A convenient solution?

Nadine Dorries and Frank Field have launched the Right to Know campaign this week, in a bid to ensure that women facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies are “guaranteed access to independent information and advice from someone who had no vested financial interest in the outcome of their decision.”

On the face of it things, this would seem to be a very worthy goal, I for one would certainly support legislation which entailed that women facing an unplanned pregnancy would be able to discuss all her options in anon-judgmental manner. I agree that women often feel rushed and pressurised into taking the decision to abort without access to adequate medical information and have relevant experience of being in this situation myself. Often women go into the procedure without a knowledge of what this will entail and the potential physical and emotional repercussions. If one subscribes to the notion of choice, then the information as to precisely what that choice entails needs to be presented in order for the choice to be truly free and informed.

Even the passionate campaigner for women’s rights, Laurie Penny, advocates that abortion is not talked about enough, is still taboo, and indicates that women are not given the correct information about what the procedure entails. In an article written last year for Comment is Free in support of the Marie Stopes TV advert, she states:

“women still have little notion of how to arrange a termination or what to expect until they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Caitlin, 24, called the Marie Stopes helpline when she had a medical termination last year. “I was in incredible pain after taking the abortion pill at home, and I had no idea whether that pain was normal or if I was in danger,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on – but the person on the helpline talked me through everything.”

Surely if Caitlin had been given the correct information in the first instance, she wouldn’t have been left alone in that situation and would have had a better idea of what to expect? I suspect that Laurie Penny only wishes for abortion to be discussed upon her terms, namely those of pro-choice, however if we are going to make the subject less of a taboo, then we need to be honest and clear about what it is and what it involves.

I do not subscribe to the coercive and manipulative techniques employed by a few pro-life organisations, mainly those run by evangelical Christians. There is a time and a place for evangelization, whilst not criticising those are motivated by their faith to end the slaughter of innocent children, I would number myself among those, an appeal which makes recourse to the Bible  is meaningless, unhelpful and perhaps counter-productive. For those wishing to hammer home the point that this is indeed an unborn child’s life which is at stake, again to subject a pregnant woman to gruesome images of aborted fetuses is an unpleasant and wholly unnecessary tactic, designed to cause maximum stress and induce feelings of guilt in a vulnerable pregnant woman. This is not counselling, but emotional blackmail.

A choice to continue with a pregnancy needs to be a positive choice, one taken out of faith and love, not simply because one feels too guilty to contemplate the alternative. Early on in this unplanned pregnancy, I was asked by a medic whether or not I “accepted” it, which upon reflection I found to be helpful language. Do I accept my unborn child? Couched in those terms, there could only be one answer. Accepting and acknowledging the presence of an unborn child undoubtedly helped me to come to terms with those difficult few months at the very beginning and again now, when the prospect of birth and the shadow of major blood loss is looming.

The problem with the Dorries and Field campaign is that it is, at its core, fundamentally dishonest in its stated aims. Nadine Dorries has tried and failed on more than one occasion to get the legal abortion limit, currently at 24 weeks reduced. To many on the side of the pro-life lobby, this seems a worthy goal, surely the fewer abortions, the better? Whilst it may seem a pragmatic approach to attempt to work with what we have, to attempt to reduce the amount of abortions that are performed, surely it’s better to perform 50 abortions as opposed to 100, the ends do not justify the means. If you are truly committed to the pro-life cause, then you accept that all abortions are abhorrent, all deaths of unborn children are repugnant, not that some are alright and inevitable.

Dorries and Field are being disingenuous in that they are seeking to reduce the amount of abortions performed via the back-door, claiming it is about the welfare of the women, which indeed it is, whilst their real target is to pragmatically reduce the number of abortions that are performed. If we are going to attempt to do this, we need to be straightforward and honest about it, not hoodwink the general public under the guise of women’s welfare, leaving us open to accusations of dishonesty and a scant regard for women’s best interests.

I agree that independent counselling should be mandatory, however we need to accept, that in a society that condones and encourages abortion, this independent counselling will not change the minds of many women, and will be seen by many to be a pointless obstacle, although to my mind, if it does change the heart and mind of just one woman, if it saves the life of one baby, it will be worth it. If one is determined to go ahead with a particular course of action, counselling should affirm that belief. If however you are unsure, or need clarification, or simply to discuss the barriers to your having a child, then a good counsellor should explore those barriers with you in an impartial way, to help you see whether or not they may be overcome. What a counsellor should not do, is attempt to sway you either way, but explore the decision, what it would entail and what the possible results might be. A counsellor’s role is to help you to reach the decision that is right for you. If we are being honest then we have to accept that for many women, counselling will not change their decision to abort and could be perceived as a punitive measure. I would assert that truly independent counselling is no bad thing, but it changes nothing in terms of the availability of abortion; it may provide validation and affirmation to many, it may perhaps avert the possibility of future abortion-related trauma, no sane, rational or truly compassionate person could actually desire that someone suffers as a result of their decision to abort a baby, but counselling has to be seen purely in terms of helping women understand their options and absorbing the information available, not as a surreptitious way of getting the numbers down. There are really only two ways of reducing the amount of abortions that are performed in this country, one being sensible sex education, by which I mean an abstinence plus based approach and including a physical and ethical discussion as to the realities of abortion and secondly legislation which bans the practice, or severely restricts it.

The criteria of independent counselling by someone with no vested financial interest in the abortion procedure, could be used by any organisation with a vested financial interest in ensuring the child lives, without taking into consideration the needs of the mother and further undermine the pro-life cause. All organisations who carry out such counselling, must be BACP accredited or registered, such as LIFE, for example, who have absolutely no financial interest in the continuation of the pregnancy. A BACP accreditation will not be granted to those organisations who cannot guarantee absolute impartiality. Tactics should not include emotional blackmail or manipulation, which is far more likely to inflict lasting psychological damage in a vulnerable woman, which is what Dorries and Field state they want to avoid. If they are genuine about wishing to help women, then the amendment to the health bill needs to state that counselling should be carried only by an BACP accredited organisation.

The other difficulty with Norries campaign is that whilst rightly identifying the “abortion conveyer belt”, which many woman movingly describe, from the moment the first tentative phone call is made, they feel they have sparked a chain of events which they are powerless to stop, the enquiry about the abortion itself, being taken as implicit rejection of the pregnancy, she then goes on to mention adoption as being a potential solution, stating that last year “only 400 babies were put up for adoption” as most women chose abortion as an alternative. Firstly, we as a society should be rejoicing and celebrating that fewer and fewer women are deemed unable either by themselves or others to cope with a newborn baby. Of course it is preferable that babies are adopted as opposed to aborted, however, there is some nuance missing in this message. There is absolutely no way that a civilised society should be encouraging women with unwanted pregnancies to act in a so-called responsible fashion and give up their babies for adoption. On one level this solves the many difficulties involved with IVF, the discarded fetuses, the cost and the pain of the procedure, but it still treats babies like commodities, it denies their basic rights to a relationship with their birth parents whilst solving another problem in our society, that of  infertility. I’m not knocking adoption per se, it is a wonderful and generous gift on behalf of the adoptive parents and often the birth parents alike, but it is not without its difficulties as many families involved in adoption would testify. To tout it as a solution in the fashion of Nadine Dorries is nothing short of crass.

