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Lest We Remember

Posted on: Saturday, 10 November 2012

War Memorial, Brussels, taken on a recent Grand Walking Tour with les parentes (mine).

T'other day I came across another gem on Facebook (yes, another, I know. I've debated taking a Facebook holiday - perhaps a permanent one - but it is serving a genuine purpose now that I live in another country, so I'm resisting. For now.) 

It was a picture of a war memorial, with 'IF THIS OFFENDS YOU, PACK YOU'RE (sic) BAGS AND F*** OFF' written across it in bold typeface. 

Oh. Now that is lovely, thought I. 

I actually don't have the strength to go into the whys and wherefores of the moronic thought processes - or lack thereof - that drives people - people with jobs! With bosses that they're friends with on faceyb! - to post such complete and utter rubbish on their profiles. Suffice to say I'm going to roll my eyes and move on. 

Bedders is convinced that I'm such a left-winger that I'm opposed to Remembrance Day and see it as a load of right-wing nonsense. Not at all. 

Well, not completely. I did start to take a a slightly cynical view of the Army, mind, at University when their careers talk consisted of plying students with cheap wine and talking about how lucky officer trainees would travel the world and learn how to snowboard YAH-SNORT-YAH!


I just think we need to remember the right things on the 11th November. 

This quotation from Alan Bennett's The History Boys is one of my favourites:

"We don’t like to admit the war was even partly our fault cos so many of our people died. And all the mourning’s veiled the truth. It’s not “lest we forget”, it’s “lest we remember”. That’s what all this is about – the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it."

Solemnity and dignified remembrance has its place, but is also a very effective way of deflecting attention from the real issues pushing for war, particularly recent and ongoing conflict - namely greed and other sordid political motivations. W H Auden summed it up pretty succinctly when he wrote of "dictators" and the "elderly rubbish they talk/to an apathetic grave". 

So let's remember it all tomorrow. The bravery of those who have died fighting, in their mind, for a noble cause. But also the innocent, the occupied and the disenfranchised, both then and now. 

Spexy Specs

Posted on: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Jesus. It's been bothering me that Jimmy Savile has been up here for so long, depressing you all. Still, a brain vomit is good for you every now and again, I'm sure.  

A super-inspirational lady I work with who's currently finishing her first novel after being 'Highly Commended' in Good Housekeeping's novel-writing competition (seriously, she is a wonder - 'Writing? It soon stops seeming pretentious when you realise it's bloody hard work,' she says) argued today that the brain of an English teacher is 'like a compost heap' - literature's been dumped in it for years, stewing and fermenting and doing whatever it is compost does, and somewhere along the line you realise its morphed into entirely different (very fertile) matter. But you need to get rid of the compost and put it to use somewhere. Do something with it. Otherwise...I dunno, it'll....get really smelly?

She was talking about writing a novel, of course. But I'm going to apply the same theory to brain dumps about TV personalities bloated on their own egos and child sex rings in Rotherham. They're necessary. I had to do something with all of those scandalised headlines I'd been reading. 


I promised you sexy glasses. I bring you sexy glasses. 

For the interested, they're LaFont Jupiter (619). H'apparently. This is the art of instagram, where I go by the name of missmacdonner. 

Basically, I've been looking for new glasses ever since I moved to Brussels and started checking out all of the sexy Europeans with their sexy European eyewear. I even started a Sexy European Eyewear pinterest board. 

(Actually, that's a lie. I started wanting new glasses ever since I sat on my last ones. But ssssh.)

They were probably a bit more expensive than they should have been that close to payday but they are BEAUTIFUL so we're not going to talk about that, yeah? Yeah. And I think you can totally justify any purchase as long if you're wearing them regularly on your ACTUAL FACE for several years. Yeah? Totally yeah. 

Jimmy Savile and A Very Dark Place

Posted on: Thursday, 1 November 2012

Every so often a news story comes to light that's so awful - so mind-blowingly horrific - that it, well, torments me. When said story emerges I just can't stop thinking about it. It worries away at me until I'm in some sort of foot-stampy bad mood without really realising why. 

And then, finally, I do realise. Oh, that's the reason I feel a bit sick. Jimmy Savile and his antics. Oh, institutionalised sexism at the BBC. Oh, what a dirty get. How unbelievably depressing.  

The Jimmy Savile Debacle (hereafter known as the JSD) is big news here in Brussels in much the same way I'm sure it is in the UK - staff room conversations, lunch time internet browsing for the latest developments and so on. Just this morning the announcement came that his estate has been frozen in anticipation of legal action being brought by his victims. 

My mum and dad have been over for a few days and, amongst other things, we talked about the JSD. And why not, eh? It's tabloid fodder of the finest quality. There's a sordid detail of the story for every member of the family! Dad was interested in his gravestone being removed - "Jaysus, that was some creation of a thing." Mum recalled his coffin being ceremoniously displayed in the lobby of the Queens Hotel in Leeds - "I bet those people who were crying over him in the streets feel a bit, well, silly now."

Now, I'm not here to debate whether we should be treating him as innocent until proven guilty. Neither am I interested in discussing whether a lot of the public rage currently being directed towards him is misplaced and, well, a bit pointless given that he's dead and all, as I've seen elsewhere on the t'interweb. 

Let's just assume for a moment that, say, half of these (now several hundred) allegations have maybe half of a shred of truth in them. 

