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Twelve Days

Tuesday 8th January (& Elvis Presley's birthday, I believe), still very mild, grey and humid, but a little light in the sky this morning for a change. And so farewell, another festive season. I love Christmas, it's so steeped in ritual in my small world: the pre-Christmas present buying, the holly scrumping, the bringing of the green wood into the house, the over-indulgent meals we will eat, the people who will share them, the losses and absences, even final absences, we will regret. The way Ginger adores Christmas, and Milo hides away, believing the season is a plot against his life. Like genre fiction, it's not what happens, it's how it happens this time. The foraged-chestnuts chestnut pavé worked better than usual; Ham Night was varied by Gab (as distinct from our Gabriel) having decided he's finally a total vegetarian; and next year Gwyneth will buy the cheese, from the Sausage Shop, not from Sainsbury's and the board will not include "Blue Wensleydale with Cranberries" or similar monstrosities... The watching of The Muppet Christmas Carol, to reaffirm our committment to being good, and doing good; or at least trying. The obligatory model-making, better not be too demanding in my case (see above, that's my butterfly) The tv we will mean to watch and mostly miss (Tove Jansson Arena programme was the star). Like a powerful dream, it's a reboot. It refreshes the mind, at least for a while. And now to begin again.

Two Movies About Life And Death... But Mostly Death*

I saw Haneke's Amour the week before Christmas, alone, and wasn't as affected as I thought I would be. The first passages were terrifying, because that's how I'm sure it will be for me. We'll be pottering along, Peter and I, our powers diminishing gently, nothing too scary, and then one day (one night, probably) BAM! Whatever happens will happen, our life will be over, our death will begin... Once Anne had hit her wall, everything was too familiar, a road I've followed too recently, and it's a trudge. Honestly? For the last hour I was clockwatching. Almost as if I couldn't appreciate Haneke's icy method, without the usual adjuvant of cruel perversity (I suppose Death By Old Age took on that role). But I did like the pigeon, so insouciant (who?) had the honour of being the only free spirit in sight. Like that falling apple shot in Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, I bet everyone will remember that pigeon. To Georges it was his wife, of course. He could catch her, he could hold her, but he didn't know what else to do with her, and by the look of her tired smiles, by the way she lived around him in that very interior life, before disaster struck, he'd never known.

What do women want? It's a mystery, allegedly, and the hero of the tale is the one who finally guesses the elusive answer. What a woman wants is her own way! Well, as Joanna Russ used to say, that's your way of looking at it. Maybe what women want is not to be owned; not to be possessed. Self-determination.

The Life Of Pi, was a fabulous spectacle, a splendid Xmas outing. Do I feel differently, now I happen to know it was the movie the couple in that cause celebre gang-rape in Delhi had just seen, before they boarded the fatal bus, with the six Jack-the-Rippers? Can't be helped, of course I do: I focus on different colours, different shadows. I see that the only female human being with a speaking part in "Pi", is defined as a wife and mother, who very swiftly gets changed into a dumb, helpless animal anyway, and then gets tortured to death. I see the way a thrilling, powerful movie "about the human condition" is naturally going to be about a man, a young man surviving terrifying trials, an old man facing death... If it was about a woman, it would be minor, and either a feminist movie, or a woman's movie (and don't you dare try to tell me different).

I feel differently about the final tagline too. "Which version do you prefer?" asks Pi, the teller of tall tales, and of course, like his listener, we're all inclined to answer, with one voice "The one with the tiger in it!". The company of a terrifying, utterly savage beast, even a beast that shares our soul, seems a small price to pay for a world full of glorious, awe-inspiring, sublime spectacle...**

It's a point of view. When set alongside the story of the six Jack-the-Rippers, acting in concert apparently, in a single city, and not feeling too out of place, by all accounts, in their views at least, if not their actions, the Man as Tiger option app doesn't look so attractive. Does it?

I knew twenty years ago; no, longer, twenty five, that when the struggle for women's rights really hit the so-called Developing World, all hell was going to break loose. That reprisals would be intimate and savage. (I was just a westerner, an ex-pat in south east asia, a tourist in India, but it wasn't hard to work out. Eve-teasing isn't a new phenomenon, you know). I wrote about this horrible coming storm, bigged-up with sf politicial fantasy in The Aleutian Trilogy, realisticallyin Life, and worked alongside international activists, the women who fought, passionately, to convince Amnesty International that Women's Rights were Human Rights. Inspired by two courageous and eloquent West Africans at a Women's Action conference) we got Amnesty to recognise Female Genital Mutliation as torture, and put FGM on the agenda as a campaigning issue, which was a big deal at the time. (Ironic, huh? As everyone knows, caring traditional parents can get their little daughters tortured with ease, at many shiny, respectable UK clinics these days).

And where have I been since? Taking a long break. The point came when I realised Amnesty International could defend women's rights, could proclaim (as it does), that domestic and economic rights are as vital as public and political rights, and that states must protect all their citizens; but could not become a radical feminist organisation, and trying to force it into that role would do more harm than good. We'd achieved what could be achieved, so I dropped back into the rank and file. You take things as far as you safely can, you stop hustling, and make do. That's my story... I think the same could be said for a lot of women, in the privileged world, in the last couple of decades. Dropping back, dropping back. Seeing things slide, seeing gains lost, and still keeping quiet. Smiling politely and slipping out of the room, when asked to approve of the lap-dancer tendency in our own communities. Making accommodations, while all the while, in the BRIC countries, in the Middle East, and maybe especially in South Asia, other women were fighting and dying for the right just to walk down the street. For the rights "I" (that's the feeling) had told them were human and ordinary, and well within their grasp... But the tiger does not agree, and the tiger knows no restraint. You can't tell a tiger it's unthinkable to shoot a fifteen year old schoolgirl in the head, for saying she wants to go to school.

You can't tell a tiger it's beyond the pale to unleash a lethal drone program against civilians, against children, either. The tiger won't listen, can't listen.

That tiger just has to go. Cost what it costs.

The last three thousand or so real, live, flesh and blood "Richard Parkers" wouldn't miss him. Man as Tiger is a devil to any beautiful animal worth money dead.

Utopian demands are cheap and fruitless. In the real world, where absolutes do not apply, I'm left feeling that there's been a betrayal, and I have been part of it,, and I don't know what to do.

But this isn't about me. Self determination. The future isn't about "me" or anyone like me. The situation for women and girls, getting savagely attacked for being uppity, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, is far more frightening, far more dangerous, than, say, it would have been in the UK in the ninteenth century. That cannot be denied. It doesn't, however, mean things are getting worse. It means things are getting better. Savagery towards women and girls is being forced into the open, and I feel the same way about that as I did about the Women's Rights Are Human Rights campaign, long ago. It looks very bad, but it's got to be a good thing. A culture has to get sick before it gets well. Horrific injustice is protected, behind the closed doors of the "home". It has to be seen and recognised as injustice, before it can be shamed and outlawed.

So, anyway. I ought to get back to polishing my Wayward Botany story now, but I worked on it all yesterday, and I have to go to see the dentist in a couple of hours. I think I'll prune my citrus tree instead. I've been promising that overgrown indoor tree a haircut and some thinning for ages.

This tree is not a keynote of the year tree. It's just an incidental tree, one of a pair of venerable, and wayward, ginger birches, guarding the entrance to a cave under a sandstone outcrop, in a part of the Ashdown Forest near Hartfield (home of the Anchor Inn, as BAL fans may remember) where we got lost on Sunday, failing to find the Roman Road, under a lightless sky, in dropping mist, far too much mud; still, it was good to get out.

*the quote is from The Independent & was originally "about love and death but mostly death" But I changed it.

** All references are to the Ang Lee movie, nb, and excellent performances from Suraf Sharma and Iraf Khan. In print the teller of tall tales was far too pleased with himself, a party bore. It was the wondrous CGI, the virtual movie-making, that made his survival story glorious.


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