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 and thus in fact, nuts. 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. I know where any strength I have comes from, I was hopeless before  found God. 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 in various ways. 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.


Friday, 15 February 2019

On #HomeEducating and #Scaremongering

https://www.tes.com/news/project-fear-home-education-must-end?fbclid=IwAR0EAhn7BJ1RphLQELOksJwwZYyTS5wTwqiNtn-9TBSlYrkQauV3aak5sN0

The above post has really got me going. I am so tired of the scaremongering surrounding home education and 'children slipping through the net.' The educational net has holes in it, can you not see them? - this is the educational new net in the UK. My eldest son attended a state school in London, where middle class children were tutored within an inch of their lives to get into the private schools. Those that were skinter became Christians in year 5 in order to get their kids into the top church school. It was the working class kids that 'slipped through the net.' They had no choice about the schools they went to, though the ones in North London where we lived were the best of the lucky dip that was state provision in the mid nineties. I know of a clever estate kid who is dealing now. I also know of a clever kid who went to Oxbridge and is now caning drugs and 'taking time out' from Oxbridge. Why? I won't pass on what I know as I haven't spoken to him personally, though my son has. He is not the only privately educated kid who is screwed up. I know many of them – this is not necessarily the fault of the school. I was a TA at a top North London private school where I helped in year one. These kids were ‘selected’ at 2. I was gobsmacked at what an emotional mess so many in the class were. Many of them were brought up by nannies. Some weren’t very bright, but they all passed into the upper years it was a done deal given these parents had helped bankroll the system since nursery, though I'll wager those kids were very stressed as they went along. Children need their parents to be actively involved in their education and their lives - some kids are in school from breakfast club to after school club - this is state care.

The clever working class kid might have done very well had his teacher been able to prepare him for a grammar school the likes of which are now nicked by people like Nick Clegg and Tony Blair - working class kids don't get a look in to those as they would need to be tutored for the exams and as teachers can no longer prepare them for the exams, these kids don't do them. Of course there are exceptions to all these cases, but this is what I have observed over my time of being a parent for the past 22 and a half years.

As for the cases of children being abused by non-state provision – where is the evidence for this? Is she referring to the unregistered Islamic schools, where girls are reported to suffer educationally? I have only heard of one case of a home educating family being abusive - the case of Dylan Seabridge– where a home educating family was done for abuse. But we all know of the many Victoria Climbie or Khyra Ishaq cases that slip through the traditional school nets

I began home educating when we were transitioning from London to Wales. As part of my research on home ed. I met other families whose older children impressed me with their emotional maturity and general all roundedness. My eldest who was gifted and thus way ahead in early years was bored out of his bracket by age 9. I couldn't get my son into the local state primary school. It was the late nineties and the population of London had swelled to an extent that the system was groaning. He went to a church school in North London. He thrived the most when I took him out of school for 3 months to take him on field work (and backpacking afterwards) when I ran a charity based on the Thai/Burma border in the camps. He played football with kids on crutches and mucked about in a boat who had landmine injuries and joined in with art therapy/language classes. He doodled his way (in both senses) and was later offered interviews at UCL, Goldsmiths and Chelsea. He chose Chelsea, despite my begging him not to and bored, dropped out after a year, but he is making music, and art and working as an extra on films and television and gardening in order to keep himself as an artist. He came out in the wash basically, though his T-Shirt may have come out tye dyed – not, he would never wear a ty-dye t-shirt – but you catch my Drift.

This statement is a wind up to an ex-rock and roller, off roller like me: In July last year, Longfield told the Observer that she was "conducting an urgent analysis of confidential government data" to "establish how many off-roll children are drawn into gangs", adding "some are educated at home while others go to pupil-referral units (PRUs) – both are associated with worse educational outcomes". I suggest an urgent rethink? Off rolled kids are more likely to be protected from both. My son, who began school in 2001, was offered a secondary school where the Asian and Somali gangs were clashing to the point that a police presence was necessary daily; and dangerous enough for me not to send my kid there as I was afraid he's be carrying a knife before long. Had he been a girl, I might have made another decision. I didn't know what to do. I won't wax on as I have written about this part before. Had I not found the academy that I did in the nick of time, I would have fought the powers that could have arrested me with my bare hands before sending my son to the school provided. They might have arrested me! How bloody dare they, given the provision at the time! See the retrospective mother-monster I would have been? From what I hear, things remain patchy in London, though better in Wales (less kids) though parents still move their kids around and complain about provision – particularly for special needs.

In her above quote Longfield insinuates that home educating is a ‘dangerous’ thing. Where is the statistical analysis to back this up? In my experience of being around home educating families, the children emerge to universities doing very well indeed. I suggest she couples up with an educational clinical psychologist pronto. She sounds as if she is making this up as she goes along. Are we, as home educating parents unable to make the right choices for our children? There is an underlying subtext that this is an abusive move. Longfield says that off roll educating is associated with "worse educational outcomes," I would like to see where her data comes from in terms of cultural and religious demographics – and I would like to hear her saying out loud what these demographics are in very varied field indeed. The home educating children I know  are all doing very well. My children are highly creative and thriving. We don't do targets, but I am confident they are ahead in most if not all things for their age group. My five year old who makes things that fly, radios and tinkers with circuit boards and other techy stuff (he has the time) is much quicker at mental maths and pattern recognition than me. He has been doing age 12 Lego since he was for years. Crucially, they have time and all limits are off in terms of learning. Children in early years need the right brain creativity, empathy, socialising and exploring side to be fully developed before the left-brain analytical, side responsible for numeracy and literacy takes off at age 7. Creative children (and all children should be creative, it’s part of being human, but without being themselves for a good 7 years they cannot be). My other son knows way more about the natural world than I do and draws beautiful, detailed pictures thereof; the 9 year old makes her own clothes, cooks, paints and generally makes stuff at an astonishing rate. Her painting is outstanding. All are highly creative and just get on with stuff: imagining, inventing, making, is all par for the course.

Kids need time to dream and explore before they are regimented by systems that too often crush creativity - as the mother of an artist this was my soapbox long before I discovered that home ed wasn't just for hippies or crazed witch hunting Christians – though it's people like Longfield who appear to be doing the 'witch hunting’ now.  My children are learning Welsh and other languages as well as history, geography, science and biology all taught with creativity, and can hold a conversation with an adult or any peer from 2 - 100. Crucially, they are not tested or bracketed, they benefit from tailored one to one education from their father and me and they have loads of time to explore their own interests. My children are kind and polite and they mix happily with other children across a range of classes, and they don't need to worry about bullying or not getting on with a teacher or peer, or being stuck in a class that may be duff for a year. We are also saving the tax payer hundreds of thousands of pounds. Time for a rebate? It’s certainly time for a rethink and a longer view Longfield (oh the irony) and co.