Thursday, 15 December 2011

Old Age - a preview

It started last year with a pain in my foot. After much hobbling and cursing, slight improvements and much relapsing I was finally diagnosed with something that sounded like a right-wing regime in a southern US state: Plantar Fasciitis.

Not for me delicate, feminine afflictions, say tension headaches or anorexia. No, Sir! Extrapolating from the GP's vague words I had been hit by what fat people get when they pathetically decide to exercise while still carrying around their huge, flabby hulk.

After getting expensively fitted with special insoles for my shoes (one type for the running shoes, one type for flat city shoes etc ) the pain got better and eventually disappeared. I was able to resume the regime of huffing and puffing and sweating profusely in lycra garments that keeps me looking so good (what is your secret??).

Now the pain is back. Having just finished a wonderful non-fiction book about cancer, The Emperor of all Maladies, I'm keeping my options open but on balance I think it might be the Fasciitis again.

I'm back to shuffling slowly and wincing visibly with pain whenever I get up, sit down, shift weight from one foot to the other, walk or stand still.

The pain makes me tired and the slowness means I do only a fraction of what I would normally (although mild-mannered intellectual husband claims that most of my kinetic activity generates more heat than light, I still consider this a result! in these times of precarious energy supply).

I find myself calculating the cost effectiveness (or pain/slowness to accomplishment ratio) of any activity - the extra three steps to look into a colleague's office, the walk to the cafeteria - and obsess about how long it will take me and whether I will have the sheer strength to go from A to B.

Your thoughts turn inwards - piloting your body like a battered battleship is all you have energy for. You look at people running up a flight of stairs, jogging, kids skipping down the street with fascination and nostalgia. Oh, yes, you remember that....but you live in another country now.

I have the sneaking suspicion this is what old age will feel like, but applied across the board, from hearing to sex , to digestion - a great huge list of stuff you cannot do anymore, can do but slowly and painfully, could do but it's hardly worth the bother these days. Plenty of wincing and moaning. A creeping bitterness and annoyance at the rest of the world: everyone else seems so strong, brash, loud and in a hurry- what's the hurry? Where is everyone going?

This is it, I've reached the base camp of old age. The long ascent towards oblivion and death begins. Fascist southern foot permitting,

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Second Coming (pace William Butler Yates)

What is the poem you wish you had written? (What do you mean you've never thought about it? What are you doing here?? This blog is not for you, weirdo. The Top Gear Fans Facebook page is over there.)

As for the rest of you lot - let me tell you mine.

When I was young and unrequited love (they hadn't invented any other type yet) occupied 97pc of my thoughts , I would have said the stanzas about Paolo and Francesca, the romantically doomed lovers in the 5th canto of Dante's Inferno. It's soooo much better sounding in Italian:

"Amor che al cuor gentil ratto s'apprende,
prese costui della bella persona che mi fu tolta,
e il modo ancor m'offende.
Amor che a nullo amato amar perdona,
presemi del costui piacer si forte,
che come vedi ancor non m'abbandona...."

Bear in mind they were cast in hell for having kissed - without tongues or anything - and that seemed mild compared to what your average Catholic priest promised in confession if the matter of sex was ever raised (normally by him).

These days, with bad news, anxiety and dark premonitions dominating 97pc of my thoughts I find the first eight lines of Yates's The Second Coming beautifully prescient of whatever new horror happens to be obsessing me at the time. Damn, how I wish I had written that!

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
the falcon cannot hear the falconer"

A versatile verse, if you'll pardon the alliteration, alluding to anything from rampaging youths to out of control mice infestations.

"Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.."

Where to even begin here??? It's, as they say, pure poetry, but so practical too. All office politics is in this sentence (particularly my office's politics), as well as generic inner city riots, marital squabbles, family feuds, the messy demise of geriatric relatives, one's own middle-aged aches and pains suddenly taking on epic dimensions: you name it, this verse caters to it all.

"Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere,
the ceremony of innocence is drowned."

Ok, this starts as ANY front page of the FT these days, then it transitions into tabloid-land and ends on notes of reality TV. Incredibly succinctly, too.
Finally, the masterstroke:

"The best lack of conviction while the worst
are full of passionate intensity."

