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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – An Interview With Third Place Author Ali Azar

Perito Prize 2021 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2021 Third Place – Ali Azar

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with CHIARA on our podcast host here https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/9726008  available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

 

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 3 of the Perito Podcast 2021, a special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito Prize and Anthology, now in this episode we are pleased to be joined by Ali Azar, writer of the third place story for the Perito Prize 2021.  Ali wrote the short story Exit The Shaitan which can be found in the Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by judges as the third place story for this year.  (0m.24s)  Hi Ali and welcome to the Podcast. 

Ali:             Hello there and thanks for having me.

Perito:     It’s a pleasure, so before we kick off let’s get a warm up since it’s so cold outside at the moment. (0m.34s)  What is the most important thing in your opinion Ali so is it ambition, talent or opportunity which I guess you could classify as luck as well?

Ali:             Sure, well the boring answer would be a combination of all but I think I will, I’m gonna focus on the third one which is opportunity or I’m gonna rephrase it into a circumstances I think it’s really important that where we were when you’re writing about the things, that you were there or not because it can be very inspiring, it can stir you up, can be very inspiring for your soul, I would say the opportunity, the luck of being in a particular place which will help you to write a particular point of view about the things, I think that’s the, for me that’s the more important part.

Perito:     I think I agree with you as well I was reading something, there’s a fantasy author called Brandon Sanderson on his Wiki page he’s, it took until his 6th novel Elantris to get picked up by a publisher and I was thinking 6! and this guy’s obviously globally famous and does huge books so definitely seems to be that kind of like opportunity, he had the ambition to write, had the talent clearly.

Ali:             Exactly. 

Perito:     And then he just needed that one moment, so yep good answer.

Ali:             Exactly.

Perito:      Thank you very much for entering the Perito Prize I think the judges especially really enjoyed your story. 

Ali:             Oh thank you.

Perito:     (1m.51s)  What you made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Ali:             Right I had never heard about this and then, I was as a part of my, I had written a few short story with particular themes and I wanted to enter competition and I come across with that and obviously I just wanted to send some random stuff, so when I went to your website the things about your messaging, your website about being inclusive and the jobs you’re doing as a consulting and making the environment of the work more inclusive, so it draw my attention and then I had a chance to read the previous winners’ stories which I really enjoyed that.  One of the recurrent theme of my work is always about talking about the people they’ve been excluded, I just didn’t have a second thought and I went for it because I thought it’s very relevant, so yeah I submit for that and where did I hear about it, I don’t remember it but I think that this prize come up in a few, in several other websites as a recommendation that you can enter the competition so yeah.

Perito:     Perfect thank you very much.  (3m.00s)  So some people won’t have read Exit The Shaitan yet and I’m assuming I’ve got the pronunciation right there as well Ali so?

Ali:             Perfect, perfect.

Perito:     (3m.08s)  Yeah, good, so can you tell us about what the story is all about?

Ali:             Sure just by the way Shaitan it’s Satan so we say Shaitan for Satan so.  Exit the Shaitan it’s about an exorcism.  It’s a about a possessed girl that as his father just ran to an old ladies which is known in the area for helping people out when they’ve been possessed or etc. and in the one midnight and this is all about the journey of this old lady just she had to deal with this possessed girl, yeah if I have to summarise it that way.

Perito:     (3m.45s)  Ingi is the older lady whose, I kind of got the impression she was a bit, maybe a bit like a medicine woman perhaps?

Ali:             Exactly.

Perito:     Providing sort of alternative complimentary therapy to the community but she’s quite a long way away from this place where the family is.  (4m.02s)  You’re from Iran originally, is this kind of the area you’re from did you write about your home area?

Ali:             Your surprised yes, so just to give you a bit of background I am coming from the North West of Iran called the State of Azerbaijan which are the second largest city in Iran, we speak language of Turkic, version of the Turkic which is called Azerbaijani, 30% Iranian are Turkic speaking as Azerbaijani’s so yes which is a very mountainous area and is very close to border with the Turkey and I am from there and this is the story I inspired it is the village that my great parents come from so it’s actually little town and I brought up in the big city called Tabriz which is the fifth biggest city in Iran but we always went for a holiday and all sort of things to this little town called Miskin, these character I inspire, these are the character whether they were a relative, far distant relative of mine or Ingi I inspired by my great grandmother which I was lucky to see her before she died several years, many years ago at the time I was 6 or 7, her character was so strong that has always remain in me and felt is this as the medicine woman it’s a good way to get a better understanding of it but these woman was a Sayyid and Sayyid it means a person who is a descendent of Prophet Muhammad so these people they were kind of a mediator meaning that their prayer heard by the God or Allah so what they did in the Society they kind of, the people come to them and they would kind of channel them through, channel their prayer to the God so God can hear them.  So my great grandmother she was like that and yeah and I found it very inspiring, very interesting.

Perito:     (6m.00s)  Excellent and did she have sore knees and I kind of got the impression with the way the characters have to help her in and out of the Land Rover?

Ali:             Yes.

Perito:     (6m.07)  That perhaps you’d had a lot of experience doing that over the years or someone had?

Ali:             I’m glad you raised it up because it may sound trivial but for me it was a part of his character, she was quite, she was older lady, quite at advanced age but yeah she had suffered from the knees and I think it’s remind me of many of other ladies, woman in Iran particularly very older generation, they work very hard, they wash many things, they always do the things that they eventually had arthritis either because of the knee problem, either because they were doing a lot of household work or it’s because they get, yeah these sort of things and for me it’s always I remember her that because she always couldn’t walk and yeah for me that was the part of that health issue of hers so always a part of her character.

Perito:     Initially Layla struck me as the protagonist of the story but on second and third readings I started to think maybe it’s actually Ingi who’s the character and exclusion comes down to there’s a part where she couldn’t remember the last time that she got out of the house.

Ali:             Right.

Perito:     And then I start to think well from an accessibility point of view that’s exactly it she’d become a prisoner in her own house as you write and then this is almost like a journey for her to go out there and to kind of experience life again.  So that was interesting from the exclusion perspective it wasn’t just, it was how her body had essentially started to entrap her.

Ali:             For me it’s an important point because a, okay many people come, the people like me which coming from, I don’t like this word developing but I have to go for it.  It’s coming from developing country many people say, “oh they come like country, developed country like Britain” they always say, “oh it’s a very nice the rules are, people obey the rules or you’ve got in it’s just etc. etc.” but for me one of the things really struck me is about how many disabled people I can see in the street, it doesn’t, it isn’t because the Britain has a more people that they have accessibility issues compared to Iran, you haven’t many disabled people we had 8 years’ war with Iran they are many people, they lost their limbs and etc. but you don’t see them in Iran on the street because they are not suitable for them, for that reason they can’t find a work, they can’t, they are less preferred finding a job and I suppose it’s not just for Iran for many countries are like that and yeah with the Ingi things she can’t because she can’t walk properly and the house, the way her house is lay out there are many stairs so yeah she become the prisoner of her own house. 

Perito:     That’s really useful I think it gives us the sketch over, we won’t spoil like the principle of people who have to read this story to get the idea but essentially it’s about a small journey to the village which is far away, I kind of get the impression it’s very highland, very bumpy.

Ali:             That’s right.

Perito:     And the Land Rovers kind of Layla’s father is driving too fast and then you kind of so the build-up and then kind of reach the crescendo and then at the end of it it’s very nice and calmly done and your story has this gentle flow despite the urgency of the family situation.  (9m.24s)  We talked a little bit about why you were writing it in terms of the area but what made you use this particular situation of Layla’s to create a story around, what was the reason behind that?

Ali:             The weirdest thing with the writing you remember some of the things you never thought about, I am a late starter when it comes to writing, I start when I was 30 and I’ve been writing nearly for 10 years, I heard this when I was a little boy and the guy who was telling this story was telling to show how can people can be deceived because they are possessed and it’s superstition etc. and etc. but that wasn’t my take on on it and I just found this story very fascinating and it always was in my mind and I didn’t, yeah in back of my mind and then I start writing about the things and after many things they came straight in was this but I didn’t want to focus on superstitious, another thing if I may add to this exclusivity things you can’t hear the woman voice a lot in the Iranian literature, we are quite advanced society we’ve got many ladies working different part of Iranian Society although it’s a very patriarchal society but the literature you don’t see many woman or woman point of view unfortunately, it’s not a surprise so somehow hearing this story I thought okay actually I’m just gonna, because when the guy was writing this story the guy who was going to deal with this possession is a man and I said let’s, I’m just gonna replace it with a woman and let’s see how it’s gonna happen because I didn’t know the end and I say I just like the setting that this old lady is gonna have, her house is gone a bit knacked in and knacked and then when he’s gonna open it and there’s a guard  roaring father that her child has been possessed.  So yeah and then I start writing it up and then I have to decide and what to write up, how to end it but the real driver of it, it was that story that I heard many years ago.

Perito:     (11m.31s)  Thank you Ali, your first language must be Farsi/Azerbaijani perhaps?

Ali:             Turkic.

Perito:     (11m.39s)  Turkic yeah, so do you find when your writing that you write in your Turkic.

Ali:             Yes.

Perito:     (11m.46s) Language first and then you have to translate it, how do you find that when you’re coming up with these stories and having to go through that computation in your mind cos they’ll be a lot of people who will want to embrace the Perito Prize because we get hundreds of entries from around the world and how did you feel about kind of that translation mission and what sort of techniques did you take on to accomplish it?

Ali:             Sure, okay, well although my mother language is Turkish but I unfortunately because circumstances in Iran you can’t write and read in Turkish so if it comes to the writing yeah we’ve been taught to write in Farsi or Persian but it’s a good point because it is not easy, it’s my third language, I am writing in it, what I did initially I write it in Turkish or in Farsi and then translate it in the English but I found it not particularly useful, I mean if you wanna have a plan just to see what you’re writing it might be useful but when you really wanna compose your text I didn’t find it useful or put it this way, it is a bit of a, it’s not the best use of time what you could do instead you can just start with the crude language of English and then you can just filling in, it’s a very slow process.  What I do sometimes, sometimes when it comes to very complex things or I have to really show some, when I wanna say something very subtle or something like that and I, nothing come up to my mind in English I write it in Turkish and then I translate it, let’s say within the paragraph I needed this last bit, last touch, I write it in whatever language is come to my mind because I’m comfortably can write in Persian as well and then I translate it in English and I think that’s useful but to write whole section in one language and translate it I didn’t find it very, what is the word, is a very effective approach. 

Perito:     (13m.55s)  Okay that’s really useful thanks for covering that off.  So as you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments did you find that topic difficult to write about or come up with obviously ideas or do you write about that normally with the other stories you do?

Ali:             It is a difficult topic and I didn’t, okay by itself I’m coming from the country you have to self-sensor yourself so but I didn’t find it particularly hard to write. I don’t want to give a spoiler but it’s one of the problems with Iran is the way the woman has been treated for example their virginities, so all the society has made the woman to behave as if their virginity is an asset and there are many things going around that, and also I’m fascinated by that the way the woman or men approach this sort of things.  So you may say what to do with being inclusive or whatever I think it is important because it’s just made in this particular case a woman it is a bit, being considered as a kind of in the position of the men or do you see what I mean so?

Perito:     I do yeah.

Ali:             Particularly with Iran it can be hard issue because there are many layer of it.

Perito:     (15m.27s)  Excellent thank you very much.  What do you think was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you?

Ali:             You mean in this particular story or as a whole?

Perito:     Either, whatever you fancy really just go for it.

Ali:             Yeah the thing is I really don’t, when I talk with other people I don’t say I write it because they, then they say, “it’s a good hobby” and I don’t like it, I think if you want to write you have to take it seriously.  When you write it can be difficult and can be very slow process but at the same time the aspect of the writing I love is, you come back, I’m quite a nostalgic guy so you come back to your past, your own past and you dig in and sometimes you got surprised with things you did as if someone is telling you, “do you remember that?” and I love that and you kept being surprised by yourself, this is self-indulgent I know. 

Perito:     To be honest writing is kind of like that isn’t it as you say it’s kind of like the sudden urge to go and do something cool.

Ali:             Yeah.

Perito:     And you’ve got it put it down.

Ali:             Yeah exactly.

Perito:     (16m.35s)  Brilliant so has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in actually is, you kind of hit on this at the beginning with the idea of the streets of Tabriz and Tehran maybe people are not likely to be seen because there’s not the infrastructure or the culture’s not there in the supportive way.

Ali:             Exactly I mean I encourage in audience to read the previous winners or previous stories they have been published, just surprised about how people consider this topic, take it from the being bullied in school to the like sexuality issues or all sort of things and it doesn’t matter where you come from you will always find this margin part of the society those people they’ve been excluded, some of them they are not we always see them in the TV’s and radios and some of them just they are too subtle to see them so I think for me in every society you’ve got this kind of confliction, we feel those kind of, what’s the word, the majority and those people they are in the outside in the skirt of the centre so.

Perito:     Well as Keshe wrote last year Every Other which probably.

Ali:             Wonderful.

Perito:     Sums it up quite nicely isn’t it.

Ali:             Wonderful story yeah.

Perito:     Everyone else and the others but I guess the interesting thing about exclusion and inclusion is that we’ve all been included and excluded in different ways.

Ali:             Precisely

Perito:     Across different stratas and thinking about Iranian Society you can’t just look at one person isn’t one thing they might have social connections, economic, different history, different religious beliefs and you might be and have maybe in Iran Society I think maybe five or six primary identities that you could be moving through on a daily basis.

Ali:             Exactly.

Perito:     (18m.20s) It’s just a lot of shades of grey isn’t there? 

Ali:             It is, the successful community it’s the one, I think it’s one of the goals to see whether society’s been successful, it’s how you’re gonna integrate all this shade of greys you see what I mean?

Perito:     Indeed, brilliant.  (18m.34s)  So Ali finally any recommendations for people entering next year?

Ali:             Yeah, sure I mean first thing is obviously they have to be interested in this kind of topic which is a very strong topic and people write about it and another thing is if they’re interested in it they don’t have to go and catch those things you always hear about, if you, I think if you have a good look around you will find something relevant, very relevant to your own life, your own little circle of people, your own little hub whether it’s at work or whether it’s a neighbourhood or whatever.  I don’t, in my opinion you don’t really have to look hard it’s always it’s interest, you have to have obviously interest to develop this story and then you will see it’s there.

Perito:     Perfect, thank you very much for that.  I think that’s good advice.

Ali:             Sure, thank you.

Perito:     Now it’s been great to find out more about you and your story, Exit The Shaitan, but now it’s time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming Anthology which will be available from Amazon around the world and ideally will be on audio book potentially later on but for now you should be able to buy that in time for Christmas 2021, thanks again to our special guest, Ali Azar.

Ali:             Thank you for having me.

Perito:     Absolute pleasure, who was the author of the short story Exit The Shaitan and thank you very much for coming along today Ali.  You’ve been tuning into the Perito Prize 2021 Podcast that’s a Special Edition thanks for listening everyone, everywhere. 

