No Man is an Island

The news has always been a divisive thing. On the one hand we all want to feel connected, to know what is going on ‘out there’ in the world. On the other we do sort of suspect that the version of life we are spoonfed by the media is skewed and distorted like a picture taken through a fish eye lens.

Is it getting worse? That’s hard to say. But my own experience as a Brussels resident who has been reading news reports from the UK media on the recent bombs at Zaventem airport and the metro would suggest it is – or at least that the media is as sensationalist as ever.

Both to loved ones and idiots on social media I have defended this city I love, which, if you believed every BBC news report you read you would think was besieged by jihadists on every street corner. Contrary to public media opinion, who take great delight in filming some dickhead reporter roaming the streets of ‘jihadi capital of Europe’, Molenbeek (incidentally also the suburb in which I work), or the use of water cannons against a small group of self-declared fascists downtown, it is still possible to walk down the street here without the need for police protection and an armoured vehicle.

The thing I love most about Belgium, and Brussels in particular, is people’s resilience; their ability to stay clear-headed and articulate in a crisis. And also, as the police cat food Twitter episode so clearly demonstrated, their sense of humour.

Though I will always love it, increasingly I feel glad I left the UK, and am experiencing life on the ‘outside.’ Because when you are inside the Kingdom we ironically still call ‘United’ it is frighteningly easy to adopt the media’s attitude to issues such as terrorism; to become closed-minded and biased without even realising it, due to the diet of twisted information you are fed by power-hungry media outlets and politicians.

If you listen to the likes of Boris we are far better off out of Europe, away from all these nasty jihadis. Raise the drawbridge! Keep Britain safe! What good can Europe do us? Look at the mess France and Belgium are in! Though I have neither the political knowledge nor inclination to address these tenuous arguments here, I will highlight one thing, a poem by John Donne, entitled ‘No Man is an Island’:

Entire of itself, 
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
A part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less. 
As well as if a promontory were. 
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s 
Or of thine own were: 
Any man’s death diminishes me, 
Because I am involved in mankind, 
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

Whether we are part of Europe or not (and I personally believe we should be), none of us is an island. We must stand together in the face of terrorism and not let it divide us, by faith or for political gain. The media and politicians have ulterior motives. It is for us, the ‘normal people’, to look past those, to look past religion, past race and past hatred;  to look into our own hearts. Because it is only there we can find the good, the pure and the true; and understand that love is the only answer there is.

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The fading of the light

Tap tap tap.
The sound of security, purpose and direction. Vibrations of a life being lived, if not well then at least with intent and without surrender.
Tap tap tap.
The sound of derision, laughter and pity, a spectrum of emotions-all but one of which cut deeper than a knife.
Tap tap tap.
Decisions made, promises broken, friendships lost. Even the kettle is a mountain.
Tap tap tap.
A tangled web of lies, not driven by malice but by fear. It’s for the best, they say. But who are they? Who are they really?
Tap tap tap.
Loneliness creeps like a thief in the night. It wears a cloak of shame, its swag bag groans with regret.
Tap tap tap.
Feeling your way, everything is new, everything distorted. Complacency is dead.
On. Off. On. Off. Blinking like a defective strip light. Soon you too will be stripped of light, and terror will seep into your bones like tea diffusing from a bag.
Tap tap tap. You’ll learn to cope, the doctors say. Other senses will prevail, like knights in shining armour they will rescue you from the dark-from yourself.
Tap tap tap.
Not long now. Nothing to do but wait.
Tap tap tap.
Darkness falls.

The Boss

I’ve decided to enter a short story competition, and this is my first attempt at the beginning of the story. What do you think? Honest opinions welcomed…

The Boss

The first time Matt slammed Annie’s head into the wall he said it was an accident. He was going to punch the wall, he said, but her head had got in the way. It was her fault, naturally. It always was. The second time was harder for him to deny. They’d been having breakfast in the conservatory on what she remembered to be a hot and sticky summer’s day. He’d asked about her male colleague, Sam, who he’d met at a work function the previous evening. Had they ever been alone together, he’d wanted to know.

She should have said no but she told him the truth; that of course they had on the odd occasion, travelling to meetings and so forth. It was the wrong answer. She spent that night in A&E with a split lip, black eye and bruised collarbone. He’d been treated for scratches where his hand had made contact with the glass of the conservatory. They knew, the hospital staff, it was obvious. But though they pleaded with their eyes for her to tell the truth she knew the consequences of doing so were far more dangerous than even they realised. And so she stayed silent.

It hadn’t always been like this, of course. When they met at Matt’s university’s graduation ball five years ago he’d bewitched her. Six foot two with gladiatorial stature and eyes the colour of swimming pools he’d not only been her type, he’d been her Adonis. Annie hadn’t thought it possible such a man could exist; as it turned out, he didn’t. When she looked at him now she saw not infinite possibility in his azure eyes, but infinite cruelty – how had she not seen it before?

He was an excellent liar – that much became apparent early on in their relationship, when she started to find the receipts in his jacket pockets, the clichéd lipstick on his collar. She should have left him then, of course, but she was pregnant with Jack. How could she have left? Her parents were dead, she had no savings to her name – he’d made sure everything was in his name. So instead she stayed, played the role of the oblivious wife perfectly. He never suspected a thing.

If there was any solace it was that he didn’t lay a finger on their son. The beatings lessened in severity during the pregnancy, and he was careful not to punch her near her stomach. He may have been a soulless man, but even he knew harming his unborn child was going too far. Instead he slapped her face, burned her legs with cigarettes, just enough to keep her in line, to show her who was boss – oblivious to the fact she would soon show him that it was her.

You had me at first click – Part Five

In truth she had been tempted to tell John about her plan, but at the last minute Jen had hesitated. Not because she didn’t trust him – she trusted him with her life – but because she didn’t want him to feel like he had to come. Before the attack she had been fairly confident he would come of his own volition, but afterwards there was a nagging doubt that he would feel an obligation to act as her protector rather than her friend, and she didn’t want to be responsible for that. So she left. Alone and in the dead of night, with only a small rucksack of belongings.

She’d dreamed of being free for so long, yet now it was happening she felt apprehensive. How would she survive once her meagre savings had been used up? What would she do? Where would she live? But, frightened as she was, the overriding emotion she felt as she slipped out of the front door and heard it softly click behind her was relief. Sure, she would miss her mother, but to save herself – her body and her mind – she had to get as far away from that place as possible.

Because there was one thing that nobody knew but Jen, and it was a secret so terrible that she feared she’d have to take it to her grave. The day that John had found her lying face down in the mud she had indeed been attacked, but not, as he thought and she had subsequently let him believe, by a stranger. The attack had been the culmination of years of abuse. That day, on a bed of autumn leaves and within earshot of her childhood best friend, she had been raped by her own father.

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I took this picture at Singapore Zoo. It’s one of my favourite nature shots from my travels.