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Amy

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Amy is a film built on two central paradoxes. The first paradox is that it could not have been made in any earlier age because the rich sources of visual documentary material on Amy’s early life and early jazz singing career before her precipitous ascent/descent to fame in mainline music would not have been available even half a generation earlier.

The film is about the destruction which accompanied that fame, that is caused by it/caused by Amy/ caused by what others let Amy become or by their failure to mitigate the personal disintegration that fame and its accompaniments wrought. Perhaps those around her failed to act because they saw the benefit of a double link – between the dissolution and the creativity, and the creativity and the riches which it generated, riches which they helped enjoy. We see the film to in order to see the destruction, to recognise the moral lesson – the shiver of recognising something that has not happened to us but which could have happened – the dark price of the celebrity that so many seem to crave. On the way we learn about her early musicality as a jazz singer. If the vertiginous descent could have been stopped, would that talent have been preserved, and would the vast majority of us even have heard of Amy?

As we experience the film we tut-tut, passing judgement on those who could have called halt to the wild caravan, and on the press who hounded her in a vicious circle of attention, breakdown and further attention. This last element is of course the second paradox, since it is us who by following the story of Amy’s fall form a market for insensitive media intrusion; it is as if by seeing the film we are retrospectively becoming implicated in her death.

 

 

I left the Labour Party in 1983, the only political party I have ever belonged to, worn down by the entryism of the Trotskyite left and propelled out finally by the Michael Foot manifesto, which was far too far to the left for me economically, although not in terms of social policies. Since then I have voted for whichever party seemed to offer the closest to my particular profile of interest in social justice, environmental responsibility, and individual freedom. “Individual freedom” in my case included not only a strong interest in civil liberties but a belief that free market capitalism was an essential and strong component of a private-public mix, but needed to be firmly but fairly regulated and taxed so as to contribute to public as well as private purposes.

 

This was of course a long time ago and Labour never won my vote during this long period. It probably came closest in 1997, but before the election for me it was far too calculative in its pragmatism, particularly towards the poisonous Murdoch press, and from its earliest days in power it seemed too glib and easily star-struck by the gloss of cultural, business and political power. Blair betrayed the values and interests of his party, and corrupted the democratic process over Iraq; but at a more mundane level within Labour there was also a drifting away from any strategic purposes or values. Although this process seemed to climax the Brown period when a man who had wanted the top job all his life didn’t know what to do with it, the fundamental uncertainty as to Labour’s constituencies and Labour’s values continued.

 

This is the background with which I as an ordinary voter came to the current Labour leadership election. Labour for me had lost its political constituency and was no longer part of a broad social movement; it had lost its purpose; and had finally lost its head – the power to analyse broader issues of political and economic change and prescribe radical and imaginative responses to them. Transfixed more by the fear of losing elections than the opportunities created by winning them, Labour had become a Tory tracker party, mirroring them on light-touch regulation, on taxation, on the need for austerity (ie increased economic inequality) in dealing with the financial crisis, on defence, on the basics of education, and pretty much completely on civil liberties, the role of the public sector and climate change. After a period of rather more balanced discourse on immigration under Blair Labour now also followed the Tories on immigration and the shameful and deceitful scapegoating, often tantamount to soft racism, of some of the world’s most desperate citizens in a near abroad which Britain felt no compunction to meddle in, but refused to take responsibility for. The image of a Britain as a generous and open society has been shrinking since Thatcher, and since Brown this sorry story of political cowardice has been Labour’s work too.

 

Unsurprisingly I voted Green in 2015, believing that if there were ever again to be a politics in Britain I could truly believe in, it had to be delivered by a reconstituted left in which the Labour party was reduced to a residual rump. This may still be the case: indeed I think it certainly would be the case if Cooper, Burnham or Kendall win. But then there is Jeremy Corbyn: a modest, likeable man, not a tub-thumping ya-boo politics careerist, with some radical and decided non-Marxist thinking about Britain’s fundamental problems and what to do about them. Certainly such new thinking is needed: the limitations of capitalism unbound have been evident on every level, not only at the macro level in huge discontinuities of the financial system – consumer sovereignty has proved to be a costly myth too, certainly in the famously lax regulatory environment of the UK.

