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Archive for December, 2010

My gaff, my rules

For those who have determined that they are still going to read, as a general rule, as owner of this blog, I have editorial control, in the same way as all blog owners.

I am happy to enter into discourse and general discussions, but personal and ad hominem attacks will not be tolerated. If I do not wish to pursue a certain topic further, then I will not publish further comments on a thread, particularly if I feel that there is no purpose to be served.

Somebody has taken my last post to be a personal attack on her, which it was not, although it was an attack on my assumed fear, hatred and distrust of gay people, which had absolutely no basis in fact.

She accused me of deliberately misquoting and paraphrasing her. I did no such thing and a quick glance at my Twitter feed will bear out the comments that were directed at me. My original post did contain an error, therefore I corrected it, however my sense of being under siege has not abated. This morning I have been subject to further barrages and haranguing. I have been told by disgruntled commentator, “I WILL NOT let you get away with this”. I have politely asked to be left in peace and told “just approve the comment and all this will be over”. Said person has also requested all her followers to pester me to approve her comment and therefore my phone has not stopped pinging with angry tweets, telling me that I must approve her comment.

As a matter of general principle I do not respond to harassment techniques, therefore I am extremely loathe to publish comment. If I wish to delete a comment, then that is entirely my call. I took note of comment and concerns of poster and edited my post so it neither paraphrased nor misquoted. This is my blog, predominantly for me to write about whatever subjects I feel fit and as such I reserve the right to dictate the terms of debate, in common with all blog owners.

As I suggested in my previous entry, if these rules do not suit, then perhaps this blog is not suitable for you.

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A polite request

To quote the lovely Rosamundi, who when I get around to updating my blogroll, I will definitely add, I am not a Catholic blogger, but a Catholic who blogs. As one of these  pesky people, I have quite fixed views on things. That doesn’t mean that I don’t empathise with people, nothing could be further from the truth, but at the end of the day, my morality means that I do hold certain viewpoints which, along with everyone else, I have the right to articulate.

Yesterday I made a comment about Elton John’s adoption of a baby, which I believe to be morally very questionable for a variety of factors, mainly his age, his lifestyle, meaning in this case his extravagencies and penchant for faddish collections, his well-documented battles with drink and drug addiction and the fact that the child will be brought up excluded from any sort of normal upbringing and probably with minimal privacy or chance to develop his own identity. More on this in a later post.

Many people took my comments of what constitutes an ideal family situation as a direct slur upon their own situation. That was not the intention, but in common with stating any preference it stirs up strong emotions because if someone else’s choice is not the same as yours that implies indirect criticism. To use a trite example, even a statement such as “eating fish and chips out of newspaper is the only way to eat them” has potential to offend. “I only eat them on a plate, newspaper is unhygenic, are you questioning my palate, how dare you?!”

Questioning whether or not and indeed stating that I didn’t feel at all comfortable with the media and celebrity cooing over Elton’s new arrival, whether or not it was a good idea for an old man to effectively buy a baby, that ideally children should have the opportunity to develop loving relationships with both biological parents, was taken as an insult or slur upon those who are in difficult circumstances. Having previously publicly expressed disquiet about same-sex couple adoption as well as the forced closure of the Catholic adoption agencies, meant that my misgivings in Elton’s case were automatically fuelled by that favoured and overused insult of so-called liberals, “homophobia”. I’ve previously posted on this topic, however I was subject to a barrage of tweets stating “I don’t agree with Elton John’s adoption. Oh wait I do. My brain hasn’t been taken over by Catholic homophobia”, which degenerated into insults calling me “thick” and stating that resorting to a dictionary definition of homophobia (see former post) was “weak”. Ultimately I am a homophobe, a hypocrite and a bigot, because I don’t agree that a 63 year old man should be able to buy his own child and circumvent UK adoption law. Incidentally I don’t believe that Elton would have been approved for adoption in the UK, for a variety of factors amongst which gender and sexuality wouldn’t figure. But again stating that recreational drug use isn’t an ideal attribute for a parent, is an unacceptable thing to say. So is questioning whether or not two people have the right to procure a baby, take it away from its birth mother, in order to satisfy their belated longing for a child. More on that in another post.

