Monday 31 October 2016


Trying to get my mother to leave her Cambridge nest and my father (in no particular order), is a nearly impossible feat. But I managed it yesterday. I would like to say I whisked her off to London, but there was very little whisking, and a lot of cluelessness. Mum and I were two rubes on a bus. 
We managed the part from Cambridge station to Kings Cross just fine. Well, apart from missing our train by a whisker, and then having to wait for the next - but it was fine. We bought lunch and ate companionably as rural life turned to city scape. At St Pancras we managed to locate the right bus, thanks entirely to my mobile phone (it is not called a smart phone for nothing!), hopped on, whipped out our coins... only to discover this is not the way things are done in Big Cities. No more coins. You need cards - oysters or credit. My wallet, as usual, was tucked into the deepest recesses of my bag. The bus driver waited, patiently. We need to get to the Tate Modern, we chirped. Blackfriars Station? Oh yes, he said, after the bridge. Will you let us know? I'll let you know, he sez. We settle in, picturing something like this:

Cue an interminable number of stops later... Mum and I have been hawkishly watching the signs change above our heads, but not actually knowing where Blackfriars is in relation to anywhere else - Peckham Library, Bird in Bush Road, Bricklayer's Arms - not the most romantic or pretty scenic route - we were waiting for a bridge. Finally, I tilt my way to the driver's seat. Er... I begin. Oh no! he looks horrified, and proceeds to apologise so profusely and with such sincerity that Mum and I instantly forgive him and prepare for an unstable journey back to the village. 
Fortunately (yes, there can be good fortune even in a crummy situation like this), we had left it so late to ask advice, that we had reached the end of the bus route 44 stops away from Kings Cross - and the bus driver promised to restore us back to Blackfriars - he had to retrace his steps anyway, but there would be a switch to a new driver. Not to worry, he promised to explain our 'situation' to the new driver. He did. And they both laughed. Grrrrreat. Mum and I are now the laughing stock of the London Bus Company. 
We count out 20 stops before I start to get nervous - Mum, who had pointed out various landmarks now pointed them out again. Oh! it's that tree again! - and I tilt my way back to the head office. He gives me two options - both involve walking, turning left and then left, or right and then right. We tumble off, vowing to take a taxi for the homeward journey. Neither of us can face the bus in London darkness.

In case you've been wondering why Blackfriars - our destination was the Tate Modern, the most visited art museum in the world - 5.7 million visitors last year. (How did they find their way to the Tate?) I had read about the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective and discovered that October 30th was the last day. So I was determined to go - and knowing O'Keeffe is an artistic inspiration for Mum, really wanted her to accompany me. The four hours it took us to reach her work were worth it. The retrospective was breathtaking, and beyond my mother's expectations. She and I had visited an O'Keeffe exhibition in 2003, in Vancouver, but unlike I, who fell instantly in love with O'Keeffe's later Taos paintings of cow and horse skulls in the desert, Mum had become disillusioned. O'Keeffe had been paired with Frida Kahlo (another reason I was instantly smitten) and neither had been given full scope. Mum and I have different reasons for loving O'Keeffe, which I think is a comment on her extraordinary range over the 98 years of her life.

I scribbled copious notes on the back of an envelope, and on a bright pink post-it as I roamed from room to room, but I shall save those for another day, another post. For now, here we are, on the upper balcony of the Tate Modern, exhausted but satisfied. My mother and I.

Wednesday 19 October 2016


For some years I stopped actively seeking out music. I'm not sure why. Music is memory, and not all memory is happy or sad; some memories are layered with depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness. Lately though, thanks to Desert Island Discs, I have found myself returning to music. I love the unexpected choices. I find myself delving deeper into the archives, particularly glad when I discover philanthropists like Sigrid Rausing and humanitarian activists like David Nott, vascular war surgeon. My favourite episode is with Aung San Suu Kyi - I think it is the only occasion when the interview takes place not in the BBC studio, but in Burma, in Daw Suu's home.

