Friday, 30 January 2015

A tale of vaginas and how some expect us to behave

Just don't
It’s been a wonderful couple of days for vaginas.

In the meantime, news – and admittedly I use the word lightly – reached these shores that Gwyneth Paltrow is promoting the steaming with herbs of said vaginas to keep them nice and fresh and the owner ‘energised’.

Then today, the hashtag #NoHymenNoDiamond appeared on my Twitter timeline.

Although this appears to have actually started at least as early as last autumn, it’s today picked up a lovely head of steam (though there’s no evidence that steaming breaks or heals a hymen).

There’s also no evidence that those who tweeted it actually thought about how they’d check such a thing before the wedding day.

But then again, we’re not talking about people with big brains.

And as if all that wasnt enough, it’s pretty much a racing certainty that life at the Daily Mail this past week has seen editor and champion of women everywhere, Paul Dacre, illustrating his notorious talent for ‘double cunting’: there’s a reason his editorial meetings are known as ‘the vagina monologue’.

So, is there a common theme here – beyond, yknow, stuff about cunts?

Well there’s certainly a steaming pile of irony.

Greer’s views on trans women are not themselves news, but although she slammed the views of some other feminists in the same speech, she shares with many radical feminists essentially the same attitude toward trans women (I don’t know if they have any opinion on trans men).

More than one rad fem has suggested that not having a womb discounts trans women from ... well, being a woman.

In other words, these feminists do precisely what they supposedly object to – and create an idea of womanhood that comes down to biology and sexual organs.

It’s no coincidence that rad fems in the US in particular have made unholy alliances with reactionary, Christian fundamentalist political groups and individuals. They are a form of reactionary fundamentalism.

I can’t answer for anyone else, but I know that I don’t want to be defined by whether I have a womb or whether my cunt is smelly.

Who would?

And who would imagine that those doing precisely that would, at the same time, equally want to say that women should not be defined in such a dreadfully limiting way by others?

I have no more right to define anyone else’s experience of their sex/gender than anyone does of mine.

As someone who has been described, by a long-time friend, as a “gay man in a woman’s body,” I’m well aware that there are many ways in which I do not personally conform to any conventional idea of womanhood.

But surely it’s precisely those ‘conventional’ ideas – and expectations and, with them, limits – that feminism seeks to combat?

If you want women to be able to escape lives based on restrictions imposed because of bodily functions, then it hardly seems sensible to use these same things to define women.

Many have found the obituary of best-selling author, and acclaimed scientist, Colleen McCullough, in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, to illustrate precisely what still faces many women.

It opens thus:

COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s would be difficult to know where to start. Thankfully, Twitter users came up with #MyOzObituary to illustrate the insanity.

But choosing to remember a successful and talented woman in such a fashion is no different in its limiting terms to claiming that her sexual organs are what defines a woman.

And this, perversely, has something in common with the idea of the vagina – via the hymen – of that previous hashtag.

That’s about ownership. It’s about defining a ‘good’ woman on the basis of sex and an idea about what identifies a woman who has had sex. Commenting on her looks is about defining her by them.

The #NoHymenNoDiamond hashtag is particularly dumb, of course, not least since many things can break the hymen, from tampon use to riding a bike.

But that’s the point: none of this is sensible. None of it employs common sense. None of it employs the matter between the ears.

According to the biological definition of a woman, anyone born with Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser syndrome (ie without a womb) would not qualify.

So it serves – once again – to illustrate a number of things.

One, that rad fems are not, for the main, really interested in women as a whole and in overcoming the limits that our society does place on them.

Two, that said radical feminists push an agenda that is yet another form of intolerant, bigoted and limiting reaction against progress, and we should not be suckered in to treated it as an intellectually-sound matter.

Three, that radical feminism is a form of secular fundamentalism that has nothing whatsoever to do with what the majority of women think and experience.

And four, that whatever some claim, the main issue that faces us today – that is, ALL of us – is still a class-based one, with a ruling class/supra-national corporatocracy etc using all its weight to gain yet more wealth, and damn everyone else, whether male or female, straight or not, trans or cis, black or white etc etc.

Just look at TTIP – and the ISDS clause in particular – to see this.

Dividing human beings along lines of sex and/or gender, into whether or not they have a cunt that smells or not is idiocy and ignores all the really important questions that face us ALL.

But hey: what a vagina of a few days it’s been!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Phone lies – and the need to fight the spam

One of the advantages – and disadvantages – of modern life is the mobile phone.

In the olden days, you could not have known, for instance, who was calling, so would have had little option but to pick up the handset when it rang.

These days, if you have no landline, you can see the number on your handset – and make a decision based on that.

Increasingly, given the amount of spam and scams, I don’t answer any unfamiliar number, but run a check on the internet after the caller has stopped ringing.

This means, for instance, that I can find out if it’s something where I need to call back.

But that still leaves an increasing amount of spam (and no blocking facility on my iPhone – Apple, sort it).

In the last few weeks, there has been a particular spurt of crap.

Most recently, there have been calls from 0843 724 0610: twice on Sunday and twice yesterday.

Then there’s 0843 724 0459, which called twice last Thursday, twice last Wednesday, and once each on the 7, 10 and 11 January, plus the 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 December.

And it would be remiss of me to forget the two calls from 0843 724 0438, together with at least four ‘unknown’ calls in the same period and a couple that were miraculously blocked.

Yesterday, I picked one of these calls up.

Why? Because I was irritated as all hell and wanted to be able to tell someone where they could get off.

Just because I can avoid them doesn’t mean they’re less irritating.

What ‘answered’ was a recorded message. It announced that they – whoever “they” were – had details of an accident I’d had in the last couple of years, and would like to help me gain compensation.

Now bear that bit in mind: the message claimed that there is evidence of an accident that the listener has had.

This stoked my personal pissed-off level, so when it offered me the chance to “opt out” of such calls – when the heck was I given the choice of opting in or not? – or of pressing five to be called back by an agent, I took the latter.

Three times today, an ‘unknown’ number called me.

On the third occasion, I was in a position to answer and, suspecting what it would be, did so.

I got a Welsh male voice – not the sort that would grace a choir – explaining that he was from Total Claims Network and wanted to talk about my accident.

I asked how they’d got the information about my ‘accident’. He said by my responding to the message, “love”.

So on top of it all, I’d now got a patronising little git on the other end of the phone.

He refused to explain how they’d got the information about the aforementioned “accident”, claiming it was all down to me requesting a call back.

Then he accused me of trying to shout over him. My voice was raised because he wouldn’t let me speak, but not to the point of shouting.

When he demanded “have you had an accident” and I replied in the negative, he said that was time to finish the call and hung up.

What, then, did I get for my trouble?

Well, there is now a company name – at least a supposed one – and I have a nice little collection telephone numbers.

I’ve done telesales in the dim and distant past and I have plenty of sympathy for people who do it because they can find no other employment.

I do not, however, have even a shred of sympathy for people like this who are liars.

They have no evidence of anything. They’re simply fishing. And to then find an aggressive and arrogant rep on the other end of the phone doesn’t help.

Although, as only a slight aside, it’s probably true that, if you’re trying to make a living from lies and scams, it probably helps to be a bit of a prick.

But a ‘company’ that finds ways around leaving a trail in order for people to get back to them – in this case, a phone number for whoever called me back today – and a ‘company’ that almost certainly relies on the cost of targeted people picking up the phone or making call backs to make it money, after a level of unsolicited calls that must count as harassment, is not an ethical or moral entity for which there is any excuse for it to exist.

It doesn’t matter that some people know not to answer or not to respond. Why should we all have to deal with that? And besides, does that include the vulnerable or the elderly who might not be tech savvy?

The details I’ve garnered will not be going to waste. I will be forwarding them to my MP with a question as to how such things can be legal.

And I post them here as a warning to others.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth adding that, if you get a call from a number such as +967 233 45, do not answer.

There are apparently a number of these around, originating from various countries outside Europe, and there is certainly some serious speculation that they involve people being able to clone your sim if you answer.

So, that’s your public information story of the day – and if anyone can think of a way to piss off the spammers even more than I possibly managed this evening, then kindly let me know!

* Update: 5.20pm Wednesday 28 January

 It's possible that I've pissed them off more than I realised.  Since 9.09am today, I've received five 'unknown' calls and two have been blocked. I am absolutely not answering.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Economics and the rise of extremism

The Greeks take on neo-liberalism
The day after a political earthquake in Greece might not seem the most obvious day to discuss the rise of Islamic extremism, but the two are far more closely linked than might appear obvious at first.

Let’s start, though, with the latter.

It’s a popular (and left-of-centre populist) analysis to suggest that Western foreign policy – in particular, the imperialist adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the continuing refusal of many Western nations to even politely criticise the behaviour of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people – are the reasons for the rise of Islamic extremism.

But while they can be seen as contributory factors – they’ve certainly fanned the flames of the problem – it’s simplistic to suggest that they are the sole or even main causes.

To start with, it’s worth noting that Al-Qaeda was formed sometime between 1988-89 and had been active well before the 9/11 attacks on the US.

And it’s a generally-accepted fact that the Taliban grew out of the proxy Cold War struggle in Afghanistan between the Soviet Union and the West.

The Palestinian situation was well established by 9/11, but whether of not one believes that the invasion of Iraq in particular was an own goal in terms of handing Osama bin Laden a massive recruitment boost, it’s clear that the invasion did not begin the process.

There are a number of analyses that place the beginning of the rise of what we call Islamic fundamentalism at the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Film footage from Nasser’s funeral in Cairo shows no mass of niqabs or even hajibs, so it’s fair to say that the use of these have grown in the years since – one visible sign of the growth of increased religious observance and of increased religious conservatism.

Fast forward to Iran in 1979, and we see religious bods taking power and benefiting from the help they received from the secular opposition – which they subsequently crushed.

Now take things forward considerably. The ‘Arab Spring’ was not triggered by issues of religion.

It began in issues of economics: ‘I don’t have a job’, ‘I have sod all pay’.

The Egyptian government reacted by raising the minimum wage.


Or perhaps not. Because Egypt had signed up to trade treaties that allowed corporates to sue the country if it did something that the said corporates didn’t like.

In this case, it was Veolia doing the legal stuff.

Now this is important: the clause in a trade treaty that Egypt had signed is incredibly similar to that being currently negotiated by the EU and the US. To be accurate, because of campaigning, that clause Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) has been ‘suspended’ in the treaty negotiation.

Do not even begin to pretend that it is ‘over’.

This is an illustration of how national governments are giving in and handing power to corporates.

How would anyone who believes in democracy want to support such things?

But let’s go back.

There is an increasing prevalence of people joining jihad from non-Muslim backgrounds and not just from Europe, but from the EU too – and from the likes of the US.

I am going to suggest that the core, key, underlying issue is not Islam ... but that the real issue is the economic philosophy that being foisted upon the majority by the minority.

‘Trickle down’ doesn’t work – it never has.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Paris or Cairo, London or Athens: the big – the really big question – is about how all of us create a world that is fairer for all of us.

Disillusion presents a wonderful opportunity for theocrats and would-be theocrats to offer something different – not least when the mainstream political discourse has apparently let them down. And the same is true of the far right.

But this is not simply a West v East situation, as Greece shows us.

Although there are other factors, the most important is an economic one.

The Greeks have chosen to use the ballot box to challenge why they should pay the price of neo-liberalism. At least some of the actions of Islamic extremists are almost certainly triggered by the same polices.

While there are particular issues historically with Greece (the scale of tax avoidance for one), the country also suffered at the hands of the politicians who were so desperate to join the euro, and the bankers – Goldman Sachs – who diddled the country's books to enable it to be able to meet the criteria for entry.

Isn't it a wonder that nobody has done or is doing jail time for this?

But then again, austerity is being foisted on countless countries, with millions suffering, while the bankers who caused the global financial crisis of 2008 remain at liberty, well off and without having to have made any form of restitution.

As big bonuses and continuing fines for wrongdoing show, banks continue to go about their business the way they did beforehand.

We understand the roots of fascism and how and what fascists take advantage of. The theocrats and the Islamic extremists are little different.

And while trying to avoid this economic context to discussing the rise of Islamic extremism is simply crass, it's easy enough to see why many in the political establishment would be reluctant to do so.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Insulting gods – it's 'punching up'

Never mind the politicians: this was the people in Paris
The murders in Paris just over a fortnight ago have already illustrated a number of things – one of which was how the presence of 40 global leaders on the city’s massive march a few days after the killings merely served to highlight a great deal of hypocrisy over freedom of speech from a substantial number of them.

Indeed, the sycophantic sounds heard from many of the same politicians in the wake of the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah – the monarch of a country that routinely beheads people in public and flogs others for the ‘crime’ of expressing non-violent opinion – was, to put it politely, nauseating.

But setting this issue aside for the sake of today’s post, one of the most extraordinary things that has happened in the aftermath of the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has been the attitude among some on the political left in the UK of criticising that publication as racist, Islamophobic and a clear case of ‘white men punching down’.

Now I’m going to assume that the last piece of jargon is understandable to all – although obviously, if you’re white and male, you cannot comment on it. Given that I’m female, I have more points than you and therefore will comment.

Various writers have attempted to correct these assertions, using something as unfashionable as facts.

The facts in question include pointing out that the magazine satirises all religions – and also (on a particularly regular basis) the French far right and its anti-immigrant stance, while also calling an amnesty for all illegal immigrants. On a slightly different tack, the same magazine published articles by economist Bernard Maris (one of the victims) opposing austerity and damning of the way in which Greece has been treated.

But still the shrill little cries about it being racist persist.

It appears that you (well, not if you’re white and male, obviously) must never, ever insult someone’s religion – or at least not if that religion is Islam, which is the religion of choice (or not) for a great many people in the world, of whom many exist in poverty.

But what are the ‘insults’?

The problem is of publishing pictures of ‘the prophet’ – Muhammed – and the problem is twofold.

Nowhere in the Qu’ran is there anything forbidding images of Muhammed or Allah, but these occur in the hadith – a record of sayings and actions of Muhammed and his companions, which was written over the years after his death.

The key idea here is that, since Muhammed was a man and not god, portraying him may lead to worship of Muhammed rather than of Allah.

So at its core, it’s about idolatry, in other words.

Islam is far from being alone in a fear of idolatry. Judaism shares the same fear, up to and including any representations of Yahweh.

In Christianity, the early church was also aniconist, as was the 8th century Byzantine church, while the likes of Calvin and Luther proscribed images in churches after the Protestant Reformation. To varying degrees, this continues today in some sects.

And the bar on images of Muhammed and Allah also extends to Moses and Christ, both of whom are revered as prophets in Islam. This is a large part of why the film Exodus: Gods and Kings has been banned in Morocco and Egypt (apart from the ‘historical inaccuracies’, but let’s not go there).

Aniconism in Islam, though, is nowhere near universal. Sunni Muslims are considerably more likely to believe it than Shias. Shia Islamic tradition is far less strict and there were, for instance, images of the prophet produced in 7th century Persia.

On Islamic representations of the prophet, Omid Safi, a religious studies professor at Duke University, told CNN: “We have had visual depictions of the prophet in the form of miniatures and pictures in the Iranian context, the Turkish context, the central Asian context. The one significant context where depictions of the prophet have not been image-related has been in the Arab context”.

This tallies with the spread of Wahhabism, a particularly austere and fundamentalist version of Islam that arose from the Middle Eastern deserts, which has been actively spread by the likes of Saudi Arabia for years and which provides the theological basis for the likes of Islamic State (IS).

But if idolatry is a fear, how does a cartoon – let alone a satirical one – encourage that? Is someone really likely to worship Muhammed rather than Allah on the basis of any cartoon?

There is no obvious connection – although perversely, the murders have now made the post-massacre Charlie Hebdo cover an icon in its own right, complete with its portrayal of the prophet.

And as Hussein Rashid, a professor of Islamic studies at Hofstra University in New York, told CNN, there’s a “bitter irony” in violent attacks against portrayals of the prophet, since they become, in effect, a “kind of reverse idol-worship, revering – and killing for – the absence of an image”.

So the murders have created one of the things that were feared in the first place.

The second theological response is that picturing the Prophet is a direct insult to Allah.

This is the point at which many will have real difficulty. How do you insult something that doesn’t exist? Or, if such a god does exist, then isn’t he big enough and powerful enough to take issue with any mere mortal who does ‘insult’ him?

Besides, how do you insult a god? And why would a god be so thin-skinned anyway?

Mind, if that’s what the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were doing, I think it counts as the ultimate ‘punching up’.

But there is a further matter of context. Take a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the prophet about to be beheaded by someone dressed as we’re used to seeing IS insurgents attired. The word bubble has him complaining that he is the prophet.

It’s pretty clear that what’s being suggested here is that the likes of IS are the ones doing damage to Islam – in terms both of reputation and, indeed, in the murder of so very many other Muslims across Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and so on.

Let’s ignore the nonsense accusations of racism, which start from a position of ignoring the fact that Islam is no more a race than Christianity.

And as for the faux empathy with ‘poor Muslims’ – a particularly patronising bit of Western, liberal guilt – would the same people condemn Charlie Hebdo cartoons satirising the Pope, given that many millions of Catholics live in abject poverty and squalor, even as the current Pope is telling them that no, they still shouldn’t use contraception, but not to ‘breed like rabbits’?

Have they forgotten (if ever they knew) that, while religion might well be the “sigh of an oppressed creature”, it is also “the opium of the people” – in other words, part of the problem.

The people who are now getting upset about the post-murders Charlie Hebdo cover are being whipped up by powerful religious leaders with their own agendas – and those agendas have nothing to do with promoting equality, education, opportunity or pretty much anything else that is in contradiction to their power and to the version of their religion that they use to control people.

Indeed, so successful is that winding up, that people have burned down churches in an entirely different country in protest at a cartoon – a country that hasn’t got enough of it’s own troubles with Islamic terrorists in the shape of Boko Haram, who think nothing of mass murder, mass kidnapping etc.

Priorities, eh?

'Weapons of Choice'
But then again, protests against the post-massacre cover are now also being whipped up in Pakistan, the site of December’s Peshawar school attack, when the Taliban – precisely the sort of fundamentalist goons who get het up about cartoons – massacred 141 people, of whom 132 were children, not because of Western imperialism, but precisely because they want to keep people uneducated.

It’s impossible not to remember Luther’s description of reason as the devil’s whore, as I point out what should by now be bleedin obvious: that pissing off shit-stirring clerics and religious leaders, who have power and use it negatively to keep people in an oppressed state, is punching up – not down.

Incidentally, the phrase the “opium of the people” was not new when Marx wrote it in the 1840s. In 1797, in his novel Juliette, Marquis de Sade has his eponymous character tell the king that ignorance is “This opium you feed your people, so that, drugged, they do not feel their hurts, inflicted by you”.

Sade spent a great deal of his adult life in prison. His repeated ‘crime’? That’s right: offending religious sensibilities – and his relatives were among those who were desperate to get him imprisoned.

And so we return to the question of offence. Who gets to decide what is allowed and what is not?

Freedom of speech must have limits, surely?

Well there’s an old philosophical point that you cannot just get to yell ‘fire!’ in a crowded building for the sake of it. The reasons should be obvious.

Many cartoons are grotesque – see the work of Ralph Steadman or Steve Bell. Should we ban them because of that? Only last year, the Times was forced to grovel an apology for a scathing Steadman cartoon on the state of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

I’d suggest that it was a pity they didn’t have more balls in the face of the offence taken by some.

There have been examples of cartoons by Muslims that are downright objectionable in their portrayals of Jewish people. Is this ‘punching up’, on the basis that those drawing them are probably ‘brown’ and those being drawn probably white?

But at what stage do we say that someone’s offense is reason to bar something? If so, who gets to choose?

Unless something is a direct incitement to violence against a particular group – and we have laws for that – then why ban anything?

Should we ban Bell’s portrayals of politicians if their party’s followers feel offended by them? Or only if he is unpleasant about something or someone we like?

Subjectivity should never be a basis for law or for banning anything or restricting free speech. And once we start down that path, there is no logical – or reasonable – reason to not ban anything and, ultimately, everything.

And don’t forget how glorious mockery can be too – for instance, in the wonderful Twitter reaction to Fox News’s uncritical allowing of a so-called extremism ‘expert’ to say that Birmingham was 100% Muslim and a no-go area for any non-Muslim?

Although given the ownership of Fox, that would probably also count as ‘punching up’.

But Twitter has also been on fire when countering factually incorrect and racist content from the likes of the EDL.

However, the EDL is not a sort of group that attracts powerful, middle-class people, but many who feel powerless and economically disenfranchised, and who look for scapegoats to why they’re not doing well. It’s classic kick-the-cat syndrome, and it’s also as old as the hills (hence the tragic rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice).

Does ridiculing EDL then, become ‘punching up’ because they’re racists and Islamophobes (and often sexists and homophobes too) or ‘punching down’ because of their lack (perceived or otherwise) of opportunity in a de-industrialised society that has never replaced all the skilled, manual jobs that formerly paid a decent and dignified wage?

We can – or at least should – be able to condemn the racism and see what feeds that at the same time.

Just as we should be able to empathise with the lives of the millions of Muslims who are living in poverty, in brutal dictatorships or theocracies – many being slaughtered or driven from their homes by Islamic fundamentalists – without pretending that religion is not a tool used by oppressors to maintain oppression, and without adopting an attitude that the ‘problem’ is cartoons that offend on the most spurious of grounds.

And we should be very wary of patronising certain groups by suggesting that their religious sensibilities deserve special consideration.

If we go down that route, what would the opinion be about Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who objected to the mere idea of performing a civil partnership ceremony for lesbian or gay couple – on the basis that it ‘offended’ her religious sensibilities?

Her employer – Islaington Council – disciplined and threatened to dismiss her. She claimed it was discrimination.

Eventually, some appeals and counter-appeals later, she lost her case on the grounds that, in essence, she wanted to be discriminated for on the basis of her religious sensibilities: she wanted different treatment from her colleagues, because of what she chose to believe.

Indeed, given that Ms Ladele had had a child out of wedlock it could be taken as her being a tad choosy about which bits of theology she chose to consider important and those she chose to ignore (always a problem with all religions).

Which leaves one thinking she might just have been a bigot.

So, were the unions involved and later, the assorted tribunals/courts, wrong?

Should she have been allowed special treatment because of what she chose to believe and how she chose to interpret her religion?

To apply the same stance as that of some on Charlie Hebdo, then she should have been treated differently because, well, you know, she’s black and, you know, many of ‘them’ are religious and obviously we can’t say anything ‘offensive’ about that.

See what I mean about patronising?

To conclude this particular post, some on the left might perhaps benefit from learning what happened to secular opponents of the Shah in Iran after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when their use to the theocrats had ceased.

• Note: no divinities have been insulted in the making of this post. I tweeted and re-tweeted a number of Charlie Hebdo cartoons in the immediate wake of the murders, but using some here as illustrations had the potential to get in the way of the argument.

• A further post is in development looking at the causes of Islamic extremism.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Snapshots of the morning commute

For many millions of Britons, the working day starts with a journey. It may be many miles or not so many; it may take hours or could be numbered in the minutes.

But whether on foot or by car, bus, train or tram, we travel to our places of work.

And while many people use that time to listen to music, read – or check up on social media and email – others have discovered that you happily use it as art time.

My morning journey usually takes around half an hour on two buses, so there’s not really time to sketch much, while I find that having nothing to rest on is awkward, particularly when you’re moving as well.

Then there’s always the question of whether people will be getting off at the next stop, leaving you with just the beginnings of a sketch.

But since I have, for the best part of the last year, adopted a routine of travelling early and then spending an hour over coffee in a café near work, that’s the drawing time.

It makes a good and relaxing start to a day, but it’s also a discipline and a challenge – the former simply because it has now become a habit to sketch/draw every day, which is good practice, and the latter, simply because of subject matter.

There’s only so many times I can draw what’s on the table in front of me or my surroundings.

Sometimes, I’ve created a still life out of what’s in my bag or even something I’ve carried with me for the purpose.

But another way around this is provided by my fellow travellers.

If there isn’t time to actually get out the pens and sketchbook on the bus, there’s often time to snap off a surreptitious shot on my phone – and then draw from that when sitting down with a coffee.

Street photography taught me some years ago that people are often oblivious to a great big camera being pointed in their direction, so the smartphone version is no difficulty.

That having been said, though, it does mean that all of the pictures are particularly well lit – even more so at this time of year when my morning journey takes place well before it’s light – while focus can also sometimes be a bit askance as we jolt around Londons roads.

But that, I think, can also add to the challenge – not least because a lack of precise detail can help you remember to look for the spirit of the picture without fretting about it being photographic (a trap I can still fall into).

It’s particularly fascinating to see how people lock themselves into a personal bubble, often – but not always – with music and/or social media/email.

There’s a tendency to consider these things as the preserve mainly of the young – to an extent that, in Germany at least, it’s even entered the language.

In a look at some of the best new words or phrases of the past year, highlighted the delightful ‘Generation Kopf unten’ – or ‘generation head down’ to give it its literal translation – as being a description of the generation that is always looking down at assorted devices.

As a slight aside, I love the combination of wonderful German literalness of this – the nations language keepers did worry about whether a TV picture should be ‘on’ or ‘in’ the screen – and the sense of it representing a far wider idea.

Anyway, as some of the sketches here show, it’s far from being a generational rule in London.

People are, of course, fascinating. And catching them candidly offers a totally different result than having anyone pose for you.

One of the things that these illustrate is the sense of how people use the in-between time that bridges home and work, when our options are limited by the facts of the journey, but these days, increased by technology.

But perhaps that is also indicative of why I hear so very few actual conversations on the bus too. They reveal a sense of isolation that is also indicative of a big city.

In the winter, when people are bundled up against the inclement weather, that isolation – that creation of a personal bubble – seems even more complete.

I’m beginning to see this as a project. After all, it records a different London from the one so often recorded: this is an early-morning city of ordinary people going to work, getting themselves psyched for the working day ahead – the motor of the capital.

They range from administration staff to cleaners some of the thousands of construction workers that are changing the landscape of the city – and goodness knows how many more roles that the city rarely celebrates, but without which it could not survive.

The evening bus rides home are different: more crowded and more noisy – not least with young people heading home from school and college, plus shoppers with the same aim in mind.

I hope you enjoy the selection of pictures posted here: it’s probably fair to say that, since these have all been done in the last three months, I’m on the cusp of becoming expert at drawing huge, padded coats.

Some are very light sketches. Other, depending almost entirely on what I was able to snap and from what position, are closer to portraits. I think that both sorts have a value.

From the top, the first one was done this morning – and what a wonderful look of concentration she has.

In the second, the huge hood makes me think of a fantasy character: every time that I look at this I think that he could be a modern version of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings.

There’s no gadget component to the third, but again, what a characterful face – and that is worth its weight in gold.

In the fourth, her beautifully-done hairstyle made me think of Josephine Baker, while I found it amusing that she was ‘plugged’ in to two devices.

The fifth down was the first I did (and is the only one done in sepia ink) and again, the concentration is extraordinary.

The sixth has a lovely sense of dignity – it was the one time thus far I've been tempted to add colour, since her dainty umbrella was red: a massive contrast with the heavy clothing.

The seventh also shows great dignity – and great serenity; newspaper folded neatly on his lap as we approached his stop.

The eighth is one of the sketchier pieces, but gives a little more of a sense of physical context.

The ninth gives more context yet, but still conveys the sense in which, at that time of day, people are very much in their own bubbles and concentrating on the day ahead

All are in black India ink (apart from the one mentioned above), on light-weight 16.5x15.5cm paper that is slightly tinted. I have made sure that all scans are on the same basis.

• All drawings copyright.