 

Faced with this range of challenges, does Corbyn change everything? I don’t know, but it seems worth a punt to see if he can reinvigorate the sclerotic Labour beast and put it to good use. So this morning, 12 August, admittedly in the last half hour of eligibility today, I tried to become a Labour party supporter so as to be able to contribute my vote. Sadly, I failed – I got 500 and 502 error messages when I tried to select the payment I wished to make in the online system, and phoning the party proved useless too – presumably the switchboard was overwhelmed by others in a similar position. But if my dream ticket of Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson win, I will certainly join up.

 

 

Open Letter to Angela Merkel: Greece shackled to a Corpse

 

Dear Frau Merkel

 

I am an ordinary British Citizen who voted in favour of British entry to what was still then the European Common Market in the British referendum of 1975. I did so because I believed that the European project was a progressive attempt not only to do the big and obvious things right, like eliminating the risk of future European wars, but also had the potential to change the political culture of Europe which underlay our woeful history, and in particular that of both our two countries which had a history of arrogance expressed through the force of arms. In Britain’s case this had an additional patina of superiority, of a residual imperialist manifest destiny, which was in essence little more than soft racism, embedded in a paternalistic ruling class but echoed in popular discourse. “The ‘wogs’ (a term of soft racist abuse) begin at Calais” was a well-used phrase in my petty-bourgeois childhood.

 

I was young, and although I was no doubt naive in thinking that all this historical currency would be washed away on a tide of imports of cheap good red French wine in favour of “ever closer union between the peoples of Europe”, these ambitions were not bad ones for the time. Europe had no further place for imperialism, either within or beyond the continent, I thought, and could celebrate the values of the Enlightenment, which was Europe’s longer term legacy, above all from France. At the time, a person of the left but never marxist, I was worried about the United States, Western Europe’s then recent saviour yet too raw and ambitious a power, poised between admirable republican and dubious imperial values. The US was still apparently enmeshed in the violence and racism of its creation and, as Eisenhower had warned, with a military-industrial complex at its heart (I was one of that generation in Europe who demonstrated against the Vietnam war). The future Europe I envisaged at the time of the UK accession, would be an antidote to that, compassionate, open and tolerant, a helpmate to the developing world, and if not quite an ‘Athens to the US Rome’, at least a voice for moderation in its councils. It was to be a Europe based on common values of liberty, tolerance, equality and solidarity.

 

For a while some things went well. We made haltering progress towards a single market, the European Parliament gained some more power, but no great legitimacy and the European Council still was the only effective counterweight to an unelected Commission. This democratic deficit at the centre of the European project was to become a defining fault of the EU, together with its relative neglect of economic inequality, either within or between member States. Against this must be set the admirable EU record on aid to the developing world.

 

The mixed picture continued. It was good that the collapse of the Soviet Union led to German reunification and opportunities for Europe to develop to the east, but there were Western insensitivities to the possibility of a wider Europe, at least in its strategic defence and security aspects, which if not embracing Russia, at least took account of its sensitivities (sensitivities which were to be most grossly ignored in the later EU adventurism in the Ukraine). To the newly democratising countries of central Europe EU and NATO membership were allowed to be seen as part of an inevitable package deal. There was little political thought, as to what, in the absence of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Europe could become – how those original core values could be expressed across the continent. Strategically, Europe continued to be defined by opposition to a vanished Warsaw Pact, in negative terms, by something it was not. The clearest indication that the process of political translation into the new circumstances had failed was that when war broke out on the borders of Europe, in the Balkans, courageous European action based on our supposed common values was nowhere to be seen.

 

Ideology it turned out, was not dead, but was to be pursued by other means. The EU has always been an economic project, although the free movement of goods, capital and labour originally symbolised something more. The introduction of a current currency might have been seen as a logical next step but from the first it smacked of too much hubris. At the level of objectives, economic integration was mistakenly allowed to get ahead of political convergence; at the level of tactics, the political heart – the perceived overwhelming priority of the single currency – was allowed to override the economic head. Political rather than economic criteria were used to determine not only that Greece had achieved the necessary convergence to join the euro but also that the UK hadn’t. The statistical fictions in the Greek case were something else; yet if these were lies, they were open lies. The reason that they were both open and tolerated is because it wasn’t economic convergence that the stronger European economies like Germany needed to make the Euro work for them; it was just enough economic divergence to suppress the euro exchange rate to a point where the richer countries’ exports were competitive, without the eurozone actually falling apart.

