Saturday, 3 February 2018

Come Rain, Come Shine

It was a gruesome start to the day. I had checked my phone for new messages and found attached to the first one an unappealing photo of a friend’s sore foot. The next, from my sister, was worse: a photo of a gory wound on her leg. I really should take heed of the latest advice – to limit screen time – at least until after breakfast. However, I recovered my equanimity and, the weather forecast being fine, set off for a walk. (Lately we have had daily variations in our weather: cold and bright; cold and overcast; or cold and wet. I prefer the first but don’t mind the other types because I have a strategy for making the best of them: indoor activities.)
This fine day, I took a walk around the northern fringe of the city centre, dodging the homeless people on the pavements, to check progress on the housing developments that might, one day, give them shelter. The good news is that there are plenty of units being built. Less good, however, is the prospect that they will not be cheap. Moreover, in the inevitable compromise between density and quality, density appears to have gained the upper hand. In the euphemistically named neighbourhood of Angel Meadows, for example, identikit blocks of flats crowd each other out as they loom over narrow Victorian streets. And, despite our acquired wisdom of the social value of creating inter-active neighbourhoods, there seems to be no provision for communal facilities or open spaces. But my walk was not completely soured by disappointment: further along, in the quarter called New Islington, the buildings are more varied and set to make the most of the old canal basins and the small but thoughtfully created park. There is hope.
Turning to indoor activities – apart from an excellent lunch hosted by a friend, which drifted boozily into the early evening – good chunks of my time were spent at the cinema. I went to see Nick Parks’ Early Man, despite it being a ‘family entertainment,’ because it is set “near Manchester, around lunchtime” in the Pleistocene era. Sure enough, there were actual children in the audience, though I doubt they got the metaphor about sustainable economic growth that the storyline conveyed (a primitive tribe is ousted from its habitat by the forces of profiteering capitalism). Actually, toward the end of the film, in spite of the gripping football match, small children started to wander the aisles in search of something more interesting, while adults sat rapt.
Again, despite misgivings, I then went to see The Post. I am reluctant to pay money to encourage Stephen Spielberg because, although his films are undeniably well made, they are invariably tainted with his trademark insertion of at least one unnecessary and extremely schmaltzy scene. However, the cinema beckoned, offering shelter from the elements, and the story of The Post – the fight for the freedom of the press – is a noble one and, worryingly, of recurring topicality. Everything was as expected – the film was well made, the actors were terrific and the schmaltzy scene came in on cue – but there was one thing about the story I had not previously realised: that the owner of the newspaper and, as such, the person who defied the President’s injunction, was a woman. In the light of this and other facts, it seems to me that now is a particularly good time to celebrate her principled stance.
100 years after women fought for and gained suffrage, 50 years since women at Ford’s Dagenham plant made a stand for equal pay, and amidst current revelations that gender pay inequality remains rife (lent force by the high-profile publicity afforded it by the BBC cases) it appears that there is a convergence of forces, like some rare astronomical event. Perhaps last night’s Blue Moon was an auspicious omen for gender equality; it’s a pity the sky was overcast and we all stayed indoors.

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