A VULNERABLE WAY OF LIFE

Satellite image shows Hurricane Sandy churning off the east coast on Monday. Photograph: Nasa/Getty Images

So much misery on the news this week. It’s enough to make you eat cake non-stop for a month! Hurricane Sandy swept away our perception that we poor humans rule the world. Living in the West we somehow feel protected from major natural disasters. In the UK, we have lived in a temperate climate for some time. That has all changed.

Nobody who is not a physicist or a scientist of some sort really understands what is going on with our weather. We have read so many conflicting reports over the past ten years. I feel guilty every time I take my car out of the garage. I am polluting the planet just by living on it! Is it really all our fault? Quite likely.

So, how do I change the way I live to help save the planet? Can I really help? If I don’t use my car, will it make a difference. If we all stop using our cars, it will. But then how will we get around? In rural areas, buses are being cut. Trains were cut years ago here, by an enthusiastic butcher called Dr. Beeching. So, will I be destined to spend my life within a five mile radius of my town, like my ancestors did? Could be.

And what about food? Weather is affecting the growing of vegetables across the world. My tiny garden might support me for some of the year, so I guess I should plough up the lawn and dig. Not many of us have room for chickens or a cow or even a very small pig. I’ll be a vegetarian. That’s okay by me. The growing of meat is using up the world’s precious resources, so maybe let’s not eat meat.

Then there is energy. Can we live without electric light, without the electric kettle, the central heating, the towns lit up with fairy lights at Christmas? We may have to. How will we keep warm? Light fires? Collect wood from the forests and dig fire pits in the middle of our sitting rooms and hope the smoke goes out of the open windows – which let in the cold air? Will that work?

Finally, can we see a time when everything we take for granted, stops? Will we help our neighbours when that time arrives, for surely it will? Will we be ready to use ingenuity and imagination in order to preserves ourselves and our families, or have we become so soft that the thought terrifies us? I fear we have.

I don’t know how I would feel if there was no electric light, no heating, no food in the shop down the road, no one to police the neighbourhood, no transport, no doctor on the end of a phone, no hospitals, no social order. Well, I do know how I would feel. I would feel bereft, resentful, angry, stupid for not heeding the warnings, furious with our political leaders for being so short-sighted and most of all, I would feel scared. It would be a time of survival of the fittest, something we thought we had dealt with years ago. After all, we are civilised now. We are a technological, modern society. But, after watching the pictures of New York after the hurricane hit, how fast all the trapping of civilisation can be washed away.

THE ARTS AND LOSS

I was about seven or eight when I sat in the wings of Drury Lane Theatre in London, watching my sister on stage in Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. She was playing Tuptim, the king’s favourite wife. I remember being taken up the stone stairs at the back of the theatre to the dressing rooms, where I watched her and several other of the king’s wives putting on their elaborate make-up. The stars of the show, Valerie Hobson and Herbert Lom were introduced to me and I remember feeling very important.

My sister was in two shows at Drury Lane; Carousel and The King and I. I watched them both from the stalls with my mother and from the wings. Today I have been going through papers in my office and came across photos, programmes and other memorabilia from my childhood. It made me stop and think.

My father died when I was eight. As the youngest of five, I was taken under my elder sister’s wing and spent a lot of time with her as she developed her career as an actress and singer. It influenced me for the whole of my life. When she died in 1989, it hit me hard.

When the people you love and sometimes idolise leave you physically, they never leave you in your heart or your mind. Every time I hear the music associated with those shows, the years roll back and I’m there, in that magnificent theatre, watching the magic unfold on stage. She was my idol.

Of course, today I cried. Recalling your childhood often makes you cry when you are my age. You have regrets and wish things could have been different. I have lost many family members over the years, so any loss resonates with me in a way that others may not experience it. But then, it has helped me to be who I am. The person who loves music, theatre, literature, poetry, opera, all the arts. They have helped me to cope with loss. That is why giving children exposure to the arts is so important as they grow up.

