Personal Politics

My school had always been a Protestant school. They would advertise it as streamed, but I don’t think I ever knew of any Catholic kids who went there. I’d always grown up around Protestant people on Protestant estates. My dad was in the Orange Order for a few years before he left (because pissing all over the street and rolling round drunk didn’t seem appropriate for a ‘christian’ organisation) and we attended Protestant churches. We even went to Ian Paisleys church while he was still kicking.

When I left school, left home, left the estate, I started to meet a lot of different people I’d not had much opportunity to spend time with up to now. I made republican friends from West Belfast, I made friends with people from both sides out in the sticks. I learned a lot about the troubles and how they still affected people trying to live in peace with no experience of it.

My dad had been in the army before I was born. He was based in Padebourn in Germany and was due to start a tour of Northern Ireland when he broke his leg very badly in a motorbike accident. His leg rejected a plate so it wouldn’t heal, but it took them ages to work out what was wrong. By the time I was old enough to hear the story my dads whole shin was a shiny sheet of scar tissue. They went without him, and he lay in hospital recovering, as his unit travelled to take their part in the stories my friends would tell me now.

One friend told me that his Nana had been dragged out of the pub she ran in the middle of the night by soldiers who told her that the other side owned it now, and she should move. Another told me his mum made a killing buying their house as the IRA fired a mortar over it while the deal was being made. They would tell me how soldiers would call them over to chat in the street, showing of their weapons, knowing it offered a small protection from any attacks. The kids would sidle over and spit in the lenses, they weren’t fooled. I remembered being grateful for the small mercy that I could be sure none of these stories were about my dad.

I never felt in any immediate danger anywhere in Belfast. Bomb scares were an inconvenience on the way home, the flags flew high on both sides. The fighting that people remembered from the troubles was gone, and so all focus was turned on keeping the peace in the community, keeping the police out of the estates, and eventually fighting with each other. Although I was never scared where I lived, I loved visiting West Belfast.

The civil rights movement seemed to have had more success here. There was a stronger concentration of socialists, and the politics they held to made them open and warm and fair. They cared about the community as a whole in what felt like a more familiar way. When I heard the stories and songs it felt much more like a people full of hope and the belief that what was right would be, eventually. It felt a lot less like the triumphant victory songs I’d grown up around. 

By the time I reached 17 I knew that as far as Ireland was concerned I was that rare creature – the Protestant republican. I’m not Irish, none of my family are Irish. But growing up there and standing witness to the things that I did and the people I knew, that is the decision I came to as an outsider looking in. 

Over the next few years through various people and experiences my politics was built and evolved, first through the anarchists, then through community activism. As we all do, the more I learned the more opinions I formed and a clearer picture of where I stood began to emerge.

I don’t know if my politics will always stay how they are, or if I will find something I think is a better idea, but what I do know is that they will always hold to the values I found in the republican communities of west Belfast. Community, family, fairness, hard work, equality. These were present on my own estates, in varying degrees, but where I learned they were cornerstones of life was in those places were I found them celebrated. 

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Wirral House Fires

There’s been a second house fire on the Wirral today. My mate was round yesterday telling me that there’d been a house fire round the corner from her where two people had died. They’d had no smoke alarm and only the passing plod who called the fire brigade had noticed the smoke pouring from the house into the night. 

Now, the next night, there’s been another round the corner from me. Two people rushed to hospital while the fire in their kitchen was tackled by three fire crews. 

They only came out to check my smoke alarms a couple weeks ago, I’m grateful for that and with the cuts they’re facing this must be a difficult time to do an already dangerous and difficult job. 

My mates got PTSD so she relates really strongly to tragedy like this, she couldn’t stop saying “what if that had been me?” Tragedies like this, especially with a loss of life, wrack communities and tend to bring about a sense of solidarity. But this one hit me pretty hard too, not just because it’s on my doorstep. 

Last week when I got off the train from London, I was waiting for a taxi outside a pool hall. It was pissing down and freezing cold and it was taking ages because of the rush hour demand. This woman sidled up to me with an umbrella and said hello. She commented on the weather and chatted to me for a bit when she slipped into conversation, “any odds?” 