 

But fall apart it did, and rather than acknowledge the failure the eurozone – the European project with no exit route – continued to treat the failure with more lies and denial. Even today the only real objective analysis of the state of the Greek economy comes from outside Europe, from the IMF. The saddest part of this whole crisis would seem to be that for both the European institutions within the Troika and for Greece, keeping Greece inside the Eurozone seems to have become paramount. For the ECB and the Commission the super-symbolism of the euro makes some sense – above all, they want to believe that they can avoid bad debts; for Greece, the birthplace of European ideas, to see the euro as its symbol of European identity is more of mystery to me, or perhaps an indication as to how little I know contemporary Greece.

 

Greece has indeed been badly run for a long time: clientalist politics which limited accountability, simplified public debate and appeared to swallow European structural funds; poor tax takes; little national return from the country’s super-rich; an over-expanded military; and social benefits which may have been overgenerous in relation to northern European countries – that doesn’t seem a simple matter from what I’ve read – but were certainly unaffordable in the light of the rest of the above. Syriza, for all its populist posturing, was not part of the system that led to this mess, and the suggestion that much of the problem arose in the six months since they came to power lacks all proportion. The extreme reaction to Syriza seems to be that they resist austerity.

 

Austerity has been a key part of the neo-liberal orthodox prescription for dealing with the fiscal deficits caused by the Western banking crisis. Neo-liberalism, and especially the weak regulation that went with it, were of course at the heart of the banking crisis, and became arguably more entrenched in my country than yours, but its adoption has been a pan-European convenience who do not want to ask the difficult questions or face uncomfortable truths. It can do this because it is an economic doctrine that substitutes for political choice, for that consideration as to where the core European project, and its core values, are going. Our absurd subjugation to the gods of the market are of course going to be institutionalised by TTIP, which arguably will lose us for ever the political space to question the fundamental instruments and objectives of power in our system of governance. In these aspects at least (and we can expect progressively in many more over time) Europe will be affectively merged with the United States.

 

Greece’s experience can best be understood as is a national sacrifice to those neoliberal principles, and to the extreme symbolic importance accorded to the euro. It should have left the euro at the beginning of the first crisis when it was already clear that its debt was unsustainable. It would have gone through much misery, as it has on the alternative route, but to some purpose, with some hope. Like all sacrificial victims Greece has served as a lighting rod for much other hatred. As Suzanne Moore wrote in the Guardian newspaper this week, if Europe is a family, it is a dysfunctional, abusive one. I have to say that German arrogance in particular in these weeks has been chilling – a case of doctor, first cure thyself.

 

So where does this leave this then 33 year old, forty years on from the EU referendum decision to join what became the EU? Seeing extreme nationalism of the right strengthened everywhere, to be sure, in the light of the demonstrable weakness at the European centre but also an interesting debate in Britain emerging about ‘Leftxit’ – about whether any progressive forces for change are possible in the EU whose shallow motives and crudity of operation have been so sharply demonstrated over Greece and whether the broad left should vote for British exit in the referendum due before 2017. It’s possible for me now for the first time in 40 years.

 

By this ‘deal’ Greece has been left in a situation of permanent pain without hope of progress or the possibility of any meaningful democratic change, locked into a EU which has stripped itself of the values which give any polity life: Greece shackled to a corpse.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Peter Healey

Oxi!

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This morning, as the referendum voting was getting under way, a Greek friend wrote:

It’s a completely irrational situation. I don’t trust anyone, either the Greek government or the Greek people or the Germans or the IMF or the EC or the ECB etc.: they’ve all failed. The first to accept this will be the one who might offer us an opportunity of redemption. I think Greece deserves such an opportunity.

Tonight the referendum result from Greece is in and it was a very decisive outcome.  Although it is right to claim that nobody comes out of this well, I am glad of a ‘no’ because it is clear that the neoliberal austerity policies applied to Greece have utterly failed, and across the western world the opportunity to reshape economic power and accountability which the global economic crisis offered has been shamefully missed.

