On the road again


(image c/o www.drivingkillz.co.uk)

So today, for the first time in years, I had a driving lesson.
I’ve had the jokes about losing licences etc. – I didn’t.  I simply didn’t drive regularly for several years and lost my confidence.  I was also injured in a car crash when my husband was driving, and became more than usually aware how dangerous cars actually are.

Today, I got into the driving seat without actually hyperventilating.  This may have been because of the dual controls, or perhaps the fact that my driving instructor is very positive and enthusiastic – just as they should be.

I then proceeded to drive perfectly competently around roads I’ve been avoiding for the last year or so.  I managed roundabouts, roadworks, overtaking, and cycle lanes.

I’m nervous parking, not comfortable above 40 miles an hour, but actually that’s no worse than a lot of people on the roads.  Next week, I’ll brave country lanes, the motorway and car parks…

Of course the car I’m learning in is a Vauxhall Corsa, and I passed my test in one of those.  Driving our car is a different challenge all together, and that’s one I need support to conquer. The last thing I need is exasperation and shouting.  I’ve had P plates recommended to me – so I’ll try to get hold of some, and hope my husband doesn’t take the P.

Is it really possible…

…to post on my blog via an Android app? Well, I’m giving it a go, and my first thought is that-  contrary to the research at present that says that the under-30s have had their hands changed by texting and mobile phone use and will now use their thumbs more naturally than index finger for tasks such as ringing doorbells- anyone attempting to blog via the WordPress app risks index finger RSI!
I’m quite deft, but prolonged screen typing makes me wonder if it would be a good idea to invest in a usb keyboard. Or the fat finger app. Ah. Actually just turning the phone horizontal helps…

SKYLINE or oh God, earth loses to the aliens

It’s not often I am moved to write a film review, but I had a chance to see a lot of films over Christmas what with all the flight time I racked up…

I saw lots of films I enjoyed (principally, it has to be admitted, cartoons as I was sitting next to my toddler and couldn’t watch things with too high a rating).
Scott Pilgrim vs the World” was sublime, laugh out loud funny and so clever.
The Social Network” is worth the Oscar nominations.
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang” was make-you-cry feelgood at the end.
I want a “Despicable Me” minion.
My reaction to “Avatar” was “meh!” but I expect it is suboptimal on an aeroplane seat-sized screen rather than a giant 3D screen…

But the film I want to review is “Skyline“.
This $10m  alien invasion film (i.e. made for peanuts and with no big star – often the sort of film-making I like…) is the one that has affected me most, and mainly because I hated it.

I don’t mean I disliked it, or found it boring.  I actually hated it.

This is a bleak, doom-laden and ultimately depressing film.  It is impossible to write about it without spoilers, so consider yourselves warned…

We start in an apartment where a group of hungover friends are waking up.  One girl gets up and is sick – it is later established that she is pregnant.  Everyone is transfixed by a blue light – it’s so pretty, no one can resist looking.  But then it starts to suck them in…
And then we’re off into full-on alien invasion mode.
These alien things suck in everyone and come in varying sizes meaning they can get into houses or crush entire apartment blocks.
It has been pointed out in other reviews that the black character dies first – yes, and the character cheats on his girlfriend too as if that somehow makes it ok that he died, in comparison with the hero/ heroine couple who are going to have a baby.
The US airforce sends in a nuclear bomb – boom!
But the aliens are not destroyed and the havesting continues. Our heroes continue, despite radiation poisoning, to try to figure out a way to survive, but ultimately are taken by the alien harvesters.
But that’s not the end.
Ultimately everyone in the world is taken, alive, on board the alien ship, where their heads are ripped off and their still living brains used, Doctor Who Cyberman-style, to power new alien beings.
I’ll leave a mystery over the exact fate of the newly pregnant heroine and the hero, but suffice to say the only way of making a sequel is if the heroine survived nine months of pregnancy in alien hell and the foetus grows up to invent time travel and stop it happening.

And that, if you like, is my problem.  To me, there was no proper ending, just unending horror.
Some reviewers have praised this as “realistic”, or “refreshingly free from cheesy Hollywood feelgood”.

To me, it was evidence to me of how important it is to me to know that there after apocalypse there is redemption.
The longing for a happy ending is hard-wired into our society.  We want to know that wrongs will be righted, the evil to be punished and the good to be rewarded (even if we disagree on when, how and what exactly we mean by those concepts).
In the Strause brothers’ vision of the apocalypse there is no judgement, no fairness, no ultimate purpose to life.
Humankind has no value other than as fuel, and lives on only as the brainpower of another species.  And it is better – as demonstrated by the fat, bossy man (fat? Yep, in filmworld if he’s not funny, he’s going to die), to kill yourself than to be taken.  What kind of a world view is it where suicide is the best option?

Ultimately, in that vision of the world, there is no God.
Well, unless it is a vision of what happens during the book of Revelation, before all the 7-horned cows and whore of Babylon stuff.
But I don’t think He’s there in this story.  I don’t think he was even an afterthought.  This is an apocalypse with a nihilistic world view and a simple message.  We all die.  Earth loses to the aliens.

To people who think that religion is a crutch for those who need a fluffy bunny version of the world, I suggest you’ve not read Revelations – all those years of dreadful things happening that are mentioned there, and they don’t spell out clearly that believers will be spared from all the horrors.
(Well, pretribulationist Christians think it does, with the rapture lifting them up to meet Christ before it all kicks off, but that’s not the most commonly held position – and an atheist website offering to look after the pets of Christians taken away in the rapture neatly satirises this…).

