Friday, 6 May 2016

Confessions of a Former Green

As the child of vegan, tree-hugging, organic-gardening atheists long before it was fashionable, let alone de rigueur, I had little choice but to grow up believing that green was good.

Nightmares about overpopulation even drove me to the GP at 18 and again at 23 to request sterilisation. On both occasions I was turned down on the grounds that I was 'too young' and would be 'bound to change my mind later'.  Last week I heard on the radio that 20 years later young women like me are still being turned away from their GPs on the same grounds, no matter that it is apparently possible for a four-year old to receive trans-gender treatment on the NHS these days and over a decade before reaching the age of consent (is this even legal?) who is clearly not deemed 'too young' to know his/her own mind, let alone required to go through the myriad phases, moods and experiments of a standard-issue child, before finally deciding who and what they are.

But to get back to the point, scared rigid by the oft-repeated threat in children's encyclopaedias that 'the world's oil supply is predicted to run out in 20 years' - a rolling '20 years' in hindsight it would seem, I was 100% wholeheartedly in favour of being green and lived frugally and carefully for years, doing my bit to recycle every jar, every piece of string. purchasing very few new clothes, until I realised my behaviour was sailing dangerously close to my parents' joint hoarding habit which meant we hadn't had friends to visit since 1981, and taught myself the reverse joys of throwing away 'that might come in handy one day'.

As I grew older, it dawned on me that my efforts were completely eclipsed by even truer greens in the family - my grandparents - to whom all such ideology was anathema. Childhood poverty the Depression and wartime rationing had dictated their green credentials.

I penned the first green policy of several early workplaces on my CV, before such things as Green Officers and even Global Warming (now Carbon Reduction) Managers came about, let alone a whole 'industry' of green experts, whose job it seems is to write impenetrable and interminable reports to help each company satisfy various industry benchmark criteria which they have created. Even Pest controllers now market themselves as 'Environmental Services', no matter that most of their activities are the opposite of harm-free when strong poisons and chemicals are deployed.

My green policy documents included such common sense tips as 'only fill the kettle with the amount of water you need' or 'swap your power shower head for a normal shower head' or 'Wait until you have a full load before using washing machine and program on economy cycle'. I pick up other people's nowadays and scarcely understand the jargon contained within. As if in sympathy, power bills have also become unreadable so we cannot tell what we use and what it costs any more.

Bit by bit, my commitment to greenness was being chipped away, not least when an anti-car activist of my acquaintance was espied taking driving lessons!

Now I don't know if global warming is true or not. We've had a few ice ages when no one was apparently around to cause them after all. And new motorway banks always seem to sprout up within weeks of the rock blasting, thus proving some kind of natural resilience. This doesn't mean I am a climate change denier, just an independent. Especially since I have noticed all the green taxes being levied by various governments make it somewhat expedient to carry on promoting that the world is in trouble. Well it may or may not be, but the world's management does not seem to be taking it seriously enough if so. Consumerism and built-in obsolescence is being allowed to continue unabated for starters. Countries are allowed to use carbon-offsetting to carry on polluting! For all our green pretensions we have never lived in a more materialistic or more throwaway age. Even buildings which used to last at least 100 years are constantly replaced with some in central London being bulldozed and rebuilt on average every 5 years. We have never lived in an age of greater global population. The list goes on of why it's hard to take the green thing wholly seriously for all the pious proseltyzing on the subject.

But to get back to basics, of course saving things and not wasting them is a good idea and absolutely fits into the 'good ideas box'. We should value earth's resources more than we do and not take them for granted. We should think of future generations and the type of world we want them to inherit (ie one careful
owner, though it may be a bit late for that). We should strive to be reasonably
minimalist when it comes to too many possessions, unless of special sentimental value, in which case they are generally recycled from previous generations anyway. This is the type of brass tacks greenness I understand.

I am not and never could be an extreme green who advocates 'depopulation'.
And what is that anyway? I think they should explain themselves. To 'depopulate' suggests some sort of fascistic activity with sinister overtones once human beings are already born and possessed of human rights. Free contraception, properly distributed and encouraged around the world, and I'm on board!

As for me, my main personal contributions to greenness have been lifelong veganism (unless you count the air miles of my mangos and spirulina), minimal personal flights (around 2 a year), oh, and no ankle biters, despite the unhelpfulness of my GP.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

NIMBYs Unite - Your Country Needs You!

It started with this Daily Mail lead letter from George Rome Innes. A week later mine was printed below. We need more NIMBYs. And let's face it everyone's a NIMBY when it's THEIR back yard. Fact. But everyone should care about what is in their back yard And what is in their front yard too. Let's make NIMBY a badge of honour, not a term of abuse. It is just a criticism to shut down debate anyway. But the more debate the better. All too often tax payers are presented wtih a Hobson's choice of abysmal planning options to choose from, if any choice at all.

I say towns and cities are for people, not developers or corporations who seek to play Monopoly with our lives, strip us of our assets and sell us short, never mind quite happily bulldoze everything about Brighton and Hove that makes it special. Even the Royal Pavilion has suffered serious threats to its existence twice in its history. It has got to the point in Brighton where families born and bred in this city are being urged to move elsewhere as the city can no longer 'afford' to accommodate them. Meantime our council has plenty of money for silly road schemes that no one wants while they neglect upkeep of our seafront, close our libraries and lavatories and tell us we have to face a future of high rise developments on our seafront and the construction of 'Greater Brighton' cutting a swathe through our city.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The New Immortality

My partner and I attended the opening of a thought-provoking art exhibition at Brighton's Phoenix last Friday. A collaboration of contemporary artists including our friend Guyan Porter had come together to produce - The New Immortality - a collection of musings on the human desire (and the scientific race) to create immortality.

Exploring the art works, I remembered my late father. An ardent atheist, he traded the promise of eternal spiritual life for a desire 'to live to at least 100'. Sadly, circumstances conspired to fell him a few months shy of his 80th birthday. Though he is far from the only example of atheism and veganism going hand-in-hand.

I also vaguely remembered the existence (if not the name) of a 1970s society which didn't believe in death, and presumably offered a discount if you joined it and its sister 'Flat Earth Society' at the same time. Apparently each time one of its members dropped off the perch it was explained away that he/she had simply not believed strongly enough.

It seemed to me that anyone who seeks eternal life on the earthly plane through scientific advance is also likely to be an atheist and seeking to put off what they perceive as oblivion for as long as possible. Whereas anyone with faith knows that it is only the body which dies. The spirit or soul cannot die for it already is immortal.

One piece of work expressed the alarm that the scientific art of immortality would be cornered by a wealthy elite who would promptly exert their life and death powers over the rest of the world, deciding who could live and die. To take this line of thought a step further; does really anyone want an immortal Simon Cowell, Rupert Murdoch and Piers Morgan or, god forbid, Donald Trump?

On a human level, would the art of immortality also deliver accompanying eternal youth or would we still age to look 110, 120, 130 accordingly? We are all only too aware of what a shallow looksist, ageist world we inhabit. How would we cope with an ageing body that just went on and on ageing until we could scarcely remember that we had ever been young? Conversely, keeling over at the age of 150 whilst still looking and feeling 25 would also be weird.

Then we have the rising social acceptability of 'assisted suicide' when life gets too much, sitting incredibly uncomfortably with all the anti-suicide campaigns and charities.

It's a somewhat mixed message. Life is precious, but it is also increasingly throwaway, at both ends of life's spectrum. No longer a 'gift' but something that can be destroyed if and when expedient or inconvenient, no guilt, no blame, no sin. So why on earth would we seek to extend life indefinitely? Would that really be fun or desirable? (being as we are continually being told that the world is overpopulated anyway). What constitutes progress in matters of life and death?

Interestingly religion played little part in the exhibition, save for a mock and rather good 'hymn' In Praise of Renewal sang by Brighton Festival Chorus choir and a neon installation proclaiming 'God is in the mind'.  Reincarnation didn't get a look in, which would be the obvious obviation to the need for immortality.

Strangely, I have more than once come across the following sentence in books I have read lately: 'We are spiritual beings having a human experience.' What an intriguing thought, and one which potentially has the ability to turn a lot of earthly assumptions on their head if one day we all find it contains even a modicum of truth as we are greeted at the pearly gates.

I like to think that the Big G (if he exists) takes a somewhat Oscar Wilde approach to humankind  'There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.'

The Big G's nemesis Professor Richard Dawkins is apparently hopping mad that Christians have been praying for him after his recent stroke. Maybe he will be the first guinea pig for an immortal solution to his mortality.