What has saddened me hugely, is that one of my oldest and most beloved friends has taken the decision to block me from Facebook, although she did the courtesy of emailing me first, because she finds my views too difficult to take. I completely understand the decision and think its a sensible one, after all, I deliberately don’t read things that I am going to find distressing or that will rile me. Whilst I remain open-minded and read material from both the Marxist end of the spectrum to very pro-Capitalism polemics, at times I try to avoid those such as Peter Tatchell, Keith Porteous-Wood, Polly Toynbee, Dawkins and their ilk, who have as much theological literacy as my dog and simply end up infuriating me. So though I am extremely upset and saddened, I respect the decision and think it is probably the right one, and I hope I will not lose an important friendship over it.

It should be fairly obvious that I have defined views on topics such as abortion. This is my blog, it’s my rules and I dictate the topics that I wish to discuss. I would suggest to anyone who finds my views so “disgusting, vile and abhorrent” to use words flung at me yesterday, who thinks that I am “full of bile and vitriol” to go and read blogs more suited to their tastes. However when I am implored to ” back off and STOP”, and told “you are embarrassing and humiliating yourself” either when blogging or on twitter, this is something of a counterproductive approach and gives the impression of bullying. I am neither embarrassed or humiliated, but I am certainly intimidated by the insults and sheer hatred.

I have thought long and hard whether or not to shut down this blog or move away from social media, it is horrible to lose friendships and worse to face an inbox chock full of hate mail. At present I have 364 emails containing nothing but hate, expressing sentiments such as “I hope you die a horrible death at the hands of a backstreet abortionists rusty scissors”. My husband is certainly concerned to see his wife visibly upset, distressed and shaken. By highlighting this, no doubt I will invariably be accused of playing the victim status or that perhaps my views warrant such abuse, it serves me right for publicly stating such strong views, it is par for the course.

I am currently experiencing a spot of the old cognitive dissonance. When I was a child my father used to say “if you want to be liked, you’ve got to be likable”, whilst at the same time stating “it doesn’t matter what other people think, you shouldn’t care what other people have to say”. It seems to me, that in order to be acceptable, to engage in effective evangelism and apologetics, one has to win hearts and minds. The only way this seems possible is by watering down beliefs to make them more palatable. The problem is, that on certain issues, this is something of an impossibility. I cannot say “well abortion is alright, I don’t agree with it as a choice for myself but it’s fine for others”. That is totally illogical. Nor can I say “well it’s acceptable in this circumstance and that circumstance but not in this one”.  It’s an issue of moral absolutes for me.

There is a whole welter of issues that I do take an absolutist approach over. That is not to be confused with a “judgemental” approach. Stating that I grieve for the lives of the lost unborn, is not the same as condemnation of women who have taken those decisions. Wishing that we lived in a society that generally placed a higher value upon a life is not a personal slur. Believing that acts of homosexual sex constitute a sin, an act that separates us from God, is not the same as hatred, fear or contempt of a personal with homosexual inclination. In terms of “judgement” I am in no position to sit on judgement upon anyone’s soul at all and nor can I or should I speculate as to the contents of people’s hearts. I can however comment upon questionable moral actions, particularly the ones carried out by people in the public domain and which reflect upon our society. I have a right, along with everyone else, to enter into a discourse about the type of society that I would like to live in.

There is currently a debate as to whether or not Christians are subject to a degree of persecution in the UK. Though I am no Christian martyr, when expressing a commonly held Christian view, one not exclusive to Catholics, I am implored to “stop”. When I receive emails calling for my horrific and painful death or stating that I should be subject to acts of deplorable sexual violence, because of an imagined hatred of gay people and women, enough to make me want to cease blogging and cease any public Christian witness, this does nothing for the causes of tolerance and diversity. To be honest I am writing this with a huge degree of trepidation, terrified of inciting yet more scorn, hatred and contempt.

I may well take a break, for a while but the stubborn side of me is rebelling. Why should I be cowed into silence and submission by bullies whose logic and rhetoric has totally failed? Besides I want to talk about Elton John!

For those who do want to see me die at the hands of a backstreet abortionist, I am sorry that my words have incited such hatred and violence in you. I am sure that this is simply rhetoric and not a genuine emotion. All I can suggest is that you cease to read and I will endeavour to hold you in prayer.

