Why I had to change the title of this blog.

The original idea was a clever one, I thought : Why I no longer tick White British. This was a play on the title of a book which has inspired me, and is itself is based on a tweet ; Why I’m no longer talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo Lodge. I wanted to record my views about the wholly inappropriate label which is still being applied to me even though it should be sufficient to say that I consider myself to be British. The term White British, used most recently in the 2021 census, is one of many designations which have become increasingly problematical over time as humans across the world are becoming increasingly mixed in their heritage and genetics. This desire I have to disassociate myself from both the white conqueror and white saviour has burned as strongly within me as my desire over a decade ago to renounce my identification as a Christian. The parallels are limited, however, as my identity and world view as a Christian from childhood to aged 50+ was so ingrained that I interpreted my whole life story in accordance with my Christian belief system whereas I had certainly not defined myself as “White” in my social or personal life in any meaningful way. It was others who did that for me and, increasingly, I felt uncomfortable with that designation and the reasons for it.

The more I read about colourism and the definition of race as opposed to ethnicity and ancestral heritage , the more I recognized that I am not sufficiently well read in science, history or anthropology to make a success of my proposed blog. I am, however, passionate about language and how words are used as a short cut to define objects, people and ideas. These labels are powerful and dangerous whether we attach them to ourselves or others. My white skin colour (or, more accurately mottled pink with brown freckles!) is completely beyond my control just like my ginger coloured hair and other physical traits which I was born with. My cultural and social identity, however, is one which I have learnt and which I can choose, as an educated adult, to change. I do happily identify as a student since I am eager to learn from others through personal contact and through reading and listening, while recognising that even that aspect of my personality is a social construct and a gift of my upbringing, my experience of parenting and schooling. Since I cannot claim any credit for my status as White British, I wish to make it very clear that I reject any attempt to pigeon-hole me in that way whilst acknowledging that the question on the census form was originally intended to ensure that the state does not discriminate against “people of colour”. Since there are no grounds whatsoever for dividing people into categories according to their skin colour, though, I would be much happier if this designation were removed from the forms which include it as an option. Just as it is generally acknowledged that it would be unfair to ask respondents to describe their physical appearance in terms of height, or on any scale measuring contemporary standards of beauty, so it would be wrong to ask about accent or quirks of speech even though it is widely accepted that these characteristics do influence how people are treated in many aspects of their lives. Oppression of sections of a population by a ruling elite through apartheid, linguistic and cultural colonialism is well documented and does not only harm the victimized group but it creates a culture which harms us all by association as has been forcefully argued by men defying misogyny.

To return to my justification for no longer ticking White British, I refuse to condone any continuation of such obviously harmful classification of fellow humans and I am, therefore, celebrating with Tara Munroe of Opal 22 Arts and Edutainment, because she has recently succeeded in gaining funding to exhibit the 18th century Casta paintings which convey the perception that the more European you are, the closer to the top of the social and racial hierarchy you belong. So, to sum up, I am happy, as I grow older, to discard labels which have been thrust upon me and I am determined to keep learning more so that I can dig deep into the reasons for these prejudices and find the way forward for us all to progress as “Team Human” ref. Douglas Rushkoff.

My final point is supported by my reading of the classic novel, Petals of Blood by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in which the lawyer who speaks in my quotation below, shows how all of us have suffered under this delusion that the issue at stake is skin colour, ” We reasoned : what’s wrong is the skin-colour of the people who ministered to this god:” .The lawyer tells us how the black rulers who succeeded power in a new, independent Kenya, lacked confidence in their own cultural values and traditions and in their determination to improve upon the whites’ performance adopted the same values and methods of government. They too were lured by greed and materialism to pursue material wealth. In exchanging their traditional religion for the ideology of capitalism, they found themselves repeating the mistakes of the white imperialists and adopting similar forms of oppression which in turn harmed the poorest and often rural communities of black people in Kenya.

