Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Eve of Change: from Scotland in Doubt and Hope

This post has been stewing for a few days now, but the death of my iPad until its replacement today has delayed my posting, perhaps for the better. Like the lovely Kim over at Painting with Shadows  ( http://kimayres.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/the-night-before-night-before.html ), I feel the need to record what's on my mind as we face the biggest vote of a generation on the future of our country. And one in which every cross in a box matters. 

As I sit here with my dog and a glass of wine in the middle of a week off, writing this somehow seems more important than heading out and catching up with people and enjoying my break. I need to write it out. I need to solidify my thoughts. Not convince or challenge anyone else, but so I understand my own thinking. This decision hasn't come easy and hopes and doubts are still running round my head.

This is one of the most challenging decisions I've ever made. Not because of politics but because of the impact it has the potential to have on so many for so long. And I have thought deeply about it. 

I'm not sure when my decision was made. 

Where to begin? I have a friend who is an ardent supporter of the idea of an independent Scotland. I remember evenings listening to him ramble on the subject in amicable debate and thinking that I understood his passion, admired it, but that the whole thing was ridiculous. So how I did I get to where I am today?

I don't really know. What I do know is that sometime last winter I started listening and reading. Asking questions, challenging the views of those around me. 

In that time I've also witnessed our parliament in action, first hand, engaging with and listening directly to those whose stories and bravery in sharing them have now changed laws in Scotland. I've seen MSPs, ministers and the first minister get to know personally some of our society's most vulnerable and act on their behalf. Decisively and across parties. 

It is this local, grass roots, human connection that's helped me believe in the power of more local politics so vastly different from the top down, unelected, elitist actions we see from our governors in Westminster and the Lords. I've learned about the statistics and structures of other countries that back up the view that this is the most effective, democratic way of achieving positive change. 

I've seen the gulf between rich and poor in the UK widening to an unforgivable chasm. And I know £billions  will be spent on pointless, dangerous weapons when around me every day at work I speak with homeless young people, and those with jobs still struggling to feed themselves. 

I see a political system which has evolved beyond principles to protect the careers and egos of those within its workings. Where is the fight, the belief, the vision of previous generations - regardless of political hue and opinion? 

At some stage in this journey, the word 'Yes' kept intruding my thoughts. Yes! 

How could I, the middle class, middle management, establishment girl with a pension and a mortgage and an English/ Anglo Indian heritage be thinking this? Perhaps it's my way of honouring the history of my working class father? A man who started with nothing, not even a functioning family let alone resources, who benefitted from a free education and belief that he could be something too. He could succeed and did. 

In this success, he and my mother never lost sight of social justice and fairness. Both in their own ways had broken their moulds, challenged stereotypes and predestined futures to be different from their pasts. Both hung onto bits- nice manners, church and history books, pubs, extreme fairness and a healthy disregard for the establishment.

Perhaps I am clutching at straws in looking to my past to understand my current views. However, historically we tend to vote like our parents and the familiar.

Rose tinted view? Maybe. But I do remember me, my brother and my sister being driven by mum to one of the most deprived housing estates in Europe to show us why we should never take for granted or assume our private education, music classes and warm home were a given.  Those shuttered windows and graffitied streets have never left me. 

As I sit here tonight, I still am scared and rattled by the past few days of politicking. 

After realising my yes! had stuck, I started to talk about it. I started to say in public this is who I am. This is what I believe. I have the blue sticker on my social media profiles. Nonetheless, I kept reading, absorbing opposing side's literature, statistics, listening to speeches, debating, talking often with as many people as possible. Still in challenging my views it, Yes!, was still there. It had become part of me. It spoke loudly to my greatest priority, social justice. Equality. 

Over the past ten days or so, I've managed to read and absorb more. Still finding myself repulsed by false sentimentality about a Britain I don't recognise and have been feeling very uncomfortable about since the campaigning for the last general election as words coming from candidates mouths made me feel like I was living in a colony. The wealth and 'City' seemed so alien to the poverty, damage of addiction and unemployment I see every single day. How could these politicians really be belittling those who have so little prospect and who deserve our service rather than the punishment of greater benefit cuts?

But, during these last days I have also been rattled. I sit here with doubts. 

My mother is voting No, as she doesn't like change and swears she'll return to Cumbria if independence comes. My sister is voting No because her partner will leave Scotland for London with work if independence comes and she is unconvinced by the dreams and lack of fact for the unknown. My brother is voting No because he hates Alex Salmond and can't be persuaded to see that we are not voting for the SNP but for or against an independent state, regardless of who's in charge. Will my family become separated by its outcome?

Friends, mostly London Scots, have been lobbying me with pro union information and views. One has even taken to emailing me reports from financial institutions, one of which she is employed by. Her emails speak of the waste of dividing a nation and her disappointment at not being able to vote.

A visit to my financial advisor also makes me nervous. What future for my job? My mortgages? My pension? 

This uncertainty scares me. 

These doubts are equally challenged by the happy, social activism and Yes-ness of others. It feels like our whole city is alive. People are debating at bus stops, waving flags, sticking stickers on their children in public rallies, it is fun and peaceful. Described eloquently here as a 'butterfly rebellion' http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/09/14/the-butterfly-rebellion/ . 

What if I do the wrong thing? What if I vote for something that turns out to be the emperor's new clothes? There is equal and opposing 'fact' issued in great swathes from both sides. If I vote for the status quo, then surely we can fight from within? And, perhaps, achieve my ideal: a federal UK. 

For me, none of this is about nationality. I happily encouraged a reluctant Greek girl to vote, as she is as much part of our land as any Scot and she has made her life here. For me, it is about community. It is about people being able to effect change and for votes to count where they are made. 

If I vote Yes, then I will rule out this half way house forever. But, if I vote No, then is it even attainable whilst the divide between rich and poor grows perhaps irrecoverably each week a politicians protect their jobs?

There has been much talk of hope and fear. This too speaks loudly to me. The status quo is not good enough. Either way lies uncertainty. And so my brain begins to somersault again. 

I appreciate this post has been a long one, and if you've read this far, thank you. It is something I needed to write to make sure I am sure of why I've made my choice. 

I've battled my Yes! And it seems it is still there. It speaks to my principles and not my bank balance. It speaks to 'us' rather than 'me'. It speaks of change. It scares me but it is hopeful. It speaks of rebuilding a system from the ground up. From people and community. 

Wobbling, but winning. Yes!



Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Cold inequality

As I sit in the corner of one of our eponymous coffee chains I am surrounded by commuters in suits buying overly expensive drinks and unnecessary treats to ease them into their day. Outside the window is a man trying to do his job. He is poorly dressed for the bitter wind, layers of t shirts and a thin branded waterproof, trainers dirty and one split accross the toe. He looks tired. All he is trying to do is give away a free newspaper. Few accept it. Minimum wage in action, no doubt. 

It is the stark contrast of the smartly dressed bankers and lawyers making their way to our captial's financial district with their expensive coffee and this thin cold man that bothers me.

Today I am one of those commuters. At least, dressing like I belong to the game, on the way to ask for financial support for my charity from one of those institutions. 

I hate this division. How can we ever justify it? 

As we head towards a referendum on Scotland's future, it is this inequity that will confirm my decision. Surely there is a different way? And we have a chance to break a system that just doesn't work. 

To me, it's not about Scotland. It's not about independence. It's not even about cultural identity. It's about equality. 

I wonder, as I watch the hundreds of people walking past, how many of them think these thoughts? How many of them notice or care about this man and what he to me, today, represents? I hope they do.


Friday, 13 December 2013

Smiling and crying

This week has brought my past and present to a sudden and stark reality.

There is the Christmas card from an old university friend with news of his son and a new country which has me looking back and grateful for our days of adventure and decisions, finding our feet in the world and embracing the privilege of education, freedom and camaraderie.

The death of the final goldfish last night who I've done my best to look after for my nephew during the three years since my brother and his family moved away. My nephew who sends the fish postcards and whose face smiles from my fridge door. He is my favourite and ever changing, ever growing person.

The farewell emails and chat from a group of much loved colleagues and the fantasy world of the theatre where we are transported from the everyday. A world I'll miss but that isn't as important as the call to action from an old friend, whose friendship stems from the values and early work experiences  that drove us both to work towards social justice and equal life chances. Next week, we begin again to work together to help create platforms from which those that need it can build strong roots and make their own way forward. A place where everyone has something to give and where together we can all do more. 

