Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

As the end of March draws closer, we watch and wait.

With the silence of the absent waves before a tsunami, we’re holding our breath and watching the shore. It’s easy to be sucked into such a pause. The quiet is deafening, there are no birds. The waiting is hypnotic and fixes you stationary where you stand.

Once the wave breaks though, should we still be standing, there will be much to do. So we have been making ready, encouraging others to higher ground and doing what we can.

Life will continue after the big wave, even as it lays waste to all in its path, and intransigence about what might have been without the water will make it different.

We must fix in our minds what we hope to make the world look like after the wave. We must prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Can we share some #AstonishingKindness?

The world is so bleak.

 

I’m lucky, I can make ready and prepare. I do what I can to protect hearth and home, to keep my children fed, clothed and housed. But, with what’s ahead promises a lot of suffering for a lot of people, many of them will suffer and are suffering before we will.

 

This week alone we’ve seen ahomeless man set on fire as he slept, extinction-prone sharks turning up in dishes in UK restaurants and a foodbank plundered and frozen food deliberately spoiled by the thieves. That’s just a little sample of the legion of horrors written of in the UK press. Callousness abounds, even if we ignore the likely cliff edge that approaches on March 29, and divisions are widening each day.

 

It’s enough to make you think of turning away from the world, for running away and keeping close only those things we love, for shutting the door to anything else. Preserve what you love, the rest of it can go to the wall.

 

But this world will not heal if we only reach within ourselves, within our smallest possible groupings. We have to reach out beyond this, make our worlds large, our knowledge wide and our generosity a way of life. The world will not stay away and to ignore it is as good as to condone it.

 

I’ve always loved the words of Maya Angelou. Her writing offers comfort, direction and above all an understanding that vulnerability is at the core of humanity, that mistakes are the mother of opportunities to improve. When I came across this excerpt from a poem titled “Continue”, a piece she wrote for her “daughter” and friend Oprah Winfrey, I found a sentiment that is so very needed at this time.

 

My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Maya Angelou

 

Astonishing a mean world with kindness is so very much needed. Again and again until it gets boring, until it becomes commonplace, until kindness is the norm.

 

So, to do my little bit, in the month of love, I’ll be using the hashtag #AstonishingKindness throughout February to do a daily blast of five tweets to bring more beauty, truth and love into the darkness.

 

Tweet 1. Highlighting foodbanks in the UK who have the highest demand in the lead up to Brexit in March and putting aside an item a day that I’ll contribute to MK Foodbank at the end of the month.

 

Tweet 2. Promoting a social enterprise which is doing real good in communities here in the UK.

 

Tweet 3. Identifying community projects in the UK who are bringing people together and making change for those in most need.

 

Tweet 4. Recommendations for brilliant and beautifuls reads – poetry, fiction, essays – anything that brings beauty, truth and love into the world.

 

Tweet 5. A story of real kindness – with a beautiful image to inspire hope for the day.

 

Of course I’ll need suggestions and contributions – most of all I’ll need your support. That’s what’s needed right now – support for each other in taking steps to draw people together, to push forward the idea that the world should be full of kindness, honesty and love, to prove that we can be better.

 

I’ll leave you with more words from Maya Angelou, words spoken as eulogy to Coretta Scott King:

 

“I pledge to you, my sister, I will never cease. I mean to say, I want to see a better world. I mean to say, I want to see some peace somewhere. I mean to say, I want to see some honesty, some fair play. I want to see kindness and justice. This is what I want to see.”

George’s Last Three: A short story

George sat on the bench on the end of the pier, his back to the sea, looking back at the vista of the town as the sun set over it.

The town had changed so much throughout his life, from a thriving seaside oasis in his childhood, a welcome escape from the noise of the city where he had been born. A heaven all of its own. Memories of days spent running from the disaster zone of his mother and father. Running with his brother and sisters to hide between the metal legs of the pier, like a safe apron he could pull on the strings of for protection. Safety his mother had never been able to be, in the face of the rage of Dad. This place had been special then and, even now, with its sense of decay and deprivation, George felt happiness even as he looked across the closed shops and the scattered forms of homeless people on the sea front.

