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“She’s a game bird.” I overheard someone saying this recently. No other phrase creates more nausea within me. Well, aside from the classic “Let’s have a giggle”. Eurgh. It’s worse when you give thought to what such a seemingly harmless little phrase actually means. Game is an ‘object of pursuit’, with fair game being ‘something equally accessible by any legitimate participant’. It derives from the grouse hunter’s expression to identify a bird that is a legitimate target as opposed to a bird that is injured, or too young. When that ‘bird’ in question is a woman, well, there’s the nausea again.

In my mind’s eye I cringe at hawing and hooraying middle-aged men in pastel linens, winding down with a sloe gin in an Agatha Christie-esque parlour of some vast country estate after a long haul on the grouse fields, his eye on the next target – Florence, someone’s cousin. (Must stop watching all this ITV3.) But, naturally seems as I live not in the country but Birmingham city centre, the fella I overhead making the “she’s a game bird” statement was not in fact a middle-age country gent but a lad in his late teens sporting a sort-of quiff. His friend wore red cords and a smart blazer. There was a cravat present.

It’s striking how this trend in young men’s – and ladies’ – fashion has really taken hold of the great British public. First came the renewed thirst to dress like young Sloanes after the success of Made in Chelsea. Cue Jack Wills, ‘outfitters to the gentry’, sprouting up all over the place – yes, even not-exactly-Oxbridge Birmingham. So I suppose it is only natural that we are now seeing this strange rise through the ranks, if you will, to an upper class of aspirational dressing. A movement that is resulting in the incongruous (and really quite humorous) combination of 18-year-old lads dressed in sat round the local Wetherspoons resembling the head of some old aristocrat in neckerchiefs, waistcoats and loafers-with-no-socks. Likely topped off with a quilted jacket, or tweed if you’re that way inclined.

It’s not hard to see why this look is so popular. I should know, I subscribed to Tatler to a year. (Yes, I know – but I was curious). It’s a bit of fun. And it’s nice to see people looking so smart – much preferable to the full-on tracksuit look – even if it is just as equally ridiculous (arguably more so).

But I digress – it dawned on me after overhearing the ‘game bird’ phrase that in all my 32 years I’ve never eaten game meat. Clearly, I’ve led a sheltered life. It’s strange though, as I’m not exactly unadventurous in my eating and I’m often found in a restaurant these days. Game has cropped up on the menu and in my psyche on numerous occasions. But my abstinence is not a conscious decision based on the blatant sexism (and accompanying nausea) that has infected my perception of game meat. But rather, an (until now) unconscious aversion based on what it represents to me about the sticky issue of social class.

pigeon  edit 2Growing up in north Birmingham there wasn’t much call for game. It was a truly alien concept. I remember, not all that long ago, hearing about fashionable restaurants serving pigeon and my immediate reaction was: food has gone mad. Eating pigeon? Never. The worst I’ve done to a pigeon is chase it… I don’t want one on my plate. Most of them are mangled and diseased-looking with one eye and half a leg. Of course, what these restaurants are serving are not the city pigeons we all love to hate, but wild wood pigeon. Thinking about it, what’s the difference? The wood pigeon’s diet can’t be too far removed from that of their city relatives – so what if they supplement their seeds with a bit of our rubbish…isn’t that what pigs do? And my, do we love our pork!

I think I’d rather take a chance with a city pigeon than dice with dental disaster – who wants a mouthful of lead? – and, in the process, continue to not buy into the stale elitism that today’s game ‘sport’ culture represents. Members – provided you understand all manner of weird rules and codes – of a selective club, wealthy enough to be able to shell out thousands to kill birds for pleasure.

It all seems a bit barbaric and unnecessary. While I can understand the argument that game sport isn’t any more barbaric than rearing a bird in a disgusting factory to be killed, the altogether unwholesome social barbarity of fun-seeking toffs paying through the nose to shoot at animals for sport is something this diner just can’t stomach. But ridding our cities of the pigeon scourge – wouldn’t that be a good thing? A useful thing?

