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durleston wood cover smallIn the dreams of men, encounters with an unknown woman are significant in that she represents a meeting with the image of the man’s soul, and sets out the state of development of his psyche, also the state of his relations with, and his knowledge of women. A sickly soul-image in dreams is an obvious sign something is wrong, similarly if she is wearing chains, or in some other way restrained or imprisoned.

We see it depicted in art as St George, come to release the maiden from where she has been chained to a tree and is harassed by the phallic dragon. George kills the dragon, more metaphorically the Ego, which releases the maiden, the soul, into a more constructive relationship. Without undergoing this fundamental mythical journey every man is going to struggle with aspects of himself later on, and not just in his relations with women.

The chained and sickly soul-image is a symbol. It does not mean she is lacking energy, quite the opposite in fact. But the energy is misdirected by a man’s lack of understanding of himself. It is a powerful force erupting from the unconscious and being projected out into the world, affecting the way he sees things, the way he sees women.

He notices a female, is attracted, besotted, obsessed, unaware what he’s seeing is a manifestation of something inside of him. This is partly how attraction between sexes works. But say we hit things off with the object of our desire, make love, get married, come to know her as a mortal woman, you might think we had then slain the dragon, that is until the soul projects herself onto someone else. Time and time again. If we have by now settled on our life mate, such serial infatuations can be troublesome, even dangerous. But rather than acting on them and potentially ruining our lives, the soul is inviting us to withdraw the projections, to dissolve them, and in doing so restore the power inwardly, allowing her the means of manifesting herself more in consciousness, thus aiding us in seeing the world more clearly and with a little more wisdom.

All of this sounds a bit odd. But there are precedents in stories, in myth, and in practice.

In Durleston Wood, the protagonist, Richard, has returned to his home village after a failed marriage, and takes up a teaching post at his old school where he finds himself in love with his headmistress. For a time he recognises this infatuation for what it is and does not act. Instead he basks in the sweet melancholy of its futility while taking long, lonely walks through the titular Durleston Wood. But in the wood is an old house, part ruined and overgrown, and living in it, kept prisoner there, possibly, is a woman he’s seen wearing the cuffs and chains of BDSM role-play. She’s apparently the sex slave of another man, and she invites our hero to rescue her, to take ownership of her,…

Houses are significant in Jungian psychology. They are the place of abode, both physically, and psychologically. In Jung’s own dreams, the rooms of the house represent aspects of the self. If your abode is dilapidated, as it is in Durleston Wood, it suggests a psyche in distress through neglect. Work on restoring such an abode is likewise suggestive of work upon the psyche, a process of healing. Thus Richard moves into the house in Durleston Wood, performs his restorations and releases the chained woman. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Work on the psychological aspects of the self do not in themselves guarantee the correctness of one’s direction thereafter. Indeed it can be a bit of a roller coaster. For certainty in navigation, you need wisdom as well, but it certainly gets things moving.

In Durleston Wood, free to your e-reader, sometimes sold in mangled form by pirates on Amazon – oo-arrr!

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When the heart is young, by John William Godward

For a male writer, it’s perhaps safer to write only as a man, and about men, that all the characters in our stories should be men, and the women no more than cardboard cutouts in the background labelled loosely: mother, sister, wife, love/sexual interest. Except that by doing so we eliminate half the population from our stories, and that would be silly because – you know – women can be interesting too!

But when we include women, and particularly when we try to write women characters, and especially in the first person, we risk making ourselves look ridiculous – especially to women – and that’s half our potential readership right there, laughing at us. It’s a terrifying prospect for any male writer who wants to be taken seriously! But knowing how women think is something men have been debating for millennia without coming to any satisfactory conclusions, so it would seem even the most diligent research on the subject is pointless. As for actually passing ourselves off as a female writer, with a female pseudonym, it would be a very brave man indeed who hoped to get away with that!

Apart from the monks among us, most men have at least some experience of women, so if we’re writing from experience, how come we’re prone to making such a hash of it? Don’t we take any notice of women at all – even the one’s we’re with? Could it be there’s something simplistic about the way we relate to women? For example how about this:

“She breasted boobily to the stairs and titted downwards.”

