Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Off to Amsterdam

My honey and I are going to Amsterdam, to celebrate my birthday on Thursday, and our 7 year anniversary at the weekend. On Thursday night we will be here. I recommend you go, if you are ever in Amsterdam. It is quite an experience. You flump on cushions in an all-white room being served delish food over several hours whilst being entertained by everything from trannies on roller skates, opera singers, cabaret artistes and video installations. Whilst getting a between-course massage.

Right, I had better go and pack.

Remember 7th July. And possibly get arrested for doing so

7/7 Memorial Service
This Tuesday 7th February will be 7 months to the day since the 7/7 London Bombings. To commemorate this and to demand an open-ended public enquiry [into the meta-reasons behind the bombings, and the police handling] a non-denominational Memorial Service will be held outside Downing Street on the morning of the 7th February, a ringing of bells and reading of the names of all those who died that day.Meet at 8.45 am outside Downing Street.For more info, please call 0785 439 0408 and check for updates on www.peopleincommon.org

It should be pointed out that by attending this you run the risk of being arrested under a particularly stupid law that many of us are politely pointing out is a waste of time

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Magnificent 'Mitch'

Mitch has recently started blogging. He is an astonishingly brave man. Here is his blog biog.

'I am writing this blog six months after a life-changing experience. On July 7th 2005, I boarded a London Underground train from Kings Cross travelling on the Piccadilly Line at around 8:50am. This train never made it's destination as a suicide bomber was in the same carriage as myself and countless others. His bomb was detonated and killed 26 innocent people as well as injuring countless more on the Piccadilly Line train. Other explosions occurred at Edgware Road, Aldgate, and on a bus at Tavistock Square. In total 52 people died and over 700 were injured - including myself (the back of my lower left leg was blown off). I am well on the road to recovery and have started blogging in 2006 as it is one of many things I thought about doing, but kind of left it to one side. No more.'

Friday was a tough day for 'Mitch' who has just returned to work. If any fellow-bloggers want to pop in and check his blog and say hello in the comments, then please do.

Hello also to fellow bloggers Holly, Yorkshire Lass, Steve and Weaselbitch whose blogs are on the side bar and who were also travelling on the Piccadilly line south-bound Kings Cross to Ruseell Square train on 7th July 2005.

Keep on keeping on. Proud to know you all.

Edward Scissorhands

J and I went to Sadlers Wells on Saturday night to see the dance production of this classic Gothic fairytale from Tim Burton, brilliantly reinterpreted by my favourite choreographer Matthew Bourne from New Adventures. We've seen almost all of his stuff, the male Swan Lake, Car-Man, Highland Fling, Play Without Words, and Nutcracker! This was as good as anything he has done and I highly recommend it.

The score is sumptuous and the set design is astonishingly realised, the story flashes along as sharply and as breathtakingly as Edward's scissor hands. The dancers all act with sly humour and a zest that makes the wierdly dreamy suburban world a place full of vivid characters that you think you can hear their accents . No speaking of course, it's a ballet. But the dancers inhabit their roles so completely that you are carried along by a fluidity of sometimes-grotesque movement that captures their characters' personality beyond simply dancing.

It is extremely witty as well, the audience frequently laughed out loud and by the end, they cheered and stamped with tears in their eyes as the pathos of poor outsider Edward, so gentle, so frightened, so horribly disfigured, so unwittingly, unwillingly dangerous - is realised in a drifting cloud of sparkling real snowflakes.

At the end of the night, Edward is left alone, there is no place for his extraordinary self amongst the other people. His flinching, terrified reaction to the first kindness he had ever been shown since his creator died - a gentle touch of a mother to his bleeding face, accidentally slashed by his own terrible knife-hands, and the moment where he and she both frantically tried to calm each other's fears and communicate with each other was the poignant counterpoint to the verve and gusto of the production.

Because of course, this is about despair as well as comedy, about adolescent alientation and the heartbreaking status of the outsider, the gifted, the different. It is on until February 5th. Go see, if you can. Or rent the movie. Soul-food this good is a treat to warm the heart in winter.

Angry young men

Thanks again for the intelligent and thought-provoking comments to the last couple of posts,( what a lovely change from being called a lying media whore Psy-ops COINTELPRO agent by some visiting (now deleted) conspiracy theorists!)

I've always thought the bombers were self-radicalised,' self-brainwashed' even, the 'extremists' I wrote about approaching them are mostly other young British men who are further down the road of radicalisation. Sorry, I should have made this clearer in the original Clean Skins post.

Young radicalised men find other young radicalised men. There then forms a classic outsider 'gang mentality', and shared experiences such as repeatedly watching atrocity videos and working out together as well as praying together and taking part in 'outward bound' bonding activities make the group of 'brothers' gel. Thank you for the link to the Horizon programme about suicide bombers, which I didn't see but which matches what I had read about this elsewhere. I wish I had seen it.

I absolutely agree with the commenter who said that the idea that you only need to hang around outside Mosques to be recruited by a media-stereotype of a '' mad mullah'' or meet in a ''sinister'' book shop to be'' brainwashed'' by an ''Al-Q Man in Black'' is a load of rubbish. If the Intelligence services still think that, they are missing a trick. (From this weekend's revelations, though, I don't think they do think that anymore.)

If the media are still implying that sinister bearded foreign terrorists are lurking outside Mosques and Islamic bookshops preying on impressionable young British lads, they are missing a trick too. And such stereotyping is harmful and deeply offensive to the majority of Muslims who attend Mosques to pray together, who visit bookshops to gather material for study and who are unfairly and incorrectly suspected of terror-sympathising.

Indeed, I get the impression that Mosque congregations or Islamic bookshops have very little to say to what is effectively a nihilistic extremist cult. It is not representative at all of what Islam is about, what Muslims believe. Which is maybe part of our problem? These ideas are not mainstream at all, they are about separating away from your fellow Muslims.

All you need is a disaffected youth, his anger, and resentment, and his nihilistic monstrous sense of grievance - and you are off. He can do the rest himself. An Al Q 'handler' need only step in at the very last minute to pick up the ones who have proved themselves the most committed, the most ready to die, to give them the tools and cash and expertise they need for the Final Act. By then the young man will have prepared himself by himself, very diligently. He may have raised money for trips to training schools in Afghanistan, or Pakistan himself, he may have spoken fervently of his desire to fight in a jihad, in Iraq, in Afghanistan…he may even have been to prison already and been further radicalised there.

These people at risk, who pose such a risk to others - the 'angry young men' should be known to people. Teachers. University tutors. Neighbours. Sisters. Mothers. Brothers, Dads, friends, girlfriends, wives. Doctors, dentists, barbers. Youth group workers, social workers. Colleagues. Shopkeepers. Gym owners. Internet café owners. Police, probation officers if they have got into trouble. Immams too, and people they used to worship with. Their behaviour must have changed, their personality. Turning yourself into a bomb takes time, has an effect...one that can be spotted by other people if you care enough...

There are clues, if you look for them. This is not me advocating spying on people. This is not me saying '' Muslims must clean up their radicalised elements'', that is as unjust as me, a vicar's daughter agnostic being held responsible for the Christian Voice bigots who denounced Jerry Springer the Opera and who are full of homophobia and hate. I am talking at a much more local level. These are PEOPLE, these young men, who live amongst people, surely there can be some chance of reaching out to them as people? Some intervention? A few words, some concern? Maybe I am naive.

Suicide, depression, and self-hate is reaching epidemic proportions amongst young men. Young men are at the most risk of casual violence. This is UK men in general, of all backgrounds, aged 16-24. Young men are not being cared for or listened to. They are falling through the net. They do not think we care about them. Maybe we don't. But we need to. In failing them, we are failing ourselves.

I do think we are all our brother's keepers. Nobody should have to fall through the net.

As an aside, that was part of the rationale of Kings Cross United - we are all strangers who happened to be on the same train - black, white, asian, all religions or none, all backgrounds, ages, sexualities, beliefs... now we have become friends. We are all humans together. There is hope if you can connect and empathise with other people, people who are afraid, people who have been injured, people who are angry, people who have grievances and griefs too. People with hope, people with courage. Just people, none of whom I knew before July 7th. Communication and empathy: it all starts with that.

So what can be done?
Can we not address the causes of the anger, listen to the grievances - might there be a way of stopping the hate from taking such deep root that some young men think the only way to get their message across is to blow themselves and others to pieces?

A public enquiry, a grown up looking at the issues and problems, they WHY as well as the WHAT of what happened is a start.

Listening to what young Muslims have to say is a start.

It shows we are serious. It won't stop Bin Laden, it won't stop those implacably committed to hate and destruction and despair, but it will do something to answer the anger of those making the first steps towards self-radicalisation.

Over a million people took to the the streets in the biggest demonstration the UK has ever seen when we were preparing for this ill-conceived war . And the Government did not respond, the anger was barely acknowledged.

That has had such a powerful negative effect. How then, can the Government act all surprised when young people seem apathetic, feel that they should give up on legitimate means of self-expression? We all tried to make our point, millions of us, about war, about poverty, and were we listened to? Did anything change? No.

Young people grow up in a quick-fix, instant gratification world. Most don't see the point of polite demonstrations that are ignored. ''Nobody listens. There is no point'' young people say when interviewed in panels, or by papers, or online. Apathy and sullen aggression reign. It looks like the Governement doesn't give a stuff, soesn't want to hear. They won't even let us gather in their earshot now, in Parliament Square. So, in a small but growing number of young people, direct action, even terrifying violence and murder starts to look like the only way to get the message across of just how angry and impotent they feel. This is horrendous. But, we can do something about this.

People can and do calm down if they feel that they are being treated respectfully and that they are being heard. This is why asking questions publicly about July 7th is so important. That is why this casual disregard for legitimate protest and genuine disagreement must stop. That is why it is time for a bit of soul-searching and humility from our leaders. We are grown ups. We can handle it when we get criticised. We can learn from our mistakes. Can't we?

Let's see. I live in hope.

Sign the petition http://www.petitiononline.com/July7th/petition.html
Write to your MP:

P.S: I recommend a new book by Milan Rai (to be published in April 2006) called '7/7 and the Iraq war' for a well-written account of some of the issues that I have touched upon in the last few posts.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

This is a personal blog...

...this is my personal post 7th July diary. It reflects my personal journey and my political opinions.

It is not the official Kings Cross United site.

KCU is a non-political, non-religious group, open to anyone who was travelling on the bombed Piccadilly line train from Kings Cross to Russell Square on July 7th 2005. It's about helping each other continue our journey after the bombings - and it is run by Piccadilly passengers on the bombed train for other Piccadilly passengers who travelled with them. It's about emailing each other, offering each other support and encouragement and understanding, keeping in touch with people who you were with on the day, and going to the pub once a month.

If you were on the bombed train, and want to get in touch the email is kingscrossunited AT yahoo.co.uk.



M15 'out of 7/7 leads'

'After the biggest MI5 and police inquiry ever mounted, a secret report for Tony Blair and senior ministers into the July 7 London bombings states: “We know little about what three of the bombers did in Pakistan, when attack planning began, how and when the attackers were recruited, the extent of any external direction or assistance and the extent and role of any wider network.”

The eight-page report, by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), admits that MI5 still does not know whether the attacks of July 7 and July 21 were linked and whether Al-Qaeda chiefs were behind them. '

'The leak of a JTAC report, seen by The Sunday Times, is unprecedented and some within the intelligence services are known to feel that there should be a public inquiry'

David Leppard, Sunday Times 29/01/05

Of course there should be a public enquiry.
I have said this many times, and I will keep saying it

Not just survivors and bereaved families want it, but it is the public who were attacked, the public who run the risks, the public who the politicians claim to represent who pay for the wars, the intelligence services, the police and the Home Office to do their jobs. And on 7th July we paid a heavy cost. We deserve to know what happened, but more than that, more than ever, we need to know why it happened. How else can we help to prevent it happening again?

The M15 leaks seem to indicate that not everyone who works for the Government is comfortable with Blair's insistence that we do not need an independent and transparent public enquiry but instead will be content with a 'narrative', to be published at some unspecified time.

Milan Lai, whose book '7/7 and the Iraq War' is to be published in April puts it well when he says 'Terrorism is the messenger, not the message'. To understand the message, we must look at why the bombings happened and try to understand the whole picture. If over a million people were sufficently angry about the Iraq war to take to the streets, then how angry are those extremists who are already radicalised, and how easy is it to turn that anger into hellish violence, revenge and retaliation, bloodshed and maimings and murder?

At the very least, an enquiry would show we were serious about understanding the problems we now face. You cannot bomb people until they like you. Bomb people, shoot people and you create a spiral of further violence and anger, refuse to listen and you fan the flames of rage.

We are about to send another few thousand soldiers to Afghanistan, where the war was supposed to have been won years ago. They will, says Simon Jenkins today be ''just offering target practice for mujaheddin.''

This is an ultimately hopeless strategy, and I cannot believe that we are in this quagmire, and that those in power seem to have so little idea of what to do and were so unprepared for this, despite the J.I.T's earlier warnings that occupying Iraq would increase the risk of terror attacks, despite the intelligence about the threat from Iraq being completely wrong. You cannot make war on abstract nouns; the 'war on terror' cannot be fought with guns and bombs. It is a war of ideas, and since the anger is fed by the idea that we do not care and we will not listen, doing some thing to show that we do care and we do listen would be a better start than sending more soldiers to die.

M15 admits it doesn't know what to do, this is unfamiliar territory. Even Blair admits this is a ''new'' and ''different enemy'' and says ''the rules have changed''. Well, do something new and different then, change the way you are behaving if the rules have changed. Ask questions, stop and listen, admit mistakes and learn from them. Then we might have a chance.

To: The British Government
We, the British Public, call for a fully comprehensive Public Inquiry into the July 7th 2005 London Bombings. Only this can provide us with the information we need as to what actually happened, how it happened and why it happened so that we will be better prepared to prevent such a tragedy happening again. We, the Public were attacked. We, the Public have questions. We, the Public want our questions answered, independently, transparently and honestly.

Sign here

Pass it on


Write to your MP: http://www.writetothem.com/

Thank you.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Clean skins

This is what I think happened, and is happening.

Young British men are being targeted by extremists. They are recruited quietly, at universities, or at the local gym, perhaps - not the Mosque, since this is not a message welcome in Mosques, where ordinary men and women worship together. They are approached by men, who seem sincere, polite, respectable. These men make friendly overtures, have persuasive arguments. They talk of a new way, of glory and justice and a powerful ideology. 'All those times you were disatisfied, wondered if there was something missing, wanted more from life...this is what you were waiting for', they say. ' God has a purpose for you. Are you with us, brother?'

This fierce ideaology is not mainstream, it is not Muslim in the true sense of the word. It has little scholarship, little depth of understanding the teachings of this ancient faith of loving and loyal submission to what is Holy, of social duty and care. But it wears the clothes of Islam and brotherhood, and many of its followers do believe that it is about a purer form of Islam, about the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. About being pleasing to God. As if God is pleased by innocent death, bloody maimings, pain and suicide. This is not a holy ideology; it is an ideology of hatred, revenge, violence and terror.

I doubt that the inspiration for much of this relatively new, austere and violent philosophy, Osama Bin Laden is truly motivated by religious zealotry. I think he is motivated by power and revenge and that he wants to stir up a war of religion and terror to achieve his aim of destabilising and humiliating the US, which he hates for personal reasons. I am speculating, of course, I do not know why he turned on his CIA backers, but he is partly a monster of America's making, and if you were being particularly cynical, you might even think if he did not exist, he would have to be invented. What good is it being a superpower with no enemies to fight, no spectres to scare a population with, no justification for liberty-curtailing laws that make it easier to manage people? Wars, and the contracts that follow in their wake can be good for business. Oil is crucial for this U.S economy: oil resources must be safeguarded, plundered and controlled. Power must be grasped and increased, funded and consolidated. If oil is what made you rise to wealth and power, perhaps power and oil is all you see. Bin Laden and Bush: two spoiled directionless sons of oil millionaires seeking a purpose in life - to seize and hold power. Both say that God backs their ambitions, both seek support from the religious, the conservative, the angry and the threatened.

So far, so conspiracy theorist. But is there a kernel of truth in this somewhat frightening sketch?

Religion is inextricably caught up in this fight of idealogies, but this is nothing to do with God, though it is marketed as such by both sides. Making this point is difficult, people come over as very sensitive about it, and you can be attacked as a bigot for even raising it. But words like 'God-given-freedom' are used to justify this killing, by both sides. Fervent religious belief is cited by followers. But I think recruitment into the terror idealogy is driven by more primitive subconscious needs, not spiritual awakening.

A desire in the convert to feel powerful and feared, to feel heroic and part of a band of brothers. A desire to be special, filled with sacred purpose and strength. A desire to heal wounded male pride and frustration, aggravated by an anger at the arrogant and aggressive foreign policy of the world's only super power and its allies.

This ideology has passion and conviction, it promises action and results. This ideology promises to restore clarity in a confused world, offers certainities and fellowship and eternal reward for manly actions. It is self-justifying and self-perpetuating: every outraged reaction to acts of terrorism escalates the situation, provides fuel for the fire. 'See? They have invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq, soon, Iran. They degrade and torture and abuse us. See the suffering of your brothers and sisters. See the mistrust of Muslims, the arrests, the stop and searches. We are being persecuted. We must fight back. This is real'.

Convinced, these idealogy's followers now move themselves away from other people. They meet in houses in small groups. They keep themselves apart and nurture their growing sense of anger; yet they also continue in their daily life and try not to provoke suspicion. There is nothing striking about these young men. They grew up in the U.K, liking pizza and chips, gaming, football or cricket. But at some point, there will have been a radicalisation, a change in behaviour, a determination to be more 'religious' and to turn away from decadent society and its evils. The change looks innocuous enough. Wives, parents, friends may even be pleased that the young man seems to be getting so deeply interested in matters of faith and spirituality. What can be more harmless and praiseworthy? Thus the fact that the young man is becoming interested in an extremist, violent ideaology slips under the radar. 'At least he is not taking drugs, getting into trouble'.

There are many reasons why people change and young men become attracted to radical ideas. Anyone can speculate: about years of suspicion, insults and casual racism, poor employment prospects or the fact that their is little to do if you do not spend weekends and nights in pubs and clubs drinking lager and trying to get lucky. What makes these young men feel so angry? I don't know what it is about someone's personality that makes them become a possibility for radical recruitment. I can only guess.

Their families would certainly disapprove of these young men's desire to become a holy soldier in a jihad. So would those at their local Mosques. The young men are moving far away from the faith they were brought up in, they are choosing a harsh, uncompromising, theology-lite but action-heavy path: they are being told the lie that it is a 'purer' version of Islam. They are told that the Covenant of Security has been broken. They are asked if the treatment of their Muslim brothers and sisters makes them feel angry, powerless, victimised. If they say yes, then they are invited to meet a tight-knit group of committed 'brothers' who yearn to make a difference.

So they join informal small groups, or cells, where they pray together, work out together, watch atrocity videos depicting violence and humiliation of Muslims all over the world - Chechyna, Iraq, Afghansistan. They are told that this is a war. A holy war. That they are soldiers. Holy soldiers. The everyday world fades away. Nothing feels as important as this. The zealots only concern is the heady brotherhood of the group, and the ideaology.They were radicalised and angry, now they are purposeful fanatics. Men with a mission.

They are asked to prove their dedication by raising funds, performing tasks to show their sincerity, perhaps some benefit fraud or low-level criminal activity to demonstrate their contempt for the State that they see as the enemy, murderer of the Ummah. They go on 'bonding activities' together - paint-balling say, white water rafting. Then they are invited to go abroad to attend the secret Terror Academies in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places, where they learn to make bombs, to train for active jihad. After the theory, the practice. After the practice, the real thing.

Returning to the U.K, it is time to prepare onself with your new brothers who have sworn to participate in a martyrdom operation. A time and day is chosen, meaningful to you. Such as this one.

8.50am. The seventh of the seventh, a few week's before Osama Bin Laden's deadline for non-Muslim armies to leave Muslim lands.

(See The Qu'ran Chapter 8, verse 50 'The Spoils of War' [8:50] If you could only see those who disbelieved when the angels put them to death! They will beat them on their faces and their rear ends: "Taste the retribution of Hell. )

And so here we are, after 7th July.

I think there was at first an issue of Orwellian doublethink that caused catastophic failure in the Government's response to the problem of these dozens, perhaps hundreds of young men, all over the U.K, practising, meeting, training to fight their jihad, here or abroad. The Prime Minister, the Home Office, I think, did not want to accept that these young men were serious, or that they would attack on their own soil. To acknowlege their existence and to consider their motives would be to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the effects of the occupation of Iraq, and the 'War on Terror'.

The Government do not want to admit or even think that Iraq has become such a successful recruiting seargeant and training ground for young men who see it as their duty to fight with guns and bombs in what they see as a 'holy war'. The Government cannot afford to say that Iraq and the bloody aftermath have gifted those who recruit and train these young men with a PR strategy that keeps making more willing martyrs, soldiers, jihadi warriors. The hideous irony - that the 'War on Terror' has only made more terror, fear and has generated many more terrorists - dare not be mentioned.

M15 leaks last week showed how two of the July 7th bombers were bugged for months discussing training in Pakistan, fraud to raise money and their specific intention to fight in a holy war. Yet I do not think the Government could bear to contemplate the idea that the 'holy war' was to be fought here, not far away. 'Young hotheads rushing to fight with the 'insurgents' of Iraq, we can live with that,' they may have thought. That they had another target closer to home was dimissed and the surveillance was ended. Khan and his associate went on to injure 700 and kill 52.

I think the Government did start to wake up to it, but by then too late. There have been terror plots foiled since July 7th, but HMG do not want us to know how many. They do not to think about dozens of cells of self-radicalised young men, trained and with home made bombs, choosing their date and destination to leave this world in a martyrdom operation. Here, and abroad. On public transport, in nightclubs, in tourist areas, shopping malls, cinemas...And how little the Government can do about it. They need us fearful enough to support new draconian laws and civil liberites erosions, fearful enough not to ask questions, especially about rendition and torture - but not so fearful we rise up in anger, attack Muslims, not so fearful that we start calling for resignations and apportioning blame. It is impossible to orchestrate the 'correct level ' of fear. Cracks are showing, questioning voices refuse to shut up.

Despite doubling M15's funding, how much do they know about what is being discussed in the weights room, the suburban bedroom, the internet chatboards and blogs where these young men are exchanging ideas? Not enough. Not enough to prevent the next one being planned, and probably not enough to stop it being carried out. This is becoming clearer by the day.

It is easier to say that anyone who makes these points is justifying terrorism. Or of being racist, saying Muslims are terrorists, that we should mistrust all young Muslim men, or that to be anti-war or to criticise the Government is to be morally equivalent to the terrorists.

There is little that the Government can do: but they absolutely do not want to have a debate about the causes of terrorism, why July 7th happened, because they fear what that debate will unearth. Next month's trial of thwarted terrorists who had planned a major operation will push this agenda out into the open again. And so many still have questions. This issue may be being swept under the carpet, but it festers. It leaves a smell of decay and lies and trust drips away, cynicism and anger grows in its place. Sooner or later Blair will pay the price for the cruelties of his atrociously-handled invasion of Iraq.

There isn't much we can do, I know what happened, and I can guess what is happening - in the absence of one answer I piece the story together from many sources. I await ''the official narrative''. It will be an interesting read. If it ever gets published.

It's not about narrating WHAT happened, it is about WHY? For in the answer to WHY lies the hope of a better future, one with less hate and fewer bombs.

We can start by trying to understand exactly why we were targeted and that means facing up to the consequences of Iraq as a driver of anger, a fanner of flames. An independent, transparent public enquiry would help clarity. It would help me to know if what I think, and have posted just now, is true or not. Though every week that goes by, the picture grows clearer to me.

To understand the roots of terrorism is the only way to defeat it. I have tried to understand what happened, what the risks are, and I would like to know more about WHY . I believe I will find out more over the next few months. I hope so.

You can sign the petition for an independent transparent public enquiry here

Search for the Hero inside yourself

Woke up to a cold sunny morning and a red wine-induced headache. Slouched about watching Soccer AM, ate cold pizza, and wasted time doing some quizzes online. Very slowly. I played What failed Celebrity Couple Are you? ( Brad and Jen) and How Wicked Gay Are You? ( Anne Heche).
Thus passed half an hour until the paracetamol kicked in.

My favourite was What Marvel Superheroine Are You? I am Jean Grey, (pictured) apparently. Now I thought I knew enough about X Men characters to hold my own in a conversation about why Rogue should get off with Wolverine, not Gambit, ( I have only had this conversation once, I promise) - but I realise now that I have so much to learn. Just reading Jean Grey's biog was exhausting. Her life seems to have been indescribably, fiendishly complex. Typical extract...

'While Jean had been in suspended animation Scott had married Madelyne Pryor, a clone of Jean created by Mr Sinister. Eventually Pryor went mad, developed vast powers, and became known as the Goblin Queen. The Goblin Queen died in combat with Jean.
Some years later, Scott finally married the real Jean Grey. During their honeymoon, however, their spirits were transported two millennia into an alternate future and were placed in new bodies by the Askani cult...

Utterly bonkers. Still, her superpowers are cool:

Known Superhuman Powers: Jean Grey is a mutant who possesses telekinetic abilities enabling her to levitate and manipulate living beings and inanimate objects psionically. Jean Grey also possessed telepathic powers enabling her to read minds, project her thoughts into the minds of others, and stun the minds of opponents with telepathic "mental bolts."

Tragically, I became completely fascinated at this point ( yes, too much red wine at lunchtime yesterday for colleague's birthday, followed by more red wine at home has made me what I am today: a greasy- haired bathrobe-wearing sloth who now has an unhealthy interest in comic book characters. Am I channelling a teenage boy?)

I began to browse the directory of other Marvel characters. They really did hit some low points over the years. Angar The Screamer, anyone?

Former 'social activist' from, ooh, San Fransisco, 'Angar possesses the ability to vocally emit piercing screams that can create convincing, seemingly tangible hallucinations in anyone who hears his voice. His screams sonically stimulate the chemicals of the brain, creating natural toxins that induce hallucinations'.

I can't work out whether this is satire, tongue in cheek campery or just reactionary lunacy. Groovy fringed jacket and boots though. Shame about the visible briefs line.
And poor old Ant-Man's powers are totally rubbish.
'Ant-Man possesses the power to reduce himself to size of an ant. '

I read Ant-Man's story. It didn't work out for him. He lost custody of his daughter to his ex-wife, joined Heroes for Hire, and was sadly 'incinerated' in a fight.

Even superheroes get dealt a bad hand every now and again. Dorky powers, unflattering costumes, accidentally getting incinerated when ant-size. This is oddly comforting. Who would want to be a superhero? Reacting to one crisis after another. Not me. There is much to be said for the charm of cold pizza, indolence and sofa-based torpor, without the world needing to be saved all the damn time.

Friday, January 27, 2006

For Shelley, fellow passenger

Shelley was on my train. I did not meet her, though I wonder whether I saw her when I was looking around the carriage, as we approached Kings Cross. Yesterday was her birthday, she should have been 27. People who loved her - her family - have been reading this blog, and contacted me after we had a private ceremony to remember our fellow passengers six months on.

This is a poem by her aunty Bernadette, who is a poet. Shelley loved words, as I love words. I would have liked to have met Shelley, and sat with her at a Kings Cross United pub session. We had things in common beside this train we travelled on; a book we both loved as children, old radio comedy shows. Shelley, this is to you from people who love you.

How We All Died With Her
in the London Bombing, July 2005

She breaks my heart, the beautiful girl on the train,
she breaks all of my hearts, wriggling the fingers
of her left hand up under her chin in the dream,
goodbye. That’s her wide pale forehead, her owl-eyes
big behind the brand-new glamorous London glasses,
the Kelston girl who sat for hours, head in a book,
beside the Waitemata harbour.

She’s somebody now. She’s on the news. She’s missing.

In Auckland there’s rain and the augury of thunder.
The sun comes out, then it’s rain again as if we haven’t cried
enough. There’s no sign of her and the media are impatient.
They’re hungry for the story, they want to eat us.
Tell us your story, they say, we want to hear your story
and we say sorry, there’s no story yet, not till we’ve found her.

Maybe she just got off before the others,
simply stepped out of herself and off the train,
mooching back down the dark, stinking, rat infested,
scorching tunnel, beyond the blood, the burned bodies,
the wrecked metal, everything out of joint.
Maybe she simply moved out in all her sweet competence,
with that funny little loopy smile of hers
like a wise animal that knows how to slink back down
in the silky grass and wait there, ears turning like props,
till the death sounds stop and the killers have gone away.

Passengers are swimming in the exploded dark.
They’re like fish gaping open-mouthed towards the camera.
They’re trying to say something we cannot hear
and we shudder in case we see her. To see her would be far
more terrible than not to see her, more terrible even
than never to see her again. A dark fluency stirs and moves
things from place to place in the doomed carriage,
an arm, a leg, a ribcage, a credit card, a pink purse.

We don’t want to share her, we’ve swallowed her up,
we hold her safe in our bellies, her father, her mothers,
her brothers, her cousins, her aunt, her lovers, her friends,
we’re all groaning and weeping and holding onto each other
and laughing and swearing and screaming in this terrible birth.

How will we recognise her? Who can we trust
who will show her to us? Who dares tell us the truth?
Someone steps out of the crowd, walks calmly past
the smiling eyes of the dead pinned up in the alleyway
so we can find them. Someone goes underground,
kneels in the dark in the ditch beside the rails.
Someone leans over her, black brooch, curiously wrought
burnt-out ship, someone holds her and finds her human,
fills her with their own sweet human angel breath

And for just one moment, that’s enough for us.

Bernadette Hall

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Get Your War On!

Hat-tip Justin at Chicken Yogurt

Warning: Contains rude swearing and strong political satire.
I woke up with a killer migraine at 4.00am. I have eaten so many codeine tablets that I now feel stoned, after throwing the first lot up. I am typing this with sunglasses on in a dark room. I am finally getting comfortably numb after feeling like someone was drilling into my eye for hours. Nonetheless, this made me smile. Now I am going back to bed, am shattered. Think the migraine is related to how depressed I have been for the last week. Crying gives me a headache, so mega-crying might be the trigger for the migraine. Or maybe it is my body's way of getting me to shut up and slow down and stop, for a breather. Either way, thank god for twenty-first centuey painkillers with anti-nausea ingredients. If I had lived in the eighteenth century I would be making a beeline for the laudanum bottle right now. What did we do before strong opiates?

Whinge whinge whinge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


'It seems to me that one of the things which managed to turn off naturally aggressive and naturally inquisitive Special Branch and security service agents, particularly when they were following Mohammed Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the 7/7 bombs, may have been an inability to understand properly the radicalizing effects of Iraq, the resonance that it has created for some extremists in a tiny proportion of our population,' he said. 'My argument is unless you realize that this has happened, you aren't going to get very far in actually dealing with terrorism'

Crispin Black who formerly analyzed intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Staff, Joint Intelligence Committee and Cabinet Office and briefed Downing Street on the terror threat, is calling for a 'ruthlessly forensic examination of what actually happened on 7/7' describing it as a massive failure of intelligence. This was before Christmas.

What can I say? I am so god damn angry, still. I have been angry and despairing for the last 3 days to the point where I cannot concentrate, cannot sleep, want to weep all the time. I am almost unbalanced with it. It is getting harder and harder to carry off work, life, normality. I am dangerously brittle. Outside I look normal and inside I am desperate. I want to scream. I feel like everything I have done, everything I have been since 7th July is a fake. I wasn't 'calm', I was numb. I wasn't 'together', I was manic. I wasn't 'dealing with it' at work, I was acting. Couldn't you see?
I had been in my new job three weeks when the bomb went off. What the bloody hell else was I supposed to do?

I have discovered that most non-injured passengers being treated by the NHS after 7th July took an average of 3 or 4 months off. I took a few days, I was back at work and back on the tube on Tuesday 12th July. I am realising that this was a stupid, stupid mistake and now it is too late. I don't know if people get why I am so angry six months on. After all, it has been months, months, days and nights and months. I should be 'over it'. Shouldn't I?

I looked at where visitors to my diary were coming from. I found many were coming from a place called haddock.org
The link said 'Rachel from north London maybe you should write a blog going on and on about the experience for the next six months or more...' That was all it said. Lots of people visited.

Thank you for the link. Yes, of course it stung. This is a personal 7th July Blog, it is a survivor resource, I have tried to make that clear, and I'm afraid that, yes, this is the only place I have to 'go on' about after 7th July.
You don't have to read it, of course.

But let me explain, because I am stung by the comment, why I spend an hour or so, every few days, writing it.
Every day, I wake up, knowing I have to go to work, I am afraid because I have to get on the tube. I travel, standing in the same place as I was when the bomb went off. (Because I know how to escape from there.)

Look. I don't have a choice in this. If I had been hurt in the Tsunami, I could choose to never take a beach holiday again. September 11th? Avoid the U.S, avoid planes. But I live in London, I work here, I cannot avoid public transport. There isn't any escape from it.

Every time I use the tube, I am so afraid. Not only of what might happen, but of the memories that travel with me on each journey. Dark, screams, smoke, death. I still taste the smoke every morning. I eat mints so I can try and mask it. Though the tube is well-lit, though it is 6 months on and we all wear winter clothes, I can still taste and smell and feel one dark day in midsummer when I press myself against the closing doors of carriage one. It is more real than reality. I arrive at work shaking with nausea. I calm down in the loos, I take Rescue Remedy, I breathe in and out. I tell myself it is no longer real. But my body does not realise that it is a memory. It still reacts as if I am about to die.

I work through the day. I do stuff. Ten hours passes. Then I go home again, on the tube. Same shit. Unless I pay £15 for a taxi. I am taking a lot of taxis these days, because the impact of a tube journey screws up my work concentration for several hours. I can't afford that.

Once a week I get an hour, when I sit in a room and I relive the bomb with a CBT counsellor. I started CBT counselling in December 2005. I have had 4 sessions so far. I waited 5 months for the NHS sessions: they hope I will be able to travel on a tube without fear soon. To get to this point I must re-live the bomb again and again and again until I am desensitised. I don't think it is working: it is getting worse.

Afterwards I am shakey. I cannot speak of what is in my head to my loved ones. Six months on, I do not think they want to hear how every day going to work feels like going into a war. How the fear is still winning. It makes me sick. I am not winning this war.
I come home from work, tired. I write, here. It is my small escape from what is there during the other hours. Writing is half an hour a day but it is the difference between sanity and despair, for me. It is a small space where I connect with what I really think and I say what I cannot share. I talk to strangers. I can breathe.

I am not asking you to read everything or anything I write. I write freely, because what else can I do but write? I don't even want to write about bloody July 7th all the time. But it is what people want to hear about. It is the ghost that haunts everything. It is always with me. It has been six months. It feels as if it has gone on and on and on and on and on.
I would love to switch it off. I am so damn sorry for myself.

You do not have to read these words, this blog. But I am sorry that I have to write it. To those of you who read it, I am thankful and grateful. I don't think I have words enough to say how much it has helped.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Whale Nation

Oh, the poor whale.
Holly Finch, fellow KCU member and July 7th passenger ran to see him as did many other Londoners. It sounds like a magical story: The Whale who Came to London. But it had a sad ending.
What can he teach us? It was inspiring to see so many people wishing him well, the sad little pats people gave him when they waded into the water to try to encourage him to keep swimming. Small gestures of solidarity: none of us is alone in this big city. We breathe the same air and we live in close promimity to each other and however different we seem to each other, we can wish each other well and try to help each other on our journey. This was one of the things I learned last summer. Even a giant visitor from the mysterious ocean depths was surrounded by hopeful new friends when he swam up the Thames and past the Houses of Parliament .

I am sorry he did not finish his journey. Or perhaps he did, he swam into a strange new world, and he knew he was dying. But he was not butchered, as he would have been a hundred years ago. He was wondered at and stroked and everybody wanted very much to help him and he died, frightened and shocked but with creatures of a different species anxious to be at his side as he struggled to breathe the cold London air.

We were awed by his presence and we are sad at his passing. He made us stop and think and wonder.

I re-read a favourite book last night.Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams is a wonderful meditation on these ancient wild creatures and I really recommend that you read the whole thing if you have time. And these people not only sell the book, with beautiful photos but they raise money to protect dolphins and whales, here and all over the world.

I used to sponsor a young dolphin who lived off the Moray Firth called 'Whiskey'. If you were sad at the death of the whale who came to London, you can pledge money to help his fellow creatures and that might make make you feel a small glow of satisfaction on this gloomy mid-winter Monday.

Happy Birthday Mum

Despite yesterday's post, which came about because the Sunday Times reporter phoned up out of the blue, I have managed to not think about 7th July stuff so much. It is my mum's birthday today and J and I went to visit Mum and Dad in Norfolk, where they have just moved into a new house in Norwich, after sixteen years in a village. I'm so pleased they have this new start and a new life. Positive new starts all round, hopefully. I gave mum lillies and a collection of Allan Bennett writings. The house is beautiful, they've only been in a few days and it feels like they've been in for months.

On Saturday night we walked out across the city for dinner then went to a benefit ceileidh which was great fun, galloping about in a huge ex-monastic hall, and we ended with a sing-song til 2am. I remembered (and performed) old songs I hadn't sung for years like Peggy Gordon and The last of Barrett's Privateers. My brother was there too, and some friends and we had a fair few pints of local ale. Headache on Sunday morning. On Sunday my brother and his wife and my uncle came round to mum and dad's for Sunday lunch and we exchanged late Christmas and early birthday presents. I was sorry to leave my family ( only my sister was not present) and return to London which is a bleak and scary and cold place today, on what is apparently the most miserable day of the year. It is not off to a great start so far : no milk, no loo roll.

At least it is not raining.

Happy Birthday Mum. x

Sunday, January 22, 2006

M15 'bugged July 7th bombers' leak

David Leppard, Sunday Times news reporter rang me up yesterday saying it was about a story in today's Sunday Times. After some initial confusion when I assumed he was a sub-editor fact-checking the pole-dancing piece that came out today ( I am prone to making an arse of myself like this), he told me that a leak had revealed that M15 had known about, but stopped watching two of the July 7th bombers because they' didn't have the resources'.And would I like to comment?

What David told me I found pretty staggering. We had a conversation which shocked and angered me and today this article appeared in today's Sunday Times ( front page was the poor whale that swam up the Thames on Friday then died)

'BRITAIN’S top spies knew that the ringleader of the London bombers was planning to fight for Al-Qaeda more than a year before the July 7 suicide attacks, security sources have revealed.
MI5 bugged Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, a second bomber, for two months as they talked about Khan’s desire to fight in what he saw as the Islamic holy war.

Agents also listened in as the men talked between themselves about Khan’s plans to return to Pakistan where he had attended a camp for British terrorists. They also spoke about engaging in crime to raise money for Islamic extremism.
However, police and MI5 officers ruled that the two men were not an “immediate risk” and did not present a “direct threat” to national security.
The detectives’ assessment was that the men were primarily involved in fraud rather than preparing to mount attacks in the near future. As a result, surveillance on them stopped, allowing the attacks that killed 52 people and injured 700 to go ahead'

It says a lot about how cynical I have become that my immediate suspicions were that M15 had leaked the document to get more funding. Then I wondered if the Government had leaked the document in order to make a nasty point about the Anti Terror Laws and to imply they shouldn't have been outvoted on the attempt to push through the liberties-trashing 90-Days-to-hold-suspects-without charge legislation. But no. It was a real leak ( from where? Which reminds me of an interesting previous story) and it means that Charles Clarke's claims that the bombers were 'clean skins' and the bombings 'came out of the blue' were crap. And the Security officials who said the men 'were not known' to them were talking crap too.

So could the Government have prevented Khan and his associates getting on our public transport and committing mass murder?

The article goes on to explain how Khan trained to make bombs in a terrorist training camp in Pakistan '... set up by Al-Qaeda soon after Tony Blair sent British troops into Iraq'.

Iraq. The 4 letter unmentionable word when you talk about July 7th 2005.

'MI5 has calculated that the entire plot cost less than £10,000 to carry out. It has also employed a team of in-house psychologists to analyse why the four men became terrorists.'

*Cough* I thought the Joint Intelligence Commitee gave us a steer on that in February 2003?

You know, when they explicitly told Mr Blair that that the invasion of Iraq would heighten the terrorist threat to Britain from al-Qaida? This caused Mr Blair to muse aloud at the time about the 'fear' of the 'possibility' of the 'nexus' 'between 'terrorism and WMD' in 'an event'. Such lawyerly weaseling. (See The Guardian reporting on September 11th 2005)

What an absolute balls-up: never mind WMD, never mind Saddam as a 'threat', the people of Iraq and the people of London and ordinary people everywhere are more at risk from terrorism since Iraq was invaded. What about the 'nexus' between 'terrorism and Governments starting illegal bloody wars and lying about why they are doing so and ignoring what they are warned the consequences might be?'

Oh, but, of course we can all trust in Mr Blair's 'judgement' to protect us all.

"This is where you've just got to make your judgment and it remains my judgment and I suppose time will tell whether it's true or it's not true''
said Mr Blair, when told about the heightened terrorism risk stemming from the decision concerning, and the reality of, the Iraq occupation.

For God's sake, now we know that not only was Blair was given a joint Home Office and Foreign office dossier explicity pointing out the terror threat at home in 2004, now we find out M15 were diligently listening to the conversations of the bombers for months! Judgement? I do not trust Mr Blair's judgement. I do not feel safe whilst he exercises it on my behalf and I do not trust him and this is what I say about his judgement.

It stinks. It stinks of innocent blood and explosions and preventable deaths, here and abroad.

Last month, of course, we all recall Blair refused to hold an independent or public enquiry into the London bombings, saying instead a ''narrative'' about the events would be published in the spring.

If I want to read a bloody narrative I'll nip into Waterstones. What I want is to understand is why July 7th happened. And that includes whether the Government took a knowing, calculated risk with so many lives and whether they did so knowing that this may be one of the prices of a war in Iraq.

The Government listened into the plotting of the 7th July cell, knew that the bombers were NOT 'unknown' as was originally claimed. The Government went into an illegal war to 'defeat terrorism' and because they said terrorism + WOMD = Your Worst Nightmare (TM) - yet knew there were no WMD and Iraq was 'no threat' .

Meanwhile by a hideous yet predictable irony , the terror risk of course increased. In Iraq, and at home, resulting in carnage, carnage and more carnage in Iraq, and finally in my city, on my train to work, last summer. And the wretches in power knew this, they knew the war was based on a lie and that being involved in Iraq increased the risks of terrorism, and they even listened in to Khan and his associates planning murder and mayhem.

Yet they still maintain this facile facade that there is no link between Iraq and 7th July. It beggars belief, it really does. Even the Financial Times, hardly a Galloway mouthpiece, makes the cost of this hubris, or naivete or breathtaking cynicism, or whatever the hell it is that causes this PM of mine to be so wilfully blind.

'The uncomfortable truth is that the ambitions and capabilities of the jihadis cannot be divorced entirely from the bloodshed in Iraq. The toppling of Saddam Hussein did not cause Islamist extremism but the present insurgency serves both as recruiting agent and training ground for al-Qaeda's war against the west.' ( (c) Financial Times)

I have said why we need an independent public enquiry before and the reasons have not gone away. And here is yet another compelling reason: today's leak and the realisation that the Government has been caught out yet again - the bombers, were known, not unknown, the attack did not 'come out of the blue', despite what the Home Secretary said last year.

On July 10th last year, before the identitity of the bombers was known, the Sunday Times was already reporting how young British men were being recruited into terror and hate. How much have the actions of my Government created the conditions and fanned the flames of the murderous terror they claimed they went to war to avoid?

I have had enough of these lies and evasions.

You can sign the petition for an independent public enquiry into the events of July 7th by clicking here .

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Poledancing slatterns and media tarts

Below is the unedited piece for the Sunday Times News Review. There is a new book out called 'Female Chauvinist Pigs' by Ariel Levy about the ''pornification'' of our ''raunch culture'' and whether it is really liberating for women to behave like men, or like the packaged glossy fantasies of men. I was asked to write a counter-balancing piece to the main review and interview, as a woman who enjoys going to fitness pole dance classes.

Pole dancing developed out of the stripping industry, but it is a hugely enjoyable, complex ( and very tiring) dance form in its own right. A pro stripper does not need to bruise her body and train hard practising dangerous and dazzling gymnastic tricks on the pole to earn money; simple wriggles and the odd spin are enough to keep the men happy. Yet many poledancers are very accomplished and athletic. They develop and practise these skills I think, not for the men who watch, but because they want to impress themselves and other women. And because it is wild, throwing yourself round a pole. It is like when you were a kid on a climbing frame.

Now many women who do not work in the sex industry want to learn the moves too. Why? Have we been brainwashed and turned into Barbie? Not really, I say, it's just that it is completely excellent fun. Especially compared to the humourless, soul-less gym. We warm up, we practise ballet, yoga, strength-training moves. Then we get to access our inner showgirl. We swing on poles and kick our legs and toss our hair and feel gorgeous and go slightly bonkers whilst the Rolling Stones pound in the background. Afterwards we go and have a drink together in the pub and hear each other's news. This feels like more than a fitness class, it feels like a proper - or improper - girly night out. Many of the women signed up for six week courses a year ago. They have been coming ever since.

None of the women I teach are strippers or professional dancers. They are just ordinary women mostly with office jobs. No men are allowed in. The atmosphere in my once-a-week dance class is extraordinary - women clapping, cheering, sweating as they kick and leap and spin and master the skills needed for this demanding dance form. I have tried to convey just how much fun it is in my piece, and to make a few other points as well about who we are dancing for - ourselves - and why. Here's what I wrote:

'Honey, stick your bottom out more. That’s right – gorgeous!’

I am teaching a dance class, on a cold January night in North London. Eight women are smiling at me, breathless, sweating lightly. Their ages range from 24 to 45. Their body sizes from a petite 8 to a curvaceous size 20. Most of them have travelled across London to be here and a cross section of this class reveals a student, fashion buyer, advertising manager and a barrister. We have spent the last hour working on a routine we have devised. We have trained our bodies with press ups so we can take our weight on one arm and spin round, shrieking exultantly like little girls in a playground, letting our hair fly behind us. One of the group does a handstand and then locks her legs about the smooth metal pole giggling with triumph as she pulls herself upright, ' I haven't played like this since I was a little girl' she shouts. 'Look at me!'.

We all cheer her wildly.

During the working week I work in a busy publishing office with men and women. On Tuesday nights I teach women to pole dance for fun. My students call it 'Rachel's Feminist Disco Pole Dance Course'. We wear T shorts, shorts and high heels. At the end of a six week course, the students perform the routine they have practised, for each other. No men are allowed to watch and few will ever see the skills that these women have spent weeks perfecting, though several of the class are now intending to buy their own poles for their homes. '' I am amazed how much I love this '' says Tina, one of the students. '' It's permission to be sexy. I feel like a total goddess. A goddess amongst goddesses!’’
''Bollocks to the gym!'', somone else shouts, collapsing with laughter.

We all cheer again.

So are we Female Chauvinist Pigs? Will we feel cheap in the morning?
Are we deluded little tarts posturing a commercialised sexuality that is completely fake? Or are we jiggling and writhing secure in the power of our fortunate femaleness? Our breasts are silicon-free, our sweat is real. So too is the money we earn ourselves to pay for these dance sessions. Who says we are letting feminism, and ourselves down?

Women have always danced. For themselves and each other, for the men they love, for an audience. Rolling hips, pounding feet, beckoning hands, enticing glances...we have done this for thousands of years. In ancient times it was a holy thing, a fertility ritual. Women's sexual power is seen as irresistable, damnable, dangerous and shameful and now, we are told, merely a tradable commodity. But to conflate female 'wildness' merely with the trade-off of bodies for money in an unequal and faithless exchange is not fair. Who tells us that we are shameful, or shameless? Who cheapens our dancing? Ourselves? Men? Other women?

That sex can be sold; that the ecstatic passion of dancing or lovemaking can be faked for money is not in doubt. The assumption that all who do so are pathetically degraded hopeless creatures is patronising in every sense of the word.

Not all the women who come to the dance studio learn to poledance for fitness and fun. Some do it so they can earn money professionally. With no-touching rules strictly enforced, and £20 handed over for every teasing three minute dance, the ones being exploited in the 'gentlemen's clubs' are the men, say the young women who flock to work there. ''I love dancing and I like the money and the independence'', Sara, a professional pole dancer tells me. '' I could never work in a bar or a call centre. I'm no mug.''

Sex, like everything else now, is commoditised. There are fashions in sexuality and body appearance, just as there are fashions in hairstyles and clothing. Are the silicone breasts of today's bikinied celebrity so different to the plucked hairline of the Florentine courtesan or the powdered bewigged lady of the Georgian court? Young women read glossy magazines telling of the passionate, decadent lives of rich celebrities and they want that life. A young woman with a beautiful body can become a global megastar. Baring it, shimmying it she is feted and adored. The more money we have, the more sexual freedom we have, the more we can all gorge our every desire and flaunt our changed fortunes. Sometimes it is dizzying. Sometimes, sadly, it is still not safe.

The power of female sexuality may be unsettling, the onlooker can tut, mock or fulminate against it, and yes, women run some risks,when they dress, work, party as they please. That some will prey upon, or seek to punish 'sexually free' women is as true as the fact that some will rejoice in a female wildness made all the sweeter by the shattering of the taboo and the loss of shame. Unleashed female sexuality can be explosive, shocking. But as the women wrapping their legs around the poles and shouting with triumph in my Tuesday class point out, lots of us are having too much fun to want to stop now. We're dancing while we can, because we can, for the sheer hell of it.

(c) Rachel North in The Sunday Times News Review

UPDATE: The edited version - with gratutous 'bomb victim' mention put in, and feminism/dance history taken out. Oh well. As to the added header 'Confessions of a middle class pole dancer' and uncredited pic of an actress in a basque, cheers. For the record, I am not to be confused with any character in the film Showgirls

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Moving things.

I have written about how I would not, could not listen to music after July 7th. One of the things that was damaged after the train journey I still haven't finished. Anyway, I reckon it is time to re-engage. I can run and run and work and work and write and write and do whatever I can think of, keep moving, keep on keeping on and never ever go back to what I feel after the bomb, but that is a half-life. I have learned new things, and I have remembered old lessons.

The more you avoid it, the worse it gets and one of two things happen. You get deadened, you harden up. Or you get haunted and exhausted by fighting the ghosts, keeping them at bay.

This is where I want to get to.

Grief melts away
Like snows in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivelled heart

Could have recovered greenness? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown

Some of the commenters, Sean, Bob, gave me some ideas following the post about the Berekah Project and talked about what to do when I wrote about being scared to listen to music because it was too much. And thank you to them, because they inspired this post, and me asking for help and ideas.

I wanted to ask visitors to this blog this:

if you knew you needed to cry,
or just stop, or think,
or feel sadness, beauty, anger
( any, or all of these things)

and you could recommend
something to listen to,
somewhere to go,
or something to read
( any or all of these things)
that would take you there - what would it be?

What makes you melt? What makes you weep? What medicine do you feed your soul to thaw it out and feed it up and break it down and lift it up?

UPDATE: I have been bowled over by beautiful suggestions. BIG Thank you x x x

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Berekah Project

For over six months now I have not been able to listen to music without crying. So I have not listened to music: I have not wanted to let myself cry. I have been afraid to cry. There is too much to deal with and too much to do, and if I stop, what then? If I start crying, what then? That was how it was for six months. I was frantic, too frantic to stop moving, stop doing and just be with myself and the grief and the sadness and the anger. So I wrote, I worked, I ran around doing stuff. I didn't deal with it all at once: I couldn't. People worried about me; they are starting to tell me now how worried they were.

It is getting better. I can now deal with the radio being on in the office, I can teach dance classes because that is not really listening to music. That is doing something, working, whilst music is on in the background. Although, sometimes it still breaks through and the emotion hits me and it makes me cry. I wrote about this before, and it was for a long time one of the sadnesses after the summer, that I couldn't cope with listening to music that moves me. And that is really embarrassing, if you start crying in the office, in a shop, at somone's house when they have invited you round for dinner. People invited me to gigs and I couldn't go.

A few days ago, I was contacted about this - The Berekah Prokect.

"My heart has taken up all forms.It has become a pasture for the gazelles, a church for the Christian, a synagogue for the Jew, temple for the Buddhist, a mosque for the Muslim" - Ibn Arabi ,Sufi

'Introducing a new ensemble featuring musicians of Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage, celebrating harmony, raising awareness and bridging cultures through the power of music. Click the picture to see the band in action.
Featuring virtuoso musicians such as guitarist/composer Mo Nazam, violinist Serena Leader, Algerian percussion master Abdelkader Saadoun and TV/film composer Mark Hinton Stewart, Berakah brings audiences together through the healing qualities of music, challenging cultural stereotypes, raising awareness, encouraging acceptance and building bridges.
Each performance showcases dazzling interplay and deeply moving compositions with Jazz, Classical and Middle Eastern elements combining to create a memorable live experience

Latest Venues (click for details)

Berekah means grace, healing, forgiveness.

I'm going to try and attend.

Defective Yeti's Bush in Zork

Monday, January 16, 2006

'We Were Wrong on WMD'

Watch the electrifying interview with General Sir Colin Powell and Jeremy paxman on BBC Newsnight. He admits the US were ''wrong'' on WMD, was forced to admit that ''had they known'' Iraq had no WOMD there would be ''a very different scenario with the U.N'' ( or something like that - full transcript not out yet, will edit when I've checked.) He admits he 'knew' about rendition. He admits a hell of a lot, in fact, Paxman seriously rattled him, accusing him of lying, talking about 'your war' and pulling off a masterstroke whinge 'But we respected you - we believed it when it was YOU telling us'' move that stung Powell into further admissions.

Powell: '...the intelligence community said it was a fact was that
[Saddam] had actual stockpiles [of WMDs]. We subsequently
discovered that was wrong. We were wrong. The intelligence
community was wrong. The British intelligence community and
all of the other intelligence communities were wrong and I
presented wrong information
because it was the information
that I believed to be true at the time.'

Paxman : 'Would you like to apologise for misleading the world?'
Powell 'I didn't mislead the world. You can't mislead somebody when you are presenting what you believe to be the facts... That wasn't misleading, that was being wrong.'

Powell, looked diminished - I even felt a bit sorry for him. How far outcast must he have been since 2004 to come out with that? Secretary of State and then the Bush crew used him to softpeddle the war to Europe to the UN and Europe, as a politically unstained wise old soldier figure - then dumped him like an old sock and pushed him out when his more moderate voice was no longer what they wanted to hear.

Well Colin, I wonder if you feel better for telling the truth. Now if only my Prime Minister could admit his lies and mistakes - with or without contrition or grace - just admit you were wrong, or you lied, or both. About those deaths. About your 'war'.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hassan's postcards from Tavistock Square

Hassan has been corresponding with me. He is a young Muslim from Yorkshire, full of optimism and he has some interesting and encouraging things to say. His Letter to The Terrorists published in the Guardian on July 14th 2005 cheered and inspired me over the summer. I am now publishing his wonderful follow-up piece Postcards from Tavistock Square.

Hassan is a reason to be hopeful. Thank you Hassan.

UPDATE: and thank you from Holly, a 7th July survivor, and from Geoff.
Pssst...Please, someone publish Hassan soon. The world needs him. Hassan, write more!

August 2005 – A Muslim from Yorkshire
visits London again for the first time since July 7

Dear dead or alive terrorists (As Salaam Alaikum doesn't apply to you),

Just wanted you to know that I'm a still a Muslim, and I’m visiting London again today for the first time since you came here on July 7.

Arriving at King’s Cross Station, I find that the many flowers and messages of remembrance that were placed here have now been removed. But a few posters of a young man missing since July 7 remind me of what you did that day.

2 or 3 minutes walk down Euston Road I reach my first stop. The giant, red-brick building of the British Library. It’s believed one of you walked here from King’s Cross and continued further to get on a number 30 bus at Euston Station.

Whilst doing research in a British Library reading room, I notice a newspaper headline from centuries ago: The Tears of London. It shows me that written words can live on long after we’re dead and gone.

I often say that London isn’t in a different part of the country to people who live in the North. In social, economic and political terms, it’s in a different world altogether. The M25 based news media don’t say many Muslims in the North have never even visited London before. They won’t say it because a Cambridge or Oxbridge education doesn’t teach people how to walk in a Northerner’s shoes. Nor does it truly articulate how it feels to be a decent, law-abiding, hard-working Muslim, under constant suspicion in public places in this country and many other countries of the world today. Yet still, the news media reaffirm daily, the best spokes-Muslims in the country be the dumbest ones can they find. Does it even matter if they can speak English? The news media make it easy to address a nation if you demand an end to it, because love is a four-letter word they don’t want to promote.

7/7 is one of the most profound tragedies in my lifetime, which killed 56 people here in London. As a young boy in 1985, I witnessed a fire that killed 56 football fans at Bradford City. So I think I’ve learned a little about how to deal with tragedy.. Because no one ever answers questions you’re not supposed to ask.

Leaving the British Library, I cross Euston Road and walk a few minutes further to Upper Woburn Place. The flowers and messages to remember people killed on July 7 have also been removed from outside St. Pancras Church too. A few seconds further along Upper Woburn Place, and I’m suddenly confronted by the BMA building’s white walls. I’m here. This is it.

Bloomsbury is quite a peaceful part of central London. A sea of scenic park squares. Bloomsbury Square. Russell Square. Queen’s Square. And the now well known place where I’m now standing..

Remembrance grows stronger every year here in Tavistock Square.. A cherry tree was planted in the park here in August 1967 to commemorate the victims of the Hiroshima atom bombing. The Virginia Woolf memorial reminds us that in 1924 she lived at number 52 Tavistock Square. Active non-violence is honoured with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The blue plaque on the BMA building says Charles Dickens lived here in 1851. There’s also a Holocaust memorial, and a memorial to Conscientious Objectors, a cause which asserts that citizens with moral or religious objections to killing people should be exempt from military conscription. No matter what phoney war you brought to London on July 7, peace was blossoming here before you arrived, and it’s still growing stronger and stronger everyday. If you’re looking for trouble, not only did you wrongly target innocent people, you even came to the wrong place.. Tavistock Square, is a place where people unite and stand together in peace.

7 days before you came here, on Thursday morning, June 30 2005, I attended a doctor’s appointment at Great Ormond Street. It’s 3 minutes walk from Tavistock Square and 1 minute from Russell Square Tube Station. Publishers and related businesses occupy many of these streets, and during my June 30 visit I passed by Faber & Faber’s offices which invoked sudden flashbacks. I recalled secretly writing them a book proposal as a schoolboy up North in West Yorkshire. A 15-year-old Muslim in Bradford with unspoken ambitions to send out messages to the whole world he knew so very little about. Like all of you, I never let anyone find out what I was doing. Because I didn’t believe anyone would really understand why I wanted to do it.

Today, I have kept the letter at home for what would have been my next doctor’s appointment at Great Ormond Street, on the morning of Thursday, July 7 2005. I was so unhappy with my doctor when he cancelled it. But were it not for him disagreeing with me, I might have met one of you and looked into your eyes. So today, today I wrote my name and words inside the BMA’s remembrance book.. “I’ll never forget what happened, and I pray that one day I can help make the world more peaceful and loving.”

It’s a beautiful, sunny, August day here in Bloomsbury. I sit on a bench in Tavistock Square Park listening to Nevermind The Bollocks on my CD walkman, and watch workmen replacing the BMA building’s broken windows, because of what you did.. The Sex Pistols are my kind of freedom fighters. 4 young, British men, who believed in freedom enough, and loved the people enough, to shout out loud what they truly believed inside. And in the phoney terrorist war which people call inevitable, these 12 brutal hymns never flinch when articulating what I think many young people still feel today.

Outside Tavistock Square Park, I stand on the pavement and begin to look upwards at the now invisible, yet unerasable blood on the walls of the BMA building. I search higher for some clear answers in today’s cloudless, blue sky. And search. And search.. 13 people stopped living on this road in front of me, because of you.. A workman, I think, appears across the road. As I stare up at the sky, he stares over at me. And stares. And there we are.. Frozen. With me looking to the sky. And him looking at me.. And my black rucksack. This small road between us, is filled with the silent nightmares and falling tears of future generations. The silence of our times, and the tears of London.. The now invisible, yet unerasable wreckage, of the number 30 bus, which ended its final journey right here. If by some miracle someone ever reads these words centuries from now, I pray they help you start what needs to be started, so you can stop what needs to be stopped. I pray that evil isn’t as inevitable in your lifetime as people say it is in mine.

Here in Tavistock Square, I remember simple, universal lessons, which generations before me learned: God burdens no woman or man with more than they can bear. Everything happens for a reason. No problem is ever presented without the solution first being given. And y’know what? These simple lessons, they just don’t tell me why a Muslim youth, who was born and grew up a few miles from where I was born and still live, could travel so far from our home in the North of England, to kill himself and 12 other innocent people in this little Bloomsbury street.

I decide I better give up on the blue sky and speak to the man across the road. Turning away from him, I walk back to the pelican crossing we’ve all seen in the photographs of the number 30 bus. As I cross the road I notice the man is quickly walking away. His departure is a timely reminder that my questions can never be answered. No police investigation will show me conclusive evidence. This government will not support a public enquiry.. And no religion or politician will show us how to stop this from happening again.. The best message I have is in my rucksack on the front of my writing folder.. a printed e-mail I received after writing
Letter to the Terrorists
, sent to me by Ian Brown, the singer from The Stone Roses: “Keep the faith kid, ‘cause you know it’s gonna go beyond a headache.”

Inevitable terrorism means nothing to an eternal optimist like me. But rush-hour London buses and tube trains have now sadly become another symbol for the end of youth innocence. Like John Lennon signing his last autograph for Mark David Chapman. Like Kurt Cobain picking up his shotgun and walking to the shed. Like the blood on the white walls of the BMA building, here in Tavistock Square. 7/7 was not inevitable to me. It was just evil. A foolish, empty revolution. Redundant fundamentalism. Wordless cause. Pointless thoughts. Innocent targets. Whose deaths will never. Ever. Save. Muslim. Lives.

We must never give up on good. And if we call terrorism inevitable, then it sounds to me like we have done. So we’re gonna need a bigger vote. One that sends the politicians to fight their own phoney war, instead of bringing phoney war to my favourite city.

Inevitable (adjective): incapable of being avoided or prevented; "the inevitable result" noun: an unavoidable event; "don't argue with the inevitable"

I’m making new friends everywhere I go in London now. When staff at entrance checkpoints search everyone’s bags, I hand them my rucksack and thank them.. And I smile at them so genuinely, they can’t help but share a smile with me. And pretty women on the bus and tube, they keep a watchful eye on Muslims like me (and my rucksack) like never before. I love London so much.. It will always be the greatest city on God’s Earth.. The best museums. My favourite theatres. The British Library. And my gloriously simple bus journeys over the bridges of the River Thames that will live forever. Sitting upstairs at the front of a London bus is poverty’s London Eye. And in God’s eyes we’re all created equally, even if Muslims are now seen differently.

Everyday-people like me, consciously educating themselves to write and communicate their own life experiences to the world, may be the greatest weapon against governments and terrorists who claim to speak for so many of us, and yet in truth only represent their own isolated ignorance, corruption, and fear. Real bravery, would never, ever, kill as many innocent people as possible on a rush-hour tube train or bus. Real bravery, would never, ever, mislead an entire nation and send its soldiers to fight a phoney war, in the name of peace. Only fake, sexed-up rhetoric, and genuine cowardice, would ever do these things to us.

I honestly don't care who disagrees with me anymore, so long as they disagree peacefully. We can go our own separate ways after the discussion.. And at least this way we can live to see another day and have another chance at working towards a civilised agreement. Humanity, has already marched across the world to say that both war and terrorism are violently disagreeable to humanity. Centuries from now, humanity will wonder just how and why both war and terrorism ever had to happen again and again and again and again and stop! and again and please don't do this again! and again and again and again.

In these difficult days, I often lose sight of who I really am and become overwhelmed by the public’s constant suspicion of me and other Muslims. I feel like Lily Tomlin once said: “We’re all in this alone.”
I forget there’s never been a better time to be a Muslim than right now. I forget that it’s always a great day to be alive.

Being here today.. It’s really helped me to remember.

Hassan, Tavistock Square, London
August 9 2005

© Hassan 2005

email hassanwillbeking AT hotmail.com

Yorkshire Lass' journalism ethics questions

Fellow passenger and journalism student Yorkshire Lass has asked me to help with her course work on journalism ethics and trauma reporting so here goes...

How were you approached by the media? And how did you feel about this?
I was approached by a journalist from the Financial Times outside University College Hospital at about 10.30am on July 7th. I gave him my account as I felt it was important that I got the message out about what had happened, at the time there was widespread confusion and the BBC TV in the hospital was still reporting power surges. I told him it was a bomb. I was still covered in blood and soot and in deep shock. After being stitched I sat in a cafe outside UCL and a woman journalist approached me, I talked to her briefly. She then called me the next day to ask me to do a piece and a photo. I said no. She called again later in the week. I said no again and became quite angry as she was trying to persuade me. Turns out she was from a news agency.

Later that night when I was home and had bathed I wrote my account in my words and posted it on urban 75 website in a breaking news thread about the day of the bombs. There were many responses so I wrote updates. The editor put it on the site home page. The BBC saw it and asked me to write a blog for them, which I did. Later, that became this blog.

Did you find their questions and general interviewing was tailored to the fact you were part of a traumatic event, such as being sympathetic and trying to relate to how you feel? Or did they just ask straightforward questions and stick to the subject?

The FT journo on the morning of the bombs was matter of fact, obviously shocked himself. He was fine, clearly doing a job. The woman reporter from the agency full of fake sympathy and then pressurised me and tried to make me feel guilty for not doing the piece, calling me on Friday 8th July offering me 'a makeover for the picture' . Yes, just what every bomb victim dreams of...

Later in the week I had many, many more calls - the bloody woman stringer journo had passed my mobile number around! I was furious. I told them all no, and to leave me alone in no uncertain terms. (Click to read what happened when the Mail on Sunday asked a particularly stupid question. It was the first time I had laughed since the bombs. A rather evil laugh, it must be said, at them, not with them. )

I decided then that I would never let anyone write my story for me when I could write it better in my own words - why should I let someone speak for me? And probably get it all wrong. This may appear arrogant of me but I knew I could string a sentence together and I knew what the media were after. I read enough mags and newspapers myself, know enough journalists to have a damn good idea. And after nearly being killed, feeling safe, feeling in control becomes essential.

Did you feel that any of the interviews were part of a cathartic process at all?
Nope, which was why I decided to write myself. Then I met Fergal Keane and his lovely cameraman and I spent 2 hours hanging out with them and I did a short interview, a week after the bombs. Fergal was ace. He encouraged me to write, and he said I was a writer. I have never forgotten that. I still email him occasionally. I felt he and the cameraman understood, they had both been in Rwanda, Bosnia, they knew about trauma, bombs, death. They were great.

How did you feel about questions regarding issues like compensation and your personal recovery? Did you feel pressured at all?
Yes, frequently - the volume of calls/emails from the media has been intense ever since July 7th. I have always refused to speak about compensation: when asked to give quotes and be interviewed I said no, but that I would be willing to write myself if I could direct the piece in a way I wanted ( i.e: to find other passengers and let them know about KCU). I did give a few anonymous interviews: this was when I wanted to make a personal political point and couldn't, because KCU is non-political ( such as when I went for the Government over the Terror Laws in a letter to the Times, a blog post and on Radio2 when interviewed by Jeremy Vine). I can be a more political on this blog than I can in print, since this is clearly a personal diary, though I wrote about the need for a Public Enquiry in the Sunday Times - the first overt political piece I wrote for the press rather than on the blog

Have you seen any of the interviews as being a good experience?
Fergal. Everything else was KCU 'work', but that one gave me hope.

Of the pieces I wrote I am most glad I wrote Rachel's Story: that was a major turning point in my life and I would not have got to the point of writing that if I hadn't been blown up. That was I think the most powerful thing I will ever write.

Have you seen any of them as being a bad experience and wondering why the hell they are asking these questions and wanting to know this?

See the stringer hounding me on 8th July, and the Mail on Sunday. ( The journalist's trade mag Press Gazette had a good laugh too, mwah hah ha).

From your experience, do you think questioning people about trauma should be treated differently than it is? For instance, should there be that self regulation in place that when someone has been through a traumatic expericence and clearly doesn't want to talk about it, they should be allowed the same rights as those who are suffering grief and be left alone?
As a rape survivor who did an interview about it, and then ended up rewriting most of it herself, because the original was so awful, and having been on the receiving end of post traumatic press, I think trauma victims should be entitled to be left in peace. If people want to talk they will; hounding them can compound their suffering, as can manipulating them and waving sums of cash about. They are vulnerable, and though they may not look wounded, they are. So yes. They should be given more rights to protection. After that, it is up to them whether they speak out. I also wishthat journalists 'got' that, if you speak out once, it does not make you fair game for evermore. Victims do not owe you copy and coverage.

Looking back, have you regretted any of the media you have taken part in? Or do you think it has all been important and useful?
I am unusual in that I took a lot of tight control of the media process as a victim who became a writer, a 'citizen journalist', then as a freelance writer. There was a survivor group will and agenda to reach victims, and I was able to negotiate what I felt okay about writing, which was to tell the story of KCU to let passengers know about it, with the group's agreement and support. I don't know if the media had any idea at the time how much I was aware of what I was doing, how much I balanced their desire for a story with the agenda I/we had. I tried not to let on that I was often scared, and I used my day job training to make it work as best as I could. I felt under incredible pressure often, though other group members manned the email enquiries and were great, we worked as a team. But my mobile, my work number were often under seige, which was hard.

I passed many media enquiries onto the group as well, so people who wanted to give interviews always had the choice of doing so, and I gave media advice to those who said they were interested in being interviewed, as to how to handle it.

I'm glad I am not doing any more KCU stories - the Sun was the last one. If I was the sort of person who actively wanted to be famous I could have had endless pieces on me personally - the New York Times, Red magazine, Eve, The Independent, the Observer, the Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the Mirror, Richard and Judy, ITN, various documentary programmes on BBC, BBC Radio2, 4, 5, C4, ITV... all wanted to write about me or do interviews or even make programmes with me and I said no. Why did they want to do features on me? Because I am fascinating or beautiful or talented? Nope. Because I was seven feet from the bomb that had killed the most people so I was hot news... and because they could easily get hold of me via this blog or the because the bloody press association woman had given out my number, or the BBC had it on file...because they wanted a first person account . And I was good copy. That was why.

Fame is a stupid thing, a mask that eats into the face. I didn't want it.

I did 2 personal pieces as a writer - both for the Sunday Times - about the rape/my personal take on good/evil/forgiveness and about no public enquiry - the rest was all highly-targeted KCU stuff to reach Piccadilly passengers.

That bloody news agency stringer woman from July 7th. Had I not been in such shock I would never have let her get my details. Never, ever talk to someone from a news agency. Never give an interview whilst in shock. You do not need to give your name or address or number to anyone who is not official. Take as much control as you can. If you don't like it, stop, walk away - do it on your terms. If it is a recorded interview and you don't like the question, stop, and swear uncontrollably, so they have to stop. If it is live and you don't like the questions, don't answer them - say what you want to say instead. Have in your mind your limits and stick to them, tell the journalist what you won't discuss before you start. And have someone with you whom you trust, who knows how it works and can protect you if at all possible .

That is what I would say to anyone caught up in a disaster).

Finally, what do you think of how the media handled the aftermath of July 7th with their human interest features and coverage?
You know, I think I'll throw that one open to the commenters....