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Barvas to callanish via black house museum, Norse mill and kiln, and rebuilt shielding. Outer Hebrides day 3

June 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Breakfast of muesli with boiling water (a kind of porridge which I really like when camping) and tea. Then broke camp, went back to local shop for cheese and a couple of tomatoes, and headed out on road towards callanish.

Almost immediately we came across something that looked interesting on side of road, which turned out to be a rebuilt shielding. Inside was set out as it would have been, with an explanatory leaflet. Shieldings were one room buildings up on the moors where some women and pre school children would go to with the cows for summer pasture. Inside was 2 parts, separated by a wooden bench the width of the building. Behind the bench was the “bed” – a platform with bags of straw for a mattress and wool blankets. The front half had a fire, and basic cooking facilities. Apparently it was an warmly anticipated time away from the oppressive winter life in the black house. I imagined also to be away from the dour men folk!

It was another very warm, sunny day. I’m convinced the Hebrides are always blue sky, bright green hills and sparkling water.

Black house museum was fascinating. Very friendly, helpful, and informative assistant explained that the last person living in a black house had still been there til the 1960s. We’ve seen a lot of ruined ones, just behind post war houses. Poverty kept people from living in modern buildings until very recently.

Surprisingly spacious inside, but the immediate impression was smokey (peat fire kept going) and dark (occasional oil lamps but otherwise no lighting). Incredibly thick walls – double drystone, turf filled for insulation. In from the front door, to the right was the byre. Keeping animals inside must have helped protect from raiding/predation as well as warmth. To the left was large main human room, with peat fire in the centre, over which was a large iron kettle hanging from the ceiling by a chain. Sitting on the long bench down one side of the room I imagined how cosy it would have felt, as well as crowded, especially during the long hebridean winters. Box beds with curtains in front provide some minimal privacy, though clearly they were all multiply shared.

We lunched on bread, cheese and tomatoes.

Further along the road to callanish was a whale’s jaw bone made into an arch.

At 3:15, 7 miles short of callanish, I foolishly believed google maps stating the visitor’s centre (which we hoped would purvey ice cream…) was to close at 4. So I raced ahead to get us both ice cream, and am chuffed that though fully laden, and the road being hilly, I made it by 3:45, to discover they were open til 8 during the summer! Lovely cafe, shop and “story of the stones” exhibition / mini museum, all run by local people as part of a community trust. Good food, good prices and great setting. Most importantly, they do sell ice cream!

Not to seem too “seen it all before”, but I’ve seen a fair few stone circles and they are less exciting to me in general now. So I wasn’t expecting to feel much at callanish stones. We climbed the path up to the site, me feeling blasé, and then… Oh Wow! So many of them, so close together and in this intriguing unique shape. Radiating arms to the compass points, one, an avenue of parallel stones. Such beautiful rock too, studded with white and black crystals. From the 2nd circle, 10 min walk around a bay onto another hill, the main stones were clearly silhouetted across the water on top of their ridge.

We camped on a hillock, once again metres from the sea. Temperature dropped when the sun did, bringing the harr in, so we ended up picnicking in my tent.

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Categories: travel

Aird arsaig to leverburgh via tarbert and beaches. Outer Hebrides day 5

June 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Beautiful spot to waken and breakfast, on the tip of the little peninsula.

Next stop tarbert. Pretty port village. Stopped at only place we could see and struck gold. The bar at the hotel at the port has amazing food and pot of tea for 2 was £3! My burger was freshly made in house. Very very yummy. And we charged phones and hand washed a day of clothes each too.

The local shop didn’t have camping gas, and hardware shop closed as its the weekend. We have the Kelly kettle as well as the gas stove so its not an emergency. Did restock some food.

I struggled with the next hill – I think the burger was sitting heavy in me, and for 1st time this trip I had to push up the hill! Landscape now mountainous with lots of small lochs and rocky outcroppings. Apparently was the setting used for Jupiter in 2001!

Down off the higher ground to the coast, and stunning white beaches. Swam in the clear water, mountains and islands all around coming out of the blue ocean.

At the entrance to a campsite we were beckoned to a burger van by the scent of frying fish and enjoyed a super good Cullen skink and then outstanding fried locally caught herring and mackerel coated in oatmeal.

More miles of stunning coast, machair, beaches, flowers, cliffs, and interesting sea, feature rich with islands and peninsulas.

