Monthly Archives: April 2012

#121 ~ Anonymous Crowds

Her name is Tanya. I didn’t get a chance to ask whether it was with an I or a Y. I met her two weeks ago.

I’m one of those, perhaps rare, or just awkward people, who, unless I know you really well, will just ignore you. We could be friends, we were friends. We’d spent the end of the term cycling together, laughing and ‘gisting’ until the wee hours of the morning. But we’d been on holiday. Unsure of how the atmosphere would react, I decided to walk in the other direction, ignoring him.

But that’s how I met Tanya. Opposite a 24/7 McDonald’s, crouched on the steps of a boutique shop, the slab of concrete a substitute sofa-come-bed-come-chair, she sat huddled. A tattered skirt was stretched over folded legs, her hair was pulled back, and the edges of her face had begun to show the grime of an unwashed body. She was asking for money. I had none, not a penny. So I stopped to apologise.

“Thank you for noticing me,” she said. “Thank you.”

I hadn’t eaten.  I was going home to make a jambalaya of all the left overs our fridge had to offer. I was also cold. But, there was no-one in my accommodation, and I felt bad for ignoring my friend. So, to redeem myself I crouched down next to her.

“Hi,” I said tentatively. There was a group of French tourists looking at us strangely.”I’m so sorry I have no money…how are you?” We got talking. I shifted to sit next to her. She reeked of alcohol. A juice carton was glued to her right hand and made frequent trips to her thin-lipped mouth. It was a special kind of juice – highly fermented. I stretched out my hand and introduced myself. She seemed a bit startled, but shook it, and we exchanged names. She didn’t quite remember mine – but she was Tanya, maybe with a Y, maybe an I.

“What happened…how did you get here?”

What else could I ask? So she started talking. It was an erratic story. She was in an abusive relationship, but couldn’t return to her house because of the memories. Yet because she had a house she couldn’t get into a shelter. She was going to court in May to prosecute her partner, then she was moving in with her Mother. Hopefully she’d get her daughter – Leah – back. And then she began to talk about her boyfriend whom she loved very much. But he was gone, and now she was sick in the head, she wasn’t going to survive.

In and amongst her ramblings I tried to comfort her. Tell her justice would be done. It would be ok. The cynic inside branded her a liar. The kid who’d just returned from youth group said – offer to Pray. The Kid won. I laid my hand, after asking, gently on her leather coated arm. Her flesh dimpled underneath my fingertips. I prayed a simple prayer. She began to cry, shake and cry.

She was a Catholic. She knew the faith, she believed, but she was going to die. Nothing could save her situation.

In between talking to me, she called out, cheekily, to passers-by. For some reason, with my legitimate presence people started to pay attention. One student, she’d mistaken her for a boy, went into McDonald,s and came out with a hamburger for her and vouchers.

Tanya offered to share. I was starving, but refused. It vanished pretty quick. Another guy leaving McD’s offered her his coppers. He walked away. Then returned. He gave her a crisp tenner.

“You know I’m just going to spend it on drink don’t you?”

He didn’t care. He’d felt convicted but didn’t want to get involved. We said God Bless. His good deed was done. I tried to convince her to get food. In the end she acquiesced – but she was still going to get that Vodka. At this point your rolling your eyes saying typical. If you’d done GCSE biology or chemistry you’d know a few things about alcohol:

It can generate warmth

It dulls pain

It dulls memories

It dulls hunger

I could understand why she wanted that Sainsbury’s Vodka. But now I was hungry, and cold. I prayed for her again, told her to get some food. She smiled, I smiled. I promised to pray for her and Leah. Then we parted ways. She wasn’t there the next morning.

Yet – they are there in the evenings. The Anonymous Crowd that haunt our streets, the edges of our vision, the distant boundaries of our senses. They have names. They have a story. They’re also human. Look down – even if it’s only to say Sorry – at least once in a while.

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#120 ~ Big Feet, New Shoes

“Extortion when they ‘say’ it’s ‘size 8’ but what they really mean is it’s a size 6 with the wrong label in order to crush your spirits into moon-dust style fragments, and then laugh at your clown feet as you slouch back to return those ‘size 8’ shoes.”

