Decisions to make? Make soup.

There are many very good pieces, courses, posts about how to make decisions, especially personal decisions. Make decision trees, think about goals and values, keep a diary, write down the pros and cons….many great ideas. Here is mine. Make soup after a walk.

Those thoughts rummaging around in the dark bits of the back of your head need to be unfolded and examined before folding them properly and putting them on the right shelves nearer the front. Leave the house, wander around and stumble across a path you hadn’t noticed before that cuts behind the castle and passes some sheep, a heron and some lovely hedgerows. Or for the more urban of you, a path that climbs up past that estate and takes you to the old school buildings and the park where there are herbs growing wild and unexpectedly in between the planned and planted trees and hydrangeas.

Let your legs do the thinking, pacing through unknown points of light and striding away from doubts and those niggly hesitancies and feelings of responsibility that cloud over, rain on and obscure the path . Don’t slip! Stride carefully, avoid those muddy puddles, emerge into the sunshine where the path is clean, the earth smells good, and the way forward is more visible. There are still overhanging branches and a few potholes but away ahead, if you squint a bit, you can see the horizon.

Go home. Choose your best pot. Select your vegetables. Admire the assortment on the bench in front of you. Smell them, consider a spice, wash your produce. And then CHOP! Dice, chop, dice some more, watch the veg become something else, little pieces of deliciousness and health, notice how those big old pieces of grubby veg are turning into nuggets of delight. Pile them into the bowl, feel the satisfaction of a job well done.

Steam your stock with your herbs, the scent will uplift you. Breathe it in. Stir your lovely vegetables into the butter and olive oil, watch as they start to shine, listen to the crackle as they fry, revel in the scent of nourishment. You only have to add the stock and seasonings and sit back. And magically, while you are doing this, those untidy unfolded thoughts that had started to behave themselves while you were out straighten out and tidy up. Stir…that’s one tatty idea put to bed. Taste…there goes another. Add onion salt…another thought sits up and straightens his tie. All these ideas, thoughts, feelings, turmoils, promises coagulate under that old fella Integrity and alongside the slightly less glamorous but equally important and beautiful The Right Thing and take a shape that you will recognise. Then along comes your best friend Imagination to wrap around the package and hold it all together so you can fold it, smooth it, cuddle it and put it on the right shelf where it is accessible, visible and righteous.

And boom. Your legs, the vegetables, the herbs, the chopping and stirring have marshalled all those fragments of ideas and thoughts into entire whole living organic outcomes. Plus, you have delicious soup. What’s not to like?

And now I am off to eat my mildly spiced celery, red onion and spinach soup. Bon appetit.

Enniscorthy remembers Bloody Sunday

By Dan Walsh at Enniscorthy

A minute’s silence was observed and the names of fourteen civilians shot dead during acivil rights rally in Derry fifty years ago were read aloud and remembered in Market Square, Enniscorthy, today.

Johnny Mythen T.D. told that the Bloody Sunday 50th Anniversary remembrance event in Enniscorthy was organised by Sinn Féin, but it was non-political and open to everybody.

It was a dignified ceremony with Deputy Mythen reading the names of the victims, a minute’s silence was observed, Deirdre Barker and Marie Doyle read appropriate poems and the occasion concluded with Ger Sheehan singing ‘The Town I Loved So Well’.

Thirteen civilians were shot dead when British soldiers of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on people who had been attending a civil rights rally in Derry city on 30 January 1972.

They were Patrick ‘Paddy’ Doherty, Gerald Donaghey, John ‘Jackie’ Duddy, Hugh…

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You know those days, the days when you want to say sorry to everyone you have ever met and print out apologies to people you have yet to meet so you can hand them out before a word is exchanged, those days when every single choice you have ever made looms up and shouts at you what a chump you are?  You do?

Those are the days when every bite of meat before becoming vegetarian feels like an untenable error of judgement, every mouthful of cheese or butter before becoming vegan is a crime against humanity.

” Regrets, I have a few (million) but then again, no time to mention (them all because they would take years just to articulate)”

The weight of all the animals slaughtered to feed me is unbearable; the cruel words I have used towards people I love parade through my head just quickly enough to allow a lot of them, but slowly enough for my guilty head to savour and feel them and become increasingly crushed and penitent. The neglect, avoidance, failures, all those memories line up to take a swing at me.  POW! That’s for when you ignored your Mothers grief. WHAM! That’s for when you said those ghastly things to your husband. BAM! That’s for not listening to your colleague who was distressed.  BANG! That’s for that ugly arrogance you carry around. But this isn’t, really, about me. Not really.

Penitent: feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong; repentant.”

