Today I’m one of THOSE Vegans…..

Yesterday I touched on the fact that I would rather list everything that I don’t eat then call myself a Vegan, in my article ‘Oh so you’re a Vegan…’. It makes sense, because my journey into Veganism did not begin with the desire and intention to save the world.

The reality is outside of the Vegan community, it is others that give me the Vegan label. I really did just list everything that I don’t eat for the longest time.

According to the Collins dictionary, Veganism is “the adherence to a vegan diet“. So if I was to base my classification off of that, I am at least following Veganism. However, others may argue that its bigger than just what you consume. According to Merriam-Webster, “ a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals also : one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather)”. This requires a little more of a person then just what they eat. It goes into the lifestyle choices that one makes. So do I adhere to that? The short answer is yes. In recent years I have made a conscious effort to check the labels of products I use. What may have started out as necessity for health and quality of life has expanded to mean more to me. It matters to me now that if i’m using a product, it has the Vegan trademark and that products are therefore free from animal ingredients and animal testing.

My issues with Vegans, and why I’ll often distance myself from being labelled as one is their desire to police other Vegans and the militance they use to Police those that don’t adhere to the same diet and lifestyle as them. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t force it on anyone. You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink and I fully follow that practise. If anyone asks my opinion on it, I’ll share where my thoughts lie but you won’t find me trying to force anyone into it. It has been wonderful to see my friends reduce their meat consumption over the years and also approach me for Vegan recipes of their own accord. You can do more with love then you can ever do with hate. Would I prefer all my loved ones to be Vegan? Certainly. My brother knew whenever he came to my flat that he was getting a Vegan meal because that’s what I eat. I can remember watching episodes of shows like Come Dine with Me, where when the host has been Vegan, they’ve cooked meat to make their guests more ‘comfortable’. You won’t catch me doing that. The other month I proclaimed to my friends that I can’t marry a meat-eater, I was called extra, and I can see why it would seem that way until you take into consideration all my reasons around it. I won’t list them here but its a big part of my life and I would like whoever I end up with to share that part of my life with me.

According to the Vegan society ‘Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’ Thats right, ‘as far as is possible and practicable’, this is a definition that definitely applies to me. 

When I first gave up the consumption of all animal products, I was ignorant to much of the food practises involved in the preparation. I was aware of battery farms, was adamant that animal milk is for animals and not Humans. It’s strange that Humans are the only mammals that consume the milk from species not their own. The more I would learn the more it would confirm in my mind that I was on the right course for both myself and the planet. I always say that if one thing doesn’t change, then nothing will. I might only be one person, but all of those singular people doing their bit eventually adds up when numbers are combined.

I am not an animal person, in all honesty, they scare me. Whilst fear is irrational, I have always been wary of animals due to my inability to communicate with them and know what they are thinking. In my youth a friend got bitten by a dog intent on attacking me after he stepped in front of me. My fear of dogs is therefore less irrational and more based on experience. Before you make any further assumptions about me, you should know that I am no less wary of humans. While I am not an animal person, I am equally not a human person either. I do not agree with the idea of having pets, especially if you live in flat or don’t have the means to make that animals life as spectacular as can be. They can’t tell you if they are unhappy though, so its up to you as their owner to ensure you are doing the most. Many people fall in love with the idea of having a pet, and when faced with the reality not matching the dream, send their pets off to pounds. I’d rather no-one keep pets than that, but if you are a potential future pet owner, I would suggest not heading for a breeder but getting your animal from a rescue centre instead.

By that same measure I am not a fan of Zoos unless they are actively contributing to the conservation effort. I hate that the new norm for many holidays is to be pictured with a declawed tiger, on the back of an elephant or something similar. I love animals in the wild, I believe the only interference that should come from humans is ensuring that we don’t lose any more species to extinction. Like many of you I watched the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. I would have liked to have seen these ‘zoo owners’ prosecuted for their crimes to animals, illegal breeding of tigers and full on animal cruelty. You won’t catch me signing a petition to free Joe Exotic and I genuinely hope that they lock Carole Baskin and all the other big cat owners up soon too.

Back to the Vegan society’s definition of Veganism, and we look at the line to ‘all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.’ As I said before, I love all animals in the wild. A few years ago, on one of my annual Easter trips to Grenada, I told my dad I wanted to take a trip up to Grand Etang to see the monkeys. These monkeys are wild. They roam free in the rain forrest unencumbered and are protected by local laws. There’s not guarantee that they will come out of the trees and see you but some give in to the lure of an easy dinner, an offering of some bananas. Looking back, I question if this was exploitation but the monkeys are wild and free to come and go as they please. I was probably more scared then the monkey that decided it wanted to sit on my head to eat the banana that I gave it.

I love all animals in the wild. I hope that future generations understand the importance of them getting to stay in their own natural habitats, with minimal to no interference from humans. So whilst I abhor animal cruelty I must speak up when I see people hunting and killing endangered animals for sport. Last years winter love island over on ITV saw a contestant named Ollie Williams outed for being a trophy hunter. If there’s anything I hate more its the hunting of animals for trophy. Ollie’s twitter bio states that he is a staunch conservative, I miss-classified him as a racist because of this, and with no proof I retracted that statement and apologised. But given that I now had his attention, I felt it was important to address his status as a trophy hunter despite papers like The Sun printing article where Ollie claimed not to be. The Mirror also published an article on this entitled ‘Love Island’s Ollie Williams denies trophy hunting in defiant statement’. However, pictures don’t lie, and Ollie deleting the evidence of his trophy hunting actions from his instagram did not make them disappear all together. Once on the internet always on the internet. 

