Saturday, 29 December 2018

A Platonic arabesque

An arabesque. Google images

This is likely to be my last post of 2018 and I thought that, in keeping with the festive season's  tradition of immersing oneself in dance through a range of televised shows (as well as live performances of the eternal Nutcracker),  I should write about a couple of those dance programmes broadcast throughout December.  I will not discuss however  the amazing 'Swan Lake' performance by the Royal Ballet , choreographed by Liam Scarlett, shown on 25th December, nor the equally breathtaking An American in Paris, The musical choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and starring former ABT principal dancer Robert Fairchild, also  broadcast on Christmas Day. They deserve a different post.
Darcey Bussell, former star of the Royal Ballet is now the BBC's favourite commentator of anything that relates to dance, thus she appears as interviewer and presenter in all these programmes. She  introduced us to dance in its purest therapeutic form in a documentary  aired on December 2nd on BBC2 and still available on BBC iPlayer.  We were told how dance as a structured activity can help people with mental issues, people with Parkinson's disease, older people now retired who use it to keep well and alert and feel part of a community ( such as the RAD Silver Swans),  and older people with dementia. "I cannot live without dance" said Miss Bussell as she took us on this exploratory journey into dance as therapy. "When I retired I was still able to dance well and this is why I decided to quit"  she said [at age 38 in 2007] adding  that she  missed dancing almost immediately after her last performance,  missed the routine and the company. Eventually she found ways of dancing again without it becoming an obsession, as it had been with ballet. (I will always remember her great performance in The Prince of the Pagodas, which marked her debut).

Silver Swans Factsheet RAD

These are, to an extent, problems that everyone who retires from any profession encounters, but for a ballet dancer retiring at one's peak can be quite devastating -  not having dance in one's life is truly unthinkable. Ballet dancers begin their class routine at an early age and if they show any aptitude and promise continue that routine, increasing the time devoted to training, spending most of their day practising and rehearsing and eventually performing. It takes time, commitment and dedication.
However Miss Bussell still inhabits a dance universe and has become a household name even more so now that she is not a ballerina, through participating as judge in programmes such as Strictly and through her regular TV appearances.  One of her daughters is all set to continue in her mother's footsteps, as indeed she revealed in conversation with Danish ballet star Peter Schaufuss in another dance programme, which was all about the male ballet dancer. This was shown on 26th December and it was quite a treat. Interviews with several male ballet stars were interspersed with footage of greats such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov and more recent ones such as Carlos Acosta and Irek Mukhamedov, the latter two having been Bussell's partners when she danced for the Royal.
I love watching male ballet dancers, I am enthralled by their artistry and athleticism. Whenever a boy takes up ballet you can be assured that there is talent and motivation, more than in the case of girls, who are often enrolled in ballet classes by their mothers and tend to be taken in by the accoutrements - many will drop ballet within a few of years of starting classes. But boys are different. The stigma attached to male ballet dancers has gone and many boys will now regard dancing as 'normal', however  it still takes some guts for a boy to say he wants to do ballet, if no one in his family has been involved in dance.
I was intrigued by the documentaries as they presented two different sides of dance. I fully relate to the idea of dancing at any age and I appreciate the power dance has to bring people together, socially, providing enjoyment and even giving people some confidence - the benefits of taking up dance at any age as an activity are now proven. I also relate to the idea of ballet growing as an art form and forcefully reinstating the presence of a male dancer as more than a virtuoso,  as a true artist , not to be overshadowed by ballerinas, which for a long time had been the norm. I also loved the part of the documentary where in conversation with Royal Ballet resident contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor, Darcey Bussell hints at a new 'ballet body' for men, with movements  performed by both male and female bodies, something that adds flexibility to male dancers' bodies, in the way only female dancers displayed it until recent times.

Wayne McGregor. Photo: Anne Deniau

Strangely both programmes managed to gloss over an aspect of ballet in particular which to me is essential and which is what makes me love it. The discipline of ballet is what draws me to it. I love the fact that you can change your body by working on details, learning to integrate an elegant way of moving with tremendous strength. I love watching a ballet performance but I love watching ballet dancers in class or rehearsing in the studio even more, because it reveals the effort and sweat that goes into refining a ballet performance. I love the way ballet teaches you to fine tune your body and turn it into an instrument of expression and the way it also teaches you about your own limitations and how to overcome them, preserving your uniqueness. It's the eternal quest for perfection - which can never be achieved - which you find in every art form. But ballet offers you an opportunity to tailor perfection to your own body. In an article by Vanity Fair staff writer Laura Jacobs which appeared in Pointe magazine in April 2015, the critic Matthew Gurewitsch is quoted as saying “Whereas high C is high C, an arabesque is the arabesque of a particular body. So a 'perfect,' Platonic arabesque may not even exist." But the perfect arabesque for your body does exist and is something you can strive to achieve.
I will pick this up again in a different post, as it allows the conversation to be broadened. As Laura Jacobs says quoting ballerina Heather Watts "“Perfection is a moving target: Each day you begin anew, trying for a higher bar every time you go out on stage." Food for thought. You can substitute on stage' with every time you go to class. or indeed apply it to other areas of your life.
And on this note I end, wishing you all a very happy , prosperous and perfect 2019.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

