Leaving your house

No person in England may leave the place that they are living without reasonable excuse, during the emergency period. What might a reasonable excuse be? Some are listed in the regulations, but if you have to go out and a police officer challenges you, you can explain why and they must decide whether that is “reasonable”.

The regulations are reviewed every three weeks, so on 16 April Dominic Raab announced they would last a further three weeks, and may last months. He must also withdraw parts of the regulations, if those parts are found to be unnecessary. They will next be reviewed on 7 May.

The regulations are here. Paragraph 6 lists some reasonable excuses. Going to work is a reasonable excuse, including voluntary work, when it is not “reasonably possible” to work from home: even if the work is not classified as “essential work”. Shops are closed except those listed in schedule 2 part 3:  bike shops, laundrettes, dentists, and car repair shops but not car showrooms, are allowed to open. Businesses listed in part 2, such as hair salons, gyms and playgrounds, have to close. Theatres, concert halls and bingo halls, but not nightclubs, can open to broadcast a performance.

A friend can only attend a funeral if no family member or member of the household of the deceased will be there.

Giving care to vulnerable people is an excuse. Some vulnerable people are listed in paragraph 1- people over 70, “any person who is pregnant” (including trans men and non-binary people! Yay!) and any person with an underlying health condition, some of which are listed in schedule 1. So if someone is not included in that list, you might still argue they are vulnerable, and I think mental health conditions make someone vulnerable. Therefore I argue that visiting to talk to a depressed person is a reasonable excuse to leave your house. Isolation can make mental health conditions worse. Communicating electronically is not the same.

That is my argument for sitting on a park bench, or sunbathing in a park. Being outside is good for depression. There is class privilege here. I am articulate, and sound like a middle class person even if I do not always look like one. So I might try to persuade a police officer that I had a reasonable excuse for sitting on a park bench. Other people might not.

I argue if you go out with a reasonable excuse, doing other things incidentally is lawful. So the Northamptonshire chief constable saying that police could go through a shopping trolley to see all the goods in it were “basic necessities” (including pet food) was simply wrong. You can buy chocolate along with your tinned tomatoes and spaghetti.

The Crown Prosecution Service issued a practical guide on reasonable excuses. It says, There is no need for all a person’s shopping to be basic food supplies; the purchase of snacks and luxuries is still permitted. In general terms, a person has a reasonable excuse to visit the shops which remain open to customers under the Regulations. So even if you went to a permitted shop and only bought chocolate and alcohol, that might be OK, but I would stick in a pint of milk as well to be safe from police questioning.

The regulation says you can go out to “obtain basic necessities,” not “to go shopping”, so the guide says you could pick up surplus basic food from a friend’s house.

The guide says you can buy tools to repair a damaged fence, but not brushes and paint to redecorate a kitchen. That means they could actually look in your trolley, at the hardware store. Again, you could buy essential items, and also get non-essential items incidentally.

You can drive somewhere to go for a walk, they say, if you don’t drive longer than you are walking. This makes sense. If people from separate large towns go to a particular beauty spot, there is a chance for Covid from one town to pass to the other. It is a question of balancing risk. Other people will lawfully be going between the two towns. In France the distance you can go from your home to exercise is one kilometre. The guide says you can stop for lunch while on a long walk- or cycle ride, I would have thought- so they are imagining people being quite far from home.

The guide seems keener on interpreting the given reasons in the regulations, than considering other possible reasons, and possibly it takes a suspicious view. If someone has a row with their partner, and goes away to cool down, Moving to a friend’s address for several days to allow a ‘cooling-off’ following arguments at home is OK. This is explicitly under the “moving house” exemption. Moving out for a few hours, says the guide, is not OK. Possibly, they think people might use “cooling off” as an excuse for visiting friends whenever they wanted. Not every visit to a friend will be spotted by a police officer. But then people are going to allotments, which I think is reasonable, and they are not specifically mentioned.

I note the regulations specify to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm as a reasonable excuse- so if the house is on fire, or to escape a violent partner. Now it’s reasonable to state every excuse they can think of, perhaps, when drafting the regulations, but that this needs stated might indicate the police will question reasons not explicitly stated in the regs.

Don’t make mordant jokes to police officers. Irritated by delay, my friend once told a US border guard that the purpose of her visit was “subverting the government and constitution of the US”, and the official, with a weary sigh, said, “Shall we start again, Sir?” Don’t assume that the police officer is as forebearing. They may be angry and scared.

Before deciding you have committed an offence, police officer has to assess the evidence, which includes what you tell them. Therefore, they should believe you unless they have good reason not to. Cycling for exercise, I noticed a police van prominently marked ANPR. Then they consider whether your excuse is “reasonable”. If not they can tell you to go home, or take you home using reasonable force if necessary. If you are out without reasonable excuse you have committed an offence, and they can issue a fixed penalty notice. The penalty is £60, £30 if you pay within 14 days. The second fixed penalty notice is £120, the third £240, the fourth £480, the fifth £960.

This means that if an officer simply tells you what you should not do- don’t sit on that bench- they are giving advice, as they are allowed, rather than investigating an offence. Listening politely and saying as little as possible is a good tactic, in order to avoid such an investigation.

