Let’s think about this for a moment

Our neighbour Made broke his leg a year ago in a moped accident. He’s still on crutches and can’t walk. He’s also in a lot of pain. He just came over to show me his leg and I did well to keep my breakfast down.

I’m not good with bodily secretions. Least of all yellow oozing ones.

The thing is Made and his wife Nyoman are poor. They are so poor that they have just enough to feed themselves. They certainly don’t have enough money to pay doctors’ bills.

We provide their only income – paying Nyoman to lay offerings around our house and to babysit Alula in the evenings when we go out.

But in a country where the doctors are generally so corrupt that only money talks and if you’re poor you die, that money isn’t enough to pay for a prescription.

I heard only the other day that the doctors here are bribed by pharmaceutical companies with cars and televisions. The payback? To keep babies away from their mothers for the first 36 hours so their milk dries up and they are forced to buy formula. This in a country where formula milk costs more than most people earn in a day.

My UK friend has recently returned to Bali with her 6 week old son. ‘He’s so fat!’ the Balinese gasp. He’s not. He’s a normal healthy weight for a UK child who is only breast-fed. But the Balinese are so used to poor diet and watered down formula that some don’t even recognize what is normal and healthy in a child.

In the same week I have sorted our health insurance – making sure that it includes evacuation – because the one thing I’ve learned is that if we get into an accident I don’t want to be treated here. As I tapped in my VISA number I felt sick with guilt and also overwhelmed with gratitude at my own situation allowing me to just buy my way out of difficulty. Here I was with the means to get the best medical care available whilst my neighbour cannot afford so much as an indigestion tablet.

We’re taking Made to the only clinic we trust in town for a second opinion and then we’ll make sure he gets the antibiotics and that he takes them properly (like the watered down formula, people tend to stretch out the antibiotics – thinking to make them last, not realizing they need to take them according to the instructions or it’ll only get worse).

Bali teaches you nothing if not the value of good deeds and gratitude for your own circumstances.

Then last night I was reading this article in the Guardian about the dismantling of the NHS in the UK. It painted a dark future of a private health care system discriminating against the poor, providing only the best services (and most expensive treatments ie. Chemotherapy) for those who can afford them. The UK will have a US style system run on market principles. Which is also a system open to abuse and corruption – as seen in Indonesia.

Can you imagine in the UK having your neighbour show you his puss-y leg and ask you if you can afford to pay his medication bills? How would you answer?

I have had so many questions this week running around my head and making me feel unsettled. But really I figured out, it boils down to just one…

…Where do we go from here?

The London Riots

I’m a Londoner. I will always be a Londoner. My grandfather grew up on the Old Kent road. My mum was born on the Peabody estate in Pimlico. I spent a lot of time as a kid staring out the window of my grandmother’s flat over at Battersea Power Station never understanding the optical illusion which meant I could only see three of the four towers.  I walk these streets weaving in and out of tourists, on autopilot, pointing out landmarks to Lula where I used to work (I temped A LOT) and the places I got fired from. I cross the roads to avoid places I kissed people I shouldn’t, I smile as I stroll past bars, restaurants, museums and shops – scenes of first dates, first sightings, drunken birthdays and my first pair of knee high boots.  It’s in my heart. London will always be my city no matter where I live.

Which is why this city also has the power to break my heart.

I worked for almost ten years in the area of social inclusion – creating and running projects (with the help of amazingly talented committed staff and volunteers) that supported people who were socially excluded to feel more connected to the communities that make up this city and other cities around the country.

Then I watched the riots play out across the UK and wondered what difference any of it had made. There are too many conflicting thoughts at play in my mind and in the minds of everyone I talk to right now. I feel a mix of shame, embarrassment and anger. I also feel huge sadness at the divides that have ripped our communities apart, the dangerous and widening wealth gap , the lack of respect and pride others, especially the young, seem to have for this city and the awesome people who live here.

In the days that followed the riots, people piled onto the streets with brooms to clear up the mess. I actually cried at pictures of people pouring tea for riot police, at those forced to defend their own property, at children who swept away broken glass in front of shops smashed up in their streets. It gave me hope and it restored my pride and faith in this city. Up to a point – show me a picture of Boris Johnson or David Cameron right now and I’d happily tear it to shreds. I’m also frankly appalled by some of the racist, right wing rhetoric appearing on Facebook and Twitter, often coming from people I know.

