A life not lived

Ove_Fundin_statue_Brixel_sculptor The statue of Ove Fundin, five-times World Championship speedway rider, was unveiled last August in his hometown of Tranås in Sweden. He is my father and I met him for the first time when I was 30.

One Weekly Blog Club optional theme this week was a ‘public statue in your locality’. I am not from Tranås: I was born in London at a Catholic children’s home and moved, at six weeks, to my adoptive parents’ home in Folkestone.

My biological father’s seven children lived in and around Tranås: a town of just over 14,000 people in the south-west of Sweden where his family had been prominent furriers.

I have four-half brothers and three half-sisters: one of my half-sisters is just two days older than me. It is a strange thought, being born so close together; her life has seemed one that I might have had. It was and is very different from my own: horses and school skiing lessons, a big country house and lots of siblings. It was also one with a largely absent father who went on to marry twice more, the loss of that country house, a mother who married again and a step-brother.

My father is described by his biographer as ‘an idol [whose] ruthless pursuit of success…often upset the British crowds.’ He is volatile and complex, generous and courageous; he has travelled all over the world and has marked his birthdays from the age of 70 by walking from France to Sweden, for example, or motor biking to Sweden from South Korea.

I know that my half-sister often had to take care of her younger siblings. Like our father, she has successfully fought cancer. She is tall and striking, learned to parachute and drive lorries, has five children and a former partner called Adolf (being English, that strikes me as one of the biggest differences between us.)

I am very short, have one child and parents who have just celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary, still living in the dolls house-sized semi where I went at six weeks. I had one adoptive brother, severely mentally ill from a young age.

My parents have never flown or driven a car: Dad did a moped course but was too nervous to give up his pushbike. Mum stayed at home while my half-sister’s mother still works as a journalist and author. It is all so very different. My parents’ life is family and church and walks around the cliff, no black tie dinners or winters in Australia.

I went to a town council-hosted lunch and dinner for the statue launch, heading off to sleep after a couple of glasses of wine in the evening. My half-sister and the others have a Scandanavian tolerance for a long rowdy night of spirits and socialising.

It has taken a long time to write this but it comes nowhere near conveying the sense of trying to convey the wonder of what makes each of us ourselves and unique. Time to stop trying.

The Folkestone Mermaid

I have grown rather fond of the Folkestone Mermaid. The bronze statue, by Cornelia Parker, was commissioned for the Folkestone Triennial in 2011 and the artist invited all women in the town to apply to model for her.

I like and admire the artist’s decision to have a strong and robust figure as a model, rather than the unhealthy and unrealistic shapes too often held up as shapes to which women should aspire. The link above is to the Daily Mail for two reasons: it is a decent and informative article, with good photographs and quotes. It is also followed by the sort of poisonous misogynistic comments are too often featured in below the line responses, aimed at women and their body shapes. Know your enemy.

Not everyone agrees that this how a mermaid should look: you may have noticed a lack of tail. I am also fond of the Folkestone Urban Sirens: a group of women who dress up the statue by night in protest against this dearth of tailed-similarity to her Little Mermaid sister in Copenhagen.

Last month, it was announced that the Folkestone Mermaid will be staying for good, after she was bought for the town.  I was lucky enough to wave to her this week and hope that she stays, looking out to sea, to inspire more artists, women of all shapes and sizes and phantom-statue-costumiers by night.


‘Bugrit! Millennium hand and shrimp’

“A grisly fate, but one that he deserved.”
“Right, Batman! Let’s go for ice cream.”
“Ice cream is not good for young, healthy boys, Robin. Instead, let’s have some 100% American steaks served with vegetables from our Victory Garden.”

True randomness is difficult, I believe. This is most likely down to my own thoughts and actions; nature- and nurture-influenced as they are.

This is already not a random quest, to look at ‘random’, but Weekly Blog Club’s suggested theme. And I like being given a title to write to, rather than spend ages trying to think of my own.

This post’s title is the catchphrase of the marvellous Foul Ole Ron, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I chose it as the most random collection of words that sprang to mind.

I’ve just re-read ‘Thud!’ in which the phrase appears, so not really random, is it? Off to Google to investigate.

It is either truly random, or not random at all, if Wikipedia is correct, as it is: ‘the result of Pratchett feeding a random text generating program with a Chinese takeaway menu and the lyrics to They Might be Giants‘ song Particle Man’ (the link is to a song I prefer: the theme tune to the pleasantly-random Malcolm in the Middle.)

So with a background of journalism (i.e. nicking other people’s thoughts and words as a basis for my own), I did a Google search for ‘random’. This is already less-than-random as its algorithms are shaped by my browsing history.

This took me to the glorious black hole of time-wasting that is www.random.org You have been warned.

I played with the random date-generator: proving again, to myself at least, that it’s hard to do random, by choosing a predictable date. I entered – you guessed it – my date of birth and today’s date, resulting in

‘Here are your 4 calendar dates:
Monday, 30 April 1984
Wednesday, 2 April 1986
Monday, 15 March 1999
Wednesday, 19 July 2000
They were picked randomly out of 13,280 possible dates between [redacted date in old money] and Wednesday, 13 March 2013.’

Now I am longing to find out why those dates might be significant: I want to put reason and rhythm over randomness. I don’t keep a diary so will probably never know. Do they mean anything to you? I would love to know.

I thought the comic image was wonderfully random: Batman among the quotidien cabbages. But I didn’t come to it by random. It’s on a brilliant blog of food links by Sarah Emily Duff, whom I follow on Twitter. I started following her as she was engaging with Simon Okotie, a dear friend whose book I helped to publicise. Now I think of it, his ‘down-at-heel hero’ Marguerite has elements of Foul Ole Ron…

My day job is to publicise a Local Food project and I spend a lot of time thinking about people growing their own vegetables. And the image itself was published in 1943. What could be less random than government propaganda-esque exhortations to Dig for Victory and swap the American Dream lawn for the veg to go alongside your 100% American steak?

I like to think of myself as a natural anarchist and therefore presumably drawn to the random; if I am, then it is one who likes things to be tidy and in order. My capacity for self-delusion can always be relied upon to be less than random.

Simply the Best for International Women’s Day

Metropolitan Police Service, New Scotland Yard. Mid 1990s

I am sitting in at a large table surrounded by men, both in uniform and civilian suits. We are here for a first meeting to prepare for a major football tournament. The man in charge sweeps in:

‘I am Commander Chap: May I introduce Superintendent Fellow; Chief Inspector Geezer; Deputy Assistant Commissioner Man; Acting Chief Superintendent Bloke; Sergeant Machismo; Inspector Secret-Guy (Special Branch.)

‘And Karen. Our press lady.’

No-one asked me to make the tea but I recall that I was deliberately confrontational, largely in an effort to get across how I was as expert at my part of the big picture as they were at crowd control, disaster planning etc.

It took time and a lot of professionalism but I did win over Commander Chap: we became friends and I helped him with interview skills that progressed his career. And I got to see some terrific football.

Fast forward many years: I am sitting at Stepney City Farm on Tuesday 5 March 2013, at 6.30pm after a day’s work, surrounded by and large by women: some of whom are pictured above.

They are the Farm’s Communications Committee and I want to pay brief tribute to them as my post for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

For the record, the two men on the Committee were also there: an immaculately-suited City-regulation and online analytics’ expert and a hugely-talented young artist.

And, to lend Olympic-level masculinity to the meeting, we were joined, as a first-time observer, by the Farm’s artist blacksmith, straight from t’forge. He is from Yorkshire.

I’m not going to go into personal detail about all the bright, capable and gifted women who form the Committee. Some are Farm Trustees, who give up ridiculous amounts of time from family and friends and globe-trotting careers to help with everything from networking with potential celebrity supporters to cooking lunches for volunteers and cleaning.

There are staff members. One swapped a career as a doctor, to deal with day to day Farm life: ministering to guinea pigs with constipation, persuading banks that they should pay money they owe us for their team building days, building dementia programmes.

Interns and volunteers have written successful fund-raising proposals, not turned a hair at being asked to build a whole new website from scratch, come up with new ideas for merchandising and taken endless minutes of meetings.

Some have been around for years; others are new. They are from all over the UK and, indeed, the world. They are parents, cyclists, thrift-shop and designer dressers, clubbers, campaigners; many ages and stages of living. And they are the best women out there: doing their wonderful best for a few acres that one women set up as a City Farm, 30 years ago.

’As a young communicator in a far-away land, I came to the Farm, and subsequently the Comms Committee, for two things: experience in my field of study, and refuge from the city’s every day.

‘Little did I know that I’d receive much more. Being part of the Comms Team has surrounded me in a group of strong, intelligent women of all ages, giving me that nudge of support lacking at times when one finds themselves away from home and family

‘I spend my waking hours either thinking how wonderful the Farm is and/or telling people to come to visit to see how wonderful it is themselves.

‘Attending the Communications Committee allows me to share my ideas of how I’ve been spreading the good word as well as adopt ideas from members on how to promote the Farm. It is very encouraging when you’ve got a roomful of people who want to spread the love of the Farm as much as I do.’

’One of the reasons that I joined the Comms team was because over half of Tower Hamlets’ population are from non-white British ethnic groups, with a third of these being Bangladeshi Muslims.

‘I noticed that the fellow volunteers & visitors did not fully reflect this dynamic and I hope that as an Indian Muslim woman I can build a bridge to communicate with and engage this community especially.’

‘I wanted to be actively involved in my local community and improving the area. The Communications Committee demonstrates that the Farm really does have something for everyone: you don’t have to get your hands dirty to be an active part of this community initiative and meet some fantastic and inspiring people.

‘I love marketing and so spreading the good farming word: letting others know about where they can find a little oasis of calm and a friendly face in the big City.’

‘I come to the Comms Committee because I get an insight into a mysterious world I never see in the NHS (alas, I love the NHS) where you can be excited, professional, productive and efficient.

‘I hear words I’ve never heard of and see things happen quickly. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and making it look effortless.’

‘My own experience at the Farm has been so rewarding and fun that I really do feel the need to spread the word, from standing out on the street markets talking to people or in the online space. More people need to know.’

‘I suppose my story is that I got dragged to the Farm [by Volunteer Manager Katharine] and ended up staying because of all the wonderful things the Farm does.

‘Animals not necessarily being my thing, I try to volunteer with what skills I have – and seeing how much the Comms team has achieved in the last year has been wonderful.

‘I enjoy getting involved in the Comms Committee as it gives me a chance to use expertise I have gained in my work life (working for an advertising agency then as Creative and Communications Director for a social enterprise).

‘I love the practical and physical ways I can help on the farm (shovelling poo, planting vegetables etc) but the Comms Committee is an area I can bring my brain to as well as my body!’