PICTURE THIS?

Mona Lisa frameless
Image via Wikipedia

A photo captures a moment in time. Unless we take the photo ourselves, we cannot know what happened before the shutter went down, or afterwards. The moment the photo captures, is all we can know, as the viewer. So we can be taken in. A deeply dysfunctional family can come together for a snapshot and look like the winners of the Family Of The Year competition! Babies and small children are blackmailed with sweets and unpleasant promises to keep them still and smiley. Husbands hide sulky faces and long-suffering, unhappy wives show toothy expressions that are easily mistaken for grins when they are grimaces.

We know fashion photographs are fantasy. But ordinary family snaps can be, too. Why? Because we need to record happiness, even if it’s not really there. We have to say to the outside world that we conform, we play the game, WE ARE HAPPY!

I have been looking at a friend’s old family photos. She told me to look at them  with a new eye. I know that one of her ancestors was desperately unhappy in her marriage, yet the charming picture of this woman, surrounded by her children, with her husband standing behind in the patriarchal stance of all fathers at the turn of the last century, shows the dreaded ‘happiness’. But there is something; a glint in her eyes, the position of the children’s heads, the way the husbands has a repressive hand on his wife’s shoulder…? If you look closer, there is another story. I would not have seen it, had my friend not told me the truth about this family. My friend explained that before the photo was taken, the husband had probably given his wife a good beating – that is apparently, what he used to do. You could even see the bruise around her left eye, if you looked very carefully, she said.  The photo was in black and white, but by using a magnifying glass, I could just see a darkened area around her eye.

Photos can also exude a great deal of love. All the pictures I took of my babies after they were born are of this nature. Wedding photos of the bride and groom gazing at each other can also be full of love. But so many other photos are a sham. Just look at pictures of Judy Garland the week before she was found dead in her lavatory. All teeth and smiles… Not a care in the world. A wealthy, famous woman who appeared so happy. And Michael Jackson‘s last shots? Could anyone have imagined what was really happening in his life from those photos?

The Mona Lisa smiles enigmatically at us. But no one knows what was happening before Da Vinci picked up his brush – or after he put it down. We can only speculate. But look in her eyes, not at the smile. The answer is there, I’m sure. That woman knows something that no one else knows, not even the artist.  So the next time you look at a picture of people  who’s lives you know nothing about, look a little more carefully. Like life itself, there is always so much more to discover in what appears at first glance, ordinary.

SWINE WHAT?

Main symptoms of swine flu. (See Wikipedia:Swi...
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So, my plans have had to change because of SF. I am furious. Is this how it’s going to be for the next twelve months? Holed up in the house, too scared to go shopping or to have friends to stay in case the pesky little virus jumps down my throat and lays me low for five days? Ah, but I might just die… I might… I might…

Yesterday, I read that GlaxoSmithKline are getting ready to sell £3bn worth of swine flu drugs this year! They are also taking advanced orders from governments that have placed orders for 60 million doses of the new vaccine, due to be ready by this September. Sales will reach £3bn – someone always makes money out of a catastrophe.

In the wake of this, no doubt some enterprising entrepreneur will launch a range of designer facemasks. Maybe we will see hopeful young people trying to raise funds to market new inflatable antiseptic pods for us to live in – portable, of course. You just pump one up with your bicycle pump whenever you come in contact with a ‘sneezer’ and vanish inside. I can see our train station platforms littered with these little mini safe houses…

Although only 31 people have so far died in Britain – every person who dies, from whatever cause is a tragedy for their family – trying to keep a sense of proportion about this is hard at the present time. Millions die of TB every year. The death rates on our roads is a scandal. War kills trillions.

Pandemics have always hit the human race but at least with this one, we have some help. When plague hit London in the fourteenth century, you just  sat and waited for your turn to die. Nothing, but nothing could save you if the bug entered your body.  The swine flu vaccines are coming and the side effects will be minimal – so they tell us…  Tamiflu is available. Relenza is available. A box of kleenex is available…

We have to remain calm, DON”T WE!!!!!!  Combined with wild weather, mad bankers and a housing market that is dead as a dodo, swine flu is the least of our worries!

AUTISM OR MEN BEHAVING BADLY?

Chart showing the increase in autism diagnosis...
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Autism. There are so many myths and wrong assumptions.

