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A few weeks ago I appeared on Sky News, as I tend to do so fairly frequently,  and discussed the Westminster sex scandal. I requested the clip from the Sky archive a few days ago and received it back this morning, whereupon I duly uploaded it to my YouTube channel where I am collating such appearances. As far as I am aware, I am allowed to do this and there is a time code burnt into the clip, reflecting that this is for personal use.
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Within 40 minutes of uploading the clip, I received a notification from YouTube that it had been removed because it violated their terms of service. It wasn’t a copyright issue as far as I am aware, because when I have inadvertently done this in the past before, the video is removed and you are told why. No strike is applied to your account. The two previous examples being when I uploaded a video of my daughter singing a Rogers and Hammerstein song and when I uploaded an appearance on Good Morning Britain. The GMB team like to stream these on their own feed, so removed it. Fair enough.

Evidently someone saw this video, took offence and reported it quick sharp. Perhaps it was because I used Damian Green and Charlie Elphick in the tags, given that they were the subjects under discussion. Maybe it was a relative of Alan Clarke, or perhaps it was John Prescott, or maybe a member of the Conservative party who was feeling a little sensitive? Perhaps it was one of my stalkers?

I have heard a lot about YouTube censorship but never thought it would apply to me!

Here’s the offending material in any event. To counter Peter Edwards point, my understanding is that Charlie Elphicke didn’t hang around on social media, he did ask Tory whips about the allegations and was kept in the dark for some time.

Last week on the Daily Politics show, Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing who has been openly encouraging the pro-choice group, Sister Supporter, appeared to waver slightly on her stance. 

When it was pointed out to her that it was in fact  the pro-choice group Sister Supporter who have been turning the clinic vigils into something of a circus, Ms Huq responded as follows in relation to the protestors, “Clear them all” and “I would like to keep these pavements a safer space and clear of protestors from whatever side”. 

I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Anna Vegilo-White might not have seen that as something of a betrayal coming from the MP who has supported and encouraged her group .  Ms Huq appeared to be saying that they were all as bad as each other.

The point made by Clare McCullough, one of the founders of the Good Counsel Network was a valid one. Until the emergence of Sister Supporter about a year ago, there had never previously been any complaints of nuisance by the local residents.

The vigil consists of a handful of mainly elderly people, on the green across the road from the abortion facility, who quietly pray the rosary. They have a couple of signs, one of the Virgin Mary, one a nice picture of a baby in utero,  and another which invites women to approach them if they are in need of any assistance. Slightly more controversially, placed on the ground in front of them are three models of plastic foetuses, all anatomically correct and in proportion, corresponding to different stages in pregnancy. One volunteer stands near the clinic entrance offering passers-by a leaflet, which they are free to accept or decline.

If there was harassment of the nature alleged by Sister Supporter and Marie Stopes, including that which stops women and supposedly staff, from entering and leaving the clinic, then existing legislation, such as the Public Order Act, which has been successfully used to prosecute anti-vivisectionist and animal rights campaigners, would already have been used. In an age where the camera phone is ubiquitous and the clinic has two cameras permanently trained upon the vigil, why has there been no footage released of women being harassed, shouted at, abused and even, as Pam Lowe attempted to claim on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live, having what she sincerely hoped was, holy water, thrown over them.  A particularly vicious lie.

The fact is that no criminal prosecution or even arrests have taken place, because no criminal activity has occurred. The Public Space Protection Order, which Ealing Borough Council hopes to impose will criminalise the activities of those on the vigil. Activity, which could arguably be defined as freedom of speech and the right to protest, which is covered by sections 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.

Every Saturday, Sister Supporter and their pro-choice rentamob (consisting of an existing London network of pro-choice supporters), pitch up wearing pink high vis jackets, brandishing megaphones  and boomboxes and attempt to disrupt the prayer vigil. They sing erudite songs of female emancipation such as Abba’s totemic ‘Dancing Queen’, before tailing off and launching into other classics, such as ‘If you like Pina Colada’. Let’s be honest, it’s about the only pain relief that’s going to be on offer inside a Marie Stopes, according to the recent findings of the CQC.

I’ve blogged about the antics of Sister Supporter before, but they have happily disrupted a peaceful religious procession which departs from Ealing Abbey every Saturday and also attempted to prevent Mass-goers from leaving the building. Their aim is to put as much pressure as possible on the abbey in order that they will then discourage Catholics from participating in any kind of pro-life activity in public. It seems that Sister Supporter aren’t very tolerant when it comes to religious freedom.

As Clare McCullough pointed out on a number of different media, it’s actually far worse for women entering the abortion clinic to be faced with a confrontational throng and an atmosphere of hostility, where they can’t tell who is who, rather than one single person, offering them a leaflet.

Back to Rupa Huq and today in the House of Commons, Ms Huq raised a question about the proposed PSPO in Ealing and whether or not these can be extended across the country, to which Conservative in name only, Amber Rudd appeared to signal her agreement. As part of her question Rupa alluded to the pro-choice demonstrators who have for the past year been creating a situation of hostility and chaos outside the abortion facility, making it very difficult for the general public to pass. (Unlike our quiet rosary prayers who stand on the grass).

 

It’s clear then, that Rupa Huq sees both sides as a nuisance and equally vexatious. Which begs the question, why does she regularly join in and lead the protestors such as she did this weekend, the day AFTER she had called for them all to be cleared on the Daily Politics show.

 

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Labour MP, Rupa Huq, Saturday 14th October 2017, standing much closer to the pavement than those on the pro-life vigil and proudly facing them down. These same pro-choice protestors that she described as a problem in Parliament, on Monday 16th October 2017

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A close-up of Rupa Huq in the centre of the pro-choice protest Saturday 14th October 2017

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Rupa Huq on a previous occasion outside the Mattock Lane clinic in Ealing. Leading a pro-choice protest which she now describes as a problem and nuisance for local residents.