George’s legs were set wide and his meaty paws, with their tattooed digits, rested on his thighs as he started to struggle to breathe and the pain latched around his chest. His first thought was to panic, to fight, but then the pain lifted, like the end of a sudden shower of rain on a summers day. Gone.

It was then that the sallow young man appeared on the bench at his side. George tried not to take umbrage to the fact this youth, with his dark clothes and unlikely colouring, was invading his space when there were at least a half dozen empty benches around them, but it irked him. Little git, he thought. I’ve had enough of these kids on here. He puffed out his breath to signal his annoyance and, in a fit of long redundant muscle memory, cracked his now painless arthritic knuckles into a crunching fist.

George then noticed the tips of the boy’s wings, black and smooth and batlike as they were. While not an educated man, George had always had wit enough to read situations well. It had kept him alive on the streets and seen him well in earning a crust. He put the pieces together: the sudden absence of both sudden and long-borne pain; the appearance, as if by magic; batwings on a person…

You’re not what I expected,” he huffed.

The youth tilted his face to George: “I hardly ever am, this one woman…” His voice tailed off. “This isn’t about what you expect. Or about me. It is about leaving things behind. Making your exit.”

George chuckled: “I always reckoned it’d be the grim reaper. You know, bony face and scythe.” His meaty hand waved over his face before miming a curved blade in the air. The youth smiled sympathetically. “So this is it?” asked George, the weight of his bovine face dropping into a resigned look of sadness.

When you leave the body, you leave it all behind. Every single memory, every single story. We’ve time for just three special moments George,” said the youth.

But it’ll be dark soon,” said George, waving his hand across the view of the town.

You might not have noticed George, but time is stopped. You’re dying, time isn’t a factor any more. We are out of time.”

George’s face crumpled in thought. “Special moments? Just three?”

Just three – think them and we will go back now.”

George’s face uncrumpled and smiled.

He was there in his football strip, the day of his eight birthday, surrounded by his juniors team mates. For the first time ever his father was on the sidelines. There on some sort of a promise from his mother. He could see Dad chatting to Tommy Finnegan’s mother. She was brassy and caught the eye. Even to a boy like him she was noticable. Tight clothes in bright colours. A million miles away from the drudgery of his own mother.

Torn back from the momentary distraction, he heard Tommy shout his name and he turned in time to see the cross, heading it neatly into the goal like a dream. His teammates piled on him in smiles and cheers, as the ref blew his whistle for time. Dad roared from the sidelines: “THAT’S MY BOY!” jumping around and grabbing Tommy’s mum in celebration. Right then George was Terence Sway’s boy and he knew it and it felt like his heart would burst. George didn’t ponder what had come next. How two weeks later Dad and Gloria Finnegan would do a bunk. How he and his siblings would be left with Mother and a whole other world of misery. That was just pain and this wasn’t the time for that.

The youth appeared and the memory shifted. George found himself wearing the skin of his twenty four year old self. He looked at his hands, newly tattooed under his wedding band, pulled his fingers into a painless and functioning fist. He was outside The Bell and he felt glee as it all had started to kick off. The fist to the side of his face was well met as George felt the vigour of his youth mixed with the bravado of drink coursing through his veins. Stunned, but by no means distracted, he span back to the source of the sucker punch, pulsing with pure rage and lamped the bloke straight to the nose, which burst with blood across his face as he fell to the ground. George swung his foot into the man’s side, kicking his ribcage up into a curve, before stamping on the man’s face with his boots. George span round, his own eye cut and bleeding from the earlier blow, dripping down the whiteness of his best shirt. His fists were clenched as he expanded his chest, his face screwed as he roared: “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME THEN?”

Violent happiness, perhaps the biggest rush of his life. He caught the figure of the youth in the corner of his eye and the world shifted again.

He was sitting in a chair, in his home, the home he’d had with Maggie, before he had spoiled it all. It was dark but he would recognise that place, that moment, even with his eyes closed. The warm weight on his chest, the tiny curve of his sleeping infant son, just settled after what seemed like hours of crying. George couldn’t even remember why he’d gotten up instead of Maggie. It wasn’t the norm – maybe she’d been sick or something – he’d normally sleep through any noises because that was women’s work. But on this occasion he remembered sinking into that chair, very conscious of how small George junior had been and he had felt a quiet joy which was so pure, so burning hot in its purity, that it tore through every defence and awareness of mortality. He cried because he felt at once so much love for this child and so much fear that he couldn’t protect him from the world.

