Looking for a female role model?

Girls Heart Books wrote this nice thing about my BBC film- LUSH!

GirlsHeartBooks

You could do worse than Megan Beech, who’s 21 and out to change the world for the better – by making sure we get to see more women on TV. She heads to the BBC, to explain why things would be better all round if everyone – no matter their gender – could see someone like them on TV, doing something exciting and inspiring.

How many female role models can you name? Who do you look up to? I think Megan is the future – and it will be AWESOME.

Watch Megan’s inspiring performance here!

View original post

Advertisements

Election Dejection Part Two – Donating at Brixton Food Bank

154605021_1

Yesterday I wrote about donating to a food bank and today I did. I took the five minute walk to my local church which also acts as one of the food banks for my local community in Brixton.

I expected it to feel (perhaps on an entirely selfish level) good- like I was doing what I could, helping out and trying to make a bit of difference. And it did. I was welcomed by the brilliant and friendly volunteers and thanked for my donation.

However, I also felt like I’d only just realised the extent of the poverty and hunger and hurt that has been and will be done by a Tory government.

Before I even entered the food bank I had a conversation with two very friendly guys (both food bank users) one who asked if I had any dog food in any of my bags – because his dog was starving and if he died he would have nothing to keep him going. The other asked if he could have the Sainsbury’s ‘Bag For Life’ I was carrying the items in after I’d taken in the food, because he was homeless and it’d be useful.  They were kind and warm, though I didn’t have any dog food or any change to buy some food (as both of them also asked).

The fact that those even using the food bank were struggling so much that a ‘Bag For Life’, a tin of dog food or a quid for some food would’ve been transformative for a brief moment broke my heart and made my soul sore that the Tories refuse to hear or to see these stories, refuse to face head on the lives they have destroyed and the people they are making suffer for their ideological war on welfare.

Once again, the response from the volunteer inside was wonderful. He was so happy that I had wanted to donate, surprised to hear I had actually gone out especially to buy the food and grateful as their supplies at present were running particularly low. This should have been heartening, but seeing really great people enormously grateful for a small donation which was all I could afford illustrated to me that we all need to strive to be more compassionate. If they are running low, if they are truly overwhelmed by a tiny donation by a student who can barely even afford my soaring London rent price on my maintenance loan, this is a sign we-the people who actually care about other people- are not doing enough. We need to get out into our communities and show them that we do care.

Of course, there are bigger things we can do:

We can sign and share this petition for electoral reform:

http://action.makeseatsmatchvotes.org/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1754&ea.campaign.id=38262&ea.tracking.id=msmv

We can sign and share this petition to stop David sodding Cameron selling off our NHS:

http://action.sumofus.org/a/nhs-ttip/

We can join the People’s Assembly March through Central London on June 20th and encourage others to do so:

http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/end_austerity_now_national_demonstration_saturday_20th_june

We can take action and agitate and organise a movement that facilitates real change, we can continue to vote and to hope and let the Tories know that the 61% of the population that didn’t vote for them will not take any more of their cruel exploitative agenda without a fight. But for now I urge you to put a little love back into your communities and go along to your local food bank and donate if you can – find out what they do, find out how you can help and take heart from the fact that there are people who want to make things better for the many not the few.

We woke up yesterday to a country that told us it is ok to not care about other people, a country that endorsed the kind of selfishness I encounter in London every day as I watch hundreds of commuters, clutching six pound Pret A Manger sandwiches, walk past the hungry and homeless and look through human beings as they rush off into the London night. And of course we are all guilty of this self-interest and selfishness at times, (I sit writing this in the ridiculously expensive British Library café), but almost no-one I know voted for the continuation of this selfish and soulless government. So don’t be a ‘Shy Tory’ or a ‘Compassionate Tory’ or indeed just an evil Tory-be a normal human with common decency in your help and hope in your heart. This is the only way we can endeavour to make things better.

Here’s the link to my wonderful local food bank which I shall be endeavouring to give donations to as regularly as I can: http://norwoodbrixton.foodbank.org.uk/

You can find your local food bank here: http://www.trusselltrust.org/map

Election Dejection

Today has been black and bleak and tangled up in Tory Blue.

As someone who has depression and social anxiety, every day is a choice between hope or despair, between getting out of bed or not, between fearing the world and the other people in it or not, between crying or trying. And of course sometimes it is not a choice at all-the inner demon wins, the bastard booming voice that tells you are a useless, awful human being wins. But yesterday it didn’t, I got out of bed and chose hope, chose Labour, chose a fairer nation, without bedroom tax, without a state sanctioned food crisis in which hundreds of Food Banks have sprung up, without an agenda with the aim to create staggering inequality in our society.

Today I chose despair. I chose crying as I listened to the radio and each seat freshly confirmed my fears as the nation turned blue. Then the demon came to stay in my head. The ‘can’t get out of bed demon’, the ‘nothing good will ever happen’ demon. I felt speechless, demoralised and deadened. And even though I did get out of bed, every task of my day became suffused with that note of despair:

There was the endless grinning, gurning pictures of Boris and Cameron and Osborne gazing at me from the pages of the Evening Standard in the hands of my fellow commuters.

There was the hapless attempt to write my essays, whilst my mind constantly meandered to my dear George Eliot and her demand for a fellow-feeling, kindness and sympathy for all, that I felt had just definitively left my country: ‘What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?’ – George Eliot, Middlemarch

And there was the profound realisation, whilst waiting in the queue to pay for my prescription of antidepressants that it might not be long before I am paying much more than £8.20 for these pills, before people can’t afford the mental and physical healthcare provision they need, before more and more of us suffer under another 5 cruel years of Tory cuts and a dismantled NHS.

The outlook is bleak and my heart feels weak at this defeat but apathy is never the answer. I was heartened that Kate Hoey the Labour candidate I voted for in Vauxhall retained her seat, and that my former gorgeous home Bermondsey showed Simon Hughes the door and elected the excellent Labour candidate Neil Coyle. But that wasn’t enough. I know that what lies ahead is misery- for women, for ethnic minorities, for LGBT communities, for the young, for the old, for the disabled, and let’s face it, for everyone who is not rich!

For most of today I chose despair and it nestled in me, it sunk into my sinews and threatened to suck all the life and the fight out of me – like that dementor of depression that often preys on me and plagues me. So whilst there is life in my lungs, I know that I have to choose hope, I have to choose to vote, I have to choose to fight for what is good and just and right- to ward off that demon, to ward off the brutal exploitation of vulnerable people.

So what could I do? I felt powerless. I am on a limited budget, as a student wanting to continue in academia, and the recipient of higher tuition fees thanks to the ConDem coalition, I feel that I cannot do much. But I have realised today that action, any tiny positive action, is more important than ever, so I decided I would donate to a Food Bank. I have never done this before but today I felt I had to because even if the Prime Minister is happy to blindly ignore this crisis, to let the vulnerable suffer for the failings of the rich, I sure as hell am not.

So I checked the website, found my local Food Bank and went to buy some of the things they said they were most in need of.

Here’s what I bought

11225788_10206662533906615_2049413840_n

3x Basics chopped tomatoes = £1.05

Basics tinned potatoes= 20p

2x Basics teabags= 40p

2xBasics Pasta = 70p

Toothpaste= £1

2x Basics Toothpaste=70p

2xBasics biscuits= 70p

Basics UHT milk = £1.30

2xBasics Tinned Fruit= 80p

Basics Custard= 20p

3xAngel Delight=£1.05

2xBasics Kidney Beans = 60p

2x Basics Rice Pudding = 50p

Total= £9.20

I also had a rummage in the cupboard and found some bits and bobs that I didn’t need. This isn’t much, it cost nine pounds and it is mostly Basics brand food. I know I am not going to change the world or the despair that today signals with a 20p tin of custard. But it might prevent one child going hungry, or one family having to worry about food for 3 days. I haven’t done much, this is not a noble, or self-congratulatory, or jubilant blog. It is merely asking ‘Which Side Are You On?’, as one of my idols Billy Bragg would ask. Compassion, social justice and fellow feeling is the team I want to play for, the side I want to be on and if taking 20 minutes out of our days and actively doing for others makes any difference whatsoever, undoes any of the damage done by the ruthless Tory spending cuts, then we need to do it.

