Have you seen Call The Midwife? If not, it’s on iPlayer and really pretty fabulous. It’s taken from the memoirs of a young midwife in the 1950s and manages to charm you without idealising the difficult lives of the East End of London’s working class back when the NHS was new and wonderful.
It seems quite poignant that as our NHS appears threatened, essential Sunday night* viewing looks at its infancy. I’ve been fascinated by early contraception clinics and the compromises made during home births. What has most stood out to me has been not only an attitude of getting on with things but an appreciation for developments. At one point in an early episode a doctor points out that ten years ago none of this was possible.
The NHS was launched in 1948 with Bevan, the Secretary of State for Health announcing “we now have the moral leadership of the world.” Big words but I agree with the sentiment. As it happens I’m not a big advocate for the idea of human rights. I’m not convinced that humanity is so intrinsically special that we are entitled to anything.
What I do subscribe to however, is the idea of societal standards. When you look at Americas Poor (link to Panorama documentary: Poor America), one can’t help but be at least a little repulsed by the right wingers who deny the extent of the problem. I do think however, that as the decades pass we have become soft. When I hear of my Grandparents standard of living when they were newly married (in the 1950s) I am sometimes a little taken aback. I take hot running water for granted and struggle to imagine my comfortably off and fond of his luxuries Grandad dragging the tin bath up the stairs so they could have a proper wash.
In the documentary is a family living in a motel room. It sounds bloody tough and I’d hate to be in that situation. But my Grandfather grew up sharing a bed with his three brothers. Not because they were impoverished so much as that was rather normal back then. Yes there are examples that are truly awful such as the couple living in the drains but the fact that it is 300-400 people in a city as vast as Las Vegas makes for a tiny percentage. Please don’t think I lack empathy, I think any amount of homelessness points to a society that needs vast improvement but the figures do matter.
Of course the crux of the problem is health provision. I passionately believe that America has got it very very wrong. I don’t believe that in any developed nation a life saving operation shouldn’t be paid for by the tax payer. If someone needs their appendix out then cut the damn thing out! Surely this has to be the very definition of a civilised society, the prevention of easily avoided death.
In my first politics tutorial as a wide-eyed undergraduate we were asked the measure of a developed nation. Most people favoured GDP but I wasn’t convinced and posed the idea of the quality of life of the poorest person in that society. I think it was the single-most intelligent contribution I ever made in a tutorial and of course one the lecturer was hoping for. So while I reject human rights I nevertheless am a political scientist with a focus on everyone in a society. From day one I have disliked GDP and have argued in favour of topics such as citizen confidence and level playing fields.
However, what I consider acceptable seems to offend so many of those the husband and I tend to label bleeding heart liberals. You see, my societal standards essentially extend to a few brief points:
1) A roof over your head at night and a place to sleep that offers basic lumbar support and sufficient warmth to maintain health.
2) Access to hot water and the ability to keep oneself and ones clothing clean.
3) To never feel the gnawing pain of hunger.
4) To receive all necessary medical care in physical terms and a certain degree of medical care in psychological terms.
5) Freedom from violence and abuse (in all its forms).
6) Sufficient free education to provide those with the determination and drive to be able to fulfil their potential.
My standards are perhaps more noteworthy by what I don’t consider necessary. I don’t think a shared washroom in a hostel that houses several households is unacceptable. I am more in favour of plentiful emergency housing in the way of women’s refuges than I am of families being rehomed because their house is “cramped.”
My beliefs stem from the idea that things need to be paid for somehow. While I want to live in a society where no premature baby dies from lack of adequate resources, I think that every child having his or her own bedroom is something to aim for rather than being a requisite. I fully support a benefits cap of £26,000 per household because I know I could manage my family on that including our mortgage and all bills. It would be a massive drop in lifestyle but it could be done.
The problem as I see it is that our aging population is going to be an increasing drain on resources and choices need to be made. Choices are already made. To my eyes the treatment my father got was hugely different from the treatment my grandmother got when they each contracted and died from cancer. My father’s case was a tragedy, my grandmother’s simply very sad and a touch untimely.
I think the bill is wrong. But something needs to be done and I’d like to see more alternatives. I think there are very few Tories who aren’t at least a bit incredulous as to what is being proposed but nobody seems to be talking about the fact that something needs doing!
Put simply we can’t have everything but rather than offer a counter point, most people seem to be in denial about it. Where is the alternative?
* More like Tuesday afternoon for me since the husband isn’t really into that kind of thing. I didn’t notice but apparently Joan gets a bit more demure when she gets married and for this reason Mad Men began to lose its appeal for him. In fairness to him, the husband has wide a wide variety of tastes but generally there needs to be a decent geeky element, zombies or something to perve over.
