Yesterday we had a death in the family, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel. I shed a few tears last night and again while writing this but I can’t explain why. Was I crying for myself, for his children or for what might have been.
Richard Kelly, was my godfather, my dad’s best friend, ex husband of my cousin and father of 2.
We hadn’t spoken in years.
In 1985 when my Dad died, I didn’t just lose a father I lost an entire family. For reasons known only to them they chose to turn their backs on 2 little girls without a father. In my opinion some were just selfish, some were young with young families of their own and other priorities, others were too young to make the decision for themselves and took their lead from the adults.
I’ve never written about it much before because while of course my history has helped shape who I am today, it does not define me. I hold no bitterness or malice towards my family in fact when I got married last year some of my Dad’s side were there in the evening to celebrate with us, including Richard’s ex wife and daughter, because as an adult I have formed connections with them.
But, while Richard wasn’t there at the wedding or for milestones before, his presence was always a constant in my life. He was always in the background. He knew my entire family on both sides and and has always been a familiar name. Many, particularly the funny stories of my Dad start with his involvement. His children often spoke of him, and photos regularly appeared on facebook. In my early teens when I decided to try and connect with my paternal family, it was Richard I contacted and through him that I met my one aunt and a whole lot of other extended family members, we fell out of touch again, because as a teen I had other priorities and then life got in the way.
As an adult we reconnected briefly and made plans to meet once again but that fell through. Unfortunately it was while I was at a particularly low point myself andI thought that was because he didn’t care and didn’t really want to know. I made a decision to stop trying but as time went on I always secretly thought that one day we’d meet. But one day never came, and now it never will. I regret not trying now, and I understand us not meeting wasn’t because of him, or me, but because of circumstance, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So who I am I crying for? The missed opportunities? Another connection to the Dad I barely knew disappearing? or through empathy for the terrible loss I know his children, family and friends are experiencing. Maybe it’s for all of these things, but through my tears I’ve made the decision to stop “not trying” – there’s a whole lot of other people out there I need to try harder with and I don’t want there to be another time where the day can never come.
Interesting Christmas eve, eve for the Clarke household that meant we very nearly didn’t get our Christmas Turkey!
But Thanks to the AA man, our knight in Hi-Vis armour Christmas was saved…..
T’was the night before, the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
But out on the road the for the AA did they wait, because the exhaust it went clunk and on the road it did grate…
Then in the rain and the dark with orange lights all flashing,
The AA man in his yellow van came dashing.
He jacked up the car and fitted a temporary clip. So to the supermarket Steph and James could nip.
Around Asda they went to get their Christmas Dinner Because on that cold wet night that AA man was their winner!
How’s it go….God bless us everyone
This a cross post from my other blog but it’s an experience I though worth sharing here too…
As I was getting ready to go out Friday night, sitting on the edge of my bed pulling on a second pair of socks – it struck me how perverse the situation I was about to put myself in really was. Warm in my house, stocking up on snacks and drinks. James and I were about to spend the night sleeping rough on the streets of Wolverhampton to raise money and awareness for P3Charity.
P3 charity and social enterprise. It started in Wolverhampton and now works nationally with the homeless. They run hostels and help people from all walks of life promoting independent living and supporting some of the most vulnerable and at risk people in our towns and cities – And those homeless that we were supporting Friday night, and that they support daily don’t have a second pair of socks to pull on, they don’t have the advantage of wondering if they would be warm enough in the 2 t-shirts and hoodie I was already wearing – they have to just get on with it and so I know my night sleeping “rough” was in luxury compared to some.
8pm – Getting going
Arriving at their hostel in Thornley Street at around 8pm we were greeting by an already amassed group of about 45 other charity workers volunteers, residents and ex residents of the hostel readying themselves for the night ahead. After a welcome from the Mayor, and a cup of tea, old duvets and cardboard were distributed and we headed towards the civic centre, and St Peters Square which was to be our base for the night. Everyone was in good spirits as we looked to prepare our beds. Those that had taken part the previous year staked their claim to their spots and we found a bit of floor just under the overhang of the civic centre…. shelter of sorts.
A layer of cardboard (or camping mat for those that had them), a folded duvet and a sleeping bag made up the majority of the beds. Others opted to stay in camping chairs – or as one volunteer did – and air bed (cheat!!!). And we got down to the business of being homeless for the night. The first couple of hours were fun as we got to know the people around us random dancing broke out in the form of an Irish Jig and people dared not use the port-a-loo for fear of being of spun.
Time drags on
People were in good spirits but as it crept passed midnight and everyone started to settle down reality started to creep in… I was there safe in the knowledge that my car was only 5 minutes down the road, that a hot shower and a comfy bed was waiting for me once this was over… but for the estimated 231 people who look for shelter every night in Wolverhampton, they don’t have that security.
P3 have 21 beds in their local hostel, and 5 No Second Night Out supported “emergency” beds, but that still leaves over 200 people each night out in the cold with nothing but their own thoughts for company. It was midnight and I only had 6 more hours to pass but the reality for some is this is their daily routine, and when you’ve nothing but time stretched before you, time with nothing to look forward to and nothing to think about other than where your next meal will come from, will I be safe this evening where will I go in the morning it is little wonder that some turn to the oblivion of drink or drugs to get them through it….
1am – and so the bell tolls
The noise from the pubs and clubs kept drifting over disturbing those trying to sleep. People walked through , talking to us- and admittedly they were probably more confused by finding nearly 50 people in a doorway in sleeping bags than they would have been by one so were more open to chat and as the night wore on I became more and more aware of the chiming of St Peters clock – every 15 minutes and somewhere in the distance there is an argument and sirens….
St Peter's clocks chime every 15 mins. That if not conductive to sleeping, or even dozing #P3BigSleepOut
— Steph Clarke (@Essitam) October 5, 2013
The local police popped by a few time throughout the night, they were aware we were there and they came by to check everything was alright. At one point two PCSO’s came over while a trio of lads leaving the city a little worse for wear wandered through – they were jovial and put some money in the collection bucket the officer was holding and one of the residents joked – “you stopped me from doing that the other day officer!” – and that joke highlighted another question for me- we were there as an organised group, would the police have come to check in if I were a solo – really homeless – sleeper and if not who would? And if they did stumble across me out alone would they check if I was ok or would they just have moved me on?
3am – Get a fucking Job!
I was still at 3am awake when a pissed man wondered the opposite side of the square. He stopped as he notices us and starts screaming abuse. Apparently it was people like us that was everything that was wrong with society (…the irony) and that we should all “GET FUCKING JOBS”.
He shouted and argued at us but with himself for a few minutes – offering to fight us all if we wanted to go over to him – big brave man wasn’t brave enough to come over and find out what we were all actually doing there and unsurprisingly no one took him up on the offer and eventually he left.
We’d all ignored him, mumbling between ourselves what an idiot he was, safety in numbers had kept us secure but I felt genuinely aggrieved and I could tell others did too. I was scared for the people he may encounter who were alone. What would he do with his aggressiveness when stumbling across an individual alone, cold, hungry and tired? Where do they go to sleep safely when there are odious people like him walking the streets?
The bigotry this one person displayed was awful and it highlighted the stigma that follows homelessness everywhere – that somehow it is a lifestyle choice to be out on the streets. What people fail to realise is that there is cracks we could all fall down anywhere. Most of the population is only one pay packet away from financial hardship and it only takes one slip, one bad decision, one wrong turn and you too could find yourself in need of the support charities like P3 provide.
I was almost there once myself, through no fault of my own – 10+ years ago and only by the grace of god did I have the support of my family and a floor I could sleep on that kept a roof over my, and my sons head.
— Steph Clarke (@Essitam) October 4, 2013
I was the hidden homeless, sleeping with my 2 year old son on families floors. Others aren't so lucky and they need people like @p3charity
— Steph Clarke (@Essitam) October 4, 2013
To contrast the shouty man though others who came across us stopped to find out what we were doing, some left donations and others insisted on shaking the hand of everyone involved restoring some of my faith in the good of the masses.
4:30am – Here comes the rain
From 4pm I managed to start to doze, on and off, with my sleeping bag pulled up right over my head to keep the breeze off my face, waking every time the clock chimed.
— Simon Causer (@SgtCauserWMP) October 5, 2013
Cold surprisingly wasn’t too much of an issue, I remember thinking how lucky we were with the weather – for an October night it was surprisingly mild just a bit of drizzle early on but around 4:30am a rain shower hit. It came down suddenly and there was mad scramble to get under the hang over from those in the open – the wind blew spray into where we were laying and I was again wide awake.
I spent the next hour lying, listening to the murmur of conversation of those around me, to the bars emptying their bottle bins with a clatter and an argument between a group of women somewhere in the city that by the time it reached me sounded like a gaggle of geese squabbling.
5.30am Packing up
At 5:30am the last of our visitors appeared, an obviously drunk young lady with a story of a fight with her boyfriend who had walked miles into town and just wanted somewhere to sit for 5 minutes and promised not to call the police on us if we let her rest on the end of one of the sleeping bags.
It took us a minute to get her to understand that we weren’t really homeless and we were there for charity but we let her sit for a while, a broken night sleep further disturbed and the group started to stir and pack up for the short walk back to the hostel and breakfast…..
Sleeping rough so others don’t have to
In 21st century Britain the fact that in a supposed first world country we still have so many people eking out an existence on the streets is heart breaking. There are many reasons as to why people end up homeless but it is charities like P3 that break the cycle that keeps them there. They work hard to ensure that the most social excluded are given the support they need, be it in their hostels or through their outreach workers, to live their lives to their full potential. One day you may find yourself in a position that you need the support and help of an organisation like P3 and this is why I chose to take part Friday night, raising just a little bit of money for and hopefully a bit of awareness of those people who need the support NOW.
I spent a night sleeping rough in the hope that now and in the future others wont have to and I would be grateful if you could do your bit by supporting P3 and other homeless charities in the work they do. Groups and organisations like these are always after volunteers who are able to give a bit of their time, or you can find other ways of helping through practical and financial donations (you can still sponsor James and me if you like).
Finally if you spot someone sleeping rough, don’t be a dick screaming abuse like the idiot we encountered, call Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 and give as much information as you can – this support line will connect rough sleepers to local services hopefully getting them the advice and support that they need.
Next week the new £189m Library of Birmingham opens its doors to the public after the closure of it predecessor back in June.
Wednesday I was lucky enough to be given access to the building at a preview tour.
There were still workmen on site completing the finishing touches, but from what I saw I can tell you that the residents of Birmingham are in for a treat.
This is what a library of the 21st century should be.
9 floors of books and technology, interactive – touch screen displays, gallery space, conference facilities and terrace gardens. Gone are the traditional rows. upon rows of bookshelves replaced by something light, airy, spacious and fun.
The children’s library on the lower ground floor is decorated with images from the books the shelves hold, with an area for games, activities and storytelling. The music library wraps itself around a windowed amphitheater which full opens out into an indoor/outdoor performance space. The knowledge department that covers floor 3, 4 and 5 has echos of the traditional reading rooms with grand balconies and books as far as the eye can see. The discovery zone has plenty of workspaces for you to roll up and plug your laptop in.
There is a roof terrace with outdoor seating, an optional bar, wonderful scented edible flower beds and a view down onto Centenary Square and on the 9th floor just outside of the golden turret is a wall of windows offering a wonderful panoramic view across the city, and an touch screen “toposcope” allowing you to find more detail about what your looking at AND in the golden turret on top is a the wonderful Shakespeare Collection housed in it original setting transferred sympathetically from old building.
But that’s not even half of it – Each and every floor has the most wonderful array of seating, and nooks and holes inviting you to grab a book take a seat and loose yourself for and hour. There as 2 cafes, blue sky views from the ground floor ( no really), a host of activities for all ages and free wifi throughout.
If it sounds like I’m gushing it’s because I am!
I really did think it was a library suitable for the Birmingham of today, that people of all ages could use appriciate and take some joy in.
Below are some more photos of my trip there. You can find more photos of the details of the building by searching the web, but I haven’t shared those because I think you really need to go there and see it for yourself!
I love camping, waking up in a field with life stripped back to just the essentials and the day stretching out before you with no where to be.
I think it’s good for my soul to spend a few nights in the countryside, in the tent at least once a year.
This weekend we went camping, and while for various reasons it wasn’t as relaxed as I hoped it would be it was what I needed, an escape. The place we most often visit is Barracks Farm in the Peak District. We go with the Home Ed community to Peak Camp and it’s wonderful. No electricity and no phone signal. There’s an outdoor tap to fill your water bottles and a small wash room for you cooking stuff. A toilet block and showers that operate at 20p per minuter for
hot warm tepid water and an elsan point for those that require it and that’s it.
It’s mile and half from the nearest shop and a good 30 minute walk along the river and across farmland to the nearest village. It’s a field on the edge of Beresford Dale with green views as far as the eye can see and night skies that go on forever.
It’s quiet and friendly, accessible, welcoming to pets and incredibly well situated for travel from the midlands and to explore the rest of both the Staffordshire and Derbyshire peaks.
This little piece of the English countryside has a place in my heart.
When can I go back again?
I sign up for these voucher sites, Living Social, Groupon, etc. – you know the ones. They usually contain a mix of offers ranging from photo printing and weekends away, to MOTs and hair cuts and everything in between. We’ve had a lovely weekend away and some great canvases printed for the house using these sites - my father in law is addicted to them….
However today I think they’ve misjudged their marketing….
I received an email from Wowcher with the tag line “Deals That People as Beautiful as You Bought ” – which had me sticking my fingers down my throat and gagging before I opened even it, expecting a host of offers for bargain clothes and hair and beauty products.
What it actually contained however were offers for thread vein treatments, lipo suction and skin tag removals -
What the hell is Wowcher trying to tell us??? – re-read the tag line with a sarcastic emphasis on “beautiful” and I think you’ll see where I’m going with this. Way to make a girl feel bad about herself Wowcher – What’s next for people as beautiful as me, diet pills, gastric bypass and face lifts?
This is me – part naked, exposed and posting this before I chicken out – this is in response the BBC article - Are women’s bodies still beautiful after pregnancy? I read and subsequently shared it on Facebook and it led to a really refreshing conversation with a group of my friends – all mothers – about their feelings about their bodies.
Stretch marks, cesarean scars, weight gain, between us we had all felt that something was at fault with our bodies. It made me feel – for want of a better expression. Less alone.
I was stupid while pregnant I ate and ate and ate, young and niave so thought “it’s baby weight – it’ll come off”. I was a size 10 -12 when I fell pregnant yet came out of the hospital a size 16 with added stretch marks and flabby bits. The only time I’ve fit into a 12 since was when I was on antidepressants – I got better then my back and hip problems started and the weight piled back on.
Oftentimes I hate my body – I have no real hang ups on how other people view me, But I really do have issues with how I FEEL and I how I view myself and that feeling is compounded by the heatwave we’re currently experiencing. Spring, Autumn, Winter – hell even in the last few summers I’ve been able to hide behind jeans, jumpers and shirts, I can dress and pretend, but in this heat there is nowhere to so.
It’s uncomfortable to be fat. Clothes don’t fit – summer clothes are designed for waifs and in shorts and vests everything is on show. The fat on my thighs – because WHY DO THEY MAKE WOMENS SHORTS SO SHORT, the stretch marks on my arms, the creases on my back, it’s all there for the world to see - and I feel uncomfortable, so very uncomfortable and exposed.
Some one sent a card into postsecret:
And they hit the nail on the head. While in reality I don’t care what YOU think of me, it only takes one story in media, one television programme about thin being beautiful, one stupid stupid facebook post or hurtful remark in the street to reinforce my feelings about myself. And I shouldn’t feel this bad about being me.
I’m 32, a Mom of one, recently married with a great job. I’ve overcome homelessness, selfishness of others and health issues to be where I am today and here isn’t such a bad place…
…So I’ve been brave and taken this photo. This is me laid bare, I can look at this and see the back fat and the split ends or I can look at this and see history. Every ounce of that weight has been on a journey with me and I need to be grateful for who I am and what I have, and so should all of the other ladies who were talking to me today. I have the greatest of respect for you my friends. You exude confidence and are so much fun to be around from the exterior no one would know of the body issues beneath.
It has taken so much courage for me to take and post this photo ( no really there was nearly tears and I’m home alone) but
you’re WE’RE all beautiful and think we just need to believe that of ourselves.