 

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Taking the bullet

Just before Christmas, my daughter was colouring in Christmas cards bought from SPUC. Though I am usually very circumspect in terms of keeping literature away from her, she caught a glimpse of the newsletter and asked “mummy what’s an abortion?”.

I’ve recently had to face a barrage of questions from her, such as “how did the baby get in your tummy” and handled them fairly deftly. I’m not a proponent of lying to children, preferring the age-appropriate response and therefore batted that one-off rather well with the “dad gave mummy a seed” response. Actually, that led to an interesting discussion about twins and multiples. Simple I thought. They should put me in charge of sex-ed for 6 year olds! No graphic explanations required, a few basic biological facts satisfied her curiosity. I came a bit unstuck a few days later however, when she started saying “if I have a husband and have babies…”. “Well you’ll need one if you are going to have babies darling, I said”. “No I won’t mummy, I’ll give myself as many seeds as I want to”. A generation ago this would have been dismissed as a 6-year-old’s whimsy, now it’s a scenario embraced as being an equally valid lifestyle option, why should she have to have a man to have a baby?

Without wishing to enter into a discourse on why single parenthood is not something I would wish for my children, I will undoubtedly raise the ire of the feminists, by my explanation that men had the seeds and women the eggs, so women needed men, ladies needed husbands, in order to make the babies. I also went on to explain that babies were very hard work as she has seen and could she imagine how difficult it would be for a lady to look after her babies if she didn’t have her husband to help her. She’s seen that first hand and stated that yes, it would be really difficult for mummy if dad wasn’t there to help with the baby. Who would give the baby the nighttime bottle? She went on to tell me “I don’t know how you’d cope with THREE children without dad to help you”. My daughter is fortunate to enjoy a loving and close relationship with both her father and step-father, so when she thought about “babies with no daddies mummy, that makes me very sad”. Of course where I did come even more unstuck is that she has picked up on the fact that this forthcoming baby is something of a surprise and not what we had planned. “How did dad give you the seed by accident mummy, tell me all about it?”. I think sooner or later “special married persons’ cuddles” are going to have to enter the conversation.

Getting back to the topic, does one tell a 6 year old what an abortion is? I briefly broadcast the question and the response was an overwhelming no, because she “wouldn’t be able to understand why”. That was an interesting and encouraging response, in that it admits that abortion is such an abhorrence, such a horrible thing, it’s not something that we should be telling children about, in the same way that I often switch the radio or TV off, if there’s a topic which might scare or alarm her. Added to which, children are natural little theologians. They automatically accept the existence of God and the concept of right from wrong. In both my pregnancies, my daughter has accepted that there is a tiny baby in mummy’s tummy, as soon as she has found out about it. We have looked at books together, detailing the growth of the baby, this week it can smile, this week it can hear, and at every stage she has embraced the baby as another person, never once asking about viability, or referring to clusters of cells. She loves looking at the pictures of the clusters of cells in rapt wonderment that those cells ARE really A BABY! No question.  Angel in the Waters is perhaps her most treasured book, she used it almost as a safety blanket throughout my last pregnancy.

So how do I tell her that some mummies choose to kill their babies? I don’t think I could, although a part of me feels that I should, not least as I don’t like withholding information or telling untruths to my child. I know her reaction would be abject horror, shock and revulsion, I know, given her temperament that she would worry about it, and she also might worry that I would do that to my baby. I think she would project her worry onto other pregnant women. I haven’t been that heavy-handed about the perils of smoking, and yet she still worries aloud when she sees adults smoking. It genuinely upsets and shocks her that people smoke. I have absolutely no idea how she would process the idea of an abortion and thus I glossed over the topic, by saying that it was something that women could do that hurt their babies and that SPUC was there to help women look after the babies in their tummies. Lame I know.

It goes to show though, that sometimes children are just spot on with their instincts. A 6-year-old instinctively and inherently knows that it is wrong for a mummy to kill a baby in her tummy, without me needing to spell it out. Perhaps I am projecting, but I wonder if the thought of infanticide might disturb her to the extent that she won’t be able to contextualise it. If women might kill the babies in their tummies, then they might also kill their children? Most of us want to protect our children from the horrors of life  until they are of an age to understand  factors such as mental illness and abortion is included in this definition.

