Tag Archives: hope

Helena Handcart

I’d like to introduce you to a new friend of mine – her name’s Helena:Helena Logo square

Ok, she’s not strictly speaking a friend, she’s a business, but she’s an idea I dreamt up with one of my oldest friends last year and, as the months have gone by and we’ve plotted and planned to make her a reality, we’ve become rather fond of her. You see, Helena is a positive and determined sort of a character. Feisty and no-nonsense but with a heart as soft as melted butter. She’s focussed too, she knows what’s important to her – creativity and compassion – and she wants to use art to make a difference.

I’m still talking about her like she’s a person, aren’t I?  Ok, let’s rewind…

I made no secret of how I felt about the world last year – the EU referendum with its climate of hate and the racism that the result seemed to legitimise, the horrendous terrorist attacks, Trump, the political and social situations in countries around the globe, even the celebrity death toll… it started to feel like we were all going to, well, hell in a handcart…

All this was the focus of many discussions with my best mate, Sus, on our monthly dinner dates in the Scottish borders. We live over a hundred miles apart (in Scotland and Northumberland) and there’s a little pub we go to – half way between our homes – that has, for the last six and a half years, been our retreat from all the other demands on our time. There we go to eat, chat, and put the world to rights. And, being illustrators, we often draw too. Not for work purposes, we just find that, in a funny kind of way, drawing makes us feel better about things.

The two of us outside the Bucchleugh Arms

The two of us outside the Bucchleugh Arms

Anyway, on one of those occasions while drawing and having a good old rant, we decided enough was enough. We were sick of feeling helpless amidst everything that was going on. We wanted to do something – even if it was only a very small thing – to make a positive difference. And we decided art could help us achieve that… and so the idea for Helena was born.

miniature cards range

The small change range. These use my miniature drawings which are reproduced actual size on the cards. I love drawing things small!

So, to get back to introductions:  Helena Handcart is a greetings card business that’s committed to doing some good. To that end, 50p of each and every card we sell is donated to grassroots charities devoted to causes close to our hearts. Sus and I design the cards, and they’re printed by a lovely company called Six Print who support the Woodland Trust project and use only carbon captured papers for the production of their greetings cards.

Alll together now range

Some of our ‘All together now’ range of cards by Sus, pictured in front of the forth bridge where Sus lives!

We have two partner charities at the moment who are the fabulous Starcatchers who focus on improving the lives of the under fives through creative experiences, and Crisis Classroom who believe in empowerment through education of all refugees. Because they’re grassroots organisations, even tiny donations can make a difference to people’s lives and we’re thrilled that every time anyone buys one of our cards, we’re able to do just that.

I’d love you to visit our Etsy shop and take a look at all our cards. We’re working on more designs right now so the range will soon be expanded. In the future, I even hope to illustrate some of my limericks for cards – that should be fun!

Right, that’s the introductions over I think! You can find Helena Handcart on FacebookInstagram and Twitter – do pop over and say hi if you can. Or, as Helena would say:

“Buy a card. Send love. Make good things happen.”

xxx

 

 

some thoughts on politics

Despite the storm in UK politics recently, I’ve held back from sharing my views on the blog and social media. I’m not quite sure why – last year I was pretty emotionally open about it all on here. I made it clear I was pro-remain and vehemently anti-Trump and believe me, my silence this time round hasn’t meant any lack of political passion this year either.poppy field

So I’ll be honest with you now – I was nothing short of THRILLED that Labour won more seats in the election last week. I feel it’s a huge step towards a more compassionate society – one where everyone matters and where vital services like the NHS are protected. I also think it’s a huge slap in the face to Theresa May’s hard Brexit and the way she was pursuing it and, as someone who values togetherness and collaboration, I think that is a very good thing.

I love all the talk about the youth standing up to be counted, the thought that our population is more engaged and politically active and the belief that the hate-soaked tabloids are losing their power over the electorate. That last thought alone is enough to make me dance in the streets. There is much in all of this to celebrate.

But, man alive, what about this proposed Tory coalition with the DUP?!!!! Their party is sickeningly homophobic, denies climate change, wants to teach creationism as scientific fact, reintroduce the death penalty and is not only anti- abortion but wants to criminalise any one who offers or seeks advice about it. It beggars belief. And even though I can’t honestly see any of these beliefs radically impacting on policy (I have more faith in our Conservative MP’s than to think they would back-track on gay marriage or our right to choose etc – I hope I’m right on that) I think to allow the balance of power to lie with the DUP gives such abhorrent views a dangerous legitimacy.

I also understand there are grave concerns in Northern Ireland about how this could unsettle the peace process there. I can’t pretend to have much of an understanding in this area (although I’ve been doing a bit of reading this weekend) but I’ve heard this alliance called dangerous and irresponsible. There are rumblings in the Conservative party’s own ranks let alone in wider parliament.

Personally, I’d question the extent to which a minority Tory government propped up by the DUP could be genuinely representative of the views of the British people. I may be a lefty myself but I’ve spoken to Conservative voting friends over the weekend and they’re appalled by the DUP’s views too. All told, the coalition feels desperate and unsafe. To many it doesn’t even feel legitimate.

So where does that leave us? What’s going to happen next? Will we have a new Prime Minister by the end of the week? A date for another general election by the end of the month? An entirely new government by the end of the year? Who knows?!

Anyway, I thought I would share this drawing I did. It’s about sticking together to face whatever life throws at you. Braving the storm no matter what. I think we’re going to need to.

storm image for blog

art and healing

sheep-at-sunriseSo, phew, how are we all doing then? What’s that you say? Am I still enraged, horrified and saddened? I know, I know, my recent posts have been fairly emotionally-outpoury and heavy haven’t they?

Well…

In answer to your question – yes and no. Yes, because that’s my honest and human reaction to what’s going on in the world at the moment… and no, because if I stayed permanently in that state I’d lose the plot. I’ve actually had some lovely times recently: mornings and afternoons and lunches and dinners and drinks with friends that have fed my soul and given me a huge boost in the happiness stakes. If there’s one big positive to come out of this awful year it’s been those friendships that have grown and strengthened in the face of everything or simply remained resolutely fantastic. They’re better than the cosiest, warmest, fluffiest blanket in front of the crackliest, brightest, toastiest fire with the biggest, crumbliest most delicious plate of mince pies, my friends are. And all the chocolate in the world – they’re better than that too.

So yes, as I write this, I’m feeling calmer than I’ve felt in weeks.

But I have been thinking about those feelings of outrage and horror and the proper place for them. Because I don’t think such feelings can be dismissed – not when they are legitimate and not when people’s rights, freedoms and even lives are at risk (or worse). However, they’re also not something that should be used to further negativity or hate or violence – I think they need to be used to combat those things. Channelled in the right way, I think horror and outrage can be powerful and positive.

I’ve read loads of articles recently about positive actions that can be taken by people feeling shocked or sad or powerless. There are many different options, whether its volunteering or donating or speaking out or up for others or peacefully protesting or being a friend – the list goes on. And I think we each need to pick the course of action that works for us – the action that will heal us and hopefully help others.

For me, I’ve decided that the way forward is art. I read a blog post earlier this year by Chuck Wendig called ‘It is art that will help us survive‘ (read it as long as you don’t mind sweariness). In it he talks about how art – in its many forms – can soothe and heal but also excite and agitate, how it can help us understand ourselves and each other. How art can lift us up and, by sharing it, lift others up too. And how it can bond people across all sorts of personal and political and cultural divides. So, while it might seem a bit, I dunno, ‘fluffy’ in these troubled times, it just isn’t.

An artist friend and I had a big chat about this the other night and we’ve come up with a plan. It’s about creating art and sharing art and hopefully creating opportunities for others to do so too. It’s about being able to respond to events that upset us in ways that create empathy and promote feelings of togetherness and hope. And it’s also (if all goes to plan) about helping causes close to our hearts: making sense of the world while having a genuine positive impact.

It’s only a little idea – it’s not flashy or bold. But I think – we both think – it can make a difference. That it can channel outrage into healing.

And that’s just what we need right now.

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searching for hope

sunset-through-treesThis blog was never supposed to be a place to talk about politics. “I’m not a political person” I used to state and, “anyway, I don’t want to discuss this stuff in public” so, “I’ll keep things light-hearted on the blog… nothing remotely controversial.”

Then this year happened. Oh, didn’t it just. Didn’t. It. Just. And I am done setting myself rules about what I can and can’t write here. I’m emotional – a ‘big feelings’ person – I need to express myself and if I want to express it here then that’s fine. Nobody has to read it if they don’t want to. There’s just too much big stuff in my head right now and I need to write it out. Maybe writing will help.

So, this year, this steaming turd of a year, I’ve looked at the world around me, at horrible acts of violence committed by individuals and groups, and at awful decisions made by governments and voters and just thought, “What the f*ck is going on?!”

I’ve read masses of articles and opinion pieces and tried so hard to understand some of these events – like what would make the UK vote for Brexit or America vote for Trump. There are so many different voices, so many different opinions – not just ‘two sides to every story’ but a clamouring mass of them, tugging and screaming to be heard. It makes my head spin.

What I mostly see though, is that a lot of people are hurting and feel helpless and angry and scared. And that we seem to have lost our ability to understand views that differ from our own. We exist in our ‘echo chambers’ baffled or appalled by those outside of them, as the divisions between us get wider and wider – so wide we may as well be living in different realities.

I’ll make no bones about it – I think some terrible decisions have been made this year. I think they’re going to lead to great pain and hardship for many. And I hate that, I hate it.

But… there’s always got to be a ‘but’…

I’ve got to hope that we can get something positive from these decisions too, if we try hard enough. I want to believe that they can be a starting point for acknowledging the divisions that exist in our societies and and that they compel us try to bridge that divide so that in the future we are guided by hope and togetherness rather than hate and fear.

One of the great points of optimism in both the EU referendum and the US election results was that the youth voted overwhelmingly for what I’m going to call ‘togetherness’. Young people in the UK voted that Britain should stay in the European Union and young people in the US voted for Hillary Clinton, a democrat whose campaign was built on the idea of being ‘stronger together’.

Our future is right there, in those voters. And what we have now is a great big kick up the bum – a horrible, shocking, devastating kick up the bum, but a motivating one nonetheless – to start listening to each other properly. Not just listening to our friends or those who think similarly to us, but to those people whose actions and views we can’t understand at all. Working out how to listen could be a challenge. Making sure our governments and politicians listen to all of us, another one. Not to mention building understanding, and a society based on that. But we have to start doing something differently. Don’t you think?

Anyhow, I did a drawing. It’s about hope and love and respect. It’s about putting out the fires of hate and fear and re-building the future together. For all of us.

mending-the-broken-heart
If only it could be that simple.
But we’ve got to try.

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fear and anxiety

lightningSad and scared.

That’s how I’ve been feeling recently when I’ve looked at the world around me. 2016 has not been a good year. Actually, that’s an understatement: 2016 has felt like a terrible year. Sickening terrorist atrocities, a horribly divisive EU referendum, our British political system a mess, a rise in hate crime and a despicably vicious tabloid press that has sown lies and grown hatred. And bubbling along with a growing fervour, a US election that has shone a light on so much of what is wrong with the world.

I find it hard to write about Donald Trump. I find it hard to speak about him without my words getting tangled with rage. I can throw out words that describe who he is – that describe what he is: racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, a bully, a liar, an incompetent who is absolutely unfit even for the role of president of one of his (failed) companies let alone of the ‘free world’.

But those words… no matter how much truth they hold, seem weightless in the face of his march towards power.

A few weeks ago, after tapes of Trump boasting about ‘grabbing’ women, were released, ‘sexual abuser’ was added to that list of words to describe him. Sexual abuser. And his popularity dipped. But you know, pah, where’s the harm in a bit of sexual abuse? Thought no right-minded person ever… and yet, AND YET, after that dip, his popularity has grown again until he and Hillary Clinton are practically level in the polls.

I’m horrified. Just… horrified.

Like so many others, I reeled in the wake of those Trump tapes. Even more so as more women stepped forward to share how he had assaulted them too. And I felt sick to the stomach as he cast aside their accusations not with, “I would never do that because it is morally reprehensible” (I suppose he couldn’t really could he? as he’d already said it’s the sort of thing he did), or with, “I admit it and it was wrong and obviously I will remove myself as a candidate and accept a jail sentence for my crimes” but with “Look at her – I don’t think so”. Because, what? Sexual assault is something that only happens to women who look a certain way? As if sexual assault isn’t a diabolical and appalling act that no human being let alone presidential candidate should ever commit.

I read articles and stories by women around the world about how all this made them feel. How it awakened painful memories from their pasts, of how it reminded them of every abusive experience they’d ever had. Across the globe, women were united in grief and pain and fear and I knew, I KNEW:

THIS MAN CANNOT BE PRESIDENT.

Because of course he can’t. And yet, there he is. Republican candidate. Drawing ever closer in the polls to Hillary Clinton.

And you know what bothers me most? And why, despite not being a US citizen, I have such a passionate interest in the outcome of the election?

It’s not even that he isn’t fit for presidency – that he isn’t capable or worthy of dealing with the power and prestige that comes with the role (of course he isn’t. OF COURSE HE ISN’T.)

It’s not even the thought of what laws he might try to repeal or what hatred he will undoubtedly sow and the far-reaching consequences of that.

It’s not even the idea of him having his hands on the nuclear codes, though that makes my blood run cold –

It’s what it symbolises if he wins. It’s the message it sends our next generation.

That a racist, a misogynist, a narcissist,

a bully, a liar, an incompetent.

a sexual abuser.

can become President of America.

People have said not to worry. That Hillary Clinton will win. That a woman who is intelligent, competent and experienced, hardworking, dedicated and compassionate will prevail over… that.

And I’m trying to believe them. I’m trying not to worry.

Wednesday is going to dawn on a different world. Let it be a better one. Let it be one where little girls can think ‘maybe one day I can be president!’. Let it be one where it’s NOT ok to be a racist or a bully or a liar. Where we challenge misogyny rather than, too often, accepting it. And where our sons and daughters can aspire to be the best they can be in a society where – regardless of race, or sexuality, or ability or religion or gender – we are all equals.

I’ll be watching for the sunrise. And, despite my fear, I’m going to hope.

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the uplifting power of words – #ShoreToShore

grassI’ve been feeling fraught lately. Too much emotion, too much worry, too much sadness about the state of our country and our future.

But last night something wonderful happened – I went to Carol Ann Duffy’s Shore to Shore poetry tour. It was held in my local church, a lovely location at the best of times (I say that despite my atheist tendencies) but on this particular occasion it had a bar serving cask ales in it (it did – honest!) and was filled poetry and music.

Poets Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and Gillian Allnutt all performed along side the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and with musical interludes by John Sampson. I loved it all. I’m not saying I loved each and every poem equally or that each poet affected me the same way. I think poetry is a personal thing and you can find your own meanings within the words. I let some of last night just wash over me, while other parts made me smile or laugh, and still others brought tears to my eyes. Some poems really hit home. Politics did enter the building (at a time like this how could it not?) but I had a strong sense of being surrounded by like-minded people. And we sat side by side and were immersed in thought and intelligence and warmth. It was an evening of out-and-out soul enrichment.

When I got home I wrote a poem about it. I didn’t really think about it I just walked into the room, exchanged pleasantries with my husband (‘How were the kids at bedtime? Perfectly behaved? What, did the stars align this evening or something?’), grabbed a pen and paper and the words appeared on the page. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem like that. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem.

Of course I’m terrified to share it here – because it’s a first draft and it’s raw and you might think it’s rubbish. But I want to put it somewhere because, I don’t know, there’s been so much sadness recently and the poem is about how I felt last night, remembering what’s good in life. It was transmitted so clearly through those wonderful poems from those wonderful writers and, though I can’t hope to live up to their words, they’ve given me the strength to throw a few of my own out into the world.

Poetry

They fell like raindrops
drenching parched soil –
words of beauty
of truth
of kindness,
of art and wisdom and thought.

They fell like blossom
coating tired streets –
words of culture
of insight
of education,
of rawness and emotion and love.

They fell like sunbeams
through the treetops,
a soft wind through the grasses,
warmth beside me,
gentle hands in my hair.

Prose for Thought
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