We’re leaving London in 10 days. Walking away from London at this point feels strange. I feel like I’m deserting my city, throwing my hands up and walking away in despair whilst shaking my head. I feel like I should stay and be part of something that I hope develops from this – a greater sense of community and pride in our homes. And two years ago, working in the volunteering sector I would have felt a huge rush of energy at the potential that could come from such a hideous chain of events. Unfortunately, Cameron in all his wisdom has dismantled most of the voluntary sector that could have been harnessed to transform the will on the streets right now into long-lasting action. Shame on him.

Having said that I can’t wait to get back to Bali. Perhaps because it’s smaller there the ex-pat community relies on itself rather like a tribe for support. It’s that sense of community that we never properly felt when living here (despite the fact I worked on community projects) that we have found in Ubud, and which I hope London begins to find again.

Whatever happens I wait with baited breath. I want to bring Lula back every year and walk her through these streets pointing out the places where her great grandparents house was bombed out and where they rebuilt it. I want to show her where her nana went to school,  and where I first kissed her father. I want to show her  the city that I love so much. I want her to grow up feeling like she’s a Londoner and feeling pride in this city and her heritage.

And right now I feel like it could go either way.

Politics and laundry

‘It’s interesting reading about the election in the UK isn’t it?’ Richard says.

‘Er. No. Actually. It isn’t.’

When I think of the UK I just think grey. And Cameron. And having to do my own laundry.

‘So do you think you’ll go back?’ he asks

‘You know Rich,’ I say, ‘I just can’t see it. I mean I have a pool here. I haven’t done my own laundry in three months. How could I possibly ever go back?’

A little voice in my head started screaming MONEY MONEY MONEY. I ignored it.

Today I met someone who after 10 years in Bali is going back to Scotland. I looked at her like she was crazy then I looked across her lawn to her swimming pool and to the kitchen where the full time nanny/maid was making her coffee and… again with the crazy thought. But maybe she’s a closet tory and is returning after a self-imposed decade in exile. In which case.. again with the crazy thought.

‘This place rocks,’ I tell Rich.

Every morning I feel like Snow White. A squirrel ran across the living room as I ate breakfast. Two butterflies waltzed over my head. The gecko family (Money and Hoola Hoop – named by Alula) sit sleepily on the ceiling. I’m waiting for them to start singing in harmony about my prince arriving one day. I look at John plugged into the matrix and think ‘yep, still waiting.’

Just kidding.

Eight years ago John, Rich and I were all  cramped in a London flat. Now we are all here in Bali. This is totally an upgrade. So no, I can’t see myself living in London permanently again.

But I will tell people it’s because I can’t step foot in a Tory run country. I won’t mention the laundry.

Bankers, Prawns & Hookers. Or why it’s time to say goodbye to London.

Last night I went out with an ex of mine from my uni days. He’s a financial accountant for a hedge fund now. When we met up and I walked next to him (he in his city gear, me in my voluntary sector gear ie. any more informal and it would have been beachwear) I felt like I was in Pretty Woman. And not the scene where she wears the red ball gown to the opera. The scene where a suited Richard Gere strolls up sunset boulevard with a girl who’s clearly a hooker. Not that I looked like a hooker. I hope I didn’t anyway. But because I could see everyone staring at him thinking, ‘Who on earth have you got on your arm? She’s not from round these parts.’ We were only walking through Berkeley square but I could hear the smashing sound as my world collided with this other, suited, booted world. I don’t step foot in that world anymore if I can possibly avoid it, and now I remember why. I felt like one of the prawns from District 9.

I used to work in that world when I was a young, sweet, innocent undergrad (ok I was never sweet). I would put on my poshest frock and work the reception of private banks and suchlike. I was good. They liked my voice. I liked the fact I could combine surfing the net with occasionally answering the phone and making coffee for visitors and could get paid for it. Then I got fired from Accenture (I wasn’t one of their graduate scheme people – just a lowly customer service person – I’m not very good at customer service) and my whole life changed. I realised that working for private banks and big corporates was like peeling off a part of my soul every day, walking it into hell and handing it over personally to satan. Or something similar. So I changed paths, jumping onto the charidee bandwagon and hitching a ride back into the light. Nowadays I’d never get a first job in charity, the competition is so fierce, but back then it was a lot easier. The wagons weren’t so full. Everyone in my year at uni aspired to be a banker. No one even knew what charity was. Even today I still get asked by people whether I get paid.  No I say, I live on the streets, forage through dumpsters and use freecycle for Christmas presents – I mean really. And so here I am today. 9 weeks left working for charity and yes, getting paid for it. Then I’ll be asking for it (charity that is).

Anyway, back to my story. I’m walking like pretty woman through Mayfair with an ex-boyfriend and we’re surrounded by suits. It’s feeling like a staging of an ENO opera. A Wagner one. It makes me wonder whether or not London really is my city. I am a Londoner. I love London – don’t I? But this London sucks. This London makes me feel uncomfortable and unhappy and like I don’t belong. I used to think that living anywhere else was inconceivable. Where else could be as cool as London? Nowhere. But the truth sinks in. The days of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit rolling around in a Union Jack are gone (shame that). The days where you could go out in the east end without bumping into a crowd of drunk newcastle lads on a stag do have also gone. The days of Cameron are looming, winter is bombing down on us and the bankers are back (I know, I know they didn’t go anywhere, but you’d think after the financial crisis and all, they’d bed down and be embarrassed but they’re out there, strutting around like they’re starring in Wall Street. Where’s the shame?). It’s like Thatcher’s 80’s reign again. I was only a kid then but I still remember my nanny (my grandmother – we weren’t that posh), staying up all night to hear the election results. She hated Thatcher with a passion she usually only reserved for Jesus.

It feels like that’s where we’re headed to again. It’s so time to go.

Choosing a country based on my freebie five

A colleague, actually my work husband (do you have one of those? I highly recommend getting one if you can. You can boss them around and then you can fire them if they don’t do what you say, unlike a husband who I am informed I am not allowed to boss around nor fire). Unless of course you’re on a par with them, like I am with my work husband, in which case we spat, make up, spat, make up – though without the kissing usually involved in making up.

Anyway, my work husband just got back from the Tory party conference (again with the capital letter – why am I giving them one?). To contextualise this – my work husband is a dour scotsman who finds the idea of a conservative government about as palatable as eating pigs testicles for breakfast. So when he came back and announced that the energy at the tory party conference was ‘infectious – like swine flu,’ I felt my soul grind to a halt. He would argue that that would be impossible as I don’t have one. But I do.

We will of course be away when the time comes for Gordon to hand over the keys to number 10. So I won’t have to witness the David Cameron victory smile and the tumbleweed along the streets of London. I am particularly saddened because, and yes, I’m ashamed to admit this publicly, though most people I know already know this, I actually used to have a bit of a crush on Gordon. I know, I know – what’s wrong with me? I have tried to analyse it. I never had a crush on Tony. Nor on John, nor Maggie. Though was too young for them for sure. But Gordon – I’m not sure. I just kind of liked him. Perhaps he shared similarly dour qualities with my work husband. But over the last year my affections have waned much like the labour party’s popularity. Probably because he’s a loser and no one likes a loser. Perhaps it’s because in the shadow cast by the brilliant light of Obama he was sure to pale. And don’t even get me started on Obama – he’s hovering around three on my freebie five – so clearly there is a pattern here: I have a thing for men in power. As well as for Alex Skarsgard.

So is it a good time to leave the UK? ER – hell yeah. Do I want to witness the coming to power of a conservative government? Er – hell no. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere with a government I didn’t agree with in charge. Which rules out quite a few places including Saudi Arabia. Actually it probably rules out the whole world. I’d have to start my own country with me in charge. But failing that happening, I’m looking for a country with the following criteria: a left leaning government led by a man I fancy.

Which leaves only America. Will putting ‘because I fancy Obama’ mean my green card application gets fast tracked?