Slavery and Reparations: Bristol and Beyond


Last night I attended the ‘African connections: moving people – perspectives on Bristol, slavery and migration’ seminar at the Malcolm X Centre, part of the Being Human 15 festival. The panel were brilliant, and the audience engaged.

I was struck at how solid, useful and forthright the conversation was, and particularly on the question of reparations. A question I’ve talked to white friends about several times, friends who have similar if not mirrored politics to mine, and often disagreed on. Last night the idea was crystallised for me thanks to the intelligent and cohesive offerings of everyone in the room.

The crux was this: yes we need reparations – of course we need reparations. We need to repair damage that has been done, always. We need to constantly be looking to better and strengthen our society in all ways, especially for those who bear the extra (and continuing) weights of an inequitable and brutal history.

This does not mean that we give cash handouts to individuals or families or neighbourhoods or demographics – who would we give them to? How much? Where would that money come from? Who is paying whom?

What this does mean is that we acknowledge the truth of our history, and the truths of our present. We employ that truth loudly, openly and together, to build, connect, and repair in real terms.

A full and honest education – not a black history month, but a syllabus that (shock horror) teaches all history because it’s history. New types of investment that recognise the fissured and transitory nature of existing ‘community’ investment, the removal of bottlenecking towards a particular kind of culture and commerce, and a release of the treatment of lower-economic communities as afterthoughts.

The willingness of each of us individually, of all histories and parentages,  to integrate, share, listen to and work with each other – but also as a wider society to publicly express regret. Not because we are individually guilty, but because slavery was a regretful, shameful, vicious practice. And the trauma and reality and consequences of it remain today. Do we not agree?

One of the audience members suggested that a plaque be installed on the statue of Colston in the city centre, acknowledging his profession as a slaver (indeed, someone scrawled the fact on the base of the statue in 1998), or honouring the slaves who actually produced the wealth Colston distributed, or kept, as he saw fit. This is not the first time this has been suggested of course, and many people, myself included, would go further to say why not replace the thing with another statue, feature or something other.

Who are we as a city – what do we want to hide, and what do we want to celebrate?


The Oneness is the Greatest – #SanctumBristol

Every time I have read about spirituality, and usually when I am reading anything vaguely self-help-y, and sometimes when I am trawling through the Internet, there is a message that keeps coming back. That we are one. All of life, all of the Universe is, or is part of, the same organism, essence, energy.

I’m not too interested in debating or justifying this though I’ll happily discuss it, and often do, when someone is willing to engage with the idea. But without any religion, I have always believed that somehow we are all connected. I don’t know why, and I can’t really explain it. I don’t need to.

My best friend believes that we are imbued with the Holy Spirit, the same spirit of her God; my other best friend is an atheist, but does believes that we each have a soul, or spirit of some kind, and that we are connected to each other through mutual dependence and a moral responsibility to each other, simply by being alive and in proximity.

I’m not sure I can describe my experience of ‘oneness’, other than to say that at times I feel a connection, an emotional mirroring, and a rush and pull so visceral that it’s frightening, as though the soul I haven’t yet decided whether or not I have is being clamped and dragged from my body. I often shut that feeling down, especially since this happens most often when I am faced with the pain of others. Pain I’d rather not feel with no power to act on it, that’s not mine to fully grasp anyway, that’s distorted and egged on by my imagination and my adrenal glands.

This oneness, connection, is both physical and mental. My partner believes that those two things are one and the same. Billions of us believe billions of things; and thus, we are all potentially as different, and potentially as similar, as we can be. Our consciousness, and the oneness, are Schroedinger’s Cats.

Last Sunday, I arrived to see my friend Sara perform at #SanctumBristol. For an hour, every single day, throughout the entirety of the installation, she has been singing, in Arabic, a call to prayer. Sara wrote the translation of her prayer on the chalkboard for us, and asked everyone to face the back right-hand corner of the structure; in the direction of Iran, her country of heritage. The chalkboard read:

The Oneness is the Greatest

I testify that there is no God greater than the Oneness

Come to Sanctuary

Come to prayer

The Oneness is the Greatest

There is no God greater than the Oneness.

