The shepherdess and the shooting

I eat lamb. I am a shepherdess who rears and cares for her own flock, and then gets some of them shot and eats them. I might well ask myself, and I did, just why I felt so upset by the pictured of Larysa with a magnificent tup Blackface she had shot dead. To be fair, I got there by a picture of her and a bloke posing with two magnificent and rare wild goats.

Our wild (strictly feral) goats are actually really  rare. There are somewhere between 1500 and 3000 of them left. That is not a lot to go making mistakes with. We don’t know all that much about their genetic make-up and if they go we will not get them back. Larysa runs a business based on shooting – the gear and the tours. She promotes game shooting. If she popularises shooting  wild goats, it will not take long for the wild goats to go for ever.

So a bit of indignation was not misplaced. But why did the picture of the dead tup sicken me so? I assume she had permission to shoot him. Blackie tups are valuable animals, last week one went for £75,000 (though most farmers can only dream of getting that price) and unlike the goats every one has an owner. Indeed, both of his ears will have had tags identifying him as an individual. So, assuming Larysa was not ignorant enough to mistake him for a wild animal, either he needed to be culled, or she paid handsomely to shoot and pose with a tame animal.

And that is what sticks in my gullet. I can almost kind-of see deer stalking. Miles through wet heather, often on your belly, seeking a wild animal which occurs in such large numbers that if some are not culled they end up dying of starvation, and which is very edible, and gives us meat that had an excellent life before it died. I would cheerfully pay NOT to do it, but I don’t have a huge moral objection.

But elderly billy goat. No, you will not be eating that. And elderly tame tup. I have sat and fed poorly sheep by hand, my hand cupped under their chin, in just the pose that Larysa takes with this poor dead tup. And I was not smiling in triumph as if I was clever. Like most of us who eat meat, I have deeply ambiguous attitudes to it. But at least there is a point and a purpose to it. As there is to culling deer. And there is a skill to raising a healthy flock, and it does not remain healthy without some culling or other control.

But triumph in shooting a harmless and rare animal? Joy in killing a farm animal? Sorry, but no apologies. This is not appropriate and it shows no understanding of the animal or of conservation. And just in case anybody fails to get how the American shooting dream really works, and how little it will help Scotland – maybe take a listen to Tom Lehrer on the subject.

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Like snow in …

The may blossom begun to open around our holding. First we have the blackthorn, which is more ethereal, and more important to us. A good flowering well fertilised by the insects will give a good crop of sloes for sloe gin, the spirit ordinaire of the holding. The go-to after failed poetry competitions, and declined books, disastrous lambings and sheep found in ditches. So you can see it is essential.

Actually the sheep in the ditch ended well for the sheep and was only a disaster for my wife’s dodgy shoulder. And the fruit trees which nourished the sheep as she recovered.

We have a number of sheep on the holding who have arrived after getting themselves into difficulties. One is now fully recovered, but in her first days here she was the cause of much sloe gin consumption. The sensible decision would have been to cull her to improve the health status of the herd. But she had been let down by human kind, and we felt unable to do it. Our (lovely and wonderful) vets comment that with us it can be hard to know if they are treating a pet animal (please save this, whatever it costs) or a farm animal (well we are planning to eat it later, anyhow). It was an astute comment, for we rear both lamb and turkey for the freezer. Ironically, the companions cause sloe gin consumption as we worry, and the farm animals home made elderberry wine to wash them down.

But I digress. Blackthorn is ethereal but may is the true glory of early summer. Pouring over the place from hedges and up trees. It is there for a week, maybe two. Then it fades, and one knows that the year will never rise to such heights again. When it comes, I look and look, but I have never managed to see enough before it goes.

Getting oneself hurt

The omnipresent harassment of women. An idiotic and right wing Twit wants to know why women do not constantly call it out. Because we could end it. Plainly. The answer is that very occasionally, and for particularly egregious examples, we do. I myself go to court later this month to witness to one (alleged, it is sub judice) attack. But we do not do it because it is so constant.

 

Call out every drunken bloke who leers and calls us hen and is over-familiar? How? Who would come to our aid if he got nasty? We are all skilled at wriggling out of the situation without causing annoyance, or getting ourselves hurt. Because that is how subtly the blame comes home to roost on us. ‘Getting ourselves hurt’. Not ‘Being the subject of an unprovoked attack.’

 

It is the man in the street, the bloke in the coffee bar, the one in the book shop, the poor soul we meet when we are working. Most of it is low level. Mostly we can see an easy way to steer ourselves out of it with no more than social tact, and prudent behavior, and kind inoffensive words, and a sigh and exasperation we never show.

 

For all that, totting up my closest female friends, 75% of them have been raped. I do not have a single female friend who has not at some time been in some way sexually assaulted, and touched in ways they tried hard to prevent, and, although I had the good luck to avoid rape, that certainly includes me.

