If you are still following these, I apologise but here we are. We’ve travelled through the midwinter of our fishing quotas and tier changes, and arrived at the sunlit uplands of flooding and the personal email I received from the CEO of Tesco I got yesterday, telling me there weren’t going to be food shortages.
I have really appreciated the space to say (rant) the things that have mattered to me and the people around me, during this nightmarish year – even though I didn’t get time to cover a lot of things I wanted to (especially housing, especially activist lawyering, especially compassion) and could essentially write 365 of these jolly and uplifting little nuggets in order to complete my descent into madness on a wide range of social media platforms (except TikTok).
I had great plans today to write something about love, and that wispy-steely thing I think of as grace, how the people who make change are right here with us, in our towns, and next to us in our homes, and it’s us, it’s us.
But my children have inexplicably asked to spend time with me, without my phone on or my laptop open. So that’s my radical act for today, and for the rest of the month/time as an EU citizen. I’m off to finish off my dogshit gifts for everyone and hug the people in my house and finish reading Danny Champion of the World with my 9 year old and then get arsey about failing to make Tiramisu. That’s my silver lining, this Christmas. My family, my home, my joys, my community. Lucky me.
So, having shared my silver linings, I’m going to do one last thing today and buy gifts for those who have none of those things. Maybe you can do it too. Choose Love. And wherever you are this year, on your own or surrounded by friends and family – Merry Christmas x
Yesterday, I did my last day of work before Christmas, and since my children had played a mere 300 hours of Roblox Adopt Me this week, I took them out for a walk in the pouring rain and 3 feet of mud to celebrate the start of the holidays proper.
The break this year will, for us at least, involve the usual things: time with the kids, large cups of tea, eating the festive goods we ransacked from the aisles of Tesco using a flame thrower and stinger spikes, and avoiding death from the two (current at time of writing) mutant strains of the Coronavirus. Still, at least we’re not in a lorry in Kent.
But while we get to put our feet up at home, across the country, NHS workers are working flat out, in unbelievably dangerous conditions, to care for the millions of us right now who need medical support.
I don’t know how to talk about the NHS at the best of times, and the way it has saved my life, saved the lives of my children. I certainly don’t know how to talk about the bravery of those front line staff working during a once in a century pandemic that has (to date) killed nearly 70,000 people in the UK.
So, this summer I stood on my doorstep and clapped for carers, every week for 10 weeks.
The first week, while I clapped, I had a think about the decade of funding cuts that poor planning that had resulted in staff shortages so severe that we urgently need to recruit 5,000 nurses from abroad every year, and the fact that our own proposed immigration policies make it harder for us to staff hospitals and care homes. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/positions/nhs-workforce
The second week, I clapped alongside a government that got rid of student nursing bursaries in 2015, further contributing to the shortage of UK NHS staff. I was also by this point heavily embroiled in the fallout from a comment I made in a community Facebook Group about not clapping for carers if you voted for the Conservative Party, which is what I do for kicks now that I’m no longer allowed to base jump or test pilot fighter jets. But I digress.
By the third week of clapping, I was thinking about the fact that there has been no national NHS workforce strategy since 2003, which means that if our lack of strategy was a person, it would be old enough to legally drive. Maybe an ambulance.
Week 4 I banged some spoons together on the patio because two thirds of NHS trusts charge their staff for the use of hospital car parks. Those with paid for permits still have no guarantee there will be spaces available, and sometimes have to pay private companies extra to park elsewhere. This was paused in June 2020 (because of campaign work) but is (merry Christmas!) creeping back in. https://www.unison.org.uk/at-work/health-care/big-issues/hospital-parking-charge-far/
Week 8: Honked a vintage car horn I found in the shed, for all the food parcels and crisis grants that had to be given out to carers and NHS staff this year, to help them have enough to eat and to heat their homes while they are risking their lives at work.
I’m on holiday. The holidays are here. I’m taking it easy. I declare this plague island festive season to be officially OPEN and my true love and I will be marking it with the annual reading of this review of Love Actually, without which it would not be Christmas. Later on we might watch the first 12 minutes or so of several romantic holiday movies in order to live tweet every abusive relationship and breach of the sexual offences act we spot in them – a much cherished family tradition. Keira Knightly was 17 when this film was made! Please enjoy.
