The Last Leaf

Today is a Sunday smack bang in the middle of the most confusing October that I have ever experienced.  I grew up with September hailing the start of the new school year, and the start of autumn with rainy days, winds blowing the ever-changing leaves off their sturdy branches, winds that would make walking difficult and at times would take your breath away.  Dark nights creeping forward.  The heating going on, curtains being closed and a primal instinct that would kick in, of wanting to curl up in front of a fire with your loved ones, trying to keep cosy and warm,

This September and October have been mischievous and tricky.  You wake up feeling cold.  The house is cold.  The mornings are darker.  This all makes sense – after all, autumn is here.  You leave the house suitably and snugly dressed.  Yes, autumn is here.  And then, as the day progresses, and the temperature rises, the sun is out, the cold winds have disappeared – there is a mixture of gratitude, for the heat, sunshine and general well-being, and then a feeling of disarray – this is not how autumn was meant to play out!

Today though, it feels as though order has been restored – whether it is temporary or permanent, remains to be seen, but for now, everything is as it should be.  The rain is falling at a steady speed, the skies are suitable gloomy with grey, non-descript clouds and the wind is making the branches of the trees sway frantically in the wind.  And I am a passive observer, pleased to be indoors, pleased to be wearing warm clothes, and grateful to God for having shelter, warm food and the company of loved ones surrounding me.

As I look outside, net curtains slightly obscuring my view of the street in front of me,  I gaze at the young sapling that stands bravely, fighting all the elements, in front of our driveway.  It’s wiry frame only has a few golden, saffron leaves clinging onto its branches.  Every year, this tree grows a bit taller, the slender trunk thickens slightly, the branches become a tiny bit sturdier and I feel like a proud parent, watching this once tiny sapling, grow steadily and reach its adolescence.  My favourite part of the year has passed. It already revealed its fiery golden colours.  Now I wait.  I wait with infinite sadness, as the sapling loses its leaves.  Sometimes several, with a huge, angry gust of wind.  And sometimes gradual, as the leaves one by one, dance and drift merrily to their impending fate, to the loveless, concrete ground.

The tree reminds me of a film I watched a few years ago, and has stuck with me ever since.  ‘Lootera’, which translates to ‘predator’, someone who robs the innocent and unsuspecting, was based on a short story called ‘The Last Leaf’,  written by O Henry, an American writer, in 1907.  I’m sad to say that I haven’t read the story yet, but I will get around to it one day.

As the title suggests, ‘Lootera’ is about a man who charms his way into a family, with dishonourable intentions.  It is a period drama, set in Bengal in the early 1900’s.  The ‘hero’ captures the heart of the female protagonist and they fall in love.  Unpredictably though, the ‘hero’ does not change his ways, even though the audience are desperately willing him to.  He has a friend/accomplice who reminds him with strong words about what his mission is and the consequences of not carrying out the job correctly.  He lets everyone down – including the audience, who can’t quite believe that he would betray his love, and leaves, completing his mission, but leaving a trail of devastation as he departs.  A few years later, we discover that the family that was left behind are ruined, the heroine’s father has died, and she is dying of tuberculosis, living alone in a remote hill station, with her maid, who is both her carer and companion.  The hero is now a deadly fugitive, and forcibly seeks refuge in this remote house, without realising who the occupants are.  An angry, mistrustful reunion occurs, and there is the constant threat of the police.  In fear of their lives, the heroine and her maid reluctantly provide shelter to the fugitive, whereupon he discovers the extent of her illness, and realises that she is dying.  She tells him that she does not have long left, and that she will die when the last leaf on the trees outside the house drifts away.  Wracked with immense guilt, anger, sadness, and the loss of a love that could have been, he takes care of her and tries to bring some happiness back for her final days.  Her health does make some palpable improvements, but everyday as she looks outside, and realises that there is only one tree with a few leaves left, the rest have all disappeared.  Seeing that her health has improved, the outlaw decides that if he is going to survive, he needs to flee.  So, in the middle of the night, he takes his chance, and makes his escape – but is shot dead by a police blockade who have been waiting for him.  She wakes up the next morning and realises that he has gone.  Her eyes turn towards the tree with the last remaining leaf – and even though the wind is blowing fiercely, this last leaf is clinging on to the branch will all its might.  Suspiciously, she looks closely at the leaf, and realises with wide eyes – the leaf had been tied onto the tree so that it would not fall – and with happy tears in her eyes, she understands why…

I love that story.  I love that ending.  It breaks my heart that the two star crossed lovers could not be together at the end – and yet, I know that the story ended correctly.  Well, at least in my eyes it did.

