Rays – my new home from home

I don’t know much about his back story. He sounds French. Turns out he’s Jordanian. He came here 2.5 years ago with his wife who got a job here in finance. His background is in marketing and he tried to get a job for 2 years. Got only one interview. So he decided to try something completely different. He just opened his cafe, Rays, in Norrebro two and a half months ago. It’s been hard. But he’s got something that few places have: a genuine warmth and friendliness.

He talks to everyone. I know from listening to his conversations that it was easy to get a licence to run a cafe, that it was easy to get the business going. Not too much bureaucracy. He used his own savings to invest in the place. He started off with just coffee and simple sandwiches. Then he got chatting to a Scottish guy, who just wanted to help him out with the food and show him how to make simple stuff (porridge, daal etc). This guy showed him how to do it for free. But Ray decided that he couldn’t do everything and this guy had the skills for it. So they developed a partnership and now the Scottish guy comes in 3 days a week and prepares all the food for the week.

The daal is delicious. Full of flavour and vegetables. Hearty and scrumptious. It doesn’t resemble any daal I’ve had before but who cares? It’s amazing.

The space is large and airy, with classic, vintage style lighting with dropped bulbs over the tables and a large Art Deco chandelier. Black and white signed photos by Emil Monty Freddie line the walls. Behind the bar, there are brightly coloured tiles and across one wall are hundred of stacked books. At first glance it looks like that popular wallpaper. It’s not. They’re real. . Little succulents and cactii are dotted around the tables in coffee cups and mismatched cushions are on the basic brown benches.

The feel of the place is haphazardly chic and hip. Coffee culture is huge in Copenhagen and many coffee places squabble to be the place to be. But what makes  this place  different is Ray. Service in Denmark is still elusive, and when it happens it can feel superficial. Staff are uninterested. But Ray: he’s quiet and works hard. But he has time to chat to you and makes you feel like you can stay all day. That’s fine with him. You can tell his charm is working. Most of the people that come in here are repeat customers. They all chat to him. One guy came in and gave him a large wooden bench. For free. Ray exclaimed: “Everyone’s so nice! ”

I think it’s because he’s so nice. People warm to him. Today he gave me a free fresh watermelon and lime juice. Just because. I’ll be back, Ray. And I’ll tell everyone to come with me.

Whimmigrant

I’ve been thinking about what I am. Not in the really big question kind of way. I haven’t quite got there yet. But in the small, self-obsessed kind of way. I have emigrated to Copenhagen, Denmark. We did this because we wanted a better life and for an adventure and to broaden ourselves as people. A bit similar to the Grand Tour, perhaps, that rich people did a while ago as a rite of passage before settling down in huge piles in the countryside. This is ours.

But we moved for a better life: better work/life balance, better quality of life, better quality of air, better welfare system. My husband got a job here and I am hoping to find one too. Therefore we are economic migrants. So technically: we are immigrants in Denmark.

Yet we are white. So what? It shouldn’t make a difference. But of course it does. No-one suspects us of being foreign (gasp). We fit in. We could be Danish. And therefore even though our Danish is rather shoddy (me) and barely there (husband), people treat us like Danes. For the first 5 minutes at least. And so we don’t experience that many strange looks or tutting or shaking of heads or even comments, that I know non-white people sometimes do in Denmark, whether they are Danish or not. I have white privilege. So is it right for me to say I’m an immigrant with all that that means?

In the UK we have immigrants from all over the world, particularly in London. It’s what makes it a truly brilliant place to be. Immigrants of all sorts of colours and creeds and preferences. Is it easier to be a Polish immigrant because they’re white? Right now, probably not. There’s a huge backlash against Eastern European immigrants in the UK. They are seen as a threat to people’s livelihoods. It’s not the usual reasons associated with ‘fear of migrants’. They are not impoverished, they are not likely to commit crimes because of their poverty or any other reason, they keep themselves to themselves, and work hard. And save hard. And don’t really bother many people. Many of them are educated to a university degree. But many of them are not, and they are doing jobs in the UK that involve other skills and crafts: carpentry, construction, decorating, cleaning, child-minding. They are white. But they are discriminated against and looked down upon by some people in our society. Is that now the sad definition of being an immigrant?

There are a lot of wealthy immigrants in the UK too. They don’t like to be referred to as immigrants, and certainly, it would appear that they are often not included in people’s negative rants about immigrants. It would appear to be down to wealth: the wealthier the immigrant, the less of a ‘problem’ you are, at least according to the tabloids and their readership. Perhaps they would call themselves expats. Expats is a term the Brits love to use about themselves when they live abroad. All those who’ve moved to Spain and France? Expats. I’ve read a lot of about why it is that Brits abroad use the word expat instead of immigrant. I loathe the word and all that it represents. It smacks of colonialism, as if we are above the ‘native’ population somehow, just sitting in our big houses observing the masses with a cool glass of gin and tonic.

I would happily – and have done so – referred to myself as an economic migrant, an immigrant in Denmark. But I feel that my white privilege stops me from really understanding what is to be considered an ‘indvanderer’ in Denmark. Of course it does. That and the fact that I’m middle class and wealthy and am moving to Denmark because I want to, not because I have to or need to. I can see why others may not want to share that term with me as my experience is probably very different to theirs. To pretend I know what it’s like to be them could be insulting. My lived in experience is likely to have been very different to theirs.

SO this is why a new term is needed: Whimmigrant. A white person who moves to another country on a whim, for a better life. Done.

But wait – what? Is it necessary to distinguish? Is it right to? We talk about immigrants as if we are/they are a homogeneous mass with the same poor backgrounds, same desperation to move to the global north. Of course this is not the case at all. And to assume that an immigrant is any one thing is to be naive and ignorant. There are many immigrants around the world who seek to go to another country to access education, more jobs, or improve their standard of living, who are not doing so because they are poor or desperate.

I am happy and proud to call myself an immigrant. If others want to call me something else, then fine. But I won’t seek to distinguish myself, for to do so would surely be another version of using ‘expat’ and another way of signalling to the world I’m different, I’m one of the good ones.  No, thank you. Not in my name.

A career without wifi?

So this is my current work set up: I’m still a member of Chambers back in the UK. I still pay 21% of all my earnings to them. The idea is that I do some paperwork based work whilst I’m out here, such as advices etc and then fly in for the occasional court hearing. This way I get to keep a hand in my practice there. But to what end? And how easy is it?

Today’s experience has left me feeling about ready to cry.

We still don’t have Wifi at home. We have been living here 6 weeks now. We have been waiting for the equipment for Wifi to be set up in our home for 3 weeks. The Danish postal system is proving remarkably rubbish for such an efficient country. Probably to do with this. Dan seems annoyed by this, but does not in reality have to deal with the fact for more than a couple of hours at the end of the day.

My work in the UK and my attempts to find work in Denmark are completely dependent on Wifi. I have spent this morning in two different cafes, both with intermittent internet connection. This is frustrating for everyone. But for me, today, it’s been utterly shite.

I was emailed yesterday by my clerks if I could have a conference call with a solicitor that afternoon. I emailed back saying no, I couldn’t. I had just collected my son from nursery (it was 4pm) and therefore wouldn’t be free until this morning. We scheduled the conference to take place at 12pm. I was advised the papers for the case would be with me ‘first thing’. I was excited. This was the first piece of work I had accepted to do since we arrived and I felt ready to take it on.

This morning I dropped Magnus off early and found an empty cafe which had wifi and plug sockets and started reading up on the area of law that I thought it might be. I had no experience of this particular area of law, and whilst I knew of it, no practical experience of procedure etc. I hoped that the sols just wanted clarification on caselaw, although I was dubious as to what I could really assist with. This is not an unusual position for a junior barrister to be in. We cannot grow as barristers without taking on new things.

I chased my clerks for papers. I was advised there were hardly any papers, it would take no time read up on it. The papers were on their way…

I couldn’t stay in the cafe I was in as it had filled with parents and babies and no environment to have a conference call in. But I still needed to have wifi to download the papers once they came. So I packed up, moved on, found another cafe with less babies in it. Set myself up, waited. Nothing. Wifi was dodgy, kept cutting out. I moved seats. Things improved and finally the papers arrived. 5 minutes before the conference call. There was about 50 pages to read. I emailed the clerks, asked for an extra hour to read and formulate an opinion.

I read the papers and realised that what the solicitors wanted was a full advice on the merits of an application , an estimate of all costs involved, what paperwork was involved and whether we could win our costs back. This was much more than an off-the-cuff telephone advice. But more importantly, it required experience. As much as I could read about the theoretical law and procedure, I had no actual experience of what these applications involved. None of my senior members of chambers were around to ask.

I emailed the clerks, explaining that I felt that the solicitors should know this. I was happy to take a punt and give a view, but they may not want advice from someone who probably had less knowledge than they did. I didn’t feel comfortable pretending to be an expert.

The clerks were not happy. They refused to let the solicitors know that. They said it would do my practice no favours nor chambers. They would find someone else.

So after 4 hours of work and stress and worry: nothing. I have spent more than half my child-free day on a complete waste of time. And I feel shit about it too. If I had bigger cajones would I have just done the work, pretended that I knew? My first duty is to my client, the person paying the fees. Do I not owe it to them to be honest about my competencies? I feel that I do. I’ve pissed off my clerks, I’ve probably pissed off my solicitors. And I feel rubbish. But surely better that than holding myself out to be knowledgeable about something that I am not.

Which leads to the next big question: what am I?

Read on, dear friends. Let’s see if we can discover this together.

 

 

discover this together.

 

Baby in the wrong place – Part 1

Part 1

It’s now been 5 months since the day they removed my pregnancy and my left Fallopian tube. The operation went swiftly and I was so relieved. Relieved that it was gone, relieved that the ordeal was over, relieved that there were no more decisions to be made. I could move on with my life.

I didn’t feel the loss. Not then. I didn’t think of my pregnancy as a baby growing inside me. I had only known for a week. We had only been trying for a month. Getting pregnant so quickly was a huge, lovely surprise. It didn’t feel real. I didn’t feel pregnant. The tests (and I had taken 4, just to be sure) had said I was 2-3 weeks pregnant. (I bought the tests in the same town, Bexhill, as where I had bought the test that had told me my first son, Magnus, was on his way. I wanted it to be the same, just in case. And it was. I loved that.)

The hospital notes said 6 weeks. So my little bundle of cells was actually bigger than I thought. But still, I didn’t think of it as a baby I had lost.

I had been up until 1am, working. I am a barrister and this is what we do. We work crazy hours. I then woke up at 5am to continue working, and noticed a small bleed. I thought: probably an ‘embedding’ bleed. I had cramps but they weren’t that bad. I continued to work, finishing off my skeleton argument for an asylum case I had that day, printing it off and gathering all the bundles together. My son Magnus, who had just turned 2, woke up at about 6.30am and I woke up my husband for him to look after Magnus whilst I finished everything.

I told my husband about the bleeds and the cramps and he told me to take it easy, to not worry. I told him I wasn’t worried. And I wasn’t much. I had bigger things to think about, like my case. Adrenaline is a powerful thing and even though I’ve been representing asylum seekers in the courts for many years, I still get a surge every day. Every day is important. It’s somebody’s life at stake.

Strangely, my little sister was shadowing me at court that day. She was keen to see what I actually did. I met her at Clapham Junction and off we went to the delight that is Feltham, and to York house, nestled cosily between a superstore Tescos and DHL just off a screaming dual carriageway.

I had stuck in a tampon to stem the bleeding as I didn’t want to be in court with blood dripping down my thighs. So I couldn’t tell whether I was still bleeding, but the cramps persisted. Once court started, all thoughts of myself dissipated and I was in the zone. The judge was cantankerous and uppity and furious that video evidence was being requested to be served and shown only that day by my client. I love a good fight and so off we went.

At about 3pm, court finished and we headed back to Feltham train station. After a bit of impromptu shopping in New Look (it’s right by the station, it’s rude not to) and discussion of whether I should go to my GP, we decided I should at least call my GP just in case. I did. They told me nobody could see me today but I should got to the Early Pregnancy Unit at St Thomas’.

On the way, I became nervous but mainly for Chloe. I had gone with my older sister for a routine check up of her pregnancy once and was there when the cold nurse told her that there was ‘no viable pregnancy’. Just like that. I recounted the story to Chloe, about how awful the nurse had been and how unsympathetic and icy she was, how upset and shocked Gemma was. I felt bad that I was taking Chloe all the way to hospital, on a sunny day in September when we could have gone to the Lido or the Common and drank in the last of the year’s warmth. I told her I would like her to come with me just in case but I understood if she’d rather not spend her afternoon in a waiting room. She stuck with me and thank God that she did.

We waited for a while. They took my blood pressure, weight, heartbeat. We had our own waiting room because I had had diarrhoea the night before and that morning. So we had a rather lovely view of the river and privacy to chat about this and that. After a couple of hours, they took me in for an internal scan. The one where they get a large skinny dildo and lubricate it with KY Jelly and stick a condom on it then stick it inside you. It’s a rather cold, strange sensation. Chloe had not expected that at all and thought the stick was going on my stomach, which made me giggle. The young male nurse was silent for quite a while, moving it around deftly with his right hand, eyes focused on the screen ahead and his left hand working the computer mouse. He didn’t say anything at all. And then: “Yes…I can’t see anything. I’m afraid, there is a miscarriage. There is nothing in the womb. I’m sorry”.

I cried instantly, softly, squeezing tightly on to Chloe’s hand.

“I just want to get a second opinion” the nurse said, and left. After a hug and some more crying, I drew breath and said to Chloe, that at least it wasn’t an ectopic pregnancy. Those were really bad and could be awful and I was just so relieved it wasn’t that. I actually said that.

Then in came the male nurse with an older female nurse. The scan was repeated. Silence again. And then. “I’m afraid it’s an ectopic pregnancy. It’s a pregnancy in the wrong place, in the tube. I’m sorry. We’ll get the doctor to go through the options with you.”

Then I got silent. I was scared.

I called my husband. I couldn’t speak. I called my best friend, she cried and I cried more. I called my sister, Gemma, and I couldn’t speak again.

When it comes to ectopics, these are the options: it resolves itself naturally. This means the body realises it’s in the wrong place, it stops producing the growing hormones it usually does with a pregnancy and it just comes out, in the form of bleeding. This is the best possible outcome as it requires nothing but waiting and seeing and no medication or surgery.

The second option is to take medication. In the UK they use Methotrexate. It’s a drug that stops the early ectopic pregnancy from growing. It’s been used before in cancer trials as it stops cells multiplying. It has pretty awful side affects and sometimes you need more than one dose. It is not guaranteed to work so sometimes you take the medication and then feel awful for a few weeks and then have to have surgery.

The third option and last resort is to have surgery. Rarely, it seems, can a pregnancy be removed without removing the Fallopian tube too. Therefore it’s not a surgery to go into lightly. It’s under general anaesthetic and like all surgeries, there are risks of damaging other organs, infection etc.

What can also happen is that the pregnancy grows so big that the tube ruptures. This is very painful and causes a lot of bleeding and will require emergency surgery. It can be fatal.

Those were the options that faced me that day, still in my court attire of black suit and white shirt. It all seemed absurd.

 

 

 

 

 

Rejected mama

I am living on borrowed time so this will be brief. M is sleeping. He could wake at any time. So to the point: I feel rejected. I feel guilty for feeling rejected. I feel like it’s a stupid thing to feel and it’s not the point, not at the moment. Mouse is ill and suffering. He is 15 months old. He has either  eczema herpeticum or ezcema coxsackium (aka hand, foot and mouth disease). He is in pain. He’s feeling rubbish and not himself. He has horrible red, messy spots around and in his mouth and dark red crusty spots all over his back. His limbs have red spots all over him. After 24 hours in St George’s hospital, we are giving him antivirals every 4 hours and antibiotics every 8 hours. We have lotion to bathe him in and three lotions to rub all over his body, including a steroid cream. He’s having a rough time.

We are having a rough time too. It’s hell. I know there are many worse things that could be happening and I’m grateful to be alive and for everything else. But this is me venting even if I’m not entitled to.

