Saturday 9 December 2017

I love London

I've had a varied week. Monday and Tuesday were spent in London where I visited my dentist who drilled out my temporary filling, drilled some more and then put a gold filling in. Not a pricey one, a cheap gold, NHS one as my charming dentist told me as she drilled away more of one of my gnashers without an injection - she did offer me one, but I didn't want to forego coffee on the train back to Wales, or dribble it out of the side of one numb cheek. I did hit the roof when the dentist got on my nerves, literally. She wasn't best pleased and lectured me about pain tolerance and how she would give me an injection the next time. The tooth in question is also giving me plenty of gyp. It, like a person in Wales trying to find a dentist, doesn't fit (you need to be a private patient and there is not much private about me). It's cheaper to hop a train to London, but a right pain when the dentist doesn't get it right first time and your lower gnasher slides around on the smooth gold of the upper. A bad case of North and South.

Also in London I saw a dear friend whose husband had a terrible motorbike accident and is now in a wheelchair. Broken in body, his spirit is undaunted. I have never seen a man more transformed by his faith, so much so it has buoyed my own faith. As for my friend, she is as undaunted as ever even while she describes separating friends into wheat and chaff. Suffice to say, that when the rubber hits the road, and life hangs first in the balance, and then around hospitals indefinitely, there is more chaff, but the wheaty ones are especially nutritious. Here's to friendship through thick and thin.

Speaking of thick, in the sense of my nonsense of direction, I was on a bus going to North Acton to meet my son at a fantastic Lebanese dive of a joint that most bourgeois Londoners would avoid like the Middle East, but son and I attack with relish given it's the best Lebanese gaffs going for under a fiver - yes, if you don't mind where you sit, or whom you sit next to, you can have your mind blown by culinary brilliance and still have money in your pocket for the tube, which will cost more than your lunch, because transport in London is INSANELY OVERPRICED! Did you hear that Lord Mayor of London?

Anyway, back to the thick bit. I was having trouble with Google maps and couldn't work out whether I was travelling towards North Acton or away (I'm a Camden girl alright?). Yep, back to North and South and my inability to discern which is which except when the river Thames is there to divide it for me. The bus driver didn't know either, he might have done, only he couldn't speak English and was using a Satnav that worked. Exasperated, I broke London code (never speak to ANYONE on the bus or tube, speaking to yourself as several people including the man I was sitting next to, is fine, and will be ignored,) and turned round to the packed bus and yelled: "Does anyone know whether this bus is going towards North Acton tube or away from it?" The passengers gaped at me as if I was agog naked. Then, after what seemed like a full minute, a woman said, "Towards it!" and then the man sitting next to me told me how many stops before I needed to get off, and said: "Next one," just before I did. Then he went back to talking to himself. Smiling broke out thereafter. I love London. Here's a photo I took when I got off the bus:

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Coup de Grace

It’s been a while since I’d have given two Bobs (Mugabe) for the news. But upon my word, riveted, I have been, since hearing of the coup (in both senses, of course) in Zimbabwe. Are the Macbeth’s of Zimbabwe to be foisted from power? Will the ghost of Mugabe be banished from government or will his ghoulish spectre hover for another generation or two via ZANU PF?

Please no! Let’s have real change in Zimbabwe. I’m with Tendai Biti and his suggestion for a non-political transitional party (NTA) to bring about stability before the elections that are currently scheduled for July 2018. A group of  campaigners, activists, prominent business people and concerned citizens have been meeting since October 2015 to brainstorm peaceful change. Apparently the PCC (Platform for Concerned Citizens) number actual war vets in their egalitarian sounding group. (Vets from the war in the 60’s and 70’s as opposed to the homemade weapon-wielding infants that were involved in the farm grabs that began in 2000).

Here’s hoping that this really will be the coup de Grace that sees Grace and her ilk banished to Never Never Land and Zimbabwe dragged out of its economic misery - Grace reminds me of Winnie in her latter years. I’m also hoping to see some dynamic women rise up and take to the podium. Perhaps we will hear some new voices emerging via the PCC and other new grassroots organisations? It is time.

Tuesday 11 July 2017


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 Bursary

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.