I think this story will stay for me forever – it’s about treachery, love, devastation and ultimately redemption.  The ‘hero’ was fortunate that he had been able to make amends to the woman that he had wronged before he died.  The heroine knew that she had been loved after all, and although her heart had been broken, she received the closure that she needed as she healed.

It wasn’t a story that I read, it was a story that I watched, and although I’m a huge advocate of people reading, and spending time being lost in a book, I think the most important thing is hearing a story, and hearing about someone else’s life, and the effect that leaves upon you.  Sometimes, I wish we could go back to the days when people gathered around a campfire, snuggled up to one another and let their minds drift away whilst a village elder would narrate a story that might be new, or perhaps was heard many times before.  Because whether you read it, or watch it, or hear it – the story itself is the most important thing isn’t it?  Not the medium that it comes through.

Advertisements

Kranti!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been despairing at how little women have progressed in the world despite humanity having been in existence for at least 10,000 years. In the west, we are fighting for equal pay. However, if you’ve been following a certain high profile investigation in the US, you will have realised that equal pay is still the least of our worries. The very fact that if you dare to reveal that you were sexually assaulted, you – the survivor – will be viewed with eyes of suspicion and people will refuse to believe you.

This hasn’t just happened with Ford and Kavanaugh, it’s recently happened with Ronaldo. There is evidence that he initially said that he knew the lady in question, was saying ‘No’ – but he continued with what he was doing anyway. There is the case of Johnny Depp, his ex partner emerged with photos of bruises all over her face. But people refuse to believe the woman. Again and again and again. The woman MUST be lying. She must be a gold digger. She must have an angle. Because these men are not capable of violence. These men are not capable of committing what they have been accused of.

And it’s not just men who don’t believe women. Women don’t believe women either!!! I’ve come across so many cases where women have divulged some of their experiences- and the minute their back has turned other women have said, ‘I don’t believe he did that to her, he’s never done anything like that to me!’

Well, there you go. In order for someone to be proved to be lecherous and violent and rapey – does that mean that they behave like a Bollywood villain caricature and behave like that with every female that they come across? Of course bloody not. Rape and violence isn’t about attraction – it’s about power and anger. How many times does that have to be reiterated for both men and women to get this?

Recently, there was a heartbreaking hashtag trending on Twitter. The words were ‘why I didn’t report’. The hashtag was in response to Trump’s assertion that if the allegations against Kavanaugh were true, why hadn’t Ford come forward years ago, when the alleged incident had occurred?

And then an outpouring of heart-rending stories began – men, women, children – abused, assaulted, preyed upon – but never reported their experiences. Why? Because they knew they would not be believed. Because the abuser was often an upstanding member of the family, or the community, or had been accused before and the previous victim had not been believed. Sometimes, the survivors didn’t say anything because of the possible consequences – my dad would have killed him, then he would have gone to prison. Some survivors thought it was their fault. Some survivors were too young. 4 years old at the time of their attacks – preyed upon by family members. Family are supposed to love you aren’t they? Sometimes, the attacker was the most desirable, best looking guy around – they don’t rape do they? Good looking people don’t ‘NEED’ to rape. The number of times that I’ve read that! Unbelievable.

A thread that ran through everyone’s account? The sense of shame. As if they were also partly to blame. I couldn’t hold my tears back as I read each person’s account.

The Nobel Peace Prize went to two deserving winners- both fighting against sexual violence in different parts of the world against women.

I am angry though. Sexual violence against any one doesn’t seem to be taken seriously. Men in power are only interested in protecting their own – and ensuring that the corrupt ‘boys will be boys’ club remains in power. And we stand by helplessly. Even women have voted for this to happen.

