Two of my favourite people whisked me away, draped me in fluff and sequins (“because it’s panto” to quote Arkem), and took me on an adventure to see ‘Queer Stories’. The Embers Collective rekindle the art of story-telling. Lonan Jenkins our compare invites us in with ‘Permission’, a poem by Alabaster dePlume. This is a call to arms to “give yourself permission to do your awesome shit.” Doing something new and being yourself creatively is what the Embers Collective are all about. Together they create an easy, inclusive atmosphere to welcome all, where difference is valued. ‘Queer Stories’ is a cabaret style performance featuring Anya Pearson and Josh Middleton bringing music in and between the lines of the stories by Charlie Wood, Robert Holtom, James Boswell, India Jaggon-Barrett, Dominique Bull and Arkem Mark Walton. “What kind of character do you want to be in this story?” asks dePlume, talking to this particular moment in history. Delving into and beneath their own lives to bring something new, each performer has their own unique perspective on queerness. Adding archetype and mythology they produce stories that charm, move and delight. Every performer has their own distinctive flavour. Thank you Rosie and Julie for engineering for me to see their awesome shit. It was magic.

A few days ago a young man was stabbed and died just around the corner.  These are stark facts. Behind the facts is a human story. I don’t know the circumstances that led to this tragic ending. He is missed by the many who have laid tributes and battery powered night-lights in silent vigil forming an ark around the swathes of flowers. Behind his story is a culture. Violence is the outcome of a complex set of conditions. The factors may include poverty, class, mental health, addiction, gang loyalty, identity, fear and plain misfortune – just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The justice system incarcerates but does not rehabilitate. Governments know that criminalisation of drugs wins votes but fails addicts. In the absence of initiations by the whole tribe, young people initiate themselves through rituals unsanctioned by society. “These are the bearers of generation upon generation of unresolved grief, of unexpressed sorrow, and the rage that it becomes when it isn’t acknowledged,” describes Martin Prechtel of young people at the receiving end of ancestral grief. Unprocessed trauma and complex grief finds outlets in cycles of aggressive behaviour, self-sabotage and post-traumatic stress disorder, often coupled with shame. Wise cultures create alternative ways to deal with conflict and its aftermath.

There is an atmosphere of excited anticipation. The music is already quickening my breath. All ages and genders are wriggling into sequins. At every sink someone is creating a shiny, glittering mirror image of themselves. Socks, leggings, hoodies are shed wrinkled like cast off cocoons on the floor. Wigs, eye lashes, hats and hair flowers are positioned. I love this part of the ritual. This is the part where all the pleasure is still possible. Our fantasy selves have yet to emerge to be admired. Later on having fun requires constant monitoring to stay hydrated, with enough energy, to be on the dancefloor with enough space, not too loud, with one of the DJ’s I love playing just the right tune to make my spirit soar, next to the dancers who are still sober enough to share this perfect moment with me. But for now all this is still to come. We gather, eight of us on the sofa with ‘Hackney Dad’ as they name him and look up into the camera squealing, before we head out into the night.

“This is the death of truth”, Rose said this morning. We walk slowly with long faces as though there has been a bereavement in the family. I recognise the feeling that everything has changed, and strangely, normal life continues regardless. We walk by the canal with a sense of collective doom. I sense the righteous anger of the no-doubt-young author of “FCK BORIS!” on the tow path. I feel the sting of the tears that spill from this silver painted eye. Smiles, usually readily available seem hard to offer to passers by. Grief hangs like fog over us as we pace this eclectic city. I dream of escaping to somewhere else. I imagine heading to Scotland with a yurt to keep chickens. I imagine London as an island loosing its tether and taking the Thames with it out into the channel to re-position itself. I imagine I am running sweaty in black T-shirt and khaki trousers working to outwit the engineers of ‘the matrix’. I imagine sand in my eyes as I expertly swish my light sabre to vanquish storm troopers. Instead I eat chocolate. “Telling the truth is a choice,” says the exasperated mother to 7 year-old Hamza, (in trouble at school). “You can choose to tell the truth”. I listen to this mother on the bus pleading with her son to “stop making wrong choices”. How can he possibly know what wrong choices are in this time where truth and lies are so blurred by those in power, where right and wrong is experienced so subjectively?

