Sunday Morning

People can be good.

Thanks to Jon Hatch for showing me this piece this morning. Things like this do not happen often in N. Ireland but when they do we need to hold on to it because this is what peace looks like. It’s difficult.

I’m grateful this morning.

World Book Night

This morning I posted a link to my Facebook page about the government cuts. It was an article about how lots of writers have voiced their anger over the cutting of the ‘Booktrust’ programme. Booktrust is/was an excellent scheme which gave every single newborn child free books. In the pack parents got a wee booklet about how to read with their child. The books were brilliant as well. Ana loved her pack. Then when they got to primary school they were given another pack with another couple of high quality children’s books. It meant that everyone in the country could have books in their house. For me it meant Ana being in a library well before I would have signed her up initially. For other people it simply meant having books (brand new, good quality books) in their house. But that’s all been cut for a measly 13 million, which is pocket money for the Goverment.

So while we’re protesting about this and getting angry about it (and we should be. If you’re not aware how much money the Government wastes on box ticking schemes which don’t help anyone, but make them look good, then let’s have a chat some time. It is outrageous that they should cut something so directly useful as Booktrust)  , here’s something else you can do to get good books into the hands of people who might not otherwise have them.

Support World Book Night in the UK and Ireland and sign up to be a giver. If you are selected you will be given a pack of 48 books to give away on Saturday 5th March 2011. It takes 5 minutes to sign up. Read more about it here. You have to sign up before 4th January. Seems like a very worthwhile thing to me and if you care about literature and literacy it might stop you going mad when you watch the news.

Belfast Pride Church

I missed the main Pride celebration in Belfast this year so I really wanted to get to the church service on the following day. I remembered it from the year before as being somewhere I felt that the three of us, my husband, daughter and I, felt really welcome, but also a place where they were making a clear effort to make everyone else welcome as well. We live about an hour away from Belfast and we were all going to stay there that night so the morning was really busy with us trying to get ready in time, trying to work through my 5 year old daughter’s protests about going to ‘boring church’ (thankfully the only bitter protest of the day!) and sorting out someone to let the cat out in the morning.

Most churches will say they welcome gay people. In many churches if you go in and tell them you’re gay they won’t physically recoil or start telling you about hell (although some will I’m sure). But it’s a different matter when you explain that you don’t want to change, that you believe you were made in the image of God along with everyone else, that you don’t want to be straight. That you want to partake, as an equal. I say this as a straight person who has been on the inside of various different church communities in Northern Ireland for quite some time, and as someone who once held the common view; that you have to love the sinner and hate the sin, that although God loved gay people it was the kind of love that parents have for their prodigal children, a love that sees being gay as a choice and a bad one, rather than a love which celebrates their being here and the unique gifts they bring.

But anyway, the three of us went to church yesterday. We sat down and spoke with friends and sorted Ana out with a church-ignoring device (Cbeebies on my Walkman. I always worry about being judged for this kind of thing but I figured people would prefer it to having a 5 year old crying and saying how bored she is throughout the entire thing).

Rev Chris Hudson began the service with the words ‘Welcome, welcome,’ and if he’d stopped there it might have been enough, because I could see difference all around the small church, at the front as well as in the pews. And it’s not often that a service begins with someone playing ‘Over the Rainbow‘ on the organ (but I wonder why not, because who goes to church without a sense of longing for the possibilities to come? Who doesn’t wish their troubles would melt like lemon drops?)

It was short ritual towards the end of the service that I wanted to write about mainly. Chris Hudson explained why we had been asked to take a small stone as we entered the church. He held one of the stones up as he spoke about people being stoned, in the bible and more recently, the punishments meted out to those who refuse to deny themselves. Today we would also take a stone, we would set them on the altar in a circle, a symbol of unity and solidarity. People got up. The men beside me had to climb over me as Ana was sprawled out on my lap, half asleep, oblivious. They asked if I needed a stone. I explained that we’d left ours in the toilet during the pre-service bathroom trip we had to make, during which I had to shepherd said five year old right through the middle of the choir who were practising in the cramped room below the church. We’d sit this one out.

But I changed my mind about that too. I watched everyone lining up; people I knew, people I didn’t know, Priests, vicars, gay people, straight people, men, women. All waiting patiently holding their piece of stone. It made me think of communion and queuing to vote and suddenly I desperately wanted to be part of it. I asked my husband to fetch us a couple of stones and I told Ana what we were going to do. By the time we were ready we were the last in the queue and my daughter laid the last stone in the circle. I hadn’t planned for us to be so conspicuous. It is very humbling to be invited to join in a ritual of quiet defiance against a kind of discrimination that you yourself have not faced, the kind of discrimination that often came from a place that you used to revere. The kind of generosity that lays down stones instead of throwing them always floors me. I suppose that’s what church is actually meant to be like.

(This photo is from pride a couple of years ago. It was taken by Ian Mobsby. He said that he was impressed by this woman who just kept smiling at everyone, even when she was berated by the fundamentalist Christians who had come to protest.)

Good Mews!

(Sorry, completely rubbish pun)

Thanks to Amy Hatch for passing this on to me. Lovely to have good news about what’s happening in Northern Ireland from my favourite resident American! 🙂

Sometimes people are good. Sometimes we take clichés like ‘sport transcends boundaries’ and we damn well make them work.  My 5 year old is the only person who lives in our house who enjoys football and as yet she hasn’t realised that it’s something you can watch on TV, something you can get obsessed with, something that can take over your entire life. Right now that place in her heart is reserved for Dora the Explorer. But maybe someday she’ll be into football like that (and in this eventuality I will refer her to her Uncle Barry who can explain the offside rule and, well, all of the other rules). If that day comes I want to show her this story about a group of people who live on Iris Mews off the Springfield Road in West Belfast; a group of people getting excited about the coming World Cup and letting the joy of it seep over the edges and onto the street. Who said flag waving can’t be a good thing?

You can read the story here.

The Pansy Project

I know this blog has ‘flowers’ in its title but I didn’t originally intend it to be so nature-orientated. I like that it’s turning out that way though. There seems to be an intuitive response to violence which places nature at the heart of peaceful activism. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, yes, I am slow to catch on! 🙂 Despite Cary’s piece and the very title of this blog, I am only now getting the point; in the symbiotic relationship between something as delicate as a flower and something as delicate as a person maybe we can begin to see how in doing violence to others we also do violence to ourselves.

I was reading this morning (via twitter, of course :-)) about The Pansy Project.  Artist, Paul Harfleet, plants pansies at the site of homophobic abuse. Each piece is photographed and named after the abuse received.From Paul’s website:

The website enables the images of the ephemeral acts to be collated and presented to a wide audience who can then vicariously explore the nature of the incidents. The juxtaposition of the images of the delicate flowers placed in derelict urban settings with frequently offensive and hurtful abuse creates a complex anthology of homophobic verbal abuse as experienced by gay people in towns and cities today. The humble planted pansy becomes a record; a trace of this public occurrence which is deeply personal and concurrently available to the public on the city streets and on-line.

When verbal homophobic abuse is experienced the assailant forces the unwilling participant to assimilate and respond to this public verbal attack; ignore or retaliate? The Pansy Project acts as a formula which prevents the ‘victim’ from internalising the incident, the strategy becomes a conceptual shield; a behaviour that enables the experience to be processed via the public domain in this case the location where the incident occurred and latterly the website which collates and presents the incidents and operates as a virtual location of quiet resistance.

You can get regular updates from the Pansy Project blog and also on twitter. Facebook recently deleted the Pansy Project page on their site although no-one is exactly sure why. At the minute you can join a ‘Bring It Back!’ group to show your support.

Many thanks to Quiet Riot Girl for bringing this to my attention.

Oh, and my Mum’s favourite flower is the pansy so hello to her too! X

Birthday Flash Mob

This is what happened when one bus driver was persuaded to work on his day off, his birthday.

I found this footage on this blog courtesy of Little Bird. It came through as tweet just as I was sitting thinking of what to post next. Please do send your links and stories of goodness and hope. It makes a difference. 🙂


Many people will now know the story of how 26-year-old Paul Chambers told a joke on Twitter that resulted in a criminal record, the loss of his job and £1000 of his cash. If you don’t know the story already you can read it here, but to sum up: man mentions bomb, man is heavily penalised. Remember this? It’s similar. Only in a film it’s funny-absurd and in real life it’s just absurd.

I like comedy but I tend to be serious about it, as with everything (it’s an illness, forgive me). I don’t like un-PCness for un-PCness’s sake. I don’t enjoy cruel jokes, I secretly enjoy rude ones, I love Eddie Izzard with all my heart. But I don’t go in for ‘if it makes you laugh, it’s funny’ (because of the illness, OK?) but even I can see the difference between Paul Chambers’ tweet and a terrorist threat. I won’t go any further with that because I’m guessing most people reading this can also tell the difference, and there’s a lot to be said about how our society is responding the threat of terrorism, who we are aiming our sights at, who we hold responsible and how we go about making people safe.

But what I really wanted to blog about wasn’t how mindboggling it is that the law can penalize someone (harshly) for an offhand comment on a social networking site. I wanted to blog about the Twitter response including Stephen Fry’s. When the news broke about the guilty verdict yesterday people on Twitter quickly began to share their shock and outrage under the #twitterjoketrial hashtag. But beyond this and messages of solidarity, something else started to happen as well. A number of people I follow started suggesting a whip round with one tweeting ‘Come on, we could have this covered easily’. Other people also started thinking of tangible ways to support Paul Chambers. Stephen Fry later tweeted that he was ‘happy to pay the fine’ for Paul.  I don’t know if that will happen but I wanted to blog about it because this is how people can be. We can be paranoid and afraid and terrified and reactionary and draconian. And we can be sympathetic, empathetic, generous in commiseration. It requires more than outrage to be like that I think. It requires the ability to see just slightly past the injustice to the human being who has been the subject of the unfair act.

I wish Paul Chambers well and I wish Twitter well. When people think of social networking as vacuous or ‘pointless babble‘ I wish they could see this side of it, the hopeful, resisting, seeing beyond side. It’s nothing more than people.