Music is so much part of who I am, too. I guess if my life decisions had been different, I would certainly wanted a career as a singer, probably in musical comedy. Sounds corny, but the joy watching those shows gave me as a child, helped me deal with the death of my father. Later, music helped me deal with other family members who died, far too young.

It’s hard when you are the youngest in a family. You are likely to witness the loss of the people you love most. As the youngest, you are made to feel to special, as least I was. With my own kids, I often wonder if I passed on that feeling to them. I want to find a way of telling them how much I love them. Maybe, one day if they read this, they will understand me a little better and know I loved them more than I could ever express.

STOP ABUSE NOW

Among more than 1,400 adult females, childhood...
Among more than 1,400 adult females, childhood sexual abuse was associated with increased likelihood of drug dependence, alcohol dependence, and psychiatric disorders. The associations are expressed as odds ratios: for example, women who experienced nongenital sexual abuse in childhood were 2.93 times more likely to suffer drug dependence as adults than were women who were not abused. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, the Jimmy Savile horror story continues to dominate our media. It is making me think about the way our culture treats women, for most of his victims, from what I read, were girls. After all the battles women have had to fight – to get the vote, for equal pay, push through those glass ceilings – the female of our species are still fair game for abusive men.

Feminist writer Germaine Greer once said that ‘women have no idea how much men hate them.’  Savile, it is clear by his abuse of vulnerable girls, had little respect for them. Yet, he led us to believe that he was a champion of the sick, the disadvantaged, the needy. He made us applaud him for his charity work. He was showered with honours, ironically even by the Pope, the head of a church that has harboured child molesters for generations.

I have been reading about well respected institutions allowing Jimmy Savile to allegedly assault children within their walls without reporting it. They turned a blind eye, it seems. How could they? It shows how much power men like Savile had. Do they still, today? How many rich and powerful men walking the streets of the UK at this very moment, are involved in child abuse?

I believe there is still an inate lack of respect for women. You only have to take on board the fact that most of the Internet is pornography, that we still do not have equal pay, that there are far more men in parliament than women, that women have to fight twice as hard as men to be listened to, to see that this is true. Women do not hold themselves in high enough esteem. Where are our role models? They are out there, but they are not making enough noise.

So, how can we teach our girls, from birth, that they must value themselves highly? How do we give them that inbuilt detector that enables them to know when they are in danger of being exploited? How can we do this without making all men seem like monsters?

The onus is on the men, I’m afraid. Sexual abuse is never the victims fault. NEVER. Most sexual abuse is carried out by men and it usually happens within families. How many children are going through this torture as I write this? We must be more willing to speak out – to report anything that we see or hear that might lead us to suspect that a child is being abused. To stay silent is to be culpable.

Men in positions of power who are abusers, have always manipulated. They want to be seen as above reproach. They even believe that their victims are the guilty ones. Every man who abuses a child is in a position of power to that child. To combine the power being an adult gives you in the eyes of a child, with a celebrity status and wealth is what Savile did.  We are now about to find out who was in the same ‘gang’ – who encouraged him, protected him or joined him in abusing children. These men are on a par with Savile, even if they did not engage in the abuse. If they knew it was happening and did nothing, they are just as guilty. There has to be a sea-change in how men like Savile; celebrities in powerful positions are allowed to escape notice when they commit such terrible crimes.

We, as a culture, have to value and listen to our children. How long have I been bleating on about this? For ever! Savile went undetected when his victims were too frightened to speak up, or not listened to, when they did.  Savile’s despicable crimes have highlighted the fact that we do not hear what our children are saying.

When my kids asked if they could write to the programme Jim’ll Fixit, I always dissuaded them. Why? because I never like Savile. There was something ‘wrong’. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but when I watched him on TV, he seemed false, as if the real man was somewhere else and what I was seeing was a contrived personality hiding something else. He made me cringe, as did his patronising approach to the guests on his show. When I thought about why I felt like this about him, I told myself not to be so judgemental. But now I know that some inner protective force was working. I was picking up on something far worse than not liking an embarrassing celebrity, who didn’t appeal to me.

