London is the Place

 

I still smile every time I come out of the Brixton Tube station and turn left, and it’s like being in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean all at once. The incense man outside the supermarket is really from Barbados, though he pronounces “incense” like a Jamaican. A car passes, blasting the latest funky house summer scorcher, the unholiest of combinations of high life’s easy groove, dancehall’s driving bass, and soca’s call to wine.

 

Piece I wrote for Caribbean Beat Magazineon my ongoing love affair with Babylondon.

 

It’s my write.

I’m not sure if I’m accustomed to it yet.  Not having a column to say what’s on my mind.

I gave up my column not for a lack of things to say, but because I put so much of myself into those 800 words every week that there was little else left for any other kinds of writing that I’ve wanted to do since forever.

The future is not as certain as I would like. Now that my flakiness is wearing thin and I realize that, oh shit, I haven’t a parrot on a stick…But the words, the words are there, still in my head.  Trying to find ways to come out.

A dear friend from India read my palm the other day and said I am due for some drastic change of direction in my life.  I’m looking forward to change, hoping that these movements take me closer to the clarity that all the words, all the words I have written in the past ten years have been reaching for.  I still feel that it (whatever it is) is just outside my grasp. I still feel that it is just beyond the next corner.

I guess I have no choice but to keep writing. Keep reaching.  Keep hoping that I get there.

Yesterday I got bored of Facebook.

It’s been interesting watching the responses from close friends to I guess my rather sudden deactivation of my Facebook account.  People want to know if I’m ‘okay’. As if coming off Facebook is some kind of sign of possible madness, depression or some other crisis of social exclusion.

Truly, I’ve always kind of questioned my sanity but not enough to seek professional help.  I mean, who needs meds when there are mangoes and meggies, right?

Anyway, for an addict I seem to be coping really well. Haven’t broken out in sweats or anything and my primary thought all day has to my relief not revolved around creating a witty, thought-provoking status update.  I’m still on Twitter, but it’s never really consumed my life as much as the ole crackbook.

I don’t know what prompted me yesterday to deactivate, maybe it was the full moon, but much like when I stopped eating meat, it was a thought that entered my mind and once it did, I didn’t second guess it or wait for the doubt to set in.

It was a lot easier too, after a week and a half partial fast caused by the sudden and untimely demise of my hard drive.  After the initial distress, I woke up the next morning and started doing the gardening that I’d wanted to do since the beginning of the rainy season.  In the hour that I would ordinarily have spent fiddling around with my page, I managed to sort out my compost heap and chop my way through some weeds, and set up a bed of tomatoes, pigeon peas, and peppers.

I was stunned and quite frankly ashamed of myself to discover just how much time I could waste. Time that I could never regain.  Scary.

When I got my laptop back it was easy to fall back into the same old pattern. It’s easy when it’s your news feed, your grapevine, your companion, your measure of yourself, your propaganda.

But I find myself these days desperately wanting to break out of familiar patterns and my FB addiction is a rather good place to start.

I realise now that I’m writing this that FB encouraged me to write more in sound bites.  Which is not really the best thing if you’ve got a book to get out of your head and you have a woefully short attention span anyway.  Of course there was also the immense element of navel gazing, people macoing, how many times a day can you check one person’s profile-ing.  Luckily for me I get bored easily.  I guess yesterday was the day I got bored with Facebook.  It remains to be seen how long I can sustain the fast.  I now have no clue about friends birthdays, haven’t bothered to check the news and I also don’t have a clue about what is happening in Port of Spain anymore.  I guess if it’s important enough somebody will actually pick up the phone or something.  But for the most part I am enjoying not being caught up in the noise of other people’s lives.

Songs and Memories

Been doing a lot of backing up and adding and deleting tonight. Listening to favourite songs and some songs I haven’t listened to in ages. Brings back really wonderful memories of my life and times, trodding through creation, meeting some wonderful people and maintaining ties with some lovely old friends. Some songs I can’t listen to anymore because they are so full of memories…some of them bring back a time when life was less complicated. But I am thankful for them all. I guess I’m documenting them in the unfortunate event that I forget how much these pieces of music and the times and the places and the people mean to me.

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson Early 1980′s George Lamming was staying at our house, working on something or another. My sister had just got a copy of the Thriller album and we set about playing it over and over. Uncle George declares to our great shock and horror ‘Who is this Jackson person?’ So of course we had to put on a whole concert for him, including Didi doing the moonwalk across the living room. At the end of the song, Uncle George declares ‘This is a funny sort of house’.

