The Canaries

I’ve been visiting las islas Canarias for several years now. Many moons ago one of my mum’s closest friends and her two young daughters moved to La Gomera. I’ll never forget the day she showed me where they’d be living: an old animal shed, down a small pathway overlooking the valley. As a young child I don’t think I understood why she would be taking one of my closest friends to live in something that basic and smelly. Renovation wasn’t a concept I knew well. Today, their home is a beautiful apartment with expansive windows enabling you to breathe in the calming view.

Here is a small selection of photos from Tenerife and Gomera. I hope you like them.


There is so much to see in a wall if you look closely: peeling paint, shadows, determined weeds and perfect cracks.


Santa Cruz de Tenerife

There is so much colour, beautiful architecture and art to see in Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife. And of course, some of the most divine tapas and wine to satiate your hunger after a stroll around the city.


The majority of the native islanders are Roman Catholic. There are lots of religious celebrations throughout the year and these fiestas are a colourful, dance-filled display of their love of God. One fiesta I recall as a child is on St. Mark’s day in late April, where a succession of fires are built outside the church in Agulo and people jump over them, perhaps attesting their devotion to the saint. The friends and family that I have there are religious about food, wine, surfing, hiking, music and relationships rather than God if I’m honest.

 La Orotava

An old municipal town on the north of the island nestles on a sloping valley; the streets are cobbled and filled with restaurants and cafes, the buildings bursting with deep reds and burnt orange. It’s a feast for the senses and definitely worth exploring.


The two islands I’ve visited are so varied geographically. One minute you can eat fresh snow in blasting sun on top of a dormant volcano and then turn the bend and you’re in mist with skeleton trees lining winding roads. In Gomera you might spend the morning sitting on black sand beaches and then travel up the valley to take a stroll through the Garajonay National Park in what feels like one of the oldest woods in the world.


The main reason I love the Canaries so much is the family and friends that I have there. Their way of life, their love of delicious food and wine, relaxing, their warmth and how I am welcomed as one of their own every time is what makes the islands so special.





Hemp will not get you high but might save the world

A brief history of hemp

Never has there been such a controversial and politically fraught plant as hemp. Originally from the Indian subcontinent, hemp has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years, mainly for its strong fibres and medicinal uses. The first evidence of its use was unearthed in China, where hemp fabric from as far back as 1122-249 B.C. was discovered. In Britain, its use as rope and fabric can be traced back to before the Romans. During the British Empire, hempen rope was integral to the voracious fleets of ships that conquered the world. For centuries, governments around the world legislated for its production, unfortunately more often than not for its contribution to patriotic war efforts. It also clothed, healed, nourished and provided canvases on which to write. However, up until the last few decades, it has been mired in a shroud of mythology and misinformation, stultifying its inexorable positive contribution to both people and planet.


Unsurprisingly, much blame for this impediment can be placed at the feet of the United States. The problems stemmed from an epic error in botanical distinction. As is well documented, marijuana and hemp are part of the same family: Cannabis sativa. The former gets you high, whereas it would take an exorbitant amount of hemp to have any psychoactive effect. In fact, hemp should rightly be understood as anti-marijuana as it contains the cannabinoid compound called CBD that blocks the psychoactive effect of THC in the nervous system. This was all lost in translation by the U.S drug authorities, and the two were lumped together, despite the federal government’s efforts to distinguish their differences. Thankfully, vast swathes of the world haven’t failed to notice the nuances so patently obvious in science, and now 31 countries have legislated for the industrial growth of hemp. The U.S. is now effectively playing catch up, and at the start of 2015 the House of Senates agreed to an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, which now excludes industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The world’s largest hemp consumer can now legally contribute to its production, according to state law.


Hemp is a miracle crop

Once the fog of misinformation clears, what stands before us is one of the most versatile multi-purpose plants of the temperate world. With over 25,000 recorded end products, some enthusiasts claim hemp is a miracle crop. Hemp grown in Britain is processed into an impressive array of natural products, such as insulation, biodiesel, paper, horse bedding, and the non-woven converting industry, which supplies automotive companies.