There isn’t a country in the world, there hasn’t been a period of time in the world, where it has been safe for women. However, the voice of women needs to be heard and taken seriously. It is a time for change. It is time for a revolution. And I pray for my fellow women, and men who are oppressed, not taken seriously, dismissed because they are not a part of the relevant big boys club – our time will come. Darkness will not last forever – even though this one seems to have been upon us for the last 10 millennia. We have to keep fighting, keep supporting one another and start believing survivors.

PS: The title of my blog – Kranti – means revolution in Hindi.

Memory Box

My youngest has a school project to complete. It’s called ‘Memory Box’.  The basic premise of this topic is for young children to develop an understanding of time.  That things happened before they were born.  They begin to understand that there was a past.  People grow older over time, and so will they.  A part of their homework involves interviewing older people and asking them how their childhoods were different to the children of present day.  My daughters’ eyes were as wide as saucers when they realised that I did not have a computer when I was little, and the internet had not been invented yet.  Even I have to laugh to myself about how ancient I sound.

Naturally, I begin to feel nostalgic.  I begin to look through old photographs of myself, my family members and marvel at how much we have changed.  I actually detest looking back at old photos of myself.  My vision is marred with how difficult the times were, how miserable I often felt, how unhappy I was with my circumstances at that time.  But my daughters don’t see any of that.  They still recognise their mother, looking younger, but in many ways, still the same.

On my Timehop, a photograph of my mother’s parents appeared.  To me, they look like they are in their late 20’s, early 30’s.  It’s difficult to tell.  As was the fashion at that time, they are not smiling in their portrait, but they do have an aura of immense dignity and kindness.  My heart feels a pang, an ache, it’s as if their eyes are looking straight at me, both my Grandfather and Grandmother together, letting me know, that they are there with me always.  A source of comfort.  So distant, but not so far.

The world famous story, about the little orphaned wizard, Harry Potter, resonated with so many people, crossing boundaries of age, gender, class, ethnicity.  Why?  Because at the root of the story, is a lonely, misunderstood boy, who desperately misses his parents, and has the responsibility of saving the world on his tiny shoulders.  It’s never easy for him.  He is often reviled and hated by others.  No matter what he does, often people feel that he is doing the wrong thing and let him know this, in no uncertain terms.  Who hasn’t felt like that, at certain times in their life?

One of the parts of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, that always stays with me, is the image of little Harry sitting, on his own, in front of the Mirror of Erised, gazing longingly at the image of his parents, who appear to him in the mirror.  His greatest desire, to be with them once again.  When I was younger, I remember feeling so sorry for Harry and being able to empathise with how he felt – I myself often felt like that about my own father.  But as I’ve become older, the pain of staring at images of people long gone, and wishing that they were here, feels even more painful, even more poignant.

I have to physically pull myself away from browsing through old photos, and recapping over old memories.  I enjoy studying the expressions on people’s faces, what were they feeling at the time, how they are looking at everyone else.  After all, ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live’ (J K Rowling).

And that is what we have to do isn’t it?  Look back through old photos with a smile.  Remember those who are no longer here, with fondness.  And know that if they were here, they would be screaming at the top of their lungs – ‘Go and live!  Go and live.  Create new memories with the ones that you love.  Take an abundance of photos that everyone can look back on.  After all, you too will be missed, when you are gone.’

Separation

When someone dear to you passes away, you never ‘get over’ it.  It’s a ridiculous concept – ‘getting over’, the loss of someone.  You can’t ‘get over’ it.  It’s not possible.  What you learn to do, is live with it.  You find that even though you may think about them everyday – remembering them becomes less painful.  Your eyes don’t sting with tears as often.  Your throat doesn’t constrict as frequently, with the pain of needing to swallow back the sobs of grief.  At the time of their loss, you don’t know how you will carry on, how you will survive in the world without them.  Everyday is a miracle though – because somehow you do.  Somehow you make it through and you manage to carry on.

