The Power

Last month, while away, I read ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is an imagined world in which the tables are turned when teenage girls develop an ability that puts them in the position of becoming the more powerful gender. It is a fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns and is both gripping and thought-provoking. The real shame is that it will only get read by those who understand and believe the message it conveys.

The press is awash with current revelations of sexual harassment and worse, brought about by abuse of power. It set me to recalling incidents in my life that made me feel, at best uncomfortable; at worst degraded and humiliated.

Having grown up in an era that was supposed to have been sexually enlightened and having embraced the hippy values of ‘free love’ at an early age did nothing to alleviate the feelings of shame and misery after I’d unwisely and naively believed a man who’d claimed he was a photographer and wanted some ‘head and shoulder’ shots of me during one long, summer vacation from college.

Then there was the young man who kindly offered to give me a lift home from a party and expected much more than thanks when we arrived at my door. His outrage at my refusal was astonishing, even then.

At school my clarinet teacher felt it was his right to touch and grope. So frightened was I that I got my friend to walk down the corridor and wait outside the door every week. I was also scared to tell my father I didn’t want to learn clarinet, because as he constantly told me, he’d invested so much money in the lessons and the instrument. I was never tempted by musical instruments again.

It’s good that incidents of abuse are getting an airing. Nobody should underestimate the terrible feelings of victims. In recent times I’ve heard casual remarks from intelligent, educated males about the Savile era abuse, remarks such as ‘the young girls must have liked to have been paid the attention by the DJs’. This type of comment shocks me. How would anyone who has not experienced such abuse know how they felt?

In the comments section of the Guardian website, in response to an article about the recent Harvey Weinstein abuse there is a sewer full of outraged, invective laden protest from men who feel their entitlement is threatened.

I’m older now and more confident to tell someone when they are out of order, like a neighbour who persisted in saying to me ‘Give me a nice smile’; although I still seek to avoid contact with him since his manner is no less creepy.

Yes-I know that men can also suffer hideous treatment-this is not in contention. But I’m weary of waiting for gender equality to arrive. However compelling ‘The Power’ may be it will only be preaching to the converted.

 

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The Loneliness of the Self-Scanner

Been to a supermarket lately? Noticed anything?

Those of us in the UK who don’t have our groceries delivered [and I have penned a blog post about this in the past: Wandering Around in the Bagging Area] and who frequent supermarkets are being subjected to an offensive regarding the way we gather our comestibles etc.

It goes like this: A number of members of staff are allocated to diverting we unwary shoppers into the self-checkout tills, or worse, into the scan-as-you-go system.

From the shop’s point of view, I suppose the aim is ultimately to cut out manned check-outs altogether, chopping their wages bills and perhaps maximising shop floor space.

A quick glance around the store tells me I’m not alone in being unenthusiastic about the automisation of the shopping experience. For a start, it’s not like I haven’t tried it; it’s just that they are never fully automated, are they? Something always goes wrong. A number of people have to be employed simply to sort the glitches which renders the machines pointless-

Then there’s the term ‘self-check-out’. It’s a little too uncomfortable for those in later life. Myself, I’m not ready to ‘check-out’ yet.

Scan-as-you-go may well be the answer to the supermarkets’ prayers but it has no appeal for me.  We have grown used to weighing and labelling our fruit and vegetables in French supermarchés, however I’ve no desire to scan each and every thing I want to toss into my trolley. I want a carefree wander among the aisles, browsing and speculating.

Our nearest grocer is an upmarket, dearer one and dominated by older, retiree shoppers. Some of them are very elderly, shuffling around in slippers and comfort clothing, dependent on the trolley for support. In my younger, more ignorant, more impatient, time-poor days I’d castigate the elderly shoppers, fumbling for their purses, dropping things, peering with rheumy eyes at the card reader, but as one whose hands are no longer entirely at their owner’s bidding I have more sympathy for the slow, muddled, dithering old folks as they dawdle up and down deliberating at the freezers and pondering over the bread.

For a number of the lonely elderly a chat with a checkout operator may well be the only small piece of human contact they’ll get that day. If the human interaction element of the shopping experience is denied them they’ll be deprived of an essential bit of contact. I too want this minute bit of engagement. I want to be greeted, to be asked how I am, to have a snippet of conversation about the loaf I’ve selected or how beautiful the apples look. Maybe when I worked all day [talking] and only wanted to lie down in a dark room when I got home I’d have relished the thought of completing the shopping quickly and in solitary silence but I’m not sure that becoming fully automated is such an advantageous initiative.

