Does anyone care?

Another young man has been stabbed and killed in Camberwell, the area where I have been working in a school for the last two years.

Just a week ago, another teenager was stabbed and dumped off the back of a moped in the same area, and later died.

Two mothers grieving. But nothing is changing.

As a white, middle-class woman, I am buffered from having to fear this specific type of violence. Yes, I fear other violence, but in reality, I can afford to hear these headlines and comfort myself by saying ‘Oh, it is gang-related’.

How dare I do that.

I think of the little kids I’ve had in my class the last year. A range of personalities, likes, dislikes and races. They are all eager to learn about the world around them and full of fears and joys. They love dinosaurs and slime and reading and getting things right and hugs and bubbles and football and fairies.

There is something acutely painful and yet SO important in seeing young, young children together, of so many different races. Because racism is shown up for exactly what it is. Real, and utterly evil.

Some people might say, that young black men dying is ‘gang-related, so really what can we do?’

I would say, it is EVERYBODY’S fault.

It is the system’s fault.

I am not going to speak about a black person’s experience, because I only know my lens of privilege as a white person in a white-centred world that sees white as ‘neutral’.

But I know it is wrong, that young black children already seem to face barriers before they are even old enough to leave school.

One little boy, with big eyes and always eager to be first with his hand up, told me a few days before the summer holidays,

‘Miss, I love school, I don’t ever want to go home.’

Knowing he lives streets away from where this violence is happening, and growing up in an environment that may pigeonhole him as a black boy, I only hope as a society we start caring about the young black men being stabbed in the street, and try and figure out WHY this is happening, not just when it’s a white face on the front of a newspaper.

Isn’t a black mother’s tears worth just as much as a white mother’s?

 

 

The Joy of a Toy Kitchen

I recently found an old photo of me, aged about 3 or 4, scrunched up with what can only be described as pure joy in front of a toy kitchen. Comments about gender-specific toys aside (that’s a chat for another day, and yes, of course, boys should get toy kitchens too, they are the BEST), what hit me was the expression on my face.

I am studying a course on child and adolescent mental health at the moment and learning lots about kids who find it hard, for whatever reason, to feel good about themselves and other people. I don’t know why I was born into a family that thought about me and hugged me, made sure I ate breakfast every day and got to school on time. I don’t know why I got that, and some kids don’t. It makes me frustrated and guilty and grateful and angry all at once. But that is also probably another blog post for another day, mainly because the tiny 1% I have learnt so far about it all is outweighed by the million trillion percent of it I don’t understand. Also, I will never understand why some stuff is just really unfair and sucks.

This is more about the face of a kid who sees a toy kitchen and is just pure excited and happy and without even thinking about it, receiving something freely.

Why is it, as adults, we often find it so damn hard to just receive things? I don’t necessarily mean material things. I mean anything; a compliment, a gesture of care, someone making you a cup of tea at work randomly, people making you soup when you’re puking and sick, somebody you haven’t thought of in months writing you a letter saying how much they miss you? Even the smallest things, like somebody holding a door open for you or letting you in front of them, there’s a little mental ‘ca-ching’ noise in my head like a till, reminding me to pay it back, either to that person or somebody else. It’s a feeling of ‘oh, maybe they are a better person than me’ or worse, ‘Now they have one up on me because they did a really nice thing’.

Kids receive stuff freely all the time, and we don’t begrudge them for it. The kids at my school are great teachers, ironically. When they feel upset, they tell me. If they hurt their leg or arm, they run up to someone and ask, no, demand help. If they feel lonely, they show it on their face and someone will approach them, wipe their tears, find them a friend. I don’t think kids are necessarily confident all the time, they just know how to receive love and help from other people better. One little girl in my class, recently returned to school after chickenpox, will regularly go and hug the nearest adult at the most inconvenient of times: when we are trying to line up at hometime, when I am trying to talk to someone about not calling someone else a poo-poo head, as I’m tying someone else’s shoelaces. It is at times a little startling, but I never begrudge her for it. She will have to learn there are good and not-so-good times to hug, and good and not-so-good people to hug. But I give her points for self-care and knowing when she just needs a hug, even if that means treading on someone else’s fingers by accident to get one (regular occurrence).

Back to the toy kitchen: receiving good things isn’t selfish. Feeling loved and wanted isn’t selfish. Being looked after by other people isn’t selfish. Somewhere along the way, that message wormed its way into my brain. Receiving is actually one of the hardest things to do because it means saying ‘I am going to accept that I am enough, and I don’t need to pay this back’. Maybe that gets harder as you get older. For me, I love to bake things and feed them to other people. So this month, I will be trying out new recipes from a book of baking and yes, giving them to other people to eat. But really, what I need to work on is just receiving, without any agenda. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but I’m working on it.

Back to my (non-toy) kitchen.

