English, British, European – for how long?

We-ell. Where are we now? To be honest I don’t know. Johnson is a slippery beast. Never in my life have I experienced what it is to have a senior politician who has such a distant relationship with truth. I have loathed Margaret Thatcher, considered her opinions and policies wrong and divisive, but I never doubted she believed in what she was doing. With Johnson, no. It’s all about him, his ego. Just read his book about Churchill if you don’t believe me. It’s a book about Johnson as he would like us see him. A fantasy masquerading as history. I am getting an inkling of what it must have been like to be Italian all these years. I don’t like it. Everything he does feels like a potential trap, particularly when he says words such as ‘respect’ ‘democratic’ ‘people’. These are just words to push buttons, provoke knee jerk reactions. In other words, not democratic.

But it is increasingly clear that Brexit is not about democracy, it is not about what is best for the country, it is not about cool headed sensible decisions; it is about emotion. If a referendum were held tomorrow what would the result be? I don’t know. Surveys give conflicting answers. It appears that many people think that if Johnson’s deal is agreed Brexit is ‘done’ (another word increasingly used by the pro Leave bunch). This is wrong. Agreeing this deal is just the end of the beginning. The next phase is going to be more intense, more contentious, more dangerous. But the red tops keep exhorting the government to ‘get it done’ ‘let us go’ ‘break the shackles’. No one has been able to explain to me satisfactorily what those ‘shackles’ are, what we would be freed from: frictionless trade? freedom of movement? membership of the biggest trading block? All things I am very happy to keep. Who wouldn’t be?

So no surprise to hear that last Saturday I joined over one million people marching through London to proclaim our desire to remain in the EU.

March!

My journey to the mach was easy and pretty short. Some people had travelled overnight in coaches from all over the UK. This time there were many regional flags, people keen to show it is not just the Metropolitan Elite who is in favour of the EU, but those from Salisbury, Cornwall, Essex (Essex!), Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kent, Cardiff. You get the idea. I didn’t recognise all the flags, and obviously only being in one section of the march I didn’t see all of them, but the White Rose of Yorkshire, flying among posters of Jo Cox, brought a lump to my throat. Continue reading

September in the fens and democracy up against the wall

When the big lorry passed me the fenland shuddered under my feet. Just a little reminder of how this is borrowed land. The soil is thick, dark, fertile. Whenever I look at now I think of Celia and how she wanted to bag it up and take it home. Autumn is all around. Once the baling starts in August, you know summer is nearly over. There are berries everywhere, sloes, hawthorn, acorns, some I cannot name. I picked a bowl of blackberries today. Two weeks ago I managed to pick a small bowlful to give to my downstairs’ neighbours. Returning to the same spot this afternoon, I had to remind myself to take only what I can eat between today and tomorrow.

Other than picking blackberries I didn’t have any plans for today. The forecast was for rain until mid morning. I heard the rain in the night. On the boat there is less between me and the weather than at home. I thought it would provide a nice reason to lie in bed, but when I woke properly, the rain had stopped. It was windy and rather grey. It still is windy, in that brisk business-like way that wind can have at this time of year; not cold, but as though it has things to do, and no dilly dallying will occur. But now the skies are blue and it was a pleasure to walk down the lane to deliver a letter and look more closely at the fields and the hedgerows.

There seems to be an awful lot of maize being grown this year. Usually the air around here is heavy with the scent of leeks, and I associate late August and early September with the voices of migrant workers in the fields, and in the evening the sound of music coming from the nest of caravans where they stay. There were fewer last year, apparently none this year. Better to earn money in a country where the currency will convert to a better amount of cash when they get home.

On a whim, coming back from my blackberry picking, my fingers stained, my nails rimed in purple, and bloody scratches on the back of my right hand, I turned down a lane I have passed many times but never used. It’s six years since Mother’s death, and three since Aunt’s, but I am mainly travelling the same routes.

The lane stopped near a bridge. A bridge I recognised from the walk Celia and I did a few years ago on my birthday. The weather was kinder today. I was excited to see the sculptures again, and to know how easily they can be reached from the marina. If Older Nephew doesn’t come for lunch tomorrow I may drive back to the same spot, park the car and walk the three miles to Wicken Fen, and the three miles back. I wish I had a bicycle here.

At the marina a swan was in the middle of a patch of pennywort. It stopped what it was doing to watch me, so I couldn’t tell if it was the pennywort it was eating or something else. The former I hope.

When I arrived yesterday afternoon MasterB made his way confidently down to the boat. He hid under the rug when Stuart, who has been doing some necessary work on das Boot, arrived. It was a glorious evening. I’d been filling the water tank, laboriously carrying five litre containers backwards and forwards, filling them at the tap on the other side of the marina. Some people turned up in a car, and stood about with bags of food and drink, like characters in search of a picnic. They told me they were waiting for a friend and were going out on his boat. I’m glad they didn’t stay at the marina. Boy they were loud. It was just after they left I realised I couldn’t see MasterB. He wasn’t under the rug, wasn’t on the bed, wasn’t using the litter tray.

I had left the boat open while collecting water. The pennywort by the boat looks like solid ground and for several heart pounding minutes I thought my boy had leapt onto it, fallen through it and was drowned. Willing myself to be calm, I searched the boat again and at last thought to check under the rear cover which was partly folded away. He was there. The relief I felt was overwhelming.

We did our old couple act in the evening. The sunset was around eight, and I closed the curtains against the insects once the lights were on. I watched Bake Off as MasterB purred under my hand. He is the perfect companion. I had watched much of the news, seen Rees-Mogg lounging, and on his feet, speaking in his most languid, would-be patrician tones, still saying the same old lies, still talking about Project Fear, or Project Reality as it is rightly called, while keeping silent about the lack of benefits Project Unicorn has brought us. I agreed with him about one thing, I should not like to see Corbyn as Prime Minister, and I believe there are many of the same mind as myself. However, if it came to it, I’d probably go for Corbyn and his church of Momentum groupies than Johnson and his inner circle of hell liars. We are, as the popular saying goes, between a rock and a hard place. I reckon Johnson wants a general election. I don’t. I think it would just muddle things even more. If the electorate does get asked to vote again in the next few weeks it should be for a People’s Vote, and any and all campaigning by both sides must be subject to scrutiny, with campaigners understanding that telling lies will render votes for their side null and void.

I noted that Rees-Mogg selectedly referenced Speaker Lenthall last week when he was rebuking Speaker Bercow. He said the Speaker should have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak. I’m guessing most people don’t know the end of the quote and that it was said by Lenthall when Charles I wanted to know where the five MPs he had come to arrest had gone. Charles I was behaving scandalously. Lenthall was quick witted and diplomatic. He said he had “neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak save as the House (of Commons) direct me, whose servant I am here”. In other words, he was defending and protecting Parliament from an assault on its powers and independence, just as Bercow was against an assault by Johnson.

The game playing has to stop. This is a fragile and precious democracy that is at stake.

Back to Brexit

You would think that there had been no march on Saturday, no five million plus signatures on a petition asking for Article 50 to be revoked. Europe is talking about it, the world is talking about it, the UK government isn’t. No. The day after the march our esteemed Prime Minister met renowned Brexiteer MPs, people who would be quite happy to leave the EU with no deal. The Prime Minister followed this meeting up with a speech where she spoke about the British People (yep, they’re being evoked again but apparently my birth certificate lies and I am not one of them) and how they would not countenance not leaving the EU. No mention of the march, the petition, the fact that the referendum was advisory and not binding, and had it been binding it would have been declared void because of illegal activity by the Leave campaign.
Not. A. Word.
There’s the usual baloney about respecting the ‘will of the people’ respecting ‘the result of the referendum’. Nothing about respecting those who march peacefully, who follow the rules, who do not threaten civil disruption, public mayhem if this goes ahead, who engage in debate not rhetoric and meaningless slogans. Continue reading

March!

Even the media reckon there were around 700,000 people on yesterday’s march. That may well mean there were more. Certainly the streets were full, the mood good. A feeling of solidarity with people you don’t know about a situation that is all wrong.

I’m not saying we all agreed. I am not convinced yet about a second vote though I am slowly moving in that direction. My outrage is with the first vote where we know the rules were broken by the Leave campaign. In my eyes that is enough to suspend the whole process. Carrying on is a slap in the face for democracy, and democracy around the world has had its face slapped a lot in the past few years.

Trafalgar Square

Continue reading

Writing aloud

Last year  a man who had boasted of groping women was elected President of the United States. He dismissed his comments as locker room talk, and many women still voted for him. Older Nephew reckons he’s been in a fair few locker rooms in his time, and this is not locker room talk. Women who didn’t vote for him  registered how  blatant sexism and misogyny was again disregarded as something minor, unimportant.

On this side of the pond a senior politician has resigned and apologised for behaviours which he says were acceptable ten or fifteen years ago but not now. They were not acceptable ten or fifteen years ago. They have never been acceptable, but they have been accepted. there is a difference.  As Vicky Featherstone, the Royal Court theatre’s artistic director, sad in this interview with the Guardian newspaper, women have put up with this behaviour too long while knowing that some men have abused their positions of power.

Here’s a little of what she has to say:

“The reason I’m so angry is I’m so shocked that we’d got to this point and we’d all accepted it. We all knew about it! We. All. Knew.” What exactly did she know a month ago? “I knew that pretty much every single woman I know had suffered sexual harassment in her life. I knew that, and I’d just accepted that. I’m hardwired to accept it. I’m a feminist, and when I talk about it, it shocks me. But I had literally accepted it, like I accept that we have a class system. I’d accepted it like I accept that there are homeless people. And that’s just bizarre – but it’s what we’ve done. And then suddenly someone speaks out, and you start to think, why are we as a society accepting of this situation?”

Read the rest, here’s the link.

More of the boys’ room joking was apparent on HIGNFY on Friday night. The two teams were men, the guest arbiter, a woman. When they joshed and trivialised the women’s complaints, I, and I imagine thousands of other women, felt that old ignored and sinking feeling. I’d missed the start of the programme and the introductions, I didn’t recognise the man next to Ian Hislop. He deftly demonstrated his lack of understanding of the issue when he talked about Michael Fallon’s harassment of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer when instead of condemning Fallon’s behaviour he described his actions as brave, on the grounds that Ms Hartley-Brewer is “a big strong girl”. Continue reading

Domestic and International Flights

In a week when Vladimir Putin has been re-elected, you’d think I have more serious concerns than my sofa.
I worry about Putin. A lot. I have no doubt he is a bad man. His re-election is a mockery of the newly democratised Russia, and I fear for the Chechens, who seem to be the favourite target for his terrifying malevolence.
His love of portraying himself as a hard man, all bare chest and firearms, has brought many a smirk to Western faces, and rather like Berlusconi and Amin, we have been slow to take seriously the damage he inflicts.
Which brings me to my sofa. Drinking alcohol is obviously something to do in moderation. We are reminded to take at least two days off from it each week, and not to hit the bottle too hard. But a glass of wine with dinner is a little luxury at the end of the working day. Continue reading