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Out of Bounds in Derbyshire

Drowning in rugged moorland and vast wilderness, this “county of the deer” is the aptly-named bountiful supplier of roadkill for those carnivorously-inclined. Nelson is not a convert to raw-food, never has been, and will, most likely, always dry-wretch at anything that is supposedly better than that “cheap supermarket crap” that lands in his bowl periodically throughout the day.

For the vegetarians amongst us, we were confined to feasting eyes on the moody heath-laden hills rich with coarse grasses . Spring was springing all about with fresh colour beginning to creep back in, cracking open the wintry gloom. My exploration through this county capturing its signage had me treading mindfully, dodging the assortment of shortly-to-be flowering bulbs renewing their journey through life.

During the lengthening daylight hours, the cat and I would readily spy birds of prey circling As we trundled along. Having now taken to idling on the middle passenger seat for our longer jaunts, Nelson could be heard ‘akking’ at the birds whizzing by at the state-mandated speed limit. Come dusk, we hear the nocturnal movements of the lesser-identified mating species, although one sometimes wishes they’d ‘get a room’ particularly when they are of the human kind.

Not for a long time have I had a burning desire to run up the hill, tampon-advert style, bounding around in white clothing to pelt out, “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” But that certainly is what my arrival in the gloriously peaked district of Derbyshire invoked. Alas, many of its car parks have height barriers restricting entry to car-dwellers only.

Aside from that minor shunning, it is safe to say that my tour of the county of Bakewell Tarts was indeed a pleasant one. By far, my favourite morning saw me spend a lazy hour observing a banditry of blue tits dive-bombing a leaf-festooned verge deep within the woodland we were hibernating in. Zipping up and down, they scoured for twigs, worms and other matters of nest-hood, much to the delight of The Admirable Nelson and the perplexity of yours truly: I thought such birds were ardent and fierce competitors, and not in the least bit interested in operating in tribes.

Without doubt, February was the ideal time to be careering around the region that The Derbyshire Telegraph claims is the birthplace of the science of sociology: the study of how human actions and consciousness shape, and are shaped, by our surrounding cultural and social structures. Alas, this is not strictly true: Sociology was born in France, and the forefather was called Auguste Comte. Aside from that minor act of mis-parenting, Herbert Spencer, the second-proclaimed forebear, was most definitely born in Derby in 1820. He would go on to be admired for writing a book called Social Statics: The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified.

Alas in the second edition, he made some significant amendments, so much so that contemporarily he is somewhat derided for his tergiversation of women’s rights. In the first edition, he fervently supported amending the law to provide for equal freedom to both sexes. Years later, some say as a result of a growing personal resentment that women had harmed him, he decided that women were, after all, the inferior sex. More staid explanations, however, attribute this volte face upon discovering that as a class, women were more likely to vote for statist policies, especially if those laws promoted humanitarian causes.

I thought it pertinently topical that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tendered her resignation on the first full day of my adventuring through England’s most central county. She had recently orchestrated the controversial legislation that brought into being the self-ID bill: permitting anyone in Scotland to change gender without any certification, verification, or operation. Her last enactment as leader has polarised our Scottish cousins as the full implications of such egalitarianism is being played out in real time. It is likely to be copied by the Welsh but is currently opposed by Westminster, although the touted incoming Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, is likely to transition the position.

Traditionally, in the UK at least, if not globally, one would previously divide people into those having a sausage versus those of the hot dog bread roll variety. The more mature amongst us might divide the human species into ‘male/female’; ‘boys/girls’ or ‘men/women’. All notions based on their…

Self-identification permits anyone, anywhere to state that they are woman or man irrespective of what is going on in the undergarments. Understandably this shift from ‘sex is immutable’ that has lasted through all aeons to the current ideological notion isn’t universally welcomed. Moreover, it has wrought a cancel culture on those who speak out against it.

I personally found it a matter of ironic timing that Ms Sturgeon resigned on the very morning that my womanly principles were being ignited into righteousness by my passing of Lady Manners School.

