London is said to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. This may be in part thanks to Colonialism’s insidious reign, but fortunately it would be one of the positive things to work out of that grim history. The years have seen London in a consistent state of flux as new waves of immigrants of various shades, beliefs and experiences embrace the capital city as home. I live in one of the most diverse boroughs in London at present: Hackney, though, sadly that seems to be changing gradually.
I hail from Southern California, a town that a taxi-driver in Tijuana once referred to as ‘Little Mexico’ owing to the large numbers of Mexican farm labourers in particular. I grew up with friends of all backgrounds, ethnicity, income. As a child, it just wasn’t a thing to label people. We Californians pride ourselves on being different – and on not being known for our racism. However it does exist… boy, does it. I went through a spell as a teenager of racial hatred and white supremacy. As people we tend to identify someone to hang our hardships on and in my case I directed certain feelings towards certain people. If I could travel back in time I would give myself an extraordinary backhand.
But as a recovering racist* living in London now for almost a decade, its beauty in shades of skin, language landscape and tolerance for beliefs, it’s got to be one of the things at the top of my list about this place. Living here has further broken the back of my racist self, it’s challenged me to question my own beliefs, particularly where these beliefs put my back up against anyone else’s. Tolerance isn’t such a bad word in my book. Possibly not the best word, but not a bad one.
My fellow country-folk are in jeopardy of losing the benefit of such a multicultural stance on life: the way it changes you if you allow it to. It’s frightening to be vulnerable like that, to feel that your own culture and ways may be threatened. But if these ways are to be, they will remain unchanged, at least where they’re most truthfully and sincerely held. But with an openhandedness rather than a closed-off-ness. Or a balled up fist.
At any rate and having cast my absentee ballot today in favour of the other guy (not the one with the rage and bad toupee), I also cast my ballot (metaphorically speaking) in favour of a city that just welcomed its first Muslim mayor. Sorry to pigeonhole you, Sadiq but I’m hopeful you understand that I’m not trying to limit you to just that, but to help others see that it really doesn’t matter or that a bit of difference helps us all.
*Some other guy came up with this recovering racist thing on FB. Admittedly I didn’t watch his video or read his blog or whatever, but I think I get it. Racism is so ingrained in us it’s hard to ever really be free of it. I can only hope my fear or hatred of the other dies more with each passing day.
I was reminded by a friend via her blog yesterday that it’s that time of year again for an end of year recap. 2012 was a year of ups and downs if ever there was one. It felt like the first half of the year carried over from the last half of 2011 – very difficult and saddening in so many ways. I am delighted at the way that the year has ended however and am looking forward ‘expectantly’ to the year ahead and all that it promises. I hope that it brings you warmth, dreams coming true and every beautiful thing to counter the inevitable struggles.
We spent much of this month adoring our kitty who was growing like a little weed and keeping us entertained. Both the hubster and I were not well at the turn of the new year, which was spent watching films and fireworks online (which had a brilliant soundtrack!). I began a creative writing course, challenging myself to get disciplined about writing. It was a good run but I’m afraid it didn’t last long. We rejoiced as ridiculous charges were dropped against my hubster for serving tea and biscuits at a strike. We took long winter strolls and watched as the Olympic park grew. I wrote about Coq au Vin (sans Coq) and that turned out to be my most picked up on post via search engines. We ended the month with a big fat positive and began nervously (and quietly) expecting Butterbean.
We had the first snow of the year on the 4th and I teared up at the Muppets. We celebrated a leap year and I lost a childhood crush, Mr Davey Jones of the Monkees.
The month kicked off with renewed sadness as we lost our Butterbean. I killed my old Facebook account and started a new one as the Timeline found its way into my life. Spring sprung around us and we celebrated the marriage of friends in York.
In true fool’s style, we circulated a Facebook rumour about our return to the states, prompting a host of messages from both happy and sad friends. I got fed up with my job and kitted out the kitty with a stylin’ cone. Things got crafty as spring ramped up and I visited family and friends in California for Easter. I swooned with a friend to our aging boy band favourites New Kids on the Block in the rafters at the O2 arena. I was angered by the appearance of rooftop missiles on East London estates thanks to the impending Olympics.
