Friday 31 December 2010

Goodbye to 2010!

Hiya! I went out earlier today to try and capture the last few moments of 2010. I passed through Oxford Street and was surprised at how many people were there, more than were there on Christmas Eve, which is strange.

I then passed through Regents Park, my spiritual home. It was a bit grey and grim but it was nice to be there nevertheless. I was surprised to discover that parts of the lake were still frozen. All the snow and ice has melted everywhere else in London.

Well, I'll leave you with a few pictures of my adventures so far today. I'm getting ready to go out for the evening, so until my next post, have a wonderful New Year. Have fun, whatever you do!


Thursday 30 December 2010

Don't give up yet

If you are anything like me, there are certain times of the year when you become especially contemplative. For me this occurs on my birthday and New Year's Eve. Yes, I know today is the 30th, but I've been reflecting on the state of affairs concerning my life so far.

I used to think that things would just happen, e.g. Mr Right would just come along, the perfect job would fall into my lap, I would travel the world etc. That's the way it has happened for just about everyone I know. There wasn't any striving - it just seemed that when it was their time, things just slotted into place. I automatically assumed that would be the story of my life too. I couldn't understand why it was that, when I would have various reunions with friends, my life was the only one that was unchanged since the last time we had met. I was the only one who wasn't married, didn't have kids, wasn't in a long-term job, didn't yet have my own place, wasn't driving etc.

I would chide myself for not trying hard enough, or for not being focussed enough. Now this was the case in some of the scenarios I ran through my head, but not in all. I recalled the hundreds of jobs I had applied for, which didn't result in success. I thought about all of the networking I had done, and all of the things I had tried to do to create the type of life that I wanted for myself to no avail.

I was watching the Biography channel while I was at my mother's house over Christmas. They spoke about George Clooney's path to fame. Before he made it big, he was written off as a failed actor by everyone in the film industry and many of his friends. One of the contributors joked that he was the "Pilot King" because every time a new show was starting you would more than likely see George starring in it. Every one of the shows tanked, which did not help his situation! By the age of 31 he had not made his name in Hollywood despite slogging away at it for 12 years. Even though the movie industry is a lot more gracious to men than it is to women with regards to age, it is the general rule that if you have not caught the eye of the studios by your early twenties, then you should pack your bags and go home and definitely think about embarking on a completely different career.

By this time George was flat broke and sleeping on a friend's sofa who now wanted him out. He was criticised by many as being lazy and lacking ambition – how else could a jobless, homeless 31 year old be described? Others in his field of the same age had been working in their careers for at least a decade with more success than him. Other friends had settled down with spouses, children and their own homes. What was wrong with this guy?

At this time Hollywood was abuzz with talk of a script for a new show that could be a hit; the studios liked the concept and a call was put out for actors to fill the part. George the Pilot King was called for an audition; he got the part and went on to become a household favourite as Dr Doug Ross, aka Gorgeous George, in the fast-paced hospital drama ER. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ok, so I’m a bit older than Mr Clooney but our lives matched in every area detailed on that show. It gave me hope that even though I’m the only one out of my peers who hasn’t hit any of the expected life markers and still seems to be drifting, I know that as I keep going something will give. I have often wondered why, for all of the efforts I have made, that I have not tasted the success that those around me seemed to have gained with half the effort. But this is my unique path. This is my story. Why it has to be this way has yet to be revealed, but it will definitely be a sweet moment to savour when everything aligns and I’m living in my destiny.

If this bears witness with you, I just want to give you an encouraging word: keep on going. If it has been confirmed that you have the talent, and you enjoy what you are doing, STICK WITH IT. You are not alone, others have experienced the exact same thing that you are going through right now, but as they persevered they eventually got what they had been looking for all the while. You have been sowing seed all this time; who’s to say that harvest time isn’t just around the corner for you? Don’t give up!

Tuesday 28 December 2010

How was your Christmas?

I've just back from my mum's house where I spent Christmas. It was a nice time. Lots of food; didn't eat as much as I usually do, but I'm sure I'm heavier than I was before Christmas! Speak to you again soon!

Our turkey which weighed in at 9.8 kilos!

Rice that my mother made.

Plantains, an African and Caribbean staple with food.

The tree at my mum's house with presents.

Friday 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve!

Well, I made it to and from Oxford Street in one piece. It was a totally underwhelming experience. I expected the streets to be bulging as people frantically dashed to and fro snagging last minute gifts for friends. If I'm not mistaken, there were less people there than normal.

Any how I met up with a friend for lunch. The meal wasn't anything to write home about, but the bill made one's eyes water!

That's all from me. Have a wonderful Christmas. Speak to you again soon!

Courgette and potato soup. Lacked flavour - the toasted bread was nice, though.

Spinach and cheese ravioli. Also tasteless, but a healthy main meal!

My dessert was a boring, unattractive looking apple slice. My friend's order looked a lot more interesting, it was a ricotta mouse with fun stuff on it.

Thursday 23 December 2010

My first foray into the Christmas rush

Hi there people! I plucked up the courage to venture into the Christmas crowds to get my last few bits for the big day. So far so good! I went shopping in Brixton first of all which was fun with my camera! It was bitterly cold though! As you couldn't phsically be with me, I brought Brixton to you. Tomorrow, Oxford Street! Not a trip for the faint hearted on Christmas Eve! See you then!

A selection of fish at the indoor market.

Mackerel, my favourite fish! I bought some today.

Squid, anyone?

LOL! There are lots of Caribbean restaurants in London. This one happens to be a kiosk. In the summer there would be people sitting on those three chairs outside.

They aren't joking!

Spices from around the world.

These are called Flying Saucers, my absolute favourites. I bought a load of them today!

I loved Wham's!

Sherbet Dip Dabs - yum! The objects to the right had sweet blocks inside and also doubled up as whistles.

I loved all of these sweets, Black Jacks were my least favourite though.

The Fruit Salad's are delish!

There is a shop in Brixton Arcade called Sweet Tooth, which sells sweets that I used to have as a child. These ones were amongst my favourite. The price is exactly the same!

These guys asked to have their pictures taken! They were cool dudes!

Meat sellers only too happy to pose for the camera! They were fun!

More wonderful fruit.

There are loads of stalls selling fruits and vegetables from all over the world. They always have vast supplies of produce.

The outdoor market is a essentially a long line of stalls selling anything from handbags to meat.

The kiosk in Brixton where I go to satisfy my sugar cravings!

The Ritzy - a famous cinema in South London.

KFC - A favourite place for many!

Brixton Town Centre

Wednesday 22 December 2010

My book is at the editors!

Hey people! I'm so excited. Have you ever had a dream or plan knocking around in your mind for a while that you always planned to do something with "one day" but never really did?

Well that has been me for a long time. I am a bit of a procrastinator, but I vowed that I would write my book. It is aimed at helping people whose lives have been scarred by bullying continue on to live healthy, successful lives. I've been writing it on and off for a year, having major writing spurts at times and then nothing for ages. I've got it up to the best shape it can be in for now, and I have sent it off to an editor to proof read and make suggestions before I look for publishers.

It doesn't feel real at the moment; I'm sure that will change when I get the bill! But I am actually doing something that I had planned to do. The dream is becoming a reality!

Saturday 18 December 2010

More pictures

View from my house!

It's been snowing again today. It's been coming down hard. I was supposed to be going to a Christmas party tonight but needless to say, my evening will be spent right here! By the time the evening comes the roads will be an ice-rink! I've tried to capture the snowfall as best as I can on my camera. We may be on course for a white Christmas if this keeps up. A friend encouraged me to try and catch some snowflakes in my mouth, I got them up my nose first and then I caught a few!! Score! My blog seems unable to handle a whole block of pictures at once so I will post the rest in the next page.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Do we have a right to forgiveness?

I was watching another documentary some time ago called Weapons of War, which illustrated how Sierra Leonean soldiers were using systematic rape as a weapon against their enemies during their civil war. The main focus of the film was to bring together rapist and victim to see if the victim could/would forgive the one who raped her.

The rapist they focussed on was a man in his late thirties, whom I’ll call John. When he was first drafted into the army it appeared that he was doing his ‘job’ to the letter, i.e. fighting whoever his superiors said were the enemy. But according to John the soldiers were not looked after well; more often than not they had no food to eat and were not provided with the most basic materials necessary for survival. The promises of provision, national gratitude and the belief that they were fighting for a noble cause rang hollow in the face of their harsh daily reality. To make matters worse, the soldiers realised that they were seen to be the enemy in the eyes of the Sierra Leonean people.

In disgust and using their own twisted logic, many soldiers, instead of simply quitting the army, decided to vent their fury on those who were the most defenceless. According to John because they were being treated so badly by their government, they didn’t see why they should obey orders any longer. There was a general consensus that they would do as they pleased, looting, raping and maiming as the fancy took them, proving true the saying that war brings out the darkest, sickest side of human nature.

When the war ended the soldiers were released to go back to the lives they’d lived before they were drafted into the army. Having witnessed such carnage and unimaginable horror many, unsurprisingly, found it incredibly difficult to re-integrate back into society. Psychological trauma aside, when their community found out that they were former soldiers, the residents instinctively knew that these men had been the perpetrators of unspeakable acts against their own countrymen and were shunned.

John developed psychological problems and had regular nightmares about the things that he had done. During a visit to his psychologist he spoke of the systematic raping of women that he had participated in; the psychologist‘s suggestion was that John should find the women he'd raped and ask for their forgiveness. It would appear that it was the attack on one woman in particular that particularly disturbed him; it was unclear why.

This woman, whom I’ll call Sue, was contacted and she agreed to meet with her attacker to hear what he had to say.

The body language of John and Sue when they finally met was very telling. Sue walked in tall, her gaze was steady and her movements smooth. John, however, was very fidgety, he kept bouncing his leg up and down, he couldn’t meet her gaze, he kept wringing his hands; all the tell-tale signs of a very guilty man.

John spoke first, with his eyes darting everywhere except in Sue's direction. The upshot of what he said was that he wanted her forgiveness for what he had done, and he advised her to put the past behind her and bear him no ill will.

Sue then spoke. Looking straight at John, she explained how his actions had destroyed her entire life. Interestingly she didn’t shout, she spoke softly and matter-of-factly. She could now no longer get married because in their culture women had to be virgins on their wedding day, people blamed her for what had happened and she was shunned; before the attack she was an independent woman enjoying her life but since that day she’d had to move back with her parents as she could no longer look after herself. Even her parents to some degree blamed her for what happened. She was unable to work and it felt like her life was totally over. John, inexplicably, said that she couldn’t hold anything in her heart towards him, they couldn’t continue to have a problem with each other, she had to forgive him and they both had to move on.

To show how sorry he was, John gave her a new baby pig, which cost him almost a year’s salary. He didn't buy it specifically for her. He had purchased it for himself when he had left the army in order to rear it and make some money. Sue accepted the gesture, stating that now she had met with him and told him how he had ruined her life, she felt stronger. Because she had forgiven him she knew that her life could be put back together again as she was now free from the corrosive power of hatred.

Again, their body language was very telling when they left the room in which they’d met. With her new pig in tow Sue, with head held high and shoulders back, elegantly walked back to her parents’ house to start a new chapter in her life. Even though she didn’t appear burdened when she had first met John, she definitely appeared lighter and to be walking a bit taller.

The same could not be said for John, however. He shuffled away from the meeting, almost zig-zagging down the road, darting furtive glances over his shoulder, looking like a man who was still very troubled. Clearly, John did not get what he was looking for that day.

John left that meeting as troubled as he had arrived because his motives were totally wrong. He only sought Sue out because he wanted relief from the nightmares and mental problems he was suffering, not because he had recognised that he had committed a wicked crime against her and wanted to apologise. Were it not for the fact that he was suffering from mental health issues, would he have wanted to track Sue down? Would he even have thought about what he did to her?

In order for the person seeking forgiveness to get the release they are looking for, they must come humbly, recognising that they are truly guilty of whatever it is they have done and apologise unreservedly, not expecting, never mind demanding, anything in return. They cannot gloss over facts or be dismissive about what took place; they must not try and defend what they did nor try to goad the person into giving them what they want. This is where John missed it. His attitude was that because he was ready to be forgiven for his own sake, Sue had to be ready to give it. What the ‘John’s’ of the world need to realise is that the person from whom forgiveness is being sought may not be in the place to forgive at that moment. They may still be so damaged by what happened that a tremendous amount of healing needs to take place within them first before they can even consider thinking about the person who caused their pain with anything other than utter contempt and hatred. While it is true that forgiveness is the ultimate key to moving beyond a painful past, victims must be given the time and space to arrive at that level. They must not be coerced or rushed into it.

In addition, anyone seeking forgiveness must have experienced a true change of heart concerning what they have done. Let’s say that someone used to bully you and wants your forgiveness but they are still bullying people, then this person hasn’t changed. The victim can be magnanimous and forgive, but the seeker will not get a sense of release because they are still inflicting the same trauma on others. They need to refrain from their destructive behaviour altogether if they are to reap the benefits of forgiveness.

Am I saying John shouldn’t be forgiven, that he shouldn’t be given a second chance? No, I’m not saying any such thing. What I am saying is that his request for forgiveness should have come from a place of genuine sorrow and remorse for what he had done to Sue. He should not have factored his own needs into the equation at all. Until he recognises that he cannot wrench forgiveness from his victims to suit his own ends, his nightmares and mental health issues will continue.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Parents: the secret weapon in the battle against gang violence

I was at a film festival a few months ago and watched a truly moving documentary called "My Father, Pablo Escobar." For those of you who may not know who he was, Pablo Escobar was a Colombian drug lord. He is regarded as the richest and most successful criminal in world history. In 1989, Forbes magazine declared Escobar as the seventh richest man in the world, with an estimated personal fortune of US$9 billion. During his reign it is estimated that he was responsible for the murder of thousands of people.

The documentary was shown through the eyes of his son, Sebastián Marroquín, real name Juan Pablo Escobar, who was slowly, 15 years after his father was murdered in 1993, coming to terms with the truth about who his father really was. His father had totally shielded him from the knowledge of how he amassed his wealth. The documentary didn’t say what led Sebastián to start searching for the truth about his father, but you could see he was deeply conflicted and haunted by what he discovered. The world knew Pablo Escobar as one of the most blood thirsty individuals to ever walk the earth; Juan knew him as a loving father, someone who was always there for him, loved him, played with him and gave him everything that money could buy. There was one particular scene which showed just what torment he was in. He played a tape of a story his father had made up for him just to entertain him. After a few moments, Sebastián turned to the interviewer and said: “can you believe that the man who took the time to make up a silly story for his son, is the same man responsible for murders of so many people?” He had great difficulty reconciling the man he knew and loved to the one the world knew and despised. It’s quite possible he may never be able to.

I was thinking about this documentary when I was at a meeting discussing the gun and knife crime culture that has besieged London for the past few years. Young people are killing each other at an alarming rate for the most nonsensical reasons. Some at the meeting were concerned that by always assuming such youth were part of a gang, young people as a whole were being criminalised. I understood their concerns but they overlooked something. In several high profile cases where the parents had insisted that their murdered children were not gang members, images of them on YouTube or Facebook brandishing guns and knives, or taking part in acts of violence proved otherwise.

I used to wonder how the parents knew nothing of what their children were involved in; I mean how can you NOT know that your child is a gang member? I realised that just as with Pablo Escobar, these children were living double lives, hiding their sinister side from their loved ones. When these unsuspecting parents were publicly defending their children as decent, law abiding people, they were telling the truth as far as they knew. Their children managed to keep their illegal activities concealed. These parents never saw their children with weapons, or acting in an anti social manner. To their knowledge, their children were loving, well raised individuals, in whom they had invested the very best of their time and love. But away from their neighbourhoods, their children were known as murderous, cold blooded human beings for whom the life of people they decided to target had no value. They killed, maimed, raped and tortured with no regard at all for their victim or the impact upon their families.

As I pondered this I wondered how it would be possible to never slip up in front of their parents. Surely there must have been something in their manner or speech that would indicate that all wasn’t well. But then when I looked at examples from my own life, I saw that this wouldn’t necessarily happen. I remember when I used to smoke cigarettes; I smoked from the age of 12-19. I smoked five cigarettes a day to try and give myself an ‘edge’ as I was a bit of a square! I smoked at school during breaks. I never accidentally lit up in front of my parents. I acted like one of the ‘in’ crowd at school, running with those that smoked but at home I behaved in the manner my parents expected of me. The lines never got blurred and the two worlds never collided. If they had been asked whether or not I smoked they would have said no. But I did, they just never saw me do it.

I used to be very judgemental about parents whose children got into trouble, instantly assuming that it was their poor parenting skills that led to the criminal paths their children had taken. To be sure there are some parents who are very poor examples; they are every bit as bad as their children and in some cases even worse. However, these are not the ones I’m speaking about. When I reflected on the torment that Sebastián endured as he discovered the horrifying truth about the man that he adored as knew only as a loving father, I began to feel compassion for these parents who were now numb with shock as they tried to figure out how on earth the children they had nurtured committed such appalling crimes without their knowledge.

The more I get involved with young people and those on the fringes of society, the more I realise that nothing is as black and white as I had first assumed, and there aren’t always reasons for the things that people do.

A lot of people who I’ve spoken to cannot explain why they behaved in the manner for which they got into trouble. Not all came from broken or violent homes; there wasn’t a particular pattern that could be discerned. There was one thing they all had in common though; they had all chosen to behave the way they did.

I was in a meeting with a community policeman who is responsible for a particular beat in South London. He shared the story of a family that he was working with. The mother and father are respectable people who have raised three children. Two work in high profile jobs, but the last born is a gang leader. The parents said that they loved all three children the same, they invested the same about of time and belief in each of them; they are at a loss to explain how their son has turned out. His upbringing and current behaviour are at complete odds. The son, when spoken to, could not give any sensible answer for why joined a gang; it is simply the life he has chosen. I’m discovering that this is not uncommon.

Looking for reasons behind criminal behaviour isn’t always time and money well spent. A lot of fantastic grass roots organisations have sprung up and are making headway, but the problem escalates year on year. I feel that the most effective weapon in the battle against youth violence is the education of the parents about the times their children are living in and the perils they face. Oftentimes the understanding between parents and children about what real life is like are poles apart. A lot of parents had their formal schooling in another country and culture, not to mention a completely different era. Young people murdering each other and threatening entire communities wasn't a phenomenon they have ever encountered. But this is the reality for their children. Too many make the mistake of assuming that the lessons they learned growing up in their home country will be good enough for their children in a completely different time and place. This is seldom ever the case. Attention needs to be paid to the type of societies we live in at present and learn how to take the relevant actions to combat negative trends.

So, how are parents the secret weapon in the war against youth crime?

Search their bedrooms: Evidence of criminal activity amongst young people is often hidden in their bedroom; it is not uncommon for police searches to uncover weapons used in murders and other crimes. This is an unpopular suggestion, but something that has to be done. Some cite invasion of privacy as a reason not to do this. But is that really relevant in this climate? If you discovered that the weapon found was going to be used to seriously injure or kill your child, wouldn’t you be grateful to the parent whose integrity prevented that from happening?

Know the names of the gangs and other anti-social groups in your community: A police officer I know was having a conversation with another parent who insisted that his child was not a gang member. The police officer typed the name of a well known gang from that area into YouTube and showed the father his son right in the middle of the group brandishing weapons and talking violent trash. I would encourage parents to do the same thing. A lot of groups aren’t shy about letting people know what they do via the internet; take advantage of that.

Get to know their slang: I’m currently putting together a slang table for a workshop I hope to do next year. The reason being is that you will be amazed at what people will reveal in your presence when they think you don’t know what they are talking about. When I have Googled or asked around about some of the expressions I have heard I am shocked when I discover their meaning. Knowing what our young people are saying is a key to finding out what they may be involved with.

Get to know if certain items of clothing or jewellery are significant: In the US you can usually tell a gang member by the tattoos they are sporting or by the colour of the handkerchief they are wearing. In the UK it isn’t as obvious; here you have to listen to what people are saying to give you a clue, or look for a name written like graffiti on books or on their bags. I recently discovered that some girls in the UK, not necessarily gang members, wear thin, brightly coloured bands on their wrists called ‘shag bangles’. Each bangle signifies and advertises what sexual act they have performed or how far they are willing to go sexually. To the untrained eye, they are just a youthful fashion accessory.

Know your child’s friends: It is highly unlikely that anyone would hang out daily with someone who has an unsavoury reputation unless they too were involved in something unpleasant. Get to know the people your child is mixing with so that you can help steer them away if need be.

I think we will always have a degree of antisocial activity in our midst, but if parents act as the eyes and ears on the inside and partner together with other agencies dedicated to tackling gang violence, we can as a community make serious inroads into dismantling this destructive culture.

I'm back!

Hi there people! It has been over a year since my last post! That's totally shocking! I'd always meant to catch up but life just took over and I've been involved in so many things of late that I never got the opportunity to pick up where I'd left off!

So what have I been up to? Working mainly, I did find quite a few paying gigs for my writing, I'm still doing it but I need to take it up several levels marketing wise. Things were great for a while, but because people continued to tighten their belts as the recession wore on, one of the first things they let go of are what some companies call "non essential expenditure" such as freelance writers! But I'm not giving up! I know that I will penetrate the market somehow.

This is just a quick note to let you all know that I am back and I will be back shortly with a cool story!