Thursday

yoloOn Thursday night I had a session with some young people who were aged 11-15. I encouraged the group to draw pictures of things they thought were ‘cool’, and 12 yr old Max drew the above.

I also asked the group what words they think are ‘cool’ and important, and they decided that COURAGE was the most important word, followed by TRUTH, INSPIRE, and PERSPIRATION (Apparently without perspiration you cannot get to where you want to be in life).

Feeling pretty overwhelmed by this still, these young people are our future leaders. This is the most exciting thing ever!

Why I love MCR

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my city. This is because I have been to some places in the world that have caused far more dramatic emotional responses in me. However, this is my city and I am proud of it, and most of the time I love it. Here are a few little things that are important to me about my city.

Things I love about Manchester –

  • When you get the Altrincham tram from the centre of Manchester, keep your eyes out when you’ve left Cornbrook and the next top is Trafford Bar. If you face the direction the train is going in, look to your right. Alongside the canal below there is a long, long wall that is covered in bright, beautiful graffiti. The kind that is meant to be there. And behind that wall if you look hard enough you will see a yard where they store yellow and red cranes (you know, the ones window cleaners use). But when they are all together in a big bunch they look amazing, like an enormous crazy rollercoaster ride. When you see the crane yard if you look down right next to the tram tracks almost below you, then you can look right into a scrap car yard. Nothing special you think? But I love it, because they pile the cars higher than I’ve ever seen, all crushed into these matchbox shapes. It’s almost magical in it’s crazy, junky mismatch. It always reminds me of the film Wall-E, and I can almost see the little robot wheeling about organising it all.
  • The gargoyles on the water fountain outside the front of the Town Hall (and to the right a bit). These have gone an emerald green over the years the way many old statues do. If the wind takes a sudden turn then the fountain can completely drench you head to toe if you’re standing in the wrong place. this always makes me smile.
  • Halfway down King Street (head towards Deansgate) turn left into the tiny hidden alleyway halfway down the street, walk halfway down it and look up at the concrete umbrellas above your head.
  • St Ann’s Church – specifically the tray of candles towards the front left of the Church. The one on the bottom right hand corner? That’s where my candle always goes.
  • The pedestrian bridge that goes over Mancunian way. If it’s windy and there’s loads of heavy traffic underneath then if stop when you get to the middle of the bridge as it wobbles and feels really unsteady. You can see through to the cars below through the gaps below your feet, like being on a pier by the sea, but instead of the ocean it’s cars and pollution. You feel like the Queen of Industrialisation!
  • The demolition equipment they’re using to destroy the BBC on Oxford Road. When you get to Sainsbury’s on the junction of Whitworth Street and Oxford Street if you look towards the BBC one of the big pieces of equipment they use looks like the mast on a pirate ship. You can imagine that actually there is a pirate invasion of Manchester, hurrah!
  • The pub I live above. The super low ceilings of the cellar downstairs, the way I can navigate my way out at 6am on my way to work in the pitch black just by knowing how many steps it takes to get around the place and how high the door handles are. The shape of the different glasses, and the way it feels to sit in one of the high chairs (with footrest, obviously.) Even the annoyinginy pillar with the jukebox on that is always in the way.
  • The design on the front of the Palace Hotel. Above one of the windows (the one to the left of the main entrance) there is a design that looks like a garland of flowers which hangs over a round window with green frames. At the centre of this design above the window, the flowers are arranged in a way that by day looks like the centrepiece of the design. But at night when the up-lighting comes on the shadows catch it in a certain way that makes it look like Jack Skeleton from Tim Burton’s film Corpse Bride. When I sit on my sofa and look out of my living room window, it looks like Jack Skeleton is smiling back at me.
  • The underground canals underneath the GMEX. I used to work as an actress with Flecky Bennett and we used to go 60 foot underneath the centre of Manchester and take people on a tour that was a mix of performance and history.  There were many times I was down there that I would need to find my way around the tunnels in the pitch black (and I mean pitch black – it’s very rare that you get real unfathomable bottomless dark in the city as there’s always a street lamp or a car headlight etc) and after a while I got familiar with the layout of the tunnels. I knew where the missing bricks were, where the high steps were and the doorways cut into the brick walls. I always felt a weird sense of contentment down there in those tunnels, respectful of those who had lived and died down there when they were air-raid shelters in the war, and a happy sense of the present, past and future all being tied in together.

So I reckon that if you live in Manchester and you’re walking about the place you should definitely keep an eye out for these things, and see if they make you feel the way they make me feel. And even if they don’t make you feel that way, it would be amazing to know what response you have to them. This world we live in is insanely beautiful and I love the emotional reaction and affinity you can have with personality-less objects and buildings.

Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew

Ashley Banjo is the leader of dance troupe ‘Diversity’, the group that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 (deservedly beating Susan Boyle) and won the opportunity to perform for the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Since that he has been a judge on Sky 1’s ‘Got To Dance’. Diversity are Patron’s of Dance Aid (part of Hope For Children). They also helped publicise the Government’s ‘Change 4 Life’ scheme which promoted ‘Eat Well, Move More, Live Longer’.

Already I’m sure you can guess why I love these guys. They’re all young men who are in education or careers (IT Solutions, Bathroom Fitter etc) that came together to dance as a hobby. Ashley Banjo is the founder and choreographer of the Troupe and lead them to a spectacular victory at BGT.

But that’s not the only reason I love Ashley Banjo. He has a show called ‘Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew’, which effectively takes small groups of people with no dance experience and in many cases limited confidence, works with them for three weeks and gets them to do a surprise dance routine at a gathering full of their friends and family who have no clue what’s going on. He has worked with female Dinner Ladies who performed to their primary school at lunchtime, some Polo Players who performed at a Polo match meeting, and some young male action roleplayers who performed at an event designed to introduce people to role play (specifically table-top gaming.)

The reason I love this show is because you can see the personal journey his participants go on throughout the course of their time with Ashley. They typically go from being shy and having no rythmn to holding their heads high and being proud of their achievements, not only through dance but also in whatever it was they were doing before (e.g. role play or being a Dinner Lady) so the personal growth and journey is very moving!

With all the bad press young people get in our media these days I think they’re a fantastic, inspirational example of an amazing group of young people using their skills and talents to bring something really unique to British entertainment and make a positive impact on their communities. I feel proud that people like this represent my country and also my generation, and reckon that if you have a spare half an hour see if you can get the Secret Street Crew online, or check out Diversity’s amazing youtube videos!

Women and Sisterhood

I am a woman that loves other women. I also love other men. And those I know that are somewhere in the middle, or don’t consider themselves either? I love them too.

But something really bugs me that I think is really relevant, is that I know a whole load of women who I feel let other women down. Now before I carry on, let me just clarify that this blog is not intentionally about the F-bomb (Feminism, that is.) I honestly don’t really understand what Feminism is or how it affects me. I feel quite alienated from it as a subject matter to look into, as every woman I’ve ever met that uses this word throws it around to support things I don’t really agree with, and presents it as something I don’t feel I want to be a part of.

However, what I do know is this. I’m proud of being a woman, and feeling as though I’m on an equal footing with men in terms of culture, society and rights. I’m sure there’s people who’ll tell me why I’m not on an equal footing, but that’s by-the-by. I’m aware that genders have not always been equal, and there’s been all sorts of hullabaloo in the past to align this. I know people in the past have died so I can have the life I lead today, and that is something I really do feel grateful for.

My real irritation is this. I see many women that shit all over the idea of sisterhood, and do other women a real disservice by helping to promote this idea that women are, by default, all these negative things.

Lets take two examples here of women I know; The Tease, The Thief, and The Adulterer.

The Tease is the woman who will flirt till the cows come home, expect foolish men to buy her drinks (or on the wider scale, gifts and a lifestyle). But it’s all an act to obtain material goods, rather than actually being interested in the man.

The Thief is the woman who is out for all she can get and it doesn’t matter who she can squeeze these things out of, whether it’s a man or a woman. She is happy to lie, gossip, meddle and steal in order to get what she wants.

And finally, The Adulterer. This is the woman that will try it on with a man, knowing full well that they are monogamous and taken, so therefore should be off her radar.

Unfortunately, these three types of behaviour are ones I see too often and has sadly led me to become cynical and judgemental of many women in general. In my past, I have been no Angel and could be rightfully accused of exhibiting all three of these on occasions, so I’m aware that it’s not set in stone, for example, that once you’ve been The Tease, you’ll always be The Tease, and there’s no room for change or leverage. And that actually, forgiveness of others is important and that you shouldn’t judge others by what they may have done in the past. (I wish I was able to implement this 100% of the time!)

So now I’ve got all that negative stuff out of the way, here is the overriding positive point. Sisterhood is special, and massively important too if you consider all the years before us when women have been treated unequally. It’s important for us to stick together if we want to move forward into an even more gender balanced future. My five closest friends are all women, although 99% of my other friends are male. Why? Because, to generalise, I find men easier to navigate, understand and response to. I find women to be more complex and less transparent.

So what can we do to move forward into a better future? Everyone, genders and sexualities aside, needs to work towards being less complex and more transparent. Myself included! As women, we need to consider how our behaviours impact on society’s understanding and stereotyping of our gender and that the things we do wherever we are – be that when sat in the bar, or in the office, or just on the street – actually have a social impact on a much larger scale.

Here’s a little home-made metaphor that makes sense to me, so hopefully you too!

We are all bricks that make a wall. If we make sure as best we can that our brick is an all-round good brick (e.g. strong and well balanced) then put together our wall will be the strongest, tallest, longest-lasting wall. If our brick fails then it will impact all the other bricks, and therefore the wall will collapse.

So basically? Whoever you are, be a good brick yeah? And all will be good in the world.

This video makes me feel empowered to be a woman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U&feature=relmfu

Tough times

‘… more than ever hour after, our work is never over’

These are lyrics by Daft Punk, a catchy little ditty hey! Today I have been thinking about how tough times make us stronger, and why that is a good thing. And why striving to better yourself is not just a strength, but also a necessity. None of us are without our sad stories to tell, our tragedies and our travesties. The way of taking ownership of this is by teasing out the silver lining from the grey sky and figuring out exactly how you can be pro-active at preventing this happening again, or learning from it, growing from it.

Easier said than done right? During my High School years I was hopelessly head over heels with an older boy, who (other than on a few fleeting, fumbling occasions) never took too much interest in me. 7 years I swooned and moped. Then I grew up, moved out, and got over it. Now I feel fondness and understanding for a time in my life when I was learning and finding my own way. But it took 7 years to get there, and that’s a long time. If you’d told me at any occasion over those 7 years that it would one day be something that resulted in me being wiser I’d have laughed in your face, but now I know. With age comes wisdom. Although even by the time all is said and done and I’m a little old lady I’m not quite sure I will have got there yet…!

Now I know that some things you can’t change or fix, and they will never make sense. Like death. I could never tell you, as could no-one else, why death is fair. But whether it is fair or not, there are just some things you can’t explain. You’re not supposed to understand some things. The strength is accepting that you can’t understand it all. I think you’re not supposed to be able to understand some things. But the thing that is really vital in situations you have no control over, is to draw out some kind of silver lining, some kind of understanding that can make something good happen.

If bad things didn’t happen then how would we know when something good has happened? And if something REALLY bad happens, then as human beings we’ll be able to understand when something really GOOD happens. I’m a big believer in Karma, and I think that ties in really closely with this.

So, have bad things happened to me? Yes, but probably no more than your average person on the street. Have good things happened to me? Yes! And I think more than your average person on the street! Why? Because by taking ownership of something bad and making it good makes for a bigger smile and a lighter heart.

I think trying to better yourself is really important in life. I’m sooooo not perfect, in sooooo many ways. My tongue is quicker than my brain, I bite my fingers to shreds and once I’ve made my mind up on a person there’s really very little that will ever change my opinion. So what is the silver lining? Having a quick tongue also works well when comforting a friend, biting my fingers to shreds is better than self-harm, and I’m protecting myself by not letting bad people into my life. But the challenge is this – how can I take those bad things, remember the silver lining, and still do my best to change for the better? It’s no easy task and one I’m yet to master (who knows if I ever will) but hey, do as I say, not as I do.

Silver lining can also be people when you’re having a rough time. Your friends, family, even your pet can be Angels in times of need.

So to summarise? Grit your teeth, take the bad and make it good. And if you find how to do it easily, let me know 🙂

Angels

Today, sadly, me and my man went to bury our baby gecko Cleopatra Ionia, the smallest and newest member of our family who we found had sadly passed away on Wednesday. We went to Chorlton to lay her to rest under a tree next to a stream in the most central part of the park. While we took it in turns digging the hole, we both separately noticed a friendly looking older man with white hair and a beard who had settled for a break from his bike ride on a bench nearby. He had obviously noticed what we were doing but mostly ignored us, and seemed to be enjoying the weather and taking in his surroundings. I noticed him and wondered if my fella Nav had, but nothing was said. He went off on his bike but returned a few minutes later to sit on the bench again. I felt very comfortable with him being there, and quite reassured thinking that he knew what we were doing, and he probably visits the park regularly, and it was nice that someone would come here from time to time that was aware that the area was special.

It was only later in the day that Nav asked me if I’d noticed him, and what I thought about it. I replied with my thoughts above, and told Nav that I was sure he was an Angel watching over us. Nav said he thought it was a little strange how he seemed to vanish. A look of understanding passed between us both, and I was over the moon that Nav had recognised something that I feel often in my life – that sometimes people I meet, or people I know of, are Angels.

Now, just to clarify, I believe in God (in personal faith, not organised religion), I believe in Angels in human and supernatural form, I am open to the possibility of other supernatural beings (e.g. ghosts) although I am yet to experience one, I think there are bad forces in the world although I’m not convinced by the idea of The Devil. I’m very interested in what other people think about these things in relation to themselves, but I’m not very interested what people think about my beliefs and assertions. They’re mine, I don’t need to explain them, I certainly don’t try and convince anyone to agree with me. Live and let live.

So, I think this man on the bench was an Angel, sent to watch over us in a time of need. Over dinner this evening, we discussed the idea of Angels and who, if anyone, are living Angels. So I am going to list three of my Angels here. One I know, one I kind-of know, and one I definitely do not know. Now I’m not just going to list my friends and family. Because my fiance, my rainbow girls (effectively rainbow coloured bridesmaids for my upcoming wedding) and my family go without saying that they are a blessing.

Mags

Mags is one of my rainbow girls. Last year I experienced the worst week of my life. Without going into detail about the cause, this was a time in my life where I was at my weakest and most vulnerable, a total mess, and didn’t know what to do. Mags dropped her entire life for me for days on end, was consistently there to support me, would meet me at the time and place of my choosing any time of day or night, and spent hours listening to me figure it all out. Without her I don’t know what I would have done. She was selfless, understanding beyond words and my saviour in my hour of need. I will never forget what she did for me and the way she did it, and I am blessed to have her as one of my rainbow girls.

Zara Khalique

Earlier this year, I started noticing stickers all over Manchester with inspirational, motivational quotes on them ‘Be honest’, ‘Count your blessings.’ I posted the photos on facebook and asked anyone if they knew who was behind them. Funnily enough, a friend of a friend knew Zara, the founder of http://www.keepitbright.co.uk and it was her that was putting them everywhere, promoting positivity and tolerance. A few weeks after I noticed my first sticker, I lost my temp job, something which sent my world a bit wobbly. But on my way to a new job interview, I found the stickers ‘Be positive’ and ‘You are beautiful’. I sucked up my nerves, held my head higher, and aced my interview. I’ve never met this chick face to face, and in a funny way I don’t mind if I never do, because she’s played a special part in my life without even meaning to.

Frank Warren

Frank Warren is the founder of http://www.postsecret.com. I read the site weekly, and it’s caused me to totally re-evaluate my relationship with a family member. I wrote a secret about this person, and by actually putting into words something I felt in the back of my head was a real turning point for me, in realising that my secret was totally unacceptable and wrong. I never mailed him the secret, and I keep it hidden away as a reminder that changing your thought processes can actually change your attitude and therefore behaviour.

I see other Angels almost weekly. Kind people, doing and saying kind things. I keep my eyes and ears open for Angels all the time because I think they can pop into your life at any time, and often are so subtle that you’ll miss them unless you’re smart enough to look out for them. Some other Angels I know are my Dad, Mrs Kennedy my old English teacher, Konrad who we met in Germany and Marcella my gorgeous Dutch dragonfly.

Do you have any Angels that have touched your life?