Until Friday, I was a WOW virgin. Now I am already blocking out dates in next year’s diary to make sure I don’t miss it. The Women of the World Festival has been running since Wednesday and ends today. So if you’ve not been to anything at WOW (which I keep mistyping as WOE, rather worryingly) and you can push aside other demands and commitments, make a dash for the Southbank as this will be your last chance until 2015. I am shocked that this is WOW’s fourth year, yet the first time I have attended any part of it.
Five of us had a Girls’ Night Out on Friday attending the WOW Laureates’ Night.
Did you know that for the first time in history, all five poet laureates in the UK and the Republic of Ireland are women? Isn’t that amazing? The event was sold out. The QEH was packed. We cheered, we clapped, we sat in awed and appreciative silence. I cried. I suspect others did too. Poetry is the new rock ‘n’roll. There were too many stand out moments to list. Carol Ann Duffy’s two tributes to her mother hit personal nerves, especially as the Londonderry Air/Danny Boy was played in accompaniment to one. It was one of the pieces of music we chose for Mother’s funeral. She was a girl from Co Derry. Another that made me tingle was Sinéad Morrissey’s Genetics, and after the performances had ended it was her book with that poem that I bought. The personal made the first great impression, but by yesterday morning I was ready for a wider appreciation, and the poem that was sounding in my head, and is sounding again today, was Gillian Clarke’s Six Bells, commemorating the 1960 mining disaster. I had read it before, and found it beautiful, now its full strength became apparent, and I love the way it captures the ordinariness of life that goes on when something major happens, and those ordinary things embody the significance of the moment and acquire significance themselves.
Six Bells
28 June 1960

Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash
paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
a pulse inside the earth like a blow to the heart,
holding in her arms the wet weight
of her wedding sheets, his shirts. Perhaps
heads lifted from the work of scrubbing steps,
hands stilled from wringing rainbows onto slate,
while below the town, deep in the pit
a rock-fall struck a spark from steel, and fired
the void, punched through the mine a fist
of blazing firedamp. As they died,
perhaps a silence, before sirens cried,
before the people gathered in the street,
before she’d finished hanging out her sheets.

Gillian Clarke

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Intolerance, Discrimination, Persecution and Ridiculousness

Did any of you, when you read or heard UKIP councillor David Silvester’s claim that the recent floods were due to the government’s decision to legalise gay marriage, wonder, as I did, if it was a hoax? Surely no one could be that stupid. Oh yes they can. And people voted for this man. So help us. We can laugh at how ridiculous Silvester is here, but in some countries he could be much more dangerous.
For alas, he is not alone in his nonsensical thinking. And some of these nonsense thinkers wield an unhealthy amount of power.
Joan Smith wrote a cracker of a piece in the Independent on Sunday asking why Vladimir Putin gets so hot and bothered about homosexuality.
Nigeria has just joined thirty-seven other African countries in passing a bill allowing the state to persecute gay people and witch hunts have begun.
Yet, in my in lifetime, I have seen much greater acceptance of people’s sexuality. I attended an all girls’s secondary school. When I first heard the word lesbian, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t something to aspire to. It was a small school, around 450 girls. Some of them must have been gay, surely. But if they were, they definitely weren’t out. Maybe Sandi Toksvig, who attended a school in the same town, was bolder and her sexual orientation was a commonly accepted fact in the sixth form common room, but somehow I doubt it. Now she celebrates her lesbianism in her numerous appearances on tv and radio and no one I know bats an eye.
We are starting to see more and more out gay men and women in public life. It’s helpful I think, and makes it clear that an interest in cushions is not necessarily an indicator of sexual orientation.

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