Women’s rights are all our rights

I, like many, stand horrified at the overturning of Roe versus Wade in America last week, seeing abortion made illegal in many US States. This appalling act sees the rights of women everywhere undermined, and their lives made second best.

I don’t care why a woman needs an abortion.

For me, this is not about the horror of becoming pregnant after sexual violence. This is not about the tragedy of a foetus too sick to survive. This is not about an ectopic pregnancy or needing a D & C after an incomplete miscarriage. (All now illegal.)

This is about a woman’s right to choose.

I don’t need to know your story to know that it is your right to choose.

I don’t need to know your history to know that it is your right to have control over your own body.

This is not an argument about the lack of exisiting welfare for women who have children, the lack of affordable maternity care, the lack of maternity leave, the lack of support to raise a child, the loss of opportunities, the loss of education, the forcing women and children into poverty, no matter how they got pregnant.

This is not about all the books that won’t get written, all the careers that won’t happen, all the relationships women will feel trapped in, all the lifes that won’t be lived because women are forced to carry a child they did not or could not want.

This is about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body.

To her life.

And if you think it will never happen here, just take note of the Tory MP’s cheering along.

Take note of the UK government’s abolition of the Human Rights Act and the curtailing of the European Court of Human rights.

“From the Hillsborough disaster, to the right to a proper Covid inquiry, to the right to challenge the way police investigate endemic violence against women, the Human Rights Act is the cornerstone of people power in this country. It’s no coincidence that the very politicians it holds to account want to see it fatally weakened.” argues Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive in The Guardian this week.

Removing the rights of people to challenge unfair or prejudicial laws and rulings will affect us all.  You can see it in America. First an attack on women’s reproductive freedom, then an attack on contraceptive provision, then LGBTQA+ rights and equal marriage.

And before you say that would never happen here, did you ever think you would live to see women’s rights to bodily autonomy, their right to choose, being made illegal in America?

Did you ever think that Britain, would be sending vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution to Rwanda to be processed? Did you ever think that Britain would lock up people seeking asylum in camps and prisons? Did you ever think that children, vulnerable, frightened, exploited children, arriving in Britain alone, seeking asylum would be sent, not first to foster carers and social services but to be processed at a police station?

My American sisters, I stand with you because with you we stand for all.

No 10 to set out sweeping plans to override power of human rights court | Human Rights Act | The Guardian

Saving the day, one pudding at a time

I’ve been thinking about school dinners today. I think we’re divided into those who loved school dinners and those who did not.

I loved my school dinners. A hungry child, I loved the smell of cooking wafting up the hallways after break. The scent of puddings baking, dinners roasting, was almost too much to bear as I tried to concentrate on numbers and grammar.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like, though seeing a girl, forced to finish her pudding, vomiting in her semolina was a bit much to swallow. But other than semolina I loved it all. The liver and onions, oh, the pie and mash, the peas, and carrots, even the cabbage. It was all proper food. Cooked from scratch by fierce-looking women in the school canteen, it would have been local too. Shepherds’ pies, cheese pies, fish on Fridays this was the stuff I dreamed of.

But my real dreams, my true obsessions were the puddings.

With the exception of semolina – for obvious reasons – I adored the puddings. Tall and skinny with hollow legs, I always had room for pudding, even after seconds of dinner. Jam sponge, coconut sponge, jam roly-poly, jelly and fruit with a blob of tinned cream on the top. Oh, the trifles and fruit tarts and exotic French horns, rock buns hard enough to stun a school bully if thrown from the right distance.

 But my favourite pudding, my most absolutely best day ever – and I did judge the quality of the day on the standard of pudding – my most fabulous day in the world was when Gypsy Tart was on the menu.

In Kent, where I went to school, Gypsy tart was regularly on the menu but as a regional dish dating back over 100 years, not many have heard of it, let alone tried its delights as a child.

A pastry case, filled to the brim with whipped evaporated milk and dark brown sugar, it was baked to quivering perfection. Silky on the tongue with the crumb of buttery pastry beneath, the sugars caramelised to soft toffee goodness, it was without a doubt the queen of all puddings, knocking the so-called Queen of puddings into a custard-filled hat.

With fondest memories of Gypsy Tart – the name is said to come from a time when Kentish wives would make it for the children of the Travellers who came to work on the farms picking hops and apples – I searched for a recipe and reproduced the stuff of my childhood dreams. One bite and I was back to 8 years old, scabby kneed, legs swinging on my chair at the sheer joy of each bite.

Grown-up me winced at the impossible sweetness of the tart, saving half my portion for later when the sugar rush had eased, the tremors in my hands had stopped and my vision had returned.

It’s no wonder we ran around the playground screaming at the top of our voices, ramming into each other and any immovable objects. We were all smashed out of our heads on sugar. God only knows what we were like to teach after that.

I am tempted, in these days of added worry and stress,  to bake a Gypsy tart again, if only to recreate the joy it used to bring me. Never mind the low sugar, gluten-free trends of today, maybe I could recreate my absolute bestest most fabulous day one pudding at a time? Bananas and custard next?

I’d love to hear what your favourite school dinners were? Did you love them? Did you hate them? Drop me a line in the comments. Xxx

In need of a sugar rush?

Gypsy Tart – don’t worry about servings you won’t want to share it!

300g plain flour

150g butter

1 tbls caster sugar

Pinch of salt

Cold water

1 egg beaten

410g can of Evaporated milk

300g Dark brown sugar

Pinch of salt

Method

Make pastry.

Line a pie dish and prick, brush with egg and bake blind for 20 min @ 160’c. (I have a fan oven, adjust temp if yours is not)

Remove from oven and cool, turning down oven temp to 100’c

Put evap and brown sugar in a food processor or electric hand held whisk and whip for 15 min until pale, fluffy and doubled in size.

Pour into the pastry case and pop into oven for 20.

Remove and let cool before serving.

 *********Under no circumstances must you be fooled into serving it with slices of apple or lemon cream – this is just a ploy by weirdos on the internet to make this obviously ridiculously unhealthy pudding into one of your five a day. Save the apple for another day and just enjoy the sugary goodness.

International Women’s Day

Why I celebrate international women’s day.

I’ve always celebrated International women’s day – today 8th March. I worked in a women’s refuge in my late teens, and it taught me the solidarity of women and the difficulties many of us face.

International women’s day has always been a time to celebrate, always been a time to honour the women who came before us, the women in our lives, the sisters who will follow. About this time, we also see the same worn arguments begin to surface,

‘Why do you need international women’s day, anyway?

I remember going to see the late Maya Angelou giving a reading in the late ’80s in Lewisham, a minibus of women travelling down to see her, cackling and singing all the way there and back. The energy in the hall was electric, the women of the audience standing, hips swaying, hands held high as Maya Angelou read her ubiquitous poem And still I rise.

I thought at that moment, buoyed up by the energy of women, that we could do anything. The power in that hall, as we clapped and cried, held in the words of this great woman, seemed without end. Young as I was, I thought we were invincible. I thought we would make such changes, tearing down all of the constraints that came before, that things would change, that it would be better.

And it is, better I mean, but then.

 I am writing this late at night, waiting for my daughter to text me that she has gotten home safely from a night out with friends. I sit here now, over 30 years since I watched, as Maya Angelou mesmerised us with her words and her energy and I’m wondering how far we’ve really come?

We still live in a world where women are twice as likely to be a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse than men. Where 1 in 3 women globally is beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime.

Where the police are complicit in the sexual/racial abuse and murder of women.

Where rape is not punished – in 2020 there were 52,210 rapes recorded to the police in Wales and England – 843 resulted in a charge or summons. 1.6%

Where globally 30,000 underage girls are married off each day. Each day!!!! 250 million women alive today were married before their 15th birthday.

 Where less than 40% of countries provide girls and boys with equal education.

Where the impact of Climate change,  global warming, floods, droughts, storms and forced migrations will kill more women than men, due to unequal access to power and resources.

We still don’t have equal pay, we still can’t walk the streets safely, or stay in our homes safely and with the global pandemic, women are doing even more of the work within the home- 3 times as many hours than the men we share our homes with. 

Our access to the world is limited by the constant threat of danger, so ingrained that we think it’s normal, or worse still think it’s just us- that we are oversensitive, or over cautious or just too scared.

I really wanted to be able to present all the gains that we’ve made as women, to celebrate our achievements. That’s what International Women’s Day has always been for me – a chance to celebrate.

I know women are making gains, in education, in industry, in having a voice and having a visible presence in the world. I know with #metoo we are challenging male violence, challenging the stories told about us. I know we are kicking and screaming for change, for an equal share for an equal chance, but this evening, all I can think is,

‘Why in the 21st century am I sitting here, praying my girl gets home safe from a night out with friends?’

This is why we need International women’s day.

