Philobiblon: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The New Single Woman

I knew at age five that I didn't want to get married and have children, and I've never seriously questioned that decision. (And I'm now about to turn 40.) I knew then that it was unusual, but reading E. Kay Trimberger's The New Single Woman I came to understand why many people, Americans in particular, find it not just odd, but extraordinary.

She asks: "Is it possible to be a single woman in one's fifties with a full life and a lot of joy?" My answer, "well of course; you're at least as likely to be happy than if you are married or, at least as likely, going through a divorce." Yet, as Trimberger points out, the general answer is: "Not if you listen to the cultural messages beamed at us.... Only in an intimate couple will we find emotional satisfaction, sexual fulfillment, companionship, security and spiritual meaning." (I'd added, from everything I've read and seen: "particularly in America". These pressures also exist in Britain and the UK, but being societies generally less keen to enforce conformity, they are not as strong.)

Trimberger, by profession a sociologist (she's professor emerita of women's and gender studies at Sonoma State University), over a decade from 1994 followed the progress of a group of 46 middle-class, largely professional women, some white, some African American, some Latina, to explore how their personal and professional lives developed through their thirties, forties and fifties. Her initial finding was that "almost all of the women, even those in their fifties, whether heterosexual, lesbian or bisexual, still hoped to find the 'right one'."

In part seeking answers for her own life -- she's a never-married woman who adopted a child on her own at age 40 -- Trimberger seeks to identify the steps, emotional and practical, they needed to take to become "happy". She eventually arrives at six key points that she believes single women need:
1. A home "that nurtures her, whether she lives by herself or with other people".
2. Work that is satisfying, allows her to be economincally autonomous, and that also provides "a psychological identity but is not her whole life".
3. Satisfaction with her sexuality, whatever that means.
4. Some connection with the next generation - family relationships, volunteering, proteges or similar.
5. A network of family and friends "that provides companionship and people they can rely on in times of trouble".
6. A community built around that friendship network.

Yet looking objectively at this list, it is clear that this is not just a list for single women, but for all women, and men. Trimberger says:

"When we embark on adulthood, few of us really know where we will end up. Given that, it is important for single women in their twenties, thirties and forties more consciously to pursue these goals. Whether they hope to couple or not, this is the route to a richer life and one with more options later on. Conversely, to focus primarily on finding a partner while other parts of life are neglected is a recipe for unhappiness."

That list also addresses one of the biggest fears Trimberger's subject identify, as a successful African American woman she calls Lanette says, even though she's already made financial arrangements:

"Whenever I pick up the paper at Christmas-time and see a story about an older woman who has no relatives, who needs a couple of hundred bucks so that her lights don't get turned off, I say to my mother, 'That's my fear. I'll be eighty-five years old and all my family and friends will have passed on, and because I have not partnered myself, I'll end up here."

My reaction to this is that most women will end up this way anyway; even if partnered, and happily partnered, the mortality statistics mean that most women will end up on their own. And while some children might be in a position to take a large role in these circumstances, many will not be able, or will not want, to do so.

But Trimberger is resolutely focused not on comparisons, but on the strategies her subjects attempt to take to deal with this and other concerns. And she has hugely reassuring tales from two of her subjects, both of whom died of breast cancer during the decade. Yet they died not alone, but within large friendship networks, which looked after both their practical and emotional needs. The account of Diane is particularly inspiring:

"She told me that she preferred to rely on friends rather than family members. Although her daughter had moved back in with her, Diane wanted her to have her own life. Diane's mother was eighty-six, and her sister and cousins lived several hours away. Diane shared her fears more intimately with her friends, for she felt that they could handle her illness more objectively and philosophically. Family members got too upset and made dealing with the cancer more difficult for her."

Yet, as Trimberger points out, much needs to change in the framework of society to facilitate such networks of care.

Hospitals ... often admit only immediate family members (which, in progressive institutions now include domestic partners) to intensive care units and the rooms of those who are seriously ill or dying. ... Workplace bereavement policies do not include paid time off to attend the funeral of a friend. Even the most progressive family leave policies provide time off only for the care of family members ... Public policies that help build networks of care will improve the life of all adults."

The fact is that societies are returning to more historically normal levels of childlessness and "singleness". The New Single Woman points out that in 1950 20 per cent of women aged 40-45 were childless; the 2002 figure of 18 per cent is heading in the same direction. Trimberger quotes a psychological survey which says motherhood is no longer "necessarily central to the development of women's sense of her adult self". Yet of course what is needed is to find alternative adult selves, as women in earlier ages did. In the end, Trimberger concludes, in the words of one of her subjects: "The art is in making the choice you can live with."

This book offers, through practical examples and advice, a framework for doing just that. Trimberger's case studies from one social class, and one nation, which does limit its scope. (For many women with low-incomes financial constraints ensure daily survival is the most choice that they have.) But there's still something here for anyone, particularly any woman, who wants to address the question: "How can I have a good life?"

A princess in Islington

My 19th-century "blogger" Miss Williams Wynn is today showing the breadth of her interests, with a diary entry about the history of Haiti, particularly the reign of the despot Henry Christophe. She's been reading a manuscript history by a "Mr Courtenay", who visited with Sir Home Popham, but then goes on to report her own involvement, in trying encourage a friend of Christophe's daughter to write a memoir from her recollections.

The eldest daughter was described as a woman of superior talents, who had taken great pains in cultivating her mind. She was said to have been the confidante and counselor of her father during his latter years. She spoke French easily but not well, she had a good figure, and, as far as I could judge from under a close black bonnet, an intelligent eye. The other sister was a heavy, stuffy, short, fat person. They were in deep mourning, and very plainly dressed. ...
In the summer of 1824 I heard of them travelling in Germany: at this period the King of Bavaria purchased a part of a set of the ex-Queen's jewels (rubies I believe) for a wedding present to his daughter, who married the Prince Royal of Prussia. In 1826 I saw one of these Haytian Princesses walking in the street at Pisa. My laquais de place called her a Principessa della Morea, spoke of them as living very retired, but knew nothing of the mother, who, I conclude, is dead.

When car speed meets bicycle speed, with lots of hot air

It would be nice to have some good environmental news to report. Unfortunately there isn't any:

Anyone for Yes Minister? The Guardian today reports that as row between the Department of Trade and Industry and the environment department (Defra) has paralysed for seven months a decision on carbon emission targets.

Labour has pledged in three successive manifestos that by 2010 it will cut the UK's CO2 emissions by 20% below 1990 levels. The promise has reached almost totemic status in the party.
But publication of a programme to meet the targets has been held up, with the Department of Trade and Industry arguing that emissions have risen at such a rate over the past two years that it is unlikely Britain can meet the target. The DTI's latest projections show that, on current measures, CO2 will have been reduced to "only around 10% below 1990 levels by 2010".
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, armed with less statistical and economic modelling firepower than the DTI, is contesting the figures, and insists the target can still be met by vigorous action.
Ministers are frustrated by the delay since the postponements reduce the government's chance of meeting its 2010 target. They fear that the UK's claim to international leadership on climate change is being undermined.

It must be time for Tony Blair to make another "Green" speech, just to "prove" his credentials.

The government's inaction is demonstrated by the latest transport figures:

The total distance travelled by Britain’s cars has doubled since 1979 to 247 billion miles a year, and the number of private cars has risen by 12 million to 26 million.
Last year cars accounted for 85 per cent of the total distance we travelled. The average person spent 221 hours in a car and covered 5,500 miles at an average speed of less than 25mph.
There are now more homes that possess two or more cars than homes that do not have a car. One in 20 homes now has at least three cars, up from one in 50 in 1980. The typical family no longer shares a car but has one for each adult member, with 60 per cent of cars on the road containing only the driver.

Of course when the congestion gets a bit worse, it will be quicker to go virtually everywhere by bicycle. I can manage about 10mph average on a reasonable urban run, and I'm no athlete.

What should pupils read before they leave school? A survey comes up with the usual dead white males, with an odd smattering of Bronte. Who says the canon is dead?

But cheers to Zoe Williams for defending the current abortion time limit of 24 weeks. At least the Guardian seems not to have gone anti-abortion, unlike its Sunday sister.

Monday, January 30, 2006

If you have to sleep with someone with get a ticket ...

It is seldom that you get to see a master actor, and a master creator, at the top of his or her form. Robert Lepage's The Andersen Project at the Barbican is one such show. If you can, borrow the cash, or sleep with someone to get a ticket, do it.

You could write a summary that would make the plot sound like a bad Victorian novel. This account of Frederic, the Canadian pop lyricist brought to Paris to write a libretto inspired by one of the darker fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson for a European "co-operative" project right out of the horror files of the Telegraph, is, however, instead a deeply human story that never strikes a false note.

There are plenty of laughs, with a rapid-fire string of European and Atlantic arts in-jokes that almost, but not quite, descend to a stand-up routine. You are, however, always laughing with Lepage, never at him. On the wilder artistic avant garde: "what makes the English furious makes the French delirious".