Racks and racks of cryogenically frozen millionaire bodies and heads already await reanimation around the world, But since they have already died, then according to atheist belief, surely they no longer exist? Moreover, even if the science bit was made to work, how (on earth) would the re-animators capture the lost personalities, let alone ensure the right personalities re-inhabited the correct bodies? Though perhaps there is no need to worry. They have already handed their money over. Who's going to check that anyone bothers to try re-animating them at all? Particularly after a few years have passed and they become yesterday's men/news!

I urge anyone likely to be in Brighton between now and 20th March 2016 to go and see this exhibition. Then go home and download Pandora and the Flying Dutchman to reconsider immortality.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Helping the Homeless - questions in need of answers

In the 1990s American comedienne Rita Rudner brought the house down when she revealed that every time a wino asked her; 'Do you have any spare change?' she replied 'I don't know. I haven't lived my life yet!'

Now it seems an increasingly hollow joke. On this side of the pond the dignified gentleman tramp of my childhood sporting the tired cords with string tied around his boot tops who never bothered anyone and lived in a tent on a grassy island where two motorways converged has been replaced by ever growing numbers of homeless of all ages, nationalities and hues in all manner of doorways and alleys, some making an attempt to earn their living with a painting, a sand dog or the playing of a musical instrument, many not.

No sooner do you give some change to a homeless person in Brighton than you encounter another one just a few yards along the street. Donor fatigue sets in fast. More and more locals skip their morning or evening constitutional and take the bus, stricken by moral paralysis as to how to react. I myself have been through many personal policies - only donate to those who attempt to earn a living, only donate to those with a dog, keep a pocket of 20p pieces and give one to each. Don't subsidise anyone's obvious drink or drug habit (if they want to kill themselves I don't want to be an accessory). Give them a sandwich rather than money. You name it, I've given it a go, but somehow have never arrived at a satisfactory personal policy.

A proliferation of Big Issue sellers have appeared who get shirty if you try to buy their 'last' Big Issue but still want the money and are clearly using the magazine not as intended, to help them get back on their feet, but as a begging tool.

Everyone has noticed how much worse the problem has become in the last few years, though there are a few mitigating circumstances in Brighton. A number of homeless were apparently given one-way tickets here to clear them out of the way for the 2012 London Olympics and have never gone back, or have come of their own accord believing (or having been told) that homeless services are better here. Others have (according to my GP who also treats the homeless) taken the view 'If I'm going to be homeless, I may as well be homeless by the sea' evidently not considering that a seaside area may be subject to more regular storms and high winds than inland, particularly out of season.

Earlier this month three homeless people died in the same week. A makeshift shrine to them soon appeared at the foot of the clock tower. The Big Issue seller outside Waitrose died. Gareth. I had assumed he was an old man with his greying hair and beard. Shockingly I read a tribute on the adjacent wall which (if accurate) showed him to be a mere 6 months older than me!
It is rumoured that 50 homeless individuals have died in the city in the last three years, though it is hard to pin down the facts, let alone how many deaths were a direct result of 'homelessness' (ie exposure) or other factors such as drug overdose, suicide, accident or misadventure.

One homeless advocate I met reckoned '1000 homeless people sleep on Brighton's streets each night.' The Brighton Argus reported '79' only days later. There is no agreement on how many hostel spaces are available or not, though the Salvation Army said in a recent meeting I was present at that arrangements have been made to accommodate additional homeless in three local churches temporarily if the temperature should fall below zero for three nights consecutively. Sometimes the figures move around for a reason - ie higher figures mean homeless charities are more likely to get projects funded, but the whole shifting sand nature of the homeless problem makes it hard to get a proper handle on it. Emotive ads on London trains showing young women who apparently risk sleeping with strangers just to have a bed for the night are said to be an exaggeration. Very young women are seldom seen on the capital's streets late at night because they are the easiest to find and get off the streets.

St Mungo's have just taken over Brighton's council contract to help rough sleepers and are said to visit them all every night to reach out to them. Personally I have yet to see any teams checking on the homeless late at night, though the regular gentleman outside the co-op seems to have a duvet which regularly changes colour.