***

 Every day is a chance to celebrate the women in your life – but especially today we need to celebrate each other – the women who are teaching our children, the women working in our shops, the women working in STEM industries, the women caring for their families, the women working in our hospitals, driving our lorries and our buses, the women going into space. The women in other countries, in other parts of the world. To all of the women and girls.

 Against all these odds, against all this shit. We all still show up, hold each other up, pull each other up.

So, to my sisters, I say thank you. I honour your strength and your courage, your grace and your beauty. Together we are strong. Together we are invincible. Together we rise.  

‘Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

 I rise

 Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

 I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

 I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

 I rise

 I rise

 I rise.’

 Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Ange

If you are able, please donate to a women’s charity today.

Donate to Refuge | Help Stop Domestic Violence

Make a donation – Womankind Worldwide

Donate – Womens Aid

Becoming an astronaut.

I once said to Michael Sheen – you don’t get to say that very often, do you? I once said to Michael Sheen that saying you wanted to be a writer when I was growing up was like saying you wanted to be an astronaut.

For a girl, growing up in the relentless poverty of the ’80s, the dole not stretching to heat and food, the Provi-man’s knocking at the door for repayment of loans my parents could never afford, saying you wanted to be a writer was mad, like saying you wanted to be an astronaut.

I didn’t know any writers. Writers were posh, went to posh school that I’d go to with my mum to clean after school.  What did a writer do anyway?  Sit in their special writing room, sharpening their pencils before having cocktails on the lawn as the sun went down. (I watched a lot of old movies so my references may have been Noel Coward and Agatha Christie????)

Never mind that my school had written me off already. Never mind that I didn’t attend school for the lack of school shoes.  Never mind if I didn’t go to school, I didn’t get my free school dinner, with that shameful little token that, some days, was my only meal.

In all of this I still wrote stories, still made them up on my long walks across the fields, feet wet, trying to keep out of everyone’s way.

Trust me, where I came from people didn’t become writers and the knowledge, knowing that I could never be an astronaut, ground down deep into my bones, staining the very marrow. A childish dream from a hungry girl.

We all have to grow up and get proper jobs, feed our kids, struggle to make sure they never go hungry.

Well, last night I was launched into space.

Along with 10 other fabulously talented writers taking part in A Writing Chance with New Writing North, Michael ‘bleeding’ Sheen – I think he could change his name to that, I’ve said it like that enough. Michael ‘bleeding’ Sheen performed our work on stage in Cardiff.

When I was chatting to Michael, trying to explain what a difference being part of this programme had made to me, how it had shifted my whole feeling about myself, about who I was, about how I had become a writer, Michael Sheen asked me what it was like to become an astronaut?

Then he went on stage and performed my words

The section he performed is from the beginning of my novel in progress about a woman who has forgotten she is the goddess of the River Severn. It begins with the myth of how the rivers of Wales got their goddesses. A reinvention of a tiny three-line myth I found in my research, Michael made it sound like a story of old.

I cannot tell you how amazing it was to hear words I’d written in the dark of early morning come to light on the stage.

Well, I don’t need to tell you as you can listen to those words being performed in ‘Margins to Mainstream’ on St David’s Day, Tuesday 1st March 2022 at 6.30 pm on BBC Radio Wales. (If you are outside Wales, go to the BBC Sounds App and type in ‘Margins to Mainstream’.)

BBC Radio Wales – Margins to Mainstream: St David’s Day Special

Oooh this is me!

Remember me going on about winning A Writing Chance Award with New Writing North and the very lovely Michael Sheen ? No? Well you cant have been listening!

Back in the summer I won a place on a writing program for underrepresented writers and this weekend we are all heading off to the BBC in Cardiff where Michael Sheen is going to be performing an extract from the novel I am currently adding the finishing touches to.

Full link here

https://www.bbc.com/mediacentre/2022/bbc-cyrmu-wales-st-davids-day

What I didn’t know.

I didn’t know about menopause. I mean I knew it existed, but if the women I knew spoke about it at all, we spoke about the ‘the change’ like we were Les Dawson characters, elbowing our bosoms, mouthing the words in silence.

 I don’t know why we didn’t talk about it. We talked about everything else, my women friends and me.  We called our vagina’s ‘VAGINA’S,’ loud and proud. We raised babies, talked cracked nipples, postnatal sex, leaking bits. We’ve been through all the screenings and a few close shaves together, so it wasn’t as if we were uncomfortable talking about our bodies.

I don’t know why we didn’t know – I mean, I’m a well-informed woman. I read stuff. I Google. I’m 51 bloody years old for god’s sake, and all I really knew about menopause was hot flushes? Bit of dryness down below?

