At the end of this blog is a graphic image. The kind that gives you bad dreams at night, but I want you to read on because my aim in writing this meandering, at at times amusing piece is to persuade you to look at it….like a grown up should.
The other day I had the privilege of conducting a historic walking tour of central London. Admittedly LSE were scraping at the barrel choosing me. I fail even to fulfil the basic requirement of the whole venture the ability to walk. But thanks to 6 hours following blue hyperlinks on Wikipedia I delivered the best darn push tour London has ever known!***
I could bore you with many useless facts from that day: about the 350 clocks in Buckingham Palace and their two full time employees – I know, doesn’t that just tick you off – or the significance of flags on government buildings in Whitehall, or the sex life of Mahatma Gandhi (it was potentially less celibate than one might expect) but I won’t. Instead I want to draw our attention to the 169ft* column in the middle of Trafalgar Square on which stands a stone statue of Admiral Nelson.
Now I don’t know much about the guy (to my shame all I know is what Wikipedia has told me) but of all the characters I talked about that day, from politicians to terrorists, scientists to architects, it is Nelson who has stuck with me the most. Why? Because I feel he represents a Britishness that is nearly totally gone. Allow me to explain.
One look at the guy (you may need binoculars for this task, I don’t know exactly what William Railton was thinking putting him all the way up there!) begins to get the imagination going. It depicts a man who in life stood 5’5″ in height, blind in one eye and possessing only one (left) arm. The eye he lost in Corsica in 1793 after debris struck a sand bag near his head. The arm he lost in Tenerife five years later after being hit by a musket bullet. It is said that he not only refused to be carried back onto the ship stating: ‘Leave me alone, I still have my legs and one arm’ but also returned to giving orders a mere half an hour after the ships surgeon hacked it clean off. Suffice to say he was made out of tough stuff. This is no better summed up than in some of his final words on the 21st October 1805. As he lay haemorrhaging to death in the Hull of HMS Victory, a French bullet lodged in his thoraxic vertebrate he is said to have muttered ‘Thank God I have done my duty’.
In the line of duty Nelson quite literally risked [and lost] life and limb. He faced danger, death and deprivation. He fought real battles against real enemies and was happy to die for his cause. He knew what he wanted to live for and knew what he was prepared to die for.
Yet ask an average Londoner today about duty and they’ll put the kettle on. “Due tea” is about as far as we get. Most of us have no idea what we’re living for, let alone what we’re prepared to die for, so we knock up another brew and wait for the results of the Bake Off.
If my reignited passion for British history, has taught me anything it’s that the old England had thicker skin than the new one. The ruddy calloused hands that built an empire are fast sinking in a pot of Olay moisturiser. The desire is there, but the character aloof. We still want a cause yet we are not prepared to suffer for it, we still want duty but not at the expense of our autonomy and we still want a fight but on our terms. So what do we do? Well, we imagine battles that aren’t there and we overlook the ones that are.
Allow me to give an example. Many of you would know that I recently appeared on Channel 4’s Dispatches Undercover: Britain’s Abortion Extremists in which I was branded, amongst other things an ‘anti-abortion fanatic’ for my voluntary work with Abort67. I believe this hyperbolic, farcical piece of pseudo-journalism proves my point entirely.
The documentary made by Cathy Newman (who actually went to my school, would you believe) and her team of neutral as acid supporters: a doctor, an MP and two ‘victims’ produced a 30 minute piece exposing the various pro-life groups operating in and around London. As can be expected they made us out as a bunch of religious nutters who just love to harass women, block doors, film patients, and hold ‘lurid banners’. It asserted that because of our actions, buffer zones should be enforced around clinics to prevent women from ‘walking the gauntlet’.
Our security footage shows that nothing can be further from the truth. We ask members of the public respectfully what they think about abortion and respect their right to engage or walk past. We never block doors and only film to protect ourselves from false allegations – and, I should add, undercover documentary makers. We do use images, but we don’t apologise for doing so because it is the quickest and most effective way to show the humanity of the unborn child. We never retaliate in word or deed, though we are oft slandered, intimidated and on one occasion attacked. Finally, we are not a religious organisation, we are a human rights organisation and we welcome volunteers from a range of faith or no faith backgrounds. In sum, we are about as aggressive as Lizo from Newsround (who’s journalism, though tame was a darn sight more balanced than Cathy’s)
All we do is offer a different opinion. The truth, and it’s the truth that offends not us. Don’t believe me? Watch a local policemen give testimony to our sedateness, or pop down to Columbo street one Friday afternoon and see what we do. We have nothing to hide, indeed our aim is simply to expose whats hidden.
But you know something, it’s the gauntlet phrase that amuses me the most. Not because abortion is amusing, nothing is funny about abortion, but because it make the whole thing sound like the set from Gladiators. You can imagine that Welsh guy in the black and white stripes now: ‘Stranger you will go on my first whistle!…Pro-life religious women-hating fanatic, you will go on my second whistle! 3,2,1 go!’ Sometimes in my most frustrated moments I think I should get some inflatable pads just to give Cathy Newman or Caitlin Moran something write about.
But here’s the the thing, the fact that the documentary told porkies doesn’t bother me that much. What bothers me is that it infantilises society.
Consider the following extract from an article by Caitlin Moran my friend Liv shared with me (I quote at length to give context, please forgive the bad language, I could put stars in between but I’ve never really understood that practice).
imagine accidentally getting pregnant at 16, then having to run past a barrage of anti-abortion protestors outside your local clinic, all holding up pictures of dead foetuses. We’re not dealing with this in a special, noble lady-way. We’re like, “THIS IS ALREADY A REALLY, REALLY SHIT DAY. I PRESUME YOUR CONCERN FOR THE WELFARE OF CHILDREN EXTENDS INTO A LIFE SPENT VOLUNTEERING IN CARE HOMES, FOSTERING AND DONATING YOUR WAGES TO THE NSPCC — AND DOESN’T SOLELY REST ON HARASSING AND ABUSING TEARFUL, POSSIBLY RAPED WOMEN WHO ARE TRYING TO GET A SAFE, LEGAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE SO THEY DON’T FUCK UP THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.”
……we’d love it if a big bunch of pro-choice men turned up at these clinics, and helped escort the scared women in. That would be some top bro solidarity.
As far as ‘sit down, shut up’ arguments go, you can trust Caitlin to produce a good one. However, notice how she infantilises women. She makes them into pathetic little children who need to be escorted around and protected from the facts. Caitlin, are you a feminist or not? In reality the average age of abortion last year was 21 (look at Gov Stats doc). Extreme cases do exist and are tragedies, but they only make up for between 1-3% of the total. Therefore the average women we encounter is exactly that, a grown up sexually responsible women. We as an organisation respect women, and believe they are perfectly able to engage with our displays or walk past. We trust women. We respect their cognitive abilities, and, I can’t believe I’m writing this, we respect their right to choose whether they want to listen to us or not. Some even thank us for our work.
But it’s not just about infantalising women. I have on a few occasions now met men, real men, with stubble and side burns and stuff, who are totally disempowered by such arguments. They are made to believe the unborn child has nothing to do with them- as if it was conceived by pollination of something-they are given no job, no duty and therefore seek solace in their Xbox. Other manly men refuse to see the images ‘lest I get a nasty image in my head’. Yes I appreciate they wish to protect their thought life but come on! This isn’t gratuitous violence this is actual violence, against real people.
In all this I wonder what Nelson would think? Or indeed anyone who lived before our bubble-wrapped, supposedly sanitised, prepubescent pepper-pig generation.
After all, Nelson lived in the time of the press gangs, slavery, hangings and war. When London streets bustled with vendors, urchins, prostitutes, gin drinkers, heralds and pick pockets. Where traitors remains hung in the open air for all to see for month after month after month. Personal space had not been invented yet. Now that’s a gauntlet, but I bet Nelson wouldn’t have called it that. Of course not – he had bigger fish to fry, he had a real war to fight, complete with blood and guts and weapons.
We too have a bigger war to fight, an actual war, with casualties far greater than those of Nelson’s day. I’m talking of the 191,014 children killed by abortion last year in England and Wales, the 43,383 children killed in London, the 2062 killed in Southwark, or the 20 or so killed two days a week in that GP surgery you saw in the documentary.
If the population of the Isle of Wight was wiped out you’d call it genocide. But that is 59,514 less than the national total. If a full Stamford Bridge collapsed mid-match there would be national mourning, yet that is 1542 less than the London total. If a secondary school was gassed because those children couldn’t be supported by the state there would be riots on the street. Yet no one lifts a finger for these little human beings, abandoned, suffocated, ripped apart, ejected, discarded.
So here comes the image. Are you going to look at it or not?
Because yes, they are human beings – a little known scientific fact that no one wants to discuss. Living, distinct whole human beings with eyes and fingers, and brainwaves, and potential. As one doctor states “Not potentially human but humans with potential” Nothing proves it like the image:
Can you see what’s happening? We are being led to believe that ‘creeps’ on the street, engaging members of the public in respectful conversation is an injustice, while silently behind closed doors and into toilet bowls little human beings are being killed, and flushed away.
We are being led to believe that women cannot handle facts, that the public walk ways are as private as a teenagers bedroom and that violence is akin to disagreeing with someone else’s choice.
The actual injustice friends in that women are not being told the facts and until some one does they may commit a real violence against a real human being.
So we going to grow up or not? Are we gonna face the facts and fight the real war? Or are we gonna be stunted by hyperbole seeking to distract from the actual issue?
As Wilberforce once said “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know” (Closing Speech in House of Commons 1791).
*That happened in London between 2-4.30pm on September 21st 2016
*Subject to the opinions of those who gave positive feedback
* Excluding the feedback of those that didn’t have anything nice to say.
*Another Wikipedia page said it was 145 ft.
*Massive thank you to Kathryn Hunter for proof reading and editing.