 

toykitchen

 

 

Leaning in to Uncertainty

January is a tough month for a lot of us. It’s cold, rainy, everybody wishes they were still wrapped in a blanket eating sausage rolls and watching old movies. The lack of sunlight is statistically guaranteed to lower (most of) our moods. Look at Sweden and Norway, they don’t have increased rates of depression and mental health problems in winter for nothing.

But, I realised recently a lot of what has been weighing on my mind and heart is the age-old dilemma of uncertainty.

I don’t like it. I like things to be known at all times, and if they aren’t, then I work ever so hard to make them known, or stash them away in a box marked ‘DO NOT OPEN’.

January brings with it the re-evaluation of life, and like it or not, turning 30 this year has forced me to take an inventory of what I’m doing. As hard as I tried not to get sucked into the ‘re-invent your life after Christmas’ nonsense, it’s there, seeping into my dreams and thoughts as I lie awake at 3am, wondering if finally at 29 my ability to always sleep well was waning.

I pondered on my breathlessness as I ran for the train, the slight ache in my knees as I walked. Did that patch of acne on my chin ever mean to go away, or was it going to be following me through to my pension years. I realise to everyone over 30 this sounds neurotic, self-indulgent and ridiculous, but I am a believer in everything being relative. We don’t deny being a teenager sucks sometimes, so despite feeling young and grateful for being alive, turning 30 has forced me to assess a heck of a lot.

One of the things I wrestle most with is the guilt about feeling uncertain. As a Christian, I am told that God is the one true certainty. I believe this, and cling to it at times: but does this mean I am immune to uncertainty? Should I feel bad for feeling a wave of crushing anxiety when everyone around me seems to get it, and I don’t? Does it mean I am not really putting my faith in God if I get chest pains when I think about the future, or wonder if people I love will get sick? No. Resolutely, I believe uncertainty is human, and if anything it propels me to cling to God. Clinging to God is not a twee, saccharine tale of saying a prayer and feeling better, or singing a few rounds of worship songs and forgetting my anxieties. It is messy and often involves a roundabout of snotty, angry tears and a desperate need for someone to bear hug me.

I am coming to the realisation that I need to stop fighting the worries and doubts. They are part of my journey, part of me, part of what makes me human and instead of always trying to flee from that place of being tossed on the waves of anxiety, I should just allow myself to tread water and trust the buoyancy of my body. It is painful, and there are often no concrete answers: yes, God is there, He is present, but we shouldn’t make people feel that means a sort of anaesthetic feeling will wash over them. It is ok to struggle. It is not a state you must feel shame about.

These winter mornings, I am learning to accept I will have days when getting out of bed feels hard, when my body is pulsing with adrenaline and nausea for no apparent reason. I know spring will allieviate a huge amount of it. I also know that when I meet others going through it, I need to be present, touch their arm, offer a coffee (decaf?), not seek to cover it over with (yes, needed) bible verses unless I am willing to actually enter into their pain with them.

So, today I am grateful for the struggling: it reminds me to be aware of others, to see the chinks of light in the day when people step out of the difficulties and help each other. Today for me it was seeing several commuters stop and talk to the homeless people sleeping around Peckham station, gently shake them awake to check they were okay after a bitterly cold night.

Tonight, it will be the feeling of care towards myself, even love, that I got up and made it through the day and did what needed to be done. That is worth congratulating yourself for.

Poems #1

A bunch of mostly old poems. The first one is new and not really edited. It is based on a little boy I met this week at a nursery where I was temping for the day. He was three and had a beautiful face, played incessantly with the train set. I watched him making perfect circles with the track pieces, then lining up all the pieces in order of size. I guessed autism, or on the spectrum somehow. He made little eye contact with me, and I felt drawn to him and managed to gain his trust and swing him upside down a few times, much to his giggling delight (apparently I’m not supposed to do that, health and safety. It’s the best part of being a child, being swung upside down!). One other child, one of the most attention seeking children I’ve met for a while (he kept doing backward rolls and shouting ‘LADY! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME NOW!’) told me earnestly, ‘Lady, that boy don’t speak.’

Then I saw him do something truly astonishing. He was scribbling on a piece of paper with a marker pen and he suddenly started writing letters, and as I read I saw the words ‘TESCO ORANGE JUICE’. I looked around, thinking he was copying from a nearby juice box. Nope, nothing in sight. He was writing FROM MEMORY. Then he started writing the alphabet and saying the letters. He then took my finger, and made me point to the letters as he said them. Later, as he climbed onto the snack trolley, I pointed to the letters written there on the metal, a generic brand name. He said the letters, then READ THE WORD. I was astonished. This boy clearly had a gift for language, despite everyone else’s belief that he ‘was special needs’ and ‘didn’t speak’. I marvelled at the world that must have been going on in his head, and wish I could have spent more time with him. I only hope his future teachers recognise his gift and seek to view him as a child who is capable of more than they could imagine.