There are already threads in the media over our screen use; how we choose to peer at tiny screens instead of conversing, how we’d prefer to play solitary screen games rather than engage with other humans. What effect is all this solitary behaviour going to have on us in the future? Answers on a virtual postcard…

No More Rubbish, Facebook!

Whatever Facebook haters/refuse-niks say, I still get enough out of it to consider it useful. Yes, there is a great deal of dross. But it does enable some small degree of audience for anyone to platform creativity [musicians, artists and yes-writers].

This last few weeks, while away I seem to have spent far too much time deleting and ‘hiding’ items that appear on my home page unsolicited. I hope I can be forgiven if I’ve posted my FB dislikes before however this is my new, updated list of Facebook hates [in no particular order]:

  • With apologies to any friends who regularly post such snippets, I do not want to copy and paste any posts about your popularity, eg ‘let’s see who reads my posts’, ‘how did we meet?’, ‘if you liked me you would…’. I haven’t ‘un-friended’ you. That should be enough!
  • I don’t want to read epithets, cute sayings, unfunny texts, lifestyle quotes or inspirational passages, thanks, and especially not accompanied by winsome pictures of tots or bunnies or kittens.
  • As far as I am concerned, a quiz does not constitute answering questions to discover which flower I would be or which heavy metal band I should belong to. Don’t ask me to participate, please.
  • It’s astonishing, I know, but I am not interested to see updated profile pictures of ‘friends of friends’. These are people I don’t know. Why would I want to see pictures of them? Also, at the risk of sounding humbug I don’t really want to see a new profile picture of my friends every week. I haven’t changed my profile pic in years-why would I?
  • I could devote an entire post to this. I get bombarded with ads: funerals, incontinence pads, nail salons, cars-[cars?], holidays, grandchildren gifts, knitting patterns…just who do they think I am?
  • Exercise app posts. I’m impressed by your fitness, friends, believe me. I know how it is to be fit, after all I ran every day for about twenty years plus step-aerobics three times each week. I was fit. You need not, however post a map of wherever you have run, cycled, swum or abseiled every time you do it. If you have not yet succumbed [as I have] to arthritic joints, injuries and becoming ancient you are merely lucky-nothing else.
  • Regarding the dreaded selfies; while I want to see you doing something interesting, achieving something or lovely pictures of your kids, I don’t enjoy endless photos of you in line-ups of your friends who I do not know, sticking your leg/breasts/chin out in a ‘model’ type pose-neither do I much want to view every meal you eat in a restaurant [or drink that you drink]. Sorry!
  • Please don’t post your rants, political or otherwise-especially not recycled Daily Mail rubbish or [worse] ghastly ‘Britain First’, fascist propaganda. I don’t want to unfriend anyone but am sometimes tempted if you circulate too many hate posts.

Ah, you say; so why use it at all? Because, reader, I want to post a link to this blog, I want to see what everyone is up to and, although I may be one of the few on this planet who likes them-I want to see your travel photos! So there!

Cracking the Second One-

We are in southern France, attempting to find some vestiges of the summer we felt cheated of in the UK.

I had also meant, whilst here to attempt to get the first draft of Novel 2 knocked off. In the event it’s proving more difficult than I’d imagined, for a number of reasons.

When I wrote the first novel I thought it was hard; now I realise that it was a proverbial walk in the park compared to the wild, flapping, untameable story that is the second book. Novel 1[ The Year of Familiar Strangers] ’s central character is loosely based around a person I knew in the past and many of the episodes in the story are real incidents that only needed a little embellishment, a little alteration, to form the basis of what I still consider to be a ripping yarn. Several of the peripheral characters were also lifted from real life and very little invention was needed. I even had the locations in my head [no surprise that much of it is set in France!].

