Monday, 24 January 2011

Why don't things work out like we want?

Comments and conversations on Facebook are often quite inspirational and thoughtful.

Over the weekend I have read a couple of quotes that people have posted - they could be about anything, but mainly about life, I guess.

And as I was feeling philosophical, I thought I would look at why things don't work out as we expect, or plan, or hope. This could be anything - personal relationships, jobs/work, a holiday, and sometimes even life itself.

I certainly didn't plan at the age of 50 to be living in a flat in Gibraltar and not working. Nor did I plan to get married in Sydney when I embarked on my world trip some 25+ years ago.

So, back to the question. Here is a random list of causal factors, to me:
• circumstances, this could include lots of things, but I was mainly thinking time and place • external factors, eg the unexpected that is totally out of your control
• conflicting relationships and personality clashes
• health problems
• addictions - drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling - they are health issues too, but can be so destructive, and are not readily solved by willpower, that I figured they needed a separate category
• power imbalance
• not working hard enough to make something work
• misunderstandings.

A few comments on some of these. I'll start with the last one first and talk about general breakdown in communications, or poor communications. After all, what else would you expect from a journalist?

In my years working in the UK public sector, poor communications was nearly always mentioned in any complaints about the health service, and was often regarded as the main problem. And in child protection incidents, it always featured highly. Wherever there are multi-disciplinary teams, the potential for communication mishaps is high because bluntly speaking, people just don't speak to each other, or they work on a 'need to know' basis.

I really dislike 'need to know' because it invariably means someone else is taking decisions about what I need to know when they don't know my job. There is no way that you can advise on the best PR line to take when you don't know the full story. Similarly the medic who thinks the social worker doesn't need to know something or vice versa, can result in some tragic cases.

Interestingly, I've just read a book about the sinking of the Indianapolis, the American warship that carried the casing and uranium for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. I added that for those of you, who like me, know very little about American history. It was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine - after, obviously - it had delivered the bomb. Of some 1200 people on board ship, only 25% survived - slightly more than 300. The ones who did survive and were finally picked up had spent days in the South Pacific surrounded by rings of sharks that invariably chomped a body in half for tea, or lunch, or breakfast or whatever.

But if reading about that was bad, what was worse was reading the communication blunders that didn't log the Indianapolis as missing. Either someone didn't get one radio message, someone else decided to ignore another one, yet someone else decided to keep information to themselves, because no-one else needed to know. It was a disaster waiting to happen and it did. Still the US Navy changed procedures afterwards which was of no use to the relatives of the 900 men killed. The navy also court-martialed the captain, the only one who was ever court-martialed for the loss of his ship as a result of an act of war.

So when people treat communications as a sort of minor, not very important issue - it isn't. People died at sea 65 years ago because of crap communications. Oh, Doug Stanton, 'In Harm's Way' if you are interested. A good read.

And still on communications, I remember endless courses and lectures during my management studies about Active Listening. It seems to me, in my cynical non-managerial older days, that this is a fancy way of saying 'listening to what someone is saying.' The difference between hearing and listening. Not what you think they are saying, not what you want them to say, but actually, what they are saying. And if you don't understand then you ask for confirmation, and if you think there could be ambiguities you do the same.

But how many of us ever do it? Especially when we are wound up over our own issues or thinking about something else. Have we any idea what issues the other person is contending with? Bad communications are a minefield (to continue the warfare analogy) on their own. When you add in any of the above factors in my original list, it's a wonder anything ever works out in life.

A couple more examples. If you have health problems, you are waiting for test results, an operation, or having treatment with nasty side effects, that's all going to be uppermost in your mind. Anything else takes second place. Relationships, whether family, friends or partners, are fundamental. Everyone needs contact and relationships (Maslow's Triangle). When they don't work out, like health issues, it impacts on the rest of your life. So try going to work and feeling crap and having argued with a friend or a partner and trying to get through an important project. On top of that, someone else doesn't want it to go through for whatever reason. Maybe they feel crap too, or don't like the project. Maybe they just don't like you. Take family issues. Those of you with happy families are lucky. Can't say I know a lot about it. Always seems to be someone, somewhere who wants to be in charge. A bit like work.

Let's finish with relationships. Of any sort as this is probably what concerns all of us so much. I like to lecture on this topic as I am so bad at it. Do as I say and not as I do in fact. But ..... try and listen to whoever it is and ask for clarity. Make sure you really are both even discussing the same topic. If you like them/need to get on with them (ie family or work) then, don't blow up unnecessarily, shrug your shoulders, and, ask if it's worth it. How many years do you go back? And if you are really sure, then yes, move on and leave them behind.

Don't burn your bridges unless you are sure though. Because each time you burn them, and later decide to rebuild them, it gets harder and harder to build that bridge back to where it was, or even anywhere near. There will come a point when you can no longer rebuild.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

I want to be a rockstar?

Anyone who thought I had finished with feminist posts with my nice revived easy-going Clouds blog will be disappointed. Searching through YouTube for an original version of Nickleback's Rockstar - I was puzzled to find lots of versions of the official video seemed to have an important word taken out. What on earth was it? Swearing? Nah!! Course not. Drugs. So that very naughty word seems to have to be taken out of some of the YouTube vids. But .... it is perfectly ok to continue with gratuitous photos of scantily clad women, references to shagging women in planes (mile high club), the key to the playboy mansion, and photos of a naked woman in a bath tub, and another one gyrating sexily and - oh! wait! one photo of a not particularly attractive man with not many clothes on. What does that say to you? Well maybe not much, but it says to me that a few references to illegal drugs are worth censoring by whatever powers rule YouTube. Whereas really boring stereotypical objectification of women is not. Because it's not even important is it? It's life. We all want those hot sexy young chicks. In fact what we want is that life where.. 'the girls come easy and the drugs come cheap..' Mmmm, girls. Are we talking under age sex here? Or just crass language that describes all hot little bits of stuff as 'girls' (who come easy). Rather like.. and 'Gonna date a centerfold that loves to blow my money for me.' Very nice bit of imagery there. How are they blowing it? There was one older permed grey haired woman. She wasn't in her bikini or up to her eyes in bubble bath. Not even blowing bubbles. Good music. Shit objectification of women in both words and pictures. I have no interest in the drugs. I've got enough to do coping with the battle against women. But here is the original - because I don't believe in censorship. Rockstar - original lyrics until it gets censored again

On hitch-hiking

For no particular reason, I was recently reflecting on my hitch-hiking experiences of the distant past. I was of course, brought up 'never, NEVER, to accept a lift from a stranger.' Not bad advice by any stretch of the imagination. But what is it about parents who tell you not to do things that everyone else seems to do? You just have to try it. I went youth-hostelling a couple of times with a friend and - although we weren't hitching - it didn't stop us being offered lifts. Not surprising really. From behind we were two tall slim, young women, one fair, one dark. Catered for most tastes. We were in our mid-teens. I refused all the lifts, saying I wanted to walk - which was true. My friend would have accepted, but hey, she spent most of one night with the youth hostel warden. Nor do I mean the evening, I mean after we came back from the pub post 11pm. And my father thought girls were safe in youth hostels with wardens to look after them? But when I went camping in France with another friend - and her family - I figured a lift from the top of the camp site to the bottom would do no harm. It seemed a safe environment. So we jumped in and nothing happened. I felt very guilty though. Can't even remember if I confessed my terrible sin to my parents. It would have been pretty stupid, but there again I was naive so I may well have done. Next up was a few years later and I was a little braver. I was on a course from university in the Lake District. Being an early riser, I had skipped out of bed for a walk, and then decided I might as well wander into town and buy a newspaper. Which I did. But it took longer than I had planned and I didn't want to miss breakfast. So when some guy in a van stopped to offer me a lift I jumped right in. He dropped me off, good as gold, where we were staying in some class Wordsworth-type place, and I flourished my paper and my story of somewhat risky behaviour. I gained some street cred I suspect. After that I left the risk-taking alone for some time until I went to Australia. This is a big place for those of you who don't know it. My travelling companion and I decided to eke out our funds by hitching from Sydney to Melbourne. We got a train from central Sydney to the furthest suburb and hit the main road. Sadly, it wasn't the friend from the youth-hostelling days, this one was shorter and fatter - which does not guarantee the same level of offers of lifts. I was getting to the point of suggesting she jump in the ditch (which is classic hitching advice because people think there is only one person to pick up, whatever that might signify) and someone stopped. We hopped in merrily and eventually - hours later - approached Melbourne as dawn came. It was a beautiful sight. I've still got the memory of that wonderful Australian sunrise, the open fields, the trees, and the grazing horses. My mate had snaffled the dog box while I had spent all night in the passenger seat. My legs ached and I needed to stretch them. It was a good lift though, and he was a nice truckie. From Melbourne, we went onto Tasmania, and stayed at Launceston. The following morning we set off south and decided to hitch out. The first guy who stopped, gave us both a bad feeling and we passed up the lift. Eventually we accepted a lift from someone who 'looked ok' whatever that may mean. Looks are not everything however. He decided to take us sight-seeing. But we didn't want to go sight-seeing. Especially down some deserted road in the middle of nowhere in Tasmania. 'We want to go back to the main road, thank you, and get to Hobart.' We argued on these lines for some time. My mate of course had nicked the back seat so I was stuck in the front with Mr Sight-Seer. I was considering how feasible it was to jump out of a moving car when he finally agreed to our demands to take us back to the main road. We told him to stop, and we got out. Talk about taking a deep breath. We then got a good lift from some 'hippy-looking' types in an old V-dub sort of thing. I was wary about this lot after the last experience, but mate decided they were ok, so we jumped in the back. And they were nice. I should add that I was brought up to avoid drop-out hippy types who were always the depths of society and not to be trusted. Unlike reasonable looking middle-aged men. Ha! We survived Tasmania, and with youth, optimism, and folly, we decided to hitch back from Melbourne to Sydney for the return leg. Got a decent truck lift as usual. As he wasn't going right up to Sydney he said he would meet his mate and we could swap over. It seemed he needed to meet his mate in some obscure forest glade. What's wrong with your average truck stop? If I had been wetting myself in Tasmania - this was something else again. How do you jump out of a huge truck in the middle of the bush? You don't. Well we didn't. And, we met his mate, swapped over, and got to Sydney. Phew gets nowhere near the mark. Of course, hitching with a man is different, isn't it? So once I hooked up with my partner in Sydney and cast off the short fat mate, we gaily set off down to Melbourne (can't even remember why - wanted a cheap holiday probably). I don't remember most of the lifts but the one I do remember is the guy who proudly proclaimed he didn't have a roadworthy certificate on his vehicle. OMG I thought, it's going to fall apart with us inside and we'll be killed in a crash. What was even worse was the fact that he decided he absolutely MUST overtake every car in front of him, regardless of what was coming the other way. At one point we stopped at some lights and we said this would be a great place to leave. Jumped out, grabbed the rucksacks out of the boot, and ran. He seemed totally loopy. Only later did my partner realise very sadly, that he had left his genuine Aussie bush hat in the back seat. I still hear about it to this day. There were a couple of good lifts around Healesville and Marysville though. Someone stopped for us and we discussed walking. He dropped us off in the national park and pointed up the hill and said we would enjoy it. Of course, in the middle of summer with huge rucksacks, that's great. Hiking uphill through the bush. In the heat of the Aussie sun. We didn't have much choice so we took the route he pointed out. Down the other side, we got a lift into Marysville. Don't think there was much traffic there in those days. We got the same lift out the next day, but we avoided the scenic walk that time around. I'd almost forgotten the time when I was still freaked out about lifts and someone offered us a lift in Tenerife. We were staying at some camp site near nothing apart from banana plantations and we were waiting for the bus. I refused to get in. The driver looked surprised and puzzled, and my partner shrugged his shoulders and said 'She doesn't want.' After that, hitching took a back seat, so to speak. When we were discussing it the other night, I said I would never do it again. And then remembered in my late 30s I went on a work trip to NZ. The place I was staying at was not quite as near the main highway as it purported to be so I began the long trudge into town. Lo and behold, someone stopped for me. And what did I do? Yeah, I got in. That really was the last time though wasn't it? I said to my partner. 'What about the time you were walking into town a few years ago and it started raining?' Ah, yes. 'But he looked a nice guy, he was German anyway, and people do that sort of thing where we live in Spain....' To be honest, I actually wasn't worried. I thought he was stopping to offer me a lift because it was raining. Which is reasonable. He was. Don't do as I do or as I did, do as I say. I wouldn't do it these days. Honest. Well, unless it was raining and I didn't have a waterproof .. and .. and .. and

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Head over heels

As it's (nearly) a year since I wrote on here, I thought I would start this new year off with a new post, and open this blog up for comments again.

When I first started this blog, it was intended as an outlet for a few rants, and to write about some of the issues that concern me. These are, in no particular order, vegetarianism, animal cruelty, feminism, and probably coming in second place - globalisation, consumerism and environmentalism. I'm sure there are more issues that I occasionally get wound up about for at least five minutes, but those must be the main ones as they are the ones that came to mind first. (So if the opinions of a lefty, vegetarian, hairy-legged feminist are of no interest to you, I suggest you find another blog right now).

However I no longer feel like ranting as it is far too energetic and tiring, so any posts on here will be more thoughtful (??) in a musing sort of way. That was musing, not amusing.

So, head over heels? One of the perennial discussions in feminist circles - along with wearing pink, using make-up, shaving, and other such hugely important topics - is wearing high heels. Or even anything that isn't flat. One of the other perennial discussions is why these topics even get a look in, when women are being murdered, raped, abused, and victimised because of their sex, every day of the year.

But changing opinions and stereotypes needs to be confronted at many different levels. And to me, it would be fatuous to pretend appearances don't matter. They do.

So if you are wobbling around precariously on some dangerous footwear, with baby doll smooth legs, and a face plastered with cement make-up, you may want to ask yourself why you are doing it. And you will probably answer - because it makes me feel good, and I look better.

That's what I have said in the past when I asked myself why I did it. Whether or not you have taken into account that you may be conforming to (patriarchal) societal expectations and perpetuating the 'sex symbol' stereotype is another matter. Or maybe you are aware of them and consider that they don't affect you. Or any other woman? And that's just for appearances' sake.

What about the damage to your feet, posture, back, legs? My mother had a huge array - I say huge, I mean to my small childlike eyes - of stiletto heels in the shoe cupboard. I would try them on when dressing up, and stagger around in them. This was particularly stupid as not only were they vertiginous, they were far too big. How I never fell over and sprained an ankle is beyond me, particularly as I invariably wore her overlong frocks and usually had a train, secured in place by my tiara. Still, us women have to start practising these important things early in life. In fairness to my mother she did tell me not to wear the shoes, so I had to wait for her to clear off to work when indulgent Granny was in charge and never denied me anything.

In my teens I graduated to my own high heels, I think three inches was about the highest I scaled. About the only flat pair of shoes I had at that time was a pair of walking boots and a pair of tennis pumps. It was hardly as though I 'needed' the height - at 5'8" or 9" I was well above average height.

And the whole idea of needing heels to look taller is just crazy. What is it built around? The idea of tall, slim, long-legged woman - whose role in life is to attract men. As someone who was/is tall, slim, and with longish legs I can tell you that men are just as interested in short, not particularly slim women with crap legs. So all you short women who want to be tall are just buying into a silly myth. Men are just as keen on the other female stereotype, that of the little woman who needs to be protected.

Which brings me onto that other crazy expectation. That men MUST be taller than women. Why? The same protective non-threatening theory? Imagine my chagrin when all my tiny short friends ALWAYS attracted the 6'2" boyfriends and I was stuck with the ones around my height or slightly less. If I wore those desirable heels, I towered over the men. If I wore flats, I looked soooo unsexy.

I have no idea when I abandoned these weird and unrealistic notions. Probably when I started hunting for non-leather shoes - the choice of decent synthetic shoes/boots is/was limited. Or maybe it was when I finally realised high heels were not really very practical at all. With the help of mail order companies in pre-internet days, I managed to find some decent flat boots, and scoured department stores for flattish but hopefully smartish shoes.

A couple of years ago I had been reading a discussion on a forum about this very topic. A day or so later I noticed some women in the local square wearing a variety of boots, mostly with high heels, but one woman wore a pair of flat boots. She had a free and easy walk and looked full of confidence. In comparison the other women looked slightly strained and false. Maybe just my biased view.

This year, I am amazed. Everywhere I look, 9/10 women wearing boots are wearing flat ones. Such is fashion, and our brainwashed addiction to it. It's one of the better years by far, ojal√° that these wonderful boots were churned out every year and women stopped feeling the need to totter and teeter around in crazy footwear.

As for me, I found a wonderful on-line store based in London where they also have a showroom, bought one pair of boots and then ordered another two in different styles. Three pairs of flat, comfortable and stylish boots? From a vegan ethical company? I couldn't believe my luck.

Gratuitous pix of a pair of my new booties.