We could get them out of the guns out of the grouse fields and into our city centres for public service shoots. Then we could have a Digbeth Dining Club pigeon burger stand, inspired by this Rentokil pestaurant. Can you imagine…armed men in plus-fours running around town? Paying women and small children a pittance (this does actually happen) to beat the pigeons into flight?

No, neither can I.

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Life has begun to feel like I am sort of auditioning for one long YouTube video. I’ll be alone, say, in an empty windowless corridor or in the bathroom. But when I speak and move, I edit myself as though I am being watched, More specifically, I am picturing myself as if I am on film. Even down to my thoughts – often, I’ll be talking to myself in my head and if mid-thought I stumble over my virtual words, or think the wrong word, my brain will go back and re-run the thought as if I were saying it aloud. To an audience. Why can’t I be myself with myself any more?

I’m not quite sure how I let this happen. I’m not exactly a performer, there is certainly no unrealised desire in me to be famous, to be seen. I prefer to be alone. You could argue, quite rightly, that writing a blog is a performance. But clearly the appeal for this writer is that I can always edit.

tv sketch editI’m sure I can’t be the only one who has noticed themselves doing similar. Ringing any bells? Although I’ve been thinking about this only recently, I know it’s something I have been doing for a long while. And I blame the television! A pretty easy target. But, worryingly – or rather, not worryingly at all in this day and age – my TV is always on. It literally is a member of the family, a friend. Well, come on, friends – we have several. And so with 30 years of such indoctrination is it any wonder that we are constantly putting on a show. We’ve been practising all our lives – almost trained to act like we’re being watched. Like it or not, it’s not just the actors behind the screen – somehow, we have all become performers.

It must be even more intense for the younger lot or perhaps – not that they will have noticed. It will have been this way for their whole lives. For this generation TV isn’t so much influential as dictatorial. A guide for a life in front of the screen. Even on the most basic level, there’s always the threat of someone taking your photo. Then there are the bigger, inescapable eyes of Big Brother, watching our almost every move. And now, with social media, we are always being watched.

It’s exhausting! And not just the show, remembering to check your words and your outfits. No, there is the vast mental effort needed to consider, and the impact this performance has on our self-esteem. Our ideas about life in general. With so much visual competition there’s a lot to learn from, to inspire and challenge us to improve and grow, yes. But we have all set up an outer image of ourselves – the persona we want the outside world to recognise us as, the persona we want to convince ourselves that we are, even in private – and how can we constantly live up to that? It’s as though we are measuring up to a hologram.

I recognise this because I know it is something I do in myself. As a teenager I had created a persona that I never let myself switch off from, even once the bedroom door was closed and it was just me (and the TV), because I wanted it to be real. Laughably, that aspirational figure was very much based on Bridget Jones. Somehow, the constant pretence made it more believable. It was comforting to pretend.

Remember those poignant words of William W. Purkey? You gotta dance like there’s nobody watching. I’m wondering, are we actually capable of this anonymity anymore? Or has the mantra turned on its head? You’ve got to dance like somebody is watching, because there most likely is – even if it’s just in your head.

I came across an article recently about what was referred to as the great illusion of the self. Of what little of it I understood, there seems to be a growing argument among psychologists that we – or rather ‘you’ – are not the person you thought you were, underneath it all. And with this in mind, maybe there isn’t any real harm in pretending. Besides, what greater comfort is there?

Being angry is fun. I actively enjoy it (sometimes), although I understand that there must be consequences, as with most things. But I think getting a bit angry is good for us – wouldn’t you agree?

Wider society is impossible – on the one hand it wants us to feel empowered, express ourselves and yet we popularise some means of getting to those places and berate the exhibition of the other, less palatable means. Like anger.

sci fi bold cropped plainThe unavoidable thing is, we all have rage lurking inside us somewhere. We just do. And what is wrong with that? It’s a natural emotion, just as the fluffier Love and Lust are. Life is a hot bed of drama. It’s silly to think we all go around being happy and compliant all the time, how could we? We each make small compromises daily. Small compromises that build into layers and layers of anger. Imagine the cover of some warped sci-fi book. That’s you. There’s your anger. There’s only one place for it to go if you are to survive – out. (Think Alien. Apologies for another tenuous sci-fi reference). Surely, when that time comes it’s much better to unleash it and get it over with, harness that self expression and empowerment, and get back to everyday life afterwards un-scarred.
When I think of anger, I often think of modern consumerism. This, it seems to me, is the one place where anger is accepted, expected even, in our culture. And it’s training us how to be angry.