When friends cross a line

Euthanasia, sometimes referred to as assisted dying,  is a controversial issue. It is illegal in countries such as the UK but admissible in the Netherlands (Dutch residents only) and a carefully worded provision is also in place in Italy, but only in very particular and most extenuating circumstances.  It is however practised in Switzerland and even non-Swiss nationals and people not residing in Switzerland can avail of it, through organisations like Dignitas. The only requirement is that they should be members and sign a document in which they affirm that they do not wish to have their life prolonged, listing a number of scenarios.
An acquaintance of mine - let's call her Becky  - currently living in the UK , still relatively young, in very good health and very clearly in possessions of all her mental faculties, absolutely not depressed and living her life with zest,  recently decided to join Dignitas, in the event she might find herself in the position where 'dying with dignity' would be her only option.  The way she put it was that it was like writing a will: you do not write a will because you want to die immediately, you write it because you are aware you might die at any point in time and you wish to make some provision for your loved ones.  At least that's the idea.
As Becky  lives in the UK it was necessary for her signature to be witnessed - it is not necessary in Switzerland, but since she is not Swiss she had to do it - so she asked a close friend of hers, let's call her Amanda,  to be her witness. Apparently Amanda  refused and became very angry with Becky for wanting to take such a step. She  told her that she (Becky)  had not understood the import of the document she was signing, that the person Becky had appointed as executor wished her ill, that she had no right to think about ending her life even if she was suffering and there was no chance of  recovery. "Your life is not yours to do as you wish" she told her. This angered  Becky who nevertheless tried very hard to calm Amanda  down, explaining that all she was after was her signature as a witness, she was not imposing her decision on anyone else and she had perfectly understood what the form said, thank you. It made no impact.
Yesterday  Becky called me  to ask me to witness her signature, to which I readily agreed. When she told me this story I did not know whether to laugh or cry. She and Amanda  - now no longer her friend, or at least not a close one -  were in a restaurant when all this happened and ended up having a flaming row, in between courses, while the waiters tiptoed around them,  wishing they would leave. I could just picture the scene. They had even exchanged Christmas presents.  "The last straw" she said "was when Amanda blurted out  that I was doing this because I had not found the love of my life.  If I had I would not be thinking about this. And I always believed Amanda was an intelligent woman". I agreed with Becky that it was a very stupid and inconsequential thing to say.   However when people are angry and running out of arguments they may say very silly things. The best thing is to stop and leave. "I did" said Becky. "I thought that mad woman would be grabbing my form and rip it. I took it back from her, paid my bill and left".
There is much food for thought in this story. First of all, like I said, euthanasia is controversial and perhaps Becky should have asked first how her friend felt about it. You do not expect Remainers and Brexiteers to agree on anything, so don't expect someone dead against euthanasia to support your decision to implement it, even if all they have to do is witness your signature. Then there are these absurd misconceptions that a woman can only find happiness if she finds a man, which is what Amanda ended up saying. I will not even begin to comment on this, it is utterly ridiculous. Third I think it is very wise that people should make their desires and preferences known in case of death and make a will if they have assets and even make known their preferences for their funeral - for example I want to be cremated and do not want anyone at my funeral, when the time comes, and that's that, no crocodile tears and falsities, though I also know once I am dead I will not be in a position to decide anything, death has finality.  Fourth,  if people wish to 'die with dignity' so be it. It's a preference. Fifth,  I believe that friends , if they are true friends,  should be respectful and be aware that  lines must not be crossed.  It is a matter of style and true elegance.
Anyway, Becky now has her form duly signed and witnessed - she came round this morning to do it  and has  sent it off. She is already planning her next trip somewhere exotic  and is certainly not thinking about dying at all, she has not signed to be taken to a booth and be given a lethal injection, it really does not work like that. As to Amanda, it will be a while before Becky feels ready to forgive and forget, which she eventually will, as she does not bear grudges for long. 
And the bottom line is: despite all Amanda's  remonstrances Becky is going to do exactly as she pleases.  Should Amanda not have saved her breath?

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Grey hair: we have come a long way

Me with the 'fake' silver streaks in 1997

When I was forty I decided to stop colouring my hair which was long and dark brown but with very grey roots. I bought some silver spray and for a couple of weeks I went around with silver streaks. It looked good but  fake, as indeed it was. A friend even asked me whether I had been trying to colour my hair light blue!
Then I went to Slovakia to attend a conference - I was a full time academic at that point - and the day before I was due to read my paper I walked into a salon in Bratislava and had it all chopped off. A colleague commented that it was a novel approach to presenting a paper. 
My hair was really short and the grey mingled at once with the dark hair.  It  grew quickly and it looked good with real silver streaks. I had it restyled by my usual hairdresser (I am still a client) and the cut was gorgeous. In those days it was very unusual to embrace one’s grey. I used to be stopped by strangers all the time and people complimented me about my hair. I did not start growing it long  until much later, having been inspired by a commercial for a hair brand in which they featured a model (a ‘real’ woman, as in the early noughties models were only of a particular body shape and age) whose hair almost reached her knees and was an amazing silver colour. 
I never found out who she was but she was a real inspiration to me. My hair grew even longer and by 2007 it was well below my shoulders. I was a newbie model back then and was persuaded by a booker of an agency that no longer exists to cut my hair in a bob to be a kind of Anna Wintour. I remember telling my mum who was still alive that I was unhappy about cutting my hair and her pragmatic answer was "it will grow back". Cutting it was a mistake, professionally. I never booked  any job while sporting that bob. Thus I resolved to let  my hair grow really long and that was it. It became my  'look'. I will not bore you with details of what I did, as a model, after that. I am writing this  post because wherever I go I see that many more women are happy to go grey and they are proud of transitioning. 

Photo: Martin Robinson

Among high profile women there is of course the amazing supermodel  Erin O'Connor who has unabashedly embraced her grey documenting her transition - and transitioning is so difficult - through her Instagram feed (I cannot imagine Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell, who constantly wear wigs, ever doing the same). There is Sarah Harris, editor at Vogue UK, who sports the most beautiful silver hair in the fashion world. And there are countless models with grey hair... 
But there are also many ordinary women who are more than happy to go grey. I was on a bus today and spotted several, all in the midst of their transition. Grey hair is a colour, now, it never used to be. Millennials are so blasé about grey hair. My son's girlfriend, at 37, has grey streaks and she would not dream of colouring her hair. My son is 32 and slowly turning into a silver fox. But it's different for him, he is a guy, there has always been a double standard, OK for men, not OK for women
Who would have thought? In my mother's days going grey was a taboo, you only did it, if you were a woman, after the age of 70. It's different now. Like I said, we have come a long way. Grey hair is so common now as to have become...well, nothing special. This is how it should be.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Financial exploitation of models

Last summer the Model Alliance in New York launched the RESPECT programme, which is meant to safeguard models from sexual and financial exploitation. It is a most commendable initiative and I think a great number of people in the industry will go along with it, especially with regard to the sexual exploitation, in the wake of the #metoo movement. Who would disagree with the idea that models should not be sexually exploited?
Sexual exploitation aside, I am very concerned with the other bit, the financial exploitation of models. Unfortunately, it is rampant. Unfortunately, even progressive brands, purporting to be inclusive, are guilty of it.
What is definitely making things worse is the idea of using real women and real men, in an attempt to fight unattainable beauty standards. That's fine, I am all for it. Except that these real women and real men are actually models doing a job and therefore should be paid. It's not all right for brands to get away with periodic calls for real women, 'our real customers', as they put it, and arrange unpaid photoshoots, with no mention of buyouts for usage. 'We are all on the same side of the fence' they will tell you. 'You will get tremendous exposure bla bla bla'. Except that these brands are businesses, they are not charities. They make a profit and save money on models fees.
I too have modelled for free. I too fell, countless times, for the lure of 'beautiful images for your portfolio' and the chance to be seen. I was a newbie too, unaware of what actually happens when you agree to the use of your image with no time limit ie in perpetuity.
Not anymore. Many new models don't know any better and are so keen on having pictures of themselves put on websites or instagram they will forego payments altogether. 'We do it out of friendship'.  Actually if you model for free you are being exploited. You are declassed to non-pro.
Newbies are so keen they sometimes will tell a casting director they love the job so much, they would do it for free. Never put such ideas into a casting director's head. It's already standard practice that editorials should go unpaid, I am not even sure how or when that happened, but it has, and most magazine editors will happily tell you they have so many people queuing up to be featured, who needs to pay them? Let's not do that for  commercial jobs too.

