Custom Search

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Gentleness (and Joss Whedon)

You know Joss Whedon is famous for killing loved character, and seems to take a certain amount of pride in it. It’s not just loved characters he kills, though. It’s the gentle characters, the ones who are kind, who are less violent (strong) than the others, the ones who take a bit of a back seat. It’s Tara, the lover, the gentle, sky woman who supports Willow and who is lucky enough to find, in return, love and acceptance and support. It is Wash, who flies the planes and plays with dinosaurs and loves his wife. It is Whiskey/Dr. Saunders, who is good to the people she treats, even the dolls, who loves and (honestly, I can’t remember much more about her). 
We forget, when we build strong, powerful women (the strong female protagonists that Whedon is so fond of), that kindness is different than mercy, that there is strength in giving in, in giving, that there’s something wonderful about someone, when faced with violence, quietly withdraws and sets about preparing to try and help heal people. 
I think we de-value gentleness, in this world. I’ve been spending a lot of time at my uni chaplaincy. I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God, I’m not particularly hung up with the things that are going on there. But the chaplain is kind and she’s very gentle, and she’s careful about the language she uses and the things she says. We need more gentleness. 
I really liked Tara. Someone shy and uncertain and queer, who just sort of fell in love with her best friend and who got be loved back, who was always outside of things but pulled in because people loved her, someone clever but uncertain of themselves. Someone who people de-valued and looked down on. How many people who grew up as girls who like girls haven’t felt like Tara? We loved her because she had value, she was loved, she had no special powers, she wasn’t particularly strong in obvious ways, she wasn’t anything special. The only thing that made her special was her. We need more people like this, more women like this, more superheroes like this. She’s not dark or damaged by her past, she hate herself or anyone else. 
We need more gentleness. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

Queer Pride, Sense8, and me

I used to watch Doctor Who, almost religiously. Not episode to episode, on TV, waiting for the next to air, because I watched it online, after there was a considerable backlog. It wasn't until Matt Smith's era that I started to watch it as it actually aired. I watched the episodes online, over and over, re-watching my favourites and favourite moments. There are a lot of episodes I really like, but a fair few are with Martha as companion. I love Martha's straightforward, no nonsense attitude, and I love her excitement and enjoyment of travelling. I love that she is a woman who is bad-ass, competent, successful in her field, rational and calm, and still emotional and flawed. Martha is a fantastic character, whether you like her or not.

I'm going to change the subject, seemingly randomly, now. This weekend was Pride in Oxford. I've been doing and more things in queer spaces, finding places and events that cater to the queer. LGBTQQIAA+++ spaces have many flaws. Often they cater to the 'G' of the acronym almost exclusively, or they take it to mean L and G and forget about the other letters, or they say welcoming to BTQQIA but don't cater for them or put the work into making the space safe. But Oxford Pride tends to be fairly open to a wide range of identities, even if the committee doesn't always actively cater to them, and I've been to some incredibly open spaces, where people put a lot of work into making it LGBTQQIA+++ friendly, taking all the letters into account.

I've binge watched Orange in the New Black, I've worked my way through the queer films on Netflix and Amazon Prime, I've sought out Lesbian media recommendations. I've widened my reading habits, going out of my way to make sure I read as diversely as possible. I've read Sarah Walters and Jeanette Winterson, I read The Colour Purple and cried and cried and cried when I realised that Shug Avery and Celie were going to fall in love and not just be friends with a bit of an undertone. I read E. M Forster's Maurice, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and Orlando.

I've spent a long time struggling with my identity. I've done research, watched TV and films, read books, talked to people. My world opened up about a year, year and a half ago when I stumbled on a queer, safe-space event that nudged me to learn about gender and a wider range of identities. I learnt about being ace, learnt about how trans is only one non-cisgender identity, learnt about non-binary identities, about fluidity. I've spent a long time working on my identity, with being comfortable and finding my place in queer spaces, on not feeling like a fraud there because I didn't feel I had experienced what it was like to be queer, for various reasons. I have come to terms with where I fit in and how I am part of it all.

But nothing, nothing out of all of that, has ever made me feel so centered and certain in myself and with my identity, with my community, as seeing Freema Argyman play a queer character. Sense8 was something I stumbled across at a queer women's event, and when I saw it on Netflix a few days later, I of course sat down to binge on it. I didn't binge, I can't stand the show. It has too many uncomfortable cultural stereotypes, and no one speaks their own language, a nuance that's explained away by the creators with a 'oh, they are, it's just that we understand them. They all speak English, but really they're speaking their own language! get it?'. There are other problems.

I adore Amanita, though. I'd watch a show about her and Nomi, played by Jamie Clayton. Amanita and Nomi are solid characters and I like them. Costume and hair and makeup are fantastic, I love Amanita's hair so much. The show might be crap, but if you can stand the irritations and silly plot, it's kind of worth watching just because of the range of characters it utelises. These aren't token LGBT+ characters, not token POC. The world built is one full of people from different backgrounds and worlds, different cultures, different identities. It's a stupid plot, but the world? The world shown is so great.

Amanita is played by Freema Agyrman, a queer person of colour in the US. She's in a relationship with Nomi, an out trans woman. Their relationship is positive and supportive. Now, all of this is to the good. We need more positive representation and more shows where there's an abundance of identities and cultures. This is the world we need to see more of on TV and in film. But that's not really the important thing for me. For me, the important thing is seeing the familiar face of Freema Agyman in such a context.

I've never before come across an actor I've previously admired in a role that makes me comfortable, someone I can identify with and enjoy watching as a queer person. Never. Not once. I've had to split myself, over and over, into two parts. I can watch queer programming and films, or I can watch the shows I actually like, the genres I like, the actors I like. Torchwood, and occasionally Doctor Who, managed to bring the two together to an extent, but no one's part of the queer community the way Amanita is. No one is part of my world. They've always been part of the cold, disappointing world where everyone is cis and het unless otherwise loudly stated.

I want more. I need more of this. I wish all my favourite characters and actors and shows would interact with the world I love to be part of. I wish there was more of this. We see queer characters on TV now, sure. We've got Mitch and Cam in Modern Family, who 'aren't political' and so don't have anything to do with queer events and spaces. We have Jack Harkness, who is an alien from the future who is too busy saving the world to go to Pride, too used to his pansexuality being accepted and normal to bother. I'm not going to go through the list, and I know there are series and films where there is interaction. The thing is, this is personal. I want my shows and my  favourite actors and my favourite characters to be part of my world.

I'm not alone in this, I know I'm not. my personal favourites aren't going to intercept with other people's. Past advice has been that I should watch different things if I don't like the way the stuff I do watch is going. The thing is, I shouldn't have to stop watching something I love because of that, and I shouldn't have to search these things out. Because the world isn't double, not in reality. It's all one world, and we all live here, and queer spaces and Pride and the LGBTQQIA+++ community is part of it. To solve the problem, every show and film and book should just remember this and reflect the world, instead of reflecting a tiny corner of it.

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Century of War

commemoration /kəmɛməˈreɪʃ(ə)n/



[mass nounthe action or fact of commemorating a dead person or past event: local martyrs received public commemoration | the window was ordered by the duchess in commemoration of her son.
  • ■ [count nouna ceremony or celebration in which a person or event is remembered: commemorations of wartime anniversaries.

commemorate /kəˈmɛməreɪt/



[with obj.recall and show respect for (someone or something): a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the war dead | a stone commemorating a boy who died at sea.
  • ■ mark or celebrate (an event or person) by doing or producing something: the victory was commemorated in songs.

Every year it takes me some time to process and realise my opinions about Remembrance Day. This year, the thing that's stuck with me and what I will write about is 'a century of war', 'a century of sacrifice'. I've stuck the Oxford Dictionary of English's definitions up the top, both the noun and the verb just to show the connection between commemoration and celebration. Are we remembering and honouring the 'sacrifice' (the word used by the BBC) of soldiers, or are we remembering, honouring and celebrating war? That is the question that I would like to keep in mind as I write today.

"It's so moving."
"My son marched with the cadets, in uniform."
"We must remember."
"They gave their lives for our country."

These are a few things people have said about Remembrance day this year. Some are trite, some are repetitions that come every year, some are genuine. I need to state here that I think people really are honouring soldiers, that they are doing something good. I think that people, on the whole, are commemorating for the right reasons and are genuine and have good motives. I think that the ceremony as a whole is what's wrong, not people and what they say and mean and feel. I think people have it right, in general; the first world war was brutal, terrible, miserable, sad. The men dying in trenches is an image that is forever blazoned in my mind, inescapable, full of grief. The eleventh is an outlet for that and it is important to have that outlet.

I cannot write what I would like, because I am sure my opinion will change over time as I learn more, or forget things. For now, I will link you to an article in the Independent  on why the writer does not wear a red poppy, and the post I wrote last year on why I wear a white poppy. This year I will limit myself to saying that I have doubts about how far the poppies as a concept honour soldiers, and I hesitate to even say that because I think that when most people wear them they pin them to their clothes and bags as a symbol of something good inside themselves, not as a concept.

Getting back to a century of war, I think that a hundred years is a good solid chunk of time. It is a long time to be at war. Starting with the First World War, ending with the most recent conflict in Afghanistan is how, I think, the BBC reporter put it, which implies almost constant conflict. That is a lot of lives lost, a lot of sacrifice demanded, a lot of people destroyed, a lot of countries damaged. That is a lot of war. I do not want to talk about the debate over whether we should commemorate war, or even if we should go to war, I think that is done by people who are far more equipped, better informed and with more intelligence than me in other places. But that is a lot of damage.

I do not think there is anyone alive who can say that they have lived without being 'touched by war', as it is often put. We know soldiers, we know men and women who go 'over seas' or 'to conflict' and come home different people, we know people who have lost family and friends. Some of us live in countries where conflict is the everyday, some of us live in countries (me for example) where war is a political tool, where 'boots on the ground' is a debate between global safety and national sacrifice, human rights as a national issue and human rights as a universal issue (as in; should we send 'our' men and women to save 'theirs'). We hear it on the news, we live with it, we live in it, we take part in it. We are seeped in war. That's a lot of damage.

Violence solves nothing. That's a platitude that children are told. But if someone tries to hurt you, defend yourself and hit back. That's another thing people tell their children. Making violence a concept, something amorphous and insubstantial, is a problem. If violence solves nothing, then hitting someone in defence is not going to keep you safe. This is a simplification- when faced with a dangerous situation we are programmed, biologically, for fight or flight, for hitting or running away. Actually, this is, I have heard, taken away from soldiers- they are taught to repress fight or flight, not to aim a gun until you know you are going to pull the trigger, to make a rational decision whether to commit to violence. I do not have a solution to this problem, violence is not the answer and it solves nothing, but it is a bloody good defence when someone attacks you either physically or with words.

Words have power. That's another thing we are encouraged to learn, especially if we are big readers. Surprisingly enough writers, the people who tell stories, have made it a trope of fiction and reality that there is power in words. In 'A Knight's Tale' (the film not the poem) Chaucer say ' I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every last pimple, every last character flaw. I was naked for a day. You will be naked for eternity.'. It's all very well, and it is to an extent true. For years everyone believed that Richard the Third had a hunchback solely because of Shakespeare and his sources (note that Shakespeare got the idea from the history text he read), without a single piece of proof. It is only in the last few years that it has been confirmed. However, how many of you are able to construct a solid argument or moving speech or any words that will last in the frustration of a fight, or with the terror of attack over you? I know I can't. Words have power, but it takes time and thought to sharpen them as weapons. Society, time, fights, all move too fast for them.

Violence, words, war and commemoration. Remembering a war and the people who died is important. I would stand silent for an hour a day if people stood with me, I will stand silent an hour a day if people stand with me. A moment of silence once a year is not enough, it gives people no time to come to terms with the huge terror that is war, gives people no time to come to terms with the overwhelming grief of it. A minute once a year gives politicians nothing important to consider when they make the decision that commits us to yet another war, demanding yet more sacrifice.  It gives people no time to take it into consideration when they vote for the politicians who make the decisions. Instead of spending a day a year in 'commemoration', why do we not spent a day a year committing our time and resources, intellectual, compassionate, experience, financial, spatial, to finding an alternative way of solving conflict. Because so far we have violence and we have words, and seeing as we have utilised both these solutions for the past century with little effect, I think it is time to look into other avenues.

And, instead of having a day of commemoration for World Wars, let us instead take the time to honour the people who have been, who will be, who are soldiers. Perhaps an hour of silence every day is too much, but maybe now that so few of us go to church it would be possible to have Sunday as a day to honour those who did what was necessary (because whether war is inevitable, whether it is something we want, whatever the motivations of soldiers, in the past century we HAVE demanded that sacrifice and soldiers have been necessary). A day of rest can become a day of remembrance. Perhaps then people will come to terms with the hugeness and wide spread effect of war, and we will begin to make different choices. No one has time to stand silent once a week forever, that is why we only do it once a year, but if it is demanded then perhaps we will find a way of getting out of it, perhaps we will find a way to make it unnecessary. Perhaps we will truly end all wars.

And then we can reclaim Remembrance Day as a day to remember the past.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Drunken rant that goes from Shakespeare to literature to humanity and back

I've just had a week's classes on Shakespeare, and the final lecture was on why he had endured, and his reputation and how he became a national icon. I've been arguing that it's the gaps, the silences, the pauses, that make his plays so relevant. For example, Helena argues that Hermia has betrayed her for 'men', and thus their whole sex will chide her for it, but the interpretation is in the moments between, the back-story of two heads bowed over a single embroidery, in Hermia's reaction (are the moments Helena conjures real, or imagined?), the humour and the disparity between the emption of the speech and the hyperbole. Those blank spaces, left for an actor to give definition to, are what makes it so easy for each era, or age, or generation, to put their own cultural expectations onto the texts.

Another thing that makes Shakespeare endure is the sheer beauty of it. The complexity of emotion, the technicality, the trails of images and metaphors. The symmetry, and at the same time the deviations and a-symmetry of it, are what makes it memorable. The isle if full of noises, I'll break my staff, and deeper than did ever plummet sound, I'll drown my book, now is the winter of our discontent, if music be the food of love, play on. Shakespeare is immensely quotable, adaptable, and beautiful. The multiplicity of meaning, the complexity, and yet simplicity of emotion, in him is wonderful and enduring.

I think Shakespeare teaches every audience, every reader, the tension between individualism, nationalism and community that's so relevant to us today. There is capitalism, self expression, national pride, the validity of emotion, different selves that are suddenly acceptable. So much of modern conceptions of humanity, of mercy, of emotion, is reflected in Shakespeare. There is a femininity that is never fully expressed, because women and the politics of feminism were so primitive when Shakespeare was writing, but there is the potential for it. There are strong female characters, there are silences, and there is ambiguity, where female actors can impose their own femininity on the role.

For example; in 'A Midsumer's night Dream' Titania talks about mother-hood, about impotency and the impossibility of children for some, about patriarchy, in her challenge of Oberon. Hypolita, simply through being a conquered women won 'by the sword', is a comment on how men and women interact and the way masculinity 'conquers' femininity by 'taking' virginity, by 'topping', through marriage (when the woman takes the man's name, anyway). There are so many lines that have that ambiguity that post-structuralist meanings, imposed through Freud, through feminism, through modern politics, are drawn from the text and are still inherent in it.

The character of Shylock, though representing an entirely different issue, is a good example of the flexibility of meaning. In Nazi Germany <i>The Merchant of Venice</i> was put on hundreds of times, because of Shylock's possible connotations of anti-sematism, but there are speeches in there like 'hath not a Jew eyes?' that suggest the opposite sentiment. Shakespeare doesn't come down on one side or the other, not entirely. Both readings are in the text, just as both sentiments are in life. I think that's what endures; everyone can find themselves in Shakespeare, their own views and ideas iterated in poetry.

These days modern literature, criticism, films, TV shows, music, festivals (literary or musical or other), globalization, multi-culturalism, mixed media, the blurring of the ideas of what "art" is, all detract from a centralized, iconic person like Shakespeare. Individualism, capitalism, self-expression, the ready availability of books and various other educational tools (at least in the Western World) make culture and society blur. That uncertainty, that lack of clarity, though, is so clear in most of Shakespeare. There are no winners, no clear winners, no characters who are inhuman, no one who is entirely one thing or another, no one the audience entirely loves or hates, no one without strengths or weaknesses, and the more you read and the more you see of Shakespeare, lyrical poet, dramatist, academic study, any of it, the more you see in it. There is no black and white, there is only grey.

That grey area allows everyone to sympathise and realise themselves. In a culture where gender, sexuality, politics, everything is fluid, that kind of fluidity and freedom reflected is so incredibly important. Not everyone can see the fluidity, not everyone can see the value of identity, of lack of identity, the importance of community and the astonishing, terrifying, overwhelming fear that you, as an individual, will never, ever find anyone in this huge, exhaustive, exhaustion world that is in any way similar to yourself is so incredibly swallowing that people honestly and truly drown in it. That's what I think mental illness is; a kind of drowning of self in the midden of identity.

The grey in Shakespeare, the gaps, the interpretations. Those are the gaps in the world. Those are the cracks where, in "Anthem", Leonard Cohen says the light gets in. The silences in Christina Rossetti, the moments that allow an audience their doubt of the carefully built world, the pauses in metre, the breaks in rhyme, the silences left for contemporary and possibly for future interpretations, the moments of broken patterns in George Herbert, the absence of faith in Hopkins, the sheer exhilaration in Keats, the darkness of Larkin, these contrasts, that speculation, those flashes of pure humanity in literature, English Literature, and Shakespeare especially; that is why we study literature. That's the value in it. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Hallaluljah no more

To the left there's the guitarist, singing Hallalujah in the rain. Legs straight in front of him, mic taped up against the weather, an umbrella balanced over the amp. He's there even though all that can be heard here is the strains of the song. No visual. Just the trails of his voice in the drizzle, strong voiced and determined. He has no home. He comes to the drop in for a sandwich sometimes, sits and doddles even more rarely. Stays a while almost never. He sits on the street there and plays and plays, sings and sings until his lungs must burn.

I wrote this a while ago on this blog as part of a stupid piece for some prompt thing or other. The man in question no longer plays. He's been banned from busking. He's a homeless individual who used his music to make him some much-needed money but he's not allowed any more. Begging is illegal, Big Issue needs capital and an ability to sell. Homeless people should be able to use their talents. The reason he's been banned is that someone complained because they didn't like his music, which seems silly.

This guy isn't one of the people I know, but he was sort of stitched into the fabric of Oxford city centre and I miss his music. He used to sing as if there was nothing else and it felt like he was voicing the creaking pain of the city streets; the grey people, the homeless, the bloody history, the invisible residents who sometimes feel like second class citizens to the students. There's a lot of pain in this city and he was a voice for that.

There's a lot of joy in the city, too, don't get me wrong. And the town and gown argument isn't a simple one side is right, one side is wrong thing. Every university has this tension and there isn't really an answer. The students are mostly harmless, only a very few of them playing up to the stereotype that upsets people. Oxford has a fantastic, colourful history peopled with brilliant minds and big ideas, it's not just pain.

But there are voices. The students clearly have a voice; to most of the world 'Oxford' means the university. City residents have a say on how things are run and are mostly welcome at university things. The university has a very good continued education department which encourages residents to keep on learning and there are several 'town and gown' things. But the voiceless; the homeless, those in pain, forgotten bits of history. That man who sat and played gave them a voice, I felt. He arrested people, made them pause and re-evaluate. And now he's gone. It makes me sad.

Monday, 27 January 2014


I feel the need to title my post as it is, because I'm about to go on about the new Hobbit films and people might mistake it for a review and take it to heart. It's not. I'm aware that there are failings and fantastic bits and all sorts of reviewish things. I'm not here to write about that. I'm just going to write about my own utter, complete joy with the franchise. I am an anti-capitalist, film-snob, art-house-lover, but please, please; take my money and my soul.

I've read the Lord of the Rings in it's three volume, fat booked glory. I never read the Hobbit; I had it read to me. My mother and father both read it to me and it holds a very dear place in my heart for a myriad of reasons; my little brother liked it and we listened to the audiobook together in rare moments of peace from the never ending sibling battle, I can hear passages of it in my mother's voice and I miss her voice, my father reading to us was a fantastic part of my childhood with him and one of the few I remember with uncensored excitement. I have also read appendices, poetry, letters from Tolkein, bits of myth, rune-cyphers and other related text. I inhabited the world on rainy days, I grew up with the characters as my friends. I can name all thirteen dwarves (dwarfs is actually the correct plural, but Tolkein used dwarves for no forgivable reason, according to himself, and as such I will too) and I loved Beorn fiercely, for his wildness, as a child who spent a large portion of her life in the woods.

So I adore the Hobbit and was apprehensive that they should create a story obsessed with it's prequal status, I was afraid that they'd make the Lord of the Rings again, along different story lines. The Hobbit is incredibly different from the Lord of the Rings, and I just crossed my fingers that they'd see that. And they did. The first film begins with a call back to the first scene of the Lord of the Rings, our familiar, old Bilbo writing. And from there it takes off. Young Bilbo is unabashedly <i>funny</i> in his stilted, set-in-his-ways character and his courage is absent. I can see why people don't think he's brilliant, but I think Martin Freeman does wonderful things with Bilbo.

Of course, this is Peter Jackson so there's great vistas and beautiful scenery and an eye to detail that is far beyond obsessive. Both films are, as everyone harps on and on, visually stunning. It's great, Middle Earth is brought to life. To be honest, my Middle Earth when I was reading as a child was more the wilder parts of North Wales, small and windy and lovely, than New Zealand, and I was a bit put out when the Lord of the Rings ruined that, but I've come around and I think it's great that the place in the Hobbit is recognizable as the same place in the Lord of the Rings, though the story is so different.

There are things in the films that just made me want to jump up and cheer (I restrained myself). The bet, which Gandalf wins; in the Lord of the Rings we meet Gandalf most often as stern and wise. In the Hobbit he is lighter, brighter, more playful and more accessible. He has a darker side and he has his moments, but he's Bilbo's friend and we get to see how that unexpected event came about. Secondly (these are in random order, as I think of them, not chronologically) is Smaug. So easy to go wrong with a dragon, because it's been done and done and everyone knows what a dragon is. But no one who hasn't read the book knows what <i>Smaug</i> is and Benedict Cumberbatch does a brilliant job of bringing to life the greed, the lust for gold and the hatred for dwarves. One of the most memorable scenes in the book is when Bilbo is talking to Smaug, when he calls himself hill-dweller, barrel-rider and other such names. This scene is, so far, my favorite in both films. We get Tolkein's dialogue, we meet Smaug properly, we get Bilbo's light feet and it's done amazingly.

The line 'do you see me now?' is perfect, on a side note, because yes, <i>yes</i>, we see him. After waiting through two films, we all see him and he is glorious.

Another thing I love is the kites flying over Lake Town. Picturesque and innocent, their burning is symbolic of a much greater loss and is almost harder to bear than the chaos of terrified people. A kite is emblematic of so much, is so universal, that it brings tears when they catch fire. Lake town is one of several important locations and it's done well. The set's inventive and satisfying, and Stephen Fry makes an entertaining and forboding Master. Another such place is the realm of Thranduril. I don't have much to say about the place, but Thranduril is brilliantly timeless, terrifying and just a touch camp.

The music in the Hobbit is a nice touch. It brings to life Tolkein's rather dreadful poetry and gives the audience a sense of the dwarves' history and feeling. And I think this is where I will end; because it's things like this, the touches of Tolkein, that make me such a fan of the films. Beorn's Viking-style house, the picture of the misty mountain, the maps and runes, the stories of Thorin's past, of Lake town's past, of Thranduril and Beorn, the mythological touches, the wizards, the extra information is so woven in and yet stands out. That's what was always so brilliant about the books; the details, the story telling and world building. I think Peter Jackson is doing justice to Middle Earth in a way that he passed over in editing the final cut of the Lord of the Rings.

I feel like I'm renewing a friendish with old companions when I watch the films, and that's all I ever wanted out of them. They're peopled with such familiar scenes and faces that it's like reliving a part of my childhood that was so joyful the second time. There really is no word beyond joy that would be suitable here. So, not a review. A review would have to include all the negatives I'm aware of. This is just a fanletter. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

I have a friend who lost a sister

Sometimes sad things happen to good people. It's a clichéd thing to say, but I don't know how else to put it. Recently a friend of mine had to go to his sister's funeral. She was fourteen years old and she was murdered by another girl over a boyfriend.

It's very cold at the moment. The shelters are opening their cold weather beds, at the drop in we're getting people looking for coats and extra socks and blankets. We have home-made soup again. November is coming to an end and winter's coming. It's not here yet, E and I still find blackberries and yellow leaves, but the cold is bringing it in. It's not the kind of weather you where want to be stuck on the streets.

Begging is illegal. You're not allowed to sit on the streets and ask for money. That's why you'll see people crouched and bent with cold, playing a harmonica badly or a penny whistle sounding like a yowling cat. The Big Issue is a fantastic innovation, but you have to be able to buy the magazines and have the where with all to sell them. Sometimes all people can do is beg. Sometimes they need money for drugs and alcohol and for the most part it's best to give money to charities and outreach programs rather than beggars.

I know Kyle. I've known him for over a year and he's been a good friend to me. If I have a few spare coins I'll give them to him, because I know he's not going to go buy alcohol with it. I don't give him large sums of money because he is completely hopeless at managing his money, one of the reasons he's on the street in the first place. But a few coins towards his goal of a bed for the night I'm happy to part with.

He's stuck on the street at the moment. He's sick and sometimes he'll have a bed for months, but he's on the street at the moment. Contrary to popular belief Christmas shopping does not make people more generous and the students here are too busy celebrating getting to the end of their first term to notice (this is not to say that these categories of people aren't generous- Christmas shopping is stressful and the students have every right to be preoccupied, and sometimes they do give money). So Kyle's on the street quite late most days.

On Tuesday I was cycling home about nine pm and I noticed him. I was surprised, I hadn't seen him for a while and it was late. I pulled in and stopped to say hi, to give him the pound I had in my pocket (but not the fiver in my bag, I learnt not to do that the hard way). When I asked him how he was, he shrugged. After a moment he told me he'd been in Liverpool and just got back and didn't have the cash for the shelter.

And that he'd been at his sister's funeral.

I have a friend who recently lost his sister. Would you have had the same kind of sympathetic feeling at the beginning of this story if you'd known he's homeless? He is homeless, though. And while he's my friend, I have to remember that. I can offer him my condolences and I can offer him a hot meal next time I see him, but I can't give him money and I still can't give him personal details about myself. It's not that I don't trust him, it's just that to do so completely would make me a fool.

I have a friend who lost his sister, but I can't be a proper friend to him. I have to leave him on the freezing street and hope.  I can grieve for him, though. I do that. I can't imagine losing my own brothers or sister.