Extract from my novel Syria Ch 4

 

I woke the next morning late. I scrabbled for my mobile phone to see the time. Damn. I had slept in. I had missed two lectures and a tutorial. It wouldn’t matter. Nobody would really miss me. I could make it up later. The bed was warm and cosy and I wanted to stay there longer. For me I felt amazingly relaxed. I didn’t feel the need to do anything. Just be. It was glorious. Must be all that curry. I wasn’t really hungover which was all to the good. I was serene. I finally got how cats feel. They wake up, they stretch, they go back to sleep. Nothing is a big deal. There is no urgency. My mind wandered to Taj. He felt right. My old voice still warned me that no good would come of it, but there was a new Molly waking. A Molly who wasn’t afraid to try new things, to think differently, to live…

I got up and hauled my laptop into the bed with me. I fired it up and put Islam into Google. I was fascinated. Of course I had known Muslims at school but I had never really thought about it seriously before. They kept to themselves and we kept to ourselves. I started with Wikipedia. It made Islam sound amazing. It was a magical world where angels appeared. The centre of Islam was the family. Women were revered as mothers. The whole mind set seemed completely different to the one I was used to. Magic was everywhere. Spirituality was everywhere. It was all about worshipping God. Everything was an act of worship. It all sounded rather wonderful. I read on and on, finding other sites. Some were more critical, especially about the treatment of women but this seemed to be mostly in Saudi Arabia. Then there was the war in Syria and wars popping up all over the place. There seemed a problem with different factions of Islam and some extremists. It all sounded so different from the world I had grown up in. Religion had been a mystery to me. We had never gone to Church. Dad had always scoffed like he did at everything. Here were rules to live your life by, a good life and at the end the reward of Paradise. I felt beguiled by it all. It was a strange, magical otherworld which had been right under my nose all this time.

I spent the whole day in bed, reading about Islam, sleeping, eating and drinking tea. I felt like a light had come on in my head. I felt different. I clicked on to Amazon and ordered a copy of the Koran. I wanted to know more.

I finally managed a shower, enjoying the pressure of the jet on my skin. I scrubbed myself fiercely. I felt like I was washing all the alcohol out of me and sloughing away all my old life.

In the evening I made stew for Dad and me and we sat and watched TV together. Stew was one of the few things I knew how to make. Mum had taught me before she passed. I suppose it was Irish stew that she had learned from her mother. It was simple and bland but comforting. The cubes of meat were chewy. For once Dad was half sober and we managed to get through the evening without arguing.

We ate with the bowls on our laps in front of the ever-present TV. Dad was addicted to it. That’s why I spend so much time in my bedroom, to avoid it. Tonight I humoured him. We watched a chat show and then a documentary. Later on there was an action film. Dad made a running commentary all the way through everything, mostly critical. I felt a new, fuzzy warm feeling enveloping me. Everything would be ok. That’s what it seemed to say.

When it was time to go to bed I got down on my knees at the side and prayed. I didn’t know how to pray as a Muslim but I just prayed anyway.

‘Dear Allah. Keep me safe. God bless Dad and Miles. God bless Taj. God bless Mum. Amen.’

‘God is great,’ I finished with, having read this expression on the internet. It probably wasn’t a Muslim prayer but it would have to do. I wondered if it was true if Mum was in Heaven like it said on the internet. I hoped so. I looked up and asked Allah to keep her safe.

‘Mum are you there? Are you ok? I hope you made it to Heaven.’

Mum had died years before and my memories of her were getting thin. I remembered warmth and laughter, pennies for sweets and heavy perfume.

It comforted me to think of her up there with Allah instead of scattered to the wind. It was all lovely. Hopeful. I had made a new discovery and it was all down to Taj. I felt warmer when I thought of him.

I felt cosy and loved and slept soundly. I dreamed of the Paradise I had read about that day. I imagined fountains and rivers, children playing with garlands of flowers, green grass, eternal sunshine, lions and lambs playing together. There was a total sense of peace. I loved it. Then I dreamed that Taj and I were together there too with two children, little dark haired boys. I was smiling in the dream, smiling like I never smiled, beaming with happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ch3 Syria My new novel Edited version

So a week had passed since my embarrassment with Taj. I had put it out of my head and concentrated on my work. I was so bored with coding, but I had to do it. Some days I enjoyed it: the challenge of solving the problem, of figuring it all out. There was a kind of beauty in it. But not today. Today I just wasn’t in the mood. I had been working in the computer lab all day and there was a dull thud in my forehead. I exited to the coffee bar. It wasn’t actually raining for once but the wind was bitter. I felt like it was trying to blow me over deliberately. I sat down at one of the tables with my usual hot chocolate. So good. There was no one I knew today. I played on my phone to avoid feeling awkward. I flipped through Twitter without interest. Someone had left a boy band or something. Everyone was tweeting about it. Big deal. I couldn’t get interested. Why were people so lame? So involved with rubbish. My mind wandered back to the program I had been trying to write all day. I dismissed it. I hadn’t seen Abbie since last Friday. She was lying low, not even responding to my texts. I had let her be. It was probably some guy as usual. I closed my eyes and tried to visualise a better future where I was rich and successful and lived in an apartment overlooking the Thames with long windows that let in natural light. Yes that would be wonderful.

‘Penny for them,’ a voice said.

I snapped open my eyes and there he was. Taj. Taj from last week whom I had deliberately not being thinking about.

‘I was just resting my eyes. I’m tired,’ I said.

‘Shame. I was going to invite you out,’ he said.

I eyed him nervously.

‘I’m afraid I’m not available,’ I said with as much coldness as I could manage.

Taj laughed. He seemed amused, unconcerned. It irritated me.

Then all of a sudden he grabbed my hand and dragged me upright.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘You only live once.’

Somehow we were outside in the street and then we were in his car again.

‘This car is so pretentious,’ I said.

‘You are so spikey. Don’t you like money?’ he said.

I considered the question. Did I like money? I wasn’t sure.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, looking at him with a sense of helplessness.

‘You are a funny girl Molly,’ he said.

I sighed. I had been told this before. I had no idea in what way I was funny. I glared and hunched deeper into the collar of my jacket.

His grin broadened, annoying me even more. He was laughing at me.

We pulled up in Rusholme outside one of the many Indian restaurants. This was a little, unprepossessing one I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t have a neon sign or a waiter outside trying to entice you in. I had been for curries many times in Rusholme. They were cheap and it wasn’t far from my home. Usually I came with Miles or very occasionally my Dad. I hadn’t been to this one before.

