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Category Archives: moaning

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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The present, the past and the future

Raiding is becoming more dangerous – most of the food has been taken for the camps and what’s left is often guarded. We’re tying to extend our foraging skills, and we’ve attempted to catch fish and snare rabbits.  We’ve had little success, but we’re persevering.

We thankfully haven’t come across any occupied shops, but at the last place we met another family – a young couple with a three year old – and almost killed each other with fright.  They’ve been on the run a little longer than us.  They were on holiday when it all kicked off, and left their campsite for an abandoned barn off the motorway, but had to leave when they were seen by a patrol.  They spent an evening in the caravan with us, swapping advice on edible wild plants and the best shops for looting, and they warned us not to try service stations, even though there are very few patrols on the motorways anymore.  Fuel is guarded by either police or armed gangs, and if it’s the latter they sell it at less conspicuous locations.  We shared food and tea bags and stories and rumours, and were reassured to discover that we weren’t the only ones, and then they went off to their tent for the night and in the morning they’d packed up and gone.

I’ve got to admit, I was a little offended.  I’d thought we might end up travelling together for a while, helping each other out.  I don’t see why they wouldn’t want that, or why they wouldn’t even say goodbye.  What did they think we’d do?  Sarah suspects I scared them off by talking about community – apparently most people equate that to some sort of religious cult.  I told Sue, I don’t want to go back, if that’s what it’s come to.  She said, go back?  She never wanted to be there in the first place.  That surprises me.  I’m surprised by a lot, these days.  I’m surprised by how little I miss having things, and more surprised by how little Sarah and Sue complain about everything we’ve left behind.  I always thought we’d settled down and bought the car, the house, then the better car, then the bigger house with the nicer garden, because it was what Sue wanted, what we both wanted for Sarah.  But it turns out that Sue was happier when we were sharing a room in Edmonton, and Sarah wishes we’d taken off in the caravan and left it all behind years ago.  “It would’ve been more of a laugh without the blockades and the blood flu,” she says.  You’d think that would make me happy – relieve the sense of loss, the grief for the death of a lifestyle.  But it only depresses me.  What was it all for, I ask myself?  All that work, earning all that money, all to build a prison for ourselves.  We can’t even celebrate our escape, because we’re mourning our friends, and the waste of it all.

And now, of course, there’s a vaccine being tested in China.  In spite of all that’s happened, it might not even be too late for us, we might pull ourselves back from the brink.  What then, for the quarantine refusers?  How embarrassing, if we abandoned a dying society and it got better.  Or recovered, anyway.  Couldn’t we have given it a push?  Held a pillow over its face?  It was what was expected of us, after all, but we were too busy looking out for ourselves. So it seems it will be just us, for as long as we can manage it, until there’s some kind of rebuilt social structure large and anonymous enough to slip back into unnoticed.  And nobody will have learnt anything.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2026 in moaning, planning

 

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On the road

We’ve been continuing North, along the B-roads and byways, doubling back when we hear of roadblocks ahead through Flukey, though even that information’s getting sketchy and unreliable.  I’m not going to give away our location, but it’s irrelevant anyway since we’ve all but given up on reaching our destination.  We just stay in driveways and lay-bys, as far as we can from any areas being patrolled, and move on when it looks like we might be discovered.

There’s hardly anybody on the roads anymore, except for emergency and military vehicles. It’s pretty clear that we don’t live in a detached house where we’d be able to apply for self-quarantine – if we did, we’d be driving a jag, not holidaying in a caravan with orange and brown curtains – so the “Just on our way home” line has limited currency now.  We’ve been pulled over twice in the last week.  They ask to see my licence, and I reach into the glove compartment and hold the little packet of Reliflu tablets up to the window.  Of course, they’re all issued with their own for personal use, but a blister-pack of six tablets has a market value of £300, and while it would be suspicious for a copper on blockade duty to be caught with a wad of cash in his pocket, there’s nothing untoward about frontline forces carrying anti-virals.  They’re the perfect bribe.  However, I was issued with a limited supply, and we can’t afford to get stopped again.

Everybody who lives in a dwelling that touches another dwelling on any side has been moved to a Quarantine Home, which seems pretty pointless given that they just get packed in even tighter, but I suppose the point is to ensure each individual stays in a separate room and that there’s nobody wandering the streets unauthorised.  The vids look very comfortable – all brand new homesets in clean hotel rooms with showers and kitchenettes, the month’s food supply neatly packaged into daily doses in the cupboard, even family rooms where there’s perspex with intercoms between each unit.  Once the tinny drone of Sarah’s headphones stopped last night, and we were fairly sure she was asleep, Sue asked me if I thought we should just go quietly.  I do not, but I can’t explain why.  It’s not that I’m comfortable with being on the run, but I’m less comfortable with giving up.

I think about how it would be if this had happened just a few years ago, if Sarah had been younger, putting her in a room alone, watching through Perspex as she falls ill, not being able to bring her a hot juice or put a damp flannel on her forehead.  Or falling ill myself, with Sue and Sarah looking on, unable to reach either me or one another.  Would I press my hand against the Perspex and say goodbye, or pull the curtain over so they didn’t have to see?  I think of Jack’s family, shutting him out of the house to save him, not telling him they were ill.  I wonder, would we have the strength to do that for Sarah?  Would we let her die with us rather than push her away forever?

It’s getting harder to keep going.  Most of the petrol stations were closed before we set off, so we’ve been siphoning fuel out of stationary vehicles – never the whole tank, we wouldn’t want to leave anybody stranded.  I’ve persuaded myself that the owners of four-by-fours deserve it.  It hasn’t taken much to make criminals of us, though I’m concerned to discover Sarah’s expertise in breaking fuel caps.  She assures me she hasn’t actually done it before, she “just thought it would be useful to know”, as if it were a transferable skill she’d been developing for her CV.  Perhaps it is, now.

For now, we’re on the road, and looking for a spot to pull off it, eat a tin of beans and some pasta and crawl into our sleeping bags.  I’m trying not to think about the day we have to replenish our food supplies – I don’t know whether I’m more afraid of breaking into a shop or of Sarah already knowing exactly how to do so.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on May 29, 2026 in moaning

 

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I am not a number…

Exhausting day. I was on an early shift, so by the time Sue and Sarah get home I’ll just about have the energy to eat with them before I crash. If I try to stay up till bedtime, I’ll just doze off in front of the homeset and wake up with a sculpture of used envelopes and teaspoons on my head. Still, at least it gives me a free afternoon, which I’ve been using to get the potatoes and onions in the ground. It was almost warm in the garden. Some precocious daffodils are poking their heads out, and it feels like spring. I let the chickens out of their run to have a peck around the lawn, found a couple of eggs in their roosting pod and contemplated an omelette. For an hour and a half, life began to feel pretty decent.

Then I came in to find this on the front doormat:

Dear Number 92,
We noted, today, that you continue to allow your Chickens to roam freely, in the Garden, despite the current Global Crisis, concerning H5N1 (Asian Flu/Bird Flu). We find this behaviour, to be highly irresponsible, and believe it to be creating a Health Hazard to our Community.
We kindly request, that you either dispose of your Chickens, in line with whatever Health And Safety Regulations may be concerned, or keep them secured in a suitable shelter, where they may not spread their Infections to Children; Wildlife; or Pets.
If we see them, roaming freely again, we will be forced to report the Incident to the Proper Authorities on such matters.
Kind regards,
Number 94

I responded:

Dear Neighbour,
I received your note, and felt I should clarify the situation. There is a great deal of misinformation circulating about the current H5N1 strain, chiefly the idea that it is primarily spread by poultry. I understand your concerns, but they are misplaced.
For a start, I check my chickens daily for signs of any kind of infection or illness, and I can assure you that they are in excellent health.
Secondly, the avian strain of H5N1 is quite different to the human strain. You’re not in any danger of catching ‘flu from a chicken unless you get far more intimate with it than either of you would deem appropriate. Even then, what you catch would not be the strain you are thinking of, and it could not be passed on to other humans.
When you look up the Health and Safety regulations concerning the spread of both the avian and human strains of H5N1, please do read them carefully. If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to knock on my door and speak to me in person about your concerns.
Yours cordially,
Ashraf

I may live to regret that last part, but even having a public disagreement on the doorstep is better than passing paranoid notes between numbers. I wonder when this neighbourhood became so insular that we don’t even know the names of the people next door, or deign to speak to them like people at all.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on February 26, 2026 in moaning

 

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Unresolved

Being tagged for a New Year’s Resolution meme has prompted a little reflection.  I’ve already bored you all with the long-term smallholding plans, but I’ve been struggling to think of any project I have underway that might yield results within the year.

I’m experimenting with a new chicken run, to discover whether limited access to the vegetable patch results in pest control and fertilisation or total annihilation of all plant and invertebrate life in the region.  And, of course, there’s always another hoop to jump through at work, another demand for proof that I still know how to give injections, dress wounds and talk reassuringly to people in pain, in case I’ve suddenly forgotten everything I’ve been doing for the last fourteen years.  I wouldn’t dispute that nurses need to keep up with developments in their field, but in all my time on A&E – sorry, Priority and Fastrack Customer Care – I’ve never seen a development that changes the essential nature of what people need and want from us, only new procedures, insurances and acronyms that get in the way of providing it.  Career development means nothing more than running on the spot.

I don’t really want to list anything work-related as a personal resolution, anyhow.  I’d like to say I’ll spend more time with my family, but Sue’s job is as manic as mine, and Sarah’s 17 now and has her own hectic social life when she’s not taking the car apart.

In a rare moment of all being in the house without anybody imminently needing to be elsewhere, I sounded them out about working visits to some permaculture communities over the summer, research and recreation in one.  They feel the logistics are unlikely to come together, what with Sarah’s work placement, Sue’s job, my job, the chickens… Mention was made, again, of the previous life-changing plans, the self-sustaining summerhouse of recycled materials that never got planning permission, the European mini-van adventure that was whittled down to a caravan holiday in Cornwall.  Well, we still have the caravan: it sits, static and accusatory, at the bottom of the garden, gathering moss on its wheels.  Sarah uses it as a quiet place to do her homework, though she sometimes does her homework with very loud music and at least three friends.

I’ve come to the conclusion that significant change in my life would require wider changes in the world beyond, in the daily necessities that persistently force me to delay my plans.  I’d like to resolve to rekindle the part of me that once thought I could change that world, and give a suitable legacy to my parents.  The revolution they ran from in 1980 had turned on them, but their failure to change Iran for the better never dulled their determination that ordinary people can make a difference by making a noise, and they were noisy to the end – especially in crowded restaurants.  I’ve been quiet since 2015, and I don’t know whether I have the time, strength or resolve to find a voice again now.  The world has a tendency to get in the way of our plans to change it.

I’ll just be quietly glad that my participation in the Extreme Research conservation project in Vietnam actually happened last year, though it seems a distant oasis now.  What I would like for this year is the space and time to pursue further adventures, but if that’s ever going to happen all I can really afford to do now is work, and defer my resolutions for another year.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on January 8, 2026 in moaning, planning

 

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