Saturday, December 20, 2014

But my heart lies in winter. There is where my fondest, most memorable experiences are. I can say with confidence that some winter climbs, the ones I went in deep, have fundamentally changed me as person. So recently, whilst climbing in South Africa, out of all places, I decided to rekindle the fire of winter climbing. I decided I was going to give winter another shot this season. I was going to “force it”, as they say. And if it was going to be a good season, I wanted to be prepared. To sacrifice all rock and finger strength to be ready for it.

So that’s the mindset I landed at Heathrow in mid-september. As soon as I landed, the axes came out, and waited no time in getting to work. I got busy organising the White Goods Drytooling meet, which was a success. The huge numbers of people didn't materialise, which made the last minute logistical problems a bit easier to deal with. Despite that, a good group of motivated toolers made the trek from all corners of the country to join in the fun. Team Scotland this time came in the form of the ever chirpy Dougie, our guest speaker Ally Swinton and Scottish winter machine, Greg Boswell. There were some new faces and the old faithfuls too. It was great too see how people have improved in just a year. Dave Almond showed really strong progress and so did Simon Ward. Most of us know each other now, so the vibe was just great.

As the main organiser this year, I out aside my climbing and made sure everyone had a great time. Running between walls and routes, chatting to everyone and getting people motivated. I was keen for Greg to try all the harder routes so he could have a good time, and also to get second opinions on grades and quality of the routes. So I spend the weekend demoing the moves and giving all the beta I could remember of the routes. None of the routes posed much of a challenge to the man, flashing every single route. Careful Torque, Ready Steady Hook, Tumble, and a the second ascent of Neomania at last. On sunday there was only one thing left to do, and it was for him to have a go at Stump Man. I went up the route to put the draws and point the holds and sure enough he dispatched the thing on his warm up for the day soon after breakfast. Pretty impressive.

Saturday night entertainment was provided by the tales of adventure of Ally Swinton. How that man has got so much done at such an early age is beyond my comprehension, but he certainly kept us at the edge of us seats and what not (he'll know what I mean).

Thanks everyone that came and made it such a cool event. Thanks again to our sponsors for supporting us yet another year, massive big up to Alpkit, E-Climb and DMM.

I tried to repeat Careful Torque M11 to show Greg the moves but pinged off at the crux. At least he saw what holds not to use. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

The man on fire. He ticked the crag, literally. Dougie, belaying, showed a massive progress as well. And true to form, he send his first M11 a week later. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Me again demo-ing Neomania M10+, which I couldn't remember the beta for, but had fun ripping holds off and taking lobs to the amusement of the crowd. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Dave Almond putting an sterling effort on Ready Steady Hook M10. Sure enough he got it a weekend later. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Viki getting amongst it on Ready Steady Hook. Another crusher showing amazing progress in just one season on tools. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

The fire has been truly rekindled

I kept being draw to Masson Lees. On my first visit, 3 or 4 years ago, Rob Gibson had just finished bolting a futuristic line across the lip of a massive cave. Back then I thought that would be one of those crazy Rob’s projects, like the 50mt monster at Gideon Quarry, that would never get done. Then one autumn day of 2012, Andy Turner pulled out the guns and dispatched the route, calling it Marginal Gains and grade it M11 I went soon after to have a look, having done the first pitch (Sub Rosa M10), I thought I stand a chance. As soon as I got on the meat of it, I realise it was way beyond me.

Last season I climbed out White Goods, our regular dry tooling crag. I’ve done all the routes, and most possible link-ups, so I had to look for new challenges. I had been to Crafnant to have a look for contenders, but didn’t feel too inspired. I went back to Marginal Gains again last year, decisive that I was going to give it a good go. I really tried, but couldn't do a big span move across a roof. After a couple of weekends I thrown in the towel.

But this year something has changed, I got a trip booked for Spray On. I know I need to train hard for it. And so with renewed energy, we went back to Masson Lees again a few weekends ago. I needed to break through my mental barrier and get involved, I promised that to myself, that I would just really go for it and battle it out. I'm suppose to be climbing M11, but this route is a different beast, I'm not used to climbing on drilled holes and I haven't got Andy's apex either.

That weekend I did indeed break through the roof span move, I managed it twice. Invigorated by this, I kept going through the lip of the cave in what can only be described as a fig9/fig4 marathon and eventually I linked all the moves. I tamed the beast, and no longer felt impossible. I went back to London and rested all week and make an effort to get psyched for the weekend after the Goods Meet.

Last weekend we were back in the cave at the back of Masson Lees. I had a game plan, warm up, do SubRosa and just gave it all I had on the route. And that's exactly what I did. Really pleased to manage the span move across the roof, so I kept going... and going... and going... until I felt my lungs were about to burst. Three clips from the anchor I couldn't go any further, but this was really good progress. In the meantime Viki and Simon were having it on Sub Rosa, both doing really well, so I thought that would work really well, it would give me a couple of hours rest and I would give it one last go.

So with the fading light and the heavy mist, I stripped off my t-shirt and got involved. By the anchors of Sub Rosa I felt exhausted, and I almost shouted take to Viki, but I thought what the hell, might as well make it count and take the lob. But the lob didn't come, I just hang on and hang on, and with almost exploding forearms, I clipped the chains. The beast had been slayed.

On Sunday, after a lazy start, we were back at the cave. My body felt broken after the effort, so I focused on helping Viki on Sub Rosa. She was getting very close before, and not many British girls have climbed at that grade. After she warmed up on the easy route, she went for it and dispatch the route. I was still waking up and digesting my coffee, so I couldn't really believe it, she made it look piss. Some other drytoolers looked in amazement whilst she climbed the upside down roof with grace. A truly remarkable effort.

To finish my training for the weekend I run another lap on Marginal Gains, and this time it felt fairly easy, and I could almost agree on the grade... ;-)


Simon Ward doing a sterling job with Fig4's. A steep learning curve as he's my recruit for Helmcken Falls.

Getting amongst it on Marginal Gains

Viki sending Sub Rosa M10

Viki on the practise run for Sub Rosa M10

The first pitch of Marginal Gains M11, which is Sub Rosa M10


The big span across the roof
On the successful ascent. Photo Si Ward

Gaining the margins

But my heart lies in winter. There is where my fondest, most memorable experiences are. I can say with confidence that some winter climbs, the ones I went in deep, have fundamentally changed me as person. So recently, whilst climbing in South Africa, out of all places, I decided to rekindle the fire of winter climbing. I decided I was going to give winter another shot this season. I was going to “force it”, as they say. And if it was going to be a good season, I wanted to be prepared. To sacrifice all rock and finger strength to be ready for it.

So that’s the mindset I landed at Heathrow in mid-september. As soon as I landed, the axes came out, and waited no time in getting to work. I got busy organising the White Goods Drytooling meet, which was a success. The huge numbers of people didn't materialise, which made the last minute logistical problems a bit easier to deal with. Despite that, a good group of motivated toolers made the trek from all corners of the country to join in the fun. Team Scotland this time came in the form of the ever chirpy Dougie, our guest speaker Ally Swinton and Scottish winter machine, Greg Boswell. There were some new faces and the old faithfuls too. It was great too see how people have improved in just a year. Dave Almond showed really strong progress and so did Simon Ward. Most of us know each other now, so the vibe was just great.

As the main organiser this year, I out aside my climbing and made sure everyone had a great time. Running between walls and routes, chatting to everyone and getting people motivated. I was keen for Greg to try all the harder routes so he could have a good time, and also to get second opinions on grades and quality of the routes. So I spend the weekend demoing the moves and giving all the beta I could remember of the routes. None of the routes posed much of a challenge to the man, flashing every single route. Careful Torque, Ready Steady Hook, Tumble, and a the second ascent of Neomania at last. On sunday there was only one thing left to do, and it was for him to have a go at Stump Man. I went up the route to put the draws and point the holds and sure enough he dispatched the thing on his warm up for the day soon after breakfast. Pretty impressive.


Saturday night entertainment was provided by the tales of adventure of Ally Swinton. How that man has got so much done at such an early age is beyond my comprehension, but he certainly kept us at the edge of us seats and what not (he'll know what I mean).

Thanks everyone that came and made it such a cool event. Thanks again to our sponsors for supporting us yet another year, massive big up to Alpkit, E-Climb and DMM.

I tried to repeat Careful Torque M11 to show Greg the moves but pinged off at the crux. At least he saw what holds not to use. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

The man on fire. He ticked the crag, literally. Dougie, belaying, showed a massive progress as well. And true to form, he send his first M11 a week later. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Me again demo-ing Neomania M10+, which I couldn't remember the beta for, but had fun ripping holds off and taking lobs to the amusement of the crowd. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Dave Almond putting an sterling effort on Ready Steady Hook M10. Sure enough he got it a weekend later. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Viki getting amongst it on Ready Steady Hook. Another crusher showing amazing progress in just one season on tools. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

The fire has been truly rekindled

I kept being draw to Masson Lees. On my first visit, 3 or 4 years ago, Rob Gibson had just finished bolting a futuristic line across the lip of a massive cave. Back then I thought that would be one of those crazy Rob’s projects, like the 50mt monster at Gideon Quarry, that would never get done. Then one autumn day of 2012, Andy Turner pulled out the guns and dispatched the route, calling it Marginal Gains and grade it M11 I went soon after to have a look, having done the first pitch (Sub Rosa M10), I thought I stand a chance. As soon as I got on the meat of it, I realise it was way beyond me.

Last season I climbed out White Goods, our regular dry tooling crag. I’ve done all the routes, and most possible link-ups, so I had to look for new challenges. I had been to Crafnant to have a look for contenders, but didn’t feel too inspired. I went back to Marginal Gains again last year, decisive that I was going to give it a good go. I really tried, but couldn't do a big span move across a roof. After a couple of weekends I thrown in the towel.

But this year something has changed, I got a trip booked for Spray On. I know I need to train hard for it. And so with renewed energy, we went back to Masson Lees again a few weekends ago. I needed to break through my mental barrier and get involved, I promised that to myself, that I would just really go for it and battle it out. I'm suppose to be climbing M11, but this route is a different beast, I'm not used to climbing on drilled holes and I haven't got Andy's apex either.

That weekend I did indeed break through the roof span move, I managed it twice. Invigorated by this, I kept going through the lip of the cave in what can only be described as a fig9/fig4 marathon and eventually I linked all the moves. I tamed the beast, and no longer felt impossible. I went back to London and rested all week and make an effort to get psyched for the weekend after the Goods Meet.

Last weekend we were back in the cave at the back of Masson Lees. I had a game plan, warm up, do SubRosa and just gave it all I had on the route. And that's exactly what I did. Really pleased to manage the span move across the roof, so I kept going... and going... and going... until I felt my lungs were about to burst. Three clips from the anchor I couldn't go any further, but this was really good progress. In the meantime Viki and Simon were having it on Sub Rosa, both doing really well, so I thought that would work really well, it would give me a couple of hours rest and I would give it one last go.

So with the fading light and the heavy mist, I stripped off my t-shirt and got involved. By the anchors of Sub Rosa I felt exhausted, and I almost shouted take to Viki, but I thought what the hell, might as well make it count and take the lob. But the lob didn't come, I just hang on and hang on, and with almost exploding forearms, I clipped the chains. The beast had been slayed.

On Sunday, after a lazy start, we were back at the cave. My body felt broken after the effort, so I focused on helping Viki on Sub Rosa. She was getting very close before, and not many British girls have climbed at that grade. After she warmed up on the easy route, she went for it and dispatch the route. I was still waking up and digesting my coffee, so I couldn't really believe it, she made it look piss. Some other drytoolers looked in amazement whilst she climbed the upside down roof with grace. A truly remarkable effort.

To finish my training for the weekend I run another lap on Marginal Gains, and this time it felt fairly easy, and I could almost agree on the grade... ;-)


Simon Ward doing a sterling job with Fig4's. A steep learning curve as he's my recruit for Helmcken Falls.

Getting amongst it on Marginal Gains

Viki sending Sub Rosa M10

Viki on the practise run for Sub Rosa M10

The first pitch of Marginal Gains M11, which is Sub Rosa M10


The big span across the roof
On the successful ascent. Photo Si Ward

Gaining the margins


But my heart lies in winter. There is where my fondest, most memorable experiences are. I can say with confidence that some winter climbs, the ones I went in deep, have fundamentally changed me as person. So recently, whilst climbing in South Africa, out of all places, I decided to rekindle the fire of winter climbing. I decided I was going to give winter another shot this season. I was going to “force it”, as they say. And if it was going to be a good season, I wanted to be prepared. To sacrifice all rock and finger strength to be ready for it.

So that’s the mindset I landed at Heathrow in mid-september. As soon as I landed, the axes came out, and waited no time in getting to work. I got busy organising the White Goods Drytooling meet, which was a success. The huge numbers of people didn't materialise, which made the last minute logistical problems a bit easier to deal with. Despite that, a good group of motivated toolers made the trek from all corners of the country to join in the fun. Team Scotland this time came in the form of the ever chirpy Dougie, our guest speaker Ally Swinton and Scottish winter machine, Greg Boswell. There were some new faces and the old faithfuls too. It was great too see how people have improved in just a year. Dave Almond showed really strong progress and so did Simon Ward. Most of us know each other now, so the vibe was just great.

As the main organiser this year, I out aside my climbing and made sure everyone had a great time. Running between walls and routes, chatting to everyone and getting people motivated. I was keen for Greg to try all the harder routes so he could have a good time, and also to get second opinions on grades and quality of the routes. So I spend the weekend demoing the moves and giving all the beta I could remember of the routes. None of the routes posed much of a challenge to the man, flashing every single route. Careful Torque, Ready Steady Hook, Tumble, and a the second ascent of Neomania at last. On sunday there was only one thing left to do, and it was for him to have a go at Stump Man. I went up the route to put the draws and point the holds and sure enough he dispatched the thing on his warm up for the day soon after breakfast. Pretty impressive.

Saturday night entertainment was provided by the tales of adventure of Ally Swinton. How that man has got so much done at such an early age is beyond my comprehension, but he certainly kept us at the edge of us seats and what not (he'll know what I mean).

Thanks everyone that came and made it such a cool event. Thanks again to our sponsors for supporting us yet another year, massive big up to Alpkit, E-Climb and DMM.

I tried to repeat Careful Torque M11 to show Greg the moves but pinged off at the crux. At least he saw what holds not to use. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

The man on fire. He ticked the crag, literally. Dougie, belaying, showed a massive progress as well. And true to form, he send his first M11 a week later. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Me again demo-ing Neomania M10+, which I couldn't remember the beta for, but had fun ripping holds off and taking lobs to the amusement of the crowd. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Dave Almond putting an sterling effort on Ready Steady Hook M10. Sure enough he got it a weekend later. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

Viki getting amongst it on Ready Steady Hook. Another crusher showing amazing progress in just one season on tools. Photo taylormountainphotos.com

The fire has been truly rekindled

I kept being draw to Masson Lees. On my first visit, 3 or 4 years ago, Rob Gibson had just finished bolting a futuristic line across the lip of a massive cave. Back then I thought that would be one of those crazy Rob’s projects, like the 50mt monster at Gideon Quarry, that would never get done. Then one autumn day of 2012, Andy Turner pulled out the guns and dispatched the route, calling it Marginal Gains and grade it M11 I went soon after to have a look, having done the first pitch (Sub Rosa M10), I thought I stand a chance. As soon as I got on the meat of it, I realise it was way beyond me.

Last season I climbed out White Goods, our regular dry tooling crag. I’ve done all the routes, and most possible link-ups, so I had to look for new challenges. I had been to Crafnant to have a look for contenders, but didn’t feel too inspired. I went back to Marginal Gains again last year, decisive that I was going to give it a good go. I really tried, but couldn't do a big span move across a roof. After a couple of weekends I thrown in the towel.

But this year something has changed, I got a trip booked for Spray On. I know I need to train hard for it. And so with renewed energy, we went back to Masson Lees again a few weekends ago. I needed to break through my mental barrier and get involved, I promised that to myself, that I would just really go for it and battle it out. I'm suppose to be climbing M11, but this route is a different beast, I'm not used to climbing on drilled holes and I haven't got Andy's apex either.

That weekend I did indeed break through the roof span move, I managed it twice. Invigorated by this, I kept going through the lip of the cave in what can only be described as a fig9/fig4 marathon and eventually I linked all the moves. I tamed the beast, and no longer felt impossible. I went back to London and rested all week and make an effort to get psyched for the weekend after the Goods Meet.

Last weekend we were back in the cave at the back of Masson Lees. I had a game plan, warm up, do SubRosa and just gave it all I had on the route. And that's exactly what I did. Really pleased to manage the span move across the roof, so I kept going... and going... and going... until I felt my lungs were about to burst. Three clips from the anchor I couldn't go any further, but this was really good progress. In the meantime Viki and Simon were having it on Sub Rosa, both doing really well, so I thought that would work really well, it would give me a couple of hours rest and I would give it one last go.

So with the fading light and the heavy mist, I stripped off my t-shirt and got involved. By the anchors of Sub Rosa I felt exhausted, and I almost shouted take to Viki, but I thought what the hell, might as well make it count and take the lob. But the lob didn't come, I just hang on and hang on, and with almost exploding forearms, I clipped the chains. The beast had been slayed.

On Sunday, after a lazy start, we were back at the cave. My body felt broken after the effort, so I focused on helping Viki on Sub Rosa. She was getting very close before, and not many British girls have climbed at that grade. After she warmed up on the easy route, she went for it and dispatch the route. I was still waking up and digesting my coffee, so I couldn't really believe it, she made it look piss. Some other drytoolers looked in amazement whilst she climbed the upside down roof with grace. A truly remarkable effort.

To finish my training for the weekend I run another lap on Marginal Gains, and this time it felt fairly easy, and I could almost agree on the grade... ;-)


Simon Ward doing a sterling job with Fig4's. A steep learning curve as he's my recruit for Helmcken Falls.

Getting amongst it on Marginal Gains

Viki sending Sub Rosa M10

Viki on the practise run for Sub Rosa M10

The first pitch of Marginal Gains M11, which is Sub Rosa M10


The big span across the roof
On the successful ascent. Photo Si Ward

The Truth About Julie




A number of people have asked if I would respond to the piece Julie Bindel wrote about
The Sex Myth in the Grauniad. Clearly as she took the opportunity to let rip, so too must I?

Maybe,
maybe not. Because the truth about Julie Bindel is that she is - shock,
horror - actually decent company. You would totally have a drink with
her as long as you stayed off the topics of sex work, trafficking, porn,
trans issues, gay marriage and... well you get the idea. There are
definitely people with whom my politics are more closely aligned whose
company I have enjoyed a lot less.


But in the interest of "setting the record straight" (as if such a thing exists) here are my notes on the encounter:

-
I approached Julie to ask if she wanted to interview me, in part
because I figured she would write about the book anyway. Since I
criticise her writing extensively in The Sex Myth it seemed fair to give her a face-to-face.

- She's prettier in person than in her photos. Not that that's relevant, or important, but she is.

-
We met three times that week: once for lunch, once for the photos, and
again on Sky news. The first words out of her mouth on the air at Sky
were "As much as I hate to say this I agree with Brooke." I did a little
mental air-punch at that one. (It was also approximately the first
thing Claire Perry said when we were on the Today programme. File under: win.)

-
The "offal", by the way, was calf's liver and very good it was too.
Though I did wish I'd ordered the lamb sweetbreads special instead.

-
The dessert was an Eccles cake with cheddar cheese ice cream. Hand on
heart, I loved the ice cream. The Eccles cake was not nice. If you have
occasion to go to The Gilbert Scott at St Pancras, ask them for a bowl
of that ice cream.
- She thought my criticism of Swanee Hunt
mentioning her father's political background a bit out of line. My
reply to that is if Hunt's still trading on his name and his
connections, then she has to expect that. Her extreme privilege (yes,
even in supposedly classless America; yes, even when your work is deemed
charitable) is a huge hurdle to overcome. Eye of the needle and all
that jazz.
- Julie's a big fan of Viz,
especially Eight Ace and Sid the Sexist. Who knew? Also she liked Fat
Slags better when it was shorter whereas I prefer the longer ones.

-
In principle we both agree that sex workers themselves should not be
criminalised. After that our thoughts on sex work are mainly opposed.
When I put it to her at lunch that the much-talked-about "Swedish model" and Icelandic approaches could never work in the UK, she agreed.

-
Julie's piece was filed after we met for lunch on the 17th April, I
believe before we had photos on the 20th. The final edits to the book
were made on the 25th and approved on the 27th. First edition came off
the presses May 1st. (Yes, we cut it fine.) This unfortunately means
some of the things from her piece may not be the book.* I'm not sure if
it is the writer's or the editor's responsibility to check reviews
against the published copy, but someone should have done.
- We both think the Grauniad will cease to exist in printed form soon. Probably most people think that though, so no news there.
-
She seemed concerned that I think feminists of her stripe/generation
are against sex, and took pains to assure me plenty of sex was going
down among the redfems in the 70s and 80s. I said "I bloody well hope
so," because what would be the point of rejecting the model of
virgin-to-wife-to-mother only to not get laid? However, in my
experience, the lesbian-identified feminists when I was at uni in the
very early 90s were not so free and easy with the sexual favours. Not
that I'm bitter, mind. It wasn't a great place or time to be a woman who
slept with both women and men.
- She think my
husband looks like a model. As far as independent assessments of
attractiveness go, that's about as airtight as they come.
-
Her claim that I was 'roundly criticised' by Catherine Hakim for my
educational background is a misrepresentation of Hakim's review; you can read it here.
My education is in anthropology, maths, forensic science and
epidemiology. I've also worked in chemoinformatics and child health
research (mainly cancer). If anyone thinks that makes me unqualified to
comment on academic research... with all due respect, check yo self.
- The last thing I said to her, when we were leaving Sky news: "Civilised is the new uncivilised."
So
there it is. No particular desire or need to fetch a hatchet, because
who benefits? (It might also help that I have professional experience of
finding common ground with just about anyone for two hours as long as
they're buying.) The Grauniad is a known quantity and the "pity" angle
of her article frankly unbelievable... you don't bother tearing down
someone if you feel actual pity for them. You might even wonder why I
bothered. To which I say: lunch? On their dime? Admit it, you so would.
And so I did.


Right now you're probably thinking I should go to
the cinema with Tanya Gold and discover maybe she's not as bad as all
that? Hey now, let's not get crazy.


tl;dr - I was expecting a
snarling nemesis, what I got was a lesbian Michael Winner... hugely
offensive, yet surprisingly charming, bon viveur.


Believe it or not The Sex Myth
is not only about columnists, or trafficking, or even feminism: those
are only a small part. Most reviews have barely touched on any of the
other chapters. It also discusses the medicalisation of female desire
and the denial of women's appreciation for erotica, for example. It
examines the criticisms of "sex addiction" as a disease. It champions
under-reported sexualisation research that is more interested in
representing real families than in reflecting a political agenda. It
includes citations of all referenced material so you can read them and
decide for yourself. My aim is not to force people and certainly not
Julie Bindel to think the way I do: it's to open up the discussion in
ways we simply
are not doing around these topics. It's a call for less panic, not more.

Go get it. Read it. Make up your own mind.



*
[Update:  Yes, I have checked this against the email record between
me, my editor, and the Orion legal bods; and yes, I have run this blog
past them and got the thumbs-up. Proceed to question it at your own
risk.]

Right to a family life 'not absolute'?




Theresa May, as per her now-weekly ritual, manages to make herself
look ridiculous again. This time it's over Article 8 of the European
Convention on Human Rights, or as Ms May likes to refer to it, "Human"
rights. That's okay, Theresa - I use scare quotes when referring to you
as a "human" too.




Article 8 is the right to a family
life which, if you read the right-wing papers, is somehow responsible
for everything wrong in Britain today. How exactly something intended to
keep families together is in direct opposition to the aims of a
government that claims its priority is to... err...
keep families together is some question indeed.



This is the law that, according to May last year, let someone brown and gay stay in the UK because
he had a cat.
Only, that isn't what happened. Because as people who have interacted
with the law know, it's wasn't the immigrant's rights that were being
upheld. Nor even the cat's. It was the human rights of his UK-born,
British partner. A right which May does not consider "absolute".




The changes are set to come in July 9th. If your wedding is scheduled for the day after, too bad, according to May. It's being
couched with stories of criminals for now. Andrew Marr interviewing May this morning
tried to focus on that aspect. But in the interview May clearly spoke
of targeting all family settlement visas. As those of use who have been
following the proposed changes know, the government would like very much
for this policy to apply to everyone. Unless of course they're rich.




Chew
on that a while if you please. Because for every story of some migrant
who, according to the rabid anti-immigration types, is packing the
country full and sheltering behind their "supposed" "human" "right" to
"a" "family life" (have I got enough quotes in there for you, Theresa?)
there is actually a British person whose family is being threatened.




You
might not like the idea of British people falling in love with
foreigners and wanting to settle here, you know, the place where they
live. But there it is.




Add to that the fact that people from elsewhere in the EU can bring
their non-EU spouses here, claim treaty rights, and settle with almost
no need to navigate the byzantine UK Border Agency applications.
The government is endorsing a policy that actively discriminates against the families of British people. Surely even people who oppose all immigration must be wondering what the hell is going on there.



And while we're here, let's bust a few myths:


  • The criminal myth. This route lets in criminals? Um, no.
    Applying under the family route already means you can't enter if you
    have unspent convictions (even traffic violations) in the UK or your
    country of origin.
  • The benefits myth. This route leads to foreigners eating up
    UK benefits without paying in? Wrong again. Applying under the family
    route already means you have no recourse to public funds, i.e. benefits.
    It's stamped on your visa so there's no mistaking.
  • The job-poaching myth. Non-EU migrants are stealing jobs from
    British people? Go on, pull the other one. By EU law it is illegal to
    hire a non-EU/EEC person unless the employer can show there were no
    minimally qualified European applicants. This is one I've run up
    against before. It's deeply depressing to be told you were by far the
    best applicant, but someone whose qualifications barely scraped the job
    description is hired instead. If someone like me gets a job, say,
    scrubbing toilets for minimum wage - which I have done - it's not
    because I was willing to work for less. It's because British people
    didn't want that job enough to even apply for it. Not my fault.

No one disputes the right – indeed, the responsibility – of a
government to oversee migration and restrict it where necessary. Most of
us who come here do not object to playing by the rules. But the reasons
May gave for the changes are misleading. The consultation she
references was heavily influenced by suggestions from the pressure group
MigrationWatch and concerned mainly with forced marriage and money. And
crucially, they will do nothing to stop people who flout the rules,
only punish people who do try to do things by the book.




May
claims changing the settlement rules will "differentiate between
genuine and non-genuine relationships". Only the government's already
making forced marriage illegal.
Detailed spouse interviews might be a sensible policy to put off sham
weddings but May has no plans to introduce these, as presumably that
would mean hiring and training more Border Agency staff. May is
concerned about migrants not fitting in, as well. But there are no
suggestions the Life In the UK test will be changed to become more
relevant... and in fact, May wants more people to take it. The laughably
unfit-for-purpose LIUK tests out-of-date information that is not
remotely useful for living here. I memorised the percentage of
single-parent families in Wales circa five years ago for why, exactly?
It's as good a tool for integration as a spork is for digging the
Channel Tunnel. A
1950s ship steward's handbook is better prep for living here. A copy of Heat better still.



Let's
look at a couple of suggestions for reforming immigration that are
often suggested by the public, who probably have a better understanding
of the needs of the British economy than most politicians do:


  • Many people say they would like to see an immigration points system
    across the board, like the one used for the now-discontinued Tier 1
    General visas. This system took into account a balance of age,
    qualifications, employment, history in the UK, as well as income. It
    wasn't perfect but at least it acknowledged that people who are young
    and qualified or employed as key workers are unlikely to have high
    incomes (yet).
  • People also say they would like a system "like Australia's". Australia
    is sometimes assumed to be the last word in hardline immigration
    policy. But as far as I know - this from friends of mine who have moved -
    the British people who qualify for skills-based residency are allowed
    to bring their partners and families regardless of income. Short term
    access to cash isn't the main factor; the longer-term needs of the local
    economy are. An electrician's wife gets to stay because she is a family
    member and he is vital to their growth. It seems reasonable.

So why is Theresa still harping on if forced marriage, sham
unions, integration, and net benefit to long-term economic health are
not actually being addressed by the change?




The key to
what these proposals really mean is in the election pledge: Cameron
promised to reduce net migration. That's not the number of migrants
total, that's the difference between migrants arriving and British
citizens leaving. Sorry to break it to those who think the country is
"packed full" or "under siege": the government is not interested in
decreasing migration
per se. They'd be as happy if immigration increased, as long as loads of Britons left. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mail readers.



While
the majority of incomers to the UK come from Europe, EU inward
migration is something that can not be changed legally without leaving
the EU. As well, fewer Brits are moving to Spain and France than used to
since the bottom fell out of the new build market there. So attacking
the family route, non-EU migrant is the easiest way to lower the
numbers. If a married couple cannot settle, not only has a migrant left,
so has a UK citizen. This gets net migration down twice as fast as
controlling other visas. The approach is crafted to appear successful to
the rightwing without producing meaningful change for anyone.




Getting
extra British people to leave must be part of the consideration,
otherwise why attack family route visas at all? It's not the largest
category by a long shot. Last year 564,005 non-visitor visas were issued
outside the UK. Of those, 57% were student visas, 26% were work visas
and a scant 8% were family settlement. They've already taken steps to
ensure coming in as a student is not a route to settlement, and work
visas are being tightened as well. Even with those changes it's going to
be next to impossible to get net migration in line with the party's
promise without a lot of people leaving. The potential to double the
result is what makes raising the bar for family settlement so attractive
to the likes of May.




Even so, the numbers are not
going to go down that easily - even someone whose stand on immigration
is very conservative should be able to see that May's plan will not
deliver the promised numbers. EU migration in particular can not be
addressed in the current system. Well, helpfully, the stalling economy
affects net migration too. Plenty of folks say they would leave if they
could,
many are.
Hey presto, population control achieved at the cost of making people
into the very economic migrants they say they hate. Way to go Dave and
Co.!




If I sound cynical about the government juking the
stats that's because I am. In 2010 I changed from highly skilled
migrant to a marriage visa out of attachment to my husband and as a
statement of our intent to live in the UK. Little did I think that it
might have been better to stay with the visa I was on, or even remain
single. Those aren't the kinds of jaded assessments you want to make
when planning a life together.




Our situation is better
than many because I was already working here, so my income counts on our
applications. For those who meet abroad the picture is very different.
Overseas income doesn't count unless you have huge savings to bring here
- over £16k under the new rules. Third party support (aka getting cash
from family) will no longer count towards income. And there will no
doubt be people who fall in love and get married before they realise
there's no way they can bring their new husband or wife to live with
them. Not legally, anyway.




May proposes upping the
minimum income level to £18600, goes up to £22000 if you have a child,
then adds £2400 for each additional dependent.
In other words: means-tested love. It
doesn't consider a
family's real expenses, wealth such as house equity, or where they live.
Apart from London and the Southwest, average gross earnings for
families of any size everywhere are close to or below this amount. Huge
numbers of UK households would not meet the new requirement. The
applications care about income only - not the type of work you do or
whether it's in demand - so key workers like teachers and nurses would
be unable to sponsor a partner.
Here is a template to write your MP about these changes.



In
spite of the vast differential in living expenses between various parts
of the country, there is no suggestion a family's actual expenses will
be taken into account. For example: we live in the Scottish Highlands
and own our house outright, so basic monthly outgoings are minimal
compared to someone who is carrying a mortgage in London. We all know
people who are barely making ends meet on professional incomes and
others who are living their dream on a shoestring budget. Applying an
arbitrary income level to all applicants makes no sense.




Under
the old rules, family-visa applicants must already show they have
enough income to cover essential bills. Most submit a budget to reflect
their individual circumstances. This is to prevent migrants from relying
on the state; what critics of family immigration don't realise is that
most of us can't receive benefits anyway. My biometric ID (remember
those? You may not have them, but we do) clearly states "No public
funds". Family migrants can – and do – go to work and pay into the
system like anyone else. If you have the right to work but no right to
public funds of course that's what you do. And we are not exempt from UK
taxes just because we weren't born here.




There is a pervasive
myth that migrants do not contribute, which is in stark contrast not
only to
most people's real-life understanding of the immigrant work ethic,
but also  just about any stats you care to present (see below for the
numbers on benefits). Look at the representation of visible first- and
second-generation migrants in food service, in the NHS... these are not
people who came over with established careers and huge bank balances,
because if you already had those, why would you move halfway round the
world? They're people who came with skills, desire, and elbow grease to
spare. If you think migration started with New Labour and is a net loss to
Britishness, then maybe it's you who should be taking the Life in the UK
test.




DWP statistics [
pdf]
show foreign-born residents – at 13% of the population – represent only
6.4% of benefits claimants; 7% of foreign-born residents receive them,
compared with 17% of UK-born residents. (In these stats, 'foreign born'
can mean EU, who are entitled to benefits here unlike most non-EU; it
can also mean born abroad but British passport holding as well. So for
foreign-born, non-EU, non-UK passport, the percentage is probably rather
lower.)




Consider same-sex partnerships, for whom
moving elsewhere as a couple may not be an option whatever their income.
I hope the LGBT community starts to make more noise about this, because
my guess is it will be a same-sex union that is the first to test May's
changes in court. Many same-sex couples do not have the option to
"just" settle elsewhere as a family.
Here's a couple already facing potential problems
from those changes, whose wedding date was set ages ago for what now
turns out to be three weeks after the new rules come in. The media
fallout should things like this hit the court system? Will not be
pretty.




Since when was income correlated with how real
love is, or how well anyone fits in? Being able to afford jumping
through the hoops does not make my marriage more genuine than anyone
else's. It just means I have the money and time to negotiate the new
rules. Most overseas partners will not be as lucky.




Vince Cable had it right
when he criticised "the timewasting bureaucracy which stops foreigners
working, studying in – or even visiting – Britain legitimately". The
changes May suggests don't do much to worry the people who are staying
illegally and cause a lot of stress for those who are on the level.




May's
weasel words about the right to a family life not being "absolute" -
her talk about "balancing" this right against other rights - doesn't
hold water. How does a family settling here affect someone else's human
rights? I've scratched my head on this a while and can't come up with a
single sensible example.




The spouses and family
members, and British people who love them, are paying the price for
political expediency and pandering. These are British families plain and
simple and the current government wants them out. Make no mistake,
natives: this government wishes you would all just go away.




This
year I finally became a permanent resident of the UK after two years of
marriage and a whole lot more of living and working here. As we left
the Border Agency appointment my husband seemed a bit put out. "All they
wanted were my bank statements and your fingerprints," he mused. "They
didn't even ask me what colour your toothbrush was."

Should Mia Freedman Apologise?




I went to Australia last month as a guest of the Opera House for the
All About Women symposium.  As part of the event, I agreed to do some media appearances on ABC, including the Drum and Q&A.



All About Women was a fantastic day and I feel privileged to have met so many
interesting and talented people there, including people I would put in the category of genuine modern heroes



As for Q&A… this is the Australian equivalent of Question Time, so I went anticipating a
varied panel with a wide variety of opinions jostling to be heard.
I was told Tony Jones was a strong moderator, so I went expecting him
to rein in the conversation if things went off-piste. This was to be Q
& A's first all-woman panel and expectations were high. The
topics they circulated beforehand indicated I was in for a grilling
while everyone else got softball. I went, not to put too fine a point on
it,
loaded for bear.



I
thought it went pretty well. Opinions differed. Points of view were
exchanged. Margaret Thatcher died. All in all, a good night. The
producers seemed very pleased with the outcome.




So
imagine my surprise, weeks later, that fellow guest Mia Freedman is
still flogging her commentary about the appearance as content on her
site MamaMia. The topic:
should she apologise for continually insulting sex workers?



During
the show Mia kept falling back on sloppy, ill-thought, and pat little
lines that were easily countered. I found to my surprise a lot of common
ground with Germaine Greer, hardly known as a fan of sexual
entertainment, on the fact that conditions of labour and not sex per se
are the most pressing issue for sex workers worldwide right now. Then in
comes Mia with her assumptions about the people who do sex work (men
AND women) and the people who hire them (men AND women). With Tony
backing her up. So much for the disinterested moderator, eh? Maybe he
felt bad for her. I don't know.




Here's the thing. I agree with Mia on this: I don't think she should apologise.




Why
not? Because if she did it would be insincere. My first impression when
we met backstage was that she was insincere, and damn it, a successful
lady editor like her should have the guts to be true to herself and
stand by her opinions no matter what they are.




Because
the general public needs to see what kinds of uninformed nonsense that
sex workers who stick their heads above the parapet get every single
day.




Because for every 100 people who visit her site,
there is one who is both a parent AND a sex worker, who knows what she
is saying is nonsense. Yes, that's right Mia: sex workers raise families
too. It's almost as if we're people.




Because she is a magazine editor who cares deeply about hits and attention, and clearly this is delivering on every level.




Because
the sort of people who think sex workers should be topics of discussion
rather than active participants are fighting a losing battle.




Keep
digging, Mia. I ain't gonna stop you. Keep writing off other people
simply because they didn't have the privileges you did or didn't make
the same choices you did, and you can't accept that. Get it off your
chest, lock up your children, whatever you think you need to do. Perhaps
you have some issues about sex you want to work out in public, or this
wouldn't be the biggest issue on your agenda weeks after the show went
to air?




Mia, you have my express permission not to apologise. No, don't thank me… I insist.

 

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