George hadn’t meant to feel that, hadn’t meant to return there, and, as he came back to the pier with the Angel of Death, he sobbed without restraint.

Why did you take me back there?” he said as big, bulbous tears fell from his eyes.


“I didn’t, you did. That was the moment in which you were most happy.”

George looked skyward as he wept. “I left that morning. I couldn’t do it, I would’ve been an awful dad. I didn’t see him again until he was a teenager. He hated me by then.”

The youth now stood before him and looked at him square in the face, wings spreading around them both.

It’s over now George, let it go.”

As he started to seep from his body, George was hit by the relief of it all. Had he known of the use for the French expression “La Petit Mort” as a euphemism for orgasm, he might have compared it to other moments which were now lost to him. But he was just struck by the sensation of lightness, unencumbered by the weight of his body, the burden of all the feelings accumulated and pushed down through his life and, in those last moments of consciousness, he felt something he had never before remembered feeling: freedom.

Baubles To Advent: How Very Close

I took my cache of goods to the food bank today, a little early before the end of my #BaublesToAdvent2018 campaign, but the food is bought and better there than waiting in my kitchen.

 

As I drove there, after the daily school run, in my battered war-horse of a family car I felt just how close this could be. When I arrived there, in my charity shop-bought coat and battered pumps, I could just as easily be asking for help as bringing an offering. My partner and I cut our cloth carefully to ensure a roof over our head, food in our pantry and that the children have all they need, but for my job we might be closer to needing this service than I would wish to think about.

I remember an old hand at work, discussing an awful tragedy which had come to our notice, saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Faith or not it is mere chance for a lot of us that we have not become too ill to work, injured or some other circumstances which might keep us from our incomes.

With the exception of the super rich, we all walk such a fine tightrope over these things. We must make sure we do what we can to provide for all, while we can, for tomorrow it could be us.

Ruby Inks: A Legacy

There is no finer tribute to the life of someone you have lost than to take their lessons seriously.

Self-preservation and fragility attribute the comments of friends only to kindness, with no merit, and alienate the recipient from the gift that is being given.

As I wrote in Ruby Inks: She Has Her Own Identity That She Will Not Let You See I benefited from the support of a friend, now lost, in writing. We had planned for a joint project, which I was just too scared to immediately pursue. So I will step forwards and onwards with #RubyInks.

At the start of this project I asked you for Just Five Minutes. Five minutes to read through these four, five minute pen pictures and choose the one you wish to be extended. So many of you supported me in the first effort. So may I ask you for just five minutes more?

I’ll put the poll on my pinned Tweet and will ask you to pick your favourite of these four tiny tales. Once the poll is closed I will take the winner and wrangle it into a longer form, to be published for your approval. If you’re not Twitter literate, feel free to vote in the comments below.

1. A Sea-Faring Wreck

He didn’t really want to have this argument, but if that was what it took, he was weighing in.

Look I just don’t care,” he said. “But it is what he wanted.”

The passage of time had given weight to his large frame. Before he had been big and broad, but never heavy. He sat in the chair of the bland solicitors office, his huge volume surpassing the boundaries of its arm rests and the seat sunk into its mechanism as if he were made of lead. He looked down the paperwork of the will in front of him pensively, looking carefully for any sort of deviation that would serve as an out.

His sister sat beside him, tiny, tidy and tightly wound, her stress induced facial tick more evident than ever, She stared at him from behind her narrow, black framed glasses, burning holes into the side of his big head.

But he never even went on a boat,” she said. “Why the heck would he want to be buried at sea.”

He bit his lip, thought to himself “Sheer embuggerance”, then simply reminded her that, to get her share she’d have to be part of this magnificent, impractical, sea-faring wreck of a funeral.

