Suffragettes: The fight the women fought and that chocolate fight

I’m all over the place at the moment!  Cirencester last week, Ealing this week, Staines next week – three or four days at a time, living out a suitcase, surviving on sushi in my hotel room, collecting mini toiletries bottles…  My cat barely recognises me when I get home.

This week I’m back to my roots: training people to write more clearly using plain English.  It’s a bespoke course designed for the business that booked me, and I love people’s reactions when they realise it’s not simply a lesson in English grammar or a telling-off for using jargon.  The training carries on through to next week, but I’ll be heading home on Thursday night in time to cast my vote…

If I’d been born in an earlier century I definitely would have been a suffragette.  And it would have been easy enough to get involved, as the suffragette movement was bolstered from a tiny cottage just a couple of miles from my home.  There are two influential local women that merit a mention during this politically-charged week: Sylvia Pankhurst and Ethel Haslam.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s mum founded the suffragette movement, so she was definitely a lady to be reckoned with.  In those days, this was a quiet, rural area and Sylvia Pankhurst’s arrival, with an anarchist Italian boyfriend in tow, scandalised the neighbours. While setting up the East London Federation of Suffragettes, their home became described as the ‘centre for radical thought.’  And as if that wasn’t enough for the delicate Essex ladies, the couple shocked the community even further when a baby son arrived and still no wedding ring.

Ethel Haslam was probably considered more respectable, holding the responsible position of branch secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union in Ilford.  With her band of ‘sisters’ she would have campaigned for women’s equality in work and politics, handing out leaflets outside the very station I sometimes use for a fast-track ride into Liverpool Street for networking events.  If we’re connected on LinkedIn, you’ll know that, before running my own business, I worked in recruitment for five years.  The office where I interviewed people and changed their lives is opposite the station in Cranbrook Road; and, it turns out, Ethel Haslam lived in that same road – in a house that is now (to my delight) a cake shop!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingBut the story that interests me most concerns the boating lake in Valentines Park, where I can often be found during the summer, floating along pretending to be the Lady of Shalott.  It seems that Ethel and her comrades were sailing in the centre of the lake, waving a purple banner emblazoned with their motto: ‘Believe and you will conquer!’  Their peaceful protest was disturbed by a gang who began throwing – would you believe it – chocolates, at them!  Don’t think I’d have minded that.  Wonder what year Green & Black’s butterscotch arrived on the London shelves…

Ethel’s purple banner reminds me of The Stroke Association’s purple banners to promote National Stroke Month.  I currently have one as my Facebook cover pic.  They have the less provocative message, ‘Make May Purple,’ but I can’t help thinking that Ethel’s believe and conquer slogan is appropriate there too.

Writing this in my hotel room with a slightly fussy wifi connection, I didn’t want to spend too long thinking about lyrics.  So when these flew into my mind I decided to go with them. “From Kensington to Billingsgate one hears the restless cry; from every corner of the land womankind arise!  Political equality and equal rights with men – take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!”

Although I’m far away this week, I’ll be home on Thursday to vote.  Wouldn’t dream of missing it after the battle those women fought to give me the right to do so.  In the meantime you can always find me here: @WeekendWitch.  (PS – I’ll be listening to Suffragette City as I drive to the polling booth.)

(Lyrics courtesy of Sherman, Sherman and Drewe.)

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