Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where have all the women gone?

A large swathe of our world has been markedly absent from the news recently . . . have you noticed?

Whether you've been watching the latest television bulletin or studying the daily newspaper, provided you discount royalty, celebrities and Ascot fashion, there's been little or no mention of women.

It's men . . . men waving flags of rebellion, men toting guns, men kicking footballs, men in discussion . . . it's the men who dominate.

On the world stage, with the singular exception of Angela Merkel, you can search in vain for a woman's voice.

True, there may be an interview with a grieving wife or mother in a war-zone, with the suffering occupant of a refugee camp, with an aid worker . . . but it's a token gesture, within seconds attention returns to the dominating activities of the men.

How is it that half of the world's population appears willing to be rendered invisible?  As my friend, Beverly, pointed out to me, not so long ago they were clearly visible and audible . . . just listen to this link to see what I mean.  But now their activities remain in the background and don't make the headlines.
Yet, if we think about if for a moment, the female perspective is vitally important.  Surely it needs to be seen and acknowledged?

This difference in perspective is evident from childhood.
A small boy, when provoked, is more than likely to react with his fists.  A small girl, in a similar situation, will probably resort to tears or arguments.
Whereas boys are prone to see things in black-and-white, girls will generally accept that life is more complex.
Boys usually see themselves as team players who believe in structure and hierarchy.  Girls tend to favour loose groupings and short cuts.

In the interests of our troubled world, shouldn't we bring the wisest of these elements together?
Men can't lay claim to constant, unclouded judgement any more than woman follow an unwavering pursuit of love and harmony.  But a union of the best in both, a union where clarity of purpose and vision is diffused by compassion, where man's competitive nature is tempered by woman's nurturing and collaborative skills . . .  wouldn't that enrich us all?

'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus', declared John Gray . . . it's a mutually beneficial partnership.

As I write, the number of refugees worldwide exceeds fifty-one million, a number that is mounting daily.  Fifty-one million traumatised, homeless people, each in desperate need of food, shelter and hope.

So, please, warring world . . . allow the women to play their part.

At the very least, when World Cup hopes come crashing it takes a woman to murmur gently, "It's only a game . . . ".

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A very helpful Best Friend

Hello, it's Chloe here.

Don't tell my Mum, but, as I'm sure you'll agree, this is my story and I'm the one who should share it with you.
You know my Mum, she means well, but she always gets her facts in a tangle.

Let's start at the beginning.

I've a new friend . . . you can see us in this photo.   Mum calls him my Best Friend . . . it's a bit of an exaggeration, but I don't argue . . .  and we play together.

No, that's not quite accurate.
I say that we play together, but what really happens is that I give him his daily exercise.

Well, I make him run very fast around the garden.  My Mum gives him the end of my lead and, once I'm sure he's holding it tightly, I gallop off . . . oh boy, do I make him run!

But we also stop and chat, and, all in all, he's not a bad little boy . . . as little boys go.

The other afternoon, Mum and I were in the garden, feeding the birds by the pond.

We do this every day and, you can take it from me, those birds aren't as dim as they look.   Each time we arrive they're up there in the bushes, waiting for the birdseed.

But we have an agreement, Mum and I . . . if I'm very good when the blackbirds and the robins fly down to feed, then Mum pretends she doesn't notice if I chase those pesky pigeons!

Tell me, have you ever tried pond water?  It tastes of fish, and pollen, and sometimes there's even a tinge of duck . . .  believe me, it's absolutely delicious!

Watching the birds on a sunny afternoon is thirsty business, so, after the blackbirds and robins had gone the other day, I balanced carefully on the edge of the pond and had a good drink.

You should have seen my Mum's reaction . . . she got all excited, tugged hard on the lead, and kept insisting that pond water was bad for me.

This was ridiculous, and I was just about to tell her so when who should appear but my Best Friend.  Before I'd even had a chance to say a polite 'Miaow', my Mum had told him all about me having that drink from the pond.

You'll never guess what happened next.  Off rushed my Best Friend, and he came back carrying a small, red can which he put down by my paws.  If I was thirsty, he said, I could drink from his can.

