I’m breaking up with my shame, on Valentine’s Day

There are studies that show what happens to couples on Valentine’s Day: the less attachment-avoidant among us fare better, as you might guess, and some of us break up. But what if the relationship is between a person and an emotion?

My shame and I have been strongly-attached for decades. But now we’re breaking up. I know my shame will always lurk in the shadows, but what shame hates is the spotlight, attention, being talked about, kindness, understanding, empathy and love. Shame doesn’t want to have a reasonable, let alone a kind conversation with the person it’s attached to, it only wants the blaming judgemental kinds of conversations. And shame absolutely doesn’t want a public conversation of any kind. Which is why I’m breaking up with my shame in public.

There’s a lot written about shame, but for me the gurus are Nova Reid, Brené Brown and Carl Jung, who said:

I didn’t realise shame and I had such a strong attachment until shame began to detach: until I began to feel more clearly, speak more clearly, hear and see more clearly, without shame blurring my focus and making constantly negative judgements. Until I began, as Nova Reid would say, to get curious about the causes of my shame. But because shame and I have been bedfellows for so long, shame’s detachment has been a long time coming.

I have Nova Reid to thank for my recongition of my relationship with shame: in her life-changing antiracism course, Becoming AntiRacist with Nova Reid, and in her book The Good Ally, she addresses shame, because shame and racism, shame and white supremacy, are inextricably bound together. Nova writes, in The Good Ally, in Chapter 6: ‘Moral Monsters: Racism and Shame’:

The relationship between shame and racism is clear. At the root of racism is fear of the other and fear of social rejection. [And later in the chapter]: Are you [white people like me] personally responsible for slavery and what your [white people’s] ancestors did? Absolutely not. However, it is this barbaric history, these acts of dehumanisation and consciously, wilfully and continuously not challenging these events that maintained white supremacy, which remains a social issue. Which you [white people like me] will, by default, because of what you have inherited, continue to benefit from. Without question, this realisation will lead to deep-rooted feelings of individual and collective shame.

Chapter 6 of The Good Ally is also full of ways to acknowledge and face shame, and ways to build shame resilience, including talking to others on their antiracism journey, but with the caveat that I never try to speak about shame with random strangers, or anyone who isn’t safe because they may, in turn, shame me. And that I will never ever speak – without explicit permission and crystal-clear boundaries – to a Black person or a Person of Colour about the shame I feel because of my racism.

Nova got me recognising and talking about my shame. Thank you, Nova. Beginning to talk about shame is the beginning of releasing shame, the beginning of breaking-up with shame. It sounds obvious, but it isn’t easy to talk about shame because shame makes me feel bad so why on earth would I want to talk openly about feeling bad? Shame’s been banking on my silence for a long time. Just as white supremacy has. But my shame for my silence about racism, which is itself racist, got me recognising how shame has kept me silent in so many aspects of my life. But I won’t be silent any longer.

Shame, Brene Brown tells us, loves secrecy, silence and judgement.

But if, she says, you put shame in a petri dish and dowse it with empathy it can’t survive.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending my shame my empathy and my love 💕 knowing that, for you, my shame, that’s the same as saying, ‘You’ve taught me so much and I thank you for that. And I understand your desire to stay in touch. But ours is a dysfunctional relationship and so, dear shame, I’m breaking up with you. ’

Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Black History, Equality, Human Rights, Love, Mental Health, Psychology, Racism, Rejection, Shame, Valentine's Day, White Allies | Leave a comment

Being kind can reduce chronic inflammation. Who knew?

On 10 January, in Dr Michael Mosley’s series, Just one Thing, there’s an episode called Be Kind. In it, Mosley talks to Dr Tristen Inagaki, PhD of San Diego University whose studies show that being kind improves our immune systems and reduces the inflammation that can cause serious diseases.

Being kind on a regular basis can also improve happiness and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Mosley said:

Being kind to others has a profound effect on our own health and wellbeing as well as on theirs. In a 2023 study scientists randomly allocated people with mild depression, anxiety or stress to three groups. One group did three acts of kindness for five weeks; another group were asked to be more sociable: a final group did a written form of CBT. The scientists found that doing acts of kindness had the biggest effects on mood, significantly reducing anxiety and depression. They concluded that acts of kindness resulted in greater wellbeing benefits than established CBT techniques.

Brain scans show that when someone decides to be generous or to co-operate with others, an area of the brain called the striatum is activated – the same area that responds when we eat good food or take addictive drugs. Activating your striatum is believed to be the basis of the warm glow we get from being kind … but brain scans also revealed something rather surprising: kindness can relieve pain. Donating blood hurt less than having blood taken for a test, even if the needle was twice as big.

Dr Tristen Inagaki, PhD, a social scientist at San Diego State University studies the health benefits of kindness.

Closeup of Tristen Inagaki

She’s discovered, incredibly that it can reduce chronic inflammation.

In two different studies, Inagaki told Mosley, people who gave help or support or kindness to organisations or family members had their blood drawn to assess an inflammatory marker called interleukin 6 or IL6. The studies found that being kind to more people and organisations – so friends and family but also volunteering – but not receiving kindness from those people or organisations is associated with lower inflammation.

It’s all about giving. It’s not about receiving.

The type of inflammation they looked at, systemic, chronic, inflammation predicts all the commonly-known diseases: cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and even stress and depression. There are also some larger epidemiological studies which show that those who give more live longer.

The things Inagaki’s studies recommend giving are small, and certainly not financial. Things like writing a note to a friend who’s going through a difficult time; baking something for a neighbour and leaving it on their doorstep. The kinds of things you’d like to receive yourself when times are difficult (or even when they’re not). The kinds of things that cheer you up. The kinds of things … .

And certainly not self-sacrificing things. This article, which references Inagaki’s two studies, warns that:

If you are too giving to others and you neglect yourself, then that could actually detract from your well-being.

So don’t sacrifice yourself. And don’t spend lots of money. Give small, and often, to help others. As I’m sure you do. But now we know that our giving, our kindness, helps us as well.

Posted in Baking, Gifts, Goodness, Health, Kindness, Love, Mental Health, Mind, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Caribbean Rum Christmas Cake

In all my 72 years I’ve never made a Christmas cake. When I was a child I was lucky enough to have them made for me but also, often, we bought them. And I’ve bought them ever since.

But this year I made my friend Helen Hermanstein Smith’s Caribbean Rum Fruit Cake from her glorious new recipe book of sweet and savoury bakes. The original recipe was her mother’s who, as Helen writes:

Always used dark rum from Guyana (her birthplace) … for a rich fruit cake that lasts a long time.

On 20 November I soaked 450g mixed dried fruit in dark Caribbean rum (you have to start early – but any seasoned Christmas-cake-baker would know that). The smell has been temptingly delicious and I did taste some – just the smallest amount – to make sure the fruit mixture was properly soaking, you understand … .

On 11 December I made the cake.
But you could leave the fruit soaking for another week.

And sometime between now and Christmas I’ll decorate it and we’ll eat it.
And I know – by the smells – it’s going to be delicious. Thank you, Helen.

Posted in Baking, Christmas Cake, Dark Guyanese Rum Fruitcake, Drink, Good Things | 2 Comments

Afrikan Reparations: a conference

On Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd October, in London, a conference to discuss Afrikan Reparations and to address the legacy of the trafficking and enslavement of peoples of Afrikan descent, of colonisation and colonialism, was held. I went, at the suggestion of the leader of the White Allies Network. I was humbled, informed, heart-broken and uplifted by what I heard.

When white people think about reparations or reparatory justice for people of colour, we tend to think about money. But although money is extremely important, it was rarely the first thing the speakers or delegates wanted.

This account of the conference doesn’t cover the vast array of subjects discussed, nor the rich and varied contributions made by the speakers and some of the delegates, because there were seventeen breakout sessions and each delegate could only choose four. But it is a digest of what I heard.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham and chair of APPG-AR (the All Party Parliamentary Group for Afrikan Reparations who organised the conference) chaired the conference. She said, in an interview with the Guardian:

Reparative justice has to go much further [than financial compensation], it has to go towards equity, repairing all the damage that was done as a direct consequence of the trafficking and enslavement of Africans.


Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham

Each morning, in the main hall, djembe drummers welcomed us and accompanied the speakers. Each day opened with a plenary, followed by smaller breakout sessions. The subjects covered ranged from: the law and reparative justice to cultural redress; faith, NGOs and reparatory justice to pan-Afrikanism; women’s rights; media and social transformation; community regeneration; heirs and allies; environmental reparations; political economy and social enterprise; international relations and geopolitics; education; racial justice and intersectionality; and more.

Many Black luminaries, young and old, spoke of the need for education of their own people about their own history before the damage could be undone. (There’s an agenda for the two days here which includes all the speakers’ names and titles. Diane Abbott was unable to attend the first day.)

Kimani Nehusi, a Professor at the Temple University College of Liberal Arts in Philadelphia, said:

If we don’t know how we suffered and how we continue to suffer, then we don’t know how to correct the damage.

Kobina Amokwandoh from the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Youth Forum said:

Everyone in this room has been miseducated … . There’s been historic opposition to us educating ourselves. We need that knowledge. We need to educate ourselves … . Young people around the world who look like me are killing each other because they don’t know who they are … . Education is preparation for reparations. Let each one teach one.

Education (and healthcare) was high on the list of essential reparations, education about Black history. On the second day, in the plenary session, the historian, Robin Walker told us how Afrikan expertise was stolen by white people. He said, ‘Enslavement didn’t just steal brawn, it stole brains.’ He said people of colour should know that Jack Daniels, Peter Rabbit, the combine harvester and the smallpox vaccination, to name a few, were all originally invented by Black people. But riches from these inventions have descended to white generations while poverty has descended to black generations because these inventions were attributed to white people when in fact they were invented by black people and appropriated by white people.

Professor Dr Maulana Karenga, founder of the annual end-of-year holiday, Kwanzaa, said: 

We are injured physicians who have it within ourselves to heal ourselves. We are our own liberators. No matter how sincere our allies, we must liberate ourselves. It is our duty to know our past and honour it; to know our present and forge it; to know our future and [work for it].

On the first day, in the plenary, Esther Stanford-Xosei, of Stop the Maangamizi (the Afrikan Holocaust, the genocide of enslavement; the Kiswahili term for the continuum of chattel enslavement, colonialism and neocolonialism) demanded reparations ‘On behalf of our ancestors’. She also talked, as Kobina did, about the difficulty of demanding reparations when you don’t know your roots. She quoted Marcus Garvey: ‘A people without knowledge of their history and culture is like a tree without roots.’ She talked about the Maangamizi Educational Trust and how the Maangamizi must be named. She said, ‘History is the bedrock of everything we’re doing. But,’ she said, ‘historicide is being committed: the erasure of the illustrious works of our forebears.’ The education system in the UK must recognise the Maangamizi.

Discussing Cultural Redress, Wangui Wa Goro, Professor of Translation Practice at SOAS, said, ‘We lost our tongues [our languages] at the hands of the oppressor. So we lost the ability to remember … . We were removed from our cultural systems.’ She said Liberated Zones, little pockets of reparations and reparative justice must be created, through language. She urged delegates to learn at least one Afrikan language.

At a Community Regeneration session, Nana Kojo Bonsu [Kojo], a delegate, but also the man who led the libation and the blessing on the conference at the beginning of the first day, said land and access to the land is so important. He said, ‘Without land you can’t develop. The restoration and restitution of land is essential. Anyone who offers financial compensation and not land, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.’ 

At a session on environmental reparations, Maria Xochitl Tricks, said:

It’s impossible to talk about environmental justice without talking about cognitive and reparative justice.

She said, ‘We need to tackle climate change through system change – and reparatory justice.’ She said people must reclaim their land, and when they do that, or try to do that, it must be recognised that they’re not terrorists.

At the first plenary session, Kwami Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic, talked about the importance of narrative. He said, ‘Narrative controls us, but Afrikans are perceived as inferior and the system supports this. This inferiority is bred into us. There’s a subconscious inferiority among black people.’ He grew up feeling ugly and that, he said, is narrative. ‘Narrative gives or takes power, gives or takes strength.’ He said enslaved people, after they landed on American shores, were ‘seasoned’, by the oppressor. He said, ‘They took away our names; they took away our culture; they took away our spirits; they took away our everything.’ He also said he wanted to make sure the reparations cause is fashionable, young, hot and revolutionary. To get and keep young Black people committed.

