Art is Not a Luxury

Kelly Grehan

My friends all laugh at the fact I’ve seen the musical Wicked 7 times, but it’s a source of continued disappointment to me that I haven’t seen it more times because nothing makes me feel like I feel when I see the actress playing Elphaba sing the song ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.’

I don’t have any creative talent. I cannot paint or sing or dance.  But I know that seeing the right painting, hearing the right song or watching the right dance can make me feel alive.

It is a popular myth  that when Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”

Whilst this story is, alas, not true, it does represent a truth – that without art life is infinitely worse.

During the lockdown the art community have been responsible for bringing joy into our lives. I enjoyed watching Jesus Chris Superstar and A Streetcar Named Desire on YouTube. I looked forward to watching Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet every morning. Gary Barlow singing with a different singer every few days was fun. 

How many people found comfort in drawing rainbows and placing them in their windows or were cheered by counting those they saw on their daily walk? Was this not art therapy at its most basic level?

How many of us watched old films and old TV shows and found solace in them during this period?

Aside from sport, art is the thing that gets us talking, the thing that defines us. Remember the arguments people would have about the Turner Prize? Remember the excitement of seeing a band and the warm up act being so good you started downloading their songs on the way home. 

Whilst there are many industries we in the UK have lost over the years, but our arts industries have remained a source of pride.

But now the industry is in real trouble. 

The collapse of the arts, with a £74bn drop in revenues and about 400,000 potential and actual job losses in the sector owing to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, has prompted calls for urgent government assistance, as there is little prospect of a swift return to full houses in theatres, or other live performance, and recording has been halted by social distancing restrictions.

Things are at a stage where even the Globe has warned it could face insolvency.

There is so much for us to fight for at the moment – our children’s education, out healthcare system, so much about our way of life – that it feels frivolous to be worrying about the arts. 

But

What kind of world do we want when this is all over?

I believe one where we don’t have the arts will be one with much less joy.

We must stop thinking of art as a luxury and see it something we need.

Fellow White People: Let’s Play Our Part

Kelly Grehan

Before I start writing I want to give some context.  Reader, I am nervous about what I am about to write.  Whatever I write about, I aim to do it with truth and I usually sit down to write because something has touched me and I feel inspired to write.  I feel more nervous than usual because what I am about to say will be emotive and because I am going to write about race and racism and I am very aware the last thing that the world needs is white people talking about racism.

So why write at all?  Well, I feel as if white people can and must act as allies if racism is ever to be eradicated.

Also, last week I was on the receiving end of racist social media trolls, who were very vocal in their belief I was wrong in supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign. It began when I posted a meme on my facebook wall inviting people to take the knee. I received dozens of nasty replies.

This was nothing compared to the response I got, a few days later, that I had indeed taken the knee. These are few examples.

I don’t, in any way, want to equate my experience here with the horrendous online bullying and harassment suffered by people of colour. I just want to make the point that this what can be expected by those who do speak out, and to say it won’t stop me.

Aside from the migogonistic messages I received the most common theme seemed to be that these people believed by supporting black lives matters I was supporting violence and that taking a knee on my doorstep was akin to going on a violent rampage around the town.

It is time we, as white people start to question the dangerous tropes about black people we have been conditioned to believe.

I’ve tried hard to broaden my understanding of other people and their lived experiences.   I was touched by the performance from Dave the Rapper at this years Brits Awards where he paid tribute to Jack Merritt and called out Boris Johnson on his racism.  A line that particularly resonated with me was ’If you don’t want to get it, then you’re never gonna get how the news treats Kate versus how they treated Meghan.’ 

I truly believe the vitriol aimed at Meghan Markle has shone a light on the hidden prejudices in this country.  I think’’not getting it is’’ is the deliberate motivation of all those who keep posting ‘all lives matter.’

We are letting these people pretend to “not get it” because it suits them to believe that racism either doesn’t exist or is acceptable.

I think when you are from a privileged group you can never be sure if the information you are given about another group is true, or nonsense unless you make an effort to get to know people in those groups and we must challenge ourselves to understand each other.

As a child I lived in an area where people of colour were small in numbers.  In these cases – where someone is the only person of their ethnicity in a class they can easily become seen as the sole representative of that group so that if they eat a certain food, support a certain football team or like a certain subject people assume that all people from that background do too. This isn’t malicious, but it can lead to us making judgements. We need to start questioning ourselves about where we do this.