“We could have done anything, then, because our people were behind us. But we, the leaders, chose to flirt with the molten god, a blind, deaf monster who has plagued us for hundreds of years. We reasoned : what’s wrong is the skin-colour of the people who ministered to this god : under our own care and tutelage we shall tame the monster-god and make it do our will. We forgot that it has always been deaf and blind to human woes. So we go on building the monster and it grows and grows and waits for more, and now we are all slaves to it. At its shrine we kneel and pray and hope…. Meanwhile, the god grows big and fat and shines even brighter and whets the appetites of his priests, for the monster has, through the priesthood, decreed only one ethical code ; Greed and accumulation. … only a few, the chosen few can find favourable positions in the hierarchy. And mark you, and this is where it pains, it;’s their seat that feeds the catechists, the wardens, the deacons, the ministers, the bishops, the angels … the whole hierarchy.

Thanks for reading, Carole Clohesy. 12.08.2021

A Single Thread

In July, 2021, I visited Winchester because I had read and been absorbed by the book, A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier which is set in the city and its surrounding countryside in the 1930s and I really wanted to see and experience the city which I had seen through the eyes of Violet Speedwell, the lonely spinster who is the main character. I travelled by coach and stayed for 4 nights at an Air BnB within walking distance of the city centre which was very economical and when my sister joined me at the end of the week, we moved to a hotel backing onto the Cathedral close for the last 3 nights.

I walked and cycled each day in the Water Meadows and around the historic city, choosing what to see each day according to whim rather than a fixed schedule which suited me best and along the way I met many people who shared my enthusiasm for the book which had inspired me. They shared their stories with me and directed me to the most beautiful footpaths and views. I went on a volunteer-led guided tour of the cathedral and visited the two main museums to learn more about the people who lived there many years ago.

I went alone from Monday to Friday because I needed some valuable reflection and planning time. I still had to teach on two days, online, but that was fairly easy and it even gave me a chance to show the students in Leicester some of the sights around Winchester’s beautiful Cathedral.

When I think about the title of this intriguing book, I can’t help realizing that, although there are many threads of interest to me in this story, such as natural history, the aftermath of war, the therapeutic value of crafting and hobby friendship groups, even church architecture and bell ringing, there is one single thread which has been dominant in my thoughts for over a year now. The theme of singleness and particularly the experience of single women, is the one which has most inspired me and has been my meditation throughout my journey with this book, both mental and physical. I have been reflecting on women’s safety, independence, work status, financial insecurity and specifically their responsibilities as carer in the family.


With events in the news such as Sarah Everard’s murder and other, less publicised murders, not to mention the terrible escalation of domestic abuse and the huge setbacks experienced by pregnant women and mothers during the pandemic, my own reading has focused on feminism and oppression of minority groups in order to educate and motivate myself to work harder to improve the lives of women across the world. There is still a sense that you are only a full grown up once you are married as it is seen as a rite of passage. The single state is perceived as incomplete and this is often the case for a married couple who are not considered to have completed their marriage until they make a family and produce children. Violet could not easily break away from being a child in her parents’ home without the excuse of getting married and needing another home. As adult students returned to their parents’ homes during the pandemic, we saw a repeat of this difficulty – lack of affordable housing forcing people to lose independence and autonomy.


One way in which people have managed to pay their mortgages has been to rent out a room or part share a house on Air BnB but of course that too had to shut down during the spring of 2020. I booked my Air BnB in Winchester well in advance , despite the uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions at the time but am so pleased I made the decision as my host was so welcoming and friendly that I couldn’t have been more comfortable. In the Cathedral choir I saw the cushions described so well in the book and came to appreciate their importance in mapping history, telling the stories of the embroiderers and the locality and even in demonstrating the political leanings of their designer, Louise Pesel. Another visitor to the Cathedral choir in search of the cushions detailed in the book approached us and asked if we had seen the swastikas. I was delighted to be able to show that I had just discovered them myself and reminded her that they were called fylfots before being appropriated by Hitler in the late 1930s. I have really enjoyed learning something about the importance of sewing tapestries, religious items, clothing etc. which has led me to find out about the Palestinian diaspora and how they use embroidery as a protest and story telling device. Tatreez and Tea is a book I have started to read about these stories and the significance of the embroidery. It is authored by Wafa Ghnaim an author living in Oregon, US, who is dedicated to sharing the beauty and significance of the art by passing on the patterns and recipes which she inherited from her Palestinian Grandmother.


I made sure that I was pleasantly occupied during my stay, mirroring the long evenings spent embroidering by my heroine, Violet Speedwell, and thoroughly enjoyed learning Corner to Corner crochet even though the square intended as a gift for my host became a rectangle half way through! Apart from my own reading for pleasure, I read aloud from A Single Thread every day of my holiday and sent the audio recordings to friends who had requested them. That was a very relaxing pastime and a good way to re-read the book, re-living it as my Living Book Adventure.

Books, our closest friend.

Although I love gardens, mainly for reading in and dozing as I take the characters with me into my dreams, I am not drawn to the hard labour that it takes to nurture or create one. Covid stories of healthy gardening activities, the solace to be gained from caring for plants and becoming absorbed in the wildlife are uplifting, reminding me of the tremendous gift of books which have been my lifeline during the last year of lockdowns. However we enjoy our books, in shared reading groups, in silence somewhere noisy, or alone as a quick escapist relaxation technique, the mystique of reading has often been compared to strolling through a beautiful garden.

While surfing online, I came across Ivan Illich’s book In the Vineyard of the Text, a commentary on the art of reading by the medieval scholar Hugh of St. Victor (1097–1141). According to Illich, Hugh uses the metaphor for the page of the book as one of soil, a soil in which the written words are rooted and thus bound and he describes reading as “wandering in a vineyard, tasting the fruits offered by the words.”
To quote from the article, IN THE VINEYARD OF THE TEXT, NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly, Fall90, Vol. 7, Issue 4, “The walk itself is understood by Hugh as a pilgrimage, where the tastes along the road are a foretaste of the eternal sweetness that awaits in the presence of God. Hugh therefore regarded the text of the book as a threshold or invitation for the reader to begin a contemplative journey towards the origin of one’s soul.”

From my reading of Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, which is a wonderful tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, I came to appreciate the uniting power of reading together to resist the dislocation and sense of betrayal which can come when politics becomes personal. I generally read a few books at a time so I was also reading a graphic novel called Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in which a teenager recounts her adolescent reading journey during the turbulent times of the Islamic revolution in Iran. This helped me to gain a broader understanding of that period of History in the gulf and is a wonderfully honest account of how reading helped this teenage girl to cope with feelings and thoughts during a terrifying period in her life.

My growing interest in the power of reading while living in areas of conflict and upheaval drew me to attend an online lecture by the journalist and author, Mike Thomson about his book, Syria’s Secret Library. He described the incredible fortitude of readers who discovered the joy of books through the most traumatic, life-threatening circumstances of war, and a lockdown of such intensity that it can only be compared with the life of a prisoner.
I learnt more about this remarkable library and its members from an article in the Guardian by Delphine Minoui and would recommend her book too, The Book Collectors of Daraya (2017)

“Daraya’s resistance had begun in the late 90s, in one of the mosques, where activists would study the Qur’an and read banned works by religious dissidents. In particular, they spent hours dissecting the writings of Jawdat Said, one of the first Muslim thinkers to engage with the notion of nonviolence. Contrary to the “terrorist” label they would inherit much later, these men were advocating a form of Sunnism favouring dialogue and tolerance. Their only weapons were a few secretly gathered books. That tradition of nonviolent rebellion through knowledge was picked up almost by accident, in the creation of the underground library.
Abu el-Ezz was still in terrible pain from his wounds, but he wanted to talk about his new passion, books. He dared to believe in the good they can do. Words have the power to soothe mental wounds. The simple act of reading had become a huge comfort to him. He liked to wander through pages. Lose himself in words. His reading choices were eclectic, varying from analyses of political Islam to Arabic poetry to psychology.
“Books don’t set limits; they set us free. They don’t mutilate; they restore. Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now.”
Abu Anas’s words reflected the same candour as the revolutionary slogans of 2011 – the thirst for freedom, and recourse to weapons as the sole means to protect oneself. “As for jihad … To those who seek to tarnish our image by painting us as religious fanatics, my response is simple: we are Muslims. We refuse any usurpation of our religion. Whether it be by the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida; or by Islamic State … Those people don’t represent our ideas. They warp them. Don’t forget that the revolt began with calls for justice and respect for human rights, not for Islam.”