A bold statement, perhaps, from a government that had so very recently, and with no apparent sense of irony, awarded MP’s an extra £10,000 for working from home, while refusing to raise the value of vouchers given to pregnant women and their children for fruit, vegetables and milk from £3.10 to £4.25 per week.
So mysterious are the workings of the Hancock mind, that we are unable to say whether this statement was deliberately designed to prompt Marcus Rashford to step from the side lines at that point, and assist the government with a series of Premier League standard own goals over the last 6 months.
One can only assume that an elaborate long con is in play, a veritable Queen’s Gambit of refusing to ensure children have food during the school holidays before, in fact, being ‘forced’ to ensure children have food during the holidays by a 23 year old who demonstrates things like ‘decency’ and ‘leadership’.
All we can say for sure is that only a football player could have combined grace and power as Marcus Rashford has over the course of this year.
Who else, when raising enough money to provide enough food for over 4.2 million meals for children and families who might not otherwise eat during the crisis, and raising the profile of food poverty more than any other person since the creation of the welfare state, made sure it was his mum he gave credit to, who raised him as a single parent while working 3 jobs.
Who else, when successfully influencing government policy with his #MakeTheUTurn campaign, ensuring 1.3 million vulnerable children could continue to access food through the holidays, and launching a book club to give those children access to endless worlds and ideas, made sure it was the families themselves who were given a voice.
Who else would bring together thousands of local businesses, councils and charities to ‘do their bit’ and ensure the welfare of children is at the heart of how a community thrives.
Who else, when made an MBE by an increasingly nervous set of government ministers unable to openly dismiss him, said he felt like he shouldn’t have received it yet because he was just getting started. Just getting started. Omg.
This year, even on the bright and sunny days, things have sometimes been grim. Today, the shortest day, after weeks of fog and rain, with everything that has happened, it feels we are creaking endlessly away from the sun.
But if there’s one thing this year has shown, it’s that there is always light somewhere. Marcus Rashford is a reminder, in a terrible time, that when you use the resources you have to commit to kindness, that goes out into the world, and there is no way of knowing how much good it will do. When you offer people support, and respect, you never know who they are going to turn out to be. Who knows how many children have been watching Marcus this year, gently and absolutely refusing to take no for an answer, and what they themselves will go on to achieve. All I do know is, we are going to need them.
FREE PLEASE watch Marcus and his mum for yourself, to understand better than anyone else can explain how the system is not set up for families on low incomes to succeed, no matter how hard they work. And what you can do about it. Tonight, BBC1, 7pm
SELF CARE I don’t get emotional much because I’m basically dead inside and my heart is made of stone but can confirm I will be cathartically ugly crying whenever his mum talks about how proud she is of him, with a large slice of stollen – please feel free to join.
It’s like I always tell people – I like my coffee like I like my men: ethically sourced, best matched with my I ❤️ Bognor Regis mug, and living their truest lives free from the crushing expectations of a patriarchal society.
We don’t often talk about men – they’re a much overlooked minority. So, here are some men facts for you: Men are three times more likely to die by suicide, three times as likely to self medicate mental illness with alcohol and drugs, and far less likely to talk to their peers, their GP or to professionals about their mental health. 40% of men say they would have to be suicidal before accessing this kind of support, which when you think about it, is a bit of a mad way for society to function.
Perhaps it has something to do with the way society teaches our children that boys should suppress their emotions, and should be tough all the time and compete all the time (even down to the way you hold a conversation). They are assumed to be more rowdy or aggressive – and less accountable for it when they are. Boys don’t cry. Man up. Grow a pair. Boys will be boys.
In a patriarchal society, this is what comes for children, as soon as they are old enough to understand their place in the world. It’s the flip side of what happens to girls at the same age – the sliding away of confidence in their own decisions, in their own bodies – but it’s the same system at work.
We’ve all seen the little boys in our lives losing their willingness to talk about their worries, or their joy. We’ve all seen the girls asking if they’re fat, or couching all their good ideas in apologies. My children are 7 and 9, and let me tell you you’ve got 6 and a half years max before this nonsense kicks in and carries off their own ideas about themselves.
Being tough all the time is hard. I mean sure, for a lot of white men, it is balanced out by all that unexamined privilege and earning potential and holding all the positions of power within a political and financial system rooted in colonialism and white supremacy etc. But in a totally unrelated way, it’s also linked to things like fragility, anger, homophobia, violence as a way to resolve conflict.
Sometimes there’s confusion about feminism’s goals – the idea that attacking this kind of toxic masculinity is attacking masculinity as a whole. It ain’t. It’s about smashing up the whole set up and building something better. You fix this, you fix everything. This isn’t a ‘women’s issue’. Consigning toxic masculinity to the bin is one for all of us, and it’s as radical as it gets.
I was going to write about mental health over Xmas today, but events, as they say, have gotten ahead of me, and I wanted to share this amazing list of resources for helping people to stay connected digitally instead, as we all enter Tier 4 and/or have our Christmas plans reduced and altered. It’s going to be tough, but very much hoping to keep the people I love safe to be with me next year, so we can hug each other then.
Right now lots of people are just dealing with how they are feeling about these changes. But if later on you want to do something to make change, you can help others to be digitally included.
If you know someone who doesn’t feel confident with video calls, or apps, or online stuff generally, then you can use the free links below to help them improve their skills, and radically improve their Christmas.
We are all going to need each other to see out this terrible year in the best way that we can. Let’s stay connected x
I’ve skipped a lot of self care on the Radvent posts this year, which probably reflects my own month so far.
Last night I fell asleep fully clothed with my face on the laptop while getting the kids to bed, then woke up at 5am determined to make a radically better balance for myself.
So, today’s Radvent is not as planned. It’s a simple one: get an early night. Possibly straight after Gogglebox, who knows. Literally everything can wait. Nourish yourself. Maybe not with eggnog tho. But anyway, ditch the wrapping and the work and the sorting and get some sleep.
And if that’s not radical enough, here’s my other pointer: If you already give to charities at Christmas – make sure you have something lined up in January too. Many organisations receive a flood of support in December, and have the same need (if not more) the whole year. Spread the love all year in 2021 ❤️ Once you’ve got some sleep, that is x
If you would like do something truly radical this year, apart from failing to procure a sourdough starter at any point, then you could do a lot worse than support The Long Table.
An organisation set up close to me in Gloucestershire, for the last two years The Long Table has redefined what it is to provide a community with food and connection – an idea that goes far beyond the local.
Before Covid19, they started with the single idea:
What if everyone has access to great food, and someone to eat it with?’
Out of this came a community kitchen, training for people who want to learn how to cook using locally produced and donated food, a crop swap – and a pay as you feel place to eat (in the world’s most beautifully decorated shipping container, as it goes). Here, people from the same community, who might never meet otherwise, could sit in a welcoming place, talk to each other – and that subversive thing – eat together.
During Covid19 and lockdown, the team at the Long Table produced nearly 50,000 meals that were distributed across the county, paid for by those who could afford it, free to those who could not. This was a lifeline to several people I knew at that time. They continue their work, with dozens of their ‘Freezers of Love’ open in community spaces, providing beautiful pre-prepared meals on a pay as you feel basis. Nobody knows who pays and who doesn’t – when it comes to food and togetherness, the community acts as one. This Christmas, they have also delivered 3,500 festive packs and meals to people’s homes.
CASH TO SPARE Near or far, you can be a friend to the Long Table, donating weekly to help them grow their projects and to change the world, one meal at a time. This is not about poverty, or need – this is about feasting, beauty and plenty. It says everyone is entitled to these things. Radical indeed.
It’s Wednesday. It’s very nearly the middle of winter, and I’ve been getting the kids to bed for 15 hours, ever since it got dark at around 9.30am. I have no plans for today’s Radvent. I have no plans for Organising A Little Christmas. Of course I have no plans, these days I have Tiers where the plans used to be, and it’s December, and there’s rain in my shoes and fog in my elbows and my to do list has (current version) 38 things to do on it.
However, this afternoon I dyed my hair pink and put on a sequinned dress I got from a charity shop so as I write this I’m sitting in a child’s bedroom in the dark on a bean bag, glittering and pink – or shiny and weird, as my daughter called me. I’ll take that. Later on, I’ll be wearing men’s flannelette paisley pyjamas, and if you do not own these, then I feel sad that you have never known true comfort. None of these things were on my to do list. But I was prompted by a recent post by Lucy AitkenRead – Unschooling Support on joy as an act of resistance.
It will be no surprise to those who read my heart warming posts about universal credit and all the times I’m attacked by the cat, that I am very into joy. Anyone who wants to make the world a bit better, which is all of us, must live with hope and joy running through them like a stick of rock. It isn’t gratitude, or even happiness, exactly. Joy means understanding that there is value in things, and in people, and they won’t last forever. Hope means knowing that things can and must be fought for, while we can.
We all find real joy in different things, there’s no yardstick to measure it by, or way to manufacture it and sell it. Joy is dangerous and wonky and doesn’t fit into any of the boxes we are given to tick.
For me, joy is sparked with every act of grace and kindness I see in my little town, every time we dance in the kitchen, every tiny victory we celebrate against the things that divide us, every time my children wake up in the morning and we hug each other and smell each other’s hair, every time I eat Christmas cake with cream on the plate with gold leaf that fits it just right, every time I run soggy miles with my legs and my lungs, and every time I think about when I was gifted a book by Marie Kondo, and I threw it out of a window.
Dancing, running, laughing, connecting with others, eating whatever we like, wearing whatever we damn well please – if joy has one theme running through it, it is taking up our space in the world and filling it to the brim. No Little Christmas for me this year, no matter how few faces there are at the table, even if the gifts aren’t expensive. We’ll be at home, trying to keep the people we love safe. We’ll be ignoring the Queen’s speech, we’ll be failing to beat my 7 year old at monopoly, the house will be messy and full of crap and – lucky us – we’ll be full of some terrible meal I’ve half-heartedly cooked, and we will be full of joy.
If you want to get something done, ask a busy person, is how the saying goes. Maybe that means a hedge fund manager who works for his father in law (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rishi_Sunak). They’re pretty busy, right?
Oh no wait, i’m talking about single parents, who also do all their financial management while listening to Frozen 2 and being hit in the face with a tommy tippee jug, and are basically paid the same amount, makes sense.
Lone parents have – surprise! – been disproportionately impacted by loss of jobs and childcare during 2020, changes to the welfare system, loss of job security, low paid work. But that’s not all. As the state recedes, the community steps in, not because it has the capacity or the infrastructure, but because it has to otherwise lots of people go hungry, they sink, they die from the cold. And when you take a good look around at who is delivering the frontline community work to support everyone else in a global pandemic, it is – surprise again! – often these lone parents and carers themselves.
Over the years, I have lost track of the number of community groups, CIC’s, charities, grassroots campaigning I’ve been involved with that has been run by single parents. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve been lucky enough to know who are caring for their parents as well as their children, caring for children with a disability, up at dawn, up 5 times a night, spending hours filing reports, writing to their MP, endlessly challenging poor decisions, rectifying errors.
These are people who are raising a new generation of adults, challenging the status quo, and often also providing care to some of the most vulnerable people in society while they do it. The free labour they provide is worth a lot more to this economy than fishing, I can tell you that, and they aren’t invited onto the Today Programme to talk about What Brexit Means For Them.
They are, without exception, skilled, resourceful and unbelievably powerful people. Imagine, for a moment, how we would all benefit if we had childcare systems and employment practices that meant it was easy for single parents to be paid what they are worth, and to thrive. I’m not saying we should sack those in charge and replace them JUST with the women I know, but I am saying a Cabinet full of single parents would have sorted track and trace in two weeks for £86.24, and had enough left over in the budget for a PTA raffle and a UK wide Universal Basic Income. No wonder the media hates them.
So, I’m not going to talk about being on your own raising children during a lockdown, in the middle of a pandemic. This takes a kind of mental resilience I do not know anything about, because although I’ve been lifted up and supported by many lone parents in my life, I have never been one. I’m also not going to talk about Marcus Rashford (yet) and the work he has done to tackle the stereotypes around single parents and their children, quite apart from anything else.
I’m just going to say that if you want to change anything, anything at all about the way things are right now, you start by truly valuing the work of carers.
FREE Campaign to have the rights of single parents enshrined in law. Nothing changes until the law does. Run by EllamentalMama in her oodles of spare time, gathering a groundswell of support right now – get on it and add yours:
CASH TO SPARE Gingerbread is a resource designed for lone parents and carers, and offers advice and support networks, help at Christmas, plus brilliant research, lobbying and policy work. It’s amazing give them your CASH