Claremont on a platform.

The Claremont Project in Islington does tons for seniors who can come in from outwith Islington and are made welcome anyway.

Magnanimous me, to support Claremont (use it or lose it) and because I am a voting women signed up for “Women and Equality. Where are we now?”
I had imagined a room full of white-haired and permed silent very senior women with gushing thirty somethings making us suck eggs. I was upset when to an audience of five the presenters from The Fawcett Society in an air of defence began the session by reading aloud a timeline about the state of women in the UK since 1888 or thereabouts. Fine enough but tedious to the hilt if you’ve already educated yourself about your gender’s standing then and now. What could have been powerful was using we senior women as those who over seventy years and more have lived through the lead up to many acts of Parliament which serve to erase prejudice against women. It turned out that the audience was made of women and one man for whom English is not their first language and of people who came into the UK from another culture. We only had less than two hours as some participants had committed to the twelve week mindfulness course which partially clashed on the timetable.

The fault was in the planning when Claremont management invite in speakers with no reference to anything else going on at The Centre, International Women’s Day is long gone; Women coming from the UK’s new Women’s Equality Party are neither Salsa teachers nor art therapists. It is the same as mauve pictures of razor blades stuck on Claremont toilet walls calling to action a ban on Female Genital Mutilation when no-one at Claremont had discussed FGM, nor wanted to, so the stickers aka posters were just flies on a brick wall, meaningless and ignored.

What should have been a massive session was not advertised properly. Most people who use Claremont go of habit to art and dance, poetry and mindfulness sessions and would not have been persuaded to book up for a political session where their opinions may have been sought. Bravo Claremont for the attempt because rising up is a new cohort of women who do have opinions to voice. Those are once the teens of the sixties and we know what those days were like.

So through cleverly managed questions from Vicky we answered questions like “Are you surprised at the statistics about women in the UK?” “What would you ask Theresa May regarding the state of women in the UK today?” There was an air of gloom as we thought about the state of women as the back-bones of family life or indifference from those who decided not to speak and that was sometimes interrupted by passionate speeches based on experience and practical realities.
Remembering that the participants’ ages ranged from 55 to maybe 79 then there was a shed-load of wise old women.

There was the recognition that active seniors are actually working as constant childminders in a country where child care costs are spiralling upwards as families negotiate fixed term working contracts and the unpopular zero-contract hours with low pay. Housing costs in London have not been addressed by any government recently.
We learnt about women in prison, the appalling statistics about death and the history of those likely to offend and the double punishments where women are moved to different prisons away from their children.
Phyllis headed up that May was to be interviewed on LBC radio that same evening so we proposed questions to her. It turned out that the lines were busy at 7pm but I led a Twitter feed.

The session was indeed marvellous because it was passionate, because we let each other talk, because we came together in a setting other than one where the table held water-paints and scrap paper, because as older women accommodating one older man and ourselves, we recognised our worth.

Who could have ever known that in a street where diplomats’ cars have right of parking, where in an adjacent street a vibrant market hollers, sat in a building which needs a lick of paint and a toilet refurbished , that in a hall needing care and attention older people were listening and learning, thinking and considering, sharing and talking,

It was what it was. Thank you, Claremont.

A Poem A Day. International Women’s Day

2013-06-26 20.41.30

An anthology of 27 poems , one a day, for IWD 2015                                            by Gillian Lawrence

                                                  1) The Darkness

The cow shed was swept overnight.

Where the brush strokes screamed the sand was lined and orderly

sometimes curved smoothed unruffled.

Shell-holes pink-rimmed from last moon’s uprising

followed each other across the flaking plaster

where cows had licked long tongues

craving for the moist and sweet dampness.

On the sill an old rag was crumpled

stiff in its new-washed state.


By noon the ground was red and mucus watery

reflecting a high and vicious sun.

Splats of blood had crashed into the dung-fed walls

under dirty windows opaque imprisoning holding.

The rag had swiped the gnashing knife twenty times

and lay abandoned where girl-child buttocks had flattened

and chafed on shared faecal-smeared cow-smelling fronds.

By evening between the soft lowing sounds of cattle

circumcised girls hummed in agony.




Anti FGM Day

6th February 2014 is ‘Let’s get rid of FGM Day’. A teenager, Fahma Mohamed, via The Guardian is campaigning nationally asking Gove to alert and educate school staff to the barbarism of FGM and then to its reporting.

FGM has been illegal in the UK for twenty-eight years. In recent twenty first century years cases of child abuse highlighting Female Genital Mutilation have been reported to the police. No prosecutions followed. How was that?

Summer is the “season of the cut” and so the petitioner wants Gove to alert school staff before the long summer holidays when “cut parties” are held in communities in Britain. Ain’t that disgusting?
Sick, sick, sick
Let’s remember Gove is the guy who wants naughty children to miss Games, miss family life and when they cannot write to write lines. I’m not sure he’s ready for considering something so un-English.

Bravo, The Guardian! Where you been?

A tweeter asked who decides the language of the day. Why can’t we say “coloured people” as opposed to “People of colour”? Why can’t we say “Queer” instead of “Gay”? What makes my educated self disguise “backward” in “culturally significant”?

I have become a hater of mothers who pin down their daughters for a razor cut, who allow men to watch the agony, who betray their daughters, and I shall say backward barbaric.

“Any time the body is cut into, the health of the victim is compromised. When the normal body of a child is cut, both the physical and psychological health of the child are compromised, and the inherent right of the child to its own body has been violated. Cutting children’s normal bodies to satisfy the personal, cultural, or religious bias of its parents is wrong, and no amount of belief or rhetoric can change that.” Thank you whoever wrote that in US 2011

Haggis, hags and FGM

Today I tossed mushrooms, courgettes and slices of ginger into a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of Soy sauce. To those yummies I added a slice or two of Hall’s haggis. I love haggis.

In a couple of hours I shall ignore the rain and get along to the local community mosque to taste some Ile de Reunion fare made by Sara who runs the tea club for women. She trundles her trolley transporting casserole dishes full of cooked beans and spices along Leyton streets come hell or high water. Hers is a labour of love for the mosque. Some women I know bake cakes and fry chicken legs for the church. It’s a tradition.

I would like to imagine that after dinner there I would open up a debate about FGM. Sara’s tea club is open to all women but actually the regular attendees are grandmas swathed in black cloaks and hijabs. I’ll be lucky to get past pleasantries because that’s all the conversation is always. I fear that it will be men who do the majority of debating about female circumcision whether in Parliament or in mosque. Women may lose a great opportunity to come together and eradicate the nastiness. Nothing’s happened in the last 44 years or so since “Spare Rib” and other daring magazines and voices gave us graphic details about what goes on on our doorsteps.

My friend whilst living in the tropics in the early 1970s had to be on the alert all the time in case her mother-in-law snatched her daughter and baptised her before cutting her. Yikes. In my own neighbourhood, I don’t even know whether old women in hijabs and others in stockinged feet wear bras under their dress let alone dare to ask if they’re missing clits. Imagine. I remember my mother wearing all-body corsets. It was a tale that if a woman didn’t hook on that salmon pink constrictor then their backs would give way. I used to giggle when my auntie would say after a shopping chore “Ooh! Can’t wait to undo mi corsets”. Rise up women and see what you’re doing to your bodies and those of the next generation.

.Alice petch

There was a debate on the telly a decade ago when some Ghanaian women nodded in agreement to FGM saying that it was for belonging and identity and as for being a woman in the tribe it was the one thing that gave them self-esteem. Is that why we’re not moving forward on never mind the debate but the prevention? As for the cut being performed in London and UK, well the law is being flouted. From the person who pays the ‘midwife’s air fare to the man who gives out his front parlour for the women’s business we shall say they are criminals.

Back-street abortion was rife. It is always preventable. In the UK it must surely be done and dusted by now. What is done to girls and women for all manner of reasons to do with subjugation is widespread. FGM, child-marriage, breast-ironing, house-maiding, forced virginity tests, forced abortions can be stopped. It seems FGM becomes hot topic around International Women’s Day. Even then Zumba, Tai Chi, Reiki, knitting, massage and pampering cloud what’s really needed in terms of recognising one’s worth as a woman in case your mother never told you. The point is to find out who’s controlling the nasty stuff and who’s making a profit from it. If the force were there then women could be the people to stop the abusive and criminal acts if they are not the ones dictating them. Who tells a poor mother in India to get her baby daughter’s leg injected with bleach? Do you know that crime? A poor parent will deform her child so that the girl becomes a life-long street beggar.

neech in RAGWORKS 2012While we’re on female treachery (the Ile de Reunion curry can wait) there’s the early twentieth century UK practice of mothers of the bride having their daughter’s teeth knocked out at the dentist’s or aka dentist so that she’d never be a dental liability to her future husband. Not as bad as FGM though.


When I first learnt about FGM in books about African women it was called clitoridectomy in a decade when the clitoris was as unknown as package holidays. Good we just say FGM now. Just the language change makes for better chat about the whole caboodle.

Well must go munch with the ‘sisters’ then get around to doing the home-kit bowel cancer test. Life eh!