The Best Conversation I’ve ever had

What’s the one thing you’d change about our life as parents?

I wish that I didn’t have Epilepsy.

I don’t.

Really?

Yes. Because your epilepsy has encouraged me to be a much more active Father than I might’ve been. It doesn’t make me very proud to admit, I mean, I’d always wanted to be a parent, but the way our society works I think that if you didn’t have epilepsy I might’ve just done less. I don’t think it would’ve even been conscious but, the truth is, it’s likely I would’ve done less. And I might’ve thought that was OK. And that would’ve been sad. I wouldn’t quite have known how intense being a parent is and I wouldn’t have felt so involved or bonded with our baby so early on. I wouldn’t have believed that going to work was a break or realised how Sexist society still is.

Without epilepsy I might’ve allowed myself to say things like “Well, I have to go to work, so I can’t get up at night” or (at 6pm) “I had such a full on day at work, I’m going to have a rest…” or “I’ve been at work all week so I’m going out with the guys this weekend”. Seemingly little things which add up to hours and hours of my daughter’s life. Of our life. Of experiences that I will never have again. Of seeing her crawl and wave and say ‘Papa!’ of dirty nappies and endless bottles, of  night after night after night, of 1,2,3,4,5am of laundry and cooking and trying to get a vegetable into her. Of what it’s all about, of what I chose when I chose you and we chose to have her.

It’s strange to admit but I guess we have epilepsy to thank for encouraging me to ignore Societies acceptable-male-behaviour to remind me that I am not the Babysitter I am a parent. Equal in all ways to you. We are in this together as partners and having Epilepsy in our lives reminds me of that. And that is an immeasurable gift.

24/7

24/7

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Everyday Sexism

This morning another glorious day dawned and I thought I’d kick-start myself with another pre-work swim. It was SUCH a happy moment to get out of bed with hardly any pain, find my costume, a cup of tea and head out through the sleepy streets with only my towel, water, apricot and my phone. Over the hill I spied the blue, a spontaneous grin spreading from my toes to my nose, I hurried on keen to get into the water. As I neared the seafront I saw a few towel-carrying folk, we smiled happily at each other, sharing the delight of our common pre-work-swim-ideas!

DontPanicAndCarryATowel

I started down the steps from the road to the beach, half way down a man was leaning to one side. He was white, shaven head, over 6ft possibly around 40yrs old, I’m not sure, but something just felt WRONG. I kept my eyes down and casually moved to the other side of the steps, speeding up my pace. As the staircase wound around the corner I found myself almost face to face with him. He suddenly was a lot nearer and out of the corner of my eye I noticed him undo his pants and start having a wank whilst following me…….leering at me.

brighton-steps

My stomach turned over, it happened so quickly, was so disgusting I didn’t have time to register it properly, I just knew I had to get away from him ASAP. I jumped the last couple of steps to the beach and headed over to a group of people on the beach, trying to look like I was with them. Furtively glancing back I saw he’d stopped following. My heart was pounding up into my chest. I felt sick. My hands shook.

A few 100m further down the beach I sat down and breathed. So much for my morning-relaxation-float-in-the-blue! I thought about what to do. I decided to report it to the police, I was scared and if he’d scared me then who knows what he might  do to someone else. So I found their non-emergency number (101) and called and there, in some points the real saga started.

brighton_beat

I have never reported something to the police like this before. I was stunned by how much the process reminded me of trying to speak to Doctors. So constrained are they by buercracy and paperwork, by The System, it seems that common sense, care and basic compassion just go out of the window. It was a bemusings experience. After a 20minute game of pass-the-call-on I was asked for basic facts, no one asked how I was, if I was OK, physically or emotionally hurting…I was told that a patrol would come pass, check the area and they’d call me to speak to me. So I waited, alone, scared and trying to block out the gross image racing around my mind.  40minutes later I got a call saying they’d had to go elsewhere but if I’d like to come to the police station then they would see me. I did NOT want to spend my time in a station to do what? Explain that hours ago some guys waggled his cock at me??! The police thanked me for doing my duty which I found totally surreal and made to feel like I was working for THEM and not vice-versa. I felt that my report was not taken seriously, I was not offered any support, the thanks was misplaced and just weird. What did they mean?- Thank you for receiving abuse this morning?! Thank you for helping us identifiy Baddies?! Thank you for giving us work?!