From the UK veto to the ineptitude of opposition governments in any of the main democracies, from the warnings of recent history to the behaviour of your nearest and dearest (not to mention colleagues), all human life is here.

So what is the poem you wish you had written? Your turn now.

(Or we could forget all about it, save some energy and go back to sobbing under the duvet.)

Friday, 9 December 2011

New, improved nostalgia!

Everybody used to be so much younger, have you noticed that? These days whenever you switch the TV on you find yourself staring at only vaguely recognisable, grotesquely aged people you used to fancy. On Facebook you are stalked by an army of bloated, and semi-canute zombies you last saw as fresh faced 18 year olds....what on earth happened to everyone?

I was reminded of this when I woke up this morning and found we were now living in a two speed Europe, with Britain seemingly marooned on the hard shoulder of the slow lane, pretty much on its own. You see, the last time Britain appeared so isolated in Europe was nearly 20 years ago (over Mad Cow Disease, of all things); my hair didn't need dyeing and I had a discernible waistline - happy days!

I was young but it didn't matter as I was A) very single, and B) not very cool. All the cool stuff happened later. I had never used a mobile phone and knew nobody who did. I had never been on the internet or sent an email. I filed for the paper I worked for from my Brussels office using a temperamental modem which sang a little atonal song dissolving into static and was so slow you practically had to crank it up by hand.

The Brussels press core was the largest in the world - eurosceptics were at the very least kept well informed, (not least by the BBC which had a huge, humming bureau there), if somewhat largely restricted to the UK (and a few Danes agitating for more environmental protection and more labour rights).

While I was busy growing older, plumper, married and internet savyy, with not one but two mobile phones in my briefcase, successive governments appear to have spent the best part of twenty years failing to make the case for Britain's place in the EU while refusing to take the country out of it.

This latest showdown it is not about the status of offal or the danger levels of tallow and bulls' semen, (oh, yes, we had a ball in that press room all those years ago...) but private equity funds, credit default swaps and the sacred right of the City to do whatever it wants, no matter how poisonous it might turn out to be.

Just for the record it might be worth remembering the context in which Britain's recent refusal to play came into being:

The single market, which the PM was determined to protect, very much includes financial services. Decisions in that field are taken with Qualified Majority Voting, a game in which it actually helps if you have allies prepared to scratch your back occasionally.

By contrast the feared Financial Transaction tax needs unanimity to be approved, so Britain already had a veto on it. As for paying for the sins of others, Britain will continue to contribute to the IMF, whose funds will presumably also be used to clean up the mess in the Eurozone.

David Cameron has spent the past two months lecturing the others ever more shrilly about the need to get their house in order and to sort out the eurozone before a catastrophe there takes his country down too. Yet Britain's contribution to the process at this crucial time was the petulant shrug of a six year old who's not playing anymore.

I hope he has a clever secret plan we don't know about, because what this looks like is he was bounced into a position of impotence and irrelevance by a desire to appease the unappeasable back home, to no discernable extra benefit for the country as a whole.

I would go back to tallow and the status of offal any day. But then who wouldn't like to be 22 again?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

It's my country and I'll cry if I want to!

Italian ministers weeps while announcing austerity drive. Meanwhile pensioners, high on cocaine and clutching absinthe cocktails, are too busy with their bunga bunga parties to notice. Only one of these statements is true. But they both sound unlikely, right?

Take a look at the extraordinary footage of Elsa Fornero, new welfare minister in Mario Monti's technocratic government and erstwhile tough-cookie-banker-person, who burst into tears at the thought of the sacrifices she was about to exact from above mentioned pensioners. Who, you guessed it, were not drunk and bunga-ing at all at the time. More likely, pissed off and shivering in their homes.

People back home don't know what to make of blubber-gate and nor, I confess, do I.

I feel mildly irritated that as soon as a woman of substance, the highlight of whose professional career is NOT a Pirelli Calendar, is allowed to the to table she ends up making a feeble spectacle of herself.

Come to think of it, I feel extremely irritated by the self-pitying subtext of her quote, that this is taking a psychological toll on her and her colleagues.