These days I am inspired by Amal Clooney, international human rights lawyer, currently attorney to a young 23 year old Yazidi girl, Nadia Murad, who managed to escape her captors and be smuggled out of Mosul to Stuttgart. She has recently been named a UN Goodwill Ambassador, but of course this involves her telling and retelling the tales of crime that were committed upon her person, and the bodies of thousands of women still remaining in the camps.

A friend of mine asked if I wanted to be part of a new book club; the first book we read was Hanya Yanigahara's A Little Life - a book that divided readers last year. Some thought it relentless in its portrayal of the suffering of its central character, Jude. And others, like myself, though no less fatigued by such a detailed rendition of a broken life, found truth in a narrative that does not see its way to an easy resolution. Nadia Murad may have escaped ISIS, but she will never be able to forget. We, in our lives of comfort, safety and daily entertainment, may find it a little too easy to imagine that suffering can be papered over. Especially the suffering of girls, of women.

And so to remind us to shore each other up, and stay alert and conscious to the ever present denigration of girls and women, we have our big sister Michelle Obama, a truly admirable mentor, to speak for us. She reminds us we are right to hold our boys and men to a higher standard than those among them who enslave, assault and abuse with impunity. Some of us, Michelle and myself included, and hopefully you too, reader, know men with integrity, refined intelligence, kindness and a strong sense of justice. To them we turn and hold out our hands. In the fight for human rights, we need each other. We have always needed each other.

Tuesday 11 October 2016


It is silly for the wave
to long to be merged
with the big ocean
and the wide open sea.
She is the ocean.
She is the sea.
           Does that mean
           she can never be free
           of their tumults
           and their authority?
           Where, in all of 'their',
           is she?

Best to evaporate

           and nestle, a raindrop,
           on an old oak tree,
           sheltered from storms,
           cupped by leaf love,
           a sweet, refreshing

© Shaista Tayabali, 2016

Today is Thich Nhat Hanh's 90th birthday. I am remembering my week at Plum Village in the Dordogne, when I was part of a wonderful dharma group - here I am tucked under the wing of Sister An Nghiem (Sister Peace), an African-American nun who left Washington's mayoral office to actively work for peace and change. We need to concentrate on our change makers and our peace workers so we can remember the best of who we are. Thây has always been that for us. Happy Continuation Day to our beloved gentle monk!

Thursday 6 October 2016


They came. They conquered. They left. With a piece of my heart tucked into the soles of their feet.

Last night, around 2am, the owls were busy tap dancing on the roof of the Coach House, the converted garage I have called home for the past three years. I thought of Raf, who sometimes worries about me in the midst of all these owls. But he understands I'm nocturnal. 'I'm nocturnal, too!' he declared, last summer in Portugal. He was four then. At five, he is now a skilful Pokémon catcher. One sunny day, he and I combed the entire village, collecting measly Pokéballs at the phone box library and finding mostly Rattatas and Pidgeys (and a Mr Mime!) - he got stung by thorny ivy snakes, was shocked to discover roses have thorns and the duck pond from last year seemed to have vanished, so all in all it was 'the worst day, ever.' 
But! We met an orange slug. Have you ever? Bright and burnished, it looked nothing like its ordinary grey camouflage-ready mollusc cousin - Raf and I were gripped by the drama. Of course neither of us knew we were looking at Arion vulgaris, the cannibalistic roadkill eating variety. Arion vulgaris - what a name! I'm quite partial to the term vulgaris because in the late thirteenth century that is how lupus was referred to - lupus vulgaris.

I didn't blog last month - one of the rare months of complete absence. I have been struggling with chronic tachycardia most of the year. I hope there is nothing too sinister, cardiologically speaking - fingers crossed, anyway - but at the same time, almost twenty years of lupus, steroids, chemo and immuno therapies have no doubt taken their toll. My heart is overworked, but never under appreciated. Did I tell you I've finished my book? My last chapters are all dedicated to my heart, wondrous organ that it is. 

While the smallest loves of my life are far away in other countries, I am head down, writing to publishing agents. I rise to meet the day and either crumble back to bed or send my book with love to strangers. Wish me luck as I wave it goodbye!