Archive for September, 2010

Invisible

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Anyone who follows me on twitter may be aware that I’m a fan of lifelong learning. Last September I took the hugely insightful Basic Training for Prison Work course, run by Prison Link who are a referral agency for the Probation and Prison services. Prison Link is a christian charity which works with Black Minority Ethnic prisoners literally acting as the link between their prison life and preparation for their new home life. They listen to them, support them and help the make the transition to a positive new start (hopefully). I learned so much but the more I learned the more I realised I knew nothing and had few skills to help. I decided to start a counselling course and was lucky to find one starting immediately, completing level one and level two in quick succession and through a lot of hard work and commitment.

Counselling is one of those things you can’t just walk into. You have to work your way through the learning process, from the bottom up, building experience with theory behind it so that you don’t go out into the big world and fuck up someone’s fucked up life just a little bit more.  I’ve learned about myself since I started studying. I’m now horribly aware of my selfish attitudes in conversation; of how I used to plan my next step in the middle of listening to your current sentence

‘my husband hates me, my life is falling part, I don’t know where to go from here….’

‘I just need to pick up some bread, and milk…and…sorry, what did you say?’

Yeah, I could be a bit shit, and without constant self awareness I still can be but I’m working on it. I also now know that what I thought were my weaknesses are my strengths. I’m told constantly by Beardieboy that I allow others to put themselves before me. I don’t see it like that. I make a decision to nurture and put the ones I love first.  I am in charge of that decision, I don’t feel put on. What am I here for? I’m here to take part, to be a mother and a partner and to do that well I do need to give of myself. I like that about myself.

So anyway, I decided to do level three. It’s a big step but it’s a step closer to working less for better reward. I work full time, taking an NVQ3 at work as well and have children, a husband, make music, perform, have friends, etc so take another course, with a demanding homework schedule is only for the committed. I also happen to have a mobility problem.  I mention it because it affects me but I mention it last because I don’t want it to rule my life (and god knows, it tries to).

I have stealthy arthritis in my hip, toes, hand, wrist, shoulder, blah blah blah. I also have a back problem from a nasty car accident over a decade ago. Go on, get your violin out. I write badly, and the longer I write the more painful it becomes and the less legible it becomes. I need to move regularly to stop myself ugly pained faces, you know, the usual shit. Oh and I get very tired, but hell, I’m a parent, I think it’s possibly in the job description.

I applied for the course and arrived at the venue. The seating was limited and all low with no arms. My nightmare. I can’t stand, I can’t sit. I had to ask to be shown to a proper chair like a great aunt. We filled in forms and were told they were oversubscribed. We needed to take a test and if we passed that, an interview. Isn’t this government’s funding policy great. A course is oversubscribed so…turn people away. Whatever you do DON’T put on another course.

I arrived to take the test and again there was nowhere to sit and I had to ask. They wheeled out a huge chair that had a sign over it with an arrow pointing at my head saying BLOODY NUISANCE. I sat on it and ignored the sign. We were directed to our test room and another lady with a walking frame was left at the back. She was audibly embarrassed so I strolled along beside her chatting to make her feel less so, making me last to arrive. I explained I needed the bathroom, was nodded at and went as quickly as I could. I got back and was shown a seat but before i could even take off my coat he said ‘turn over your paper’. I pulled him over and said ‘um, I need extra time. I have a problem with writing, because of my hand.’ He said ‘I WISH you’d told me SOONER’. Hm, like when?Perhaps I should have texted him from the loo. He stood looking indecisive for a few minutes until I said ‘The longer it takes you decide the more time I lose anyway thereby making me more disadavantaged’. I begrudgingly received an extra 10mins, but at the end of the normal time he looked at my paper and said that he could see that I don’t need more time so I could stop with everyone else.  I was so disgusted I agreed and handed my paper in without making my writing more legible, which was what i needed that time for.

I left the college feeling pretty invisible, no other word for it. I was made to feel different by another person’s indifference to my disability. I wasn’t asking for cotton wool, just a fair chance. I was determined that it wouldn’t happen again. It did.

Tonight I had my interview and they spent half of it asking me if i felt I could meet the learning outcomes of the course given my health problems. ie are you worth our effort? are you worth a place on this course? will you spoil our success rates? (how’s that for a multi-part question?) I had to fight my corner until I finally said, ‘I will not be refused a place on the basis of my disability’ to which a horrified face stared back at me. ‘oh no, there are a number of reasons why a person might be turned down, we just meant how would you feel if you couldn’t achieve the 80% attendance rate?’ Much like the rest of the class would I imagine. Shouldn’t they actually be asking me ‘how would we best support you in ensuring you are not disadvantaged?’ or how about ‘let us know if you’re ill and we’ll work it out’. All of the above.

They looked at me for further reassurance. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, the penny dropped and they finally did say ‘if you are ill we could possibly arrange extra tutorials, but you might have to accept that if you have a long period of illness a deferment might be necessary but would be possible’, but it really was a long time coming . I looked at them and they looked up at the neon LIABILITY sign over my head and said they’d get back to me. I left feeling invisible again.

As it turns out they’ve accepted me on the course. I knew they would. My folder was great (it said so in the comments, if not on any of my overhead signs) and they realised I might make a fuss if they turned me down without good cause. I now have to get higher marks than anyone else to prove to myself that they didn’t just take me on out of fear.

I was going to become a counsellor for families of prisoners and offenders. I was going to do it to give people a chance to break the cycle. Now I can see that what I need to do is counsel people to enable themselves, so they can see past the boundaries and labels other people give them and they give themselves, so that they can become visible.

(sorry if that was a big maggoty dog turd of a post but I had something to say, and well, this is the pooch poop dumping ground).

Boys

Friday, September 17th, 2010

5yo: I’m going to chase after boys with my lips like this *purses lips for a kiss*, they run away…

me: I can imagine

16yo: We’re not at that stage in our relationship

me: Well just make sure it’s right for you (internally) thank christ for that!

19yo: I’m going to get drunk every night of freshers week

me: Think of your liver

19yo: You think of my liver

22yo: I’m getting a tattoo, on my back, with my nan and grandad’s names on

me: That’s lovely (internally) no names, no names ohhhh no names *mental note: you didn’t phone your dad and tell him*

Birmingham and I

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010


This is what you get when you put me to bed with a laptop.

I used to live in a beautiful little welsh valley town with a population of just under 3,500 which swelled to over 40,000 during the summer months. It was a town where 95% of the population is white and about 60% of the population is middle-class with the kind of lifestyle within the working classes that mirrors a few Enid Blyton/Viz stories (depending on your age and alcohol intake). My happiest memories were watching fish jump out of the river, sliding down the mountain into the bracken on pieces of cardboard, then eating my squashed white bread and jam butties and being in ‘clubs’ which were basically corners of someone’s dad’s shed, which we earned by mowing the lawn or picking up leaves. My brother’s favourite moments were catching the fish, punching me in the arm and throwing darts at my Sindy dolls.  Yes, it was nearly perfect (and we were the poor(ish) people).

In the next picture my brother kicks me

In fact, it was so perfect that when I grew up and got married, I determined I’d give my family the same kind of upbringing. I use the term ‘grew up’ loosely because I actually, stupidly, got married at 18 – not pregnant and no one tried to stop me! I had three kids and sadly divorced. I say sadly because although I am happily remarried now I feel that if I had understood life more I may have made more effort to make things work. I was not properly tooled up for the task at hand. Fortunately, neither myself nor my exhusband are total arses and we continue to have a pretty great relationship (this means I don’t call him a dick and he doesn’t call me a bitch – to our faces) and he’s a wonderful father to our three kids.  I stayed where I was, giving the kids the best I could afford, which wasn’t much but it was my best and eventually bumped into Beardieboy on the Internet one night, talking about music. It turned out we’d both performed on virtually the same circuit. We got on like a house on fire. This means we were happy chatting without the need to jump each others bones. It was all good. We started talking on the phone and eventually arranged to meet…

I’m going to skip the bit where we jumped each others bones, got sprogged up, got a business and then decided to get married. Maybe that’s for another day. Suffice it to say we did do that and then tried to sell the house in wales to move here. This is the house that I lived in for 20 years and raised 4 children in. By the time we’d sold it I was a heap of nerves, I was moving to a polluted pit of overpopulated, underfunded greyness and I was leaving my friends, family and fresh air behind. I was horrified, I questioned what kind of fruit-loop I must be. I photographed every inch of my house as if I’d never taken any photographs within the walls before. They basically led me weeping from my empty home and I cried the entire way to Birmingham.

A close up would show teardrops on the carpet.

A close up would show teardrops on the carpet.

I arrived, I moved in, unpacked and hated it. I hated you lot. You were all rude, all pushing and shoving, all in a  hurry, all didn’t care. I couldn’t believe how hung up on colour and culture you all were. I couldn’t get over how you all defined yourselves by these things and not by your individual nature. I was confused. I was Welsh yes, but mainly I was me, a creative being, frustrated by daft barriers of my own making, a mother and a musician and someone who was never happier than when feeding and comforting others. That’s it. I arrived here to find complex characterisations of people, by themselves and each other. People who defined their person by the fact that they were white Muslim, Pakistani Muslim, Irish catholic, black, Somalian black/Muslim, Sikh, white, Chinese, etc, etc. I was no longer surrounded by Johnny Saw (carpenter), Maggie who makes pots, Pete the Milk, Joanie Bigmouth (yes it’s true, she was the local fishwife, god love her). Suddenly I was surrounded by people who defined themselves by their religion or colour and I was confused. I didn’t know where I fit in, I didn’t know any welsh people,  I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t introduced to my by Beardieboy. I did know some musicians by this means, but it’s hard to find common ground with people who are as close to Napalm Death as you are to Alanis Morissette.

I remember the first time I took a stroll down City Road. I had my toddler in a buggy and I realised I couldn’t breathe such was the air pollution. I wept imagining what it was doing to my child’s lungs, came back and rummaged for an inhaler and never walked down that road with her again. The same happened when I went up Bearwood Road at home time. I couldn’t get over how dirty I was after a day shopping. The city is a dirty place. And the litter…don’t get me started on the litter. Cripes people, pick up some rubbish will you.

Our business ground to a halt overnight. I am not joking either. One day we were happily moving rich people from one big house to another, smiling and wrapping up their bone china, and the next day recession hit, and along with 10 other removals companies a week, we simply stopped working.  Fortunately we’re hardy buggers and Beardieboy immediately started driving HGV for the only growth business in the recession – Poundland. He’s never been out of work since, thankfully and I immediately got my job and was only out of work for the time it took to check I wasn’t a secret cat burglar.

I got my job working in the heart of public service, in the heart of the biggest court in Europe, in the heart of the second city and I loved it. I don’t talk about it, it’s my job. I do, however care about it. Through my job I’ve got to know the best and the worst or Birmingham, literally. I have learned about the driving forces behind city crime, community division, the risk of falling into the educational abyss, cigarettes, whisky and wild wild women. I’ve learned how cultural identities help people create communities in what would otherwise be a heaving pit of humanity lacking any cohesion. I’ve come to see how it can be positive for some people to identify themselves in this way in the absence of ‘the village’ and how it can cause strife. I love the diversity in this city, in my office, amongst my friends. I always have enjoyed diversity on the level of personalities but now there’s an extra dimension within culture/religion/ethnicity.

I find the city’s architecture fascinating. It’s such a challenging city. So chopped up by trends and ages but somehow it works. It’s exciting and forward thinking. Brummies are not afraid of a challenge. Not just in building but in so many ways. If you don’t believe me take a look at http://www.justdoit.org to see how many different organisations need you to make a better Birmingham.

I saw all this and set about making a life for myself here. I set about finding people who valued their own individuality and other peoples’. I’ve used social media for its most perfect purpose. I’ve found people I have got to know, and people I am getting to know and have noticed people I’d like to get to know and you are probably one of them if you’re reading this (especially if you’ve read this far).

I’m back writing and singing and am at the point of ‘putting myself about’ along with Beardieboy with our ‘Less for Murder’ project. It’s a strong project. We like it and so do others. I’m hopeful.  I’m even more hopeful for my eldest daughter who is displaying the result of being brought up surrounded by musicians and has a fearsome untapped talent that is jumping up and down to be heard. I’m just as excited for my son who is about to begin reading for his degree at Birmingham City University and for my youngest, who will grow up  remembering nothing of her birthplace, other than as a location we visit to see friends and family. Only my eldest has shown no interest in the city, but that’s ok. I remember hating it when I arrived. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

I am still welsh in my heart, the valley will always be mine. I still gasp for fresh air and feel my skin is suffocated by the pollution but I am hopeful and excited by this city and I feel I have a place in it, not just a nameless, faceless body in an unremarkable home but I have a place being me, being constructive and creative and contributing. After two years I’m ready to start taking part.

Very Funny

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Beardieboy and I went out with our friends last Christmas and in the middle of drinking far too much pear cider than is good for either of us he declares to all that will listen that he is going to become a stand up comic. Everyone who does know him of course just grinned like pissed Cheshire cats because they know that whatever he wants to do he will do. He says that no one but me finds it hard to get along with him. I point out that it is very humorous to watch a friend jerking from one bizarre random thing to another and that it’s not quite so fun when you’re the one being dragged along by the jerking nerd beside you. And, in those circumstances, one might occasionally become a tad pissed off at being sidelined yet again for yet another crazy scheme. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find him exciting, interesting, and crazy but he’s equally an utter pain in the arse.

So, anyway…stand up comedy….

Yes, that’s how he started his first stand up comedy gig,  less than nine months after declaring his intention.  To be fair to him, in that time we’ve also done a number of music gigs for our joint project ‘Less for Murder’. Cutely named to elicit a chuckle from all those men and women who have been married 10 years or more and who feel like punching their delightful partners in the sternum every time they grin fakely at them over the Frosties.  We’ve split ourselves into so many different parts that we can barely remember what it’s like to be whole.

We did stop doing creative stuff for a while; for 3 and a half years to be precise. It was truly fucking miserable. In that time I became a compulsive crafter. I knitted, rag rugged, sewed and painted anything that wasn’t bolted down (and some things that were). Still, I felt no relief. I watched Beardieboy barely pick up a guitar and become a shadow of his former self. He was cold, distant and bereft of the things that made him who he really was and who he is is this amazing complex creature full of mystery and excitement.

We moved to Birmingham and knew we had to make changes or lose ourselves, and probably each other. We began tentatively writing music together and discovered that we worked really well together, which is mad really because we argue like absolute bitches.  Music will out, and so, it seems, will comedy.

So, anyway…stand up comedy…

He wrote his routine and practiced performing it like a man who actually wanted to be good at it. No bad thing really, because in the time between writing it and performing it, we’ve had the opportunity to see some utterly miserable stand up with notes written on hands and ill-considered topics. Anyway he practiced like he had OCD and when it came down to the moment of truth, he was very funny. Very bloody funny indeed. I cheered. I raved. But. But, inside I feel a little bit lost. What now? What if he becomes ‘a comedian’ can he be a comedian and be a musician? What happens to the music? What happens to me? Shouldn’t I be happy for him? Shouldn’t I cheer him on and put myself last? Can he be fulfilled and happy if he’s in a relationship with with someone who is not fulfilled or happy? Is it his responsibility to make me happy? It’s my responsibility to cheer him on, encourage him and fill his world with love.  Or at least I think it is. It’s my responsibility to show him I believe in him, to support and facilitate his creative outlet. Is it his responsibility to return the favour? We shall see. I’ve got a feeling my concerns will be put to the test. I have a funny feeling he’s going to be good at this comedy malarkey. Very bloody funny. Very bloody funny indeed.