Women

Both Deeds and Words

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Followers of this blog will be aware of the huge admiration that it harbours for the eventually successful campaign of the suffragettes for Votes for Women. Indeed, contact with the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, the onetime home of the family, features strongly in my book, “Northern Soles:  a coast to coast walk”, published in March and shamelessly promoted through the blog!

An extremely rewarding – for me — outcome has been the contact made with Dr Helen Pankhurst who readily gave her time and attention to checking what I had to say about her extraordinary family and their work. It was, as they say, a “no-brainer”, to deploy that horrible expression, that Mrs Blog and I would attend the launch in February, at the Centre, of Helen’s own new book, “Deeds Not Words: the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now”.

And what a book!  Currently being somewhat out of commission healthwise myself, I have the chance to do a lot of reading and Deeds Not Words” comprises a fascinating analysis of what kind of progress we may have experienced in “women’s issues” in the 100 years since the great landmark of “Votes” in 1918. Helen and others have scored “progress” as they see it in areas like politics, money, identity, violence, culture and power – and, safe to say,  winning the vote didn’t on its own guarantee solutions to a range of issues of equality, fairness and decency.  A great read, but be prepared to be angry…  A continuing need for Deeds as well as Words.

Helen is due to feature in May at the Charleston Literary Festival (think, Bloomsbury Set) near Lewes here in Sussex, and I very much hope to make the gig – radiotherapy treatment permitting!

I have also just read in one sitting Alison Macleod’s recently published and splendid collection of short stories, All the Beloved Ghosts. As someone who usually gives short stories a wide berth, this was a welcome reminder that I should be more open in my reading habits! It is, quite simply, a wonderful collection.

I’m also very much enjoying Simon Jenkins’ Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations! I know! How nerdish am I??  Except that it provides a fascinating historical, geographical and social glimpse into some of the finest buildings the country has seen, beautifully photographed and described by a former chairman of the National Trust and founder of the Railway Heritage Trust. Wonderful book.  And, again, not just words but actions implemented (or, sadly in some cases, missed) to ensure the conservation of this vital element of what’s special about Britain.

Talking of the National Trust, it is great to see the new DG, Hilary McGrady, setting out her stall to make the Trust more relevant to a wider population. Not just saving the houses of the rich for the enjoyment of the not so rich but creating opportunities for urban, transient, cosmopolitan communities to share something of the nation’s heritage.  In a voluntary capacity I have been fortunate enough in the last few years to serve on a regional advisory board for the Trust and have very much supported this kind of approach. Again, it will need Deeds as well as Words!

I am currently somewhat incapacitated but hope to resume participation if and when. This question of the Trust’s relevance is something that I was keen to pick up on in “Northern Soles” – so, another shameless plug!!

I have been delighted with the responses I have seen from those kind enough to get hold of the book, and look forward to hearing from more of you! It is, to us the well-known phrase, available through the usual routes! Here, if you prefer, is a link to the relevant bit of my publisher’s website:

http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/product/9781781327562/northern-soles

May I also say how grateful I have been for the kind expressions of support received during my illness, from readers of the blog and so many others around the world.  I am of course reliant on the skills, resources and Deeds of the NHS to do their best, but the Words of friends, contacts and blog followers provide a wonderful and complementary source of encouragement! It is very much appreciated.

I will endeavour to keep you posted.

Steve A

April 2018.

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Myths and Miscellany

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It’s good to be properly mobile again after months of poorly-hip-based inertia. This blog headed to London (wherever you’re reading this, I expect you’ve heard of it) a week ago to see an exhibition at the Royal Academy called “100 Buildings, 100 Years”, promoted by the 20th Century Society with an accompanying coffee table book. As its title may suggest, this features a sample of buildings representing each year of the past century, some of which are no longer with us as they were demolished before society as a whole appreciated their value.

Founded as The Thirties Society, the 20th Century Society exists to safeguard the heritage of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards. Its creation was in part a response to threats such as the fate of the art deco Firestone Tyre factory on London’s Great West Road, demolished over a bank holiday weekend in 1980 just before a preservation order was due to come into place.

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Now you see it, now you don’t…

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The achievements secured in this country in terms of recognition and conservation of our built heritage have not been reached without huge effort by individuals and organisations. (I recall from a visit to Miami Beach some years ago that its wonderful collection of art deco buildings was, similarly, saved only by its designation as a “US historic district”.)

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I’m pleased that I made it to the RA exhibition just before it closed but I confess that, for some of the featured buildings, I had to be told by the accompanying information boards just why they were special. But that’s true of any period. As followers of this blog may be aware, it loves art deco (remember its rapturous support for the restoration of Saltdean lido), whether or not it actually understands what it’s looking at.  I have to say, I had expected the display to be in, you know, some sort of gallery rather than what felt like the corridor to the toilets. Many of the photographs on display would probably be bigger in the coffee table book, and that can’t be right.

