Author Archives: thepoliticaldiva

No time for #ToryTears


I feel zero sympathy for the UK government on this latest crisis. They’ve built up such a bad reputation for themselves over the last 10 years as a bunch of bullying eugenicistically inclined social Darwinists that, quite frankly, they deserve neither to win nor to be given the benefit of the doubt. All those Peters have cried wolf one too many times, and they can’t expect any sympathy or leeway as a result. They are reaping what they’ve sowed. As for train companies: GET. IN. THE. SEA. YOU. AVARICIOUS. INCOMPETENT. TWATS. Step up – or shut up. It’s no surprise that Richard ‘Dick’ Branson, a boil on the arse of society if ever there was one, had as his first reaction to hold out the begging bowl for his pathetically shoddy and over-priced train services. It’s not Cool Britannia anymore, love. Put your hand in your frigging pocket.

You know who I do feel sympathy for?

The staff of the NHS who are placing themselves on the frontline of this every single day, without adequate resources because this government didn’t like the idea of socialised medicine, until – guess what? – they needed socialised medicine because unless everyone has access to free healthcare, we all suffer as a society. It’s the great class equaliser that they didn’t consider because they are greedy piggies with their snouts in every trough – and that is an insult to pigs everywhere.

The teachers who have been literally in the line of fire of the virus, if what we know about it is true ie that children are the main carriers. That must be a dreadful worry for their own families, especially if they have elderly relatives to take care of, or children with vulnerable immune systems.

The supermarket cashiers and assistants, again, literally in the line of fire of a traumatised nation’s behaviour, which, because of piss-poor leadership, has envisioned starving on an island with braying incompetents in charge.

The 14 million people who are already living below the breadline and, in the chaos that’s ensued as a result of panic buying, will be left on the back foot in terms of consumer choice.

The theatres that have had to close down, including a theatre very close to my heart, the Arcola, Fringe theatres are where one sees some of the greatest theatre in London – they deserve better support and funding.

The theatres that have had to go dark and all the staff affected – front of house, onstage, backstage. Plus all the businesses that surround theatres (except for the big corporations that can weather this storm).

Fellow performers – all of us have lost financially from this, or expect to if it hasn’t happened already.

Jeremy Corbyn, outgoing Leader of the Opposition, mocked, jeered and harassed relentlessly over the last 5 years, not only by the opposite benches, but those within his own party, and, despite this (when he would have been perfectly entitled to say, ‘Screw the lot of you, I’m off to my allotment’) has shown the mettle he is made of, by fighting the good fight on behalf of the renters, the self-employed, those on zero hours contracts, and many others.

That’s who I feel empathy for, and I’m not going to waste mine on a bunch of incompetent Bullingdon bozos who’ve been practising social Darwinism for the last decade. I truly do not understand why people are making excuses for them when it’s clear to every person outside the UK (and some inside) that the way that they’ve behaved is tantamount to criminal negligence. This isn’t fricking Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey where Lord Muck treats the plebs as human equals and they all have a jolly good time mingling in the kitchen on the side. This is more akin to Siegfriend Sassoon’s Base Details (a poem for this time, if there is any).

Britons (in my experience) tend to dislike anger, or confrontation. But anger has its place on the emotional spectrum and is often the precursor for change. If I can suggest one book to read during this time, it is the late great Stéphane Hessel’s ‘Time for Outrage’. It’s short and provocative and his life story is inspiring. We need change. This virus has highlighted all we have to change about our way of being, and nowhere is that more pertinent than in countries like the USA and the UK. We need people who care to govern us.

Bottom line: stop making excuses for the wealthy and powerful. They’re big enough to take valid criticism. Being held accountable is part of being a politician. And if they’re not – then that is proof positive they don’t deserve their position.


(A version of this appeared a couple of days ago on my Facebook page, @ThePoliticalDiva. Feel free to join the conversation)images



This is taken from a Sunday Times article by Christopher Nunn.  I believe it is one of the most important things you can read prior to the 2019 election.


“Head teacher Roger Farley is standing in the torrential rain, greeting each of his drenched and bedraggled pupils as they arrive at the school gate. “Good morning,” he says warmly from beneath his black brolly, calling each of the children by name. By his side is Tracey Powell. It is her job to spot anxious pupils and gently usher them into an adjoining unit called the Bridge. Here they can sit calmly with specialised support workers and talk through anything in their home life that is troubling them.

A new police software program called Encompass alerts Blackpool teachers to overnight domestic violence incidents in the homes of pupils. On one Monday morning, Farley came in to find five members of his school were affected. Children caught in the crossfire of such family disruption need gentle one-to-one interventions before they are ready to enter their classroom.

Today, one coatless eight-year-old boy with rain-flecked glasses and rosy cheeks approaches Farley and politely says hello before quietly whispering, “I need to tell you something later.” Farley nods — such requests are a normal part of the morning routine.

For the 377 children, aged between four and 11, growing up in bleak conditions on the tough Claremont estate in Blackpool, Westminster Primary Academy is a sanctuary. Here the children are warm, safe and fed, surrounded by adults with their best interests at heart. This school and others serving similarly deprived communities in Blackpool are not just teaching the three Rs, they are acting as the fourth emergency service to their pupils. As Farley puts it: “Teaching in the classroom is only 10% of what we do here.”

It begins with food. All over the school are grey plastic containers filled with tangerines, brioches, waffles and cartons of milk. The children are encouraged to help themselves and to take food home with them for younger siblings if they need to. A staggering 76% of the children here qualify for “pupil premium” funding (extra money for disadvantaged kids) and 45% have special educational needs. There are 21 live child and adolescent mental health cases in the school and many more stuck in the 18-month referral queue to see a therapist.

“Some of our pupils are coming to school each day from two- or three-bedroom accommodation housing seven or eight children. Lots of them are sleeping on mattresses on the floor, often with no sheets or duvets,” Farley says.

“Children are coming to us with delayed speech and language, and some reception pupils arrive still in nappies. Only 5%-10% of our children meet national education standards when they arrive — but by the time they leave, 67% are hitting national targets. Blackpool has a very transient population. A lot of their parents are single mothers escaping domestic violence and many of the 15% of parents who work are on precarious zero-hour contracts. When the job ends, so does the cash supply. And many who try to hold down a job are actually worse off anyway because of universal credit complexities.”

Farley tells me that people migrate to Blackpool because of cheap housing or sunny memories, “but they soon realise it isn’t always the happy place where they once spent a beach weekend. Homeless people are living in bushes and we’ve had to stop using the local park for PE because we have found needles and drug paraphernalia on the ground.

“Many of our children do not have a sense of being part of mainstream society. They can’t swim, they have not experienced the cinema and they have never seen sheep. Their parents do not own cars. And yet they are being tasked to meet a middle-class curriculum where Sats questions ask them to write an essay on their favourite meal. How do you write a page about your only meal of beans on toast? Or how do you describe walking through a wood for an English essay if you have never been to one.”

Head teacher Roger Farley and music teacher Kate Fard are dedicated to protecting pupils living in a bleak environment
Head teacher Roger Farley and music teacher Kate Fard are dedicated to protecting pupils living in a hostile environment.
Farley and his leadership team are devoted to bridging the social gap and regularly take the children out on school trips to try to fill in the experiences other children take for granted. But for now, these much-needed trips are not happening because the long-saved-for school minibus was hot-wired and stolen from a garage while undergoing a service.

While colleagues in more affluent parts of Britain are boosting their attainment levels in preparation for Ofsted inspections, the team at Westminster Primary is trying to perform budget miracles in order to provide every child with a free PE kit and wearable shoes. Each child is issued with a special PE bag, a clean white T-shirt, shorts and black plimsolls. The school launders the kits and returns them to the pupils. This can be a lifeline, because children often have minimal washing facilities at home and turn up to school in filthy uniform; the PE kit means they always have a change of clothes.

Christmas at Westminster must be kept heartbreakingly low-key. The deputy head, Lisa Fleet, explains: “For most children in the UK, Christmas is a time of excitement, but here the feeling can be one of dread and anxiety. Our parents get into debt trying to make it happy for their children and it’s not unusual for them to be given presents on the 25th and to see them in the window of payday loan shops on the 27th. This is the reality of life on the edge.