 

 

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – An Interview With Second Place Author Chiara Bullen

Perito Prize 2021 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2021 Runner Up – Chiara Bullen

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with CHIARA on our podcast host https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/6577582 and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 2 of the Perito Podcast 2021, a specialise Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito prize and anthology, now in this episode we’ve got Chiara Bullen joining us from Glasgow.  Chiara wrote the runner up story for the Perito prize 2021 called Smelly Cat which can be found in the Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as a second place story for this year.  (0m.29s) Welcome to the Podcast Chiara.

Chiara:    Hi James, thanks for having me.

Perito:     (0m.36s) Hi, it’s an absolute pleasure so before we start then how about some kind of quick warm up questions iron out any of those nerves or anything that you might have?

Chiara:    Sure.

Perito:     (0m.46s) Let’s a little about your writing routine then so what kind of things like where you like to sit, have to drink or maybe the music that you like to listen to?

Chiara:    So I think quite a lot of writers would be quite horrified at my set up and for most of my PHD it’s been the pandemic so it’s just my desk at home and it’s always super messy and when I’m finished with my PDF work for the day I usually just launch straight into writing so nothing really special about that which is probably isn’t great but I do like listening to sound tracks to inspire my writing kind of like video game and TV shows sound tracks and things like that.

Perito:     I am obsessed with the Elderscrolls Ambiance soundtrack on Spotify I just have it on repeat because it just sits in the background and does its thing.  So I can relate to that but I think what probably surprised me the most with your answer was the fact that you can write after work, I’m normally at the end of work I don’t want to do anything else so I tend to prefer writing in the morning.  (01m.43s) What is it about the afternoon that works for you?

Chiara:    By the time I’ve finished work it’s normally the evening I suppose but yeah I don’t know, I guess I just sort of associate it as my sort of downtime even though it’s still like, it’s still working, it’s still quite difficult, I guess I’ve always just been a little of a night owl when it comes to my writing so I can’t be one of those people who get up really early and do it before work I think I just need to, I wouldn’t be able to start my day at that point so.

Perito:     (2m.17s) So you’re not kind of like a Raymond Chandler with a whisky in hand in the evening?

Chiara:    Not quite (laughter).

Perito:     Good okay (2m.26s) tell us about the PhD, what are you doing at the moment for the PhD?

Chiara:    So I’m in my third year of my PhD, I’m doing it across the areas of publishing studies, literature and law and I’m kind of looking at like the social responsibilities of the book publishers in the 21st Century so for example right now I’m kind of looking at like what happened in the publishing industry in the wake of the Me Too Movement, for example of authors who were accused of sexual harassment and things like that, I’m just kind of getting an idea of what’s happened in the industry in the past few years cos obviously there’s quite a lot of kind of like discussion and controversy around it so it’s just kind of examining that.

Perito:     (3m.07s) Have you come to any kind of hypothesis or conclusion as to what might need to change or is there change underway?

Chiara:    I mean change is definitely happening, I wouldn’t want to talk about any findings I have yet we’ve got another year to go to iron them out but I do have some ideas of what’s going on and kind of what needs to be changed and things like that.

Perito:     Perfect.  (3m.33s)  Okay, so second question then, when you’re wondering about you’re going to write about in the evening who do you turn to for inspiration and why?

Chiara:    Well I don’t really have just like one figure, I suppose I kind of always keep in mind that like widely used advice which is that to be a good writer you have to be a good reader and read widely kind of in your field and know what’s out there and what works, what doesn’t, what gaps are there and how you can fill them.  I think if I ever have a bit of a writing block and like I think I’ll just spend a good few weeks like reading and enjoying myself and then I’, sort of like refreshed to go back to it.

Perito:     (4m.14s) So are you admitting there is such a thing as writer’s block?

Chiara:    I’m currently, I’m actually currently suffering it with my academic writing, (laughter) not my grade of writing but I guess, yeah I guess some things it’s really hard to get the words out, I think you can always kind of writing something is better than nothing in those instances even if it’s not great or what you’re entirely happy with but yeah you can definitely feel a little bit like stuck.

Perito:     I’m sure everyone whose listening can relate to that at one time in their lives certainly, okay perfect, thank you very much for those answers that was really interesting.  (4m.52s) Moving on to the prize then so what made you enter the Perito prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Chiara:    I really liked Perito’s dedication to accessibility, for example, I really liked that there was no entry fee which is often a barrier for lots of people and there were options to submit like audio files and an option to get in touch if you needed to submit your application in any other way like the team would help.  I really like that side of Perito and I don’t just enter my writing kind of like anything, well first of all there’s a lot of times where I can’t afford to, so yeah I just thought that was really great also you were open to young adult stories and young adult short stories are quite hard to be placed cos there’s not, there are places for them but there aren’t as many as adult section and things like that, then I heard about the prize via The Mslexia Newsletter so that’s a magazine for women writers and they do, it might be monthly or it might be every few weeks, they do a newsletter where they showcase writing opportunities and things like that.

Perito:     Perfect, thank you very much.  I think you’ve hit the nail on the head from an access point of view, I just always got really annoyed about the idea you had to be from South Norwich, 6 foot tall and have £50.00 waiting to be able to spend…

Chiara:    Yeah.

Perito:     …in order to even get submitted so the prize is definitely designed to encourage everybody to try and get involved which is why we tend to get, certainly last year, 50 or 60 countries around the world and that’s another great point about sterling GDP, pounds don’t translate well into other currencies…

Chiara:    Yeah exactly.

Perito:     …due to inflation and things, so.

Chiara:    And I completely understand that opportunities, magazines, competitions they do have, they have something to pay their staff, they should always pay their staff but they have running costs and things like that so I am completely sympathetic to that sometimes there just has to be, there just has to be a charge but it’s good when there are options in place, for example if an organisation is gonna charge sometimes they will have a certain amount of slots for people who can’t afford to enter and things like that but I definitely still think there is more that should be done for, to widen accessibility sort of like wider writing competitions and things like that.

Perito:     Thank you very much Chiara that’s a great response.  (7m.21s)  So some people may not have read your story yet and can you tell us about what’s Smelly Cat’s all about and kind of the message that you wanted to write about?

Chiara:    Yeah absolutely I’m don’t blame them if they haven ‘t read it yet (laughter) which is good.  So the story is about a girl, a teenage girl who is bi-sexual but she hasn’t come out to her friends yet and she’s sort of internally agonising over what she should to do because she’s already come across a lot of bi-phobia and bi-sexual erasure and things like that and she’s just not very confident and what the reaction will be like.

Perito:     (8m.01s)  And how does the, without kind of ruining the entire plot line, how does the whole kind of 90’s pop culture vibe fit in?

Chiara:    I suppose, I mean it just sort of got me thinking about how pop culture can really shape it, can really have an impact on our identities but popular culture can also have a kind of harmful effect because it can provide inaccurate stereotypes and things like that, so for example the main character reflects on the fat phobia in friends amongst other things and some people if they watch that a lot when they’re younger in the 90’s or if they’re coming to a little bit later they might always then replicate those stereotypes and those feelings for their whole life, even though they don’t think that it’s harmful because it was a funny joke on Friends, how horrible can it be and that just sort of creates this kind of, kind of strange cycle and makes kind of marginalised people feel even worse and it’s, I think it’s how we get to these conversations when people will say something offensive or hateful and they’re like, “oh but I didn’t mean it, this was just what I was this was what I thought was the case” so yeah, I was just thinking about that when I wrote the story.

Perito:     It’s a great point you make about kind of people reinforcing cycles of exclusion and if you’re watching, how many episodes of Friends are there 300 odd.

Chiara:    Something like that yeah.

Perito:     Yeah and if you’re watching them like I used to, the Sunday omnibuses or whatever, you’d maybe 3 and 4 and yes you’d laugh and things but actually the messaging of and also their casual stupidity as well sometimes, particularly with Ross.

Chiara:    Yeah.

Perito:     Kind of sets in doesn’t it and then as you say the people are then going to think well actually that’s reasonable, if someone whose, and they’re all reasonably good people fundamentally and if they’re saying it then why not, why not we just use that and take that on.  I definitely agree with you the idea of society and media has a role to play in kind of re-framing the conversations around that sort of stuff.  So that’s why I particularly liked Smelly Cat because it really kind of gets to the point and in a nuance way and says, “yeah have you thought about this”.

Chiara:    Definitely.

Perito:     (10m.21s)  So do you find you write a lot about TV shows or popular materials, current affairs and things in your other work?

Chiara:    Actually this is the only time that that’s happened, I usually write like speculative and fantasy and sci-fi and things like that, I honestly, if I may be completely honest, I don’t know where the story came from I think it was just a manifestation of thinking about what we’ve just discussed and a sort of instance where, where that particular episode of Friends might have a negative impact like in real time because the, if people read the story the episode that I’m referring to that always kind of, always bothered me so yeah.

Perito:     Yeah it’s a little bit like Little Britain, even Little Britain I never particularly found it that funny, there were some good bits but often you were still sitting there even back in the 2000’s just thinking, “no I’m not sure that quite works in a way maybe they’re intending” and I think Friends obviously is earlier but at the same time it’s no real excuse because these same conversations were happening then at the same time.

Chiara:    Yeah exactly.

Perito:     Okay, perfect, thank you.  (11m.33s)  So as the Perito prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments did you find that topic difficult to write about or concede with the ideas?

Chiara:    I didn’t really, I do write other genres like fantasy and stuff that’s something that I always keep in mind and I always write about some sort of kind of like injustice and things like that so inclusively is something that I do think about a lot and I like to keep learning and kind of like educate myself to be a little bit of an ally for areas that are that I’m not like part of and things like that.

Perito:     (12m.10s) Despite being a little bit too close to a long conversation but particularly with your skills and understanding of the publishing industry, do you feel that kind of class and social status plays a big role in these sort of coming up with stories and background and certainly being able to get published.

Chiara:    Oh yeah absolutely (laughter) I could be here forever if I worry to talk about that but yeah I mean for so long we’ve had the majority of stories and writers they come from the same, they’re white middle to upper middle class if not more and we have those kind of stories and I started kind of noticing like when I thought about the popular media I consumed like maybe like throughout my whole life, there’s so many recurring issues like, where like the parents getting divorced or not being able to live up to an older sibling or a very successful parent is like the main conflict, the main difficulty and I sort of, and those are horrible things regardless right but I realised that for so many people writing and who they assume the audience to be that those were like the most pressing things that people would ever deal with in their life and then again those are really, those are really difficult things to deal with and recently we have popular shows are tackling things like racism and ableism and tackling the stigma and mental health and stuff that’s really great and I’m really glad to see that happening and there are changes to make publishing more inclusive and diverse, maybe not quite as fast as we would like but I think, yeah I think things are definitely changing but the money that it costs to sort of just often get a story out there, for example creative writing courses and degrees are really popular now and they cost a lot of money and time and there’s scholarships available but there’s not, these opportunities available for everyone and you’re often kind of up against these people who have a lot more time and money to put towards their craft and things and it’s just kind of, yeah it’s definitely kind of been eye opening looking at things from a publishers side and then from the writers side, but yeah sorry that was a bit of a (a ha) a conscientious answer but I hope that kind of answered your question.

Perito:     Well I’m actually thinking of a whole different podcast about these subjects actually to be honest, I’m sure there’s gonna be plenty of people on who’d happily listen to your thoughts all day about that stuff so maybe watch this space, that’s brilliant.  (14m.41s)  So what was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you?

Chiara:    I think it really was just with this story in particular it just helped me get my thoughts about pop culture and what we’ve just discussed like really together and put them on the page and just sort of see how that can, yeah how that can impact people but it also helped me to remember that again things definitely aren’t changing fast enough whether that’s in publishing or the film industry or in TV or whatever but there are more pieces of popular culture tackling injustice and raising awareness to issues and issues with stigma surrounding them and things like that and that is great, I suppose yeah it kind of taught me to sort of, there’s still a good reason to be hopeful and things like that.

Perito:     There is definitely, yeah 100%, that’s great.  (15m.34s)  Now I suppose a continuation of that theme, has the prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the whole world we live in actually is?

Chiara:    Yeah, yeah definitely, I think it’s sort of made me think, it’s sort of reinstated that in terms of making an inclusive and accessible world there’s still so much, we’ve so much further to go and just another reminder that there’s still so much to learn and there’s still ways that you can help and things like that, yeah it just sort of reinstated all of those kind of values and the things that we discussed earlier particularly about publishing and accessibility and things, I liked how the prize, that spelling, grammar doesn’t matter and this is open to everyone and we can help with that and I thought that was great and that’s something I often don’t see in publishing and is something that I often, I don’t, for example I don’t end up talking about that in my work and maybe I might or maybe I should think about that when I think about inclusive publishing and things like that.

Perito:     I’m a Dyslexic, relatively moderate to severe and I used to get called stupid at school by my teachers and two in particular and without, what’s that’s done is really set the kind of, the scope for actually what if you aren’t a particularly good speller or you don’t have a Cambridge Grads academic understanding of the English correct grammar than how are you meant to kind of cruise through this, how are you meant to get your voice and story out there if the first people are doing is looking at your, the way that you pronounciate and accentuate your words so that’s, it’s nice that you spotted that as well cos that was a really big important thing for me personally.

Chiara:    Yeah and it often disadvantages people who are, who English might be a second or third or a fourth language, I know that’s a big issue in academia with journal articles for example, people not getting necessarily accepted because of that but all the ideas and the research are right there, it’s not something that should include, exclude people with good ideas and have voices that should be heard.

Perito:     Well exactly if you think from a voices perspective how are you going to engage with a lady from Benghazi if her English is not great and how are you going to get her story, I bet the first thing you do is look at how many spelling mistakes she’s made but that’s only in English.  So it’s a really important point and I think sometimes it does take a while for people to understand, that’s one of the messages that I’m trying to get across by putting this prize together is that idea that we’re not being exclusive just because the be all and end all is whether your grammar and spelling is literally perfect.  You can always pay someone to check it but at the same time if you’re not gonna win that’s expensive.

Chiara:    And also sometimes you just can’t, like that’s not something you have a budget for so yeah it’s just, it’s just something to think about I suppose.

Perito:     (18m.47s) Brilliant and so finally then any recommendations and tips for people entering next year, now I’ve got high hopes for this one Chiara so you (laughter) lay it out there and give everybody as many tips as you possibly can that would be fantastic.

Chiara:    (laughter) So much pressure, I hope you’re not gonna be disappointed with my answer but it was basically, it sounds kind of cheesy but honestly like don’t give up, with this story Smelly Cat I’d entered it in a few places and it got quite a lot of rejections but I would take it back and rework it and honestly went I sent it to this prize I was like this was the last time I’m gonna send this out because I just don’t think there’s a home for this story and obviously it worked out really well but, and it kind of made me realise like oh even if it wasn’t placed here definitely shouldn’t have given up because so much about publishing is just subjective, maybe you don’t quite fit with the theme of like being with the anthology or the issue that you’ve submitted for sometimes the people putting together the magazine or the competition they just don’t feel passionate enough about it, it doesn’t mean that your writing isn’t good and it doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for it, finding the right home for your writing is way more important than just trying to gonna get it published anywhere so yeah, sort of keeping, yeah don’t give up when you’re trying to place a story and just think about what would suit as much, what would suit the story as much as the sort of like just the sort of feeling that you need to get it published, I just think it’s more important to find a good home for it.

