Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Help, Books Wanted!

Never thought I'd actually say that what we need in our house is more books....

As some of you will know I am due to start a Masters course in Creative Writing for Young Adults at Manchester Metropolitan University later this year. This morning I got the reading list and I'll be checking out Newcastle library later this week, but it would be really nice to have a copy of some of the following books so that they're not on a time limit and so that I can write on them. Just wondering if anyone has any of them sitting about that you'd like to donate or sell for a quid. :-)

Here's the list:

The Knife of Never Letting Go- Patrick Ness
Auslander- Paul Dodswell
Ways to Live Forever- Sally Nicholls
The London Eye Mystery- Siobhan Dowd
The Recruit- Robery Muchamore
Scarlett- Cathy Cassidy
Frank and The Black Hamster of Nagiz- Livi Michael
Spy Dog- Andrew Cope
Kingdom- Michael Morpurgo
Stuff- Jeremy Strong
The Ant Colony- Jenny Valentine
Ostrich Boys- Keith Gray
Clay- David Almond
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief- Rick Riordan

And I already have a copy of 'Twilight' :-)

Thanks very much, any help would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Election Emails and Responses

I don't know about anyone else but I find it impossible to make decisions about who to vote for from election leaflets. They're always full of vague statements about wanting the best for everyone (who doesn't?!) and 'delivering' for the 'future' etc. We're meant to vote for the people who best represent us but how on earth are we meant to find out who that is? Politicians in Northern Ireland keep on saying that they want to leave sectarian politics behind but many of them rely on the fact that people will vote as they've always done, it's as if they don't really want you to know the details of how they will represent you exactly. This election is particularly confusing because although the leaflets are full of very local issues/concerns actually we are being asked to vote for the person who will go to Westminster and represent us on a National scale.

I decided to email some of the candidates on what, for me, are issues of National importance to see where they stood so that I had a better chance of making an informed decision. I didn't email them all. For example, I already know why I don't want to vote DUP/UCUNF/TUV and I have a friend in the Green Party who has answered loads of questions for me already so I didn't need to email them.

Here are the emails I sent and the responses I got back. I am in South Down but some of the answers to these questions cover general party issues. I recommend emailing your candidates (still a few days left!) on specific issues if you're finding it hard to make your mind up.

Firstly I emailed Sinn Fein. Here is my email:

I'm sorry I missed you yesterday but thanks for leaving the flyer and the note. I do have a question I had been meaning to ask and I hope that maybe you can answer via email. I know that Sinn Fein are an abstentionist party regarding Westminster and I understand the reasons for this. My question is this: if you are elected as MP for South Down, what then will you do, apart from abstain in Westminster? I am asking because in thinking about this I came to the realisation that I really don't know what MPs do in Westminster. I know that they vote on various issues and I know that Sinn Fein will not be taking part in such votes, but I don't know if MPs do anything else besides this (and if they do, do Sinn Fein partake in these duties? Or do you abstain from everything to do with Westminster?). I suppose I am asking; what will you DO, on a day-to-day basis, at Westminster, if you are elected as MP?

Their response was longer than the others and much of it detailed all the work they have done in the past, so I will leave all that stuff out. If you want the full email please contact me and I'd be happy to pass it on. Here is their answer to my question:

We refuse to take seats in the British parliament, or to pledge allegiance to the Queen of England. We refuse to support any British Government that wages an unjust and unlawful war in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Irish republican we want to see an end to British control from London, but while adhering to this principled abstention, we ensure full representation of our constituents through the Sinn Fein’s offices in Westminster, and through our presence in every major decision making forum in Ireland and in Europe. Our focus is centralising power in Ireland so that the decisions which impact on the lives are ordinary people are made by locally elected and accountable politicians.

The importance and influence gained by Irish political parties participating in Westminster with small numbers of MPs negligible. This fact is illustrated by all of the local political parties whose attendance at Westminster, even during key debates such as when the budget is set, rank amongst the lowest of the 600 plus elected MPs who do not abstain.

Next I sent an email to the SDLP and the Alliance Party. The content of both emails was basically the same, I just changed the names. I had the same question for both parties:

Thank you for the election leaflet which I received a couple of days ago. I live in South Down so my election candidate is David Griffin and the following message is directed at him as well as the party in general. I am writing to you and a couple of other potential MPs to ask your views on some issues which are not covered in the flyers. I haven't decided who to vote for yet but the answers to the following questions will almost certainly help me decide. Thanks for your time.

I am just wondering what your views are on the idea that people who run businesses should have the right to turn away and accept whoever they want, especially if the business is run from their own home. I am thinking specifically of the instance where a couple who were running a B&B were highlighted in the media because they asked a gay couple to look elsewhere for accomodation. If an issue such as this came to the vote, how would David Griffin vote?