The Convenor of an education session, Preparation for Reparations, Dr Oli Harrison, said: ‘Schools in the UK are incapable of dealing with questions of reparatory justice [but] … we’re here today to bring forth the contradictions and to find harmony and ways forward towards reparative justice.’

Malik Al Nasir said, ‘Reparative Education must be taken [not given or requested].’ He said, We need to work together to make a new approach to education. We need to popularise APPG-AR by lobbying our local MPs.’ And in the final plenary, among many other speakers, Esther Stanford-Xosei, who is also a member of the APPG-AR secretariat, said:

This project is not just financial – it’s an emancipatory and liberatory project. Reparations cannot be made only by a mere transfer of funds from the oppressor to the oppressed. Reparatory Justice must be driven by Afrikan Communities.

So, before money, came self-education and self-knowledge: Kobina’s, ‘Education is preparation for reparations’; education to counteract mis-education. Languages and narratives must be reclaimed; land must be restored; there must be equity and debt relief and the return of stolen artefacts and human remains. Governments must apologise for enslavement, and there must be financial reparations. For a sense of the reparations that were discussed at the breakout sessions I couldn’t attend, see the agenda.

Not everyone agreed on the order of reparations but, at the end of a Pan-Afrikanism session, a panellist said:

APPG-AR is the place where we can disagree collegiately – we need to create these spaces where we listen to each other and reason through our perspectives, if we are to become a force.

Appg-ar.org will be releasing footage from the conference soon. Here’s a link to videos of various conference sessions.

I’m sure the pursuit and enactment of these reparations will take time. But they must be enacted, if our world is to become a fairer, more equitable place.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy closed the conference with a vote of thanks to all who sponsored and supported it. She ended by reading the Conference Statement.Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (@BellRibeiroAddy) / X


Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Equality, History, Human Rights, Love, Morality, Politics, Racism, White Allies | Leave a comment

Black History Month, and David Olusoga

October is Black History Month in the UK, but David Olusoga, historian and broadcaster, and many many others, including me, think it’s well past time that British history included everyone who’s part of the UK’s history wherever it’s taught, read or written about. Our history is a shared history, a history that belongs to all of us. Olusoga writes:


and he says:

That says it all. Don’t you think?

Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Black History, Equality, History, Human Rights, Racism | Leave a comment

An astonishing blind pianist

On Friday 8 September we heard Nobuyuki Tsujii (or Nobu to his many many fans). He played Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto at the penultimate 2023 Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a virtuoso performance of one of the most difficult piano concertos, and it moved me to tears.

Nobuyuki Tsujii - Wikipedia

Nobuyuki Tsujii, from here

Nobu was led onto the RAH stage by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonia Orchestra’s conductor, the hugely talented Domingo Hindoyan, but the kindness and tenderness with which he led Nobu to the piano and his gentle attention to him throughout the performance (and afterwards, when Nobu played a gloriously jazzy encore) was what struck me. Hindoyan’s combination of admiration and affection for an outstanding fellow musician was almost as moving as Nobu’s performance.

Prom 70

Domingo Hindoyan, from here

I don’t know how many of my tears came from the Concerto’s Russian melancholy and how many from Nobu’s courage, attack, virtuosity, sheer delight in playing and the fact that he’d learned this notoriously difficult piano concerto without being able to see the score. My other half looked up the way Nobu learns: other pianists record a work for him, left and right hands separately, onto cassette. They also record markings or codes or instructions from the composer. Nobu listens and learns from the sounds. He calls the cassettes, Music sheets for ears.

Concert pianists almost always play without a score – they memorise it – but to learn a piece without a score seems to me to be verging on the miraculous. Nobu had a way of moving his head rhythmically to the left when he wasn’t playing, when he was listening to the orchestral parts, as if he was the music itself. He’s a shining example of achieving what might seem, to many of us, impossible.

Posted in Artists, Creativity, Goodness, Kindness, Listening, Love, Music | Leave a comment

Flowers from a Stone

Flowers that find their way through stone or rock (or any apparently impenetrable surface) always touch my heart. They manage to flourish in the most (apparently) inhospitable places.

I’ve been rewriting a novel I thought I’d finished last autumn. But when I couldn’t sell it I did what I should’ve done before I tried to sell it: I asked fellow writer-readers to tell me, honestly, what wasn’t working. What they said showed me how angry I was about my subject matter. Anger is good, it can fuel action, but I’d failed to allow any flowers to find their way through the stone of my anger and give the novel the heart and the hope, the love and the compassion it needs.

I hope it won’t be too long before that novel, like these daisies, finds itself flourishing.

Posted in Books, Creativity, Fiction, Flowers/Blossom, Gardening, Rewriting, Writers, Writing | Leave a comment

Independence Day: two dissenting points of view

Independence Day, celebrated in America on the fourth of July, commemorates the Declaration of Independence, ratified on the fourth of July 1776. It stated that the:

Thirteen Colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the British monarch, George III, and were now united, free, and independent states.

Freedom from a colonial power and freedom from a monarch who lived thousands of miles away is a good thing. But what kinds of freedom did the Declaration of Independence offer the citizens of the states united by it?

The second paragraph of the Declaration states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

On 5 July 1852, Frederick Douglass, a formerly enslaved man who became a prominent activist, a leader of the abolitionist movement, an author and public speaker, addressed the Rochester (New York) Ladies Antislavery Society about Independence.

What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? … I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me.

portrait of Frederick Douglass 1847-52

Frederick Douglass, taken in the 1840s. From here, a site that suggests reasons for the number of photographs of Douglass that exist.

Among other things, Douglass also said, to the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society:

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

James Baldwin also believed in the need for fire. In The Fire Next Time, published in 1964, he wrote:

The American Negro … was once defined by the American Constitution as ‘three-fifths’ of a man. [A man] who, according to the Dred Scott decision had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. [The Dred Scott decision was an 1857 ruling, in the American Supreme Court, that held that the American Constitution did not extend American citizenship to people of black African descent.]

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes …  that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that … Americans have always dealt honourably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbours or inferiors.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin | WaterstonesBaldwin ends the book with:
If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfilment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time! 