This little gem went viral on social media a while back and, yes, it’s a fair description of how a man might describe a woman in his story – what she looks like, what she did and how she did it. It’s exaggerated of course, but it drives the point home nicely. We do tend to relate on a physical level, eyes glued to bosoms and bums. All right, maybe as a man, what makes us notice a woman is what we find sexually attractive about her, or not, but if we’re introducing her as a character there must be something else about her that others – i.e. women – can relate to.

A woman might notice what the character is wearing and what that says about the person’s social, income and even moral standing – is she casually dressed, smart, frumpy, tarty? Does she look happy, sad, pensive? How does her appearance, her demeanour make you feel?

The fact she has bosoms probably wouldn’t be mentioned by a woman writer, any more than a man would write about another man having elbows – it’s simply a given that all human beings come equipped that way – unless the lady’s bosoms are the reason a guy got distracted, tripped over his feet and crashed into the water-cooler. Then it would be reasonable to mention them.

Altogether it would appear a lighter brush is needed when us chaps are writing women into our stories. We mustn’t get hung up doodling extra goggle-eyed detail into those erogenous zones – it’s all a bit adolescent. Yes, we’re programmed to respond that way, but we have to somehow transcend that level of thinking as writers of stories, realise there’s more to women than whatever it is that gets us going in the trouser department, unless of course, it’s a woman our male protagonist is interested in sexually. But even then, is it purely her physical appearance that attracts him? If it is, then say so, but accept that also says something about your guy, and is that really what you’re trying to flag to others?

What else is there? There must be something? The way she looks at him? The fact she bites her nails, taps her toe, fiddles with her hair. Why does she do that? The fact she likes re-runs of Mork and Mindy – what does that say about her? And why does he like that about her?

Now for the hard part: try imagining you’re a woman, writing as a woman, and what it is that attracts you to a man. Do you imagine it’s simply the bulge in the trouser department, or  the enormous, rippling gym-honed torso? If that’s all there is to it then fine, we can assume women are wired the same way as men – only the other way around. Except, that can’t be the case can it? Because why do you see so many good looking women hanging out with such defiantly unhealthy looking guys? Is there, after all, something fundamentally different about the way women relate to men? I mean why would they waste a body like that on such an unreformed slob? Could it be women see bodies differently – both men’s and their own?

You could have a stab along those lines: that it’s more something in his smile perhaps, or his eyes, or maybe it’s that a woman can tell a lot about a guy simply by the way he smells, and not so much by the things he says, as the things he doesn’t say. And if you’re really, really struggling, then try reading some books written by women. And if you want to know how they relate to others in an erotic way, then read some female erotica, but make sure it’s erotica written for women by women, not by men pretending to be women for men.

I’ve written ten novels now, so I’m sure I’ve come a cropper several times, had the girls breasting boobily all over the damned place. I suppose in one sense it doesn’t really matter if you get it wrong, because we’re all just amateurs writing online, aren’t we? But if you’re a big shot writer making millions, priding yourself on your authenticity, and you have your girls breasting boobily,… well, shame on you!

Of course the other argument is you’re wasting your time writing if you’re a man anyway, or at least flagging yourself as male with a male pseudonym, because an oft quoted and very discouraging statistic tells us 80% of readers these days are women and most of them prefer books by women, at least when it comes to genre stuff. About the only place left for men to write as men is  literature, but since no one’s reading much of that anyway these days no one’s going to notice, or care, if we’re breasting boobily or not.

How to write a woman into your story? There are no rules. Just do it,… but think about it, and in the process you might learn something.

 

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cuchulain at the beach

Second Life, Linden Labs’ massive multiplayer online role playing game – the game that isn’t a game – has been around for a long time now. My “avatar”, Cuchulain Graves, is ten years old, which makes him positively geriatric, and, sadly, no wiser for his years. But his logins still work, his belongings and bank balance are intact. Everything is as it was since last time he briefly checked in, years ago. He’s not aged at all of course, looks about twenty five. As a timeless projection of my inner self, I’m fond of him, though it’s hard to say why.

But now I think I finally get it.

