Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Gentle Sex

This afternoon I was able to indulge in spending the afternoon watching a black and white film, something I have always enjoyed doing. On this occasion Film 4 were showing a second world war propaganda number called *The Gentle Sex", which used seven women's lives to show the contribution women were making to the war efforts.

Like many such propaganda films of the period it was well made, well acted, and although it was no Brief Encounter it was engaging and gently educative. The periodic "set speeches" in which characters earnestly discussed the themes of women's role in the war and what the war was fundamentally being fought for did jar at times, and with the hindsight we now have over the seventy years that have elapsed since then gave some of their idealism a tragic irony. Despite the horrendous ills of Nazism, their defeat has not, alas, meant that the world has become necessarily a better place; new sources of evil have sprung up. Truthfully no human war could end evil in the war, it is too deeply in ourselves.

However, the film was right that the war would change women's place in society, it did, perhaps not quite as far as the idealists would have liked, but like their mothers in the first war, they had an impact. I liked the film's emphasis on how women were needed to win the war, were essential and showed them working alongside men in a variety of occupations: manning anti-aircraft guns, driving and mending lorries, working capably and hard.

So... why then, after a stirring finale showing our heroines helping to shoot down an airplane, were the closing credits presented the form of a cross stitched embroidery? I found the juxtaposition interesting and frankly startling. Perhaps one could argue that they were comparing women's peacetime, decorative, fairly useless role and occupation with their wartime, utilitarian, essential role? Perhaps it was just a lazy way of demonstrating the film's feminine subject matter? Certainly in that portion of the film I saw no woman embroidered anything, though many knitted and this is by no means the first time I have seen knitting stand for the new role in society that the war had given to women. For example, in Daphne du Maurier's 1943 play The Years Between there is a contrast made between the main protagonist's pre-war embroidery, when she was "just" a wife and wartime knitting, when she is active in politics. Interestingly du Maurier's play was written in the same year as this film was released and both share a pre-occupation with winning the peace as well as the war.

To the women of World War II

One could question why this film was felt necessary in the first place, but then to expect women's role automatically to be considered as important as a man's, particularly back in the 1940s, is perhaps to be as hopelessly idealistic as the film's characters were about the purpose of the war. Its very title says a great deal about the attitudes the film was seeking to challenge. To an audience today the sight of a woman in military uniform is everyday; in 1939 it still had the potential to shock, although as the film points out, through the memories of an elderly lady of driving an ambulance in the first war, women taking an active, rigorous role in war was not new to this conflict. Yet the contribution of these women to the war effort is still little discussed and it is only comparatively recently that any kind of memorial to them was erected in London, so perhaps this film should have shouted louder?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Red Mittens of Happiness

I've been knitting a pair of child's mittens in bright red Drops Karisma Superwash wool the past couple of days and they have been making me feel so very happy. It seems to be a combination of the cheery red colour, the delightful soft sproingy wool and the magic of mittens. Mittens are somehow soothing, reminiscent of my own childhood, they represent warmth and being well wrapped up and cared for and snug despite the cold all around. They are a frosty winter's morning with everyone's breath emerging as mist on the cold air or the riotous fun of a snow ball fight or the careful construction of a snowman.

They are also a fun thing to knit, fairly quick, especially in a child's size, following a definite rhythm and pattern all of their own. While cotton, silk and even alpaca have their merits there is something satisfying about a good smooth, soft, classic wool yarn, the ribbing has a distinctive springy stretch, the little "v"s of the stockingette stitch have a neat uniformity and definition to them. I think I am going to have to make myself a pair.

Now I will return to knitting the second mitten and hope that whoever eventually owns these mittens is as happy wearing them as I have been knitting them.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Shaking off the black dog

I've been meaning to write a less "heavy" post for a while now, but haven't quite got around to it as I've been feeling a bit down and apathetic and lethargic, which is not me: I hate it. So I'm trying to shake it off, remember the good things.

Spring and early summer are particularly easy times of year in which to find good things to celebrate, even when it's been raining constantly as in the past few days, especially as we have needed the rain so very much. There have been plenty of birds in the garden, yesterday a wren was making a disproportionate amount of noise for a bird so tiny while feeding its young and a fledgling robin has been making his fluffy first attempts at solo life and visiting our bird feeder. So birds and their song: there is good thing one.

