Thursday, August 31, 2006


Big thank you to Nosemonkey over at The Sharpener & Rach for nominating me! I feel somewhat out of place amongst such prestigious company.

Cheers guys! hx

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One London?

I spent three magical days playing with the sparkling ocean this week end. When the limitless time eventually ran out I squeezed a stolen moment from the empty tube. I stayed Monday night and rose before the birds to join the motorised sheep on their early morning trawl along the tarmac road which joins the smog to the sea.

As I struggled with my sleeping eyes the blanket that was the sky above shrank to a rag which I plucked from the air and wrapped up safely until I had a moment to find it again. My shimmering heart began to fade as I thought about the city ahead; the miniscule vistas and the tubes of steel burrowing their way through the earth transporting huddled commuters to their soulless desks.

But as the traffic became more dense and the sheep slowed to a crawl I started to peer into the capsules beside me. As I studied the passing faces a feeling of being surrounded by my familiar home started to awake. Much as the proximity of the sea fills me with a glowing warmth there is a sparseness in the uniform whiteness of the people who surround it that drains the depth out of it’s deep blue hue.

The faces I saw as I neared the metropolis filled me with a different kind of comfort. The monochrome was replaced with colour and energy, there was life in their diversity and I remembered what it was that kept drawing me back to my north London flat.

As I was driven along Piccadilly in a black London cab this afternoon a row of blinking banners flashed before my eyes. ‘One London’ they proclaimed in a typographic puzzle of black and red. The message was clear but I recoiled at its meaning. There is nothing ‘One’ about this city of ours and that is why it is so great.

I emerged from the tube this evening and wandered through my local streets along a well trodden route. The ‘Finsbury Bite’ announced it’s speciality in African and Caribbean food, across the road sat the ‘Delight Kebab House’ and firmly planted on the opposite corner was ‘The Happening Bagel Bakery’. They know their place, they understand their market and they carry out their trade side by side.

I do not want to live in a city where we are all ‘One’. I love the differences and the energy which is generated by their juxtapositions. Last week Ruth Kelly launched the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. When I walk through Finsbury Park (a former terrorist heartland) I see nothing but integration and cohesion as people mingle in the dusk.

Of course there are problems, but they are not new. We all have a natural distrust of what we don’t know. This city is divided by north and south as is this island we live on. The world is divided by east and west, rich and poor, black and white, catholic and protestant, dark brown and light brown, African and Caribbean, Muslim and Jewish, male and female; the divisions are exponential in their scale. They have always been there and they always will be. A banner is not going to obliterate the divides.

Fancy graphics and lip service commissions are not going to change our perception of each other. There is much to be done to achieve Kelly’s remit of ironing out the tensions created by our differences. That the tensions are there we cannot deny, but they are not the only reason for the extremism which is growing in this society. We are skimming the surface if we let ourselves believe that. The roots are deeper and far more complex than the Government want to admit.

If we are truly going to beat terrorism and extremism then we need to find the core. To do that we are going to have to dig deeper than any Government has done before. To get there we need to look at every ingredient of the foaming cocktail before us. Integration and cohesion are the herbs in the pot, the real meat is to be found with education and foreign policy.

We do not want this London of ours to be ‘One’ we are only asking that it is a place we can live without fear of young men blowing themselves up beside us.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ditching the dastardly anti-D’s

I have been taking anti depressants (Citalopram to be precise) since October last year. Following the bombings I carried on as normal for a couple of months, then finally fell apart in September. I was off work for 2 months and it was during this time that I eventually realised that help was required. It is a natural human instinct to resist help, to feel it is an admission of weakness and to, consequently, try to battle on alone. This was my scenario to a tee.

Fortunately, and somewhat fortuitously, an old university friend, who now lives in Malaysia, was in London at the time. We met for a drink and I happened to mention my lack of success in getting any psychological help from the NHS. The psychiatrist that my GP had referred me to told me I not suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She could tell this, she said, because PTSD tends to seriously disrupt your life. Apparently the fact that I had already been off work for a month and still did not feel able to return, was not disruptive enough to qualify. She said I was just anxious, and needed to practice deep breathing. Despite having no previous experience in this field I had a gnawing feeling that she was wrong.

