Pregnancy tales: Scan day

Today is scan day. The anomaly scan. 20 weeks. It’s been eight weeks since I was last “sure” and feels like eight weeks of a held breath.
My fears have varied. Superstition has crept in. I can’t even allow myself for a minute to commit words to a page about the experience, lest loss take our babies.
I had hoped to share the joys, the vomity thrills and spills, the ups and downs of carrying these two wishes within, but the terror even of writing a few lines to express the relief which comes with each sensation of movement, in case it might be jinxed and all will come tumbling down, is simply too big.
I speak of my fears but far, far less of my hopes. I look for portents everywhere. I wait. 


#FlashFiction: The Day Sleeper

Her room is different from any room in the house, she chose it for that very reason aged six. The window into the loft faces to the east. It is the only window in the house that catches every sunrise, letting the early morning light flood in each day. It would always awake her and bring a clean new day. A new start in which she would see, in her sunny constancy, opportunity, hope and industry. She would arise with purpose and energy. The energy was now but a whispered memory. Now we know each evening that room fills with gloom, something which never mattered when it was not her sanctuary, her retreat. The gloom seems to soothe her day time sleep, compensating for the fitful nights punctuated by painful coughs.

Today, she slept through most of the morning. Ignoring the brightness of the day. Before noon, I hear the strains of Puccini’s Humming Chorus shimmering through the air from her room. It is a blue day and there is no intervention which can salve the dull pain that accompanies it. I decide to enact the kindness of a breakfast tray knowing, even as I carefully assemble it, it will go ignored. But there is so little time, so little opportunity to show even the smallest acts of love.
I know she walks down a path from which there is no return and I fear it with every fibre of my being. My beautiful child, vacated from life and waiting.
I set the tray down on her bedside table and she almost raises a smile as I sit next to her, pressing my weight onto the mattress and causing the tiniest of movement in her still frame. Her golden hair is matted to her skin by sweat as I push it back from her cheek, but her alabaster skin shines with an ethereal radiance as if all she has left is the luminescence of angels. She reaches her slight hand to mine and interweaves her index finger with mine and squeezes almost imperceptibly.
“Thank you mummy.”
I almost choke at the sound of her raspy and ravaged voice. It’s the first time she has been able to speak in days. My heart is broken at my baby’s change from vibrant 22 year old to crumbling, fragile patient.

The following morning I look out of the windows, see the brightness of the sunrise picking out the greens and blues of the summers day. The yellows, whites and violets of the spring flowers cheerfully nod in the gentle breeze and a murmuration of starlings undulates in the sky above the kitchen window as I stand by the sink. I go to her room with a jug of water and, on entering the light filled room I set it on the side without looking to the bed. But as I straighten back up I see the utter stillness of the bed. It is occupied, but empty. 

My lungs evaporate.

Poetry: Pause in Breath

Been holding my breath for weeks.
The weight and nausea suggest hope

But I fear my breath may clear out the space

Rendering me empty.

So I hold

And wait


Aspiring to Inspire: A Feminist Beauty Queen?

When you think “beauty queen” a stereotype springs to mind – its generally of perfectly preened women with no greater goal than seizing a winner’s tiara.
Harleen Sidhu’s resume looks more like that of a woman who will go on to change the world – she holds two degrees, writes poetry in Punjabi and English, teaches English at a secondary school and comes from a background of voluntary work. She is not your all-garden pageant princess. She has fought to overcome anxiety and her mantra “‘get up, dress up, show up and never give up’ has been key to putting herself forward to be crowned Miss Birmingham 2017.

But Harleen’s prize will not be the crown, rather this feminist hopes that she can seize the opportunity the competition represents to help others and to inspire.

“Having led a life where I have witnessed the pressures and turmoil women have to face, particularly within my own South Asian community,” she says. “I feel that I can relate and understand the sheer fear of women unable to pursue their own dreams or express their opinion in society.

“I am hoping that my journey as a Miss Birmingham Finalist and my work for the charity “Beauty with a Purpose” inspires other young girls and women that they should not feel chained or pressured into doing something they don’t wish to do, but in fact doing something they think they couldn’t do by pushing themselves and taking that one step. Women are incredible and history has shown us this time and time again.”

This is something ingrained in Harleen by her own inspiration – her Mum.

She adds: “Seeing her struggles and working with her to move forward in our lives has been the driving force for where I stand today.”

Harleen hopes that the Miss Birmingham competition will mean the beginning of much more, with an eye to the future of bringing together her passions of community service and lifelong learning through plans for her own organisation to support adult learners.

She adds: “I aspire to inspire. Making a difference to someone’s life through gaining a new set of skills or confidence to put their opinion across is not something we can put a price on. These skills that we cannot see seem unrealistic or even impossible to some who have no confidence left, or have been through a negative experience that has taken ‘the right to learn new things’ away from them.”