Perito:     That’s a lovely point, thank you very much and I think again there’s lots of wisdom backing that up as well so Chiara that’s wonderful.  Now it’s been great to find out more about you and your story but now it’s time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming anthology which would be available from Amazon in time for Christmas 2021 and thanks again to our special guest to Chiara Bullen, Author of the short story Smelly Cat, thanks for talking to us today Chiara.

Chiara:    Yeah it was so good, it was so great to speak to you.

Perito:     That’s brilliant and thanks for all your lovely information as well.  Now you’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast 2021 special addition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Winner: ‘Magic Bus’ By Mary Darroch

Magic Bus

 

By Mary Darroch

 

 

My first thought was that he was lying. No one could possibly be wearing those teeth unless it was for a joke.

          ‘Aye right, Mick! Ye got them at Tam’s Joke Shop, didn’t ye?’

          He pulled his mask back up real quick-like before I could reach the teeth to give them a pull just to check.

          ‘Naw, Ah didnae!’ He was doing that annoying laugh that sounded like a donkey hee-hawing. ‘Ah telt ye, ma dentist gave me them! He said he would put them through on the NHS so Ah wouldnae need tae pay, so there ye go! No’ too bad, are they?’

          He was obviously dead pleased with them and I wasn’t about to burst his bubble. He didn’t get many moments of joy in his life and he was my pal and I wanted nice things to happen to him. Actually, what I really wanted was for him to lay off the gear a bit and maybe get a job and make something of himself. Not much chance of that, right enough, but never say die, as my old Da used to say.  

          ‘Yeah, they’re fine, Mick. They look good.’ From the movement behind his mask I could tell that his wee capuchin monkey face was cracking a toothy grin. It never took much. He was the happiest person I knew and he was always the same, whenever you met him, except for those bad times when he was heavy using again, because then he would look a bit out of it but in the main he was always just ma mate Mick, always grinning and always looking on the bright side.

          ‘Anyway, Shona, how ye doin’, pal?’ As usual, he didn’t wait for an answer but battered right on to talk about himself. ‘Did Ah tell you Ah’m gettin’ a job on the buses?’

          ‘Aye right, Mick, is this another of yer daft stories?’

          ‘Naw! Whit makes ye think that?’

          ‘Cos Ah know ye, Mick! Yer always at it!  Mind that time ye were gonnae open a magic shop and that was all ye talked about for weeks and then the next thing yer training to be a stand-up comedian? You and yer daft ideas!’

          I thought that would maybe take some of the wind out of his sails. But no. Not a bit of it.

          ‘Oh, ye of little faith!’’ he asseverated in a ridiculous sepulchral tone. I knew he was channeling Mr Micawber right there. It was a perennial favourite of his because  Mick, for all his shortcomings, was surprisingly well-read and Dickens was his favourite. . ‘Just you wait an’ see!’ He gestured with a dramatic flourish towards his chest. ‘Yer man here has not yet reached his prime!’

More Big Ideas on the way, then. He must have noticed my exasperation because he dropped his voice to a more conspiratorial pitch.  ‘Ah’ve got an interview the morra morning! Jist a ‘preliminary assessment’, like, but at least Ah’ve got a foot in the door …’  

Reaching inside his hoodie, he brought out a folded-up bit of paper. ‘An’ there’s the letter, tellin’ me where to go an’ that.’

I inspected the grubby, dog-eared thing  It was from the Jobcentre right enough. 

          ‘That’s brilliant, Mick! Well done! Ah’m so chuffed for ye! But … whit ye gonnae wear? Have ye got a nice clean hoodie ye can put on?’

          ‘Hoodie? You’ve got tae be kiddin’ me! Ah cannae turn up for an interview  in a hoodie!’ He looked genuinely affronted at the idea. ‘Actually, Shona, I was kinda hopin’ like, that ye’d come tae the shoppin’ centre wi’ me an’ see aboot gettin’ me a jaiket tae wear the morra …’

          ‘But, Mick … Ah’ve no’ got any money right now. And neither have you. It’s no’ yer pay day.’

          ‘Ach, nae worries, Shona! We don’t need money!’ He was grinning under his mask again.  ‘Have you forgot aboot oor special skill sets?’ Nothing ever daunted Mick. He always had a plan.

 

 

 

 

On the bus over to the shopping centre, I was aware that Mick was buttering me up. This could only mean one thing – he was planning for me to do the dirty work today while he ‘kept edgy’. He would be the lookout. He usually was. Maybe that was his special skill set, then. Well, play to your strengths – that was another thing my Da used to say. 

‘Aw, it’ll be great, Shona! Jis’ think, Ah’ll be able to take ye on a wee bus run tae the seaside. Mibbe Saltcoats, even! Ye like Saltcoats, don’t ye?’

‘Mick, see this job – is it like coach trips an’ that?  No’ like jist drivin’ folk intae the toon?’

‘Aye! It’s coaches, an’ they dae trips tae the seaside – Saltcoats, an’ … beaches an’ castles an’ that.’

‘Oh, Mick, that sounds magic! Ah really hope ye get it!’

‘Aye so dae ah. Ah’m gettin’ a bit fed up wi’ never goin’ anywhere nice except mibbe the wee park across the road fae ma hoose. Ah mean it’s a nice park but ye jist stoat’ aroon’ the place wi’ the auld coffin-dodgers and their designer dugs! Aye, It’ll be great to go somewhere different. Jist think – the wide open spaces where we can take in aw that fresh air …’

The rest of the bus journey was spent in quiet reflection – Mick breathing deeply through his blue mask and his ridiculous teeth as he practised taking in the fresh air while sounding like an emphysemic old coffin-dodger himself and me, looking out the filthy bus window on to the dismal grey streets and imagining blue skies and sparkling water and eating ice cream on the promenade.

         

 

Debenham’s was closed. Permanently.  Debenham’s –  our favourite place to pick up a few luxury items. Gone. This was a disaster.

          ‘Aw naw man, what’re we gonnae dae?’ Poor Mick looked a bit distraught. I thought he might start greetin’ in a minute. 

          ‘’Well, there’s Next, an’ H&M, and there’s TK Maxx and maybe Tesco would be worth a go  …’

          ‘But they’re all CCTV-ed up tae the gills! An’ the security guys there are total wideos, man! Huckle ye as soon as look at ye! We huvnae a hope in hell!’ His despair was making his voice increasingly screechy and he was starting to draw looks of suspicion and downright contempt from disdainful passing shoppers.

          ‘Mick, just shut it, will ye! Stop actin’ like a wean.  Where’s yer fightin’ spirit, eh?  We’re no’ beat yet!’ I said these words to pacify Mick but inside I was panicking, too. Mick absolutely had to have decent clothes for his interview or he wouldn’t get that job and I wouldn’t get to the seaside.

But it wasn’t just that.. In some strange way I felt responsible for Mick and for everything that happened to him. He was the closest thing I had to family now and despite all his own problems with the smack and the relentless stream of Big Ideas, I knew that Mick was always looking out for me, too. 

I looked around in the hope of seeing something that could help us. Anything. I started walking and Mick followed, neither of us knowing where we were going, really. 

 ‘Over here, Mick.’

Up ahead, almost at Tesco, I saw our way out. Cash Converters. I touched the small diamond at my neck.  It would only be for a wee while.

Mick stopped. He saw where I was heading. ‘Naw, Shona, no’ the necklace. You love that necklace. Ah’m no’ lettin’ ye dae that.’

‘Aye well, try stoppin’ me! You need that money. Mick, yer like a wee brother tae me, an’ this came from ma Da, so in a way it’s yours, too.  Anyway, Ah’ll buy it back as soon as ma ESA comes in!’

Mick was torn, I could see that, but in the end the thought of the new jaiket won the day. He helped me take off the necklace and even gave it a wee shine and polish on the sleeve of his grimy hoodie.

‘Shona,’ he announced, handing the necklace to me with a flourish, ‘my dear friend, I am deeply indebted to you for what you are doing as I know how  much …’

‘Jist give it a rest, Mick, will ye?’ I tried to sound irritated but couldn’t help smiling at his overblown display of gratitude. 

 

 

 

A guy with owlish specs and a tiny light clipped to his forehead  was offering us quite a lot of cash, more than I had expected, to be honest. Apparently, it was a quality South African diamond set in 22 carat gold. I nodded and tried to look nonchalant as he dictated the details to his colleague who noted it all down.

          ‘I can give you a good price on this.’

Relief. I looked at Mick. He was going to get his new jaiket and I was going straight from here to Tesco to buy a bucket and spade and maybe a wee bikini for the seaside.

          ‘First, I need some details. Do you have some ID?’

          ‘Some ..?’

          ‘Passport? Driver’s licence? We need to see some ID before we can make you an offer. Fraud Initiative and all that.’

‘Um …well, actually …’ I knew there was nothing in my tiny crossbody bag except  my fags, my phone, my purse and my Rimmel Highland Mist lippy. I didn’t own a passport or a driver’s licence – never had a need for either. I looked at Mick. He was standing there, staring straight ahead. ‘What about your driver’s licence, Mick? We can show him that, can’t we?’ No response.  ‘Mick?’

          Suddenly, he seemed to snap into life.  ‘Look, jist forget it,’ he said to the owl guy. ‘Shona, get yer necklace back an’ Ah’ll meet ye outside.’

         

 

 

We were sitting at Costa – one coffee between us.   

‘Mick, Ah think we would’ve got a good price for that necklace.’ I looked at my dirty, bitten nails and pondered. ‘There might even have been enough left to get mysel’ a wee manicure …’

Mick sat back a bit in his chair.

          ‘Nah, Shona, ye’re right. Me and ma big ideas …’

I stopped looking at my nails and looked instead at his wee face, unmasked now in order to drink his share of the coffee. He looked sad.

‘ Ah was lyin’, Shona. No’ aboot the interview – that was legit – but aboot me. Ah would never have got that job. Ah’ve no’ got a driver’s licence. Never even had a lesson. Ah never had the money, to be honest.’

          ‘Then … what was aw’ that aboot? Yer interview?  The bus runs tae the seaside?’

I didn’t really need to ask because I knew what it was about: a few moments of shared happiness, of shared dreams. It was what Mick did best. I understood.

          ‘But jist so ye know, ah would never really have let ye sell yer necklace. Ah know what it means to ye, bein’ the last thing yer Da ever gave  ye …  No, Ah wouldnae have let ye. I’m a better man than that.’ He looked thoughtfully at the table, quite impressed with himself I think.  Then he sighed. ‘And yer Da, he sounds like a good man, too. The best. May he rest in peace,’ he added, respectfully.

          I nodded. Let him bask in his delusions.

Of course he would have let me sell the necklace.  But I couldn’t, because neither of us had any means of proving our existence. Makes you think, that.

It wouldn’t have mattered, though. The necklace had value, but it had no meaning. My Da had brought it home one night with a bag of stuff he’d got from a ‘house clearance’ as he called it,  and I’d nicked it from the stash under his bed before the cops found it and  took it, and him, away. One day I’ll tell Mick, but not today. I don’t want to spoil his dream.

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Runner Up: ‘Smelly Cat’ By Chiara Bullen

Smelly Cat

By Chiara Bullen

 

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching something on TV – or watching a film, or reading a book you love – and something big is going to happen? And I mean, change the story big. But you already know what’s going to happen. The story isn’t new to you. It’s the second, third, fourth-and-beyond time you’ve consumed it.

Just as the moment is about to arrive on the screen, on the page or through your headphones, you recognise the steps and plot points that will put this action into motion and you plead to the fictional entity about to do something catastrophic: please don’t!

Please don’t listen to Scar, Simba!

Please don’t kill Dumbledore, Snape!

Please don’t follow that noise into your garden shed, Will Byers!

Of course, if these things don’t happen then the inevitable outcomes and climaxes of the story you love so much would not come to be. The character development needed to make certain characters become the one you’re absolutely obsessed with rely on these moments. So, it’s worth it in the end.

Still. It would have been nice if Kylo Ren hadn’t done that in The Force Awakens.

Anyway. That squirmy, clenching, anxious feeling has me in its grip right now. On my bed, in my room, in my dad’s flat in Glasgow. I know something is about to happen on the show I’m watching and I really, really wish it wouldn’t.

But we aren’t watching anything epic. Nothing scary. Nothing twisty, nothing turn-y.

We’re watching Friends.

My scratched, chunky iPad I got from CEX is propped up on the top of my washed-out looking bookshelf, the sounds jarring from the small speaker on its right side. Eleanor is lying on the floor, arms propped up on a pillow as she lazily scrolls through Twitter. Olivia is on the bed with me, her legs crossed tightly, up at the top end against the wooden headboard covered in old stickers. She’s engrossed by the events unfolding on the 9.7” screen (she’s never seen Friends before – she’s only just got Netflix). I’m leaning on the pink wall my bed is shoved up against, one leg stretched out whilst the other is still on the duvet, my toes digging anxiously into the soft sheet.

It’s a lazy Sunday. A ‘Sunday Funday’. I know this because it said so on several Instagram stories. I’m tapping my screen now, flipping through the stories so fast I only get a glimpse of faces, gym gear, steaming cups of tea and books arranged so beautifully it makes me sad I never really took care of mine.

I barely register the weekend life of my friends and mutuals. My eyes flick back towards the iPad screen, squinting a bit at the distance. I can’t remember the last time I got my eyes tested, but I’ve watched this episode so many times I don’t really need them. Phoebe Buffay is picking up her guitar. My relationship with her is more than a little bit complicated, and within the next few minutes it will be strained, once again, to its limit.

The episode is called ‘The One After the Super Bowl’, but it should be called ‘The One with Phoebe’s Biphobia’, if you ask me. Which I suppose nobody did, least of all the creators of a show who wrote the lines well before I was born.

The knot in my stomach tightens, and I can only imagine it resembles what my white earphones look like inside my jacket pocket. All twisted and chaotic, so tight that my stubby, bitten nails will never be able to pry them free with ease.

I suppose it’s my own fault for loving this show. Members of Gen Z aren’t supposed to like Friends. I read an article about it on Teen Vogue. Plus, my eighteen-year-old cousin said Friends is ‘problematic’ on Twitter, and she’s about to study journalism. So, I know she’s right. Then, amidst the claims of us being another snowflake generation, the article I read pointed out all the issues with the sitcom that my progressive generation is sure to find problematic.

And I agreed with them. There are plenty of reasons why this show is problematic – and I don’t feel this way because I’m as ‘soft as a snowflake’ (I try to be as sharp as an icicle, personally).

There’s racism. Sexism. Fatphobia. Homophobia. Double-standards, and some really shoddy editing work for something so embedded in my sister’s (a die-hard 90s’ kid) pop-culture.