To Liverpool the following day, taking Mrs. Blog – without too much of a struggle – to see the Reds against West Ham. (How are you expected to fire up your team by singing “I’m forever blowing bubbles”? Just as well they can never come up against the All Blacks and their haka.)

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Quick lads, we need more bubbles…

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After the game, to meet friends in the Philharmonic “dining rooms” on Hope Street – an opportunity to combine very sociable chat with beer and the most ornate pub, and gents’ toilets, in the UK, so they say. Which says something about priorities.

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Ladies, eat your heart out…

 

The Friday night before the game, however, did bring out one of my (yes, OK dear, one of my many) failings. We ate well in an excellent Indian restaurant which we’d visited before on Liverpool’s waterfront. But a deadly combination of over-ordering, over-generous portions, Mrs. Blog’s determination to shed 14 stones in time for our Barbadian holiday, and my own inability to leave anything on my plate, delivered me into what is known in the Blog household as a food coma, scarcely capable of getting back unaided to our hotel. I apologise to those who will wish to remind me that there are others who could have made better use of this bonanza – I recall only too well being instructed at school that I should think of the starving millions and eat up my gruesome lunch: it was never made clear how this helped them.

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Please admire the determined grip on the wineglass…

Believe me, I have tried to leave stuff when full but it isn’t easy. Is that a post-war thing, imposed unwittingly by my parents? I feel the need to allocate blame, you understand, rather than admit greed.

My mother burnt many things into my “world view”. If my brother and I felt full before we’d quite finished our meal, we were told to leave the vegetables and just eat up the meat before being allowed to leave the table – I presume the meat was the part that had cost the money. We were obliged to eat up all the fat on the meat as that was supposedly the part with most of the goodness in, even if it made you feel sick (see previous blog about my cardiac history.) Some of my mother’s “life principles”, I now suspect, may not be true – eating up my crusts, for example, would make my hair curl (I think this was viewed as a positive) – while others are probably very wise (I am now congenitally incapable of running with scissors even if my life depended on it.) I have lost count of the number of comestibles which, I was assured, would put hairs on my chest – this has turned out to be true – but, on reflection, it’s as well Mum only had sons.

Could you help me out here please? I imagine there’s a helpful support group on the web but it would be good to know of any direct experience, to confirm or deny what I have faithfully carried with me since childhood:

  • Does eating tomato skins give you appendicitis?
  • Does too much butter cause jaundice?
  • Eating cheese late in the day automatically means nightmares, right?
  • If you fall asleep leaving the electric blanket on, you get piles?
  • You have to burp your rubber hot water bottle, otherwise, if you squeeze it in the night (and who doesn’t?), the hot water will force its way out? Does anyone know anybody to whom this has happened? Or have we all been suitably careful?
  • There were, I believe, a whole range of activities which would, if pursued, have stunted my growth, which was seen as undesirable.
  • It is dangerous to put on a silly face or cross your eyes on the grounds that, if the wind were to change, “you’d stick like it”.
  • Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.
  • Chewing gum takes seven years to pass through your system.
  • Going out with your hair wet means you’ll catch a cold.
  • Sitting too close to the TV makes you go blind.

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Major surgery just waiting to happen…

I spent my childhood in fear of the consequences of these behaviours and have tried to lead my life accordingly. Mrs. Blog tells me that her mum insisted that, if she shaved her legs, it would encourage the hairs to grow back thicker – I don’t remember this one, but perhaps my mum never caught me at it.

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Should have listened…

I understand that I am not alone. Listening to the talkSPORT channel the other day, along, no doubt, with a million or so white van drivers, I heard of a boy who had been informed by his dad that the French writing on the side of the HP sauce bottle (“Cette sauce de haute qualite…”) explicitly warned on health grounds against its consumption by anyone below the age of 18 – but I expect the father may have had his own motivations for this one.

None of this, I suppose, really explains why I feel under so much pressure to clear my plate at every sitting. Perhaps Mrs. B has it right after all – I’m just greedy.

I will point out that, on the morning following my food coma at the Albert dock, I was in our hotel dining room bright and early to tackle the brunch that came as part of our hospitality package. Mrs. B said she just fancied a coffee but, hey, we’d already paid for the hotel spread. And you just have to knuckle down and battle through it, don’t you?

 

PS   I’ve just finished reading “Unexploded” by Alison Macleod. It contains a paragraph in which one of the main characters reads aloud an extract from Virginia Woolf’s “The Years” with more punctuation than you can shake a stick at. It finishes with the heroic construction:

…. a tide that comes twice a day without meaning?”’”’

How about that? I shall henceforth make it my life’s work to devise a sentence to beat that collection of five successive punctuation marks.

Or I may go and have a lie down. I think I may have just eaten too much…

 

 

 

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