Several years ago it was widely advocated by a national homelessness charity that the homeless should be offered a 'hand up, not a hand out' and we should all give our money to the charities who help the homeless, not the homeless themselves as that just kept them on the streets and discouraged them from seeking help. The charity has gone quiet since then but two local PSCO's echoed this sentiment the other week. 'It's tragic, but the last thing you want to do is give them money or blankets - you're just keeping them on the street. You're not doing them any favours. We see them day in day out. We know.'

Conversely, even if there were enough affordable homes to go round for those with day jobs (73% of the under 35s are now priced out of the housing market), let alone the homeless, many homeless are high dependency individuals with serious addiction and mental health issues who need a high level of support and treatment. Put them in their own flat and they often can't cope with the responsibility as has been proven in many such initiatives around the country. A supported hostel or halfway house (preferably one which welcomes pets) is the real first base need for most before working towards long-term independent living.

The other danger is that if (by some miracle) the homeless are given free housing in one area, it encourages an influx to that area, or for those one or two steps away from the streets, (in a short-term AST let room in an HMO for example) to intentionally render themselves homeless to join them if there is little or no prospect of securing long-term housing any other way. In Brighton rents are spiralling out of control to the extent that working class families were recently advised by the council to seek homes outside of Brighton. This is not just about shortage of homes though, but the fact that so many homes which are built in the area are immediately snapped up as second homes, holiday homes or investment buys and in an open market, there is no legal means for our council to ring-fence new developments for locals in housing need, nor obligation to ensure they are 'affordable' in the true sense of the word.

But to get back to the homeless, there are certain groups whom the military should be forced to demonstrate a Duty of Care towards - ie all the ex-servicemen who have been mentally of physically damaged as a result of doing their duty for their country. Moreover the military have many former army facilities which they could easily utilise to provide health services, training and housing for ex servicemen.

I myself lived in an HMO (shared house) until the age of 36 and was once photographed in the Daily Mail letters column holding a tongue-in-cheek 'Middle Class Homeless, Please Help' sign to demonstrate my point regarding the hopelessness of many of my generation in getting onto the housing ladder. Poor taste perhaps, but after 12 years of no movement on my local council housing list, I felt quite entitled at the time. Little did I know how much worse things would become in a few short years, albeit happily in my own case I managed to secure a Park Home (static caravan) where I lived very contentedly until moving in with my now-partner.

However housing remains a topic close to my heart and I really want to understand every aspect of it, but preferably without emotion getting in the way of how to help on a practical and meaningful level. It is all very well to be a bleeding heart liberal or do-gooder and these people do do good - up to a point. But is this the most effective way to help rather than trying to understand the full picture and all the strands that contribute and all the potential knock-on effects? On the contrary, I think we need to have our eyes wide open in dealing with this crisis. For example our country is now considering admitting 3000 apparently homeless and rootless youngsters from eastern Europe - but are they? Many are said to be young adults masquerading as children to get in or being used as 'trojan horses' by their families so that once they are allowed to stay in Britain their entire families will be able obtain leave to join them.

On a final note I find the psychology of homelessness fascinating. Someone sits in the street, often next to the trash, and decides they are worth nothing. That is the energy vibe they then project to the world. That is the mirror vibe they attract. Agreement with their own opinion of themselves as worthless and therefore public avoidance. Either that or pity. Probably most people have been tempted at their lowest ebb to give up on the daily struggle and sink into the gutter, but it is certainly a bad choice/strategy for anyone who wants to change their luck. The further you sink in life, the further up you have to reach to claw your way back out of the abyss - not easy if there is no self-worth or self-respect to propel an individual back in an upwards direction. I have come to the conclusion that recovery from any calamity in life starts with the decision: 'I will not let ____ ruin my life.'  Which may not solve the nation's housing crisis, but can solve many others if donkey-strength stubbornness ensues.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A Titan of Talent - the remarkable David Bowie

Few rock stars have managed to shock the world by dying at 69. From cancer. But somehow David Bowie had us convinced that he was both ageless and immortal, as well as an undoubted musical genius.

The genie of reinvention, he provided the soundtrack to the youth of at least two generations of we fans. Then, just as he had started to reinvent himself as a recluse, along came music downloading sites, enabling today's youth to pick and choose their own childhood soundtracks from a plethora of eras and he rode the crest of yet another wave. Now in death he is set to have one last hit album - his parting gift to the world.

