DAY 12 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Make a much owed apology

When I put together my reverse advent list, I included this one for a good reason – Christmas is a good time to make amends. As we round up another year and reflect upon it with a view to starting the next with a clean sheet, it’s natural to think of those whom we’ve wronged, or feel wronged by, in some way.

God knows, there’s plenty of people on my list who I kind of thought I’d be writing about for this challenge;

Hubs always comes to mind, because he so frequently falls last in line behind the kids, paid work, the house and writing, and so rarely complains.

The kids, because I’m still ‘shouty mummy’ despite my best intentions.

My best buddy Anna, because I keep giving her well-meaning but unsolicited advice about her pregnancy in that horribly annoying way people do when they’ve lived through something and have an enormous brain dump of now surplus information to off-load.

My Mum, because she gets all my unmitigated neediness and angst in the way that is the curse of all mothers everywhere since time immemorial. (Doesn’t change the fact I leech energy out of her. And she has the biggest, kindest heart and really deserves better from her adult daughter.)

I could go on.

But, to be honest, I’m still just at the *thinking about saying sorry* stage with all those, not really sure when the *right* window will present itself to say it in a meaningful way, rather than on the hop, without actions, insincere, hollow, let alone write to you all about it.

Because those sort of ‘on the hop’ apologies feel embarrassingly half-baked and naff. I guess that’s why so often they don’t get said at all, because we worry that saying sorry might make it worse, or seem like a convenient catch all, a let-off, all talk and no trousers.

Which is sad, because when it’s done properly – no if’s, but’s or maybe’s – sorry can be a powerful word. A generous word. A truly healing word.

In the event, none of this was an issue for the challenge because I didn’t end up needing to proactively select a person in my life to say sorry to today; as is increasingly the way with this reverse advent series, the home for my apology found me today instead.

It happened when I was at the doctors this morning, waiting for an appointment for my son; a young woman arrived, shoulders stooped, face blotchy from crying. She looked wrecked, not just physically, but emotionally. Her name was called and she went in for her appointment, reappearing five minutes later with a prescription but none the happier. And as she walked back through the waiting room, as through each step physically hurt, towards the onsite pharmacy, she let out a small but audible sob.

It was a crowded waiting room and everybody heard, but no one looked at her. They looked at the floor, at the clock, each other, but not at her.

Perhaps because – whatever the cause of her tears – everyone worried that an interjection and a ‘sorry’ from a stranger might seem naff, insincere, hollow.

Now, I’m no ‘Special Snowflake’ (and I’m actually even quite shy around strangers), so maybe it was a weird hangover from ‘Day 10 & 11’s random act of kindness’ challenge, but something made me go after her. Instinct told me she wanted a response. Not in an egotistical, or attention seeking way. Just a very human desire to have her pain acknowledged. I found her by the chairs in the corridor and took a deep breath;

ME: I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you ok?

HER: No. I don’t think I am, not really.

ME: [and here’s the gamble] What’s happened?

HER: I had a miscarriage last night.

ME: I’m so sorry.

HER: [holding herself] It hurts, you know? But don’t worry, it’s ok. I’m ok.

ME: It’s not ok, it’s really sad. I’ve had one too. It’s more common than we think, I think. But you wouldn’t know because of course, no one ever talks about it.

HER: I know. Its actually my third. [her bottom lip is trembling so by now I have my arm around her]. It’s actually a relief to say it. Otherwise it’s like it never happened. But something did happen. Something was there.

ME: Yes it did. I’m so, so sorry.

She crumpled in to tears as I hugged her, a total stranger, and she let me, right there in the small hall before the waiting room. I felt her cry quietly, deep tears of sadness, but also relief I think, the kind that comes when one human being recognises the suffering of another, and tries, imperfectly, clumsily, but humanly, to simply understand and connect.

After we part ways, I find myself reflecting on, of all things, a basketball named Wilson in the movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks.

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I think about the scene where Wilson – whom Tom has personified and fashioned a face for out of his bloody handprint – falls from the raft they hope to escape their island prison on and drifts hopelessly out to sea, out of reach, lost.

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Tom’s character yells “I’m sorry Wilson!” over and over, bereft because he has lost the mirror he created to his soul in a lonely universe, and guilty because he fears Wilson’s suffering. It’s one of the most moving scenes in the film for a reason, because it goes the the heart of the human condition;

We all want to be heard.

We all want our suffering acknowledged.

We all want to connect to something bigger than ourselves.

That’s what saying sorry is really about, isn’t it?

Perhaps it’s less about forensically apportioning or accepting blame for something, taking responsibility, a punishment, or whatever else we tell ourselves that so often prevents us from offering our apologies, even to our own long term detriment, and more about acknowledging, rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly (for this is subjective and proportional to the individual) the suffering of another.

It’s about empathy.

It’s about making the other person feel heard, and valuable to you, for all their flaws, and all yours too.

If we all considered the apologies we owe, or have the power to offer others, in this much more generous way, I wonder how many more would be made rather than rejected, avoided or indefinitely deferred, all because of ego? And how much more peace all sides would find as a result….

Sorry might well be the hardest word.

From a distance, it might seem naff, useless even.

But sometimes it is the only word we have to give. The only way to knock on the door, extend a hand, build a bridge.

Better to offer it – no if’s, but’s or maybe’s – than offer nothing at all and solider on in splendid isolation.

Because there’s never a right time, never a perfect word, never an easy answer. There is only a beginning, a first step, an olive branch. And arguably, a lot more listening than talking thereafter anyway….

Is there someone you know you need to say sorry to this Christmas?

Or maybe just someone who, if you can find the courage to put yourself out there, might find real solace in knowing they have your empathy and are not so afraid of their pain that you cannot reach out and say so?

Perhaps now is the time to dig deep and make the call, write, meet and say the words.

After all, if Tom can do it for Wilson, and I can do it for a stranger, then we can all do it for someone we really love.

There might just be a hug of relief waiting for you too.

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DAY 11 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Feed the birds this Winter

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The whole ethos behind undertaking this reverse advent was to promote kindness and spread a little Christmassy love in to the world.

But one of the most revealing ways we can judge whether we ourselves are kind people, and whether we’re raising kind little people, is in how we and they treat animals.

As Gandhi famously said;

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Caring for an animal is a great way to teach compassion, empathy and kindness and raise a less materialistic child. And I can’t think of a better time than Christmas, when we’re surrounded by a bloated degree of materialism, to do something positive to create a counterweight to that.

But not all of us can be pet owners so where can we start in teaching that if we’re not?

Feed the birds.

Especially in winter when food is scarce.

You don’t want to feed them rubbish like white bread that will fill their tiny tummies without nourishing them, or leave out things on the grass that might attract vermin so go for something effective and affordable like fat balls.

