Time To Sink The Cutting Snark?

We’ve now found ourselves in a time of peak satire potential, a time when the institutions, figureheads and practises have come to the point of being so ineffably ridiculous that it should be a rich breeding ground for laughter – or so you might think.

 

Comedians being the creatures they are however, find little humour in poking fun at the weak, or joy in unassailable power so blind to its own mediocrity that it wholesomely ignores being taken down a peg or two. What we’re seeing now is stand-ups becoming educators – I refer you to the super Tiernan Douieb as a prime example – in D-Day style they are bringing their vessels alongside in this increasing flotilla which is amassing to save decency, recover kindness and retrieve the remnants of democracy which bob on the waves of the seas of this god awful present.

 

We’re seeing pupils and teachers carving through high seas at the prow on climate change, firefighters fighting waves of social injustice and church members splicing the mainbrace against hunger.

 

There are no jokes to be had – there is work to be done. People are being left behind in the here and now and no amount of political posturing in the next few years will help school-kids in hole riddled shoes going to school hungry and agitated, unable to learn and move forward. All hands to the deck – we need to WORK.

 

And what of the media when we need them most? Are they pitching in and helping to right this listing ship of democracy, to fight inequality and stand for truth.

No.

Save for a few exceptions, they’re having a pop at a girl with pigtails. Creating an atmosphere against any hopeful movement so cold that it would freeze the balls on a brass monkey, then using it as a pot shot against climate change.

 

I’ve no intentions of linking to the piece by awful online myth-merchants labelling her a “millennial weirdo” in blithely ableist terms, or sniping Tweets against the “privileged daughter of Sweden’s Eurovision Star” by a man with family in the right places, who resents his peers turning on him no matter how reprehensible a git he might be.

 

This crows nest of deplorables sails atop the Cutting Snark, which offers a privileged ride to those who remain unaffected by corruption, ambition and unfairness. So separate from all of the unpleasantness to the extent they can take shots with their sarcasm cannon and ram through smaller vessels which might cross their path and question their hot-take piracy.

 

The time has come to sink the Cutting Snark, which floats on impressions, likes and shares. Let’s take the winds out of its sails – turn your back on reactionary think pieces – don’t link, don’t share, don’t comment.

 

Don’t take the click-bait me hearties. Lets show OUR true colours and sink it. For good.

The Price Of Perfection: An Observation From A Seat In A Supermarket Cafe.

 

What is the price of perfection? That put together look. Sleek hair, pristine shoes. Matching colours, matching brands. Not a thing out of place. The stuff itself if costly, for sure, but what is the price on the soul and is it all borne by a single one? How much time does it take to be so carefully assembled? How much sleep? Do you worry that today might be the day you fail, that aspeck of errant dirt may foil your sheer veneer?

Who helps you carry your load, supporting each part of your perfection? Or do those perfect nails preserve in spite of of your own gut-wrenching labour to bring this appearance, that car, that house to such a level of zen?

I dust croissant crumbs from my slack maternity jeans, only half conscious of the milky foam at the corner of my mouth, and I watch. I’m entranced by your glistening, gliding through the aisles. I wonder why you’re here at all, perfectly balanced at the trolley bar. What could you need with this place? Is the point of perfection just to be seen?

My shoulders sometimes sink under the weight of it all. My blemishes and imperfections wear upon me as a patina. Even with the most Titanic effort I still crash and sink in attempting to achieve even a fragment of your flawless.

Do you struggle and fight the onslaught too? Do you ever break a sweat, throw a spill, lose control of your hair?

You make it look so easy. So achievable and within reach. What is the cost?

 

Grief Stalked Me

Two years ago I wrote this, running to recovery after two pregnancy losses.

Two years further down the road, blessed as I am, I still carry the memories of being the quarry.

I did build on this, in a positive way with Bringing Change

“Grief Stalks Me

“I’m having to run at the moment. I’ve made a commitment, despite being awful at it. The only bonus and problem is that it gives me time to think. The thinking generated this:



“I run, 

Grief stalks me in the trees, 

Camouflaged against the leaf line,

Hits my heart with dart.