My bosses were putting pressure on me to seek private help (whilst not offering to pay) but I was resisting strongly. I was worried that a private psychiatrist would dive in and start to analyse my entire life. “Why are you 38 and single?’ ‘What’s your relationship with your mother like?’ and so forth. I felt that it was, clearly, in their best interests to make you feel as messed up as possible so that you would continue to make appointments whilst lining their pockets. The NHS, I rationalised, had endless waiting lists and the pressure to get you sorted and out the door would ensure they only concentrated in the job in hand. This was my somewhat cynical and misguided train of thought at the time.

During her years at school in the UK some friends of her parent’s had acted as guardians to my Malaysian friend, they had all studied together at medical school. Mike had visited her whilst we were at University in Edinburgh and taken the two of us out to dinner. That evening of opulence shines out like a jewel amongst those sometimes freezing, sometimes starving, always drinking, student days. We picked our lobsters live from a tank and I tasted, for the first time, the sickly pleasure of sweetened wine with home- made pudding.

Some days after meeting my friend, she sent an email saying she hoped I didn’t mind but she had mentioned my situation to Mike. He had told her he knew just the man for the job, I really should talk to him she said. Later I called him and we fondly remembered that evening 20 (yikes!) years ago. He was calm, matter of fact and stood no nonsense. ‘You won’t get better on your own’ he told me. ‘With professional help, however, you will most definitely recover, but you do need to get some help, and an old friend of mine just happens to be the best in the business’. ‘I call him tomorrow’ he said ‘and make you an appointment’. And that was that, no questions, no choice, I was going.

It was the best chain of events which could have occurred under the circumstances, and Mike was right, I don’t think I would have made it here on my own. He was well briefed this shrink of mine, ‘I’m not going to ask you about your mother’ was his opening line, immediately I relaxed and settled into the space. He quickly diagnosed me with medium to severe PTSD, he still says it will be another 2 years before I am rid of it. After a couple of appointments he brought up the dreaded anti- D’s. I was wary but desperate. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of getting myself out of that darkened tunnel alone. My worry was that they would hinder my recovery. I thought they would numb my emotions in such a way that they would just be putting off the inevitable pain. Once I came off them, I thought, the terror and the fear would come flooding back.

My shrink assured me that this was not how they worked. The anti depressants may well numb my emotions, however my brain would continue to process the traumatic experience; eventually filing it into my memory along with other, less traumatic memories. This can be a long and painful process and the anti-D’s will just make it easier he told me.

They took, I think, about 3 months to kick in. I was hoping to be bouncing off the walls after a couple off weeks with a permanent grin plastered across my face. The affect, however, was extraordinarily subtle, and sometimes I wonder if they have done anything at all. I have certainly improved and am feeling inconceivably better. I have had no perceivable side affects. No nausea, vomiting, headaches, or tremors. My sleeping patterns were not great, but that could be put down to the trauma rather than the pills. I underwent a drastic down turn during the first few weeks of taking them. Days and nights of ‘what on earth is the point of my life? What have I achieved? Nothing!’ Again, that could have been my natural mood before the chemicals had started their work. I don’t believe my emotions have been particularly numbed, I have laughed myself to tears and cried myself there too.

Now I feel the time has come to see how I fare without them. It is a liberating whilst frightening prospect. I may plummet back into those blackened depths, or continue to skip between the days of my life. I am terrified of disappearing back underground, whilst at the same time desperate to live without them. I will not feel as if I have truly recovered until I am back to my medication free self.

I am now biting my 20mg pills in half every morning. I intend to do this for a month then throw in a few quarters along the way. I will let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 14, 2006

We are losing this 'war on terror'

The terror threat has, today, been reduced from ‘critical’ to severe. We are however to remember, says John Reid that the ‘change in the threat level does not mean that the threat has gone away’. Over these last few days of high alert the strength of the language used to describe the threat has increased faster than the threat itself. ‘Critical’ was replaced by ‘unprecedented’. This rapidly escalated to ‘unimaginable’. When still the public still failed to panic they threw in ‘apocalyptic’ for good measure.

I have been strangely unaffected by this scaremongering rhetoric. I thought, perhaps, that it was due to coming so close to the carnage caused on 7th July last year. I have experience the so called ‘apocalypse’ and have lived through months of terror in the aftermath. I KNOW that the threat has not gone away, and I know that it was there long before the raids on Wednesday night. What I was not clear about, last week, was whether others felt the same. It seems, to my relief, that they do. Friends have questioned the scale of the reaction. ‘Why’ asked one last week ‘haven’t they evacuated the airport?’ ‘Thousands of people’, she said ‘stranded at Heathrow. If I was a terrorist who knew they couldn’t get their bomb through security, I would just go and detonate it in the check-in hall’ She had a point. My brother’s first question to me when I saw him this week end was ‘do you think it’s real then?’. And all my mother was busy fretting about was the thought of her laptop getting damaged in the hold next time she traveled to the States.