So, I get why people my age aren’t supposed to like Friends. I really do. I’ve always known this. Our generation is the hope for change, tolerance and acceptance – I read that on Tumblr. I felt the slow burning of the beginning of hope and ambition. But, Joey Tribbiani from Friends’ hurtful stance on dating fat women is the same as my pal Craig McKenzie’s views on it, too – and these opinions are at least fifteen years apart.

Then there’s the improbable, frustrating, irresistible case of Phoebe Buffay.

She’s still on the screen and almost ready to sing now.

Right.

Now.

Her blonde hair is in an impossibly high ponytail, a scrunchie thicker than the iPhone in my hand keeping it firmly in place. She’s about to perform her song to the chic café she’s always in, which makes me wish I had a Starbucks in hand even though I don’t like coffee.

I feel the clamminess in my palms and put my phone down on the bed. I know what’s coming next, I know what will make me feel the sting of hurt and the forced feelings of shame and embarrassment her words elicit, as they have done every time I’ve re-watched the show over the past three years.

And to make it worse, my friends are here watching, too.

“So, Oliva, who’s your favourite Friend?” El asks, twisting awkwardly to look up at us on the bed. There’s no room for three of us up here, and only barely room for two people on the floor. It makes for awkward sleepover arrangements. I hope student halls are bigger, if I get into university.

“I donno yet,” Olivia replies. “Rachel. No! Joey. Uh… It’s too hard! Who’s yours, El?”

“I think Ross is hot. What about you, Lauren?”

“Oh, Phoebe, probably,” I reply a little too quickly, not taking my eyes off the screen.

The sound of real laughter – not fake, blaring, audience laughter – drags me back into my room away from my impending doom. El is looking up at me with an eyebrow raised, and Olivia is giggling.

“What?” I ask, snapping a little.

“She’s your favourite, or you find her hot?” El asks, teasing.

“Um…”

“Both?” Oliva suggests, her right eyebrow raising to match El’s, before they both relapse into a fit of giggles.

“Em, yeah!” I respond, trying hard to make it sounds like a joke and laughing a tad too loudly at myself as they both turn their attention back to the show.

I haven’t ever told them properly that I’m bisexual. I was just sort of hoping they’d figure it out.

That happens, right?

I didn’t even tell myself I was bisexual until recently. When I was younger, I started to get crushes on women around me and female celebrities. Keira Knightley in Bend it like Beckham had me slayed. Then she did the same in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Convinced at first I was a lesbian, I spent many a night on Google searching how I would know if I were gay. It was only after I realised that I fancied both Lupin and Tonks from Harry Potter that I altered my search terms slightly, and found what I was looking for.

Bisexual.

‘Bisexual’ fitted me like my snuggest knitted jumper. I know not everyone is happy with labels, but I leapt into the arms of mine.

I practised saying the word over and over, enjoying how it felt slipping from my tongue and imaging how I’d tell the people I loved most in my life. I knew it was scary, but I thought; doesn’t everyone in the LGBTQA+ community say, “It gets better”?

But then, as I was taking time to gain the courage to tell people, I was sitting in registration class and heard Jess Wallace joke that bisexuals were only good for threesomes.

At a sleepover, Amy Barrie told me, fearfully, that she thought her sister might be bisexual, and her sister’s boyfriend was terrified that he’d be cheated on because of this.

She was never invited to mine again after that. It was the only small stand I could take.

I couldn’t share the hurt with anyone in school, or my family. They didn’t know I was bisexual in the first place. I didn’t even want to find people online to talk about it.

And so, my knitted jumper became impossibly tight, the neckline stealing and squeezing the breath from me so that it would be impossible to utter those defining words comfortably.

Phoebe Buffay begins to sing.

            “Sometimes men love women…”

It isn’t fair.

            “Sometimes men love men…”

Without warning, I feel the sting of hot tears as she strums the lullaby-like melody to her audience. Each word sang with such authority that for a while, I believed them. I wonder if a tiny part of me still does.

            “And then there are bisexuals…”

            Please, don’t!

            “Though some just say they’re kidding themselves…!”

The laughter of the studio audience is a deafening roar, each guttural sound a punch to my stomach, a personal insult thrown my way. Sometimes I wonder if I’m overreacting. Isn’t it OK to joke around sometimes?

But if those jokes hurt, shouldn’t people listen to how I feel?

The sound stops.

I look up towards the small screen, and an even smaller pop-up has appeared. “Are you still watching Friends?” Netflix asks.

If Netflix was a person, I would kiss them. Passionately. Has there ever been a time when anyone actually wants that message to pop up? It gives me a second to compose myself, get ‘over’ myself as my friends would probably say.

“Lauren, can you start it again?” asks El, even though being on the floor, she is closer to the iPad on my bookcase than I am. I nod in response to her plea, grinning slightly as she continues scrolling through her Twitter feed.

            I stand up to tiptoe over to her, and end up standing crushed against the wooden shelves, the top one just level with my shoulders. Before I tap the screen to continue, a rush of bravery floods through me.

“You know, I think that’s one of Phoebe’s worst songs,” I say lightly, restarting the programme and turning the volume down a bit. Adrenaline makes me light headed and I have to be careful not to stumble and step on El as I gingerly edge back towards the bed.

What am I doing?

            “Hmm? Why?” asks Oliva, the Friends novice who cannot yet recite every single one of Phoebe’s songs off by heart.

            Please… don’t?

“It’s just not funny,” I reply, twirling a strand of my loose hair lightly as I take my seat on the bed. I can hear my heartbeat thundering in my ears, drowning out the rest of the episode. “I mean, I’m bisexual, and I know I’m not ‘kidding’ myself.”

Silence. I can feel Olivia’s surprised stare, catch her mouth forming a small ‘o’ in the corner of my vision. My heart is livid at my mouth’s betrayal.

I am furious at myself. Furious. I’ve potentially just ruined two friendships. I know what everyone thinks about bisexuals and I’ve just—!

“We know, Lauren,” El replies, obliviously smashing into my downwards spiral like a juggernaut, not looking up from her phone.

I don’t reply, don’t dare let the hope that has ballooned inside me carry me away.

“And,” she continues, “I know ‘Smelly Cat’ is your favourite Friends song anyway.”

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Third Place: ‘Exit The Shaitan’ By Ali Azar

Exit The Shaitan

By Ali Azar

 

The fists landed on the door, pounding on its old wooden frame. Inji jolted from her sleep.

‘Who is it at this time of night,’ she shouted from her bed, but the door continued to be knocked without pausing.

‘Coming! Stop it before the door comes off the hinge.’ She took her cane, plummeted toward the door. Her joints started aching once she was out of her warm bed.

It was two fellows, a man wearing a wool hat and a boy.

‘Mrs Seyid, my daughter had gone mad.’ The man voice was shaking.

‘If a Shaitan has gone to her skin, the rock of misery has dropped on my head. You are my only hope. Save her, and I shall be your servant for the rest of my life.’

‘Go and fetch my chador. It hung on the hanger beside my bed,’ Inji said to the boy.

The man took from one arm of Inji and his young boy from another, they helped her to walked down the uneven stair steeps which opened to the street. She couldn’t remember the last time she got out of the house. Her knees didn’t allow her to walk more than a few steps. She had become a prison for her own house. Though she couldn’t see anything in dark, the earthy smell of clay walls was telling her that she was now in her beloved neighbourhood, where she once sat in front of her house, the whole the women gathered around her.

The two dazzling headlights of Land Rover lit up once the man started the car.

‘How am I going to get in this car? It was hard when I was younger and lighter, let alone now that I am old and well above hundred-kilogram. God, you help me,’ Inji said.

The man held Inji’s hand from the driver’s side, pulling her toward himself. Using the boy’s head as a handrail, Inji climbed on the car, landed with velocity on the leather chair.

The man moved the car, quickly shifted the gear to four, put the pedal to the metal.

‘Where are we going,’ Inji said once breathing allowed her to talk.

‘Jilodarli’s summer quarter.’ The man, hunched over the wheel, was scanning the road.

‘The one below Mount Savalan?’

‘Yes, Mrs Seyid.’

‘That is far. Slow down man if you want me reaching there alive.’ Inji said, grabbing the dashboard firmly.

‘I will be your servant forever if you just help my little girl. My quiet harmless Leyla has now turned into a monster, hitting, screaming, swearing.

Exited the town, the car entered the realm of nature, split fiercely the utter darkness of the surround with its glaring light.

‘Shaitan must have gone to her skin, her voice has changed, her eyes turn white. I don’t even know the meaning of some of her swearing.’ The man broke down, hitting his lap, his shoulders were bouncing. ‘The rock of misery has landed on my head.’

‘Come to yourself, man. You are scaring the boy.’ Inji rested her hand on man’s shoulder.

The car turned into bumpy off-road. Inji large body was jolting up and down while the boy was floating between the chairs and the roof in the back. Glowing lights appeared over yonder, tents came into sight, fiercely barking dogs welcomed the car. They were running, inch away, along the approaching metal monster. Unlike their village counterparts which just stood further away and barked and growled, nomad dogs, being on the constant threat of tactician wolves, attacked savagely to any unknown object entering in their territories. They dispersed once the car reached the yurt where the gathering crowd were awaiting them. A woman ran to the car when it stopped, opened the door of passenger side.

‘Mrs Seyid, thanks god you have come. My girl is perishing in front of my eyes.’

‘Where is she, ‘Inji said, rested her hands on the woman’s shoulder, got up from her seat. Other men approached to help her to step on the ground.

‘Bring me a chair, my heart is going to burst,’ sweating Inji said, wheezing in and out, once she reached the tent of the driver. A folding chair was bought for her, which could hardly accommodate her big bottom.

The man came in, dragging the girl. Her dishevelled hair had covered her face. The father was holding her delicate wrists firmly-not an easy task to get away from the pilers-like hands of a nomad man. Leyla looked at Inji with resentment, gowned her teeth. The mother was whimpering, hitting her laps, and the boy was staring at his sister.

‘What are you looking at me you nosy people. Apart from the girl’s family, everyone else march home. Yallah!’ She threw her cane toward the tent entryway. The people quietly left the tent.

‘Have her sit in front of me,’ Inji said.

With help of his heavyweight, the man pushed Leyla to her knees.

‘Leave me alone with her.’

‘But, Mrs Seyid, she may hurt you.’

‘She won’t. Everyone out.’

The man let her girl loose with caution. The curse breaker and the cursed were left alone. The girl was staring at the red kilim thrown in the middle of the tent. Two lanterns stood in two opposite corners aiming to do the futile task of brightening the spacious tent, a gratefully brewing Samovar, a few cushions rested against the wall, a pile of neatly folded duvets and mattresses on the corner were all the family had.

‘Is that ayran?’ Inji saw pitcher containing white fluid. ‘It must be made from ewes’ milk. My mouth’s as dry as a parched well, my dear girl, pour me a glass of it.’

Girl looked at the old woman for sometimes, then rose with hesitation, grabbed a glass, poured ayran and gave it to Inji, who emptied the glass with one gulp; it was rich, viscous, creamy and sour.

‘Shahseven nomad’s ayran tastes something else. So, your name is Leyla. It is a beautiful name.’

The girl didn’t say anything.

‘I don’t think you have gone crazy, but you have a problem, and I want to help you.’

She stood in front of Inji, her head sunk into her neck.

‘You see here.’ Inji tapped her chest a few times. ‘It is full of secrets, scandals and untold stories. I have kept them in here and will take them to the grave with myself. May god be my witness. Now tell me what is bothering you?’ Inji said in a lower tone.

The girl still stood unmoving.

‘Now, you have two options: one is to tell me your problem, and we can find a way out, or you continue playing your daft game, and I promise you that your dad will then take you to Tabriz, to a mad house, and there even if you’re not crazy, you will become one. You decide.’ Inji straightened her back, rested her hands on the cane.

Leyla burst into cry, held her mouth with her palms to suffocate her outcry.

‘Cry my girl, you are safe here with me. I am on your side,’ Inji whispered.

‘No one can help me?’ Leyla said half cried and half whispered.

‘What is troubling you my girl?’

‘Can’t tell, can’t even tell myself. I have committed the most grievous sin.’

‘Have you fallen in love?

The girl triggered another mighty sob.

‘More than that?’

‘I am done. There is no way out.’

‘What did he exactly do to you?’

‘My own fault. I am a fool.’ She punched her head a few times.’

‘Where is he? We can make you married to him. I know a very good mullah who can help. Convincing your parents on me. Just tell where the hell he is?’

Leyla swung her head.’

‘Doesn’t he want to get married? It is not up to him. Tell me where he is, and I will have him dragged here to your feet, then marriage will be proceeded.

‘He has run away.’

‘Son of a dog. Where has he escaped?’

‘Hell,’ she wailed.

In her mind, Inji went through the similar cases she had encountered in the past to find a way out, but this case was hard to solve.

‘Pour me another glass,’ she said.

Girl, whimpering, brought her another glass of Ayran, then sat beside Inji, looking at her quietly.

‘Are you pregnant?’

‘I would have killed myself if I was. I waited till I made sure I didn’t carry the child of that pig.’

‘Don’t be silly. I may have found a way to get you out of this trouble, but I need your complete cooperation.’

Leyla nodded firmly. Inji could see her face completely for the first time. She hardly looked like a grown-up woman; she was small and thin; her breasts have hardly developed.

Inji called out Leyla’s parent. They instantly entered the tent. She asked the mother to take Leyla out of the tent. She kissed her daughter’s head, then they went outside. While following her mother, Leyla was looking back worryingly at Inji. She looked more like she has lost her doll than her virginity Inji thought.

‘Shaitan has gone inside her body indeed but I will expel him.’

‘God bless you Seyid Inji, I shall be your servant for the rest of my life.’

‘But the procedure that I am going to carry out will not be done without a consequence.’

‘What consequence?’

‘Shaitan exit will cost her virginity.’

The man who sat on his knee froze, his gaze fixed at the floor, grabbed his trouser, pressed hard.

‘And of course, I won’t do it without your permission.’

The man still couldn’t utter a word. His fuming face soon sunk, became sad and desperate.

‘My son, it is not up to me to tell you what to do, but something has to be done.’

‘No man will marry her.’ He sighed bitterly. ‘Better off be a sound minded spinster than be a lunatic!’

‘Who says she can’t get married. When a suiter found, send him to me, and I will confirm she hasn’t done any wrong.’

‘Whatever you approve, Mrs Seyid.’

‘Bring the girl inside.’

Leyla was brought in, and they were left alone again. Inji said to her to eat well as she looked like a resurrected dead, not to get out of her bed for a couple days, and after that, behave normal.

‘Now, take, this agate ring. It is blessed from Karbala.’

Leyla took the ring with face of a rich-brown agate.

‘Now, my dumb girl, gather your wisdom from your heel to head. Since now, be careful of every step you take. Life is unforgiven.’

Girl’s face shone, a shy smile appeared on her face (youth gets sad easily, happy easily). Inji stroked her head, then call out her father to come in.

‘How did it go Mrs Seyid?’ he said. Inji could see the gathering crowd outside of the tent.

‘The girl needs rest. I will tell you in the car. Take me home now.’

