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.


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.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Sniping of Leadsom. And Leopard Print.

Following the death by Rupert, I mean, by the press, of Andrea Leadsom, it seems Theresa is our girl. "Will the last woman standing please stand up!" We all knew it was you Tess! Anyway, good to have a woman stepping into the role and with cool shoes too! She does seem the right woman for the job. I'm glad that Theresa May is stepping into office swiftly; Tess and Dave will be through opposite sides of revolving doors by tomorrow. Good that we can move on from the whole Conservative Leader debacle. The Labour Party need to get a grip though - ooer, what a shambles! But don't let's get started on them they are starting all on their own. It does seem a bit bonkers that we are swapping one remainer for another. I hope Theresa May does instigate social justice; the gap between rich and poor surely needs addressing.

I do feel for Andrea Leadsom. Her treatment by the press and the public has been pretty appalling - as is the way in this braying medieval culture we currently live in. I'm thinking of the death threats that Angela Eagle is currently receiving from Corbyn supporters; and of the Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth, recently attacked by another Corbyn supporter at the Labour anti-semitic hearing recently - and you thought the bigoted language remainers used to attack brexiters was ironic? Pah! More was to come. Consider too the continuous fetid language that continues to be meted out towards brexiters. Some of the 'cartoons' (sans wit) doing the rounds on Facebook about the Conservative candidates (and by association anyone who may have voted for them at any point are self-explanatory. All you need to know is that the word c*** is the primal, I mean, primary (like juvenile) word. As the bible points out in the Proverbs "As a man (or woman) thinks, so he (or she - this is becoming unintentionally pythonesque) is.

Andrea Leadsom has been particularly scorned for being a Christian. As the Telegraph writer, Alison Pearson has recently pointed out, "no one accuses Sadiq Khan of being a religious nutter because he is a practising Muslim." It would be nice if Christians could be extended the same courtesy, particularly since the democratic freedoms that allow people to attack Christians come from foundational Christian tenets. Though to be fair, some of us are nutters. But lets not get started on nutters - they have human rights too! And where would the worlds of art and entertainment and most anywhere else be without nutters, eh? Andrea Leadsom seems a fine, principled woman by the accounts I have read, though I doubt she has the stomach for the top job.

On another, frivolous note, I cut my hair (by my own shear) - to the background music of family hilarity - on the weekend in the style of my three year old son. Granted. He looks cuter. And blonder. Midlife crisis? Perhaps. I shall draw the line at wellies and lurid tights...but should I? Iris Apfel is my new style guru and she has decades on me. I'm planning a long, slow accent into style greatness. In these punishing political climes more frivolity as an antidote to all the vitriol is henceforth prescribed. Given so many women are finally coming to the political fore, I suggest they ditch the pink jackets (yes, Eagle and Leadsom) and take up wild shades; dramatic prints and oversized beads to dazzle and confuse journalists who try to Leadsom them down the wrong path; heels and leopard print should be de rigueur (see Theresa for tips) - which is in keeping with the stealthy attacks they will need to launch on their opponents. Sort it out girls.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

It’s easy to bash out Facebook posts and bash each other


I was heartened by the above video link today. If more of us (on all sides, and I am challenged too) focussed on actually doing something about the injustices in our societies instead of just ranting, the world would be a better place. I'm finding the smug 'we were right' rhetoric (and no you are not necessarily ‘right’ yet) of much (not all) of the remain moral high ground headache-inducing (I know, I’m trying to avoid at least some of it! I know where not to look but it is prevalent and I don’t want to be uninformed) although there seems to be less classist, bigoted, intolerant language proliferating as far as I can tell - I have said plenty about the ironic nature of this one dimensional way of speaking about brexiters, so I won't be tempted to wax on, but I am so challenged about the way I use language at the moment; as I believe we all should be. I am also aware of just how much we dwell on the negatives rather than getting out and doing something positive to create meaningful change. I don’t think brexiters should be smug either – they too have not yet been proved ‘right.' We do need to be more considerate of others who have different points of view. If we all just sit in our camps how are we going to ever make peace? Can we be hopeful about the future? If not, for goodness sake, let’s get out there and create some hope.

I also wish Farage would shut up, but we need to all try to begin working towards a better and more inclusive society. I am wary of coming across as lofty myself, but can't we start focussing on more positive things? There is a gaping chasm between rich and poor. Perhaps we need to think more radically about how we share wealth and success? Do we need that spare room? That extra house even - could you let it rent free or for a subsidised rent to a homeless/hostel dwelling family? A struggling student? How can we reach out to new members of our society? Tutor their children - music, extra language tuition? Or better, trade: Teach me how to cook your cuisine or sew or accountancy/economics/maths – I am particularly rubbish at those last three - and I will teach whatever skills I have, should you need some of them? Have a family for dinner once a week, or even once in a while? Collect and share stories - put on more community arts events? Or just have a street party! The referendum just may be the society quake we all need so we can start putting our money where our let's face it, rather large mouths are. And yes, I am the first to admit I have a big mouth! Let's be big in the right way, though.

Personally I think it's better that racists are exposed and dealt with. Cancers breed in the dark. We need to bring everything into the light and begin to tackle things. Racism is an evil that exists in the hearts of men and women - the referendum simply emboldened them. Well, lets be bolder still. Let's tackle it, but in the opposite spirit. We have to model the right way to behave. We have to model love. I challenge us all to go out and do something other than throw stones. For those remainers who are trying to engage in meaningful debate rather than just derision, I salute you. As for the racist brexiters whomever, wherever they are, if I was to meet one, I would say this: "I understand you may feel disenfranchised in some way, but there are plenty of rehab groups out there that will help you deal with the root issues in your life. You need help. Access it. Start at the CAB. Can I help at all?" (this last question requires Mandela-like great character and strength, but we may as well aim high). I don't believe people set out to become racists, they become like this because of what they have been taught or experienced - can we be challenged to engage in some way? If we don't, the problem will get worse.

On this note, please like the page we have set up to tackle racism and share ideas/personal experiences, here: https://www.facebook.com/UK-United-Against-Racism-and-Intolerance-1025771544206831/?fref=nf

Don't let's be victims. Let’s not be passive. Engage. It’s easy to bash out Facebook posts and bash each other. But we can get on with things ourselves, we don't need men (and women) in suits to dictate how we live our lives. Let's start a revolution in our own backyard. Whilst the politicians squabble, let's get on with things. Then we can post about them. Instead of causing further division, your sparkling social action might inspire people instead.