The email from the former lover, former friend that is pleasant and unexpected. The man who bore the brunt of the deepest, most difficult days in the form of my unpredictability, tears and neediness as I struggled to stay afloat. He had the ability to make me feel like a goddess and, laughing, read me William stories in bed. He gave much, and got little. And, eventually gave up. I don't blame him.

The phone call with a friend during which we both cry as she tells me about her mother's death and the haze she is trying to find her way through. There is no true preparation for this loss. No handbook for knowing that your parent will never meet their grandchildren or walk you down the aisle, or for the fear of forgetting what their laugh, their voice, their smell was like as you clutch at memories. Next week a funeral. 

All these reminders and reflections of times not so long ago are abruptly very real and very present. Sadness and fondness mixed up in them all.

And, I realise I am lucky. Yes, there is much I will never have back. People who have left my life. I do know though I am happy to think about them and grateful that I have still people to love, work that matters and a small dog to keep my feet warm in bed. There is no doubt a present and future that will bring more of it all. 



Monday, 22 April 2013

Happy

I have allowed many months to pass without writing a thing here. Maybe I needed a break, maybe I needed not to think too much and just embrace living after a very long dark few years.

I've found myself thinking about this place again over the past few weeks. A long train journey and modern technology bring me back again in a rare moment of peace.

Life has changed so much over the past year. As my train speeds through the countryside that joins Scotland and England I listen to the music of a friend I met four years ago at a little folk festival not so far from here and I read these words of the past.

I could cry, but I don't. I am grateful that I can only remember quite how sad and tired I was. Grateful that this is no longer true.I am lucky. This year has seen me move back full time into the Arts, buy a dog, clear out the family home, embrace life.

It's scares me how low, for how long it was possible to be. I am not that person any more. I am not the person who crys everyday because she is struggling to hold it all together while holding on to the vestiges of her father. I am not the person who is quick to anger, and quick to push anyone away who gets too close.

I am busy, and satisfied, and responsible for a small furry friend if not for anyone else, and live my life surrounded by music and creativity. And - dare I type it? - happy.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Ramblings with the Bearded One

As I walk round the corner I instantly spot the beard and the camera, and wave. I'm on a rare weekend away with my sister and close friend at a music festival just a few miles from Kim, of Ramblings of the Bearded One

Kim was the first 'real' person I connected with outside of our blogging worlds and personas. To be so nearby and not get in touch would have been daft, but taking the step of actually arranging to meet made me nervous. Here was someone who'd read my secrets and pain, and offered his kind words when things were falling to pieces around me.

I found Kim through Blogs of Note a couple of years ago and have been reading ever since. There was something very human and honest about his writing. He didn't seem to be trying to impress or seek glory or a place in history. I liked his writing, sometimes sad, often funny. He always gives me cause to reflect.

I wandered over and we sat down against the outside of the children's marquee where he's due to play his bouzouki. Nervously I have a cigarette, which I realise later was wholly inappropriate given the area of the site we're in. Anyway....skipping quickly over that misdemeanour....

Kim is easy company and I am fascinated by the man whose words I have read and responded to over what must be about three years. As two bloggers writing in Scotland it's easy to forget that, in fact, he is not a Scot. Gently spoken, Kim is good to talk with. I suppose, as a photographer, he's very used to putting slightly anxious people at their ease. We wander and rattle through blogging, and family stuff, living with fatigue, mental health, and the weirdness and wonderfulness of life.

This meeting for me is important. Blogging has helped me reconcile what goes on in my inner world with what goes on around me. It's helped me talk about the things that scare me or have made me sad. It's helped me to be vulnerable and honest. Meeting someone who found my blog early on, and probably knows more of my struggles over the past few years than some of my oldest friends, is a massive step in realising that I am finally opening up to the world. This meeting is something that couldn't, wouldn't have happened even a year ago.

A while ago I helped Kim with a press release for his Staring Back exhibition. It was an easy thing to do, that I'd completely forgotten about. Kim reminded me that he'd promised me a photo as a thank you if we ever met. Later that afternoon I found myself squinting in the sunshine, surrounded by thousands of people, having a camera pointed at me. Kim the photographer is suddenly present – joking and directing and trying to put me at my ease.

I am grateful for the kindness he's shown me through difficult times, and pleased to find a man who demonstrates the integrity, humour and thoughtfulness that his writing suggests. I am flattered that he introduces me to someone as 'an old friend', and I guess we were are despite never having met before. I am glad we did, and hope we do again soon. Next time, with instruments and tunes and time.