Mature models are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation. As Grey Model Agency managing director, Rebecca Valentine, says in an interview for the Sunday Post  " My HUGE criticism so far  is the inequality in fees for mature models which have no comparison AT ALL with their younger counterparts. Mature modelling is viewed as a hobby, models should be grateful for being given jobs and the surge in the current Instagram trend that anyone can be a model is having a great impact on this with ordinary people agreeing to do shoots for free for a quick minute of fame. Professional models work very hard across all ages. It is  not a job for the faint hearted."
Let's end the culture of free shoots for brands, even though they may be ostensibly progressive. When you are asked to model please ask yourself  'What's in it for me' apart from the images being shared on social media. Modelling is a job, not a hobby. At all ages.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Ageing disgracefully

The agency I am signed with, Grey Model Agency, has come up with the idea of an Advent Calendar. Twenty-four of its  models are featured in short videos, released on each day in the run up to Christmas on the GreyModelTV  YouTube channel, with a shorter version on Instagram. 
I am number 1, so the video is out today. It may not be immediately clear but one of my tasks is to explain the significance of the number I am associated with. To me 'one' is the self, myself, and this is what I say.
As the video had to be edited to last only a few minutes, some of the answers seem disconnected but one of the things I do  is to query the concept of 'ageing gracefully',  I feel that one has every right to 'age disgracefully', whatever that means.
I do increasingly  feel that the idea of a 'timeless beauty' and the plethora of advice given about  how to age is a bit much and it is putting too much pressure on older men and women. For some it is just about being healthy, a very worthy goal. I certainly would not advocate a life of excesses, but I am loath to  tell people how they should live their lives. From a very young age we are constantly told we should be of this body shape, of this ideal height, of this ideal weight, our teeth should be this luminous shade of white and perfectly aligned, our complexions should be glowing,  our hair name it.  Please give me a break! I do not want to grow old constantly worrying about my looks and feeling inadequate because I  do not match the ideal.
I am now in my early sixties and more than the way I look I am concerned about Alzheimer and dementia for which there are genetic causes as well as environmental ones - I have seen it in my family and it is not fun to witness the decay of a loved one. I occasionally worry about being able to make an informed choice about what to do if I turn out to be affected. I also do consider my limitations  more frequently than I did in my youth and more objectively because whether you like it or not we do not live forever, I would not even want to if it were possible!
Thus I can't help feeling some irritation by what is turning out to be a pressure to age in a certain way.
I think that ageing gracefully and ageing disgracefully are a continuum. sometimes in life we are graceful, sometimes we are not. There should not be any qualifier attached to ageing. We just age.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Victoria's Secret and Savage x Fenty: why Rihanna has got it right

Victoria's Secret is having a hard time. The brand is out of step with the times and frankly I am of the view that any thinking woman should boycott it because the dream it sells is an actual nightmare. It's the twenty first century and this is a lingerie brand whose chief marketing officer Ed Razek - more precisely  he is the marketing officer of LBrands, Victoria's Secret parent company - dared make disparaging remarks about curvy women and transgenders.
Victoria's Secret touts its Angels as athletes. Let's get some perspective. These girls are not Olympians, they are young women undergoing a punishing gym routine and subsisting on near starvation.
The brand  imposes strict measurements for its girls and they are as unrealistic as can be.
 They are out as far as I am concerned.   Can they survive? yes, if they are prepared to make structural changes.
Meanwhile Rihanna's lingerie brand, Savage x Fenty is all the rage, raunchy and inclusive: what women of today want. The launch show was amazing, the ads were a celebration of women of all races, body shapes and sizes.
Victoria's Secret is a lingerie brand. I do not want a lingerie brand to dictate beauty standards. They do have larger sizes, because they need to sell,  but their hypocritical attitude is, to put it mildly, irritating. A brand that thrives on making women feel inadequate will never have my custom. Plus the products are as trashy as can be. Let's not even get into how sustainable they are. They are not. So, girls, what are you waiting for? Do not buy their products.

If you are committed to sustainability you are also committed to inclusivity. There is no other way of putting it. All women have the sacrosanct right to feel beautiful and sexy. Lingerie should be something that allows this feeling. I cannot have a lingerie brand telling me that I am too old or too fat to wear its products. I want organic fibres next to my body. I do no want to have to worry about how my knickers and bras are made and under what conditions.
Mary Hanbury has written a critique of Victoria's Secret commercials  for the Business Insider. It is worth reading.
As the Victoria's Secret annual show nears, on 2nd December, remember this: no brand should ever make women feel disempowered.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Back in Jakarta

I am back in Indonesia, rather, back in Jakarta. It's a short stay, it's  not a holiday and I always seem to choose the perfect time (!)  to come here  as it is the beginning of the rainy season.  Well, I could only manage this trip now, so...
I am tying up a few loose ends in connection with my book project for Bloomsbury and am also consolidating a new one which is still under wraps. All about fashion of course, Indonesian fashion but also global fashion, as the two are intertwined.
I have been interviewing key figures and doing archival work. To avoid the traffic I am staying at a wonderful Gallery, the Cemara Galeri -Museum,  which doubles up as a guesthouse of sort. It's lovely to be there, right in the city centre, in a house that goes back to colonial times, owned by a famous Indonesian poet, Toety Herati.  It's a landmark, as a friend commented and it has a different feel from the usual hotels and homestays.
It always takes me a while to get used to the change of time zone. I still find it difficult to sleep at night and getting up early is a big deal but I am managing.
As my round of interviews will take me to a different part of town next week, in a couple of days I will check out and move into a hotel in South Jakarta, once again to cut down on time spent in traffic jams - the bane of Jakarta.

My host and mentor here in Jakarta is the wonderful Ghea Panggabean, one of the senior most fashion designers in Indonesia. Through her I am learning a lot about fashion and textiles too, which are her passion and which she collects. I love the way she uses the traditional textile patterns and motifs in her work, which is modern in cut and which utilises high quality print rather than the traditional cloth. Being in her studio is quite an experience. I am using her personal archive of photos and magazines for my historical research  but occasionally I double up as a fit model, as I did today. She is preparing her 'offering' to the forthcoming IPMI Trend Show - which I might or might not attend,  it will depend on many factors.  I tried an outfit  on as her regular models were away - it was fun. I wish I could show some pictures but I need to wait until the show is over.
My book on contemporary Indonesian fashion has taken a few years to be completed, this is the final stretch, when the typescript is being  checked and rechecked for errors and photographs are being selected  to match the writing.  Then I can send it off to the publisher and a new round of checks will begin.   I cannot wait to see the finished product, I can only compare this to a pregnancy. And, like a pregnancy it will eventually be brought to term.

