Sunday, 14 April 2019

Pond-err-ing the #Waitrose #Ducks


I’m still pondering – pond – erring? The Waitrose racist duck incident. My first reaction was how absurd, it’s a bird – a duck even. The other ducks are plain brown (named Crispy, presumably for its crispy centre?). The white one, is Fluffy for reasons, I imagine, that have gone before. The ‘racist’ duck is dark chocolate with pink splashes. This is the dodgy duck, according to members of the public that took to Twitter, tried Waitrose, found them quacking, I mean lacking, and had them punished: Waitrose had to take down the labelling and apologise – cue the stocks and the rotten tomatoes and the thought police. But is Waitrose racist? What were there intentions? Do they have an agenda to infect the minds of the public or were their intentions innocent – in which case, should they be tried by a sector of the public, found to be guilty and punished? This ‘reds under the beds’ mentality worries me. The road watched over by big brother is littered with innocents.

Given I could only find one response on Twitter from a person of colour, I contacted two of my African friends – a business woman from Sierra Leone and a friend from Zimbabwe. My SL friend said she saw both sides of the argument and my Zim friend pointed out that if you have walked around in skin that is not white, you will be alert to these issues: generations of non-whites have been made to feel ugly due to their difference. She and another friend on Facebook pointed out that there is no context to suggest homage to Hans Christian Andersen and that we should be alert to what is sewn into the fabric of society. Yes, but should we be policing the innocent for the sake of the sensitive? I am a victim of abuse by men, many times over. Sometimes, when I walk alone at night, and a man walks behind me, I feel the fear that I try to rationalise and overcome. Should men be banned from advertising (labelled 'dangerous') due to my fear? Though I met plenty growing up in Zimbabwe and when I spent 5 years in South-Africa (where, to be fair, plenty weren't as well) I honestly do not know any racists in London or in Wales, which isn't to say racism does not abound 'out there,' it resides in darkness. My view is it should be educated (rather than sought out with a microscope and 'punished' 'there or not?' - this never drives a thing away, it just gets peoples backs up if they don't see it, so that they might not see or hear it when it actually presents itself) out of people and all hued human beings need to be honest with themselves about the many-headed monster of hatred in all its ghastly guises.

I must, we must, take these points made by my friend who has suffered from racism seriously, but where do we draw the line in policing culture to make sure diverse groups are not offended? Those of us that do not see that the ugly duck incident was racist, should not be made to feel that we are racist given we don’t, though I think we should all have a heart check up when these kinds of things are flagged up. How on earth is that going to help mend bridges if any need to be mended if we unthinkingly shout each other down from our various high places? - though I understand emotion where there has been pain. My friend also made the salient point that it says more to her about the lack of diversity in key decision making departments, as this would not have passed a multiracial marketing board. Equal opportunity for all needs to continue to be addressed honestly in society – why? Why not? What can we do about it?

We all pick up subjective signifiers according to background and individual experience. My context was immediately Hans Christian Andersen in terms of the duck. I read ‘ugly’ in an ironic way, as, to me, the dark duck with pink splashes (don’t forget the splashes: as an artist, I read: ‘arty’, ‘creative’ = attractive as well as yummy; I prefer dark chocolate). The white fluffy one was dull - I can’t stand white chocolate. As for the crispy one, it didn’t register. Another friend of colour brought up subtext, but we cannot assume subtext, sometimes we get that wrong too. My main concern with the policing of public signifiers is that we are all coming at this from our varied directions and backgrounds. I don’t think this was a racist incident, though I wasn’t present at the marketing meeting when the decision was made. We need to hear from all sides though, no? If we police culture, we will drive extremists, on both sides underground where darkness proliferates. I prefer to be able to see people’s views and to test and sharpen my own views – and be open to changing them – alongside diverse opinions. I’ve noticed that invariably people like to react and attack – on both sides of the debate. Few respond reasonably and thoughtfully. I think, when we act from emotion, rather than reason we tread a dangerous path. It’s good to talk, not shout.

