11.20.11 anti-social

Remember my obsession with Mercedes embassy cars?

I was blithely willing to ignore hints that they are inexpensive to buy because they are massively expensive to run, impossible to park, and, oh, probably have bad karma. . . if not actual bloodstains on the seats.

Yet, alas, I was denied, because the driver balked at the parking difficulties.

But I was not deterred from the fundamental goal of buying an automobile. The trouble is, we have precise and somewhat aberrant requirements. For instance, my professor-of-computer-science partner refuses to drive new vehicles. Because he doesn't trust the software. Go figure.

Compulsive research finally narrowed the field to a model that looks right, matches my lipstick, and yes, is extraordinarily cheap. . . because very few people wish to own it.

Why? According to many sources, it is one of the most anti-social cars ever sold. Notoriously loved by shady businessmen, drug dealers, the bad guys in action movies, and me!

It took months of scouting before I found one for sale, and dragged my recalcitrant companion to Derbyshire to check it out (120 train tickets - see how this investment in a vehicle will pay for itself?).

I spent half my childhood in a service station, Byron used to earn a living restoring cars. We know how to find a deal, and we know how to negotiate. The car was beautiful, pristine, fully documented down to every single replaced spark plug. Big enough for my excessively tall offspring. Crazy cheap compared to a new car. Safe.

You can take the girl out of the gas station, but you can't take the gas station out of the girl!

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11.18.11 committed

My mother is, in a word, awesome. Truly. She would deserve my respect if she had simply survived her own difficult life. Poverty, violence, disease, repeat. She is the last survivor of seven siblings, and none lived to celebrate their 50th birthday. Her baby sister chose suicide a couple of years ago. My eldest cousin, raised as her sibling, followed a year later. We're still raw with the rage and pain of it, but my mother does not cry. She talks. And keeps talking.

My mother struggled through a horrible childhood to make a life free of addiction and crime - an achievement of merit. She became a parent in her teens, and was committed to the task. She was an excellent mother in every possible way, even though her only child proved a burden beyond belief. Through all the years of trauma and illness she never wavered. She loved me, and raised me, and, check it, retained not only her sanity but also her sense of humour.

At the lowest points in my life she was there to stand between me and the doctors. She dragged my feet over the edge of the hospital beds, and forced me to stand up. She never said it was okay to be weak, because it wasn't. She never said it was okay to give up, because the alternative was death. My mama is the most scathing, brilliant, and intense person I have ever met. Except perhaps my daughter.

And this week, she is visiting, with all the attendant chaos that implies. It is a huge treat to show her where I live, and to spend time with her and both of my children.

Of course even the best and most loving family has tensions. We're no exception to this rule, we're just a little weirder than average. For instance: other grown-up children sneak away to smoke, or drink, or they hide their dating habits from their parents, or whatever. What is my secret pathology?

I'm hiding on the terrace making appointments for biopsies. I'm trying to prevent my mother from knowing that I need to have a dozen or so cancerous lesions hacked off. And, being a mother, she senses trouble. She is my mother so she knows not only that I am hiding something, but approximately what it is.

She has managed to drag out some facts, but I valiantly protect her from the whole picture. I say "Yeah, I need some stuff cut off. . . but only a couple, in the same place as always."

Byron or one of the children chirp some details about experimental treatment and I can feel maternal eyes burning a hole in my head. But I laugh and say "It isn't anything! The doctor wants to do it because the new process scars less than scalpels!"

Traitorous family members point out that I am seeing the best skin cancer doctor in the country and therefore by inference the world and I point to the street. "Look at the Christmas lights, aren't they pretty!"

My mother says "Are you changing the subject?"

I answer "No, really. It isn't a big deal!"

I'm telling the truth, if a partial version. She is the only person on the planet who can understand that a dozen biopsies are insignificant, because she was with me through the years when I had two dozen biopsies every single month.

But I don't want her to know about my current treatments, not a whisper, not a hint. I don't want her to worry, and I don't want her to remember.

I just want her to know that I love her. I want to apologise for the pain I have caused, and thank her for persevering.

But that isn't how we communicate in this family. Instead, we joke - and buy airplane tickets - and drive around looking at fairy lights.

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11.14.11 adore

The maniacal scavenger hunt for Thanksgiving ingredients has yielded, miraculously, canned pumpkin pulp in abundance! No need to slaughter and render a raw gourd this year, thank goodness. Mainly because I can't find one.

In other holiday news, while I've been boycotting extended family holidays since 1988, I do adore my mother and feel bad when we can't be together at this time of year. In the past I haven't been able to afford the transatlantic journey (or even train fare when I lived in the states), and/or some segment of the crew has been to ill to attend.

But this year, because the economy is so fucked, ticket prices dropped at the very last practical second. Hurray global economic crisis! I was able to buy an economy ticket for my mother at a massive discount, and then use frequent flyer miles for an upgrade. Happy holidays, grandma, you get to fly first class!

I'm secretly a good daughter, see? Or at least, I try.

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11.13.11 money

During the recent (excessively brief) visit to Seattle I dropped in to see what Mark has been working on.

We were talking about one of his fabulous designs when he pointed at my neck and commented that my scarf cost a rather obscene number of dollars (he knew the precise sum off the top of his head).

I shrugged and replied "It was a gift. And anyway, I don't pay in dollars."

Both points are true, though the latter is more pertinent. I live in London, possibly the most expensive city on the planet. If I think about currency exchange this freaks me out, but I earn and buy in pounds sterling. My concept of what is normal or acceptable is defined by daily life in a place I could not even afford to visit seven years ago.

Everything in the UK costs more - to a degree that is wounding, if you think about it too long. I prefer not to think about it.

Except on the days when I take my shambolic albeit expensively scarved self across town to Harley Street to consult with a specialist about that whole cancer thing.

If you look underneath the silk at my neck, what do you see? Scars, of course. Hundreds of scars, of all shapes and sizes, in no particular pattern or of any discernible quality.

These slashes and circles tell a story about illness, but more importantly about money, and what money can buy: namely, medical care.

I have a rare genetic disorder. I also have a fresh batch of tumours, and a fistful of referrals. But my appointment has not gone through. Coalition government policy changes have had a dramatic and fast impact on public hospitals: before the general election I could get an appointment within weeks. Now the wait has stretched to months and eventually exceeded the year mark.

Three GP's, two dermatologists, and a plastic surgeon are all in agreement that the spots on my face and back are cancerous. But I can't get a surgery appointment, unless I invoke private insurance. Which is absolutely the reason I left the states: I do not wish to live in a place where health care is a commodity for the lucky few with the cash to buy it.

I believe in the NHS. I am intellectually and morally opposed to private health care. But if I can't get cancer treatment from the public system I pay massive taxes and immigrated for, I will go elsewhere.

Let me be very clear: this is not about consumer choice. The doctors in the private clinics are the very same doctors trained and working in NHS hospitals. The person I am consulting on Harley Street is the same guy I would talk to at the teaching hospital, and we both agree that it would be preferable to conduct the session at the hospital.

Don't be confused, don't listen to the hype. The NHS is under direct ideological attack.

My decision to use private consultants is the visible consequence of coalition policy.

This the painful reality - I will pay because I have money, and I will continue to pay until the money is gone. An entire lifetime of struggle, work, activism, and exile and it still comes back around to one simple fact: I have cancer.

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11.11.11 day

Happy Armistice Day.

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11.8.11 middle

My 15 year old son came home today and said "Now I really have some ghetto cred!"

He had been walking near Brick Lane when two cops approached and said they could smell marijuana on his person.

This was patently a lie, yet the police, without any valid reason whatsoever, proceeded to search him. They also asked for identity papers (not legally enforceable in this country). Then they filed an incident report. All because... he is young, urban, and male.

We've all been joking about it - the experience is a rite of passage for inner city youth.

But it is also deeply troubling, because the cops honestly had no reason to harass my kid. What, he wears sneakers and a hoodie? That is not probable cause. I could rattle on about the particulars of this situation and my family, but the specifics do not matter. Cops don't see any of us as individuals with emotions, aspirations, hopes, dreams, and potential. Cops think "poor neighbourhood, criminal kids." They think our boys are bad, because we live here.

But young men are not categorically criminals. Kids in the ghetto are not by definition perpetrators. There is a connection between poverty and crime, but that doesn't mean that every youth walking around on a sunny day is looking for trouble.

Though apparently, the cops are, and if they can't find it they will make some.

It does not make me feel safer to know that police resources are devoted to harassing kids.

It does not make kids more likely to respect authority when they are hassled without cause.

The whole thing is just wrong, bad, and sickening.

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11.05.11 burn

Here in the United Kingdom we don't have Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July.

This seemed like a real loss at first but everyone I mentioned it too was dismissive. They said, yes, but we have Bonfire Night: on November 5, all across the country, in towns large and small, people gather to light fires.

The practice has evolved over the centuries into a carnival, with rides and fireworks. To an outsider it would appear to be a leftover pagan tradition, a celebration of the turning of the seasons.

But the origins are much more sinister and specific. Guy Fawkes Night celebrates the torture and execution of Catholic dissenters. Our bonfires burning bright are symbols of state supremacy, of the monarchy; our municipalities still burn a Guy in effigy.

This information has largely been transfigured, distorted, erased. It isn't polite to talk about it - or wonder aloud if our children should be taught the entire story instead of a sanitised version of the past.

Over the past few years we have experienced a global economic crisis. We have watched as an attendant global protest movement evolved - and many of us have been caught up in it. We don't always agree about policy, politics, or politicians. We don't always get along. But a large majority of people now agree that the system is broken - and we want real reform.

We've seen peaceful encampments attacked and broken up by police. We've watched as our fellow citizens are tear gassed, smashed, as riot cops come down hard on children. Here in the United Kingdom, all manner of debate has been discounted. Orderly protests have been disrupted and denied. Our government is wilfully ignoring the voice of the people, whether expressed by famous academics, or kids rioting in the streets.

We are told that we are not allowed to congregate in public parks, march on public streets, or camp in public places. Yet we still have Bonfire Night: a government sanctioned gathering to celebrate the murder of revolutionaries.

Every school child is still taught the opening lines of this poem. The full text and the meaning behind it have been censored:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God's providence he was catched
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holloa boys, holloa boys
God save the King!
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

A penny loaf to feed ol' Pope
A farthing cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to rinse it down
A faggot of sticks to burn him
Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

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