This is a one-man show, in the sense that Lepage plays not only the would-be librettist, seeking professional and personal validation, but also all of the other characters, from Arnaud, the conniving but troubled administrator of the Paris Opera, to the Dryad of Anderson's tale. Yet there's a long list of technical credits, from the puppeteer who produces a wonderfully believable mutt out of thin air to the "horse cart-maker", and these are well deserved. Every aspect of The Andersen Project from the supra-realist video backdrops to the elaborate but designerista set, has been polished to almost eerie perfection.READ MORE

A moment of history

On 17 April 1467, John Russell, a future Chancellor of England, bought in Bruges a printed copy of Cicero's De Officilis, printed by Fust in Mainz the previous year. This was "one of the first records" of an Englishman purchasing a printed book. (William Caxton was the Governor of the English Nation in Bruges at the time.)

Of such small steps are intellectual leaps - such as into the Renaissance - made.

(From A.S.G. Edwards, "Continental Influences on London Printing and Reading in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries," London and Europe in the Later Middle Ages, Julia Boffey and Pamela King (eds), 1995, Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Queen Mary and Westfield College University of London, pp. 230.

Too little water, too much carbon dioxide

One of the topics discussed at yesterday's Camden Greens AGM (on which hopefully more soon) was the world's second problem commodity, water. Topically, it turns out, since the England and Wales are facing their worst drought in 75 years.

One the first problem commodity - fossil fuels - there is also more bad news today, with a report saying there is "only a small chance of greenhouse gas emissions being kept below 'dangerous' levels.

Yet it might not, quite, be too late:

On the other question asked at the 2005 conference - what are the options for avoiding dangerous concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere - the report says that technological options to reduce emissions do exist.
It concludes that the biggest obstacles to the take up of technologies such as renewables and "clean coal" lie in vested interests, cultural barriers to change and simple lack of awareness.

So I'm going to try to do my bit. I signed up to be a Green candidate for the Regent's Park ward in the Camden Borough elections in May. At least I'll be able to say I tried.

Four things ...

Having been tagged by The Unheard Word I will do my best ...
Four jobs I’ve had:
1. Packing at the Aeroplane Jelly factory. (I was 15; it was very educational.)
2. Cleaning the Cococabana Night Club in Wagga Wagga
3. Handing out pig recipes while dressed in a Miss Piggy apron in the main street of Dubbo (a cattlemen's town)
4. Burr chipping (cutting down thistles and other spikey plants) in 45 degree heat about three hours out of Longreach. (I was a jillaroo - briefly. I quit before I killed myself falling off a horse or a motorbike.)

Four movies I can watch over and over:
Sorry, I see about one movie a year - none of the above?

Four places I’ve lived:
1.A traditional Thai house over a canal (mosquitoes not as bad as you might expect) in an extensive garden slap bang in the middle of Bangkok. (Thanks Anne, for passing it on when you left.)
2. A stinking hot guesthouse room in which it was barely possible to turn around, also in Bangkok. The owner pulled the fuses between 2am and 6am, so the fans went off. (I lived there very! briefly)
3.On a farm out of Tamworth (NSW, Australia) with a piggery that I ran several days a week. Luckily the piggery was downwind of the house.
4.In a Sixties ex-council London flat with nicotine and tar dripping down the walls. (My current dwelling, now fully done up.)

Four TV shows I enjoy:
Sorry, haven't got a TV

Four places I’ve vacationed holidayed:
1. North Korea
2. Czechoslovakia (as it was then) soon after the Velvet Revolution (not game to go back because it can't possibly be so good)
3. Sri Lanka - close to paradise
4. Siem Reap (better known as Angkor Wat, Cambodia - before the tourists; magical)

Four of my favorite dishes:
1. Macaroni cheese with bacon (childhood comfort dish)
2. Tom yung gung (Thai seafood soup with lemongrass)
3. Pasta carbonara (as served by a little Mum-and-Son restaurant in Bari
4. Chicken with chilli and cashew nuts (also a Thai dish)

Four sites I visit daily:
1. Arts and Letters Daily (Used to read it in Bangkok when it was an intellectual lifeline)
2. The Guardian
3. Early Modern Notes (Sharon was my blogging mentor)
4. Women's eNews

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Well, on balance here in London, just down the road from the British Museum and the British Library, although I wouldn't mind a week or month in ...
2. Nice
3. Libya
4. Iran (these last two the places I'd like to go next for serious travelling)

I won't tag anyone else for this, but hey, go on, it is kind of fun. It brought back memories of things I hadn't thought of in a long while; in the case of the incredibly sticky carpet of the Cococobana, that is a good thing. So why not give it a go ...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A good gossip about a baby: whose was it?

Miss Williams Wynn is today have a good gossip about the postumously born son of the Duc de Berri (who was assassinated in 1820; also known as Berry). Usually doubts are about fatherhood, but this one is a doubt about motherhood - was he actually the son of the duke's English mistress?

Before that, she had a lovely tale about a quality imposter, who made himself a bishop. Although he ended on the galleys in the end ...

Abortion: a disgraceful twisting of figures

Today's splash in the Observer says Women demand tougher laws to curb abortions. What, I thought?

Then you read on. No, no one is "demanding" anything - they are responding to a survey. And this is an online survey - how representative is that really likely to be? And no information is provided on the detail of the questions.

One person from the Family Planning Association is quoted; otherwise you get the Catholic Church, a "pro-life" alliance, and David Cameron.

What the survey actually seemed to have addressed, when you read the detail, is a reduction from a 24 week limit to 20 or 22 weeks, not "tougher laws".

The survey by MORI shows that 47 per cent of women believe the legal limit for an abortion should be cut from its present 24 weeks, and another 10 per cent want the practice outlawed altogether. Among the population overall, reducing the upper limit was the preferred option backed by the largest proportion of respondents, 42 per cent, made up of a 36-47 per cent split among men and women.
Only one person in three agreed that 'the current time limit is about right', with slightly fewer women (31 per cent) than men (35 per cent) saying that. Just 2 per cent of women and 5 per cent of men think the last possible date after which a woman can end a pregnancy should be increased from 24 weeks.

(Not that anyone I know of is campaigning for an increase.) As for the issue of a reduction of a couple of weeks, this seems to be based on emotional campaigns - one fact in the matter: doctors, who are best placed to judge the medical issues, have voted against any reduction.

What IS happening at the Observer? When did it become anti-abortion?

As I've written before, we have to keep fighting this issue.

But after all of that negativity, a nice little piece in The Sunday Times (not something I say often) from Aleka Lieven, an 18-year-old A-Level student, on the necessity of feminism (and her compatriots' false ideas about it). Her evidence is strong:

"We cannot always assume we are going to enjoy exactly the same opportunities as the boys at our brother school, St Paul’s. ...
Recently a banker came to give us some career advice. He meant well but it was so sexist. He said City jobs were fine for women, but warned us off the trading floor. It was “too macho and far too aggressive” for the likes of us. Similarly, he added, stay away from corporate finance because of the long hours. Can you imagine him saying that to sixth-form boys? And when is anyone ever going to say to a young man: “This is a good career because you can go part-time after you have children?”

Sunday dog blogging

I was trying not to get too into dog blogging, but who could resist a special email request?

It has been cold this week, but Champ has worked out the purpose of a blanket ...

While greyhounds have a reputation as fussy easters, Champ will eat anything, particularly if humans eat it too. So it's worth lots of effort to get the yoghurt at the bottom of the container ...

Champ is, however, in the doghouse this week, since he's decided he doesn't like being left on his own. The doorframe is suffering (from clawing), as is a bookcase (from teeth), although at least he picked a £10 Homebase MDF one. I'm hoping it is a phase ....

So as not to be speciest, thought I'd also share this pic from Regent's Park, of what I think are heron's nests. (At least there seemed to be a heron sitting in one.) Nothing new about multi-storey dwellings ...

One man does not make a trend ....

... still, it is good to see an article in the Observer about "an increasing number of travellers turning their backs on low-cost flights" for environmental reasons.

I'll still be flying to Australia when necessary - the idea of a slow boat is not feasible by time or cost (although I know that it is possible - last time I looked the cost was roughly equivalent to first-class air, i.e. a lot), but otherwise I am trying not to fly - despite the temptation of all those 1p fares.

This article made me think of my godson and his brother in Australia. I took them to the Manly aquarium in Sydney last time I was out in Oz, by public transport, and we had a lot of fun on ferries, but waiting for the much-delayed bus that was the final step home was a little fraught.

The problem was - well one problem was - that they are simply unused to using public transport. They wanted me to call their mother to fetch them by car, because the idea of waiting for a bus was just outside their experience. (Although it would have taken her half an hour at least to reach us anyway.)

And there must be an enormous number of kids growing up that way; anything to teach them that having to wait for a bus or train etc is not the end of the world must be a good thing. Even simple rules such as "always carry a book" will not occur to people unless they've had cause to think about it.