Tonorrow, the uists!

Categories: politics

Stornoway! Western Isles cycle day 1

June 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Off on installment 3 of “Two go Island Hopping” with E, my semi regular partner in crime. Been wanting to get to Outer Hebrides for years, and finally yesterday I saddled up my noble steed for 12 day trip. Deliciously familiar to have camping gear, food for 4 days (we’ll restock as we go) and feel that sense of self sufficiency, independence, and awaiting to find what adventures are around the next corner :)

Managed to get cheap trains to Garve, but only by leaving Monday evening. So we stayed in a cheap hostel in Inverness and I popped across to the shop so we had 6 boiled eggs for breakfast! Very very crowded train took us to garve for midday.

Very hot with slight headwind cycle across from garve to ullapool. The pub we were planning on a tea and ice cream break was closed so we had to manage it all on the 2 cups of tea we’d had at breakfast!!! O_o

E’s fitness and cycling endurance continues to improve and she is a much stronger cyclist than our previous trips. The route was very scenic but the traffic was fast and not always good at leaving us wobble room as they passed.

Ullapool is pretty village making the most of its stunning location in a bend in a sea loch. And the cafe gave us a free tea refill after we glugged down our pot!

Newish ferry now doing ullapool Stornoway route. Very swish observation lounge. Which was good as there were lots of cetaceans to observe! Harbour porpoise before we’d gone far. And multiple dolphin schools leaping and playing, especially as we got closer to Lewis. Shared experience with all the other excited observation lounge occupants as another dolphin was sighted.

Bought some bread in the co-op which do actual reductions with end of day bread at 10% of original price. This place is so civilised!

Now in pub in Stornoway. We only count having been on an island having consumed something on it, so this is our official arrival on our latest archipelago. And it seems great so far :)

Categories: politics

Sex work as a choice people make in trying to survive capitalism within a sexist, cissexist, racist society.

January 27, 2018 1 comment

I would have to think hard to count how many of my friends either do now, or have done, at some point done sex work. and almost all of them are nervous about letting people know because of how judgemental folks attitudes towards their mode of surviving capitalism, sexism, cissexism[0], racism and other intersectional[1] oppressions are. there’s so much shame around it :( so much whorephobia. stereotypes of sex workers as naive, immoral, vapid, stupid, vulnerable, unable to make decisions about their own bodies. as if every person surviving capitalism doesn’t have to make hard choices and compromises about what they do with their time, energy, mind and body in order to pay their rent and bills. and for many this is literally the best choice for them. does the person cleaning toilets get same judgements?

I felt it strongly around the comments about that ukip leader’s racist girlfriend. so many of the articles and comments seemed to centre, and be titilated, that she worked as a glamour model. because that brought in people’s prejudices and stereotypes. here’s an easy exercise – be honest with yourself, and imagine a glamour model or other sex worker. think about what you think they are like, what their background is, education level, interests, knowledge of current affairs and politics. their sexuality and how (outside of work) consent to sex would be likely for them.

now know me. think about what qualities you think i value in friends. and take i have upwards of 30-50 friends who i know to do sex work now or in the past. there is huge variety in the sex work my friends do, but a lot of it is that most stigmatised as “street prostitution”[2] and it definitely includes “models”.

and all these interesting, smart, wise, clued up people who are my friends have taken the decision that for them sex work is the best way to survive capitalism and all the intersectional[1] oppressions.

i mean i wipe people’s bottoms for a living – does that seem any better? ;p

To survive in capitalism means having to have some level of income. And we all make compromises about what we do with our time, bodies and brains in order to get that income. None of us would keep working in the way we do if we got a windfall. We’d probably still want to do something meaningful, and maybe that would mean volunteering somewhere. But it would be different to what we do for work right now. Because we are forced at some level to do that work because we need to pay the bills. We make a choice (ideally) from within what society offers us in the way of work. Many of us have multiple options, and from within that we choose based on the payoff (wages) vs the hours, arduousness, how interesting the work is, how much it fits in with the rest of our life etc etc. For some people the best choice for them is sex work. That gives them the best payoff, and they maintain some degree of freedom and ability to control how and when they work. They are choosing between all the work options they personally have and deciding that sex work is the best out of those options.

Think that sex work is degrading? First off, why? Is sex innately degrading to those on receiving end (ie mostly women or men who “bottom” for other men)? And anyway lots of people’s jobs involve tasks society has deemed degrading. What about cleaning other people’s toilets? Or the way service sector workers are treated?

Feel that nobody would choose sex work as it is dangerous and harmful to sex workers? In that case why would anyone ever choose to work in “forestry, farming and fishing” which has highest incidence of workplace injuries in uk[3]?

Sex workers must be stupid? Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour) is an easy counter example[4] as someone who started in sex work to support themselves through their PhD. Or countless of my friends. Again, who do you think I have as friends? There are countless sex workers within that population.

What all of the people I know who are sex workers have in common is that none of them are white, cis, middle class men. Almost everyone I know who is a white, cis, middle class man has a reasonably paid job that he chose to do from amongst many *career* options. And note that even the fact that he got to have a career is notable – that implies some level of interest. Do you think your supermarket checkout assistant chose that because they’re super fascinated by the price of groceries? How many middle class, white, cis men do you see cleaning toilets or stacking shelves for their working lives?

Can you accept that because of how intersectional oppressions operate within our current society, many people don’t have huge numbers of awesome, tempting job options to choose from? And within that, sex work might actually be the best choice for them?

So given all that, can you become aware of your prejudices about sex workers? About who they are and what they’re like? And then think about how that prejudice, if unexamined and unchallenged, might spill out into comments you might make about sex workers. And then how this could project shame and judgement onto sex workers, when actually they’ve just found the best way they know to survive within capitalism and a sexist, racist, cissexist society.

 

[0] how society is set up to take the gender of those who are not trans (ie you, if you’re not trans) as more real and valid than a trans person. and therefore all the shit that trans people have to go through. its similar to how sexism treats all women.

[1] intersectionality is how one person is affected by all the different oppressions within society – class, racism, sexism etc. so for some oppression they might be privileged, but they might be oppressed by another one. for example a working class, white, man who uses a wheelchair is oppressed because he’s working class and disabled, but is still better than a black woman in the exact same situation. but worse off than a middle class man in a wheelchair.

[2] though mostly they don’t do it on the streets anymore due to how the internet has changed how sex workers meet their clients

[3] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/industry/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_de_Jour_(writer)#Career

2017 personal retrospective

January 1, 2018 1 comment

This has been a year of reassessment of projects and priorities, personal development, and reshaping of what I put time and energy into. Much of this is ongoing, rather than neatly concluded in time for a new year’s retrospective. But I feel at peace with where I am right now and that I am midway through a lot of current personal projects and reassessments, and that’s ok.

In May/June I had an unpleasant debacle with a flatmate who was moving out. Mostly I haven’t discussed this publicly, and (being a believer in drama minimisation and not dragging people into fights where avoidable) I’m not going to give much of the details from my point of view in this post. However they did decide to bring a lot of mutual friends into our disagreement, lied and misled them* and some did decide to make judgements purely from listening to their side of the story, and are gone from my life. Additionally they weaponised an internal grievance procedure and have (at least temporarily) got me removed in a particularly nasty way§ from the local political organisation (Glasgow anarchist federation) which I have been a member of for 10 years.

Overall I feel super positive about what this has resulted in however. A lot of people were super there for me, and I feel my friendships deepened, and I lost some crud. Like many things that you fear, once you actually are in them, its oddly liberating. They tried to cause maximum damage to me, within the small subculture we share (radicals and queers in Scotland and wider). And that kind of playground politics I hate and dread, yet I actually found an inner strength and peace even in the middle of it. An acceptance that the people and groups who want to believe I’m some greedy landlord can ostracise me as they like, but that I have enough inside me, and wonderful people around me, to keep on keeping on. I feel more free and light because, not despite, the entire fiasco.

Politics

The ex-flatmate clusterfuck, combined with a bunch of thinking and feeling about politics to lead to a major and ongoing reassessment of my political activism and commitments. I’m still going through it.

This year has seen TERFs in UK increase their visibility and organising to attack trans rights, specifically the gender recognition act. They had an anti-trans intervention at the london anarchist bookfair and a bunch of nastiness and splits have resulted when even folks who are not anti-trans didn’t understand the necessity of challenging TERFs and removing such oppressive politics from our spaces.

However even without all that, I’ve been feeling a need for reassessment on what I think I should be doing politically. The context is so so dire (climate change, wars, brexit, austerity, racism, militarised borders), whilst we have hopelessness and inaction in the wider class. So I have resolved to spend this externally imposed break from the group I have been most politically active in for 10 years in order to do some reading and thinking and discussing what is useful for me to do now in order both to alleviate some of the suffering in the world as well as challenging the root causes. Climate change is particularly urgent and important but I as yet have no clear idea what to do, and that is one of next year’s priorities.

Open University

I have started studying again, because I enjoy and miss it. Open University courses are fully funded in Scotland and I’ve been loving the level 1 maths course I’m doing, and plan to do more. I am looking at doing various maths, physics and electronics modules, not for any formal qualification (I already have a masters…) but because I love learning.

Psychotherapy

I am not closeted about my mental health so if you feel uncomfortable reading about such things, look away now!

I have variable mental health, probably related to various traumatic incidents that happened over my life including sexual assaults, 4 months in Palestine with 2 friends killed in front of me, violence of the police / state to me and those close to me, and awareness of horror in the world; the deadly, man-made brutality of borders killing our fellow humans for the crime of being born elsewhere, climate change, the occupation of Palestine, disregard for human life or any accountability for man-made disaster in Bhopal that is still causing suffering over 30 years on.

My GP has been great – very supportive. For several months when I was unable to work due to PTSD he signed me off, and has also referred me for help when I’ve needed it. However even though I rarely have acute symptoms anymore, my life is a balancing act and my mental health is a major reason I only work part-time. Also I suffer from chronic insomnia, poor memory/recall, emotional blunting, and “brain fog”. During Vince and my otherwise amazing LEJOG bike ride in 2015 I resolved to start “feeling” again as I felt like life was happening without me being in it, or remembering it. So I returned to my GP for help. When a short course (12 weeks) of counselling only started to touch on helping me, I was passed on to a more long-term service. Since May this year I have been getting weekly psychotherapy which is open-ended (initial time-frame is 2 years). It has been very intense and difficult and draining. I am super lucky to have amazing support from loved ones during this challenging time.

Psychotherapy reminds me a lot of the physiotherapy I had to have after my 2008 shoulder (rotator cuff) operation and subsequent 3 month immobilisation. I dreaded physiotherapy sessions – it was painful to slowly stretch open those muscles and ligaments in order to regain mobility and function. And like going to a gym, for couple of days after psychotherapy I am drained and achey and need rest.

Its definitely having effects, but I can’t yet see the end result. I can feel that things are happening and changing. I have decided to trust the process and give it time and energy for 2 years. Its a big commitment – I am arranging a lot in my life to make this happen. But the alternative is wasting this only life I have. Also I have the ability to put this time aside because I have some financial and temporal wiggle room after fulfilling my weekly commitments. So here goes!

Niblings

I have a brand new nibbling! She’s a cutie. I now have four! Thanks siblings! :) Being an aunticle is very cool. This year I’ve had more time with the 4 year old, and the beginnings of building an independent relationship with one of the eldest with whom I had a fun day out. Trouble is they’re all the way down south, so this heavily constrains how much I can see them. One of my 2018 resolutions is to see them more often.

Personal relationships

I continue to be polyamorous with multiple sweeties in my life. There have been some comings and goings during the year, which all feel right and true to who we are. I feel super blessed to have wonderful delicious humans wanting to be close to me <3 <3 <3

Travelling

Due to weekly psychotherapy I have had to curtail travel plans. I am still managing 3-4 monthly visits to see long-term lover in San Francisco bay area, mostly arranging them for when therapist is away or clinic closed anyway.

I had a fabulous 10 day cycle trip with awesome pal in Shetland over Summer solstice.

Other trips this year have been 2-4 day mini breaks close to Glasgow, eg Arran.

I feel a huge pull to be out exploring the world. Whilst I am having to hold off on that, I am saving into “future travel” bank account so that as soon as I can, I can fly off again! I want to feel the wind pulling me over the next pass, not knowing what I’m going to see next, what’s round the next corner. Free and living moment to moment to feel and experience and see as much as I can.

 

 

2018 resolutions / plans

  • See more of my niblings.
  • Continue to read and think about radical politics and what is useful to be doing.
  • Fitness / upper body strength.
  • Continue studying – currently looking at maths, physics and electonics
  • Finally get that ham radio licence!
  • Flat decluttering and address hoarding issues.
  • Continue to commit to psychotherapy
  • Multiple walking/biking/camping trips to explore Scotland
  • Continue to save money into both rainy day and future travel funds. 2017 was the first year I had to raid my rainy day fund (when ex-flatmate fucked me over) and that emphasised importance of having one.

