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Category Archives: giving up

Assessing the Situation

Nobody seems to notice that we’re balanced on a knife-edge here.  Maybe we’re used to death now, or perhaps we can’t help our denial, and after all this we’re still looking the other way until forced to personally confront the dangers.  It was brought home to me when a truck screeched into the ambulance bay with half a dozen injured militia fighters from the Kensington barricade.  There’d been a skirmish with a group that’s been seen raiding empty houses in the Wavertree area for a couple of weeks.  They tried to get over the barricade to the central food stores, and they came armed.  The militia saw them off over a couple of hours, and came in with stab wounds, bruising, some minor fractures.  An abdominal gunshot wound.

Anybody with medical training is a doctor now, there’s no distinction of rank or qualification.  The qualified doctors here were mostly GPs, and some specialist consultants in cardiovascular or neurological conditions.  As an A&E nurse I have the most experience of serious injury, and it made sense that I was called to take charge.  I see that now.  At the time, when an urgent call for me to come to surgery echoed through the corridors, there was only one reason for it that I could imagine.  I don’t remember how I reached the trauma centre, only the colour draining from the world and the ringing of blood in my ears.  We did all we could, but none of us are surgeons.  The bullet had punctured her stomach, and the acid had affected the surrounding tissues.  She died of multiple organ failure an hour after she was brought in.  She was an old hand, her friends told me, one of their best, a veteran of the quarantine liberations.  She was twenty-two.  I gave a small group of her closest comrades the explanations and condolences, shared their tears and listened to their grief and praise, but all I could feel was the relief that flooded through me when I saw her face.  It’s not Sarah was all I could think.

There were supposed to be elections yesterday, but the committee decided to call them off for the funeral and the cleanup operation: a political decision.  There are at least four committee members who believe they have claims on being the Mayor or Chair or People’s Representative of Liverpool, and as far as I can make out there have been no less than twelve elections since the committee was formed, all of which have been contested until declared invalid.  People have election fatigue.  The militia are thinking of calling for the dissolution of the committee, for general meetings to be the only decision-making body, with the chair to be decided each meeting, by lottery if necessary, between delegates from each workplace and neighbourhood.
“It’d be a physical version of the non-hierarchical student forums,” Sarah told me when she returned from the militia meeting yesterday.  I built up the fire while she orated at me.
“We have to have direct democracy on every decision that affects us.  Any successful election would consolidate too much power with a single faction and prompt internal conflicts.  The committee are wasting everybody’s time on their egos when we need to be talking defence tactics.  We can’t fight party political battles with raiders on our doorstep.
“What do you think, dad?” she asked, with a sideways glance at Sue, sitting at the table under the one bright lamp in the house.  Sue set her jaw and concentrated on the solar charger she was repairing.  Clearly this conversation had a history I was not privy to.
“I’m not sure,” I said carefully, watching the flames take hold of the fresh logs.  “I see your point of view, but I see and speak to a lot more people who have little to do with the militia, and to most of them a proposal to dissolve the committee… It might look like a military coup. People will think you’re trying to get rid of the committee to take power for yourselves.”
Sue smiled grimly.  Sarah’s yells of denial were aimed at her, but she kept her eyes on her soldering and I answered instead.
“Nobody’s doubting your motives,” I said reasonably, “but by the very nature of your organisational structure you – and those who feel as you do – don’t represent everybody.  The militia is also a faction, a powerful one, not immune from political manoeuvring, from within and without.  It could end up as a  takeover, regardless of intention.”
She rolled her eyes and sat by the fire with me.
“If we wanted to take over, it’d be easier to do it like everyone else, going on about how important we are and how much more we could do if we had more powers.  They say we’re the ones after power, but we do all the work and we’re the only ones not putting ourselves on a bloody ballot!”
I understand how she feels.  The majority of survivors are middle-aged or older and, rightly or wrongly, there’s a strong impulse to trust well-spoken politicians explaining what they can do for us over an armed youth movement saying we should do things for ourselves.  Sue and I may like to feel we know better, but we have a more urgent interest to defend than our own politics.  The committee may be a dangerously volatile collection of self-promoting bureaucrats, but they’re not the ones training our daughter to risk her life for their cause.
Sue put down her soldering iron.
“Sarah, for all their faults,” she said softly, “the committee aren’t the raiders.  They have good intentions.”
“Yeah, and we know where those lead.”
“Well,” I put in, “all roads can lead two ways, depending on how you walk them.”
I sounded just like the placatory liberals I used to hate, and was inwardly proud of Sarah for responding with a disgusted tut.  We might have laughed, then, and changed the subject, if Sue hadn’t said what I’d lacked the courage to.
“And the road you want to go down, Sarah, the road to revolution and a better world, you know what that road’s paved with?  Beautiful, brave, dead children.”
In the silence, she pushed back her chair and headed up the stairs. Sarah went to the door and shouted after her, “We’re not children!”
She looked as if she might cry, but when I went to her she turned away.  She sat back down and poked the fire fiercely.
“Of course you are,” I said.  “Even the ones over forty.  Anybody who still has the heart left to fight is driven by a powerful innocence.”
She scowled at that.  I tried to explain to her: it isn’t an insult, we’re not even saying she’s wrong.  But for those of us who’ve seen the battles lost too many times before, the cost is too much to bear.
She sees only the cost of doing nothing.  She says she won’t spend her life watching her friends die because they never took the opportunity to win when they had the chance.  She’ll make a world where we don’t have to fight anymore, or she’ll die trying.
She said, “I didn’t escape from Chester to sit and watch everywhere go that way.  We lost everything, and all we’ve got out of it is being here, now, being where we can make it different.  If we throw that away, we got nothing, and we might as well have died back in London.  Do you understand me, Dad?”

I do.  But I still feel as Sue does.  I’m terrified by her certainty, her resolve, and I want nothing more than to keep her home and safe.  But how long will this home be safe?  I see my mother shining out of her eyes, and I can’t tell her that she’s wrong, or naïve, or incapable, because she is none of those things.  She is idealistic, and innocent, and courageous.  And if the rest of the militia were truly like her, there might even be hope for them, for all of us.  But I can’t quite bring myself to believe it.

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Posted by on October 22, 2026 in actually doing something, giving up

 

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Thinking back before going on.

We’d almost reached Chester when I got cold feet, and we argued again.  I didn’t want to take the car in – I decided I wanted to hide it ten miles out, in case we needed it again.  Sue said she couldn’t walk that far, and it’d kill Sarah.  Sarah had gone to gather blackberries, or no doubt she would’ve protested any implication of weakness on her part, but it wasn’t really about how far we can walk – it was about me stalling the plan.  I dropped them on the outskirts of Chester, just out of sight of the checkpoint, then took the car out a couple of miles further.  The plan is that I’ll walk in from here and join them.  We’ve agreed to meet back at the caravan if something goes wrong.  We’ve hidden a handset and a solar charger, wrapped in plastic bags – all cautions I’ve insisted on, despite accusations of paranoia.  Sue can’t understand why I have such a strong aversion to the plan.  Chester’s thought to be one of the better quarantines, according to some blogs from inside, and we’ll at least get food, which is the most urgent of our concerns.  I couldn’t explain then, so I’m going to try now, in case I don’t get another chance.

I keep thinking back to my ‘Storm in a Kettle’ arrest in 2015.  The student demonstrations and the summer riots that year had merged together into that infamous press soundbite, the Autumn of Rage.  Up until that day I felt like there was some point in fighting, some chance of winning.  I was brought up to believe that revolution was possible, if dangerously volatile.  I’d been involved in the Anti-cuts, No Borders and Free Palestine movements for a few years, I’d seen the Arab spring and the Indignados and Occupy burst out of nowhere, and it really did seem that we might have our turn at re-making the world.  The politicians, the police and the press said that we were mindless thugs, intent on wanton destruction, and we said the same of them.  Even if some of those caught in that kettle didn’t consider themselves part of a demonstration, let alone a revolution, even if they didn’t quote Marx or Bakunin in graffiti planted on police stations and shop fronts, they took what they couldn’t afford from those who had too much to care, and they threw bottles of fire at those who would stop them, and these are not apolitical acts; they were, perhaps, more political than the un-proofread papers, the home-made placards and the poorly-rhymed slogans of the socialists and anarchists I marched with to Parliament Square.  But once the barriers went up, and the batons came out, it didn’t matter why we’d been there.  We were forced into a clear alliance, and we became an army.  Despite all the conspiracy theories, nobody really knows who threw that explosive, but whether they were terrorists, revolutionaries or agent provocateurs, the result was the same.  The dead are still dead, the scarred are still scarred, the Terror and Radicalism Act was passed and the world was changed.

Nobody got out of that kettle without a beating and a permanent record under the new act.  I almost came out a lot worse.  They kept me for two days, laughing when I asked for a phone call or a lawyer, asking me about terrorist groups and my beliefs, by which they meant religion.  I told them I was an atheist, which was and is true, but I felt compromised saying it.  I grew up with Islam, and I’d never denied it before.  They wouldn’t believe me, anyhow, not with my parents, my associations with Free Palestine.  They had already made up their minds; I should have stayed silent, but I felt compelled to justify myself.  They thought they knew everything about my ideals, my identity, my politics, my motivations, so that anything I said either corroborated their assumptions or was a lie.  I was amongst those who escaped the Conspiracy of Silence charge by a whisper.  Our lawyers pointed out that this was prior to the Act coming into force, so even if we had conspired to remain silent, it was not yet a crime when we did so.  Still, I know that the names I confirmed at the prompting and threats of the police were the real reason I never faced that charge.  Everybody told me I had no choice, that it wouldn’t have helped those who were convicted for me to be another name on the list.  Nobody blamed me, everybody said it was an impossible situation, and they probably would have done the same, or wouldn’t have knownwhat to do in my place.  Such carefully chosen words.  Everybody agreed, I was only thinking of my family, and it made sense for me to avoid a prison sentence.  I didn’t really have to make any excuses, my friends were so willing to make them for me.  But nothing could justify it.  It was betrayal, and surrender, and that was the sentence I lived with.

It wasn’t the only sentence, though.  For years afterwards I’d find myself wondering how many of the stop and searches were routine, how many of the patrols that passed a building just as I entered or left were coincidental.  Friends accused me of paranoia, and at one point I even believed I was delusional.  For years afterwards my blood ran cold when a car pulled away from the kerb after I passed, or somebody got up from a café just after I did.

Sue thought that I gave up on activism after that because of the violence I’d been subjected to, or that I was afraid of further arrests putting her and Sarah at risk, and that too was true, so I left it at that.  But what I never really explained was the effect the questioning had had on me, the way they twisted everything, took my identity, my own self-knowledge away from me.  I could be a fanatical Islamic terrorist, or I could be the naive dupe of a soon-to-be-outlawed anarchist organisation, depending on the associates I named.  I could not act independently on secular or rational thought, that didn’t fit my profile.  Everything that would justify my actions to myself would incriminate me to them.  I had to be who they wanted me to be.  I had to be nobody, to deny my agency, my beliefs and my friends, or lose my job, my family, my freedom.

Now, my greatest fear is walking into that quarantine camp where they will isolate me and question me about where I have been, why I didn’t give myself up sooner, what my intentions were in evading quarantine, what I believe and what means I would be prepared to take to defend that belief, and if it doesn’t fit in with what they’ve already decided, they’ll keep asking until it does.  I told myself, back then, that I wouldn’t have given in so easily if it wasn’t for my responsibility to Sue and Sarah, that it was their presence forcing me to put pragmatism above principle.  I blamed them for my fear and my retreat, even as I refused their support and encouragement to keep going, persuaded Sue we should get married and put Sarah in school, be a respectable family, so that we’d be safe.  These last few months, since we lost everything, it’s the first time that I’ve felt we were ourselves again, no pretences or conventions to appease, a rebel family against the world.  This feels like surrender.  Sue says to be pragmatic.  That’s always been the appeal to surrender.

I don’t really care about the car – I needed an excuse to stay behind a little longer.  It’s not just that I don’t want them to see me give in.  That’s what I couldn’t explain to them.  Though I grew up speaking English as well as Farsi, I carry the trace of my parents’ accent.  Sarah has no trace of an accent.  To her, Farsi is more like a secret code than a language, a special game that we played sometimes when she was small.  She has my dark eyes and hair, Sue’s pale, freckled skin.  The simple truth is, they were less likely to face hassle and awkward questions at the gate if I’m not there.  I wonder if I should join them at all.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2026 in giving up, moaning, planning

 

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Turning ourselves in

The last three shops we’ve been able to get into had nothing left that was edible.  Most supermarkets are occupied, and their inhabitants go to even greater lengths than Elaine to defend their stores.  The last time we attempted to get near to a large Tesco we passed the gutted shells of burnt out cars.  I’d just caught sight of the charred corpse in one of the wrecks when Sarah swerved suddenly and accelerated towards the exit as a gout of flame sprang up on the tarmac behind us.  We don’t go near the larger shops now.

Last night we ate our penultimate tin of kidney beans with boiled nettles, and Sue suggested, again, giving up and going to the quarantine camp.  At least they’d feed us, she said.  At least they wouldn’t shoot at us for wanting to eat.  The quarantine time period’s long past – perhaps families are allowed to stay together now.  The question on my mind is, if the quarantine period’s over, where is everybody?  You can drive for an hour on any road and see nobody.  You’d think people would be leaving the cities, if they were free to do so.

We argued until past midnight, Sue pointing at maps and reading blog testimonies from various cities in the region, me pointing out how little those testimonies mean, Sarah unusually silent, lying on the bunkbed with her headphones turned up, chewing on her sleeves.  I don’t want to lose the caravan and the car, and our independence.  Sue feels we’ve gone beyond that now.
She said we can go to the city, or we could keep raiding until we get shot, or we can watch our daughter waste away on nettles and dandelion leaves.
I said that if we can hold on for autumn, there’ll be blackberries and hazelnuts and chestnuts to eat.
And she said, it’ll get colder, and darker, and we’ll get sicker.  None of our attempts at snaring or trapping or fishing have had much success.  There are a few mushrooms, roots and berries that I know for sure are safe, but it takes a more expert forager than me to actually find enough to live on for any amount of time.  We’re almost out of iodine, too, and unlikely to find more.  There’s nowhere else to raid within walking distance, and moving on means using the last of our fuel.

Sue stayed up searching the W4 and running down the power, and this morning told us that Chester’s called an amnesty on quarantine refusers.  We could join them now, and be kept in isolation for 28 days before joining the general population.  They say they’ve got basic industries running and they’re working farms in the surrounding area.  They’ve got security, food and jobs.  They need workers.

There was nothing else I could say.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2026 in giving up, planning, whinging

 

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