On the Baddie note – whilst I feel what this guy did was disgusting, threatening and horrible. I also thought WOW what must’ve happend in this guy/life/mind/psyche to lead him to this?! He needs help and maybe locking up but HELP too. In the hands of the police I felt there would be NO HOPE of that. All in all it was a throughly depressing experience, both the event and my subsequent dealings with the Police. I am grateful he didn’t touch me and my heart goes out to those who have been hurt far worse. Being in Brighton another dark thought occured to me, I wonder how seriously the Police would’ve taken my report if I was a man upset by this. I suspect even less seriously than they took me…..

So far in this blog, I have dabbled with writing bits of femenism here and there and glidded over many topics which have shaped my life. Out of fear, out of not being ready and because even writing down these things is hard never mind, publishing them for all to see. However, this mornings events have made me re-think, assess and decide to try and face even more of my truths.  One of those is the fact that I can’t handle talking/writing/thinking about abuse. Any type of abuse, particularly  sexual abuse. Now I know it’s an unpleasant topic for everyone, not nice. Clearly. However for me, an aggressive love-makng scene in a film can give me nightmares, hearing the word RAPE brings tears to my eyes and panic to my breath, over hearing neighbours fighting TERRIFIES me for days. I am working my way through this. Acknowledging this, working with it is my first step and I am proud that I am brave enough to do so.

It stuns me that despite living in the most liberal time where everyone talks about equality so much gender-based discrimination still happens daily. How can we pride ourselves on ‘Progress’ when this is still the case? Why did the Police make me feel that what happened today was OK? Why do I get wolf-whisteld at when I walk past the construction site on the corner? Why is it acceptable for strangers to grope me on the bus or in a crowd?  Why are we not allowed to talk about it? Why was this the first time I’ve reported it to the police when actually I need to use my toes to count how many times this type of thing has happened to me in my adult life?! Our society is unfair, unequal and totally Patriachal. In a million small every-day ways I am made to feel that this gropping-wanking-in-my-face-bum-pinching-wolf-whistling-cat-calling place is HOW THINGS ARE and as a woman, I just have to SUCK IT UP. Well I won’t. I am too strong, if I am blessed with a child one day I dont want that for her or him. I want the truth to be shown and I want to be able to talk about it. If we talk about it more perhaps it will change.

akorra

If you have experienced Sexism, check out The Everyday Sexism Project – an amazing site which catalogues instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. Say as much or as little as you like, use your real name or a pseudonym – it’s up to you. By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.

Iyanla Vanzant

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Free To Love

I originally posted this piece on March 28th and then I took it down. I was too angry, it was full of negative energy and the reason for my anger was yet to be resolved, I was afraid. Now that love has triumphed and we’ve won the day, I want to share it again. This time with more love, positivity and hope. It is a story of how despite the challenges society throws at us we all have the ability to Choose Love.

healing

Elephants are incredible travellers. I was once camping under only a mosquito net in a sand river bed in Tanzania, I slept well. I remember waking up at dawn and seeing the sand, less than 1m from my net completely covered by huge elephant tracks. A whole herd must have passed me totally unnoticed in the night. Simply incredible that such huge creatures can move with such stealth and that they didn’t step on me! Elephants can walk up to 48km/30miles at a stretch, crossing borders and whole continents with ease. This fact regularly brings them into conflict with humans and their need for such huge ranges is one of the greatest challenges the species faces. Despite this, sometimes I wish I was an Elephant. To roam that far and free, no money, no papers, what a wonderful thing that would be.

Passing Elephant footprints

Passing Elephant footprints

Several years ago I, like billions of people around the world met someone who changed my life, I fell in love and he’s now my husband. I also know that there are many people for whom this never happens. I therefore feel blessed that I am surrounded by love and living a life in love. I believe that all this love benefits not only me and my immediate family but also the community around us. People who are full of love, are happier, healthier and more productive.

