Read our posts about society

Boarding School Survivors

Boarding School Survivors

“Are we going to be head of rugby?” a well-dressed mother self-consciously jokes with another. They stand by their BMWs in the forecourt of a prep school accepting their tiny sons for the first time. Trunks have been carried in, housemasters have made brisk reassuring comments, and the ‘settling in period’ has begun. There are no tears. The scene comes from a BBC 40 Minutes documentary, made 20 years ago, called The Making of Them, in which young boarders were discreetly filmed over their first few weeks at prep school. It is available on YouTube, but careful: it...
» Read More
Why I Left My Enchanted Cage

Why I Left My Enchanted Cage

I am standing on a bench in the Green Dragon and waving a black handbag. You have to guess what three designer items I am wearing, I say. Everyone laughs as they look at my wintry gear: yak jumper, cashmere jumper, alpaca coat, zigzaggy pony skin belt. We’re at a Green Drinks night in a free house in a small market town called Bungay in Suffolk. It’s a monthly event in which my local Transition Initiative, Sustainable Bungay, discusses environmental issues within a frame of social change. Tonight I’m the ‘expert conversationalist’ and the topic is Give and Take...
» Read More
Middle-Aged Women: Ignored or Liberated?

Middle-Aged Women: Ignored or Liberated?

I do not know any woman who has not felt discomfort negotiating the shift from young to not young.  Such difficulty does not stem from superficial vanity; it registers the changed social meanings women encounter as they become middle-aged. The brilliant writer and critic Carolyne Heilbrun was the first to point out that women, once they entered midlife, were considered story less.  Past the age in which they might drive the plot of a standard romantic narrative, they disappeared with a few words into settled, fixed characters, to whom nothing interesting would...
» Read More
"Head in a Car Crusher": Understanding Autism

"Head in a Car Crusher": Understanding Autism

When I first started to work with people on the autistic spectrum, I was given a very bad piece of advice: because the brains of people with autism were damaged, one should not listen to what they had to say. The implication was that they had nothing useful to contribute. I repeat this now only because it highlights how completely our perspective on autism has been challenged and redirected by the autobiographical accounts of such courageous people as Temple Grandin, Donna Williams and many others, presenting us with the view from the inside. Starting as a...
» Read More
Cosmetic Surgery Makes Beauty That's Barely Skin Deep

Cosmetic Surgery Makes Beauty That's Barely Skin Deep

I was sad to read in The Guardian today that there’s been a big rise — nearly 17 per cent – in the demand for cosmetic surgery in Britain in the last year. Breast augmentation is the number one favourite, with anti-ageing techniques such as eyelid surgery and face and neck lifts following closely behind.  I was, however, not surprised to read that there’s also been a rise in reports of patient dissatisfaction. Quite apart from any issues of competence  this shows that cosmetic surgery doesn’t offer lasting satisfaction. Why not? First, the procedures rarely promise...
» Read More
Taking Care of Our Elderly

Taking Care of Our Elderly

More and more of us have an elderly relative in residential care. Currently more than 400,000 people in the UK live in care homes, a figure which is bound to rise further, given the ageing population (there are currently 3 million people aged over 80 in the UK, and that figure is predicted to almost double by 2030. Currently one-in-six of the UK population is aged over 65; by 2050 it will be one-in-four). NICE the (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has issued new guidance on improving the mental wellbeing of older people in residential care, via a...
» Read More
Can TV Make Us Happy?

Can TV Make Us Happy?

With the National Television Awards tonight and controversy over television programmes filling the papers again, it might be a good time to look at how the television we watch affects our well-being. Our brains are incredibly susceptible to what we watch, in part because of two bits of biological programming. One is that we’re designed to not waste energy, so sitting down and having information come to us feels easy. The other biological quirk is that new experiences register as stronger than familiar ones, we’re hard-wired to seek out novelty. Television provides us...
» Read More
Culture Tip: The Circle

Culture Tip: The Circle

I was racing through Dave Eggers' The Circle over Christmas and enjoying it so much, I just had to tweet something about it. But what? "Am loving the way this book makes social media sound like a totalitarian state #1984"  Or "Mister Cool Dave Eggers is acting like a technophobic dinosaur" Or simply "Step away from the screens!"? To explain. This novel is about a young woman, Mae Holland,  who gets a job at a Google-(or is it Facebook?)like company and gets drawn further and further into a technological takeover of her life. What starts out as social...
» Read More