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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sex hormones and satnavs

People have strong feelings about satnavs. I love mine and couldn't function without it, even switching it on when driving roads I know well. It frees my mind for thinking and tells me when to turn. 

I'll use it just to drive to the village shop and back, if I'm thinking about a particularly tricky problem. It saves me suddenly realising I'm in Swansea and wondering how the hell I got there.

Rachel hates satnavs and stops talking when mine starts giving me directions. "I don't want to compete for your attention with another woman," she says.

"You're not," I say. "It's a machine."

"It's a woman's voice," she says and she's right. I have my satnav set to Jane who, judging by her accent, comes from somewhere in Surrey, rides to hounds and wears high heels and tight jodhpur pants that .... Ahem.

"Thing is I don't want some guy telling me how to drive my car," I tell Rachel, as she goes silent mid-sentence again, while Jane's mellifluous tones tell me to turn right at the next roundabout and somehow invest the instruction with inviting innuendo. 

"That's interesting, isn't it?" I say.

"What is?" she says.

"The whole opposite-sex appeal, same-sex competitiveness thing. You even get it with a machine."

"It's biological programming," she says. "Your body and feelings respond to the female voice, even if your brain knows there's no female there. Male hormones are more powerful than male brains. But we knew that."

"There's no call to be sexist," I say. "It works with women too. My sister has her satnav set to Sean, who oozes Irish charm, the slimeball."

"No, you're right," Rachel says. "I have a colleague who's convinced it works across species too." 

"What does?" I say.

"Being a man," she says. "He reckons he can charm the females of any species, especially mammals."

"What like lions and tigers?" I say. "Is he nuts?"

"Could be," she says. "But he's a biologist so there might be some science behind it. He says it's chemistry."

"Like test-tubes and bunsen burners?" I say.

"Like chemicals in the body," she says. "Especially hormones. They have a huge effect on behaviour and lots of animals have the same hormones as us."

"Ah, right," I say. "I think I read that one of the hormones in HRT comes from horse piss."

"Used to," she says. "You're talking about oestrogen, the female sex hormone. Which is a good example because it's one of the oldest hormones in the world. So you find it in every kind of vertebrate, from trout, seals and salmon to giraffes, gorillas and Lady Gaga."

"And that means they all act the same way around anything with male hormones?" I say. "Sounds far-fetched to me."

"Me too," Rachel says. "But that's just his hypothesis. What he knows for sure, he says, is that he can get females of any species to like him, by being sensitive to what they're doing and feeling - and by letting them smell him."

"Before I let a lioness that close I'd need to know I didn't smell like a gazelle," I say.

"You have reached your destination," Jane tells me and I give her a little pat, then look around and realise that once again my favourite female has got me to my destination with the minimum of fuss. She is fantastic. 

"I wonder if satnavs have oestrogen in them?" I say. 

"No they don't," Rachel says, reaching up and switching Jane off sharply. "She's never going to feel the same way about you as you do about her. Get over it, pal."

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