Who owns the past? A critical opinion.

Recently with all the protests about racism, there has been a lot of discussion about removing various statues, renaming monuments etc. I suppose it’s a natural progression in any political movement, but I have to wonder of the statues we are keeping, road names, etc… how many were perfect? Because unless I’m woefully mistaken, in fifty years’ time we will be left with Jesus and no one else. Only we won’t be allowed to have statues of Jesus because that’s exclusionary to someone and never mind whether he was real or not.

It’s a thorny subject because, obviously, we don’t want to celebrate bad people. But who gets to be the arbiter and judge of “good” and “bad”? People are being measured by modern standards, not the standards of the time they lived in. It’s utterly ridiculous accusing anyone living before the 1950s of homophobia, for example, based on words they said. Everyone was homophobic. Likewise, it would be silly to remove everyone who was anti-Semitic before the second world war. Everyone was antisemitic around the time of the first world war. Don’t believe me? Read The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Full of anti-Semitic sentiment. A product of its times.

History isn’t about sanitizing the past to make it palatable to the people of today. Nor is archaeology. It is about showing what happened. Remembering. We need to see and know about the bad and good, and assess both, side-by-side. Removing the bad artificially makes us feel good about ourselves and lets us continue to believe we never had a problem with racism or other -isms. We remember bad things as a survival mechanism to avoid repeating situations which were detrimental.

It’s a bit of a childish world view to believe that in every conflict, one side is “good” and another is “bad”. Trying to find anyone in history who was all good is an exercise in futility. Churchill, for example, was known to fly into rages. But we should still celebrate him because he led the world to victory. If you aren’t sure whether his contribution to the second world war was valuable, imagine BoJo being in charge when Hitler invaded Poland. Now imagine that was Theresa May. On the other hand, Hitler was kind to some babies. That doesn’t in any way offset the great evils he committed.

It disturbs and disappoints me that, instead of looking critically at people’s actions and deeds, and in spite of the fact we all love a good redemption story when it’s not real, in the real world, our society is so facile and juvenile in its thinking that we believe there are “good guys” and “bad guys” out there.

Anyway, given the long history of systemic misogyny throughout every civilization in the world, in every time period, if we are just deleting the past based on the misdemeanours of its actors, we should basically throw away everything from every moment in time, including now, and declare petulantly that nothing at all was of any consequence because we still don’t have equal rights for women and we are still disempowered.

Case-in-point, JK Rowling. A woman holds one unpopular opinion out of thousands and she gets death threats, people burning her books, and people trying to “cancel” her. Contrast with Donald Trump. He holds thousands of unpopular (and outright nasty) opinions and gets voted president.  Or Jacob Rees-Mogg. Or Dominic Cummings, who didn’t even need anyone to vote for him. All repulsive human beings of the sort I wouldn’t want to step in on the pavement, yet they’re men so they get to hold huge amounts of power and tell us what to do. Whereas JK Rowling has contributed something profound and meaningful to our society and given joy and hope to millions, then she says ONE thing people don’t like hearing, and she gets trashed. Don’t tell me that’s not sexist because it really is.

If we’re erasing everything bad, we can pull down every statue of every man everywhere because they are men and men hurt women in a myriad ways all the time.

Oh, wait, this is one of those things where we topple the bad guys because they were bad and bad things are bad (except when they happen to women because that was her fault because excuse, excuse, excuse, blah, blah, excuse).

I’m starting to see a pattern, and I don’t like it.

People don’t seem capable of thinking critically anymore, all I’m seeing around the world are grown adults acting like six-year-olds in playground cliques. “You can’t play with us because you said something that wasn’t liberal enough.”

Not being liberal enough is the new “not being liberal” which is the new “being a fascist”. It’s not okay anymore to be against racism, to be pro-transgender people, to be pro-feminism, to be against Brexit, you have to do it in the exact right way as the groupthink or you get smashed on social media and all your friends passive-aggressively stop talking to you except that one angry crashing bore who tries to score points with the group by “calling you out”. Which famously alienates people rather than educating them, but it makes the person doing it feel good (we used to call “calling out” “bullying” but not any more) so people continue doing it and people too scared or too empty-headed to write any actual calling out words but who want to enable the bully can now paste screenshots of other people’s decontextualized witterings or they can click the like button. I’ve seen it a lot lately and I don’t like it.

Why can’t we all think for ourselves? Why do we need the nanny state to come and hide away the scary statues of the mean old Scout leaders of the world? Women have been walking through this world for thousands of years without such considerations given to us, and now because it’s affecting men, suddenly we’re worried about a statue because the man who founded Scouts was homophobic. Because the white liberal man has given minorities permission to be outraged, because the white liberal man is outraged on your behalf and his opinion is still the only one that matters. Baden-Powell died in 1941. Everyone was homophobic back then. Hell, everyone was homophobic in 2001.

We absolutely shouldn’t have statues of slavers, we should replace them with statues and road names for BAME individuals who did neat stuff in their locality or nationally, and I agreed about the man that got chucked in the Harbour in Bristol, but threatening Robert Baden-Powell is going too far. We can’t censor the past like this. Otherwise we are no better than Hitler when he got the Nazis to burn the books. And guess what? The ideas in those books didn’t go away and good prevailed over censorship.

And since I mentioned Nazis, I’m invoking Godwin’s law and ending this article here.

 

 

 

 

This is my opinion. We’re still allowed to have those, and we’re allowed to deviate from other people’s opinions.

21 ways to challenge everyday racism against Irish Travellers/Gypsies

The very first thing I ever got published was a letter to my local newspaper when I was 16. I was challenging the racist anti-Irish-traveller rhetoric that Margaret Moran, our Labour MP, was spouting. She really knew how to milk the cameras. The local news ate up her drama and so did her adoring public. I was very pleased to see her downfall during the expenses scandal. She, and our local Liberal Democrats councillors, used to put publications through our letterbox telling us all the ways they were going to get travellers out of “our community”. They thought they could make up all sorts of rubbish about travellers, because a community with low literacy cannot defend itself against printed lies. So I pushed back. We had only been in Luton for a few months and already I was seeing a duplicity, that on one hand, there were services such as Jennifer, the Traveller Education officer who fought hard to get me into a school and managed it in February of GCSE year after I’d been out of school for 3 months, preceded by 3 months in school in a different area, and before that, four more months out of school. But on the other hand there were people going door-to-door telling us what they wanted to do to get “those travellers” out of Luton.

My letter got attacked viciously by people who thought I was “a naive bleeding heart” (they assumed I was a) an adult and b) one of them, who needed teaching about the terrible otherness of travellers).

At the moment the spotlight is rightly on Black Lives Matter but a lot of people are questioning their everyday racism and racist structures in society, so I have written this list of ways you can create a positive, anti-racist environment for Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies (Irish Traveller is one of my ethnicities; maybe I’ll talk about things that apply to the other in a different article):

  1. Pikey and gyppo are derogatory terms. Stop using them. Now.
  2. Stop assuming we are going to shoplift. There are good and bad travellers, like there’s good and bad everybody else.
  3. Challenge local councils when they put out racist information blaming their systemic failures on travellers.
  4. Befriend some travellers. It’s not a “them and us” situation. Travellers are generally friendly, like most other people in the world, if you don’t approach them from a place of racism.
  5. Tolerate them when they stop somewhere. If rubbish is an issue, contact your local council, not to get the rubbish removed, but to challenge their bylaws which state you must register your vehicle, apply for a permit, or show a council tax bill to dispose of rubbish at the recycling centre/tip. These byelaws make it virtually impossible for travellers to dispose of everyday rubbish. Imagine if the local council refused to collect your bin, how much rubbish would be in your garden? In Ireland, bin removal is a privatised service that you choose a company for, so culturally, Irish travellers in Ireland are able to dispose of their rubbish where they’re unable to do this in the UK.
  6. Don’t fall for stereotypes. We actually do pay council tax, where we own land (and houses…) in the UK. Not all travellers are UK residents, and they pay the correct tax in their locality e.g. Ireland, Germany. The easiest way of explaining this (although this is a bit of a reductionist statement) is, do you pay tax to the countries you go on holiday to?
  7. Try to separate the description of the ethnic group from the actions. Some of us live in houses and saying, “that doesn’t make you a traveller, then, does it?” is like telling an Afro-Caribbean person that they’re not Afro-Caribbean because they’re not currently living in Africa or the Caribbean.
  8. Challenge ways society tries to funnel people into living in houses against their will. Why do you need a home address to buy car insurance or road tax, instead of just a registration plate (I’m aware of the just-so story explanation of “risk” postcodes but I refute it)? Why do you need a home address to claim benefits instead of just a National Insurance number? A lot of these sort of laws impact Travellers’ quality of life, and these laws were designed for this purpose. The fact these laws also marginalize homeless people are collateral damage in a white-supremacist power structure.
  9. Challenge cultural appropriation. “Gypsy style” clothing is based on an outdated stereotype which is as offensive as dressing as a Native American. Or putting on blackface. The reason you all get away with it is because Irish Traveller is one of the smallest ethnic minorities in Europe, and Gypsy is another, and we’re generally pretty easy going and preoccupied with more interesting things in life than arguing with idiot country folk (people who are not travellers, i.e. people who have a country). We don’t walk around covered in more gold than Mr. T with money sewn into the hemlines of our skirts, our belts etc. Having said that, anyone who knows me knows I do like gold jewellery, there’s a certain permanence about it.
  10. Challenge hypocrisy: One minute, “gypsy style” clothing is the latest fashion, and in the same breath people can denigrate “gyppos” or “pikeys”. But you’ll wear clothes attributed to us.
  11. Know the differences: Gypsies and Travellers are two separate ethnic minorities under the same banner of nomads, just lumped together for UK statistics because the power structure doesn’t actually care which one we are.
  12. Challenge hipsters calling themselves nomads. They are able to easily be “nomads” because of the fact they are not, in fact, nomadic. They avail of cultural privilege such as their parents having a home address, meaning they can get their documents sent there. They avail of cultural privilege of being able to store all their stuff in their parents’ garage or attic, meaning they can wander around the world with just a carry-on. Real nomads don’t benefit from locality-privilege (IDK if that’s a real word, but it should be).
  13. Challenge “identity verification” services that require a landline phone bill or a council tax bill, or which demand to call you on your landline number to confirm your identity. These are structures put in place to disempower gypsies and travellers.
  14. Challenge power-holding systems that favour “employees” rather than “self-employed”. Most travellers (myself included) are self-employed in work we can do anywhere around the world. This means it’s hard to get a mortgage, a rental contract for a house to live in, and the taxation system makes it difficult to do casual jobs alongside “famine months” where self-employment income is low. The system isn’t set up to allow us to pay tax properly.
  15. Educate your family and friends about their attitudes and opinions. People often hit out at gypsies and travellers because it’s perceived as “acceptable racism” because they aren’t black. These same people hit out at Chinese and other non-black minorities too. Teach them that it’s not okay.
  16. Challenge power-holding systems in the UK (and this is unique to the UK) that say you can only stop in a motorway services (and other “free” car parks) for 2 hours without paying the equivalent of a hotel bill, while simultaneously making it illegal to drive tired. All over the continent, you can stop overnight in services and laybys. Lorry drivers are allowed to stop overnight in some areas of the UK. Why aren’t travellers? They have nowhere else to sleep. These car parks are completely empty overnight, the only reason people can’t overnight in them is systemic capitalist racism designed to marginalize travellers and gypsies.
  17. Stop using “white” like it corresponds to people’s skin colour. Travellers and gypsies do not generally have white privilege unless they participate in non-traveller structures (like I do. I have white privilege most of the time which I fully acknowledge, but that’s because I made a choice to live amongst you and to follow your rules). They do not have a range of privilege afforded to other non-nomadic groups. Stop excluding them from the conversation and narrative, because building an anti-racist society means creating a world where gypsies and travellers are not erased and excluded anymore.
  18. Challenge TV programmes and other media depicting an outdated vision of gypsies, conflating gypsies and travellers (two different groups), and other reductionist, racist practices (and outright erasure).
  19. Challenge laws that are purposely designed to trip up travellers, catch them out, and put them in prison. 5% of the UK prison population and 10% of the Irish prison population are Irish travellers. Amongst 12-18-year-olds, travellers make up 22% of the UK prison population. Amongst women in Ireland, travellers make up 22% of the prison population, too. Only 0.1% of the UK’s population are “gypsy or traveller” and 0.6% of Ireland’s population.
  20. Help travellers you know by providing them with references when they need them, standing up for them as character witnesses, and generally using your privilege to support them.
  21. Challenge enviromnental law-makers who assume people have houses when they are lobbying for policy changes. Travellers who live full-time in caravans do not have the storage space to avail of many of the “reduce your waste” initiatives, such as bulk buying loose produce (where would they put all the billions of empty reusable containers they would need?) and often, these come to you printed on leaflets (and at least 40% of travellers are illiterate), so the chances are they cannot access information about recycling, packaging etc. Bear in mind that two hipsters in a van can easily do things that a family of six in the same space cannot. Environmental laws need to enable travellers to reduce and recycle their waste at every level.

I hope to write a separate article on how educators and schools can enable travellers to succeed, but I’ll need to pull my thoughts together first.

Postcards to my baby: Pattaya

Christmas Day 2017. Twenty-four degrees celsius, if you can believe it. Blue, cloudless sky, punctuated only by palm trees. The sound of the sea, gently rising up the clean sand, leaving gifts of shells for me to find. The calls of men selling hats, water bottles and street food on long bamboo poles or hand-carts as they amble up and down the beach.

For our Christmas dinner, we went to the Hard Rock Café Pattaya, and had a delicious English-style Christmas dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings. After four months in East Asia, it was like coming home, without having to actually go back to England with all its problems.

After we had eaten, a group of twenty or so children arrived and took to the stage, singing Christmas carols they had learned in their English lessons, and their teacher explained how the school had been set up for them. Education is widely seen as the key to ending poverty, and in countries where literacy is low, getting schools built and teachers trained is very important.

I hope by the time you are old enough to see Thailand for yourself, those children are out changing the world and teaching the next generation.

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This is part 2 of my Postcards to my Baby series. Part 1 here. All photos copyright MamaAdventure.

A Photo A Week Challenge: Footwear

This week’s challenge from Nancy Merrill Photography is to share a photo or two of footwear. This photo is the sandals I have been wearing for the past 18 months.

Basically, my feet grew during pregnancy but they got so wide that none of my shoes fitted, so I bought these when we were still living in China, back in late 2018. They’ve been to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Xi’An in China, Osaka in Japan, Oslo in Finland and they’ve been to London, England and Wexford, Ireland before finally leading me to Belfast, where my Jellyfish arrived. Their journey is another point of view that tells the story of my pregnancy and motherhood so far.

They’ve been with me for two Christmases, despite getting some strange looks from the in-laws this Christmas (not sure why… I live indoors so sandals were fine over winter), and I’m still wearing them. I was beginning to think my feet would stay huge permanently.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried my old trainers (sneakers) back on, and found they finally fit me again, but of course, it’s summer now, so I’m still wearing these sandals, except when I go running. My feet have got used to feeling the wind against my toes, and I’m not sure I could go back to wearing closed shoes most of the time.

They’ve become like a good friend whose company I don’t want to part from. Some shoes are like that.

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What is a political issue?

The following are not political issues:
1. Misogyny
2. Racism
3. Homophobia/transphobia
4. Animal cruelty
5. Protecting the Environment
6. Cruelty to children

The following are political issues:
1. How many schools an area has
2. Whether roads are repaired
3. Parking
4. Speed limits
5. The opening times of local parks
6. How a law is written and interpreted

Know the difference. Black lives matter isn’t a political statement, it’s an expression that black people in America are currently not getting their basic human right to life.

If racism bothers you, find another mama blog to follow.

This was in response to some of the commenters I blocked and deleted on my last two posts.

A Template Letter to ask Police to use Bodycams at all times. Send it wide!

Dear Police Department,
I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the use of bodycam and dashcam footage for all law enforcement officers. This is for your benefit and the benefit of the community. Impartial bodycam footage can indemnify you and protect you as much as it can prove allegations against racist cops.

Please let your officers know they should be using bodycams at all times, and ensure they are provided with the resources, training, and workplace policies/culture to be able to do this.

I am also concerned about police violence and I would like it to be known that I do not support or endorse the use of unnecessary force against protesters. Violence does not de-escalate violent situations. It is being disproportionately used against persons of color and this is not acceptable. The police should be protecting people and keeping the peace, not attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Police officers should be using “sideways management” within the force to stop their colleagues from being racist, to challenge racist assumptions, and to report upward through the chain of command any incidents of racism either perpetrated against police officers of color or against the wider black/minority community.

Black lives matter.

Yours sincerely,
A concerned citizen.

Are you a Black woman, or from another Minority Group, and trying to break into romance writing?

Hi, I’m a double USA-today bestselling romance writer with 35 published books under two pen names, and over a dozen number-one bestsellers in category. I’m not JK Rowling (yet), but I have tons of experience with writing and publishing, and I want to help you.

Romance writing is a very white community at the moment. Let’s change that. If you need someone to proofread before you self-publish, or you need advice or help with publishing on KDP or putting together a marketing plan, I will help 100 people with these things pro bono.

I will not tell you whether your book idea is saleable, but I will point you toward resources so you can make your own decisions. In order to make use of this offer, you must have a completed romance manuscript, that has already been self-edited to the best of your ability (don’t worry if this isn’t your strong point). There are plenty of free resources available to help you write a book, and not enough to help you figure out what to do with it once you’ve written it. I will also mentor you and act as a sounding board with getting your book in front of people.

I am especially enthusiastic about sweet and clean romance as this is the area I now work in, but I have written steamier stuff in the past and have tons of advice and experience to share, as well as contacts.

I will also provide a written character reference for anyone I work with, if you need to get a job, housing, education application etc, regardless of your history.

You can get in touch with me through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mamaadventurez/ or comment on this post.

 

Vegan Meaty Stuffed Bell Pepper Tacos

I love stuffed peppers! They’re such an easy way to get more vegetables into your diet and this recipe is super-healthy. This was an experiment in changing things up, because I usually make stuffed peppers with rice, but today I wanted something different, so I filled my peppers with a taco-style filling of soy mince (TVP), sweetcorn and salsa, and topped with my vegan no-blend guacamole but you could also add grated vegan cheese if that’s your thing (or if you have any… I don’t, because my local Sainsbury’s has mysteriously stopped selling all vegan cheese since the lockdown began). This recipe is also perfect for when you are craving tacos but don’t have any taco shells.

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And finally, top with my easy no-blend avocado:

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Ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers
  • Half a cup of dried TVP (soy mince)
  • Half a cup of sweetcorn
  • A pinch of cilantro (leaf coriander)
  • A pinch (or three) of garlic
  • A big dollop of salsa (you can substitute this for some chopped tomatoes and a teaspoon or two of Piri Piri sauce or a teaspoon of any other hot sauce if you don’t have salsa)
  • A teaspoon of Vegemite (or another yeast extract)

 

Method:

  1. Cut the bell peppers in half and remove the seeds.
  2. Reconstitute the TVP with boiling water and add the Vegemite, garlic and cilantro. Mix thoroughly to avoid any Vegemite lumps and leave the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the hot water fully.
  3. Drain off the excess water from the TVP and mix with the sweetcorn.
  4. Put the TVP and sweetcorn mixture into the halves of the bell peppers, taking care not to knock them over. If you have peppers that won’t lie very well in the oven, balance them carefully against each other for support.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a fan oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 6.
  6. Serve with chilled guacamole and salsa.

What’s your favourite thing to put in stuffed peppers? Let me know in the comments!

 

Vegan Homemade No-Blend Guacamole

Serves 2 as a dip or 1 as a big dip. Scale for the number of people you’re feeding.

I looked through some fancy recipes for guacamole but they all needed ingredients I didn’t have, namely, fresh avocado, fresh cilantro and lime juice. So I’ve come up with this recipe to work with the ingredients I actually have, because I’m not the sort of person to keep limes in my house unless I want to specifically make something unusual with them.

I wanted guacamole to top off my vegan meaty bell pepper tacos, because I can’t get vegan cheese right now and tacos without cheese OR guacamole is just crazy talk. Of course, I only thought about guacamole after the bell pepper tacos were already in the oven, so this recipe is quick and easy.

The bell peppers for the taco recipe take 15 minutes and this guacamole recipe took the time after the peppers were in the oven, minus the time it’s taken to write this article. I can’t put the blender on right now, because the baby is asleep and my Ninja sounds like a Harrier Jet when it’s running, plus I really can’t be bothered to clean the thing, so this is a no-blend recipe, too.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Avocado or about 1/2 a mug of frozen avocado (I did this because lockdown).
  • 3 fresh cherry tomatoes. You could substitute this with a tablespoon of tinned chopped tomatoes if you needed to, but it will lose the texture of the fresh tomato skins.
  • A sprinkle of cilantro (aka leaf coriander), I used dried because lockdown but fresh will give a more fragrant result.
  • A teaspoon of lemon juice.

 

  1. Defrost the frozen avocado in a mug. I used the defrost setting on the microwave for 2 minutes, stand for 1 minute, microwave on defrost for 1 more minute, and then I drained the excess water out of the bottom of the cup.
    If using fresh avocado, cut around its long equator, twist, and separate the two halves. Dig out the stone with a dessert spoon. Chop into medium-sized chunks.
  2. Chop the cherry tomatoes into fine pieces. The seeds will come out as you do it. Scrape the seeds, juice and pieces into the cup.
  3. Add the cilantro and lemon juice to the cup.
  4. Mix everything with a fork, mashing the avocado and making sure it’s well-mixed.
  5. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to use it. It should be chilled when served, so make it at least an hour before you want it.
  6. If you’re like me, you didn’t make it an hour before you wanted it. So instead of the fridge, put it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to bring the temperature down, especially if you used a microwave to defrost the avocado. Don’t forget about it or you’ll need to defrost it again. Maybe write a note or something.

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DIY upcycled book caddy from a wine carrier

So I really wanted one of those gorgeous Ikea spice racks that Americans are transforming into book holders for children, but sadly, UK Ikea don’t sell the same spice racks. The ones in the US go for $6.99 and the nearest UK equivalent is £18.

That’s a pretty huge difference, when you consider that a British £1 is worth more than $1 USD. Like, they get the same thing for about £5 that we would have to pay £18 for.

Nope.

So I bought this wooden wine carrier from Hobbycraft. It was unfinished and I measured it. It’s the perfect size for the Gruffalo but about half a centimetre too small to fit any of the Charlie and Lola books in (boo). If Hobbycraft ever make these half a centimetre bigger, I’ll get another one and paint that instead.

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I painted the ends green and the middle red, using cheap acrylic paint from The Works (£2.99 for 6 different tubes of coloured paint) and cheap brushes, also from The Works.

They deliver.

I copied the frog picture from Jellyfish’s favourite bath sponge, a frog we have dubbed Mr. Ribbit. If you’re wondering, the frog sponge is here in a 2 pack.

It took two days to do the whole thing and I feel really proud because I am not very good at painting.

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I can see the frog could have been painted better (by someone other than me, with a steadier hand and better drawing ability) but overall I’m happy with how this turned out. The first thing Jellyfish did when he saw it was try to put it in his mouth so he definitely thinks it looks like his frog sponge.

I can’t wait to put books in it!

Have you made anything this week? Let me know in the comments.