You don’t want your baby? Well you can’t kill it, so what you should do is give it to someone who really does want it. Simple. Does she have any idea of what it must be like to give away your birth child? Would she ever have contemplated it? I doubt she has been in the position of even needing to consider giving away her children. There is a huge shortage of surrogates in the UK for a reason. Most people do not want to go through 9 months of pregnancy, bond with the unborn child in their womb and then give it away. Most who do, act either out of financial imperative or have some underlying psychological issue as opposed to pure altruism. Women do not need to be told that it is their moral duty to carry a child for 9 months, give birth to it and then instantly give it away. This happened countless times in the 50s and 60s with some tales of absolute horror and heart-break, mothers were forced and coerced  into giving away their children. Yes, adoption is better than abortion, but it should not be the very first solution that comes to mind. When the vast majority of women get to the stage of giving birth they have accepted and acknowledged the existence and presence of a child within them, they have bonded with it, nurtured it, endured physical trials and tribulations for it and most are enthusiastic about meeting their newborn. Even those women suffering from depression are given support and assistance in bonding and coping with their newborn, children are not taken away unless it is in the direst of circumstances. It is a generally accepted truth that mothers are best for their children. I cannot imagine anything worse than being separated from my baby shortly after birth. Any woman who has given birth will testify to the huge rush and surge of hormones which make you instantly bond with your baby, the love often comes later believe it or not following the shell-shock of birth, but there is an innate desire to want to hold, look at, cherish and protect the little being that you have produced. A woman should never feel compelled to give up her newborn baby and even if she feels that this is the route she is going to take, a get-out clause should always be available and open to her.

Dorries’ suggestion that more babies need to be adopted is crass, inhumane and cruel. I am tempted to note that it is indicative of a total lack of compassion and understanding of the issues involved, utilitarian, not Christian in principle. The number of adoptions in the UK should have no bearing on whether or not independent counselling is a good idea and reveals the true motives beneath this campaign. Admittedly there are problems with the adoptions process in the UK meaning that many children languish in state care homes as opposed to go to loving families, but adoption should not be the only alternative to abortion and should not be touted as the solution to the 200,000 abortions that are performed in the UK every year. Besides many infertile couples are choosing firstly to go down the route of IVF, adoption being the last resort, not least because they would prefer the experience of pregnancy and a child who is biologically theirs. Adoption seems to be a red herring if the issue of women’s welfare when considering abortion is at stake.

Actually what mothers need is time to accept and adjust to the reality of pregnancy, I always think that there is reason why pregnancy lasts what seems to be an unending age. Not only so that the baby may be adequately prepared but also so that you may adjust as well. In these last few weeks it is difficult to think of anything other than the, in my case, not-so-little baby inside you, and wonder what it’s going to look like, whilst wishing profusely that it wouldn’t kick you so hard and would hurry up and be born.

Being pro-life does not have to stem from an inherent Catholic or Christian belief. It is a perfectly natural, logical, philosophical belief, but with that in mind, Catholics need to remember that at all times, the Catholic approach to matters of health is always holistic, it is always body and soul. It is not the utilitarian approach of too many abortions, well lets see if we can kill two birds with one stone, get the abortion rate down, whilst increasing the number of adoptions. Guilt tripping women into  adoption is not the holistic solution in a society that accepts, endorses and encourages abortion and will cause an individual untold mental anguish and distress.

Pro-lifers need to ask themselves what they need to do help mothers facing crises pregnancies. This needs to go beyond acts of mere charity, it’s all very well giving money for a pram, new equipment, a temporary place to stay etc, the moses basket is going to be of negligible use in six months time. Two years after giving birth following an unplanned pregnancy, the cot is redundant, as are the baby bottles, trousseau and the buggy is on its way out. Its at that point that the interest in the baby wanes and that the woman requires the most support in terms of job options, childcare, housing, and so on. She needs to be able to have her life in some sort of order, not be resigned to a life on hand-outs or charity. She needs to be empowered and enabled to help herself, not given piecemeal bits of money and equipment.

Women with crises pregnancies are above all human as are their unborn children and both need to be treated as such, not as pity cases who need to give up their babies for the good of society and not as pariahs either. What can we do to help mothers in these situations? Some organisations do go a long way to providing training and life skills to those in need of them, admittedly, but they do not go far enough.

Trying to reduce the number of abortions performed circumvents the issue. If we want a society that rejects abortion, that recognises it for what it is, the vast majority of the Irish population do not want abortion on demand and they have the lowest maternal death rates in the EU, then we do at least need to be honest about that, rather than attempting to manipulate the numbers down. We also need to be clear, concise and truthful about the science and our sources as opposed to making spurious claims, which any decent statistician will expose. There IS compelling evidence that abortion is linked to psychological trauma, but the truth is more nuanced than sane woman has an abortion, 6 months later she is admitted to a psychiatric unit. Very often women who find themselves in the situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy, have other issues going on, which may have contributed to the unplanned pregnancy and compound the trauma experienced. If we are going to use stats we need to make sure we understand them or they have been independently verified, that they hold up to scrutiny and substantiate the story, not undermine it.

I am an idealist, I want to protect the most innocent and vulnerable in our society, including the unborn disabled child. However I want to be upfront, honest and truthful about that. I support anything that might save the life of an unborn child, but I do wish this campaign had been better thought out in the first place. That said, if I were a pro-life MP then I would support it, something is better than nothing, and credit needs to be given to Nadine Dorries in that she does feel passionately about this issue and at least she has actually made an attempt to change things, but she does need to be more transparent in her use of data and cut back on the spin, which does not help the cause.

We should all take an honest look at the factors in society which might constitute  barriers to pregnancy, then work to overcome them. Speaking from experience, a woman with an unplanned pregnancy does not want to be told what to do, pity or charity. What she wants is hope for the future with her child, a light at the end of the tunnel, the prospect that she will be able to manage and build a life for her and her baby. No contraceptive is 100% effective, nor is it possible to stop people from having sex and accidents occurring.

What we need to think about is not risk management, not the killing of humanity, or working towards a set quota of abortions or the re-distribution of babies from poor single women, to rich married ones, but how to build a society whereby a woman is not driven to feel that there is no other option other than to kill her child and that this is an acceptable choice.

The world’s favourite airline

The fresh round of strike action voted for by BA crew is probably going to attract little sympathy in these days of austerity. The general public has little appetite for strike action which may well have a direct impact upon their travelling plans and one which will cost a FTSE company millions in lost revenue. To the casual observer it may seem as though the crew are simply behaving like spoilt children, striking because they are in danger of losing their travel privileges.

I never worked for BA. I would have given my right arm to work for them during my flying days, I worked for their closest rivals, however BA are the only airline to stipulate that one’s uncorrected and corrected vision must be of a certain level, unlike other airlines who are happy to accept myopics who can reach an acceptable standard with the help of contact lenses. I therefore would have failed the medical and thus never bothered wasting my time applying. Had I worked for BA I would undoubtedly still be working for them now;  at the time I flew, their salary, contracts, terms and conditions were unbeatable, the gold-standard for the industry.

Having seen the way BA treated their staff, compared to the staff at lesser airlines I never had any sympathy for the inevitable complaints that I inevitably encountered. BA didn’t indulge in any of the shady rostering practices that went on at one particular charter outfit I had the misfortune to work for, indeed when I switched from flying for a charter outfit to a highly respectable scheduled carrier out of Heathrow, I didn’t have an awful lot of time for many of the complaints of my fellow crew either. They had absolutely no idea what it was like to work for a less scrupulous airline. Those of us who had previous flying experience under our belts, bit our lips and kept quiet, grateful for having infinitely superior terms and conditions to what we had previously encountered.

For example, I worked for one airline for a considerable period of time without the security of a permanent contract. I was employed for season after season on a renewable temporary contract. This meant that any time taken off sick was unpaid. When working at 36,000 feet in an enclosed environment and close contact with hundreds of people, you were exposed to considerably more contagion. Most people who contract a stinking cold will soldier on into work regardless. Illness and ailments are magnified when working at altitude with reduced oxygen and no recourse to fresh air. Time and time again we were warned not to work if we had a rotten cold or flu. Not only was it off-putting to passengers in terms of food-handling and general appearance, but more importantly, flying whilst suffering from blocked sinuses often results in a perforated eardrum, requiring several weeks off flying duties. Given that a day’s pay was deducted for sickness, a bullying return-to-work style interview, staff often risked their health and those of others in order to ensure that at the end of the season their contract would be renewed. I was on a flight which developed a problem, needed to return to base and ended up in a highly unusual emergency evacuation due to a suspected fire in the undercarriage. My colleague dislocated his shoulder whilst busting open one of the exits which had jammed. He needed to take a few weeks off active flying, this sickness went unpaid.

Absolutely none of this went on at BA, in short they treated their staff properly, how they ought to be treated, the staff were paid exceedingly well and didn’t have to endure any of the exhausting rostering patterns that went on elsewhere. I’ll never forget almost lobbing a cup of tea at the moaning BA steward on a Manchester flight once, when he complained about his “3 sector day shocker” involving three half-hour flights between Gatwick, Manchester and Paris. At the time, I was deadheading back to Gatwick following a 10 hour flight from Mexico which had been delayed for 3 hours due to technical problems, when we got back to Gatwick we still had all the flight paperwork and de-briefing to complete, I then had to drive home (having been up for 36 hours) and check in the next morning for a quick Luxor and back.

On another occasion, a colleague of mine went into the office to ask for a compassionate request, that she wasn’t rostered any work for Easter Sunday. Her mother, a devout Christian had died, and they were having her ashes interred after the Easter Sunday service. The response “Can’t you do it another time, Easter is one of our busiest periods?!”. By contrast another friend of mine was fortunate enough to get a job with BA. Her father died during her initial training period. What did BA do? They instantly arranged a car to drive her across the country to see her family, gave her a month off on full-pay and put whatever assistance they could at her disposal, telling her not to worry about work until she felt able.

In short, BA treated their crew with respect and set the mould for any decent respectable employer. Then came the advent of lo-cost airlines. I always felt desperately sorry for BA and other scheduled carriers in this respect. I remember looking at Easyjet’s battered old 727s in 1995 and scoffing along with others, that these airlines would never last, passengers liked their frills! In some respect we were right, airlines like Virgin Express, Debon Air,  and even the UK’s third most popular airline, Air UK, succumbed to market pressure. The problem is that Heathrow does not lend itself to the low-cost operating model, both in terms of landing fees and the short turnaround times which are simply not possible in an airport of Heathrow’s scale. Scheduled carriers did their best to cut corners where they could, gone were the days of the hot meals and complimentary drinks, but simply in terms of operating costs, scheduled short-haul carriers were at a massive disadvantage.

It became clear that something had to give and clearly the days of the BA crew earning more than a qualified accountant or lawyer were numbered. For those who think I am exaggerating, a Purser on a BA flight would be earning in the region of £50K in the old days. Those on the old contracts were given massive incentives to leave or retire early and newer contracts on considerably less money were introduced, much to the horror of BASSA. To the observer, this seemed reasonable and realistic, everyone I knew at BA earnt eye-watering amounts of cash for doing a far less arduous job than the one we were engaged in. It was a hangover from the days that BA was a state-owned carrier. I’m not advocating that crew should be on the minimum wage, indeed I cannot believe how little crew now earn compared to when I flew. I was lucky admittedly in that I worked for an airline who paid me an extra few thousand for each European language I spoke, which meant in turn that I was always rostered the lucrative routes and trips which bumped up my allowances. These days the starting salary is  around £14,000, one airline I worked for, I began at £7,000.

Cabin crew do a difficult job, it’s more than ensuring that the lipstick matched the colour of the hatband (yes, that was stipulated in the uniform regulations which formed part of the contract) for which no amount of training can prepare you. It’s not all cocktails round the pool in Barbados, particularly on short-haul. I was fortunate to have experienced both long-haul and short-haul flying, but neither option is as glamorous as the image of the girls in red on the 80s advert might suggest. (Incidentally that skirt did absolutely nothing for your hips and blondes look terrible in bright red jammy lipstick).

Some of the incidents that happened in my career such as an emergency evacuation and a cabin decompression you can be trained for, others required nerves of steel. Since having flown professionally and had a few hair-raising incidents, I’m now much more of a nervous flyer than ever I was. Apart from the scary occasions of bad weather, in my time I’ve had to cope with attempting to put out a fire in the rear toilets (banning smoking probably one of the most short-term dangerous measures ever), doing CPR in shifts for 40 minutes on an obviously deceased passenger in full view of his distressed children and grandchildren, attempting to restrain a passenger suffering from heroin withdrawal and without his methadone, who was trying to open a door in-flight and walking up the aisle on take-off, plane-loads of drunken teenagers who’d spent the entire day in the airport bar before catching their 11pm flight to Ibiza, medical emergencies and bizarre situations galore. It was fun, not the most intellectually challenging job admittedly, but it did require bucket loads of common sense, an ability to think quickly on your feet and at times, more front than Blackpool! Sometimes I think I ought to write a book, so over-flowing is my arsenal of anecdotes. In short I had a ball, I loved my flying career, but it was jolly hard work and I earned every penny.

What needs to be remembered is with that kind of schedule any sort of family life or life outside the world of flying is impossible or requires intricate planning at the very least. Which brings me on to the issue of the travel concessions and the heart of the strike action by BA crew.

I had no time or sympathy for the initial strike by the BA crew. Reducing crew from 15 down to 14 on a long-haul flight is a negligible and sensible change. It is still well in excess of the legal minimum crew required, either 1 crew member per 50 passengers or 1 per door/exit. The legal minimum crew on a 767 in charter configuration carrying 320 passengers is 8. We used to fly with 9 if we were lucky. By comparison a BA 767  has seats for 144 passengers in economy. Even if you count Business and First Class, that is still considerably fewer passengers than we used to carry with infinitely more staff. Our long-haul flights were busy, often you didn’t stop, for the entire duration of the flight, with service after service, but the same cannot be said of the crew on a BA flight. One less crew member means, in effect that either one crew member will need to serve a few more rows, or perhaps, god forbid, the Cabin Service Director, might, shock horror, have to get up and actually serve a passenger some coffee! That gripe is totally unfounded, and typical of the BA mentality, reinforced by BASSA. As for bringing the salaries of new members of crew more into line with other airlines and at a more realistic level, clearly this is problematic in terms of creating a two-tier effect, but like every other private company, BA needs to cut costs if it is to stand any chance of survival. The previous salary levels, whilst wonderful for those who enjoyed them, I had a friend who as BA crew earnt more than pilots for other airlines, were completely unsustainable and out of all proportion to the skills that were required for the job.

