The Secret Life of an Old Book – A Snapshot of Two Women

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1910 Edition, The Religious Tract Society

It is August, and the sun is high in the sky. On the Norfolk coast, children run in and out of the lapping waves, sand clinging to their legs and cheeks and hair. Their stomachs are full of ice cream and candy floss, the sugar of the seaside treats and the salt of the sea clinging to their lips.

I loved the feeling of the hot sun on the nape of my neck and the cold water lapping against my knees, or soaking in to my swimsuit, bright blue with huge white flowers – I would lay on my stomach searching for shells and the oddly bright coloured stones which I loved to collect, though would invariably leave at my Grandparents house when we came home at the end of our stay.

Yet as much as I loved those hot days of sand and sea and salt and sugar, I loved the rainy days more, because those were the days my Father and I would go in the car and explore the plethora of second hand book shops that were dotted across the villages and small towns of North Norfolk. We would rarely buy anything (that wasn’t the point, and money was too hard to come by); the joy was in slowly, painstakingly searching through the rows of books, in shops that smelt of old leather, beeswax polish and tea.

There is something spiritual in finding and opening a book which has been un-read and unopened for decades – the scent of the paper, the way the words seem to reach out happily to you like old friends as they enjoy being read for the first time in too long; how they ache to give up their stories and lay against your hands like content dogs against the caress of their owners.

These days I can rarely explore a good second hand book shop as luxuriously as I once did in my childhood, but my Father still has an eye for a fascinating old book and this evening brought be a real treasure: a copy of Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyon.

This particular edition was published in 1910 by The Religious Tract Society (which later became the Lutterworth Press). The forward is a mini-history of both Pilgrims Progress through its various editions in Bunyan’s lifetime, and the RTS itself. The text for this edition (“…presented to readers of every class…”) is ‘as it stood when Bunyan’s death removed all possibility’ of further revisions by the author. And the second part has, it says, been ‘carefully collated’ with the 1686 second edition, which was the final edition to be printed in Bunyan’s life (the third edition being published in 1690, two years after his death).

What makes this book special is the clue that it contains, in a small handwritten inscription on the inside cover, to the journey which it has been on through in the hands of its previous owner or owners. As a child in those old shops in Norfolk, it was always those hand written inscriptions which fascinated me as much as the books themselves. Who were these people who had written these brief messages, and who were the people to whom they had been written? What had their lives been like? What had these books meant to them in their lifetimes?

This particular inscription reads:

Beatrice Cooper

with kind wishes from her mistress –

Dunston Lodge

Christmas 1911

And in the bottom left had corner, a Bible reference – Genesis 12, vs 2.

Here we have two women – one of some rank, yet nameless; and one who was a servant of the nameless mistress, but who has a name, an identity. I wonder at how the one came to give to give the book to the other – a Christmas present to a servant: was it a gesture of kindness and affection? Or the act of a woman of class doing her ‘Christian duty’?

And what of the woman who received it? When Beatrice received it was she pleased with it? The book is 105 years old but it is in excellent condition, yet the spine is not stiff, which suggests that it was read. Did she love it, cherish it? Or did she read it because her mistress expected it?

It is a mere snippet – and yet in just a tiny handful of words there is a story potentially as fascinating as the story within the book. 1910, the year the book was printed, was the year of Black Friday, the year Mary Macarthur led the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath to victory in their fight for a minimum wage, the year that there were two general elections, the year George V succeeded his father Edward VII as King and Dr Crippen was arrested, tried and hanged for his murdering his wife. In 1911, when Beatrice received the book, workers at the Singer sewing machine factory had gone on strike; suffragettes had stormed parliament, there had been a census and the hottest summer on record lasting from May to September.

How were these events shaping and changing their world?

There are lives and stories there, beckoning and yet perhaps unattainable. These women are but whispers of spirits upon the page, but I know that I will pause often on those words, and wonder. I will hover over the copper plate script and think about Beatrice and her unnamed mistress, bound to that book as inexorably as the author whose words inhabit the page.

Go then, my little Book, and show to all

That entertain and bid thee welcome shall,

What thou shalt keep close shut from the rest:

And wish what thou shall show them may be blessed

To them for good, may make them choose to be

Pilgrims better by far than thee or me.  ~ John Bunyan

She Was Not Yours to Take: Why Money Doesn’t Buy Ched Evans a Conscience

“Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.” George Washington

Conscience: The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct and motives, impelling one toward right actions – the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls and inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.

I was not surprised to learn that Ched Evans case has been referred to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC, despite originally being refused appeal twice in the months after being convicted of rape at Caernarfon Crown Court in April 2012.

I wasn’t surprised because what Ched Evans has access to is money – a very great deal of it, care of his future Father-in-Law Karl Massey. He is also a pampered young man with an inexhaustible ability to play the victim. Like many spoiled and pampered young men with too little discipline, and access to too much money (and the power that provides), he is someone who, thanks to Massey, can afford to buy expensive legal muscle and flex it to the fullest possible extent.

Leaving aside (for the moment) any discussion about consent within a legal context in this case, (and the appeal must be allowed to run its course) what we know about Evans behaviour that night is this:

  • Somewhere around 4am on the night of the rape, Clayton McDonald sent Evans a text to tell him “I’ve got a bird.”
  • After receiving the text, Evans and two friends went to the Premier Inn where McDonald and the victim were.
  • Evans approached the reception desk and obtained a room key after lying that he had booked the room for a friend who no longer needed it.
  • Evans friends stayed outside the hotel, looked through the bedroom window and filmed part of what happened.
  • Evans entered the room. I will not describe what occurred but at the time of writing this, Evans remains a convicted rapist.
  • Evans left the hotel via the emergency exit.

When Evans made his public statement  – following the remorseless hounding of his victim by supporters he tried to distance himself from – he framed this behaviour as infidelity. And yet nothing about his behaviour that night suggests that this was a man who believed himself to be conducting an ‘affair’, and whether it was behaviour that reflected a reasonable belief in consent will now, once again, be a matter for the Court of Appeal.

But his actions that night – and since – suggests a man who is happy to indulge in behaviour which at best can only be described as sleazy. Consider: at no time has Evans ever, in any way – either explicitly or implicitly – addressed the presence of his two friends that night who filmed either McDonald and/or Evans and the victim. There is no suggestion that she was ever made aware of that at the time, far less given the opportunity to agree to it.

Further: Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim. Therefore is the only communication, on which Evans bases his claim, the text sent to him by McDonald? A text from your mate that says ‘he’s got a bird’ is not consent from the victim.  Is it unreasonable to infer then that Evans believed that his friend had procured a woman for him, and that’s this was what he understand the text to mean?

And moreover: Despite claiming to be ‘sorry’ for the appalling impact of the events, and the brutal hunting of his victim, he has apparently done nothing to change the horrific way in which his ‘campaign’ website has determinedly sought to criminalise and undermine a young woman who has been robbed of her identity, her life and her family – and her dignity and peace of mind.

So far, the privilege Evans had as a footballer and the access to wealth and influence that obtained has bought Evans many things.  It has so far failed to by him a conscience.

 ****

Amendment:

“…Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim.”

I had spent more time on the ‘front sheet’ copy of the appeal transcript than on the full copy: Evans does, in fact, claim verbal consent from his victim, at the time of him entering the hotel room. And the timing of this is important because this raises further questions, which are deeply troubling.

There is still no indication that the victim gave consent to McDonald to send the text that brought Evans to that hotel room. So at the point at which Evans entered that hotel room, the victim was in the most vulnerable possible position: she is very likely incapacitated (and one jury and 2 appeal courts have decided that she was incapable of giving consent due to intoxication) – and she is in a room, naked, with 2 physically strong men. Even if she hadn’t been incapacitated through drink, she was in an immensely vulnerable position and I would consider it highly questionable that she would have had “..the freedom and capacity..” to make the choice to say no with any certainty of her safety.

So, just to recap: At the time of writing this, Ched Evans remains a convicted rapist.

Hate Speech is Not Free Speech – I Don’t Want EDL’s Phoney War in my Town

[CN/TW for racist/violent hate speech]

The EDL in Colchester 26th September 2015
The EDL in Colchester 26th September 2015

This past weekend, the right wing extremist group the English Defence League marched down the High Street of my town.  Over the last four years Colchester – a garrison town which has seen rapid growth, and has a University which also brings in a large number of international students – has been increasingly targeted by the EDL for ‘protests’ which have usually involved gathering at the War Memorial in a display of faux patriotism, most recently in May in ‘remembrance’ of Lee Rigby (against the explicit wishes of the Rigby Family).

Any time this racist group appears in our town I am horrified, but I am not the one who is the target of their hatred, their violence and their desire to eliminate.

I am not the target of their phoney war.

Let’s just make something clear before I go any further, because this is important: if there were no such thing as ISIS, or any other of the tiny minority of radicalised Muslims in existence, these people would still hate Muslims.  They don’t really care about Lee Rigby, certainly not enough to respect his families wishes, but they really hate Muslims. They don’t actually care about child abuse, because they aren’t protesting against the non-Muslim men that abuse children at all. They just hate Muslims. They can stand in front of a war memorial and give Nazi salutes, and nobody should be surprised because they don’t care about the Muslims who worked to save victims of the Nazi’s and who fought and died in both World Wars at the behest of this country. They hate Muslims, and they will use any situation, manipulate and lie about anything, in order to proclaim their hatred.

They are, very simply, racists and theirs is a phoney war. They want to live in a world where they are surrounded only by other white people and their desire to make that a reality, at any cost, makes them extremists, radicalised by racism and a hatred of Muslims. It’s that simple.

It would be disingenuous at best for any authority allowing a full scale march to do so within a ‘free speech’ context: when plastic pig heads are waved openly, and violently Islamophobic chants are made including threats of mosque burning at the very moment a mosque is on fire, it is dangerous for authorities to allow what was in reality hate speech , and incitement to hatred.

(Video’s of the march, the speeches and aforementioned chanting are here and here. Despite the official line, this was not a peaceful event.)

Hate speech is not free speech – the hate speech of the type given free reign on the streets of my town (or any town) is violence: it is sanctioned bullying, a licensed attack against Muslims and a tacit approval of extremism.  The EDL might suck up to the police to claim a veneer of respectability, and the police might imply that the onus of preventing ‘violence’ lies with keeping counter protesters away from the racists (ain’t it grand how ‘free speech’ works?), but the real violence – the real trouble – is the fear that the EDL are allowed to try and generate, and the aggressive intimidation which they are freely allowed to voice.

It would not be a denial of free speech to prevent them from marching in such a manner again. They lose no rights in being prevented from screaming their racist obscenities.  They would still have their hang outs on line and in some dank corner of some rat infested back ally to grumble freely between themselves about ‘Muslamic ray guns’.

But if the steps that we as a society take to say that trying to make other people hate each other because of their race and religion is wrong: let’s not let them march down our streets.