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Monthly Archives: December 2008

Not another bloody top ten list.

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Guys, I am ill. This is not fun. It’s New Year’s. I had plans, I did. But instead I’m curled in bed with my laptop and a streaming nose, reading old skool feminism and vampire porn and feeling extremely sorry for myself. So, treasured readers, please help out and make my evening bearable and your future reading experience shinier by responding to the following short survey or meme. Participatory citizen journalism for, as Stalin used to say, the win.

1)What is energising you politically for 2009?

2)What have you enjoyed on Penny Red in 2008 (if anything)?

3)What would you like to see on this blog? Are there any topics I should be covering and haven’t? Things I should be writing more about? Would you like more or less of the delightful little excursions into my life in real life? If anyone suggests post ideas, I’ll try and get around to them in the New Year.

4) Introduce yourself! What does 2009 hold for you? Who are you and what are you doing in my house?

5) If I were to make you a lovely cup of tea, how would you want it? (Milk, sugar, blood of Christian babies?)

6) How do you respond to the statement ‘it’s political correctness gone mad!’ ?

Thanks, comrades, and thank you for keeping up with PR this year. See you on the other side.

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Senseless in Gaza

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Look, I’m a Jew by birth, I’ve been to Schul, my family live just outside Natanya in Israel, I’ve travelled there extensively. If I don’t get to have an opinion on this, I don’t know who does.

I have just watched that profoundly moving episode of Babylon 5 where Ivanova sits Shiva for her father. It made my heart swell with longing for the profundities of a culture I haven’t reclaimed in far too long.

Following this, I made a cup of tea and checked the news.

Two hundred and ninety, murdered. Fuck you, Israel, fuck your leaders and your mindless orthodoxy, fuck your forcing my cousins to do military service and my family to live in fear, fuck your killing and your killing and your sixty years of killing. I’ve seen your promised land, and it stinks of melons and terror. This isn’t the way it was supposed to go. You don’t get to do this because you feel ‘threatened’; that isn’t what it means to be a Jew. Have we remembered nothing?

The true promised land is nowhere but in our own minds, and your false Zion runs with blood.

But think of the kiddies!

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One of the many things that royally pisses me off about this time of year is the endless bloody slew of articles about ‘children of divorce’ at Christmastime. Commentator after commentator calling for us to think of the children and ‘make marriage work‘. Column after column sopping with souped-up stories of ‘suitcase kids’ being shuttled between mummy and daddy, clearly innocent victims of Broken Britain (c.Cameron 2007). This helpful Daily Mail article includes heart-rending testimonies from Tilly, Archie, Freddie, Cora and other improbably-named crisis tots, accompanied by laughable illustrations: a pixie-hatted munchkin kisses daddy goodbye; a ringletted white toddler moops mawkishly by a window, the epitome of Victorian chocolate-box fantasy; and everything is covered in a dubious blanket of perfectly crisp, white snowflakes. Gimme a break.

My fingers are balling into fists thinking of all of the women reading this arrant bullshit and feeling guilty for being unable to provide their loved ones with the perfect, industrial-capitalist, heteronormative nuclear family Christmas. My pansy liberal heart bleeds for the parents of both sexes currently ruining their own happiness and their children’s mental health by staying in bad marriages after buying this sick conservative propaganda.

Let me make it clear right now that yes, I come from a ‘broken’ home. My parents’ marriage disintegrated shortly after their children were born, and several years of ‘holding it together for the kids’, racked by unhappiness and infidelity, culminated in a messy and drawn-out divorce when I was in my early teens. Christmas since my parents separated has generally involved two sets of presents, significantly fewer rows, freedom to watch as much telly as we like and the blessed relief of not having to see my mother grit her teeth whilst serving Delia’s turkey to my father. These days, my mum, sisters and I scoff down chocolate from our stockings in front of Will and Grace and apologise to nobody. Cry me a fucking river. My one regret is that my mother didn’t leave my father sooner – something she might well have done had she not been convinced that my sisters and I would never recover. For the record, we have.