Or should it not be a taboo horror? If abortion is healthcare, then maybe we do have to tell our children about it from an early age, although I suspect that were I to have explained exactly what an abortion was, I would have been met with horrified accusations of propaganda and emotional manipulation from the pro-choice lobby. There is a part of me that feels that if my daughter knows about abortion now then it might help confirm her adult views.

As far as both of us are concerned abortion is filicide. I have read countless mothers describe how they wouldn’t hesitate to take a bullet for their children, how they would fling themselves in front of a car to protect their children, how they would sacrifice their life for that of their children, the maternal (and paternal) instinct to protect is incredibly strong. Not once would they weigh up the options, is the child’s life worth saving, how would the rest of the family cope without them, no, in the heat of the moment, God-given instinct takes over and the vast majority of parents would willingly sacrifice themselves for their children without a second thought. This is why the concept of filicide is so abhorrent, because it goes against the natural order of things and against natural law. This is why we see Abraham asked to sacrifice Isaac, to demonstrate his love and fidelity to God and yet God is merciful. This is how we see God’s love for us so painfully demonstrated in the incarnation of His Son, and yet God does not kill his son, a concept which, incidentally, Dawkins has failed to grasp.

And this is why, I feel so passionately about abortion, whilst having immense sympathy with women in incredibly difficult and desperate situations, I cannot ever justify the killing of an innocent human being, the choosing to take the life of one’s child. Currently I am fretting about the possibility of flu, having read the sensationalised headlines outlining the dangers of flu for pregnant women. Over Christmas a women and her child died in childbirth after she was admitted into hospital with flu. Another woman, a mother of four, who has fortunately now recovered, faced an abortion whilst she was in a coma in order to save her life. Should the same happen to me, unlikely and melodramatic as it sounds, I have made my wishes known to my husband and I will outline them again for clarity here. My child’s life comes before mine. No question, end of story.

When I saw a haemotologist a few weeks ago, I was informed that the “normal advice for a woman in your situation would be to seriously consider terminating”. No doubt some would consider me to be stupid, foolhardy and selfish, putting my needs and wishes before that of my existing family. When I think about what could perhaps go wrong, I am admittedly scared, so most of the time, I’m attempting to put my fears out of my mind, although I think I’ll probably spend most of Lent in the confessional and I’m definitely dwelling too much on the due date of Good Friday. The reality is things should be fine, it’s just not what the doctors would have preferred and it’s part of the reason that I have taken a step back from an online group, in that I need to come to terms with this myself, without approbation or condemnation. Instinctively and intuitively, my baby, who is physically dependent upon me and who unlike me is wholly innocent, must come first. I could not choose to kill either of my children who are outside the womb in order to save my own life and the same criteria applies to my unborn child. There is no implicit criticism of any others, that is simply my choice. If I lived in Ireland, I would live in a society that would accept and respect that choice, one that will not sanction the killing of the unborn, and one that has the lowest rates of maternal deaths in the world.

Due to an oversight with the altar book, we accidentally celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents a day early at Mass. The slaughter of the innocents seems an appropriate moment to pause and reflect upon the 50 million lives lost to abortion in America and the 6 million plus in the UK, since we as societies embraced and accepted the notion of filicide. May they rest in peace.

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One of my favourite quotes from Four Weddings and a Funeral is the line uttered by Corin Redgrove when discussing the fact that he didn’t go to university. ‘University? Didn’t go myself, couldn’t see the point. What use are the novels of Wordsworth when you’re making a mint on the money markets?’

This struck a particular chord with me at the time, given that I had just taken the decision not to go to university to study English as I was working on the money markets for Lloyds bank, thoroughly enjoying both the job itself and the resulting salary. At that point in time, it made more sense to pursue a career in finance, as I was certainly earning the same amount as a graduate without any of the resulting debt. My boyfriend and I grinned at each other in recognition.

