Rites of passage

You know the sort of thing- a child takes a step, gets a sticker, stands on a stage, passes a driving test, gets dressed up for a formal occasion, joins in a riot. All while you stand proudly by, beaming at their progress, revelling in their joy. Great stuff all together.

Go back a bit. Look at the video I took from Twitter. I’ve not been able to get it out of my head. I’m old enough to remember the marching band coming down along Main Street for Billy, the tales of people being waved off to war, but I’d never imagined that sort of celebration for a riot in Belfast.

There are many reasons for the current tensions in NI. Poor leadership and governance, criminality, chronic deprivation, inter generational trauma, the need for a night out. There are genuine concerns about the impact of Brexit. Children are being encouraged to ‘earn their stripes’ by those involved in organised criminality, drug dealing and paramilitarism.

More of this sort of thing

Unionist politicians have stirred trouble, met with loyalist paramilitaries, raised the temperature. Now they’re tut tutting and staying at home, well away from the affected areas. That distance highlights one of the problems, lack of representation. Other issues continue to be educational & health inequalities. There’s been no ‘peace dividend’ for many in NI since the Agreement of 1998.

As I was writing this, news broke of the death of the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip. Oh, we wondered, surely those protesting their loyalty to the Crown would stop? Most did. Not all, of course. Some had been looking forward to some Friday night action, so went ahead. I don’t know how that affects their loyalty ranking.

It appears that paramilitary gangs will receive public funding to ‘transition’ to community groups. I thought we did that already.

Simply throwing money at such groups doesn’t work. Sustained investment in education, youth work, family support is required. Create opportunities, allow communities to move away from the control of drug gangs. Give it time and support. Believe that it’s work worth doing. Believe the people are worth doing it for.

Believe in people.

Celebrating: words

These collections of letters are incredible things. They can prompt us to emotion or to action. They deepen our understanding, or add levels of confusion.

Are we using the appropriate two/to/too? Or their/there/they’re? What does invalid mean? Does anyone readily grasp homonym/ homograph/ homophone? Do we really care?

At the weekend I was ‘helping’ Girl 2 with a piece of work. By which I mean, I messed it up. I was not helpful. I had tried to be, but I misunderstood my task. I reworded sentences and chopped out chunks thinking I was doing the right thing by reducing her word count. She had wanted me to help increase her word count…

In rectifying, I discovered a little bit of joy in letting her material sing. The shortened version was to the point, abrupt. Like bullet points. Using more words gave the information space to be seen and considered. Prose. Her research, her language, her personality, her self.

We can all enjoy words- fiction, lyrics, poetry, TV scripts, chatting, talks, discussions, papers, apps, websites, crosswords, word search, Scrabble, Countdown. I avoid word games and mostly read fiction- a mixture of commercial fiction, crime, literary fiction and whatever random stuff catches my eye. I watch television ‘bookclub’ programmes, and it costs me a fortune. I’m doing a brief online course on feminist writing. I read a neighbour’s book on professional arboriculture (not my usual fare) before its publication and had a grand time. Reading about Regency gardens while watching Bridgerton definitely worked. I wasn’t just looking at fancy frocks and handsome men, I was gaining an understanding of how society and arboriculture interact. Really. Stop laughing.

Storytelling is a big part of who we are, sharing and defining our experience. A tv show discussion between Damian Barr and Fern Brady had me shopping again. I‘m going to learn something. I might even be able to tell you a story.

Will Storr, the Science of Storytelling

Celebrating: getting back

There was a while when I did all the things. I loved it when I could do it, but I eventually ran out of steam and stopped. I walked away from work I’d been focussed on for years. I slept and slept. On a tentative step back to the world, I spent a year as a Boardroom Apprentice. Then the world changed for us all. The just regained confidence began to dribble away in the restrictions of the COVID world. Only one thing for it- go out and find something to do.

(Clearly, by “out” I mean “to the internet”. Out is an old concept I hope to revisit in due course, but its not really relevant these days.)

Luckily, the charity I had been volunteering for was looking for new board members. I put my hand up, jumped up and down a wee bit shouting “me, me, me, pick me”, and filled in a form. I’m not suggesting they were desperate, but I’m back.

Belfast City Hall lit up for Rare Disease Day. Why, yes, I did get emotional. How did you guess?

I have lots of catching up to do. The rare disease world has changed since I left. Our first project completed, and funding was attracted for a development of that work. There were weeks of events to mark Rare Disease day in February, all virtual. I did miss the gathering up, the hugs, the sociability and connection of it all, but I’m happy with the accessibility & ease of this way of working. New staff, volunteer colleagues to get to know, new areas of work to get involved in.

Learning, people! A sense of purpose!

It’s been a long time, baby

Is there anything to say that won’t bore you and me both? Can my brain compute anything right now? Is there anything in the world apart from COVID and government incompetence?

Andra is having fun in Iceland, amongst a volcano and thousands of earthquakes. My world has shrunk so that a trip to collect Girl2 from school felt like a day out. School, remember that? On Monday, all the other household members were at school- the teacher, the classroom assistant and the year 14 pupil. It was extremely odd to have the house to myself for hours. Harry lay on the mat by the front door, waiting, from lunchtime.

It’s a big change for Girl2, since school has been online since Christmas, and only some year groups are back even yet. As this is her final school year, they’ve had to go back to allow a series of assessments to take place instead of the cancelled A level exams. These assessments will result in grades, which will, in turn, determine next steps/ university admissions/ employment options. A level year always brings pressure, but also, as the most senior pupils, some fun- access to the common room, a ‘formal’, a leavers’ day with pizza and sports challenges, many 18th birthdays to celebrate with nights out. This year they have the pressure without any of the fun.

Family fun

Girl1 is studying her university course from her bedroom at home. She gets to go to work 1 or 2 days a week, and sometimes meets mates in the park. Exciting times.

We have all taken comfort from rewatching box sets. Spurs Fan just completed The Sopranos, and we had to stop him just starting at the start again. We’re doing The Wire instead. Yes, there are loads of newer things, but sometimes only the comfort blanket will do.

At the start of all this, I couldn’t read. Nothing worked. Anxiety, brain fog, confusion, overwhelm. Whatever. That comes back sometimes, but I’m reading again. Thank all the gods. On a few days this week I’ve been able to read outside in sunshine. That has been a joy.

Fresh air, without trekking round the well worn local bridges or overcrowded towpath. Everyone in south Belfast on the same routes, over and over again. The mountain routes in the north of the city have seen a 20% increase in use over the year, but I’d have expected it to be greater. Because we can’t travel anywhere, local parks and paths are jammed.

River Lagan

The place I want to be is at the seaside. Unlike me, that seaside is in the EU. Donegal. COVID rates and responses have always differed between the two jurisdictions on the island. At the minute, disease rates are similar, but the vaccination rates are higher in the north. Our Health Minister yesterday indicated that foreign travel was unlikely this summer, and that travel to the south will depend on the vaccination rates there. I’m not surprised, but I am struggling a bit.

Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal.

We all need something to look forward to. Go on, inspire me. What are you looking forward to?

Keep going, be the light