Inglan is a Bitch – Linton Kwesi Johnson – 1987 London The mother took me to an LKJ concert in London somewhere. I don’t remember the details because I slept through most of it, but at some point in the night I remember waking up to see this little black guy prancing around the stage singing in the roughest, loveliest voice I’ve ever heard ‘Hinglan is a beeetch’. Been in love with him ever since.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears – 1986 Watford. I was standing at the bus stop outside Woolworths with my sisters on the way to school. I was standing there minding my own business when this woman comes up and punches me in the face. Dry so!! Buss my lip and everyting. Not pleasant. This is the song that was playing on the radio when the Babylon came to question me about the woman after school.

Natty Dread – Bob Marley and the Wailers May 2000 Kingston. Went down to Trench Town to do some volunteer work at a community centre. They didn’t cater for the vegetarians so we wandered across the street looking for a vendor. Happened to wander straight into the yard where Bob used to live with his mother and Bunny Wailer. We sat in the shade of giant ganja trees and reasoned with rasta elders who gave us fruits and coconut water to eat. Bliss!

He Loves Me – Jill Scott – Winter 2003 England – Road Trip to Stone Henge with my very good sister friends Tonni, Tamara, BinghiNya and Gab. Nya was driving us to Bath and then she started to sing this song. I am so very thankful to have these womyn in my life!!

Here and Now- Andre Tanker – Winter 2003, China. I didn’t find out that Andre died a whole three days after… That day Tonni and I took a trip to the sea off Qinhuangdao. It was cold and the water grey. But it was good to be by the sea and I was glad to have a moment to whisper my goodbyes into the waves.

Fools Die – Peter Tosh- New Years Day 2004 London. Passed out at Skateboard Pete’s New Years Party, woke up at 6 am and this is the song Svenn was playing. A melancholy way to start a bizarre year that I was very glad to see the end of!

Shanti Om – Lord Shorty – Jouvay 2004 Trinidad We were just coming out of the Savannah. I think Shel Shok was the DJ. The sun was just coming up and they drop this song! Ooooh gouud…I was never so happy to be home as in that moment. By Ash Wednesday I was cured of that, though.

Natural Roots – Jah Shaka – Summer 2004 Me and Empress Jo in Finsbury Park at an all day Dub festival. The house in Turnpike Lane with the Hairy Fairies and food and reasonings and energy balls and falling asleep standing up in all night Jah Shaka dances in the Rocket in Holloway. The N29! D&G ginger beers and the best 24 hour snack shop in Trafalgar Square. Primrose Hill and vegan Thai buffet paradise for stoners. Sundays in Spitalfields market. Cheesy reggae Saturday nights in Camden! And that lovely Ethiopian bredrin, Yohannes was his name?

Water No Get Enemy – Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Autumn 2004 London – Svenn used to play this song at least twice a day. I don’t know why it became such an anthem for us, given that we were living in the middle of Chelsea with Ralph Lauren as our corner store, ha! Walking down to King’s Road we would spontaneously start singing the song together. Our merriment was frequently cut short by a burst of running to catch the Number 19.

One Day – Mungal featuring 3 Canal – New Years Day 2005 London – Me, Kassie and Nya talking about all our hopes and dreams and fears on the brink of a new day.

Zion – Maximus Dan – Summer 2005 – I was living in Zürich and getting rather fat. So every morning I would go for a run in a vineyard near the lake. It was mostly uphill and I would never really think I could make it. But just as I got to the top of the hill this song would come on and I would practically fly down the hill towards home, smiling maniacally with my hair flapping about in the breeze. Needless to say the neighbours stared at me like I just landed from another planet….

Anisiedad – Daisy Voisin Christmas 2005 Trinidad. I hadn’t been home since my grandmother died in 2003. The mother was in the kitchen making black cake and then this song came on and it made me think of my Ida and the fact that she was the original black cakist. That I would never again have the pleasure of her boofs, her smiles, her sarcasm, her pakchoi and rice! I hadn’t had a chance to cry for her in almost two years of travelling, working, loving, moving again, running away and trying to figure out where home was. But then Daisy came on and I got a full appreciation of all that I was missing and all that I had missed.

Live Good – Burning Spear- Carnival 2006 Chatham …the first time I went down to Chatham and met the women of the community and was so impressed by the concern and commitment that I was motivated to get involved in their struggle against Alcoa. When the meeting was finished we ate with them and then Samantha, the 8 year old daughter of our hosts, took my hand and walked with me around her yard. She pointed out all the different trees: mango, pomerac, zaboca, fig. And then she looked me in the eye and said ‘if Alcoa comes I not going to have this anymore’. Part of the reason I never went back to Switzerland…

Ee wa Obakoso – Ella Andall – Summer 2007 Iceland – We were driving up to Husavik right at the northernmost point of Iceland. At about 1 am it was still light and my anarchist friends decided that that was a good time to go check out a crater. It was so windy and cold I ran all the way. Got to the top out of breath with the wind howling in my ears and the crater’s gravel crunching under my hiking boots. I don’t know if I was crying because I was so cold or because I was so overwhelmed to be where I was for the reason that I was there. I had never felt so far from home and yet so close to myself. The wind blew my tears away and then everything got very still.