The song was Oh Mary Don’t You Weep, and the line that Baldwin ends his essay with comes from this verse:

God gave Moses the rainbow sign
No more water, but fire next time
Pharoah’s army got drownded
Oh Mary don’t you weep.

Two prominent men. Two prominent American men. Two prominent American Black men. With two dissenting points of view about American Independence.

Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Books, Democracy, Equality, History, Human Rights, Politics, Racism, White Allies | Leave a comment

Windrush, 75 years on

Seventy-five years ago, on 22 June 1948, HMT (His Majesty’s Transport) Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, on the River Thames. She was named, as many empire ships were, for a British river, in her case the River Windrush, a small Thames tributary. Windrush brought 492 passengers to Britain from several Caribbean islands including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Windrush scandal explained

Photograph from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) here 

The British government asked the Caribbeans to come, to help with post-second-world-war labour shortages. The hope-filled expressions and the excitement on the faces of those in the prow of Windrush breaks my heart, because we white people gave them a horrible reception. We met the Windrush Generation (those who arrived from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971) with racism, dismissal and deprivation, instead of the jobs they were qualified for and the new beginnings: the prosperity and the equality they rightly expected from the Mother country.

And as if our white refusal to rent houses to the Caribbeans, our injustice, and our delegation of the worst jobs to them wasn’t enough, (for example, trained nurses cleaned toilets and mopped hospital floors instead of nursing) in 2012 the British government came up with the dreadful idea of making a hostile environment for immigrants without the required papers. This meant that many of the Windrush Generation, who’d arrived as children on their mother’s passports, or simply with landing cards, found themselves facing deportation back to Jamaica. Because, by then, the Home Office had destroyed thousands of landing cards and other records, so many [of the Windrush Generation] lacked the documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK. 

The Windrush Scandal continues: a Windrush Compensation Scheme has been set up, but it has been criticised for low payments and slow responses to claims and, in January 2023, Suella Braverman rescinded three of the commitments to the Windrush Generation, adopted by the Home Office, after the  Wendy Williams inquiry into the scandal published its report, Windrush Lessons Learned in March 2020. In that same month, the Institute for Government found that:

The British state wrongfully detained or deported 164 people, with more leaving ‘voluntarily’ following repeated pressure from the Home Office – despite having a right to stay. The true scale of who was affected is still unknown. The independent review, chaired by Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, says the scandal affected “hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people” who had their ability to work denied and their access to vital benefits or treatment wrongfully removed. At its most extreme, people “were deprived of their liberty.”

It’s like saying to your relations, ‘Come live with us, work with us, make new lives with us,’ and then saying, ‘Actually, we didn’t mean with, we meant for.’ And, after decades of treating these new relations appallingly badly, saying, ‘Actually, we didn’t even mean for. We meant, we don’t want you anymore.’

Here’s a short video of London teacher, Sara Burke, leading a Windrush Scandal protest in 2018. She’s the granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants who came to Britain during the Windrush era.

There are many more video stories from Caribbean Londoners here and there are many Windrush Generation stories here.

Despite all this, Jamaican-Britons have survived and thrived and contributed magnificently, beautifully and enduringly to Britain’s arts and culture, to academic life, to political life, business and the law, to fashion and invention, religion and sports, entertainment, writing and journalism. Here’s just one list.

Below is a little about Andrea Levy, Lenny Henry and Robert & Jennifer Beckford. (I tried to find a link for Jennifer Beckford on her own, but couldn’t.) They’re all Jamaican-Britons.

In 1948 Andrea Levy’s father sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush … her mother joined him soon after. Andrea was born in London in 1956, growing up black in what was still a very white England.

That comes from Andrea Levy’s website (sadly she died in 2019) but she was a wonderful writer who wrote poignantly-funny, thoughtfully-honest novels about the black British experience. One of them was Small Island, a novel set in 1948 and beyond, in Britain. It tells the stories of a family of black Jamaican-Britons and a family of white Britons and how welcoming (or not) the white families were to the black ones.

Collage of Andrea Levy's manuscripts

Image from Authors’ Lives, Andrea Levy, British Library here 

Levy gave an interview to Sarah O’Reilly, an oral historian at the British Library for the library’s national archive series, Authors’ Lives in 2014. Among many recorded pieces, Levy said, in the one linked to the image above:

If you’re English, you have a sense of who you are, it comes to you … through the culture in which you live. When you’ve come from outside, or your parents have come from outside, that sense is lost and so you either take on this majority culture and say this is mine, or you have to seek out the one that has been lost to you. You have to seek it out yourself because nobody’s going to tell you the history of Jamaica in this country [Britain] … I’m still seeking it out.

In the Authors’ Lives interview O’Reilly describes Small Island:

It was inspired by Levy’s parents’ experience of moving to England and explores how migration shapes both those who travel to a new country and the people they come to live among.

Andrea Levy Small Island

It’s a wonderful novel, and also a play. I highly recommend both.

Lenny Henry (now Sir Lenny Henry) came to Britain from Jamaica on his mother’s passport, aged eight. In 1975, aged sixteen, he won New Faces and since then he hasn’t stopped working. He’s a writer, a philanthropist, one of Britain’s best-known comedians and an award-winning actor.

Between 28 April and 10 June, Henry directed and acted in his one-man show, August in England, his debut as a playwright.  It’s about August Henderson, who, aged eight, comes to Britain from Jamaica with his mother, on her passport. It’s about his life, his loves, his children, his work and, tragically, about how the British government hounded him in later life and threatened to deport him, because, they claimed, he didn’t have the required documents to remain in Britain. August in England ends with filmed testimony from three Jamaican-Britons who were evicted from their homes, lost their jobs and suffered devastating and ongoing trauma as a result of the British government’s abject failure to admit they had caused the problem when they destroyed the landing cards and other records of the people they’d asked to come to Britain to help get the country back on its feet after the second world war.

Photo by Helen Murray

Photograph by Helen Murray, from here 

On his website, Henry writes, here (at the end of this link):

The only way that we can make good on all those well-meaning statements about Black Lives mattering, is if the Establishment goes out of its way to empower those black lives and all those other minorities. True diversity is diversity of colour, diversity of experience, diversity of being … . When you get all those people at the table, there will be arguments, there will be banging of the table with fists, there will be walkouts, but oh my God, the brilliance that will come out of those conversations will blow you away … . And I assure you, when we get a big win, I will do a naked streak down Pall Mall! Watch this space.

