Monday, 31 October 2016

Facebook - A Sanctuary For Zealots?

The vagaries of a Facebook presence makes a fertile playground for many, an ideal venue for the more extreme and somewhat chilling views held. Malevolent life forms seem to lurk on the periphery of every discussion, ever watchful, eager to take offence at some passing comment, determined to be insulted by even the most minor conversational transgression from others. I was never keen on having a FB manifestation in the first place and was only persuaded to because several fellow writers finally convinced me it was a great way to sell books. Well to be honest things did not quite work out as planned (either for me or them as I understand it) but once signed up it was easy enough to stay, particularly since I had not only found long lost members of my mother’s family, The Constants but also fellow students from Wombwell Hall Girls’School one of whom had, like me, been head over heels in love with Miss K. Smith the English Teacher With Attitude! I even found one of Boring Barrie’s (my first boyfriend) daily commuting companions. Not only had he been friendly with BB but he had also read all of my recent books and was kind enough to say nice things about them! As he still lived in the old home town, earlier this year The Husband and I were able to meet up with him together with his wife, and discuss the nineteen sixties as we drank New Zealand wine. As I said to The Daughter later when she rang for an update, referring to him as `your internet friend’, making him sound a bit like a Tinder date, itching to know how the meeting went, he actually turned out to be a lot less boring than BB. So as I say, FB has its place and undoubtedly serves a social purpose but although it is also supposed to function as a platform for freedom of speech, the only freedoms that are easily tolerated by others seem to be those that co-incide with the Left Leaning Politically Correct. My first brush with on line denunciation, a year or so ago, left me feeling more than a little emotionally bruised and I was sharply reminded of my youth when I had abandoned both bra and make up in order to join a feminist group, only to discover that I could only be a `real’ or `proper’ Feminist if I was preferably black and also a ditch digging lesbian. It was early days of course but even then at the time it had been quite a shock and I knew I would never be able to reach the dizzy heights of required general philosophy. The FB incident concerned a new acquaintance who had severely remonstrated with me when I unwisely leapt to the defence of Prime Minister John Key, well-liked by the majority and undoubtedly about to enter his fourth term in office. What I like about him is that he is invariably pleasant to those who castigate him and does not become involved in name calling and mud-slinging like most of his predecessors; I am naïve enough to admire that in a PM. Not being particularly political I thought it would be fair enough to express this harmless enough opinion on FB only to be almost torn to shreds by a group of my new contact’s marauding supporters, called a bitch and a troll and finally advised that my comments were not welcome in their discussion. I had not quite understood that it was only acceptable to express a point of view if they agreed with it. Since then I have tried not to offend people whilst at the same time offering different opinions, always couched in non-threatening language, always assuring the reader that my views are certainly not shared by all and sundry. The effect is intriguing and I am regularly the recipient of extraordinarily foul responses. A day or two ago a person told me he was f---k---g p-----d off with c---ts and bitches like me who were into this `live and let live and let every f---ker have an opinion’ stuff. He then advised me what to do with my opinions and added that he regarded me as a moron. I thanked him for taking the time to explain how he felt. Within hours I witnessed another woman being subjected to the same kind of abuse. She finally commented that those who only wanted to debate with others who agree with them eventually make their own world smaller and smaller and of course she was entirely correct. She was then unfriended by several people for commenting on matters of Maori history and culture and thereby mightily offending them. Here in New Zealand we are repeatedly reminded by the indigenous people – or those who consider themselves to be indigenous, that we newer citizens should face up to the crimes of our colonial ancestors and own our own history. There are distasteful periods in the history and background of all races of course and there’s no getting away from the fact that the early settlers did an inordinate amount of land grabbing and did not always treat the Maori people well. It’s definitely not a good look, difficult to defend and lengthy scrutiny can be awkward. Conversely if it is ever suggested that the Tangata Whenua – or People of the Land, might look critically at their ancestors’ unseemly habit of cannibalism for example, which appears to be quite precisely documented by any number of colonists and a number of tribal leaders themselves, there are howls of outrage from some corners of the FB community. NO, the ancestors NEVER at any stage took to eating even a sample portion of another human being! This is a lie invented in the first place by missionaries and further promulgated by evil white bitches like myself who despise People of Colour and who deserve to be torn apart by sharks for going near the indecorous topic in the first place! Any attempt to courteously propose a respectful discussion on the ills of the past causes a further onslaught of even more furious condemnation. The Facebook Fighting Forces may well speak glibly of Ethics, Principles and Common Decency but these basic codes of human interaction are only applied by them as long as they are certain they are preaching to the already converted. Just as the more timid and insecure amongst us in the Non-Virtual World become confident enough to hurl an occasional insult from behind the safety of sunglasses, so the inhabitants of the Virtual World menace those they perceive as opponents from the even greater security of pseudonyms and anonymity. Ultimately it appears that rather than fulfilling a position as a venue for Freedom of Speech, Facebook becomes ever-more the preserve of those whose greatest fear is the expression of ideas they are reluctant to examine. There is nothing new about this phenomenon - wasn’t it Josef Stalin who warned the world that ideas were far more dangerous things than guns?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Some Sympathy For Donald Trump