How terribly sad for all those on the receiving end of his evil – I can’t describe it any other way – evil behaviour. Sexual abuse ruins lives. To my mind it is a crime akin to murder, because to abuse an innocent child is to murder a part of that child’s psyche. It’s difficult not to be prurient; not to want to read every inch of what is and will be written in the tabloids, about Savile. The broadsheets have a more balanced approach, but you get the feeling that none of them can actually believe what they are publishing. The story about Savile, everyones’ favourite do-gooding uncle, cuts to the core of our belief system that encourages us to idolize celebrity and let our kids to do the same, because we see it as just a bit if fun.

The time has come for all of us to speak out against the way our children and women are treated. More must be done to encourage respect for women. No use just saying it, it must be seen to be done. Education must improve – our schools need more money, Mr. Cameron. Our teachers need respect. Mothers are working when they raise their children – that must be recognised. Children are the next generation who will legislate for what sort of place the world will be.

Where will the money come from? The debt-based financial system is obsolete. Bankers must pay their dues. The very wealthy must pay more tax. We have to find a more equal way of distributing wealth. This government wants to cut benefits. Who will suffer? Why, the children. Fair game, yet again!

Jimmy Savile was a very wealthy man. Will any of that wealth go to his victims as compensation, if the allegations are proved?

http://ukfeminista.org.uk/

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/

http://www.childline.org.uk

DON’T KNOCK OUR PUBLIC SERVICES

People are very quick to knock the state these days. One group of state employees often at the receiving end of such attacks in the media are social workers. Of course there have been bad apples in the bunch. It happens in all types of organisations; look at the banks, the police, the BBC.  But where social work is concerned, I believe that most don’t go into the career to make money! Most have a desire to help vulnerable people and on the whole, they do a great job in circumstances that would drive the rest of us to drink.

English: Rib fractures in an infant secondary ...
English: Rib fractures in an infant secondary to child abuse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have come across websites that attack our social services. Yes, it’s important to be vigilant and informed and to know your rights when dealing with any section of the public sector that doesn’t deliver high quality services, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. From what I can see, this government would like to cut the state into little pieces. The Conservatives have always favoured the private sector and the Liberal Democrats appear to have little power to stop them, or am I wrong about this?  So to hit out at the state so vitriolically, as some of these websites do, is to my mind, counter productive.

We should be connecting to our public services, supporting them and fighting to make them better, not vilifying them. Ironically, complaints are part of that support. Complain and complain again if something goes wrong, but go through the right channels. Making a sensationalist stand won’t get you anywhere. Write good letters, ask for meetings, be polite but very persistent. Never let go. Demand to be treated with dignity and act with dignity yourself. Be informed. Knowledge is power and nothing can change or get better if you stick your head in the sand or just make a fuss that is unfocused.

Where children are concerned, there have been high profile cases where social workers have made big mistakes, but thankfully these are few. Children who grow up in chaotic homes and experience abuse – either physical or emotional – must be protected. Our children’s services are at the front line and their work should be recognised and applauded and those services nutured and protected, like the people they cater for.

We now have Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin winning a £130m million deal to run core NHS services. In March next year Virgin will take over children’s services and run them for three years in the South West. Is this the start of the breakup of our precious NHS?

bp_children3
bp_children3 (Photo credit: magnusfranklin)

Over 1000 staff employed by the NHS and Devon County Council will be affected by this deal with Virgin. Although child protection will remain under local government control, I am concerned that the joined-up thinking encouraged in the past will disappear, as private companies may not have the knowledge or experience to deal with cases where liaison between teachers, health visitors and family doctors is vitally important in protecting vulnerable children.

Co-operation isn’t enough. Collaboration between everyone working on the frontline is crucial. Virgin say they do have experience. Their new company, Virgin Care now run 120 NHS services, in particular GP practices. Their involvement in our NHS is set to grow.

