This life and career review is structured around the tattoos on my body, which themselves have acted as markers on my life and learning journey. They are not in chronological order but used to highlight certain aspects of my life that have manifested at different times.
Section 1 gives a brief overview of my life as a timeline, and offers sections on major learnings. I have chosen to include only the most impacting experiences that I feel have laid the foundations of who I am today. These include effects of relationships, my involvement in liberation movements and my recent imprisonment.
Section 2 briefly reflects on my experiences in the formal education system and introduces the foundations of my passions for permaculture and plants which is now forming the basis of my livelihood.
Many of the sections also have a soundtrack, these are optional but do give an auditory impression of the currents of my life. Thank you for reading.
SECTION 1: ACTION LEARNING & PATH REFLECTIONS
- 0 – Born in Mid-Wales in a cottage hospital
- 0- 2 - Lived at an Royal Air Force base in Lossiemouth, Scotland
- 2– 4 1/2 Live in Sri Lanka following RAF posting > Experiencing new cultures
- 4 1/2 – Parents divorced, Mum, sister & I return to the UK > Emotional loss & grief
- 4 1/2 – 5 – Live with grandparents in Shropshire
- 5 – Move to Bristol to start school
- 5-10 Move around Bristol > Start to really form beliefs about animals & social justice
- 9 – Went vegetarian & started become active for animal rights
- 10 – Move to Cheddar, Somerset > Falling in love with the wild
- 11 – Mum has nervous breakdown > Major emotional learning
- 14 – Went vegan > Forming my identity
- 15 – Move house, live with mum’s partner > Major emotional learning
- 16 – Move to Wells, Somerset
- 16 – Leave home, live in vegan houseshare in Glastonbury > Spreading my wings
- 16 – Go to college in Street > Dissatisfaction with convetional pathways on offer
- 17 – Quit college. Travel around Europe > Liberatory & life changing
- 17 – Move to Bristol. Start & different animal rights groups & campaigns
- 18 – Move to South Wales. Raided in May 2007 > Massive life disruption & major learning
- 18 – Move to Par, Cornwall. Start work with autistic adults. > Major financial struggle & learning
- 19 – Move to Penryn, Cornwall
- 20 – Move to Newquay, Cornwall
- 21 – Go to prison in March 2009. > Shedding my skin. Key relationship learning.
- 22 – Released from prison December 2010.
- 23 – Move to Brook End, family’s smallholding in Somerset. > Permaculture Playground!
- 24 - Landbase comes under threat from fracking, start to organise > Community organising skill sets developing vs 'campaigning'
- 25 - Working with Somerset Community Food on huge access to land project. Graduate BSc and enrol in MSc program with Gaia University.
- 26 - Organising intensely with Reclaim the Fields, start Feed Avalon my own social enterprise. Finally free of state control.
- 27 - Engaging mostly with anti-prison organising and prisoner support in addition to Feed Avalon. Best friend dies > Learning about serious bereavement (depsite many friends and family members dying through my life, the circumstances of Gilly's death knocked me sideways)
- 28 - Develop a chronic illness following a speaking tour, close friend in prison diagnosed with cancer > Intense learning around health, burnout & trauma recovery
- 29 - Chronic health issues continue, another year focused on healing, friend in prison still sick & chronic stress taking its toll. Start working with Corporate Watch researching the prison industrial complex.
- 30 - Intense learning about death and grief with five bereavements in close succession including my Grandad who was like my father and my ex-girlfriend who was killed by a Turkish air strike > Intense learning about grief and loss
'Skin' represents the years of my life before I was tattooed. It is myself as the blank canvas, a sponge accepting and processing the masses of social, ecological and political influences around me.
I was born into a privileged nation, the UK, with clean water from our taps and free healthcare for all. However it is a nation whose people have been displaced from their land with hundreds of years of enclosure and industrialization to unlearn. My parents were a working class couple, my father from a south Wales mining town and my Mum the daughter of an army officer and welsh village girl.
I became aware of wealth and privilege when my dad became an officer in the Royal Air Forces and we were posted to Sri Lanka. My white blonde hair illuminated the colonial divides of an expatriate family but I became a witness to poverty and conflict and my Dad was sent to the Gulf war. Growing divides in values led to divorce and my Mum, sister and I returned to the UK.