Holy shit, we did not know about the rest! The brain fog, the exhaustion combined with insomnia, the sore boobs, the dry skin, the spots, the weight gain, the mood swings, the rage, the flooding, the feeling utterly, miserably, not like ourselves. Did I mention the hot flashes, night sweats, and lack of sex drive?

We didn’t know. Each of us struggling with odd little things from our early 40’s and in my case, late ’30s and we didn’t know how to put it all together and say ‘Oh, is this the start of the C-H-A-N-G-E?’

              We didn’t know about women facing discrimination at work as they struggled to manage increasingly difficult symptoms – irregular bleeding, anxiety. We didn’t know that even though there are effective ways to help manage the symptoms, many women are dismissed by their doctors or worst still treated for things like depression instead of being offered hormone therapies. Hormone therapies which are now safer than ever, hormone therapies that some reports say as few as 30% of women experiencing symptoms actually have access to.

And before you start, don’t try telling me this is a natural process that we need to just endure, do some yoga maybe, avoid sugar, pop a couple of Black Cohosh? Appendicitis is a natural process, but no one tells you to get through that with a bit of downward dog and some wheatgrass juice.

HRT saved me. HRT gave me back parts of myself that I didn’t know I’d lost. I know it’s not for everyone and I can feel the judgement that I am allowing my body to be medicalised but popping a couple of Black Cohosh up ya bum when you’re crazed with hormone-fueled rage, insomnia and sitting on your sofa in a puddle of your own menstrual blood is, quite frankly, bollocks.

 At first, I struggled to find the right dose as my hormone’s levels swung back and forth like a u-turning Tory minister, but eventually, I found a way back to myself. No that’s not right. Not back to myself.  Forward, to a new myself, with patches and sticky black circles on my legs like some weird abstract tattoo.   

 In all this not talking about menopause, why are we not talking about how powerful we’ll become, once this bleeding thing has all settled?

How freed from our empty nests, and moon-cups we might have the energy to discover more about ourselves, about the world. I know for many there are caring responsibilities for ageing parents, and young adults to settle out in the world, all the while our hormones dancing us a bloody tango – hot flashes and cramps at the same time, such fun? But there is a freedom waiting for us, one this bleeding thing is over. Joy at being who we are. Who have we become after all these years?

Now we talk of nothing else, me and my women friends.

We are louder now, stronger, more confident, more likely to say Fuck off! And No!

Maybe that’s why we didn’t know about menopause.

Maybe that’s what they don’t tell you?

Maybe loads of newly middle-aged women being bolshy and uncooperative and wanting everyone else to piss off is too much for society to bear.

Maybe the big secret is that, instead of crying in the loo for no reason, we are going to become powerful, sexy, utterly fabulous, and not going take any shit anymore.

 In all this change, after all this drama has settled, maybe we will realise that now is our time.  Our time to come out to play. Our time to take centre stage.

 And maybe for those women following us, we should shout it out a bit louder.

 The future is bright, baby, because now we’ve changed.

Social care.

I meet her down the bottom of the alley. Litter needs picking again. She’s off to get her paper, leaning on her stick, dodging curled lottery tickets and discarded masks.

She’s a bit Daily Mail, if you know what I mean but she’s always out in her garden. Her roses are stunning, not a black spot on them. A proper gardener, she is, so I always stop and chat.

I ask her how she’d been doing.

              ‘He’s back in Shrewsbury,’ she says all weary. ‘Aspirational pneumonia. Went in two weeks ago.’ Her husband of 60 years has Parkinson’s. He had a mobility scooter for a while, ran everyone off the path with it.

‘He was a devil with it, thought it funny. Well, funny till he tipped the thing,’ she says straight-faced. ‘I never knew where he was. I reckon he fell asleep in it, that’s why it tipped. Lucky it was by the post office. The postman bought his scooter back. Said he was ever so sorry, he wasn’t allowed to bring passengers in his van, but he’d called a taxi.

He didn’t use it much after that. He was meant to be coming home.’

He’s at the Royal Shrewsbury. Our nearest hospital, 30 miles over the border.

‘They phoned on Monday to say they were sending him back to the care home. They’d moved him now.’

He’d been in a care home another 30 miles in the opposite direction, and she’d had no car.

‘He’s in the new one now, round the corner. Means I can go and see him, but they’re not allowing visitors.

Only he couldn’t come home because they didn’t have an ambulance to bring him.’

She worries at the mask in her hand, leaning on her stick, sighing.