I didn’t quite make 6″. I used to dream about it. My Dad told me if you envisioned something, you could create enough energy to make it manifest. In retrospect I assume my powers of imagination are not as great as i thought…it’s a good thing then, that i don’t study Creative Writing. Yet, although the limbs didn’t stretch that extra inch and a bit, my metatarsals (toe bones…Wikipedia…) kept going like there was no tomorrow. A typical conversation, or rather, abuse, from my childhood:

Uncle: Hey K – Why are you still wearing your flippers, you’re not swimming.

Cousin: Hey K – Guess you won’t need skis eh?

Uncle and Cousin: Hey K – Check out those boats!

Mother: Hey K – Your shoes are expensive!

Friend: Hey K – Wow…you have BIG Feet

Shop Assistant: Excuse me Ma’am – these are Men’s trainers…oh, they’re for you? How old are you…?

I had size 9 feet, yes UK size 9 feet, when I was 9 years old. I remember when I was 7 going into the shoe shop Clark’s and getting my feet measured for new shoes. I had adopted a habit of walking on the sides of my feet (which I still do..the trauma of wearing small shoes has mutated me…) because finally, my mother was convinced I had outgrown my shoes. How much, she was yet to find out. When the woman explained that at the age of 7 I had adults size 5 feet, my mother was sympathetic – shocked, but sympathetic. In a way it made sense – I was 5″ tall, a little giant, so biggish feet were expected. When she realised she now had to pay VAT for my adult sized feet sympathy flew out the window along with her hard-earned cash.

At that point my Mother became a shoe abductor, shoe kidnapper, a shoe pouncer. She was on the prowl.

At the age of 9, I had size 9 feet. Most post-pubescent men don’t have size 9 feet. I was also 5″9 (anyone noticing a trend?). I remember crying violently. In my mind was an image of those old ladies who have leather sacks for shoes, shapeless and held together with thin lace (—> culprits). For some reason I was of the opinion that that’s what happened when your feet got so big Clarke’s and other shoe shops stopped stocking your size. When you had to scan the men’s sections of shoe stores not because you were a ‘tomboy’ but because you had no choice, it was a hard reality to embrace. When I was 11 I hit size 11 shoes – can you guess my height, well done. At that point my Mother became a shoe abductor, shoe kidnapper, a shoe pouncer. She was on the prowl.

I have suffered wearing some, frankly fugly, constructions in my young life. I have merged between men’s, women’s and generally giants shoes. There was even a deluded period when I convinced myself Police-style Doc-Marten’s were not only cool, but acceptable to wear. My friends used to put their shoed feet inside my Doc’s…just to laugh at the space left inside.

I couldn’t wear Converses, I don’t know why 6 footers do. After we had been confronted with the prospect of shopping in Brighton because of the strong drag-scene, well that’s when we had to call it quits. Then one day we found the shop. It was Paradise Lost now Regained. It styled itself not as Magnus, Big and Tall, Elephant Feet (yes these are really the names of big-shoe stores) but as Long Tall Sally. Sexy, seductive, classy and feminine. Though my feet are long, they are also narrow so don’t go with the normal big footer status quo. What LTS, as I fondly call it, did for me was reintroduce elegance to my footwear wardrobe. It also made me the beneficial recipient of shoes, which I neither needed or asked for, bestowed as random gifts. My mother’s theory:

Your feet are so big you never know when you’ll find a pair, so when you do, even if you don’t ‘need it’ buy it. You can never have too many shoes.

Now, I’m not Carrie from Sex in the City – I’ve never even watched the show – nor am I a shoe-manic young woman, in fact I didn’t mind too much pulling on those old skool Vans, or shackin’ out in…well whatever would fit my feet. I’ve never been too bothered with my image probably because it presented such a big issue for me in my childhood. Yet I would assume there are some people slightly envious that I get given said piece of advice as a mandate – whose laughing now Miss i’ve-got-size-3-feet eh?!

when they messed up in the factory and made a size 8 shoe that actually fits. Then you can do a triumphant fist punch as you walk out of a High Street shop and haven’t just taken one of their bags to hide your ‘Elephant Feet’ shoe box.