The Land Rover ambled away from the tents, and in no rush, headed toward the town. Gaynarja spring had to be somewhere close to here Inji thought. She wished to have her ill feeble body bathed in its therapeutic hot water coming from the heart of Mount Savalan, whose silvery shoulder dimly shone in the dark.

‘The procedure went well, and with might of Allah, your girl will recover.’

The man profusely thanked him, promised he would pay in cash when his lambs were old enough to sell.

‘I don’t want your money, just look after your girl.’

The glowing lights of Meshgin appeared. Inji was thinking what she was going to do once arrived at home: to eat a couple of halva’s slides that one of her neighbours had brought, then take her red pill, and best of all, lay on her bed and have the sweetest sleep.

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Winner: ‘EVERY/OTHER’ By Keshuan Chow

 Every/Other

Keshuan Chow

 

I can’t remember where I first heard it, or when. All I remember is that the girl who said it was an Every. Long, silvery blonde hair, straight as corn silk, shiny with the echoes of a million others like her.

I brush my hair one hundred times, she said, as she pulled the brush along those long, long strands.

So I adopted the habit, in an effort to be more Every. Each night, I sat at my mirror, looking into my Other face. Looking into my Other eyes, dark like obsidian or black holes or voids. I would brush and brush, counting carefully. Always precisely to one hundred, so that I may become more like an Every. More like her.

Brushing my hair was soothing. So soothing that I never saw it as a chore. The sound evokes such calm that people trawl the internet for videos of women brushing their hair. What these people do with the videos I do not know. I imagine them leaning forwards, ear buds in, staring at the screen with a sort of manic grin.

The sound of brushing hair is otherworldly. (You can approximate the sound by putting the flat of your tongue against the back of your front teeth and repeatedly exhaling. It’s not an exact replica, but it comes close).

As a child, I was like a Bowerbird, eagerly picking up tips on how to be more Every. The Everys seemed to be of peak human stock: often blonde, or at least light-haired. Their noses were small and neat, their skin freckled adorably in the hot summer sun. They had eye creases which didn’t puff up and change location when they cried. They didn’t have epicanthal folds.

I remember attending auditions for school plays, year after year. Being an Other meant that I was consistently relegated to minor roles. It didn’t matter how hard I tried; the main part would go to an Every.

I, like the other Others, would be in the chorus, or cast as a Token. Once, I played a Japanese schoolgirl. Another time, a dirty Vietnamese street child. It was as though all of us who were Others were one and the same. It did not matter if I was Chinese, or Malaysian, or Japanese, or Viet. All that mattered was that I was Other.

The night before my Grade Six play, I scratched my face. There was a mole there, a blemish in my Other skin. It wasn’t like the light smattering of freckles I so coveted. It was dark, almost black, the same colour as my hair and eyes. I thought if I removed it, I would somehow be more Every. So I scratched and scratched, until I felt wetness. When I looked at my fingernails, they were caked in blood.

I did my chorus the next day with a plaster on my face.

I distanced myself from other Others. Picked a football team that sounded very Every. I surrounded myself with Every friends, friends whose parents didn’t carry their belongings around in plastic bags, or make them attend Chinese school. I read Every books, I watched Every television. When I flicked through magazines, the faces were all Every.

As I grew, and traversed the rollercoaster that was puberty, I would sometimes be noticed for my Otherness. Boys would actually say they liked me for being Other.

But I don’t want to be Other, I would say. I want to be like you.

They would say, We wouldn’t like you if you were Us.

No matter what I did, I was distinguished as an Other.

I tried my hardest to get part-time work, but suspected my résumé was often thrown out. My name broadcast me as an Other, and it was almost too hard to say. The Everys in charge of hiring probably didn’t want to bumble through an attempt to pronounce it. So it was easier to just not try.

Years later, I read research that confirmed my suspicion. Some Others had found that changing their name to something more Every-like landed them better jobs. It’s a strategy as old as time, really. People who were Others — women, the enslaved, the persecuted —  changed their names to become more acceptable, more appealing. Apparently, the onus is on the Other, not the other way around.

Eventually, I won a place at med school, where I painstakingly sweated out the letters that would follow my name. Afterwards, I would write out my complicated, unpronounceable Other name, then write those two letters: M.D. It is such a common mark of Others like me, that it could almost be a trademark.

Not OtherTM, but OtherMD. In fact, there were so many Others in my graduating class, that I almost felt more Every.

Almost. But not quite.

My habit of brushing my hair never stopped. Every night, one hundred strokes. It didn’t matter if I was up late, studying the bones of the hand (tip: use this mnemonic. So Long To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb. Straight Line To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb). It didn’t matter if I was passed out drunk on my friend’s bedroom floor. Whenever I remembered, I would swipe my brush through my hair one hundred times.

It was shortly after starting work as an OtherMD that I started to inspect the brush. For so long, the brush had just been an object, a prop. But as I rode the cresting waves into adulthood, it became an extension of my arm. A totem, or talisman, something that represented myself, my diligence. The parts of my personality I carefully crafted, just like my now-hidden yearning to be more Every.

I looked at my brush, after my one hundred strokes, and saw long black strands of hair tangled through the bristles. The dust collecting amongst the hair was abundant, and unsettling.

One morning, I put my hands on the back of my head, and felt it.

Maybe I’m imagining it, I said to myself, but my head feels smaller.

Don’t be stupid, said my reflection. Your head can’t get smaller from brushing your hair.

Every night, though, there would be more hair snarled into the brush’s bristles. And every night, more dust was caught up in the hair, grey and fluffy, like a cat.

It soon became clear I would always be an Other. Some of my patients insisted I had seen them before (Remember? In June last year?) and I would shake my head and tell them, No, I’m afraid you’re mixing me up with another Other.

They still could never pronounce my name.

So I shortened it.

When I met my now-husband, it was in a bar. He had the blonde hair and the blue eyes of an Every, and a devastating smile that made my stomach fizz. That night, I imagined my gastric bile, yellow and pungent, bubbles popping on the surface. (You can approximate this sound by bringing your lips together and then rapidly pulling them apart).

He took my hand, his white hand clasping my dark one. I forced myself to forget the names of the bones (do not, I repeat, do not mention the mnemonic). We danced. We kissed. His hand caressed the small of my back.

Later, he pushed his Everyness into my Otherness, over and over again, while he whispered my shortened name into my ear.

We married quickly. Everyone thought too quickly. Except my Mother, who told me I was lucky.

He’s a good man, she said. Rich. He will support you.

I didn’t want to tell her that all his ex-girlfriends were Others. That my Otherness seemed, to him, exotic. Something to be cradled and cherished, like a flower.

But not unique. Never unique.

I brushed my hair on our wedding night, while he was sleeping. This time, the hair didn’t just snarl in the brush. It started falling out, drifting down in a dark mist, collecting in a puddle at my feet. When the hair hit the ground, a cloud of dust puffed upwards, rising into the air like curling fog. I breathed in that dust, the dust that came from me.

I turned my head. The back of it looked flat. My head was shrinking, my features disintegrating. In my quest to become more Every, I was losing myself.

Slowly, each day, my skin cells were dying. And dead cells turn into dust.

When my daughter started growing, I felt her Everyness inside of me. Twisting and stretching, she would kick me from the inside, angry at the fleshy prison of my womb. She kicked so hard she cracked a rib.

It’s a known complication, said the doctor. You Others are built to have small babies. But this baby is half Every, and this baby is Big.

What should I do? I panted, breathing through the pain.

The doctor looked at me squarely, over his glasses. Try not to laugh. He wasn’t even joking.

The first glimpse of my daughter was a thatch of black hair, peeking through the lips of my labia. The midwife asked if I wanted to see, with a mirror. At first I said no, but then I said yes.

Black hair. Black, sticky hair. How very Other.

Four months after she was born, the last of my hair fell out. Nature’s cruel trick means that a Mother at her lowest — sleep-deprived, hormonal, with stretch marks and sagging breasts — is also destined to lose her hair. Of course, I was already losing my hair, but the hormones sped up the process. Each time I had a shower, I saw strands getting caught in the drain. And swirling in the water was the dust that came from me, slowly but surely washing away.

My daughter was born looking Other, but over time began to look more Every. And shamefully, I was relieved. They say girls are born with every egg they will ever produce already in their ovaries. I marveled at this fact, and thought about the grandchildren that resided in her belly. Mendelian genetics means that she might have blue-eyed babies. Just think — in only two generations, my Otherness could fade, and end up as nothing more than an interesting anecdote, or something that results in an almond-shaped eye.

I still brushed my head once my hair fell out. It had become such a ritual; a ritual I couldn’t break. It didn’t matter that my scalp was scratched and bleeding, that dust fell from it like the crumbling wings of dead moths.

It didn’t matter that I was shrinking, slowly fading from existence, becoming Invisible like I’d simultaneously wanted, and not wanted, to be.

The last day I brushed my head was when the last scrap of skin dissolved and fell away. I sat staring into my mirror, now no longer flesh-and-blood. All I saw was a gaunt skull, empty-eyed and grinning, staring back at me.

Finally White.

With no connective tissue to hold me together, I collapsed onto the ground in a clattering pile of bones. (You can approximate the sound of clicking bones by putting the tongue on the roof of your mouth, and drawing it downwards quickly to break the vacuum).

It was then that He approached, all black cowl and shroud and large, curving scythe. Just like I had dreamt last night, and every night before that.

He stroked my head with a skeletal hand, bone on bone. It hurt in a way that was both tangible and sweet.

Come with me, Child, said Death.

Yes, I replied. I will come.

Death gathered me into the folds of his cloak, and made me look in the mirror one last time.

Congratulations, he said.

I stared, entranced, at the sight of my bones. The same bones that are inside every other human. (Remember the mnemonic?)

Congratulations, Death repeated, as he brought down the scythe.

You have what you wanted. You have now become an Every.

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Runner Up: ‘Mary Poppins Was Wrong About Pie Crust’ By Lucy Grace

Mary Poppins Was Wrong About Pie Crust

By Lucy Grace

 

Dear Judith,

Today at work Jerry from accounts said my piecrust was perfect and the colour of caramel like Sarah’s hair. He didn’t say it to me, they never speak to me, but I heard them in the kitchenette.  It wasn’t even his pie. I only make it on Sundays, with enough to last for Monday lunch. They didn’t ask if they could eat it, they just stole it. They never said. They said other things.

“What’s that awful smell in the fridge?”

“I’m guessing it’s Martin’s lunch again. It lingers.”

“Well, uh, there’s nothing in here that looks like food.”

“Usually in a green box. Martin has a thing for eggs and onions – I dread to think what his kitchen smells like.”

I don’t know what they’re talking about. My kitchen smells like a kitchen, what else would it smell like? I doubt they have kitchens, they’re too young. They’ll stay as thin as those too short trousers they wear if they keep eating things from packets for lunch every day, skinny in the wallet as well as the body. And someone really should tell them that tumble drying can shrink clothes in peculiar ways, sometimes just lengthways. And that if they bought socks all the same colour like my brown ones, they will always be able to make a pair. I never suffer from cold ankles.

It takes me three minutes to walk to the office kitchenette to collect my lunch, two and a half minutes to walk back (I am quicker on the downhill stairs) and three-quarters of a minute to set up my desk with the blue cloth, cutlery, flask and cup. I eat my lunch at 12.35pm. At weekends I eat at 12.30pm because my table is in my kitchen and it takes nine seconds to open my fridge and I can be ready with my cloth and cutlery before the clock chimes. But of course I don’t have a clock that chimes. That would be too much. I hope I’m writing this right, Judith.

*

I haven’t eaten with another person for twenty-two years. Not an actual person. There’s Radio Four in my kitchen, and the odd-bods who work in my office, but they mostly eat in the upstairs kitchenette and I eat at my desk so that doesn’t count.  When I was nineteen, I went to a pub with a misused carpet with the girl from the bus stop who made promises. She ordered pie. I tried to stop her, but she said I was a bully and she could eat what she wanted and I wasn’t the boss of her and did I think she was too fat? She said so many words so quickly, they fell out of her mouth like teeth and I couldn’t catch them all. And by the time I’d made sentences out of them, she had gone. The pub smelled funny and the tables were too close together so I left. She wasn’t too fat. She ordered cottage pie and that isn’t even a pie.

*

Grandad always made me wait for the chimes before eating pie – he said the neatness of the hour made the pastry taste better. His table is still in the same place and it’s the same table anyway. Everything is the same in the house, apart from the sharp knife with the butcher string handle, because the string began to unravel and dragged in the washing up bowl so I bought a new one. The girl in the shop made quite a fuss because of all the blood on the blade and the floor and she wouldn’t listen to me explaining that the only way to test a blade is to run your thumb across it, not along it, but in all the noise and shop lights I must have muddled my ‘across’ with my ‘along’ and there was the blood. It was only because of the way I banged my head when I fell that the ambulance had to come but the ride was white and quiet and it made a change from the bus. They said I could lie down. I was just glad it happened on a Saturday. The scar is a white threadworm on my left thumb.

*

The secret in piecrust is cold hands, Judith. I have cold hands and chilblains, but they’re on my feet, the chilblains.

“Don’t overwork it, lad, leave it alone,” Grandad would say.

Grandad was good at leaving things alone. Some days I didn’t speak to anyone. I showed the driver my free bus pass and the dinner lady my free school-dinner pass and the shopkeeper Grandad’s free milk coupons and they didn’t need to speak to me at all. It is better to have passes and vouchers to show people because then they don’t see you. At work I have a pass which hangs around my neck in a plastic wallet. It opens doors too. That’s even better, as people don’t even have to look at my face, they can look at my middle and they’re done with me.

Grandad showed me how to make pie.

“Measure your flour carefully, lad. Too much flour in your piecrust an’ you’ll go from tender to tough.”  Then he would say,

“This is the only time in life it’s good to be flaky,” and laugh wetly until it turned into a cough, and have to go outside for a cigarette for his lungs. I didn’t like the smell, but I liked to watch him smoke the neat little roll-ups from the flat tin. I would stand behind the brown kitchen curtain and watch him leaning back into the weak sun, his floured fingers on the fence.

*

Mary Poppins said in a film on the television that a piecrust promise is easily made, easily broken.

Judith – I don’t think Mary Poppins has ever made piecrust, it is not as easy she thinks. Her promises must be rubbish.

*

This morning the woman in the paper-shop said I had cold hands. She touched my fingers when I paid; I don’t know why because the paper cost exactly twenty pence and she didn’t need to touch me. Twenty pence is a single coin. I have that ready before I go into the shop. When the price of that paper goes up I will swap to a different one which still costs a single coin and has too many parts to it, but I don’t have to read them all.

She said,

“Cold hands, warm heart,” and smiled right at me. I had my gloves on so she didn’t know if my hands were cold and my heart is inside me anyway. Her hair is shiny like conkers. I look at her hands every day, they are pale and soft like raw pastry. I wonder if there would be a mark if I pressed them, gently.

*

She wasn’t in the paper-shop today. It was a fat man instead and he didn’t say anything about my hands or my heart.

*

Perfect piecrust has secrets, not promises. Grandad told me that. He said,

“You want little bits of cold fat in the crust – they’ll melt when it bakes. That’s the secret of flaky crust. Never tell other folk our secrets, lad.”

Does it count if I write them down?

*

Judith – she is back! It has been the fat man in the paper shop for twenty-six days and I thought she had gone forever but this morning she said,

“Cold hands, warm heart,” and I was so happy I walked to the bus stop forty-five seconds more quickly than usual.

*

My cupboard:

  • Two white cups, one for tea and one for coffee.
  • Saucers, none (unnecessary).
  • One drinking glass, medium, chipped.
  • One plate, green.
  • One bowl, for everything else.
  • One white enamelled pie dish with a blue rim, medium-sized.

*

Today isn’t a pie day, but I have thought about it a lot and know it’s risky but I am nearly forty-one and after writing up a pros and cons list like you suggested I’ve worked out the probable hazards and Grandad isn’t here anyway so I’m going to make the pies a day early and take them to her tomorrow. Antiques Roadshow won’t be on but I will hum the music instead.

*

This morning it was difficult to open the door to the paper-shop because I was carrying two pies in a bag. The bell jangled when I went in so she knew I was coming. When I gave her my single coin, I put her pie-cup down on top of the stack of papers and it looked tiny in my man’s hand and maybe not the right size. She didn’t say all the four words. Instead she smiled with the whole of her mouth and said, “Warm heart,” and I felt yellow like softened butter.  I smiled back, just a bit, without teeth, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t have anything to say.

*

Jerry from accounts stole another pie. I had put it on the second shelf of the fridge, at the back, with a pink post-it note where I’d written DO NOT EAT and underneath that I’d written POISONED because they are too vain to risk getting sickness and diarrhoea in front of Sarah’s hair. I wrote it with my left hand as a disguise.

At 12.30pm I left my desk and at 12.33pm I reached the kitchenette, which was too soon for someone to eat a whole pie, but there on the worktop was my dish, scraped out with crust remnants on the edge. I was rageful. They are short-trousered idiots, I don’t know how they managed to get a job at all. Perhaps they cannot read. I went back to the stairs, but everything was ruined so I went to the toilets instead even though they smell purple and the long lights give me a headache. In the first cubicle I had a seven-minute sit down on the lid and the door opened and some people came in and I heard Jerry from accounts say, “Perfect pastry, just like Sarah’s hair,” and I hated him.

*

This morning I got to the paper-shop at 08.02 and she was there.

“I’m Jo,” she said.

Her words are as small as the pies. It is perfect. On the walk home I thought about cold fat, melting between the cracks.

 

*

This is the last page I will write. It’s a bit annoying thinking about what has happened in the day just to write it all down. Judith said, neuro-typical or not, it is Important to Process Events in order to Feel Things Properly. She has a fixation on Feeling Things, she’s always wanting to talk about Feeling Things. She said to pretend I was writing to her, to make it easier, but I have ended up writing to me. I still speak to her on Wednesdays anyway. The social services cardigan lady said it would either be medication every day or Judith’s leather chair every Wednesday, to Ensure the Stability of my Mental Health. Some people use so many words. One in seven is clearly better than seven in seven, so I chose the chair.

 

*

Tomorrow is New Year. I know I said I wasn’t going to write again, but I bought a green notebook. I have good news:

Jerry from accounts left work.

I took in a medium-sized pie in a foil dish to celebrate, with a note saying HELP YOURSELF. People wondered where the pie was from even though I held the pen in my right-hand. I didn’t eat any because other people might have licked the knife.

I still make pie on Sundays, but now I make two, and use both cups. I’ve bought another glass. Later, maybe tomorrow, I’ll tell Jo about Grandad and his pies, not anything worth mentioning really, but just so she knows, about piecrust and secrets and things.

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Third Place: ‘The Little Black Stool’ By Fatema Matin

THE LITTLE BLACK STOOL

By Fatema Matin

 

When people think of accessibility, they may think of sophisticated software or state-of-the-art technology. They may think of equipment that changes lives in previously unimaginable ways and therefore equipment that is expensive. However, accessibility tools don’t always need to be complex. Sometimes, they can be as simple as a little black stool.

The little black stool that lived in our kitchen was like a member of the family. Well, it was to me at least. It was about fifteen centimetres high and I grew up using it every day. The top of the stool was designed with a pattern of circular holes and it had four reliable, stubby legs. It was made of cheap plastic, so it wasn’t worth much in terms of money but when we moved house twenty years ago there was no question of forgetting the stool and leaving it behind. The stool came with us. Whenever I needed to wash my hands or wash the dishes or help with the cooking the stool was there. Whenever I needed to reach up to put something away or to get something down, the stool was there ever loyal, ever helpful. I loved that stool. It meant a lot to me because I have Turner’s Syndrome and kyphoscoliosis which make me shorter than average. When you are shorter than normal, a stool like that is the best tool you can have.

But one day, my big brother stepped on it (the blob!) and it snapped into pieces. The stool died an unnecessary death after a long term of faithful service and my heart was broken into as many pieces as the stool. Slightly ridiculous, I know. We had another stool in the kitchen, but it just wasn’t the same. It was completely the wrong height! When I stood on it I was raised two feet above the ground! It’s kind of hard to explain but when you stand that high above the ground, you physically can’t bend your knees to reach the sink or the counter without the threat of unbalancing and slipping off. I also didn’t need to be two foot in the air every time I wanted to reach the lowest shelf of the cupboard- my family were mindful enough at least, to put most of what I used on a daily basis there. The only other option was to kneel on the stool for prolonged periods of time to be at the right height. but that was uncomfortable! My knees began to hurt so I stopped.

My brother didn’t see fit to replace the stool and no one else missed it like I did- no one else needed it quite like I did- so I wasn’t allowed to complain about it. Instead of replacing it myself- after all, I wasn’t the one who broke it- I do the stubborn thing and force myself to manage without it. My elbows may be by my shoulders, or I may be kneeling on the stool in front of the cooker flames just so that I can see into the cooking pot, but I still do everything that I need to do.

I guess that I’ve always been a bit stubborn. I remember, when I took a GCSE in Textiles, I reached the medals of the sewing machines reasonably well and got on with my practical work just fine. This made me so happy because I felt almost the same as all of my peers in the class. However, the technology department saw fit to arrange for the construction of a wooden pallet which slotted under the desk onto the floor. There was no need for me to feel quite as targeted by this as I did because the wooden block was meant to make the equipment more accessible to me by raising the pedal. It was meant to be a positive thing. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t see it that way. I couldn’t help but feel singled out and I cried tears of shame. Needless to say, I refused to use it. I never touched it. Not even once. I told you I was stubborn.

It’s a pity because something I would have appreciated would have been making the jigsaw in the Resistant Materials Room more accessible. I learned for the first time how to utilise the incredibly sharp rotating blade which moved at incredibly fast speeds. There I would be, kneeling on a stool so that I could see what I was doing and be able to move the object forward towards the blade at the correct angle. The jigsaw was fastened to the counter and if you didn’t hold the material you were using tightly enough, the object you were holding would escape from you and rattle alarmingly around the teeth of the saw. My fear was one that one day I would get startled and topple off the stool backwards, injuring myself in the process. I felt confined and less mobile kneeling on the stool and I didn’t even want to think about falling forward onto the jigsaw! It just occurs to me now to wonder why I never spoke up. Why didn’t I say something about my struggle that a low stool would have alleviated? Things would have been a lot easier. I think that I’m just so used to getting on with the resources that are already available in all parts of my life rather than go out of my way to get what I need. Get a suitcase down from the top of my wardrobe? No problem. Put a board game back on top of my mother’s wardrobe? No sweat. It’ll be difficult but I get things done. Just don’t ask me how.

Anyway, that was thirteen years ago. The stool-less situation continued until my older sister Aysha glanced at me one day recently and asked me what I had been doing.
“I was washing the dishes,” I replied.
“Yes, but why is your chest wet Fatema?” she wondered curiously.
“That’s what happens when you’re shorter,” I sighed miserably.
My older sister is married and she has lived in her own house for about five years now. The next time I went to stay over at her house after we had this conversation, I noticed something new in the kitchen- a low stool, about fifteen centimetres high. I used it every day. No longer did I have to drag a heavy, solid wooden chair from the living room to the kitchen every time that I wanted to reach ingredients for myself and cook or bake. Everything that I needed to do in her kitchen, I could do more comfortably.

Then, each time I returned home, I would return to a kitchen where even getting a glass for water was sometimes slightly less than straightforward. You see, the tall stool is sometimes moved from the kitchen- I’ve yet to know why the person who removes it doesn’t put it back- so that when I need it, it isn’t there. I would get so frustrated that rather than hunting it down and fetching it back myself, I would place a foot on the washing machine door thereby raising myself to reach a glass from the cupboard. Okay, I’ll be honest, at other times I would just be frustrated at being so small.  At those times, dragging the tall stool across the kitchen annoyed me. To get myself a glass, I would disregard it and place my foot on the washing machine door anyway.
My older brother got irritated when he caught sight me doing this because he thought that I would break the washing machine door over time (I won’t). He told me never to do it again but he never once considered my need for that little black stool. I doubt he even remembers that it existed which makes me furious because I think about it every day. I don’t feel comfortable enough to request that my family leave a glass on the draining board at all times for me to access.
“Sure,” I thought bitterly, “I’ll stop stepping on the washing machine when I stop being so short or when I stop being frustrated about it.”

I hate being so short. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to learn how to drive. When I catch the bus, I’m the same as every other passenger travelling alongside me, but the thought of getting into a car especially adapted for me makes me feel embarrassed about myself and different from other drivers in an awfully obvious way that makes me squirm. People think that you get used to being short just because you’re born that way but it’s been more than quarter of a century and I haven’t gotten used to it yet so I’m pretty sure that I never will. I know that I should be more grateful. After all, people need all sorts of accessibility equipment to move, talk, hear, see and even simply to breathe. However, maybe I could take some steps towards being patient. I’m going to stop stepping on the washing machine from now on. I could find a driving instructor to accommodate me…and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even let go of my stubbornness and buy a little stool.

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Perito Prize Winners

A Thank You From Changing Places – The Perito Prize Charity 2019

 

 

Dear Perito Prize Winners & Competition Entrants,

We are delighted to to receive the donation of £100 from the sale of the Perito Prize Anthology 2019 to Muscular Dystrophy UK. We know we can beat muscle-wasting conditions more quickly by working together so thank you for all your support. Please extend our thanks to everyone who supported and contributed so kindly towards this.

Muscular Dystrophy UK know that every day counts for people with progressive conditions. That’s why we fund pioneering research to improve the lives of people today and transform those of future generations. And why we’re driving change so that muscular dystrophy becomes better recognised, people get the best care and support and potential therapeutic drugs reach people faster.

With your support we can be here for everyone affected today, tomorrow and every next day. Together we will bring forward the day when we beat muscular dystrophy.

If you have any questions about previous or future donations, please call our fundraising hotline on 0300 012 0172 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).

Thank you again for your generous support.

Kind regards

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Blog

Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast Ep5 In The ‘Inclusive Designer Series’ With Dr Caroline Casey of the Valuable 500

In this episode of the Inclusive Designer Series we hear from Dr Caroline Casey of the Valuable 500 who talks about founding the Valuable 500, hidden disabilities and why it is essential that business adds disability into its inclusion and diversity agenda.

 

Perito:     Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. A podcast all about creating inclusive environments and about helping us all become expert at identifying exclusion and create an inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere.  Perito believes that we are all designers in some capacity even if we are not the Principal Designers like Town Planners or Architects.  This podcast is out there to help everybody become a community expert in recognising exclusion and someone who can then contribute to a design process and make or advise on creating better inclusive design decisions.  The podcast will help listeners learn from the day to day experiences and challenges of our interviewees and the topics we cover so that you will have a greater understanding of what can exclude people from participating and what can be done to create our world without boundaries.  Now in this episode we’re really pleased to be joined by Caroline Casey who will be chatting about some high profile and important issues as well as telling us about the valuable 500.  (1.00) Hi Caroline how are you doing?

 

CC:            (1.05) Hi how are you doing?

 

Perito:     (1.09) I’m pretty good this end thank you very much. Obviously, we’re not in the studio so to speak we’re on the sofa and so we’re over the Ringr app. so you over in Ireland at the moment aren’t you Caroline?

 

CC:            I am I’m sitting on a sofa in a house full of four people trying to do their day job over some form of digital form, so yeah it feels very strange, very full house, full environment but it’s beautiful and sunny outside, I want to go out and play.

 

Perito:     (laughter) (1.30) It would be good to kick off with a bit of a warm up and why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are in Ireland as well that sounds lovely and your background as well?

 

CC:            You know first off that’s a very open question for an Irish over talker (laughter), I live in Dublin and it’s a funny thing when somebody asks me a question like this to give a description of who I am, I could give you all the titles of the things that I’ve done but I believe anyone of us are defined by a role or any one specific part of myself but I think this is what my professional (laughter) descriptor is, I’m an activist, I’m a campaigner, I’m a social entrepreneur, a businesswoman I have been in the space of disability business inclusion for nearly 20 years, I’m an ex-Management Consultant, an ex-Archaeologist, an ex-Masseuse so that’s (laughter)…

 

Perito:     (laughter) That’s quite a few things that’s good.

 

CC:            …all my stuff and who am I, well I am 48 years old, I am in the middle of Menopause I am married to a wonderful man, another entrepreneur called Gar, I love, I’m very, very passionate about design it’s one of my absolute joys in life, photography, art, dance, animals, adventure, branding, marketing I mean absolutely all of those things, love being fit I’ve just come in from doing a hip class online which is hilarious and the thing that probably, I think if you were to ask me anything I’m a dangerous dreamer.  I’m a person who really doesn’t just daydream stuff I really try to make it happen, I’m hopelessly stubborn, I’m very sensitive, I’m very emotional, I’ve had a long journey of, I guess to where I am today, and I think the thing that surprises people most if they see me or meet me is that I am actually registered blind or severely visually impaired, I have a condition called Ocular Albinism and I do not look registered blind but I only have about 2 foot vision and what’s very unusual about that and why you wouldn’t know when you meet me is when I was diagnosed at 6 months, I’m the eldest of three children my parents I think struggled with it and made a very unusual decision in 1973 that they would bring me up as a sighted child because the world was not designed for people…

 

Perito:     Okay interesting.

 

CC:            …who was basically impaired, and they were worried about me so that is me, hope that kind of gives you some sort of sense of who I am.

 

Perito:     You said something to do with elephant somewhere in are you kind of an elephant trainer or something along those lines is that correct?

 

CC:            Yeah I mean this story of, so I think yes I am elephant handler and I’m a cow girl (laughter), I’m a wannabe biker chick, yeah I’m many things, Caroline who I am as Caroline is all my heart but all the things that I do they’re quite crazy and if you put them altogether and you read them out of the list I go god, what am I, but the dream to be an elephant handler came from when I watched the Jungle Book when I was 6½ years old and of course I was sitting in the front row of a cinema and I didn’t know that I couldn’t see the Jungle Book very well but my favourite scene of the Jungle Book was Mowgli and when Mowgli met the elephant and I’d always been fascinated by elephants and so as a child I had this desire to go to India and hang out with Baloo and Bagheera and become Mowgli and I always wanted to do that and when I was 17 years old when most people were making decisions to go to be, I don’t know, to go to become a Doctor or a Lawyer I wanted to become Mowgli from the Jungle Book and I wanted to be a cow girl and I wanted to be a biker chick and on my 17th birthday I discovered that my dreams were not necessarily appropriate or whatever because I found out that I was registered blind because my father gave me a driving lesson for my 17th birthday, so yeah, so that’s kind of, that was it and I did become this Mowgli from the Jungle Book eventually when I was 28 years old.

 

Perito:     (5.34) But what I like about everything you’ve said there is to say you’re a dangerous dreamer but actually you have these ambitions, these dreams and you go ahead and make them happen, so you don’t, I can appreciate if there’s something similar, but you have this thought and then it’s like “no that’s impossible let’s go and do it” and it obviously doesn’t cross your mind that there’s restriction here, you just make it happen and I guess that kind of aligns very closely with what we’re going to talk about more today as well.  So you mentioned you being in the inclusion diversity space for 20 years now and there’s obviously a lot that drives you on, what are the principles that get you excited about changing the world for the better? sounds like you’ve got a lot of experience from the past that might lead into this.

 

CC:            Well you know it’s interesting whenever I’m asked about who I am and I hear the jumble that it comes out like I mean my life has unfolded, I was never planned, nothing I’ve ever done is planned really, it goes with my instinct and I think my heart and actually all of the work that I’ve done has come out of a very tough place like a lot of my big moments or big achievements have come from very dark and painful places and from, yeah I think from huge talent and from barriers and when we talk about designing and what inclusive design is I guess for me the principle of the work I do and how I got into disability business inclusion is all in a tag talk that people can listen to and I don’t need to go back over that but is I really believe in creating a world where anybody can belong, not fit in and not try to be exacted to belong in their own unique and beautiful way and if that sounds cliché well so be it.

 

Perito:     No, I don’t think it does.

 

CC:            I believe we’re all equally unique and valuable and I think the only thing that we have in common as human beings is that we’re different, I think innovation is born from difference, I fundamentally, and this is where I become quite emotional, there is nothing that makes me more sad then when I see a child or an adult in the corner of a room being left out, I remember as a kid being in school and watching a child that was bullied, I was bullied in school actually but watching a child be bullied was horrible but worse than that was watching somebody being ignored or invisible and I think that’s a really passionate part of why I do the work I do.  The reason the work that I have done for 28 years it comes from a place of heart, a place of equality, a place of justice, a place for the right for every human, not necessarily to be liked because we can’t all be liked but be respected and be given dignity and to have the barriers removed for them to be who they need to be.  There is nothing that breaks my heart more than somebody not been seen and heard as themselves, we all don’t have to agree but we need to make safe in our world for every one of our opinions, every one of our manifestations of who we are as a person to be allowed to reach fruition and I’m sorry but I do not believe one person is more valuable than another.  There are rules in life like presidents of countries and CEO’s of companies but they are not as human beings more important than anybody else and they’re the people who are in positions of influence and power who can actually ensure that all of our voices are heard and all of our lives can be meaningful, and so that kind of segue ways into what I do because the group of people to which I belong, I’m a person who has a disability I belong to 1.3 billion people tribe in the world who have lived experience of disability and there’s an inequality crisis for this group of people, it is not a minority, disability will touch every single one of our lives and yes there is a crisis of exclusion right across the world no matter where you live in, where you are marginalised, ignored, invisible, you are not served, you are 50% less likely to have a job, 50% more likely to experience poverty if you are a child with a disability, 90% of kids with a disability don’t get to see the inside of a classroom and the reason I do what I do is I believe that that scale of a problem cannot be resolved by Government alone or charities or conventions it needs the most powerful force on this planet which is business and if business includes society includes I believe in that more core principle of inclusive business creates inclusive societies and I believe inclusive leaders create inclusive business end of.

Perito:     (10.06) There’s a lady called Cat Holmes who you may be familiar with and she if I get this right…

 

CC:            Yes, oh I have a big crush on her.

 

Perito:     …yeah she’s very good, well she came up in a book about the comment of we’re all just, I’ll paraphrase this, “we’re all just temporarily abled” and I think that’s the great way…

 

CC:            We are.

 

Perito:     …to look on this and the fact that yes we’re 7.4 billion unique humans but we’re all temporarily able and I think that’s the mindset change that we just need to be looking that is to say that this impacts on everybody, that leads us onto what you’ve kind of done to bring this to fruition.  (10.37) Dis-valuable 500 also known as the V500 why don’t you give us a bit of an intro on this cos I expect a lot of people will maybe have vaguely heard of this or perhaps not be familiar?

 

CC:            Well I believe, as I do, that inclusive business creates inclusive societies I want to be really clear, we don’t need, the world of disability does not need for business to do this cos it’s a worthier good thing to do, I believe that the disability community is hugely valuable to business and actually is a really overlooked opportunity for growth and innovation and grand differentiation and talent, it’s a mark with a disposable income of £8 trillion and this market is growing because of Cat Holmes is a great example, we are all temporarily able, every one of us will be at some point and if we look up with 1.3 billion people in the world with a disability and we’re just say there are two people that love us okay, a mum and a dad or that’s 54% of our consumer base.  So based on these principles I was frustrated over the 20 years and we have had huge success, I have to be honest, massive success around the work that we’ve been doing which has been really looking at the opportunity that can be gained between business and the disability communities but I was very frustrated that disability was always been left on the side lines and increasingly I was watching the diversity and inclusion agenda become ridiculous (laughter) I mean just ridiculous, when we were literally cookie cutting up humanity into these categories of gender and race and LGBTQ and I was like what is this craziness, now disability has never really been in anywhere central to business, it really hasn’t but over the last 10 years it has got ridiculous and what was happening with this comm policing agendas, disability was always been left and I hate to tell you but disability doesn’t discriminate it’s everywhere, do you know what I mean, it’s just everywhere and I couldn’t get over the scale of this issue and disability was being left off it.  So we did some research and the research was done by EY first of all and these are the three stats that terrify me, 54% of our governing bodies are the Boards of Business, the Leadership Boards had never had a conversation about disability, yet 90% of our companies were claiming they were passionate about diversity and inclusion, 4% were considering disability, 7% of our CEO’s are leaders had a lived experience of disability yet 4 out of 5 of them were hiding it.  Now there you go, there’s the problem, so the Valuable 500 why did we do it, well let’s be honest, the Valuable 500 exists simply to level the playing fields, it’s to make sure that disability is equally included within the inclusion and sustainability agendas of business.  The second thing its to do is to make sure leaders speak about it, we wanted to get the attention and intention of leaders so we can operationalise disability throughout the business like everything else and lastly, honestly James is to end the inclusion delusion or the ridiculousness of what is going on, now I’m probably very controversial when I say this I actually think the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda should be canned and Inclusion and Belonging should evolve into the sustainability agenda of business and so what the Valuable 500 is was this iconic search for an inclusion revolution that was launched in Davos in 2019 asking for 500 of the world’s most powerful CEO’s and their brands to commit to having a leadership conversation about disability, making a leadership action and communicating that externally with their customers and their employees and by doing that we would build a 500 strong community of leadership that we would work with to use our power and influence to change the system over a period of time to equally include disability, that’s our job.

 

Perito:     (14.35) I read an interesting article in the FT, it was only a short thing on Beethoven it was a book review actually for a new book that someone released and in it the lady was reported as saying “Beethoven wasn’t as deaf as people thought he was and he could hear from, in his left year from, if you shouted in his left ear quite closely” but what was interesting was that he ended up actually self-isolating for much of his later life primarily because, according to his notes, he got fed up with people looking at him thinking Beethoven you must have amazing hearing because you’re so good at music, what I found interesting about this is that the lady didn’t necessarily isolate that bit this was a social exclusion because of his disability that he felt this way and he isolated himself but it goes to show this affects everybody from high and low with amazing genius skills across the board and I think that adds value to what you’re doing here with the Valuable 500.

 

CC:            Yeah I think, do you know what I really want to do with the Valuable 500 before Covid and by the way Covid is now actually the greatest opportunity for all of us to reboot or reset the system and I’ve talked about an inclusion revolution that’s what the Valuable 500 was it was a radical revolution around inclusion to say listen we need to be talking about universally inclusive corporate cultures where everybody is included and everybody’s needs, the barriers are removed for everybody to engage with business equally, I mean that’s what this is about, it’s having design led thinking into business and that’s good for business and this is my point is when you value a constituent, when you value human beings you don’t exclude them, disability is a deeply uncomfortable thing that makes all of us feel uncomfortable, I mean I rejected my disability for 11 years, I was in the closet for 11 years from the age of 17 through to the time I was with Excentia as a Management Consultant for 2½ years they didn’t even know I was visually impaired, I hid it because I knew or I felt at the time that actually owning my disability would lessen my chances in life, and let’s be honest I was probably right because if you hear now that you have 4 out of 5 of our 7% of CEO’s are hiding their disability well they’re hiding it for a reason, because disability seems like damage or weak not as a source of innovation or opportunity which I believe it is and let’s just look at some small things like now one is, isn’t it extraordinary that the remote control was designed for blind people okay, to watch television, we don’t watch television, it was designed for blind people we all use the remote control, text messaging was designed for deaf people and I think that’s incredible, look how much we use it.  Let’s even look at Covid right today I think it’s fascinating people with disability have been asking for remote working for a long time and have been using digital and online communication and now the whole world is doing it and for many, many years employers were saying “no we can’t employ disabled people because we don’t do remote working” but look at it now, we’re all doing it, it may not be easy but we’re doing it and I think what the Valuable 500 was trying to do was say we want to look at the most powerful leaders in the world to reset this system and now just before Covid we had 261 of the world’s biggest brands and CEO’s.

 

Perito:     (17.58) Now these really are big companies aren’t they Caroline these are the Googles and the Microsofts.

 

CC:            These are huge James, these are the big companies we are talking big companies, the sales force, the PWC’s, the Accenture’s, the KPMG’s, the Barclays, the ITV’s, the BBC’s, champ I mean I can on an on, go onto the website and look at it and it’s the CEO’s signature who signed this, now think about it because we will have to emerge out of Covid, our system is going to have to reboot it, right it has to change so I think oddly here we have these now to 261 CEO’s, we will help them redesign this business system to equally include disability knowing to your points, you said we’ve had exclusion on mainstream how can we use that empathy and compassion and understanding and build it into our systems so we get the most out of our planet and our people, we are our greatest asset how do we do that, so I think right now what I had hoped for was a reboot of a system and that is coming maybe differently then we imagined but the need for it has been amplified by Covid.

 

Perito:     (19.14) When I was drawing up the questions this is where my thought process started to go because you’ve got 154 days to reach this target, 500 signatures, you’re almost there because you’ve got 261, so then I started thinking about what the staff or the Board at Corporate needed to do to get on board with this but I also thought about what I could to help you get to this point, do you feel that you are going to reach that or do you feel that Covid’s got in the way and is this the time to kind of almost go into supernova with this and gather everybody around to push through to the 500 or what’s your plan with that?

 

CC:            You know how I feel at the moment, No. 1 is getting companies who are in a crisis to join anything like a campaign or a movement right now is, I wouldn’t have said it’s the order of the day if I was running a business so we originally wanted to close the Valuable 500 in September at the UN General Assembly week in New York, we’re now going to extend that through to the end of January, Davos being the place that we launch the Valuable 500.  So I want to say that for starters because you know one of the things when you try to make big change happen you have to be aware of what’s going on around it, you may not like it but you have to and you have to adjust and be flexible so that’s my one, we’ll move that very quickly.  However, the second thing is it’s given us huge time to really plan and dig out and know what the next phase is going to be so once we’ve built this community of 500 what are we going to do with it.  However, that being said we are getting companies joining the Valuable 500 probably more than we expected during Covid however they don’t want to go public about it and I get that, so what they want to do, and this is very exciting for us, they realise wow we need to get this exclusion situation sorted, we know as a business we’re not going to be able to leave disability out anymore because now it’s here in our faces so what they’re doing is joining quietly because they want to be part of this very precious and very unique global community of 500 brands and CEO’s that together in safety in numbers they can learn and share from each other and reset their businesses as a community.  So what I think is happening what I didn’t plan is, they’re interested, they’re talking to us, some are joining now, some will join towards I say the last quarter of this year but what they’re doing is they want to get ahead into a peer led community where they can learn from each other and actually move forward.  So do I think Covid is getting in the way? Yes, maybe from the impatient side of me in building the 500 community.

 

Perito:     (laughter) Yeah I can relate to that.

 

CC:            Do I think we’re going to be success, yeah, do I think we’re going to be successful, well you know, everybody who knows me knows I’m the most impatient person on the planet so I think I’m a little scared honestly, I think actually we probably are going to have much bigger responsibility in the world then I ever even thought so.  When I started the Valuable 500 and the story of how this came about is the most extraordinary story but when I think about it I know everybody knew that we needed this, I mean the disability world, the business world, everybody said “we need to get business leadership engaged but there’s no way you’ll do it Caroline, you can’t do it, you’re too ahead of your time, can you just not continue to do what you’ve done really well and do that” and I was like “no because we need accelerated change” and everybody thought I was crazy and let’s be honest I am crazy but we did it and I have Paul Pearlman as my Chairperson, I mean everybody thought he was crazy about sustainability and I have Virgin Media and Geoff Dodds and we have Omnicom and One Young World, I’ve got some great partners, 85 partners around the world, we built this on nothing with nothing, I had to re-mortgage my home, like we built this and then we made history and then we got it but I didn’t think that we were going to have the responsibility that I think is going to fall on the shoulders of the Valuable 500, I think it’s going to be a global game changer and I don’t know how I feel about that yet, I’m so inviting of people telling or giving their advice on what they’ve learnt on building a global movement and what they think we should do, I’m scared you can hear it in my voice, I’m incredibly excited in some ways I’m overwhelmed but I know that somehow we’re are in the right place and the right time and I don’t have answers to all of the problems but I do believe and I think, the reason I’m so appreciative talking to you is I think we are at this moment in time it’s very painful and people with disabilities are really being overlooked and it’s very scary but in this time we have to take the good out of it and we have to find out what we can do to ensure this never happens again and I think we have the right tools, the right leaders and the right moment and I think my biggest call out now is for the greatest thinkers and the greatest designers to do design led thinking with us in what we can do to remove the barriers and to remove the excuses and to make it easy for people to make sure.

 

Perito:     (24.16)  Cos I think from my side having seen how the Coronavirus issues have panned out that it has caused that, and you mentioned about the working from home, the electronic communication, there’s no reason why there wouldn’t be a whole population who can operate effectively from home now because the framework is in place to do that so the barriers that may have been in people’s minds or shall we say the excuses or the justifications, the unconscious bias that led to those decisions have now been overruled, they’ve been proven to be incorrect and overcome.  I agree I think you guys are in a place to really punch through and see where it can go.  (24.49) With that in mind how can listeners help the Valuable 500 achieve its goal, what can the people who aren’t CEO’s and signature C suite and Board level in companies do to help you?

