Civilly Disobedient

dino poster sign austerityThis Saturday I joined hundreds of thousands of others in protesting against the UK government’s harsh, illogical, unfair and ideologically driven austerity policies.

It wasn’t my first protest; although I have an anxiety disorder and struggle with large crowds, and a medical issue that means it is painful to walk for long distances I feel some things are important enough to be present for. This was one of those occasions.

Contrary to what you might have read in various right leaning news publications (many of which are coincidentally owned by the government friendly Murdoch empire), yesterday’s protest was peaceful. Incredibly peaceful. I’ve been told that the Met police reported no arrests at all. There were people from all backgrounds, ages, beliefs, abilities. There were tiny babies in arms, in buggies, children in buggies, elderly people, people with mobility issues, mental health difficulties, people using wheelchairs, students, fire fighters, political parties. I was rather excited to meet a group of deaf BSL speakers and get in some sneaky practice for my exam on Monday. SO many different groups were represented – but ALL had in common that they have had enough of austerity and want a fair alternative, and wanted to government to hear that message.

On arrival at Westminster there was a festival atmosphere –people picnicking in the street, playing music, having impromptu dance parties while pink and orange flares operated as smoke machines. Children were playing safely and happily in roads that would normally be glutted with speeding cars and HGVs.

protest - police pensions

Source: Facebook

The protest was lightly policed – nothing like the heavy handed and reactionary policing seen in Walthamstow when local residents arranged a counter protest to the EDL turning up unwanted in the borough. I barely saw a police officer until we reached Parliament Square, and those were friendly & helpful. I even saw a few enjoying the music of the impromptu dance party at one point. There was no agitation, no kettling. In fact the largest number of police were guarding monuments to make sure people didn’t draw on them.

There were a few moments that unsettled me. One was passing a large banner for Class War. It was surrounded by protesters wearing entirely black, with masks obscuring their faces, sunglasses obscuring their eyes. They stood in almost military postures; legs planted wide, arms crossed, surveying the crowd from above. Far from being of the people, for the people; they looked more like riot police. Perhaps this image is deliberate, but it felt at odds with the general feel of the rest of the protest, where the vast majority did not march with face coverings. The second was when a group of people were dancing near Parliament Square, when a masked man came up and set fire to a pile of placards. Everyone around him moved away, about 50 photographers moved in. It was a sad moment; and we knew even at that point that this photo would be spun somehow to represent the protest, when this was far from the truth. Within hours certain papers were reporting this incident of one stupid and irresponsible man lighting a small fire as ‘protesters’ were ‘setting bonfires’

I have never been involved in any trouble on previous protests. I am a peaceful protester, and always have been. I chose to show my face as someone standing up for what I believe in. I march the agreed route, stay in the agreed area, don’t shout at the police – they’re just doing their job and chances are a fair number of them agree with the larger aims of the protest.  I’ve been one of those people frustrated at a minority of people who appear to be causing damage to property and giving other protesters a bad name. But I also have some acquaintances (who shall of course all remain entirely anonymous) who do get involved with more direct activism of what might be called ‘damaging’. More shouting, going ‘off route’, getting in people’s faces, beating up fascists. And yes, covering their faces.

I’ve always been an advocate of peaceful protest. Tutting at people making ‘the rest of us look bad’ or ‘distracting from the message with violence’. Frustrated at people turning legitimate protest into an opportunity to have a rumble or smash a window. But in the lead up to this protest, and on the day itself I  had some very interesting conversations with others over these two approaches to protest, and I’ve found myself realising that the situation isn’t as simple as peaceful vs antagonistic, where the peaceful protesters are ‘good’ and ‘right’ and the antagonistic ones are ‘bad’ and ‘disruptive.

History tells a story of two sides to every political protest; hindsight suggests that no one remembers the peaceful protesters. The much reviled poll tax was repealed – we remember the Poll Tax Riots. There were peaceful protests too – but which type contributed to the policy being repealed? The conservative Suffragists hated the militant Suffragettes – who adopted their name from a slur thrown at them. But who do we remember as being instrumental in getting the vote? Nelson Mandela started campaigning against Apartheid on a platform of peace, but became militarised after coming to the conclusion that peace wasn’t working, and that violence needed to be met with violence. Gandhi maintained that protests should always be peaceful – but he was still arrested and others were violent in his cause, and it’s hard to say whether it was the peaceful approach or the violence that led to change.

Do the ends justify the means? Would the Suffragists have eventually got votes for women using a peaceful campaigns? Would Apartheid have been brought to an end purely by peaceful protest and political sanctions? I reckon you could probably put 5 historians in a room and they’d come out with 10 different answers. But it can’t be argued that change happened – peaceful or otherwise.

protest - child

Source: Facebook

The media takes a huge part in this; peaceful protests are easy to ignore in the media and sometimes protests only end up getting wider media coverage *because* they turn violent, or because property is damaged. Peaceful protests can be ignored, covered up and dismissed by the media and the government.  Antagonistic protest gets media coverage; front pages, breaking news, debate. What’s frustrating for activists – peaceful and antagonistic alike – is when all the media care about is the one idiot setting a small fire. What works best is when the protest gets picked up by the media and the cause is highlighted, debated, brought out to the wider public. If that doesn’t happen by peaceful means, I can see why resorting to less legal methods to highlight the issues might be desirable. You could make the argument that if the press bothered to highlight large peaceful protests and rasie the issues, there’d be no need for antagonism at all.

Some would argue that those who are violent are merely reacting in kind. This is easy to see in the case of those who are involved in violent retaliation against violent racist groups – the argument is that if violence is to be used by the racists, then violence should be the reply. Some might argue that as our government are committing violence against the citizens of the UK that violence is an appropriate response. I am not sure I agree that violence is necessarily the only response to violence; but I can see the logic in the argument even while I disagree with the method, and of course we come back around again to asking was it the peaceful retaliation that made the difference in the first place, or the violence? It’s hard to ask these questions without being seen to condone violent actions, which I do not want to do. Of course, the reasons for a protest turning violent can vary greatly; the media narrative is often around violent protesters getting out of hand (like they muppet setting fire to banners. Why set fire to banners that support our cause? Utterly pointless). But peaceful protests have turned violent because ordinary people have been subject to a massive police overreaction, or because of state agitators sent in on purpose to cause trouble to devalue the point of the protesters.

As for covering faces – the vast majorty of people did not cover their faces. But I did see a fair number of peaceful law abiding people with face coverings. In these days of increased surveillance where even people attending a music festival with no particular reputation for troubles protest the  northare having their faces scanned, when some clubs insist on passport ID for entrance, where the government want to have rights to listen to our phone calls, read our emails, know everything about our private electronic lives, is it any wonder that many people feel that they need to hide their faces? I’ve heard people use the line that ‘people that have nothing to hide don’t need to hide their faces’ but that’s a poor line to use for the continued slow erosion of people’s liberties. While I may not hide mine, I am fully behind the choice of others to hide theirs, whatever their reasons may be.

When it comes to law breaking – not all law breaking is equal. I am fully behind some acts of civil disobedience. The impromptu dance party in Parliament Square is my kind of civil disobedience. No one is hurt, no property is damaged, people smile and some laws of questionable efficacy are mildly flouted (and it was FUN.) Minor acts of civil disobedience that cause no damage and do no harm to others are a sort of protest I can get behind – but they are often policed heavy handedly, resulting in arrests for people doing little to deserve it.  And there’s my issue. I am scared of getting arrested, and how it might impact my job. I am scared of being kettled because I worry how I’d handle it because of my anxiety. I am scared of getting caught up in something bigger than I can manage.

But does that mean I can’t also appreciate that those people who get more involved in active civil disobedience, even approaching damage or property, might actually in the long run be achieving something? Does my habit of being relatively law abiding mean I must condemn those who are protesting in a different way? Or do I need to recognise that, as history appears to show, that peaceful protest and antagonistic protest are two sides of the same coin? The agitators need the peaceful protesters to show that the concerns are legitimate. The peaceful protesters need the agitators to raise the profile of those concerns in the first place.

Does peaceful protest work? Maybe. Does antagonist protest work? Maybe. Can one be effective without the other? I am not sure. But I’ve certainly found myself shifting stance of late, from thinking that antagonist protest is never acceptable to acknowledging while it is not right for me personally, I think that perhaps it’s important that there are people out there prepared to take more direct action to raise awareness of a cause. Do they do it in my name? No. Do I ultimately benefit? Perhaps.

I will always condemn meaningless violence – but is there a place in protest for meaningful violence, for meaningful antagonistic civil disobedience, when the media and government won’t listen to peaceful means? I don’t have any answers, but I am certainly asking more questions about it than I would have done a few weeks ago.

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“I wish we talked more about…” Part 2: Periods

periods2Part 1 – women and sex

A while back one of my fellow humourless killjoy feminist friends came up with the idea of a list of “Things we wished people spoke more openly about”.

The conversation that ensued lead to several revelations amongst the group and numerous exclamations of “I am SO glad we’re talking about this” and “OMG I thought this was just me” and “why don’t we talk about this stuff? This is GREAT.”

So this is part two of my ongoing but irregular series – “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”

Just like last time, I am going to add a lengthy content warning, mainly for the benefit of my family who might not want to read about my intimate shizzle.

This blog, and indeed probably the whole series, will feature talk of things like sexual acts, body parts, bodily functions and fluids and other things that often make people (right across the gender spectrum) feel uncomfortable. It’s almost certainly going to make my family feel uncomfortable, so if you’re related to me, you might want to stop right here.

I am going to say, straight up, that a lot of the things that are likely to come up are things that I personally find really difficult to talk about. I spent a lot of time hating my body and not really wanting to look at it, feeling awkward and anxious about sexual acts, being ashamed and scared of things my body did and generally feeling unable to talk about it. So just as you might be leaving your comfort zone to read this, I am going out of my comfort zone to write it. So we’re on this journey together.

And so…

“I wish we spoke more openly about…

Menstruation and PMT”

I recall that my school education session on periods was woefully inadequate. It left us all with the impressions that:

  • If you have sex, you will get pregnant. So don’t.
  • When you are on your period you are gross KEEP IT A SECRET AT ALL COSTS
  • Periods are gross and icky. DON’T TALK TO BOYS ABOUT THEM
  • It’s just a few tablespoons of blood (LIES)
  • Vajayjays are dirty. Try not to touch them
  • EEEUUUW

I was never really told what was coming out of me was pretty amazing or marvellous or perfectly ok. It’s taken me decades to be able to unpick all this.

What does get talked about a lot is PMT – but it’s usually framed as a big joke as to why women are in a bad mood or being grouchy. There’s a lot of talk about OH LOL HORMONES BE MAKING GIRLS CRAZY BITCHES but it’s not taken terribly seriously. But PMT symptoms can be really serious, and varied and honestly? They can really really suck. Treating PMT as some ‘bitches be crazy lol’ thing does a great deal of harm to women who are having real physical and mental symptoms. So forgive me if someone makes some bullshit “on the rag lol” joke at me and I imagine ripping your fucking nipples off. It’s easy to be a humourless bitch when you’re not actually being funny.

periodxkcd

But there is no ‘once size fits all’ for PMT – and women experience all sorts of different symptoms. Some lucky ones don’t get any. Personally, I get really mood swingy, teary and grumpy and find it hard to concentrate. I don’t always connect the dots sometimes; I spend 3 days wanting to kill things/other people/myself and crying at fucking adverts and because of my history of mental ill health every time I’m like THE DEPRESSION IS COMING BACK. 3 days later I’m like “oh. Hello womb lining.” I have to pee way more, my IBS flares up. I don’t want to do anything. At all. I don’t even want to write this blog. I had to force myself to sit at this laptop today. My body temperature is higher and I feel hot all the time. Boyfriends haven’t always understood why I don’t want to snuggle when I am on my period. BECAUSE I AM MELTING GET OFF ME. I don’t get cramps – for which I am eternally grateful – but I do get hormonal migraines. Regular as anything, once a month. Full on, someone-is-trying-to-stab-their-way-out-of-my-eye-socket-with-an-icepick migraines. periods1Painkiller resistant, soul destroying, please kill me now migraines. Every period. I’ve been having periods since I was 14. So in theory I’ve been having migraines every month for over 20 years. That’s more than 240 migraines.

Only I haven’t, because (with the agreement of my GP) I run packets of pills together to avoid having periods for several months at a time. This suited me down to the ground for many years, as I still believed all the things I learned at school about periods (refer to the list above) and therefore was really happy to not have gross blood doing gross things euw gross.

A lot of crap is  talked about hormones and what they do (see the ‘boys will be boys‘ rubbish excuse) but that’s sort of the point isn’t it? Hormones are punchlines or excuses and that detracts from being able to talk about them in a meaningful way.

 

It took me many many years to get over the idea that my vagina-during-my-period was gross and untouchable. Vaginas are naturally self cleaning. Period blood is seen as a waste product, like poop or pee – but it’s not remotely the same thing. It’s the uterine lining that a woman’s body has prepared to grow a foetus. If you think about it, that’s probably the period3cleanest thing ever. It has to be – it’s going to grow, nurture and nourish a tiny potential life which hasn’t got its own immune system. It’s…kind of amazing when you think about it. But it also isn’t just blood. There’s all sorts of weird stuff coming out of there. Weird textured stuff. Clots. Weird stringy sticky stuff. I swear I thought I was completely abnormal for YEARS because this ‘couple of tablespoons of blood’ they’d told me about at school bore no relation to this flood of weird Xenomorph-acid-like substance. I thought I was ill or weird. It took a long time before I felt comfortable enough to talk to other women about this and you know what we discovered? We ALL thought our discharge was weird and we all wished we’d just talked about it years ago.

So why don’t we talk about this? When talking about it helps us understand each other better? Helps women feel they are normal and not alone, and helps guys understand what women are going through. It’s such a huge taboo that it has an entire Wikipedia page about it. Why is it such a huge taboo? In these enlightened times, does it need to be a taboo at all?

IfMenHadPeriods-24376Gloria Steinem wrote a rather marvellous essay imaging a world in which Men were the ones that menstruate. Of course, it’s satire, and not entirely serious. But it’s a refrain I’ve heard often. If men had periods, toilets would always have sinks inside the cubicle. Sanitary products would not only be not subject to VAT, they’d be FREE. If men had periods, there’d be allowance in job laws that allowed flexible time off for PMT.  If men had periods, it would be a sign of strength, not of weakness.

It’s been a ‘man’s world’ for a long time, and feminism has been making gains over the last 40 years in leaps and bounds. It may seem like a weird ask, but I would like a next big leap to be for the taboo over talking about periods to die in a fire. It’s not just an issue here in the UK with girls feeling confused and alone and scared/wary of their own bodies – in other countries it has serious ramifications for the education, welfare, safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

We need to be able to talk about menstruation, our own, other women’s, those of women the whole world over, without fear or revulsion or jokes or snarky jokes. Boys and girls both need to learn how normal and natural they are, that they aren’t dirty or weird. Men and women need to learn how to communicate properly about what their bodies do.

Periods are perfectly normal. Let’s talk about them.

 

 

 

 

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess’s 9 super sex tips

So someone sent me a link to this article, based on a book, about sex tips written for men by a gay woman. As much as I see that it’s well meant, and well intentioned, something about it really bugged me – and it’s similar to something I discussed a few weeks ago.

Women are not all the same.

Women are complex individuals, just like men are complex individuals. Women have as different desires, wishes, kinks, bugbears, irritations and dislikes from each other as men do. I get profoundly irritated by statements such as “women like X” or “it feels good when you touch a woman like Y on her Z” because you simply can’t make sweeping statements about all women based on what you think, or on what your experience of women in your life is, or if you’re a woman, on what you like.  While you may indeed find a large audience of women going “YES this is ME and THIS IS WHAT I WANT” there’s just as many other women going “er, no. This doesn’t speak for me at all. Please stop.”

Take the first picture for example. The arrow pointing to her vagina that says “do be gentle”, and the statement in #6 about being gentle with the clitoris. This is a pretty individual thing. I know plenty of women that be like “gentle? Fuck that noise. POUND ME”. Also, sometimes you might want it gentle and slow, but sometimes you want someone to really go to town on you. Or take section 4 – “You must behave as if her vagina is the greatest thing you’ve ever smelled, tasted, and had the privilege to be near. She must believe that she is letting you eat the Cinnabon that is attached to her body” Really? Maybe some women want that but to me that’s just plain weird. I’ve known women that *hate* receiving oral sex.  And I am not going to pretend a dude’s penis is the most delicious thing I’ve ever been near and that I am privileged to be near it, why would I expect it in return?

Back to picture 1 – please, PLEASE, men out there do not think of this as a guide to what all women want. Not all women want you to look deep into their eyes when fucking. Some of them hate it. Not all women want you to be gentle with their breasts, or grope and smack their ass. Many might, and if a woman gives you this picture and says “here, this is a handy guide to what I like” then sure you’re good to go. But – and I am serious about this women being complex and diverse issues thing here – do not assume this is what all women like.

I had one ex who loved having his ears licked. I am not going to assume that every other guy ever likes having his ears licked. But this excerpt (and fair’s fair, I’ve not read the book, perhaps this article isn’t doing the book any favours) seems to suggest that you should never lick a girls ear. Some girls might love it, and that’s ok.  It suggests you should always shower. But some girls get turned on by the smell of unwashed lion, and that’s ok too. I have a friend that LOVES being sent dick pics (only when she asks for them though. Not so much unsolicited.) so hopefully her suitors never take heed of #4.

There is some good advice in there – about trying things out, being intuitive, respect. But some of it gets so specific that it really doesn’t work as a guide to sex tips that ‘we’ want you to know.

So, being me, I thought I’d have a go at writing a less-specific-but-still-helpful guide to having super awesome sexy times. A friend offered to illustrate it, so then I *had* to write it. So here are…

Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess’s 9 super sex tips!

1) Ask me what I like

01 Sex Tips It can be a massive turn on when someone asks what you like to do, and then does it.  Remember – asking doesn’t have to be verbal. If you find it hard to talk about sex then you can write notes to each other, do it by email or messaging. The important thing is to find out what the other person wants to do, and want they like to do, and what feels good. And work with that.

2) Tell me what you like

02 Sex TipsJust because other people you’ve been with have liked The Thing, don’t assume any other sexual partners also like The Thing. Each person is different.  Sex should be about mutual pleasure – getting what you want and giving what they want. Again, if you don’t feel comfortable saying things out loud then you can find other ways of communicating.  But what’s important is you let each other know what you like, what you want and what makes you feel awesome.

3) If I say stop, stop

03 Sex TipsAwesome sex is always consensual, and consent is continuous. Even if you’re right in the middle of something, and someone says stop? You stop. For example, if you’re in a close relationship with me and we’re comfortable with each other and I am saying ‘stop’ it’s probably either because a particular thing isn’t working for me, or because some part of my body is partially dislocating. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is though. Because if someone says stop, you stop.

4) If I say don’t stop, don’t stop

04 Sex Tips

If I am saying “oh god oh god, don’t stop, yes, there, just there” then DON’T STOP DOING WHATEVER YOU ARE DOING. Seriously. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has stopped doing the thing they were doing when I’ve said don’t stop, and started doing something else, and I am like “what? No, wait? Why did you stop doing the thing? I was liking the thing.”

5) Ignore 3 & 4 if we have a pre-arranged kink agreement and those aren’t the safewords

Ok, this might not be 05 Sex Tipsrelevant to *everyone*, because not everyone has kink agreements or needs safewords. But I did want to include a tip that acknowledges that not all sexual relationships are as clear cut, and you might actually have a specific kink around saying ‘stop’ and the other person carrying on or saying ‘don’t stop’ and the other person does something else. Some people find this super sexy. See 1 and 2 for more information.

6) If 5 applies and I use the safe word, stop06 Sex Tips

Kink arrangements should be agreed on by both parties in advance, with clear guidelines over what is ok and what isn’t. And if someone says the safe word, then you stop.

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7) Just because I don’t want to right now doesn’t mean i don’t want to ever

Sometimes people aren’t 07 Sex Tipsin the mood. It doesn’t mean they don’t still fancy the pants off you, they just don’t feel like it right now this minute. Often one party can take this as a rejection and feel bad or frustrated or upset; but there’s myriad reasons why someone might not be in the mood that have nothing to do with you.  Just be understanding and go make yourself a cup of tea or something.

8) Just because I want to right now doesn’t mean I always do

08 Sex TipsI’ve already covered this before, so I’ll just plagiarise myself. If someone said “yes” to tea around your house last Saturday, that doesn’t mean that they want you to make them tea all the time. They don’t want you to come around unexpectedly to their place and make them tea and force them to drink it going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST WEEK”, or to wake up to find you pouring tea down their throat going “BUT YOU WANTED TEA LAST NIGHT”.

9) Great communication makes great sex09 Sex Tips

The best sex comes from a place where everyone participating is present, and comfortable with what’s happening, and is enjoying themselves. The best way to achieve this is to communicate. Remember, communication isn’t just verbal; it’s about looking, touching, connecting, texting, winking. Being on the same level as someone, asking for what you want, asking what the other person wants. That’s where great sex starts. The rest is up to you.

Huge thanks to Iriini Kalliomäki for the fantastic original artwork. You can check out her blog here!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Bikes, buses, lorries oh my

 This last week hasn’t been great for cyclists in London, with 3 incidents on one day on Thursday leading to the deaths of a cyclist in South London and another in nearby Surrey; and a seriously injured unicyclist in East London. While the story of the hundreds of locals working together to lift the bus off the injured man went viral (with good reason as it was a powerfully heart-warming story of community action) the stories of the dead cyclists barely caused a ripple, despite the fact they were both hit by HGVs, bringing the number of cyclist deaths in London alone to 6 – with 5  of them killed by HGVs.

Despite the stats that suggest that the vast majority (98%!) of serious or fatal pedestrian injuries are caused by motor vehicles – even on a pavement, a pedestrian is more likely to be injured or hurt by a motor vehicle than a bike –  the rhetoric in the media remains the same. Cyclists are dangerous rule breakers who are a risk to themselves and others. While the story of a little girl injured by a cyclist was shared all over the place with comments like “HELP FIND THIS CYCLIST” (he handed himself in) the sad story of a 7 year old cyclist killed by a car barely made the front pages, even though the police are in fact appealing for witnesses. Perhaps this is because people are killed all the time by cars, but an injury caused by a cyclist is rare enough to make the news. We’re used to car-carnage. Depressingly so.

It’s strange to me that so much focus is put onto the behaviour of cyclists, or so much made of individual rare incidents, when it’s pretty damn obvious that we should be focussing on those motor vehicles which are causing serious harm to more vulnerable road users. Why do we find it so hard to point the finger at cars, HGVs and buses when they are demonstrably the ones causing so much damage?

Look at the stats – in London in 2011, HGVs made up 4% of the traffic, but were involved in 53% of the cyclist fatalities. Seeing as this year almost all of the cyclist deaths have been down to HGVs I suspect this statistic is unlikely to improve. And yet in Paris, where there are restrictions on times HGVs can drive, there were zero cyclist fatalities.

I am very wary of HGVs; not only because of the terrible safety record in London but because I actually saw the aftermath of a three-way bike/car/HGV collision on my usual commute. I also saw how much blame was thrown at the cyclists before any facts had been established at all. (Since this accident the council have actually made changes to that particular section of the road to make sure that cyclists are not having to veer out into the road.) I know where HGV blind spots are and do everything in my power to avoid ever being in one. I make an effort to make eye contact with HGV drivers so I know they’ve seen me. And when in doubt, I stay the fuck away from it. All this vigilance perhaps helps, perhaps not, I don’t know, but what it has made me realise is that it’s not HGVs that I have the most problems with on my usual commute. It’s buses.

I would guess that on average, out of the usual 5 days a week I cycle to work and back, I have some sort of bus-related incident, scare or weirdness at least once a day. Buses overtaking me too close, too fast. Buses overtaking me right before a stop and then suddenly pulling in across me – sometimes trapping me between the bus and the kerb, sometimes forcing me to either wait behind in their exhaust fumes or pull out into fast traffic to overtake them. (When this happens I often scream WHYYYYYYYYY because seriously? The stop is right there. RIGHT THERE. IF you wait literally 10 seconds I will be past the stop and will probably have gone a good half a mile before you catch up with me. If you ever catch up with me at all because I don’t have to stop every 3 minutes.) Bus drivers driving right up behind my back wheel when they can’t overtake because of traffic.

I had two particularly scary incidents recently where I genuinely feared that I would be hurt. Once where I’d pulled in on hearing a police siren, and was waiting for the car to pass, and a bus driver behind me had clearly decided to keep moving forwards for as long as he could before pulling in, resulting in him pulling in *onto me*. I’d actually looked at him while waiting for the police car to pass to try to work out what he was doing, and he looked me right in the eyes before he suddenly pulled in, so I find it hard to believe he hadn’t seen me. When I realised he was driving straight at me I leapt off my bike (thank goodness for drop frame bikes) onto the pavement and just avoided being squashed between the bus and the pavement. Another experience was when a ‘driver under instruction’ overtook me at a pinch point – very a narrow bridge with a barrier between the other lane (in fact, mere yards from the site of the 3 way accident I mentioned earlier) meaning the bus couldn’t move out to overtake me. Once again I was forced to fling myself onto the pavement to avoid being squashed. I knocked on the door of the bus and tried to point out that I could have been badly hurt, and while the trainee driver started to look over the instructor stared resolutely ahead, deliberately ignoring me, and I clearly saw him instructing the learner driver to ignore me.

I’ve also had cause to make formal complaints about buses at other times; amongst others when a driver on a route I wasn’t familiar with drove in a terrifying way; going through red lights, taking corners at speed, violently honking a horn at a cyclist who had the right of way, and just going far too fast for the narrow roads. Other passengers were gripping on for dear life, people standing fell over, and all the passengers were doing the very un-Londoner-like thing of making eye contact to make very Londoner-like ‘tut tut’ and ‘goodness me, what on earth’ faces.

The responses to my formal complaints were woefully inadequate, and they always followed the same course. That my complaint had been forwarded to the company in question. That either they were very sorry they were unable to identify the driver, or they were unable to verify the incident. On the rare occasions that they were able to identify the driver or ‘verify the incident’ the action taken was that the driver in question would be talked to and made aware of their expectations. The trouble with this approach is that it treats all incidents like this on a ‘one rogue driver’ approach, assuming that driver behaviour is all down to the individual. It doesn’t look at why there are so many incidents involving buses on the London roads, or consider how incidents like this add up to some really worrying questions over London bus safety.

London Buses have been run by various different companies since they were privatised in the 90s. That means that they are run for profit. There’s no cohesion across the services over pay, conditions, or how complaints are treated. Bus drivers have tight schedules to keep to, routes to drive where they are expected to complete the route within X timeframes, potentially leading them to have to drive too fast or cut corners. If you put difficult to meet targets on to an underpaid, overworked workforce, you are going to have accidents and issues. When that underpaid overworked workforce are driving a 12 ton metal machine? Ouch.

It’s no wonder that during the period 1 April 2007 to 9 May 2015, TfL Buses have been involved in 4714 Collisions with pedestrians and 1641 Collisions with cyclists. That’s an average of about 1 per day with cyclists and 2 collisions per day with pedestrians.

Since my ‘driver under instruction” incident I’ve lost a great deal of confidence in London bus drivers, as their bad behaviour towards cyclists, pedestrians and passengers, and their lack of care and attention is clearly something that starts right from the training stages. It’s a culture, not a case of ‘one rogue driver’. But it’s not the drivers I blame as much as the operators taking an individualistic approach to poor driver behaviour on the roads.

Bus companies need to take a more holistic approach to incident investigation and concern reporting, similar to those in the aircraft industry, so they can identify what issues require cultural change rather than just speaking to one individual driver and expecting that to clear the matter up. Because it won’t. A similar approach needs to take place with HGV drivers , car drivers, cyclists; taking the focus away from individual road user behaviour and addressing how we can systematically create safer ways for us all to use the roads. WHY are there so many HGV drivers killing cyclists? WHY are so many cyclists feeling safer on the pavement or jumping lights? WHY are bus drivers driving so fast? WHY aren’t car drivers seeing cyclists? We need to recognise and accept that this is something that needs systemic change, and that we have to stop treating every incident as One Rogue X and thinking that sanctioning or blaming that one person will solve the problem of the danger on our roads.

I have two flatmates, one cycles, one doesn’t. 5 years ago I’d have been all GET A BIKE, WHEEE to the non cycling flatmate, but these days things are so bad on the roads that I no longer feel I can say that. If I hadn’t already been cycling in London for around 10 years I am not sure I’d be cycling either! We need to look at sustainable holistic ways to improve the safety of our roads – for everyone.

All pictures used are copyright Bikeyface. Go check out the blog, it’s brilliant

Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

woman to woman: we need to talk

bullshit memeI didn’t have very many female friends as a young teenager. I didn’t have many male friends either, I have to say. A combination of moving around a lot and being pretty socially awkward and (with hindsight) not finding it easy to recognise people meant I found it hard to form close friendships. Or even casual ones. I was quite late into my teens before I found a group of friends (mainly thanks to Sir Terry Pratchett.)

When I DID meet this group of friends, it was largely boys from other schools (I went to an all girls school) with a smaller group of girls. When I went to university, again I struggled to make friends, and ended up hanging out mainly with a bunch of stoner dudes who thought it was hilarious to try and  get me to swear as I rarely used swear words (I blame them for how much I fucking swear now)

Most of my friends outside of university were also men. Guys in the band I was in, guy internet friends. I didn’t form many close friendships with women at all. I had a small number of close female friends, but I don’t think I ever talked about them about girl-stuff.

Looking back on this now, it’s pretty clear that I was a text book not-like-other-girls girl. I had internalised all this crap about what ‘girls’ are meant to be (pretty, ‘girly’, weepy, clingy, emotional, bitchy etc) and decided “that’s not me”. But instead of thinking “hey, not only is this not me, this isn’t actually my experience of other girls, maybe this is a load of crap” I clung on to the idea that my not-like-other-girl-ness made me special and different and cool and took it on as ‘my thing’.

I also internalised the idea, hook, line and sinker, that other women were my ‘competition’. That I should be comparing myself to the women around me. That my worth was based on my direct relation to the women around me. Is she thinner than me? Is she smarter than me? Is she funnier than me? I remember really clearly talking about a girl-friend of mine to another, describing BULLSHIT MEME her as “really pretty, slim, funny and so clever. And what’s really annoying about her is she’s so nice, you can’t even hate her”. I mean, what a fucked up sort of thing is that to say? That someone is thin and smart and pretty so they must be mean? Or they must be worthy of hate?

I didn’t of course realise I was doing all this. It wasn’t conscious. To be honest, I didn’t realise it until relatively recently. In the last year I’ve had some incredible conversations with women. About all sorts of things. About life, about ambitions, vaginas & cervixes. About periods, penises, toe hair, orgasms, babies and farting. About fears, panic attacks, growing up, parenting, and politics, and much, much more. Conversations I’ve never had with women before. I’ve seen moments where groups of women have discovered something going on with their lady parts is totally normal and something other women are experiencing and saying “god I wish I’d talked about this before. I’d have known it was normal.” I’ve been involved in all women action groups who’ve got together and made plans and achieved extraordinary things. There’s been none of this ‘bitchyness’ that one is lead to believe happens in women dominated or women only spaces.

In fact, if I look back at my time in a roller derby league, I can honestly say that any ‘bitchyness’ I saw was almost entirely a product of *perception* – an assumption, filtered through my own internalised misogyny, my own mistaken ideas of what ‘girls are like’. I saw as many disagreements and issues within male roller derby groups, but I never saw any accusations of bitchyness. Large groups of women aren’t any more ‘bitchy’ than large groups of men, and yet when large groups of straight men bicker and disagree and fall out, are they called ‘bitchy’?

Where do these ideas come from then, that we think that women are all bitches, competing with each other to be the prettiest or the thinnest or the best or the smartest; that we can’t trust each what the fuck is it with these fucking bullshit memes?other; that we can’t talk to each other or achieve things in large groups? Because when you let that go, when you say “actually, I think perhaps this might all be a massive pile of crap” and form links with other women and really start talking, the fact that it’s all complete bollocks becomes really obvious. I think it comes from all around us. I think it’s coming out of the godammed walls, man.

Women are told via TV shows, movies, women’s magazines, adverts,all these bullshit memes that people insist on sharing – all the media around us –  that other women are our competition, and that we can feel better about ourselves by tearing them down. We’re told we can’t trust each other. We’re told that we should be hating each other. That’s why women’s magazines (you remember how much I hate these, right?)  have ‘circle of shame’ features where famous women’s teeny tiny ‘imperfections’ are dissected in minute detail. Women are told that we should compare ourselves to other women’s bodies, their achievements, their lives. What this *actually* does is make us feel bad about ourselves, and impacts on our self-esteem (and then of course we buy more stuff to make ourselves feel better. Clever, right?) And if you are one of those people sharing these bullshit memes? Please, stop. Just…stop.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would wonder why so much media is built around making women think we can’t get on, and can’t work together, and are always in competition with each other all the time, and should all hate each other. Particularly after my recent experiences of getting involved with some all women groups and witnessing how much they can achieve working together when able to put aside that we’re allegedly incapable of doing so. I can’t help but think about the concept of ‘divide and conquer’ – if women hate each other they fail to unite and fight for equality.  I am not a conspiracy theorist, however, so I don’t think this is some big organised conspiracy of the patriarchy. Although it’s certainly true that the media has deliberately tried to influence women before; first to get them to stop being so girly and go get a damn job during the war, and then to get them back to the housework and stop thinking they should enjoy manly things like having jobs when the war ended.

seriously, STOP THIS BULLSHIT. I don’t, as you will already know if you’re a regular reader, subscribe to gender essentialist ideas; the idea that women are innately ABC and men are innately XYZ. I think that much of what we say are male/female traits are down to how we’re raised, what we experience, how people treat us and expect of us. But let’s for a minute think about those gender stereotypes – women are meant to be nurturing, caring, supportive, kind, and great communicators. If we are all these things, then why are we also meant to be huge bitches who all hate each other that can’t achieve anything when working together? EVEN IF you ascribe to notions of gender essentialism, it STILL DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

And if you DON’T ascribe to notions of gender essentialism, and you recognise that individuals are all, well, individuals, with their own motivations and wants and needs and drives and ways of communication, then why would you make a sweeping judgement about other women? One that, if you think about it, simply doesn’t make sense, and is actually preventing you from forging powerful and meaningful friendships with other women.

What I’ve learned in the last few years is that if you can just drop the idea that other women are your enemies then you can open yourself to something really special. You can have really powerful intimate conversations with other women, and find out that these other women all have the same issues, concerns, worries, problems and fears as you, and rather than judgement and competition they can offer support, advice, love and care. You then also realise that you can offer the same in return.

Posted in feminism, my opinions let me show you them | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Not Not Drinking, just not drinking

231386085552BarneyWe’re now in May, so it’s now been 16 (and a half) months since I gave up drinking for, er, three months. While the initial 12 months of Not Drinking were trickier, the last 4 (and a half) months of just not drinking hasn’t actually been difficult at all – there’s definitely a huge difference between Not Drinking and I Could Have A Drink If I Wanted But I’m Not Going To.

I have had a few small sips of a beautiful hazelnut liqueur, a birthday present last year from Mummy Dinosaur Pirate, and I have tasted some organic Cider that my flatmate was drinking. That’s it. I’ve not had an entire alcoholic drink at all – and I am still not missing it much.

I recall six months in saying I wanted to get to the point with my attitude to drinking where I could walk into a bar, see an interesting looking drink that I wanted to taste, or liked the taste of, and would drink it because I wanted that drink and not because I wanted to get drunk, or needed to be drunk. While there have been a few moments where I’ve been out a pub with some friends and thought “I’d really quite like a drink actually” – most often when there’s been a nice looking rosé available or my favourite beer – there’smongozo_cocunut been two clear occasions where I’ve felt that I wanted to drink for the taste, for the experience – and not for the alcohol. It was a powerful sensation – to know that I  had the power to make that choice, to know that I could just  have one and that would be the end of it. To know that i could just as easily not have it, and have just as good a night. On both occasions I chose not to have one – mainly because I’d cycled to the pub and figured cycling home after the first alcoholic drink in 16 months would be, on the list of Stupidest Things I’ve Done, quite high up the chart.

My social life has definitely changed – whether this is due to the not drinking or circumstance (it’s been a crazy few months on Dinosaur Planet) I don’t know; but I go out dancing and to clubs, well, certain clubs, a lot less. There are some places which just aren’t really fun when you aren’t in an altered state. Where you are acutely aware of the state of the toilets, of the floor  being sticky, of a general sense of grottiness. A few clubs I’ve been to I’ve found the behaviour of other drunk people just a little hard to deal with. You start to recognise this unfocused look in people’s eyes, the way they stumble around the club and just sort of barge around or push through you like you aren’t there. I assume this happened before, when I went to these places as a heavy drinker, but that as I was one of them I never really noticed. Being around seriously drunk people does start to get harder, and so my social life has in the main shifted away from late night clubs and more into early evening pub trips with a pack of cards or a game of Fluxx or Love Letter.

The change to my social life pattern as also brought an interesting shift to many of my friendships. I have drifted apart from some of my old party buddies, and grown much closer to other friends. The quality of conversation, and your ability to really listen to people (and remember the conversation the next day) is considerably better, and some nights out have brought me closer to people I thought I knew, people I’ve known for years. There’s been many moments where I’ve been next to a friend in a bar, when previously our conversation would have been “LOL LET’S GET SHOTS OMG DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME WHEN WE OH GOD WE WERE SO WASTED” and I’ve said to them ” you know, I’ve known you for 10 years and don’t actually know what you do for a living?”

I’ve had marvellous conversations which have brought me closer to people I care about, and have learned how to tell these friends I care about them with full mindfulness and sobriety – i don’t have to be drunk to take a friend in my arms and say “mate, I love you. You know that?” and they know I mean it, and that makes it so much more meaningful. Even if they do get a little embarrassed and punch me on the arm and call me a knobhead. That’s just their way of saying “mate, I love you too.”

If I do go clubbing, I fortify myself beforehand with borderline unwise amounts of caffeine so I can survive the night; but usually once I am there and dancing alcohol just doesn’t seem important any more. My flatmate, a long time drinking buddy, has also discovered the joys of drinking considerably less of a night out. You still feel rubbish in the morning – today is no exception, as last night was in fact one of these rare clubbing adventures – but that’s mainly a combination of too much caffeine/sugar and too little sleep. It’s rather fun to feel a little wrecked occasionally, I do like the excuse to stay curled up in a blanket and watch terrible films and order pizza over the internet. And feeling a little wrecked due to overstimulation and fatigue is considerably more fun than feeling like if you move you might die.

16 (and a half) months without hangovers – and I cannot emphasize this enough – is FUCKING GREAT. I never want a hangover ever again. My time off from hangovers has given me a clarity that as much fun as drinking can be, it’s absolutely not worth the hangover.  Weekends are longer. You get so much more done with your life. The thing I miss least of all is that horrible sense of anxious foreboding and vague unspecified shame; where you are quite sure that you did something horribly embarrassing and that you are a terrible awful person who can never show her face again in public. I really don’t miss that. I hadn’t even realised that was a drinking/hangover thing. It took some time before I realised I wasn’t feeling like that every morning after a night before when the night before was a sober one. That waking up with waves of shame and fear wasn’t just part of waking up after a night out. I now wake up after a night out feeling like I probably should have drunk more water, less Cola and slept more, but that I had an awesome night and that my friends are awesome people and that as a person I am pretty ok actually.

tumblr_mkp8zkiay11s1txd3o1_500People  have asked if I miss drinking. My answer 6 months ago would probably have been that I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the sense of going on a shared journey with friends who are drinking. Now, I don’t even miss that, and am generally able to tap into that sense of fun an adventure without it. It helps that because I barely even mention it these days (it’s not new and exciting and a Big Experiment any more. I’m not a Not Drinker, I just don’t really drink. It’s a subtle difference, but a meaningful one) that often people don’t even really notice or pick up on it. Half the time I am clumsy and dorky enough for people to think I am drunk anyway. I am not entirely sure whether that’s meant as a compliment, but I am going to take it as one anyway.

What is most exciting is that at no point have I felt like I need a drink. Well, apart from briefly when I woke up on the 8th May and discovered the result of the UK general election, and had the fleeting notion that I needed to drown my sorrows – but I am pretty sure I am not alone in feeling that way and that for any lefty social justice warrior type finding out you’ve another 5 years of a right wing austerity mad government is perfectly justified in wanting to drink themselves into oblivion for a little while. But anyway, apart from that, I haven’t needed a drink, or felt like I had to have one. I’ve looked at drinks in the supermarket or at the bar and wanted a soft drink. I never dreamed when I embarked on this experiment 16 (and a alf) months ago. It’s rather wonderful and surprising.

I am fairly sure that at some point this summer I will have one of those coconut beers. It will be a momentous occasion.  My friends will probably take the piss. I will almost certainly selfie the moment for posterity. And it’s exciting that I am absolutely confident that I will be able to have one. Which is all I ever really wanted to achieve.

Posted in Drinking, Me Me Me, The List | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Election Special! Dinosaurs for Democracy

political_dinosaur_vote_web (1)I have been struck down with some kind of virus for the last few days; I am a highly efficient snot producing machine with a high temperature and razorblades in my throat. I’ve spent the last couple of days wrapped up in a duvet watching day time TV and generally feeling sorry for myself.

I am on the mend today, not 100% but definitely feeling more human and less like a swampy sweat monster from the planet catarrh. I hope I am not catching, as I had to vote.

I HAD to vote. Not legally, I mean. In the UK it’s not like in Australia where voting is compulsory; in the UK Voting is a democratic right, and you can choose not to vote.

But I think everyone should choose to vote. Especially women.

2015 marks the 97th anniversary of women in the UK being entitled to vote (although it would be another 10 years before women has the same voting rights as men). It also marks the FIRST TIME that women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to vote.

The right of women to vote has been hard fought for by passionate women who put their health and lives at risk so that future generations would have the right to have a say in who governs us.

I’ve heard some “excuses” as to why people might not vote this election and they disappoint me.  It’s a safe seat, my vote doesn’t matter. The polling station is in a really inconvenient place. I don’t like any of the candidates/parties. None of these are good reasons not to vote.

Sure, your seat might be a safe seat, but if every single person in your area who doesn’t think it’s worth it because it’s a safe seat turned up to vote, and they vote for someone other than the present incumbent, it’s not such a safe seat any more, is it? That aside, Every vote is counted, even in a safe seat. Every. Single. Vote. So even if it’s a landslide victory for the present incumbent, a huge rise in other votes gets noticed. Even safe seats can get a shock – but only if you go and vote.

I had to wander around looking for my polling station earlier, as my local borough had inconveniently given me the wrong address for my polling station. Annoying at the best of times, but when you are ill it’s not fun at all. But while I was voting, an old woman, unable to walk without a wheeled walking aid, arrived to vote. It took her several minutes just to walk from the gate to the polling station door. She was so exhausted, she had to rest while the poll station staff fetched her water. And then she left to walk home again. It must have taken her ages. But she came out and cast her vote because voting is important.

Don’t like any of the candidates? Spoil your ballot. It will count. And you will have voted. You will have attended the voting booth and sent a clear message that none of the parties represent you. If you really don’t want to vote for any of the candidates, don’t. Add a box at the bottom that says “none of the above” and put an X in it. Write NO TO EVERYONE across the paper. Draw pair of ovaries. Whatever. Just go to the polling station and get your ballot paper and commit your minor act of civil disobedience. It’s still more productive, and more empowered, than not voting.

Once I’d eventually found the correct polling station and was in the booth, I spent longer in there than I ever have in all my years of being old enough to vote (I am old enough for this to be my 5th General Election). Previous years I’ve known who to vote for and been confident enough to put my X in the box without a second thought. This year I’ve put more thought into my vote, and how to vote, and what my vote means. At the point where I stepped into the ballot box I  still hadn’t decided whether to vote purely on policy, to vote local, to vote as a protest, to vote with my heart, to spoil my ballot.

I don’t like any of the current political parties, to be honest. I don’t think any of them have 100% viable policies. I did the Vote For Policies test and was surprised to get 100% Green as the result; I don’t actually agree with all of their policies. I also don’t particularly like my local Green candidate. I DO like my local Labour candidate, a lot. I think she’s brilliant for the area, and for women. But a vote for her is a vote for Labour, and I no longer feel they represent my beliefs. I could vote for TUSC; their candidate impressed at a hustings I attended and as a public sector worker I am very much behind a no-more-cuts drive. I’m in a pretty darn safe Labour seat – my vote for any other candidate would be little more than a protest vote. I could draw a dinosaur on my ballot paper.

All of these options were open to me as I stood in the booth, running over all my options. I did make a decision. And the beauty of our voting system is that I am entitled to an entirely confidential vote. I don’t have to tell anyone what I chose. But I could choose. I was free to, and had the right to, make my choice about the government of my country.

Which way I voted, or what I did with my ballot paper, that’s far less important than the fact that I voted.

Whatever your political inclinations, whoever you think should win, whatever your reasoning behind what you put on that ballot paper – you should vote today. Because you can. And that’s a powerful thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments