Happy 2014!

They say you should start as you mean to go on. If that’s the case, I mean to spend 2014 in my pyjamas, bundled up in bed with my laptop and a mug of really nice coffee, with a cat headbutting me for attention. I think I could deal with that, although to be honest it’d really eat into my derby training schedule.

You know what it’s like when you read over last year’s resolutions and wish like hell that you’d lived up to them? Last year I made some damn good resolutions. They were so good, in fact, that I’ve even kept one or two of them up through the entire year- and that without having actually remembered what they were, or even that I’d made them in the first place.

Y’know what’s interesting? In the areas where I kept up those New Year’s Resolutions, things have been getting better and better. And the areas where I didn’t? Those are the places in my life that are more likely to be running through my mind when I’m staring at the ceiling at 3am.

That’s not surprising, though. As I said in my New Year’s video last year, the resolutions weren’t about the things that grown-ups are supposed to do, or what we’re supposed to care about. They were about “the things that changed my life, in 2012, from being unbearable to being wonderful, reminding myself what those are, and doing more of that”.

Here is, by the way, what I resolved this time last year:
1. Write like a motherfucker
2. Blog: draw, film, interview, pictures! Because I like making stuff. And I (still) want to learn to draw.
3. Make all the lists.
4. Roller skate. To quote me last year: “Roller skating is like.. flying. Except I’m scared of heights, so it’s better than that”
5. Use my words, stay in the moment, be open to love and opportunity, be willing to say no, and always search for joy.

Where I’ve let those things go, so has that sense of joy. But where I’ve done them? Oh, those are the places where things have gotten better than I could ever have imagined.

This year has been a mixed one. I haven’t written as much as I’d like, but I am proud of some of the things I have written and I’m grateful for all of the people I’ve met and opportunities I’ve found through this little blog. Thank you for the recognition at last year’s GALAs. Thank you, my wonderful readers, for sending me off to a conference this summer- that was brilliant, even if I did, er, skip out on the last hour to go to training. Thank you for commenting and sharing. Thank you to every one of you who’s come up to me in person or reached out to get in touch. Seriously, you guys, you know I get such a kick out of that, right?

I still haven’t learned to draw- although in the past month I’ve recruited an artist friend to help me learn, and we have delightful drawing lessons over tea and Malteasers where I, at the very least, get better at the theory of the thing.

As for the fourth item.. I thought I loved wheelyboots, but I had no idea how much better that could get. Also, how much better I could get. How head-over-heels (sometimes literally) I would be a year on for skating derby. How derby would fill me, not with the sense that I was the best at anything, but with the quiet confidence that I am better than I was, that I will be better than I am, and that working every day is worth it. Also, that no matter how loud you think you’re shouting (or how low you think you are), you could probably do with giving it a bit more welly. And, of course, derby introduced me to a couple of hundred (at least!) people who I just can’t get enough of. Yer all bloody brilliant, and I’m still pinching myself that I get to hang out with you lot.

This year? I don’t have much to add to the list, aside from writing it down this time instead of leaving it on YouTube. Cheesy or not, I find lists work best when I stick ‘em to my wall. My bedroom wall. Right where I can see them all the time.

Here’s my (slightly edited) list this time ‘round:

  1. Write like a motherfucker.
    • 750words.com is your friend. Use it daily.
    • Twice a month at least, put up something different: draw, film, photos, interviews, recipes.
  2. Roller skate.
    • Attend training, even when you feel godawful, unless you’re physically incapable. You have never regretted this.
    • Offskates training
    • One day off per week. Take it.
  3. Make lists.
    • On paper. Where I can see them.
    • With realistic dates and times.
  4. Go for what I want to do
    • It is not up to me to decide whether I’m good enough. What is up to me to decide is whether it’s something I want or not, and whether to give it my best shot.
  5. Answer my goddamn emails.
  6. Use my words, stay in the moment, be open to love and opportunity, be willing to say no, and always, always search for joy.

Mostly that last bit.

Whatever you love, whatever your life looks like right now and what you hope for next year, I wish you an abundance of joy in 2014.

How to respond to racist attacks? Put your money where your mouth is!

