Jaded by the Trump Chatter

I did not go to the women’s march nor feel inspired by it, and I have been trying to work out why. At first I thought it was because I’d been to a feminist protest the week before and needed a break – but there’s more to it.

I am jaded by the way Trump conversation is unfolding – even in the publications that normally offer us some perspective. I recently opened the London Book Review of January 18th and discovered that the first-page article is yet another outline of how misogynistic Trump is. It feels like the new paradigm is simply to keep reminding each other of how angry we are about it. Is it only now that we are angry? Only now, when we see this particular ignorant rich buffoon on our screens on a daily basis? The world was full of misogynistic people in power before Trump. Why didn’t all these people care about that beforehand?

If we reflected for a moment, we might discover that we have more in common with Trump voters than we think. In his article from January 17th, John Pilger reiterates his view that ‘identity politics’ are the scourge of our age. He believes that they are leveraged by transnational capitalism to obscure class, and end up demonising white working-class men who have nothing to turn to but neo-nationalism to make sense of their woes.

He somewhat undermines this argument by referring to Chelsea Manning as ‘he’, making it sound like his opinion is coming from a rather reactionary place. Still, I believe that Pilger has a point: working-class white men are also an oppressed group, and in the conversations about intersectional struggles, not many folks are speaking up for them any more. This is how Trump happened.

Pilger calls out today’s writers for not speaking out against the mechanisms of power. He lambasts journalists for not taking risks, not challenging the status quo, not stepping back and calling out the awkward truths. In particular, he accuses journalists of using identity politics to relieve themselves of the burden of speaking up for somebody, and failing to dig down into the things that are actually uncomfortable: namely, the effects of corporate transnationalism, and the gap between rich and poor in America. In other words, the inequality that the educated liberal ‘elites’ – and often the journalists themselves – benefit from.

The idea that ‘we’ are using identity politics to obscure the issues of class and inequality that we are a part of – that needs to be more widely heard. There is a certain comfort that ‘we’ are taking in reassuring each other that we think it is all quite terrible and shocking and that something must be done. It keeps the focus on Trump and his misogyny. It enables us to avoid asking ourselves awkward questions.

I didn’t go to that particular women’s march because I felt that its politics were ‘misorientated’; they focused too heavily on one (admittedly powerful) misogynist and thereby wilfully obscured part of the issue. I feel that this is a time for a unified approach to liberation. The ‘other’ disenfranchised, those who voted for Trump, would have seen it as a march against them. But what we need is for the disenfranchised to come together and recognise each other’s oppression. This is unlikely to happen because that requires each side to recognise that they are also an oppressor.


Enjoy yourselves! no not like that

The UK government has been busy legislating what we can and can’t see online, ignoring the seemingly important criterion of whether or not the content is harmful to anybody. What’s new?
1916, when the first list of criteria for film censorship was created:

