Who Called The Fat Police? Dame Davies, give in your badge

The Metro’s recent headline (10th October) was again angering. A British health minister wants to ban eating on public transport to combat obesity!! As a swansong, this former chief medical officer for England – worryingly dubbed Dame – has obviously used her leverage to get a front page of Britain’s most seen free rag to make her campaign. Is this what we should be knighting people for?

Sally Davies is concerned that ‘excess weight’ is now accepted as normal. What she means is that yes, bigger sizes are catered for in clothes shops; that advertising campaigns show curvy people as beautiful; that artists depict them in celebratory defiance to combat fatism and body fascism, for men and women.

And I say – amen! Who decides what’s normal and attractive?! It has varied over time and place.

The Body Mass Index is a tool to allow health services to back the attack on aesthetics that’s arbitrary and actually, modelling thinness is unhealthy. Many of us find larger figures appealing.

What is your real problem with big people, Sally? What size are you, and would I find you attractive?  Would I want to sit next to you on a bus, with or without permissible snacking?

My concern is that Fat Policing has also become normalised. Zoom lenses capture the ‘muffin tops’ of flesh sticking out of jeans by journalists to illustrate their point – which is against the diversity movement, against the anti abuse movement, against privacy. It’s not OK to rib and tell people off for their size, to make them so unhappy that they’ll conform to a standard set out by… who?….and why?

I say we call in the cards to allow citizens arrests of those whom we deem too large – and that especially means health professionals, who often don’t live up to their own didactic advice.

And the suggested snacking ban is more evidence of the Nanny State that we’re increasingly fed up with.

Eating on public transport is a good use of otherwise wasted time. For those on the go in all senses, this might be our best or only time to eat – and, as any good health chief would know – eating properly and regularly important. Only litter can possibly be a reason to curtail public eating. Curtail the mess – not the food. And the Dame’s not even wanting to ban just messy, smelly fatty foods on public transport – but everything save bottled water!

Many people eat to abate travel sickness. Do we want greater nausea to clear up, instead of food mess?

Many people have eat little and often metabolisms. Is a swaying, green, faint person more desirable?

You don’t know what people have also eaten, what their metabolism is, or their needs.

And no, don’t even start thinking of monitoring this and deciding who can eat on buses.

The Dame – now sounding very pantomime – went on to wish to push greater taxes on sugar and ban many adverts for foods she considers ‘fatty’.

I question the real issue behind sugar war and suspect this is about something somewhat darker.

I’m more concerned about purity of food, of added chemicals and modification. And that health foods and toiletry products are often not as pure as they’d claim. That’s where my concern lies.

Real health is about balance, and also natural foods. I support local, where possible, organic, unmodified with minimal ingredients and no chemicals. It’s more than what we eat: real health requires freedom.

The Metro – not the most balanced or progressive newspaper – did cede that Boris Johnson (not my favourite man) had for once made a good point: that ‘stealth sin taxes’ are counterproductive and controlling; the Food and Drink Federation worried that their work to promote health will be undone by these proposals.

I query amassing more for the treasury under the guise of what’s really a fine (thus continuing the ‘sin’ is in government interest), and that this very narrow view of ‘health’ is against more progressive and broader values, and the ‘life limiting’ that Davies speaks of is found in her own policies.

Rolling out these ‘punitive’ measures will also not attract people to work as bus drivers and train conductors.

So not a sensible legacy at all, Dame Davies – or one you would have to pick the pieces up of.

I’m off to the supermarket to buy unapproved foods for my next journey…

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Why the AO and HMRC need calling to account

I’ve written before about the failings of ombudsmen and adjudicators, the latter being Trash Heaps (think Fraggle Rock). In fact, they both could be, as are the organisations we bring to them.

The Nottingham based Adjudicator’s Office is a hive running round the Queen – and yes, it’s been a woman for six years: currently Helen McGarry.

Like her predecessor, she’s no Wincey Willis (think 1980s gameshow Treasure Hunt).

There’s a hunt with obscure words and a deadline, but the treasure is all the treasury’s. For the AO deals with complaints about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and The Valuation Office.

