My Steeplechase Approach to Work and The Lockdown

This photo is my story, how I approach life and work with energy and positive power! No jump is too high, gallop is my preferred pace. When I had my horse it was me, not her, who quivered with excitement as the fast track appeared and I would be consumed with the urge to fly. Addicted to letting go and trusting my Arab mare. I had to stop riding after she died because I could ride - but not fall off. Many suggested I borrow their horses and plod. I knew that the slow life was not possible. After my shoulder operation I was told to ride after 12 weeks. 11 weeks and 5 days later I hopped on for a walk. Bill Hamilton found me cantering over a field. In the weeks that followed a couple of physios on the yard had to bollock me. Thus, practising self acceptance (this is in my nature) I have not ridden since last summer when someone lent me a polo pony and a huge field to play on! 

Slowing down during the lockdown has been rather good so far. My father-in-law had such a public coronavirus death and the media were all over my house and phone for a few days. They were very polite, so I’m not going to complain. Darrell was the second death from the virus and now people are sadly merely a number each day. After loosing my dad at Christmas I let Olivia Fisher read my cards and she warned me of burn out. It took a national crisis to make me get up late in the mornings. My day begins with cappuccino and then yoga. Some days I can even sit to meditate. Going on a walk in the sun has become the highlight of my day, or a bike ride alone.

Like all of the creatives I know I have no work and no income now. Usually that would be alarming for a freelancer. There is so little I can do about it so letting go is now easier for me. I’m still on schedule for the book on transgender portraits and I think my team can cope with distance working. The publisher and designer are brilliant, why not trust a gifted man?

I’m not due to start shooting the domestic violence work until the summer. So  many women will be harmed in this lockdown. This issue will gain momentum and I feel that my research in domestic abuse is vital. I cannot photograph the women, I have more time to build a reflective practice. 

I’m working remotely with a human rights charity RAPAR. Asylum seekers and the homeless have no security or resources in a lockdown. I have an archive of powerful images to help them promote their work. Rhetta the CEO is a neighbour who I met on my neighbourhood social group. Here is a link to their work in The Guardian from Monday.

Three Funerals But No Wedding

Today is Mother’s Day and I have been on a long walk. All day I have carried a huge sadness in my belly. I guess this is grief and some days are heavy and weary. The first funeral (this is like a Richard Curtis romcom with no Hugh Grant) was my fathers and I was warned that my grief would be “unnatural.”  I’m no expert so I have no idea what that actually means. People asked me if I had cried and I said no, not for him, just for me. Then my darling chihuahua had to be euthanised and I lost my fur baby and soul mate. Huge noisy sobbing - that would be the “normal” grief then? 

Darrell, my father-in-law is probably the complicated grief, not in his relationship to me which was close, wise guidance and easy company, but in the way his death got entangled in the coronavirus news story. I suspect this is the weight I am carrying. So many difficulties arising as the rules changed daily. We had to find a second funeral company, the first thought we were high risk. The paperwork took over a week. We think the death certificate was altered, 1a and 1b had to be swapped over. Officially Darrell died of a kidney infection which due to Covid-19 the hospital could not treat. To us he died of coronavirus. Medical debate versus how it felt. Our new funeral director has been fabulous. Then for a day we did not seem to be able to bury or cremate. Now we can cremate, but tomorrow the rules may change. It is exhausting. 

The Wedding? Well my friends had to cancel their wedding next week. It’s not a great end to the story is it? I agree I do need to improve the ending!

I keep going on yoga, wine and work. Work is a blessing x

How to Fight Back When Someone Tries To Silence Your Story. Why did someone try to have the media take down our Wall of Kindness?

Many of you will have seen the press coverage of the death of my father-in-law Darrell Blakeley who died last Friday of coronavirus. I’d like to share some of the “behind the scenes” with you this week in a series of posts. Some of the stories will shock you. This is what it is really like to live in the eye of the storm where the government rules for death and funerals change daily. Why did someone try to silence his death? What does the death certificate actually say? Are we to be allowed to cremate him or will he be buried or left in the morgue until further notice? Why did we agree to talk to the media?

 Today I’d like to share why we fought back when they tried to silence us. 

When Darrell died he was alone, in hospital, in isolation in an air locked room. We could not stay, and we longed to comfort him. We felt so powerless. In lieu of a funeral I created the Wall of Kindness to commemorate Darrell who believed that people should help each other. We asked you to join in by posting an act of kindness given or received and to share it. Behind the scenes we were experiencing that “social” isolation equalled the right to take more than you need, to fight to gain resources, to take actions based upon our fears. Potentially to do harm to others. I wanted people to think not of what they could stockpile, but of how they could take care of the more vulnerable people in the community. We didn’t need flowers. I made a poster and Darrell’s church shared it on their facebook page.

What surprised us was that it went viral. Though that was fabulous. I guess I touched upon a moment. The press noted my post and ran it on their digital media. The phone calls from journalists poured in and we politely declined interviews. Eventually, we agreed to my friend, Alexandra Rucki of the Manchester Evening News, doing an article on the Wall of Kindness and how it was a true reflection of the way Darrell lived his life. It was just a local news story anyway and we were only one of the families who were now suffering. 

At this point we learned that someone was impersonating us and trying to stop the story reaching the wider media.

On Monday Aj and I were curating the images for my book about the transgender community. We spread prints all over the floor of the studio and chatted about how this book will give visibility to the people who sat for me and the importance of creating that voice. We chatted about my new work with women who live in shame and suffer domestic violence and abuse and the need to break that silence. Why did someone wish to silence kindness too? 

Jon wanted to speak out about our experience of watching Darrell die with coronavirus. We agreed that increasing the reach of the story was a way to combat our words being silenced and our Facebook posts being reported as breaking the guidelines. How is a post about kindness obscene or false news? Kindness became a story in every newspaper and TV station all the way to The New York Post. Panorama, Dispatches and the BBC asked for in depth interviews but the agenda was changing now. The tone moved to stories about fearing coronavirus and we did not need to be part of that.

Tomorrow I will share out concerns with the death certificate.

IN A WORLD WHERE YOU CAN BE ANYTHING BE KIND - it says that on my favourite yoga top!

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