Professor Robert Beckford, Professor of Black Theology at The Queen’s Foundation, together with his wife, Jennifer Beckford, have made a four-episode programme for BBC Radio 4 called Windrush, A Family Divided. She was born in Jamaica and then came to Britain. He was born in Britain, to Jamaican parents.

Professor Robert Beckford and his Jamaican-born wife, Jennifer Beckford. On their programme they argue the pros and cons of Windrush 75 years on. Image from here

Beckford and Beckford have argued about whether the Windrush Generation benefitted from coming to Britain or not, for twenty-three years. In the first episode, Jennifer Beckford argues that, ‘Excellent people were syphoned off from the Caribbean’, and that the people who came to Britain, ‘Should have stayed at home – or gone back – to create a vibrant and economically sound Jamaica.’

In an interview, in the first episode, with an uncle and aunt, Ken and Estelle, Robert Beckford hears how Ken was helped by his employer to buy a house (he couldn’t rent because very very few white people would rent to a black person). Beckford says to Ken, ‘You faced adversity and you overcame it. Windrush is a story of overcoming and striving and being successful.’ But there are also stories of people who ignored the call from Britain, stayed in Jamaica and have been just as successful.

Both the Beckfords agree that the Windrush generation had to do the heavy-lifting in Britain, so they didn’t have to: by heavy-lifting they mean paving the way, facing the kinds of discrimination and difficulty they never faced in the Caribbean, and, in some cases, being wrongly deported from Britain back to countries they barely remember or never knew. At the end of the first episode Jennifer Beckford asks, ‘Don’t you think our children and our children’s children will fare better in the Caribbean?’

Find out how their discussions develop in subsequent programmes on Mondays in June, at 11.00am here, or on BBC iPlayer anytime, here.

National Windrush Monument, 2022-06-24.jpg

National Windrush Monument, a bronze sculpture by Basil Watson at Waterloo Station, London.

The inscription by the National Windrush Monument lists the members of the Windrush Committee who commissioned the sculpture, and a poem by Laura Serrant, called You Called … We Came. The last lines of her poem are:

Remember … you called.
Remember … you called.
YOU. Called.
Remember, it was us, who came.
©Professor Laura Serrant 2017

All the people described above are radiant planets in the Jamaican-British firmament. But until the day when every single Jamaican-British person (let alone all those whose families and ancestors originally came from other countries) … until the day when every single one is seen (August in London vividly shows how it feels not to be seen), until the day when every single one feels at home in Britain, feels welcome in Britain, is free to work, live and thrive in Britain, is empowered in Britain without any kind of hindrance or racist restriction or microaggression, white people must never stop working to make all British systems, the establishment, particularly, and every white person individually, antiracist.

And a PS: it’s looking more and more likely that Jamaica will decide to become a republic, perhaps as early as 2024. To paraphrase Lenny Henry, watch their space.

Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Art, Black History, Books, Creativity, Democracy, Equality, Fiction, History, Human Rights, Morality, Racism, Windrush, Writers, Writing | Leave a comment

What does it mean to be good?

In a 2013 article by Steve Taylor PhD in Psychology Today, good is defined as:

a lack of self-centredness … the ability to empathise with other people, feel compassion … and put [others’] needs before your own. It means … sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of others. It means benevolence, altruism and selflessness, and self-sacrifice towards a greater cause — all qualities which stem from a sense of empathy. It means being able to see beyond the superficial difference of race, gender or nationality and relate to a common human essence beneath them.

Over the last few weeks my other half and I have seen three plays and one film that treat this subject: Good by C.P. Taylor with David Tennant in the lead role; The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertolt Brecht, with Ami Tredrea in the lead role; A Good Person by Zach Braff with Morgan Freeman in the lead role (when I say lead role I mean the part that’s associated with good), and in early May we saw Retrograde by Ryan Calais Cameron with Ivanno Jeremiah in the lead role.

top: David Tennant, Ami Tredrea (in Good & The Good Person of Szechwan)
below: Florence Pugh & Morgan Freeman (in A Good Person)
below them: Ivanno Jeremiah (Retrograde)

David Tennant’s character, John Halder, changes chillingly from book-loving academic to book-burning SS officer; Ami Tredrea’s character, Shen Te, is given a large sum of money that she schemes and deceives with, in order to survive in a capitalist world; Morgan Freeman’s character, Daniel, is a recovering alcoholic who wants to help oxycontin-addicted Allison kick her habit (Allison is played by Florence Pugh) and Ivanno Jeremiah’s character is an imagined Sidney Poitier who, in reality, faced black-listing by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, but who, as his imaginary self in Retrograde, is presented with a contract by a big Hollywood studio which includes a clause that requires him to denouce Paul Robeson (his real-life much-admired friend).

All four characters are faced with temptations (power, money, alcohol and fame in that order) but all in the end resist and do the ‘good’ thing. Except John Halder, whose moral detachment and complete lack of empathy allow him to be seduced into joining the Nazi Party.

Shen Te realises she can’t be good all the time but she can be better; Daniel will always be tempted by alcohol but, because he knows exactly what it’s like to be an addict, by example he shows Allison it’s possible to recover, forgive and rediscover your better self. Sidney Poitier is subjected to abhorrent racism and emotional blackmail and, under severe racist pressure, considers signing the contract. But in the end he tears it up: he will not denounce his old friend for the sake of Hollywood fame.

None of these characters are good by default or by mistake. They’re all faced with complex dilemmas and they’re all tempted to do the wrong, the bad thing. But only one succumbs. What the three who come good have in common is that they, eventually, unearth the courage and the empathy to ditch their selfishness and put other people first.

Posted in Allyship, Art, Artists, Equality, Fiction, Goodness, Morality, Plays | Leave a comment

Tom Titanic: a Welsh hero remembered

On 15 April I went to Cemaes, the northernmost town on the Ynys Môn coast, with my cousin Alex Leslie, and my sister Lucinda Mackworth-Young. We were there because Cemaes is the town where Thomas William Jones was born, on 15 November 1877. Tom Titanic, as he’s remembered in Cemaes, was put in command of Lifeboat Number 8 when RMS Titanic sank on 15 April 1912. This 15 April we celebrated him for his courage and competence when he took twenty-eight people to safety in his lifeboat, on that terrifying night one hundred and eleven years ago.

Thomas William Jones c.1920 aged 43

I was asked to unveil a plaque in memory of Tom Titanic on the wall of the house where he was born and lived for the first sixteen years of his life, because my great-grandmother, Noël Rothes, was one of the passengers in his lifeboat.

Noël did her best to help Tom Titanic throughout that freezing night by comforting the passengers as best she could, and alternately taking an oar or the tiller.

Eric Torr has been working hard to make sure Tom Titanic’s memory is not forgotten. He persuaded Liverpool City Council to put up a plaque outside the house where Thomas Jones died, in 1967, and he was the driving force behind a new Titanic Memorial to both Thomas Jones and Noël Rothes, a memorial that faces Cemaes Bay. Below is a photograph of it, with Eric Torr on the left, and three of Noël Rothes’ great-grandchildren: me, Alex Leslie (my cousin) and Lucinda Mackworth-Young (my sister).

Many of Tom Titanic’s family gathered to witness the ceremonies which Carys Davies, one of the directors of the Cemaes Heritage Centre, together with Derek Owen, a local County Councillor and Community Councillor; Elfed, who ordered and put up the plaque (and gave me essential information about how to remove the veil when the time came) and Eric Torr organised. Here’s a photograph of the four organisers, with me, after my talk that evening. We’re holding a facsimile of the text for the Memorial above.

Carys Davies, Elfed, me, Eric Torr, Derek Owen

About forty people gathered outside No 4 Sea View in Cemaes, the house, below, where Tom Titanic was born, the house now owned by Louise Burnam who gracefully allowed us all to gather there.

Dafydd Roberts, Chairperson of the Isle of Anglesey County Council, and Aled Jones, a County Councillor, spoke in honour of Tom Titanic and the work done by the organisers of the day. Welsh harpists Wyn and Steffan Thomas, father and son, and two young sisters, Megan and Sali, led by Huw Roberts, played. They’re all pictured below and later, when we were having panad (tea and sandwiches) Megan and Sali’s sister, Manon sang for us.

Huw Roberts, below, also played Nearer my God to Thee the hymn it’s thought the band played on the boat deck as Titanic went down and we bowed our heads for a minute’s silence in memory of all those who died on that tragic night.

Schoolchildren from Years 4, 5, and 6 at Ysgol Gynradd Cemaes – the local primary school – recited a poem they’d written, and sang a song in Tom Titanic’s honour. (If you click on and enlarge the photographs of their poem, below, you’ll be better able to read their words and see their drawings. They’re wonderful.)

I spoke about the long night Tom Titanic and his passengers spent in Lifeboat Number 8, and the difficulties he faced and courageously overcame. Then I unveiled the plaque.

In the evening I gave a talk about how Tom Titanic and Noël Rothes worked together to save the lives of twenty-eight people, in Lifeboat Number 8 on the night Titanic sank, 15 April 1912: The Aristocrat, The Able Seaman and the tragic sinking of RMS Titanic. Afterwards Derek Owen presented me with a new version of the plaque Tom Titanic gave Noël, to thank her for her courage under what he called, ‘so heartrending circumstances’.

the new version

the original

And so, by the time the sun sank over Cemaes Bay, the bay Tom Titanic knew so well, his memory, his lifesaving legacy, his courage, competence and compassion as both able seaman and captain of RMS Titanic’s Lifeboat Number 8, had been remembered in very special ways throughout the day, in a manner fit for a true Welsh hero.

Posted in BLue Plaques, History, Kindness, Places, Talks, Titanic, Travel | 4 Comments

Older women: Elder, not elderly

It’s getting close to mother’s day here in the UK (here’s a list of mother’s day dates worldwide) and that set me thinking about women and the different stages of our lives … and, naturally enough, Sheila Hancock. In a 2022 Guardian interview about her book Old Rage (brilliant title) and her life, Hancock talks about how, in older age you can be a bit cantankerous and odd. Too right. Even in approaching old age.

Hancock also writes a column for Prospect called Long Life. Last month she wrote about how eternally irritating it is when an older woman falls and people say, ‘She had a fall.’ She didn’t. She fell. There’s an important difference. In the first, a thing happens to you; in the second, you did the thing. Just because we’re older (I’m 72) we don’t stop doing things. But that ‘doing’ can shift and change.

In her book, Hagitude, Sharon Blackie reimagines the second half of life.
I am only a third of the way through Hagitude but already I know it holds much wisdom, much old wisdom, wisdom which will help me do things differently as I age, wisdom to prevent me from becoming an elderly woman who has falls but rather an elder enlightened (at least sometimes) energetic woman who, from time to time, falls.

Posted in Books, Creativity, Kindness, Listening, Love, Mental Health, Mythology, Psychology, Women | Leave a comment

Let Love Grow Food this Valentine’s Day

Concern Worldwide is a charity that ‘goes to the ends of earth to deliver aid where it’s needed most’. They’re working in Turkey and Syria right now. And they’ve got a Valentine’s Day campaign that suggests buying a cow for a loved one: Cowor planting an avocado tree for a loved one:

Avocado trees

or buying a sack garden for a loved one (a portable garden):

Sack gardenor keeping a girl in school for a loved one:

Keep a girl in school

And there are several others here. (And don’t be put off by their suggestion that you order by 7 February … you can print a card for your loved one at home or you can order an ecard that’ll be sent straight away.) Concern Worldwide also have a sideline in persuasive language for their Valentine’s gifts: this gift has guac it all; this gift will lettuce help families grow nutritious food.

A funny, sustainable, thoughtful and transformative gift. What more could you want for your Valentine?

Posted in Charities, Equality, Food, Human Rights, Hunger and Food Insecurity, Kindness, Presents, Valentine's Day | Leave a comment


In Matt Haig’s The Comfort Book – reflections on hope, survival and the messy business of being alive – he writes:

Life is short. Be kind.

The Comfort BookA beautiful thing to be. (The Comfort Book is also beautiful, full of ‘consolatons and suggestions for making bad days better’. I was given mine for Chrstimas … why don’t you give it to someone?) And here, to begin this new 2023, are some suggestions for ways of being kind, taken from this Guardian article, where there’s one suggestion for each week of the year. All the text below is from the Guardian article by Emma Beddington, reproduced under their Open Licence Terms.

Give Blood
We urgently need more blood donors of black heritage, says Rob Knowles of NHS Blood and Transplant (they are more likely to be able to help the increasing number of patients with sickle cell disease). Sign up at blood.co.uk, call 0300 1232323 or use the NHS Blood app. To donate quickly, the best appointment availability is at the 25 permanent donor centres across the UK.

Help Prisoners with Reading
About 50% of people in UK prisons struggle with reading.The Shannon Trust helps them to help one another throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. “Our prison volunteers train and support prisoner mentors to work one-to-one with learners,” says Karen Ryan, director of prison delivery.

Empty your bins, and bring them back in
It’s scientifically impossible to be anything other than thrilled when someone else deals with the bins.

Learn CPR
The British Heart Foundation estimates there are approximately 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year; knowing what to do if you encounter one can mean the difference between life and death. Take 15 minutes and do the BHF’s free online training course.

Feed pickets
Strikers need solidarity to keep feeling positive: show solidarity with a box of biscuits or a round of hot drinks.

Answer phones at ChildLine
Children have had an especially tough few years, and four hours a week answering calls can make a huge difference. The recruitment process is quite lengthy and careful: there is training and assessment, followed by two observed shifts and one mentored one before potential volunteers find out if they are a good fit. It’s worth it. A recent recruit said, “There can be difficult and upsetting contacts, but volunteers are supported by experienced supervisors … and when a young person says: ‘Thanks for listening and not judging,’ or ‘I hadn’t thought of it like that’, I feel such a high.”

Use your languages
Refugee charities often need volunteer interpreters. Medical Justice, which works to ensure detainees’ health rights are respected, needs people with a range of languages from Albanian to Vietnamese at immigration removal centres across the UK.

Buy coffee for a stranger
Many cafes offer a “pay it forward” system, where you can buy an extra coffee for someone (an especially good way to support homeless people). Alternatively, just pay for the person behind you without them knowing, then disappear, fairy godmother style.

May 2023 be kind to you.


Posted in Good Things, Kindness, Mental Health, Psychology | Leave a comment

A Ukrainian Christmas

ImageBusiness Ukraine Magazine reports that Kharkiv’s main Christmas tree has, this year, been put up in an underground station – to protect it from Russian air strikes.

The magazine also retweeted the Washington Post’s report about Volodymyr Zelensky becoming Time’s Person of the Year:

That a leader with no previous military experience chose to remain in the country as war erupted speaks volumes about his character, Time reporter Simon Shuster wrote in a profile of Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Zelensky’s success as a wartime leader has relied on the fact that courage is contagious,” Shuster wrote. “It spread through Ukraine’s political leadership in the first days of the invasion, as everyone realized the President had stuck around.”

Photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during an interview with The Washington Post at his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2022. (Photo by Heidi Levine for The Washington Post). Headline reads, "Volodymyr Zelensky named Time’s Person of the Year for 2022"

May we all find the courage to continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainians in any way we can, now and in 2023, when, with the help of that courage and constant support, the war will be won by the Ukrainians.

Free vector graphics of Sunflower

Posted in Allyship, Christmas, Democracy, Flowers/Blossom, Human Rights, Refugees, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Environmental Racism & COP27 Loss-and-Damage Discussions

Environmental Racism is the disproportionate impact
of environmental hazards on people of colour.

That’s Joycelyn Longdon’s succinct definition. Joycelyn Longdon is the founder of Climate in Colour, an online education platform that combines climate science with social justice. In her 2020 video, below, she talks about developing countries and their particular vulnerability to extreme events such as hurricanes, cyclones and floods, events that wealthier countries have the means to recover from far more quickly. Samuel Webb, in the Independent online wrote, in November 2021:

It takes longer for low-income communities to be rebuilt after natural disasters, and many people in poorer nations don’t enjoy the same social safety nets as those in wealthier nations if their livelihood is crippled by a climate disaster. There are also geographical considerations. Many developing nations are coastal, and therefore more vulnerable to storms and floods.

According to the Red Cross, The fingerprints of climate change are present in the unprecedented floods [in Pakistan, in October 2022]. In Joycelyn’s video, she explains that 80% of the world’s biodiversity – the world’s lungs – are looked after by indigenous people, but they only make up 5% of the world’s population.

She goes on to say that 10% of the world’s population contribute 50% of global emissions, but the poorest 50% are responsible for only 10% of emissions. She suggests that Climate Reparations are one way to begin to repair the damage: wealthier nations would compensate poorer nations for damage caused by climate change.

Now, for the first time in the history of the twenty-seven annual climate change conferences, at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this month, Climate Reparations or the preferred term, Loss and Damage, is on the agenda. Sarah Kaplan and Susannah George wrote, in the Independent online, on 8 November:

At the UN climate negotiations in Egypt, Pakistan will lead a bloc of more than 100 developing nations insisting on compensation for the irreversible harms of climate change – a class of impacts collectively known as “loss and damage”. The bloc has called for the creation of a dedicated loss-and-damage fund, which hard-hit countries can rely on for immediate assistance after a disaster, rather than waiting for humanitarian aid or loans that will drive them into debt.

At last year’s talks [COP26] in Glasgow, a cohort of developing nations that included major emitters like India as well as tiny island states like Vanuatu, fought for language that urged their rich counterparts to fund loss and damage. A majority of countries supported it, but that text was ultimately dropped amid opposition from the US and EU.

At Glasgow last year a two-year dialogue on loss and damage was agreed, because an outcome couldn’t be agreed on. So the conversation is one year in. Another idea I heard on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science on 10 November is that if there was a 10% tax on the windfall profits of just thirty-five of the largest listed oil and gas companies, that would generate $37billion into a loss and damage fund.

In terms of contributions from countries, in September this year, Denmark announced a $13m fund to assist vulnerable countries – the first UN member state to do so. Since then Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Scotland have also done so and I hope other wealthier countries will follow suit. If their leaders have anything resembling a conscience about the world’s fast-changing climate, they will.

Posted in Antiracism, Climate Change, Environmental Racism, Equality, Human Rights, Living Standards, Racism | Leave a comment

Blue Plaques for Black People: Nubian Jak Community Trust

For this Black History month, here’s an organisation which celebrates Black history throughout the year and throughout the land. The Nubian Jak Community Trust (NCTJ) installs Blue Plaques to acknowledge and remember notable Black people. It was founded in 2006. It also develops learning and educational resources about the plaque recipients for schools and colleges.

On 11 October, the latest Nubian Jak plaque was unveiled at Jack Jones House, the site of the house where the violin prodigy, George Bridgetower, died in 1860. Beethoven dedicated his Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower, who played its first public performance (with Beethoven on the piano) on 24 May 1803, but soon afterwards the two argued and Beethoven re-dedicated the Sonata to Rodolphe Kreutzer, who never played it.

Here are a few of the growing number of Nubian Jak Plaques (click on the images to discover the people): Amy Ashwood, feminist and human rights campaigner; John Richard Archer, first Black London Mayor, 1913-1914; Malcom X, international civil rights campaigner; Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet to be published in English, in 1773; Rhaune Laslett-O’Brien, who set up the Notting Hill Street Carnival in 1965, which evolved into the Notting Hill Carnival, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer.

There are many many more here.

Jak Beula founded the NJCT and he’s its Chief Executive. There’s also a Black Plaque Project, here. The NJCT is the only commemorative plaque and sculpture scheme dedicated to memorialising the historic contributions of Black and minority ethnic people in Britain and beyond.


Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Black History, Black Plaques, Equality, History, Human Rights, Music | Leave a comment

Redemption Song

A couple of weeks ago I saw the Bob Marley musical, Get Up Stand Up! in London. It’s glorious, it’s uplifting, I felt sound waves, like a breeze, against my body; it’s brilliantly sung and acted, it’s very moving and it tells, among many incidents from Marley’s life, how he and The Wailers went to meet Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, in London in 1972, and Blackwell gave them the £4,000.00 they needed to make an album. The show’s programme notes read:

Others at Island told Blackwell he was mad to give them the money without signing a contract, but Blackwell said they’d been so messed about and ripped off by the record business until then that they trusted no-one, so he decided to trust them.

Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical

The album they came back with was Catch A Fire. Rolling Stone wrote that its:

Lilting tunes of hypnotic character [are] headed by super-progressive lead guitar work [and] Motown variations … all backed by the tricky Jamaican beat that serves to keep the decibel level in a moderate range, thereby forcing the audience to be seduced by the charms of the music, rather than overwhelmed by the relentless force of most rock.

I was seduced by Get Up Stand Up! and I urge you to go (it’s booking till early January 2023). But I was especially seduced and moved by Redemption Song, Marley’s haunting anthem that appears on his final album Uprising. Some of the lyrics come from a speech given in 1934 by one of Marley’s major influences, the Afro-Jamaican Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Marley sings the song solo, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. It’s beautiful, it’s moving and it’s a call to action. It also turned out to be the last song on Marley’s last album. Chris Blackwell is quoted in the show’s programme:

Redemption Song seemed a summary of eveything Marley stood for and a summary of how gentle and persuasive he could be, even as he was singing something with great power and moral weight. The song seems to become more important over time.

In June 1980, eleven months before his death from skin cancer, Marley played Redemption Song for the first time to an audience. The lyrics are here and you can hear him sing it here:

Marcus Garvey’s words and Bob Marley’s adapted lyrics remain a moving anthem for our own times:

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.

Marcus Garvey, who, among many many achievements for the cause of Black equality, is credited with coining the phrase, Black is Beautiful, has still not been exonerated from a wrongful conviction in 1923, despite many campaigns. Perhaps Marley’s song, as performed in Get Up Stand Up! will finally free enough minds to liberate Garvey, posthumously, from this injustice.

Posted in Allyship, Antiracism, Art, Artists, Creativity, Human Rights, Listening, Music, Politics, Racism, Reviews | Leave a comment

1926-2022 and 1952-2022

queen elizabeth ii dies at balmoral castle

Queen Elizabeth II has died

Posted in Elizabeth II, The Queen | Leave a comment

Ask not what trees can do for us, but what we can do for trees

Last weekend I walked through a wood. Sunlight filtered through the  leaves and made me think how medieval stonemasons must have been inspired by the branches of trees gathered in arching vaults above them when they imagined their cathedrals. In a modern reversal, in Italy, near Bergamo, there’s a tree cathedral:

Cattedrale Vegetale | © obliot/FlickrAnd, at the entrance to the particular wood where I was walking, this stands:

Some of the letters are worn away, but if you click on the image you’ll get to the Kipling Society’s site and their page for The Way Through The Woods.

These things made me think about the things trees do – apart from providing shade and solitude and places to think and dream. In Richard Powers’ wonderful novel The Overstory Patricia Westerford shows us how trees communicate. Her character was inspired by the life and work of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. Simard’s research into the way trees nurture each other, help the sick among them, promote growth and so much more is, literally, awe-inspiring. The things that go on beneath our feet about which we know so little. Simard’s book Finding the Mother Tree, Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, is surely a must-read. Here’s a quote from her website:

Trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complex, interdependent circle of life; forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities. [They have] … communal lives not that different from our own.

How often we humans only think of trees as useful for us. How rarely we think about the lives of trees themselves, these days. But there’s a long association between innate wisdom and trees that’s filtered into our language, as Jay Griffiths writes, in Ancient Trees, Ancient Knowledge, here:

The English language recognizes an association between wisdom and trees: an idea ‘takes root’; a book has ‘leaves’; a small book is a ‘leaflet’; an avid reader is a ‘bookworm’; you ‘branch out’ into a new area of study … .

Some people make forest farms. Others categorise trees: here’s an alphabetical list of seventy-six types. Some people say that, when we’re about to judge the shape of another human, it would be better to think of that person as a tree: we never say a tree is too fat or too short or too thin or too tall, do we? Let alone too old. We admire trees, whatever their shape or age. And we all know by now what trees do to help fight climate change.

The Power of TreesSo it seems to me that we humans – the ones who don’t already – need to ask not what trees can do for us but what we can do for trees.


Posted in Books, Climate Change, Creativity, Fiction, Places, Poetry, Recycling, Trees, Walking | Leave a comment