Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021

This week is the week of the Women’s Prize Virtual Shortlist Festival. For the (almost invisible) amount of £12 you’ll have access to three evenings of readings by the shortlisted writers: there are some wonderful works to hear extracts from on Monday 14th, Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th.

I have loved Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: she hypnotised me into another world entirely. And both Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half and Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House took me into worlds that showed me how Black lives have been lived in hostile worlds.

The winning novel will be announced on Wednesday 7 July. And I would love any of these three attitude-altering, knowledge-and-mind-expanding truly great stories to win. With a possible preference for the last one in my list of three. But it’s a difficult call.

Posted in Antiracism, Books, Creativity, Equality, Human Rights, Literary Prizes, Psychology, Racism, White Fragility, Women, Writing | Leave a comment

Opening up set to blossom at home. But what about India (her vaccine generosity and her coronavirus surge)?

A beautiful blossom for our oh-so-close-to-lockdown-easing here in the UK.

The Wayfaring Tree (Virburnum lantana): a sign you’re homeward bound.

But spare a thought for India, home to the world’s largest coronavirus vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII) but now also home to the worst surge in coronavirus since the pandemic began. It’s complicated, but this end-March Guardian article reports:

India’s foreign ministry and the Serum Institute of India … has partnerships with AstraZeneca, the Gates Foundation and the Gavi vaccine alliance to make up to 1bn doses for poorer countries … . India’s programme of “vaccine maitri” (vaccine friendship) in which it has sold or given away more coronavirus vaccines than it has administered at home, has been praised by some locally as a diplomatic success.

The National Geographic also reported, in late April, that:

India increased its oxygen exports to other countries by a 734 percent in January 2021 [but that] a briefing by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, says India’s daily COVID-19 cases are now double the number in the previous peak in September 2020.

The G7 needs to agree to make vaccines free to poorer countries and / or temporarily lift patents on vaccines, following Joe Biden’s lead, so they can be manufactured locally. This 6 May Guardian article unravels the knots, and writes:

The former British prime minister Gordon Brown, now a UN global ambassador and a leader of the campaign to equalise access to vaccines, said: “I welcome the US decision on temporary patent waivers, which makes the Covid-19 vaccine accessible. Now we must make the vaccine affordable. No one is safe until everyone is safe and on 11 June at the G7 leaders meeting, the richest countries should make the momentous decision to pay two-thirds of the $60bn (£43bn) cost of vaccinating the world.”

So now is surely the time to unite and make sure that poorer countries including India – the country that has exported so many vaccines and so much oxygen to help others – be allowed to keep (and manufacture) their own vaccines until all the world’s people are safe.

The Indian Flame Lily

Posted in Coronavirus, Death and Dying, Equality, Flowers/Blossom, vaccinations | Leave a comment

Stephen Lawrence Day, 22 April 2021

We will no longer ignore, the racism we all deplore.

We will never forget Stephen Lawrence.

Directed by Simon Frederick. Written by Simon Frederick, Marcus Jones & Max Cyrus. Narrated by Max Cyrus

And, from the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation website:

Stephen Lawrence was born and grew up in south-east London, where he lived with his parents Neville and Doreen, his brother Stuart and sister Georgina.

Like most young people, he juggled an active social life, school work, family commitments, and part-time employment. But he also had ambitions to use his talent for maths, art, and design to become an architect, and wanted to have a positive impact on his community.

Tragically, his dream of becoming an architect was never realised. On 22 April 1993, at the age of just 18, Stephen was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. He didn’t know his killers and his killers didn’t know him.

After the initial police investigation, five suspects were arrested but not convicted. A public inquiry into the handling of Stephen’s case was held in 1998, leading to the publication of the Macpherson Report, which has been called ‘one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain’.

It led to profound cultural changes in attitudes to racism, to the law and to police practice. It also paved the way for a greater understanding of discrimination of all forms and new equalities legislation.

Get involved, here.

And read his brother, Stuart Lawrence’s, new book, Silence is not an Option.

The book is aimed at children between the ages of 10 and 16, but as the publisher, Scholastic, writes:

Stuart’s aim with this book is to use his own experience to help young people – to help all people – harness the good in themselves and in the world around them, using that fire of positivity to create change in their lives.

