Why we do not speak

March 11, 2013 Leave a comment

An interesting piece about a woman’s response to being sexually assaulted on a crowded London tube gave rise to, well the bottom half of the internet. The bottom half of the internet raised a number of very logical and sensible questions.  The bottom half of the internet wanted to know how on earth a woman could stand in the middle of a crowded tube and be assaulted. How could she not say anything? What person in their right mind would just stand there and endure something like a man masturbating against them in public?  What is wrong with society? And also, won’t somebody please think of the children?

Here’s the thing- you learn it slowly. It starts when you’re thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Ask ten women you know. Ask them if they remember their first time. Maybe it was a compliment about what she was wearing and she felt comfortable with it and it improved her day. Maybe it was a leer from a moron who bent over to look down her top. Maybe it was a few people in a car who hit the horn as they drove past, leaving her confused, and then embarrassed. Did I know those people? It must have been someone I know because why else would they hit the horn as they drove past me.

Maybe it was hey, darling. Maybe it was cheer up, love. Maybe it was niiiice.

Who could possible feel aggrieved about hey, darling? That’s the hallmark of the insane feminazi. And anyone who could summon outrage over cheer up, love is heading right down the path of irredeemable misanthropy and should just be ignored. These are compliments, or at least some of them are. Why make a big deal? Why are you criminalising and stigmatising basic human interaction? Is it a crime to speak to a woman? What is wrong with feminism?  Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Maybe it wasn’t disguised as a compliment though. Maybe it was I want to fuck you; maybe it was fat cunt.

These are regrettable. These are the price we pay for living in a society made up of all sorts of people. But they are completely different to an objectively bad thing. That’s when someone physically assaults you. That’s when some stands pressed against you on a crowded tube and presses their dick against you and masturbates on you. Come on, people, if something objectively bad was happening to you then you’d say something. Right? Assault is not the same as subjectively experienced ‘harassment’.

While you’re asking ten women you know for their personal history of street harassment, or unsolicited interaction with strangers, or the little foibles of gendered interaction in public spaces, ask whether they have ever experienced the angry escalation of such an event.

It goes something like this:

Hey, darling, like the [insert approved item of clothing or body part]

The subject of approval ignores and continues to walk.

Hey! You! I know you can fucking hear me. Bitch!

The subject of approval walks faster, pursued by a hail of abuse. She is trying to decide whether the embarrassment or the fear is worse. That will be decided by how many people are around, how well she knows the neighbourhood, whether anyone is likely to come to her help should things escalate further. It will depend on what her former admirer (after all, it did start off with a compliment) is now saying, how unpleasant or personal the abuse becomes, whether it happens to find a sore spot, something she’d always hoped would not be roared at her across a street.

There is no easy way to distinguish the tedious from the bad, or either from the really fucking ugly. You only ever know afterwards.

A man is standing beside you on the tube platform, and as the tube arrives he says something. It is a somewhat stark expression of sexual intent. You, buoyed on the confidence that comes with being in a crowd, make a facial gesture of unabashed revulsion. You would not normally do this. You are supposed to pretend you did not hear, keep your head down, walk quickly. He enters one carriage and you another. You think no more about it. It is after all, just the way of things. You get out to change at the next stop. So does he. He doubles back around, leans over to you. Says, I will fucking kill you. He spits these words in your face, then turns and storms away. You stand still, absorbing his fury. When you start to move again, you wonder if he means it. You wonder if he is waiting for you at a corner, outside the station. You wonder how angry he became while he brooded upon your rejection of a proposition only ever intended to demonstrate his need to assert power. You challenged that, just for a moment. How far might he go to re-assert that? This is what you wonder until you get home, and feel safe again.

Over time, you learn that these things are mostly designed to make you flinch, so you learn not to flinch.

You learn to ignore, to block out, to endure a baseline level of nonsense on the street and public transport. Ignore it all. That’s the only way. You smile briefly and walk quickly. You keep your head down and walk quickly. You wear headphones and walk quickly.

You have absorbed on a cellular level the safe and sensible way to get by within the established parameters of the world, and then one day, something bad happens. Something that the world agrees is objectively bad. And that’s when everyone asks, why didn’t you say anything?

Categories: Uncategorized

This is the law

November 20, 2012 Leave a comment

  The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.


That is the law in my land. That is the law in the land where I was born.