If a child is going out the police can order their parents to keep them in and the person responsible for the child is responsible for enforcement.

I don’t want to spread this disease. I have vulnerable friends and relatives. So we should all behave responsibly and not go out unless necessary, because going out might spread the disease. However there may be reasonable excuses for going out which the police don’t recognise.

Here’s a second world war poster to make us feel all British:

A Covid Death

Britain has a thousand deaths a day from Covid, because of Government incompetence, and in the US 7% of deaths had Covid-19 listed as a cause of death, from Trumpian incompetence, and I thought that by now everyone knows someone who knows someone who has died of this thing, and by the end we will all know someone.

On 27 March I met a man for the first time, in a Zoom social gathering. Over the video I saw a man in a mask deliver oxygen to his house- he needed it for health reasons unconnected to the virus, and I thought how vulnerable he was. He died on Good Friday. On Sunday I heard of some of his achievements, and why people admired and loved him. They knew him, I did not. He was over ninety.

It seemed to me when my father died his life was complete. I could think of him, his gifts, his career, two marriages, political work, and achievements, and feel admiration and gratitude and love. And this man (I don’t say his name here because it is almost to me like any other covid death) I can’t say that of him. Something killed him which first killed last year, which was not heard of before December. He would be alive, but for this randomness.

I feel more horror at the man’s death than that of Colin Morley. I knew Colin through Community Building, so we had shared some deep personal things, and in the sharing felt we were growing as human beings and as a group. I knew of Colin’s start-up, “Be the Change”, seeking to bring that growth to more people, and when he was killed in the London bombings of 7 July 2005, I had a slight personal link to that horror, though less than his family who loved him, less than hundreds of others.

The horror I feel at this death is my horror at what is unfolding. He would not have died if the rich did not flaunt their wealth by spending $150 on a pound of pangolin meat, whence the virus emerged, and if the Tory government could have stopped public gatherings a few days sooner, when it was clear what was happening in Italy and Spain would happen here. I met a friend for coffee on 6 March. The coffee-shop had boxes of tissues on the tables, and I was unsure whether covid caused a runny nose as well as a cough. I proposed we meet again in April, not really admitting to myself what was coming, and my friend knew that would be impossible. I would have hoped the British Government would have known too.

The Tories have caused untold deaths- only deaths in hospitals are yet known- by underfunding the NHS, and by cavalier failure to impose precautions timeously. We are social distancing too late. Johnson has been in intensive care because of his personal stupidity, shaking hands with covid victims and holding face to face meetings, and infected his partner and colleagues. The Tories have caused NHS workers to die by their failure to provide PPE.

In the gorgeous sunshine my life is comfortable. I cycled 9.5 miles in 45 minutes (280 ft of climb) and sat outside in the back yard reading. I am used to being alone, and while I would like to see friends am talking to more, actually, by screens. And the economy is sliding, the virus continues as a threat, the government still fails to test for it, and there is a tiny chance I could be one of those gasping for breath on oxygen in a hospital, alone and terrified. Intubation means a hard road of recuperation, learning to breathe again, coping with scars and wastage. And a chance I could get the virus and shrug it off in a week as a woman I know did.

I would feel a slight sadness at the man’s death, had it not been from covid. I would be sad for his partner (whom I have not met) and his friends whom I know. And I attach the death, it becomes a focus, for my own fear, my discomfort at uncertainty. My day to day comfort makes the threat seem distant, yet it is not, or I would not be affected by the death of a man whom I met once. I hear of his death and feel horror at the chance of my own.

I dislike the term “afterlife,” like “afterthought”. There is continuing life.

I wrote that I hoped Johnson recovered, and blamed him for his misfortune, and someone reacted with horror. “Shocking”, she said. “Appalling bad taste.” She could not make the distinction. I wish Johnson no harm, but I want him called to account for the deaths he has caused.

Quakers say, Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully. Blithely I denied it, and now face it. As always, my resistance to reality makes it more painful for me: I will not claim to have learned the spiritual lesson yet.

What is a woman?

Anyone who wants to be is a woman. Trans women are women. I am going to argue what the word “woman” means and what it should include, considering various conservative and feminist arguments. This is a different argument from what is true in the real world, or what is morally right, but people use these arguments to argue about truth and justice. Continue reading

The Pilgrimage of Grace

More from The Mirror and the Light:Mary reconciles with her father, and is the great risk to all the rest of England. The two Royal Personages will not kill each other but will kill anyone else, or risk anyone else’s life, for their own ends, because they are royal.

Cardinal Wolsey considers the command to “give all you have to the poor”: ‘So what do you want me to do, Barnes? You want me to leave off the state and ceremony which honours God, and to go in homespun? You want me to keep a miser’s table, and serve pease pudding to ambassadors? You want me to melt down my silver crosses, and give the money to the poor? The poor, which will piss it against the wall?’

Jane is not the brightest: And in gratitude for the gold and precious stones, she smiles slowly and blinks at him, as if she were a lass whose lover has cut her a slice of apple, and offered it to her on the point of his blade.

