My friend Yvonne says she asked herself, why go through the same routine as lots of other people over the festive season, and decided enough was enough. She remembered the magic of a child’s Christmas when she was young, with a stocking and presents like new jumpers hand-knitted by kind aunties, but she couldn’t see that it was good for families to ‘beggar themselves’, as she put it, to meet rising expectations these days. Is that what it’s all about? Spending money you haven’t got to buy things you don’t need, and far more food and drink that any hungry person could consume in a month?
I hate it when I get included in things without my permission. For example; in a recent radio programme (not on Radio Suffolk), the presenter, who said he lived in the countryside, gave the impression that most of us who live in the country are angry about the hunting ban. “Not true!” I yelled at the radio. I take exception to being associated by default with those who demonstrated outside parliament a few weeks ago, since no one’s ever bothered to ask my opinion, and I get the impression that the subject doesn’t get much of an airing in my countryside neighbourhood anyway.
Then there was the case of poor Boris Johnson, sent to apologise to outraged Liverpudlians for daring to allow his leader writer to suggest that the mass mourning for the unfortunate Mr Bigley was nothing of the sort. The anonymous journalist had written what lots of us had been thinking, including lots of Liverpudlians; that we grieve for those we’ve known and loved, not for those we never knew, however much we may sympathise with their families and friends.
I swear, dear listener, that I don’t earn a penny from the BBC for saying nice things about them. I don’t even get paid for getting out of my lovely warm bed at some ungodly hour to come and talk to you. Well, it’d have to be ungodly, because I’m totally ungodly, or god-free. So it gives me great pleasure to tell you that next Monday the BBC begins what it describes as ‘the first ever television history of disbelief’ with Jonathan Miller on BBC4. I look forward to hearing Jonathan Miller, who I expect to be erudite and witty. It will be good to hear someone talking about atheism, including his own atheism, without a hint of apology. What is there to apologise for?
A Humanist point of view – Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource Forum of Faiths
You might say that I’m contributing my paper under false pretences. Firstly, although the Suffolk Humanist group, Suffolk Humanists, is affiliated to SIFRE, we wouldn’t describe Humanism as a ‘faith’. Faith is defined as ‘a strong belief in something, especially without proof’, or ‘a specific system of religious beliefs’. It’s also defined as having complete confidence or trust in something, but since Humanists are essentially sceptics, we’re not inclined to have faith in anything that isn’t proven. Humanism is an approach to life for people who live without religion and who care about right and wrong.
We had some fun at a Humanist meeting last night, thanks to you, Mark [Mark Murphy, BBC Radio Suffolk presenter]. Well, partly thanks to you, and partly thanks to Lesley [Lesley Dolphin, also from Radio Suffolk, and Mark’s wife]. She asked me to be a Crabby Old Woman on her programme a couple of weeks ago – I think you’d told her I could be a bit grumpy sometimes.
We copied the idea at our meeting, when everyone was told they could have a rant for five minutes about something that really annoyed them. I took my red plastic tomato timer from the kitchen, but I needn’t have bothered. As soon as someone started, everyone else joined in to say how much they were annoyed by the same thing. The subjects included junk mail, excess packaging, premium rate phone calls, queues when there’s nowhere for elderly people to sit down, and litter. One of our members despaired at the way we have lots of graduates but not enough people with practical skills, due, he says, to the decline of vocational education. Another spoke about the prevalence of straw polls, on TV and in newspapers, which don’t actually prove anything because they’re not conducted scientifically. It sounds very grumpy indeed, but the thing that struck me was that we laughed a lot. It was like a group therapy session, being encouraged to let rip. Everyone enjoyed it.
It’s August bank holiday – the end of the summer holidays and the beginning of autumn. Keats wrote, ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, not ‘Season of soggy cereal crops’. You used to know where you were with the seasons. Not any more. Everything’s topsy-turvy, seasonally. We’ve had warm winters and soggy summers, early springs and late autumns. The birds and beasts don’t know if they’re coming or going. There are lots more bugs about, because there haven’t been the hard frosts to kill them off, while seabirds off the Scottish coast have failed to breed because the small prey they feed on have all swum north in the milder seas. We may not face the same sort of flooding as those unfortunate people in Cornwall did the other week, but the seas are rising, and our Suffolk coastline is retreating.
Last Saturday I went to the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It was the second time I’d been. Last year’s winner, Charlotte Harris, painted a canvas four feet square of her grandmother, just her head and shoulders. The old woman’s skin has a translucent fragile quality. She’s looking down with a pensive expression – what was she thinking? What stories could she tell? This year’s winner, Stephen Shankland, painted a mother and child; nothing like those we see in religious paintings, but a real flesh and blood young woman looking straight at you, while her baby plays with a ring. The artist has captured a moment, probably with the aid of photographs. It’s almost impossible to paint small children and animals in the same way that you can paint an adult – they won’t keep still.
A contributor to our village newsletter let off steam this month about those who drive too fast through the village (which is illegal anyway), park inconsiderately, and ride excessively noisy motorbikes. But it’s not just teenage motorcyclists who shatter our rural peace and quiet. If it’s fine today, a so-called ’day of rest’, you can bet that quite a few grown-up people who’d like to think of themselves as upright, considerate, law-abiding citizens, will be creating a noise nuisance to rival the motorcyclists.
I refer to the racket from power tools – shredders, mowers, strimmers, hedge trimmers, and the odd chain saw and drill. It’s so much quieter on a weekday when their owners are all at work. I’m wondering how I can get an Anti-Social Behaviour Order for them. There’s new European legislation aimed at the manufacturers of power tools, enforcing noise levels, but what about the people who use them? There you are, just about to take a nap in the garden in the shade of a tree, when someone starts making a noise like an extremely loud raspberry or a monstrous angry bee, and it goes on, and on. If they’re not doing that, they’re playing the radio out of doors so you have no choice but to listen to it, or retire indoors and shut the windows.
I’ll be a pensioner in a couple of weeks. Does that mean I’m old? I don’t feel it, but I probably look it to small children who only see grey hair and wrinkles.
I don’t plan to grow old gracefully – where’s the fun in that? And the older I get, the less patience I have with people who waste my time, such a tele-salespeople, or whingers. I’m more inclined to speak my mind, which some find a less than endearing habit, but I think one can be too polite for your own good sometimes. I mean, if someone’s talking rubbish, I might not actually say ‘Don’t talk rubbish,” but I’m more likely to say, ‘I don’t agree.’
That splendid actress Anna Massey was interviewed for one of the broadsheets last week about her role as Aunt Jemima Stanbury in Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right, which finished on the BBC TV last night.
I love that name – Jemima – though I can only think of one other, and that’s Jemima Puddleduck in the Beatrix Potter stories. Anyway, I digress…
Ms Massey was asked about her character’s disdain for artifice, such as the girls in the story who wear hair pieces, and she responded by saying, “I don’t like artifice either.” She spoke of people who have botox injections to smooth out facial wrinkles, “To me, the most interesting thing about a person’s face is the journey it expresses.” Ms Massey has a wonderful face, pert and bright-eyed and full of character. Perhaps because my own physiognomy betrays my age and experience, I tend to regard older faces as far more interesting than the bland prettiness of young girls or the smooth good looks of young men, but then I’m no longer a pretty young girl on the lookout for good-looking young men – O, I don’t know though…