I sympathised. I’d been feeling discombobulated since discovering at 0610 that morning that the lid of my portable teacup had other plans for itself leaving me with tea, yes, but stored loose in my bag and right trouser leg. My dark walk has a brutalist beauty of its own and the buses themselves are like great illuminated tea-clippers buffeting through the streets, to a station with a great café. I usually cycle and occasionally drive but am an enthusiast for buses, tubes, trains and riverboats, especially now I’m over 60, thank you taxpayer. The gloomy bus stop offered enough cover for mopping.
Mr Gibb, former Schools Minister, is also over 60 and has just been ferried away from Sanctuary Buildings where he has kept an iron and hitherto permanent grip on education policy. This is Gibb of phonics, Gibb of the Ebacc, Gibb of 11 years, Gibb the immoveable – gorn. Not without a shout over his shoulder, though ‘Don’t dumb down. Don’t let the softies take over. Don’t get all child-centred. There’s only one way’ meaning that education left to educators must necessarily be rubbish. But we don’t know if that’s true or not, do we? Not since 1988 and the Great Reform Act. Since then, it’s been dominated by regulators and politicians. At least Gibb stuck with it. Belloc springs to mind, as ever ‘always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.’ Or as the zen masters have it: who knows what is good or bad? Too early to tell, I’ll keep you informed.
But in the evening of the tea catastrophe I found myself at the station in the dark, trying to get home. I had phone calls to make and a book to read so it wasn’t until I was on the train that I remembered the murder of a young teacher about 300 metres away, the previous Friday. Should I have been worried? A parent had congratulated me for being northern just that home-time (though its not something I had much choice about as a child). Was I being tough and gung-ho to have forgotten the danger, or is that something to do with being 60 too?
Women are in danger on our streets. Violence against women and girls is global and endemic. No amount of telling women to stay out of dark areas or carry gadgets or walk in groups alters that. We need proper laws about violence against women upheld by sufficient police and courts. We need to talk about it in schools and make sure that our young men are women’s allies, and we need enough public servants at ground level to make the world a better place.
What would have been the point of worrying on the station? Would it have got me home faster? I don’t go out at night much, but I tell people that’s because I’m tired and antisocial, not because I’m fearful of the streets. But what if the one is so deeply engrained that the other follows? Have I lived, have all women lived, constrained lives because of the undercurrent of violence? What if that is too terrible to contemplate, so we just work around it?
Sometimes adults tell me that young people make the streets dangerous and frightening. In turn, I sometimes say that one solution would be for adults literally to get out more, so that the streets are mixed and passively supervised by ordinary people going about their business. But Sabina Nessa was doing just that, going home, through a pleasant neighbourhood, after a day spent serving the young as an educator. What else was she meant to do? Live at work?
We’re going to mark Sabina Nessa’s death with a moment of whole-school reflection. It's right that we do, because of our commitment to ending violence against women and because the murder was so very close. But it won’t bring her back, or all the women before her or all the ones who’ll come after. Talking to another woman at school, she said ‘When you read of another murder you always sort-of hope there’s a link, a reason, that makes the next one less likely to be you. I know it’s wrong to think like that’. What have we become?
Women and girls aren’t the only people in danger in our world, but they are in danger, far and near. Violent misogyny won’t be solved by vigils and candles, but by concerted, expensive effort to remove the threat. Given the sum of human knowledge and learning, sensitivity and inventiveness, couldn’t we care enough to solve this, soon?