Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Smiling abreast

September is here and I see I have not blogged for two months. Much has happened. My right breast had a smile cut into it below the right nipple whilst various bits and pieces were extracted and I have been told to recuperate: "You won't feel right for several months, I had to do some restructuring," my consultant told me cheerfully when I went for the follow up - she has been excellent (and frank, Miss Franks even) in all her ways. That would account for the pain - mostly manageable but occasionally stabbing - a fleshly reminder of my composition. I am well and do not need to return, but my heart is with those frightened faces I saw in the waiting room and with my stepmum-in-law who is in the hospice: her breast did not give news to smile about. My own dear mother has not received good news about her health either. And so we pray and consider what we are made of.

If we believe that we are more than bodies, our bodies are temples that house the spirit and the soul: mind, will, emotions, personality. Should we not believe in the spirit, then perhaps the body takes on yet a deeper, perhaps even spiritual (to many) significance. To all, the body is a marvel and a wonder and in my view, a testament to a great and deeply profound creator. Yet the body remains a mystery, and we are slaves to it's mercurial moods and delicate balances. I read that there are as many neurons in the brain as there are stars in the Milky Way and that my intestines are a veritable motorway of (who knew?) functioning neurons, and I am boggled.

I am awestruck by the ability of the body to adapt and compensate for itself. A friend who has had two dreadful car accidents was describing to me how he could no longer use his ankle and so the bones of his foot had adapted as hinges instead. The has a remarkable ability to heal itself. Even if half of the organ is removed, it can grow back. Consider plasticity. Neurons can change their function based on information they receive via the senses from the outside world. In the case of deafness, for instance, neurons normally utilised for hearing can be diverted to the eyes, to helping deaf people to 'see' more.

Oliver Sacks died the day before yesterday and I have been reading some of his writing on the body - unparalleled work, in my limited experience, in that it is so literary and somehow transcendent - his writing on marijuana experimenting is at any rate! I have been as grateful, of late, as a weary Mormon pilgrim happening upon ephedrine containing roadside herb, for my prescribed narcotics. Solpadol has certainly taken the sharp edge off the blade these past few weeks, though I am mindful that this too must end and I shall rely on this amazing thing I dwell in to continue to heal itself - as the current dull ache I now feel reassures me somehow.

Today I am grateful to my body and my health. Oh and it's my eighth wedding anniversary. I am profoundly grateful for my husband and for the three little ones we now have in addition to my first born. We do not have ourselves, or each other, certainly not in these current forms, for long; but what a marvel it is, that we exist, that we, in some ways, like the liver, regenerate; and that we, like our creator, get to create in turn. What a fabulous event life is. And how precious.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Christianity is all about dying - in order to live

July is here, American Independence Day is looming and the American supreme courts ruling on same sex marriages has just been passed. I have been reading some of the pieces in the NY Times in the light of this.

According to one article, Christianity is dying in America http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/opinion/david-brooks-the-next-culture-war.html Apparently, American Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture, and one commentator is quoted as stating Christianity needs to go back underground. In the UK, Christians often shy away from mainstream culture and from entering the political debate. Strong opinions often make Christians (certainly in the independent churches I frequent) panic like frightened sheep and they shy away from robust debate regarding church or state. State-wise, this is understandable, given their views, sandal and sock like, are not fashionable, (though I have noticed a lurch to the left, amongst Christians lately). Christianity dying culturally, will not deter Christians from practising their faith, nor drive it to ground, though it may drive them underground - a place where Christianity has historically flourished. Christianity proliferates in countries such as China where just such a state exists. From what I understand, Christians are dying noble and heroic deaths for their faith in its ancient lands.

Image problem aside, I have often wondered why Christianity in the UK is so unattractive to many, given who Jesus is. The teachings on sex are a real problem, but is mankind not so much more than this? It is sad that Christianity has been reduced to its sex laws and all the other, far greater, dare I say eternal teaching has been subsumed by this. Christians need to bring deeper Christian values, and their finer Christian acts (sowing financially and ministering to the lost and broken) into mainstream culture in order to help transform communities for the common good; as they bring these acts of love into the wider arena, they will be seen and heard for who they are rather than what they variously believe, and social engagement via social justice will become easier. Personally, I am looking at ways of doing this myself, rather than keeping my two sides: Writer and Christian, separate, and for a while now my writing has been moving in this direction. Plug alert: To this end, come and see my play The Call, on the 18 July, at Unveiling.

Representationally, Christians often come across as gullible, clueless (perhaps because so many don't actually read, much less put the bible into practice, they listen to interpretations of it via sermons that are often flawed opinion pieces. As for the patriarchal structure of the church, don't even get me started. Suffice to say I am a Jesus feminist. In the charismatic/pentecostal/non-orthodox churches there are a lot of personal ministries, often run by people who have narcissistic personalities, many of whom are dodgy; and from what I can tell, this sort of thing is rife in the US too. There are very few actual followers (as in doing the things Jesus did) in the UK Christian world that I have encountered and apologies to all of you out there who are better Christians than myself, I am an active member of the church, and I don't exclude myself in all that I say. Dying to oneself (such a challenge for the selfie generation!), in the selfish sense and suffering and sacrifice: two states that usher in the power of God are often missed out in the Christianity of the west, which isn't to say Christians don't suffer in life as everyone else does, I speak of making intentional sacrifices for other people in the light of ones faith and often suffering as a result.

Christianity has a real image problem. Comfortable Christianity does not wash with the public as it is not authentic, in terms of what Christianity is, it lacks power and frankly just comes across as embarrassing right-wing guff. If more of us in the west, lived as authentic Christians, in solidarity with the many, (often abroad) in suffering countries who do, we might improve our image through action. It needs to get back to basics: back to Jesus, because Jesus was really cool, really revolutionary, and authentic. He was who he said he was: God the son. He was not defensive, he knew his bible (the Jewish scriptures) and he knew his God and acted accordingly (God the father). He did not make it up as he went along, and as Christians, neither should we; we need to continue to stand on the scriptures, while reaching out through dialogue, not by retreating in the light of recent laws here in the UK and the US. Christianity is bigger than this! Christian democracy paved the way for these laws for God's sake (and I mean for God's sake!).

We would do well to remember the words of Jesus in summing up the greatest commandment: 37And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

We really must love our neighbour, with all her (and his) differences as ourself. We have to be able to disagree on personal beliefs and still 'remain in love,' as the bible teaches. Whether we are to be driven underground or to remain above ground, Christians need to be brave enough to interact with the culture and not huddle in Sunday clubs. People need to get to know authentic Christians who love everyone despite oppositional beliefs. Love flourishes in difficult spaces. Jesus's primary message was one of love - and he didn't just love the like-minded: He dug the dodgy, the outcast - and women.

Just one more point:

Sexual preferences and beliefs thereof aside, it seems only right that people should be able to share mortgages, and assets with the partner of their choosing, and everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law. Getting married in a church when you do not adhere to what the bible says is another matter. I would not want to get married in a mosque, given their teachings on same sex marriage and women, so I have no idea why a gay couple should want to marry in church, given the bible's teaching on same sex marriage. Here is a balanced and elegantly written opinion piece on the dignity of singleness and having other people take the role of marriage partner. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/opinion/the-supreme-courts-lonely-hearts-club.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-right-region&region=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region

Disclaimer: I do love the church and my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Motto: We need more public debate and less hate.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Excess Baggage

I have been pondering the excesses of modern life, partly triggered by this article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/france-to-force-big-supermarkets-to-give-away-unsold-food-to-charity Yes, I still read the Guardian despite their fascist views regarding anyone who is vaguely right handed. I maintain that it is always best to read left to right in order to achieve balance. If you start on the left and have any sense, you will arrive at a full stop after arriving at the right (wink). But I swore I would no longer allude to the elections, so I won't. Actually, I think I am currently a Conservative Socialist and should start my own party, without the champagne. I am currently conservative as I blued it this election, based on policies and track record, but socialist in that I care very much about issues that affect us all and believe in a democratic society committed to equality in terms of education (bring back proper grammar schools now!), healthcare, childcare and healthy food. I am not kidding myself that there will ever be equal opportunities for all, but we need government with a long term commitment to enfranchisement. I also believe very much in entrepreneurship at and across all levels of society - I believe in individual progress and that people should be properly remunerated for being in the workforce that aids us all. I have now put my soapbox under my feet. Back to the excess baggage. I think unsold food should be given to charity, though I am sure this requires a legal minefield, but how can we, as individuals, stop being so wasteful? I have decided to put my money where my mouth is.

There are a number of areas I will be tackling, and like the French, I am starting with food. Hubster and I identified a key area of wastage last night when we made a new household budget. We seem to be spending far too much on food. I thought I was a canny shopper, a bargain hunter, a vintage vixen, a frugal fox. But apparently I am not. Hubster waved the bank statement evidence at me like Charlie with his golden ticket.

Suitably shamed, this is my aim for this week: I am not buying any more food (apart from milk and veg when we run out) until all the cupboards are bare. I have also been stripping my wardrobe (even my prized vintage collection is going!) and aiming to give away at least one bag of 'excess baggage' a week. This week, I have several large bags of clothes and toys (the kids are getting in on this - we are discussing these issues in homeschool). In weeks to come there will be food donations - and ouch, owie, einar painar...books.
Here's a scarf I knitted earlier in the spirit of this blog - and grannies.
I'll let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

School Daze

It's been a while since I have visited Blogland, although Fogland (lack of sleep) and Frogland (hallucinations - see the latter) have been familiar terrain. Thank you nippers.

It is 'A' Level season and our eldest is currently being squeezed through the last of his square-shaped holes - he has never quite fitted into the square-shaped mould of school. And neither have I, frankly. Primary School promised to be a breeze, though we had to find a school outside our area as the one on our doorstep was full. His first teacher assured me son was gifted and he would ‘sail through, given he was light years ahead of everyone else.’ Those light years came to an abrupt end a few years later when bored, he began staring out the window and doodling all over his work. There were still flashes of brilliance: his drawings, the music he played by ear, the poems; but there was no way I could get him to play the game. His heavily tutored peers (offspring of Hampstead Socialists bent on getting their kids into the best schools in the land - I could elaborate on 'bent' but I won't; suffice to say, I don't blame them for wanting the best for their kids, it was the methods many of them employed and the hypocrisy and pretence that I hated) steamed ahead.

Somewhat hypocritically, I also found myself a part of the social conditioning that's rife in state schools in 'good' areas. When Camden Council told me son wasn't able to get a place in any of the state schools, my choices were this: try for the private exams that were coming up in a matter of weeks, despite the fact that he was untutored, or teach him myself. I panicked and went for the exams. Son said there was no way he was going to a private school, he complained about the elitism, and the fact that it went against everything that he was, but when I said that the only other option was to be taught by me, he relented. I paid the gobsmackingly high entrance fee for two of the schools and he sat the two exams. He didn't have a chance, given one of the key aspects of the training for the exams is time spent on each question. I thought his natural intelligence would be enough - but it's not, these schools want kids who can jump through hoops, they don't look for kids who are creative or simply naturally intelligent - though obviously the kids who are getting in are not daft. Put it this way, there were boys in our son's year that were not as bright as him who passed the exams - and their parents were able to pay for the full spectrum of exams at the various grammar (grammar, my foot - don't even get me started on the grammar issue!) and private schools. There were a couple of others, who were, one in particular who was very bright. But it broke my heart that I did that to him - like throwing him to the sharks without the cage that the others had had years to fashion. The gloating from a few of the more competitive mothers (there were lovely mother's too) was hard to take, they really rubbed it in in various ways: "Oliver was offered all the schools he went for..." Well given 'Oliver' had been tutored since year dot, it would have been pathetic had he not, didn't come into it. I comforted myself that their offspring were not as not as good at the arts, or sport - or nice looking [!] or nice frankly - yuck, I know, but this is what that whole system does to you! I’m not proud of any of that.

Anyway, our kid hated going through that but he was just relieved not to be going private, and took the mick out of me for going down that road in the first place - making me laugh over the social conditioning of the whole thing, I wish I'd just trusted that something was going to come up, as it did, straight after the dreaded exams, when he was offered a place at a brand new academy that many parents would not touch as it was untested. Son wanted to enjoy life and have a laugh as well as go to school - and if he hadn't been able to make me laugh as much as he does, I possibly wouldn't have laughed it all off as quickly as I did, given that the whole period was horrid. And isn't laughter the best medicine? Just last week I was doubled over in Sainsbury's, holding on to the freezer handle with a bag of peas in my hand, because son was singing "Here comes your man," perfectly by the Pixies, except he was singing: "Here comes your nan." Okay, perhaps I can't grow up either, but therein lies our connection.


I took our eldest out of primary school for several months to take him to the Thai-Burma border where he played football with Burmese orphans who had seen unspeakable things. He sat in on the classes I taught and widened his horizons in so many ways. I’m glad we did that. Over the years, we spent hours playing music, drawing and discussing books and all manner of things, including faith. I’m glad we did that too. These are the things that made him who he is and who he will be.

Some kids are just not suited to school. I'm still battling to get our eldest to "just give them what they want (art criteria) not what you want to do!" I keep saying: "You can do what you want in three weeks time!" My three youngest are home-schooled. Two of them would be fine in 'regular' school, though, in my view, it would not be the best option for them; the other, well he'd be crushed, and I'd sooner lie in front of a steam-roller than send him. There are some wonderful teachers in the state, and I am told, in the private system, but the system does not work for everyone, home-schooling allows the parent to tailor education to fit the child and their abilities. 

Looking back at my school career, I was just like my eldest. Only worse! But I have still painted my pictures, sung my songs and written my books - eventually. Thanks to my parents, I was fortunate enough to have gone to The National School of the Arts, in Johannesburg, where my creativity was encouraged - as it was at home. My eldest has had some incredible people along the way - his wonderful piano teacher, who refused to force him to sight read because she said it was crushing his natural ability, and who taught him for free for a time because of his 'amazing musical mem-o-ry,' as she put it in her wonderful German accent, when I, a skint single mother, was going to have to take him out of lessons for while - and some wonderful teachers at his state academy - his Geography teacher who said how sad he was that our son had stopped asking "the questions that turned the tide in the classroom." (He was in the middle years in a state school and had to rap his responses at the time.) At the parents meeting when he said this, we both turned to our eldest and said (me tearfully, he with emotion, like we were all suddenly in an Alan Bennett play) "Why don't you ask the questions any more?" Or his art teacher who told me that she has only taught two students with our kid's level of ability - our son and another boy who is now a renowned artist. 

I am convinced that if our son does ‘go the distance,’ it will be along his own path and in his own way, so for all of you parents out there who are freaked out about these finals, fear not, I'm not anymore; it's the beautiful oddballs that 'make the music that makes us dance.' And we want our kids to be happy, well rounded, caring individuals, regardless of what they choose to do, or whose yardstick they are supposed to measure up to. And they will learn to be those kids in our own back yards.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Penrhyn Bay

The Penrhyn Bay Hair Massacre

My hair is looking particularly ridiculous at the moment. Actually I just typed ‘monument,’ instead of moment, and though my hair is certainly having a moment (an unmentionable one) and as if my computer colludes with me, my latest hack job (not computer hacking) hair hacking, has been a monumental or frankly just mental, disaster. The other night, my beautiful, blonde (the perfect shade) pastor’s wife came round with another friend whose gifts as a raconteur render her sparkling silver hair a fitting halo. My friend coloured the upper parts of my hair a fetching blonde, which I initially liked, but on waking the next day, I found I looked like a BBC blonde. The problem was, as fine a job as my friend had done, my hair was just too long to be that blonde, and the shade I had needed to be shorter. As there were no beautiful blonde pastors wives, stroke hairdressers in the house, I had to use the available options, which were: three children under six, a husband stroke doctor of engineering and a novel writer stroke ‘I can cut my own hair given enough incentive’ type person. The incentive was that though I am grateful for the BBC, particularly Front Row, BBC Radio 4 and The World Service, I prefer my female broadcasters to look like Stewarts. Yes, the tartan surnames types: A. Moira Stewart or B. Fiona the Bruce. I shan’t ask the doctor of engineering whom he prefers, lest he becomes more shorn than anticipated – yes, he’s next on the list for the chop; no, not divorce, one does not cull saints, for a haircut. The children don’t count because they are only just learning to. Actually, the five year old is splendid at maths – she must have got that from the doctor of engineering, it wasn’t engineered from me, unless it was in the miraculous sense. Besides, she thinks I currently look ‘brilliant.’ Perhaps she means so brilliant in the shocking sense that her retinas have let her down. Bless her. She is very clever though. 

Anyhow, and you will see how appropriate that word ‘anyhow’ is. The morning after the night before, I did not like my long hair blonde, the shade I had required more of ‘a look’ and not the one of horror that stared back at me from the mirror. Thus it had to come off posthaste. I rummaged in a drawer and found some (possibly blunt) scissors and pulling my hair into a pony tail (sorry to insult you, ponies), I hacked a good three inches off and chucked them into the trough – not really, just staying with the pony theme. I chucked the hair ends in the bath (empty) where they landed on the head of a yellow rubber ducky, rendering the little chap freakish – better he than me. He doesn’t have to venture into the world outside the tub. I then gave myself some layers, or ‘framed’ my face with some feathery action (sorry birdies). I even gave myself a fringe (sorry theatres – okay, a joke too far). The problem was the back. How to hack the back? I called in the reluctant engineer (what else was I to do? Call in the recalcitrant toddlers, or the too eager five-year-old, who was that thrilled by the spectacle, she would have been only too pleased to add to the drama-rama. I reminded initially not keen engineer (husband) that he was a doctor of engineering, and that given the former, he could doubtless wield the latter (the scissors) and follow the line, or the curve, or whatever. Like Frankenstein being brought to life, he was initially reluctant, but soon became over enthused and began wielding those scissors like a maniacal doctor from the Penrhyn Bay Hair Massacre. His response to my suggestion that he cut off an inch was to cut off three miles – okay an exaggeration – three or four inches; four at least. “I’m just trying to get rid of the mullet,” he said, with the confident air of a fishmonger selling five-day-old red mullet at whiffy prices. I reminded him that hair springs upwards, but he paid no heed. 

The result is that if I am feeling buoyant, unlike the reality of my hair, at least after I have made the short walk through the elements to the car, I now look like a Channel 5 Blonde; which is not too bad; or, if I am being realistic, an eighties suburban housewife. The long and the short of it is that the next day, the beautiful blonde pastor’s wife agreed with me that it needed to be shorter, but not that I (and the engineer) should have been in charge of the hack job. Another friend said I looked ‘punk rock’ which of course I like (punk rockers die hard). In fact I was so thrilled I almost booked a Holiday in Cambodia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rm-Fu8rBms. Had I not been in church, I would have pogoed. Actually, pogoing is perfectly acceptable in our church, which is why I go there. I initially speculated (I was in Phil Spector mode/delusional) that I looked like the blonde replicant in Blade Runner; you get the gist. Only, though my legs are long, I may not be quite that athletic anymore. But therein lies another blog. Kajagoogoo from me for now.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Victual and Grog; and Obama's Pauses

It's been an interesting week really. I have been cutting back on my ludicrously high doses of caffeine with hideous results - a headache like the black plague ascended from Hades via Bolivia and gave me several rounds in the ring before I was knocked out and had to take some paracetamol. I read a book that enlightened me about what was in my food and drink which was motivational on one level, and downright scary on another. Suffice to say, I am trying to be more mindful as to what I put in my body, rather than making merry with it in the victual and grog department - so I feel less groggy and more sleek moggy? Agog? Just less groggy. Although until the nippers start sleeping through the night that may be lottery thinking.

Perhaps I am having some kind of mid-life crisis, assuming I live to be 92, but I have shelved my third novel and been writing songs instead. No I have not been having fantasies of rocking out on stage to whistles and applause, as I did for a time in the grunge and various other things, fuelled 90's. The most my imaginings stretch to at the moment are strumming in the lounge while the kids mosh around on the floor hurling the odd fishfinger. However! Writing songs is fun. They are alternative gospel, protest songs if you must know. I know I'm in a genre all of my own.

Oh, and I listened to Obama's prayer breakfast speech, which left me speechless - but not as speechless as him in places. Did you clock those lengthly pauses coupled with an ever so patronising head tilt, designed to tilt you down his road of 'many roads lead to Rome' wisdom? Those pauses were so long you could have recited the American national anthem whilst knitting a complicated jumper. More on the actual post-pausal content another time. 

Anyway, I'm off to eat dinner and watch Buzz and Tell - have you watched it. Bleeding hilarious. Better than Gigglebiz even. And after a day that featured gnashing teeth, being kicked in the face by a flailing toddler, bawling and near hysteria, you can't say better than that.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Flickering memory reel

I've been trawling through old photographs and reliving fragments of the past through them. Like lit up images of a vintage film projected onto a grey screen, on an otherwise blank reel of time, memory, like bits of old film, must be spliced together, in order for the narrative of the film to be viewed. Bright sparks of remembered faces or events: of joy, trauma, sadness and laughter, on otherwise reels of dark film: memory is mercurial and often unexpectedly selective.

As such, I am happier than a sandgirl given caffeinated pop for the first time, to have wonderful friends, past and present, who remind me of events, only part of which I remember. My secondary school days at the Art, Ballet, Drama and Music School were shot through with such kaleidoscopically vivid life experiences, that were I to remember them at once, would be like walking through galleries hung floor to ceiling with Picasso paintings. If you went to that exhibition at the Tate, you will know what I mean. I had to sit down and close my eyes for ten minutes every several galleries or so. These photographs are some of the most potent of all.

Wild, untamed, talented, and often brilliant, I have stayed in touch with many of the friends I made at ABDM, though they have exploded like fireworks all over the globe. One is a fantastically creative chef in South Africa, another is an internationally recognised and awarded costumed designer, another runs an inspired pre-school from a wooden schoolroom in her garden. Still another studied in France, producing brilliant figure drawing after figure drawing, became a make up artist and then a home designer - she is one of the funniest, honest, adorable people I have ever met and I cling to her like a rabid dog might to your arm. Just this morning she reminded me of how we used to escape our first school hostel using an old tennis net - how did we find that? Often she, or others, will remind me of things I have forgotten and the flickering images become a part of a more cohesive narrative reel.

Friends, seemingly randomly, picked up like gems, along the darkly unusual paths that we light up momentarily through life, are indelible markers of time and we cherish them, the ones from the past that remain, and whose facets continue to reflect our own as parts of our very selves; and the ones that are new, from diverse and often unexpected situations, such as a new friendship made through accidentally meeting someone as I nipped to the loo during a church service, who introduced me to his wife who nagged me (thank you so much for doing that B!) to go to a home education meeting, where I met a mum and then some, from Zimbabwe whose first name is the same as my own, who is writing a book that we are now in process to publication with.

Friends, I salute you.

Only last night, I reconnected with a brief friendship (we met on a girls night out but lived in other parts of the country) that has now restarted due to the fact that we are writing similar material, and are currently in the same part of the world, though we are north and south, and now we marvel at old and new connections, too ‘coincidental’ to document here. Today I salute friendship and all the friends who have adventured with me: from Courtenay Selous School, Zimbabwe, ABDM School, Johannesburg,  through life in London in art, music, writing and teaching, being a single London and then a home schooling mum in Wales, and also my Christian Kingdom friends, with whom relationship is multi dimensional! Life would be a flicker of what it is without you all.