Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Writing out of the Silence

The world has depth. The world is magical. There is infinite complexity and beauty beyond the surfaces we impose and the concepts we use to manipulate the world. We need the concepts to get what we want.

The world is huge. There is God in all of it: all the people and all the things. I want to bring treasure back, for the delight of Friends. I find it within. I shall find the beauty and truth in myself, and use it to bless others.

Imperfection is only in our minds. I don’t want to say “All I need is freely available” facilely, but I have usually had what I needed- except at the trauma. I don’t want to say “Flow like water” facilely, as conscious incompetence is good too: but that is also Flow, as its desire is not divided, like mine is- for appearances, what I ought to want, propitiating my inner Idol. Out of many desires, I will make one, by submitting to God within.

God, Love, is who I am. I am who I am. I am waiting for what I want to happen, or I am maturing, changing like a chrysalis, reordering within. I do not know what that would look like. False ideas of God get in the way of the reality of God. What must I let go?

I submit, to God, or to a great lie that is my enemy, an illusion that promises little and gives nothing. If I am struggling, the struggle is unconscious. I could not bear my fear and sadness if I were conscious of them, but sometimes I become conscious of them and the world comes alive.

I am never safe. The way I seek safety is barren. Only love is real.

The heron

I love moonlight on snow. I want to find a reason for that- something in evolutionary psychology, some association- but just do. The skies were forecast to clear just after midnight on Sunday night, and the snow forecast to melt in 3°C weather (it hasn’t yet) so I went out to enjoy it, and perhaps photograph it. A friend feared I might be assaulted, but there was no-one about. It’s magical. The moon is waxing gibbous, 83%, high in the sky, Orion is just below it to the left, and I can see for miles. The lights of the town shine across the valley.

and- that’s it. How much of what I see is phenomenological- my associations, my joy- how much the actual light captured by my eyes, what is the difference between light in eyes and in camera, what is association with the photographic image, I don’t know, but the photo does not capture the experience.

I can take a picture of snow on bushes at night, and, well, that’s it. Or a snowman, you can see what it is, I can’t make the light beautiful.

By day, though, the light is so bright that snow on bushes can be lovely, even in the image. I don’t want to photograph just the landscape, I need birds doing something interesting to make a photo.

There they are.

I waited on the bridge for a while, to see if they would circle round again, but they did not. But, someone tells me these are heron tracks.

That’s not really a good stream for the heron to hunt. The lake has flooded over the path, so this is the way people go.

I did not want to make it fly, as flying uses food up, but, well, this is the path where the people go and will disturb it. I could approach quite close, but when I pointed my camera it knew I was paying it attention, and no creature likes that.

In the light, the sheds are pretty.

Pushing tomboys to change their gender?

The Department for Education has issued guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, and the Daily Mail started a culture war. “Teachers are told to stop pushing tomboys to change their gender”, it said. “Tomboys must not be encouraged to think they should change sex just because of the way they like to dress or play, schools have been told.”

I agree. I don’t like the word “tomboy”- girls ask, “Why call me a ‘boy’?” Just because they don’t like pink, or skirts, or even worse because they climb trees as well as liking ballet, does not make them any sort of “boy”. I disagree with all gender stereotypes, and find the adjective “harmful” tautologous. Oddly enough, neither the Statutory Guidance, nor the separate Guidance, uses the word. Where schools depart from statutory guidance, they “need to have good reasons”. Guidance is less binding. The Mail is wrong to call it “instructions”.

The Mail quotes out of context, from the Guidance.

You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.

I don’t know whether that was written out of ignorance, or with the intention of permitting Mermaids to continue to provide resources. Mermaids never suggested that non-conformity was synonymous with having a different gender identity, only that some children really do have a different gender identity and they will flourish if allowed to transition. Trans people exist. We should be worried, if the guidance echoed transphobe organisations, suggesting that gender identity is a falsehood, the product of gender stereotypes, but it does not.

The Mail quotes the “Safe Schools Alliance”, so I looked them up. They are a transphobe organisation, currently taking legal action to get the Crown Prosecution Service to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, and against Oxfordshire County Council because they believed the council’s guidance was too accepting of trans people. The first thing they say about themselves is that they are against gender identity policies they find too pro-trans. They do not disclose their funding. They are happy to damage Britain’s leading LGBT charity because of their loathing of trans. They object to “trans lobby groups push[ing] policies which allow males into female spaces”. Well, they call trans girls “males”. They want to prevent transition.

Enough of the propaganda. What do the Guidance and Statutory Guidance actually say? Continue reading

Liz Truss and Anna Akhmatova

The world is changed utterly, since December, but one thing that continues is conservatives seeking out vulnerable minorities to hate, so as to spread division. Trans people, especially trans women and children, have been targeted by Liz Truss, “Minister for” (actually against) “Women and Equalities”. I will write to my MP.

Truss says she wants “Protection of single sex spaces”. She is lying. Gender Recognition has no effect on single sex spaces, which are governed by the Equality Act.

She wants us “Free to live our lives as we wish”- as long as we behave in increasingly constrained acceptable ways, restricted for the good of others. “Checks and balances,” she says. Oh, totally reasonable rules for the good of everyone. Ha.

And she says she wants to “protect” children and young people. Truss claims she is better qualified than specialist gender psychiatrists and endocrinologists to determine what is good for under 18s, and that is to make sure none of them have treatment to aid transition. She produces the Tory bugbear, the ordinary child hoodwinked by trans ideology rushing heedless into “irreversible decisions” to prevent trans children getting the care they need.

Meanwhile I went out for my daily exercise, and also wanted to take some photos of the eerie silent world we are now in. This out of town shopping centre would have been hoaching, but for covid 19.



And it was odd to see a Police Community Support Officer walking along this unmetalled road. We are allowed to be there for exercise, and I want to be there for time in nature, too, time with the birds and the lakes, to preserve my mental health. It is a lone young woman, I don’t think she’ll be arresting anyone, but she might be seeing if there were breaches of rules for a more heavy handed presence later. I saw her twice, both times studying a phone.

I am frightened, by a conservative government which handles the crisis badly, with more people dying of slow suffocation here than elsewhere in Europe, and with the deaths not accurately counted, but which still finds time to promote hate- quietly, subtly at first, with this new target. I am fearful for my vulnerable friends. And the world is beautiful. Never has the contrast been so sharp for me: it is always there, but it is so much stronger now.

Fear and loss.
Wonder and beauty.
Death and God.

Anna Akhmatova puts it beautifully:

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death’s great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses
something not known to any one at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

I am afraid. I read a piece in the New York Times about how covid suffocates people so they don’t realise it, and immediately ordered an oxymeter. It is predicted to arrive in June. There is a small risk of my dying in the most hideous way, and a much greater risk for all the people I know who are over 70 or with certain conditions. Liz Truss chooses this moment to announce her campaign against trans people. Trans children must not be treated, as a political decision. Single sex spaces- No Transwomen!- must be maintained or extended. This is couched in terms of “protection”- protecting vulnerable women and children from the Trans Threat. I am more afraid than ever, and today the sunshine is beautiful.

---

I wrote that, and then thought, possibly I should give the minister the benefit of the doubt, until I hear more. In Scotland, the government offers a good reform, but still talks about single sex spaces. It is reassurance for the phobes rather than a serious threat to our rights. I am fearful and unknowing at the moment and it reduces my ability to trust. Then I remember she wants to stop treatment for children, and that is unequivocal. She trusts Daily Mail editorials over doctors. She trusts herself over specialist psychiatrists.

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:

St Pancras II

At the South end of St Pancras station stand the parting couple, embracing, a stolid sculpture based on Brief Encounter. Normally I enter on the lower level, so had not before noticed the plinth:

It is full of life. The faces are ordinary and heroic and beautiful, sometimes worn or old but unbowed.

Around them the tunnels and arches of the station swoop, in foreshortened relief.

What text distracts her from her hug? Or is the hug an imposition?

Commuter trains are as crowded as ever.

So crowded, so noble and determined they make me think of refugees.

A Sikh among the workers laying the track.

Further on is John Betjeman, standing on the floor not a plinth, hurrying for a train, but in this light he is too dark for a photograph. There are texts in the stone along the walk-way, quotes from Betjeman:

Here where the cliffs alone prevail
I stand exultant, neutral, free
And from the cushion of the gale
Behold a huge, consoling sea

A gentle guest, a willing host
Affection deeply planted-
It’s strange that those we miss the most
Are those we take for granted.

Beyond the throb of the engines is the throbbing heart of all

In praise of self-loathing

Put a tiger in your tank! You run really fast from a tiger.

First day canvassing for the election had good and bad moments. The best was persuading someone to think more about voting for us, possibly even to change her vote.

More disturbing was another woman’s shouting. She had an unbreakable syllogism:

We knew what we voted for
You have not given it
You are undemocratic.

Ian tried arguing. He too voted to Leave. The Tories were in government, and they messed up their own Brexit- they could have been out by March had they tried to exit in the National interest, rather than their own- but her talking point, or shouting point, was impregnable. All her anger in Life, it seemed, was channelled through this one issue against us.

In the cafe for lunch, we were just leaving when a man started shouting at us. “I fought for my country! How can you wear that thing” (a red rosette) “that anti-British traitor!” I looked at him. He looked late fifties, so he might have been in Northern Ireland, or possibly the Falklands. I tried saying my father also fought for this country, but he was not interested in listening.

There was I at my most beautiful- not cowed or triggered, but wanting to understand and engage, to find some common ground. When Beth came over, he just started shouting “Get out! Get out!” She told him, reasonably, she was leaving and he could not tell her not to use a cafe.

I came to this position, by the next morning. If you disagree with a more articulate debater, it is a reasonable tactic to keep repeating your point until they shut up, which is more self respecting than putting your hands over your ears and shouting NONONONO until they go away. We don’t have the right to change another’s mind.

And that evening, tired after canvassing, I sat up until midnight maundering in my chair, fiddling with my phone.

I took two hours with two separate Samaritan men working it out. They gave me the time but irritated me. What use is self-loathing, one asked, as if recognising it would be enough for me to slough it off. People saw it in me and pointed it out last century. One reason for it was my “disgusting” (a word I used) cross-dressing.

It is my main motivation, or at least was. It may motivate many perfectionists, and if you can be close to perfect being perfectionist is painful but effective. Gosh you get things done. It was wound up too tight in me, I think, or worked with other characteristics to hurt me too much so I broke, but until I broke it got me working.

The other reason I don’t give up until I am dangling on the end of a rope is that I am not consciously aware of my discomfort. Now all my feelings came to the surface- confusion, hurt, the desperate need to kick out a climate-denying MP and a nationalist government, one of whose aims is to whip up hatred, including of trans women. I am confused, and can’t bear confusion.

My previous way of responding, not knowing my feelings, was to shut down. I would lose all motivation and stop, “depressed”. No, really, Depressed. The self-deprecation, refusal to believe that any problem should give any difficulty to someone who is not worthless, weak, useless, or even that it is a real problem is strong in me. I suppose it is reassuring. If I am not really depressed, I can get up any moment and surmount all difficulties.

Excavating feelings however painful is my way to health and freedom.

So I slept badly, and wondered about not canvassing on Monday. I was in chaos, perceiving different feelings, trying to put together a rational understanding and not grasping it, frightened.

Highly intelligent, I am dependant on my rational understanding. It keeps me safe, and without it I am terrified, which is a problem when the world cannot be understood.

And I talked it through. I have a tiger in my tank. I went canvassing, which in a more Labour area was more encouraging.