Posted in Antiracism, Art, Books, Democracy, Equality, History, Human Rights, Morality | 1 Comment

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: Bill Gates (& Gordon Brown)

In this Guardian review of Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Gordon Brown writes:

Success [in combating climate change] will come by demonstrating that the real power countries can wield to create a better world is not the power they can exercise over others but the power they can exercise with others. [my bold]

Among other possibilities for global cooperation, Brown is talking about COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties (on Climate Change) that should have been held at the end of 2020 but, for obvious reasons, wasn’t. It’s now planned for November this year, in Glasgow, and, because of agent orange’s departure from the White House, there will, thank goodness, be an American contingent there too.

Bill Gates advocates technological solutions, naturally:

Show me a problem and I’d look for a technology to fix it.

but he also says:

I don’t have a solution to the politics of climate change.

And that’s the problem with both an agreed global climate change policy and agreed global action. Gordon Brown quotes John Maynard Keynes’ frustration when he couldn’t persuade the political leaders of the 1930s that his economic ideas offered a way out of world depression and mass unemployment. He said, of politics, that it promoted, “The survival of the unfittest”. And that, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

May the world leaders and environmentalists who will meet in November in Glasgow, as Gordon Brown says, enlist:

Vested interests like big oil … . [And may] The populist nationalist and protectionist rhetoric of irresponsible demagogues … be taken head on … . Supporters of a stronger set of commitments [on reducing emissions] will have to show why sharing sovereignty is in every nation’s self-interest, and that coordinated global action is indeed the only way to end the mismatch between the scale of the environmental problems we face and our current capacity to solve them.

For the sake of our children and their children, for the sake of their children’s children and the generations to come, may the world’s politicians and climate change experts pull together for a cleaner, healthier, sustainably unpolluted world so that James Lovelock’s  2010 words:

If there were a billion people living on the planet, we could do whatever we please. But there are nearly seven [nearly eight now] billion. At this scale, life as we know it today is not sustainable.

don’t come true.

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A Valentine to the Earth: Terra Carta

On 11 January the Prince of Wales announced Terra Carta, Earth Charter, a Magna Carta for the twenty-first century: the basis of a recovery plan for nature, people and the planet. A valentine to the earth, I thought. He said:

Humanity has made incredible progress over the past century, yet the cost of this progress has caused immense destruction to the planet that sustains us. We simply cannot maintain this course indefinitely … . It is time to focus on the future we wish to build, and indeed leave, for generations to come.

Terra Carta sets out aims for combining the power of nature with the transformative power, innovation and resources of the private sector. Banks, oil companies, AstraZeneca and Unilever to name a few from a long list, have already signed up. Their aim:

To identify ways to set our planet on a fundamentally more sustainable trajectory. Together [they will] develop a charter of ambitious, but practical action … to put Nature, and the protection of Nature’s capital – from which we draw an annual return – at the heart of how we operate.

Here is the Summarium and here the full Terra Carta.

The fundamental principles set out in Magna Carta, that the King be subject to law and no free person be deprived of freedom without due process of law (Habeas Corpus) now finds, in its sister Charter, the intention that we be subject to the natural laws that sustain our Earth, and that no free planet should be deprived of the freedom to breathe.

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Feeling Low? Try karunavirus. Seriously.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty low about the state of our corona-contaminated world (not to mention other depressing events) so I went looking for something uplifting. And I found karunavirus. Seriously. Nothing to do with that virus; all to do with kindness, compassion, good news, good things and full of opportunities to volunteer to broadcast good news, begin something good, join something good, read about something good, do something good. Karuna is a Sanskrit word for compassion.

This December 2020 article reports Japanese plans to build wooden satellites that burn up when they plunge back to Earth without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere. And without filling space with junk.

In an effort to reduce space trash … Sumitomo Forestry, a Japan-based wood processing company, said they’ve begun research on the ideal wood for space and will partner with Kyoto University to test the material in an extreme environment on Earth. They say the satellite will be ready by 2023.

full story here

And much much more good news here, to read, to do and to be. To keep all our spirits up (for at least some of the time) until it really does become a happy new year.