We found ourselves as a single parent family on income support living in the one of the few areas of a city where landlords would let out houses to 'DSS' (department of social security). Here the normal city cultures enter your skin - violence, drugs, domestic abuse, poverty - you see it all around you and accept it as normal. My mum went through the emotional distress of divorce, pressure and insecurities and trained to become a mental health nurse to support us financially. Mum has never been overtly political but she has a deep empathy that leads me to love and not judge and care for human beings beyond lines of race, gender, class or sexuality.
Always a spiritual seeker, respite came from her finding Dances of Universal Peace - a kind of circle dancing with earth-based chants from different spiritualities, which led us each summer to Unicorn Camps, these were a total playground for us wild kids and were a major introduction to alternative ways of living. Having been surrounded by wild plants and animals in Sri Lanka I became infatuated by the beings I shared the world with. I'd save my pocket money up for weeks to buy wildlife magazines and eventually it clicked that I was eating them. I went vegetarian when I was 9 and continued to read everything I could get my hands on about animals and their rights, or lack of.
The other '-isms' were all learnt through the daily life of someone trying to make sense of the world. Supporting friends through rape and sexual abuse, experiencing harassment as a young waitress, watching family members make themselves sick to try to conform to size 0 models in magazine, all made me the feminist I am. I later found the literature that confirmed everything I had believed and felt.
My step-mum, a Sri-Lankan, talked of the racism she experienced. When I would visit the Middle East to stay with her and my Dad, I could see the racial discrimination manifested in daily life - the Pakistani workers building in 45 degree heat, the Philippino maids receiving a sixtieth of the wages of their western employers. As a young woman coming out as queer, I felt the pressures of heterosexuality and the homophobic judgments still rife in our communities.
We couldn't afford a computer or video games until I was a teenager and so I was gratefully not engaged in the technological world as a child. Fortunately, we eventually moved out of the city to Cheddar in Somerset and here my relationship building with nature began. The limestone gorge was covered in woodland; I'd climb it with my friends, make dens and play in rivers. Holidays spent with the Grandparents in rural Shropshire also affirmed the ecological community I emerged from, pockets of wildwood amongst a vast agricultural landscape.
When I was 16 my mum drove me to a tattooist in Weston Super Mare, I naively lied about my age and got my first tattoo done - a simple black star outline on my wrist. It was traced round a black anarchist star badge in an AK Press catalogue. For me this was a marker. A marker of my beliefs, of my rejection of how things are and a tattooed premise of who I wanted to be.
Gaining the politics that were needled into my skin was not simply a case of reading a life-changing book or watching a documentary. Each and every day of my childhood I could see processes around me that my heart rejected - whether it was soldiers with guns at road blocks in Sri Lanka or the bruises on friends legs at school, or trucks of animals on the motorway awaiting their death, I just knew that I had a soul-felt rejection of how the world was around me. None of it felt right. Living in circles at camps, cooking under the sky and celebrating the seasons felt life affirming and nourishing and I would experience these alternative ways of living and knowing every summer, yet daily life could never capture this.
Layer by layer I internalized and processed these observations, and then each time I came across a particular magazine, book, film or older person who spoke truths of what I had experienced, I gained an awareness. My love for animals led me to write to organizations asking what I could do for them. I devoured pamphlets and fact sheets and was moved to act in anyway possible to stop fur farming, vivisection, and circuses… anything and everything. I started an animal rights group at school aged ten and ran the Amnesty International group. I escaped an unhappy home to go to Bristol for weekends, going on demos, going hunt sabbing, going to hardcore punk shows. More and more I was being exposed to radical people with radical ideas that were an antidote to the repressive school life I hated.
At 14, my awareness heightened further. I went vegan and when babysitting for one of my mum's friends I found a copy of Erico Malatesta's book about anarchism. I didn't sleep for days. I'd finally found a word to describe my rejection of this society. A major key event occurred too in this year; on a demonstration against a breeder of dogs for vivisection, a few of us managed to climb the fence. I was given a leg up and saw row after row of beagle puppies. I knew they were destined to be poisoned to death within a few months. I made a promise that day that I wouldn't stop still they were free and haven't had a day since without returning to that same place in my head.
That year I also did a week's 'work experience' at Positive News, an alternative paper whose office was in the same village as my grandparents. A few months later they offered me a bursary to become their Youth Editor. For £50 a week I would work 10 hours researching and writing articles about young people and education, social and environmental solutions. It kept me alive and gave me so many opportunities to connect with the grassroots movements for change around the world.