I’ve long had issues with HMRC – the tax office – and it’s not hard to find others who feel the same. They especially like to pick on self employed people and small businesses. Their compliance checks can mean hours, as well as pounds – photocopying and scanning, buying cloud software to upload… and then HMRC ungraciously deciding that they won’t accept your offering. All of course at your own expense. Often their drawn out investigations are because of their own misinformation.

May of us are deemed to have not paid enough tax or paid it too late, or that we have received too many tax credits and they will not only cease, but be demanded back.

I’ve been bullied for some years – I won’t give personal details, but I’ve had to spend much energy on fighting HMRC and learning what hard hearted bullies they are, and how the system is designed for you not to be able to easily recover from it, in any sense. I have strong evidence of collusion but also misuse of law. I think they want compliance or cessation. In any sense.

My case returned to the AO for the 3rd time – a different part, they won’t reinvestigate old ones. They also don’t award for their own failings. And they know that the next tier – the PHSO – is useless. I obtained figures of the tiny percentage of cases which are ever upheld, let alone given compensation. They elongate and annoy, and you need your MP to apply to them. Mine, Clive Lewis, messed up by not sending the supporting documents and he refused to resend the case, even when the PHSO asked me to. Hence Helen McGarry thinks she sits safe, knowing she’ll rarely be called to account by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The recent investigation seemed to be no such thing. Even the bit about frustration and sympathy was a cut and paste job. It was condescending and had little or no back up. I’d reapplied for tax credits a year ago, but they claim that my area’s roll out for Universal Credit had begun just after, so it was too late. If I’d had a quicker response from HMRC, I would have gotten the award, worth a few thousand. I note the statements which make me look unreasonable: “if [I’d] chosen to…” – utterly inappropriate; the ones that make them sound fair… it’s a school of writing that I see throughout bureaucracy and sometimes in personal emails. McGarry claims the law is on her side; nothing can be changed now. But I’m well aware of law being bent or ignored or even created to suit governments.

I am tired of these organisations not being accountable, of not righting wrongs and even acknowledging them. I am tired of Trash Heaps whose rather ill-judged pronouncements become binding, and who do not expect comeback. I am tired of governments who bully, not work for their people.

If you are too, then let’s stand together against it. We need an AO who’s fit for purpose and a tax office that’s fair – it’s supposed to be collecting for the benefit of the people. We need reform. We need leaders who listen and laws that benefit and protect us, not the few. We need different values that aren’t about greed and control, but respect and fairness. And yes, love, even in politics. And that means love of justice, a fierce love that stands up for ourselves and others and doesn’t take no for an answer.

 

 

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What I think of Christians at Pride

There was quite a noisy group at my recent most local LGBT etc Pride, who now have a prominent stall. They have their own uniforms – a T-shirt with a slogan which matches their banner; and then a self styled one of rainbow dog collars… for these are Christians, and several are clergy.

On one hand, it’s to be applauded that this group is there and is trying to be visible, despite the fact that some other Christians criticise them. I also overheard a flag clad woman holding the hand of another comment: I hate it when the Church tries to join in with our day.

And I – a woman on the outer edges of both worlds – understood that.

The Christians in the parade want to say: we accept you, LGBT+ people. (Often they mean just gay… I’m not sure churches have got their heads round all the letters yet.) They acknowledge that Christianity and other faiths have hitherto persecuted their gay siblings – and some still do.

I’d like to point out that the notion that same sex love as being something to decry and exclude over has come from faith groups.

Many of those who still judge homosexuals are those with a conservative faith.

So one could say that the need for Pride came out of religious prohibition, which influenced laws and morals and medicine, so that what denounces LGBT people can be traced to faith roots.

Hence, it’s brave but ironic that there is a Christian presence at Pride.

Sadly like many, I have experienced struggle in coming to terms with not being heterosexual, especially as a woman of faith. I’ve written and published a novel about it, which is available to buy from many online sources, called Parallel Spirals. There will be a sequel.