Then there is the subtle but ever present rhetoric that white people like myself receive so that, without us thinking about it, we are taught to regard black people as more prone to violence.  For me the most obvious example of this is the Notting Hill Carnival.  I recall every August Bank Holiday there were stories on the news which always seemed to be about fights and stabbings.  I honestly have no recollection of seeing any floats or dancers.  So, without my really thinking about it I assumed the event to be very, very violent and I never questioned this perception until years later when colleagues of mine were attending and I heard them talk about the joyous time they had.  It was then I began to question why the stories about this event are so skewed compared to those about other events.  

I’m reading  Girl, Woman, Other, a novel by Bernardine Evaristo, which won the Booker Prize.  It’s a fantastic novel.  But there are times when I have to examine my reaction to the characters – primarily black women and realise I am finding them intimidating and I have to question why this is.  I think it’s because there has been so little inclusion of women of colour in mainstream literature that it almost feels like something to adapt to.  And most of what we have received has been through a white narrative. 

None of us want to believe we have any prejudice. None of us want to believe we benefit from oppressive systems. Most of us want to do good.  And while those of us who are white, continued not to question the assumptions we make about those from other backgrounds, or the systems we are part of we are letting ourselves down. 

I ask everyone white to think about the impact racism has on us – because all of us suffer from a society where other members are oppressed. If you go around assuming some people on our community are more violent than others based upon their appearance you are filing yourself with needless fear. This is bad for your life. If your kids are frightened to bring home black friends and partners because of your reaction then you are hurting them.

For a long time, I felt I was doing my bit against racism by listening to people of colour and trying to amplify their voices.

Now I know that is inadequate. To be really anti-racist means to examine yourself and what mistakes you have made and where your prejudice has come from, and to keep learning

But more importantly we need to speak out against and hold accountable all those with racist views and all institutions that discriminate.

Let’s really do better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, how my imagination wonders….

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

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

Was the sunset surreal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, how curious I am to know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why was it of such importance?

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

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

Did it remind you of home dad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Bessel van der Kolk

For my mother, father, and sons.

Take Accountability

By Victoria Oguntope

I sit here watching, listening and learning as events unfold across the US. As a black woman living in 21st Century Britain, I feel pressured, angered and compelled to deploy my voice and make a stance on the ongoing global systematic, political and social economical racism we black/brown people encounter/experience on a daily basis not only in America but also here in the UK.

To be clear, these accounts are from personal experience and that which has been told to me and witnessed.

Racism has been part of our fabric from the beginning of time and has taken different forms in our society through the evolution of time none of which has been positively received by the masses. Albeit, the US allowed a black president to occupy the Oval Office and observe a handful of black/brown Supreme Court justices appointed since its establishment in 1789.

However, the US perpetuate false progress – it observed some aphorisms in relation to education, jobs and economic growth, thus there’s a disproportionate amount of wealth, education and social economic growth. Colourism plays a major part in how the country is governed – the tragic killing of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement officers, is a result of the ongoing unrest in multiple states across the US – the revolution illustrates disproportionality of the black/brown American citizens, how the black/brown communities are at a disadvantage incomparason to their white counterparts when it comes to education, businesses, housing and police brutality, often subjected to daily scrutiny, targeting and demonisation for no other reason than the colour of their skin.

Observing from the UK, there has been some support from the general public.  But I find that there is limited support from the mainstream UK media – perhaps because it suits them that way or it absolves them of any wromg doing – to acknowledge it means you have to accept that there’s in fact a systematic and global problem of ongoing racism.

As well as the US, the UK is riddled in systemic, political, social economic racism. Dare I say it! It is time as a nation that we take accountability and encourage conversation surrounding race relations and accept/address the issue.

Since the unfolding of the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd, there has been outpouring of support globally. Over the years, the conversation surrounding race relations, racism and oppression directed at people of colour has been an inconvenient truth to engage in.

While at school, the educators and the syllabus made an attempt to address black history – but it often left  me with questions or confusion, furthermore it does not help when an educator points you out in a classroom while studying apartheid in South Africa, to exclaim the notion ‘You should know all about this’ – shock horror!

I stumbled upon a recent social media post that read: “I am from the UK where everyone loves everyone and it is inclusive so it was a massive shock to my system when I visited Seattle Oregon area three years ago and saw how white supremacists are all around. It’s shocking and scary”. The above statement cannot be further from the truth. The author clearly lives in a different world to me – or like many of her peers, chooses to ignore the struggles we people of colour face on a daily basis in the UK. I suspect her privilege plays a part here – I live in a borough where the local government has done very little for my community nor does it see the significance in celebrating black history month but will embrace other celebratory occasions, suggesting that one community is more important than another – that’s the community I live in.

For many years I have experienced racism in various forms including in my professional career and personal engagements, here are some examples, one glorious morning on my way to the train station, a rather personable white woman stopped me dead in my tracks to exclaim the fact that I am black and proceeded to chant the N-word whilst following behind me; or whilst on a run a car full of young men slowing down, lobbing an apple directly at my chest and shouting the N-word; or when my white female friends feel comfortable enough to tell you that their father said they’d be ‘written out of their family will or disowned’ if they’d ever date a black boy; or when you have walked into an interview room and see the disappointment in the interviewing panels faces. This is not including the daily indignation suffered from the senior members of our society, which also form the local government by which I am governed.

To reiterate, I am NOT a victim nor do I require unsolicited sympathy, what I do ask of you is to hold yourselves, your friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances accountable.

I identify many white counterparts using the slogan “all lives matter.”

Ask yourselves this, If all lives matter, why are we people of colour subject to more scrutiny and discrimination, why is there a higher death rate in childbirth for women of colour, why are we not sought-after for prominent positions, why are we the last group to be considered for anything, why are we more likely to be stopped by law enforcement, why the unjust treatment of the windrush generation, why do we have cultural appropriation, why do we have to teach our children from a young age what it means to be from a black/brown background because at the moment, in this current climate we DO NOT have the same privileges as our white counterparts?

We live in a country that knows too well how to attain its wealth through years of colonisation, torture, indignation and slavery. In this moment, right, now, we are asking for hundreds of years of oppression and discrimination to stop. Recently a couple of people asked me what can they do to help to fix the problem; the problem originated with white people, the burden lies with the white community to address – to assume responsibility, to hold yourself accountable, for many years we have assumed the racism, demonisation, discrimination and injustices for over 400 hundred years; now is your turn to take accountability and help to stop ALL forms of racism and discrimination
towards people of colour. One thing is certain, we are no longer going to sit back and take it.

We are stronger, educated and there is power in numbers. As allies, we ask you to demand equality on our behalf, it is now your turn to take responsibility and take accountability for the injustices we face as a society.

We Are All Acting Against Our Instincts Prime Minister

Kelly Grehan

I’m angry. I’m so angry I’m struggling to keep still. I honestly feel like I could burst into tears at any moment.

I appreciate that because I am a Labour councillor people might read this and claim it is a politically motivated attack.  Fine. I honestly dont care. I’ve done something I rarely do today, I’ve tweeted thanks to Conservative MPs who have spoken out about Dominic Cummings.

I, like most people in this country, am law abiding. I follow rules. I do my best. Most people do. I am certain of it. It seems mildly amusing now they have been off so long, but the week before the schools closed I was panicked that if I got covid 19 my children might miss 2 weeks off school and spoil their high attendance records and their education – as we had always been told time off school was very detrimental.

Like all people who try to obey rules, I occasionally suffer from the worry that those who don’t obey the rules, somehow benefit and laugh are laughing at the rest of us for being ‘mugs.’

I think it’s why people are so particularly angered by benefit cheats and people who push in queues – it feels like they are ‘mugging us off’ – benefitting from our decency while not taking part in it.

But the last 10 weeks have been different. For the last 10 weeks the strength of the common endeavour was like nothing most of us have ever seen before.

People have made immeasurable sacrifices that can never be repaid that have caused them untold pain, for the common good.

I’m talking about people being unable to be at their child’s birth, unable to meet new babies, people forced to attend funerals by Skype, watch their parents take their last breath by zoom, unable to put their arms around friends diagnosed with terminal illnesses, people spending their birthdays alone, people coming home from hospital to empty houses and people day after day stuck alone caring for children or other relatives without a second of respite – including when they have illnesses themselves.

All of us are acting by the rules, rather than our instincts. Our instincts are to rush to our families and friends in times of grief, pain and celebrations. Fighting that instinct has been incredibly hard.

So, quite frankly to be told by the Prime Minister, at this late stage, after so much suffering,  that it was ok for Dominic Cumings to drive 240 miles when he had covid symptoms and had been in contact with covid positive people (including the Prime Minister and Health Secretary) to find childcare for his son as he was following ‘his instinct’ is horrific. It’s like a punch in the stomach.

Clearly the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings consider those of us dutifully following the rules that laid out, to be mugs.

What’s more there can be no doubt that there will be people today and tomorrow who feel that they cannot fight their instincts anymore. They will go to their loved ones and the virus will spread. But who can blame them?

Dominic Cummings has caused untold harm and must be sacked.

His actions are an insult to us all.

After The Applause

Kelly Grehan

It’s now 9 weeks since the Clap For Carers event started. It’s creator now says this week’s event, the 10th, should be the last.

The first week my family went outside and clapped, alongside our neighbours, with a motivation of showing anyone in the street who was working for the NHS that we appreciated them. This was repeated in streets across the length and breadth of the country.  Many people reported unexpectedly bursting into tears on that night, back on the 26th March and indeed it was emotional. It was dark that week as we had not yet entered British Summer Time and I suspect many of us were in a state of bewilderment.  It was only 3 days then since the full lockdown had begun and we were all adjusting, apprehensive and even fearful. Empty shop shelves, closed schools, furloughing – these were all new to us then. Things like hearing the daily death count had not yet become the norm. The separations we were experiencing were new and raw and we needed to thank our NHS staff that night because their actions were the one thing we could all be certain of – they would do their best for us all. And that belief has held true to this day – the one thing that has not changed or diminished. 

Since then we have been outside every Thursday at 8pm. The weather has changed, our gardens are starting to bloom and we now bring out pots and pans to bang, some of our neighbours bring horns and bells: We have a good time.

I have concerns that rather than rewarding carers, the clapping actually does them a disservice because it fuels the rhetoric that NHS staff are ‘angels’ who act out of an unselfish vocation, and for reasons I’m not sure I can fathom this rhetoric seems to provide a cover to the argument that they do not need better pay and conditions, as it clapping shows appreciation so a pay rise or PPE are not really needed. Any arguments to the contrary are always met with accusations of ‘politicising’ the situation or a lecture on ‘now not being the time’ for such discussions.

Equally  I’m not sure many of us think of carers when we go out to clap on Thursday nights now; I think it has evolved into something else.

As the days drift into weeks and even months where there is little to differentiate one day from another for many of us, it provides some sort of structure to the week. Every week I find myself thinking ‘is it Thursday already?’

It’s almost comforting having something to mark off, an activity that separates one week from the last in the way weekends, work trip and the kids . But, more importantly, as with most people it’s the only activity I now do which involves people outside my household which isn’t done through a screen.

Before lockdown I’d always got on well with my neighbours. We had a WhatsApp group and sent each other Christmas cards but now I genuinely look forward to seeing them.  We really enjoyed spending VE Day together (but apart) and I think we are genuinely excited when anyone of us has good news and upset when any of us has bad news. In short we are a community. 

I think there is somewhat of a longing in most of us right now for community and shared experiences, and the Thursday night clap has become that. 

So, while I agree the time has probably come to end the clap, I hope we can find other shared experiences because, if we have learnt anything from this awful experience it’s how important connection is, even if it’s only for a few minutes a week.

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

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

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

My husband is from Morocco

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


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

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

NO!

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

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

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

NO!

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

‘They come here for our benefits’

NO!

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

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

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


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

“Women – Watch Your Tone.”

Kelly Grehan

Rosena Allin-Khan is highly qualified to talk about the impact of the Covid Crisis on hospitals – as well as being MP for Tooting she has worked in A and E at St George’s Hospital throughout the crisis. This experience, coupled with her master’s degree in public health, would – you might think – mean that when she speaks about her NHS experience the Secretary of State for Health would show some respect.

Today, in the House of Commons, having just been thanked by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for her NHS service Dr Allin-Khan addressed Matt Hancock, saying

‘’Frontline workers like me have had to watch families break into pieces as we deliver the very worst of news to them, that the ones they love most in this world have died. The testing strategy has been nonexistent. Community testing was scrapped, mass testing was slow to roll out and testing figures are now being manipulated. Many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives and is responsible for many families being unnecessarily torn apart in grief. Does the Secretary of State commit to a minimum of 100,000 tests each day going forward? And does the Secretary of State acknowledge that many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives?”