Most of all, I'm puzzled at her apparent shock and surprise. Are we to presume that when Monti called he didn't mention the small difficulty of cash flow experienced by the state at the time and relative need to slash and burn in manner of marauding Huns? (What on earth did he say?? "Yo, Elsa? Fancy a spin in ma motor? Gonna Pimp My country, cos shit is going down, you feel me?" I mean, did she think it would just be bit of naughty fun ?)

But also...

I feel strangely moved by her un-political, un-manly, profoundly human surge of empathy and despair.

I feel sad that we've been so badly managed and ruled that we are on the brink of this strange, (war-less, famine-less, bomb-less) silent catastrophe and the wrong people as ever will pay. And those left to clean up the mess they didn't cause have to act like butchers rather than surgeons. And those who were in power in the last ten years can relax and sit back on their plush padded parliamentary seats, shouting and jeering from the sides, eating pop corn while they watch the drama unfold, as if it had nothing to do with them, eyes and ears sharply trained on what will look and sound good in terms of re-election.

Most of all I feel ashamed of myself that forty year of the same hopeless cliches, four years of recession and four months of bad/scary headlines is all it took to drive me to the verge of an unspeakable thought, namely: when it comes to Italy why bother at all with elections, ever again? When is the last time that our parliament wasn't run like an exclusive private club, a career in politics not used as a straightforward cash machine?

Friday, 2 December 2011

BBC Trolls

I'm sure the first anguished prediction of the BBC's impending demise and/or the collapse of its unique stature and quality was issued within 15 minutes of its first radio broadcast, most probably from a disaffected insider.  I do not claim to be either original or necessarily right in issuing my own wail of sorrow now.

Full disclosure: I used to work for the Corporation, I have not for a while and the following comments are my own and do not represent the views of my current employer.

I no longer have to deal with the dismal staff morale, the daily mortifying round of patronising bilge from overpaid bosses, the slow erosion of standards and ambition. Still, every time I talk to former colleagues or switch the TV on (and increasingly the radio too) it breaks my heart what's happening to it.

I fell in love with the Beeb like an early 20th century immigrant might have fallen in love with the statute of Liberty - at first sight and with a devotion that spoke more eloquently of the horrors of home than of what the American dream really could deliver.

At home I had left RAI - imagine pre-regime change Libyan  state TV but with a lot more naked women than  camels.  The promised land turned out to be nearly a decade of freelance half-life followed by a few short years of a proper job before they started getting rid of everyone again. But the insecurity, the fairly low pay for at least a decade of that, the overwork and antisocial hours, the constant stress of having to prove yourself as there were always others, (younger, cheaper, less mouthy), queuing behind to take your place - none of it mattered: at least they weren't shooting on you and there was plenty to eat (yes, yes  we are back to the metaphor here, do keep up!).

But it was more than that - there was the pride of working for a global cultural and journalistic brand, and a force for good: a beacon of erudition, freedom and common sense for many, the world over. It was our job to be creative, tolerant, un-bigoted, intellectually curious - it was out job to question, to challenge, to experiment and to dream, yes, it was our job to dream of a life, a society, a culture which was more than just the dismal sum of its lowest impulses,  prejudices and needs.

Heather Peace describes eloquently here what has happened with the cultural side of things. I can only report on the journalism side of things but wherever you look it's the same depressing trend.

The whole place is run by Trolls, overstuffed with then, and I don't mean this kindly , as in slightly deranged juvenile weirdos leaving aggressive anonymous messages on online forums. I mean the dangerous types: 40 something middle management maggots who all want their once great programmes- be them about gardening or foreign affairs -to be "more like Top Gear", eager to appease the upper echelons, viciously indifferent to the quality of what the are in charge of, or what it's for, as long as their careers progress apace.

The troops below meanwhile, tenderised by years of reforms (dumbing down) and quality reviews (cuts), and terrorised by the spectrum of job losses (which would not have to happen at all if those paid millions to do one thing only, negotiate the licence fee settlement, hadn't done such a hash of the job this last time) soldier on, a plastic badge detailing the 'core BBC values' dangling forlornly from her necks. They are some of the most amazing, committed, qualified people this country produces and they are being treated like shit by an institution paid for with your money.