In Devon, the director of commissioning told the Guardian newspaper that there were many benefits to the deal. She said she was aware that it was vital to ensure that the winning bidder was able to deliver the best possible outcomes for children and young people across the county. I really hope this will be the case.

www.thelostchild.co.uk

A SOCK IN THE EYE

World Kindness Movement
World Kindness Movement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it naïve of me to want to trust my fellow woman or man? Of late, it’s been a turbulent time.  My faith in our politicians and others who are in positions of power, has taken a hit. This makes me question my own personal world and how much I can trust those around me.

A couple of days ago, people who are not my family have shown incredible kindness to me and mine. How did I react this, when my expectations have become so low? I say, in a loud voice, to anyone who will listen, THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE OUT THERE!  It sounds like a cliché, but if you don’t tell yourself this when the nasty stuff is hitting the fan, you lose faith in everything and everyone and then you start to make bad decisions.

None of us function alone. We are all parts of a whole; a whole world, a whole universe.  I think that is why, when I listened to the news this morning, peppered with such terrible things, including the report of a man who, apparently randomly drove his van into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring many, including children, I found it hard to hang on to the notion that this is just one part of the whole.

There are good things happening out there. I cannot judge the world by only focusing on the tragedies. I must think about them and all the pain such events cause and my heart goes out to the families involved. Their hurt can never be diminished. Suffering is something we must respect and understand. But, for the sake of my sanity, I need to put this and all the other terrible things happening in the world, into perspective.

As one gets older, cynicism can take hold. You start to have the ‘Oh, yeah?’ syndrome. Whatever is told to you as fact, whatever you are expected to believe as truth, even when others are ardent believers, there is a conversation going on in your head, born of life experience and hard knocks. The conversation goes something like this:

‘Are they nuts to think I believe this rubbish? Do they really want me to subscribe to such utter nonsense?  Don’t they realise, that at my age, I can smell lies at fifty paces?’

Sad, isn’t it, that loss of optimistic relish? Gone are the days when you took everything at face value and saw sweetness and light everywhere. Youth is full of clichés. Yet, I know that to stay young at heart, I must not lose that wonder; that feeling of optimism that everything will be okay. It’s a tough call, in our world, today.

The kindness I have just experienced has come from people I don’t really know that well. Circumstances and a common cause has bought us together. We have instilled in each other a sense of positivity that means we can work together and move forward. We all have a moral compass and the dials are all pointing the same way! My faith in the integrity of my fellow woman/man is, for the time being, restored.

Of course, the bad stuff is still out there and to let your guard down would be foolish. Running your life these days is like a game of hide and seek. You have to be more informed than ever before, but lots of information is hidden from you. You have to be prepared to seek for the truth and, most importantly, you have to recognise the truth when you find it.

There are few boundaries any more. Everything is under attack. Our protectors, the police have let us down, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good police out there. Our politicians make huge mistakes and it takes us a long time to understand what they are up to; sometimes too late. But, there are some good people in parliament. Often, people we thought we could trust in our own communities, become tainted. Still, there are good people there, too. You just have to search for them and when you find them, hang on to them.

It wasn’t ever thus, was it? Perhaps I am being naive again to think that the past was any better? It is something that seems to happen as you age – ‘I can remember when this was all fields…’  There is this desire to imagine a rose-tinted past and not to see the reality.

 I am not living in the past and I want to believe that people are intrinsically good. I wish they wouldn’t work so hard to prove it otherwise!

Inventory

Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.
― Dorothy ParkerThe Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker

STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING NOW!

UNICEF
UNICEF (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something is on my mind. I woke up in the early hours of the morning and the ruminating began – people trafficking. Am I really in the middle of my life in the 21st century reading in the newspaper and seeing on TV reports of slavery? For that’s what it is.

An inter-departmental ministerial group has revealed that over 900 probable victims of this hideous trade were discovered in 2011. One report quotes these figures: 700+ adults and 200+ children. More statistics and information can be obtained from the  Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

These people – so many are children – are exploited for sex, labour and domestic slavery. They come from many countries, but Romania, Slovakia, Vietnam, Nigeria and China are giving the UK cause for concern. Criminal gangs in these countries are running this human trafficking trade – that’s the only way to describe it – a trade in human lives.