We went in and the waiter rushed up to Taj. He behaved like Taj was some visiting foreign prince. I was surprised. We sat in a booth. It felt private. The waiter fussed with some menus but Taj waved them away. He spoke in a language I didn’t understand and the waiter disappeared smiling obsequiously.

Taj smiled at me broadly across the table.

‘Have you just ordered for me?’ I said.

His smile managed to widen even further and he sat further back in his chair and poured us both some water.

‘You have. That’s so rude. How do you know what I like?’

‘You’ll love it. Believe me,’ he said.

I pouted and took a sip of water.

‘Do you want a drink?’ he said.

‘Do you?’ I said.

‘I don’t really drink. So I’ll just stick to the water. We are having lassi as well. Do you know what that is?’ he said.

‘I know what it is. I have been for curries before. I only live down the road. And yes. I do want a drink. Beer. Indian beer,’ I said.

Taj’s smile slipped slightly and he gestured to the waiter.

’Why aren’t you having a drink?’ I asked.

‘I don’t really drink. Not that I don’t weaken occasionally. It’s because I’m a Muslim,’ he said.

The perma-smile faded again and he leaned towards me, looking intently into my eyes, as if trying to figure out what I was thinking.

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘how interesting.’

Taj smiled again with relief.

The food and beer appeared preventing conversation for the moment. There was an awful lot of food. I knew some of the dishes but not all. As I served myself Taj talked me through the dishes, explaining the ingredients and spices used. I was yet again surprised, this time that he knew so much about the food. The beer numbed my nerves and I started to relax and enjoy myself.

‘So tell me about Islam. What else do you do apart from not drink?’ I asked.

I thought of my own alcoholic father and all the trouble and pain it had caused. Not drinking seemed like a pretty sensible lifestyle choice to me though I was amazed anyone could keep it up.

‘Are you really interested?’ Taj said.

‘Yes of course.’

‘Well, it’s hard to explain. My mum is a lot better at this stuff than me. You should talk to her. We go to the mosque, learn the Koran, we pray a lot, we give to the poor. We are supposed to go to Mecca once in our lifetime. We try to live a good life. That’s all.’

‘Sounds good,’ I said, genuinely taken with how good it did sound. Pure. So unlike my life and the life of all my friends. Were we living a good life? Weren’t we just lost in hedonism and dreams of riches. It occurred to me then that Taj seemed quite rich.

‘But you seem well off. I mean the car and everything. So how does that square with the whole good life thing?’

Taj looked down as if he didn’t know how to answer. Then he managed.

‘Well it’s not incompatible. I mean you can do more good as a rich man than a poor one. You can help people. My Dad helps loads of people in the community and back in Pakistan.

Having money doesn’t make you a bad person.’

I took in this novel information with interest. All my life I had been taught to despise rich people, to think of them as the enemy. Class War. Yet what Taj said made sense to me. How could you help anyone if you couldn’t even help yourself? I thought of my schoolmates of old, my father, my neighbours. None of them had really done any good to any one. They just struggled to look after themselves and mostly failed. There was something wrong somewhere.

‘So what does your Dad do? How has he made all this money?’ I said.

Taj’s eyes twinkled with delight.

‘He owns restaurants. He owns this one. Lots of others. He came to this country with nothing and started work as a waiter. He saved and worked his way up. He bought his first restaurant and built from there. He worked very hard. He still does.’

My eyes widened. I didn’t know any successful people. It was a humbling story. My family had lived here for generations and achieved precisely nothing. Why were we so feckless?

It explained the behaviour of the waiter. The staff were still nervously looking over at us, checking we were all right every few minutes, refilling my glass and generally fussing. I wasn’t used to it. I was used to being ignored.

Taj leaned across the table and took my hands in his. He stared intently into my eyes.

‘So you seem genuinely interested Molly. I’m so pleased. You should meet my mother. She can talk about the joys of Islam for hours. But she’s not serious. She’s great fun. You’ll like her.’

‘Yes I’d like that,’ I heard myself saying.

So the beer did its work and the rest of the evening became blurry to me. We talked and talked and ate and ate. There were so many flavours, sweetness and spiciness, heat and comforting naan. I loved it all. I felt wonderfully sated and happy. I remember leaving the restaurant. I remember being driven back to my house. Outside the door Taj took my face in his hand and kissed me gently. Then he was gone. I sat on the doorstep for a while in a daze, just thinking about what a good evening it had been and how serene I felt. I managed eventually to unlock the door, climb the stairs and collapse into bed without washing my face.

Taj.

He had been the perfect gentleman, not forcing himself upon me. So different to how I had imagined. I had thought him arrogant and shallow and yet there seemed so much more in there than I knew. I hadn’t known anyone like him. My mind was trying to resist but my heart was singing. Wake up Molly. My brain said he was too good to be true. Street savvy Molly don’t be taken in by this. What’s his game? What does he want? What’s he up to? Cynicism came easily to me. It was the streets I had grew up in, the school I had gone to, the whole environment bred mistrust. We were used to being treated as nothing. We were nothing. Surely Taj was too good to be true.

Sleep came quickly and I dreamed of Taj. I was falling…

 

Extract from my Second Novel Syria Ch 1 Edited version

Manchester

 

Rain.

Cold rain.

The kind of rain that soaks you to the bones, that gets right into you and chills you, the kind that makes you shiver. The kind of rain that would kill you if you were a delicate maiden in a Victorian novel. Not that I was a delicate maiden. Anything but. I thought of myself as tough or at least that was what I pretended to the outside world. Everybody was scared inside but I didn’t want anyone to know it. I had been tempered by this city into cold steel. It was the kind of rain that made me want to up sticks and go and live somewhere sunny: anywhere. Spain or Greece or one of those places you see on TV. I hadn’t ever been abroad. One day, one day I would manage this. Leave Manchester behind. Become an export.

So what else was new in Manchester? It seemed to be always raining that year. Being me I had come out unprepared. I had no waterproof coat, no umbrella, no hat. The rain had saturated my dark red hair, flattening it to my head and was dribbling down my neck. I raised the collar of my battered black leather jacket ineffectually against the deluge.

I bet I look a right mess, I thought.