 

I could detail the times I was most scared. Walking down a road, in a busy area, but for the moment, in the early morning, deserted, there was the stranger who unzipped his flies and began jerking himself off. The conference for church lay readers, many years ago now, and not in my current denomination, when one of my fellows began to waylay me at intervals during the day. Again and again, I slipped out under his arms and again and again they enfolded me. I ensured visits to the ladies happened when he was engaged in some activity (if they see you go in, they know you need to come out and they will be ready). I walked corridors in company. It never occurred to me to report him, for you can be quite sure he would have put the blame on me. He would have been in trouble, but some mud would have stuck to me.

 

Have things improved? A little. Both the above I would now report. I might even be believed. And a good deal of my life has been lived in the company of men who just never behave like this, who admire and respect (and detest and squabble with) women whom they see as people in their own right. But despite being a pensioner, despite the lovely blokes I know, the fact is that every year and most months I will practise the skills of guarding my eyes, giving soft answers, and keeping my fear to myself.

The Quran, the Cathedral, and the wrong story

I get sucked into other people’s narratives. Not their lives, but into the compelling stories they tell of ‘the way the world is.’ At worst, into their stories about my own life. As a young person my loving parents persuaded  me out of pursuing a career in the performing arts, because I might end up cleaning for a living as I waited for jobs. And, right enough, I can’t sing or dance. It totally escaped them that I might well have had a career in straight acting, or in directing, or any of the other roles around performance. They wanted me to have the right career.

Then I got persuaded out of a career as an academic, because of all the manifold failings of academia. But actually, a mixture of management, teaching and research is something I could perfectly well have done. I would have loved it.

As it happens, my dyslexia means that most of the more normal jobs open to people are impossible to me. As it happens, my persuadability wrecked my chance of a decent job, and I ended up cleaning for living without even getting a shot at things which might have been more fulfilling, and that was a far worse waste fate than my kind helpers imagined.  It is not the fault of the persuaders, but my own weakness. It does, however, have the desirable side-effect that I see too plainly how others grab the wrong narrative.

The current misguided narrative concerns a very beautiful reading from the Quran in my church, St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, at Epiphany. Now, St Mary’s is a place of the uttermost theological conservatism. It is a place where both the two major creeds are honoured, where the laity, as well as the clergy, observe the beautiful custom of bowing for the name of Jesus, and for the section of the Nicene creed, which describes the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

The chances that anybody in St Mary’s would pick up the mistaken idea people in the church hierarchy there do not believe that Jesus was very God from very God is a risk so small as to be vanishing.

But St Mary’s is a church in a city where worrying racist attacks on Asian religious buildings have happened in the last two years. There is a serious risk, in that city, that the Muslim community could come to believe the Christian community are not supporting them, and that the Christian community might not realise that they have a lot in common with the Muslim community.

To put it bluntly, prejudice between two ancient and honourable faiths is one of the biggest challenges we face today.  That is not a small risk. It is a huge one.

The current hysteria in certain circles over the reading is a classic case of an entirely mistaken narrative. Nobody at St Mary’s stands the smallest danger of not knowing the orthodox Christian doctrines. We will continue to celebrate the Eucharist in all its fullness week by week, at mid week, for saints’ days and for weddings. We will continue to observe Ash Wednesday, and Lent and the Triduum. There will be an Easter vigil and a parish Easter Eucharist. Evensong will be sung, and there will be daily morning prayer. The Old Testament and the Epistle and the Gospel with be read, and Psalms will be variously read and sung. Prayers will be devout, and hymns and anthems glorious. We, her congregation, know that. Glasgow also knows St Mary’s worships one God in three Persons, and does that daily.

The real danger was not that I might not have the perfect career. The real danger was that I might not have a career at all.

The real danger is lack of love and respect and kinship between two great faiths.

Getting it wrong

What is the next dreadful thing that will happen? I ask myself. It has been a year of horrible news.  The ghastly fascinating watching as bad things crawl nearer, powerless to stop them. Brexit, with all the social and economic catastrophes it has already started bringing. Trump in America, and the inevitable diminution of rights for women, LGBTI people there.  The deaths of beloved figures, and yes, OK, some of them  were old, of whom Cohen, gone after a full life but at the height of his powers, is just the final straw.

And don’t even think of telling me to fight back. I always have and last year I took the step of joining the political party most closely aligned to my views to do it a tad more coherently. My time is limited and I give a reasonable chunk of it to living in a consciously ethical way already. That is to things like rearing my own hens, supporting my own family. Yes, most of it is a lot of fun too. And no, I do not always get it right. Could do better, will keep trying, OK?

But with the latest grim news, Trump, Cohen (unrelated of course), I woke up today realising that I was not feeling very accommodating myself. I suspect over the years I have been far too forgiving to the attitudes of others.  True, some of the worst of them are no longer a threat to me. A pensioner does not have to fend off groping in quite the same way.

