Emile and Enid

This morning I was, against my better judgment, listening to ‘In Our Time.’ It’s not that I dislike the adenoidal tones of Melvyn Bragg – I used to enjoy watching him on t’telly – it’s the programme itself. Somehow they always seem to take an interesting subject and turn it into something dull and ponderous. And I particularly dislike the ubiquity of the historic present (‘Napoleon sees his opportunity and grasps it’, ‘Henry desperately wants a son’) as if this can substitute for interesting narration. But this morning I was grabbed by the subject because they were talking about a theory of child-centred education.

Oo, I thought, I wonder who they’re talking about? It could have been John Stuart Mill or John Holt but it turned out to be Rousseau and my heart sank because, must as I admire his ideas on education they are very definitely For Boys Only. Surprise, surprise, girls must have a completely different system because well, we’re just not that bright, are we? And you know how emotional women get – we just wouldn’t cope (see this explanation.)

But it gets worse – for it transpired (and this I didn’t know) that in doing this ‘great’ work, Rousseau completely abandoned – yes, abandoned – his wife and their five children. I was outraged to hear this, and it reminded me of Enid Blyton and how she neglected her own children in order to write for other people’s. Her elder daughter commented on how confusing it was to read her mother’s descriptions of reading them bedtime stories – all completely fabricated as no such thing ever happened.

Should I be surprised? Is it a general – nay, invariable rule that people who bang on about something don’t actually practise it themselves? Can you think of other examples? Or perhaps counter-examples? Well, I have one – no, hang on- two. I was reading this morning about how St Francis not only preached against the Crusades but went to the Middle East to show friendship and solidarity with Muslims there. When Christians deviated from the gospel he was always ready, not only to point this out but actually to do something about it. As for Gandhi, the ways in which he married practice and preaching are well-known – and as a Quaker I ought to know that Friends aim to put everything we believe into practice.

So what is going on with these others, Rousseau and Blyton et al? Dickens was another case in point; a campaigner for children’s rights who neglected his own family. So is there some kind of philosophical point we can extract from this? And if so, what is it?

Answers below please.

Kirk out

Advertisements

Could You Redistribute Yourselves a Bit Please?

As I mentioned the other week I’ve started a Quakers’ sustainability blog here.  Since I’ve been ill I haven’t posted much so it’s feeling a bit lonely at the moment so if you could take a look here the blog would really appreciate some company.  I’ve added a couple of posts this week, one on the advantages to the planet of a vegan diet and the other on the best brand of loo rolls, covering both ends, so to speak: these posts could use some comments.

So head on over.  It’s all here.

And here.

Kirk out

Half the Sofas, Double the Posts

Something weird happened yesterday and I’ve only just twigged: not only did the sofa post reproduce itself (a tad ironic, since the post was about reducing the number of sofas) but it failed to include the saga of the toaster.  I don’t know how that happened but I think I can guess: I got lost between two blogs.  I knew I’d written about the toaster somewhere but I couldn’t find it, so concluded it must be languishing in the Drafts folder (things do a lot of languishing around here; they must be taking languish lessons.  Ho ho.)  Anyway, I did find it in a draft over on the other blog.  It gets very confusing having to sign out and sign in again as my profile over there is a Quaker one but over here I’ve doffed my Quaker hat and donned my Lizardyoga costume (incidentally did you know that the reason Quakers are traditionally shown wearing hats is that, as confirmed egalitarians, they refused to take their hat off to a ‘social superior’?)

I have a distinct memory of copying and pasting the toaster saga into yesterday’s post – yet when I checked, there it wasn’t.  Most mysterious.  Anyway, here it is:

Last week I went to a repair cafe, organised by Loughborough Transition Network, toting my defunct toaster in a big black bag.  It was a four-slice toaster and I was pretty sure that one side at least would still work but the knob wouldn’t stay down.  I passed the toaster across to a lovely guy who spent the next 3/4 hr on mending it; most of that time in trying to get the very stubborn casing to open.  But though the screw was stubborn Stuart was more so, and eventually we prised the plastic base off the metal housing and looked within to a hell-hole of dust and crumbs.