But the Blair government will do its best to see they never learn. Whatever happened to the "green" Tony?

"Ministers are preparing ways of closing or "mothballing" large sections of the railway network, according to an official document which was slipped out without publicity last week.
Dozens of branch lines and secondary routes could shut, in what would be the biggest rethink of the network since the Beeching report in the 1960s, which led to the closure of 4,000 miles of railway and nearly half the nation's stations. Loss-making services would be transferred on to buses, as a means of reducing the £6bn-a-year subsidy.
An army of consultants will decide whether lines should stay open or close. A law passed last year has reduced the right of passengers to object to closures.
The 83-page consultation paper uses a new kind of cost-benefit analysis, which, experts say, will highlight the economically fragile state of the network. Such analysis often penalises trains because it fails to take into account that they are environmentally friendly. As one senior rail industry figure put it last night: "The trouble with consultants is they will do exactly what ministers want them to do."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A truly astonishing nonagenarian ...

(You are watching historical research in action here - apologies to readers who prefer more contemporary material ...)

I posted earlier this week on the nonagenarian Dame Helen Branch who died in 1594. I had found a pamphlet celebration of her life, and thought, for the time, that was something special. But - thanks in large part to a commenter, "Clanger" - it now emerges that there were FOUR memorial tributes printed after her death.

The one that I found in the British Library is Epicedium, A Funerall Song, vpon the vertuous life, and godly death, of the right worshipfull the Lady Helen Branch. [Signed: W. Har.], Thomas Creede: London, 1594.

Also existing are three others:

1. Attributed to John Phillips: A commemoration of the life and death of the right worshipfull and vertuous ladie; Dame Helen Branch (late wife to the right worshipfull Sir Iohn Branch Knight, sometime Lord Maior of the famous Citie of London) by whose godly and virtuous life, virgines are insinuated to virtue, wiues to faithfulnes, and widdowes to Christian contemplation, and charitable deuotion, &c. Which godly ladie left this mortall life (to liue with Christ Ihesus) the 10. of April last: and lieth interred in the parish church of Saint Marie Abchurch, nigh vnto Canwicke streete, the 29. day of the same month. 1594. I.P. (The text is here.)

2. By Joshua Sylvester: Monodia. An elegie, in commemoration of the vertuous life, and godlie death of the right worshipfull & most religious lady, Dame Hellen Branch widdowe, (late wife to the right worshipfull Sir Iohn Branch knight, sometimes L. Mayor of this honorable Citty, and daughter of M. W. Nicholson sometimes of London draper) who deceased the 10. of Aprill last, and lieth interred in Saint Mary Abchurch in London, the 29. of the same, 1594. [London]: Imprinted by Peter short, [1594].
(This site says she was the "the aunt of his friend Robert Nicholson".)

3. An epitaph of the vertuous life and death of the right worshipfull ladie, Dame Helen Branch of London: widow, late the wife of Sir Iohn Branch Knight, sometime the right honourable Lord Maior of London, and daughter to M. William Nicolson sometime of London draper: vvhich said ladie, deceased on VVednesday the 10. of April last past, and lieth interred in the parish church of S. Mary Abchurch in London, the 29. of the same moneth, 1594. London: Printed by Thomas Creede, 1594. Signed at the end: 'S. P.'

Can anyone help with some early modern Latin?

In the British Library copy of Epicedium (see post above) is written (in a hand and ink that looks to me 16th-century or thereabouts):

epitaphium lapide Lydio misculptim, &
literis aueeus miscriptum in tumulum
delubro sancta Maria Abchurche
LONDON decoris exructim
Anno a partue virgins, 1594

In fahicem memoriam pia pulchra & pudicae femina domina HELEN BRANCH, filia venerablis, GVIELMI NICOLSON ohim ciuis & Pamnarin LONDON quondam per quadraginta ammos (& eo ampliup) vxoris viri dignisim JOHANNIS DIINORS ciuis et etiam Pannarin LONDON cui peperit filium vnum Rogerum, & filias tres, Joannam Ripman, & Plaragaretam omnes fine prote deunctos Nuper (ad annum asque vugezimum) uxoris aurati quondam praecharizimae ciutatis LONDON homoratizimi Plaioris:
ROBERTUS NICOLSON generosus ex fratre nepos vreiufoz heres & dicta Dominae sotus executor, suis fumptubus spontaneis hoc Monumentum pofuit.

Nuper fui eti estis:
Nunc sum eti eritis.

Quam ter falicem pietas opulentia, forma,
Flecere' im terris modo suffragante popells:
Suffragante' Deo fideo, constantia viuoe'
Eternum in calis, te nunc iubet eze beatam.
Nonagenaria obut 10 mo. Aprilis
Annon Salutis 1594 to.

Cuius honoratizimae' Dominae' exequinae' moerentes splendenie
Die unnae ( ) 29 Aprilis 1594 to magna comitant caterua tam ornatizima Domini CVIBERTI BVCKLE tunc turrigeri LONDONI==INI Plaioris, quam venerabilizimocum
Doctorum, Generoforum, confanguineorum, Affirmum, proximorn, caduceatorum; perhomorificaruma Dominarum 'generosarm & pauperum, honorifice celebrata fuerunt . .

Tetratichon suprascriptum Anglice.
Ladie whom Pietie, Plentie, Beautie rare'
thrice hapie made on earth by peoples voices:
By constant lively faith, Heaven doth prepare'
eternal bliss for thee', wher LOVE reiosies,
Per Robin Nicolson; dicta Dominae nepotem'
Idem Anglice.

whom Pietie, Plentie & Beautie made,
thrice happie here, in Earth among the best:
Her lively faith, whose true fauite never fade'
makes home with God in heaven for ever blest.

[The bottom line is unfortunately cut off, but I think it almost certainly reads
Joshua Silueter: 1594]

So at least the English part of that is probably from one of the other pamphlets.

I suspect that the part above the line might be the epitaph from her tomb (the original having been lost in the Great Fire.)

I get from the bolded part that she was a beautiful and modest/chaste matron, dutiful daughter to John Nicolson, and that Robert Nicolson was her executor. Can anyone help with anything more?

Thanks in advance, and please forgive any transcription errors - not easy with handwriting in a language you don't know.

(I find that Phillips at least wrote quite a few similar elegies, although mostly for aristocrats rather than gentry.)

From London Bridge to film noir

Hot pies, fluorescent lights, bustling commuters. You step, for Shunt's latest production, from the commuter world of London Bridge station into a long, very dark, very spooky tunnel. As you progress - your feet feeling for solid ground - the buzz of a bar is heard in the distance, then you're in amidst the smoke and the laughter. But this is only the ante-room.

Explore, and you'll find your way into the production of Amato Saltone. Hand over the keyring you were given at the entrance and you'll find yourself with a business card with your name for the evening. This lets you into the party proper.

Disconcerting, you're in the depths of a penthouse - very effectively created - and a swinger's party. Circulating waiters record your preferences for obscure sex acts - don't recognise some of them, and you won't - and they'll fetch the dictionary stored in the piano stool. (A nice touch.) On and around the piano is a very pregnant cabaret singer (and she's rather a classy cabaret singer, if heavy-handed on the flirting with the audience bit). Happily, however, the threat of audience participation is never taken too far.

Then the storm starts and the lights go out. Windows slide back, and we're voyeurs, looking into two attic rooms where assignations are underway; not open, swingers' party assignations, but furtive, secretive contacts. Then the male participants, in a weird variation of a post-copulation ritual, go out on the roof for a smoke. Then two men in pig masks kill the women. READ MORE

Weekend reading

* This is hardly news to anybody - certainly to women - but it is now official: 16 per cent of the UK's biggest employers are paying women significantly lower wages than men's.

"A study by the [Equal Opportunities] commission of 870 employers, all of whom have reviewed their pay structures to check if they are paying equally, found that 16% are unlawfully discriminating against their female workers by paying them less than men to do the same job."

And it is a pretty fair bet - since these are firms at least aware enough to do the survey - that the general figures would be higher.

But there is some sane thought being given to genuine flexible working.

"The Institute for Public Policy Research - entitled The Citizen's Stake - is calling for employers and employees to take a "whole career approach" to their working lives and dramatically rethink the way they think about time."
The Citizen's Stake approach involves viewing your working life as a number of "time units" that can be saved, borrowed and exchanged - much as our financial assets can. In this way, our working lives could be dramatically reshaped so that work-life balance becomes more of a reality.

Oddly enough the media -- particularly among sub-editors -- is something of a leader in this. I know lots of people who work four-day weeks, an agreement for two employees to job-share by working six-month about (one wanted to live in France for the other half of the year), all sorts of arrangements.

* A horrific tale of an arranged marriage that apparently ended with a woman abused and imprisoned. (I say apparently because the trial is ongoing.) The good news out of this is that it seems the police are taking reports such as this much more seriously than they did.

* Far be it from me to correct Germaine Greer, but hey, I will anyway. In today's piece in the Guardian on the John Donne portrait that the National Portrait Gallery is trying to buy, she writes of London at the very end of the 16th century "there was no room for doubters or backsliders while London reeked of the flesh charred at Tyburn". But under Elizabeth, and James, "heretics and Catholics" were no longer burnt. There were Catholics being executed, but they were hung, drawn and quartered for treason, not burnt.

* On the ground that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, I shouldn't point to this, but the main Guardian headline at present says "US threat to Hamas over $400 aid". I suspect there's an "m" missing in there ....

* The British fascination with some murders - usually sexual ones; all of this provoked by Sir Ian Blair, who for once had something to say (about the media's selective reporting of crime victims), but as usual managed to spectacularly put his foot in it in saying it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Making London a sustainable city: is it possible?

London is a city of seven million people, with still largely Victorian infrastructure that is choked with very 20th-century traffic. So how could you ever make this great conglomeration a "sustainable" city? That was the question tackled tonight by a Young Greens-run seminar at City Hall. (A dreadfully unsustainable building, although for that the Greater London Authority can't be blamed - complaints should be directed to Tony Blair.)

Jenny Jones, one of the two Greens on the 25-member Greater London Authority, began by attempting to define sustainability, saying it means "we don't use today's resources to compromise the next generation's ability to have a good quality of life". By next generation, she added, she meant the next generation all around the world.

A pretty big ask then.

Darren Johnson, the other GLA Green, said a survey they had instigated found that 90 per cent of Londoners thought renewable energy in homes was a great idea; 20 per cent would consider going ahead if a scheme was presented to them; the problem was to make it happen.
- if it went ahead there would be at least 250,000 customers.

The first scheme presented -- and in many ways the "biggest" idea of the evening -- came from Jim Footner of Greenpeace, who spoke about decentralised energy networks. Under the current centralised system, with big plants in one place producing lots of power that was then transported to consumers, two-thirds of energy -- largely in the form of heat -- was thrown away. "For every 100 units put in to the system, two-thirds is lost in heat and you; lose another 3-5 per cent in transmission losses; you only use one-fifth of the energy that you could be using.

"At the moment the Barking 1000MW station dumps all that excess heat into Thames; it seems crazy not to be using it."

The decentralised model instead turned consumers into generators, and if heat was being generated in this way it could be used locally, Mr Footner said. This would also be ideal for the use of small-scale renewable sources such as wind, solar etcetera.

This was not mere theory, he added. "Woking [a Surrey town] decided to decentralise 10 or 15 years ago. It spent money to save cash, not for environmental reasons, but in doing so cut CO2 emmissions by 77 per cent.”

Could this be scaled up for London? The answer was a definitive "Yes". "The designer of the Woking scheme has been employed by the mayor to work on London.

And beyond that, it was possible to employ it to deal with the threat of massive emissions from China. "WADE, the world alliance for decentralised energy, has calculated that its emissions could be cut 56 per cent their predicted level in 25years, which would also save $400bn over 25 years."

Back in London, he said, the approach would bring renewal energy from the margin to the mainstream. "And, if it is your energy - you've made it - it is much more appealing to save it."

In response to an audience question about how to make this happen, he said that barriers in the current regulatory system discouraged small-scale producers; they had to be able to claim for the energy they produced. Furthermore, the remit of Ofgen (the main regulator) was to keep prices down at all costs. That had to be changed to a more balanced view.

Next up, Steve Shaw, the campaign co-ordinator for the Local Works Campaign, looked at the question of "sustainable London" in its broadest sense, saying that the chief problem for Britain was that "communities are unsustainable. We talk about ghost town Britain; the decline in things that make communities sustainable: post offices, banks, independent shops. And there is a severe deficit of local democratic activity.

"We have a very centralised system - not just in energy but in political power - in that big Gothic building just down the river. It creates top-down, one-size-fits-all policies."

His organisation has produced a draft Sustainable Communities BIll, backed by 237 MPS, that provides for more bottom-up decisions, particularly on issues such as local waste recycling, reducing traffic, reducing social exclusion and local job provision. And if a local participation exercise is carried out and comes to a decision, under the BIll the central government would have to back it, including with funds.

Louise Hazan then brought the issue down to an organisational level, speaking about People and Planet's campaign for green universities.

In the London league table the London School of Economics (LSE) was top (might be a message there), and Royal Holloway scored well well; UCL was at the bottom.

"Royal Holloway is selling itself as green uni - something students are increasingly looking for." But generally, Ms Hazan added, "universities are not yet significantly contributing to the solution, and they should be."

Richard Bourn, the London campaigner for Transport 2000, said a lot of what needed to be done was "pure commonsense. The Mayor has done some good things in transport, but it has become clear that are still some crucially important things that aren't happening."

Among the positives were congestion charging, bus service improvements, some progress on providing for walking and cycling; there had been a significant increase in cycling partly due to reduced congestion.

"But, the mayor's philosophy is as long as you don't travel by car it is OK to travel - we have misgivings even about public transport travel. We don't see the alternative to boundless car travel is to put same amount of travel on to public transport."

While much had been done in Inner London, the biggest problems were in the outer boroughs, which held at least two-thirds of the population. "Well over half of journeys there are made by car; 87 per cent of journeys made as car drivers end in outer London; only 14 per cent by rail, bus and bike combined.

"The traffic is continuing to grow and the target is merely for a reduction in the RATE of growth. Pressure on the road network is gong to continue to grow; roads are running out of capacity."

The other main negative was the Thames Gateway scheme, the "largest urban regeneration area in Europe" with 120,000 new homes planned by 2020, and more after. The planned Thames Gateway bridge would draw an extra 17 million additional car trips into east London; with a 60 per cent increase in traffic on the north circular. Suburban rail and light rail needed to be developed, instead of relying on cars.

Also needed were a whole range of soft measures - a 20mph speed limit, cycling and walking networks, travel plans for organisations, and car clubs.

The final speaker, a sustainability consultant and BedZed resident, directed his first comment to city planners: "Cycle routes have to start somewhere sensible and go to where people want to go."

He stressed that the timebomb for the South-East and East of England was water. "We don't have enough of it. If the Welsh and Scots weren't nice to us we wouldn't have any at all. We use something like twice annual rainfall. Most of that is wasted."

Friday Femmes Fatales No 42

Working on the final century of a collection of 500 female bloggers. Where are they? HERE!

I begin with a delightful post - if you only read one read this one - Heo Cwaeth debunks the arguments of anti-feminists. A sample: "If we assume that fatness causes feminism, then it reasonably follows that Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell are feminists." Read it, but don't ask me how to pronounce the name - my Anglo-Saxon isn't up to the task.

On the party politics side, on Writes Like She Talks, Jill Miller Zimon meets the Ohio Democratic Party Chairman, Chris Redfern.

Then, I probably should seek out more women who blog about computer technology (any thoughts?), but to start, here are Wendy Seltzer's reflections on spyware.

Combining a site review ( with a reflection on family history, Kristie Wells on Kiki's Korner is tracing her family tree.

Turning to the arts side, a review of Memoirs of a Geisha in the form of a poem. Mmm? I hear you say. No really; go and read it. Flextime's take on the film really sums it up. Beth Gottfried on Blogcritics, meanwhile, is looking forward to new movie called Brick.

And another review, of Frosted Flakes and similar high sugar cereals and their advertising campaigns. Isabel Walcott Hilborn says: "The addictive quality of sugar is a topic not adequately explored in medical studies and popular culture."

Turning on the personal side, Southern Bird reflects on her first year in Manchester, Joanne D. Kiggins while offers a peek out her window. There are deer, wild turkeys and more.

Then on Jenn's Journal, a painful, personal reflection on the pain of miscarriage.


You can find the last edition of Femmes Fatales here.

Nominations (including self-nominations) for Femmes Fatales are also hugely welcome - I'll probably get to you eventually anyway, but why not hurry along the process?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I don't know how posties keep their fingers

Spent a couple of hours leafletting for the Greens this afternoon and learnt several things:

* Many people must never come home drunk, because if they did their front steps would surely kill them.

* A row of houses with raised ground floors - eight or ten steps up - don't look like that big a deal, until you start climbing them one by one.

* Many people have astonishingly small letterboxes, and flaps with bulldog-strength springs, so it is a miracle posties don't lose their fingers in them.

* I did see a real example of a flat from hell - an astonishingly filthy kitchen - no window glass at all (all of the other windows in the flat were boarded up). I did put a leaflet through the door, but have to admit to fleeing when someone approached it...

What was this all for? A talk by Paul Ingram, a defence analyst, former Green Party councillor and co-leader of Oxford City Council, speaking on "The Need for Green Politics Today" on Sunday, 29 January 4.30-5.30pm at Holly Lodge Community Centre, 30 Makepeace Avenue N6 6HL. Just in case you happen to be in the area ...

Radio 4 and 17th-century print

In Our Time this morning is on the subject of 17th-century print. I've been half-listening, in between the morning chores, but I do plan to get back to it, since it is downloadable as an MP3 file, at least for a week, or you can listen on the website.

