Thanks Giving

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Apparently yesterday was the most depressing day of the year. Something to do with Monday and darkness and no money and it all makes sense really.

On a day, presuming that Tuesday is equally as depressing as Monday or does it get better? when we probably all feel like doing what Tom is doing in the photo which is just snuggling down under the covers, I thought I’d write something a bit cheerful for a change.

Now, over recent times, I haven’t really given myself over to cheerful thoughts. There’s too much to be pissed off about but I thought I’d give cheerful a go and give thanks for some good stuff that is going on. Here goes…

  • Thank you to all the drivers who slow down for horses on the road. You have no idea what a difference it makes. In days gone by, young people used to drive past parping their tuneful airhorns and belly laugh as you disappeared into a ditch on a spooked out horse. Pretty much every single young person slows down now. I like to think that this is generally indicative of young people who are, overall, a great deal nicer than we ever were. Motorbikes always slow down. Motorbike people are brilliant.
  • Thank you to blokes on the trains who seem to be getting nicer than they were before. On recent trips on the train I have met only with politeness and courtesy. It makes the whole experience a whole lot more relaxing. If you are wondering whether to offer your seat and open the door and all that stuff, please go ahead. I think it’s nice. I don’t see being offered a seat as offensive. As a woman, life is generally more exhausting than if you’re a bloke so I’m happy to get to sit down. Chivalry, the same as altruism, is not a sign of weakness or anything other than being considerate in my opinion.
  • Thank you to people who give a shit. My son is currently trawling through the streets of Paris dishing out sleeping bags. He doesn’t make a great song and dance about it, he just does it. Like him, there are thousands and thousands of people who just get on and do things that are of no benefit to themselves but do it just because it is the right thing to do. However small the gesture, showing you care makes the world a better place and I am immensely grateful to each and every person who does this. You are what makes this world go round.
  • Thank you to Toblerone who do not use palm oil to make their chocolate. Since I have become aware of the whole palm oil things, feeding my chocolate habit has become more complex. Fortunately, Toblerone is delicious and palm oil free and it is also substantial.
  • Thank you to snowdrops. Just when the winter feels unbearable and I feel like I can’t put another step forward in these dark days, snowdrops burst out of the ground with their brave little cheery heads. Every single year they cheer me up no end. They are the brave pioneers of the flower world, daring to go where no other flower dares to go, pushing through the frost and snow to be able to dangle hope in front of our winter weary eyes. I love them.
  • Thank you to people who support the efforts of others, whatever those efforts are. So many people are battling away to get projects and ideas, anything, off of the ground and everyone needs support. Nobody can do any of this on their own. If someone has arrived to a new place then support is vital in doing what might seem like a small thing but would be massive to that person. Thank you to people who support us ‘artists’ doing whatever it is. It might seem like a carefree and glamorous life but it’s seriously not and support is gratefully received from all angles.

I could actually go on but I’ll stop there. Apparently being grateful makes you healthier so that’s a good a reason as any to give thanks for things. We are lucky, so so lucky, for where we are born, for so many things. I have no idea why we are so lucky and some people are so unlucky but I definitely feel inclined to share that rather than bemoan the fact that other people want in on a bit of that luck. Who wouldn’t? Finally, thank you for reading this.

 

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Welcome to 2018

Welcome to 2018, we are a week into it and we haven’t yet been nuked so things are not looking as bad as they could do. I have stolen this photo from a friend who sent it from the other side of the world where the sun is currently shining and she assures me that things are just as insane her end of the world too. Whether that is a consolation or not remains debatable.

I don’t know whether you do new year resolutions or not but I have been thinking about how to approach this year so as not to go nuts. In the words of H.G. Wells – ‘Am I dreaming? Has the world gone mad – or have I?’ That is what it felt like last year and I feel like I need to change that a bit. It’s hard to create positive change, to actually make it happen, if you feel completely disillusioned and depressed and think that the whole world has disappeared up the Swanee without a paddle so I’ve decided to try and look at things a bit differently.

There is a fine balance to be had between searching out in the world, trying to understand what’s happening, trying to do your bit to make this world a slightly better place and hanging onto a bit of healthy headspace. I’m not entirely sure what the answer is but one of them is the way we take notice of the media. News is dished out on so many media forms now that it is hard to discern what is real, what is complete fiction, what is put out there just to keep us all terrified, what is put out there for the benefit of goodness only knows who. One of the big differences now, though, is the fact that not only do we have to find ways of responding to what has happened in the world, responding to the news that we read/hear about but we also have to work out how people are interpreting and reacting to what has happened. In the meantime, what has actually happened can get lost. Take, for example, a terrorist attack. People get killed. Innocent lives are lost. That is the event that is reported. The reaction to that event can completely overwhelm what has happened and not in a healthy way. Innocent people are persecuted, their lives made a misery, not by what happened but by people’s reactions to what has happened. So I am going to challenge this on every level within my capacity.

It feels as though, as a people, we are becoming immune to the madness that surrounds us all. There is madness and sanity in the world. There is madness and sanity within each and every one of us. We must pander to the sanity and not stay silent to the madness that just allows the monster to grow. I have said this before but will say it again, there is a narrative going on this country that would have felt impossible even just a couple of years ago and it feels as though we are just letting it happen. Maybe it is like the experiment where a dog is locked in a cage and given electric shocks, so they move from one side of the cage to the other. Eventually, the dog just stops moving and accepts the shocks. Even when the cage door opens, the dog continues to just lie there. No idea who does these experiments or why or how a whole string of people think it’s alright to do it but I’m just using it as an example. Are we, by being bombarded, by all the shite that we are being bombarded with just lying there, with the cage door open, accepting shocks? So, personally, I refuse to remain immune. My act of rebellion will be to carry on giving a shit.

I still remain in the belief that people’s stories are one of the most important things in our world. Without our stories we would not exist. What is another statistic in the news is one person’s story that ripples across the world. I will keep on telling people’s stories and I urge people to do the same, to listen to people’s stories, to talk less and listen more and leap across all man created divides in the same way that stories are able to. As a shameless plug at this point, in Cambridge on the 20th January we are telling stories of displacement, loss, of our ancestors and it will be fantastic. Join Cambridge Storytellers to be inspired to tell your own family stories, we all have them, for better or for worse.

And in the vein of telling people’s stories, it’s still happening in Calais except it’s worse than it’s ever been. This is what is happening. More support than ever before is needed. If you feel inspired to help then there are organisations on the ground who would gladly welcome your time and there is plenty that can be done from the comfort of your own home. You can contact Refugee Community Kitchen Help Refugees or Care 4 Calais

There are local organisations that I’d be happy to point you towards but a quick google search usually does the trick. All of these organisations also work with local homeless people who are also sleeping out in these conditions. It’s not ok. There is research to show that volunteering does all kind of good things to you health wise as well. If this photo nudges you to do something then I doff my cap to you and give eternal thanks. If this photo does nothing to you at all then give your head a wobble.

Happy New Year. May 2018 be filled to the brim with random acts of kindness.

Who’s Your Tribe?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Westminster for an afternoon of Sanctuary in Parliament. This is not an ironic play on words but an afternoon for Cities of Sanctuary across the country to come together and talk about the sterling work that is being done and to talk to MPs about the gruelling and inhumane legislation that surrounds our asylum system. There is gruelling and inhumane legislation that surrounds many systems that targets those seeking help in this country but yesterday was about the asylum system. Currently, we are the only country in Europe that has ridiculous rules about not allowing people to work when they come to this country. Apart from being demeaning and cruel it is also incredibly inefficient. There lies a determined workforce of, often, hardworking professionals sitting idle and being isolated from any community. People are given £36.50 a week to live on (50% of the current income support allowance) when actually all people want to do is work, be part of the community and crack on with life. After 12 months, if a person’s claim has not yet been processed then certain professions (ballet dancer being one of them) can apply to work, during which time their qualification has often become outdated. It makes no sense.

What is it that makes a person feel that they are part of society? Part of a tribe? I believe that it is a person’s ability and opportunity to be able to contribute to the society that they are a part of, or wish to be a part of. This can apply to someone coming to this country as much as someone who as lived their whole life in the same place. If you are not able to contribute then it is almost impossible to feel that you are a part of anything. There are often wails of protest rising from the pages of certain media that people do not integrate. How can a person integrate if they are being isolated? Maybe that is the whole point. This government has said that allowing opportunities for work will act as a draw factor, encouraging people to come here. Well, wouldn’t want that now would we and we can see how well it is working out at the moment (descends into dripping sarcasm). There are reams of research to disprove this notion and it has been dismissed by anyone and everyone except for those sitting pretty in the house of commons. It didn’t actually seem like a house of commons to me by the way, it was dripping with money but that’s a whole other discussion.

As I was sat there amongst all this alien grandeur, it made me think about tribes. It also made me think that if someone was going into that building every day it would be almost impossible to be able to connect with the ‘real’ world. It is so far removed from the worlds that they are meant to be representing that it comes almost as no surprise that there is a complete disconnect. It made me think about all the laws and legislation that are cooked up within those buildings that have no connection with the people that they are designed for. How easy it must be easy to dismiss the lives of so many.

I remember when I was younger and Thatcher said ‘There is no such thing as community,’ and I remember the cold chill that it sent through me and how terrifying that was. More recently, Teresa May said ‘Those people that think they are citizens of the world, are citizens of nowhere,’ and that same chill returned. I have never thought of myself of being of one nationality, ever. I don’t know if that’s unusual but it has never occurred to me to be ‘belonging’ to one small bit of the world. The planet is not that big and we all walk upon, it belongs to us all and to be told that you are a citizen of nowhere leaves a bit of a gaping hole. What these kind of words do is to encourage tribal thinking. When you get people thinking that they belong to a tribe, a territory, then you get them defending their tribe and keeping other people out. Tribal thinking encourages small minds, small thinking, stupidity and that way you get people frightened and then you have control over them. It’s not very complicated but it seems to be working a treat. Swathes of tribal idiots are rising up across Europe declaring their patch of land to be their own and ‘We want our country back.’ I wasn’t aware that anyone had ever nicked it in the first place.

On the plus side, there were also MPs there who were stoically fighting the corner of the most vulnerable and reminding people that they work for us, not the other way round. There were those who are genuinely there to make a difference and use their voice for the greater good and this is thoroughly soul restoring. There are MPs who work their socks off against all the odds and I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at this time. It’s frustrating enough being on the outside looking in and I think I’d end up getting locked up in the tower if I had to face the likes of Amber Rudd on a daily basis. In the middle of it all is also the House of Lords, so often denigrated for being out of touch and being a bunch of crusty old wealthy people. In fact, they are often the ones batting furiously on the side of the most vulnerable and time and time again having their voices ignored. Throughout history, it has often been their tenacity that has changed the lives of the more vulnerable. Lord Shaftesbury stopped children being shoved up chimneys. Lord Dubs, although the government has back-pedalled spectacularly, has changed the lives of some unaccompanied minors in Europe. This year the Lords have been campaigning against period poverty, getting free sanitary products to girls in schools. Revoflippinlutionary…

So, although this government would like us all to be thinking like tribal small people and batting anyone away who is vaguely brown and foreign in a non acceptable foreign way, there are also people out there who think big. Thinking tribal is not a gift that we want to leave for our children. They need to know that all people are welcomed as they would want to be welcomed. They need to know that they are part of an enormous great big tribe which is the world, our great big glorious world to which we all belong.

 

#MeToo

It’s been an intense couple of days of #MeToo where women (and men) on the internet have been saying ‘Me Too.’ Triggered by the response of women standing up and speaking about abuse and humiliation suffered at the hands of some fat geezer (one of many, he doesn’t have to have a name) in showbiz and the general mentality of abuse that runs through the fabric of showbiz. Other women have been saying ‘Me Too’ and it comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is that so many people were surprised. I thought people knew that women, pretty much all women, experienced this in some way, shape or form at some point in their lives and throughout their lives. I thought it would be all women, just because they are women, but what was really sad were a few things that I read by women who had never experienced this and were worried that it was because they weren’t attractive enough. Let that just sink in for a minute…

The conversations flying around were eyebrow raising at the very least. Women revealing truly horrific experiences, women listing reams of incidences where they were assaulted, abused, harassed. Women desperately trying to get the point across about why this is an important topic to be talked about, how it pervades our every living breathing moment, how we are unable to escape it unless we just surround ourselves by a few dearly beloved and don’t expose ourselves to the world outside. Men supporting and pledging to make changes. Men really trying to understand but actually not ‘getting it.’ Every sentence littered with a ‘but’ in the middle. You know, ‘I’m not racist but…’ Men trying to explain to other men what this is really about, really trying and I am so bloody grateful for that. There is another issue though that has remained unspoken about and, I may not be popular for bringing it up, it’s about women supporting women.

I felt true hope start to fill my bones when I saw women supporting other women in discussions, leaping to their aid when a conversation was getting tricky. I felt true hope because this has not been my experience in life. In my experience it has been women to shut me down and tell me to not ‘make a fuss.’ Women who have shoved me back to the wolves when I have tried to speak out. Women who have aided, unwittingly or not, any abuse by just shutting me down. And it happened again yesterday. It was a woman who shut me down because it was ‘too much.’ No discussion, just shut down. Once again, go and sit in the corner and don’t say anything, don’t ruffle any feathers, don’t express an opinion. How on earth are men ever going to begin changing their behaviour towards women, how is our world going to ever shift this soul destroying narrative if women shut each other down? I would go one step further in saying that this is the fundamental change that needs to come about. I worry that any conversations will serve to widen the split between men and women, that the divide becomes a gulf across which we can only shout at one another but actually the divide that causes the most harm, that continues to allow it all to thrive, is already there. The divide between women. Those that refuse to stick their head above the trenches to stand by other women. Those that support the denigration of women to serve their own best interests. Those that say ‘don’t make a fuss,’ ‘it’s too much,’ are also culpable.

So I would ask of men, those that have pledged to call out when they see abuse and harassment, damming words being spoken, to also do that when they see women behaving like that. Maybe these women will listen to you. Thank you to the people who have spoken out, really thank you. Some women have the courage to speak out about what they have experienced, that’s not my bag. Maybe on a one to one but it would have to be a strong person because it’s a very long list. My answer is to go out on dear Amos and wander the countryside and drink in the magic that the seasons bring us. It’s a beautiful world out there, let’s not spoil it by being shitty to one another.

Seeing is Not Believing

The recent elections in Germany showed a spine chilling rise in the far right and it’s terrifying quite frankly. Yes, the country voted in the majority for common sense but there was still a percentage who seem to think that hatred is the answer (We can sit and gasp from this side of the water but actually we are the only country in the past year in Europe who have allowed the right wing to win an election). But Germany has its very own history, that is still not history, for there are people able to tell the tale first hand and it is not something that we can afford to just say ‘well that won’t happen again.’

I seem to have started all political, I didn’t mean to but I guess that is what is happening, we are being led by the nose by politicians and many many people are not happy. I have been asking the question for some time now, do we actually need politicians? What role do they actually play? What is their purpose? We seem to look to politicians for answers, for solutions and it has become increasingly clear that they are not able to do this. It would be impossible for any one single person to have all the answers and all the knowledge to be able to run a country, or run most things way smaller than a country for that matter. How can we expect one person to be able to do that? We can expect better than we are getting for sure, but why do we keep turning to them for sanctuary and safety when again and again they crap upon the people of their countries from a very great height. Why do we not turn to ourselves for the wisdom and guidance that we seem to be seeking?

I went to see a film last night about Islamaphobia and the talk afterwards inspired these thoughts along with yet another attack yesterday on a man entering a mosque. At the after film talk was a man who used to be part of the English Defence League, the same sort of groups of people who have just gained strength in Germany. He was brave in talking out and said that he is now on the receiving end of the hatred that he used to dish out and it’s not pleasant. Basically, he said that he used to read the papers, media and believe what was written. Seeing is not believing, very different things. Based upon what he read, this led him to carry out acts of hatred. Why and how have the media in this country not yet been prosecuted for incitement of hatred? How does it keep happening? I don’t understand one bit. Diatribe keeps getting churned out and people keep believing it. Actually, the people who have consistently been on the receiving end of racist attacks in this country have, over a number of years now, been people from the Chinese community but we never hear anything about this, why? What purpose does it serve, to whoever it is in charge, to demonise the muslim community in this way that actually leads to people getting attacked? Why and how can anyone lump together a bunch of people who, as individuals, are as different from one another as any other community. I have not met two muslims who are the same, two christians who are the same, two atheists who are the same, two anybody who are the same so, whenever anybody starts a sentence with ‘They…’ it makes me want to tape their mouths up (that’s being polite).

In the same way, it is individuals who hate, not communities. Those individuals may seek out like minded (I use that term very loosely) people and create groups that can hate together but it is only ever really an individual that can hate. As the film said ‘hate is easy… to understand takes courage.’ Although the media cannot force us to think in a certain way, it can certainly have a strong influence. As the director of the film said, ‘McDonalds do not force you to eat burgers but they give you many reasons to want to eat them.’ While the media keeps churning out all these vile untruths it is up to all of us to go out and talk to people, get to know people, make up our own minds without opting for the lazy and toxic route of hatred or, just as bad, indifference.

If there is something that we do not understand, then we need to get informed rather than keep looking for a scapegoat. I have spoken with many people who say that they do not understand the religion of Islam. Then get informed rather than lumping people together. I don’t pretend to be an expert but Islam has many different versions in the same way that all religions do. There is room within all religions for different versions. The divisions within those different versions are often created by those from outside, such as invading a country, to boost the age old tactic of divide and conquer. If you hold a prejudice against a so called group of people then you are part of the problem. There are arses within every single sector of society, that is individuals again rather than a whole community. We are never going to solve the problem of there being arseholes except than to try and not be one ourselves. The world is not perfect but please don’t make it any worse.

City Of Ghosts

A couple  of  evenings  ago  I went  to  see  a  film  called   ‘City  Of  Ghosts.’ It  is  the  story  of  the  city  of  Raqqa, in  Syria, and  its  takeover  by  ISIS. The  city  has  been  practically  destroyed ,  not  just  by  ISIS  but  also  by  the  Syrian ,  Russian  and  US governments  who  have  all been  having  a  pop.

A group  of  ‘ordinary  ‘ people ,  from  this  carnage ,  got  together  to  form  the  group   Raqqa  Is Being  Slaughtered  Silently   (RBSS). Together  they  risk ,  and  some  have  lost,  their  lives  to  get  information  out  to  the  world ,  the  truth  of  what  is  happening ,  what  the  media  is  not  telling  the  world .  Together  they  are  fighting the  propaganda  put  out  by  ISIS and  at  significant  cost  to  themselves  and  their  loved  ones .  Their  courage  and  determination  is  hard  to  put  into  words . As one  member  of  the  group  said ,  ‘I’ve  started  to  look  forward  to  dying  of  natural  causes.’

The  messages  from  the  film  are  stark ,  brutal  and many.  A sentence  that  stuck  with  me  was  an  observation  by  one  member ,  ‘Things  can  fall  to  chaos  much  quicker  than  anyone  can  believe . ‘  These  heroic  people  document  the  decline  into  chaos  and  brutality ,  essentially  since  2011 when  the  Arab  Spring  reached  Syria. Of  course  there  would  have  been  rumblings  and  less  than  ideal  life  leading  up  to when the  resistence  began , but  nothing  like  that  of  the  subsequent  experiences  of  this  beautiful  nation  of  people .  How  quickly  this  country  has  fallen  into  chaos ,  much  quicker than  it  would  have  been  possible  to  believe  and  I  wish  we  could  say  that  there  is  an  end  in  sight .

Another  thing  that  struck  me was  one  man  saying ,  ‘It  is  not  enough  to  get  rid  of  ISIS ,  to  get  rid  of  Assad. We  have  to  create  a  government  that  speaks  for  its  people.’ It  was/is a pervading  ideology  that  has  allowed  ISIS  to  flourish. It  was  the  world  turning  a  blind  eye  that  has  allowed  ISIS, and  the  pervading  ideology ,  to  flourish .  ISIS has  now  become  a  problem  for  the  world .

And  us? What  are  we  doing ?  Increasing  the  narrative  of  fear  and  division  that  fuels  the  very  ideology  that  we  are  running  from .  We  are  feeding  the  beast  with  its  favourite  and  most  nourishing  fodder. We  have  allowed  a  government  to  flourish  that  does  not  speak  for  its  people .  In  a  short  time  we  have  become  a  nation  divided  such  as  I  have  never  experienced  before .  I  am  not  saying  that  what  we  are  living  is ,  in  any  way ,  comparable  to  that  of  the  Syrian people  but  the  words  ‘things  can  fall  to  chaos  much  quicker than  anyone  can  believe,’ should  heed  as  a  warning  to  each  and  every  one  of  us.

In  a  short  time  we  now  have ,  apparently ,  the  most  right  wing  government  in  our  history .  In  the  past  year,  our government  is  being  taken  to  court  by  the  UN over  its  abuse  of  human  rights  to  the  disabled  people  of  our  country .  A law  has  been  passed  that  requires  a  woman  to  prove  that  any  third  or  subsequent  child  was  born  of  rape should  she  need  any  support .  Living  with  the  rapist  automatically  disqualifies  any  claim. The  government  is  being  taken  to  court   (again) over  breaking  the  law  with  regards  to  its  legal  duties to  safeguard  young  people .  Doesn’t  exactly  fill  you  with  confidence  does  it ?  It  requires  remaining  healthy ,  wealthy ,  not  young, old or  disabled .  Don’t  go  under  a  bus, don’t  get  divorced  and  hang  on  to  your  ovaries !  It  would  appear  that  they  are  no  longer  our  own .

We live  in  a  country  where  I  am  able  to  rant  and  rave  about  what  is  happening, publish  it  and  not  get  my  head chopped  off .  This  is  no  small  thing. Please  let’s  keep  it  this  way. As  anyone ,  with  half  an  eyeball  open,  will  have  noticed,  nobody  is  immune  to  anything .  Freedom  is  not  something  that  happens  by  chance .  It  is  hard  fought  by  ‘ordinary’ people  and  not  just  gifted. Definitely  not  gifted  by  a  government  who  is  telling  you  how  many  eggs  you’re  allowed  to  use  in  your  ovarian  lifetime .

These  brave  people  of  ‘Raqqa  Is Being  Slaughtered  Silently’ offered  up  words  of  wisdom  in  how  we  can  all  help  towards  a  better  world, how  we  can  defeat  terrorism  and  oppression  – ‘We  have  to  use  the  power  of  good  that  is  in  people  to  overcome  evil.’ Wise  words  indeed. We  can  all  do  this  – good  manners, always ,  whether  to  family,  friends,  strangers,  face to face, on social media, good  manners. Generosity and help where you can, share what you have with those that have not.  Use your voice.  It  is  not  enough  to  say  ‘Isn’t  it  awful.’ Tell  the  governments  what  you  think .  At  a  recent  gathering  I  met   Shirley  Williams ,  a  long  standing  voice  of  the  people ,  and  she  said  ‘You  have  no  idea  how  much  power  you  have  as  a  people .  You  have  to  use  your  voice.’ Advice  from  a  woman  that  knows.

With our silence, we all play a part in evil being able to flourish.

Nice is easier…

I’ve just got back from Ireland having a dream time riding a horse across the mountains and ending up at the seas of Donegal. It was way way beyond what I could ever have hoped for and very lucky I am indeed on many levels.

Apart from the stunning landscapes, the rolling hills and weather that changes every time you blink, I was blown away but just how nice everybody was. Not slimy nice but just genuinely nice. Bus journeys across the country were hilarious with a 6 hour journey lasting seconds when accompanied with the chatter and laughter of travel companions only just met. Perhaps prompted also by my delayed understanding of what a Donegal greeting ‘How you doing?’ means. It simply means hello and not actually ‘How you doing?’ needing a long and drawn out answer. It was a week before this finally twigged and then people were spared my ten minute answers which should have actually just been ‘good thanks.’ Hey ho. Pretty much every single person waved and smiled, especially when we were trugging along on the horses. But even without a horse, the very standard behaviour is just be nice. The general feeling is that everyone wishes the best for one another. The enormity of how simply beautiful this is stopped me in my tracks.

What I very quickly noticed is the sheer relief at being surrounded by niceness. There is a whole level of fear that is instantly removed when you are immersed in a mentality where the standard is just to be polite and nice to those around you. A whole level of fear that comes from being unsure as to what response your very presence may elicit from others, what mood they may be in, how your breathing in and out might piss someone off for some reason. It is instant all round happy and less stressful.

And here’s the thing… Being nice is way way easier than being shitty to people. Studies have been done on what it means to be nice although it is slightly sad that a study has to actually be done. Anyway, studies have shown that being nice helps you live longer, makes you happier and stress levels are way down. Being nice causes our brain to release endorphins which are the chemicals that give us the feel good factor. Doing something nice for someone also gives the brain a serotonin boost (anti depressant), another chemical that gives us a feeling of well-being. It seems mad that everyone doesn’t just sign up to being nice, the benefits are for everyone and it is so gloriously simple. Smile. It’s free, it’s catching, it’s really really good for you.

Yesterday I went to help my son do his amazing work clearing up at festivals. The place looked like tens of thousands of people had been sucked up into the air leaving more debris than the brain can actually imagine. I take my hat off to him and bow, what he is doing is hard graft and he’s in it for the long haul. I turned up to find dozens of cars driving onto the site. Out of the cars poured people of every size, shape, age and background, all coming to help clear up. In the space of a just a few hours we had half filled a 7.5 tonne truck with sleeping bags and people were cheering at the thought that they would go to people who needed them. It was wall to wall nice people. Genuine people who were brimming to the gills with their give a shit.

So being nice not only gave us a whole load of exercise, smiles and laughter but we all got to hang out with people that we wouldn’t normally hang out with. The star of the show was 6 year old Oliver who stacked sleeping bags in the truck for 3 hours solid and never once stopped smiling. It was impossible for any of us to grumble in his shiny presence.

So be nice. Nice is easier. It feels so unpredictable sometimes whether someone will be nice or not and I find that really unsettling. What changes could be made in this world if we were all just simply nice? It doesn’t have to be complicated or saintly or gushing or idiotic. Just nice. Perhaps one of the most underrated words in our languages. I leave you with a shining example of two really fabulously nice humans…

 

Living The Dream

Most people have dreams, it’s the most natural human thing to have. Having a dream signifies a future, hope, excitement, ambition, potential, safety, love, innovation, the list goes on and on. Without the dreams of people we would be without many of the things we have today, some of them good, some of them bad.

Dreams are also thought of as a night time thing but, in the traditional sense, living the dream basically means doing what you want to do or living the type of life you want to live. It means achieving  goals that you might set for yourself and living the joys that your hard work has brought you. For some people this is easier than it is for others for a whole raft of reasons. Health, mental health, wealth, personal capacity, family, support, circumstances in general can either help or hinder the path towards dreams becoming a reality. Some people seem to be able to achieve their dreams despite the most improbable of blocks put in their way and who knows why that might be.

The other evening Gulwali Passarley who is from Afghanistan, now aged 24 and originally came to the UK as a refugee aged 14, came to Saffron Walden to give a talk about his book and his life. He was utterly inspirational in talking about his dreams and his dogged determination to achieve those dreams. He has gone above and beyond what the average human might be able to achieve and I would recommend reading his book, ‘The Lightless Sky,’ as a window into his world. It is his story but it is also representative of many people who make a gruelling journey to reach their dreams, or to escape their nightmares.

Last year, 10,000 children went missing in Europe. Children who had made a journey escaping war and poverty and travelling alone and these are the children that we know about. I suspect that the real numbers are a great deal more. 10,000 Madeleine McCanns and hardly a murmer is heard about them. The thought of what will have happened to those children should chill the bones of any decent human being, it keeps me awake. 10,000 children dreaming of reaching safety, of having a future, of having an education. If you speak to any refugee child about their dreams then the answer is pretty much always ‘To go to school.’ The dreams of the parents are that their children should live a safer and better life than they have lived. That is the dream of any parent. We all wish for our children to be safe, to be happy and to be able to live their potential. Why should any other parent be any different?

Our government has taken in  around 350 unaccompanied minors from Europe after having promised to take in up to 3000. A law was passed, the law was ignored. Children promised safety, the very basic of human dreams, are now left as fodder to those that take advantage of anyone who has nobody at their backs. It is a disgrace, it is more than a disgrace it is heartbreaking. It is terrifying that a set of people, whose only job is to speak and act for their people, is so capable of ignoring the wish of their people and actively behaving in a way that causes harm. They are not our responsibility, people may cry out in indignation. Children are everyone’s responsibility. That is an unarguable fact. Wherever there is a child that needs looking after there should be someone to look after them. Full stop. Anyone who has an answer of ‘Yes, but…’ should go and nail their head to the fridge.

Whatever dream a person may have, you could pretty much guarantee that becoming a refugee was not on their list of dreams. Not part of the plan. It’s not on my list of dreams that’s for sure. For whatever reason, a person may be pursuing their dreams of reaching safety, a better life, it is not for us to judge those reasons. Trust me, there are systems in place that are doing the judging for all of us and with knobs on.

Why are some people allowed to dream ‘big’ and others have to keep their dreams in a box? I’ve never understood why some people are more entitled than others, this remains a complete mystery to me. This goes for whole swathes of society. Different nations, different classes, genders, you name it. Something, somewhere, has decided that there are a graded level of dreams that we are allowed to aspire to. The school that I went to did not encourage big dreaming. Secretary if you were a girl (a studious nice girl) and plumber if you were a boy (a studious nice boy) and apart from that, most people at school probably just aspired to stay out of the justice system. Similarly, for refugees, they are encouraged to keep their dreams small, to stay in their box. So much potential, so many dreams, so much brilliance squashed in the name of fear, prejudice and power.

When I was little, my biggest dream was that one day I would be able to have a dog that I loved and that loved me and that he would sleep curled up on my bed. For years, I pretended that it was true and then it did come true when I left home and met my first furry four legged mate. When my dog curls up on my bed, I have a little smile and say to myself ‘I’m living my dream.’ I am living the dream of the younger me. Now I dream that the world would treat one another with humanity, that people would think in terms of humanity rather than money and statistics.  That children were cared for. That people could aspire and achieve their dreams regardless of where they come from and their circumstances or, maybe, especially because of where they come from and their circumstances.

Maybe if we start talking to one another about our dreams. Instead of asking ‘What do you do?’ ‘How big is your house?’ and about careers and cars and money, how about we ask ‘What is your dream?’ Wouldn’t that just feel a whole lot better? And if you question the journey that a refugee might make then just ask yourself, why are you allowed to dream and they are not?

Dear Europe …

Dear Europe,

Where to start? I am going to use the collective royal ‘we’ on behalf of this country although I realise that I am not speaking on behalf of all of the people. I am writing from me but it may voice the views and feelings of more than just me so I’ll use ‘we.’ At the moment, we are a bit embarrassed about what is happening and I just wanted you to know that there are whole rafts of British people who do not want this divorce to go ahead. We have a ridiculous set of people ‘running’ this country who are dashing about making decisions that are making many of us hang our heads in shame and disbelief.

28 years ago, yesterday, I was lucky enough to bring a bonny boy into this world. He was born in Italy where I was living at the time. Technically, my son and I now do not belong to the same nation/continent/call it what you will. Technically, the country has voted to separate me and my son but we are lucky enough to find ways around this and also to not let fear take a grip although it did manage to have a damn good poke at the time. If we listened to all the fear mongering and desperate narrative that is sweeping our nation then we would be living in fear of having to live in different countries. I know that this is a very real thing for many people.

One of the problems that we have in this country is that we have a media that is out of control and, quite frankly, completely bonkers and that is where many people get their information from. I know that you do not have that problem to the degree that we have but I would issue a word of caution to not allow it to reach the stage that we have arrived at. Although we are currently the laughing stock of Europe, please do not think that you are immune to such folly. I have no idea what news is reaching your shores about what our government is doing but whatever is being said will not be representative of all of the people in this country but, as with so many things in this world, we will all be painted with the same brush.

I would ask of you to please try and treat us in a way that has always been when we come to Europe. Please do not think of us all as people wanting to separate ourselves from being Europeans, as that is something that a great many of us consider to be a large part of our identity. Try and not laugh in our faces, hard as that may be to do. We are managing to keep our sense of humour intact (just) and I would ask that you do the same. Even if it does not feel it, we are actually all in this together.

One thing that did strike me personally, and I wonder if this is something that might be relevant to people in other countries, is that after the referendum results I realised how little I knew of many parts of our country. I looked at the map of red (leavers) and blue (remainers) and realised that I had spent little time in vast amounts of the red bits on the map. Actually, where I live is a staunch leave/Tory area so that throws that argument out straight away but, generally, it made me think about the many areas of this country about which I have absolutely no idea. We are anything but a United Kingdom it would seem in so many ways. It is no wonder then that the country has become so polarised, maybe it always has been. So many people living in pockets of the country with no clue as to what is happening just down the road for we are, essentially, a small island. Is this true of all countries?

One note of reassurance to people in this country, and perhaps to you, is that the areas with the highest populations of non British people were the ones who mostly voted to remain within Europe. The whole tag line of immigration is a complete myth cooked up by the idiots spinning us vitriolic narratives for those stupid enough to believe them. I still stand firm by the belief that there should be compulsory dna tests which might go some way to busting these ridiculous myths out of the water.

I would ask that you resist the urge to stamp on our heads until we beg for mercy although I can see how that might be tempting. As ever, it will only be us lot who will come off worse. Most of us do not have the ridiculous notion of being a world conquering empire, ready and able to stand alone against the world. Also we seem to be being forced into a nightmare friendship with Trump and, just that alone, should be enough to elicit some sympathy surely?

So, dear Europe, can we still be friends? One thing the people of this country are good at is laughing at ourselves so we will be doing that job for you. There has been a bit of a flap about people making their way on to this island of ours but I’m just worried about how we’re going to get off! When you are busy hanging onto your bellies laughing at the folly and insanity of this nation, please spare a quiet thought for those of us who are sitting head in hands trapped on a small island being run by a bunch of lunatics.

The photo is of a stone that my son carved the word ‘nothing’ onto. Nothing is written in stone. Clever eh.  Nothing is ever written in stone and we can only hope that this time in history sees us all coming out the other end intact. Currently, our government seems to be steering us back into the dark ages so if you see images of us bear baiting and jousting in the streets then that is why. Personally, I would quite like to do some jousting but not all the things that go with it like shoving children up chimneys and having all my teeth fall out because I can’t go to the dentist which is already a reality (the dentist I mean, not the children up chimneys).

So, here’s to nothing being written in stone and here’s to a general civility that hopefully can see us through this whole holy mess.

 

Extreme Gardening

Today is a strange day to put it very mildly. I am very very lucky because whenever the world is strange (and that is quite often), I am able to go out on dear Amos (a horse) and he puts the world straight again. This morning I went out on him to do extreme gardening. This involves going down an overgrown path with a pair of secateurs and trying to clear the path. It is much much easier on foot. I dropped my phone once and the secateurs twice and getting back on is not as easy as it was 20 years ago. Extreme gardening means that you regularly get a face full of brambles while the horse charges onwards and you are engulfed in the debris that you have just cut down. On the way home it is worse as the horse is keen to get home so that anything other than perpetual motion is not an option. This turns more into bramble jousting, trying to aim the secateurs at overhanging brambles while you go past at a pace. The best thing about extreme gardening is that it leaves absolutely no head space for anything else other than the task at hand and today that was sorely needed.

I was major grumpy this morning and Amos, once again, put things into perspective. The thing is, we have quickly arrived at a point that seemed unimaginable only a short time ago. We are battling with extremism, misogyny, racism, disablism (is that a word?), elitism and all kinds of isms and that is just from our own government. This ‘leadership,’ if you will call it that, has given the green light to people to feel that they can say stuff and behave in a way that is abhorrent. As the day has unfolded it appears that we are going from bad to worse and all signs of hope from this morning are fading fast.

BUT DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE!

What has happened is actually brilliant, amazing and fantastic. In the space of a few short weeks, thousands, nay millions, of people have stood up and said ‘bollocks to bad people.’ This is very very inspiring. The dialogue of what constitutes a good leader has actually changed. Previously, it was assumed that any leader was a lying, cheating, egomaniac out for their own gain and can’t be trusted but then along came a man, and many others, who have the actual interests of the people at heart. Think what you will of individuals but actually the amount of people who took themselves off to the polling booths in support of somebody they could actually believe in was thoroughly soul restoring. It would seem that the narrative is actually changing. Sick stories make sick nations and what has happened is that a healthy story is emerging.

Although it may feel as though the voice of the majority is being trampled upon, it’s not true. I think that we should stand up and be proud of what has happened, especially young people. The next generation turned out in their many to cast their vote. It has made a difference. They make a difference. I really hope that they know this and that they are strengthened, rather than disheartened, by what has happened. The young people of today recognise that good has to triumph rather than greed and this has not happened for a while. These past few weeks have seen a swell of people not prepared to accept lies and deceit, not prepared to just drudge about drowning in apathy and feeling unable to do anything about it.

The next bit, whatever happens, is not going to be easy but the shift has already happened. This morning I woke up thinking that I just want to move away, that I’m fed up of living in an area that will never change but then, with a bit of extreme gardening, I was able to see what was actually happening, what has actually happened and it is very exciting. I truly believe that greed, cultural narcissism and the ‘each man to his own’ narrative is dying a death. We have a new narrative of strength emerging, one that is ready to reach out for the greater good and that this is now the majority rather than the minority.

To all those who have voted for the first time, I would urge you not to get caught up in the ‘ugh I voted and it doesn’t make any difference,’ story. You have made a huge difference and this is just the beginning. What you have done has injected a shed load of hope into a nation that was in desperate need of hope. It may not be the answer that people were looking for but, in the long term, this is exactly what we are looking for and, for that, I thank you deeply.