She was waiting for someone in a car, of course she was. But she was happy to chat to me so I chatted back. The first thing she said, bursting was pride was that she was about to be a grandma for the first time. Stuff like that always gets me. Then she told me that she sleeps outside the Liverpool shop on the square because her house burned down. 

She’d put crumpets in the toaster and they’d caught fire when she fell asleep. She had found herself,  five weeks ago, sleeping rough for the first time when the landlord shrugged her off.
The dole won’t give her anything without a permanent address. The housing find her the odd night here or there but most days she tries to get £16.40 for the YMCA. She was really lovely, you know. She looked clean and warm but the idea of having to spend even the odd night on a doorstep in this weather is just heartbreaking. I gave her £2, it was all I could afford.

This time I can’t help but think, what if that was me? What if they end up like Angela? Who is going to help them?

I know a lot of people spend a lot of time in Liverpool Facebook groups organising and delivering donations and company to homeless people. The community in Liverpool is very strong and has a big heart. But what they need is stability, and who is going to help them to get that?

The council NEED more property. Less property for the wealthy and more affordable housing for the poor. They need to be pressured to use the property they already have, whole streets lie empty up here, all over the place.

Out of the fire and into the street. Love to the families of the victims of both these fires, I hope our communities step up to support you through this tragedy. 

The Standard

“What’s that flag mean?”
“Is that a Ukrainian flag?”

“Is it for football?”

I’ve been asked a thousand questions about the flag that hangs on my living room wall by everyone that walks in. It’s rarely recognised, and if it is its assumed to be ‘some Russian thing.’ 

I like the question. I like answering it. I change my answer dependent on who I’m talking to. I explained to my best mate yesterday that the flag means that she shouldn’t have to worry about a house, and a job and bills. That in an ideal world we would share it all out equally and everyone would have what they need and give what they’re able.

I tell my mates boyfriend that it’s a USSR flag – the flag of the Soviet Union because I know that he thinks himself a bit of a history buff and he will ask me why I’ve got it on my wall. Back to answer one.

I tell next doors kids that it’s the flag of the greatest story ever told, and how kids just like them wear that little ribbon on the corner every May to celebrate how they beat the worst baddies the world ever acknowledged.

I tell lots of stories about this flag, and there is always, always one. This one is my landlords handyman who’s been doing loads of work on my house, he’s about 50. He recognises it, but he doesn’t know why I’ve got it. He doesn’t ask though, he just looks a bit bewildered. Over the next few days he drops comments, “I dunno you bloody communists” he says laughing, trying to wind me up but I know the reason he’s saying it is he doesn’t understand how the things he has heard of communism are appealing to a 26 year old single mum, and that’s what I’m banking on.

I goad him into asking me questions about it, I encourage him to challenge the things he has heard of communism with common sense and facts. After a week he doesn’t look at the flag on the wall anymore. He accepts my explanation, it makes sense to him. He might not agree, but it doesn’t seem like mad cult anymore. It’s not anymore out of place or prominent than my kettle to him now.

And this is exactly the reason why it is important to hold to this symbology. It has been smeared for decades all over the world as a dirty, horrible thing. A hammer and sickle to some people now comes with a warning, a little alarm, like when you see a Germanic looking eagle and you have to double take and see if it’s one of those eagles. 

But I don’t represent anyone but myself. I’m not a leader of anything, not a member of much. So although some people may be a little put off, more than anything they are curious as to why the person that I am in my every day Birkenhead slum life has got something like this, and when they ask it gives me a chance to undo some of that damage. It gives me opportunity to dust off that hammer and sickle and wipe away some of the mud that covers it now.

We should not discard our emblems which have given so many hope and freedom, we should not hide them away in shame at what other people may think. We should not pander to the idea that there is something wrong with being a communist. It is not a dirty word. And we know this, we know this is fact and we know the propaganda we are up against. 

Those conversations won’t happen unless we hold to it, we would not compromise our ideals or our beliefs to compensate people who don’t agree. The hammer and sickle is the representation of a lifetime of struggle for what is right and good. We should not compromise on that either.

Give yourself opportunity to talk to people about what it is and what it means. Be open to their criticism, and arm yourself with the knowledge that validates your right to proudly display it. People want to know about what and why you believe in things, they will never ask while its collecting dust in the bottom of history’s wardrobe.

History.

My instinct was always to go straight to the back. The light was a little dimmer there, whichever class used this as a form room had PE bags piled on the window sills. Nobody would really notice you there, I imagined. 

But I couldn’t dare sit there. So I’d aim for the middle of the opposite side, it was that or in front of the teacher and no matter what I was NOT sitting there, that was asking for it. I sat down and put my scruffy bag next to me, and put my oversized blazer on the back of the chair. 

You might be forgiven for thinking that I was one of those kids that felt invisible in school but it was much worse than that. I felt completely visible, I felt magnified, I crawled through school in a complete state of paranoia and embarrassment. By the time it came to sitting in this particular History class, I would refuse to turn my head when someone called my name because I was sure they would just laugh, for no reason other than me turning around, and that just made me burn with shame. 

So Mrs McCullough comes into the room and without fail, tells someone to close the blinds. I’ve only done that once, they’re on the other side of the room. I thought at the time she was about 70 but God knows really. She had grey hair and she could shout when she wanted to but she seemed sort of delicate, like talcum powder. 

We got our homework out. Well, they got their homeworks out. I didn’t. Ever, really. Or I did but it was always late. I was constantly in detention because I couldn’t be bothered to do it, and usually, it was Mrs. McCullough giving me them. She didn’t this time, she gave me a day, and I just remember feeling embarrassed that for five minutes everyone was looking at me, but nothing happened.

“Open your books to page 47. 

Page 47.

Page 47.” 

She would repeat things endlessly, but it must’ve worked because I fluked a B. 

Dutifully, we opened out books (well, I opened hers, I’d forgot mine) and on pg.47 was the beginning of a module about the start of World War One. She would read through the book and copy out bits with the driest whiteboard marker she could find squeaking, and always repeating. 

“Who -” she intoned, clicking the lid back onto her marker and swivelling in her moccasins “was assassinated at Sarajevo?” 

She peered through her glasses looking for a hand when Peter shouted out “Franz Ferdinand!” From the far back corner. 

“Peter McKeown, this is not a pantomime!” She snapped at him, and the room hushed. 

And in a flash without skipping a beat Peter McKeown smirked and shouted

“OH YES IT IS!”

Well.

I.

Exploded. 

Into the most hysterical shrieks of laughter ever experienced, I was crying hunched over the table, tears were streaming down my face and I couldn’t stop, it just got worse. The room was silent, and I had dissolved into a shaking wreck of laughter with no breathe to make noise.

I couldn’t stop. Everyone was staring at me, really staring. I had no mates to find it funny for me to take the shade, and when I thought about it later I just burned and shrivelled and died in my seat. 

The bell went, people began to leave, I began to breathe.

And then Mrs McCullough gave me detention. 

Colorado Springs

Yesterday in Colorado Springs a mass shooting occurred when a man walked into planned parenthood, shot officers and civilians, surrendered on demand and was summarily arrested. 

Throughout the terrifying ordeal, reporters claimed that the shooter had been firing at cars early into his spree, which culminated in three deaths, and the injury of four officers and five civilians. A SWAT team managed to rescue seven hostages from inside the building, but the shooter was said to be still active during the operation and nearby business employees were encouraged to hide and stay away from any windows.

The shooter is now in custody. It’s fair to say then that he’s probably white. If he hadn’t been we would be talking about how a terrorist was shot dead, rather than a shooter arrested.

It’s early yet, but I think it’s only fair to speculate with the description of the attacker being a 40yr old white male that this attack did not happen to fall on planned parenthood unexpectedly, but that this was the intended target all along.

Why?

Well, maybe you’re aware of who they are, maybe you’ve seen the hashtag #shoutyourabortion which many people used to support the organisation which helped them through a difficult process in their lives. I too wrote about this just a couple of days ago.

