European Mother

She was born in Paris in 1950 but not long after, a new right wing government forced the HQ of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) where my grandparents both worked, to move abroad. My family moved to Geneva for a few months, now working temporarily as WFTU representatives to the International Labour Office (an agency of the UN) while their offices were moved to the Soviet sector of Vienna. Between ’51 and ’55 my Mother was raised in Austria until there was a change of government – it became independent after the 4 way rule (between UK, France, USSR and USA) came to an end. A condition was that it had to be neutral, so the Communist WFTU moved to Prague in ’56. My family did also but decided ultimately to move to a German speaking country, instead of having to learn Czech. They found jobs in a member organisation of the WFTU, an affiliate in East Berlin. Their 6 week period in Prague was basically for the purposes of being under observation by the East German government, as if in a holding pen. Once in East Berlin my Grandparents were employed by the Trades Union International (TUI) for Public Employees (a TUI was a Communist idea, a global collective of trade unions for a particular sector.)

When my Mother was finally brought to live in London in 1963, it was because of the break up of my Grandparents’ marriage. My English Grandmother had retained her British passport throughout, so moving back was possible. My Mother cites walking up the steps to board the aeroplane for London as the biggest turning point in her life. She had to give up the life she’d grown comfortable with, and be thrown into a new system – politically and culturally. Her Father would not be allowed to visit (until later in life) and she felt forever like a foreigner in her actual Motherland. The divisive political borders in place during the Cold War made travel and connection much harder; so far from the free flowing passage to which many of us have become accustomed. I got to thinking about this after last June’s referendum on Britain’s EU membership, as the UK plunged back to the 1980s (and earlier) in terms of overt racism. Trump’s presidency just added to this sense of regressing, of a fortress around richer more developed places, and poverty being enclosed in a prison.

Many of my European friends living in London can’t help but feel unsettled, even if they have lived here more than 20 years, and even if they have married a Brit. Theresa May refuses to guarantee their right to remain here. However much I find it hard to believe they may be deported, I do not currently face any threat of deportation myself. My life continues largely as before. Yet my life has been shaped not only by the threat of, but the actual deportation of my Mother’s family throughout her childhood. My life would have been very different (or probably not existed) had my Mother never journeyed to the political East early on. She even cites the move back to the West during her puberty, as the catalyst for triggering her multiple schlerosis (MS). A few months after moving to London, she first experienced the disease. For a month she was unable to walk properly and for a year could not take part in sport. The doctors knew what it was and told her Mother, but as my Mum was under 16 they were not obliged to tell her. The crucial thing was, the doctors warned that while at this stage the disease was only temporary, it would most likely return later in her life, around her late 30s, when it would reappear with a vengeance. This is exactly what happened, but my Grandmother died without telling her daughter that she knew. It was a Great Aunt who subsequently revealed the truth.

While it may seem unlikely that moving to a more affluent and liberal city such as London would bring on a disease, the point is that my Mother had grown very comfortable and self confident in East Berlin. Not what we always hear about the Communist states, but that was her experience. To be wrenched from that world at her Mother’s instigation at a time in a girl’s life when many hormonal shifts are jolting, thrown into a new system more driven by greed and competition, unable to maintain easy contact with left behind loved ones, was a psychic disturbance.

When I was about 19 and my Mother’s MS was well underway I got in touch with the MS Society and started reading their literature. One article stated that there was a relatively high incidence of MS occurring among people who moved from a warmer climate to a significantly cooler place during puberty. I couldn’t help but imagine a link. What if it wasn’t just about physical temperature, but also concerned energetic shifts, say in socio-economic climate, combined with emotional state. It might not apply to a girl escaping from the East to find a better life in the West as was not uncommon, but in my Mother’s case, her parents had unusually chosen to live behind the Iron Curtain because of their political beliefs. More than that her American Father would not have been able to marry his British Communist wife and remain in the US at the time. His choice to move to Europe was political, and also of the heart.

During a recent visit to my parents, I found my Dad sat at the kitchen table. He declared bleakly, “It’s like an unfolding nightmare here. Let’s move to Germany.” Mum however was less keen. After living in London for over 50 years she has finally settled. Besides which, being massively disabled makes any sort of moving or travelling far harder. Their home has been fully adapted with hoists, ramps, a lift, special shower unit for wheelchair, a hospital bed… and after a good 15 years of employing carers and personal assistants, they are now in a more confident place in that respect. It takes time to know what you need and how to ask for it, often of people who don’t speak English so well. They have had assistants of many nationalities – African, middle eastern, far eastern, northern European… and the current team are a mix of Polish, Czech Republic and Slovakian. In the event that these women had to leave the UK, perhaps Mum would feel differently about staying.

Mum aged 11 or 12, in East Berlin, 1962

Mum aged 16 or 17, in London, 1967

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While I gently sleep in Idun’s class

On a warm day I naturally find the right position for repose

Abstract landscape seeps into a student’s drawing…

as Idun weaves her way round a vapourous studio

Mum has been in hospital and a blood transfusion has left her drained beyond words. It is like she has left the building.

For a long time she has fought with strongest will power a paralysing condition. Infections play havoc with her mind, and this is the part we all knew might come.

Floored at the Slade

It is a shift, a change of gear and in some ways it will be easier. But did we say, do all we needed to? Now we are left with fragments

By the river in Mortlake

There may be another opportunity, but I am not counting on it ever being like before. Dear Mum xxxxxxx

~ Beyond the beauty of external forms, there is more here: something that cannot be named, something ineffable, some deep, inner, holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. ~ Eckhart Tolle ~

Good Wishes & Time in Between

Every time I made a wish on a birthday cake, a dandelion husk or any other wish-inducing childhood phenomena, I predominantly wished for my Mum to be happier. I wanted her to stop being angry and seemingly the biggest source of family upset. I wanted it bad and I did not only wish her death on her, which whilst salient in my mind’s eye, was reserved for her least forgivable moments. It was easy to imagine her dead, but I did not know what her being happy would look like. There appeared to be too many things wrong.

This time right now I have left wide open. I am taking time. I am in therapy and it’s kicking in. I am inbetween projects/events and I am holding off commitments for now as I want to feel my own rhythm to find out where I am next putting my feet down. I am listening and reconnecting. I am life modelling and just that, no frills. There is space for emotions to come up, and I feel a bit vulnerable sometimes because I don’t have much that is fun and cool going on to talk about. It’s ok; I love the simplicity and time with friends.

@ the anger: unfinished business is all. An awareness of energies/programming which I want to bring to the table. Some of us were brought up thinking that we deserve the best and maybe more. Others, that we don’t; so we don’t expect so much or tend to get it. I have realised which camp I have been in for the most part so I want to reprogramme, and in the case of some friendships/relationships, it is time to reveal old patterns which aren’t benefitting everyone.

In writing I can express myself more freely; some friendships feel like family, and face to face is hard to say (all) the truth. Especially when in close quarters for too long, confrontation seemed an awkward imposition on someone else’s space. I don’t always shy from direct verbal, but there is a time and a place.

I recently spent a week like this at the Slade

Sleeping with Mum while she dreams of Venus & Mars

My sister and I are looking after Mum while Dad is taking a rare and much needed break. I am floored once again by what Dad lives with. I am moved by love too.

Mum asks that one of us sleeps in her bed with her, basically because she feels safer like that. This is my call and though the closeness feels right, my sleep is interrupted for her noisy breathing. I do also feel grateful for the intimacy between us now which never there was before.

In the morning lots of energy is needed for all the processes of getting up, and most of that is Rebecca and I getting Mum up. Before breakfast is done I need a nap and we haven’t got ourselves organised yet.

The best part is the conversations that would never otherwise happen. We had hoped to take a bold trip out into Central London as we have done before, but that was without taking into consideration the extra mileage of doing everything else for Mum too. Usually a daytrip works when Dad and a carer have done the first part of the day for us. We are rethinking plans as I write.

Last night Mum dreamt she walked on the planets Mars and Venus, as she was in her 20s. Remarkable – she always dreams of being mobile and young, sometimes walking in outlandish places like the bottom of the ocean. She said she had thought of Botticelli’s painting ‘Venus and Mars’ yesterday.

Rebecca brought us tea in bed before the rigmarole begun. Mum mentioned her lack of confidence in life resulting in her getting few jobs and not having friends. After moving from East Berlin she didn’t really settle here. I remarked that she might have overlooked at least one type of confidence she didn’t lack, which was with men. She was beautiful and was rarely without a boyfriend, sometimes several. To hear her relating her past put fresh light on my own life patterns. I have been working on unpicking them to make positive changes, and I wonder how much more may I do.

I have a very big feeling about spending this quality time with Mum. It strikes me physically; I felt it growing in my belly area a day or 2 before coming here. It’s much bigger than us. It’s about love and it moves me. That she has changed so much, and her condition; she requires us to rethink ourselves makes her into a change-maker. It makes me rethink the way I live.

A few years ago faced with the imminent prospect of dying Mum told us all for the first time that she loved us. That love and openness have been growing.

Sandro Botticelli's 'Venus and Mars' depicts Mars asleep while Venus is awake and alert; meaning that love conquers war or love conquers all

Anatomy of Love: Topless Sisters, Mum, a Beagle & a Hirst Sculpture

Following on from my Femen inspired exploits last week in Central London with my Mum, sister and boyfriend’s dog, here is the rest of the photo collection from that awesome day out – Friday 13th April 2012. By this point Steve Moore of Occupy City of London had seen us on our way… to the other side of the river.

After all this time showing off on my own, Rebecca decided perhaps she would join in...

Mum being supportive on a slightly unusual day out

It was getting busy by the sculpture so we found our own patch

Dee getting restless

Sisters doing it for themselves on Millennium Bridge

Reclaim Your Love!

It’s that in-between stage. Considering options for upcoming events, where to put our Spirited Bodies Energy. It starts to feel bureaucratic – paperwork to become a charity, applying for funding… learning how to make the correct spiel, and watching out in case some of our messages might be offensive… Hold On! What the fuck is happening? I am passionate about what I do; it’s the only reason I do it. Because it can affect people deeply in a way that I think really matters.

At our meeting Lucy brings a copy of The Sunday Times Magazine with a picture of a Femen activist on the front cover. The meeting goes well, plans are discussed but the next day what I can’t stop thinking about is radical feminist activism. I am bored, and I want to feel excited again; feel the electrical itch of anticipation when you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next, but you just have to be there every breath, on edge, on fire.

These Ukrainian women kick ass. They get arrested, they are funded by donation and they are hot. Sex tourism is so rife where they are with so few opportunities, topless protest just makes sense. They scream and they are righteous. I would be too. They remind me of me, or of a younger me rich with vitality, only in my youth I think I lacked such purposeful direction.

I research them, check out flights to Kiev and ponder what I’d do with them. I write to them, but I know they must be inundated. What they do is theirs. What I want from them is some of their raw urgent style. I can’t think of anyone around me who would likely join me on such a quest. This may be my own, and I am bound. That my boyfriend is recovering from an operation and unable to make love with me may be the best thing to happen to me, to my drive to push me, remind me how dissatisfied I am with my situation, and with the world!

Then Friday comes and I have arranged a trip into London with my sister – we are taking Mum to St Paul’s Cathedral, it is one of her favourite places in London. The night before I wake up early with an idea. Black paint and my overcoat. I can feel the tingles! It’s like being a teenager or falling in love all over again! Yes! Life!

I am early to meet Mum and Rebecca, and decide to call in at the Finsbury Square Occupy camp in Moorgate where I reveal myself; it's my first visit to that Occupation. Willing and bemused residents aid me.

I spot an auspicious sign by the pavement. Dee, my boyfriend's dog, is great for extra fond-inducing smiles, though I am trying to be serious here. A lovely French protester takes the shot.

Steve Moore from the Occupy camp accompanies me to St Paul's to visit his old home. It's his first time back since eviction; nostalgic memories. He knows the place inside out and is well suited to finding good shots.

I adopt classic Femen pose, without their traditional flowers and ribbons (symbol of unmarried women?) but with the addition of a beagle! (I am on walking duty this week.) Also my slogan is not a negative. I live in Britain and my prospects aren’t so glum. The council helps with my rent and the Arts Council may help with my feminist arts cause to help others. Besides I’ve read spiritual books which say embracing the positive is far more powerful than complaining or stressing what is wrong, which may encourage more of the same.Females of the family

Steve takes us to the best view of the dome; a roof terrace of a shopping centre. He has many stories from his St Paul's experience; he was a bailiff before he joined Occupy and his expertise proved pretty canny during proceedings: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-davey/the-faces-of-occupy-steph_b_1412524.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=2912968,b=facebook

I pose inside a sculpture

On the way to the bridge

On the Millenium Bridge

Looking through the images I think I may have forgotten the ‘shameless exhibitionist’ tag, I definitely got a buzz from this! In fact Rebecca who took a lot of the pictures sent me so many, I shall do another post. We had a positive response from public unsurprisingly, and even the security guard at the shopping centre who had to invent an excuse about the dog to get rid of us was fairly polite. The family day-of-action was a success!