our choice of meeting-place had been narrowed to one: Walthamstow Cemetery, a cramped, ramshackle space with few trees and little wildlife, transformed by years of subsidence and neglect into a grisly, overgrown crazy golf course.
“Where did the name Beth come from again?”
“Not sure, it just stuck in my head for some reason. But I think it’s a good name for a girl. A strong name.”
I stopped, bent down over my charge and pulled a face. “Don’t meth with the Beth coth the Beth don’t meth.” What I assumed to be a happy baby noise ensued.
“You’re so good with kids,” laughed Jenny.
“If I hear that one more time, I’m going to kill one, then fuck it.” I grabbed a protruding baby toe. “Not you, of course, darling.”
Jenny hammer-punched me in the arm, then rubbed it better. “You’re a man. There’s plenty of time for you to have your own.”
“Well, they do reckon they’ll have perfected human cloning by the time I’m 70.”
“Please don’t give up,” said Jenny, resting her head on my shoulder. “You’ve just been unlucky.” She paused. “And slightly overambitious. And occasionally a bit dumb.”
As we rounded the corner, a plump woman in her 40s launched herself at the pushchair. “Ooh! Do you mind if I … ?”
Jenny shrugged as if this were a routine occurrence. The woman aahed and coochie-cooed, then reared up and faced me. “She takes after her daddy.”
I couldn’t be bothered to disillusion her. “Yep. Pink, bald and wrinkly.”
The woman laughed nervously. “She’s adorable.”
At this, Jenny ostentatiously checked over both shoulders, then whispered: “If you like her that much, you can have her. Fifty quid?”
The woman almost fell over in her hurry to get away.
I grabbed the handle and pushed on. “You know, I’m not sure I want to pass these genes on anyway. I mean, Jesus. Baldness. Psoriasis. Depression. Hiatus hernia. Addictive personality. Impotence. What child would thank me for that little package?”
“Shut up, you’ve got loads to give. And you’d be such a great dad.”
I stopped abruptly and looked Jenny in the eyes. “Don’t, Jen. Just don’t, all right? I’m sick of being the most eligible bachelor in town. I’m sick of getting my heart broken, waiting months for it to mend and then getting it broken again in 50 new places. I’m sick of doing the right thing and being treated like shit and I’m even sicker of doing the wrong thing and getting laid. At some point—and I think that point is long overdue—I have to accept that there’s only going to be one name on my headstone. I’m never going to be a husband, I’m never going to be a dad, I’m just going to be the weird old uncle who isn’t even a real uncle who sits in the corner dribbling into his stout and burbling on about how he was champion of Countdown in 1993.”
Jenny turned pink and backed away. We walked on in silence for a bit, until she placed her hand on the pushchair handle over mine.
“Who’s that science bloke you’re always banging on about?”
I snarled. “Which ‘science bloke’? Ridley? Pinker? Dawkins?”
“Dawkings, that’s him. What was that stuff was you were telling me, about genes and … something beginning with M?”
“Memes.” More comfortable ground. I relaxed. “Well, Dawkins says that until humans came along, the basic unit of life—a thing that could copy itself, and proliferate, and evolve—was the gene. But then humans developed culture, and the means of recording it and passing it down the generations, and in doing created new living, evolving organisms: memes, or ideas.”
“Well, if you’re really determined not to pass on any of your genes, I think the least you can do is leave us a meme. You should write a book.”
“A book about what? I hate fiction and I don’t know enough about anything to write non-fiction.”
Jenny squeezed my hand and embarked on a terrible impression of me. “There is a third way, you know. You could write a funny book. About your dating experiences.”
“I’m glad my suffering is a source of amusement for you.”
“Seriously. You must have enough to fill 200 pages by now.”
I snorted. “There’s a million books of sob stories out there. What’s going to make people want to read mine?”
Jenny wrestled me off the pushchair and took Beth on ahead. “I always thought the best thing you ever wrote was that article about your computer game addiction. You know, when you spent weeks researching why they were bad for you, so you could give them up. Why don’t you do something like that?”
I frowned. “What, you mean … the science … of women?”
“Of course, if you put me in it, I will remove your balls with a cheese grater.”
♥ In an experiment by Claus Wedekind and Dustin Penn in 2000, a group of men were asked to wear a T-shirt for two nights. The next day, a group of women were asked to rate the T-shirts for attractiveness of smell. Overwhelmingly, women rated the T-shirt’s odour as pleasant if the man who had worn it had an MHC genotype different from her own – that is to say, if his immunities were complementary to hers, which would mean that any children she might have with him would benefit from stronger genes. The women could sniff out – albeit unconsciously – the men who would bear them the healthiest children. That inexplicable “chemistry”, it seems, literally is chemistry.
In a survey for the National History Museum in 2011, 69% of respondents said sexual chemistry was the most important factor in determining sexual attraction.
Andy Bodle is a UK-based scriptwriter and journalist who blogs at www.womanology.co.uk