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professions (ballet dancer being one of them) can apply to work, during which time their qualification has often become outdated.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.

 

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#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.

Smile Like You Mean It

I  Home Flown

So  I’m  up  a  mountain  in  Crete. It’s  idyllic. I’m lucky, I  know  I’m  lucky. I’m  working  hard  and  my  legs  are  turning  into  steel  rods  carrying  things  hither  and  thither  up  and  down  the  hills. I  usually  live  in  one  of  the  flattest  parts  of  England, we’re not  used  to  slopes. But, I’m  lucky.  I’m  with  nice  people, Crete  is  stunningly  beautiful  and  the  sun  is  shining  pretty  much  every  day. I  have  a  passport  that  allowed  me  to  travel   (for  now  anyway  ) effortlessly  on  a  plane  to  get  here  and  I  sailed  through  passport  checks  on  arrival .

When  I  was  younger  I  travelled  quite  a  bit .  I  was  fairly  used  to  not  understanding  the  language of  the  country  I  was  in and  used  to  struggling  to  make  myself  understood .  I  was  pretty  used  to  being  treated  with  disdain  because  I  was  English   (in  the  80’same,  being  English  was  not  cool  and  it’s  rapidly  looking  that  way  again). I  took  it  as  standard  that  being  a  lone ,  female  traveller meant  being  hassled ,  coming  up  against  prejudice  and  having  to  have  my  wits  about  me. But  it’s  been  a  long  time .  Over  the  last  twenty  years  I’ve  only  really  travelled  to  visit  friends  where  a  warm  reception  has  been  guaranteed.

The  Greeks  are  renowned  for  their  hospitality  and  I  have  been  on  the  receiving  end  of  their  welcoming  smiles, friendly  waves and  open  determination  to  try  and  decipher  my  arm  waving  to  describe  things. I  have  been  sent  on  shopping  missions  as  part  of  my  job  here  and  it  is  actually  quite  hard  to  mime  a  lettuce  and  spring  onions . Try  it . .. Olives  are  much  easier  and  paper  napkins  are  a  doddle .  However ,  there  is  one  man  who  stands  resolutely  blank  faced  in  the  face  of  my  miming  and   (very) pigeon  Greek. At  first ,  I  thought  he  was  just  shy  and  maybe  a  bit  frightened  of  my  exuberance .  I  soon  came  to  realise  it  is  because  I  am  foreign .  He’s  a  rare  one  out  here, the  Greeks  are  gloriously  friendly  and  generous  in  my  experience .  What  was, what  I  thought ,  shy  soon  became  mildly  hostile .  I  soon  noticed  how  quickly  this  chipped  away  at  my  confidence .  How  frustrating  it  was  to  not  be  able  to  ask  him  why, to  not  be  able  to  have  a  conversation ,  to  not  be  able  to  tell  him  that  I’m  a  mother ,  a  daughter ,  a  human.

I  am  grateful .  It  is  a  timely  reminder  of  what  my  friends  are  going  through. That  not  being  seen  as  human  quickly  seeps  through  to  create  a  second  layer  of  skin, it  becomes  a  part  of  you. A part  of  you  that  is  difficult  to  shake  off  even  when  amongst  friends ,  in  safe  and  welcome  company .  I  am  reminded  of  the  priceless  value  of  a  friendly  smile from  a  stranger which  can  lift  the  spirits  and  transform  a  day. You  don’t  have  to  go  out  and  perform  miracles ,  save  the  world  and  everyone  in  it. Just  smile .  Just  let  someone  know  that  they  are  so  welcome  to  share  the  same  bit  of  earth  that  belongs  to  none  of  us. We  are  all  only  here  for  a  short  while  so  smile  like  you  mean  it. None  of  us  has  any  more  right  than  the  next  person  to  be  walking  this  beautiful  planet  of  ours.

Last in, First out

Last in, First out is, apparently an accounting term and is something to do with data but it is more commonly thought of as the last one in is the first to leave. It’s known in the work place as the most recent to arrive are the most likely to lose their job and such like.

I have been thinking about this since my trucking trip in February and what happens in group situations. Discussions came up around sibling groups and who was where in the pecking order (another not particularly complimentary turn of phrase unless you are at the head of the pecking order) and how, where we sat in the sibling order impacted on our behaviour in a group. It’s interesting, it’s not a new thing but it’s interesting all the same. I am the youngest in the family and there was a general feeling among the youngest siblings that we were ‘last in, first out,’ not as in first to leave home but in a different way. The feeling was that you arrive into an already formed family and that you are an add on, additional, expendable almost (very very general sweeping statement but this was the conversation) and that you have to carve out your place in some way.

As the last to arrive it is necessary to try and think up something that hasn’t been done before, either you are very quiet, or very noisy, or very clever, or very something. It’s not alright to just jog along in a mediocre way as there always lies the risk that you could be out, as you were the last in. You are not a necessary component of the already existing set up. This wasn’t a conversation about how woe is us but about behaviour and then translating this to the wider population i.e. the refugees that we had travelled across Europe to take stuff to. People who arrive in another country are rarely permitted to be just mediocre, they have to be very very at something or other. They have to gain a place rather than it being just awarded to them because they are. Last in, First out. Newly arrived people are judged on their merits, what they can offer and how they can add to a situation, generally economically.

And to bring this round to what is happening in this bat shit crazy world, it all seems to come down to economics. It feels as though the humanity in discussions seems to have left the scene. All talks of bombs landing are reducing deaths to statistics and how much a bomb costs and how that money could be spent elsewhere. Just don’t drop bombs I say but apparently that is too simplistic. Maybe it is. All talk of the Euro referendum has been reduced to finances and single markets and amounts written on the side of buses rather than the distress it is causing to many families because of the uncertainty that lies ahead. And now another election and there will be more statistics bandied around, finances and, within that, the real discussions of real people just get reduced to background noise. When people are not heard, they shout louder and louder until they are heard and sometimes have to change what they’re shouting about in order to get heard.

Of course money comes into stuff but not half as much as we are led to believe. There is plenty to go round, it just needs distributing a bit more evenly. You offer homes to people because it’s the right thing to do, it really is that simple. The prime minister spoke today that she thinks that the whole country is pulling together. I’m not sure when she last stepped outside her front door or whether someone is feeding her porkies cos that’s not what the rest of us are seeing. There will be much talk of the ‘common good’ over the next few weeks but without any conversation about the fact that there is increasingly no longer a common good. All talks are serving to divide people. It feels like pitchforks at dawn rather than pulling together. I do hope that something good comes out of all of this but feelings are running high and those feelings are generally ones of fear. Fear that we and our loved ones are next on the hit list. That we might be considered the last ones in, in some way, and the first ones out, in whatever cookie way is going to be thought up next.

Please remember to be kind. Kindness is massively underrated. Just because the government is behaving like a bunch of toddlers fighting over the last ice cream, doesn’t mean that we all have to follow suit. There are many people who are very worried about their safety, about their future and the future of their children. Please do not use them as bargaining chips. Please do not expect them to perform extraordinary feats, split the atom all over again, in order to awarded a place of safety. It is enough just to be human.

p.s the photo is of Tom dog staring out at a seal in the sea. It is of no significance whatsoever other than I like the photo and I am now not going to see Tom for a month and I miss him already!