My Twitter argument with Ollie saw him attempt to threaten me with the notion that I will get my ‘fingers burnt’, and I would like to take this opportunity to remind him that he courted fame when he went on a national television show. 

My argument with Ollie fast saw him changing his tune to state that hunting is important to ‘the survival of many African species’. It made me wonder what did Africa do before Ollie was born and embarked onto the continent as a white saviour.

I would have been more inclined to believe Ollie’s sentiment that by killing and posing with the bodies of animals he was acting on the greater good had he not been exposed by the metro newspaper in March 2020 in the article, ‘Love Islands Ollie Williams shoots venison after denying Trophy hunting claims‘. In an instagram post captioned ‘Hunting wild venison: my kind of stockpiling’ Ollie can be seen hunting Deer. In todays climate, you do not need to hunt for food, with the exception of indigenous tribes who live off the land, it is not necessary. The Guardian newspaper reported that ‘UK householders throw away 34,000 tonnes of beef every year’  in their article, UK households wasting 34,000 tonnes of beef each year. That article is now 4 years old and I imagine we waste even more food per annum now than we did then. 

I will always actively confront those that I see practising animal cruelty. Hunting of animals is not needed today and those that do it, do it for sport alone. Activities such as clay pigeon shooting can be done instead to tackle those desires. To conclude, whilst I may not have started out as a person concerned with the right of animals, know that I care. I will not sit by blind to the practices of animal cruelty. If you ever thought that I would then you should know this: Today I’m one of THOSE Vegans!

Oh….So you’re a Vegan?!

Me: I don’t eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Fish or any food with animal products in it.

Them: Oh….So you’re a Vegan?!

My relationship with Veganism is a strange and tense one. I did not become a Vegan by choice, nor do I profess to be a perfect one. My relationship with food in general is a complex one and one that I wont be fully getting into with this article. I am a Vegan. A Vegan by circumstance and force. Here’s how.

Growing up I was a fussy eater. I would go through cycles with food. I hated eggs. Didn’t like the look. Didn’t like the taste. I’d flip between refusing to eat the yoke and refusing to eat the white, my mother cutting away which ever I was refusing at the time leaving me with either a fried yoke or fried white. When I left home at 18, I stopped actively eating eggs. If I could request a version of something with no eggs I did. 

Milk, was a next battle. It had always left me with an unsettled stomach. At a young age I recognised that I didn’t like the taste of milk. My frequent and firm refusal to drink it during refreshments time in Reception, resulted in the school calling my parents in for a discussion. This was the remnants of the free school milk era that Margaret Thatcher had tried to end in order to  cut spending so that they were able to honour the tax pledges they had made during the 1970 election. The free school milk had been around since the 1906 Education (Provision of Meals) Act, but the combination of the taste and the upset it gave my stomach, I was never a fan. 

By the time I reached university I was consuming alternatives to animal dairy products. I relied heavily on substitutes such as the Soy and Almond milk by ALPRO. This meant that I was now not eating eggs and the only dairy product that I was eating was Cheese, because, well Cheese!

So thats a fairly easy thing to recite when eating out. No eggs. No dairy, but I don’t mind cheese. 

So how did everything else fall out of my diet?

I have touched on my very West Indian upbringing in previous articles. So to see where it all began to go wrong with meat, I need to take another trip back into my childhood. 

The 1980s and 1990s saw the UK witness an outbreak of  bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or as it became more commonly known, Mad Cows Disease. Over four million cows were destroyed in an effort to contain the outbreak, and 177 people died after contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) through eating infected beef. The outbreak of this disease and its ability to pass from infected meat and onto humans meant that it quickly disappeared from my childhood home. To be honest, while I can think back and remember the mass panic, I have no recollection of actively missing the presence of beef in my diet. In the mid 2000s I started university and like with most students, all semblance of a balanced diet went out the window. I am the first to admit that I survived on fast food, take out and junk food. I developed an unhealthy addiction to cheese burgers, McDonald’s ones if we are being honest here. Over time I began to find that eating them was making me ill. I was physically struggling to digest them and would often end up vomiting out of control requiring trips to A&E and medical intervention. It wasn’t just beef burgers that was doing this, I couldn’t eat mince in spaghetti bolognese, or have a steak and chips either. It was on my third or fourth trip to A&E when a consultant who had already treated me a couple times said “We have told you that you are allergic to beef. You have an intolerance to an enzyme in it. Stop eating it or we will stop treating you!” And so I stopped eating beef. 

If you’re paying attention to the list we have now dropped Eggs, Dairy (still clasping cheese), and no beef because i’m allergic to it. Still a fairly simple list to recite when dining out.  For a few years things were great. My digestive issues were no longer ruining my life thanks to the adjustments that I had made. Then one day lamb decided to ask ‘Hey, What about me?. I had only managed to cut beef out of my diet by heavily substituting it with the meats we get from sheep. I used minced lamb in bolognese sauce, in my homemade curry patties and I used lamb chunks in my stir fry. Not to mention the occasional lamb shank or lamp chops for a Sunday roast. 

Lamb began to give me the same issues that beef had been giving me and a discussion with my Dr drew the conclusion that all red meat was a no no for me, due to certain enzymes found in it.

So now its, no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no red meat. Still simple enough, although choose foods when eating out was starting to get a little more complex for me.