“We deliberately don’t mention Christmas until the last week of term, so the poorer children don’t feel left out. Last year, one child told us, ‘Christmas is not happening this year.’ His mum was saving for a deposit to put down on a new rental flat. We could not allow this to happen and staff rallied with various gifts and food from their own pockets. Roger went round with a tree.”

To many families in Blackpool, schools are a salvation, providing an essential safety net of food and care in otherwise chaotic lives. The problems come during holiday periods, when all this school-centred support stops. Budgets are too tight to allow for schools to be kept open, though staff and volunteers would like to be able to help families during these difficult times if the funds were available.

Poverty is felt most keenly during holiday periods, when the school is forced to shut its doors. “Many children end up sitting in front of a computer screen or playing on the streets, which is worrying when this district has the highest knife-crime statistics,” says Sue Collins, Westminster’s senior assistant head teacher and safeguarding lead. “Responsible, containing adults are what they need — it’s the relationships with teachers that really matter.

“And the food poverty doesn’t bear thinking about,” Collins adds. “We’re aware that some desperate children take food from school and stockpile it in term time. Others are more upfront and ask, ‘Can I take extra for my brothers and sisters?’ ”

Lunchtime at Westminster Primary Academy in Blackpool

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, in one of Blackpool’s toughest catchment areas. The music teacher Kate Fard has been instilling the sound of confidence in her pupils for 28 years and is proud of a scheme that allows them to take instruments home.

A tiny, vivacious lady who exudes warmth and cheerfulness, she enthuses: “There is nothing quite like seeing a class of 30 children simultaneously opening violin cases for the first time. Just thinking about the look of wonder on their faces gives me goose bumps every time.

“We allow our children to take the instruments back home to practise and it has been known to see the odd string or percussion piece in the pawn shop, but we can never give up on these amazing, deserving children. If we don’t believe in them, who else is going to?”

Westminster is far from the only school in Blackpool going way beyond a teacher’s brief. At Christ the King Catholic Academy, the multitasking head teacher, Sarah Smith, is a warm, determined 42-year-old woman with blonde spiky hair and no-nonsense padded jacket. For her pupils and their families, she is also often a combination of Mother Teresa and Mary Poppins.

“Schools are supporting communities from the cradle to the grave in a way that has never been seen before in the UK,” she says. “Twenty years ago, I came into this profession naively wanting to make a difference through teaching. I had no idea that I would be providing cots, food, clothing and even contributing towards transport for hospital appointments.”

Today, Smith and her colleague Esther Hemingway are visiting the most needy families in the school in her Honda Jazz. Hemingway is one of three family support workers who during term time provide the vital link between home and school. When children are missing from the register or parents are struggling with mental health issues, it is this team’s job to notice.

At one point Smith takes a call from social services and can be heard imploring the official: “For goodness sake, something must be done. Yesterday he was so hungry, we caught him eating stationery.”

She says her hands-on approach is by no means unique. “Lots of heads are the same. It’s physically and emotionally draining, but we would work 24/7 if we could. Social services are stretched, child and adolescent mental health services are stretched, GPs are stretched. Instead, parents and children are sitting in my office having a cry.”

Smith agrees that schools should be kept open during the holidays, noting that hospitals and fire services don’t shut over the Christmas and summer breaks. “No government would think of closing those services during holiday periods, so why are we closing schools? They are a lifeline during holidays and we worry the most about children at these times. I give out my phone number to parents during holidays and some people think I’m crazy, but why? There is still a kid in that family home and they rely on us as much as any of the other services. Sometimes our children tell us ‘Santa isn’t coming’, and it’s heartbreaking. How can we stand by and let it happen?”

The chancellor, Sajid Javid, recently said how fortunate voters are to have a Conservative government with “absolute poverty at its lowest on record, rising wages and record employment”. But after a decade of austerity, parents in Blackpool — which is home to some of the country’s poorest 1% — do not agree.

The seaside resort’s prewar heyday is a long-faded memory. Plenty of cheap housing left over from the Victorian boom has resulted in Blackpool having among the lowest rents in the country, but this means the town is importing our neediest families. Locals say accommodation is of poor quality — and many of the houses we visited were damp and cold. Transience and benefit changes — particularly the long wait for universal credit — are to blame, locals say.

Blackpool exports healthy, skilled people and imports the unskilled, the unemployed and the unwell. More than 10% of working-age residents live on state benefits paid to those deemed too sick to work. Some of the most common problems are depression, stress and anxiety. Blackpool has the highest rate of antidepressant prescriptions in the country. Life expectancy, already the lowest in England, has started to fall.

Meanwhile, Blackpool’s secondary school pupils are more than two years behind the national average by the age of 16 (and get £2,500 less per pupil than schools in the capital). This means the doors that could be opened by GCSE qualifications and ensuing A-levels, college and university are likely to stay closed.

Poverty trap: Gareth Gaukroger (left) looks after four children on his own and often goes hungry. Mother of three Tracy Smith was given a cooker by her sons’ school

Education statistics, however, are not at the forefront of Smith’s mind as she drives to the run-down rented house of Gareth Gaukroger, a father of four. The 34-year-old former market trader was forced to give up work when the mother of his children left. He now has custody of Levi, 16, Courtney, 14, Dominic, 11, and Clayton, 6 — and is struggling to make ends meet on a universal credit concoction that leaves him £130 short of rent, utility and food requirements each month. His house is cold and in the sitting room, which is also where he sleeps, we keep our coats on as we chat.

The school Gaukroger’s children attend has previously stepped in with food parcels and Christmas presents, and once Smith drove round offering to do the family’s laundry herself to help him out.

Inside the door of the three-bedroom rented home, a House Rules sign sits proudly above a fragile shoe rack. The rules include “Know you are loved” and “Dream big”, but such affirmations must seem difficult in a home where they often have to choose between food and warmth. There is a large television, shelves full of DVDs and a PS4: Gaukroger explains that since the family can rarely afford to go out, he has to keep the kids entertained somehow.

“I was living with my ex-wife in Halifax when she said she wanted to come to Blackpool because her mum lived here,” he says. “It was great at first and I managed to find a job in Wetherspoon’s, but so much of the work here is seasonal and the money went dry. My ex left and went back to Halifax, so it was me and the kids. I couldn’t keep up with the rent and we had to go to a hostel [the five of them had two rooms] for three months before we got this place.

“They’re my kids, so it’s my responsibility to look after them, but every day is hard. We rely on help from the school for bread and milk — and Blackpool charities for food parcels. We eat a lot of Yorkshire puddings because they fill us up. The kids get really bored of them.

Coastal drift: Blackpool has eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England

“I hate handouts because I feel I’m not paying for my children, but I can’t work and raise four kids alone. We’ve had the heating on once in the past two weeks. We’re always wearing coats and jumpers in the house.

Like a lot of parents in this situation, Christmas feels like a nightmare. I’m not going to be able to buy my children anything and will have to rely on vouchers for clothes. Maybe the school will provide a few presents for the younger ones. It’s hard for the kids because they can’t choose anything and I can’t give them phones, which is what they really want.

“The school offers us a lot of support. They understand that I want to get a job so that my kids can see what a working man looks like, but it’s hard during holidays when there is childcare to factor in. I’m looking for a part-time job and I’ve been for five interviews in the past two weeks. One bar job on the promenade attracted 472 applicants. I don’t think people realise how bad it can be. There are weeks when I only eat every two days. I can manage, but I want this country to understand the plight of children. It’s not their fault.”

A town built for day-trippers is also full of risky temptations: alcohol, betting shops, arcades, fried foods, sweets. The new problem is spice, a powerful synthetic drug that turns people into zombies.

The story of Blackpool is a narrative exposing the failure of national policies to support the most vulnerable people and places. Many of its children have no concept of a world outside its overcrowded and rotting housing stock — and some have never even visited its beach.

