Dear Mrs May

Dear Prime Minister Theresa May,

I am sure you are very busy at the moment, what with the tens of thousands of people banging on your front door as of today, but I feel you should hear this story.

I work in a primary school in South London, your typical multi-cultural mix of kids that is so normal in London you would not even dare to use the words ‘multi-cultural’: just, school.

I work with 5 and 6 year olds, the kind of kids that wouldn’t be out of place on Secret Life of 5 year olds, for how much they make me laugh every day (for better or for worse). They are insightful, compassionate, caring, infuriating, egotistical, vulnerable, creative, and always, always have the ability to astonish me with their thoughtfulness.

But most of all, and perhaps most frightening of all, they are sponges.

They are always watching us, and soaking up each and every thing we say or do.

Many days, before the bell goes for hometime, the teacher puts on Newsround and we all sit quietly and watch the news of the day. Today was a day like usual, and as we watched Newsround a bulletin came up of ‘Muslim Ban in America’. In kid-language (the best and wisest kind of language there is), the presenter explained in that President Trump had banned many citizens from Muslim majority countries.

One boy, who I admit sheepishly is one of my favourites for the fact he carries around a scrappy notebook that he is writing his ‘first novel’ in, turned round to a friend and said matter of factly ‘I’m Muslim.’

Then he turned back to the screen, fingers in mouth, a baby again staring up at his mother soaking in all the ‘truth’ of life being thrown his way.

And THIS is why you must stand up to this man.

I understand the logic behind ‘keeping up a good relationship’ with the US. But a few months or years (who knows?) of a cosy relationship with a powerful country is nothing compared to the dangerous seeds you are sowing into the minds of impressionable, fertile young minds.

There is also a young girl from one of the countries that has been included in the ban, a girl who speaks often of the dog and cat she had to leave behind when she fled her home. This morning, I wanted to assure her parents we as a UK do not stand with this measure, that they are welcome, that the fears of their past do not have to follow them here.

I hope and pray this will be ended, and swiftly. But if not, I hope you can come to the schools across the country and explain to the children there why religion matters, why race matters, and why certain people are deemed more important than others.

Because in their eyes, it doesn’t, and it never should.

Regards,

Lydia Searle

 

 

To the woman killed a few days after Christmas for going out shopping

A few days after Christmas

as I was getting ready to go out

shopping

a woman on the radio said another woman

had been killed

no, beheaded

for going out,

shopping.

I wondered,

as I got my coat and bag with money

I had earned

to go shopping

what she had done to deserve

such a sentence.

A thirty year old woman,

out to buy a loaf of bread for her children.

Or maybe, she was buying lace stockings

as a surprise for her husband

who was out of town on business.

Does it matter?

When we ask

why was she shopping

we fool ourselves into thinking we are asking

the right question,

when the only question should be

how can these faceless figures who took away

her life

be so small and weak and full of misplaced hate

(which is actually fear disguised as hate)

to be threatened by a woman

 

out

shopping?

 

For more information about the daily reality of life in Afghanistan for women, go to these websites.

Warning: some of the articles contain distressing imagery or information. But this is also the daily reality for women over huge swathes of the Middle East.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Women’s-rights-in-Afghanistan

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2015/06/afghanistan-country-women-150630115111987.html

 

 

A Room of One’s Own

Occasionally on a Saturday morning, I’ll go down to my favourite local coffee shop and read a book or people watch. It’s a way of trying to make sure I don’t let my Saturday drift into hours of duvet hogging, especially in winter. If it were up to me, I would spend every waking hour of my Saturday in bed with a plethora of Netflix boxsets and buttered toast. So it is extremely useful to get out, for many reasons, even if just for the caffeine and Vitamin D.

Although I did allow myself an hour of TV first. I started watching an old BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s ‘Love In a Cold Climate’, what I gathered is a mild period drama with romance and ‘coming out balls’. I’m not sure how loyal the adaptation is to the novel, having as yet not read the book, so forgive me if this is all rubbish.

The central characters are two cousins Linda Radlett and Fanny Wincham (yes, I know, but humour Miss Mitford, it was a very popular name in those days), approaching the ‘coming out’ age wherein they will finally be allowed to dance with young men and possibly even (gasp!) get married and have babies!

Their coming out ball is truly tragic. The men average at lease 40 years of age, and these two beautiful creatures spend the night depressingly waltzing with the Vicar. When a group of men their age walk in, they immediately fall in love with them, despite them being the first men they have laid their eyes on. In hindsight, don’t marry the first man who asks you to dance with him: note to self.

In one scene, Linda is playing a game of cards whilst her younger sisters lounge around rather delightfully playing with white rats and dwarf rabbits. Linda says ‘If this card comes up, I will get married at eighteen.’ ‘If this card comes up, he will call me.’

Her sisters incessantly tease her about ‘spinsterhood’, waving lonely little matches in her face and falling about laughing when she cries in a very dramatic fashion.

The rest of the first hour of the drama was taken up with extremely boorish men talking over these intelligent, witty women, trampling through their ideas and ignoring them. The girls responded by batting their eyelids and swooning. The gangs of older women preen over the girls, anxiously imploring how they must marry soon, and openly bitching about Fanny’s promiscuous mother and wondering if Fanny will go the same way. It seems in this world, men rule and women are left to tear each other to pieces and share out the scraps.

Now, I know there will be a twist and Mitford is not a well known novelist for no reason.

But I suddenly found myself jolted into a tragic realisation.

I had become Linda Radlett.

I may not sit around praying over a deck of cards to find my husband, but how many hours had I spent thinking about my ‘future spouse’? How often had I looked at a handsome guy in the street carrying a leather satchel that may or may not contain poetry books, and imagine us living in a cosy terraced house together? Had I not wasted countless evenings wallowing in my room over short lived relationships, that I knew had no possibility of going anywhere, and anyway, I was not happy, never mind intellectually stimulated?

How often had I spent too many hours worrying about my looks, and not enough time nurturing my mind?

Had I wasted all these years on a fantasy, instead of just bloody getting on with living my life and pursuing my creative passions?

Now I think relationships and love and marriage and babies are wonderful and important in their own right, and I still want those things in life. But I am talking about ‘fantasy’, the dangerous game of romantic comedies and period dramas and hours spent day dreaming about a ‘perfect soulmate’.

Apart from the obvious fact perfection does not exist, I had stopped focusing on the things that make me human, a woman, a writer, a creative. I am not very good at not knowing things, and yet the not knowing is part of the wonderful infuriating messiness of life.

How much Virginia Woolf fought to get her writing taken seriously, Plath battled through patronising reviews and simpering pity over her eventual mental decline and suicide, yet deep down they just wanted to be regarded for their writing, their creations. Not just for who they did or didn’t sleep with or marry.

I call myself a feminist, and yet I have become my own worst enemy. I don’t blame men for this. Far from it. I blame myself, for getting swept up in fantasy.

So today is the day I throw a big bucket of ice and hot coals all over that world, and bring myself back to reality. Live your life, focus on what you are passionate about, get out there and as (especially as) single women, make the most of the fact that we can do whatever the heck we like and don’t have to ask for our husbands or fathers permission to leave the house. I still accept the fact I want a partner, but I am trying to be realistic that I want to meet someone who is real; someone who likes books like I do, someone who is passionate about their own stuff.

I certainly wouldn’t want to meet someone who was anxiously waiting for me to fulfil them and fill their emptiness. I would want them to already be living their life to the full.

So enough rom-coms for me. And maybe I’ll give the rest of the programme a try, and let you know if I am in fact proven wrong about Linda Radlett. Maybe she will come to exactly the same realisation that I did.

 

 

I had candyfloss once….in Luxembourg.

That was what one of the kids said to me today. These kids I work with come out with some right corkers, on average ten times a day, so fast I barely have time to write them down.

My other recent favourite was when a small nursery child got hold of some polystyrene and started shredding it all over the place. It was a very windy day and before you know it the white flakes were scattering all over the playground. I think you know where this is going. Cue sixty screaming six year olds running towards the polystyrene at speed, shrieking, ‘IT’S SNOWING! SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW! MISS SEARLE LOOOOOOOOOOOOOK.’

I barely had the heart to tell them it was just some polystyrene, until some of them started trying to lick it.

I spend a huge proportion of my waking hours with 5 and 6 year olds and it has naturally started to mould the way I look at life. I am a big believer in young children being a lot closer to the true stuff of life than adults are. As we grow, everything gets murkier. We bog ourselves/or get bogged down with stuff that, in reality, doesn’t really matter.

One of the things I’ve been pondering this week is the question of sensitivity.

I am a sensitive person. I was a sensitive child and was often called as much at school, usually not in a positive way. Being sensitive I have learnt, doesn’t mean I cry a lot (I actually hardly ever cry in day to day life.) Nor does it mean I injure myself physically a lot. Or that I am ‘weak’ or need to ‘toughen up’. It just means I sometimes feel things, or seem to feel things, a bit more than other people.

Before you start thinking, ‘OOOOH fancy pants, she FEELS more than we do, wit woo!’ I don’t mean I am better or more creative or kinder.

The way I have understood it better recently is by observing the children in my class. They are all unique, wonderful things. Some of them can barrel around the playground at speed, fall over and jump back up laughing. Others need a bit more TLC. Others still, are on the sideline, a deep look on their faces. These are the ones who often find me and put their hand in mine, ask me if they can help me walk around the playground.

A little girl who is a real gem and goes camping and hiking and kayaking and does scary stuff like sleeping out in the woods AT NIGHT, was walking alongside me today into town for our school trip. We walked past two men sleeping rough outside a shop. It was near freezing outside. She had a little look on her face, not as though she was sad, just as though deep in thought. I spotted it straight away; none of the other kids had noticed the men.

A few minutes later I said, ‘Were you noticing those two people?’ She nodded. Rather practically, she said ‘My Mum said we can help people’. I explained that it was good she noticed them, and we can help people in different ways, maybe donating to a homeless charity or finding a night shelter in winter etc.

Another girl, who I’ll call Katie, appears to be quite a sensitive child. She loves painting, struggles a bit with the other girls in the class and is very aware of when the teacher or I are stressed. She is not ‘wimpy’ or ‘weak’.

She is quietly aware of the emotional stuff going on around her.

I spoke to her Mum one evening this week, to praise her for having such a caring, thoughtful daughter. The Mum looked pleased, but also said with a slightly pained look, ‘We are trying to build resilience. Katie is hurt easily by things. We don’t want life to be too hard for her.’ I said that life may be harder, but it equally may very well be richer in so many ways. The Mum looked pained again, and smiled. I could see this was something she had possibly struggled with in her own life.

In that moment, I felt so many different emotions. I knew this kind, gentle mother had good intentions, and I actually agree with her that resilience is important. I understand it must be instinct to want to protect your children from the difficult things of life. But I also know that life is never free of suffering, and instead it is a person’s awareness and sensitivity to joy and suffering that can often exaggerate the event itself.

I think I am realising that being sensitive means you are just aware of ‘feeling’ everything. Lots of children at our school have sensory processing difficulties, which means that for various reasons, some noises, colours, textures and smells cause them to become distressed and upset. I don’t have the same level of difficulty, so am not trying to minimise the ups and downs those children face, but in many ways I can relate, as I think we all can.

If I walk through an autumn park, I will feel so overwhelmed by the colours of the leaves I will often stop and stare at them for several minutes. If I am listening to music as well, I have to turn it off. It’s too much.

If I walk past a nursing home, I feel pain for the suffering of the elderly, perhaps lonely people inside. I imagine them at the windows, looking out, wanting to leave. If I pass an old man with a stick struggling down the road,  want to weep and run away.

When I hear a child being shouted at aggressively in the street, or even crying, I want to cry. If someone slightly brushes against me on the bus, I shrink inside and feel like I can smell their skin.

If someone I work with is depressed, I feel it weighing me like a piece of lead around my neck. I want to make it better.

I often have to have naps. Especially if I have been doing a lot of socialising. We live in an extrovert focused world, and as much as I love being with friends and people I care about, I always schedule in a decent few hours complete alone time afterwards or I will burn out.

My natural instinct is to hide in massive social events. I love weddings and parties, but usually end up in the kitchen quaffing the snacks in my alone happy place and finding a cat to pet if I am not tough on myself. No-one likes small talk, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Plus, you may make a great new friend! (and not end up drinking all the punch by yourself and tripping over the cat….) I’m not shy, I just feel so overwhelmed by the noise and chat and bustle I feel like I might explode or do something crazy like get on the table and do a tap dance. TA DAH!

So often, I have desperately wanted to be ‘tougher’. Actually, what I really needed was the ability to block stuff out. I am learning how to switch off the thoughts in my head when they get too intense, or when I see an old person with a stick, instead of feeling despair I tell myself ‘they may have a lovely dinner waiting for them’. It sounds trite, but you have to learn when it’s appropriate to allow feelings in, and when you just need to barrel them over with a big broom and tell them to come back another day.

And I make sure I say NO to stuff too. As much as I love going to stuff, I am realistic. If I’ve had a very emotionally draining day, I say no. But I also push myself to say yes when it is important, such as big weddings and important birthdays. It isn’t all about me, after all.

Sensitivity has led me to have a lot of ups and downs in life, in various forms, but I still believe it has real untapped depths and treasures.

And I fully intend on celebrating the varying levels of sensitivity in the children I hang out with every day.

It would be interesting to know if anyone else has had similar thoughts/experiences.

x

Secret Life of 5 and 28 year olds

My most recent job as a teaching assistant in a Year 1 class, has been entertaining and revealing to the say the least.

Children have this ability to mirror our own weaknesses and flaws right back at us. Our fears and anxieties are unashamedly there, in their little tearful eyes as they are torn from their Mums or Dads at the school gates, the little cold hand in mine in the playground, always the child that ‘can’t find anyone to play with.’

We laugh off their worries, and brush aside their tears, but how quickly we forget what it was like in that jungle. The playground is still my worst nightmare; the politics of who can play with who, the barrelling over of smaller children.

Every week I battle with myself, over my job. How can I be a TA with a degree? Have I wasted my ‘intelligence’? Where is the money in it? Look at the careers of others around me? I started and left a PGCE in the space of 4 months, something which I am resolved about, but which I still have to painstakingly explain the ins and outs of to people, 10 months later. No, I don’t regret it. Yes, I feel sad about it. No, I don’t think I want to be a teacher. Yes, I still love working in a school. No, I am not a failure.

Yet equally, I know the best jobs in life are always the most overlooked by society. I have always believed that teachers and educators are disgracefully underpaid and underappreciated. Inside those classrooms, human beings are formed. Self esteem is built or crushed, the ability to persevere is sown or buried. Kindness, empathy and understanding are painstakingly taught alongside addition and phonics. The adults in the room (hopefully) model to these small, impressionable people how to resolve conflict peacefully, how to say sorry quickly and to understand the power those 5 letters have. To grapple with fairness and justice. To learn to manage their anger. To recognise they share because the world is smoother with it, not because they need to impress the teacher. That they can tell someone their biggest fears and not be rejected. That they can mess up, and no-one will make a scene. Children who are living very close to the edge, with parents with mental health difficulties, are grappling with issues much bigger than ‘what career I would like.’ It is a goal to get them through school reading, and writing, but more importantly, with a positive, self-loving outlook where they learn to be resilient, kind to others, and perhaps more importantly, kind to themselves, whatever life has thrown at them.

All of this happens in a single 6 hour school day.

And teachers are often in school for at least 10 hours.

If it was up to me, teachers would be paid double. And we can afford to shave a bit off the salaries of top execs somewhere surely.

I intend to post some of the funnier musings of children here as I go along. I can promise you it is funnier, and yet slightly more brutal than the TV show would suggest.

Be warned.

Time of year

It’s that time of year again.

Tea-stained leaves on the floor. Cardigans coming out of hibernation. People saying half-dead phrases such as, ‘Only 100 days until Christmas’ as you try to avoid rolling your eyes right back into your head.

Obviously I know how the seasons work in the UK: after summer, comes autumn, comes winter, comes spring, comes summer, and again etc.

But as someone who leans towards the melancholy in life, and tries desperately through pursuits such as jogging! and drinking super-food smoothies! and any legal medications available! to avoid slipping into melancholy’s warm, damp cave, autumn can be a bit of a bitch.

It is as though the slow, dripping of darkness that descends after August comes as a BIG SURPRISE. I must feebly believe that this will be the year, that the sun will manage to eek out for a few weeks longer, even just a few days. But it is like a faithful dog that you’ve lobbed a tennis ball at for the hundredth time, hoping upon hope it may just get lost in the woods and not come back, but is there at your feet when you open your eyes, looking up expectantly with the big, stinking wet tennis ball in its mouth.

At the risk of offending all the people who enjoy winter, and Christmas, and the like, I want to add that this is purely my personal voice and opinion coming through. I am attempting to write more, and my way of doing this is by the often hated form of blogging. Trust me, usually I am the first to inwardly sneer when someone tells me they have a blog. So please forgive me (I mean it, not in a sarcastic way. It is hard to get across tone via cold text) if I offend, or provoke debate.

Disclaimer***I don’t really want to do that with a blog: I must admit, as an inherent people pleaser, I am very tempted to add disclaimers to the end of every blog entry so as not to upset anyone. But I feel it may drag out the writing a tad.

So, autumn. I have learnt with autumn and the ensuing dark evenings, and lack of serotonin floating around in the atmosphere, that I have to not take my brain too seriously.

Because, I don’t think we should always take our brains as seriously as we do. Sometimes, my brain allows me to paint, and dance and debate and cook and bake cakes and feel joy and love and healthy doses of sadness and fear and whatnot. But occasionally, it does this to me:

Me: Hi!

Friend: (obviously hasn’t seen me, says nothing)

Me: (oh crap. I did something. What did I do? Did I run over her cat? Wait, does she even have a cat? Maybe I accidentally gave her boyfriend the flirt eye? Did I? My top was way too low the last time I hung out with them. Maybe I need to stop shopping at Topshop, I’m nearly 30 after all. Maybe I should throw all my clothes out. How can I be so self-obsessed, think about all those ORPHANS in the world with no clothes, wait, maybe she can HEAR MY THOUGHTS?)

Friend: Oh, hey Lydia, sorry I was just texting someone back, how are you? It’s so nice to see you!

Me: Yeah, I’m great thanks, and you?

What I am clumsily alluding to is something I guess people call anxiety, or over-thinking, or worrying, or something vaguely along those lines. It has taken me 28 years or so to recognise it in myself fairly soon after it starts, but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to ride out. And I know anxiety/stress/depression is massively common in our society; in fact, it is one of the most common reasons people miss work in the UK. In fact, in the years 2014/15, a massive total of 9.9 million working days were lost in the UK due to anxiety and stress or depression. That is nearly half of all sick days in the UK for a year.

Yet, we still feel a bit, wimpy, talking about it all. Kind of reminds me how the English react whenever someone talks about nudity or breastfeeding or shhhh checking your prostate (which as an aside, is an INCREDIBLY important thing to do, if you are a male. Don’t do what I did when someone asked me if I’d checked my prostate, and go to the bathroom to look for it). We are just a bit too reserved for our own good sometimes.

So I am saying it: sometimes my brain can be a right pain in the skull.

And talking about it can be the first step to not letting it actually make your daily life a bummer.

Or you could just eat your body weight in mini Magnums and watch endless re-runs of Parks and Recreation. I know which one I’d choose.