From National Pride to National Shame By Kelly Grehan

On Sunday morning I wrote another version of this blog. Swept up in Euro 2020 fever, I wrote about my renewed optimism for an England that belonged to everyone, and where differences were celebrated. I imagined a future where we would look back on this week fondly. Of course I now realise how stupid and naive I was.

Football is such a strong part of our national identity, and last week, everywhere I looked everyone was celebrating the men’s England football team. I thought – our brilliant, diverse, socially active, campaigning players were the sign of a new era. An era so desperately needed.

As Gareth Southgate said in his beautiful letter to the nation ‘Dear England, You remember where you were watching England games. And who you were watching with. And who you were at the time.’ It’s true. I remember, aged 6 my dad explaining ‘the hand of God’ to me and in 1990 my whole family watching the disastrous penalty shoot out and our hero Gazza crying.

I look back on the summer of 1996 – when I was 16 – as a truly glorious time. With nationalism seemingly less of an toxic issue than it is now, St Georges flags were everywhere as England stormed to the European semi final. For the first time in my lifetime Labour were less than a year away from power. I was awaiting my GCSE results and so was on the cusp of new adventures. For met felt like a great time to be young and English. I watched England 98 in the pub with my friends, wearing face paint and comfortable sobbing boys on my shoulders as we went out.

This last decade has made me feel a complete lack of identity as either British or English. As Labour lost back to back elections, austerity turned the UK into a country I often felt ashamed of and then the Brexit result led to years of division. Last spring, after the murder of George Floyd the racist reactions of some people made me feel like I would never feel I really belonged in England again.

Then the last three weeks happened. Gareth Southgate wrote that letter making it clear that the England players would continue to take the knee before matches. He said ‘It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.’

When I read that, for the first time in a long time, I actually felt hopeful about the future of this county. Of course idiots like tory MP Lee Anderson complained, but the England football team were representing the views I hold. Better still the team included players who not only believe in social justice, but have actually gone out and fought for it. I’m talking, of course, about people like Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. I feel good linking my identity with them. It’s been touching to hear both men pay tribute to their mothers, especially as in the 1990s when Sterling and Rashford were born, single mothers were demonised as ‘scroungers.’ Actually many were heroically bringing up fantastic kids, working hard & are worth so much more than those who criticised. It must drive those who condemned black single mothers at that time to see the men these mothers raised.

As the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and others lined up to criticise the England team for taking the knee, rather than say they had made their point and stopping the team carried on – in full knowledge of the criticism it would bring. Harry Kane wore a captain’s armband with the pride rainbow flag on. The players gave money to the NHS. The strength those young men showed was simply inspirational to so many of us. It was simply joyous to see people celebrating England after previously feeling they were not welcome to – people wearing England tops and hijabs, elderly black women, people in turbans. This was the England I wanted to be part of.

If I am honest I’ve never derived much pleasure from watching actual football matches but what I do love is being part of a crowd, all singing the same songs and shouting the same chants and feeling the same emotions at the same time. In short – that feeling of belonging. The England team singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ with the crowd last week was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen – made even better by knowing that – like me- people across the county were joining in – and that this team had made it clear they belonged to everyone.

Then Sunday night and Monday morning happened. Scenes of joy were replaced with ugly scenes of violence and racism. People around the world watched this unfold and no doubt made judgements accordingly. Far from a fine new era, it became clear little has changed in the last 40 years.

I won’t forget waking up Monday morning, and reading about horrific racist targeting of the black England players.

Let’s be clear, the hatred some people seem to feel for Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka is not borne of disappointment that they missed penalties any more than those furious over taking of the knee were really worried about marxism entering football. These people are motivated by jealousy and the fact that their pathetic world view that their own skin colour gives them some kind of superiority or deeper right to be English has been shown to be nonsense. People are not racially abusing players because of missed penalties: they are racially abusing people because they are racists.

Being patriotic isn’t about excluding others and it certainly isn’t about abusing others. We cannot keep pretending that racism will somehow sort itself out in the end. That it will die out with older generations, or that it’s fine because ‘things are better than they used to be.’

Imagine how black children seeing the headlines are thinking about how accepted they are in the country they grow up in. Indeed many will have heard racist chanting on their way from the match, others seen racist graffiti on walls as they walked to school on Monday. In years to come they will be reflecting on the events of this week and how it made them feel – no doubt a world away from my happy Euro 96 nostalgia! We cannot let this be a country where this continues. We owe all our kids more than this. We need to be a better England.

The way we make racism unacceptable is by not accepting it. We stop making excuses for racism – it’s not banter, it’s not emotion or passion and it’s not ‘having a laugh.’ Taking a stand against racism may be woke, but better than being asleep! Instead of true patriots, who happen to be of colour being afraid to come to football stadiums let’s make racists unwelcome there. Instead of people asking questions about why we did not win a football match let’s question why some people feel safe shouting abuse at others across terraces, and in pubs and booing national anthems – and made both completely accepted anywhere.

Let us fight to be the England I thought we were on Saturday.

Dear Mr Johnson, Will I Receive A Fine For Following Your Shielding Advice? By Lisa Mulholland

I need some urgent clarification, well me and about 800,000 other people…

You revel in your’ vaccination success’. And are using this as some of the basis as to why you are opening schools fully from the 8th March 2021.

You have boldly claimed that all the clinically extremely vulnerable are now vaccinated or at least had their first vaccine dose. And it is true, that a large chunk of those who have already been vaccinated are of an age where their children are not likely at school age.

Yet on Thursday 18th February an extra 1.7 million people were added to the Shielded Patients List. I, unfortunately was added to the list due to multiple underlying health conditions that originally placed me in category, which at this current time that I write, was not eligible for the vaccination.

It’s a marvellous, groundbreaking, quick piece research that has produced the statistics to provide the basis to be able to do this. And for that I am grateful to now be a greater priority for vaccination and shielding support.

However out of that 1.7 million, there are 800,000 of those, like me, that have yet to be vaccinated, at the time I write this.

https://www.itv.com/news/2021-02-16/covid-17-million-more-people-told-to-shield-and-820000-moved-up-vaccine-priority-list

Presumably for a number of reasons that would have not made them eligible previously, such as age or vulnerability, perhaps they were not previously in any priority cohort at all. And if they are of a younger age, then they are more likely to have children of school age.