Clarkson's contemptuous comments on the public sector strikers this week (but also remember Jonathan Ross' insistence he was worth 6000 journalists?), Paxo joining in with the bullying of an EU officials (Mr Idiot from Brussels) - these aren't blips on the chart - this is the BBC giving its viewers what it has decided they want.

Lucky for the Trolls, offensive comedy panel shows, indiscriminate euro-bashing and laughing at the proles, (which is what all reality television amounts to, structured or otherwise), do not cost very much. Nowhere near as much as ground breaking or even just informed journalism, nurturing new talents and taking cultural risks.

They can do this with less money while charging you exactly the same for the Licence Fee. And they can still afford Mr Clarkson - which is what really matters.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Senza parole

I'm in my home town, Genoa, in the still superficially affluent North of Italy for a short break, or, as we call it, a four day orgy of overeating and family arguments. The sun has been shining and people were out and about, filling cafes and shops this week-end. There is an atmosphere of suspended animation, something between a hush and a yawn. 

The reason for the lack of out and out panic is, in my opinion, two-fold: most Italians still read no newspapers and get their news from TV, with most channels controlled, until yesterday, by Berlusconi , or as we call him, the Malefic Dwarf. As of last week, he only controls half of them and is still getting an inordinate amount of air time to disseminate his theories that the out of control national debt, the sovereign debt crisis and the Euro crisis have all been caused by Communists / saboteurs/ destabilising agents/ the baddies in Star Wars.
A people so bamboozled by such an unlikely snake-oil salesman for so long are still in quiet denial as to the extent and depth of the shit they're in.

Also, Italy's population is ageing, cautious, barely digital and desperately non-connected.  Zeitgeist is something that happens to other people. Last week my parents were talked by their bank manager, whom they have known for ever, into tying up all their savings in a special deposit account for a year, lured by the offer of  3 per cent interest. They did ask the question: "How come you're suddenly giving us 3pc if the current account is languishing at 0.5?"

"Oh, there so much more competition these days" she answered, "all of our competitors are offering higher rates so we have to as well." They didn't think to ask the next question: "How come there is suddenly so much competition to get people to tie up their money for long periods of time???" 

My sister and I are marching them back there tomorrow - hoping we can beat the markets to it and that there is still a euro with Italy in it..

Few countries and people have been as badly served by their leaders and by their own worst instincts as mine. The ten years to 2008, years of economic growth or even boom in the rest of the developed world, were a lost decade of near-complete stagnation at home. But if you go back 20 years, in the two decades  since I left things have slipped backwards, visibly and badly. 

My state run secondary school was academically prestigious but completely socially mixed. Among my classmates the daughter of the poultry seller at the local market is now a physicist at CERN, the son of a taxi driver is a cardio-thoracic surgeon, the son of Calabrian immigrants is an investigative magistrate. Most of the students who were middle class then, lead middle class lives now: they became doctors, teachers and lawyers. My sister left school four years after I did and among her former classmates few have professional jobs, staff contracts, any security whatsoever.  

Women counted for nothing when I left too - but there was a sense that things were getting better, that girls could aspire and achieve and would one day be "as good as men". Girls were over-protected by their families and had much less freedom than the boys because the dominant Catholic culture only saw women as Madonnas or whores and you wanted your daughter to fall into the first category. How things change. Now few believe in God and twenty year of cultural domination by the Malefic Dwarf ( with his TV channels, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and advertising agencies) have turned whoring into an aspirational activity. 

Feminist polemics aside, (and you might well think that the soft porn undertones of any day time tv show on any Italian channel are an innocent and pleasant curiosity and nothing to fret about), a paltry minority of women -  I could find you stats if I could be bothered but in any case, believe me, they are bad - holds a full time job once she has a family and many do not even manage a part time one. 

 I fear it might soon become cheaper for society as a whole to stop wasting money on girls' education as they are clearly seen as (and only allowed to be) whores/mothers/cleaners and frankly, who needs algebra and geography for that? Why clog university courses with would-be lawyers who will only be cooks and chidren's chauffeurs? Why waste time training doctors who will never treat cancer but at most swap anti-allergy tips at the playground?

As for youth unemployment  in general, statistics which were bad before this latest crisis have nowhere else to go but worse. There are areas in the South where the devastation is like a natural catastrophe: entire families living off the pension of parents and grandparents. (Here is my future-telling trick of the day: if we come to see substantial cuts in the value of state pensions, that's when the place will go up in flames).  When ten to 15 per cent of youngsters can't find a job in their small town you can berate them for lack of get up and go, urge them to go elsewhere. When the majority do not, they might end up leaving but there is no village left, no small town, no country.

I think of all that wasted talent - women and men , anyone younger than 35 - pressing their nose against a digital candy store of wonders, forever shut out of it,  the world people in other countries live in, without having to call in favours, pull rank, have friends in high places, sleep with or carry the bags of people in high places.

My dad, as a cute curly haired four year old, remembers begging American soldiers for "choccolo". That was the last time he had to beg. A decent state school system gave him the education he needed to find - in the Italy of the boom years -  a dignified job with which to raise a family. He didn't need to join the right party, or, later, send his daughters to the right "parties" in the capital. 

I'm afraid we have entered a terminal decline. The West can look at us and see what's in store for the rest of them when the Chinese come. 

Then the prophecy can go full circle - the Malefic Dwarf will have been proved right: it was all a Communist conspiracy. 


Mild-mannered intellectual husband doesn’t do social networking sites. Facebook, he says, is for birds. All this (puts on exaggerated American accent here) “sharing of feelings”, all this endless exchange of the minutiae of daily life, holiday snaps, videos of new babies yawning and cats waterskiing... It’s just not serious, is it? All this flirtatious, highly ‘social’ poking and probing, commenting and messaging.

Being a man, if you ask  him, means hovering above the charming end of the Asperger spectrum. As someone capable of coming home after his annual drink with his best friend unable to report whether the second baby, due seven months ago, has indeed been born, and of what gender, and whether elderly grandmother who had been in hospital the last time is alive or dead ("It just....didn't come up.") he finds the concept of exchanging personal information online not just alien, but unseemly.

What they need to invent, he says, is something men can use without shame. And let’s face it, the name has been staring us right in the face, ready-made you could say. What guys need is Facebloke. 

A quick survey around his (bloke-heavy) office came up with the following suggestions:  a site which would allow you to connect to multiple Mates but only once a month at the most and extremely laconically: you can send an Oi, an “Allrite??” or a “Laters”. It would feature a well run spanners –exchange, a reminder feature set to email one's wife/girlfriend at salient points in the calendar ("Xmas presents for my mum and dad - help!" or "My best mate's birthday - send card"), a chat channel devoted to grunting and would be paid for entirely through  adverts for cheap beer. The personal status setting would go "Hungry", "Very Hungry" or "Just eaten".

That was his office, as I say. Mild mannered intellectual husband would be happier with no Mates at all, just an anonymous community of gentle orc-slaying  sages running erudite forums on jazz guitars (complete with photos), philosophy ("I hear you HegelBoy5, but I think we would all agree that the paradox of Liberalism requires a more in-depth analysis .." ) and exchanging  u-tube clips of Stewart Lee's best stand-up moments.

Meanwhile the emotionally sentient end of the species (aka women) would finally reclaim the premier social networking site all to themselves and use it for what it really is for: dishing the dirt on men, or bitching about their mothers.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, male or female, is in their heart of hearts actually interested in other people's pictures featuring holidays, newborn babies and waterskiing cats.

Legal Warning: Facebloke is now trademarked with all intellectual rights belonging to Paolabi’. Yes, I’m talking to you Mark Zuckerberg. If you had invented would have invented Facebloke. Now, not another peep out of you!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Running in the mist