I’ll say this very softly: I do have just a suggestion of sympathy for Donald Trump! It happened quite suddenly, taking me by surprise - when the Porn Queen appeared on the scene with her enthusiastic allegations. First of all a decade or so ago he kissed her without permission . Now if you were a trainee librarian or a Norland Nanny trustingly accepting an invitation into his hotel room that could have been a bit of a shock, coming out of the blue from a guy like Donald. On the other hand if you are contemplating a career as a Porn Queen possibly you would need to harden up a little and try to understand that some men DO go too far and grab an illicit kiss or two and I’ll go further and say that there would be some Norland Nannies who wouldn’t have been totally traumatized. In fact worse has happened where predatory men are concerned as those among us who have been the victims of serious sexual assault will testify – it’s not all that unusual, and was certainly run of the mill twenty years or so ago. I’d go so far as to say that on this occasion Mr Trump’s behaviour was gentlemanly, almost gallant. He offered her a large sum of money to spend the night with him and when she turned him down because of commitments elsewhere the next day that she didn’t want to be late for, he even said he’d loan her his private jet. As one of her business slogans is purported to be Sex For Sale, why on earth did she turn him down in the first place? He would have been ideal material to cut her teeth on in preparation for her chosen career. Though this may make me unpopular I have to admit that trying to find the slightest bit of empathy for the Porn Queen is tough. On balance I’m with Donald on this one!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Shared Space - Going Downhill?

We've had Shared Space in the city for quite a while now. Remember we were told how wonderful it would be, how it would somehow align us with the great European cities - people and vehicles sharing quaintly cobbled inner city lanes and byways? It did start off reasonably well I suppose even if our own quaint lanes did not quite mirror those we saw on TV. And you have to admit that in the first month or two the vehicles were oddly respectful of pedestrians, even the courier vans (though you could tell the drivers were viewing those impeding their normal progress with gritted teeth). Then quite suddenly it all began to go downhill and you now take your life in your hands in Auckland city if you dare to attempt to share. And yes, it started with the courier vans but to be honest it didn't take too long to spread to private cars and finally the elderly on mobility machines. One of the latter screamed at me yesterday and waved an umbrella as he hurtled towards me yelling `out of the way...out of the way...' I did not quite have the courage to point out to him the error of his ways; he looked much too aggressive!

Saturday, 15 October 2016


I seem to spend half my life in fear of hairdressers. I have to say here and now that generally speaking I am not easily intimidated, can stand up for my rights (and those of others whether they like it or not) and call a spade a bloody shovel……BUT….hairdressers reduce me to a quivering heap of jelly. I hop from one to another around the Inner and Eastern suburbs of Auckland and have done so for more than twenty years, in the vain and diminishing hope of finding one who doesn’t frighten me. All I want is a hair professional I can stand up to, one to whom I can say `NO – what you have done looks like shit, please rectify at once’ instead of `Oh I’m really pleased with it….see you next time,’ as I scurry out fuming with rage. I then console myself by determining I will never, ever go back to her and have often been reduced to wearing sunglasses and headscarfs in order to pass through the particular suburb in which she preys on the unsuspecting client. Sometimes I have avoided an entire district for more than a year. I then have a habit of dropping into those no appointment, just-come-in-now places in shopping malls where the general philosophy is not to bully the customer. They don’t care what you want, they just do whatever you ask them to and what’s more their charge out rates are very low. The only problem with this is that should I then go back to whoever is `My’ current hair professional of the moment I am subjected to the kind of cross examination that Josef Stalin would have been proud of. I am forced to lie. I say I have been in France for three months and popped into some scruffy little place in Lyon. Once in St. Heliers I was actually challenged with, `….if you’ve been away how come I’ve seen you in the street wearing sunglasses then…?’ It’s not as if I want anything too special done with my hair in the first place – I want it as short as is possible, spikey, the grey covered with any colour you like to suggest and NO, I really don’t care if that makes me look like a twelve year old absconder from the local school. I thought I had found the perfect hair person recently, in a city arcade. She was smiley and strangely servile so I went back to her three times. However last week she seemed to have gained confidence as she snarled, `Who has cut your hair last? It was NOT me!’ With very ill grace she fulfilled my request for multi coloured foils but when it came to cutting she put her foot down, in fact she very nearly had a temper tantrum. `What you want is not at all feminine and I will NOT do it!’ Half an hour later I heard myself saying something like, `Yes, it’s lovely. You were quite right. See you next time.’ Time for new sunglasses!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Old Nan Constant - Perhaps a Paragon of Virtue After All!

