Sunday 23 June 2013

A marathon forward

We do get up to some eclectic things here in Contrary Towers. And unpredictable. Clare's new found passion for growing things - and killing aphids- acts as a mirror to the existing interest in discovering new areas and challenging the status quo. In my case I am pushing to remember forgotten skills as I ease in to the comfort of simply being me. But more of this in a later blog.

A few weeks ago Clare managed to get herself invited to speak at an event entitled Hear I Am being organised by Nazmin Akthar of the Muslim Women's Network. Now I thought this fabulous, I've been saying for long enough that she needs to be heard more as her writing and poetry is far deeper than the airhead dittys I write. So she got writing and I got inviting my bezzie to act as the support team. And not hecklers. Oh no.

The bard...
There was a minor panic on my part as I had no idea what I would wear as, well, I don't get out much and the thing I vaguely had in mind maybe wouldn't fit owing to excessive pie consumption. Fortunately, it did! Suitably attired as all gathered in Contrary Towers and made Clare go and do a reading of her piece, it was the first time she would do a performance and really didn't want it to go wrong. She happily reported it took the required 5 minutes of reading aloud and was then cajoled, nay, nagged in to performing to all of us. It's really, really difficult to perform to a group of friends and loved ones so this had to help put her in a good frame of mind.


Fortunately, it was yes. Her reading was flawless and we could relax before being taxied by Clare's bf to a strange place called Stratford... Now the funny thing was whilst I'd never heard of the venue, actually, it's not that funny, I knew exactly where I was as I had a 911 break down right outside in the horrendous stationary traffic they used to get before the bypass was built. Which made it weird for me, I was finally going in to one of the buildings I'd stared at so patiently in the late eighties and early nineties on trips to London.

An odd place is memory lane.

Anyway, we got there. Furnished the driver with some pennies to get some, err, essential supplies for after the event, and waved him off nervously as, frankly, his ability to miss turnings has become the stuff of legend and great amusement here in Contrary Towers and we really didn't know if we'd see him again...

...and with that thought we parodied a classic bad joke as these three women walked in to a bar.

The welcome was warm. I know that is such a cliché of a phrase, but oh it truly was. We had a little indecision at first as, well, D'Gaf is dry and we, well, oh you've all read our blogs and know exactly what we're like... But it's lovely and the staff were fabulously friendly and said they'd bring our soft cocktails to wherever we happened to be sitting.

Best friends
One nice little touch was that those who'd bought tickets in advance got little glow bands, which were fab. Honestly, another trip down memory lane as the last time I had one of these on was when I was 15 and visiting Blackpool with friends - one of which I met up with recently - some 31 years ago! Another delightful trip down memory lane. So it was apt that it was with my two closest friends I would be wearing one again!

Now then, the evening: the idea was to support an anthology of poetry being put together by the Muslim Women's Network, hence why we were there as we do poetry and, obviously, have strong views on women's rights regardless of background.

Introducing the evening was, of course Nazim Akthar who, thankfully, had decided to talk rather than try to fob them off with me on the grounds that nobody knew what she looked like. I did explain earlier that other than sharing an accent people might just guess...

She was wonderful in a slightly manic - at times ditzy - way that can only be achieved from somebody of obvious deep intelligence. She introduced the idea behind the Muslim Women's Network, their priority areas and the anthology project before finally dedicating the evening to Cassandra Balchin who sadly died last year after losing her battle with cancer. It's strange to get a pang of utter regret that you will never be able to meet a woman who sounded like the very definition of amazing.

Opening the performance was Mizan The Poet with a powerful poem full of string imagery beautifully delivered. He was quickly followed by Sacha Wise who gave a moving, intensely personal view of her abuse. I was in tears. Actually, I think everyone was in tears. As it turned out they were the first of the many that would follow in the evening. And it gave me pause to reflect, any abuse I suffered was purely mental and whilst I'm still coming to terms with some of it - ok, all of it - I knew I had never been through anything as harrowing as this.

It did though throw my note taking out of kilter and I then stopped writing who was performing and just immersed myself in story after story of a lives I had never lived.

During the evening we found we were sitting opposite Rania Khan who, it transpired, is a Tower Hamlets councillor. As we chatted we found out about an event that we can see from our balcony actually was! There is a mini olympic sports and culture event, the program for today looks amazing! Anyway, it was fascinating talking with a local councillor.

As the evening wore on we broke for dinner, we'd settled on the vegetarian option, which, once it arrived, was stunning. But the delay was a marvellous glimpse of serendipity in action as we got to chat with Saleha Begum who would also be speaking that evening. If I do have a regret it's that I didn't have the cash on me to pick up a copy of her book Ruptures and Fragments.

The evening wore on wonderfully. A particular highlight was the performance by Zena Agha of her "Woolwich: Not In My Name" poem, this was simply amazing. To follow it up she gave a rendition of a very personal piece on what she wanted to say to some oaf in a nightclub. It gave an amazing insight in to the strength and clarity of mind that this eloquent young woman gained from her faith. Wonderful.

Eventually... It was Clare's turn to talk. It was her first performance and given that she was shaking with nerves it was beautifully delivered. And, I'm pleased to say, well received.

The evening closed with a video of street interviews by to ladies of the MWN to the men of East London. It was both engaging and fascinating to watch.

And I had my first experience of henna!

So what did I learn. Well, difficult to say, in advance of the evening I had refreshed my memory of what the five pillars of Islam are. I'd pondered how I would be received and, also wondered what I would ask as the chance came along. So what I learned was actually quite simple, the sorority of womanhood crosses many boundaries with people from a seemingly unlimited diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. I learned that regardless of what our backgrounds were we could easily come together and chat like old friends and be left wondering just what the hell the media keep wittering on about.

Which leaves me with the strange title. In Zena Agha's talk she used the line one step forward and a marathon back. But that was a specific event. For me this was, simply, a marathon forward.

My thanks to Nazmin and all those that were involved with the event, you are all utter, utter stars.

السلام عليكم

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