Not only does hemp make great products, but it also has hugely significant benefits for the environment. The Eden Project states that hemp is “a potential flagship crop for the 21st century” due to the minimal damage and actual benefits that its growth has on the planet. For example, hemp is six times stronger than cotton, and can be grown with 10% the water of this conventional crop. Hemp can be used as bio-diesel or biomass fuel and is carbon neutral because any CO2 created in its burning is offset by the carbon being absorbed in growing. It can also be made into concrete that locks up more carbon than is released in its production. It is also a no-brainer in the production of paper, where trees cut down to make paper take 50 to 500 years to grow. Hemp can be cultivated in around 100 days, with a yield of up to four times more paper over a 20-year period. There is also evidence that suggests that hemp is an excellent rotation crop, which has an ability to reduce pests and weed growth and also improve the yields of the primary crop. Furthermore, any product made from timber or petroleum can be sustainably derived from hemp, including plastic. And the list goes on.

THTC speaks truth to power

No wonder there has been so much effort made by the powerful to demonise and silence hemp as it is a panacea to so many of our contemporary ills, created by governments and corporations whose very existence and policies are called into question by the versatility of hemp. And this is where my friend’s clothing clothing company THTC, the UK’s award-winning ethical brand fits in, by utilising one of the world’s most political plants to speak truth to power through its ethos and designs. Established in 1999 by brothers Gav and Dru Lawson, THTC is an ethically driven clothing label that produces eco-friendly and politically conscious street wear that brings thought-provoking issues such as climate change, sustainability, fair working wages and social mobility to the forefront of fashion.

Their designs effectively invert how hemp was once used during war efforts by slowly tying a hemp noose around corporate imperialism, government greed, wealth inequality and human rights violations. Never has it been cooler to literally wear your politics on your sleeve.



The Art of Brasil, Part 2

Brasil is art, now that is a bold statement. I suppose because art is inherently subjective, but it’s true. Everywhere you look, you can see art: on the streets, in the leaves, in people’s faces and of course, in exhibitions which legitimise and promote certain artistic expressions. This post explores art through the themes of religion, nature, exhibitions and people.


Brasil is epic in size and equally as impressive and at times overwhelming in its biodiversity. You have to remember, I come from a tiny island called England, that although incredibly beautiful, is petite in comparison.

Continue reading

Uncover London, Part 7: Pontoon Dock

So much has changed since I ventured on what might be the last entry in the Uncover London series. It was, in fact, the 12th June that on a sunny Sunday I decided to explore an alien part of my home city. Since then, I’ve been to Glastonbury Festival and braved the slew of mud, rain and optimistic and dedicated revellers, I’ve moved to Bristol and set up a new home with my partner. I’ve bought a car, taken my nephew and goddaughter to Longleat Safari and had a monkey poo on my car. Only today I’ve completed a reading for the upcoming PGCE in Secondary School Teaching of English; visited Montego City to have the pressure of my tyres checked; got lost on the way to the park and stumbled across a garden centre where we bought some things to start the process of growing a herb garden, and sunbathed in St. Andrew’s park moving several times to escape the sound of numerous clads of young people inhaling nitrous through balloons in the beating down sun. Tired of reading all the materials that I should have been calmly devouring, as suggested by the head of the PGCE course way back in January, a retreat into writing seems fitting. Being that Pontoon Dock seems a life time ago, I will have to dig deep into my memory, prompted by the images captured.

The freedom of randomly selecting an unknown location on the London Underground map led me to a brisk walk down Brondesbury Park to Kilburn station on the Jubilee Line. Descending into the city’s belly, that sense of excitement that I’d experienced in my years of travelling filled me with awe and anticipation. Not to bang on about it, but Uncover London for me has completely changed my feelings towards settling back into a more sedentary and predictable life in England. Having grown up travelling in a bus converted into a home from England to Morocco with various other hippy-types; spending five years living and travelling in Asia and then my most recent stint in the Americas as well as going to festivals such as WOMAD, Glastonbury and Stone Henge, exploration and immersion in different environments and cultures is something I flourish in. Realising that a sort of simulation of these fresh experiences could also be had in London has been indescribably liberating.

For those of you who don’t know where Pontoon Dock is, and why would you, it is way over east in between Silvertown and London City Airport on the Docklands Light Railway. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, as like me you’ve never set foot in that part of the city, it is quite close to Greenwich on the Jubilee Line. As my destination approached, I noticed to my left a cable car gliding gracefully over the skyline. Since when was there such a thing and why didn’t I know about it? I decided to head to its foot after a stomp around the Dock.

Advancing from the silent station, I crossed the road to try and find an entry to a wasteland I’d spotted where, in the distance I saw a huge derelict building. When I first arrived in London aged 18, with a combination of fear, trepidation, ardor and misplaced levels of country-living-based trust of humanity I swiftly found myself part of the city’s illegal rave scene. This consisted of crews of people that owned sound systems, playing a variety of music from the pneumatic-drill inspired Gabba to rolling Drum and Bass, breaking into disused buildings, illegally of course, and putting on epic parties. The thrill of becoming part of a sound system and reclaiming these spaces from their state of dereliction and filling them with loud music and a kind of “f**k you we won’t do what you tell us” freedom is potentially what propelled me to want to sneak into the old factory before me.

Spillers Millennium Mill

Spillers Millennium Mill

And boy did I try. I walked some steps to be greeted by an intimidating and impenetrable high fence and signs saying things like “Do not enter, this site is extremely dangerous” and “No unauthorised entry, Trespassers may be prosecuted.” Undeterred, I scaled the fence into the bushes only to be repelled by thickets of brambles. I even shouted out at what I’d thought was a dog walker, only to realise later that the man was a security guard and the Alsatian his backup. Descending the un-permitting steps, I walked along the perimetre, stopping strangers to ascertain if they had any idea how I could get in. Met by confusion, I was declined any suggestions and so continued down another road where I reached the main entry point.

The old and new sat side by side. A towering red-brick chimney sat in the centre of a mini roundabout opposite the heavily restricted entrance to what I could now see had been a factory called Spillers Millennium Mills. It stood defiantly and proud amongst soullessly sterile new developments that seem to define contemporary housing designs. Now, in the comfort of my new home with the Internet at my fingers I can divulge that it was a flour mill, built at the turn of the 20th century. Behind this beautiful white mill, where hundreds were employed, rested a small section of the Rank Hovis Premier Mill. I wanted to get into that building so badly and smell history with my own eyes that I loitered at the gates for an eternity awaiting one of the security guards in the distance to spot my eager face. If I were still in London now, I’d take inspiration from a blog I’ve just found where Ramsgatonian managed to actually get permission to visit the mill. Check out his photos as they are fantastic. I’m seething with healthy creative jealousy right now!!!

Slightly deflated, I returned back down the road through banal subtopia to cast my eyes and stomp my feet along a permissible London. I soon realised that this was going to prove to be next to impossible. Skeletons of developments where the flesh was slowly being placed with cranes and hard hats refused me. I carried on regardless, trying to get to the river. I would not be deterred by the rapidly decreasing public spaces that activist comedian Mark Thomas had ranted hilariously about on his comedy tour Trespass. Walking through a discouragingly meticulous splosh of curvy green bushes, I finally arrived at the Thames.

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier

Silver constructions spread across the river, which I now know are called The Thames Barrier, built on the 1970s as a flood preventative. For anyone reading that has just dipped into this series of posts, one of the main ingredients involves no recourse to mobile technology or the Internet either before or during the adventure. Research post the trip is permitted, but in order to not spoil or affect my journeys I literally go somewhere new and get lost! Anyway, I digress. I stood overlooking the river as people walked their dogs and the waves lapped and licked the tiniest river beach beneath me. The rain began to fall in larger droplets than my clothing and soul were comfortable with so I ploughed on with the view to walking down the Thames until I found the cable cars. Easy right? Wrong. The privatisation of almost everywhere meant I was shut out left, right and centre.

I re-entered the tedium of what would be homes for the affluent as planes lifted into the air in the nearby airport. I thought I’d found a way to keep the water by my side, only to be refused again by an area cut off by a new apartment complex. Shut out. Go away. This place is not yours. I’m a stubborn and persistent kind of girl so I retraced my steps and passed high fences all blocking my view of the structures along the water’s edge. Finding a park, I entered it hoping it would lead me to a river pathway. I did manage to gain entrance to a very old gate, which had once stood at the front of Harland and Wolff Ltd, a shipbuilders opened in 1924 and finally closed down in 1972. I chuckled to myself at the irony that the only place I could explore had been demolished and closed for several decades.