It was bright and early in the morning. There was cold wintery sunlight eking everywhere and showing us everything it possibly could. I sat in the newest and most beautiful structure in my city, holding a hot cup of tea, sheltered from the damp outside and swaddled in a large scarf, and felt lucky and happy. I listened to Sara’s strong and worn voice, a vocal offering of connection with the Oneness; with anyone who cared to listen; with anyone who happened to turn up that morning; with Iran; with you; with me. As she began and continued to sing I felt a rush, an impact. A connection with so much and so many that overwhelmed me in its torrent – but for a second, an instant. A collision of whatever that fist inside my chest is that punches up and out and forces me to breathe deeper than before and open my eyes with the hope of seeing something. I see nothing out of the ordinary, simply what was there the second before, and the second before that, but I feel so many tiny fingers and roots and cracks of life surging in one single snap through every neuron and each bronchi. Between my consciousness and others’ spirits must be so much recognition, so much obscurity and all at once and altogether and if only we could have it. Hold it. And actually know each other. In all our generosity. In all our violence. In all our carefree and carelessness.

The connections, the Oneness, was, as always, too quick for me to comprehend. As I faced the feelings of fear that gathered from my seat and crowned over my head I breathed and listened to the river of Sara’s voice. So much possibility and so much pain, so much potential for downfall and excitement and creation and admission and revelation, and the only limitation that will exist will be the boundaries that I put up, as healthy as they are, to fend off the onslaught of life. It was terrifying, exhilarating and I felt the luck and the happiness and the nausea and the hatred and the absolute bewilderment and everything else contained in my life so far, to the fullest.

emotional at sanctum bristol during Sara's call to prayer

This is what that looks like. I think it feels better than it looks. Photo by Max McClure, courtesy of Situations.

I’d never felt lucky or happy until recently. As I’ve grown I’ve stood and faced the Oneness whenever I could, but most often it’s thrown me to the ground, and I’ve knelt, head bowed, pleading, tempering myself and waiting sheepishly while it ticks, silently, potentially sinister. But whilst there, with a good view of the foundations beneath me I’ve gathered my blessings, my connections, my feet and my sight and I’ve waited again. And each time stood to face the Oneness. And last Sunday I sat and soaked up Sara’s singing it to me.

In the last week, the week that followed, were several more terrorist attacks that have become so frequent that they only really rock us if just across the way. More people lost their children, the loves of their lives, the people who cared for them, the people who provided them with their lifelines. Sara texted to ask that we be with her as she carried on, for an hour, every day, performing, rejoicing, calling for us to be One. Asking that we connect with her, as she continued her connection, while life once again seems to repudiate, abandon, and rip our fragile togetherness away from us.

Billions of us believe billions of things. We are all potentially as different and potentially as similar as we can be. Be aware of yourself as a perpetrator. Are you responding, or maintaining our global supply of revenge?

I don’t know what the Oneness is. I only know that we are together, and there is no choice other than to be together. What a threat, what an opportunity. I am thankful that on a Sunday morning I no longer hide under soft duvet barricades, and useless chemical clouds, but rise to connect with a friend, to hear a city, to seek the Oneness.

Come to Sanctuary. There is no God greater than the Oneness. The Oneness is the greatest.


I wrote this for my Sanctum performance on Mon 16th November 2015. I managed to get a slot directly after Sara – it was a wonderful experience. Many thanks to Situations for having me, there’s only three days left of Sanctum, get down there while it lasts.

performing at sanctum bristol

Welcome to ‘The Jungle’: A weekend volunteering in the Calais refugee camp

Guest post, by Lydia Mizon.

On the evening of Friday 13th November 2015, I travelled to Calais with sixteen Cambridge University students to volunteer for a weekend. In two minibuses we drove to Dover and boarded the ferry. As we disembarked at Calais, our phones regained signal and informed us of the terrorist attacks, still underway, in Paris.

twitter breaking news paris terror attacks

It’s one of those moments. People will always remember where they were when they heard. I was sat at the front of a minibus in Calais and feeling everything at once. For the next hour I would play it cool with my family, not daring to mention it for fear of a) informing them of the attacks and worrying them or b) seeming afraid. Those of us in the minibus had no idea if it would affect our safety, or the safety of other volunteers and those in the camp. On arrival at the house, those students with friends or family in Paris quickly employed all useable phones to ensure everyone was safe, and we settled down to bed. I couldn’t stop refreshing Twitter though, in that sort of slightly shameful, information-hungry way which descends on many of us when breaking news takes over social media.

And then the camp was on fire.

twitter news refugee camp fire

It’s times like this I both adore and hate Twitter. I was lying in a child’s bed in the small hours of the morning, refreshing Twitter like a woman possessed in desperate search of cold, hard facts instead of anything from Russia Today or wild speculation. As I forced myself to sleep, all I knew was that the people we were aiming to help over the weekend were currently having all their worldly possessions destroyed, possibly in retaliation for something they couldn’t possibly have been involved with. When we finally heard late the next day that it had been an electrical fire in a makeshift restaurant, we felt a palpable sense of relief.

Crouching Toilet, Hidden Message

On Saturday morning we arrived at the warehouse, our main rendezvous point for the weekend. The location of the warehouse is secret, so as not to be reported by the media and as such we were asked not to photograph the exterior. Despite its anonymity, several groups of people turned up during our time in the warehouse to donate goods; some pre-sorted and good condition, some totally the opposite.

Upon arrival we were briefed by volunteers who, given the events of the night before, had been awake for almost 24 hours. We were to stay in the warehouse all day, sorting donations; the situation at the camp was still fraught, and given that dozens of people had lost all their possessions, sorting and distributing tents, jackets, warm socks and clean shoes was an absolute priority.

The pile of donations was simultaneously uplifting and daunting.


pile of donations at the calais refugee camp

Taller than any of us and seemingly increasing all the time, the pile of donations was our day’s work. Two volunteers unloaded new donations from lorries which arrived intermittently, a small group sorted them into basic groups (Mens/Womens/Kids – the vast, vast majority of the donations are clothing) and then the larger group sorted them into sizes.

There are some perhaps unexpected rules when deciding what can and can’t be donated. No white clothes – the camp is so dirty that these are ruined and disposed of almost immediately. No skirts of any kind – too impractical. No trousers above a men’s size 36 – almost all the refugees are smaller than that. No scarves or clothing with holes – they are likely to catch if and when being worn while climbing over barbed wire.

sorting boxes donations calais refugee camp

The conditions at the warehouse are grim. There’s basic electricity but a severe lack of facilities. I ate my lunch out of a pan lid. Volunteers eat what the refugees eat; always leftovers which are driven back from the camp to the warehouse and reheated. Somebody had brought us a box of wine. Somebody else had brought sweets. The toilets were described as ‘festival like’ but were actually wooden structures with no seat, no flush- just a hole inside which went straight to the ground; crouching was a must. A lot of the volunteers are there all day, every day. Nobody is paying them. There is a mattress on a trolley and some scarves on which exhausted volunteers can sleep for an hour or two. Some have rented a flat in Calais for six months – eight of them in a two-bedroom flat. We asked how they were affording to stay for so long, unpaid. “We’re not” was the usual reply – they are barely scraping by.

If you want a generalised glance at the complexity of humanity, spend a day sorting items that humanity has decided to donate to other humans who have nothing. We disposed of an unspeakable amount of soiled, unusable clothing. We came across a baffling number of smart women’s high heeled shoes, ties and other items which would be impractical in a refugee camp. We found numerous t-shirts with highly inappropriate slogans on- some choice highlights:

  • “Beach Bum”
  • “Born To Run”
  • “Cherish the journey”
  • “So far from home and so alone…”

Donated unthinkingly, I am sure – but REALLY?! We also found more cheering items. Leinster Rugby club had donated dozens of warm, woollen scarves. Someone had boxed up brand new, warm, waterproof coats in a variety of sizes. Then there were the messages.

hope in a box donation to calais refugees camptoy gift to syrian refugees at calais








Mostly from children, these were the first things which really, really got to me that weekend. No judgements, no conditions – just one child sharing their possessions with another, whom they will never meet.

Then there was this:

card front refugees calais syrian




card inside calais refugees syrian









Found in the pocket of a white jumper we couldn’t donate, we hid it in the inside pocket of a waterproof jacket which we sorted and boxed before resuming donations but it remained in my thoughts for a long time afterwards, along with that old Anne Frank quote people occasionally wheel out on Twitter: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”.

The warehouse closed at 6.00pm and we went for dinner at the Family Pub in Calais, with the instruction that we were to be at the camp at 7.30pm for a candlelight vigil. Organised by the refugees, the vigil was to show solidarity with the people of Paris. After all, the perpetrators of the attacks were the very people many of the refugees were fleeing from. They too were disgusted and afraid, while also having to deal with being increasingly under suspicion; events such as this can delay or completely halt asylum applications.

The atmosphere in the Family Pub was one of a standard Saturday night; although hard to decipher the chatter going on all around us, people seemed unafraid to venture out into the city centre less than 24 hours after the attacks. There was only the odd reminder from the TV in the corner, which screened mostly rugby, of what had transpired.

rugby broadcast after paris terror attacks

We discussed our day, our lives, their courses of study. We didn’t make the vigil; several of the ‘orange jackets’ (more experienced volunteers) had decided against going due to weather conditions, and we fell in line. In addition, we felt it was the refugees’ vigil, not ours; they had organised it and we were wary of intruding on what must have been a much more complex kind of grief.

Arriving on Sunday, we began donations again before being quickly gathered around.

volunteers directed to help after refugee camp fire

The guy in the picture is Eamonn; one of the full time volunteers living in the flat in Calais. He informed us that hundreds of tents had been destroyed and damaged in the winds overnight, and that every person in the warehouse would be deployed immediately to the camp to repair and replace tents. This is what you’ve been waiting for, right? The bit where we get to the camp? That was a little how we felt too, though it was a difficult feeling to vocalise. On the one hand none of us were here for ourselves, and wanting to see the camp felt like the worst kind of voyeurism. On the other we all acknowledged we were here to help those in need and understand the problem, and it was difficult to understand the problem without seeing it first-hand. So, after an hour of waiting around for a way of being transported to the camp, off we went.



I feel I should note here that pictures of the camp were taken at the request of the charity in order to spread awareness of the situation and the ongoing efforts of volunteers. We were acutely aware that we were in effect wandering into strangers’ homes and the ethical complexity and indignity of this. Where possible, I sought the permission of refugees.

You’ve never seen anything like it, and unless you’ve been to a festival that lasted forever, you’ve probably never smelt anything like it either.

calais refugee camp

Copyright and courtesy of The Guardian

My first reaction was a very strong need to cry, followed almost immediately by the overwhelming desire to help. We were handed tarpaulins which we were to take to an abandoned container the charity was using as a storage point. People approached us. “One”, they said, dozens of them, over and over again – “one”. This is how the camp’s residents gain their belongings. The people in these camps need EVERYTHING, because they have nothing. We couldn’t help them this time. We apologised. They retreated. We ended up by a bunch of large, new-looking royal blue tents. They were, we were told, provided by the French government for Syrian refugees only, as they are a recognised group in need. None of the other nationalities get help from the French government in this camp and this, as you can imagine, raises tensions. In one minute, we were asked to move by two French security guards who were patrolling the area. No reason was given but it was likely that by standing with supplies, we would draw non-Syrians to the area. We left and headed to the church.

refugees queue for distribution supplies at calais refugee camp

Distribution line with church in the background

A distribution was taking place. These generally happen several times a day; as such, a line forms any time a van stops anywhere in the camp. The line was probably half a mile long; for the most part, people queued politely and patiently despite freezing weather and almost gale force winds. Despite the desperate situation, nobody who asked us for anything was pushy or aggressive. They were by and large happy to see us. There are tensions in the camp – between different nationalities, between camp residents and police – but we experienced none of that in the day we were there.

