Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Orphanhood

My parents are dead and I have had no relationship with my siblings for many years. I’m a midlife orphan. Can one be an orphan and be grown up? In a sense, I was always orphaned. My mother divorced my father when I was five and that was the end of that, supposedly. We were taken on holiday and told that we were to live in Rhodesia and not Spain now. Daddy, like the rain on the plain, was mainly to live in Spain. He was not coming back. But like a spectre, I summoned him over and over again, through questions, through the way I looked, and for being ‘difficult’ or ‘looking just like my father’ or for ‘being mad’ as we were told he was.

As far as my mother was concerned it was over but really it was just the beginning of a quest for me. I craved my father like a person on rations craves butter. I recalled every last sight and smell of him; I clung to the letters when they arrived from Portugal. Apparently an uncle offered to adopt one of us. Which uncle? Which one – of us? Bereft, I longed to be adopted back into my Portuguese father’s family, but my mother cut all ties and tried to strangle me with the sinewy umbilical cord that just would not die. It was and is, attached to me, though now, it is silvery, diaphanous: it divides the living from the dead.

My mother remarried and had us adopted into a family I had no truck with. The older, singing, dancing, performing for applause sibling was delighted with the substitute. The younger sibling floated above it all and bobbed along with it, though he ‘ran away’ in various ways, teddy, then whisky and Mary-Jane in tow. My running away was more literal. When they changed my name, I raged and chanted my Portuguese name under the covers like a mantra. Submission never came; silently, deliberately I maintained my difference. Even my blood was negative: literally, as well as it being partly his (they are all O’s, as in okay, let’s just go along with this new story). They tried everything. Berating me, beating me, ignoring me, excluding me and finally banishing me to the wilderness – boarding school at fourteen from which I never really returned. It severed any further kinship with them and brought new attachments: friends that became family; wild boyfriends who had more than a whiff of my father about them.

I found him when I was twenty-one, with the help of a fellow gypsy traveller. I turned up in our family village clutching a black and white photograph, our common language having been ruptured. We wept for three days and then I left. Numb with the shock of it all, I did nothing for eight years. Then I returned with another fellow gypsy and a son who carried my father’s charisma and dark good looks. I returned a third time and then a fourth with my own husband and son, on the fifth time I returned in response to a call from his brother. It was the first time and the last time I was to be summoned by my blood family. He was dead and I and two other children were required to pay for his funeral. There was macabre laughter at the funeral but tragedy resonated from the northern Portuguese mountains where he was lowered into the family plot and it resonated all the way back to Zimbabwe, to South Africa and then back to Europe via the UK.


Orphanhood means many things for me. Above all, it means freedom and a new life; a spiritual burying of the past. It means keeping the narratives that are positive and trying to discard the painful ones: a delicate process. There has been much pain and betrayal; abuse even. But much has been learned. There are dark secrets on both sides of my former families, but richness too. It is true that the ones that love you most have the power to hurt you most. From my perspective, the choices my parents made impacted in a vicious way, but also made me strong, even though I was the sensitive one. It is my choice to cut any other blood supply that has browned and to keep the rich dark blood that travels back further through the pathways of my genes to the ones who came before and who enriched me and the ones who gather round me in this house: the ones that I have fed with my blood: the ones that I will cleave to, and the many who do not share a common blood.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Six Months Later

It has been six months since I wrote a blog following my mother’s death late last year. I have been too busy letting go of Stuff, ‘stuff’ needing a capital ‘s’ and possibly a Mister or a Field Marshall affixed to it given the way it has tried to take charge of my life. I am coming out of six months of some of my darkest days of (the twisted roots of all of this lie in my childhood) but at the same time I am tasting the freedom of being permanently divorced (rather than having periods of separation) from several people whose affect on me has been so debilitating that for long periods of time, were it not for therapy and prayer, I would not have been able to function at all. My only connection to them and their cohorts was through my mother.

The last year and a half of having to be in touch with these people during and after my mother’s illness and death, reads like an Agatha Christie novel – sorry Aggie – complete with plotting over my uncle’s inheritance that my mother received soon before she died, carefully orchestrated lies, threats, verbal and emotional abuse, legal action, inheritance stealing and public family scraps from the baser family elements, that would leave Jeremy Kyle agog. Fact is often fiction and fiction is often fact and sometimes there is a muddling of both – just ask the ‘other’ side. You’d need to be Poirot to figure out who was lying and who was not. Or have someone hand over the text, email and Facebook evidence. One of many lessons I have learnt: Do not ever read a will without a drink stiffer than your grandmother’s hair do in 63.’ Brutal. Also: The love of money (and a large Georgian property in Cheltenham), is the root of all evil.

Anyway, to borrow from Priestly, the past really is another country now. I have emigrated. From the dark country of my childhood that I initially tried to escape when I left Africa alone at age 17, and which I continually had to revisit in order to try and come to terms with my beautiful, enigmatic mother whom I loved despite all, and now too, from England to Wales. Yes, I am now permanently in Wales. Giving up the flat that Luca and me were given when I was a homeless mum with a baby has been very tough – almost 20 years there and 30 in London. London was the breaking as well as the making of me; I shall always love it, though I no longer believe its streets are paved with gold. It was something of a messy break up, but Wales is now my land of promise.

Between the last time I blogged I managed to finish ghostwriting a book before the ghost of my past tapped me on the shoulder to announce that I had been cut out of my mother’s will and my and my children’s share of my great-grandmother’s inheritance has now gone out of my mother’s family. In the words of two of the three who oversaw the many months of scheming: “There is nothing you can do about it.” As my solicitor put it, I would likely win in court, but I would need tens of thousands of pounds to contest the crooked thing. But thank God I had been kept in the dark (What’s new Pussycat? Woe…) or the book would never have been finished. Another, has been edited for a client and delivered last week, and still another put through the first stage of editing. 

Why I am still reeling from my mother’s latest betrayal is beyond me, but a battered heart still beats. I believed her when, after having anticipated it all given the actions of several of the key players the Christmas before, I wrote to her and she promised she would never do such a thing. It does complicate the grief somewhat, but my relationship with my mother, though I loved her dearly, was always complicated, mostly by a choice she made in the mid-seventies that on occasions, almost completely blighted my life – she was her most brilliant, gifted, free-spirited, beautiful self before then. I too, am now free, but it is not a freedom I would have chosen.

On another note and in the letter and key of ‘H’ for happy, and in haste, home schooling the kids has continued to be a joy and seeing them develop in all their creative and sparky ways continues to be a river of happiness. On the subject of education, I have been able, through a dedicated and brilliant woman, Yolande Richards, who set up assistance for Mutake School in Zimbabwe, begun supporting the school through my book, After the Rains and through sponsorship. I am thrilled about the Barroso Bursaryhttps://www.facebook.com/MutakeSchool/photos/a.1440709992855273.1073741828.1409631029296503/1883520055240929/?type=3&theater

I also have a new part time job, developing arts projects for children with a local Anglican church, (Church in Wales as it is known in Wales) and there are new events and a festival coming up. My eldest continues to produce stunning artwork and music in London and my dear husband is now a town councillor, but no longer working part time for a local politician so that our publishing company can be given a much needed boost. Ring the changes and put bells on them, change is good, but oh, it can be uncomfortable, even painful.


But oh, it’s good to be writing again. Writing has always been therapy for me. Welcome back, writing with a capital ‘W’ for well, and wonderful, and well, most good things. Tomorrow I will be writing my third book. It’s been almost five years of working on other (wonderful) books since my last one. It is time. Good to be back.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Public Debate Should Never be Characterised by Hate:


I have been struck by two events in the press this week, both involving Theresa May. The first also concerns Kate Bush too. 

The other, Theresa May defending the rights of Christians to express their faith in the public arena. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/30/christians-should-not-fear-speaking-faith-work-public-places/

Apparently, Kate expressed admiration for Theresa May, as well she might. TM, the daughter of a vicar, is a woman who has risen to be PM, and on top of this, she seems a decent sort – possibly due to her upbringing. She seemed genuinely bothered about the Tory Party being perceived as the ‘nasty party’ as she put it, and she really does seem to care about the issues that affect the vulnerable in our society. Enfranchisement for women (and poor men), need I remind us, has been hard won, and women still need to overcome far greater odds to gain high office and leading roles in the workplace generally.

The occupiers of the high ground however, are dissing Kate Bush for admiring the woman, Theresa May because, despite all her achievements and principles, after all, she is (spit the words out) A TORY!! (and thus worthy of the kind of vitriol usually reserved for those who kill the innocent - okay, don't start). The occupiers of the moral high ground, which I shall refer to as TOOTMHG, are usually Labour voters, who are anti-Israel and tend to post a lot of half-baked stuff about Christians. (It’s astonishing to me how ill informed otherwise seemingly educated people are about the bible – and about most world religions, but that’s another point). Some Kate Bush fans are even going to get rid of her records (though most of these ‘fans’ - as in fanatics – and this is where the root of the word really comes into play, if you will pardon all these allusions) are old enough to have got through life without remaining daft – sorry, I am trying not to come across as bigoted myself and thereby making the point I wish to make null and void – this is me holding back! Withering Frights! Might I point out that Kate's name is Kate Bush. Not George Bush? Britons no longer seem able to keep things in perspective – too much privilege? I shall stick to the point...

In London this week, The Evening Standard was predictably biased about Kate Hate. On Thursday morning the Metro was balanced: they illustrated the Kate debacle with four readers tweets, or should of I say two tweets and two twits: two sensible and coherent, two rabidly insensible and only coherent in a pat, predictable, 'I only ever think tribally sort of way.' (Of course, I realise - awareness! -I too am taking the moral high ground here.) Here is the problem, and it was the same problem I saw on Question Time last night from Laurie Penny (The New Statesman) when the debate turned to immigration. The TOOTMHG’s ‘do not like the tone of the debate’ as soon as people disagree with them. The subject of 2004 and TB (yes he is bacterial! – sorry, again) opening the doors to Eastern Europe came up. Panelists and audience members made the point that being concerned about levels of immigration does not mean that people hate immigrants and are racist (though some may well be). We are all aware of how wonderful and tolerant our country is and how much we owe to immigration (I am an immigrant! Partly, anyway). And, those freedoms have been won by a country that was founded on the very biblical freedoms that many in the TOOTMHG camp, would like to crush. Not that one has to nowadays be a Christian to adhere to Godly principles – they are enshrined in our law – though those laws are being eroded and not many seem to be able to discern the irony therein, but that’s another point! 

LP – yes she was a long-playing record, and it was the same song on repeat: Have a heart. We need the skills etc.,’ and yes, we do. No clear thinking person wants to turn away a desperate refugee family, but we do need to exercise some control, particularly regarding criminal elements. The TOOTMHG's response will be: ‘If you say anything that we disagree with, we will not like your tone, shake our heads with sorrow, call you a racist who hates minority groups and refuse to come down and engage. Actually, the tone was reasonable and balanced. At the risk of sinking into the divisive mire, brexit voters are tired of being told that they hate immigrants and are thick and racist. Remainers are now being called remoaners, given their demands for a recount. I won’t get into the subject of democracy here, but the point I hope to make (match point!) is this: on all sides, we must defend the democratic right to disagree with people and have them disagree with us, even if we think they are wrong! And we need to be able to try to listen without ridiculing and trying to crush anyone who disagrees with us.


We cannot operate in a society where people who have different opinions to us are crushed by the thought police – or those that think they shape public thought, however much they have had to think again! Thus, though I find it irritating when people make stupid, uninformed comments about Christians based on what they learned at convent school or picked up from the media, I will defend their right to do so, even as I cringe. All of us, those of us who believe in God, many gods or none, need to find it within ourselves, to rise above ourselves, to respect and care for each other, however much we disagree with one another. Or at least have another cup of tea before coming over all nutty. I am all for satire and robust debate, (and I never police my public media pages as I respect people's right to disagree with me and express their own opinions however difficult that sometimes is) but when the tone really does take a turn for the worse as it did during Brexit on both sides, and given the prevailing climate of tribal entrenchment (I lost friends during Brexit due to my voting to leave - and still wanting too, btw) that we really do need to take a step back (a backward glance at how fascism and dictators rise) and consider how we 'police' people who think differently to us. Before it is too late for all of us, given how far we have come, or not, as the case may be. I shall leave you with Dr Seuss - whom I think might be Jewish, as was that other great hero of mine, Leonard Cohen. Keep the wisdom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLPe7XjdKc

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Meaning of Life

"Never lose the wonder or you will lose the gratitude or you will lose the sense of obligation and limitation as well..." Ravi Zacharias

I don't usually make these kinds of things public, but during the sorrow of my mother's passing, I feel to say something about life and death; because this is what we have before us every day: life and death. These are dark times we live in, where people form themselves into political and 'other' tribes in order to attack and dismiss each others beliefs and concerns and position themselves on their own fluffy mountaintop. I have never known such hatred and intolerance on all sides.

The bible instructs those of us fortunate enough to still believe it and follow its principles to 'choose today whom you will serve: life or death.' ("See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction." Deuteronomy 30:15). Every day you can choose either 'life' or 'death' by your choices. The steps of 'death' will erode your humanity and bring its ultimate, rotten fruit. Choosing life in all its forms, has the opposite effect.

Last night, my beautiful, complicated, amazing mother, who was a gift and encouragement to so many that loved her, went to be with her creator. Many, who do not believe in God, become embittered at times like this, or speak of the meaningless of death. For those of us who follow Christ, death is no more meaningless than life itself. For Johanne, even in the midst of suffering, we take joy in the knowledge of her glorious future.

The great Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has this to say about the meaning of life. It's been a good reminder for me today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQnkCmUOTIE



Monday, 14 November 2016

Trumpeteer? No Fear! Let's Rock not Roll

Or the Clinton's? And will they trump?
Trump has trumped his way into the top job in the USA. He really is living the American dream, whatever that is. From an outside observers perspective it's all very fascinating albeit in a car crashy kind of a way, but if cars ore crashing we must pay heed. I was concerned about both Trump and Clinton. They both seem a bit dodgy to me. Had I been American, I would have needed to vote for another option - a Twitterer I admire, alerted folks to another way of voting. The bloke from Utah seemed a decent enough chap, with experience serving his country. What I find most interesting are the tactics of all sides. There is an increasing lack of tolerance to 'the other.' Both sides are exclusive and exclusionist - on both sides of the political spectrum here and in the States. I just listened to Michelle Obama, a heroine to many, speaking. She is as crushing to those that don't share her views as the people she tries to 'heroically' crush - the language she uses, though couched in perceived goodness, comes across as laced with arsenic, as sometimes the left leaning or 'liberal' argument does. Michelle Obama singles out the groups that she wishes to uphold (her groups) as paragons of virtue; hardworking people who send their children to college by sheer grit and determination and by working all the hours. The subtext is that Trump supporters don't do that, Trump supporters are baddies and her folks are the goodies – to coin my own playground language – we, as people don’t really move on that much. Trump can't have any idea about ordinary folks because he lives in an ivory or a Trump tower. I'm not defending Trump when I say this. I am trying to illustrate a point. I think people (some Trumpters and some Brexiteers) are genuinely afraid and these fears, however unpalatable, need to be addressed.

The left leaning agenda here is similarly biased. If you voted Brexit, and according to the left leaners, for want of a better way of characterising, (liberal seems too inclusive a term, and right leaners are excluded! Dancing is out! Do the one-legged shout!) you are an immigrant-hating halfwit that should not have been allowed to vote. I have previously written about Brexit and some of the bigoted language used by left leaners and how overwhelmingly this language came from well educated, but well mean (say with London accent) people with no grasp of irony - some even demanded that these dummies (language was far worse than that; think of bad words for nether regions and what one does with those regions - don't let your mind travel too far) should not be allowed to vote. No one seemed concerned that they were thereby passively (though aggressively) articulating that the hard won enfranchisement of women and the poor should be swept up and binned as an historical experiment. It's like the aristos and the peasants all over again. French Revolution anyone? Such intolerance. It's the tribalism that is so mind-boggling.

Nowadays, if you voted to remain, you cannot be friends with a leaver. I imagine if you voted Trumpingly over the pond, you will be thumpingly excluded from any Clintonesque shindig. Naturally, people congregate with their own; but there is a problem when one's focus becomes too myopic. If we, as the vast human family exclude the members of ourselves that we don't like instead of trying to understand each other, we will become cold and lacking in empathy; the prevailing climate in Britain remains (hah!) fascistic and polarised. I struggle as I lean both ways – I often find myself (politically speaking) promiscuously dancing from left to right and right to left – I need to boogie at my own party – not there’s a thought! The inclusive party! So much more fun to be had and I have never liked wearing the same clothes as other people; which was why I went out in bin bags and sheets with alarmingly teased hair as a teenaged punk rocker. It is better to rock than to roll. Rolling has a momentum that too often ends with a crash. A certain generosity of feeling is needed to engage with members of a 'tribe' not your own. Rubbing up against the prickly thoughts and modes of being (should we dare become humble enough to do so) brings progress, understanding and peace. We need to talk. All of us. But this will require access to our own best selves.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Get Naked, Fanaticus

My husband and I were discussing St Francis of Assisi this morning over tea, as you do. Indulge me and travel back in time to the middle ages with me (in the case of the middle ages, I don’t need to travel back, I’m travelling forward at an alarming rate, but more on that in another post). It is around 1210 and life stinks, for all sorts of reasons apart from the lack of modern sanitation and there being zero deodorant. Francis, has tired of riotous living and has found God, and with Him, some peculiar and to his father, intolerable, ways. One day, in exasperation, (possibly due to Francis nicking quid from his father to rebuild old chapels), Francis's father hauled him in front of the local bishop in the hopes that he would quell his religious tendencies and order him to knuckle down and work for the family firm. Instead, Francis stripped naked and handed his clothes to his father in full view of the bishop (I know, its like an ale commercial). Henceforward, he would follow God completely.

I commented to my husband that Francis's behaviour could only have been carried out by an artist, a madman, or a religious fanatic. I have watched from the side of the stage at Reading (during my young and hot phase) whilst Flea from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, stripped naked and continued to play bass. He may even have done some handstands as I seem to recall, but given my own middle ages and my own former riotous living, I may be wrong on that point, but on the nakedness I am not. I have also seen mad naked men in my life, and the less said about this the better. My point is this: art, religion (in the mystical sense) and madness often run parallel to each other. For humanists (demi-gods unto themselves or indeed ourselves – how frightening, for me!) religionists are just plain nuts so this category is irrelevant to them and is muddled with the mad. It is only in recent times that the religious or better, the spiritual has been rendered off limits in the world of art, despite the art world being characterised by quite a few nutters. As a believer, or a creationist, a Jesus follower or whatever you want to call me, I often wonder where the ‘religious’ artists of our day are? Banished into the great hall of shame I suspect. Art in the institution of church is plain dull. Unlike Leonardo da Vinci or other great religious artists, they don’t seem to exist (sorry if you do exist, I just haven’t heard of you yet) in our culture apart from Charlie Mackesy, perhaps because their own rich narrative has been so scoffed at by the culturally prevailing humanistic mind set that is often narrow and toxic, and so unilluminating, unlike the best Christian or spiritual thought, and its beautiful narratives as seen say, in the parables of Jesus or the mystical experiences of Elijah or Daniel.

Anyway, back to Frank. Obviously, for followers and scholars of St Francis, he was, though not to his father, a fanatic in the best possible sense. According to my reliable source (Mrs Peggy Wikipedia), the word fanatic was, "introduced into English around 1550, and means "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion." It comes from the Modern Latin fanaticus, meaning "insanely but divinely inspired." The word fan, comes from this word (picture a screaming girl at a Beatles or One Direction concert). Hubster and me then launched into a discussion about being 'naked,' (not in the sense that you might be thinking, all though neither of us are adverse to that), but in the sense of being true to oneself in a world where cultural, familial and other concerns conspire to rob you of personal authenticity, and the various ways that people are conditioned to conform to something other than their true selves. 

We then discussed shame, and how pervasive it is. A theory came up: are people truly ashamed to be themselves for fear of being exposed as frauds? There is an inherent irony in this statement, but consider this: A child raised in a family or society whose narrative tells them that they are wrong in some way, will suffer shame on a deep level. This shame will hinder them being the person they were created to be (from a creationists perspective,) or the person they could be (if they had the confidence). We considered sources of shame and how pervasive this shame is and how scuppering in terms of a fully realised internal and external life and the connectedness thereof (and therefore authenticness!) and that people would be healthier and happier if they could trace intrinsic shame back to source and eliminate it.

My husband and I variously discussed bullying in schools and the bullying people receive due to appearance (women can sometimes receive this from other women) and cultural expectations thereof. Shame is ingested and bears fruit in all sorts of ways, but the deepest shame is stored at the core of self. Francis was extraordinary in his stand against the forces that railed against his authentic self. In stripping himself naked he declared to his father, the bishop, God and the world that he was going to live for God (and thereby for the gospel and the poor) and was going to forsake the world and all its constraints and seductions in order to be his true self. My husband and I got to thinking and discussing our own authenticity and what might constitute elements of ‘false self’ and our determination to live by the (we believe) God given coda of uniqueness and authenticity that is offered to each individual (creationistically speaking).

Hopefully, and hence, this adherence to living authentically will not give rise to the self-obsession that is characterised by our age - more on that later. Meantime: strip.