T.P. O’Connor, BBFC President
“We need to keep the masses in check. Let’s censor anything that threatens the social order!” [My summary. For the fuller version, read this book.]
A century later (after two world wars, several failed attempts at building better societies via communism and fascism, countless revolutions across the world, the global civil rights movement and the digital democratisation of information):
Image result for karen bradley
Karen Bradley, Minister for Culture
[same conclusion]
If they paid any attention to research on this matter, they would discover that the activities they have just banned (such as videos depicting female ejaculation) form part of a kaleidoscope of adult activities which, in departing from social norms in online porn, are often empowering to women and other groups. They would also discover that the non-normative activities they have banned are linked to healthier psychological profiles.
Many folk will understandably be reticent to voice their opinions about this. It’s our culture of silence and shame that allows legislation like this to happen.
For interest, here are the reasons O’Connor and colleagues decided that a film could be banned in 1916:
1. Indecorous, ambiguous and irreverent titles and subtitles
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The irreverent treatment of sacred subjects
4. Drunken scenes carried to excess
5. Vulgar accessories in the staging
6. The modus operandi of criminals
7. Cruelty to young infants and excessive cruelty and torture to adults, especially women
8. Unnecessary exhibition of under-clothing
9. The exhibition of profuse bleeding
10. Nude figures
11. Offensive vulgarity, and impropriety in conduct and dress
12. Indecorous dancing
13. Excessively passionate love scenes
14. Bathing scenes passing the limits of propriety
15. References to controversial politics
16. Relations of capital and labour
17. Scenes tending to disparage public characters and institutions
18. Realistic horrors of warfare
Image result for the cinema its present position and future possibilities
19. Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy
20. Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies
21. Scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt or ridicule
22. Subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of British Officers, Native States or bringing into disrepute British prestige in the Empire
23. The exploitation of tragic incidents of the war
24. Gruesome murders and strangulation scenes
25. Executions
26. The effects of vitriol throwing
27. The drug habit. e.g. opium, morphia, cocaine, etc
28. Subjects dealing with White Slave traffic
29. Subjects dealing with premeditated seduction of girls
30. ‘First Night’ scenes
31. Scenes suggestive of immorality
32. Indelicate sexual situations
33. Situations accentuating delicate marital relations
34. Men and women in bed together
35. Illicit relationships
36. Prostitution and procuration
37. Incidents indicating the actual perpetration of criminal assaults on women
38. Scenes depicting the effect of venereal disease, inherited or acquired
39. Incidents suggestive of incestuous relations
40. Themes and references relative to ‘race suicide’
41. Confinements
42. Scenes laid in disorderly houses
43. Materialisation of the conventional figure of Christ
Source: The Cinema: Its Present Position and Future Possibilities, National Council of Public Morals, 1917

Freedom of thought is under attack in some islands currently called ‘Britain’

Photo: Very Brexit Problems

‘If you believe you are a citizen of everywhere, then you are a citizen of nowhere.’

Theresa May, Oct 2016

To anyone with a drop of empathy in them, nothing much needs to be said about how abhorrent this statement is. What a regressive and nationalist point of view, which ignores the universal nature of the human condition and our duty to respect and care for one another regardless of artificial boundaries drawn by history.

In particular, how painful it must be for Syrian refugees to hear something like this, in their time of desperate need. They are forced to rely on the kindness of those in other ‘countries’ and the leader of one of the most powerful European nations is claiming the moral authority to negate their very right to exist.

But there is something more deeply worrying about this statement. May didn’t say, for example, ‘Remember, you are a citizen of the UK; not a citizen of the world!’. Instead, she attacked those of us who hold certain beliefs. ‘If you believe you are a citizen of everywhere, then you are citizen of nowhere.’

May was excluding, through her rhetoric, the cosmopolitan, educated liberal elite from being considered British citizens. Making a beeline from the world of rich Tory post-imperialism to the disgruntled working classes, she cut out the liberal intelligentsia from citizenship as a concept.

Let me say that again. May announced that those with certain beliefs – beliefs about their own identity and nothing else, nothing hateful or harmful – do not have the right to consider themselves British citizens. And it wasn’t just any group of people, but the educated liberals; those of us who have the material and educational resources to stand up to the horrific directions her government is taking.

One of the first things Lenin did when the Bolsheviks attained power was deport 220 prominent intellectuals. The pursuit of aggressive ideological metanarratives does not allow for a plurality of educated views. We saw the UK start to go in this direction when Brexiteer Michael Gove announced that the country ‘had had enough of experts’ – almost all of whom were for remaining in the EU.

Now, those of us who have a cosmopolitan outlook are under attack. We are privileged to have the education and resources that we have; and it’s easy to make us scapegoats. Liberal policies are blamed for allowing the immigration that ‘took our jobs’ and ‘ruined our health service’ (and contributes millions to our economy and immeasurably to our cultural fabric).

I am not going to mount a defence of immigration here. Anyone seeking to protect white Britain from the responsibilities that follow centuries of imperialism and slave trade has probably stopped reading already. With May’s statement, what is in jeopardy here is freedom of thought.

‘Hostility to universal citizenship is, I submit, the main characteristic of fascism.’ Gáspár Miklós Tamás

May is not stripping away our passports just yet; but this is a key shift in rhetoric that presents us with a red flag. We cannot rest on our laurels any more. If the PM can say something like this and get away with it, it means that a good proportion of people in the UK think it makes sense.

