Category Archives: society

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

-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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A different angle of Wonder Wheel

The content of Woody Allen’s latest film isn’t being talked about as much issues around the writer-director himself. In towns I know, the film is being shown little, even though it’s just been released in Britain; it’s been skipped from some film magazines.

I know people who won’t see it, because of what’s being said about Woody. But that means that the four main actors and all the others involved in making Wonder Wheel don’t get their work seen, and if it’s not in cinemas, we can’t make our own decisions. The film also feels quite separate from the 25 year old allegations about Woody.

I felt the ones against Blue is the Warmest Colour were more apt, for they were concurrent with and about the movie.

I am not sure what I believe about Woody Allen, or feel about these hash tagged campaigns.

I hate all injustice, abuse, inequality.

But I also hate witch hunts, public career destruction, and false accusation.

Much of these campaigns seem to come from angry and imbalanced sources; there is much hate fuelled behaviour.

They conflate various allegations in Hollywood between quite different situations.

I haven’t warmed to the interviews of Woody’s children, and their statements that if you work with Woody and don’t denounce him that you are wrong – even that you are hurting them, and aiding an abuse allowing culture.

The vehemence of this has turned some actors, it seems, from remaining neutral or even kind of defending decisions to work with Woody into making statements that seem to upend that. I have noted some very carefully phrased speeches about this, encouraging empowerment and listening to those who speak out – which I applaud. But I’m worried that the reverse of the wildfire spreading against abuse is that if you want to keep your career, you’ll denigrate and distance from those several people who have been recently accused.

Of course we should want abuse to stop, and for people to be free to speak out against it.

I also see forgiveness and healing as key, for all involved. Rehabilitation not retribution.

But these often get omitted, if not refused. And it means that the accused – especially those wrongly so – are destroyed without hope.

I have noted female inappropriate behaviour in Hollywood – such as public unsolicited gropes, which press and perpetrator laughed over. Is it different or better because a woman’s doing it?! NO!

There is a big debate to be had about our laws and attitudes, and to unpick the contradictions around sexuality in our culture, which is both promoted and prohibited. We need a healthier one based on respect and permission, not fear and commodity, and which rebalances male and female.

——–

As for the film: Woody’s films do have much in common with each other, and what felt enjoyable and powerful to me several years ago has much less appeal. But Woody is often wise, and his films have been helpful on a personal level.

I saw Wonder Wheel because of Kate Winslet. I saw her previous roles in this. Revolutionary Road is also about a 1950s American former actress who is now living an unwanted domestic dull life. Mildred Pierce, set just 20 years earlier, is also a restless poor waitress – another red haired role – with a difficult relationship with her estranged daughter.

With both her “failed” actress roles, I felt quite an irony. Kate is widely well considered at her job: in the Picturehouses Recommends booklet, Woody is quoted as saying: “I try to cast actresses who have enormous range and depth and intensity. There are only a limited number of actresses in the English language that are that deep and that great. Kate Winslet is one of them.”

We don’t see Ginny act to know if it is quality or discovery which is lacking. Kate says that Ginny pretends her life is a role, but that the sadness is it really is her life. But can’t we live in layers, and who says what is truly real? I note that Ginny found solace in the memory of her acting – it’s what she goes to when unhappy. Talk of theatre with Mickey starts to bring her alive. Like April in Revolutionary Road, Ginny – wife of Humpty! (do you have that egg nursery rhyme in America?) has a travel bug, urged by her lover. She believes that going to a new place will free her – but none of these three stories ends well for Kate’s character. Usually, Woody is wise and positive; although the end is ambiguous, I didn’t leave the cinema how his films normally make me feel.

When Mickey speaks of tragedies that crush, we suspect we’re in one. No, our protagonists will not be able to squeeze out from the wreckage, stronger, to try again. They’re earmarked for the crusher; the past will repeat, and they cannot learn from nor expiate their mistakes.

————–

I’ve written several pieces before on whether Kate’s roles are about women who go mad or die; Wonder Wheel fits this. And when she’s doing that strong but challenged vulnerable person in a drama, she is at her best. This is the film of hers that I’ve enjoyed her in most in some years.

I don’t see the climatic act of her character as being as shocking as the film wants you to see it. Ginny’s act is not what Tiny’s is. She tries to do something, and doesn’t. Who knows if she would have been successful if she had? I also thought that the other possibility of the film’s ending meant that her deed would have no affect on the outcome. The choices of the person concerned had already been made before Ginny; and ultimately what happens, if that is truly the conclusion, is due to those choices and entirely other persons.

