Monday, 29 June 2009

Carry on Camping

It's been getting pretty hot in the public sphere - what with the general feeling of malaise in politics and the economy (i.e. the tired-looking government, the EU election results and, above all for some communities, what the election of the BNP means and how we should respond.

However, some perspective, people.

With the economic downturn and political storm swirling around us, we carry on, for better or for worse, with our everyday lives, with its everyday concerns. One of the important ones for me is trying to support my family and children, and we've had a busy time of it recently. So I thought I'd share. You know, perspective.

One of the side-benefits of being married to a 'non-BritishAsian' (jeez, what torturous categories, what negative hyphens) - Mr Husband is a 'white Brit' (more laden categories) - is that I get to have loads of 'cross-cultural' experiences. You know, the sort of things alien to a Brit-Asian. For example, all the family sitting around the table at the same time having dinner together instead of the truncated experience of children eating first, then the men and then the women. Another example is going on holiday to places where you have no relatives, not one, none at all. And more than that, staying in a hotel or suchlike rather than in the relative's house. This is bizarre behaviour. But believe me, this is what 'indigenous' English people do.

More recently, the family and I have been - are you sitting down - 'camping' (I can only ever imagine that word said quizzically and in my mother's Indian-accent English). Yes, camping is where you work very hard most of your life to pay for and equip a lovely home with luxurious mod cons (well, we have, er, two TVs) and you leave it all behind to cook and sleep in...a field. Yes, you prepare for weeks as if going on a major Arctic expedition, pack the car full of stuff as if to survive a jungle isolation and basically aim to recreate your mods cons (in portable, foldy-uppy form) by using a gas canister and lots of zips. All this I did, in the name of giving our two young children 'A Memorable Experience'.

The occasion was a family 'fun camp' organised by my daughter's Beavers group (for the uninitiated, that's the pre-Scouts age-group) - yes, I know, I know, having to swear allegiance to 'god and Queen' sticks a bit in throat of an atheist and Republican, and I'm not fond of some of Baden Powell's illustrious record. But children will want to do what their peers do, and I don't think my daughter, at six, was quite ready for the lecture about the terrible evils of the scout group (ok, I copped out). And so we went.

Would I find rabid, jingoistic, grown-up boy scouts amongst the other parents? Would there be group prayers? (God, no!). Would I be the only 'person of colour'? The answer to all of these turned out to be 'non' (not, obviously so anyway).

There was quite a team spirit and a friendly atmosphere. The family to one side were high-achieving Romanians (a banker and a business analyst - I'm such a desi to have picked that up right-away - well, their 7 year old son was interested in my 7 year old daughter! I had to know). Other groups included one or two Indian-looking men, and two black men. However, before we fall over in homage to assimilation (or diversity, choose your poison) each and every one of these guys (and me of course) was part of a mixed-race set up. Hmm, interesting.

There were no promises to love 'god and country' - the single giveaway in this respect was a gigantic, I mean enormous, Union Jack flag silently fluttering over the small facilities building. Slightly unnerving for someone bought up to cross the road when we saw the flag on show (though that was in the mean 70s and 80s in the former-NF territory of the west London suburbs).

I have to say that it was a good communal outdoors experience in a happy and safe environment - what more could you ask for the children?

Friday, 26 June 2009

RIP Michael Jackson (and the public frenzy)

Sad news that's got to be acknowledged. The premature death of a brilliant artist albeit who seemingly lead a bizarre life. For anyone like me in their 40s, Michael Jackson was a constant presence, providing a soundtrack to their life. No doubt he had his critics and, who knows, there may be more to come, but it's hard not to take a moment to mark his extraordinary contribution, as well as some meditations on the response to his death.

As I sit in the morning traffic of South-East London, on this grey and muggy day, I get the opportunity to listen to the blanket playing of MJ tracks on many stations, with stunned presenters and callers. Although I had been shocked by the news late the previous night, and watching the footage this morning, it was when I was exposed to track after track of his back catalogue that my emotional response was heightened. And it has to be said, it brought back memories of the 'Princess Di' moment in this country in the days after her death in 1997. That extraordinary response has, I think, affected the way in which we now react to 'celebrity' deaths. It also made me think about how we respond to the deaths of artist-musicians as opposed to other types of artists. The music of MJ will now have a particular poignancy in a way that the novels of, say Martin Amos or Hanif Kureshi, would not have, I don't think, if luck forbid, they passed away before their time. Part of the answer is of course that musician-artists achieve a 'reach' and celebrity that other types of artists do not.

I also came across an interesting observation at Next Left:
Alistair Campbell recently pointed out that the increasingly autistic British mainstream media can only deal with one crisis at a time. One minute we were all about to be killed by swine flu and newspapers could think of nothing else, the next minute we were up to our ears in the biggest constitutional crisis in the history of Westminster and hamaggedon was long forgotten....Will new media be any different? It could be; Michael versus Mahmood might be the test.
The death of an icon in the the age of 'web 2.0' is already throwing up some bizarre happenings - for example, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, has apparently 'paid tribute' to Michael Jackson on Twitter saying "Never has one soared so high and yet dived so low". [UPDATE: this has turned out to be a hoax! That's why The Telegraph have presumably removed their report and my link doesn't now work (harump). Still, shows the power of the medium - the BBC and The Guardian also reported it...]

I was about to blog yesterday with a lighter post than of late - things seem pretty bleak out there on the economic and political front. I wonder if the public emotional reaction to this sad and unfortunate death will provide people with the vehicle to pour out out their frustrations, albeit in the guise of a grieving reaction. No doubt therapists will have something to say about this - I await Susie Orbach's words or wisdom...

For now though, in keeping with the millions of blogs, tweets, etc. out there, it would only be fitting to share some of my Michael Jackson memories:

1970s - my first memory is of the childish competition in our primary school days between the two cartoon shows of the day - who do you support in The Osmonds versus the Jackson Five? It was always the Five for us.

High school days - My brother and I practicing our dance moves in the living room to Off the Wall tracks (embarrassing but true)

1988 - Seeing MJ at Wembley (not a good experience and put me off stadium gigs forever)

1989 - A distinct memory of dancing at Fino's (a bar/disco off Oxford Street, London) with my friend L and the rest of the crowd from the ILEA, to 'Baby baby with the high heels on..."

1995 - Attending a spectacular showy Indian wedding (is there any other type?) in Vancouver, Canada, where the stunning bride and groom entered through a flowering archway ( I kid you not) and did the opening dance to 'You are not alone"

1997 - a bizarre scene in Gambia, Africa - the staff of our hotel resort performed a serious enactment in the hotel grounds of the video for 'Remember the time" (they were really good)

Now - My young children never tiring of watching the Thriller video and chanting "Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-koo-sa" (from "Wanna be Startin' Somethin') during car journeys. Hey, it's one route to bilingualism...

If you still want more, see this BBC tribute of Michael Jackson's memorable moments.


Thursday, 18 June 2009

Busy and bewildered

I know I haven't posted for a while - life continues to be somewhat HECTIC. I hope to get time to write about some interesting 'cross-cultural' experiences and about some recent English-Desi reading. But whooa...never mind that, the stories in my last post have taken off and how.

On 8 June I woke up to news which left me bewildered and feeling the opposite of the elation I felt almost exactly six months ago one morning (Obama's election). The European elections on 5 June had resulted in the north of England returning 2 fascist MEPs, including the leader of that odious party which would have me and my children 'repatriated' and which would constrain rights according to 'race' (how can they be a legal party?). It was ironic that nearly 1 million British people who has just commemorated the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II had now voted in these xenophobic thugs.

A blip maybe. After all, in the EU elections' alternative voting system, that party only won seats due to achieving a larger share percentage of the vote, rather than significantly increasing its actual votes. But then this week I read the depressing story of about 100 Romanian residents in Belfast, Northern Ireland, being hounded out of their houses by mobs including some chanting nazi slogans and giving nazi salutes. The residents included a pregnant woman, children and babies. What is going on? A good attempt is being made over Pickled Politics at picking apart the manifesto of the BNP, with a list of practical questions posed to them.

And I haven't even had a chance to write about the election next Monday of Speaker of the House, following the resignation of Michael Martin. One of the candidates is one Parmjit Dhanda, Labour MP for Gloucester since being elected in 2001....