Let’s not pretend we are a post-class society. Our education system has failed; the social mobility that creates a meritocratic pool of intellectuals has not been implemented. Disgruntled workers need scapegoats. Powerful post-imperialists need scapegoats. Those of us being pushed out must fight back.


The time I discovered that the best health and safety measure is looking where you’re going

Submitted this to a Lonely Planet travel writing competition recently. No prizes but I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

The time I discovered that the best health and safety measure is looking where you’re going

‘Shiv! STOP!’

My body was sailing forward over the threshold by the time I heard Lily’s shout. Momentum was carrying me into what should have been the next carriage of the train.

A split-second was enough to feel the breeze on my face and register the darkness. Fast-moving darkness in the shape of Ukranian farmland.

My right foot scuffed the top of the coupling plate.  I would have walked straight out of the train had it not been for the sharp yank on the hood of my jumper. I tumbled backwards in a heap onto Lily’s petite frame. Crash! – The heavy door slammed shut.

G’dun, g’dun, g’dun…

The motion of the rattling night train soothed my heartbeat as I rolled off my friend and lay still on my front for a few seconds, my nose uncomfortably close to the old wooden floor panels.

I should have guessed. The doors were never locked like that. It hadn’t even entered my mind as I turned the large metal bar that it would be possible to walk off the end of the train.

‘What are you doing?’ we heard, in Russian. The carriage manager, or ‘provodnitsa’, had come to restore order to the corridor. ‘That door’s not for passengers!’

‘Who is it for?’ I thought; and Lily helped me to my feet as I clumsily explained that we had been looking for the restaurant.

The no-nonsense provodnitsas are responsible for keeping passengers safe and orderly on the trains. A good night for a provodnitsa is not one in which a foreigner, with the habit of being mollycoddled by Health and Safety rules, fails to look where she’s going and ends up on the tracks halfway between Kiev and Sevastopol.

‘What do you want from the restaurant?’ she asked. I was a little thrown by the question but answered ‘pelmeni’.

Lily shook her head. ‘A vodka,’ she said. ‘We need a vodka.’

‘Well, you don’t have to go to the restaurant for that!’ replied the provodnitsa, and promptly herded us into her staff cabin, where there was a healthy supply of the good stuff.

‘Sometimes,’ the provodnitsa was recounting an hour or so later, ‘the men drink too much and wee out of the window. They can’t wait for the toilet…’

‘And what about that?’ asked Lily, pointing to the back of the train. ‘Has that ever happened before?’

The provodnitsa didn’t hesitate. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Nobody has ever been that stupid.’ It was deadpan. ‘I’ll be telling that story for years to come. And don’t remind me what country you’re from,’ she added, ‘or I’ll be telling them that, too!’

The Light Switch

The Light Switch

My 101-word story The Light Switch has been published on the 101words website.

As I mentioned in my haiku post, I love working with strict limitations because of the creativity that blossoms when you have to think very carefully about revising something to fit specific form-related criteria.

What’s more, a short word count is less daunting to fit into your schedule!


The English Haiku?!

Haikus are surely the ultimate form of poetry. I didn’t realise until recently that the English haiku is seen as a distinct form, altered from the age-old haiku from Japan for reasons explained here.

What is poetry for but to express universal ideas in as succinct a way as possible? What provides more scope for creativity than the strictest parameters of form?

Fine: these are clearly my ideas of what poetry is for, since plenty of celebrated poets are not interested in applying these concepts.

One of my favourite haikus:

Love is not complex
It demands an absent mind
And a present heart


For Christmas, I wrote two haikus: one for my Gran (who used to be a pharmacist) and one for my brother Jamie.

In her pharmacy
With laughter’s analgesic
Wisdom is dispensed
For my Gran
His music carries
Echoes of the harmony
Felt in his presence

For my brother Jamie
I’d love to see more haikus in the comments if you have favourites…

My poem on The Fem

The Fem has published my spoken word poem ‘Letter to my latest street abuser.’ It’s a great feminist literary magazine. Check it out. 🙂


Dear friend
You seem to forget
You’re the same as me
Survivors of reality
Hearts beating rapidly
Lost in the sea
Of our venom
As you spit yours at me
Did you actually
Just unzip your jeans?
Do you understand
What it means
When you dribble out
Your obscenities?
Your humanity

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