Archive for May 2016

On not popping to the shops

May 18, 2016

When I was a kid, I used to sometimes go and stay with my grandparents. They did their food shopping on foot and they went out to buy something almost daily. So I’d go with them. We’d get a few yards down the road – and we’d stop, because someone wanted a chat. Then we’d go a few yards further, and we’d stop again, for the same reason. It would take a long time to cover the short distance to the shops.

As an adult, I worked on a deprived estate where everybody I met kept banging on about “community”. One of my colleagues told me with pride that it could take her over an hour to buy a loaf of bread from the corner shop because of all the people she bumped into on the way there and on the way back.

I now have relatives who live in an ex-pat community in Spain. They have the same experience when walking through their village. If they have to be somewhere by a definite time, they sneak along the back streets so they’re covering more distance but bumping into fewer people.

I’m really torn about this phenomenon. On the one hand, I think the isolation wrought by car culture is a terrible thing, and it’s wonderful that there still are so many places where people do their food shopping on foot (or bike) and bump into acquaintances on the way. It’s wonderful that those little connections happen naturally, in the course of going about your daily business.

On the other hand, I found it fucking boring and irritating when I was a child, and…I still do. And I don’t know if I’m alone in this.

I won’t call myself an introvert. Because apparently the introvert/extrovert thing is discredited, because people are too complex to fit into such a simple binary. (Where have I heard that before?) And apparently introverts-talking-about-being-introverts is the new vegans-talking-about-being-vegans. Just toooo boring, darling. So instead, I will just say that I have limited energy for social interaction; situations where I have to talk to multiple people are draining rather than energising for me. (There! So much quicker and more concise than describing myself as an introvert!) So the idea of having to talk to five or six people every time I want to grab a few groceries is my idea of a nightmare.

But I feel that a healthy place to live is one where you have unplanned interactions as part of your daily life. It feels like a more natural, organic way to build a community. The idea of planning your socialising online, going to meetups, travelling significant distances to socialise – that all feels sterile in comparison.

This is my dilemma: my idea of a healthy, car-culture-free community is not a place I would want to inhabit in reality. In fact, I would find it anxiety-inducing and exhausting to live somewhere like that. Sometimes I need to plan my days, especially work days, very tightly, so I can’t afford to routinely lose an hour over popping to the shops or stepping outside to get ten minutes of sunshine. And I want to socialise with the people I actually choose as my friends! I can’t do that if I’ve spent all the day’s social spoons on telling Mrs Noseypants from number 47 how my new garage conversion is going.

I know people in these kinds of communities who have days when they can’t deal with talking to people, or days when they really need to get something done on time. Their secret weapon is the car, because nobody ever expects a car driver to delay their journey out of politeness.

I don’t really have a conclusion here. I’m just wrestling with the question of how you set up spaces to reduce isolation and promote unplanned interactions while also making them good spaces for the kind of people who sometimes really, really need the option of leaving the house and getting something done without talking to anyone. Do we just set up the spaces to engender chit-chat and then expect introverts to hide in cars when they can’t face it? (If you’re, like me, an introvert who can’t drive: tough shit.) Or is there a better way?

Pamela and the cult of early

May 11, 2016

(Content warning: rape, child abuse)

“You, my dear,” said he, “may better do this than half your sex, because they too generally act in such a manner, as if they seemed to think it the privilege of birth and fortune, to turn day into night, and night into day, and seldom rise till ‘tis time to sit down to dinner; and so all the good old rules are reversed: for they breakfast when they should dine; dine, when they should sup; and sup, when they should retire to rest; and, by the help of dear quadrille, sometimes go to rest when they should rise. In all things, but such as these, my dear, I expect you to be a fine lady.”


And these were his observations on the early and regular times of breakfasting, dining and supping, which he prescribed:

“I shall, in the usual course,” said he, “and generally, if not hindered by company, like to go to rest by eleven. I ordinarily now rise by six, in summer; you will, perhaps chuse to lie half an hour after me.

“Then you will have some time you may call your own, till you invite me to breakfast with you: a little after nine.