Friends of mine work for other departments in BA and feel very strongly that they have had to take a pay freeze and reductions in staff, therefore it is only fair that the crew take their share. A quick check tells me that crew flying long-haul on a 4 day Tokyo get £935 on top of their basic salary. A 4 day Cologne would earn me an extra £1.40 per hour on top of my basic salary. A 4 day North America at a different airline earnt me an extra £150. A whopping 21 day, Bahrain -Singapore-Sidney, involving bullet flights whilst stationed in Bahrain to places like Sri Lanka or the Maldives would earn me £900 (paid in travellers cheques). BA’s proposal is to replace their current system of expenses with a flat monthly allowance, in line with all other airlines, meaning that the plum trips which attract higher one-off payments, no longer exist. In other words, to make the system fairer, so that junior crew, who are often at the bottom of the list when it comes to rostering, are able to earn the same amount as the senior dinosaurs who have been there since the days of BOAC. Other airlines, incidentally, have a rostering system which mixes up junior and senior crew, length of service having no bearing on what you may be rostered.

With all that in mind, the crew went on strike as was their legal entitlement to do so. It does not surprise me one iota that BASSA method’s of balloting was unorthodox and thus BA were able to halt some of the strikes. BASSA always put me in mind of the “everybody out” steward from Carry on at your Convenience, though I found union membership invaluable during my time as crew, my union was at least able to carry out constructive dialogue with the company management and many acceptable compromises were reached. Both sides were understanding of the other’s position and though in terms of pay negotiations things did not always go the way we wished, other vitally important concessions were granted, with reviews being a regular factor in the process. The union were also instrumental in assisting crew with disciplinary procedures and helping crew to understand the complicated business of legal flying hours and obligations. In short, they were a good example of how a union should work, and I am continually horrified when I hear of other airlines who refuse to co-operate with them.

Where BA have put themselves in the wrong here is by withdrawing travel privileges and concessions from those who went on strike. Let’s be clear, although they are not contractual rights, there is certainly an argument that the context in which they are offered and the way they have been withdrawn could be a breach of employment contract guidelines. What bothers me about this, is the attitude of BA towards those participating in a perfectly legitimate strike. Having enjoyed travel perks myself, it needs to be stated that these consist of massively discounted flights. It is always made clear that they are a privilege and not a right, however the conditions under which the privilege may be withdrawn were always explicit, namely abuse of staff travel. Abuse would consist of fraud, such as attempting to get non-family members onto your named concessions (you are given a generous allowance of discounted friends’ tickets) or of inappropriate behaviour whilst using staff travel, such as giving check-in or crew a hard time if you didn’t get upgraded or indeed were bumped off a flight. There is a whole host of terms and conditions attached to staff travel, but not once is strike action mentioned.

This is what worries me. The travel perks are the very reason that many people go into flying in the first place and for BA crew on long-haul they rely on them in order to get into work, flying from a regional airport into LHR or LGW before a trip. You certainly don’t go into flying for the money alone. If crew have gone on strike with what they believe to be a legitimate claim, to withdraw travel perks arbitrarily for exercising a legal right is hugely concerning. It doesn’t matter that this consists of discounted travel, it’s the principle at stake. What next for companies? Is a company pension a contractual right, or simply a perk or privilege? In addition to which, I know the kind of tactics that BASSA and senior BA crew members use. I am not surprised that many felt too intimidated to go to work during the strike and thus went off sick. They are now also facing disciplinary measures, as opposed to compassion. I don’t know what I would have done if I were junior crew and it was known by various CSDs, who can be absolutely vicious in their behaviour, that I had crossed the picket lines. I’ve seen junior crew treated in an appalling fashion by those who were old enough to know better. Some of the bullying that goes on in the industry is a disgrace. I can well understand that younger members of crew were stuck between a rock and a hard place here, on the one hand not wishing to risk their careers with the company, on the other, not wanting to risk having a negative job performance review by one of the old dinosaurs. BA should at the very least, lift the threat of disciplinary action on those crew who were caught in the middle and it should not be assumed that they were not genuinely ill either. Their pay should be restored.

The threat of removing travel perks may have seemed a masterstroke to Willie Walsh, but it amounted to nothing more than bullying and may well backfire. In the grand scheme of things, some well-paid cabin crew losing their rights to cheap travel may seem small beer which will attract little public sympathy, but I think there’s an important principle at stake here, namely a company’s ability to re-write terms and conditions and arbitrarily remove clearly defined contractual benefits, in order to stamp out any worker dissent.

It’s no surprise that O’Leary is cheering from the sidelines, offering to support BA in whatever way he can. And for those considering re-booking their flights on Ryan Air – remember this is the airline which employs its staff via a holding company in India, in order to get around pension rights and privileges. The airline which compels staff to wear a uniform for which they must pay themselves, compels staff to be trained to a certain level, which they must pay for themselves and who will arbitrarily punish crew who are seen to promote union membership. O’Leary has gone on record as confidently  stating that Ryan Air would survive a total hull loss as well as warning against a crackdown on air security measures as they would be more costly.

BA crew may not be doing their company or their long-term job prospects many favours, but they should not be penalised for vocalising their discontent or taking legitimate strike action.  “This is a time for co-operation, not confrontation,” I suggest Willie Walsh re-instates travel privileges and removes the threat of disciplinary action, whilst remaining firm about the changes to staffing and allowance levels. To do anything else, given that the original dispute seems to have been settled is punitive, authoritative and confrontational. It’s give and take Willie. The crew have conceded on several issues. Now its your turn to be magmanimous in victory.

And just to lighten the mood, here’s a silly photo. Takes me back a bit…

Just war?

It seems timely to recap the principles of a just war laid out by the Catholic Church, based upon the teachings of Ss Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Paragraph 2309 of the Catechism states the following:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

First of all it is worth noting the opening sentence, which mentions the strict conditions and gravity of the decision to go to war. Before the decision can be taken, rigorous consideration must be given to all of the conditions. It is not sufficient for simply one or two of them to be met. They must all be met “At one and the same time”.

Is this the case in Libya? Let’s look at the conditions in more detail:

Condition One.

the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

There must be an aggressor who is harming the nation or the community of nations. OK check. Gaddafi certainly fits that criteria, although the same could be applied to other aggressors throughout the world, such as Robert Mugabe who is certainly doing his bit to inflict lasting, grave and certain damage on the population of Zimbabwe and the surrounding region.

This sentence also makes clear that one cannot go to war simply to expand one’s sphere of influence, conquer new territory, subjugate peoples, or obtain wealth. One only can go to war to counter aggression.

If this military action is successful it will give the West more control over the oil fields of Libya, not to mention boost David Cameron’s personal ratings, however, for the moment let’s leave aside personal cynicism and state that Gaddafi does fit the image of aggressor.

Next, the damage inflicted by the aggressor must be “lasting, grave, and certain”, the aggression must not be temporary or mild, it must be foreseen to have effects that are both lasting and grave. I don’t think anyone is arguing against this point.

It is worth noting that it is not necessary for the aggressor to strike first. A moral certainty that the aggression will occur is sufficient. An example might be where a party with a history of aggression began amassing troops of munitions. Actually Gaddafi did strike first with the indiscriminate killing of those protesting against him, moving to full-scale war and military aggression against his own people. We live in a world where it is possible for an aggressor to strike at a distance, with little or no warning, and cause mass casualties, therefore it is important to identify a potential aggressor early and determine whether he poses a morally certain danger.

This condition can surely not be in any doubt.

Condition one – met.

Condition two

All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.

The second condition establishes war as a last resort. If there are other practical and effective means of stopping the aggressor, they must be used. Alternatives include one-to-one diplomacy; international pressure; economic sanctions; and such tools as blockades, quarantines, covert actions, and small-scale raids that do not amount to a full-scale war effort. It is not necessary to employ all such methods before going to war. It is sufficient if rigorous consideration reveals them to be impractical or ineffective.

Altenatives would be shown to be impractical if rigorous consideration revealed that, even though they might work in theory, they were not practically possible. They would also be shown to be ineffective if they had little or no chance of stopping the aggression and preventing the damage that it will bring.

We could argue about whether or not the above measures have been given a chance to work until kingdom come. It seems fair to note that Gaddafi certainly doesn’t seem to have been paying any attention up until military action has been threatened, the wholesale slaughter of his people has gone ahead. He has been acting like a paranoid delusional maniac with nothing to lose, tonight’s threat to attack Mediterranean ports shows the kind of person we are dealing with, so I think on balance of evidence:

Condition two – met.

Condition three

serious prospects of success

Crystal ball anyone? A guarantee is impossible, therefore all that is required for this condition is that there is a substantial possibility of success.

The combined military might of the United Nations is substantially greater than that of Libya. What constitutes success however? Are we creating a similar situation in Libya to that which we have created in Iraq? Are we further destabilising the region? If all we are doing is taking out military targets and eliminating a dictator’s capacity to kill significant numbers of innocent citizens then in these terms:

Condition three: met

Condition four

The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

We must take into account the damage that is done by the war. Again, damage is a subjective notion, including not only military and civilian casualties, but other evils such as destabilizing neighbouring countries, altering international alliances in a manner that causes harm and creating economic burdens.

It is incumbent on those making the decision to go to war to attempt to the best of their ability to foresee both what damage will result if the war is conducted and what damage will result if it is not. The former must not clearly outweigh the latter.

Condition Four – uncertain.

However, “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”, i.e. the burden lies solely upon the government to decide whether or not this action is just, or in this instance, the United Nations. Though we have elected our government and therefore have allegedly put our trust in our political leaders, guiding their voices through political debate (in an ideal world), we the general public, do not bear the ultimate responsibility for the decision to go to war.

Pilate-like though it sounds, the decision has been out of our hands. All we can do is watch and pray.

I can’t help but think if only we hadn’t gone into Iraq and Afghanistan then this decision would be so much more clear-cut. Tony Blair has much to answer for.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

There I was working myself up into a state of emotional angst over all this internet aggro and then suddenly, bang, perspective hits home with the news of today’s utterly devastating earthquake in Japan. I had been planning to do a brief update blog about the pregnancy and what seems like apocalypse begins to unfold on the other side of the earth.

The problem with 24/7 global media coverage is that it tends to overly-dramatise what is happening. Not that I am in any way suggesting that what has happened is anything less than dramatic: this is the largest ever earthquake to hit Japan since records began, one can’t begin to imagine the carnage and devastation, it is like something out of a disaster movie. The tweets were coming thick and fast, earthquakes, tsunamis the west coast of America on alert, New Zealand on alert, it was truly terrifying.

For pidge of little scientific brain, all kinds of doomsday scenarios were going off in my head. What if the whole of America was destroyed, then a massive wave made its way over the UK. I live in Brighton on the coast, heavens to betsy, we’d have no chance against an enormous wave 3 stories high, travelling at 500 miles an hour, erm, no hang on we live on a hill, would it be able to travel up a steep hill, what about the sails on the windmill down the road, perhaps we could all take refuge and climb up the windmill, yeah that would be a great plan, or should I just hide under the bed, quake and pray. Readers of a certain age will remember the Mr Men, narrated by Arthur Lowe. I was Mr Jelly “aaargh, it’s an earthquake” quiver, quiver shake, best hide under the bed, err no actually it was a falling leaf.

Disaster movies with their spectacular special effects and dramatisation of cataclysmic disasters bring what could happen vividly to life, they make fake media broadcasts using real-life news organisations to render events as realistic and plausible as possible. So when we see the global coverage unfolding, events happening very very quickly, it seems that we are caught up in the surge of a dreadful natural disaster over which we have no control. Obviously for the people of Japan that became a terrible reality today and it must have been equally scary to be living in one of those areas at risk. For a few hours it did seem like Armageddon was unfolding, if the earthquake and tsnumi didn’t kill everyone, then the nuclear explosion would finish everyone off.

In the midst of all these tweets, almost instantaneously the jokes started flying. At first I was affronted. All I’d been able to think of was the genuine fear, panic and terror faced by those poor people affected, vividly imagining attempting to escape an enormous wall of water travelling at 500 miles an hour, or my home being reduced to rubble in an instant. Worst of all being separated from my children and not knowing whether or not they were safe. Right at this moment people were scared and dying, preparations were being made on the Pacific Rim and the West Coast of America was on full alert. How dare people laugh at others’ pain!

A comment that really riled me was one made by Toby Young, almost instantaneously as the news of the tsunami hit “How come George Monbiot hasn’t popped up to blame this earthquake on global warming? Come on, George.Wake up”. It seemed unnecessarily opportunistic, taking advantage of a tragedy  to have a personal dig at someone else. Then Godzilla began to trend, much to the outrage of some. And the jokes came pouring in thick and fast. Was I being unduly po-faced I pondered, should we perhaps see a glimmer of fun in what was going on? Absolutely not is the answer, however when we imagine ourselves in the midst of a full-scale natural disaster, an Armagheddon which makes us realise our significance on this planet, what tiny minute ants we all are and how we are powerless against the forces of nature, one of the natural responses is that of laughter. The idea of gallows humour is well-known, funeral directors are known for having a black sense of humour. They have to develop it, to put on an outward face of pragmatism as a coping mechanism for coping with the often unpleasant business of death on an everyday basis. When you’ve been called out at 3am to deal with a suicide, road traffic accident or other accidental death by the coroner, sometimes humour is necessary to diffuse the horror.

Years ago, I was told that my father had been diagnosed with cancer. The circumstances were utterly surreal. I was at boarding school, my mother pitched up, I knew that my father had been very unwell, it had all been kept very hush hush from me in order that I didn’t flunk my GCSEs, and there I was, sat in the housemistresses office with my mother informing me in front of her that my father had cancer and would be embarking on chemotherapy. Actually given my record at school, I thought I was going to get a telling off for a packet of cigarettes having been found, so before she started speaking I spied the tray of doughnuts for house tea placed in the office and asked if I could have one, to diffuse the obvious tension. When I was told, what was my instinctive reaction? I laughed!! It just all seemed so surreal, me sat in Miss M’s office eating a doughnut with my mother using baby-language to describe the fact that my father had testicular cancer, necessitating an operation, which had then spread to the liver. It does not need to be stated that I found the situation anything but funny once it had sunk in.

Some of the jokes flying about today were very witty puns even if they were sorely lacking in taste. My husband put things into perspective as I was sat there fretting about the people of Japan in the antenatal clinic. My thoughts were “here I am, worrying about how and when this baby is going to emerge, in a nice clean safe hospital, with top-line medical care, highly trained professionals, and people right now are facing unimaginable terror and death. There’s probably a woman giving birth amid the quake right now. I’ve been getting so upset about this internet malarky when it’s meaningless in the big scale of things.”

When I conveyed my anxiety as to events, husband’s response was “look, don’t think I don’t care, I do very much and we must pray for them, but right now they are not my direct responsibility. You and my children and this baby are. That’s what we need to focus on for the next half hour. My job right now is to worry about you”. Of course we have prayed as a family later, but we all cope with these things in different ways, and the inevitable outrage about a said tweeter’s jokes ended up being rather faux and more than a little hypocritical. OK, so he made some tasteless jokes some of which were skillful puns, others a bit lame. Isn’t it rather hypocritical to be focusing on how other people are reacting, how they are not visibly displaying their grief, angst and trauma in the same way as you and thus they must be heartless and uncaring? Hit unfollow and move on.

