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And I've been talking in prose, too

Though I don't think that's quite the same thing?

Another one of those 'how privileged are you' set of questions is going the rounds, and as usual it's very US-ocentric (because access to healthcare in the UK, hello NHS, not really a marker of privilege - how good the care was, and how long you had to wait, okay, postcode lottery, changes over time etc etc).

And some things were yes and some things were no, because when I was young my father had a job that routinely involved working weekends as part of normal working hours, rather than having to have a second job. Also, I'm thinking that the 'healthy food' question is very presentist and what was perceived as a proper diet when I was growing up might not altogether win approval these days.

I'm not sure about the 'taking a job while at high school/college': I had a Saturday/summer holidays job in Woolworths for pocket money, and I would work during uni vacation, but I didn't have to work during term-time, which these days probably counts as immense privilege. But not then.

On the media representation thing, at the time (and pretty much still) I think UK-born over-educated women of working-class origin were not something I saw much in e.g. literature.

What sort of 'vacation' is implied under taking one as a family. For many years we did what would now be called 'staycation' where there was a railway ticket you could buy and make excursions over a significant area for a week. There were also a couple of holidays in a boat on a local river. Modest.

As I think I've commented before, a whole lot of any privilege I have was not about family background but about collective societal factors like the welfare state, grant-funded university education, availability of employment on graduation, etc which gave me social mobility. I'd describe my privilege as one of my historical generation (there was an article about this recently in the paper with someone pointing out that for a whole lot of reasons that were not unusual then but pretty rare now he was able to buy a house in relatively central London by the time he was 30).

But it was really quite late in life, comparatively, that I've felt it. Because so much of it was part of that common experience of people born at a particular period (though I would cop to the supportive family environment, books in the house, factor). And perhaps I have been more fortunate than some, even though there were swathes of my life that were about distress and turmoil and insecurity. This entry was originally posted at http://oursin.dreamwidth.org/2305927.html. Please comment there using OpenID. View comment count unavailable comments.

Mwaaah mwaaah hug hug

I have heretofore commented upon the rise of physical effusiveness in the form of hugging, cheek-kissing, etc, among friends and even acquaintances - at least, I have been embraced/smooched by people I didn't think I was that close to, ahem.

I have wondered why this should be - possibly the impact of Euro-habits (though I don't I have yet encountered on these shores the confuzzling 3-point kiss - right, left, right again - that I have experienced from Dutch buddies).

A new insight has been supplied by dickon_edwards in the latest entry in his Diary at the Centre of the Earth:

When I meet up with friends now, it seems all the more important to hug them, or shake their hand. Not just out of affection, but as a shoring against the digital.

However, I have noticed this habit seeping over into relationships which I would define as professional, which just strikes me as a bit weird, no? (Though perhaps this one needs filing under the heading to do with emotions and archives, an underexplored subject...) This entry was originally posted at http://oursin.dreamwidth.org/2232445.html. Please comment there using OpenID. View comment count unavailable comments.

I have been noting latterly that there are mournful threnodies over DW/LJ (also various over the decline/death of fandom/s) hither and yon.

I'm here.

This may be my long-time tendency to find something that suits me - it may not be perfect, but I could do a lot worse - and carry on sticking with it, which is why I have been living in the same flat with the same person for 30+ years, working in the same place for 35+ years, going to the same gym since the mid-80s, having the same weekday breakfast since the late 70s, etc etc.

But I don't notice anything particularly moribund about the space I'm in. There have been changes, people have gone and come, the ecology is different, but that is life, is it not?

(Plus, there is actually critical mass leading to online readthroughs and discussions anent two of my long-term, rather niche, literary fandoms. This may have something to do with changing age-profiles? or not.)

I can see that different things suit different people at different stages of the life-cycle (though when I see people going Y NO DW MOBILE APP? I am rather huh? because I find the LJ mobile app loathsome and would rather faff around with tiny browser).

While different things fulfill different needs in our lives, on and offline. I do different things on FaceBook or Twitter than I would do in this particular venue. I don't get Tumblr at all, and I don't do Pinterest, but as I am an old-skool (in so many senses, no?) text-based person who back-buttons at the speed of light when she is sent to a video link, this may have something to do with my apathy towards investigating further.

I am also (coincidence: I think not!!!) seeing obituary orations over The Book. No, my dearios, srsly? WTF???? (Okay, am also yay cynical about whoever that person is who has just discovered BOOKZ and proposes to get through one a fortnight for the next year, at which I sneer and go 'amateur'.) (But you know me and my attitude to challenges and the assimilation of reading to Something Good For You in the same sort of category as a detox or exercise regime, do you not, dr rdrz?) (Lo, they b heerin the rant from the moon.)

Some things may be swept away by the tides of history, and you will not find me mourning the fax machine.

But other things find their niche (I did wonder, in that woezy piece about the dwindling of craft skills, how many of those or cognate skills may not be positioning themselves in the marketplace, but are nonetheless being practised as hobbies.) (Okay, I am now having horrible vision of chimney-climbing from the inside as a new extreme sport.)

I have made friends here. Many of them I still interact with here, with others the venue has moved. But I'm still here. This entry was originally posted at http://oursin.dreamwidth.org/2213033.html. Please comment there using OpenID. View comment count unavailable comments.

Reading reminiscently


Finished Hollow Men, and still feel I just have never watched enough DS9 for full appreciation.

Another Part of the Forest, which, well, GB Stern love.

On the go

And I will remark, because this is a segue, that although 'Peter' seems to ramble loosely through the rag-bag chronicles, there is also quite a strong structuring going on - the recurrent deployment of certain objects or motifs or situations, a general sense of although she appears to be all over the place she knows where it's going, and that she drops a (actually, given the date of publication, quite literal) bombshell in the closing pages that is, in fact, foreshadowed.

A realisation that dawned in the process of what I have currently on the go, Rani Sircar's Strains in a Minor Key: A Celebration of Sixty Years in Calcutta (2014) - some of you have I think read her delightful memoir, Dancing Round the Maypole: Growing Out of British India (2003). This is a fascinating but really extremely rambling volume of her reminiscences about Calcutta and her life there since just before Independence (she's now 90), and it's got everything in it, including, quite literally, the kitchen sink, because there is quite a bit about what domestic life and equipment has been like over the decades (what one might call Extreme Provincial Lady Tribulations).

There are also sharp sociological, cultural and linguistic observations about the various groups in this cosmopolitan city and a lot about the situation of women in different group, the strictures and taboos that affected even educated and relatively emancipated women, family life, etc etc.

Also changing social mores, urban geography, the lack of respect for heritage, the Bengali film (neither Bollywood or Satajyit Ray), the scathing critique of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, and a good deal more, including a note that the sari was actually not a Since the Dawn of Time form of dress but took its standard form in the late C19th.

It's a little bit Stern, a little bit Delafield, a smidgen of Proust, but also a personal and idosyncratic voice.

Also still on the go on the Kobo, An Englishwoman's Love-Letters. I do think this could do with a spot more plot and onward narrative drive, or maybe there are draaaaamas yet to come.

And next?

Following [personal profile] antisoppist's mention of it, I have ordered Kathleen Hale's autobiography, and if that turns up by the time I finish the Sircar (I am still only somewhere between half and two thirds of the way through), that will probably be next.

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Some vague and incoherent thoughts

Sort of generated by/riffing off a conversation between a couple of colleagues this morning, the general and recurrent WOEZing about the deleterious impact of the internet on our lives, and having people with whom my connection is solely in the professional sphere doing the cheek-kissy thing.

I am hesitant to suggest that there is any actual connection between people living their lives online and what seems to me (yes, moi, wot lived through the 60s) an increasing level of touchy-feely (cheek-kissy-kissy, hugs) in the real life social world.

I am not against hugs, but I feel that there are people who are in my hug-zone and people who are not, or not yet. While a person may be a nice person, if our main connection is online and we have been in the same room twice, both on academically-related occasions, I am not sure I am ready for the embrace-as-greeting.

Call me a stuffy old dodo, but I don't think cheek-kissing is appropriate in the context of archive negotiations, from intending donor to intended archivist*.

Is this because people feel they have to overcome the anomie of living their lives online, and overcompensating by bringing the flesh into rl encounters?

Is it to do with the way email conversations segue from the initial business-formal of Dear [title] [surname] to first names, to one-line or even one word responses confirming meetings?

Is it all about the erosion of the public/private spheres?

Or is it Just One Of Those Things that happens, and nothing has anything to do with anything else?

*Or am I becoming Katy Carr and her Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct?

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Other barons, who would understand

At the colloquium I attended some months ago, I was intrigued to observe the revival of interest in Norbert Elias's theories of the Civilising Process. One of the papers drew on manuals for conduct, and showed that over time a particular behaviour became sufficiently internalised that warnings against it simply fell out of the prescriptions for good social conduct because nobody would do that anymore.

Thinking about changes in socially approved/appropriate behaviour over time, I was given to think of periods when, perhaps, there is particularly rapid evolution of mores probably in response to other social changes, and the potential cultural uneasiness between people who had always spat on the floor, people who had grown up in an environment of spitting on the floor but who had been instructed that this was poor ton, but still occasionally at least had to remind themselves, oops, not to be spitting on the floor, and people who had internalised the idea that we do not spit on floors. (We will ignore the case of those rules-wranglers who 'stood up and spat on the ceiling'.) This would not, I think, just be about MANNERS but incorporate other motifs such as hygiene, different concepts of: or, from 'better out than in' to 'infection theory'.

There's also an element, I think, to do with the distinction between 'company manners' and 'being among friends'. A problem may arise when individuals think they are 'among friends' or, if we invoke Ervin Goffman's theories theories about The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, assume that they are 'offstage' when they are, in fact, 'on stage', or, at least, have massively misjudged who the audience in fact consists of.

A major theme that Goffman treats throughout the work is the fundamental importance of having an agreed upon definition of the situation in a given interaction, in order to give the interaction coherency. In interactions, or performances, the involved parties may be audience members and performers simultaneously; the actors usually foster impressions that reflect well upon themselves, and encourage the others, by various means, to accept their preferred definition. Goffman acknowledges that when the accepted definition of the situation has been discredited, some or all of the actors may pretend that nothing has changed, if they find this strategy profitable to themselves or wish to keep the peace.

So what happens when, for reasons suggested in the above invocation of Elias, the agreed upon definitions change, and when there is a refusal to ignore solecisms, but instead to point them out, thus not preserving face and avoiding embarrassment?

Or, I am trying to find some explanatory model for why some people starting fuming about 'censorship' when other people disagree with them. Doubtless changes in ideas about appropriate social conduct had some people feeling that their 'natural' impulses were being interfered with by effete modern ideas of etiquette.

I feel that I want to throw into the mix here J H Newman's definition of the gentleman as 'one who never inflicts pain', though my personal corollary to that would be 'and apologises when he steps on your foot rather than trying to claim either that he didn't or that you are not really hurt'.

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Heard a good paper yesterday by The Other Keynote Speaker (which was sort of the short-form version of book they have just published) on the history of, roughly speaking, WOEZ WOEZ MODERN LIEF & ITS SPEEEEEEED B STRESSFUL IN WHOLLY NU WAYZ and suggesting that this thing about the stressful pace of modern life and its new technology (aaaaaargh! railway trains! man woz not meant to travel @ 20 miles per hour!) goes back at least to the industrial revolution. (With indication of how often the changing role of womankind was invoked...)

Which intersected with that thought I have oft mentioned, that people go WOEZ WOEZ about childhood today because children's activities are not the simple healthful and natural pleasures of their own youth, which, back in the day, people were going WOEZ WOEZ about in exactly the same way. (Comic books! Penny dreadfuls!)

Which made me wonder whether what agitates people is that they are encountering New Things that were not part of their own childhood and upbringing and the things they thus assumed as peaceful normal life.

To which I invoke Lucy Mangan in today's Guardian Weekend:

Just as we learn the vast majority of our vocabulary before the age of 18 (you add a few odds and sods after that, but they don't become part of you and your working daily toolkit, permanently and easily accessible without a moment's conscious thought), the types and stereotypes you grow up with become part of you. Those early connections and references are the ones that will forever precede rational thought, and so continue to punch above the weight their actual accuracy and helpfulness should give them.

But, thinking further about the point that got raised in discussion and conversation over tea about the anxiety about stress always tending to default to its burden upon a relative elite (rather than the vast mass of people struggling for existence, long working days, poverty, unemployment or uncertain employment etc) and about whether this is a category of person who does not expect to have to adapt themselves (they have servants to do that).

Whereas there are other groups (as it might be, women) who know that their life is probably going to have to involve adaptation to others &/or to circumstances and thus are, perhaps, less fazed by the prospect of having to adapt to e.g. new technology. (There was also, separately, a conversation about a Certain Eminent Historian who does not do computers or email, and has a research assistant who prints out CEH's emails from their own computer, to which CEH handwrites response, which r.a. types up and sends...)

Which went on to intersect for me with something in Oliver Burkeman's column:

The closest you can come to making your own luck, Mauboussin argues, is to work in a field where the variation in skills remains wide – which, by and large, means new industries rather than established ones.

which madly resonated for me with the way in which women can forge ahead in new fields but once these become more mainstream, the boys make a comeback.

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Attended this event last night: Queer Homes, Queer Families: A History and Policy Debate.

Very good, and everybody was very much about the all more complicated, plus several of my fave scholars in the area were on the panel and talking about non-nuclear family configurations in the past and relationships which have no name to speak of themselves.

I had issues with the timing - they should either have started bang on time, scheduled longer or kept speakers more strictly to time - and two feedback forms???!!! (one for the venue, one for the event).

But apart from that, and that I left before things had wound up because of the overrun, very good.

Peter Tatchell talked (among other things) about being in a GLF commune in Brixton in the early 70s, and, while, frankly, hearing about the total sharing and openness etc thikkt my fussy and introvert blood with cold no less than thinking about being a 50s housewife, I am all for people having the opportunity to make those experiments in living.

As people pointed out in discussion, changes in the law on squatting and in the benefits system mean this is a whole lot less viable than in was c. 1973.

It also occurred to me that these days people graduate with huge loads of debt, which is also a deterrent.

Plus, I thought about the impact of technology, and that if your communal household had one communal computer I could foresee ruxxions, but that sitting in separate corners with one's iPads, not really in the commune spirit, no? (Not to mention the expense of acquiring same.)

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Deborah Orr brings Teh Poncey concern-trolling to young girls screaming over boy-bands:

Strangely, even post-Savile, no one seems to think these displays might signify what screams usually signify – cries of panic or fear, cries for help. Our culture shrugs indulgently at little girls who greet womanhood with a fit of uncontrolled caterwauling.

Oh, FFS. When I was a young thing - and I didn't scream over bands, perhaps I should have - screaming over bands was about the Done Thing, and perhaps about some kind of girly bonding, and also perhaps about a way in which constrained energies (not necessarily sexual) could be released. It was not about this kind of faked-up psychodrama.

(Oh, and in the 60s? - maybe it's changed, or maybe not - nobody was 'shrugging indulgently'. There was a whole lot of Instant Diagnosis of Deep Societal Pathology going on, srsly.)

I sort of doubt that it's changed that much. But just maybe people realise that there are more dangerous things young girls could be up to.


And on o tempora o mores, yesterday I got smooched on both cheeks a) by my hair stylist (whom I've been going to for some 20 years, but don't feel I'm on those kind of terms with) in a spirit of seasonal cheer and b) at my departure by everybody else who had not left yet at a drinks reception in connection with a work-related thing, some of whom I had barely met. Okay, by that stage we were all feeling fairly convivial, but even so, WTF?

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100 London things: 21

The city is a living organism.

I daresay this article may have a point about some of the current architectural projects impacting the London skyline, but cannot help feeling that people have been doing this 'ruining the city' line for centuries - I bet there was a great chorus of whingeing about Sir C Wren putting a dome on St Pauls Cathedral in his poncey new style, so unlike Old St Pauls with its spire.

The London Eye, for example, has in a short while become an iconic image of London along with the more traditional properties.

One may be irritated by the impact on moving around the city of major improvement works on the London sewer system (but hey, how well for how long did Sir J Bazelgette's system hold up? Respect!) but really, wouldn't it be a bit sad if the system did not require upgrading?

I am struck that the reason that places stay 'unspoilt' or cameos of some particular period of history is because the tide of history passed them by, or else receded with a melancholy long withdrawing roar as trade routes changed, local industries declined, new systems of agriculture developed, the entire population that could moved to some major centre of population to find work, or the good burghers of the place decided that they did not want this nasty newfangled turnpike/canal/railway destroying its amenities and affecting its traditional coaching trade.

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100 London things: 13

A bit of a nostalgia trip down memory lane: what happened to the art-house cinemas?

It used to be that if you wanted to see foreign films, or independent films, or revivals of classic works of the cinematic art, you would go to the Academy on Oxford Street, with its distinctive posters and its Eastern European animated shorts before the main feature, the Paris Pullman in Kensington, the Hampstead Everyman, that one in St Martin's Lane the name of which I forget, the Scala at King's Cross, later in Fitzrovia, the Essential in Soho, and one near Tottenham Court Road Tube station (?the Gala?) that was definitely about the racier end of the spectrum, and various others, most of which now seem to be all one chain (Curzon, which has subsumed the Renoir in Bloomsbury) if they still exist at all.

The Electric still remains independent, but what it's showing hardly seems to justify a pilgrimage to Portobello Road. The Screens on the Green and the Hill, now part of the Everyman Group, pretty much ditto.

None of these, I have to say, were architectural exemplars of the Picture Palace (perhaps naturally).

I know this is partly due to the advent of multiplex cinemas and the fact that one can usually find what used to be strictly arthouse fodder in the main chains (not to mention the video/DVD/BluRay revolution) so it's not as though one no longer has access to these things on the larger screen.

The BFI South Bank is still technically the old National Film Theatre, but (maybe I exaggerate?) when I first began going there they had seasons of Forgotten Gems of the Albanian Silent Cinema, and Soviet Screwball Comedy, and retrospectives of lesser-known Scandinavian directors etc etc. Not that I'm dissing on some of the things they're doing at the moment - It Always Rains on Sunday is a (dare I say it) lost gem.

I suppose I feel particularly nostalgic about this because partner and I were drawn together by the old Independent Cinema Listings in Time Out as was.

There's just something a bit glossy and corporate (?yuppified?) about some of these chains, even when they're not showing what one could find in the local high street former flea-pit.

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Seen on the Tube this morning: two blokes with infants in pushchairs, sitting opposite one another, clearly together, as they were chatting to one another, rather than by random coincidence.

It did turn out that at least one of them was with (presumably) the mother, who had been sitting elsewhere in the crowded carriage, when they both got out at Camden Town*, so probably not gaydads out for the day with their sprogs (or of course, could be some complex parenting/relationship configuration).

But still, men i/c the pushchairs, and being quite relaxed about it: sometimes social changes do happen.

*Though I'd have thought the infants were possibly still a bit young to get much out of a day at the Zoo.

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Me too, me too, me too

Jessica Mann, What do you mean, the good old days?.

The 50s/60s - so not that great.

I bet the people who are all about going back to those pretty dresses aren't thinking about the amount of upkeep they required without more recent developments in domestic and fabric technology, and Mann nails the boringly arduous nature of being a domestic goddess then:

As for the actual work of housekeeping and childcare, it was much harder labour than nowadays – there were no dishwashers, driers, supermarkets, food processors or washing machines. We made beds with sheets and blankets – duvets came much later – boiled the towelling and muslin nappies, at least 10 per baby per day. As for cooking, not even the keenest contemporary cup-caker could possibly hanker for hacking fat and gristle off the stewing steak and mud off the cabbage.

I bet nostalgic cup-cakers don't really think through changes in women's position either:

Until the mid-70s, as a married woman, I really was inferior. No matter how liberal-minded and generous a husband might be (and mine was, and is) wives were subordinate. We could not take out loans or mortgages or hire purchase agreements. Even on the consent form for a caesarean section my husband's signature was required. The idea of working mothers with paid maternity leave would have been beyond fantastic. The family allowance (child benefit) was paid to the mother, but I knew women who were made to hand the money straight over to their husbands. A wife who walked out faced destitution. As the suffragettes had complained before the first world war: "Husband and wife are one person and that one is the husband."

I have a faded newspaper article from the early 60s instructing wives how to welcome the heroic breadwinner home. It includes such gems as "Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours," and "Remember, he is the master of the house ... You have no right to question him."

This segues into thoughts I was having generally about time-travel and change.

That time-travellers think they know what they would miss, but probably what would really come as a Big Shock and hard to deal with would very likely be something they hadn't really considered. Also that there might be good things about the past (honestly, with several postal deliveries a day and telegrams in the Victorian era, would you really, really miss your mobile ?).

On change, that bringing about a desired change may bring about certain improvements, but it's unlikely to bring about a utopian state of perfection and may generate new and different problems. (Among the reasons to adore Naomi Mitchison: the strong tendency in her fiction to present change as a process, not a once-and-for-all, and that magic bullets may backfire, as in Not By Bread Alone.)

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It is seldom I find myself in disagreement with Lucy Mangan, but I did find myself dissenting from her verdict on the 70s in yesterday's Guardian Weekend.

Because, honestly, what people think of as 'the 60s' was pretty much the early to mid 70s, actually. Women's Lib! Gay Liberation! Men Against Sexism! Rock Against Racism! etc. A lot of things that are bog-standard now were kicked off then, which is why I get so niggled by people claiming that 'second wave feminists did/didn't [whatever]' and that people then Did Not Care About the Environment, etc etc etc.

Okay, perhaps it did decline into the 'Me Decade' as people went inwards to soul-searching (and some of that took them in weird directions indeed) rather than outwards into action (though, in true IAMC style, those two phenomena were/are not in binary opposition), but it was a period when people did think about alternative ways of doing things, that change was a possibility, about Sticking It To The Man, about opening the doors of perception.

While my personal inclinations were not towards living communally in a squat, doing the overland trail to Kathmandu, turning on tuning in and dropping out, I like to feel that these different paths are available.

My own 70s were excessively staid (most of them consumed by the Slow Motion Trainwreck Relationship) but there was a sense of things happening.

I understand that there is some sort of television programme on the 70s happening, but reports do suggest it's more about the bad hairdos and glam rockers and whathaveyou than the above manifestations.

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Linkspam picks nits

Dept of failure to factcheck, or possibly, just to ignore history:

'Even though the law changed in 1957 with the Wolfenden Report' - no, it took a good ten years before the 1967 Act. Plus, does anyone feel that this guy should express just a tad more remorsefulness over the lives he ruined?

'Back then, no one I met particularly cared about the Guardian's TV section': wow, Grace Dent, considering that your style is pretty much resting on the genre of TV criticism she created, you might give Nancy Banks-Smith a bit of credit, there.


Dept of fighting back:

Pinkstinks campaign calls for ban on sale of makeup toys to under eights; and interview with the sisters who founded Pinkstinks

Body image: government committee's inaugural body confidence awards at the Palace of Westminster and Susie Orbach comments.

I am not sure what I think of Professor Mary Beard, but yay for being a television talking head on the basis of expertise on the ancient world and not on physical attributes. More of this might do something towards the anxieties and concerns expressed above re body image and focus on (so many sexism and racism warnings for this clip from Roman Scandals) women's duty to be beautiful.


Dept of deviation into sense: Deborah Orr:

A pro-life campaigner, Caroline Farrow, kindly took the time to contact me on Twitter this week, to explain that she believed abortion was prevalent precisely because wider society did not respect women, or motherhood. Only by prioritising the reproductive role of women, and properly accommodating it, could female equality be achieved, she believes. Certainly, it would be nice to live in a world in which no woman ever felt the need to terminate a pregnancy. But such a world has never existed. When I asked Farrow to give examples of nations or societies that could help demonstrate a link between lack of access to abortion, and improved gender equality, she offered Ireland and Chile, off the top of her head. Ireland, I discount, as so many women make the journey to Britain and avail themselves of abortion services here. But Chile?

In Chile, abortion is illegal without exception. It also has one of the largest "unexplained gender pay gaps" in the world, according to research released by the International Trade Union Confederation in March. On the other hand, Iceland, where abortion has been legal since 1935, has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap rankings for the last two years. In fairness, Chile came in at 42 in the most recent report in 2011, which is not bad at all. However, maternal deaths from illegal abortion suggest that in Chile the dangerous practice of backstreet abortion is rife. And that's the reality. Abortion exists.

(thugh I am rather less prepossessed by the rest of the article).


Dept of back to the 1930s: failure to diagnose rickets in baby.

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I first read these some time around the late 70s/early 80s, rather curiously at the recommendation of one of the members of my then CR group, as being an agreeable recreational read. They are, indeed, very much the kind of thing that makes a nice break from chomping through academic books and articles.

The constituent novels are The Gaudy (1974), Young Pattullo (1975), A Memorial Service (1976), The Madonna of the Astrolabe (1977), and Full Term (1978). I'm not actually sure if I had read all of them before, or even if I read them in the right order the first time.

I found on this reread that I remembered very, very little about them, and it was almost like reading them for the first time. I remembered his graffito in the window-seat of Rupert Bear in a kilt, and the vaguely Iris Murdochian author of The Orrery, and that was about all.

Quite early on there is what is perhaps a shout-out to the tradition in which Stewart may be writing, as a former friend of youth, now a Fellow of Surrey College, has written a study of Powell and Proust. However, if so, Stewart is working with a much more restricted palette (I think this is an appropriate metaphor given that there is a good deal about painting and paintings throughout the sequence), i.e. the characters are all pretty much constellated around Surrey College or at least the wider Oxford milieu. In the final novel there is also a shout-out to the more recent genre of campus novel. But I don't think either of these really fit very well. There is also something that may be an allusion to C. P. Snow, but again, Snow had a much broader range of settings.

The setting is this imaginary Oxford college, on an uneasy cusp between long centuries of tradition and the changing world, academic and otherwise, of the late 60s/early 70s. In The Gaudy our narrator, Duncan Pattullo, arrives back at Surrey to attend the eponymous Gaudy, and it is still a world of undergraduate rags, even though things are beginning to change. In Full Term we are well into the era of student demos. Possibly about a vanishing way of life?

I don't know if, did I know more about Oxford characters of the period in question, individuals would be identifiable as at the very least 'based on'. There is an elderly philologist who writes a fantasy novel who surely owes a good deal to Tolkien, but Tolkien was not a reclusive eremite living in a garret, was he (married with offspring, and regularly foregathering with the Inklings)? Possibly they are more 'types' than portraits.

As with this type of roman fleuve-y thing, people who appear to have long since departed the narrative or have been part of one-off incidents keep popping up years later. At least here there is the fact that they were connected to the college .

Stewart had certainly upped his game on writing female characters by the time he wrote these. I commented about his early novel, The Use of Riches (1963), that it had a bad case of the Irene Forsyte problem, but the female characters in the quintet are not distant dreamy objects of desire, and one can imagine them having lives outside the demands of the plot (such as it is) and beyond the narrator's gaze. This starts quite early on, when he meets an old friend from undergraduate days, now a don of the college, and his wife, and the latter has a sharp mental, as well as physical, presence, and a strong sense of a subversive personality.

The narrator, who is much more an observer than a protagonist, although he participates as an agent in various threads of the story, is Duncan Pattullo, the son of a successful and critically well-reputed Scottish painter of peasant stock, married to the sister of a laird. He has become a commercially successful playwright though there is a strong sense that he is not exactly challenging Pinter in the critical stakes, and also something of a historian of the drama. At least, he is appointed by what is essentially an Old Boys Act to a readership in European Drama at Surrey - we do get the sense that they like to have around a few men who have been out into the big wide world beyond the college walls.

But he is very much a reporter rather than an actor. He was once married - disastrously - and there are various hints of possible romantic entanglements which never really come to anything. While, period detail no doubt accurate, he is tolerant of the several characters whose leanings are, platonically or more actively, homoerotic while holding some faintly icky views on homosexuality.

On the whole, I enjoyed these. I thought they started a bit slowly, and then picked up a bit. Indeed, I found them a better read than I'd expected.

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Yes, it's the detailed deconstruction of the Freeman-Mead controversy, which I always feel Freeman basically cheated on in the first place by only starting it once Margaret Mead was safely dead. This book does nothing to change my feelings that Freeman's case was always a bit dodgy (different informants, different periods, different genders, and doubtless different questions asked - of course they were not going to have identical findings, but honestly, is it really the habit of experienced anthropologists to take as gospel what their male informants tell them a) about the virtuousness of their unmarried sisters and b) about their own sexual exploits? and assume that these automatically trump what girls themselves told someone else decades previously?).

Shankman reveals just how dodgy (and bizarrely obsessive, since he published two books about it) Freeman's case was. I didn't realise that his entire case was about tearing down only Coming of Age in Samoa, which Mead deliberately wrote as a popular account of her Samoa fieldwork (very much her anthropological apprenticeship), on which she also published a ethnographic field report which one gathers is as dry and professional as anyone might wish, and which he ignored. Also totally leaving out all her other, subsequent, work on different cultures, in museum anthropology, in syntheses, etc.

This book is not uncritically hagiographical about Mead and Coming of Age in Samoa, but on the whole, she comes out of this a great deal better than Freeman, including being open to listening to views she didn't agree with and even advocating for their hearing.

Vast swathes of Mead's career were not all Freeman left out in his critique. Shankman's micro-readings and comparisons indicate: selective quotation, misinterpretation of what he does quote, leaving out anything that might contradict his picture, and not giving anyone access to his sources, such as an interview with a very elderly Samoan woman who had been one of Mead's informants. I.e. it all looked very scholarly, and he made a big thing of how many sources he had consulted and FACTS he had ascertained, but it had shot off at some fairly extreme angle from the actual processes of academic argument and debate. For someone who made a big deal of how SCIENTIFIC he was, Freeman does seem to have rather ignored Popper's notions about falsifiability, in spite of frequently name-checking him.

It is clear that, at the very least, Freeman was a troubled man with a lot of problems. During his fieldwork in Sarawak there was some kind of weird episode involving Tom Harrisson, and in later years he was given to writing long letters to people who disagreed with him, including threats to destroy their careers in the discipline.

What he did vis-a-vis Mead, as Shankman states, was to create a good story which could be presented in a way that was attractive to the media (controversy!) even though right from the get-go fellow-anthropologists were more hesitant to accept Freeman's conclusions, or downright critical. His line intersected with concerns of the period in which he published his attack on Mead, and although it doesn't seem that there was actually a lot of difference between Mead's and Freeman's positions on the interactions of nature and culture, he presented her as a simplistic cultural determinist and made his position very attractive to biological determinism, which was having a serious resurgence at the time.

Shankman, whose area is also Samoa, is additionally interesting on changes in Samoan society between the time when Mead was working and when Freeman was, and in particular, examines the response of Samoans themselves to both anthropologists.

This is a very rich book - including Shankman's personal encounters with both Mead and Freeman, though as a junior colleage, indeed, his first meeting with Mead was as an undergraduate, in both cases. It's illuminating about that difference between how work is regarded by people in the field and non-experts (about which I have some striking examples myself that I could give, and have on occasion) and how certain works (both Mead's and Freeman's) became popular in specific historical contexts, and in particular the role of the media and being media-savvy.

Though on that point, there is an amusing bit of meta of which Shankman is obviously not aware in his citation of some contentions on sexuality in the Jazz Age from The Technology of Orgasm... which also has its moments of wild segues from possibility > likelihood > certainty in constructing its case.

I also wonder whether Shankman is possibly overlooking the attractions of attacks on a Powerful (and indeed sexy) Mother Figure and the feeding of misogynistic attitudes into the furore and the proliferation of the meme of Mead Wuz RONG.

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Talking to me?

Somehow I seem to have got onto Harvey Nichols mailing list: the latest begins
Channel your inner lady of the manor.
Inner Lady of the Manor NO CAN HAZ.


On possibly related topic, am currently reading in ebook Elinor Glyn's The Reflections of Ambrosine. Feeling strong desire to smack Ambrosine herself and her French aristo grandmother with some suitably socially-elevated fish, possibly a royal sturgeon. Babykins, however, society flirt, witty gossip, and pigbreeder, is totally for the win.


Much of my dreams last night seemed to be set in Venice, which somewhat surprised me. Although I enjoyed the visit, it didn't, and probably couldn't, make the impression of the first day-trip in the early 70s.

This involved possibly the ideal approach - by hydrofoil from one of the resorts on the Istrian peninsula of what was then Yugoslavia, really early in the morning. This really beats out of hand arriving by rail or air.

Much has faded of that visit, but I remember how Venice appeared out of the sea in the early morning light. And walking round and round St Mark's Square.

(I really remember it as so much less crowded - and that would have been higher in the season too.)

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The discussion on the previous post has led me to think of the historical changes in 'ways to spice up your marriage/long term relationship' and what counted as daring when.

1920s/30s: Developing actual erotic technique through reading Stopes, Van de Velde etc. Regarded as very edgy to want to see one's spouse naked and have conjugals with the light on. Positions that were not Ye Olde Myssionarie (if you were gymnastic enough to follow the instructions in Van de Velde).

1950s: No idea. Sex outside the bedroom? (vague recollections from novels.)

1960s/early 70s: We can haz oral sexx??

1970s: Swinging. (Has this vanished entirely, or just less visible?) (Okay, going by the earlier work of John Updike, there was a considerable amount of overlap between those 2 phenomena.) Also, waterbeds.

1980s-90s: No idea. Scented candles and sex toys?

2000s onwards: Anal sex and threesomes?

Cannot help thinking that there are almost certainly still people around for whom lights on and different positions are way rad boundary-pushing: ETA as well as people way back doing the things that seem newsworthy now, mostly in a more covert fashion unless it got into the divorce courts (Dilke case, e.g.).

There's probably a PhD thesis in there somewhere!

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Talking 'bout my l-l-linkspam

Will other members of My Generation kindly shut up with the running around going WOEZ and flagellating themselves? I'm getting v tired of this monolithic picture of what Our Generation was like, and feel there is an implied arrogance in the assumption that we failed to find the cure for cancer, a solution to world hunger, and bring about lasting global peace as With All Our Advantages we should have done. Jeez. Also, is it just moi, or are the most vociferous voices Blaming Themselves For Being Boomers and Failing To Fulfill The Glorious Promises white, presumably straight, blokes? Because at least in this piece in today's Observer, the women are much more about, okay, not perfect yet, but you can keep and shove the 50s, srsly.

And is it being 'spoilt', to have had, briefly and for arbitrary and contingent reasons of chronology, certain advantages which, actually, one feels everyone ought to have? Plus, okay, it was still possible to get a foothold on the bottom of the housing ladder, but at least in my case, once I had done so I had to exercise the strictest economy for several years afterwards, which I am pretty sure was not a unique instance. We were not, all of us, all the time, wallowing in self-indulgence and wasting our substance in riotous living.

(And realise that we appear to be living in the Parable of the Prodigal Parents...)

I don't know if they are people who try not to use Teh Evul Intahnetz, or whether they are those kind of people who know what corrupts other people but remain untainted by it themselves, but I am also fed up with people going WOEZ about What the Internet Is Doing 2 UR BRAYNZ.
A new book claims the amount of time we spend on the internet is changing the very structure of our brains – damaging our ability to think and to learn
Yay for Prof Andrew Burn who points out that the malleability of the mind is a feature, not a bug (apart from the massive generalisation about 'the middle-aged blogosphere-addict', hem-hem):

Equating the internet with distraction and shallowness, he tells me, is a fundamental mistake, possibly bound up with Carr's age (he is 50). "He's restricting what he says to the type of activities that the middle-aged blogosphere-addict typically engages in," says Professor Burn. "Is there anything in his book about online role-playing games?"
And what of all these worries about the transformation of the human brain? "Temporary synaptic rewiring happens whenever anybody learns anything," he says. "I'm learning a musical instrument at the moment, and I can feel my synapses rewiring themselves, but it's just a biological mechanism. And it seems to me that to say that some neural pathways are good and some are bad – well, how can you possibly say that? It could be a good thing: people are becoming adaptive, and more supple in their search for information." Carr, he reckons, is guilty of a "slippage into an almost evolutionary argument", and he's not having it at all.

He's also not impressed by the way Carr contrasts the allegedly snowballing stupidity of the internet age with the altogether more cerebral phase of human progress when we all read books. "What if the book is Mein Kampf? What if it's Jeffrey Archer? Or Barbara Cartland? Am I not better off playing a well-constructed online game, or reading Aristotle's poetics online? I really don't see why books should particularly promote worthwhile thought, unless they're worthwhile books. And the same applies to what's on the internet."

And as I have doubtless remarked on previous occasion, we have heard those jeremiads about 'frenzy' and reduced attention span, and so forth, o so many times before.

Though I will concede, I am rather drawn to Lucy Mangan's plea for the virtues of boredom, though I'm not sure this is necessarily wholly eradicated by all the distractions available to the young today.

Virgin's new 'Rockstar Service' offers ordinary holidaymakers the chance to act like a celebrity. Where better to start than Las Vegas?

A rather different perspective on Kenneth Williams: I was Kenneth Williams' pen pal: 'He replied to all my letters, often by return of post. It still surprises me'

The importance of being an audience.

Children's sight at risk as parents and schools shun eye tests:

New research estimates that a million children have an undetected vision problem, while almost 70% of schools do not have eye screening in what was described as "an absolute public health disgrace" by Bob Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Optometrists. "There are problems which can be corrected in young people's eyes and yet it's a buried issue, an unknown issue, that children are losing out on a good education because they can't see."

So much for the glasses iz stylish claim.

Female doctors fail to break through the glass ceiling.

Lady Gaga's sexual revolution sees female stars reach for the leather. But is it o so empowering and female-focussed to invoke the dominatrix and the performatively lesbian in s-m gear? Izzit?

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Linkspam's phallic urgency fails

Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead. Does one actually need to read articles which begin thusly to apprehend that the Great Novelists being namechecked are all Dead (or fairly elderly) White Males? *Iz cynical*

Unemployment fears grow for 'hopeless' UK male graduates. NB, surely 'complacency' and 'hopelessness' are at opposite ends of a spectrum? O NOEZ can it possibly be that the question is All More Complicated and ALL MENZ NOT TEH SAYM?? (PSA: avoid the comments.) And further anguishing here: Without any fear for the future, boys have given up their ambition.

AN Wilson does an appreciation of Beryl Bainbridge: and takes this opportunity to work off some grudges against the Haycrafts, which one considers somewhat poor ton, no?

Double standard alive and well, shock horror. News report: Grindr iPhone app gets update for heterosexuals. More extended article predominantly about its original version, enabling gay men to find others close by using GPS includes the following vox pop:

I ask a handful of straight women – some single, some not – if they think they might be interested in a Grindr equivalent; they say they can just about envisage it working, although none of them would commit to the notion of using it themselves. The straight men I poll say they'd think less of any woman who "advertised herself like that" – and then all insisted on downloading gay Grindr on to their phones, "just to see how it works".

Maybe it's ma g-g-g-eneration, but I can't see how this concept would not be problematic and liable to lead to creepy encounters for women.

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One of the things about the current LJ vs DW thing that has me making like a goldfish is that, you know, these (we, indeed) people at Dreamwidth are the same people we used to be (and in many cases still are) on LJ.

I don't think I've suddenly started not being the It's-All-More-Complicated Hedgehog you know (and love??? - makes pathetic little smoochy noises at flist and rlist) because I'm now posting on DW, mirroring to LJ (and IJ too actually) and consolidating comments in one place. Am not handing out little tracts and asking people if they've been saved. Still commenting on LJ posts, as and when.

I suspect (I R HISTORIAN and phenomena don't just suddenly happen) that things had been happening on LJ such that it was not the same place of fine careless rapture that it was when we first started posting there. Which might be just the development of habit and routine out of something that was once exciting and new.

Quite apart from the numerous LJ scandals, we're older if not wiser (or so much older then we're younger than that now), our lives have changed, our interests are different, our flists have undergone various ecological changes due to loss and gain.

How much of this perception is down to one's own particular circles, deponent knoweth not. When yr hedjog first started posting on LJ, there was a a widespread perception (in spite of all the contradictory evidence) that it was homebase for fourteen-year-old girls with eye-searing sparkly pink journal layouts and their squeeing fan interests. This subsection of users may still exist (it's not really one that I'm terribly likely to intersect with) or these days sparkly pink young women may be hanging out somewhere more Now and Much Cooler, while the former sparklies are now in graduate school/married/parents and either completely dropped out or posting in very different ways.

Do we see fewer memes of no particular interest bopping around (what kind of flower fairy are you, lists of intrusive questions that are fairly irrelevant to anyone over 20, etc)? or is that, again, function of circles I move in - in which the posting of a list of books inspires yet another round of the how many of these have I read and which of those do I wish I hadn't or some variation thereof.

There had already been erosion. Some people set up blogs on other sites. Facebook and Twitter perhaps in particular led people away from LJ. Some people simply dropped away.

And why not. We all have things that work for us but don't necessarily do so for others. Some people still mourn Usenet (which I never really got into: I did a certain amount of lurking but didn't engage). There are still purposes for which a listserv is still probably the most functional thing going. Some people are natural tweeters and some find FB a place of meaningful social interaction.

And those of us for whom the LJ-style model works are still here, unless life got in the way.

I don't see Dreamwidth as some sudden rupture. Well before then, in the wake of various LJ imbroglios, there had been something between a flight to other similar sites (like GreatestJournal and InsaneJournal) and people setting up mirrors on them, but - at least among my circles - this never attained anything like the critical mass of interest which would have sustained the complete leap.

And then Dreamwidth came along.

Again, this may be about my particular milieu, but significant numbers of people from my flist moved there, and there were also New People!! perhaps encouraged by the whole subscribe/access distinction and the feeling that issues around actual friendship were not being invoked prematurely (i.e. before the getting to know you process could take place).

But, you know, and on the whole, my DW rlist is not massively different from my LJ flist.

Which, okay, may well be down to like attracting like and given the general nature of the people I read and interact with just a snowball effect based on those connections.

I don't want to lose contact with my LJ flist people, but there has been, over the past several years, enough upheavals and feelings of instability that I did want to have in place, at the very least, a back-up venue where there was a significant chance of the same people being too,

I'm here, predominantly, for the people. The milieu is not irrelevant to that, but the relevance is that it's agreeable to QOSD. And facilitates our kind of interactions.

There is no conclusion, I will leave this with the equivalent of me walking along by the seashore gazing with an enigmatic expression at the sad sea waves.

*Courtesy of the Linkbait Generator

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Yay for Ursula Le Guin, in a review in last Saturday's Guardian Review:

[This] might have been a thoughtful and unusual novel; but the inept and unconvincing futuristics bring it to grief.... But a semi-mystic virgin-birth rigmarole featuring science as the villain is only the stuff of rant.

It was indeed science that, by learning how to lower the infant and maternal death rate, brought about uncontrolled population growth. The moral dilemma is tremendous. Yet no government since the 1930s has tried to enforce eugenics, none has seen bottle babies as any kind of solution, and few even now are trying to encourage birth control. So why a sermon in defence of something quite unthreatened, the uncontrolled excess of which may be the greatest threat we face?

I have commented heretofore that 'literary' it's-not-really-science-fiction can only be reputable, it seems, in the dystopian or apocalyptic modes - everything's got to have gone to hell or at least be well on the way there. And science probably = a significant part of the paving of the road going there.

For me, this somehow connects with an irritation I feel with a trope that was particularly egregiously embodied in the Farscape episode, 'My Three Crichtons', in which future-Crichton is a nasty ultra-rational non-emotional type and caveman-Crichton is a fuzzy warm bundle of humanistic ethical values. A head/heart dichotomy which assumes that the heart has its reasons which reason has not, etc, whereas the head has lost touch with the affections. (Can we say, all more complicated??)

Okay, problems of Whig history and so forth, but I do think things like the abolition of slavery, cruel sports, etc etc were not just about people having warm visceral feelings of 'these things are not right'. I am rather of the opinion that movements for wider social justice and humanitarianism owed a significant amount to the application of intelligence and the use of reason and resisting accepted wisdom and leaning towards the counter-intuitive.

And that life is not so harsh for many people does indeed, as Le Guin points out, owe a very great deal to developments in science and their application.

Okay, dystopia and everything going to hell doubtless sets up more potential for dramatic action and conflict, but surely it is possible to imagine a future society that is not completely hellish, even if it is not a static utopia, and does have narrative possibilities?

Naomi Mitchison managed this in Solution Three.

Why should Hobbes's interpretation of human life and social organisation be so predominant?

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So, farewell then, Mr Pooter

The area of London in which I live is relatively unknown to history. Okay, 'Dr' Crippen resided locally (although the house in which remains were found in the cellar has long since vanished). But the other figure for whom the locality is remembered, if at all, is Mr Pooter, the eponymous 'Nobody' of Diary of a fame.

When I moved here, the area had been gently gentrifying for some while and has continued to do so.

We are led to ask, however, how much further can this process go?

Around the corner there is a small parade of shops, which used to be the basic sort of thing one would expect. When I first moved in there were two 'corner shops' (one of which was not actually on a corner), a greengrocer, an offlicence, a paper shop, a laundrette, a butchers and a betting shop. The butchers and the greengrocers have gone, one corner shop closed, the other expanded into a small supermarket operation and appears to have absorbed the functions of the offlicence.

Several years ago, a wee upscale food shop opened on one corner, and still doesn't open every day of the week (it is the retail outlet of a small catering firm). Nonetheless, they have expanded into the shop next door (which, to the best of my recollection, had been boarded up for decades) to establish a cafe, which seems to be pulling in the punters.

Next door to that, another shop which had been an empty shell for a very long time has opened to sell upmarket children's clothes.

The hairdresser which opened next door closed down within a short space of time, but has re-opened and possibly rebranded.

The betting shop closed some years ago and so far nothing has reopened on that site.

And the large pub, just around the corner, which when I moved here was a gloomy spit and sawdust sort of place, then closed and reinvented itself as a studenty venue (there are some large halls of residence near here), had several closures due to protests about noise and disorder from neighbours, and has been closed and having some kind of renovation work done for months and months, has finally reopened -

As a gastropub type of enterprise, under the same management as a well-reputed gastropub in another part of North London.

Lupin Pooter has probably been down there already.

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Dept of Ugh just keeps on giving - received (twice over) in this morning's email:Read more...Collapse )
Somehow I find it just that much worse exploiting people's altruistic impulses, rather than their greed.


I'm not sure whether I believe anything like 100% of this ODNB Life of the DayRead more...Collapse )
Someone should write a novel.... er, I guess they already have. I'm surprised no-one's bought the movie rights, though.


Article on the V&A quilts exhibition. Am inclined to think that the intricate work of the older quilts has gone the way of the 3-decker novel for roughly similar reasons - more ways of filling up time, &/or less time to fill up.

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Brush the wandering hedgehog by the fire
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