Monday, January 04, 2010

Camouflage and a new year



From the entrance to Petworth Park we couldn't see the deer. We walked through the beeches around the car park and up the hill overlooking the lake. Down in the dip we heard a dog and then saw the herd moving. As we focussed we realised there were scores of them, some lying in the winter grass, totally invisible. Even those grazing merged with the background and later, when we walked around the lake, the landscape had claimed them back again.

I was at a friend's 50th birthday yesterday afternoon, the tables groaning under the weight of cake and savouries. The talk was of teenagers and school, of college and choices. A friend who's a great champion of children's rights was talking about how difficult it is for teenagers to challenge the status quo, compared to how it was for us, growing up in the sixties. We want teenagers inconspicuous and tame, quiet and compliant - camouflaged, basically.

Listening to a piece on the radio this morning about the need for greater airport security I heard an interviewee suggest that air travellers should be prepared to be checked up on in the interests of safety. That there should be background checks on passengers from certain countries as a matter of routine and whatever rights might be compromised were sacrificed to greater safety.

Like rights to take photos in the street, to ask questions of institutions, to challenge wrong, to submit those in authority to scrutiny. How many of us want to question a bill, bank, utility company, local authority and are halted by an impossible automated answering system, are fobbed off by a standard reply, by a customer service line that is peopled by untrained junior staff without the knowledge to deal with a question?

Let 2010 be a year of questions, of examining the camoflauge, of being visible and of finding ways to loosen the tightening loop. Let us take photos in public, or as my friend Jane Fordham suggested, draw in places we're not meant to and see what happens. Let us ask awkward questions of insurance companies, banks and telephone companies and let's rediscover the power of boycott.

Then, perhaps, we'll begin to value that fabulous energy teenagers are infused with and see it as something of worth.