It just so happens that by a quirk of fate the person I fell in love with was born on the other side of the world to me, grew up speaking a different language, was educated in a different way and has different coloured skin. Do any of these facts change him? Change me? Change our marriage or our love? Of course not. Or so I thought…However, it saddens me to answer that according to UK government and many individuals I have met, yes it makes all the difference in the world and changes everything. I am trying to comprehend, trying to choose love and not hate. Understanding that immigration is complicated, understanding that there are a minority who want to use the system for their own criminal ends, understanding that space is finite….but also just wanting to be allowed to love- in peace.

The British media are perhaps the biggest culprits in this. ‘Everyday’ love after all, is dull, supposedly common place, it doesn’t sell. What does sell is evil: underage marriages, visa’s for sale, human trafficking, forced marriage, visa scams, economic migration and the arrogant idea that Britain is the best place on earth to live and we must protect our perfect land from the hordes of desperate-foreigners-willing-to-sell-body-parts to get into our Promised Land of wonders we humbly call home. These ideas supported by UK press are pretty much the common view that people who have not had cause to deal with the UK Home Office hold and I admit it was a topic that until we announced our engagement I too was woefully ignorant of and was likely to not pay too much attention to.

I was stunned that when people found out that my fiancé was not from the UK, not even European but actually from Colombia, even if I had only just met them they felt entitled to say to me: ‘Oh but why are you marrying him?’… ‘Do you love him?’… (In a knowing way) ‘ahhhh of course for the visa, Great! Well of course after you’ve done all the papers you won’t need to carry on seeing each other often!’….’but why? are you pregnant?’ …’I know what Latin men are like are you sure?’ and perhaps most shockingly ‘how interesting, is he paying you?’ I have been asked all of these questions several times, by people of many nationalities including British people and by other Colombians. It makes my blood boil. Imagine a couple who were both born in Britain, both from White families and graduates from a redbrick University announcing their engagement. Does anyone honestly think that they would be subjected to these questions and statements? Would anyone even think to ask them? Most certainly not. Over-ridding all of this was the assumption by the British people I know that as soon as we got married, we would be legally seen as exactly the same as any other couple, to an extent I even thought this too. How wrong I was.

We got married because we love each other and wanted to celebrate this amazing fact with the world. To publically and spiritually promise to embark on the amazing journey of life together. We discussed where we wanted to live. Colombia is an amazing place and I would love to live there, it’d be great for my Spanish and I would like to spend more time with the incredible and unusual women who raised my husband. However, my family are in the UK and at the time we both had jobs here, so we decided on the UK, at least initially.

Love

This is the marriage process people assume we went through (how ‘British’ couples marry):1. Announce Engagement CONGRATULATIONS! – 2.book ceremony 3. Pay for wedding venue/ general wedding 4. Sign on the dotted line 5. Welcome to happily-ever-after!

This is what we had to do: 1. Announce Engagement CONGRATULATIONS!

2. Ask permission to get married cost: £1000

3. Find a venue willing to marry mixed national couples, pay for wedding

4. Sign on the line…

5. Submit marriage application to home office: Include photos and detailed personal history of our relationship Inc.: health, bank details, family history, cannot leave country (in fact even town) for 3 months then and you must be available for interview at any time….They also have the right to interview any/all of your family too. The home office can DISALLOW your marriage at ANYTIME during this period.

Just some of our paperwork...

Just some of our paperwork…

6. If approved (luckily we were) you then enter a 2 year probation period during which the home office checks on you, monitors your movements, you cannot leave the UK for longer than 2 months at a time and neither of us is allowed to go on ANY benefits. As is obvious in this blog I am not well, maintaining a job is a challenge. If I was married to someone English I would be eligible for benefits, but as I have chosen LOVE I am not. Our 2 year period has just ended and happily we are more in love than ever.

7. After 2 years if you do not continue in the system and reapply for ANOTHER visa you can be deported anytime. Literally taken off the street and forced on a plane. I would have no rights as his wife to see him if this happened. So we are forced to toe-the-line. We have to now pay £1,377, submit a 37page document again charting our relationship, including photos and health, bank details, family history in both UK and Colombia and again we cannot leave country and we must be available for interview at any time. We have to submit SIX separate letters to prove we have lived together for the last two years and even then they could still refuse and deport my husband. My husband also has to take the ‘Life in the UK test’ another £90, for which he had to buy text books to prepare for about £50. This gem includes such questions (that all UK residents obviously know the answer to) on which date did women get the right to maternity leave in England? And ‘What is the Queens favourite colour?’

Incredibly, wonderfully we have just got approval. It arrived in the post yesterday and I felt like it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! We now don’t have to think about this for another 10 years! Instead of being angry I now find it amusingly ridiculous that the powers that be call this ‘Unlimited-Leave-to-remain’. um no… Dearest Home Office… unlimited means – no limit – 10 years is a very definite limit. I think you should take an English Language test- I know a great English Teacher if you need me to recommend one as it looks like you need help.

During the next 10 years we will be taxed like all UK citizens (as we have been always) but my husband will be unable to vote. This is criminal – he works SO hard, pays so much tax and yet by being granted the ‘honour’ of living a life of love he is not allowed any say on how his hard-earned tax is spent.

8. After 10 years, if we so wish we can THEN and only then apply for him to have a passport and become a British citizen…………

This is the reality of marrying a foreigner. We are not elephants, we are people and we make something as simple as love insanely hard. This is the real scandal of immigration. That the innocent are treated as criminals. That the media, the BNP, UKIP, Tories and many others in power are allowed to continue to treat humans in this way.

If you have had run-ins with the Home Office I’d love to hear from you!

Phew, feels great to get that out! But even better now that I know my husband won’t be taken from me! After spending a small fortune on achieving something that should be our right here’s hoping the government will now leave us be. Here’s to the next 10 years!

One Love xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Love

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One Love Lawyers

It has come to my attention that people enjoy making sweeping negative generalisations about certain occupations. Traditionally, Estate Agents, Parking Wardens, McDonald’s employees, Energy Companies, Lawyers and most recently Bankers have come under fire.

Today I thought I would share my experience with the world regarding one of those most terrible of people…a Lawyer. Until I met this man, until I found myself in need of him I too was likely to think Lawyer = gold-digging-blood-sucker. He opened my eyes and changed my mind.

I was having a very difficult time with my employers at the time, they freaked out after ‘remembering’ I was epileptic, one thing lead to another and I soon found myself battling mountains of paperwork and discrimination. I didn’t know what to do, where to go or how to even get out of it. I was so stressed my Epilepsy got worse. Citizen’s Advice were sort of useful but could only tell me enough to know I needed more help, charities had too little funding and sent me back to the Advice bureau. It was a vicious circle and I was stuck. My family tried to help, but what could they do? None of us understood all the legal jargon being thrown around.

Until a friend of a friends, friends, friend (you get the picture! someone I totally didn’t know!) heard my story. Out of the blue I got an email from a man saying he was an Lawyer specialising in employment law. He said he would advise me pro-bono. From that moment, I felt a huge weight lift. He explained all my rights clearly, un-patronisingly, he responded to emails/texts/calls within about 5minutes. He came tomy house to talk things through with me several times. He wrote letters in support of me. It was an enlightening experience to see how Lawyers really work. How they have the amazing power to really help transform someone’s life for the better. He helped me to hold my head up, and have authority in a pretty grim situation,  having a stranger believe in you is a powerful thing.

Sadly for Legal reasons I can’t name him, but I wanted to share this story with the world wide web. I am sure there are Baddie lawyers. It is a human fact – Baddies are everywhere! But I hope my story will make people think twice, before they brand entire occupations as the embodiment of evil and greed. One Love to all including Estate Agents, Parking Wardens, McDonalds employees, Energy Companies, Bankers and especially Lawyers!

Awesome

 

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