After recently appealing to my mother’s sentimentalities on my impoverished condition and the fact that my feet were wrinkling as though they sun bathed in their own private time machine due to the plethora of holes that had re-fashioned my daily footwear, I became the recipient of a new box, containing, size 9 shoes – yes, let it be known, your shoe size can depend on the cut of the shoe. This has proven to be both a form of extortion and salvation for big footers like myself. Extortion when they ‘say’ it’s ‘size 8’ but what they really mean is it’s a size 6 with the wrong label in order to crush your spirits into moon-dust style fragments, and then laugh at your clown feet as you slouch back to return those ‘size 8’ shoes. We know what you’re up to Office, M&S, everybody! Conspirators! Salvation when they messed up in the factory and made a size 8 shoe that actually fits. Then you can do a triumphant fist punch as you walk out of a High Street shop and haven’t just taken one of their bags to hide your ‘Elephant Feet’ shoe box.

Yet, as a final message from this mildly digressive rumination of a post, I would just like to clarify one thing.

I love my feet.

I love my slender metatarsals. I love my flat-soled-archeless foundation of this not-quite-six-foot human construction. I find them beautiful, elegant, and would not change them for the world. So, for all you big footers, do not be ashamed.

With big feet, come big hearts, big minds, big smiles, and most importantly big dreams, which we happen to have the advantage of bounding to even faster due to the unimaginable distance we can cover. Learn to love and embrace yourself, your feet, for who they are (and what size). When you accept that, accept it as part of your fantastically fantastic genetic make-up you eliminate the potential for someone to make you feel ‘less’ because of it. You become empowered, and you become you, big feet and all.

So Hurrah for big, elegant feet and the people who provide us with shoes. I feel a big feet revolution coming on. (And Yes, Long Tall Sally feel free to send a cartload of merchandise my way for this free advertisement.)

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#119 ~ Welcome to my Humble Abode

When I was really little I used to watch James Bond films with my Dad. On the weekend we watched Xena the Warrior Princes and Hercules, but when Bond movies came on, it was a) the one time Dad actually stayed awake long enough to see it passed the theme music, and b) well they were priceless quality times. The Bond movies were also the initiation into the now entrenched strain of (not radical but present) feminism that permeates my character. I remember seeing how every woman Bond met, whether that was Connery or Brosnan (my personal favourite), in the space of…less than a scene, he had turned on the charm and they were in bed together. At the ripe old age of 9 it really annoyed me, and I saw these Bond girls as being, well, slightly useless. It also made me not want to get married – I figured Bond was the only ‘real man’ out there, and was very aware that if I did marry him I would have to welcome his many girlfriends. As I grew older the idea of marriage and what it stood for didn’t seem to grow in my estimation. The woman had to ‘cook and clean, look after the children,’ and by default the husband was the ‘head of the house, his word was final,’ etc etc. Some of these ideas were culturally stimulated, some were indoctrinated. Marriage seemed to be a cage to me, a cage that prevented said woman from being able to fly her own course, and fly it at high altitude.

Being older I have now realised those ideologies do no constitute the beautiful institution that is marriage. Having just sung at a friend’s wedding I was touched at the deep love, affection, and respect the newly weds had for one another. Of course, they were in the honey-moon stage, where even night-time doesn’t eclipse the glory of the soon-to-rise Sun. Yet, over this weekend I also had the privilege to see the autumn, winter and perpetual springtime characteristics of  marriage. I, more importantly, noticed a fine but pivotal demarcation between Christian marriages and other marriages. There was a real generosity of spirit, of home, of food and nurturing that seemed like a natural outpouring in these ‘elderly’ married couples, who housed and fed me. There was a concordance of spirit, a mutual respect and deep love that extended past familial boundaries to anything that came over their thresholds.

Witnessing the interactions of a family of 5 children with 3 ‘intruders’ and two adults, of course there was bound to be conflict and argument. Yet the peace with which the parents dealt with all juvenile assaults was, perspective shifting. They neither implemented Captain von Trapp’s military rule, nor did they require Super-nanny. Yet a calm love, control and respect between the parents and the children created a complex harmony that was functional. Seeing the ease with which another family, after coming home from traipsing to Manchester, entered their door at 1am to found 2 strangers who needed to spend the night – and simply nodded in acquiescence. The next morning a full breakfast was served without expectation of gratitude nor a desire to impress. It was just calmly taken in their stride as though my sister and I were a natural part of their biological family. And then finally, the love in which another family treated their own parents, the care, the attention, emphasised to me how these statutes of matrimonial living, these characteristics were intra-generational.

Each of these lovely families and couples had impressive homes, spacious, yet warm. They weren’t imposing but welcoming. I saw how family can be such a precious structure, and more importantly from where I stood as a conflicted ‘young adult’ trying to tread the mire of Life, how a mutual love and respect between the parents, the family and the foundation of their Faith took something beautiful and made it sublime, in a warm, welcoming, unimposing way. I’m sure other faith or non-faith marriages are beautiful and captivating in their own way, but I got a glimpse yesterday of a tangible manifestation of the Bride and Groom, Christ and the Church, the ideal and the real, which evoked how lacking Bond’s relationships were, and how much more the idea of marriage could become to me.

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#118 ~ The Elision of Terrorism

What is the definition of terrorism? An act that inspires terror in people’s hearts – or is it a violent act underpinned by religious convictions? It would seem to me the term ‘terrorism’ has been appropriated in recent times to signify the latter definition. It not only signifies a religiously inspired attack of violence which incites fear and pain, but it is closely associated with members of the Muslim faith (or if it occurs within Ireland, then either Catholics or Protestants.) Yet in general, excluding Ireland, I would argue that terrorism has not only obtained religio-cultural connotations, but also racial ones.

That is why it surprised me tonight when reading that a white male adult walked into an office block on Tottenham Court Road, a major road in the heart of the London, with gas canisters strapped to his body threatening to blow himself up – because he had nothing to live for, and they made explicit that they were not  treating this as a ‘terrorist case’. As of now they aren’t sure what the personal circumstances were that drove him to this point – yet let’s, for a moment, theorise. Perhaps in the recession he has lost his job, perhaps his wife/partner has left him. He may have experienced the deaths of those close to him. Whatever his personal circumstance were which drove him to a place of such abject despair, his desire to potentially murder innocent people and throw a whole city in disarray was selfishly constructed. And I use the term selfishly very specifically. Because yes, all acts of terrorism are, to a degree, selfish. They, by definition, violate the rights of all the people subjected to the act of terror because of a personal ideal. But this is where the religious terrorism we are so distressed by, and abject depression, go their separate ways. One has an ideal. An ideology which in their minds – whether we believe them to be screwed up or not – elicits a purpose. They have a telos, a focused objective which they firmly believe can be achieved through an act that those who are subjected to, define as terror. The other has no object, except to inflict pain on others because of, what I feel, is a cowardly desire to not suffer alone in silence.

This may be a controversial way of thinking, yet I do believe that both are acts of terrorism. They may be insane individuals, brainwashed individuals, psychologically unstable, but they have committed to enacting a violent form on an unknowing and generally innocent public (barring personal views on the guilt of ‘the public’). When we elide the concept of terror and place it firmly within religious boundaries, and more than that, within racial and cultural boundaries, primarily identifying Muslims from the Middle East, Southern Asia, and North/Western Africa, then we create the space for other acts of terrorism to comfortably exist within our sociopolitical conceptions, we damn religious and ethnic groups to a vilified identity of ‘terrorists,’ and we, in the end, endanger ourselves to a wider variety of external acts of violence – which we unwittingly condone.

We bring the beast into our society and say ‘Welcome.’

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#117 ~ Student Living – Hard Times

When you trade in Alpro soya milk for Sainsbury’s Basic Value Unsweetened Soya that comes in a recyclable carton, is not refrigerated and costs 57p, you can either lie and tell yourself you are being economically suave, or simply ‘you is broke’.

I worked hard in the summer. Beating up the pavements with my above-board superwoman-esque Charity-Fundraising-Dialogue techniques, i incurred the wrath of the apathetic and charity-harrangued public for six hard weeks after my A-levels. My first day someone told me that all the people in Africa should be gathered together and nuked. I had been threatened, in Clapham Junction, with a snake-hissing charity-hater. I had been called a chugger – an insulting and degrading term of ‘charity mugger’ which we endeavoured to re-appropriate into charity hugger. I had shaken scaly unwashed hands, I had been ‘chirpsed’, I had been abused by hail and rain, smoke and pain  –  lots of pain. Yes, I worked hard, I prayed hard, kept up a smile and was successful.

For a first job, i would not recommend charity fundraising. It can be soul destroying. When my normally nonchalant brother called to check on me after my first day, I collapsed, in tears on our front steps. I tasted my mucus, it was salty, and stank of the streets. I remember getting actual panic attacks in the morning. Asthma attacks even, at the fearful thought of going out in public to become a victim to ‘busy’ London. But I survived.

Paying for all of this upfront took that beautiful, luxurious word ‘savings’ straight out my mouth, like a man in Wembley expertly spitting quat. 

I was proud that my hard work had paid off, and not only could I afford to pay for my sister and I to go away for a week to the incredible Christian youth event  Momentum, but I could also afford to survive in Uni. Yes. For once, I had positive credit to my name in the style of a CASH ISA. That’s right – I had savings. Such a delectable word. Say it again, as the Hyenas call in the Lion King, except instead of the name Mufasa it is Savings. Savings, savings, ssssavings.

*Drops back down to frugal reality. It hurts.*

I am a student. Student = student living  = hard times.

  • When you get to the point where you are mixing last night’s burnt rice with undercooked, unwashed lentils, raw curry powder, shito pepper and Red Leicester cheese, lying to yourself that it’s a meal, you are on the way to rock bottom.
  • When that is after an exam, you are having problems.
  • When you trade in Alpro soya milk for Sainsbury’s Basic Value Unsweetened Soya that comes in a recyclable carton, is not refrigerated and costs 57p, you can either lie and tell yourself you are being economically suave, or simply ‘you is broke’.
  • When you have run out of hair oil and have to use coca butter to prevent dandruff attaching itself to your afro – cocoa butter (yes, not even vaseline as if you could afford that?!), that’s when you need to join Kanye’s Broke-phi-Broke fraternity.
  • When you do not have a phone because you cannot afford to buy one, and if someone bought one for you, you could not top it up, then, well then it really is the beginning of the end.

In the space of 10 days I have achieved all the above. Yes, all the above.

I do eat my cereal with a teaspoon to pretend that the dust particles of Basics Muesli really do count as a meal,

And it’s not because I’m a squanderer, no, not at all. It’s because

  1. My University works on an arrears payment system,
  2.  I recently decided to work for 5 weeks in South Africa,
  3. I am required to buy at least 3 Shakespeare plays a week to complete my weekly essays – and they have to be Arden.

Paying for all of this upfront took that beautiful, luxurious word ‘savings’ straight out my mouth, like a man in Wembley expertly spitting quat.

Yet, even if I do eat my cereal with a teaspoon to pretend that the dust particles of Basics Muesli really do count as a meal, I am reassured that I am ok. It is a journey and I have people who will pick me up when I fall and help me on my way. It is also an initiation into the life that people have half-heartedly joked art students inevitably wander into. I have lovingly started naming the baked beans in my, obviously, Sainsbury’s Basics can. When we get down to Bill, Bob and Ben…well that’s a sad day.

Yet, I am blessed. Blessed to be able to laugh and share and reminisce in it, because I have two beautiful people who remind me that  it is the learning curve into maturity and adulthood. It’s also the time when we are humbled in our beliefs that wealth, economic prowess, savings – they can be stripped away in an instant. And it makes you question  – are you humble enough to admit an economic weakness, receive support and grow again, or does your worth and pride consume you and prevent an honest, humble acknowledgement that you can’t afford your ride?

Student living. It’s hard times but it is well worth getting on this ride of experience.

(Also, learn how to make soup. I have some parsnips and a leek in my fridge. I have recently learnt that I only need those 2 ingredients to make…parsnip soup! Jame Oliver, eat your heart out.).

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#116 ~ Life Lesson. No 14

Make the time for a random act of kindness – it usually affirms you more than the recipient

#115 ~ Ineffable

Critics speak of the ineffability of God who, through sacred rhetoric, can be incarnated into the man-made word, the unknown made manifest in the image of his Son. Metaphor creates the vivacious image which ignites the imagination and enables the incommunicable desires of the heart to be expressed in the language of thought. This in turn distills a passionate desire within the Speaker which elicits a response from the Divine.

What happens, when you are trying to express all that, but it isn’t a part of sacred rhetoric or divine poetry, but an examination essay? How do you incarnate the ineffable ideas of a students mind into a coherent language?

Take time, and remember, you are more than just a class mark.

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