 

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* Ex flatmate claimed I evicted them by changing the locks on the flat. Omitting to say that:

  1. They hadn’t been paying their share of the bills for 18 months
  2. They’d become aggressive with me in April, and when I told them to not shout at me again (by email as this felt safer) they handed their notice in giving 2 months notice and asking me to write a letter evicting them so they could access social housing (I did this but only stated a moving out date, not that they were evicted)
  3. End of May, after I asked them where their share of May’s rent was they told me they were withholding it, leading to major financial repurcussions for me. They claimed I owed them money for the short amount of time they were contributing to council tax, ignoring the 18 months they hadn’t paid anything, nor that they had never given anything for broadband
  4. I changed the wifi password and asked them to stop using my kitchen stuff. A week later, whilst I was at work, they moved their stuff out and were not in the flat for 2 weeks.
  5. Early June, as they had not paid rent for well over a month by this point, and were due to be moving out a few weeks later anyway, and believing they had moved out as they had moved their stuff out, and the huge strain on my mental health that having this malicious person have access to my home was causing, I changed the locks and prepared to move on with my life.
  6. They then told people including my housing association, that I had illegally evicted them.

 

§ By email I was told I was to be removed from the group, and that the conditions for re-entry were to apologise to my ex-flatmate, and to lose the secure tenancy I have with my housing association. There has never been any criticism by them that ex flatmate unilaterally stopped the mediation process the group had initiated between us and had decided that instead of looking for resolution, they would to try and get me removed from the group for this personal dispute.

Categories: politics

On not being closeted, the privilege to be out and open, and the resultant deweaponisation of “shame”

January 1, 2018 1 comment

lonely_closet_m65_b1_f6In multiple aspects of my like I’m privileged that I don’t have to be closeted. That’s partly a conscious choice; years ago a concerned lover tried to get me to edit down my social networking profile in case those I was involved in campaigns against (city council, rightwing popular media etc) tried to publicly smear me for being polyamorous, queer and kinky. I decided that if this did happen, I could and would stand up and say “yes this is me and I am not ashamed of the things I do with other consenting adults”.

Trying to hide these aspects of my life makes me more vulnerable – to blackmail, to being “outed”, to having to think before I post anything as to whether I am revealing secrets I need to keep hidden. I feel more in control of my own life by being out. It feels like one less weak spot.

Also it is a political choice to take advantage of my relative privilege and personal circumstances in order to be a part of de-stigmatising and re-humanising these identities. I don’t have children I fear I could lose. I am in a unionised workplace. I have a secure tenancy. I am not financially, or otherwise, dependent on my family. I could come out and feel ok that anybody who thus rejects me is someone I can live without.

There is one big exception to my personal openness – I am not out as polyamorous at work. I am consciously closeted about that. Not being straight is fine for me in my workplace – in fact I seem to code as queer so I have to actually come out as someone who also dates men rather than as simply gay. But non monogamy is definitely something I hide, and on the rare occasions when its accidentally come out – because I’ve slipped up and revealed conflicting details about “my partner” triggering questions – I’ve felt ostracised as a result.  Also I don’t talk about being kinky with most people anyway, as its mostly inappropriate to share bedroom activity details.

I’m writing this now as I’m doing a 2017 retrospective and I realise that some of the things I’m writing about are to do with my mental health, which is another stigmatised condition that I am lucky to not have to be closeted about. In general I can be quite private, but especially having realised that me being open about my mental health has helped allow others to talk about theirs, I am consciously talking about it. After all, if it was the year I’d had my big shoulder operation and had to spend 3 months with my right arm permanently in a sling, I would mention that. Why not that I’ve a long-term mental health issue which I’m having treatment for?

Anyway, I totally see it as a combination of my privileges to be out. That I am able to be independent and have arranged my life to not be at mercy of anyone else’s judgements, as well as to live in a time and place where it is safe to be open about my sexuality due to generations of brave LGBTQIA activists. So cheers to everyone who gave me the ability to not have this burden and vulnerability of being closeted, and may I use it to help others who are not so lucky.

Categories: politics