The council said: “Blackpool has long-standing challenges and we are at least £257m a year worse off in government funding than in 2010. In addition to continuing to provide school breakfasts, we put in a bid for the Holiday Hunger fund earlier this year to provide activities and food for our young residents during the summer holidays. Despite our obvious need, we were not given any funding. However, we worked [with partners] to ensure some children and their families had the opportunity to socialise and get active together, as well as having access to food. “Blackpool council and its partners are determined to tackle the root causes of poverty in our town. We invite government to work with us.”

Many residents are forced to live in squalid conditions
Many residents are forced to live in squalid conditions
The deprivation of local children is shockingly evidenced when Smith returns to school for a spot of lunch and invites me to sit in on a year 5 class being quizzed gently on their lives. Only half of the 28 children raise their hands when asked if they have ever been to Blackpool’s beach, and when the class is asked about visiting the countryside, one boy with shaven hair and hands nervously tucked inside his jumper sleeves asks the pupil next to him, “What’s the countryside?”

Without exception, all Christ the King children speak collectively of dreading the holidays. A shy seven-year-old boy admitted “just staying in bed in my pyjamas because there’s nothing to do”, and a little girl next to him added: “I can hear people smashing bottles outside my house and shouting, so I can’t sleep.” Some muttered under their breath about “seeing drug dealing”. Poignantly, many children spoke of feeling sad about the litter scattered all over Blackpool, as if attuned to a feeling that they are residing in a forgotten dumping ground.

After lunch, Smith is back on the road, the head teacher calling in on Tracy Smith, a single mum of three. Her children, Leon, 9, and Jake, 3, attend St Cuthbert’s Catholic Academy, in South Shore, which Smith also oversees. Admirably, Tracy’s eldest son, Brandon, 20, is studying engineering at Lancaster University.

Prone to bouts of crippling depression and anxiety, Tracy recently relied on St Cuthbert’s learning mentor and support worker Esther Hemingway to help her sort out the family’s three-bedroom rented home in Bloomfield. The school also supplied her with a cooker when they discovered the property had not had one for a year, and school staff restocked the fridge.

Tracy, a small woman with pink streaks in her hair, becomes tearful discussing the planned closure of the local children’s centre. “I used to go there with my kids three times a week and it was a lifeline. There was a summer party with a buffet, and a trip to the Children’s Museum in Halifax. The children’s centre used to have nine staff. Now it only has volunteers. I don’t want my children to sit in front of a screen all day, but I am only left with £73 a week after my rent is paid, so doing activities in the holidays is out of the question for us unless the school steps in. It goes above and beyond for us.”

Becky Downes moved to Blackpool with her son and daughter. She has saved supermarket stamps for presents

The final call of the day is at the home of Becky Downes, 41. She moved to Blackpool from Coventry in July with her 11-year-old daughter, Indiana, and son Cameron, 17. Her eldest, Callum, 23, lives independently in Birmingham and her youngest son, Coby, 13, stays with his dad in Coventry.

“I’ve got a friend here who encouraged me to come because I’d just had enough of Coventry,” Downes says. “I wanted a fresh start.” She receives a £1,000 universal credit payment each month, but must deduct £565 for rent and budget for utilities and food. Christmas is an added pressure. “I’ve been saving Morrisons supermarket stamps and putting down instalments on three main presents for my kids. During the holidays, I occasionally take Indi down to the seafront for an ice cream, but most days we wake up not knowing what we will do without any money to spare. We save up pennies in jars, but it doesn’t go very far.”

Later, Stephen Tierney, chief executive of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust, which oversees Christ the King Academy, meets us in Smith’s office and says he is proud of his schools’ work, but knows holiday provision is a gap that must urgently be understood at national level.

“What must it really be like for people living in the bottom 1% of society?” he asks. “You are looking in from the outside and don’t feel like any of the normal ‘stuff’ applies to you. Unless we expose children to the normal stuff, this feeling will become the norm for generations to come.

“Those of us working in deprived areas are doing our best to try to stabilise the families, but educationally the accountability system hammers us. You need the best teachers in the worst areas, but they won’t come. Funding is sucked out, then Ofsted turns up and says it’s about standards. We are standing here with our legs tied together being expected to race against Usain Bolt.”

Above the head teacher’s desk is a poster entitled Rules for a Better Life. They include: “When life gives you rainy days, play in puddles.” Despite the odds, Blackpool teachers are trying to help their pupils do just that.

Tierney concludes: “If we don’t face up to reality, the underclass is going to grow and become increasingly angry. And then will we see a more aggressive response?

Do we really want that as a society?”


The ST are running a Christmas appeal; I would also personally recommend the work of the British Red Cross, Oxfam and the Trussell Trust. Ultimately, however, what we need is a better government. On December 12th, you have the power to affect change so that no other generation of children will be put through this sort of situation again. That would be the best Christmas present of all. 



The first thing I noticed was that this was a very different type of protest. I’ve been going to protests since my late teens – my first one was the X case in Dublin. In the UK, I’ve been to several of the big ones and even organised music for a couple. It’s fairly easy to predict the type of crowd – artists, left-wingers, Green Party activists, SWP. There will be the hardcore protesters who will do the usual ‘fuck the police’ sort of schtick.

Today was different.

I didn’t get to the protest until a bit later in the afternoon and, coming out of Westminster Station, I noticed the crowd seemed fairly substantial still. Many were crowd around a drummer using call and response. The way they were interacting with him was deeply tribal and not something one often sees in the UK. The last time I’d felt anything like this was in the West Country, in Laurie Lee’s pub in Slad, where I felt the pumping of blood in the veins at the entrance of strangers – are they friends or foes? Today there was a similar pumping energy, the anger hidden deep under layers of tolerance and stoicism in deference to the enlightened mind. Placards with ‘Il Buce’, ‘Cummings Stain’, ‘Irrelevant’ (about the Queen).

Protesters of all ages. Two little older ladies with elegant blue hats adorned with yellow flowers, something in the way they clutched their placards indicating they would happily beat Boris to a pulp. Young men who wouldn’t look out of place in Sloane Square, looking slightly bemused, as if they had arrived from a different planet, but were entering into the spirit of things, chanting and clapping and whooping approval at the anti-proroguation slogans. Different organisations – Another Europe is Possible, the SWP, Labour, the Lib Dems, Stop Brexit, the Greens – united in their common cause. People from all backgrounds, visibly showing up.

I walked a bit further up Whitehall, and came upon a group shouting anti-fascist slogans. I went a little closer and saw there were police surrounding some Tommy Robinson supporters (I later found out one of the was Robinson’s sidekick Danny Tommo). There was a group in front of the police with linked arms, barricading their exit. Someone turned around and asked would anyone take their place. I said yes and stepped in. I didn’t think about it.

I could see the police officers were a bit nervous.

‘You have plans for the rest of the day?’ asked one of me.

‘No, not at all,’ I said. ‘What about yourself?’

‘No, I can stay here all night,’ he said, before looking a bit askance as he realised the possible implications of what he had just said.

I could feel the people I was linking arms with trembling – I sensed that this might have been their first protest. As I later found out, they had not expected to be fronting off against the police, but they too had stepped in. One was from Welwyn Garden City; the other, a Londoner from Chiswick. We chatted to the policemen. Apart from the obvious power dynamics going on, it was pretty pleasant.

About a half-hour later, the group unlinked as the police started to escort the Robinson supporters, and in turn were escorted by anti-fascist protesters to make sure they did not reach Parliament Square. It’s a weird thing to have realised; but I knew denying them access to what they see as their parliament with their prime minister was striking a blow against what they see as ‘their’ entitlement. These are small things; but they matter.

Past the Cabinet Office, festooned with placards. Some protesters and tourists alike had gathered around Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. Not normal, yet normal. A group of protesters in their 20s past, shouting something along the lines of ‘Boris! You liar! Get back on your zipwire!’ Energised. Enervated. Something stirring. I made my way to Trafalgar Square where traffic had been stopped by a sit-down protest, which was later to result in the arrest of the Green Party councillor Caroline Russell. A little boy of about 10 with his father arguing with a blond girl of about 15 about how she was wrong, and that shutting down Parliament was wrong. Her friend, a mixed-race girl, stood sheepish and silent. I wondered which friendships had been broken over this period.

