About Me

Saturday, 25 June 2022

The greatest blow to women's rights in my lifetime

The overturning of Wade v Roe in America is astonishing. It is the most significant reversal  of common sense in my lifetime. Last night, one of my Facebook friends, a wise and thoughtful woman - and a Roman Catholic - with whom I did my teacher training, posted her shock and anger over the Supreme Court's judgement, and expressing concern for her friends in America.  This helped me to express my own thoughts. I am Christian but cannot accept the orthodox view that abortion is a sin. 

I'm a lapsed Anglican and my sister is a converted Roman Catholic. Occasionally, I have attended her church,  most recently when she renewed her wedding vows and for a family funeral. She has been active in the Catholic Church in the past, supporting the bereaved and helping out in other ways and is still quite regular in attendance, even now her kids are grown. I remember one time, after a confirmation service, a woman coming round trying to drum up support for a pro-life thing and my sister firmly saying 'No thank you.' When  the woman had gone. My sister turned round to me saying' I am not into that shit. They have no idea! ' I was so proud of her at that moment.

My sister went  on to work with young single mums who  needed support and later with children at risk of sexual exploitation and she continues to have no illusions about how tough life is.

Abortion is an incredibly difficult thing. It should be a last resort within a nationally funded and supported contraception prgramme. Even though it should be the last resort, no one should feel guilty or be denied the right to a safe, legal abortion. 

I remember reading an article by a female professor, who looked at abortion not simply from the perspective that women should have control over their own bodies  - a given in my book  - but also addressed the pro-lifers with some nuanced arguments, explaining that abortion was, in her view, a necessary evil in a deeply broken world. I have never forgotten this. 

I remember, when I was a young teenager, my mother  talking about how  her own  mother had had an abortion. Grandma's husband was disabled and had been ill for many years. My grandma was the main  breadwinner. He  died when my mother was in her late teens/early twenties. It seems at some point  my grandmother also had a 'fancy man' called Joe. I don't know if this was before or after her husband died but, as a result of this affair, she ended up having a back street abortion, which my mother said was a very dangerous thing to do. I remember asking why and she replied 'because I think they inserted a coat hanger.' For years I had a mental picture of my grandmother sitting on her back step - which she used to make yellow with a donkey stone - dressed in her work-a-day apron waiting for a person  with a coat hanger to sort her problem out.

I remember a little while after this, a friend telling me how  abortion was a very wicked thing  and thinking that could not be true, as the sweetest, kindest, least selfish person I had ever known was my late grandma and she'd had one, even though it could have killed her. I was glad that a woman couid now  get an abortion on the NHS, despite the fact some people made a fuss about it. 

On the overturning of Wade v Roe and the news that half of the states in America will now outlaw the right to an abortion, I feel the need  to express how important our sisters, mothers and grandmothers are and how important is our right to decide for ourselves if abortion is a better option than giving birth. 

The bottom line is this:  abortion will exist as long as  women exist, however offensive certain people find this. It will never be swept away by legislation and moral indignation. The overturning of Wade v Roe will  lead to increased mental misery, even suicide; to increased poverty; to  illegal, unsupervised and potentially dangerous interventions; to the criminalisation of those previously licensed practitioners who will carry on; to  the criminalisation of women.

The righteousness of certain sections of America, who would outlaw reproductive rights, while, in some cases, advocating gun ownership is well know and well commented on. It is quite simply, unfathomable. And to those in any country, who wouid place the rights of the fetus above the needs of the mother, I wouid ask them to consider the bigger picture. 

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Keeping on keeping on (again)

Not the most optimistic title for a blog entry and apologies to Alan Bennett who used the phrase ‘keeping on keeping on’ for the latest of his diary volumes – not that he’s likely to notice. Not that I’m down, just a bit muted, though the first few weeks of term were a nightmare. The impact of COVID on adult student numbers, mostly. Things seem to be coming together now but there are still gremlins in the works and those who enjoy casting shade. Enduring and pondering retirement, even though in many ways I still love my job. I doubt I would be able to keep up, given the work load, without the help and support of my retired husband keeping it all together on the domestic front and for which I am so very grateful.

I’ve been doodling little poems and lyrics and have also been listening to music a lot.  I recently bought the Specials’ latest, Protest Songs. I like it. It has a good range of ‘protest songs’ from the nursery rhyme like ‘I live in a city’, which conjures the incongruous image of Terry Hall singing at a Woodcraft Folk gathering, to another -  but this time deceptively - simplistic song, ‘I don’t mind failing in this world’, which packs a solid socialist message and makes me think what a coward I am when it comes to criticism.  Every time, I hear the lines ‘Somebody else's definition/Isn't going to measure my soul's condition/I don't mind failing in this world.’ I am reminded that teaching observations have been brought forward and walk throughs have been increased. I have been through this so many times but I can never quite shake off the feeling that one is viewed as only as good one’s last observation. It never gets any easier. Both these songs were written by political folk pioneer Malivina Reynolds of Little Boxes fame. There’s a wonderful version of Talking Head’s Listening Wind with guest singer Hannah Hoo,  and great renditions of Fuck All the Perfect People and Everybody Knows. Lynval Golding brings a lifetime’s understanding to Black, Brown and White and Get up, Stand Up.

