You Ain’t English! – The Ride Turns Ugly On A London Tram

I’ve been writing fast and furious over the last few days trying to meet my goal for NaNoWriMo, but I had to stop for a minute to send out a thought on some nasty business that happened on a London tram the other day.

The language is really rough so be aware before you click on the highlighted link above.

I’m not sure how they found her, but Emma West was arrested for her racist rant yesterday and I’m sure many will be watching to see the outcome of her court appearance. At least 2 million people have seen the video, and I have to thank one of the bloggers I read for alerting me to the news story.

I just watched the video a few minutes ago and was shocked by the foul-mouthed rant of the woman who was holding her child in her lap. One woman spoke up to her and then another woman joined in, but only because the shouting had bothered her baby who can be heard crying in the background.

While working on my novel this month, I’ve been seeing the world and it’s events differently, more like scenes in a movie as the chapters in my book develop. After watching the video, I couldn’t help but visualize a different ending than the one the people on the tram had to tolerate many of whom are not British by birth and probably feel a bit displaced already without being confronted by such a venomous outburst.

In the movie scene in my head, I wonder …

What might have happened if when the woman began shouting, ‘ You ain’t English, and you ain’t English either ‘ as she was did to those around her … what if one person on the tram had launched into a loud song, one uniquely identified as a song all Brits and many expats would know, a song that’s sung at public events by the masses and is usually one found in the group below.

What if one voice became two, and then three, and then four, until one by one the voices of everyone on the tram were joined in song so that in the end both immigrant and British born citizens were singing so loudly that her voice could no longer be heard.

That might have shamed her into silence and made the people she was insulting feel better for a moment, but I’m not sure it would have had the impact needed to bring some greater sense of community in the mix of cultures that call Britain home.

Maybe this is a wake up call for a dialogue of some kind. I know there are strong feelings out there, I hear the rumblings too sometimes, but there has to be a better way than the one Emma West is teaching her child.

Isn’t it time we work on finding it and if not now, then when?

Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.

 ~ William Congreve

More Than Just Turkey – An American Expat Explains Thanksgiving

Turkey & The Trimmings

Since moving to England, I’ve had to explain a few American holidays with Thanksgiving being one. There seems to be a lot of confusion here about why we celebrate it and what it is exactly.

Most people know about the turkey, but not much more than that.  A young woman asked me the other day if it’s like Christmas for Americans only without the gifts.

Suppressing a laugh, I said there were no presents at Thanksgiving and that like others who celebrate Christmas, we save our gifts for the tree, not the turkey.

I told her about the early settlers and how fortunate the Pilgrims were to be fed by the Native Americans when there wasn’t enough food to go around.

I talked about how it’s a celebration of family by most and a gathering of people who sit down to tables loaded with memories created from family recipes passed down through generations.

I forgot to mention how it’s football and alcohol and a chance to over-indulge in more than just food for some folks.

I didn’t say much about the thanks in Thanksgiving or how we talk about gratitude and blessings, generally sharing some of what we’re grateful for before the first fork is lifted.

I didn’t say how it feels to be so far from my other home on days like these or how we really do exchange gifts in a way although not the kind that can be purchased from a favorite store.

I should have talked about the gifts of memory that are mixed in with the pie and family favorites, and the stories of loved ones long gone who come alive for a moment when we remember them, especially when we join hands with those sitting next to us, bow our heads and give thanks.

Most Americans, with me included, tend to make a big to-do about the turkey and the trimmings, but in the end I think we just want a little more time with those we love and whether it’s in person, or in memory, Thanksgiving forces us to focus on what really matters.

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family who celebrate this day.

If you have a gift of memory you’d like to share, I’d love to read about it. Please leave a link if you have one on your blog today or tell us a family favorite that comes up each year. 

One Boy’s Life & Mine

John Winchurch - Sea Cadets - Wales (Double-click to enlarge)

If you look, you can see my husband in this photograph watching with eyes that are no longer a boy’s, but not quite a man’s yet either.

Growing up in Wales he had the benefit of living half a mile from the harbor in Tenby where he sailed the boat he built with his younger brother’s help. They were both Sea Cadets and for a while John thought he’d join the Royal Navy when he was older. His father talked him into waiting. ‘ Go to University first,’ he said,’ you can always join the Navy afterwards.’

By going to the University at Cardiff, John chose a different path than the one he imagined as a boy and although he never joined the Navy, he still loves the sea. He doesn’t look back the way I tend to and he doesn’t waste energy on regret. Most of my life, I’ve learned by observation and his way looks more peaceful than the route I usually take.

I’ve spent years reading books on letting go, forgiving yourself, and moving on, but living side by side with such a peaceful loving man, I find myself absorbing his natural way of living more in the moment. While I am not wholly a woman without worry and likely never will be, I can see myself changing as my tendency to cast wistful glances of regret over my shoulder at the past, slips away a bit more each day.