A young police officer came over to me and started his ‘if you can move on please’ speech. I interrupted him and said:

‘Do you mind if I ask you something?’

‘No, go ahead,’ he said, a bit taken off guard.

‘Do the police have a plan in the event of a no-deal Brexit?’

‘Erm…well, yes, we’ve been briefed on it, and there are plans in place…’

‘You do realise it’s going to be a lot worse than today if that goes ahead?’

‘Erm, yes, but we have a job to do and that is to uphold the peace…’

‘I’m aware of that, and I’m not having a go at you. I know you have a job to do. But I’m curious – what are you defending?’

‘Well, we’re defending London, that’s our job. And we’re defending London’s economy and jobs…And the law’

‘Right. However, I think London is a big enough economy that it can withstand a day, or even a few weeks of protest. But when Parliament is shut down for such a long time – it’s preventing the people who sit in there, the lawmakers, from doing their jobs for us. So, in essence, law-making is being stopped.’

‘Look, miss, I’m not saying we don’t agree with you, and if we were in a pub and talking about this, I might have some very different things to say. My day off has been cancelled, and I’m tired, and I’m just doing my job.’

‘I totally understand, and again, I’m not having a go at you. I know that everything that is happening is probably way beyond your pay grade, and I feel for you on that. I am just saying that you might have to take sides in the coming weeks or months. And the law isn’t always right.’

The crowd moved. I lost sight of the young police officer. He seemed sweet and totally out of his depth. It’s hard. We probably could have had a really nice drink and chat in that pub.

A belligerent, red-faced man came in our midst with his wife, shouting ‘Bo-Ris! Bo-Ris! Bo-RIS!!’ Over him I shouted ‘Fascist’ to drown him out. The crowd around us joined in. We locked eyes as the chants, ever-changing, battled each other. I could see how this will be – mano a mano, till one side overcomes.

I left, more convinced than I had been at the beginning, that this was a very different type of protest. It goes beyond tribalism, beyond background, beyond class, beyond political affiliation and speaks to something much deeper: the soul of a country, the soul of its people. Neither side might win, but one side will definitely prevail.








The unsung heroes of the #8thRef – Amended


(Note: This is similar to a post I wrote prior to the #8thRef. However, I wanted to repost this with amendments to reflect the momentous weekend it’s been)

As I was watching the Pat Kenny Show a few days ago, and I heard (yet again) the phrase ‘we don’t want the same set-up the UK has’, I suddenly heard the dog-whistle in it. The slight sneering undertone. And I was angered by it. Let’s be honest about this. We’re all taught to be suspicious of the British a bit. We justify it by referring to our mutual pasts, oppressed and oppressor. It can be a hard habit to recognise. But today, I really heard it. And I was affronted.


Now, I’ve done my fair share of Brit-bashing. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’ve had the odd conversation (or 5,000) about the evils of empire, the class system, the screwed-up voting system. Etc. Etc. Etc. On the other hand – I’ve lived here almost 20 years and I’m speaking about these topics from a place of actual insight and experience, unlike certain people on the No side that I’ve heard saying this. And I’ll say something else about this, that has to do with the #8thRef.


Ireland should be so lucky to have a healthcare system like the NHS. Were it not for the wonderful institution that is the NHS, that bright, shining beacon of compassionate and free healthcare, Irish women would be worse off. Even when a corrupt government is trying to sell it off, it still welcome those whose country abandoned them. It still will welcome them until the repeal of the 8th is ratified in law.


I cannot wax lyrical enough about the NHS. I’ve had experience of 4 healthcare systems: the US, the Irish, the German and the British. Now, the German healthcare system does have the edge on the NHS. But: the NHS has taken care of me in so many ways, and the absolute compassion and care that is mainly taken with people here is amazing. When I needed an ultrasound to detect ovarian cysts, it came free. When I sprained my ankle in a freak accident and couldn’t move without help to get out of my flat, they sent an ambulance to collect me, free. For the multiple smear tests, doctors’ appointments, treatments for various conditions – all FREE (Did I mention that?). There would be no X case here. There would be no Savita Halappanavar. No Miss P. Given the circumstances and evidence, that sneering attitude is bred of a misplaced sense of superiority.


I also have mainly only received kindness from British people. I may abhor the Tories, I may despair of the voting system here, the class system might do my head in, but from my very first week here, I’ve been shown kindness by British, and, because I live in London, more specifically, English people. From the stories that have been told that I’ve read, kindness wasn’t lacking from the English, but from our own country. Care for vulnerable women wasn’t found wanting from the UK, but from Ireland.


Now we hope that will change. In terms of the wonderful result of the referendum, that is changing. Many of us hope that will change as soon as possible, but in the meantime, the story of the 8th Amendment is a British story too. A story where they come off as by far the more compassionate side. A story where they’ve quietly and patiently and unquestioningly provided a solution to a particularly Irish problem. Where they’ve taken our hand as a nation. Where their staff have literally and figuratively held the hands of distraught Irish women over decades, when they’ve had to take the plane or the boat. It’s time to let that hand go.


While there are sheroes and heroes emerging, the story of our neighbours, their NHS and all that work in it that took care of pregnant Irish women in crisis, that didn’t treat them with judgement or derision or scorn hasn’t been acknowledged as much as it should have been. We owe it and them a debt of gratitude, not derision. It will, until the repeal is overturned constitutionally, still be welcoming 9 women a day – approximately 1,620 in the next six months. It will do so quietly, patiently and with dedication. This institution is under attack from its own government – and it still welcomes Irish women seeking help. It, and all those who work in it deserve to be more than a footnote in our history. The old enmities have no place here.  How much worse would it have been for Irishwomen, had they no access to the possibility of abortion in the UK? Having read countless stories over decades and in particular, the last few months, I cannot fathom the answer to that question. It hardly bears thinking about. There’s been a growth of understanding through the campaign to overturn the 8th Amendment and now it’s time for us, as Irish citizens, to be gracious in understanding our debt of gratitude to our former enemy, at least on this score.


The unsung heroes of #8thRef


As I was watching the Pat Kenny Show today (current affairs show in Ireland), and I heard (yet again) the phrase ‘we don’t want the same set-up the UK has’, I suddenly heard the dog-whistle in it. The slight sneery undertone. And I was angered by it. We’re all taught to be suspicious of the British a bit. It can be a hard habit to recognise. But today, I really heard it. And I was affronted.

Now, I’ve done my fair share of Brit-bashing. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’ve had the odd conversation (or 5,000) about the evils of empire, the class system, the screwed-up voting system. Etc. Etc.Etc. On the other hand – I’ve lived here almost 20 years and I’m speaking about these topics from a place of actual insight and experience, unlike certain people on the No side that I’ve heard over the last few days on Irish TV. And I’ll say something else about this, that has to do with the #8thRef.

Ireland should be so lucky to have a healthcare system like the NHS. Were it not for the wonderful institution that is the NHS, that bright, shining beacon of compassionate and free healthcare, Irish women would be worse off. Even when a corrupt government is trying to sell it off, it still welcomes those whose country has abandoned them. I cannot wax lyrical enough about the NHS. I’ve had experience of 4 healthcare systems: the US, the Irish, the German and the British. Now, the German healthcare system does have the edge on the NHS. But: the NHS has taken care of me in so many ways, and the absolute compassion and care that is mainly taken with people here is amazing. And, for the most part, FREE. (Did I mention that?). There would be no X case here. There would be no Savita Halappanavar. No Miss P. Given the circumstances and evidence, that sneering attitude is bred of a malign piety.

I also have mainly only received kindness from British people. I may abhor the Tories, I may despair of the voting system here, the class system might do my head in, but from my very first week here, I’ve been shown kindness by British, and, because I live in London, more specifically, English people. From the stories that have been told that I’ve read, kindness wasn’t lacking from the English, but from our own country. Maybe that will change. Maybe that is changing. Many of us hope that will change tomorrow, but in the meantime, the story of the 8th Amendment is a British story too. A story where they come off as by far the more compassionate side. A story where they’ve quietly and patiently and unquestioningly provided a solution to a particularly Irish problem. Where they’ve held our hand as a nation. Where their staff have literally and figuratively held the hands of distraught Irish women over decades. It’s time to let that hand go.