Cuchulain opened a few shops in the early days, stocked my novels, but nobody came because there’s no market for books in the virtual world. So he built a space-ship instead and blasted off into the upper layers of the multi-verse, a place free of scripts and server lag. Claim to fame? He was once interviewed for a pretentious three part blog-series on the life of an unknown scribe. The interviewer was a certain Eileanne Odisarke, a curious cross gendered alt, whose own adventures pretty much reflected Cuchulain’s.

Wandering aimlessly that early Second Life universe, they encountered many an eccentric soul: academics, psychologists, hippies, drunks and other cyber-utopians. But they’ve all gone now. The times in-world are spent alone these days, among vast shopping malls, entirely empty, or plodding roads that lead both to and from nowhere. It’s a lonely place, especially for one identifying as male – better to engross oneself in simply building stuff than to expect much by way of meaningful encounters, or perhaps Cuchulain is simply as misanthropic as his alter ego. Or is he mine? I forget.

Second life denizens take pleasure mostly in dressing up and dancing, also flirting and “cyber sex”. But it seems an isolated business. I mean, who are these people, really, sitting behind computer screens, and why aren’t they out dressing up, dancing, flirting and having sex,… for real? Why would one prefer the imagined over reality, unless any meaningful reality is denied them somehow? Or am I simply over thinking, and none of it means anything at all? That is the question!

It’s still interests me, psychologically, but no one else is seeing it in those terms any more, and I recognise my enduring fascination might well be pathological. After all, some people see fairies, but it’s better to consider first how much one has drunk before considering the fairies to be real.

That Second Life endures is perhaps the only interesting thing left to be said about it. And I suppose it will endure so long as its business model allows it to. Like anything else man-made, it’s dollars that make it happen, dollars that keep it alive. Unlike real life, where the entire universe was pre-formed without our involvement, everything we see in Second Life is the result of human thought, human imagination, and therein lies both the miracle and the weakness, the human mind being as self-destructive and defective in its thinking as it is endlessly creative.

It was touted as a place to meet others, to express oneself, but other forms of social media do it so much better now: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – all post-date Second-Life, and are better at facilitating mass discussion around topics of real-world concern, to the extent they are now, for good or ill, shaping real-world events.

If we want to get really existential about it, some secular versions of the afterlife describe an inter-dimensional realm formed by the collective imaginations of the disembodied entities dwelling there. This sounds a bit like the virtual reality of Second Life too, except an afterlife where motivation is derived from over-inflated self image, and virtual coinage doesn’t sound like much of a reward for our primary life’s labours – unless of course our purpose is to learn to outgrow such things.

As Cuchulain, my projected self, sits upon the virtual Second Life beach to watch the virtual sunset, it’s easy to see his existence has no reality, no illumination at all, without a greater self, me, to bear him witness and grant him the sense of all that he is feeling. Much harder to grasp is the realisation of the awareness bearing witness to my own self in this life, and without whom, or which, my own reality has no illumination either.

Though it may not have been intended, bringing one closer to such an awareness is, I think, however indirectly, and long in coming, the one important lesson Second Life can teach us,… and therein, perhaps, lies its meaning.

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350178bced2740617291e725a0b2159fresNet9_n7So,..

He led me into the wood, along the tunnelled path through which we could see the garden gate. Beyond it was the blue grey slate of the house itself, and the green front door – images first seen one clear spring morning a decade ago. It was coming back now, memories I thought I’d laid to rest, but I felt a terrible pressure in my chest, something trying to burst free, and I hung back, afraid I could not bring myself to cross the threshold into that strange world again.

Lamarr prattled pompously, not yet aware I was shrinking ever further behind. “It needs an awful lot of work to bring it up to standard of course,” he was saying. “It must be freezing here in Winter. And of course the road, such as it is, gets blocked at the first hint of bad weather.”

Incongruous in his suit, he produced an impressive bunch of keys and proceeded to try the lock, but to his surprise found the door already open. He walked in, and I followed, half closing my eyes as the breath of the place took me. Then I nearly ran into the back of him when he pulled up sharp. I was confused at first and thoroughly self absorbed, so I did not immediately register what he was staring at. Slowly, I followed his gaze and it was then I saw her: a woman, standing at the foot of the stairs, one hand on the banister rail.