Time to work out how to load MP3s on to my phone ...

Women's and boys' rights

A piece in the Guardian today suggesting young women are angry about the apparent disappearance of "political feminism". Great!

I am sitting on a platform at the ICA with Naomi Wolf, and a young woman speaks up from the audience. "Where has our women's movement gone?" she asks. I am struck by her impatience and the anger that is voiced by other young women in the room. I hear them speak about feeling under attack by our Nuts-and-Loaded culture, which suggests to young women that their only chance of fulfilment and empowerment is through pandering to the so-called ironic fantasies of chortling men.

It is partly a mea culpa by the author, Natasha Walter, although it does make me want to point out the difficulty of getting anything overtly, or even covertly, "feminst" in the mainstream meda - I know because I was there, and I tried. And nearly all of the decisionmakers are males; the few exceptions are woman who have often had to, or felt they had to, be more male than the blokes to get to their positions. Mention the word "feminist" in a news meeting and you'll get either rolled eyes and comments about "bra-burning", or, in more politically correct areas, people clearly thinking similarly.

But then a story proving that youth can sort things out for themselves - a New Jersey schoolboy has won the right to wear skirts to school.

At first, Michael Coviello only wanted to bend the uniform code at Hasbrouck Heights High School by donning shorts, which he had started wearing because of a knee injury.
But he was told that district policy prohibited shorts in winter.
He sought a meeting with Joseph Luongo, the school superintendent, and argued that it was unfair that girls were allowed to expose their legs and he was not. The superintendent suggested that if he felt that way, he should dress like a girl. Michael, 17, a drummer in the school band and a member of the golf team, called his bluff and went shopping.

Well indeed; why shouldn't boys wear skirts?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dame Helen Branch, a 16th-century nonagenarian

Probably a long shot, but I'm on the trail of Dame Helen Branch (or possibly Helena/Helenae) who died - in her nineties - on 10 April 1594 and was buried in St Mary Abchurch in London.

A pamphlet was published containing a poem celebrating her virtues. (Infuriatingly short on detail, as such things usually are.) It is titled A Commemoration of the life and death of the Right worshipfull and vertuous Lady Dame Helen Branch, late wife to the Right Worshipfull Knight Sir John Branch, sometime Lord Maior of the famous Cittie of London, &c. and can even be found on the web here.

It is curious that the poem seems to be widely attributed; to Joshua Sylvester, and to John Phillip[s], also here.

Yet the original pamphlet, which I was holding in my hands today, has a closing signature "W. Har." - and it is hard to see how you can get either of those names from that. The ODNB says it was written by a William Herbart or Herbert, but not the most famous one of those?! Another source says it was a Sir William Harvey.

Her second husband, Sir John Branch, a draper, was mayor 1580-81.

Her first husband had been a John Mynors, who may have been (if he was a fair bit older than her) the John Mynors who in Lincolns Inn in the Trinity Term of 1494 was, with William Fyllyff and Richard Eryington, fined "for not keeping or preparing the moots for two days as they ought, when divers Benchers were prepared to hear the moots". (These were formal disputations.) He may have some connection with a composer, William Bryd.

Her father was William Nicolson, her mother Joan.

In the back of the pamphlet is what looks to me like contemporary handwriting recording what seems to have been the epitaph on her tomb, mostly in Latin, but with a bit of English. There's mentioned in that a Robin? Nicolson, also "JOHANNIS DIINORS" and "CVIBERTI BVCKLE".

I'd be eternally grateful to anyone who can shed any more light on her life; if I get time tomorrow I'll probably try to transcibe the handwritten bits in the pamphlet (although working from handwritten Latin IS a challenge.) I'd also welcome any suggestions for other directions of research; I've got a few threads, but they are pretty thin.

A question for the lawyers

One of those moments that produce disquiet: I was taking Champ out for a walk this morning, wrestling with the rather difficult external security door of the flats.

Two Community Support Officers were walking past. When they saw me they immediately changed direction and walked through the door I had opened into the (secured) lobby of the flats. (They didn't speak to me, or make any attempt to speak to me, although we were virtually face-to-face.)

I didn't challenge them at the time; it was one of those things that happen in an instant, but having thought about it I don't think they have the right to walk straight into private property without permission. Shouldn't they need, like presumably the police, a search warrant?

Living in central London, I see huge numbers of these CSOs - they seem to spend their time strolling the streets doing nothing in particular, and it can surely only be a matter of time before there is some scandal over criminal behaviour by them. We all know there are plenty of crooked police; there will surely be burglars (or worse) who think a CSO uniform would come in right handy.

And of course there are the civil liberties implications ...

A bit of research shows: "A constable has no general right of entry into private property except to prevent a breach of the peace and to prevent the commission of an offence which he believes to be imminent or likely to be committed."

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the lobby of a block of flats is private property, albeit communal private property. The more I think about this, actually, I think I'm going to query this ... I'll report what I find (if of course I can find someone responsible.)

UPDATE: 26/1 Well I did get a response on my voicemail this morning, and it seems that they do have permission from the council housing department to enter the block, and there is a purpose for it; someone has complained that youths are smoking cannabis in the stairwells. In which case it is fair enough, although I still found their manner a little odd.

A wonderful world - today's discoveries: a powerful queen and a very small fish

The mainstream media is of course calling her "King Tut's grandmother", but Amenhotep III's queen, whose statue has just been found in Egypt, was more important in her own right than as the relative of that very minor figure. (Tutankhamen's tomb survived unrobbed surely at least in part because he was so insignificant.)

The dig team says:

The statue'’s back pillar was unearthed first and led [the expedition'’s director, Betsy] Bryan to believe briefly that it dated from a far later period, since an inscription there was clearly made in the 21st Dynasty, about 1000 B.C.E., for a very powerful queen Henuttawy.
"The statue, however, when it was removed, revealed itself as a queen of Amenhotep III, whose name appears repeatedly on the statue’s crown," Bryan said. She said she theorizes that perhaps this statue is of the great Queen Tiy, wife of Amenhotep III and mother of the so-called heretic king Akhenaten, who came to the throne as Amenhotep IV but later changed his name because of his rejection of the god Amen in favor of the sun disk Aten.
"Tiy was so powerful that, as a widow, she was the recipient of foreign diplomatic letters sent to her from the king of Babylonia in hopes that she would intercede with her son on behalf of the foreign interests," Bryan said. "Some indications, such as her own portraits in art, suggest that Tiy may have ruled briefly after her husband’s death, but this is uncertain."

When you think about it, it seems unlikely that Hatshepsut would be the only woman who ever tried to rule Egypt in her own right.

You can watch Tiy emerging from the ground here. (This is a great ongoing diary of the dig, a day by day account, highly pictorial.)

(Via Alun's blog (which used to be called Archaeoastronomy).)

In other discoveries, the "world's smallest vertebrate" (well that we know of) has been found in a Sumatran peat swamp.

The newly discovered species, Paedocypris progenetica, is a member of the carp family ... The female ... from head to tail measures 7.9mm (0.3in) when fully mature. ...
The male, reaching a typical 1cm in length, is an extraordinary creature. Its over-sized dorsal fins are beefed up with hard pads of skin and a hook that can be forced forward by powerful muscles in a grasping action. Until scientists can retrieve live samples to observe, they can only speculate on the fins' purpose."

Of course, however, like just about everything else on the extraordinary zoo that is the island, its future is far from assured. ""I hope we'll have time to find out more about them before their habitat disappears completely," said Dr Britz."

The coathangar returns to America

When I started to learn about feminism, and the fight for abortion rights, in the mid-1980s, the Western world at least thought that accounts of women swallowing noxious chemicals, or introducing them into their uterus in an attempt to end a pregnancy, was merely a nasty historical lesson, a cautionary tale.

Yet it is not just that this is now threatening to return, but in America, it has already returned:

Jen (not her real name) is administrator of a women's health clinic in the South that provides abortions. She has noted with alarm the recent rise in illegal abortion in her community. For some of the women she sees -- after their initial attempts at abortion fail -- whether Roe v. Wade is technically still the law of the land is beside the point. The combination of the procedure's cost, the numerous regulations that her state imposes and the stigma surrounding abortion is leading a growing number of women to choose self-abortion or an untrained practitioner over legal abortion.
...A doctor from the hospital ... contacted her. He asked for her help in setting up a special ward for the treatment of illegal abortions when Roe is overturned, because he knows the caseload will mushroom then. "He didn't say 'if' -- he said 'when,'" Jen said. "Chills ran down my spine."

And mine. There's the inevitable hideous human suffering, so clearly epitomised by the coathangar, but there's also the thought of the return of the fear of pregnancy that has haunted women for millennia. Will freedom be so quickly snuffed out?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Londoners: Look down, and worry ...

When you walk around London, beneath your feet are layers and layers of history. There are also, so we're told, millions and millions of rats, massive but leaking Victorian sewers, and more than the odd plague pit. These are the aspects of the city that captured the imagination of Stephen Smith, and in his Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets he seeks to find all of these and more.

