Monthly Archives: October 2015

Oscar Pistorius is released from prison ‘in need of healing’ and another woman’s life is conveniently forgotten

For 49 days last year, the eyes of the world’s press were focused on a courtroom in South Africa as the distressing, complex trial of Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.

Oscar Pistorius is released from prison ‘in need of healing’ and another woman’s life is conveniantly forgotten – the Independent

Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, after firing four shots through a locked bathroom door. His defence rested on the fact that he believed the person behind the door to be an intruder.

At the time, I was working as a digital editor at the Telegraph, and through manning live blogs for long chunks of the trial, coordinating headlines to match the updates coming in from South Africa, I became immersed in the visceral, upsetting detail.

This week, Pistorius was released, less than a year into his already short five year sentence, having been found guilty of culpable homicide – the South African equivalent to manslaughter. I wrote this piece for the Independent, reflecting on the message a decision like this send out to women. Writing the piece brought back memories of the problematic way the case was covered by many of the tabloids in this country, probably others. Pictures of Steenkamp in a bikini – she worked as a model as well as a paralegal – were plastered over front pages, when her real body was lying in a morgue, so badly injured that images caused Pistorius to sob and vomit repeatedly into a bucket while in the dock.

This time round however, she’s more conspicuous by her absence. There are pictures of the elegant, spacious mansion, a regal redbrick building, where Pistorius will reside, and compassionate news pieces proclaiming Pistorius ‘in need of healing’, but Steenkamp has been edited out of the story, a footnote to the drama.

Tomorrow, Steenkamp’s mother June will give a speech her daughter had been due to give the day she died. Steenkamp often gave motivational talks at schools to highlight issues faced by women and  victims of abuse. While her mother’s heart must be broken, that seems a good way to remember #HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp

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National poetry day – a Robert Frost-inspired meeting

One looked at one

October seems to have remembered its purpose at last. A damp, compost scent is in the air, a thin veil of drizzle coats my face in the grey mist of morning and a distinct chill has replaced our mild September. Leaves that in recent swathes of autumn sunshine glowed red and burning are battered to the ground, where they lie; ragged, brown and already decomposing.

A walk home takes me past a field, cordoned off from my path by a ditch thick with overhanging brambles, heavy fruit hanging dark and wet among the broad leaves, which glisten with the mizzle of the day. It’s a mizzle which has flickered indecisively between open throated downpours and milky attempts by a pale sun to penetrate the clouds. A barbed-wire binding hangs above the ditch and the feeble sunlight catches strings of diamond-like drops outlining and revealing clusters of cobwebs, previously hidden from a casual glance by their frailty.

I pause for a moment beside the field, and my eye catches movement along one of the edges. A gentle bustle among the leaves, and a blunt-snouted doe treads lightly into the field. As she emerges from the hedgerow which marks the field’s boundary she turns her head from left to right, poised and perfect as a ballerina stepping out onto the stage, liquid eyes high as she scents the air, nostrils dilated. I stand still, trying to look as if I am carved out of her natural landscape and she doesn’t see me, or if she does, she is not afraid. I am at a distance and perhaps she decides I am not a threat. She calmly bends her head and grazes as I watch, her back a gentle, furred curve, elegant neck stretched long. She is a Roe deer, alone, beautiful and unfazed. Her coat is just beginning to tuft, switching its smooth summer reddish brown for a longer, winter-appropriate shade of grey.

A pheasant cackles an alarm and she glances up, ears flickering from side to side like leaf-shaped satellite receivers. But she perceives no danger and returns to her grazing until he calls once more, his clucked and frantic warning rudely sounding from somewhere deep within the hedgerow. I shift my weight quickly from one foot to the other, and this time she does see me. We calmly return each other’s gaze. I am reminded of the Robert Frost poem, Two Looked at Two:

“She saw them in their field, they her in hers.
The difficulty of seeing what stood still,
Like some up-ended boulder split in two,
Was in her clouded eyes; they saw no fear there.”

In unknowing mimicry of Frost’s doe; as if I were something that, though strange, she could not trouble her mind with too long, she sighed and passed unscared back towards the nick in the hedge through which she had entered the field. Although invisible to my eyes, she slipped through it, unhurried.

And like Frost’s couple, I turned for home, feeling as if the earth in one unlooked-for favour, had made me certain it returned my love.

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