Walking Home, Late at Night

Did you read the title and think “Don’t do that”? Would you have thought that if I was a guy?

I just read this story about sexual abuse. And I wasn’t going to comment, because nothing too bad has ever happened to me.

I mean obviously, there were all the times in senior school, when I was eleven or twelve, that men tried to chat me up at bus stops. Too many to remember, although one in particular stands out for asking me to guess all the things he wanted to do to me. I wanted to get away, but it was the bus stop I got off at and my mum was meeting me there. I ran to the car when she arrived.

I’ve had men rub up against me or grab my butt more times than I can remember on the Tube, coming home late at night. Sometimes I had been out with friends and was dressed up, sometimes I’d been at work and was in a suit. Sometimes it wasn’t late at night, just crowded enough for someone to get away with it. Christmas shopping crowds are a pain in the butt, literally.

It was a bit scary the time I went out with a group of female friends in London for New Year’s Eve. About ten of us in a line, trying to weave through the crowds to where we were going, holding hands so that we didn’t get separated. I was last in the line, because no one else wanted to be. One guy grabbed me by the crotch and literally lifted me off the ground, trying to drag me away from my friend. He was with a group of about five or six men, so I was clinging on to my friend’s hand trying not to be dragged away, and she was clinging on to me and the person in front of her, trying to get the line to stop and come help me. That was quite scary.

But the scariest bit is that this is all routine. So many women I know have the same sort of stories. It hasn’t happened to them once – it happens regularly. We just don’t go out at night, or don’t go out alone, we self-censor our lives. Being in a pub or bar alone – dangerous. Being in a crowd alone – dangerous. Travelling at night alone – dangerous. Going to a club alone – wouldn’t even think of it.

Men sometimes make fun of this. Women – always hang about in groups at a club. Women, always going to the toilet together. Women, walking each other to a taxi rank. Aren’t they supportive? Aren’t they gossipy? Aren’t they silly?

No, we’re not silly. We’re afraid. And all the harassment and abuse is just there to remind us that we do need to be. If we venture out alone, if we’re over-confident, bad things happen. I don’t think men, even really supportive feminist guys, really have a clue how deeply ingrained in our behaviour this stuff is. And it all starts with these accounts of abuse that you’re reading, happening when we’re still children, that show us that we’re not safe alone.

The Labour leadership contest’s elephant in the room is trust

Social media is an echo chamber, and I know a lot of Labour supporters. So I have read a lot of articles on the Labour leadership recently. Just this morning, I read this Fabians article by Andrew Harrop, this article by Owen Jones, and this by Neal Lawson.

And then it occurred to me that despite the differences of opinion, one thing that they all have in common is a lack of trust. Andrew Harrop doesn’t trust Corbyn supporters to think about the voters who need Labour or to want to win elections. Neal Lawson doesn’t trust any of the candidates supported by the PLP not to try moving Labour back towards the right again.

Owen Jones poses some very important questions – to which I haven’t seen satisfactory answers by either side – but the candidates answering the questions would still be pointless if we can’t believe what they say. And to believe them requires a trust that is missing in Labour at the moment.

Owen Smith talks a good left-wing policy, but he also talks about immigration being a problem, and it’s not so long since he joined in Labour’s shameful abstention on the welfare bill. The Labour PLP say that they want to win elections, but have spent the last twelve months undermining their leader, before taking the first chance to try and oust him. And Momentum say that they want to be inclusive, but then turn a blind eye to intimidation and abuse of anyone who disagrees with them.

I probably won’t be voting in the Labour leadership elections, having left the party in February 2015. I haven’t rejoined because I don’t trust that the party has changed in any permanent way from the party that I left. I would very much like to be part of a Labour party that I trust to represent me, and to represent that people that desperately need its help.

But trust seems to be the thing that we’re short of.

Not a Corbynista

I’m getting quite fed up of being called a Corbynista. Not, I should add, because it’s an offensive term for someone who supports Corbyn; not because it’s reductionist, deliberately trying to imply that anyone who supports Corbyn is a left-wing revolutionary extremist; not because I dislike the dichotomy of splitting the whole of the Labour Party into two camps, Blairite and Corbynista.

I mean, I agree with all of those points. They’re just not the main reason that I hate being called a Corbynista. The main reason it really winds me up is that I don’t particularly support Jeremy Corbyn.

I don’t hate Corbyn. I like some of his ideas. And I strongly believe that the Labour Party needed to move back towards the left, having followed the Tories too far to the right and conceded too many arguments without a fight. But I can definitely see that Corbyn seems to be struggling with the “leader” part of being the party leader. He would be better, I suspect, in some kind of policy think tank where he can work through the various arguments and produce ideas for the party to consider.

Nevertheless, any expression of approval for anything that Corbyn does gets me branded as a Corbynista, and any disapproval gets me branded as a Blairite. I have already been called both. Not yet by the same person – but it feels like it’s only a matter of time.

Also, I’m not even currently a member of the Labour Party!

What I would really like is for Labour to find a leader who is willing to stand up to the Tories and fight their ideas, to develop a strong platform of moderately left-wing ideas, and to communicate those well to the public. That would be great. If they could form an electoral alliance with the SNP and/or Greens against the Tories, that would be even better.

Until then, I will carry on watching with interest, and hoping that things improve enough that I no longer feel unwelcome in the party that I have been a member of for much of my adult life.

Please Can We Stop Saying That Doctor Who is Old?

I’ve just watched the season finale of Doctor Who. No spoilers, I promise. But one thing niggles me, that I need to rant about slightly.

One of the recurring themes in Doctor Who is how immensely old the Doctor is. Every finale adds a bit to the myth. This season has added another iota. What’s bothering me is that it’s not true. The Doctor is not old. The Doctor is a young person who has lived a very, very long time.

Here’s the difference.

You’re old when you realise that there is not enough time left in your life for something that you want to do, or that your body isn’t strong enough any more. You get older year by year as the list of things that it’s too late to do gets bigger. Train as a ballerina. Train as an athlete. Change to a career that requires a decade of training. Have a child (or another child). And so on.

As you get older, choices are blocked off. Your possibilities become fewer. Your remaining time becomes less. You are faced with mortality, with the fact that you are getting closer to death and that there is a finite maximum amount of time left to you.

The Doctor has none of this. The Doctor, if he ever dies, will die of accident, murder, or noble self-sacrifice. (Or possibly a weird accident involving two TARDISes and a chicken. It’s hard to tell with him.) But until that point, he is a Time Lord. If he is gravely injured, he can regenerate. The mere passing of time will not kill him. He does not get old as humans get old.

The Doctor is not an old man, no matter how long he lives. He is a young man with an immense amount of experience who thinks that he knows everything and is invulnerable. He’s a twenty-something lad who is hundreds of years old. (Or more. Complicated discussion postponed for another time). When you see him this way, it explains a lot about him.

Note to Self: Shut Up, No One Cares

… aka, my blog update on NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been neglecting NaNoWriMo for a few days (okay, a week) as life happened. So now I’m behind, and need to catch up quick. I was on 13, 259 words before today, but I’ve added 2,868 to the total so far today. Which is more than I need to write per day to finish on time, apparently. If I can keep that up every day.

Spoiler: I can’t. I write sporadically, and I know I’ll have a few more days off before the end of November. So I need to write in sprints, and I’m aiming to add 5,000 in total today before I quit.

This is where it helps that I have the novel structure. I was totally uninspired by the part of the story that I’d got to, so I just went to another part and started writing that. I am both well-prepared (in having a structure and target wordcounts for each section) and woefully unprepared (in terms of realising that I haven’t filled out enough details of the plot or researched the facts).

The only option, I think, is to keep writing. Even if it’s sparse or a bit of a placeholder, it’s moving me towards my total and showing me where I need to do more work. I’ve had this idea in mind for some time now, but I only realise now that I come to write it which bits still need work. So: valuable even when it’s crap. By the end of November, I will have something which needs further work, but I will know what work needs doing. That’s a good position to be in.

Right, I’m going to stop talking now and go and write the other 2,132 words that I need to do before I sleep. Night, all!

Remembrance of the right things

I didn’t feel it was appropriate to post this yesterday, but I do feel the need to say it.

The Sunday nearest to 11th November, we have Remembrance Day. After the First World War many people did not want victory celebrations. Too many had lost family members and friends. Two minutes silence to remember the dead, a solemn procession, the laying of wreaths – these were the appropriate ways to remember appalling losses. One of the best known phrases of this period is “Never again!”.

Last year, in 2014, we had the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. There were countless events remembering it. Each year, Remembrance Day seems to become a bigger thing. Everyone posts a memory, poppy or photo on Facebook. Businesses post tributes, not wanting to be left out or shamed. Wearing a poppy is increasingly seen as a duty, not a choice. The right-wing press noted that Jeremy Corbyn “didn’t bow low enough” at the Cenotaph, and the left-wing social media commentators responded by noting that Jeremy Corbyn had skipped the VIP lunch in favour of talking to veterans.

In short, Remembrance Day seems to be less about remembering the fallen, and more about social status, being seen to conform. And the remembrances seem to confer status on simply being a soldier, to glamorize war.

There’s a very, very fine line here. Someone who has fought for their country, who has been wounded or died for their country deserves our respect and remembrance. But I would prefer that we had well-funded veterans’ hospitals, adequate mental health care for veterans, rather than insist everyone wears a poppy on one day a year. I know that the poppy sales raise money for the Haig Fund, but is it really better to give your child just 10p to buy a poppy than to donate £5 quietly to Help for Heroes. Have you done your duty by wearing the poppy if you gave the minimum you could? Notoriously, a picture of David Cameron wearing a poppy was released this week, and it turned out that the poppy was photoshopped on. Is that really a meaningful act of remembrance?

And, let us not forget, the remembrance of a soldier’s death does not mean that he or she died in a good cause. That is not within the soldier’s control. He, or she, does not choose the war they fight in: that is the politician’s role. We may send our soldiers to defend their country, or we may send our soldiers to defend the interests of the already-wealthy. If we are sending our soldiers to die unnecessarily can we ever make that better by remembering their deaths?

I can’t, in honesty, participate any more in a ritual that seems to be used to promote war rather than remember the dead. I cannot, in our current rituals, see any remembrance of the spirit of “Never again!” remaining. I see more of “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est/Pro patria mori”.

Each November, I will give a donation – as large as I can – to Help For Heroes. But I will not wear a poppy.

Footnote: There’s a very good article on the background to Remembrance Day on History Extra here