Film buffs will probably despair, but I love Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
I love the metaphor of a shoal of salmon ‘turning.’ A vast shoal of fish move downstream together, racing towards some unspecified destination. But suddenly, one salmon changes its mind and flips; starts swimming in the other direction, against the tide of the others. Then another quite fancies the opposite direction, too. And another. And another. Until the whole shoal has turned around and is heading back upstream.
I love that sequence. It might represent the journey made by Ewan Macgregor’s character, but it can be applied to so many other things.
Attitudes towards homosexuality, for example. Only a century ago homosexuality was illegal and nearly everybody you asked called it ‘wrong’.
Attitudes to women; a century ago, female doctors were virtually unheard of.
Have women, or the physcial act of gay sex changed very much since then? No they have not. But our attitudes have. Now we are swimming upstream.
Of course, the situation for homosexuals in Russia might be another kettle of fish (or another shoal of salmon). And after this, the metaphor breaks down because human social changes are not so easy as the shoal’s directional ones. The very first people to leap out of the water and land the other way with a splash, probably failed to make it; were knocked back downstream by the sheer numbers of other fish; or swam sideways for a bit and then sank. The turning has taken generations and not everyone is swimming in the right direction yet. Some unlucky salmon still find themselves being forced downstream by others who refuse to flip.
It happens to me all the time. There are lots of examples of me wanting to swim in one particular direction, but of society’s flow making it difficult.
Take fashion. The other day I was in specsavers, hoping to purchase my preferred dark-rims-at-the-top, no-rim-at-the-bottom style frames. But the salesgirl said they were out of fashion: nobody’s wearing them now. And didn’t I think that they made me look a little bit – well – mature?
I could have punched her. But instead I took her guidance and ordered some bold coloured-rims-all-the-way-round glasses. Sad.
And what about shell-suits? I got one for my ninth birthday; they were popular then. Colourful, casual, comfortable and cool they were, but mention them now and folk will tell you that they’re impractical, gaudy and ill-advised, not to mention a fire hazard. Dammit.
There are bigger things, too: like caring for the environment. I currently sit in traffic twice a day in my little car. The cars in front and behind me also contain a single person each, looking hacked off and chugging fossil fuels into the environment.
We all ‘know’ about pollution; ‘know’ that there is too much traffic to make it sensible. But work times vary massively; we are all time-pressured; car-sharing would be ‘hastle’, waiting for busses is cold and the nice places to live are a long way from our workplace. So everyone drives.
Well, nearly everyone. Meet my friend Jo. Jo is a medical student, working stints in Hospitals all over South Yorkshire. Jo always leaves her car at home and gets to work on her bike, sometimes using trains. This must be at great personal inconvenience; some nights she works late; often it rains. It must add hours to her day and seems fiendishly impractical. But ‘it’s all about the carbon footprint,’ says Jo.
Cycling has had activists for years; perhaps their cries for better cycle lanes and more vigilant drivers will eventually be heard. The easier cycling gets, the more people will join in. But I don’t think we’ll all be riding bikes tomorrow.
Shopping in supermarkets. I hate it. I hate the extra sugar they put into bread. I hate packaging (did the toilet brush I bought today really need to be wrapped in cellophane? Or in a box?) I hate knowing that there is palm oil in a lot of the products that I buy. Knowing what goes on on the inside of most chicken farms. Buying milk at three pints for a pound: how’s a dairy farmer supposed to make any profit from that? Is it any wonder that seventy per cent of the national dairy herd are lame?
And yet I am in a hurry trying to live my life, so to the supermarket I go. Blogging about it might get it off my chest a bit, but welfare campaigner Professor John Webster (an animal welfare researcher) raises a good point:
It’s not what we think or say that matters. It’s what we do.
If I’m honest, it’s easier to say what I don’t do: I don’t always make my own decisions in life. But could you picture it? A shell-suit-wearing Liz: cycling to work; only eating things that she knew had had nice lives and only wearing things made by workers who had had nice lives. Dressing her son in as many pink frills as her daughter. Already this is what I would consider to be unfeasable (especially the vast amount of ‘nice lives’ research) and I would look like a nutcase. I like to fit into society: I compromise my ideals, like many others.
I am not one of the radical flipping salmon. I am not even a sideways salmon like Jo, who is following her beliefs, choosing her own direction through the water, not caring that it puts her at a time disadvantage because many other students on her course drive cars. No, I am the sort who swims with the shoal a lot. But I just wanted to say:
To early uphill salmon in every one of life’s rivers, I salute you.