Planned Parenthood are a family planning clinic, most famous in the US because they perform abortions, but they also provide a lot of other services to do with planning, building and raising a family. Obviously it gets a lot of shade from religious fanatics and pro-lifers who should probably just mind their own business, but I would say this is a strong contender for the reasoning behind this attack.

This happened on a day after thanksgiving,  a traditionally quiet and peaceful period. It happened in a place where women were discussing their futures and their options. There was no reason to believe that anybody in that building was attending for an abortion that day, but it didn’t matter to this guy. He didn’t have a coherent argument and a taste for debate. He had a gun and a sense of righteousness that made it a horrible sin for those women to carry out terminations if they so wished, but gave him a divine right to shoot and try to kill them for it. What a bizarre logic.

This is the second mass shooting in Colorado Springs in just a month. What a devastating blow to the community. Medical professionals, people who trained in their field to help people, to give people options and plans and stability, were left blood soaked and cowering for their lives for no other reason than this man felt it his right and privilege to dole out his brand of vigilante justice.

The gun control argument has been heard a thousand times. Should we disarm the public? Or should we now arm doctors and medical staff too? There is an arms race on the streets of America – the more people shoot, the more guns are sold. More shootings have been committed by toddlers than anyone else in the states this year – buying more guns and having them around your home simply is not the safer option.

I think the only thing that can combat horrific attacks like this is a control on firearms, a distancing of the church from governing bodies and education education education – for both men and women on their rights, their options and what they entail.

I had a very very pro-life upbringing. I hate that term. Because as we have seen from this attack, it is not pro-life simply  anti-choice. It was instilled in me from an early age through the church, and as I grew older and began to think for myself I realised how barbaric it was to impose that belief on somebody. Regardless of what you think of anybody and their decisions, it is not your body, it is not your business.

My heart goes out to the men and women in that clinic today, and the families of those killed or injured. We can only hope that Colorado Springs can find some peace to rebuild and move on, but there are lessons to be learned here that should not be ignored.

First Class

Sitting on the train from Euston to Lime St, for what feels like the hundredth time, drinking a tall cup of what appears to be labelled “a lovely person.” I’m not sure why they decided to starting liquidating people in place of reliable old coffee but I must say the taste is almost identical. I suppose if they just used regular people, it may come across a little bitter. Still, I can’t help but feel for the poor sod who is now soup in my cup, ground up and watered down to satiate the masses. What is this world coming to?

I didn’t do that mad dash for the last carriage as so many seem to, convinced that they’ve outsmarted the herd clustered around the gate. All sweating, sure that this must be the one time where Virgin have sold more tickets than there are seats. 

Desperately hoping that the rest will honour the mid carriage aisle seat they’ve been allocated, and secretly reassuring themselves they’ll stick their brass neck out and poach a table anyway. 

And so as the flood gates open the stampede surges forward, racing for the end of the platform convinced that no other would dare venture that far. Only to arrive, crestfallen, at coach U to find that every bloody passenger has had the same idea, and as they all cram on the back doors and slowly ooze up through the train, theres cleverdick Cherry Red who bounced in the first door and is now breezing through the roomy aisle of first class toward that red standard sticker on the sliding door.

First class is a bizarre concept. There has been uproar lately because our Jezza Corbyn, candidate for leadership of the Labour Party and Messiah of the masses, stuck his head down from heaven and suggested we bring in women only carriages to try and ensure lone traveller safety. An idea, by the way, that was suggested to him by women.

Oh you can’t do that. That’s sexist, that is. Oh Jeremy, you can’t segregate people based on gender, we are a progressive society. You can’t do that. What you can do though, is segregate on the basis of class. Yeah thats fine. Cos poor people are a bit noisy and smelly anyway aren’t they, its for the best that we keep them away from our shiny shoes and suits, lest their poverty is contagious.

You know what. I am absolutely in favour of first class carriages, and let me tell you why.

THEY’RE EXACTLY THE SAME.

