Different Strokes

The older you get the longer you spend in hospital not for yourself but for your aging parents.  Since January this is the second time I have had to call an ambulance and go to A & E.  The first time my mum complained of chest pains yes very frightening but when the paramedics came they thought it was more abdominal – the chest pains could have been heartburn.  The day was long and extremely stressful but it could have been a lot worse.

One month later I discovered just how terrible it could be when I was waiting in a hospital corridor trying to take in the devastating news (‘it looks like you father has had a stroke, unfortunately we didn’t catch it in a four-hour window so there’s very little we can do’).

The phone call came at 9.00am after I’d eaten my porridge and drank my coffee, settling down to plan some lessons for the rest of the day. ‘Your dad’s ill:  he can’t stand up; he’s vomiting and he’s incoherent.  You need to leave work now!’  No time to set cover, just enough time to tell my line manager and exit the building.

My movements that morning were like a dream, I drove to the house on autopilot  fearful of what I was going to discover.  I turned the key in the lock; I stepped tentatively into the hallway and walked into the living room.  At first I thought what’s the fuss dad was sitting in his usual chair fully dressed he even had on his shoes, however on closer inspection there was a huge bowl on the floor.  A frantic Agnes (the carer) attempted to tell me what happened.  I listened but it was like I was watching someone else.  I called the ambulance reluctantly because I knew this one was serious.  I can’t believe how much contact I’ve had with Paramedics all lovely people excellent at delivering bad news.

Days like these make me question what’s going to happen in the future? Dad’s 88 years old now a Stroke victim and mum’s 74 with PSP, to echo mum, ‘when it rains it pours.

Eventually we are moved from the corridor to a bay.  I sit and wait, staring at the white and grey wall; the yellow ‘caution cleaning in progress’ sign on the floor listening to constant beep of machines.  Nurses and doctors come and go speaking in that calm, (meant to be) reassuring voices.  They shine torches in his eyes, order him to touch his nose then touch their finger, check his blood pressure, check his blood and questions, questions, and more questions.

Nothing happens quickly with the NHS so I continue to sit and stare at this tiny, frightened old man fighting to maintain his dignity as he struggles to move himself up the bed.  Every time a nurse or doctor speaks to him he makes a joke to hide his fear.  He can’t swallow a drop of water without coughing violently.

After a 7 hour wait he was moved to a ward.  Surprisingly within a week he has regained his speech and his ability to swallow.  He said, ‘not yet my friend, not yet.’


Father’s Day


By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day on this ridiculously cold March day I thought I’d share one of my favourite poems; it reminded me of the distance I felt from my family when I went away to study in Lancaster. Also in celebration of my Great Grandfather an Irish man living in Jamaica.

My father was a builder, they called him Stonewall Jackson because he could work incredibly long hours without taking breaks. He would work outside building loft conversions across Bradford. In the evenings he would ask me or my sister to write out his estimates and invoices – it took hours to decipher his terrible handwriting and spelling.

When it came to working on his own house there was no meticulous planning. One day he decided he wanted to make two rooms into one; no dust cloths; no removal of electrical goods, no clearing away of young children. One minute we were watching television the next minute thud, thud, thud there was a hole in the wall. On the other side of the wall was my dad with a sledge hammer. I don’t know if it was pressure from my mum, or just life in general but within two days we had a beautiful living room.

When it came to his garden he could make anything grow, in spring we’d plant the potatoes, onions and garlic, a little later we’d plant the radishes, tomatoes and lettuce. We all had our own area in the garden and when the Harvest came we’d love eating the food we’d grown ourselves. His recent illness has cut him off from his planting and sowing.

All these childhood experiences have been extremely influential in my life when things go wrong in my own house I have a range of skills he taught me such as how to unblock the toilet; putting up shelves or even changing a fuse. When I’m trying to grow something in my garden I seek his advice.

My dad’s brothers and sisters are great storytellers, the punchline never made any sense to me but the drama and the entertainment in telling the story was enough. Both my mum and dad taught me how it’s possible to make something out of nothing. When they were young they didn’t have the same opportunities to explore their creativity, their life in England was back-breaking hard work followed by extreme exhaustion.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

A Raisin in the sun – Race

In the play ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ Race and Racism play an important role in developing the plot, characters and themes. Hansberry has been radical in that she has put a black ordinary American family on stage and she has presented their everyday struggles using everyday language in an ordinary setting. Hansberry has challenged the stereotypical presentations of black life she has seen in mainstream media. She has been didactic in her presentation of her views in order to promote her revolutionary ideas about inequality in Southside Chicago and the USA in general.

The characters in the play need to be African American because Hansberry wants to ask the question – What is a true American?

MAMA Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. (Raising her eyes and looking at him) We ain’t never been that – dead inside. (3.1.97)

Hansberry makes the point that generations of black people have suffered and made sacrifices to build America, they have a right to be there and they should have access to the American Dream without having to sell their dignity, identity and self-worth.

Mama and Big Walter lived in a time when segregation was lawful and lynching was still a serious threat in order to remind Walter and Beneatha that they are fortunate not to live in those times. Mama reminds Walter of the daily humiliations which they had to endure in order to survive – ‘sitting at the back of the bus’; ‘stay alive’ and maintain ‘dignity’.

I believe Walter blames his race for his misfortunes because he is yet to encounter Mr Lindner and his casual racism to fully understand how difficult it is to fight against institutional racism. He believes his family are not aspirational they don’t encourage any of his attempts to break away from stereotypical jobs assigned to the black community.

Beneatha appears to be Hansberry’s mouthpiece on race, she uses the term assimilationist to describe George Murchison. She rejects American values and chooses to seek African culture as a means of finding an identity, strength and purpose. Beneatha is educated to a higher level than the rest of her family, whilst studying she has encountered some revolutionary ideas and when she shares them with her family she feels alienated because they can’t understand her. She can’t accept George Murchison as her life partner despite his riches and his social status because she realises he will never make her happy as he doesn’t support her desire to be a doctor.

The term assimilation could also be applied to Walter’s attempts to extract money from Mr Lindner. He shows his family the performance in advance which is horrifying to the female characters and the audience. The only way Mama can prevent this heart breaking and humiliating performance is to force him to show his son how to behave in order to get on in this world.

At this point in the play Hansberry redeems Walter’s character making him the hero of the story – the realisation that a dream is empty without the love and support of family.

14 Key Quotations on Race

1. What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

2. ASAGAI …You came up to me and you said… “Mr. Asagai – I want very much to talk with you. About Africa. You see, Mr. Asagai, I am looking for my identity!” (He laughs)

3. WALTER Mama – sometimes when I’m downtown and I pass them cool-quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ‘bout things…sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me.

4. MAMA Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could.

5. BENEATHA [Assimilationist] means someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture!

6. WALTER Why? You want to know why? ‘Cause we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies!

7. LINDNER (Turning a little to her and then returning the main force to WALTER) Well – it’s what you might call a sort of welcoming committee, I guess. I mean they, we – I’m the chairman of the committee – go around and see the new people who move into the neighborhood and sort of give them the lowdown on the way we do things out in Clybourne Park. BENEATHA (With appreciation of the two meanings, which escape RUTH and WALTER) Un-huh.

8. LINDNER …. I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.

9. LINDNER (Looking around at the hostile faces and reaching and assembling his hat and briefcase) Well – I don’t understand why you people are reacting this way. What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.

10. WALTER …Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” (He laughs) I’ve figured it out finally…People like Willy Harris, they don’t never get “tooken.” And you know why the rest of us do? ‘Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking ‘round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up nights trying to figure out ‘bout the wrong and the right of things all the time… And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking.

Black Panther a movement?

I watched Black Panther on Friday 16th February 2018 and it’s taken me some time to put into words the many emotions I felt at the end of the film. Did I feel empowered? Did I feel enlightened? Hard to say.

Most superhero films are not rated for their scripts, but some lines were laugh out loud funny at times easing the tension and giving the audience a chance to breathe in true Shakespearian style.

This film was prepared to boldly go where no film has gone before; three female characters wielding weapons with all the strength; power and poise of any man in a superhero movie.

Image result for black panther movie women fighting

The imagined world of Wakanda presenting a proud Africa, unashamed of its place in the world. A refreshing change from scenes of desperation for basic resources such as food, clean water and medicine. I was reminded of ‘Coming to America’ when I saw the vibrant colours, the shape and design of the costumes; they were a feast for the eyes.

If Black Panther changes anything it tells my daughter that she can look at images that do not present her as a victim but as a warrior who can fight for herself.

Is the Great Gatsby a love story?

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The novel focuses on relationships Tom and Daisy, Tom and Myrtle, Gatsby and Daisy, Myrtle and Wilson and Nick and Jordan. From the opening chapter we are made aware of problems in Tom and Daisy’s relationship from Myrtle’s ‘shrill metallic’ interruption on the telephone. Fitzgerald ensures all the key players in the novel are present at the Buchanan’s dinner party – apart from Gatsby. However Gatsby stands alone at the end of the chapter reaching out towards the green light revealing his detachment from the real world.

10 Key quotations on the theme of love

1. She used to sit on the sand with his head in her lap by the hour, rubbing her fingers over his eyes and looking at him in unfathomable delight. It was touching to see them together.

Jordan describes how Daisy felt about Tom at the beginning of their marriage, she appears overwhelmed, spellbound but also quite possessive. Jordan hints that she was always concerned when he left the room – does this hint that Tom’s infidelity was present at the beginning of the marriage.

2. Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs…….I drew her up again closer, this time to my face.

Fitzgerald raises many questions in the reader’s mind about Nick’s sexuality and the range of relationships he has with women throughout the novel. He called one relationship ‘a tangle back home’ implying he has a fear of commitment and the disapproval of others.

3. “Here, deares’.” She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. “Take ’em down-stairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ’em all Daisy’s change’ her mind. Say: ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!'”

Fitzgerald reveals Daisy’s misgivings about marrying Tom and her response to Gatsby’s letter. The pearls are extremely expensive and they represent the lifestyle that Tom can offer in comparison to the fantasy with Gatsby.

4. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.

Fitzgerald shows that Gatsby feelings for Daisy are intense more on the side of infatuation; extreme obsession and delusional. The narrator sees his commitment as religious devotion.

5. There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.

Whenever Daisy is compared to Gatsby’s vision she falls desperately short. She appears shallow, vain and empty. Fitzgerald explores the nature of dreams they are intangible and firmly based in the imagination; the possibility of what could be gives the dreamer hope.

6. She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little, and he looked at Gatsby, and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago.

Fitzgerald highlights the double standards in a patriarchal society. He has grown accustomed to the effect Daisy has on other men; he is astounded that she is reciprocating this love to a man he believes is beneath him.

7. Oh you want too much! She cried to Gatsby. ‘I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began to sob helplessly. I did love him once — but I loved you too.

These words delivered by Daisy after an intense afternoon showing the competitive nature of both Tom and Gatsby. The love story has come to an end because Gatsby is an over-reacher; he wants Daisy to say she never loved Tom. Thus allowing him to repeat the past as if Tom was a 5 year mistake. The woman who bravely revealed her love at lunch is now helpless when faced with a choice.

8. He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.

Materialism and consumerism are themes explored in the novel particularly through the character of Gatsby. He is compared to a man in an advertisement by Daisy. The clothes, the house, his car and his invented past are all to impress Daisy but they are meaningless in Daisy presence because the dream can’t match reality.

9. Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.

Fitzgerald shows through Gatsby the corruption of the American Dream as Gatsby reveals through his description of the past that he is more in love with Daisy’s social status, her house and her wealth. The abstract values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been replaced by empty materialism and consumerism.

10. ‘You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well I met another bad driver didn’t I?…I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride.’

Fitzgerald uses Jordan as the readers mouthpiece to question Nick’s reliability as the narrator. He has told the reader directly that he is ‘the most honest person he knows.’ Yet his whole narrative shows his hypocrisy. He enters into a relationship, whilst attached to another woman. He is more concerned about how he appears rather than how he truly feels.

Social Care! What Social Care?

Before my parents became ill it was something that happened to other people. I thought the system was ticking along nicely. If you’re old, disabled or vulnerable there was a system at work to make sure no one falls in between the cracks. I was wrong.

Something has gone badly wrong when carers are sent to provide a meal but they can’t cook. They can only open tins or put the food in a microwave. Now we are all aware that consuming processed food like this can’t promote healthy eating which is essential for for people who need the carers in the first place.

I noticed how quickly social workers wanted to close cases. To hand them over and make them someone else’s problem.

The system is broken and I’m afraid Jeremy Hunt is not the man to fix it. He is in denial that Social Care if funded and staffed properly there would be less bed blocking. Social Care can ease the pressure on the health service because it would be preventative rather than reactive.

‘Stop and Search’ solution to knife crime?

Waking up on new year’s day to discover that 4 young men have lost their lives in unrelated knife crimes. The headline reaction is to increase ‘Stop and Search’ – everyone can see it happening, data can be collected and a few convictions will come about as a result. Are former gang members, victims of knife crime and bereaved parents part of the process? They need to be.

It seems to me that these young men already feel on the edges of society – will ‘Stop and Search’ increase their alienation? But in these desperate times is this a sacrifice we have to make? My heart breaks when I see the devastating effects of knife crime on families, it isn’t just a narrow group of gang members: children are dying on their way home from school; playing in the park or sitting on a wall. I don’t have the answers but I do feel angered and confused by this senseless violence.