These are the words of the constitution, designed to ensure abortion was never permitted in Ireland.

This is the law that stopped a fourteen year old rape victim from seeking an abortion in the UK in 1992.

This is the law the Supreme Court was forced to interpret.

This is the law that does, generously, allow women an equal right to life as that accorded to a foetus.

This is what the Supreme Court said: that this law allows an abortion if the life of the woman is at risk; that this law allows an abortion if the life of the woman is at risk from suicide.

This is the constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion that accidentally allowed abortion in limited circumstances.

These are twenty years of politicians too cowardly to write legislation that would enshrine in law the Supreme Court’s interpretation. These are the elected representatives afraid to write the words that a woman is legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her life is at risk. This is the vast swathe of public opinion that resents the suicide clause they never foresaw in the law they wanted.  These are the politicians that have never confronted this black hole of hypocrisy.

This is the country that’s okay with this unspeakable and vicious stupidity.

These are the women who leave every year. These are the women who book flights and ferries, who require a passport to avail of their medical rights in Britain. These are the women who can get an abortion if they have money. This is class-based abortion. This is the terrible deal Ireland accepts.

This is the country that doesn’t want to open up old wounds.

This is the country that doesn’t want a divisive debate.

This is the country that believes abortion is something that happens in Britain.

This is the law Mississippi voters rejected last year when it was put to them in a referendum.

But this is the law in Ireland.

This is the woman who died because there was still a foetal heartbeat.

This is my old country, making international headlines.

These are the politicians who say, now, after everything that has happened, we mustn’t rush into anything.

And this is not, contrary to all evidence before you,  the fucking dark ages.

The times, they continue to be shit

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

You can no longer satirise this bullshit, my friends.


Private companies provide the unemployed as unpaid stewards at the UK’s Jubilee celebrations.


The Turkish PM says that abortion is murder and that both caesarean births and abortions are secret plots designed to stall Turkey’s economic growth.


A building is firebombed in Jerusalem, in an attack targeted at immigrants.

And, while touring the fence that Israel is building along its border with Egypt to deter migrants, MP Aryeh Eldad said: “Anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot – a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Asians from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border – shot.” He later conceded that such a policy may not be feasible “because bleeding hearts groups will immediately begin to shriek and turn to the courts”.


There also seems to be an unusual amount of cannibalism in the news, which is frankly just confusing me. You will have to find those links for yourselves.


And Mrs Landingham has died, which makesme unreasonably sad, given all the other crap going on in the world. But it seems appropriate to go back to Bartlett’s response.

Categories: Uncategorized

The past is another country

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a very important retrospective currently going on in my old country, for a very important anniversary. This is because twenty years ago my old country granted an injunction against a pregnant fourteen year old victim of rape, preventing her from travelling to Britain for an abortion.


You see, Ireland has a written constitution. This can have its advantages. You can point at a page and say, ‘Ha, see, those are my rights!’ Not very often though. Most of the time we point at it and say, ‘Ha, this is what theocratic twats thought would make the bishops happy. Wait, hang on, where are my rights?’ Sometimes it gives us more rights than any reasonable person would ask for. For example, Article 41.2 says, ‘The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home,’ in its charmingly medieval way.

But in 1981, which in Irish terms is pretty much the dark ages, some bright sparks looked at our constitution and spotted that it lacked an outright ban on abortion. So they had a referendum and this oversight was  rectified. To the consternation of many legally-minded individuals including the Attorney General, the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child was now acknowledged in the constitution.

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

And we all lived happily ever after.

We all lived happily ever after because Irish women continued to take the ferry to Britain when they needed an abortion. This wasn’t straightforward, back in the eighties and early nineties. Besides the practical difficulties, the expense, and the shamed silence that surrounded such an action, there was the fact that information about abortion was
also illegal.

When I was growing up, British magazines had little pieces missing at the back. They were blank or blacked out or otherwise appropriately removed. Those were the spaces in which British women could find information about Marie Stopes clinics, advice about where they could turn if they faced a crisis pregnancy. We couldn’t see them. That information was illegal. Some magazines and occasionally newspapers were stopped by customs because they still had information out in full view where anybody might see it. Copies of Everywoman were removed from some public libraries because they likewise contained information. Information was a very bad word. You couldn’t let people have information, because people might use it.

Our blithe state of holy innocence continued until 1992. In 1992 it was interrupted by the X case.

In 1992 a fourteen year old girl who had been raped by a family friend was about to be taken by her parents to the UK for an abortion. They spoke to the police beforehand because her parents wanted to know if DNA from the foetus would be of use in prosecuting her rapist. The police, thus notified of this risk to unborn life, escalated their moral crisis right up the judicial chain of command, and the Attorney General of the day was called in to protect the life of the unborn child. He sought an injunction against the girl, which prevented her from leaving the jurisdiction. It was granted by the High Court.

The girl was known publically as ‘X’ to preserve her privacy while the state squabbled over her right to travel and her family challenged the ruling. It took a month before the Supreme Court overturned the injunction, and when they did it was on the grounds that the suicidal fourteen year old’s life was in danger. The Supreme Court decreed that she might indeed leave the country, because the fourteen year old victim of rape and of an injunction was suicidal.

We had another referendum after the X case. It was a three-part referendum, seeking our thoughts on the ‘substantive issue of abortion’, the legalisation of information about abortion, and the right to travel. The first was defeated, the second and third were
passed. The right to travel passed by 62%, the right to information passed by 60%.

As a fourteen year old at the time, I wasn’t sure I would ever entirely get over the fact that people voted against the right to travel. Thirty eight per cent of people who voted in that referendum voted against the right to travel to Britain for an abortion. Forty per cent of those who voted believe that copies of Everywoman should be appropriately redacted to preserve our holy ignorance. For years I looked at strangers’ faces and wondered if they were the people who believed it was morally right to force a teenager to carry her rapist’s baby to term. I wondered if they were the people who valued a foetus above my basic rights. If they had voted against the right for a woman to leave Ireland on a day when her country failed her completely, when her choice was between a boat to England or self-mutilation at home. Twenty years later, I’m not sure. But then, I live in Britain and I think that helps.

Irish women no longer get the ferry to Britain for an abortion. We’re much too civilised for that. These days, Irish women get a flight instead. The internet helps, as does the fact that information was decriminalised. But not all women in Ireland are Irish women, and there have been poorly reported rumours that backstreet abortion is now the option availed of by others now. Women who don’t have easy access to the internet, women who don’t have the money to take a trip to the UK, and, mainly, women whose immigration status is precarious and who fear they might not be able to get back through customs if they leave. Some days I wonder if this new descent into the gruesome reality of banning legal abortion will alter Ireland’s stance. I think they could lie the dead bodies of women from one end of O’ Connell Street to the other before moral consensus on the primacy of the unborn would be challenged.

From time to time Ireland talks vaguely about tinkering with the constitutional amendment, but is no hurry to run into those waters again. It is uncomfortable with abortion, more comfortable with seven thousand citizens each year relying on its former colonial power for medical services. So that’s what Irish women do. It’s what they’ll continue to do.

It would be nice if the past was another country, but twenty years later not a lot has changed. That said, we no longer take out injunctions against pregnant fourteen year old rape victims. Sometimes you take what you can get.

Categories: Uncategorized

That really was the year, that was

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

At the end of a year it’s nice to reflect on what has passed and take a moment to quietly process what we have learned and lived through. Or in the case of 2011, to see what we can remember out of the entire batshit insane parade of crazy. For a people grown used to the news being  ‘wikileaks releases even more stuff no one didn’t already know and the media dissects it for a further three months’, 2011 was a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster in which actual things happened. Loads of them. Constantly.

The year begins in the birthplace of modern democracy. Tunisia. Revolution spreads so far and so fast that some news organisations consider showing us actual maps so that for a couple of weeks we can all pretend that we know which continent each country is in. Regimes fall, dictators tumble, we start to think the world map will rewrite itself. Just as we’d begun to figure out what the world map looks like, too. Gadaffi halts the domino effect of the new democracy by appearing on television and being mistaken by the casual channel surfer for Charlie Sheen. In any case, it’s off to war again.  It’s one of those wars we forget about very quickly.

The Tories roll on, with more bright ideas than Q in James Bond. We consider closing libraries, banning forests and criminalising  soup runs for the homeless. Et cetera, et cetera. We live in exciting times. Lots of people take a Saturday afternoon to walk the streets of London and protest about all sorts of things.  Who makes the news? Ten rock throwing morons. Who takes the blame? 138 peaceful protesters of UKUncut who’d spent the afternoon sitting in Fortnam and Mason. Despite the direst of economic times in which we have absolutely no money whatsoever, it turns out we do have enough money to pointlessly prosecute 138 peaceful protesters for sitting in a shop on a Saturday afternoon.