While there are sheroes and heroes emerging, the story of our neighbours, their NHS and all that work in it that took care of pregnant Irish women in crisis, that didn’t treat them with judgement or derision or scorn hasn’t been acknowledged as much as it should have been. And when you look at it from that perspective, there’s all the more reason to #Repealthe8th.

#ThankYouNHS #Together4Yes

No Country For Irish Women

No Country For Irish Women

Once upon a time, over a hundred years ago, a green land was governed by a cruel and malign force. This force had starved them, taken their lands, tortured them, raped their women, hung, drawn and quartered them, quashed mercilessly many uprisings over 800 years of their tyrannical reign. ‘No more!’ some people of the land cried, and they rebelled. Six of them were martyred, and the rest of the country, men and women alike, fought for freedom from the malign force. Finally, they gained it.

But the promises of freedom are never what is imagined, and as the teller of the tales of those called handmaidens once observed ‘Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.’ Human beings, being human, will arrange themselves into leaders and followers, and into the breach left by the malign force stepped the one who is known as Diabhal Éire, or the Devil of Éire, more commonly known as DeValera and a brotherhood of men only known as The Church. Beware the man who clings to power! For men are poor curbers of their own excesses. In this new land of freedom, only half the population were free; the other half were kept as the subordinates, for every new land will inevitably ape the worst aspects of their captors, and, in a cruel twist of irony, become what they most hated. As a Wilde man once said ‘Each man kills the thing he loves’, and that includes freedom for the many, not just the few.

I offer the ‘fairytale’ above somewhat facetiously, and somewhat to make a serious point. Our interpretation of history can depend on many things: what is recorded; what is remembered accurately; whose stories gain precedence; whose stories fade into the background; whose stories are repressed; sex; gender; race; religion. During the past two years, and in particular the last 5 months, I’ve been thinking about the long sidelined Women of the 1916 Rising, and indeed, of the Republic itself. The 1916 Proclamation, essentially the battle cry of our republic, starts with the phrase: ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’.  It’s an immensely important document, setting out a vision of a pluralistic, forward-thinking nation that failed to be realised. We failed. Our forefathers and foremothers had a great vision of the Ireland they wanted, and by and large, as a nation, we have failed them. Two paragraphs in particular struck me, when re-reading this great document during the 1916 celebrations, and they are as follows (bold markings are my own):

“…The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

“…We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine.”

Looking back at the last 102 years of the Irish republic – who can honestly say that the women of the new republic have had the equal rights and opportunities they were guaranteed? In De Valera’s original text for ‘The Ireland that we dreamed of’, he talked of ‘the contest of athletic youths’ and ‘comely maidens’ (later ‘happy maidens’ in the broadcast). The implication is clear – contrary to what had actually happened a mere 27 years beforehand, women were being relegated to passive figures in their own lives and in the imagination of the nation.

As an Irish-American living in the Ireland of the 1980s, my main impression of the church of that era was the word ‘dour’. The dour learning of catechism by rote. The dour drone of prayers on various holy days and occasions. The dour atmosphere in the churches themselves. The dour insistence of the clergy on being recompensed by their congregations, and their following up of those who didn’t. The bitter, angry tirades from the pulpits over the abortion and divorce referendums. These made an impression, perhaps, because I had something to compare them with in the American half of my split personality – the joyful congregations, the positive sermons, the warm, open arms to all, the donuts and coffee, the sense of uplift and celebration. I could understand why someone would want to be a Catholic in the US.

My first real epiphany came from reading a book by David Yallop, called ‘In God’s Name’. I recommend it highly. As a teenager who sensed there was a huge disconnect between the fundamental teachings of Jesus and those teachings enacted in what I witnessed around me, it provided a history to my suspicions that the Catholic Church, and particularly the Catholic Church in Ireland, did not view men and women equally. I moved to Dublin, where a whole aspect of a world that I didn’t know existed, sheltered as I was in the rural Ireland of my youth, the gay nightclub scene. A fan club around the film ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. A Dublin of lock-ins and clubs that were open till 6am. I found it all utterly fascinating. But my social conscience was really awakened by the X case and the marches that ensued. Suddenly it became clear. Ireland didn’t love or trust its daughters, and never had. They hated and mistrusted them so much that they would force a 14-year old girl to go through with the pregnancy of her rapist. Females were a problem, not to be solved, but to be kept in check.

In the mid to late 1990s, I did a production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in the Everyman in Cork. In that production was an actress over from London, Phyllis MacMahon, who played Ms. Prism. She had been a novice in a Magdalen laundry and was so traumatised by what she witnessed that she left, went to England and became an actress (She later consulted on the film The Magdalene Sisters). A short while later, I did a play called ‘Eclipsed’ by another ex-nun, Patricia Burke Brogan, playing the Mother Superior. There were children of the Magdalene women in the audience, and they were absolutely clear that my portrayal, in its severity and cruelty, was accurate. On top of all this, news items and documentaries were coming out about what happened in those laundries – in an ironic twist of fate, they couldn’t wash away the sins of Ireland’s dirty little secret.

Where this really struck home though was much later. About 6 years ago, I went to hospital to visit an older female relative. Not one for public displays of affection, she started crying as she told me about how, as a young woman, she had known someone who was in a Magdalene laundry, but being a young woman herself, and therefore vulnerable, she didn’t dare speak out. It really struck me, as I left the hospital, the very real dilemma that faced Irish women and girls of a certain generation. There were consequences for females defying the rule of the Church, which was essentially the rule of the land. Who, in their position, would want to take that chance? While it may be frustrating that certain of the older generation vote No on Friday, in this context, it is understandable. Defiance had real life consequences. Indoctrination is a hard habit to break.

Here’s the thing that is changing: While the Ireland of the twentieth century talked about the ‘fallen women’, it never talked about their partners, the equally culpable (by Catholic logic) ‘fallen’ men. Unless the Church and State were pretending that they didn’t exist, in which case Ireland has produced miraculously ten thousand virgin births, which does throw a central tenet of Christianity into question. So really what the almost first 100 years of the Irish republic was partly built on was the forced enslavement, imprisonment and labour of women, in collusion with the Church. This is why the vote on Friday to repeal the 8th is, in essence, about the democratic rights of women to choose that most basic of human principles: autonomy over their own bodies. Until we understand, and own up to, the physical, psychological and societal traumas faced by every Irish citizen who happened/happens to be female, and seek to redress that, as our forefathers, and, more importantly, our foremothers envisioned, we are a republic only in name, not deed. Until that happens, Ireland will not be a nation free from the effects of imperialism, but rather a victim turned oppressor to half its population. When you treat livestock better than you treat citizens, there is reason to question what path we have taken, that has taken us so far away from the vision in the 1916 Proclamation. We will see by the weekend whether the Republic is committed to “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally“.




Beyond sexism and #MeToo, why the #PresidentsClub dinner reeks


I have so much that I want to say about the #PresidentsClub. Obviously on the level of sexism, and effectively procurement of young women, who had NO duty of care shown to them by either the charity or #Artista, the agency, it is proof-positive of how sexism exists, and thrives in those places, those secret clubs that men with money and power keep. Let it never be said that men can’t close ranks when they need to – this club/charity/whatever you want to call it was around for 20 years, an open display of how skewed the sexual dynamics are in our society.

By and large, while I have encountered sexism while working in the Third Sector, what tends to exist more are cultures of highly intelligent, highly dissatisfied people. In the charity side of the sector, there are quite healthy gender ratios – one of the few industries to have this. Bullying sometimes thrives, from what I’ve heard from others working directly for charities themselves – where intelligence and boredom meet, this is a logical outcome. They are the type of people who have all the requisite intelligence (probably too much) to thrive in a corporate environment, but lack the confidence/drive. Whether it’s more or less than in the corporate world is debatable.