How did I look? I looked well, like Molly. I was tall, almost six foot and very thin. Most would say skinny. My figure was quite boyish then. I didn’t have curves. I had red hair that was long and quite curly, though I preferred the term auburn. I just let it hang there wild and unruly. My eyes were green and I had lots of freckles on my nose in the summer. I suppose you could tell I was of Irish heritage from ten paces away. I was classic Irish redhead.

I couldn’t face the library looking like this. It was going to be horrible, sitting there, steaming away in my soaked clothes. I needed to go home. No, I needed to drink something warm first. Grasping this thought I headed for the university coffee bar that was in the basement of a tower block on the University of Manchester campus. I was studying computer science. It was boring as hell but I had high hopes my degree, if I ever got it, would stand me in good stead for a job, a ticket out of here. I wasn’t really friends with any of the nerd crew as I thought of the people on my course. The arts students were more fun, devil-may-care, more like me.

The coffee shop was not exactly pleasant but cheap and full of my own kind. It was safe and there wasn’t much chance of being chatted up by passing chancers trying their luck with me. I might bump into one of my fellow students to talk to, one of my so-called friends. Company would be good today.

I made the lift before the doors shut. There were two young male students in there and an old grey haired lecturer who avoided my gaze. The boys eyed me up in that leering way some males of the species have about them. Cocky. I stared straight ahead and was relieved when the doors opened at basement level. Being in enclosed spaces with the opposite sex made me feel uncomfortable for no real reason. Nothing really bad had happened to me, but I was wary. I had learned to look out for myself, to avoid gazes, to appear more confident than I felt. I had had to. I had grown up in this city, right in the centre, in Hulme, which until recently had been widely regarded as a no go area. Hulme, where the flotsam and jetsam of Manchester lived, those washed up on its shores, too feckless to get anywhere better. It was a place of immigrants but not new immigrants, really a place of second generation incomers, West Indians and Irish. It made me think of those signs you saw on TV, on pubs in the sixties: No blacks, no Irish, no dogs. Well Hulme was the opposite: plenty of blacks, Irish and dogs. Hulme, where even the cabbies wouldn’t go after dark, making you get out at the corner and walk the rest of the way home. Hulme, where the idiots I went to school with drive around in four by fours with blacked out windows, pretending they were Al Capone though they still lived with their mothers. They were making more money now than I probably would in a life-time. Now Hulme was gentrifying, changing with a new wave of immigrants, gay men in spick and span apartments who wanted to be close to the centre and the gay village they adored. It was changing. Everything was changing.

At the counter I ordered a hot chocolate and looked around for someone I knew. Thankfully, I spied Abigail sitting on her own staring into her mobile phone. Abigail, Abbie, was the closest I had to a real friend at university: Best mates.

Her face lightened when she saw me.

‘Molly, Oh my God you are here. You look SO wet. You have saved me from terminal boredom.’

I smiled back and pulled one of the orange plastic chairs from another table over. I wiped away someone else’s muffin crumbs and collapsed onto it. I took a swig of the hot chocolate and felt grateful for the warm richness sliding down into me. It was just what I needed. I inhaled the pleasant smells around me: fresh coffee and baked goods. I spread my legs wide in that unladylike way I had and settled back into the chair.

‘So what’s new in Abbie world?’ I said.

‘Oh Molly, I’ve been so stupid AGAIN. You know how I really like Jack. Well I went to Rockworld, you know to see if he was there, and like of course he wasn’t. So I just thought what the fuck let’s just get drunk so I did. So Jason turned up. I mean, my God, I don’t even like Jason but I was like so drunk. So of course I go back to his flat and all his mates are there in the living room drinking Jack Daniels and pretending they are in a band. Well, they are all losers so of course we go in the bedroom and I am SO drunk. So I’m lying there and he says to me he wants me to walk down his back with red heels on. He actually got these scarlet stilettos out of the wardrobe. I mean, really. So I actually did it. Can you believe? How much of an idiot am I? I mean that was the foreplay, we won’t talk about the main act because it really was NOT that memorable.’

She paused for breath and stroked her hair down waiting for my opinion, her hands fluttering around betraying her nervousness underneath the veneer of brash confidence.

I laughed but with affection. This was typical of Abbie. She was in deep love with Jack who already had a girlfriend, but slept with her occasionally when the mood took him. He was a grade A user but I didn’t tell Abbie this. The way I saw it, it was up to her what she did. Actually, I had tried to tell her a few times but it had always ended in an argument so I had given up. Abbie was loud, sweet and full of fun but she had a neediness in her which men took advantage of. She was tall and thin with long frizzy hair that was almost blonde. She was always trying to straighten the frizziness out of it but the damp weather meant it always managed to outwit her and make a comeback. She was stopping just short of being conventionally pretty.

‘Well at least you have learned you don’t like Jason. Just forget it and if you see him again ignore him. Anyway, if you didn’t like such shit music you wouldn’t end up in these situations. I mean, come on, Rockworld, it’s so passé. They are all meatheads with no manners. You need a better class of guy,’ I said.

‘A better class of guy? Like round here. Where exactly am I going to meet one of those?’ Abbie said.

She rolled her eyes for effect.

‘We could try the student union. It’s supposed to be okay on a Friday.’ I said.

‘You are not serious. The fucking student union? Come on! Nerd central,’ Abbie said.

I laughed again.

‘Don’t be so harsh. At least they’ve got prospects. Nice boys who’ll treat you like a lady,’ I said.

‘I don’t want to be treated like a lady. I want to be a crazy cool rock chick you know like what is she called? That blonde girl in that band. You know. That kind of thing. I am not into all that cheesy rubbish you dream about. All that hearts and flowers bullshit. It doesn’t exist, Molly. This is it. This is what’s real. You have to take your good times where you can find them. Anyway, I love a real man, a grungy guy, all down and dirty,’ Abbie said.

‘I am NOT into hearts and flowers. I don’t want any kind of love right now, dirty or clean.’ I said.

I was saved from arguing further by Abbie’s mobile phone ringing. I could tell by her panicked face it was some guy. She went into full flow, talking at one hundred miles an hour at the top of her voice. Everyone in the coffee bar would know Abbie’s business in ten seconds. Not that Abbie cared for anyone’s opinion. A few people looked over curiously, but turned away again when they saw my frown.

I took advantage of the break in conversation to glance around the room. It was pretty full, lots of people sheltering from the downpour. Some were talking, huddled conspiratorially in groups, others poring over laptops or phones, permanently plugged into cyber space. It seemed to me there was too much of this. They would miss the love of their life walking past while they were staring at a screen. Poor souls.