Last night he was screaming in pain/discomfort. He was arching his back, thrashing around, hitting out. He didn’t want to be picked up. He didn’t want to be held, or have his head or back stroked. He didn’t want to be cuddled and would arch out of my arms when I picked him up, as if I was the one inflicting pain. It made me worry, panic. I called out to my husband, thinking we should give him Calpol. Then my husband, D, came in, ‘Papa’, and he picked him up just fine. He stopped crying. He leant into his father’s shoulder and rested his soft head there. I couldn’t believe it. What? So it was just me? I was the one he was screaming about? It was as if my touch on him was scalding him, that’s how violently he reacted. And then Papa picks him up and all is well.

It feels awful to write this down. But it’s not the first time this has happened. My son genuinely prefers his father over his mother. And I’m not sure what to do about it or how to get over it. Because surely this happens right? Surely I’m not the only one being rejected? I ask around my friends, friends of friends, NCT class people. No, they say, looking at me wide-eyed. That has never happened. Hmm. Ok.

D and I have approached parenting as equals. We are strived towards an equal relationship with M. When breastfeeding, I expressed so that he could do a couple of the feeds every day. We both wanted him to have that experience and it was good for me to take a break. M was a slow feeder and his typical feed would last for over an hour and a half. At the beginning he fed every 2 hours because he was premature and a low weight. So being able to skip a feed, for me, was  essential.

When D went back to work, he would come home and do bath and bedtime. Sometimes he couldn’t get back in time but he tried to and most of the time he did it while I either collapsed on the sofa or tidied up the detritus of the day.

I went back to 4  days a week of work when M was 7 months old and D took additional paternity leave for 3 months. It was a fun time to look after M. He was crawling and exploring and his personality was developing. He was learning about solid food and was enjoying exploring all the shapes and textures and tastes. It was full on, of course, and exhausting. D’s confidence with M grew and he became fully independent from me. Previously I had a better idea of what was needed and when, and was better able to pick up on M’s signs that he needed a drink/food/nap etc. I would prepare the bag for the day in record time and had mastered leaving the house to less than 20 minutes. After paternity leave, D was equally good at all that. He realised what I had learned only a few months before, how important organisation was when looking after a small child. You needed to have everything prepared otherwise you couldn’t leave the house or get anything done.  D bonded with M and it was beautiful to see and be part of. I missed M terribly and felt guilty every day. Still do. But I was so happy for D to have this time with M and for D and I to be equally enjoying our son.

Perhaps because of that time, D and I very much co-parent. I can leave him to do anything with M. He’s more than capable of looking after him all weekend. I don’t have any hesitation or worries about his care of him. Of course we do things slightly differently. But he knows M as well as I do. We are in this learning curve together and I love that. I cherish it and I am so grateful that the man I married wants this as much as I do.

Everybody remarks on how lucky I am. This irks me somewhat. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s not luck that made me choose to marry D or decide to have children with him. I made a rational decision about both matters. There was method to the madness and it was my method and we talked a lot and decided on the madness together.  Yes, I am fortunate to have met such a brilliant man and to have other good things in my life. But luck did not play such a big part.

So I can’t help feel that I’ve made this problem for myself. I’m quite sure that some other mothers look at me and think: well, there you go, trying to shirk your mothering duties and look what happens: rejection. They may be right. By creating equal parents for my son, I have given him the choice to choose his favourite. He has chosen his father. I have to live with this and hope it’s not a permanent thing. Fathers often have to sit back whilst children recoil from them and run to Mummy, or insist on having a cuddle from Mummy and nothing else will do. They all get through this rejection so I will just have to too.

But it’s not fair, I cry. I carried him for 36 weeks, I went through the pain and  nausea and worry. I had the haemorrhaging, the cutting open, the pain, the bruising, the body stretching, the haemorrhoids, the constipation, the swollen, throbbing breasts that cracked, the struggle with feeding. I gave up my life, my fledgling career for 7 months and dedicated myself entirely to M’s survival and thriving. I’m now a burnt out working mum, rushing from court to chambers to nursery, looking after and loving my son constantly. Working part-time does not mean that that you are not a full-time mum. Psychologically, emotionally, you are there all the time thinking about him, worrying about him, marvelling at him.  I struggle to maintain a social life and working life and sex life. I feel I’m failing at most things most of the time.  I’m getting through it and every time I see him learn something new or even look at me and laugh, I know I’m winning. But then to be hit away, screamed at and so clearly rejected after all that? It’s hard.

M is awake. He needs someone and I’m the only one here. Here goes.