Last night I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. This is a book which Judith Munns ‘loves’ and which Rachel Eales studied for GCSE. In 1960, when I gained my English Literature A Level, five years before the trial of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, nothing so explicit would have graced the curriculum. In her new introduction to this year’s Folio Society edition the author pays tribute to Orwell’s ‘1984’, to Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, and to Bradbury’s ‘Farenheit 451’. All are futuristic novels based on social control and spywork.
The difference with Atwood’s book is that it focusses on the lives of women. I found it thought provoking, flowing and brilliantly written. As a man I can’t say I loved it. This is because I found the treatment of the handmaids as sexual objects purely for procreation rather than any legitimate enjoyment most uncomfortable. Maybe one has to be a woman to ‘love’ such a book. Was your spelling of ‘Tail’ deliberate, Judith, or not? Either way, I can fully understand it.
When the book came out the USSR was in the last throes of the communist grip. There will always be people in such a regime who will break the rules. Human nature and the desire for freedom of expression, however severely repressed, will come through. There is a fireman in Bradbury’s book who preserves the literature he is meant to burn, and the Handmaid’s Commander collects forbidden reading material; belongs to a sex club (exclusively for the bosses and important trade connections); and plays Scrabble. At great risk to them both the Commander involves the Handmaid in all this.
Margaret Atwood could not have known that by the early 21st. century it would be possible to form Scrabble friendships through the medium of the internet with people all over the world. Yet it is through the game of Scrabble that the Commander chooses to initiate the emotionally intimate relationship he craves with the handmaid he is meant mechanically to ‘fuck’ in his wife’s presence with neither pleasure nor verbal communication.
The humbling thing about Worldwide Scrabble on Facebook is that it is played in English. People I am currently playing whose first language is not English are from The Phillipines, Singapore, Japan, Greece, and Nigeria. And they are all capable of beating me.
On this warm and sunny morning of a day which soon became so hot and humid as to be oppressive I set off earlier than usual to walk to Colliers Wood with the intention of exploring the park on the High Street discovered yesterday.
In Sainsbury’s I joined a queue at the checkout behind a woman with what looked to be a whole week’s shop. As I only had a bottle of wine I was taking to my friend Norman for lunch I began to feel I’d probably joined the wrong queue. So quick and efficient, however, was the person on the till that I complimented her on her efficiency. She was a youngish woman with a slight African accent and tribal marks incised in her cheeks. She had a very modest yet humorous response. Only then did I realise that she was sporting a badge proclaiming her as ‘top scanner of the week’. She joked that she didn’t know how it had got there.
The visit to Wandle Park will have to wait. This is because I got diverted in conversation with the ganger of a team working on the Wandle Trail. I have reported earlier the marked difference between the amounts of litter on this trail and in Morden Hall Park. This morning there was a whole gang working at clearing the litter, tidying the undergrowth and, where necessary, weeding and clearing the river. Their leader, Mr. Everoy Naine, born in Jamaica in 1968, who came to this country when he was seven, was passionate and eloquent about what he and his crew were doing. He is employed by the London Probation Trust to manage a crew of volunteer offenders attached to the project called Payback. Everoy was keen on the actual task they were carrying out, proud of his workers, and wholly committed to giving his charges an opportunity. One young man was involved and interested in our conversation and I told him I had done my first (approved school) after care work in 1966. This impressed them both and it was then that Everoy said he had been born two years after this. His young charge gave me his name and would have been happy for me to have used it, but we agreed that his privacy should be respected.
On the tube to and from Neasden I began reading Colin Dexter’s ‘The Remorseful Day’.