The only thing I can see that marks it out from the rest, (aside from the stench of entitlement wafting up the aisle which appears to be, what, an inch wider than standard class), is that these seats have little white bibs velcroed onto them which declare “FIRST CLASS.”

Do you know why that is? I’m almost sure its because if they didn’t label these seats, you wouldnt be able to tell them apart. Some of these priveleged idiots have spent twice the money, for a bib on their seat. I actually stole one on the way past to stick on my own seat, but alas only half the Velcro fastening has put paid to that. If only I’d paid £150 for a £40 journey.
“oh but its quieter.” 

First of all, only the silence of a vacuum could make me contemplate paying that much for a ticket. (science.) Swapping out students chatting shit about their “gap yahh” for toffs chatting shit about their earnings does not equal quiet. And we have a quiet carriage too, all the way down here in the murky depths of standard.

I can honestly say I think this is one of the few times where I feel I’ve got one over on the better-offs and better-thans. It’s still sickening to think that they just have money to waste, but it always makes me laugh that they think they’re getting something special up there.
“oh but we get a drink.”

So do I. From the buffet. It doesn’t cost me £110. I dont have to walk the length of the train to get it after making such an effort to distance myself from the riffraff.

So please, frequent first class passengers, keep doing your thing. Enjoy that bib on your seat. Enjoy the smug satisfaction of thinking you’re better than everyone for approx. three hours. Lord knows we dont want your pampered arses back here anyways.

Church

All I ever wanted as a kid was to impress my dad. The odd Monty Python sketch might produce a snort or a chuckle but generally my dad wasn’t easily pleased. At least not by his children. We could always do better. Look smarter. Be thinner. He never clucked over my school reports, he never said he was proud of me. He was stern, as much the picture of the biblical father as he could be.

One of my earliest memories is standing on a church pew singing hymns at the top of my voice, because I thought it might impress my dad who lived and breathed church. It did, he still tells people that story now. “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene” I was singing. I was about six, I doubt if I knew what a Nazarene was, but it didn’t matter. I’d have sung anything for that approval, and for years to come I jumped through any hoop he held out.

Not long after this incident I was on the swing in the back yard singing church songs at the top of my voice at about nine o’clock in the morning. Singing and swinging were two of my favourite things. We had a lot of rules when we were kids, but this was freedom in the back yard. I had been wrestling with the idea of ‘being saved’ since I was able to conceive of it. Yes, I said the magic prayer and I thought I meant it, but nothing had changed. Nothing felt different. 

I told my dad, again he was pleased and told everybody his little girl had been saved. I cried at night because I wasn’t sure I’d done it right, and I might yet go to hell. What a quandary for a seven year old to be faced with, eternal damnation. The next day I prayed on the trampoline out the back for hours. I cried and I tried, but it didn’t change. I guessed he must’ve said no. I gave up for a while. 

He showed me this dvd once, it was footage of people celebrating the day of the dead in Spain. I was only a little girl, I fell for the setup hook, line and sinker. This wasn’t an informative or educational video. This was revealing to us the depraved ravings of the lost and unsaved. Look how they walked for miles in their bare feet! Wearing shrouds and carrying skulls, the evil practices of the unsaved! I became obsessed with Spain and decided my calling was to travel there as a missionary to help save those poor lost souls. Needless to say I never did fulfill my destiny, but again, my dad still talks about it as if it’s inevitable that I will end up there recruiting for a religion I no longer take any part of. 

What it did spark was an obsession with Spain, and speaking Spanish which lasted well into my early twenties. This happened a lot when I was a kid. I would pursue something to please my dad, and then realise that in fact I enjoyed it for myself. A lot of the things I love were born of a desire to bond with my dad – motorbikes, judo, army cadets. He gave me a lot of things I love, but I wasn’t looking for them, I was looking for my dad. He never seemed to be all there.

Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of him. Maybe he’d be talking to my uncle, or laughing at some squaddie humour he’d come across. Or drinking a Guinness on the sly (almost unheard of when I was a child.) Once in a while the mask would slip and I could see him, the man he had been before us. The man he had been before life happened.

