Calais – 2 days to go

My friend David went to Calais to help build shelters. He reported on Facebook that more help was needed. I sat in my gorgeous comfy warm new home and felt utterly guilty. All the excuses of why i could not possibly go tumbled around my head and tore at my heart. ‘I’m a mother, how can I possibly leave my kid and venture off into the unknown, I can’t afford it, i have to work, i have to write, I have things to do…’
We all have stuff to do. The minutiae of our lives keeps us focused on the banal, the humdrum, the day to day nonsense of laundry, keeping warm, getting fed. It’s easier to snuggle down into the couch, flick through the tv channels for something funnier.
There was snot settled in my chest. My belly was bloated from holiday food. I was cross with my kid for being a kid and I was remembering the days when the poor black babies in Africa were the threats parents used to coerce their offspring into favourable activity. Calais is a ten hour drive from here. That is the same length of time as driving to north Skye and back. Ten hours drive away there are babies dying of the cold.
Ten hours drive from here, there are pregnant women living in tents for the winter.
Ten hours drive from where I sit, in my gorgeous, warm comfy cottage, my mate and his mates are frantically doing something to change a terrible situation.
And then a coach from the child’s old school was caught up in some sort of incident, in Calais, returning from a skiing trip. And a section of the media chose to portray that incident as though the people involved were lawless criminals intent on wounding innocent islanders.
I am going to Calais on Friday morning. I am going to drive. Artists from Moray have donated fifty brand new sleeping bags. Others have donated boots, jackets and the like. They’re all going into the boot of the car. I’ll give them to whoever needs them. There’s a building crew from Inverness/ Findhorn working their butts off to build shelters in order to get as many folk as possible out of tents or shipping containers before the whole place freezes.
We have to help them.
Of course I can’t afford it, but I’ll use my overdraft if I have to. I’ll sleep in the car if I have to. You can help me out – you can donate via the link below, if you feel you can, or you can share the link, or even both. And thank you to everyone who already has.

GoFundMe link to donate – and thank you

I have spare seats in the car. A co-driver with great taste in music who can also navigate would be awesome, please? I leave early Friday morning, come on, you can do it – come with me, help get the shelters built…????

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A Notice To Quit is a legal document. It gives the tenant two months to vacate the rented property. When a tenant has a rental agreement called a Short Assured Tenancy then each and every court in the land must evict the tenant, by law, no matter what the circumstances are, once the Notice has been served.
Tenants are human beings, living in homes they rent because they cannot afford to buy or build. Tenants are families, communities. We are the landless – the lottery players eager to scoop enough to change the pattern of our lives. We are the dreamers of huts and yurts in wooded places. We are the ones wanting sheds as dwellings. We are rootless, wanting to be planted, waiting for the time when we can choose to live in our forever homes. We are the majority of the Scottish people, desperate for Land Reform.
A Notice To Quit is a terrifying thing. My hands shook uncontrollably as I read it. My speech stopped, only stuttery sounds came out. My body convulsed. My daughter was terrified as she watched me. We tried to phone our friend but the phone jumped in my hand and I couldn’t dial the number. She was hysterical. When the words finally formed and were spoken, to our friend, she screamed as she heard them. She threw herself onto the couch and howled. I had to hang up the phone. It took hours to calm her down.
This is the power the housing provider has over the tenant.
We have loved this house, our home and sanctuary for ten months. It’s an old army house on a large ex-army estate. It’s built like a bomb shelter but I made it cosy and comfy and beautiful. I cared for the house and the garden, making each corner as pretty as possible. The immediate effect of forced eviction is the removal of that care, that respect for the house. It is no longer our home and as such, we now find it difficult to respect the property. It seems we project our frustration of the situation into the very bricks that last week we loved.
I was determined to stay until the sheriff’s officers and polis came to sling me out. To anyone who would listen I said I would fight. Kind friends mentioned stress, ill health and should the child be dragged through that. But I am as stubborn as forty mules and would not be dissuaded. And then something quite strange happened.
I was happily fuming, pacing, chain smoking, knocking back the wine and plotting the down fall of my housing provider, when two women I barely know suggested I view a house in Findhorn Village. I wasn’t sure, wasn’t keen but my daughter nagged and cajoled until I relented.
We walked in, sat down in the kitchen and the tears poured from me. It’s the same as the house I bought many years ago in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, except of course, the owner has taken the time to renovate it, to install heating, double glazing, even smoke alarms. It has wood burning stoves. It comes with a shed that sings writer’s studio. It’s a very short walk to the beach. I couldn’t speak. Some sort of weird warm fuzzy feeling had taken me by surprise. The child had to do all the talking, and she was grinning and nodding at the owner and saying yes yes yes, I can just lock Mum in the shed, let her out to cook, she’ll be perfectly happy here, she can write and walk and do her dreaming, it’ll be fine.

The boxes are being packed again. I have a good feeling about this next move. I am also happy to report that the next tenant here in the bomb shelter will benefit from a new gas hob, a working hot water system, and many other minor improvements, thanks to this blog and this stubborn as forty mules woman.

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Go, Move, Shift – your stories wanted

There are changes coming. There will be reform, the whole system will be appraised, modified, made better. Arbitrary evictions will cease, so they say.
This weekend my friend made me dinner. Beers were taken. Dancing was done. Conversations rippled on steps, on make shift dance floors, in kitchens and bathrooms. We spoke of our eviction stories. Tales and fables of the gruesome upheaval of women with their children, all over Scotland. It is women and children, don’t think otherwise. The instances of men being evicted are not as prevalent.
I don’t want to move. I don’t ever want to move. I like my home, wherever I am, it’s my sanctuary, my comfy lovely place to be braless. The only place I ever regularly dance naked to very loud music. This weekend I met seven other women who say exactly the same thing.
We are regularly and without warning forced to quit our known way of life. For little or no reason we are forced to move on. Christy Moore sang “move along, get along, go, move, shift’ and this is the theme tune to my life – and to many many hundreds and thousands of other women. Landlords, house owners, housing providers, estate agents rarely have to quantify or explain their actions publicly. They don’t have to give a valid reason for the eviction of a mother and child, they simply sign the form and tidy their desks. there’s no come-back, no problem for them. They have no need whatsoever to justify their actions.
My crime, mea culpa mea culpa, was to ask for the gas hob to be repaired. I had noted on the inventory when I moved in here last January that it wasn’t working, that the knobs didn’t fit, that the flames couldn’t be well regulated. The housing provider sent me a bag of knobs from Amazon. They didn’t fit. You’ve all heard it by now, in some form or other, from me or from a pal or the lady down the road.
I had over three thousand hits in two days on my last blog. Hundreds of women messaged me. This situation will change, but it’s going to be slow. I have a plan. Can you send me your stories? Are you able to write down your eviction tale and pass it over to me? Yes yes, we will need the male voices, for balance, for fairness.
I face months in temporary accommodation with my cat in foster care and my furniture in storage, according to our current system. Please understand that I have no intention of doing that. What did you do? Did you do what they told you? Did you exact revenge? Did you lie down and take it and not say a word? Let’s blow this folks, let’s start telling our eviction tales.

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Orla and Sarah are being evicted, again

The landlord has served me with a Notice to Quit. Landlord is the wrong word, for a start. The term implies he is the Lord of the land. Housing Provider seems softer, more gender neutral, less powerful. There’s no immediate sense of grandeur and entitlement to the phrase Housing Provider. Landlord could denote some sense of decency bestowed from a great source, could describe a custodian of land people, but it doesn’t, not in this case anyway.

I rent my home via Cluny Estate Agency in Forres. the house is owned by Grigor Butler of East Grange Farm and The Loft, an inherited estate of over 400 acres with many properties and a thriving wigwam business and restaurant. Every three months Rebecca from the estate agency comes for the regular inspection. She comes with clip board and pen to note any outstanding repairs. She was here last Thursday. She rang the bell and when I answered it and opened the door for her she greeted me with “Well, at least the doorbell works.” I asked her why she said that. She replied “It just feels like one of those properties where nothing works as it should.” I pointed to the gaping hole of the letterbox “that still isn’t fixed.” I replied. She chewed the tip of her pen and giggled nervously.

We went into the kitchen. I turned on the tap to fill a jug with water for the house plants. The tap pissed water all over the side of the sink, the work surface and dribbled down to the floor. I wiped it up.

“The tap still leaks” I said. ” The grout at the side of the sink is worn and mouldy, the counter top is damp and swollen now. Willie the handyman came, took it apart, told me it was past repair and put it back together again.”

She may have written that down.

“Has anything been repaired since we last met?” She asked.

“The extractor fan over the hob works, but the filter inside it saw better days ten years ago.”

“A filter is just a couple of quid, you could get one yourself.” She replied. “Has the hob been fixed or replaced?”

“No, the hob was condemned by yourself and Willie six months ago, but it’s still here. The knobs don’t work well. It takes great skill and care to heat soup.”

“Is there anything else?” she asked.

“The felt on the shed roof is now completely worn and the rain is getting in to the shed. The gutters are full of wee trees, shrubs and leaves, they leak, they drip. The shower still drips all the time which has caused black mould on the tiles and grout in the bathroom. The seal for the oven still needs replaced. The cold tap for the bath doesn’t work.”

I wandered around, watering the plants. She followed me chatting all the time about what a difficult job she was having trying to get these repairs done. She implied I should do them myself.

“The problem is, Bex” I said “that it’s a few quid for a letterbox, a few quid for a new shed roof, a few quid for a new shower, a few quid for the grout and those few quids are more than I can afford, so we need to talk about who is actually responsible for the repairs here and when they will actually be completed.”

“Realistically” she said “the repairs won’t be done any time soon and if this is a problem for you, you should find somewhere else to live.”

I sat down, picked up a pen and paper and wrote that down and then read it back to her.

“Is this what you are telling me? That I can note the things that need to be done in order to maintain this property, but if I complain I will be evicted?”

“Yes.” she said.

“Would you like me to quote you on that?” I asked.

“No.” she said.

That was Thursday. On Saturday of the same week I received in the post a Notice To Quit. I had a full blown panic attack as I read it. I was neither able to speak nor eat most of the weekend. My daughter was distraught, she cried all day and all night. She loves her home, her friends, her school. She volunteers locally, cycles where she wants, has a kayak on the beach and had just had shelves put up in her room the day before.

We survived as tenants by keeping silent when our landlords threatened us. Historically we have just put up with the inadequacies of our houses because we didn’t want to be threatened in this way. We bend over, roll over and allow those that own the houses and land in Scotland to shaft us at their whim. We accept their power, allowing them to rule over us and dictate how and where we can live.

Enough of this. I have been part of the downtrodden and vulnerable single mother brigade for far too long. By not speaking out against abuse and maltreatment I have perpetuated  the notion that I am not worthy to either live in peace or dwell in a home of my own choosing. I love my home, I care for this house, this neighbourhood and my community. I hope and I pray that the politicians, the activists and the land reform teams can use my story as a prime example of how and why Scotland needs housing and land reform.

My daughter and I face homelessness for Christmas again- because I demanded the dangerous condemned gas hob be replaced. Because I called into question the integrity of Cluny Estate Agency and the housing provider Grigor Butler.

Be Brave, we need land reform #ourland  #bebrave

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The school, the beach huts and the geese

