Recently I wrote to my MP - first on Twitter, then at his request, by email - to ask his position on equal marriage. Below is the text of my original email, and then his response – which was, to say the very least, disappointing in its lack of conviction.
Richard Harrington, MP for Watford
Dear Mr Harrington
to our brief conversation on Twitter I am writing as one of your
constituents to find out more about your position on the subject of
It is my firm belief that all should be
allowed to marry whom they choose regardless of sexuality or gender.
This is a matter of equal treatment of citizens before the law.
the world same-sex marriage has already legalised in many countries
and states, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Mexico City,
the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and
six US States including New York.
Successive polls have
demonstrated widespread support for same-sex marriage in the UK as
well, both from the LGBT community and society more generally.
has been redefined many times in history. The concept of ‘divorce’,
for example, was introduced as comparatively recently as the formation
of the Church of England. Clearly, the institution of ‘marriage’ has
evolved alongside our society. As such, legislating for same-sex civil
marriage would not only reflect our tolerant and open society, but
actually serve to enhance it.
The arguments I have heard
in opposition to equal marriage do not, in my view, stand up to
scrutiny. If marriage is (as some would have it) for the purposes of
procreation, where does that leave heterosexual couples who do not have
children, either through choice or through circumstance? What about
people who meet and marry later in life, or are infertile?
every citizen the right to marry whom they choose would not undermine
the ceremony's sanctity; I would argue that it's quite the opposite as
it allows all people to celebrate their love and commitment. It
enhances marriage. I would question how the actions of any other couple
could undermine a heterosexual couple's marriage. The only people that
can undermine marriage are the individuals in that marriage.
hope that as a Member of Parliament you support the Coalition
Government's position on equal marriage being legal by 2015 and would be
very interested in hearing your views.
thanks for getting in touch by email, I do appreciate your time and
often find it much easier to explain my position when not limited to
In short, I have absolutely nothing
against same-sex marriage, and I think it is both right and brave of
the party to have pushed forward with this issue, and that is shows
principle. The plans to allow same sex marriage however are
contentious, and I have seen this in my correspondence with
constituents. I feel very much that whichever side I was to support in
this argument, an awful lot of people would be unsatisfied. Therefore, I
have to vote on principle, on which I have no qualms with this.
do think it is right that we have bought this to the forefront and are
delivering on the commitment made in our ‘Contact for Equalities’
published before the election. That said, following correspondence from
many of my constituents, many of them are keen to see adequate
protections for religious marriage so that no vicar would compelled or
obliged to conduct a ceremony against their fundamental beliefs. I can
appreciate that argument, though at current however I do not think this
would be a problem in any way.
The Prime Minister has
consistently argued that society is made stronger by people’s
commitment to one another, marriage is a pillar in our society so what
wrong could come of its extension. We are made stronger when we make
vows to each other and support each other. That is true whether the
couple making the commitment is a man and a woman, a woman and a woman,
or a man and a man, and that basic fundamental is something which I
The Government is rightly consulting
widely on this issue before making any changes to the current position.
The consultation will end today, and has been running via the Home
Office website through which many of my constituents have contributed. I
will be confirming my voting intentions when the details of the
proposals have been released, as the consultation is likely to have a
great influence and I would be keen to see the end result and know all
of the facts before committing to one side of the argument. I would of
course be more than happy to discuss this further when they are
If you have any other questions please feel
free to get back in touch at any time, by email or twitter! I hope this
explains my current position more widely, but am more than happy to
discuss in detail if you would like to. Thank you once again for your
25 March 2012
|I squoosh you, stupid cheerful sun.|
As I write this, my little corner of southeastern England is basking in balmy(ish) spring temperatures, sunshine and blue sky. People are walking around with a new sense of relaxation and relief. It's not exactly sizzling temperatures, but I can smell barbecues. People are wearing sunglasses and venturing out a few layers lighter than they were a few short weeks ago. Flowers are blooming; trees are blossoming.
Spring comes with the promise of happiness and renewal – yes, all the clichés are true. It just feels smiley. Even if the rest of the summer is a washout (it often is) and/or there's a hosepipe ban (there often is), it's just a wonderful, optimistic time of year.