This miniature fairy tale house, red with a pitched roof, (but missing the white picket fence) is a tiny library. It rests on the corner of Rushmore and Powerscroft Roads. There is room for perhaps twenty books. It regularly holds a mix of children’s picture books, adult fiction and the odd non-fiction tome for anyone to take. The Little Free Library movement sprung up in the US, and sells kits for anyone who wants to start their own. I deposited a shamanic self-help manual. As I passed later I watched young man with dog-on-a-chain take out a novel. The day after I found myself chatting with older-man-few-teeth. He was just returning two books, and a real advocate of the little library. Mis-judging them both I wouldn’t imagine either as avid readers. I was peering in to see if the Shamanic guide was journeying yet, and was happy to see it had gone to a new reader. This week I have felt dismayed by the proliferation of social media and sound bite culture at the expense of critical thinking and the longer attention spans needed to explore themes more deeply. I love the really accessible opportunities for random reading that this service provides. I couldn’t find a UK map, but there is a Facebook page as they pop up around the UK.

We set up the room before the group arrive. We work as a team to move the piles of papers, washing and shoes that have clustered in corners. Tony hoovers the stairs, sweeps the floor. I bake something healthy but sweet. Then Tony blitzes the kitchen, removing all evidence of my recent vigorous food preparations. Tony arranges chairs, makes piles of cushions and blankets. I build a small altar to support us in our work to find connection and depth. As I place crystals, eagle feather, bowl, candle and stem of whatever calls from the garden – crab apple, bay or rosemary. I speak my intention, ask for guidance. Then Tony and I meditate to connect and ground. One by one the group arrives with hats, boots and bike helmets, carrying backpacks with badges and patches on. They come full of the bustle of their day and the hassle of the journey. They may bring anticipation, anxiety, but also willingness and courage. Having created the conditions, the journey into mystery begins to unfold. A group of strangers spend the evening together each with whatever they are carrying inside, and being uniquely human together. It is always an extraordinary honour to witness and be a part of.

What is the story here? This is a visual landscape of decay, of impending change. There is a need for housing in the city that ordinary people can afford. There is pressure on local councils to provide more affordable housing from a depleted housing stock. Local government housing budgets are squeezed. Property developers and housing associations take over estates and mop up the profits. Developers are keen to maximize profits. There is limited space in the city. Gentrification is pricing out local people. We live in a time where austerity cuts the public services that buffer some of the worst injustices in our society. I live in a society where the rich are rewarded and the poor lose more. I know that the economic divide impacts health, education, access to services, quality of life and life expectancy. We live in times where corporate greed fuels politics. We have lost trust in politicians. Young lives are collateral in a system that does not value their creativity and gifts. Wall space is claimed for personal expression, and for competitive tagging. We live in times where power is wielded at the expense of people and planet. I have a vote.

Post menopause I hear phrases like ‘bone density’ with alarm. In my head I play back my mother’s mobility story, the uneven steps from orthotics to stick, then sticks, to walker and eventually wheelchair. I try to remember when it began. Over the last few months I have been experimenting with elastic stockings, ice, turmeric, magnesium, ginger, needles, massage, supplements and exercise. The word ‘arthritis’ has become a spectre. I find I am ignorant of the facts, the differences between osteo arthritis and rheumatoid. I vow to experiment with leg weights. I groan as I stand up from the comfort of the sofa. I fantasize about putting my feet up. Tonight I steal the cabbage leaves from tomorrow’s menu to prepare a compress. It is elegant in its simplicity. It does make me feel better, not least because I am taking action that increases my hope. My moods run in tandem with pain’s visits. Tonight I shall wear the delicate light green of crinkled cellulose.

I am watching the aging process progress at a rapid rate for Pickle. He is sixteen, an octogenarian Jack Russell. Sometimes he stands looking bewildered and we wonder what is going on in his head. He is deaf enough to ignore the postie, the slam of the front door and fireworks. His sight is obscured by terrier whiskers and cataracts. He bumps into furniture, the glass partition at the vets, and occasional lamp posts. He is on his ‘last legs’. All four are stiff. He falls up steps and is grateful to be carried up full flights of stairs. I notice with anticipation the collection of memorial thank you cards on display at the vets for the animals who have recently expired. For me the death of a pet is painful because I load them with so much love. Each pet becomes a recipient of my boundless affection. In return they are loyal, generous, reciprocate in their own way, and accept the weight of my emotional projections. It is precisely because there is only body language between us that their death is for me so hard to bear. I can’t explain the process to them, we can only feel. For now, Pickle’s shiny black nose twitches at the smellorama of our daily outings, and he lifts his muzzle with joy to take the air on bright days.

Now the leaves have laid the trees bare, the southern skyline pokes through. Sunrise is late enough that I catch the light spreading like honey over the towers of docklands. Walking later, the afternoon sun makes long shadows lean across the Downs. Parallel tracks are etched into the grass. Small dog with short legs stands on her long shadow limbs. Grass is enhanced with brighter green. A gold medallion appears at sunset to cast a spell on the grime of the metropolis. I scurry home to make turmeric latte. It is another yellow orb, this time held in a mug to comfort me in the early dark.