Being Seen

Last year I bought a coat. I bought it from The British Heart Foundation Charity Website – which is a “good thing”. It is a stone coloured leather – fancy eh? (Please forgive lack of head. We did take a full photo but I was talking and pulling a face – am working on more Internet photos – honest) and it fits me – unusual but encouraging and as I was showing it to my daughter I remarked that I would probably never wear it. FOW2 is used to her mother most of the time but even she was surprised. “Why not?” and I replied “Because people will look at me.”

You are reading the blog of a woman who, many years ago, when discussing her upcoming wedding, when asked about what she was most worried about, replied “I’m not keen on people looking at me”. I’m not keen on being seen.

Many years ago, when I worked in a church, we had a moderately famous lady preacher who had a particular penchant for the old Gospel Appeal. You know the kind of thing -“If you would like to respond please raise your hand/come to the front/offer up your rabbits as a sacrifice” (not all of these are true). I was part of a team whose job it was to make sure that there were enough leaflets and information to give out to anyone who expressed any kind of interest in Christianity. Confident that we had everything under control, I bowed my head while the lady in the pulpit asked people to put their hands up if they were interested. To my horror I kept hearing her saying “I see you. I see you. I see you. ” Blimey! How many people were responding? Did we have enough leaflets? Arrrgh! Surreptitiously I opened one eye and pretending to scratch my chin on my shoulder, I had a sneaky look at the congregation. No-one was putting their hand up. Not a sausage. And yet she continued – as if everyone in the room was fighting to respond. I shot a panicked look at the leadership team – one of whom was giving her his celebrated “hard stare” but – other than that – they were doing a good job of covering their panic. Certainly better when than when we had the guest speaker who started telling the congregation that he had raised chickens from the dead.

Anyhow, after the meeting, the leaflet team stood at Reception waiting to give information out. A couple of people came forward. One man with mild learning difficulties who I knew had been a Christian for about 20 years and had felt a bit sorry for her. Another girl with ME who took a leaflet and then insisted on lying on the floor to read it – which, to be honest, I was fine with. I could have done with a lie down myself. But we certainly were not overwhelmed with demand.

When the Pastor asked her about these phantom responses she was unrepentant. “I am meeting people’s eye and I am seeing them. I am telling them that I am seeing them. They are seen. People need to be seen.”

I think most of us probably do want to be seen but only if we know that, in the seeing, there is understanding. We have been back to church this week and it has been a bit difficult. Not that people haven’t been lovely, they have. But, it’s difficult to be open with strangers – certainly more so the older I get. You have your friends and your family and they know and accept you, but it is harder to open yourself up to those you don’t know. At least I am finding it so. I mean, how disappointed might people be when they find out what I’m really like?

I have sackfuls of admiration then, for the Psalmist who wrote

Investigate my life, O God,
    find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
    get a clear picture of what I’m about

Is he mad? Why would you ask anyone to do something like that? But maybe it’s necessary. To allow yourself to be seen. To be vulnerable. To trust that people are themselves willing to be seen and not stand and laugh and point. I am, at heart, a fairly mediocre kind of person. (I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t suppose everyone can be doing one armed press ups whilst writing the Great British Novel with your other hand). But, much of life is about relationship and opening up to each other – trusting that people will be happy to see you and be seen.

The Testaments

by Margaret Atwood

I am late as usual to read this. I hung on until all the women in Handmaid’s outfits had finished parading in front of Waterstone’s – it was all a bit gimmicky for me. I mean I don’t mind a fancy dress launch (so long as no-one is asking me to wear it) but blimey, some people were treating this as a religious experience. I do think that The Handmaid’s Tale was a big deal book. There were themes around religious fundamentalism and perhaps more interestingly how freedoms and democratic norms are lost inch by inch and tiny decision by tiny decision. It was also a megaphone into misogyny. I read it in a couple of sittings.

I haven’t watched the TV series. Too many bodies hanging off walls for me. I understand that there was some of that in the book but over many years of reading, I have developed the skill of being able to read whilst mentally putting my fingers in my ears and whistling loudly. That way, I can be reading something disturbing but not really taking it too far in. I really am a delicate soul you know. I think that Margaret Atwood has said that the TV programme and its ongoing sequels have influenced the plot of this book and it shows. You can certainly imagine this coming to a screen near you.