I was reading a review of and then tracked down Disease avoidance: from animals to culture this week. Not, I hasten to add, the full journal. PhD I may be but I’m not up to date with current thinking in my own field let alone my specialty and merely picked my way through bits of it. Although, one might argue (and I have myself effectively argued in the past) that diversity of knowledge gathering is important. Anyway, the crux of the topic is of significance interest to social scientists as behavioural disease avoidance is something rooted in our area of cultural consideration and it’s exciting to think about evolutionary effectiveness. It got me thinking about risk. As the abstract to the Introduction, Proactive strategies to avoid infectious disease, states: In humans, disease avoidance is based upon cognition and especially the emotion of disgust. Human disease avoidance is not without its costs. There is a propensity to reject healthy individuals who just appear sick – stigmatization – and the system may malfunction, resulting in various forms of psychopathology. At the simplest level, when choosing our mates we take a variety of risks. As the Swedish quartet say, we ask our potential lovers: Take a chance on me. The song has the fairly poignant lines of ‘If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown, honey I’m still free.’ For me this brings to mind someone fighting something her desired lover has intrinsically picked up upon. I don’t think the character is unpretty (sorry, any excuse to link to a favourite song) so much as she doesn’t differ sufficiently from him in ‘antigen-coding genes.’
Ok so perhaps my attitudes could be argued by many as being pre-emptively defensive but I really think unrequited love is unrequited for a reason. Sure we can deny our feelings and perhaps the Fanny’s of the Mansfield Park’s can get their Edmund’s but for the most part I think when we’re attracted to someone and it isn’t reciprocated then they are picking up on something we aren’t.
Significantly, I see these sensitivities to appropriate mates as being wider than just the couple involved; hence the success of many arranged marriages. But it can’t be done on paper, the contact aspect is important.
This isn’t to say the social stuff doesn’t matter. I’ve been attracted to men I didn’t wish to reproduce with (practicing the act sure but they weren’t life partner material for me) and ultimately I settled with the man I was both attracted to and who ticked my marriagibilty boxes. And yet I was happy to take a greater risk on the social elements (being with the husband meant a path towards stepmotherhood, he was still going through a divorce but I fancied the pants off him) than I was on the physical (I briefly spent some time with a British property developer in Thailand who invited me to live in his hillside house with pool but I just wasn’t that into him).
Of course women are crazy and can’t be trusted. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that when we’re ovulating we’re attracted to men oozing testosterone and aggression but later are attracted to more supportive and nurturing men. In short our bodies say screw the guy from the gym but set up home with the guy from the office. No wonder we’re so fussy when it comes to choosing a boyfriend (assuming we aren’t the type to juggle multiple partners!)
Still, love is a risk and arguably, that’s why we’re so hooked on it.
But take responsibility for yourself and be honest about what those around you are really saying:
The guy you're just casually dating, no matter how complex you like to believe he is.
The nice guy you have a future with (no really, this is what he's thinking!)
The guy who is in it for life!
I'd like to dedicate this blog post to the husband:
True fact xxx
A fortnight ago I wrote part one of this blog. I wrote about how my trip to Turkey made me appreciate the emotional dangers faced by a girl adventurer such as myself. In many ways I think my emotional journeys have been the most interesting. They have made me the person I am today. When I was writing up my PhD thesis I had to describe how my research had evolved and how my views had changed during the process. I decided to answer honestly and wrote about how my not being at all racist had been based in innocence of the complex nature of race relations and how when faced with the racism of others in Malaysia, I changed. I experienced some pretty awful attitudes and comments from Arabic men who saw me as inferior to their veiled wives, men who viewed me as some kind of animal to be freely abused due my lowly status.
It didn’t take long for me to not be terribly fond of Arabic men. Furthermore I amended by behaviour by avoiding them; refusing to make eye contact and crossing the street rather than pass them (seriously, one once pushed me out of his way quite literally into the gutter).
It’s challenging to realise you are making judgements on race. More challenging to realise that it’s not wholly unreasonable. I wondered how it’d be received but I was commended for my honesty and ability to be self-critical. Significantly, I was able to reread my thesis and ask myself whether what I had written was formed by what were arguably a few isolated events.
Still, when it comes to telling stories the physical stuff tends to be a bit more exciting!
So how did I find myself in the middle of nowhere, alone with a man with a handgun?
It was my first day in Cappadocia. I was staying in a village called Göreme after a twelve hour bus journey extended by four hours due to the bus breaking down. This occurred after I’d got up at 4am and by the time I checked into my hotel I’d been up for 32 hours. I’d taken a couple of valium on the bus but this merely achieved my not caring about the delay rather than sleep. I took a (cold) shower and changed into a sundress. I was tired but also somewhat wired and really hungry. I took a walk around the village then stopped for something to eat.