Should we be able to laugh at the duck debacle? Should we give 2 ****s about the Waitrose ducks? Some comments on my page made me squirm, some of the jokes were funny, meant to be ironic, though possibly not seen that way by all. I don’t police my author Facebook pages, so I have left them there as a comment on where people (on Facebook are coming from). This is not to say I agree with all of it but I do think humour should be allowed to walk the line and hover over the hairy edge as it were; but of course we do not want to deliberately hurt people and sensitivity to people and context are important. It’s a tricky business, but let’s keep the business open for all sorts of reasons.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Guppy Brain

It's my son's 6th birthday. He's systematically working through an age 9-16 Lego Technics present. His father is away and his mother is too guppy brained from the chemo to help him - not that he'd ask. He just gets on with it.

I've been reading over some of my on chemo posts. Editorial eeek! Apologies for not making sense. Stringing a sentence together verbally is a challenge. Words on a page often swim, my guppy brain floats within. I look rough too as you can imagine. I'm vainer than I cared to admit before I started down chemo road. I try to avoid mirrors but they catch me at inopportune moments. Thanks to my guppy brain (sorry guppies) I quickly forget the startling images, but they come back to haunt me as I walk down the street. But these are minor issues. The child on the floor concentrating on Technics; the other child making a Pinata for her brother's birthday and still another drawing detailed hamsters and cages. The big one is recording. He has a funny haircut shaped for the new Hugh Laurie spaceship film he's in as a 'featured extra'.' I've forgotten the funnyman director - the Stalin film one.

Yesterday my eldest skipped hand in hand with his siblings across emerald grass in the bright sun towards the local tennis courts singing Time for Tubby Tennis - the lawn looked like the one on Teletubbies. We all, even me managed a cack handed games of sorts, the kids scurrying around being ball boys and girl when the big one and me were careening around - I did wallop a few sets, before being whacked later, but it was worth it. Not sure if my chemo nurse would have deemed this restful enough, but by gad it rested my soul.

I'm enjoying just being with these children. I might be unable to concentrate on a book, I feel rough but observing these little beings - and the one big being - is about all that I am capable of doing, but all I want to do. Life becomes very simple when it's threatened. It's fragility is no longer questioned. The beauty in it's fragility becomes a frightening but fascinating reality. We're all on borrowed time. Make it count. I'm off to bounce balloons with the 6 year old who has just completed  his Technics project - 57 pages. Hats off kid. Sorry for the mistakes. Hopefully my ability to write will come back. If it doesn't I don't care. All my cares are right here.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Steroid Face Race


I had chemo again last Tuesday. As my other had to be away this week, a wonderful friend had my 3 youngest for the day. My new friend Jo came with me for the hospital sesh. Jo's a scream and a woman of vital faith. I can best describe her spirit as that of Rita's in Educating Rita, but on a God trip. Or Anna from Mr God This is Anna, but grown up, or should I say, growed up. We all had a blast, as did my surprised and indignant body - what again? it would say, which it can, through me, Are you crazy? Why would you put this stuff in you? Jo and I made friends with a South-African woman who had had several rounds of chemo, who in the finish, wanted prayer - when people have heavy sentences screaming around their heads, the meaning of life becomes a hot topic and friendships are made with ease given the openness of people's spirits. Some who are battling cancer become bitter, angry and complaining - it is tough, the chemo brings depression and futile thoughts with its grim but necessary death drive; but still more it seems, become open to the possibility of God. When people are vulnerable and dependent, their hope for something greater than them, greater even than the medics and their magic medicine, comes to the fore.

After an impactful time with my oncologist, who is pretty wonderful - bright, strong, clever and compassionate, as you would hope - we headed for the chemo ward, where I got hooked up to my chemo drip (the bit I hate the most - those squirmy needles being threaded into your vein, hate them!). But Jo and I began chatting and having a laugh - honestly, I really have been laughing my head dizzy every trip I've had for chemo. But then I do tend to go with Holy Rollers. The couple next to us began laughing and joining in with us, we'll call them Harriet and Tom, as they don't know they are making an appearance in this blog. Harriet is suffering from gall bladder cancer. She sat there, hairless, in her jeans and beads, one leg up and totally chilled and shared her graphic story with lots of laughs and good humour. We popped nuts together - actual nuts - though frankly, we soon discovered we were kindred spirits in the nut department in general. Jo runs an Alpha course and as we had been talking about some of the shenanigans that went on there, Tom asked about our own (different) experiences of God and the impact that has had on our lives. We had to be turfed out by the nurses who needed my spot, but not before making plans to hook up again, though without drips and needles at Harriet and Tom's smallholding.

Yesterday was a bit giddy bonkers thanks to the steroids. I left my purse in the library that was closed behind us as we left. I had to raid the kid’s piggy banks to get cash for my daughters singing and Brownie classes. My brain kept racing ahead of me and leaving the rest of me behind. My daughter and I prepared for her singing lesson with me mispronouncing the Welsh words of Llyn Onn, (no not Cling On), but hopefully grasping the melody though I may be grasping at pause. Then we bawled out Climb Every Mountain like a pair of demented operatic nuns. My boys and I had a good time making stuff - a guinea pig run for the one and a mouse fairground for the other. We chatted as we worked - well they worked, I tried to work but nothing attached to my torso seemed to work very well. At one point my 6 year old said: Remember when you had that hysterectomy and you watched The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills? That was totally inappropriate, all they did was argue. I tried to tidy up the studio but it was like juggling with clock hands - bits of material and partly done work all over the place. The joy of being creative in a creative space with the children - for whom there are no limits, was so refreshing despite discombobulated self.

Today I woke up with red eyes and a fat red steroid face and did my stretches as if I were in a race being run by Laurel and Hardy. The steroids have had me racing from one thing to another leaving a trail of half done stuff behind me. Homeschool turned into making, which turned into band practise for the kids, with lots of singing and dancing and being silly. It ended with a playdate here for my daughter, for which I decided to break out the deep fat fryer that my other bought on a whim on the weekend. The literature warned that it should not be used by people with physical or mental health problems - I ignored the advice and was soon the star of my very own Chicken Shack, mandem, red face, eyes and all. The kids were even served fries with those sieve like metal basket thingies like at Harveys. Classy, moi?

Steroids? Bleurgh. Chemo? Bleurgh, though I'm glad for the laughs and the people I have met, some with indomitable spirits. There were lovely messages today and a proper letter - albeit an electronic one - from a dear friend who knows what is important in life and transposes her thoughts beautifully into written words. Life rolls on and so do the Holy Rollers. Here's to laughing, singing, dancing, children and friends - the trampoline effect that propels you upwards out of the dark.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

#Anger and #Activism

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Robert Kennedy via BrainyQuote

I left jail in 2015. Not a physical one, but a jail I had been in since 1975 – or possibly since birth. An incident happened that December, instigated by my mother and seized upon by some South-African cohorts of hers, that was, for me, after many years of abuse of all kinds, the final act of abuse that I was going to try to withstand and come back from. It was the end for me. I was never going back for more, despite the circumstances at the time; though I tried, until my mother died to bring understanding between us and I did not give up hope until she died. When I left the jail my mother had fashioned for me, I knew that I had to separate forgiveness from justice. I accepted too, that forgiveness does not mean restoration, and that my situation with my mother certainly seemed untenable. 

Like unchecked anger, unforgiveness is a consuming fire. Without forgiveness, bitterness results and poison is consumed. But what my mother and others did to me as a child was partly a dark gift (up until I stopped enabling what was going on, simply by being there and, given I loved my mother, I was constantly managing my painful relationship with her.) From my perspective as an outsider I was able to see more clearly what had happened to me and to begin to heal properly. (I was ever the outsider but I was breathing the toxic air of an insider and thus unable to see clearly enough as to what was going on, though I had experienced much physically already, and knew a lot of what my mother said about me). By leaving my jail, I was able to look more fully, from a place of perspective, at the horrible truth, to sort through it, and then to look resolutely away: I am not like them. I will not be like them. I will not hate, no matter how much evil they perpetrate against me. Most people prefer not to look, so they continue to act out of their festering wounds (and who doesn't have wounds?), rather than expose those wounds, however painfully to the light of healing. As Nina Simone said, "You've got to learn to leave the table, when love's no longer being served."

I am still angry at the injustices and cruelty perpetrated by my mother and others that she allowed to abuse me in various ways. Throughout my life, when I began to push back, she began to silence me. Some of these ways I was aware of, some I have recently discovered through the process of the court case that I have brought - more exposure to the painful laser light. My anger at what happened will remain. I remain angry enough to speak out. Angry enough to bring a court case given my mother's final act of cruelty regarding my maternal uncle’s estate. And rightly so, though that anger will be harnessed by me, and on behalf of myself and others. When people are cruel to one another; when people abuse or lie and cheat and steal, the emotion of anger is the appropriate one, though the intensity of the emotion must be worked through and defused; the heat and the power of it can be channeled. 

On the 29 Jun 2016, having suffered another breakdown triggered by my mother and other relations actions towards me, and having struggled as a result, through 6 horrific months of depression that for me looked like no sleep and medication for deep depression, I wrote this: Anger is an important emotion when it is controlled and channelled in the right way. Let anger lead to activism, creativity: transformation. Even empathy and healing. I think the skill is to control the anger rather than have the anger control you. My mother had planned much worse for me, but I was already in the process of breaking free and in the process I was grappling to harness some very dark feeling. However justified, I knew I could not let feeling get the better of me, given I was determined to act in the long term. It has been a long hard walk to freedom and I am still shaking off the shackles. Liberty can and will win out.

There has been good: Working through what happened to me as a child has made me a stronger person and a mother more determined to fight for and protect my own children. Discovering who my mother really was released me from my prison of torture and suffering (I always gave her the benefit of the doubt, even when she consistently lied to me and about me Does she realise what she is doing? Does she believe what she is saying? Is she on the scale? Why does she hate me?). I don't think I would have become an activist in my own way without my family conditioning. I was an activist in South-Africa during apartheid in that I faced up to the police regime in various ways there – for instance, interfering when the police picked up black children off the streets amongst other episodes; one of which involved tear gas. 

I have remained an activist – one who acts in the face of injustice - in that when I see injustice, I instinctively react to it. Perhaps given I never felt safe or protected as a child, that I can easily be triggered out of any 'comfort' zone. One night in Brixton, during the 90’s, I ran out of the flat I lived in, into the middle of the deserted road to help a woman who was being smashed in the face as she was being mugged. The mugger ran off. As I took her upstairs, I noticed all the people watching from the windows. Later, the police, having reeled off a number of knife related muggings in the area from that week, commended me but advised me not to interfere again. The point is, I didn't think, I just acted. I had been conditioned. How? Where does this, impulse, this compulsion, perhaps this need, even, to act, come from? I guess via my own conditioning. I relate these things not to look like a heroine, but to understand myself. The truth is, I act without thought, not to look good. But perhaps to feel good? To give my life meaning beyond myself?

I began to push back when I was 17. I left apartheid South-Africa, underaged and alone. It was an obvious choice. I did not want to live in apartheid South-Africa and I was not attached to the family my mother had created with my stepfather. In the mid-eighties in the UK, I came to know the family of my grandparents on both sides, and in whom I recognised myself. Later I (re)met my father who I had not seen since the early 70s, and my Portuguese family. Maybe it was because I had no sense of belonging, that I was quick to recognise the underdog. Not sure. But does it matter, from whence it comes? Love, empathy, conviction, should lead to action. No? Perhaps I needed to align myself with others who were/are hurting? I would not have got involved with helping the Karen people of Burma and I would not be taking this #1975Inheritance Act case, were it not for the injustices of my life that began in 1975 - uncanny huh? The year it began for me was the year the case was made to help me: I speak of the #1975InheritanceAct. I did not learn empathy from my mother or my father - my mother wiped my father out of my life - heck, she wiped me out of her life too, that was her way (and that of others close to her) with anyone who crossed her - nor anyone in my living family – they would not know empathy if it knocked on their door dressed up as all the ills in the world. I learnt it from the injustices experienced and observed during my own life, and deciding: no. I will not be like these people. Further, I will do something about the suffering I see. 

Perhaps identification has something to do with it. My grandpa, who was my father figure, fought the Japanese in Burma in the second world war; he was scarred by it. As a civilian, he worked tirelessly for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. As a lifelong member of Toc H, he often took me along as he went to children's homes and other places to show films - he had a film camera with which he recorded family life - as well as reels of the classics: Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks and so on. He was colour blind in a country with an enforced colour bar. I know he agonised over the political situation and what to do for the best. He was always sympathetic to suffering. When I began work for the Karen people of Burma, as the chair of the former charity, Hand in Hand for Asia, my grandmother told me my grandpa (who died when I was 17) would have been proud of me. Those words meant so much, given he was my childhood hero, and particularly since I came from a family that put me down at every turn and actively despised me. It wasn’t all bad. My grandparents and their siblings and the children thereof have been my family happiness and security. My friends have always been my family. My 'parents,' in the way they treated me, gave me the ability to stand apart. In their lack of empathy for me and for what I had suffered at their hands and others in the family (and worse, the denial thereof), I was able to stand in opposition. I resisted what went on in my family and in my country. I stood apart. That was my beginning as an activist. There is still much to be done and I remain determined to act.


Wednesday, 20 February 2019

#Chemo Ho Ho

The Bible says that laughter is the best medicine. Proverbs 17:22 for the scholars among you. If I hadn't found a way to laugh, even through the darkest of trials, I simply would not be here, particularly given the recent ghastly epoch that began in December 2015. From whence dost though laughter flow? Well not from my mother’s womb (though my beloved grandfather was Liverpudlian funny – is it something in the Mersey?), there weren’t many cards in my family; they were more Jeremy Kyle Show than Father Ted or Blackadder - apart from the only decent bloke that married into the family. His name was Glen, but I called him Glenda Fender Bender. Sharp as a dart, his comments would fly mostly overhead pointing up and pinning people’s thoughts to his invisible board - invisible, unless you perceived the same bawd, that is. He used to make me howl with laughter while his wife and children sat there po-faced. Glenda was also decent, hardworking and generous. He didn’t last long in the family either, sadly. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to see my father nor continue in my father’s tongue so I have no idea whether they were a hoot or not, though I have plenty of photos of my father mincing about on various stages (he was a thesp). There are plenty of photos of him in nightclubs in vibrant seventies suits having a laugh – before he appears to become increasingly portly – too much port? Nay, I discovered Monty Python, Spike Milligan and The Goons on the radio at a young age. I was never the same again. T’was a revelation. Those chaps were as silly and absurd as me! They used the same voices I used on my younger brother to extract laughs when we were swinging upside down from the avo tree in or when I was changing the plot of stories at bedtime to make them ruder or more absurd.

All my friends, from age 6 ( I was a bit of a loner before that for probable reasons best left unsaid for now) until the present, were either downright whacky, or ridiculously comical. Their senses of humour were as an axe to a dull table found in a skip preparing for rebirth or shabby shit as my husband would say. As I write this, I realise too that, the men and women I am thinking about who have made me laugh most over the years, are amongst the most courageous people I know. Could it be that humour aids resilience, or that the resilient are more humorous? Perhaps given my past, I have always sought to people my life with the crack ups amongst us. My beloved best friend – at fourteen, we gelled outside biology class where having studied me during class, she began taking the mick out of me, honing in on my weaknesses and making me laugh at them. Soon we were sharpening our humour on each other and egging the other on. We were merciless with our toupee wearing history teacher. One day we both climbed out of his window in protest at him 'teaching us' by reading out of the textbooks that we had for an hour. As we thought, he didn’t even look up. I’m not sure he realised when we had gone. We riffed and smoked in the toilets instead.

Which brings me to my next point about humour. Most humourists have a touch of the renegade about them. They are inclined to point up and protest, with wit, what is unjust. When Miss Geldenheis, one of the hostel teachers that lived in with us at school hostel, accused me of throwing looks at her husband as if, Jane banged on her door one evening to explain to her why she was wrong to think this and more wrong to say so. For starters, it was explained, I was into skinny deathly pale goths at the time, and this dude was a South-African golden boy. Jane also understood my passionate love of the writings of John Lennon. In fact she could have written some of it. Jane wrote to me not long ago to tell me what she felt about our friendship. This was long before my recent diagnosis - it wasn't a panic letter because she thought I was going to frek, but one of the things she said was that she had never met another who made her laugh as much as me. I feel exactly the same as she does. When two people hit the bite, that zing of mutual appreciation in the you crack me up stakes, theres nothing like it. I basically left home at 14, when I started working and making my own money. I was also at boarding school and spent my weekends that I wasn't staying with friends in Hillbrow, with Jane in Walkerville with her crackpot family. Her mother became my mother, her...nah I wasn't up for the rest and Jane would well understand that. I was gutted when Jane's mum died. Her mum didn't go in for rules much. She'd leave Jane's car (from when Jane was 14) where the bus dropped us off, and Jane would drive us home up a long dirt road to their small holding as the sun set. A night of merciless banter was in store following Jane's mum frying up some aubergine dipped in batter while regaling us with stories that she and her business partner - a scream of a queen in both senses got up to.

There is a full deck of cards in the family I have with my husband. My husband is quiet and dry in temperament and humour. His father is a scouse scream. My adult son Luca is hysterical. The last time I went to see him, as he spotted me coming up the road, he pulled up the sash window at his apartment block and began a comical, Chaplinesque waving routine that included throwing body shapes to match the head and slow wave movements and the hello...hellllo...helloes uttered in some foreign accent, that he kept up for the time it took me to walk off Highgate Road and up the wide path to the block. I put my suitcase down and crossed my legs in between filming him on my phone while builders stared. Later he performed an hilarious Michael Jackson shuffle in his flat during the entire phone call in which he spoke to the council. He switched to disco for the ‘on hold’ music – serious music face all the way through, while I rolled around on the floor. He’s a brilliant mimic. The other three kids are a laugh too. I think growing up around it is catching. We are a laughing family.

When I went for my first chemo, my step-cousin Karen, who is basically my only sister, and to whom I have always been very close, drove up from London to hang with me. Did we laugh? We howled with laughter through the whole thing. We have been laughing from the day we first met aged 6 and 5. Every time a nurse read out the list of awful things that were predicted to happen to me, we would look at each other and go: Or not? And start laughing. We soon began to have a reputation, and a lot of fun with the nurses - don't go there. Yesterday, for chemo, I was on my own. My other gets bored and falls asleep, so he was best off teaching the children. For me it was chemo cocktail time with some fascinating old folks that are also getting their chemo cocktails - I kid you not - the chemo is mixed especially for you and described as such. Not the kind of cocktail you might wish for but if you get in the vibe you can still have a good time. I'd already upped the mood by singing my Hey Ho Cheeeemo song before I left the house, accompanied by that push out move you do with your hands while twerking, to the accompaniment of some of my kids laughing and joining in and another eye rolling, particularly at the twerking bit. Oh Mum, please don't jiggle your bum...

At the ward I was soon watching phone videos of the prodigiously talented child of one of the nurses children singing Welsh ballads. Donna, was the nurse - Bet I know the kind of kebab you get in a takeaway shop, the old man quipped. Yeah, oldest joke in the book, What'll you have? Donna kebab! she retorted. I also had a laugh exchanging anecdotes with my chemo nurse about how one particular pain drug given for significant pain can make you behave like you are the patient equivalent of the drunk snogger at the office Christmas party (the same one I wrestled like a nutter to keep when a nurse told me it was time to give it up after recent surgery.) Later, when the ice was broke at the laughter shop, and when having taken my drip trolley with me to the loo, I got the drip wire entangled around the trolley pole, I danced around the drip pole as I kicked up my legs to untangle myself, while the old couple hooted. My nurse clocked me from the corridor as he approached the glass panelled doors. I saw you dancing, he laughed. Better than lying there in a cold cap as I could have done - not that I'm knocking cold caps - it just wasn't my choice. Hair loss was an 'or not' for me, though as I’ve said, I would have gone with the fro. As it is, I'm sticking to laughter. As I left the nurses called out to me by name to say goodbye. Everyone appreciates a good laugh – it’s light skewering the darkness and connects us in our humanity, weak and frail as it sometimes is. The tougher life becomes the greater the dose of the best best medicine required.