When the bombs quietened down, the combatants exchanged books and shared reading recommendations. “War is destructive. It transforms men, kills emotions and fears. When you’re at war, you see the world differently. Reading is a diversion, it keeps us alive. Reading reminds us that we’re human.”
In a town under siege from Assad’s regime, a small group of revolutionaries found a new mission: to build a library from books rescued from the rubble. For those stranded in the city, books offered an imaginative escape from the horrors of war
by Delphine Minoui
Tue 16 Mar 2021 06.00 GMT
I will conclude with the words of Abdul Basit al-Ahmar who speaks movingly about the changes wrought in him by books and the library of Daraya.
“Amidst the hardships that I lived through in Daraya, the secret library gave me the air to breathe. In the same way that atropy eases the pain of the chemical weapons that the regime used against us, the library was like the caring mother whose embrace was the only source of comfort. The library transported me to a different, beautiful place; a world filled with stories, novels and international literature far away from the bombing and destruction. I sailed in oceans of History and Geography and through the library I discovered that tyrants never last. The British people need to know that what is happening in Syria is a struggle for liberty by people who want freedom and dignity. Let the people who gave us Shakespeare understand that books literature and the library will be victorious against the machinery of destruction and chaos. And please don’t forget about books because they were our closest friend during the siege. In the same way the body needs food and water, the mind and soul need books. “

To mark the heartbreaking milestone of over 100,000 people having died of Coronavirus in the UK, my class of English students recited together the beautiful poem by John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Saying Goodbye…

Saying Goodbye…

My head is full of images

My heart will overflow

My hands reach out across the globe

This joy we’ll always know.

At Xi’an Airport

I returned a funny face
to a lady in the queue
We shared each other’s horror
and giggled as you do
The Chinese ladies, in a group, all pushed and flounced and hollered!

While I turned away and smiled
She berated her rampant friends
” Watch your manners!” How she scowled!
“You should be ashamed,
This woman is from Engaland!
Whatever will she think of us?”
And calm was soon regained.

“Nihao” they replied as I warmed to them
“Nihao” we smiled and stared
Then “Man! Man!” the lady said
so I could understand
Not one of us would rush and push
we’d all take it nice and slow
And as we laughed and gestured
My face began to glow
cos here were women just like me,
prepared to have a go

I used my funny Mandarin to tell them who I am
All of us, relaxed in joy,
We could not help but grin
That airport queue became our stage
We didn’t care for show
but laughed and danced while others stared

Mandarin – I did not know!!

As women gathered round
My new panyou, my teacher,
she held my English hand
The phone came out, my picture caught
I put into her hand
My Melton postcard, “That’s my land!”
“Yes, really, take it do!”
“Is this your home? Is this your life?”
Yes keep it, hold it close
We hold this moment in our hearts;
such love will always grow

What an orderly queue we made it then
How pleasant was our show
” No you were first!” “Oh, after you! ”
” You’re welcome! ” “Be my guest! ”
It’s really very nice to know
That anywhere we care to go”
The conference will grow.

 

In doggerel mood, Carole Clohesy 13th October, 2019

Glossary!!

Man – slow

Panyou – friend

 

Thanks to AA Milne

James James  Cleverly Cleverly

Weaving his trickery tweaking his tweeteryTook great care of his party, though he was only reeking of lies and deceit you see

Cleverly smoke screened with CCHQ
Respectable sounding like GCHQ
Trump style, fact checking
dystopian fecking
I’d never go down to the end of the town to witness this blatantly sneaky smoke screenery
Never go down to the end of the town without consulting Who?!