I know you’re looking at the dietary progression and wondering how I jumped from No red meat to  no meat. The reason is very simple. I was out eating on a business lunch and had specifically checked with the restaurant to make sure there was no red meat in the food that I had ordered. It was a pan-asian restaurant but our waitress was adamant that the items I ordered were fine. At face value none of the items had red meat. By the time I returned to the office my stomach was doing somersaults. I was frantically thinking through everything that I had consumed that day, wondering if at some point I had decided to relax on my rules and eat something any way. I hadn’t. A quick phone call to the restaurant and a lot of insistence on my part led to the confession that a meat stock had been in one of the items that I had ordered and eaten. I left the office early that day, no longer able to function and adamant that my journey with all meat had ended.

So now we had, no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no meat all all. I admit that this black out on all meat was a struggle for me mentally. Whilst I didn’t eat much pork due to a large portion of my family being Seventh Day Adventists, I lived for chicken wings. If I wasn’t eating cheeseburgers in uni, you would often catch me with a serving of hot wings from KFC or Sams. I can happily admit I was addicted to them. It was my go to order whenever I had to eat anywhere and they were on the menu. As an adult I would often stop off in the chicken shop near to my London flat on the way home and grab a portion fo wings and chips. Boss man was generous and with me being such a loyal customer her would always gift me with extra free wings. I can still hear how hard he laughed when I went into his shop and he automatically began to prepare my wings only for me to tell him I’d given up meat and could I just get a large chips with  hot sauce instead. He gave me the chips for free and told me he was wishing me luck because I looked like I needed it. 

With all of the above now cut out of my diet, I was left with fish. I love fish. Growing up in a West Indian household it was always present. I can recall my dad stating it “wasn’t a proper” meal if it didn’t include fish. I love Tuna steak, and smoked salmon, steamed fish and fish and Chips. There were very few fishes that I didn’t like to eat, even though I never liked nor ate seafood (my older sister told me as a child that prawns scream in your mouth as you eat them). 

The Caribbean is the cause of fish falling from my diet. My annual trips home for easter to visit my parents, saw me spoilt with getting to eat the fish the same day it had been caught. I never got to eat the fish that fresh in England and my taste buds mounted a revolt over it. I decided I wouldn’t eat fish unless I was in the Caribbean, but once a year is not enough and I lost the taste and desire for it.

So thats no eggs, no dairy (cheese is ok), and no meat and no fish. I was a vegetarian. Years of chipping away at my diet had left me with that reality. I was convinced that I couldn’t give up cheese, and even though it affected my digestive system as much as its cousin milk did, I just really liked the taste. The discovery of Vegan cheeses such as Violife, allowed me to finally give up cheese. I was super delighted to see that brands such as Pizza Hut and Papa Johns  offered Vegan Pizza options. I didn’t feel I was missing out by dropping cheese any more.

But Vegans don’t have the best reputations and I resented that my diet choices left me as part of that designation.  They are judge, holier than thou, militant for their cause and have garnered many negative stereotypes as a result.

Knowing all that, please act normal when I say  I don’t eat Eggs, Dairy, Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Fish or any food with animal products in it. I’ll call myself a VEGAN but only by force. 

An Activist heart?

I always joke that you just need to give me a cause and ill fight for it. I’ve always been one to champion the underdog. Bet on any David over a Goliath.Im the friend that calls in when theres a problem with the food, my friends and family tend to prefer that i’m the one that speaks to management when situations call for it.Why though? Does it come easier for me? Not at all. I suffer with social social anxiety and as such I am always making a conscious effort to move past it. I’ll often voluntarily put myself into the situations that I don’t like or wish to avoids, ones that the inner me is screaming at me to flee from. I know what it feels like to get to my worst point and I actively work to avoid this. So no, I don’t speak up because it comes easier to me. It doesn’t, but I was a little girl who didn’t speak up and I refuse to be an adult that does the same.

I joked in a twitter post that I made back in May that lockdown had made me discover my activist heart. But the reality is I have always known that I have one.

3 years ago I embarked on my until now, biggest David to Goliath battle. It had come to my notice that my local gym was getting rid of the health suite when it was remodelled. Now, you’re probably thinking its not that deep. And it shouldn’t be. However, having a disabled mother who paid monthly gym membership just to get the benefits of the health suite, I took to the cause with full vim. 

I hadn’t ever confronted a corporation of this size on anything before but knew that I needed to garner support and that involved making people aware. I had heard the news myself through the grapevine, but I wanted to reach a much wider audience. I started a petition on change.org to get people to sign up and oppose the changes that the gym were planning.

I spoke to management who informed me that everyone had been made aware during the consultation stages. This contradicted many of the responses that I had from people. In fact while I got every other spam content from the gym, notification of this major change was not one of them.  My petition on change.org was not moving fast enough for me, so I began to print flyers and hand them out before and after every class. Leaving flyers on the various notice boards around the gym didn’t help as staff would efficiently remove them at a rate faster then I could post them. 

As my petition began to gain publicity and promotion, other people expressed a desire to be on board. I found that there were more people invested in this then I had originally anticipated. Now as a group we were able to create a much bigger stink, and ended up finally getting enough attention of the local council and upper gym management to facilitate meetings. This led to the arrangement of our local MP who had learned of our campaign. I didn’t win in keeping the whole health suite. The gym seemed adamant that the design would not allow for it, and even having an architect in board who drew up alternative plans, could not sway them. 

Overall, this battle took 2 plus years. It was exhausting much of the time and, til now I have no clue how I became the face of  the driving force behind the campaign. We didn’t win the war but we survived many battles along the way. They renamed the area on the new plans as a health suite and increased the capacity of the steam room and sauna from their first. I don’t say all this for you to give me credit, no, instead I say this, I know championing a cause is the long game. I tried for years to make this change. That was just the warm up! Education and the irradiation of racism are even greater causes and so much more dear to my heart. So as I prepare to depart on my latest journey, just know that I begin with eyes wide open. I know it will be hard work, but if one thing doesn’t change, nothing ever will! 

A BLACK MOTHERS LOVE

So on Sunday 16th May during @this_is_Jilo (Instagram tag) #SpotlightSundays (if you haven’t been joining in, what have you been doing? Don’t miss this Sundays one. Click her @ and follow her to get involved.)

Jilo Katter, founder of Spotlight Sundays

I shared out loud for the first time one of the stories from my upbringing that would probably cause a gasp and did bring outrage. 
As a little girl (and even as an adult I guess) I had the most over active imagination. This meant that many a night I would wake with a nightmare and run down the hallway to my parents room so scared that I would hold my breath in case any monsters might hear me (we’ve all done it) 

My mother, the Catholic that she is, would always point me in the direction of the Lord by telling me that it was ‘God punishing me because he had seen I was bad that day’. She would then make me get my bible and or rosary and pray. I would often fall back to sleep with my head buried in the bible so the written word must have given me some measure of comfort. However, on the nights that would have me sprinting back down the hallway a few hours later, my dad would just lift the bedcovers and let me sleep with them. I think this was from the age of 4-7ish (Yes I could read when I started playgroup but thats another story).
This memory flashed up in my head before Sunday and I took the opportunity presented by lockdown to call my mum out on it. Her response, she laughed and said ‘Well, you probably had been bad that day”.

In hindsight can look back age these memories and think maybe a Black mothers love is tough but she knows what the world has coming for us.

As you read the words on the pictures above you should know that I often gave as good as I got. I don’t hate God, nor has this made me wary of being Catholic. When it was no longer a forced requirement for me to go to Church, I still took myself along.

In hindsight can look back age these memories and think maybe a Black mothers love is tough but she knows what the world has coming for us. 

Best Boss ever!

I had a boss who has turned out to be the best one that I have ever had, Atle Rettedal was the best boss ever! And I don’t say the words flippantly, over 10 years of industry experience and Atle is still holding the title. 

I haven’t ever told the story of how I ended up as an executive assistant or the motivations behind it, when I had never been one and had actually studied Law at university. 

My first official city job after University, found me working at Accenture.  As a massive firm and with the position that I held in working within the facilities department, I was able to interact with a lot of  people from all walks of life. The work force at Accenture is very diverse, and I found myself drawn to the Executive assistants and how happy they seemed within their roles. I wanted that level of satisfaction but I had also reached the realisation that I would like a job that let me travel and see the world. This desire led me to apply for various assistant positions, all while knowing that I lacked a key ingredient, experience. 

But this article is not actually about any of that, its about the best boss I’ve EVER had, Atle Rettedal.

When I interviewed for the position at @Statoil I wasn’t aware that I would be working with him, not as a person, it was still very abstract to me and I came onboard as the assistant of one of his direct reports.

So why do I call him the best boss ever? Because he is one and is most assuredly deserving of this title. Atle saw a confidence in me that I didn’t see in myself. Thats not to say that I didn’t have confidence, I did. But it is one thing to be sure of yourself and another for someone else to be that sure of you. I have early memories of sitting at my desk and having to pep talk myself into ensuring that I got the tasks done and didn’t get too inside my own head. I remember that he very really checked with me on the tasks he had set, not because he was apathetic, he just knew that some things needed managing and others didn’t need micro managing.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from Atle, is that it is ok to say no, and the right to do so should be practised frequently. It is a well known fact that many PAs, EAs, Assistants etc have a hard time doing this. It is a key element of our jobs to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to make our bosses lives run smoother but that should never be at the expense of ourselves. One of my KPIs for my people@statoil that Atle set was for me to say No, and it took a while for me to see the value in that. It was a foreign concept to me and cultural differences between Norwegians and Brits were always surprising me. 

In some of my other articles on here I briefly touch on the fact that I have experienced racism at every stage of my life, and I would be remiss if I painted a rosy image of my at my time at Statoil. However, that aside, Statoil still is top two favourite company that I have ever worked at. 

I had issues like everyone else and I was lucky enough that when faced with such issues I had Atle as a boss. He stood behind me in full support when I felt I was being harassed by various people and someone would later be responsible for human rights. I believe that made the biggest difference to how the situation was treated.

Atle made work a second home for me, which given the amount of time I spent there, was a blessing. I have held positions where I dreaded going into work but that was never the case with him. Theres a saying ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life’, and this held true for my role supporting Atle. I loved it. I looked forwards to going into work each day to work for him. His management team became like a second family to me and I was beyond devastated when internal restructuring meant that I lost not only him but the management team too. 

To conclude, there are far too many reasons why Atle was and is the best boss that I have ever had. I would be here all day if I had to list them. I am able to look back at the early stages of my career with nothing but fond memories and smile. I don’t know many people that can say the same. When Atle left the position that made him my boss, I purchased a book from Harrods that had the title ‘Best boss ever’ on the front cover. I passed it around the company and it was filled with wonderful messages from employees who held the same sentiment that I did.  One of Atle’s departing comments to me was that nothing ever went wrong. I can remember that plenty went wrong but Atle’s support in me meant i was always able to persevere and push through. Im not sure that I really truly communicated to Atle back then just how much of a difference he had made in my life and I hope that he sees the words that I have written here and knows how much it really all meant to me. 

Special mentions:

First special mention goes out to Margaret Mistry who first hired me for the position even though I had no oil or energy or specific personal assistant experience. Thank you for seeing the confidence that I have in myself as an asset. 

Second special mention goes out to Anne Gerd Folden Bakken, the stretch assignments that you gave me helped me grow immensely. The opportunity to sit on the incident reporting task force become a Synergi superuser and provide assistance in the creation of the TRIPs course does not go unnoticed. 

 Last special mention goes to Astri Okstad, who saw something in me upon first meeting that I couldn’t see in myself. Thank you for trying to push me towards a communication role/position that I have no doubt would have been a great fit for me. All I can say is, I appreciate what you attempted to do for me. A lot of my life back then was governed by fear and the consequence of this was that I would often self-sabotage as a means of protecting myself but I have never forgotten the faith you had in me. 

A black parents love is tough….

A black parents love is tough, and having lived the life that I have thus far, I get it.

Mum and Dad. Bathway Beach, Grenada. 2017

You didn’t want the world to be able to crush our spirits, all while knowing that it was highly unlikely that we would get to pass through this journey unscathed. I have touched on the fact that both of my parents worked for the NHS for over 70 years combined before retiring. Dad was 20 years old when he left Grenada, the only island he knew as home and moved to England to get a degree in nursing. He eventually retired as a senior charge nurse within the mental health sector. My mother came to England aged 2 on the passport of her grandmother in the midst of the wind rush era retiring from the NHS 8 years ago due to ill health.

My parents on their wedding day, UK. 20th September 1980

I grew up hearing stories from him on life back home, how he walked miles for school, how strict his own father had admittedly been with him. He used to tell me how he promised his father that he would one day come back home before he left Grenada for good over 45 years ago. His father passed away before I was born, but it gave me the most amount of joy that his mother got to see him settle back home before she passed away in 2015. Im possibly the closest to my parents and the most distanced from them, out of all my siblings. Our similar temperament and nature sees me clash with them all the time. The same stand firm attitude that they raised me to have wars with the sentiment that you should obey your elders and parents no matter your age. Arguments with my father often find me having to remind him that yes its obey your parents, but had he obeyed his, he never would have made it to the UK.

My Dad with me as a toddler, strong willed even then

Growing up I never felt like my parents were happy with or proud of me. School was easy for me, I didn’t like it, but I got great grades. Honestly I coasted. If you have read some of my previous articles you will know that I did not have the easiest time in school. In fact, I have often likened my Catholic Christian primarily school to the gates of hell, and its fires having been what forged me. I am one of five children, the second youngest. Both my parents worked full time as nurses/nursing assistants for the NHS throughout my whole childhood and youth. I never wanted to add to any burden they had and consequently spent much of my childhood feeling alone and misunderstood.  My anxiety and need for control manifested into an eating disorder, but thats a story for another day.

Me

My parents did an amazing job, i’m sure their only desire was to provide their children with a life better then they had. I believe that they did that, often sacrificing their own wants and needs for ours. They raised me to love myself, first, foremost and always. I never needed for anything and when they could satisfy a want of mine they tried their best to do so. My father’s catch phrase throughout most of my life has been “Who upset my Teen?” I wear my heart on my sleeve, forever battle worn because of how soft it is, my compassion and empathy are limitless and surprisingly untarnished all things considered. 

A conversation with my mother last week, had me reflecting on the upbringing that they gave us. She told me that had my father had his own way he would have raised us West Indian.

Mum and I, Grenada 2017

This confused me. They raised me so West Indian that I have spent much of my life straddling a line never quite fitting in. I called the Caribbean home, had the fortune of spending summers with my grandparents in both Grenada and Dominica before they passed. I didn’t get to eat Western food, so much so that I cried when my parents finally allowed me to eat dinner around a class mates house only for them to research and attempt to cook me a West Indian meal. It was water logged and looked totally unappealing, so much so that I cried when presented with it as I had been raised to not waste food and to finish my plate when I am a guest. They ended up calling my mum who informed them I had been hoping to finally get some burgers or pizza, not a rather poor attempt at a meal I was very used to. Mum still maintains that without her intervention, it could have been much worse for us and I agree.

Dad and I, Grenada 2017

My father is a complex man, and whilst I may love him all the time, there are many times that I have not liked him very much. I often refer to him as Thomas as he automatically doubts EVERYTHING I say from the get go. As a child he would play a game with me and my little sister, whereby he would put money in one hand, and an insect (often a grasshopper) in the other. We both had to pick a hand and the winner got to keep the money, the other faced the bug. The absolute most and I couldn’t tell you exactly what he was trying to teach me, maybe that nothing in life comes for free?!  But I think we were too young to fully understand or care about that lesson. 

My father is also the man who asked me when I came home to discuss my year 2 SATs results where I got all 7s, why I didn’t get 10s. No congratulations or well done, my mother had to tell him that I had got the highest grades available to me, 10 didn’t exist. Much of my childhood went like that. I found that I was always having to work twice as hard as anyone else (siblings included) to no avail. In fact, while I freely hear him tell his grandkids how much he loves them I can count on one hand or even a few fingers the amount of times I have heard him say that to me in my life. I KNOW he loves me, he has shown me in a myriad of ways. From driving or walking me around my paper round route aged 13 when I had decided I wanted a job and the shop wouldn’t let him quit on my behalf. To purchasing whatever I wanted to wear as uniform when I changed schools for Sixth form (My teacher called me chic in the year book), to sending myself and my little sister home to the Caribbean at the expense of not being able to go himself. 

My parents, my brother, sisters and I.