I drop,

Paralysed and stymied 

Gasping for air 

Reaching for memory.

I get up, 

And run again, 

She still lurks within the bowed branches,

Waits for me to pass through shade, her arrows steadied and waiting.

I run, Grief stalks me.”

The House Is Ashes – Now What?

Now we’ve burnt down the house – how do we clean this mess up?

 

Malene Thyssen, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Malene

For too long those of us with the privilege to have not needed to struggle for shelter, for food, for enjoyment in in life, have lived in a world where we believed everything was fine. Even as the house started to burn down around us, we were able to convince ourselves that the fire was a blip, a anomaly.

 

Newsflash for those slow on the uptake – this isn’t an anomaly – this is the new normal.

 

We may now be in the cinders of what is left of our house and we need to take a careful and hard look at ourselves as to how the blaze began. Where did this come from? How did it take so viciously? It burned so quickly and from nowhere it seems.

 

Another bulletin – just in – it came from somewhere. It came from the heart of neglect and it was a slow burn which reached the gas cannisters in a moment of opportunity.

 

There have been people left behind for so long, there have been those cast outside for want of the material, for the want of education which elevates, for a culture which has promoted expertise as a further layer of snobbery rather than a resource for all to use and benefit from. The sneering elements of our social groupings have come to the fore as critics or, worse still, as exploiters of this neglect. Meanwhile we, those who have the advantages of security, have expectation of more whilst giving less. As we give less, we struggle to find ways to occupy ourselves, to make ourselves sedated against the outside and its suffering, its horror.

 

Anyone who has worked in the public sector knows this suffering, this horror – in the United Kingdom alone. Teachers, police officers, NHS staff and council workers are amongst those on the front lines and see what neglect truly means. What it means to our children, to our elderly, to our vulnerable. Bearing witness to this causes damage which manifests in different ways, we need to acknowledge this and show support so it becomes a motivation to be better rather than to become a hardened shell of bitterness and complacency. More than this, we need to alleviate their workloads by carrying the burden of making change which raises more people up than just a select few.

 

Personally I will not engage in the political about this, in terms of party political activism, and I will remain on the outside. That is for others to pursue and I wish them well in good intention. My activism will be on the home front and I will fight each little battle my own way.

 

It is going to take more effort though than tossing cans in a food bank collection, reducing our waste and putting money to a collection – these small duties should be the minimum – we have got to make actual connections with people in their lives in a meaningful way and whether they deserve it or not. There is no deserving poor – there are people trying to live their lives with their own choices – poverty is a social state not a moral punishment and without choice there is no freedom.

 

We have made it to higher ground, in our resources and our advantages, we must bring everyone along with us.

 

• I know so many work in so many different ways to do what I am calling out for – please give them a shout out here or Tweet me. Lets bring some good news, like a light in the darkness.

Meditations on Mother

This piece was first published on my original Quiet Radicals blog in 2016.

On my fifth Mother’s day as a mother I’m now in the mid-point of both being and having. It is a happy and fortunate position to be in as I know of there being many women in the world who are both mothers and daughters but with neither child nor mother to mark the day with. My thoughts are with anyone in this circumstance and I hope that if this is you that you celebrate as always being a parent – some things can never be removed – and you are a celebration to be had just as you. I grieve with you and praise you.

 

Maman – by Louise Bourgeois – outside the Guggenheim Bilbao

This year looking for a mother’s day card has been somewhat difficult – the cards in the shops laud the apotheosis of motherhood – “The one who is the very heart of home and family”, “your tender care”, “always there to give a hug” and “the wonderful ways you’ve made life special for the family”. This hasn’t really been my experience of my mother so it seemed false to present these as the ideal mother’s day card.

As I grew up my mother was not as other mothers were back then. Most of the mum’s in my junior school were mothers who worked jobs for pin money and kept house to a pristine level. Their children were the ones with the best clothes, the perfect home-cooked meals and time to have friends over.

Our house was a back to front house in the sense that it was my step-father (who is the only father I have ever known and am grateful for) who had to learn how to cook as my mother, around giving birth to two daughters after me, rose up from being “just” a teenage mother and took on college studies, followed by university studies and Law School, juggling jobs and attempting to ignore health conditions which would render her exhausted and often laid up in bed in the times reserved for family. My mother’s input into my life as a child largely consisted of educational sessions where I would revel in my mother’s attention as she chose to use the time to encourage me into reading, writing and knowledge. I would sit by her with an illustrated book of British history and savour the rare time together. This time became rarer and rarer.

Holiday times would largely be spent with my grandmother, which was an education of its own, as she would encourage imagination with creative activities – making dolls houses out of fruit boxes and dolls out of pegs – alongside long walks in the surrounding bleak countryside, with its scrub land and backdrops of mining landscapes. My grandmother had an uneasy relationship with my mother, her eldest daughter, but her relationship with us was so very close. Even in the trying times – such as when she issued me with my own harmonica and then angrily withdrew it hours later due to the annoying tones I managed to scratch out of it – we would find joy together (most memorably in the times spent around the turntable when Grandma would dig out her favourite 45s and LPs and we would attempt to co-ordinate, as a tangled troupe, the choreography for Little Eva’s Locomotion. I treasure these times because, just three days before my 14th birthday, I lost my beloved Grandma to cancer.

Throughout my teenage years it felt like my mother was largely absent – she would be working until late most weekdays then on weekends she would give her best effort to participate – ambitiously tackling walking routes with us which were far beyond her levels of energy. Summer holidays would mean travelling to the homes of family and friends who lived in interesting places and the family trying our best to enjoy life on a limited budget. This would result in unusual options – such as the warmly remembered trip to the York Crematorium open day – where I learned in truly seasonal summer fashion that bones don’t necessarily disintegrate in the cremation chamber and that the cremains have to be processed through a washing machine-like apparatus to produce the gritty ashes you receive in the brown plastic pot urns.

I digress… When I was around 16 years old my mother left home – she went to live in another town to follow a job during the week – again returning exhausted some weekends, whilst others we would come to visit her. After I left school I began the process of tearing myself out of the family – a necessary process we all have to go through to establish ourselves and I don’t remember being more distant from her than at this time when I was absorbed in myself and my own life with slight returns to the family fold at Christmas time – where I would be met with questions over my life choices, nitpicking over my plans for future advancement and sighs of disappointment when I didn’t push myself far enough.

In this account of the mother-daughter relationship – that seen through my eyes – I neglected to even deign to understand what my mother was going through experiencing and much less wishing for herself or even us. It was only really in becoming a mother that I was really able to start seeing my mother’s life through her eyes.

Now I’ve always hated this idea that somehow parenthood fundamentally elevates you. It’s a journey through doors that not everyone needs to open, which brings the same feelings, highs and lows, as any other creative process. If any other creation involved such concentrated work into each single piece I think the attachment would be equal.  I think however that every lived experience brings you closer to others that have been through the same journey as you and it is in this that I was able to understand my mother.

We both move outside the conventional paradigm of what it is to be a mother. For people of our back ground and our means there has been a very defined path for motherhood in both generations. For my mother the pinnacle of motherhood was probably best embodied by the Lynda Bellingham Bisto adverts. For my generation there has become the weird morphing of what it means to be a woman – we remain equals to our male peers until the point at which we procreate – then all bets are off and it’s the return to the icon of the domestic ideal of perfect house, perfect meals and perfect part time worker, deferring careers until our children are a little older.

My mother was already unconventional by virtue of being a teenage mum. But she has never aimed to be a meals-on-the-table mum or to keep a perfect house, which was fortunate as cooking was not her forte. She held onto her ambitions, pursued them and came to the top of her career which launched her, as one colleague put it, “into the ranks of the great and the good”.

This did not stop her from catching the early morning train, hours after arriving back into the country after trips abroad for work, to arrive in time to meet my daughter seconds after her birth, after I had texted to say I had gone into labour.