And so their children will be expected back into school. In just two weeks time, they will enter an environment with hundreds of other children containing the remnants of all of the social contact that hundreds of their parents have had, such as when they go to work or to the supermarket.

Will those 800,000 clinically extremely vulnerable new shielders be vaccinated in time? And even if they have their first dose by 8th March will it provide any protection by then?

And if so, doesn’t this go against the advice we have received which is that we should continue to shield until 31st March at the earliest?

How can it be that I am not allowed to go to a pharmacy, or supermarket yet I am allowed to drive my children and walk them up to the school gates and allow them to go into three separate schools, with three separate sets of school staff, three separate sets of school communities and mix with them? And then come home to me. Eat with me, hug me, share a house with me.

If I choose to follow your shielding advice to the letter (and not just the letter but in the very spirit the shielding advice was created: to protect myself and the NHS from covid 19) and I make a logical decision in keeping with that spirit to keep my children at home until I am allowed out of shielding, will I get fined?

It seems ludicrous that I could potentially get a fine for following government advice, but it also seems ludicrous that a phased return to school is not going to happen. After the scientific advisers have told you this needs to happen and after lessons learned from September 2020.

Please please allow us shielding parents with school aged children to have some flexibility about whether we let our children return. Let us decide whether or not to send them back without the worry of receiving a fine.

Please.

Our lives will depend on it.

Class of 2020: My Son Is More Than A Statistic By Lisa Mulholland

If algorithms are picking my sons GCSE grades, then he will surely fail.

This government have played games with our children’s education for too long.

They changed the exam grading system, made exams more linear and made the curriculum so much harder in the last four years.

It almost felt like they were deliberately trying to make things harder. Trying to squeeze our children into a ‘one size fits all’ exam system. The previous system allowed for more differentiation, because some courses were more coursework based and allowed for different skills to shine through. But they changed it and made it more restrictive.

Our children and teachers adapted though and found new ways to prepare children for exams. Jumping through smaller and smaller hoops…

My son, has been allowed to stick with some of the older curriculums for his GCSEs because he attends a specialist school. The teachers have already put in the work to make the case for children who need more differentiation. And luckily they were successful in that.

My son has autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, a severe visual impairment and generalised anxiety disorder. He attends a specialist school. On paper, or according to the algorithms, he’s not going to do well in his GCSEs. It was a battle to even think this day would come where he would be able to sit those GCSEs.

Statistically, only 16% of adults with autism are in full time employment. Statistically the odds are against him.

And yet his reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes he has a ‘spiky profile’. He’s in the 99th centile for his English and Science, yet really struggles with his writing ability due to joint hypermobility that affects his hands. His educational psychologist called him ‘gifted’ but only with the support and tools he needs for his disability. And so those subjects where he struggles, he has now managed to get to a level that is acceptable for him.

This is a whistle stop statement of the last four years.

I cannot even begin to tell you the work that has been put in over the years.

However despite his many issues, his teachers who have taught him over the years have all said things like “he will be something amazing when he’s older”

“he has a brilliant mind and he has the type of brain that will change the world”…

Those are quite vain statements, however I only include them to demonstrate the disparity between what my son looks like on paper and what his reality actually is. This is to highlight the point that a statistic cannot tell you everything about someone. And this is why the Class of 2020 need to be seen as more than just an unfortunate cohort of statistics.

With support in exams; a room on his own, a laptop for extended writing pieces, my son actually performs exceptionally well in exams. He loves them! He thrives in tests.

He has big plans for his future and he always does what he sets out to do. He wants to be an architect. He plans to go to university in 2022. He has set out his pathway with back up arrangements if he doesn’t get the grades he needs .

Despite the odds stacked against him I truly believe he will be in the minority of his algorithm category, for want of a better word. I hope that will be in that 16% that will go on to have a full time job.

He’s completed some qualifications already, he’s done his functional skills exams and performed very well.

But this has only been achieved through years of struggle and overcoming many hurdles. His teachers and I have worked incredibly hard to build confidence. To help with panic attacks that just make him block out the world and not be able to concentrate. He’s been taught exam techniques, and ways in which to overcome his inattention due to his ADHD.

We had got it down to a fine art. His actual art and design work is the level of a grade 9, and his history and science are around about that of a level 7. Other subjects that he struggles with and has no interest in, were predicted around a 4. Amazing for him and what he needs to do every day just to be able to attend school, sit quietly in a classroom, let alone think, or concentrate.

But the A level travesty last week is not filling me with hope that he will get the grades he deserves. The algorithms have moderated the grades; not by teacher assessment but by background, area or type of school setting.

So what chance does an autistic child at a specialist school have?

The algorithms are against him. This government is taking this opportunity to once again compound inequality.

No student from Eton missed out on their predicted grade though!

The statistics won’t tell them how well an individual child has worked, what difficulties they’ve overcome, or what their dreams and hopes are. How many of them now have their hopes dashed?

I cannot speak for those children in depth because I don’t know them, but it doesn’t take a genuis to know that children can and do perform differently to how their class/ race/ gender/ disability statistically performs.

The statistics won’t tell them that my son is resilient.

But I can tell you that he is.

His teachers and I can tell you that four years ago we had been through two secondary mainstream schools. We’d been refused help from CAMHS until I’d written a letter that somehow went viral and I ended up on TV. We then finally received some support from CAMHS which changed his life for the better.

He eventually got into the school that met his needs and they have turned his life around; from an anxious boy who was school refusing; to the boy who skipped his lunch break to go into the classroom to work harder on his projects and coursework.

And everything in between. From sliding work to his hunched over self with his hands over his head. Every day his teacher would slide a piece of work under his face and walk away. Slowly but surely his head started to lift. Until eventually he would do the work. In the end he used to be so animated with his work that he would take over some of the lessons and be helping his other anxious counterparts.

Will they listen to his teachers that are incredibly skilled not just in the subjects they teach but in the emotional support they provide to the children at his school. And in the creative ways that they adjust the curriculum to meet the children’s needs? I’m sure his teachers aren’t the only ones. Teachers up and down the country work so hard getting to know their students and what they are capable of. So why not let them decide?

It is not like anyone is expecting a free for all, finger in the air type guessing game of what grades the children should get; they have to prove those children are capable of those grades…. they worked hard at this with not much notice and living through a pandemic themselves, so why aren’t they being listened to?

I can only hope that somehow my son will get the grades he deserves.

My story is just one out of millions. Each student has their own story. Unfortunately the ones with the biggest stories and ones who have jumped the highest hurdles are likely to be the ones who will be graded most unfairly.

Millions of other students on Thursday will be in the same position. Waiting for their fate to be decided with bated breath. Because they had the misfortune of being the class of 2020. Living through a pandemic isn’t enough stress for them, they now have to wait to see what grades are fished out according to background, and bloody algorithms !!!!

For most of those students, the stakes are higher than they are for my son. They are waiting to go to university, or the college of their dreams… at least my son is guaranteed a place at his sixth form and for that we are lucky but what about the others?

They have already missed out on so much, the rites of passages that comes with ending school. Saying goodbye to friends and teachers. Having the experience of sitting their exams.

Everything about this year has been rushed and clinical. The least the examining boards could do was actually follow the teacher assessments and allow the experts to decide?

One thing is for sure: us parents of the class of 2020 will not take this lying down.

If you would like to support us, here is a link to complain to the DfE

https://form.education.gov.uk/en/AchieveForms/?form_uri=sandbox-publish://AF-Process-f1453496-7d8a-463f-9f33-1da2ac47ed76/AF-Stage-1e64d4cc-25fb-499a-a8d7-74e98203ac00/definition.json&redirectlink=%2Fen&cancelRedirectLink=%2Fen

What It Means To Be The Daughter Of An Indo-African Brahmin By Naina Ramavrat

Home is where the heart is. Yours was trapped between two distant lands, not actually belonging between either of them.

Your skin brown like chestnuts, nutmeg eyes, hair black like the feathers of a crow, your accent unfamiliar as your dialect consisted of five distinct languages. Brahmin was your ‘varna’ (caste) from birth as it was for your grandparents and parents. You were rightfully born into this sect specialising particularly as priests, teachers, and protectors of sacred learnings across generations. This caste is regarded as the highest of all four, holding a certain way of life to lead.

‘Bapuji’ (great grandfather) under British rule sailed across the seas from India to Uganda helping build the Kenya-Uganda railway. After six years of hard indenture he settled.

I wonder how many of his fellow workers were killed by Tsavo (man eating) lions including through dangerous accidents.

Father, you were a Ugandan ‘wananchi’ (citizen) India & Africa was declared independent just before your birth. Your Brahmin upbringing was present, so were the indentations of colonial rule even after the British left. I imagine you and your siblings helping plant sugar cane, eating them to your hearts content, when mature.

Before age seven, the fields were your playground, climbing mango trees, milking cows, collecting hens’ eggs, splashing in lakes especially on hot days. Lake Victoria?

Did you wake up to the rooster calling in the morning?

I’ve heard that when it rains in Uganda the droplets are like water filled diamonds falling from the sky.

Did you play in the mud potholes filled with water giggling away?

How wonderful it must have been growing up on a sugar cane plantation, collecting the crops to sell. Your family were agriculturists.

Oh, how my imagination wonders….

Winston Churchill described Uganda as ‘The pearl of Africa’ with stone sculptures of the crested crane, (national bird of Uganda) standing on one leg to symbolise the country moving forward.

I imagine the sun painted in the evening sky with soft shades of pastels: pink, orange, and indigo. Fireflies flashing neon-blue lights, while crickets chirped.

Was the sunset surreal?

Indian women wearing saris, and salwar kameez in bright shiny colours, their glitter coated bangles glistening in the sun’s reflection. Communities of Punjabi, Hindu, Sikh, Ismaili, and Goan. All having one thing in common their skin colour. Brown.

Learning Sanskrit (ancient language of India) must have taken time, I hope you enjoyed it.

Vegetarian cuisine was a must as your caste does not condone violence, or killing of animals, no toxic ailments, having to be purified if a member of this caste meets anything or anyone that is deemed unclean. Eating meat were for the castes below such as the kshatriyas as they were the warriors who needed energy and strength in battle or the Dalits (untouchables) who could only afford waste meat.

‘Ba’ (grandma) use to call ‘Isu’ your pet name. I hear you calling Nini, however the memory sometimes becomes glitchy through the years.

I wonder how life was in Uganda for you, Was Kampala (capital of Uganda) busy? The bustle of the markets and street sellers, noisy? Peddle pushers selling ice-cream cones, African women wearing their brightly coloured kanga’s carrying ‘Matoke’ (plantain one staple food of Africa) on their heads whilst their babies were swathed in cloths on their backs.

What was ‘little India’ like in Kampala? Is that where you shopped with your family to buy spices, rice, clothes, what were your ‘marafiki’ (friends) and school like?

Oh, how curious I am to know…

The river Nile had an accomplice using its stretched beauty to disguise the crimson colour that lay way beneath the surface. Even the crocodiles could sense mischief, waiting silently to devour evils gift. The sky grew angry, the turmeric sun shuddered withdrawing its rays not wanting to be visible to the scheming that lie ahead.

Rumour has it that President Idi Amin Dada (president of Uganda) had a business meeting with an Indian investor who brought his beautiful daughter along, the General was attracted to her and offered her a date; one that she could not refuse -it was a command! The lady declined, peacefully leaving, her refusal angered the president so much so, that after the encounter he demanded 80,000 Indians leave.

However, the reason given from the horse’s mouth was that he was ‘guided by god’ in his dream to expel Asians; giving them 90 days to pack up and go.

The countdown had begun, the African Ugandans would take over the Asians businesses and homes, anyone who disobeyed the general Amin faced ‘sitting on fire’ or would be sent to concentration camps where death awaited them or they would receive the ‘helicopter treatment’ (being dropped from high height into the river Nile where the crocodiles would swoon in for their delivery).