When you least expect it though – you are taken by surprise, and the memories and the grief come shooting back with a vengeance – and there you are, back to where you were, the pain as fresh and raw as ever.  You realise, ‘I hadn’t got over anything.  I’d just learned to live with it.’

Let me put things into context.  31 years ago, my father passed away when he was just 33 years old.  No one in my family has ever been able to ‘deal with it’.  Don’t get me wrong – we all function perfectly well.  We love each other, take care of each other, are there for one another at the drop of a hat.  We lead professionally successful lives, we are happy, positive people.  BUT – each of us, still finds his loss unbearable and challenging to deal with, in our own ways.  At times, we can look through old photographs, share anecdotes – and it’s ok to that.  Other times – no one can even say his name.

This week, we were dealt a blow, that our Mashi’s husband had passed away on Friday.  Mashi, in Bengali, is your mother’s sister.  My thoughts immediately leapt to those left behind. They are the ones who need support – they are the ones who need someone to look after them and feel like they’re not alone.  My mother’s family are all in India, so I needed to be there for my mum, making sure that she was ok, because even though her family are thousands of miles away, grief is still grief, and I knew that more acutely than anyone else in the world, she would know what her sister was going through.

Throughout all this, my husband kept checking on me – ‘Are you ok?’ He kept asking.  My response was the same each time.  ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me, I’m fine.’  My thoughts were occupied with other people – not myself, and I genuinely believed that I was fine.  We were caught up in the routine of our jobs for the weekend, and what we needed to get done.  And I genuinely believed that I was fine.  Every so often, I was checking in on my mum through texts or calls, making sure that she was ok.  I was fine.

And then we sat down, after our dinner, after sending the girls to bed, to watch an Indian singing programme that we are huge fans of – and I was still fine.  Everything was fine.  Until one of the contestants, a beautiful, angelic, little girl started to sing a song…and I realised that I was absolutely not fine.  The pain and sensation of my heart breaking all over again, was something that I simply had not expected.  It was the innocence and purity with which she sang those words, that made my heart ache, the agony was unbearable.

As I have done in previous blogs, I’ll write the original lyrics and then translate:

Tumse Milke
Aisa Laga Tumse Milke
Armaan Huey Purhey Dil Ke
Aye Meri Jaan E Wafa
Teri Meri Mere
Teri Ik Jaan Hai
Saath Tere Rahenge Sadha
Tumse Na Honge Juda

Which translates to:

Meeting you, it felt as though all the wishes of my heart had been fulfilled.                            Oh love of my life.                                                                                                                         Yours, mine, mine, yours, it’s one life now.                                                                                        I will always stay with you.                                                                                                             We will never be separated from each other. 

As you can tell from the lyrics, this is a very simple and very beautiful extract from a love song.  The lyrics describe the simplicity of falling in love.  The innocence of falling in love.  There is nothing complicated about this.  You fall in love with someone and you realise that this is the person that makes you feel totally fulfilled.  Everything about them makes you stop looking for anyone else in the world.  This is the person for you.  And you promise that you will stay with them forever. And you will never leave them.

And I cried, and cried and cried.  I’d heard this song so many times in my life before, but never really paused to think about what the words meant.  The agony and the pain that the lyrics caused me yesterday, was the fact that no one can actually make that promise to anyone.  You can’t promise anyone that you will never be separated from them, because unfortunately, that is not in your hands.  There is a greater force out there – our own mortality, which we have no control over – so you can’t make promises to people that you’ll never be separated from them – because it’s not up to you.  Although this was a romantic love song – the promise that you will never leave someone that you love, applies to so many different relationships – not just romantic ones.  The bond between parents and children; siblings; friends – you all hope that you will never be parted from one another.

And that’s the ultimate pain of losing someone in your life.  If it was up to them – they wouldn’t leave.  If it was in your control – they wouldn’t have gone.  But ultimately, that’s what happens to us all.

So, what can we do whilst we are here?  We have to spread so much love and affection, that even when it’s our time to go, it will cause pain, but in the quiet moments, when people remember, and think about us again – they feel warm and comforted.

Ultimately, I suppose the lyrics, ‘We will never be separated from each other,’ means that even when we are not physically together anymore, our memories will always be there in someone’s heart – and that promise still remains fulfilled…

Good enough!