For more than a decade my brother had been feverishly engaged in Family History Research in an attempt to find out more about his father who had died when he was only four and of whom he had only tantalisingly obscure memories. Lack of knowledge caused him a great deal of distress but I often thought that when he turned up horrifying details about the family in his investigations it only made things worse although we laughed together about each unpleasant incident emanating from the past and tried to make as light of them as possible. We both agreed that Old Nan Constant was a feisty lady and to be a better grandmother would have required only a minimum of effort. But what Bernard eventually found out about Nan Hendy, our father’s mother was in a quite different category of awfulness and up against her poor Old Nan Constant began to look more and more like a paragon of virtue. In November 1913 the Stipendiary Magistrate, Alick Tassell who sent our grandmother to prison noted that she `didn’t care tuppence about her children’. Kate Hendy appeared before him at Chatham Police Court on a charge relating to her youngest children, our father being three years old at the time and his baby sister, Mary who was just six months. Mr L.A Goldie prosecuted on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and said that the case was a very bad one, entirely due to Nan Hendy’s intemperate habits. He added that she was living apart from her husband, a man of excellent character and a pensioner from the Royal Marines who had lost both his job and his home on account of her drinking and aggressive behaviour. He said that the youngest two children (Bernard Joseph and Mary Elizabeth) were in fact illegitimate. Nan Hendy now worked from time to time as a rag picker and although she earned very little it was enough to keep her drunk. She was continually seen in public houses, made no attempt to mend her ways but instead would abuse those who were desirous of helping her and her children. A neighbour called Annie Burton said that Nan Hendy occupied the top bedroom of the same house as herself and `only came home when she thought she would.’ She left the two youngest children in the room quite uncared for. Occasionally she took the baby with her and had been seen carrying the child whilst blind drunk and falling over. She was drunk almost every day of the week, Mrs. Burton maintained. Several times she had been given notice to quit which generally resulted in others vacating the house fearing threats that the prisoner made. Inspector Collard of NSPCC said that when he visited the room on a Saturday morning he found the baby lying in an old tin bath upon two rotten and dirty pillows and the three year old was sleeping on bare boards. The room was in a filthy condition and the children were verminous. The prisoner, Kate Hendy was nowhere to be seen. She was arrested later that day. The children had already been removed to the Workhouse. The prisoner, on oath, denied neglecting her children and appeared to be not at all abashed. She thought that the witness Mrs. Burton might be at fault. However, the Magistrate found that there was overwhelming evidence that the children had been seriously neglected and that she cared not at all about them. She was sentenced to prison with hard labour! On discovering this bit of family history that nobody could be proud of, my poor brother wept for his father, just three years old and going through so much emotional trauma. Then he wept for himself and pointed out that after ten years of digging it seemed unfair to discover that neither of us were Hendys after all! I told him that it didn’t matter but in fact it did because it is a very strange feeling to find you are not who you have always thought you were. I wondered and wonder still who we might actually be.

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Few More Thoughts on Racism.....

