The very act of walking as a woman…

This week has been a tough one for a lot of reasons. This year has been tough. So let me start by saying that I know my privilege.

I am white. I live in a country where I got a almost free university education. I have a job. I have a driving license. And I own a wee car.

I grew up in a city. Not in the suburbs but right in the city. Until I was 14, I was walking distance from a theatre, department stores, the city’s main train station, bus station, a football stadium, a waste disposal plant…

I was the child of a single parent.

My stair was generally full of lovely neighbours who had lived there for longer than I. An elderly couple across from us. Various people on the top floor. A retired lady and her adult daughter underneath us.

My friend and I first had a taste of ‘stranger danger’ when we were very young. Somewhere between 6 and 8. We were playing in a council car park on our street which was empty at weekends. A man offered us ‘sweets’ from a matchbox. We said no and ran to her house and told her Mum.

Police were regular visitors to our stair, as men…mostly ‘professionals’ we found out later who took fun after football games going down the streets and smashing car windows, slashing tyres. So our rusty fiesta would be one of the victims every few months. Until they caught about 30 of them in a furniture store car park along the road from us one night.

I remember being in primary school when a man was trying to beat up (we assumed his partner) after they got into a screaming argument. My Mum was about to call the police when the lesbian couple who lived in one of the flats in a stair along from us came out and pulled the guy off her in no time.

A new couple moved in above us at some point. They would often get drunk and we would hear them running about laughing. And then something would smash. The laughing would stop, and we would hear hitting and punching. The police would come. We would see black eyes hidden behind sunglasses.

My Mum remarried, and it meant we could move to a bigger place so my brothers wouldn’t have to sleep in the living room when they came to stay, and we could get a table big enough for all 5 of us to all sit around. And it meant we could move to a better school catchment area. However, to do this afforably we had to get a very much falling apart place that it took us 3 years as a family to refurbish (doing most of it ourselves). My first 2-3 years of high school I had a long walk to school.

I could take the shorter route, down the path through a park and on an old railway path with bushes often littered with glass bottles, glue and needles inside them. My Mum didn’t like me going that way (especially on winter mornings) because it was not busy.

So I took the longer route down a main road to a crossroads and up another main road to get to a park where it would be busy with 100s of students making their way to the high school on the other side. Until one morning a man came out from a car and asked if I would help him find a buzzer to a flat, telling me he couldn’t read the names on the buzzer as he had forgotten his glasses.

It was 8 am. It was daylight. Cars were going by. But there weren’t many people. The crossroads had some walled car parks where there were garages and bigger retail outlets (your electronics, carpet stores, tyre places) none of which were open yet.

He was persistent. There was no one else around.

I refused to go in the doorway kept my distance and watch on him and pretended to look and then walked as fast as I could without seeming like I was running away scared.

From that day on, unless I could meet a friend at the crossroads, I went along the pathway. It somehow felt safer even though it was legitimately exactly the kind of place you’d imagine being where a dead body might be found.

I travelled on my own on buses. Several times I stood in bus stops where people came to smash them up. One afternoon while travelling on a bus to a dance class a brick came through the window. The bus went through the red light district and I often saw the female sex workers, and skeezy men in the cars picking them up. I also learned where to sit on the bus and saw men leering and making inappropriate comments to other women, and sometimes to me.

I was taught what ‘saunas’ and ‘beauty salons’ were actually brothels so I knew not to go near them. I knew which pubs to keep a wide berth from. I was taught to dress ‘appropriately’. When we started going ‘up town’ our parents would give us money to share a taxi, and we would plan our route so that two of us would be pretty much dropped off together. We learned to take note of the taxi number. And when we got mobile phones, we would even call one of our Mums to tell them we were in the taxi, what the number of the taxi was and where we were and how long we’d be. So the driver would hear.

When I was 16 my friend who lived in the suburbs came to stay at my house after we’d been in town. It was Saturday night and the taxi queue was long so we decided to walk home…on the main roads. We were 15 minutes from my home when a man started following us, slightly drunk cat calling. My friend from the suburbs was freaking out, she had never experienced it. My Mum had taught me from a young age what to do. So we crossed the road, I knew which parts of the street had places we could more easily be dragged into. My friend started shrieking at him to leave us alone. I told her loudly how we were almost there at ‘XXXs house’ (we weren’t) and went to go into a residential street. I got my phone out to call the police. He shouted obscenities angry and went off in another different direction. My friend burst into tears.

When we went on holiday with her family, a man stood in the street at 3 pm in the afternoon masturbating in front of us, hands down his pants as we walked down the road to the beach.

One night her holiday boyfriend insisted his friend come to the local bar with us, and then his friend kissed me and groped at me. He was bigger than me and I couldn’t get him off me. My friend saw downed her drink and dragged me out of there. Then her boyfriend tried to come into our apartment. We were pretty sure the reason why. We didn’t let him, so he dumped her. A few nights later he had a new ‘girlfriend’.

On my 16th birthday it was the last day of term so I wore my new vest top and a small cardigan over the top. Lots of us didn’t bother wearing uniform on the last day of term and teachers rarely bothered to give us punishments on the last day. One of my male classmates called out ‘Whoa! you’ve got boobs!’ I looked at him. And just said ‘Yes, I’m a girl. I’ve had them for a while now’. He genuinely meant it as a compliment, and the reason for his shock was that usually I wore baggy blouses or an oversized school sweatshirts or oversized sports jackets over my uniform. A lot of my male friends ‘complained’ that I didn’t flaunt my ‘assets’ (which were sizable F cups by then).

At university, I lost track of how many men thought it was fine to grab onto my ass or start trying to put their hands up my top in night clubs. I was very lucky I had 3 ‘big brothers’ who looked out for me. My tall rugby player friend insisted on walking me to my friend’s 21st Hawaiian themed birthday from the bus stop before heading back to the student union bar because he was worried I might get attacked by someone in the 5 minute walk.

A year later, on Hallowe’en, while I was working in my job as a night club bartender, my friend got assaulted on the 2 minute walk from our flat to her flat right in front of a church. She managed to fight them off. One of the first questions my fellow staff asked when I explained why I was upset 2 days later was ‘Was she dressed in a costume?’ like it was her fault for dressing up for Hallowe’en.

A week earlier, the regional manager of the company that own the nightclub and 2 bars in the city came to visit and called me into the manager’s office. He asked if I could possible unbutton my uniform shirt more to help ‘sell more drinks’. I stood there in shock. I told him no. I stopped getting as many shifts, and I needed the money. So I’d agreed to cover Hallowe’en. I felt guilty that my friend had been assaulted. If I hadn’t agreed to do the Hallowe’en shift we would have been out together and my flatmate and I would have walked her to her flat, because the 2 of us could have walked back to the same flat after. I quit my job.

Within 6 weeks of my friend being attacked, a male friend got jumped while cycling through the city centre and assaulted. Another male friend got mugged. A female friend had someone jump in her car and held at knifepoint until she went to a cash machine to give him money.

When I got my first youth work job, we were given panic alarms.

One night a male friend got drunk so I made sure he got home safely. He tried to pull me into his bed. Thankfully yelling at him made him realise that his behaviour was inappropriate.

Twice men tried to get into my car while driving in city centres. Each time I had someone in the car with me so I felt less scared. I learned to make sure to lock the doors as soon as I got in, just in case.

For several years I’ve had to do regular trips to London for work. I’ve had my fair share in the evenings of interesting encounters most of them being anecdotes I laughed about but the only time I felt threatened was not at 9 pm from the guy who begged me for money as he had got so drunk he had lost his oyster card, it was at 6 pm on a summers evening when they had put me in a hotel outside of central london in a more residential area. Two guys started catcalling me and shouting offensive stuff at me because I had been visibly disgusted by them spitting in the street. They followed me until I pretended to go in a street towards a tube station that was thankfully busy it being the end of rush hour.

One night on a bus a man started cat calling a girl a little younger than me. She was visibly scared, and other passengers did nothing. He went to spit at her, and she moved shrieking. He then moved seats to regain his closeness. So I moved to sit on the aisle seat next to her window one. A female passenger started calling to the driver to do something. I told him to leave her alone and then a guy finally stood up when he started having a go at me, and Mr Skeezy man went to punch the guy in the face. Only then did the driver stop, pull over and call the police. I stayed with the girl as the driver and some passengers pulled the guy off the bus and the driver locked the doors as the man started kicking the door and windows of the bus yelling at the driver to let him back on. The girl was shaking and crying. She thanked me for moving to sit next to her.

One of my boyfriends thought it would be funny to pin me to the floor showing how he was stronger (ha, ha, ha) while I screamed at him to get off me and went into a panic attack. He laughed. Until I managed to get an arm out and slapped him across the face. Only then did he unpin me. He looked at me shocked and ran out. He made out that I’d attacked him and been violent. He manipulated me into apologising to him for not being able to take his ‘joke’.

Another boyfriend got mugged one night, having just moved to a new city. He got jumped from behind. He was too embarrassed to go to the police.

Most of the women I know who have been sexually abused, raped or sexually assaulted – it’s been by people they knew and not at night. They’ve told people and not been believed because ‘those boys/men’ are good people, and it’s been assumed they led said man/boy on.

I purposefully get to know my neighbours in the hope that if something happens to me or I go missing, they’d notice and help me be found. I keep my phone by my bed in case someone breaks in during the night so I can quickly phone the police.

I will go out of my way to give friends or colleagues a lift home when it’s dark outside.

During the times in my life when I’ve lived in less desirable neighbourhoods or had to walk home from somewhere alone at night, I’ve called a friend and given a loud running commentary sharing my location so if anyone is trying to sneak attack me they are aware that someone knows exactly where I am. And also so my friend can call 999 and tell the police exactly where Iast was.

I used to choose my bus routes carefully knowing which routes were more likely to have someone on the bus that would give me hassle or creep me out.