So…The Testaments. Well it’s a completely different book. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale was full of heavy duty ideas and challenges – this is a racing page turner. It’s Mission Impossible with long frocks and ritual torture. It follows three women – Aunt Lydia (nasty piece of work from first book) Agnes (a young daughter of a commander) and Daisy (another young woman who lives with her adoptive parents in Canada). We get to see some of the motivation behind Aunt Lydia’s behaviour and you will probably work out who one of the women is fairly early on. My main issue was a change of heart by one character which is never explained and seems a little bit – well – out of character.

But, she’s a great writer and this is a really good book. I’m not sure that it is Booker level good. (Although I have never really got the hang of the Booker I’ll be honest). I didn’t like it as much as I liked some of her dystopian science fiction but that’s probably just me.

We are going for it

I have been sitting here for an hour eating mince pies while choosing Christmas presents online and working out my Christmas entertainment. I have decided to break the habit of a lifetime and go for Christmas a bit early this year. This is because (a) I am enjoying looking forward a bit and (b) I could do with being a bit more organised about Christmas for a change. (I have no sensible reason to excuse excessive mince pie eating at this time of year – except that both they and I are in the same room alone). If you are a member of my family by the way whether by blood, marriage or soon to be marriage, you should know that I will be issuing a three line whip for one of the Christmas Musicals that are on the big screen this year. Singin’ In The Rain is probably favourite but I have a few in mind. Get your diaries ready kids!!

Anyway – it’s only eight weeks to Christmas and we will be a bit busy in the run up. Our friends on the Crisis Care Team (Honestly – I am so grateful for them, I could lick them sometimes) they think they have found somewhere for Aged Parent. It seems very nice but we are going to look at it properly next week. The only issue is that it is twenty minutes away in the car. I was very exercised by this (AP isn’t bothered – she wants to go and go now). However, HOH has pointed out gently that maybe the idea is that we are a little further away so we didn’t go quite as often now she has more support.

She may feel that she could do without my support to be fair. I brought her washing home as usual this week but I am not really up to speed with the new fangled washer-dryer. I’m more of a line dry woman myself but we are not allowed washing on the balcony – that will get us up before the Residents Association I suppose and anyone who has seen Rosemary’s Baby knows that never ends well. Anyway, I have to do AP’s underwear in the dryer because HOH is not too keen on having it all on airers in the apartment. Not because he’ll be overcome with lust or anything. It’s just that he is dealing with ladies pantaloons etc. on the ward for a lot of the day and doesn’t like to see it at home. Fair enough. I seem to have gone overboard with the washer temperature and I am sure everything has come out smaller. Not Brazillian thong smaller you understand but definitely smaller. Ah well – she is talking about de-cluttering.

I’m watching His Dark Materials again and not enjoying it as much. Firstly because (probably because of BBC budget constraints), not everyone has a little cute CGI animal following them around. I thought everyone who had a soul was supposed to have one? I’m finding it a bit annoying. Also, as someone else said, why are all the daemons either cute or exotic? Why does no-one have a cow or buffalo or a pig? Also, and this just may be me, but I don’t think anyone has successfully produced anti Christian polemic that isn’t a bit clunky and obvious. I think I can probably see where it’s going. I think my daemon would be a big pig. Possibly a greedy one. Back to the mince pies.

The Five

The Untold Lives of the Women killed Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

In 2015 there was a bit of a hoo-hah in the planning department in London’s City Council. Planning permission had been granted to convert a Victorian house into a small museum which would examine “Women’s History”. As this subject had been woefully under-represented, this seemed an excellent idea.

The planning department, therefore, declared themselves somewhat startled when the covers came off at the new attraction and they found it was named “The Jack The Ripper Museum”. It seemed the only “Women” who qualified to have their “History” examined were those who had died horrible, brutal deaths in and around Whitechapel in 1888. When questioned as to whether they had been somewhat economical with the truth in their planning application in order to get a dodgy old screams and bloody bandage type place past the planners, the proprietors declared themselves shocked and offended. Indeed no – they said. This was just a slight change of focus and the Ripper’s victims would have their lives examined in forensic detail and we would all get to see them front row centre for the first time.

Probably against everyone’s better judgement, the museum was allowed to open and the women’s lives were examined using the medium of several pieces of A4 paper with a bit of descriptive detail but, unsurprisingly, these have not proved as popular as the room which is described as “not suitable for children.”

This is a long introduction to this book which takes the exact opposite approach. (Please forgive photo of book next to remains of lunch – slovenly behaviour). It is about the canonical five women who were killed over a period between August and November 1888. You will, however, find no description of their deaths or the state they were found in, the murderer is not described and there is no speculation as to his identity. Instead, there is discussion around the women – their backgrounds, their families and their lives – and it’s a bit of an eye opener. Despite the way the women are usually described – only one, Mary Jane Kelly was actually a prostitute. The others were women who, when things began to go wrong, found that females had little or no support to get back on their feet.

One lady was an alcoholic and despite the love and support of her family (who sent her to a sanitarium to recover) eventually she relapsed and left her family because the drink became more important. Another, whose husband found the charms of the lady next door irresistible to the point that he moved her in, left her children because she had nowhere to take them. Her husband was supposed to pay her some kind of financial support but, once he proved that she was with someone else, which anyone living on the street needed to be to remain safe, he stopped the payment.

The women moved in and out of the workhouse to get medical treatment and guaranteed food. No-one stayed in the workhouse for very long though because conditions were, intentionally, very harsh. The idea being to discourage anyone who felt that a week in the care of the authorities was preferable to a week of hard work. In reality, for the poor, neither in nor out of the workhouse was a good option. You lose some, you lose some.

These were women who had lived through terrible circumstances and been unable to get out from under them. These women certainly weren’t perfect and they made bad choices but they were not who we often think they were. Under different circumstances, they could be you or me.

I thought this was excellent. The women are interesting and sad and they feel like what they were – real people. There is social commentary – women had few rights and this made their circumstances so much more difficult to overcome. It’s not a preachy nagging thing though – it tells stories about the women and it’s important that they are heard.

Dipping toes back in

Hello All. Hope you are well. We have had an interesting week. We are still tripping over our memories of Morecambe but it has only been a week so that is only to be expected. Thank you for all your messages of support. They were truly appreciated and helpful. We are not too bad most of the time, apart from our habit of dropping leftover chicken onto the kitchen floor. Firstly because it’s a bit heartbreaking when you realise he’s not going to pick it up and also because it’s a bit dangerous as chicken is a bit slippy on a wooden floor. You can’t be too careful.

We have dipped our toes back into bits and pieces of life as the week has gone on – including (see above) a church. It’s a church on our new road and we went to the Morning Service today. Obviously it is very early days and we are not here to pass judgement on anyone but everyone seemed nice. We did just go to the meeting and ran away afterwards – they all seemed to be sitting down to a full on Sunday roast afterwards which we were invited to but we weren’t ready for that. We will go again I think. Softly, softly.

I’ve also watched the first episode of His Dark Materials, which is very clever I think. I had never been too bothered about the books because of the anti-Christian rhetoric but, watching the first episode, that bit is so clunky and obvious it hasn’t troubled me so far. It’s beautiful to look at and HOH is very taken with Ruth Wilson’s presence (can’t argue with that to be fair).

Last week, Aged Parent finally got her diagnosis after her brain scan and it is Alzheimers. Because of the circumstances of our life over the last three years, no-one – Aged Parent included was too surprised. Her approach is “I don’t feel confused therefore I am not”. And, at this stage, that is enough I think. She has been under the care of an NHS crisis team since her sustained attempt to beat the International World Record for most ambulances called out in the shortest time period (extra points are awarded if they can’t find anything wrong with you). When I called the chief paramedic of the team to let her know the diagnosis – she shouted “Yes!”. After immediately apologising she said “It’s just that we can do so much more for her – and you – when we have a rock solid diagnosis”. So the idea is to move AP, as soon as they can’ to a housing scheme with 24/7 carer support, although she will still have her own front door. AP is properly thrilled with this development as she says that loneliness is her biggest problem and the place she is moving to has a thriving social scene.

A strange thing that happened was that the consultant apologised to me for the amount of time all this had taken. She had read back on APs notes and my emails and was horrified by what we had been doing alone. I don’t think we are anything special – in fact I know we are not. We know a few people dealing with families with these issues but it is nice not to feel so guilty all the time for falling short. Meanwhile AP is holding court like Princess Margaret as carers, Occ. Therapists, Physiotherapists and other assorted support workers come and go and she has never been happier. (Especially because her physio is a 6 foot tall black man who she has particularly taken to). I was musing the other day about how I had never really inherited my mother’s supreme confidence in her own attraction for the opposite sex – not that she ever did much about it – but it must be nice to be that happy in your own skin.

The times they are a you know whatting and we are slowly inching forward with them.