Richard Curtis clearly didn’t mean this line to be taken literally, quite the opposite, the character who uttered the line was a caricature of an ill-educated, misogynistic thick-skinned upper-class ignoramus. Had he been to university then he would have known that Wordsworth hadn’t actually written any novels. The implication being that those who haven’t been are somehow lacking refinement and knowledge. It was something of a sneer by the member of the liberal intelligensia.

This is a prejudice that I have suffered from almost all my adult working life. My husband used to belong to an on-line dating site. Being an intellectual, cerebral sort of chap, he had listed that a university education was a desirable quality in any potential spouse. He admitted that had he known that I didn’t have a degree when he first met me, then he might well have presumed me to perhaps not being intellectually suited to or compatible with him, as by his own admission, romantically speaking, he prefers intelligent woman. When he discovered that I didn’t have a degree, he decided that I was something of an anomaly.

At this point, it seems wise to give a brief précis of my career history to date. Despite having the grades to go to university, I decided not to go for various reasons. Career-wise, up until this point, it’s never held me back apart from some condescension from various city colleagues. From temping on the money markets of Lloyds I then was offered a job with the top accountancy firm in the UK. My good A Level grades meant that I was able to study for the ACCA qualification at the same time as being paid a decent city salary. ACCA is almost identical to the qualification of ICAEW, it means one is a certified accountant as opposed to a chartered accountant, however entry level to chartered accountancy requires a degree in any discipline and thus has more kudos. After a few years where I was stuck on an infamous insolvency case, which is never out of the media, I decided that accountancy wasn’t for me after all, had a severe case of itchy feet and restlessness, I felt that I had missed out on the university experience, on three years of fun and travel and thus got a job as cabin crew, flying all over the world, generally having a whale of a time. Again, no degree was necessary, a degree in tourism wouldn’t guarantee you a job whereby personality and a presentable appearance were the main selection criteria. Knowing about the intricacies of the industry may be interesting, but of no value when you have to deal with either a drunken passenger or safety issue at 35,000 feet. The job is all about thinking on one’s feet, handling difficult situations and keeping calm, focused and professional, no matter what. An ability to get on with anyone and everyone is also a huge advantage. No degree can equip you with those skills and the salary is not enough to merit taking on a significant debt. Those who fly do it for the lifestyle, because they genuinely enjoy the job and the travel perks, not for financial gain. I know I did and at times I still have a lingering regret that I no longer grace the skies with my presence!

‘Real life’ encroached however, a mortgage called, so I reluctantly decided it was time to re-enter the “real world”. Having decided that accountancy was not for me, I then decided to do a Pitman Executive PA Diploma, to give me some marketable skills, notably becoming a shorthand and Powerpoint whizz. Together with my former financial background, I had absolutely no problem at all in landing fantastic jobs in economic research. I worked for Warner Brothers, two investment banks and in Private Equity. It was my financial skills and my almost fluent French that were of interest, the PA skills were really the icing on the cake.

City life was really not compatible with the demands of a young baby, not least in terms of the time spent commuting and after a brief return to work in a company that was less than flexible, I became a stay at home mother for a few years. Circumstances dictated that I needed to return to work and my skills and previous experience meant that I landed roles as an office manager, not earning city money admittedly, but still a decent salary of over £30K. A degree was not an issue, nor was the fact that I had taken 2 years out of the workplace.

Marrying and moving to a new area coincided with the credit crunch, so the Office Manager, Executive Assistant roles to be found locally were non-existent. In addition I noticed that adverts for these roles specified that a degree was preferable. I found applications rejected on the grounds that I did not have a degree; some over-zealous HR admin assistant assigned the role of filtering through numerous applications had simply set-aside those CVs without a degree. All of a sudden, not having a degree was suddenly proving to be a hindrance. A degree is completely unnecessary for the role of Office Manager or Executive PA. It might indicate a level of knowledge, intelligence and critical thinking, it’s “nice” to have, but in all my years of working I have never once needed a degree to be able to carry out my job to a high standard. I read extensively, am interested in current affairs and politics and am able to engage in intelligent and informed discourse. Knowing the qualities of epic poetry and being able to discuss the merits of Aristotle and Plato is a worthy and admirable achievement, but in a day-to-day busy office environment, is utterly irrelevant. It doesn’t help you organise a staff of 200 nor does it assist with budgeting.