Well, as you can imagine, I was more than a little surprised.  It was a kind thought, there was no arguing with that.

But, when I sniffed the small, red can I was very disappointed.  It was full to the brim with ordinary, dull tap-water.  Nowhere near as exciting and tasty as the water in the pond.

Nonetheless, as I told myself, my Best Friend had thought he was being kind and he'd gone to a lot of trouble.
So, as a gesture of friendship, I did give the spout a small suck . . . just to make him happy.

Now, if my Mum was telling this story she'd insist that my Best Friend had saved me from an upset tummy.

What rubbish!
But, as you can see, he's a very well-intentioned little boy . . . and, who knows, if I can get him down to the pond when my Mum isn't looking, I might even persuade him to find out just how delicious pond water can be.
Don't tell  my Mum!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A soul for sale?

What is it about the letter 'f'?  It precedes not only 'fear' and 'fight', but also 'finance'.  What's more, finance, when it reaches the higher brackets, would seem to breed both fanciful fears and fanaticism.

No, I'm not just having fun playing with words, I'm speaking from personal experience.
Finance and fear have invaded the house where I live.

An unpretentious house in a quiet, residential area of West London, it is part of a Victorian terrace that surrounds a garden square.  Many years ago, the two houses at the end of the terrace were knocked into one which, in turn, was converted into eighteen flats.  I have one of the flats, and, like most of the residents in the building, have been here for many years.  We are a friendly, supportive group . . . familiar with each other's lives, sharing the communal garden, and taking an active part in the local community.

Not many months ago, into this peaceful, untroubled scenario came an unexpected arrival.  The top floor of the house, previously two flats, was bought by a wealthy purchaser in the Middle East.  It will, so we learn, be occupied twice a year for short periods.  In the meantime, the work of reconstruction has been phenomenal.

Every wall had been taken down, every inch of flooring taken up and now, richly adorned in marble, the luxury penthouse is almost ready for its new owner's first visit.

But what has shocked those of us who live below has been the extent of the security measures installed.  Not only does the flat now boast bullet-proof dooors, but a series of cameras follows every visitor up the communal stairs and around the top floor passages.  In addition, an alarm has been attached to the communal lift, which now gives voice to any unexpected arrival on the top floor.

On learning of these excessive security arrangements, the residents united in taking action.  The purchaser had no right to instal his cameras in a communal area.  We insisted on their removal.

Why had our new neighbour felt the need for such measures?
Why the bullet-proof doors?  Who is he afraid will visit him?
We have no idea.

But extreme wealth would seem to breed fear.  It is also noticeable that this invasion of wealth and fear is permeating the neighbourhood.  As you walk down our residential streets, many of the garden gates that once opened easily to allow entry have now been replaced by heavy metal structures.  The casual visitor is no longer encouraged.

What's more, in recent years developers in the area have favoured gated communities, communities that, once again, provide shelter for their residents behind protective barriers.
Shelter from whom . . . from what?

I wonder, will the new owner above me share the use of our communal garden?  Will he and his family attend the local church or mosque, and will they become members of the local residents' association?
Their brief and infrequent visits makes it doubtful . . . we can only hope that they will.

But there remains the bigger question . . . will London homes continue to be purchased, largely by overseas buyers, mainly for their investment value?

Looking at the district where I live, is it too fanciful to say that it feels as though it is being slowly consumed by a rapacious and many tentacled octopus.

Could it be that, in the not too distant future, purchase power will succeed where the power of Hitler failed?  What if an invasion by the invisible force of economics ousts the Londoners from London?  What if the streets around my home, streets which fostered Chesterton, Brunel and Pinter, become little more than a series of sterile bank vaults, vaults that are flanked by shuttered, unoccupied investments?

Next week our local residents' association holds its annual Garden Party.  A local caterer provides the food, a local Jazz Band keeps us entertained.  It's a highly popular event . . .  attended by teachers and pupils from the local school and supported by the local church.

Ultimately, can fellowship, kindness and goodwill prove stronger than the corrosive power of finance?
Can community spirit prevail?

If not . . . then surely London will have sold its soul, and, whatever the City's economists may say, no price-tag can be put on that.