And so it has that effect on me. But it also has a strangely opposite effect, too, come the weekend especially. It makes me feel a little melancholy; a little lonely. I know – admitting to loneliness is a bit of a taboo, and it makes people feel uncomfortable. And it's not that my life is empty or that I dislike solitude. Far from it, in fact – I have friends, work is busy and I enjoy and actively seek solitude quite often.
As one gets older, though, the nature of friendship changes. Friends pair off, and have children, and move away to areas with good schools or countless other reasons that go hand in hand with being a grown-up. So, just by the way things go, you see less of them. Weekends are for couple stuff. For family stuff. There are few people left who are free for carefree socialising at the weekends.
You can get away with being antisocial in the winter, when you just want to stay indoors in the warm, when nothing appeals less than the thought of a cold wind cutting through you as you wait on an icy platform for a train delayed by snow. But springtime brings with it an urge to crawl out from our caves and reacquaint ourselves with the world.
And I associate sunny warm weekends with good times – lazy, slightly sozzled days in sunbaked beer gardens; country walks; days slipping into night on the seafront.
To underscore those hazy, pleasant associations, my last relationship bloomed with the spring and flourished through the summer of 2010. I think back on our relationship, and it's not through rose-tinted glasses but through the glint of sunglasses. Beer gardens in the sun; walking on Brighton beach; one day we both declared 'perfect' which was nothing more than a long walk followed by collapsing on the grass of a common and talking until the sun went down late. It all seems blissful, carefree, and bathed in sunlight.
Don't get me wrong. Turns out he later cheated on me with his ex and got her pregnant before dumping me, so I don't want him back. What I do miss, though, is that warm haze of companionship tied up inextrictably with sunshine and long days. I can't unpick the weather from its happy memories. Nor would I want to, of course, but the lack of the opportunities to make new summertime memories with friends or a significant other causes the occasional pang.
In this weather, I feel I should be out doing something, and making the most of the weather, but I rapidly run out of ideas of things I'd enjoy for long on my own, so I sometimes end up doing nothing, then getting a bit annoyed about it all.
Not that I resent the weather itself of course. It still brings a smile to my face. The hope for renewal and the optimism still stir, even in this middle-aged, scarred old heart of mine. Who knows what a new summer will bring…besides a hosepipe ban?
18 March 2012
|It's funny because it's true.|
Last November, Charlie wrote a column entitled I have been murdered and replaced with a suspicious facsimile. In running shoes. He writes:
For years, I thought I knew vaguely who I was, and the kind of things I liked. And one thing I'd definitely class myself as is "un-sporty". I've never had a gym membership and have always been profoundly suspicious of anyone who willingly does anything more physically demanding than wiping their arse. So imagine my shock, in recent weeks, to find myself running around a local park. Not once, not while being chased in a waking nightmare, but voluntarily and often.
He goes on to explain how, with the help of an app for his smartphone, he's started to take up running. And enjoying it. Hating himself for enjoying it, because it goes against type, but enjoying it.
I'd been feeling unhealthy and unfit, but unwilling to part yet again with cash for a gym membership I'd use enthusiastically for a month or two before dropping away (and still paying for membership). Something in Brooker's piece chimed with me. If someone like him could take up running and enjoy it, why not give it a go?
I mentioned this to a friend a week or so later. She's a force of nature, and in the face of her enthusiasm I had no choice but to download the app that Brooker had used (Get Running). A few days later, I donned my ancient trainers, a pair of sweatpants and a fleece, and headed out.
|And so it began...|
But a funny thing happened. My stubborn streak kicked in. Goddammit, I wasn't going to stop. And so I started working my way through the programme.
There were good days. There were also bad days. Days when it felt like I was running through treacle. Days when the wind was blowing horizontal rain and sleet into my face. Days when the temperature dropped below zero and I worried my extremities would fall off. But my stubborn streak carried me through. I started so I was determined to finish.
I got stuck on some runs. I hit plateaus. My smoking habit, which snaked back into my life after I'd stopped last summer, didn't help. My creaking knees didn't help. Each week a new muscle group would protest at the unaccustomed exercise.
The genius of the Couch to 5k programme, though, is that not only do you start slowly and build up (thus reducing the risk of injury), you can really measure how you're progressing. Each new goal rose up in front of me, a daunting new Everest of running 5 minutes straight, then 8 minutes, then 20 minutes. And even if it took a while, I'd conquer each mountain. The fleece and sweats were replaced with running leggings and a proper running top. The ancient trainers were replaced with a pair of overengineered, garish, bouncy pair of "running shoes". Instead of feeling embarrassed when I crossed the path of another runner, gradually I began to exchange comradely smiles and nods.
Towards the end of the programme, my smoke-damaged lungs cried for mercy and I managed to give up the weed again. I'd stopped before and found it utter hell; this time was much easier. Alarmingly so. And I think it's because my lungs immediately began to reward me on the runs with deeper breaths and less suffering.
The new year came. I knew I wouldn't meet my original goal of running 30 minutes by my January birthday (based on the 9 week duration of the programme) because of the repeated weeks, but I carried on, with a new year resolution of completing a sponsored 5k run.
I signed up for the British Heart Foundation Regent's Park Jog and I was spurred on through the cold winter mornings to carry on running by the support and sponsorship friends and family gave me.
|Oh happy day!|
On March 11th I arrived at Regent's Park, excited but nervous, and, alongside the friend who'd originally pushed me into downloading the app, I ran. I ran for about 40 minutes, and I ran 5 kilometres. I had my doubts at times if I'd make it, especially when I got to the 4th kilometre, but once again my stubborn streak – and the knowledge that I had sponsors who'd donated money to me in good faith and support – pushed me to the finish line, bursting with pride. OK, my time was nothing remarkable but at the advanced age of 40mumblecough"something" I'd done something I'd never thought I was capable of doing.
With my unsporty nature, my creaking knees and torn cartilage, my 20-a-day habit…it never occurred to me that I would ever take up running. It never occurred to me that I would want to, let alone that I could. My astonishment couldn't be any greater than Brooker's. And now, god help me, I've downloaded an app called "Bridge to 10k". I don't even know who I am anymore.
P.S. My page to collect donations on behalf of The British Foundation for the 5k jog is open until 11th June 2012. Please contact me if you would like the address.
P.P.S. The "What I feel like when I run" image is a meme I've seen all over the internet so can't credit the source. If you know the source, give me a shout.
14 November 2011
|Pay your own bills, ladies|
And finally, I got over my fear and signed on for Jobseekers Allowance. It took some swallowing of pride. A lot of swallowing of pride. I'd been working since the age of 16, when my dad dragged me to a local shop to apply for a part time job. I was used to earning my own money. Even though I'd been made redundant or had fixed-term contracts come to an end before, I'd always had just enough to keep myself going to the next job. But this time I had no choice. And anyway; I'd earned it. Hadn't I been paying my taxes and NI all those years?
It wasn't an easy experience. Going to the Job Centre every fortnight, I found that the staff seemed to be a little confused by me. They didn't understand what a web editor does. When I presented a spreadsheet of recruitment agencies I'd contacted and jobs I'd applied for, they wearily asked me to name two agencies I was registered with. They – unsurprisingly – couldn't find any jobs that fit my experience. When I went on the computers at the Job Centre, I was offered 16 hours a week jobs as a barmaid. In Leeds. Two hundred and fifty miles from where I live. That's one hell of a commute for 16 hours of minimum wage. And all this was for the princely sum of what I think was, at the time, £64.50 a week.
Of course, every penny counts, and it helped me from starving to death. But what about my mortgage? My gas and electricity bills? The broadband I needed to search for and apply for jobs? I had no option. I wasn't eligible for support with my mortgage or bills. I didn't have a partner to help carry the burden. My meagre savings quickly dwindled to nothing. I had one resort: the three credit cards I had an account with. This was before the credit crunch, and credit cards had been falling over themselves to get my money by giving me credit I couldn't keep up with. I was their ideal customer; I'd always paid on time, but never quite paid off the balance, giving them some nice juicy interest. They upped my limit often and sent me "credit card cheques", which allowed me to "pay" money into my current account.
All the bills began to mount up with horrifying speed, and the credit cards were the only solution I could see. I was aware I was putting off the inevitable but my main priority was to keep the roof over my head. The Jobseekers Allowance didn't even scratch the surface, and my debt grew monstrous in my desperate scrabble to survive. My soul died a little each time I went back to the Job Centre, and each time I wrote myself a credit card "cheque" so the mortgage and bills could be paid for another month.
Since then, happily, I've found work. And since then, less happily, the credit crunch has happened. There's been a lot of blaming of victims since then. People who lived beyond their means; people who borrowed more than they can pay. Benefits are being slashed (although I understand the JSA is now an extravagant £67.50 a week). But sometimes good, honest people who want jobs get cornered. I'm not a "hard-working family" (as the politicians love to rhapsodise about) and I haven't been irresponsible. I haven't gone off on yachting holidays with my credit cards. I just tried to stay warm and dry. And I'll be paying the price for a very long time to come.
(Incidentally, every year when the budget comes out, and whenever cost of living is in the news, you'll hear me rant about the politicians' and media's focus is on the cost to "families". Being single and child-free is no Jimmy Choo and champagne life either. We don't get discounts, other than Council Tax. It's really hard when only one income is going in and the bills are still going up.)
While I have a permanent job now, with what should be a decent wage, I still barely make ends meet. The legacy of all that debt still bites deeply. The cost of living is going up, but wages aren't. I'm grateful for my job. And in a way, the credit corner I found myself was a blessing; I can no longer borrow so I'm forced – and have learned to – live within my means.
I'm aware, though, that I'm only a paycheque or two away from being in dire straits again. I'm also aware that a permanent job isn't really so permanent anymore so redundancy is a constant fear.
I'm glad I live in a country with a safety net, no matter how small. Don't get me wrong. But I'm watching what's happening in this country with an ever-growing sense of despair. The utilities companies are putting up prices on a regular basis, despite making very fat profits, and the government does nothing to regulate it. The benefits are being cut and I honestly can't work out how people can find a way out, no matter how much they want to work and pay their way. And the bills keep coming. For those who are in the position I once found myself in, wanting a job but unable to find one and with nowhere to turn, I despair.
2 November 2011
|SOMEONE HAD BETTER BE DEAD.|
I know. Women are supposed to spend all their time gassing on the phone, right? Yapping away with friends they've only just seen ("What do you talk about?" stereotypical men in the lives of these stereotypical women ask). Passing idle gossip. Talking about…I don't know – cupcakes? Shoes?
I'm just not like that. I pretty much hate ringing people. Even the people I love most in my life. My parents get a call maybe once a month, if I'm being good. I never ring my siblings. I never ring my friends.
Chances are, if someone rings me on my mobile, I'll glance at the screen, note who it is, and put it back in my bag. I'll probably text later.
If the landline rings during the week, I'll pretend it's not happening. Chances are it's someone I don't want to speak to. A creditor, most likely. Or someone ignoring the fact that I'm registered with the Telephone Preference Service, trying to sell me a new kitchen or insurance. Or kitchen insurance.
If it rings at the weekend, it's probably my mother. I'll usually pick up then because I know it's my mother. And the conversation from my side will be: "Uh huh. Yeah. Yup. Yeah. Yup. Yeah. Haha. Oh really? Yeah. Good. (repeat for 30 minutes.) OK. Love you too. Hi Dad. Yeah, good. OK. Love you too. Bye." It's obviously no reflection on them; of course I love them. But when I speak to them on the phone it's out of a sense of filial duty, not a desire to reconnect. I'd rather see them in person. Of course, I can't see them in person that often – every few years or so. So I should embrace the phone. But my intolerance to Mr Graham Bell's invention gets deeper every year.
If the phone rings after about 7pm, someone had better be dead. I see that clanging ringing sound as an intrusion into the hermit-like world I enjoy when I'm at home.
If I need to cancel something, like insurance (kitchen or otherwise) or a subscription, I much prefer an email or letter. If I ring, I'm fully aware that I'll be put through to "customer retention" and have to endure someone reading a customer retention script before they'll finally let me go. I once spent half an hour on the phone to a woman in India reading a script in broken English while I begged her to just cancel my AOL subscription.
If a friend rings, I'll usually forget to listen to the voicemail for about a week. I'll happily text or email, but my favourite way to interact with my friends is in person. I never ring up for a goss and I tend not to enjoy "goss" conversations. I spend the entire time wondering when I can find an excuse to hang up.
I'm not completely phobic about the phone. I use it to make meetings, appointments and arrangements. Ask for directions. Sort out a query at work. That kind of thing. It's a useful tool. But I just don't use it to communicate.
If I want a chat with someone I care about, like a friend, I do it face to face.I love socialising and I'll talk about pretty much anything. If it's an uncomfortable issue, a complaint or something I'm not happy to talk about, I prefer to get it all into a letter or email, where I can organise my thoughts without interruption or intimidation.I like to be prepared. Have a meeting at work where we can look at spreadsheets or schedules or visual aids. I hate awkward silences. Phone calls can catch you off guard. I've been known to write down what I want to say before making a call.
I'm a regular chatterbox on social media, but there, I have control. I can work out what I want to say. I can edit myself. I'm not going to talk myself into a corner or run out of things to say. I've always been more comfortable writing than communicating in any other way. I think that's why I love the internet so much.
As far as Skype – all the awkwardness of a phone call AND the caller can see if I'm looking at my scruffiest and haven't cleaned the house? Forget it.
I love my iPhone but I hardly ever use it for phone calls. Emails, texts,music, clever and useless apps, games, social media – all brilliant. But actually using it to phone people? Hardly ever.
If a phone call has a purpose, I can deal with it. But the kind of idle chat I love in real life just doesn't translate to the phone. I can't see anyone's face. I can't deal with a pause in conversation by glancing elsewhere, or smiling, or going to the bar, or petting a dog.
I feel a neverending guilt towards my friends and family for never picking up the phone, but I think they're used to it by now. I hope so. As far as the others – the creditors, suppliers and kitchen insurance providers – they can just deal with it.
Don't call me. I'll call you. Maybe.
7 October 2011
I was an avid reader from a tender age, and horses were of course my favourite subject. Every time I went to the library – which was often, as I talk about here – I made a beeline for any book that had an illustration of a horse on the cover. Black Beauty was the book I read, and reread, umpteen times, throughout my childhood. I wrote my own stories about horses, lavishly illustrated.
I had a vast collection of toy horses, mostly from Breyer. I think at its peak the collection boasted a herd of around 40 horses. There was a leader – the largest horse, a palomino named Thunderbolt – and his wife, a gentle and wise bay named Brownie. They had a son, Cloudy, who was a rearing palomino stallion. Cloudy was rebellious. Every one of the horses had a name, a character, a back story, and a drama played out endlessly in my room with my equally horse-obsessed friend.
There was a farm down the road from me with a few horses and I visited whenever I could. I nagged and begged my parents for riding lessons, and for a horse. I couldn't understand why we couldn't keep a horse in the back yard of our suburban house. I was one of six children, though, and riding lessons don't come cheap, so my equestrian dreams were never fulfilled except through my own imagination, the books, the horse herd soap opera, drawing after drawing and story after story.
When I went to university, the school had an agricultural college attached. They bred their own Morgans and I discovered I could take lessons relatively cheaply. There followed a few of the happiest horsey years of my life as I donned jodhpurs, boots and hard hat and learned how to ride.
As I grew older, and entered a world where I had to pay bills and such, the riding lessons waned. I never progressed beyond walk/trot/canter although I still took lessons when I could. In one such lesson I came off the back of a spooked horse who managed to kick me squarely in the back of the knee, leaving a perfect hoof mark, a bruise from bum to ankle and the lasting legacy of a torn knee cartilage which haunts me to this day. Many times I've walked away from a riding lesson in tears, wondering why I just paid someone £25 to scream at me and make me feel stupid.
Even that has never destroyed my adoration of the beasts. I still coo "Horses!" when I see them, and feel the same surge of admiration and fondness I did as a child. I never grew out of my girlhood love.
I just went on a riding holiday and it was the first time I'd been on horseback in a long time. I felt very anxious, particularly in canter; because of the mishap my tendency is to grip and lose my stirrups, and for my first canter through the forest I was thin-lipped with fear, bouncing gracelessly on the poor horse's back. By the end of the week, though, my heart was pounding with exhilaration rather than fear. Even when my horse spooked at the terrifying sight of …speed bumps, I could manage, and even when he unexpectedly veered into the woods at a gallop with me yelling "WHOAH!" on his back, I stayed on.