I would also like to know your views on extending the abortion act to Northern Ireland.

I am aware that these things might not come to a vote. I would like your views on the issues because I think it would give a good indication of how you are likely to vote on related issues. I am not asking for a long response or one which details anything else apart from topics relating to these issues as I feel that everything else I need to know has been covered in the flyer. As I said, I am an undecided voter and clarity on these specific issues will really help me decide. So often voting is left to guess work or hearsay, so I am very glad to have this opportunity to ask you about your views. I realise that David Griffin's personal views and that of the Alliance Party in general may not be the same, but I really just need to know how Mr Griffin be voting on my behalf, should I choose to vote for him.

This is the response I got from David Griffin of the Alliance Party:

Thank you for your interest!On the abortion issue I support the right to choose. As someone who read adverts stating "No Coloured or Irish" when a young teacher seeking accomodation in London of the 1960s I would oppose discrimination on such grounds. Best wishes.

And here is the reply I received from Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP:

Thank you for your detailed e mail. I am opposed to abortion and would be resisting any attempts to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. I am also opposed to Euthanasia. As a practicising Christian who firmly believes in the Christian way of life, I believe our work, our recreation and life should be imbued with such values. I trust this answers your issues.

The emails were certainly useful to me. I hope maybe someone else will also find them useful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ireland's Gulag

The following is copied and pasted from my friend's notes on Facebook. I am pleased to reproduce it here in light of the news from the BBC today that the Vatican ignored calls for information regarding clerical abuse.

This is the piece that I wrote for Ikon's 'Pyrotheology' event, which was initially presented at the Black Box in Belfast in June '09 and then again at the Greenbelt festival on 28 August '09.

The piece was read by ______ at Greenbelt, who did a beautiful job. Her voice is low and warm, and she gave it a dignity and gravity that was quite different to how I had read it at the Black Box event. I view her performance of it as a decidedly moving cover version. In musical terms, it sounded a bit like Suzanne Vega covering 'Know Your Enemy' by Rage Against the Machine.

One further comment: while this piece is certainly concerned with a specific monumental failing on the part of the Catholic Church in Ireland, it is not intended as a blanket condemnation of the Catholic Church in particular or Catholicism in general, both of which have nourished my spiritual life immeasurably. Every tradition has failed to live up to the vision of Jesus (yeah, even yours...), and each tradition needs to search its collective soul for how to respond to those failings. The grace of Jah is wide enough for all of us.

So here is the piece:

The clerical child abuse scandal within the industrial schools run for decades by the Catholic Church in Ireland have for years been an open wound for many Irish people, whether they be Catholic, lapsed Catholic, never-Catholic, or would-be Catholic.

Now, thanks to an independent government report that has thrown light onto the devastating full scale of the child abuse-

over 800 known serial abusers;

over 200 Catholic institutions;

over 35 years;

abuse not accidental, sporadic, or opportunistic;

not a tragic failure of the system, but, horrifically, the system itself-

we understand why the scandal is being referred to, I believe without an ounce of hyperbole, as ‘Ireland’s gulag’ and ‘the map of an Irish hell."

Reading the Government Commission documents (and I have read them), I feel as if I have stared the antichrist full in the face. I feel that I now know why someone as compassionate as Jesus would suggest such a cruel and unusual use for a millstone. I have never been so sad, sick and enraged. I feel the inner scream that many Christians have heard ring in their heads when their fellow Christian’s fingers have been found stained with the shit of the Crusades, anti-Semitism, martyrs, slavery, imperialism, Auschwitz, Rwanda, unwanted Irish children, or simply a failure to stop the destruction of the ‘least of these’, whether they were across the world or down the road.

In the case of these decades of unwanted Irish children, many now in their damaged middle age, The Church’s reaction has been, I believe, the very embodiment of the word ‘inadequate’. There has been silence, and where there has not been silence there has been noise; obfuscation, platitudes, and rationalization, making many of us, heads cradled in our hands, beg, please in the name of Christ will you SHUT UP AND FUCK OFF!!!

What would happen if, as one, The Church said, “We have sinned; we are sorry; we humbly repent, and as penance, we will shut ourselves down, collectively give up our vocation, sell all we have and give it to the poor and the abused. God forgive us. God bless you. Goodbye”?

The Church would end.

But through its self-destruction, through this self-immolation, I wonder if, in time, the Church might be reborn.

I believe that many Irish men and women who had abandoned the Church for decades, dumfounded at this sudden moment of... I don’t know, Christianity?- would say, “That’s what I’ve been yearning to hear.” Those of us who weekly drag our own selves dejectedly to the 11am Service of Holy Eucharist, now that there wasn’t one to drag ourselves off to, might feel a new stirring.