 

ORANGE JUICE BOY

 

Careful with your eyes,

you line up shoes in order of size.

You have no time for simple

things.

 

What is a hug? Why does it hurt when I

fall down?

How can I get your talking to stop?

 

You see, these people know nothing

of you.

You’re memorising each and every

single thing they say, kind and not.

 

On a least expected day,

when they are slumped in the drum

of sameness

you’ll open your mouth

 

and tell the world everything it’s ever said.

 

Farm

 

The ewes that chased us into

nettles,

this ring I wear as a seal.

 

Wild tabbies drunk

on freedom

were beasts we avoided;

 

no boy would kiss

a one-eyed girl.

Damp coffin-bed,

 

bacon frying

and sighs of love

kept us from sleep.

 

The bull bellowed.

I rubbed my feet against

your shins, prayed for the gap

 

between blanket and bed

to keep out hands

or shapes of hands.

 

 

Apples

for Granda

 

It could be a Golden Delicious

you hold out to me

in slow hands,

 

hardened by years

of holding in your heart,

one long string

 

of peel enough

to wind about my wrists

inherited from your beloved.

 

I always wondered

how you sliced it so thin,

even with a knife.

 

Fear

The hedgehog struggles

up the slide, startled by

something it remembers.

It cannot see down.

 

Blue Coat

 

This jacket with the Neapolitan stripes

makes me look like a Polish waitress,

pink-faced with wonder.

 

Little girls with braids stacked high

hug me in libraries.

It is being hugged by my mother

 

after a nightmare.

‘It’s the jacket,’ I say,

‘It’s my face.’

 

Women with fragrant names,

turmeric hands

and yams in baskets

 

smile at me.

I nod back, roll

a new name in my mouth.

 

Jazz and Bread

Jazz and bread.

Two strange bed-fellows.

Over the years, I have learned the two magically work together to lift me out of any melancholy state I find myself in.

I won’t go into detail here about my dalliances with mental health, it reads like a dry NHS pamphlet and besides, I want to talk about jazz and bread.

Listening to Jazz FM and rolling my hands into bags of flour and dough have the ability to trip wire my brain and soothe any over-fraught neurons. I discovered this by trial and error.

The jazz can’t be too sad, or slow. It has to be just erratic and random enough that the improvisation uncoils all the coiled springs in my frontal cortex. It can’t be anything I recognise easily. I have to feel like I’ve never heard it before. Big band numbers work better than solos.

It can’t be a coincidence that many famous jazz musicians battled real demons in their lives. Many African-American jazz musicians were born into a time and place where they suffered prejudice, displacement and an attack on their identities. Some turned to blues. Some jazz. Some, but not all, also turned to drugs and alcohol, surely just a symptom of their massive creative talent not finding enough of a space to fill. Creative people are the eternal self-critics and the quickest way to drown out a feeling of not being enough, is to numb it through substances.

In the colourful menagerie of noise I hear when I listen to jazz, I can imagine the musicians literally sweating and fighting to keep themselves buoyant. Their pain and sadness and anger and joy fuels the songs. They use their music to grapple with things that are too weird and difficult to talk out. Somehow, listening to Jazz reminds me I’m not alone in finding life lonely, confusing and scary at times. It is a valid part of the human experience, despite the pervading feeling everyone except you is outside frolicking in the sunshine full of endorphins. So, thanks Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Mr Coltrane, amongst others, you damn GENIUSES.

And, bread. From experience, it has to be a quick recipe, and there has to be a certain amount of kneading involved. With some friends recently on a short trip out of London, one of us decided to make bread. On realising the recipe ‘did not require kneading’, she remarked sadly ‘Oh, I needed to knead today.’

‘I’m feeling so….kneady.’

‘It feels good to be kneaded.’

A running joke that went on for about ten minutes before one of us called time.

Kneading feels GREAT. Your hands are making food, and the actions of your hands are meaning the bread will taste nicer! Some deep poetry in there that I won’t go into.

If I am in a rush, soda bread works wonders. You will generally always have the ingredients you need in the cupboard, and it will impress anyone who might pop round for tea.

Here is my favourite recipe (courtesy of BBC Recipes), accompanied by one of my favourite jazz records. Making it whilst listening to jazz is (not) optional.

You’re welcome!

Ingredients

MethodPreheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6.Tip the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir.Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, mixing quickly with a large fork to form a soft dough. (Depending upon the absorbency of the flour, you may need to add a little milk if the dough seems too stiff but it should not be too wet or sticky.)Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.Form into a round and flatten the dough slightly before placing on a lightly floured baking sheet.Cut a cross on the top and bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
P.S Here’s some I made earlier………

Continue reading “Jazz and Bread”

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