I don’t think there is a profession in the world, where the ‘must do better’ culture does not exist.  Every person I speak to, regardless of position, profession, part time, full time – the factor that is in common between us all is – striving to be better all the time.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask?  Absolutely nothing at all.  Nothing! How does anything ever improve if people are always doing what they have always done, in the same way, never questioning, never analysing, never reflecting on how things are.   And it’s certainly the culture that I was brought up with, both at home and in the workplace – have goals, strive to do better, achieve more, smash targets etc.

The one area – that I feel, the ‘must do better’ culture isn’t helpful – is parenting.  In fact, I was fortunate to sit in on some training at school, about ‘Attachment Theory’, and the impact this has on children in the very first few months of their lives.  How babies are treated by their parents, at the very beginnings of their tiny lives, goes onto shape their behaviour and how they form relationships with others as they grow bigger.  It comes as no surprise, that the children who display a lot of ‘unlovable’ behaviour, need the most love, and the psychologist who was training us, explained that if you remember nothing else – ‘connection first, then correction’.  Which meant create a connection, a relationship with those children who present challenging behaviour first – then correct their behaviour.  For those of us who have been teaching for a long time, or have worked predominantly with children who can present quite challenging behaviour, this came as no surprise, although it was nice to have that soundbite to take away; ‘connection, then correction.’

What was particularly refreshing, and actually blew my mind a little, was when we were learning about attachment theory, and the significance of the first few months of a baby’s life, the psychologist called effective parenting, ‘good enough parenting’.  I was stunned when I heard it.  I repeated those words again and again in my mind.  Good enough parenting.  Good enough parenting.  Not good parenting.  Not great parenting.  Good enough.

This meant that as a parent, you were doing what you could to respond to the baby’s needs – be that milk or nappy change or sleep or comfort – you were trying to solve the problem.  You might not get it right every time, but at least you were trying.  You are being good enough.  You’re trying your best.  You are good enough.

In many professions – it’s not ok to be ‘good enough’.  You have to be the best!  That’s all I’ve heard since I was tiny – aim high, reach for the stars, be the best.  But the hardest job of all – parenting – it was so incredibly refreshing and calming to hear – if you’re doing your best to meet your child’s needs, even if you don’t get it right each time – you are good enough.  And you know what?  I’ll flipping well take that!  I’m happy to be good enough as a parent.

One of the things that causes me the most amount of concern, is am I giving my own children enough opportunities to do things out of school?  Do they go to enough clubs?  Are they getting enough exercise?  Are they learning enough instruments?  Do I need to teach them some languages?  Should they be going on more playdates?

After that training – I’m now thinking to myself – are they fed?  Do they have clothes to wear?  Are they getting to bed on time?  Are they reading and doing their school homework?  But most importantly – are they loved?  Are they loved? Are they loved?  I can categorically say, yes to all of those questions.

And I am happy to say, that I pronounce myself bloody well good enough!  All the other stuff – it doesn’t even matter.  If I want my children to remember two things about their children, it’s that they felt happy and extremely loved.

What more could anyone ask for?

I’m fine!

Recently, there’s been a wedding in the family and it truly was a joyous occasion. I love weddings.  I love the optimism they bring.  The happiness in everyone’s eyes.  The good wishes that everyone automatically feels.   Two people – out of all the billions of humans on planet Earth – find each other – and decide that they don’t want to be with anyone else in the world – they have found the person that has inspired them to feel, ‘I don’t want to be with anyone else – I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’

For lots of women and some men, the most exciting part of the wedding is the glitz and the glamour, ‘What’s the bride going to wear?’ ‘What’s the venue like?’  ‘What are the wedding favours going to be?’ ‘Is the food any good?’

I’m not bothered by any of that.

My favourite part of every single wedding, that I’ve ever attended – are the speeches.  I remember the day that I got married, my brother’s best friend’s father came up to me and said, ‘Normally, I don’t enjoy weddings, but I loved the speeches that I’ve just heard.  They really helped me to get to know you better.’

I suppose it was after hearing that, I paid attention to speeches more at other people’s weddings.

One of the recurring themes that men often talk about, is how marriage is hard!  Oh cautionary tales of experienced men, talking about their wives, and explaining to the groom that they’ve got all this to look forward to!  Marriage isn’t easy.  Several times now I’ve heard men advise the poor, unsuspecting groom, that if a woman says she’s fine – she really isn’t and all hell is about to break loose.  This gets the same response each time, the knowing laughs from both sexes – everyone knowing that this is absolutely true.

Those of you who know me, know what I’m like – sometimes I hear things – and I start thinking.  I don’t find that advice funny anymore.  I actually don’t think it’s fair on men.  I used to do that a lot, at the beginning of my own marriage.  I’d be seething about something – my husband would ask me, ‘What’s the matter?’ and I would freeze him out, with a steely response of, ‘Nothing! I’m fine!’  And he wouldn’t know what had actually happened, why I was boiling up like an angry volcano…..but most importantly – he didn’t know how to fix things for me.  He didn’t know how to make the situation better.

Now, I’m making my husband sound like a saint, aren’t I?  I was the angry, ice-maiden wife, and he was the poor, innocent husband, just trying to make me feel better.  Well, neither of those caricatures are accurate.  If I was angry or hurt – there was a reason for it.  What would happen was, both he and I would have to wait until I could talk about things, and then the fallout would happen.  By this point, both of us were angry, both of us felt hurt, both of us felt like the other person didn’t understand us – and it would be really sad and unpleasant.

The thing to bear in mind though – is something that I referred to earlier, when you choose to marry someone, you have decided that you want to be with this person for the rest of your life – and the next – and the next – and the next….

So, even when we were furious with each other – that didn’t mean that we didn’t want things to work out.  We did.  These were teething issues.  Neither of us had ever lived with anyone before.  It’s actually a really big deal!  To go from having your own space, doing things in your own time, only having to think about yourself – to having to think about the other person and having to create a new routine, a new rhythm to which you both need to dance to.  Compromises have to be made.  Both of you – not just one.  Sometimes you don’t want to have to make those compromises – and then what happens?  Resentment builds.  Resentment turns to anger.  Anger makes you vicious.  Then?

We always remembered that we never ever wanted to be with anyone else.  We always remembered that we loved each other more than words could ever explain.  We always remembered that despite everything – we’d never met anyone else that made us feel as happy.

One day, I felt a bubble of anxiety about something brewing up in my chest.  I recognised it instantly.  I knew what was going to happen.  This bubble inside me, was going to grow larger and larger.  It was going to transform from a bubble and change into a rock.  This rock was going to grow heavy on my heart, and the more I thought about it, I would be feeding and it would grow and grow – my husband would ask me, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I would say, ‘Nothing!’ and the rock would become a boulder and increase in size until I couldn’t breathe or function anymore – and I would explode…

I recognised it.  And I did something revolutionary.

Before that bubble could grow and try to engulf me, I spoke to my husband about what was bothering me.  I was calm.  I was able to explain rationally what was wrong, how I was feeling and could he help?

I think that was the day that I became a true adult.  In fact, both of us did.

It was incredible to be able to talk about something that was bothering me, without that build up of resentment or anxiety or anger.  I just needed to talk through it when it was small.  Not allowing it to consume me.  And not having to pretend that nothing was wrong.  And my husband?  Well, he was able to help me feel better, or fix whatever was worrying me at the time…and you know what is so brilliant?  I don’t even remember what I was upset about!  I don’t even remember – because it wasn’t allowed to grow.

I was blessed.  My husband had asked me to do that so many times before.  He had asked me to speak to him as soon as I was feeling, whatever I was feeling, and then he could make things better.  I was fortunate that he meant what he said and kept his side of the bargain.

He was also blessed.  I stopped being that wife from everybody’s speeches.   I spoke to him when problems were small.  That way, nothing had to escalate, nothing had to become a drama, and now, whenever he asks me, ‘What’s the matter?’  I absolutely take the time to tell him.  Without anger directed at anyone.  So we have a peaceful life.