2. Patterns In Sand

Young as he is, he is not what he seems. He sits in the sandbox, at just three years old, sketching with his fingers through the grains. His mother only noticed him intently smoothing the top layer before drawing in the box with his hands whilst sitting on the side. She was entranced by his slow, deliberate movements focused on the ground before him. She didn’t see the patterns he sketched in the sand, the swirling, geometrically-sound mandalas he laid out on the surface of it. Had she, she might have thought him a prodigy and boasted of his endeavours to the world. But each time she came down the yard to collect his tiny frame up and indoors, he would have already smoothed the surface back over again. Instead she feared he was a fool, as he had not uttered a word or a sound in all his life. She feared what that might mean, as it had done for her cousin. The cousin never learned to speak and eked out a living in the pit, assumed an idiot but grown into a huge man, with hands the size of shovels and pony-like strength, without ever saying a word.

3. An Unusual Hour

The clock struck an unusual hour as she waited at the station. The clock display was digital which rendered the accompanying 24 bongs odd – sounding out as the clock switched to 24:01:00. Lucy peered at the display, unsure as to the extent of the effect of the three G&T’s she had consumed on the train or the fact she had chosen not to wear her glasses that night. She reached into the deep pocket of her woollen greatcoat and pulled out her own phone which also showed the time as 24:01. She shook the handset, as if resetting an etch-a-sketch, and looked again. The consistence baffled her and she looked around the concourse, casting about to find someone to verify the odd information being presented to her. There were two other people. The man in a bowler hat with an umbrella, checking a watch on a chain, appeared to be an oddly clean shaven hipster, insistent on period detail. The woman was somewhat more interesting as she peered in the space before her, confused and flicking across at the air, but dressed in clothes the like of which Lucy had never seen before, neat but visually far too light for the conditions even within the vacuum of the concourse. It might have been the oddity of the woman which had distracted Lucy as to the fact the concourse had shifted in appearance. All detail had fallen away and just the grey pencil-like outlines of the structure of the concourse remained. This only became apparent to her as she heard the bowler cry out in shock…

4. The News

It was a cold day when the trouble started. No snow, or rain or fog, just cold. She remembered the draft whispering past her ankles as she brushed her teeth in her nightdress, it carried the sound of deep voices at the opened front door up the stairs to her in the bathroom. She couldn’t hear what they said and she paused to listen, only to have her eardrum pierced by her mother’s shriek. The scream dropped into a lower howl and Leonie’s toothbrush dropped to the floor as she felt the grief hit her like a wave of solid water. She did not know who, what or why but she knew that sound, the sound of a suddenly hollowed human. She crept out onto the landing, which overlooked the wide sitting room on the ground floor, and saw the man in the scuffed bright yellow jacket helping her weeping mother to the sofa. Her mother wilted into the stained leather sofa in a shower of sobs, her body shivering with pain. Leonie hesitantly took herself to the top of the steps, a hand over her mouth, unaware of the toothpaste that sat around her dark lips. She resolved to descend the stairs, aware of the potential threat the uniformed man might pose to her and the other children up the stairs, her brothers whose tiny forms were currently cuddled close together in the cold of their bed. She took the steps one by one, grasping unseeingly at the wooden handrail, whose splintering surface irritated but did not distract from the purpose of reaching and comforting her mother. Even at six years old she had been able to work out the reasons they might be here. Her father was late home, even for him, and her mother had started to chant his name under her breath as the policeman attempted to console her. As she rounded the corner at the bottom of the staircase Leonie saw the policeman was not alone as she identified the much larger man by the door to the kitchen, silent and threatening mass, with his hands tucked inside his stab vest, as he balanced his substantial weight across his two huge boots. For his part the man, a father of children himself, saw the small child with the resolute but terror stricken face, under the neatly braided hair, and softened inside. This translated to his face falling into a sad puppy-like expression, but did not alter his stance. Leonie reacted accordingly, refusing to move her stare away from him until she reached the uncertain haven of her mother, even then still peering at him frequently to ensure he didn’t scale the stairs to her brothers in the bed above.

 

Baubles To Advent: Not Uplifting But a Call To Arms

Get into the Christmas spirit with this year’s must have item – the luxury advent calendar.

For just £35 you can get a £280 worth of M&S beauty goods behind 25 doors, Yankee Candle offers 24 doors of scented tea-lights and a mere £120 will get you a John Lewis gin calendar.