Why do we value children so little? Child abuse goes on behind closed doors in buildings set up to protect children – I am referring to the Jimmy Saville enquiry where a powerful, wealthy celebrity was able to go into mental health institutions and children’s homes that were supposed to be safe havens and allegedly carry out abuse. Cases like this always horrify the public, but it still goes on. Is this because we have still not embraced the idea of whistle-blowing? It’s time for a change. I believe we are all responsible for the welfare of children. I think we should all take responsibility for the children in our communities for it takes a community to raise a child, doesn’t it?

It’s good to hear today that certain airlines are training their staff to look out for any young person they think might be involved in trafficking and they have set up a help centre so that staff can contact them before plane lands in the UK.

This may sound naive but who are the people who buy into this trade of human flesh? What sort of minds do they have? Is there any research being done on why some people want to involve themselves in exploitation like this? Is it just money? At least there is now a framework for identifying victims and helping them. We have to be far more aware of the unpleasant fact that this is happening and it might be happening under our nose.

I quote from the UNICEF website:

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children(2000), child trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of children for the purpose of exploitation. It is a violation of their rights, their well-being and denies them the opportunity to reach their full potential.

That’s putting it mildly. It shows again, how devalued children are today. They line with women, the disabled and older people. It’s scandalous. I really do believe that we have become a world that puts the acquisition of wealth before all else. This value system must be addressed by governments. Human trafficking is despicable and it has to be stopped.

A GOVERNMENT WITHOUT COMPASSION?

Ideology of the three main UK parties, as defi...
Ideology of the three main UK parties, as defined by http://www.politicalcompass.org/extremeright (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This government lacks compassion and that lack of compassion has, I believe, cascaded down through a society that has put its head in the sand and is starting not to care. We are becoming a society that lacks compassion.

How much do we value the state? Has a government hell-bent on slashing the state into little pieces, become acceptable? I quote George Osborn: “I am the chancellor who is cutting the size of government faster than anyone in modern times…”  

In whose hands then, are we putting our safety, our health, our money? Who are these people who, with such callous attitudes, cut away at our most precious services, the NHS, schools, social security, our councils? Why are we expected to accept the inconsistent half-truths we are told about our economy? Listening to George Osborne is like listening to pompous vicar who preaches only one homily: All That Glitters Is Not Gold. Hang on a minute, the NHS is the glittering jewel in our crown. Our children and their education are worth far, far more than any political ideology and a society that does not value and care for its older citizens is base metal! The preservation of our state and the services we all pay for with our taxes, is priceless.

Does Osbourne really think that an economic policy that has imploded, debts that continue to spiral and deficit targets that are as far away from him as Mars is from the Moon, is the way to make this country function in a furiously competative global economy? Ludicrous arrogance. Where is the real expertise to run the complex machine that is government? Have all the good people in Whitehall been axed? Is that what was planned by those two new love birds, Cameron and Clegg, when they nestled up to each other in their love-shack? It would seem so. So, having given them enough rope, this mixed-up government are hanging not just us, but themselves, too.

Who, in government, is speaking out about the ten billion proposed benefit cuts? Where is the voice of the opposition? The poorest people in this country will take the brunt of these cuts, yet why is there so much silence from the opposition benches? The 6 million people unemployed in the UK have become an acceptable statistic that can be massaged to fit in with the warped ideological ideals this governments seeks to promote, above all else.  I believe they believe this is more important that anything else. Their focus is on what they will leave behind them.  When they are eventually ousted by a population, who though slow to wake up to what is happening, will hopefully get it, by the time they have to vote in the next general election, how much damage will have been done and how long will it take to see the wounded state discharged from a slashed and tottering A&E department?