And riddle me this. Why then this morning, did Marie Stopes have to ask a group of pro-choice students from a local university not to film their clients as they entered the clinic? Did Marie Stopes note this pro-choice harassment in their log book? Did they film the pro-choice students filming? You can bet your life that had this been pro-lifers the footage would have been all over social media quick sharp complete with obligatory rosaries and ovaries hashtag.

A cynic would suggest that the new pro-choice tactic is indeed to cause as much disruption outside of the clinics as possible in order to get everyone tarred with the same brush and banned as swiftly as possible. No more women helped to choose life for their baby outside of the clinic and no awkward visible reminders of the humanity of the child whose life is at stake. How very convenient.

Since reporting on the situation at the Sacred Heart High School in Hammersmith, I’ve received a number of troubling emails from parents around the country who are reporting similar situations in their schools.

I’m not going to name them, as yet, though one Catholic secondary in London has invited parents along to a consultation evening next week in which parents will be presented with the school’s ‘LGBTQIA’ policy.

Just the wording of that is a worry. It suggests that the school has bought into the full ‘alphabet soup’ surrounding sexual and gender identity; whereas most institutions stop at the LGBT, the full acronym is LGBTQIAPK. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual and Kink).

The fact that a Catholic school has seen fit to validate “Queer, Intersex and Asexual” and accommodate them into the school’s ethos and policies is a depressing indication that they are likely to have bought into this highly politicised agenda, hook line and sinker.

Another parent informed me of how their children had come from the Catholic school they attend with a letter proudly bearing the Stonewall logo (Stonewall being a lobby group who are diametrically opposed to the Church’s teachings on sexuality and unlikely to be sympathetic) and who had attended a workshop on diversity at the school last term, which did not appear to conform with either the Catholic or traditional Christian teaching on sex and marriage, according to the feedback from their children.

This parent is typical of many non-Catholic parents who nonetheless choose to send their children to Catholic schools.  They describe themselves as a non-Anglican Christian.

“I am not Catholic but have really appreciated my kids attending a school that until recently had stood firm on Catholic principles. So sad that so many Catholic schools are gong the way of CofE schools!!”

Again, I am not going to name and shame the school yet, because it may be that both schools in question may be open to dialogue, but it’s symptomatic of the way things seem to be going in Catholic schools and how many parents are feeling let down, but are also too scared to say or do anything.

You can’t blame them. Their options are limited. Complaining to the school is likely to get both you and your children labelled as bigots and singled out for negative treatment. It’s not hard to imagine a situation whereby children are deemed in need of extra attention in order to overcome their parents’ bigotry. Parents who speak out about gender-neutral bathrooms or the imposition of transgender ideology onto their children are likely to reinforce the school’s position that they are the righteous ones, teaching the next generation to overcome he intolerance and prejudice of ill-informed bigots like their parents.

Parents haven’t been on the latest diversity course run by special interest groups like Stonewall or Mermaids, therefore they are not qualified and too ignorant to judge which values ought to be taught to their children. They must learn to overcome their ‘senseless fear’ to use the words of the prayer in the Scared Heart’s newsletter and ‘irrational prejudice’ about sharing their intimate facilities with a person of the opposite sex. They must suspend their critical faculties which question whether girls can turn into boys and vice-versa and reach out to these marginalised communities who are gender non-conforming, have been watching far too much YouTube and want a way to feel different and special. They must not feel uncomfortable but understand that God has in His infinite wisdom somehow made a mistake in His Creation and allocated people the wrong bodies, which they must change in order to be free. It’s what Jesus would do!

The reason why the newsletter from Sacred Heart is quite so disturbing is that it effectively emotionally blackmails both parents and children into silence. It starts by citing the legal reasons for the school’s policy – reasons which are entirely spurious, the provisions of the Equalities Act when it comes to recognition of gender reassignment do not apply to under 18’s in educational establishments, for reasons of needing to balance the needs of all the vulnerable pupils, but then goes on to distort the words of Pope Francis who has been pretty vociferous about gender ideology, especially in schools, and finishes up in a passive aggressive prayer.

The message is clear. If you are a nice compassionate wholesome Christian (which is indeed what we all aspire to be) then you will simply accept that the right thing to do is upturn 2000 years of magisterial teaching about what it means to be male and female. You will trample roughshod over the rights of the majority in a misguided attempt to reach out to the minority and validate their confusion. An attempt which is likely to do long-term physical, psychological and spiritual damage.

At least in a secular school, you haven’t got to contend with blasphemy. But either way, as a parent, when your school decides that Dave is now Roxanne, can wear a dress, can boot your daughter off the netball team, use her loos and stare enviously at her naturally developing figure and covet the ‘privilege’ of her menstrual cycle, short of taking your child out of the school, there is nothing you can do, other than keep your head down, try to teach your kids the right values and hope that they come out of there with a reasonable clutch of exam results. Though there’s no point in encouraging your daughters to attend single-sex University colleges any more. They must share all of their spaces with men. If you teach your children to stand up to and oppose this balderdash, you know full well that your child could well end up in isolation and with a charge of homophobic or transphobic bullying on their record for hurting poor Roxanne’s feelings. Something needs to be done. At the very minimum Justine Greening’s Gender Recognition Act, which seeks an Orwellian re-writing of history and biology,  needs to be challenged.

From what I am seeing parents of all denominations and none, Catholics, feminists, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, humanists, people who feel vaguely spiritual, are all united against having this unscientific and highly politicised ideology and identity politics imposed upon their children, but are all too worried about losing their jobs, or their children being picked on by teachers, to say anything. Meanwhile, groups like Mermaids (who are nothing more than a glorified campaign group run by a woman who procured illegal off-script hormones for their child aged 12 then took him abroad aged 16 for a castration in Asia when the NHS wouldn’t sanction it) are dominating the agenda with emotional blackmail about how if you don’t accept your child’s feelings, then you are going to force them to commit suicide. It’s unsubstantiated cant. (For those wanting more insight and to research the issue further, the website transgender trend is an excellent resource and place to start).

What the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales needs to do, along with the Catholic Education Service is provide a strong lead on this. They have a duty to parents and children to say that this non-Catholic, harmful and scientifically unproven political agenda, will not be taught in Catholic schools.

Otherwise we will see what we are seeing now. In the absence of any leadership, schools are toppling one-by-one like dominoes, just as happened with the adoption agencies and ceasing to be Catholic in any meaningful sense. What’s happening is that in the absence of any firm guidance from either the CES or diocese, schools are being left to grope their own way through this minefield and are calling in the self-professed experts of LGBT lobby groups, who only want to promote their own agenda.

To be fair, I don’t entirely blame the CES or schools. Ofsted is driving most of this and is the institution which needs standing up to. Their guidelines about the appropriate treatment of children who present as transgender are not worth the paper they are written on. Of course children experiencing confusion must be treated with dignity and compassion, but not at the expense of undermining basic Catholic teaching, or at the expense of everyone else’s freedom and dignity. It’s legitimate to question the explosion of children presenting as transgender, when just this weekend, the former headmaster of Harrow, noted that in 40 years of teaching experience in single-sex schools, transgenderism did not become an issue until 2015.

In the case of transgender children this is is their entire lives and future health which is at stake here, which is all being determined on account of some anxious and distressing confusion during puberty. In the case of all of our children, this is their souls which are at stake. Parents must begin to rise up and resist this misguided moralism, which is infinitely more damaging than any of the Catholic guilt imbued into pupils by the over-zealous religious nuns and monks in Catholic educational establishments of the past.

Otherwise, if Catholic schools are going to teach that male and female are interchangeable, that God somehow stuffed up in Creation and that we can reject our bodies as He made them and transform them into the stuff of our imagination; if Catholic schools are going to teach pupils that biology no longer exists, and that we can force other people to see us as we would like to be seen, rather than through the eyes of the Creator, if Catholic schools are going to sanction turning children into liars and are going to teach that we can override others’ free will and that all that matters is how we imagine ourselves to be, then there’s very little point in having Catholic schools at all. We might as well shut them all down, save ourselves the bother and the money. Or maybe that ’s the plan all along?

Sacred Heart High School Hammersmith

A concerned parent with daughters who attend the Sacred Heart High School Hammersmith has forwarded me the following extract from a recent newsletter. These are, apparently, the exact words of the headteacher:

“…..In recognising Jesus as our teacher through the Gospels, the first impulse for us as a Catholic school must be to promote greater wholeness for transgender individuals by listening, caring, supporting and offering community. This means at a minimum, offering very basic gestures of welcoming respect, such as using the young person’s preferred pronoun and addressing them with their preferred name, recognizing their intent to live as the person they believe God created them to be, and refraining from any judgement.

This week our assembly theme was ‘Just be yourself, be proud of who you are’. At KS4 the following prayer was used:

….”

Updated: the parent has now sent me a copy of the school newsletter, which is linked to here:  Transgender Awareness Sept 2017

This extract is concerning for a number of reasons.

Firstly we don’t only recognise Jesus as a mere ‘teacher’ through the Gospels. He is a lot more important than that,  He is our Saviour, Our Sovereign Lord, the one who died to redeem us from sin and death.

Secondly should our first impulse, upon recognising Jesus as our teacher/Saviour, really be to promote greater wholeness (whatever that means) for transgender individuals by listening, caring, supporting and offering community?

No reasonable Christian would have any problem with either listening, caring, supporting or offering community for individuals suffering from gender dysphoria, indeed those elements ought to be vital in terms of offering care, but why would a first instinct for any Catholic individual or institution be to promote a greater wholeness for transgender individuals?

Presumably wholeness is about an individual reconciling their feelings about their gender identity with the physical reality? Is recognising the person’s confusion about their identity really best addressed by confirming the dissonance and playing along with the delusion that they really are of the opposite sex and using new pronouns and preferred names?

This may be the most courteous and respectful way of dealing with adults, but when official research tells us that over 80% of children who experience a form of gender dysphoria will eventually orientate back towards their natal sex; is confirming that Janet is now John, really the most helpful and compassionate approach?

John Whitehall, Professor of Paediatrics at Western Sydney University, notes that protestations by children that they belonged to the opposite sex used to be seen as one of the warning signs of childhood sexual abuse and cites research to claim that up to 90% of children who question their sexual identity will revert back to their natal sex by puberty. The best approach is one of watchful waiting.

The American College of Pediatricians has this to say:

Gender dysphoria (GD) in children is a term used to describe a psychological condition in which a child experiences marked incongruence between his or her experienced gender and the gender associated with the child’s biological sex. Twin studies demonstrate that GD is not an innate trait. Moreover, barring pre-pubertal affirmation and hormone intervention for GD, 80 percent to 95 percent of children with GD will accept the reality of their biological sex by late adolescence. The treatment of GD in childhood with hormones effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent. There is a serious ethical problem with allowing irreversible, life-changing procedures to be performed on minors who are too young to give valid consent themselves; adolescents cannot understand the magnitude of such decisions.

There is then a serious and legitimate question to be asked about whether or not affirming a child in their feelings is the right ethical approach, especially as it could well set them down on a path of irreparable harm.

Should children be being told that the initial Christian impulse ought to be to validate people’s feelings of dysphoria? That it is the only kind, loving and Christian thing to do? What ever happened to telling the truth in love?

If we’re going to get theological here, then why not look directly at Scripture and see what that has to say about sex being fluid or malleable? God creating man and woman equal, but distinctly different. Of course the human dignity of individuals must be recognised and nobody with this distressing condition ought to be unfairly discriminated against, or subject to any kind of bullying, but not pandering to a delusion or taking the word of a child too young to get married, to drink alcohol, to smoke, to consent to sex or to get a tattoo, does not amount to treating them like the lepers or outcasts of the Gospel.

By allowing a child to use a different name or pronoun to signify a different sex to the one into which they were born, it sends an unhealthy and unhelpful message to children that sex or gender is simply all about outward appearances and is easy to change. It forces children to suspend their critical faculties for fear of being labelled bullies or bigots and turns them into liars. Sex is not determined by name or pronoun or uniform and even when people go the whole hog with gender reassignment surgery, they still  have to take huge amounts of synthetic hormones for the rest of their lives in order to fight against the DNA coded into every single cell in their bodies. Even surgery will not render you the biological sex of your choice. But the consequences and grim realities of surgical gender reassignment or hormones or puberty blockers which will render you sterile for the rest of your life, or the lifelong neurosis about whether or not you can pass as the opposite sex are not laid out in this fluffy and compassionate description of Jesus teaching us to promote greater wholeness.

In any event, recognising an intent that a person wants to live as the way they believe that God created them to be, implies that God made some kind of mistake and gave them the wrong body. That somehow His will was thwarted?!  A position which is, if nothing else, at odds with the Catholic faith.

To cite Section 155 from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si:

The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.

Finally the head concludes with the ‘refrain from judgement’ canard. This is crazy stuff. Of course we must make judgements about the best way to deal with any particular ethical situation that comes our way. Making a judgement on whether or not it is appropriate to affirm and validate feelings of gender confusion in children and adolescents is absolutely not the same as making judgements about the state of somebody’s soul – the only thing which Christians are commanded not to judge. Doctors have to make clinical judgements on how best to treat transgender patients all the time, which is why lobbyists are frantically campaigning to change this, claiming that their feelings must be paramount and a request for treatment must be immediately expedited.

So many Catholic schools seem to be taking this approach that it’s old news. There seems little point in besieging the school with complaints as would have happened in the early days of the blogs. No doubt the school and the powers that be in the CES will disregard any expressions of parental disquiet as being the transphobic witterings of the serf class from whose backward thinking and peasant attitudes they are determined to rescue their students.

But this is exactly the sort of situation engendered and encouraged by the CES document on LGBT bullying. How long before examples of transphobia are included in various lesson plans and pupils are asked to look for and challenge transphobic attitudes amongst their parents?

Have the Sacred Heart High School really thought this through? Are they now saying that they will accept transgender pupils in their school? Girls and transgender boys will be accepted but not biological ones? It’ll be interesting to see whether or not this will be challenged in court and the issue looks set to blow apart the concept of single-sex education.

Parents choose to send their children to Catholic schools in the hope and expectation that they will receive a solid grounding in the faith, that their own faith will be supported and that they will get to escape this nonsense. The betrayal is profoundly depressing.

This is a long post/reflection, written for the benefit of myself, my children and anyone else who may be interested, which doesn’t contain any profound insight but is just my personal recollections on the momentous events of twenty years ago.  Thus is the joy of a personal blog.

Diana 1

The death of Diana Princess of Wales, was the Kennedy moment for Generation X and a seminal moment for those of us who growing up in the 1980’s when Diana was our prototype WAG. One of my earliest memories is of my father buying scrapbooks from WH Smiths for my sister and I and encouraging us to cut out and paste various items about her in the newspapers, once her engagement was announced. Ever the dutiful father he believed that he was not only engaging his children in a worthwhile educational activity, (in the days long before educational checklists about improving and stimulating your children’s motor skills) but also that we would be creating a moment of important historical significance. The scrap books probably went the way of all flesh, but I remember sticking in commemorative milk bottle tops and even at the age of 6 being aware that the whole world was fascinated with the woman, but believing that the interest was entirely legitimate, after all she was going to be our Queen.

Feeling oh so grown-up, my sister and I were allowed to have our first proper grown-up ‘Lady Di’ style haircuts in our local village hairdressers and for years, those blouses with the pie crust collars, (sticking up of course) teamed with pinafores and cardigans from Laura Ashley, were deemed to be just the thing!

My family bought hook line and sinker into the Diana craze. We had tea towels, commemorative biscuit barrels, coins from the Royal Mint, engraved crystal glasses, the full glut of Charles and Di wedding kitsch partly because my parents got caught up in the sense that this was an important historic event, and partly, because they hoped that in the future some of the more expensive limited editions, might well be worth a bob or two. By comparison when it came to Andrew and Fergie a few years later, they simply weren’t fussed. Probably because my mother never really liked Fergie very much, she appeared to be ‘too full of herself’.

Come the wedding day, we all sat down and watched the entire thing, from start to finish, my mother all misty-eyed, catching every last detail, from the dress (so terribly creased, what a pity), to the kiss (how wonderful), to the going-away outfit. At school we were issued with commemorative Ladybird books about Prince Charles which today would cause howls of protest about inequality and  the patriarchy from the feminists and like everyone else in the country we bought the purple hard-backed Ladybird containing photographs of the glorious event. My husband still has his copy. Later on, we waited agog, to learn what the names of the children were going to be “William, not to be shortened to Willy” and “Henry”, which was announced via ticker tape across an episode of Jim’ll Fix It, one Saturday afternoon. I didn’t like it very much, but my father thought it was ‘super’! We had the press cutting of Diana emerging from the hospital clutching him pinned up in our Year 6 classroom.

Untitled-6.jpgPurple ladybird book

A few days ago amidst all the anniversary hype, I asked my thirteen year old daughter what she knew about Princess Diana, keen to get an impression from someone for whom Diana is purely a historical figure, to see what, if any narrative she had picked up about this most enigmatic of women. The response was fascinating in that it was purely factual. “She was Prince William and Harry’s mother, she was married to Charles, but divorced him and died in a car crash in Paris”, was the extent of her knowledge. Which was reassuringly detached, with no emotional bias about Diana’s good and bad qualities and no blame attaching to anyone about her demise. I chose not to disabuse her or infuse her with my own perspective.

I did however ask her to think of the most famous person or celebrity in the whole world. Having pondered on the issue for some time, (my daughter isn’t particularly media savvy or into celebrity culture), she came up with Kim Kardashian, on the basis that everyone at school is always talking about her.

Okay, I said, well take someone as famous as Kim Kardashian and multiply that fame by millions. That’s what we are talking about with Princess Diana. In the age before the internet, almost everybody in the world knew who she was, and her being on the front page of a newspaper, would mean that it would immediately sell significantly more copies. My daughter gasped and was clearly struggling to get her head around the concept. When I described the public grief in the aftermath of her death, all my daughter could say, was that it was  William and Harry who she felt most sorry  for and who surely would have experienced the most pain.

It’s interesting to ponder whether or not Diana’s fame would have lasted and whether or not she would have had quite the same impact in the world of social media, but I tend to think she would probably have been an avid user of Twitter and Instagram. In many ways they would have been her ideal medium – she could tease and tantalise the general public with snippets of information about her, various thoughts, photos from the most flattering angle, and all on her terms. Would that have affected her global fame in any way – probably not, it would have enhanced it and I imagine she would have more followers than anyone; POTUS and pontifex included. Though I also suspect that she would have had a tendency to wash some of that dirty laundry in public and perhaps divulge too much information, though she would never have been one to post photographs of her dinner or vulgar displays of wealth. She would however, have been the queen of passive-aggressive subtweets and enigmatic statements.

Diana certainly created and fed the general public’s hunger to devour all the details about her life and due to social media, reality TV (remembering that the very first episode of Big Brother began 3 years after her death) and an embarrassment of aspiring celebrities willing to share every detail of their lives with you, there hasn’t ever been her celebrity equal. Perhaps its because everyone else lacks the Royal family connection, or simply that Diana had that undefinable je ne sais crois, wow-factor that simply cannot be manufactured.

Which brings me on to the unprecedented outpouring of sentimentality surrounding her death and my own memories and perspective on what I deem the great week of madness.

My Kennedy Moment

 

airtours 757

My day from hell



The day it happened, Saturday 30th August, I was working for a UK charter airline and had been scheduled on a four day trip to Orlando, which I was looking forward to. It was going to be a few days break following a week of packed short-haul holiday flights in the middle of peak Summer Holiday season.

On the way to the airport the steering on my sporty Ford Escort Si (you can take the girl out of Essex), suddenly went all over the place, and pulling into Clacket Lane services just off the entrance to the M23, I discovered that I had not one, but two wretched flat tyres. Dismayed, I rang first the recovery services and then crewing to inform them that I probably would not be able to make the flight and that they would need to call someone off standby. Crewing asked me to make my way to the airport as soon as it was fixed, in order that they could then put me onto a different flight.

Instead of going to Orlando, I ended up supervising a flight which ought to have taken off at 6am from Stansted, but had gone tech – the passengers had been bused to Gatwick and the flight eventually took off at 6pm. It was free drinks and headsets all round but although they were irritated by the delay, the passengers did at least have the consolation of knowing that at last they were going. It also helped that the plane which had gone tech was an Airbus A320, the replacement was a Boeing 757, meaning that instead of being crammed in like sardines they were better able to spread out.

So far so good. The return leg was not so easy. We’d flown to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, a 4 and half hour hop each way and had to ensure that the flight departed before midnight, when the airport closed. Having landed at around 10.30, it was therefore a pretty tight turnaround to get everyone disembarked, the aircraft cleaned and security checked and everyone back on, before departing.

The passengers weren’t happy. They’d been sat around in the departure lounge for over 12 hours, apparently with no food or drink and due to some juggling by crewing who had amalgamated some flights, were flying back to Gatwick instead of Manchester or Stansted. I remember one man getting particularly animated as he pointed out to me that the plane had to fly x thousand miles and how could he be sure that the captain had done all the safety checks, with such a quick turnaround. Perfecting my gallic shrug, (not regaling him with the fact I too had been up since crack of dawn and had a crap day), I informed him that the captain and crew were as keen not to die as he was and would be extremely thorough in their checks. What we didn’t know until Ops radioed us mid-flight, was that thanks to the quick turnaround, nobody’s luggage had been loaded in the hold. We then had to announce this upon landing and there was uproar. One man had left his house keys and his medication in his luggage and wanted to know precisely what I was going to do about it.

Fortunately the aircraft was met by a bevy of customer service agents and so it was I wearily trudged through security, in the small hours of the morning, gloomily anticipating the long drive home after a day from hell.

Somebody in dispatch asked me if I’d heard the news. Diana had been in a car accident she was okay, she’d broken her arm, but her new boyfriend had died.

Normally, I wouldn’t really have been interested, but there had been a frenzy of tabloid media coverage recently and so I both felt sorry for her and imagined all the various lurid headlines that we would inevitably see. I was living with my parents who have had a fifty year habit of buying two tabloids and two broadsheets on a daily basis, so had become something of a news junkie.

Probably because she had recently been pictured at the funeral of her friend Gianni Versace, I imagined the inevitable paps of her wearing darkened glasses and looking extremely sombre. I also felt quite sorry and sad for her. She had appeared to be quite smitten with this chap, even if he was son of an Egyptian Grocer and not really in her league.

I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but I rang my mother (on my swish new Orange Motorola phone) who usually checked Ceefax to keep an eye on what time my flights were landing and asked her if she’d heard. Irritated to be woken up, she said yes, she already knew, so what?!

Anxious for some banter and music to keep me awake on the drive home, I kept fiddling with the radio unable to find a single station with a presenter, which was unusual. It was all back-to-back music. Finally, as I pulled into Danbury, the village next to mine and my car climbed up the hill of the main road, the 4am news bulletin came on.

This won’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t a resident, but it was right as I reached the summit, with the Griffin pub on the left, and Danbury church on the right, which local legend has as being the highest point in Essex, that the shocking headline that Diana Princess of Wales has been killed in a car accident, blared through the car speakers. The hairs on my arm immediately stood up as a chill shot through me. I tried not to equate the significance of where I was (Danbury Church is purported to have strong links with the occult and satanic community) with what I was hearing, but I’ll never forget that inexplicable sense of dread.