But our relationship is complicated. When I wanted to take religion as an A Level option, he told me no because I wasn’t going to be a nun. Fast forward a year and my little sister was allowed to take RE as an option with no conflict or intervention. When I wanted to study English and creative language at University, he told me that I had to study Law or he would not pay my tuition fees. Now this was no hard choice, I had always loved the law, loved to debate and from the moment i could comprehend that as Adults you needed to have a career, I proclaimed that I would be both a writer and a lawyer. My younger sister came along and was allowed to study English and Drama at university, I admit that this left me a little bitter but Dad didn’t pay her tuition fees.  I toed the line as a child as I never wanted to upset my parents. I never missed a day of school, no matter how much I hated it, earning the 100% achievement awards for every year of my education. I was always held apart and to a higher standard to my peers and my siblings.

Me, Lockdown in Grenada, April 2020.

My childhood was sprinkled with debates amongst my parents, who would argue which island I would go into politics on. They had high hopes for me. My mother would argue that I should go into politics in Dominica as my cousin was Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, the first woman lawyer in Dominica and the first and only female prime minister to date. My father on the other hand would just as fiercely fight his corner, having left Grenada as a young adult he had his own ideas of the things he wanted to see changed on his island and how I could be the vector for that. I never understood the drive that they had to see me effect change in their own islands, until now, as I move through my forth lockdown month in the Caribbean. 

A black parents love is the toughest that you will encounter on this Earth, how the world treats us leaves no room nor allows for anything else. My parents love has taught me to think ‘So what?’, anytime that I may wallow in self pity at the inequalities of it all. It has given my core a teflon strength that has weathered all storms and holds true to today. As I think back to all the things I disliked or wanted to change about my childhood I am firstly grateful. Life will not get any easier unless people take action. My parents love has taught me that even when I get knocked down 10 times, I must still get up 11. So while a black parents love is tough, know that my love, the love of a black child they raised, is not! 

Me

Jill Scott broke my writers block….an open letter of thanks

Dear Jill,

Listening to you on your Verzuz live with Erykah Badu, the sealed cap on a can of worms I’ve been ‘nesting’ for 10 years popped off. 

And whilst I may, I’d like to give you credit in this letter for the words you said when Erykah questioned you, as the push, kick and shove I never knew I needed. It was witnessing the emotions that your words had on you and the world that really made a difference.

Many of the issues I unpack are freshly scabbed or still open wounds. I often battle internally with finding the balance between – the fine line of doing what’s needed to let them heal versus revisiting them which can sometimes make the damage worse. 

You told Erykah and the world that when God gives you a gift you should use it. I felt that. For much of my life I would wonder what my talent was. I took my ability to write and emote feelings for granted. I held no bravery or courage to pour out the words that would often sit too heavy on my heart. Instead I would twist what I felt and use it to write fiction.  Your deeper explanation that once those thoughts and words leave you, gives you a greater responsibility to share with the world, runs deep. 

I have been writing since I could hold a pen, composing my first story aged 5. Whenever anyone would ask me ‘Why do you write?’ I would always respond with “That’s like asking why do I breathe!’  Yet  even with that knowledge I found that one day I held that breath, and didn’t let it go. That day then became a week, weeks became months, months became years and before I knew it I was looking at the other end of a decade that had passed me by. With the recent murder of George Floyd I am reminded that when you cant breathe, you die.

I always say everything in God’s time. I believe that his time is now. I am writing again and using the gift that he has given me to raise awareness to the racism and oppression that black people experience all around the world. You sparked a fire that I now proudly let burn.

So please feel my heartfelt gratitude, as I once again say thank you!

Kristina x 

I CAN’T BREATHE

There is nothing new under the sun, is an idiom I heard often growing up, and something I still agree with to a certain extent. Life is cyclical. It can be used to describe cycles within all areas of life, in nature and fashion amongst others. And in this case it also applies to the treatment of Black men at the hands of the police. 

On 17th July, 2014, Eric Garner died in New York after being put into a chokehold while being arrested by Daniel Pantaleo. He was murdered. What happened to his killers? Nothing. Eric Garner lost his life and we saw no indictments. In fact his killer remained a cop and was only fired and stripped of his pension benefits in August 2019. Five whole years after Erics death but no justice.

However, there is nothing new under the sun. So lets fast forward nearly six years. 

On 25th May 2020, George Floyd died in Minnesota after Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, subsequently killing him whilst arresting him with three other police officers. He was murdered. His killers were caught in action on film, from multiple view points. Yet despite this, the initial decision was to simply fire all four police officers and no arrests were made.

‘I cant breathe’ were some of the final words issued by both Eric and George. Both of these instances triggered mass outrage, anger and despair amongst both the black community and throughout the world. Both of these events triggered Black Lives Matter protests.

I have seen many people ask what is different now? What has changed? We are no less outraged today than we have been in the past, witnessing the murders of our people at the hands of the police. We are no less angry, nor is the despair we feel any less then before. So let me connect the dots for you.

On the 1st December 2019, the world witnessed the first outbreak of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with the index case being recorded as coming from Wuhan in the Hubei province, China. COVID-19 is thought to be primarily spread from person to person during close contact ‘most often via small droplets produced by coughing, sneezing and talking’. According to WHO, some of the common symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of sense of smell. With complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on the 11th March 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

As this virus swept across nations, crossed borders and navigated seas, suddenly the world found out that WE CAN’T BREATHE. COVID-19 didn’t care if you were White or if you were Black. It didn’t care if you were Chinese or if you were Italian, it didn’t care if you were American or if you were English. It didn’t care if you had just been born or if you were celebrating your 90th trip around the sun. We got to see that unlike humans, the virus did not discriminate. And while this was happening, we were losing black people in equally high numbers due to racism. 

But there is nothing new under the sun. The world has witnessed two black daughters publicly lose their black fathers due to racism. 