Reading wise, our book group read The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. A brilliant study of male dominance and women’s witness to men’s sense of entitlement and obsession with power. Truly tragic and very moving. The sacrifice of Polyxena as seen through Briseis’s eyes will stay with me, as will the representation of Achilles as an emotionally retarded man child. Fortunately, men have improved a great deal; despite the recent spot light on male violence, there are many good men out there. Without mine, I would struggle on so many levels.

So far, so self-absorbed but life is pulling me back from my own narrow concerns in different ways. My uncle has just passed away, which means family coming north for the funeral; my mum has to have an investigation under anaesthetic, which is a worry. These things plus several social gatherings on the horizon should also to help counteract my currently inward gaze. 



Friday, 17 September 2021

Sealed in the Book of Life

 G’mar chatima tova” is the Hebrew greeting on Yom Kippur. It means “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.” (Source: Marriane Williams) 

What a blessing, what a hope to be sealed in the Book of Life. 

 I have always struggled with dualistic takes on spirituality, the goodies and the baddies version of spirituality. All those poor souls on the left hand path off to languish in hell; those poor goats sprily gamboling away from love, light and peace. No one is entirely beyond the pale, surely? 

The idea of the righteous and the unrighteous seems too bound up with social control and religious power. The woman in the pure white gown going straight to heaven, while the  woman struggling with ambiguity goes straight into purgatory. And as for the  big bad woman, she's already on her way to hell, right? No. That doesn't seem right to me, especially if such a philosophy/theology is wielded by those in authority. 

I  did a bit of lazy research on Wikipedia and discovered that, as with Buddhism, there is also a  Book of the Dead in the  Jewish tradition and, once your name gets written in there, you're knackered, unlike those lucky souls who get written into the Book of Life and are  therefore guaranteed a passport to heaven. Surely it's not so simple? People are not wholely or good or wholely bad. 

Despite  my issues with dualism, though, I would want my name to be sealed in the Book of Life, who wouldn't?  To be, metaphorically and spiritually, sealed into to growth, wisdom, love, forgiveness, compassion, to radiate the love of something greater and infinitely precious would be just grand.

For me, being 'included in the book' would not be about perfection or being some goody- two - shoes-holier-than-thou arse-hole but something far more human altogether. Being a good friend, a wise counsellor, to be kind and funny, to be less of dick when it comes to my relationship with other people. To be internally at peace with myself and the world around me, and being filled with the 'divine' spark of life. To be able to get out of bed in the morning with a bit of joy inside. 

That would be nice. That would feel really blessed. 

And because I want this for myself, I want it for all those with whom l share space, those with whom I interact and anyone who has taken the time to engage with my ramblings. 

So, several days after Yom Kippur, and within a wide and very secular context, please accept my blessing  that you 'be sealed within the book  of life.' 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Late August, Early September

 The birds are putting on their winter coats.

Sparrows shedding feathers, 

starlings sporting brown backs and black 

speckled breasts, caught between seasons.

Young blue tits in smart yellow shirts have yet 

to find their thin black ties.

Flocking in my tree, 

busily attacking nuts and seeds,

preparing for the turning.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

One of million blogs today

11th of September 2001, twenty years since Dave the reprographics technician came out of his little cubby hole next to the photocopier at Clarence St Community Education Centre and said, ‘Something really bad has happened in New York.’  On the television screen, in his pokey little room, a tower was on fire. A plane had flown into it and the no one at the BBC seemed to know what was going on but they-  and we - were beginning to realise that, whatever it was, was unprecedented.  I went back to the staff room and brought my colleagues back to Dave’s little room, where we watched - almost in silence - as history unfolded before our eyes.

At home that evening, I checked into the Literazti Lobby, an American chat room set up by would be writers and lovers of reading, which I had come across earlier that year and had taken to visiting regularly.  Instead of the usual quick-fire repartee and occasional sharing of ideas, participants shared their shock at what had happened. Being English and not exactly a fan of American foreign policy or President Bush, I read the words and phrases as they unfolded on screen like a witness at some remove. It had been over 10 years since America had invaded Iran but it was clear to me that new wars loomed on the horizon. I particularly remember the shock of ‘DarcyBingley’ a young woman with a baby and a love of Jane Austen, to whom I had been chatting quite regularly. She lived in New York and her father had worked for the NYPD. In weeks to come Hap, a laconic Texan, who made tunes on a program that made music sound like  doorbells, declared himself a Hawk. I can still remember the email discussions we had in which I played the Dove.

The responses to the tragedy ranged from the burning of the American flag by groups of angry Islamists to the pacificist pleas of ‘Not In My Name’ demonstrators as the ‘Powers that Be’ invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the pleas for sense from the UN, American and Britain forged ahead on dodgy intelligence.  People demonstrated in London, while Blair and Bush prayed together for victory in God’s name. Later down the line, America would shock the world with the  human rights abuses perpetrated at Guantanamo Bay.  

Now, America has left Afghanistan. Maybe there was a never a right time to withdraw, the occupation lasted twenty years but the world watches with bated breath now the Taliban are back in control. 

Today, from New York, the BBC reported:

‘As the first moment of silence began to mark the moment the first plane hit the North Tower, people gathered on Greenwich Street and looked directly up at One World Trade Center.

Many were New York firefighters.

A man quietly whispered to his young child.

An elderly man wiped a tear.

A few minutes later, a local New York reporter tells me that this was the moment, 20 years ago, that his network started rolling news, and didn’t run a single commercial for three weeks.’

It is to these people to whom, once again, my heart goes out. I still don’t feel comfortable with Dubya, though. Let's hope Biden proves to be a wiser leader in the years to come.