I recall, as a young Lay Reader in the C of S, going to an obligatory in-service day. A bloke there targeted me. Trying to trap me in a corner, against a door frame to grope me. Not once, several times. I think of my young self, really scared, trying to slip out under an arm, to make sure she was not alone. Knowing if I approached anybody else I would be told I had solicited the behaviour. Of the flashers, of the wankers, of the other grabbers. At 64, with a skin like a superglued patch on a finger, that is not a hazard. But be very assured that I will totally support others who ARE harassed, and, yes, it still happens. Do you know just one single woman who has never, ever been either harassed or assaulted?

Now, it is more aggressive opinions I have to fend off. So – no, I will not shut up about Brexit. It is coming but I am not obliged to think it a good thing. Yes, I will call out low level racism each time I hear it. I will try to do it gently if it is mere ignorance. My part Asian fiancée is NOT obliged to consider herself white, and she can acknowledge both her Asian and her Swedish ancestry equally as she chooses.  Yes, I am free to choose a male or a female life partner, and that does not have to be a constrained or a diminished choice. It is first best, all five stars, thank you very much. Yes, I do think it an outrage that there is full provision for English churches to chose their own male bishop, and yet not for them to claim a female bishop.

I will try to find ways to put this across in ways designed to swing opinion behind me, and not alienate others, but you know what? If it upsets people, well it may just have to. And I may get it wrong. It is not only men who have that prerogative.

 

In richer colours

The London of my childhood, the London of the 1950s, was not at all colourless and depressing, whatever the popular image. It was vibrant with Jewish culture, West Indian culture, Polish culture. It was full of hope and, sadly, also of conflict and some really nasty attitudes.  It was a long and bitter struggle to establish that the minorities were British, that curry was delicious and that Asian fabric rocked. In my memory, those less affluent times remain as the time I learned to be an internationalist. Those of us fighting that battle always believed things could and would improve.

Economic prosperity really matters.  I have been poor too long not to know that. When an economy bombs – it is the weakest and the poorest who really suffer. I opposed Scottish Independence last time round for two reasons: that economically we were better off in the UK, and that I am at heart an internationalist. There was really very little conflict in my views.

In the time since, the UK has voted for Brexit.  Or, to be blunt, England and Wales have. What has surfaced since are some of the nastiest views from the 50s. Arguments I thought were over have come back. Not just back, but mainstream and butched-up.  Nor is there the slightest prospect that this nastiness will in any way be accompanied by a growth in prosperity. It will not. Brexit will make us all poorer.

So here I sit wondering if, in fact, the risks (huge) and the certain losses of an independent Scotland might, after all, be worth it. Not because I want ‘my country, free at last.’  But because I want ‘my country, linked to others, richer for shared humanity, for cultural diversity.’

It is no longer true at all or in any way that belonging to the UK is an internationalist option.  Those of us struggling for an inclusive society in the 50s had hope. I do not see what hope remains. We will not be part of Europe, and it seems, we will be a deeply racist society. It is not that firms have to report the numbers of ‘foreign’ staff, it is the idea somebody could suggest that. I simply think that belonging to such a society is something that one should avoid. Possibly, avoid at any cost.

I hope and pray that a Scotland in Europe might prosper in the way an England out of Europe might not.  But I am rapidly getting to the position where that is not my chief consideration. And that is something I never thought I would say.

 

Helping it

His eyes sweep the room, and he kind of smiles at my partner: ‘All the girls are at the meeting. Except you. And you are not really a girl, are you? Ha ha.’

Words from the Episcopal Church of Scotland’s Cascade conversations on LGBT relationships: ‘They can’t help it.’

The Bishop of the Church of England who stands in the Lords to deplore the hate-crime murders in Orlando does not mention that they were hate crimes, directed against the LGBT community.

Owen Jones leaves a Sky news programme when the other presenters will not acknowledge that the Orlando attack is a hate crime.

The thing is this. If you want to own the pain, and the bishop plainly does, you have to be prepared to be part of the solution. You have to be out there, fighting hard, and taking some of the flack. There is, currently, only one C of E bishop doing this, and Alan Wilson is not in the Lords.

If you are fighting hard, then you will see at once that an attack on a gay nightclub is an attack on gay people.  Some have seen this. Gay Pride events are promised stepped-up policing.

The C of E, not so much. If you are part of a same-sex clergy couple, you risk losing your job. Same sex couples cannot marry in C of E churches. And that sends a clear signal that the relationships of LGBT people are not of equal value to those of opposite sex couples. It is because ‘they’ cannot help it. It is because lesbians are not really women and gay men not really blokes. And that, all of it, the snide comments, the nasty little prohibitions, is the very fertile ground which fed the American gunman who killed fifty people on Sunday night.