Greenham’s Pleasant Land

If the name Greenham Common means nothing to you, you’re either younger than 30 or spent the 1980’s living under a rock.  Until a group of women decided to make it the focus of a protest, few people had heard of the USAF (nominally RAF) base in Berkshire where Cruise missiles were sited.  The rhetoric of these disgusting weapons was that they would ‘melt into the countryside’: the reality was that they were transported on our roads and housed a few miles from the town of Newbury and just over 50 miles from London.

Enter a group of peace activists who wanted to do something about this.  They felt the protest would be far stronger if it was women only; and they were right.  Like the suffragettes before them they wanted ‘deeds not words’ and protests which would catch the public eye: like the suffragettes they felt justified in damaging property and so women frequently cut the fence and entered the camp with the aim of disabling the missiles and although they were usually intercepted at least one woman ‘danced on the silos’.

The events that really caught the public eye were the large demonstrations: again, usually women-only, these involved surrounding the base, linking arms and singing and on several occasions bringing ribbons and yarn to decorate the fence (now known as ‘yarn-bombing’, the psychological benefits of which are well understood:)

There was an explicitly feminist angle to all this, which set the female, domestic, anti-war agenda against the aggressive masculine drive for war (ironically at the time the Prime Minister was a woman and one of the most belligerent leaders in modern times).  Some interesting ideas came out of the peace camp about better ways to live, and though some of them, like calling peace women ‘womyn’, seem a tad odd, I regret there are few spaces nowadays to live any sort of alternative life.

The opposition to the Peace Women was loud and furious, like opposition to the suffragettes.  They were accused of abandoning their homes and families, of being ‘unfeminine’, ‘witches’ and ‘woolly minds in woolly hats’.  Sound familiar?

Of course when it was all over and Greenham Common released into common land once more, the powers-that-be said the protests hadn’t made one iota of difference.

Well they would, wouldn’t they?

Did you see Dr Who last night?  Brilliant reconstruction of Rosa Parks protest – and nobody can ever say that didn’t make a difference.  Sadly some people seem to wish we had segregation back again:

It makes me sad.

On the plus side, here’s what Greenham looks like now:

Star Wars Episode 7 News | New Photos from the Episode VII ...

It makes me feel very peaceful, like when I think of the earth after humans have gone.

Kirk out


The Peasants Are Revolting!

Yes, revolting verse has finally arrived in Leicestershire in the shape of this delicous pamphlet in a delicate shade of Marxist-pinko (TM) and stuffed full of juicy dissent and crunchy revolt.  Taste poems such as ‘The Firmamentation of Innocence’ by Bobba Cass, ‘A Job at the Glass Works’ by Richard Byrt, ‘The Gulf’ by Steve Cartwright and of course loads by moi, including ‘More in Common’ (for Jo Cox) and ‘Spike’ which I wrote for Sound Cafe.  Let us also not neglect to mention Will Horspool’s ‘Absence Trigger System’ and ‘One Man, One Microphone.’  This astonishing pamphlet is now on sale for donations (£4 min.) and all profits go to Momentum – which means all the money minus production costs, since nobody has been paid for this.

And here it is:


If you’d like one let me know.

Kirk out

Portrait of the Autist as a Young Woman

Sometimes – my memory being short and this blog being long – I have to do a quick search when I’m planning a post to see if I’ve done it before.  But a quick entry into the box brought zero results so we’re on for today’s title, which is of course a parody of James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’  Before I’d read either I used to confuse it with the Henry James novel ‘Portrait of a Lady’, which could hardly be more different.  But I digress.  Today’s post is linked to my upcoming short story ‘Alien’ (working title) about an alien coming to earth in human shape and trying to fit in.  This is not so much sci-fi as psychological narrative: the experience of being slightly autistic, or feeling that you might be, is analogous to being an alien among humans.

I’d better say at once that I’ve never had a diagnosis of autism, and I’m far from certain that I am actually ‘on the spectrum’; however I did a fairly lengthy test online which indicated that I might have some autistic features.  Be that as it may, if I were to have autistic traits it would certainly explain such things as my total failure in many situations to know what the hell is going on.  It explains the prevalence of so-called ‘tumbleweed moments’ where I say what is on my mind and there’s a prolonged awkward silence. 