All of this organizing, reading, writing, living and breathing resistance formed the foundations of my political beliefs. Beliefs which continue to keep my heart beating.
My first tattoo from leaving prison, is an old-school dagger with a scroll saying 'No White Flag'. The lyric comes from a song from a vegan band called Eye of Judgement. It was affirming on my body that prison has in no way been a deterrent to change my beliefs or actions for oppressed species.
Nearly everything I have learnt in life has been through the lense and experience of political organising, due to its role being so embedded in my person. Skills that were needed which no one had, I would dedicated myself to learn - for example graphic and web design, accounting and so forth. If something needed to get done, it got done! These action learning experiences form the basis of my current skill flexes below.
My Mum was always supportive of my work, nervous of where it would take me, but resigned to the fact is was who I was and willing to accept that I would take responsibility for my decisions. Teachers, career advisors and other family members pushed university and a 'safe' career relentlessly, they couldn't see there were other options or that I was infact on a major learning path which has aided every paid and non-paid work experience ever since.
I have a heart tattooed on ankle. It is the same as the one on my Mum's shoulder and on my Sister's rib. We had them to affirm our love for each other. This section briefly describes what I have learnt from relationships - family, friends and lovers.
I don't know what a conventional 'functional' family is meant to look like - whether its two parents (male and female, of course) and 2.4 kids I will never know. I have only learnt uniqueness - that all families are different, their boundaries unclear and their love and support, or lack of, is ever-changing. I know that growing up as part of a three - my Mum, sister and I, was a wonderful, deep experience of sisterhood that I would never have swapped for anything. Several men came in and out of our life, some significant, others just passing by. My trust in men was undoubtedly damaged but I am regaining it slowly as I witness the beautiful relationship of my Mum's marriage to the kindest man, Ian.
Romantic relationships have been significant in my life, as they are in most. I can't love unauthentically and so I fall hard and give everything I have. Casual can be fun without a doubt but I live with passion and so can't stay distant for long. Not many people make me want to take that next step and so everyone I have shared my life with to this point have offered major opportunities for growth and learning.
At 14 I had my first 'proper' boyfriend, a punk skater who listened to hardcore and came on marches with me against the Iraq war.. At 16 I fell in love with an older guy, the 'cute animal rights boy' I'd always seen on demos and formed a connection that's only got more passionate and confusing over the last 7 years. He has broken my heart so many times I've lost count, and no doubt I have hurt him. He has taught me about spontaneity, fun and joy, about living your truth whatever the consequences.
At 18 I fell for a blue-eyed punk kid in London with a heart of gold. Not long into our relationship however Dan got sent down for an affray charge to do with a fox hunter. I'd visit him every week for 6 months. On release we couldn't afford to live where we were and so we moved to South Wales. It was poor and there was no work but we were just about creating a nest until we got raided on these Conspiracy to Blackmail charges. We went through so much together and as a human being I have so much love for him, but it didn't work and we grew apart. I was exhausted from working 70 hour weeks, he was unfulfilled and missing his friends. He taught me about the merging of identities to the repression of the individual and the consequences of denying desire.
Two years later, it was Bonnie, a co-worker with a love of hardcore and ink, a vegan feisty female forever falling out with people but completely fascinating and she blew me away. She became my best friend, I thought she was straight until the night she came on to me and the rest is history. The timing was awful as it was months before prison. So began the hardest relationship and break up of my life, we managed nearly a year and a half of homophobic prison visit halls, phone calls and letters, but the pressure was too much. I received the 'dear john' letter, 6 pages of what was wrong with me and every time I had let her down. She was scared of how my activism would affect her career and I had always thought she shared the same values. I realised I was in love with who I wanted her to be, not who she was.
But she taught me so much, being inside I went into that dark place in my heart, somewhere normally under lock and key its self. I learnt about expressing my emotions, about being able to cry, about actually asking people for help because I couldn't cope on my own. I learnt so much about infatuation, about how you love when you're vulnerable. I learnt about communication and trust and all their relationship connotations.
The relationship strengthened my identity as a bi-sexual woman. Bisexuality is sometimes a hard one to place, the gay scene resent you, the general public think you're 'greedy' and that you'll sleep with anything that moves, and the heterosexual world is repressive to your sense of self.
