Imperfect Allies, Flawed Leaders

This week, Jack Monroe was central to the push to get shoddy food packages for hungry children sorted out. Almost at once, Twitter was full of people who wanted to talk about how if Jack was serious about tackling child poverty, she would have supported Jeremy Corbyn.  It’s a typical story – someone does something well meaning and genuinely good and is shot down over something else.  It may be deliberate trolling, it may be a cultural problem, I suspect it’s both and I see it a lot.

There will never be a perfect leader, charity, organisation or ally who does absolutely everything you want in the totally perfect way all of the time. If you wait for that perfection, you’ll never do anything. If you decide that only your perfection will do, you’ll likely run into how imperfect other people find you. Lots of people trying to start their own revolution because no one else’s revolution is quite good enough does not get much done. We need to work together, and to do that we have to accept that none of us are perfect.

How imperfect can we cope with? It’s an important question. If someone is at odds with a key value, you might struggle to work with them no matter how good the work is. The questions of when, where and how to compromise are incredibly personal and specific, there’s no way to map a generalised answer for this.  My favourite strawman for this is the fictional group Nazis for Sustainable Farming. I would not work with them.  But what about the person who is doing amazing, frontline work on child safety but isn’t very good on some gender issues?  Or the person who is a brilliant champion against plastic use, but flies off on holiday? At what point does a flaw become an issue of hypocrisy? It can be hard to say.

It can be helpful to ask whether anyone else is doing the work – if there’s a selection of people/organisations tackling an issue you may be able to find the one that is the best match for you.  If the issue is important and the only person leading on it is problematic, you have to balance how important the work is against how problematic the person is. Also ask who they are – there’s a world of difference between a problematic person working for a cause they are dedicated to, and a high profile person making noise when you aren’t sure what their real motives are.

The movement to save wild otters in the UK had a great deal to do with otter hunting and it was otter hunters who first identified the population decline. This is a good example of a difficult scenario.  People may be allies over one issue but coming to it from such different angles as to have nothing else in common. Can you make that work? Should you? What’s the most important issue?

It would be hard to name an area of human activity that isn’t urgently in need of a rethink right now.  There is so much that needs doing, tripping up people trying to do the work because they aren’t as perfect as we want them to be, isn’t helping. We’re becoming polarised, and we need some degree of compromise and a spirit of co-operation. At the same time we need to think carefully about the issues we’re prepared to ignore for the sake of getting things done, and to consider carefully the balance between means and ends.


Nature in January

My relationship with the cycle of the seasons is weakest at this time of year. I don’t reliably go out every day, and when I do go out it isn’t for as long and I don’t walk as far, so I don’t encounter as many wild things.  But at the same time, this is a response to the season and a consequence of the nature of my own animal body.

January is a variable month – it can be freezing, it can be mild, this year it seems to be shifting between the two.  For me, it always feels like an in between month. In terms of wild things, mostly what I’m looking for is how early things are that I think should be showing up in February – the snowdrops, the buds fattening on trees, the first green shoots at ground level. This year I note tree leaves already opening, primroses in bloom and other unseasonal things.

My body does badly with the cold. I am more sore, and more stiff in cold weather. I layer up, I wrap up, I do all manner of things to protect against this but even so there’s an impact. Being outside when it is very cold takes a serious toll no matter how well dressed I am. That notion that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing is fundamentally wrong if you have body issues and/or a limited budget. I can’t afford to get soaked to the skin in winter. I know that my coat cannot fend off the worst of the downpours. Sometimes, I really can’t afford to go outside much.

‘Get out into nature’ is not a universal cure-all, and sometimes smacks of ableism. Winter can be limiting, not all bodies handle it well. If we are interested in encountering nature, we have to start with how we manifest it – our bodies are nature too. Nature is not always kind or convenient, and this is true of human bodies also.  It’s best not to assume anything about how the nature in a person’s body interacts with the wildness outside of it. 


Please be an intolerant Pagan

I’m an intolerant Pagan, and I invite you to join me.

If we start from the premise of ‘an it harm none, do what you will’ then we don’t need to tolerate people who are just getting on with their lives and their Paganism. Diversity doesn’t need our tolerance – diversity is a good thing. We don’t need to all think, feel, practice or believe in the same ways. Paganism has always been a tad individualistic and we do not need dogma to affirm us. We can argue, or agree, we can accept and reject each other based on whether we get along, but we should never have to tolerate each other.

I like diversity, I embrace and welcome it. I am comfortable with beliefs, practices and ways of life other than my own. If you’re just getting on with your life and not hurting anyone, what you do is none of my business, and tolerance is not part of the mix.

I will not tolerate people who spread hatred and wish harm to others. I will not tolerate people who think they are entitled to force their views onto other people. I don’t tolerate abuse, bullying, racism, sexism, oppression, cruelty, violence, threats.  I’ve got no time for hatred.  At the moment I don’t have a lot of energy for active fighting of anything much, but I will move away from anyone who I can’t tolerate. I will not give them a platform.

The right to free speech is not the right to an audience. It isn’t the right to be heard and it most certainly isn’t the right to be tolerated.

So if anyone suggests that you’re being intolerant by not giving them a place at your table, tell them you know, and that this is because you aren’t a tolerant person. Don’t let your kindness, your inclusiveness and your generosity be weaponised against you. If you find something intolerable, you do not owe it a fair listen. Tolerance is just a way of enabling stuff we don’t really want. I don’t want to live in a tolerant society, I want to live in a fair, inclusive and diverse society free from haters.  Equally, I do not want to be tolerated, I want to be safe.


Living Tradition in Lockdown

The Gloucestershire cheese rolling was cancelled this year, but one man rolled a single cheese down the hill. There were no groups of morris dancers out for May morning, but there were a great many solitary morris dancers up at dawn and posting videos of their dancing online.  Locally, there was no lantern parade at the December goodwill evening, but there was just the one big lantern. I have no doubt there are many other examples of people doing small, safe versions of things to keep traditions alive.

I’ve found this comforting. I am glad that traditions continue, in some form, even while we can’t get together and can’t do things in the usual ways. So when the Saturday that would have been the Stroud Wassail came by, we decided to be a one household bubble beast parade. The local wassail isn’t an ancient custom, but it’s been part of my calendar for a while, and I didn’t want it to pass uncelebrated.

We waited until late in the afternoon so there were few people out in the streets. We did a ten minute or so mini parade, with just the one beast rather than the many who normally gather.  We didn’t let people know we were doing it, and we put up photos online afterwards – and managed to cheer a fair few people with those.

Lockdown costs us so much, I think it’s really important to make what joy we can and keep going with the things we find meaningful. I also think it’s incredibly important to stay safe and not put anyone at risk. One cheese down a hill sums that up for me. One sackcloth boar dancing in the street.  The hope that in future years, it will be better and we can have our traditions back.

Image may contain: one or more people, people dancing, people standing, people walking and outdoor

Self care and feeling good

I don’t do performative femininity. I have a very female-appearing body but for most of my adult life, I haven’t wanted to present that for the male gaze, or do any of the things that feel like performance. As a consequence, I’m not going to be uplifted by a make-over. I don’t want a new hairstyle, I am not cheered by new shoes (unless those shoes are practical). The kinds of things that are often pedalled as self care and feelgood options aren’t going to work for me. I also worry about the way adverts pitch performative femininity as self-care so much of the time.

We’re in the season when the diet industry doubles down on the message that to be happy you have to be thin, and that being thin will solve all of your problems. The fashion industry, which is greatly harmful to the planet, tells us that happiness, confidence and a better life are available if we buy new clothes. The car industry shows us how a new car will make us feel better. Psychologists however are pretty clear that once your basic needs are met, material wealth doesn’t do much to improve your happiness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what actual self care might mean. Being warm enough is important – I’m fortunate in that I can afford at the moment to heat my home to a reasonable temperature in winter. I grew up in cold houses with ice on the windows, I’ve lived in badly insulated, badly heated places, I’ve had plenty of years when money was tight. If I’m not warm, my body gets stiff and sore more easily.  I’m a big fan of snugly blankets and hot water bottles too – these feel like self-care. There are days when it takes some effort to remember that I am allowed to be comfortable.

Self care is one of the things you aren’t allowed to do properly when you live with an abusive person.  One way or another, you won’t be allowed to be comfortable. Being warm enough may cost too much and not be worth it if you’re dealing with someone who is financially controlling. Your bodily wellbeing may be constantly framed as something that doesn’t matter. Feeling ok can become being selfish and unreasonable when you are being gaslit. Learning how to feel like I matter has not been easy, but self care is nigh on impossible without that basic assumption in place.

One of the mental shifts I needed was to start seeing my feeling good as something that mattered. I’ve had a lot of years in my life under pressure to treat myself as the least important thing, and even in kinder circumstances, those habits are hard to break. It is no longer the case that self care might actually put me at risk. I can say no to things, I can ask for nice things – if I can work out what those are. I can ask for care, support, help and time off without risking wrath or ridicule. It’s taken a while to get here and I suspect I still have a lot to learn.

I see a lot of other folk online who clearly find it hard to look after themselves. Not because they’re daft, or incompetent, or masochistic, but because they too do not know when it is ok to treat that like it matters. This is hard stuff to figure out on your own, and easier to do collectively. How do we meet our own needs? What even are those needs? Because they probably aren’t the ones we’re being encouraged to imagine by the adverts we encounter every day.  What can we do to feel safer, be well, be comfortable, be happy? That may call for some uncomfortable poking around in the reasons that we don’t feel entitled to those basic things in the first place.

Self care can be really hard. Feeling good can seem transgressive, even dangerous. Sometimes it is – which is a sure sign that you need to get the hell out as soon as you can. Everyone should have the time and resources for a life with gentleness, peace, rest and restorative things in it.


Witch in a Bottle part 1

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 1: Setting the Scene

The moonlit ruins radiated menace. Joy Whitfield’s companions Maisy and Will perceived the grim and ghastly projection as well.

“Blimey,” Maisy said. “That’s a proper set for an H-Rated horror flick.”

“Shoot scenes in that corner, there.” Will agreed. “Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff would feel right at home.”

Shoot who? Joy thought. Why?

Maisy and Will were both silver screen buffs and embarked on a discussion that Joy couldn’t understand. She had known about the moving pictures before her friends had arrived in the Wyrde Woods because folk somewhen talked about the ones they’d seen in nearby Odesby, but Joy had never been herself. Her friends’ enthusiasm wasn’t contagious. It all sounded horribly confusing, like some of the things they insisted on teaching at the village school in Wolfden.

“I betcha there’s a beating heart underneath the floor in them ruins,” Maisy said.

She sounded oddly pleased about the morbid prospect. To Joy’s discomfort, Maisy wasn’t far off the mark.

How does she ken that? Folk say the silver screen has magic. Mayhap they’re right.  

“I can just about see Norman Dryden stalking John Kelt,” Will agreed. He changed his tone to speak melodramatically, “True. Nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I’ve been, and am. But why will you say that I’m mad?[1]

“Or!” Maisy exulted. “Doctor Vollin keeps his homemade torture machines in there!”

“Doctor Vollin?” Joy asked. “He bain’t from round here, sureleye? Torture machines?”

“A very curious hobby,[2]” Maisy confirmed.

Will lowered his voice to deliver an ominous line: “It’s more than a hobby.[3]

Maisy copied his tone. “What a delicious torture. I have done it Bateman![4]

“Shadow of a black-feathered, sharp-beaked bird over his shoulder,” Will said.

“Or Murder Legendre’s pet swooping down,” Maisy suggested. “All feathers and razor-like talons.” She followed that with a set of shrill shrieks.

“MWUAHAHA MWHAHAaaa,” Will tried to utter that in a low and deep manner again, but his voice broke and what had started as an eerie guffaw ended in a high-pitched squeak.

Maisy dissolved in merry peals of laughter.

Joy shivered.

Truly this silver screen is magic, they ken much more than I reckoned.

Joy observed the two briefly. The full moon was fierce enow to stage her friends here at the remnants of what had once been the village of Tuckersham, in the dark depths of the Wyrde Woods.

Maisy, whose diminutive physique in no way demeaned her spirited presence, was dressed in a Western outfit her grandmother had made for her. It resembled that of a cavalry soldier from the moving pictures that Joy’s best friend often praised as the best thing “since London was invented – much better than Brighton, ain’t it?”

The bit about Brighton was a dig at Maisy’s cousin Will. The two were outlanders, Vackies – or evacuees in proper posh English. Maisy from the nation’s capital, Will from the popular seaside resort town on the Sussex coast. The both of them could entertain themselves for hours mocking the other’s hometown, cheerfully arguing about which was bettermost. Joy deemed it silly and childish nonsense. Everyone knew the Wyrde Woods were the bettermost place to be. Tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Weald, far away from the busy madness of cities and towns.

At thirteen, Will was the oldest of the three. Joy followed him at twelve. Maisy claimed to be eleven-and-almost-four-quarters, as well as a rapid “not a bloody six-year old, you glocky nickey” when comments were made about her height.

Joy knew her friend’s sensitivity was about more than just her height, as Maisy was especially galled by the common assumption that her mind must somehow have been stunted by her body’s refusal to grow. Joy loved Maisy for the sheer brilliance of her mind and her fervour to shape life on her own terms – only a chuckleheaded puckstool would assume that Maisy was anything other than bettermost deedy.

Will wore his Air Raid Precaution uniform with pride, a blue overall and utility belt, with a Tommy helmet askance on his mop of blond hair, bearing a white “M” for messenger. It wasn’t painted black, like most ARP helmets, because Will had refused to paint over the fading green of the original. He was extraordinarily proud of the helmet because it was something called a Mark One from The Great War that – he assured anyone who cared to hear (or didn’t for that matter) – was far superior to modern regulation issue.

Maisy made fun of him all-along-of that. Joy didn’t. She understood all too well the power of symbolism. It could transform the reality most townfolk insisted was the only dimension that could possibly exist and warp it right into something wholly else. As such, to Joy’s mind, Will had made it into a powerful token for himself. He had an aptitude for the Wyrd but Joy suspected he was unaware of it. Will might have been born elsewhere, but his exile from Brighton had brought him home. Maskall blood ran old in the Wyrde Woods. His heritage here was as broadly branched as the roots of the oldest oak, shared with Maisy whose mother was a Maskall. For all their boasts about London and Brighton, Joy reckoned they both belonged to the Wyrde Woods in a manner that was beyond their own comprehension as of yet.

Joy herself was barefooted. She wore a simple white summer shift that seemed timeless in style, as if she had stepped out of any previous century that featured human habitation on the British Isles. It was vanity, she supposed, chosen deliberately – symbolically. Less of a choice was her wild and frizzy red hair that never stayed in place no matter how often she brushed it.

Joy’s connections to the Wyrde Woods were older than that of the Maskalls. The Whitfields weren’t just familiar with the land; they were at one with it, all those who had previously been, and those who would one day.

Well, almost all of it.

Pushing awareness of her friends aside, Joy focused on the forbidding crumbling walls that enclosed the roofless remains of Tuckersham’s church. Unlike Maisy and Will, Joy didn’t need her eyes to establish the hostility exuded by the main building and its short, squat tower – not to mention the lopsided head stones and half-sunken tombs in the churchyard atween the main ruins and the broad dirt path the children were on. It was a tension that hung in the air so thick that Joy felt compelled to urgently whisper words of protection for her friends.

This was a place of vile hatred. The ominous doom of the ruins had spilled over into the woods around it, so folk generally didn’t come this way unless they absolutely had to, and then they would hasten their step as they hurried through, fuelled by shivers running along their spines.

“Oh, Gwydion” Joy sighed.

She frowned briefly at the sight of a girl, three or four years older than Joy herself, scurrying along the path. The girl was incongruously dressed in heavy soldier’s boots combined with a short dress patterned with what appeared to be skulls. A troubled girl, Joy perceived, but before she could take a second look at the strangely dressed stranger, the passer-by had vanished into thin air. No shim, this one, but a lost soul nonetheless. An anomaly of the Sight, or a vision from past or future. Joy could usually see them clear enow but to her frustration had no idea how to identify what she was seeing, or what meaning lay behind it.

“So what’s with this place, Joy?” Maisy asked. “Why did we come here? Oh, hullo there.”

Those last words were addressed to a ferret. Valkerie usually accompanied Maisy when the children were out and about on adventure, and now formed a white blur as she scrambled out of a coat pocket to perch on Maisy’s shoulder, half concealed by the girl’s abundant mane of dark hair.

“I was curious,” Joy answered.

She didn’t really have a better answer. Hours of poring over old books and ancient crumbling paper scrolls had led her to believe there might be answers to be found at the ruins of Tuckersham’s church. Joy hadn’t shared this particular quest of hers with the others because she wasn’t sure how much to tell, especially since she was mostly guessing and only uncovering knowledge a puzzle piece at a time. Howsumdever, Maisy’s inquisitive mind was unlikely to be satisfied with the vague justification of curiosity. She knew Joy well enow to know that her friend rarely ever acted out of impulse. Any expedition Joy led them on in the Wyrde Woods had a reason that would have been extensively weighed in Joy’s mind first.

Fortunately, Joy was saved immediate further interrogation by Maisy when Will raised an observation.

“I though you said there was a village here. I can only see the church.”

“It be here alright.” Joy swept an arm around to indicate the ample undergrowth beneath the pale trunks of the birch trees on the other side of the broad dirt path. “The cottages were timbered but dunnamany had stone foundations. Start coking about that undergrowth and you’ll find them soon enow.”

“Enow? Enough, ain’t it?” Maisy commented.

“Enow,” Joy insisted stubbornly. Whatever version of English the other two spoke, Broad Sussex was enow for her.

“So what happened here? Why did people leave?” Will asked.

“They ran away,” Maisy suggested. “From the Martians!”

“Quiddy?” Joy asked. “Martians?”

“Ming the Merciless,” Will said, further confusing her. “Evil ruler of Mongo. I’d run if he pointed his Nitron ray at me.”

“Allied with Azura, the Witch Queen of Mars, weren’t he?” Maisy added. “Oppressor of the poor Clay People.” 

“There bain’t naun of that in the Wyrde Woods,” Joy assured them. “The folk here, they never left. Twere the plague. Killed every man, woman, and child in Tuckersham.”

Will shivered. “No wonder it’s such a cheerful place.”

“It’ll be haunted for sure then,” Maisy concluded with evident delight.

“Don’t be silly,” Will objected. “Ghosts don’t exist.”

“Do too!” Maisy retorted.

Joy remained silent on the subject. Will had an aversion to shims. He was by now willing to admit to the possibility of Pooks, but remained insistent on the subject of shims. As far as Maisy was concerned, the more shims the better, a wish just as foolish as Will’s denial. Joy didn’t want to trigger another endless discussion between the cousins on the subject. Not here. Not at night. Shims were best avoided, like many other beings in the Wyrde Woods.

That thought caused Joy to glance at the ruins again, suddenly doubting the wisdom of this visit.

I need to know. Is it still alive? After all these years?

“I’m going to explore,” Maisy announced. “Find me some ghosts, ain’t I?”

She walked towards a patch of undergrowth to push branches and brambles aside with her boot, chatting away to Valkerie who dooked contentedly in reply.

Joy didn’t mind as long as Maisy wasn’t intent on exploring the church – or rather the dark crypt beneath the grass-edged flagstones inside.

A black feathered shadow. Sharp-beaked. Razor-like talons. They missed out on the menacing eyes, glowing red like fierce coals. 

Left on his own with Joy, Will immediately reverted to a state of awkwardness. Maisy had claimed this was because he fancied Joy like mad, but Maisy never hesitated to exaggerate morsels of truth into grandiose designs of her own. Then again, when Joy was alone with the boy, he mostwhen stumbled over his words like a drunk staggering from the Raven’s Roost after closing time. He also blushed a lot.

Ever slow and cautious, Joy was digesting it all at her own speed. She was fond enow of Will when he forgot to be awkward around her, less comfortable when he turned into a timmersome grummut, and immensely flattered by his adulation. Before the cousins had arrived, Joy had allwhen been the odd one out, virtually an outcast at school where she was disliked and feared for…

Being different.

Maisy’s friendship had changed all that, and Will’s feelings – if they were what Maisy said and Joy now strongly suspected – seemed to cement it. Her worry was that he would change his mind when he discovered just how different Joy was.

“So, who’s this Dr Vollin?” she asked, not especially interested but keen to break the ice before the silence between them became unbearable.

Will found his voice easily enow when there was safe ground to cover. “He was an insane surgeon who liked to torture people to death in his cellars. But he died when Bateman threw him into the shrinking room.”

Joy disapproved. “Doctors are supposed to heal folk, naun frit and hurt them.”

Will seemed to take her admonition personally. He shrugged and began to withdraw into awkwardness again.

Joy quickly asked, “Are there many of these mad doctors?”

Her ploy worked because Will started listing a great many.

“…Doctor Zorka who invented devisualizer belts…”

I bain’t much interested in modern city fashions.

“…Doctor Orloff, he dumped people into vats of water and charged them with electricity…”

Strange way to take a bath.

“…Doctor Janos Rukh, he travelled to Africa to find a meteorite composed of Radium X, that made him glow in the dark and drove him bonkers…”

Africa! A far stride from Sussex.

“Doctor Fu Manchu, who was after Genghis Khan’s sword and threw his enemies in crocodile pits.”

I bain’t ever gwoan to see a doctor again, sureleye.

“…Doctor Laurience, who started out researching minds and souls and ended up transferring brains…”

“Transferring brains?”

“Like putting the mind of one person into the body of another. It’d be like my mind in Maisy’s body, and Maisy’s mind in mine.”

Joy wasn’t sure what to make of that. Maisy stayed at the Whitfield cottage a lot for sleepovers in Joy’s loft room. What if this Doctor Laurience had put Will’s mind in Maisy? That might be really awkward when it was bedtime.

Joy giggled, briefly stalling Will mid flow, but he recovered.

“Erm, anyhow, he swaps his mind for that of a younger man, cause he…ahem…really fancies Anna Lee who plays Doctor Wyatt, and he reckons as a younger man he’s got a shot with her, but all sorts of things go wrong, with people’s minds prisoners in the wrong bodies and such.”

Joy nodded. She doubted any good could come from such exchanges, no matter who fancied whom, although she was pleased to hear a first mention of a female physician.

“…Doctor Moreau, on the Island of Lost Souls, who changed beasts into people in the House of Pain. Wolfish for the Sayer of the Law, or a panther like Lola. But it all became a mess and the apeman Ouran turned against him! They tied Doctor Moreau to his own operating table and cut him to bits with his surgeon’s tools…” 

Joy frowned at the mention of beastlike people, or humanlike beasts. She wondered again just how much the silver screen had revealed to Will and Maisy.

Maisy joined them again. “Dontcha forget Perfessor Bandov from Castle Sinister.”

Will nodded wisely, before providing another incomprehensible explanation, “Mad doctor tries to put girl’s brain into apeman’s head.[5]

“They’re not all bad though,” Maisy said. “There’s Professor Norton who helped Ray Crash Corrigan stop Unga Khan from taking over Atlantis.”

“Don’t forget Doctor Huer in the Hidden City,” Will exclaimed.

“Or Doctor Zarkov!” Maisy enthused. “Who helped fight Emperor Ming, King Kala of the Shark Men, and King Vultan of the Hawk Men – but Vultan later changed sides. Oi, Joy, look what Valkerie dug up from them foundations.”

“That be nice,” Joy said absentmindedly, not really registering the item Maisy held up. Her mind was a-swirl with a mizmaze of strange names and even stranger storylines. The odd names reminded her of incantations and Joy was trying to discern a pattern in this strange new magic. Further distraction was caused by the tantalising notion of Will on a sleepover. Would it be better to have his mind in Maisy’s body, or Maisy’s mind in his? Joy had never appreciated the complexity a simple sleepover could pose.

Bettermost to naun…

The object in Maisy’s hand caught the moonlight and lit up in a spectacular manner, dazzling all three of them and finally drawing Joy’s full attention.


[1] The boy (played by Norman Dryden) in The Tell-Tale Heart (1934)

[2] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935)

[3] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935)

[4] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935).

[5] Castle Sinister (1932)

Find out more about Nils and his Wyrde Woods books here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/


I will build a house – a poem

I will build a house

I will build a house at the forest’s edge

For the wild girls who loathe hunters

Live by shadow and moonlight, escape artists

Surviving at the margins if they can.

A house with generous windows, secret doors

Many rooms of respite and sanctuary

Places to sleep soundly for the girls

Who will not be tamed or trained

Who come and go at all hours by whim

As sexual or chaste as they desire

And at no man’s bidding.

I will build a house for the girls

Other stories like to kill while lamenting

Their being too good for this world

The girls whose unkempt beauty reads

As a debt to those who would tidy

Them up to screw them over and crush

The lush, untarnished splendour of their souls.

A house for girls with blood on their hands

For witches and sirens. For those who howl

At the moon, and those who root

In the earth, the ephemeral, and filthy alike

Welcome under this roof.

I will grow an orchard, a herb garden

Keep chickens and not become too fond

Of them, just in case.

I will build a house for the unrepentant

Unacceptable girls who neither kneel nor beg

Whose proud, flashing eyes are glorious wild

And I will build a house to shelter

Every woman whose spirit still holds

Some part of the wild girl who was

Punished into hiding deep inside her

And I will build a house.


Changing how I work

This week I put down my paid work with the Transition Network. For some years now I’ve done a monthly community newsletter for Transition Stroud, and of late I’ve also been doing the social media as well. It’s been a good project to work with and there’s a lot to like about it. The pay was steady, more than the minimum wage most of the time, and it was work I could do well. I poured a lot into it.

Like many self employed people, I work multiple small jobs. The trouble with this is the generally invisible work around working. If you just do one job, you probably won’t notice it. You need to know your people, the outfit you work for, its rules, habits, assumptions, systems and whatnot. As someone doing social media work, I also have to know the brand identity and how it’s evolving and be on top of news developments.  There’s quite a lot of mental work that all of us do around the work we officially do.

When you work multiple jobs, you still have to have a full job’s worth of that knowledge for every single job you are doing. Then you have to move between jobs, keeping track of what applies where.  It might seem like having lots of small jobs would be no harder work than doing the same number of hours on a single job, but it is, because of all that extra mental labour required.

There was a brief patch when I was up to eight jobs, and a long stretch when I was doing seven.  I’d successfully brought the number down, but even so it’s been hard. The Transition work was my one remaining outlier, the job that doesn’t overlap with any other job, which makes it the most expensive in terms of tracking all the information I need.  It’s not been easy to let go of, but if I am to avoid burnout and stay passably sane, this is the kind of change I need to make.

The other less than perfectly visible issue with having lots of freelance jobs, is that you have none of the benefits conventional employment gives. There is no paid sick leave. There is also no paid holiday leave. In the absence of paid time off, you either have to take a pay cut to get a break, or you have to work extra hard to offset your missing week. Neither of these approaches is restful.  Having done years when I didn’t manage to take a whole week off, this kind of thing is hard, and not good for mental health.

There are advantages to companies and organisations in hiring freelancers – no national insurance to pay, no pension requirements, no holiday or sick pay, short term contracts, fewer rights for the person you’ve hired, and it’s easier to have them on flexible terms. For a small outfit this can be an unavoidable necessity – Transition Stroud is a community group with a small budget and just doesn’t have enough work to turn what I was doing into a full time job.  This is also often the way of it around marketing and social media work, and quite a lot of publishing industry work. These are also reasons we really need Universal Basic Income to smooth things out for individual workers and small organisations alike.


Raising the puppy-kitten

Most creatures, humans included are more influenced by environment than by genetics when it comes to behaviour. I have a kitten, and he’s got me wondering about how we raise kittens compared to how we raise puppies, and how much of this is about human assumptions. There are going to be no ‘natural’ ways for a kitten to exist as part of a human household.

When I was a child, my grandmother had a rabbit who thought he was much the same as the household cats – he used the catflaps, flopped out in front of the fire and sat on people’s laps because that was clearly what you did. He seemed happy with this and I suspect it was a lot more fun than mostly living in a hutch.

Mr Anderson (the kitten) does not know that he is a kitten. He has no idea about the things people assume are true of kittens. He’s making this up as he goes along, and responding to his environment. About the only thing that seems to be hard wired cat behaviour, is the pouncing. He is perfectly happy to go outside on a lead. No one has told him that being free range is for cats and that supervised walks are for dogs. As a cat on a lead he is less of a danger to the wildlife and in less danger from cars.

Why is it that we recognise the threats dogs might pose to other beings, and the danger they are in from cars and thus do not let them out to play unsupervised in the road? Why do we take such different approaches to these two domestic animals that we as humans keep for our own amusement?

Mr Anderson plays fetch – throw a toy for him and he will often opt to bring it back so that it can be thrown again. He has no idea this is what people do with dogs, usually, not kittens.

As with the puppy-kitten issues, we raise human children based on certain assumptions. It’s normal to raise girls and boys in different ways – so normal that it may not even be a conscious decision. Simply choosing to put a girl in a dress or skirt that limits mobility while letting boys wear trousers has a huge impact on what a child gets to do. Consider the toys we give them, and our expectations. We tend to be more tolerant of aggression in boys, more accepting of tears from girls. Children aren’t so very different from puppy-kittens, and who we tell them they are has a lot of influence.

Mr Anderson gets excited when the lead comes out and someone says ‘walkies!’


Druidry and Magic

Recently I encountered a chap who said that the only magic in Druidry is communing with the ancestors. I offered a counter list – communing with the land and the old Gods, the magic of inspiration, or beauty, spirits of place, and so forth. He said that was magical, not magic. I have no problem with disagreeing, but it struck me as curious.

I know there are Druids who go in for spells – Kris Hughes talks about it, inspired by the magician Gwyidion, from the Welsh myths. Druidry is certainly not short of polytheists, and a prayer to a God is most assuredly an act of magical intent. I know for many Druids, magic is less about ‘doing’ and more about connection, about the numinous experience and a sense of wonder created by encountering wild beauty. You don’t have to believe in anything much to be a Druid. Magic can be found in the transformative power of ritual – whether you think that’s woo-woo magic or a simple consequence of showing up and doing the things.

The magic I have most deliberately sought it the magic of inspiration. I know no more powerful or glorious feeling than the moment when it crashes into me.

There are many ways of defining magic. Which is excellent. There are many ways of experiencing magic, feeling something as magical and feeling like a participant in something magical. There is however a world of difference between saying ‘this is what magic means to me’ and insisting that your take on magic is the only one available. Magic is personal, Druids are diverse, Druidry is full of possibilities. There is more wonder and delight to be found by being open to other people’s experiences than by insisting that yours is the only real one.