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Is it a case of Chinese Whispers?

As a child I used to love ‘Chinese Whispers.’ We quite often played it at Brownies or at parties, sitting in a circle, heads together, whispering the sacred words passed on from the person before you, then rolling about laughing when it got to the end. How ‘Mrs Brown always bought fish for tea on friday’ ended up as ‘Farmer Brown kept sweets for me in his hideaway’ is any one’s guess! You were never allowed to repeat it and I’m convinced my friends deliberately said it either too fast or too close to my ear so that it just sounded like hissing and shhhshsing. Never for a moment did I think that somebody would deliberately change what they had heard for their own motivations. You may wonder where all this is leading? I read an article yesterday about a young man from Pakistan, Ahmer Rana, who had been at the centre of a media campaign to keep him in Britain, he claimed his family were all dead and that he was only 18 years old, therefore a minor, and was fostered, none of which was true. After reading the article I did feel quite sorry for him, he has apologised for his lies and deceit both to his friends, supporters and foster parents. He commented 

“I started with a little lie and then built it up and made a big lie to cover my other lies but I’m really sorry about it.”

My point is how many times have we all told little white lies to get what we wanted, to influence others, to make people feel sorry for us? Or even maybe exaggerated/embellished the story a bit? Most of the time we get away with it because it doesn’t really matter and it just adds a bit of flavour and excitement to our story. Through my work I have heard so many stories, stories from children of the Partition, stories from refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, yet I believe them all to be totally true, because they are such awful stories. Who would make that up? We tend to embellish stories that are not very exciting because we all enjoy the open mouthed reaction, the wide eyed wonder that tragic heart rending stories invoke, true or not.


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Cycling through Life with Ball and Bike

Ban was just ten when his father died. He was one of five kids and the first son. He felt hopeless and wondered how he would cope with his responsibility as successor. His heart fell into his mouth when he overheard his grandmother saying: ”I am now a woman without legs”.  “Father is gone but I am here”, he reminded himself.

Mr. Atamson had his eyes on him. He had watched him head his homemade rubber ball in the past.  “Ban, join our training tomorrow”, Mr Ban told him smiling. It was not long before Ban became the Eto’o Fils of the Bamenda Highlands.

People who knew him then say he was an extraordinary talent when it came to dribbling the ball and scoring the winning goal. Mr. Atam told BBC World, ‘The lad is a baobab tree. I’m not surprised as his coach then, where he is today’. “Ban is a boy with good hands”, his grandmother proudly told the crowd that watched the Lions qualify for the African Nations Cup. ”He makes everything from nothing”, she added shaking her head.

  As early as ten, barely a few months after his father joined their ancestors, Ban made his first wooden bike. The idea came to him during his manual art class.  At first, he used ’his one in town’ for running errands for his grandmother and mother. This craft soon paid off. Many other boys wanted their own bikes. This was a great job opportunity for Ban. It also meant long hours of work without play for a young boy of his age! His bike business grew popular and bigger. People in the village and neighbouring villages hired his services to do errands.

 In two months Ban got himself  a  pair of second hand sports shoes. He contributed towards family income, including getting basic commodities like matches, soap, salt and cooking oil for his grandmother. In his spare time, he trained with the rest of his team mates. His skill and creativity soon attracted the attention of village head teacher and chief. Ban received a regional award and later a national prize for creativity and enterprise.

Today, Ban is a football star. His ball and bike gave legs to his grandmother. His story is legs for many young people around the world.















“Good food kill me”

Seafood dellicacies
It is friday and I am sitting in the office with my colleague going through a list of recipees to try out over the weekend. As I take a closer look at each ingredient needed, I think of the expense, the nutrients and the tasty end result. I suddenly realise I have four different tabs on my screen “channel 4/food”, “BBC good food” and the list goes on; I have always loved good food, an aunt will agree to this, from a very young age I have been a critic of the food she gave us, bearing in mind we had a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, coming from the tropical part of the world. I never liked anything green, but that can be excused. Afterall, it was the very age where I literally saw green monsters on my plate and could not bare the thought of swallowing any of that. I then wonder if ….”fine dining” and the “notion of good food” mean a healthy and  perfectly executed balanced diet. As I am browsing through the food channels, looking at the manner in which the food is displayed ‘artistic’ and ‘enticing’ I must say, supposedly this is the part where the expense kills me and yet I am determined to to cook the best dish possible. And by the way, this is every weekend. But should I have to race myself to enter my Natwest pin number and falsley comfort my heart that “Its okay” as I run up a bill not budgeted for? Maybe not necessarily, there has to be a cheaper way to get the same quality of food Its all good and nice watching TV chefs work their magic with all their fully equipped spacious kitchens, then comes the inspiration for the ordinary chef like me to try and cook the same dish with either fewer ingredients or spermarket value. All the same I am envious, and aspire to eat a balanced healthy diet at least everyday. I would like to achieve my 5 a day with a variety of inspired meals. I would like to be able to afford it too.


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Male midwives: trendy or unpopular

1 midwife, 1 nurse and husband

It has never mattered if my GP was male or female neither does it matter if I am treated by a male nurse or female one; however I would have a slight unease if my midwife was a man. The uneasiness is not due to the gender but the emotional and intimate journey I may have to go through with him, is it unusual?. I am also intrigued by the differences in people’s perception of men that deliver. Let us start from the beginning; Midwifery has been traditionally seen as the care of pregnant ‘women’ by ”women”. It also means assisting in the birth of a baby, the expression ‘together with’ or ‘with woman’ in turn refers to a midwife.  Midwifes or male midwives, the former being normally addressed to refer to men in countries such as Canada. Without looking too deep in to its historical meaning and the matrix of the terminology, it is clear the trend is shifting. The fact is we now have around 93 practising male midwives within the UK; Is this reflective of where our society is heading?  Well I think so; cultural barriers are coming down, though at a slower pace, female roles are being undertaken by males and vice versa. As more men practice midwifery, the challenges faced by pregnant women and couples is down to choice, its’ the behaviour, culture and psychology, I would personally say. It is the whole emotional baggage that comes with a man having to take you through the 9 months, bearing in mind he is the community midwife, then the delivering and the process there after. And then I wonder what the difference is if I have to face the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist a male dominated proffession, perhaps it is the lengthy time and journey spent with a midwife. So what is the real issue here? Could it be the gender or maybe our own discomfort? Male midwives are still rejected or looked upon with surprise. It is easy to think that as long as one has the skills and attributes, has a caring nature and is competent it hardly matters if they are male or female. But we then tend to carry baggage of ‘social norms’ and ideology influenced by history and culture with regards to gender roles.

It appears some women prefer female midwives, all sorts of reasons I gathered included ‘comfort’, ‘women understanding what they are going through much better than men’, ‘needing someone who would mother them’. On the other hand we had women that did not mind having a male midwife, for them it was a wonderful experience and were no different to female midwives. In one instance it was the woman’s 4th child and had previously had bad experiences until she had a male midwife. One interesting comment I quote ‘My husband felt he would have benefited from a male midwife when I had my children. He felt that he missed out and didn’t fully understand all of what was happening. He thinks that a male midwife would possibly be able to explain the whole thing to him in a language he understood and that female midwives take certain knowledge for granted during labour’. “Association of Radical midwives, 2011”. It is true through a number of experience that a few female midwives lack the empathy and desire of being ‘with woman’.

It is all these different views and experiences that may change people’s perspective on gender and midwifery roles. As women campaigned for equal rights, so should it be for men that want to train and practice as midwives; surely this is a professional career that stands its ground with merit, academic and practice knowledge as well as a passion for it. I am beginning to warm up to the idea that gender should not determine good practice and service delivery.

It is interesting that prior to the mid 1970s, it was thought that male midwives would be unpopular with pregnant women; research demonstrated that female midwives did not like the idea of men invading their roles (Journal of advanced nursing, 1991). I want to believe that attitudes are changing in this 21st century. It is still certain that two different sexes experience emotion in a completely different manner, could it be that these differences man and women experience determines suitability for certain jobs and perhaps gender impacts on emotional understanding and psychological response. However, modern psychological researches indicate that men and women possess different skills related to the sending and receiving of emotion. In general, women are more emotionally expressive (Miller, 1976), where as men conceal or control their emotional displays (Buck, Miller, & Caul, 1974). In addition, women talk more about emotional aspects of their experiences than men, hence parent-daughter dads placed emotional experiences in a more interpersonal context than did parent-son-dads. These findings may well have an impact on men’s response, behaviour and approach as a midwife and therefore some women use this as a base to their choices and would still prefer to be attended to by a female midwife. Despite this, it is clear men are as competent and have a passion, and exert great interpersonal skills, so we should embrace more male midwives and not be products of socialization or culture but still give expectant mothers and couples choice.

What can I say; I have come to the end of this and personally feel I would welcome a male midwife, as for the ‘uneasiness’ I will cross that bridge when I get there….


… like David Beckham living down the lane …

Continuing a journey into Northamptonshire  …  considering involving young people  …

Three quarters of an hour later  -  after resting in the snug confines of the pub on the corner  …  resisting the combination of soft seats and local cider  -  and we set off again on a headlong, seemingly endless journey down narrow country lanes, through fields to our next point of research  -  Lyveden Newbield.  What on earth does that name mean, I’m thinking, as we pass hedgerows, typically British, I imagine, in the summer with humming bees and bright butterflies decorating a fragile wilderness of flowers and weeds but today overlain with the frosty edges of a wintry blast that has literally set the scene in white.  I’m peering through a fog of condensation as the glass on my front windscreen steams up  -  it’s starting to rain and the window wipers relentlessly resonate with the rasping squeak that denotes their age.  I’m momentarily distracted by a memorial plaque set into a roadside bank  -  flashes of flower white and poppy red are apparent  -  Carey Grant or some other Hollywood heavyweight was stationed down the road during wartime  -  what would he have made of Geddington, I think, and what would Geddington have made of him  … ?  Lucky locals to have been able to place a contemporary idol in their village setting  …  a bit like David Beckham living down the lane  …  tangible beyond the dream  …  a distraction from wartime privation.

A break in trees to the right reveals  -  down an endless stretch of English green bordered by trees, a perfectly proportioned grey white stately house.  A mental challenge to the lack of social equality it represents is justified by its striking presence in the landscape, enhanced by a picturesque lake.  It’s hard not to be affected by the impact, an architectural monument made to arrest the gaze, distracting all who pass, available to be admired  -  equally  -  but inaccessible to the majority as a place to live, attesting to the history of English wealth and title  …  but this is not our destination  -  that lies somewhat in the distance beyond the horizon of farmer’s fields.
The weather worsens as I filter a range of distractions interspersed with exchanged anecdotes, navigating to my companions directions  -  the weather, careering traffic, haphazard turns and twists and local landmarks pointed out in the unfamiliar setting  -  it seems a journey into the wilderness as well as into the history of national identity.  Stretches of cultivation are interspersed with tree copses and large over hanging hedgerows that fudge the sightline as I dodge the possibility of a head on collision.  Then, a sudden right turn onto a muddy verge and we are faced with a creaking, rusty and well padlocked gate.  ‘Is this the end?’ I’m thinking, but no, my travel companion leaps out to open it and I guide the vehicle over mud crevasses to the other side.  Then it is onward, up a slope and even further, sideways along it, the car crunching small rocks underneath and clinging to the tendrils of hedgerow grass and winter warped vegetation.  Next thing, our eyeview widens and, finally  …  we see it, Lyveden Newbield  -  there it stands as it has for decades  -  it’s an ancient folly  -  another stone building set into undulating fields.  Half finished, the same for centuries, unused for its original purpose, it’s completion interrupted by some sort of scandalous connection its owner  -  Thomas Tresham  -  had to that archetypical English version of treason  …  the Gunpowder Plot.

We locate a place to park but, sadly, the tangible presence of the building up ahead is not matched by the reassurance of being met  -  as promised  -  oh well, we clamber out and I’m immediately faced by the ridiculousness of wearing any sort of heels in such a landscape  -  a legacy from an earlier meeting.  Heads bowed against an icy blast we make our way over to the ‘field hut’, the forlorn bang of a half open gate the accompaniment.  The wooden building seems prepared for us but there is no one there so we decide to brave it and step out onto the tufted and now soggy grass to get closer to the grey stone monument.  Rising the height of three stories I’m told that local dancers recently paid tribute to imagined former occupants by performing in the bay above  -  drifting, wraith like between window arches.  We peer through iron barred crevasses and down stone shafts to sweeping grass covered spaces where the original architect, I imagine, would have dreamed a different type of dance accompanied by melodious minstrel instrumentation.  Carved stone etching  -  ancient graffiti  -  is testament to the dalliance of former lovers, holding its prosaic presence alongside the winged beasts and chevrons of medieval monumental engraving.

Still no sign of any sort of guide we become aware we have the site to ourselves and are scurried round the outside of the building by a ferocious wind meanwhile negotiating the sneaking presence of mini moat like dips and slopes.  I’m reliably told, however, that if it were possible to get inside and stand at the top, then views of the surrounding landscape would be exactly the same as at the time of its construction  -  a testament to the uncompromising vision and expertise of its architect  …  and to a type of unfathomable ‘sameness’  -  denoting a centuries long continuation.

We decide to explore further  -  as long as our endurance and the distraction of our discussion sustains us  -  the cold and it’s associated risk are our sure companions  …  I’m momentarily taken by what appears to be some sort of mound in the landscape, located in the centre of a small lake  -  surely originally intended to house stock for his lordship’s fish suppers, I think.  The trudge, trudge of our footsteps on the squashy turf follows us  -  we fight the howling gale that distorts our talk  …  then my companion hits on the perfect antidote to the modern day obsession with electronic gadgetry  …  what would it be like to bring some young people here and just ask them to sit and experience it  …  would it be viable, would it be possible  …  what would their response be  …  the starting point to our next investigation  …


Dancing on the Cross … with Eleanor

Today I am going to Northamptonshire, looking for links between the past  …  and young people  … 

I am driving to Geddington  …  using a route planner and one of those email conveyed lists of landmarks that make me a hazard to any passing motorist but I get there safely and, following my friend’s directions, turn right, as instructed, down a narrow lane flanked by cars parked either side.  Old stone homes overhang the street  …  the picturesque grey of weather worn buildings up ahead welcomes me in.  Past the pub on the corner and into the village, I’m struck by its most powerful monument, the Eleanor Cross  -  a marker to the enduring love a medieval monarch felt for his queen  …  incredible it has stayed upright all this time in between.  Originally one of several that marked the night stops of the entourage that carefully conveyed her body to its final resting place in London, it is now the best preserved of those few remaining  …  I cast a thought to the purpose of this visit and wonder how today’s young people would respond if Charles did the same for Camilla.  He was brave enough to expose his love to public scrutiny but surely such a chivalrous gesture remains in the past, I reflect  -  then remember the spectacle surrounding the death of Princess Diana.  Not so far removed from an ancient ‘royal progress’ in its ritualised generation of public emotion  -  that media massaged outpouring of grief was made accessible to all, young and old, via today’s technology.  Thoughts of the global ‘village’ as opposed to this local one come to mind.  I drive on up the street  -  then find my destination   …   a new cottage  …  built on old fields  …

We chat over hot soup then return on foot passing rain splattered graves in the local churchyard.  We peruse the heritage plaque placed perilously before it.  The church was once part of a hunting lodge, I am told, with barns and associated buildings around about  -  now dwellings  -  housing all that was needed to support the feudal overlord in his leisure pursuits.  I wonder what it would have been like to have been a peasant then  -  restricted by birth to a role ascribed through familial descent.  The access to a shift in social status would have been miserably hard to achieve (unless you were very lucky)  …  feudalism and religion provided the petty minutiae of a poor person’s lot in life.  We spend time inspecting the local landmark at close quarters  …  my friend tells me how it is now used for wedding blessings  -  her own included  …  and as the focal point for village celebrations  …  Morris dancers and Mummers come to mind  -  the Englishness of this particular spectacle resonates as I imagine white socked men with bunches of silver jangling bells festooning their ankles, flashing red ribbons in time, slamming hard boots down on the cobbled stones as many have done before them, creating an odd version of masculine camaraderie  -  unless you are initiated  -  calling out to the rhythmic accompaniment of accordion and fiddle, dispelling daytime roles as teachers and office workers.  The incongruity of such ancient tradition in a modern world strikes but the need to preserve it, however eccentric, itself wedges us securely in the stream of cultural identity.  After many years working in Leicester, famous for its mosaic of street vibrancy informed by the myriad jostling communities that share its confines, it appears as an isolated, even enclosed, attempt to keep things forever the same.  Then I recall the colourful traditions of those same migrant groups and how they themselves can transform open spaces with bright Jaganathas, drum beats and chiming bells  -  not so different after all  …

Our thoughts turn to young people and the ways in which they express themselves today  …  could the Morris rhythms equally as well as the Bangra beats transpose themselves to the pop charts  …  I consider  …  but thoughts of a reggae version of ‘Split the Willow’ are dismissed as soon as they arise  …


If you go there … you will know …

Today I am going to Belgrave Hall & Gardens in Leicester to meet an artist  -  part of research to do with engaging young people …

The hall and gardens on a summer day

 Belgrave Hall  …  overwhelmingly familiar as I used to work there as part of a project that also used Cross Corners  -  an arts centre that shares the same gardens.  We are to meet the community gardener  -  an ex colleague.  A scatter of memory touches my thoughts  -  the people I worked with, the events delivered then, the hall with its apparently resident ghost and the arts centre  -  riotous colour  -  children with clay damp fingers modelling copy artefacts, kites flying, saffron saris swirling down the central path, music jangling in my memory’s ear  -  and the cold  …  the hall is notorious for it …

…  the gardener takes us on a site tour  -  familiarity tinges sweet reminiscence  -  experiencing the place from a new point of view  …

 …  then reflection guides a corresponding journey  …  as we walk and talk people I knew from my time there arrive in my internal eye, companions to the older figures from the hall’s history that populate the gardener’s story  -  the original Victorian owners  -  and the sisters who lived here in Edwardian eccentricity and privilege.  Their silk skirts rustle in my imagination as our own modern clothes brush the hedgerows.  Images of these ancient characters appear as stern, still presences in my memory like in a Victorian photograph  -  their energy sepia still and soundless.  Their beady contemplation of our visit is the accompaniment to a sound patchwork  -  the familiar talk of my former comrades.  Muffled by memory I feel their presence in my imagination  …  my views of the paths, the seats, the lawns  -  as they appear today  -  are overlain with translucent images from the past and my emotions warmed by the energy they created then and pass to me now via the conduit of recall.  Those that shared the site in different climes join the journey  -  summer crafts in the sunshine, balancing tea trays for visiting VIPS, erecting tents for a cold, cramped winter’s craft fair with mulled wine and christingles to warm us  …  and the pleasure of company  -  Turkish coffee and talking. 
We enter the banana house  …  musty, warm smelling  …  dusky  -  overhung with panda paw sized leaves  … transporting us momentarily to ‘the tropics’, that mystical standard bearer to the age of exploration.  Two ancient mulberries take us  -  in the imagination  -  to spaces filled with the daring do of 1950s children’s fiction.  Fallen kumquats  -  and rescued yellow pear like quince  -  add to a sense of finding out for the first time.  I collect autumn leaves encouraged by the artistic engagement of my new colleague as stone work and brick work surround us, laden with a patina of lichen  …  and the still values of former residents.
If you go there, you will know that the hall exists like an oasis of Victoriana on the edge of the vibrant community that surrounds Loughborough Road.  Seeking solace from persecution  -  or economic privation, in flight from the warmer outposts of ‘Empire’  -  people travelled here from India, Kenya and Uganda as well as Pakistan and the Punjab starting in the early twentieth century  -  settling in the surrounding streets, becoming workers at the nearby factories until they closed down, meanwhile establishing the thriving business centre that is the ‘Golden Mile’.  Now notorious for its shops, restaurants and the world famous Diwali lights, the identity of this old house appears adrift alongside, a historical conscience bearer to the reasons for that migration.  The evidence of ‘Empire’ is now not only present in the Paisley design of curtains  -  itself an import from ‘the Orient’  -  but vibrantly and pressingly apparent  …  just outside its walls. 
Trading function to that of a museum, an aspic like preservation of old values and craftsmanship appears in the room sets  …  the kitchen, the hallway, the children’s nursery, the ladies sitting room, the gentleman’s study, the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ mentality.  A shrine to the style of an outmoded generation, it maintains as a draw for learning  …  scurrying primary school children in coal dusted aprons carrying huge buckets of water leap from my memory bank  …  or that type of Austenesque nostalgia that makes costume dramas popular.  I remember verbal attack from an irate former visitor perturbed that the room sets had undergone any sort of re interpretation.  ‘But where are all the old rooms?!  Have they preserved them ..?’ she harangued me with startling insistence in the garden.  It was upsetting she felt that the wood and cloth mannequins with their lifeless puppet eyes that had previously populated the displays to make them more ‘realistic’ was preferable to a contemporary interpretation that included  -  then  -  sculptures reflecting themes from the atmosphere or decoration  …

…  thinking of it like that makes me aware of the hall’s grand isolation  -  a fall out from its original function  …

…  how on earth would it be possible to get young people in here?


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