Hunters, it is said, live longer than other men; they sweat hard and stay lean; when they fall into bed at night they are tired beyond all temptation; and when they die, they go to Heaven.

Richard Riche admires Cromwell: ‘And yet he has a remarkable mind,’ Riche says reverently, ‘remarkable. I think if writing were rubbed out, and all the records of government erased, he would carry them in his head, with all the laws of England, precedent and clause. And I am a fortunate man, to stand his friend, and to have been able to work a little to soothe his temper. Yes, I am glad I was standing by. Praise God,’ says Richard Riche, ‘I learn from him every day.’

They scarcely knew Christophe was in the room. But there he squats in the corner, like a gargoyle fallen off a church. He remembers the boy saying, that day when they rode up to Kimbolton, ‘I will kill a Pole for you. I will kill a Pole when you require it.’

Catholics rebel: On the farms around, labourers see the chance of a holiday. Faces blackened, some wearing women’s attire, they set off to town, picking up any edged tool that could act as a weapon. From the marketplace you can see them coming, kicking up a cloud of dust.

These broils begin the same, and from age to age they end the same. The gentry pardoned, and the poor dangling from trees.

If his informants are correct, the rebels are writing lists of demands, and what they demand – along with the restoration of the Golden Age – are amendments of certain laws that bear on inheritance, how they can dispose of their goods in their wills. These are not the concerns of simple people. What has Hob or Hick to leave behind him, but some bad debts and broken shoes? No: these are the complaints of small landowners, and men who don’t like to pay their taxes. Men who want to be petty kings in their shires, who want the women to curtsey as they pass through the marketplace. I know these paltry gods, he thinks. We had them in Putney. They have them everywhere.

The king’s companions are prepared to march. So scented, the courtiers, so urbane: the rustle of silk, the soundless tread of padded shoes. But slaughter is their trade. Like butchers in the shambles, it is what they were reared for. Peace, to them, is just the interval between wars.

The common folk of England live on songs and tales and alehouse jokes. Spending their pence on candles to burn before holy images, they live in the dark, and in the dark take fright. Let us say a calf is born dead. By the time the tale crosses a field, it is a calf with two heads. Cross a stream, and it is a calf with two heads, chanting backwards in Latin, and some friar is charging a shilling for a charm against it. So it goes, in half a day, from abortion to Antichrist: and somehow, everybody is poorer except the priests. Pastors warn their flock that if they do not send tribute to Rome, trees will walk and crops will blight. They make them dread the fire of Purgatory, which eats to the bone; they ask, can you bear to see your dead folk burning – your helpless old mother, your dead little children, bound in agony and screaming for your prayers?

The king leans forward. ‘The burdens of tax do not rest on the shoulders of labourers, or small husbandmen. Dives, the rich man, knows and has always known how to pass off his interests as the interests of Lazarus, the beggar.’

He foretold a day would come when churches would be flattened and monks forced to marry; where German heathens sat at table with the king, and true noblemen were herded starving from the hall. But of course, Merlin also said that the river Usk would boil, and that bears would hatch out of eggs; that the soil of the future would become so rich that men would leave farm work and spend their days in fornication.

The Pilgrims claim they crusade for the Virgin in her innocence and purity. But knowingly or not, they serve the pride of Gertrude Courtenay and Margaret Pole – the young woman who would like to be queen of England, the old woman who deems she already is.

If any malcontents should penetrate London, they would attack Austin Friars. God knows what they would expect to find. A great heap of treasure: confiscated chalices winking with gems. Precious relics, such as twigs from the burning bush, and a box of the manna that fell on the Israelites in the desert.

Everybody’s agin him and hoping to do him down, filch what’s his. Filch them first, is Walter’s maxim, and that’s how he thrives. He clip-clops through life to the sound of other people grieving: sniffing out weakness, anybody sad or lost, so he can inflict them.

‘The burden of kingship,’ he says, ‘no man can imagine it. All my life, to be a prince: to be observed to be a prince; all eyes to be set on me; to be an exemplar of virtue, of discretion, of excellence in learning; to have a mind young and vigorous yet as wise as Solomon; to take pleasure in what others have designed for my pleasure, or be thought ungrateful; to discipline all my appetites, to unmake myself as a man in order to make myself as a king; to waste not a minute lest I be seen to waste it; for idleness, no excuses; always alert to prove, always to show, that I am worthy of the place God appointed me … When I was a young man I suppose I showed the calf of my leg to an ambassador and said, “There, has your French king a calf as good as that?” And my words were reported, and all Europe laughed at me, a vain idle boy, and no doubt people laugh still.

‘Only a fool sees plots where there are none. Any crime may begin in impulse – a rash man, an angry man, a fool the worse for drink. But an impulse will not sustain rebellion. Nor can anyone rebel alone. It needs forethought. It needs confederacy. By the nature of the thing, there is conspiracy.’

Never enter a contest of wills with the king.

Keep your eyes clear. Remember he is a king first and a man second. This is where Anne went wrong. She began to think he was only a man.

Labour infighting

The invasion of Iraq was a turning point for the Labour Government and for its supporters. For some Labour members it is a symbol of all that was wrong with Tony Blair as PM and Labour politician. We should not be fighting amongst ourselves. We should not first criticise the last Labour government, but the Tories’ ideological devastation of government’s acts for the good of the people, and ideological campaign against international co-operation. So the question for this Corbynist pacifist is, can you defend the Iraq War? Yes.

Trying to set aside hindsight, I argue R2P, the Responsibility to Protect, could be an argument for the invasion. Saddam Hussein’s regime was uniquely vile. His campaign against the Kurds has been recognised as the Anfal Genocide, which included the Halabja chemical attack. There was also the British alliance with the US, which advanced British interests. There is less justification from the US point of view- Saudis based in Afghanistan attack the US, so the US invades Iraq. I wonder how accurate a portrait of Bush Benjamin Hayes in Homeland series 8 is.

As a pacifist I would rather Britain had taken a principled stand against invasion, in the UN Security Council. Neo-colonial wars do no-one any good. And I recognise the idealism as well as realpolitik behind British involvement. Hindsight can show decisions were wrong which were made in good faith. Even the Dodgy Dossier, selecting what intelligence to reveal by whether it supported the case for war, rather than by how reliable it was, is justifiable. Experts tell the truth, and politicians decide, then politicians persuade.

So let us now praise good government: Attlee’s welfare state, Wilson’s liberalisation including the Abortion Act and the Sexual Offences Act, Callaghan as a “strong and efficient administrator” weathering economic difficulties, Blair’s Sure Start Centres and work to reduce child poverty, and Brown’s strong action mitigating the 2008 recession, among many other things. And let us remember the Tories- Suez, “selling off the family silver” for far less than its value, the great distraction from Britain’s real interests that is the Brexit debate, and now the botched response to Covid resulting in possibly more deaths here than anywhere else in Europe, and all the money Rees-Mogg and others are making from Covid market disruption. And always the cuts and mismanagement of public services, and failure to deal with climate crisis. Johnson’s view of public money- the Garden Bridge when Mayor, now HS2- is, spaff it everywhere except where it will do any good.

We have to stick together. We have to get behind Keir Starmer. It would have been better if we had got behind Jeremy Corbyn, rather than having the botched challenge to his leadership in 2016. Much of what Mr Starmer pledges is out of Corbyn’s policy: Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system. I am proud of the call for migrants’ rights. Corbyn and the membership moved the party leftwards.

That is why people on the right of the party calling for party unity now should be heard. Yes they were the schismatics undermining the leadership, allied to those leaving the party last year, but the policies they now support are close to the policies from the manifesto. Now Corbyn is out, and Rebecca Long-Bailey is shadow Education secretary rather than Leader of the Opposition, some on the “We Support Rebecca Long-Bailey” facebook group are saying they are leaving the party. At membership level, canvassing is far more important than going to meetings. Reading those self-righteous posts, I was struck by the nastiness of some on the Left, wanting to be saints of their own tiny sect rather than members of a governing party.

I would rather Britain had not invaded Iraq, but I am not going to use the war as a purity test. Many in Parliament now, even in the Cabinet or Shadow-Cabinet, were not there in 2003. Move on, and don’t do down Labour governments. Photo by Ruth Gaston.

The Mirror and the Light

Sometimes Hilary Mantel has done the preparation, and five words can produce a rush of horror, a foretaste of the gates of Hell closing behind you. And sometimes, a phrase is so beautifully turned that it stands by itself:

Recently his son was sent off to learn the art of public speaking, and the result is that, though he still lacks the command that makes for rhetorical sweep, he has become more interested in words if you take them one by one. Sometimes he seems to be holding them up for scrutiny. Sometimes he seems to be poking them with a stick. Sometimes, and the comparison is unavoidable, he seems to approach them with the tail-wagging interest a dog takes in another dog’s turds.

‘They ask,’ Wriothesley says, ‘who was the greatest of the cardinal’s enemies? They answer, the king. So, they ask – when chance serves, what revenge will Thomas Cromwell seek on his sovereign, his prince?’

There were certain miserable divines, in darker days than these, who said that if God had meant us to wear coloured clothes He would have made coloured sheep.

At his feet, eels are swimming in a pail, twisting and gliding; interlacing in their futile efforts, as they wait to be killed and sauced.

Incest is a sin, we all acknowledge; but then so is congress in any position other than the one approved by priests. So is congress on a Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion; or on Sundays, Saturdays and Wednesdays. If you listen to churchmen, it’s a sin to penetrate a woman during Lent and Advent – or on saints’ days, though the calendar is bright with festivals. More than half the year is accursed, one way and another. It’s a wonder anyone is ever born.

The age of persuasion has ended, as far as Henry is concerned; it ended the day More dripped to the scaffold, to drown in blood and rainwater. Now we live in an age of coercion, where the king’s will is an instrument reshaped each morning, as if by a master-forger: sharp-pointed, biting, it spirals deep into our crooked age.

He is not as other Englishmen, his masters said, when they sent him to their friends: does not brawl in the street, does not spit like a devil, carries a knife but keeps it in his coat.

His body trembled, his lower limbs shook, he sagged and staggered as he rehearsed what he would never let the world see, his fear, his incredulity, his hope that this was a dream from which he might wake: his eyes slitted by tears, his teeth chattering, his hands blindly grasping, his head seeking a shoulder where it might rest.

you would hear the aspirations of the dying, you would hear them cry to God for mercy. And all these, the souls of England, cry to me, the king tells him, to me and every king: each king carries the crimes of other kings, and the need for restitution rolls forward down the years.

Pole’s folly is, that he thinks aloud.

‘I hear you will bring in a law,’ Kingston says. ‘It seems harsh, to make them commit a crime in retrospect.’ They try to explain it to the constable. A prince cannot be impeded by temporal distinctions: past, present, future. Nor can he excuse the past, just for being over and done. He can’t say, ‘all water under the bridges’; the past is always trickling under the soil, a slow leak you can’t trace. Often, meaning is only revealed retrospectively. The will of God, for instance, is brought to light these days by more skilful translators. As for the future, the king’s desires move swiftly and the law must run to keep up.

In Wyatt’s verse there is a tussle in every line. In the verse of Lord Thomas, there is no contest at all, just a smooth surrender to idiocy.

It’s two years since Bishop Fisher tottered down that stair, led to his execution. He was old, spent, frail; his body lay on the scaffold like a piece of dried seaweed.

‘We will dispose of him. Most of us do wrong, if we know it or not. Enquire into any man’s conduct, and I am sure some charge will lie.’

If you marvel at your good fortune, you should marvel in secret: never let people see you. When you are Lord Privy Seal you must walk abroad with solemn countenance, looking chosen by Jesus, like More did when he was chancellor.

‘You see, Dick, Dick, it is why we have courts of law, and judges, and juries … to protect us from the tyranny of one man’s opinion.’

There is a place, a sequestered place in the imagination, where the eel boy is always waiting to be whipped, where George Boleyn is always in his prison room, always rising in welcome: Master Cromwell, I knew you would come.

Black elongates the young man’s spider limbs. As he turns, a red-gloved hand on the horse’s mane, a low shaft of sunlight catches him and he glitters, head to toe, as a web glints with dew. On closer inspection, it proves he is sewn over with diamonds. He should have thrown a cloak around himself, even at the risk of dimming his lustre; high-bred though the jennet is, she still smells of horse.

-When my brother was led to the scaffold, I was quick with child, but I would have come to court to petition for him. I would have begged to wear mourning for him, and observe the proper rites, in which I would have found some solace, I dare say – but one does not pray for a traitor’s soul, nor wear black for him. At a traitor’s demise, one must smile.
-I do not think the old king would have required that.
-You did not know him. In those days no one was safe… “He who climbs higher than he should, falls lower than he would.”
-A feeble saying, and feebly expressed. It leans on that same conceit, the wheel. What I say is, these are new times. New engines drive them.
-…You speak of new times and new engines. These engines may rust before you have wheeled them to the fight. Do not join battle with the noble families of England. You have lost before you ride out. Who are you? You are one man. Who follows you? Only carrion crows, bone-pickers. Do not stop moving, or they will eat you alive.’

One by one, those gentlemen depart, who served the king’s father, whose memories stretch back to King Edward and the days of the scorpion; men bruised in the wars, hacked in the field, impoverished, starved out, driven into exile; men who stood on foreign quays and swore great oaths to God, their worldly goods in sacks at their feet. Men who sequestered themselves in musty libraries for twenty years and emerged possessed of inconvenient truths about England. Men who learned to walk again, after they had been stretched on the rack.

Christ is Risen

Queuing for the supermarket
is like walking a labyrinth.
Every few moments, some mindful steps.
Ribbons wind the path, and we turn in sunshine.
Blossom and birdsong are beautiful.
Over the fence,
a path curves into the woods,
in cool green light.

“Wonderful,” said a friend. “You woman of so many talents. I’d lose the last sentence…” Well. I wanted to share the idea, of walking in the queue being like in a labyrinth, but for me it evokes a specific place. The police are telling people not to buy inessential items or sunbathe in parks, and they have the power to impose on the spot fines, so if you want to enjoy sunshine, doing nothing at all, a supermarket queue is a permitted place. This one has trees, so even if a carpark is not beautiful there is beauty there worth my attention. And across a steel fence of sharp uprights a few inches apart, there is the Greenway, with the contrast of light through a scrap of mature woodland. There is a contrast in the last three lines, in the lowered intensity of words matching the difference of the vision. So there.

There is no afterlife. If “He descended into Hell”, as the Apostle’s Creed says, it is here, in this life on Earth, and if Jesus saved people from Hell as apocryphal Gospels state and the Orthodox Church celebrates in icons it is now, and how better when people are afraid of a pandemic?

I remember my first labyrinth. The path was marked in different coloured square tiles, and was square so that repeatedly one turned a 90° corner, facing a different vista, bushes, trees, grass, and angle of sunlight. I did it slowly, barefoot in March, in about 2007. It did the job, bringing me into the moment, contemplating the beauty, out of Hell. From that place one can begin to see what needs to be done in the moment now. I probably didn’t have covid two weeks ago, but I don’t know if I picked it up yesterday; and the sun is so hot in my back yard that I sit in the shade. A siren. Is it a police car come for someone who bought something inessential, or an ambulance taking away a sufferer? Someone tells me her child brought it home from school and they all had it, and were fine after a week. Someone has died. A neighbour shouts at his daughter for eating chocolate before tea.

Here is an icon of “The Harrowing of Hell”. Christ breaks the walls to rescue the imprisoned, while angels hold Satan down.

Western European art tended to go more for Last Judgment scenes, with sinners falling unequivocally and finally into torment, but there are some examples. In this by a follower of Bosch, the devils resist, and only some people take notice. Click for a larger version.

In this Cezanne, Christ saves individually and personally.

Another follower of Bosch. Most of the people are untrusting. The woman covering her nakedness makes me think of Eve.

I went to the supermarket
and came home with a poem.
Would the police deem it essential?

Georgina Beyer

Georgina Beyer was the first trans member of Parliament anywhere in the world, though she says she is the first Out trans person. She started showing transgender behaviour aged four, and transitioned aged 16. She was unemployed, and the benefits office told her she could not get benefit unless she put her trousers back on. So she became a sex worker. She hated it from her first “client” to her last. She had been brought up middle class and wanted to reach her potential, but there was a barrier to trans people. As a sex worker she was in a twilight world, constantly in danger. Clients were often hypocrites pretending to be straight.

She still wanted to be an actor but after five years she escaped, and worked in a drag show in a gay club. “I sold my arse to get my moneymaker.” The New Zealand health service now performs SRS but not enough. In 1979, she was working in a strip club and when it closed she went to Sydney. She worked in a bar, her first legitimate job, and after four months she was gang-raped. The police told the Maori drag queen she asked for it. She thought of suicide.

“Fortunately I got angry. I got a fire in my belly that anybody who had to endure anything like that deserves justice, including a transgender person like me.” She got into TV, and made a film about a TS in a platonic relationship, presenting trans characters in the most realistic way made to that date, but the public censor cancelled the whole series because of her film. Eventually it got her a best actress nomination in the NZ Film and TV Awards. She was recognised as a woman.

She got typecast into trans roles, eg trans rape victim. Being visible, she reduced prejudice. Queers became less threatening. She moved to Carterton north east of Wellington, and started to teach drama on a life skills course: they were unemployed young people, and she got them to create a show to express their view of the world, and gained confidence. Expressing their frustration was fulfilling.

She ran the course from the community centre, and in 1991 the finance minister of the National party cut 25% from state benefits, which was devastating for the most vulnerable in the community, which has caused deprivation and dependency including homelessness even now. They got a caravan which they used to house homeless people. She kept being made the mouthpiece, talking with the local council, and in 1992 she stood for that council. She only ran with the intention of raising the issues, and missed out by 14 votes. Then she stood in a by-election, when she got half the vote.

She took her duties seriously. She was the first Maori on the council, and was the person who was appointed to liaise with the local Maori iwi, though she knew no Maori beyond Kia-ora (“hello”). In 1995 she ran for mayor. She was told she was popular, and she did not know she was being set up. She won with a good majority. She loved it. It’s about being genuine and straight-up. Doing Anzac day, she found her acting experience helped. She had the mana (Maori word- see Barry’s comment below). She engaged people as young as nine in speaking to the council. She got the local school to elect their own council and arrange a meeting. She preferred to lead by consensus without votes.

She was mayor until 1999 when she stood for parliament for the Labour party. Formerly it had been a National party stronghold. She got a 32% swing and a 3000 majority. She suffered impostor syndrome but got on with it. No-one mentored her, she learned for herself. She helped push through the Civil Union Act and prostitution law reform, to provide human rights, health and safety for the sex workers. It was a world leading piece of legislation. The debates were divisive and horrible, across the nation. It was dehumanising. The haters were getting self-righteous, including 8000 Christians who marched on Parliament shouting “Enough is Enough”. Georgina stared them down, holding a rainbow flag. There were a hundred children on that march and she was shouting at them “Why do you hate us so much? What are you teaching your children?”

It is wrong to use children like that, to deny the rights of others.

“I have been very fortunate. I could not be more proud to participate in my country. I thank New Zealand for that. They could look beyond my colourful past.” It inspired other trans people and minorities. After, trans people were elected to the Italian and Polish parliaments. People are afraid of diversity, and she blames religion. Christians quote Leviticus, and that countermands the commands of Christ. If we can be who we are, we can contribute to our society rather than being a burden, but we commit suicide because of the oppression.

Why New Zealand? Our isolation, she says, and people escaping the British class system for an egalitarian society. You can make anything out of nothing. The treaty of Waitangi was very important: Maori were more equal than other indigenous populations. It was hard to build the economy. New Zealand is a caring society. Rural folk can spot a fake, and spotted her talent.

Taken from her speech to the Oxford Union. Here is her maiden speech in Parliament.

Photo by Montrealais.

Keir Starmer and the trans-obsessives

Now Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour Party, he has promised to root out antisemitism, but unfortunately not transphobia. There’s a grilling by obsessive trans-haters on Mumsnet, which helps understand where Labour is on trans rights. Content: I quote the haters, and that includes transphobia, obsessive hate, and misgendering.

Mumsnet is filled with trans-obsessives. Some have chosen nicknames which refer to their obsession, often in arcane ways: “RetainTheSpousalExitClause” refers to the interim gender recognition certificate. Eight of the first ten comments were about trans rights, couched as “women’s rights”- “gender issues and the conflict with the rights of women and children”- though trans inclusion has little effect on most feminist issues. They are not even radical feminists: I counted fourteen questions related to trans, but of 175 posts on the thread only three mentioned porn and none mentioned sex work. “GeordieTerf” indicated the level of obsession, saying “The Labour candidates in my area made it very clear that they didn’t want my vote. I tried to debate my views, but the people who knocked on my door refused.” No, they would not agree with your hatred of trans people as the price of your vote. If you demand they agree with repulsive hate, of course they will not.

Mumsnet asked them to stop asking about trans- “We don’t want this to become a single-issue webchat”- and they wouldn’t. They dog-whistled: “Clearly the identity politics vote hasn’t been enough to make up for the lost votes”. I don’t know if they would object to gay or lesbian “identity politics”, but it is surely OK to talk about institutional racism- only trans rights are bad “identity politics”. Two asked what a “woman” is, as if they were spraying hate on Twitter. They don’t want a “respectful dialogue that doesn’t pit one set of concerns against others” as Starmer put it, they want to hate and persecute trans women.

What is a woman? It depends why you ask. Trans people are in all cultures over millennia, and for most social purposes trans women are women. Satisfied? A more detailed explanation is here.

Keir Starmer answered thirty questions. Five were from people whose monikers indicated trans-obsession, such as “CisMyFatArse”, though there were also questions about the last Labour Manifesto, Brexit, the NHS, Irish reunification, Scottish independence, the armed forces, Jeremy Corbyn, climate change, social care for the elderly, euthanasia, water bills, housing, special educational needs, transport and legal aid.

On antisemitism, he was clear, and I wish he would say the same about transphobia:

If you’re antisemitic, you shouldn’t be in our Party – or anywhere near it.

I would make this my personal responsibility. On day one, I would demand an update on ongoing antisemitism cases and ask for a clear timetable for their resolution. I would ask the Jewish Labour Movement and others to submit the list of cases they believe are still outstanding. And to leave no stone unturned I would also ensure an independent process and work with social media platforms to take hate off the internet.

And my test for our party will be this; do those who have left the Party because of antisemitism feel comfortable to return. Only when they do, will I be satisfied that we have made progress. At the next election I don’t want a single Labour member or activist to knock a door and be told that people who previously voted Labour won’t do so because of antisemitism.

I am not sure the terfs recognised the rebukes. One asked, “If you become Labour leader, how will you tackle sexism within the party? As a female, I am on the verge of leaving Labour over sexism I’m experiencing, both online and locally.” He replied, “…But the Party needs to be friendlier, more open and more respectful of each other. I’ve led a large organisation before and I know you can change culture through leadership, if you lead by example, if you put in place training, and if you argue for the culture that you want to see. That’s what I would do if I am elected leader.”

I think that’s what he is trying to do with trans rights. We should debate in a friendly and respectful manner. It won’t work with these obsessives. It might work with other people. It means rebuking the way the obsessives communicate, rather than their hateful beliefs. The transphobe Jo Stevens is in the shadow cabinet.

“StealthPolarBear” asked,

More than 200 of us are worried about gender issues and the conflict with the rights of women and children.

These are issues that affect the fundamental rights of half the population. They are across every conceivable layer of public policy, and affect us from cradle to grave. The issues are varied, ranging from men on women’s sport, the impact of self ID on women’s safety, the spousal exit clause and the emphasis on transition of children, including puberty blockers.

Are you concerned about any or all of these issues? How do you plan to ensure the rights of natal women and children?

He replied,

Thank you for this question – I know it’s a really important topic on Mumsnet and for parents.

Trans rights are human rights. I have met with members of the trans community and I know this is a group of people who have been subjected to incredible abuse and discrimination for a very long time.

But this conversation has become incredibly heightened, and I do understand the points being made on all sides. But if we just treat this as a political football, we are not being fair to anyone. I do believe we need to update the Gender Recognition Act. But what we need right now is a respectful dialogue that doesn’t pit one set of concerns against others. If elected leader, that’s a dialogue I would want to help facilitate.

Answering a trans-obsessive hater, he says, “Trans rights are human rights” and “we need to update the Gender Recognition Act”. These statements are unequivocal. He is on our side. “A respectful dialogue that doesn’t pit one set of concerns against others” takes away most of the arguments transphobes make, because trans-inclusion really does not prejudice women’s sport, women’s safety or the rights of children.

“rogdmum” asked,

My 14 year old daughter recently announced that she identifies as a boy. She falls under the loose description of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) where adolescents who did not show any signs of gender identity issues as children, develop gender confusion as adolescents. Many of these adolescents are autistic or have suffered from trauma or have serious mental health issues.

Referrals to the Tavistock clinic have skyrocketed from around 100 a decade ago to 2600 last year. The Government agreed to carry out an investigation into the sudden rise, but it appears to have vanished into some hole somewhere.

What will you do to raise awareness of this issue and ensure a proper investigation is carried out?

He replied,

Thanks rogdmum for this question and for sharing your family’s experience. I’m acutely aware of the anxiety and distress that this causes to individuals and families. This has to be seen as a human rights issue and we need to ensure that this debate is conducted respectfully and calmly, and with the best interests of children at heart.

“Best interests of the children”. That’s at the heart of Scots and English law on children, including social care, divorce and other matters. That means trusting doctors treating them over the prejudices of parents. It doesn’t mean transitioning every girl who ever climbed a tree into a boy, it means rejecting doctrinaire transphobia like this mother’s. I fear for the child. If they are not trans, perhaps they will transition in rebellion against the parent’s controlling tendencies, lack of trust, fear and hate. If they are trans, they may transition in their forties having had a blighted life.

“GCAcademic” asked,

What will you do to protect academic freedom and open debate in universities when so many institutions are failing to meet their legal obligations in this regard? To be clear, I am not talking about Tommy Robinson-style extremists being welcomed onto campuses, but professional people, including academics, lawyers, prison reformers, artists, etc, being prevented from contributing to events on matters of public policy, or such events being cancelled altogether due to pressure from lobby groups. There have also been numerous physical threats to speakers and academics, resulting in speakers being assaulted at two universities and a female academic currently requiring protection from two security guards at all her lectures at a third institution. The silencing of people who have the expertise and experience to contribute meaningfully to public debate on difficult issues is extremely concerning to many of us in academia, and is not a situation which is consistent with liberal democracy.

Starmer replied,

Thank you – I’m becoming increasingly concern by the shutting down of political discussion, whether in meetings or on social media by abuse and intimidation. It must be possible to have a political discussion where people profoundly disagree in a constructive and respectful way. I have long been a champion of free speech and always adopted the approach set out in international human rights instruments (which I spent my time as a lawyer promoting), which treat freedom of speech as a right and not a freedom, and sets out the limited circumstances in which free speech can be curtailed, which is where it’s lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so.

The free speech argument is hardly worth repeating. Right to free speech does not mean right to a platform. Academically worthless transphobia should have no place in universities, however exalted the transphobe. As a lawyer Starmer states the law, including that free speech can be curtailed, and again calls for “constructive and respectful” debate.

Reading the thread is depressing. These obsessives have no sense of proportion, often no apparent understanding that any issue other than trans inclusion has any importance. Perhaps capital punishment for transition would satisfy them.

Keir Starmer does not respond to their clear hatred of trans people as he responds to antisemitism. Yet he rejects their positions and supports our rights. Keir Starmer is not a transphobe. Possibly he fears he does not have the strength to counter them more strongly. I am pleased he signed LGBT Labour’s ten pledges, including this: “I will campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process and for the introduction of legal recognition for non-binary gender identities. I believe that trans women are women, that trans men are men, and that non-binary gender identities are valid and should be respected.

I saw a tweet shared on facebook: “I’ll show him exactly as much loyalty as he showed the trans community when he went on mumsnet and sympathised with a parent whose son caught ‘the social contagion’ of transness.” Like Sir Keir, I trained as a lawyer and want lawyerly precision here: “rogdmum” did not call trans a “social contagion”, and Starmer did not sympathise: he thanked her, and said he is aware of the anxiety and distress. I can be aware of her distress and utterly disagree about her child. Mentioning “human rights” and “the best interests of the children” is his lawyerly way of disagreeing. I wish he were more explicit, but he might just then get into social media storms. He pushes back against the trans-excluders.

29 June: today he gave almost nothing away, despite transphobic questioning.

26 September 2021: On the Andrew Marr show, Starmer called for “a mature, respectful debate” on trans rights. The topic starts at 45.00. He says the trans community are “amongst the most marginalised and abused communities”; that it is “not right” to say that only women have a cervix; and that “we need to make progress on the Gender Recognition Act”.

Lockdown birds

Bored in the lockdown, I notice the birds are strutting their stuff and sometimes psyching each other out on the untidy spruce hedge south of my back yard.

It was a beautiful day on Sunday. After I went outside to wait on the birds, they seemed to have decided to do something else- feed, perhaps. This was the only picture I took. The colours, unadjusted, are beautiful.

I waited, in the gorgeous light, including during the Zoom Quaker meeting. I thought, I am distracted, roll with it, I won’t distract others too much. I was worshipping, and the ego-acquisitiveness of wanting a picture, unknowing if I could get one, and what that made me feel seemed suitable for contemplation. Once, a bird alighted for a moment and took off before I could adjust the camera.

On Monday, the light was much poorer, and these needed adjusting.

I am so pleased to have caught the moment of take-off. That’s luck, and snapping a lot, and spending the time.

And on Tuesday the weather is better.

I disliked the irritating habit they have of perching so the fronds are in the way, and the camera focuses on the fronds. So for my favourite photo, the one that is possibly worth keeping, I have made a feature of the hedge.

Or perhaps framed in this way: