going travelling

I’m going away for six months. Getting away from the London I’ve become embedded in, which is a place of amazing people struggling hard and creatively and teetering on burnout and screaming more eloquently than I ever can. Running away from the mess that is my relationship with working in education. Escaping post-Brexit, Jez-we-not-sure-if-we-can politics. Putting distance between myself and the Calais eviction.

The plan for 2016 was get out of London, and not to work in schools. I’ve had a lacklustre few months after getting stuck back in my family home, recuperating from illness, and I didn’t quite feel like picking any vague Europe wooff/helpx based ideas. Instead I’m picking up old plans I had lying around to return to a community I stayed with in 2008: Chinimp Tuna, Ecuador. And I’m doing it while I am still disembedded and uncommitted in the UK, and while I still have some money for it. I committed to this in my head while I was not quite able to feel excited about anything, partly due to mood-stabilisers.

Returning to a place I was in eight years ago is going to be surreal. I’m happy to be honouring an intention that I made. I don’t get to be my enthusiastic 19yrold self again, fully absorbed in processing a new place. I was wary then too of the postcolonial white-saviour tinge to volunteering in a global south country. I didn’t aspire to do more than learn and have a self-developing good time. Finding the emails I sent home made me cringe. I was so jolly, high on personal growth, enjoying unfamiliar food and work, and listing the various things I did – basically well annoying.

Now on the other hand … I’m even more angsty about my position in the world, and still don’t have any greater reason to travel than to take a bit of perspective (both on this messed up neoliberal world and on my life). Guess I’ll see how I  (don’t) fit into an old shed skin of myself.

Anyway, if I have anything that’s fit to share with people other than family and doesn’t belong on facebook I’ll stick it up here. Maybe. Tbh not sure this blather should qualify.

bugs-2008

back to being enthusiastic about colourful bugs it is!

The Economy of Line-line-line, Blankets and Chai

Written May 2016, reflecting on experiences in  January – March. I use the term ‘Jungle’ to refer to the informal settlement of refugees/migrants outside Calais town as it is nearly universally used colloquially, and has been for many years. It is increasingly acknowledged as an ‘unofficial’ refugee camp. French authorities plan to evict the entire place starting on the 17th October. It’s going to be grim. 

“Jungle no good, mushkila kibil, but jungle mafi mushkila, mushkila europeana, walai mushkila europeanos that don’t understand what it is to be a refugee but they think they know everything. And mushkila kibil zup abbas of course, I am with the afghan bambinos on that one”

‘The Jungle’ Economy in Calais is unique, shaped by its own set of intersections of local, regional and global socioeconomic and cultural forces. It generates its own pidgin dialects, borrowing from Londonese, Arabic and the exact enunciation of English as a foreign language speakers.

‘Line-line-line’ is a command that has been transformed into a verb. ‘Fancy a line-line-line, or shall we eat in resto?’ Queueing is, of course, a famous English behaviour, and when there is a scarcity of goods ready to distribute, the line is the simplest method to impose order. However, it is potluck what will be available at the end of the line, and refugees have to plan their day around distribution times, for which there is no centralised information point.

“No pushing. You must queue. If you want to come to HEngland hyou MUST learn to do this”. A middle aged woman’s voice becomes shrill and angry, her face reddens and her lips purse shut as humbled brown bodies shuffle back into a line after a false alarm at a distribution point. I sketch the incident in my notebook as a queue snaking back like the classic Thatcherite unemployment posters and caption it ‘be civilised and English, you must learn this to deserve our charity’.

Another morning it is raining. We are with our Sudanese hosts, and having touched on some heavy topics the evening before, are drinking sweet milk and coffee with distribution bread and talking about the weather. Someone knocks on the door, and their dripping wet head pokes in, saying ‘blankets? you like to have 3 blankets?’ “Chai?” our host invites them to cross the threshold. They peer in, refusing ‘oh no, I am working’.

The house is already insulated with blankets, with spare blankets stacked on every bed. These people are ‘machinas’ – they have lived in the jungle a long time. They accept three more blankets: they can be swapped for food or other goods. However, the refusal of chai exposes that they are given as charity, not as a gift exchange. Two volunteers are using their best camping gear, and the energy that comes from sleeping in a hostel bed and taking a shower in the morning, to distribute in the rain. Half an hour later another three blankets are delivered – this time the donor accepts a taste of stew, and indulgent chuckles ripple through the room – the joke being how hard these happy jungles work, without coming far enough inside a house or staying long enough to know what is needed.

Volunteers value the ‘dignity’ of refugees. However, where is the dignity when distribution takes place through ritualised forms of power play?  When ‘unsuitable’ suits are hung up on the refugee-free warehouse wall of shame? Where is the dignity when there is no place to clean dirty clothes – people’s bodies being the only washing lines? But why would people who have travelled across the world without papers look for dignity to be handed to them on a plate? Dignity is everywhere in the Jungle, in strength and patience and community and laughter. The jungle is not the real problem.

However, there is an undercurrent of well-founded anger and resentment, at the governments of Europe, at the fascists of Calais, at the swarms of journalists, and of volunteers whose actions make no sense. If someone claims to be working, who are they working for? If they are working for themselves, why don’t they stop to accept tea? If they are working for a boss, who is that boss, and where is the money coming from: France or England? Why is Europe, this so called developed country, displaying such poorly organised and un-coordinated services? The chaos of the ‘Jungle’ can look from below like a deliberately orchestrated effort to keep refugees as second class people, to maintain them living in conditions of ‘bare life’ while the state operates in an extended state of emergency.

To my MSR (clearing out the closet)

To my MSR,
you made me a cup of tea. you gave me nutritional couscous with vegetables in minutes and it gave me hours of energy. without you, my festival weekend would have had crashes from loss of carbs. I’d have lost energy. I’d have felt empty inside.

When someone spoke about their love for their grandfather’s letters at a workshop curated by the caretakers from the museum of love, I remembered that I had something from my Grandma Nancy with me. I was cooking with you when a text came through that she had died. We had camped at an inlet of the sea, beneath a town with a collective hangover that stank of urine. A day before I’d written a postcard to Nancy, sharing my delight in seeing red squirrels scampering overhead and wanting her to know that her birthday gift to me was being well used.

MSR, you make me proud of my competency in self-care. I can cook quick and I can cook tasty and I can cook to meet my body’s needs. I can avoid firey death through taking appropriate precautions. I can feed friends hot sugary tea when they need it most.

MSR, we’ve had good times over the last five-  or is it six?- years together – I’m sorry that I’d let it be so long since our last outing. You’re gonna pass the Marie Kondo exodus of superfluous things for certain. MSR, I need to put on a laundry load now, so that’s it for now, but just so you know, I got some deep appreciation for you, and I’m feeling it strongly right now. Let’s make some plans, ok? I don’t want to let it be so long again!
– Eva Weinstein
PS: here’s a photo of you. brim-full of couscous and vegetable on a sunny evening in a French campsite. We’d just come over the Pyrenees, when we’d cooked on a rocky outcrop on the way up and a dewy meadow on the way down, remember?

MSR

RIP Dominic Raoul Lucas

In memoriam immortal of MSN, and the genre of ‘adult alternative rock’ with quarter speed scrubbing and Dave Matthews ‘Crash into me’, the best album ever*. *Alongside the rise and fall of Ziggy, and other great albums.

I would like to share some words of a dear friend, and my response, some  six years late, to them. Before I continue, I should put a trigger warning for depression, suicide, and caring for those who are depressive and/or suicidal.

The person in question is Dom  Lucas, someone I liked greatly from when I met him in my first philosophy class in 6th form. It was apparent at his funeral, that a deep and lasting impression was a response he often evoked, even in those who had counted him only as an acquaintance. Continue reading

hoping for a revolution

  1. When a revolutionary moment arrives may you not gather to spectate

    the swarms of vultures are already foretold and they do not raise the dead they document.

    Fling yourselves far and wide

    to carry onwards and bring home the good tidings.

    Seek out the fertile soil in which to grow

    but also in the stony soil pass over as tumbleweed;

    scatter seed as the wind blows you and hope someday a shower will follow close on your heels to perform the alchemy of dust to green shoots to gold…

    2. When there is hope don’t smother it-

    draw it out even to the breaking point;

    shattered hope still dews the pavements on Monday morning

    when the carnival is over a hangover is not too heavy a burden to bear.

    There is sometimes some cause for hope

    some hope for a cause

    some cause

    some hope

    because if there is not,

    what is there?

Spring Cleaning

Metaphors in this song were first jotted down in spring 2012, my first in London. I lived sparsely, in the attic of a friend’s father’s house, and worked 9 – 3.30pm in a special needs school 10 minutes down a quiet road on a bike. Aspirational lifestyle – I had more time on my hands than I yet knew what to do with. A year later I had the opposite time problem, as I juggled three part-time jobs, and I picked up the pieces and made them into a song.

It’s my most reliable song to perform, and actually has a catchy tune and regular chord structure that other musicians can pick up. And I’ve stuck up a BANDCAMP. Woohooo. The quality of the recording is pretty grim, shall redo when I have some decent headphones. Also I need to address the buzzes in my guitar from when I lowered the bridge from laziness about building my hand strength.

Spring cleaning

When I lose touch with the moment I live in/ scum settles in my mind/scum and dirt and clutter, gets pretty obscene/I can’t see what’s before me til I scrub it clean

So much to untangle to much to say/all of these thoughts keep getting in my way/I’ll line them all up at the surface/cause then I can pack ’em away

 

Won’t you help me get my  tidy on? I got some spring cleaning to do

though in the end I’ve got to get down to it I’d appreciate some help from you

 

If I get into a scrub a dub dub I’ll stick at it til the task is through

but right up til I get into that zone it looks so hard to do

 

Dust down those cobwebs they’ve been shutting out the light/ take a deep breath’ sort out those piles of shite/ let the light shine onto that skeleton in the cupboard/once it’s seen the light of day I can put it away

A bit of tangled wool can chill in the corner/ I’ll unpick the knots some rainy day/it’s ok to have some shit that’s not sorted/as long as I can pack it away.

So won’t you…..

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The life-changing magic of tidying: book review

The Life-Changing-Magic of Tidying up: a book review

Marie Kondo is the most endearing guru I have ever had the pleasure to read, and ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ is her bible. Cathy Hirano translates from the Japanese for Vermilion books (pub 2014). Her Capitalisation Of Every Word in the contents does not come across as trite and patronising,  instead it prefaces Kondo’s direct, clear style.

Honouring the teacher is a widely acknowledged Japanese value, and Marie Kondo quickly convinces that she is an expert and an individual worth listening to. There is no Gilian Keith style pseudoscience, rather Marie notes an observation and proposes an explanation. Her ideas come from her childhood passion for housewifery, which developed into a ‘serious’ pursuit of tidying aged 15. This is not just another inbred descendent of Lakein’s 1973 classic ‘How to get control ofyour time and your life’ with a thread of softeness from Brene Brown’s ‘Gifts of Imperfection’.

In a nutshell, the Mariekon method consists of handling each possession, and considering whether it is a positive or negative emotional relationship by asking the intuitive question ‘does this spark joy?’. Joy is not widely used in contemporary English, which I think is fortunate, as it asks the reader to define for themselves what ‘joy’ may be in this context. My mind goes to Alice Walker’s ‘Possessing the secret of joy’ and considers what breadth and complexity of feelings may inhabit long disused objects.

I was evangelised on Marie Kondo by my sister in law while I lived in a house with a horrific ex-casino carpet and chronic damp problems under the bed. I bought the book, and read it with an initially skeptical eye before leaving for the summer. In the autumn I descended on my childhood bedroom with a vigor I have never before brought to tidying. Before, the end point was always a clear floor, which I could hoover, and a clear desk that I could wipe. This time it was to resolve my tortuous relationship with objects, and spring clean my soul.

One aspect of her language grated with me: her use of the term ‘feminine’ to designate a life lived elegantly. This is a knee jerk reaction on my part as an individual dedicated to queering gender concepts, and resisting all binaries. In act her book is based entirely on binaries, which are all connected to the replacement of mess with tidyness. This book is a manifesto for correctness from chaos. My family slogan was ‘Nature (and my family) abhore a vacuum’ and this was used to justify the absence of clear surfaces as a constant of life.

Looking around my room right now, there aren’t so many clear surfaces. But I am wearing a jacket that was disused by my friend, as it is a funny linen shape ‘Well, it’s good for writing in, but not really practical’ they explained as I handled it at their house-clearing party. And I am writing  on an impulsively downloaded app called ‘calmly’, and I have written an appropriate length of text that is roughly coherent, and it is now time to get breakfast before I tidy my room properly, for the sake of my mental health.

And it appears that light jazz is the appropriate soundtrack. Actually, scrap that, I’m putting on First Aid Kit. Or maybe I’ll do some gardening.