Friday, June 29, 2007

Zzz zzz zzz; Grrr rrr rrr

It's Friday today. I thought perhaps I'd let you know because until half an hour ago - which would be half eight in the evening - I thought it was Wednesday. Where? Where did my week go? I know I have spent a lot of time in bed but if I had been unconscious for really long solid periods of time, I would probably remember that - in so far as I'd remember waking up and noting that I'd been asleep all day.

The symptoms of my cold have largely passed and I have mastered seven finger typing, although my burn doesn't appear to healing too fast. It's now a full two weeks since it happened and it is still extremely gruesome, still... oozing! It hasn't gone green though. See, I remember a little from my days in St. John's Ambulance Brigade and I know that if a wound goes bright green, that isn't a good sign. Especially if it starts flashing. And playing the theme from Doctor Who.

Meanwhile, pain is a good sign with a burn because it means you have exposed the nerve-endings, as opposed to having singed them. I know; could have been a doctor, me.

I sometimes wonder whether chronic ill health actually makes a person more likely to be preoccupied by things like this, having a greater sense of one's own fragility and let's face it, having more time on one's hands to let these things fester (in the mind, I mean; a wound will fester at a similar rate whether or not you are keeping busy, I should imagine). Or whether the experience of chronic illness makes a person more blasé about minor health concerns which could possibly be more serious than they seem, because you've had so much go wrong and survived it so far. Of course, what I am really wondering about is whether chronic ill health makes me more inclined towards hyochondria, or whether it contributes to a stiffening of my upper lip. And whether I ought to dismiss my own anxieties or take them seriously.

I think chronic illness probably merely complicates the matter. And that's way too complicated for a Friday evening which ought to have been a Wednesday, so I'm going back to bed.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Poetry Corner: I know I am winning

I guess it's some comfort that, if I had any pretensions whatsoever, this stuff would not appear. Anywhere. But I am free of all pretension. I'm barely half awake today (the only state in which it is possible to compose verse of this standard), but there's nothing like the progress of a bloody rotten cold to teach you that, all things considered, you are winning, after all. But it is still a bloody rotten cold, thus the altogether melodramatic climax of the piece.

I know I am winning.

I know I am winning because I am alive
The only line to follow being “I will survive.”
Gloria in Excelis Gaynor, Hallejulah and Hooray!
I know I am winning - at least I am today.

I know I am winning because I am awake
Are you conscious of the difference that consciousness can make?
I know who I am, where I am and roughly why
(In between the periods when such things go awry).

I know I am winning because I have a voice
It might be stronger and much clearer, if I should have the choice
But even if my only words were written on a screen
At least I’d have block capitals to signify my SCREAM.

I know I am winning because I can move
Doesn’t matter how far or fast it is, how accurate or smooth.
My body will do approximately anything I choose,
It’s something that I’ve got right now and something I could lose.

I know that I am winning because I can heal,
I’ve never died of anything, however bad I feel.
And even if I’m tired and sore and somewhat out of breath
I ducked and dived and stayed alive and got one over death.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Beautiful Tyranny

It was something [...] said about Bryan Ferry. A few months ago, Bryan Ferry was in the news, praising the aesthetic of the Nazi party. What he actually said was,
"My God, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves. Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful."
Ferry got into all sorts of trouble for this. These words were described as dangerous, although in fairness most of the coverage I saw about it was humorous in nature, mocking the aging popstar for his supposed Nazi Sympathies, Bryan Führerry etc.. In any case, this somehow came up in conversation and [...] said, “That’s why we’ve still learnt nothing from the Nazism. If we have to pretend that everything about the Nazis was abhorrent and they had no appeal to anyone with an ounce of goodness or sanity, then the Holocaust remains a random tragedy as opposed to something that ordinarily people were involved in, something we actually need to learn something from.”

And I had to agree with him.

I remember getting decidedly fed up with the Holocaust in high school. The thing I was most fed up with was the videos. We saw lots of videos. This was the spring of 1994 and we weren’t allowed to see Schindler’s List, which had just been released, it was 15 certificate and we were only twelve or thirteen. But Schindler’s List is a film, a play performed by actors, supported by all many of special effects and make-up artists. Schindler’s List is a walk in the park compared to the footage and photographs and witness accounts that we saw and heard. And it made me angry. Not because it was giving us nightmares, but because it was gradually getting easier, less real and therefore less horrific. It was getting almost boring.

But worse than this, we weren’t learning much. We could all write an essay on why the Holocaust was a Bad Thing, but you only need to know what the word refers to in order to make that argument. We didn’t understand why or how it had happened. Hitler and the Nazis were presented as so unhinged and their grip on the people so strong that they might as well have been aliens from outerspace with magic powers of mind-control. We were led to believe that Hitler had a personal grudge against Jews, that’s why they were killed. And as such, the Holocaust might as well have been a natural disaster, something from which we have nothing to learn except that shit happens.

And tragically, that’s the story we kept being told throughout that spring and summer, as the news came through from Rwanda and it became clear that any angry mob with machetes or cruder improvised weapons can kill much faster than the efficient Nazis with their train network and gas chambers. But then this was a tribal conflict, wasn’t it? All very primitive, wasn't it? Shit happens. American and European leaders struggled to use the word genocide until over half a million people had been hacked to death.

Madness. Evil. Chaos. We use words that seperate these events from ourselves.

Not that we're complacent; we keep talking about various genocides and how horrible they were. The suffering. The victims. All very horrible. Horrible borrible. But we do get upset if anyone touches on how people get around to doing such things. Kind of distasteful. Facts often are.

The Nazis were extraordinarily successful as a political party, at first. They changed an impoverished, deeply demoralised country into a prosperous superpower within a very short space of time. They also changed one of the most democratic countries in the world (all German women had the vote at this time) into a totalitarian state, almost overnight, without provoking civil war. So of course they knew what they were doing with aesthetics; check out the Crime & Thrillers section at the library; the spines are all black, red and white; it's exciting! They successfully monopolised the swastika, a symbol of ancient significance; it can be made quite pretty but to most Europeans it means one thing. And there's still a predominance of blue-eyed blonde-haired beauty on the covers of our magazines. This stuff works within a culture not entirely unlike our own.

Beautiful? Eye of the beholder. The associations are too strong for me, but I can see it.

Despite Hitler's heresy that "Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized", the Nazis even applied aesthetics to the persecution. I have written before about the great temptation to scapegoat those who are different from ourselves; the Nazis went a step further and colour-coded them. Yellow stars for the Jews, who were not the victims of a personal grudge but a historically disadvantaged minority; I don't know about Germany, but one of the chief reasons Vienna was such a hotbed of artistic and intellectual activity was that well educated Jews, unable to get very far in academia, held all their deep and meaningful discussions in the cafés. Institutionalised discrimination already existed; this was merely a progression.

There were black triangles for the Roma; they'd always had a hard time too (and still do in much of Europe). Then pink triangles for homosexual men (that was already a crime, just not a capital offence), purple triangles for the Jehovah's Witnesses (really) and red ones for anyone else who disagreed with what was going on. There were also special symbols for odd offences like if an "Aryan" who had sex with a Jew, breaching racial law. Disabled people didn't get a geometric shape or a colour that I know of; we went first, but thankfully, they were done with us sooner.

Pigeon-holing on this level has a tremendous appeal to people. Thankfully, the hated groups, the oft-mentioned scapegoats within our culture are currently rather vague, not specific, easily identifiable groups. But let's not pretend it's not out there. Let's not pretend it's not in here.

It took me ages to write this far as I'm currently short of a crucial finger, which got hideously burnt. I had a blister the same thickness of my finger and now... it's really the most gruesome thing I have ever seen on my own body - and that's saying something! It is also rather painful on account of the fact that there's a serious chunk of skin missing, but it is only my finger. The real loss is my life of crime; my fingerprint will be quite distinctive after this.

Anyhow, it is one of those posts where I think What am I going on about?, where I've failed to reach any conclusion and would be inclined to ditch, only it took too much effort.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk

We spent much of Sunday with Alexander and my folks, which was nice. He wanted another nine re-reads, in groups of three, of That's not my Robot and seemed to find it more amusing every time. But he loves to dance, above all things. This is really quite curious. Very early on, R observed that he would smile and wriggle about whenever he heard music and you just need to sing him a song, even an improvisation, and he'll start jigggling and waving his arms about. He has various toys which play awfully tinny tunes and he loves to set them off, dance, then set them off again as soon as the music stops.

This can't be unique to Alex, although he's probably been exposed to more music than the average baby. And it can't be purely immitation; he'll have seen his Daddy conducting choirs, but it seems unlikely he would be quite so obsessed with this behaviour. It's not a performance thing either, as he does it when he doesn't realise anyone's looking. So it's something qutie basic and wonderful.

In other news, we finally got the piano tuned. It remains a quarter of a note out, but it is at least now in tune with itself. Meanwhile, my health seems to be gradually picking up again.

Thank you very much to whoever sent me a card. It was very much appreciated but since it wasn't signed and it was posted somewhere I don't know anybody, it has created somewhat of a mystery...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's always been the same, same old story

Yesterday I saw Alexander, who demonstrated his ability to stay on his feet longer than I can, if you hold his hand. Fortunately I can still walk further and faster, since young Alex thinks you need to put one foot literally in front of the other, and thus doesn't move very fast. His favourite activity seems to be standing up unsupported, smiling then waving his arms around, at which point he falls back down again. He also loves playing Hide and Seek, especially in our overgrown garden where it is possible for me to conceal most of myself in the grass.

I gave him two books. His favourite was That’s not my Robot, an epic tale of mistaken identity. The book has tactile bits for Alex to touch, so for example on one page it reads "That's not my robot! His ears are too prickly." and it has a picture of a robot with ears made out of velcro. Alex loved this book and wanted to read it all over again three times. The other book he wasn't so keen on because it had more words and less texture.

This was King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, which is a fairytale. The queen wants her son, the prince, to get married. All manner of princesses from all over the place come to visit him, but he isn't all that keen on any of them. Then one of them brings along her brother, they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, a beau of James II had talked to Rosie about it, but then R had mentioned it to Mum & Dad and they did not approve. It might give the baby funny ideas. It might give him the impression that it is normal for a prince to fall in love with and marry another prince. The child might then be baffled as to why Richard the Lionheart was married to Princess Berengaria instead of her brother Sancho, why Edward II didn’t marry Piers Gaveston or why James I didn’t marry any of the various Dukes and Earls he took as lovers. Of course, the fear actually articulated was that Alexander might grow up with the impression that being gay is normal, which would be a disaster. If a child grows up without any idea who the freaks are, how should he know who to fear, who to point and laugh at and whose alienation he can take comfort in?

If only I'd thought about such things before! Yet having bought it, I decided to give it to him anyway, along with a lecture about how, whatever he might read, being gay isn't normal, being a prince isn't normal, and being both is likely to make you unpopular - unless you can get a decent crusade to your name. Alexander listened with a stern expression on his face, before suddenly laughing, lurching forward and inexplicably biting my nose. I only hope he understood.

I resisted telling him about the only real gay prince I know of, the heroic Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla in Gujarat, who took the remarkable step of coming out and declaring himself to be a gay activist in a country where homosexuality remains illegal. His family disowned him as a result, although last I read they were making up, despite tremendous pressure on the Royal Family and the prince was hoping to adopt a child. But not only this, he also helped found and works for the Lakshya Trust, a charity dedicated to tackling the somewhat taboo issue of the spread of HIV/AIDS among men having sex with other men in India, most of whom are married to women. Manvendra could have had a pretty cushy life had he kept quiet; his choices will have a tremendous impact on the social future of his country and undoubtedly save lives. A noble prince indeed.

Rosie will keep the offending text in the car and smuggle it away without our parents noticing. A rather cowardly strategy, but it is Father's Day tomorrow and the Christening next weekend; to get to which, we are relying on my folks for a lift. There's a time for courage and nobility and a time for engineering a covert operation in order to avoid family conflict over a children's book.

Thus at the tender age of nine months, in the year 2007, Alexander receives his first dangerous book. I had envisaged my role in his initiation into the world of dangerous books when he was thirteen or fourteen and I'd slip a copy of The Catcher in the Rye between the folds of his Christmas sweater. This is earlier than expected.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bad language

All this swearing has got me thinking about bad words, and I should warn you I'm about to use pretty much all of them.

A random poppyI can’t be doing with superstition around words. Words are noises, expressed in the visual as sequences of letters and I’m not afraid of any of them. I will say them all out loud if you dare me, or write them down. Backwards, if you think that adds some satanic power to them.

A dictionary doesn’t give words their meaning. A dictionary ought to reflect. And there isn’t a word I can think of which was offensive at its conception. Fuck and cunt, our strongest swearwords, were always sexual references but existed for hundreds of years without being taboo; the shag and fanny of another age. There are words for innately bad things of course, but usage tends to remove the sting; he murdered that song, these shoes are torture and so on.

Words do not upset us. It is their order and context that causes the problem. But use them too often in that problematic order and that problematic context and the words themselves begin to rot.

Nigger, for example. Nigger didn’t mean anything bad. Its etymology is an innocent corruption of Negro, a black person, from the Latin niger, black. Yeah right.

I must say, I mention this particular word because it is the one word which raises some doubts for me. I mean niggling doubts about whether it is okay to say it at all. In my short and sheltered existence, I have never heard or read anybody use that word to refer to another person or themselves, not outside American books, movies and films. Which isn't a criticism of American culture; if the word is in use, it must be used, but it is not in use in my world.

Meanwhile, something weird is happening to the word in my world. The stirring monster of privilege, I guess; white people who have never used the word in their lives come out with, "Of course, we're not allowed to use the N word, even though black people use it about themselves and one another all the time."

Which is a myth on two counts. But why would any white person want to use it? Except in the context of talking about language. I associate the word with the very worse excesses of racial violence, slavery and oppression; nigger did not mean black person; from the books and films I surmise that it in fact meant person who is lazy and foolish yet pliable, a person who is animalistic and sexually predatory but easy to outwit and easy to correct with physical force, a person whose existence is inherrently paracitic but one whose physical strength and dim-witted nature can be put to good use in the right circumstances. Not a person at all, actually. It is an abhorrent sentiment. It is two syllables or six letters of hatred.

Is that superstitious? Of course it is. It is just two syllables, six letters; it has no real power, but it still makes me squirm. I have no idea if this word is to be reclaimed. I suspect that it may be beyond salvage, but it isn't any of my business; it does not belong to me and you'll never read it here again.

I suppose I have always seen other racist terms, the terms I am more familiar with, as fundamentally stupid and thus not nearly so potent. I knew, as a child, that Paki was supposed to be an abbrieviation of Pakistani and yet my schoolfriends who got called these terms descended from almost anywhere in the world but Pakistan - in one case, a friend got called Paki because his paternal grandparents were Jamaican. I therefore concluded that people who used this word had never seen an atlas and assumed that Pakistan was the only country outside Europe.

Similarly, Wog. Wog is a very British racial slur, starting out as an acroynym for Western Oriental Gentleman; a person native to what we now call the Middle East. T. E. Lawrence was criticised for dressing like one, as you might remember from the film. Yet the most famous incident in our history involving this word was when David Oluwale had the nationality of Brit crossed out in his police records and replaced with Wog. Oluwale was born in Nigeria and went on to become the first black man to die in police custody. The word wog didn't kill him; the sentiment did.

All the racist words I can think of are slang words in origin. The trouble with disablist words is that so many terms became playground insults five minutes after being used in a formal, often medical, context; cretin, cripple, maniac, midget, retard, spastic and so on, with a special emphasis on mental health and intellectual impairments. Other words became problematic because they were almost always used in a patronising way. When Devon MP Anthony Stern defended himself for parking in a Blue Badge Parking Space and insisted that there were too many such spaces, he was almost guaranteed to use the term handicapped spaces and go on to say;
"Of course we want to help the handicapped, and of course they've got to be given provisions, but not against the interests of the majority."
Handicapped really isn't a bad word; it can be argued to have etymological advantages over disabled. Only for some reason, it is usually only used along with this kind of nonsense. Oh and if you park illegally in a space designated not for helping disabled people, but for allowing them equal access to buidlings, goods and services, then you place yourself in a minority. The majority follow the rules and if in doubt, raise questions about the number of designated spaces. Especially if one is in the powerful position of MP.

The disability-related word that causes most regular shock and offense would be retard, which seems to still be used in some formal contexts in the US, but also much more often as an insult, sometimes as 'tard, sometimes fucktard and the other day I saw the portmanteau celebutard used to describe Paris Hilton (although I confess I was amused by the idea; I propose celebritwit as an alternative). Cripple is still shocking to me when used as a noun and a verb without irony, but I'm so used to its ironic use, or that of its abbrieviation crip among disabled people, that it has lost very much of its power to offend me. Words can have the power drained out of them.

Women, whether consciously feminist or not, have taken the edge off all number of words which used to be used to undermine or dismiss us. Bitch has been a great success. Bitch could be one of the worst insults a woman can receive; it is everything she is not supposed to be, aggressive, manipulative, cold and cruel. And while yes, it is still a term of abuse, it has far less power against the strong and assertive women who have claimed it as their own. Some fine on-line examples being Disability Bitch, Angry Black Bitch, Fussy Bitch, Bitch PHD and Bitch Lab (as was).

Many of the sexual name-calling terms have also been subverted, partly because of increased sexual freedom for women. Some women cheerfully refer to themselves as tarts, sluts and whores in the same way men might refer to themselves as studs. This subversion, though far from uncomplicated, is a thousand times better than attempting to annihilate words from our language. It's also growing increasingly comfortable to use these words affectionately and without gender.

I was going to write about my favourite term of abuse, since subverted, but I'll leave that for another day.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Three Cubed Meme

You know when you have a few good days and you begin to wonder whether the bad days could have possibly been as bad you imagined they were and then you have a few bad days and wonder how on Earth you ever were able to do the things you did on the good days? No? Well, I do.

Fortunately, Jack P tagged me with a curious Meme. His explanation;
The rules are simple. There are 9 questions (32), each of which has 3 answers, to give a total of 27, or 33. The whole point is that the questions are somewhere between eclectic, banal and downright bizarre, so that you can answer completely truthfully without actually giving much away. Just put down the first three answers that come to mind if you can’t work out the “most appropriate” three.
Which makes perfect sense to me...

Objects Within One Metre Of You
  1. A crumpled purple shirt
  2. A chessboard
  3. A set of colourful plastic plates
First Names of People You Sat Next To At School
  1. Sandy
  2. Holly
  3. Carrot

TV Programmes You Won’t Watch*
  1. Deal or No Deal
  2. You are what you eat
  3. Looking Good Naked

Favourite Trivial Pursuit Categories
  1. Art & Literature
  2. History
  3. Entertainment

Superpowers You’d Like To Have
  1. Invisability
  2. Flying
  3. The ability to heal people who had pain they didn't want. (Wouldn't go round creating ex-Lepers or anything.)

Newspapers, Magazines or Periodicals Read Regularly
  1. The Thetford & Brandon Times
  2. The Onion
  3. Private Eye

Songs You Dislike
  1. Happy Birthday by Altered Images
  2. Complicated by Avril Lavigne
  3. I should be so lucky - Kylie Minogue

Blog Posts of Your Own That You’d Recommend.
  1. Telling it how it is
  2. Love is real, real is love
  3. Another Nappy Ending

People You’d Like To See Answer These Same Stupid Questions
  1. The Bunny
  2. Sage
  3. McEwen

* Since I don't watch telly, I had to pick programmes I had heard of which sound particularly awful - especially Looking Good Naked, which is apparently where they get a woman who lacks confidence to feel better about herself by having her naked body appraised by a man. A gay man, of course; a straight man would make the whole thing demeaning...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry

Today is World Environment Day. Time to go shopping!

In fact, of course, reducing the amount of stuff we buy is probably the most important thing that a consumer can do to save the planet. Currently, we purchase unsustainable amounts of stuff; shopping is regarded as a leisure pursuit, even though every item we buy which we're not actually going to use (need, of course, is impossible to measure) has involved a manufacturing process, packaging and has been transported to us - sometimes from the other side of the world.

However, since life has to be worth living if it's going to be worth saving, a good place to start reducing one's impact on the environment is by looking at the really boring activities we can't avoid. Who takes pleasure in buying wash powder or stand around waiting for an inefficient kettle to boil? Exactly; no sacrifice involved. And in the long term, all of these things save money.

Most of these things I've mentioned before, but I thought I'd put them all in the same place.

Eco-balls!1. Eco-Balls

You stick the Eco-Balls into the washing machine instead of using powder. The balls contain thingies which ionised the oxygen particles in the water and bash the clothes clean on a molecular level. It really works. It works as well as biological powder and these are supposed to last for 1000 washes - which would use a lot of washing powder.

This is also great from my point of view because there's no heavy box of powder to lift and nothing to spill. Also my gruesome skin itches a great deal less.

Downside: We have been programmed to associated a synthetic floral fragrance with cleanliness, whereas the Eco-Balls don't smell of anything. Despite being convinced of their effecacy, I couldn't persuade my Mum to buy some as she felt things didn't smell clean.

Price: Other than eBay, the cheapest price currently appears to be £27.50 at Cap Carbon where there is a money-back guarantee and you can get £10 is you also buy...

Dryer Balls!2. Dryer-Balls

When you can't dry things outside for whatever reason, the dryer-balls reduce the time things take to dry in the tumble dryer and soften your clothes while there at it. My experience suggests a drying time-reduction of about a third, although this must vary. So you save time and money on electricity.

Downside: They can be rather noisy.

Price: See above for the offer at Cap Carbon, otherwise £7.99 at ecoTime. I've seen them for three or four quids on eBay as well.

3. Bicarbonate of Soda / Sodium Bicarbonate / Baking Soda

Bicarbonate of Soda is a main ingredient in lots and lots of cleaning products but can be effective without the additional chemicals and packaging of shop-bought stuff It is really effective at shifting miscellaneous muck and quite fun to play Mad Scientists with, on account of the fizz it makes when coming into contact with anything acidic.

I use the stuff for everything from stopping strong foods smells contaminating the milk in the fridge through to washing my hair. However, a far more comprehensive list than I could ever manage can be found here: Sixty-One Uses for Baking Soda.

Downside: Bicarbonate of Soda can leave a powdery residue anywhere you failed to rinse properly.

Price: Because it's also a main ingredient in Bath Bombs, you can buy Bicarbonate of Soda in large quantities from shops that supplier folks who hand-make cosmetics. Just a Soap seems the cheapest for amounts you don't need an extra cupboard for storage (although note the prices exclude VAT).

The Eco-Kettle4. The Eco-Kettle

The Eco-Kettle is so cool! It consisters of two cyclinders; you fill the inner one with water and the push the exact quantity of water you wish to boil into the outer cyclinder. It then boils extremely quickly. You don't have to worry about exposed elements or anything like that. It is great and is purported to save about 30% electricity - a significant saving for a tea junkie like myself.

Measurement is in cups, as in tiny wee tea cups, so you have to work out how many cups of water fit into a grown-up mug. It is a bit heavier than an ordinary kettle. I also think it requires more strength in one's hands to work than your average kettle. Therefore, not one for people with signifcant weakness in their hands.

Price: These come up relatively cheap on eBay as unwanted presents, but the postage is usually steep. I got mine for £29.50 at the Ethical Superstore, where you get free teabags, you get a free gift anyway and you might find that you've accidentally bought a shedload of Fair Trade Chocolate at the same time (Actually, the Ethical Superstore is also great for your Teabags, which you can buy relatively cheaply in bulk.)

It is expensive for a kettle but you can go a lot dearer - here is a £60 kettle and it doesn't even look as cool. You can buy a kettle for a fiver, but those things only last about six months.

5. Vinegar

Vinegar is a super all-purpose cleaner. It cleans. Everything. It is antiseptic and antibacterial, it'll eat through grease, rust and all manner of crud. However, a far more comprehensive list than I could ever manage can be found here: Wise Bread's 242 uses for Vinegar. And Counting.

Downside: I don't like the smell of vinegar, even though it doesn't linger at all. Lemon juice is a good additive or even an alternative when this is important. Also, because of the acidity, you have to be careful about certain surfaces (I can't use it to clean the vast marble surfaces of our bungalow, for example).

Price: Uh, I don't know, we buy it with my groceries. We get the clear distilled stuff which probably tastes foul on your chips.

6. The Mooncup/ Keeper/ Menstrual Cup

I wrote an entire post about this last year, which covers the advantages and disadvantages of this method of sanitary protection.

Price: Just now, the cheapest would appear to be £17.99 at the Ethical Superstore, although I got mine cheaper than that. Look out for special offers. Also while we're on the distasteful subject of bodily functions...

The Weenee... no I can't bring myself to say it again7. Weenee Pouch Pants
(sorry; that's what they're called)

This is my nephew Alexander's recommendation. It's a compromise between the convenience of disposable nappies and the ecological advantages of Terry Towels. What you have is a washable brief with a waterproof gusset, as it were. In this gusset fits a liner which is disposable and biodegradable. So Alexander's nappy doesn't need changing completely every time he goes to the toilet; the liner can just be thrown away. And when the nappy is changed, it can be washed and worn again.

Downside: Not as convenient as disposable nappies when on the move. When Alex stays away from home he prefers nappies you can just throw away. Or at least, his Mummy and Daddy do. Also, I imagine there is more of an issue with the growing size of a baby than with Terry Towels which you can adjust as you go along - I forgot to ask.

Price: These are bloody expensive; apparently at £11.99 a pair everywhere - although I can recommend Spirit of Nature having bought stuff from there myself. A good source for condoms which are suitable for vegans and biodegradeable.

You know, I'm sure there are other things, but that's all I can think of today.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I try to discover, a little something to make me sweeter

I hope that isn't Dry Clean OnlyTo me, politeness is a very simple concept; do as you would be done to. I must say that in my sheltered existence, I find that most people I ever have to deal with are pleasant and polite. The prejudice I experience as a disabled person often manifest itself as rudeness, but I don't think a knowledge of manners is really the issue there. And indeed, the other main categories of rude people I have ever come across are:
  1. People who can be forgiven for occupying an entirely different culture, where it is unacceptable to make eye-contact or conversation with strangers. There does seem to be such a culture in some big cities, even if, thankfully, some residents seem magically immune to it.
  2. People who can be forgiven for being plain grumpy, as I assume they are perfectly civil the rest of the time and are just having a really bad day when our paths happened to cross.
  3. People who I assume to have some sort of hidden impairment which means that I have inadvertantly frightened and confused them. I genuinely believe that of the few incidents where people have been overtly, aggressively rude to me.
However, there was one thing that used to frustrate me on a regular basis. I would always navigate the doctor's surgery in Whitby on foot, but I would sit near to the door so I had the shortest distance between waiting room and doctor's room. This meant that it fell upon me to get up and open the doors for folks who looked like they were going to struggle with it. I wasn't always the closest, I just seemed to be the only one who noticed. And there's no way I could sit there and watch someone suffer helplessness, unnecessary pain and embarassment, when I was capable of helping, even though it caused me significant discomfort to do so. Do as you would be done to.

They were double doors though and opening one didn't leave enough room for someone with a stick, let alone two sticks, crutches or a wheelchair to get through. My usual method was to prop one door back with my arse and hold the other open with my fingertips, creating a human archway for the person to pass through. Most were petite elderly ladies who didn't come up to my chest (making them limbo might have defeated the object). However, really it needed two people to open the doors; this would have been obvious to anyone who looked at what I was doing.

It was a mystery why nobody came and helped. I wondered whether it looked like we were managing fine, or whether people were afraid to, I don't know, patronise either of us with their assistance. I even used to try to make eye-contact with the nun (there was always a nun in our doctor's waiting room; a different one each time, but there was always a nun). Almost everyone who travelled under my arch thanked me, of course - except for the more mobile people who would take advantage of the doors being propped open and clamber through without a word or even a look, presumably imagining I was some sort of paid doorstop (now there's a career I might usually fulfil...).

Impoliteness is very noticeable when it causes you inconvenience and even more noticeable when it causes you pain. But everyone has got such bugbears. Everyone has and everyone probably always did.

Anyway, as part of some ongoing Bread and Circuses initiative, the government's "respect tsar" Louise Casey has complained that Britain is not polite enough. I should explain to those outside the UK, that the "respect tsar" is the head of the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit. Anti-Social Behaviour is behaviour which is unpleasant, but can't be defined as a crime. I'm not sure how unpleasant you have to be to invite the attention of the Unit, and in fact because we're not dealing with actual crime, unacceptable degrees of unpleasantness have not been clearly outlined in law. This has become a disability issue because a number of children and young adults on the autistic spectrum have received punishment and restrictions for unconventional social behaviour. But that's for another day.

Casey's remarks are extraordinarily meaningless. Made, I guess, because it is a popular opinion; that other people aren't polite. Ever met anyone who thought that, in general, other people were generally more polite than they are? Ever met anyone without some anecdote of about shocking rudeness? It's also fairly common, even for people my age, to imagine there was a halcyon time in the past where everyone's manners were impeccable. That Mr Hitler may have been a cad, but he always asked nicely before invading someone's country.

And yet, as a politician, what on Earth can any "respect tsar" do about these things? Can public policy make people polite to one another - short of providing a tax break for a doffed cap and fine people who forget to say Thank You?

However, Casey does touch on something which might be useful to understand if we want to make the world a more polite place. After all, she's not simply having a go at the lot of us, the entire British people - that would be rude. Instead, she points fingers. She blames single-parent families and a decline in church-going and neighbourliness. And soap opera, naturally.

In doing so, I think she might have inadvertantly demonstrated why people aren't as always polite as we would like them to be - perhaps even, not as polite as they used to be . Because we are set against one another. Because we are told, by our politicians, to blame other people and groups for the faults of a society that we are all equal shareholders in. A theory backed up rather nicely by the subsequent Have Your Say discussion; (the most recommended comment citing my old friend, political correctness).

Why should you give your seat to that pregnant woman on the bus when she might be an unmarried mother who watches soap opera and doesn't go to church? Clearly, neither she nor her spawn would give her seat up for you, so sod her. And why help a younger woman and an older, less mobile woman in their struggle to get her safely through an awkward set of doors? As a rabid feminist, the young woman would probably kick you in the shins for trying to help (even if such a violent movement would surely displace her balance and cause her to collapse on top of the old lady). So sod her too. Sod 'em all. The sods!

Do as you would be done by becomes do as you would expect to be done by given an entirely pessimistic view of your fellow man.

Applying pessimism to social strategies is always a Big Mistake. However disheartening it can be when attempts to be nice to other people provoke inexplicably negative responses, negative behaviour guarantees a negative response. There are circumstances where it is only sensible to apply caution, of course, but at the point that you are approaching all strangers, in all circumstances with an equal degree of trepidation, something has gone seriously wrong.

But that's exactly what such rhetoric does, even if it is made in the name of improving levels of respect in our society. It says "The people around you are rubbish - we will protect you from the people around you."

I wonder; since we have a "respect tsar", do you think I could be a "respect Bolshevik"?

Friday, June 01, 2007

There is a light that never goes out

In the space of two weeks, three much-loved bloggers have said they're quitting blogging; Jess, Charles Dawson and Marcelle P. This prompted a review of my blogroll, including the addition of the category Out To Lunch of blogs which have gone very quiet. You'll like the optimism there; nobody has really gone for good, whatever their protestations. They're simply bound to be back.

In other news, for a mere £2, you can now download Shaggy Blog Stories: The Podcast, the profits from which go to Comic Relief. Unfortunately I can't, as my computer currently insists it only has 4MB of memory left. This can't possibly be true, but I think it read that post (and yes, I have explored every possibility and there's no viruses or sneaky software or anything; my computer is just suffering under the weight of all the drafts and notes and nonsense being typed into it on a daily basis and it wants out).