Can you cope with that? Certain? OK, read on.  

I hate the fact that this story speaks of an era where children were frightened to speak to their parents about things that had happened to them which made them feel uncomfortable. An era when girls were more scared of men than they are now. An era when young women weren't comfortable exercising their rights - although 'rights' seems a curious word to apply to 'not having to put up with being mauled by any man who took the fancy'.  

An era when abuse wasn't just endemic within organisations like the BBC, but dismissive attitudes towards certain sexual behaviours and activities were more widespread. An era when certain curtains on a housing estate were drawn in the middle of the day and everybody knew why. 

I know I live in a culture of Child Protection and Stranger Danger and Daily Mail headlines about society going to the dogs. I know that the definition of abuse has changed over the last forty years or so. Esteemed Beacon of Political Correctness Jim Davidson has weighed in with that very point on his blog:

I read a thing today(in The Express) some one saw 
Jimmy Saville pinch some girl’s bum . Apparently that is a sexual assault. Where will all this end." (sic)

Not content with being left on the sidelines, everyone's favourite celebrity commentator Max Clifford has also claimed this week that fifteen 'celebrities' have contacted Uncle Max in a flap that they'll be caught up with the JSD: 

"In those days we didn't ask for their birth certificate! Fnarr fnarr!" he's bleated in some public forum or another. "Some of these lads were 18 and used to work in factories...then they found themselves in fancy dressing rooms with girls throwing themselves at them! What's a fella to do?*"

*Maybe not an exact quotation, but near enough. 

We're talking about two different types of accusation here. Some girls, from the sound of it, didn't invite any sexual attention from Savile at all. At the time of their abuse they were unfortunate enough to be living in a Borstal-type school or lying in a hospital bed and expected to show their appreciation to Lovely Mr Savile. 

Some of them, however, put on some lipstick, wore a short skirt and sat in the studio audience of Clunk Click. Some of them undoubtedly wanted a taste of a celebrity lifestyle. They wanted to feel a little bit older than they actually were. Teenage years are a confusing time. Remember being 16? Remember being adamant that you knew best?  

This is what Davidson and Clifford seem to be missing. 'Abuse' is not a new-fangled PC term. People - women, men - have known for years what makes them feel uncomfortable. The fact that it was the 60s and the 70s and, to use Clifford's poorly-chosen phrase, 'things were opening up' is irrelevant. If someone forces someone who is - and this is crucial - too young or too naive to know any better to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, that person is taking advantage. That's abuse. 

'They wanted it!' cry the Savile defenders. I have no doubt that some of them, perhaps, did. So? A four year old might want to eat nothing but McDonalds morning, noon and night; but a responsible adult isn't going to feed them that. That's abuse. A teenage girl who 'wants' sex with a man in his late thirties - or even older - is not capable of making that decision. Like the McDonalds, it's going to cause no end of problems for that individual in the future. The adult needs to take charge. The adult needs to show that they know better.

Jim Davidson and Max Clifford et al don't agree with me. You might not. You might think my McDonalds analogy is a little crass. But my point is this: sex too young with older men messes girls up. 

The last media story that made me feel similarly sick was the tale of child sex trafficking ring in Rochdale. The more I think about it, there's a number of points of parity with the JSD. One line of defence that was used was that they 'wanted' it. Amidst the flurry of race-related fury that surrounded the case, ringleader Ahmed called the judge a 'racist bastard' and was banned from the courtroom. These girls, he claimed, were running a lucrative prostitution empire. They were demanding alcohol, phone credit and money in receipt for their services. 

These were girls from troubled backgrounds. Girls who were arrested in the very takeaways that were the stamping grounds of their sexual abuse for being loud and sweary and violent. A policeman taking evidence from one of the victims simply yawned as she detailed the history of her treatment at the hands of her abusers. She was told that her case wouldn't go to trial because a jury wouldn't believe her. 

But, shockingly, it wasn't just the perpetrators of these hideous acts who were deeply, deeply at fault. Social services were complicit, too. The NHS made over 80 referrals to Social Services in Rochdale which were ignored. These streetwise girls were making their own decisions, it was felt. 

No teenage girl who can barely remember having sex with 20 much older men because she'd been plied with so much alcohol is making her own decision.

No girl who vomits over the side of a bed while being raped by two men is making her own decision. 

Those images take me to such a dark place I don't know what to do about it. 

I know, however, that you can't blame budget cuts or bureaucracy for these gross failings. Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the North West, puts it best I think:

"Sexual assault is the great silent crime of our time and the silence makes it invidious. It's the kind of crime that prefers darkness and we need to shine a light on it, and for that we all share a responsibility. Every community worker, professional and neighbour has a duty not to stay silent."

(you can read more here). 

It seems that in 40 years, the definition of assault has indeed changed. It's changed for the better. But despite these changes, the defence used by people who take advantage hasn't moved. In the Rochdale case, the rapists' view that these girls 'wanted it' is a disgrace. Social Services' view that they were 'making their own decisions' (substitute 'wanted it', if you like) is a disgrace. In the JSD, Clifford and Davidson's argument that 'Ooo, girls want it!' and 'Ooo, doesn't she look 21?' is a disgrace. 

With sexual abuse, it's everyone's responsibility to make a scene. 


(I promise to be less dark and miserable ASAP. Excitable post about wonderful new eyewear coming up shortly.)

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