His death has affected me in unexpected ways. An endless stream of his hits have been playing in my head for the last week. I have found myself reading every tribute, playing his music videos, watching YouTube interviews.

I find Bowie an extraordinary example of how some individuals are just BORN to do something. What an accident of birth that he happened to be born at the right time (ie directly following post-war austerity and in time to capture the optimism, space race and 60s obsession with Sci-Fi) in the right place (London), with the right looks (pretty boy but could almost be an androgynous alien), the right talent (multi) and the hunger and single-mindedness to succeed! Not only that but he seemingly knew his destiny from an early age, forming bands and experimenting with music-making from his early teens onwards. His media-savvyness was also in evidence from an early age. A musician friend of similar vintage to David Bowie used to marvel at how in the 1960s, a young 'David Jones' seemed to pop up on every earnest TV documentary interviewing Britain's youth on London street corners about how they were in danger of taking Britain to hell in a handcart with their long hair and liberal views, so young David was cannily planting himself in the public consciousness long before he became a rock legend!  He even went so far as to form his own 'Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men Society' for tongue-in-cheek media coverage.

Even David's crooked vulpine teeth and mis-matched eyes served him perfectly in the 'alien' years and well into the 80s, though it's not entirely surprising that he got his teeth straightened when he married a supermodel.

Too many co-incidences to be a co-incidence indeed. The midwife who delivered him apparently remarked; 'This child has been here before', somewhat freaking out his mother.

One of the stand-out moments of my childhood was watching David performing Heroes on Live Aid in 1985 and it's nice to read in interviews that performing live in my living room was one of his life's highlights too!

The surprising thing about his TV interviews was how quietly spoken and polite he was. He wasn't prolific in his interview-giving but when he gave them he was chatty, warm and witty and very definitely still a sarf Londoner, even after living as an alien in New York for some years. The interviewer for their part, always looked as if they were somewhat nervously interviewing the messiah with The Thin White Duke in front of them and there was a palpable sense of the whole studio hanging onto his every word.

While they may yet crawl out of the woodwork, the number of ex-lovers queuing up to dish the dirt has been surprisingly absent, possibly because Bowie had a habit of politely asking them for sex and literally shaking them by the hand and saying 'Thank you' afterwards. Perhaps therefore, they felt less ill-used than the offcasts of other rock stars.

Now I read Bowie was also a business genius having weaned himself off industrial quantities of drugs in the 70s, partly as a result of realising he was being royally ripped off by his then-management, though responsibility for a young son following his divorce doubtless also played a part.

Kicking drugs in itself was a huge achievement. Bowie admitted he was 'lucky be alive after all the crazy sh*t' I did in the 70s' and 'Heroes' was partly a celebration of that.

So we are lucky he didn't accidentally join the '27' club and lived to contribute so much more to rock, fashion and everything else. We are also lucky, that despite a few close shaves with insanity, he managed to tread the tightrope and avoid plunging into the schizophrenic madness that claimed his tragic elder stepbrother Terry.

Apart from his enormous musical legacy Bowie gave we youth permission to go through many Ch-ch-changes before deciding who we really were. He made it normal to try on various 'yous' and find out which suits the best, just as it's normal to experiment with various fashions, and even sexuality and gender. Though for all that and his statement 'I think I've probably done everything it's possible to do' - I suspect he may have eschewed the tattoo!

My favourite Bowie track...? So hard to choose, but I have particular fondness for the lesser played ones such as 'Loving the Alien', 'The Wedding', 'Jump' and 'Lady Grinning Soul'.

PS: And just when you thought he couldn't get any cooler, apparently he was a cat fan!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Laws of Control

Interesting to see the new law against psychological domestic abuse come in this week. I am intrigued to see how it will be implemented, let alone proven and prosecuted.

I've had cause to think about this subject quite a bit lately (albeit happily not on my own account) and it strikes me that there are some startling similarities between the following:

  • Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
  • Joining a cult
  • Finding oneself trapped in an abusive relationship.