I used to call the prison I was in the 'Isle of Lesbos' because there were so many bisexual and gay girls. When I became single it was like some weird festival of attention. I went with a few for the remainder of my sentence but I started to hate the way I looked at women - as sex objects, not as whole people, just thinking if they'd be fun in bed or not. This is still something I am unlearning and getting to grips too, a process many men go through without a doubt. Through my experiences with women I've learnt about patriarchy, I've learnt about the impact of modern portrayals of women and how they effect even myself, the well-read feminist. I've learnt about my body, its pleasures and its boundaries.
They say your partners are your biggest teachers. I certainly could not disagree.
It had been a long time since I'd been under the needle mainly due to money, but in 2008 I gifted myself an old school butterfly on the back of my leg with text below saying 'SACRED'.
This was an affirmation of my own sacredness - my unwillingness to no longer be used by a partner or a boss. My recognition that everything is sacred, I had finally re-connected with my pagan roots.
My Mum and Dad were brought up Christian with both pairs of grandparents being regular churchgoers but my suspicions are that it comes from their community-orientation rather than deep-founded religious beliefs.
Growing up our house was filled with books on different religions; we had a mantelpiece with shivas, Buddhas, goddess figurines and more. As a kid I was taken to all kinds of churches and groups. Our schools were Christian but I couldn't understand why I had to worship a man. Each summer at the camps we’d go to, we’d embrace pagan ritual, creativity and community. It formed my identity and the turning of the year. Through paganism I have learnt knowledge of ecology, the relationships and of energies of particular plants and places.
Two months following release I had two magpies tattooed on my chest, with a opened lock and key in the centre. Magpies were regular visitors to my my windowsill in prison and their beauty gave me so joy.
What I learnt from prison could be an output packet in itself. I was sent down for 3 1/2 years for ‘Conspiracy to Blackmail’ for my role in a campaign against a UK animal testing company in which 12 of us were convicted. I did 21 months inside in total and you do the remainder ‘on license’ in the community, with a wide range of restrictions, such as not being able to communicate with those ‘concerned with animal welfare’.
I wanted to make my sentence as constructive as possible, a goal I felt I achieved. I undertook several distance learning courses including university studies, horticulture, herbalism and a permaculture design certificate. I worked in the garden my entire sentence and worked hard in the gym every weekend. I read over 150 books and wrote endless articles and letters to supporters all over the world.
I worked as a Listener with the Samaritans, volunteering my time to listen to suicidal women and those in need of emotional support. I learnt so much about myself, gave energy to designing my future and grew close to certain friends on a level most will never know. It was a profound, intense un-describable learning experience that I struggle to articulate.
Academic work never felt like a challenge at school. I would obtain good grades fairly effortlessly and understood you needed to tick the boxes to pass. School and the short time I spent at College felt like a distraction from everything else I was passionate about in life. I did not enjoy the learning environment manifested in institutions I was forced to attend and the only time I enjoyed these periods were through organsing school campaign groups and socializing with friends. My love for learning was occasionally sparked by topics that were practical and useful to the land and my joy for reading never faded.
For more information on my professional development, design portfolio and recent freelance writing please see my website, Empty Cages Design.
Before I went to prison I began the sleeve on my left arm, with my favourite creatures and plants and a scroll saying 'Never Alone'. The 12 or so hours affirmed on my skin that I would never be alone when surrounded by wild life.
I had always loved plants and animals. My grandparents had a big garden and I would regularly play outside and help my Nan pick the beans. During my job with autistic adults I worked in the garden with some of the clients and I soon found myself in love with the soil. I filled my flat with a mini greenhouse and grew fresh herbs and salads. In prison I worked as a gardener and studied horticulture.
My passion for veganism meant I had a continuous interest in agriculture and land use from a young age and my despair at vivisection meant I fully embraced learning about herbal medicines, both through courses and daily living.
Permaculture was a word I'd briefly come across but design courses seemed unaffordable until I applied for a grant. Even reading the first few definitions made my hairs stand on end. Below is a picture of my 'river of permaculture' which I completed for a diploma support event I hosted, it communicates my permaculture learning journey.
In conclusion I hope this portfolio has illustrated the unique learning journeys I have undertaken. The career section of this output is less dense then the life reflections, mainly because at 23 activism has been my primary engagement and not recognised by most as a 'career'. However the experiences I have been gifted have formed the foundations of a useful and transferable skill set and have given me the courage and discipline to achieve any goal I set. As explored in Output 1b, Permaculture has now come into my life to weave together my passions and skills so I can now begin a career pathway that is congruent with my ethics and desires for social change.