She was in her early thirties perhaps, dressed in the long tweed skirt and the blouse I remembered Beatrice wearing that first night long ago. She even wore the little silver clasp at her throat, a string of pearls hanging over the jut of an ample bosom. Her hair was long and dark, and tied up in the Edwardian fashion, exactly as Beatrice’s had been. The look of her, the feel, the mood of the woman in this house,… it was startling and for an instant my heart leaped to an inevitable conclusion. It had all been a mistake! Beatrice was alive! She was there, waiting to welcome me back, about to smile in greeting,… except Beatrice would have been much older now,… like me.

The colour had completely drained from Lamarr’s face and I guessed he was thinking the same. The woman, for a moment, seemed similarly transfixed by us, but then she let out a startling growl, cat like, primitive, and she sprang at us, bowling us aside like skittles before making her escape through the open door. As she passed, I felt a tremendous strength and a heat, and I caught the scent of soap, of lavender. My God – the scent of Beatrice! But above all, even in the violence of the moment, I had felt the cool, starchy smoothness of her blouse upon my skin and then my heart had folded upon itself, leaving me numb with a shock that ran far deeper than Lamarr could ever have guessed.

I was too shaken by it to even think of chasing her, always supposing I could have run more than a hundred yards in the first place. Instead I gazed out as she tore down the path, the heavy skirt held high, her legs bare and efficiently muscular, like a hill runner’s, like a wild animal’s. She looked back once, as her hair fell, and a single beam of sunlight cut clean through the dross of decades to illuminate her face, to still my heart.

I wanted to say that I knew this woman, that I had known her all my life, known her for many lives, but clearly I did not know her at all.

***

More old ground this week, dipping in and out of this story. First published in 2007, I still worry about it. I worry about my future possible grandchildren and great grandchildren reading it and saying: “What? Grandad Graeme wrote that.” And then they’ll look at this dribbly old guy in his worn out Harris Tweeds, smelling of mint imperials and wee and they’ll go “EWWW!”

But then every generation has the problem of thinking it invented sex. As for the rest of it,  all two hundred thousand words of it, it’s far from perfect, but at least when I read it I still know where I’m coming from, and where in the long run I’m probably heading.

The picture is adapted from a photograph of the great American Silent Acress Lillian Gish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OWith Fifty Shades the Movie opening at cinemas in time for Valentine’s Day, one might be tempted to think it’s now okay for a man to physically restrain a woman and have his way with her any way he chooses, and that there’s something wrong with the woman if she doesn’t enjoy it. So let me begin on a cautionary note and say to all the men out there who might be thinking along these lines, I suggest you discuss the matter first very carefully with your lady, because she may not share your views. Bondage and sadomasochism are among the darker paths in human relations; the psychology is complex, arguably pathological but, in simpler terms, the emotions it arouses, while reportedly powerful, are not to be confused with love.

Let me pause for breath here and say I have not read Fifty Shades, nor will I be taking the good Lady Graeme to watch the movie. I have, however, read the Story of O, the 1955 novel by Pauline Reage, and from which all semi-pornographic bondage bonk-busters are derived.

It tells the tale of a young woman, known to us simply as “O”, a lovely ingénue who is drawn by her posh boyfriend into a secret circle of wealthy men whose sadomasochistic mores see O reduced to the status of a mere possession. O is at first horrified to find herself abducted, then inducted into all manner of degrading sexual practice, punctuated by frequent whippings, as anything resembling an independence of spirit is beaten out of her. The story persuades us she eventually sees the light, becomes a submissive chattel, and begins to take pleasure, indeed to see the very meaning of her life in sexually compliant slavery and regular whippings. The power of the story, and I did find it a powerfully compelling read, is that Reage achieves all of this without the use of a single naughty word. (would-be erotic authors take note)

sexygirlThe story of O is not pornography, in the same way Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly is not pornography, though both these works were ground-breaking in their time to the extent of finding themselves in the courts on charges of obscenity. Of the two, in my opinion, Lady Chatterly is easily the more literary, though O, winner of the French Prix de Deux Magots, cannot be dismissed as mere smut.

