Sunday, 29 October 2017

Lessons from Weinstein


The floodgates appear to have been opened for women to confront anyone in their past who sexually harassed them. 'Me too' is the cry. And it's true. I can't think of any woman I know well who hasn't at some point been the target of unwanted sexual attention. Opportunity,ambition and in the entertainment world in particular, a requirement to flaunt all visible assets at all times have proved the downfall of young women and some young men, but the tables have turned and more and more men in the entertainment business are being named and shamed, and frankly, they deserve it. And as several men have said to me, other men have been complicit in this arrangement, or hesitated to call out other men known to be sexual predators. Men have, it’s true, mainly protected other good old boys from the consequences of their actions. Why this has happened possibly has its roots in a historical need for men to stick together to defeat the enemy/hunt the game/deter invaders and so on. Telling another man he’s out of order, acting inappropriately, and that he must change his behaviour or risk arrest is not calculated to make you friends in high places. But it has to be done. These are our daughters, our sisters, our friends who are telling us that what they experienced was, and is, unwanted, unpleasant, and without their consent, and that they felt humiliated, abused, angry and upset. And that economic sanctions or ambitions thwarted were the very real consequences of such actions if they did not comply.
So other males and females too, have to take more responsibility for shielding, listening to and taking action not just when things go wrong, but in general.

Unless this happens, things won’t change. Habitual sex pests will become more sly, devious and self-pitying, because what they all have in common is a manipulative ability to ignore the norms of decent behaviour. My mother gave me a terrific example of how it was okay to deal with situations like that – she carried a large safety pin with her so that if a man became ‘over familiar’ (her words) in the bus or cinema she wouldn’t hesitate to jab them with it. I witnessed this.

She told me it was okay to slap hands, sometimes faces of men who were ‘fresh’, or take other avoiding action, and as an orphan herself, she knew how to defend herself and protect us, going into the garden armed with the poker because thought someone was out there. She never discouraged me from fighting people who would hurt me, though she didn’t condone violence, and in one situation where my life was at stake my lack of inhibition at kicking out hard undoubtedly saved my life. Women are, I think, inhibited from causing pain to others. Good, but they need to protect themselves from other peoples' unwanted sexual advances, because that's pain too, of a different kind.

I wonder whether we don’t need to tell our daughters this.

Use your voice. Practise shouting: 'Get Off me!' 'I'm saying NO' 'What do you think you're doing?'
and 'Stop doing that now,' are worth practising. Martial arts are useful if words fail. Be assertive.
Be smart. Don't put yourself in danger. And value yourself. Can you really be bought for the price of a furtive grope, or used as a masturbatory aid? And fellows, wake up. The old rules no longer apply.

Saturday, 21 October 2017


Having recently read the American poet Elizabeth Bishop’s moving villanelle, One Art, written in 1976 after the ending of her relationship with Alice Methfessel, I’ve needed to study the form again in order to respond to the homework challenge, which is to write a villanelle. Bishop re worked hers several times. It’s a very moving, personal piece of writing. Can I write a villanelle? Daunting!

So what is a villanelle? Six stanzas seem to be the norm, of three lines each. Except the sixth, which has four lines. With me so far? The first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, and all the second lines rhyme, so the pattern is:
Stanza One A, B, A,
Two A, B, A,
Three A , B, A,
Four A, B, A
Five A, B, A
and Six - wait for it – A, B, A (a repeat of the first line) B.

That’s 12 different rhymes for A, 6 for B. Quite a tall order.

Hmmm… The first thing to do, I thought, is to create a store of good rhymes, so I got the rhyming dictionary out just in case and set to work:

Understood/could/should/likelihood/food/ crude/reviewed/misunderstood/rude and with a bit of poetic licence, confused/mood. A first line was starting to take shape:

‘The kindness of strangers isn’t understood’

Yes, I quite liked that. We live in a suspicious age and it’s not hard to see why. I have to remind myself of the many times when people I never met before were good to me, for no good reason, except that that’s the kind of people they were. Not millionaires or do-gooders, just nice ordinary people.

On to the second line rhymes: know/show/bestow/below/so/no

‘It’s hard to trust the people that you know’ This had to flow on to another line ending with an A rhyme:

‘Without suspicions making you seem rude’. I didn’t like the ‘you’, altered it to ‘me’ but didn’t like that either.

I completed six stanzas keeping to the rules and finally this emerged:


The kindness of strangers isn’t understood.
It’s hard to trust the people that we know
without suspicion making us seem rude.

Strangers offering accommodation, food,
we fear may in the end just show
us up to be rejecting, or ungrateful, crude

in our distrust of others. The likelihood
of having to give something back, bestow
some gift or other, which we’ve misunderstood;

this fear prevents us from engaging as we should,
ignoring gifts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and so
we blunder on, we’re never in the mood,

and block out these attempts at discourse, unreviewed.
‘No thank you,’ ‘I don’t need that. No.’
Strangers stay strangers then; that’s understood.

People play tricks. We’re easily confused
by promises of things; the lure of what’s on show.
The kindness of strangers isn’t understood
Testing it out’s the only way to know.

Well, it’s a first draft, and I have written a villanelle. I shall go and make a cup of tea now.