I went to the WI last night. I’m not sure what the equivalent of the WI is in other cultures. I go because I like to belong to an organisation which slow-handclapped Tony Blair and one where middle aged women get naked for charity. The point about the Womens’ Institute, I guess, is that an organisation based on the solid virtues of rural life, feminine handicrafts and baking is an unlikely hotbed of such subversive activism. The other reasons are that I finally feel old enough, it is a pleasant way of meeting local people, and I like and respect middle aged and elderly rural women.
WI meetings are surprisingly formal. They start when the secretary reads the minutes of the previous meeting, and then there is a lot of business such as announcements about wine-tasting trips to local vineyards, pub quizzes and afternoon teas at other WIs. This all takes half an hour or so, maybe a little bit more. Then there is the entertainment for the evening. An Improving Talk. Last month we had a talk and a demonstration of stained glass making. This month the talk was entitled something like “musical memories”.
I found it boring, amusing, pleasant and rather sweet in more or less equal quantities. The speaker looked like Fester Addams, but had a palindromic wig which looked the same from the front and the back, and I spent a lot of the evening worrying that it would tip forward over his nose. He was in his 60s I’d have guessed, and he played us big band records from the turn of the previous century to the mid 1940s. Some of them were real toe-tappers, but of course we sat decorously, our hands in our laps. There was a soft murmur of talk through the records. It was an evening of gentle innocence. He struck me as a good man.
After the talk we ate cakes, drank tea and gossip, and I offered my help at the village gala next month, and then I made my escape. Virtuous womanhood can only go so far. When I got home, I settled down to watch Big Brother. I know that it is trite to draw a comparison between the honesty of our good-hearted and unpolished speaker and the cynical manipulations of Endemol who select shallow and vulnerable people, provoke them to mean-spiritedness and violence, place them in moral and ethical dilemmas, and prompt them into degrading themselves for money. It may be a trite comparison, but it is one I am going to draw nonetheless.
Every aspect of our life is full of actual or metaphorical E-numbers. We no longer like the honest and almost naive taste of reality, and instead prefer Reality TV.