Four days ago I had my second cataract operation, and have 20/20 vision for the first time in my life. The operation took about 15 minutes for each eye, there was no pain, and between them Medicare and BUPA paid for everything except the eye-drops.
I now realise that I’ve been seeing the world through a yellow-brown filter for years, maybe decades. Every day I walk round the house gazing at the pictures on the walls, marvelling at their true colours. I amuse myself by staring out of the window and counting the leaves on distant trees. I can sit at the back of a cinema and see every pixel.
But I know the euphoria won’t last. Already perfect vision is already becoming my new normal. I call it the MG Effect.
When I was a boy I wanted to own an MG, a real MG, preferably a TC or a TD (left). But my first car was a Bond Minicar (below: a 3-wheeler powered by a 250cc 2-stroke engine mounted on the front wheel), My second was a Fiat 500.
Then I got married, took out a mortgage and had a baby. Sports cars were off the agenda. Fast-forward 25 years: the children grew up, the mortgage was paid off, and an MG became a possibility. But in my heart I knew that the novelty would wear off and I’d be left with an uncomfortable, under-powered, environmentally unfriendly machine that would need constant repairs and long hours globally Googling for spare parts.
PS I’ve just come from the Trak Cinema (Adelaide) where Mrs SG and I sat at the back and watched a French animated film called ‘The Swallows of Kabul’. We recommend it, especially if you are in any doubt about the Taliban’s true colours.
There is an upsurge of guilty feelings about slavery, especially in the UK. Statues of people who made fortunes from that evil trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been wrenched from their plinths. There is agitation to re-name city streets – even Liverpool’s Penny Lane, because it may have been named for the slave-trader James Penny.
And I have just read a review in the Guardian Weekly of Nicholas Rogers’ book ‘Murder on the Middle Passage’, which deals with horrific crimes committed against African slaves for the sake of profit. It made me think…
Slavery has existed for millennia, considered a perfectly normal aspect of human society and economy. It is often said that all nations have practised slavery but only the British abolished it. This is probably true, if one considers the laws that were passed by the British Parliament that were then enforced by the British Navy.
Slavery that is legally sanctioned, where one human and his/her offspring are the property of another, no longer exists anywhere so far as I know. But the ILO estimates that 40 million people suffer some form of virtual slavery. One hears of sex workers whose passports are withheld by their ‘owners’, debt bondage in the brickfields of India and kidnapped migrants on Thai fishing boats.
But there are conditions of employment that have become normal, but in some respects are worse than slavery. If one has paid for and owns a slave, one has an interest in keeping him or her fed, clothed, housed and healthy. I think of the ‘labour lines’ on a Sylhet tea plantation I visited in 1967. The living conditions were basic and the wages almost non-existent, but the benign Scottish manager ensured rations and medical care were available, and even schooling for the children. How different it is for employers who engage ‘contractors’ who are obliged to be available for paid work but have no guarantee that it will be offered.
Should there perhaps be a legal option to sell oneself into a form of slavery, rather like the bonded labourers on whose sweaty backs the Fijian sugar industry was built? Or the Pacific islanders who used to cut cane in Queensland?
More provocatively, will future generations vandalize the statues of contemporary heroes because of our appalling acceptance of the enslavement of other species?