I happen to know that many of the people on the Christian stall and march are not LGBT. They’re allies, but they have not experienced the challenges of the realisation that you are other, and that otherness may not be welcome. They have not sat in a pew (or sofa with a smoothie, if you’re that kind of church) wondering if the message of God’s love and theirs will still apply if this church really knew them and who they loved. Would they still get a hug (or even a handshake) in the peace; would they still get an invite to homegroups or youth or elder groups or those endless barbecues or garden parties if the truth about them was known? Would they still be allowed their positions of leadership if it was known what they were really like? Do these church people know what it’s like to earnestly search scripture to see if they really are condemned? NO YOU AREN’T, by the way!! Do they have to hear exhortions about the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and the inevitable family you’re supposed to have, and feel nervous and excluded? Have they had to put up with people who have – almost for granted – what you don’t, and tell you that you can’t have it – namely marriage and family?

Of course, nongay people in church have other kinds of suffering and misfitting, and it might allow them to have great empathy and solidarity with the people that Pink Pride is about. I’ve heard people speak of other kinds of otherness… it’s not only LGBT people who feel a sense of not fitting, if not exclusion, in their faith communities.

But some seem to be presumptious and patronising. Is it fair to say it’s like white people in a Black celebration saying “We weren’t slaves ourselves, but we do know how you feel”? Of course it’s their way of saying – you never should have been, and we stand with you to show we’re not part of that. We see the well-meaning as much as we might cringe at the execution.

It’s also easy for the oppressed to allow no outsiders to sympathise. Am I angry at men against  violence against women in White Ribbon? Have I not applauded those who stand with something they’re not? Would I not march in solidarity with something  I care about, and be put off if I was told that I had no right to, as I’m outside the oppressed group?

I observed this tribe within a tribe with bemusement, oblivious to how their rainbow stickers and collars seemed amongst the outre costumes, squirting their God’s love like bubbles to passers by with the proffering of a gay positive sticker and a few words…but these little interactions felt like that delicate transient rainbow film.

Or actually, was that bubble the start of a new idea, a new relationship?

So am I saying that Christians shouldn’t have a stall at Pride? Am I saying that their well intentioned solidarity is wrong? No…but am am saying: your message has to be relevant and congruent and consistent, and be aware of how it looks from the other side. Don’t pretend you easily understand when you don’t… But actually, you might. And yes, I do think my novel can help with that. Listen to LGBT people and hear their stories. It will mean really chatting – often in a way that you can’t at fast moving, raucous Prides – and really sitting with them, being prepared to follow up, and to hear how LGBT+ people feel about faith and church and what it’s done to them. And to put it right and show a better way. As I know you can.

And actually, I’m quite touched that a group gives up its day to show that solidarity for something they aren’t, risking censure from both sides, and to transform the view and relationship from judgement and exclusion into love and welcome.

 

 

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Why Cloudfare makes my nostrils flare

eroding privacy in the name of security

 

Many of us are waking up to the huge erosion of our privacy in electronic communications.

We’re aware of the PRISM/Tempura story of 6 years ago, where CSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent that our governments spy on their citizens and share that information…that our internet and phone use is watched and recorded… The film about him starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley revealed that the CSA can watch us through our webcam, via fibre optic cables, even when the computer’s off.

Hence, he put something over the camera eye.

We’re increasingly aware of Facebook, Google and Microsoft being part of this surveillance, accumulating our browsing habits to not only send to advertisers, but to the secret agencies, using terrorism as an excuse and to make citizens compliant.

But terrorism isn’t appropriate to the vast majority of us, and yet we’re being watched anyway… and we’re aware that terrorism and dissent are becoming synonymous.

Hence more of us are taking steps against this and switching our browsers and search engines to ones which don’t track us across the internet and record any browsing history.

Private Browsing in most browsers only prevents other users of that computer in following your online sessions, not the browser or your internet service provider, who are also hoovering up and selling your details – and you’re paying them to do it!

There are some smaller browsers and search engines which take our privacy more seriously.