Tomorrow I will take these supplies to the Food Bank, with pride for the great efforts of those who work, volunteer and advise people within it and great shame, indignation and rage for the Tories who have allowed the British people to suffer and starve for the mistakes of the bankers and the British people who have allowed that to happen again for another five years.

So today I mourn, and tomorrow I probably mourn as well and maybe even the next day too. But eventually we organise, we mobilise and we don’t let this genuinely cruel Conservative agenda trample on our society’s most weak and vulnerable and fragile again. I have to choose fellow-feeling, I have to choose hope. For all our sakes and all our sanity we have to choose hope.

You can find your local Food Bank here,let’s stop UK hunger:http://www.trusselltrust.org/map

Most of their webpages contain ‘Shopping Lists’ of the items most in need in your local area at the time, but in general Food Banks need non-perishable items such as tinned fruit and vegetables, juice and UHT milk cartons, biscuits etc.

Just WOW! Women of the World Festival 2015

This weekend I visited WOW,Women of the World Festival 2015 at the Southbank Centre. Suffice to say I was moved and revitalised and inspired and heartened by the power, beauty and profundity of women’s voices raised collectively together!

I’m hoping to be able to put some more fully formed thoughts into words later this week, but suffice to say for now: WOW!

The indefatigable, affable and inimitable festival organiser and Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly CBE is my woman of the week (maybe of the year, maybe of EVER!) Here she is,resplendent in gold jacket having a chat with the equally brilliant Lauren Laverne!

A Blog of One’s Own – Visiting Newnham

But, you may say, we asked you to speak about Newnham and poets and Mary Beard— what, has that got to do with a blog of one’s own? I will try to explain.

Based on her 1928 lectures given at the Cambridge colleges, Newnham and Girton, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own stands foundational as an ur-text of modern(ist) feminist thought, a passionate defence of female education and an attack on the literal and ideological barriers that prevent female emancipation.

Woolf’s rich influence is one I feel each day in my own voyage out into the enlivening field of academia. My English department’s building at King’s College London bears her name, its walls plastered with her pioneering words, her picture standing proud and prominent in the foyer: the foundations of the building itself. My love for her is one born out of a fierce, fervent feminism and a deep identification with the profound and aching agonies of depression she describes: ‘one goes down into the well and nothing protects one from the assault of truth. Down there I cannot write or read; I exist however’ (Virginia Woolf, Diary 3, p.112). This soul-abiding admiration for Woolf’s work, comes not only from her words, but from the incomparable teaching of Professor Anna Snaith. If ever there were an advert for the education Woolf demands for women, it has been Anna’s teaching. A kind of teaching that attests to the capacity for education to really transform the lives and ambitions of young women, enliven them as individuals and open doors. For as Woolf and the pioneering female academics in our classrooms remind us: ‘there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind’.

And it is admiration for that fearless, fabulous fleet of female academics that unexpectedly led me to Newnham myself on Saturday 28th February to recite some poems for the Newnham Literary Archive Event 2015, Newnham and Poetry. I, unlike Woolf, received my invitation via Twitter. Enraged by the vile and deeply misogynistic online abuse Newnham classicist, Professor Mary Beard, faced for the CRIMES of being a woman in the public eye, over the age of fifty, with an opinion; I hurriedly scribbled a poem, recorded it in my pyjamas and tweeted it to her as a small token of solidarity.

(Here’s me pyjama clad reciting said poem)

Before I knew it, lots of people had watched me saying it in my pyjamas, had shared it online and I was on the front of a book cover, in resplendently blue stockings, proclaiming ‘When I Grow up I Want to be Mary Beard’.

Mary Beard

Mary’s kind appreciation and support of the poem, and the book it subsequently spawned, was glorious enough- for a very young bookish, overly-eager and socially awkward aspirant academic any words, encouraging or otherwise, from such an inspirational source are pretty great! However, receiving a keen tweet from the Newnham Roll inviting me to perform at the event offered even greater delight.

11013512_613108555488815_3967124136342573563_n

So, here I was! Able to walk on the grass of the college, as Woolf never could in her fictional Oxbridge quadrangles:

‘he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me’.

I must confess to having a little feeling of Woolf’s gravel dweller, the trespasser audaciously ‘strolling through those colleges, past those ancient halls [in which] the roughness of the present seemed smoothed away’. However, the welcome I received at Newnham allayed all these fears. A day full of warm, wickedly witty and wonderful women and their words further fuelled my gratitude to our ‘ansisters’ who have paved the way for women in academia; from gravel to grass, the poor offshoot college that is Woolf’s Fernham to the home of some of the most revered female poets and people of the 19th,20th and 21st Centuries.

To hear the work of Newnham poets, past and present, read aloud was a joy, from the impassioned delivery of the greats by alumnae actresses Eleanor Bron, Olivia Williams and Genevieve Gaunt to the work of modern poets such as Gillian Allnutt and Esther Morgan.

There was not merely food for thought, but also excellent food- for as Woolf reminds us ‘one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well’! Unlike the Fernham of Woolf’s writing in whose ‘plain gravy soup[…]there was nothing to stir the fancy’, illustrating the lack of funding for the women’s college, the tables were generously adorned, ‘the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been emptied; had been filled’. Equally nourishing was the conversation I had with Dr Sandeep Parmar, an academic whose work on Newnham poet Hope Mirrlees I greatly admire. (Once again this love of Mirlees, such a bold, inventive and under appreciated modernist, is due to the kind and keen lectureship of Prof Anna Snaith!)

10431503_613108512155486_8797183227071521377_n

The day celebrated all that I value about being a poet and a woman: good wine, inspiring women and celebration of fierce female intellect and creativity. The day also acknowledged the hardships, the battles that women confront daily and the fragile balance of power and vulnerability that we face as literary and academic women. The suicides of three of those extraordinary Newnham and Newnham associated women, Amy Levy, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath attest to the difficulty and hardship of life as a woman writer. Gillian Allnutt fearlessly explored the burdens of depression as a woman writer through the suicides of poets Virginia Woolf, Plath, and Marina Tsvetayeva: ‘I cannot say it is love stops short / of the rope / or the river / the quiet caress of gas in an uncaring winter’. Whilst Dr Rosamund Paice saved Tennyson’s Lady of Shallott from her fate as romantically tragic heroine, instead inscribing her own tale of the experience, in Paice’s poem ‘Nearing Camelot’.

Woolf informs us ‘the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder’. It is the beauty of the world and the words these amazing literary women have created that keep my heart from being cut asunder, their enlivening voices that force me to voyage out, to write and to shout my poems from the internet, to dingy London venues, to the halls of Newnham College.

We have been quiet and voiceless long enough:

‘Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics’.

Thus, I leave Newnham enlivened, inspired and content. I meet my two dearest female friends (the bluestockinged literary ladies who flank me on my book cover), Imogen and Aja, at their flat for dinner. We don’t sit at long Newnham dining tables with a lavish three courses; we sit on the floor, eat pasta, watch Brideshead Revisited, toast to my Master’s place at Cambridge and share in that glorious commingling of academically-inclined young female minds: serious, silly and sentimental in equal measure.

10995265_739182186205225_1283035092_n

So here’s to all the female academics, the writers, the thinkers and friends who enjoy so many rich privileges that our literary ansisters did not live to see, and continue to fight for those that still evade us.

Here’s to Newnham Roll for allowing me to shout rhyming feminist things in those halls so steeped in rich literary history.

And here’s to Mary Beard who has taught so many of us the value of female speech and having the courage and conviction to be erudite, insightful and incisive, for (giving the last words to Woolf):

‘so long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say’.

1604761_10203186955979339_27893026_n

You can buy When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard by clicking here! A cheap plug I know but we as women writers are still oppressed by the fact that we ‘must have money’ as well as that room of our own in order to write.