And/or maybe (in some, though not all cases) some feel that they can make a difference. Sometimes flaws in the industry are overlooked for a perceived greater good. It’s a high-pressure environment, one where people change jobs frequently. And, in my opinion: Not all charities are equal. Some there is more need of than others.

This is not intended as a slight upon charities – the people that work there at mid-level do work incredibly hard, at a fraction of the wages they could get in similar jobs in the corporate world. However, let me also say that, while of course one can take what the charity representatives have said at face value, having worked in this sector on and off for almost 8 years – I find it incredible that no one from these charities attended the #PresidentsClub dinners over a 20 year period. It may be so, but for not even a board member or a trustee to attend – that’s quite extraordinary.

But the point that I think everyone is missing about this: these CEOs, heads of business and the links between tax avoidance and charitable giving: these ‘Titans’ of industry are raising money for charities that, if they paid their tax, would probably (a) not be necessary and (b) wouldn’t be filling the gaps caused by austerity. A logical aim of anyone working in the charity sector should be to put themselves out of a job – to end poverty, to end the need for charitable giving. If we lived in a fair and functional society, where everyone paid according to their means, there would be no need for charities, for the ‘despised’ chuggers, and for tax ‘incentives’ for tax avoiders.

Another layer, of course, are politicians, and their collusion in this merry dance of tax avoidance. Scratch the surface of this story, and I’m sure that there are a number of politicians (most likely Tory) whose backs are having a consensual scratch from big business. Let’s put it this way: the amounts being avoided to pay in tax are so huge that City law firms and the amount they charge to help aid this avoidance are comparatively small change in terms of the amounts saved. Let that sink in for a minute.

The collusion in the usage of young women by lecherous older men and avaricious older women as bait is disgraceful. It’s laughable that these men, men like Philip Green, who avoided £160m in tax personally in 2016 should need ‘incentives’ to be able to give, and it is absolutely repugnant that they are allowed to feel ‘good’ about themselves when just one of them (clearly) could pay what was raised 8 times over.

More than that, it highlights that the UK does not need to be an unequal society, if the current and previous governments had the political will to end this putrid gravy train, and end the need for charity. The fact that there are completely the resources to do this, but no political will to enforce it, even in times of deep national crisis shows that this patriarchal, man-made model of doing business and politics needs to be ripped asunder and structured for the brave new world of equality for which there is clearly public appetite. The Empire is dead; long live the New Utopia.

It really irks me that these men are passing themselves off as ‘doing good’ when they head up corporations that tax avoid. If they paid their taxes into the public purse, there would be less need for charities, some of whom are literally stopping institutions from collapsing – the British Red Cross last winter is a good example of this regarding the NHS. The aim of a civilised society should always be to reduce the need for charitable giving, not increase it. The government’s actions and their close association with the world of finance – even to the extent of one of their own, David Meller, organising this bacchanalian grope-fest – shows there is a whole circle of back-slapping that in itself needs to be scrutinised into non-existence.The demise of the #PresidentsClub is not enough, because some other secret sexist conclave, where politics and big business collude in the exploitation of women is still out there. What’s needed now is to take this story to the next level and press forward with it. In the wake of #MeToo, there is nowhere to hide. Beyond that, if I had one message for these ‘sad old men’ it would be this:

Pay. Your. Goddamn. Taxes.


PS. (And stop leeching and freeloading on the poverty and inequality in British society. As my Grandpa would say, the world (literally) doesn’t owe you a living.

Why #MeToo is part of the zeitgeist


The future is female. Or is it? There is no doubting that the biggest political event of the year was #MeToo. When I first saw the hashtag, posted it on my social media and then wrote about it, I had no idea how big an impact this movement was going to have. Still is having. As a woman, one gets used to ‘women’s issues’ gaining a bit of publicity for a while, then fading into the background. This hasn’t faded. If anything, it is keeping a steady glow going.

There is hardly a profession that I have seen that hasn’t been mentioned in conjunction with #MeToo. Sure, it started with the relative elite of Hollywood, but I’ve seen mentions of this movement by women in the financial world, medicine, the London theatre scene, the classical music world, politics, the literary world, academia, opera. I’ve known, in acquaintance, a few of the accused, and the revelations weren’t surprising. The irony of art reflecting life reflecting art were not lost.

There’s been a multiplicity of reactions to #MeToo, from women. It wasn’t long (probably a month) before the mutterings of the #NotAllMen groups of women started. From my observance, they were mainly women ‘of a certain age’ and the main thrust of their argument, when one broke it down,  seemed to be that they had to put up with it, so why shouldn’t younger women have to do the same? Many of these women of my personal acquaintance (though not all) had sons which seemed, by their own words, to colour their views. Some women, who were friends with the accused, because they had not experienced this side of them found it hard to comprehend that they were capable of these actions. A human reaction, I guess; but part of the reason that the system of patriarchy and its narrative has prevailed. The deceit of women. Their cunning. When underneath all they are, are sluts. Branded women. Mark them with an A and have done with it. Dress them in a red dress and white bonnet and treat them as brood mares. They are good for little else. Possessions, not human beings.

This movement has given me pause about many things. Of course, partly I was elated and continue to be, that finally, these issues, which form so much a part of the experience of being female,  were being discussed, and that this movement hasn’t disappeared from the public consciousness yet. Partly I’ve been disappointed by the reactions of some other women, and recognise that there is much in there that has been the causation of the lack of progress of the suffragette movement and its descendants, the various waves of feminism. We are still having arguments about providing creches in workplaces – something that was established by the Pankhursts in their business a hundred years ago. If anything, we seem to have gone backwards in terms of this argument.

I believe that #MeToo is having a major effect because of the political schisms we are experiencing. We are seeing an epic battle between how things have been, and how we want them to be, and in between, how things currently are. There is a broad acceptance that how things are is no longer acceptable, and there must be change. There is also conflict with traditionalists and apologists for how things are, and how they want regressive change to the way things were. Crucial to the movement, to this moment, and to the rising call for female equality, has been Trump. Never has toxic masculinity, a real life consequence of the system of patriarchy,  been personified so odiously and so fully in one person. The Hero’s Journey is a basic principle of story-telling, and for every hero(ine) there must be a villain. Trump has fulfilled that role more than competently. In truth, one could argue that it is the only role he has fulfilled competently, providing the perfect example of what happens when one leaves power all in the hands of men. The call for female equality would not be resonating on this scale if men did not look at Trump as an example of their sex, and not like what they see. By and large, unless one is a white supremacist misogynist, he is the very antithesis of aspirational masculinity. His ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ comment. His wildly inappropriate and borderline incestuous comments about his daughter. His clear disregard for his current wife. The scarcity of women in his every staged photo opportunity. Women are useful and/or of service to him, or they are irrelevant, seems to be the message. The history books may yet show that the biggest catalyst for equality for women in Western countries was Donald Trump, despite the villain’s best efforts. No Hero’s Journey story is complete without the triumph of battle.

The way I see it, the major obstacles standing in the way of female equity, and that always have, are two-fold: Not just the implementation of patriarchal mores from men, but also from women themselves. A sort of keeping of the status quo. I was struck by this when reading about Meryl Streep recently. Now don’t get me wrong – I love Meryl Streep as an actress. I think she is probably the greatest living film actor, male or female. I’ve seen her speak at a Women of the World conference, and she comes across as a thoroughly nice human being, despite her disavowal of feminism, which I have to say, I did find disappointing. However, she is a person who has reached a certain level of power and influence, and her pronouncements about wearing black at the Golden Globes come across as someone who wants predominantly to maintain the status quo, while talking about protest. The problem with this is that sort of attitude is not possible, sustainable or even desirable to maintain anymore. It’s part of the ‘Change – but not too much’ attitude of neoliberalism. Unlike Brexit, change does actually mean change. Change is painful. It’s messy. It turns your world upside-down and inside out. Change is the rollercoaster ride that you have no guarantee of being thrown off of. It’s gut-wrenching, soul-destroying, overwhelming, terrifying. And ultimately, enervating, empowering and inevitable once one has been baptised in its fire.

