Monday 19 February 2018

Nine Years

                                                      Nine years ago this afternoon
                                                      You were putting the kettle on.
                                                      Making a cup of tea.
                                                      Answering e-mails.
                                                      The future still imagined.
                                                      If I knocked on your door
                                                      I would see you again,
                                                      Walking along the hall to open it.
                                                      So ordinary.
                                                      Still here.

                                                        The sea holds a part of you
                                                        So it’s where I come,
                                                        And write your name in the sand
                                                        With shells, and as I finish,
                                                        The top of ‘P’ has walked away!
                                                        I realise your name will be dispersed
                                                        By tiny legs even before the waves
                                                        Can take you, and it’s like the beach
                                                        Is coming alive, to make us laugh.
                                                        Everything is absurd.

                                                        Afternoon grows into evening
                                                        Small bodies wriggle between
                                                        the shells of their ancestors
                                                        Waiting for the tide
                                                        To take them home. 
                                                        And you would be there 
                                                        Swivelling in your chair
                                                        In front of the computer.
                                                        If I rang your phone now
                                                        There is still time
                                                        For you to answer.


Sunday 19 February 2017

Eight Years

Four years ago I made a little film to get through the difficult February days that still felt so raw. 
It totally absorbed me and helped a lot:
For My Brother

Now another four years have passed! Another February 19th and 20th shuddering across the rift in the fabric of our personal universe.

As always I walk along the beach, empty my thoughts into the waves, listen to them breaking on the stones. 

These words have been in my mind today, found recently on a card designed by artist Freya Ete.
Freya Ete


I tell myself a story, how there was a benevolent tide that night, soothing and comforting. 
Gathering you safely away from the clutches of the demons you fought with. 
Not so much bracing, as embracing. 
Not so much drowning you, as drowning your sorrows.
Gathering the beauty of you.
Gathering with kindness, 
gathering into the warm shining arms of family 
who had passed before, gathering you home. 

I tell myself a story, how you were in the company of the stars above you, guiding and reassuring.
Lighting your way with such a welcoming glow you could never be lost again.
Not so much alone in the dark, as igniting your own spark.
Not so much dying, as flying, high and free.
Knowing the beauty of you.
Knowing how much you were loved,
how love will always be gathered in the folds of the hearts 
you left behind on the shore, keeping you safe.

'All the most beautiful things are gathered by the tide'


Tuesday 6 September 2016

Not-Back-To-School again

The start of the new Not-Back-To-School year is always a time to take stock of where we've come to.

Having been home-educated his whole life, my 15yr old teen has never experienced the September thrill of standing at the front door for a photo in his new uniform. So with a pang of guilt this morning for what he's missed out on, I did consider sneaking into his room at about 11am to get a proud mummy moment pic of him wrapped up sleeping in his relatively recently laundered duvet. But then the moment seemed too sacred to disturb ;)

It's two years since I wrote a lengthy piece on not going back to school. I re-read it this morning and saw that this was written just one month before his father unexpectedly left and our entire personal and educational life changed and I can now confirm the truth of that old Philip Larkin quote 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad'. Which is a challenging truth to face in relation to yourself and all the expectations and intentions that you wanted and dreamed of providing for your child.

Home educating as a single parent has not been easy. But it is still my son's choice. And I am still committed to an educational philosophy and practice that is about consent; that honours individual choice and freedom; that trusts a person to learn what has meaning and value for them without coercion. A practice which trusts that even when things go wrong and at times when the ground appears frozen, infertile and broken, the most unexpected seedlings can emerge to surprise you, in places no one could have mapped out, and in ways no one else could have imagined, much less prescribed.

I don't believe in compulsory curriculums but if I had to create one, it would include a lot about RESILIENCE when the world, or somebody, or yourself and your own demons, tries to break you. It would be about trusting in those diehard seedlings that will spring up out of the asphalt to amaze and inspire you, make you smile and take you on a whole new adventure of growth and opportunity. Sometimes schools or elsewhere can teach this better than some children's home lives can (and it goes without saying that there are some awesome and inspiring, if tired and frustrated, teachers) but facilitating learning in a voluntary, cooperative and individually tailored way without a focus on grades and exams, requires a huge shift in the State approach to education.

So we're still here, being pretty damn resilient in most cases, and looking back, we've done quite a big mix of stuff but a couple of things that have been a particularly big part of life over the past year (which I have slightly complicated feelings about) are:

* unrestricted 'screen time' (although I am not allowed to use the generic term of 'screen time' as he points out that it derogatively lumps together a hugely diverse range of activities, media, tutorials, films, game playing, game development, coding, communication with friends, digital art, music etc).

* virtual reality - possibly the most potent escape and distraction from your own life that there can be without chemicals, whilst you're still sitting in your own bedroom (though personally I prefer a good book!). So we've climbed Everest and been in space and under the earth in caves, but my favourite was sat in a jazz bar with Vincent Van Gogh looking out at a starry sky...

I'm guessing that the following year will be more of the same, the ups and downs, the planned and the unexpected, the moving on towards adulthood whatever that means (I'm still trying to figure out what that one's about).

And as for a new 'school' year pic - well my son doesn't want one, so here's a pic I took at a home ed camp last year of a cute beetle going about her day just doing her own thing, which is sometimes the most excellent achievement of all.

Friday 11 December 2015

Calais Visit 3

Since I got back from Calais I’ve been noticing clothes a lot more. I realise that after just a few days my mind has become fairly acutely attuned to categorising things in terms of ‘suitable’ and ‘unsuitable’. That is, suitable or unsuitable for protection in a refugee camp, in Winter. The distinction between the two, representing much more than a piece of clothing. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ piles representing a distinction between on the one side - entitlement; privilege; resources; choices... Whilst on the other side – survival. Mostly that – survival, and the retaining of human dignity.

Last night at work back in the UK (welcoming people coming to the Panto) I noticed the men wearing thin clean white jumpers (there were quite a few) and suddenly the ‘unsuitable’ label pops into my mind shining a light on the simple privilege I wouldn’t have considered before Calais. Thin white jumpers which assume heating and clothes-washing facilities and a frequent change of clothes. Jumpers which in Calais would have been thrown firmly on the ‘no’ pile.

I notice people wearing shoes – that is, any kind of footwear that is not a trainer (suitable for running to jump on lorries/trains) or wellies/hiking boots (suitable for walking on muddy, flooded, bumpy ground). ‘Unsuitable’ shoes which assume the privilege of having solid even floors and pavements to walk on. Footwear which does not require the judgement of being more or less likely to give you trench foot...

Fellow volunteers – when I close my eyes I’m still searching the waist sizes of jeans! And taping boxes...

And seeing so many faces – the faces of the people who stood in the long line to take the toiletry packs we handed them from the back of the van. I am remembering all their faces – the smiles, the laughing ‘hello’s’ and ‘thank you’s’, the faces with pain in them, the downcast eyes, the joking, the disappointed faces, the hopeful and the resigned. The bald man taking the shampoo and catching my questioning expression - ‘yes, yes, I need’ as he rubs his head laughing. Laughing together.

I see the faces of the two young men from Afghanistan and hear their voices telling us about arriving on the boat in Greece, how scary it was, and about how they felt so touched by the kindness of people welcoming them ashore with cups of tea and biscuits, how they would never forget it.

I see the woman and young boy carrying a crate of bananas between them. There must have been a fruit distribution. Suddenly there are lots of people holding apples and bananas. A man who sees me tying bin bags around the fence where a rubbish point is, offers his banana. The generosity of people is so incredibly humbling.

I see the faces of the boys walking alongside our car drawing hearts in the raindrops running down our windows.

I smile seeing the little girl who is laughing and laughing, and sticking her tongue out at these funny people who have turned up in her field and are doing such a silly dance ‘Oh the hokey cokey...’ and insisting on sharing her smarties with us.

I see the woman’s face as she steps out from between the tents and we smile at each other and she is nodding her head to me, and it feels like between both of us there is a big longing unspoken welcome. I have never realised until that moment, how deeply it feels a smile, merely a genuine smile, can connect hearts through untold boundaries and differences. I can still feel her smile in my heart.

Our team – dropping donations; building shelters; repairing homes; working in the medic caravan; teaching English in the library; making up and distributing food parcels; sorting shoes; making up and distributing clothing and toiletry packs; joining a peaceful protest organised by refugees about the boy killed on the road and demanding to be treated as human beings; talking to people... Just four days of helping where we could, which is such a tiny drop in the ocean of support and change that is so desperately needed. It feels so inadequate, because it is. But if you are able to go, for whatever amount of time, please go. It will make a difference and sometimes the difference that it will make could be immeasurable. And there are amazing volunteers there who would really appreciate some help

One time when we were working in the warehouse, the dance track that was playing had the words ‘to understand is to transform’. It stuck in my mind. By participating in the work here, by meeting the people, we gain an understanding that no amount of media can give, and it is transforming. How much this has the power to transform the appalling and shocking injustice and harm taking place at Calais and to refugees around the world, is yet to be seen. But the old adage is clear – we can’t wait for our ‘leaders’ to do the right thing, we need to be the change we wish to see. And keep on moving towards understanding.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Calais Visit 2

Our first stop was at the L’auberge des migrants warehouse where we spent a couple of hours stocking up vans for the convoy we were joining for the afternoon’s distribution. We combined our blankets, sleeping bags and tents with those of others so that each van only contained one type of item for a more efficient and quick distribution once at the jungle. Other items were put in their relevant categories in the warehouse where we joined other volunteers sorting through the mountain of clothes.

Donations at L'Auberge des Migrants

More donations were arriving all the time and lots more people are desperately needed to help with sorting through it all, so that it’s possible to get it where it’s needed in the camp. If anyone’s got any days to spare- the warehouse needs you! I filled my empty car with items not required, to bring them back home instead of adding to the growing disposal issue in the warehouse. An enormous truckload of pallets turned up which was brilliant as shelter-building is the big thing in Calais over the next couple of months. The pallets are making great floors for the new structures which are rapidly going up each day in the camp.

Once in the camp the vans were opened one at a time or far enough away from each other so as to keep things as calm as possible. People formed the familiar lines behind the vans and if not helping with the actual distribution procedure we took the opportunity to chat a bit with people who were waiting. I was struck by how much joking, laughter and smiles were shared with us, the ability of people to keep such a strong sense of humour under the harsh and awful conditions they are surviving in. Others talked of their journeys or their families elsewhere. It’s hard to hold back the tears. The man who wanted to show us his phone video of his children left behind in Syria, film of them laughing and in his arms, “I miss them so much”. Saying he hadn’t been able to speak to them for a week now and had heard there had been a bomb just a couple of houses away. He had felt the journey could be more dangerous for them so he left first to try and secure a safe home in the UK which he could bring them to. How hard to weigh up the least dangerous decision of only inherently dangerous options.

Another thing which was striking over our visit was the generosity of people. People wanting to share their small amount of food or make us tea, serve us a meal, offer a chair to sit on... So many greetings “Hello, how are you?”and shaking of hands. Constantly feeling humbled by the people we meet.
We dropped several boxes of tools, diy stuff, tarps etc to the builder’s corner which is a constant hive of activity, hammering and sawing, putting the frames together for the ‘houses’ which are replacing the inadequate tents for the growing numbers of families, women and children coming to the camp. I was told an estimate of about 200 more people are arriving each day. I met several people just arriving while I was there, looking a bit bewildered, tired or asking where they could find medical care. There is nowhere near enough medical care for all those who need it. The shelters are based on priority need, families with children, so for now, many are turned away when approaching for wood or ‘houses’. This is where I decided to plant a large amount of my donation cash as it feels like this is the most urgent need at the moment with colder weather, rain and Winter coming.

In this field, we also arrived while a great community atmosphere was being expressed through Kurdish music and dancing, which we clapped along or joined in with. The resilience of spirit again which is so evident here!

The amazing smile of the pregnant woman I talked with, pointing to her belly and saying “nine month”, about to give birth living in her tent here with the life-threatening level of hygiene issues within the camp – how could anyone find this situation acceptable and not entirely shameful of our governments?

When I went back to the car for some more tools, two small girls were playing, running hand in hand laughing through the grass amongst  the butterflies...The shining beauty of these young lives held captive and placed in danger here by our Government’s cruel border policies.

As we drove back to the tunnel we passed groups of men on the long walk to risk their lives again in the nightly attempt to cross to the UK, and wished so deeply that we could assist them safely to a new life in safety. 

Saturday 29 August 2015

Calais Visit 1

I just returned from visiting the refugee camp at Calais and have been asked by several people to tell how it all went and I feel strangely stuck - I think because of the enormity that it touches on, and the immensity of feeling that arises from directly looking into the eyes of someone asking you with such desperation for a blanket, or for shoes and knowing your country's politicians and media are doing their best to erase their humanity. And because the words - sorry I have no more shoes, sorry there are no more blankets left - make me feel ashamed and make my heart hurt.

The first person to approach me was an elderly man who was pointing through the car window, asking quietly for a blanket. And for trousers. I wanted him to wait so that I could get him a blanket and trousers. He was saying 'I came from Pakistan' and was starting to say more, but there were a lot of people gathering and I lost him before I opened the car, distracted by police threatening to pepper spray people. I don't know why the police turned up threatening to spray people. I wondered if it is partly to put people off from bringing aid. I have heard his voice and seen his face in my mind all day today. I really hope he gets a blanket from someone else soon.

Other faces and voices are still being processed in my mind.
Sister, why did you not give me a jacket?
Because you were not in the line, I'm sorry.
But I waited for an hour.
I'm sorry.

Look at my feet, I have no shoes. Please you have shoes?
Lots of people showed me their feet in their split shoes or their flip-flops.
Sorry - I will bring more shoes next time.

Please a blanket, I am cold. Very cold at night, I cannot sleep.
There are no blankets left, I am sorry.

Shoes, please. There are no shoes left.

I took no photo's. I would have liked to, but each time I thought to reach for my phone, it didn't feel appropriate. French TV crew turned up and continued to film despite being asked to stop. A person's dignity. A person's consent. Concepts for the media to reflect upon.

As we were about to leave, a young boy, maybe 8 or 9, came to the car. The car was empty now except for a bag of pots of party bubbles I had brought in case I met any children. I pass him the bag and when he looks inside his face turns into a big excited open-mouthed smile. That moment. I don't know anything about him or what difficulties he had journeyed through to end up living in the appalling conditions of this refugee camp but even if I had brought nothing else that day, it was worth it to see that boy's smile and to bring him some moments of bubble fun.

Despite my car not being a van I had managed to pack in what had been almost a whole roomful of stuff that had been collected in my house, leaving out only a couple of bagfuls. Compared to the need, it felt next to nothing, but when I started to feel deflated by how minimal our contribution, I was reminded that it was not nothing...  Thank you Hayley...Tonight some people will sleep in a tent or under duvets or in sleeping bags that they didn't have before. Some people will be wearing warmer clothes, wearing shoes on their feet, brushing their teeth, eating organic beans... Someone will be playing swingball and some kids will be blowing bubbles.

It's a tiny sticking plaster that leaves me feeling sickened, sad and angry at our politicians lack of humanity, but nourished by the goodness of people who are taking some responsibility into their own hands, however small, and refusing to buy into a narrative that is becoming more cruel, and more wrong each day.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Early Evening On Milton Common

Apple blossom and May flowers.
A fox sat still in the evening sun staring.
Buttercups and boats sailing.

Something about the clouds... and childhood.  Mine.
Laying in the summer grass near a round wood.

And my mum, knowing the names of everything.
Clouds, birds, flowers...

Enough blue sky to make sailors trousers forever.
Or so I thought.

Somewhere tonight my Dad is walking amongst bluebells
and I was too busy to go with him.

Everyone I pass is hand in hand
and the birds are flying together, home.

Mind insistently settles on everything that has gone wrong.

...When a little dog tears through my thoughts
Scattering them into a million fragments of now
each one exclaiming Look! We are alive! Catch me!
This here is all there is
And all there ever was...

It’s enough.