The team we were in was assigned to the ‘Family Centre’; the area of the camp where mostly women and children were living. Our brief was to walk around the area and identify who needed help. People asked for new tents; we were told to assess whether or not their tent could be repaired. The first people I came across said they were a Syrian family of four who had arrived that morning. They said they had nothing at all. A fellow camp resident translated for them; they were told that help was coming but that had been some time ago; nothing had arrived. We were told to use our gut instincts; camp residents would ask for things they already owned, and then sell it amongst themselves. You can’t blame them really, but we had to be careful. The look on the face of the Syrian father made me hand the tent over almost immediately. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so tired.

volunteers mending tents at calais refugee camp

Next, myself and two others joined a group of Kurdish men whose tent had been completely ripped open by the gale. Only one spoke conversational English, and he co-ordinated the project. One by one the men went in, retrieved their possessions, put them in the dirt (where else to put them?) and we then began to dismantle. During this time, we spoke to the coordinator. He was Kurdish, from Syria, and had been in the camp for 45 days. He had no family, other than a sister. He did not know where she was. He had come in a boat to Greece and then walked to France. It had taken him 17 days, with two hours’ sleep each night. In Syria he had been a martial arts teacher.

replacing tents in calais refugee camp

Putting the new tent up – the gentleman in blue holding the tent was the co-ordinator

The others in the group had very little English, but often said ‘thank you’. I felt powerless. All 17 of us could work round the clock for a week and not make any impression on the overall state of the camp or the warehouse. However, we’d just provided several people with shelter, with the closest thing we had to a home. We could never fix this. But we could help.

Lunch was served in the ashram, volunteers eating among residents.

food served at calais refugee camp

I took a picture of it because it was so delicious I felt I should really try and replicate it. Again, a quote came into my head: this time from The Simpsons and Seymour Skinner recalling his time in Vietnam: “I spent the next three years in a POW camp, forced to subsist on a thin stew made of fish, vegetables, prawns, coconut milk, and four kinds of rice. I came close to madness trying to find it here in the States, but they just can’t get the spices right!” Who knows what was in this – mainly rice, squash and onions – but there was loads of it and it was amazing.

The afternoon went quickly and it was time for us to leave; requiring the two minibus drivers, the group leader and myself (the only one with a GPS phone working) to find our way back to the warehouse. As we crossed the bridge, we could see that the police had barricaded the entrance to the camp. No idea why – this was quite a common occurrence. Still, it was a frightening sight.

police barricading entrance to calais refugee camp

One quick trip back to the warehouse for a debrief and we were on our way to the ferry. Reports were coming in of a manhunt in coastal France for an escaped attacker. We drove past a high fence topped with barbed wire, erected in June along the camp perimeter to stop them attempting to reach the docks opposite. Every 100 metres or so there was a scarf, a shoe, a jacket caught in the wire. How they’d even managed to get that far was beyond my imagination; the fence seemed impenetrable. I’d spent the entire day with my British passport in my pocket, and felt guilty. The people in these camps are us, save for that little burgundy book.

The weekend had different effects on all of us. Two of the boys had asked to be taken back to the warehouse early, feeling that none of us were being at all helpful. We pointed out that we’d helped provide several people with shelter. A couple of the younger girls tried to talk to all the children they met and said to each other that they were “having so much fun” and “loving this”.  Both these responses seemed wildly inappropriate; yet, what was the proper way to respond to what we were seeing? In the service station at Calais, four of us sat in a large lobby with toilets and vending machines and wondered how many refugees would be able to live here. Fifty, we thought – with shelter and working toilets, running water and access to food. It would be a million times better than their current situation, if a million times worse than our own living situations. It seemed madness that we couldn’t turn over this entirely empty space to the people half a mile away who so desperately needed it.

48 hours from our return, I’m still catching up with myself. Catching up with the news in Paris, catching up with the events of the weekend, catching up with sleep.

I have to go back. There is so much to be done.

manifestation sign at calais refugee camp

Theatre West REVIEW – The Islanders


As the year draws to a close Theatre West have produced a season of new plays, of which The Islanders is the third of five. The setup – a one-act preceded by a short piece by another upcoming writer – not only allows for a showcase of the latest writing by the west’s rising talent, but also for a reflection of the topical issues that theatre’s emerging writers are exploring.

Tory MP Claire is called back to the island on which she grew up – the constituency she now represents in Parliament – where the resident islanders are reeling from the latest in a series of building collapses caused by rising sea levels. Although the many locals – all played by the two supporting actors – spoke in thick west country accents, for some reason I imagined ‘the Isle’ to be in Scotland; perhaps because Claire’s being so far away in London for much of the year was such a foregrounded theme. Bristol was referred to at one point, so we knew we weren’t ‘here’ – but, of course, the vagueness in geography allowed the story to feel simultaneously local and universal.

All the performances were solid and engaging, and the characterisation was particularly enjoyable – Rosanna Miles gave a melodramatic portrayal of a sincerity-chasing career politician, which nicely illustrated an ego-led desperation to appear to be doing the right thing. While I don’t disagree with this reading of political behaviour, I couldn’t decide whether this felt fully three dimensional. However, it did bolster the relentless inabilities of the mentally-, geographically-, and experientially-detached leader focused on placating rather than assisting her constituents.

Joel Parry provided much comic relief in his portrayal of key locals and antagonists; there wasn’t a huge variation in his accent or characterisation – occasionally it was hard to tell whether Bob or The Man Who Wants a License to Shoot Pigeons was speaking – but he performed all with gusto. Claire Sullivan’s recently-home-and-business-less Major was particularly warming, her small frame mimicking that of a frail old man and her thousand-yard stare drawing us into his grief. Similarly, her portrayal of young and eager political aide Anna, whose willingness to admit to the realities of climate change and the subsequent necessity to manipulate the Islanders, was delivered with a frighteningly charming innocence.

The script was tight, the characters well-directed and the story accessible – it is difficult to do behind-the-scenes political dramas following the success of The Thick of It, because everything compares and almost nothing can match it. Indeed, a Tucker-esque character appeared towards the end and swore a lot, and I wished so much that the character had completely diverged from the newly-stereotyped Hardball Spin Doctor. In that vein, there were many ways the story could have been more adventurous and/or perilous, but the real success was in the interaction between characters and the pacing of the story. I was unsure as to whether Claire’s final ‘redemption’ was intended to illustrate the futility of party politics or act as a sincere resolution for the arc of the character – for me, it was certainly the former, and I would’ve liked a clearer, bolder finale.

I’ve seen many plays about climate change recently, and not all of them work. The Islanders fares well as a story about the lack of political will to address the most urgent of society’s needs, and for the company’s next installment I’d simply like a more radical treatment. Ultimately, I’d love to see more from all involved and highly recommend catching it in the last couple of days of its run. It continues until Saturday 14th Nov at PRSC’s The Space on the corner of Jamaica St and Hillgrove St.

A-Z of ME

A- Age: 27
B- Biggest Fear: that I won’t get what I want because I don’t know what I want
C- Current Time: 22.46
D- Drink you last had: rum
E- Easiest Person To Talk to: Andy? Melissa?
F- Favourite Song: currently? Bitch, please.
G- Ghosts, are they real: potensh
H- Hometown: Wimborne
I- In love with: Maffew
J- Jealous: often
K- Killed Someone? blogging about murder is counterproductive
L- Last time you cried?: a couple of weeks ago, for about two weeks
M- Middle Name: Kathleen (after my lovely Gran)
N- Number of Siblings: 2
O- One Wish: to do and be, equally
P- Person who you last called: Maffew!
Q- Question you’re always asked: ‘what do you do’
R- Reason to smile: there’s always surprises, no matter how miserable you get
S- Song last sang: Sweet Freedom
T- Time you woke up: 2.11am
U- Underwear Color: white and red
V- Vacation Destination: now people are paying me, Cyprus, apparently
W- Worst Habit: worth envy
X- X-Rays you’ve had: on my foot when my toe snapped in half for no reason
Y- Your favourite food: batter
Z- Zodiac Sign: Leo