Words

Homecoming: a guide

In the lead up to last week I write a Twitter thread about some of the most important things the past decade has taught me.
You can read some of them here: https://twitter.com/HeardinLondon/status/1129130847318237185

It has been a strange week, I turned 40 and 3 very precious people unexpectedly asked for my opinion.

A dear friend called me in the middle of an anxiety attack, an incredibly courageous and strong thing to do. He asked if I had any immediate tips in a crisis. I told him something I learnt recently which is that a quick disruption to an anxiety or panic attack can be achieved by researching something trivial you are curious about. The brain simply cannot process panic and learn. I managed to get him giggling about how mice steal eggs (think about it, they only have little arms). Thus my work here was done.

I stood in a chip shop having ordered six bags of chips (I passed my counselling course and wanted to treat the rest of the class, thanks for asking) and a 9 year old stood just about able to peer over the counter turned to me and said:
“Excuse me, can I ask you something please?”
I said of course and she launched into
“Do you think it is better to be famous or normal?”
Definitely not what I was expecting, but I replied
“Well I guess that depends on what your definition of normal is. I think most people’s idea of normal comes from comparing themselves to others and I have never found much happiness that way.”
“Yeah, because famous people have other people looking at them all the time and that must feel really frightening but normal people who aren’t attractive and don’t have friends and aren’t always doing fun things, well I think they can be happy too. Can’t they?”
The level of pleading this was said with broke my heart into a thousand pieces.
“I think the most important thing in life is to be kind, and that includes to yourself or it doesn’t work. And that is something we could all do with a bit more practice at.”
She grinned and nodded, said thanks, grabbed her chips and fled.

Last night I was on my way to buy flowers for my bestie’s birthday (Woman In The Yellow Top for you avid BBCQT followers) when I saw a young woman crumble physically and cry out on the phone. I ran to catch her and she sobbed on my shoulder for 5 minutes as I just stood there holding her with my hand on her back. Eventually she pulled her head back and rasped “My Dad has just died.”. By this point there was another woman with me, we held her one either side and took her to a coffee shop, sat her down, bought her tea and let her sob until the air came. She looked at me with hunger and despair and said “Do you have any advice for me?” I was surprised. I don’t think I would ever ask for advice in this situation. I think I am far more prone to “you can’t possibly know what this feels like” disposition, but I looked her in the eye and said “Yes. Two things. Firstly you need to treat yourself with all of the kindness you would wish upon someone precious to your father, that is the greatest respect you can give him right now. And secondly, your memory is going to go to shit for a while. You’re not losing the plot, your brain is trying to protect you by not allowing you to concentrate on any one thing: so write stuff down. The little stuff down. The big stuff down. The memory stuff down. Write everything down. Write and write so you do not get frightened about forgetting.”
After a few hours in the coffee shop, eventually I walked her home, about a 90 minute walk across London, and made sure she was going home to friends and company. And last night I spent most of the night awake, thanking my Mum and her death for enabling me to know how to act in that situation.

It has been an epic decade for me. I lost my Mum, her Mum and my daughter. I survived a violent rape which left me having seizures and with PTSD. As a survivor of sexual violence and a fat person, it is not easy living a life feeling like I am trapped in a body which betrays me.

I’ve been doing work on this. A lot of work. And this past six months I feel like I have fast tracked a lot of stuff I having been trying to chip away at for years.

So I thought I would make a little list of things that have been really helpful on my journey so far, as other people might find them useful too.

Get a counsellor that works for you.
Tried it before?
Try again. Ask your mates. Ask around. When you find the right one, it is all going to feel like you’re capable of finding your own answers.

I had a lot of support from the wonderful coach Kristin Messegee. I am folding my arms at her for not having her website up and running so I can plug her. But you can find her on facebook (or drop her a line at kristin at kristinmessegee dot com). If you like personal recommendations, I would recommend her.

I have been doing an online coaching course with Jessi Kneeland providing exercises, resources and group support called Authentic Body Confidence. You can see her TEDx talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWESkMNPams
You can find out more about her work here (including a free 5 day Be A Body Rebel Course which is great): https://jessikneeland.com/

Kara Lowentheil is one of the most progressive and intersectional feminist body work coaches I have ever come across. Strong, sweary, real and really accessible, she does courses (and has just launches a new online monthly coaching course / group / training called The Clutch which goes deeper with her work):
You can find out more about her work here:
https://unfuckyourbrain.com

Blog and resources for self love Ev'Yan Whitney
www.evyanwhitney.com

Books:
The body keeps the score - Bessel van der Kolk
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving - Pete Walker
Loving what is - Byron Katie
The Invitation - Oriah Mountain Dreamer (I know, but try it anyway)
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race‎ - Reni Eddo-Lodge
salt. by nayyirah waheed
What a Time to Be Alone: The Slumflower's Guide to Why You Are Already Enough - Chidera Eggerue
The Buddha Geoff and Me - Edward Canfur Dunmas
Hunger - Roxane Gay

Find the things that link you to a wider sense of self or community. I chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo every day. It’s most simple translation is “I dedicate myself to the reverence of life”. I like to think of chanting as a bit like meditation for people who cannot shut up. It’s more than that of course it is. Try it if you like, to me, it felt like coming home.

Love yourself. Then you really have come home. And once you have managed that, you get to put the kettle on and invite others home too.

I wish you all the very best on our journey home.

x

PS
Part two of this should be on dreaming big, letting go, and how your brain lies to you. I took that picture on a really monumental day for me - I'd love to do more with my photography, that's one of my big dreams. I am saying that out loud in case any of you want a photoshoot. I am trying to do more shoots for people who don't feel like they would ever have a photoshoot, for people who are lacking in self esteem, for body confidence, for transitions, for life changes, births, menopause, I would love to start doing divorce photographs... you get the idea. Reach out. Let's find the beauty in the details together.

2018

I spent five months in plaster and broke six bones. I went back to college. I gave up dairy and healed my agonising periods. I officially asked people to stop sending me work messages on Facebook messenger. I worried about Brexit. Not a little nervousness, but This Is It worry. We’re fucked worry. I graduated to being a “woman” and resented the word “division”. I went on approximately 30 first dates. I gathered my things and walked out on a Nazi. I joined a team of strong women nurturing young talent from my local area. I shouted at Donald Trump. I was ostracised by a group. A one night stand turned into the best of friends. I shot an exploded circus. I got called judgemental. I disapproved. I realised why we hold onto the negative things more than the positive (if you want to know, invite me for tea and I’ll tell you). I wrote. I woke up to a slap in the face and realised a frog had jumped on me. I laughed until my belly hurt and tears streamed down my face more times than I can remember. I swam in the love of my friends and used your glories and achievements as life buoys. I swam in the ocean. I took photographs of pregnant acrobats. I wished my photography did better. I wished for better. I had my very first exhibition. I wasn’t allowed to invite anyone and no one bought a thing. I stood there on my own for a while feeling empty elation until a certain man of magic from ScotLAnd rocked on up and saved my heart. I had my heart broken by a friend and had by boundaries railroaded so hard I built them back stronger whilst looking them in the eye. I danced with my niece. I became a triple aunty. I smashed a melon to make a mate smile. I broke up a fight. I started an argument about an injustice I would not less pass and poison. I frolicked in the snow. With my broken limbs. Yeah. I’m wild like that (also, it was a bit like icing them). I went camping in a storm. I bloody loved the heatwave. I don’t know what you lot were complaining about; apart from the obviousness that the planet is burning. I noted how street harassment and public groping ramped up when I had a black eye and a broken arm. I cycled past some nuclear weapons. I helped launch a film. I answered questions. I was held up at knife point. I was rescued by children. I wasn’t sure if I should go to a funeral. I did. And caught someone as they were falling. I got more funding declinations than I have ever had in the rest of my life: it seems everyone is #metoo unless that involves action. I got angry. I was tricked by Richard Branson. Knowingly. And still felt deceived. I grew a different kind of love. A fresh flavour of old traditions. I watched some young people bloom. I sold my Nan’s clothes for survival. I filled my bath with toys to go around the world. I missed the birdies. I cooked 30 people dinner and 7 came. I got my Mum’s old Polaroid working. I walked past a hair dressers who could see I was scared and they took me in, straightened me up and sent me on my way walking talk to an apology. I got destroyed by my Mum’s birthday. Because it would never be her birthday again. I made peace with the most painful story of my life which has not involved death. I got a second chance. I was apologised to. I was held. I was healed. I was forgiven. I was allowed to rest. I allowed myself to push open a door that said “What if?”. And What if I loved myself as much as I love you? And what if I love myself as much as I love you lot? And what if I forgive myself as much as I forgive him? And who am I without this wait? And who am I without this weight? And who am I without my story? What does my structure look like without these attachments I have carved and craved and cleaved? I had my heart smashed to tiny hopeless dreams, fed off optimism but starved of oxygen, again, by the love of my life, my soul mate, the one I have known for lifetimes and the one I know truly, that for us, there is no happy ending, and this time our goodbye means goodbye. We had peace, we walked that path and he took my hand, but that does not mean we are travelling to the same place. Or that peace looks the same to us. I learnt that sometimes you cannot paint a new dawn if you’re only looking in monochrome. I learnt how healing apologies you never allowed yourself are. I started writing poetry again, after a long ago desecration had stolen my words. I learnt that my weight does not dictate my value or my worthiness or my right to love and safety. Of course I knew this already. Of course I did. I didn’t. Not honestly. I realised it crushes my life force when it is sunny and people don’t open the curtains. I wondered where we would be now had my baby lived. I danced. My god, I danced. In the streets, at festivals, in the gym, through carnival, with my girls, with strangers, I danced and I danced. I laughed. I loved my friends so much my heart could explode every damn day. I got recruited by a magazine. I couldn’t find my Nan, and when I did, I dropped to my knees like an orphan and wept for centuries. I was scooped up by a woman with my Mum’s voice. I lost a friend who had just drawn a new map to a new world. I lost a friend who had just screwed up her old map and didn’t have time to write her new script. I passed my driving test. I was told I was too fat to fuck. On a date. I realised that funerals can be both deeply joyful and deeply tragic and somehow that can reflect the person. I nearly lost a friend, and loved and laughed her back to health. I put the ashes where they should be. I got envious of my friends who have families and partners and children and stability. I roamed the world and lay in fields and read books and swam in rivers and had lie ins sometimes. I wondered if I’m too old to stop being Peter Pan now. I had the courage to ask people if they wanted to do photoshoots with me. I realised it may always be this tough to put food on my table. Maybe the break is never going to come. I realised that even when I can’t always put food on the table I can always rustle up a feast for friends. There’s a lesson in that. I studied the idea what my thoughts create my feelings and I can create my thoughts. I acknowledged that my worth is not based on how many people I “help”. I defied the cult of “Too busy”. I commited to Be More Ricketts. I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo till my soul felt peace and my dreams knitted themselves into something I could wear with pride.
I hoped.
I dreamed.
I loved.

On Knife Crime

I got surrounded by a group of young men a few weeks ago. One pulled a knife on me, as three of the others were reaching into the back for their trousers. I have no doubt that the knife I saw was not the only one in the small 2m circle on a stair well in a tower block in East London they had surrounded me in.

I didn’t mention it on social media because I did not want a well intentioned wave of “glad you’re ok’s”. I’m OK. I got out of there unhurt. Those kids who surrounded me. They are not OK. They are hurt. They are hurting the hell out our city and it seems no one is engaging.

I didn’t want to add to the oh-poor-me narrative that distracts from the heart of the matter. But as I passed another police cordon today and found myself involuntarily exclaiming “No. Enough.” out loud, and as the press and police turn all their energies to the racial profiling which is stop and search, I felt the need to write a brief word. And it should be brief, because I, along with everyone else should be listening more than we are talking.

The problem of knife and gun crime on the streets of our cities are inextricably linked to poverty. Look at the map. Look at where these kids come from. Don’t pretend that underfunding youth services and lack of opportunities are not fuelling this stuff. We have sold out our young people in this country to a life of debt for stuff that previous generations spent and we’re telling them they’ve jut got to graft harder and buckle down. If you try to push people too hard, some are going to start to push back. Anger is volatile. It is explosive. It goes in all directions and inevitably some of those directions are going to be our own communities.

I have heard lots of people over the past few days saying they do not understand how the kids can be killing their own. Not “the enemy” but their own. And the answer is right there: we don’t understand: so why don’t we go and start asking the right questions and listening to the answers? Where are the politicians saying they are going to sit down with community members and listen to what people need them to hear? Where are the spaces for people to gather? Where is the funding for people to set up their own initiatives to ask questions and listen to each other? Because the problems come from the streets and I promise you the answers lie there too. This is never going to be curbed by someone storming in with condemnation and more police powers. The solutions lie in voices we are not giving air to.

I was speaking to a friend yesterday, the mother of a teenage boy in Hackney, she said the kids who surrounded me were probably school friends of her son’s. She has taught him the streets are tough, and the only way to hope to survive is you find the trouble makers, you get to know their names, you greet them, you shake hands with them, and then you move on. Never engage too much and make sure they all know your name and that you always treat them with respect.

That’s what we have forgotten: how to treat young men from disadvantaged backgrounds in this country with any decent level of respect. And we are seeing the results.

Many of us have heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”, I remember someone during the Tottenham Riots telling me the second half of that phrase, which is not so popular is “If the children do not feel the warmth of the village they will come back and burn it to the ground to feel some heat”.

It is a longer story of how I got out of the stairwell, but the important bit you should know is that as one of them stepped aside to let me free, I looked him in the eye and made sure I said thank you.

I went back to the estate a few days later to make sure it was not an area I would be frightened of going to again, and saw the same kid and held my hand out. He introduced himself as John.

Inspiring Post

I run a little project called InspirationalLitter (you can see links above on my website, follow on Titter and Instagram).

It is a bit like being a little Buddhist tooth fairy. I write things I think people may need to hear (or in reality stuff I need to remind my self of) and hide little cards with the hash tag on the back. Sometimes I have seen people find them and light up, and some times people tweet me when they find them. It is a project dear to my heart, but it seems to be one of my least successful internet adventures.

None the less, the people who love it, love it.

So I thought I would reach out to you (in the hope of lifting, raising smiles... and also hoping you help me spread the word about the project).

And I had an idea... the run up to Xmas can be a tricky time. Nights drawing in, money worries, family issues, food issues - many things come up for many people. Maybe you just need a lift. Maybe you just need to know someone is thinking of you. Maybe you just need a few words to help you refocus for just taking that next step...

Between now and Xmas I can send you 12 little InspirationalLitter cards through the post at random intervals.

All I need is your postal address.

Ideally I would like to ask for whatever you are comfortable, as they are not free to make, (I go to a printer) but what you think they are worth will be different to different people. And I want to make sure that absolutely no one is excluded, so if you only are able to give me the cost of a stamp then that is all that is needed.

If you'd like some kind words through your mail box before the end of the year, drop me an email through the contact form on my website.

#MeToo

I see the backlash against #MeToo has begun (sigh… patriarchy runs deep), I thought I would name a few things it is not.

#MeToo Is not about shaming women or silencing people who speak out or post about it.
If you think it is not about you: listen.
If you want to tell people there are better ways of addressing this: listen.
If you want to over talk the women who have been silenced too long: listen (and check yourself).

#MeToo Is not about turning this into a gender row. Predators attack people of many persuasions. The conversation started with women of Hollywood who had been silenced, but the conversation continues, to different towns, different backgrounds and different genders.
Let’s listen to the survivors rather than ostracise people more.
You want to speak out? I am listening.
If people want to shout about this? Now is the time.
If you want to tell the people coming forward to be quiet (and this comes in many forms from snide come backs to glib replies to deleting comments which don’t fit your experience)? You probably should make now the time to listen.

#MeToo is about not remaining silent.
And that means we are going to have to have some very uncomfortable conversations. Look at the statistics. It is highly unlikely you do not know someone who is a perpetrator. As long as we all keep thinking that the bad guys are over there or that the only people who do this come with Weinstein's power and Saville's sleaze, you're missing the problem under your nose (in your club, in the bar, in the office etc...). Call people out. Start the conversations. Don't walk away when people get defensive (unless it feels unsafe) and don't turn a blind eye (or make excuses) because it is your mate. This is going to take a million little conversations to have a big impact. Are you willing to commit to that?

#MeToo is not here to create shame. It is triggery. For many reasons you may not be able to post about this and that in itself can feel shameful. The point is to create awareness for men and provide a reminder to women that you are not alone.
You are not alone.
If all this is getting too much, reach out.

Rape Crisis
Freephone 0808 802 9999
12 noon - 2.30pm and 7 - 9.30pm every day of the year 

Samaritans
028 9146 4646 (local call charges apply)
National telephone:
116 123 (this number is free to call)
Email Samaritans:
jo@samaritans.org

To quote my glorious friend Guen
“It is not a witch hunt.
The witches are coming FOR YOU.”

We will not be silenced.

It is time to speak out.

It is time to listen.

#MeToo
(Aged 6, 13, 14,15,19 and 32)
#MyMumToo
#MyGrandmotherToo

A few thoughts on terrorism and why your responses matter

It seems to me that these times are filled with a lot of people feeling very hopeless.

I know there have been many times in the past where where it is hard to feel how I could possibly have an impact on the horrors we are seeing every day in the news. In Syria for example, the pain runs so deep it is hard to understand how I can help and what difference I can make.

But suddenly with this new wave of attacks on the UK and in Europe I feel strongly empowered.

Maybe we have just made a huge leap towards peace and we have not even seen it.

When I look at all these individual attackers, most of them are from here and have familiar frames of reference to me. They are not some remote soldiers I have no understanding of the lifestyle of, they shop in the same shops as I do, hear the same music, navigate the same public transport systems. Our lives are intrinsically connected.

When I try and think about how my personal responses to things matter, or being more loving or more respectful might help refugees in boats or people in Barcelona, I feel pretty helpless. But then I started to think about the fact that the guy who carried out the attack on Westminster Bridge was from Tunbridge Wells. There must be hundreds of people who have stood next to him at Tesco’s, skipped the queue in front of him for petrol, or pushed past him on a train… hundreds of little every day incidents where thousands of us cross paths every day. Suddenly our responsibility to make respectful, positive, peaceful connections with everyone we meet seems a lot more applicable to a larger picture of world peace. Suddenly my actions start to make more sense in terms of our individual responsibility.

We have a really important mission to be able to propagate an idea of respect and compassion in these turbulent times. The idea that each person is worthy of respect is a bold notion. Especially when someone has just pissed you off or barged into territory you feel is rightfully yours. But would those men have attacked people on London Bridge if they had been feeling loved and respected? I don’t believe you do that kind of thing if you feel like you feel people care what you think and about what you do. And I absolutely do not think they could have done that kind of thing if they thought people cared about them.

It is crucial now more than ever to show overt respect to all those whose lives we share a space and time with. The guy who walked into the elevator before waiting for people to leave, the woman who is shouting too loudly on her phone on the bus, that family member who is it just too damn long to make an effort with…

We have the chance and the opportunity to impart hope and to change the course of these hellish times we are navigating. But it is going to take each of us standing up and choosing love and respect over fear and retaliation.

I know what I chose. Choose love.

2016.

In case you're bored of seeing all your friends having a wonderful time / Xmas / life in comparison to yours... here's my self indulgent round up:

I've spent New Year's Eve alone twice already this year. Valentine's Day isn't as hard as Fireworks Night, but the evening of my birthday sat watching sunset on my own felt curious: a mix of melancholy and inevitability. I make myself so busy I can't breathe and then end up feeling quite isolated from the hundreds of you I love. And I love. I am very aware that the general presumption of me is that I am too busy to bother, but at key moments I am still having to concoct new recipes for a stand alone spirit.

I've been single for over 10 years now, and it's hard not to wonder where my chance went. And I know where they went, they got jumbled in death and cancer and grieving and rape and confusion and self esteem and suddenly I am pushing forty and it looks like Disney might have been lying. Being alone isn't awful. But it's made me hungry, and I worry I have lost years endlessly chasing things which never happened when I could have learnt to like the person I am. I think I'm learning. But goodness I'm a slow learner. I've not worked out how to stop comparing my failures to everyone else's seeming to glide and sometimes I can't work out how to walk one word in front of the other.