Repentance:  the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse.”

Remorse: deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed”.

Maya Angelou was potentially comforting: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Except when one does not believe one has done ones best.

First world problem, of course. Self-indulgent breast beating and a way to avoid actually doing anything about it. Those words, Penitent, Repentant, Remorseful, are feelings with no real action attached. Where is a hair shirt when you need one? And yet, again, what would that achieve other than a middle class privileged satisfaction in self-abasement?

Johnny Cash knew a thing or two:


I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

So, we do stuff, we join groups, action groups, civic groups; we take part partly although not entirely in the hope that it will wash our sins at least a lighter shade and remove some of the surface grime. We Atone.

ALERT: recovering Catholic here. Guilt was my major. Sins reported and regretted were sins absolved, so perhaps marginally better than no religion at all when personal responsibility is flung back into your sorrowful self-indulgent face. Of course there is more to it than that – hopefully we also do things altruistically trying to making things better for others as well. I think so. I hope so.

DH Lawrence poem, Piano, is more about nostalgia than remorse but regret is its underblanket. Regret for all the spaces and times between that childhood and the moment inside the adulthood of now. It speaks.

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

And finally, in this attempt to express and perhaps contain guilt, one of Frosts incomparable descriptions of self-alienation and the deep grooves and welts that form in the self when insight and self-awareness open the eyes to regrets and darknesses. There is more than one darkness…

Acquainted With The Night
Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

The darkness fades when the light finally seeps in through the cracks, and gets folded away onto a shelf in the back of the head, tidy and parked for future use. We regret and move on, or not. There are some regrets that sit perfectly in amber radiating a toxic beauty of their own and remain impervious to atonement or remorse. They are the regrets that wait comfortably in their lovely prison, judging the best time to re-emerge and remind us of our fallibility. They serve a purpose. Humility is a gift. Love is our forgiveness.

Bye Bye Billy Bragg

Bye Bye Billy Bragg. Never thought I would say those words. His songs, his lyrics, spoke to me in earlier times. Thatcher times. He was Right On in the best possible way, he simply proclaimed decent values coupled with history and it was powerful. His songs moved me and helped me retain a sense of value and to think through some of my own bias, class, upbringing. I respected and admired him and he spoke for me.

Fast forward to now. We have a vicious often violent and threatening movement that has gleefully hopped onto the bandwagon of trans rights and is hijacking it, trying to reduce womens rights and safe spaces, mocking them and objectifying them with impunity. Women have been sacked, ridiculed, harassed, hounded, stalked, for believing women should retain their penis free zones and rights and having the audacity to say so. Women, know your place! Abusers hide in plain sight whenever they can because that way they have better access to their victims. What better plain sight in which to hide than a movement that claims to want to defend rights that are not in fact under threat but by claiming it is so can impact on safe spaces? Too numerous to list here are the incidents of men dressed as what they think women are, wearing the costume of a faux woman, infiltrating womens spaces and abusing, exposing themselves, harassing and then crying victim, using that trendy word “transphobe” to elict a kneejerk response from people who think they are doing the right thing but who have been groomed otherwise.

And Bragg has bought into this. He has changed his lyrics to proclaim that. His male privilege has got the better of him, and maybe also his rush to retain his right-on credentials. He blocks women who disagree, even mildly and politely (I was one of those carefully courteous women who found themselves blocked), the no debate thing writ large. My way or the highway. I am man, hear me roar, I am right, know your place. That this is disappointing is an understatement. One always felt that Bragg could be relied on to be thoughtful, to be balanced and passionate at the same time. Never, at any point did I have in my head “misogynist” in the same sentence as Billy Bragg — until now. How else might we describe a (wealthy white middle aged) man who refuses to discuss an issue that fundamentally impacts women badly and loudly and proudly proclaims his opposition to a reasonable stance taken by….women? Know how he could regain and improve his right-on credentials better? By supporting women in this. That would not mean being anti-trans, it would mean being anti-abusive-trans. It would mean having the ability to see and cut through the well-funded and promoted misleading hype and do what he used to do — see the reality.