Not much else to discuss at the moment, I just wanted to record in my blog my presence here. London does feel very far away though the internet shrinks the distance. Yesterday I took some time off and did what people in Jakarta tend to do on a sunday. I went to the movies, and saw 'A star is born' which I really enjoyed.
Today I am back working in my small office.
I am back in London on 15th November.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Libraries #1

SOAS Library (Photo:SOAS)
Libraries are very important to me, always have been, however my relationship with them is not an easy one. I love them, but I also hate them. I particularly hate them in their digital mode. I have decided to write a couple of posts discussing  this relationship.  Today I shall focus on the negatives.
I have to backtrack. When I left my teaching post in 2013, my employing university did not offer me membership of its library, as it's usually done with staff who retire - I officially took 'early retirement', even though I was way too young to retire from anything. It was a way of quitting, in order to start anew.
To be honest I had no need for membership of that particular university library and did not pursue ways of obtaining it, did not even make enquiries. The library was rather small, located in an area that was not, for me, within easy reach  and  it was not particularly well stocked.
However, I needed library access and my local library was not enough, not even their reference section. I needed Shibboleth - those of you involved in the academy, either as staff or students, know exactly what I am talking about.  As it happens, I maintained a research connection with one of the colleges of the University of London, which was also my alma mater. Through that research link I had full membership of the college library, renowned for its specialist collections and on campus and off campus access to Senate House library . Off campus access meant  I could read as many ebooks and explore all the databases to which those libraries subscribe - and they were many - from the comfort of my home or at the beach or wherever I happened to be. Of course, as an alumna of that college, I already had privileged access, that is, free of charge, to Jstor and Project Muse, also off campus, but since I was regarded as staff - even though I was not on their payroll -  my off campus access to Shibboleth  automatically covered Jstor and Project Muse. And I could also physically borrow books, with a good borrowing allowance.
You never fully realise the value of what you have until you lose the thing.
The British Library, London . Google images

In July this year, the bonanza was over.  Library collections are increasingly becoming digital, replenished with  ebooks rather than new print books. It means that library space can be optimised. But licensing is an issue. To provide access to ebooks libraries have to buy licenses. Off campus access licenses are expensive and  academic libraries in particular,  are choosing to pay for only staff (on payroll) and students, who anyway  pay for such access ten times fold through their exorbitant tuition fees. Suddenly, research staff of a lesser category, such as the one I was in, were not allowed to access databases off campus and when on campus they could only use computer terminals belonging to the college to access such databases, with limited downloading. To add insult to injury the college even sent me a letter saying they were renewing my research associate status for another year and I, as academic visitor,  could join the library for £200 something a year - with no off campus access. Academic visitor my foot, I am still an alumna. It means that until regulations are changed - fingers crossed they will not, but you never know - I can use JStor and Project Muse for free wherever I am! I ain't going to pay £200 plus for it, not if I can help it.
 Overall  this new development was a total disaster. No Shibboleth, either on or off campus. That's tough. I am in the middle of revising the typescript of a book based on research I have done over the past four to five years, to be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019 - hold your horses, I am not yet allowed to give details. It was, for me, a very big deal.
It was imperative I should sort out proper library access. I need to have off campus access to reading material wherever I am and whenever I want to read the particular book or document, which could well happen in the middle of the night. Needless to say,  the books I need are not found at my local library despite the very commendable scheme 'Access to Research'.
What about the British Library? It has everything. Well, almost. Many students, researchers and writers go there, it's a great place to visit and it also happens to be fairly close to where I live - by London standards, that is. However - sorry folks, I know you will not like this - I detest the British Library. Before downloading ebooks, if only temporarily,  became the norm and xeroxing was what students and researchers did in libraries, the British Library charged pretty exorbitant fees for photocopies - still does, for scanning and on demand - and it checked very zealously that you only xeroxed a limited number of pages. They actually did it for you, you could not do it yourself, you had to fill in a request form for photocopying. Now it forbids you to use your own computer to read ebooks in reading rooms (unlike the National Art Library at the V&A),  in case you download them, which is not allowed due to licensing. You must use their own terminals and holy crap, that library is crowded, plus it has ridiculous opening hours at the weekend, which is when people can really devote time to reading. As for physical books, you have to request them several hours in advance of consulting them in the reading rooms and it can take up to two days to get them, the new books are obviously not in the main reading rooms but off site and have to be fetched. It's a system that does not suit me and tends to irritate me, though I fully appreciate why it has to be this way. The bottom line is that I have a reader's pass and hardly ever use it. Still, it is free. That's a relief.

The London Library. Google images

The august British Library not being my ideal choice, I looked at different options then I finally decided to join, for a fee of course, the London Library. It's a great library, another venerable institution, in Mayfair, a prime London location. I will spare you the details of its history, which you can read online.  But I did not join for the events, the beautiful reading rooms and all the accoutrements. What drew me to it was their Catalyst system, in other words their online library access, which is available off site. It does not give me access to all the databases I need - I had to fork out more money to have access, separately and privately, to a specific database which I regard as essential to my work.  But it will do for now. I still need to be able to get hold of particular books which only my alma mater has, so at some point I shall take advantage of the alumni discount and take out a yearly library membership in order to be able to check out a few physical books or read them on campus. I already have access to Jstor and Project Muse - and will make good use of them, don't you worry.
The upshot of this long and convoluted story is to reiterate  that access to knowledge does not come free. and access to ebooks is a very complex issue, involving licenses, copyright and profit, usually the publishers'.  If you are writing a book that requires research (most books do, especially non-fiction, even if they are not meant to be academic textbooks) and have no access to a decently stocked library - which these days means a library with subscriptions to multiple databases -  it's hard to do it. You just have to be willing to give your credit card a workout or use imaginative ways to access books online.  I find this profit driven licensing extremely disturbing. It's going to get worse, as print books are being supplanted by ebooks. At some point publishers should consider offering subscriptions to individuals, but this means bypassing libraries.   It's complex and I can offer no solution.
So this is why I hate libraries: their metamorphosis into digital books repositories and database subscribing bodies is ruled by profit and it differentiates among users.  The British Library model might seem to be a very democratic approach, but forbidding downloads and charging for scanning almost twice the price of the actual book is actually problematic and not good enough for me. I do not like it at all.
My next post will be about what I love about libraries, a trip down memory lane,  because libraries are no longer what they used to be.
By the way this article by Jake Orlowitz is full of great advice about library access! I suggest bookmarking it, I picked up a lot of useful information through it.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Loving my tea

I have turned into a tea drinker. Not that I did not drink tea before, I did. But it was always mugs and tea bags, and if I had to choose I would rather drink coffee. However, my son went to Russia last August and told me that on his long train journey to Moscow from I-forget-which-other-city he had tea served from a samovar. Oh my god, a samovar! It brought back memories, my father used to have a massive silver one, which  was rather ancient - he got it in Turkey in the 1930s.   It would heat up with charcoal but no one at home would attempt to use it  in case we set the house on fire. We just thought it was a bit extravagant to have a samovar, even though, unusually for people living in Italy, we were tea drinkers and could have enjoyed using it if only we knew how to do it safely.
After my son told me about the samovar, I got quite obsessed with the idea of getting one myself and found it on ebay.  It is an old electric samovar with no thermostat, from soviet times, still in working order,  and with a British plug, I tested it. But a samovar for one or two  people is not quite functional, waste of water and electricity really, so I decided to keep it mostly for decoration, and use it on special occasions, when I have lots of guests, which actually means never as I am not the entertaining type. I have to say it looks rather impressive. Ok, but what about my tea drinking?
 All right. I use a teapot, loose leaf tea, a strainer and a second pot filled with very hot water to act as my samovar's substitute. With a samovar you bring the water to the boil, fill a teapot (warmed up by rinsing it with hot water) with strong black tea,  fill the teapot  with a little hot water from the samovar , allow to brew, fill a cup,  refill the teapot with more hot water from the samovar, serve someone else or fill your cup and  drink again. The hot water added to the dark  brew dilutes the very strong tea and makes it more drinkable.  A samovar is perfect for many tea drinkers, that's why you will find it on Russian trains.
I seem to do well with the hot water pot and of course, a tea cosy. Yes,  I went hunting for one, after toying with the idea of making one myself, with my very own sewing machine. Not this time. I found a pretty one for less that £2!
I usually like Earl Grey, which is definitely not very dark and strong, but I might  add a pinch of Assam when I brew my tea, to give it some 'umph'. I do not add milk - I am off milk, completely - but I might add a little honey, very occasionally a slice of lemon or, more usually, just nothing. I love the taste of tea on its own, its fragrance and aroma.
There is also something quite delightful about sitting down with your tray, go through the preparations and savour your cuppa, reading a book or typing on your laptop or just doing nothing but sipping your tea. A good morning ritual, to be repeated in the afternoon, I rather like that.
Did you know that  according to an old English superstition if your tea has a few bubbles it means money is coming your way? I don't actually like those bubbles and I know that they are often due to the way you pour the tea, perhaps from too far above, hence the froth  (or from soap residue, but then you must not wash your teapot with any kind of soap!).