The paradox of O is the depiction of a woman sexually liberated by masculine domination, a liberation that can only come through her willingness to submit to anything her master(s) desire, and to revel in their punishments. The men are depicted as unrelentingly repulsive, and the women, including O, I’m afraid, as impenetrably dim. The men take the women however and whenever they choose, they remodel the shape of them to better suit their idea of a sexually desirable object, then brand their bottoms with a mark of ownership when the women “graduate” as fully fledged chattels.

When O meets an ordinary Joe who falls embarrassingly in love with her, she is incapable of responding in the normal way, and her dismissive treatment of him highlights the dramatic change that has been wrought in this former ingénue by her new lifestyle. The suggestion is that she now operates at a higher level of her being, emotionally and sexually, and that an ordinary man, one who would treat her kindly, is too tame and incapable of handling or even arousing the passions she is now familiar with. All this thanks to the wealthy male predators who own her.

But all of this is fantasy, and Reage doesn’t shy away from hitting you over the head with the darker implications of the endgame of any relationship built on such murky foundations. In short, the story of O does not end well. It’s a tale that can be read in many ways, but if you’re only in it for the titillation you’re seriously missing out. I found it rather a cautionary tale, for when the men tire of O, as all possessions are eventually tired of, she is unable to contemplate a return to the banality of her former life as a free woman and a human being, and the suggestion is that in one version of the ending, her then master, in a last act of gross masochism, grants her the wish that she be relieved of the necessity.

Any sufficiently sensitive man reading the Story of O cannot help but examine his own self for traces of the abominable chauvinism Reage depicts, and question any culture, closed or open, that would reduce its women to the status of objects, sexual or otherwise.

sexygirl2I have at times been in the company of men whose vulgar talk regarding the opposite sex has left me in no doubt as to their primitive attitudes. Whether they also share these views with their wives is anyone’s guess, but – and I speak as a man here – there is definitely a tendency in men that would sooner simplify women to the status of compliant sexual vessels, without the inconvenience of having to treat them as fellow human beings, with thoughts and fears and feelings. But again we must remind ourselves it is a fantasy, one we should take care not to let out of the box for too long, nor take too seriously, because, to paraphrase Alice, Nicole Kidman’s character, at the end of Stanley Kubrics “Eyes wide shut” the best we can hope, where sexual fantasies are concerned, is that we survive them.

Sex of course is one of life’s great pleasures, but by far the more valuable is the companionship of another human being whom you love and respect, and whose mere presence makes you feel bigger than you do when you are alone. I don’t want to pour scorn upon Fifty Shades the movie – there’ll be plenty of people doing that no doubt, as they did with the books – but I cannot help feeling a sneaking admiration for its author, a fellow indie, and a rare example of our breed who made good, made the crossover to the big time. So do read the books and go to the cinema and revel in the fantasy, if you think it might be your bag, but don’t lose sight of what’s real in human relations; remember it’s rather the exception to make love using ropes and whips and sticky tape, than the rule. So guys, don’t make your girl do what she’s not naturally inclined to do. That she wants to be with you at all is a prize in itself, so don’t push your luck.

Fifty Shades does not pretend to be literature, but if  you want to take a more literary view of the erotic you could try the story of O. But be warned, like O, you may get more than you bargained for.

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Great Hill, West Pennine Moors

Great Hill, West Pennine Moors

I was sitting in the cross shelter on the top of Great Hill on Friday, sharing the view and passing the time of day with another walker. He was in his late middle age, what I’d describe as a robust pedestrian and a good sort. He was knowledgeable about the area and about the bird-life. I’ve never met him before and I knew him for all of ten minutes, but we got on well. Such encounters with strangers on hilltops are not unusual. The mere fact that you’re there means you already have a lot in common.