Because living with divorce is not bad for kids. Bad marriages are bad for kids (they’re not a barrel of laughs for their parents either), but divorces are symptomatic of family strife: they do not cause it. What divorce is extremely bad for is the maintenance of an increasingly outdated status quo, one in which a lifetime’s unpaid domestic labour is extracted from one partner – overwhelmingly the female partner – and in which male partners are isolated from the emotional sphere of family life as workers and as breadwinners.
The nuclear family, sustained by the middle-class myth of everlasting love and marriage, is an incredibly efficient way of dividing labour in the context of industrial capitalism, as observed by nearly every brave leftist writer from Engels to Betty Friedan. The idea of organising a household around one married, heterosexual couple and their children is, in fact, a relatively recent one, dating back to the mid-Victorian industrial surge: under a system where women were first blessedly permitted and then practically required to acquire paid employment, and following a welcome period of socio-cultural change, the myth of the nuclear family has become increasingly unstable. However, that hasn’t prevented it from being used as a stick with which to beat women who dared to imagine a life for themselves beyond the Nazi dictat of Kinder, Kuche und Kirche. The idea that divorce causes social breakdown is a colossal case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Don’t get me wrong: I sometimes wish my parents had been compatible enough to stay together. But given that they weren’t, my family and I are all a damn sight better off with this arrangement. Let’s cut the pretense that the conservative pro-marriage, anti-divorce propaganda circulating at this time of year and in this political climate is anything to do with protecting the welfare of children. When the Mail squeals at us to think of the kiddies, it is lamenting the turning of a tide of social change which even the continuing torrent of right-wing propaganda cannot turn back. It’s Christmas. Everywhere, up and down the country, alternative families are celebrating together – single-parent families, stepfamilies, families with multiple and same-sex parents, families of friends, families of choice, families everywhere which fall outside an increasingly irrelevant socio-cultural norm. Many of us are having a bloody good time. And David Cameron can suck it right up.

Hope and Humbuggery: a Christmas tantrum.

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This sucks.

I’ve just arrived back from my mum’s place and been greeted with a bollocking HUGE gas bill that we have only a slim chance of paying, plus a plumbing system that’s still buggered to the tune of having to wash my hair and essential parts in the sink, with a saucepan. All this, and scrabbling to prepare for a parental visit: clean, fumigate, hide the S’M posters, hide the ashtrays, hide the kingskins, hide our same-sex partners, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll make 2009 intact.

At this most magical time of the year, I truly pity the undeserving souls who work in call centres. Having been on the line to a dogged unresponsive pissed-off hack for half an hour, you could hear a festering note of impending armaggedon in the weary British Gas man’s voice when he asked if he could keep me informed of any new products and services.

Talking of festering Armageddon, does anyone else feel like we’re approaching the end times?

Maybe it’s just me. But in the latter months of 2008, it’s become far less easy to be a freak in this country. The black dog of recession is crunching us in its bloody jaws and, unlike the States, we don’t have any liberal saviour preaching change who we can clutch at, whispering save us. The government is clamping down on everybody, no matter where they live or why. The poor, single parents and the mentally ill are going to suffer under the new welfare plan. The atmosphere in Whitehall is one of stunned denial, with ministers emerging over the ramparts to frantically fire desultory, mean sallies such as today’s announcement that bailiffs will be given new powers to enter debtors’ homes at will, physically restraining or pinning down the occupants if necessary.

Will Monaco and Jersey swarm with smart-suited Scrooges wearing knuckle-dusters?
Will hired muscle be sent to collect billions of pounds’ worth of debt from Britain’s richest tax-dodgers, like Philip Green? Will members of the treasury, recently found owing £645bn which my generation will have to stump up for in our middle age, be turfed out onto the street in their scanties? Nah, thought not. Once again, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable who are being targeted by this supposed people’s government, this government that promised us change, transparency, a new world order. Maybe that’s why Obamania is failing to cheer us up: we’ve heard this line before.

Meanwhile, in Vatican City a nominally celibate former Hitler Youth member in a dress has a Christmas message of goodwill and peace in our time. Yup, Ratzinger wants to defend holy heterosexuality from the despicable ‘gender blurring’ perpetrated by gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and women who don’t sit with their knees together in church:

‘We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and asks that this order is respected.

“This is not out-of-date metaphysics. It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God.”

I would like, at this point, to swallow the greater part of the Fuck The Pope tirade that was going to be my inevitable next outburst and instead point Herr Ratzinger towards the roll-call of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christian saints recently enumerated by activist scholars, amongst them Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Sebastian and ooh, wouldn’t you credit it, Saint George, patron of this blinkered isle.

I apologise for the unseasonal amount of bile and hatred in this post. Believe me, behind this cold, hard exterior twitters the pink and fluffy heart of a perpetual six-year-old who bounces out of bed at 5am on Christmas morning and dreams in sugarplums and fairy lights. But behind that is the chill adult realisation that we’re going to have to take the long road home. 2009 will be a hard, hard year, we didn’t need the IMF to tell us that. The rest of this beautiful, broken, brilliant decade is going to entail threats to socialism, liberalism and freedom of thought and action from all sides, with governments offering no quarter and giving none. Those of us brave enough to weather the distance, those of us with the strength and temerity to hold on to our liberal ideals, will need everything we’ve got to keep the hope in our heads alive.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. [Tennyson, ‘Ulysses’]

And that’s my Christmas message. Hope, if nothing else: hope, because that’s all we’ve got, that we will come through this with our sanity and our integrity, everyone: the poor, the young, the mentally ill, the geeks, the freaks, the queers and their allies, the feminists and race-activists and socialists and war protesters and those who dare to dream of a better and a fairer world. When we have nothing else but hope, we will have to find the energy from somewhere to keep on getting out of bed, keep on striving, keep on thinking for ourselves. I’m certainly going to keep on writing; I hope you’ll keep on reading. Thank you all for keeping up with this blog over the past year, and please believe me when I wish you, whatever your faith, a merry Christmas.

Damn lies and statistics

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Today I discovered that I am a migrant! Who knew?

Did North London secede overnight whilst I wasn’t watching? (Again?) No, but since all the new jobs in Britain have gone to migrants since 2001, I must logically be one – three times over, in fact. Alan Green, Field and Soames’ ‘Balanced Migration’ campaign is scantily concealed racism doing a desperate recession striptease to garner the ‘send em home’ vote with little regard for minor fripperies such as actual facts. As anyone giving the plans a cursory glance can tell. However, the distortion of its already distorted statistics by the right-wing press takes the cake.

The logical step at this point, being a patriotic soul, would be to follow general advice and ‘go back where I came from’. Perhaps Ms Neeson and Mr Desmond, the Daily Star proprietors, could even pay for me? Islington is only ten minutes away on the bus, and I could visit a selection of its many fine coffee-houses with change for a tenner.

Are you a migrant, too? Take the frothing racist lies test to find out!

ETA: Because I didn’t make it clear enough, this is a variant on a meme started by jacinthsong and theoxfordgirl over at livejournal. Meme, not original post. Propagate, spread, disseminate, internet children!

The writing’s on the wall.

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You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them – George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

I am seriously considering whether the best use of my time would be to torch myself on the steps of Parliament in protest – Withiel Black Esq., this morning.

I am angry, today.

But Ms Red, I hear you cry, you are quite often angry. Well, yes, that’s so, but today I’m bloody angry, angry for a reason. I am sitting in a house from which my current family and I may soon be evicted, because we have failed to make our rent. We have failed to make our rent because we have failed to gain employment, we are paying off debts, and the pissingly tiny amount of benefits to which we are entitled have failed to arrive. We are spending our time watching ripped downloads off the interwebs and living on fried potatoes and tea and cigarettes re-rolled from the butt-ends of what we’d imagined our futures would be.

We’re in our early twenties; the whole world is ahead of us, but a recession-bitten employment market and an increasingly punitive welfare system are making the immediate world look grim. It’s going to be worse, still, for those friends of ours who are due to leave school or university this year and take their first faltering steps into a world that won’t let them work and can’t afford to keep them. This is not romantic. Poverty and hopelessness are not romantic. They’re a fucking pain, is what they are.

When I met James Purnell in September he was half-cut, coming out of a party and manifestly didn’t want to be talking to the small insistent girl reporter in black, but he took the time to explain to me why he thought his welfare reforms were going to help the poor and incapacitated. He genuinely impressed me. He knew his stuff. Three months on, with the recession steaming in and all my friends and loved ones poor and depressed and rejected by a nominally caring Labour welfare state, I’m beginning to think we’ve been had. I have a visceral fondness for energetic, hobbit-looking men, but not when they instruct the poor and needy to bend over and spread for a rogering, telling them in breathless pants that it’s for their own good. Let’s take a look at that party line:

Myth: ‘work is the best way out of poverty.’

Fact: work is the best way out of poverty provided that there is work available, and provided that that work does not pay a poverty wage. Most of the journalists and politicians smugly licking Purnell’s shiny arse on this one are lucky enough to have well-paid, fulfilling careers. But have you ever worked as a fast-food waitress? Have you ever worked in a call centre? You spend nine solid hours in a cramped, light-sputtering cage being bullied by your bosses and harassed by people who didn’t ask you to call and harangue them. The work is soul-eatingly dull and draining and when you come home, blinking, dried-out, feeling ancient and depressed, you have to do it all again tomorrow, and you are still poor. You are still poor because you are being paid way below what might constitute a living wage, and you have no career prospects to keep you motivated. You get to choose between this and staying on benefits, being ever so slightly more crushingly poor but more physically and mentally well. What will you choose? (NB: call centre work is the only work many school leavers and graduates in the cities are currently able to find).

Myth: There is work there for people, and we believe they should do it. We can’t afford to waste taxpayers’ money on people who are playing the system. [Purnell]

This recession is not the fault of the poor. It is the fault of well-off wankers who live in large houses and go on holidays to Majorca, and now that the proverbial has hit the proverbial, nobody wants to take responsibility. Treating people like criminals for failing to find jobs that aren’t there is kicking us while we’re down. And that is what ‘”a system where virtually everyone has to do something in return for their benefits” means. Yes, it’s right that people take responsibility for their own lives – but what creates poverty, worklessness and drug and alcohol abuse is not moral decline, it’s social and economic decline, and that’s the fault of governments and the fault of a financial and business sector which sees no reason to look after its workforce in any way whatsoever.

The alleged lack of virtue of the working classes is now being exploited in order to offload the blame for what this Labour government has done – over 2 million unemployed, a toppling economy, another million so mentally and emotionally incapacitated that they cannot work. The idea that people without jobs are lazy, exploitative, ungrateful and engage in piffling class-defined vices places the blame for ‘Broken Britain’ on a group of people who have less to do with it than anyone else. The political and financial classes refuse to take responsibility for where they have landed us, and are now telling us that it’s our fault, because we are just not trying hard enough.

Don’t for a moment imagine that the Tories are planning anything better. In fact, as David Cameron’s latest editorial in the Hate shows, Tory contempt for the poor is if anything more shameless and ingrained than frantic Labour scapegoating could ever be: Cameron and his gang believe that the poor are lazy, and should be punished lest they all turn out like ‘evil’ Karen Matthews. As Matthew Norman puts it in the Indy, it takes a rich man to pour such scorn on the poor.

But I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough with trying so very, very hard to be a Labour apologist out of fear of the Tories. The Labour DWP’s strategy is not just not good enough: it’s actively immoral, scapegoating the neediest and making it more difficult for us to work and live just at the time when we should be carrying our wounded.

Fuck you in the fucking eyes, Purnell. It just saddens me that by the time that you see the wrong end of a dole queue in 2010, it’ll be way too late for you to help even yourself.

No more the meek and mild subservients we!

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Thank you to Jennie for reminding me: sisters, brethren, today is the ninetieth anniversary of the first time British women went to the polling booths. Yup -less than a century ago, at least half of the population were forbidden from having any say in the political process whatsoever simply on account of lacking dangly nether bits and half a chromosome.

It has been said before, and it has been said better than I ever could. But I am grateful to my grandmothers’ grandmothers: I am grateful to Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, Charlotte Despard and Emily Wilding Davies. I am grateful to those crusading women and men who gave their social security, their freedom and sometimes their lives so that my little sisters and I could own our political inheritance. Our lives are immeasurably the richer for it.

We still have battles to fight, ninety years on; all over the world, women are second-class citizens compared with men, and in this country and many others we are still fighting for full cultural and political emancipation. But today, I think, we can take ten seconds to look back at where we’ve come. Catch your breath: you’ll get dizzy.

Much as I abhor most Disney, this song is always rousing, and I can see no more fitting tribute to our illustious forbears. Rest in peace, ladies: you did good.