In such situations I am reliant on people telling me what I’ve said wrong, otherwise I don’t have a clue – but people mostly don’t want to do that because it’s the social equivalent of breaking the fourth wall; in other words, of shattering the social veneer and admitting what is going on underneath.

At other times it isn’t so much my words as my manner.  Like many a ‘Professor Branestawm’ type I get carried away by subjects sometimes: I get a passionate gleam in my eye; I lean forward and converse animatedly, I go on and on.  It’s much easier for people to get this if you are obviously a geek (which nine times out of ten means being male) but alas, if you’re a woman talking like this to a bloke they’re likely to think it’s a come-on, and this really drives me crazy.  I’ve even had women on occasion think I was coming on to them: and in one case I didn’t find out why I’d lost a friend for ages afterwards.

To summarise: I often find social norms baffling.  Everyone else seems to share a series of assumptions to which I have no access.  When I say something out of line the usual reaction is a tumbleweed moment, and I rarely get anyone to explain to me what I’ve said, though sometimes I figure it out afterwards.  I find all this very difficult.

Should be a good story I think: sometimes I wish I looked more like a geek so people would know what to expect.  But then I wouldn’t be so pretty.  Ho ho.

Perhaps I should get this lovely t-shirt:

Image result for Professor Branestawm

Lazy Carrot t-shirts: image removed on request

Kirk out

I Am a Proud Snowflake

One of the more unpleasant responses to the Labour Party conference (perhaps showing a little desperation?) was journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s tweet about the Safe Space.  Now there’s a little bit of confusion about the term ‘Safe Space’ so let me elucidate, because safe spaces can mean one of two things.  An organisation such as a university or political party can have a ‘safe spaces’ policy which means, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, ‘a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.’  As many people have pointed out, this can result in so-called ‘no-platforming’ of people, such as Germaine Greer whose recent comments on transgender men caused her to be ‘no-platformed’ in a number of universities.  I disagree with this: whilst I accept that people can be hurt and upset by the things speakers say, so long as they do not constitute hate speech we have to allow them to say it.  This is fundamental to our democracy; that, as Voltaire said, whilst I disagree with what they say I will defend to the death their right to say it.

Of course you can argue about what constitutes hate speech but we have laws about these things; and to ‘no-platform’ somebody like Greer is not at all the same as denying a platform to far-right xenophobes such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

So much for that.  However the ‘safe space’ at conference was an actual room: in fact there were several rooms tucked away from the often frenetic activity of conference; a safe space, a faith room and a rest room.  One day I went into the faith room and prayed; and on my first day I made use of the rest room as I was completely exhausted.  It was wonderful to have a safe and quiet space where I could rest undisturbed and I can quite imagine how others might need it too; autistic people who struggle with too much information, parents with small children (there were at least two babes-in-arms at the conference) the overwhelmed and the just plain exhausted.  It was a very valuable thing to provide.

Unfortunately the aforementioned journalist thought it good to sneer at this.  I’m not going to reproduce her tweet here as I don’t think it merits it, but here’s the thing: I dislike and deplore her words but I defend her right to say them.  Of course, just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should – and as others pointed out, there was no kindness or compassion in her tweet.  Everyone needs time out at some point or other; everyone needs rest and safety, everyone needs space.  In our homes we can (or most of us can) lock the door and keep the world at bay, but at a busy and crowded conference there’s nowhere to go.  So I needed this safe space and I was very glad the Conference Arrangements Committee had thought to provide it.  It’s easy to say we should all toughen up, to label people ‘snowflakes’: it’s much harder to put yourself in the position of another person who may be suffering.  So I’ll just say this: I’m a snowflake and I’m proud.  I’m a proud snowflake.  Why?  Because every snowflake is unique; every snowflake is a world – and together we make an impenetrable drift which won’t shift until the weather changes.


Kirk out


Putting Things Side by Side

No, I haven’t started another society like Monty Python’s Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, tempting though it be.  No – this is more of a mental exercise.  At conference last week I attended two fringe events that particularly stayed with me.  The first was on Palestine: the two of us roamed the fringe events trying to find something that would both interest and feed us as time was very short between events but sadly the queue for the Palestinian food was so long that in the end all I got was some couscous.  But I’m getting sidetracked.  Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, was the main speaker at this event, but before she spoke we watched a video about what is happening in Palestine, how their land is being taken systematically year by year, how children, doctors and aid workers (who are clearly marked as such) are being shot and how their houses are routinely destroyed.  Emily Thornberry said that every time she visited Palestine she found it worse than the time before.  It was heartbreaking.

The next night I went to an event organised by the Holocaust Education Trust.  Holocaust denial is just about the worst thing I can imagine, and the trust exists to educate, inform, and counter this abhorrent tendency.  The main speaker here was an elderly woman, a survivor of the concentration camps.  She was twelve when her family was taken; her parents were gassed and she was personally abused by Joseph Goebbels, along with a number of other girls.  I cried so much I thought I would have to leave.

Afterwards I put these two events side by side in my mind and reflected on them.  It is now official Labour Party policy to recognise the state of Palestine and to pursue a two-state solution to the problem.  Whilst I think this is incredibly difficult, it seems to me the only way to proceed without denying either Israelis or Palestinians the right to exist in that place.  But division breeds division.  Israel/Palestine is divided.  These divisions foster divisions in the world outside the Middle East, where countries are inclined to line up on one side or the other: Muslim countries tending to be pro-Palestine while Britain and the US are pro-Israeli.  Recognising the state of Palestine will undoubtedly cast a Labour-governed Britain as ‘anti-Israeli’ but I believe it’s the right thing to do.  The Palestinians (and others) were, after all, living there first. 

The same thing is happening with Brexit.  The Labour party has struggled towards a coherent position on the subject and in all fairness I don’t see how anyone can have a cut-and-dried policy on it at this stage of the game.  But again we see that division breeds division: Brexit was divisive and continues to divide.  It becomes ever harder to take an even-handed approach in a climate where any semblance of support for one side is seen as necessarily indicating hostility towards the other.

Had I been chosen to speak at the conference I was going to say this: that all lives matter.  Not just Israeli lives, not just Palestinian lives, not just Brexiteers, not just Remainers, not just the rich, not just the poor, but all of us.  That is what we have to be about, and I don’t just mean those on the Left but all of us.  And yes, that includes the super-rich who live in a prison of their own making.

Kirk out

Watching the Conferenzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

I don’t know if like me you’ve been watching the Tory (oo! I just typed ‘Troy’ there – Freudian slip or what?) party conference.  I’ve made myself watch large swathes of it in order to see what’s really happening, and jeez, what a yawnfest!  The tone and atmosphere could not be more different from the Labour conference last week (was it only last week?  I’m just catching up with myself.)  It’s not only that they are divided and bereft of new ideas (in fact they’re forbidden to put any forward) which means it’s just Brexit and the same old tired tropes about managing the economy, being a safe pair of hands etc etc.  But I’m finding it’s as if they exist in a sort of bubble, being – as I think the Guardian put it – both defensive and in denial at the same time.  They simply don’t seem to hear the cries that come from outside.  You wouldn’t know there was any problem with Universal Credit or PIP’s (which have both been associated with premature deaths); you wouldn’t know that the Archbishop of Canterbury had spoken out against the climate of hostility against the poor; you wouldn’t know there were any homeless on the streets or any young people struggling to find housing or meaningful work which would enable them even to pay a basic rent… I could go on and on but when I heard this morning from the Mayoral Candidate for London (wow, they’ve actually found a black guy who votes Tory.  Well, I guess if Kanye West can vote for Trump…) who actually proudly owned up that he was a son of the Windrush generation, I thought ‘that’s it.  I’ve heard it all now.  He doesn’t even seem to know what’s happening.  He made no reference to it at all.’  So I think they’re in deep denial.  Theresa May has even refused to give interviews during the conference earning her a reproof from all major news outlets as it is traditional (and practically obligatory) for the sitting PM to make her (or him-) self available for interview.  Yet there they stand, speaker after speaker chuntering complacently on as if nothing was happening.  The only signs of fire are in the fringe meetings such as the one yesterday where Boris made his plea for Boris to be the most important person in the universe; and the times when people mention Corbyn.  Dire Warnings have been issued about the Dangers of Letting Him Near No 10; but nobody says why.  He just can’t be trusted apparently.  This must be due to his habit of going round the country listening to people, something the Tories seem ever more incapable of doing.

They deserve to be out of office – and the sooner the better.

Kirk out

A Sort of Report-Thingy

Right, my dears, I’m recovered from conference now and have spent the last few days preparing my novella Seven Days for a competition.  It’s the first thing I ever wrote so if it wins it’ll be appropriate for it to be the first major thing that gets published.

So, Labour conference.  What can I say?  It was absolutely fan-bloody-tastic.  Amazing.  Wonderful.  United, uplifting, powerful.  Let me elucidate.

The first day wasn’t so good.  I started off tired and got tireder as after a very pleasant and productive women’s conference we went back to our hotel room.  The hotel in itself was a terrific surprise: first opened in 1914 it is vast and sumptuous with huge rooms decorated in splendid style.  It oozes faded grandeur and is the perfect antidote to antiseptic, anonymous, have-a-nice-day boxes that you usually get.  I don’t want to have a nice day, thank you very much.  When I do I’ll let you know.  Anyway, this was our hotel room:


and here’s the hotel website (apparently it was the subject of a TV documentary last year):

The first night I only got four hours’ sleep as not only was I totally wired but the city was unbelievably noisy!  The hotel is slap-bang in the centre of Liverpool and the aftermath of a football match conspired with karaoke bars and general merriment to create a racket which went on till about 4 am.  After that the sirens and street cleaners started up, so I lay awake until about 6.30 when I dozed for about 5 minutes before having to get up.  So the day wasn’t brilliant, but we got through it and arrived at an understanding of what was needed in order to follow the debates and vote as delegates.  It was good having two of us there as we could bounce ideas off and support each other.

On that first day I saw Eddie Izzard (sans make-up and in a suit) and Ed Milliband.  There were debates on the Women’s Conference motion (‘Women and the Economy’) and a ‘democracy review’ which involved some rule changes.  My main worry, apart from getting my head around everything, was that there would be major dissent or even acrimony – but apart from a moment at the beginning when someone moved that we reject the Conference Arrangements Committee report (which would have meant disrupting the whole day’s business) there was a remarkable spirit of unity.  This did not mean unanimity but a willingness to work together and a sense that issues are too important to argue about minor things.  This spirit of unity pervaded the whole conference and I have to say I was proud of us: the Tories can do conformity but they rarely manage genuine unity.

A tremendous amount of work goes into organising a democratic conference as decisions taken on one day have to be incorporated into the next day’s business and compositing meetings and the Conference arrangements committee were up until midnight each day producing reports for the next morning.  I salute their efforts.

There’s so much to say about the rest that I think I’ll leave it for another post, but I came away with the impression that an awful lot of work has been done in a whole spread of policy areas.  Policies are not just a wish-list; they are solidly worked-out and based on wide consultations with a huge variety of people and groups.  Again, there is much I could say on this and I’ll perhaps come back to it.  I wanted to speak at conference but it was difficult to be chosen (the one beef I had was that the system for choosing speakers from the floor was inadequate) and if chosen I wanted to say that never before have I felt that my values as a Quaker so overlapped those of the political party I support.

The one issue which threatened to cast a pall over proceedings was that of anti-semitism.  It did come up but I’m happy to say it didn’t disrupt anything (apart from a hoax bomb call which scuppered a play and a couple of fringe meetings.)

There were attempts going on to cast Corbyn as anti-semitic but he lanced the boil in his speech by saying this:

There were also these orthodox Jews outside the conference:

Image result for Orthodox Jews outside Labour conference

image removed on request

If anyone still questions the extent of the problem, I would refer you to this recent research:

which is cited in a letter to the Guardian signed by a large number of distinguished academics:

There were speeches from many members of the shadow cabinet including Emily Thornberry, John McDonald, Angela Raynor, Jon Ashworth and Kier Starmer.  We now have a range of policies across the board which all stem from a simple philosophy: of valuing people, investing in communities and taxing the rich (especially global companies like Amazon) to pay for it.  But of course Corbyn’s speech was the highlight of the conference and he didn’t disappoint: in fact I can’t think of a single thing he said that I disliked or a single thing he omitted to say that I’d have liked to hear:

I arrived at conference wondering if we were ready for government.  I left knowing we are. 

Kirk out