I have a dear friend whose husband, at the age of 53, has finally been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. For years, their marriage was in trouble. His diffidence and obstinate behaviour, his refusal to commit, co-operate or show her empathy meant that she accused him of emotional abuse, of coldness and of not loving her. She almost ended up in a Women’s Refuge.

Yet, to others he seemed such a nice man. ‘Nice’ – that’s how people saw him – Mr Nice Guy. He never argued with anyone (accept his wife) He never lost his temper or appeared out of control. But he was never really quite ‘there’, either. It was like trying to interact with a one dimensional cut-out figure that could walk and talk, but movement could often be strange – a strange walk , as she put it – with stilted conversations and eyes that never quite looked at you. People ended up talking at him rather than to him. There was no point in hoping for the to and fro sparring expected from normal dialogue between two people. Yet, he was a very nice chap.

What was wrong? It was difficult to pin point, because he had, after years of dealing with his hidden disability, created a whole host of strategies to disguise it. In the early years of their marriage, she marched him off to Relate for counselling. The sympathetic counsellor asked him why he showed no passion or desire for his wife. (At the time, they were not having sex). He sat mute in the chair, unable to answer the question. This was the same response to any ‘why’ question. Silence. In fact, silence was how he managed most things that felt to him like conflict or attack, when in fact they were merely normal interaction.

The silences bought things to a head in the end. After a whole month of silence, my friend felt suicidal and begged her GP for help. More enlightened that most general practitioners, this doctor suggested that Autism might explain his behaviour. After months of therapy, delving into family history and asking for help from other health professionals, my friend realised that this strange and misunderstood condition was in her husband’s family and that their were thousands of other people living in the UK, who have not been diagnosed or given the support they need.

She had often described him to me as a shadow with fuzzy edges that occasionally came into the sun and seemed, for a short while, to have a clear outline. She was always asking him to be truthful, saying that there was a huge gap between what he perceived as reality and what actually was reality. His family had called him a dreamer. But he believed his dreams as if they were absolutely real and true. That made lying very easy because he believed his lies with the naivety of a child. He appeared to switch in and out of child mode in an almost cyclical fashion. On other occasions, he became a rebellious teen-ager, arguing with my friend for hours and hours, but the arguments had no structure and no resolution. He had always been brilliant with words, indeed he worked with words and had a successful career as a teacher. But the world of intimacy, or close relationships, conversation and social interaction was one he could not understand; it was like a foreign language to him.

The diagnoses has made such a difference to them. Now she doesn’t call me at 2am, sobbing down the phone for comfort and support. They go to therapy together and he is receiving the right sort of support from the service providers. But how long did this take? How many years of desperate unhappiness did they have to live through? What damage has been done to their kids?

We need more government funding for more and better research into AS and Autism. The condition is on the increase and no one seems to know why. More men than women have AS and more men go undiagnosed. The National Autistic Society have all the stats. Lobby your MP to campaign for a better understanding of this difficult and much misunderstood condition.

A WORLD WITHOUT SPERM

So it’s official.  Scientists have announced that they can magic up sperm in a lab.

The inference is that one day, in the not too distant future, we will be able to have babies without men. Will that be a good thing? Well, the male track record has not been so good. Men leave relationships more than women. Men kill their partners and spouses at a rate of two a week. Men run the BNP…  Hitler was a man.  So was the Yorkshire Ripper. Need I go on?

I know that women have done bad things; very bad things, but if you look at men in the context of their rape, pillage and just simply killing people, they appear to take the biscuit. That’s not to say we women haven’t  expelled from our wombs some amazing males. Think about Elvis and Jacko and Ghandi. (Hard to say that in one breath!) 

So what would a matriarchal society be like?  Mrs Thatcher gave us a taste… Did we relish her nanny state? (By that I mean her personality reminded many men in her Cabinet of their Victorian nannies!) She knew how to handle those boys, didn’t she? Clear cut emasculation was the name of her game. But it didn’t lead to much. They rewarded her with the most terrible of punishments – banishment and indifference. Her tears were too late. The hard core were out to finish her and they did it with supreme male skill.