It’s a very beautiful spot, Great Hill, in a low moorland windswept sort of way. It’s about 1250 feet high, and miles away from the roads or any form of habitation. There were larks a plenty and a couple of curlew plaintively piping. To the north, we could see as far as Pendle and beyond to the Dales. Westwards we had the Lancashire plain and the sea. To the south lay Winter Hill, all of it crisply delineated in the mid-morning sunshine, and shimmering over the long moorland causeway known as Spitler’s Edge. This is a very beautiful patch of territory, otherwise known as the Western Pennines, and not twenty minutes drive from where I live, also not twenty minutes drive for a couple of million other souls as well, and unfortunately suffering from the stress of it.

Suddenly my new found companion advised me never to be in the area after 9:00 pm, that there were far too many unsavoury goings on these days. If it wasn’t boy racers killing themselves and others on the narrow moorland roads, he said, it was people up to goodness knows what on the public carparks.

“You know,” he said. “Those unsavoury parties and such-like.”

He explained those “unsavoury parties” were the reason the Higher House car-park at Rivington is now locked at night by a sophisticated electric rolling gate – or at least it was until the trolls came up and stole the solar panel that charged its batteries. Another car-park in the area, he informed me, is now padlocked at all times – no one can use it, day or night.

With a worldly sigh, he set his hat upon his head and bade me good morning. It was a curious encounter, possibly daemonic, and one that’s had me thinking ever since.

great hill summit

As I watched him ambling away, I reflected on other stories I’d heard about these nefarious goings on, and how they are increasingly interfering with people’s innocent enjoyment of the countryside. I suppose I take it personally because it’s my back yard and I grew up treasuring what it has to offer – its beauty, its wide open space, its antiquarian oddities, and its walking of course – so a part of me does resent this rather rude intrusion of what I call the grey world and its creeping ugliness.

It spreads like litter.

And of course the West Pennines isn’t the only area under siege by such unsavoury goings on.

Imagine:

An elderly lady and her husband drive to a local beauty-spot. There’s a pleasant car-park under the trees, a shimmering lake in the distance, a shapely green hill rising beyond. It’s all sunshine and blue skies – a midday week, about lunchtime. They park their vehicle, unpack a picnic and are about to pour coffee from the flask when a man walks by in a pin-stripe suit, carrying his trousers, neatly folded, over his arm – only his shirt tails to spare his modesty.

They used to bring their children here for picnics on Sundays, they’d go walking and playing hide and seek in the woods. It’s a public car-park, a handy public loo, but unknown to them it’s also become what the police have unofficially designated a public sex area, in this case mainly for gays, looking for anonymous encounters. The street smart call it “Cottaging”. The police call it a public nuisance, but don’t want to be seen as homophobic, so unless someone gets hurt or there are drugs involved it’s mostly tolerated.

Then imagine:

A young woman takes her dog out for a walk, early evening. It’s another car-park, another beauty spot. She’s followed by a man who begins making lewd remarks, so she beats a hasty retreat, understandably in some distress. As she drives away he calls her stuck up for not wanting to have sex with him. When she calls the police, she’s told the area is a well known “Dogging” location, Dogging being a euphemism for what might be loosely termed public sex. People drive for miles to these spots and rendezvous for anonymous intercourse, this time of the heterosexual variety.

The young woman didn’t know all this of course, not being familiar with that sort of thing.

In an attempt to curb the problem, and I’m sorry dear Doggers and Cottagers, but you are a problem, the council locks the carparks at night, unless they run out of money and can’t afford to pay a warden, in which case they simply shut the car-parks altogether and the amenity is denied to others who merely want to walk or picnic and generally enjoy the greenery and the scenery on their doorstep. But because that green is within spitting distance of a conurbation, the grey tide washes up a thick line of unsavoury detritus.

I’m not sure how these things take hold, nor how the innocent among us are supposed to know that lay-by or car-park where we habitually leave our car of a summer’s eve, while we take a couple of hours out across the moors and enjoy the sunset, is now a public sex area. It’s a very British phenomenon – apparently – this dogging thing, but it’s all rather sordid too, and though it’s not like me to moralise, I really don’t like the thought of it in my back yard.

Of course, it’s not a good idea, sex with strangers, but even less so with lots of strangers. It’s a sure way to catch an STD for a start, possibly a fatal one, but that never stopped anyone from doing it, so moralising and pointing out the public health implications is never going to solve it. The other problem is it also creates bad feeling among the locals – these immoral urbanites travelling out to our rural idyll to perform their beastly functions. And there’s a resentment too that the innocent ones had better be locked indoors, with the curtains drawn by dusk, because there’ll soon be trolls about and there’s never a burly copper around to see them off.

Anyway, I came down from Great Hill, returning via the woods at Brinscall, then along the Goit to White Coppice. I saw more curlew and lark, heard cuckoo and woodpecker, and found what I believe to be an unmarked standing stone, though possibly a Victorian facsimile. It was a beautiful day, a pleasant walk, a beautiful area, an area well known to me, an area well known also, apparently, for dogging.

standing stone

As an interesting, though not entirely unrelated aside, today I took the good Lady Graeme out in the MX5. (We might as well enjoy it while the sun shines) We drove to Saint Annes on Sea and had a picnic by Fairhaven Lake. We used to go there a lot with the children, but today’s journey was considerably enhanced by travelling in an open top car. In fact it was a delight, and it was also wonderful to see my teacher wife smiling again after weeks of stress during the build up to yet another school inspection. On our return, my good lady, one eye on the wing mirror, asked me if I was aware the car behind the car behind us was a police car.

I was not.

I wasn’t speeding, but that aggressive looking Hyundai cruiser was suddenly an intimidating presence and, driving that MX5 I felt like I had a target on my back. I have been indicted for my carelessness before (SP30) – there were extenuating circumstances, but I didn’t argue them. I have also been falsely accused by a traffic officer of using a mobile phone when driving. I was not using it, and was able to prove to his satisfaction I had not been using it, but was given a stern warning for using it anyway. I was also once stopped and asked, with blistering sarcasm, if indicators were optional on my car, sir. It’s unfortunate but my only contact with the boys and girls in blue is when I’m behind the wheel of a car, and my confidence in them is tainted by that experience. I recognise it as a neurosis, and could perhaps use some desensitisation therapy, but I no longer feel protected and served. Instead I feel vulnerable.

So, if you were the traffic officer two cars behind when a blue Mazda MX5 pulled into the petrol station at the Warton filling station this afternoon, I admit I wasn’t really pulling in for petrol. I was merely wanting you off my tail because you were spoiling my day out with my wife. And by the way, did you know, as I write there are people committing acts of public indecency in nearby beauty spots, frightening the life out of old ladies and young women, and horses too?

What’s that? You do?

Clearly one is less likely to attract the attention of the constabulary these days cavorting in public areas without one’s trousers than one is when merely driving from A to B.

The material world is endlessly fascinating. While it so often seems bent on self destruction, I seem able to watch it these days from the detached perspective of a mostly docile middle age, but it doesn’t stop me from occasionally getting my dander up when the unconscious among us use what few bits of beautiful English green we have left to us for wiping their bottoms on.

Except, reading back on all of this it sounds like rather a long editorial from the Daily Mail – World going to hell in a handcart, public morals shot to pieces, and the police doing nothing about it. But in truth, though I am aware of what goes on, I have never personally witnessed such public indecency as I speak of here, and I don’t lay awake at night worrying about it,  so the West Pennines remain for me another country, and long may it remain so. Policemen are also human beings and do a decent job that many, myself included, would be incapable of. Yes, I’m paranoid about traffic policemen, I break out all nervous and sweaty when one settles on my tail – which is precisely why I imagine I attract them –  when all the guy’s probably thinking is “please let there be no more calls before I finish my shift”. If I could learn to love them, I would no longer care so much when one settles on my tail. That’s going to be quite a challenge, probably beyond me, but its been an interesting weekend’s journey from my first sitting down on Great Hill on Friday morning.

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pygmalion cycleThere was an article on the radio this morning saying that girls as young as 14 are now having cosmetic surgery in order to boost their self esteem. I find myself wondering about what model of so called bodily perfection they are comparing themselves with at so young an age but I suspect I need look no further than the nearest glossy magazine, or a pop video on you-tube. I’m also wondering if us guys are at fault for having too narrow a definition of what the ideal female should look like, and being too immature in our regurgitation of that stereotype across these various media. It’s more complex than that of course, as the editors of magazines read by young women tend to be themselves young women, but there’s definitely something in the machine that’s driven by the myth of male desire.