Novel 2 is as different to 1 as a toothbrush to a vacuum cleaner. All of the characters are inventions. I’ve had to get to know them as the story has progressed, never sure if their actions are true to type or too far-fetched for credibility. The plot continues to escape my direction, twisting and turning and having a mind of its own. The nearer I think I’m getting to the denouement the longer it appears to be taking to crack it. There is a constant need to refer back in the text to ensure continuity and half the time I forget who did what, and when. I want to tie the ends up, bring the threads together in some semblance of logic, a conclusion that leads the reader to say ‘Ah, so that was why/where/ what, but like Alice, every step I take goes in the opposite direction to where I want to go.

A further difficulty is that having chosen to set the novel in the moderately near future and then taking too long to write it leads to ideas getting high-jacked by reality. Did George Orwell have this problem with 1984? I am now loath to tie it down to any date due to the rapid technological developments that are catching up with-and in some instances overtaking those in my novel! This is frustrating-technology moves along faster than my novel-writing! And the future is BIG. HUGE! It is a mistake to try and corral it into a novel.

Choosing to hand-write the last section hasn’t helped. Having visualised sitting in the sun scribbling away and penning the final words with a flourish I’m contending with strong breezes, insects and the lure of cycling, walking and sightseeing. Ah yes-I should be so driven as to eschew such pleasures. This morning we woke to rain, so if you will excuse me I can’t be frittering away my time on frivolous blog-writing; I need to get on before any more innovations come in…

Cheering Myself Up-

You have only to take a glancing interest in the news on a regular basis to begin to feel that the world is a gloomy place-and becoming gloomier by the day.

  • In various parts of the world there are the usual, horrific subjugations of parts of society by other parts [such as in Myanmar]. [It is difficult to understand, in this case how a woman with a history of persecution cannot bring herself to support and alleviate the suffering of her fellow countrymen].
  • Ill-conceived and pointless terrorist attempts continue to be made-the latest a horrific explosion on an underground train in London, in which a number of innocent people were injured for merely going about their business.
  • In the UK a debt mountain is growing and threatening to eclipse all previous peaks.
  • The USA and North Korea between them seem to have decided to blow the planet to smithereens.
  • Our beleaguered health service is [yet again] facing a crisis winter without sufficient resources, staff or funding, although if the previous story goes the full chapter the health service will not be necessary…

But overall, all of these grim stories almost pale into irritations compared to the ghastly weather incidents that have been occurring on an increasing scale this year. The Caribbean and the Eastern part of North America has seen devastating events as has Asia, with hurricanes, unrelenting rain, flooding and ravaging winds destroying the lives, homes and livelihoods of thousands.

Can there be anyone left other than Donald Trump who still refuses to believe that the Earth’s climate is changing?

I can’t help feeling we have an obligation at least to know about terrible news events, rather than ignoring it all. But knowing can induce a sensation of helplessness-even despair. In order to mitigate these reactions I determined to trawl through the news and attempt to find some uplifting, heartening or entertaining snippets:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I read some years ago and recently watched on TV has won the prestigious Emmy award. And quite right, too! Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers with her thought-provoking tales of dystopian futures.
  • Some wonderful movie posters dating from the 1930s and 1940s have been discovered under a carpet near Cardiff in Wales, UK. They were sold at auction for £72,000. I like to hear that discoveries such as this are still possible!
  • A Polish lemonade company wanted to market a new product and call it ‘John Lemon’. What a relief they were stopped! Yoko Ono massed some big legal guns; now it’s to be called ‘On Lemon’ which would be unlikely to offend anyone.
  • A Welsh [yes, Wales again] teenager walked up Mount Snowdon [for the uninitiated this is the highest peak in England and Wales] wearing only his underwear, in order to raise money for a dementia charity. He gained the top but became very ill with hypothermia, having not realised that the temperature would be considerably colder than at the base of the mountain. Fortunately the lad was transported down on the train and treated by paramedics. That he recovered goes without saying-or I would not have included the story in the ‘uplifting’ section.

There you have it! Bad news/good news-a game we played as children. The second list was harder to find. Make of it what you will…

Harry Styles and the Gaping Well of Ignorance-

On the way up the road to watch the film, ‘Dunkirk’ we bumped into a friend and neighbour. We couldn’t stop to chat, we told him, as we’d got tickets to the film. ‘Look out for Harry Styles’ he advised us as we walked on. Harry Styles? ‘I wouldn’t know Harry Styles if he jumped put and bit me on the bottom’ I called back over my shoulder. And it is true, I wouldn’t. Oh I’ve heard his name-I’d have even hazarded a guess that he’d been in a boy-band. Further than that I’d have no more clue than about who’d first split the atom. Besides-I did not choose to see ‘Dunkirk’ because of who was starring in it.

We watched the film in our local, somewhat low-tech, volunteer-run, theatre, where they just about stop short of serving teas in the interval. While the adverts were on [and what Husband likes to show his age by calling ‘Pathe news’] there was a commotion in the row in front of us caused by not one, but two couples sitting in the wrong seats, the turmoil ensuing when the legitimate seat-holders arrived. The second couple further entertained us by producing their tickets and discovering they had seats for the following Friday. What a humiliating exit!

                The film was marred for me by inattention to detail where Dunkirk seafront was concerned. I’m fairly sure those sixties-style apartment blocks did not exist when the troops were being evacuated from the beaches. But I was grateful we were spared the sort of gory exposure of body parts that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ had in abundance. About half way through the action Husband nudged me to hiss ‘that is Harry Styles’, though I was little the wiser for this, the character and the actor unremarkable and undistinguishable from the other young men in the movie. I was able to identify wonderful Mark Rylance, even though I’d no idea he was in the film. Towards the end, [and I’m sure it isn’t a spoiler to tell you], when two of the survivors were on the train home getting feted as heroes I whispered to Husband that you could tell they were back in Blighty because the sun was shining, prompting him to snort loudly in the hushed auditorium.

Now we are in the South of France and the enigmatic Harry Styles has reared his bland, barely identifiable head once more, having been in a video on a screen in a bar in Frontignan. ‘Look’ said Husband, ‘It’s Harry Styles’. Harry was flying in the sky somewhere, singing. Husband seems to be au fe about contemporary culture, whilst when I try to conjure up a list of those I would recognise I can come up with no more than four or five. ‘I think I’d recognise Justin Bieber’, I say-but wasn’t there another Justin a while ago? With a name like Timberland [a boot manufacturer].

In the end it’s no use attempting to keep up, because Harry, Justin and all the rest will have been superseded in no time by the next wave of ‘stars’. What is an old granny to do? Ignore it!

What Makes You Old?

A woman at my book club told me she didn’t begin to feel old until she reached her sixties. But what exactly is feeling old? Is it to do with physical failings? Memory? Loss of independence? Or does it occur due to fear of death, which, of course comes closer with each passing day?

Sibling 1 moved house last week, after more than thirty years in the same, large, old, character-ful home. He was seventy last year. Like many of us, the old family home has become too large for two growing-older people to manage. His new home is a bungalow; tidy, neat and unremarkable. We live at opposite ends of the country, he and I, communicating sporadically and meeting infrequently, but in his email he writes of needing to walk with a stick, having to ‘get a quart into a pint pot’ [of the downsize they have made], of the various health issues he and his wife are experiencing.

It is dispiriting to read this. While we are dependent, to a degree on fitness to stay the fears of old age, seventy should not, need not feel old, any more than sixty should. After all we are used to seeing footage of centenarians running marathons or parachuting out of planes. So what makes some continue to be adventurous and intrepid in older age and some not?

I believe it is possible to think yourself old and I suspect it has much to do with how you have lived life all along, who you’ve hitched up with, where you’ve taken up residence, what your occupation was and many other, related factors.

The small town Husband and I moved to a year ago has a reputation for being home to the largest population of pensioners in the country and this is often evident on Mondays, when the market in the High Street is beset by swathes of motorised scooters, walking stick wielding geriatrics and silver browsers.

And yet on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night the town hums with fun seekers; music lovers, clubbers, theatre-goers and the pub community thronging the streets. In the pubs there’ll be live bands attended by drinkers and dancers. The restaurants are full and the streets are busy with revellers moving from one venue to another. Look closely and many of these fun-seekers are the same, older folks that were in the market, determinedly rocking the night away. And who can blame them?

What should we do, then? Some simply give in to aches and pains, sit around and eat themselves into a blob. Others don their lycra, deny themselves to anorexia and run, cycle and circuit train themselves into gristle. Personally I prefer the happy medium. I like to walk and cycle and enjoy it all the more with a slice of cake, an ice cream or a glass of wine at the end of it!

But most of all I could never, ever give up to the point of buying and living in a bungalow!