So I have some sympathy with today’s young school leavers who seem to need a degree if they are not to be written off or consigned to unskilled labour. In today’s climate, it is unlikely that I’d be able to have had the successful career that I have had to date without a degree. Partly due to the current emphasis upon a degree being a necessary qualification for entry level to any career, a legacy left by the previous administration with their 50% quota, I am now embarking upon a degree. Admittedly another motivation is that I wish to pursue a career in teaching, for which a degree is an essential pre-requisite. After all our children deserve nothing less than highly qualified professionals with an in-depth specialist subject knowledge. Finally, I have always had a passion for literature and I figure that if I am going to spend 3 years losing potential income as well as gaining a not insubstantial debt, then it may as well be in a subject for which I have enthusiasm. My only problem has been deciding between English, History, Philosophy, Theology and French, I’m probably better suited to the American Liberal Arts model. There is some degree of selfishness in my decision. I am doing this, not only because I feel a vocation towards young people, because I think that I have much to offer the profession but also because at the moment it fits in well with my current family circumstances. With young children it seems the ideal time to fit in study and of course if I am successful then teaching is great profession to be able to fit in around the needs of a young family.

When the current fee proposals came in I was outraged. In an ideal world, there should be no tuition fees, there should be access to Higher Education to all who are eligible and able to benefit from it. Therein lies the problem. It is not feasible for the government to be able to provide free university education for 50% of the population. The answer seems to lie in either fewer people going to university, or students, who will benefit from their education in terms of earning capacity, to bear the majority of costs. As someone who aspires to teach, if successful I will be earning significantly less than in my former career and the thought of a potential £30K debt on top of that was an absolute anathema, as was the idea that I would put myself into huge amounts of debt for a career in public service. Certainly I would not have chosen the university that I am currently attending, who are 3rd in the country for my subject, behind Oxbridge and who will be charging the full amount. In fact, Oxbridge was available to me but not accessible on the grounds of logistics, as opposed to money.

Having studied the proposals in depth, I have come to the conclusion that though not ideal, actually they are significantly fairer and more workable than the alternative of a graduate tax. As a mature student with limited means and on a low family income, I would be significantly better off. My first 2 years tuition fees would be paid, I would qualify for a higher maintenance grant and my repayment terms would be much more favourable than at present. If I qualify as a teacher, under the current system I will pay back £49.41 a month. Under the new fees this drops to £4.41 a month. There is absolutely no disincentive for the poorest to attend an Russell League or 1994 Group University. This is where the coalition has worked well, the Lib Dems need to be given credit for softening the original plans and for ensuring that there is no bar for the very poorest students, though the middle-income students will be hit the hardest. It takes courage, honesty and humility for anyone to concede that they were wrong. The Lib Dem ideology with regards to tuition fees was not wrong in itself, more foolhardy; as Baroness Williams suggested, they were perhaps foolish or precipitous in signing their pre-election pledge, without first being fully aware of the facts, namely the crippling amount of debt that the UK finds itself in.

It’s a fudge, it doesn’t go as far as the Browne report (commissioned by Labour) suggests, in that it doesn’t completely lift caps, but it is infinitely more progressive than the current system we have in place.  What I would like to see is fewer courses of negligible value, such as the degree in Homeopathy currently offered by Thames Valley University or the degree in Travel and Tourism offered by the University of Hertfordshire. Perhaps if we accepted that a degree is not an essential pre-requisite for a successful career, perhaps if university places were limited to those most suited to academic study, on the grounds of ability, not money, perhaps if not going to university was not seen as a second-class option, perhaps if people didn’t see university education as an automatic right, regardless of ability, then free university education would once more become available. With a 50% university attendance rate, a degree is rapidly becoming as devalued a coinage as the former ‘gold standard’ A Level. A necessary piece of paper and an expensive one at that. With a higher level of fees, minds will certainly be focussed upon whether or not this a worthwhile use of three years and of funds. For those aspiring to Oxbridge the answer will remain the same. For those wishing to study a degree in Popular Music at Northampton University, alternative options may now seem infinitely more attractive and sensible.

In the meantime I’ll stick to the novels of Wordsworth. Shouldn’t take too long.

 

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