First; target an individual who may either be physically dependent (ie a child) or emotionally vulnerable in some way.
Second; follow up with the seduction process - showing them your best side, appealing to what you know they want and convincing them you are the only party who loves/understands them/can provide this and has their best interests at heart, or if you are a cult, offer them what they might be searching for - ie a sense of belonging or purpose. Enlightenment even.
Third; install a world view (ie it's US against the world!) and convince them that your view is the only valid view.
Fourth; play some mind games for good measure where love and approval are withheld at certain points to incite desperation and dependency and then granted in abundance when the subject pleases by doing your bidding or ceding your righteousness and is duly rewarded. Undermine their confidence and make them doubt themselves. Insert some random madness, just to keep them on their toes, like punishing them for something they haven't done or over which they had no control. Be nice one minute and nasty the next. This can also have the effect of causing them to question their own sanity, playing right into your hands.
Fifth; separate to dominate. Discourage your subjects from seeing their family or certain friends who might (even unwittingly) undermine your programming or control of them. Make a big fuss if they do and find reasons why they shouldn't and why they are bad for them. Seize on minor or imagined slights to escalate into major feuds or convince them that your vengeance for a misdeed, misunderstanding or oversight is also theirs, eventually culminating in no contact at all and thus the severance of support and potential rescue networks.
Sixth; reinforce all of the above behaviours at regular intervals. If your victim shows signs of slipping from your control or even disobedience or rebellion, employ emotional blackmail. Shame your victim, point out their inadequacies and how they couldn't manage without you/owe you everything or threaten disownment or some other dire consequence. How many times have we heard of a parent who has a health 'crisis' every time a dutiful adult daughter tries to leave home for example? This may be on the milder side of the domestic abuse scale (and possibly not covered by the new law) but it is still emotional blackmail and coercion.

Luckily I have only once found myself in a controlling relationship. When very young I fell for a seemingly charming and attentive older man who really seemed to love me but, in retrospect, capitalised on my difficult relationship with my parents and need for a father figure in order to persuade me not to see said parents for three years, encouraged me to give up a job I disliked which seemed wonderful at first until I realised I was then financially dependent on him, and frowned on my going out or having any kind of life or friends apart from him, frequently starting an argument on the rare occasions I asserted my free will in the matter.  Conversely he was not a sociable person (once he'd stopped making the efforts of our courtship), quite moody and disliked holidays, so we were never going to have a social life (or much fun) as a couple. He also pecked away at my confidence, alternately telling me he loved me, and in the next breath; 'but your trouble is...'. Luckily I realised everything amiss between us couldn't entirely be my fault before he got down to dictating my clothing choices or worse, and called time on the relationship, ill-equipped as I then felt to deal with adult life alone. Finally he had a world view - in his case of the 'spiritual' kind - to convince me of and justify his treatment of me 'for my own good'. Anyone who didn't go along with his world view was against him in his mind, for he was right and everyone else was living in error.

This experience left me with a horror of control down to control pants and an ability to spot controlling behaviour a mile off, however it is dressed. Overly charming or effusive people immediately invite suspicion as to what they are really like underneath, particularly as such individuals can often turn on a sixpence if you say the wrong thing, and I would far rather associate with people who pay fewer compliments but actually mean them.

In my view controlling behaviour often goes hand-in-hand with sociopathy (think psychopath without the axe!). However there are plenty who do it for power kicks or out of a sense of inadequacy themselves (I suspect my ex was a severe depressive, though he never admitted it). Perhaps perpetrators have a pathological fear of being abandoned or alone owing to some bad thing which has happened in their past so they take desperate measures to try and prevent this happening by attempting to own another human being, having never learned how to cultivate and maintain relationships legitimately. Having children can also be seen by some as the perfect way to 'own' and control other human beings or regard them as 'mini-me' extensions of themselves, even though this agenda is almost always doomed to failure as offspring grow up and either evolve or rebel into individuals in their own right.

Finally a fascinating recent case of domestic abuse which fits into none of the above three categories, yet which employed all of the steps. And just to prove Erin Pizzey's point that women can be every bit as psychologically manipulative as men. In fact they are often credited with far greater ingenuity in the artform than most men, who tend to follow more predictable patterns.