TW: racism, violence, pictures of racist graffiti. TL;DR, if you’re not up for facing that: Racists say shops run by immigrants aren’t welcome. How about supporting your local immigrant-run businesses? Today!

Continue reading

Ordeal of the Bitter Waters

My day today is full of real-life things, so instead of a post by me, have this reblog from Defeating the Dragons. Samantha is an ex-fundamentalist, still christian, talking here in depth about her journey from extreme antichoice to supporting Wendy Davis this summer. She’s a brilliant writer and her experiences are fascinating.

The Travelling Uterus


Write text here…

Advertising Abortions In The Irish Times

Waking up this morning, I flopped over in bed (almost exactly like how I imagine a sleepy walrus would) as usual, and picked up my phone for a bit of a browse of some news until I felt ready to face the world. I can’t be the only person who does this, can I? Somehow reading news articles in bed feels almost like I’m doing something productive. Almost.

This morning, I was treated to news of an ad in the Irish Times today. Doesn’t sound like news to you? Check this out:


That, my friends, is one hell of an advertisement. It’s more than an advertisement. It’s a gauntlet thrown at the Irish government to get their act together, grow a pair (of ovaries), and start providing women with the healthcare and bodily autonomy that are our rights. And it manages to simultaneously give essential information to people with crisis pregnancies. I’d have put a hat on just to take it off to them, if I weren’t, as I mentioned, still under my duvet at the time. It was a chilly Saturday morning- I wasn’t getting out of there before I had to, especially not to tip my hat to people who weren’t in the country, never mind the room.

Then I read the comments. I know- don’t read the comments. Unless they’re the comments on a blog with a silly name that seems somehow related to tea. You should read those. In those comments were a few things that I think deserve to be talked about.

What had the charming anti-choice masses of the internet to say?

You’re all a bunch of filthy murderers, tearing babies apart limb from limb

Ah, this old chestnut. The charming characterisation of pro-choice people as slathering, bloodthirsty hordes who love nothing more than dismembering innocents. I imagine that we also take the time to perfect our evil laughs before an entertaining evening spent kicking puppies, stealing sweets from children and then chopping the heads off their favourite teddy bears, yes? Oh, and we never use our indicators, always hold our umbrellas at your eye level, and turn the volume on our headphones up so loud that you can sing along to our earworms from the other side of the bus.

While all of that is of course perfectly true, there is one factual inaccuracy here. It’s the bit about “tearing babies apart limb from limb”. You see, while Irish people have abortions at about the same rate as our UK counterparts, there are a couple of important differences in how it happens, both of which can be traced directly back to the Irish abortion ban.

Irish women have abortions later. And we have more surgical abortions.

We have abortions later- two weeks, on average- because travelling to the UK for a medical procedure is not a simple process. Finding money. Finding a clinic. Finding money for flights- ever had to book Ryanair on short notice? Booking flights and other transport. Can you afford a place to stay? Have you friends to stay with? Getting time off work. Have kids or other dependants? You’ll need to find someone to care for them. Oh, and remember that bit about the money? Time is ticking, and the cost of an abortion is rising with every passing week.

Even when Irish women manage to have abortions early, though, we still end up having surgical abortions far more than our UK counterparts. Why? Medical abortions- that’s the abortion pill- take more time than surgical. Those pills take time to work, and controlled miscarriages can be as painful as natural ones. Despite the fact that many women would prefer medical abortions to having surgery, they often simply can’t afford even more time away from home, as well as the cost of days of accommodation.

So let’s get something straight: if anyone is encouraging women to “tear their babies limb from limb” (a description that is as unpleasantly graphic as it is, in the vast majority of cases, inaccurate), it’s the people who force Irish people seeking abortions to have their abortions weeks later, and to endure more invasive procedures than they need. That’s anti-choicers and the Eighth Amendment, by the way.

But let’s move on, shall we? I have a couple more chestnuts to get through. How about this one:


Who do BPAS think they are, sticking their noses into Irish business?

On the face of it, this seems legit. Us pro-choice activists are always banging on about how certain anti-choice groups active in Ireland seem to be a little.. further West.. than most of the rest of us. Y’know. A fair bit west. The kind where you set off from, say, Kerry or Galway, point yourself away from land and keep going till you get to the land of s’mores and Taco Bell. If we get to complain about how they seem to get shedloads of money from shady US backers, then they should be able to object to UK organisations taking out ads in our papers. Right?

