Diana Gabaldon, you have a lot to answer for.
Having recently discovered the Outlander series and binged until both series ended, I’ve moved onto your books.
The usual stack of three that nudge up on the bedside table next to me have room now only for an Eckhart Tolle and one large lump of Gabaldon imagination. I’m onto Dragonfly in Amber, the second book, and even though it’s big enough to be classified as a building material, I’m heartened to know there are at least four more to come when I’ve finished.
For those who don’t know it, Outlander is the story of a fiercely capable and extremely likeable ex-WW2 nurse Claire, who unwittingly travels back through a circle of stones in the Scottish Highlands to 1743. Here she patches up and marries her protector, Jamie Fraser, a 6’3 red-headed laird and outlaw with a body as hard as the stones Claire stepped through.
At 23, Jamie manages to be chivalrous, honourable, funny and ridiculously manly. In the series he’s played by Sam Heughan, who grunts and sly-smiles his way through clever dialogue as though he were born for the role.
Regularly called upon to rescue the leading lady, and himself, from a masochistic English captain called Black Jack Randall – who also happens to be the ancestor of Claire’s husband in the future - I have actually fallen in love.
I’m not the only one.
My sister is responsible for introducing me. She rolled her eyes as she spoke of nothing else for 45 minutes upon collecting me from the airport. We were at the start of a week-long sister catch-up that hadn’t happened in 3 years.
My sister is a midwife, and she told me the matron of her hospital has Jamie Fraser pinned to the inside of her locker. She has another friend to whom she introduced Jamie, and this woman and her husband front a major news television network. He now calls his wife Sassenach and grunts in a Scots accent (yes, I believe you can detect an accent in a grunt).
A friend demanded I read Gabaldon’s books when I lamented that the series had ended, telling me I’d get far more from the written word than I would from the screen.
“But I won’t get to look at Jamie naked,” I protested. Bright blue pools grew under black bangs of hair and I detected a wobble of skin in her emphatic shaking of head. “That’s not Jamie. He’s not Jamie.”
Actually I think Sam (we’re on first name terms) has done a fine job. So much so that I have friended him on Facebook. And he’s one of the few people – along with Gabaldon – that I follow on Twitter.
I’ve also developed a minor crush on Black Jack the bad guy, Tobias Menzies, who is actually slightly closer to my age and apparently has a strong following in Italy.
Perfectly intelligent women of all walks of life have swooned at the hands of Jamie Fraser, and it has got me thinking…thinking too much about this Scottish hunk and his independent, capable wife and their adventures in the 18th Century.
Why has it struck such a chord with us women? I think it’s the vulnerability angle. Claire lost her parents young, was raised by her archaeologist uncle and by age 26 had worked on the front line as a nurse. She’s young and cute but probably pretty stressed out and over it. She swears and doesn’t take any shit, so she’d fit my circle of girlfriends. But all of a sudden she is forced to shut her mouth and let a man take over (and he does). Jamie fights in hand to hand combat, he spanks her for misbehaving, and then he tenderly tells her he cannot live without her and he’s sorry for causing any hurt (it’s just the way he was brought up, he says – he’ll change).
Meanwhile, back in 2016, what have we done to our men?
We are in battle with them. We want them to provide for us and buy us drinks but we resent them for earning more than us (truly I don’t see why a man who does the exact same job as me should be paid more for it).
We want them to be hands-on dads but we can’t bear to watch when they discipline our kids their way.
They need to be manly, physically fit and strong – mastery of horse riding optional but advantageous.
But come on, you want to leave me with the housework and the kids and the lawns while you go off and exercise?
Many things I’ve read about the 1700s tell me that times were hard. I wouldn’t have lasted long with my big mouth and witch-like opinions. But would I have been happier?
If my mother’s generation of feminists had not demanded women have the right to work and to be recognised in the workplace, would I have bothered juggling the demands of being a working mum? Would it annoy me so much that it’s me picking the kids up, covering the mortgage and getting the drinks?
If I was born in a different time, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to creatively share myself in words, and instead I’d need to keep my mouth shut and let a red-headed warrior become my body of work. Now that’s a tough choice.
Unfortunately, Diana Gabaldon, we working mums now have a crush on your imagination. And we are chasing a ghost.
If you're spending a lot of your day in bare feet, then chances are you have found the kind of balance that Hook & Arrow writer Alison Smith has found in life.