All the alternative type schools are suffering. The ones that can’t be government funded academies, like Nature Schools and Waldorf Steiner schools. The Moray Steiner School is no exception. It has yet another financial crisis to face. It has peaked and dipped for many years, the school roll expands and contracts quite regularly. The staff and parents roll up their sleeves and have, historically braved the hard times with concerts, bag packs and fairs. The stoic relentless drive to keep the school open is the stuff of legend. Former pupils remember all the crises yet still send their own offspring, knowing that somehow it will just keep going. The team of fundraisers are tired. Some are spent.
A magic wand was offered. A solution was suggested. Debts could be waived. New money is available from the newly established Drumduan Upper School (The school that Tilda built, for the benefit of Grauniad readers). It seems like a marvellous solution, to have an entire Steiner facility from kindergarten to college all on one campus. But, of course, not everyone is utterly delighted with the generosity of such a gesture. There are some who would prefer to stick with the old ways, the tried ant trusted begging bowls of sponsored story telling, dances, plays or manifestation of thousands through dedicated meditations. Some would even like to attempt water divining.
In short, the bail-out sits uneasily with a minority of parents because of the beach huts.
Yes, because of the beach huts.
Five miles from the school is Findhorn beach. A successful planning application has unsettled, irked and divided the village and the school. Beach huts decorate many seaside towns and villages all over Europe. There were some here, but they weren’t maintained and fell apart. Families have enjoyed these shelters for generations. They meet regularly for walks, picnics, trysts, wine and general good times. But, in Findhorn village there are men and women lined along the shore, holding hands, refusing to allow them to be built. They are concerned about the environmental impact on the wildlife, or so they say.
The beach huts are the brain child of the Moray Steiner School’s Kindergarten teacher. She has coerced her architect husband into this mad, dangerous notion. She remembers the sense of community she knew as a child and feels we, as the new community here, would benefit from these little sandy dwellings.
The kindergarten teacher’s husband (who i have met once, on the beach) is part of the magic wand bail out team up at the school. He is of the financial deliverance package tribe. Ergo, he must be some sort of ruthless, corrupt property developer hell bent on acquiring the school in order to build an empire of pastel painted wooden shacks for his own selfish gain (I kid you not, this is the actual rumour).
I’ve had all manner of scurrilous, scandalous conjecture whispered in my ear. It would shame me to repeat any of it, or disclose where it came from. But, needless to say, it’s always the nay-sayers who subject me to their diatribe of negative thought and theory. It’s the fearful folk talk of the magic wand as if the Snow Queen herself were brandishing it with the sole intention of turning the whole hill into something sinister.
I feel the passion held for the architect – and it’s got no love in it.
Let me tell you about the geese and why I think the environmentalist activist plan from that corner of the village holds no merit.
Line after line they take the sky. The geese come at 6. They fly in formation, making the sky rivers of moving streaking waves of black. Rows own all there is. Time is gone while you look, while they honk, hooting their way to the bay, to be shot.
When everything is burning red and gold they come or go to hill or shore.
At the start and the end of every day, they are there, everywhere.
The shooters wait in bushes. The bangs are heard inside your head, your house, your heart. These magnificent wild creatures are supposed to be safe in Findhorn’s Nature Sanctuary, but they are not. The sea is thick with their feathers. Their corpses stink the tide line, just gull-food. My neighbour’s fella got thirty the other day. He left them where they fell, they weren’t needed for food. They were just target practice.
Where are the peaceful happy hippies this place is renowned for? Where are the courageous activists who built a peace camp, an eco village, a world renowned centre for sustainability and love? Where are the humanitarian vegetarians who demanded an end to killing? That’s right, they’re all down on the shore hoping huts don’t get built, praying the school doesn’t change.
Come on folks, let’s get up at dawn, same time as the geese. Let us all meet on the salt flats and form a circle around those magnificent wild geese, before it’s too late.
Say yes. Say yes to all of it. Let there be geese, little coloured romantic hideaways on the sands and new money for the school.

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When “nothing” gets done….


There are times when I feel that I get nothing done at all. To clarify that, when I say “nothing” I mean writing. This week has been one of good writing intentions. I’ve done a lot of thinking, but no writing. Yet there is plenty to write about this week. For example, I’ve spent a day with an ill child whose mother had to go to work. That same day, I made two different kinds of soup and a brocolli and cheese quiche. The said child was cossetted and entertained and…fed. He likes his grub, no matter what ailment has assailed him. Later on that evening, I showered and put to bed another child because his mother is ill. This I did the next evening too. I am not a saint – I am a grandmother, and my children and grandchildren live nearby. Add to this home-made banana and cinnamon…

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