As we navigate ourselves more confidently in the commercial world – becoming more consumer savvy, more active – we become more confident at being angry with institutions and their representatives when things go wrong, when we feel let down as a consumer. This trains us to be angry in a controlled way. Yelling on the phone to British Gas (or some other energy company!) (although this did happen to me – I was the yeller) when they mess up your bill for the fourth time and then change your payment amount without your permission is now an acceptable thing to do (ish). They are in the wrong, and you are alerting them to that fact. Better that, surely, than grumbling sheepishly and then you end up somehow apologising to them and as a result feel even angrier about the whole thing, blowing up at your boyfriend three months later when he puts the tupperware in the wrong cupboard.

Getting angry saves a lot of bother and frees up to time to exercise other emotions, do other things. Life’s too short to keep that volcano closed for business. Plus it can be a bit fun – go on, admit it. That adrenaline release. It’s like you’re on a roller coaster – which you are in a way, a social one.

Of course, it’s not ladylike is it? Rage. Such labelling of appropriate emotions for women is exactly the kind of thing that makes this woman, well, angry. There are clearly some of us don’t seem able to manage our emotions. Obviously this is the key. I’m not recommending we all descend into abandon and give into murderous urges. But for those of us who are able to exercise a modicum of control maybe it’s time to loosen that lip, come over a bit Brazilian and allow yourself to be angry for a day. It could do you some good to let the steam out the volcano.

We all have embarrassing habits, don’t we? Googling yourself regularly. Slathering on antibacterial hand gel every time you touch someone for fear of their likely germs. Secretly listening to One Direction every morning (the latter not one of mine).

Is there anything worse than admitting an embarrassing habit? Yes – not noticing said habit in the first place, and carrying on doing it obliviously. Which is what I’ve been doing, subconsciously, for years. Forever. Only last week did I finally notice this particular habit – my saving grace being that at least it wasn’t pointed out to me by my boss, my mother, a member of One Direction.

I mimic people. I just can’t seem to help it. Not in a comic way – I’m no actress and, anyone will tell you, I can’t do an accent to save my life. No, it’s more of a social reflex. Something we all probably do to some extent – to demonstrate our apparent attentiveness, to make other people feel special, comfortable (or uncomfortable) – reflecting others back to themselves during conversation. Mimicking their body language, intonations of voice and facial expressions in our own body, voice and face. I know this isn’t exactly some kind of breakthrough observation; most of us are capable of doing this when we want to, or when social convention dictates we have to. But the somewhat embarrassing difference with me is that I can’t seem to control mine. I wish I could switch it off! But no, I’m mimicking in every conversation I have. If the girl at the supermarket counter happens to be from Yorkshire, my response will slip out in a Yorkshire accent without me even realising I’m doing it. The worst is crying – people are always setting me off.

I’ve talked before about my attachment to women’s magazines. Perhaps being under their influence for so long has affected me. All those articles you read about how your body language betrays your innermost feelings – about men, mainly. Mimicking a potential mate by stroking your face when he strokes his reveals that you fancy him. Cringe! It’s as if I’ve not read these articles properly and have extended this behaviour to all of society…what an indiscriminate hussy I am.

Even now that I’m aware of it, and riddled with embarrassment by it, my face-matching continues. In fact, if anything it’s stepped up it’s game. I’m watching people even more closely now, as though I’ve got my own social interaction survey going on – only no-one knows they’re being surveyed. Ethics of this survey aside, it is revealing. Because the thing is, when other people do the mimicking thing I’m noticing that they are usually incredibly insincere with it. You can see their face working in a calculated effort to get what they want out of people. Whether that’s getting them onside, extracting information, testing out difficult waters. It is embarrassing to watch. Painful, even. I really hope I am not such a ham actor.

I’m considering another little experiment, actually. Using my mimicry as a superpower for social good by tackling the everyday rudeness we all endure from total strangers in our lives, and throwing it back in their faces. A gentle Batman for polite society, if you will.

Not giving an inch on the pavement when a stubborn individual enters my path, demonstrating just what chaos will ensue should one of us not budge.

Storming, literally, through the bus queue and sending all and sundry flying like bowling balls in my wake.

Hmmm…another embarrassing habit seems to have revealed its ugly head. Getting too angry at things…

Despite myself, I seem to be crying more than one should – at the television. I’m not much of a crier away from the screen. Yet there I am, wailing at the sight of an abandoned dog in one of those harrowing fundraising adverts. Sobbing during a local news item about an elderly war veteran robbed by thugs.

Why is it that I am so ready to open the floodgates in front of strangers I neither know nor care about on the television, but run a mile at the thought of exhibiting an uncomfortable emotion, admitting a vulnerability, to the actual people in my life? Well of course, I’m certainly not unique in this unhealthy behaviour, the roots of which aren’t exactly rocket science. It’s dramatically less hassle unleashing your inner emotions via some (seemingly) unrelated incident involving a small child and a rare disease on the news, rather than admitting your fears directly to a loved one. This is why counselling is so effective. Well, that and counsellors are trained professionals… your tv isn’t exactly going to pipe up with some coping techniques to offer you.

At home, the tv is always on. Critiquing what we’re watching takes on a real importance and, as the years go on, I find I’m over-relating with tv in general. It’s like I actually know the characters in The Big Bang Theory, that they really exist. I’ll have full-blown conversations about them – sometimes, when I visit my parents, we will speak more about what’s happened on the tv than we do about events in our own lives. And with real seriousness.

I consider myself a member of a generation for whom it is still considered a little anti-social, embarrassing – downright ridiculous – to talk so much about something as trivial as the television. It’s an admission that you don’t have enough to say for yourself, about yourself. Times have obviously changed – look at the Gogglebox phenomenon. And while I maintain that too much tv is prone to make us lazy and insular I would also argue that, contrarily, tv does have a valid role to play in today’s society – encouraging connections in its own, very modern, way.

When an episode of The Apprentice finishes, and we all rush to Twitter to de-brief, we’re brought together as part of a (weird) virtual community. And when we say nothing to our partner/parent/sibling in a whole evening other than ‘what did you think of Eastenders?’, well – it might seem to sad to the older generation (and to me, a bit), but at least it is keeping some lines of communication open!

So really, tv is a way of building bridges that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be crossed, virtual ones and actual ones. Just as it’s easier to cry about something you see on the telly when it reminds you of something you hold quietly inside you, it’s easier for some people to talk to others in those displaced terms too – an easy, ready-made medium to communicate through, in which we can all contribute. Something we can all use to relate to each other with because, come on, who doesn’t watch the tv? (Well, I do know two people who don’t have one…) I can’t see the situation changing either – judging by the constant chatter of the young people that come into my workplace, it’s apparent that tv – well, YouTube actually – is the focus of their days.

I Googled before writing this post and – surprise, surprise – too much television is resoundedly considered bad.

It can shorten your life.

It can change the structure of a child’s brain (?!)

It means DEATH!

Apparently sitting sedentary in front of a screen for more than two hours a day doubles (yes, doubles) your chance of a premature death. a) I feel genuinely anxious about this alarming statistic. Should i alert my GP? I think I’d need to join a queue, and b) if this is in fact the case, work is definitely killing me.

Of course, there’s distinctions to be made between the kind of tv where you sit glass eyed unquestionably watching pointless drivel for three hours straight, the content of which is seemingly made up of repeating what’s just happened because, presumably, it assumes its viewers have been rendered stupid by merely watching it. (Perhaps death is preferable here…) But it seems unfair with so many screens in our lives now to blame the biggest, oldest one. Surely some idiot glued to their mobile phone screen whilst driving is much more deadly.

I have a confession to make – I have become prone to alcohol abuse. Hang on, not the stuff you drink. I mean the slightly alien stuff you slather over your hands.