But the change this year has been a slow realisation that I think I'm starting to be alright with all of that. Maybe I'll never have a happily ever after, maybe I won't have kids, maybe I won't be able to drag my business out of a seemingly endless recession, maybe I'll never have a body that looks like I work out as much as I do, maybe I will lose my house... and all of it kind of just is. It's not terrible any more. It just is. It's when I am fighting this stuff like a toddler in a tantrum I feel lost and out of my depth, but accepting that this is the story I have, rather than the one I was sold and being grateful for the adventure and those I journey with is the rope ladder out of existential oblivion.

And an adventure it has been: I cuddled and held and nursed my Nan for nearly five months. We giggled, and cried and told stories and held hands in the dark. I walked in sleet and snow for hours every day to be there when she woke and tell stories all day and put her gently to bed. I hope Mum would think I did her proud. I stroked her forehead and sang with her and when she died in my arms my whole jigsaw came apart. I became the eldest woman in my family and I felt like I had cheated both my Mum and my Nan out of their chance to see me do ok. I ran up and down the country, I got tricked into believing hope, I stood outside an internment camp for cruelty and held a free baby near a wall of caged women, I apologised, I hurt, I learnt, I grew, I was lied to, I was deceived into becoming the other woman, I saw a surfing turtle in Tottenham, I made peace with someone I lost in Australia ten years ago, I ate a lot of hospital canteen food, I starved myself a lot, I watched my Dad lose his best friend, I nearly fell into a trap, I went on vipassna, I fought some shadows, I made an enemy of mirrors, I stopped having sugar in my tea, I sold clothes to pay my bills, I wove flowers into a coffin, I made some greetings cards that only I found funny, I chalked names into Old Compton Street of people massacred, I lit candles with tears, I reached out to someone I thought would never forgive me and was granted some peace, I took some photographs, I roamed with a poet, I got dismayed by politics, I went dancing on my own, a lot, I wrapped people in love when untimely death stole into our lives, I marched through streets, I engaged in tricky conversations because it was the right thing to do rather than decide it was easier not to, I recited the mantra and explained why the words needed no amendment: Black Lives Matter, I travelled somewhere I was so unwelcome I was hyperventilating in order to defend another, I watched my Sisters open a house and build a community, I had an accident on a fairground, I watched a festival being built on a wasteland, I had a candle lit dinner on a cable roll, I saw butoh by a bus, I sat on a beach and found myself in the ocean, I watched a plane crash, I found graffiti and emptied a house, I played with bubbles and realised my niece may just save the world with her joy at life, I didn't read enough, I fell out with the one I love most over a racist rant, the sky turned to ice cream, I left a dinosaur on a boat, I lived in a redwood forest for a week without electricity, I got carried to California to document declarations of love, I lay in a penthouse in Hollywood and found redemption, I was brought to my knees by the love of my friends, I didn't "slip" off a balcony, I rinsed Tinder, I became someone's mermaid, I got a job, I ran after an airship, my brother got married and I gained a sister, I made old friends meet, I stood next to a man who had braved life beyond anything I could ever imagine, I stood next to Albert Woodfox, a free man, I got kidnapped to a beach to walk and read and consolidate, I got sunburnt in November, in Norfolk, I got invited on dates and then blocked by the invitee: three times, three guys, I realised I'm too old school for these modern times, I realised technology moves quicker than morality, I stood for water protectors, I got a cold for the cause, I was part of a journey of growth of three women trying to build a path to peace that paved their own bridges, I changed, I laughed, I had both paper aeroplanes and custard pies thrown at me, I chanted, I listened, I tried to help, I grew.

There has been a lot of talk of late about how bad 2016 has been, and in that Internet conspiracy way it seems to me that this narrative diminishes a thousand victories and losses. Each story is an onion of depth to be peeled back and peeled back and peeled back and to clump it all together as a shit year feels like we're draining the colour from our own photographs.

This year I learnt that I make myself sick when I try to cover up my inadequacies by trying to do three lifetimes worth of stuff in the hope people will like me. This year I learnt I can't do enough but I can be enough. This year I learnt big dreams can leave you hungry.

And this year I finally started feeling like this is how it's meant to be, so maybe I can stop running.

2017? I'm up for you now.

Reclaim the power

It's in my nature to try and search for the silver lining we are told every cloud promises.

I feared Trump's victory since visiting America a few months ago and realising how many people did not see him as a credible threat. So I've had a few months to get my shovel out and start digging for some solace in the inevitable.

I know today is full of anger and fear, but please try to come with me for a minute, because we are going to need all the candles we can find in these dark times.

Trump's rhetoric was filled with lies and hatred. Predominantly aimed at people of colour, women and minorities. This appealed to a lot of people. This needs addressing. I don’t think Trump has made anyone any more racist or hateful than they already were. What he has done is give people permission to air their oppressive views.

At first glance this looks like a horrific car crash. But the reality is much of this bile already existed, it has just been thinly (and not so thinly) veiled. Yet this is a place from which many people were already responding, they were just trying to hide it. This is how systematic oppression is able to sustain itself.

Imagine if you were to hear someone say they wouldn't employ any brown people in their company. You can have a conversation with them about that. You can discuss why that's not an acceptable thing to say, and if that fails and they are morally bankrupt, you can explain that it is also illegal. But if someone is not giving people job interviews because their names sound "a bit foreign" there is nothing tangible to be grasped. Nothing is in the open and the conversations cannot be had. There is no dialogue. There is no progress. I do not see a way that these things can possibly be expiated until they are out into the open. I cannot see any other way. This hidden poison has been contaminating us all.

Imagine for a moment that a man suggests it's fun to "grab a woman by the pussy", behind closed doors, between buddies, apparently, this is acceptable. When it is out in the open, the public are dismayed. It was not the disgust which rang loud for me in that scenario, but the number of women clearly stating every woman they knew had experienced something similar to that.

Now let's look at Billy Bush (the accomplice in what we shall uncomfortably call "Gropegate”). See how he chuckles along? See how he wants a bit of the game? See how he puffs his chest out and plays predator too? Well it's the Billy Bushes of this world we need to be addressing. 

That little sexist comment in the workplace which was “just a bit of fun” so no one gets pulled up on it? The racist aside from a family member which you're too long in the tooth to address? The homophobic meme you saw on the internet which didn't intend offence, but it just happens to reinforce negative stereotypes? Ignoring these moments is what seeds hatred and division. Letting this stuff slide turns into landslides of election victories for people who perpetuate disunity.

If Trump did not exist he would simply be replaced by someone equally hateful. The rage-filled undertones which elected him need a figurehead. He is a product of the electorate, not the other way around. 

You can't eliminate the Trumps (or Farages or Le Pens) of this world, but you can educate the Billy Bushes. And the Billy Bushes speak to their friends and families (and locker room buddies) and these are the people who cast the votes that authorise the power.

Change is never going to be top down. Change imposed upon people is never durable. But change from the people causes those seeking power to reflect the will of those who put them there: they have to, or they lose their seat.

So don't feel powerless. You embody what puts people on those seats. And the more conscious, considerate, caring, inclusive dialogues you start, the more are had. And the more people think about others, the more they respect others. And the more we respect others the more the politicians have to reflect the will of the people. 

So let's make a vow to not walk away from those awkward moments, those tricky conversations and those outright unkind and oppressive things we all hear said in the open. And let's make sure we are never, ever, Billy Bush.

No

When you treated my "No" like a negotiable currency
You disrespected wombs which grew men.
Our ancestors remember behaviour like yours.
I pray your daughter never has to.

It's a date

A needle pierced your beautiful flesh
scoring ink under your skin
to commit your life to another woman.

The only legacy I ever want to leave on your body
is stretch marks on your heart.

Vegans? We've gotta talk.

And I don't mean shout. I mean talk.

Let me state this clearly, because I fear you are not going to hear it, however factual it may be: I support you. I think the moral, ethical and consumer choices you make are the correct ones for the care of all creatures and the planet. I commend your dedication. I think you are right.

But the messaging has gone astray. Really astray. This hostile aggression and attitude of food shaming is serving no one. Except possibly some really over priced restaurants.

I used to be a vegan. Want to know why? Not because I cared about the poor little fluffy (and not so fluffy) animals (and believe me, I do care about the poor little fluffy animals), but because it was the perfect disguise for my anorexia. I stopped being the worrying waif who was a problem, and I started being just a fussy eater who was a pain. Suddenly people stopped talking to me about food and let me get on with my funny little ethical diet. I used morals as a screen for abuse. In a time when over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders, this is a veil I know I was not alone in using.

And the shaming? I am just not sure that is doing your cause any favours. The access to good, healthy, food and whole food diet is very much related to your income. The way that poverty is utterly ignored in your food discourse in this day and age is downright offensive. With food bank use in the UK at a record high due to necessity, your quick fix recipe for that organically farmed nutrient rich super food which cures cancer and saves baby elephants which is oh so simple to cook in this 7 hour video is a little dismissive of many people's realities. For many, food choices themselves are an utter luxury.

And the racism? Do not compare the issues people of colour have to process on a daily basis with your food choices. Stop putting those things in the same conversation. When white people equate slavery to anything else: they are standing on the wrong side of history. On very shaky ground. It is not your comparison to make. Stop it. No ifs, no buts. Stop claiming "speciesism". Do not ever show me that picture equating eating pork to lynching black men (yes it exists and yes it is used). You're not winning arguments, you're not winning points, in fact this makes you look really, really nasty.

And the aggression? Let's go back to basics, I have rarely come across a situation where shouting at someone that they are wrong, convinces them to change their mind, let alone their behaviour. Maybe it's the petulant teenager in me, but I see someone miming a coughing fit at a smoker and it makes me want to start smoking. Who has ever walked past a street preacher screaming that you are a sinner who made you think "Gosh, he's a happy chap, I must seek his answer for spiritual enlightenment"?

Shouting at people makes them stop listening. Even if you are right. And you are right. So how about we find a way to help people hear what you are saying and provide ways we can facilitate change, instead of force feeding people self righteous condemnation. It leaves a sour taste all round.

If there is anything I can do, let me know

I have just lost a friend. Young. Suddenly. Leaving his wife and young children in shock.

I watched outpourings on Facebook and felt the need to write this.

May I share something bereavement has taught me? Don't say "if there is anything I can do, please let me know" chances are in a bereaved state you won't know. You won't know you need to eat, you won't remember the kids have a dentist appointment, you won't know the lawn needs mowing, you won't know the email password for that really important thing... For those of use that are left behind feeling helpless, there are practical thing we can do. They don't ease the pain but they mean it frees those closest to process in their own way.

As technology links us so rapidly, sometimes it makes us forget the importance of face to face or picking up the phone, especially when you don't know what to say. Get over that fear. This is no time for your smaller self to be unsure what to say. They are your friend. Pick up the phone. Leave a message. Remind them they are loved. They don't have to pick up, but the voices of those you love are so much more real on answerphones than in text.

If there's one thing I have learnt, it's that it is far easier to decline help than to ask for it. Show up with food. Collect photographs and memories. Turn up and do the laundry. I remember someone once saying to me you can never say you are there for someone unless you are willing to just turn up and do their dishes.

And if you get turned away, remember this isn't about you, it's about you showing up.

A penny drop of freedom

Trigger warning: sexual violence, abuse and self indulgence.

My desire to prefix this blog with an apology is almost unbearable. But I am trying to unlearn apologising with every breath and so forgive me if I just plough on. If the issues raised here do not affect you, you will probably feel this is utterly self indulgent and sympathy-seeking to write, but on the off-chance there is someone out there who may have their healing speeded a little by these words, to you, I write.

I just had one of those penny-drop moments, where the brick wall I have been pushing against just turned to glass. I have not shattered it yet, by the light shone right and I can suddenly see it for what it is.

For years I have been restraining my life and myself into the victim role. I have terrible health issues, I screw up relationships, I (ab)use my body mass index to denote my worth; I generally treat myself appallingly. I use the book mark of rapes to explain if people get close enough to listen. And sometimes I shout it because I think they are just not hearing the epidemic of abuse (2 women a week in the UK are murdered by their partners or former partners. I’ll say that again: 2 women a week.). I’ve been trapped in an abusive relationship with myself for years.

And I have just figured out why. The self blame / guilt / I-hurt-me-so-you-can’t-hurt-me logic always sounded good on paper but it never felt like that was my reason (or not all of it) and it certainly didn’t provide me with a fire exit.

I have heard so many different tones of disbelief (from “Did that really happen?” through to calling me an attention seeking liar) that my defence mechanism kicked it to make it real. You don’t believe me? Well look how fucked up I still am after all these years. Look how things never worked out for me. Look how I perpetually put myself in danger because I am not worth looking after. I can’t prove to you that I said no, that he punched me into hospital, that I was just a kid, dammit, but I can prove to you that something really fucked me up. And I am going to keep proving that because it’s the only evidence I have when no one believes me.

And with 8%-12% conviction rates for those who are brave enough to report rapes to the police in the UK, it’s the only evidence I have.

I remember facing the same issue when my Mum died. For months, I traumatised myself because I was petrified that if I forgot what her dead face looked like - who else would know? And then that essential part of her journey would be lost and forgotten and fade into history. It’s the same with rape. As long as I can keep proving to you what a complete mess I am, then it must have happened, one day you might believe me. And one day I might believe me.

But once you spot trap, it is easier to avoid it. I don’t have the answers or the solutions, but what I have just woken up to with this revelation, is that as long as I entwine my healing with the judgement of others as to my honesty, achieving my own peace and freedom will be impossible.

    I hope there is something in here to aide someone else’s journey to healing. Please be gentle with yourself, whoever you are. I hope these words find you.

    If you need to speak to someone, you can contact Refuge on 0808 2000 247 or http://www.refuge.org.uk/

Autobiography in Five Chapters
by Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...
I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in...it's a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

5 Actions You Can Take to Create a More Peaceful World

As we appear to fail to learn from history and tumble back towards another war, there are some things that we, people who oppose military intervention, can do:

Engage in Dialogue
Do not allow words of war to trick you into thinking that conflict is our only option and massacres make peace. Of course these issues are complicated. But if you want to stay focussed on your aims for peace and reverence for all life (and that includes lives of those who disagree with you) then you must make sure you keep your conversations respectful and veer away from trading personal insults, even when angry. This distracts from being heard and ultimately has nothing to do with the peace of which we talk of.

Carry on the Conversations
The media will move on, as the bombs start dropping and mother’s begin losing their sons and daughters begin losing their limbs, the media will begin losing interest. When was the last time you heard someone mention the girls kidnapped from the school in Nigeria? Compassion fatigue is very real obstacle towards us relating horrors on other shores to our every day lives. Carry on raising your voices, protest, carry on taking to the streets, be seen as well as heard. As the attention shifts towards nice cosy Christmas images of going to sleep waiting for Santa, make sure we are not forgetting people who cannot get into bed at night safely.

Clear Your Own Doorstep
Peace is not something far away, peace is something which, if we are ever to sustain it, needs to start within ourselves, our hearts, our homes and our everyday lives. Peace is not "out there" in some far off land that needs establishing; it is in the actions (and more importantly the reactions) of 7.3 billion individual people. And you are one of them. Make a firm commitment to rebel against hatred and division with actions not words. Find someone in your personal sphere who you are at war with. Someone you feel hurt by, wronged by. challenged by, even if it is just one person, and put your desire for peace above your need to be right. And let's start a little ripple of peace from our own front doors. It might sound tiny when you look at the bigger picture, but often "the bigger picture" inhibits us from taking any action. Imagine if 50 people stopped hating someone else this evening. Imagine if it was a thousand. It is possible to do this. It is possible to make a significant difference to a more peaceful world. We are all connected, if we set peace as a determination in our hearts as opposed to brutal retaliation, every one of our interactions change and therefore so do the lives of all those we come into contact with.

Welcome Refugees
The tabloids will be having a little hokey cokey between “BACK OUR BOYS!” and “SYRIAN IMMIGRANTS ARE STEALING OUR AIR!”. Do not buy into this narrative. It is inevitable when bombs drop on a country that lots of people will not want to live there any more. Let’s make sure our response to opposing war including supporting those most effected by it. Daesh are not setting up control rooms in the back of BHS in Bedford (yes, someone actually wrote that article), we really are not "full". Make moves to call these preposterous scaremongering tactics out when we see them, and if possible respectfully. No one ever changed their view point because someone else shouted at them that they are a fucking idiot. Try not to make people defensive (even if you think they are being fucking idiots) and get your point, not your ignition, heard. And remember not everyone has read all of the articles that you have, so playing the intelligence high ground makes you look like you are trying to be superior, as opposed to trying to widen understanding and compassion for all of us. And volunteer your money or time where you can. I have friends working really hard for these organisations, if you are not sure where to go, please check them out:
https://www.youcaring.com/refugee-community-kitchen-474904
http://www.pennyappeal.org/refugee-emergency-shelter.html

Do Not Disengage
The only people who win wars are arms dealers. Our government lines it’s pockets with machines designed to murder and maim. In 2013 the UK government sold military equipment worth a total of £12.3 bn to countries which are on its own official list for human rights abuses. And they want you to disengage. It is not in their interests for you to pay attention, to take to the streets and to protest. This actually costs them money. And therefore both they, and others, will tell you that protest does not work. That civil disobedience is futile, or quite simply, that you are a “terrorist sympathiser” for wishing everyone have the right to live in a world where lives of all are respected; and this includes not treating people in Syria as collateral damage.

Take action, speak out, do not be disheartened.

Remember we have been in situations which have looked this hopeless and frightening before. We really have tried war. Time and time again. Throughout history, hundreds and thousands of years of throwing things at each other, words, rocks or bombs has not created a world which is safe for us all. Until that is achieved, we all need to actively engage in creating peace with our words, deeds, and most importantly our reactions when challenged. It is not easy, and it is not quick. But revering the life of ALL others and treating none as dispensable, is quite simply the only thing we have not tried. I don't see we have any other option than to be more loving. Nothing else has worked. We have never lived in times where more people are standing up for peace, more people are engaging with social issues and more people are raising their conscious concern for all, as opposed to just their own - take heart in this and use it to add fuel to your fire.

You have an essential role to play in world peace. The reality is, it cannot happen without you.

#DontBombSyria
#NotinMyName

On flags and indignation and guilt tripping

Facebook is awash with Tricolour faces I have to squint to see, which feels darkly emblematic right now. This morning my mind started roaming about how I would feel if anything so horrific happened here in the UK. Would the rest of the world know that the Union Jack seems to have been hijacked as a symbol of racist extremism in this country? Is that the same everywhere?

I’ve never really paid much attention to flags as they have always made me feel quite uncomfortable. By the time I knew what a flag stood for, it had already become the symbol of the National Front. The petrifying skinheads in my town used to wear their Union Jack with pride whilst they quite literally spat at and kicked people of colour as they walked down the street.

And so I don't put flags over my face on Facebook, and I wonder if this will be seen that I don't care enough, as it is with poppies, and what about that moment you decide to change your profile picture, does that mean you don't care any more? I'm aware this probably sounds judgemental, but I'm honestly a bit lost in it.

But what got my mind wondering further was seeing a string of six consecutive posts screaming “What about Beruit? Where is the Syria people finder to mark them safe? What about an Iraq flag?”. And though I understand these points are valid, I am just not sure the indignation helps any of us.

Rightly or wrongly Paris was so shocking to so many of us because it was places we know, people we know and close to home. But it makes sense to me that if your next door neighbour gets run over, you are going to feel more impact than if someone you don’t know in a different town gets run over. It doesn’t mean you think the other person deserves to be run over, or that their life was worth any less, but your personal connection intensifies your feeling of horror and devastation.

I get it, we are hurt and angry about what has happened. We feel out of control. And we need someone to blame. There has to be someone to blame. And there has to be somewhere to throw our anger. And it can’t be ISIS, because hell that’s massive, and what if I can accused of being an Islamophobe, so let’s hate Facebook instead. Because it’s real and part of my daily life.

Of course I am simplifying but I don’t see where this outpouring of WHAT ABOUT THEM? gets us. It just feels like throwing guilt around to at people who already hurting. You have social media. Use it. Did you put a picture of a Lebanese flag up when the Beruit bombing happened? Did you tweet about the suicide bomber in Iraq? How can you make sure that people in Syria / fleeing Syria / in refugee camps are safe even if they don’t have Facebook?

As long as we are waiting for someone else to change, we lose our power to make the world a better place. Let’s take responsibility for our own reactions. And please, let’s stop wasting energy expecting large corporations to put the same value on human life as you do.

Three simple things you can do to help refugees

I have seen a few articles doing the round about what practical action you can take to help refugees. Though they seem to be well written and well intentioned, I could not help but feel there are a few key things missed off the list. Yes donating cash, time and resources may help the immediacy, but how can we prevent this being a repeating story? I think there are three key things you can do to help.

Let’s talk about racism
Be under no delusion that local racism is not linked to global racism. When Farage courts the media with such ease and Cameron drops words like “swarms” into sentences with no shame, with the rise of the far right across Europe and the fact that it took a picture of a dead child on a beach for people to acknowledge thousands of others - let’s not pretend this is not a race issue. If the people fleeing horror in boats had been white, this issue would probably have been solved before it started.

It is the duty of white citizens to educate themselves about racism. Why white people? Because of basic privilege. If this word feels like a personal attack, or you just need somewhere to be able to start to understand this issue, I’d recommend the widely referenced paper “Unpacking the invisible knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh

Campaign against arms trade
It is a strange equation, but if you bomb and arm countries of oppressive regimes, people don't want to live there. But perhaps with the UK arms trade generating approximately £16 billion in 2014, that basic equation is easy to ignore. A report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed in the first six months of 2014 the UK granted licences worth £63.2m of arms sales to 18 of the 28 states on its official blacklist, countries which the Foreign Office say have the “most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns”*

And there are people working very hard to change this. Support them.
Campaign against arms trade https://www.caat.org.uk/
CND http://www.cnduk.org/
War on Want http://www.waronwant.org/
To name just a few.

Do your research
Team up with people who are already working to support migrant rights. I have seen a lot of posts over the past few days about how people turning up in Calais with resources, is in fact not very helpful.

Don’t link to the Daily Mail even if they write a good article. They profit from Xenophobia, racism, hatred and division the rest of the year, and your links help pay the advertising revenue that supports that.

Start conversations. I know it sounds basic, we are not going to change the world over night, but you do have the chance to change your environment with every person you meet. Instead of walking away from bigotry, maybe it is time to try to stand up and make that person hear that their view may be lacking in understanding and compassion. Ignoring a racist rant from a taxi driver isn’t going to help him make the world a more caring place. The root of this hysteria is fear. Try to engage in a way that uproots that fear and humanises those being “other”ed.

Stand up, speak out, make the words you use ones which create a more united planet.

This issue is human made and it is human solvable. Not immigrant made, or asylum seeker made, or even refugee made, but human made. Let's treat those who are suffering in the manner we would hope to be treated. We all have the chance to make a difference. Let's engage in dialogues and actions which create a world which is safer and more peaceful for us all.

*
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/08/uk-condemned-arms-sales-rep...

Verbal Abuse

I am in Asia. People have no qualms about talking about your body here. Men walk past me in the street and tell me I am really fat. Women prod my stomach and ask if I am pregnant and laugh. Yesterday a man mimed me by puffing out his cheeks, making his arms into a circle and waddling, which his friends found hysterical.

It’s a cultural thing, apparently. It’s not rude. It’s just acceptable that my body is a freak-show for other people’s entertainment. I must accept people ridiculing my body because that’s just how things are here.

Back in London the story has a slightly different flavour. When men make comments about my body I am meant to just accept it because apparently this is flattery. People imposing their view on the shape of my curves and occasionally what they’d like to do to me should be demurely accepted. Preferably with gratitude. I must say thank you that someone has decided to let me know public whether they deem this lump of meat to be fuckable or not. It’s a compliment, apparently. It’s not rude.

Just because you like something and decide to shout that, does not make it a compliment. It just makes it your opinion. The desire for others to tell me what they think of my body over my right to feel safe and assessed is relentless.

And it’s exhausting.

As someone who has been raped in several scenarios by known and strangers alike, feeling safe in my own skin is not something I arrive at with ease. One of the worst fallouts of sexual assaults for me was the aftermath feeling like I could not escape from the house that had been broken into. I’m walking around in the very thing that feels like (and I was repeatedly told) had caused my abuse.

So when people prod, poke and pass comment on my flesh, walking down the street can feel like I am on the butchers slab just waiting for the cleaver to execute me once more.

I am not alone in feeling like this. Maybe over sensitive, but not alone.

It doesn’t have to be like this. It is extremely unlikely you, reading my ramblings are someone who actively engages in street harassment. But it is also quite unlikely that your life, social and work circles never cross paths with anyone who does. If I can walk down any street this side of the globe or the other and regularly face ten to fifty people a day declaring judgment on my anatomy, it shows it is not a small isolated group following me around. It’s about the way women’s bodies are seen as public property the world over.

You can help change this. Call people out. Engage in dialogue. And simply try reverting to the base line of respect “Is that kind?”.

One of the most inspiring ideas I ever heard was from Daisaku Ikeda who said the type of world peace we should be striving for is a time when any woman, anywhere in the world, day or night, can walk home alone and feel safe.

It is a small step on a long journey, but we do have the power to prevent verbal violence towards women. And every step towards less violence is an essential one. Your actions make a difference. Even if it is just to one woman. Don’t get lost in the bigger picture. Each incident makes up thousands a day. Speak out. Talk about this. Help change this. Let’s each take a step towards a kinder path.

Together we really do have the opportunity of being and inspiring the change we want to see.

This is post-earthquake Nepal

I spent this morning in hospital.

I saw a young girl who is five months pregnant collapse and smash her head on a marble floor. When we arrived at the hospital we were told it was not an emergency, and that we should go the ante-natal unit, but we must pay before we would be seen. So we queued for over an hour. This is Nepal.

I spent the afternoon with a young mother who is recovering from tuberculosis. Tomorrow morning she has to start the nine hour bus journey to go and get some medicine for her and her baby. The room which is her home has a massive crack down one wall and right across the ceiling. She has been sleeping here since the place she was staying in her village was destroyed. But at least this place has a roof. This is post-earthquake Nepal.

For the past few years I have had the honour of working alongside Circus Kathmandu, a breath-taking group of young people who have been rescued from human trafficking and other vulnerable situations. Most of them were stolen or sold as babies or toddlers into circuses in India. These are the ones who want to carry on performing. I have written about their story previously here
http://heardinlondon.co.uk/content/stories-came-tumbling-out
and here http://heardinlondon.co.uk/content/one-little-girl

I have been part of a team helping them set up their own business and helping them grow into an internationally acclaimed professional performing arts company. But devastation has struck. I am sure you are all too aware of the earthquake which struck Nepal in April, but did you know there have been over 383 aftershocks over magnitude 4 since that initial earth shattering moment? Nepal may have disappeared from the front pages but here are some other facts which should bring the devastation home:

  • Approximately 8 million people have been affected by the earthquake
  • The current known death toll is around 8,700 with at least 22,200 injured.
  • 2.8 million people were left in need of urgent assistance, 1.1 million of whom are children.
  • There have been more than 500,000 homes destroyed, and nearly 280,000 damaged. That’s 780,000 people who need somewhere to sleep. Add in landslides caused by post earthquake monsoon and close to 2.8 million people have been displaced.
  • Nepal is a country where a quarter of the population live on less than $1.25 per day.
  • And then we come to the issues I am here to try and work against.

  • Around 2.4 million people—overwhelmingly women and girls—are currently in forced labour as a result of trafficking
  • An estimated 1.2 million victims of trafficking are children with around 43% of them trafficked into the sex industry.
  • Sex trafficking is a big industry in Nepal, with reports finding as many as 10,000 women and girls are trafficked from Nepal to India each year. (Nepali girls are especially desirable as prostitutes in India because Nepali virgins are believed to be a cure for AIDS.)

Reading those facts above, imagine how hard things were before the earthquake. No imagine how hard it is to keep your children safe when your home has been destroyed, the school fell down and so your children are no longer protected by four walls at any time. And then an “uncle” (usually someone from the same caste) tells you that one of your children would be a lot better fed and looked after (and maybe even get a job) if he looked after them.

It’s a stigma which breaks the image we have in the West, but I believe very few people sell their children out of cruelty alone. It is deception and desperation. Most often they are told their children will have a much better life, an education and a chance of a fine job (and fine clothes - and they most definitely will be fed). Most also believe they will be able to see their children regularly. And in desperation you are much more likely to be tricked by someone offering a future to your child when are struggling to feed them. We give the grand title of human trafficking to this business, but it is nothing more than modern day slavery. And this is going on in 2015.

Our troupe were mostly rescued from having been sold into circuses in India where they were forced to work long hours from a young ages under horrific conditions. Since the earthquake they have been focussing on outreach work - supporting NGO and education programmes through play therapy - to bring light relief to children and young people in communities which have been hardest hit by the earthquake. With fun shows, trust games and co-ordination skills they are using their knowledge of these humanitarian dangers to be able to teach other children how they can try to keep each other safe.

We have no funding, no sponsors, and quite frankly, I feel I have hit the wall of compassion fatigue with this project and people are getting tired of me shaking my cyber-bucket at them. But they need your help. I need your help. Still. Maybe it’s just the price of a cup of coffee, of maybe it’s just a RT or post of the fundraising page on Facebook, but every single bit of support helps.


£2 would pay for safe water for the troupe for a day
£5 could make 100 juggling balls for workshops in camps (rice and balloons)
£10 could provide child care to enable a young mother to be able to also have a career
£20 would pay for school for one year for one of our young people
£50 would allow us to get emergency response first aid training for four young people
£100 would pay for the costs of an outreach workshop to an area which has been hard hit by the earthquake

These are just some examples. There are thousands. And it is thousands we need. But every single donation makes a difference. Maybe you’ve heard the old adage “How do you climb mount Everest? One step at a time”.

I know so many of you have donated already, and your support has been so amazing. I am asking again because this is still a country in absolute crisis.


If you would like to make a donation you can do so here https://www.justgiving.com/circus-kathmandu

And if you could help me spread the word, I would be most grateful.

With deepest respect.

x

YouTube: 

Farage may be gone but I’m still angry.

Why was the only time his pathetic hate filled rhetoric and fear mongering decently grilled on LBC radio? No disrespect at all to James O’Brien (in fact full credit to him) but why was he the only one who bothered to really interview this man and fact check the reality before Nigel could lie and wriggle his way out of things.

This is why he had so much support. Not because he happened to go to pubs, or do a sterling impression of Dick Van Dyke doing an impression of what an Englishman should say and do, but because he never had the things he said ripped to shreds in public. A man who regularly tripped himself up, with a pantomime cast of a party which kept falling over like the losing side of a racist game of tug of war - why was no one willing to topple him verbally before the election?

The closest we came was Al Murray taking the piss out of him - a very good tactic but why on earth was that pretty much all the opposition he faced?

This angers me because he gained support and stirred up hatred against people who do not look like him, aired them in public and made other people think those views were acceptable. That there will now be a number of people who think it’s probably alright to be a little bit more homophobic down the pub*, because Nigel thinks it’s ok. That it’s ok to put your wife back in her place**, because no one ever managed to justify to Nigel why that isn’t a good thing to do, why being a little bit more overt in your racism***, because let’s face it, Nigel talked about immigration and the rest of the parties started mumbling border control too.

Farage may be gone as an MP, (he’s still an MEP**** though) but the hatred he stirred up remains, and those people will be looking for their next leader. Think some kind of Farage/Griffin hybrid with a dismissive air of nonchalance about how racism starts and occasional nod in dress sense to Enoch Powell - there’ going to be someone waiting in the wings to fill that spot right now. The ignorance throne is empty and there’ll be someone very eager to steal the crown by pushing things just a little bit further to the right.

And with our current government’s education policies in place, how can we even rely on people to read their history books? That’s why a critical media analysis of the xenophobic vitriol must be cultivated if we are not going to be caught in this hateful cycle and setting people against each other due to our differences.

If we do not find a way to counter act this ignorance we are wilfully allowing seeds of segregation to spread through our country. Dismantling of this swing to the Right the rest of Europe is facing needs to start. And it needs to start now.

* Dr Julia Gasper: "As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the ­subject."
** Nigel Farage: “Working mothers are worth less than men.”
*** Godfrey Bloom: "How we can possibly be giving £1bn a month, when we're in this sort of debt, to Bongo Bongo Land is completely beyond me."
**** A racist twat

My pledge to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron

I shall not call you Dave. For you are no friend of mine.

You tricked a lot of people with your words, Mr Cameron. Words which spread fear and convince people react in self defensive, but you have not fooled me. You have galvanised me. Out of respect for your democratically elected position (if one were to believe that First Past the Post were to be a fair system of representation) I would like to make you some promises in return.

Here are my pledges for your term in office:

- You will not set me against people who look different to me and convince me they are my enemy.

- You will not convince me that people who have an income which is less than my own have less value as humans.

- You will not convince me that the deficit is more important than human lives.

- You will not convince me that your decision to wilfully engage in the arms trade is not directly correlational to immigration.

- You will not dissolve my conviction that we have an empire-sized history which morally obliges us to assist people who seek solace on these shore.

- I will not allow you to perpetuate the lie that food banks are needed because of greed not abject poverty.

- You will not convince me that austerity is necessity as opposed to a systematic method of oppression.

- I will not be silenced about the scandal that leaves 37% of safe space refuges for women now having to run services without any dedicated funding because of decisions your government has made.

- You will not convince me that we must fund weapons to attack others before providing free education for ourselves.

- You will not trick me into believing me that the NHS is a ruined burden which will be better off handed over to profiteers, whilst you systematically undermine and underfund it.

- You will not convince me that aiding people less fortunate than yourself is a burden.

- You will not convince me that people in need of financial assistance are scroungers.

- You will not distract me from the reality that most of the pain and poverty in this country could be solved if you closed off-shore tax avoidance loopholes.

- You will not convince me that bank balances are more important than people.

You cannot take it with you Mr Cameron. We are all going to die. With the proposed austerity you want to inflict upon people already struggling, some of us are going to die more quickly than others. When it comes to the final exit poll, it’s not about how much of an extravagant funeral you can afford, it’ll be how much of a difference you made to people’s lives which is important.

I would appeal to your humanity, but I am not rich enough to warrant you listening to what I have to say. But I shall not be silenced. I will continue to raise my voice and my fist against the politics of hate you peddle.

There is no future in attacking others, Mr Cameron. You may have conceded a victory today but you have very far from won.

With rage and disobedience.

@HeardinLondon

One little girl

I want to tell you a story.

I am not going to lie, it’s one of those one set out to deliberately tug at your heart strings to try and raise money.

Right now I feel I have nothing else I can do apart from raise money from afar. So unapologetically, this story is hard.

Let me tell you the story of a little girl in Nepal. When she was tiny her mother disappeared. She does not know if she died or if she left, but what she does know is one day her mother was not there any more.

Not long afterwards a man came to the village and picked the young girl out. She was pretty, he said. She could be a star in Bollywood, he said. She will be famous, he said. No, said the father, you cannot take my child. So the man tried another tack. Look at your other daughters he said, you cannot even feed them. No one will want them. A man should not be looking after three girls alone. They will have a bad life and you will have failed as a father. If you let me buy the pretty one you will have enough money to feed the other two and all of you will have a better life. And this daughter, she will become a famous film star and have nice clothes.

The father sold the eldest daughter in despair and trickery. She was then sold into a circus in India. From age 5 she was made to work from 5am. They had to put the tents up, clean the animals and act as slaves for the rest of the company. They had to learn tricks and would be beaten like the animals when they got them wrong. Sometimes, she told me, the children would be strung upside down by their feed and hit with a twisted wire and left there over night if they made a mistake.

This was how she spent her childhood. Sometimes she thinks it was OK. She says this was just how she grew up. She says there were bad people but she also had friends there too. She was rescued from the circus as a young teenager. She is still upset because she believes that the circus owner really would have paid her all the wages he had been promising her since she was a child. She had not been paid for ten years work.

When she was rescued, she was asked if she could remember the name of her village was, and amazingly she could. She was frightened her family would not recognise her. Of course they did, and she managed to live with her father and sisters for a year. After one year, her father told her the village was no place for a young woman to live, so she should go to the city to get an education. So she she taught herself to read and write, moved to Kathmandu and passed her entire education in three years. She worked at night to save up enough money to send back home.

At the end of the three years, she saved up enough money to go back and tell her father that she had graduated. When she arrived in the village, the other villagers greeted her with “Oh, your father died a year ago - did no one tell you?”. Another “uncle” had arrived and quickly married off her sisters, and so she also now lost them again.

She then came to live in a hostel and joined part of the team that I was working with in Nepal. For those of you that know the work I was doing, you can understand why I am not even naming them in this blog. They quite rightly want to be seen as a professional company and not kids with tough backgrounds made good. But today they need your help.

This young woman has been working so hard to get her life back on it’s feet after such a difficult start in life. This morning she lost her house in the earthquake. She’s not the only one. The are hundreds tipping into thousands who also lost their homes and tragically their lives in Nepal today. A country I know and love and a country that hurts. A country where poverty is so abject I have seen a man on his knees weeping gratitude when someone gave him some bread. A country where an old lady burst into tears and praying when I handed her 50p in passing. A country which has only a few hours of electricity a day. A country where I had no access to running water for 9 days earlier this year, and this was before the earthquake.

There will be hundreds of charities out there doing amazing work today, setting up, aid and shelters and medical care which is all essential and amazing and I am not trying to take away from anything any other worthy charity is doing. But these kids are my family. When this little girl slipped her hand in mine and whispered to ask if she could call me “Mum” because she’d never got to call anyone that before, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

I spoke with her today for a long time. She asked me why she’s always being punished. She has no home to go back to.

I’m just trying to help. I would not normally tell her story because I want you to see her for the amazing young woman that she is, not her terrible history, but I don’t know what else to do.

If you can make any contribution, any contribution at all, please, follow the link here:
https://www.justgiving.com/circus-kathmandu

The next chapter

One year ago today, my baby would have been born. It was the same day that the help I was receiving from rape crisis ended, due to the cuts. I wanted to create something of value from such a tough time. One year ago today I stepped onto a plane to Nepal.

I knew I was going to work with a project very close to my heart. I had worked in a Tibetan refugee camp with my Mum in Kathmandu when I was a teenager. It is somewhere I have very strong memories of her. When she died a few years ago, I started to look at projects there which I could carry on what we started together. Here in London, I work in the Circus and performing arts industry. My Mum ran a childcare centre. So when I became aware of Circus Kathmandu, everything seemed to slot into place.

Circus Kathmandu are a group of young people who have been rescued from human trafficking and other vulnerable situations. Most of them were stolen or sold into circuses in India when then they babies or toddlers. Others have been rescued from street gangs or abject street poverty. I've written more about their stories here.

These are the ones who want to carry on performing. I was helping them get their company together, set up basic admin systems with kids who've only just taught themselves to read and write and help them focus on their training and their dreams.

It's not an been an easy journey. There is little social care available in Nepal; it's an extremely poor country. Children who have been trafficked are often highly stigmatised because of the abuse they faced, they are frequently associated with prostitution and due to fears in the villages of HIV they are rarely welcomed back, even once they have been rescued. And that for the ones that can face the fact that their parents may have sold them. And then there are the cultural clashes, what right do I have to go into another country and teach young women to dream big when they are taught their focus should be to get married and have babies? It's complicated stuff and I'm not always certain I get it right. But I try my best. And for a charity with no regular funding and twelve young people who rely on it to feed themselves (and their children) that's all I can do.

Last year we managed to get them their first international show and we brought them over to Glastonbury festival where they received a standing ovation for every show, something which has only ever happened three times before in over 40 years of the festival.

One of my new year's resolutions was that I wanted to get back out to Nepal. The kids I was working with there have been having a really hard time. Xmas was pretty tough for me and I decided it was something which would probably be good for both myself and them.

A week into the new year and I realised nothing was moving. My reality was as flimsy as my dream. I hadn't committed to it, I'd just outlined it as a vague notion.

That Sunday I DETERMINED that I was going to go. That somehow I would magic the money together for a flight. I chanted for hours (it's a Buddhist thing, innit) with my whole soul until I absolutely knew for certain that this was not only right for my life but right for the lives of all of those young people. I didn't just want to be there. I needed to be there.

On the Monday (the following day) someone bought me a flight.

I'm leaving tomorrow.

I get to go into a really tricky situation with kids who have spent over 15 years in slavery and who just need someone to believe in them. I do. And I know you all do too. You've travelling with me on this journey from the beginning. Many, many of you have contributed in amazing ways.

I carry your spirits with me on my new adventure. And I'll be sharing inspiration and the light the kids bring me over the next few months.

Thank you for your support along the way. I know I've bled you all dry on the fundraising front, but if anyone would like to contribute towards the project you can make a donation via paypal to info@circuskathmandu.com or here https://www.justgiving.com/circus-kathmandu

I hope this enables a little bit of encouragement towards what is possible when you really set your heart on something. I'm really, really fortunate to have people who believe in me enough to trust the work I am doing is of value. I once got told that the most important thing in life is to commit to your dream. Take that first step. If it's right for your life, the universe will support you along our journey. If you've made a wrong choice it will kick you off that path just as quick. The dangerous place is when you're standing at the cross roads, not making any decisions, and believing that you are progressing. Just step. Your life will come and find you.

“When you get to the end of all the light you know and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” - Edward Teller

Be well, be kind to each other, look after the NHS, go and support @SistersUncut and I'll see you in the spring.

Je suis l'Amour

So last night someone let me know I'd help them open up their heart enough to be able to love another freely.

It is not always easy or comfortable to see where the seeds you planted have grown, and often times we will never get to see the results in our life time. This was one of those tangible moments where I knew that love I had shared changed the course of someone's journey, and steered them back on to the path of their own truth.

In a week filled with hate and horror and fear and anger and finger pointing, it is essential that each of us, and I'm talking specifically to you, the one reading this, that we dig deep and look for ways out of conflict which are not perpetuating a cycle of hate. Let's stop "other"ing people who have a different view, outlook, approach, aesthetic, skin tone, sexuality, gender, age, ability, level of articulation, temperament, stance to us. Freedom of speech to me is not about saying whatever I want whenever I want with no accountability for actions I have taken, to me, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, in fact true freedom itself is being able to be loving under all circumstances, even when I have done wrong or been hurt, to try and work out how I can be more loving because of that circumstance. Loving when I am hurt, loving when I am attacked, loving when someone is unkind, loving when I am frightened, loving when I feel you've made me look stupid, loving when I've been stupid, loving towards those who I feel have wronged me. Because hate breeds. It's a poisonous little bastard that breaks hearts, hides down dark ally ways and blows up buildings. And I'm opting out. I'm not playing this accusation olympics as to who is the most wrong so lets hate them the most this week. I see where it gets us, I've got 2000 years worth of history that shows me that this is not good enough, and it is not building the world I want to see.

So to those of you who have been watching the news this week and have been left feeling helpless, take the power back into your own hands. There is no finite "world" out there, just 7.2 billion peoples versions of what they think and actions they take. So make what you think and the actions you take count. Use the horror and hatred you have seen this week to inspire you to be better, to tone down your level of confrontation and try and see someone else's point of view, to reach out to someone who has hurt you; let their hate fuel your love, because that is the ultimate rebellion. That's when you know they have not won.

Last night, a man I care for deeply, told me I'd guided him back towards believing in his own light. I guess, in the end that's all another human being can do.

All Lives Matter

When is a race issue not a race issue? When it's not affecting you.

According to a lot of Twitter.

I have been watching with horror over the last few weeks the bubbling undercurrent of "well intentioned" white folk trying to jump on issues like Ferguson and now Eric Garner's murder to the cries of "this isn't about black or white, this is about people" which could be summed up by the excruciating ignorance of #AllLivesMatter.

When you hear of a homophobic attack in the news, do people jump up and start shouting "Heterosexual lives matter too!"? When you see someone collecting for heart disease in the street, do you kick their collection pot of their hand and scream "Other people have cancer, you know!"? This isn't subjugation olympics. This is real life every day prejudice that many, many, many people of colour have to face every single day. Just to live and breathe. And sometimes, too many times, racism is the cause of them no longer being able to live and breathe.

If you can't see why the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (and Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd and Amadou Diallo and Aiyana Stanley Jones and Kathryn Johnston and and and) are a race issue, painful as the old adage may hit, you're part of the problem.

If you can recognise and admit that and how the systems which benefit few are very much part of the problem, you can go about becoming a part of the solution. Educate yourself, read up on this stuff*, start conversations, listen loudly to what is being said and consider your actions and your words. Racism needs to change. It absolutely has to. But this is not going to happen as long as people are covering their ears to the agony of it because they are afraid it will make them feel inherently guilty.

Yes all lives matter, no one is saying otherwise, which is exactly why it is time for white people to start listening and stop behaving like they need to defend a system which is systematically designed to keep so many of us down.

*
I'd recommend the following links as a good starting place:
https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf
http://www.thefrisky.com/2014-06-12/18-things-white-people-should-knowdo...
http://occupywallstreet.net/story/explaining-white-privilege-broke-white...

What do you get for the person who has everything...?

...How about some freedom?

As the season of Goodwill to all approaches, I am seizing this opportunity to launch the new fundraising project for Circus Kathmandu.

As many of you may recall Circus Kathmandu are an incredible group of young people from Nepal, most of whom were sold into circuses in India as children, or rescued from street gangs. These amazing young people with help, formed a new life, where they took charge of their own destinies and their own choices. They want to continue performing, using the skills that they have spent their whole lives training for. They formed Circus Kathmandu and now wish to use this as a platform from which they can spread awareness about human abuse, child brutality, human trafficking and modern day slavery.

I had the amazing opportunity of travelling to Nepal and had the honour of working with Circus Kathmandu earlier this year. I helped them train and develop their skills in both performance and presentation, they were able to work together to refine their show to international standards. Funds were raised (and you Twitter lot were just incredible) and incredibly we manage to bring them over to the UK to perform at Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts this year - where each show was met by a standing ovation, and many tears of joy.

They are now back in Nepal. However just like any fledgling company, in order to advance, they need investment.

This season, whilst scratching your head, wondering perhaps what you could give to that member of your family you see only once a year, or what you could place in your office secret Santa, you could instead donate a present intended for someone who already has everything, by helping with a donation to keep Circus Kathmandu going, and allowing these young people their liberty.

You could donate as an individual or as a business.

Not only would you show some Christmas spirit but demonstrate the spirit of your organisation.

Just as you hope to advance in 2015, please help Circus Kathmandu look forward to a future too.

If there is one thing you could give this Christmas, please let it be hope.

Donations can be made here:
https://www.justgiving.com/circus-kathmandu

or you can send donations via paypal directly to info [at] circuskathmandu [dot] com

www.circuskathmandu.com

YouTube: 

Defeating Youtube Terrorism

They will eventually find Mr Beheader, as I'm sure he'd be delighted to be known, as he seems hell-bent on cultivating Terrorist Executions Big Brother Style.

And when they do, they'll probably wipe him out immediately, leaving space for one of his pals to come up with another hate-filled idea for the Terrorist Diary Room.

Here's an idea for punishment befitting the crime of taking another life: the perpetrator should have to spend as long as it takes, listening to the testimonies of all of the people who knew the person they have killed. Starting with their parents and children, working through family members and friends. Each one. Just listening.

And if they really want to play Youtube Terrorism, we should film every meeting. We could create one of the most important documents for peace ever established.

From Islamic State through to Tony Blair, it is the only way I can possibly see of this cycle of hatred and fear not repeating.

Where where you when you heard the news?

I sat in the sexual health clinic today thinking about the Tory Party Conference.

The plastic chairs cracked and pinched as I tried not to look at the lady opposite me with the black eye.

"Why didn't you report it at the time?" the nurse asked.
"Because the only reason would be to protect another woman. It would be his word against mine. The chances of a conviction are so slim, it just wasn't a priority."
She asked me if I wanted to speak to someone about the attack.
I shook my head and dislodged some of the water which was making my sight blurry.
She asked me why not.
And I found myself telling her that I already had help for previous rapes, so I should leave the much needed spaces for other women.
My need is just important as theirs, she told me.

And it may be.
But there's just not enough to go around.

I said it felt like asking for another plate of food when some people are still going hungry. Thanks to Boris's broken promise, there is now one rape crisis centre in London. One. (http://www.boriskeepyourpromise.org.uk/).

I feel like I am stealing from another woman in need. And why is that? Because I know there is just not enough for all. This is the real life impact these cuts have. That in a sexual violence unit I am having to weigh up the morals of taking away scant help from another. And I cannot be the only one.

I sat there in the bleak waiting room with the paint peeling, wondering how many people wept over their decision to go to food banks, not for fear of the tabloid bullying, or the shame pushed with the sliced loaves, but because they knew there would be a little bit less for someone else if they managed to get fed that night. I thought about the time I walked three hours to hospital with a broken ankle because I know the ambulances are under such pressure, I could not bear the thought that someone else would be missing vital medical attention if I made that call.

I've been called naive, and I'm utterly comfortable with the accusation. For what I see is the title of naivety being slung at people who want to see the beauty and love of humanity rather than the base line figure and the bank statements.

And as I sat there, with the Conservative Party Conference being subtitled in the background, watching our children being sold out, our health service being sold off and our old folk being fobbed off, I wondered where we diverged, myself and these members of the same species, who at profit line couldn't give a damn about the human cost of their number fiddling and pocketing.

There are people, real life people, at the bottom of these cuts they are slashing us with. Don't tell me we're all in this together when I doubt a single person in the cabinet has had to worry about whether they would be able to afford to eat this evening. Don't tell me you're investing in apprenticeships when you've made damn sure there are no paid jobs to go to at the end of them. Don't tell me the NHS is broken when I am sat there awaiting help for being physically brutalised, because I have chosen to, not because I have earned enough to. Don't tell me you have concerns about immigration when you are happy to sell weapons to corrupt regimes, so surprisingly, people don't want to live there any more. Don't tell me we have enough money to go and bomb a conveniently oil rich country with a load of we-didn't-like-the-bombs-first-time-around made terrorists, when we don't have enough money to look after the people who are living here paying for those bombs in the first place. Don't tell me there's not enough to go around when legal tax loop holes and immoral tax avoidance equates to more than the total cuts to education, healthcare and housing - our basic survival is being demeaned to win corporate favour.

Yes I'm angry. And no, I don't give a damn about the magical all righteous deficit we all must obey. I care about the 9 year old I sat on a curb with this weekend who's Mum told her they could't afford birthdays this year.

And I care about the woman who will be having to wait longer for help, because eventually I nodded. Because if we can't look after ourselves in these times, our children will be taught that money is all that matters and they do not.

You're not securing a better future, Osborne. You're stealing it.

The Tiniest Things

I said "Hi" to the kids on my road, as I do every day and had five minutes to sit and chat with them today. A rare treat.
"Do you know what?" Said one of them.
"No!" I answered in faux shock "Tell me!"
"It was my birthday this week." She replied.
"And what did you do?" I asked.
She went silent.
"Did you get any nice presents?" I asked.
"My cousin made me a braclet" she said, pointing to jumble of loom bands proudly adorning her wrist.
"And did you have any cake?" I asked and she went silent again.
"Her Mum works really long hours... And erm well..." Her cousin chipped in.
"But I love my bracelet" birthday girl chirped.

So I went back to my house, found some cake and candles and wrapped a whole load of tiny things, beads, sequins, pens and sweets and marched back to where they were still sat on the road. We just had a little birthday party in the street and made sure that every time we cut the cake we all made a wish for ourselves and for everyone.

As I went to leave, the little birthday girl whispered to me "I wished no one's Mummy had to work so hard they forgot birthdays. Do you think it will come true?" Maybe we could all pull together so that one day her dream could be fulfilled.

The Fall

Today smells like the memories of summer
consolidating and finding their way home to their instigators.
To gather in their arms
and keep souls warm for winter.

The crashing of waves, the tear filled goodbyes, the laughing in pain, the silent sunrise, the dancing in streets, the look in his eyes.
The crowd surge, the wind rush, the hope and the loss. The boundaries we broke and the ones left to cross.
The music, the friendships, crafting our show. The dreams we created and ones we let go.
The food that we tasted, the love and the breeze, the arms flung across us, the noise and the ease.

Today.
They are all coming home.

Our memories
 pack up their shadows and picnic baskets
  and start their journey back to being seedlings
   for new beginnings.
For the next time around.

Welcome Autumn.
I am ready for you now.
For this summer we have lived.

On Looting

The looting in the Ferguson suits the media and the police just fine.

It changes the narrative from the devastated community to the wild angry mob they seek to portray. This is the juncture many people will choose to lose connection with the pain of the town.

So I wanted to propose a scenario to you:

You're angry with your bank, they've been threatening to withdraw your overdraft, they always charge you ridiculous rates every time they send you a letter and don't even start on the bail outs…

So you go to the cash machine one day and instead of getting the £10 out you asked for the machine gives you a £100. Do you take it? Do you report it? Or do you think it is your right because, damn them, they have screwed you so much in the past? Do you tell your friends about it? Get everyone down to the cash machine until it is empty? All because some unpaid back room office kid made a mistake when they filled the machine up. A kid who is probably going to lose their job over this.

Different scenario, but imagine one of your community has been murdered and their body left on the street for hours; your friends, family and community has had the soul ripped out of it all week as the police, the people who are meant to be the keepers of law, have attacked, harassed, and shot at peaceful protestors. When you are hurt and angry at the people who made the rules, why would you stick to them? My emotions would be raw too.

I'm not saying I would smash a shop window, and I hope I'd care for my community enough to never take something from a local shop, but I can see how it happens. In Ferguson as in London. And without the understanding of how it happens I do not think we are likely to prevent it happening in the future.

Ferguson is not an angry mob. It is a devastated, grieving community under attack. Let's at least show them some respect by not buying into this narrative that these lootings are isolated greed and not related to the way they have been treated.

I doth protest

Don't go on a demonstration against conflict and then come and bitch to me about how much you hate that bloke at work.

Marching against war isn't enough. We need to take actions towards peace.

Go and build a bridge with that person you know you've wronged. Open the door to an apology to someone you feel has wronged you. Because if you can't do that, how do you expect someone to forgive someone else for murdering their family?

March. For God's sake march and make your voice seen, but don't think the institutions who are hell bent on violence are watching you.

If we are going to create a world which is safe from violence and free for us all, we're going to need you to commit your heart to peace when you're angry and feeling hurt. Not just when it feels comfortable to do so.

Teach others what peace feels like, from your heart with your voice and with your actions. Peace is no where if you cannot create it on your own doorstep. And if we all did this, even if just a little, that's a hell of a lot of doorsteps people are going to feel safer stepping onto.

We don't need to change the world. We need to listen to this one with more love, wisdom, courage and compassion.

An open letter to #NickyMorgan, MP - by Jennifer Bailey

Dear Ms Morgan

No doubt you know the internet is all abuzz with your name today. No doubt you know what people think (not just the 'bad' teachers - but the ex-teachers, the parents, the home educating families, the EY practitioners, the governors...) of your successor and no doubt you have got some pretty specific instructions from your boss on how to behave in your new role...

But you're a smart woman. Accomplished. Forward thinking. And if I were you I wouldn't want to be the token woman brought in to tread water and let the Gove legacy fall from the press's watchful eyes as you quietly sit in post, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the next election.

If I were you, I'd want to do something.

So, we've looked at your CV, we've looked at your Wikipedia page, we've looked through your views in parliament and what do we know?

You're a mum.

You've got a husband who works.

You've got a busy job.

So - in many ways, you're just like us. (and by US, I mean all of the mums, teachers and everyone else out there who have spent the past months cringing and shaking with rage as Gove created more and more policy decisions that moved away from helping our children and towards the politicisation of education.)

So today, we are filled with hope. Well, almost filled with hope, because there's a bit of trepidation as well. 8 years a school governor? But is that all you know about school? Your son is 6 - but how many hours have you spent within the walls of his classrooms? Another Cabinet member educated at private school and then Oxford? Is there any chance that you understand what it is like to not be 'one of you'? And obviously a lot of people are going to hold the 'gay marriage' thing against you....

We know you can't u-turn on Gove's new curriculum. Understood.

But here's what you could do:

- Listen to the #SaveChildhoodMovement They are not left-wing radicals or revolutionaries - they are smart, experienced, professionals and they understand children. More importantly, they understand what parents want for their children. Maybe you don't have to do what they say - but you at least need to listen to them.

- Abolish phonics testing in Year 1. This serves no purpose other than adding to government figures - if it's not there to help the children, it's pointless.

- Abolish assessments in Reception. Simple. You know what your son was like when he was 4; did he need testing?

- Allow parents with summer-born babies to make the decision for themselves whether their just-4 year olds are ready to start school or whether they need another year at home.

- Scrap the notion that families cannot decide for themselves whether to take term-time holidays. We get it - there's a truancy problem - but please, deal with that. The current legislation is harming families who were never a problem either socially or academically - and the truancy problem still exists. (and don't forget you've got a petition with over 900,000 signatures to deal with so you will have to do something).

- Give families back the right to flexi-school by introducing an attendance code that allows schools to mark children as being flexi-schooled. This would solve a lot of problems for schools who are doing very well serving their communities by offering flexi-schooling and would stop them having to mark pupils absent and this counting against the school's attendance figures.

- Rethink SEN statementing policy. There are not less children with Special Educational Needs than there were before - just a lot of families really struggling to understand how to best provide for their children when they aren't confident in education and they haven't got the funds to seek specialist advice.

- REQUIRE outdoor learning to become a part of the curriculum for all children - just like the Scots have done. Our nation is filling up with children who are overweight, under-exercised, over stress and low on self-esteem. Send them all outside and give them time to play.

- Return play to schools. Introduce minimum outdoor playtimes for all children - right up through Senior school. Remember that children learn best through play - not sitting in chairs and filling in worksheets. Remember what it is that we need children to be in the 21st century: creative, thoughtful, inspired, responsible, community-minded. All of these are learned through play. The correct use of the apostrophe (whilst important) is not going to solve the Israel-Palestine crisis.

Ms Morgan, I've taught for 15 years but no longer wanted the stress and bureaucracy that I necessarily had to deal with and I've left the classroom. I worked with many, many families with children with SENs and I can promise you that not a single one of them ever wanted anything more than to try to help their child be happy. I have a 2 year old and a 5 year old - and I don't think I'm alone in thinking that our education system is no longer functioning with their best interests in mind.

Remember, just because you went to an independent school were it was most likely 'all about the grades', please don't forget to bear in mind that most people don't care at all about the government's agenda of raising standards or beating the Chinese on PISA tests.

What most people want for their children:
-- we want our children to be happy
-- we want our children to be inspired to learn
-- we want our children to discover their true passions
-- we want our children to respect others
-- we want our children to enjoy childhood.
(maybe you even feel the same...)

Good luck with the new job - you'll need it.

With kind regards,

Jennifer Bailey

Tags: 

In pursuit of happiness

I left the UK with a need to make peace with myself and my history tucked neatly under my desire to help others.

I knew I had more to learn than I had to teach but what I have realised is the clichéd classic, what I was searching for I already had.

I wanted to find a way to feel my happiness again, to be able to listen to my Truth more clearly. I wanted to leave my demons behind, and as Toni Morrison so eloquently put it "If you wanna fly, you've got to give up the shit that's weighing you down.".

In grasping so hard for my rope out of here, it's finally dawned on me that I've been chasing happiness with a kind of hunger. It has not been attainable because I have been viewing it as separate from myself. By externalising happiness I've manage to create an eternal treasure hunt that mirages a new pot of gold on the horizon for every hopeful new rainbow I try to colour in.

As long as I think of myself as having all the ingredients to be happy but that happiness itself is something to be attained, as opposed to something I already possess, there can be no combination of these ingredients that will satisfy the hunger, however enticing the meal may look.

Which has lead me to question what I consider happiness to be. I know I am prone to be dazzled by rapture, but I am wise enough to know that this is not what true happiness tastes like.

If I ask myself, deeply, when all the details are stripped away, what matters to me, what is my assessment of whether I have lived a good life, it's the question "Did I love well?". Not whether I have been a successful business woman, an honourable friend, a reliable sister, whether I looked after my Mum well enough, whether I will be strong enough when the day comes when I am no longer allowed my Dad's counsel, whether I will ever be able to stand in my own beauty with enough comfortable and confidence for someone to desire to call me their girlfriend, their partner, their wife, whether I can let go of my fundamental darkness enough to live life to it's full capacity for my daughter and I, even when she chose not to, whether I have managed to fulfil the things on my endless task list I write for myself every day... These places along the road I've been looking for my answers, they are scenery and characters along the journey but they are not the main plot.

The core narrative to my story has to be "Did I love well?". More than that. Do I love well? To the man who irritates me on the bus, to the person I perceive as just having been rude, to the women I see slandering their sisters, to the men I have experienced being violent, do I allow these things to harden my shell? To create a crust around the beauty I know I have to offer? Out of self protection, irritation or just because sometimes it feels easier to hurt than to heal. Do I allow there to be less of what I know my true core to be because others are not fitting my ideas of how people should behave? Or do I use these things to teach me more about what I want my essence to contain and how I want it to light up the places I tread?

So this journey has not been about discovering anything, it's been about remembering what I already know. That if happiness is loving well, then I already am. Happiness is not something to pursue, it's something to be, to listen to and to act upon.

I've finally found within myself the wisdom, courage and compassion to acknowledge that I see the beauty in the tiniest of moments and I have a love of life and it's rawness and it's intricacies and it's take-my-breath-away wonder every single day. And that's what love is. And I am finally willing to admit I'm damn good at it. I hope this is the only definition of happiness I'll ever need.

I think it's time to come home.

The stories came tumbling out

I want to tell you what I am doing in Nepal and the incredible young people I am working with and how hard they are working to pull themselves up from really tough backgrounds, and how you can help.

Circus Kathmandu is an organisation who work with young people who have been rescued from being trafficked into Indian circuses and from other vulnerable situations. As children, some were stolen, some were sold. They have all made the decision that they want to carry on performing with the skills they spent years working on and to be able to use their performances to spread awareness of human trafficking.

I came to Nepal knowing I was going to hear horrific stories. I thought i would be able to share them with you. To talk to the young people I am working with and enable their stories to speak of the dangers of trafficking and the reality of modern day slavery and to be able to build awareness of the incredible work they are doing here.

I was naive. I cannot walk into someone else's world and expect their trust and my desire to help to invade their past. At best it is inconsiderate, at worst it is obscene. But there are some moments frozen in memories that I can share to give you the darkest of outlines. Every young person here a story. Here are some fragments I have heard:

"His father used to be violent towards his mother. When his father threw him down the stairs, aged five, his mother left. Divorce is not culturally acceptable here, so her family disowned his mother. She was forced to work the streets."

"She was made to perform the trapeze without a harness. When she fell and broke her arm she was told she would not be given food if she did not perform. She performed with the bone sticking out of her skin until she was rescued. She still does not have full use of her arm."

"He does not remember a time before living on the streets picking litter. If he collected enough plastic, he may be able to eat that day."

"After being hit on the head she now cannot see out of one eye and her headaches keep making her dizzy. The doctor said she needs a CT scan but she did not go because she cannot afford it."

"He is one of the best acrobats I have even seen but he was treated so brutally he cannot bend his wrists."

"She was sold at nine, was married to someone in authority at ten and had twins by age eleven. She has another child at fourteen. By age sixteen she was a widow with three children, and still had to perform every night. "

These stories tumble out slowly like ugly acrobats. They have lived horror. I know I am only hearing the edited version.

But they have a chance of a different life. Circus Kathmandu are an inspiring social circus. They pay each performer a monthly wage and provide training with international coaches six days a week. Most circus performers only get paid when they perform and they have to fund their own training, which can cost around two or three years wages.

The idea is to get Circus Kathmandu international recognition and for them to become self sustaining. In time, we hope the company will be able to support, maintain and grow through the fees from performances. But they are not there yet. They just performed their first international gig in Dubai and had a wonderful time, the world is opening up for them, but the fact is we've run out of money.

Last year we managed to secure them gigs at Glastonbury, the Roundhouse and No Fit State Circus, but the UK border agency declined their visas, three days before we were meant to fly. We lost the flights, the money for the visas, the shows and most tragically, the kids had their hopes dashed.

This year we have been offered to perform in the UK again, but we simply do not have the money to start the visa application process. We have no sponsors, everyone here is working for free, and my money runs out in a month.

I have worked out that if every one of the people who follow me on here donated £2 each, we could fund this project for a year. That includes 15 people's wages, the hire of the rehearsal space, costumes and equipment. Times are tough for all of us, I know this and people have been so generous already, but my pride at not wanting to ask for money is negated by the stories I hear, the resilience and inspiration I see, and how much difference the price of a cup of coffee at home could make.

If you can, please help us establish a safe place for talent to be nurtured and dreams to flourish. Let's help these incredible young people build their own future.

You can donate via paypal at info [at] circuskathmandu [dot] com
or https://www.justgiving.com/circus-kathmandu

Heartfelt thanks for taking the time to read this.

21st January 2014

It was a beautiful morning, the day you weren't born.
The fog sat heavy, not wanting to let the day in and make me have to let you go.

In the close echo of walking through a cloud, I looked for you that morning
     In the ripples of the river
     In the movement of the leaves
     In the child who ran ahead
          and disappeared around a corner.

I listened louder for you that day
     To the sound of branches aching
     To the songs the birds were singing
          For clues.
And I tried to hear all you had come to teach me.

I felt the sharp air on my face
     For us both
I sunk my hand into soil
     For us both
I wished your Daddy peace
     For us both.

Your Daddy was a warrior.
And you would've been a peace maker.

I spread my fingers wide across my belly
And stared into the mirror
Desperately searching for the answer
of what I could have done differently
to make you feel safe.

Your mother stands tall
     Trying to be the love she wishes for you
     Trying to taste the life you did not breathe.
A lighthouse here.
     In case you ever want to come home.

It is so hard to say goodbye
Before I was allowed a hello.

I'm leaving the UK for a while (unless you are a burglar, in which case I am definitely here)

I thought you might like to hear the incredible story of how this came about and introduce the next chapter you are going to be reading about (if you choose to follow me).

Last year was a difficult year for me, and although I am trying to leave a lot of that in 2013, there are still a few bits of legacy and lessons that linger into this new year. At the end of this month, due to funding cuts, I lose my place at the rape crisis centre which has kept me from falling off the edge of a cliff. I am soul-deep grateful for the help they have allowed me, and historically hurt when I see my counsellor close to breaking when she had to inform me that my care would end because of financial decisions. The end of this month also should have been the time my baby was born, if she had lived. As my hormones go wild trying to prepare themselves for a story that will never be, it feels like I am pregnant with a ghost.

But I knew this time was approaching and so I started to look at ways that would prevent me from drowning, and the only way I know how, is to try and create some value instead.

I looked around me and searched for things that I would not have been able to fulfil if different events had unfolded last year. I have some friends who started a circus school in Nepal for young people who have been rescued from being trafficked into circuses in India. I have worked in Circus for twenty years, and I have always been a big supporter of what they are doing.

So with no money, just a firm conviction that it would happen, I started telling people that I was going to Nepal in February. I had no idea how it would, I just decided I was going. On new years day, I received an incredible message from an old school friend to the effect of "I want to go and work in circus school for people in Nepal, and I can't because I have a family, and you want to go, and you can't because you don't have the money, so I've put the money in your bank account. You can either decide the kids need your help more than your ego needs to return it to me, or we can have an argument.".

So I contacted the school and asked the if there was anything useful I could do, as I did not want to go and be an imposition if there were no practical things I could help with. They told me the person who has been keeping things running was leaving at the end of January and the new person could not start until the beginning of March, and they asked if it would it be possible for me to go there in February? I laughed when I read it. It was exactly the timescale I had been telling people. I could stay at the training space and help the young people not only trying to promote what they are doing but also create photographic documentation of their story. I will also be teaching them how to use Twitter for them to be able to share the tales of the incredible journeys they have been on, and how this might be able to raise awareness of human trafficking, especially in children.

Which only left me with the final excuse, which was not having any money to live on whilst I was out there, which nicely brings us to the Daily Mail. Over Christmas I was searching for something on the internet and suddenly saw a photo of mine with a link to the their website. Knowing I had not given them permission to use it, I contacted them, and after a bit of negotiation, they agreed to pay for the photo, which will means I will have money to survive whilst I am away.

"Why don't I have any money of my own?", I'm sure you're wondering. Well, firstly, who does these days? (don't answer that) But mostly because after three years of looking after my Mum (and even with the NHS, cancer gets really expensive, as do funerals) I came back to trying to run an arts based business in the middle of a recession. It's been pretty hand to mouth for the last few years. So I thought I may as well earn no money somewhere useful than earn no money here. And life (and my friends) slotted into place and left me with no more excuses not to go.

So in a couple of weeks I will be leaving everything I know to go and do the best I possibly can to try and be useful for an incredible group of young people who I am certain will have a life time's worth of lessons to teach me.

I hope you enjoy the change of scenery, as I am going to be taking you all with me.

In the meantime, may you may be interested in reading more on the project or even helping them create a culture of ethical entertainment where children can play and have talent and not be at risk.
You can donate via paypal at info [at] circuskathmandu [dot] com
or
https://www.justgiving.com/circus-kathmandu

And you can follow them here @CircusKathmandu https://twitter.com/CircusKathmandu

Freelance Christmas

It is that time of year when we start racking our brains for things to buy people for reasons of seasonal cheer. Or diverting ourselves trying to figurine out if it is wracking or racking. Don't tell me, pedantry gets you kicked off my Xmas list quicker than nicking a reindeer from Santa.

Anyway, instead of getting all confused and frustrated by the whole affair, I thought it would be a lot nicer if I knew I was supporting friends and their projects, so I asked Twitter if any of you are selling things which you might like to tell me about.

Some of you replied, and I thought it might be helpful if I made a list for you to be able to see. Please feel free to let me know other things you'd like to me add.

My rule is that the plug has to come from the person directly, and if I sniff that I think it is a little more corporate than personal, sorry, but this is not the list for you.

So here are some ideas you could support from people I connect with (in the order they reached me):

tomishuman ‏@tomrawles
@HeardinLondon I have hand printed sweaters and t-shirts over here http://www.iamhumanonline.com 

Moose Allain ‏@MooseAllain
@HeardinLondon Really, my website should answer ALL people's Christmas needs ;-) http://www.worldofmoose.com/ 

Beth Parker ‏@BethParker70
@HeardinLondon would be most grateful if you could RT my #ecofashion site http://www.nakedbison.etsy.com  lots of gifts! Thx

October Jones ‏@OctoberJones
@HeardinLondon I am flogging a book about a Texting Dog. It would make the perfect gift for Dog lovers AND haters http://goo.gl/ZCPEFo 

Zoë ‏@misszolab
@HeardinLondon my friend makes really beautiful personalised gifts http://www.charlotteaxworthy.com  @CharlieAxworthy well worth checking out!

katycoo ‏@katycoo
@francobianco @HeardinLondon aw. thanks. I cross stitch lyrics. this is an example pic.twitter.com/RszlAqb182

KidCircus ‏@KidCircus
@HeardinLondon Allow me to recommend @deedeelea's @TheBrokedownPal http://www.thebrokedownpalace.com .

Ben Cameron ‏@ben_cameron
@HeardinLondon I draw and sell cards, framed doodles and illustrations. I can add bespoke details too. My site is http://strangepaul.com 

TallManwithGlasses ‏@stuartwitts
@HeardinLondon I have a set of limited edition prints & the option for custom prints at http://bit.ly/googlezilla 

cressida clore ‏@Vivienneclore
@HeardinLondon i have clients available for work over xmas http://www.vivienneclore.com  ;)

HeardinLondon ‏@HeardinLondon
And if you're looking for entertainers for your Xmas party, here's a bunch I can recommend http://www.circusperformers.com 

Chips for the Poor ‏@ChipsforthePoor
@HeardinLondon Welcome to our Chips shop http://chipsforthepoor.bandcamp.com/merch  Thanks for the support x

Gary Bainbridge ‏@Gary_Bainbridge
@HeardinLondon I understand books are a welcome Christmas gift. Here are two books that people can read. http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?

jen@autrechoix
‏@autrechoix
@HeardinLondon can I join in? I'm in France & I hand knit neck warmers & cushion covers - free postage worldwide! :) http://www.autrechoix.com

Last and probably least, I have made some calendars, photo prints and tiny books of my photos
http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313&_nkw=%40hea...

And if, in all honesty, Christmas presents are the least of your worries right now, remember this lot are there for you even when it feels like no one else might be
http://www.samaritans.org/

Eating my words

She got into a fight this morning

She does most mornings. Her belly says it's hungry and she tries to devise a new way to stifle the noise with the smallest amount of food. Today will be the day. Today will be a day of no food and there can be less of her.

She fails, of course. The body's survival instinct kicks in and she cannot resist a guilty slither of this or a stolen tea spoon of that. A survival instinct which never seems to make it to her thoughts and the cruelty they carry. Each mouthful tastes of failure and disappointment that yet again, she deserves to look as disgusting as she knows she is.

It's safer being ugly. She notices when she feels confident, men harass her in the street more. The lewd comments, the obscene gestures, the occasional grabbing. It doesn't happen when she dresses down. When she shows the world she has a dirty secret to hide. When she's too scared to hold herself with the daring stance of "I exist".

She picks the crusts off her self esteem and piles love onto others plates. Her sense of self gets further from happy with each teaspoonful she denies herself and distracts others by shoving the menu under their nose.

This time. Maybe today. Maybe today will be the day she manages to win over genetics and hunger and stop occupying space. She tries to hold herself smaller so she takes up less world. She apologies with her posture for the oxygen she consumes.

In a world where food is a weapon. This woman is at war. She knows she's never going to be as good as she is sold she has to be.

So everyday she places artillery in her mouth and digests it's guilt and plants mine fields in her cells.

She got to go dancing with a man she cared for. He was a kind man and they were just starting to onion unpeel each other. In the process of trying to squeeze herself into a costume that did not make her look repulsive, she picked up her phone three whole times to tell him she was sorry, she wouldn't be able to come sadly, as she was too ugly. Each time gently replacing the handset next to to another discarded dress that she had tried to wrap her rolls of skin in to pretend there may be something of beauty which could be revealed.

There is no beauty here. Only sadness and seeking of assurance from others for things that no one else can give.

Sometimes she thinks of the little girl who had her sense of pretty pounded out of her and is ashamed she'll never be able to give her the cuddle that'd promise it won't feel like this forever.

There is no recipe for forgiving herself for murdering her potential with each unkind thought. She's never met an enemy as relentless as this one. She gardens her own revulsion to prove herself right.

It's poisonous the way we treat our women. It's poisonous the way we judge our women. It's poisonous the way we treat ourselves. It is poisonous the way I treat myself.

These thoughts are heavy. They go straight to my hips.

I wish there was kindness for dessert. Not grated words I serve in a pile.

I wish this was not mine, and thousands of others, story.

More than words

Last night someone dropped into conversation that they had been "Facebook raped" and I tripped up.

Today someone tweeted that banks were "the people who arse rape my money" and I arched with pain.

They're just words, right? No one really means any harm. They're just words.

Only words can be powerful and they create strong images.

Last night someone compared forgetting to log out of a website to sexual violation real life people have to endure every day.

Today someone quipped that being on hold in telephone queue was akin to me having a knife held to my throat as a teenager whilst a man smashed my face into a wall and penetrated me.

Too graphic? That's kind of the point. That's the image that sprang to my mind when I read that tweet. I don't think about that moment often, and I'd rather it didn't appear so violently when I was trying to eat my lunch. I hadn't been thinking about it, the image was forced back upon me.

The use of the word "rape" seems to be creeping into our common parlance, and I just don't think that's acceptable. Primarily it drip feeds into the normalisation of rape, that it's just part of every day life, something we joke about. Not something we challenge, or are horrified by, but something so banal it can be compared to something a bit irritating. That rape is as common as logging on to (or forgetting to log out of) Facebook.

But it's just a word, right? Cancer's just a word. Think about cancer for a minute. How does it make you feel? Cancer. Thinking about someone you care for? Frightened for yourself? Wondering if maybe this weekend you might try giving up smoking? Lots of emotions attached, aren't there? And it's just a word. I didn't do anything to you. And I don't wish cancer upon you. It doesn't mean those emotions are any less real though, does it?

I'm not trying to put my personal history on the shoulders of anyone else. My memories are my responsibility; but your words and the effect they can inflict are yours. You have a choice as to whether you are providing the cause for other people to have horrific images spring to mind with a casual use of language.

People know there are repercussions for racist slurs when they are allowed to breed in conversation and we have allowed a generation grow up interchanging homophobic synonyms for anything which is "bad". The language of hate and violence plants seeds.

So let's stop this casual use of the word "rape", right now. It's not funny, it's not got quirky shock value, it's just obscene. And subtly it reinforces the idea that sexual violence, is, at worst, slightly inconvenient.

"Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviour. Keep your behaviour positive because your behaviour becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”
Gandhi

PS
The person who I interacted with on Twitter about this earlier is not a nasty person, she was just cross and not paying attention. Which is kind of why I wanted to write this, because I think it is when we are cross that we should probably be paying the most attention. But I know how you love a Twitchfork mob, and if you are thinking of starting one here, just don't. These things are about dialogue. That's how we grow.

PPS
If you are going to be one of the few hundred people replying saying you don't think Gandhi did say that akchewally, I think you are missing the point.

Peace is a possibility

I'm here to talk to you about the essential role each of us can play in achieving world peace.

Hello. My name is Anna. I take photographs of civil disobedience. This has lead me to cultivate a brilliant ability to be in the wrong place at the right time. 

I'd like to propose the big idea that peace is a possibility, rather than something we should write on T-shirts and forget about or just an excuse for war, but a real tangible option.  

We are 100% responsible for our reactions to every  interaction. With this we write our own script. 

Here is a bit of my own.

*** 

Like many teenagers, I had a noisy sense of what justice was. I believed everyone should have equal rights and that differences should be celebrated. I thought everyone deserved respect, apart from those who disagreed with me.

I went on marches to demand these things, I waved placards, signed petitions, started arguments... I shouted my views until I began to lose my voice.

But I started to notice on many protests that the anger at injustice infected the crowd. I couldn't help but notice people walking by,  who may not have a clue what the protest was about. They only saw the rage. It doesn't matter how just the cause, if you are frightening people, they are not listening.

After more than a million people marched against Tony Blair's desire to bomb Iraq, many people who had voiced a political view became disheartened. Almost overnight, thousands of people came to the toxic conclusion that if you are not being listened to, you may as well not try.

Over the next 10 years movements blossomed but to me it felt like momentum for change had faded into a quest for money.

During this time my mum became ill.  At the same time as leukaemia started to attack her, an uprising of malcontent began to sweep the globe.

News stories were fed into my phone by a new website called Twitter and scenes from the Arab Spring and Europe's fight against austerity became real time and unfiltered. I remember sitting in hospital with my mum and reading reports from front lines. I would relay actions taking place across the UK, to try to save the NHS, which was trying desperately to save her.

I created an account called @HeardinLondon and started to document social unrest.
 
Through Twitter I was drawn towards the campaign against tuition fees and witnessed people being shown that peaceful protest may not be an option if the media only paid them attention if they smashed windows. I saw a generation lose their faith in politics before they were old enough to vote.

As my mum started to die, tweets from Egypt were a reminder the world was bigger than what I was struggling through.  When Mubarak made his speech to step down, my mum asked for her oxygen tank to be moved in front of the TV.  When she cried and said she was so grateful she had lived long enough to see the revolution succeed, it was the longest sentence she had managed for weeks.  I posted this on Twitter and within minutes received a reply from someone in Tahrir Square, to say a group of people had just held hands and said a prayer for my mum. They wished us peace.

Twitter is a constant reminder that it's a very small world. And we are all battling for the same basic things:  the freedom and peace to allow us to live our lives according to our own beliefs.

When someone posted a blurry picture of a police car on fire on Twitter, I cycled there to get a photo and found myself in the middle of the riots.

My  naivety propelled me to start asking people why they were so angry. I told people I needed to understand. I talked to people setting fire to things and questioned people with bricks in their hands.  Nearly every single response I received could be boiled down to one thing: a lack of hope.

No one smashes up their local shop or sets fire to a car on their own estate if they have a sense of safety and well being.

At one point I got shoved against a wall by a group of men intent on robbing me. I implored them to tell me what they had to say. I really wanted hear the heart of people who were so hurt they were willing to tear the soul out of their own streets.

Those men didn't just let me leave with my camera, they left me with the lesson of how to listen, without working out what I wanted to say. 

The riots shocked me, it wasn't just what I'd seen, it was the underlying sense that so many people I had spoken with, seemed to have  been asked their opinion so rarely, they'd never had a chance to phrase one. 

Then Twitter brought along Occupy.  A rag tag bunch of people with some camping equipment and revolution in mind.

The camp outside St Paul's became one the largest displays of civil disobedience in our recent history.  

Despite the media's portrayal, It was a hub of education. From environmental energy classes to economics lectures , there was a free university, a newspaper, a library, the kitchen was feeding hundreds every night and intense political discourse every day.

Occupy was a group of people saying we might not know what the answer is, but let's face in the direction of a world where people are cherished and respected, and see what is possible.

Occupy created dialogues on the front pages of newspapers and discussions on street corners the world over, about a system which makes the richest richer at the expense of a caring society. 

And it is this idea of dialogue in which we can find hope. As soon as you engage in dialogue you are saying to that person, I see you, I feel you, I know you have something to teach me.

Dialogue is not trying to persuade people your view is correct, it is a journey of mutual education, to strip away the peripherals until you find a point of shared humanity.

Ultimately it is demonstrating respect for another person's life.

***

Time and time again I hear people say they think world peace is impossible. Do you remember what the Mad Hatter said to Alice when she told him something was impossible? He replied "Only if you believe it is". If you want to believe peace is not a possibility, I promise you'll prove yourself right.

But if you'd like to join me in my outrageous optimism, my hope in a dream that we can live in a world which is more kind, more loving, where people are fed and have a roof  over their head, I ask you to make the courageous decision to make your reactions start from a place of compassion.

Take a moment to pause and inhale when someone challenges you.
 
If someone throws anger at you, summon within you the ability to not meet them with anger. At least give it a go.  If someone throws disappointment at you, perhaps there is no need to meet them with the same emotion, in themself or yourself.
 
My central theme is this: If we only reflect what we receive we perpetuate the problem of disunity.

You can make a conscious choice to revere the life of every human being, even if they're not showing you they deserve respect, in fact especially if they're not showing you they deserve respect - you show it to them anyway. And in doing so we realise that we are all connected.

We have thousands of years of history which proves throwing things at each other, words, sticks or bombs does not work. For over two thousand years we've been fighting each other and no one has won. I suggest we try a different approach.

The idea of the slow revolution involves one to one contact, believing in the potential of every single person, including yourself. 

As long as our focus does not extend beyond our skin, our ideology,  our income or our borders, we will continue in conflict.  If we maintain the world is simply a battle between them and us, we are reinforcing barriers.

Do you remember the theory that if a butterfly flaps it's wings in Japan it could cause an tsunami in America?  Imagine applying that to those hateful things you say about that person at work, or that member of your family who makes you want to slam doors.  Can you imagine if you reacted with more compassion? Imagine the wave of peace your reaction could cause. 

Now try applying it to that person you are thinking about, who is the example that proves me wrong.  

Because if those people are not in your vision of what peace means, those bigger world issues that make it into the headlines, can never be resolved.  

Wars begin because one person did not forgive someone for something and refused to engage in dialogue.

Those men who went to attack me in the riots? They chose to the opportunity to be heard over the financial gain of robbing me. It was not some miracle fluke. I showed them enough respect to ask their opinion.

The whole world is never going to agree.  But we have a lot to teach each other.  The fact that people think and value very different things is what makes the world such a beautiful place, not in spite of it.

I am not denying there are horrendous things humans can do to each other, but there is not an act in history I can think of, where horror has been committed upon another, where it cannot be traced back to a place of fear.

Daisaku Ikeda said the type of world peace we should be striving for is a time when any woman, anywhere in the world, day or night, can walk home alone and feel safe.

This is the vision of peace I am willing to dedicate my life towards.  I plant this seed with you now and it is yours to garden as you choose.

One of my favourite quotes is "People who say the smallest, things cannot make a difference, have obviously never spent the night, in a room, with  mosquito."

Sometimes we can use the bigger picture to distract us from taking responsibility for our own behaviour. 

You get to decide your impact upon the world. Value yourself enough to know that your reactions make the world of difference.

Peace is a possibility. Together, let's make it a reality.

YouTube: 

Little Maybe

There is no silence like the noise of missing someone you never met, your body writing a story it will never live, the tracing paper of loss and memories not yet created flowing through your veins.

My body grows grief.

And I shall never meet her.

Conversation Stopper

I've just had a miscarriage.

It's a real conversation stopper, I've found. Something that thousands of people go through every day, and it's barely talked about. This is of course just my personal experience, but I think it would be really helpful if we could start talking about the last great taboo.

Often I see people don't want to say they are pregnant until they have passed the three month stage; and without any judgement at all, if this is the case, then there are less people to support them if they lose the child; because people don't know about it.

We need to learn the language, the gentleness, the time-scale and the things that help (and the things that don't). I don't see how we can do this, if the subject is shut behind doors. We need to learn those tips, the old grandmother's tales, the emotional overload and the hormonal explosion that carries the full nine months, even if you do not. If you get pregnant, your body tries it's best to look after that child, once that system kicks in, it runs it's full course. Some women who are no longer carrying can even get to the stage of lactating, this isn't common knowledge, and I think this needs to change.

I'm not claiming to be an expert, and there are many brilliant ones out there, and support networks and help for people (and please use them), but wouldn't it be nice if the only place of comfort wasn't just with an "expert" or friends occasionally whispering "me too"?

Everyone knows someone who has had someone close to them die, you know what to say, you know how to react, even if it is not comfortable, you learn, you grow, sometimes through saying the wrong thing, but you but find a path to knowing how to be the best support you can. You probably know someone who has lost a baby too, it's just we don't really talk about it. Maybe some people seek more privacy than I understand, but I don't know how we are going to learn to support each other unless we start allowing this to happen.

Dialogue, sharing wisdom, sharing experience and learning from each other is how we grow. And hopefully it's how we can grow into a more caring world, which is safe to bring children into. We really need to talk about this stuff, it's really painful and it's really common.

Help

Hello Twitter.

This is really hard to write, because I imagine I am going to get a load of flack for it, but I'm really struggling with something, and I was hoping you could help me. There is no way to phrase this without sounding like I am fishing for compliments, but I genuinely need some feedback. I have been asked to do a big talk, and I need to clarify why anyone would give me the time to listen to what I would like to say.

Instead of tearing myself into pieces trying to not be destructively self deprecating, I thought I would ask you.

You follow me on here, please could you tell me why? Or at least why you have not unfollowed?

I know it is such a crass thing to ask, but I am utterly failing to come up with any reasons myself and I thought you might be able to offer some input.

Sorry and thank you.

Hope Not Hate

After the horrific scenes in Woolwich yesterday, I suggest we meet those actions with a display of unity.

There were reports yesterday that the men with the knives said they wanted to start a war in London. The only people who seemed to be in agreement with them were the EDL.

Hatred breeds hatred. We know this. Let's be better than that.

I suggest we mark the life of a man who died, and in fact of all people who have lost their lives, at the hands of people who want to perpetuate brutality upon other human beings and cause division. What could be more defiant to the propagation of violence than a mass of people standing up for peace? People from all faiths, all heritages, all walks of life, holding a vigil to display a commitment to unity and to the idea that diversity is what makes a community, not divides it.

I suggest a silent display, nothing too loud or something which would disturb the family and friends of the man who lost his life yesterday, but a group of people, standing together saying you are not fighting my cause, and you are not frightening me, because I believe in people.

When people call for violence, it is time for people of peace to stand tall.

"An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind." - Gandhi

This Saturday, 25th May 2013, 11am - 11.30am, somewhere in London (any suggestions, Woolwich or Trafalgar Square?).

I hope to see you there.

(I will update venue according to feedback).

The day after Mother's Day

Two years ago today there was an earthquake in Japan which was so powerful is shifted the world on it’s axis. And my mum died in my arms.

On a bright spring day, as bodies and lives were being washed away, I stroked my mum’s face and told her it was okay to let go now. And for the last time in her life, she listened to me. She had wanted to wait until spring. A final winter of fighting leukaemia had been tougher than a hoar frost on a fresh shoot. She said she needed to know the daffodils would return. She waited for the first days of the yellow to burst through and left us that morning.

I just wanted to write a little note to let you know I’m doing okay. I used to use Twitter as a place I could let thoughts escape; now there are lots of you reading and my moments of saddness cause more concern than they deserve. I’m okay, I don’t wobble too often, and when I do, it occasionally escapes here; because it’s easier than picking up the phone and having to find other things to say or trying to reassure your friends that yes it may be hard, but you know you’ll be okay really.

I’m a buddhist, it’s part of my faith that everything will be okay really. In fact, if I put enough effort in, it’ll inevitably be better than okay, because it’s what you do with stuff, not what happens which counts. I believe in reincarnation; but not the retibution, be good and you’ll come back with a mansion or be bad and you’ll come back as a burger-bound horse kind of way, but in cellular reincarnation. The cells which made my mum have not ceased to exist, they push up the the daffodils on her grave, there might be some of her in that snail who is sliding on by or maybe some of her got muddled up with the fog that joins my tears this time of year. I have an appreciation for death because it will enable us to become anything. I love that I may continue my existence as a piece of litter, a window or a glint in someone's eye. My atoms will become a tiny part of a whole load of other people's dreams and journeys.

And I'm alright with that. Death doesn't really bother me too much. I'm trying to develop the same lack of fear about living my life to the best of my potential. I think fear keeps our lives small. It's tricks us into thinking the known is always more safe than trying to strive to make ourselves more happy. It doesn't mean bereavement is easy, but it does mean I value it instead of being frightened.

No human in the history of time has ever faced a life without obstacles; Exceedingly few have escaped without having to face the death of a loved one or deal with their own mortality. These hardships are what gives life it's value. It is the tough stuff we grow from the most. It nourishes our development. It's not easy, but it is essential.

So I don't get distressed that I miss my mum. I just miss her. I miss being able to tell her things, I miss knowing she is at home, or hearing long winded tales of neighbours I've never met, I miss her ability to say exactly the wrong thing, I even miss when she was really ill, because then my life was nothing but being love and care to my family. I miss being able to tell her the things her death has taught me.

I miss being able to tell her that I'm okay. That even when I don't feel the answers, I know I've got the solutions within me.

So I'm telling you instead. But I'm not just telling you I'm okay, I'm telling you that you're going to be okay too. I'd probably put money on you being far more than okay, in fact. Because its always okay in The End.

Living a life to try to create the best possible circumstances for peace, safety, happiness and care is the best possible testament with which I could honour not only my mum, but the long line of people who have strived for survival and happiness that I carry in my genes.

I wish you, you personally, peace in all of it's forms, I wish you peace in your heart, home, head and health, I wish you to see the best possible you whom you can be and I wish you happiness beyond your expectations.

And next time you see a daffodil, please raise a smile and be thankful for this incredible life and the fortune you have to share your journey with all the people you hold dear.

And if you can, because you can, call your mum and tell her you love her.

"When I make a pot of oolong tea, I put tea leaves into the pot and pour boiling water on them. Five minutes later there is tea to drink. When I drink it, oolong tea is going into me. If I put in more hot water, making a second pot of tea, the tea from those leaves continues to go into me. After I have poured out all the tea, what will be left in the pot is just the spent tea leaves. The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea. The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea. It is the richest part. We are the same; our essence has gone into our children, our friends and the entire universe. We have to find ourselves in those directions and not in the spent tea leaves. When we learn to do this, we can find the people we have loved and lost." Thich Nhat Hanh

Listening and Learning

When people feel uncomfortable they quite often slip into self-defence mode.

I've watched people - real life, internet and media - winding themselves into barbed wire anger over the unfolding of what appears to have been systematic sexual abuse of children within most of our lifetimes. Under our very noses in fact. It feels so close to home, people feel the need to shout about how wrong it all was.

Which of course it was. It's the shouting I am struggling with. Making particular director general's fall guys, thinking this is about a specific media outlet and their standards or elaborating on what a monster Savile was, makes it all the responsibility of some rare rogue men of evil. It's as if by extracting the poison at the top we don't have to think about all the individual steps along the way, the people who knew something was wrong but did nothing, a "care' system that did anything but, the failed police reports, the people who did not listen, a society that allows this to be swept under a mountain of a rug for thirty odd years.

It very conveniently forgets the children involved, many of which will be adults watching and reading the very same things you do. And hearing the reactions.

It is so much easier to get angry than to listen. I fear this is very dangerous.

I didn't report abuse that happened to me when I was young not because I thought no one would believe me, or because one was the nice guy everyone loved, or one was the frightening guy who gave everyone the creeps, or because I thought no one would listen, it was because I didn't want to make a fuss. I was a kid, and I didn't have the coping mechanisms for what was being done to me, so the idea of inviting something which was inevitably going to cause a lot of problems was never even considered.

I cannot imagine the courage it took Steve Messham to stand up to make a public declaration of what he was told to be true; and then to have to state he thinks he made an error. I am not sure I could have done half of that.

The reaction to this ugly unfolding of events does not appear to me to be doing anything other than pointing and screaming. I see little in all of this that is laying foundations that this could never happen again. It is not about one demon, one news programme, one care home, it should be about building a community of human beings where these things are prevented from being filed under "Unmentionable" and where we create a safe environment for people, especially children, to be able to voice their concerns when they think something is not right.

Last night I saw a lot of misplaced outrage resulting in retweeting abhorrent images coming from particular Twitter accounts. By doing so, this means you personally are responsible for spreading those image and messages to wider audience. You are not solving a crime, you are giving the horror and it's perpetrator free exposure. If you are horrified, report it.

Please remember the very basics when these issues arise. In your words, your actions, on and off line, please pause for a moment and ask yourself if there is a chance that what you are saying could be encouraging someone who has been violated to remain quiet for a little longer. Because whilst this pitchfork mob anger runs off into the horizon, there are people who have been abused who are left feeling quite lonely, unprotected and unsafe.

For the love of trolls

Last night I got a death threat on Twitter. Worse than a death threat in fact, it was an explicit threat to murder someone I care about.

So, I signed out, got a book out and went about the rest of my evening. Not frightened away, or bullied away, but just not wanting to spend my Saturday night in a blazing room (metaphorically or literally).

I'm normally very good at ignoring the toxic tweets, but they do worry me. I don't feel physically threatened by them, but they do serve as a massive slap to the face about how angry and unpleasant some people can be. But the thing that really worries me, is how close to the surface that venom is.

I'm gobby on Twitter, I am aware of this. I mouth off about politics, nonsense and silliness perpetually. This has apparently been worthy of threats to my personal safety, threats of sexual assault, arson threats, people digging into where I grew up and went to school and most offensively, someone digging around and finding out personal information about my mum. I've had threats on here that that have been so grave I have had to take it to the police.

I don't think it is my opinions that cause it, I suspect it is the rather extraordinary number of you who follow* (*tolerate) my ramblings, musing and idiocy that attracts people who, for whatever reason, really need some attention.

They leave me genuinely concerned that we live in a society where there are so many people (and it is not just one or two) who have such ugly rage and hatred bubbling so close to the surface that they want to lash out with such malice. The troll who writes the offensive comment on youtube isn't just flippantly angry, they are walking, talking, typing human beings who like their cup of tea in a particular way and have a favourite record and are known by the person in their corner shop. These little bundles of rage are walking the streets right now (when they're not sat in a darkened room with a lap top). Has the internet made this kind of ugliness more common? Or has it just provided a forum where people can unleash their nastiness?

I am not sure. What I do know, and it's something people seem to forget an awful lot, is that most people on the internet are real life human beings. Nearly everyone who types something has to cut their toe nails, has bills to pay and probably has a family member who is a worry. The trolls and the trolled. Real living people.

The one thing I am certain of, is that the level of trolling I see on the internet does not come from a place of happiness. There is simply no way that the level of abuse I see and receive comes from people who feel loved, cherished and valued. And in there I think I have my solution.

I have no control over who tweets me or with what temperament (and would not seek to) but I do have complete control over how I react to them. I try not to bite back, I try to remain calm and I rarely block people without several warnings. I try to initiate some kind of interaction which is anything less than hate-filled. Because if I can't win someone over to a minimum of polite in 140 characters, what hope do we have for the bigger picture?

I shall continue pouring my nonsense onto Twitter and people are more than free to chose to read it or not, I'm not going anywhere and there is an unfollow button right there if you don't like what you see.

But here's a novel idea maybe we could try for the internet: if you are ever unsure, a little bit cross or happen to come across someone who has a different view or lifestyle to you, before you type, pause a moment and think "Is this polite?".

You never know, people could actually start applying it to everyday life too.

Many Happy Returns

20 years ago a 13 year old kid was pushed down an allyway in broad daylight in a busy shopping Saturday and had things forced upon her which would steal innocence and hope.  What’s remarkably unshocking about the attacks I faced throughout my developing years is how unshocking they are.  They are not a stories that need to be retold, nor ones you need to hear.  The thing is, something about them has been rattling around my head lately.
 


So I ask your patience whilst I try and sift through some of the big stuff in small sentences.  I find forcing nauseaous feelings into digestable syntax makes them easier to swallow.  This is no personal out pouring of personal history blog that is desiring your sympathy, but maybe some words found here may be threaded in a way someone was looking for.  Maybe that person is me.  If there is any benefit to be found in the grittier bits of life, it is to create a place of safety where people can just be.



And it’s all about safety.
 


The crux of it is this: somewhere along the lines this society we live in seems to have muddled up attractive and predatory.  Maybe it’s my personal history, but I am not convinced I am the only one who gets very confused about how you hold your head high without making yourself extremely vulnerable.
 


Recently, an incredible human being walked in to my life, put their arms around me and whispered that I was safe now.  Just as I started to believe it and took the in breathe whilst staring him dead in the eye, he walked away before I had the chance to exhale.  And into my pocket he slipped a note telling me I needed to cement these foundations myself before I could light anyone else’s path.
 


I am left with a load of pre-prepared dishes of ingredients like a television cookery show; knowing I’d like to create something of nourishment for myself and others but feeling like I’m just not old enough to be cooking on an open fire yet.  But I know if I don’t work out the mix just right, it’s all going to burn.
 


I am a comfort abstainer.  Some ugly societal seed has taken root in my brain which tells me my value is directly related to my body mass.  The poison germinated too close to the house and the roots interfered with the wiring.  It is my safe place, being unkind to myself.  It’s not comfortable but there is safety in the known.  After all, how on earth could anyone possibly hurt you when you’ve got an inner dialogue as viscous as this going on?  It’s the shittest self defence strategy ever devised, but one I believe most of us fall into the habit of - if we don’t check ourselves.  And I’m doing no worse than the society I live in pushes upon us daily.  You must be skinny, sexy, demure, photo shoppingly beautiful and if you are not all of those things at all times, well hell, you may as well just go and invest in seventy cats right now.
 


So how do you manage to dig out the self-confidence to shine like gold when we live in a society that perpetually berates such self-assurance as arrogance?  The answer, of course, lies in great actions, not proud words.  But how do you learn to believe that you are desirable without displacing your value upon other people’s feedback?  That’s the bit I am trying to learn myself into feeling.  To ingrain it into my cells. To know this with such deep certainty that nothing can disturb my peace. It’s a long class, but no lesson of importance was going to be a breeze.



I feel we need metanoia - a revolution in thought as well as deed. I fundamentally do not believe human beings would perpetuate harm upon another if they put a little more effort into respecting the sanctity of life and the vast potential within every person they encounter.  Including themselves.  And I mean every person.  The person who got the seat you wanted on the bus, your neighbours and their dreadful taste in music, that family member who has the capacity to turn a phrase that ignites your hell-fire. The men who raped me.  Every single person.  Because I don’t believe that actions such as I have experienced could possibly come from a place of peace and happiness.  People simply do not do things like that if they are happy.  And if I can’t make peace on my own doorstep then how can I possibly believe there is hope?  I believe every single human being has the potential to become the most amazing person who has ever walked the face of this planet.  It is my personal choice and responsibility to create as many opportunities for them to manifest that potential as posible.
 


So what can be done? Maybe this is the most naive blog ever written, but a little consideration for others could change our world.  I believe the answer lies by approaching difficulties with wisdom, courage and compassion. If someone is causing you suffering, on whatever level, try and calm down the finger-pointing and see where they may be coming from.  And think about your own actions, and how others may be viewing them.  Remember people view your behaviour and hear your words from their life experience, not necessarily from the heart with which they were intended. 
 


The smallest things will inevitably make the world of the difference. 
 


If you are walking home at night, show some respect for other people you may see along your journey, cross the street to let them know you are not a threat – you might not feel like one, but they don’t know you. 
 


It’s the year 2012 and I have to think about what footwear I chose when I go out of an evening, in case I may be home late, and if need be, whether I be able to run.  When it is dark I take my headphones off to make sure I can hear everything around me, my ears are like satellites.  I mask alertness of a hawk to others on my path with an endless intrigue into paving slabs.
 


I’m 33 years old next week.  I wonder if I will reach a point in my lifetime where I can walk home alone and feel safe.  Not brave, or bold, or indignant, or fierce, but exhalingly, comfortably, believing-in-the-goodness-of-people safe.  Then it will really be like coming home.
 


It’s that hope which keeps me striving to create a world of peace and happiness for every single human with whom I come into contact.  I believe there is a long way to go.  I also believe it is possible.
 


I wish you safe returns.

I'm coming out, with good reason

My body is a bit rubbish. Sometimes it does not do the things it is designed to.

I have a neurological illness that means some days my legs don't want to walk, some days my arms aren't fit for hugging and sometimes I can't see.

And it's amazing. It is amazing because it reminds me constantly how amazing the human body can be. It is the key to a treasure chest of reminders of what an incredible structure I inhabit. There is not a single day passes where I am not overwhelmed by how amazing it is to be able to place one foot in front of the other, to be able to see the colours of a sunset or to be able to hold a door open for someone. I have this brilliant in-built tap on the shoulder to be grateful for what I have, as these things could disappear in the blink of an eye, quite literally. Every time my body does what I would like it to, it is like a butterfly landing on your hand on a summers day. Every single time. Being able to move my fingers to type this is nothing short of magic.

Why am I telling you this? Because the reason I have been able to find the glitter in the shit is in grave danger.

The only reason I have been able to find gratitude, if not joy in illness is because we have a National Health Service that is built upon care. The fear of the repercussions of the end of the NHS as we know it, ironically, makes me feel sick.

I am looked after, assessed, examined, supported, prodded, poked, handed drugs, written to, phoned up, chopped about, talked to and listened to.

For free.

It is so important, I'll repeat that. For free.

Because I am not bound by invoices, I am at liberty to get on with the important stuff, like living.

But it is not always like this, and we are on the cliff edge of a health business which will be run like the banks: with money as the motivator behind every decision.

There is absolutely no doubt that if private health care firms are involved in the choices medics are able to make about your health, the foundation stone is profit not well being. Businesses are designed to make money. They are not designed to care.

I am under no delusion that the NHS needs a first aid kit; but for this to be pushed by companies who have a responsibility to their shareholders to make as much profit as possible is simply paradoxical.

I have seen glimmers of what a health service ruled by money looks like. It is sleepless nights, it is pain, it is being offered quick fix drugs not long term prevention. It is death.

I see this already in the understaffed, over worked and under resourced waiting rooms in hospital, after hospital, after hospital.

I see it in my GP's eyes when she tells me she would love to help me more but that they are simply not allowed because of budget restraints. With a flicker of regret that betrays she knows full well the words she is forced to utter offend the hippocratic oath.

My mum died earlier on this year. There is a drug that would have extended her life. A drug that is widely available in Europe and America, but it was not licensed in the UK as it was deemed to expensive. My mum was very poorly, but she was a fighter. The fact remains very clear, my mum is dead right now because of a decision to save money.

If you want my mum's story to be the exception, not the rule, you need to act, and you need to act fast. This is the very last chance we have of a National Health Service and not Health Business ltd.

We are fast approaching midnight on the NHS. Every single action counts.

My mum would not forgive me if we let the NHS die without a fight.

If we allow this government to desecrate what so many fought for, we will never get our NHS back.

If you think market forces are a good thing, please look at the railways. The government have no mandate to make the biggest changes to the NHS since its creation - and they are not listening to the public nor the professionals who are opposed to them.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said “The NHS is institutionalised altruism. Generations to come will never forgive us if we let this bill pass.”

This is the fight for our lives.

FAQ about the Health and Social Care Bill
http://abetternhs.wordpress.com/faq/

Dismantling the NHS
http://www.redpepper.org.uk/dismantling-the-nhs/

What MPs must know before they vote to wreck the NHS by Polly Toynbee http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/02/nhs-bill-what-mps-mu...
Block the Bridge event: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/block-the-bridge-block-the-bill

Block the Bridge video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5-hi4FG-dQ

38 Degrees Petition: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/Protect_our_NHS_Petition#petition

Adopt a Peer http://goingtowork.org.uk/peers/pages/home

Get an Occupation

Next week there may be some trouble. I wanted to try and spin some sentences as a preemptive strike against an inevitable media backlash. I don't think I'll win many over, I just wanted to get in there first. And maybe plant a few seeds for thought.

Three months ago I cycled down to the London Stock Exchange to watch what I has assumed would be nine blokes in balaclavas fighting the police to get a girl guide rig down. I was greeted by one the largest displays of civil disobedience I have ever seen.

I went along armed with my camera, a packed lunch incase of kettling and a rucksack crammed with cynicism. I left 12 hours later with a curious sense of disbelief at the uprising I had witnessed. It was like nothing I had ever seen.

I am sure most of you have watched the battle between my support, my sarcasm, my admiration, my intrigue and the complete loss of my social life to the Occupy movement.

As I watched site after site (there are currently four) bloom, burst, explode with enthusiasm, implode with politics, argue over the tiny things and never fail to pull together over the big things; I watched microcosms in form and gel. The place had me fascinated.

Four tiny world's of humanity at the extreme, were flourishing. It has been like life on fast forward. I have seen people laughing, crying, shouting, dancing, I have seen people learn how to talk and learn how to listen, I have seen people fall in love, I have seen people fall out of love, I have seen people lose their kids due to their association with the camp, I have seen people get their kids back due to their association with the camp. I have seen art, I have heard lectures, I have heard some of the most ridiculous ideas I have ever heard in my life and I have heard some of the most inspiring ideas I may ever hear. And I found my hope.

We are living in times when marching, letter writing, petition signing seem to be a tolerated tradition as opposed to methods of effective change. Even one of the greatest tools of the worker, a general strike, is heralded as an inconvenience as opposed to the people seizing their rights. It had been a long time since I felt I had seen anything that really made a difference.

Yet over the past three months I have heard and seen people so dedicated to trying to make a difference that they are wiling to sleep the winter months on concrete in the heart of the city they are battling. It has turned a few square miles of central London into a village, where you know people when you walk down the street, you can pop in for a cuppa or a curry and most importantly nearly any hour of any day, you can engage in political discourse with someone who has something to teach you.

And it has been a tsunami of education. From dance classes to choral arrangements, from cooking classes to conspiracy theories, from a free university to a kitchen that was feeding hundreds every night, from classical actors to pop stars, from the Occupied Times to Occupy Records, from lay preachers to window cleaners, from agitators to meditators - this hub is fit to burst with ideas of people just trying their damnedest to make a difference and live the change they want to see.

Yes there have been times when you have to separate the weed from the chat, but isn't that all part of life and all it's complexities too? I've yet to meet anyone who can tell me that drink and drugs were never a problem in London prior to the camps being set up. Occupy got critisised from the outside for alcohol problems and encouraging the homeless. I sat on the inside and listen to people ask questions about a society that lead to these issues in the first place.

Much as people have tried to dismiss the Occupy movement as being too fluffy around the edges with it's message and too gritty for the public at it's core, it's achievements beacon. The Occupy movement have started dialogues the world over about a system we are living in which makes the richest richer and the rest of us loose the very pillars of a society that people fought for us to access. These conversations have been on the front pages of the national and international press, on the lips of passers by and in hushed conversations by office water coolers for months now. A murmur that this isn't good enough. That the few having enough, isn't enough. A murmur that is growing into a rumble.

The strongest fault I can find with Occupy is that it has arrived too soon. That rumble that is growing is the sound of malcontent. Over the next six months, as more people lose their jobs, their houses and their sense of being able to provide for their families, I suspect there are going to be a lot of people jig-sawing "Oh, that is what they were on about.".

I am not-so-classic city sort with a grown up, grown up debt and I'm possibly the world's worst CEO. I cried when the court ruled in favour of The City of London and against OccupyLSX this week.

On Wednesday night I sat at the top of the steps of St Paul's in the spot where I had stood in amazement three months ago. And that was before I had any idea how incredibly all consuming this tented city of inspiration would evolve. As I sat there I tried to piece together some of the incredible scenes I have seen, heard, witnessed, diffused, sparked and absorbed over the past 96 days.

A homeless lady called Shamrock stood up at the General Assembly meeting that evening and spoke the crowd: "I have been homeless for years. And I cannot remember a time before now, when I have been treated with such respect, warmth and encouragement. I wanted to say thank you all for being so kind." with that her voice started to crack, she started to cry and just about managed "And I just don't want you to go".

I cried that day, not because I expected different from the court, but because I am going to miss having somewhere I know I can find such incredible intense inspiration. Even though I believe this is the merely first draft in a gale of change, I really am going to miss it.

I feel like I have just witnessed something I hope future generations will learn about as part of our vibrant social history. What an incredible honour it has been.

If the evictions turn out to be another tale of the bobbies vs the hippies with a couple of classic photos of a few people kicking off, it would be amazing if you could try and initiate a few dialogues about what an incredible journey this has been so far, and how natural it is for people to chose to defend somewhere they have come to feel is both home and family.

To everyone who has camped out, acted out, cooked out, given a talk, listened, witnessed, visited, cleaned, decorated, emailed, tweeted, started conversations, taken the time to think about any of this - and for taking the time to read this - to all of you, my deepest thanks.

See you at the next round.

#OccupyGratitude

If old crowny on the stamps can have two birthdays, then so shall I.

I signed up to Twitter a year ago today.

I remember doing it. I was sat on the hardest seat in the world in the hospital canteen whilst my mum was asleep hearing piped songs of cheer and smelling melted plastic wrapped food.

I remember I signed up simply for the fear of the fact that I just didn't understand it.

I had no idea it would change my world. I am aware of how ridiculously over dramatic that sounds, but it really has.

I've laughed with people on here, I've cried with people on here, I've been genuinely happy at people's news and really wanted to help people through some hard times. I've spread rumours, news, photographs, pleas and giggles.

It is using this strange website that I have learnt to find my feet again through some really tough months. I won't bang on it all again, but the support I received throughout my mum's death was astounding. From people sending messages of support and comfort, through to linking me in to important political stories when I could barely read, through to people telling me their stories of giving blood. I don't have words to express how much that meant, but you moved me to believe in humanity again when I was startled by the world. And in this day and age that's no small feat.

There is a longer version of that early part of the story here for those of you who wish for more details:
http://www.heardinlondon.com/post/3926787963/the-following-friday-six-mo...

Sometimes I look at the number of tweets I have posted with horror. I try to convince myself that at least a third of them is me saying thank you to people, a third of them is retweets of people funnier than me, which leaves me one ninth photographs of other people's talented work, one ninth political ranty pants and one ninth cheap jokes. I think that's a fair personality diagnosis.

When I entered this playground I did it anonymously and told no one - I just started typing. In my real life, I started up my business when I was 18. My whole adult life I have never had the freedom to completely speak my mind as I have always had to be slightly aware of how that reflects on my company. Who could have imagined my uncensored self and my running Benny Hillesque dialogue would be so much more popular than the toned town version I had spent the last thirty odd years trying to work out how to rein in.

One of the strangest things about Twitter I never would have expected, is that it is the first time I have ever been able to take a compliment. People have no reason to follow me unless they find what I am typing interesting or funny. I can't be oh so terribly British about it and find a million brush offs as to why that couldn't possibly be the case; I type some words, they go all the way to space and back, and sometimes, they cause the corners of peoples mouths to raise - how completely bonkers is that?

So I thought on my self nominated second birthday I get to do what I want, and that is to elaborate on my first mass thank off. There are brilliant people I follow and lots of them. Sometimes too many in fact. When I remember I am meant to be running a business and doing things other than type to strangers on the internet, I have a list called "Essentials" of folk on here who are just that. They are people who no matter what else is going on, I choose to read every day. You don't have to follow them , but they are the key people that make Twitter a place I come back to every day. Allow me to elaborate:

MattLeys
Funny, political, left on, spot on and all round tall egg. Bloody nice chap, you can smell it a mile off. Matt tweets so perfectly like one of those friends you wish you had in reality, I think I might have made him up.

SimonRickets
If you need your faith restored in journalists, Simon is the chap for you. On the case and intelligent. You will always hear a good thread through him, without the bullshit; and he makes me think. When Twitter leaps on a bandwagon, I often find it is Simon who is the first to fold his arms. But more than that, he's a witty bugger too.

tamsinchan
If I had to get all of my news from one source, would it be the BBC? Or Al Jazeera? No. It would be Tamsin. She reads the whole of the internet every single day, sifts out the irrelevance and feeds back to us in handy digestible chucks This lady's capacity to find articles on nearly every issue of every day astounds me. I think she is magic.

glennyrodge
I am not even sure I need to tell you how funny I find Glen. I retweet him so much you are bound to find lots of him in your timeline anyway, but he is a Twitter treasure chest. Not only funny but someone has been a real gent when I've stumbled over a few times. If Twitter were measured on smile ratings, Glen would have won twice.

amateuradam
Rude crude, inappropriate, sordid and sometimes cheap, I knew Adam and I were likely to get on. He might well post some of the funniest one liners you will be horrified you laughed at. And I he once told me "we share no cultural capital".

medeocdredave
Common sense talking, dry, witty, silly nit wit. He makes me laugh, he has his finger on the pulse of all things the youth care about. He is a breath of fresh air for political ranters. At times when I have been sad or grumpy he has pretended to fall off his chair because he guessed (correctly) it would make me laugh. What more could you want from Twitter?

ElliottClarkson
Official tests show that Elliot of one the most under followed funny men on Twitter. A manly sausage roll eating, beer drinking softie who is funny as most of Twitter put together. And penner of one of my favourite tweets of all time: "I think I have a man crush on Professor Brian Cox. Come on Professor, bum me and teach me about the universe."

ocotberjones
Silly scribbler extrordinaire. An absolute joy in my time line. One liner wonder, a mind filled with kids TV shows and robots. There is rarely a tweet sent from this typing dog that does not make me giggle. Need proof? During the royal wedding, when Twitter was talking about what things people had on their heads, he made this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcMYi9P6DR4

nickmotown
A genuinely funny, funny man. A fine example of Twitter at it's best. He fills my timeline with thing's I wish I'd been funny enough to say. I shall never be that funny. I would be extremely surprised if Keith Chegwin does not at least have him on a list, if not a hard drive. Read him, he's a cracker.

mooseallain
A giant wit, silly and talent. I have heard many people say Moose is one of Twitter's finest, but he is also an incredible artist. The equation is simple, the more of his amazing work you buy, the more time he gets to spend on here entertaining us all. Looky here: http://www.worldofmoose.com/

mattwhatsit
There may be some of you foolish not following Matt. This means you may never have had an evening of #drunkmatt in your timeline, and for this you have only yourself to blame. He's rather funny when he is sober too. He took a break* recently, they did tests and Twitter was 17% less fun without him.
*abandoned

thedolldays
Twitter royalty. Dolly has a turn of phrase that could wilt concrete. Her observations of her daily doings are finely chiseled lumps of rock she is preventing herself throwing at her colleagues and people on public transport, by sharing with us, the group. She's not all wrath, she is also fabulously funny.

truthsandwich
The Godfather of twitter. When people ask if Twitter is just a whole load of celebrities talking about their breakfast, I defy you to not be able to tempt them in with TruthSandwich's stream of unconsciousness. A master craftsman at a turn of phrase. He is brilliant and banter with him is nothing but a pleasure. True Twitter gold.

Also on this list are two wonderful luddites @subvertiser who gets a mention for making my journey's around London more fun with his own bread of billboard doctoring and naughtiness. Utterly rubbish at Twitter, but worth following for the occasional gems dropped in the street; and the wonderful @markthomasinfo, the kind of friend I drew with crayons when I was a kid. I'd sing his praises more, but he'll only complain more of this was not about him. He's not only worth a follow but go and see his shows too.

These are the people I am really very grateful to Twitter for bringing into my days. I constantly wrestle with trying to keep the number of people I follow under a self imposed limit. I nearly always fail. I have started using lists. I would happily spend nearly all day on here dicking around and rarely talking to anyone. Addicted is not the word. Sometimes my flatmate asks how HeardinLondon's day was and we discuss it in third person.

Thank you, really, I think you are bloody brilliant. I'd say I can't imagine my days without you lot, but I can, and it's simply not as much fun.

I'm off to try and make my real life as much fun as HeardinLondon's, now.

I'll be back shortly, with too many photos.

x

Some things bereavement has taught me.

I wanted to pen something as I am learning to steer my course through what I suspected to be one of the toughest things in my life, but this journey isn’t the one I anticipated.  Or to be more precise, it is not the one I think Hollywood had lead me to expect.



Yes, losing my mum is rotten, and yes leukemia is a snide bastard and yes watching someone you love going through chemo is like watching someone attempt to fix your precious watch with a sledge hammer; but my world did not implode on itself when my mum died in my arms.  



So I thought maybe someone might want to hear that the one thing we can all hope to have to experience, might possibly not be just horrific and horrific only.



Wave goodbye:

Grief is a funny wavy old bugger, but the crumpled on the floor image of harrowing horror has yet to occur.  What knocks me sideways is surprising; someone telling me the defining pride of being a grandparent; the bud of a beautiful new flower my mum would know the name of; simply being able to share with her that all things considered, I think I am doing bloody well.  It’s a big considered, but none the less.  



It has made me realise how, in a way, I think I based my expectations of grief somewhere between a thousand films of wailing, harrowing shoddy actors and a deep societal comprehension of death being bleaker than bleak and utterly joyless.  When actually I am not sure I buy that.  I think death is amazing - as amazing as life.  Death really is the final whistle on this game - and who doesn’t want to know the score?  I certainly wouldn’t want to play if I knew I was going to have to be running up and down the pitch for the rest of eternity.



However, I have also realised that the classic image of the bereaved child (and we are all kids when it comes to the death of our parents) was also quite helpful - as that is what I had set as a bench mark for what I thought it would all be like.  Finding out I am coping better than that has been a bit of a surprise.  So when the electric jolt of thinking “I’ll just give mum a bell… oh.” slaps my face, I allow myself a bit of space.

Lesson 1: Bereavement: over promise and under achieve.




Empath finder:

If there is a universal intrinsic value in going through the hard times, it is that the empathy they facilitate is as precious as the air I sometimes find myself gasping for.



Without going through a situation yourself you are not always able to provide counsel, let alone squeak open a rusty old gate of grief to enable someone you care about to exhale near you.



Most people want to talk.  When you’ve been there and done that, I think if you learn to walk carefully and are aware of the path you tip toe, you can be the most precious listener a friend could wish for.



Thank you to all the folk of Twitter who have shared and trellised me through these past few months.  For reasons that are glaringly obvious, it has been with you, my imaginary friends and fine pen pals, I have learnt to walk again.  Where I can be anonymous and fall over and you don’t mind.  And when you do hold a grudge, that is generally signaled by an “unfollow” - and who cares where that lot slope off to?



No special names are needed but those who have held out your 140 characters (both in and out of public view) have been nothing short of my float when I have started to drift.  I honestly cannot thank you enough for the snorkels you are.  You astound me.  Genuinely.



Lesson 2: Learn. To Listen.




The Gene Ambassador:

Frightening as it initially sounded, I realised with great honour that I am my mum’s representative now.  



People meet her through the things she taught me, the beauty she remembered to search for, the laughter she bowled into a room with.  But not only the assets, also the things I would have been sharp to critisise in myself until now, her fabulously off topic ramblings, my occasional ginge tendencies, my shape, my fabulous capacity not to finish a task as well as I started it; they are no longer things I scorn in myself as inevitable failings, but cherish them as carrying my mum with me.  And therefore my efforts to improve myself become a genetic path upon which we are growing together still.  The idea my worst personality trait could hark back to an ancestor from the 16th century (or similar) floors me.  It’s incredible.  I am learning stuff for this long, long line of people. It’s amazing.  (Yeah, yeah, get the incense out - I mean it - IT”S AMAZING!)



Lesson 3: Your roots keep growing.




Sick’o’thanks:

It never ceases to amaze me that gratitude is my shovel on my darkest of days.  It usually amazes me as I seem to have the most amazing capacity to forget this treasure on a near daily basis.



I am so grateful I got the chance to say goodbye to my mum, I am so grateful that I live a lifestyle where I was able to put my life on hold to be her carer, I am so grateful I live in a country where we have a health care system where mum was able to be looked after. 

I am so grateful to have the breath taking, jaw dropping, phenomenal realisation that I am lucky enough to have known, loved and been loved by my parents  That’s not something to be taken lightly.  In the truest of senses - it is awesome.



And when all of that hits empty and I am just left with the tinny echo of the fact that I just plain miss her, I get myself grateful that she is not suffering any more.  And in that there is absolute peace.



Lesson 4: Remember it’s amazing.  Absolutely amazing.




Just Give it Some:

I  used to hear people trot out the old “Time is the best healer” monologue at various inappropriate occasions of grief and listened with astonishment that ranged from thinking it sounded trite and insensitive to down right dismissive and rude.  



I was wrong.



I was wrong because I was hearing it with the wrong ears.  I thought people meant forget and move on.  You’ll get over it.  Dust yourself off.  But actually time is the most wonderful tonic in that it allows you to create new, fresh, happy memories that are not utterly entwined in the person you have lost.



As I find laughter and smiles in the usual places (as well as some I was not expecting - doing to first bit of gardening on my mum’s grave and doing a few horror film hands reaching up from the soil… ahhh, maybe you had to be there…), the stomach punch “the last time we…” becomes less frequent.  So that with time, I get grateful for those memories as opposed to them poisoning the new ones like an oil spill.



Lesson 5: One day at a precious time.




If my life philosophy is to be summarised at all, it is in the essence of learning and creating value from every possible situation.



And by whatever god you chose to call upon in times like these, death has a hell of a lot of life to teach me.

The following Friday - six months of living on the internet

A week on from my mum’s death, I thought I’d pen a self indulgent tale of some of you lot, the secret support network.  So secret in fact, most of the people did not know they were doing it.  Here’s my experience, as a rambling excuse for sprinkling some thank you’s and follow suggestions around the place.



Last summer my mum had a bone marrow transplant. I was in the fortunate position of being able to leave my world behind to sit in an isolation room, on an isolation ward and entertain, giggle and tip toe a line of philosophy and support through a precarious life and death situation.  Mum was nuked with chemo until her immune system was zero so the transplant would not be rejected.  This meant she had no defenses to fight off any infection and therefore I had to avoid any situations where I may pick up any germs.  Even a cold.  If someone so much as sneezed near me I had to wait five clear days before I was allowed on the ward, or I could literally be putting people’s lives at risk.



Friends were supportive but careless and after one too many incidents of someone giving me a kiss on the the cheek and then telling me about a chest infection they were battling I resigned myself into isolation too.



The hospital ward upon which I sat most days had wifi, and when mum was asleep and I was struggling to concentrate on running my business from my laptop, my mind started to wander.  As mum became more poorly, facebook became an unsafe place to be seen.  The blurred boundaries between colleagues, clients, friends and  family on there meant  I never knew which hat to be wearing when responding. As family life got more grave I craved the silliness that being in contact with people stimulates.



Of course I had heard of twitter, but I didn’t get it.  I could not understand why anyone would want to type to a bunch of strangers about what they’d had for breakfast,  when none of us have the time to talk get around to calling our mates most nights. However, I was concerned, from a business point of view, that lots of people loved it, and I needed to try and work out what I was not understanding.  I tell myself.  Not so secretly, I was thinking, who the hell would follow me?  In fact, who’d want anyone following you anyway?  Isn’t that normally called stalking?



So I thought I’d try an experiment.  I created a twitter account anonymously, told no one about it and started typing. I did not want to appear conceited, so I thought I would just post random comments of overheard conversations (hence the username).  I might as well have called it NotMuchInterestingToSayNickingOtherPeoplesLines, but it didn’t have quite the same ring.



A week later I replied to a tweet from @markthomasinfo about Tony Blair’s autobiography, suggesting it should be moved to the ‘Crime’ section in book shops. Mark RT’d it and also correctly guessed my identity as that of an old friend -  I snort laughed when sent me an SMS saying “I’m your first follower on twitter. You’re my twitterbitch. I own you.”  Thanks to Mark’s politico cult leftie status, people suddenly thought I might be a lot funnier than I am and suddenly I was not the lone tweeter out on my unfunny arse typing to myself like I was having a fiddle.  Being RT’d by Mark is the twitter left equivalent of standing in a demo with sign saying “Free Hummus”.  Follow him. Because he’s worth it.



Now the pressure was on, there were people “following” me and I wasn’t hearing much stuff as I was not able to go out much for fear of infections being carried to mum.  I could no longer use public transport and so cycling around London renewed an old habit of mine to take photographs of street art and graffiti. I started posting some of these on line instead of the comments I wasn’t eavesdropping. 
You can see some of them here: 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/56312368@N04/sets/72157625430220991/



This lead me to to discover the excellent snatchers of secret London moments @GoodNewsHackney and @AbandonedLondon who shared my passion for noticing the inane giggles left on pavements if you looked hard enough.  They are both well worth a follow.



As mum became more poorly I started having to spend more time in the hospital and had less time for any of my interests.  People started to fill my time line with pointers to issues I cared loads about: a wealth of information about campaigns, actions and articles. Suddenly I felt more than back in the loop, I felt like I had access to resources I would previously never have found time to dig out.  When a friend stood me up for a lunch date, @itsmotherswork, happened to post a link to a video on youtube of him being dragged out a branch of Vodafone, where a sit down protest against their tax avoidance had taken place. It was the birth of @UKUncut.  They are a fine and furious bunch, and the issues they are highlighting effect us all.  They operate in a way that have enabled me to have an active part something I really believe in, when I could rarely be there in person.  I’d be surprised if you are not following them already but you really should be.   They were the turing point when I realised twitter had repolitisiced me.  Issues I had always cared about, but years or futile marches and the weight of thirty odd of years of being a cynic had slowly made me less involved.  Now I had more information and motivation at my finger tips than ever.



When mum was having a good week, she asked me to go to demonstration against tuition fees to represent both of us.  Making education a prize of the elite few is one of the most regressive steps a country can take.  I had to be very careful not to pick up any germs, so I went with my camera and hung back and clambered up a few lamp posts to take shots and generally kept a watchful eye.  After a few hours of taking photos up and down Whitehall, I went to leave and was told I could not.  There was no disturbance where I was,  Only myself and 50 or so folk spaced out over 800 or so yards.  I’ve been at enough demos in my time to know not to argue the toss and just settled myself back in for the wait and got my camera out again.  Only things had changed. Within minutes the police line started advancing and trying to push us all towards the entrance of Downing Street.  I am not a big conspiracy theorist, but there was definitely trouble trying to be incited.  Of all the places in the country to try to force people to assemble, outside Downing Street seemed ridiculous.  Yet that was where I was being shoved.  The police horses were drafted in and before I knew it, another line of police behind us pushing from the opposite direction.  I was being squeezed and pushed from both sides.  Having spent three months doing my best to avoid all contact with people, I suddenly found myself kettled so tight my breathing was being restricted.  I could not move my arms and my legs were buckling from people I was being pushed into.  I had my bike with me and people were being impaled on the handle bars and crushed so hard against me it buckled one of my wheels.  I had kids from 13 upwards around me screaming for air and for a way out and to just be allowed home. A kid passed out near me.  We were still be crushed tighter and tighter together from all sides with nowhere to go.  I began screaming to an officer they were going to murder someone.  This was going to be a Hillsborough I shouted.  After several attempts at implored them that my bike was injuring people, and that they must stop, I was selected for release.  I was crushed so tightly, it took four policemen to wrench me upwards by my arms to escape.  I have been to many demonstrations in my years, and saw some pretty brutal police behaviour back in the day, but I had never left a protest shaking and crying before.  It was horrific.



Whilst I could still move my arms I took these shots that day:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/56312368@N04/sets/72157625462187346/



I was angry.  I felt not only had my democratic right to protest been infringed, but that the police’s actions were to intimidate people from protesting and cause violence seemed intentional so they could get the the photo they needed for tabloids to back their aggressive behaviour and claim it was defense of the realm.  I was angry that a generation was being taught by the police that peaceful protest was not an option in this country.  This was the first demo that most of these kids had been to, for many of them it was their first visit to London.  I was angry about the seeds this was planting.  I racked my brains for how things could be done differently, for a situation where police intimidation tactics would look ridiculous, and where there could be a demonstration for the positive for change, not a protest against all that is bad.  I had an idea.  It was a silly idea.  I posted it on twitter and asked for people’s opinions. @MediocreDave approved.  I knew I was in trouble.  He’s not mediocre and he’s not called Dave.  You need no more reasons than that to follow him, just know it is a wise selection.  The idea was to have a dance off outside the Bank of England for one hour as a celebration of all that is valuable within the arts and to highlight arts funding cuts, and after one hour we all leave the place peacefully as we found it.  The event was small but successful, mostly thanks to @aaronjohnpeters who jumped in feet first and backed me up, argued with me and spread the word.  He teaches me most from the stuff we disagree on, as he forces me to shovel my points into sentences. Therefore he teaches me loads.  Follow him, he’s up for a debate and will baffle you with some piece of 16th century poetry in the process that you are grateful for hearing but stumped trying to fathom the relevance.  Cap tip also to street artist  dr.d @subvertiser who made the reason we were all there clear and funny and provided me with many a smile over the past few months with his spoof headlines left plastered around London streets.


The Guardian did a great video of the event:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/video/2011/jan/14/protest-uk-uncut-ba...



That weekend my horizons changed.  It became clear mum’s bone marrow transplant had rejected and that we were working on a very limited time scale.  Mum decided she wanted to die at home, so from the end of January I ceased to be anything other than a full time carer.  More than full time.  Days were filled with changing sheets and making meals and trying to keep my business going and nights were filled with carrying my mum to and from the bathroom and cleaning up the mess and calming her soul destroying screams.  Between looking after my dad and making sure the weight wasn’t crushing him and caring for a forgetful 89 year old watching her daughter deteriorate before her eyes, twitter became a life line. You lot were snorkels.   I could no longer concentrate on anything more than 140 characters any way.  None of you lot knew the hideous daily realities, you’d banter with me without asking how my day was, you’d not give me sorrowful eyes.  And you were always there, day or night, there was always someone to have a giggle with.  Little moments of laughter amongst scrubbing shit off the floor or my grandmother’s tears were like gold dust.  They were snatches into a world I was no where near.  @tamsinchan and her amazing news stream kept me in the loop with what was going on in the world by filtering out amazing news articles every single day and posting easy digestible links and notes.  I would say this here lady is one of the most valuable sources of information on the internet, and if you are not following her you are simply missing out.  I was grateful too for the notes and tweets of @MissEllieMae and @NishmaDoshi for making me feel like I still had contact with the bigger world picture than my tiny world of what the next scream would need me to run to.  The politics was a great distraction, it means a lot to me and I felt included when I was so isolated.  I loved the evenings when mum would manage to sleep all the way through Newsnight and I could twat around on twitter with you lot like the naughty kids at school, passing notes along the back row.



Tweets from Egypt from @GirishJuneja and @Gsquare86 were a constant reminder that the world was bigger than what I was struggling through.  When Mubarak made his speech to step down mum had asked for her oxygen tank to be moved in front of the TV then she could witness it.  When she cried and said she was so grateful she had lived long enough to see a free Egypt, it was the longest sentence she had managed for weeks.  After posting this, I received a reply from someone in Tahrir Square to say that a group of people had just held a prayer for my mum.  Twitter is a constant reminder to me that people are absolutely amazing.



And then there were the funny folk.  The people who invaded the two hours a night sleep by tapping me on the shoulder and throwing a custard pie in my internet face.  Who’d drown the whirl of the oxygen tank by leaving whoopie cushions lying around my timeline.  One morning I returned from a harrowing blood soaked ambulance dash to find @mattwhatsit challenging me to a cyberfight and called me a wally.  It felt like someone had just interrupted hell to knock at my door to see of I wanted to be on their team for British Bulldog down the playing field later.  Only days after @GlennyRodge posted a series of phrases that fell out of the mouths of people you just wanted to stop talking, the doctor explaining my mum’s ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ form managed to shovel in three of them into one sentence; I was actually able to raise a smile.  I cannot think of a single reason why you would not want to have these gents in your life.  Unless you like your life being filled with less laughter than is possible.  Your days could probably be improved, as mine definitely are, by sniggering at @TheDollSays and @TruthSandwich as well.  Not following them already?  Oh for goodness sake, get on with it.



When Mum died last Saturday, I really wanted to try and create a wave of something positive to try and wash away some of the horror of the last few months, and especially the ugliness of final few days.  I tweeted to ask people to donate blood.  That tweet reached over 47,000 people.  If I helped nudge even ten of them to get on the blood register, then I achieved something amazing that day.  The support and messages from you lot as well as random twitter strangers that bloomed into my world that day was like a speeded up time lapse of spring flowers breaking through the hoarfrost of the toughest day of my life.  Special thank yous have to go to the fabulously articulate and witty Mr @mattleys, the ever supportive @helenartisite and gorgeous female oddity and one of five of you I know in the real world @stillmisbehavin (make space in your life to go and see one of the last of the great female sword swallowers - a freak of a show woman.  Don’t just follow her on here, follow her in real life, stalk her, fill her shows, go through her bins.  She wants to make seedy comments at your expense and I would like to watch).  A special thank you also to really kind messages from @amateuradam who made a donation to trees for cities and the ever sharp and informative @SimonNRicketts who let me know, as I was falling heavily into my duvet at the end of the heaviest of days, that himself and @GlennyRodge were raising a glass for my mum. 



I don’t have to the words to thank all of you who can give blood and do.  By the last stages my mum was needing transfusions of six pints every four or five days - please know you are literally life savers.



I have an email from my mum stuck to my wall at work, and I share it as my desire for you all:

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.”



And I wish you twitter, the best bunch of imaginary friends I could ever have dreamt up.   

I hope at some point, especially when you are having a rotten time, some irreverent nonsense I type may bring you a grain of laughter or escapism as needed.



I’ll end the rambling tale with the most fitting quote anyone has sent me over the last few days:
“To die will be an awfully big adventure” Peter Pan.



Thank you all.


With non stalky, non sticky, non weird, cyber love and a grateful hug that lingers a little too long and makes you feel a bit uncomfortable.



@HeardInLondon x

THE PENURY OF THE BONUS - guest post by Papa HeardinLondon (a relative point of view)

Bonus payments are miss-named. They are performance payments and are calculated on a formula based on the difference between expected minimum performance and the higher achievement of the person paid.



Who then decides the minimum performance criteria? How is such measured? Why is it possible for someone to so far exceed expectations year-on-year that he can reasonably expect to be paid several hundred percent more for merely doing his job, which in nearly every case is already hugely rewarded by stratospheric basic pay?



Most of the bonuses arise in the investment banking sector. Investment bankers are those who look at risk and decide which risk to buy and then sell at enhanced value. What are these risks? Who says they are a risk and who values them before and after purchase and sale? In many cases, there is no risk but only certainty. The sale is most likely to be to another bank that will, in turn, revalue the risk and sell on to make yet more.



Take the example of the National Lottery. When Camelot was given the contract to run it, it was as plain as the wart on the face of Cromwell to any electrician, carpenter, lathe turner or nurse, that whoever was to run the National lottery was going to make a killing. Not mere profit but stupefying shed-loads of money beyond the dreams of Croesus and avarice combined. The technology to run it was already there, cheap to install, cheap to run and foolproof. Those traders who wanted to participate (at the corner shop, the filling station, the supermarket) had to invest in the equipment.



All infrastructure was paid for by others. Camelot in fact made huge profit by merely selling the hardware. Once installed, there were the TV rights to sell and the spin off gambling side shows (scratch cards, “Lucky Dip”) etc, all adding to the pot of wealth already underwritten, not by Camelot but by everyone else, namely the punter – the public Joe. Thereafter, all Camelot had to do was to switch on the electric, sit back and plan how to spend the money.



Where was the risk here? There was no risk, of course. Never in the long history of man’s greed has there been a time when no one would be willing to turn a penny on a game of chance. Camelot had it sewn up. The day they signed that contract, they printed their own paycheque to mega wealth.



So it is with Investment bankers. In reality the risks they purchase are hardly risks at all, but near certainties to bring in wealth. Such is the incestuous relationship between bankers that of course they all flock like carrion to these near certainties, thus up goes the value and the price – job done, move on.



Has anyone really asked then how such vast tidal waves of money can slosh around in such a tiny pool as that inhabited by the piranhas of Threadneedle Street? Is it possible, one might innocently ask, if they all set values and charges at such excess levels for the solitary purpose of self gain at the expense of the end user – public Joe? Could it be that in reality, a risk is worth tuppence, but is falsely valued at £10, so that £9.98 can be shared as a bonus? And if the gullible purchaser at £10 then sells for £100, is he no longer gullible?



And no matter how clever, all seeing, astute or darn-right lucky a banker might be, is his making of any decision, or series of decisions, really worth three times or more the income of a hundred ordinary men? Or three times the income of a whole lifetime of one man? Every year?



If a banker and a lathe turner were marooned on a desert Island dressed only in rags, who would be the rich man then? It is probable that the man with manual skills would save both. In so doing and bringing them back to safety, what value would then the banker place on the efforts of his erstwhile companion? Is it remotely possible that he would rate his companion as worth 100 times his own esteem? He would not, of course, but he might magnanimously rate him as an equal. Briefly.



Every day we all make choices. We turn down one estimate in favour of another. In all cases we balance perceived value against quality. Sometimes we factor in other needs such as time saved. In all we do, we seek that balance, that sense of fairness and fair play. An Artisan deserves his profit, but not one hundred times his profit, or so we judge it. We refuse to pay £5 for ten toilet roles that can be had for £3 round the corner. We do not (usually) then take them round the next corner and resell for £4, but we could (and some do!) We all know we could never trade around the corner in toilet rolls priced at £300 each. Yet, in effect, the Banker does this.



The difference between the rest of us and bankers is that we have to sell our sinews, or brains our commodities, or vegetables to meet supply and demand. All that commerce is based upon the perceived value of the offer and represented by the payment of a sum of money. The banker sells just one thing – money.



Just as he hordes the cash, so he dictates who gets it and how much it will cost to get from him. By setting the cost of the money so high, he cannot but help to enrich himself, no matter how much you and I toil in the fields or under the cosh of penury.



So we have a choice – accept the bonuses or start your own bank.

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