Beauty Is In The Receipt

Back in the days when Hotmail was my primary method of online communication the idea of targeted ads was the endless junk mail that came through. Mine were always for penis enlargers and links for dating agencies to connect me with the hundreds of Thai brides who were dying to meet me. This baffled me for years until I realised my best friend, who helped me set up the account so we could stay in touch when she went travelling, had listed me as a retired male in the profile. This was in the late 90s and since then we have found ourselves completely wired to social media on an almost 24/7 loop.

Unsurprisingly platforms such as Facebook and Twitter- as well as thousands of advertisers- have realised there is money in this, and what a better time to make money than in this golden age of being able to buy anything, anywhere, at the click of a button. One thing that hasn’t changed is retailers and advertisers knowledge that our insecurities will make them rich, and the list of things they are determined to make you worry about in order to sell you some utterly ridiculous product grows by the minute.

Among the essential items I have stumbled across have been camel toe guards- because I’ve reached the age of 38 now and should apparently start being embarrassed in case anybody knows I have a vulva. The obsession with my genitals does not end there it seems. There is also pubic hair dye available, which is strange, because there are also at least 2000 products out there that indicate it is completely unacceptable these days to have as much as a single follicle anywhere between your legs. Your lady garden should be tarmacced, and anything that tries to grow there should be lasered off by the pube daleks, or whatever those electrolysis machine thingies are called.

Then there is this:

At this point you would be completely forgiven for thinking this was satire, but stay with me here, for this contraption is a face slimmer. No you aren’t alone, I thought it was for something else as well and if you have a man in your life that is absolutely what they will think it is for too. All our minds are in the gutter.

While we’re here, let’s not neglect those products out there that promise you they will stop you being fat. Because you know that you ARE fat, regardless of what your weight or dress size is. You know this because you did that Facebook quiz to determine if you were a ‘skinny fat person’ and it told you that you are.

There are mountains of ‘detox’ products, which are literally nothing more than chemically induced dysentery and a really expensive way to give yourself the shits. Juice Plus, a company who are the nutritional equivalent of flat earthers are one of the worst offenders for this, using rhetoric that sounds like it was made up on the spot by an eight year old trying to convince you why letting them eat ice cream and syrup for dinner is a healthy choice. Their representatives have been known to hound new mothers on their social media friends lists days after giving birth, pressuring them to buy their products to “lose the baby weight”. The other day, after I had been looking online at Pilates techniques online, I started getting inundated with adverts for what looked like some sort of modern day corset, lined with plastic to make you sweat yourself skinny. Once you’ve lost all that weight of course, don’t forget to go out and immediately buy some padded knickers to replace the arse you just worked so hard to get rid of . Don’t forget to remove your eyebrows only to draw them back on again. It’s like modern day beauty standards were written by Kafka and Kubrick did the film adaption.

Targeted ads have also upped their game since my hotmail account, giving internet users products based on what it knows about them. It’s not just a case about what social media platforms know about you, such as age or gender, or what you search on, such as bikes or holidays. They know what Facebook pages you like, whether you are newly single or just had a baby. This is probably why I keep getting ads for cute gothy looking dresses. I don’t want to think about why, after a couple of tongue in cheek statuses I made about going rioting, I now keep getting adverts for face scarves- because Facebook knows I have no interest in mountain climbing. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe I’m on a watch list, maybe it’s Maybeline.

It’s not the only sinister thing about the adverts we see and some of the dodgier products that are on the market. Skin lightening creams for example, which are marketed predominantly at South East Asian women but are also popular in African communities. It’s unashamedly racist and misogynistic message- that women would be more desirable and more affluent if only they were whiter is rooted deep in the class and caste systems, but is sustained by global consumerism. Many of them are dangerous, containing ingredients such as mercury, which has left many women who have been using them horrifically scarred and in need of medical treatment.

You can’t even go for a poo now without being pressured to put a few drops of weapons grade chemicals into the bowl so everyone thinks your faeces smell like the Botanic Gardens in June. Now most women I know secretly think we are immune to this sort of advertising- you probably do too, but three Malbecs deep into a conversation shows we’ve all been sucked in to some extent. I am one of the girls who will say this. I like to think of myself as really unfussy. While I wear makeup and have a penchant for fifties style dresses, I genuinely have no idea what threading is. I’ve never had my nails done because it was literally pointless as a young person who had both anxiety and epilepsy. There was a period of about a decade where my hairdresser saw me less than the practice nurse who does my smear tests and for about two years I honestly thought that contouring and orienteering were the same thing.

I’ve worried about my shape on and off over the years, but I boycotted control knickers years ago. For starters, I’m pretty sure it was them that triggered a couple of bouts of crippling cystitis I had. I also made the mistake once of getting a pair that were ever so slightly too small and after an evening of crippling discomfort, I thought I was going to have to get the fire brigade to cut me out of them again. By the time I had eventually wriggled and struggled my way out of the knicker equivalent of a snare, finally able to breathe air once more, I had the exhausted smile of relief that I have since only seen on the faces of the Chilean miners in 2010 after they were rescued from their collapsed hell pit.

There’s now lots of adverts for plastic surgery popping up on my media too, presumably because I’m fast hockey sliding into middle age. Me and my friends have talked about cosmetic surgery extensively. Some of us are thinking about it, some of us have already had it and some of us, like myself, are afraid of it and don’t really want it done. Now my friends are all actually beautiful. I’m not just saying this because they’re my mates and I love them, they really are. Like a bunch of pre-raphaelite paintings sprung to life. Yet each of them also possess insecurities that are baffling to the rest. I have a deep wrinkle in my forehead which I’m fairly sure has been caused by me constantly grimacing and murmuring “wtf” at whatever Orwellian policy our government has inflicted on us next. We talked about Botox as a few of this have tried it already. Personally I don’t really want Botox on account of that fact that it is one of the deadliest substances known to man and people are literally having it injected into their face. Not to say that there are not some arguments for Botox treatment being used for some conditions. It is known to have been beneficial to patients with cerebral palsy for example, and is also used sometimes to effectively treat migraine sufferers. All treatments, however, come with their own risks and these need to be considered more carefully than is sometimes the case, to decide if it is the best remedy for the problem. There are other possible ‘solutions’ to my so called problem, but actually you know what? The wrinkle stays.

My decision not to go down this route is based on this: While my self image is still decidedly poor a lot of the time, my sense of self worth grows as I get older. I know that if I just ‘fix’ that thing I really don’t like about my appearance, then I will find something else to criticise . Then something else. Then something else. I know as this is what has happened with all I know who have had a procedure, be it their forehead, nose, boobs or stomach. I realised I don’t have to think of myself as pretty and my body as a flawless vase. I have chips and scars. Little bits of my tongue are missing. My eyes squint slightly in photographs. I have a weird tooth. My body is a storybook, full of tales of adventure and love and fighting monsters both real and imagined, not a painting that needs to be put behind ropes and glass so it can’t be touched or fade or age, only existing to appease someone else’s sense of beauty.

If you haven’t listened to this album, do so immediately. The great thing about punk records is that they’re only about 15 minutes long. This is Bata Motel by Crass the amazing album, Penis Envy.

Love Alice.

We’re All Mad Here?

Last week was world mental health awareness day. As I browsed through my social media that morning I was heartened to see so many posts encouraging people to seek help, telling their own personal stories of their struggle with the black dog and about how they climbed their way out of the darkest of times in that it might inspire others to open up. It had been a welcome change after a period of seeing and reading endless accounts of human misery and cruelty, both in the news and at work, had left me briefly frozen in depression with images of suffering on a constant loop in my head.

Something else caught my eye too. An article about the government appointing a new suicide minister, Jackie Doyle Price, whose job it now is apparently to reduce the number of people taking their own lives. I don’t know what sort of salary the role brings with it, but you can be sure it certainly won’t be minimum wage. She certainly has all the compassionate qualities you would want someone in such a job to have- This is the same person who wanted to kick the elderly out of their homes to pay for their care instead of passing said property on to their children- for why should the government have to pay for old people who have only worked themselves to the bone all their lives and actually paid their taxes instead of hiding them in offshore accounts like little capitalist squirrels that then demand everyone else’s pile of nuts .A woman who actively votes for cuts to benefits which is increasingly cited as a reason people are killing themselves. In short, it’s sort of like employing Nosferatu as a phlebotomist and expecting him not to drain the very life out of his patients. Forgive me for my cynicism on the appointment, but we have seen this same thing time and time again with very little effect and I can’t as yet see how this will be any different- other than the fact that Doyle Price will use the role to continue to justify her employing her husband as a secretary on a £30,000 a year salary.

For we have to ask why we need someone in office to find out why the nations mental health is so poor. It’s not as if frontline workers in mental health services haven’t been telling them for years what the issues are, free of charge. In all the years of austerity, it has never been ‘all in this together’. Maybe it would have been if those in government had been queuing at the food banks, had been forced to spend less and less time with their children as they take on more ridiculous hours in order to put food on the table. If they’d been forced to decide between dinner or hot water. If they’d been subjected to countless sanctions and humiliating fit to work assessments in order to access the decreasing amount of support that is offered to them. If it was them who were sniggered about in parliament as MP’s voted to deny firefighters and nurses a small pay rise. If they’d had to disclose rape on a form to be read by an untrained worker in order to get child benefit for a third child. But they never paid the price. We did. And we have paid with more than just money.

It is the same old routine from a couple of years ago when Theresa May had the inspired idea of appointing a domestic violence commissioner to find out why that was still so prevalent. There was never any need to give a nice fat salary to one of her mates because domestic abuse charities had been telling her for years what the problems were- which funnily enough are often the same that aggravate mental health issues, but it always fell on deliberately ignorant ears. Maybe they don’t listen because they never like the answers we give- that some of this is on their heads. Like those working in the mental health field, domestic abuse workers have been telling officials over and over again the particular consequences that austerity has for victims of domestic abuse. If there are cuts to services, then independent domestic violence advisors and support workers end up with too high case loads and cannot give each service user the attention they deserve. They foresaw that the restrictions to legal aid and the introduction of Universal Credit would trap victims of domestic abuse into dangerous relationships (as perpetrators will always ensure that any money from joint claims will go into their account) and that removal of PIP and mobility cars leaves disabled victims at the mercy of their abusers.

Those not claiming benefits are not safe from the assault either. Go to your local food bank and they will tell you that many of their recipients are in work and it would be a fool who would think that this can save you from the ever widening poverty trap. Really, it’s no wonder employers are choosing mindfulness training as their new big thing to help workers combat stress. Don’t think about whether we are actually going to give you any hours next week, or whether we are going to renew your increasingly shorter contracts, or the fact we haven’t issued more than a 2% pay rise in the last five years despite the cost of living going up massively. Take some deep breaths. Focus on right this second, of coolness of the water you are drinking, or the mint flavoured sweet melting in you mouth. Don’t think about all those worries you have, and you won’t have to go on the sick with crippling depression. Because, you know if you are ill too long, that’ll be a disciplinary. I’m not knocking mindfulness practice and techniques. I use them myself and find them effective at the times when I find myself mulling over the same things that no longer matter, or haven’t even happened, over and over again. But they are never going to help someone whose basic needs are not being met when their reality, that in the here and now, is miserable because of the catastrophic social problems that they are facing.

A study by Crisis and Heriot-Watt university 2017 estimated that the number of homeless people will rise by 26.5% in the next decade, whilst households in unsuitable accommodation will rise by 93%, which we know comes with a whole set of physical and mental health problems. The institute of health visiting reported in 2015 that homeless children were observed with developmental and speech delay, were twice as likely to be admitted to hospital, and are susceptible to infectious diseases such as scabies and lice infestation.

Even children with a roof over their heads are not exempt, as we see a rise in children experiencing mental health problems as schools focus on getting results and have a seemingly endless supply of tests and homework, not to mention the social pressures from their peers. In a 2017 poll of teachers from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, a fifth reported that they had encountered children between 4 and 7 years old who were presenting with mental health problems, rising to over a third who had seen children aged 7 to 11 who were experiencing these difficulties.

But we are not mad, as a nation. Many of our fears are not actually irrational. What we are is a nation fast becoming poisoned by our own cortisol. When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, which is a hormone our bodies make when we are exposed to stress . This is useful when we are in immediate physical danger as part of our fight/flight response. But it is not good for us when we are constantly producing it as a reaction to never ending amounts of stress. We are constantly alerted to incoming news of potential threats all through the day and night thanks to television and social media notifications. Terrorist attacks, gangs, knife crime, sex offenders. Bird flu, swine flu, ebola, anything that comes out of Morrissey’s mouth. We watched Grenfell burn to the ground with people trapped inside. We hear there are going to be more job cuts, more welfare cuts, that the company we work for has gone into administration. We are told, “think things are bad now, wait till the next lot of austerity thrown at you… just wait till…. BREXIT! You’ll be kept in a holding pen by the DWP and your children will turn into latter day Artful Dodgers, as they fend for themselves in Victorian style street gangs while you are forced to celebrate another royal wedding and be happy about footing the bill. The media also love to whip us up into a frenzy to introduce us to our brand new enemy, coming for us and our children, no matter how ludicrous. Every year one of my local newspapers likes to roll out an annual scare campaign about common house spiders, who they talk about as if they were the direct descendants of Shelob from Lord of the rings. The Daily Express has made an annual tradition out of telling Britain that it will be turned into the ice planet Hoth in the WORST WINTER ON RECORD that will kill everyone over the age of 47, as beloved by the nation as Christmas dinner and avoiding eye contact on public transport.

With all of this in mind, it is not surprising that we have responded with a now almost trademark cynicism on learning of Doyle-Price’s new job title. We don’t need a well paid minister to tell us why many are feeling so hopeless, because we are the ones living it. What we need is resources and community and less of the divide and rule that they try to enforce. Tired people don’t fight. But remember that the food and clothes banks and housing action groups were not set up by governments and politicians. It wasn’t them who took supplies to the survivors of Grenfell Tower. They were set up by us. People organising on grassroots levels to respond to unmet needs is what we have always been good at. If you ever feel hopeless at the struggles we see around us, remember that we are and always have been the only thing that has ever counteracted that. Kindness is contagious, literally, and by practising it we produce more oxytocin- the hormone which is the very opposite of cortisol that lowers our stress fuelled blood pressure and improves the health of our hearts. It’s almost like we are biologically programmed to co-operate in order to survive and thrive, like what Darwin did actually try to point out all those years ago but some of us just misinterpreted it and screamed “survival of the fittest” as an excuse to justify taking more than they needed. So when you feel overwhelmed by the things you see around you, be proud you retained your compassion throughout everything you have seen. Remember that while no one individual can save the worlds problems, you are not powerless. You never were.

Here’s ‘That Girl, Suicide’ by Brian Jonestown Massacre, which I’m going to use as a brag that I’m going to see these play tonight.

Love Alice

Domestic abuse and State Control

“I wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me like that. Soon as someone put their hands on me, I’d be out the door”. This is one of a few standard responses I hear when I first tell someone that I work for a domestic abuse project. And I always respond with the same thing. “You probably wouldn’t”. The reason for this, is that being assaulted by your partner is never how domestic violence starts. If you went out on a first date with someone and they hit you, or called you disgusting, derogatory names, or forced you to eat your dinner off the floor with the dogs, would you make a second date with them? But that is never how domestic abuse starts. First it seduces us, then it sabotages our fight/flight responses so we react quite unlike how we think we would in dangerous situations. It is so subtle at first that we never see it coming and perpetrators do a very good job at making abuse look a lot like love in the first flush of romance.

So too is our relationship with the state. Have you ever lamented that the party you voted for let you down badly, only to immediately vote for them again once the next election has came around because you believed it would be different this time? Or been presented with damning evidence about the politician you chose to represent you, only to immediately dismiss it as ‘fake news’ with no grounds to do so, because accepting it as true would mean you had to completely reevaluate your world view?

Domestic abuse and state abuse are not the same thing. That isn’t what I’m here to say today, and our strategies against it need to be very different. But they do work in the same way, so it is important to understand the parallel between two bodies that control every intimate part of our lives.

Our relationship with government begins when we are so young that we don’t even question it’s existence. That’s just the way things are. Sure, most of us might go through a bit of a ‘fuck authority’ phase in our teens after listening for a bit too long to Rage Against The Machine, but that is usually tamed out of the majority of the population by the time they reach 30.

We are constantly belittled and looked down upon by those in power. How many times are we told that we couldn’t possibly look after ourselves and that we’d all be killing each other if we were left unsupervised for even a day? That our children are dangerous and have grown feral? After the August riots of 2011, politicians were practically lining up to give long sermons about how young people had no respect and had become too entitled which led to the situation boiling over. They told us that kids these days didn’t fear any consequences and described the rioting was ‘anarchy’ rather than a byproduct of capitalism. I don’t know about you, but I had to rub my eyes a few fucking times at that one, as even just ten minutes of watching BBC parliament will provide more than enough evidence that you couldn’t find a more accurate description of themselves. Seriously, imagine going into work tomorrow and jeering at your colleagues in the staff meeting. Or maybe turning up pissed and then falling asleep. George Osborne and Maradona can go to work full of cocaine it seems, but not the peasants.

We are constantly told by politicians vying for our votes that only they can take care of us properly. That the other politicians don’t care for us the way that they do. That we should trust them and they shall protect us. Yet inevitably once we let them through the door, things start to go wrong. They let us down again and again, but never own their mistakes or try to make amends. Because it’s not their fault. Sometimes it’s someone else’s, but usually it’s ours, and we find ourselves trying to amend our own behaviour before it dawns on us where blame really lies. Ruling parties just love to tell you that they aren’t responsible for their own failures. It was those other people we voted in before, like a never ending political dick measuring contest that ensures we are never allowed to forget that we voted someone else once and they never treat us as good. Flick back then, quickly, to BBC parliament again and you will see them sniggering at tales of food bank users left impoverished by the bedroom tax and cheering when they vote not to give a fair pay rise to workers such as nurses and firefighters. That is the sort of love your government has for you.

Then they start monitoring your every move, checking your phone, listening to your conversations telling you how you can interact with others. Then they literally remove your human rights from your very eyes, and what is worse is you thank them for it. Because, oh! It isn’t you that they don’t trust, its other people, they tell you. This is love. They are taking away your freedom of movement because they love you and they want you to be safe and happy. You’ve never had it so good. You should see women/brown people/poor people in other countries. That’s oppression. You don’t know how lucky you are.

It’s state Stockholm syndrome. We are put in constant fear of whoever they have told us is our enemy today: Muslims, antifa, feminists, Neville Southall. People who may have been our allies are under our eye of suspicion when we are told they are coming to overpower us and want to ruin our wonderful way of life. We believe it every time and turn on each other in the thousands of little cliques and gangs that we are actively encouraged to form to assure ourselves of how special and different we are from all the rest. This is quite common in children growing up in abusive households. As everyone living under tyranny scrambles to find the safest place, many find that colluding with the tyrant gives them some sort of respite. Keep in their favour, and they won’t turn on you. Or they will, eventually, but by that point they have exploited the Just World fallacy in our own cognitive bias so much, that we think we deserved it anyway.

Just World hypothesis is a strong human desire to believe that the world is just and orderly. During experiments, participants were given details or footage of different scenarios, such as a collision and told who was hurt during the incident. They were then asked who was to blame. What they found was blame was attributed to whoever they were told was hurt. The more hurt they were told the person was, the more blame they were given. Why do our brains do this? For self preservation. For if we believe that this could happen to innocent people, then it could happen to us. So we tell ourselves the victims must have done something to end up in that predicament. This is why there are comments sections on social media full of people screaming “sink the boats” gleefully at the sight of desperate refugees stranded on the Mediterranean. It’s why so many turned on the residents of Grenfell Tower. Good old fashioned racism comes into play with those two examples as well, of course, but there are other forces at work here also. Melvin Lerner, a psychologist who has studied the phenomenon hypothesised that belief in a just world was vital for people to maintain their own well being, but it also explained how people come to accept laws or regimes that produce misery and suffering to others.

Another thing to consider: we always believe that domestic violence will happen to other people. We never think that it will happen to us, until the day that it does. While there are quite a few of us who believe that our government is more than capable of doing wrong by us, we usually think of our own selves as being immune to manipulation by them. That we are so woke and emancipated from their trickery and only the poor masses are dumb enough to fall for it. But all of us are susceptible at differing levels.

Love is supposed to free you, not bind you until you become invisible. We become the statue of Venus, with ivy creeping up her leg. You leave it, because you think it looks beautiful, but it quickly grows and envelopes her until she is completely smothered in leaves and you can no longer see any part of her.

We need to remove the ivy and start believing that we all deserve better. The current system works for no one who isn’t massively wealthy. We are allowed less and less control of our lives. We have the illusion of connection through the medium of modern technology but we are slowly becoming more alienated from each other than ever, and this is exactly what allows state abuse to thrive. It’s a relationship we can’t fix and one that will get worse rather than better if we don’t care about ourselves and each other enough to reject it and leave it behind. We don’t need to be warring children encouraged to fight by an abusive head of the household anymore. We can start by refusing to attack each other and not feed divide and rule. Migrants are not to blame for the problems in the NHS. The firefighters are not responsible for the deaths in Grenfell. While ‘terfs’ and trans activists war with each other, our prime minister quietly pours petrol on the human rights act put there for all of us. Hold hands and go out and play.

Love Alice

So with all this talk of taking our power back whether politically or domestically, there is only one choice for my speakers tonight. Old but gold….

The state of sexual violence.

In the latest instalment of ‘1000 new and creative ways to starve children’, or, as it’s more commonly known, ‘The Conservative Manifesto’, the Tories have unveiled a new level boss of cruelty. Not content with the disaster that is sadistic benefit sanctions to adults, cuts to money for children who have lost a parent and changes to free school meals, they have now implemented their two child policy in the ‘child element’ of universal credit. This means that the child benefit that was in place previously has now been capped to two children per family. There are a few exemptions: Those who are adopting, those involved with kinship care and multiple births. The final exemption, dubbed ‘the rape clause’, means that a claim can be put in for a third or subsequent child who was conceived as the result of rape, which involves the victim filling out a form to essentially prove that they were a victim of sexual assault.

The Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, demonstrating about as much charm, sense and sincerity as an entire album’s worth of Nickelback lyrics, said that the idea would potentially get victims of sexual assault “double support”. Now, I was never great at maths at school, mainly due to a preference of skipping off into the woods for a cigarette rather troubling myself with equations, but I’m pretty sure I remember being told that 1×0 was nothing. You see ever since the Tories ascended to the iron throne they have been systematically destroying care services for those experiencing sexual and domestic abuse. Everything from charity funding to policing, court and health services have been stretched to breaking point through austerity cuts and the disaster that is the introduction of the police and crime commissioners. Even the most tireless and dedicated services are finding themselves being forced to do more with less and less resources.

Her absolutely abysmal crack got even worse. I don’t know about you, but personally my favourite bit was where McVey claimed that applicants would not be “asked invasive questions”, as if questions demanding ‘proof’ of the rape that you were subjected to could be anything but invasive, as well as triggering, humiliating and with the potential to cause further trauma in such a situation.

Then today Theresa May and her band of chinless, braying twatrattles further defended their monstrous policy in the House of Commons by insisting that the tax credit claims would be handled in “as sensitive a manner as possible”. Really? And who will it be handled by? The same people conducting disability assessments who were asking people with Downs Syndrome when they ‘caught’ the condition? Or the ones who were sensitively asking mentally ill claimants why they hadn’t killed themselves yet?

One thing that we can be certain of is that it is not going to be handled by trained counsellors or independent domestic/sexual violence advisors who have the skills to care for survivors of sexual violence. The DWP have said it would operate a third party model, so survivors did not have to make disclosures to the job-centre staff and would instead talk to other professionals such as a social worker or an approved rape charity. However some bodies who may have been designated third parties have condemned the policy. The Royal College Of Nursing Scotland stated that it did not believe that it was appropriate for nurses or midwives “to arbitrate if a woman’s claim is consistent with rape”. In addition, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have refused to co-operate stating that third party processing is not compassionate. And those like myself who support victims of domestic abuse know that these forms will not help those who are still in a relationship with the person who raped them, or those who were attacked by an acquaintance or stranger, rather than within an intimate relationship.

Theresa May once smugly said “What do the conservatives do for women? Keep making us Prime Minister”. As if any man or woman would ever consider her or Thatcher something this country could be proud of. They are proof that this party does not have the interests of ordinary people at heart and are hell bent destroying the progress made by feminists over the last 100 years. The rape clause is not double support. It is an attack on vulnerable women and children, and watching two women in such a position of power stand and attempt to justify their actions is an insult to survivors.


As there is a Tori Amos song for every kind of intense emotion, I will reach as I always do for one of the most beautiful, Playboy Mommy.

Reclaim The Beats

A little bit of history today, more so for those who have grown up with social media. Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, we lived in a world with no facebook, whatsapp, signal or instagram. Finding out about protests was usually from stickers on lampposts, or from over photocopied fliers and zines filled with intricate DIY art that you picked up from squat parties or punk bands.

The nineties was a pretty interesting time as far as protest and politics went. Various battles were being fought by different groups with the authorities around the country. Then in 1994, the conservative government brought in amendments to a piece of legislation that changed us forever. The Criminal Justice Act.

The CJA was an unnecessary and oppressive piece of legislation that ended up creating the very movement that it feared the most. It essentially made a criminal out of anyone who voiced dissent or sought to live in a way that veered away from the status quo. We had a government who were still rattled by the ferocity of the poll tax riots four years previously and feared more resistance from different pockets of society.