On the 4th April, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr , an African American, clergyman, civil rights leader and FATHER was assassinated. He was survived by his four children Yolanda, Martin, Dexter and Bernice. On the 25th May, 2020, when police murdered George Floyd, they too made his daughter, Gianna Floyd, FATHERless. In both instances the world was watching, and even as we see the footage with our own eyes, we are still expected to believe all the cover-ups and lies. 20 years from now when the children of all the black people killed as a direct result of racism are all grown up, society will play ignorant and pretend not to understand why issues still exist. They will cry victim, all while knowing that in standing aside, they are continuing this vicious cycle of racism and oppression. Just know we have seen you plant the seeds, and we know you have generously watered them too.

On 28th May 2020, I saw a picture going viral on the internet and across social media apps. It features Don Lemon and the headline “TWO DEADLY VIRUSES ARE KILLING AMERICANS COVID-19 AND RACISM”. So when you consider whats changed, well not much has. We have had pandemics before and we have had racism before. There is nothing new under the sun, after all. But you should also have considered that you couldn’t keep murdering and killing black people as we were being attacked on all fronts. Eric Garner couldn’t breathe, George Floyd couldn’t breathe, I CAN’T BREATHE but thanks to COVID-19 now neither can you!

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

One of the most positive things to come out of the tragic murder of George Floyd is the mobilisation and unification of black people internationally across the world. It is encouraging to see others join us as we stand, march, kneel and lie down in peaceful protest against racism and the mistreatment of black people everywhere. 

Only good can come from people speaking up, speaking out and effecting change so that we can break the cycle and see a different world for future generations. I too have been using my gift and voice in an attempt to assist with this. But there is a darker side to everything that is happening. 

Firstly, I would like to touch upon the frequent volleying of the phrase “All lives matter’, whenever anyone says ‘Black Lives Matter. To be frank, it is equal measures of ignorance and arrogance that has people spouting that phrase. They know full well that there is no correlation between the two phrases because that would require you to say that we are all equal. In reality, given the choice to spend just one day of your life having to live how a black person lives, you wouldn’t take it. This is not a competition, this is our lives. We do not get the choice in not spending a second of any day being black. I am black, black before I am anything else. It is the first thing that someone notices upon meeting me. So please, kindly shut up, if when you hear someone say Black Lives Matter, your tongue itches for you to say All lives matter. DON’T.

Secondly, this is not a fad or a phase for us. When a couple years have passed and this is no longer a little pet project for you; It is still going to be the reality for us. This is neither a nightmare or dream that any black person on earth can wake up from. Do not trivialise how any black person feels about any of this. We do not need you speaking over us, ridiculing, sidelining or excusing away anything that we have experienced as a direct result of racism. 

Thirdly, do not use our agenda for your own gain. Hijacking a cause which is trying to prevent the future murders of a historically oppressed and disproportionately prosecuted group of people is extremely repugnant. I am seeing industries, corporations and people who are known to have been anti black, anti black lives matter or covertly/overtly racist in the past try to ride the PR wave of what is happening. We are not blind. We see you and we also see what you are trying to do. So to the NFL that blacklisted and actively pushed Colin Kaepernick from the league for merely taking a knee in peaceful protest we do swallow your lies anymore then you do. You fool no one when you say you are ‘committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs, and partners’. I would in fact go one step further, and call for the immediate resignation of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. If we were talking loss of funds and not active systemic racism, the board and shareholders would have already made you step down. Poor management should have the same consequence. And to Ryan Michaels, the paper that your apology is written on isn’t even worth using to wipe my arse. Please read the room and take a seat. We do not need your disingenuous platitudes and excuses as to why you treated ‘Kaep’ the way that you did. Familiarity with his name does not make you more endearing to us, in fact it disgusts me further that you could treat someone like you did. Especially when you know them well enough to give and use a nickname like that. You are tone-deaf! I should say tone death, as your claim that you were defending those that died for the flag is bullshit. Black people died for your flag, your country was built on the backs of slavery, and oppression.This country that you claim to be so proud of isn’t even yours and its always seemed very cheeky for me to hear white Americans label everyone else when they themselves are the intruders in this story. So as I call for the NFL to assist in permanently shutting you up by removing your platform I say this. You have the blood of #GeorgeFloyd and countless others on your hands. If not for YOU and others like you we may have seen changes and a movement into the right direction. You are part of the PROBLEM and consciously chose to be so! You want to apologise now? It is up to ‘Kaep’ as you affectionately call him whether he accepts this poor excuse of an apology, but for me? I say 4 years too late! 

Do not think they are the only brand that has tried to pull the PR stunt. L’Oreal, talk to us because something is not quite adding up. You might have the memory of Dory from Finding Nemo, but I can tell you now that we don’t. For you to post onto your socials that ‘Speaking out is worth it’ when you are the very same company that fired trans-model Munroe Bergdorf as a direct consequence to her speaking out about racism, is audacious to the nth degree. So to all the brands trying to spin PR out of this, we see you. YOU fool no one but yourselves, and when I get a bit more time I am coming to call out each and every one of you. 

Fourthly, you may have noticed my posting yesterday where I asked black people now speaking up about racist treatment that they had in the workforce what is different for them now. I didn’t get a response from anyone, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting to. I think that it is fantastic that people are speaking up now, that they feel comfortable enough to speak up now. However, I would like to know if anything has changed for them now. For me, I have always been quite vocal on things that displease me. Suffering with both social anxiety/ general anxiety and panic attacks, I am the first to admit that speaking up and speaking out is not easy. Despite that, the experiences of my youth and childhood have left me unable to accept being a victim or allowing someone else to treat me as such. If one thing doesn’t change, nothing will. Speaking out was never a bed of roses for me, it was never without repercussions. Every action has a reaction, mine non withstanding. So as I commend each and everyone of you who has bravely chosen to speak out now, I also query what you did. We are seeing you list how you were treated and I want to know what, if any action you took after. 

Lastly, I would like to touch upon a group of issues that fall within this. 

To the people that look to black people for entertainment, we are not your entertainment. If we choose to enter those fields that is our choice, do not look to us during this time to put a smile on your face.

To the people that are using some of the confusion right now to cause chaos. Stop it. I am happy to see so many of you get the recognition you deserve as social media and the internet leads to consequences and the law catching up with you. 

To the propagators behind the racist hashtag #WhiteOutWednesday, we choose not to see you and I will acknowledge you no further. 

To those that have reached out to me asking for my take on this, or wanting me to check their work or help them write something. I have no answers and can only tell my point of view. I will end by saying that some people should be interviewed to tell their stories and others should tell them themselves. So as I watch this unfold with the rest if the world, know that we see it all and we wait for the real slim shady’s to stand up!

\

PSA – In the words of Jay-Z…..Allow me to reintroduce myself!

I honestly didn’t want to come into a new day dealing with the arguments of yesterday, but it seems that many have missed the motivation behind my parliament petition. So here we go. 

At no point have I said that I am relying on my ‘oppressor’ to teach me what it is to be black, or to love myself and my blackness in its entirety. 

I post I saw after launching my Parliament petition

So in the words of Jay Z, allow me to reintroduce myself…..

I am a first generation Black British citizen, one of five children, fourth born to skilled migrant and wind rush parents.

I was born, raised and educated in Hertfordshire on a council estate where I was a member of the ONLY Black family in the area and in the minority. A bicycle ride through town as a child was often met with by at least one member of the public giving me the finger across the throat signal. 

The only times in my childhood and youth that I got to experience not being in the minority was when I was solely with my immediate family, greater family, spending summers in Dominica/ Grenada, or once a year at Notting Hill Carnival before it lost its essence and became what it is today. 

I grew up the darkest member of my family, something that outsiders loved to remind me of on a daily basis. Questioning if all my siblings were 100% related to me and suggesting that perhaps I had a different mum or dad and I just wasn’t yet aware.

The last official photo of me without a racism scar on my face

I went to a primary school where on the first day I was called a liar and told that I couldn’t read, write my name or tie my own shoelaces etc. Resulting in my refusal to go back. 

I was one Black child in a classroom with 27 other students, all white. My first few years of education left me with a stab wound to the face for for the colour of my skin and the knowledge that my peers saw me as no better then an animal, akin to a baboon. My roots and confidence in myself are so strong that no wind can sway or pull me down. 

The strength, pride and love that my parents instilled in me did not change the ignorance of the majority that I was surrounded by. Even the strongest armour returns from battle with chinks. I want black history to be taught in schools to educate those who may not get the education at home, but to also ensure that we are nipping racism at the bud. Those 27 children have grown up to be adults in society, some may very well still be holding onto the prejudices that saw me bullied by them as a child. Becoming the very adults that govern this country. 

It is very easy to think solely of yourselves, but this selfish nature will not see any changes come. If my petition sees just ONE child not have to go through what I did in the education system then I can be happy with the changes I have inspired. 

I moved to London aged 18 and was met with a new host of prejudice. I became aware of the tensions and aggravations amongst the black population and diaspora happening elsewhere in the UK. I was suddenly teased for being ‘too white’, not something I ever imagined I would encounter in life. I got labelled a bounty and a coconut, and had questions thrown at me like ‘How was afternoon tea with the Queen?’ This was a whole new barrier that I was forced to break without knowing what were the best tools to do so. I have been to Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean that are not my own. I have seen the slave plantations with my own eyes and walked through them with my own feet. I have travelled to Ghana and bore witness to the slave castles and passed through the door of no return. A journey that many of my ancestors must also have taken. I ask questions whenever I do not know the answer to something and try to read up and learn whenever and wherever possible. This is for me. There is no pleasing some people and ultimately I have long realised that nothing I do will ever be enough.

Despite all of the above, one of the biggest lessons instilled in me as child, to treat everyone as equal, still stands. The experiences of my childhood and youth didn’t magically disappear once I became an adult. Remember those children grow up. They become the very adults who are your bosses, managers, supervisors and colleagues in the workplace. Mid 20s I was told by a white middle-classed manager, who disliked that I treated him no different to the gardener and the cleaning staff etc that life is not fair. He couldn’t understand why everyone from receptionists to SVPs would stop and talk to me at my desk or why I wouldn’t give him deference for his position. My response to him? “I am Black, Young (they originally dismissed me for the position because of my youth) and Female I don’t need anyone in this life to tell me that its not fair, least of all you.”

We always hear how strong black women are. And I agree, there is a strength within us that nothing can break. I look to Doreen Lawrence and Sybrina Fulton et al for not breaking when the world took their sons. But that is a further strength born by a pain that I don’t want to experience before I take action. Let me speak NOW!

So to the black people who came at me full force, this is for you. And to the people that told me I am not black enough, there are no levels to this. Your words do not make you a winner or give you a prize. 

I have a voice and I have a gift, so nothing you say to me will stop me from using it. I won’t argue with any of you on this matter again. I said what I said and i’ll say it again! I don’t want to send a child of mine into the same education system that I experienced and it saddens me that some of you do. 

Now I am going to go enjoy this beautiful morning, as I promised my mother she wasn’t going to wake up to any more surprises from me.