Wrong, actually.

When we object to things like overseas funding and a strange unwillingness to publish where certain organisations get their money, the point isn’t that some people who happen to live outside Ireland are giving people some money. The point is, in fact, twofold. It’s inappropriate and harmful for people with no stake in, or knowledge of, contemporary Ireland to try to influence our laws- it’s quite frankly none of their business. And hiding that you’re doing so, while pretending that you have vastly more local support than you do, is unethical and dishonest. If you can’t make your point while fighting fair? GTFO.

BPAS, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. Ireland’s ban on abortion doesn’t mean that Irish people don’t have abortions. It means that Irish people get our abortions from English doctors. English hospitals, nurses and doctors do what their Irish equivalents will or can not. They provide the care and services that we need. By banning abortion, Ireland forces itself into a symbiotic relationship with our neighbours. UK hospitals, whether we like to admit it or not, are an integral part of Irish health care.

BPAS aren’t strangers to Irish women. They are the people who, for decades, have stepped up where our country has abdicated responsibility. When Ireland talks about statistics and anonymised cases, BPAS provides services to real people. They are as part of Irish healthcare as my GP down the road. And as the people who care for Irish women, who hear our stories and show us the respect and compassion that our country denies us, they have as much a say in this issue as anyone on this island.

And they write their name on their ad.

This is just a cynical move by those murdering scum to make more profits from killing cute little babies who have toesie woesies and things

This one makes no sense. BPAS are challenging the Irish government to actually get off its butt and decriminalise abortion already. BPAS are a British organisation. Britain is where Irish pregnant people go to get abortions now. Irish pregnant people don’t get NHS treatment, so we have to pay privately for our abortions. If abortion were legal in Ireland, we would have abortions in Irish hospitals and clinics. Not British. This would mean that they would be paid less money by the 12 people a day who wouldn’t need to travel.

It’s called logic.

You know what else, though? I took a look at BPAS’s site today. They have a specific Irish website which I found through their main site. While Irish women cannot access the NHS, BPAS charge us significantly reduced rates than UK private patients. They can waive consultation fees in several circumstances. They link to non-directive pregnancy counselling, free post-abortion medical and counselling services, and to the Abortion Support Network for people who need assistance with funding or accommodation.

Does that seem like the actions of uncaring people who care about nothing but profit to you?

Who’s for trans rights?

SolidariTy is a joint initiative by LGBT Noise and Transgender Equality Network Ireland. It’s all about getting cis people- in particular LGBs, but straight cis people should get their butts on board too- to stand up and be counted and support trans people’s rights. They’ve just released a video (yep, that’s me in the blue). Check it out:

I love that something like SolidariTy is happening. It’s not enough for cis people to give quiet thumbs-up to our trans friends and then go on about our lives. Trans people in Ireland don’t have the same rights as cis people do. Trans people are at terrifyingly high risk of being  fired from their jobs, having an even harder time than the rest of us actually getting work in the first place, ostracised from families and communities, denied necessary healthcare, and of suffering from mental health difficulties, self-harm and suicide. Trans people are denied legal gender recognition in this country, and the government’s proposed legislation to remedy this is outdated and damaging. That legislation would force people to divorce, it would force trans kids and teenagers to spend years with documents that don’t match their identities, and it would enshrine the idea that to be trans is to be mentally ill.

That’s no way for our country to treat its citizens, and no way for our society to treat its members. If you’re here in Ireland, keep an eye on SolidariTy to see how you can help change things.


An Apple A Day Keeps The Linkspam Away

Ever think there was something a wee bit dodgy about rich white Westerners heading over to African countries, taking some inspirational photos with kids and milking that delicious charitable reputation for all its worth? Africa Is A Country would like to introduce you to The Bullshit Files: Christina Aguilera Feeds Rwanda. A teaser- but do read the rest:

Africa: helping white people who’re a wee bit down-in-the-dumps feel better about themselves since 1884.

It’s like a whole continent of cheap therapy for Westerners.