Is this a government that has lost its marbles? Their increasingly right-wing agenda worries me. Now, politicians are bleating against gay marriage, abortion, the public sector – it’s a long list and it’s very worrying. The lack of compassion and the sense that the people who control this country don’t have a handle on the lives of ordinary people, is disturbing.

Seven years ago, Cameron was talking up compassion. What happened? The attitude has changed. The feeling is one of unpleasant confrontation; a sort of ‘cruel to be kind’ patronising, sniggering, know-it-all culture that runs through the rhetoric and behaviour. What we all tend to forget is that they are there because we put them there. We are constituents and as such, we can hold our elected representatives to account. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.

I fear that the definition of democracy is changing. However, we must take heart. This lack of compassion won’t work for long. The future they are offering is not what I want and I suspect that many others feel the same.

ECONOMICAL TRUTHS?

English: British economist Alfred Marshall (18...
English: British economist Alfred Marshall (1842 – 1924) pictured in 1921. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Political Economy or Economics is a study of man’s actions in the ordinary business of life; it inquires how he gets his income and how he uses it. It follows the action of individuals and of nations as they seek, by separate of collective endeavour , to increase the material means of their well- being and to turn their resources to the best account. Thus it is on the one side, a study of wealth and on the other and more important side, the study of man…

So wrote Alfred Marshall.  His book – Elements of Economics of Industry was published by Macmillan and Co in 1925. It was the first volume of a set of books entitles Elements of Economics. It’s a unique piece of work and anyone interested in the world’s current financial plight would find it fascinating, though finding a copy in print today might be difficult.

This book was in a stack of old hard backs given to me by a very elderly friend when she was downsizing. Her father had been an economist of some note and had studied at Oxford. Although my own field is in the arts, the book is gripping. With sentences like: “What are the proper relations of individual and collective action in a stage of civilization such as ours? “ and “What business affairs should be undertaken by society itself acting through its government, imperial or local?” Answers on a postcard, please!

Page 54 has the title: Book 111On Wants And Their Satisfaction

The final paragraph reads: We will begin this book with a short study of the variety of human wants, considered in their relation to human efforts and activities. For the progressive nature of man is one whole. There is a special need to insist on this just now, because the reaction against the comparative neglect of the study of wants by the earlier economists shows signs of being carried to the opposite extreme. It is important still to assert the great truth on which they dwelt somewhat too exclusively; viz. that while wants are the rulers of life among the lower animals, it is to changes in the forms of efforts and activities that we must turn when in search for the keynotes of the history of mankind.

While trying to understand the economics of the 21st century, the above has a comforting tone that I don’t quite understand, but that makes me want to read on…

TIME KEEPING

Old Clocks
Old Clocks (Photo credit: servus)

Awake at 4.26am this morning. Lots churning over in the mind. How does one shut those inner voices up in order to get another few hours sleep? It happens to me every morning. In the summer, it’s okay, as rising when it’s starting to get light, is exciting. I often make a cup of tea and sit in the garden, watching the dawn nag the moon into oblivion. But at this time of year, October, even before the clocks change, it’s very dark at 4.30am and it feels a lonely place when you are awake and alone.

Of course, there are ways to make it better. Listening to the World Service on the radio is always illuminating. It can certainly send you to sleep. Or what about tuning in to what our farmers have to say? Very informative, but often depressing. You can switch on the TV and watch some really bad film, where the acting is wooden and the script unbelievable. That’s a good way to stay awake. The film is so bad, it’s good – gives you something to think about.

At 4.30am, if I wake up, I get up. I wander round the house, looking for things to do. I might fold clothes that are waiting to be ironed. They will wait a long time because I never iron, so to fold them makes me feel a bit sanctimonious. I might unload the dishwasher and check each plate, cup and saucer for chips; not the edible kind. That’s quite satisfying, as when I find one, I can throw the offending piece of china into the bin. Throwing things away is always good for the soul and gives waking up so early a real sense of purpose. I will definitely make a cup of tea; ah, the cup that cheers! What do Americans drink at 4am? Coffee? Too harsh for me. Coffee is a magic substance that must be imbibed at the right time, namely coffee time; about 10.30am. With a biscuit.