When I got back to my hotel, the girl who’d checked me in gestured quickly and introduced me to her brother who ran the hotel with her. He spoke English and we resolved the issues with the tour I had missed. He then asked me what I wanted to do that afternoon.
It’s hard to turn down hospitality.
I was a bit vulnerable. I was sleep deprived and had already exhausted what the village had to offer. There were no taxis to be seen. While a tourist destination this was rural Turkey. You stay in a cave hotel, you go on organised tours and then you leave. Head away from Cappadocia and you find a place where women still get stoned to death for looking at men the wrong way. Just because you’re drinking raki in a sundress doesn’t change the fact you are enjoying a pocket of freedom in a Middle Eastern country.
I was pushing boundaries and for the last 34 hours had felt at the mercy of the Turkish men deigning to look after me. Part of the thrill of travel for me is how my boundaries shift and change. I used to struggle to relax in public but in Cambodia I fell asleep on the metal roof of a boat surrounded by people. I woke somewhat startled but only because my travelling companion Trev had covered me in his silk blanket (to protect me from the sun) and I thought I was dying in a hot air balloon which arguably is an easy mistake to make.
I got the next boundary wrong I think. I say I think because I wasn’t hurt and instead had an amazing experience. But it was wrong because it could have gone so horribly wrong.
Did I want to shoot beer bottles? I laughed and said maybe. Did I want to go for a hike and see some temples? I’d just had a cold shower, eaten some flatbread and was thinking I had things pretty good, I’m backpacking on a budget, hell yeah I want to see some temples.
He said to sit and drink some more tea and we’d go in a bit.
Of course there was a part of me with doubts but I was also going stir crazy. I’d been stuck on a bus and was now stuck in a tiny village until tomorrow morning when I was to be picked up for a sun rise balloon tour (yes, this costs over a week’s accommodation in a hostel*).
And the crucial thing was... I like guns. When I was fifteen and an air cadet I got my marksman badge. Thirteen years ago I’d been pretty good and I was keen to try again. And perhaps because I’d handled rifles, I wasn’t overly scared of them. That was my mistake. I assumed we’d been talking rifles.
We went in his car. He opened his boot, grabbed some bottles and headed out to position them. It was hot and it was beautiful. It felt like another planet far far away from the real world and real life. He pulled out his rifle and loaded it. It was gorgeous. The rifles I shot with the RAF were serviceable, black. They were tools. This rifle was a thing of beauty, a much loved and cared for form of polished wood and shining metal. My desire to hold it can only be described as lust. Even now as I recollect it I feel a pull that wishes I owned it, could caress it and could feel it explode in my grasp. Firing that gun was like a hot affair that scorches your soul and demands revisiting in the quiet pleasure of recollection.
I was handed the rifle. Barely had I absorbed its texture before my blood ran cold as my companion pulled a handgun from the car. It was a strange sensation because usually holding a rifle you feel quite powerful. But it is a far inferior weapon at short range. I had said I didn’t know how to shoot because I knew I could use a refresher but the truth was that I had a loaded weapon and knew exactly what to do with it. I also knew just how long it would take for me to move and shoot was it necessary.
Nothing bad happened.
As it turns out I’m still as much a marksman as I was as a teenager. Scared as I was by the handgun, I was seduced by the rifle. My companion was impressed and offered me a go with the handgun.
They’re heavy and the kickback is intense. With a rifle you take it into your body and I have strong thighs; I can take it. A handgun’s kickback is localised and I didn’t feel in control of it. Perhaps I was scared of it. I don’t see rifles as fighting weapons. For me rifles are about target practise and shooting animals (not that I’ve ever hunted myself) but handguns feature in episodes of CSI, they get used for shooting people.
It was an amazing afternoon. I saw incredible private churches off the tourist trail, sights that my companion had discovered himself. He estimated that only a small percentage of Cappadocia’s treasures had been found. But the whole thing was marred by the fear that it was a game, that at some point he’d turn the gun on me and rape or kill me.
Nothing bad happened.
But I changed nevertheless. That afternoon made me realise that not only did I have a fiancée who loved me but that I had stepchildren who were anticipating my return (ok, their presents from my trip). In a way I never felt towards my mum and brother, I felt I had a duty to stay safe for the people who relied upon me.
Three boys with guns. Three boys I’ve eaten bulgur wheat with. Three boys who changed me forever.
I say boys because I’m just a girl. These are just stories (true as they are) and this is just life.
It’s challenging but I’m hooked!
Incidentally, my friend Hussein got in touch after the first part of this blog. He’s invited me and my family to visit him in Iraq. I think the boy’s mother might take issue so my plan is to go with just the husband. One day.
What’s the worst that could happen?
* And I’m pretty flash and have a private ensuite room (albeit with cold water).