Mr. Hancock responded by saying:

“I welcome the honorable lady to her post as part of the shadow health team. I think she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.’’

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is an A&E Doctor, as well as MP for Tooting.

I find this unacceptable on so many levels. 

Firstly, if we want to talk about the use of unacceptable tones I instantly think of the occasion in 2017 when Mr. Hancock and his colleagues cheered as they blocked a pay raise for nurses and other public servants and the evening last year when MP Paula Sheriff begged the Prime Minister to moderate his inflammatory language and think of the death threats she and fellow MPs received often quoted his language. He replied with the word ‘humbug.’ Oddly – Mr. Hancock did not seem concerned with tone then.

Perhaps Mr. Hancock believes that we should adopt a tone of ignorance and not draw attention to the fact that we now have the second highest death toll in Europe. A few months ago, I remember a tone of shock and horror accompanying news reports from hospitals in Italy. I do not recall criticism of the Italian government’s approach being discouraged. 

Or maybe, as we see time and time again – there is a backlash against strong, clever women making strong, important, irreputable points. Women, whatever their credentials are discredited and dismissed. When Anneliese Dodds was appointed Shadow Chancellor a few weeks ago I saw people online saying Keir Starmer had ‘appointed a woman to keep the feminists happy’ rather than appoint ‘someone qualified’. I think her 1st class Oxford degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, her master’s degree in Social Policy and her PhD in Government might suggest Anneliese Dodds is more than qualified.

Rather than take on the points they make – we often see questions by women given a reply emphasizing or questioning their demeanor – we all recall David Cameron telling Angela Eagles to ‘calm down dear’ when she questioned planned NHS reforms in 2011. I struggle to believe that he would have addressed a man like that, and I struggle to believe Matt Hancock would have spoken to a practicing male doctor as he did to Rosena Allin-Khan today. 

David Cameron telling Angela Eagles to “calm down dear.”

This is at best sexism, and at worse misogyny and it should not go unchallenged. 

As a woman in politics I am sick of being patronised, mansplained to and dismissed by people with less experience or less knowledge than me and I know most women in politics have had the same experiences. When you complain those perpetuating this behaviour see it as vindication that they were right and women are too hysterical and not tough enough for politics.

But we also see time and time again, the value women bring to politics, the experiences we bring are of value and I suggest Mr. Hancock and his fellow belittlers think about why they resort to responses like his today rather than respond with answers and debate. 

We Airbrushed Those In Care Homes Out Of Our Minds Before This Crisis.

‘Out of site. Out of mind.’

That’s the approach we have taken to those in care homes for as long as I can remember.

Hidden from view, the only conversations about nursing care which ever entered the public consciousness, were about the costs and never seem to result in any policy changes.

The budget which took place on 11th March, like so many previous budgets, failed to mention social care.

Older people in care homes suffer from it being part of our culture that, unlike many others, we don’t like talking about death. We hide it away from view and try to pretend it won’t get us.  Aging is not something we want to know about. We approach it largely with dread.

For younger people in care homes – because of disability or other circumstance the same invisibility applies. It’s not something most of us know much about or want to.

Maybe it’s this same culture which has facilitated the situation we now find ourselves in where those in care homes – both residents and staff are being treated so badly now.

Those in care homes are particularly affected by the covid crisis. For reasons entirely understandable and sensible care homes have not allowed visitors since before the lockdown was implemented. 

Most concerning is the lack of transparency and clarity about the scale of the spread of the disease amongst those living in care homes 

Deaths in care homes are not counted in the figures reported to us daily.  Instead they are produced on a lag a week behind and only count those who have ‘corona’ recorded as the cause of death on their death certificate.  The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics , which include every community death linked to covid 19 showed a total of 406 such deaths registered up to 3 April. That would have added an extra 11% to the official UK figures, based solely on deaths in hospitals, that were being reported at that time.  Of those extra deaths, 217 took place in care homes, 33 in hospices, 136 in private homes, three in other communal establishments and 17 elsewhere.

Charity Age UK responded by saying coronavirus is “running wild” in care homes for elderly people. Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said.

“The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.”

It is surely a source of national shame that any of our citizens can be forgotten like this – with their deaths treated as an add on to the rest – not meriting attention or enquiry.

It might be easy to assume those in care homes were close to death anyway, as if this somehow negates the severity of the situation for them. But many of them will have had years ahead of them were it not for the virus.

Then there is the appalling situation concerning PPE (personal protective equipment). We are over a month into this crisis, and we knew for a few months before that it was coming. There can be no justification as to why staff working in care homes are still without protective equipment whilst they perform intimate care tasks with no means of knowing how may have contracted the virus. of the 1.5 million people working in care homes only 505 have been tested for corona.

As Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said “Once you run out, it is a question of being down to Marigolds and bin liners. Government has not reacted quickly enough to build confidence in the sector that PPE is available.”

In a further act of negligence the Government had removed VAT on essential PPE kit for the NHS but claimed it had not done the same for the social care sector. 

Then there is the treatment of staff in care homes. Caring is a very difficult job – physically and mentally. Yet most people working in care homes earn just the national minimum wage. This, surely, is indicative of how little regard we, as a society hold the care of our much vulnerable citizens.

Today Matt Hancock has said he wants to introduce a single brand for social care to ensure that carers get the same sort of priority treatment that NHS staff do in some settings. Care workers will be given a badge to identify them.

Does he not think most care workers would prefer an end to their poverty wages and terrible conditions (half of workers in the care sector are on zero hours contracts)?

When this is all over I sincerely hope many things are viewed differently. The invisibility of those in care homes and the lack of respect for those who work within them must end.

My Lockdown Baby

By Rosie Wells

I was asked today to write down my experiences of having a ‘corona baby’ – a baby born in the middle of the lockdown period. l’ll start at the beginning. 

My partner and I were over the moon when I fell pregnant. With two children already with my previous partner this new baby was going to be the final piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately my pregnancy was not straight forward and I was hit with extreme morning sickness which left me pretty much unable to do anything. The medicine got it under control to an extent in the third trimester and I kept on telling myself and the kids ‘this is temporary- things will get back to normal once the baby is here’. I then got hit with a virus towards the end of my pregnancy and for 8 weeks was passing out and unable to walk or do anything but again we thought as soon as this baby is here things will get back to normal.

I promised the kids trips to the beach and that I would pick them up from school with the baby in the pram, something I was unable to do with the sickness during pregnancy. The thing getting me through was the thought of maternity leave and time with my friends and family away from the stress of work. I am lucky that I have a very strong family network and also lucky that 3 of my friends were pregnant at the same time so we made our plans for baby dates and groups and coffee (wine) mornings round each others houses.

Due to the problems with the pregnancy and the fact the baby was measuring larger than average with increased amniotic fluids I was booked in for an early induction at 39 weeks. As with all my labour’s my mum was planning on being there with me and along my partner. However a week before I was due to be induced I was forwarded a screenshot from my friend staying that they would only allow one birth partner in the labour ward. To say I was devastated would be an understatment. I think I probably cried for 3 days and so did my mum. My birth plan was being completly ruined. I know it was selfish. I knew people were sick although I don’t think I knew the extent of the virus and the harm it would cause then. However, my sister reminded me of some of the positives of it just being myself and my partner in the room. My mum had never had a phone call to say her grandchild had arrived and she was going to be able to experience that now. It meant my children would be with my mum when I was in labour so I would be happier they were somewhere safe and myself and my partner would have a special moment with just the two of us. So although I would have been happier my mum being there I took the positives.

There were rumours the schools would shut but we all thought these were just rumours and they would be at least open until the Easter holidays so I was confident I would still be able to meet the children at the school with their new baby in the pram. 


Even after discovering the schools would be shut and the social distancing measures put in place I still thought all, would be OK as my mum would still be allowed round and I would still be able to see friends at each others houses and we could all help, home school the kids . We had it all planned.


The day before I went into Darenth Valley Hospital to be induced lockdown was announced. Things started to feel a bit more real and I was suddenly terrified. All anyone was talking about was coronovirus. We went into the hospital and it was deadly quiet and very eerie. A security guard met us on the door and we had to show proof we were due to go into the labour ward. However once we got into maternity it was a very different story. It was calm and quiet but a happy and safe atmosphere. We were provided with a pass which meant that we could move out of the ward to go to the shops or leave the hospital – although this is discouraged. There wasn’t a constant bombardment of visitors in and out and everyone was just relaxed with thier one birth partner (well as relaxed as women in esrly labour can be) . There was an element of unease about everything as it was all, so new and the midwifes were doing every thing they could to reasurre us all. Guidelines were changing by the hour but they kept us well informed. After labour and discovering our new baby was a boy it was even nicer to not be allowed visitors in the ward. Yes I was a bit sad the kids couldn’t meet their new baby brother at the hospital but I couldn’t wait to get home and introduce them to Rex in the comfort of their own home. The after birth experience was by far the best of all 3 of my children. Everyone seemed more relaxed. I’ve always thought how unsettling it must be for new mums who didn’t have any one to visit them to suddenly have a whole family and kids in the bed next to them Ccoing over the new baby while they say alone. After we are out of the worst of this I wouldn’t be surprised if the visiting rules were kept. I could relax and get to know my new baby in a quiet ward and it was lovely. I made all my phone calls and let everyone know we had a new son. The midwifes said they preferred it without visitors as they could focus on the new mum and baby.

The part I found scary was when they discharged us. Everything was different and the midwifes were still unsure on what would be happening. I was told a midwife may visit or she may phone. They were unsure whether I could register my baby officially and basically just said things may change. So I left with an open mind that we may be on our own once we got home. 
I got home and was lucky enough that social distancing measures were in place but we weren’t in lockdown. It was a sad day as schools had closed and everyone seemed a bit lost. But Rex entering our home made everything seem OK again. The children were so excited to meet him and I’m very lucky that my mum got to meet him in real life.

Everyone was planning when they would come over and we had lots of dates on the diary to introduce Rex to his new family and friends. The next day the midwife visited and she helped keep my spirits up. But then came the speech from The Prime Minister when we were told lockdown measures would be put in place. This probably couldn’t have come at a worse time – day 3 when baby blues kick in. From that day on it seemed that Rex was forgotton and so was I. In a house so full up of kids and my partner I had never felt so lonely and lost. I had a new baby and I was now told I couldnt see anyone or leave the house. All those visits I had planned cancelled. No walking my pram though the streets with my baby. Everyone had their own worries and their own stresses going on and no one had time to admire my baby. And yes that’s selfish but this was going to be my last baby my last chance for this and I felt it was being stolen from me. I wanted to scream to people to stop talking about coronovirus and talk about my baby instead and ask how he slept or how I was doing but nobody did. However I decided social media is a great way to show off Rex. As someone who doesn’t overshare on facebook I found I felt much better after posting a picture of Rex and it getting lots of comments and likes and I felt that was my communication with the world. 


The midwife finished her visits but there was a marked visit from visit one where she entered the house in ordinary clothing and the final visit where she was wearing masks, gloves and aprons and then everything felt more real. However scary it was, it still the same midwife who we laughed with on the first day and she was as happy and kind as when we first met her. The support is still there albeit mostly on the phone but there is still 24 hour access to support.  


The health visitor rang to say she would not be visiting and a phone call would happen instead. The phone call lasted about 45 minutes and they were supportive but its a shame to not have a face to face as a new mum as even small interactions can be a nice distraction. I did however get booked on to see a midwife to check Rex’s weight at the health visitor when he is 4 weeks old as he hasn’t regained his birth weight and is still slightly jaundice. 


Never did I imagine when I fell pregnant that the first time my dad would meet his grandson would be through a window however sad this made me feel I thought of the stories we could tell Rex when he is older and I have to remember this is not forever.

So do I feel negative now 3 weeks into lockdown with a 3 week old? Surprisingly no. The time together with my partner and children to bond has been lovely. I’ve spent more time cuddling Rex than I did with any of my other children and I have rested more so my body has recovered a lot quicker. Yes I’m exhausted probably more than I would normally be as I’m home schooling two children whilst getting used to life with a newborn and I miss my family and friends more than I ever could have imagined but we are taking every day as it comes – doing craft, DIY around the house and jobs we never thought we would get done. Small things now make me so much happier. The other day the postman knocked and noticed Rex and we had a good talk about him while she admired him and it made my day. I take my pram out for exercise although we don’t go every day but every day I take the pram into the garden so I still get to use it. I’ve also come to look forward to the Thursday clap for NHS. The meaning behind it is great but in all honesty it’s the time of the week where I bring Rex out and all my neighbours ask how he is and I update them from a distance. I facetime my family and friends every day and we spend a lot of time planning what we are doing when lockdown is released. We have planned catch ups and a big welcome to the world party so everyone can finally meet him without a pane of glass between us.