I drove the last mile and half home, in a state of shock, pulled into our drive, only to be met by mother standing at the front door with a grim look on her face, shaking and crying that “she’s dead you, know”.

We sat there, watching SkyNews, trying to take it all in and get the latest headlines, from the fact that the princes had been woken and informed, all in a state of shock. Surely this couldn’t have happened?

Eventually, I turned into bed having been up for almost 24 hours, at 8am and woke up at midday, when my mum was serving lunch and my dad had come back from playing the organ at the morning service and my dad opened a bottle of champagne and raised a glass and made a little toast to her. I can’t remember precisely what he said, something about how she had a sad life and how he hoped she now rests in peace, which made us all cry, because my dad is not really given to effusive displays of emotion or sentimentality.

After lunch, I rang my friend Phil, again someone else who wasn’t prone to hysteria and he told me that he’d spent the morning cycling around London doing ‘the Diana tour’, going past all the palaces. Why? I asked him. He had a sense that something momentous was unfolding and wanted to be a part of it, viewing history as it happened. He didn’t wish to lay flowers or grieve, his desire was was about wanting to participate, albeit in a passive way, as an observer.

Later on, I sloped off down the local pub, the nucleus of my local community, to catch up with my friends, on this momentous day. It really was a different era,  I was one of the few people who had a mobile phone (which was only used for when crewing might need to contact me on stand-by) and you could drop by the pub at any given time, knowing that at least one of your mates would be there, without needing to first send a text. Texting as a practice, hadn’t as yet, taken off.

The newly installed TV was switched to the news and having gasped at the sight of Diana’s coffin landing back into RAF Northolt and thrown peanuts at Tony Blair’s saccharin ‘people’s princess’ cliche being played on repeated loop, realising that the next week would consist of regurgitated footage, the conversation moved on and the gallows humour began to kick in.

The week of madness

One one flight, in the run-up to the funeral, the pilot actually pointed out the carpet of flowers, visible from the air, which you could see on the approach into Heathrow airport. It seemed incredible.

FILE PHOTO: 15 Years Since The Death Of Princess Diana Floral Tributes For Diana

Like my friend Phil, on my next days off, I felt compelled to go into central London, just to witness everything first hand for myself. I didn’t want to sign any books of condolence, or leave any flowers, that felt pointless but I also had this sense that I wanted to be a part of history.

So I went and marvelled at the fact that there appeared to be no flowers left outside any newsagents or supermarkets or garages. That people were sat with gloomy faces on the tube, clutching cellophane-wrapped bouquets. It felt like such a waste.

Walking up the Mall, was surreal. Was this really happening, I asked myself, who were these people who were compelled to spend money on bouquets of flowers which would be wasted, for a woman whom they never really knew or loved in any meaningful sense? What was the point of it? Was there absolutely no self-awareness in some of the childish scrawl or slogans displayed on make-shift home-made banners. Diana and Dodi united for ever in heaven. How could they be so sure? How did they know that this relationship was either going to be permanent, or that they had indeed gone to heaven? What insight did they have that I didn’t. Did they not see how tacky the various heart cushions, tea-lights and spontaneous memorials were. Couldn’t they tell what a waste of time and effort this all was? What was the point? What was being achieved? Were these people who appeared to be crying as they made their way to touch the gates of Kensington Palace or Buckingham Palace, really genuine, or was this put on for the multitude of global camera crews who were filming the event?

On the day of the funeral, my sister who lived in Northampton, in the next door village to Althorpe, said that there wasn’t a bouquet of flowers to be had anywhere. She too, had wanted to line the route of the courtege.

She Pondered all these things

I guess I’d like to say that I was above all of the melodrama, but as my initial reaction to her death demonstrated and my desire to go and gawp at the mourners demonstrates, clearly I too was affected on some level.

What happened to the British psyche twenty years ago? I think Peter Hitchens is correct and the nation was swept up in a mass hysteria, thanks to the steady demise of Christianity in the latter half of the twentieth century. People had no death rituals upon which to fall back and no sense of eternal consolation.

My desire to go and witness and thus feel as though I was participating in something historic speaks to a lack of faith or knowledge of the metaphysical. I think many of those who turned up were not doing so because they felt a genuine profound sense of loss (aside from the woman who would no longer be filling the column inches, influencing their fashion choices and adding a splash of colour distracting them away from their own dull grey lives) but because by participating in this mass movement or outpouring of national grief, they felt that they too were becoming part of and fixing their marker on history: they were linking themselves to Diana and somehow securing their own immortality.  As for the rage felt over the refusal to fly the flag at half-mast – that was politically and media driven and simple scapegoating, ironic coming from an industry that bore much of the blame.

There was a sense of dismay as the realisation hit, that being rich, famous, and feted all over the world for her beauty and humanitarian qualities, didn’t save Diana from a brutal, messy, grim, grisly senseless, unnecessary and premature death in a squalid underpass. If it happened to her, then it could happen to us and death is something that we all must face.

The carpets of flowers, were not, as Cardinal Nichols claims, a rejection of the reformation and a harking back to a time of veneration of the saints, but the primal scream of a grief rooted in nihilistic fear.

I have my pet theory about whether or not Diana is truly buried on that lonely island in the middle of Althorpe, but like everyone reading this blog, won’t be around long enough to discover whether or not I am right. I find it really hard to believe that her wishes, not to be buried next to her father in the family chapel at Althorn would not be respected, and the part of me which is susceptible to conspiracy theories, is suspicious (not so much by the convenient ban on flights over the airspace on the day of the funeral), but by how on earth a lead-lined coffin, which was so heavy it took 6 burley guardsmen to carry, could be easily transported across a small lake, usually accessed by rowing boats. Also interesting to note that the family chapel, which was not required for the burial service, was also closed for a few weeks either side of the funeral.