Having recently come up against pockets of what my Old Nan would have described as truly pukka racism I now begin to realise that the subtle refining of the term must have happened whilst I was asleep. Racism is a belief system no longer – indeed no, for almost overnight it has become a political system and describes a social structure in which a dominant racial group profits from the subjugation of another group (or groups). Within this latest, up to the minute definition of the term only white races (Aryan if you like) can be truly called racist. Now you may well think that although you fall loosely into this pale category this does not apply to you because you are not, and never have been a racist. Well you are wrong! Whites are racist whether they like it or not and are in fact born guilty of racism. In this respect it’s a bit like the way in which the Catholic Church has always regarded original sin – inescapable! If, on the other hand, you are from a (preferably) minority group emanating from Africa, India or better still you regard yourself as coming from an indigenous tribal people then you are in a very special place indeed because no matter how hard you try, you can never be racist. Whatever profane terms you may employ in discussion with those prejudiced and bigoted whites you save so much hatred for, you will only ever be seen for what you truly are – a warrior for justice! Whatever discriminatory language you might use towards them you are completely safe to do so because the world (and more importantly the Race Relations Office) knows that your crusade is a fair and just one, the outcome of which is for the good of humanity. I have noted in some of my recent research on this topic that some groups within this sacred cause are becoming mobile, flexible if you like. For instance some warriors for justice are keen to turn the Irish into honorary people of colour. Presumably this stems from the way they have been treated over the years by the dastardly English. Now nobody could honestly say that the Irish have much to thank the English for but even so as a group they are generally very white people indeed. As I said, these victim groups are now more flexible than they once were. The rapid changes are clearly evidenced by the attitudes of some local warriors for justice who currently have those with Jewish ancestry in their sights. Last time I looked, people from a Jewish heritage were most definitely not Aryan at all. But as I said, this racism business is becoming a whole lot more mobile so anything could happen!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Xenophobia Alive & Relatively Well

I am growing increasingly sickened by the burgeoning of racial hatred that infiltrates social media sites, Facebook being a case in point. I guess I must be naïve in the first place for showing any degree of alarm because clearly this is precisely what the perpetrators are looking for. The participants in extreme xenophobia seem to become feverishly over excited when faced with even the slightest degree of negative comment and are then likely to hurl themselves into excessively profane diatribes like lemmings. Adolf Hitler is being quoted left, right and centre yet I seriously wonder how many of his current acolytes from down under have read Main Kampf (except in mini-bites) – or even if they are aware that what they loudly proclaim about their targeted minority segment of New Zealand community actually emanates from the pages of His Struggle! Has any one of them actually stopped to examine what Beloved Uncle Adolf might have had in store for their own ethnic community given half a chance I have to ask? I certainly would have been wary of his plans for my own kith and kin back in the day, many of us springing as we did from English gypsy roots. His general ideas would not have been amongst those I could easily see myself embracing at any time in the future. Yet in this little out of the way corner of the modern world it would appear that old fashioned extreme right wing fascist philosophy circa 1920s/1930s is dangerously alive and well – well in small patches at least. Coming from London where for decades emerging pockets of Nazi idealism were unsurprisingly tied to white working class teens with short haircuts wearing bovver boots you could say that the local followers leave me in open mouthed amazement. Well, OK – call me old fashioned then, even wet behind the ears in my old age! However, there is something about one minority group targeting another minority group with such extremes of hate and venom, particularly distasteful.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Misconceptions of Adolescence

Those who were in their early teens when they emerged from the oppression of nineteen fifties style dire poverty could develop particularly idiosyncratic behaviour patterns. My brother, who died earlier this year, recounted on several occasions his decidedly odd reaction to the vacuum cleaner my mother had saved long and hard to buy from The Rainbow Stores in Gravesend. And possibly to be honest, she didn’t actually save for half a year because it was more than likely that she simply made the momentous decision to acquire the much coveted machine `on tick’ – put down a pound and pay it off at five shillings a week for months on end. I had long since flown the nest and was off having all manner of exotic experiences in London and Bernard would have been about fourteen or fifteen at the time. Apparently he was positively overwhelmed and dazzled by the Electrolux (….nothing sucks like an Electrolux…) if indeed it was one, though it may have been a Hoover 800 or even a Constellation (….all the dust, all the grit, Hoover gets it every bit, Hoover beats as it sweeps as it cleans….), stunned by its crisp, clean lines, hypnotized by the glitter of the steel piping and the way the hose curled at his feet as he breathlessly elected to be the one to unpack it. So awe inspiring was this piece of home technology to an adolescent decidedly out of kilter with the reality of modern life, that he became convinced the entire neighbourhood would be similarly impressed with this upmarket Hendy household purchase. For the next ten days, instead of going to school he waited impatiently in the York Road Alley for my mother to leave for her dinner ladies job at Gravesend Girls’ Grammar School before quietly letting himself back into the house. Once inside he reverently lifted the magnificent machine from its place behind the wardrobe, slung it respectfully across his shoulders and set out on a circuit of the neighbourhood so that all might witness its glory. Up York Road he strode, along Shepherd Street, leisurely strolling past the much favoured local public house known as The Volley (The British Volunteer) along Buckingham Road, finally returning via the backyard of Number 28. Decades later he recalled with clarity the enormous sense of fulfilment he got from this ritual and was convinced he grew at least two inches taller during that time. All and sundry were now aware that he, Bernard John Hendy, came from a home where luxury items such as that he paraded on his shoulders, were not just a dream, but a reality!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