I keep returning to the story of Pygmalion – not the musical thing with Rex Harrison, but the original myth of the sculptor who ignored women as they really were, in favour of chiseling out his ideal in the shape of his muse, the heavenly Galatea. In some versions of this myth, Pygmalion falls in love with his creation, and the goddess, Aphrodite, taking pity on the guy, has Galatea come to life and fall in love with him. Thus the myth concludes, Hollywood fashion, in happy-ever-after style. But myths have layers to them, and the myth of Pygmalion can be peeled back to reveal something much darker and which I think helps to shine some light on the calamitous objectification of women.

In the darker myth, Pygmalion is a fool in thrall to the idealised form of his own soul-image, to the extent that he rejects the human reality – reality being the natural variety in the form of the human female, and he rejects it because he finds it imperfect. There’s nothing innocent about this foolishness. Pygmalion knows exactly what he’s doing, and what he wants; he’s a material man, imposing his misguided rules of measure upon the female body. With his rule, he measures out the proportions, and with his chisel he gives form to the awesomely beautiful creature, Galatea. But that Aphrodite then grants Pygmalion his wish, that Galatea should come alive, is not a blessing – it is Aphrodite’s curse, and her most severe punishment for Pygmalion’s stupidity.

Aphrodite, being goddess of love, beauty and procreation, knows a thing or two about relationships; she can see where Pygmalion is heading, and is offended by his rejection of her sisters in flesh, so she gives him a good shove to get him going in the direction of his misguided desires. The shape of physical womanhood that comes to life in Galatea may conform to the mythical ideal, but her expression is disturbingly blank because she has no soul. And she has no soul because she lacks the thing Pygmalion is least interested in: her humanness. Aphrodite has set him up with a robot.

Pygmalion may think he knows what he wants, shunning the awkward fleshly diversity of the human female in favour of the statuesque Galatea, but his quest has led him into an empty place, one of soulless, mechanical rumpy pumpy, a place where you just know he’s going to die a lonely and unfulfilled old man.

The Pre Raphaelite artist Burne Jones captures this story in a series of paintings which hang in the Birmingham city gallery, images that have haunted me for a long time. Looking at his depiction of Galatea we are also reminded of how much the “ideal” in feminine proportion has changed. The “hot babe” of the Victorian era was apparently smaller chested and fuller hipped than she would be allowed get away with now. She’s also significantly more “nude” without her modern splattering of tattoos. She would not pass muster in the lad mags of today, except as an unfortunate example of that most appalling fashion faux-pas: the wrongly proportioned woman.

The latter day Pygmalion, sculptor of the female form, lives on in the machinery of “emotive images” – the print media, the movie industry, and that black-sheep, rarely talked about in polite circles, but of tremendous influence: the porn industry. These are the sculptors responsible for dictating the shape of the women that men are supposed to want to have sex with, all in spite of the protestations of Aphrodite. This works both ways then; the damage of faulty thinking is inflicted not only on women but on men too. Pygmalion, in modern guise, is telling women that unless they fit the mythical contemporary pattern of size, shape and weight, men will not find them attractive, and is telling men that unless they achieve the prize of congress with that Galatean robot, he’s a worthless loser with the street credibility of a squashed gnat.

How do we stop the girls from making themselves ill, worrying over their weight, and the size of their boobs? And how do we convince the guys they may just be passing up on the perfect relationship by not even second glancing a woman, because she looks nothing like what he’s seen on the cover of a glossy magazine? It’s a complex business, one that plumbs the depths of the human psyche, and of course there are no easy answers. But at some point a guy has to wake up and realise the look in a woman’s eye when she looks at him is of far more significance than her cup size. And a girl has to realise that a guy who pulls a face at her muffin-top really isn’t the sort of guy worth hanging around with. It’s just a pity the machinery of image has become so dumb, so all pervasive, and there’s something in us that renders all of us so vulnerable to it.

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