English: Bakersfield street clock
English: Bakersfield street clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sometimes just sit down at my PC and write, as I am doing now. The mind doesn’t like it. It complains – you should be asleep, lady! The words will be drawn out, like pulling teeth. The grammar will be bad. The spelling may be tragic. But the spirit is willing, so I ignore the brain and tap away at the keys. In the bedroom, my beloved snores gently, unaware that I am struggling to produce readable prose. He is in the land of dreams, the lucky duck. He curses when the light in the hall goes on. He throws a pillow at me when I enquire politely if he would like tea, too. I’ve forgotten what the time is.

It’s a strange thing, time. Especially at 4am. The hours between 4 and 7 are like seconds. They disappear – fast. You crawl out of bed, check the clock, wander around for a bit, make the tea, do a few chores and all of a sudden it’s 7am. Where the hell did that time go to? It’s like aging. One minute you are young and then, without seeing it happen, you are old. Time is very unfair. It does things without your permission. It’s very anarchistic. It won’t be told.

I did go through a phase when I put away all the clocks for a week. I refused to listen to the radio or watch TV. I left my computer turned off. I lived by the rising of the sun and moon. It was strangely liberating. Time seemed to stretch. The day seemed longer, the nights shorter. I still woke early, but as I didn’t know what time it was, I didn’t worry. I only knew it was early because it was still dark outside. I found I compensated by going to bed when I felt tired, not when there was nothing more worth watching on TV. I changed my eating habits, too. Natural progression. I ate as I needed to, not when the clock said it was lunch time. Because I worked at home, I was able to plan my working day differently. If I wanted to work through the night, no clock stared at me, making me feel guilty. My body told me when to stop working and sleep. Work was done in short bursts punctuated by sleep or just wasting time. It felt quite good. At the end of the week,  when the clocks were replaced, I mourned for that lost sense of freedom that dismissing time-keeping had given me. But I was also reassured, for without those tickers, I was totally reliant on nature.

Full Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamois)....
Full Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamois). Français : Pleine Lune vue de la Terre en Belgique à Hamois. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clocks are machines that measure time for us. When we rebel against their dominance, perhaps we feel closer to nature? All I know, is that clocks are time machines that keep our wild nature contained. Not sure if that’s such a good thing. It’s easy to forget we are organic, just like the moon and the sun, the stars and the planets. What clocks do they use?

My brain aches. I’m going back to bed.

ON BEING AN OLDER WOMAN

Daphne Selfe: ‘Everyone can look lovely.’ Photograph: Nick Ballon

Does being a woman of a certain age in the UK mean you have to keep your mouth shut and play Bingo? Must you talk in platitudes, making sure that you know your place by never having an opinion that might assault the delicate senses of the population at large? Your focus must be on safe things, like the price of bread, the weather, knitting, your pet cat (or dog) and if you really want to be considered a Maverick, luxury cruises. Of course, in these times of economic skyfall, you are likely to be ostracised if you boast about your means and you need ‘means’ to go on those ships that wander about the oceans like open coffins, their excited passengers happy to risk salmonella and shipwreck in order to tell the neighbours that they saw the Mediterranean by moonlight and passed the shores of Greece, a place that looked perfectly okay, from a distance,  whatever the papers are saying about financial collapse and all that.

Being an older woman today, means that you are in danger of being seen as a ghost before you become one. In any queue at the beauty counter, your younger sisters will be addressed first, even if you have battled your way to the front. At any meeting, you will have to shout longer and louder than the blokes and even then, you will know that very few people will remember what you said. On the telephone, if you mention your age, the juvenile on the other end of the line will assure you that they have your best interests at heart while talking over you. If you ask them to slow down as you are a little deaf, their speech will become so slow that you nod off.