He never told us anything about his childhood. Ever. Now and then he would tell us to pull up a sandbag and he would tell us something that had happened in the army or since. But never about being little, or in school. We heard snippets from other people, hushed and rushed, never within earshot. I would seek it out from anyone who had anything to tell, I was desperate to know. Anything that might help me understand how to make him love me like a proper dad.

My dad had ADHD as a kid, but nobody had heard of it then, so they just thought he was weird and naughty. His siblings used to think it funny to wind him up until he lost his temper and then laugh at the spectacle of him losing his shit. I’d say “how awful!” But I remember us doing similar things to my little brother when we were little, not realising how cruel it was. He was always a lot like my dad in certain ways.

His mum would play a particular tune on the piano because she knew it upset him. He was left behind at school locked in a toilet and my auntie Linda had to fetch him home, covered in shit. He was left at the altar at 19 by the love of his life, his first wife was unfaithful and cruel. He was sent to a ‘school for unruly boys’ when they couldn’t handle his needs and told he would never make anything of himself.

These were the stories we heard, and my heart broke for my dad. All I wanted was to love him, and fix him, and let him know he was worthy of it. I understood that temper now. I understood why he couldn’t love any of us properly. I understood why he was so sad inside, or at least I thought I did.

Every time he beat me for something I had done wrong, it hurt and I was scared – but what really killed me was knowing that whatever happened in those brief periods of happiness – ultimately he did not like me. He did not love me. And he would never be proud of me. Not because there was anything wrong with me – which I had believed for years was the case – but because he was incapable.

I spent years rebelling against the strict conditions of living with my parents and then later my dad. I would turn up at church still off my nut from the night before, boots and wilting Mohican sprawled across the back bench. I would embarrass him, needlessly, and refuse to take part in anything I thought I shouldn’t have to. I’d had years of this shit, I was bored of it. And after my mum left after 20 years, the strength to rein me in sort of just went out of him. So I was more or less left to my own devices, and three months later summarily ejected from living at my dads. Understandable really.

I moved to Spain after all, with a pack of skinheads who introduced me to speed. It went badly wrong and I had to come home. My dad had no time or energy for me any more. Despite my similar interests, the things we used to have in common, ultimately I had disappointed him. I would never be a blushing obedient wife, I would never be a bride of Jesus, I would never be a missionary. I had eleven GCSEs and a string of jobs I couldn’t stick to. By the age of 20 I had completely undone all the work he had put in trying to mould me into that pastors daughter.

And I was sorry. I was so sorry. Because although I expected this from my dad when my life decisions became clear, there always was and probably always will be an element of me that desperately wants his approval, still. I missed him, and I wrote to him, but he wouldn’t see me or speak to me and I refused to bend to his idea of what I should be or do anymore. 

It’s been years since then, about eight years, and a lot of things have changed. I used to proudly announce that my dad was like the Job of the bible. Faithful and long suffering. I even got my brother to write it into his best man speech when he remarried. But over the years, as I grew up and began to see things with my own eyes I realised that wasn’t the case. 

He wasn’t brave, he was a coward. He had caused as much suffering as he had been given. He destroyed people’s lives in ways I can’t go into, and he produced some pretty anxious fucked up kids who he dropped when a chance at a new life came along. There was no love for us from my dad, only an expectation of what we should be that benefited him. 

 I understand, in some ways, why my dad became the man he is, but after all the understanding and the reaching out to him I realised that it was no excuse. He could never be any different. He never would be. There are things he did and said that I could never fathom, and after years of trying I gave up. I gave up on him, as he had given up on me when he realised that he could not stifle who I was or mould me into what he thought I should be.

His life had not been as much of a tragedy as I had been led to believe. A lot of who he is was born of selfishness.

I don’t think I can ever stop loving my dad. Much as I would like to, and I resent him for having that trump card that allowed him to treat us like shit for so long. I can’t change him. All I can do is make peace with it, for myself, for my family, and make sure that he can’t hurt us anymore. So I told him what I had to. And I said goodbye. He won’t know my son. He never really knew me anyway.