Japan has an earthquake and a tsunami and nuclear power plants. We watch TV all day and every day. We all learn a lot about nuclear power, which we all then promptly forget.

The NHS is not reformed into an early grave just yet – possibly because of this rap? Who knows. Not the Tories, who look mildly nervous for the first time. Anyway, NHS reform heads off on spring break. The cuts begin. We wait for Armageddon.

We hold a referendum on AV and the country is united in its determination to thoroughly understand the intricacies of the electoral process and ramifications of its reform. Well, I’m sure we would have been had it not been for the competing attraction of two people getting married. Bloodshed in Syria fades into insignificance beside something like that. AV never stood a chance.

Osama bin Laden is killed! A monumental story, the culmination of a decade long historical international narrative. Obama looks re-electable for as many as three days together. The world debates whether we have a right to see graphic photos of a bloodied corpse. And then everyone forgets all about it. So much news, so little time.

It is a year so filled with news that there is no room for silly season. Instead of silly season, we get Murdochgate. Murdochgate! The greatest screwball comedy since the golden age of Hollywood. Once again, we gather around TV sets and watch such glorious characters as Rebekah, Rebekah’s Hair, two men who had never met or spoken to anyone employed by their media empire, and of course that funny little man who seemed to live in the television studios, running from show to show and growing madder by the day. And Cameron is involved! He is hauled back from his holidays for questioning. And the police are involved! They all start to resign. And then people get arrested! Truly this is the greatest silly season of all time. What care we for imminent economic collapse when there is such joy as this in our summer? In our collective mudochgasm over murdochgate, it was easy to forget that a vital British institution had been lost, one that we had always assumed would be an unending source of breasts and bollocks. Bye bye, News of the World. I can’t say how much we’ll miss you.

We pause briefly for tragedy in Norway and the passing of Amy Winehouse. Then it’s right back to business: world news is now unfolding outside out very own windows. So we lock them, close the curtains and follow it, panic-stricken,  on TV. Yes, it’s the Great Riots of ’11. The riots are organised by rampaging little dipshits who, it emerges, are communicating with one another, using technology. Both dipshits and technology are debated heartily. The nation goes to war, in that we assume a siege mentality for three days and the Prime Minister is hauled back from his holidays yet again to make some wise and pragmatic comments about rubber bullets and water cannons.

In the background, the US economy slouches towards Bethlehem, the Eurozone makes repeated references to something called contagion (which we assume refer to the disaster movie of the same name due for release later in the year) and Greece and Spain experience widespread popular protest. The Arab spring turns into summer too, but by this point of the year we are only capable of processing the sort of stories that get their own gate-suffix.

Or that have a really good poster.

Occupy! The biggest protest ever! Since, like, 1968! And the best poster ever! It’s a ballerina on a bull! The poster is fucking excellent. Occupy Wall Street begins in New York, which is where Wall Street is, and then spreads across the States. It is peaceful, without specific political purpose, and derided for not having a solution to problems no elected leader on the globe is currently able to fix and many can barely spell. Stupid hippies. It finds its way to London. We do not occupy Wall Street, or the London Stock Exchange. We occupy St Pauls, because the vicar said we might. Ah, working class heroes.

The comedy world loses one of its own, as beloved son Berlusconi finally leaves office. This event is somewhat overshadowed by the prospect of inconceivable financial collapse in both Greece and Italy. And Spain. And Portugal. And maybe Belgium. And everywhere that isn’t Germany. The Eurozone begins to look a bit like Rupert Murdoch. Which formerly successful country do we hastily shut down in order to save the empire? Recession looms. Peace in Europe is declared to no longer be a certainty. The Greek government falls. Spain elects a new government that makes the Tories look cute ‘n’ cuddly.  US Republican presidential primaries introduce a series of characters who make George W look like an intellectual giant with a doctorate in rationalism. There is talk of military strikes against Iran. Hang on, isn’t 2012 meant to be the year the world ends?

In a year of such rapid change and permanently boggle-eyed befuddlement, the few remaining certainties in our world become all the more important. Like – Ed Milliband will continue to be rather useless. Or – the price of gas will always go up. And – the speed of light is a constant. That sort of thing.

And then come the neutrinos. In an attempt to stage their own revolution or riot, the neutrinos break the speed of light. Well, fuck the neutrinos. Their behaviour is roundly condemned and they are given punitive jail sentences for advertising their intended act of civil disobedience on social media. That bloody showed them.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Nightmare Before the Christmas Carol (and other seasonal abominations)

December 4, 2011 1 comment

‘Twas the night before Christmas and in the UK
The people of Britain were far from okay.
Those who had houses were tucked in their beds,
While thoughts of disaster danced in their heads

The markets had crashed, the recession loomed on;
It was hard to be cheery when the jobs were all gone.
The bills on the mantle would never be paid
But at least they were better than those needing aid
Because those days were gone; the days when the state
Might support those in need or who fell in dire straits
Were a thing of the past now – it was each on their own
And Christmas is hard if you might lose your home.

The country was struggling, debt and despair
No Santa to wish for, it wasn’t quite fair.
And no sleigh bells were coming, no hope and no cheer
A dismal prospective at this time of year

For Santa the socialist was barred from this land
His renegade policies now had been banned
It was wrong to give gifts to the poor and bereft
To the homeless, the jobless, the unions, the left.
Presents to kids who had worked not a day?
Everyone knew that this just led the way
To a life as a scrounger, a benefit cheat
So Santa was banished, the year’s greatest feat

But all was not lost because on this one night
One man had the power to make everything right:
(Though many by now thought him naught but a prick)
The great Mister C, and his reindeer called Nick

Some said he was cruel and unfair and unkind
Some said that his reindeer was out of his mind
Some said he was only a privileged twit
A Bullingdon bully who cared not a whit.

But at this time of year, even Scrooge could come good
Though the odds were against it, maybe Mr C could?
When rattling chains came and banged at his door
He opened it up to the ghost of Before

The ghost of Before and the ghost of Right Now
Had come on this night to show Mr C how
Their lives and careers, once so powerful and great,
Had ended in loathing and lynch mobs and hate

Mrs Thatcher and Murdoch told cautionary tales
And Mr C knew that a wise man would hail
The message they brought him and heed what they said
While Nick whimpered in fear and hid under the bed.

His heroes departed, Mr C locked the door
But this night was not finished, there was still to be more.
The Ghost of To Come is worst ghost of all
And To Come was now marching in right through the wall.

Mr C held his nerve, much braver than most,
His feet planted firmly, he stared down the ghost.
But To Come showed him something that all wise men fear
The results of elections in upcoming years.

Then it was over and the ghosts were all gone
Mr C saw the light now – there was work to be done!
So he saddled his reindeer and flew through the night
It wasn’t too late – they could still put this right!

Such hardship and struggle they saw as they flew
So many in trouble, so much they could do.
Though the weight of their bags almost caused them to crash
They got to the banks and they gave out the cash.

For the way to save Britain was to give to the rich
Though he knew in his heart that the poor would still bitch
But what could be done with the ungrateful swine?
Whatever he did, the scroungers would whine.

With gifts handed out to the good and the great
He hopped on his sleigh for it wasn’t too late
To pop down the chimney of good little bankers
So what if the bitter still thought them all wankers?

With joy in his heart, Mr C passed out cheques
Bigger than anyone dared to expect
To each high ranking banker and financial advisor
No one again would dare call him a miser!

The bankers all happy, Mr C headed home
Locked Nick in a stable and picked up the phone
For the press must be told of this great Christmas tale
And headlines prepared in the fine Daily Mail.

At home safe and sound Mr C filled his glass
His work was now done and the year it had passed
Nick in the stable was carefully tethered
Just a toast to us all being in it together
Was left to be raised by our champion of right
Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Categories: Cameron, Christmas

How I learnt to stop paying doctors and love the NHS

October 11, 2011 1 comment

I come from a country that does not have an NHS, has never had an NHS and is very unlikely to ever have a medical system that functions adequately, never mind a bloody NHS.

To see a doctor in my old country costs about fifty euros. Some will recount tales of a local doctor who only charged forty, some will bitch about the bastard who charges seventy. Doctors can do that if they want to. But fifty euros is regarded as a standard sort of cost to see a doctor.

If you are unemployed or on benefits, you can obtain a wonderful thing called a medical card, which means you will not have to pay fifty euros to see a doctor. If you have a job, regardless of other circumstances, regardless of the fact that you have three children under ten, you will, in general, pay fifty euros for each and every visit to a GP.

So the first child starts to leak bodily fluids on Monday – off to the doctor to provide your first donation. Ten minutes to get a prescription and hand over the money, then off to the chemist to pick up the medicine and hand over another twenty.

Because children are inherently contagious, the second little bugger has come down with the same thing within twenty four hours. Back to hand over another fifty and pick up another prescription and exchange it in turn for another twenty. This is fun. Guess what happens next? With relentless inevitability, the third, feeling left out, runs a fever that gives the kettle a run for its money and off you go again. Hurrah. Two hundred and ten euros.
Funnily enough, when you get sick yourself you decide you’ll self-medicate. Possibly with arsenic. From the Journal of the Bleedin’ Obvious comes research that indicates these charges can put people off seeking medical advice.

A few years ago I was back in my old country and I went to the doctor. I didn’t bring cash with me. At the end, the nice gentleman asked me for fifty euros or so – I explained just as politely that I only had a card and that more to the point would be leaving on a jet plane that very day with the distinct intention of not returning for some time. He was suitably baffled. There was no cash point nearby and he did not take cards. I did have about thirty euros in my pockets and foolishly confessed as much. He agreed, with what I think was embarrassment for me and my faux pas, that this would just have to do under the circumstances.

There is an argument that it could be worse, that it could be America. This is true. You will not die in Atlantis because you cannot afford a much-needed operation. On the other hand, you might die of old age waiting for a hospital bed, because the Irish health system has many things, but it does not have hospital beds.

I’ve told you about going to a GP, now let me tell you how hospitals work.

They don’t.

In promising news, hospital treatment tends to be relatively affordable. From this article comes the line: “Everyone living in the country, and visitors to Ireland who hold a European Health Insurance Card, are entitled to free maintenance and treatment in public beds in Health Service Executive and voluntary hospitals.”

Or they would if there were beds. But the national bed crisis shows no sign of letting up. This article casually references the endless saga of how many people exactly were ‘waiting on trolleys’ quite recently (Four hundred each day, for those trying to postpone RSI). Although I’m not certain, I believe they were physically on the trolleys in question during their wait. When things are busy, people also wait for trolleys. On chairs. For hours. There are stories of waiting for chairs too, but if I get into that, I fear people are going to mistake this for satire. You see, this isn’t a Monty Python sketch. This is a country’s health service, relied on by people when they’re ill.

As a result of all this I love the NHS. Seriously. I would pledge allegiance to the NHS any old day of the week. If they make up a song about the NHS, I will dutifully stand to attention and sing, although I cannot promise it will be in tune. And no one has ever made me stand up even close to an anthem without enduring my near-endless whining. But for the NHS I think I could do it.

 Having come from its mathematical opposite – a place so afraid of a non-existent Red Menace that a pitiful attempt to introduce free healthcare for children in the fifties was condemned as Socialist Medicine and quashed by the bishops – I am permanently amazed at the thought of a world where we can all just go to the doctor when we’re sick. Even if the day we happen to be sick is the day before payday. We don’t have to decide between getting that thing checked out and paying the gas bill this week. It’s been eight years and I still think this is bloody great.

After the second world war, the US and the Soviet union chose to invest in the space race. It pushed the boundaries of what we thought we could achieve. It went to the moon.  Britain did something different but no less extraordinary; something as unimaginable, as aspirational and inspirational. Britain chose national health care, free at point of service. If you have never known anything else, you will never understand what that means. I hope you never do.

Categories: Uncategorized

God save donald duck, vaudeville and variety

June 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Today’s news (if you can find it amongst reports of genocide
being prosecuted in the Hague and tales of the killer vegetables) is
that a government report into the sexualisation and commercialisation
of childhood
is almost ready to come and save the children. It
probably won’t save them for the killer vegetables, but it will save
them from Unsuitable Things, which is of course much more important.

The author of the report ‘has been armed with devastating research
findings’ which sounded initially encouraging. When preparing to take action, it
is nice, if somewhat unusual, to begin with some research. Upon
reading to the end of the sentence, I was disappointed if not
surprised to discover that the devastating research ‘showed parents
are very worried.’

I often conduct that sort of research in the pub. I have made all
sorts of exciting discoveries about what people think  during such research, but my research has
usually been dismissed by those of a Ben Goldacre persuasion as
constituting ‘anecdote’ rather than ‘evidence.’

40% of parents had seen things that they believed were inappropriate
for children, I learned today. They had seen such things in shops and
on television. I for one am shocked. If parents have seen things in
shops and on television that are inappropriate for children then there
is something fundamentally wrong with both shops and television. And
we must Do Something.

First of all I suppose we’ll need to deal with the news.

The circus-level hysteria about a man recently having been revealed to
have had sex aside, there has been quite a lot in the news this year
that one might need to moderate if the sensitivities of children are
to be guarded. Frankly, the news has been full of horrors all year,
and I for one have seen and heard things on it that were inappropriate
for me, never mind children. And yet I am concerned that its effect on
western children’s delicate psyches is not top of this report’s

It is as though we believe that children cannot be disturbed by
thousands of people killed in natural disasters, by nuclear threats,
by tales of thirteen year olds being tortured, mutilated and killed in
Syria, by a man setting himself on fire, or by war, or by massacre, or
by scenes of abuse in care homes. It’s either as though we believe that this
sort of knowledge couldn’t ever affect childhood, or that if it does,  that it is
the role of parents to moderate what their children access, according
to what they believe their own children can handle.

In fact, you’d nearly believe that the news is for adults, despite
being on before the watershed, and that part of parenting is to make
decisions about what your children access and take responsibility when
it comes to enforcing this.

What madness is this?

We take a much more rational and sensible approach with sexual
content. It is a fundamental tenant of all human knowledge that if children
gained insight into human mating rituals they would be irrevocably
scarred for life. And if children are somehow – say, by having
televisions or computers in their own room – gaining access to such
information, then we as a society must police this material more

Because it’s important that children grow up protected carefully sexual scenes in music videos or soap operas, while relying on the tender care of their parents to protect them from the brutal facts of violence and horror happening in the world on any given day.

Perhaps there really is devastating research that shows this is an
appropriate way to deal with children and unsuitable subjects. If
there is, someone should probably publish it.

But I fear that problematic content does not only feature on TVs and
in shops. I fear it might be an aspect of life. I worry that if they
really keep their eyes open, the same parents may be able to observe
things on the streets that are unsuitable for their children. They may see
me smoking or hearing me wildly cursing the unspeakable stupidity that
passes for the news. They may hear people having inappropriate
conversations about sex or violence, or, even more offensively,
talking about the government. I presume the report on that will be out by Christmas.

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An open letter to Nadine Dorries, and anyone else who would like to fuck about with reproductive rights. (Part one of many.)

May 31, 2011 1 comment

The problem is the churches have withdrawn. Where I grew up the priest was king. We were scared of priests – the same with the vicars. The Church played a very important role. The Church set boundaries. So did schools, doctors, district nurses. But the Church withdrew, the state became anonymous and society went into freefall. One of the things about the Big Society is to try to put those boundaries back.” – N Dorries

Where I grew up the priest was also king, Ms Dorries. We had an elected parliament with a lower house and an upper house, as in many democracies, and we also had the archbishop’s palace. Bills were taken to the archbishop’s palace before they were brought to parliament, and any that went to parliament without the support of the church were unlikely to pass.

I could pick almost any topic to illustrate this, but it seems salient to discuss reproductive rights, because it is somehow in the news. This makes me feel as though I am now the proud owner of my very own tardis, and have accidentally set the controls to the dark ages in Ireland, back when I was growing up.

For the record, I do not need to be here.

Let us begin with some catechism, which is where legal matters in my country often find their origin. The Catholic Church believes that sex should only occur between two married heterosexual people, and that its purpose is procreation. If you find this in any way hard to remember, there is a nifty slogan, ‘procreation, not recreation!’ which may help.

Flowing naturally from this starting point, in a ‘therefore my cat is a dog’ sort of way, contraception was illegal in Ireland from 1935 until 1980. To put it another way, contraception was illegal in Ireland when I was born.

Of course that did not mean it was unobtainable or went unobtained. There was a long history of importing banned objects from the other side of the Northern Irish  border. Books were common; contraception likewise. In 1971, a feminist group called the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, produced a beautiful piece of situationalist protest when they returned publicly from Belfast waving for press attention the contraceptives that normally crossed the border illegally and in secret. But throughout the sixties and the seventies, Ireland existed within its own strange moral plane, in which contraception was something only required by the sort of people who lived in other countries. As ever, the educated and the well-off found ways around such restrictions; those without resources birthed children until they died.