Over time, as has happened on these islands for millennia, men and women would feel the call of God. They would pray and they would serve. They would heal each other’s bodies and souls. They would to meet together over bread and wine and feel God in their midst. And each morning, as the first of us did, they would face the rising sun and worship the three-in-one, singing,

“As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.”

And they might think of keeping a sledgehammer, a can of petrol, and a box of matches readily at hand... For the next time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sleep, Eat, Party

Went to see this play by Damian Gorman last night and very quickly realised that I'd never seen a Northern Irish transgendered person represented on stage before (or in a book, or on TV, or anywhere really), let alone a teenage transgendered person. But it wasn't only this which blew me away. What a wonderful and sensitive treatment of some of the issues facing young people in Northern Ireland today; drugs, alcohol, parenthood, suicide. That afternoon I had read a news article reporting that Sir Reg Empey had compared young unemployed people to 'vampires' feeding off society, adding that they live off their parents' money and only want to 'stay at home watching TV with mummy' (so not only are they feckless, but their mothers too, of course). Today I will email Sir Reg and encourage him to see this play.

I LOVED that the play focused on things from a male point of view without vilifying women. The whole thing rang so true; sexism against women affects men too- it teaches them that 'real men' don't talk, don't love, don't take responsibility, don't 'act like a girl'. It is so refreshing to have someone really get this in Northern Ireland. It gave me hope.

Please go and see it if you can. Click here for details.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Childbirth and the Eucharist. Remembering.

This is my piece from last night's ikon gathering which was entitled 'No Bodies and Our Souls'.

How much of what we experience of our bodies comes from the memory of the experience as attached to the particular words and selves we have learned? Perhaps that is impossible to answer; like trying to describe a moment which is beyond words to the point where the most vivid memory of it only brings a feeling to mind. So the description I am about to attempt is beyond inadequate and yet, again and again, I am compelled to try to describe it.

I sometimes imagine that the compulsion is down to my angry mind needing to own tha event which was so far out of its control that I could not even hear it at the time. How frustrating for my mind, which had convinced me so well for so long of its power and authority so suddenly have me in thrall to another. I could only hear my body. And it was screaming.

I have heard people talk of giving birth as an 'out of body experience' or a spiritual experience. Something takes over and performs a bloody and painful miracle. It felt as if it was not me but someone or something beyond me; intervening. Life happens, all of a sudden. There is yelling and then crying and laughter.

But it was not a spiritual experience. It was the opposite. A total body experience. A completely human experience. Just one that was so unusual that my mind had been shocked into silence for the first time ever. I realised then that it was not God who was beyond me, it was myself. I am beyond me. More than I realise. And, because someone I will die, more than I will ever realise. Perhaps it is possible to lose God and gain God in the same word-becoming-flesh moment. You can lost control of your body like that, but then, who is your body if it is not you? You are then in control but also not in control. Beyond words, who are you?

Consider that the younger a person is, the more spiritual we deem them, the more connected to God. They who have no words, who are not aware of the boundaries between others and themselves, their bodies and the universe. Our minds will not let us remember this. But perhaps our bodies have no forgotten.

When we break together we do it in remembrance of the spirit-made-man and our minds say, get up, take the bread, say Amen. But, as you swallow, feel how little control you have. Your body may accept the bread, may digest it, may glean the goodness from it, may expell the rest. This is beyond words. This is the sacrament of word made flesh. Feel where your words end and your flesh begins. Your helpnessness, like a baby. Your power, your connection to the universe. This is your body. Do this in remembrance.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sometimes a Man Aims High...

It is National Poetry Day. Happy National Poetry Day! :)

If you want to read some of mine then check out the 'Poems for Adam and Eve' link on my links section.

Here's one I wanted to share for today:

'Sometimes' by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.

I used to have this poem on my classroom wall when I was a teacher. Today I remember it because this month has been difficult so far. Most of all because of the recent death of an ex-colleague of mine. Mick will be sadly missed in our local community and by me, and Ian and Ana who loved him. It's not fair when people die too young.

I remember this poem because when you have one of those weeks when disappointments and difficulties pile up it helps to acknowledge that sometimes things go right as well. This week the news broke that a group of people, including myself, had been successful in complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority regarding a local business's horribly sexist and degrading ad campaign. The advertisement has been banned, but more importantly there is now the hope that in future someone might think twice about airing their out of date, misogynistic 'jokes' for profit. Or that women might feel like it's worth speaking out about what isn't OK. Sometimes things work out. Sometimes a woman aims high, and all goes well. We hold on to that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009