Thank you Kim for listening and for my picture.

PS Just in case you're wondering if Scruffy Buzzards are any good, I am happy to report that they were excellent!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Goodbye

My sister and I took off our shoes and waded out into the unseasonably warm water. In my hands was the box whose weight surprised me. My father's ashes.

It is a year, less a day, since Dad died.

I held the box as my sister unravelled it's packaging. A lively wind around us as I bend and pour what was left of him into to the Moray Firth.

We four stood back and watched as the tide took him from us finally. These many years of grief at an end. Tears of sadness and release.

It a beautiful day of strong sun and warm breezes, and the last time we will ever be in the same place.

The evening is spent as a family, in conversation, good food and wine and celebrating what we have still in a place of happy childhood memories that bring a little of him back.

Slowly I will remember him. I will remember the kind and gentle man before years of illness stole him.

I loved him, and I miss him.



Thursday, 9 February 2012

The bones of your face

I run my fingers from the dark patch on one collar bone along the line of smaller moles on the other. My palm is flat against your warm chest and I just want to know you.

As my head sinks down against you, I can only rest. Breathe you, feel you. And wonder how we got here.

Almost a year and a half have passed since we had the first of these moments. Moments of connection and need, real and so very simple. Moments that will not release their grip. There is no 'us', but we are not 'he' and 'she'.

I am disarmed by you.

You ask me why it must be all or nothing? It needn't be so.

The bones of your face and head are imprinted on my hands. I can feel your skin as I type. My thumbs can trace your brow.

You kneel in front of me imploring me to give you what we both want. I cannot: not here, in your world. I want to and I will, perhaps, one day soon.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Bombarded by Junk - A question

My Blog's reading list has been plagued by spam recently and it's put me off being here quite so often.

It's very sad as the blog concerned was beautiful, thoughtful, clever: a recommendation from Kim Ayres over at Ramblings of the Bearded One. The blogger died. It was weirdly shocking, but those words were still there.

Recently it appeared back in the list of posts and, unsurprisingly curious, I clicked the link to it. Since then I have been bombarded. I tried to remove it from my reading list, reported it the Blogger etc. I've done all the recommended things I could find in the help section and still my reading list is bombarded with junk.

Any ideas anyone? I don't want to be irritated by this place that has become a fundamental part of my week. All suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Past

This time last year I was begging a nurse to feed my father. He'd just woken up after two days of being out cold from a seizure. We had had the resuscitate or let him go conversation.


Protocol dictated that a physio must visit to assess his ability to swallow before he could be given anything to eat or drink. On Christmas Eve, with three or four days to go before the appropriate person would be back at work, my father faced being so weakened that he would never recover.

He was more lucid than he'd been for a while and wasn't yet ready to let go of life, and we weren't ready to let go of him. She finally agreed to help. By Christmas Day he was eating well, and I was desperately grateful.

These few days were the beginning of the end. The beginning of six months of dying. When he returned to his usual hospital unit, he never walked again and said little, but he was still there. I am glad I fought for him.

I'm sad that his last Christmas was spent in strange environment with us visiting for an hour or two, trying to make everything as normal as possible. It broke my heart. It still does.

In amongst friends' talk of family and festivities, all I can do is miss him. What's going on around me feels so very alien. Life does go on, but so does loss. I not yet ready to remember him with a smile. I can only find sadness and memories of fighting a medical system, a dying body and mind, and a family still grieving. I am tired and tearful.

I hope this time next year I will be able to raise a glass to him, look back at his life and be glad he was my Dad.



Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Last night I saw your cousin amongst our happy band of waifs and strays. I haven't seen him since we met. And, tonight I saw Joy. She doesn't have much time for me, and I haven't seen her for months but she took me to one side to tell me what you'd told her about me. Hearing her words reminded me that it was all real.


I'm sitting in front of my laptop, typing to you, thinking about you, thinking about John Martyn and holding hands.

I fell for you in unexpected moment of madness or vulnerability or something. Something.

There you were. Flawed and temporary, and beautiful.

You made me beautiful.

Those are moments I will never forget.

So, tonight I'm thinking of you a world away, a world apart and I am grateful for whatever that was and wishing you were here, or I were there, or that you were mine.

I wish you well and a Happy Christmas.