These are troubled times. We’re entering a winter which feels more metaphorical than equinoxial, wrapped in a suffocating blanket of bad news. And I don’t even know what anything I just wrote even means, that’s how troubled I am.
But here’s another metaphor for you, which I have just thought about: the working week feels like a trip in the open sea, during a low level storm. Week-ends are all too spaced-out buoys. And I’m talking as someone in work, for whom the distinction is still meaningful, but who like pretty much everyone else now lives in the expectation of not having a job at some point or other.
Yesterday, Sunday, Husband and I got up with nowhere we had to be and no to-do list (beyond the light-duty, 23-40 items one I always have going) and took our time making coffee without our glasses on, (always a joyful adventure that, even in our own minuscule home), enjoying the feeling of standing around, zombie-like, in our nightclothes and unwashed faces.
The world outside had disappeared beyond a strangely luminous mist, as if the sun was trying to wave just behind it.
We put on our trainers and went for a run in the park. It felt at time like running through a cloud. It was cold but bearable, and sounds were muffled every bit as colours. Quite dream-like, really, had I not been my usual tired/heavy/achey self.
The park was quite alive with all sorts of creatures: enormous hairy dogs, stupid with happiness, the usual flocks of obese pigeons, the aggressive grey squirrels who do not give an inch, in fact always seem poised to mug you as you pass. Children in buggies, old people in wheelchairs and their coterie of middle aged able bodies bipeds carrying, fetching, pushing and dragging. All going about their business, in the mist, as if it were nothing unusual.
Seven panting kms later we came back with the papers and a block of cheese.
After lunch I planted some tulip bulbs in the post in the back garden. Not deep enough and without any of the gritty sand you are supposed to have at the bottom. It was a half-assed effort, you could say. The trouble is I lack the faith required to plant things, the necessary suspension of disbelief. It seems an act of magic. Maybe something will grow, as my in-laws promised, but I don’t quite believe it. Besides right now it doesn’t feel like it will ever be spring again.
He spent the rest of the afternoon slaying orcs and playing his guitars, I read the Observer downstairs taking in a few more horrendous statistics about joblessness, and warnings about the incoming recession, the possible disintegration of the Euro/EU and the likely Iranian Armageddon.
The mist never lifted or evaporated. Eventually, by four o’clock, the sun gave up waving from behind and went to sleep.
Tomorrow we are back at sea.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

I clean the bathroon

Last week the fantastic Zoe Williams wrote with characteristic flair about women paying the price of this (second? Umpteen?) downturn and corresponding belt-tightening in her Guardian piece Jobs are a feminist issue.
As with most of her stuff it is really worth a read.

While I share most of her analysis, including the fact that now might not be the right time to argue whether women are drawn or pushed into the (more parent-friendly) public services or indeed whether they choose or are lumbered with much of the caring, this remains the unfinished business which risks scuppering all our conquests.
In fact it seems to me it’s never quite the right time to ask the real question, to address the fundamental issue that lies at the heart of feminism's failure to deliver equal outcomes in times of crisis as in times of plenty.

The past forty years have been about getting to a position where women are "allowed" to hold down often badly paid full time or part-time jobs and do all the reproductive labour (caring/cleaning).
But this is still (at the time of writing, although things are moving pretty fast in the world of international financialgeddon) a market economy. Women's position in the family (even just the assumption made by society at large about what their position is) chains them to endlessly lower returns, or what men would deem failure, and makes them the sacrificial lambs of every downturn.
US sociologist Linda Hirscham's fiery pamphtet "Get to work!" is most illuminating on this subject.

The conversation we have not had (distracted by the slow-seeping poison of "choice" feminism) is why aren't men shouldering half of that burden, paying half of that premium on parenthood.
Perhaps taking a break from all that hard core porn they are now allowed to enjoy for free without shame, as we have been trained to find it "liberating" and "ironic"...