These include Epic (hard to download and use, curiously) and Brave and TOR – The Onion Router – for the former, and DuckDuckGo and Startpage for the latter. Reading their privacy tips and warnings are galling, for even the size of your screen can help give you away. There’s HTML5 canvas image data extraction, and this is part of ‘fingerprinting’ – websites being able to discover who and where you are, and what you do.

In Windows 10, the privacy settings – now split into two places to look – are defaulted to yes…use my camera, microphone, physical location… allow remote access…

Even some of these more private browsers have default settings to allow Facebook and Google – the very places to avoid – to set cookies and have other permissions.

I’m appalled that even blocking 3rd party cookies and device recognition, as well as hated JavaScript, is enough to make many websites break. To look up a train time, I get warning messages – even in a less private browser – that this information is being shared. I can’t get into my email account with the settings I’d like in place. I’ve even seen some spiritual websites – one with a prayer request form – make visitors be open to trackers to be able to submit that request!!

Hence my ire at Cloudflare, a widely used supposedly security enhancing tool and company. It’s meant to stop robots from spamming or sending malware, but I’m more suspicious that cybercrime is mostly a myth and there’s some ironic Sylvester Sneakly/Hooded Claw plot that the security programs and their manifold updates are the sinister part.

I’m not going to reveal my browsing habits, but I will say that many things I look up aren’t things I want to share with a third party. No – let me make clear – I never want anything I do anywhere shared with anyone that I don’t choose.

I utterly reject “If I’m not doing wrong, I don’t mind.” I mind very much, and so should you.

But the internet is a good resource for connecting and researching, perhaps things we wouldn’t readily tell those around us. Do you want every book you pick up off a shelf known to people who don’t even know you? Do you want every video and piece of music you play known? (by the way, it is unless you block it). Have you not ever tried to find resources about something that you wouldn’t want made generally public? Have you wanted to introduce yourself to staff in every shop you go in? Have you ever been worried by something that you wouldn’t want to tell other people about?

Hence, some of us will set our privacy high and use browsers that block the ridiculous amounts of adverts which slow down our browsing and waste our internet data allowance. We don’t want to see adverts about the legal services we looked up, or that health problem, or the sexuality related matter we sought succour about. We don’t want our moving or surprise holiday plans or new job revealed by adverts appearing the next time we use our device.

But Cloudflare blocks these browsers, and it’s used by places where i) sites can be personal and ii) the users thereof may well be questioners and people who uphold privacy rights.

I’m frustrated – and so are others – by the amount of sites who won’t let you in, treating you as some kind of attack. Or they’ll make you try to perform a hated recaptcha check, which involves Google’s intrusion. Mostly with my preferred security settings, these stupid ‘click all the squares with…’ tasks don’t work. It’s very US focussed so some other users might not recongise what they’re being asked to so, and it’s not clear that you’re meant to choose squares with a tiny bit of something. So it’s easy to get wrong, even as a real sentient human…meanwhile, you’re automatically held into Google’s privacy…to prove you’re real. See the irony?

And I think they’re really trying to get private browsers to reveal themselves.

So I leave those sites, for I feel: if they’re using Cloudflare to bully me into giving my identity away, then I don’t need to read that article afterall.

I thus challenge users of Cloudflare and Cloudflare itself to rethink, along with all those who utilise recaptcha. Note the name – its real purpose is revealed.

And I won’t be netted by anyone.

(And WordPress, you’re still breaking Cookie Law with you assumed opt in)

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Elspeth’s Easter message

Why we should have Table Turning Tuesday

When Christians – especially of a more Catholic bent – celebrate Easter, the focus is on the cross. Yet if Holy Week is about recalling and re-enacting the run up to Easter events in real time, why do we spend nearly all the week on the being crucified part?

I’ve seen Palm Sunday processions – even with a donkey. And I’ve seen Passion plays – even in shopping centres. Yet have you ever heard of an al fresco Stone Rolling enactment? Ever seen those angels or those terrified guards? The Emmaus Road couple, or the Upper Room? We think of the Last Supper – every day, if you’re high church – but not the next gathering of the disciples with the Risen Jesus.

