Happiness is a little kid next to a river.

Over the years I’ve thought happiness was a place to get to. Nine enormous lit-up letters, nestling in the hills somewhere like the Hollywood sign. And as soon as you get there: pow, like a comic-book sock in the face, you see stars. Hello, life. You can start now. I’m happy. And happy is how I’ll eternally be. Of course things will go wrong: I’ll forget to buy butter, and cats will still vomit, and Mailer’s Law decrees that every writing class I teach will contain a student who’s hell bent on being a bell end… but once you’ve arrived at Happiness you’ll manage these things happily and all shall be happy, as Julian of Norwich nearly said, and all manner of things shall be happy.

Of course, this is bullshit.

There’s a story about the Hollywood sign. One ordinary Friday evening in 1932, when the sign was only nine years old, a young actress called Peg Entwhistle climbed to the top of the letter ‘H’ and dived to her death down the side of the mountain.

If you go about life thinking ‘happy’ is somewhere uphill and you’ve just to climb to the summit then rest up forever, you might go the way of poor Peg.

That’s why happiness isn’t a place, or a state, or an end in itself. That’s why happiness, I think, is a little kid next to a river. And the bank’s a bit slippery, and he’s not really watching his feet, and his laces have just come undone, and that’s dog poo he’s about to step in, and who’s that weird man in the bushes – are those binoculars he’s holding?

And you, yeah you, are responsible for that kid. If you don’t keep your eye on him, unhappy things are going to happen.

Shit. Where's he gone?

Shit. Where’s he gone?

Happiness, too, has got to be kept an eye on. As any fule kno it looks perfickly lovely from the outside, watching kids play by the river. But under the skin of the outside it’s different. If you’re the one tasked with ensuring that child returns safely alive at the end of the day it’s less perfick and lovely than constantly stressful in small sorts of ways: like a kettle that can’t ever come to the boil but keeps trying to start. (Just been teaching my daughter about systems of imagery for her poetry paper this morning, and boy does this blog post need one…) You can’t close your eyes for too long, you can’t properly read, you can’t talk without having to check, check, check – and each check is accompanied by a squirt of adrenalin and after all, before you know it, this isn’t actually as much fun as you hoped it would be. Roll on bedtime.

That’s life too, right? Sometimes (not always) it isn’t as much fun as you hoped it would be. And then there are days, of course, when it’s downright fucking awful.

Even on downright awful days you can still be jolly.

How, Lynsey?

By deciding to be. By tending to your happiness the way you’d tend a tottering two year old by a fast-flowing river. By looking out for it.

It’s not in the big things: the new job, the fancy house, the lottery win. It’s a known fact that people who break every bone in their body can end up as happy, eventually, as a person for whom the giant sparkly finger said, ‘It’s you!’

As hard as it seems to believe when you’re going through shit, it’s not actually life events that make you happy. Except momentarily, fractionally, fleetingly. It’s a tiny bird hopping beside you when you walk into town, or treating yourself to sugar in your tea. It’s a text from a friend. It’s playing the ornaments in a Chopin nocturne exactly the way you meant to (fingers don’t always do what they’re told, as any piano-playing fule kno). It’s noticing colours, lights, sounds, faces. It’s walking along a warm street lined by trees and remembering that, even though you hate your legs in every cosmetic sense, you’re incredibly lucky to have them. It’s finding the right word. It’s cuddling a person you love. It’s throwing a bobble for your cat to chase. It’s being told you’re the staffroom pin-up in your new job because your students gave you such glowing reports, and that teachers you’ve never met in a school you’ve never been to are supporting your campaign against academisation and know who you are, and think you’re kind of cool.

In other ways the week’s been shitty. Campaigning is scary and stressful. I haven’t been sleeping, and eating’s gone out the window too (even Sainsbury’s knock-off nobbly bobblies have lost their appeal: don’t buy the real ones, people, because: Nestle…). I’m waking at 1.45, or 2.25 if my brain’s being kind, and I re-plump my pillow and pull down my eye mask and try to get back to the dream I was having, but this happens:

Twice this week I’ve been marking at 4 a.m. which doesn’t seem fair or proper for someone so poor she has holes in 87% of the clothes she owns, but there we are. Life is what you make it. You have to keep paying attention: and, yes, your purse has just dropped down a drain with your house keys in it, but maybe you never liked that purse anyway. And maybe you’ll have to ask help from a passing stranger, and maybe that stranger will have a long pole, and it might be the start of a beautiful friendship, etc.

My cat’s on the bed and he’s well cute. I had five hours sleep last night instead of two, so yay me, I’m winning at that, and I’ll bury my face in his floofy belly and not care too much about big things going well or wrong or so totally tits up you can hardly bear to think about it. All there ever is, in life, is this moment. The thing I just wrote? It’s already the past.

So is this.

Now is life.

And now can have happiness in it, no matter what, if you just keep an eye out.

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Forty-one and fighting.

I wrote this exercise for my Write Club group a couple of weeks ago. I call it I am born and it’s simpler than a two times table or the sky in a child’s painting or… other random things that are also quite simple. (My brain doesn’t seem to be working today: I blame the election.)

It has to be written in present tense (or else I’ll come round personally and tell you off) and each ‘chunk’ of your life is addressed in a single sentence: you’re aiming to capture a snapshot from that part of your life.

Lickle me and my nanny Gladys.

Lickle me and my nanny Gladys.

I am born and my hair is black. 

I am four and I look fat in photographs.

I am twelve and I still believe in God. 

I am fourteen and nothing has really gone wrong yet.

I am sixteen and miserable now, heaven knows.

I am eighteen and aching to leave.

I am twenty four and I don’t know yet that I’m pregnant.

I am twenty five and feeding fifteen times a night.

I am twenty nine and serious about writing.

I am thirty-one and sad about my skin.

I am thirty-five and can see the hill in the distance.

When I read this to the group in class I opted to maintain an air of mystery, amidst the crows’ feet, by stopping at thirty-five. But life didn’t stop at thirty-five, I’m glad to say (although, back then, I did feel it might be winding down, like that hideous bit when the lights come on at the end of a party and everyone blinks).

In another life I’m fairly sure I was a tortoise (slow and thoughtful; fond of lettuce), and hence, you see, I’ve decided I was just in hibernation. Under the straw in somebody’s shed. Tucked away in my shell.

But it’s Spring now. On my street, as I write this, lawns are being mowed. There are wildflowers in the grass strip between lanes on the way to the Sweet Briar Roundabout and, in between watching idiot drivers weave from one lane to another, without so much of a blink of their lights, I can turn my face a fraction of an inch and see those flowers. They make me smile. Am I silly for smiling at flowers? You might think so. I don’t.

There is always more life to be led. Well, not always, of course. I haven’t yet become immortal. We lost both our tortoises one awful Spring when my mum left them too long in the shed and if sheds are a metaphor for death (which, apparently, they now are) there’s a shed waiting for all of us, eventually. Which is why it’s important to do things now while you’re alive. Not tortoise-y things, bless them, because four hours with your face in a water trough isn’t something I’d particularly sanction (and neither is humping your good lady companion whilst she’s chomping lettuce; there’s a time and place for these things, as I used to think, in my childhood years, glancing out of the bedroom window to see poor Flash in the process of being molested by Speedy) but you can certainly come out of your shell (see what I did there) and get involved with your community, your country, your world a wee bit more.

And so I’m campaigning. Not like a tortoise; more like a yappy dog (that a fair few people would probably kick in the face, if they could). I’m campaigning because it’s wrong not to, if things are happening that you’re not very happy about, and you have a voice (I think I do).

Since I started campaigning I’ve been lucky enough to sit on a panel for the People’s Question Time with Natalie Bennett and Rufus Hound, where I shared my experience of depression (among other things) and finally got to say a public thank you to the nurses who played such a big part in keeping me alive last year.

Photos courtesy of John Ranson and Ann Nicholls.

But the fight continues. We have a Tory government, and our Tory government is hell bent on privatising every last inch of our country. They’re hell bent on privatising my daughter’s school, and if that’s something you, too, feel strongly against, then join our campaign here on Facebook.

And so, as this post ends, we come to the end of my timeline (so far):

I am forty-one and fighting.

Long may it continue.

Lynsey White’s journey to fighting against the Inspiration Trust

*Please note: this post has been edited.*

In writing this post I have been inspired by an inspirational post on the inspirational website of the inspirational academy chain called Inspiration Trust.

I am no longer going to link to this post, nor name the author. Perhaps it is unfair to single out an individual and perhaps it detracts from the larger battle. Perhaps it should also be noted that individuals can be placed under pressure by companies for whom they work.

Nevertheless, this particular individual was happy to sling the first blow by suggesting that those who sit on the sidelines shouting and moaning about his employers, Inspiration Trust, were basing their observations on nothing more than ‘lazy twitter comments’.

Here’s one of these lazy twitter comments. Actually, it took me a whole four seconds to take that photograph. Another ten seconds or so to upload it and a minute or two to compose an appropriately concise slogan.

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But it’s taken weeks and weeks and weeks of being ignored by the Department for Education and Inspiration Trust for me to reach the point of snark. If de Souza had come and fecking well asked if we wanted to give her our 54-acre school site, worth approximately £60 million, we’d have told her very politely: ‘No! But thanks for asking.’ and sent her on her way.

However she has never asked. And never will.

People ought to ask. They really ought. Along comes a group of venture capitalists and Tory donors. Along they come. And they can prise your locally-owned school from your poor, cold fingers, and snaffle the freehold, and cream off the profits from businesses run on the site (never mind that Norwich taxpayers paid for that site), and splurge taxpayers’ cash on designer tea sets and furniture (£420 for a Vera Wang tea set; over £3000 for two armchairs) whilst advertising for cut-rate unqualified teachers and driving away the ardent, the outspoken, the unionised… (Look at their staff turnover if you don’t believe me: it isn’t just the unionised pains-in-the-butt, either…)

They’re not great at IT, either, in spite of their chain’s initials…

Neither has Sir Theodore Agnew, the chair of Inspiration Trust, come cap in hand to Hewett and said, ‘Hello, lovely yokels! May we please have your school and all its land?’ Theo Agnew is also, since you probably didn’t think to ask but ought to have done (because, hello Tory democracy!), the chair of the Department for Education’s Academies Board. Oh, and also he sits on Policy Exchange, the right-wing think tank which ‘advises’ the Department for Education on all matters educational. Did I forget to mention he’s great friends with Lord Nash, the DfE’s Academies Minister? Perhaps I neglected to say that he’s also a Tory donor, to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds. Oh, and one last thing! He made his fortune outsourcing work to India, where graduates could happily earn a pittance for doing jobs for which he’d have had to pay unskilled British workers more. 

Actually it isn’t the last thing, since I probably ought to say that he went to an independent school (Rugby, I think, off the top of my head), failed his eleven plus, and has a crinkly fat-cut chip on his shoulder about anyone and anything to do with education.

Such are the men (for they are, primarily, men, with Trophy Woman Rachel de Souza providing the female touch) who are taking slow hold (and I said ‘slow’ because I like the way slow and hold sounded together, quite menacing, although in fact they’re doing it rather quickly; rather bloody quickly indeed) of our education system and please, please, please will everyone stop wetting themselves over the r*yal baby and find the inspiration to sit up and say, actually, no, we don’t want all our schools to fall into the hands of private businessmen who do this sort of thing with them.

And hence my journey: not to work for Inspiration Trust, but to oppose them.

At Hethersett Academy, owned by Inspiration Trust, there is a tiny room. It is the isolation room. It is where children are sent to spend the day alone when misbehaving. It is a room where a child with special educational needs can be sent to spend the day alone.

It isn’t called Room 101. But it doesn’t have to be, does it?

This is where we are heading if we don’t do something now. 

Raining on the parade.

I was seven when Charles married Diana. My street had a party. My mum or dad bought me the Ladybird book about the wedding, and to this day I remember my fascination with the name of one of her bridesmaids: Clementine.

It was all quite exciting, I seem to remember. Also the sausage rolls were very tasty. They always taste better on paper plates.

Fast forward thirty years or so and I’m walking home with radio four on my headphones, swearing out loud in the street at the fawning coverage of the ‘royal’ baby’s birth.

The thing is, yes it’s lovely that Kate and Wills, or whatever their names are, have  had a baby – by which I mean: it’s lovely for them. It’s lovely for the baby’s gran and granddad and aunties and uncles and so on and so forth, as it’s lovely for all families when a new arrival comes along. But the grown men and women who’ve camped for twelve days outside the posh London hospital where poshos give birth (is it just me, or does Lindo Wing sound like a Bond villain?) must surely be in need of psychiatric care. When the ‘duke’ arrived with ‘the toddler prince’ there were screams from the audience. Actual screams. 

I don’t mean to be rude, but: WTF? In a country where our Prime Minister (although, fingers crossed, not for much longer…) goes to great lengths to avoid being seen, or snapped, with his titled chums – mere peasants, of course, when compared with the ‘royals’ – because that sort of thing doesn’t ‘play well’ with the electorate… why, then are we falling over ourselves on bended knee to lick the boots of the land’s most toffish toffs?

Does anyone really believe (really, truly) that God chose Queen Elizabeth to rule us?

If the answer is no, then un-bend your knee immediately, un-doff your cap, get the next bus out of London and stop saying silly things on the radio about how it’s all been ‘worth it’ – for a glimpse of the toddler prince and then, some time later, a tinier glimpse of his new sister’s head in a shawl. ‘We’ve got a princess!’ said one of the crowd, excitedly, in a strong Geordie accent.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, love, but I doubt she’ll be round Newcastle way any time soon.

Although I must admit, this is a novel way to give birth.

Although I must admit, this is a novel way to give birth.

It’s the feel good factor, according to radio four. But what, exactly, are we meant to feel good about?

A night’s stay in the Lindo Wing is £5,913. (Kate gets a discount, having used the Lindo once before.)

This doesn’t include consultant’s fees, which are roughly £6000. (Reminds me of my own labour! I lay on the floor of the day room in the dark, by myself, for a couple of hours, because I didn’t want to wake the sleeping women on my ward.)

According to the Torygraph, the ‘Cambridges’ will hire a second nanny – one per child – although:

‘the Duke and Duchess are determined their children should have as normal a childhood as possible, and since they moved into the newly-refurbished Anmer Hall at the end of last year they have been immersing themselves in local life.’

This is Anmer Hall.

Anmer-Hall_3272919b

This is the ‘royal’ baby’s second home, Kensington Palace, where taxpayers picked up the £4 million refurbishment tab:

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Meanwhile, in other news, here are the contents of a food bank box from the Trussell Trust:

shopping-list-web

Here’s an interesting fact:

20,247,042 meals were given to people in food poverty in 2013/14

Here’s another, from Barnados:

There are currently 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK. That’s almost a third of all children. 1.6 million of these children live in severe poverty. In the UK 63% of children living in poverty are in a family where someone works.

Did you know that some children in Britain today don’t know what a banana is? Food banks can’t often give fruit, because it doesn’t keep.

A hundred people every day, too mentally ill to work, have their benefits sanctioned (i.e. stopped) for paltry reasons. Forty two of them leave the benefits system altogether. Only seven enter work.

That’s thirty-five mentally ill people every day who don’t have a penny to live on. And, thanks to these sanctions, a hundred thousand children are suffering.Through no fault of their own. (Even if you ‘blame’ their parents.)

But yeah, you’re right. I should be celebrating. Two small children get to live in luxury forever at our expense.

Hurrah.