Tuesday, 20 September 2016

family business (things i have learnt about holiday-me part4)

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Saying goodbye to aged grandparents that I've barely met in my 44 years was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever had to do.

In the blistering sun, dressed in comfy airplane attire, I hugged my Caribbean grandma and grandad and (in my best West Indian vernacular) me bawl. My three children were agog at the dribbling mess that sat between them on the taxi ride to the airport; this certainly was a waterproof mascara day.

This is an unsual experience for me as my grandparents have lived for the majority of my life in Grenada so apart from the baby years, a couple of childhood visits abroad and taking a quick trip over during my three maternity leaves, I've never considered that I had much of a relationship with them. How could I? They were three thousand miles away and technology arrived too late for us to establish a true connection.

Life moves on doesn't it? We plough the seeds and scatter and all that.

Yet in researching the Caribbean journey from home to the UK, I found myself with more questions than answers. My grandparents came were post-Windrush generation and not from Jamaica so the footage and documentation regarding their experience was always sparse. I wanted to know what it was like on the boat on the way over, what it was like to arrive, live and work in the 1960's, what made them return home when those around them were putting down roots?

A memory lane trip around Shepherds Bush with my dad, who arrived in the UK at 16, was incredibly useful in painting a picture for the life I needed to create for the character of Gracie in my novel:a young mother who follows her husband from Grenada to London.  But I needed the first hand tales of my grandparents to understand how it felt to be in Britain at that time.

Having the opportunity to visit my grandparents and listening to grand-uncles and aunts regale stories of years past, I felt blessed that I was able to hear them first hand. Afternoons spent sifting through faded photo albums led to volumes of anecdotes that transformed my grandparents from the elderly people I saw before me to the young, spirited, hard-working people they used to be; people from a time that their children and grandchildren would never know.

So much is already gone and forgotten with a generation who left snippets of history from their own lives and I realise with sorrow the conversations missed with people I have not taken the time to value.  The simple fact is that everyone takes  a piece of their life-stories with them one day and I fear that in this selfie-life we are too preoccupied with the us and now; we are disregarding our past and losing pieces of our history puzzles.

Writing my novel led me to explore my family history which, amongst hurrah-inducing finds and foot stomping frustrating dead-ends, led me to question the who, whats, wheres and whens that contributed to little old me. Desperately trying to keep up with she who married Mr So-and-So's brother from down the hill who is also our family you know was a daily challenge and a daily reality as I was introduced to yet another cousin. But these revelations also opened up branches of a family tree I never knew existed; pieces of my missing jigsaw.

Although the goodbyes were painful I am overjoyed that I got some time with my grandparents because the bare-face truth is that I am unlikely to afford a return trip any year soon. But the time spent with four generations together have made life long memories and certainly reminded me of the importance of listening to those who came before because one day we will want our stories to be heard by those who will follow after.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

school's out for summer

A relatively large section of the working world will crow at this time about how teachers have it easy, and whilst in my teaching youth I used to prickle at this comment, I now retort with statistics of teaching shortages and how the profession welcomes newcomers from all walks of life - come join us. But be warned because, depending on how long they have been teaching, the summer holidays will hold different cans of worms.

The newbie They are about to embark on teacher training - whether via tried and trusted routes such as the BEd or the PGCE or their sparkly new cousins Teach First/Troops to Teachers/School Direct - so their summer may involve studying directly after finishing their old job or university course. Professors and tutors will drown them in pedagogical directives required to get ready for teaching and learning come September. They,on the other hand, will probably be downloading specials of Grange Hill,Waterloo Road, Gangster's Paradise, School of Rock or even To Sir, With Love in order to become au fait with teacher life on the frontline. As September draws closer the excitement at giving something back or inspiring the next generation makes way to a sickening fear every time they see a group of teenagers standing together speaking their yoofspeak. 

The new recruit They've been in the game a while but they're starting a new school - either for a change or a promotion. Their rational experienced mind will tell them that they have earned the new job, they know what they're doing and kids are kids, right? However their wake up thought for 6 weeks will be mixed with the relief that they have finally left their old school but niggling worries about suppose the kids hate them, suppose the staff do that aloof-you-have-to-earn-your-place-here-thing and suppose maybe they've made the worst decision of their life? August will be spent reading Ofsted reports and past academic data; learning the names of new students and remembering timetables and new rooms (if they are lucky enough to be given that new info - otherwise they have to sink or swim like the new fodder); writing lessons plans for a new curriculum; spending hours creating engaging and challenging PowerPoints to wow staff and students alike on September 1st.

The veteran with kids They've done all the above, worn lots of end-of-year t-shirts, and indeed if you cut them they are tattooed with the name of their school, like a stick of rock. End of term means they start their other life. As mother/father of those children living in their house. Years of teaching has enabled them to plan each day and week to encompass a range of individual, group and friends-allowed activities - which may or may not include a holiday (organisation skills:expert level required for this). Each week will involve indirect historical/geographical education, some sporting action (observed or partaken), timed computer access, a strict cleaning rota (maintained in weeks 1 and 2 but usually abandoned by mid-August on account of the sighs and pocket money involved) and a teeny bit of explicit learning as the holidays hurtle to a close so that the offspring don't suffer from the dreaded summer dip. Evenings are spent mainlining wine and/or chocolate whilst finishing unfinished projects from the last academic year and preparing for the new academic year. Somehow , there is always a new topic or method of teaching the same topic - even though they've been teaching for what feels like a million years.

The veteran without kids Whether offspring were not a choice, haven't arrived yet, or have flown the coop - this, to me, offers the ultimate summer. A week or two in work at the start of the hols completing projects, admin, lesson plans or sorting classrooms with the piece and quiet of an empty school. A couple of weeks messing about where, with and whoever takes their fancy. Back for the August results to get their data analysis done before the September panic sets in. 

I have yet to meet a teacher who sits from the end of July sipping cocktails by a bar, wearing a cravat and a hat tipped on the side of their head until the Autumn term. But if anyone knows one - I'd like to meet them and shake their hand; for they will have truly mastered the summer holiday.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

big fun

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Ooh I love a sports day.

I did as a kid. Athletics was my teenage life so of course school sports day was my time to shine. Even as a teacher sports day was a major fun day especially when you were good friends with the Head of PE...need someone to help measure long jump or tally scores? I'm your lady. I bowed to student pressure by competing in a few teacher's races; survived by never coming last or falling over in the home straight.

Work has always got in the way of me getting to see my own kids at their primary school sports days until this summer. I would finally get to witness the offspring at the starter's mark of their Olympic athletic careers, maybe.

Not so.

Focusing on enjoyment and sportsmanship, I was initially crushed to discover that there would be no traditional top three placings at sports day this year. Instead the children would compete in teams within their own classes over a number of rotational events.

Now before you pooh-pooh all of this and start gnashing at the teeth about this isn't what real life is like, kids need to know how to lose (graciously) as well as win, how is this teaching children about sport (which is exactly everything I griped about when I first heard), let me tell you about what I saw.

On the whole I saw a bunch of kids running, jumping, throwing, spinning, cheering, laughing, protesting; it was all going on there wasn't any time for checking who came first. The difference here, from what we usually expect or see at sports days, was that everyone had a chance to succeed, everyone had to work together to complete events.  It wasn't just a day where the fastest runners achieve and everyone else gets to sit and watch. It was a fun-day with points awarded for team effort, behaviour, support, teamwork.

On a glorious sunny day there were kids getting active and soaking up the fun in the last week of school with their teachers - for the year six about to leave, they will soon look back and long for the simplicity of primary school sports days.

And for those of you worried about future sports stars being squashed in the pursuit of inclusiveness; in a school year there are so many clubs, competitions and PE lessons for them to shine.

Having seen my three (over three separate sports days) get over the fact they wouldn't be able to improve on the firsts and seconds they received in previous years and actually just throw themselves into the new generation of sports day, I walked away happy... with two 1st and a 3rd place in the mummy's race...sometimes we need to stay serious about sports!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

legal alien (things i have learnt about holiday-me part3)

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Identity, something we all seem to crave and understand throughout our lives. Some are clear about theirs and probably don't even consider it too much whilst others are on a perpetual quest for what theirs might be.

As a kid I just was who I was. When I started to venture into other lives and other families, only then did I discover what made me different from others.

Apparently not everyone listened to reggae with their Sunday lunch. Amongst my friends, I was clearly the only child having my washed hair pulled in every which way to create the perfect plaits that would last me until the next weekend.

Over time I grew to appreciate the journey my family had taken that resulted in my English birth. Heading out of my teens and into young adulthood I found camaraderie with other British born/Caribbean heritage about our hair issues, the way our parents would slip in and out of West Indian accents depending on who they were talking to, how we never left the house creaming our skin. We shared the sorrows of other people's negativity thrust into our life paths and the joys of coming together at family do's.

This was...is my identity.

Yet this has been a strange summer. In a year where my Britishness has been called into question, I spent some time in the Caribbean island my father calls home and began to re-consider where did I really belong?

You see I grew up with kids and strangers on the street telling me to go home. Comedians of my ethnicity and generation will now joke about responding to 'home' as round the corner, just off the high street...but we all knew what they really meant. Back to where we 'should' have been from, to where our parents were born. But you know if your parents are born in two different Caribbean islands or your feet have only ever holidayed outside your birth place, the conundrum remains...where exactly do you go?

On the occasions I have visited I think I'll blend in. I am no longer a minority so until I speak how would you know I'm not a local, right? Wrong. Dad says it's easy to spot. I'm gutted; is there nowhere that I can just fit in, disappear, be inconspicuous?

What gives me away? Is it the sweat pool I've filled with my body weight whilst just strolling down the road - I say 'strolling'...

Is it the British walking pace I still subconsciously maintain in this heat?

Is it the way I've had to learn to smile with my teeth and offer a pleasant greeting at closed inquisitive faces which then break into a kind welcome? I'm a Londoner, I don't do smiling at strangers so this is a massive learning curve.

Is it the way I bathe myself in factor 50 sun cream as soon as the morning sun rises in the mountains then shower myself in insect repellent as it sets into the evening sea.

Is it the way I bounce from one hot foot to another tetchy one if the wait in the shop or restaurant is a little long whilst those around me wait patiently?

Is it in the way my 3G dare to answer me back in the local supermarket (summer hols seem to have vanquished the power of the mum stare at the moment)?

Is it the way in which I can't seem to let my tense London shoulders sink to bask in the warmth of my surroundings.

One half of my ancestors may have planted, nurtured and grown roots here but from my view on this branch of the family tree, this beautiful island is not my home. And whilst it welcomes me, I simply do not belong; in spite of my recently fruitful and exciting family research my feet have walked in similarly green yet contrasting colder pastures.

Which, methinks, is one darn shame.

I wish I was being welcomed home by immigration staff like my travelling aunt passing through before me. I'd love to feel the spirit of the strong women of my patriarchal line as I discover more about them. How marvellous it would be to walk up the road to my house to find it adorned with colourfully painted stones, walls and roofs.

And I'd relish the scene of my neighbours sitting on their walls to lime and jig a foot or jump up 'til the early hours...at weekends anyway, I still find it hard to jig my foot midweek.

So for now I will embrace my foreigness and go full tourist.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

taste the pain

If I lost my taste tomorrow. What would I miss? 


Mesmerized by Ally McBeal (remember her) savouring the smell of her first coffee of the morning, every morning, I acquired the coffee bean bug many moons ago and would be loathe to give it up. As the years have passed, unlike my preferences in wine, I have sought out the stronger coffee; the one where you can stand your spoon up in it. To my shame I have recently slipped off the fair trade wagon upon discovering a cute, cheap brand of coffee that comes in almond flavour. Coffee heaven in a miniature jar.

If I lost my taste tomorrow.  What would I miss?


Mistaken for a scraggy old banana by my kids, I soon tutored them in the beautiful, sweet, sticky, lusciousness of the fried plantain. Yes it goes against the grain of the healthy living but it's not every day, right, it's just a little treat when I can be bothered to trek to Shepherd's Bush market to buy the best plantain in London. True, true my Mum used to boil it and serve it with rice and chicken but seriously, when you have tasted a properly ripe plantain with a likkle sprinkle of salt; only then have you lived. And the best thing of all ... none of my children like it. Whilst initially I was aghast that they could refuse this plate of joy, I realized that this clearly leaves more for me!

I considered the pain that could be felt missing out on chocolate, Nandos, a good ole bag of chips but I know that to pre-empt my loss of taste, I would simply be ordering a large coffee and perfect plate of plantain to be consumed by the banks of the River Thames.

This post was inspired by #post40bloggers #writingprompt72:if you lost your sense of taste tomorrow

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

another place to fall

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Last September I tentatively paused my hectic life of teaching to enter the world of writing. I had struggled for years attempting to spill the numerous creative ideas in my head onto paper during school holidays with bags of marking and planning puksing like Poe's tell-tale heart in the corner of whichever room (or tent) August would find me in.

I had visions of me curled up in my cosy living room - sans enfants - typing fantasy whirlwinds for hours on end.

But I forgot about the power of the 'off' telly; the overwhelming desire to make green the red standby light and catch up on all of those marvellous box sets on Amazon Prime.

I had to leave the living room.

So off to the kitchen I went; surely the kid's homework desk with a view of the garden would generate the perfect creative atmosphere. Never before had I noticed the beeps, bells and whistles that fill a house (why does your washing machine need to tell you so often that it's finished?!) or how important it was to do all of the washing up ,sweeping, feeding the cats, making cups of tea, putting out the recycling...yes you get it - the ultimate distraction: housework!

 I had to leave the kitchen.

I'm fortunate to have a log cabin in the garden (previous homeowner had a childminding business out there) so I thought maybe it could stop being a dumping ground for stuff to one day be posted on gumtree or netmums. Having persuaded the GeordieLad to clear out the bugs and beasties, buy a new funky lamp and of course, a whole bunch of new stationery, I moved in and my new routine was borne.

Blog stuff (writing and reading) in the morning whilst listening to the lovely Vanessa on BBC Radio London. Research time coinciding with Radio 4's Women's Hour. Followed by a long afternoon that stretched out with hours of words with the four women who were being constructed in my first ever novel.

With the rain tapping on my wooden ceiling and the sun streaming through the skylight, there I am hunched over an old dining table filched from my sister; day after day after day. By myself bar the occasional visit from a cat or two. The day broken up with a squirreled lunch and copious cups of tea or cawfee.

When literal cabin fever sets in I surface to explore new places to write; coffee shops (too noisy and expensive, calorific sustenance); libraries (lovely every now and then but I admit I spend most of the day character-creating inspired by the zillions of people who fill these glorious venues); museums (way to much distraction because I loves a museum); parks (it's summer, there's rain, 'nuff said)

So crawling back to the cubby hole of my cabin, I welcome the silence and accept the loneliness that arises in the pursuit of writing heaven.

This post is linked up with What I'm Writing linky:wk83

Monday, 27 June 2016


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72 hours have passed since THAT result.  4 days since I cast my opinion. My feeds and timeline are full of people saying we should calm down. A clear head has me thinking that we just have to skip to the fifth and final stage of recovery; acceptance. The morning has not awoken to find us literally adrift heading to get a better view of the Northern Lights.

And then. 

I'm walking around my local supermarket and someone holds my gaze as we do the shoppers shuffle past the sliced loaves and I find myself thinking what what did you vote? I spot one of those glances from one person to the hijab-ed lady in the milk aisle and I am reminded of the twitter stories of immigrant (I'll come back to this in a mo) people being venomously told they need to book their flights home and journalists faced with the gleeful spewing of the man in the street who is glad that there won't be any immigrants allowed in anymore and his wife who is proud of her country intimating that this means no other should share in it with her. 

And then we hear of the leave voters who have resurfaced with the groggy head of the night's revelry now discover the handsome promises they cuddled up to turns out to have cut and run in the middle of the night, leaving them dazed, confused and pale with the shame of being used.  

Is this what we must expect from now on?

Has the belly of this country been sliced to allow the festering maggots, that have been feeding quietly on themselves, to slither to the surface and infect the wounds that many of us are desperate to nurse and heal?

It could be just my paranoia. But I come from the land of the 1980s where my innocent stroll to school could be littered with racist taunts and people would openly boycott the corner shop because the new owners were Pakistanis (yes this happened and there was much rejoicing when they left). So my ears, eyes and sensitivities are on high alert when I hear that the country that I was born and raised in, educated me, nursed me, enjoyed the working benefits of me, my grandparents and parents, thrust me into the path of an Englishman, saw the birth of my children; that this country doesn't want people like me.

Because I am the child of migrants. I have taught the children of migrants who like me know nothing of their parent's country so this country is their home - this is all we know. The metamorphosis of one generation's culture, language, life in one nation to another experienced by their children has happened in Britain for centuries.

Do people really expect that to change? Overnight? (By the way I am well aware of the plethora of other reasons people voted leave, I'm choosing to focus on this one as it has arisen in my real life timeline.)

Is this the ugliness that we have to raise our kids with now (on top of all the ugliness of scary millennial living that's already out there)?

And anyway, you tell me, how do you spot an immigrant? 

Having already been in denial that this really, really happened and that one day my kid's kids will be studying this week in their history lessons, I am retreating to step two and four : anger and depression.  

Allow it.