Harland & Wolff Ltd

Harland & Wolff Ltd

Shut away from the river, I pondered at how the city was selling off more and more sections of itself for the benefit of whom? Private investors? Who lived in these sanitised spaces anyway? Annoyed, I walked alongside a busy dual carriage way ready to go home. Underneath the engines I saw a memorial to a young man called Tommie Harley who had been killed at that spot at the tender age of 20. I’ve just learnt he was bricked to death in the early hours of the morning, dying a few days before he turned 21. The plastic flowers and empty candle holders lay forlornly on the floor, so I rearranged them as best I could and prayed his soul was soaring high, as the memorial’s poem described.

Disheartened by death, dereliction and denial I hung my head low in the rain. It was time to leave. As the lane narrowed in a dimly lit and industrial littered trap I spotted a smattering of colour and cheer that pierced the drollery and depression. Welcoming the change, I approached. One of the industrial spaces was in fact a Nigerian church where a woman in white garb and head dress was surrounded by family members, friends and fellow worshippers in white. They were all being photographed to record her 50th birthday. Children scattered around and some of the women invited me over to take photos. They adorned brightly coloured clothes, red painted lips, exuberant smiles and warmth reminded me again that there are a hundred and one Londons all mingling together.

Nigerian colours

Nigerian colours

Restored and filled with warmth in the persistent rain, I arrived underneath the cable cars. Approaching the entrance of the cable car I marvelled at the softness of a rainbow in the distance, reflecting on the water. Ever wondered what the Emirates Airline tube stop was, north of Greenwich, well it is the cable car!!!! You can use it with your Oyster card for a small fee of a few quid. It crosses the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks and at its peak reaches 90 metres. Beaming, I placed my Oyster on the yellow pad and entered the launch area. I had a car all to myself, as well as the Emirates video that played throughout the journey, providing information on the scene below.

A rainbow above the cable cars

A rainbow above the cable cars

Elated, I soared above all the areas that had been shoving me out and away. I moved seamlessly across the industrial areas filled with life and death, commiseration and celebration. I laughed in the face of the enclosure of private space as a huge corporate entity carried me across the skies. Oh the beautiful irony. The Millennium Dome came closer, a construction I’d never expected to see from such a height. I felt like I’d won, won a battle against denial and refusal. I congratulated myself aloud, and fell in love with London all over again. Landing at the foot of the big white tent, I continued my adventures, which I shall merely describe through the pictures below, and as the warmth of the sun held me, I thanked the city for reminding me once again to expect the unexpected and to never give up, for even if the environment screams an obtrusive “no”, eventually something or someone will invite you to fly.

Uncover London, Part 6: Burnt Oak

Last Saturday, a sunny haze enswathed north west London. It was a haze that resembled the bright clouds that had hung mysteriously over a scene in one of the preceding night’s dreams, obscuring softly. Despite feeling a little ill, as had been the case for what felt like weeks, I decided to head out and explore London. It’d been a while since my last trip, as life had either taken over, or rather I’d allowed it to get in the way.

I left the house with the usual: water, camera, wallet, sunglasses and a smile. I took the Overground from Queen’s Park to Euston, then changed and got the Northern Line to Burnt Oak in Zone 4, north London. I chuckled to myself on arriving at the station, as the aridity of my new location’s name contrasted massively with my desire to pee. Being that the city is fairly devoid of public toilets that aren’t depressingly gross with only crass marker-pen messages scrawled across walls to cheer you up, I had to find somewhere on arrival. Luckily, when I emerged from the station, pushing my way through large glass doors with beautiful wooden frames, I found myself on a busy high street. Continue reading

I Have an Issue with Facebook

My Facebook profile page

My Facebook profile page

I had been toying with the idea of quitting Facebook for a considerably long time. I was getting bored, wasting a lot of time on it and wondered what life without it would be like. The deciding factor that bolstered my desire to leave the site was the attacks on Paris on 15th November 2015. Whilst feeling a deep sadness for those that had been affected, and a connection as half my family are Parisians, I had no interest in seeing an ocean of shallowness swell before my eyes. Of course there would be an enlightened few that would peel back the layers, revealing a story far-more complex than general mass media reporting and the bovine that believed it. I just couldn’t face the idea of seeing more hash tags saying stuff like #IstandwithParis or the French flag being superimposed over people’s profile pictures. Nor could I be bothered to enter infuriating debates with ignorant “friends” who displayed a narrow compassion, sympathising with white victims of violence, whilst remaining saliently silent for the brown people who’d recently lost their lives to bombs in Bagdad, Beirut and al-Bayda. No, that was it, I needed out. Within 24 hours I’d shut down my account.

My relationship with Facebook

I accidentally joined Facebook on 17th June 2007. I was sat at home in Brighton in the front lounge. It was a hot day and the sun filled the room as I lazed on the sofa, surrounded by a jungle of plants. A girl from university had sent me an email automatically generated by Facebook to everyone in her contact list. Absent-mindedly I clicked on the link and found myself setting up an account. That afternoon disappeared beneath my fingers as I immersed myself in this new world. I added friend after friend, excitedly accumulating throughout the day. The first message I got was from a friend, Liam, who had been trying to persuade me for months to join, but I’d refused, stating that I had no interest in social media at all. Little did I know it would become an almost daily habit for the next 8 years!

My first day on Facebook, 2007

My first day on Facebook, 2007


Over the next few months I had reconnected with people that I would never in my wildest dreams imagined speaking to again. A guy I’d had a passionate fling with many moons ago and had lost contact with as my email account had decided to shut itself down permanently found me, which would have been impossible without Facebook. Kids, now adults that I’d been friends with at primary school had gotten in touch and we formed artificial friendships that had no physical grounding, and would never lead to one. After a while though, I began to question whom I was adding as friends and whom I was accepting, and why was I adding them? What did it mean to have 300 friends? Would I ever get to 1000? I slowly started deleting them, feeling bad for about a minute. When I closed the account last year, I had 970 friends! And that was after a recent spate of removing randoms. Who were all these people? Why were we friends? And how did that affect my understanding of the term friend?

For example, I remember one evening at a party meeting a friend-of-a-friend for the first time and, slightly tipsy, trying work out where I knew her from. I really recognised her. How do I know you I kept asking. Eventually I worked out that we’d never met, but I’d seen her in holiday photos with my friends in Menorca. I’d seen her in her bikini, I’d seen her drunk, I’d seen her at a BBQ and on a boat trip. Facebook was affecting relationships with potential new friends, providing me with a set of representations constructed by themselves and their mates. It was all becoming a bit intrusive.


At first my interaction with Facebook was mostly a lot of fun. I love photography and it was an innovative way of sharing pictures and seeing others from people across the globe. I felt a connection with people that I knew and loved and like I was able to experience their lives through their photographs. Over time however, an element of my relationship with taking pictures started to change. This is actually hard for me to admit as it makes me sound kinda sad but an almost immediate thought would spring to mind after taking a shot. Should I put this on Facebook? How many likes will it get? I began to think of my creative outlet in terms of how much appreciation I would get rather than purely enjoying the process. I guess lots of artists think this way, but because it was Facebook it felt somehow crass and cheap. Similarly, whenever someone else took a photo of me, which I find genuinely uncomfortable, my mind would spring to pondering on how many likes it would get, who would see it and who would comment on it. Photography on Facebook had gone from sharing art to bordering on the vainglorious.

A Selfie?!!!

A Selfie?!!!

Facebook starts to become less fun, more politics

Initially Facebook wasn’t at all serious. There was lots of banter, explicit statuses, expletives, embarrassing pics, the occasional sharing of wisdom and the odd article here or there. Insidiously, the function of Facebook changed from entertaining to political, reflecting my life and interests during that time as well as a shift to the propagation of click-activism and endless memes. My friends then began to include UN Special Rapporteurs, politicians, authors and activists. I began using the site in a very different way, accepting almost any friend request sent to me. I saw Facebook as another opportunity to share information about challenging, confrontational and controversial subjects and that the more people that added me, the more I could potentially influence. Of course this then changed what I said and what I shared. Chat began to take a back seat and, at least for me personally, it all became a bit too serious. I would barrage people with images of burnt bodies after Israel bombed Gaza; with petition after petition requesting people to act on issues I cared about; and a slew of articles attempting to dispel and crush the monopoly of knowledge that the mainstream machine disseminated. Some friends during face-to-face conversations thanked me for my endeavours, saying they read almost everything I posted. Some I’m sure blocked me, getting wearisome of the assault I unleashed on an almost daily basis.

Having become a much more political space, the scope for debate and discussion widened, albeit it in an impersonal and toneless medium, occasionally leading to misconstruction, flabbergasted expressions, rising anger and decreasing patience on my part. Despite this, I have to say, I learnt a lot from people about issues from the occupation of Palestine, feminism, the economic crises, spirituality, food, health, nutrition, geo-politics, art, music and so much more. However, I often felt a deep sense of frustration at some of the ignorance I encountered, finding myself exasperated, dismayed and enraged and later feeling foolish for having allowed myself to become entangled in sometimes seemingly futile chat.

How do I feel post-Facebook?

Deciding to leave Facebook was fairly easy, and as I mentioned before, not a fresh idea, but one propelled by a desire to see what life was like without it. I reckon I spent at least an hour a day on it, every day. I would check it over breakfast, waiting for the train, during breaks, coming home and probably several times throughout the evening. Woah…that’s the first time I’ve ever written that down. It feels like an AA meeting introduction…Hi, my name is Layla and I am a Facebook addict with a mild to heavy habit. So what replaced this endless swiping down streams and streams of memes, petitions, photos and mindless fluff?

At first I seemed to become a more avid user of other sites. Instead of having the red notifications from Facebook, they would pop up on Instagram instead! I felt like someone who had given up cigarettes, replacing them with spliffs: a process of switching without actually clearing. Here are some initial notes I made on my phone about life without Facebook:

Day one: getting rid of all my masters readings and I thought it would be good to put a post up to see if anyone wanted them, but I couldn’t. I’m so used to having a space to advertise things I have that I no longer want or need any more. Weird.

Emailed people that had contacted me with their details the day I closed my Facebook account and it felt good.

Day two: accidentally activated my account when signing into Spotify and had a mild panic attack as I couldn’t shut it down from work. Thought people would assume that I’d given up on my experiment of life without Facebook after less than 24 hours so I asked my best friend Nat to shut it down for me.

Day three: got a little bored at work and wanted to distract myself in the break but couldn’t so stayed focused and present instead.

Day four: I actually don’t really miss Facebook. I thought I’d be pining for it, and although it’s a good time filler when I’m bored, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Several days later: setting up a new Spotify account was a pain in the backside as the first one was linked to my Facebook account so I couldn’t sign in or listen to any of my tunes.

At some point: wanted advice on where to buy my nephew a skateboard and would usually put a status up and get tons of suggestions. I asked my brother to do it instead.

One month later at Christmas and finally I miss it. I miss knowing what people are thinking or what they present to the world they are thinking and being included in that process. Still no desire whatsoever to reactivate my account.

Life post Facebook

What do I miss the most? My international friends. I miss knowing what Tara and Jonah are up to in California; I miss Yasmina and my Goddaughters in Mexico; I miss seeing what Sylv is doing in New York; I miss my Colombian families, my Thai crew, the Palestinians, Brazilians, Portuguese, South Africans, Australians and I could go on. I feel very disconnected visually from their lives: their thoughts and ramblings are no longer part of my everyday. I miss reading the occasional inspiring article, or insightful quote, and I miss seeing photos of parties, concerts and events that I’ve been to. I also miss the utility of setting up an events page: they are so freakin’ helpful!

What I don’t miss is thinking about something that seems profound, at least to me, and almost instantly wondering whether to put it on Facebook with the hope that people will find it interesting and comment or click like. I don’t miss meeting up with friends in the evening, them telling me a story and thinking, well, I already know that as you put it up as a status on Facebook a few hours ago;  I don’t miss swiping down streams of mindless tedium masquerading as profundity; and I don’t miss flitting away time debating with people that have absolutely no desire to see things any other way than their own, using Facebook as a platform for spreading racist, bigoted, narrow-minded pomposity disguised as thought-provoking contributions to issues of real gravity. Perhaps in the future I will join Facebook again and limit my intake to once a week or month but for now, life without it seems to be just fine.


Uncover London, Part Five: Blackhorse Road

It had been an eternity since the last adventure into my home city where I randomly select a tube station and uncover an unknown part of London. Yesterday I awoke filled with the joys of having control over my time again. I have recently joined the world of conventionality, no longer working from home and instead arising daily at 6:41am before setting off to a school in Harrow where I now teach. It is half term now, and the world is once again my oyster.

I decided to head to Blackhorse Road on the Victoria Line in E17, Zone 3, after a photography course along the Embankment. The sun was shining, nourishing the soul and shedding light on the city’s wealth of possibilities. Selfie sticks abound as tourists soaked in the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and other well-known sites that have somehow lost a little of their majesty on having seen them so often. My mood on embarking the tube had shifted from the whistling and humming of nameless melodies in the morning to a sinking and emptiness that began to consume me. I was hungry, which is never a good thing as it usually entails a grumpiness and total lack of perspective until I’ve replenished my energy levels.  Continue reading

I have an issue with periods

 Discussing your menstrual cycle is usually off limits in most social situations, and as someone who has had to deal with periods for over two thirds of my life by fact of being born a woman, I have an issue with that. I don’t write this as some sort of man-hating rant, although my feminist proclivities are particularly heightened and distorted during the time of the month. Rather, I want to have a candid discussion about something that affects billions of women every day, and the men around them.

I have a particularly hard time with my period, mostly the days preceding it. Close friends and family will attest to this, as they certainly get to hear about it being that I am the loquacious, non-socially conforming type. The symptoms vary, as it would seem menstrual cycles are affected by numerous factors, such as stress levels, diet, other women close to you and their cycles and the amount of exercise you have been doing.

Girls in Ocosingo, Chiapas

Girls in Ocosingo, Chiapas

Being that it’s impossible for men to be able to relate, the best analogy I can give is this: remember when you were a teenager and felt uncomfortable in your own skin, hormones raging? Well, it’s a little like that, only every month until you meet the glory of menopause.

This month I am several days late, and for a week now I have felt pretty useless. I am tired, moody, sensitive, anti-social, unable to articulate sentences clearly and have totally lost all sense of perspective. I have been advised by my acupuncturist, who I have been seeing for some time now to help me regulate my periods, to rest as much as possible. And this is what is so difficult. Last weekend I attended a family occasion with people I hadn’t seen for an eternity. In an ideal world, if I could have been entirely honest with myself and put my needs first, I would not have gone at all. Rather, I would have hibernated in my room, keeping myself to myself and resting. Of course I didn’t do that as I put the happiness of others in front of my own needs and although I had a great time and don’t regret going for a minute, I was exhausted, lacked confidence and wanted to lie down somewhere and hide.

Like many women, I have a job. Sometimes my period is so debilitating that I would like to cancel my entire schedule. But how would people react if I said it was because of my period? Instead, if I’m in a particularly bad way, I say I am ill, in effect, l am lying, which is something I deplore doing.

Ideally, I would like to be able to be much more honest. For example, tomorrow morning I have an interview, which will require me demonstrating enthusiasm and energy, amongst other characteristics. I am dreading it! If I could perhaps say: by the way, I’m not my usual self today because I am suffering from premenstrual tension, so please don’t judge my performance then that would be one way of alleviating the stress. Clearly I won’t say that, and the façade continues.

I wonder if some men, and I say some as my family and close male friends are all very progressive and understanding, think of discussing periods as a sign of weakness. In a society where feminism has resulted in women fitting roles that were typically ascribed to men, I often wonder whether highlighting our identities as women is frowned upon. The fact is though that some women have a really hard time once a month and it can affect everything. Would it not be better if periods were less taboo, not seen as a weakness so we could express why we might seem a bit off, a bit moody, sensitive or like me right now, incoherent and lacking perspective?

How would more candidness benefit us all? Well, for a start, I imagine it must be tough for people in relationships at certain times of the month. Men must find women really hard to deal with, and strains might be felt and arguments potentially had. If there were more of a general understanding by everyone that every day life can be impeded by menstruating, and that rather than this being a sign of weakness, it being a mere fact of life, then channels of communication might be clearer and women might feel more understood. In the workplace or whilst studying, if there were more clarity on the symptoms of periods, it might be forgiven if performances were affected, grades lower and attitudes discordant with the norm. I spent several years studying as a mature student and dreaded having my period when an essay had to be submitted or exams had to be taken. Can you imagine if I’d asked for mitigating circumstances due to having my period? I most likely would have been laughed at.

What I would hope to see more of is men accepting that some women have a very hard time once a month and to allow that temporary shift in behaviour without judging it as merely a woman’s issue. We don’t all live in separate spheres, so it would be hugely beneficial if we could be sensitive to each other. I would also like women to feel confident enough to be more outspoken about how their periods affect them. I’m not talking excessively, like dropping at a board meeting in the middle of someone’s presentation that their period sucks and is affecting their ability to concentrate. I mean that when necessary, contextualising how they are feeling without thinking that they are being pathetic. If we were all to be a bit more honest and a lot more understanding, communication would be clearer and as a woman, I’d feel like I could express myself more honestly without being judged.


What can you do when the world feels like it’s gone mad?

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland, a brown civil rights activist from Chicago, was found dead in a police cell almost two weeks ago. Although the facts around her death remain unclear, what is painfully obvious is she is another innocent victim of police brutality. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that US police killings are headed towards 1,100 this year, with black Americans two times as likely to die. It doesn’t seem like institutional racism and the oppression of black people that has been raging across The Land of the Free for hundreds of years is coming to an end any time too soon. As her family and friends mourn the senseless barbarity that so swiftly and needlessly eradicated her existence, many of us are left wondering what to do when the world feels like it’s gone mad.

Erdogan Guzel

Erdogan Guzel

Around the same time of Sandra’s killing, a group of teenagers opened fire with a machine gun on a busy street in Wood Green, North London. Erdogan Guzel, father of two, was shot dead whilst drinking coffee with his friends on a Friday evening. Reports suggest that he was an unintended victim caught up in a turf war between rival gangs. Again, another life obliterated within seconds. His wife is in pieces, and his children will grow up with only memories of their father and for what? What was going through the kids’ heads as they picked up the machine gun? What leads people to have such disregard for life?

These deaths have forced me again to question how have we got here and what, if anything, can I do about it. For the last two years I have been purposefully disengaging from activism and politics. Instead, I’ve worked tirelessly on healing myself. I’ve been processing my own tragedies and sometimes-questionable life choices whilst trying to develop a philosophical understanding, which enables me to understand my relationship with myself and others. I’ve stopped watching the news, stopped reading the papers, and hardly ever go to any political protests. Years of immersing myself in battling against the needless immiseration of vast swathes of the world’s population had made me angry, and I came to the realisation that this wasn’t going to help anybody.

Why am I telling you this? Because when we are faced with needless killing, racism, war, occupation, climate change, poverty, abuse, violence, corruption and the list goes on, ultimately we all have a choice with how we can process these ills. Often people give up; they embed themselves in a state of denial or self-imposed ignorance as they can’t cope and feel like that there is nothing that can be done. Although this is a totally understandable reaction, there is a great deal that we as individuals and communities can do, with minimal effort and often no cost.

What we can control is ourselves. We have the power to choose to be good people, to be compassionate, patient and understanding. We can be tolerant; we can listen and extend ourselves to others. We might not be able to afford to donate to charity, or even to volunteer our time to projects or organisations. However, we can smile at people on the street, we can check if our neighbours are alright, we can be kind to strangers. We can buy a homeless person a sandwich, or sit and have a chat. We can stop and ask the person crying silently on the train if there is any way we can help. We can boycott corporations that we know are involved in human rights violations and we can sign petitions. These are all things that are within our control. These are things we can do to stop ourselves from feeling paralysed and the ripple effect of acting in this way, is immeasurable.

#SayHerName #SandraBland #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland #SandySpeaks

The Art of Brasil, Part 1

Brasil is epic in its size, beauty and diversity. It amazes me that after the fall of colonialism that it remained one country due to its impressive variety, ranging histories and peoples. Perhaps what binds this gargantuan land mass is a sense of nationalistic pride that manages to shadow Brasil’s problems, such as wealth inequality, police brutality and corruption. Regardless, it is a breath-taking, beautiful, vibrant country, where music, passion, love and a zest for enjoying life is infectious. The first gallery of pictures centres around the themes of the sun, form, street art and industry.

The Sun

I am rarely awake early enough to bask in sunrise, but I managed to enjoy a few whilst sailing down the Amazon River. In the evenings, it felt like such an honour to see the sun set over the water, bringing with it contemplation over whose lives it is beginning to illuminate. I can understand how pre-scientific beliefs in the sun being a god came into being, due to its awesomeness and role in the creation and sustenance of life.

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