It’s part of the ethos of the cafe that you stay and watch the repair so that you learn from it.  I learned loads about the inside of a toaster, how there are magnetised parts inside which are brought together when the knob goes down and released when the timer finishes, and how once the element is gone there’s not much you can do except buy a new one (hardly worth it.)  Enough crumbs came out of my toaster to make a new loaf; and whether it was the cleaning of the crumbs or the polishing of the magnets or the stubbornness of Stuart convincing the toaster to give in and jolly-well work, he got it going again.  I did try to freecycle it but unfortunately the pop-up device isn’t working so it will stay with us as a back-up toaster.  But I can’t describe the satisfaction I got from having something mended that was previously defunct.  It really felt like one in the eye for pointless consumerism – and don’t even get me started on built-in obsolescence.

If you’re in Loughborough, check the transition blog for more details, and if not then google your nearest repair cafe.  You’ll thank me.

Kirk out

The Reduced Sofa Company

You’ll all be relieved to know that the number of sofas in this house has been reduced to one, thanks to those lovely guys from SOFA.  I highly recommend these people if you have furniture to donate: much cheerier than the British Heart Foundation and far less sniffy than LOROS who won’t even take something if it has a bit of dust on it, these guys set to with a will, undeterred by ink spots and merely concerned with how sturdy the structure was.  Now that’s my kind of recycling.

In the process though, I have found a couple of useful bits of info, to whit Leicestershire and Rutland re-use network (though the website is temporarily offline) which actually carry out repairs and upcycling, and www.freeuseit.org (though they merely give suggestions rather than taking stuff).  It was also suggested I might try the Red Cross who help refugees to set up home (legally, lest any Daily Mail readers should start frothing at the mouth) and any of these would have been my next port of call.  Failing all of them I’d have freecycled the bits as foam cushions and pieces of wood.  I was determined to save it from the tip.

Give that woman a gold star!

I mean it.  I want my gold star.

Now, a propos of all this recycling and retoastering (did I tell you about the toaster?  Possibly not; I’ll get to that in a minute) I’ve started another blog in conjunction with Loughborough Quakers.  It’s all about our efforts to live more sustainably and you can find it here.

Kirk out

The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was reading an article in the Guardian today about how hard it is to be a Muslim in public life.  You get asked all kinds of questions like, ‘Do you think the state of Israel should exist?  Do you sympathise with terrorists?  What do you think of underage marriage?’  You become the poster-girl or boy for every horrendous act perpetrated in the name of Islam – and in the end you discover, as Nesrine Malik says, that the only way to win the game is not to play.

I can totally sympathise – if not empathise – with this, because it ain’t that easy to come out as a Christian these days either, at least not in Europe.  I would never suggest that Christians get abuse on the level of Muslims – for a start, we’re not easily visible unless we go out looking like these guys (the ones with crucifixes, not the ones with breasts).  Unless we open our mouths and start quoting the Bible, nobody can tell what we are.  But if you want to suck all the atmosphere out of a social occasion and have people edging away from you fast, just try mentioning the G-word.

These days I don’t even say I’m a you-know-what: if anyone asks I tell them I’m a Quaker.  This is partly because it’s more in tune with where I am, and partly because you avoid being blamed by association for everything from colonialism to the inquisition.  Being a Quaker is much more user-friendly because either people don’t know what that means and are interested, or they do know what it means and start talking about chocolate and world peace (usually in that order.)  Being a Quaker is – well, Friendly – and unless your interlocutor is wedded to nuclear weapons or radically opposed to chocolate in all its forms, you’re onto a winner.

Then again, it’s better to stick to the outward actions rather than touching on the inner revelation.  Mention ‘the spirit’ or ‘worship’ or ‘the light’ and people will edge away faster than the tide at Camber Sands (and believe me, that’s fast.)  Why is it so hard to talk about this stuff?  Why are people so hostile to anyone, no matter how tolerant or open-minded, who expresses a faith?  I’m not Billy Graham, for f***’s sake; nor do I think evangelism is a good thing.  Quite the reverse.

Sometimes I can’t help thinking that the evangelists are all atheists now.  Doesn’t Richard Dawkins want to make converts?  Aren’t some of the new atheists more intolerant than the believers?

Discuss.  (Politely, please – rude comments will be deleted.)