I am using Streep as an example, not because I loathe her (the contrary) but because I believe her approach to fundamental change is wrong and can be a teachable moment. Sure, if every woman rocked up in black, there would be a huge amount of publicity – for the Globes and sales for media outlets. All predominantly run by men. These awards depend on women to boost their profile and sales. There is not one female director nominated this year, despite several great films directed by women, for example. Until they give women an equal footing, and equal power, then don’t engage. If every single woman stayed away from the awards season and refused to engage, that would do more than sending a message, and ‘making a statement’. I’m fairly certain it would have a real-life impact on the profile of the awards and media sales. Who, after all, wants to sift through hundreds of pictures of men in very similar looking tuxedoes?

I hasten to add that this isn’t an original idea – it is based on the Icelandic model of women disengaging from working, taking care of children and households in 1975 as an action against inequality. The result were quite startling – men were barely coping over the 24-hour period. They made their point, and got their first female president 5 years later.

Action can seem overwhelmingly. But even small actions matter. For example: I’ve made a commitment to not hashtag the Golden Globes – small in its way, but in this day and age, social media raises profile. An awards ceremony that does not recognise the achievements of women, half the population, is not a ceremony that I want to help in any way, shape or form. Instead, I’ll be writing as much as I can about #MeToo and issues of female equity as a counterbalance. Done collectively, like the #MeToo movement, these sort of actions can have impact.

The point is: protest is all very well. But actions do speak louder than words, and across sectors women need to start taking meaningful action that does not play by the rules of a game which treats them as second-class citizens. Then, and only then, will we see real progress on the issue of female equity. And progress on this, 100 years on from when women were arrested, tortured and killed merely to get a vote to get a seat at the table, more than change for its own sake, surely has to now be the aim. This is why #MeToo is a crucial movement, coming at a crucial time in the social history of the world, with remarkable staying power. It remains to be seen whether the hero will transform into the heroine on this journey, and whether the Heroine, female equity, will triumph at last.




I was 7 years old, taking swimming lessons. I told my mum that the swimming instructor was holding me around the crotch area and it made me feel funny. I contracted a whole batch of verrucas from the swimming pool and the lessons stopped. I’ve never liked swimming in pools much since. #Metoo

I had chronic childhood acne, so I went to see the top dermatologist in the city. I told my mum that I got a funny feeling from him, and so I never was taken to see him again. It was later found out that he had sexually assaulted a number of patients, including a girl I worked with later on. In this instance, not #metoo.

I was 13. Like a lot of 13 year olds, I wanted to be older than I was, so I snuck into a disco with my cousins for over-16s. I met a guy there. We met up the next day. He was 25. I told him that I was 13. We kissed. He didn’t seem to mind about my age. #Metoo

I was 14. Lazing in bed in my room. A relative, who was staying, came in. I pretended to be asleep. He stuck his hand down my nightie. A year later, I told my mum. I never saw him again. #Metoo

I was 15. Staying with my best friend in her house in Sicily. We wanted to put on a show, a ‘spettacolo’. We decided our contribution to the show would be to dance around in our bikinis to ‘Papa don’t Preach’. We showed her father our routine. He was horrified and absolutely forbade us to do it. We didn’t understand why. I understand now. It would have been a spectacle and we were spectacularly naive. Not #metoo.

Between the ages of 13-15, I was bullied by two boys at my school. Bullied with daily, relentless gendered insults, whispered sotto voce: Slut’. ‘Bitch’. ‘Cunt’. There was nothing sexual to it, but it was relentless, daily harassment and terrifying. When I watched my dad die, age 16, I knew that nothing they could say could hurt me anymore. The next time they tried to harass me, I tore them down with a sharp-as-an-arrow, whip-accurate retort. They never bothered me again. #Metoo

Aged 16, I go to New York for the summer to au pair. I am on a bus to upstate New York to stay with my grandma. On the bus, a man starts talking to me. He tells me about how his mom, Big Red, would love to meet a real Irish person, and how I should definitely get off the bus at Roscoe with him. I politely decline a number of times, though he is incredibly insistent. I go on to meet my unsuspecting grandma. I had no idea why he was so desperate for me to meet his mom, but something didn’t feel right. Not #metoo.

I’m in my bed in a shared house in Dublin, aged 18. Earlier that evening some friends of the live-in landlord had come to stay. They seemed nice enough. I chatted a little with them and then went to bed. I was woken up by one of them on top of me, trying to hold me down while telling me that ‘I wanted it’. With all my might, I kicked him in the groin, and rushed to a room in the house vacated for the weekend. Luckily, this room has a lock. I lock the door and stay there, heart racing, until I know they’ve gone the next day. I tell the landlord. He tells me I must be mistaken, his friends wouldn’t do that. I move house a few months later. #metoo

I hitchhiked everywhere up until the age of 21. I got a lift one evening from a lorry driver going back to Dublin. We were chatting about AIDs. Suddenly, around Cashel, he said ‘So do you want me to pull over and we can do it?’ I let out a horrified ‘No!’ and very firmly told him to drive or I would kick him with my Doc Martens. We drive in silence to Dublin and as he’s about to let me off on the quays, he said, by way of an excuse ‘You kept talking about AIDs. You made me think you wanted to do ‘it’.’ I thank him, because I’m a polite middle-class young woman, and slam the door shut. I didn’t hitchhike long-distance after that. #metoo

It’s my first sun holiday. I was so excited, and I’d bought a long, navy, figure-hugging dress. I loved that dress. I went through the security barriers at the airport. There was no beeping but the security guards made me go through it again. And again. And again. And again. They started giggling and admitted they just wanted to see me walk in my tight long dress. I felt humiliated. #metoo

I’m walking home from a friend’s on the South Circular Road in Dublin. A man stops and asks me for the time. He then asks me if I would have sex with him. For £20. I shout ‘No!’ and run all the way home. #metoo

I visit Leipzig for the first time. I’m staying with my friend Claudia. We walk past a park. Something looks out of place. It turns out it is a man, with a shirt and tie, and a hedgerow up to his thighs, visibly masturbating. My friend is horrified and assures me this is not acceptable behaviour in Leipzig. I’d already seen a guy do that twice in Cork, walking down the street, masturbating as he walked, his penis sticking up over some very baggy sweatpants. The first time I saw him, he shocked me. The second time, I told him to put it away, or else it would fall off. I’m 26, and already wise to the ways of men. #metoo

I’m on my first job out of drama school. I’m excited to be working. The experience is marred by the constant harassment from an actor in his 60s. He wants to impress upon me what a big deal he is – he’s had some one-hit wonder with a song back in the 70s and been living off the royalties ever since. I tell him to keep his hands to himself and to his side of the room. #metoo

I grow long, Titian-red hair and so am hired for a show which requires nudity. Great, I think, I can do that. I’m comfortable in my own skin, it’s not gratuitous, it’ll be a new experience. For publicity shots for Time Out and The Stage, I’m offered a closed set and I take it. The director and his stage manager keep peeping through one of the windows that have been covered with black-out paper, pointing and giggling. I feel humiliated. I explain to the PR lady after what happened, and why I really don’t want the pictures used. They’re published anyway. I might be comfortable with my body, but I won’t ever put myself in that situation again. #metoo

An older director invites me for tea. We have a lovely afternoon. He grabs my ass as he kisses me on the cheek as I leave. It barely even registers at this point. It’s certainly on the tame side of my experiences in life thus far. But, hey, #metoo

I’m working in a non-acting job. I need it to pay my bills. I’ve fallen into serious debt and need that steady income. They are trying to get rid of me. Not because I’m not good at my job. But because I’ve held them to account on their practices around women. One member of their senior management was allegedly arrested for wife-beating while in a more junior position. This does not stop him getting promoted. There were whispers around another as a rapist. He is also promoted. Yet another would summon young attractive female employees to come sit on his knee. He is one of the owners. Women are ritually undermined, overlooked, humiliated. They get rid of 5 women over a 9 month period in key positions. I do not stand with 4 of those women at the time in a meaningful way. I am ashamed of myself. I am the 5th. I decide to do something meaningful. I prepare a 22-page document with supporting evidence of their sexist practices. I know where this is headed and I know I must stand up now. I must be counted. The boss is affronted. He later rants to a fellow worker ‘How could I be a misogynist? My wife is the biggest feminist there is!’ After a 7-month campaign of bullying, mind-games, harassment, cajoling, a nervous breakdown (mine), I come back to work. I last 4 days before telling them we either settle or go to court, and I don’t care which it is. I’ve had enough. We settle. #metoo