Psychological domestic abuse does not always lead to physical abuse. However physical abuse seldom occurs without a pattern of psychological abuse preceding it. And sometimes the physical abuse will be excused as an act of love - ie a single parent kills their children to 'save' them from custody being awarded to the other parent or from going into care. Notwithstanding infanticide, or any murder resulting from psychological domestic abuse such as a boyfriend killing a girlfriend, actually represents the ultimate act of control as in - 'if I can't have you, no one will', if not also a desire to punish a third party.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Shops and Robins

A couple of days ago a Facebook friend posted this robin message. It struck a chord as a few weeks ago my partner's mother mentioned she had been in the garden shed sorting out apples from her garden when a robin flew in and refused to leave for about ten minutes, just sitting on the work bench as it watched her. A couple of months previously she had lost her husband after a long illness. His name? Robin! I joked that perhaps it was a sign from him, but something that the rest of us would leap at as a sign, she still seemed doubtful about. It would take a lot to convince her mathematical and no nonsense nature, which is not given to any kind of flight of fancy.

Work has been exceptionally busy lately as I project-managed the refurbishment of an emtpy run-down Victorian shop into a new off-campus housing and advice base for the University of Sussex on top of the rigors of the day job. There were weeks where I literally ate, breathed and slept the shop and most of my own life went out the window, but luckily it was all ready on time for the launch and has been very well received. For my part it has been a pleasure to breath new life into a beautiful old building and ensure it retained its character amidst incorporating the necessary mod cons and professional finish. It was one of those gems that every little girl dreams of opening a shop in - full of space and light with wide double-fronted window seat areas.

Now I have gone back to one of my other projects - which is setting up a website for Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission, a campaigning group intent on saving Brighton and Hove's increasingly threatened heritage.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

End Anti-black Prejudice Towards Cats!

says Django, who points out that his selfies are just as good as any other moggy's! In addition he is lucky, lucky, lucky and fun, fun, fun! So no more looking down on his bro's and abandoning them, ok?

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Beauty - Not the Beast - the life of Muriel, The Lady Dowding

Most of my time has been taken up with business writing lately, so it is great to have a few minutes to talk about the book I have just been reading for leisure.

Muriel Dowding, wife of Air Chief Marshal The Lord Hugh Dowding, was founder of Beauty Without Cruelty cosmetics,

She was also a friend of my parents and attended their wedding in 1968.

I found this book in a secondhand bookshop recently and was intrigued.

I was particularly intrigued to find that she had been a celebrity in her lifetime married to a man who was a mega-celebrity and credited with winning WWII from the air through his brilliant strategy, yet her autobiography had been published by a small press.

I soon discovered why, A large part of it was devoted to her and Lord Dowding's interest in psychic matters, which is how they got together. As the young wife of an airman missing in action, Muriel was encouraged to contact Lord Dowding shortly after the war to see if he could provide any further information. He did and then proceeded to set her up with a psychic to obtain even further information. Finally at the behest of the spirit of the young man in question suggesting 'You should ask my wife out, You'd like her.' Lord Dowding invited Muriel to dinner and the grand romance began!

Not satisfied with bucking metaphysical tradition, the Dowdings, once married, then took on animal welfare and the cruelty of vivisection, travelling the world to talk to vivisectors and getting involved in parliamentary acts and anti-vivisection organisations. In the course of this Muriel Dowding discovered to her horror that it was virtually impossible to buy even a bar of soap in the 1960s which had not been tested on animals and was chock full of animal ingredients.

So as the original Anita Roddick of her day, she set about getting a coterie of well-connected female friends including Dr Barbara Latto (another friend of my parents) to join her and start producing cruelty free cosmetics with a clothing lines of fake fur called Beauty Without Cruelty - a brand that lives on to this day. I remember my mother when I was little sporting her fake Ocelot coat proudly with a badge bearing the legend 'Make No Mistake, My Fur is Fake! - Beauty Without Cruelty' in an era where women were embarrassed to admit they wore simulated fur and fake fur was simply seen as an alternative for women who couldn't afford the real thing, rather than for women with a conscience.

Although an accomplished writer, Muriel's autobiography cries out for editorial intervention as random chapters about UFO's, the dangers of psychic attack and animal welfare vie with autobiography and guest chapters from admirers of her work and tireless stamina.

It is a hotch potch, albeit probably one of the most riveting reads ever penned by a Lady.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Confessions of an Egalitarian

In his brave Edinburgh show, journalist, poet and wit, Lloyd Evans, opines that the most offensive thing you can say to a feminist is: 'Congratulations, you've won!'
You can do what you want, go where you want and be who you want (ie: what more do you want?).

I have been mulling over this ever since. I take his point that the point about a cause is that it should seek to obsolete itself, not turn into an entity in its own right which then has a territory to preserve and this has also previously crossed my mind.