Teapot from China from V&A collection

I also drink herbal tea, or green tea with lemon grass - I buy the latter already mixed, I am a real beginner when it comes to making my own tea brew.
Tea drinking is an art and as such it has to be perfected. I never imagined when I was younger that I would write a panegyric to tea but then how many of us can claim to be exactly the same as when they were younger? Tastes develop and evolve, though I know some people that will say that they have always liked  x or y, 'you just never paid attention'. Never mind.
Let's have a cup of tea.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Syon Park and stately homes

After admiring footage of the Great Conservatory in ITV Vanity Fair I did go and visit Syon Park, I went twice in fact. On my first visit the house was closed to the public, it is often hired out for weddings and photoshoots - if I could afford it I would indeed hire it for a photoshoot, it is ideal.  I was given a ticket for the Great Conservatory and the gardens, and advised to keep it because if I came back during the week they would give me an upgrade for the house. As an over sixty,  I got a concession, so it was not bad.
On that  first visit, on a glorious September afternoon, I chanced on only one other visitor coming away from the Great Conservatory. It was all for me to enjoy - honestly who goes round stately homes on a Monday afternoon, when the actual house is closed? Only nutters like me. But in fact I did the right thing. Viewing house and gardens on the same day is quite time consuming. The Great Conservatory was stunning and it was so nice to sit on a bench opposite the fountain  admiring the classical Cupid in the middle of it and soaking up the sun. The gardens are simply gorgeous.
Syon Park is only a few bus stops from Gunnersbury. It's quite secluded but it is accessible to vehicles and nearby there is a Hilton hotel - I did not check it out but I expect it's a standard Hilton, the plus point being that it is so close to Syon Park.  I wonder whether the hotel guests actually visit the house. There is also a Wyevale Garden Centre, built where the ancient barn was - Syon Park was originally an Abbey - and with a remnant of the ancient wall which is now the entrance to a cafe' /restaurant and facilities. The only snag is that Syon Park  is on many flights route to Heathrow so the noise of roaring engines can be quite distracting and a sharp reminder that this is the 21st century.
The house, redesigned by Adams in classical style, is the ancestral home of the Duke of Northumberland and one of the best preserved stately homes in England, with beautiful paintings, ceilings and varied  art works. A major point of attraction is the bedroom of Princess Victoria (who later became Queen Victoria). Her bed was actually rather small, but I guess a large bed was inappropriate for a young lady, not yet married.

 I saw the house on a thursday afternoon, again on a gloriously sunny day. There were more visitors about but the place was not crowded. The staff were keen to point out artworks and would answer questions. They normally have guided tours on a wednesday but I don't like joining a guided tour on a first visit, I like exploring on my own,  noticing things that I personally find striking. I can go back to Syon Park any time, it's not that I am here on a flying visit. So I might go on a winter day for example and join a tour then. It's not exactly round the corner from where I live, but not so far either. Like Kew Gardens.
England is known for its stately homes and the British have definitely learnt a thing or two about how to turn them into attractions, opening them up to the general public and making some money for their upkeep - something that is not necessarily the case in other countries.  Many of such homes have been taken over by the National Trust and membership of the Trust allows you to get fairly decent discounts on entry tickets. The stately homes - with their state rooms, hence the name - are historic buildings and their history is fascinating, often spanning centuries. Syon Park for example was a Bridgettine Abbey but it was totally destroyed and plundered by Henry the VIII following the break with Rome and later given to the Percy family who owns it to this day (mine is a very  potted history indeed, skipping all the juicy details, you can read about it on the website).

The appeal of stately homes is in their being other wordly, different from our everyday reality.  They signify splendour and are a definite marker of  privilege, whereas today we fancy that we are all equal.  For every lord and lady who lived there, there was an army of servants and various underlings doing menial jobs, including emptying their lordships and ladyships commode chairs. Yet as you visit, you feel a certain closeness to the former inhabitants of those rooms. You almost develop a sense of intimacy, as it hits you  that so and so drank his/her tea there, or leafed through those books on display, or paced those very corridors deep in thought. People, human beings like you and me, lived in those rooms, rested in those chairs and slept in those beds. They surrounded themselves with things they liked. It is a feeling  one does not get, not in the same way, when visiting a museum, where everything is removed from its original location, no matter how many labels there are to provide a context. The only museum that has ever given me the sense of rooms being lived is the amazing Sir John Soane's Museum, at one time his home, right in the heart of Bloomsbury. He was a collector  and the artwork he gathered is crowded in each and every room the way he placed it in there.  Priceless, in every sense.

Back to Syon Park: the American Indian princess Pocahontas, otherwise known as Lady Rebecca Rolfe, wife of tobacco planter John Rolfe, was a guest of the Percy family at Syon House in 1616. A photographic  exhibition inspired by Pocahontas , entitled 'Origins' , is currently on in the foyer, by the ticket kiosk.
So next time you are in London and have a few hours to spare visit Syon Park. Preferably on a weekday.

(All photos were taken by me)

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Vanity Fair and Syon Park

I did promise I'd discuss Vanity Fair and here I am. The ITV series starring Olivia Cooke is underway and so far it seems to have captured rather well Rebecca Sharp who is a very complex character. Will she continue to be likeable, as the series unfolds? Thackeray was always ambivalent about her.
I do not regard Becky Sharp as a feminist character, it is highly incongruous to think of her as a feminist, though she can be and has been  read in a feminist key. She was created by a 19th century man as a comic character, Thackeray envisioned her as an anti-hero, the female equivalent of Barry Lyndon, the subject of another one of his novels. She is mostly a type, an adventuress, an ambitious and unscrupulous woman and a  manipulator.  Thackeray even hints at her as a possible murderess, just as we are never quite sure of her adultery.  No character is ever black and white, in Vanity Fair. Thackeray loves his Becky and makes her perform an  uncharacteristic act of unselfishness, when she finally brings together Dobbin and Amelia by revealing George Osborne's shallowness.
 Talking of ambivalence, I too am somewhat ambivalent about newer interpretations of Becky as a strong role model, a self made woman who uses what in the 19th century was the only way women would advance: marriage, sex and manipulation. Becky is lively and highly motivated, intelligent, indeed, sharp, as she has been aptly named, but terribly  vain too, cruel and abusive - her behaviour to her son is abominable. She is not the kind of woman one would really like to have as a friend, though in her own way she loves Amelia with whom she has been friends from their schooldays. Amelia is her opposite,   the Victorian  'angel of the house' and a rather boring little woman, pathologically obsessed with her husband George Osborne, a cad, whom she worships and who dies early on in the novel, one of the thousands who fell  at the battle of Waterloo.