A large group of Asian students had managed to commandeer the only comfy sofas. They looked to be Indian or maybe from Pakistan originally or somewhere like that I reckoned. I observed them with interest. I loved to watch people, to try to work out what they were like, to guess from their appearance what made them tick. There were equal numbers of boys and girls, all well dressed in the latest fashions, designer labels probably unless they were fake. I wasn’t very good at telling. I couldn’t afford designer labels and to be honest they didn’t really interest me. I tended to shop in charity shops or looked for bargains in the supermarkets. I like to think I had my own style: a little quirky. I had a knack of putting odd things together quite well so I didn’t look the same as everyone else.

There was one girl who was beautiful. She had long sleek hair, almost black, and lots of make-up, kohl emphasising her wide eyes. She had a patterned scarf tied round her neck like people wore in TV sitcoms and a black leather jacket twinned with black jeans and long boots. Her nails were long and painted bright blue. I assumed they had been done at a nail bar, artificial. She was glamour personified, the exact opposite of me. I could just make out her accent as she talked. It went with everything else about her, the long vowels of received pronunciation suggesting an expensive, private education. I felt myself recoil somewhere inside like an instinct.

‘I mean honestly. At my school we were always engaged in political debates. Everybody knew about politics. There was a very vibrant debating society. It is so important to be aware, don’t you think? What is wrong with these people?’ she said.

Everything about her exuded confidence as she sat leaning back on the sofa with her legs crossed and her arms stretched wide, gesticulating as she talked.

My attention was drawn to the man she was addressing. My eyes widened as I looked at him. I had to admit he was probably the most attractive man I had ever seen in real life, not in a magazine or a film. What was he doing in the basement coffee bar of the University of Manchester? Why wasn’t he doing a photo shoot on a beach in St Tropez or something? Why wasn’t he walking down a catwalk in Milan enclosed in an over-priced suit? I felt something contract in me deep down inside and a deep sense of longing overwhelmed me. I was in lust at first sight. He was dark skinned, a walnut brown, and very tall and thin, over six feet. I couldn’t see his eyes because he was wearing big sunglasses, even though he was indoors. I thought the sunglasses made him look a bit of a prat, posing too much. Who did he think he was? A rock star? He also had on a black t-shirt and skinny jeans with red Converse boots. His mouth was shaped into an almost cheeky smile as he listened to the girl opposite him. His hair was longish, slightly curling around his shoulders and his seated position was relaxed, lounging in the space. Like the girl he exuded confidence. I wondered if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. His eyes wandered away from the girl and he saw me watching him. Our eyes locked for a fraction of a second and then I frowned deliberately and looked away.

My gaze returned to Abbie who was smiling at me delightedly.

‘Aha, I SAW you. Looking at him. MOLLY! You do not want to get involved with him,’ she said, waggling her finger at me like a strict school-teacher.

‘What are you talking about? I don’t want to get involved with him. I just glanced over for goodness sake. Anyway, even if I did why would you say that? What’s wrong with him?’ I said.

‘Oh nothing. I don’t know him. It’s just Asian men. You know. It doesn’t work out with white girls. It’s well known,’ Abbie said.

‘Abbie. You can’t say that. It’s racist. You are a shocker.’ I said.

‘I am NOT racist. It’s just I had this friend at school a few years above me and she married this Pakistani guy and he was like really horrible to her and wouldn’t let her go out or anything. In the end he made her go back to Pakistan with him. Yeeurrgh!’ Abbie said, looking earnestly at me.

‘Well that is sad I suppose. Anyway, what are we going to do on Friday. I need fun.’ I said, deftly steering Abbie away from the subject I did not want to dwell on.

‘Well,’ Abbie said, ‘We could try your idea and give the Student Union a whirl. I need a change.’

‘You’re on. See you Friday. I’ve got to get home and get out of these wet things.’

I beamed at Abbie. She did cheer me up. I gathered my nylon laptop bag from the table and walked out towards the lift, being careful not to look over at the table of the Asian guy.

Outside, it was still raining. What was it Mum used to say? Raining stair rods. She wasn’t wrong there. I hurried down the treeless streets towards home eventually arriving at our little house. I didn’t pass any greenery on the way, just tower blocks and pavement. It was about as urban as it was possible to get in the centre of the city. I was so used to it I didn’t think about the lack of nature then. It was all I knew. The wind funnelled between the blocks and nearly blew you off your feet. Our house was modern, red brick with a little railed front garden and white UPVC windows. Dad had put some pots out the front with red geraniums, but he hadn’t looked after them so now they were brown. The house was owned by the council. They had given it to us when our old tower block got demolished. It was all part of a regeneration project. It was great, a lot better than the old flats. I liked the way it looked like a private house if you didn’t know any better, all new and shiny.

I turned my key in the lock and went in shouting, ‘Dad, I am home! Are you in?’

There was silence. He wasn’t in. Probably in the pub again. I sighed heavily and pulled off my boots. In the kitchen I scoured the fridge for edible food. There was virtually nothing. I ended up dipping two sticks of celery in the mayonnaise pot and munched on this while I figured out what else I could eat. I went upstairs and showered, stripping off all my wet clothes. The shower was set up over the bath but the water flow was good and the force of it warmed me up again. I loved the shower. It was so much better than the old flat with the avocado coloured bath. I smiled at the thought of going out with Abbie on Friday. It would be good fun. My thoughts drifted back to the guy in the coffee bar. I imagined who he was. I decided he was a rich kid from the Home Counties and his father was a Harley Street doctor. He was going out with the glam girl and they were deeply in love. One day they would marry but before any children arrived he would die in a motorcycle accident. I admonished myself for giving him a mean end and laughed at myself for thinking of him. I wasn’t into men right now. I wanted a career and independence. I had seen too many girls go down that route, get pregnant and end up with no life. That was not for me. I was on my way up and out.

I flopped down on the bed in my tiny bedroom and waited for the water drops on me to dry off. I reached over and turned on the computer to listen to music. Heavy dub reggae filled the room. My favourite. I closed my eyes and almost fell asleep. The bass of the reggae mixed with another kind of banging, a regular beat. In my drowsy state it took a minute for me to realise that this new noise meant there was someone at the door. I grabbed my grubby fluffy bathrobe and headed downstairs. When I opened the front door it was Miles. Miles was my best friend not at university. I had known him since primary school. He was charcoal black with short, neat dreads. He was wearing baggy jeans and a corduroy brown jacket. He was artfully dishevelled. I smiled broadly.