A Very Nearly Uneventful Case of Cataract Surgery....

Well as those closest to me will already be totally aware of to the most minute detail, I finally plucked up the courage required to go ahead with the cataract surgery my ophthalmologist had been urging for nearly a decade. The decision was not taken at all lightly because where surgery of any kind is concerned my general policy has always been to avoid it at all cost – not that cost is the prime consideration. Not at all - in fact the major issue is always and will always be run of the mill cowardice. I am so spineless that I actually need sedation for a perfectly normal visit to the dentist and as for childbirth…… all honesty I simply do not understand how I actually managed to have three children but somehow or other I did. As for the eye surgery, it wasn’t as if the ophthalmologist was a particularly intimidating individual and he and I had been in an eye relationship ever since I consulted him with regard to a small but unsightly cyst on the eyelid in 2006 which he showed no interest in whatsoever whilst growing more and more animated over something called Closed Angle Glaucoma. The latter could lead to a Serious Eye Emergency he told me, the initial look of boredom now gone completely. In fact he would deal with it the very next day. And so he did, with a laser – again a most alarming interlude but at least painless and over quickly. By the time my check up appointment loomed ahead he and I were no longer Dr & Mrs – we had become Dean and Jean. Not unusual in this day and age though definitely not a practice I am completely at ease with. To be honest I prefer those I consult for reassurance in matters medical to be slightly more distanced from me, to be shrouded in a reasonable measure of mystery, definitely male rather than female and if possible wearing a suit and tie. A bit much to ask these days I agree though he did get the gender correct and perhaps I am stuck in the dark ages because I have to further admit that I feel the same way about priests – they should be dressed traditionally and definitely must not invite me to call them Mike. Nuns likewise; it is most disconcerting to find oneself in conversation about Brexit for example at the hair salon, with a nun in mufti waiting to have her highlights applied. I need not add that I shudder at the thought of a female priest, not that that’s likely to eventuate any time soon as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. But I digress. Getting back to cataract surgery, I was finally propelled into the decision making by a near miss with a motor cyclist approaching from the right when driving to the supermarket early one Sunday morning. Dean thought I had made a sensible decision and said he always knew that I would be aware when the time was `right’. Well I suppose he would wouldn’t he? He suggested that the Symphony Lens might be right for me. I didn’t really care but wanted to know if I could have a sedation. Dean said yes of course I could. In the interim I cross examined those among my acquaintances who had already had their ageing lenses replaced. They all said it was a non event, that there was no pain involved and they wondered why I felt I needed sedating. When the day approached I realized that my friend Dawn was to have the very same operation, the very same lens, at the very same time as me. She looked slightly startled when I mentioned the sedation. No, she said, she thought she would be all right without it. She went back to reading her magazine. I headed for the toilet for the second time in fifteen minutes and wondered if it was too late to cancel the whole intimidating event. To be perfectly honest, of course it didn’t hurt and of course it was over within minutes. Undoubtedly a non event! The second eye was done a few days later, in a similarly uneventful manner. Almost immediately I was able to see perfectly as far as reading and computer work was concerned. Watching TV is not as comfortable as I would have hoped, however, and I need to sit much closer to the screen than previously. Mid vision for driving is also unacceptable. I am still hoping that this might improve but am almost half resigned to the fact that I may still need to wear glasses from time to time. No doubt Dean & Jean will commune on this matter just as soon as he can fit me into his busy schedule. In the meantime thank Heaven it’s over!