The world of St John the Divine’s book of Revelation is not a cosy place.
Some have suggested that it has more than a touch of the magic mushroom about it.
Frankly, even if it’s an allegorical description, the sort of world described is all the worst of the world around us until the new heaven and the new earth.

But – and draw a deep breath – given I believe that Jesus is coming back, then I would still rather that the vision there is as it will be than subscribe to the world view that is so neatly encapsulated by “Skyline”.

But it’s not 0 stars for “Skyline”, it’s 1 star, and that’s because it made me think.

Women, Sky Sports and the Middle East…

A couple of thoughts on women and the news…

Was the Sky Sports incident just “banter”?  Erm, no, I don’t see how it can be defended that way.
Two male presenters questioned a woman’s ability to do her job on the basis of her gender.  One also used disgraceful language to talk about a colleague’s ex, the other harasses a female colleague over microphone cable and his trousers.  Even if off-air, they were in the workplace.
If any of these events had been comments made on grounds of race, there would’ve been an immediate outcry – and quite right too.  But because it was gender, people seek to justify – and not just men.

And on a completely different note, while I can go on at length about freedom, democracy and the amazing situation in the middle east, I’m confining myself to this comment: have you noticed the prominent place of young women, veiled or not, in the public demonstrations?

Both in Tunisia and in Egypt, while the clear majority of figures in the crowd are men, there have been more women than you might have feared. Other bloggers have noticed this and commented in detail… It would be good to have a clear, positive role for women in establishing what happens next.
Whatever the outcome, let’s hope that one of the noticeable features will be that the role of women is one of real equality.

PS I read yesterday that the Sky Sports pair might be offered jobs at Al Jazeera.  It’s a strange way for these two stories to be tied together.

So where are all the EU women?

Five inter-related thoughts on the theme of where are all the women:

1) I’ve been following an interesting debate over on Twitter.  Life’s a bit complicated technologically at the moment so my joining in Tweets haven’t all got there, but the gist of the discussion is this: why, when there is an EU-related panel discussion, is it so hard to find a panel with gender balance?  Or more than just one woman?  Where are all the women? (@europasionaria, @EuropeanAgenda @maitea6 @euonymblog)

2) Meanwhile, the European Women’s Lobby has drawn attention to the issue of where all the women are in the European External Action Service (just 36% at present – the petition calling for more can be found here)?  Just over one third?  Seriously, where are all the women?

3) At the same time (and there is a link here too, I promise), my care arrangements have suddenly got more complicated: it now offers half an hour less time in the evenings with no good reason offered for the change, meaning a much bigger risk of being late…
Then, for reasons best known to themselves, the public transport system in London has decided that I should have to have a minimum extra half hour journey a day…
And Eurostar has changed the timing of the Brussels train meaning it is now impossible to catch our care at the end of a day at meetings in Belgium…
Argh!  Logistics nightmare!  But I know I’m not alone in this.
Thousands of families have complications. Many sort it out quietly, anecdotally often by having another baby or someone downgrading or giving up work.  Does it have to be like this?

4) Are the EU women working part-time and thus unavailable, or not highly enough ranked to take part in the more public roles?
Short answer is no – not all women are mothers, not all women work part-time. But a big group do.
A quick look at the UK: is it possible to be both successful in your career and work part-time? In the UK public sector, broadly yes.
What about the private and voluntary sectors? Well, the right to request flexible working is out there, for parents and carers at present and with a good take up rate.  It’s less clear how many do not request for fear of career implications or pessimism about being turned down.
Also there is a prevailing view that somehow part-time and full-time labour markets are and should be separate.  Well, this makes no sense given the quality of individuals looking to work part-time whose skills and experience should not be confined to lower level roles (particularly now that the retirement age is gone and older workers might want to reduce their hours without actually leaving work altogether). It also makes no sense given the news that the huge majority of jobs created recently have been part-time (let’s just hope it doesn’t also mean that they’ve been low-paid ones).
Recently there’s been quite a lot of resentment in newspaper letters pages towards demanding parents who have made a “lifestyle choice” to have kids and should not expect any special treatment as a result.
Let’s leave aside for now the “who pays your pension” argument, though it should be made.
More immediately, is there actually anything wrong with parents wanting both to play a major role in bringing up their own children and also using the skills and talents that they’ve spent their lives building up for the profit of all?
And there also seems to be fear about employing women as it is just “more difficult” than employing men (a view openly expressed by working mother Katy Hopkins on BBC Question Time).
So can it be done?  Well obviously yes.
Are there any non-superwoman role models?
The Evening Standard ran a brilliant piece (not available online) on a London mother working a very senior design job at a well-known designer store part-time three days a week – but noted that her father had given her the role with some resistance from other decision-takers. Dammit, why does it take a father to demonstrate that it can work?

What about the EU institutions and related organisations?  Given that the institutions staff are not covered directly by EU legislation on part-time working etc., how exemplary are the institutions as flexible employers?
And what about the lobbying industry?
Or the voluntary sector in Brussels?
Do they expect the Belgian childcare system to step in so parents can work full-time? Is there any scope to work part-time?
And, given the likelihood that family are not close by, what happens when meetings run on past the 6pm childcare cut-off point? Or the essential networking sessions are all held in the evenings?

5)  Final thought: the gender pay gap (notional average wage difference figure) and indeed everything affecting where the women are job-wise, are complex and interconnected.
Not least because it all matters for men too.
Measures taken now might not have immediate effect, but it does not mean no action is necessary.  Governments across the EU, and the institutions themselves, are realising this and trying to do something about it.
Gender balanced panels would be one small step, but a visible one.