“Then again will you have several hours at your disposal, till three o’clock, when I shall like to sit down at table.

You will then have several useful hours more to employ yourself in, as you shall best like; and I would generally go to supper by nine.”

The context is a husband a few days after his wedding, telling his new bride how things will be in his household. He goes on to say that it’s not fashionable to keep such fixed and such early hours, but that everyone (by which he presumably means every man) has the power to set his own timetable, and if you stick unmovingly to yours, eventually people will stop mocking you for it and start fitting around you instead. And, in that way, maybe you can get others to fall into an earlier daily rhythm. This is someone who, despite not getting up particularly early by the standards of the average 2016 full-time worker, undoubtedly subscribes to the cult of early. He genuinely thinks he’s a better person for eating dinner at 3pm instead of 6pm.

The broader context of this extract is that the husband attempted several times to rape his now-wife when she was a 15-year-old servant in his household. He abducted her, kept her prisoner and used all his power and privilege to abuse her. He lied to her and to many other people. He hired servants to beat her up for trying to escape. He drove her to the brink of suicide. He bribed servants and neighbours to stay silent about the abuse and imprisoned the one person who spoke up about it. He was engaged to be married before, but he had sex with his previous fiance and then broke off the engagement – because who wants to marry the kind of woman who would have sex before marriage, amirite?

In other words, this man is a sociopathic shitheel. From a modern perspective, it’s a pretty fucking troubling book. The 2016 reader is screaming for Pamela to get away, get back to her family and friends, get some counselling, press charges from a safe distance. The 1740 reader doesn’t have access to concepts like consent, boundaries, Stockholm Syndrome, gaslighting and so on, let alone the still-radical-in-2016 concept that women are people, which means the focus is on her “virtue” rather than her personal autonomy. “Virtue” seems to be code for “keeping her vagina showroom fresh until marriage”, which means that if she can get a wedding ring on her finger before having sex with her abuser, that counts as a happy ending.

Reader, she marries him. And yes, she does it before sleeping with him, which means she’s still “virtuous”. Which means he becomes virtuous too! Amazing what can be accomplished through the influence of a good woman who has literally no influence.

Back to his daily timetable. He’s describing his habits as if they’re of long standing, so I think we can assume he kept to this kind of schedule in the bad old days before he suddenly became virtuous through the power of Pamela’s magic vagina. I’m guessing he felt great about getting up early for the duel in which he injured a man who later died? Maybe he also got up nice and early on the day he fled Italy to escape the man’s angry relatives? Maybe he fathered his illegitimate child in the daytime.

Who cares, though? From a 2016 perspective, I hope it seems obvious that there’s more moral difference between someone who abducts a child and someone who doesn’t, than between someone who gets up at 6am and someone who gets up at 9am. I think we can all agree that it’s better to stay up dancing quadrilles until midnight than to get up at dawn to commit grievous bodily harm…can’t we? Luckily for her, starry-eyed Pamela subscribes to her new husband’s cult-of-early beliefs just as enthusiastically as she believes everything else he says. Her response to his long diatribe on daily timetables:

“O dearest, dear sir,” said I, “have you no more of your injunctions to favour me with? They delight and improve me at the same time!”

The Fly-By-Night

May 8, 2016

Seth Brundle: Have you ever heard of insect politics?

Female expert on entomological elections: Well, yes, I’m here to talk about –

Seth: Neither have I.

Female expert: I’m sorry? I thought I was here to discuss the recent bee elections.

Seth: Insects…don’t have politics.

Female expert: Have they invited you on to be the controversial talking head? Because I’m here to –

Seth: They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise.

Female expert: Oh no, do we have to have a fake debate about whether my subject of expertise is valid?

Seth: No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect.

Female expert: Well, we can trust the results coming out of the recent bee elections, because they’ve been independently validated by –

Seth: I’d like to become the first… insect politician.

Female expert: Right, so you don’t believe insects have politics, but you have a burning ambition to get into insect politics and show all the insects how it’s done? Figures.

Seth: I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it.

Female expert: I think what you’re actually saying is that you’re a man who knows fuck-all about insects.