Arrival in China

On arrival at 5am in Xi’an,I was met by Sarinya and a taxi at the airport. The weather was beautiful, warm and dry. Sarinya is a Thai teacher who speaks Chinese and English fluently. She loves cycling and dance too so we agreed to meet up and go out together during my stay. She was kind enough to help me book my internal flight to Shenyang so that was a great help. She took me to Anna’s hotel (yes!!) then after a shower and nap I was taken to lunch by another delightful South African friend who has been in China for just 6 months. After having to ask for help in Chinese to even find my way out of the building  later in the afternoon, I wandered amongst the trees and sunshine on the campus and just soaked up the atmosphere with many special encounters and conversations in English, sign language and minimal Mandarin.  Anna found me chatting with a group of volunteer student guides preparing for an annual conference of International Universities taking place here. We had a great reunion and ate tea in a Muslim cafe making noodles in the traditional way. We then went to a meeting preparing volunteers who work with children. It was exciting and a bit surreal knowing that I had leapt into an alternative universe!! I was pretty desperate for sleep after that and managed to lie in until 11 am while Anna left very early for work and I felt extremely spoilt.

The next day Anna was off work so after a wonderful bowl of rice and vegetables we went to the Wild Goose pagoda. An English guide gave a us a free tour, told us she was volunteering for the Anniversary celebrations as they were expecting many visitors. she taught us a lot and answered lots of questions, even showing us some caligraphy and giving us the painting in a scroll to take away. We caught a taxi back but Anna had to attend a meeting so we dropped Anna off first and she left me to find my own way after reassuring me that the taxi driver knew where I needed to be! I felt very nervous as I never recognise anywhere in the dark in Leicester never mind in a strange city in China! After leaving the taxi, I approached a group of people and asked “Qing bang wo!” (please help me) and showed Anna’s address card but was still unsure about which gate to enter with two security guards on duty. I asked people twice and eventually found my way back. There was an amazing banquet and concert in progress in the hotel foyer so I stood on the  balcony with volunteer student helpers watching beautiful choral and orchestral performances with a film backdrop on an enormous screen. Some of Anna’s friends told me later that the International Teachers had 12 courses and were so intent on getting through it all that they missed a lot of the performance!

“Travel in the younger sort is part of education ; in the elder a part of experience.” Francis Bacon

3rd Instalment : China Adventure

Sometimes while helping students to write persuasively, I remember writing a persuasive letter in earnest to my parents announcing that I was sufficiently grown up and responsible at 16 to spend a week backpacking in the Yorkshire Dales with my best friend, Anna. The proposal was agreed to on condition that I would successfully plan and navigate a day’s hike with my Dad beforehand. We had a great day walking and getting lost together near Sheffield following which my Dad reported that I was no worse than him at map reading! Since he was known for getting lost very frequently and walking or running many extra miles as a result, this was hardly encouraging! My map reading skills have not improved but , as the poem below suggests, you can’t wait to be an expert, you just have to go , ready or not!

Scout’s motto : Be Prepared!

If I had waited till I could

Read maps, use apps

Remember faces, names and PIN

Read the signs in Mandarin

Walk for miles without a limp

Feel brave, learn to save

I never would have left the house

I’d still have been a frightened mouse

So, was I ready? “Be prepared!”

Not entirely, pretty scared..

 “Go with the flow”

Inspired by my Dad, who died 3 years ago this month, I chose to use his name on a rucksack ; Tom Shepherd, adding    ‘ s daughter Carole Clohesy . This bag had gone with him to America  and another special hand made bag I selected was a gift from friends returning from Mozambique.

  With advice and information  from past pupils who are British Chinese, I obtained a Visa by travelling to Birmingham and Manchester, got my vaccinations, tried language learning via Duolingo and the Confucius Institute at DMU, and thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing my lectures. On my daughter’s advice I set up Wechat, a VPN, Maps ME app and avoided talking too much about how to cope without Google or the Internet!