Kirk out

Random Wisdom

When I have a book of aphorisms or verses or proverbs I sometimes open it at random and see what leaps out.  So today I opened my Quaker Faith and Practice and found this verse:

‘Creeds are milestones, doctrines are interpretations: Truth, as George Fox was continually asserting, {is} a seed with the power of growth, not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful.’  John Wilhelm Rowntree, 1904

https://qfp.quaker.org.uk

This seems to me to sum up the entire raison d’etre of QFP.  It is not exactly a handbook; much less a rule book, but a guide to – well, Quaker faith and practice, which like Rowntree’s seed, is continually evolving.  Which means that unlike the Bible or other religious texts, it is regularly updated.  This is not at all a ‘slash and burn’ exercise but one carried out thoughtfully and meditatively over a number of years involving a wide circle of people and a wider field of consultation.  Quakers do nothing in a hurry and certainly not rewriting the book of – what do they call it?  I can’t remember.  I want to say the Book of Longing because Cohen is on my mind at the moment.  ‘Book of Discipline’, that’s it.  Not a very helpful title really as it sounds like a headmaster’s record of canings administered.  But there you go.

The problem with the Bible is that while interpretations vary endlessly – as do translations – the text itself is fixed and cannot be altered.  Where Quakers score in this sense is that changes can be made easily and paradoxically, more quickly.  The Book of Discipline is updated roughly every thirty years to take account of changes in society, to ensure we remain both relevant and true to our testimonies, and to let go of passages which are no longer considered useful.  Hence, while it took mainstream churches decades to catch up with social attitudes on LGBT people, Quakers very quickly adopted these ideas under the testimony to equality; since the 1970’s there have been passages in the book about this.

Nor do we venerate George Fox, the father of Quakerism.  He was a figure very similar to St Paul in many ways in being both a visionary and a founding figure; but he was problematic.  He could be ferociously stubborn and bull-headed and some of his pronouncements seem to us today extreme and unhelpful.  But because he’s not a saint (testimony of equality again) we are free to criticise him, something that is not usually the case with St Paul in the church.

So there it is – we’re better than the mainstream churches.  Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Humbly yours

Kirk out

You’re Pretty Ugly

Recently I have been on the receiving end of two contrasting comments on my appearance: both were completely unsolicited, which left me feeling rather like a batsman (batswoman?  I don’t know what they call women cricketers) who didn’t even know she was on the field, let alone that her team was ‘in’.  Interestingly both were connected with Quakers, and both occurred when I was feeling at peace with myself and the world: this may not be a coincidence.

The first incident happened when I was exiting Quaker Meeting on Sunday, feeling sunny and peaceful and at one with the world.  A guy was standing outside: he smiled at me and as he was what I can only call loitering, I was unsure whether he might be interested in Quakers.  In any case I would have smiled back, as indeed I did.  He then said something about ‘growing a beard’: I assumed he was talking about himself as he had a fair amount of stubble.  He then went on to say, ‘I don’t like that in a woman’ and asked if I had considered waxing, whereupon I said that his comment was unacceptably personal and walked on.

My assessment of this guy was on reflection that he was probably autistic; not just because his comments were rude but because he didn’t seem to realise they were rude.  He gave me the impression of someone who speaks their thought habitually without restraint or awareness: so, bruised as I was by his comments, I basically exonerated him.  I’d be lying if I said they didn’t affect me though.

The second encounter was more interesting in a way.  I’ve just come back from two days at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre (an excellent place to stay whether or not you’re studying) and while I was there I ran into an old acquaintance: I’ll call him Bert.  I’d always been slightly wary of Bert as I found him a tad patronising but I’d generally assumed we were basically on the same page politically (this was almost certainly a mistake).  So we said a passing hello, then later I went over to have a chat – and almost the first thing he said to me was ‘you’re looking very pretty.’  I muttered an uncomfortable ‘thanks’ but I was totally taken aback, as I’d assumed his politics would preclude such personal comments; and whilst I was slightly flattered my discomfort far outweighed these feelings.

WARNING: GENDER GENERALISATION ALERT

(this means that comments below are a generalisation to which there may be a number of exceptions, though not enough to disprove the rule).

So here’s the thing: women don’t do this.  When women make unsolicited comments they tend to be of an affirming nature (that’s a lovely skirt; where did you get those shoes?, I love your necklace.)  These comments convey a sense of equality; of comparing notes and appreciating each other.  They are affirming and do not make me feel uncomfortable.  However a man saying I look pretty feels entirely different.  It conveys a sense of judgment, a sense of appraisal, a sense of being looked at and assessed.  It doesn’t feel like a compliment, though it’s dressed up as one.

So lest we forget; this is a generalisation.  Women are capable of negative and critical comments (‘do you always wear your hair like that?’  ‘What an interesting shade of pink!’  ‘Gosh, I’d never dare wear those things together!’) and men are capable of supportive comments, made without any sense of judgment.  But I think there’s a general truth here.  In my experience.

Kirk out