I realised the fragility of my faith, when I began to ponder whether or not doomsday might really be rapidly approaching, given the sheer scale of natural disasters over the past few years. My mind started wandering into the realms of total paranoia, Mayan prophesies, analysing the date of the disaster 11.03.11. Was it something about the number 11? Could we find some patterns here? Ben Goldacre indulged in his forthright brand of de-bunking a Daily Mail report. He couldn’t work out what had possessed the Daily Mail to print such a report. I think the answer is clear, mankind is searching for answers in a world beset by chaos and disaster. To impose order upon the disorder. Which is where an understanding of the nature  of God is vital.

I caught myself in check and reminded myself of what Matthew tells us of the return of Christ, when this world will cease to exist. “But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.” Matthew 24:36.

It could be today, it could be tomorrow it could be centuries or millennia from now. There is no point speculating. All we can do is watch, pray, be vigilant and be ready to meet the Lord if he comes to us this very night.

For a Christian, it really will be a case of “the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”. Joy will be an entirely appropriate emotion.

Blogging dilemma

I know there are many of you out there. I am a relative newcomer on the scene. I started this blog, as many do, in order that I might have an outlet, and also to share links, news, ideas, anything really. It didn’t start off with the intention of being a “Catholic blog”. In many respects it isn’t, although having read many different blogs, I feel like I need to tart mine up a bit, shove in some Catholic widgets and links, fluttering Vatican flags, various novenas and the like. Make it look a little more authentic. Perhaps overhaul the design. One thing at a time however.

Initially I had the comment function set so that comments were automatically approved. When things started getting sticky and I began to receive unpleasant and personal comments, regarding my family, I decided to institute a policy of moderation. Anything containing ad-hominem attacks was instantly deleted, not having much to add to the debate, although I have published a few of the less offensive ones, just to give balance.

I am resolved not to engage in online debate, certainly for the duration of Lent and maybe beyond. I don’t think its proving spiritually healthy. As I outlined in a previous post, it became apparent that my twitter feed was being stalked and copied and pasted elsewhere. I have blocked all the followers related to a parenting forum in order to ensure some privacy and peace and quiet.

I blog because it’s cathartic, it’s like a mind-dump for me, it helps me to focus and arrange my thoughts into some sort of cogent and coherent order. If something is annoying or vexing me then I write about it. Really I do it for my own pleasure and if it  delights, entertains and indeed inspires others, then that’s an added bonus. Sometimes if I am pondering a certain issue, I’ll go off and do a spot of reading or online research to ensure that any theological pedants out there are satisfied. So it’s a useful distraction and source of therapy for me, like it is for many out there on the blogosphere.

Many specialised websites, such as parenting ones, provide user areas whereby users may post their pregnancy or child diaries which I suspect are written with similar motivations. Lots of people, friends, family, former parishioners say to me that they really enjoy reading it, even if they may disagree with the substance of what I have to say. I’m always self-conscious in the presence of people I know who read my blog, I think they expect that I’m going to be some sort of strident lunatic, whereas in reality I’m actually quite placid and often achingly self-conscious. I do try not to take myself too seriously, although when I’m blogging about my faith, the language will inevitably take on a more earnest timbre. I’m married to a theologian who takes these things terribly seriously, heresy, even if inadvertent is no laughing matter!

It’s become clear to me and many have stated, that on the whole, internet forums can be pretty bad news, particularly when you are Catholic. It seems to me at the moment, that my relaxing hobby is being hijacked. I don’t want to debate with people, I just want to write whatever takes my fancy. If people want to add interesting and constructive comments, or just want to let me know that they have appreciated or enjoyed what I’ve said, then I enjoy feedback. I also enjoy negative feedback or points of disagreement, so long as it is constructive.

But at the moment, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. For some absolutely inexplicable reason, there is a core of people out there who seem absolutely determined to waste their time and mine writing reams of attacks. These are now going straight into the spam filter.

Shall I switch the comment function off entirely perhaps? Where people have taken the time and trouble to write a thoughtful response, it seems only fair to publish. However when the nice comments are published, a stream of emails comes accusing me of having written them myself and of having invented sock puppets. Apparently Betsey Bareback, Berenike, Londiniensis, Sanabituranima and Tim Pipe are all figments of my “twisted imagination”. I need to get a grip and get a life and some psychiatric help.

Today I attempted to email a few of the commenters, offering my phone number in order to discuss this like civilised adults, rather than be so public, one of the accusations I faced was that I insisted on making all this public, this was all my own fault and that I am guilty of internet attention seeking. So my remedy was to take this more private and discuss this like calm adults. I tried to email two people who had commented with my phone number, however both emails bounced back, either the addresses given were false or alternatively they had blocked my address.

Any time I appeal to the voice of reason, to say look, I’m not open to debate at this time, I want to quietly get on with my life, I want the freedom to be able to air my views in the public arena, the comments start screaming that I am playing the victim. Any appeal to decency, i.e. please don’t call my child “illegitimate” and that did rankle hugely, have a go at me if you feel you must, but don’t start attacking my children, any appeal to people’s better natures, simply solicits the response “oh you are so good at manipulation and making yourself out to be so saintly, you haven’t published my response which tells the world quite what an unwholesome and evil person you are, that’s because you are scared of what I have to say”. No I am not scared, but if you’ve made a point which I have answered, then there is no need to constantly labour it, again and again.

I don’t need to be repeatedly told that I am insane and live a desperate life. I don’t want to be scared of blogging because every post generates non-stop email traffic.

Perhaps I need some technical help here. Can I change my email address that is allocated to wordpress so that my usual email is not bombarded with this nonsense? So that people can comment away and I don’t have to see their comments, perhaps checking them once every few days. I set up this site using my regular email address, which friends, family and business correspondence comes through, is there any way I may change that without deleting the entire blog.

I am 34 weeks pregnant, I have more than enough on my plate at the moment, as many of us do, 2011 has not been an easy year so far and so I am politely asking that people simply leave me alone to blog in peace. If you don’t like me, then please, I implore you, just stop reading my output and leave me and my “adoring minions” in peace. Although which is it? Adoring minions who are not doing me any mental favours or figments of my imagination. Every single comment I receive whether positive or negative causes a publishing dilemma. If I publish it, is it going to inflame the situation further, if I ignore it is the poster going to get even more indignant at not being heard and keep flaming. Really I don’t know what to do?

This is not “internet attention seeking” but my hobby. I have a right to freedom of expression like anyone else. Any appeals that highlight the fact that I want to be left alone are met with derision and the fact that I have brought it on myself and that I need to “stop, just stop now” and that I need to take down my blog if I want any peace and quiet.

I’m a stubborn so and so. The more that I feel that I’m trying to be silenced, the more I am going to blog. Why should a bunch of women, who really don’t seem to have any purpose to their lives other than to gang up and collectively bitch and snipe in a pack mentality, stop me from what is usually an essentially enjoyable hobby?

What is the answer, apart from stopping blogging? Should I move to a different site and re-name the blog? Should I simply disable the comment functions? One particular commenter said “nobody ever reads your  rubbish blog except when somebody links to it, so we can all laugh at you”.

The stats tell a different story. Since starting this blog last April, I am approaching 1oo,000 hits. I have no idea if that is good, bad or average. My busiest posts have been the one on Peter Stamford and my pro-life witness posts. On the busy weeks I get 3,000 hits. So clearly some people are reading, even if they don’t like what they see. Perhaps that is what is causing the upset, people don’t like to be thought of badly by others, or feel they are being presented unfairly. I have named no names and there is nothing to identify anyone. I vented some fury at some ridiculous theological assertions and the backlash from those who made those statements has been absolutely unbelievable.

I think this might be the last post that I leave open to comments, although I can’t work out how to disable comments on WordPress, weak and feeble individual that I am. What’s the answer, close comments, change email or migrate site and keep its identity beyond the reach of the outraged “liberal”? If I migrate sites, can I still keep the content?

All sensible suggestions welcome. What I want to do is keep out the trolls, maintain a public blog, open for comments but get rid of those who wish to make the blogosphere unpleasant for all.


Life’s purpose

Thanks to 40daysforlifeUK for forwarding this testimony on to me from an inspirational Catholic blogger, who has attended many vigils with her young family.

Amongst the stream of comments today, came this little nugget.

“If going to your anti-choice rally with your toddler and your babybump gives you purpose then I’m glad, because I think you need it.”

Firstly, it’s a prayer-vigil, not an anti-choice rally. Secondly choice is not automatically a good thing. If the choice is to kill your child rather than treat it like the human being that it undeniably is, then in those terms, yes I am undoubtedly am anti-choice and proud.

Does my life lack purpose? The purpose of my life is to build a deep and lasting relationship with God. To love my God with all my heart and soul. That sentiment will inevitably give rise to bafflement, disgust and outrage amongst many who would question whether or not that may entail putting God before one’s family, no doubt giving rise to the whole extremist issue and the idea that I have this whole God thing entirely out of proportion.

The answer is deceptively simple. Our primary purpose is to love God, but also to discern how best we may serve him. This does not preclude loving one’s friends and family. The two are not mutually exclusive. What this means in essence is to love God and put his will and desires above our own.  All of us are seeking happiness as our ultimate goal. We have to give ourselves over to God, to do his will over that which might bring us momentary happiness. This love is not an emotional feeling, to love God as he wishes us to love him means a denial of self, it means to put his will above our own, regardless of how we might think, how we might feel or what we desire.

That seems beyond the bounds of comprehension for most people and a sign that things are surely out of perspective. Actually no, it is only by loving God and doing his will that he might help us to shape our desires and love appropriately.  St Augstine famously said “Love God and do what you will”. This is often misinterpreted along the lines of “have some affection, regard for God and then do as you please. The emphasis needs to be on the first two words. Love God and then he will form the shape and pattern of the rest of your live and in him will you find happiness.

To love God means to die to yourself. To lose your sense of self. Not to become a mindless robot, but to set aside all our own thoughts, desires, emotions and desires that are contrary to God’s. Motherhood/Parenthood is an excellent example of this. Being a mother of a young baby or child entails that you have no other choice than to put yourself second the majority of the time. Your child’s needs intuitively and instinctively come first. You die to yourself. How many mothers find themselves playing endless games of tea-parties and pretend cooking and generally doing things that they would really rather not, in order that their child might benefit. At times motherhood can be a thankless task, changing the nappy of a screaming infant, or reading “that’s not my bear, it’s nose is too fluffy…look…bear…his coat is very brown isn’t it…can you feel his fluffy nose, look his ears…shall we count his paws…look white mouse…oh you’re bored, shall we sing a song now”…Face it, it’s not the epitome of glamour, not what we spent years studying for, but the rewards for our selflessness when they come, are immeasurable and more than worth the sacrifice. For me, it’s when my child opens her eyes, spies her mother and instantaneously beams the most beatific smile ever know. Or when she tries to copy  and join in the actions of Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes or when she points at the dog and says his name.

This is a reflection of the way we must love God and our love for our children indicative of how he loves us, unconditionally,  no matter what we do. All of us are searching for meaning and purpose in our lives. It was said of me “she uses religion as her crutch, she cannot exist without it, it’s so terribly sad, she really needs help”. I suspect that is why I am accused of lacking purpose, in that my life, my purpose, is orientated towards the love and service of God, in order that unlike the transitory things in life, he might bring me a deep and lasting happiness.

It amuses me to have my life described as “desperate”, to be implored to “seek some help” and told that my life is lacking purpose, because it doesn’t conform to others’ ideas and expectations.

I have my Lord and stemming from that has come my husband, my children, an interesting job which enables me to work from home, the opportunity to do some formal study and not least my writing, which  is beginning to bear fruit. Only today an unexpected opportunity came my way and I am absorbed in some fascinating reading and research.

Taking the train to London with my young family is undoubtedly a bit of a faff, given that I will need to lug buggy, bag of supplies and folding chair. I don’t need to do it to make myself feel any better, I’m sure everyone would understand if I decided to stay home and pray instead. But the thing is I feel so passionate about this and so sad, both for the women who are killing their babies and for the babies themselves I cannot simply stand back and do nothing. There is an opportunity to bear witness and to pray, which I cannot pass by. It doesn’t give me any purpose, I am sad that this situation is indeed necessary, but I need to do something and to support those who have gone to so much time and effort to co-ordinate and organise this vigil. If it changes the mind of just one woman then it’s a job well done.

Thank you to Clare for your inspiring example of witness.

Flamers: my Ash Wednesday penance

Just a recap. Until recently I was a member of UK baby/parenting website. I still am. I contributed to a thread vis a vis homosexuality could a book really “cure” sexual orientation. Thread degenerated into a you are Catholic, therefore you are a homophobe, not all Catholics are homophobes most are perfectly normal nice accepting people, but because you agree with the Catechism you are an extremist fundamentalist just like your Church. If you had any sanity or normality about you then you wouldn’t agree with this evil doctrine.

Along the way there was some genuine philosophical debate and enquiry, but there was also a lot of wilful misunderstanding. I was irritated and blogged about it. Enormous backlash about breaching people’s copyright, trust, taking comments out of context and so on and so forth.

Now hypothetically if one were to type in certain words to Google, one could see the whole thread in its entirety. One doesn’t have to be a member of the site to view the entire thread. You only needs to be a member if you wish to contribute.

Say a pregnant woman, was looking for an interesting parenting forum to join she might well stumble across said site. She might see this thread perfectly legitimately whilst browsing the site to see if she wanted to join. She might think “gracious me, what a bunch of unpleasantness, that’s not for me” particularly if she was of a Catholic or Christian disposition. She might think “I don’t want to engage in this community” and decide not to join. She might and could easily C&P the thread to other Catholics in her community to warn them of what was going on. She could equally C&P extracts onto her blog, just to highlight the type of debate that was occurring. She wouldn’t have broken any copyright laws whatsoever. It’s called Fair Use. Alternatively she could join the site and engage in the debate, and link to her blog if she chose.

I had an email today from a lovely well-wisher advising me to block absolutely everyone associated with this site from Twitter. What had been happening was that these same people who have expressed such outrage at my appalling behaviour had, whilst under the auspices of friendship, been trolling and scanning my twitter feed, looking for alleged abuses and things that they could take offence at and use against me. These people who are just so very cross that I have published their comments, anonymously, have been C&Ping my tweets, posting them on a debate forum for everyone to gasp over. I sense more than a spot of hypocrisy going on here. “Look, she’s said this, look she’s said that”, having had a public fit of the vapours at a few anonymously attributed comments. Having had their fun spoilt they are now calling my well-wisher various hateful names, although they have no idea who it might be.

Yesterday I had a laugh with a follower about my voluptuous pregnancy breasts. All very open and honest, nothing untoward or out of hand, my husband told me that I ought to tell him about the Church of Santa Maria Formosa in Venice which we visited. (Think along the lines of the fallen Madonna with the big boobies from ‘Allo ‘Allo). Following the advice of Patrick Madrid, myself and my husband are open and transparent in our use of social media. We can access each others accounts and we know each others passwords. If someone has a cheeky flirt with one or the other of us, we are quite open about it. Not because we are swingers before any silly people jump to conclusions but because it is better to be honest and open.

My remark about my big bosoms and how perhaps all the enmity stemmed from envy, which was entirely light-hearted, was picked up on by someone who doesn’t even follow me and re-tweeted with the remarks “:-o) this was said by a Catholic”. *gasps and clutches pearls*. I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of virtue, indeed my bio says I’m prone to a bit of bawdiness and Catholics are not expected to behave like Puritans, ostentatiously  outwardly manisfesting signs of their inner holiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who are able to be shining examples of goodness, they are often inspirational and all of us need to aspire to sainthood, but a lot of saints did indeed have character flaws. There is not a saint or Bible character who was portrayed as perfect. Let’s look at an easily recognisable Bible figure – David. He was called “a man after God’s own heart”. He was a liar, adulterer and murderer. That doesn’t mean that God delighted in his sin. He repented and submitted to God.

A bit of light-hearted banter is not indicative of some grave moral distortion. I don’t even need to defend myself on this point, however it gives some idea of the type of genuine stalking I have faced. Equally on hearing about how my child had been drawn into this, an affronted follower offered to set the offender’s house on fire. Ever heard of Paul J Chambers and the twitterjoke trial? I was told that I had been inciting hatred on Twitter. I cannot be responsible for what other people say, and I did not give him the name or address of said person or indeed suggest that he should have carried out his plans. I have, as I am entitled to, vented a bit of spleen as frankly, when I have given up debating with those who have no interest in what I have to say, it is more than a little vexing when these same people want to drag the argument on and on and on to my blog. My email is pinging non-stop, the blog comments are streaming thick and fast and here’s the thing people, I don’t want to talk to you. Go away and get over it.

I am not publishing several comments because I disagree with their contents, they serve no purpose other to make ad hominem attacks and I don’t have the energy or inclination to reply. I am not going to publish a comment which is substantially incorrect in its assertion about me, unless I can be bothered to respond. I don’t want to respond, so I’m not publishing. Simple.

Someone else trawled my feed in the small hours of the morning to discover that I had been having a conversation with a pro-life activist. Many of the people incessantly bugging my comment box and indeed who have disagreed passionately with me on topics of life-issues have become really quite heated and personal at times due to issues of their own. I mentioned this to a pro-life activist, naming no names, just stating the facts.

I have now protected all my tweets and blocked every single person associated from said forum. Still the vitriol comes pouring in. Why have I done this, what am I trying to hide? Nothing, but given that my twitter feed is being watched like a hawk, with people waiting to pounce on every single word to twist it for their own purposes, then I have a right to decide who I want to have open discourse with.

So now the fun has been spoilt and people can no longer see my tweets, I’m getting emails about my lack of integrity, unlike they, who have been copying and pasting my tweets onto a private forum. The wonderful kind person, who has acted with integrity and generosity to warn me about this to tell me that I need to delete absolutely everyone and she is sickened and appalled by what is happening, has also informed me that they are scanning my feed to see whether or not I am going to take my children to a pro-life prayer vigil. Because shock, horror that would just be such a dreadful thing to do wouldn’t it? To silently and powerfully pray outside an abortion clinic, for the women inside and their unborn children. And goodness wouldn’t it just be so sick and manipulative if a pregnant woman might see a heavily pregnant woman, together with her extremely beautiful young toddler and have second thoughts. That would indeed be an outrage. And what if someone came to engage with me, what if I told them about my experiences of having two unplanned and physically difficult pregnancies and gave them hope for the future. Wouldn’t that be shocking beyond the bounds of imagination?

But it’s Lent, I have no time or inclination for this. I have other more pressing demands on my time. I had to disable my email earlier, I was waiting in hospital with my six year old, who is currently going through some difficult tests to ascertain the nature of a neurological condition which is affecting her quality of life. She needed all my attention and reassurance. What I didn’t need was the constant pinging of my phone and email, with people still desperate to have a pop, desperate to have their say, desperate to go on the attack because they don’t like the fact that they have been silenced.

I’ve also had people who have commented, who have absolutely laboured the point on and on and on, again and again and again, and I thought “I’ve had enough, go away”. Incensed at not having their comments published, they’ve then furiously demanded again and again that I remove the comments that they have already posted, because it casts them in what they believe to be a bad light.

I’ve had a hysterical comment calling me an extremist and telling me that I used to be lovely and moderate. No, I have not changed, I have not become more extreme, I have always held a deep faith and conviction, but what people can’t recognise or reconcile in their heads how a seemingly friendly, intelligent and rational person can defend all this “misogynist, homophobic, narrow-minded” nonsense and still perhaps be a nice person. The answer must be either a) she’s not nice and let’s find evidence to prove it, b) she’s a hypocrite, c) she’s mentally ill and needs pity and/or help, don’t encourage her folks you’re not being kind or d) she’s brainwashed. They have little boxes reserved for religious people in their heads which I don’t fit and they can’t deal with it. So the answer is to go on the attack.

I don’t get the anger. I’ve done NOTHING wrong. I’ve defamed no-one, I’ve slandered no-one and incited no violence or hatred anywhere. I trust that regular twitter followers will verify that. What I have done is drawn attention to some of the sheer hatred and vitriol coming my way because I dare to say what I think and I dare to have these so-called hateful views. I am not a “right-thinking” person.

I think it is obvious who is narrow minded and it isn’t me. Someone has commented that if I go on a prayer vigil I can expect “consequences”. Someone else has misunderstood “sackcloth and ashes” in a reference to Ash Wednesday and taken that as some sort of admission that I haven’t really received a whole heap of abuse. I am accused of “playing the victim”. When I am bullied, trolled and stalked online and I publicly highlight it,  I am either lying, playing the victim or some attempt is made to justify this behaviour on the grounds of my shortcomings.

I’m not playing with you. Go away. You may comment all you like, but you’re wasting your time. One of my Lent promises is not to waste my time with internet “debate”.  I have given up a forum, so don’t try dragging your dislike of me to my blog. You don’t like me, that’s fine, you don’t have to. But you don’t need to keep emailing and commenting to tell me that. I get the point.  Don’t waste your time reading my blog. Surely people must have more constructive things to do? The scariest factor is that at least two of the protagonists are school teachers, indeed a previous blog troll who was inventing fake personas and impersonating someone else, is a school-teacher. The person who made the initial accusation that my daughter was illegitimate is a teacher. I am clearly not tarring all teachers with the same brush. But it fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure that teachers, who are supposed to defend vulnerable pupils against all forms of bullying, are engaging in an on-line campaign of their very own.

When I was in the hospital earlier, I noticed several people glancing at me strangely. At first I thought they were admiring my daughter in her distinctive school uniform, then wondered if it was the toddler, who is looking exceptionally fetching at the moment, with her hair in little bunches like Minnie the Minx or Beryl the Peril. After a while I realised it was me they were looking at, I still had the ashes on my forehead from earlier. I haven’t washed them off yet; they are a mark of who I am and I am proud to proclaim that. No matter how peculiar, embarrassing or dissonant it might seem to many.