It’s funny how the decisions in our life seem to stack up like dominos with those made years earlier affecting the path we find ourselves on later. Fifty years after this photograph was taken and when the time was right, John’s path converged with mine.

I think about that when I look back at decisions I’ve made in my life, especially the ones that I’ve wished I could undo, but one thing done differently and it would all be different.

Can you find my future in the photograph …

What Happened To My Peanut Butter?

Smart Balance Peanut Butter

I reached for a recently opened jar peanut butter today, only to discover it had been moved and I couldn’t find it. John had rearranged the shelf where my peanut butter stock from America sits while looking for something for his lunch.

Peanut Butter Supplies

I buy it at Walmart and you’d think that since Walmart owns ASDA, (a grocery store near us) I might be able to find it here as well, but they don’t carry it so I’m forced to bring it back in bulk in my checked baggage.

The TSA folks always go through the plastic bags I wrap it in and rightly so. Imagine all of those jars lined end to end looking like rounded rows of things we’d rather not have mucking up our air safety.

I thought I had plenty to see me through until my next visit stateside, but I was shocked to discover that four jars are all I have left.

You probably think I’m overreacting and it is kind of funny in a way to think of a 51 year-old woman as peanut butter dependent, but I am going to be in a real fix if I don’t get some more. We’re talking withdrawal symptoms!

Smart Balance Peanut Butter With Omega 3

Four jars are nowhere near enough! While I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t eat a lot of meat. I usually have it once a week or less so peanut butter is an important source of protein for me. They do make it in the UK, but I’ve not found any as tasty as the Smart Balance brand or with such a healthy balance of ingredients.

Smart Balance - Quick Facts

I had fifteen jars in total when I flew home to the UK on August 3 so it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me to think that something must have happened to it. John insists that I’ve eaten it, but I’m beginning to wonder if the fairies have been nipping into the cupboard for a taste.

Empty Jar of Smart Balance Peanut Butter


Do you have any food you’d miss if you couldn’t find it where you live?

A Bird In The Bush

Bird In The Bush

I was hooded and in a hurry, moving quickly to avoid the rain while trying to track my husband’s movement on a hill some distance away. I’d lingered behind to take ‘ just one more picture ‘ and he’d gone on ahead as he often does when we’re out together.

Partially hidden by high bushes edging the path, I could see him waving both arms over his head like a stranded survivor signaling a rescue team for pickup. Having confirmed his general location, I returned his wave, then turned and went back down the path.

I’d almost missed the bird in my rush to catch up, but a flash of movement in the brown thicket triggered my curiosity and I went back to find a little bird eating what was left of the summer seeds. Its color was almost identical to the dried plants around it and had it not moved, I would have missed it completely.

It took some maneuvering to get this shot as the bird kept turning its back to me. It seemed unafraid and appeared to ignore me as I stepped closer and called out softly to gets its attention, ‘Hey birdie, birdie.’ Whistling had no effect either, but when I made a series of clicking sounds with my tongue, the bird turned, looked at me, and held a pose long enough for me to snap a few photos.

We did this several times before I left it to its meal in the rain.



Shaming, Blaming, & Silence – How Sexual Harassment Changed The Direction Of My Life

I try really hard to stay away from politics on my blog and I’ve bitten my tongue for the last few days over the reported sexual harassment allegations about U.S. Presidential hopeful, Herman Cain.

After yesterday’s press conference, I need to have my say.

When I was eighteen, I joined the Army. I was hopeful going in about the changes I expected to go through and when my enlistment came to an end, I felt I’d met most of the goals I set for myself when I’d held up my hand four years earlier promising to protect and defend.

Protect and Defend

I never expected that I would be required to protect and defend myself from some the soldiers I served with. I enlisted in the late 70s when the military didn’t like to admit to any problem that might affect combat readiness, and sexual harassment was a huge topic that no one wanted to acknowledge as an issue.

I made it through a coed Basic Training and AIT with a sense of camaraderie and connectedness that would not last when I arrived at my first permanent duty assignment. The idea that we were all just soldiers in Uncle Sam’s employ disappeared fairly rapidly when I had to fight for respect over and over from the men in my unit and others on the male dominated military post.

I want to clarify that it wasn’t all the men I met, just enough to make it extremely uncomfortable walking on post or working alone with some people I saw everyday.

It wasn’t just the things that were said. It was the implied threats by groups of men as I was passing by, men who said things that were so overtly sexual and disrespectful that the idea they felt free enough to say them made me feel afraid that given an opportunity, they might act on them. This type of thing happened every day during and after work. No public place felt safe and even my work area felt stressful and uncomfortable.

It didn’t only happen where men were gathered in groups, some would follow me around the PX saying suggestive things in a lowered voice even as I pretended to ignore them.

When my section sergeant, a man in direct position of authority, grabbed me by the lapels of my fatigue jacket and banged me repeatedly in the metal awning of the motor pool door because I refused to ‘date’ him, I took the incident up my chain of command.

It was a difficult process as I was forced to repeat my complaint over and over while enduring the mocking response of men I was supposed to look to for leadership. I went through person after person (all male) until I finally reached the office of my commanding officer who told me that I wiggled too much when I walked, and that I wore too much makeup.

All My Fault

He basically told me that it was my fault as he went over a list that was all about me and not the offenders. When I asked him how he’d feel if it was his wife or daughter, he said I was soldier as if this made it okay.

I remember clearly telling him that I had a right to the same basic respect as anyone and it was not okay with me. I’m still surprised I was brave enough to speak my opinion so freely as he had me ‘standing at ease’ in front of his desk while he sat behind it. Can you imagine what it felt like to fight all the way to his office expecting a different outcome than the one I received? I expected better from people I was supposed to follow into battle.

As to his assertion that I was somehow responsible, I had already worked hard to walk as if I were invisible, protected my ‘reputation’ by dating only one man during the time I was stationed in Germany, and as for makeup, I wore even less then than I wear now.

That I’m even explaining all this now irritates me beyond belief. Why should I still feel obligated to explain how I did nothing to encourage the unwanted attention of the men I worked with.

Taking Me Out Of My Job

Their solution to ‘my problem’ was to take me out of my job and put me somewhere else, not discipline the man who laid hands on me or the men who intimidated me with their near constant sexual chatter about what they’d like to ‘do to me.’

There was a fair amount of finger pointing and veiled threats when it got around that I had complained about some of the words and behavior of men in my unit.

I was labeled a trouble maker for speaking up and you know what happens to women like that … if you’re not sure, take a look at what’s happening to Karen Kraushaar and Sharon Bialek.

I think they are very brave.

Women who speak up about sexual harassment open themselves up to an often dangerous and unbearable amount of public scrutiny and ridicule.

That Herman Cain has gone from calling the charges a plot by Republican Rick Perry, to a Democratic attempt to smear him, tells me enough.

Given a opportunity, it will soon be all about those ‘bad women who wiggle too much when they walk and wear too much makeup.’

Once I thought I wanted a career in the military. Even after the sexual harassment I experienced and the effect on my enlisted tour, I thought it might be different if I were an officer, I thought I might be able to make things different for other women.

With that in mind, I joined the National Guard as part of a simultaneous program with the ROTC program at the university I attended.

After my commanding officer invited me to sit on his lap when we were alone in his office, I decided that a military career was not for me. I thought if it occurred in corporate America, I could always quit, but as a career officer, I’d have nowhere to go and I had no desire to be labeled or held back because of it.

It still makes me angry that I had to consider future escape routes when planning on my career due to the expectation that I might have to work with more men who could not control themselves properly.

I know there are loads of pressing topics facing Americans now and sexual harassment may seem like a non issue to a great many people who have been fortunate to have never experienced it, but this is really a bigger topic than who said or did what to whom.

It is about integrity and the ability to admit to past misdeeds having examined the behavior and changed it. It’s about acknowledging that while that may have been who you were then, it is not who you are now.

I believe Karen Kraushaar and Sharon Bialek in part because I know personally how much easier it can be to stay silent and just move on … easier for a while, but not forever.

If you’ve been affected by sexual harassment, I’d love for you to speak up here even if it’s not possible to do so at work or any other place in your life. 

It needs to stop!

Balancing Acts – NaNoWriMo Week 2

There have been many times in my life where I focused too much on the needs and expectations of my employer. I’ve always prided myself on doing the best job possible and sometimes, make that many times, my personal life has suffered. I won’t go into all the reasons, but fear, ego, and a strong desire not to disappoint would top the list.

Financial fear was most compelling when I was a single mom and it’s fear that can still launch me into hyperdrive. Only now it’s not such much about money, but more about delivering what I’ve talked about for years.

Many of you know that I am participating in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time and I really appreciate the messages of support I’ve received since I wrote about it here.

I took two days off from writing last week trying to find some balance between my darling, undemanding husband, my part-time job, and my work on the novel, and then couldn’t find my way back to the sweet spot of inspiration I had before my time off turned into a into a plot-line procrastination fest.

Having never written a novel before, I find myself getting bogged down in problem solving such as how to move a character from one period in time to another along with a whole host of what I tend to think of as ‘housekeeping’ issues. I’ll have to talk more about ‘housekeeping’ and what I mean by that later as the sun is well up now and I need to get to work.

I am way behind on my word count and my characters are standing around looking so bored that I’m afraid if I leave them much longer on their own, they’ll move on like Pirandello’s, Six Character’s in Search of an Author.

I should be back here in a day or two, but the only promise I’m making now is to getting more words on paper. I’m a long way from the 50,000 I need to make it a successful NaNoWriMo experience, but I’m still committed.

I’m leaving you with a few pictures from our day out last week. These were taken close to home at places we’re been many times before.

It’s interesting how easy it can be to discover new things if you’re open to revisiting familiar places.

If you need me, I’ll be at my desk.