“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Wittgenstein, (1921) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
London has held my devotion for as long as I can remember. My favourite place in the world to visit was the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, travelling a few stops on the tube with my grandmother. My own children were both born in Hackney. I lived in the borough of Hackney for 15 years – four homes were in social housing – ranging from the 2nd floor through to the 15th.
The events that unfolded with terrifying speed and yet horrific slow motion at Grenfell Tower have been so close to home that I have deliberately failed to imagine them. I have switched off the news, averted my eyes, avoided eye witness reports. And yet the almost unbearable torment of the lost souls and their family, friends, has crept in.
I have my own brief experience with flames on the 8th floor, in a flat, asleep in the early hours. I was pregnant with our first daughter and I owe my life to my partner who shook me awake, having smelt smoke. Next door was on fire.
I realised then, and quickly, that had that fire taken hold, on the end of the balcony as we were, the furthest from the stairs, we would have been in real trouble. And yes, our public landlord was crappy back then. Like now there were no sprinklers or alarms. But there was not the raging divide between rich and poor and the rampant gentrification there is now. Our block was not clad in a flammable facade waiting to engulf the whole block if one person nodded off with a cigarette in their hand. An event, like the fire I woke up to, could have been a tragic accident, but an accident no less.
Grenfell Tower is no accident. Those who call for culpability are correct. Those who question why the media, even whilst poring over every gruesome detail and lapping up eye witness accounts, are strangely coy about the actual number of people lost, are correct. Those who criticise the use of the cladding, are correct. Those who question the laws and regulations that remain unmade and not updated, are correct. The clamour of voices in the last 48 hours, not least those of the residents who spelled out the danger over the years, paint a picture of multiple shortcomings, where organisations and public servants failed to listen, failed to respond, and failed to act.
Tonight, protestors are on the march in a broken city. I stand with them #JusticeforGrenfell
Apart from some desperate spinning by the Tories and their pet media – including an email from party chair Patrick McLoughlin criticising Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm for incinerating millions – there’s a huge consensus that Jeremy Corbyn won last night’s BBC Question Time special by a distance, in spite of aggression by a number of Tory plants in the audience who were allowed more questions than anyone else.
Even some right-wing commentators agreed:
Theresa May was unable to do more than repeat slogans – even in answer to a questioner who said she always answered with slogans – and looked wooden, insincere and callous.
Corbyn looked measured, intelligent, unflappable, compassionate and above all genuine. He…
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A bad temper is an interesting phrase. What does it mean? That a person is a little testy, inclined to fly off the handle with little provocation – or is that short-tempered? Have a google around, in the online dictionaries if you fancy it. I did. I bad temper is not what I have.
Rage. I have rage. I am hijacked by rage. So rarely does this happen that I had very nearly forgotten a) that I have it and b) what it feels like.
Today I had rage. Rage over nothing and everything. It felt like being possessed. I felt like the veins in my temples and in the middle of my head forehead were going to explode. I shook. My face went puce. I was Henry VIII. Rage is a terrible, ugly thing. The dog went straight to his bed and looked alarmed. The sight of that alone, made want to stop, but rage is a flooding of chemicals through the body and whilst it can be contained i.e. you don’t actually put the physicality into it, it takes every part of your physicality not to. Does that make sense? Let me try again. Holding in the violence of the rage, is a violent and exhausting act upon yourself.
Today I was unable to withhold the force I felt inside entirely. At some point, as I was yelling, literally yelling, I smashed my hands hard down onto a wooden surface.
Anyone who saw me now would never know I had ‘lost my temper’ earlier – such a mild expression for a tumultous tornado of feelings. But.
The dog knows.
My hand and wrist and shoulder knows.
My right temple, knows.
What a thing a rage is, but there is no sympathy for the rager. I might type, nor should there be. I might not. There should be sympathy for those unfortunate enough to witness it. Sympathy and tea and a friendly arm. How one should treat the rager is less obvious. If I were in prison I would no doubt be down the SHU, perhaps with a sedative shot in my backside for good measure. If I had caused harm or damage (I did not) perhaps the police would arrest me (that’s never happened either, but I’ve come close). Within this domestic situation, the rager was left, not unlike a toddler, to get on with it. That’s not always been my experience. Sometimes my rage provoked another person’s, but not always. Anyway that was a long time ago.
The dog is sitting next to me, with no apparent hard feelings.
I haven’t raged like that in years. I threw a washing basket 4 or 5 years ago and have slammed a few door, but that was nothing in comparison. That was a bad temper. Entirely different from full on rage.
I am a woman. Don’t women (in the stereotypes) cry? I am a woman and I have the capacity to rage, completely sober and straight having just come back from the fucking Co-op, like a wounded bull in the corrida. I am nearly 50. Imagine the spectacle as I age – actually don’t.
It’s like an emotional storm, a total weather bomb, and I have no idea where the hell it came from. No point watching the forecast, no hurricanes here.
I should be in South Africa, but I am here.
I should be in Devon, but I am here.
I should be anywhere, but I am here.
And it snows.
And I am here.
Part of the high wire act that is resilience, relies, I believe, on the ability to carve out a new alcove for the bad stuff that happens to us. Bereavement, bankruptcy, broken-heartedness and other traumas cannot be simply shaken from our pelts as a wet dog might do; rather we must process our feelings and thoughts through over time, until they come to rest, somewhat uneasily, on a pale cold stone lintel in the back of our brains.
Yet there are some things which are such an affront to our natural natures, to our compassionate hearts, to our generosity that we must not make internal space for them. Outrages we must not learn to live with and unethical acts that we must resist.
Trump’s executive orders are such acts.
Yesterday’s spilled ink, coming on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, signified a travesty. Closing America to people who are already on their way there. Closing America to people who already have status to remain. Closing America to people with the wrong kind of nationality, or dual nationality. Closing America to refugees… this is an act we cannot accept on behalf of every single person who finds themselves turned away from an airport, detained at an airport, put on a plane away from the United States.
Those people cannot resist the beast. But we must.
I was reminded tonight that my grandmother was a refugee in Malta in the First World War. Fortunately for her, the Red Cross were there on the island to assist. My grandmother told me once, briefly, something of sleeping in tents and having little to do in camp. On the wall in my sitting room there hangs a rudimentary tableau, sewn from sacking and scraps of cloth that my grandmother’s fellow refugees who were Armenian, created. It is an Egyptian scene, with pyramids,a snake and a line of mules, overlaid with the suggestion of coercion, represented by a raised whip. It was made a hundred years ago, yet as I look at it tonight I can almost here the cracking sound.
It is a familiar artefact to me. It has hung on the wall for long enough that I barely notice it anymore. But tonight it concentrates my mind, in order that I do not make space in my head for Trump’s vision of hell, whatever comes next.
Right now with:
Theresa May fawning round Donald Trump in colour co-ordinated outfits
the government’s White Paper on triggering Article 50 consisting of half an A4 page
the Labour Party about to pull itself apart (again)
every single thing the President of the United States of America has done in the last week
There is nothing more I’d like to see in my rear view mirror than this.
Here’s the thing: I should have gone to London today to march with the sisterhood. Here’s the other thing: I didn’t.
I didn’t for a number of reasons, all of which sound a bit pathetic when typed down, but when you bundle them up and experience them all in one go, are enough to keep me in my bed for the majority of the day (barring the part where I had to walk the dog briefly for the purposes of respecting animal rights… oh and buy chocolate).
So I’ve kept abreast of events (pun intended) on Twitter and the news and I can see that women (and men) are turning out all over the world with banners and placards and a whole lot to say about women and Trump, and women and Trump. And, you know, I am with them in spirit.
And this is a spirit that is seriously weighted down this day. I have to get something finished, it’s well overdue. The reason it’s not finished is because I feel both triggered and oppressed by the patriarchy who are in charge of the thing I’m doing that’s overdue. Like most of the patriarchy, I suspect, they would be completely horrified to hear that this is the case. They would not, I suspect, recognise themselves in my experience of them at all. My experiences would be dismissed and the patriarchy would reinforce itself and its view of the world, as it so often does that it doesn’t even notice when it’s pointed out.
As a woman in the world, I know how it is not to have power. I know how exhausting it is to tread the line to being heard and being judged as not worth listening to. As a mother I know the balancing act in society: be a good mother BUT don’t let get in the way of the world’s plans. As someone with a mental health diagnosis, I know how dangerous it is to be a mother, and a woman, an employee, and to stay sane. I know how risky it is to mention any of the above in public to a world that wants its women one way only.
As the parent of girls I watch my daughters try to navigate their way through a society saturated in manipulated images and false expectations and slews of advertising designed to get them feeling the lack of themselves and their worlds as soon possible. As the partner to a black man I watch his own oppression in the world, that he has internalised to the point of oppressing himself without even noticing.
So, yes, today patriarchy, I should have marched, but you won that battle.
As for the war? I’m already preparing the ground.
In November I woke up with an odd feeling in my shoulder blade. I decided that it must be something to do with having slept in draught – the dog had nicked the covers again. Somewhat unusually for a Sunday, I had plans. To meet family in Margate and stay the night in a Georgian guesthouse, which had been on my to stay list for a while. My dream home is a double-fronter with modest Palladian pillars you see and this was the real deal, set on a town square.
It was not to be. The pain persisted, and on getting out of the shower, and after some deep breaths kicked up sufficiently that I had to sit down and wonder how I might get out of this one. I did not call 999, instead conservatively dialling (how much longer before that verb falls out of usage altogether?) 111, for advice. The operator sent an ambulance which arrived in minutes.
My not panicking plan was working quite well (I thought) until that point. There is nothing like a pair of green suited paramedics barrelling through your front door in short order to raise the old heart rate. Predictably enough, that’s what they found when they took an ECG in my front room: tachycardia (heart beating too fast) and not a lot else. I was not transported to hospital, spent the rest of the day reclining, in some discomfort, (having gained a stiff neck along the way) binge watching The Crown – which I found far better than expected.
Since then, I’ve had the odd twinge, including now which is probably why I am writing about it, but nothing like before. Last week I had lots of tests, and one more to come this week, and I await the outcome. The cardiologist I saw last week said he was ‘ruling things out’ and I was glad to hear it. I was less glad to hear that it ‘might have been’ this or that and indeed we would never know.
The funniest thing has happened since then though… it’s like my mind has switched off a bit. I still have thoughts of course, but they are not coming in the way they used to. My thoughts used to grip me, drive me on, make stuff happen. Now I feel detached from them. Less happens. I’m not sure I like it. I am used to being highly and some may say relentlessly productive. Since November it’s looked like a day’s work, no more no less. I’ve not wanted to do more in the evenings or weekends particularly. I’ve not had the thoughts that would compel me to do so. I realise whilst writing this as a bit of a reflection on low productivity, since the ambulance visit I’ve managed to write an article for the TES, applied for a few jobs and written a couple of funding bids (all on top of the day job) but in all honesty it doesn’t feel like it used to do.
Maybe it’s just coincidence. Maybe it’s the winter thing that happens to my brain which is that it goes slightly into hibernation. Maybe. This does feel different though and I’m curious to see what happens next.
Probably nothing. Fingers crossed.
Happy New Year! At least, let’s hope it is.
2016 probably doesn’t need any further publicity but one recurring theme was that it was a pretty good year for the rip it up and start again brigade: not just in global politics but in the social sectors, too.
One of my particular favourites was the conveyor belt of swashbuckling business leaders explaining that current approaches to doing good were rubbish and that charity, government or both should be replaced by people more like them.
Suck it up
One of those change makers most prominently featured on the social investment circuit was Iqbal Wahhab, founder of restaurant chains Cinnamon Club and Roast.
He published a book, Charity Sucks, as part of Biteback Publications ‘provocations’ series and turned up at the Good Deals social investment conference in Birmingham in November to deliver the message in person as part of a conversation with Big Issue Invest Chairman, Nigel…
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