I also noted that the traditional events of Holy Week involve turning of temple tables, and much preaching and speaking out. Before he’s arrested, Jesus is busy in the capital.

I note some call the Weds Spy Weds, but we don’t have Table Monday or Temple Tues.

Why do we miss the parts which question structures, the bits not so passion orientated – but they are of, course. These are as much part of the message as the dying part – plenty of passion here! His ire at the temple’s abuses. Healing. He also spent his not quite last week telling parables, predicting his return, and outwitting Pharisees.

There is often much about suffering – Christ’s and our own – and the whole week can feel a dour one. Lots of prostration, kneeling – and repetition. But less about justice – and that doesn’t count your church’s lent appeal.  And less about joy.

My reason for having a faith isn’t to wallow in sorrow, pain, guilt…

Today, Easter day, is one of joy. It’s celebrating the turning point of history, the reason for being. Jesus came ‘so that we may have life to the full’. But I hear that proclaimed far too seldom.  As well as the Resurrection, I’d like to see more of a focus on Jesus’ response to the temple authorities, and for that to be appropriated to modern times.

Another year, I want to see those doves scattered…

 

 

 

 

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How most websites, including this one, break cookie laws

As I type, I’m seeing a typical banner which appears as I land on a website. “Our website uses cookies. By continuing, you agree to their use.”

THIS IS NOT LEGAL nor moral

A cookie policy should allow us, in one or two clicks, to reject all but essential cookies.

A good website has a radio button or two to slide off and reject them.

This is not the same as a ‘learn more’ link. This just tells you what the many cookies are, not let to switch them off. It may explain how to alter cookies on your browser, or give  a link to a site like All About Cookies. But it does not let you control them on that site.

This auto opting in is wrong. We may need to use a site – to look at a rail timetable, check our bank balance, book tickets, view our utilities account, make a complaint, even view and apply for earnings…

As I wrote in my last post, we shouldn’t have to choose between doing what we need to and our privacy.

On this site alone – I know because I have an app from private web search engine DuckDuckGo which blocks them – there are so many cookies that I have to scroll to see them. Not only from any blogs I may follow, but infamous Google, Gravitas, and several from WordPress. Some of those cookies can last a long time and follow me round the net.

Would you accept a shop flicking tracers on you just for popping in – even glancing at the window – and following you for weeks and months, logging everything you do and passing it on?

Because that’s what non essential to function cookies do.

Why do 3rd parties feel they have any rights to us and our habits?

Why do we accept that our data is for sale?

Why do we accept governments watching us?

As I’m not up to anything – I mind especially.

I am also fed up of laws coming in to protect us which get waived. Cookie laws are supposed to make sites ASK MEANINGFULLY for us to give our consent, not to flag up that they’ve assumed it and put the cookies on anyway.

You can block and clear cookies. Some sites don’t function with 3rd party cookies blocked. These are the ones I feel I can do without.

And Automattic, who own WordPress, please make your cookies legal. Yes, if your site is used by and viewable to people in the EU, you need to comply with GDPR and that means changing cookies or being liable for reportage (Yes, that means you Washington Post, whose actions are already under investigation by the Information Commissioners’ Office!)

And query why anyone needs cookies beyond the functional kind.

The rest need handing over to a certain Muppet Monster.

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The Trash Heap Has Spoken – How the Financial Ombudsman fails

Having had many – always poor – experiences of the Financial Ombudsman Service, I know how badly they and ombudsmen generally need to be held to account.

I know of those who brought serious and urgent concerns to the FOS, to have them exacerbated, and then the FOS didn’t uphold the complaint. There was a grass roots website about this ombudsman but the URL now lands on a different site, and I found a report about ‘managing’ those who spoke out.

They’re busy with PPI claims at present. Payment Protection Insurance reclaiming is about putting right an unjust scandal – historically, and going forward. But many of the financial companies aren’t investigating properly, and the FOS is also dragging its feet and putting customers off getting their justice, coming up to this summer’s deadline.

I was furious just how unjustly I’d been treated regarding financial products.

Credit ratings are favourable when we’ve borrowed often – and thus made them money; not when we’ve paid outright or not bought. Looking into how much extra any form of hire purchase/loan costs above the original price is an ire making exercise. I discovered too that the contracts we’re made to sign – without negotiation – means that even if we’re able to pay off in full later, we’re not allowed to, but have to keep with a payment plan which can require us to pay twice or more what the item is worth.

I believe many of the financial companies broke the Consumer Credit Act 1974 when they held us into non individually negotiated contracts not in our favour.

Ironically, it’s over permissions that I found a particular ethical and legal issue with the FOS. Their own declarations are, I believe contrary to GDPR – and certainly not moral and fair. They enforce a too wide blanket ‘consent’ which allows unnamed 3rd parties to be involved without further permission or warning (other than the companies you complain about), for your data to leave the EU without further consent or reason, and to hold your full case details for 6 years.

I was appalled at what companies had collected – even after many years (and as an ex customer) and when the company had been passed over to another. Old letters, personal facts about myself and my life and 3rd parties were all on file. To allow the FOS to see all of those meant that they had a broad and personal picture of my life, and – knowing how much our privacy is intruded into by marketing and government – I didn’t want that.

GDPR is – or should be about – giving us the right to control and choose who knows what about us.

I gave them consent to investigate, to contact the other parties, but I flagged up concerns about the wording, including the unnecessarily broad issues above. They said we can withdraw consent at any time. I was told that unless I signed to give my consent to all of it, the FOS wouldn’t investigate. When I gave it but said it was coerced, they said it must be freely given.

That’s an issue – that consent is mandatory but that must be freely given?

That I am asked to choose between autonomy and privacy – and a sense of justice and redress? This is becoming too common

 

My other issues with the Financial Ombudsman:

-the length of their delays, repeat sending of forms and asking of question, getting the case wrong, lack of comprehension and joined-upness

-the FOS was very poor at handling a complaint against itself, awarding £7 per case for several months’ hold ups and mistakes

-the independent assessor does as she ‘sees fit’. I’ve frequently found these – when I at last get to them – to be rude, unaccountable, partial in both senses, and unsympathetic. The FOS is slow to see its or others’ failings – I am checking via FOI to discover how badly. (I know from FOI that the Parliamentary Health and Social Care ombudsman awards to less than 1% each year.) The FOS’s IA, Ms A Somal, and her lackeys, consider her report an Opinion with a capital O; she doesn’t feel the need to substantiate it, and neither will she reply to your response. Like on Fraggle Rock, the Trash Heap has spoken (you almost hear the ‘so nrrrr!). And that’s it.

As it won’t hold itself to account, we need the media to do so.

Now the Trash Heap has spoken!

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Utopia and Ever After

A Cinderella story that says goodbye to pumpkins!

The 1998 romantic fairytale comedy seemed pleasant – I saw it twice at the cinema – but it is, I now believe, a vehicle for something much more profound. The centrality of Thomas More’s Utopia may be very significant. Like More’s treatise, Ever After bookends the main story with seemingly irrelevant stuffing, but this stuffing is key to the presentation that this is real. The old lady ends by telling the Grimm Brothers that “the important point is not that they lived happily ever after – but that they lived”. We wonder if Cinderella really was a 16th century noble turned servant who caught the eye of one of France’s many Prince Henrys. (That Cinderella has a real full name, and the mention of real contemporaries and lack of magic may make us waver – I’m afraid this is a pumpkin free presentation). We may quickly assume not – just as we realise that More’s Utopia is a made up word meaning ‘no land’, and that the progressive croissant shaped New World island is a society of his making.

Both are positing a world that could be, far enough ago and away to allow us to take on the ideas a little more easily than if they were just spouted to us about our own world.

And told in a story format, by a 3rd party linked to the tale, to give it weight.

The universal appeal of love overcoming all barriers is a myth that deep down we know to be true – or want to be. And Ever After is a tale of social levelling. Cinderella (or Danielle) is Prince Henry’s equal in every way but social standing. As Leonardo the fairy godmother substitute says, Cinderella is the Prince’s match – and that implies possibly his better – in strength, courage, morality, goodness and also education.

For the central theme of this story states that education – or more precisely, reading – is at the heart of equality. Henry’s education has come from privilege; Danielle’s from passion.

(Note the Step Sister’s comment: that books are for those who can’t think for themselves – we suspect we’re meant to think that the reverse is true). After meeting Danielle, Henry wants to make universities open to all.

Both Henry and Danielle resist the roles society expects of them, but Danielle’s unconventional father – who gave her Utopia – has allowed her to cross social and gender boundaries.

Those who want to enforce them are the wicked villains who get their comeuppance. The Step Mother and Step Sister so bent on titles and power end up as the very servants they despised, literally pushed to the bottom of the pile (or vat). Danielle sees her fellow servants as equals and friends, and we are encouraged to see them that way too. It is in defending one that the whole story begins.

In this, Danielle demonstrates not only is she well read, but thinks. She sees the injustices of the world and dares to speak out about them. Her intellectual bravery and evasiveness make her a kind of Anne Boleyn to a prince of the same name, who is captivated and determined to have her. Through Danielle, not only is her dear friend freed, but so are all those destined for America as a punishment. Her earliest words to Henry are a Utopia quote about poverty being a condition created by society, which those who created then punish.

The Prince, his family, and the nation accepts Danielle the former servant as part of the Royals – and the whole court knows as her status is exposed publicly at the ball. A group often excluded and discarded with a negative label – the Gypsies – is invited to the ball, like in the parable.

Ever After has further a biblical echo of the Magnificat – for the humble are lifted high whilst the proud are sent away empty. Religion is mentioned little – apart from the aborted arranged wedding, there is only a Sunday where our protagonists don’t go to church. Our villains do, to ingratiate themselves and flirt with royalty, rather than out of any wish for devotion. Danielle says her faith is best served out of church.

Couched as a rom com, Ever After is really a tale that invites us to make its tenets our Utopia. Its real ending is not “that they lived” but that they could and should, in our time.

 

 

NB This is not to suggest that I support Thomas More or his Utopia but a critique of that here spoils the overall piece

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What can He-Man and Mary of Scots have in common?

They both ended in 87…400 years apart.

And they’re both royal.

And their stories are about leading with justice and tolerance.

The link between Mary Stuart and the royal family of Eternia may take imagination to see. But in the new film with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, I felt there is an interpretation, if not an intention, to use this historic story to speak to us in our time, just as He-Man and She-Ra were, I believe, meant to have greater morals than the ones spelt out at the end of each episode.

I know this film has now left most cinemas, but I took the time to see it twice and to watch all the other available films/TV and do some reading before commenting, and my observations remain pertinent to our times.

I liked the lack of polarity which I observed in some other films about Elizabeth and Mary.

It seems to me that these women say: if we’d trusted our hearts, and each other, might all this not have happened? If we’d not let our advisors poison us – several of whom wanted the throne for themselves, or to steer its occupier…if we’d let our draw as women, as sisters guide us…

This is not an anti-men story, but I think it is anti the traditional male rule. Elizabeth felt that society only offered her the choice of wife and mother . To reign, she must cast off her gender, or the limitations of it. Even today, women expect to lead but also be defined by our status usually in relation to a man, and by the children we bear.

The 16th Century courts were aberrations of what ought to be. Even the most intimate relationship had become a commodity, a business transaction, nothing to do with love and companionship, but forming an allegiance and keeping bloodlines pure and heirs unambiguous.

What a dreadful way to live – for women and men.

Many of us are feeling that it’s time to do differently. We feel that feeling is a good thing, not something to be suppressed or ignored. In another new film, On The Basis of Sex, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is told she can’t be a lawyer because women are too emotional. What’s wrong with caring? Doesn’t that make better lawyers, political, and any role I can think of?

But Ruth wasn’t content, and changed the law, and history.

Mary and Elizabeth were told that a woman couldn’t reign alone. But as Saoirse as Mary says in the film, she’s done lots of things which her male advisors told her was impossible.