Fatima Mernissi is an incredible Moroccan feminist whose writing was one of my first introductions to feminisms that were about far, far more than simply white Western women. In Size Six: The Western Women’s Harem, Mernissi- who can tell you a thing or two about harems, having grown up in one- talks about her experiences trying to buy a skirt in the US:

I suddenly felt not only very ugly, but also quite useless in that store, where, if you had big hips, you were simply out of the picture. You drifted into the fringes of nothingness. By putting the spotlight on the prepubescent female, the Western man veils the older, more mature woman, wrapping her in shrouds of ugliness. This idea gives me the chills because it tattoos the invisible harem directly onto a woman’s skin.

…Even though access to education and professional opportunities seem wide open, the rules of the game are very different according to gender. Women enter the power game with so much of their energy deflected to their physical appearance that one hesitates to say the playing field is level. ‘A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,’ says Wolf.

…‘I thank you, Allah, for sparing me the tyranny of the size six harem,’ I repeatedly said to myself while seated on the Paris-Casablanca flight, on my way back home at last. ‘I am so happy that the conservative male elite does not know about it. Imagine the fundamentalists switching from the veil to forcing women to fit in size six!’

How can you stage a credible political demonstration and shout in the streets that your human rights have been violated when you cannot find the right skirt?

Speaking of weight and worth, over at Buzzfeed, here’s Louis Peitzman on how while coming out as gay wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, being visibly fat is a whole other thing. It Gets Better, Unless You’re Fat:

As an openly gay writer, one of the questions I’m asked most often is, “Were you bullied growing up?” And the answer is yes, but it’s never the answer they’re looking for. In many ways I was lucky to have come of age in a liberal enclave where my sexuality was accepted if not embraced. Oh, sure, I’ve had the word “faggot” hurled at me — and the sad truth is, I’d be shocked if a gay man hadn’t — but it was always secondary. The real source of my bullying was the extra weight I’ve carried since childhood. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been called a “faggot” to my face, but I couldn’t tell you how often someone has made a dig about my weight.

Outside of anonymous internet comments, the gay slurs have stopped almost entirely. Remarks about my weight, however, are a depressing constant.

Over at A Girl Called Jack, Jack Monroe responds to Edwina Currie’s accusation that most food bank users are just ‘rational opportunists’ looking to save a few quid for big screen TVs:

Food banks are often the only port of call for some of the hardest to reach members of society, people who wouldn’t ordinarily ask for help, or for whom the thought of visiting their local council office to query why their housing benefit has been delayed or suspended is another thing on a to do list wracked with anxiety, instead stuffing the letter into the pile of final demands and bailiff threats.

In response to this, many food banks act as signposting organisations, with agencies on hand to offer help for the issues that led them to the door in the first place. There is practical help, such as courses for job skills, cooking classes, and recipe cards handed out for low cost nutritious meals. There are also child and family support, domestic abuse specialists, and benefit and debt advisers.

Also on welfare, cuts, and their consequences, here’s Maman Poulet in Taking The Hit And Being Clobbered, talking to a woman in Ireland with significant physical disabilities about the effects that cuts to social welfare have had on her life:

  • A 25% cut in home help hours.  Refusal to transfer home help hours into Personal Assistance hours which would have meant the PA’s could have helped her go out into her community. (Home helps can only assist with personal care within the home, sometimes the person who helps Claire cannot cook or does not know how to cook – Claire buys food which is more expensive to cover those times to ensure that she will eat. She also mentioned this being more of an issue when her home help hours were cut and getting up out of bed, washed and laundry done competed with time spent preparing food.) Claire’s home helps are called carers – Claire doesn’t like the word much. She would prefer assistants as she thinks having a carer means she should be grateful for it and just let herself be cared for and have no say in things.
  • A cut to Electricity and Telephone allowances (Claire has to have a landline for her emergency response unit – a pendant operated call system if she needs help – her line rental is no longer free.)  Her electricity Bill is up due to the cuts in allowances and also the big increases levied by the power company in recent years.
  • A cut to the number of fuel allowance payments each year from 32 to 26 weeks.  Claire noted that she feels the cold more due to her health and also the fact that she is at home more that people who are able to work she has additional costs.
  • …and a whole lot more.

Need some cheering up after all that? I sure did. Here, broadsheet have some comics for you. Enjoy!