My message to brides – and women of all ages – you are allowed to not be fine!  When your husband or boyfriend or partner asks you, ‘What’s wrong?’ Do the guy a favour and tell him.  Tell him!  Learn to recognise triggers in your own body, when something is bothering you, how do you feel?  Speak to him before it grows bigger.  Speak to him without anger…And if he doesn’t listen, or tells you you’re irrational, or tells you that you’re just imagining things! Or responds to you with rolling eyes and sighs of, ‘Here we go again?’  You have to start thinking – is this person good for you?  Is he really the one for you?

And men – be patient with the one you love.  Women are trained to tell you that everything is fine, when you know and they know that nothing is ‘fine’.  Explain that you can take honesty – and you will listen and help when you can – and expect the same standard of behaviour in return!

Hopefully, if men and women work together – then we won’t need words of cautionary advice during wedding speeches, warning men of the complicated, double speaking beings that women are.  Instead – people can advise each other that marriage and relationships are not easy – but life is a lot easier if you tackle all your problems through talking about things when they are small.

And everyone?  Start teaching your children that they don’t need to bottle their feelings up.  They don’t need to ‘Keep calm and carry on!’ It is ok to be sad or angry or anxious or worried – let those emotions out of your body by talking about them and getting help.  It’s perfectly fine, to not be fine!

The dirty word

‘Immigrant’ is a dirty word at the moment.  Mind you, it’s not a new thing.  When I was growing up, I’d often hear, ‘those bloody immigrants, coming over, taking everyone’s jobs’ etc.

But then, during the nineties and noughties, there was a time of peace.  Respite.  People learnt that that wasn’t the case.  It wasn’t kind to shout at people of colour to ‘Go back to where you came from!’.  It wasn’t fair to blame the financial state of the country on immigrants.  In fact, people began to realise that many people who were immigrants, added so much to the economy, were aspirational, hard working.  So, being kind to people, being considerate of others, ensuring that people – regardless of colour, gender, age, ability – this became ‘a thing’ labelled as ‘political correctness’.

You’ve got to see the funny side of things, haven’t you?  Whilst I was growing up in the 80’s – the colour of my skin was a major target.  Fair game, you might even say?  Sexist jokes about women was also – fair game.  This is the 80’s I’m talking about, things were different then.

I’ll never forget an incident, when I was younger than 10, I was walking to town with my mum and sister.  We used to have to walk along a street called Far Gosford Street.  In 2018, this street is quite trendy and studenty.  It’s been gentrified and urbanised.  There is now a cool, hip section called ‘Fargo Village’.  But then, it was just a long, never ending road, that we used to have to trudge along to get to town.  I remember there was a huge Lloyds Bank on the corner, where Mum would pop in to pay her bills, there was an interesting music shop, which displayed keyboards and an array of acoustic and electric guitars in the window.  There was a regular newsagents that for some reason, we never went into.  And a large shoe shop.  Sadly, I forget its name.  But this is where the incident took place.  The shoe shop no longer exists now, but when I was little, it seemed incredibly huge to me.  It must have been built by two shops being knocked together to make one.  There were rows and rows of shoes in the inside – all black, I seem to remember.  None of the colourful, beautiful designs that we have now.  And in the entrance were wired bins, full of discounted shoes that presumably nobody wanted.

On the day of the incident, Mum, my sister and I, were waiting at the bus stop opposite Lloyds Bank, wearily waiting for the bus to arrive to take us into town.  The shoe shop was on the same side as us, but we would have needed to cross a narrow road in order to get to it.  Whilst waiting for the bus, I was scanning my surroundings, people watching, wondering if anything interesting might be happening…and I noticed an extremely tall man, with long shoulder length brown hair, walking very speedily and jauntily in our direction, the opposite direction that we were intending to head.  My eyes fixed on him because I’d never ever seen anyone walk with such a spring in their step before, this man seemed to be holding the secrets to all the joys in the world as he strode merrily along Far Gosford Street, with his hands swinging by his side and a broad grin on his face.  I looked the other way in order to see if our bus, the number 13 was on it’s way, when all of a sudden, I heard an almighty smack, a scream of anguish and alarm, and a huge bellow of laughter – the whole cacophony of sounds seemed to echo along the street, which up until this point had been quite relaxed and sleepy.

