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!

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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?

Marriage in the 21st Century

Warning – this post may not be for you if you are the cynical type.

….But in actual fact, neither is this blog really, so maybe I didn’t need that disclaimer.

So anyway, many of you reading this will be aware that I’m engaged to my best friend/soulmate, so obviously I am pro-marriage. Luckily I am not aware of one single person who has questioned our decision, which I think is pretty cool and shows our loved ones are respectful of our choice even if their personal preferences aren’t quite aligned with ours.

So why do I believe in the importance of marriage in the 21st century? Well, there are a a billion reasons. But the main three are as follows…

Tradition.  I am, at heart, very traditional and have some old-fashioned family values. This is rooted in the experience not only of my own family but also of others families, which I have lovingly collated in my mind and woven together like an old familiar patchwork quilt. Mismatched and jumbled, but one that feels just right. In many ways, my family environment was an unconventional one when I was growing up as we were foster carers, for the bulk of my childhood my mother worked and my Dad retired very early and worked from home. I have learnt so much from them in both their marriage and divorce, and the marriages of others such as my Grandparents to have a very clear idea of the right and wrong things to do. (Or at least, try my best to do).

My Grandparents are a fantastic example of a solid marriage that has stood the test of time, as well as two of Nav’s relatives who were married for 60 years. So, I reckon that if my ancestors saw marriage as an acceptable way of life and commitment, and it worked so well for so many people, then who am I to shun a tried and tested way of living life? I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Art of Marriage’ and there’s a beautiful phrase in there – ‘The Democracy of The Dead’. What a wonderful way of thinking – the majority of all these people who have been and gone long before me did it, and it worked for them. Why wouldn’t or shouldn’t it work for me? Taking this to an extreme and taking the opposing view, you can argue that some things like racism and sexism are very likely to have been the attitudes of most of my ancestors, (what with them living all that time ago n’all) but just because that worked for them doesn’t make it right. But I’m not talking about racism or sexism, I’m talking about marriage.

If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Family. Now that is another reason marriage is important to me. I would never choose to have a child before I had a husband. Maybe it’s the traditionalist in me speaking again, but it’s important to me that my child shares my name, and I share my name with their Daddy. Getting engaged to someone, then marrying them, is the ultimate commitment that you are serious about your life together. What a brilliant environment to bring your children into, with two parents under no illusion about what their life together has been, and what the future holds for them as a couple.

Love. Being in a relationship with your best friend is something that you cannot even attempt to put into words, it’s that wonderful. Then being engaged? Well it’s positively delirious ecstasy. Then a wedding, followed by a long and happy marriage. I could almost spontaneously combust with joy, haha. Those of you that have experienced love know what I mean when I say nothing on earth can match the feeling of being in love. Having your lover, best friend, counsellor, play mate, partner in crime and best friend all rolled into one. Plus you get to wake up next to them every day, and they’ll still love you when you’re hungover in your pyjamas with your fake eyelash stuck to your eyebrow whining ‘Take meee to the baconnnn’.

And as for those of you that haven’t experienced love yet? Boy oh boy you’ve got so much to look forward to!

Now I try my hardest to be a ‘live and let live’ kinda girl. Those that don’t dig marriage? Well that’s cool with me. Those that don’t dig having a family of their own? Well that’s cool with me too. I’ll be honest though, those that don’t dig love? I’m such a Disney girl I believe everyone has their One out there somewhere, they’ve just got to find them. I can’t help but think that the only way you wouldn’t dig love is if you’ve been very hurt by it, or you haven’t found it yet. Although I’ve been hurt by it, and I went 21 years without finding it… *shrug* I digress, again, sorry….

Anyway my point is that I respect that choice the same way I expect my choice to be respected. Having different opinions about stuff is wonderful, and wouldn’t it be lovely if we all respected each other’s differing opinions & the world could be a bit brighter?

Here is a picture of me and my man seconds after he popped the big question. This photo gives me dizzy butterflies in my belly and feet that want to jump about everywhere. I am loved, and I can only wish that everyone felt as loved as I do. It’s cool 🙂

The Digital Age (Just cos you got the power, doesn’t mean you got the right).

As someone who admits to not knowing a great deal about technology, it is something I have quite a strong opinion on, as a whole (surprise surprise…)

I have recently been due a phone upgrade, and as it ties in nicely with the release of the iphone 5 I’ve decided to go with Apple for the first time. Now, I don’t particularly like itunes, and the mac laptops I use for my youth work often utterly perplex me and leave me cross eyed muttering ‘No left click? NO LEFT CLICK?!’ however for various reasons the iphone appealed to me so I decided to go for it.

I’ve had mixed responses, some people think it’s OMG EXCITING BEST THING EVER JIZZ JIZZ and some people casually, snottily have shrugged their shoulders or shaken their heads sadly and wondered why I didn’t go for something more advanced (which ended up with me in irritated, tight-shouldered state ready to spit venom at the next person who commented on my choice. Luckily, nobody has since then.

However it’s got me thinking about technology in general, not just mobile technology, but social media in general, and in the wider scale – spaceships and aeroplanes and television and radio etc. And what social and political responsibilities come along with technological advancements.

You see, I think technology is cool, and advancements can only be a good thing. One argument may be ‘Just because you  an have an all-singing all-dancing phone doesn’t mean you should’. But I reckon that if it’s possible to do it, then why the hell not? Technology to me is a bit like magic. I can’t get my head around how you can point a bit of metal (and glass, plastic, etc) on a football game, and that bit of metal can capture the visuals, and then it can get sent through the air via other bits of metal, and then I can turn on my piece of metal in my living room and see what the football fans can see. I think that is AMAZING and I have muchos respect for those that understand how these things work.

However, with smart phones and the internet and television and all of those other things comes a responsibility. Kind of similar to religion, you know? In the right hands it’s the best thing ever, in the wrong hands it’s dangerous, tyrannical, nation controlling and damaging.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Kind of like Motorhead ‘Just Cos You Got The Power (Doesn’t Mean You Got The Right).

I can’t believe I just quoted Motorhead to argue my point. I don’t even like Motorhead.

But you know what I mean, right? I think it’s the responsibility to anyone who uses modern technology to make sure it is used responsibly (and while this all sounds very sombre I don’t mean responsibility in the same vein as ‘seriously’ – everyone loves a bit of Angry Birds from time to time). I think we need to educate our young people on the correct way to use social media. Technology can be damaging to developing social skills. Many young people would rather sit in front of their Magic Screens talking via the internet instead of hanging out together. I think that this is wrong, and something we need to stay away from.

To summarise; just because you are a 13 year old young person that can approve friend requests from strangers on the internet, doesn’t mean you should. Just because the owners of facebook can compile personal data from people’s profiles, doesn’t mean they should. Just because you can use CCTV to keep tabs on the general public, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can tweet your abuse to celebrities on twitter, doesn’t mean you should. You catch my drift?

With technological developments comes a moral, ethical question of what is right and wrong, and while mistakes have, and are being made, I have faith that one day we’ll figure it all out and can advance into our robot-infested, flying-car future with a solid knowledge of what is the right thing to do 🙂