The old way – adopted by women as well as men – was all about fear. And so we watched our backs and plotted and tried to never reveal a weakness, which included caring. We tried to amass power through titles, land and wealth to make us unstoppable. We tricked and trapped, and changed loyalties. We made laws which suited ourselves, making us immune but others culpable. We imposed our version of truth and made violent repercussions for those who disagreed.

We pretended that a strong ruler was one who never showed vulnerability, who had few manners and lots of arrogance; was quick to punish and didn’t do mercy, let alone ask for it. We preserved rank and kept those below on their knees.

We’ve too long cited Machiavelli as our political manual. Utopia is sometimes better, but still far from Eternia, and that’s the imaginary world I’d rather look to.

What if we took from She-Ra and He-Man? They forgive, they save even their enemies (is Skeletor an Earl of Moray?). They care about goodness, and about others. Their power is not used selfishly. And they’ll work together, and with other leaders, not to expand their boundaries and their gold reserves, but to fight injustice – never to harm or kill.

She-Ra, like Wonder Woman, has used her womanhood to recruit and turn wicked people to the side of right; like Xena, Warrior Princess, She-Ra needed turning herself – by her brother. Theirs is not a violent rebellion; it’s not about one set of ugly, inflated power overturning another and then behaving in much the same way.

I’ve often wondered: what would British history be if Mary and Elizabeth had been allowed to work together rather than against each other? Where would we be now? Not in terms of our current royal family, but the governance we have, which like the rest of the world, is all out of shape.

I think these stories invite us to put it back again.

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Disobedience

Firstly: why the big gap in posts? It was on principle, about Word Press privacy and security. I am dismayed that you’re all having to agree to nonoptoutable cookies to read this, and I wish to register that 1) I disapprove 2) it’s contrary to GDPR and 3) I as author in no way place anything on you or track you or know anything unless you wish to share it.

So if there’s another gap or this blog disappears, you’ll know why.

 

I rather like that I’m starting again with Disobedience. It makes a naughty title!

It’s a film I’ve been awaiting all year, and was thrilled to be able to twice see it before its British release, this weekend. I read Naomi Alderman’s novel again in between.

On paper, it is natural for it to appeal to me: a story of love between women set in a religious community and featuring a favourite actress (Rachel Weisz, opposite Rachel McAdams).

So far, that’s a synopsis of my own first novel. But perhaps that can be a recipe for disappointment as much as delight. Fortunately, I felt much of the latter.

 

I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of anyone who has not yet seen or read this story, so instead I will share brief insights and comparisons.

In the opening moments, I wondered if I had savoured a film so much.

The last time I recalled doing so was a film which I could make several comparisons to:

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley – another one which is special to me.

Its title too is a single word beginning with D; a noun, or rather a state of being, something that is seen as sinful by organised religion, although both stories question that;

both are set in the narrow enclave geographically and religiously that their authors grew up in; a mostly three hander (two women and a man) where homosexuality is central and transgressive; and starts with a sermon and ends in a religious garden.

 

Much of my other musings about Disobedience have been about the changes between book and film. As an author of both, this is of concern. It’s not just about this book, or books in general: what might they do to mine?

I won’t list those changes, but I will say that some were improvements, and some felt arbitrary. I sometimes wonder why filmmakers option work which they intend to change so much. I noted that the filmmakers were non Jews, and that the area and even country were unfamiliar to some of them; and that this female penned and led story was directed by a man. I missed the opportunity for Dovid’s colourful headaches to be shown visually.

 

The other area of thought was about the way women are treated – and to some extent, men too; and how traditional Jewish ideas about women and our bodies have pervaded Western culture and other faiths.

 

Lastly, I would like to add two insights.

The silver snuck in the sack – is this a reference to the Joseph story? Or David and Jonathan?

The final shot in the cemetery, a dense city of monoliths: is that meant to look like Manhattan?

 

And as for the film itself: the fact that I have already been twice and been checking for the film tie in novel for some weeks should be encouragement enough.

 

My next post will be another adaptation involving Alessandro Nivola – this time, he plays the naughty one.

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