Wonder Wheel makes me wonder about the line between theatrical and cinematic. Indoor scenes were too much like a play – the sort I don’t like. It’s not the long scenes of dialogue, or that one of the characters turns to the audience to tell us their thoughts: I like that. I did feel that Mickey ought to bookend and stay consistent by giving us a monologue at the end, but his talk to camera narration switches off. I didn’t like that staid, false, very egged intensity; the one room melodrama. Wonder Wheel, penned recently by Woody, seems to be like the theatre of fifty of more years ago. The staple plays I don’t go and see.

I’m left not only wondering about the wheel of denigration turning in the media, but also that sad turn of you’ll die in the doldrums, or trying to escape them. It’s not a message that I choose to believe or purport.

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Snow in Britain: what our response really says about us

cleareI soon left a website that called those who comment about our inability to cope with snow ‘pub bores’, and editors who publish on the subject ‘lazy’. It wasn’t alone in claiming that we can’t afford nor warrant the preparations necessary, that other countries struggle with snow too, and the ones which we perceive as doing better with worse weather are not to be compared with us. I think these articles are designed to make a point, and are themselves lazy and boring.

Why do we accept these cancellations and inefficiencies – especially those that put us in jeopardy?

Fed up of the scaremongering and negativity, I want to present a different view, one which thinks about deeper aspects than how many inches of cold white stuff has fallen.

British winter is a time of disappointment and uncertainty because we can’t cope with the weather that is actually a normal part of our annual pattern. Got a birthday, a wedding, a special holiday or event about now? Do you dread it not happening, or being spoiled? I saw a major venue shut last night for “heath and safety” – and it hadn’t even snowed properly yet, nor would it til some hours after they closed. One long distance train network is running a “good service” while another isn’t running any local trains – is any alternative being provided?! When we had early snow in 2010, one church cancelled its evensongs for 4 months. The snow was gone within days.

So this makes a climate of fear: beyond how we feel about snow itself, that not only  equates snow with hazards, but that third parties will make a decision that forces you to relinquish your plans. You may be prepared to go to work, honour your social agreement, holiday, or event: but someone else will cancel the transport, close the venue, start refunding, or pull out.

Disappointment is hard to quantify.

I note the following though: we just had Valentine’s day. If this weather had arrived two weeks earlier, would the Romance industry have cancelled at this lucrative time? I suspect the restaurants would have stayed open as usual, and expected their manipulative bookings to be honoured.

If there was a football match, or another big sporting event, we’d carry on.

“Carry on” is of course a famous slogan that we’ve rediscovered and over use, from the last world war. So how can we continue functioning as a country when we’re being subjected to air raids, and not when actually relatively moderate snow falls?

The answer may be that continuing whilst being attacked during the last war shows our enemies our resilience; it says your bombarding campaign to destroy our spirit and our infrastructure hasn’t and won’t work. (Meanwhile, we’ll carry on doing the same to you). Yet the same people are huddling at home in cold weather, showing that our calm and resilience is selective.

Those who cite money as a reason why winter can’t be managed properly are also being selective. These closures cost. If you’re a business, not having enough customers or staff affects you. When a city can’t really function because its services are taking the day off, it matters. If students are getting behind because of the amount of tuition lost to snow days; if parents have to take unpaid leave to look after their children when schools send them home; if communications like the postal service break down…

Even from the point of view of those basing their arguments on the economy, the counter argument is stronger. Make things run, and we all get paid, get our needs met.

But it isn’t just down to money. This is so often where we go wrong.

Snow can be not only a time of poverty, but loneliness. These months can seem very dull and isolating, as well as being time of fear about affording our bills when we’re made to be at home more. Some fear not being able to get supplies as well as companionship.

But there’s no need for that.

We seem very disorganised. For instance: grit bins are not evenly distributed. There should be more of them and smaller, in rural areas as well as urban. Often no-one’s making the effort to go round their neighbourhood with grit, all assuming someone else will. The councils claim  that their ever decreasing budgets preclude doing so, or taking other measures.

But how much is safety worth? It’s not just trunk roads cleared, or trains to the big cities we need. People are afraid to get out of those cars and trains onto icy pavements, even a short distance. It’s why the assumption that those who live in walking distance of the workplace are expected to go in is cruel.

In some places in Britain, different councils are responsible for pavements and roads. So one will come round with gritting lorries,  but the pavements are too icy to walk on. And then pedestrians use the road…

We shouldn’t ground our older folk, or make people of any age feel that they’re risking a strain by venturing out. Some idiots have even encouraged the notion that you’re liable for litigation if you do the neighbourly thing and clear the snow, because if you don’t do it right, and someone gets hurt…. I’d countersue and make that litigant ashamed. We need to look out for each other. We shouldn’t need official organisation or to just do what is right.

But councils do have a responsibility, and they, like central government, are selective as to what they spend on. They find large amounts for unneeded and controversial big roads; high top end salaries; enforcement and military.

And as for other countries: yes they do laugh at our feebleness. I know because I know people in them. They do carry on, with greater snow fall.

Snow scaring is an example of selective values, of fear mongering, of control, of lack of coordination and real priority. Safe and happy citizens are far more important.

I had a lovely walk today. It was meant to be the coldest for some years, but I wasn’t feeling it. The deep snow made walking easier. The world was peaceful, slower, and rather nice to look at. I thanked supermarket staff for making it in to help us ensure we could have our supplies and keep going. And yes, I put out some grit down where I could see ice forming. And I’ll be going out as usual, seeing the best in all aspects of the natural cycle of our year.

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Why Valentine’s day is wrong

I am fed up of the 3 days we have where commerce makes us feel we must dine out and buy cards and gifts to show our love: to our romantic partners and each of our parents. In Britain, there was a short lived attempt to introduce a nicely spaced Grandparents’ day. (Note the other three are in February, March, June; this was intended for September).

It makes those without those feel a great sense of lack and loss.

It makes other kinds of meet ups quite difficult at those times.

This year in England and Wales, Valentine’s day coincides with the school half term holiday; the saint’s day falls in the centre of the week. That means that expensive booked up meals reign for up to 10 days, and two weekends. Just in case you should try to sneak your partner out for a meal on a different day, with a normal menu. No discount vouchers are accepted at this time. Despite creating demand, they expect we’ll pay more. And then there’s all the treats and activities aimed at lovers. And it can feel awkward to go out not in a romantic couple; you can worry how you’re seen at the cinema with a person you’re not dating.

Part of me is angry at the idea that the world is about being – like the animals in the ark – in a two. Couples are normal, families are normal. People existing outside of the romantic mating pairs and their offspring and wider circle – involving more pairs – are odd.

But there are many of us who don’t fit the two by two model. We might be single – for now, or a long time. We may not have children. Many families have repartnering which means that you’ve more than two parents and more than two families who join at weddings. Some of us believe that you can partner with more than two. Not everyone partners with the opposite sex.

And all that is fine. But sometimes it can feel hard, or something to have to justify.

Some of us question that whole why two people for life paradigm anyway.

Having just been to a wedding, I’m very aware of the love industry. Some of it’s about keeping the tradition of marriage fashionable, for cohabitation doesn’t involve much for business to benefit from: no dressing up, venues to hire, catering, flowers, photography or planners. It’s also work for priests and registrars, and for lawyers.

Although traditionally religious people are often those in favour of marriage, marriage as an institution is not in the Bible. The Old Testament/Jewish part is all about affairs and polyamory. Jesus and the most prolific New Testament writer appear to be single.

St Valentine might well be canonised by the church for he encouraged people to enter the sort of relationship they endorse, even though it was counter culture to do so, like resisting his festival is today.

Marriage has historically much been about a business transaction as any kind of real partnership. Today, the legal part is emphasised in the service – I’ve even seen a bride given the certificate as her property to stop her husband selling her. No, I didn’t time travel and I was still in Britain.

And Valentine’s day is about finding someone that you can marry and then showing the person you married…well, the love isn’t so important as the trappings. The actual relationship we have, including the physical one, is something harder to sell, so we invent ways that can be translated into trade. A ring. A meal. A ticket. Something comestible.

I love that there’s also Quirkyalone day today. That doesn’t mean that you are alone, in any sense, or always will be. But can’t today be about ‘celebrating love, wherever it is found’? I pinched that sermon title from Trevor Dennis, dean of vice at Chester Cathedral, and I use it about my novel.

I’d like to broaden that remit to all love, in any relationship, including for God and ourselves.

Today isn’t a day to book out your restaurant and for your museum (Saffron Walden!) to have kinky adult craft classes, and create a sense of longing and misfit, guilt and exclusion.

Fill the cinemas and cafes with your non heterosexual exclusive romantic couple units.

That can include units of one.

Your love nor your worth is nor shown by the stationery and floristry you received today.

Nor whether you’ve had an ivory dress/special suit and a ring and a piece of paper to show that state and perhaps church (or another religion) sanction the relationship you’ve entered.

(Go and watch Michael Winterbottom’s Jude if you need convincing re the ‘bit of paper to tell me I’ve got to love you’).

Today is simply the middle of February; it’s also Ash Wednesday – don’t start me on that! – so whether you’re eating yesterday’s pancakes to defy the Church, having ash imposed on your forehead, having a special meal or meet up, or a day much as usual for you, as SARK says:

You are seen, you are known, you are loved.

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