Flights of fancy
HAVE YOU EVER read those sublime short stories by 1930s English vet James Herriot? If not, then you’ve just been introduced to a favourite new author, perfect for preg-lit. I promise. Anyway, there’s a scene in one of his books where James scoffs at the advice given to him by a grizzly old Yorkshire farmer. See, Herriot has just gotten married to Helen, the daughter of another local farmer, and they’re obviously trying for a kid. Grizzly farmer has one of the most successful dairy herds in the district, and he lets James in on his secret – always face the heifers northwards when the stud bull mounts them. That way you are ensured a female calf. The scientific-minded James dismisses this as medieval bunkum. He tries not to imagine convincing his beautiful but practical wife to shift her bum round in their tiny bed of an evening. But grizzly farmer’s ancestors have had an award-winning milk herd for generation after generation. The short story ends with a glorious twist. As James is driving away, the grizzly farmer’s family come out to wave him goodbye. As James laughs to himself at the quaint superstitions of these isolated hill folk, he can’t help noticing grizzly farmer’s eight strapping sons lining the courtyard. The point is, humans have always been fascinated by the possibility that we can control the gender of our unborn sprogs. Make no mistake, someone or something seems to be controlling it. Consider – more girls are born in the tropics. After wars, more boys get born. Whether this is due to divine intervention, genetic statistical oddities, or horny soldiers returning from the front line, the jury is still out. The Chinese have a lunar conception calendar with “girl” and “boy” months. Astrologists claim that the position of Venus, Mars, and yes, sorry, I can’t resist, Uranus, also influence the gender of your child. Other myths include having sex under a full moon for a girl, and under a quarter moon for a boy; getting it on under a wild west wind for a boy, and a cold north wind for a girl, in autumn for a boy, standing up for a girl, and so on. One “scientific” theory holds that “boy” sperm swim faster than “girl” sperm, but have less staying power. (As an aside, look at which gender holds all the ultra-endurance swimming records.) This means that if you want a boy, you should have sex as close as possible to ovulation. Other theories champion hormonal fluctuations, blood alkalinity, core temperature and diet as ways to determine gender. They all ultimately end up at the same conclusion. Until Gattica meets The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s a 50-50 gamble either way. But my mind keeps going back to the Yorkshire hills. Did that grizzly old farmer line his wife up southwards eight times? Was there simply nothing else to do of a cold winter’s evening in rural Yorkshire mid-1930? Was she a willing accomplice? Are these all just old wives’ tales? Maybe I better pay attention. After all, my wife is going to be old one day, and by God, she loves her tales or two. Meanwhile, I see Cape Union Mart has a special on compasses. I’m three kids in, so I want an accurate directionfinder, that’s for sure!
WAS THERE SIMPLY NOTHING ELSE TO DO OF A COLD WINTER’S EVENING IN RURAL YORKSHIRE MID-1930?