He's a journalist, and has the journalist's knack of talking his way into the oddest places and situations, from the crypt of St Andrew's Holborn as workmen clear out a noxious mix of bodies, coffins and maybe the odd anthrax spoor, to a river boat from which a small boy is being dangled by his ankles while he beats the water with a cane. (No, we're not talking hideous Satanist ceremonies there; rather an old City tradition.)

He starts out in the Tube - noting that in 2002 a new record for visiting all 272 stations was set (19 hours, 18 minutes and 45 seconds) - and ends up at the Thames Barrier, (the definition of underground sometimes being rather loose), with a nasty reminder that the foundations of the city might be less secure than they seem, its use having risen from only nine times between 1982 and 1991, to 14 times in one week in 2002.

Smith writes with brio, if sometimes self-conscious brio. He's setting himself up as a character, and that "personality" side of his writing, like those TV archaeologists who leap around like Archimedes on his best day just because they've found a pot sherd, can get annoying. But the writing moves fast enough that this is only a momentary irritation.

The research is somewhat scanty in places, but its breadth is its redeeming feature. So a visit to Berry Brothers, the "Italian warehouse" set up by the Widow Bourn in 1698, opposite the royal tennis court in St James's Palace provokes reflections on everything from Pitt the Younger and Napoleon III weighing themselves in the basement to a 1991 cause celebre when six Barclay Bank employs got themselves into hot water by spending £44,000 on one lunch. Then he joins in a wine tasting at the firm (that's now their specialty):

"To the accompaniment of the silky, ship's-screw noise of air conditioning, tipplers circulated among damask-draped tables, accepting the equivalent of an optic or so of the ruby-coloured stuff from the Berry staff. The punters glugged and spat - or swallowed, at their discretion - before jotting down their thoughts on the ports. The illusion that these smartly dressed men and women were fastidiously keeping dance-cards reinforced an impression that the evening belonged to a bygone age."

The focus on being below soil produces some surprising results. I don't know that under the Merton Abbey Savacentre - in the southwest corner of the Tube map - there is indeed the remains of an abbey - one that once rivalled Westminster in size and wealth. Nor did I know that fragments of Henry VIII's tennis court survive in the Cabinet Office, and can be viewed on the London Open House weekend. (Something got the diary there.)

As a potted introductory history to the city for the neophyte, or as a reminder to a jaundiced veteran that there are still many things to discover, Underground London digs in nicely.

Perhaps there is hope for America ...

It might be as much fashion as real action, but interesting to learn that second-hand hybrid cars are appreciating in value:

A few days ago I got a call from one of my hybrid-owning friends, who is about to trade in her 2003 Honda Civic hybrid for a new one. Apparently her Honda, which has low mileage and no dings or scratches, is worth $21,000, because demand for the new models cannot be met by the manufacturers. Not bad, given that she bought it three years ago for $18,600.
"I can’t believe it," gloated my friend. "Houses are supposed to appreciate, not cars." So, it seems, conspicuous thrift can actually result in a conspicuous profit.

Then, more cheery news, on cancer - yes really - a fascinating analysis of increasing evidence of the role of infections in cancer. Which presents the possibility, as in the case of cervical cancer, of a vaccine against it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A less than sugary history

If conscience is to be your guide, is it actually possible to live in the world? If you put every action, every dependency, to intense moral questioning, how can you act at all? In today's secular world that's a question with which many individuals wrestle, and it is one that Quakers, and religious groups that like them put the focus on a guiding inner light, have been grappling for centuries.

These are the questions facing the two central characters in Elizabeth Kuti's The Sugar Wife, which has just transferred from Dublin, the setting of the play, to the Soho Theatre in London. But this is the 1840s Irish city, in a nation already on the edge of economic and social collapse.

Hannah Tewkley (Jane Brennan), an intense, mid-30s, childless Quaker wife almost consumed by a career in "good works", has an uneasy relationship with her own body, but an even more uncomfortable relationship with her husband Samuel (Barry Barnes). He is a tea, coffee and sugar merchant who plans to branch out into oriental tea-houses. He squares his own rather flexible conscience in using America - slave-grown - sugar, amidst other moral "crimes", by funding his wife's philanthropy and pointing to the likely fate of his employees were he to go out of business.

Into this volatile, uncomfortable house are invited - at the insistence of Hannah - two visiting anti-slavery campaigners, the former slave Sarah Worth (Susan Salmon) and the man who bought her out of slavery, the rich-boy turned rebel Alfred Darby (Robert Price). The latter has apparently solved the problem of conscience by living entirely by his principles - to the point, it emerges, of living on Sarah's earnings so he can devote himself to his "work" and to "art" (producing daguerreotypes). READ MORE

A demarcation dispute of 1601

"House of Commons] On Saturday the 12th day of December [43 Eliz., 1601]. . . . An Act for redress of certain abuses used in Painting was read the third time."

Mr Heyward Townsend ... shewed, that in the statute of 25 Ed. 3 Cap. 3 Plaisterers were not then so called but Dawbers and Mudwall-Makers, who had for their Wages by the day three pence, and their Knave three half-pence (for so was his Labourer called) they so continued till King Henry the Sevenths time, who brought into England with him out of France certain men that used Plaister of Paris about the Kings Sieling and Walls, whose Statute Labourers these Dawbers were. These Statute Labourers learned in short time the use of Plaister of Paris, and did it for the King ...

... They renewed their Patent in King Henry the Eighths time, and called themselves Plaisterers aliàs Morter-Makers, for the use of Loam and Lyme.

... In all their Corporations at no time had they the word Colours, nor yet in their Ordinances. ... The Plaisterers never laid any Colour upon any of the Kings Houses, nor in the Sheriffs of London, but this Year. ... They have been suffered to lay Alehouse Colours as red Lead and Oaker with such like and now intrude themselves to all Colours; Thus they take not only their own work but Painting also, and leave nothing to do for the Painter."

Reading between the lines, it seems the debate in the lower house lapsed without agreement, the subject went to the Lords, who appointed a few members to try to mediate in the dispute. And people complain about modern-day regulation!

From Tudor Economic Documents: Being Select Documents Illustrating the Economic and Social History of Tudor England by (eds) Eileen Power, R. H. Tawney; Longmans, Green and Co., 1924, p. 136-39.

Thank the judges again

While you still have the occasional dinosaur judge making stupid comments in rape cases, increasingly in Britain we have cause to thank them for defending civil liberties, and even women's rights. The latest today is a ruling that parents do not have a "right to know" if their under-16 daughter has an abortion.

Mr Justice Silber ruled that Ms Axon, who has five children - or any other parent - had no right to know unless the child decided otherwise.
He said he would not change the law as Ms Axon's lawyers had requested. Lawyers for the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, had fought the legal challenge.
The judge added that to force a girl to tell her parents "may lead her to make a decision that she later regrets or seek the assistance of an unofficial abortionist".

Obviously it is preferable for girls to be supported by their families if they are considering an abortion, but those reluctant to do so may well have VERY good reasons for their choice.


Then a gimmick, yes, but I'd go to garage with an all female-staff for preference, even though my upbringing means I can talk "mechanic", even if I'm only talking the talk. (I once had a 45-minute discussion with a mini-cab driver about whether the problems he had with third and fourth gear were the clutch or the gearbox. I then regretted being able to talk the talk.)

Turning serious again, micro-loan schemes for women have proved enormously popular and effective, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, the mother of them all SEWA, has run into political problems in Gujarat. Empowering women, and women from disadvantaged communities, is always likely to stir up those who'd like to keep them poor and vulnerable.

And I get the impression often from talking to Britons that they think Australia is some sort of natural paradise - well no, the cities are often a traffic-packed hell. The calculation for Sydney:
ROAD transport is costing Sydney $1.4 billion a year in greenhouse gas and other air pollution, with the city's heavy congestion exacerbating ill health and climate change.
That is the conclusion of a report by the Centre for International Economics, which also found that over the next 15 years the annual cost of greenhouse gas emissions would rise by almost a third, to $187 million.

Another calculation: "commuters are wasting more than three days of their lives every year stuck in traffic".

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Surprising sanity about sex

Despite all of the hysteria about the "sexualisation of society", and you wouldn't think it when you read the Daily Mail, but it seems that in Britain a significant number of teenagers are waiting longer to have sex. Perhaps sex education is working?

The poll reveals that the number of people having sex before 16 years old has fallen from 32 per cent in 2002 to 20 per cent now.
The age at which the typical Briton loses their virginity has increased since they were last asked in 2002, when the figure was 17.13 years. Young women generally have sex younger than their male counterparts - at the age of 17.44 years, compared with 18.06 for men.

And sanity is striking in terms of long-term relationships: "The number of people who believe that monogamy is natural, from 74 per cent to 67, showed that with Britons living longer and healthier lives, the idea of lifetime fidelity is in decline."

The figures on homosexuality are also interesting, with "those admitting to having had sexual contact with someone of the same sex" rising from 11 per cent to 15. Does that mean more sex, or just more openness? Pretty hard to tell.

There's more analysis of the survey here.

Although of course some things never change, with the News of the World salivating today over the resignation of the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, after it revealed his relationship with a rent boy. (He is supposed to be, and who knows, maybe even is, "happily married", with two children.) Now that's traditional Britishy sexuality ...

We'd better watch out, however, since American missionaries will probably be over here soon, trying to reverse the trends, as they are elsewhere.

From Peru to the Philippines to Poland, U.S.-based conservative groups are increasingly engaged in abortion and family-planning debates overseas, emboldened by their ties with the Bush administration and eager to compete with more liberal rivals.
The result is that U.S. advocacy groups are now waging their culture war skirmishes worldwide as they try to influence other countries' laws and wrangle over how U.S. aid money should be spent.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Today's CO2 will still be heating the world 100 years from now

On a cold January Saturday in London, 140-odd people turned out tonight for a public meeting. The subject: climate change, and specifically Friends of the Earth's The Big Ask. What struck me was the number of people who said, during the question time and afterwards: "I've going just got involved in this." "I just realised this is really important."

There were people fitting the usual stereotypes of environmental campaigners in the audience, but there were plenty who didn't, among whom I'd include myself. It was only on January 1 that I joined the Green Party, and I'll be heading out tomorrow for my third Sunday of canvassing for it for local government elections coming up in May.

What FoE is asking for is legislation committing the British government to step-by-step, year-by-year reductions in carbon emissions, up to the target of a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. This move apparently has the backing of a majority of MPs, but that in no way, of course, guarantees that it will become law. It has to be their priority, and almost certainly, the government has to be forced to support it.

And at present, the UK is heading in the wrong direction, with emissions rising, and this matters because while the long-term target is needed - and has been calculated on a worldwide basis that should produce only a two-degree rise in worldwide temperatures. This will be hugely damaging but hopefully not totally destructive. However, that is a calculation based on a gradual fall in emissions. A sudden fall in the last decade will result in an overshoot, because - I was told tonight - every molecule of carbon dioxide emitted today will go on heating the world for a century.

Two MPs were present last night - both from the Labour Left and central London, Frank Dobson and Emily Thornberry. Both did the usual political things, shying away from criticising the government and mouthing slogans, although the latter's "the biggest challenge for our generation is to ensure that is not our generation that kills the planet" certainly got to the heart of the manner.

Frank Dobson sounded as though he thought the government's energy review was definitely going to come down on the side of nuclear power, and he set out some nice details about the industry propaganda - the "proven technology" the AP1000 reactor did not in fact exist - the proven claim applied only to various bits of which, some being in civilian use, some military. Much was also being made of "passive safety" features - basically it would be supposed to shut itself down if things went horribly wrong - but every system had that, including Chernobyl. Nuclear power was neither a quick, nor a cheap solution, he said, although he wouldn't altogether rule out the possibility that it might become necessary.

The Green Party is running its own campaign in relations to the energy review. Unfortunately I couldn't make it earlier this week, but there was also a launch of its campaign for practical steps to green energy. I'm particularly taken with microgeneration schemes - particularly wind and solar. I look around the estate on which I live - flat-roofed buildings, some of them very tall, and wonder how much of its own energy it could actually generate, with a bit of imagination and effort.

The good, the bad and the ancient

I caught the fossil-hunting bug during a visit to Lyme Regis a couple of years ago. My table is now decorated with quite a few ammonites, what might (or might not) be a dinosaur coprolite, and fistfulls of belemnites. (Their fossils are casts of their internal cavity, so the are simply a narrowing rod of stone. I think everyone gets bored with picking them up eventually, they are so plentiful).

But I guess I'll have to go back now, since a new cliff-slip has exposed what is expected to be a rich new field. Someone in the "how to collect fossils" group I went out with found an icthyosaur vertebrae - now I really would like one of those.

Elsewhere, in the "it was bound to happen" category, Jane Austen is to be repackaged as "chick-lit"; and an American woman soldier's account of Iraq is also being sold by the sex, although it appears to be about a lot more.

And, surprise, surprise, Western science has found evidence that acupuncture works.

Researchers found that an acupuncture technique using deep needling led to the deactivaton of part of the brain's limbic system, which helps the body to be conscious of pain.
Neuroscientists believe that the findings show that acupuncture has a measurable effect on the brain and that the study could provide a possible mechanism to explain how acupuncture can relieve pain.
The research was carried out on a set of volunteers by scientists at Hull York Medical School as part of a new BBC TV series called Alternative Medicine: The Evidence, to be broadcast on Tuesday evening on BBC2.

It would be kind of odd if the Chinese had been using it for thousands of years and it didn't have some effect ...

And finally, the only real story in the UK this weekend is the whale in the Thames. Whether it makes it or not (and the radio news is not very positive just now), while some might say this is a disproprotionate response, I still think it is a positive aspect of human nature that such efforts should be made to save another creature, and such interest be shown in those efforts.

The flavours of India in Hampstead

There are some moments from Tamasha's production of A Fine Balance, which has premiered at the Hampstead Theatre, that I will remember for long time. There's the opening scene, of a legless beggar, who skims around the stage seeking alms amid an imaginary traffic jam, evoked by a soundscape and smellscape that immediately transported me to Calcutta, the site of my first encounter-shock with the sub-continent. Then there's the stunningly effective puppetry that solves the problem of animal and child characters - the "death" of one animal puppet produces an almost audience-wide audible gasp.

Yet these excellent moments are blended to produce a dull, if worthy, whole. The play is based on the eponymous Booker-shortlisted novel by Rohinton Mistry, one of those classic Indian sprawling epics, in this case exploring the impact of Indira Gandhi's 1975 Emergency, which imposed martial rule on the world's "largest democracy".

The story, by and large, is of the effects on the poor - the slum-dwellers thrown out of their homes and driven into pointless stone-breaking, morale-sapping labour; their employers, only marginally more economically secure, left without workers; the men and women sterilised by force ... the novel is a great sweeping tale. The play takes in all of their stories, yet while it leaps from drama to drama, from crisis to crisis, the action on stage is slow, even langorous. This is a neat synopsis of a play, but the heart, the soul, is missing.

Part of the problem is that none of the characters is developed - they are more archetypes than people. I naturally sympathise with Dina Dalal (Sudha Bhuchar). We meet her as a sweat-shop employer, but she gradually emerges as a struggling woman, a widow, determined to maintain her independence in a male-dominated world, if only to remain out of the uncaring clutches of her bullying brother. But she is a stereotype, if an admirable stereotype; we never learn more. What was her relationship with her husband; what gave her the steel to battle on to the bitter end? (The book answers these questions; the drama does not.) READ MORE

Friday, January 20, 2006

A new blog and a new name

... well both new to me anyway.

Winter Evenings, or Lucubrations on Life and Letters, being posted by Radgeek, is what she has labelled a "retroblog", being the words of the Rev. Vicesimus Knox (1752-1821).

It seems to consist - well has so far anyway - of those literate, neat, what you might call Ciceronian, formal essays, which you seldom see today.

Here, very neatly, is an essay about the appropriate form for an essay:

Every mode of introducing an air of novelty has been tried by the periodical writers. Allegories, Diaries, Eastern Tales, Little Novels, Letters from Correspondents, Humour, Irony, Argument, and Declamation, have been used to vary the form of conveying periodical instruction. These contrivances were successful, till the repetition of the same modes of diversification caused a nausea.

Well worth checking out ... and I think the "retroblog" term is also well worth adopting ...

Meanwhile today my own retroblogger, Francis Williams Wynn, is reporting on the accounts she heard of the death of the Russian Emperor Paul I (son of Catherine the Great), recollections occasioned by the death of his successor, Alexander I. It was a bloody, chaotic scene:

Paul resisted stoutly, attempted to conceal himself, &c.; and they seem to have hacked him most cruelly. At last Beningsen and Ouwarow took the sash of one of the sentinels on duty and closed the scene by strangling him, but not till he had received some tremendous blows on the head, and not till one of them (Beningsen, I think) had trampled upon him, and had with his sharp spurs inflicted two wounds in his stomach.

Her account seems to be based in part on the accounts of two English governesses at the court, a Mrs Browne and a Miss Kennedy, who had a pretty scary time of it:

Miss Kennedy with her young charge slept in the room immediately over that of the Emperor : she heard the violent uproar (' row,' Lord Dillon called it), trembled, quaked, got the infant out of its own bed into hers, and with him in her arms lay expecting some horrible event. This dreadful interval lasted more than an hour, when Madame de Lieven (the mother of the Prince Lieven who was ambassador in England, and then grande maitresse of the Empress) rushed half dressed into the room, and desired Miss Kennedy to bring the Grand Duke to his mother instantly, if she wished to save his life and her own.