‘Hey, Molly, I got chicken,’ he said.

‘You’re the best, Miles. The best friend in the whole wide world,’ I said.

I headed to the kitchen with Miles trailing behind. I put one portion in the oven to keep warm for Dad whenever, if ever, he returned tonight and then got two forks for Miles and me. We didn’t bother with plates and headed upstairs to eat straight from the cardboard. We lounged on my bed and chomped through the chicken without speaking for several minutes. Miles leaned over to the computer and switched the music to Bob Dylan.

‘Oi, I was listening to that! I like reggae better. Bob bloody Dylan. You’re lost in the sixties Miles,’ I said.

Miles just grinned and said nothing. He had finished the chicken and was working his way through the chips. I ate ravenously. At that time I could eat anything and never get fat. I was thin, no actually skinny, so I just ate what I liked. I had never had to diet. I still didn’t like my body though or think I was attractive. I was too angular, everything bony and sticking out, no curves. I wanted big breasts and curves like that TV chef. I thought she was so beautiful, so sexy and sensuous. What wouldn’t I have given to look like that? What did it matter any way? I didn’t need a man. I had Miles for company as a friend. That was enough. We both laid back on the bed with Bob Dylan whining in our ears. I liked Dylan really even though I teased Miles about it. There was something really relaxing about his music.

‘So what’s new, Miles?’ I said.

‘Nothing,’ said Miles.

‘Come on. Give,’ I said.

‘I wrote a song,’ Miles said.

‘Oh Miles, brilliant! Play it to me.’

‘I haven’t brought my guitar.’

‘Shame.’

Silence for a while.

‘You’ll be famous one day. I know it. More famous than Bob Dylan, you know. I can feel it,’ I said.

Miles gave a small smile.

‘Naw,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘We’ll go and live in LA in a huge mansion like on that show what is it? Best cribs or whatever. We’ll have a personal gym and a butler called Reginald. I’ll have a little dog called Milo who will go with me everywhere and bite people. I’ll run a huge software company and you’ll be a famous singer songwriter. You’ll write the soundtrack for films.’

‘Naw,’ said Miles but he was smiling still.

We snuggled together on top of the bed and I could feel his breathing getting deeper. We were almost asleep when there was the sound of the door banging open and shut again. There was swearing and grumbling coming from the kitchen. It was Dad back from the pub.

I leaped up and went to the top of the stairs.

‘Dad! There is chicken in the oven. I’m with Miles. We’re listening to music. You don’t need to come up.’

I could hear him gurning to himself in his drunken state.

‘Fucking women. Fucking women these days. There was a time I would have had me tea on the table so I would. What’s wrong with the world? No respect. That’s what. Toiled and slaved all my life for what? This shit. Fucking women. Fucking Molly. Pissing about at that la di da university when she should be looking after me.’

‘Dad, just get the chicken out of the oven. I’m busy,’ I said safe from my position at the top of the stairs.

I went back into the bedroom and locked myself in. Dad could be unpredictable when drunk. It was best to avoid him until he fell asleep.

Miles was frowning.

‘You should move out, Molly. Go and live in halls. You shouldn’t have to put up with that. You do everything for him. He’s a wanker,’ said Miles.

‘I can’t leave him. He wouldn’t be able to cope on his own. Look, Miles, it’s fine. He’ll be all right again in the morning,’ I said.

Miles lay down on the bed and closed his eyes, listening to the gentle music. I lay down as well. Crashing and banging sounds were still coming from downstairs and then the sound of the television: voices and canned laughter.

‘We’ll always be friends won’t we Miles? You’ll never leave me will you? Promise,’ I said.

Miles flicked open his eyes and smiled.

‘I promise,’ he said.

Miles had never made a move on me. He didn’t have a girlfriend. Sometimes, I suspected he was gay but he had never admitted it to me. Anyway, it didn’t matter to me. I just loved having him there for me, a true friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the British Election 2017

So things get weirder and weirder. We wake up to find a hung parliament and the Prime Minister Theresa May seeking coalition with the DUP of Northern Ireland. We are in a strange no-man’s land like the day after a party.

As a life long leftie the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party almost felt like a victory. I have grown used to defeat. The British Left usually shambles along, edging further and further away from socialism into the  over-crowded centre ground. We are all resigned to it. Politics is as dull as ditch water presided over by men in identical suits who all look like estate agents. Then suddenly along comes Jerermy Corbyn to lead the Party. He is that rarest of things – a real socialist. He has principles and everything. He doesn’t believe in nuclear war; he thinks dialogue is the way to solve problems; he believes in decent housing and a living wage; he wants to save the NHS from oblivion.  He is Gandalf leading us out of Mordor back to the shire and the 1970’s or the 1950’s. The press said he was unelectable and would consign Labour to the wilderness. The pundits attacked him at every opportunity. He didn’t quite get elected but he nearly did. He was just a few seats short. He was brilliant on the campaign trail, making rousing speeches and connecting with people. It was glorious. I woke up to the news and felt almost elated. After all I had been expecting total defeat, such is the lot of the long suffering Leftie.

People have had enough. They want something different. The young were actually roused from their slumbers and went out and voted. This alone is an incredible achievement.

Theresa May is limping on but for how long? I almost feel sorry for her. She proved on the campaign trail not to be a very nice person, hiding from the voters, making personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, refusing to debate the opposition. She cut a bizarre figure scurrying from one rented hall to another addressing the party faithful almost in secret. It was like Marie Antoinette avoiding the baying, unwashed mob. She was as a Headmistress of an ever so nice girls’ school, pretending to be lovely but underneath all scrawny hatred and frustration and bile. This is middle-England in all its vileness. I have met so many of the type.

So here we are. Not quite entering the socialist utopia with equality for all but almost. Aslan is on the move at last. Be afraid arrogant Tories.

Be humbled.

Thoughts on the Manchester Attacks

It has taken me a while to be able to write about the recent terrorist attack in Manchester and just as I was about to do so another one happened in London. I want to just concentrate on the Manchester one in this piece.

I heard it first on the morning news as I had gone to bed early. It seemed the most despicable thing you could think of: going to a concert full of little girls and teens to blow them up in the name of Islamic Jihad. It takes some getting your head around. Indeed you can’t get your head around it, not ever.