The music world lost a legendary artist, MCA. I curated an art exhibition out of recycled rubbish. We played heavy metal bingo and ate skull adorned cupcakes. At the end of the month, I took a much needed break from social media and took lots of photos, like this one of a Hackney hipster cat.
Thank you ma’am for the extra time off work! We didn’t celebrate the Jubilee but I made a zombie royal to mark the occasion. I tried (and failed) at making sourdough bread. In spite of it being a summery month where our veggies started growing in the garden, the pests abounded, snacking on our carrots, onions and anything else they could munch on thanks to the wet weather. My heart was still heavy and in need of a vacation.
As the Jubolympics approached I continued slagging off the games and noting the bad press coverage on security screw ups, military like presence in London and just generally hating the aesthetics. As crowds in London increased we headed out at the end of July for a couple weeks in Germany and Amsterdam.
Best.holiday.ever. We enjoyed a few hours in Brussels, then headed to Cologne and a festival in Germany. As always it was a treat hanging out with friends there. We headed to Amsterdam, one of my top cities now, for a week of R&R. Shame about the mosquitoes! Our final 24 hours included shooting stars, tiny kaffes, buzzing markets, a huge appeltaart for breakfast, hunting for vintage records, and wandering without getting lost. I turned a grand old age of 35 mid-month, marking the occasion with a sombrero, tequila, an amazing cucumber margarita and Mexican food shared with friends. We joined other soggy festival-goers for Greenbelt which turned out to be a complete mud bath.
The hubster and I marked 4 years of matrimony with Belgian cuisine and too much Haagen-Daaz. We may or may not have also made a baby as a result. Well, apparently we did at some point around that time. But we wouldn’t know til the end of the month.
We saw Billy Bragg perform for the BBC, remembered our lost little ones, voted for ‘the best man’ and tried to get our tomatoes ripened. We carved pumpkins butternut squash and celebrated my dear one’s birthday. I was invited for a job interview knowing I was somewhere around 7 weeks pregnant with Spud.
I was offered, accepted and started a new job managing a community centre nearby. I was gladdened by a certain Presidential election outcome. We crept up to Thanksgiving and our 12 week scan when we found out all was well and announced the big news to family and friends.
We watched my belly grow, heard our baby’s heartbeat and had a nice quiet Christmas at home for the last time in quite some time. Enjoyed the time off of work to catch up with friends, some of whom are also expecting in the new year. We celebrated New Years by watching the new Bond film and were home by midnight to break in 2013 with Cosette and our own comfy surroundings. Ah yes and we didn’t die at the ‘end of the world.’
While the 31st was cloudy, dark and rainy we awoke to a bright and sunny 1st day of the year. Hopefully it’s a good omen.
Inspired by my friend and fellow blogger Rachel who wrote a recap of her family’s year, I thought I’d do the same. I can’t help but feel that it was a really bad year for us, more so for me perhaps than my hubster as it was metaphorically speaking very wintery, but as he reminds me, there were some gems to be celebrated and lots of great stuff came out of the most painful of experiences. So here goes…
We greeted the new year with friends and a few million others atop the Waterloo Bridge with a stunning front row view of the London fireworks. Not much to say about that but it was a good few hours hanging out and welcoming in all that we couldn’t possibly foresee.
The first of the year had me working as Team Manager for SPEAK, a campaigns and prayer network. While I have to be honest and say that it was one of the most trying things I’ve ever done employment-wise, I learned so much and met some inspiring and beautiful people in the process and worked with a fantastic team campaigning for corporate accountability and to stop UK public funds going towards the international arms trade. I was in the throes of coordinating the planning of the annual network gathering to happen in February and things were pretty intense all around.
While much of this tiring month work-wise was spent still preparing for the gathering to occur at the end of February, there was a wee bit of living done outside of work hours.
Valentine’s Day was a great opportunity to ‘show the love’ to our neighours (didn’t Jesus say something about that?) so we wrapped some love up in chocolate chunks and cookie dough. The response to our little offering of unconditional vegan love was amazing.
After Valentine’s Day and a heart-burning, stomach-turning binge on very nice steaks, Rob turned to me and said ‘I think we should become vegetarians’. While it sounds hypocritical to say, I had been waiting to hear those words for some time, always knowing I’d go back to being vegetarian and that in my heart it’s the right thing to do. I can’t say we’ve been perfect at it, but we do our best and enjoy it.
We celebrated with Rob’s best man Simon as he was married and sadly we lost a friend Paul to a heart attack. He had cooked the meal for our wedding party at our rehearsal and driven the gals, my mom and myself to the church and the new Mr and Mrs back home at the end of the day. He was a great person to have called a friend.
Finally, the SPEAK team and crew of volunteers pulled off what was dubbed the best gathering in years. It was pure exhaustion, highlighted by driving fines, some tears, lots of creativity, people chopping potatoes in the middle of the main room, and finished off with a few of us hiding away drinking what was left of the communion wine and laughing heartily.
I think I likely spent the month following the conference sleeping or in some semi-conscious state. Around this time I decided to leave the Network Support Team on a relatively high note and handed in my lengthy notice. My heart really ached to get back into community work on a local scale and I preferred to carve out more time for life at the expense of money so the hubster and I agreed I’d start working part-time.
Rob and I had a nice get-away to Hastings for a weekend by the seaside. We discovered awesome vintage and secondhand shopping that has changed our lives… well, nearly.
Let’s not forget that Japan experienced terrible earthquakes and tsunamis during this month with horrible loss of life.
I ventured into the realm of the fashionably unemployed in the middle of a terrible economic downturn having finished up my role with SPEAK. Boy was I tired. The stress of a few years’ near-burnout-experiences really caught up with me. Fortunately I did have some space at this time as we headed Stateside for some East Coast visits.
We spent Easter with Rob’s family and some time with mine in North Carolina. True to my own nature, I was all go and little rest, but it was a great time catching up with people including my best friend since 8th grade and her family (I’d never met her kids!). We also were in New Jersey and in NYC which gave me the perfect opportunity to drive through the city (thanks to a hubster with an expired license).
May brought glad tidings of employment and alternative currency. I was hired for a part time role in Haringey with the Timebank. Unfortunately I had about four weeks until I actually would start the job and plenty of time to fill so I spent most of it walking around Hackney and other parts of London and doing crafty projects and cooking. Nice way to recuperate!
Started work, tried to do community work, was just too tired so didn’t. So what did I do? Went to see friends perform at the English National Opera in their community choir, hosted Shai Hulud, blogged a lot (relatively speaking), asked where summer was and then applauded it’s sudden arrival.
Went on a British wine tasting adventure, explored satisfaction and saw this pig
Ah yes, and discovered we were pregnant.
and thus began the summer of insanity…
Rob returned from a nice few days in Germany to a fiery London and a stressed out Inked Eskimo. Riots had hit, flats were pulled out from under us and we had little to no time to find someplace to live. I entered my mid-30s technically speaking and we looked forward to meeting the growing ‘blueberry’ nesting in me. We moved out of our flat, bid farewell (contextually speaking) to our flatmate, and took up residence at the Greenbelt Festival, my second time being homeless at this gathering.
The small dose of joy we experienced (well small in actual size but truly great in the context of even the most difficult experiences of the year) at the encapsulated arrival of Blueberry was dashed as we discovered the little fellow’s heart had stopped after a few weeks time. This was probably the most mournful thing I’d ever gone through but I won’t allow the grief to overwhelm the elation of experiencing what will always be our first pregnancy. As I shared our story I was and still am completely gobsmacked at the response of others who’ve endured similar loss or who just rallied in sorrowful support.
Rob and I celebrated our third anniversary in Cornwall after a week of hosting his parents in London where we were house-sitting. We found the best flat we could’ve imagined, aside from wishing it one additional bedroom, moved in and finally felt truly at home in London for the first time ever.
Nearly 10 months belated as a Christmas gift but just at the right time, a little black and white furball blew into our lives from Battersea animal shelter. Cosette the kitten arrived, 6 weeks old and ran off with our hearts which she has hidden somewhere still to be found.
We also Occupied London and celebrated Rob.
The little heart-thief Cosette pretty much carried all of November away with her, but we also gave thanks with some friends over cranberry and mushroom nut roast (thus discovering that actually nut roasts can be delicious) and cranberry margaritas. Days later, Rob was arrested for supporting striking union members at a local library during the largest strike action in a generation. We’re still in the throes of fighting that nonsense (holding my tongue here) and hope to get the all clear come mid-January. Stay tuned.
The events of late November admittedly had a knock on effect on our household. Thankfully we had already planned a get away to the seaside with friends which we stuck with. We celebrated a nice quiet Christmas together, glad for the peace, our home, those who have stuck with us, our kitten, and new experiences however painful they may have been.
If you Google ‘Paul in prison’ and check out the images you’ll see a host of inspired artwork of a pensive, well groomed man, frequently gripping a quill as he stares off into the distance recalling stories which he then presumably scribes for you and I to read in our Bibles today. You’ll also find colouring book pages for those of us with less artistic prowess to indulge our creativity. I wonder if it was really like that.
My thinking about Paul was spurred by my husband’s arrest a couple weeks ago for supporting striking public sector workers in London, merely with the intention of distributing tea and biscuits. As Christ-followers involved in the activist scene locally, we have friends from both spheres who have supported us via text messages, emails and social media in this time. Rob’s activist friends who have a great deal more familiarity with the process of being arrested, either having been there themselves or having supported others before were unflinching in their ability to provide information and ensure that we were well looked after.
Our Christian friends, while very good at sending message of support and offering prayer were not so great at offering practical help. I hope that this experience of ours will serve to enlighten our Christ-following friends in ways that they can help out in a more hands-on way where possible, but that’s for another day and another post.
Along with offers for prayer we were overwhelmed with statements comparing Rob’s arrest and 12ish hours in jail to the apostle Paul who was also imprisoned and wrote much of the New Testament letters during that time. I wondered why with every new message sent comparing Rob to Paul I went from shaking my head in good humour, knowing that this was an example of Christians taking experiences totally out of context, to becoming increasingly frustrated with the comparison. I just couldn’t put my finger on why I was so annoyed as I know that every person who sent such a message did so intending to give encouragement and identify with the experience in possibly the only way they knew to do so.
We escaped to the seaside the weekend after the ordeal and sat on the beach talking about why I felt so miffed. As we talked on, I realised that my issue with this comparison stemmed from the fact that Rob was arrested with 36 other people also doing good in their community. Maybe they weren’t doing it as an act of love for their neighbour explicitly following Christ’s example, but nevertheless they were doing it equally. It seems like a real double standard to select the Christian for a biased pat on the back, neglecting the others who were unjustly repaid for the same good deeds.
This is one of the real problems we’ve got with the church right now- the near inability to see or acknowledge Jesus values that are embedded all around us. Perhaps if we did so others would feel a closer kinship with Jesus rather than an increasing sense of alienation.
I also realised that this is a great example of an unhealthy tendency I’ve seen the church charged with before – the tendency to align itself more with Paul than with Christ. Listen to Christians in Bible conversation and you’ll probably hear more reference to Paul than Jesus. We spend more time studying his letters than the gospels and life of Christ. I wonder why people felt compelled to compare Rob’s arrest to Paul instead of Jesus who also was imprisoned without cause. Who exactly are we following? A guy who, I have to be honest, at face value seems like a real sexist jerk sometimes* or a guy who we confess to believing lived a perfect life?
Not to seem thankless to those who have offered their support and been inspired by a fellow Christ follower who ended up charged with violence by following Jesus’ call to love his neighbour. Just to challenge and provoke thought.
* When I first started reading the Bible for real I actually crossed through some of what Paul said about women because it infuriated me. I could think of several things to call him before ‘apostle’. Having studied a bit more and getting a cultural context for what he said and looking into the way things were badly translated I know that he has been misquoted in most of our translations and isn’t such a bad guy after all and actually quite pro-women. But I have real empathy for anyone reading the Bible without this understanding.
Luke Howard, 1772-1864, Namer of Clouds lived and died here
I passed by a London blue plaque yesterday on my way to work. I love to read these little things that give a snapshot into the people who have lived and died in London. This one in particular put a big smile on my face: