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:)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarn_bombing

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?

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/20/greenham-common-nuclear-silos-women-protest-peace-camp

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:

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/22/europe/ryanair-racist-rant-video/index.html

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

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A Curater’s Egg

As many people have observed, language swerves around a lot.  It slithers and slides; it oozes and leaks.  It migrates and sometimes comes back again with a tan so deep it’s hardly unrecognisable.  This is part of the deal and unstoppable: anyone like, for example, the Academie Francaise, who tries to hold back the tides of change, is doomed to failure: every year the Academie publishes a dictionary of new words, usually French versions of phrases like buzz, fashionista or deadline:

https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/20-english-words-rejected-by-the-academie-francaise/

Its efforts are of course doomed to failure because the English words are so much snappier, not to mention more international, than their French replacements.  Who wants to say fin de semaine when you could just talk about le weekend?

But not all of these migrations are equal.  To be blunt, some of them suck: and whilst I appreciate snappy phrases like 24/7 (who could believe we ever said twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?) there’s an equal and opposite tendency to use grandiose words for things which in themselves are not very much at all.  I guess you could call it reification except it’s more verbification; making a – well, a ‘to-do’ – out of not very much.  Hence the verb ‘curate,’ which seems to pop up everywhere lending gravitas to the insignificant.  Put a bunch of things together and voila, you’ve ‘curated’ something.

How far can this go?  I have curated a salad?  I went to the library and curated some books to read in bed?  I curated my wardrobe last week?

There are a few situations where ‘curate’ is appropriate: it comes from the Latin ‘curare’, meaning ‘to look after or care for,’ though its meaning has been extended to ‘assemble objects into some kind of unified whole for the purposes of exhibition.’  So if you’ve spent months or years bringing together an art exhibition, that’s curating.  If you’ve assembled garments and models for a fashion show you will, in spite of my indifference to your activity, be justified in using the word ‘curate’ as a verb.  But if not?

If not, it’s silly.  Just stop it.

Kirk out

PS  And here, just for fun and to commemorate Anthea Bell the translator of Asterix into English, is Asterix in Britain:

Image result for Asterix in Britain

images removed on request

It’s Not Armful

Today I went along to a blood donor session to give my long-awaited armful to the cause.  I was heartened to see crowds of people there as I sat with my health questionnaire and glass of water (they give you a pint to drink before you donate which means I guess you turn water into blood).  The minutes ticked by and the water made its way through my system: informing the desk staff that I would be in the loo if needed, I got rid of some and came back.  Finally I was called into a screened area with a nurse who took a sample of blood to check for iron deficiency and then went through my questionnaire with me.

‘I see you’ve had a blood transfusion,’ she said.

‘Yes, but it was 21 years ago.’

‘I’m afraid the guidelines state that if you’ve had a transfusion since 1980 you can’t donate: there’s a risk of passing on CJD.’

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Disease-Fact-Sheet

Pausing only to try to recall what CJD means (I know it’s not Mad Cow Disease) I expressed my disappointment.  I mean, giving blood is not my favourite experience but I’d been putting it off for a while and having geared myself up to doing it I was quite looking forward to being a Thoroughly Useful Citizen.  She sympathised.

‘Well, you tried – and that’s all we can ask of you.’

So that’s me done, until such time as they devise a test for CJD I get to keep my armful.

Here’s the sketch, just for fun:

Kirk out

Random Wisdom

When I have a book of aphorisms or verses or proverbs I sometimes open it at random and see what leaps out.  So today I opened my Quaker Faith and Practice and found this verse:

‘Creeds are milestones, doctrines are interpretations: Truth, as George Fox was continually asserting, {is} a seed with the power of growth, not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful.’  John Wilhelm Rowntree, 1904

https://qfp.quaker.org.uk

This seems to me to sum up the entire raison d’etre of QFP.  It is not exactly a handbook; much less a rule book, but a guide to – well, Quaker faith and practice, which like Rowntree’s seed, is continually evolving.  Which means that unlike the Bible or other religious texts, it is regularly updated.  This is not at all a ‘slash and burn’ exercise but one carried out thoughtfully and meditatively over a number of years involving a wide circle of people and a wider field of consultation.  Quakers do nothing in a hurry and certainly not rewriting the book of – what do they call it?  I can’t remember.  I want to say the Book of Longing because Cohen is on my mind at the moment.  ‘Book of Discipline’, that’s it.  Not a very helpful title really as it sounds like a headmaster’s record of canings administered.  But there you go.

The problem with the Bible is that while interpretations vary endlessly – as do translations – the text itself is fixed and cannot be altered.  Where Quakers score in this sense is that changes can be made easily and paradoxically, more quickly.  The Book of Discipline is updated roughly every thirty years to take account of changes in society, to ensure we remain both relevant and true to our testimonies, and to let go of passages which are no longer considered useful.  Hence, while it took mainstream churches decades to catch up with social attitudes on LGBT people, Quakers very quickly adopted these ideas under the testimony to equality; since the 1970’s there have been passages in the book about this.

Nor do we venerate George Fox, the father of Quakerism.  He was a figure very similar to St Paul in many ways in being both a visionary and a founding figure; but he was problematic.  He could be ferociously stubborn and bull-headed and some of his pronouncements seem to us today extreme and unhelpful.  But because he’s not a saint (testimony of equality again) we are free to criticise him, something that is not usually the case with St Paul in the church.

So there it is – we’re better than the mainstream churches.  Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Humbly yours

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:

IMG_0746[1]

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

Glasses Coming in to Land!

Whilst away at Woodbrooke I had a glasses crisis.  Everyone there is terribly helpful and the Friend In Residence taped them up for me whilst searching fruitlessly for some superglue.  However the glasses, having now been mended twice, were basically doomed; so forth I sallied yesterday in search of more.

These are just bog-standard reading glasses so I was planning just to get some off the peg: however, Specsavers are now prescription-only and warned me that most opticians have gone the same way.  ‘Where should I try?’  I asked.  ‘Poundland,’ she replied, as though the only alternative to full-on, sanctified, blessed-by-the-Pope prescription glasses is a pair of tatty plastic fall-apart-as-soon-as-you-wear-them goggles.  No thanks.  ‘Anywhere else?’ I wondered hopefully.  She suggested Primark.  Primark?  OK, I’ll give it a try… but no, Primark had ‘a few’ glasses in and are now sold out.  No plans are in train to replenish the stock.  Sighing, I exited and went instead on a blinds quest.  (There must be some amusing way of tying up ‘blinds’ and ‘glasses’ – I expect it’ll come to me.)  The blinds in the futility room were old and mouldy and I thought of replacing them with roller-blinds; however a criss-crossing scan of Wilko’s failed to locate any.  I was just leaving when bang! I came face-to-face with an entire row of reading glasses, all helpfully labelled with the degree of magnetism and a reading chart to guide you (I’m 2.5 in case you’re interested.)  So reader, I bought them.  It was only when I began to unwrap them at home that I saw the instructions about batteries.

Batteries?  Since when do you need batteries for glasses?  While the mind boggled I took them out and examined a bulge at the side which I assumed was the battery compartment.  What the -?  I turned back to the instructions and discovered there’s a little switch on each side which turns on a reading light.

I can now read books whilst looking like a plane coming in to land…

Kirk outIMG_0742[1]

Kirk out