Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A calendar education

When there's an outburst of indignation about a stupid remark made by an elderly person, such as the furore over Tim Hunt's comments on women in the laboratory, it's easy to forget how much we have moved on in the last 40 or 50 years. We are yet to achieve proper equality for women, but it's easy to forget just how strikingly different things were just a few decades ago. Take, for instance, the issue of calendars.

When I was young, every car part manufacturer and plumber's supplier produced an annual calendar with pictures of women in relatively few, if any clothes. Most of these were pretty horrendous productions, though some had pretensions of artiness, and none more so than the calendar produced by the tyre company Pirelli. These weren't the kind of thing that were plastered on the wall of garage workshops, but sought after collectors' items. But still, in the end, arguably objectification. (I admit the line between such things and art is fuzzy. It would be censorship indeed if art were not allowed to portray the human body.)

When I wrote the first draft of this post, my next line about the Pirelli calendars was 'Still, in the end, unacceptable to modern eyes, but very different beasts from the common girlie calendar.' I then took a look online and discovered that they still make the Pirelli calendar in this form. So we've a way to go yet.

Back on topic, I do have to give an accolade to one attempt at being arty on the part of a calendar maker, though. It made me realise that there is a point to poetry - or at least some poetry.

My dad's best friend, Jesse, worked for the chemical giant Ciba Geigy, and somewhere around 1970, he gave me one of their calendars. They had produced their equivalent of the Pirelli output with relatively subtle and arty shots of women, but each was captioned with a couplet from a poem. And some of those lines really got to me.

I can't remember many of them now, but two spring to mind:

All that's best of dark and bright
meets in her beauty and her eyes.

from Byron's She Walks in Beauty and

Annihilating all that's made
to a green thought in a green shade.

from The Garden by Andrew Marvell. Several were from the seventeenth century like the latter, and led me to a fondness for the likes of Marvell and Donne. As I've previously remarked, I don't have a lot of time for poetry, because I'm not the poetry equivalent of a railway enthusiast. Most of the time I don't get it. Possibly because it's much harder to write a half-decent poem than a half-decent novel, so most output is rubbish. But thanks to a calendar of my youth, there a few cases where I do.

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