If it were to be the case that Diana was secretly buried at Althorpe, that would of course mean that she had achieved in death, what she could not in life. She would have pulled off her greatest deception of all and be interred in peace, in a publicly accessible place, having finally got one over on the press.

And as long as people are alive who remember her, the speculation, the mythologising and the reminiscing about this remarkable woman will go on. I also think she would have made a spectacular convert to Catholicism. She’d have been a robust and natural ally of the pro-life movement (it’s hard to imagine Diana being anything other than repulsed by abortion, though she would have enormous sympathy and affinity with pregnant women in difficult situations) and there are plenty of saints with whom she would have found common cause. I can also see her as a mantilla-wearing devotee of the Old Rite, being attracted by the antiquity, the tradition and the calm. May she rest in peace.

4 years after broaching the topic on Sunday Morning Live, the BBC today once again went for this discussion on their Sunday Morning Live Show.

There was nothing new to bring to the table, other than once again, it was an opportunity to berate the Catholic Church for not bringing her teaching ‘up to date’ (the truths of Christ and His Church are timeless, they do not blow the way of the prevailing wind) and for people to argue why contraception is so desperately needed while representatives of the Church defend themselves.

The BBC rang me about the show earlier in the week, but thanks to having appeared only two weeks previously where I discussed abortion, and a previous appearance on this subject, I was out of the running but was heartily glad to be able to recommend Obianuju Ekeocha and Clare Short, who the BBC decided to run with. It’s great to see real-life Catholics who love the Church defend these issues, and it’s pretty hard for anyone to disagree with an African woman who has on the ground knowledge and experience of these issues and who is in the process of filming a documentary about this very subject.

You never get much time to be able to put forward your points in any real detail, however I would note the following which didn’t come up in debate.

1) In a recent Com Res Poll in the UK 65% of respondents strongly opposed UK overseas aid money going towards the provision of abortion overseas. The teaching of the Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with this.  The UK has not been a Catholic country for over 500 years.

2) Melinda Gates has expressed a hope that the Catholic Church will change her position on contraception, however what she omits is that the term ‘birth control’ is now being used to cover both provision of contraception and abortion. While most people might think of birth control as being to do with contraception, the reality is that the term is used to encompass abortion. This was admitted by Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion clinic, who only last week said that over 50% of their clients who present for abortion were using some form of contraception and that abortion must be considered as a form of birth control. 

3) Therefore if we are talking about introducing birth control into Africa, this also means provision of abortion, out of which providers are sure to make a pretty penny, especially if they are funded by the likes of Melinda Gates, government-funded direct aid and NGO’s. Abortion clinics will claim that they are providing birth control both in the form of abortions and devices to prevent pregnancies but as in the UK, the bulk of their profits will come from abortion provision.

4) If well over 50% of women who have an abortion are already attempting to use some form of contraception, then clearly it is failing, therefore by introducing this into Africa to meet some form of pre-determined need, you are, very conveniently, creating abortion demand, by setting up an unrealistic expectation about prevention of pregnancy and potentially encouraging women to expose themselves to more risk. Are women in Africa properly informed about the potential failure rate of various devices, or indeed any potential health risks?

5) There is absolutely no point in providing contraception, unless you are going to provide basic infrastructure, such as food, clean water and sanitation, skilled birth attendants (for those women who do want to have as many children as they choose), medication, roads, telecommunications, education and opportunities. Stopping a woman from having lots of babies doesn’t mean that the next day that she is going to go out and smash the glass ceiling, particularly if she’s neither got the skills or education to apply for a job, roads to travel on, someone to look after any existing children and presuming any such jobs exist. From this outsider’s perspective, this looks to be all about stopping poor African women from breeding as a matter of first importance without actually giving women the tools that they need to improve their lives.

6) What provision is being put in place for African women who may have fertility or other reproductive health issues which prevent them from conceiving, aside from an exploitative IVF, only available for the super-rich?

In the UK, where we have abundant access to contraception, over 185,000 abortions take place every year, mainly due to social reasons and a strain of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the country.

Neither of these things are happening because people are ignorant that sex can result in pregnancy or infection, but because people mistakenly believe that they can reduce the risks to almost zero and even if the worst happens, there’s always a cure, either in the form of abortion or medicine. Believing that you have to be ignorant or foolish to experience unplanned pregnancy or contract an STI, is a far more comfortable narrative than the idea that sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk.

The only reason that people are so desperate for the Church to change her teachings in this area is to validate their own beliefs and lifestyle and to stop people from being influenced by their religious beliefs when choosing not to adopt contraception.

The acid test here, is given the recent advance in technology which allows for women to track their basal temperature and other fertility markers, and predict with a high degree of accuracy their fertile periods, does Melinda Gates and co consider this a valid form of avoiding pregnancy, and will they be making it available for women in Africa, in order that they can make a genuinely informed choice? We know that many women experience gruelling side effects and are unable to tolerate synthetic contraception. Is this being explained to them and what provision is made to monitor the long term health of women on contraceptives, especially if they don’t have easy access to a clinic? And if African women are not being offered ways of naturally monitoring their fertility, especially as they are the most environmentally friendly method, why is this?

Who could have the most to gain from shovelling pills, synthetic hormones and various pharma devices (which may or may not work) with little oversight or supervision, into poor women in the developing world? Just like who has the most to gain from promoting and weaning African infants onto powdered infant formula? The answer in both cases, is certainly not women and children themselves and we should be thankful that the Catholic church has no part in it.

Barber's shop pole

The story of when I was given sex-education has passed into our family’s folk-lore. I still remember it extremely well. I was in the fourth form, or Year 4 in today’s money, (aged 8 going on 9), when a letter came home from school, that we were going to be taught about the birds and the bees, by the headmaster, together with a note about the explanatory material.

