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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.

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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.

 

Exsultet

Exult: exult angel-thronged skies, God-filled mysteries , Messengers and servants of God now blow your loudest trumpets. Such a king and such a victory. Rejoice earth, pure glory has flooded your corners and gloom picked up its skirts and fled.

Oh yes, Mother church rejoices, robed in lightning, and this hall resounds with the deafening cries of the peoples.

It is a just and worthy thing to acclaim with all the loving service of heart and mind and voice the invisible and all powerful Father and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For these are the true paschal feasts, in which that real Lamb was slain, whose blood marks out the doorposts of the faithful.

This is the night, in which our mothers’ mothers and our fathers’ fathers, the children of Israel, were led out of Egypt and you crafted it so that they passed through the waters, and not even their feet were wet.

This is the night on which a pillar of fire purged the shadows of sins.

This is the night, this is the very moment, when grace comes back to those who believe in Christ wherever they are, and unites them with the saints.

This is the night when, having shattered the chains of death, Christ rose as victor from the underworld. For what would birth bring us, if he had not rescued us?  O marvel at your loving care enfolding us! O the immeasurable delight of your love: that, to redeem your servant, you handed over your Son! O necessary sin of Adam, expunged by the death of Christ.

O happy fault, which won so towering a Redeemer. O truly blessed night, for only night saw the moment and the hour when Christ rose from the dead. This is the night, of which it was written: And night will shine like day: night will light up my sweet joys.

O truly blessed night, in which heaven is joined to earth, the sacred to the human!

This night you are all grace and graces, fatherly God.

Receive all this: this candle, the solemn gift woven of our praise freely given, and of our work, and of the flowing gift of the mother honey bees.

This is one fire made many, yet never made less by its giving.

Fire and flame and a pillar in your temple, a precious torch which grows by dividing as it is fed by the mother bee’s melting offering.

We pray to you, o Lord, that this wax, dedicated in your name, may endure undimmed to destroy the shadow of this night. Receive it as a pleasing scent and let it join with the stars. May the morning star, the light-bringer, find its flames, that Light-Bringer who never sets. Christ your son, who, returned from the dead, shines serene upon the human race, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

(Sophie Agrell and Rosemary Hannah)

A clergy friend of ours asked if we could manage a free translation, shortened, of the Latin Exsultet, the great hymn of the church sung in the night when we look to the resurrection, which marks the lighting of Pascal candle. What you see above is what we came up with.

Not straight at all

For most of my life, I knew I was straight. To be a little more accurate, I thought I knew I was straight. About two years ago, dancing at a ceilidh with a dear friend, it dawned on me. She was not just a dear friend. She was the woman I loved.

It did come as a surprise. But the more I thought about it, the more certain I became. The more I was with her, the more I fell in love with her. The more I loved her, the more I desired her. Not hard, for she is an astonishingly beautiful woman.

In the summer, she told me that she loved me. That was the beginning of something I had not seriously expected to have again, a real love affair. I wonder if real love affairs are the prerogative of the middle aged and the old. When young, I was unsurprised, if pleased, when I fell in love. Now I am older, maybe even old, it seems a miracle. To find somebody whose company is an endless delight, who prompts one to be the best self one can be is an astonishment. To know one does the same for them is grace upon grace.

What I am trying to say is that I fell head over heels in love with Sophie and that is why I desire her. It was not a matter of deciding I wanted a woman and looking for one. And Sophie brings out the best in me. I find I am capable of a kindness, a consideration for others that is the best side of me. She makes me better. And that is how I found out I am not straight at all.

Frog Off!

It is a dark afternoon, and I have come indoors before finishing the afternoon round of animal care to report one of the most exciting milestones of the year. Gentle reader – we have frog off!

As I emerged form the stable with a barrow of muck I heard it again- the chain saw purr of a dozen male frogs, calling out from love and desire in my pond.

Now, however much bad weather follows, I know we have reached a point frim which we cannot go back. By tomorrow there will be frog-spawn. However ever many dreich days follow, it is spring.

staggeringly normal

You never met my Uncle Alan. Not actually a blood relative, he was a dear freind of my father’s and a dearer friend of mine. He came to most of the family events, and was kind, funny and helpful. He was a dear who knew how to entertain and delight a young child and talk with a theatre-mad older one.

I must have been about twelve when I said to Mum that it was a pity Alan had never married for he would have made such a wonderful father. She said that he was homosexual. (This was years ago, remember.) I was puzzled. Desire was beginning to put exploratory feelers into my world, and I understood enough of the need for privacy over it to have something like understanding.

I was standing in my parents’ sitting room as my mother explained that this dear and kind man had had his life made a living hell because other people could not accept that he desired his own gender, not the other.

I stood looking at their old fashioned curio cabinet as I understood more. Nobody despised him as much as he despised himself, because he could not want a woman and he had to want men. This had ruined his life. My mother seemed to think this sad but not totally unreasonable. Not me.

I  realised at once that it completely ridiculous. There could not possibly be any merit in desiring one gender or the other. If it was fine for women to be desired and fine for men to be desired, then it could not possibly matter if a man or a woman was doing the desiring.

People had taught my Uncle Alan a monstrous lie and they ruined his life, and I was utterly furious. Utterly. And I swore: never again, not on my watch. I have never seen or read or heard anything to change my mind.

I had a huge advantage over most people in this debate. I never knew a strange gay monster. Gay meant a dear friend. It never entered my mind for a moment there was anything odd in desiring ones own sex.

I have heard so many permutations of Alan’s story. Most of the early ones had a huge element of shame. Entirely socially produced shame. There was a lot of wasted love. More recent ones tend to focus on happy endings. On love found, on finding happiness in seeking the good of another. This gives me great joy. That some people are stuck with my mother’s understanding makes me sad. What was understandable in 1964 is no longer so easy to account for.

Two things have not changed. One is the courage of men and women who are prepared to discuss their most intimate lives until others can see that it is staggering normal to desire your own gender. The other thing is, sadly, that the fight still goes on, because some people are still trying to shame others by teaching the lie that the love for one’s own gender is different. Not on my watch.