We must accept that men have evolved to take risks as they scouted and killed their prey in the prehistoric landscape from whence they came. They left the girls behind, doing boring things like picking berries that were growing round the cave door, nursing screaming infants and sweeping up – probably. (So they had less time to focus on relationships, conversation, emotions – things that we women are so good at!) 

There is a strange myth that says that all great art was produced by men. I strenuously challenge that. Women have always been trapped by domesticity and pregnancy. Any woman who has tried to combine very small children with a full-time job, knows that painting the Sistine Chapel would be a total a no-no. Trying to breast feed up a ladder with a paint brush in your mouth, might be a challenge too far.

Of course there have always been brilliant women musicians, artists, writers and scientists! They just weren’t given the breaks, or the attention that is showered on the men. Remember this: men do not have an exclusive handle on genius. When women shine as inventors, their brilliance is often dimmed behind the notion that this simply reflects their traditional roles as homemakers.  Yes, a woman did invent the disposable nappy (Josephine Cochran in 1886) – no man, it seemed, thought that sort of invention worth while spending time on.

But it’s not the complete story. Deborah Jaffe, who has written a book called Ingenious Women, said: ” There is something about the mind of an inventor – that sort of problem-solving – which I think women do all the time in their lives.”   

Ada Lovelace, the poet Byron’s daughter was involved with the invention of the Analytical Engine in 1842. It was one of the earliest computers. Sarah Mather patented a submarine telescope and lamp. Mary Anderson invested the first windscreen wiper. More recently, Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar in 1971. Bullet-proof vests and skis are made from her discovery. Have you heard of these women and their achievements?

Most religions are patriarchal and have sought to oppress women. The contradiction is that being a talented woman and a nun was once the only way to get your work noticed! The church gave bright women an opportunity – so long as they remained within the tight male dominated structure of the religious life. In saying this, I am not seeking to belittle the achievements of men. But I am aware that clever women are and always have been, something of a threat. 

So, back to the concept of life without men. Would this mean that you went to the sperm bank and chose an of-the-shelf file of sperm, labelled boy or girl, blue or brown eyes, tall or short, arty or inventor? How to choose? Bit of a nightmare, really. All too clinical for me. If the guys could just stop playing war games and concentrate on being true partners, building lives that are about love and creativity, I would send those scientists to Siberia.

That probably sounds all left-wing, feminist and typical of silly, female logic? Who gives a damn! I love and have loved many men in my life and I wouldn’t want to have missed any of that. Would I be happy with world without men? Would the Pope marry Madonna? No way!

Lyn Ferrand 2009

INTERNET GOSSIP?

Facebook logo
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How do you feel when somebody puts derogatory remarks about you on their Facebook page? When it happened to me recently, I felt really abused. I went through all the right channels to complain but that didn’t help the sense of betrayal I experienced, because the words written about me were out there, in the ether for ever. It was so humiliating, because the bully had been clever by not mentioning my name, but any one knowing me, would recognise who was being referred to and therefore, in my mind, I could be identified.

The person who published the remarks against me was someone I had once helped when they were in dire straights. I didn’t expect gratitude, but I did think they would show some loyalty when our friendship ended. It ended because I could not tolerate the behaviour that this person exhibited to me and to others. Too late, I realised that this was someone I couldn’t help, because they were so psychologically damaged. Only an experienced therapist or a spell in a psychiatric ward might assist this person, not me.

The whole episode left a very bitter taste in my mouth and for awhile, made me suspicious of offering a helping hand to anyone. But I have never been one to turn the other cheek. We all make mistakes in judging others. But there is no excuse for naivety and I think that on this occasion, I was naive and in a sense, somewhat vain. I thought that my well-meaning actions would be so effective that they would change a whole lifetime of abusive and unacceptable behaviour.

The person is now free to do what was done to me to someone else – maybe many people and there is not a thing I can do about it. To challenge or confront would simply open myself up to more abuse. But to ignore it seems so cowardly; turning the other cheek upon myself. We all meet people that have personalities like this person as we travel through our lives. And we are rarely taught by our parents or teachers how to cope when we become victims of maliciousness and slander. Most people do nothing and hope that it will just all go away. But if nothing is done, this sort of bullying can also become obsessive for the bully and turn into stalking.

I won’t forget this in a hurry and it’s taught me one thing; the internet can be an amazing resource, but it can also be a place where reputations are ruined and malicious gossip can flourish.