OK. Now for the unpopular bit. Men and women cannot change their sex. They can — and should be able to without fear — live as they like, appearing as they like, with whatever name they want. And in fact this is mostly the reality and has been for some time, in part because of the sterling work done by Stonewall when it was a decent organisation. That was a long time ago and it bears no resemblance to that transformative and ethical organisation any more. Simon Fanshawe recognised that, and how painful that must have been. But as long as women are abused by men, that the abuse is not rare but is the relative norm, that men are skilled at finding ways to source victims, women need their own spaces, penis free, male free, women only. And that trope about “transwomen are women” is specifically intended to muddy that water and create the visceral fear about appearing “phobic” and attracting the venom and threats suffered by others. Transwomen are transwomen, transmen are transmen — and while we are here can we take a moment to notice that transmen are by and large just getting on with their lives and not trying to reduce anyones rights and spaces? Can we take a further moment to recognise that this may be because they are not in the business of creating or sourcing victims? I will also take this moment to underscore that this does not on any level mean that all transwomen are abusers. It is recognising that they are not, but that some abusers will present as trans in order to abuse. This is not in dispute. What is also not in dispute is that, overall, women are supportive of transwomen, or indeed simply of trans. We have endured centuries of discrimination just for being who we are, we get it. Lesbians were fundamental to the support of gay men and transsexuals back in the day and still are. Maybe that is why this bloodied nose is all the more painful for us.

Another way in which women — especially women of a certain age — are ridiculed by those on the transwagon is by evoking the 80s and reflecting that given the gender fluid context in evidence then, we should know better. Maybe, transwagon, consider that we do actually know better and it is you who doesn’t, you who are misunderstanding and thoughtlessly following an abusive trend intended to capture you and humiliate women. How do you like them apples? Genderfluid is hotwired into us, it isn’t even a discussion, we get it, we have never disputed that gender can be fluid and sexuality is variable and often changeable and have gloriously celebrated that with some often brilliant sometimes unusual sex. Great fun. What we dispute is that people, humans, can change their sex and that men, any men, should have the right to invade womens safe spaces.

So, Billy Bragg, you have declared your place on this. And it is at odds with what I had expected from you. But on reflection perhaps I should not be surprised, you are after all a man and while I like quite a few men there are some unifying male characteristics that are not admirable. A strain of deafness that happens when women start to debate is one of them.

Finally — I quote one of your songs, Billy. “While talking to the wife-beater next door”. Abuse comes in many forms, and hiding in plain sight is a common characteristic. You know this. Maybe time to reflect on that.

Time to speak. Woman+Autism

It’s probably time I spoke, which might come as a surprise to some.

It’s time I spoke about my very very liveable autism. Self diagnosed and late to be recognised, but with a family steeped in autism, lived, academic and working, and a nudge from a friend in the business, I believe I don’t need to go any further.

I am a woman, and women historically slip under the radar for autism recognition, we become super-pilots navigating non-recognition like a boss. Boys are five times as likely to be recognised as autistic. Women and girls often learn basic social skills and fake social interactions, which can mask many autistic traits. We are damn good at it. Women and girls with Autism often try very hard to ‘fit in’. When they don’t, it can make them feel like a failure. We are so good at faking it that by the time we reach out for recognition later in life, professionals refuse to believe we are in fact autistic. But I am tired. And that is what usually happens. We spend a lifetime reinventing ourselves, hiding in plain sight immersed in academic life, family, high functioning, achieving and managing ourselves quite well and loving our children and husbands pretty well inside our manufactured persona. The love is real. And then we burn out.

I wish I had known this decades ago and recognised myself. I wish I could re-visit my relationship with my parents. This blog is, indeed, prompted by reflections on Fathers Day. As an only child with no points of reference and a Mother who, I now realise, was probably also on the spectrum and equally baffled, I did not understand how relationships worked. No point of reference, no compass. We lurched through our lives failing to recognise how to connect, with each other and with others. Dad was trapped between the two of us as we flapped about in shreds on the breeze. I let him down.

I hated how we were and still loved them so much, and they never really knew that. Once, coincidentally after I had become a Mother myself, I thought I saw their car with them in it driving down our road and my heart leapt with love. They never knew that, or how much they were loved.

Sitting with first my Dad and then my Mother as they died following their strokes, waiting for them to die, I was more concerned with being the relative from Hell with the hospitals trying to obtain some kind of decent care for them against sometimes terrible odds, trying to ensure some form of dignity and meaningful care, than with being a “normal” daughter . My rabble rousing got a consultant sacked, rightly so. Would I have done the same as a neurotypical? I doubt it. But should I have done it? When my Mother died the nurse hugged me – I don’t do hugging or touch – and I valued it while giving every appearance of an ironing board. It helped but I couldn’t go with it. How much I wanted to….

When my Dad died my Mother and I became rudderless, no anchor, no buoyancy to mitigate the disunderstandings. We bobbed about fruitlessly. I got jobs, looked after the kids and husband, couldn’t connect with my Mother. Fail. Then she died. And it was then that I began to grow up, to recognise what had been in front of me the whole time. This last year or so has also been instrumental. It was a long and winding road that led to this…

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