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Ways of Seeing


Yesterday morning we made a quick Christmas shopping foray into a nearby shopping centre. It stands somewhere on a continuum between really ugly to merely characterless. As we approached a patch of scrubland on the way in, an elderly woman was coming in the opposite direction laden with shopping. She stopped, gazed for a moment into the depths of the grassy wasteland and said to Helen: ‘Look at that rose!’ Amidst all the undergrowth, she had spotted the patch of late-summer red.


Hereabouts yesterday was grey, cold, foggy – not at all pleasant. In the evening, a little before 10pm I noticed that the security light at the front of the house come on. I was not entirely surprised because we had been expecting the delivery of a parcel but I had virtually given up on it. I opened the door to a petite young woman - a student perhaps. She peered out from below layers of protective clothing but I could see she was of some Far Eastern ethnicity. ‘Miserable and cold for you’, I said. ‘Quite fresh’, she replied. ‘You’re working late’, I sympathised. ‘It’s Christmas!’ She responded cheerfully and with that she bounded back to her van. How many more deliveries does she have to do tonight? I wondered.


I went back into the warmth. The media were covering at some length a controversy which had just flared in the World Cup which – you may have noticed - is going on in the Gulf state of Qatar where it is not grey or cold or foggy. In the match between Japan and Spain the former had been awarded a goal which had the effect of eliminating Germany from the competition. (Yes, it is complicated but bear with me - it’s a tragedy for millions of Germans and so unjust!). Did the ball cross the line? One camera angle – there were many – said yes, another said no, another said maybe. It very much all depended on how you looked at it. Actually, it all depended on how an all-important official looked at it. They eventually said no, and so the German team had to pack their bags.


There was no more drama before bedtime but the day’s happenings reminded me of a book published decades ago by John Berger called Ways of Seeing. It also reminded me of what we wrote about last week from Grayson Perry and Rowan Williams. Tired eyes or fresh eyes – it all depends on how you look at things.


If you have watched some coverage of the World Cup, you may have seen wonderful stadiums with breath-taking architecture, or you may have seen the sites where hundreds of migrant construction workers met their deaths. You may have seen some brilliant athletic mastery, or you may have seen a cynical attempt by an oppressive regime to ‘sportswash’ their image tarnished by human rights transgressions.


As with so many things in life, from the pressing issues of the day to the trivial things of our own daily round, so much depends on how you look at it.


Oh, and if FIFA (world football governing body) can look at things in new ways then all things are possible. In one Cup game last week the men were refereed by an all-women team of officials. Best result of the tournament so far!


Photo: Reuters

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