Two people ought to go now. One is Wolfgang Shaeuble who has played the hardest of hard ball in the negotiations and has tried to undermine the legitimacy of the Tsipras government with their own people.  The other is, Christine Lagarde, the arch priestess of austerity, who has been constantly patronising towards Greek delegates in negotiation telling them to stop behaving like children.

Sadly for the Greek people they will remain at the centre of this real-time political and economic experiment whatever now happens. If only for their bravery in embracing this they deserve our solidarity.

The recent election result means that we will have an in-out referendum on EU membership by 2017. It seems likely that David Cameron will not be politically strong enough to win a deal from the rest of Europe that he will be able to sell to his newly invigorated right wing. As a result he will not be able to recommend continued EU membership unambiguously to the country, and in those circumstances, and in the light of the election results, it seems quite possible that Britain as a whole will vote for exit.

Yet if it happens that vote will be far from uniform geographically. Like the results of this election, any vote in favour of British exit will be primarily a phenomenon based on rural, small town and suburban England and Wales. Scotland will by that point have presumably decided to decamp so will set its own European course.

As in the election, the EU referendum will present Britain’s urban areas with a paradox – if exit happens, they will be taken for a political ride that reflects neither their cosmopolitan values nor their open economy interests. Nowhere is that more true of London – a cosmopolitan, liberal world city whose role as European financial services centre will be broken by British withdrawal. It seems time to propose that London becomes an independent City state which can insulate itself from the dominant illiberal and inward-looking politics elsewhere in Britain and continue to be a financial and socially open society at the heart of Europe.

Other cosmopolitan urban areas of Britain might like to follow suit.

 

Today is a general election in the UK after five years of coalition between Conservative and Lib Dems offering neo-liberal austerity in the wake of the financial crisis. The Conservatives offer much of the same for the future – neo-liberal orthodoxy in which inequality grows and public expenditure shrinks, with – and this is perhaps the most shameful aspect – the share of that public expenditure funded by the rich also shrinking. The Labour election offer is essentially to function as Tory-lite, but with the big and important difference that Labour would not hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU, and the lesser difference that it would borrow outside spending limits to support development in infrastructure. The Liberal Democrats offer to moderate both these parties through what they hope will be a continuing role in coalition.

 

One eve of voting opinion poll show the two largest parties tied on 35%, with the Lib Dems on 9%, the UK Independence Party on 11%, the Greens on 3%, and others on 7%. That 7% includes the Scottish Nationalist party, forecast to virtually wipe out Labour in Scotland. This diminution in the share of the two major parties at the expense of smaller parties is one feature of the election; this redistribution would have been greater if the UK hadn’t voted against electoral reform in a referendum in 2011 by a majority of more than two to one. One of the main arguments cited in that referendum in favour of the existing ‘first past the post’ system was that it produced stable majority governments, albeit at the price of not closely representing the national share of the vote won by each party. Paradoxically, if the opinion polls are right, the result of today’s election will deliver neither strong majority government nor a close correspondence between number of votes and number of seats.

 

A second feature of the election has been the way it has been conducted. Party leaders have been so isolated from everyone except their own activist supporters for it to be characterised by the media as an ‘air war’, remote from the ‘ground war’ of trying to persuade individual voters on the doorstep (British elections don’t use the telephone or internet much yet). At times it has been hard to know whether the leaders are real, rather than holograms beamed from their party’s central office. Indeed, the hologram theory was all but confirmed in the case of David Cameron who named another football club as the one he supported rather than the one he has claimed to be a fan of in the past. Arguably no real British male forgets what football club he supports under any circumstances – is his whole personality a public relations construct? In any case it has not been considered strong enough for his party managers to risk him in direct debate with David Miliband.

 

The hermetic separation between politicians and their publics is a function of the modern political career, which takes the aspiring politician straight into the junior ranks of the political tribe without exposure to the ideas, experiences or perspectives of ordinary working life. Politics has become a kind of serial total institution in which everything is framed through the party perspective. When, as has happened recently with social democratic parties like Labour, they are in addition no longer connected to the wider social movements which spawned and sustained them, and unanchored by ideological references, the social insulation is nearly complete; the interests of the group can be projected onto those of the nation. Party interest and national interest become seen as identical, and national security protects both. Naturally this security extends to separating the political elite still further from the citizens.

 

There are real problems of accountability here, especially when the unity of the party is sustained not only by competition with immediate political rivals but by reference to some ‘other’ – a dangerous state, a dangerous ideology, a nascent super-state, immigrants, the deficit; especially if, as in current circumstances in the UK, the terms of political competition at the top of the political pyramid are confined to outbidding others in dealing with this threat. The political elite, which starts with separating itself from the people, ends up by spying on them. A machinery of national security springs up whose rationale is framed in terms which sustains continuous growth in its operations and precludes it being publicly accountable, other than to other political parties whose legitimacy is sustained by participation in the same competitive political game.

 

I believe that all these processes exist, and together reinforce each other in chipping away at our basic freedoms and our ability to challenge the prevailing political world view. At another level, some pragmatic part of me is feeling guilty that I chose to oppose them by voting Green today. I believe in most of what the Greens advocate: class sizes of 20, abolition of university tuition fees, doubling of the science budget, a strong belief in the open society, sharply progressive taxation in support of social welfare and of course a fast track towards environmental sustainability. These would be enormous gains for Britain so far beyond Labour’s “me too” timidity that it is hard to believe that they will ever deliver them. But of course there is no chance of the Greens, forecast to have between 1-3 members of the new parliament, can deliver them, and there are a number of constituencies in the last parliament where the number of people voting Green was greater than the eventual Conservative majority over Labour. My constituency, Hampstead and Kilburn, could be one of them this time, and my vote will not just have been “wasted”, but weakened Labour’s capacity to deliver the smaller but significant changes in policy I described in the first paragraph.

 

I will be unhappy if this happens. But I will console myself that the more fundamental changes the Green party stand for are quite beyond the range of an ideologically exhausted Labour party, and take refuge in hope for change in the long term, or rather hope that long term change will come in time.

 

 

 

 

Anselm Kiefer

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To my shame, I entered the current major Royal Academy exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer ignorant and unprepared. The artist doesn’t leave you wondering for long: it is shock and awe from the first moment in the first gallery. Kiefer’s work is big in every sense – monumental scale, huge mythic themes, and an obsession with alchemy, with some ‘canvasses’ being huge sheets of lead studded with diamonds. Underlying all this is a technical brilliance: mastery of texture and perspective, which, in combination with the scale of the works, makes for an immersive experience. This immersion involves both the visual and the ideational – Paul Celan’s poems form the theme for many of the paintings on show and their words snake across the canvass of some of them, supplying visual effects as well as ideational content.

Kiefer’s would seem to be in essence identity art: he asks identity questions at the elemental level about our mineral (al)chemical nature and its transformational possibilities, and vegetable products feature in some of the works, again adding to the textural richness. At the social and cultural levels of identity the focus is Germanic: on Germanic myths, on their re-occurring elements such as the forest, on the political echoes and uses of German myth in Nazism, and on war.

The first works in the Royal Academy exhibition plunge you into Kiefer’s brave exploration of the roots of Nazi identity: early works by which it seems he announced himself forty years ago. In a landscape of rich park- and lake-land with stone monuments, reminiscent of, say, Potsdam, a small black figure in a world war two greatcoat, gives the Nazi salute, a gesture forbidden under current German law. The figure, we understand to be Kiefer himself, in this case wearing his father’s greatcoat from his war service. (Kiefer’s own figure frequently appears in the paintings, often prone, as though absorbing or perhaps acting as a reference-point for those paintings other messages.) His quality of immersion is at its most effective in huge canvasses of neo-classical Mittel Europa interiors, where the grand and terrible modern myths were played out, interiors portrayed as in a state of almost organic dissolution, and in depictions of the frozen landscapes of war.

These canvasses have an enormous emotional impact on the viewer, even though they have an ambiguity: the questions of the influence of symbol and myth on German history are raised but not resolved in the works, and one can only speculate on Kiefer’s own views. Perhaps there is a hint of a post-modernist relativism in one of the last works on display: a huge diamond-studded sheet of lead. The surface of the lead had a richly varied patina, and, as my daughter pointed out, the varying pattern of lights sparkling from the diamonds altered your perception of the space and surface texture as you moved in relation to it. This is Kiefer’s immersion trick, combining control of texture and perspective, deployed in a more abstract, less immediately disturbing, but perhaps ultimately more thought provoking way.

The Archers

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The Archers is a British radio soap which claims to be one of the longest running in the world. Billed originally as an “everyday story of country folk” the early storylines were a flimsy excuse for a sort of agricultural extension service of the air, passing advice onto farmers. Later this function slipped to the background behind more sophisticated human interest stories revolving around rural life, although the plots still occasionally feature oddly technical dialogues. We sometimes recommend it to foreign visitors as an introduction to the milder issues and current language of contemporary British life.

I have been listening intermittently since the late 60s, and for the last 20 years my routine when home on Sunday mornings has been to take a bath whilst listening to the omnibus edition. This morning I did not listen. I doubt that this will shake or even reach the BBC establishment, and I am not sure how long my resolution will last, but I was boycotting the programme because of the re-casting of a lead character, Tom Archer, who after an improbable and highly compressed plotline leading to him abandoning his bride-to-be at the alter, fled to Canada, to return played by somebody else.

Initially I put this recasting down to managerial incompetence; or rather, from my imagined perspective of what it is like inside the BBC, to shock tactics of this kind being one of the few ways that allows ambitious producers to get noticed within the conservative Radio 4 channel on which the Archers features. In fact it turns out that it is worse than that: Tony Archer, Tom’s fictional father, himself recently recast without too much attention to continuity of voice or personality, turns out to be the real-life father of the actor who is now to play Tom. This should have triggered the alarm bells within BBC management; that however justifiable in abstract this decision to recast might seem to insiders, in practice it is a decision that could not be publicly justified.

Why is this important, at least in a minor key? Because to a certain class of person like me, possibly now under threat, the BBC represents an essential part of what it is to be British, and Radio 4, the talk and entertainment channel, is the Ur-BBC, a potential future last bastion against a possible right-wing dismemberment of the corporation, both reassuring and educating in great breadth and depth. Of course this leads to conservatism and the Radio 4’s audience has become both champion and jailer of what the channel is doing in detail at any given time, making change difficult. I am sympathetic to the BBC management in general over this conservative pressure, but there are cases and there are cases, and those who get into running the Archers might recognise is that it is not a blank slate for the flamboyantly creative, but part of the reassurance and education and continuity which the host channel symbolises. Perhaps we go to the Archers first of all for reassurance – perhaps for similar reasons that people of a certain age like me read Wodehouse at times of minor stress, although in the Archers we do have a sense of the progress of events, like reading a newspaper five years late. An incident like Tom’s recasting, and the many small signals of resistance to it like this, shows us how much reassurance we need and how much the familiar can contribute to the nation’s basic wellbeing.

On Wednesday 26 February 2014 I went to a well-established London centre affiliated to one of the better known yoga persuasions.

I am 72 years of age with a right hip re-surfacing and neurological (spinal) problems which I indicated on my first visit to the centre with Kati my wife on 17 February. The class I joined on the 26th was only my third since I was in my early thirties and the first at this centre, although until surgery 7 years ago I had a long run of Pilates classes. In each of those yoga and Pilates classes as a first step the instructor would welcome newcomers and ask about medical conditions that might affect their practice or that of other members of the class whose circumstances may have changed since they last met. The teacher on this occasion did not follow this well established procedure which fulfils one element of their duty of care towards class members.

My difficulties with her were in three poses leading up to the dislocation. In the first, I explained that I couldn’t sit back on my heels because of significant pain due to neurological and hip problems. This drew the response from the teacher “where have you been for the last 20 years? If you had come here you wouldn’t have all these problems now.” This was unprofessional and personally insensitive.

On the second position. involving ropes, when I received further exhortation to get closer to the desired position and I replied that I was doing my best, the teacher added “I don’t think so.”

The third position with which I had difficulties involved me lying on my back and trying to raise a leg to a vertical position. I took my right (operated) leg up to the position which I indicated as my limit before the teacher took my leg and moved it up to a point where there was a sliding crunching sensation and acute pain as my hip dislocated. She next suggested that my leg, which was by then bent in contact with the floor, should be straightened. I said that I could not move it, thought it dislocated, and the best she could do would be to seek medical help for me and pass me my bag so that I could phone my wife. The class went on around me as I waited for my wife and then we waited together for the paramedics and they prepared to load me onto the ambulance, behaviour that seemed to me socially insensitive, but did give my wife, who has wide experience of yoga, the opportunity to observe the teacher’s style of management of the class, which she found to be completely beyond her range of experience.

A group of paramedics then gave me pain relief and transported me to a nearby hospital where the orthopaedics team already knew me. I spent 48 hours there, in the course of which my hip was manipulated back into position under general anaesthetic, and I was prepared by the physiotherapists to go home. Before the operation I had a one-to-one visit from the consultant who greeted me with “so yoga can be dangerous” and wanted details. After the operation the consultant, who on this occasion was accompanied by a retinue of junior doctors, again visited me. He used the details he had learned about my case to tell his group how it chimed with his experience and distrust of yoga. At no stage of this account did the consultant make eye contact with me.

At the beginning and end of the hospital experience I did receive patient-centred care: from sensitive and professional paramedics and physiotherapists. Other than this, both at the centre and the hospital I felt like the de-humanised object of two body-processing tribes. Despite the notional ideology of yoga of being responsive to individual differences, the true purpose of the bullying teacher seemed to be about power, conformity and control. I was seen as the outlier who challenged the group by my non-achievement of the required positions. This problem couldn’t be physical, it had to be mental recalcitrance, about ‘not trying hard enough. ‘ Likewise at the hospital, the consultant was using my body and its experiences as the (very) raw material for him to entertain his team and reinforce status differentials. As for the nursing staff, they seemed simply disconnected from the wider care process, taking over 5 minutes on one occasion to respond to a call button, and not knowing one patient was diabetic, or that I had no post-operative wound.

There is apparently a growing practice of young women having their pubic hair removed. I am of course an aged innocent in these matters, sadly having lost direct experience of the fashions of the young female nude some time ago, at least in the numbers that would meet the requirements for a valid social survey. In this innocence I still associated the practice – still without direct experience of course – with porn stars and prostitutes. I assume that this is not the identification that a wider group of women now adopting it wish to convey. So what is going on here, aside from promotion from the growth industry of beauticians, who have of course a commercial interest in promoting a view of the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘natural’ which is evolutionary, and subject to fashion (as indeed it is)?

This may have something to do with the push back from feminism, or rather, the slow transformation over the last 30 years or so of the usage of the term ‘feminist’ from one who engages in a collective struggle for gender rights, to one who sees a feminist as someone who may adopt a range social practices – some of which might be seen on the face of it as anti-feminist in the old sense – as individualist self-expression, markers of personal confidence. It suggests that we might be in a post-feminist phase, where, the collective battles for equality having been won, and women being on a level playing field with men on economic, social, political and interpersonal terms, it is time for a flowering of expressive individuality, which may include activities which in less enlightened terms might have been seen as symbolic of gender exploitation – like pole dancing – but which now is represented as personal empowerment to the woman involved. There must be many ways that individuals feel more or less happy or fulfilled with such ways of living or working, but the idea that doing so is based on decisive victories won by the earlier feminists is of course a highly delusional given our stuttering progress in gender relations, especially in professional and political life.

It is not fully clear how loss of pubic hair fits into all this, or why it troubles me. My age, which has left me a distant observer of this trend, gave me first hand experience of an earlier parallel trend, as women decided to get rid of underarm hair between 40 and 50 years ago, and of course spent more time and money on removing hair from their legs too. I also reacted conservatively to this trend, but in time got used to it, as it became the norm. Of course it shares with pubic hair the feature that it something that women do, rather than men, and women do presumably for men. But pubic hair arrives with adult sexuality, and its removal suggests something slightly disturbing – the presentation of the female body to the male as pre-pubescent, as offering under-age sex. In this, it is perhaps rather more than the latest turn in the age-old story of women emphasising their sexuality as the main means of attracting and holding men, but a suggestion of increased female submissiveness in that process, of infantalisation of the female role. It is of course a million miles away from female genital mutilation, but it is still hard to see this as feminism in any sense.