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Good News, Good Things, Love, News, Science, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

When This Is Over … and some Christmas Lights for the dark Winter Nights

When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
a handshake with a stranger,
full shelves at the store,
conversations with neighbours,
a crowded theatre,
Friday nights out,
the taste of communion,
a routine check-up,
the school rush each morning,
coffee with a friend,
the stadium roaring,
each deep breath,
a boring Tuesday,
life itself.
When this ends
may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be,
were called to be,
we hoped to be.
And may we stay
that way – better
for each other
because of the worst.

a poem written by Laura Kelly Fanucci at the end of March 2020.
She speaks it here (on the Kelly Clarkson Show):

And here are some Christmas lights for the dark winter nights:

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Bookshop.org: an online bookshop that supports indie bookshops. And, ‘It’s easier to be a Dad, this morning … .’

Bookshop.org, as the Guardian articles below suggest, is exactly what the publishing world has been waiting for.
Bookshop.org is shattering sales projections, not all indies are chuffed » MobyLivesBookshop.org supports independent bookshops (it doesn’t undercut them, as the unmentionable does) and it makes it possible for independent bookshops to benefit from online sales wider than they, on their own websites, could reach.

From this article: Bookshop.org is being described as a “revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling”: a socially conscious alternative to [the unmentionable] that allows readers to buy books online while supporting their local independent bookseller.

You can nominate your own local bookshop to be supported when you use Bookshop.org’s website. It began in the US. Sharmaine Lovegrove writes:

Bookshop.org allows any independent shop to customise its own online store front, select books to recommend and, any time a bookshop directs a customer to the site through one of its links, it gets 30% of the sale.

The importance of supporting local bookshops as a vital part of the community has been increasingly recognised, and is reflected on this platform: every time a reader buys a book from an author, publisher, magazine or influencer page, 10% of that purchase will go to the page owner and another 10% into a profit pool for independent bookshops. In the US more than $7.5m has been raised to share among 900 bookshops. On day one [2 November] of being established in the UK, the pot was already at £12,500. [Today, 14 November, the pot is close to £124,500.00.]

This new platform offers practical solutions to keep our indie bookshops thriving and our writers reaching scores of readers. No wonder everyone is excited and delighted.

And many many people are also excited and delighted by the result of the American election. Van Jones, an American news commentator, said, on CNN, after the DemocratsJoe Biden and Kamala Harris became President and Vice-President elect:

What a man.

Posted in Antiracism, Books, Bookshops, Democracy, Equality, Fiction, Good News, Good Things, History, Human Rights, Living Standards, Morality, News, News Outlets, Politics | 2 Comments

October is Black History Month in the UK. But shouldn’t Black history be taught all the time?

Black History Month began in America as an annual History Week, in 1925. That year, Black historian Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, announced Negro History Week: A celebration of a people that many in this country at the time believed had no place in history. February was chosen because it marked the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. From Woodson’s Wikipedia page:

Woodson worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African-American contributions ‘were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them’. Race prejudice, he concluded, ‘is … the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind’.

Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and since his death in 1950 the ASALH has fought to keep Woodson’s legacy alive. In February 2020, in this article, Karma Allen interviewed Noelle Trent, Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum who said she was:

Frustrated that black history tends to be ignored by popular culture once February ends. Instead, Black History Month should be seen as a ‘starting point’ for a larger conversation about how to incorporate Black history into American history as a whole.

Black students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded American Black History Week into a month beginning on February 1, 1970 and, in 1976, every US President has designated February as Black History Month.

from here

from here

In the UK Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987. It was organised by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Special Projects Coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit of the Greater London Council (GLC), after a broken-hearted colleague came to work one morning and:

Revealed to me in confidence that her seven-year-old son, who she had proudly and purposefully named Marcus, after Marcus Mosiah Garvey (a Black nationalist leader) had asked her: ‘Mom, why can’t I be white?’. This prompted me to ask questions about identity and to observe and talk to children after school, in buses, parks and in the playgrounds in London communities.
from this interview

October was chosen because the weather was not yet cold, school children were fresh from the long summer holiday and had fewer exams and tests to worry about.

Clearly Black History Months are good things. Education about Black history is a good thing. But isn’t it time, now, as Noelle Trent says, to incorporate Black history into history as a whole? Isn’t it time, as the words in the video above urge us: to treat Black history as a history that deserves a well-rounded holistic platform? Isn’t it time?

No Black child should ever have to ask why they aren’t white.
Every child should feel represented.

Sinai Fleary, writing in the HuffPost in UK Black History Month in 2018 said:

As a young black girl whose parents were Rasta and came from the Caribbean, I was delighted that renowned poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah was doing the assembly [at Fleary’s school in the early 1990s]. For those minutes, I was completely fixated on this tall, black, Rasta man with long dreadlocks, performing poetry in front of the whole school. He spoke with a Jamaican accent, mixed with some English slang. He sounded like the voices I heard in my own family. Instantly, I felt a connection. He was me and I was him. Every child has the right to feel what I felt that morning: represented.

Posted in Antiracism, Democracy, History, Human Rights, Psychology, Racism | 2 Comments

The Doll Test and the heartbreakingly detrimental effects of segregation

In the 1940s, in America, Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of tests known colloquially as The Doll Tests.

Children between the ages of three and seven were asked to identify the race of the dolls and which colour they preferred.

A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.

I watched videos of the doll tests and found them entirely heartbreaking. When presented with black and white dolls and asked questions about them, almost all the children, black and white, identified the black dolls as bad, ugly and possessing other negative aspects. But even worse than that, when the children were asked which doll they looked like, Black children, who had almost all attributed negative qualities to the black dolls, pointed to the black dolls. In the original 1940s experiments the children were all black and when asked the final question, ‘Give me the doll that looks like you’:

Two children ran out of the testing room, uncontrollable, convulsed in tears.

The dolls used in the Clarks’ studies at their Northside Center for Child Development, founded in 1946. (Credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, Gift of Kate Clark Harris in memory of her parents Kenneth and Mamie Clark, in cooperation with the Northside Center for Child Development.)

The experiment was :

used in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court Case that ended segregation … . The Supreme Court decided that separation and inequality went hand in hand and therefore it was unconstitutional … . The paper where the results are presented is called Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children.

Today, integration is the law, segregation is against the law. But, in 2010, CNN commissioned a new version of the doll test, using cartoons that showed a range of skin tones. The results were similar to those shown by the Clarks in the 1940s. Sixty years later, the results were similar. In the new test, child development researcher Margaret Beale Spencer tested 133 children from schools with different racial and income mixes. This time, the studies looked at white children as well. And although Black children held more positive attitudes towards black dolls, white children maintained an intense bias toward whiteness. “We are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued,” Spencer told CNN. Jim Crow segregation may no longer exist in the United States, but racial bias is alive and well. (adapted from an article by Erin Blakemore, August 2018.)

There is a small ray of hope. In 2017 a woman recreated the doll test with her six-year-old Black daughter. When asked if she knew what race she was, the child thought race was some kind of sport. When asked questions about the good and bad dolls she attributed positive qualities to the black doll, every time. But that’s only one test. It seems to me that we white people have many lessons to learn and much white supremacy to dismantle before we truly and always think of Black people as equals and so transmit these attitudes and values to our children and grandchildren. If we don’t, if we’re not, as Layla Saad says, good ancestors to our children and grandchildren, how will they ever imbibe antiracist, humane, heartfelt behaviour towards Black people?

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Deborah Alma’s Poetry Pharmacy: Poetry Prescriptions

Last week I had a telephone consultation with a pharmacist. Not an unusual thing to do in these corona-times, but this pharmacist doesn’t dispense drugs. Deborah Alma is a Poetry Pharmacist.

Before corona I’d planned to go to The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, in June. But by the end of March I realised I wouldn’t be going. So, instead, Deborah and I had a telephone conversation in which she asked thought-provoking, heart-warming and inspiring questions, and we also laughed at least once.

Here’s a quote from The Poetry Pharmacy’s website:

Consulting room
Poetry on prescription – an alternative therapy for your emotional ailments. Whether you are suffering from the stresses of the modern world or the pain of a broken heart or simply need a tonic for the spirits, rest assured that we have a poetic remedy for you.Poetry Pharmacy bottle logo

Deborah began her poetry remedy work as The Emergency Poet which she described as

the world’s first and only mobile poetic first aid service … a mix of the serious, the therapeutic and the theatrical.

She drove an Emergency Poet ambulance to festivals, conferences, hospitals and care settings, libraries and schools … ‘anywhere where poetic help may be urgently required’. But from 4 October 2019 The Poetry Pharmacy has been open (with, of course, corona closures, but it’s open again now).

The Poetry Pharmacy’s aim is:

to counter the widely held perception that poetry is “difficult, obscure and not for the likes of me”. … To match or alter a mood, to assist … with good mental health … to bring therapeutic effects with an emphasis on well-being and inclusivity

If you should find yourself in Bishops Castle, apart from your Poetry Consultation (which you can find out more about and book here), there’s also a cafe where you can have a cup of Tea (S Eliot) and a piece of Philip Parkin (among other offerings). If you can’t make it to Bishops Castle, you can book your consultation by email or phone.

My prescription was uplifting, inspiring, beautiful, thought-provoking and its effects will be long-lasting as I reread. Part of it was a poem by Denise Levertov, here, and this:
A bottle of poetry capsules (not to be taken except metaphorically) inside each of which are coiled words of wisdom. The one I just opened says:

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.                                                                           TS Eliot

Go: 36 High Street, Bishops Castle, Shropshire, SY9 5BQ. Or ring: 01588 638069.
Or email: hello@poetrypharmacy.co.uk. Or Tweet: @emergencypoet.
Or Instagram: @poetrypharmacy. Or Facebook: @emergencypoet.
For your spiritual sanity.

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What does it mean to be white? It means I’m racist

In a recent interview, Robin DiAngelo, a white person, said that to understand my racism, as a white person, I need to ask myself:

What does it mean to be white?

She said that if I ask myself if I’m racist I’ll say no. Because, consciously, I’m not. But if I say I’m not racist, then I don’t have to do anything about racism. So, if I ask myself:

What does it mean to be white?

I begin to understand what it means NOT to be white. And what the consequences of not being white are. And I understand that I am racist. I don’t want to write that. I don’t want to be racist. But I am. Because I have stayed silent. Because I have never examined my subconscious white supremacy. Because I’ve never asked myself what it means to be white.

I’m not proud that I haven’t, I’m astonished that I haven’t. Just as astonished as, when I began reading Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, I realised I’ve never ever not-even-once-in-my-life thought about the fact that I haven’t ever, not ever, been discriminated against for the colour of my skin.

Me And White SupremacyWhen I ask myself, What does it mean to be white? my immediate answers are:

  • Being white means I’ve never ever been discriminated against for the colour of my skin.
  • Being white means I’m never afraid I’ll be wrongly accused as a result of my whiteness.
  • Being white means I’ve never been afraid for my life, because of my whiteness.
  • Being white means I never think about my whiteness or how I might need to tone it down so I don’t get stopped and searched for no reason. Or even for a reason.
  • Being white means I’ve never wondered if anything that happens to me, whether it’s not getting a job, not being admitted to a club, not getting a book published, being turned down for a place to live, someone being rude to me … never have I wondered if any of these things have happened to me because of my whiteness.

Clearly my list could go on and on. But if I don’t know what it means to be white I can’t know what it means not to be white in the society I live in. And each time I wrote, I’ve never or I’m never, I realised how free of restriction, of prejudice, of racism, of fear, how fundamentally free my white life is. My whiteness has shaped my worldview, and because I’ve never thought that I even held a white worldview, I am racist.

As Reni Eddo-Lodge says in this Guardian interview:

Being involved in feminist and anti-racist work, you notice very quickly that you have racism but no one who admits to being racist. [my bold]

and, on being asked what to do about racism:

Imagine you had a partner who you were hoping might be able to improve their perspective on something, and instead they say, “Just tell me what to do”. That tells me that person isn’t willing to take on any level of responsibility and I guess what I’m trying to do is prompt people to take responsibility for racism. That takes initiative and using your own brain.

I no longer want to be racist, nor do I want my white fragility to prevent me from beginning antiracist work. White fragility is a term DiAngelo coined:
White FragilityIt’s also a subject addressed in Me and White Supremacy. Saad quotes DiAngelo at the beginning of Day 2, You and White Fragility:

It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; People of Color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.

DiAngelo also said, in that recent interview, that when she asked a group of people:

What if you could just give us [white people] feedback on our inevitable and often unaware racist assumptions and behaviours? A Black man said: It would be revolutionary.

Revolutionary. That white people would receive a Black person’s feedback with grace, reflect on it and seek to change behaviours … is revolutionary. ‘That’s,’ said DiAngelo, ‘how difficult we are.’

Change begins at a deep personal level. DiAngelo and Saad say the work of antiracism is lifelong. Eddo-Lodge says racism is designed to benefit whiteness at every level. I commit the rest of my life to internal and external antiracism work.

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Clean Air: Act. And a poem and a chat

If you’re not as ancient as me you won’t remember the pea-soupers in London:

Great Smog of London | Facts, Pollution, Solution, & History ...

Great Smog of London, December, 1952

and I’d only been breathing for just under two years at the time so it’s not exactly a memory for me either, but by 1956 The Clean Air Act had been passed to reduce air pollution in the city. It was a slow response to a death-dealing polluting smog, slow for economic reasons, shame on them, but the Act was passed. Since then many laws have been passed to clean up the air we breathe but an unexpected side effect of the terrible death-dealing coronavirus pandemic has been cleaner air.

In the middle of May an expert in air pollution, Professor Frank Kelly from Imperial College, London, gave an interview to Radio 4’s Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific. He said there’d been a reduction of approximately 50% of the gas nitrogen dioxide in the air during the pandemic: nitrogen dioxide particles generate free radical activity in our lungs. Professor Kelly also hoped that the clear blue skies we’ve all seen and the birdsong we’ve all heard will stay in our memories and prompt us to think seriously about our environment and the air we breathe as we move out of lockdown and into the next decade.

In early June, several groups and organisations wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a green economic recovery from the pandemic: may their calls for action be met so that the air we breathe is kept clean for future generations.

And if you or anyone you know is feeling lonely and/or isolated and in need of a friendly telephone conversation centred on a poem, The Reader has a wonderful initiative:Here’s what they say: at The Reader we know not everyone can join online activities, so while we can’t meet face to face, our staff and volunteers are offering a weekly phone call to those needing comfort and connection. We’ll partner you with one of our friendly volunteers who’ll call you each week for a chat and to share a poem.

Call 0151 729 2250 between 10am and 4pm, Monday – Friday or email coronavirus@thereader.org.uk and quote Finding Connection.

Posted in Climate Change, Coronavirus, Creativity, Death and Dying, Listening, One Green Thing, Poetry, Science, Shared Reading | Comments Off on Clean Air: Act. And a poem and a chat

George Floyd: I Can’t Breathe: BlackOut Tuesday 2 June 2020

LA Reid, record producer and founder of HitCo, posted this on twitter two days ago:

And George Floyd’s brother, Philonese, says this on YouTube. He calls for peaceful protests and for people to use their votes in the coming US election to call for the change that’s so badly needed in white supremacy and white fragility about black people. (Those last eight words are mine, not Philonese’s: they come from Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad and if you’re reading this and you’re white it’s essential, actually it’s mandatory reading.) Philonese also says Trump didn’t give him a chance to speak when he called him about his brother. I wish I had a vote in the US election. I haven’t. But I hope with all my heart that BIG change is coming.

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Shonaleigh Cumbers: Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go; and One Green Thing: clean aviation fuel

Shonaleigh Cumbers is a Drut’syla. To quote from here:

She’s a living tradition holder. It’s a tradition you probably won’t have heard of. It’s a tradition that flourished in Jewish families, but that was wiped out during the holocaust. Almost wiped out. As far as we know, Shonaleigh is the last Drut’syla.

Drut’syla is the Yiddish word for storyteller, and what a storyteller Shonaleigh is. But despite the words above, she is working to expand and share the Drut’syla tradition. Her repertoire is huge but that’s hardly the point. The point is Shonaleigh knows stories inside out. She knows them in her body and she tells them, she doesn’t write them down. For these strange coronavirus times her Hope from the Jewish Tradition is a marvellous thing. It’ll take you twenty minutes to listen to but it’ll be worth it, I promise. The recording was made more than a year ago, but it’s just as relevant now as it was when it was recorded in New Zealand just after the Christchurch community suffered those mosque attacks in 2019. She begins:

‘Somebody once told me that grief is love with nowhere to go.’

And my One Green Thing this month is about alternatives to toxic aviation fuel. From a (slightly gloomy) Flight Free article – the organisation that urges us to stop flying – I discovered that batteries are still too heavy; alternative fuels can’t make up more than 50% of fuel used on a flight and carbon capture still leaves nitrogen oxide, another greenhouse gas, and vapour contrails in the atmosphere. But I did hear Professor Myles Allen, Coordinating Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees, saying, to Jim Al-Khalili on Radio 4’s Life Scientific in February, that alternative clean aviation fuel could be made:

This is a deeply solvable problem. I was speaking recently to a room full of young engineers from one of the big five oil companies … I was talking about the 1.5 degrees report … and somebody asked me, ‘Do you think there’s actually any hope we’ll limit global warming to 1.5 degrees?’

[So I asked them] ‘If you had to make the product you sell [oil] carbon neutral by 2050 would you be able to do it?’ … Senior management looked at their shoes but the young engineers said, ‘Would the same rules apply to everybody?’ [the big five oil-producing companies] I nodded. ‘Then of course we would.’

This is what frustrates me in the discussion of climate change solutions: the one institution in the world that has the capital, the cash flow, the engineering capability to solve the climate change problem is the global fossil fuel industry. It’s 10% of the world economy.  … We [should] require them to clean up their waste rather than hoping somebody else will do it for them.

Green food for thought, don’t you think?

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Stories for Children in Lockdown

At the beginning of April Yahoo set up a short story competition for stories
to entertain children during the lockdown. Yahoo's inaugural short story writing contest

Yesterday, 27 April, they announced the 20 shortlisted stories Just 1,500 words – no more, no less.

and mine, FLYING COLOURS, is one of them.

The stories are now open to public vote (until 8 May) and if you’d like to vote for mine, find story No 16 and drag the purple and white icon between the 1♥ & 10♥ to register your vote. If you do decide to vote, thank you. The 14 most-voted-for stories will be recorded (with the help, as Yahoo Stor14s say, of some famous friends) and made into free podcasts for children to give them story-friends during isolation.

As I wrote mine, I thought about the NHS frontline staff as they do their best to beat the virus, and I thought of all the paintings of rainbows children have put in their windows. rainbowBadge | - Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust I wrote a Just-So allegory that turned the NHS staff into African starlings fighting a deadly locust swarm who, for their courage, are awarded their FLYING COLOURS.

And it is true, as the story tells, that African starlings evolved from plain black
to brilliantly coloured. There’s more about their evolution under the starling. Starling - Wikipedia

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Poems for these Coronavirus Times

Read by Christopher Eccleston, written by Matthew Kelly for his partner,
Jill Scully, who is a district nurse.

And here’s one from our poet laureate, Simon Armitage, which, as explained in this Guardian article, moves from the outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam in the 17th century, when a bale of cloth from London brought fleas carrying the plague to the Derbyshire village, to the epic poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa.

Lockdown by Simon Armitage

And I couldn’t escape the waking dream
of infected fleas

in the warp and weft of soggy cloth
by the tailor’s hearth

in ye olde Eyam.
Then couldn’t un-see

the Boundary Stone,
that cock-eyed dice with its six dark holes,

thimbles brimming with vinegar wine
purging the plagued coins.

Which brought to mind the sorry story
of Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre,

star-crossed lovers on either side
of the quarantine line

whose wordless courtship spanned the river
till she came no longer.

But slept again,
and dreamt this time

of the exiled yaksha sending word
to his lost wife on a passing cloud,

a cloud that followed an earthly map
of camel trails and cattle tracks,

streams like necklaces,
fan-tailed peacocks, painted elephants,

embroidered bedspreads
of meadows and hedges,

bamboo forests and snow-hatted peaks,
waterfalls, creeks,

the hieroglyphs of wide-winged cranes
and the glistening lotus flower after rain,

the air
hypnotically see-through, rare,

the journey a ponderous one at times, long and slow
but necessarily so.

There are more links to more poems from Sunday’s Guardian article. And, as the article says:

A new anthology of verse written by NHS staff including doctors, cleaners and interpreters was also released in March. These Are the Hands takes its name from a poem by author and poet Michael Rosen, who is ill with coronavirus at the moment, and all proceeds are going to NHS Charities Together’s Covid-19 appeal.

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Wise and kind words for the Coronavirus pandemic by Adrie Kusserow

This poem for these strange times is written by Adrie Kusserow after Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese : it speaks for itself.

Mary Oliver for Corona Times, thoughts after the poem Wild Geese,

by Adrie Kusserow, ethnographic poet

You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
By using this time to work even more, write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).
Tell me about your fictions, the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world as we know it is crumbling.
Meanwhile the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms and trailer parks.
Meanwhile the News barks at you, harsh and addicting,
Until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.
Meanwhile a new paradigm is composing itself in our minds,
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
From the same tired hegemonies.

Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
Stunned by what you see,
Uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
Because it gives you something to do.

Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
Do not let capitalism coopt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.
Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
Your stress boa-constricting your chest.
Know that your ancy kids, your terror, your shifting moods,
Your need for a drink have every right to be here,
And are no less sacred than a yoga class.

Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you, calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.
It is your birthright to be held
deeply, warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.  💚

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Can we ever know our parents as individuals? And One Green Thing: cling film storage alternatives

This year my sisters and I had the family ciné films transferred to DVD and I’ve just watched them all. And as I watched the parts where we children didn’t feature, I wondered if it’s ever possible for children to know their parents as individual independent humans? And I came to the conclusion that it’s only possible if we have the wit and the objectivity to ask questions about the times when they weren’t with us. Questions about the times before we were born, times when they were at work or on holiday or at play; when they were thinking and feeling and being and doing without us, not about us. Or, that they tell us.

This is, naturally, a rich vein for a storyteller. But in the real world, now that both my parents are dead, I wish I’d asked more questions about their attitudes, their feelings, their hopes, their fears, their experiences, the parts of their lives that made them individuals, the parts of their lives that had nothing to do with me. Because they didn’t tell much.

Clear Light Bulb Placed on Chalkboard

Image from Pixabay

And my One Green Thing this month is alternatives to plastic cling film for food storage. We’ve been using these for a while:but this article lists eight others, including this, which is, apparently, a Stasher Silicone Storage Pouch: More here. And here’s a plastic-free shop.

The Plastic Free Shop

Posted in Drink, Food, One Green Thing, Parents, Plastic, Storage, Storytelling, Writing | 2 Comments

A Warming Valentine to the World (and vegan vogue)

A friend of mine told me about the speech Prince Charles made at this year’s Davos World Economic Forum who say, in their Mission Statement:

We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.

The theme for January 2020 was Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World; highlight speakers on the How to Save the Planet theme were Greta Thunberg (obviously), Jennifer Morgan (Greenpeace), Mark Carney (Governor, Bank of England, until March), Al Gore (remember him?), Jane Goodall, Nicholas Stern, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Frans Timmermans, VP, European Green New Deal.

And Prince Charles, ‘urging us back from the brink’. I was surprised to discover he’d been speaking about climate change but I shouldn’t have been, he’s been doing it since 2005, see here. And, on the Economic Forum’s 2020 highlights page, I found this:

Who said this, Charles or Greta?

‘Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced … We simply cannot waste anymore time … the time to act is now.’

‘The transition isn’t going to be easy. It will be hard. And unless we start facing this now together, with all cards on the table, we won’t be able to solve this in time … . No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency and create a cohesive and sustainable world.’

Answers here, and here.


  They both sent Warming Valentines to the World.

Part of Prince Charles’s speech at Davos:

Throughout the year … I will be convening a broad range of industry and issue roundtables including, but not limited to: aviation; water; carbon capture and storage; shipping; forestry; plastics; financing; digital technology; the bioeconomy; nature-based solutions; renewable energy; batteries, storage and electric vehicles; fisheries; integrated healthcare; cement; steel; traceability and labelling; and agriculture – at the end of which I shall probably be dead.

The last phrase made me laugh. The full speech is here: it echoes Greta Thunberg’s urgency (in its last phrase below, word for word). His last words were:

Everything I have tried to do, and urge, over the past fifty years has been done with our children and grandchildren in mind, because I did not want to be accused by them of doing nothing except prevaricate and deny the problem. Now of course, they are accusing us of exactly that. Put yourselves in their position, Ladies and Gentlemen. We simply cannot waste any more time – the only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.


And as if that’s not enough greening, my One Green Thing this month: did you know you can buy vegan make-up and skin care things? I didn’t, but I do now. The thing to look out for on products is the Vegan Trademark Sign:

Posted in Climate Change, Creativity, Good Things, Health, Human Rights, News, One Green Thing, Women | Comments Off on A Warming Valentine to the World (and vegan vogue)