‘Then he had to have another covid test because he’d been there another few days, then he had to wait another few days for the results. I’ve been ringing them and ringing them and it’s never the same person.

They were asking me what his hobbies were. What he did for a job? What are they doing that for? He can’t move, he can’t talk. Never mind asking daft questions just send him home.’

Her voice is weary with rage worn thin to nothing. I try to smile sympathetically. I don’t know what I can say.

‘Then they call,’ she continues ‘and they say they’ve got an ambulance at last and, they’ll send him back to the care home this morning.’

She tilts her head to one side. ‘So, I call the care home and tell them he’s coming back, and they say they don’t take admissions on a weekend.

So, he’d got to stay there. All weekend. Then it’ll be another covid test. And then waiting again for the results.’ She sighs.

‘We’re old,’ she says. ‘We’ve worked all our lives, you know. It shouldn’t be like this.’

We wait a minute. ‘Am gonna do my roses today,’ she sighs. ‘Get them all sorted, at least.’

Now is not the time to diet!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My gift to myself, on my 50th birthday, was to never go on a diet again. All dieting did was make me feel rubbish.

I’d been on a diet for over 30 years, on and off. I’d counted Points and Syns, done green days and red, blue dots then purple. I’d fasted and cleansed, done GI, keto, low carb, no-carb. I’d done shakes and drank lemon juice before every meal.

I’ve done exercise when I could, swimming, yoga, had an allotment, trained to be a Walking and then Mountain Group Leader, walking 20k a weekend.

I’ve been hypnotised and listened to CD’s and I’ve meditated and mindfully ate until I lost the will to live.

And still, I was never thin. After all that angst and struggle, I’m now two and a half stone heavier than when I started.

I am fat. Even at my lightest, I was a size 18. My genes are all about the curves and now with menopause, my body changing, I’m fatter still. And before you jump in saying,

‘Oh, don’t be harsh about yourself.’

‘You’re lovely.’

‘I never look at you and think fat.’

I need to tell you that I don’t think ‘fat’ is a dirty word. Fat is not an insult or a character assessment or a comment on my weakness or my greed or any of the other things we think about as ‘fat’. Fat is just Fat – a physical state of being.

Increasingly we now understand that being fat is not just about what we eat, it’s about our genes, it’s about our gut bacteria, it’s about poverty, and the food we ate when we were kids. It’s even about our mother’s health when we were in the womb.

Still, I worry about being fat.

A new GP called me to say she was stopping my HRT unless I lost weight. I needed to come in for urgent tests if I could drag myself away from the cake. My bloods all came back perfect. Surprisingly so, she added, the ‘considering I’m so fat’ hanging in the air unsaid. My blood pressure was perfect. My cholesterol, lower than my two slender best friends. My HRT returned with the threat of monthly weigh-ins and 6 monthly blood tests, I stopped going to the Doctors.

Being fat is not a sin, not a weakness, not something that you can shame people out of. For a lot of us, no matter how hard we try, being fat is just part of who we are, like having blue eyes or being able to roll your tongue.

All those years, when the diets stopped working and my weight stubbornly refused to move, I felt like I was a liar. Because I was still following the plan, still being strict and controlled. It just didn’t work.

So, I no longer diet. Or at least I try not to. It’s so ingrained in me though, I still know the points of certain foods, counting the calories without thinking, I know which foods are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’.

I hate it.

It’s especially hard at this time of year when we are encouraged to find the ‘New You.’ There’s nothing wrong with the old me, thank you very much. Except that she couldn’t look in the mirror and see how lovely she was, could only look at herself as something to be worked on, something to improve, something to starve into submission.

Bollocks to that.

Now, when I look at myself in the mirror, I say good things. How good my posture is, how beautiful is my smile. It’s not always easy. I still have to resist the urge to pinch more than an inch. But mostly I’m pretty damn good, and even on those days when I look a bit rough, a bit puffy, a BIT FAT, it’s just that. Not a character assassination or a testament to my weakness as a human being. So, I need to go up a size, so what!

I’m not beautiful despite being fat. I am beautiful. Full stop.

I choose being beautiful as a radical act of resistance.

So, if you’re looking at your New Year’s resolutions and thinking this is the year to get thin, can I just remind you that you are fabulous just as you are.

Take up a new hobby, be more active; we’re all better when we walk a bit more. Get out in the fresh air. It’s good for us.

But please, please don’t make it about being fat.

You are beautiful, you are kind, you are special, and you are loved. You are perfect just as you are.

Join the resistance, sweetie!

Happy New Year!