Friday 13th January
In the small town of Cesson-Sevigne in Brittany they have officially forbidden the use of the term Madamoiselle. The argument is that women should no longer be delineated by their marital status, and in terms of equality with men this is a no-brainer; nobody even wonders whether Monsieur is married or single, but the term Mademoiselle automatically confers on a female the label ‘unattached’ or ‘available’ or even worse if she is of a certain age ‘unwanted’. I think that the derivation can be traced back to ownership; a woman was literally the property of her father ‘ A Madamoiselle’ until she was handed over to and became the property of her husband ‘Monsieur’. Often a dowry would accompany her, and her reward for becoming the chattel (and object of sexual gratification) of her husband would be that she became ‘Madame’. This would obviously have some advantages; her husband would be economically responsible for her, she would gain a degree of respectability in the community, and would be deferred to by shopkeepers as an important person in her own right.
But enough of History, what about the here and now. Am I the only one to mourn the loss of such a beautiful word, one which incidentally was one of the first which Grandma taught me back in Cyprus? At the time I am sure I only thought it only meant young lady, but then it was more specific than fille or jeune fille, and did I ever question why there was only garcon and Monsieur, and no equivalent term for an unmarried man such as Madamoiselle; probably not. It was just the way things were. But derogatory or liberating (take your pick) as a term, it is still a pretty word, as is the English equivalent of Miss, though Mistress has mysteriously disappeared from our vocabulary too, both far nicer than the awful Ms.
A couple of my friends always notice if a woman is wearing a wedding ring, something I never really pick up on; though apparently for predatory men this is an automatic red signal, or for some – actually a green light. I wonder if in this brave new world of equality the wedding band will go the same way as Mademoiselle and eventually I am sure the term Miss; will a woman simply become a woman, and any connection sanctified by marriage or any other relationship with a man become irrelevant. I hope not, and for the time being I will still use the term Madamoiselle, if only in my thoughts.
Thursday 12th January
What with the financial crisis, the credit crunch and now the sovereign debt crisis, I don’t suppose anyone has any time for the whole global warming issue. Too busy trying to prop up the whole edifice which got us here in the first place. But of course it hasn’t gone away at all. Just because no-one is talking about it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t still the greatest problem facing mankind. A few years ago it was all over the papers and the television, and I can remember the sense of relief when Kyoto was signed up to by, well nearly everyone; and it only seemed a matter of time before even the Americans would wake up and smell the methane. And now it all seems to be unraveling, all the major polluting countries are refusing to play ball; if they stick their heads any further in the sand they won’t even get their bottoms sun-burnt. And every now and then another piece of devastating evidence slides into view and the world just collectively shrugs its shoulders and tries to think even more short-term. Last year they managed to circumnavigate the North Pole itself, the famous North West and North East Passages finally discovered – and no-one cares.
And of late, most people I find are becoming quite skeptical about the whole argument, just as almost the whole of the scientific community is finally agreed that it is happening and even faster than first thought, it is as if it is all just so much hot air, which it is.
And I wonder if this so mild winter has got anything to do with global warming too. I cannot remember such a warm start to the year, and add to that the hot October, and the mild November and December and it really seems as if we have had no winter at all. There is still time yet but somehow I suspect it won’t really happen at all this year. And will that bother anyone? Will anyone, except the tiny ski resort industry in Scotland really care?
The real fear I have is that we will be leaving it all until it is too late, and it will take some real disaster and great loss of life before anything changes. Oh well, happy days (till then).
Wednesday 11th January
I keep putting off the start of writing something new. I have had the intention for ages, but I just cannot get my thoughts into any sort of shape, at least not shape enough to begin. And I had so many ideas when my mother was here at Christmas, and of course was far too busy to even jot them down, and now that I have all the time in the world I find I cannot even think straight, let alone gather my forces to begin the task of actually writing something.
I sit at the keyboard and try to think of a start, because often that is all I need to get me going, but for days now nothing has come to me, even writing this blog has seemed to be a chore, when a few weeks ago I could hardly stop myself from pouring out page after page. So, I just have to be patient, and wait for that quiescent mood to come and take me away, or maybe just a reason to begin is all I need.
Perhaps it is this persistent and dogged sore throat which always seems worst when I am trying to write, distracting me from thinking and making me feel so run down. Writing ‘Catherines Story’ was easy really, I just let my mind take me back over the years and it all came out, I didn’t really have to make much up at all. Even Adrian’s part, you know his ‘contribution’ wasn’t that difficult; I actually quite enjoyed writing from a different perspective, you know from a male point of view, because we never really know what and how anyone else perceives the world, do we?
But this time, I just have to be patient and wait for the muse to come, for a reason to begin. Until then these musings, these doodling will just have to do. It is frustrating for me too, you know.
Tuesday 10th January
I really do not know what happened to me, it is still a bit of a blur. I had been suffering from a sore throat for a few days, and was a bit down to say the least. My brain felt as if it was in a blanket all day, as if I hadn’t really woken up yet. All I remember was queuing for what seemed an age for my Starbucks today, and really wanting to just sit down, and let the world go away. I picked the mug up at the end of the counter, on that little round platform they have, and turned away to walk to the sugar station. I particularly like a sprinkle of vanilla infused icing sugar stirred in, and just a splash of cinnamon on top of the foam. And then all hell seemed to break loose, one minute there I was coffee in hand and walking calmly towards the sugar station, the next I am covered in coffee, my trousers soaking, coffee in my bag, down my arm and even in my hair. I am sure I didn’t bump into anyone; no-one else was involved at all. Did my fingers slip, did the handle of the mug slide round and tip the coffee everywhere or did I have a tiny little blackout, did I slip for a moment out of the conscious world and into some other somnambulant state for a second? I cannot even remember seeing the coffee spill; one minute it was in the mug and the next all over me.
The staff were very kind and insisted on me having another coffee, but I just wanted to get away, away from the wretched place immediately. I almost ran out of the shop, and how I got home is still a blur. I just needed to get in the shower as quick as possible, and even the key almost got stuck in the lock and I was pushing it hard into the lock and just delaying myself further. My wet trouser leg sticking to my thigh was really irritating me by now. At last I got the key to work, and almost ripped off my coffee soaked clothes and got into the shower. Then wrapped in a toweling robe I collapsed on the sofa and cried. Yes, I broke down and cried and cried, a mixture of helplessness and acute embarrassment and shame and even a bit of fear. And for ages after I was really shaken, but I can remember seeing the icing sugar still floating on the foam, and the coffee wasn’t even stirred.
Monday 9th January
I was out wandering through the shops on Marylebone High Street yesterday, a bit bored, a bit curious – you never know what you might see. Not that I needed anything really, and the besides the dog-end of the Sales were on, and I thought I might just see something new or interesting, or just plain sensible that I didn’t know I was looking for at all. Serendipity is the term for that fortunate co-incidence of finding exactly the right thing at precisely the right time, and more importantly – seizing the moment, and buying it. So often I have said to myself, ‘Do you really need that jacket,’ or ‘I didn’t even know that ………..had written this one, still, it will still be here next week, I’ll buy it then.’ And of course, next week you cannot find the bookshop, let alone the book, or everywhere you go they shake their heads and say ‘I’m so sorry, that is out of print at the moment.’ Or you are looking through your jackets to find just the right one to go with those tan slacks you bought at the end of last summer, and nothing is quite right, and you suddenly remember the jacket you saw last week, and yes, cream linen would have been just perfect with the slacks. But the shop has sold out, and they aren’t sure but they might be getting some more stock in next week, but you know the moment has passed you by forever, So now, if I see something that I like I buy it, because as sure as oeufs are oeufs it will be gone by tomorrow.
So there I was without a real idea what I was doing and my mind a million miles away, as it so often is these days. I wandered into a shoe shop, quickly scanning the Sale racks and seeing nothing that remotely interested me when I heard a scream and a kerfuffle near the entrance. A pigeon had wandered into the shop, and was quietly examining the shoes on the lower shelves. The shop assistants who could not have been more than twenty were looking terrified and almost running behind the customers. At last the manageress came over to see what the excitement was all about. She too looked terrified and at a loss what to do. She tried shooing it but this just made the bird flutter its feathers, rise into the air and swoop over their heads to the back of the shop. The manageress started to ask customers to leave, and I was walking past I couldn’t help remarking. “I think she is looking for a size five, but you may find she is a bit pigeon-toed.” Hahaha …
Sunday 8th January
Yes, and I am reading 1Q84 his latest book, which is published in three parts; I am reading Book 1 and 2 at the moment – I will review it when I have finished. But from the first few lines, it is just like coming home again after a long walk in the cold, his writing is just so enchanting, you really never know what is just around the corner, or where on earth the story will take you, but at the same time it is so familiar, like an old coat you put on again, and the fit and weight are just perfect, so you wrap it round you and are happy to venture wherever the whim takes you.
How on earth does he do it? He seems to be writing absolutely effortlessly, as if the trail of his thoughts is just wending its way onto the page with no real interface between what pops into his consciousness and the words unraveling before one. And yet you know there is far more to it than that, it is all written for and with a purpose; what appear as random reflections are all being seamlessly woven into a complicated but perfectly logical pattern, that, like the way ahead on a foggy morning, slowly become apparent. And he seems to get to the very nub of things, the important heart of what it is to be human.
I also love all the references to Japanese culture and history and the place names, and the descriptions of the food eaten, which though all strange at first, begin to seem normal after a few pages. And the most amazing thing, though of course it shouldn’t be unusual at all, is that while he is talking about Japanese people with their strange names, their thoughts and hopes and desires are exactly the same as ours.
I am reminded of all the wonderful books of his I have read over the years, ever since my eye was caught by the title ‘Norwegian Wood’ in a bookshop years ago. I instantly recognized it as an old Beatles song – isn’t it good, Norwegian Wood. I picked it up and was hooked into a long love affair with this Japanese writer. And yes it was good, as all his books have been. It also reminds me how far I am away from this sort of effortless and beautiful writing, which despite its air of nonchalance is I expect the result of many many rewrites. I wonder if I will ever have the patience to write so meticulously myself.
Saturday 7th January
A small article on the London news which always follows News at Ten caught my eye. I am usually not paying much attention by now, and waiting for the weather, and then a quick switch over to Newsnight for something a bit meatier. The London Mayoral elections are coming up in a few months, not that I can find a single person who is mildly interested in the looming contest, a bit like the AV referendum of last year it is set to be a bit of a damp squib. Perhaps because it is a re-run of the preceding one, and competent though Ken may be he is looking too old and too old hat by now. Besides although Boris is really a buffoon, he is also a clever buffoon who carefully cultivates his image, knowing that his popularity is more that he is the sort of bloke you might like to meet down the pub than he is a serious politician.
The Liberal Democrats are also pretty desperate if all they can offer us is Brian Paddick, who came in a poor third last time. Competent as I am sure he is, and gay and an ex-copper, he has obviously had a personality by-pass, as he really is blandness on a plate.
He was, for what it is worth, launching his campaign and he made the startling remark that despite being a Liberal Democrat you could trust him. He specifically mentioned tuition fees, and declared that he was not the sort of Liberal who would make a pledge on tuition fees and then vote the other way once in power. No, he wasn’t that sort of a Liberal, and you could absolutely trust that he would do exactly as he said.
I wonder what Nick Clegg thinks of that, and what a remarkable admission, by default, of the collective guilt and remorse felt by one suspects a lot of Liberals at the obvious betrayal by Clegg and Co. Is this now to be the line by all prospective candidates – I am not one of those liars who declare a specific policy and within weeks of going into coalition not only ditch it, but vote against the very thing we fought on. And if so, the leadership of the Liberal Democrats must be very worried indeed.
In a funny sort of a way I think people used to trust the Liberals as honest; not enough to vote for them I admit, but I believe they held them in some sort of respect; different from the other two known liars. But now that has completely disappeared. They have been exposed as the worst sort of opportunists and are I suspect in for a drubbing at every election until Mr. Clegg is hurriedly pushed aside.
Friday 6th January
And the row goes on and on; now Diane Abbott has come unstuck in the twitter-sphere, by being careless in the use of her language. I am not sure of the exact words she used, as is so often the case nowadays the facts become obscured by the row they cause. In essence she was saying that white people love to, or in the past have loved to ‘divide and rule’. Nothing so awful I would have thought in that, except the term ‘white people’. But, in fact, it was true. It was almost official British Colonial policy, especially in India and Africa, where local rivalries were ‘encouraged’ so as to stop the ‘natives’ from uniting against the minority but ruling ‘whites’. It is a historical fact, and one which maybe rightly the great great grandchildren now living as a minority in this country resent. But actually this row looks as if it has been media generated; maybe in some sort of retaliation against Ms. Abbott, who they have never forgiven for being black, intelligent and a woman, so if she slips up and appears to make a racist remark herself – then the heavens descend.
What sort of a pass have we come to though, when football players, and commentators come to that, are publicly lambasted for allegedly offensive remarks. And the popular definition of something that is offensive is now not whether the offender meant to offend but whether the offendee felt offended by the words used. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Where on earth will this end, because I feel offended that this is the situation, when people cannot say what they think. It is hardly encouraging race hatred to say that one agrees or disagrees with a certain sentiment when it is expressed, but that is what it is coming to. And language should liberate us, not tie us in knots. Obviously one cannot go around recommending that certain groups of people or individuals should be persecuted (or worse) simply because of their race or nationality, but that simply isn’t the case here. Poor Diane was maybe a tad sloppy in using the term ‘white people’, but hardly worth almost breaking the tea-cup for in this media storm.
Thursday 5th January
The news is completely full of the Stephen Lawrence case, and in many ways quite rightly so. And what a change that is, from the time when the murder was first committed, or even at the first and subsequent trials, when the media were luke-warm to say the least. And even though the eventual evidence was microscopic and to be quite honest not all that convincing, after so many years one does wonder if there could have been some cross-contamination, the general consensus has always been that the police knew all along who the guilty gang were, but without a confession it was going to be nigh on impossible to find them guilty. Let us just hope that they can somehow pin the others at some point soon in the future.
And, actually the sentences of about fifteen years each, was just about right. I have severe doubts about sending anyone to prison in the first place, although what other punishment can possibly be imagined for such a crime I do not know. The judge said if they had been adults at the time of the crime he would have sentenced them to serve far longer. But what hope is there for us as a society if we just believe we should lock people up for longer and longer; are we saying that there is no hope at all for these people, and of course the longer you do lock them up for, the less hope they have and maybe any possibility of redemption is lost. I know; and I cannot actually imagine this pair ever becoming decent people again, but we might as well go the whole hog and become like America, where locking people up so that they will die in prison is considered not only normal but some sort of deterrent. Well, when you look at the crime rates in America that idea does not appear to be working either.
So, I just hope that given a little time, these two, still young men may begin to repent their crime and maybe assist in bringing the others to justice too. And maybe that will be the greatest deterrent for the future. It isn’t the punishment that deters, it is getting caught.