Many fishermen found human arms and legs instead of fish. The Queen asked for clemency which was ignored outrightly. The poorest Indians drowned themselves as their fate was sealed for them, knowing they could not escape alive. The ‘kondos’ (thief/armed robbers) with machetes were on a high as the military were given orders to subordinate the Asians through any means necessary. The ‘Kondos’ chopped a finger off with a ring on it, arm off with a watch/bangle still attached, that is how they stole.

Many African and Indians with high status disappeared without a trace later finding out the president had them hung and stored in warehouses. Many African tribes were in danger too. The rules/laws changed daily, one thing was for certain that the countdown was happening and families like my fathers needed to get out.

‘Eti Muhindi’ (go back to India) ‘Madukawala’ (shopkeeper go back) the ‘Mzungus’ (whites) brought you here, now go back. Many poor innocent lives were lost.

My father along with his family came to England (London) in 1976, when he was 24 years old. The feeling of leaving must have been immense perhaps relief as being alive and safe was a blessing.

I know the British had mixed emotions about the Asians coming to ‘their’ ‘small’ Island, many were very helpful and welcoming, others not so much.

Dad was bilingual, speaking English and his native mother tongue with family and friends. His family settled and worked but it was never fair. They faced prejudice, there were many slogans and banners stating ‘go back to where you came from’.

Where could they go? My family were kicked out of their ‘home’. Many protests were led by the Indians against racism. There was a large diaspora in England anyway due to colonial rule, but nobody wanted to understand nor accept that.

My mother came to England from Malawi age 12, she did not attend school here as it was too dangerous, her parents did not even consider using the ‘bussing’ method where Indian children were taken to school on a bus outside of their area arriving and leaving school and hour before and later compared to others so they did not face racial brutality.

I read about a Sikh boy who was on his way home from school in the 70’s (Southall), he was murdered but the police did not manage to find his killers stating ‘it’s only Indian blood’.

I was born here in 1988, I remember my early years very clearly. I think the noose on dads’ neck was tight as he was in constant reminder of his Brahmin caste. My mother was from a different caste, it was evident to see. Mum didn’t mind eating on the floor with her family using their hands (practiced in parts of India) dad preferred to sit at the table.

Whenever there would be disagreements their caste would be on show, I never really understood that as a child.

Why was it of such importance?

Mum would have to wear a traditional sari when visiting my paternal grandmother, my dad dressed in a suit, my grandmother also called my mum a different name. a name to her liking that was perhaps more Brahmin.

The look on my dads face when he would come home with sugar cane and exotic fruits, Mangoes, papaya, passion fruit, lychees, Guava. He would have such a big smile on his face especially as I tried them all. I loved chewing on the sugar cane the sweet juice trickling down my throat.

Did it remind you of home dad?

My parents never spoke of ‘home’ much only the odd time my mother would mention ‘Kamuzu Banda’ (ex-prime minister of Malawi) stating he wanted Asians out, if they didn’t leave they would shoot them dead (my mother use to always make a gun sign with her hands when explaining this detail).

Our home was filled with culture. The Indian movies where the costumes were regally elegant, patterned jewellery that dazzled holding my gaze, the dances/movements orchestrated to tell a story of mostly love. But there was always a villain. I learned through those movies that love was pure enough to overcome evil. Just like Rama rescuing his love Sita from the demon king Ravana. ‘Agarbatti’ (incense sticks) were burned and the smoke would fill the room with scents of sandalwood, jasmine, and rose.

The neighbours didn’t approve, neither did they of mothers cooking, she would leave the kitchen window open for ventilation.

I always thought of her cooking pot as a cauldron, she would throw all these seeds in and they would sizzle and pop creating a pungent aroma. Then the spices would go in; turmeric, garam masala, coriander powder, chilli, etc. We would eat samosas, paratha, (spiced roti) mango pickle, chicken curries vegetable curries, ‘supari’ (mouth freshener after meals). The magic food from her cauldron sure was yum!

My mum was fair and she did cook English dinners too like school lunches. In school we didn’t have a varied menu like we have today. I would try African food at my aunties house, (maternal uncles’ wife)

I would often hear the neighbours say ‘pakis, their house stinks of curry’ my fathers’ car was vandalised a few times with racist words scribbled over the windows. The only thing that bothered me was the look on my parents faces, especially my father.

My father had a family, he needed to provide. I remember he found employment at a wielding shop, when returning home from work he was in a sombre mood. He shut his eyes and couldn’t open them! He was targeted at work for the colour of his skin. He wasn’t given health and safety equipment he was welding without safety goggles. Luckily, he didn’t lose his sight. I was shocked at the cruelty. It was much safer to work in mechanics fixing cars with your African friend that you would bring home for dinner from time to time.

Father, you were so very good with animals and loved nature, is that because it was so open to you back home in Uganda?

They probably understood your heart better, rather than judging you based on the colour of your skin.

The swans in the park would always quack the loudest when you got close, they would dance for you and only eat out of your palm allowing you to stroke them too. Mum used to say they sensed when you were coming and going. They would wail when you were leaving.

I remember the hedgehog you saved from under the bus. You stopped the bus, slid underneath it, coming out with the little spike in your hands, and you lead it to safety. Everyone cheered. I was beaming with pride. You laughed at the squirrels grooming themselves, licking their fur to keep clean.

You loved the zoo! Did it remind you of the Massai Mara tribesmen tending to the animals?

Mum used to sing a song called ‘kabutar ja’ (bird go, fly) was she too thinking of home?

She used to condition my hair with ‘Amla oil’ (oil made from Indian gooseberries), we use to decorate our hands with ‘mendi’ (henna) my hair would be tied in two bunches, exactly like mothers when she was young. I used to feel like an Indian princess.

These memories I cherish. Never believing what would unfold in years to come.

The ‘simba’ (lion) in my fathers’ heart had weakened, family ties disintegrated.

My father died in police custody in 1999. I was 11. He was estranged from me for a good while beforehand. Like the swan wailed every time he left, I did too when hearing of his passing.

You had a ‘diseased’ heart and alcohol. intoxication exacerbated your condition.

I have obsessively analysed your coroners report by Her Majesty’s Dr Paul Knapman. My eyes better than any magnified glass. Truth is that 1999 was a different world to now, the digital age has progressed. No cameras to verify anything back then.

You stated to the booking officer that you suffered from Asthma and were not taking anything for it.

Why did he not send the doctor to see you, especially as he sent one for the prisoner next door to you?

He regrets this as he admitted this on his transcript when interviewed, as there was an investigation to your death.

You were in clear distress as the commissioner stated to the officer who was making half an hourly check on you. That frightful night was busy, and all the cells were full. You were in breach of causing a disturbance and just needed to ‘sleep it off’.

You were declared dead after 45 minutes of resuscitation attempts at the hospital where many years later, in that same hospital your two grandsons were born in.

Father, truthfully you had already died in your cell, even though CPR was given with a fight once you were found unresponsive. You were carried on your mat onto the floor where the left side of your head was hit on the wall as the cell area was small.

The lack of training hits hard as there was so much running around being done to find the pocket mask and first aid kit before performing CPR. The emergency button was pressed by the officer after he ran out of the cell in shock.

These may be minute things, but they play a big part. Your family did not order for a private investigation, the verdict ‘natural causes’ seemed plausible to them. It was a sad event for all.

I met with the Chief Commissioner 20 years later who investigated your death. He stated too that it was a very sad event and through your case they learned lessons, as well as making sure the investigation was thorough due to ‘race’ especially as Stephen Lawrence’s case was still fresh.

He added that much has changed since 1999, his eyes watery, he asked about my mother, about if I have any children to which I replied yes. He then looked down and shook his head. He shared that he has a daughter the same age as me including grandchildren similar ages to my sons.

The sad difference is that he is alive to watch them grow. We parted reasonably. I vowed I would ‘let it go’ which I did.

However recent events split open those old wounds, hence writing this.

I cannot go back in time, even if I could I doubt I’d be able to save you. What I do to heal my wounds is imagine a different life for you. My imagination does not fail me. I keep the good memories and add alternatives to what could have been, if that makes sense.

Recently I have felt like screaming ‘we all bleed the same’ no matter what colour skin we are, status, caste, language, ethnicity, religion.

I am thankful that I have the choice and freedom, I am not shackled by caste set on me from birth, I am not ashamed of being brown, I am not embarrassed to have two beautiful sons who are of dual heritage.

I am proud. I am mostly proud to be a daughter of an Indo-African Brahmin. I am giving my father a voice through me. He was so much more than the colour of his skin, and his caste status. He was my father and I loved him.

The ‘simba’ (lion) in my heart roars for all those who have experienced injustice like this, it roars to speak up against inequality whether societal or from close networks such as family.

I look up at the turmeric son on a warm day, I feel your rays caress my face, I paint a picture in my mind of you lying under a tree eyes closed, smiling of all things good.

You are with me always, you left me with your face after all. I see me and I see you.

‘For those of you who wish to leave politics out of dealing with trauma. I wish to remind you that trauma is all about living under social conditions where terrible things are allowed to happen, and the truth cannot be told’

-Bessel van der Kolk

For my mother, father, and sons.

Why Today Was A Victory Against Years of Anti- Immigration Propaganda By Emma Ben Moussa

Today something amazing happened for families like mine, today some of the propaganda began to crumble!

So often I hear that migrants come here to steal our jobs and our benefits but today Sir Keir Starmer brought the immigration surcharge to the surface and people began to question the propaganda they had been fed.

My husband is from Morocco

He is a non EU Citizen so that means he has to pay the immigration health surcharge every 2.5 years until he qualifies for Indefinite Leave to Remain, which in our case will be a 10 year journey. We always wondered why if we were paying national insurance and tax like everyone else that we also had to pay more on top – we have never had health care for nothing, we pay like everyone else. What shocked us even more was that our NHS staff were also having to pay it, the people that were saving our lives were having to pay the surcharge. It seemed an absolute insult.


Today, after pressure from Sir Keir Starmer, the Prime Minister reversed the healthcare surcharge for NHS workers and so I posted about my joy that this day had finally come. People seemed shocked that we had to pay it so I thought I may answer a few immigration myths.

‘When you marry a British citizen you automatically get to live in the U.K.’

NO!

You must earn at least £18600k a year to bring your foreign spouse here – you are only exempt if you receive a disability benefit or carers allowance.

But even if you have children – That does not mean anything, you must still make that income.

‘They come over here and don’t even speak English’

NO!

You can not get a visa unless you have passed a home office approved English language test.

‘They come here for our benefits’

NO!

Non EU citizens can not access public funds until they get indefinite leave to remain. Nothing. Nada! My husband can not access benefits. End of.

Mixed British and Non EU families do pay a fair amount in to the economy, every 2.5 years it costs us 4K for a visa. We go through so much stress every time as our sons have disabilities and a deportation order would be devastating to the family.

We have been paying since 2012 and in 2022 we will finally be eligible to apply for ILR, in total we would have paid £18k in to the economy.


The point of this blog is not to complain but to show you in fact we are not scroungers and we will continue to pay the health care surcharge on top our taxes because we don’t work for the NHS but maybe your view on Non EU migrants might change a bit reading this.

The Kingdom and The Lost Prince By Kelly Grehan

Once Upon A Time there was a Prince who was deeply unhappy.  Although he lived in a beautiful palace and had all the riches a person could dream of, his life had been marred by the terribly unhappy marriage of his parents –  a relationship that when it ended had threatened the whole stability of the Kingdom.  

Then the Prince’s mother had died in a terrible accident, which left the Prince traumatised.  This is another event which threatened the stability of the Kingdom, but, perhaps more importantly left the Prince, who was not yet even a teenager, angry and lost.

Years passed.  The Prince sought solace for his pain in many ways, but none helped. Then one day he met a woman who made his heart sing. Finally he had found the happiness he longed for.  

The Prince thought the Palace and all the Kingdom would rejoice at his happiness, but alas, he was wrong.  

People criticised his true love for her previous successful career as an actress, made mention of her mother being a lone parent whilst sympathising with the father who had left her as an infant.  

Unflattering pieces were written about his love which contrasted sharply with the pieces written about the Prince’s brother’s wife when she had done exactly the same thing – actions ranging from editing a magazine to cuddling their baby bumps.  It sometimes seemed that people were angry that the Prince had chosen a woman who refused to ‘know her place.’

The Prince and his true love decided to leave the Kingdom and embark on adventures where they, and their much loved baby son, could be free from those who felt ill towards them.

It was then that the trouble really seemed to start.  

Immediately the people who delivered the news to the Kingdom began writing about how evil the Prince’s love was – how she had committed such crimes as ‘taking him away from his family’ which confused the Prince because his love had given up her home and much loved career and moved far far away from her own mother when she agreed to marry him.  

Others accused her of sorcery – controlling the Prince… which was strange as others had sought to tell the Prince what to do all his life – including a particularly traumatic occasion where – as a 12 year old, he had been made to walk behind his mother’s coffin in a parade watched by millions of spectators and even more so all around the world.  

Others alluded to his wife being greedy which was particularly odd as when she had married the Prince his love had her own fortune.  

 Then there were those that said ‘they did not like the look of her.’ This further confused the Prince as to what this could possibly mean.  What, wondered the Prince, was it about his beautiful love that made some people feel this way?

The Prince was puzzled as none of these people seemed able to give an exaplantion…..

 

Others advised the Prince and his love that they they should tolerate the comments about their love, their child, her family and their life as it was ‘part of the job.’ This made the Prince feel very sad as he has never wanted the job of being a Prince and he felt that, had his mother not been a Princess, she would still be alive today.

Also many people accused him of not having a job which also made him sad as he has wanted a career in the military but this too, had been proven impossible as his presence would cause danger to others as people who previous accused him of laziness gave away details of his regiments whereabouts.

 

The Prince was bereft at the lack of compassion for him, his beautiful wife and their baby son.  He longed for a Kingdom or even just a land where they would be welcomed and understood.  

He felt sad that his own Kingdom had not been able to do this for him – particularly as the Kingdom had always claimed to be an open place which would welcome all.

The Prince made the brave decision to put his love first, not wanting her to meet the terrible fate that his mother had.

And then.

The Prince was lost to the Kingdom forever…

 

 

 

 

The Roaring 1920s Is A Myth. I Fear The Same Problems Await Us In The 2020s. By Kelly Grehan

Headlines about a ‘return to the roaring 20s’ have started to appear in newspapers, inevitably accompanied by black and white photos of flapper girls with bobbed haircuts and wearing pearls.

While there can be no doubt that some 1920s Brits were able to enjoy a life akin to that described in The Great Gatsby – visiting  nightclubs and drinking cocktails in haute couture clothing, for most survival was the main pursuit.

With a generation of young men lost in The Great War and many more returning home to squalid housing, no health care and an expectation they should never discuss or demonstrate any ongoing suffering from the horrors they had endured, life was grim.

Whilst the  Education Act of 1921 did, at least, raise the school leaving age to 14, schooling standards remained low. In the country, pupils at some schools were still practising writing with a tray of sand and a stick, progressing to a slate and chalk as they became more proficient. Classes were large, learning was by rote and books were shared between groups of pupils, as books and paper were expensive.

Coal reserves had been depleted during the War and Britain was importing more coal than it was mining. A lack of investment in the new industrial techniques led to a period of depression, deflation and decline in the UK’s economy.

By the mid 1920s unemployment had risen to over 2 million!

Wages were low, rents were high and there was little or no job protection. Industrial action persisted, culminating in 1926 in The Great Strike.  It was called by the TUC in protest against mine owners who were using strong-arm tactics to force their workers to accept longer work hours for less take-home pay.

In pre welfare state and NHS Britain poverty and desperation were common, as was premature death and despair. So it’s interesting that photos of well dressed women dancing the Charleston are the defining image of the era. I wonder, if this is because history is, of course, written by the winners. The winners of any non war era are, inevitably those who enjoy power and wealth.  

Talk of a new “roaring twenties” era strikes me as ludicrous in a country where 320,000 people are homeless (Shelter).

14 million people, including 4 million adults who are in employment, are in poverty (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) and schools are £2 billion worse off than in 2015 (Schoolcuts.org.uk). Other problems appear to be returning, for example infant mortality rates have risen for the last four years in England (British Medical Journal).

Studies appear to be indicating that unsurprisingly, poverty is a factor.

For some, of course, this is a golden era. Britain’s total wealth grew by 13% in the two years to 2018 to reach a record £14.6tn, with wealth among the richest 10% of households increasing almost four times faster than those of the poorest 10%.  

I don’t begrudge anyone their wealth BUT I am seriously fearful of what the future holds for a country where work no longer provides a route out of poverty,homelessness is a reality for many people and access to a good education is seriously under threat.

I also wonder if those taking about the good times being here are aware of just how much suffering and strain there is in this country, and whether in the future people will look back of photos of  wealthy people celebrating and will think they are typical of this era

When Judging Someone’s Appearance, Think Before You Speak By Lisa Mulholland

Something happened to me this week that I just feel I need to share.

After a tumultuous few months of my health spiralling out of control, hospital admissions, and all manner of tests, as well as launching a complaint against my former GP for negligence (that’s a long story for another blog): I decided to move GPs. I quickly got diagnosed with diabetes and have been trying to come to terms with that, amongst a long list of other health conditions and chronic illnesses; but at least I finally started to feel like I was being taken seriously.

My diabetic specialist was really supportive this week and has finally started me in some medication. She even said “you should have been treated a long time ago, and the medication will not only help the diabetes but help you lose weight”. I was relieved and feeling very positive.

I’m determined to beat diabetes.

Just one final hurdle to this sorry saga and that was having to have a telephone conversation with one of my new GPs before starting the medication.

She called me up and discussed it all and then… ‘fat shamed’ me.

She’s not met me in person, doesn’t yet know my medical history or anything but she took one look at my BMI and made assumptions about me. I instantly felt awful, responsible for all these issues and like the diabetes is all my fault. I felt deflated.

This is how the conversation went:

Doctor: “I see you’re diabetic and we should start you on some medication. But I am looking at your BMI, (and then she tutted) well what are YOU going to do about this”

I said “ well I’m going to try and lose weight, but I don’t actually eat that badly : and I’ve been trying to follow diabetic recipes and lost…” she interrupted and sniggered at me, and made a noise that sounded like “Pah” . Before I could tell her that I’d lost 5lbs since being diagnosed two weeks ago.

So then I tried to explain again and she spoke over me and said ” I want to know what are YOU going to do” and I said “I just explained” and she said “ I don’t like this BMI AT ALL, this is terrible” so I said “no neither do I, I’ve been trying…” again she interrupted me ” OK I’ll put you on this medication but YOU need to do SOMETHING” . Again I tried to explain what I had been doing and the endless doctors visits and blood tests that had been ignored by my previous GP. Not to mention my pleads for referrals to dieticians, but she wouldn’t let me speak despite asking me what I was going to do! And on it went. Me justifying myself about my weight like I have done all my life…. The thing is I’ve been justifying myself since being medically underweight too.

Yes, I am overweight, obese in fact, but she has made assumptions about me without talking to me properly. Perhaps she assumes that I sit around eating cake all day, or that I over eat? Perhaps she assumes that I like being like this? Or that it is my fault?

What she doesn’t know is that there has been a long and winding journey in getting to this point. She also doesn’t know that before I first encountered diabetes when I got diabetes in pregnancy 15 years ago, then in subsequent pregnancies, was that I was actually medically underweight and battled then for answers too. Only to be rubbished then.

And I promise you, I haven’t changed a single thing about my lifestyle from that point until now, except acquire diagnoses for long standing health conditions such as EDS and an EDS related heart condition (from birth , not from being overweight I might add) and pernicious anaemia to name a few.

I got quite upset after the phone call and started to think about everything I’d done or not done and felt a lot of guilt about being diabetic.

I started to think about where it all started to go ‘wrong’ for me in the weight department. I had gestational diabetes in each of my 3 pregnancies which made me gain almost 5 stone very quickly despite being on insulin injections. Each pregnancy has made it harder to shift the weight. And over time the weight just started piling on. Without me literally changing one thing about my lifestyle.

Hard to believe but it’s true.

So a dramatic weight gain of this proportion, in my opinion, was odd.

Yes I know that we tend to gain a bit of weight as we get older . But we are talking a dramatic weight gain.

I now weigh more than double what I weighed before I was pregnant for the first time!

When I’ve tried to explain this to doctors and other people that didn’t know me before my weight gain, you see in their eyes the lack of belief that someone could change weight that dramatically with no known cause.

But the photos prove it.

From underweight :

To morbidly obese :

Without changing anything in eating habits or exercise...

Then I got thinking about my ‘skinny days’. And the memories came flooding back. People used to make assumptions about me then too. Friends and family used to be shocked that I could eat a fair amount of food and not exercise much yet look like this:

Then I remembered the abuse I used to get. See the thing is I may get fat shamed now, but it’s not nearly as vicious or frequent as the ‘skinny shame’ I used to receive.

Yes. Not a subject we hear of very often. Is it even a thing? Skinny shaming…

I’d be walking down the road minding my own business and a car would drive past. People would shout out cruel things like “Anorexic” or “ Eat a burger for fucks sake”.

I once had someone approach me in the street. She crossed the road and came up to me and said “Are you anorexic” I said “No” and she said “well you look like you are and you look like you’re dying”. I was left standing there in total shock and really ashamed. So I started to wear bigger clothing to hide my body. I got a real complex about my looks and my self esteem took a nose dive. When discussing this problem with friends or family they would just roll their eyes.

There is no sympathy for people that are too skinny.

I tried going to dieticians and had some tests done to find out why I could not put on weight. All the tests came back inconclusive, but with a diagnosis of an inflammatory bowel condition.

So I got on with life. But as my weight went up and up, I started to feel the same embarrassment creep over me as when I was underweight.

Even when I was a normal weight people that knew me would be shocked how I’d changed and feel the need to comment on my weight.

“Oh look at you , you’re finally putting on weight” … “It’s really funny seeing you with a bit of weight on you, it’s about time” etc etc blah blah blah BLAH

Then I went back to covering my body, worrying about what people would think. And this was before I entered the official ‘overweight’ category. On top of having to deal with underlying conditions, it can be really damaging to one’s self esteem.

So when the doctor called me and ‘fat shamed’ me, after all the hell I’ve been through after the last few months. I felt I had to put pen to proverbial paper.

The point of this rant is that it didn’t matter what weight I was. People felt compelled to comment.

Whether I was underweight, gaining weight, overweight or obese (and I have been in all 4 categories) the fact remained; people make assumptions about you and your appearance.

They feel the need to comment, ask intrusive questions, make jokes and judge you.

They have no idea the story behind your appearance.

They have no idea about the person behind the BMI score.

But the effect is the same. It leads you to have low self esteem and make excuses about my eating habits or the content of my wardrobe. Things that are personal.

The bottom line is people don’t have the right to judge others by the way they look. Ok I guess the doctors’ job is to be concerned about my weight, but did she have to patronise me, interrupt me and make me feel like shit?

Did she have to make assumptions? Couldn’t she have asked me about my BMI and let me explain instead?

Does it really matter to anyone (who is not my doctor) if I am obese or underweight? Why does it bother other people?

Surely the questions people should be asking themselves about me are am I a good person?

Am I a good friend?

Am I a good mum? Wife? Citizen? I certainly try to be.

So to the next person who thinks about judging someone’s weight or appearance, maybe it’s a good idea to remember that everyone has their own personal story.

And to the next person that wants to be rude enough to actually ask, I have 5 words for you:

Mind your own damn business !!

Judge The People Making Unwanted Advances, Not Those Who Receive Them By Kelly Grehan

When I was 17 I went to a birthday party in a school friends’ house. I wore a short blue dress, with a high neckline, flesh coloured tights and blue velvet shoes with heels that were about an inch high.

I wore that dress hoping I looked attractive. I expect I was hoping one of the boys there, mostly fellow school friends, would try to kiss me.In the event, none did, but the father of the birthday girl, a particularly rough man, whose wife was in another room, put his hand up my dress and on my bum. One of the boys I was with, bravely told him to stop. The man replied “don’t fuck with me boy, I’m a Millwall supporter.”

We all laughed and the night carried on. I don’t recall feeling particularly upset. 20 odd years later I look back on the incident with horror, that a man probably older than I am now would think it’s acceptable to touch a teenage girl.

Then there was the time I went to a Halloween ball when I was a university student. I guess I was 19. Not long before The Spice Girls had gone to the premier of their film wearing colourful bras and blazers, without shirts and I thought they looked amazing. I worked as a health care assistant in the holidays and my flatmate and I decided it would be good to go dressed as sexy nurses. We pinned up the hems on my uniforms, wore stockings and wonder bras, which were the big fashion item at the time, with newspaper articles about them, seemingly every day. We let the zips on the front of the dresses stay just low enough that a decent bit of cleavage was on display, hoping we looked as good as Geri Halliwell. When we arrived a friend of my boyfriend introduced us all to a friend of his. My boyfriend went to the bar and the friend of a friend put his hand up my skirt and undid my stocking and brushed my knickers. I automatically slapped him round the face and ran into the toilet. When I returned he was telling my boyfriend there had been a misunderstanding. He apologised and said it was difficult for men to resist when women dress so provocatively. I said not to worry and he then proceeded to put his hand on the back of my dress. I walked away.

Later the friend who introduced us shouted at me about how unreasonable I was not letting this guy round to my house for the after party drinks!

I never saw him again, thankfully. I learnt a valuable lesson that night – women will always be blamed for the actions of men.

On neither occasion did I think of going to the police, or even in the first instance phoning my parents to come and get me.

I’m not sure why I felt the need to describe what I wore on both of those occasions. What I was wearing should be irrelevant, but we all know it isn’t. I know that what I was wearing on both occasions will be scrutinised by people reading this story. Oddly enough I can’t recall what either of the males were wearing, and as a teen I must have gone out hundreds of times, but I struggle to remember what I wore on most times. I think I recall it with these instances because subconsciously I attribute some of the blame to my choice to wear these outfits.

I also feel compelled to mention that on neither occasion was I drunk. On the first incident I would have consumed what I always drunk at house parties- 2 bottles of alcopops, as agreed with my parents. At university I would have been drinking snakebite, but this occurred at the very beginning of the night, and realising I needed my wits about me I stopped drinking then. It should be irrelevant, of course, but somehow I know it isn’t for some people.

Neither incident has scarred me for life. I know very few, if any women who do not have similar stories to recount. I would probably never have felt a need to commit the stories to print if it were not for reading the comments directed at Charlotte Edward’s in the last few days.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sunday Times journalist Charlotte Edwards has written that Boris Johnson groped her upper thigh under a table at a private dinner in 1999 when he was editor of the Spectator magazine.

I’ve heard people questioning why she did not react at the time, or complain then. Well without knowing Charlotte I can take a pretty good guess. It simply wasn’t worth it. I presume she was at an early stage in her career. Speaking out at the time would have been to invite attention on herself, none of it good. Humiliation was likely.

Even now, as a successful journalist, in a relationship with a very prominent journalist (Robert Peston) there are those accusing her of attention and fame seeking or looking for a career boost. It’s not clear to me in what way they think she will achieve this, or why, if this was the case, she would not have done this earlier.

There are also those that take the view that men touching women are either doing it by accident or that it is the only way of knowing if a woman is interested in them. Isn’t it funny how men don’t seem to touch each other in intimate places by accident? Is talking not an appropriate means of finding out if someone is attracted to you?

Then there are those that seem to think she should count herself lucky: that women enjoy being inappropriately touched. I’m genuinely shocked at how many of these comments come from women.

There is something every single one of these types of stories has in common – power.

From Trump grabbing women by the pussy, to Weinsein ruining carers of anyone who rejected his advances, to the men at the Presidents Club who told waitresses to ”down that glass [of champagne], rip off your knickers and dance on that table” to Boris Johnson, the magazine Editor putting his hand on Charlotte Edwards inner thigh when she was a journalist starting out – in each case the men concerned knew the women had more to lose by speaking out than they did if the women spoke out.

And, in every single case, you will see more comment about the women’s behaviour – before, during and after the incident then there is on the mans.

And this is why women don’t say anything at the time, and why they often wait until they themselves are in a more powerful position to say something.

Some men will continue to behave like this while society let’s them.

Why Words Matter By Lisa Bullock

“You are so GAY!” A person younger and hipper than me once said to me at work, when I was being particularly difficult one day. I have a feeling I was being dismissive about Friends, or Greys Anatomy or Skins or fidget spinners or Fortnite, or dabbing, or some other cultural landmark of which I am totally clueless, because I spend all my time watching old episodes of ER and imagining it is still 1996, instead of accepting that it is almost 2020 and I am knocking on a bit.

 

I digress. The colleague didn’t man to actually offer a statement on my sexuality. What they meant to do, is imply that I was a bit useless, unknowing, hopeless, stupid, yada yada. Instead of just saying that, they chose to use the word gay. I should have challenged them on it. I don’t believe for one moment that this person was a homophobe – but they were entirely guilty perpetuating inequality by misusing language.

 

“Oh come ON! All the kids were saying that 5 years ago…does it really matter? They don’t really mean gay people are bad! Oh my GOD lighten UP!

Well, actually, it does matter.

When you use language to negatively ascribe traits, you are cementing the idea that being gay means you are less than, wanting – unequal. In the same way that I regularly hear both men and women saying “stop being such a girl” when trying to say someone is weak, shy, scared, pedantic, bitchy or any other number of negative personality traits, these connotations seep into our collective cultural brains, and are dangerous for the body of people the words themselves represent.

How can we hope to create a more equal society when we chose to deliberately use words as a catch all for things we view as bad?

 

In a week where the language of our ruling classes and those who seek to make and administer laws which govern every facet of our lives has reached a terrifying nadir of spiteful carelessness, I’ve thought so much more about the language I use on a daily basis, and how those words might feel to someone.

We can use language to love, to be kind, to thrill, and most importantly, to help others understand us, and what we mean.

Language is powerful, and deserves respect.

Misusing that power can lead us down dangerous paths – we’ve seen that in our not very distant past, and it is not an exaggeration to say that humans have died as a result. In a world where it is increasingly easy to be heard through social media, comment and demonstration, use your voice but please, mind your language.