I know Manchester well. I lived there for years right in the heart of the inner city and I taught in schools. As the police raided areas where the terrorists had lived it was like a roll call of my old stamping grounds. Inner city Manchester is very mixed. There are traditional white working class among third generation Asians, Carribeans, Africans, Chinese and newer waves of immigrants who are often refugees from war zones. The schools have ever changing populations. I thought of the terrorist who turned out to be the British born son of Libyan immigrants living in Fallowfield. This was a typical Manchester boy, nothing would have seemed out of the ordinary. There are so many like him.

I taught a lot of Muslim boys in my time in Manchester. Some from Pakistan, some from Somali, and no doubt lots of other places. Usually, they were quite easy to teach. They could be cheeky and mildly mischievous but usually buckled down quickly enough. They didn’t mind my discipline. Maybe they were used to it from the mosque or from home. They were certainly usually more amenable than the Carribean boys who I always struggled with. It is hard to think that one of these harmless boys might grow up to be a suicide bomber.

Inner city Manchester is multi-cultural. At school they all rubbed along together but the communities really kept themselves separate from each other. There wasn’t much mixing of friendships. I was aware of some racial slurring between the groups. It was a harsh place with lots of poverty and little green space. It seemed to kind of work. I met some good people and though I have mixed memories I did have some very good times in the clubs, bars and restaurants of such a varied city.  A Rusholme curry was my favourite go to comfort food. It is a long way from the coddled Home Counties upbringing of much of the London chattering classes who decide things about our country.

How could it happen? A boy who has grown up in the city, gone to school, attended the mosque in the evening, watched TV, played football in the street…then decides to go and kill some of the people of this very same city.

I have no answers. Nobody seems to have any answers. Those of us on the Left can point to British foreign policy, bombings and invasions which have stirred up resentment and anger. This isn’t enough though to explain such brutal act freely chosen. We could point to the fractured nature of our society where so many feel alienated. Still not enough.

We have no answers.

As a spiritual person I always struggle with the problem of evil in the world. It seems to be there in the warp and weft of nature and in people. How can God let this be? I don’t know.

As we learn more it seems that the signs were all there. Trips back and forth to Libya, reports from the mosque goers of support for Jihad from the perpetrator, a possible ISIS flag draped from the bedroom window, reciting verses from the Koran in the street. We imagine he was on some kind of watch list.

I always come back to the possibility of mental illness. It seems the only way to explain such actions yet the media virtually dismiss this and concentrate on ISIS as the explanation.

It does not seem within the spirit of any religion to commit senseless acts of violence like this. I have read the Koran and nowhere does Mohammed condone such actions but it is full of violent actions but usually in the context of war. The Old Testament also has such stories. There are no Christian suicide bombers I know of.

ISIS seemed to have perverted Islam into some kind of death cult whose brutality reminds one of the Nazis. It is impossible to understand in any rational way. But then people are not rational.

I wonder what was going through his mind as he walked to the Manchester Arena with the intention to kill and be killed. Did he really believe he would be welcomed into Heaven as an Islamic martyr? Maybe he does.

Old as I am I can remember the IRA bombings. I did think there would never be an end to them but then somehow through dialogue and compromise there was a ceasing.

How do we deal with ISIS? Is it possible to negotiate with an organisation like this who want an Islamic caliphate across the world? Or is the answer to destroy them, wipe them from the face of the earth?

I have no answers but we pay our taxes to those who tell us that they know better than us, that they will protect us and our way of life. They have failed to do this. They seem to have no answers either. Their platitudes do not help. The well meaning vigils and candles are lovely expressions of humanity but they are not an answer. We are told to keep calm and carry on. We are British after all. The Blitz is referenced often. Yes we will do that but while the bombs were raining down on London in the War there were men doing the same to the enemy, doing the unpleasant things we don’t want to think about but which need to be done to keep us safe.

We need to listen, we need to learn, we need to understand but we must also act.

We need an answer.

Labour Leadership Election

As a member of the Labour Party soon I will have to vote in the Labour leadership election. There are now only two candidates: Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.

I am totally at a loss. I don’t know who to vote for. I voted for Corbyn originally. Now I am not so sure. I think he is a good person with decent values. He still believes in socialism. He wants a fairer, more equal society. There is nothing wrong with this. However, even though he has massive support from the rank and file membership the Parliamentary Party will not support him. They have been busy mounting coups and stabbing him in the back while resigning from their positions. These MPs say Corbyn is unelectable but from where I’m standing they have made the party more unelectable by creating so much division. It all looks like a total shambles. If Corbyn doesn’t have the support of the MPs it all looks impossible. Even though I think he is a man of integrity I am not sure any more he is the right person to lead. He doesn’t handle the media well and he ducked out of the TV debates.

Up against him is Owen Smith. I have never heard of him until this past week. Who knows what he believes. I read that he used to lobby for a pharmaceutical company. This is not giving me hope. He is a Blairite. We have all had enough of Blair. We need clear water between the Tories and Labour, not Tories and Tory Lite which is exactly what we get with the Blairites.

So I am back to voting for Jeremy Corbyn.  I wish the whole party , MPs and members, could really get behind him, unite and build a social movement. It could be fantastic. I am not sure they are going to. If Corbyn wins and the MPs don’t want him I fear for the end of the Labour Party that I have supported all my life.

We live in dangerous times.

 

 

Theresa May and the myth of women’s equality

The elevation of Theresa May to Prime Minister of the United Kingdom should make feminists happy. There is a woman in the top job. I notice most of them are not because she is not a lefty. There seems to be a school of thought that all real feminists are left wing. I remember Margaret Thatcher. She certainly didn’t seem much of a feminist. She liked power for herself but I don’t recall her doing much for the advancement of women. I am trying to be hopeful about Theresa May. She has made all the right noises so far but who knows? Politicians always say the right things at the beginning.

Many people tell me that women have achieved equality in the work place. We have equal pay and supposedly equality of opportunity. I am not sure this works for many women in practice though.

I only have my own experience in teaching to go on. It may be the same in other professions. It may be different. I always thought of myself as a feminist even as a young child. I hated the way my mother was deferential to my father and skivvied round after him. I could see inequality with my own eyes. It was true we were treated equally with boys at school. We could take what subjects we liked. I was one of only three girls doing Physics O level as they were then. I could see that I was more intelligent than many of the boys from my test results. I was just as good as them, if not better. It was noticeable that they had an arrogance that the girls did not have.

At university I started to see that things were still sexist. The arts subjects were awash with women and the sciences and engineering had much fewer. In my naivety I had not realised that this was because the scientists would command higher salaries in all likelihood. Nobody had told me about pay differentials in what people earn. I had absolutely no idea about it. Of course there are opportunities in the arts but they are fiercely competitive and often precarious. There are lots of people going after the same thing. Still I was never any good at Maths so I stayed away from those areas. I saw sexism from some of the academic tutors who seemed to have a dismissive attitude towards their female students. It was the first time I had come across this. it began to dawn on me that the world was more sexist than I realised.

I made the stupid decision after university to become a primary teacher mostly because there were so few jobs at the time due to economic implosion post-Thatcher ism. I encountered real sexism in this profession. There were few men but the men that there were were groomed for promotion almost from the get go. I saw some virtually useless male teachers promoted to positions they were not suited to. There seemed to be some kind of unwritten rule that women just wanted a little job. They didn’t want to be head teachers. The men did. Of course some women broke through but they were usually of a type: hard, nasty, sharp elbowed and ruthless. Male leaders would come in all personality types and the more avuncular ones were often the most successful. The weirdest thing was that  most women would take part in their own downfall. They would not push themselves forward. If a fresh faced young male graduate joined the staff he would be fawned over and told how wonderful he is at every opportunity. It was sickening. I was told more times than I care to recall that I should just give up and have children, even from one person that I could never be a fulfilled woman until I had done so. I don’t recall seeing my mother being particularly fulfilled. I was once told by my Headteacher I was too nice to be promoted. I did try to emulate the hard bitches but it never worked for me. I just wasn’t really like that I suppose. Myself aside as maybe I was passed over because I wasn’t any good I did see many many capable women in the same position.  As a result of all this I don’t believe that women have real equality in the work place. They face more barriers to getting on from both men and women.

As far as men in the work place go there are some real male inadequates in teaching. Seeing a strong woman as an intstant threat they would veer between calling you a misandrist and a lesbian to low level sexual harassment. All of this is unacceptable. I noticed if a woman made a mistake she would be vilified but if a man did excuses would be made for him. Everyone makes mistakes but in this profession only women make them.

So I don’t think women have achieved a real equality at all. There is still a long way to go. These days I seem to have lost my feminist credentials along with my career. I stay at home and write a bit like some Edwardian lady. I am not proud of myself or my total dependence on my spouse. It has to be said in my defence I couldn’t have tried harder to build a successful career for myself. I felt barriers at every turn.

So Edwardian lady hobby writer it is them. You must excuse me. I have some roses to dead head. Good luck Theresa. I wonder how you did it. Let’s hope you don’t turn out to be as nasty as Mrs T.

The EU Referendum Result – Thoughts

Britain has voted to leave the European Union. I still can’t quite believe it. I couldn’t write yesterday because I felt too upset but today I have managed to marshall some thoughts. When I first found out, looking at my phone yesterday morning I was in total shock. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.  I was crying on and off through the morning.

Part of my new regime is not to let things get to me so much so rather than crawling back to bed with a bottle of wine as I might have done in the past I put the dog in the car and drove to Felixstowe for a beach front walk. Everything had changed but nothing had changed. Pensioners and mothers were out enjoying the fine weather. As I walked along I actually felt good – feeling the sun on my head and the wind in my hair. Everything was ok. It did me good.The world had not ended – it was still spinning on its axis.

I was really wedded to an idealistic version of the EU. I liked the idea of nations joining together, sharing common aims and values, working for peace and prosperity. I liked the idea of free movement and the fact I could settle in any of the member states if I chose to. I thanked the EU for the peace we have enjoyed in Europe since 1945. I liked the way they seemed to provide a brake on the worst excesses of the Tory government. This was why I was so sad to hear the news that a majority of the British people had voted to leave.

It is hard to know the reasons for doing so. Much of the media has blamed working class racism. Others have said it’s not really about that. I am from a working class area in the north. Some people certainly were racist when I was a child. Asian people arrived in some numbers in the late 70s. They were universally referred to as “Pakis”. Nobody would live next to them. If they moved next door people sold their houses. This ended up with a kind of voluntary segregation. I don’t know if attitudes have changed as I haven’t been back for years. Probably they haven’t. Since then there have been plenty more waves of immigration – refugees from war zones in Africa, Eastern Europeans looking for work, Asians looking for a better life. Looking at the north of England vox pops on Channel 4 news most people mentioned immigration as the number one issue in the referendum. I am not sure why they are so worked up about it. Maybe they think the immigrants have taken their jobs, or driven down wages or taken up housing. It could be these things. It could be that they see their own culture declining. I have never quite understood what British culture is. I am not sure that a lot of people have one. Anyway, worries about immigration seem to have played some part. This does not mean that all those who voted Leave are racists as some on social media have tried to make out.

It may be a kind of protest vote. They feel neglected and powerless. Their areas have been in decline for years. Politicians of all stripes ignore them. This was their chance to stick it to the Establishment and they did. The media don’t seem to understand working class communities. Journalists seem well bred, public school educated types and I grow tired of their simplistic takes on areas they don’t understand. Many of the media are blaming “the poor” for Brexit with an undertone that they are too stupid and ignorant to understand the issues. This is divisive talk. They had their reasons, whatever they are and they should be listened to by the elites, not dismissed.

What has largely been ignored in the many newspaper articles I have read is that wealthy swathes of southern England also voted to leave. They are not poor, not dispossessed but doing very nicely thank you. Why on earth would they rock the boat and leave the EU? I have absolutely no idea. It is these people that I can’t understand. I currently live in a prosperous market town. It voted to Leave.

We are entering uncertain times. The pound is in free fall, the markets jittery, businesses are threatening to pull out. It is all scary stuff. What terrifies me is that Gove, Farage and Johnson et al will get what they wanted: an unfettered free market where they can treat the workers like dirt without a worry about European Union regulations. It will be like Thatcherism gone mad: Maggie on and acid trip. It is horrifying.

But hey this is the new me. The me that is not going to get depressed right? That means I am not going to wallow in worst case scenarios or mope about the result.

The people have spoken. They want to leave the EU. Fine. Let’s get on with it.

