I never considered myself a genuine Luddite and in my last academic role colleagues were coming to me with queries about how to manage the online platform (I didn't tell them – I usually contacted the help desk mannie, whose usual advice was 'turn it off and on again!'). But I'm increasingly fed up with having to do everything remotely. The local store here, part of a large group which still trades on its ethical and community ethos, employs a minimal number of physical staff and expects customers to not only collect their shopping but to scan it through a till and pay for it, all without the need to speak to an employee.
You would think the latter would be bored and desperate to have contact with any person, instead of stacking the shelves (assuming there's anything to stack) but no, when awkward people like me insist on having a retail person attend to them, they look affronted, as though you are keeping them from their proper task of lurking behind the tins of baked beans. I seem to be fighting a losing battle in trying to ignore the self service option, even though I've been told by some retail staff that they don't like it either. However, one young whipper snapper told me, he was quite happy to be out of a job as it was 'boring'. I reposted that it was at least paying his wages but as this was in Beautiful Downtown Banchory, he was probably getting a parental allowance that was more than my teachers' pension.
I have worked on a supermarket checkout in my time and quite enjoyed chatting with the customers, although I am told that nowadays in some stores staff are being filmed to make sure they don't chat with them, which if true is an indictment – if one were needed – of the toxic capitalism that currently infects all our commercial dealings. I have, however, managed to circumvent Messrs Tesco – I had for a couple of years been using the late Mr B's card as the other family member, but having moved, decided I must get my own card.
Being reasonably IT literate, I applied online but then was told I had to have my card on my phone – a pain if you are trying to load your shopping and search for the flipping thing. Nothing daunted, I googled 'how to get a plastic Tesco card', and some fellow sufferer had uploaded the details – they had hidden it quite well, but it could be found on the website. However, Tesco did not give up so easily and kept asking questions along the lines of: 'are you absolutely 100% convinced you want to destroy the environment by not having an app on your phone?' Yes, I am, Tesco – you are doing more to destroy the environment than I am.
Spies not like us
I still don't have my promised shed yet, so Mr X, if you are reading this please reply to my text and confirm you are still in the country. But I now have several bookcases so can at least retrieve some more books from the storage unit. Interestingly, I have an artist friend who has no books on art, while I have quite a few – maybe as she has artistic talent, and I haven't. Many of them I obtained for literally pence from that august academic institution where I last worked, which would cull them every so often from the library (I wonder if they still have books in it?). One I bought for 20p was a rather battered old volume entitled: Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Art Presented to Anthony Blunt on his 60th Birthday
I did not buy it because I was a big fan of Blunt or his academic chums – a pretentious lot who used words like festschrift
in italics and included contributions in German, Italian and French, so the rest of us would be in awe of their esoteric knowledge. It was more that the book came out before Blunt's extra-curricular activities as a spy were revealed so I thought it might have some value, especially as it contained a portrait photo of the horrid old man, looking typically condescending and sarcastic.
Unfortunately, it seems there were quite a few of these published and mine is in poor condition so I won't be putting it on eBay, but it did give pause for thought as to why the British establishment let him get away with it for so long, knowing what he had been up to. I probably know the answer – the British establishment has always protected its own even when they are corrupt (remember partygate?) – but why did so many of these posh boys get involved in espionage? Not that they were, in most cases, convinced by the rightness of Soviet communism – I suspect they just liked being in a sort of secret society, like William and the Outlaws in Richmal Compton's children's stories. And, of course, Blunt was gay in an era where it was still practically illegal, so he would be used to hiding in plain sight.
It's interesting that in an increasingly secular era, we now have an SNP leadership contest where two of the candidates are being reviled or praised for their self-professed religious beliefs. I don't know enough about the prophet Muhammad to comment (although I have struggled through the Koran as well as the Bible) but it strikes me that Jesus would be reluctant to regard sexual behaviour as in anyway linked with religious faith, unless it was exploitative and thus far from loving one's neighbour as oneself. He never mentioned homosexuality and in terms of heterosexual relationships only pointed out that, in an era where there was no Child Support Agency, men should not divorce their partners in favour of a new trophy wife.
His comments about morality were all about the evils of capitalism and the need to include the outcasts from 'respectable' society, as such people had nothing to lose by changing their lives, while rich people had to give things up and rarely wanted to.
Having read the fascinating research of Margaret Starbird, e.g. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar
, as a sort of Pagan Christian, I am more than happy to accept (in the story, even if not 'historically') that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a married couple – he was after all a good Jewish boy in all other respects, and had all the other physical appetites. We know Muhammad was a married man – why should a holy person not have a sex life? If that makes me a heretic I'm content with that, especially as it seems the theologian Martin Luther agreed with me…
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant