Saturday, 31 May 2008

Risk free or duty-free?

Readers of Pippa's blog will know that last weekend we were stopped at customs by the Guardia Civil who looked inside our vehicle. I don't just mean they looked through the window, which they've done once before. We actually had to pull over and open the vehicle up so they could see what was in the back. I was shaking like a leaf for absolutely no reason at all given that we had no cigarettes (we don't smoke and wouldn't even consider taking any out for friends), we rarely drink spirits, and beer and wine are cheaper in Spain anyway. So there was no way we were exceeding our allowances because there wasn't a single duty-free purchase in the vehicle. But the whole idea of being stopped by the police just leaves me cold. The first thing I wonder is - do I look like a criminal? Whatever a criminal looks like. Or have I done something wrong that I'm not even aware of? Ignorance is no excuse. Basically, I don't break the law so I leave the police alone and expect them to leave me alone. Logically, I know they are doing a job and they have to stop people for random checks. And the guy was polite and actually quite pleasant - not something for which the Guardia Civil are normally noted. As it is the first time in the 18 months or so that we have been travelling backwards and forwards that we have been searched, I can hardly say I am suffering from a persecution complex. But I did wonder when we were over the border and on the road again, whether or not they have a clever strategy. Let you go backwards and forwards for ages, lulling you into a false sense of security that you won't get stopped so you merrily smuggle stuff - usually cigarettes - across the border. And then one day, bang, they've got you. Loaded up with your illicit purchases. Anyway, that's totally hypothetical. What is not hypothetical though is the amount of smuggling that does go on. By people who do not need to do it. By people who are in full-time jobs - both Spaniards and British. They just want that extra buck or two. We've met pensioners in Spain who go on the cheap day trips to Gib, or drive down themselves, and promptly fill their shopping trollies or their boot with cigarettes. I suppose it tops up their pension. But if people live in Spain with all the advantages that brings with it - virtually everything is cheaper in Spain apart from cigarettes, spirits and telefonica - what is the need to buy goods smuggled from Gibraltar? If cigarettes and spirits are dearer in Spain than they are in Gib, they are a damn site cheaper than they are in the UK. But no, greedy grasping human nature always wants the cheapest possible deal - even if it involves breaking the law. Some years ago, friends from the UK came to stay with us in Spain and included a trip to Gibraltar as part of their holiday. They all gaily came back from their brief stay on the Rock loaded up to the eyeballs with cigarettes - including their two daughters who were both under 17 (there is no duty-free allowance for children). None of the family smoked. The two girls planned to sell the cigarettes to their friends at school. Their parents - both civil servants - were obviously going to flog them in the office. Did any of them need that extra money from their smuggling activities? No. Especially as they had a week's free accommodation in peak holiday season courtesy of us. To me, it is sad the lengths people will go to just for a few extra quid. Greed is so depressing.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Virtual friends

Some time ago, someone I "met" over the internet asked my advice about something. I'm not sure how much use I was at the time, but I hope I helped them a little. I never did meet this person, nor have I spoken to them. Today I told the same person about a problem I have, as you do, looking for ideas and inspiration when you can't see a clear way ahead. And I received some excellent and calming advice. So firstly, thanks very much to my virtual friend. I hope my advice to you back then was halfway as constructive as yours was this morning to me. And secondly, to everyone on the internet who gives something - whether friendship, advice, help or whatever. It is appreciated, as I discovered today. You don't need to meet someone or know them personally to be able to help them. There are bad points to the internet, but there are good ones too.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Daddy's Little Princess

We've all been there. Or at least, I'm guessing all us women have. Daddy's Little Princess. And Daddy's Little Girl. The one who is a Little Girl until she is in her late teens, her twenties and even her thirties. Well, according to my dad anyway. "You will do what you are told until you are 30. At least 30. I don't care about the age of 21," he said with all his patriarchal, empowerful authority. "You are my daughter and you will do what I say." A few years later on, it was "You spent your time trashing around." Wow. From Daddy's Little Princess to an abhorrent sex-worker in one easy step. So why is it that women are brought up from a very early age with the idea that they are a princess? Or at least that they should be treated like one not just when they are young, but throughout their life? It is hardly helpful is it? For most of us, we are not going to become a real princess. There is a vast shortage of royal princes in the world and in most cases they don't look at marrying commoners from a working-class background. So it must be about imagery. That women should be worshipped, looked after, and more importantly - behave themselves, because one day, their prince will come and marry them. And their prince will look after them, and give them a luxurious life. First we do what daddy says when he looks after us as a little girl. Then we swap daddy for our prince, and he too will look after us. Of course we all know that women are totally incapable of looking after themselves. Hence they need a man, to guide them in life, to pay for them, to provide for them - so long as they are suitably subservient and do as they are told. Life is a fairy tale. At least it is for women. Indeed it is. Or at least sometimes I can't believe it is true. Not quite the same thing though is it? What is wrong with telling young girls that they need to make their own way in the world? That their main aim in life should not be about entrapping their prince ie the richest, best-looking man available? Best-looking doesn't really come into it to be honest. Money makes even the ugliest man look attractive. Why bring girls up with such a false impression to believe that they will have an easy life ahead of them? Who knows what fate is going to throw at them? It is unlikely to be a prince though. And why give them the illusion that they are someone special? They may well be Daddy's Little Princess, but to everyone else they are just Ann, or Beth, or Carol. Just another girl who grows up into a woman. But they don't always grow up into women do they? Alas, not just daddy, but society in general continues to refer to adult women as girls. Both men and women continue to infantilise women throughout their life. We women are denied our maturity. We are not grown-up. Unlike men of course. To put it very simply, we are inferior, unequal, and childlike. And we all buy into that too. I was brought up to think that nice girls suddenly turned into ladies and that women were sort of, well, rough and undesirable. Better still of course, was to be called a girl all the time. Because that suggests you look so young, and pretty, and all the men appreciate your youthful looks. And it is just so important to look pretty for the men. One of the first books I read about feminism pointed out how early in life we start to treat boys and girls differently. I'm not just talking about the colour-coded clothes or the different types of toys. (Incidentally I had a lot of building-type toys which were ace fun, and a physics-and-chemistry set too). What made an impression on me in this particular book was the description of the way adults respond to little boys. They pick them up and show them the world through the window, because that is where they are going to make their impression in life. And they need to learn at a very young age that they are going to go out into that big wide world and they don't need to be frightened of it, because it is there for them. In fact it is their world. And when adults meet little boys, they ruffle their hair, and play little fighting games - because little boys are tough, and they will grow into big tough men. What do we do with the little girls? We cuddle them. Nurture them. Protect them from that big nasty world outside. Because when they grow up they won't be able to manage on their own. They will need a man. And even then, we still treat them as the little girls they really are. Wrong. We can manage on our own. But it would be a damn site easier if we weren't disadvantaged by being brought up with ingrained, sexist, patriarchal values designed to keep us in our (inferior) place. And not treated as little girls when we have reached the age of maturity.