As you lose some of your hearing – inevitable once you are past 60, your voice will become louder, until you become completely deaf when, like your ghostly appearance in the eyes of the young, you will be expected to be as silent as the grave because understanding you means taking time to communicate with you, and time is something that no one seems to have anymore. Embarrassment at losing your hearing when all around you can hear a pin drop will make you shut up, permanently. After all, disability in this country has struggled for years to be accepted and old age is seen as a gross disability, especially by the government, who bleat on about THE COST OF CARE and give the impression that in twenty years time,  old people will be stacked up outside nursing homes – full to the brim inside – with their hands stretched out, taking the bread and benefits away from the young.

The word euthanasia is poised on the lips of many. Few will admit to this, but the way that old folk are patronised and devalued in society in 2012, assures me that if they could get away with it, euthanasia would be a good way of tackling the fiscal debt.

I quote from the House of Commons LibraryPopulation Ageing : Statistics – “There is great interest among Members of Parliament in regards to population ageing. Population ageing is seen as one of the greatest challenges facing contemporary society, because of its many social, economic and political implications. This Note focuses on future demographic trends in population ageing at national and regional level, and briefly examines the implications of these trends.”

This report goes on to say:   There are 10.3 million people aged 65 and over in the UK. This is an 80 per cent increase over six decades, from in 1951. Over the last 60 years there has been a substantial change in the age composition of older people. In 1951, those aged 65-74 represented 67 per cent, and those aged 85 and over made up just 4 per cent, of the 65 and over population. Today, the two age groups represent 51 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. 

Older women outnumber men. The improvement in mortality rates among older men has led to a narrowing of the gap. There were 70 men in the UK aged 65 and over for every 100 women of the same age group in 1951. The sex ratio has increased to 79 men per 100 women. The greater number of women than men is most pronounced among the very old, as women tend to live older than men. In 2010, there were 2.56 women over the age of 90 for every man of that age.

Older women are more likely than men to live alone, and the proportion increases with advancing age. Among women aged 75 and over who live in private households in Great Britain, 60 per cent live alone compared with 36 per cent of men at the same age.2 In 2001, 4.5 per cent of people aged 65 and over were resident in communal establishments in Great Britain. This proportion was greatest among people aged 90 and over at 20 per cent for men and 34 per cent for women.  

Women can expect to live longer than men, with life expectancy at birth in the UK being 78.1 years for men and 82.1 years for women in 2010.4 However, women are also more likely to live more years in poor health. In 2010, the expected years lived in poor health from age 65 onwards was 7.7 years for men and 8.7 years for women.5 Family members supply the majority of social care provided in the community. In 2001, over three-quarters (78 per cent) of all older people who reported suffering from mobility problems were helped by their spouse or other household members. As well as receiving informal care, older people are also major providers of care. In 2001, 1.2 million men and 1.6 million women aged 50 and over in England and Wales were providing unpaid care to family members, neighbours or relatives. This represents 16 per cent and 17 per cent of men and women aged 50 and over. Among 50- to 64-year-olds, a greater proportion of women than men provide unpaid care, and a higher proportion provide intensive care (50 or more hours a week).  Author – Tom Rutherford. Last Updated 10 February 2012.

Gosh, I feel better having read that.

Of late, I have noticed that some of the Sunday newspaper magazines are taking a huge risk and showing older models in fashion shoots. It’s slow progress, but these publications are ahead of the game, because us older women are still interested in wearing clothes, even if we are seen as a-sexual and only fit to appear in public in charity shop bargains. Obliged to keep working into our seventies, we are likely to have a lot more cash available than student debt-encumbered youth. Of course, most of us will be in unpaid work as carers or childminders for grandchildren, and we are expected to do this work without any complaint for we are jolly privileged that our kids and their kids are still talking to us! As for caring, well think how much money we are saving the government? Sacrifice and silence is a badge that many of us will wear well into our dotage. The rest will struggle on, competing with the young to get jobs or trying to make ends meet on pensions devaluing by the minute. Happy days.

Dylan Thomas had something to say about all this. I just wish he’d written a sequel, including the word ‘women.’

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO
THAT GOOD NIGHT

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas.