The Night her blackest Sable wore,
And gloomy were the Skies;
And glitt’ring Stars there were no more,
Than those in Stella’s Eyes:
When at her Father’s Gate I knock’d,
Where I had often been,
And Shrowded only with her Smock,
The Fair one let me in.

Fast lock’d within her close Embrace,
She trembling lay asham’d;
Her swelling Breast, and glowing Face,
And every touch inflam’d:
My eager Passion I obey’d,
Resolv’d the Fort to win;
And her fond Heart was soon betray’d,
To yield and let me in.

Then! then! beyond expressing,
Immortal was the Joy;
I knew no greater blessing,
So great a God was I:
And she transported with delight.
Oft pray’d me come again;
And kindly vow’d that every Night,
She’d rise and let me in.

But, oh! at last she prov’d with Bern,
And sighing sat and dull;
And I that was as much concern’d,
Look’d then just like a Fool:
Her lovely Eyes with tears run o’er,
Repenting her rash Sin;
She sigh’d and curs’d the fatal hour,
That e’er she let me in.

But who could cruelly deceive.
Or from such Beauty part;
I lov’d her so, I could not leave
The Charmer of my Heart:
But Wedded and conceal’d the Crime,
Thus all was well again;
And now she thanks the Blessed Hour,
That e’er she let me in.

“The Darkling Thrush” by the English author and poet Thomas Hardy is one of those poems to which I return again and again. It is a truly beautiful piece of writing, one of those poems which hits you deep in the guts.

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware

A subtle scent fills my senses. “Are you wearing perfume?” I ask. “Yes”. “It smells nice” I reply rapidly leaving the living room to hide my embarrassment  . “Thanks” I hear you say as I exit my lounge.
I am twice your age and some more and yet I am drawn to you. Just sixteen you sit on my sofa wearing your school uniform. Conscience struggles with lust within me. You could be my daughter but does that matter? The law says that you are mature enough to have sex. You are not a child but not quite a woman, perhaps that is your attraction to me.
What would you do if I asked “may I touch your face?” Would you   allow my hands to gently explore your face with it’s soft black skin. Would you enjure my touch or, perhaps derive pleasure from my caresses? Where you to respond to my touch with pleasure what then? Would I dive in, take you and make you mine for the moment? If I did what then, after the love making, what then?
You are sweet, can I destroy that youthful inocence? No I can not and yet if you show that you want me what then? Can I hold back and, if not what about the “wee small voice of conscience” afterwards?

On Monday evening I return home from work to find my flat cleaned and my clothes ironed and put away. I don’t have a partner and the housework isn’t performed by wee people out of the pages of Grim’s Fairytales. As with a growing number of professionals I employ a cleaner. On the few occasions I’m at home when my cleaner comes to clean I’m filled with a mixture of thoughts and emotions. On the one hand I want to relax reading a book, watching television etc, however, on the other I feel a sense of guilt that a fellow human being is busily stripping my bed, vacuuming the carpets etc while I have my feet up. Why should I feel this way? I don’t experience the same feelings when a lady or man serves me at the check out in my local supermarket so why should I experience this twinge of guilt when my cleaner comes to clean?
My home is my private space, the place in which I relax and unwind after a hard day’s work. There is a small part of me which feels that I should be fully responsible for my home and do my own housework. Shades of Upstairs Downstairs (a television programme showing an upper class household in the late 19th and early 20th centuries  swim before my eyes). Unlike the fictional household portrayed in Upstairs Downstairs I don’t employ a whole bevy of servants, just the one cleaning lady who cleans for me, for 3 hours a week. In Upstairs Downstairs the relationship between the upper class household and their servants (the latter group living downstairs) is paternalistic and hierarchical. The servants have their own eating area (the servant’s hall) and would never dream of eating with the upper class household. My relationship with my cleaner is wholly different. I will, if I am at home offer her coffee or tea and make us both a drink. I don’t regard her as a lesser human being due to her work and yet I feel this nagging doubt, from time to time at the back of my mind regarding the ethics of the situation. At a logical level this is ilogical. If my toilet gets blocked I will call out a plumber to fix the problem and feel no guilt whatever about doing so. Why then should I feel a twinge of conscience merely because I employ a cleaner? The answer is I shouldn’t. In the unlikely event that I inherit a vast sum of money I would move to a big house and employ not only a cleaner but a gardener to keep the place in good order. Employing someone to clean your home isn’t wrong provided that you treat them with respect and pay a decent wage. Having said that I will no doubt continue to experience those twinges of guilt the next time I’m at home and my cleaner comes to clean.

A fascinating post on slavery in Virginia (USA). The description of how human beings (mostly white but some black African) could regard others as property and treat them as such is truly shocking.

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast

When doing the research on the history of Belle Grove, I have come across a lot of wonderful surprises. Historic events and people that we as Americans need to remember. But with that research we have also come across darker times in our history. Not to include it in the history of the plantation would be a disservice to those who lived it and died by it. It is important to know where it came from and how it evolved and what impact it had on Belle Grove Plantation.

When looking at the history of slavery in Virginia, we can trace it back to the founding of the English colony by the London Virginia Company. The London Virginia Company was an English Joint Stock Company that was established by James I of England on April 10, 1606. The London Company, which was also known as the Charter of the Virginia…

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In the United Kigdom it is legal for adults (those aged 18 years and older) to engage in prostitution. Many of the activities associated with prostitution are, however illegal. For example one man or woman may work as a prostitute from premises, however where two or more individuals operate together (even if one of those persons is only taking bookings, answering the door etc rather than working as a sex worker) then the premises is classified as a brothel and those working there are breaking the law. In 2008 Sweden took the radical step of criminalising the purchasers of sexual services while leaving sex workers free to ply their profession without fear of arrest. In contrast to sex workers, their clients are (if convicted of paying for sex) subject to a fine and/or six months in prison. In 2009 Norway introduced similar legislation to that in Sweden.
The philosophy underpinning the legislation is that women are the weaker party and, as such they should be protected from men. According to this perspective men have no right to “buy women”. Women do not voluntarily choose to sell their bodies, consequently those who avail themselves of the services provided by sex workers are guilty of “exploiting” prostituted women. The Swedish law has been held up by British politicians such as the Labour MP Hariet Harman as a model which should be followed in the United Kingdom (it is not currently illegal to purchase sex in the UK provided that the person offering sexual services is 18 or older and he/she has not been forced into prostitution). Let us leave aside for a moment the issue of whether men (and women) should be criminalised for purchasing sexual services. Instead let us turn first to whether the law has the effect claimed for it by it’s proponents, namely making the lives of prostitutes safer by detering men from purchasing sex. According to a recent article in “The Local” the legislation enacted in norway has made the lives of sex workers more dangerous than was the case prior to the legislation coming into force
“The 2009 prostitution law prohibits the purchase but not the sale of sexual services, with legislators seeking to stymie the trade by targeting demand.

But the Pro Sentret report indicates that the law has in fact made prostitutes much more susceptible to violence at the hands of their clients as the sex
trade moves further underground.

What’s more, prostitutes have become less inclined to seek help since the law came into force, with many now perceiving that they too are viewed as criminals,
the report says.

Many of the women also said the new law had scared off many of their more reliable customers, while troublesome and violent clients were relatively undeterred.

According to the study, titled Farlige Forbindelser (Dangerous Liaisons), 59 percent of prostitutes in Oslo have fallen victim to some form of violence
in the last three years.

”Violence against women in prostitution is brutal and frequent,” said Ulla Bjørndahl at Pro Sentret.

”Often the violence is extreme. Eleven people have faced death threats, many have been threatened with weapons, or have been exposed to robbery, rape, or
were threatened into participating in non-consensual sex,” Bjørndahl told newspaper Dagbladet.” (see http://www.thelocal.no/page/view/rip-up-prostitution-law-says-top-oslo-politician).
The research for the report was carried out between January-March of 2012 and entailed interviews with 123 women engaged in prostitution. Those interviewed included street prostitutes, ladies working in flats and women selling sex in massage parlours. Consequently the researchers interviewed a representative sample of those engaged in prostitution and their findings should be treated seriously.
Turning to the issue of whether prostitution necessarily entails exploitation, the reaction of French intellectuals to the French government’s proposal to prohibit the purchasing of sexual services is instructive
“Responding, the intellectuals said any move to liberate women from sexual slavery or the clutches of organised crime would be welcome.

But they argued that talk of “abolishing” prostitution was based on “two debatable assumptions: that charging for sex is an affront to women’s dignity
and that all prostitutes are all victims of their bastard clients.”

They added: “A women who prostitutes herself, whether she does so occasionally or full-time, is not necessarily a victim of male oppression.

“And the clients are not all horrible predators or sexual obsessives who treat the woman as disposable objects.” (see http://www.thelocal.fr/page/view/french-intellectuals-slam-prostitution-ban-plan).
Precisely so, I couldn’t have put it better myself. The idea that all prostitutes are victims and all clients are “bastards” is rissible. Having used the services of escorts over a number of years I know that the ladies do in the overwhelming majority of cases freely choos to enter the world of escorting. No big bad pimp is threatening them with violence, they see easy money and they take it.
None of the above is intended to deny that prostitution can (and often does) have harmful effects on those who engage in it. Dig behind the smile and one often finds deeply damaged individuals. However there exist other equally damaged persons who choose not to engage in sex work. Again by no means all who engage in prostitution suffered abuse as children. Despite what some would have us believe prostitution is (in most cases) a freely entered into choice. It may not be (and in most instances it certainly isn’t) the first choice of the majority of those who engage in it. It is, however still a choice.

The breeze russles in the leaves. Would that I could become one with the breeze, fly away and be lost among the trees. Would that I could be truly free, not caught up in this mundanity.