Then the plants, oh the plants, coming up in merry profusion and confusion, self seeding, growing back from apparently lifeless twigs, we have had a baby cherry tree, several cow slips and a single rogue daffodil coming up in the middle of the lawn, plenty of nasturtiums growing from last year and flowering gloriously, with a golden colour that looks like condensed sunshine and roses, so many roses. Around the roses, which are past their first flush of glory, are two flowering Jasmines, which are smelling heavenly - I go out into the garden and stand by them and inhale! Our garden is starting to look like a garden and less like an untidy patch of ground. The vegetables are coming along nicely too; the runner beans in particular, appreciating the rain and having astonishing growth spurts. Bees of many varieties (hard to identify as they do not stay still long and are very small!) are busy all through the day on all the flowers, particularly around the Hebe hedge by the front door.

Inside there have been some good plays on the radio lately, including some on the Plantagenet kings and a Terrence Rattigan season celebrating his centenary. Some good books, though the only one I can remember having read recently is Dorothy Whipple's High Wages, an engaging and interesting novel about life in a Lancashire in the early twentieth century. The protagonist, Jane, is a very likable character with real spirit, at times when reading I found myself 'cheering her on' as she took on the attitudes and set ways of the community around her.

Naturally I have been knitting still too, socks, baby items for the ongoing population explosion among my friends, hats, a cardigan, the usual things. But my heart is not quite in it just now, I am not sure why, but I can't quite settle or focus. My concentration is not good, yet I am bored of simpler patterns. Though looking through my recent photographs I have finished a couple of major projects recently, including a baby blanket, so I should perhaps expect a bit less of myself?

Were I physically well the depression would be so much easier to shake off through keeping busy and doing new things, changing things, exercising. I can do so little of any of that and it does get to me sometimes. I am trying to keep going and battle on, keep trusting Jesus and staying positive, but goodness me there are times when it is hard!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Unbecoming Victor[ia]

Lately I have been feeling in increasing sympathy with Victor Meldrew (the 'hero' of One Foot in the Grave), feeling incredibly intensely angry with just about everything. I have found myself ranting and shouting at the television, losing it over the slightest thing, tense and overwhelmed by anger. A lot of it to do with feeling out of control and unable to change things, like the government or the benefits' system or the way we human beings treat one another.

Of course I know that anger is not always a negative thing, that Jesus was righteously angry, most famously when he took a whip to the sellers in the temple courts. However, although a very small proportion of my anger could perhaps be construed this way - at injustice in the world and my own sin - the majority of it cannot. Moreover it is not even useful anger, of a sort that spurs one onto change something in the world, to do something about it, instead it leaves me exhausted and drained, which is not a good use of an already scarce resource.

This weekend, having shouted and ranted my way through most of an edition of Any Questions on Radio 4 I realised that I needed to do something to change this situation. In classical Christian parlance I felt convicted, in particular by Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount:
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matthew 5.22 NIV)
In particular by the word 'Raca' from this passage and I hated feeling so bitter, angry and out of control. It is the feeling that there are major aspects of my life, such as my health care provision or my income and general government policy, over which I have no control. I have been enraged by the government's attitude towards the vulnerable and their demonization of the sick and disabled; and worse still felt powerless, too tired to protest and generally overwhelmed, invisible and not heard. Listing all the things that have been making me angry would take a long time and it was alarming how unloving, ungracious (in the godly meaning of the word) and hateful I was becoming, the opposite of Jesus in so many ways.

But then as I was praying and mulling over how to deal with this, begging God to help me not feel so angry or be able to use this anger to some effect, it came to me. I may not have the ear of government ministers or the media, but I do have the ear of one who is far more powerful: God "for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing" (Romans 13.6 NIV) and He always listens (Proverbs 15.29; Luke 18, among many others).

Prayer yet again is the answer, as I have found many times before (why do I always seem to forget?!). It is doubly powerful because it can change a situation (e.g. 1 Kings 18) and change me: changes my heart and my mind and my attitude about people and situations as it brings me closer to God as I spend time with Him. So I've started praying, starting with David Cameron and continuing with others and situations which have made me angry, and already I feel calmer and more at peace with the world. Naturally it is not quite that simple, I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I am on the right path: knowing that I have someone I can turn to, who listens and is infinitely powerful, helps so much.

Before I feel too self-congratulatory I should thank God, for once again forgiving me and drawing me close to Him, for His patience and His love and His grace.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philipians 4.4-7

May we all know God's peace.