Remember my 3 big brothers at university? All 3 of them are straight men, and you know when I got sick one of them slept in my room to make sure I was ok. When some of my fellow halls mates got drunk (one of started stripping off in front of them and everyone else with her door wide open as she got changed into pyjamas one time), they never took advantage. They were respectful. And trust me, they saw us in mini skirts. They saw our underwear. Two of them did end up dating one each of my hall-mates. In fact one of them is now married to the ‘hall-mate’ they got to know through me. So I know that guys can control themselves and it has got squat to do with our bodies and what we wear.

You might notice that through these memories I’ve shared (and there are those I’ve chosen not to share) they’ve not all been female. Because the whole issue of violence and safety at night – there’s plenty of guys who are just as much at risk…from other guys. Especially if they are part of the LGBTQ+ or seen as ‘different’.

It starts at school, with a tolerance for teasing and bullying, it starts at home with us overhearing the opinions of parents as they judge others. It begins with us thinking it unacceptable for boys to like to dance, wear dresses or pink. It begins with expecting that boys will be messy and girls will be neat. It begins with us showing on TV that men are the ones we should listen to – our politicians are men. Our news readers. The sports games we show. Who has power in the courts. Who is policing our neighbourhoods. When our economy is built on the free labour of women, and our systems give more power to the perpetrators and leave victims wondering if they’d be better off with their abusers so at least they have food and shelter.

This did not begin with Sarah Everard.

And the Black Lives Matter movement did not begin with George Floyd.

But are you listening? Are you willing to piss off your mates by pulling them up when they laugh about a girls’ tits, or think that it’s ok to grope a woman on the dance floor, or try to show you the violent porn on their phone? Are you willing to not police what your daughter wears any more than you would your son, and not make jokes that your daughter can’t date until she’s 30 while high fiving your 15 year old for getting his first kiss? Will you show in your actions that learning how to clean a bathroom, do laundry, cook meals, wash dishes is the work of all genders. And will you not be afraid of your friend, child or family member being gay, bi, non-binary, trans…because love is just love. Love is caring. Will you believe someone when they report assault? Will you make sure the first question isn’t ‘what were they wearing/doing/why were they there?’ when you find out when someone is attacked but instead ask ‘why did the attacker think that was ok?’

Will you show up to ask your politicians why Breonna Taylor’s killers walked free? Why police thought it was ok to arrest women protesting without violence? Why it is that a domestic abuse victim has to leave, but the abuser gets to stay in their home?

Listen to the women. Listen to people who have experienced racism. Learn. Go research.

Then do the work. It’s going to be exhausting.

But with any luck, the next generation are going to be looking back at us saying how they can’t believe the attitudes, laws and policies we once had.

It will seem like madness.

Because it is.

My Year In Review: 2020

It seems like utter foolishness to do my annual ‘year in review’ post. But should I live more years, I imagine ‘future me’ would be annoyed if I left a year out of my tradition even during a global pandemic.

So here goes…

What, for you, was the high point of 2020? Were there any other highlights?

Moving back to my own home and having my own space. It’s funny actually to look back on what were highlights. Highlights have been doing the first part of the Shakespeare’s Way, a couple of successful events at work (in the midst of lots of lost income due to cancelled events), the day I got to walk in the park with my friends after months of not seeing anyone I knew in person, receiving fun post from friends far away, our Zoom ‘Qually’ night with the Guides, seeing the messages and pictures of my friends’ kids far away enjoying the bedtime stories I did for the 2.6 Challenge, the weekend that I finally got the sofa built, living room curtains hung & pictures on my walls thanks to my wonderful friend who came up to visit just before Aberdeen went back into lockdown.

What, for you, was the low point of 2020?

Losing our wonderful friend Tor when she died of ovarian cancer in May. My friend’s baby being diagnosed with cancer and then not being able to so much as hug my friend or her family or our other friends at the funeral. All the many times this year a loved one (friend or family) has been going through hell and they’ve either not being able to face talking over the phone or all you’ve been able to do is listen to their tears with the knowledge you can’t go physically near them. Oh, and Brexit. That was a fun addition.

Tell me some things you learned this year.

I learned who my friends were. I learned that I have more racist friends than I realised. I learned that small things can make things a little better. I learned that having my own home is key to my mental wellbeing. And I learned that I’d retained way more epidemiology knowledge that I thought from my undergraduate degree.

Who would be your “person of 2020”? It could be someone you know or a famous person who’s inspired you.

Professor Devi Sridhar.

It’s a shame the UK and Scottish Governments didn’t heed her advice and warnings.

What was the best film you saw this year?

I think way back in January I went to see Little Women which I loved. I’m not usually a fan of period dramas, but Greta Gerwig’s retelling I loved, and it led me to discovering more about Louisa May Alcott.

I also really liked Soul.

And what was the worst?

Spinster could have been really good, but just lacked some challenge and storytelling.

What was the best book you read?

It was really fun to do the 26 Bedtime Stories on facebook lives during the spring lockdown. I think The Book with No Pictures and A Bear Called Paddington were the most popular books.

The two best books I read were How Much Is A Girl Worth? by Rachael Denhollander and I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite.

What was the best TV show you watched?