The film Vanity Fair by Mira Nair (2004) completely reinvented Becky, glossing over her dislike for her son, turning her into a much softer version of herself and giving a happy ending to the story - Becky teams up with  Joseph Sedley, Amelia's rich brother,  and goes to India, which is not what happens in the novel at all, where she indeed teams up with Joseph but in Belgium and eats up his fortune and possibly has a hand in speeding up his death, from which she benefits financially.
Nair magnified all references to India that are present in the novel, giving it a postcolonial and postfeminist slant. Reese Witherspoon who starred in the  film was a delightful Becky, with a hint  of southern belle à la Scarlett O'Hara, though her diction was impeccably English, thanks to her coach.
Olivia Cooke  is lively and brings out Becky's sexiness. She is a girl who wants to have fun. Rawdon, her gambling aristocratic husband comes across, in Nair's film, and also in the ITV series,  as less stupid than what Thackeray makes him out to be, a little more articulate and feeling.
 Thackeray's novel is a penetrating and unrelenting satire of his contemporary Victorian society. With due changes, it is still relevant today, as class, appearances and social climbing  have not ceased to  matter, only we do it in a different way.  Thackeray tells us “This is Vanity Fair. A world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having.” And this is , essentially, the enduring message of the book and what makes it  relevant.

The Great Conservatory at Syon Park where much of the ITV/Amazon  series was filmed. Image from Syon Park website

I have re-read this classic novel and am eagerly watching the series.  One of the highlights of the series for me was to discover Syon Park,  where much of the filming has taken place. It's also wonderful to walk around Russell Square, Warren Street, and other places mentioned in the novel and feel somewhat transported back in time.
Syon Park is really worth a visit and I plan to go at the weekend.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Books, books, books

Ever since I took up dressmaking I have been ‘reading’ more fiction. How is that possible? Easy peasy. I listen to audiobooks. I will not bore you with details of my unsteady progress in the art of making clothes, I am still getting acquainted with my sewing machine, often addressing it directly and swearing profusely - I never knew I had internalised such a complex vocabulary of profanities, they seem to gush out of their own accord when I get really angry, like when I nearly stitched my own finger!  It’s a bit touch and go, though I have managed two simple skirts which I will probably never wear and a totally useless pinafore made out of some embroidered scrap of fabric.
Anyway as I try to stitch seams there is nothing more pleasing than listening to a wonderful tale narrated by a skilled actor.
And so it is that I have been listening to Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller and Vanity Fair, by Thackeray - the new ITV series sent me straight back to the book, one of my very favourites.
Circe  is a great take on the ancient Greek myths, from a female perspective  though I  would not call it feminist, as some reviewers have done.  Circe, daughter of the god Helios, is not as beautiful as her sisters and sounds like a mortal, with a voice that   the gods despise. But she has a special gift, she is adept at pharmakeia, the science of herbs and plants, hence magic and witchcraft, which even the gods fear.  
The story of the Minotaur, of Jason and the tragic Medea, are retold sensitively and with newer twists by Circe - the book is narrated in the first person. But the most interesting part of the novel is taken up by  Circe's relationship with Odysseus who stayed with her for many years while trying to return to Ithaca and then that very difficult myth cycle whose main actors are  Telemachus, son of  Odysseus, Penelope, wife of Odysseus, and Telegonus, son of Odysseus and Circe, whom Odysseus never knew of having fathered.  The myth sees Telegonus, brought up by Circe on Aeaea, her secluded island, go to Ithaca in search of his father, Odysseus, whom he had never met. When in Ithaca he accidentally kills Odysseus, who does not recognise him,  and then goes back to Aeaea, taking both Telemachus and Penelope with him.  Circe gives them immortality and subsequently marries Telemachus, whereas Telegonus marries Penelope.  Greek mythology is full of incest tales, Hera and Zeus were brother and sister as well as husband and wife.  

Odysseus and Circe Etruscan vase, Museum of Parma, Italy

Madeline Miller does not dwell on the marriage of Penelope and Telegonus, turning instead Penelope into an apprentice witch,  still a mortal, on Aeae.  And it seems that by taking  Telemachus - a man well over thirty when he and Circe meet - as her lover and partner Circe, who is an immortal divinity and therefore forever young, also chooses to take on mortality. So in Miller's retelling, Circes swaps her divine immortality for human mortality; the other three continue to be mortals.
Overall, it's a clever way of handling a very difficult subject, as to our contemporary sensibilities incest is unacceptable, turning the tale into one that speaks to us today.  Miller's Circe is, predictably, an exemplary single mother, a goddess who is always more like a woman than a goddess - in contrast, her sister Pasiphae is depicted as a capricious and heartless creature, quite unbelievable as a character.  But it's just a tale, there are no gods, we know that gods symbolise our fears and terrors and Miller is a consummate storyteller.
There were times when the prose was a little too purplish for my liking but  I enjoyed listening to the story of Circe and a retelling of the Odyssey in which Odysseus is revealed in all his faults and cunning. Miller includes the stories of Odysseus after his return to Ithaca, and in her depiction he seems to be a returning soldier suffering from PTSD.
As for Vanity Fair, I will write about it in a subsequent post. I am still listening to it and of course, I am watching the series.  A very modern tale, that's what I will say for now. 

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The bane of audioguides

I found myself doing touristy things in London, after a visit from relatives who were really bent on doing the royal courts tour - Tower of London, Windsor, Hampton Court and of course Westminster Abbey. I accompanied them, it would have been rude not to and even enjoyed a boat trip to Greenwich though it was too late in the day to visit Cutty Sark, a personal favourite.  
I have done the London attractions ad nauseam throughout my very lengthy stay but some of these I had not seen in years, decades even. Alas, the weather was not kind, so Hampton Court was a bit of a disaster - no one wants to wander in the maze when it rains. But the gallery was fabulous and it had my favourite painting, a self portrait by the wonderful Artemisia Gentileschi.