I could not accept that in this day and age Finishing Schools were still in existence. For those spared the joy, their sole purpose was to teach young women social graces and upper-class etiquette as a preparation for marriage and entry into high society. Thankfully, I discovered the UK’s finishing schools floundered in the 1990s, with just a handful surviving to teach cordon-bleu cooking to all, irregardless of whether one has bread or sausage.

At the same time, I also discovered that Lady Grace Manners was an actual human being whose passing circa 1670, bequeathed to Derbyshire behind the aforementioned endowed school and quite the terrifying death mask.

Her legacy saw her establish an educational institution for boys in 1636, and two-hundred and sixty years later, in order to ensure its financial survival, they allowed girls to attend. This brought with it the need for new rules to be invented to assure that one would never forget one’s differences. Girls, for example, must always be permitted to enter and leave rooms before boys, and boys were expected to hold open doors for girls. Indoctrination of discrimination usually begins at a young age, and traces are still visible today. I only like it when I’m the beneficiary, naturally: so if any men are reading, please don’t feel free to let the door slam in the face in the pursuit of egalitarian progress.

Whilst parked up outside Lady Manners, I thoroughly enjoyed taking my considerable time educating myself on matters of Derbyshire’s contributions to humankind. The location, incidentally, also had me observing its pupils knocking around their expansive sports fields.

This was particularly unthinking of me given I drive the stereotypical vehicle of choice for kidnappers, bank robbers and other people of dubious intent. In my defence, it was one of those particularly stunning Spring days, and the more than adequate street parking facilities also availed me of high-speed internet: something that much of Derbyshire sorely lacks.

But that is how I got to pondering about women’s sports. Currently, nearly six and a half million men participate in sporting activities of moderate intensity for at least two and a half hours a week. On the other hand, just four million women get their arses in motion. One way to achieve equality, therefore, must be to encourage people formerly known as men to identify as women to warp the statistics.

Failing that, we need to address why the gender gap exists in the first instance. Let’s start with why nearly two-thirds of girls have quit playing sport by the age of 16.

The most commonly cited reasons for this are three biological facts. It was often said that sports such as horse riding would break the hymen, thus making a girl less than marriageable. This, whilst bonkers, is still a prevalent mentality amongst some sections of society, notably those where religion demands a woman’s virtue is reserved for her husband.

econdly, by the time a woman has turned sixteen, her body has changed considerably. It is usually no longer comparable to the anatomy of the pre-pubescent curveless ideal that is projected by the press and modelling industry. Girls become very self-aware of what jiggles and what shouldn’t in their “minds’ eye”. Comparisons are almost always unfavourable, particularly if studying images that have also touched up any flaws such as cellulite, scars and birthmarks. Who wishes to swan about in a swimming costume if one isn’t yet “Summer body ready?”

Then there’s the additional expenses: Girls require special sports bras to avoid unnecessary pain and discomfort. These are around £20 each and will need replacing regularly, partly because of growth, and partly from use.

Then there’s the really hidden costs. Exercise means changing in and out of clothes, which causes girls to rotate through a sanitary pack quicker. A realistic budget for a normal period is around 80p - £1 a day, some paying as much as £5 per day to access top-quality products. Sanitary towels are the protection of choice for almost all tweens and teens until one gets sexually active. Currently the age of consent is sixteen. Aren’t we glad then that in 2022 top-flight sports clubs finally recognised that sportswomen declining to wear the obligatory white shorts wasn't girls simply trying to make a fashion statement?

Best of all, is that many sports shorts are ‘unisex’. In order words they are designed for the default male body. For girls with curves, it means one’s intergluteal cleft munches away at the fabric for much of the sports time. Chomp, chomp, chomp.

Lastly, let’s talk about period pain: it’s true that sports really do help alleviate it but who the hell feels like pratting around as if in a tampon advert when one’s innards like being caught in centre of a rugby scrum. Less well known is that women are truly at their strongest on the first day of their period, and weakest the day prior.

Men, on the other hand, and those taking hormone-regulators or suppressors, do not have two radically swinging hormone systems. It is the latter that makes women consistently inconsistent as subjects for sporting research. Men currently score 94% in the attractiveness stakes for academic analysis in sports coaching and sports injuries. The remaining 6% is shared between women, and scientists enquiring whether or not trans women should be allowed to play in women’s sports.

If we don’t put resources into getting girls active, society won’t benefit from sustained long-term participation. These are usually cited as fewer stress-related illnesses and increased physical health benefits.

Since the 2012 London Olympics, government policy, led by the Tories, has shifted funds from council-funded sports initiatives to a national redistribution of wealth. It is typically posited that local councils are more focused on equal-access and targeting resources towards the overlooked, the discriminated and disadvantaged.

In short, this is a fancy way of saying: there is a current preference for allocating money to high-profile, highly-competitive, very elite sports. In the UK, the top three by revenue and participation are football, cricket and rugby. This ‘top-down’ model of growth aims to have success trickle down through to a grassroots level, via emulation and inspiration. Each time England sporting heroes do well, it creates more demand which nourishes those supplying the infrastructure. This all combines to make robust ranks that an athlete will rise through in order to acquire the very knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to participate at an elite level. Of course, they, like all experts in their field, require teachers, and this is often via the medium of “old hands”, aka the ‘coaching staff’ and scientific specialists.

Typically, football, rugby and tennis attract men, and they pay tremendous wages to those who succeed in its upper echelons. These top performers go on to become the icons and influence to the next generations creating a wonderfully flowing supply chain of resources, which creates a vast economy and enterprise. It also means women’s sports get short-shrift because it is perceived that they demand funds which may deprive England’s top-three sports of future opportunities for further success.

England’s top three-sports are also ultra competitive. This can be ideologically incompatible for girls who are more likely to be conditioned into “playing nicely” and “sharing is caring” by parents and educators alike. I think the current phrase is “Be Kind.” Who knew that “Boys will be boys” is not just a song from 2020 by Dua Lipa?

“Traditional girls’ sports” are the lesser-spotted sports, usually sighted every four years via the Olympics. Success in hockey, netball and curling drives a brief resurgence until the television wilderness kills them off again.

And if team sports aren’t one’s thing, but one likes safety in numbers, then exercise is typically sought via aerobics classes, yoga sessions and pilates. For many women it is simply a case that the less sweaty, the more appealing the recreation will be. Such activities are usually more costly overall, being privately supplied, than football and rugby training sessions, which are subsidised by their national associations. Cheapest of all would be to go for a run or a bike ride - but girls have been inculcated into a mindset of “stranger danger” since they were able to fathom language. Riding on one’s own whilst female in skin-tight lycra? Why, that’s just asking for trouble! That is certainly an argument I’ve heard frequently.

Since England Women’s football exploded onto mainstream television in the last decade, it has gone on to become the most revenue-making sports for girls. In second place? Tennis.

Wimbledon has had parity of pay in the UK since 2007. Thank you, Venus Williams and the Women’s Tennis Association for taking up space in the arena. By speaking out and obtaining the acknowledgement that the work of being a professional athlete is what happens off the court rather than being relative to the speed of the serve or the number of games one plays.

Because when it comes to the differences between men and women, and sport and sporting institutions, it is almost always a case that women get…

I will leave you with Derbyshire’s foremost sociologist, Herbert Spencer’s views on English’s favourite past-time:

“A nature which generates international hatreds and intense desires for revenge–which breeds duelists and a contempt for those who do not seek to wipe out a slight by a death, is not a nature out of which harmonious communities can be molded. Men who rush in crowds to witness the brutalities of football matches, who roar out ferocious suggestions to the players, and mob the umpires who do not please them, so that police protection is required, are not men who will show careful consideration of one another’s claims when they have agreed to work together for the common good.”

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