So what’s the plan? How do we stop the ultra right from getting what they want? By making the progressive Left stronger. All partied on the Left must join together to defeat Boris and his ilk. We need co-operation and understanding. We need to listen to people and  to understand their concerns. We need decisive action and decisive leadership. Maybe Corbyn can do it. Maybe he can’t. Someone must.  We really could take this as an opportunity to build a new Jersusalem. We could build a country to be proud of based on egalitarianism and equality of opportunity for all. We could face out to the world instead of facing in and make trade agreements with Africa and Asia. We could strengthen bonds with the old Commonwealth and find a new community of nations to belong to.

Comrades let’s work for a truly green and pleasant land. We will be so great Europe will be begging for us to come back. Does that sound like a plan?

 

Death of Jo Cox MP

A British MP, Jo Cox, has been gunned down in a British street. I can’t remember this ever having happened before. MPs have been killed before by the IRA but this seems different. Residents of Yorkshire villages are not used to people being shot on their doorsteps. Britain is not a gun culture. This is a highly unusual event.

As far as I can gather from reading the papers and watching the news the gunman was a middle aged man who had long had mental health problems. There is some speculation that he had an interest in far right politics though this is not clear. Jo Cox was his MP and has taken an interest in world affairs, is pro-EU and an advocate for refugees. She used to work for Oxfam. Eye witnesses could not seem to agree if he had shouted “Britain First” before the attack. Britain First have distanced themselves from the incident.

When I first heard I felt profound shock. Details emerged about what a lovely person the MP seemed to be, full of energy and conviction, committed to a better world and to equality for all. This seems to make the tragedy worse. I feel the need for a period of mourning as a nation and indeed the campaigning on the EU referendum has temporarily stopped.

What I am surprised at are the number of people using the death as a way to score political points. On Twitter and in the papers some commentators are placing the blame squarely at the feet of the Leave campaign. This seems grossly unfair. Polly Toynbee’s article in today’s Guardian is a prime example. She is ramping up the rhetoric of hate, comparing Gove and Johnson to Oswald Mosely and Enoch Powell. This is utterly ridiculous. I am for Remain but smearing all my opponents as racist is not going to help matters. Toynbee is responding to a hate crime with more hate. As many sages have said, wiser than me, you cannot drive out hate with hate.

Jo Cox should be remembered with love and in her memory we should all try to be loving towards one another. I shall try to use her as a role model, to try to be more like her, to love more in an attempt to remove the darkness that sometimes resides in my heart. I can feel her death as tragic but I can also feel compassion for a mentally ill man, struggling with unemployment, feeling rejected from a society that bore him.

All the facts have yet to unfold and many will change their views no doubt as we find out more.

Let’s hope we can honour a life well lived in  a civilised fashion.

 

 

The Orlando Tragedy: Some thoughts

So we are all reeling in shock at the news of yet another mass shooting in the US. Many column inches have been written, tweets of condolence have been tweeted, facebook profile pictures have been changed. Politicians have pontificated. What is going to change? It seems like a breaking point has been reached. Something must be done. Will anything ever be done?

The facts of the case have opened up lots of cans of worms among the political class. Everyone is quick off the mark to say their piece depending on which tribe they belong to. Everyone is trotting out the usual platitudes.

It seems to me that lots of people are not willing to call a spade a spade. Coming from the north I have always been used to plain speaking. Sometimes I think it’s not that much of a virtue and sometimes can be seen as hurtful and rude. However, over the Orlando shootings we seem to have reached peak political correctness. This is otherwise known as bullshit. It is time to stop lying and call things as they are.

Arguments are ensuing about what is the cause of the attacks. The gun control lobby says it would not have happened with strong gun control laws. This is blatantly false. Criminals can obtain guns in the most repressive of states. The Paris and Brussels attacks took place in countries with strict gun laws. It may have been ridiculously easy for the gunman to obtain a weapon in the US but he could have got one anyway if he was determined enough.

Some say it is to do with mental illness. From what I have read this may be a partial truth. Omar was violent and had mood swings according to family members. However he does not seem to have been under psychiatric care. He was not restrained in a mental health unit as a danger to the public. He had a job at G4S. He was able to function in society. This does not sound like someone dangerously mentally ill. If he was, what can be done to prevent such shootings in the future? It seems there is a need for a much better mental health care system. Vulnerable individuals need to be flagged up and taken care of? Why aren’t they? Nobody seems to care until it is too late.

Some say it is a homophobic attack. This also seems a truth at least in part. The gunman chose a well known LGBT club. He had made homophobic remarks in the past. In this interpretation, he is seen as a lone wolf full of hate. He has a revulsion towards gay people which he must act out on. Possible. I don’t think this is the whole truth though.

Some say it was an Islamic extremist terrorist attack. The Islamic State has taken credit for the incident. His links with the Islamic State seem at best tenuous. He acted alone. He was born in the US. He was a Muslim and he attended the mosque. He may have been radicalised on the internet, connecting with IS through websites and social media. Is it all do do with Islam? Is it nothing to do with Islam? Is it something to do with Islam? This depends on who you speak to.

Hilary Clinton tweets that Islam is a religion of peace and love. So to her it is nothing to do with Islam. It is hard to accept this totally. Obviously, most Muslims are peaceful and law abiding. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is a prime example of this. He has no problem with gay people celebrating life in bars. However, there are some Muslims who do not agree. Homosexuality is condemned in the Koran as it is in the Old Testament. Some Christians and some Jews also condemn homosexuality. However, very few Christians and Jews act on this ancient law. Many Islamic countries do. Being gay in many of these countries is punishable by death. The Islamic state in Syria are throwing gay people from high buildings. This punishment is mentioned in the Koran. I know. I have read it. Homophobia does have something to do with Islam or at least a literal interpretation of it.

Trump tweets that all Muslims should be not allowed in the US. This is too simplistic, knee jerk and is not the answer. It is unworkable even if one agreed with the principle. It would also be a human rights disaster zone.

The Left in Britain, of which I count myself one, has a problem with all this. Everyone is terrified of being called Islamophobic. Everyone loves the cuddly and accepted gay community. These are givens. However, it is not logically possible to be in support of a religion which openly castigates gay acts. Where does this leave the Left? Caught in an ideological contradiction it leads to silence. It leads to not mentioning things that need to be mentioned. It leads to double think and the thought police.

Everyone needs to be able to talk about these things honestly and openly, to dare to say how they feel without worrying they will be expelled from their tribe. I know that some Imams preach homophobia in British mosques. They may do in the US for all I know. This needs to be discussed.

The events in Orlando are incredibly sad. It seems to me we are no nearer a solution. Talk is cheap but what are we actually going to do? We must do something.