Artemisia Gentileschi 'Self portrait as allegory of painting'

My companions were quite addicted to audioguides, I took them when their price was included in the ticket but then promptly switched them off, quickly  growing tired of them.
I dislike audioguides. I know that some museums go out of their way to provide a quality visitor experience through their audioguides - for example the British Museum for the Defining Beauty exhibition (2015) had a recorded conversation among experts and artists in connection with specific exhibits, but by and large I am one of those who believe there should be as little distance as possible between you and the art work you are viewing. your experience of it is paramount. 
Audioguides make you lazy. First, if you go to  an exhibition with someone it's nice to be able to comment on what you see. It does not have to be a clever remark or a display of erudition. If you are  glued to your audioguide there is no chance of conversation. Personally, I much prefer to go to exhibitions on my own first, and then maybe with someone else on a second or third visit. I like savouring my first encounter with the exhibits.  It's the result of years spent in museums doing research, when I was still involved with art as a researcher. 
With audioguides, of course, you are basically told what to see and in what order, which again I dislike tremendously because I like stopping by what catches my attention and then , with the aid of curatorial labels, a little prior knowledge acquired through reading before venturing to the gallery or location,  and a catalogue ( which I like, I am a sucker for catalogues) I engage in creating a narrative of my own. 
Audioguides turn you into a passive consumer of art and culture, whereas no reliance on audioguides forces you to be more active, more engaged.
Some of my best  experiences have been  in museums where even the curatorial labels were rather mysterious, relaying as little information as possible about the artefact on display. It forced me to question and patch things together and it made me really alert and inquisitive.
Why do we go to museums and visit attractions? it's a question that has been bugging me  for a while. Is it to say 'I have been there' and post a picture on instagram?  Some visitors, having bought a pass to see as many attractions as possible, run from sight to sight to try and recoup the money. I don't think it even matters to them what they are seeing. 

As I was writing this, I got some images through WhatsApp from my son who is spending in Kiev his last day of his tour of Russia and bordering countries . He is, like me, a fan of Bulgakov (I adore Master and Margarita) and has been to visit his house, where  The White Guard is  set in, sending me an image of the original typescript of Master and Margarita and telling me under the image "This is the original". Of course you can also see my son's shadow as he takes the picture, as the original draft  is protected by glass. At first I thought "Damn, you have ruined the picture". Then I thought that actually by having his shadow on it he has created a rather unique picture. He truly sent me a record of his own experience of Bulgakov's house.
I am trying not to be envious. Russia is the first foreign country I ever visited, when it was still USSR. I learnt Russian and spoke it to a reasonable standard, but my son beat me to it, learning Russian in school to a high standard and then travelling a few times to Russia and acquiring fluency.
So now I am thinking I am not to be outdone and my next trip will have to be to Moscow and then Kiev.
Poka poka.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Not quite dead: on blogging and dressmaking (again)

From a lookbook for CentralSaintMartin's students, Swarovski competition 2017

Let me tell you at once: my blogging has not come to an end. I thought I should make my position clear because I have been reading here and there that blogging is dead.
I started blogging eight years ago, nine if you count my guest posts on a blog that used to be written by an art model based in the US who went by the name of Unbearable Lightness.
 Blogging was no longer a novelty back then and it was already in the process of being co-opted,  some bloggers had already begun the monetising process, with sponsored blogs.  I toyed with the idea of getting sponsorship,  then rejected it. I had started my blog as an art model and my early posts were littered with photos of myself as an art model. Unashamed self promotion. As my modelling developed and I branched out into different areas of modelling, being eventually signed by Grey,  my images changed too. But, mostly, I used my blog as a kind of 'public' journal and I continue to do so. I was never great on comment response and after a while the interactive quality of the blog died out. Some people do read it with 1,202663 since it began, the blog is listed on Bloglovin and I have a handful of followers.  It is also linked to my website.
I have to admit that I have considered  stopping, in the past couple of months,  I was so busy with a writing project I had little time to blog. But something tells me there is no need to stop, I am not harming anyone by blogging and doing it gives me focus and helps me to get a few ideas together for other kinds of writing. I look forward to my first ten years of blogging, it will be something to celebrate, a chunk of my life online! Much blogging has now been  superseded by Instagram. I do post on Instagram but it does not feel as good as blogging...
The last month has been weird. I did a short spell as a juror and was glad to see the back of it. Then I managed to complete my book on contemporary fashion in Indonesia, now with the publisher and series editor - I eagerly await their feedback. It will be out in 2020, perhaps slightly earlier - I am not quite sure, I have managed to complete it ahead of schedule.

Now I find myself in a strange place. I can't really say my book project is over because I will need to rework it  as soon as I receive the typescript back, with comments. But I am not working flat out on it as I was earlier. I had a routine of waking up at 5.30 am and being at my computer by 6.30.  Now I still  get up that early and then I feel a little lost. What I most regret was that while we were having a most amazing summer I was cooped up indoors, all windows open, a fan on,  just typing away. But I am having a short holiday, at the end of the month, just a few days in Ibiza, I need to be on a beach, whereas from tomorrow I will be doing all sorts of touristy things in London as my sister and brother in law are visiting. The absurd incompetence of the people that issue the London Pass is something that deserves a post of its own! After various email exchanges, scanned proof of this and  that,  we hope to resolve the problem in person at the Leicester Square office. I almost felt tempted to cancel the purchase but it does provide considerable savings, so I shall count to ten, take a deep breath and deal with the London Pass people  in person, armed with statement, card, passport and anything else they need to verify ID.

 I am taking up dressmaking and have begun to practise - I said i would a little while ago. I have made myself the solemn promise  that within a couple of years I will no longer buy new clothes, I will wear the ones I make myself.  Before getting started on the sewing machine I am going to learn hand stitching properly. I have begun with alterations and repairs and have found old clothes tucked away in a suitcase which I did not remember having at all.  Some are quite nice. What was I thinking? Why did I hide them?  A few will be good once reshaped. Over the next few days I shall be also be visiting charity shops to pick up fabrics and old dresses I can play around with.
Inevitably this blog will discuss my adventures in dressmaking. I can't wait to show off my achievements (and share my failures). There are many blogs out there with plenty of tips on how to get started. I particularly like Sew Seamless by Elena Cresci.
Here's to a new beginning. Watch this space, in a couple of years I might launch my very own collection.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Jury service in the 21st century