Calling Social Welfare

I have a form to fill out.

If you haven’t ever been unemployed or otherwise receiving social welfare payments, you may not know this: there are a LOT of forms. Forms within forms. Forms about things you never knew you could fill out forms for.

This morning, I have a fairly straightforward form to fill out. It requires another couple of documents. As they do. One of these documents is a very simple letter from my social welfare office confirming some basic details. Normally I’d pop down the the office on my bike to sort this out, but this morning it was pouring rain. Lashing, you might say. The kind of day where you check the weather forecast and the first thing you see is NATIONAL WARNING and GALE WARNING in capital letters on the top of your weather site. Where you pop out the door to check your post and you’re soaked in the few seconds it takes to get the metre or so from your front door to the mailbox.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s a day for staying indoors. Especially if, like me, you don’t have a car, and are not actually an amphibian or a duck cunningly masquerading as a human.

A badly-drawn picture of a duck wearing glasses, a hat and a tie.

This Is Not A Selfie

So I find my social welfare office’s contact info. There’s a postal address, a phone number, and a fax machine. In the absence of an email address- always preferable to navigating automated phone systems, don’t you agree?- or a time machine to a land where people still have fax machines, I decided to give them a call.

Almost an hour and twenty or so attempts later, I’ve given up for the moment. The phone rings out every time. Every so often, I’ll get an engaged tone or an automated message saying that the call hasn’t gone through. Most of the time, though, it’s just an ring tone for several minutes until it rings out to nothing. No voicemail. No way to know if I’ve gotten through to their real number, even, or if I’m accidentally calling a phone box somewhere up a mountain or under the sea.

This is the second time this has happened recently. The last time I gave up after two hours.

This is an annoyance. It’s a bit of a pain, but these things happen, right? We all know that public services are massively understaffed and overworked these days. I won’t deny that I’m frustrated at my wasted time this morning, but I’ll live, and I’ll get my forms all sorted out in the next few days. It’s not the end of the world.

For me.

I’m an abled person without caring commitments or dependants who lives within reasonable walking distance of the office, and I can also more or less write my own schedule. Most of the work I do is fairly flexible.

What if I was working an internship where I wasn’t able to write my schedule? Or if it wasn’t in the area? What if I had mobility impairments or was too ill to go for a half-hour walk each way? If I had people to care for who I couldn’t leave alone? If those people had illnesses or mobility impairments that meant that they couldn’t go the half-hour walk with me to the office? What if, instead of this form being something I would like to sort out soon, it was something I needed urgently?

The services that social welfare provides aren’t luxuries. I know a lot of people who rely on social welfare. Some of us are out of work in an economy that simply doesn’t have work for us (no, there wasn’t a sudden increase in lazyass scrounging layabouts back in late 2008). Some of us are on those back-to-work schemes that seem to be steadily replacing paid employment here. Some are unable to work due to illness or disability. Some are carers who work their butts off and live on a pittance. Most of us contribute to our communities in the ways that we can. And we need our social welfare payments and entitlements. To eat. To pay our rent. To go to the doctor when we’re ill. And yes, occasionally to replace the old pair of shoes. Shit happens. Sometimes you gotta fix your bike or get a winter coat.

I understand that social welfare offices are understaffed. I understand that people working in those offices have a tough, thankless job. I get that a lot of them are great people who do the best they can for their clients- I’ve met a lot of those people, and always made sure they knew I appreciated their help. I’ve also heard a hell of a lot of stories about people who had awful, abusive experiences trying to get the social welfare they needed to survive. It’s a mixed bag.

But if you’re going to provide services for a diverse group of people for whom those services are an absolute necessity? You need to make those services accessible. Not having a staffed phone line? Or a voicemail? Or a simple email address? It’s just another indication of how the most vulnerable in our society- people a hell of a lot more vulnerable than the likes of me- are considered worthless. Just a drain.

Oh, Jane (Austen): A love letter.

I woke up early on Sunday morning. I never wake up early if I can avoid it.

I woke up early, turned over in bed and spent the next two hours sitting wrapped up in my duvet, reading the last 1/3 or so of Pride and Prejudice. I’m tempted to go right back to the beginning and reread it again, in a way that I haven’t been with a book for a long time. Jane Austen is wonderful. It’s not just that she’s immensely clever, or that she builds a world you feel you could walk into any time. Lots of writers do that, and I love their books. When I’m finished their books, I miss their characters and worlds. But Austen? She doesn’t just do that. She does all of that and simultaneously leaves you feeling like the whole story has been narrated to you by your oldest friend. Like you’re the kind of friends who don’t see each other for months at a time, and when you do the two of you curl up on your comfiest sofa or armchairs with great big mugs of tea to catch up.

It was wonderful. Exceptional. I can see why she is so loved after centuries. I want to give a copy of P&P to every kid I know who’s just old enough to really love novels. And simultaneously I find myself despising the idea of P&P being set on a school syllabus.

That’s not a book to be dissected in a group for assignments. It’s a book that’s as cosy and intimate as it is witty and insightful. It’s a book to nurture a relationship with. To find joy in. To have a conversation with- scribble notes in the sidebar, exclamation marks and little written gasps of delight. To pass a dog-eared, well written-over copy along to a friend after years and share all of that joy of discovery. It’s a book to carry with you, to reread countless times and share with all of your past selves.

In a way, reading Pride & Prejudice is how I truly understood what it is to achieve immortality through writing. Austen is no more- she hasn’t existed for centuries. But while I’ve often closed a book and missed the characters, it’s rare to close a book and miss the author. To have such a wonderful sense of the voice behind it that it is that voice, more than the characters she creates, that you truly feel connected to. I was born hundreds of years after this woman died. But damn, do you get a taste of who she was. In a way, some essential part of this funny, clever, warm and deliciously biting woman survives her.

Falling in love with a 238 year old woman, eh? I’ve pined after some pretty inaccessible people before, but this might just be a whole new level. I’m certain I’m not alone, though.

But seriously- how magical is writing? I don’t mean that in any supernatural sense. I mean in the sense that in writing, we created a one-way time machine. We don’t just get to share information over vast swathes of time and space- although we do that, and it’s pretty damn cool. But more than that, we can meet people who lived centuries ago. We know who they were, who they loved, where they lived. Which is nice, but we also get to know what they were like. Whether they were the kind of people we’d pretend not to notice walking down the street, or someone we’d talk with for endless hours if they’d let us.

I’ve always found it difficult to imagine the reality of living in different times. A deficit of my own imagination, I guess. I know the past is real, but it feels cartoonish. Like an old video game, all clunky pixels and garish colours. I guess it’s because we often have to talk about the past in broad strokes- here are the buildings people lived in. There is a tool they used. Here is an outline of their social structures, and the names of some of the men in fancy hats with political power.

But Jane- I hope she wouldn’t mind if I call her Jane- does more than that. With a work of fiction she takes you past those brush strokes, leads you into her living room. She sits you down, pops the kettle on. You ask her how she’s been, and she smiles. You wouldn’t believe the story she has for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a stack of books to read.

(Although I am having a bit of trouble deciding which to go for next. Which do you think I should go for?)

If we weren't living in a magic digital future, this would have been a crime against humanity.

If we weren’t living in a magic digital future, this would have been a crime against humanity.


A bit Thicke: Best of the Blurred Lines parodies

It’ll be no surprise to you that I’m not exactly Robin Thicke’s greatest fan. But y’know something? That disgusting, rapey excuse for a song? It’s catchy. Way too catchy. Is there anything worse than finding yourself humming along a heyheyhey when you’ve just spent the past 20 minutes giving out about the damn thing? As irritation goes, it’s at the level of being woken up by your neighbour’s alarm clock at 7am on a Saturday morning. Flies that sit on  your window until the second you open the thing to shoo them out and then take up residence in the one corner o f your ceiling you can’t get to. People taking up both of your armrests and leaving you stuck with no comfy arms perched in the middle of your seat.

Y’know. Annoying things.

In the interests of having cake and eating it too? Have my favourite parodies and responses to Thickery.

There’s the (genuinely) sexy:

There’s the direct approach- a bit on the NSFW side, this one, but so worth it:

And finally? There’s the goddamn fuckin’ legendary:

Enjoy! Which is your favourite? And what have I missed out on?


Edited to add: more legendary.