Naturally – Slow Train – Rainy Season 2008, Trinidad. Me and Kassie, joined by Jacob on a road trip to Toco. We practically wore a hole into that cd replaying that song speeding through the north coast.

Even After All- Finley Quaye- Many Many Nights 2008 The Republic. After party cleaning up. Svenn bepping on the day bed. Sheli listening to every note. Keshav singing and washing dishes. Makeda cooking, again. Me playing ten last songs. Daddy O recounting Amel’s birth. Lemongrass and ginger tea, chocolate tea and pongkin choka. Enamel cups and loud laughter.

Okay I’m going to stop there before this gets too cheesy….

Babylondon calling

I know sun is shining
Somewhere across the sea
I know sun is shining
That’s good enough for me
No need to worry anymore
No need to worry cause I know
The sun’s gonna break through the winter haze

The Camel, Fat Freddy’s Drop

The instinct to hibernate appeals to me. In a way I suppose it shouldn’t for someone who was born in the sun and loves the feel of it on her shoulders.
The instinct to hibernate brings me to Babylon-don. To bleak skies and days so cold that I am rarely tempted to venture out. So I camp out in the kitchen warmed by jazz and bursts of cooking and listening to radio documentaries and dramas. My television is the kitchen door that gives me a view to the back garden, which is teeming with London wildlife: fat pigeons and kamikaze squirrels and the occasional fox. Funny that I have to come to a big noisy city to find some peace. To unplug from the haste of island life, the noisiness and the bright colours.
Even the rain whispers, like a conscientious nurse careful not to wake a sleeping patient.
Friends can’t quite understand why I’ve turned up now. In the midst of a bad winter, in the midst of a certain financial crisis. Friends who curse me for not bringing the sun in my pockets to lighten their days.
When the spirit moves me I leave the house to engage with the cold on my face, fighting its way through my layers of wool and cotton and the Tribe Called Quest I blast into my ears to steel my courage against it all. I am relieved to discover it isn’t as cold as I think it’s going to be.
It is the winter of discontent, the winter of few getaways. The winter of sales before Boxing Day. The winter of no new stylish winter gear, no ski weekend in the Swiss Alps. It is the winter of more men asking you for spare change on the streets.
I end up in Camden to check out a band called Spasm, a real callaloo of musicians from all over the place. They play a Kuti-esque percussiony funk with a good measure of Midnight Robber whistling from the lead vocalist, a Trini poet called Anthony Joseph. He bobs and weaves like a soca-soaked preacher man and sings a lament for his grandfather’s cutlass that was so sharp it could leave a mark in water.
Later a New Zealand reggae band with full brass and the most beautiful Maori man rock the Roundhouse. The sun is going to shine again, he sings in a surprisingly soulful voice that makes me so full of love for London. He sings into the middle distance for a place I know. He sings for all the exiles/ ex-isles in the crowd, white, black, indigenous.
He sings for me and my Londoner sistren, home and away, different and the same. Searching for meaning and feeling and purpose in a world driven to the brink by greed.
He sings for all the runners. All of us who have used our escape hatch. All the shape shifters, moving in and between forms like music moving from blues to dub to funk and everything in between.
He sings for all who can afford to run. Who can’t bear the stagnation that is familiarity. For the thrill seekers and the big thinkers who can’t be held in the box of their little islands.
I wonder on the bus back to Brixton, what would be my sanity level if I couldn’t afford to run.
If I couldn’t skate out when I got fed up enough and bored enough of state of things in Trinidad what would I do with myself?
Who would I be if I had to stay confined to an island for all the days of my life? Imprisoned in a way of living and thinking.
I feel no guilt anymore for running away. For riding out temporarily in the interest of my own sanity. For disconnecting from the BS in which I am so emotionally invested.
The thing you run from comes to meet you, greet you, shake your hand and squeeze your shoulders. On a bus in Babylondon blissed out on New Zealand dub and sweet Trini funk I can’t deny my own responsibility for the mess that Trinidad finds itself in.
My own mountain of questions for which I have no answers. My own insularity and lack of vision and my own inflated sense of rightness that stops me from really working with others.
It’s a relief in a way to have a chance to be critical of myself and my motives. It is not a luxury we allow ourselves on the island. We have too much invested in the mutual friendly society and then cut you down behind your back.
I return to warmth of the kitchen, staring into that midnight darkness of the back garden. Glad to return to my self-imposed exile, my self-appointed hibernation. There is no guarantee of sun, rain, snow or sleet here tomorrow and I find that unpredictability quite endearing.

What to do when you can’t sleep

Another night that sleep resists you.  You wrestle with the bed, beat the pillows, turning them frequently to get to the cool side.  Change position.  Stare at the ceiling.  Get up and put on some music.  Drink some water.  Think about dreaming.  Imagine yourself falling, flying, sinking into a night of rest so refreshing that you wake up the next morning without that same restlessness that followed you like a shadow through fitful hours of shallow sleep.  As if your brain will not let you rest. As if there is just too much to do and not enough time.  As if your brain will not forgive you for the time it thinks you have wasted.

Try some reiki. Try some deep breaths.  Make an insomniac playlist.  Try to ease your mind. Coax it away from this rest rebellion.  Try to reason with yourself.  Make a list of things to do when you can’t sleep.

Read

Colour code headties

Listen to BBC World Service

Write imaginary letters to lost loves

Google bizarre things

Ignore the book you’re supposed to be writing

Create exciting new meggies

Watching, writing and jonesing for Babylondon.

In a moment of procrastination today I was thinking about my life thus far this year, what I’ve been doing and what I’d like to be doing for the rest of year.

New Voices is taking the first real break since last May. Since then we’ve done two seasons which have been huge learning experiences for me, I can’t believe how much I’ve grown since I first started out in the tv thing.  The biggest challenge of course was venturing from behind my computer and really putting myself out there in a way that I never had as a writer. I guess it was made a lot easier by the activism stuff, which is taking new and interesting turns now that I’m not using my television time to preach.

It’s wonderful to not have to be doing so much thinking these days…well at least not about television.  I’ve been thinking about writing. Different kinds of writing.   A book, a couple scripts.  I’ve scribbled notes and fantasized wildly about directors I’d like to work with.

I’ve also been working on this, which is mind-blowing in a totally different kind of way.  Interacting with parents and teachers in parts of the country that I’ve passed through with NV or to do some guerilla tree planting is exciting but also frustrating.  It feels like our children are being forgotten in our manic rush to developed nation status.  They are quotas and statistics without faces. To talk to parents and teachers about children they know. Children who are wives, children who have to go and ‘put down a wuk’ to get money to go to school.  It scares the broodiness right out of me, it does.

Speaking of broodiness, I still vacillate daily between wanting to go out and get randomly impregnated and wanting to do some kind of tubal ligation to prevent me from ever having to deal with the huge burden of being someone’s mother.  Not seeing my nephews everyday however is almost unbearable although they drive me totally crazy, they are exceptional humans who make me hopeful that the species isn’t completely useless…

What’s the point of this post, I wonder…I guess every now and again I need to write down what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  Perhaps to reassure me that I’m not completely wasting my life. Perhaps to make a note of all the things I want to be doing but am not.  I was talking with someone the other day and I realise that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, a little bit of writing, a little bit of television, a little bit of activism.  And some yoga in between to keep me sane.

Altogether I don’t think I’m doing to badly, except maybe on the money tip.  sheeit.  Oh and I’m kind of like, so over Trinidad and all the bullshit I’ve been jonesing for Babylondon in the worst possible way.

Running out of words

At the end of daybreak, this town sprawled-flat, toppled from
its common sense, inert, winded under its geometric weight of
an eternally renewed cross, indocile to its fate, mute, vexed
no matter what, incapable of growing with the juice of this
earth, self-conscious, clipped, reduced, in breach of fauna
and flora.
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Cesaire

When you run out of words do you scream silently in a corner, like a woman waiting for the next bout of licks from a man she once loved?
When the hope that used to make your skin tingle dries up do you wonder where it went or resolve to go on without it?
When you run out of words do you keep writing anyway, because if you don’t write you die?
Even if there are voices all around you that say that your voice is not valid. Your words unmoving. Your reason non-existent.
Do you still keep talking anyway, in the hope that one day it might make sense somewhere, somehow.
Do you wish you could cut yourself so that people can see that you bleed. Do you ignore their anger or let it seep into your veins and make you wallow in their doubts that are not yours.
When the mask you didn’t know you wore begins to slip, do you keep on anyway, not wanting to stop, in case your heart did too.
Running out of words and running out of time. Running into walls that you yourself have erected to protect you from real and imagined terrors.
When you run out of words do you respect the silence or do you tear at it in a rage, spewing nothing but a pained and garbled noise.
When you can’t think of what to say to make it better. Or make it different. Or just to make it seem like there is something there other than a big hole.
When you run out of words do you lose your patience like a mother who is tired of repeating the same instructions to her children? Do you lash out until they understand? Don’t stop beating until you feel like you anger is sated.
Do you stab and stab and stab away at the flesh of your loved one, when you run out of words.
Watch the word count. Rising and falling and then stagnating at four hundred. Four hundred words that are supposed to represent the whole of who you are. Keep going. Get distracted. Wonder where the words have gone. Wonder if you’ve run out of things to say. Witty things and bitter things and funny things and hopeless things. There is nothing more to say now. You run out of words to fall on deaf ears or ears that turn off their hearings aids when you try to speak.
You have no words to express your disappointment at your failure. You have no words to say how shocked you are that no matter what you say, this is the way things are. This is a done deal. This is our history and we must re-live it forever. This is what women need to keep them in line. This is not the time or place for us to stop and think and find our own way.
You have no words to mutter to yourself, no prayers or mantras that make it better.
You are out of words and it is time to pack up your tongue, put away your brain, succumb to the emptiness and the silence. To accept the noisy empty vessels. To know that the Red House is somewhere that jackasses bray because they must. And the rest just wait for cues. To point and laugh. Or hold their heads and bawl. Never to find their words.
Never to articulate their frustration.
When you run out words you have two choices.
Be like everyone else and become terrified of the sound of your voice.
Or resolve to change your language altogether.

All the Way

There’s definitely no logic
to human behaviour
but yet so irresistible
they’re terribly moody
then all of a sudden turn happy
but, oh, to get involved in the exchange
of human emotions is ever so satisfying

there’s no map and
a compass
wouldn’t help at all
Human Behaviour, Björk

The grey hair, just north of my right temple showed up just like that the other day. It just popped out of the curly fro that grows under my locks. Like it was saying hello. So I said hello back and let it be and it’s disappeared somewhere into the mass of hair, as if my brain was trying to test my reaction.
I managed not freak out, which is a disturbing sign that I might actually be becoming a real certifiable adult.
This past week has also been the first time in as long as I can remember that I haven’t caught the pre-birthday funk, probably because there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to factor in being miserable about getting older on top of all the other mischief I manage to get up to.
Aside from it being the week before Carnival and my birthday, today also marks the climax of weeks of social and political activism around the world known as the World Social Forum.
It’s the kind of hippy lefty event that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and today I’ll be down in Couva with the residents of Pranz Gardens who are currently making their own statement about not wanting Essar’s steel plant in their backyards.
And as I’ve prepared for today, I’ve thought about just how the lives of people who try to get involved in social change are reflected in the events and actions they get involved in.
Another thing that I can blame on my mother, is she raised me in a house that was always full of writers, activists and other assorted undesirables who gave me a distorted sense of the normalness of wanting to be involved in everything.
To this day I can’t pinpoint exactly what motivates people to get up from their beds in the morning and decide they can change the world? What gives them the right to think they are that powerful?
I don’t have a clue, but I keep getting up every morning and thinking that I can find a way to make a difference.
And the older I get, the more I feel that I have the right to stake ownership of my wanting the world to be a better place. I’m bored of the self-effacing way that this society makes you think you have to act in order for you to be somehow acceptable.
Because the unfortunate thing about thinking you can make a difference is that most people have a problem with that, unless of course you have corporate sponsorship or reside in some politician’s rectum.
People don’t like you to challenge their own laziness. They resent that you tell them good morning or ask them not to litter. They don’t want you to criticize their SUV aspirations and they certainly don’t want you to tell them anything about any blasted trees.
People would rather send me letters eloquently describing to me how much of a self-serving hypocrite I am than mentoring a child. Which would have caused confusion in the younger me.
But the grey hair I believe I have earned through years of adventures that one day I might actually tell my mother, gives me a new level of I really don’t give a toots.
Because every morning I get up and I know that today I can be more than an insignificant little columnist on a tiny corrupt little island.
The good thing about getting older is that its suddenly become so much easier for me to be wholly uninterested in what people think about me or the descriptions they spend a lot of time coming up with (the best one of these I’ve seen in a while was ‘Hanky-headed Negro’).
The grey hair is under no threat of being pulled out, hidden or dyed. I’m actually looking forward to rocking that whole platinum dread look a la Toni Morrison, even if I don’t win a Nobel Prize or any prize at all.
It’s the race that counts though and I’m running all the way to the finish.