It’s a three way tie between Brooklyn Nine Nine, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso.

What, for you, was the sporting highlight of 2020?

I mean it was the Olive and Mabel dog food eating race, right?

It is strange to think how I did not spend the summer glued to the Tokyo Olympics, or stay up late to follow the NCAAs on twitter in April, to watch probably one of the best Senior classes UCLA Gymnastics has ever had complete their college careers.

What was the best album or song you heard in 2020? What song did you play most?

I listened to the Clouds movie soundtrack and Joanna Newsom’s Divers album A LOT.

My most played song was ‘When the Morning Comes’ by Hall & Oates.

What is the podcast you’ve listen to most in 2020?

Zach and Donald kept me company with their ‘Fake Doctors, Real Friends‘ podcast for the first few months before Scottish Government allowed single people to form extended households.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

I hope that I will get to hug my friends, I hope to go see In The Heights at the cinema, I hope that I will be climbing Ben Nevis in June, I hope to get to smoosh my friends’ new babies and visit people. I hope to get a passport and be able to travel to visit friends and family in other parts of Europe.

To my far away friends…

I discovered this unfinished post in my drafts folder. To read it you might think it was written this year. But actually I think it was something I started writing in 2016. It is very strange to read, thinking how much of what I was feeling then, are emotions and frustrations I’ve had this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than attempt to finish it, I thought I’d just share as it is…unfinished.

IMG_3032

This picture always makes me feel so lucky, because of the incredible women who feature in it. Just so you know this is just a handful of the amazing women I get to call my friends. But these ones are pretty important.

This weekend has been an emotional one. If you know me ‘in real life’ you’ll likely have picked up from social media why. But needless to say I was getting emotional on the bus home from work on Saturday night texting one of the women in this picture. Two others I was praying for a lot that day. The other was in Italy, facebooking shared excitement for a friend of mine she only met on this one day.

The toughest part of the financial hardship of the last two years has been the separation from my far away friends. Being able to go to my friend’s wedding last weekend was only possible because we travelled the day I got paid, and my mother kindly lent me some money to pay for our accommodation. I have close friends in England, Italy, Nigeria, Senegal – not to mention family in Austria and Spain – and I haven’t been able to travel to see them. Partly this is because money is tight, and travelling isn’t very affordable. Partly it is because taking time off work means losing pay I can’t afford to pass on.

I am super grateful, that for the moment I seem to be coming out of this time. I am working more, and though it’s rare to get two days off in a row, I’m not going to be quite so anxious for renewing a bus pass or going to the supermarket. I may even be able to go to the opticians and get my eyes checked (the dentist will still be out of my price range).

I am super grateful for National Insurance and our not perfect, but great NHS. The NHS has taken care of my friend. And while failing sight or toothache may give me worry because those things don’t get covered by NHS (my eyesight is now so bad that I get a voucher but it doesn’t remotely cover the cost of glasses!) getting sick is unpleasant but I can access medical help. And they are looking after my friend right now.

My goodness though, it has broken my heart at times not being able to see my friends in person. I can’t count how many times friends have asked “when are you coming to see us?” and I’ve not been able to respond because I’ve just holding my phone crying. I missed my friends’ wedding this summer. I missed my friends’ son dedication which turned out to mean I missed meeting their son altogether. I missed my friend’s ordaination.

Dear 16 year old me…

Being back in lockdown, the mess with exam results has made me reflect a lot on how different my life might have been if I had been born 20 years later than I was. 10 years ago I wrote a letter to my 16 year old self as part of a blog project. I thought I would do that again as I’ve now lived another decade since writing that letter!

—–

Dear Blondish-Koala,

A not-so-brunette koala age 16.

You are 16, and life right now is really, really tough. You came to some major realisations in the last year, and through some challenges that a lot of your friends can barely imagine. And you know what, I’m looking back on you and I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for having the guts to speak up to teachers. I’m proud of you for taking control of your health now you are legally an adult (by the way, while we are on the subject, please do ask your new GP for your vaccination records. Your Mum hasn’t been keeping track of them properly so you haven’t had the vaccines she thinks you’ve had). And I’m proud of you for talking to A. back in June.

I know that at times you feel there’s no hope, feeling so trapped between trying to survive through the life you are living, and working your way towards the life you can see but never seem to be able to reach. You will come through. There will be healing on the other side. There is a purpose for you in this world. Choose to live your life unselfishly.

You are going to have so many opportunities in the next year…I know that you don’t want to go back to high school for another year. But seriously, make the most of it. Get stuck in, work hard and you will get the results you need. Listen to the teachers that are going to encourage you in your learning and help you achieve all you have to the potential for. Ignore the ones who don’t, and do not let the anger and hurt of them bringing you down with negativity get to you. Enjoy the trip to Morocco (you won’t need half the food you plan to take by the way), and get all you can from experiencing life as a dance teacher in Sweden too. You are making memories that will last forever.

You will study hard this year, but if you can, don’t give up on dancing. I think you’ll regret that. I know the back injury and the next few months will make it very difficult to go back. I know you miss the Theatre School being ‘yours’ and the atmosphere is not the same now it’s been taken over. But MDA is still there. Remember all the nights you didn’t hand in homework, the hairdressing, the babysitting so you could afford those extra classes? Remember the work you put in to get your student membership? Don’t let it all go.

You’ll be going to university next year, leaving all your friends behind as they finish off high school. This is the right decision, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. You are not the same as everybody else, and these next few years your life is going to change more than you could ever have imagined. You’re going to make amazing friends, learn so much. Yes, you will go through more heartache, but you will not be alone in it.

Perhaps leave the weird jacket and avoid the hair dye at home (it will not work in your dark blonde hair!!).

Do not get your navel pierced….or if you do, remember that if you are allergic to surgical steel earrings, you will be allergic to surgical steel navel bars (even if your infected belly button will get you out of classes pretty much whenever you like because it looks so disgusting, it’s not worth it).

Learn how to manage your finances. (Do not trust your father to teach you about this).

Find out about the bursaries and scholarships you can get. Be aware that your student loans accrue interest. Find out what an ISA is.

Oh yeah, and while we are on the subject, ask your teachers about LEAPS. You need that summer school for access because my lovely, you are clueless about university. And it would probably help you a lot to meet university students and tutors who can explain all that you simply don’t know as a 1st generation university student.

Your worldview is going to change pretty radically in the next 14 months. Um, when the time comes to explain that to your family (particularly your mother and Nana) choose your words carefully so they don’t think you’ve joined a suicide cult. Also, be aware that many of the seemingly kind, lovely people you will meet in churches are homophobic. Don’t let them suck you into bigoted side of ‘Christianity’, for I know you are feeling bad for friends who are terrified to come out. They will. In their own time.

You are also going to lose friends. Some of your friends will leave you by choice. Some you will leave by choice. Others won’t be by choice. You will discover that life can be short, and it’s why it’s so important to live being kind to others, why you should not live being afraid of failure and rejection.

The path of your future is not going to be straight, and actually you’re going to love it so much more as it twists and winds in different directions.

10 years from now, and you still love to sing (so Standard Grade Music wasn’t so silly after all, huh?). 20 years from now, and you’ve been to Australia, South Africa, New York City, travelled around Europe, and you are still writing. You will get to study briefly in Spain and Germany. You will become a youth worker and end up re-discovering that love of science that got stifled by your hate of Physics! You will at one point like Starbucks and then realise that 16 year old you was very wise and it is indeed truly awful. The online friendships will grow as the internet gets bigger, and you will make even more friends online in the years to come. There’ll be great tools you’ll discover like blogging, facebook, twitter and skype! I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that the next decade you are yet to face is all milk, honey and apple strudel…

…but I promise you it’ll all be worth it.

This time next summer…

After seeing an article in The Guardian called A letter to my post-lockdown self, my friend Vicky was inspired to gather friends together to write letters to our future selves. Below is a version of what I submitted to her a week later. All the submissions given to the project entitled This Time Next Summer can be found on facebook.

*****

They say you shouldn’t look back.

But I know I will, and I believe I should.

For looking back I will remember the good, the bad and the grief. The missed opportunities. The choices and the consequences.

2020 made us all take stock.

Some friendships were cemented and others broken. And I discovered who is really there when the going gets tough and who is there in name only. Friendships were a challenge with physical distance and emotional exhaustion of everyday life tasks having to be carefully planned, thought out, prepared and solved.

As the regular routines of busy social schedule were pared down and we were forced indoors, our phones came out, and screen time soared. It was harder to ignore the racism and injustice. As we watched the faces of those doctors and nurses memorialised as COVID-19 took their lives, there was a clear trend of melanin. The ‘M’ in BAME was not the minority in the reporting of the frontline workers who were dying from this.

Why was that?

We watched a young man being hunted down while out jogging. And then we watched as a woman didn’t like being asked to follow the rules of a nature reserve area respond by weaponising her white skin and femininity against a Black man. We watched once again as police killed a person outnumbered begging for breath and his dead mother.

And a lot of us said “No more.”

And others said “But we aren’t like that”

People whose voices had been undervalued and suppressed finally got heard. Some of the more privileged kept quiet and took it in, realising that they had much to unlearn.

Other privileged people felt the threat of their power they and their ancestors had held for centuries being usurped.

For some this meant simply staying silent.

For others this meant showing their true colours.

I realised that some friends weren’t the people I thought they were.

Statues long ago erected as messages of power to the oppressed were unveiled for what they truly were. Some were pulled down and recoloured with messages of truth. People took to the streets and parks in solidarity. For some it was a message they had been trying to get across for decades. For others it was an awakening to looking at the single story they been told over and over until it was steeped in their consciousness to accept without question.

And people to to the streets ready for violence, crying that their platform was being taken away.

And we saw. We saw how the authorities of the land treated those who called for justice vs those who cried it was their birthright for being born with white skin.

I will remember those that listened. And I will remember those who did not.

I will remember not only my dying, but my friends’ dying. I had always assumed there would be another time, and now I know that’s not always true. You simply do not know when life could change forever.

The coffee with a friend you put off, the cinema trip you postponed or that thing you always planned to do ‘at some point’ – they have a different priority level on this side of the coin.

I was one of the lucky ones. I have come out of the other side.

But there are empty spaces that can never be refilled. Milestones dropped that we cannot go back in time to do. I will not easily forget the tears of grief, the frustration of separation and the knowledge that it can’t be brought together again.

I will hug my friends again.

The ones who are still here, at least.

I will enjoy the sound of waves crashing onto the shore, the feel of sand blowing into my face, the smell of salt in the air and the coolness of the water lapping around my feet.

I will feel the bounce of the forest floor, hear the swishing of the wind breezing through trees, the scent of mosses and leaves and listen to the birds calling to one another.

I will fight for the arts to be re-birthed again through the creation of music, film and the education of comedy to make us more self aware.

But most of all I will remember.

Remember a time when leaders didn’t pay attention to science. When children showed resilience and patience with the grown ups who didn’t know what to do. I will remember the tears and the gratitude.

And hope with all my heart that we don’t forget all we learned.

What I read in lockdown…

Book cover of The Salt Path

The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn – A week before lockdown I went into town to get my internet data allowance increased and found myself walking past Waterstones. Sensing that it could be a while before I’d be able to go to a library or buy books, I went in and bought 2 books both memoirs that were nature related. The Salt Path is an incredible story of how Raynor and her husband dealt with grief of losing their home and livelihood, getting news of a terminal illness by deciding to just start walking the South West Coastal Path. It was an eye opening story that made me angry, long for the sights of Dorset and Cornwall that bring me comfort and wish to sit around an open campfire with Raynor to just listen and chat. It felt like I was doing this journey with a kindred spirit.

A copy of a poetry booklet by Vicky Allen

Broken things and other tales by Vicky Allen – At the beginning of lockdown, my beautiful friend Vicky had her very first poetry pamphlet published. She has had poems published as part of collections and in other publications before, but this was the first book of poems that was hers and hers alone. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of her friends that she has shared her art with, and when she first stepped out into sharing her poems publicly. I’ve even been on walks where conversations and things we’ve spotted have become inspiration for the words she has written. Perhaps it’s those memories that made reading these poems over and over make it feel like a healing balm during the days where everything felt overwhelming. But honestly? If you love nature, the sea, the beach and have ever experienced grief of losing someone you love – these poems are for you.

Paperback copy of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Beautifully and poignantly written, Yaa has intricately and cleverly told a diverse range of stories which begin with two sisters whose lives are impacted by colonialisation but in entirely different ways. As one sister is betrothed to a slave trader, the other sold into slavery and sent across the Atlantic we follow the lives of their descendants through history to the present day. If you’ve been wanting to learn about the history that isn’t taught in schools – this fictional tale based in real life history is a great place to start. An impactful and enriching read that I recommend to everyone.

book cover of This Is Going to Hurt with image of a doctor's labcoat hanging on a peg.

This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay – When I was studying Health Sciences, most of my friends were medical students. With only 8 or 9 of us in my year, we were outnumbered in the medical school library! They got me onto the music of The Amateur Transplants, and I saw Adam and his friend Suman perform numerous times at the Edinburgh Fringe. For a variety of reasons I avoided reading this book for a couple of years, but I ended up reading it not long after moving back to Aberdeen. I’m really glad I did. My interest had always been in maternity care, I’d had so many frustrations with the things I saw while on placement, the stories I would hear from midwives, medical students and parents. Reading Adam’s book reminded me of what led me into my degree and eventually my honours project. An important read for every MP, MSP, NHS Trust manager, medical school deans who have the power to change how we fund our healthcare system and medical school curriculums.

And to follow on from that may I also recommend the next book I read…

I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite Having been a long time follower of Candice on instagram, and so pleased to see her speaking up for Black women everywhere as well as being the founder of Make Motherhood Diverse, this book took me back to my last year of my Health Science degree. Candice’s story is important to hear, and more importantly to listen to and learn from. There are many moments where I felt intrigued, but also moments when I felt very uncomfortable while on placement at a maternity hospital. Reading about Candice’s experience as a first-time mother helped me recognise what had been causing those inner alarm bells to ring in those moments. It has made me regret not taking my Health Science degree further in a way that I hadn’t felt before. If my old supervisor is reading this…I know it’s been 14 years but I’m ready to seek that Masters and potential PhD route you were trying to encourage me down when I was about to graduate. I’m sorry for walking away. And to all the women that I’ve not spoken up for enough – I hope you’ll forgive me. I want you to know I see you, I hear you, and most importantly…I believe you.

If you are a midwife, doctor, health visitor, teacher – I urge you to read this book.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – I haven’t finished this book yet. This collection of short stories, each unique in its style and format, has been a lovely book to dip in and out of on days where I just needed to escape and read something that didn’t feel so heavy. I’ve really enjoyed it – some of the stories more than others. I really sense the influence that Tom’s own life, his acting work and no doubt the stories he has heard while preparing for roles have made their way into his thoughts as he’s put pen to paper. Each story is set in a different era, with diverse characters and some stories don’t have a neat ending (which I’ll admit, I find a little frustrating sometimes because I want to find out what happens next). If you are looking for a lighthearted read that you pick up in snatched up moments – this is a good choice of book for you.

30 day blog challenge: Rainbow

A month ago, I went to church in Aberdeen and a woman prayed over me. I knew some decisions needed to be made.

I had no idea that COVID-19 would make those decisions for me.

I went to London for work. I went to stay at my Mum’s in Edinburgh. I travelled down to Berkshire. I travelled down to London again. I walked 30 miles. We travelled back to Berkshire. I drove back to Edinburgh. I sensed the world was about to change, and I really felt the distance the further I drove. Friends were too busy to catch up or see me while I was in Edinburgh. My friends abroad were starting to go on lockdown or following strict social distancing guidelines. My friends who are still in the NHS were telling me what they were seeing. Friends with long term health issues were making the decision to self isolate rather than waiting for the government to catch up to the reality that was coming.

I drove back to Aberdeen.

The day before, I had gone onto the World Health Organisation website.

I had downloaded and read the reports.

I had looked at the graphs and the data.

Epidemiology was always what I excelled at when I was studying Public Health. So I could see what needed to be done. I knew what the implications would be.

Tears spilled down as I drove over the Queensferry Crossing as thoughts whirred through my brain.

My job is at risk.

How am I going to do my job when events inevitably get cancelled?

I may not be able to see friends for months.

The government’s slow reaction is going to put my friends lives at risk.

What am I going to do about the mortgage?

What if I can’t remortgage now that I won’t be able to sell the flat this summer?

Maybe I should rent out the flat and use the money to rent a place closer to friends.

When will I see everyone again?

I prayed to God a simple thought – I don’t know what to do.

What followed was sense that I needed to be in Aberdeen for now.

But God I don’t really want to be in Aberdeen. It’s 127 more miles away from Berkshire, from East Lothian, from Newcastle, from Manchester, from Hampshire, from the Midlands, from London. What about all the costs I’m going to have now? All the things that could go wrong?

And then I saw a rainbow appear over the Forth.

Another over Dunfermline.

Another over Kinross.

I saw rainbow.

After rainbow.

After rainbow.

One would disappear out of sight as the road meandered away from it’s view, only for another to appear on a different horizon.

There were so many during that drive that by the time I got to Dundee I’d lost count after 10 of them.

Everything will work out in the end.

I am with you.

And so since getting back, I’ve worked on the assumption that this is it. I’m hear until next year. I likely won’t be going out much until August unless a treatment or vaccine is found first.

But this isn’t the end of the world.

It might suck.

But we will come through.

30 day blog challenge: Transient

I can’t remember who suggested this word as one of my ‘prompts’ for this challenge, but it’s an important word.

Transient = lasting only for a short time; impermanent.

Though it likely doesn’t feel like it now, this period we are in as a world is transient.

I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have a moment where I felt anxious, fearful or overwhelmed when as my work day came to an end it the latest variation of the ‘guidelines’ were announced.

After a moment of ‘holy crap how am I going to cope with this’ followed by the realisation that I was by no means alone, I remembered the community I found through blogging during a period of my life where my world turned upside down.

Though the majority of my friends don’t blog anymore (social media totally killed the blogging world), there are a great many friendships that were made in the late noughties from us all having conversations in the comments of one another’s posts, folllowing one another’s lives and having ‘blog parties’ where we would either all take part in writing with the same theme on the same day each week, or guest post on each other’s blogs.

I know the power of connection online can be a very real when done with genuine heart and authenticity.

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And so tonight, 4 people from different parts of the UK joined together on zoom and introduced themselves to one another. We expressed how we were feeling. We expressed some of our worries. We talked about challenges we were facing. We listened to one another. We giggled. Some drank tea. We set ourselves some goals for the coming 7 days to do in our time in isolation.

I hope it made others feel a little more hopeful.

I felt encouraged.

I nicknamed it ‘Koala Tree Tuesdays’, and if you’d like to join a 40 minute zoom chat at 8 pm (British time) next Tuesday, do let me know in the comments. Or by messaging me via instagram or twitter.

My goal this week is to finish reading one of many books I’ve started, and to attempt the to build the tall bookcase I got in the ikea delivery last week.

30 day blog challenge: Community

In the UK it got announced this evening that we are now implementing the WHO guideline that people in households with (new) coughs and fevers have to be isolated for 14 days and all ‘non essential meetings’ are cancelled. No going to pubs, theatres or cinemas. People in at-risk groups been told they have to stay in for 3 months.

So how to stay sane and keep connected?

How to support one another in ways that may not seem as obvious?

Stay connected

I hope that there’s going to be an abundance of live events. YouTube, Instagram and facebook all do this, and it can be great!

Zoom, Skype and Google hangouts are platforms to use for free to have a group catch up with friends and family near and far.

Telephone friends and family who do not have internet.

Post letters and cards to friends and family (but obviously wash your hands before).

Things to do

My friend Laura (Faithfully Fit) is posting YouTube videos of a simple at home workouts you can do. Check them out here.

I know my friends love Yoga by Adrienne.

Here is a helpful list of lots of educational resources that are free for kids and families if your kids are having to stay home from school. My friend Caroline who home educates her 4 kids has also blogged some top tips for parents who suddenly find themselves homeschooling.

Girlguiding are currently trying to come up with ways to help girls stay connected and guiding while we can’t meet in person. I’m sure Scouts will do the same.

Duolingo is a great free app for learning languages.

Listen to live radio shows you love.

If you are able – go outside for a walk (but do keep your distance from people – 6ft at all times recommended).

Read. Why not order a book and with your friends read it together with a what’s app chat about how you are enjoying (or not enjoying) it?

Teach yourself how to knit, play ukulele, paint, draw, doodle.

Create a schedule for yourself.

How we can support one another

Popping a note through door of neighbours to give a link to a facebook group or similar (or perhaps if elderly giving a phone number) so people can call on someone to pick up something from supermarket or pharmacy if they have to self isolate for 14 days is obvious.

But also the fact is that those not working for public sector or larger businesses where things can be done with social distancing are going to be affected by this.

Retail workers are mostly all on 4 hour contracts – so though most of them work much more than this, they’ll only be allowed 4 hours a week statutory sick pay. Many in the catering industry are on zero hour contracts. Charities rely hugely on fundraising events from bake sales, to marathons. Hairdressers, beauty therapists, physios, osteopaths. Airline staff, hotel staff, cinema staff, florists, restaurant and cafe owners, writers, artists, sound techs, musicians, actors…the list could go on and on. Because the government have not ‘banned’ us, just said we shouldn’t, they have no protections for insurance coverage.

Sooo…. order books for delivery from your local bookshops. See if your restaurant will do deliveries without you having to open your door. Buy gift cards for the cinemas, restaurants, hairdressers, beauticians and all the rest if you can.

People in the Performing Arts industry – let us know how we can support you while you are unable to work.

Saving money from your commute you aren’t doing at the moment? Why not donate that to a charity or your friend’s fundraising page for that event they had being training for which is now postponed.

In Scotland, a facebook group has started to gather volunteers who can offer childcare to people who will have to continue going into work. Investigate what might be in your local area.

Got caught in the madness of panic buying and realise you don’t actually need all that formula, bleach, toilet roll and tinned food because the supermarkets are still open? Consider donating it to your local food bank who have been left short unable to give to people in desperate need of it.

But most of all – please isolate yourself for 14 days if you show any signs of COVID-19. A dry cough, shortness of breath, flu like symptoms, fever. Or any other infectious illness that could compromise someone’s immune system. I know mumps, scarlet fever and more are also doing the rounds just now!

Any more ideas or thoughts for how we can help one another through this?

Add them in the comments below.

 

30 Day Blog Challenge: Choices

One of the things that Miss Val has taught me is that life is full of choices. Sometimes they aren’t choices that we like. But we still have choices.

Right now, I have friends and family all around the globe who are being impacted in different ways by a certain virus that doesn’t have anything to do with beer (despite the name). I have a brother in law and a friend who are dealing with cancer. Friends that are transplant recipients. Friends with long term health conditions. A mother who is recovering from brain surgery. Friends who are frontline in the NHS.

For that reason, I don’t mind all the precautions that are happening right now.

Does that mean I like them?

No.

I’m 50-50 extravert/introvert. As a single person who works from home, with my nearest family member 127 miles away, I’m socially distanced from the rest of society for a good chunk of the week already. That extravert part of me craves those evenings where I get to chat to people at ballet class, writing group, Girlguiding activities and church.

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Though I don’t leave it to noon to start working and I don’t have pets this cartoon my friend sent me a while ago is pretty accurate!

I need them as much as the hours I’m hunkered down with my blankets and books for my sanity.

But will I moan that I have to be on lockdown because it sucks to be lonely?

No.

Because I’m glad that my friends get to be less scared of catching this darned virus that doesn’t have a treatment or vaccine yet. We hopefully get to live. We get to have an NHS that we can access when we need it.

And there are lots of things I get to choose to do within lockdown.

I get to read a book in the evenings.

I get to watch a DVD.

I get to sew badges on my camp blanket.

I get to write.

I get to bake some yummy cakes and crumbles.

I get to try some new recipes.

I get to chat to friends and family over phone.

I get to meet with my colleagues via video conference.

I get to be better at being kinder to the environment and less wasteful.

I get to take on the challenge of doing the job of events fundraising while no one can go to or host an event so that much needed services the charity I work for provides can continue at a time when they will be needed more than ever.

There’s always a choice.

And I choose to move forward with as much hope, cheerfulness and kindness that I can muster.

That being said, I’m wondering if it would be worth holding the occassional online meet up while others may be feeling a bit disconnected, anxious, lonely or just needing something to look forward to. I thought about having a community blog challenge, perhaps a weekly book/film club or something like that.

If you’d be interested, let me know in the comments or message me on twitter: @koalainscotland or instagram: @brunettekoala