I have completed my jury service and I have to say I am immensely happy about the way it has ended. I was not even called upon to give a verdict. On what would have been the second day of deliberation, the trial was dismissed by the judge as apparently new evidence had emerged. There will be a new trial and thus all jurors were discharged even before their two obligatory weeks of service - ten working days -  were over.
I am glad at this turn of events not merely because I am back to my normal life, as far away as possible from courts - I was never drawn to the legal profession, unlike other members of my family, and the court environment definitely does not appeal to me at all.  I am glad because I have serious reservations about the jury trial system and felt very uncomfortable being involved.
I had never served as a juror before and was never implicated  myself in a criminal case, thus I never really gave much thought to the jury system as a whole, until I was summoned, that is. I was not keen on doing it but I reckoned I should get it out of the way and so while everyone else was enjoying the amazing summer we are having, going to parks, perhaps swimming and soaking up the sun, there I was cooped up in a court room which mercifully was air conditioned - I also noticed that because of the heat, judge and barristers dispensed with their wigs. I did not serve at the Old Bailey and that was already a good thing, the trial  could have lasted weeks, the Old Bailey is famous for trying the most notorious criminals!
 I have now had enough experience of jury service to be able to say that as it is in place  in the UK, and in this day and age, it is totally unnecessary, a remnant of the past which should be reformed, if not abolished altogether.
Jurors, believe it or not, are not given any training whatsoever, apart from being shown a video and being constantly told that they must not research the case when sitting on a trial and whatever they hear , as also their deliberations, is secret.  They are asked to use their common sense when reaching their decision but they do not have to give reasons for it, which is frankly absurd.
Trials with jury are very expensive and cost taxpayers a huge amount of money because they are held at Crown Courts, not the cheapest of courts.  But  jurors do not get paid, which is really bad, especially for self employed people. It is an important point because when you think about the amount of money the legal teams  involved in a trial and all the other legal personnel are paid, it seems greatly unfair that jurors should receive no compensation, especially since jurors are the people entrusted to  give the verdict (I am also not very keen on the legal aid system as it is either, a lot of taxpayers money is being wasted on it, but I shall discuss this in another post).
Unbelievably, jurors are not required to have any educational qualification, so you often find jury panels with lovely people who are however not very articulate and frankly unable to grasp not just the legal arguments , which are very complex and which the judge always patiently explains in plain English when summing up, but also what it is that they are called upon to do as jurors. People that rather than look at the evidence start speculating about circumstances which are irrelevant. Or people who insist on asking the judge all sorts of questions which by their nature reveal their poor grasp of the matter at hand as in the now (in)famous Vicky Price case.  Or people that do not quite understand that defence counsels are paid to do their job and discuss a defence strategy with their client - they are there to get an acquittal, just as the Prosecution is there to get a conviction.
Defendants and witnesses lie, being under oath is no guarantee. Or they may recall events differently. You have to be able to follow the cross-examining attentively  and need to sift through the evidence very carefully  or you might miss vital clues. So it might help jurors to have access to recordings of the trial while deliberating to review important statements as they were given.
My main contention is that jurors should be properly trained, the way magistrates are. It should be a voluntary position, not a duty, jurors should apply to do jury service, rather than being summoned at random from the electoral register and a legal professional, such as a judge, should sit with the jury and help the jury reach their verdict as they indeed do in other countries, such as France and Italy. Reasons should be given for the verdict, it totally beats me that this is not a requirement, because frankly the way things are we might as well draw lots.
I am including here a video of Professor John Spencer in which he discusses why juries should be reformed, at the very least.

I would like to insert here one of the comments left under that video, it truly resonates...(typos in the original have been corrected)
"Everything that this man has said is so true.... in the United States as well. Unfortunately, many people don't see this because they rarely have the opportunity to experience the justice system first hand. I've tried over 300 criminal jury trials, and with every additional trial that I have in front of a jury, I become more and more convinced that the jury system is fatally flawed (for many of the reasons stated in this video). I recently tried a case involving the amazing work of a police dog. I am convinced beyond any doubt whatsoever that the police dog was more intelligent than any of the 12 jurors individually, and it is more likely than not that the dog's intelligent quotient was higher than the  sum of all 12 jurors combined. I challenge anyone to go to your local Walmart at midnight and pick 12 people at random. That is typically the quality of any given jury which one will see in the vast majority of criminal jury trials"
I rest my case. 

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Body neutrality and body positivity: the older body

Photographer: Willem Jaspert 

I read with great interest the article  by Anna Kessel in The Guardian of 23/07/18 about the rise of body neutrality. It would seem that  'body positivity' has been fully co-opted and is being used, in subtle ways, to stigmatise fat bodies - I am using the word fat as this is being reclaimed by the advocates of body neutrality.   Apparently body positivity has its own beauty standards, such as a body that is not above a size 16. And a young body at that.
Let me at the outset clarify my thinking about size.  I believe that being overly fat (or cadaverously thin) is unhealthy  - reports of an increase in obesity among UK schoolchildren are very worrying and much is being made of the recent sugar tax introduced by the Government, as a measure to reduce the increase in obesity, although opinions on whether it will work are divided.
When is being fat to be regarded as unhealthy? When the excess weight prevents you from enjoying life. It is a vicious circle. Many fat people hate their bodies and will be caught up in a cycle of binge eating and restrictive dieting, none of which are positive in the least. They may feel too shy and ashamed to join a gym because of their size even though physical activity is what they need to feel good about themselves and their bodies.  They may avoid going for walks precisely for the same reason.

But stigmatising fat people and fuel their  self-hatred because of their excessive weight is very wrong, no better than stigmatising mental illness. I  have never been fat, so as Plum, the heroine of Dietland says "you don't know what it is like to be in my body". Touchée.  Maybe I should keep all these thoughts to myself...
The reason why I feel compelled to write about 'body neutrality' is because the body positive movement (or shall I just  call it 'body neutrality' now?) has not done enough for older bodies. Now this is something I can definitely comment on  because my body is old.
In her article for the Time of 25/07/18 Amy Keller Laird talks about the invisibility, especially of Gen X women -from 30 to 50. In a similar vein Alyson Walsh wrote for The Guardian last year  about the lack of middle aged models in fashion,  though a couple of weeks ago  she thought that now  middle aged models are visible, look at Jodie Foster  (celebrity actor, rather than model) in Porter, the magazine of Net-à-Porter.
I would include my decade too, the women in their 60s, in this invisible cohort. Yes, we have Baddie Winkle, Iris Apfell, even Daphne Selfe, now 90, but it seems that some 'judicious' visibility only comes if you are over 70 and if your body matches a stereotype of old age, of which frailty is essential. You can be stylish and elegant but you have to be frail. There are very few exceptions to this rule - Maye Musk, not frail looking at all, is one of them.
Where are the strong over 60 women? Why do we not see someone like Tessa Sanderson, Olympic gold medal, 62 years old , now signed to Grey Model Agency,  but who has not yet appeared in any major campaign? Is it because she is black? is it because her body is too athletic?

The beautiful Tessa Sanderson photographed by Wendy Carrig

I could mention many women over the age of 50 who are still at their peak, for example ballet dancer Alessandra Ferri  now 55, still dancing major roles.
I am tired of seeing stereotyping in every nook and cranny of the fashion and advertising industry.
I worked on a commercial for UNstereotype Alliance to celebrate its first anniversary. Entitled The problem is not seeing the problem  the short film tried to expose some of the most common stereotypes in the industry. I had a cameo role and can be seen in the background as an older woman showing off her physicality - performing stretches, splits etc. The stereotype I performed was that of an older lady, with reading glasses, knitting, gardening and using a zimmer frame. It did not make it in the final cut.
The commercial brought home to me that this is what I can expect in terms of participating in more commercials in the next few years - I am the old lady! My question is : why should I be ashamed of my body and make it look frail?
I have taken up again art modelling because  it empowers me. My body is not young but it is strong and flexible. I feel blessed to have been able to reach my age and  find that my body has not failed me in any way.
I am not the only one. It is time we should celebrate older bodies.

My interview for Magdalene  is out! Huge thanks to Intan Febriani