I am addicted to hand gel. It kills 99.99% of bacteria. Well, that’s just so appealing isn’t it – why wouldn’t you use it?

I have never been more germ aware. I go about my daily activities always with the background goal of maximum germ avoidance. You might say that sounds like hard work – it is! But it is part of who I am. It is perhaps a little sad to have a part of yourself defined by your relationship with germs. It’s not like I live in a part of the world where each passing day carries a risk of death by infection. I recognise that I am fortunate to live in a pretty sanitised environment. But in my defence I haven’t always been this way – it is something that has gradually seeped into my consciousness to the point where, not only do I have a little tub of hand gel on my person at all times, I also find I am using the stuff at least 20 times a day, probably more.

It all started in my early twenties – I was forever catching colds, and I blamed this entirely on the bus. People are disgusting. Everyday I would watch them sneeze all over the place, use their hands as though they were tissues (why don’t people carry tissues?! WHY?!), and then clamp these hands all over the railings, stairs and handles. And then I, unless I wanted to hurtle to my death, would have no choice but to touch those handles myself. So I took control with hand gel. The problem is that the more you use it, the more you become aware of potential germs.

They’re everywhere, germs. Door handles, kettles, chip and pin machines, money – the list is, of course, endless. Once you are on the alert it is really quite shocking how much people touch things, often just for the sake of it. Us hand gel-ers, we only touch a surface if we really have to.

I am loathe to use the word OCD because I don’t want to make light of a serious mental health problem. People seem to throw this word around as though it is fashionable, a desirable condition almost. But with that said I do sometimes worry, is my behaviour ‘a bit OCD’? No. I don’t think so. I’m not distressed when I’m doing it, more embarrassed. But the act has certainly become a compulsion.

I can’t imagine life without hand gel now – and this becomes a problem in that you start to find yourself wanting those that share your life with you to use it, too. Otherwise, what’s the point? You can’t effectively manage the germs coming into your home if your other half waltzes in from the newsagents with a fistful of germs swabbing at the light switch, the fridge door, your face. You can almost see the fluorescent green blobs – like the kind used in adverts for bleach – lighting up their hands like a Belisha beacon. HAZARD!

None of this is exactly good news for your relationship, let alone your mental health. It’s probably safer to just embrace the germs and put up with a cold for a week – I’m sure your other half would rather that than suffer with your issues for eternity.

Although in my case this isn’t entirely true, because I have now passed on my little addiction to him – like a germ itself. He too takes hand gel to work. He too is constantly navigating the gauntlet of the outside world. You’ll see us, clumsily opening doors with our elbows, pressing pedestrian crossing buttons with coat sleeves pulled right down over our hands teenagers in new school blazers. You’ll find us at cash points using a loyalty card to jab at the keypad instead of our fingers.

All this exertion and contortion results in weird bruises and injuries to places like the side of our thumbs, toes and shoulders. And seems as both of us have had colds this last week I don’t think it’s worth all the effort…

It makes me wonder – is it just us? Or, as a society, are we all becoming more germ aware? The very fact that hand gel is sold as a run-of-the-mill hand care product in Boots etc must be proof that it is cemented into the mainstream social psyche now. People must be buying the stuff, there must be a real demand. But when you think back to the Bird Flu masks of recent years and now the Ebola hysteria exploding over the globe it all gets frighteningly dystopian.

I worry that I have placed myself on a slippery slope – am I just a few years away from wearing a mask myself?

A lot has been said on this subject but I’m afraid I am going to have to insist on adding my voice to the noise.

Commuting – I do it. I love it. Ok – sometimes I hate it…

I recently read an article in The Observer that struck a chord with me. Although this article was very London centric (as things often are) and therefore not exactly rooted in the reality of everyone’s lives, it was also interestingly controversial in that it promoted commuting by public transport as a good thing. An unusual standpoint considering, aside from in environmental journalism, this is probably the first real vindication of public transport use I have come across – in the media or from actual people.