In 1978, the government of the day introduced a bill to legalise contraception for bona fide family planning. This meant that contraception could be prescribed by a doctor. Generally remembered as being only permissible for married couples, the bill did not specifically stipulate this, but the prevailing moral climate ensured few general practitioners would have written such a prescription for a single woman. It was passed by elected representatives of the people despite the opposition of the bishops, which was a new and exciting development in Irish parliamentary history.

And so I grew up in a country where contraception was technically legal but deeply controversial.  Sex education did not happen, although I was once taught by a particularly odd nun that homosexuality and abortion were mortal sins. I can assure you that no child in Ireland every learned to put a condom on a banana. Those were the days when letters pages in the more adventurous teen magazines cautioned against attempting to use mars bar wrappers as a contraceptive due to their high rate of failure. Sex education always sounded as though it would probably be a good idea.

I could get on to abortion, but it seems like a topic for a whole other day. Suffice to say, we relied upon and continued to rely upon Britain for that sort of thing.

In the past year, someone correctly identified me as being Irish and asked whether I came from a large family. It’s a cliché that survives. There is nothing in the air or the soil of Ireland that leads to large families; I am quite sure of that. What I have never been sure of is whether there is something innate in religion, forcing it to believe that the ills of society will best be served by legislating its own brand of theocracy for the benefit of all.

Where I grew up the priest was also king, Ms Dorries. But the church did not withdraw. Let us be very clear about that. Great seats of unelected power rarely withdraw. It disgraced itself, not only through its myriad scandals but through its insistence on attempting to maintain a monopoly on morality, while it mainlined misogyny and homophobia. The church did not withdraw. It was fought. It was fought by those who countered  ‘procreation not recreation’ with ‘get your rosaries off our ovaries.’ Those are the songs of my childhood.

I’d really like to leave them there.

Categories: Uncategorized

Won’t somebody please think of the superinjunctions?

May 25, 2011 Leave a comment

In a year of revolutions, tsunamis, nuclear scares, tory government and royal nonsense, the leading news in May has been….some possibly-unnamed people probably having sex. While this is a type of news always guaranteed to make the papers, this particular story has had a higher profile than even the usual stories about people having sex, because these sex-having people tried to stop us from reading about it in the papers. What a bloody cheek.

And isn’t it refreshing to see the great wave of public outrage against this infringement of press freedom? The rising power of social media has led the charge against these byzantine legal subterfuges employed by people wanting ‘privacy.’ As a wave of democracy tries to sweep the globe, so the people of Britain are rising up on twitter and in the football terraces, in zealous defence of freedom of information. For what democracy could function properly without knowing what lies behind these superinjunctions?

All of which utter nonsense helps to distract from the fact that what we’re so ardently defending is our right to read about people having sex.

Shouting about superinjunctions helps obfuscate this. It can be hard to sound reasonable while screeching that not being allowed to read about other people having sex violates your human rights. Superinjunctions, however, are the new masked foe of press freedom, which all reasonable people can take sides against.

It’s their own fault for going to such lengths to hush it up, I heard someone clarify yesterday. How dare anyone attempt to prevent their private life be sold by a parasitic press to a mindless public. How stupid of them to taunt that press with an unavailable story and how ridiculous of them to complain when a relentless press is supported by a public in search of puerile bullshit to feed their self-righteous appetites.

The truly nasty thing in all of this the genuine sense of ownership perfectly normal people seem to feel about a stranger’s life. It is our right to know, our right to judge, our right to publish, and our right to read. Our right to talk bollocks about it for hours as though it mattered, as though it was our business, and as though we had any fucking idea what any of it was about. And our right, as a society, to feel outrage at the idea that those people might try to deny us our insidiously petty demands to access ever prurient detail of their private lives.

But what about the rights of the poor individual who wanted to sell their story to the tabloid press, I hear you ask, if you are an idiot? For you I have no answer, other than that I strongly believe you should get your own press, made up of publications in which pointless stories about consenting adults’ private lives can be exchanged for attention. You could call them things like ‘Hello magazine.’ And then maybe the rest of the media could get back to the news.

Categories: Uncategorized