* The Miss Birmingham 2017 finals take place at the Burlington Hotel in Birmingham on Sunday, May 21 2017. To vote for Harleen text MISSBIRMINGHAM11 to 63333. Texts cost 50p plus the standard network rate and proceeds go tot he charity Beauty With A Purpose.

Poetry: Grief Stalks Me

I’m having to run at the moment. I’ve made a commitment, despite being awful at it. The only bonus and problem is that it gives me time to think. The thinking generated this:

I run, 

Grief stalks me in the trees, 

Camouflaged against the leaf line,

Hits my heart with dart.

I drop,

Paralysed and stymied 

Gasping for air 

Reaching for memory.

I get up, 

And run again, 

She still lurks within the bowed branches,

Waits for me to pass through shade, her arrows steadied and waiting.

I run, Grief stalks me.

Life, With Intent: Mini Break Chic

So this month I joined my husband-to-be on his work trip to Malmö. Just a couple of days for an adventure into Scandinavia promised to be a fun and novel experience.

No flash dash around the High Street for me – just a super frugal £18.28 splurge in the local charity shops meant I was kitted out for all eventualities.
Top tip for travelers – Sweden in April is ridiculously cold. Don’t believe the reassuring weather app – the wind off the sea into Malmö freezes you to the bone.
Nonetheless I prefer to travel in a dress – jeans involve belts which have to be removed and metal rivets which set off alarms. I found this great DKNYC dress for just £6 in the Helen & Douglas House shop. It’s a dry clean only – but I knotted my courage and threw it in the washing machine on a delicates wash – it worked out fine as I remembered to reshape while wet.

I traveled comfortably in this great summer dress, wrapped up in a cream M & S coat bought for me from Oxfam a few months earlier and wearing my trusty Kors leather sandals (I refer you back to my pieces on Ethical 366: Style Me In Seconds and #Ethical366: The May Edit – Shoe Spectacular). I even accessorised with three gorgeous glass bead Shaard bracelets, also from the Helen & Douglas House store, on a 3 for £2.50 deal.

But the cold, Scandinavian air (paired with some odd looks from the locals at my bare legs) became too much so I had to nip to a coffee house toilets to change into my jeans.

Jeans are always a great fall back and, having broken the zip on my favourite skinny jeans I’d picked up these blue rag & bone jeans, a snip at just £2.99 in The British Heart Foundation shop before my trip. I also slipped on a sheer butterfly print Wallis blouse, bought for £4 from Helen & Douglas House. Thankfully I also had a pair of Melissa flats, with heart detail, donated to me by my kind and dear friend Isla.

The second and final day I teamed the jeans with a white Cotton Traders shirt which I’d bought from the British Heart Foundation for just £2.79, an easy match for a smart casual look.

• Why not challenge yourself to a mini-break charity shop trip? I’d love to see the results – share them with me via the comments, Twitter or Facebook!

Life, With Intent: Striving to live a better life

I don’t think I can be alone in thinking that, surely, it can be better than this?

I’m finding that this way of being of a cycle of production and consumption is proving unfulfilling. The idea of being a mindless consumer drone being spoonfed fashion, food trends and culture is now as unappealing as it can be. The idea of being both a resource and a market, on top of being indentured to institutions through debt, is dehumanising and gross.

Surely it can be better than this?

Each time I look at the recycling box, my heart becomes a little heavy. I can see that our consumption alone is weighing down the world with pointless packaging. There is always a cardboard box or sleeve, always plastic film and often a plastic tray. I have a friend who works in the recycling world and she tells me that dark coloured plastics cannot be recycled because the machines in use simply don’t see it. Think on to how many foodstuffs now come to you from the supermarket which are laid enticingly across a black or brown plastic tray. All this stuff to sell us just fresh produce.

Surely it can be better than this?

In exploring Ethical clothing through the Ethical 366 project I found that there was so much more to the supply chain in clothing – clearly the mass production of anything comes with the same compromises in ethics to allow for quantity. I don’t think though it is acceptable that, in producing clothes, children might die or places in the world will be scarred by mass production.

Surely it can be better than this?

Being in a world where large corporations make life altering and ending decisions, snowballing political movements sweeping events before them and where change feels remote it is so very easy to feel small within it.

Sometimes though, the mere act of trying to live a better life, to seek and tell the truth and to accept that, yes, I have room to improve can be a basis of revolution. Having conversations with people around us, in public, challenging wrongdoing and lies can be more revolutionary than political involvement.

Time for me and my family to start our own revolution of living a way in which our good intent is lived out in our choices.

Poetry: Painting the Concrete

Recently I went with my partner to visit one of the poorest areas in Sweden for his work. Ramels Väg in Rosengård is full of high rise appartments which are interspersed with works of public art – something that it has in common with many British housing projects. We also discovered a shrine to a boy who was murdered there just a week and a half before.

This poem was inspired by my visit.

Paint the concrete many colours

Draw murals from the grey

Place art between the high rises

Insert beauty where you may.

There are figures here not bronzed into eternity

There are bodies of people here, not works

There are no colours which can beautify

Tarmac and playgrounds painted in red.

Bringing Change: Hope Means Action

Imagine walking a half marathon every day, just to have the water to drink…
So in my last Bringing change post – New Growth – I’d identified that I wanted to turn the promise of Hope into change and to make my loss to be a trigger for bringing good into the world.
The problem with me is that I never like to do things by halves, so I’ve already thrown myself into fundraising for various charities. One of these is so closely tied to my work that I cannot speak about it here. The other is a fabulous cause which I have supported in the past and that my readers have kindly kicked in donations to back up my fundraising zeal.

CARE International UK’s Walk In Her Shoes captured my imagination last year because of its energy in bringing water sources closer to communities in poverty stricken areas – specifically aiming to take the distances out of the water supply so women and girls spend less time walking to fetch water and could spend more time in school to advance themselves and their communities.

Each morning in south Ethiopia, 14-year-old Ayanna rises before dawn to walk 11 kilometres to fetch water for her family. She walks with others to the well because of the threat of hyenas and foxes, who have attacked children from her kabele (village) before. Water is vital to support the family and their livestock, so the walk must be done. Once there the women and children work together to fill their 20 litre jerry cans, before bringing the heavy load back home, a three-hour-effort, to filter it through scarves. The water is not clean and can often contain leeches.

“I have been collecting the water since I was nine years old,” Ayanna says.

She dreams of becoming a teacher, but she has little time for school and her journey ‘makes me tired’ she says.
She repeats her journey in the afternoon and only when Ayanna arrives home at 4pm, having walked more than half a marathon, can she have her second and final meal of the day, anshirro, a milky maize mix, 11 hours since she breakfasted on the same thing. She has been awake for approximately 17 hours and is exhausted. “I would like time to play,” she says, but even if there was time, she’d be too tired. “There is always a feeling of pain,” she states simply. Fatigue and pain have become her closest companions.   

The idea behind “Walk In Her Shoes” is to take the load off of children like Ayanna – by walking 10,000 steps a day to raise money to pay for clean and safe water closer to the communities who need it most. CARE International also work to provide separate latrine facilities in schools for boys and girls so that another obstacle to girl’s education can be swept away.

Last year I raised £190 for the charity by completing a total of 75,044 – I hope to smash both these totals this year (whilst running two miles a day for another matter). I hope you can get behind my efforts to support this cause via my JustGiving site.

Ethical 366: The End of an Ethical Year

It has been a big year – not just because of the extra leap year day!

Since I started my quest to clean up my clothing act in February 2016, life has brought me a whole basket of goodies – dealing with loss, love and the world has proven to be more time consuming than the time I had to give. Writing was one of the things that had to fall by the wayside, but my drive to improve the ethics of my shopping did not.

In exploring the world of clothes manufacture and the murky and complex supply chain of many mass produced fabrics, I came to see that almost all brands struggle to be able to even definitively state that new clothes had not been made in a way that was harmful to the environment or made with child or slave labour. It was obvious to me that, with the new knowledge I had gained, fast fashion would no longer work for me and I needed to be more conscientious in my fashion choices.

Sticking to my budget of £26 each month, in line with the national average spend on clothing, I’ve found charity shops to be the best way of keeping in style within a budget. Charity shops have proven an absolute cornucopia of goodies to support a better way of dealing with fashion on my own terms – re-using fast fashion and giving something back to the world.

I’ve found that less money and more conscious shopping can mean better quality, greater consideration of wardrobe and braver attitudes to a “dry clean only label”. If you go to most charity shops you’ll find a lot of label items, usually having landed there because their owners don’t want to face taking the item to a dry-cleaners but cannot bear to bin it. This has been to my benefit and I’ve found Ralph Lauren, DKNYC and L.K. Bennett and many other brands I’d never be able to afford new and in a variety of luxurious fabrics. A word to the wise – wool must be treated with respect – silk and other fabrics you can be a bit cavalier with but not wool!

I’ve learned that you should think carefully in buying any piece as to what you will use it for and whether or not certain low quality fabrics are worth it even when your outlay is just a few pounds – note to the discerning shopper – if it is made of silky polyester it is probably not going to make it through more than a handful of day-to-day wears without a tear or two.
Even though the year of the Ethical 366 is over I have no plans to abandon a more considered and ethical approach to shopping. I’m not sure for a start I could return to the overwhelming High Street, with its lack of diversity and overwhelming ranges of clothes of questionable provenance (at best). The whole project has left me with a need to make more change in my own and my family’s life and to seek out a way that limits the impact on others and the world around me.

So, with that in mind, I’ll still be writing about my charity shop and ethical clothing goodies, and will also explore ethical cosmetics, cleaning products, ways of working, community projects and, frankly, any fantastic things which help me to embrace my approach to living a more sustainable and conscientious life – look out for the upcoming Life, With Intent series starting soon!

• Have you followed the progress of the #Ethical366 project? Has it inspired you to change in any way? Would you change the way you shop? Please let me know….