There were several changes that were significant. One related to ravers and free parties as it made a disastrous attempt to essentially ban rave music, which it defined as “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”. It also made it a crime to congregate on land with more than 20 or more persons. A Shoreham MP named Michael Stevens wanted to define an illegal gathering as 2 people or more, which would have made sex rather difficult for those concerned with obeying the law if he had his way. Make no mistake, criminalising gatherings such as raves and free parties that weren’t sanitised to fuck by legislation was not for the sake of our health and safety. It was because they were afraid. When the police descended on Travellers in 1985 as they made their way to the Stonehenge Free Festival, it was not because they were dangerous- it was because they were afraid of a growing vibrant movement based on subversive thought and rejecting modern consumerism. They called it Battle of Beanfield, but ‘Battle’ suggests there was some sort of fair fight involved, rather than the horrific, violent ambush on peaceful adults and children which occurred. Nowadays, people don’t even have to get out of bed in order to interact with billions of people around the world, so inevitably their target now is the internet, instead of the sabotaging unregulated public gatherings.

It also ended our four hundred year old right to silence when being arrested by the police (though through working for a charity, I’ve seen how entirely possible it still is for a detainee to nearly reduce a tired officer to tears after answering only “nee reply, pigeon pie” throughout four solid hours of questioning). The bill also changed the right to protest, gave police more powers to stop and search you without just cause, and quickened the process for evicting squatters.

Like any decent poisoned chalice however, what the bill managed to do, much to politicians horror, was unite the punks, the ravers, the hunt sabs, Travellers and anti road campaigners who found themselves targeted by a police force and government that had new powers to arrest, beat and imprison them. New ager environmentalists were literally D-locked to formerly law abiding middle class middle Englanders to save the woodlands they both loved, protecting each other from the blows and violent spite of security guards or the Tactical Support Group.

Direct action was colourful and creative as activists found new ways to resist. During one Reclaim The Streets party, protesters hid under the large hooped skirts of carnival dancers to use drills to dig up the road and plant tree saplings. It would be massively naive to think there were never problems within the movement, but they were challenges that were overcome by explosions of colour, music and spontaneity, with no long soulless marches filled with boring chants. And no one ever, ever asked for permission. There was huge resistance to the bill, including a massive demonstration in London which was supported by Jeremy Corbyn. In fact many of the opposition had concerns about the bill, with an exception of the shadow Home Secretary at the time- Tony Blair, who I still dream may one day live out his retirement in The Hague like a sort of politico version of Last Of The Summer Wine.

Regretably the pressures of CJA did eventually wear people out with constant arrests and violence and no doubt assisted by the presence of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit- a spy cop group who’s most ‘famous’ employee was Mark Kennedy that were known to be targeting activists around this time, the full extent of which is only very slowly starting to come to light now.

Fast forward to today and we can see some similarities in the world we are living in. We have found ourselves still with an increasingly sadistic Tory government. The mainstream media still smear activists as unclean, lefty ‘do-gooders’, despite their predictions about dubious legislation always coming true. We have more communication technology and access to information than we ever have before and yet in some respects we are more fragmented than ever, as reasonable conversation is abandoned and becomes a germ filled ball pool of identity politics in which we all fight like angry children inside while clambering to get out. We can learn a lot from these times by realising that there is more that unites us than divides us. That the state views us all with total disregard and treat us like guard dogs that are to be starved, then thrown the occasional treat for appeasement with no care if we turn on ourselves for their attention once in a while.

It has been too easy to spend hours and hours ‘debating’ on line. I’ve been guilty of this very thing before . I’m in no way some technology hating Luddite. What we have now is amazing and I love it- I just think we need to use it better. All this results in is a bunch of passionate people wearing themselves out of precious energy trying to get other people to completely agree with everything they’re saying. This is not only impossible, it is also unnecessary.

Nothing should be uniform, especially our ideas and the way we think. Our attempts to do so bleach out the vibrant colours of this world into a hundred shades of grey. Our heartbeats which once raced with the love we had for Earth and our fellow humans and drove us to make meaningful change, slow down until the day they stop completely.

Close your laptop, open your eyes and heart, wave at the clouds as time goes by so quickly and go out and cause some trouble.

Love Alice

Today’s soundtrack for my rantings is Flutter by Autechre. It was released in September 1994 in response to the CJA, programmed so that no bars contained any identical beats.

Title artwork by Kate Evans, taken from some old copies of Schnews, a publication which opposed and exposed the CJA and its minions. See more of her stuff at I’m struggling to find out who did the others, so if you know, give me a shout so I can give due credit!

Why aren’t we talking about #spycops?

Back in October 2010 a news story broke involving a rather shady division of the police called the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, where it was a revealed an undercover police officer named Mark Kennedy- aka Mark Stone- was sent to spy on various environmental groups and had been having sexual relationships with female activists who were oblivious to his identity. One woman who was in a relationship with Kennedy for six years and described him as the closest person to her, told how they would go on holiday together, cook meals, and spend time with family. Something she later discovered he was paid ‘overtime’ for doing so. When her father died, he was the one who held her, attended her father’s funeral, even travelling with her in the mourners car. His real identity was discovered only after he left the police, though suspicions were first raised while she discovered a passport in a different name while they were on holiday in Italy as part of a trip he was undertaking to- unknown to her- spy on animal rights activists. She has since learned that he had been married and had two small children.

Since then, other similar operations have been put under the spotlight, including the Special Demonstration Squad which was part of the Met from 1968 to 2008. It has been confirmed that over a 1000 groups have been spied on since the late sixties, though it could potentially be much more. The vast majority have been men, but a few female officers are starting to be identified, including Christine Green who still lives with the man she targeted, despite him now knowing her true identity. Their other tactics have been subject to scrutiny also, after it was discovered they stole the identities of dead children in order to create these personas and used them to infiltrate activist circles. A small few of at least 144 infiltrators have been identified, but countless more revelations about their activities are revealed every week. Andy Coles who spied on animal rights campaigns deceived a 19 year old girl with a history of mental health issues into a sexual relationship. He told her he was 24 when he was a married 32 year old police officer. He then went on to be a Tory councillor in Peterborough. Coles also wrote a manual about undercover activities in which he describes the people whose lives he violated as ‘wearies’ and referred to stealing documentation of dead kids as “claiming squatters rights over unfortunates identities”. Bob Lambert was another SDS operative whose manipulation of a 22 year old activist resulted in the birth of their son. Lambert disappeared when the child was 2 years old, while the boy’s mother needed to seek psychiatric care when she learned of his true identity. The Met issued a statement apologising and declaring that they never had a policy saying “that officers could use sexual relations for purposes of policing”. In 2015, the Met issued a formal apology to 7 of the women:

these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma…. relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity… sexual relationships between undercover police officers and members of the public should not happen. The forming of a sexual relationship by an undercover officer would never be authorized in advance nor indeed used as a tactic of a deployment. If an officer did have a sexual relationship despite this (for example if it was a matter of life or death) then he would be required to report this in order that the circumstances could be investigated for potential criminality and/or misconduct.

Personally I don’t think there is no way that the officers superiors would not have been aware of the relationships. This statement is also discredited in another part of Coles’ manual which recommends that relationships with activists be “fleeting and disastrous”.

Currently there is a public enquiry underway which has been constantly hindered by the police’s delaying tactics and left us no further forward as we approach the end of the initial three year deadline. 12 officers involved with the SDS have applied for anonymity for fear that their human rights will be breached if their identities are revealed. They are even having the gall to cite Article 8 of the Human Rights Act to plead their case- which is the right to privacy and family life. The SDS was also recently shown to have links to the blacklisting scandal, and that -as well as environmental and animal rights activists- trade unionists were also targeted and had their union activities and political leanings compiled, which was then used by construction companies to vet potential employees on sites.

We must always remember that while these units class the people they spy on as ‘domestic extremists’, from what we’ve seen so far, we are not talking about the Baader Meinhoff gang here. It would be hard to argue with the infiltration if it meant preventing awful attacks on innocents. But many of the groups who have been spied on have not been violent or massively subversive. Many have been revealed to be peaceful and non violent. Even if some had engaged in tactical direct action, does that justify the level of violation and abuse shown by the state? No. Remember that in a recent interview, Andy Coles tried to imply that the people he targeted were dangerous, and that simply is not true. We must know why so much public money was spent violating people who pose no threat to us whatsoever. Out of the victims who have so far been identified, they all appear to be mainly environmental, animal rights and anarchist groups, though it has been confirmed that some right wing groups were also targets, including the BNP. Police have also revealed that there were more spies hired by private companies than there were police officers involved in undercover work, as if this statement somehow made their actions less abhorrent and the situation less terrifying. An officer named Peter Francis who spied on anti racist groups, but has turned sort of whistleblower criticised the practice of surveillance on certain groups recently stating there was no evidence to suggest many of the people he was asked to infiltrate were dangerous. He has also condemned the decision to allow officers who have had relationships with targets to remain anonymous, seeing anonymity as a privilege rather than a right.

The existence of these police units doesn’t shock me, though it does repulse me. What has stunned me about this whole situation is the silence of the activist community. Every time new information around this issue comes to light, I wait for the outrage and am left watching tumbleweed blow through social media. And I don’t understand. Our refusal to speak about it makes us bricks in walls of silence which protect the state and trap the victims into spirals of shame and paranoia. Forty years at least we have allowed our governments to sexually abuse and mentally destroy those who dare resist them. Our complicit silence teaches those who have fought tirelessly for the rights of others that when the shit hits the fan, they’re on their own and very few will stick around to defend them.

The lack of interest within our own ranks is astounding. Even the most stridently feminist campaigners against sexual abuse and violence are saying very little. The #metoo campaign and international women’s day went past without so much as a whisper. Maybe from this someone can tell me what is going on. I have a couple of theories. One is the good old “that would never happen to me” school of thought. Just as we believe that we don’t have friends who abuse their partners or rapists in our ranks, because we think we can spot them a mile off, so too do we think that we have some infallible built in bullshit detector that would allow us to identify an imposter, when statistics tell us that simply isn’t true. Most of us have a great story involving plain clothes coppers coming into clubs or pubs when we were teenagers and trying to buy drugs, but were always inevitably spotted a mile away. In Manchester, when members of the local force would come into the goth club we literally haunted, all looking like jocks from a bad nineties high school movie asking people for tack, us spooky kids would immediately shift to the opposite wall and glower at them until they fucked off. But we have to take into account that the SDS officers were not your usual plod. They were highly trained manipulators whose sole purpose was to infiltrate people and exploit them for no real purpose.

Another theory is that some of us believe very much that we may have had our lives invaded already. There’s been that friend, or that lover, who appeared out of nowhere, caused absolute hell on, then vanished into the wind again leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Imagine saying out loud: I think my mate/my boyfriend/my child’s father is really a police officer sent to spy on me and report everything I do back to the authorities. Sounds mental, doesn’t it? One woman who also found out her partner was an undercover officer said “No-one believed me. Everyone thought I was mad. People didn’t know about this”. This is political gaslighting on an unprecedented scale. And even now that we are starting to scratch at the truth, it perhaps provokes a terrifying discomfort that people cannot bring themselves to talk about for fear it may bring their own world crashing down around them.

Which is how they win. We have to remember that the SDS’s sole intention was not just to detect illegal activity and bring the perpetrators to court. It has been about disrupting the groups and causing discord and mistrust among political communities. One SDS officer known only as Officer A at the time (later revealed to be Peter Francis) confirmed this when he said “Once the SDS get into an organisation, it is effectively finished”. Tactics include smear campaigns and rumour spreading about certain individuals, finding the cracks in relationships within groups and chipping at then until they fracture completely. And it’s happening on a global scale.

Kennedy’s name was in the news again last week in connection with the start of the trial of a small anarchist group in France involving a rail sabotage that occured over a decade ago, allegedly by the group he was paid by French police to spy on. In fact, Kennedy travelled internationally and was involved in political actions around Europe, used by police forces in different countries. How many is unclear- Mark Kennedy told the Guardian it was 22, but given that his job was to literally lie to people, we should take this with large pinch of salt. But considering that officers were known to travel considerable distances sometimes it is hard to imagine how far this thing might go.

The enquiry is quickly turning into a shambles, due to Sir John Mitting who is chairing it being about as suitable for the job as Katie Hopkins on a Samaritans helpine. Today the victims and their QC walked out in protest of his handling of it. If you have the slightest care and concern for this situation, share everything you see about it. Engage in conversation. It is important to let them know that we are watching them this time and that we have the victims’ back. If your silence is motivated by thoughts of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” you will one day find yourself on the receiving end of state interference with no one left to defend you. The same will happen if we also allow fear to cow us into only showing our indignation using the Facebook angry face emoji. I’m no longer naive enough to believe that public outcry or outright kick offs will stop similar things from happening in the future. But I do believe we need to be more present for those affected and less convinced that it will never happen to us.

For more information please have a look at, which contains more information about campaigns, legal actions, and the impact the spies have had on people’s lives.

Corrupt from the bottom to the top, and you tell me it’s the law. Here’s Dirty Davey by The Levellers.

That girl, Anarchy

A very different blog post, but it will be back to the usual stuff very soon.

Earlier in the year, I did a spoken word piece to music at an event we did about the Grenfell fire and fire safety in tower blocks in general. A few of you asked to see a written version of it, which I promptly forgot about until this New Year when I made a resolution to be kinder after a few months of feeling a bit hardened to the horrors of the world and being afraid of losing my compassion. So here it is.

That girl, Anarchy.

Beauty is in the street and all the forgotten people are marching to repeat of anger down to number 10.

This is what happens when governments lie again and again to cling to power.

austerity is petrol poured on the poor, corporate manslaughter is the spark that ignited and illuminated the total disregard they have for all our lives.

Children died, a nation cries, while politicians wait around for fucking goatskin to dry.

And in the meantime, the people, they organise. they donate, they feed, rehouse and heal, while the media scapegoats them and conceals the truth.

Mrs May runs away from her accountability like she’s in a field of wheat. And we see her fear and instability and realise just how obsolete this state is.

They’ve done nothing but divide us, they’ve done nothing but remind us that control is an illusion.

and when you have that fusion of outrage and solidarity, that is where you will find love and Anarchy.

I first met her aged 14, as I watched bulldozers on TV lined up to teardown trees.

That is when Dysnomia was born in me.

As I watched people like Ewoks in the trees running amok and fighting with caterpillar made At-Ats to save their Endor.

And I grew more angry every day as I watched police use the CJA to lock up the hunt saboteurs and earth protectors.

They waived our right to rave and to remain silent, they made dancing illegal and tried to say that we were violent.

See when you think of an anarchist, you think of riots and flying bricks. instead of someone like me, who just can’t relate to the idea that we have to legislate taking care of each other.

That we have to have laws,that we have to have borders, that only with a government can we have order.

We are indoctrinated into thinking that the state is there to protect us. that we can’t be trusted to play our part, that decency comes from rules and not from our hearts.

And you tell me that I will not see this utopic dream of Anarchy and yet, I see her everywhere.

To me Anarchy is not just being out there raging against the machine.

She’s jumping naked off jetties marked no trespassing into a lake.

She’s every time you make something, she’s the defiance of the fear that stops you dreaming, she’s every time you fall in love.

She is when you feed someone starving in the street, she starts the revolution in your own self to get things done and not beg for help.

She’s the twinkle I get in my eye everytime I defy an authority that tells me to hate destitute people for having a television.

She is my mission. To be kinder. And a reminder that we can have a better world if only we dare to take it.