Miss Williams Wynn's account seems to square broadly with this account of the life of Paul, which says of his death:

On the night of March 12, 1801, Pahlen, Count Bennigsen, and the Zubov brothers Nikolai and Platon entered the Mikhailovski Castle with the assistance of a co-conspirator, an unfaithful aide-de-camp of Paul's. They found the tsar's bed empty. The conspirators, who were drunk, found their head of state hiding behind a screen in his chamber. In an alcohol induced frenzy, they proceeded to murder the man to whom they had sworn their loyalty. Thus died Pavl Petrovich Romanov, who left the world in circumstances as lacking in love as his entrance.

Friday Femmes Fatales No 41

Starting on the final century of a collection of 500 female bloggers. Where are they? HERE!

Dr Crazy on Reassigned Time explores the reasons why she finds it hard to praise herself. Which reminds me of something I've noted in seeking new FF each week - when looking down someone's blog-roll, aside from the gender-obvious names, I also look for the self-deprecating names; they are overwhelmingly women's blogs.

Andrea on Vociferate, meanwhile, wonders what is to be done about women who betray their sex for an easier life? But for Molly on Molly Saves the Day, hell has frozen over, for Concerned Women of America are agreeing with her - at least in conclusions, if not reasoning, about sexy lingerie marketed at girls. Modest and raunch are just two sides of the same coin, she says.

More cheerfully, City Girl sets out one aspect of Philadelphia life that she loves - fliers. The Fabulous Miss Rose, writing on The Girl in Black, has another love - National Public Radio. "There aren't any adjectives describing how "horrible" or "wonderful" something is." And tr1c14 on Woman in Comfy Shoes has found that her grandma's town in Kansas isn't nearly so bad as she thought.

On Ancarett's Abode, a mum attends her first pop-rock concert since giving birth to the child she escorted to this concert. Nothing much has changed. Another mum, TW on Wee Hours, says don't go to see Hoodwinked - "Hits like a girl should never be an insult."

Also in the "that takes me back" category, JoAnne on Cosmic Variance assembles various graduate student recipes. Which reminds me I haven't seen a picture of one of my equivalent brews - an enormous pot of hopeless overcooked pasta that had turned, for some reason, a really odd shade of pink. Cooking one thing and eating it for a week was my standard behaviour then ...

Finally, Joan on Mamcita - don't miss her wonderful logo - takes us into bigger, and smaller, waters, with a ever slightly tongue-in-cheek account of thefounding of the League of Micro-Nations. Remember The Marshall Islands, nuclear test site, will be ready to host visitors in 27,560 A.D.


You can find the last edition of Femmes Fatales here.

Nominations (including self-nominations) for Femmes Fatales are also hugely welcome - I'll probably get to you eventually anyway, but why not hurry along the process?

Friday dog blogging

I started off with a "not on the sofa" rule, but how could one resist a 33.4kg (weighed at the vet's this week), long-legged dog so determined to sit on a small lounge chair:

The satisfaction seems to be worth the careful adjustments required ...

The "not on the bed" rule will, however, remain.

Click and pay

I think you could say online shopping has come of age:

A total of 24 million UK consumers shopped online last year, spending an average of £816 each during the year and £208 over the Christmas period. Sales peaked in the week starting December 5, when £653 million was spent online.

I heard a speaker on Today saying this was 10 per cent of total spend.

Well I do my bit - I'd reckon 90 per cent plus of what I spend is online.

I was thinking about the environmental effects of this - has anyone seen any analysis? It has to greatly cut journeys of consumers to the shops, and mean at least one less journey (from warehouse to shop). It also, presumably, cuts impulse buys and hence consumption. And eBay means that many things are "recycled".

Then a small piece of good news out of Malaysia - a senator has got himself into trouble by divorcing his wife by text:
The prosecuting sharia officer, Mohamad Yusof Sulaiman, had asked for a heavier sentence, saying it would better highlight the seriousness of the offence.
"Cases such as this are happening often these days," he said.
"Even [non-government organisations] have been critical of Islamic laws lately, especially on matrimonial matters which are said to favour certain parties."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Should not horses be treated equally to dogs?

The story about the ridiculous offence of calling a police horse gay prompts me to ask, why is it that dog owners must clean up after their pet or face a fine/hearing (fairly enough), police horses can go around dropping shit all over the place (gosh, can I say that? is that impolite to the horse?) without any attempt being made to pick it up?

Sure if they are in "hot pursuit" it might be excused, but when they are just going for a pleasant morning amble - as I've seen them doing regularly from my last two central London residences, why can't they clean up after themselves?

This is definitely discriminatory ...

A morning of good news

Battling a stomach bug, so decided only good news this morning ...

The British workforce is - if slowly - opening up to older workers. About 10 per cent of pensionable age people are working. You might question whether this is good news - and certainly some of those people have to work because of their financial conditions.

But many say they are happy to do it, even choose to do it, and given the changing age structure and increasing life expectancy, it only makes sense for people to work longer, even if in different jobs. Certainly I can't ever imagine "retiring" while physically able to continue to work at some job. And this is particularly a women's issue, in that women are the ones who live longer and have smaller pensions ... they are going to need the jobs.

After all, today there are 6,000 centenarians in Britain; in 30 years' time there are predicted to be 30,000 - probably not many in jobs, but you never know.

Liberia's new female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf -- the first in Africa -- has been sworn in" and the first in-her-own-right female president has been elected in South America, Michelle Bachelet in Chile. This site puts the current tally of international heads of state and government. Not great, but an improvement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The A to Z of feminist blogging

The Carnival of Feminists No 7 has just been put up by Lauren on Feministe, and it is HUGE! Lauren has arranged it in an A to Z, starting with Abortion and ending with Videogames, via Burlesque, Consumer Culture, Dating, Poetry and much, much more. I'm particularly pleased to see a strong showing from women writing from a feminist perspective about comics and videogames - a newish area for the carnival.

It is another spectacular collection. I did a rough count and there are something like 75 posts there, and all the ones I've read (I'll get to them all eventually) have been brilliant.

Please help to spread the word ....!

The heft and quality of this edition makes me wonder if I should make the carnival weekly. The thought of the organisation makes me quail slightly, but ignoring the practical problems, which no doubt could be overcome, I see two ways of looking at this.

The main argument on the "go weekly" side is that it would allow the inclusion of a larger numbers of blogs without the length of the carnival getting impossible.

The main argument against is that perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. By keeping the twice monthly frequency, carnivals are still relatively unusual events that attract more notice. I'd welcome thoughts in the comments below, or by email.

Probably the other thing that I should try to do is build links with carnivals of related interest. I know that Jenn on Reappropriate (a former Carnival of Feminists host) has founded the Radical Women of Colour Carnival. (The deadline for submissions is January 31, and the call for submissions is up.)

Are there any others I should know about out there?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The first news of Waterloo

Miss Williams Wynn is today reporting on the first news of Waterloo reaching London; there's a fine whack of what we'd call "insider trading" involved. Her editor then goes on at much great length - and in considerable gory detail. (You've been warned!)

A Tudor letter: this is what bad news really looks like

I spend a lot of time trying to get inside the Tudor mindset - but sometimes you realise it is impossible, as when I read this letter from the widow Margaret Baynham.

Anno domini 1545, the first day of April, at Calais.

Master Johnson, I do right heartily thank you for the good beer you sent me, albeit that a great part of the same hath been drunk with much, much lamentation and mourning. For upon Palm Sunday in the morning perceived we manifestly that John Grant (which had complained seven days before) was sick of the plague, whereupon I and all my household were glad to void my house.

The same self day after Evensong, Margery, one of my sister Plankney's daughters, waxed suddenly sick also of the same disease, whereupon my said sister forsook her own house also, with such wares as she had in her shop, and went to my garden in Maisondieu Street, where she and I with a great number of young fruit do continue in great sorrow and heaviness of heart, God be merciful unto us, help and comfort us.

And what shall become of these two sick persons we are uncertain yet, but they are very weak and feeble. They be in God's hands — Almighty God be merciful unto them, and restore them their health again if it be his pleasure.

Thus doth God chastise and scourge me from time to time (first by the death of my husbands, then by the death of my two brethren-in-law, my sister's husbands, and now with John Grant, on whom of late I bestowed so great cost) to keep me in awe and under correction still. I beseech his almighty goodness, even as he daily reneweth my sorrow and heaviness, so mercifully to send me patience in all my trouble and adversity, and to obtain the same the better, I desire you and good Master Cave to pray for me.

From Calais, as is above rehearsed.
By yours to her power,
Margaret Baynham,

This being written in the morning, John Grant and Margery my sister's daughter departed this world about eleven of the clock before dinner. Now is our lamentation and mourning greater than ever it was before, Almighty God be our comfort.

Our current culture - when we worry about miniscule risks and are inclined to try to find someone to sue if we don't make our three-score-and-ten and then some - is a long, long way from this.

It is not hard to understand why religion was so important, as the only crutch available. But can you really get inside that mindset?

(From Tudor Family Portrait, Barbara Winchester, Jonathan Cape, London, 1955, p. 56)