not a good look

Crying on the street that is.

A city centre street, full of offices and groomed people. And me, with unwashed hair, no make up, snivelling. How to feel good, guys.

I’d just come out of an office, where I’d been for a health assessment. Such face to face appointments are necessary as part of the UK benefits process. Those of us unable to work have to regularly demonstrate our illness, our vulnerabilities, our failure. We struggle to complete complex forms, to gather statements of support (i.e. beg for help from the goodwill of people we know). On days like today we struggle to make sense of questions, to remember all the important things, to twist and turn in ways we don’t normally, to remember all that we can’t do.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. Despite years of fatigue, pain and emotional turmoil, I’m lucky. I have a chronic illness, not a terminal one.

The current definition of ‘terminal’ for benefits payments a prognosis of 6 months or less. This is based on a medical report. What if one’s condition is incurable and will kill them, but with an unclear prognosis? What if there’s an unexpected rapid decline? A person whose illness will be the death of them, but not obviously in the next 6 months, has to complete the forms, have the extra assessments, wait months for a decision, maybe even an appeal, just to get the limited additional resources to help with personal independence.

60 of our local clinicians are suggesting a change in policy. These are the folk who know how skewed the system is, how they can’t always judge, and how unfair these processes can be.

Please, support changes in policy. Talk to those who may have influence. If you have an MP who is prepared to vote against UK government policy, please use them. Most of us in NI don’t have that.

An uncompassionate society, limiting the quality of life and access to support for its most ill and vulnerable- that’s really not a good look.

what my miscarriage taught me


I miscarried in early pregnancy. A blighted ovum meant that the embryo hadn’t developed properly. A loss for us. We grieved mightily for what may have been. Like thousands of others, many with multiple miscarriages and much loss. To the rest of the world, miscarriage may be commonplace, a simple statistic, no big deal, but it can be very sore on us.

We were lucky. Girl1 & Girl2 arrived, thrived, and are doing what teens do.

Ireland (the rest of it, not Northern Ireland) is having a referendum soon. I don’t live in the jurisdiction and I can’t vote, but it’s occupying my mind. As it stands, the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution gives equal right to life to the unborn, prohibiting abortion and impacting on medical care to all women, pregnant, pregnancy related or not. The forthcoming referendum is on whether that amendment should be repealed.

There are lots of discussions and campaigning. There is fake news (fake medical practitioners included). There was incredible crowdfunding for posters & information packs. Posters have been put up and taken down and put back up again. It’s not always a polite discussion- feelings and convictions are running high.

One post has caught in my mind; the one asking if a foetus is human, & if not, when does it become so. Years ago, my wee embryo didn’t even make it to foetus-hood. It stopped developing and ended up simply a ‘product of conception’.

It was human tissue, but not a human. Like a toe nail or an appendix, it wasn’t capable of becoming a human. Not all pregnancies can result in human beings. Human life cannot be said to ‘begin at conception’: tissue growth is not life.

The philosophers & scientists do their thinking and their research. They shape and advance our understanding of our world. I am neither of those. There are many issues I don’t understand or am not aware of, but I know that my first pregnancy would never have resulted in a human being. Nor would thousands of others. I don’t know when ‘human ness’ happens, but we cannot assume that it happens from conception.

Most abortions happen before 10 weeks gestation- around the time my product of conception was being evicted. How many people have the guilt and the stress of leaving Ireland or buying pills for a procedure that may have happened naturally? The expense, the uncertainty, the illegality for something not even guaranteed to grow into a human. Surely, appropriate local healthcare must be a better option?

Why would any compassionate society think that was a bad thing?

Why would any compassionate society not permit people a say in their own medical care?

Why would any compassionate society make doctors consult the constitution before their medical expertise?

With the 8th amendment in place, can Ireland claim to have a compassionate society?



This is not a new topic for me. See #oneinfour, this previous post on abortion access in NI and this one on Savita

what chance have you got against a tie and a crest? #Ibelieveher

There are plenty of people who have experienced non consensual sexual activity. I don’t consider myself one of them, although I know I’ve been lucky. There but for the grace of the gods…

There’s been an infamous trial in Belfast the past nine weeks. 3 elite rugby players were accused of various forms of sexual assault, another one of preventing the course of justice. The rugby players are well known. Despite anonymity for the prosecution witness, her name was mentioned in court and shared on social media. I don’t know her name, but I know more about her than I should.

Having been initially reluctant to go to the police, the woman ended up enduring 9 days of cross examination. Four defendants = 4 defence teams = 4 sets of questioning. I know about her unshaved legs, her blood stained clothing. I know about her friends and her internal injury. Her very underwear was presented to the court and passed along to the jury. The woman had no lawyer. She was not on trial, not accused of any offence, but the adversarial trial system made it seem so.

I also know that an international rugby player likes to sketch and babysits for friends. Apparently that’s all I need to know. The men sent each other texts and WhatsApp messages after the event, some of which were deleted and unrecoverable. They sent crude, misogynistic messages displaying a lack of respect for women and an “aren’t we the greatest lads?” attitude. What we’ve seen demonstrate appalling behaviour and world views. Worryingly, social media tells me that’s how young men talk to each other, and that I’m simply being old fashioned and prudish. This is simply the sort of locker room talk that Mr Trump enjoys, so what could possibly be unacceptable about it?

Yesterday, all the men were cleared of all the charges. And lots of (mostly, but not only) chaps began to demand that the woman be tried for perjury and/or sentenced for as long as the men would have been, had their guilt been proved beyond reasonable doubt. I’m to feel sorry for the guy who apparently missed out on winning a Six Nations medal and a Grand Slam ‘unnecessarily’. As if investigations and the legal process were something carried out on a whim, out of spite.

Those men have been feted their whole sporting careers, privileged and garlanded since school, because they are better than most at a game. I don’t imagine they understood the sexual activity as rape. But they were clear that there was no explicit, agreed consent. They admitted to presuming consent. The defence approach was ‘They’re the good guys, they didn’t attack a woman in a dark alley, she didn’t scream, so how could that be rape?’ They may not be able to bring themselves to doubt their drunken decisions and actions.

In some jurisdictions the difference between murder and manslaughter is the intention. Death is caused by recklessness or criminal negligence, rather by a deliberate act of killing. I hope somebody, somewhere, with a legal mind is considering what happens when there’s no clear intention to rape, but that through recklessness or negligence, harm has occurred amounting to rape. (I know nothing about the law; I’m suggesting this is an area worth exploring.)

We need to better support those women and men who report sexual assault. We need to move beyond effectively putting those people on trial.

We need to ban reporting on these trails until they are over. The media soap opera of this trial will have been traumatising for hundreds apart from the woman at its centre.

We need discussion on what consent actually is, beyond ‘no means no’. What if one is unable to speak or remove oneself from the situation? None of know in advance how we would react. ‘She didn’t scream’ should not be an acceptable argument.

The local press are having a great time after the verdict. Stories of sisters, coiffured mothers with expensive handbags, middle class respectable families, brave men and all they had to endure. Men being rewarded for the fact that their poor behaviour turned out not to be criminal. Woo hoo.

So today I went with thousands of others to a support rally. We stood outside the courts in Belfast, together. There were speeches I couldn’t hear. And a surprisingly emotional few moments of chanting I believe her.

I want to fix the world. I want to make so many things better for so many people. But oddly, I can’t do all that I want to. Still, my keyboard activism is being reignited.


Title from Eton Rifles



the defiant ones

I’m watching a music documentary series about music producers Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre. I’d thought, in advance, that I knew nothing about either of them, but I couldn’t have imagined how wrong I was. Independently and together these guys have shaped music and culture for decades. We all know something of their work.

There are many stories- gang culture, winning, innovation, jail, murder, collaborations, family, fame, success, loss, performing arts school, community, and hard work. And headphones. Extraordinary experiences, and varieties of moving from nothing to beyond all dreams. Fascinating, compulsive viewing.

But one wee story, an aside really, certainly not meant to be the take away, is stuck in my head.

Jimmy was working with Tom Petty, and Stevie Nicks was about. Jimmy and Stevie got together, but didn’t tell anyone. Stevie stayed at home and made mini muffin pizzas while Jimmy went out to the studio and did whatever it is producers do. Sometimes Tom came round to chat and hang out away from work. Guess what Stevie did then? Lots of singing with Tom? More muffin making?

Stevie Nicks, the Stevie Nicks, hid in the basement until Tom went away. She hid herself until their mate left, in case the relationship reflected badly on Jimmy. She listened to them chat and carry on, but was no part of it.

I was still at school when Stevie and Jimmy were making those choices. Nicks was a rock goddess, in her early 30s. I was 15- quiet and dumpy with frizzy hair and big specs. But it is remarkable to me to think that my choices may have been different. A woman who’d been abused by a previous partner and who had a cocaine problem was hiding herself away because her boyfriend thought it was a good idea …

The documentary series The Defiant Ones has lots to capture the mind. What catches your imagination will be different from mine. But I can’t get my head round Stevie Nicks hiding. In a powerful story about two men and how they define our soundscape, I’m caught wondering about the women and the choices we all make.