I am desperately disappointed by the willingness of the mainstream media to pick up and run with this political over reaction. I am even more disappointed by the lack of caution in condemning the suspects. For that is what they are, at this stage, mere suspects. From a country who prides themselves on the right to a fair trial, the release of these men’s names, addresses, and even photographs, into the public realm is utterly unjustifiable. None have yet been charged. I am not arguing their innocence, and I hope, for the future of community relations in this country, and for the nations safety, that they have got the right men. But as yet we do not know and some members of the press should know better than to jump upon this conveniently placed bandwagon.

We are playing into the terrorists hand with this overblown scaremongering. They are seeking to divide and conquer and we are doing their job for them. The leaders of the Muslim community have written an open letter urging the Government to reassess their foreign policy. In response they are told that they are encouraging us to ‘give in’ to the terrorists. Not at all, I say. The Government, with their mantra of fear and panic, are dealing the trump card to Osama and his cronies. We are dividing ourselves, and it is going to be an endless rift to heal.

The thinking is sensible, but only if the circumstances are right. Of course we shouldn’t be cowered into changing our policies abroad by the threat of terror and murder. But this argument will only hold onto the slippery ground beneath if our foreign policy is right. If we were bringing freedom, democracy and a better way of life to the people of Iraq, if we were extinguishing the power of the Taliban and giving the citizens of Afghanistan control of their own land, if we were helping the fledgling Lebanese government to control its insurgency whilst negotiating with the Israelis to help them to do the same peacefully, then and only then could we stand our ground. But what we are doing, and supporting, is wrong. We are using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to carry on with this senseless destruction. The government are right, we should not change our foreign policy because of the threat of terrorism on our doorstep. We should change it because it is wrong. We are, in fact, sticking to our crazy guns because of the terrorists, and that is how they are winning this fight which is not a war.

When will Blair and Bush wake up to the reality that their might cannot win a phony war? You cannot fight an idea (credit to Rachel for that one, but I can’t put it better than her). Surely we should have learnt that by now. Iraq has become a monster which we cannot control, Afghanistan is going the same way, and the Israelis have failed in every possible stated mission in Lebanon. The Palestinians seem almost forgotten as they are slaughtered by their neighbours and their plight is at the very core of this catastrophe which has escalated beyond anyone’s control.

The only people winning at the moment are the terrorists and that makes me sick to the core.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

High alert

This morning's news will have put everyone on 'high alert' and not least the potential terrorists. Any news about terrorism, whether at home or abroad, always brings back emotions relating to 7th July for me.

As I listened to my radio through my duvet and my slumber (nursing a sore head from Bumblebee's leaving party!) it all sounded somewhat unreal. We know that the threat of terror is increasing, and we all know why, although the government refuses to admit it. That the terrorists are not targeting flights between London and France, for instance, must be some sort of a clue. It comforts me that plots are being foiled. After the de Menzes shooting and the Forest Gate fiasco they need to do something right.

There is a little alarm bell ringing inside my foggy head, though, and the fact that they 'need to do something right' might be at the root of it. Why is this particular raid such a big deal. There were the 'fertiliser bombers' who are currently on trial in the Old Bailey. They were, allegedly, targeting a London nightclub. I don't remember quite such overbearing drama about this arrest in the media, or increased security in west end clubs. Apparently the suspected plot was not planned for today. Better safe than sorry, I know, but why such phenomenally heightened security measures at airports today? They didn't just bust these guys last night out of the blue. I am certain they knew just as much yesterday as they do today. In order to arrest 21 people, a serious operation must have been in place for many months. I am not sure I understand why arresting them last night makes the chances of an attack so much higher today than it was yesterday.

John Reid has recently undertaken to announce when the security status in this country is increased, for our own safety, he says (or their own protection from criticism we may wonder?). I sense a whiff of 'the politics of fear' creeping in here. Things could not be worse in the middle east, international support for the stance of the UK & US on the conflict in Lebanon is at an all time low. Forest Gate has created ravines between the Muslim community and the rest of the population. What better diversion than a 'we told you so' plot suddenly emerging. 'Stop giving us a hard time and be afraid, be very afraid' seems to be the message coming through today. And why now?

Call me a cynic if you must (but god forbid ‘a conspiracy theorist). There is something fishy in the air today, if I am not mistaken there is more politics and spin at the heart of this story than public safety. I will, however, be delighted to be proven wrong.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Peace amidst the pain

Even when you think you're over it and moving on with a spring in your step, something can dull your spirits and bring you back down again. The news today that Damilola's killers have finally been convicted must be an unbearable relief to his family who have waited and suffered with such dignity. I pray it has brought them a small amount of peace amidst their pain.

I have written about Damilola before (here and here) as it is a story close to my heart. The news today will not bring him back but is, at least, the end of a journey. A time to reflect and look forward. It has opened the pain in my heart again and brought tears into my salty eyes. The senseless waste of a beautiful beaming boy. The two brothers only 12 and 13 at the time. What has happened in their lives, how are we letting children grow up with such hate and violence in their souls?

I hope you can now rest in peace Damilola.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Flowery tent – check

Dancing shoes – check
Suncream – check
Kagoul – check
Big Chill – here I come!


a taste...until my brain can engage enough to find the words to describe it.....

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What is going on?

It seems clear to me, a mere girl on the street, that things in the Middle East are not all they seem. It may appear, on the surface, that Israel are fighting against Hezbollah (and killing hundreds of innocent Lebanese in the process). On closer examination, it becomes apparent that although the fighters themselves originate from their host countries the weapons do not. Israeli people may be fighting Lebanese extremists, but it is American weapons which are trying to outdo their Iranian supplied counterparts.

What I am struggling to comprehend is what exactly this tells us. Are the US encouraging Israel to antagonize Hezbollah in the hope that Iran steps in and bingo they have an excuse to invade the bigger fish? Or do they truly believe that randomly firing missiles into Lebanon & killing hundreds of children will convince Hezbollah to pack up their weapons and go?

It is blatantly clear that Israel’s actions are never going to achieve their stated aim. So why are they doing it? Either they are stupid or they are lying about their motive.

The IRA were not persuaded to disarm by retaliatory violence. Ultimately they lost their homeland support and looked increasingly isolated. Israel’s actions appear to be doing exactly the opposite, they are in fact ramping up support for the extremists. So WHY are they causing this unforgivable death and destruction?


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A taste of Cowes

Last week end I went sailing in Cowes (see below pic) for the infamous regatta. It’s not really my scene, mingling with the yachties, but the Isle of Wight is somewhere I spent a large amount of my childhood. It is not, however, the people I go for, it is the freedom of taking to the water and throwing yourself at the mercy of the wind and salty sea.

Cowes is an experience which has to be seen to be believed; thousands of sails of all shapes and sizes glistening amongst the waves. The streets of this, normally sleepy town, are filled with sailing types and tourists. There is an atmosphere of carnival with stilted performers walking the winding streets and towering above the stag parties who sport French knickers on the backs of their T shirts.

Once on the water the atmosphere changes, the joviality is swallowed up by fiercely competitive natures. Some manifest their tension with silence, others with cursing which bounces off the surface of the ocean for all to hear. The boats start at 15 minute intervals, segmented by their shapes and sizes, known as ‘classes’ in the trade. From the jumble, a gaggle of identical boats gradually emerges in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron. As they traverse to and fro across the imaginary line, they are timing the distances, working out where they need to be when the 5 minute gun goes off. You start on the move, the faster the better, you have to time it to the second, as if you are over you have to go back.

They start into the wind which means zig zagging and swearing. Your right of way is defined by the angle of the wind relative to your direction of travel. If you have the advantage when a collision is imminent you holler at your opponent to ensure he understands that he has no choice but to scarper. If he doesn’t, you must avoid him, raise a red flag in protest and sit in a sweaty committee room for the rest of the afternoon debating the incident as if in a court of law. It is a serious business this competitive sailing.

I have always thought of myself as more of a cruiser, a fair weather sailor, travelling from port to port in sunny climes and savouring the local liquor on arrival. This week end, however, I found my competitive edge again. I revelled in the proximity of the other boats, the choppy water sluicing down my neck & the frenetic flapping of sails as we rapidly tacked to avoid (or not – but that’s another story involving an overnight pit stop and a change of mast!) an oncoming boat.

I tore myself away on Sunday night, leaving my dad and my brothers to fight for the honour of the family name. I sit at my desk and avidly check the results. I gaze at the daily photographs and I can smell the sea, hear the screams and feel that joyous rush of adrenaline through my veins. Today they won and I feel as if I have too.