Apparently, some new research (yawn) by The University of East Anglia has found that public transport commuters are happier than those who drive to work. Out of the 18,000 passengers surveyed it was found that, even when other factors that may affect wellbeing were taken out of the equation, commuters who travelled to work on public transport scored lower on feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness and sleeplessness.

Now, I don’t need research to tell me how beneficial my 90 minutes-a-day of public transport is for me – I’ve been reaping the benefits for nearly ten years, travelling cross county from Birmingham to Warwickshire via both bus and train (lucky me).

I hope my status as a seasoned public transport commuter gives my opinions some kind of weight, because I am now going to rather grandly claim that commuting makes me a better citizen. Hear me out – I’ve got a list for you:

1. The thing about public transport is that it’s all very, well, public. You’re thrust right into the path of your fellow planet-sharers in a way that you just wouldn’t be in the rest of your life, other than perhaps, say, the supermarket or, if you work with members of the public (brave), at work. So –  getting the bus actually keeps you in touch with reality. Ok yes, sometimes that reality is hearing the ins and outs of someone’s argument with their ex-girlfriend, or having a small child throw up on your shoe. But, you know, if we aren’t forced to interact with society at it’s fullest how can we be fully rounded people? I’d argue I get more of a community (ugh, I hate myself for writing that word, I apologise) from the people I see everyday on the bus and train than I do from my actual neighbours. I don’t necessarily like them, but that’s not the point

2. Catching the bus-and-or-train builds many key life skills and generally makes you a better person to be around. You are more patient (that’s alright bolshy lady, just shove past me with your many bags – I don’t mind, I am a good citizen), you can empathise, you are probably quite kind (please do take my seat nice old man)

3. If you travel by public transport you could probably embark on a career-change and become a leading Body Language expert – you have no choice but to learn appropriate personal space boundaries, when and when not to smile, when to make yourself invisible

4. These skills also come in handy on the mean streets – you are sharper than your driving counterparts. You can rate a situation / person in terms of dodgy-ness and accompanying threat level in a matter of seconds

And I do honestly believe that my commute is also essential for maintaining my mental health – here comes another list, ooh:

5. Public travel time equals thinking time. I plan most of my life from the train. I don’t know what I’d do without it. I’d probably be a disorganised mess

6. You also get time to be productive (I am writing this very blog post from the 08.22 to London Marylebone). Time to be leisurely – listen to that album you’ve been waiting to come out, read a book (books, remember those?), watch YouTube (with headphone on, please). Or, if you are a pain in the arse, talk loudly on your mobile phone and then cough everywhere…

7. Travel by public transport also means you get some physical exercise (ish) – which, say the researchers, is the crux of the benefit to your mental health

I know this is all a little tongue in cheek, but I do hope readers recognise some of the above in their own lives. Maybe we public transporters have a better sense of humour too – we have to, really, as we are faced with the ‘laughable’ incompetence of transport companies that we have no choice but to use, shedding out increasingly large amounts of cash to said companies despite, if anything, a decrease in the standards of our journey. Actually, as I type I find I am becoming less and less relaxed…

I’ve obviously been painting too rosy a picture of public transport – on the other side of the tracks (sorry) lies pure, unadulterated RAGE.

Nothing, NOTHING, can make you more angry than public transport. There’s obviously the cost. I remember when the bus cost an adult 90p, and that makes me upset. A return train ticket to work is now double the cost it was when I started.

But the real biggie is the cruel way in which public transport reveals the ugly truths of our modern society, and people in general. People are rude. Selfish and rude. A life of public transport has taught me this. As a queue-worshipping Brit, ‘pushing in’ is probably the thing that gets to me most, the thing that grinds me down and contorts me into the-irrationally-angry-woman-I-hate. It sounds ridiculous and really not worth bothering about, but I have had 30-minute phone conversations purely about something that happened to me in a bus queue.

I have shouted at people. Actually shouted. Pushed and barged. I regularly swear aloud to myself and at others. Is the stress of public transport pushing me to do things that are out of character? Or is it actually revealing what’s inside of me?

So we’re a split-personalitied bunch, but at least we public transport users are eco friendly. (Although probably not on purpose.)

Bet those researchers are glad I wasn’t in their study group.

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