After a year of maternity leave, having been reassured at work that: “You’ll feel different after the baby is here”, I retained my need to progress, my feelings of ambition and my desires for my own success, which to me sat neatly by my child’s success and as an embryonic template as to what I would want for my own child. And that template, although I had not thought about it to that point, was very much built around my mother’s own road map to success. My mother’s legacy was that education and effort were the key to success and, perhaps, the key to successfully raising strong women was by providing your child with the basics – the desire to learn and a role model blazing the trail – not pandering to their needs. She has taught me that to be a woman is to strike out on my own path, to work hard and to be focused.  She would not accept second best for herself, much less for me. I will not now accept second best for myself, much less my daughter.

So, to truly reflect my relationship with my mother the card would have to read:

To my Mother on mother’s day – thank you for being strong, for not bending to convention. I’m grateful for you being intelligent, fierce and uncompromising. I see your love in your integrity, your support, which has been ever present through all life’s struggles, and in your expectation that I will do more and be more. I’m proud of you and love you x

On Mother’s Day: An Apology

I just wanted to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I smiled and stayed silent when you said I make it look easy. I’m sorry I lied and said: “You just get on with it don’t you.” I couldn’t say how I’d sacrificed desperately needed sleep to pump breastmilk, dashed around vacuuming for your arrival and ran to the shop for cake, just to not look like a slug of a mother.

I’m sorry I made it look like I bounced back without a care, I put on my heels and make up to try to seem as much as I did before. I couldn’t tell you I had to do it to determine where they ended and I began, again. I wasn’t sure, but definition seemed to start with reverting to the material that marked me out before, as if unchanged.

I couldn’t find it in myself to tell you how hard it all was, from the pain and trauma of giving birth, the demoralising process of establishing feeding, the completeness of how you must give yourself over, in entirety, to the support of another human being.

I couldn’t tell you about the times the crying seems to go on for so long that, for sheer safety’s sake, you need to just put the baby gently in bed, walk out of the room, close the door and allow yourself to dissolve into tears on the floor. I couldn’t tell you there was no turning back.

I couldn’t because, good god, there are so many who will. They’ll tell you about the hours spent in labour, their horrific delivery, their sleepless nights, their soul destroying nightmare experiences.

I couldn’t, because I couldn’t steal your hopeful anticipation from yourself. I couldn’t because uou deserved the time of feeling that it would be beautiful, that it would be natural, that it would be bliss.

So I am sorry. So, so sorry.

So what should I tell you?

I should tell you it will get better. I should tell you all those moments you hoped for will come, as blissful as you ever dreamed, as long as you become so, so much kinder to yourself. I should tell you I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I’ve forgiven myself.

I must tell you that you should too, let the wonder and exhaustion and time overwhelm you, before it passes by.

Raising hope from Astonishing Kindness

 

The bleakness of the world goes on, as it ever has, and still we are here. Waiting.

 

We can wait for change, hunkered down with supplies, padded against the actions of the outside, but it brings us no further forward. We are not creatures who wait for things to happen, we are part of the world, part of its machinery of moving parts, ever progressing, even if it be to inevitable doom.

 

Kindness is change

Kindness, astonishing or not, is an agent of change. It attaches to people, brings them closer together. It makes bonds between people, in time and to place. It makes neighbours from strangers, associates into friends. Words of gentleness speak across the barriers of language, of culture, of faith and speak to something more fundamental. The need for safety, for understanding, for community.

 

It gives us hope that people might be better, that they can choose to be so. More is possible than simply making sure we are safe, we can make others safe too.

 Sewing and sowing

I hope now, as I watch my children grow and feel the fluttering of new life within my belly, that each stitch of kindness I sew into the fabric of the world, becomes part of a colourful tapestry that I share in with millions.

 

Ready as I am for the worst, I will continue to put effort out into the world. I want to raise hope like a crop, harvesting sheaves of it to share and to re-plant.

 

Grow with me.