This failure of feminism to change men, and to change radically enough the way women and men relate to each other in the private sphere, leaves traces big enough to be seen by the naked eye even in the most ‘equal’ of relationships – i.e those among professionals in full time jobs with no kids (after kids forget it, but I’ll come to that in a minute).
My long suffering feminist husband would argue he does his share. And he does. For one thing, he cooks. I cannot begin to convey what a mixture of tedium and terror the thought of cooking has always engendered in me. I can boil and drain pasta (al dente, of course) with reasonable ease and, if not pushed for time, deliver an expertly boiled egg. More than that you cannot ask of me.
My husband likes cooking and he has taken over that function (as well as intermittent, spasmodic bouts of hoovering) which serves us both well. But his enslavement to the cooker retains a languid "I actually enjoy doing this : it relaxes me" quality. He is not a working mother of three having to feed five hungry mouths at depressingly regular intervals with all the attending feats of food shopping and clearing up.
I’m not saying feeding me is totally unstressful. I am feral when hungry. On many an evening I can be heard roaring down the phone at him while munching on a brick of rice cakes: Where the heck are you? It’s 8pm!!!”. But he doesn’t have to do it when he doesn’t feel like it. There is take-out and tomatoes and mozzarella can always been sliced (even by me) into something resembling a salad.
Conversely I have taken upon myself the unglamorous jobs that really have to be done, whether one finds them relaxing or not, as there is no external delivery service that can step in at the last minute and if left undone would be dangerous to people’s health. Every few days I do the laundry and every week I clean the bathroom.
Have I been forced to take these jobs at gun point? No I haven’t.
Am I setting intellectual mild-mannered husband up to fail by assuming he won’t do the laundry frequently enough nor clean the bathroom thoroughly enough if left to his own devices, thereby enslaving myself into a cycle of low status, dirty chores? If the hoovering is anything to go by my fears are well founded, actually.
(Interestingly, when pushed on this point his take is invariably: “I lived on my own before meeting you and I was perfectly able to wash clothes and keep the bathroom clean. It’s just that you are fanatical about hygiene”. I visited his flat before he moved in with me. I think the whole of, uhm, two times. Case closed.)
Is my temperamental aversion to smelly clothes and dysentery in itself an irrational reflex, a hang-over from pre-feminist days, perhaps a genetic echo of my Mediterranean female ancestry? Quite possibly. But then again, I don’t see him philosophically objecting to clean clothes and a scum-free bath. It is not worth doing, perhaps, but it is certainly worth having it done for you.
Do I want to spend all of our waking hours arguing about cleaning? No I do not. I do the cleaning I need to live comfortably. He cooks lovely meals when he’s inspired and in the right mood. My mother probably thinks we live in a pigsty, his mother probably thinks she has raised a slightly put-upon angel.
Now add kids to this scenario. Do kids need feeding, like, every day? Yes. Are they sensitive to infectious diseases? Hm, yes. Do they in fact generate quite a heroic amount of dirt and mess themselves? Doh. Does the average family really have the luxury of all the time it would take to thrash out every attribution of responsibilities and attending logistical issues every single time? No.
So you can see how once they become mothers women might cut their losses and just get it done. If they work, they don’t have time to endlessly argue about it. If they do not earn a wage they are made to feel it is their job anyway. (Several studies have pointed to the amusing finding that new fathers actually do less housework not just than their wives but than single or childless men).
The -let’s call it -“female fanaticism” about hygiene and their irrational persuasion that it is their job to keep their children alive means women blink first.
If you are the daddy a clean house and well-fed, clean children are clearly worth having done for you, but they are still not worth doing.
Society/the market economy then smugly drapes itself around this tableau and draws its own merciless conclusions. Yes, someone needs to be able to get out early, to collect up a sick kid from school, take a kid to the dentist. But that’s not the someone who’s going to get the big job with the nice pay. And the person not doing the big job with the nice pay may as well cook and clean. I mean, their time is objectively worth less.
Let us recap: as a (middle class Western) woman you can attend a top university and train to fly a fighter jet. But once you reach the age of maturity and peak earning potential you still revert (or are expected to revert) to toilet cleaning, nappy-changing, fridge-stocking, milk-dispensing duties.
So what exactly have we achieved in the past 40 years, I feel compelled to ask? How deep do those achievements go?
I was not expecting much, not asking for gestating men or artificial wombs. I accept that if we want children women will have to physically carry them (my take on children, for the record , is that they may well be worth having them done for you but they are definitely not worth doing).
Let us just say I was hoping the rape stats would be a little less shocking, the pay gap a little less grim and that blokes would clean toilets by now. Even better, unprompted.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Reader, I didn't marry him

Ok, if we’re going to do this thing we’d better establish some ground rules. Managing expectations, the buzzword of the modern workplace, comes in handy in blogging too.

Here is my contract with you, setting out what you will and will not find in this blog of mine.

Let me start, a touch diffidently perhaps, with what you will not find.

You will not find any celebrity gossip and or pictures of famous cellulite and double chins. Should Kim Kardashian, in an arguably stunning development, renounce all worldly sex tapes, take the veil and sequester herself among cloistered nuns for life (or, say, at least 74 days) I promise you I will be the last to know. My 62 year old boss will blog about that before I will.