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A bag of 4 fat balls is a mere 40p at Wilkinsons. You don’t need a special hanger to put them in, just hook the net bags they come in on a branch or fence, and you’ll be doing your bit to cherish our feathered friends and modelling a valuable life lesson to your kids on the way.

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I’ll leave you with a lovely poem I came across recently that says it all about this simple act of goodness;

once
I saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water every day

she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character

he jumped into her hand
began to eat
she smiled

a woman holding
a small god

“Why I Feed The Birds” by Richard Vargas from Guernica, Revisited. © Press 53, 2014.

DAYS 9 & 10 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Let someone cut in ahead in a queue & Buy a stranger a coffee

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These two ended up combined hence the double post.

Well. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

Wrong!

This seemingly simple set of challenges actually felt quite hard!

Compared to the ‘task oriented’ ones like putting together a shoebox for the homeless, this involved being kind in a much more direct way. I would need to look the person in the eye, and presumably have to speak with them, even just a little, or as a minimum be at close quarters with them.

And this is Blighty after all. No one looks at anyone. We simply don’t do eye contact in England. Not on tube trains or buses or walking down the street. In Blighty, it’s taken as read that eye contact means you wish to fight the other person to the death, simply for sport, or, on a more optimistic note, shag them silly.

The British hate overt displays of emotion, public affection and even customer service. You know it’s true; we’re the only country in the world where people are instantly suspicious and defensive when a shop assistant asks if we ‘need any help today?‘, batting them back they way one might swat at a fly; the only country in Europe freaked out by babies who are breastfed in public; part of a strangely masochistic culture where ‘nice guys finish last’ in the dating stakes and something like not queuing is tantamount to the end of civilisation as we know it.

Random acts of friendliness and rule breaking, even when motivated by kindness, are likely to be viewed as highly irregular, and, quite frankly, weird. Let face it, it’s just not cricket.

Plus, we do like a moan here in Britain. If your average Brit went out and tripped over a bag of gold, you can bet he’d be straight on the blower to the council to complain about tripping hazards before he even stopped to consider his good fortune, all ‘Angry of Medway’ type thing.

So it was with this confusing stage in mind that I popped out this morning to Tesco with its trusty Costa self-service machine to set about completing these two challenges, feeling strangely awkward and embarrassed all the way. Eek.

Because I wanted to to do both things for someone who seemed like they needed a dose of goodwill to ripple their way, however small, I decided to wait until inspiration struck, until I ‘got a good vibe’ about a person and felt the time was right. Of course, all this loitering with intent around the coffee machine at Tesco made me feel even more like a weirdo.

And then, just like that, it happened.

A very grumpy looking youngish guy strode up with a heavy basket stuffed full of groceries. He shuffled on his feet, looking tetchy as the Costa machine pushed all his buttons by spluttering and eeking out my coffee like a old man with a dodgy prostate trying to pee.

I had a second cup out and waiting so I could also grab a take out one for Hubs as well who was back at home juggling his sanity and our two poorly cold-ridden monkeys. I saw him eyeing the second empty waiting cup with a grimace. I took a deep breath;

ME: Would you like to go next? It’s really annoying when people have two in a row to do, and it’s bit like watching a pot boil with this bloody machine.

GROUCHY MAN: Really?! That’s be brilliant, I’m in a massive rush and [nodding to the groceries] the missus is waiting for this lot. Actually, can I go and pay and then you can just pull it out when it’s done?

[Great, I thought, he’s smiling, he’s happy, success. And then this happened;]

OLD LADY WAITING BEHIND US BOTH FOR COFFEE: ‘pull it out when it’s done’?! That’s a bit rude!

ME: Jesus!

GROUCHY MAN: Yes!

OLD LADY: And you’re Jesus!

ME: What the?!

It was all slightly surreal, with lots of nervous laughter, but kind of lovely too, as we’d all broken that cardinal rule of Britishness and been jovial (with actual eye contact) with strangers, not to mention broken the queuing rule. But we did follow it all up with some typically rude British humour so I guess everything kind of balanced out.

Grouchy guy then strode off, paid for his stuff, came back for his coffee and left with a demonstrable spring in his step. That left me and the old lady to make small talk while I waited for my second coffee to finish.

OLD LADY: I can’t live without my daily coffee.

ME: Me either. My two kids are both poorly at the moment and I haven’t slept for days. If I didn’t have a caffeine shot I think I’d keel over! [more bad jokes, sorry].

OLD LADY: Oh, poor kiddies, and poor you. I can’t imagine the worry.

ME: Yes, it’s a worry, I had to take one of them to the out of hours GP at 4am the other night.

OLD LADY: See, I never had to deal with things like that. I didn’t manage to have any children of my own.
[brief, sad silence]
And Medway Hospital is so busy. I know because last year my mum was in there.

ME: Oh dear, was she ok?

OLD LADY: Yes thank goodness. Because she’s all I have you see.

My coffee finished making at that point and I think I said something about our Mums being precious that she agreed with before we said goodbye. As soon as I got around the aisle, I nipped up to the tills and nabbed the cashier;

ME: when the older lady with the short white hair gets to the til with her coffee, can you tell her it’s paid for? I’ll add it to my bill.

I hung around at the magazine aisle and her face was a picture when they told her. I can genuinely say it felt wonderful – making someone feel just a tiny bit lucky, getting their day off to a start where they feel that human nature is generally good, that they recognise themselves as good people worthy of some completely unconditional niceness, that people, strangers, can be kind. It was priceless.
As I left the store, I felt almost American levels of ‘have a nice day’ cheeriness!

But that just wouldn’t be cricket.

So I finished the challenge back at home by buying one last coffee (and possibly some cake and other bits) for someone else over that wonderful device known as t’interweb’;

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This voucher is for a very special lady named Rachel Pandey who has supported my little page and this reverse advent challenge with gusto, ploughing through my list quicker than me and with the kind of heart and enthusiasm you feel thankful exists out there on some days.

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We don’t know each and we have never met, so technically she is a stranger, but I want to send some Christmas love her way just the same – anybody who rises to a challenge like this deserves it. Merry Christmas Rachel, and thanks for inspiring me right back.

So ultimately, what have Days 9 & 10 taught me?

That sometimes it’s easier to do something big and one-off, than to be a little bit kinder generally every day. That’s something to work on, for most of us I imagine. Because like everything, those little day to day details really do matter and are often quietly forgotten or disregarded as unimportant.

But they are.

You might just change the whole course of someone’s day with them. It’s the ‘ripple effect’ I’ve been talking about all month, rather than the big noisy splash. Both have an important impact in their own ways, so give them both their dues. If you can’t donate blood, or afford to put a few shoe boxes together for the homeless (not everyone can), remember that you can spare a few extra smiles, or giving way at the lights, or maybe a £2 cup of coffee to go with your own.

It might not be cricket, but believe me, you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll bowl someone over just the very same.

Why not give it a try today?

DAY 8 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Help an enterprising Mum

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One of the best things about becoming a mum for the first time is that it has this curious knack of putting your regular life on the skids. (Alright, scrap that; decimating it.)

‘Best things?!’ I hear you cry spluttering your cold Mum tea on the carpet. ‘Say what?’

You heard right – having your regular life put on hold is totally one of THE best things that can happen as a result of becoming a Mum.

I know that sounds like madness.

After all, your regular life involved cool and fun stuff, like wine, parties, holidays, money and sex.

And your new life as a mum contains none of these (ok, maybe you still have the wine but definitely not the sex. Or the money. And the parties are pretty lame. Unless you count sitting pow wow style on the floor and clapping along to the duckie song as fun.)

So what exactly is so damned good about this enforced period of skint-dom, boredom and celibacy? (I’m obviously not going to focus on the baby cuddles here. Those really are good. Like, crack-adddictive-good).

I’ll tell you;

Reinvention

Being bored, broke and not spending your evenings shaving your legs or faffing with underwear that has actual straps rather than hammock style hoists, can be startling productive in terms of inspiration.

It also helps if you hated the ‘real’ job that went with your ‘real’ ‘before’ life (and most of us did. Hating your job is practically a fertility treatment).

I know tons of mums who’ve (in between their baby cuddles fix) made great use of their time out of the rat race, making successful businesses out of crafting hobbies, and inventively leveraging their new mummy networks; networks that can be much more diverse and rich than anything they would have found back in the office in the narrow verticals of a work place specialism.

I know first hand how productive this period can be.

Back when I was going out of my mind after the first full year at home with Kid A, feeling horribly unemployable, out of the loop and broke, to help me get my mojo back, my lovely hubs got me a writing course as Christmas gift.

And it quite literally changed my life.

Now I teach creative writing and freelance. It also gave me the confidence to start up this blog, something I’ve loved because it connected me to you lovely lot, to fellow parents on the journey. You know who you are, my fun and kind fellow mumming and dadding comrades! Yes you! You’ve all saved my sanity more than once by reading, sharing and laughing along with me, and I thank you for that from the very bottom of my heart…

And that’s partly why I’m doing this particular challenge. I’d like to repay some of the support and faith you’ve had in me and my own reinvention.

So, if you happen to be reading this on your phone as you feed a baby in a dark room, wondering when your
life is going to start again, the answer is NOW!!!

Below I’m going to tell you about some lovely Artisan Businesses run by fellow Mama’s, and at least in part born out of this time of reinvention that comes with the arrival of our babies. I hope they inspire you to get your own brand new, Enterprising Mum groove on and make 2017 the year to take some risks and try something new, just for you. Because who knows where it might take you?! (And if not, no worries, they’re also just bloody awesome places to shop online!)

These ladies inspire me because they’ve tapped in to that spirit of reinvention and risk, and they’ve run with it, juggling their kids, their homes, their relationships, and also for some, workplace jobs, all so they can live a slice of their truth and do what they’re truly great at and passionate about. Here they are;

– Salt Air Sea Glass @saltairseaglass

I LOVE this talented Mama’s jewellery! I’ve got several pieces by Erica now and am pretty addicted! From dreamy, delicate pieces evoking the shoreline from which they were lovingly beach combed, coupled with tiny fish and shell charms, to more chunky mystical pieces nestled in scrolling reams of silver, and even beautiful framed sea glass art, there’s something for everyone here – book mark this page!

– Bunting & Bows
@BuntingBows

Beth is incredibly talented, offering everything you can imagine in textile arts such as the most beautiful, artistic cushion covers depicting just about any scene you could want, from your home, to your wedding day, honeymoon destination, to whatever best captures your child’s likes and loves, to bespoke quilts, bunting and much more. She also makes gorgeous Christmas extras – textile gingerbread houses to treasure forever, personalised Santa’s letters complete with ornamental house keys and magic fairy glitter, as well as Santa sacks with names. She still has a few windows in her order book before Christmas so be quick!

– Amitaba Doodle
@amitabadoodle

If you have a little person who loves fairies or magic, then you need to get straight on to Amitaba Doodle’s Facebook page to check out her utterly divine and intricately hand crafted ‘Fairy Doors’. Amy is a Fimo artist and jewellery maker, sculpting lots of very pretty things out of it, from drop earrings that look like flowers, to Mexican Day of the Dead inspired necklaces! If you want something truly original that will be a talking point, hit her up!

– Stellen
@stellenuk

A newish page but some beautiful and show stopping jewellery and crafts available. Kate has a real talent for creating soft, chunky wearable pieces and also plant hangers, with everything made from cool vintage and surplus materials. Her stuff is quirky, artistic and totally unique. If you want to gift something truly original and a bit different this year, put Stellen at the top of the list.

All this to name but a few in a positively glittering constellation of talented Mama’s out there.

If they can harness a corner of the social media universe and make it pay, so can you. Next year, make it happen. and when you do, be sure to come back here and tell me all about it.

In the meantime, if you are mum running your own business from home, please feel free to link it in the comments section below this post on Facebook.

Being enterprising, damned hardworking and a multi-tasker extraordinaire should afford you some free advertising on me this Christmas at the very least!

Besides, I really need some Christmas pressie inspiration – hit me ladies, GO!!

DAY 7 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Book to give blood

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The decision to give blood (and at time same time, to join the bone marrow registry which you request at the time of donation) has been a long old emotional haul for me, mostly because when I think about it I feel three difficult things;

1. Afraid – because I don’t like needles. Or blood.
2. Responsible – because I have a rare blood type.
3. Guilty – because as a mixed race person I’m likely to be a rare tissue type too.

These 3 feelings also happen to be the exact same things I feel when I consider aspects of myself, and in particular, my racial background;

1. Afraid – because I’m mixed race and don’t always know how people feel about that.
2. Responsible – because I feel a duty to be more open about that.
3. Guilty – because I’m not more open about it (but more about that later).

And difficult feelings are the ones we all tend to avoid thinking about….

But with less than 1% of U.K. registered donors being mixed race, for me, the need to confront these two sets of issues (one a wider public health one, the other very personal and intimate) in a constructive way, feels increasingly deafening. Something that was compounded recently when I found out that the clock is ticking on the first; the age cut off for an ethnic minority bone marrow donor is actually 40. In a few short months I’m 39. For everyone else of a white European background, the cut off is even lower at just 30.

For me, even though doing this appeals to my moral compass generally, the decision to donate blood and potentially bone marrow (if I’m a match for someone) will always be inextricably bound up in my mixed race blood and heritage. And that prompted some much needed introspection around identity.

Basically, it’s time to face my fears.

All of them.

And maybe by doing this to help someone else, I can do something positive to help myself too?

Whatever your motivating factors, if you’re reading this and also considering donation, the time is very much NOW. You can read more about criteria such as age, ethnicity and health here;

https://www.anthonynolan.org/
(all donors must register before the age of 30)

And here;

http://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/bonemarrow/
(Will accept black, Asian and ethnic minority donors registering no later than the age of 40)

To begin with, the facts around blood cancers in the U.K. are sobering even before they are dissected by race and ethnicity.

On average, 70 people a day in the UK are diagnosed with a blood cancer. [2008 Incidence statistics from Cancer Research UK: non-Hodgkin lymphoma (11,861), leukaemia (7,700), multiple myeloma (4,516), Hodgkin lymphoma (1,730). Total blood cancers (25,807)].

That’s one person every 20 minutes.

Two thirds of UK patients won’t find a matching donor in their families. So they turn to places such as The Anthony Nolan Trust to find them an unrelated donor.

Currently, only 60% of patients can find the best possible match from a stranger, and this drops dramatically to 20.5% if you’re a patient from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background.

I can’t begin to imagine what this means to a mixed race person and their family, someone like this young Londoner, Lara, who months before her own shock cancer diagnosis had actually recognised this shortage and joined the marrow donor register herself;

https://www.anthonynolan.org/news/2016/01/09/match4lara-mixed-race-campaigner-spearheads-global-donor-appeal

Thankfully a donor was found for Lara (who is half Thai and half Italian), saving her life, but only after a world wide appeal that ended up adding 50,000 more people to the donor register, one of the biggest of its kind, and literally akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack.

http://www.camdennewjournal.com/match4lara-lara-home

I read her story and I thought – next time what if that needle is supposed to be me?

What if it’s a child? The same age as one of my two?

What if it’s me who needs the needle, and no one with the power to save my life has acted?

How would I feel depending on that but knowing I didn’t act for someone else either?

Isn’t it time I got past all my anxieties and did something?

Isn’t it time I did something to put my hand up as a mixed race person generally, instead of skirting around my identity, shying from it, awkward as hell?

Because I really have and it’s a big part of what led me to donating. Let me explain;

I’m half English and half Asian, but being as I popped out with white blonde hair (it’s brown now), a spattering of freckles and blue eyes as a baby, in the predominantly white South East of England, I’ve tended to just ride the wave of ease and anonymity in a crowd that looking white has afforded me. Trouble is I’ve always harboured a vague, nagging guilt and shame about that too.

Unlike some of my Asian friends or other members of my immediate and wider Asian family, I don’t have to face a daily grind of bigotry, starting with the throw away remarks that are expected to be treated as ‘harmless’ or ‘just words’, right up to the more serious stuff, like my pal S and her husband, who arrived at their new home in a posh neighbourhood on moving day with their two babies in tow, to a poster cellotaped to their front door telling them “F-off back” and inferring they were terrorists. Yes, nothing says “welcome to the neighbourhood, don’t be afraid to stop by for a cup of sugar” quite like that…

At primary school, I remember my Year 1 teacher threw all the brown kids on one table at the back of the room together, me included on account of my foreign surname. It was the early 80’s and times may well have changed, granted, but I recall it as an early taste of the kind of negative casual bias I would grow up around; a Sikh, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Farsi and me (who had no religion), all clumped together, our teacher assuming what? That we’d feel more comfortable? That we’d have nothing in common with the other kids? That we’d all speak the same language? Share a common culture? That we could spend our days discussing curry and the old country? We were 4!! We spoke English with our Medway accents, watched Danger Mouse avidly, ate oven chips and crisps and ten penny mixes like everyone else our age. We didn’t have much of a clue about religion and even if we did, we didn’t have a single faith in common between us (and I was raised without a faith!).

That kind of casual racism was always in the background, drip, drip, drip.

Was my life ever at risk? No.

Was I beaten up? No.

Did I lack friends of all backgrounds? No.

Did I do badly at school? No.

But I know people who were and did, and that series of small, negative events that I experienced became a bit like a splinter buried under a layer of thick skin; it slowly festered.

It made me anxious.

It left me intensely private on the one hand, to protect myself and my family from that minority of people (on both sides) who did not approve of us, but also desperate to express myself confidently on the other (which might explain why I like writing, communicating from a safe distance, and often anonymously)

I remember how at high school, white kids would whisper to me about brown kids in the class, calling them Paki’s and saying they ‘smelled bad’, forgetting that my Dad was as brown as a berry and Friday night was always curry night in our house.

As a self-conscious teen, I never knew where to look when things like that happened so I just mumbled and changed the subject.

In my twenties, if me and my sister – all black hair, green eyes and olive skin – went out for drink, we’d spend half the night defending our full-blooded sisterhood to the lads who, after getting the brush off, thought it was hilarious to make a “sorry love, but your dad’s the postman” joke. Or ten. Just. Drop. It. Already.

Then there was the time that I’d just started dating my now husband and we caught a train up to Cambridge to see a concert. On the way home a drunk white guy in the seat opposite started trying to talk to me, loudly, about “paki’s taking over”, about “dirty, filthy immigrants” sending the country “down the drain”. He kept badgering me for approval, calling me “love”, treating me as his racial and ideological kith and kin.

Every word felt like a dagger, because no one spoke up. I felt the weight and shame of inadvertently being able to hide behind the white skin that he’d viewed as an open invitation. My face felt like it was burning. I wanted to cry and felt under a very particular kind of personal pressure. Exposed.

I felt responsible for challenging that man, that for some reason, it was more my duty than anyone else’s to speak up. Maybe it was? I still don’t know. I still look back on my silence then and feel like the worst kind of Judas and fraud because I hid myself and let someone abuse my heritage to my face. The only positive was my future (white) husband didn’t. The grip of his hand over mine was iron and maybe outwardly he looked like he was wasting his time on a drunk idiot, but really he wasn’t. Really my husband to be was talking to me, not him, because he understood that what had happened went right to the heart of my identity, my weaknesses and my self-doubt. He told me many years later that he realised how much he loved me right then.

But I was afraid so I said nothing. And then, in a recurring theme, I felt bad. But secretly of course…

A few years later I was working in London for a large recruitment company and our team had sent a CV shortlist over to a world famous retailer owned by (ironically as it turns out) a world famous ‘Man Who Isn’t White’ (I’ll leave it at that). One of the CVs was of an Indian man, an excellent managerial candidate who was more than qualified. The HR Manager at the client side dutifully shuffled emails for us, forwarding our shortlist to the Hiring Manager who fired back this response;

[English Name #1] – yes
[English Name #2] – yes
[Indian Name #1] – Mr Curry Popadom – No

The HR Manager forwarded it straight to our team without reading it properly, clearly then realised and had a coronary, and immediately followed it up with three very blunt requests by email that we immediately delete it from our server or ‘jeopardise the client relationship’.

I showed my boss.

Unwilling to ‘jeopardise the relationship’ she asked me to ‘stop over reacting’ and ‘take a deep breath’ in the way only the truly condescending and ignorant can. Ignorant because she couldn’t imagine how it might feel to see it written in black and white (excuse the pun) that having a brown face or foreign name can invite such naked discrimination. Can put the skids on your career. Can leave you unfairly unemployed. Even if you were born here. She didn’t have to then wonder if jobs she’d never been selected for interview for were down to nothing more than the ethnicity her name implied.

But I did.

Because where I had been able to hide behind the colour of my skin, and hair and eyes, I couldn’t hide behind my Asian name.

I learned that money, not principles, and sometimes not even the law, talked loudest in the rat race. It made me hide even more.

And it fucking well hurt.

Some years later when I moved out to Australia, still working in recruitment, racism in the job market was rife. Working with businesses who wanted to appeal to an affluent white elite client or customer base, I quickly understood that many didn’t want to employ the influx of accented East Asians from China, however well qualified. I lost count of how many times clients asked for ‘a face that fits’, ‘home grown’, ‘well spoken’ or just brazenly said ‘no accents’. In a country literally built on immigrants and imported skills sets, it was hard work filling jobs with such an uphill battle to make the ratios work. Perhaps the clients I worked with were not all so selective in their social lives or privately, but at work, a significant number took a no bones approach and simply knuckled down to the bigoted corporate game. I fell back in to old ‘hiding’ habits by using my English married name for work ‘just in case’, and continued to float anonymously in this murky sea, still too afraid to speak up, my internal narrative of shame at my own apathy and lack of courage on an endless upward spiral.

And then my beloved brown-skinned, brown-eyed, handsome, wise Dad,
a Doctor with a philosopher’s heart and poets love of words, died.

I came home to roost, to finally settle
down and have babies. And to stop being afraid. If my babies have taught me anything, it’s to be stronger than I ever thought I could be.

If I wasn’t going to work in an office playing someone else’s game, hiding, ducking and diving, for the forseable future, then I would work on cultivating my own truth. On living authentically as me, comfortable in my hybrid skin. I would set that example to my kids. I would write, for me, and say whatever the hell I damned well liked! And I would speak up for myself and others. I would make my Dad proud.

I’m getting there.

Taking action today to give blood and join the marrow register is one of the most direct ways I feel I can stand up and be counted as a proud and positive mixed race person, and give something back to both the communities – Asian and White – I belong to.

As for giving blood – well that’s universal. Whatever our names, the colour of our skin, wherever we hail from, we are all made of, and dependent on, the same flesh and blood. There is always common ground between us all and turns out it’s red…

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that great human leveller than to give the gift of my own to a fellow man, woman or child in need. It gives me hope, makes me smile, happy to step out of hiding.

Will you do the same?

To sign up to give blood, generate a unique donor reference number and find a donation venue to book in at near you, go to;

https://www.blood.co.uk/

Tell the blood donation team when you arrive if you wish to become a bone marrow donor too – they will take an extra blood sample for tissue typing.

If you’re healthy, under 30 and want to become a bone marrow donor, it’s a real responsibility so do your research here;

https://www.anthonynolan.org/

If, like me, you’re a black, Asian or ethnic minority individual, you can still donate up to age 40, to the following register rather than The Anthony Nolan Trust (though they will still be able to search your tissue type and contact you as all registers are shared);

http://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/bonemarrow/

And then give yourself a massive pat on the back! 😉

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DAY 6 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Write a poem and share it with someone I love

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Dear second born son,

Fair game, it’s true;

I loved another before I loved you.

And I gave that other,
(your Big Sis)

A rather different kind of Mother;

The ‘Me’ that was calm, who had patience and grace.

Who didn’t always need to race,

Through the stories and games and sweet baby chatter.

The ‘Me’ that worked hard to make each moment matter.

The ‘Me’ that came running at the mere hint of a cry,

No longer has free arms or steam left to try….

When you came along I had to drop the ball.

Had to stop making the order so tall.

Had to cut corners and admit some defeat.

Had to give up and just go to sleep.

I didn’t buy all new toys or even new clothes,

For the first three months you wore old baby gro’s.

And I no longer measured every little last thing,

Trusting instead that my instinct was king.

Was that lazy?

Crazy?

Or just plain bad?

I just know that I gave what I had…

But you grew and you thrived and you spoke just the same,

With or without the pointless blame game.

It didn’t matter to you in what order you’d came,

Because you knew no different,

And just ran in the pack.

Laughing and smiling, no complaint about lack.

It’s just that nagging guilt in the back of my mind,

That I’ve let you be second and somehow behind.

That I haven’t given all that I can,

To you, my darling, kind, little man.

But second though you are there is still good to be had.

You are always ‘the baby’ and Mummy’s less mad.

So if nothing else son, know at least this much is clear;

You are precious for being the last to be here.

Precious for being the last to be held,

The last tiny body around which I shall meld.

The last to be patted and rocked as you sleep.

The last dozing baby on whom I shall peep.

The last golden dream over which I shall weep.

The last of the treasured memories a mum gets to keep.

So next time you feel that my temper is worn,

Try to remember,

my sweet second born.

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DAY 5 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Put together a Women’s Refuge Shoebox

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As we get into the swing of the festive season, it’s easy to forget that for many people, Christmas can be a mixed bag.

On the one hand, it’s a time of gratitude, of giving and receiving, of joy and togetherness.

On the other, it’s a giant magnifying glass for our losses, for whatever, or whoever, is missing at our table.

For Women and Children who have fled domestic violence, often leaving with little more than the clothes they’re standing in, Christmas can compound the sense of trauma and loss.

Equally, it can be a particularly daunting to face such a ‘celebratory’ time if you are bereft, whether recently, or many years ago.

What do these two things have in common? Bear with me…

Earlier in the week, it was with a lump in my throat that I learned about a very special family, the Haynes, and the unimaginable loss they endured 8 years ago when their daughter Hattie died unexpectedly, on Christmas Night, aged just two.

After that awful night, each year at Christmas, Hattie’s family would now face reconciling their own tidal wave of grief with the added complication of its inextricable link with the festive hullabaloo, a time of overt joy and togetherness so terribly at odds with their horrendous loss.

Whilst there is no right or wrong way to grieve, Hattie’s family determined that they wanted to find a way to pay a positive tribute to her at this impossibly difficult time of year. Something that would reflect all the goodness a loved and happy child like Hattie would doubtless have sent forth in to the world. A way to remember her with hope and reclaim a stake in the magical spirit of Christmas in her honour.

From here Hattie’s mother Emma set up ‘Random Acts of Kindness in Memory of Hattie’, a Facebook group that has since garnered almost 3000 members, all of whom endeavour to conduct as many random acts of kindness (#RAOK) in December as they can, however big or small, #ForHattie.

https://m.facebook.com/groups/152587761881562/

They post their stories and hashtag them on the group’s main page, and it makes for a heart warming read; from the woman who paid for a night’s shelter for a homeless man, to another who anonymously bought a brand new PE kit for a poorer child without one at her daughter’s school, or the lady who spent £90 of Sainsbury’s points on an enormous foodbank donation, right the way through to the grassroots stuff such as the chap going through a hard time himself but who has vowed to smile at everyone he meets in a given day, each of them thinking of Hattie, inspired by the love she generated around her.

Other members of the group share stories of kindness they have heard or witnessed and found inspirational, hoping to encourage others to make similar acts and build a legacy of good from Hattie to the world. Emma herself continues to pay it forward too, recently donating two blank cheques that were raised for her to The Lullaby Trust – https://m.facebook.com/LullabyTrust/ – so that more can be done to ensure the safety of our babies as they sleep.

The ‘RAOK For Hattie’ page has no commercial ties, it exists simply to pull the good and the kind together in positive action, to create a ripple that will help put a sometimes cruel and unfair universe back in balance.

When I first contemplated Emma’s loss, I felt my reaction like a sledgehammer to the chest, and the sorrow I felt sat heavy in my gut. It unleashed that huge involuntary swell of love we all have for our children, so powerful that it takes our breath away, it overwhelms. In the loss of a child, I wondered, where on earth does that force, that huge mountain of love, go? How do you even begin contain it without being crushed from within? Can you ever see beyond it to the horizon again? How do you carry the enormity of it and keep putting one foot in front of the other, as Emma has had to do for her remaining children?

Perhaps the answer, so clear in the #RAOK #ForHattie movement, is that you don’t.

Perhaps you find the courage to set that love free.

To pay it forward.

To transform it.

To share it with others.

And in doing so, rise from tragedy, in the kind of way that can move mountains and reveal the dawn instead.

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Thinking of Emma and Hattie and their family, and the generous, humbling spirit in which they have done exactly this, this much is clear;

Love never dies.

In Hattie’s memory, I have donated 5 Christmas gift boxes for children (1 x aged 2-3 courtesy of The Whiteman Family, and 4 x aged 8 – 12), and 2 for women, to a women and children’s refuge for victims of domestic violence.

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I love the idea that Hattie’s memory is helping bring smiles to these traumatised families at Christmas. This was done through a lovely Maidstone based organisation named ‘Make a Child Smile’ who can be found on Facebook here;

https://m.facebook.com/makeachildsmile121/

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They are still collecting and have 6 drop off venues in and around Maidstone;

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What can you do #ForHattie this December? Whatever you chose, tell Emma and her family about it, and keep sharing Hattie’s light.

DAY 4 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Buy a lottery ticket for a friend

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I hate writing and sending Christmas cards.

There, I said it.

I didn’t ‘forget’, they weren’t ‘lost in the post’ and no, I didn’t ‘run out of time’.

Call me a Scrooge and I know not everyone will agree, but I just find the whole exercise a wee bit bloated for what it actually delivers – it’s so much trouble buying cards, stamps (which are horrendously expensive) and then posting 30 of the damned things, when (due to time constraints, an aching pen hand, and a mental block about what to write to people you can’t be arsed to meet or phone all year), they usually end up looking something like this;

Pete

Season’s Greetings! 

Y x

So the truth is I don’t really send cards anymore, not unless I’m prepared to write something meaningful or personal in one, and make it more than either a guilt-poking or guilt-allaying, paper exercise. I’d rather phone/meet/write a letter or simply give that lump sum of money and time to charity.

So this year, in the spirit of my reverse advent challenge, I am sending only two, each containing a letter and a lottery ticket, and focusing on quality over quantity – one to my friend K, and one to my other friend J.

K and I have had intertwined lives over the last 6 years and have kids at school together, but are not close friends. I admire her and always get a good vibe about her. She’s kind and honest and decent, and a lovely mum. Just recently she completed a nursing degree after studying part time around raising her son. She’s also moved house and area through a tough and nerve wracking pregnancy. But you really wouldn’t know it. She always asks how others are and takes a sincere interest, she doesn’t boast about her achievements, and I’ve never really heard her complain about anything or anyone. She’s super kind hearted and I want to send her something to say I’m glad we’re still in the same orbit, congrats on her degree, and generally post some unexpected Christmas love her way.

J is a good friend but we are ships passing in the night, always meaning to catch up but busily getting bogged down in our hectic lives which sadly don’t overlap. We don’t have kids at the same school, and live on opposite sides of a river connected by half a mile of bridge ushering half a ton of perpetual rush hour traffic across it. It feels like we may as well be in different countries at times. But I adore her, and she’s having a crap time at the moment with work and the terrible two’s. I want her to know I’m thinking of her and that she deserves her luck to change.

So here go the letters, plus lottery tickets. Wish them luck guys.

LETTER 1

“…..Dear K

Do you remember when we first met 6 years ago at the baby weighing clinic, two green, rookie Mums finding our feet? And how our HV said we should meet up? And we did a few times as we muddled our way through our first babies and the juggling act of keeping them alive and hanging on to our marbles. You were so lovely and kind and we got on well, but then, as seems to happen to loads of people, the first year of their lives flew by and once we were away from the structure of children centres and activities, we drifted apart.

Chalking it up to life, I didn’t think too much about it until out of the blue, our children ended up starting school in the same reception class together a year ago. And here we are, once again walking the latest leg of the journey together.

Except in that time, you’ve packed a Nursing degree between the sleepless nights, passing with flying colour’s just recently, all the while going through a difficult pregnancy and settling your beautiful son in to Year 1 of school.

You’re still exactly as I remember you, so warm and kind, but you’re so much more than that too. From the perspective of someone who has known you at two different points in your life with a gap in between, you’re also now this incredibly focused and hard working woman, making things happen, organised, strong, capable, achieving great things. Your son has an amazing role model and there’s nothing remotely rookie about you these days, lady!

I just wanted to say I’m glad our paths crossed again, you’re an inspiration, to me and many other mums I’m sure.

Included is – fingers crossed – a little bit of Christmas magic from us to you.

Love

Y xxx….”

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LETTER 2

“…..Hey J

I know you’ve been having a bit of a shitter lately. It sucks juggling work and our crazy 2 year olds!

Especially when it feels like;

A) You’ve been doing the ‘little terror’ years since forever because we both had a bigger gap than most of our friends between babies.

And

B) It feels like everyone we know has ‘moved on’ with their scarily mature and articulate school-aged brood, going on foreign holidays again and out for dinner, whilst we have the years of potty training, wet beds, tantrums and separation anxiety still to come.

Crap.

But I just wanted to say;

I bloody love you.

Things will change.

Everything will work out.

It always does.

You’re one of the funniest people I know, and you’re not too smug or proud or defensive or competitive to say you struggle sometimes.

You also have the most beautiful kitchen, make awesome cake, and love your friends to the ends of the earth.

I just wanted to send you this as a little way of saying your luck deserves to change and that I’m thinking of you, even if it’s a nightmare to coordinate schedules to meet up just now.

Merry Christmas buddy

Love

Y xxx…..”

Hope this blog inspires some experimentation with a less is more approach – why not send a friend some unexpected Love, Luck and Light in the post this Christmas too?

DAY 3 – Reverse Advent Calendar

Give Someone something made with my own hands.

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If you follow my blog then you’ll know I’m a super-reluctant crafter with my kids.

It wasn’t always this way.

I went in all guns blazing for crafting and messy play with my first when she was a toddler 6 years ago. I was all “show me the crafting” like I’d been sniffing the crazy glue. I’d jacked in my job to be a stay at home mum and godamnit I was going to ace my new role. I was gonna do it all and become the new Kath Kidson. Sure enough, that level of enthusiastic delirium didn’t last long and I now look back at that strange time with a mixture of awe and horror. A time when I willingly sat in cold church halls with strangers, on the floor, while my daughter played in bowls of flour and sawdust and chewed dusty pine cones (what the actual f…?!). Talk about the baptism of the uninitiated. I thought you had to do that stuff to be a *good* mum. You know, an enriching mum, lovingly nurturing their flowering unsullied little souls. Now I know they don’t remember jack and yet I’m still recovering from the residual trauma and a newly acquired anaphylactic allergy to glitter. ‘A sensory delight’ they said as I watched Kid A wipe paint in her eyes and eat hairy pasta off the floor.

It’s safe to say I was relieved when nursery came around and took the creative reins off me. What I didn’t see, I didn’t need to clean. Awesome!

I managed to solider on with home baking for 4 more years of birthdays before I finally conceded defeat on that front too and started buying £10 themed cakes from Asda, because as the requests got more complicated over the years (“Can I have The Paw Patrol flying a plane over the suspension bridge in Adventure Bay, Mum?”) why wouldn’t you?

By the time my son came along the sad fact was that between the school run and nursery run, work and the house, I just didn’t have time, so this particular challenge on my reverse advent calendar kind of gave me the heebeejeebees.

I decided it had to be four simple things;

1. Easy
2. Quick
3. Fun for the kids
4. In the spirit of being neighbourly

We chose this simple option; home made fudge to give to the elderly couple next door.

We made it using a quarter of a small tin of condensed milk (£1), one bag of cooking chocolate drops (£1), and a 1 minute blast in the microwave to melt and mix. We spooned it in to a silicone baking tray we got at The Range(£3), and stuck it in the freezer for an hour to chill.

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Next we popped the fudge out, decorated it with white chocolate stars (£1) put it in a pretty cake box from Asda (£2 for two) and wrapped it with “made with love” ribbon from Wilkinsons (£2). As we headed out to next doors together with Kid A carrying her and Kid B’s makes, it was lovely to see she was so visibly thrilled to be able to “give” for a change.

KID A: I loved doing making with you Mama. We haven’t done that for ages. Can I give the box? And can I explain how we made it? I really liked that milk stuff it was made with too. Can I lick the bowl when we get home? And it’s good to be kind, especially at Christmas. Even if can’t say “revert avent calendar” properly.

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The reason we chose our neighbour’s was because these days very few of us ‘love our neighbour’ – we’re civil, amenable, but that sense of being ‘part of a street’ that people once felt is a vanishing concept. Maybe it’s all the ‘Call The Midwife’, I’ve been watching and the thought of an upcoming Christmas Special, but that feels kind of sad.

Loneliness is the modern disease, especially around the holidays too when emotions run high. It’s a real killer. Just check out the stats.

Our neighbour’s are retired, and very kindly but I think on both sides of the fence, we worry about appearing weird or overbearing by popping over. But Christmas is a great excuse to do exactly that. On the few occasions that I’ve chatted to the husband in passing, he’s always warm and welcoming. And once, when I was pregnant with Kid B and living in a building site as we renovated in the middle of winter, he ran round and untangled some torn builders tarp that was threatening to pull the power line to my house down. In the middle of a rain storm, in the dark. I remember crying like a baby as I thanked him, a big hormonal train wreck, while he patted my arm like a true English gentleman, and yet we’ve remained at a politely British arms length of nods and smiles ever since. I wonder how retirement is suiting them? If they ever get lonely? If they’d feel they could pop in if they were the ones that needed help next time, or even just for a cup of sugar and a chat? Remembering that day in the rain storm I realise that I’d like to make the effort so they definitely feel they can.

So at 7pm, me and Kid A trotted across and explained the reverse advent we were doing and how we wanted to do something personal to be more neighbourly. She sat and chatted with them for ten minutes, full of beans about fudge and Christmas and kindness, and discovered that she and the husband both support West Ham. She went home with a spring of pride in her step, the kind you get when you’ve realised you can make a friend, be generous, contribute and raise a smile. And I felt we’d done something truly enriching together and worth a messy kitchen. And let me tell you, it tasted as sweet as any fudge could ever hope to be.

DAY 2 – Reverse Advent Calendar

DAY 2 – donate to a foodbank

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I’ll be honest – the first thing I thought when I decided to tackle this one was how much the straight forwardness of giving via my local supermarket appealed to me.

‘Yay! What could be easier!’ I thought with blithe glee, ready to swallow a big ol’ dose of the ‘feel goods’, (because, well, you know, human nature :)).

After all, I hit Tesco almost daily for my family, for anything from groceries, to chocolate treats, coffee, or a cheeky bottle of wine. All I have to do is drop an extra bag of groceries in to a trolley on the way out. Piece of cake (oh the irony). But then I read that back and thought how hideously privileged it sounded, and if there’s one thing I want this reverse advent calendar to be, it’s an exercise in increasing social consciousness, because I believe that makes us kinder; facing up to the good, the bad and the ugly out there beyond the little bubbles of our lives.

So what does that mean for the challenge?

To me, it means that I have to take the time to try to understand the bigger picture behind what I’m doing, why and for who, as much as how to go about it (which, lets face it, isn’t exactly the Krypton Factor when it comes to donating groceries – you guys don’t need a whole blog about browsing the aisles in search of powdered milk whilst stuffing the 2 year old with chocolate buttons).

I started my quest to understand more about our country’s ‘hunger crisis’ with an organisation at the front line, the Trussell Trust (www.trusselltrust.org) who run 428 of the 500 odd foodbanks nationwide. Trussell Trust are founded on the Christian principles of charity and loving thy neighbour, and partner with Tesco, Fareshare and a host of other big businesses to make collections from public donations in their partner stores, which in the case of Tesco is topped up by 20% (would be great if it was matched like for like but hey….)

Scratch beneath the surface of the foodbank story though and Trussell’s dominance of it, and there are some vocal quarters with far more first hand knowledge of the issues than me, who express their discomfort with the ‘Big Business’ connection, stuff I admit I never even began to consider when I set myself this challenge.

Yikes. I mean, why is nothing ever simple?!

Ultimately, I read what I could of both sides and I came to this conclusion;

One day I hope we will build a society where foodbanks aren’t necessary at all, but we’re not there yet. Not even close.

Or if they are necessary, a society where the tons of surplus food currently wasted by all the major supermarkets is simply donated freely by them without members of the public buying donations from them.

But the fact is we are nowhere near that level of idealism. Organisations like The Trussell Trust and their amazing staff work within that immediate reality with superb results on the ground, whatever the external economical and political machinations they may or may not be subject to; just ask the families that have, and still do, depend on them, and the cheery dedicated volunteers who stand around for hours encouraging people to give. The reviews from end users on their Facebook page are massive tear jerkers, stories of suffering, renewed hope and gratitude, and that’s where I want to focus. Families are hungry today through no fault of their own and politics is the last thing on their minds. Whatever your views, the Trussell Trust is, quite simply, the lifeline of the vast majority of them.

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I also chatted with the two wonderful Trussell Trust volunteers manning the fort at my local Tesco today as I completed the challenge. They walked me through the suggested Christmas ‘shopping list’, and their enthusiasm for giving something back to their community was pretty infectious; these people care, completely altruistically, and that’s very special. I was also shocked to find out from them that there are actually 9 foodbanks in my area alone. It’s quite a thought to consider that literally in the shadow of my relatively comfortable home in the South East, are hundreds of people, children included, fearing hunger. I left feeling positive about lending my support, and incidentally, completing the list took just 15 minutes and cost approx £10 – EASY.

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Until we can change society and our economic system as a whole, I’m confident this is a more than worthwhile way to make a meaningful difference this Christmas (and every day). Do it guys!

In addition to providing physical help (they distributed more than 500,000 three day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in the first half of 2016/17 – over 188,500 to children.), a jump on Trussell Trust’s web page back at home revealed that they also do an incredibly important job of measuring the detail – the numbers of people, and of children, on the breadline, where they live, the reasons why they can’t afford to eat, be it benefit cuts, changes and delays, ill health, low wages, domestic violence or something else. They provide an important, transparent picture of some of the most vulnerable in society; people who can’t afford to be anymore invisible than they already are; information that can hopefully empower bigger government and societal changes down the track. Especially important as the numbers reliant on emergency food continue to increase year on year.

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But whilst it’s extremely confronting to see this trend, and recognise that, beyond government, many of the other institutions that traditionally provided people with a safety net are clearly disappearing, the startling rise of the foodbank is not all doom and gloom.

Foodbanks are also an inspiring example of burgeoning grassroots social activism. Increasingly they provide a vital community hub and social glue in fragile neighbourhoods, a valuable common asset that is defended and nurtured by locals, for locals, with some even offering more than food – free legal clinics, activities for children, community gardens, toys to play with, a supportive constant in world of flux and insecurity.

This is one example of how “failing” communities can be mobilised; they need a heart. And so do we…

So next time you’re out food shopping, remember these key things;

– The number of people, a third of them currently children, using foodbanks is RISING. If you can give regularly, however little, do!

– EDUCATE. Using foodbanks isn’t ‘scrounging’ and there’s still a lot of stigma attached for those who do. In some of the worst areas, such as Birkenhead, foodbanks are providing a vital dam against social decay, working to strengthen communities who feel abandoned by the system, fostering a renewed sense of pride and moral values, and when push comes to shove, we ALL benefit from that.

– You can give more than food to these hubs; you could VOLUNTEER to help manage the flow of goods, funds, or provide specialised advice – unscrupulous landlords or employers have a lot to answer for! Personally, I’d rather local people did this for their own communities, from a place of altruism, personal investment and love, than see the DWP installed in foodbanks as has been touted by certain MPs. Because that sense of safe refuge (from politicised authorities) and grassroots community spirit will only continue to succeed and build something if local people volunteer. From community gardening, to shoebox appeals, fund raising, selling, distribution, debt and legal advice, find out what roles are available and where your skills fit here; https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/volunteer/

– REMEMBER the real people and issues behind foodbank reliance. The people they serve could be your neighbour’s. All sorts of people, living in all sorts of conditions can find themselves on hard times – a redundancy, an unexpected bill, sickness. Make it your business to know who is helping your community stay afloat, where and how and SHARE that information with others – you never know when someone you know, too proud to ask, might need it.
If you think someone needs help with food, welfare support and legal advice generally, you can also always point them in the direction of The Citizens Advice Bureau;
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/help-if-on-a-low-income/foodbanks-and-other-help-in-your-area/

For details of your nearest Trussell Trust foodbank, visit;
https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/
(Please note, you don’t have to use a Trussell Trust foodbank and indeed, they may not even be as local to your area as other independent ones, so don’t feel the ‘Tesco shop and drop off in store’ is the only option. You may prefer to source an independent foodbank through your local church, Community Centre or branch of The Salvation Army and deliver a food parcel direct there. Independent foodbanks will also have their own unique ways of doing things, (including potentially helping those who are still in need but don’t have food vouchers they can use.).

– And if, like me, you regularly just forget to grab those extra groceries and are sick of living with best intentions and fingers crossed, jump online and simply donate straight to The Trussell Trust here instead – money, groceries, tribute gifts, legacy, through your PAYE payroll, one off’s or regular, there are so many ways you can be part of a SOLUTION to hunger TODAY, all with just a few taps of your screen; https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/ways-to-give/

– TELL people what you’ve learned. When we know better, we can all do better.

Thanks for reading. Together the good will out.

This piece is for the Butlers, for Elizabeth, and for Freddie most of all. The ‘story’ about the ruined soup and the measles made a lasting impression on my 9 year old self. I will tell my children and remember you all. x