For example if Cancer Research ever succeeds in finding a cure, you would expect them to close their offices and start refusing any further donations within days. You would hope the same with Oxfam, once they had solved world hunger, etc.

And yet it seems that causes really do prefer to become permanent entities and fixtures in our lives rather than seeing it as their moral duty to bring an end to the need for their existence, and as quickly and efficiently as possible. Rather, they seem to expand and expand with more and more highly-paid staff who appear to do less and less, except find ways to keep their jobs going indefinitely.

And I am still not entirely convinced that feminism is any more preferable to chauvinism as neither gender claiming superiority over (or denigrating) the other equates to equality, much though I acknowledge that the female race was once so disadvantaged that we did need a campaigning vehicle to 're-advantage' it. However in this country I think those days are gone and an individual should get a job because they are the the right person for the job rather than to fill an artificial gender quota, irrespective of their fitness for a role. Some disastrous female appointments have ensued, which just make our gender look bad. Then again there have been disastrous male appointments throughout history, so how bad should we really feel?

One curious fact that Mr Evans neglected to use in his show is that 'being female' has now become desirable enough for increasing numbers of men to undertake surgery to become us! Imagine that happening in Victorian times (even if the surgical expertise existed), when women were but the property of men, with even the wealthiest living lives of unbelievable societal and professional stricture. We were corsetted in more ways than one!

I am a grateful recipient of all the suffragettes and feminists have achieved since those days, enabling me to have total freedom of expression, the vote and all the opportunities and choices I now enjoy. I for one, am happy and content. The only person who has held me back in my life is me and that is a fact of the past now.

As for other countries, is it our business to act as if we were still an empire and dictate to them how they should run their society? Or is it up to the women of each society to do what the women of Great Britain had to do to win what human freedoms they seek? I have so many qualms about us interfering in the affairs of other nations, no matter that I might disagree on a personal level with how they run their countries and treat their citizens.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Militant Breastfeeding - a mother's view

Following the fatuous comments of a BBC Solent Radio DJ last week to the effect that only unattractive mothers felt the need to get their breasts out in public to feed their babies, there has been somewhat something of a media furore on the subject.

Last night I asked my 76-year old mother (an ardent advocate of breastfeeding and fully paid up member of the National Childbirth Trust when we were little in the early 70s and breastfeeding was deeply unfashionable) what she thought.

Now bear in mind that this is a woman who also successfully fought for home birth for us both in an era where this was also deeply unfashionable. Futhermore her best friend in the vegetarian movement, Frances Howard, wrote one of the earliest pamphlets extolling the health virtues of breastfeeding - Breast is Best - of which there were always a stack of copies in our house as my mother used to give them to her Yoga class ladies (she is also a Yoga teacher of some 50 years standing).

To my surprise, my mother replied that she finds the whole concept of breastfeeding in public 'bizarre', and firmly believes that both mothers and babies need quiet and privacy for this activity and why would a mother want Joe Public gawking at her while she did it?

She also worried that the modern trend for 'militant breastfeeding' was turning the public against breastfeeding rather than genuinely promoting it, particularly among shyer and less confident mothers who might choose to bottlefeed rather than risk doing something portrayed as controversial, even though it is actually the most natural means.

I was glad to hear that, for all her staunch views on the subject, she basically agreed with me that breastfeeding should remain a private matter between mother and baby.

In addition why would any mother want to risk some creepy DJ staring at her and judging her attractiveness and presumably whether he'd give her one, despite the kid dangling from her nipple?
Or indeed the breed of man who jokingly remarks 'oi, that baby is stealing my milk!' upon noticing a nursing mother in the local cafe. At least one of my acquaintance admits that this is his first thought.

My mother concluded by saying that the best thing the NCT could do was carry on lobbying for breastfeeding facilities to be provided and maintained in all public places. I asked how she had managed in the early 70s.

'Well I always fed and changed you before we went out, took dummies for you both wherever we went, and if we were going to be out for more than a couple of hours I used a breast pump. In emergencies I would simply ask the shop or our host wherever we were if I could borrow a room for a few minutes. Or go behind a tree or bush. There are always ways.'

Ways of breastfeeding without compromising the human rights, sensibilities and freedoms of others? Why isn't my mother with her full collection of Sheila Kitzinger tomes in the bookcase head of NCT?