I’m not feeling it. I live in a country where the United Nations is currently investigating the poverty problem. I don’t feel like indulging. I want family, friends, warmth and time, not consuming to excess. I know there’s people out there struggling to survive, never mind contemplating opening a door to a different variety of artisanal gin each morning.

Last year, heavily pregnant with the twins and still off to work each day, I felt really quite helpless in the face of all the news stories around the disastrous impact of Universal Credit on families. I saw several people suggesting #FoodbankAdvent – to put aside an item for the food bank each day of advent. I mulled this over and realised that it would, by Christmas Eve, be much too late for the food banks to actually distribute the food. So I spent time researching food banks and tweeting the heck out of them – spending 25 days from November 8 2017 giving shout outs to food banks and encouraging people to donate each day – with the hashtag #BaublesToAdvent. Each set of tweets went out with jolly gifs along a Christmas film or song theme.

At the end of the time I also handed over my haul of goods to the food bank – it didn’t seem important to shout that out then.

This year, on restarting the countdown with the hashtag of #BaublesToAdvent2018 I found I struggled to choose and put out jolly gifs. Foodbank donations aren’t an uplifting Christmas event – it is a struggle for survival – its about deciding that we all have a duty to make sure everyone is provided for, without judgement. This is a call to arms, to fight to leave no-one in hunger.

 

So instead I’ve made two videos, just to help people understand what to do and why it is needed, and I will be showing everyone what I am doing and why I am doing it each day.

I’m lucky that I’m able to do this – I really know this – not everyone is. Please though, do what you can. Give your money, give food, give your time to your local food bank. If I had the resources to stump up for the G&T calendar I’d do even more…

Ruby Inks – She has her own identity that she will not let you see.

Today I discovered I had lost a friend.

 

The unique, indomitable Ineke Poultney had left life behind and was no longer there as the powerhouse of friendship and joy she had been in the world, not just to me but to many.

If you didn’t know “Inky” you truly missed out. I’m sorry but, you’re simply too late. However, I would like to share with you something she shared with me – because it’s a little fragment which she left behind with me which says so much about who she was. This is not a betrayal of confidence. We had always agreed these messages would form part of a book – a book I was, simply put, too chicken to pursue right away. This is something I regret. That she would never see these words, under her name and in a book.

I hope in the future to make good our agreement, in the fullness of time.

If you read my blog post “Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes” you’ll know I was working with Inky on a series of writing prompts, which evolved into a plan to write the aforementioned book of five minute responses to sentences which came to Inky’s mind.

The below conversation happened on Twitter messages after this agreement (Inky’s words appear in italics):

“She has her own identity that she will not let you see.”

Get writing!

(I am really looking forward to this!)

Here goes…

She has her own identity that she will not let you see. She cloaks around it the identities which have been placed, unwanted, upon her. She did not choose to be a woman, it was already given with the attendant oppressions it weighed upon her. She did not choose to be disabled, yet there she was, with legs that could not be used, in a world designed for the “norm”. She did not choose the inability to speak her inner thoughts, so was rendered stupid in a world of spoken words, capable of communicating only the most basic of thoughts and intents. All of these were identities imposed upon her, but not a single one was the one that was her. She kept that back just for her. The stories she wove in her mind meant that she was free of assumption and free of limitations. She would describe colours no-one could even imagine, surrounding characters never before created, who executed their adventures in landscapes that the world could not conceive of. But this was part of the identity she will not let you see. When her mother gave her a laptop, ostensibly to allow her to reach out into the world, she chose instead to pour out her own world into words. She did not share it with mother, nor did she take from the world around, she just wove thicker and richer the world within.

WHAT??? How on Earth did you do that??? Are you sure we have never met???

Just change the word “wheelchair” to glasses and you almost have me to a T!!!

You *ARE* going to use that in your book!!! I have decided!!! It is too amazing not to be used!!!

So tell me the back story to the sentence- or was that the FB post?

No – it isn’t the Facebook post! Here goes!

The first line I gave you is actually the first line of a song which I suspect is about me (although I have never dared to ask Kristyna if it is)!!!

Hold on while I find the link to the YouTube video of it!

Listen to the song and you will realise why I was so stunned by what you wrote!!!

The song Inky wrote of is linked here.