And I've had the unforgettable experience of sitting astride a galloping horse on an empty*, golden stretch of Spanish beach, the surf pounding as hard as my heart, hearing the thud of the hooves on the ground, hat being pushed back by the wind, huge grin on my face. Nothing can beat that.
As an adult I've lost most of my childlike wonder and excitability. I have the steady-as-she-goes calm of someone who's been around for a while and is rarely surprised or shaken out of her normal life. But if you told the little-girl version of me that some day she would gallop on a sleek Andalucian horse on a Spanish beach, she would not have been able to contain her joy. And I was so pleased to discover that I still have that childlike joy and excitement within me.
*Empty except for a few naked men. Turns out there are no nudity laws in Spain.
9 September 2011
We all know what happened that day; we all remember. I don't need to go into detail about the events. What I can tell you is the helpless horror I felt as I sat in a meeting room, thousands of miles away, watching it happen on TV. Seeing my country undergoing a previously unimaginable attack, on a scale we never could have guessed. Knowing that two of the flights were from Boston, the city where I was born.
A co-worker asked me “are you ok?” I slowly nodded. Tears standing unshed in my eyes. Stomach tied up in a tight knot. Trying to take it in.
I'd lived in the UK for 11 years by then. I moved to the UK when the IRA were still bombing London and other English cities on a fairly regular basis, so terrorism was already something I comprehended in a way that a lot of Americans didn't. I'd been around at the time the Lockerbie atrocity happened too. And like everyone else, I was aware of the concept of plane hijacks. The last time the mainland US was attacked by an external force, it was the British in the early 19th century. We're not used to it. It was a shock to many Americans that the rest of the world hated us, but it wasn't a shock to me.
But this was something so nightmarish that nobody in her right mind could have dreamt it would happen. The sheer balls of this attack, the unprecedented scale of it, was something nobody in her right mind could ever have imagined.
I was profoundly relieved that nobody close to me was lost that day. People my family and I knew died though. A tennis partner of my mother's. My parents' parish priest, who gave them spiritual sustenance and kindness. A girl I grew up with in my small town. The wife of one of my brother's co-workers. The grief touched me like a piece of paper scorched at the edges. I watched the footage obsessively. And I cried. God, how I cried.
I also don't need to go into the aftermath. The politics. The war. The thousands of other innocents that died as a result of that terrible day.
What I found profoundly depressing at the time, and still find depressing today, was the tone I saw in a lot of the posts I read on the Internet. Americans had asked for it, commentators seemed to say, with their aggressive foreign policies and cultural imperialism. There was, in some of the comments I saw, a touch of schadenfreude. Take that, America, you global bully! Have a taste of your own medicine! Stop making such a fuss; we've been dealing with this shit for years! It's about time you got your comeuppance!
People were saying this at a time when mobile phones buried under rubble were still ringing, people still desperately hoping that their loved ones didn't make the flight, were delayed on the way to work. Ten years later, as thousands of people struggle with the grief that landmark anniversaries bring, I'm still hearing it.
Here's the thing. People need to separate the people from the policy. The people who died that day, and the spouses, friends, children, siblings, parents that were left behind didn't ask for it. Nobody asked for it. We didn't ask for the war and the further carnage that Bush and Blair unleashed on the world, either. And nothing justifies those deaths. But nothing justifies the death of those innocents on September 11th 2001 either. Don't blur the lines. George Bush didn't speak for all of us. The innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't deserve to die, and more Americans than you give us credit for believe this. Nor did the innocents from America who died deserve it. Of course.
I've seen recently, on Twitter, a fair amount of snideness, and embarrassment about the remembrance ceremonies, and even a bit of anti-Americanism. Complaints about the fact that Americans say 9/11 instead of 11/9, for God's sake. Now is not the time.
I hope that the 10-year marker allows those who grieve an opportunity to move on; to lay ghosts to rest and find peace. While I've watched the aftermath and the deaths mounting upon deaths, the chipping away of civil liberties and privacy, with utter dismay, that doesn't detract from the grief I feel for the terrible wound my country suffered that day.
Rest in peace, all those who lost their lives that day, the civilians, firefighters and rescue services. While we've lived through a terrible day and an equally horrific aftermath, I hope that the 10 year anniversary marks a new beginning.
Image: digitalart at freedigitalphotos.net