I have been cat-called as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. I’ve been stalked a number of times by ex-boyfriends. I’ve been harassed into dates and even into relationships by men who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’ve had men pull over in their cars to ask me to get in. I’ve been knocked off my bike by men looking for a date. I’ve worked with men who tell me their wives ‘don’t understand them’. I’ve worked with men who’ve used their power and reputation to bully me in a non-sexual, but nonetheless damaging way. I’ve overheard men on public transport talking about what they were going to do to particular girls in the type of locker room talk that one expects now from the POTUS. I’ve been catfished by someone pretending to be David Haye until I contacted his agent to confirm it was him. I’ve been invited by a producer of porn to contact him. I’ve been the subject of death threats for having an opinion online. #Metoo. #Metoo. #Metoo. More times than I am capable of remembering or writing about: #MEFUCKINGTOO

And yet: I’m lucky. Despite several near-misses, only a portion of them listed above, I’ve never been raped, unlike several friends who’ve confided in me. Unlike other friends, no man has ever attempted to hit me. I’m tall, athletic and strong. I keep myself athletic and strong and always on guard. My keys are my weapon of choice. I’ve developed a persona that is my armour. The strong woman. The warrior woman. The woman with the big voice and the big laugh. I like this woman. She protects me. She takes on my adversaries one by one, the bullies, the misogynists, the would-be abusers and belittlers of women and vanquishes them. One by one. I cover my vulnerability not because I want to, but because I have to. As a woman, never give away all of your heart, I was once told. I thought that was dispiriting at the time, and now I see the wisdom of it. I thought I thought I’d be done with this shit once I hit my thirties. Oh the innocence. Every time something happens, I am jolted from my reality of being a human being to the reality of living in a world that does not favour the human beings with vaginas.

Can we change it? I don’t know. I know it will not happen if men do not help.

Should we change it? Yes. Absolutely yes. The only objectors to this would be  people who want to continue harassing and abusing.

How do we change it? The first step is listening. Believing women and their stories. Whether it’s misogynistic bullying, sexual harassment, assault: giving the benefit of the doubt. Not many women would want to go through even a workplace hearing to tell their stories of harassment and abuse unless it was true. That in itself can be a harrowing and mentally traumatising experience. It says something that in the #Cosby case over 60 women came forward, in the #Weinstein case over 30, and still there are murmurings of ‘Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Is this a vendetta against men?’. This very thinking is a silencing mechanism, because women know the cost of being visible. It’s something we live with all our lives. It’s a technique that men like Weinstein use to great effect. After that – I’m not sure. Make certain more women are involved in power positions? It can’t hurt to at least try that. After all, it’s not really been done before, and we can tell from the #metoo stories emerging that this is not just a Hollywood/arts industry problem. The industry of story-telling has merely been the catalyst for women from all walks of life to tell their stories.

Let me tell you why this is important. I’m not going to tell you a story about why this is important for your daughters, your wives, your sisters. I was house-sitting in a very wealthy part of London last year. The house belonged to a wealthy older woman of 87. She’d led a privileged life, and her husband had worked in close proximity with a relative of the Royal Family. She was in the early stages of dementia, in and out of lucidity. One day, when I was sitting down with her, she told me of her driving lessons, aged 17. She spent at least as much time fending off the driving instructor from touching her up. She didn’t want to tell her father, because she felt he would have done nothing. She didn’t want to tell her mother, who would have made a scene and that would have stopped her learning to drive, which signified freedom. So, 70 years later, this patrician, Cambridge-educated lady in the first stages of losing her mind, still remembered this ritual humiliation, this abuse of power, this demonstration of privilege. Despite all she had achieved in her life (and it was considerable), that scar still burned bright. Her fear, anger and upset was palpable.

That’s the power of the #metoo hashtag. We’re finally visible. Telling our stories. This is not an attack on all men, but it sure is about as personal as it can get. Because until we tell our stories, reconcile the truth of those stories with the fiction of the patriarchal narrative, how can we hope to create space in this world for every human being to live safely, to reach our potential as a species and to evolve and thrive accordingly? That’s what I want – do #youtoo?









Take a Knee


A flag is just a piece of cloth. What it’s supposed to represent – an equal playing field for all, justice for all – is not being adhered to and has not been, ever, in the history of the US.

Remember these protests started under Obama’s administration, as a protest against police brutality. Only Trump could make it all about himself and some perverse idea of patriotism, where one doesn’t question how loyalty to this ‘flag’ trumps (pun intended) keeping racist law enforcement officers in check.

But since The Donald has decided to put his rather profane tuppence ha’porth in, let’s use it to question what is really important here. In truth, no flag matters. What is done supposedly in the name of the flag does. The flag is no more than a human extension of the Pavlov’s dog experiment. I support those taking a knee because what they are protesting for (actual civil rights, the right to not be killed by endemic racism) is more important. If you are proud of your country (and by this I mean any country, not just the U.S.), know exactly what it is you’re proud of. When it comes down to it, and if one’s grasp on history is solid, and if one is scrupulously honest, it’ll end up that you’ll be proud of some things, of other things not so much. Let the country that is without sin cast the first stone.

The danger is, during this political paradigm shift (and we are still in the midst of this shift) that revisionism of history is rife. We have the situation in Germany where partly (to the best of my understanding) what the AfD set their stall out on is whitewashing German history, especially that of the Third Reich, as something to be proud of, that ‘others’ had wilfully misinterpreted. How can one be proud of that part of one’s history which included mass genocide? And this point could be said of many countries, including the US. Including the UK. Trump and Brexit happened, to a large extent, due to people’s ignorance of their own imperialist, genocidal, racist histories.

Pride in a flag, for pride’s sake, if the foundation of what that flag represents, is ridiculous. Pride in an anthem, a song, is indefensible if the human rights that have been nominally enshrined in law are not being accorded to all citizens, irrespective of colour, creed, sex, gender, sexual preference, power and wealth status. There is ample evidence to show us that the US has little respect for the rights of its African-American citizens. The very presence of a man like Trump in the White House and his penchant for the company of white supremacists and self-described Nazis is a very testimony to this. The symbols that we once held dear unquestioningly are being called into question. It’s long overdue. Men like Kaepernick remind us that rather than slavishly adhering to the status quo, our citizenship calls upon us to question whether it is fit for purpose, or indeed, if it ever was. And the evidence and history taken objectively, would strongly indicate that it never has been.

The late great Stéphane Hessel wrote about a ‘Time for Outrage’. Outrage is only the beginning point. It’s the precursor of change, and holds the potential of change for the better, for everyone. Some people will not want change, simply because change, even when it is for the better, is not easy. Some people will not want change, because they see change as an attack on their status and supremacy in the world order. Those latter are probably not wrong, but they must not stand as an impediment to change for the better for the majority. We are on a knife’s edge balance in the West when Germany, for 28 years a beacon of hope to the power of people and progressive thinking, to the art of the possible rather than the cynical deal, can have 1.3 citizens who ignored their own history and voted in the far-right to the Bundestag again. The damage has been done, and nationalism has made its inroads. The road that this ultimately leads to can be changed, however. It’s not too late for that yet, if we remain conscious of the difference between superficial nationalism and deeper citizenship.

Nationalism only appeals to those who are childish and sheep-like in their thinking. Those who deal in the vicious pettiness of playground politics. Those who like their inane saluting, doublespeak, symbolism and who find comfort in the denigration of others. This is not ‘love of country’. Love of country, and deeper citizenship is when you care that everyone is afforded the same rights, the same opportunities, that everyone prospers. That’s what those who are taking a knee are highlighting. May they overcome.

#Takeaknee #sportisnotjustsport

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