How and when did my connection start with Shenyang University?

In April, 2011,I was excited to learn about the setting up of an International School at Brooksby Melton College and wanted to be involved so I confirmed my PGCE qualification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language achieved in 1981) and applied for a management role not suited to my abilities at all.  I was not offered the post but in the process I met Rob Grant who was leading the project. He engaged me on a zero hour contract for a period of two weeks in July to teach English Literature, British Culture and History to the visiting group of Chinese teachers of English from Shenyang University of Technology.

After just a couple of days with this group of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate teachers, I came to realize that I needed to ditch my thorough, detailed plans for delivering a curriculum which I had devised and collaborate with the teachers in planning the sessions. In this way we embarked on one of the most stimulating and enjoyable periods in education I have ever experienced. In a spirit of equality and mutual respect, we discussed our plans for each day which generally included time for the teachers to ask me questions and to share their own perspective, some film reviewing, reading extracts from novels, poems and plays which we discussed and used as stimuli for activities.  During the activities such as role play, reading aloud, discussion of case studies and worksheet based writing tasks, I modelled a variety of teaching methods and strategies which were currently trending in British classrooms. The ensuing discussion about how these strategies could be adapted for use in Chinese classrooms and University lecture theatres was stimulating and challenging for all of us. It quickly became clear to me that my own trust in the stereotype of Chinese teaching and learning contexts was unfounded since these teachers were just as keen as we are to encourage critical thinking skills among their students. My commentary with reference to the strategies and techniques required to manage behaviour and engagement  in a British classroom was much appreciated and we all explored together which elements of group work, Drama, recitation and kinaesthetic learning would translate well into a Chinese learning environment. This experience taught me that, whatever the restraints of a society’s education system, the students who become teachers will, almost inevitably, progress towards a pupil-centred approach in their desire to meet individual students’ needs and to promote real understanding rather than relying on limited rote learning and memorisation.

Shortly after this, in April, 2012,  I took up a full time teaching position as Head of English at Maplewell Special Secondary School  where I learnt a lot about engaging children and teenagers with behavioural difficulties. I hoped to study for a Master’s degree in Education with a focus on International Education but the funding was not forthcoming. I resigned from that post in 2014.

At last I could afford to study a 1 yr online Masters module in Educational Research with the Open University. I gained a PGCSE (Postgraduate Certificate of Professional Studies in Education) and I fulfilled a long held ambition to take a CELTA (Cambridge English Language Teaching to Adults) course which I knew would help me to improve my delivery of ESOL (English for speakers of Other Languages) for adults and EAL (English as an Additional Language) in schools. This was a 6 week intensive course in Nottingham which was very challenging and tremendous fun mainly because it renewed my confidence in my ability to teach (which had dropped dangerously low during my two years working in a school) and it re-fuelled my enthusiasm for travelling.
From 2014 – 2017 I tutored teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds who had been excluded from schools as well as the Pupil Referral Units where such children are usually taught. They needed 1:1 support and encouragement. It was hard work and quite risky, but rewarding when it went well! I also taught staff who work in Care Homes to raise their English qualifications to level 2 (GCSE equivalent) for a company using government funds.

I left that in 2017 to teach a WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) class in ESOL to Muslim women from African countries, mainly Somalia. That was very rewarding and I won an award from the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) for this role.

My current jobs (2019) :

LSC (Learning Support Company) – Dyslexia and ASD Specialist Study Skills Support Tutor to University undergraduates and post graduates.

Electronic Note taking

Teaching Personnel 1:1tuition for LAC (Looked After Children who are fostered or in Care)

Private tuition : GCSE resits and at Sixth form College

Voluntary, unpaid charity roles :

LSR (Leicestershire Shared Reading) trained by national organisation based in Liverpool called The reader.org.
Weekly volunteer role leading a Shared Reading Group at a local library.

“After 18”, a charity, weekly teaching English to refugees

Community library volunteer work keeping East Goscote Community Library open since the government will no longer fund it. (Austerity)