Startled, I looked at the shoe shop where the noises had just emerged from.  A slim teenager, with porcelain white skin and long curly red hair, had been bent over the bins at the shoe shop, organising the contents of the baskets, when the joyful man, who had seen her backside bent over, decided to that he had the right to smack her as he strode past her.  He didn’t even flinch, he didn’t even miss a step, he simply smacked her backside, really hard, and carried on laughing with mirth, as she screamed in distress, and began to cry instantly.  Another lady who worked at the store leapt outside, the young red-head just crumpled into her arms and wept.  Even though I was so young, innocent and small at the time, I was hugely aware that she had been violated, and I was so confused.  Why did that joyful man do that?

The man walked on, remorselessly.  The girl was sobbing, devastated.  Mum, my sister and I were sat, like statues, at the bus stop, frozen.  What on Earth had just happened?  I looked at my mum in confusion.  She was staring after the perpetrator, eyebrows furrowed together in disgust, shaking her head.  She saw me looking at her questioningly and simply said, ‘You just have to be careful!  There are so many baje maanush (bad men) around.  You have to be careful.’

This was the 80’s.  Where casual racism, sexism and verbal, physical and sexual assault was rife – just a bit of fun.  During the 90’s though, I noticed a palpable shift in attitude.  Suddenly, it was not alright to call people names.  It was not alright to touch women inappropriately.  Political correctness kicked in.  I don’t know how many people must have fought and got hurt to make others realise that you had to behave like decent human beings and treat each other with respect.  And I began to feel safe.  And free.  For the first time in my life, I was able to walk down any street feeling like the world belonged to me.  This feeling of safety and being carefree carried on, well into the noughties too.

And then it happened – the recession – the double dip in 2008.  And things started to change.  Let’s not forget that the recession was caused by bankers.  That always seems to be forgotten, or not deemed to be important anymore.  Austerity kicked in.  People were losing jobs.  People lost their houses.  The living wage became a joke.  Prices of everything began to rise.  People – ordinary people were struggling…and the blame…not bankers.  Immigrants.  Those bloody immigrants.  People who advocated political correctness – or just common decency, were now liberal lefties or ‘snowflakes’, who got offended by everything.

Just when things seemed to be have been getting better – it all fucked up.

Hate  – that’s what drives the agenda now.  Hate.  And things feel like they are going back to the 80’s.

Immigrants and immigration – words that conjure up grasping, layabouts – who simply take and take – give nothing back.

I will say this – my parents were immigrants.  My father arrived in the 1960’s and my mum in the 1970’s.  I can’t even imagine what they went through, when they first arrived – my dad is not around to ask, and I don’t want to bother my Mum with questions like this.  But I do know that they were a generation of silent fighters.  Keep your head down and work hard.  I’ll never forget how many times both my Mum and Dad would tell me to value my education, how I was blessed to receive free schooling and that I should work really hard and get to university to make something of my life.  And I did.  I worked so hard.  And when I was old enough, took on whatever part time jobs that I could, so that I could help to pay my way, whilst I studied.  It’s probably why I became a teacher, because I know that education makes such a difference to people’s lives.  I’m living proof of it.

It’s too easy to give in to the ‘hate’ agenda.  That poisonous agenda that makes scapegoats of groups of people, whilst the real perpetrators – the bankers, the rich, the politicians who supply arms to others – get away scot-free.

We can’t give in to hate.  We must rally against the age-old ‘divide and rule’ agenda, that serves the people in power so well.  We, as a society have to be smarter than this.

I will say last week – on two separate occasions, I was in two different supermarkets recently, with my Mum, and both times, complete strangers, came to help me and my Mum when we needed it.  One helped us to get something that we were too short to reach.  Another person gave a yelp when he realised that my Mum was about to leave her handbag in the shopping trolley that she was putting away.

This is the Britain that I know.  This is the Britain that I love.  The one that supports people, regardless of colour, age, sex, ability.

We cannot, cannot, must not lose our way.