You will not find any provocative fashion statements – in words or pictures. I could not give a flying saucer if gold lame gladiator Ugg boots are in, out or upside down this season and as for hems, when you get to my age and thigh girth there are only two lengths: longish and trousers.

Despite my deceptively interesting-sounding former and current professions you will not find any political or diplomatic scoops in here. Hell, I couldn’t manage that when I was actually paid for it so I’m not going to bloody well do it for free, am I, out of some crazed instinct to compete against such stand-up guys like Guy Fawkes and other honourable, fair minded gentlemen of the interweb.

You are not going to find recipes, decoupage tips or addresses of wicked salsa clubs, out of the way jazz cellars, exclusive venues of any kind. If it’s exclusive I’m ideologically opposed to it and boycotting it. If, on the other hand, it’s inclusive, it’s likely to be quite crowded and noisy, isn’t it, and full of people I would not want to mix with, so I’m not going there, reader, not even for you!

So what on earth will be in it, I sense you wonder.

I’ve decided to follow my own basest instincts and go with (my internal) flow. Here is what you might reasonably expect to find on my blog:

Not particularly well-argued, slightly ranty feminist tirades,
Manic melancholia tinged with nostalgia, occasionally degenerating in soppyness,
Musings about ‘loife’, its meaning or lack thereof, and the increasingly decreasing quality of it..
Meringues (must have meringues),
Amusing family tales featuring intellectual, mild-mannered husband (IMMH), little (or Ugly), sister, her son the Leopard , aka the Mouse, plus Scary Italian Mamma.
Some quirky travel pics, when I cannot resist showing off,
Unaccomplished film criticism,
Some tedious work-related moans, which you can skip,
Highly unliterary literary criticism,
The occasional paean to Sandra Bullock. I just love the woman. So shoot me.

In short, dear reader, I will never wake up with a new face, a millionaire racing demon lover, on a boat in the middle of the Channel with a terrible headache and no idea how I got there, seven different passports and an uncanny knack for martial arts, wearing a to-die-for "this season" jumpsuit and on trend nude wedges.
If that’s your thing you’re going to have to get your kicks elsewhere.


Write, you say to yourself.
Just do it. Just put some words on paper, one after the other, no one is looking.
You've got so much to say.

But none of these things are actually true (anymore).

No words are ever put 'on paper' as such, if you ignore the occasional postcard and thank you note. (I have been told by some friends that my habit of sending physical Xmas cards is a quirky and endearing trait. That's how old age creeps up on you: the telltale sign is retention of good manners rather hearing loss).

No one was looking or could have cared less when you filled diary after diary, and wasted small forests on difficult first, challenging second and hopeless third unpublished novels plus a slim 'memoir'. But to blog is to write in public.

And since we're at it, do you really have that much to say?

For starters, I am so confused by the different personas one needs to face the different requirements of one's social (media) life - the newsy, homely Facebook updates, the cynical, super compressed Twitter chirps, the humble yet Machiavellian office email, that I genuinely don't know what "writing" means anymore.

What writing means depends on who you are, what you write as and for.

At 20 I didn't know myself particularly well, but sure as hell could produce, you know, text.

Now I'm paralyzed by anxiety: am I writing as an Italian abroad? As a feminist? As a woman of 42 who lives in London and reads the Guardian and likes films? As a professional in a given industry? As the friend or acquaintance of the only people who, initially at least, will read this?

My long-hand efforts on paper were also of course bound to only be read by a few select people but somehow I was able to forget that and write for the anonymous many. Whereas as I begin to blog I can't shake of the feeling that my annoying colleague next door and a couple of nasty ex boyfriends in other countries are looking over my shoulder, laughing at my choice of adverbs and taking instant offence at my every observation.

Old-fashioned writing took a certain heroic suspension of disbelief: yes this thought, this idea, this image matters, it is important that you write it down even if no one will read it. Thoughts and ideas and images like beautiful, secret unpolished gems, waiting to be brought into the light.

This writing can only ever be small and utilitarian, each post a solid little pebble to throw in a not too deep puddle of every day life's worries, rumours and fads. Belief or otherwise doesn't even come into it anymore. At most one hopes to develop a habit, a knack for it.
We shall see.
For now, write.