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Life with Lavendar in London town

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Life's Not Fair


I'm supposed to be working right now but I'm finding it hard to concentrate. This morning I woke up to find out that twenty two people had been killed at a music concert in Manchester by a suicide bomber. Amongst those killed were children and teenagers. If I stopped writing this to concentrate on my Excel spreadsheet, maybe it will stop the urge to cry. But from experience, too much time on Excel can kill other signs of life.

I've tried to avoid most of the news today. In spite of this, I've heard the words 'terror' more times than I care to. I am not scared though. It's something else that is bothering me.

I should be used to waking up to catastrophic news by now. When I woke up to Brexit, I was shocked. Such shock that there was no room for tears but instead, profound grief. For I sincerely believe that it's a decision that will change the course of world history for the worse.

After that Trump was a breeze. I cried but more from anguish than pain.

Months later when the guy bulldozed pedestrians off Westminster Bridge right outside my work place, I made a point of walking across the bridge many times to and from work thereafter.

Brussels, France. France again. Germany. Idiots sacrifice others for misguided reasons. This has always happened of course. Right now, political instability, rising nationalism, a 24-hour news cycle and social media are the forces working to create a playing field fueled by suspicion, worry and protectionism. If continued, the Hunger Games may become non -fiction in years to come.

Maybe it's disingenuous of me to lament this latest tragedy because it is closer to home. Manchester is my patch. More so than places like Syria, Sierra Leone or Papua New Guinea where many young people endure unthinkable suffering and die every day.

Last night I checked on my six year old before I went to sleep. She looked so peaceful in repose. Such a contrast to her high energy antics during the day. I stared at her sleeping face and was struck by her vulnerability and also my own. It occurred to me that someday in the future we would be parted. I felt a physical pain in my chest and snuck out of her room.

It was an Ariana Grande concert those kids were at. I can imagine their excitement, going to a concert with their parents or unsupervised with their friends. I remember going on my own to my first concert. It's a rite of passage, something I hope my daughter experiences one day. You don't go to a concert expecting to die. Until recently this wouldn't even have been in the lexicon of 'concert going.' But with Bataclan and now Manchester, it is becoming so.

Walking home from school yesterday, my six year old told me about her day. They had been learning about an African animal that was becoming extinct.

People kill it because they think it brings bad luck.

What does it do that is so bad? I asked

Nothing. They just think it is bad luck.

So the animal does nothing but they kill it anyway? 

Yes.

That's not very fair.

Life's not fair Mum. Don't you know that? Life's not fair.


It certainly isn't.



















Friday, 5 May 2017

Brodsky/Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov is a good-looking man. Nearing 70, he has charisma in spades which was in full display last night when I attended his show, Brodsky/Baryshnikov.

Marketing for the show

When I booked my (very expensive) ticket, I didn’t know what the show was about. All that my bedazzled eyes could see was Baryshnikov Baryshnikov Baryshnikov Baryshnikov

Later when I informed the Husband that he would be on child watch duties, he read the marketing material and raised an eyebrow:

You do know that he’s not dancing, don’t you?

Of course I know that. What do you take me for?

And that he’s reading poetry.

Uh, duh. That’s why it’s Brodsky/Baryshnikov. Joseph Brodsky. Poet Laureate.

In Russian. He’s reading poetry in Russian.

Oh.

What could I say?

I had not read the small print but quite frankly, I didn’t care. Baryshnikov could be on stage brushing his teeth and I’d still have gone.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is one the greatest ballet dancers of all time. At the height of his prowess as a classical dancer, he defected from Russia to Canada in 1974. Afterwards he went on to wow the world with dance and forayed into acting, painting, photography and writing. He never rested on his laurels. He’s pushed himself artistically and creatively throughout his life and now nearing 70, he’s still taking creative risks.

Brodsky/Baryshnikov is a one-man show. Over the course of 90 minutes, Baryshnikov recites Brodsky’s poetry as if in conversation with the dead poet and performs set movement pieces throughout. The words (thankfully) were subtitled for an English speaking audience. Whilst I do not speak Russian, the timbre and tone of Baryshnikovs’ delivery was compelling. Who knew he sounded so sexy in Russian? The melancholy and hope that permeates much of Russian art and literature resonated in Brodsky’s words. I found myself loving the poetry. 

When Baryshnikov took his shirt off and started moving, the reaction of the audience was palpable.

Is Baryshnikov is going to dance?

But he didn’t. He did some weird performance Butoh which I didn’t like very much. I didn’t think it suited the show but again, it didn’t matter. This is Baryshnikov. However odd the conception, the movements themselves were as crystalline and precise as ever. At 70, his body could rival most men half his age. He is in good shape.

Moody Russian Dancer

At the end, he came out to take his bow. People stood up and clapped and clapped. Not because it was the best thing they had ever seen but out of respect for this great artist who is still taking creative risks and baring himself onstage. He smiled, bowed and then did a little jump-hop-skip and ran to exit offstage.

People were still clapping so he came on and did it again. Bowed. Jump-hop-skip. Run to exit.  

He did it three times. That little jump-hop-skip-run.

I guess it’s like breathing to him that jump-hop-skip-run. After every show, every performance, that is the way he exits the stage.  He’s been doing it since he was a boy, since he started learning how to dance. His body just does it automatically.  This show was not about dancing but still, he took a dancer’s bow and exit. He couldn't help it. 

It was a weighted moment and it's what I'll remember most about the show. His jump-hop-skip exit embodied so much of Baryshnikov's history and legacy.  To quote the show itself:

Life is the sum of tiny movements. 

-Joseph Brodsky




Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Not the Nanny

The perils of working from home with children was highlighted in a most delightful way last week when Robert Kelly's live BBC interview went viral. If you have no clue what I mean, check this out:



The clip did the rounds quickly.  Friends were eager to share the charm and humour in this 40 second clip. When I watched it, the Husband said he could hear me laughing from downstairs. Even writing about it now brings on a chuckle. 

I clocked early on that the children were mixed race so I assumed that the woman who slid so spectacularly into frame was their mum. The little girl in her yellow cardigan became my hero.

The next day there was online debate whether the woman was the nanny or the mum. The clip had gone viral and the woman was being referred to as the nanny. At this point, I was unsure what she was so after some checking, I read that the woman was most definitely the mum. 

I was at a party later and the video came up in conversation. We watched it, laughed and afterwards my friends spoke about the nanny in the clip.

She's not the nanny. She's the mum.

No no. She's the nanny.

No she's not.  She's the mum. 

No, she's the nanny. 

I let it go.  I'm not sure what the reasons were for the insistence that the woman was the nanny. We didn't discuss it but it left me feeling uneasy because in 40 seconds, you probably make that assumption based on body language or race. I hoped it wasn't the latter.

Swiftly, the widespread assumption that Jung-a-Kim, the woman in the video, was the nanny or maid sparked media interest and debate over cultural stereotyping and casual racism. I  jumped on the bandwagon and posted this article on my Facebook. The resulting discussion was wide ranging from affirmations that 'Nannygate' was indeed racist to comments that it was her body language and behaviour that made her seem nanny-like. Which in itself is a whole other topic of subjugation. 

The most relevant question raised within my own circle was:

Why does it even matter?

Why could we all not just enjoy the clip and not query why people assumed that Jung-a-Kim was the nanny? What's wrong with being a nanny anyway? Nothing.

When I asked myself the question, why does it matter, this is what I came up with.

Even if only one person out of all the thousands that viewed the clip made the assumption that Jung-a Kim was the nanny based on racial stereotyping, that is one person too many. Because assumptions like that spread and take root unless you call them out early. Assumptions like that will eventually affect my life. They already have. 

Asian woman. 

Servant. Maid. Nanny. Mail order bride. Subservient. Victim. Vixen. Prostitute. Dragon Lady.

All such cliches but these stereotypes live on as demonstrated by the reaction to this clip. For I'm pretty sure that more than one person based their nanny assumption on race.*  

In my experience, it is not overt racism that is the most damaging or hurtful. When someone tells you to your face that you should go back to where you came from you fucking Chinese cunt,** a least you know what you are dealing with. 

It is the subtle, covert judgement that is the most dangerous. Or what Jen McGuire calls casual, almost benign stereotyping. She writes:

It's this sort of casual, almost benign stereotyping that can ultimately be so dangerous. Just because it's not aggressive or overt doesn't mean it's not changing our world view. In fact, because it can be so much more difficult to pinpoint, it's also harder to call out.

It's the kind of stereotyping, such as the case here with Jung-a-Kim, where because it is subtle or unintentional that you are told to stop making a mountain out of a molehill. That it is harmless. That you are looking for something that isn't there.  Or that you are imagining it.

If you have never experienced any form of racism nor stereotyping in your life that has affected you adversely, then you are lucky. So have some empathy, if you can, when I say:

We are not imagining it.



* I am not exempt. I have been racist. I make assumptions all the time. I can be judgmental. I try and have respect and empathy. But I don't always. In this instance, because I have grown up with this type of institutionalised racism, I am calling it out. But I have been wrong as well in other cases. 

**The Husband disagrees. He says he would prefer low level racism, even if it is more insidious, than someone coming at him with a knife shouting, 'Come here you fucking Paki' (true story)









Friday, 27 January 2017

Women's March London 2017

About a week before Trump’s inauguration I started acting like a cat does before a storm arrives. Hair on end. Pacing around the room. Eyes darting nervously, looking at something invisible that no-one else can see.

Cat before a storm. This was me.

'What is wrong with you?' asked the Husband as I stalked from room to room.

'I don’t know,' I screeched. 'I feel possessed!'

The Husband after watching me pace concluded:

'I think you’re tapped into the zeitgeist,' he muttered. 'Business as usual.'

He was right. I had managed to block out the reality of Trump’s presidency all throughout Christmas and New Year. Our family’s return to work and school had kept me preoccupied for the first few weeks of January.

But around mid- month, media attention surrounding the inauguration meant I could keep my head in the sand no longer. It was about to happen and I was pissed off and on edge. A storm was brewing. In the form of a radioactive orange Oompa Loompa with a mean little mouth and unnecessary hand gestures.

Change the wig to yellow and there he is

In November, I’d registered to attend the Women’s March in London. This march originated as an invite from a Hawaiian grandmother to forty of her Facebook friends to march on Washington, as a reaction to Trump’s election victory.  When she woke up the next day, the event had gone viral. Soon thereafter, sister marches were being arranged in cities all around the world as an act of support and solidarity to the Washington march. I wanted to attend the London march for it was a means to act in accordance with my beliefs rather than do nothing and despair at the erosion of civil liberties.

The last time I felt compelled to march was post Brexit last July. The time before that was twenty years ago when I was an environmental campaigner. Those years as a campaigner showed me the power of well organised and persistent grassroots action. It showed me that a small group of determined people working together can change things.

Women's March Global Logo


Logo from Women's March London

My intent was to attend the march alone. But to my delight, several other women I knew from Dragon’s school were also attending. Soon a small gang of us arranged to attend the event together.

The day of the march dawned bright and beautiful. The clear blue skies served as a welcome omen that our march was a force towards positive action. A tangible sense of excitement and electricity fizzed in the air as we assembled in Grosvenor Square opposite the US Embassy.  We knew that there were 600+ sister marches scheduled to happen all around the world and that we were there to represent the UK. The night before, I’d watched Trump’s inauguration which only heightened my determination to march for human rights, amongst other infringements which Trump represents. By this time, I considered it a civic duty.

A beautiful day for a march

There is a lot I can say about the march but in summary, the gang I marched with found it an overwhelmingly positive experience. The mood of the event was friendly, inclusive, peaceful and determined. We marched alongside a diverse demographic; old, young, men, women. I got the sense that like me, people felt moved to act because it was vital to take a stand against what was happening in the world. Brexit shook our foundations and Trump tipped us over the edge. The march was a vessel through which to funnel our charged emotions and say, No way. It's not OK to the powers that be.  The other big bonus of the event was the emergence of witty, creative protest placards such as these below:










Afterwards we found out we had helped make history. The final numbers have yet to be confirmed but the approximation is that over five million people participated in the global marches. From Antarctica to Sydney to Chennai to Antigua, people stood up to protect core values of respect, equality and individual freedoms. It purportedly was the largest turnout for a global march led by women in history. Ever.   

We Made History!

 And it’s only the beginning.

It’s a week after the march, and myself and the group I attended with are still on a high. We’ve bonded over this shared experience. People who said to us, 'What can a march change?''* underestimate the power of taking action. We feel energised. We feel hopeful. We feel a part of the movement working towards tipping the balance back to a just and open society.  For several of us, there is a dawning realisation that the march was just the beginning of our involvement in what is being referred to as the Resistance. Like Dorothy on her journey along the Yellow Brick Road, we’re not quite sure where this path will take us. Somewhere for the common good is my hope.

A quote by Gloria Steinem sums it up:

Sometimes we need to put our bodies where our beliefs are. 

Sometimes it is not enough to press send.


*Ever heard of Gandhi?  And if you are a woman, how do you think you got the vote?