In 1982 or it may have been 1983, (I can’t remember which precise term this took place, although I do remember it was most definitely Form 4, I can still recall the desk I was sitting at), this was a big thing. Especially in an independent preparatory school in the heart of a quiet ancient Essex market town. The school was a single-form entry, the ethos was that of muscular Christianity, the pupil intake consisted mainly of children of local wealthy farming families and the headmaster made liberal use of the slipper on naughty schoolboys.

The headmaster who despite being the proprietor of a decidedly middle-class private school and the son of peer of the realm, appeared to nurture progressive, left-wing views and suddenly out of the blue decided to take it upon himself to teach the fourth-form sex ed.

What do I remember from it? Horrible cross-section drawings of a man and a woman engaged in the marital act, together with diagrams of male and female reproductive parts, which I found to be boring and meaningless. In fact, I found the whole thing so dull, that I coloured in the A4 cross-section diagram of male reproductive parts, which was supposed to be labelled, in pink and green diagonal stripes, resembling the pattern of a barber’s pole!

Freud would have had a field day, but oh how my parents roared with laughter when I brought the booklet home, in order for them to be able to see the material we were covering for themselves and ‘support’ the curriculum. Instead of the embarrassing baby photographs, for the past 30 years they have regaled friends and family with the story of the time that Caroline coloured in the diagram of a man’s willy in garish barbershop stripes.

Parents like talking about these things, not to embarrass us, but because they like to wistfully recall the time before we had put away child-like things. They remember with fondness and no doubt, rose-tinted glasses, the innocence of our childhood. These stories are only embarrassing to those who are desperately trying to cultivate an image of sophistication or coolness and the story of that time that you stuck a pea up your nose which had to be removed by the GP (yep, me again) is a reminder of one’s base humanity and that like the rest of us, you were born, have bodily functions, and will one day die. Nobody seriously judges the adult on the basis of some barely remembered childhood escapades.

My parents like telling this tale because it is inherently funny. The 8 year old more interested in treating the picture of the male organ as a piece of colouring rather than deriving any educational benefit from it and who had no idea that colouring it in could be seen as inappropriate. I vaguely remember doing it as well. I think it was because I found the whole thing deadly boring.

The idea of men and women ‘doing it’ was utterly repellant, there was no way, thought my 8 year old self, would I entertain the idea of one of the boys in my class ever doing that, not even when I was grown up – it looked painful! And of course, no kind of context was provided, that the couple might be in love, would be married, that the love meant that they’d want to have a baby together, no, it was the sheer mechanics of the thing. Being the youngest child of two only children, I had no first cousins and very little experience of younger children or babies, wasn’t that fussed about them and certainly not enough to suddenly decide to do ‘that’ with a boy. It just seemed so cold and revolting.

At the same time as being taught about reproduction however, we were also taught the word ‘gay’. It meant, said our headmaster earnestly, that a man or a woman may sometimes fall in love with each other, instead of with the opposite sex. People who were gay ‘could not help it’, it was not funny, no laughing matter, they should not be mocked and should be treated the same way as everybody else.

That was something we took on board, along with the previous warning we’d had about the amount of trouble we would be in, if following episodes of Blue Peter, we were overheard calling anybody a ‘spastic, spas’ or ‘Joey’ in the playground with accompanying hand gestures. You’d be in very big trouble indeed!!

Now all this was fair enough, though from what I remember, outlawing specific terms of insults in the playground, just made them more exciting for the really naughty children (usually boys) who were trying to push boundaries. They’d still use the words, but in the wooded area behind the school hall, where the teachers didn’t bother to patrol, not because they wanted to be ‘able-ist’ or homophobic or whatever, but because they got a frisson out of being naughty. The only effect banning words had, was to encourage children to snitch on each other. Sometimes this would be genuine; you’d get the child who understood why the term ‘Joey’ was really wrong, but sometimes, one child would misreport another, just to get them into trouble. It’s been a feature of playgrounds since time immemorial.

I remember thinking that it was wrong to mock people because they fell in love with those of the same sex, but I thought that was primarily about adults. Aged 8, the word ‘gay’ wasn’t really milling around the playground as to the best of my knowledge, sex wasn’t something we were thinking about. Not even in 1982/3. The contents of the sex ed lesson were universally received with an ‘eurgh’ by a class who were too shocked to say much about it to each other. I’m not aware that we had any pupil (though we are culturally obliged to call even 4 year olds, the adult term, ‘students’ these days) who was gay, but neither did we have any pupils who were ‘going out’ with anyone either. Children being sexually interested in each other, just wasn’t a thing. Kiss-chase was something you did to wind the boys up, just as they would run after you with plastic spiders!

When we revisited sex ed in Year 6, aged 10-11 it was met with much hilarity, still due to embarrassment. My little friend Rebecca kept talking about the “scrotchum” instead of the ‘scrotum’ when labelling her diagram and we racked our brains as to what one of these was, still not fully understanding. We had ‘the period talk’ and for a while discussion about sanitary products prevailed and we wondered who had a mum who wouldn’t talk about these things, like the grim-faced snappily silent mother of the booklet, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d still be able to go swimming and play netball.

Can I say that aside from knowing not to be unkind about people who were gay (or had cerebral palsy) that my primary school sex education was especially necessary or relevant? Did it help equip me ‘morally, culturally, spiritually and socially’? Does it stand as a shining example of why we so apparently need high quality sex-ed in primary schools today? Does it explain why pupils specifically need to be taught that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ (a statement with no scientific evidence behind it) and why 4 year olds need to be encouraged to believe that changing your sex is as easy as deciding that you’d prefer to wear a dress and that being male and female is all about the toys you wish to play with and the various superheroes or children’s characters you like and dislike?

Does the fact that Savannah has two daddies or that Kacey-Eve only has a mum, mean that children need to be taught about adult sexuality in depth in order to be ‘safe’, or will a simple ‘be kind, be nice, be loving and respectful to everybody, including to those different to you’, no longer suffice?

My pink and green diagonally striped ‘barber’s pole’ is as sound a metaphor as any, when we’re talking about the usefulness of primary school sex ed.