 

CC:            Well ever persons engages with business don’t we, it doesn’t, you don’t have to be Richard Branson to be able to make this change happen of course the Valuable 500 is finding 500 of the most influential leading brands and their CEO’s but who do those brands and CEO’s listen to, they listen to the consumers, they listen to the next generation talent that they want to employ or retain and they care about their brands so I think what I ask everybody to do, no matter where you are, if you’re working in an organisation see if your company is a Valuable 500 company, if not then ask the question, as a consumer you can do the same.  I mean the big thing is to get people saying, “yeah we want our company to be part of that”, catalytic group that will recess our business system that will equally include anyone and I want to be really clear that disability, I’m not asking for disability to be petted more than anybody else, not at all, I actually, I just, I want that all of those completing agendas to be evened out to a continue of inclusion, so that’s how everybody can help just get it out, ask your employer or ask the customer you do, you know the company you do business with or the brand that you do business with, “have you heard of the Valuable 500?  Are you going to join and if not why not?” and I think that’s what you can do for me.

 

Perito:     (26.15) Good book, I don’t know if you read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there’s one of the main characters is called Hank Rearden and in the book he talks about essentially the free economy because a lot of they’re called looters these companies that started to take from places then and overtime in the book, without spoiling for everybody, it’s a little like at the moment actually the seismic shift that people are waiting for happens towards the end of the book and essentially the world collapses and they can rebuild it, what’s interesting about the Hank Rearden that he’s got the mentality of, “if you don’t want to buy from me then I will suffer as a result of that and the free market, the free decision making that people have got you can decide collectively and I will be judged based on that” and that is why Hank Rearden is such a great guy in the novel because he has that approach and general message out there to everybody’s use your collective buying power get together and say “look actually we’re purchasing, we have to make the right decisions alongside you” is that fundamentally it?

 

CC:            Yeah, I think we’re all allies for each other aren’t we?  Isn’t that the one thing that we’ve learnt in this is that we are all interconnected and actually what we do affects other people so all I’m asking for is, you know isn’t there that old analogies like “treat people the way you wanted to be treated like yourself” because it will be you, you are future proofing your world and the business system, if you don’t yet experience disability to Cat Holmes you will at some point.  Your future proofing your world that you work in and that you buy from for yourself and I think that’s really important so just for allies for each other, not everybody’s passion is going to be disability inclusion not at all but I think all of us have the passion for human inclusion and I think that’s how we can do it, it’s just a question, can you ask the question, that’s a really good way because if you were a person who acquires a disability your world will change and because at the moment the world is not designed with significant difference to belong and what I will say right now as a visually impaired person, severely visually impaired person I am really, really, really feeling isolated because of the constant level of Zoom or different platforms that exist they are not fully accessible and I’m on a screen nearly 12 hours a day right now and I think, I feel like a digital introverse and I now understand I’m so sorry for anybody I never had the compassion or the empathy for but it must be like if you’re an introvert in a crowded room, I feel like that online now and I can’t see, so I think we’re all learning aren’t we, (laughter) just all leaning that we all don’t have the same experience but I need to hear, I think the business systems and the world that we to need design needs to try and make room for as many of our different lived experiences.  So I’m an ally for anybody who experiences a sense of isolation, you don’t have to have a disability for that, you don’t, but I will always ally for somebody who has a sense of isolation or a sense of being left out and that’s what I ask for the Valuable 500 too.

 

Perito:     (29.19) Did you feel that sort of experience when you went to Davos recently because there must have been a whole array of different people of lots of different agendas when you went to talk about the progress of the V500, how did it go and were you kind of just do your thing and then leave or were you kind of mingling and talking to lots of different people?

 

CC:            You know I live in this really strange world and the thing is unfortunately I had a really, really big cry about my eyesight over the weekend so this is very raw for me at the moment.  I have spoken about my vision quite maybe as much as I’m feeling how hard I’m struggling because of how the world is designed.

Perito:     Well Caroline, don’t feel like you have to if you don’t want to. We can cover other things.

 

CC:            No I mean don’t be silly it’s very important probably now, I mean gosh it’s important to talk about it I don’t feel it’s a bad thing to be honest about when you are feeling more vulnerable, I feel very vulnerable at the moment and I think that’s okay.  I’m 5’ 8”, I’m very pale, I’ve got blonde hair and I use a cane so I definitely use the cane but I use the cane in certain circumstances, a white cane for my sight but in Davos if my cane is not in my hands and I’m using a sighted guide or a colleague to be with which I do in Davos I have a colleague around me, you will have no idea that I can’t see, and then you will watch my personality because I learnt as a young child when I didn’t know I was visually impaired that I realised, because I could hear very well and I heard that when people were loud that seemed to make something, that sound was very important to me so I use my voice a lot or I reach out and touch you and I’m a big hugger, like I love hugging right, so I’ve learnt how to compensate for lack of sight by being more vocal or more verbal and very huggy.  So I went to this Davos situation and there’s so many people around I cannot see one person and their badge but I look like I can see.

 

Perito:     (laughter) Yeah.

 

CC:            And everybody is like going so I’m a complete disconnect, like I don’t make sense to myself or to anybody else but what I can definitely tell you I love people, I love hugging, I hope I hug the right person but I’m exhausted trying to see and trying to cope when I can’t and that’s the next phase of my sort of journey around vision and permit that I have to do because I don’t know how to let go of this sort of caricature of myself that I’ve built up but I definitely need to change the way I work and Davos was a really big trigger for this year cos I really struggled and this Covid situation it’s a really big trigger for me again and I know now I have to give in and I have to say I need help, I have to because it happens every few years and here we are again.

 

Perito:     (32.08)  But that’s part of growing isn’t it the experience adds up and then you can learn, improve, learn, improve and keep on going but you must have found in some degree with Davos that you didn’t have the same, so if I turned up there I would be mega nervous the whole time and then hopefully I wouldn’t say the wrong thing or something but this situation it sounds like you were almost freer to engage because you weren’t restricted by what I would bring, my own barriers that I would put up.  Was that the case or was it just…

 

CC:            Oh no not at all.  No oh my gosh no I over compensate, listen when I’m frightened and I’m nervous and I feel vulnerable and scared I over compensate, I try to deflect, I try to distract because it’s hard, you don’t want people to see that your nervous or your scared and from a very young age I’ve learnt how to be the world’s greatest deflector and that’s exhausting, it’s really tiring and I know I went to Davos probably just as nervous you have at a lot of weight sitting on my shoulders, can I also say I’m only one of a team of 7 people who I want to make sure that I do them proud for all the work that they’ve done and our partners and people who’ve believed in me, no I think the more nervous I get the more I nearly reach outside myself and for anybody who has done therapy or anything like that knows that that’s not very good and as I grow older I am learning how to be a little bit honest and I will say my life the way I live my life and the pace I live my life because I’m over compensating can’t really continue and I’m adjusting at the moment but I loved Davos I will say for one reason this year, can I just tell you I felt very proud coming back a year later after launching this, this iconic campaign that people behind closed doors were like who on earth does she think she is, so I went back with a very proud and happy heart, yeah so I think that probably was my.

 

Perito:     (34.10) With the successes that you’ve got?

 

CC:            Oh just so proud of the people I work with and for not giving up and every time that you come up against a barrier we’d find a way to remove it and then I think the sense of achievement I’ve very very rarely said in my life that I’m proud of myself and I think a lot of people might look at what I’ve done and go what do you mean, that you’re not proud of the things you’ve done, I think I was more proud and I am more proud of not giving up on the Valuable 500 of flexing constantly and always having to try and think on my feet and pivot and move with our team to try to make it happen it’s yeah, I was probably more proud and excited in Davos this year and that certainly compensated for the nerves that were real, they were real, they were real.  I’m still worried offending somebody like I can’t see your face James so if you walked past me.

                   I’ll give you laugh, I really, really want to meet Tim Cook of Apple like I really do cos Apple is the greatest justification for why I do what I do, I mean Apple is the company that first triggered a trillion, it’s the first brand in the world and based right in its DNA is universal design and inclusive thinking like I mean this is the company I want to meet, I am not joking you, I bumped shoulders with the person and I was like oh no I’ve just bumped into somebody and as I went on 2’ on my colleague turned around and said “that was Tim Cook why didn’t you say hello?”, and I’m going “because I can’t see if that’s Tim Cook”.

 

Perito:     (laughter) Yes, you’re not helping me here throw me a bone.

 

CC:            Yeah so there’s two things wrong with that I couldn’t see him and secondly my colleague is supposed to be my eyesight, he’s supposed to tell me that’s Tim Cook so I can go and talk to Tim Cook and the thing is I could have had that conversation because that’s whether you like Davos or not Davos is that kind of place, I met Sharon Sandberg for example, this is the kind of, their the meetings that you have, if there’s one place in the world you’re going to bump into somebody it’s there and the thing is I need people to tell me that I’ve just bumped into that person so I can go and talk to them, but I didn’t look like the girl who couldn’t see Tim Cook but I couldn’t see Time Cook.

Perito:     (36.19) But that’s a perfect example of a hidden disability and peoples, the biases that people, the ability bias that Cat Holmes talks about a lot and transferring…

CC:            Yeah.

 

Perito:     (36.28)…just because people see things you can’t allow that to mand?? out to the CEO’s out there are making these decisions, that’s a great example you just can’t assume and a great example.

 

CC:            No you can’t and 80% listen let’s, can we just call this to be true, first to all about that 1.3 billion people who have a lived experience of disability 80% of that is invisible and 80% of that is acquired between the ages of 18 and 64 so there’s so much statistics and data that we don’t know and understand around disability because we haven’t invested the resources that are required to know about this and because it’s disability has been seen, this constant the survival of the fitness, disability has been seen as not that and this narrative around inspiration or charity or weakness and damage, there’s so many confused ideas that are conjured up in our mind about disability and I think the biggest thing that we’re all relating to now is invisible disability that if you were to look at me or my sister who has exactly the same condition you’d go “what, what are you talking about those two girls are visually impaired and registered blind”, you wouldn’t believe us and so it’s take us a long time as young girls growing into young women and middle aged women now because we were so scared to ask for help because we would think that you would feel we were trying to get attention and so this limbo land of invisible disability is exhausting, exhausting and I get very upset.

 

Perito:     (37.58) Well just like Beethoven he was very exhausted by it he just went and lived in his own house and isolated himself.

 

CC:            Yes so can I tell you, you told that story in the beginning and I could feel my heart start to beating and going I understand that because some days walking outside our house when I look like I can see and the very simple thing of walking into a shop and not being able to see and having to say I can’t see and go through it all again, it’s like I have to come out of the closet every day several times a day and that becomes exhausting and so, so yes I understand Beethoven becoming incredibly tired that’s the tire and then on the other side of the hand is biker chick adventure personality who wants to do it all and fix it all for everybody else and make the world happier, I am a people pleaser, or disease to please in my nature so there’s a lot going on in that which makes me just very human but I can definitely tell you one thing I am not inspiring and I certainly haven’t inspiring because I have a visual impairment or a disability I’m just a stubborn old goat who wants to make sure that we remove barriers so that we can all belong in our unique and individual ways and it’s really possible and Covid has shown us that and often I believe if you get a handful, a handful of influential compassionate committed leaders, just need a handful man, just a handful, you can change it but if you don’t have those leaders you can’t.

Perito:     (39.18)  We need a handful who will suddenly start making good profits and then the profits will change for more changes and then everyone else will be going “why are they doing so well” and then all the good ideas pop up because there’s innovation diversity across the design board, you’re not just buying from the same pot and then all of a sudden they’re making even more money and so on and so forth and that’s how it really should have always been but it’s good and I don’t think you’re a stubborn old girl I would describe you as a social reformer, this is the words I would use, that what your trying to do.

 

CC:            (laughter) I don’t what I am but one of the things that I would say to you is, you know when we talk about disability inclusion we don’t talk about it simply as employment we talk about the consumer piece more than anything and I just want to refer to Netflix for a second, do you know that Netflix was one of the first online content platforms that was accessible and when they did, when it created, first of all it was accessible so in its captioning and the way it streamed its work but secondly it started to have disability programming and can I just tell you it didn’t do that cos it was being worthy right, it did that for a competitive edge because it copped on there’s 54% of a consumer base that would be interested in it, so I think that’s really interesting to me that they did that and then you look at because then everybody needs to know they needed competitive edge so you’re right, so when brands start realising that real full human inclusion in the way its designed its business, its services and the way employees gives it a competitive edge then it will follow, that’s when we’re going to see a mass change, is that those first earlier doctors, those really brave pioneers in this space which Apple was around the inclusive design piece that’s the trigger and then let’s watch the momentum of the disease to get to a critical mass.

 

Perito:     (41.01) Well I was thinking about this cos I lot around the built environment as well and I was thinking about construction and construction like your designing a house is made up of lots of different products and those products have to be carefully designed, materials, the science behind it but construction of your house is not seen as a product and it’s seen as a unit or a result or just a Specification and end goal but if people in construction saw things as a product they would be better able to look at it and see how they can make money by designing for the most customers.

 

CC:            Yeah.

 

Perito:     (41.35) And I think it’s just that adjustment isn’t just the tweaking in mindset just to say what you’ve been thinking of all these years is wrong.

 

CC:            It’s tweaking, it’s so true listen it is something your listeners should do go and look at the Ikea ad that actually won the Canne Dor which is the Oscar of advertising, if anybody wants to go and watch something brilliant, well actually there’s two thing is want your listeners to watch, watch that there’s an Ikea ad which is talking about how they were democratising furniture and making tweaks to their furniture design that would include the disability market space, now they weren’t making new things just tweaking their furniture so democratising it’s so they could have more consumers I mean brilliant.  Look at what Lego did when they brought out the little Lego figurine in a wheelchair, look at democratising it, look at what the Barbie dolls, this is not rocket science it’s tweaking it and the other thing I would love your listeners to look at just, it’s a 2 minute film it’s #diverseish it’s on You Tube go and have a look at it and because we’re having conversations with people like, you are starting to have these broader conversations nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong we don’t have all the answers with this but it’s about expanding our mindset, it’s about enlarging our market spaces, it’s about not feeling threatened, it’s about making people feel comfortable to not know the answers, not shaming people, not shouting at people but trying to open a safe place for our businesses, our communities, our societies to kind of, how do we do this like how do we do it and that’s why I love the Ikea and the Lego and Barbie examples because it’s just building on expanding opening our minds to think about how can we include more people because business makes more money, more people are included, there’s a cost to exclusion within our societies, there’s a cost to inclusion in our exchequers and it’s just not morally right but it’s insane to leave a business on your doorstep why would you do that.

 

Perito:     (43.40) Well particularly under duress of the client that we’re in at the moment where every penny is a prisoner yeah that’s very interesting.

 

CC:            Yeah and I really wonder, I really wonder if I’m right or if I’m just being ridiculous that I do not believe diversity in an inclusion agendas are the future, I believe if we’re looking at making our business world inclusive inclusion, full human inclusion needs to be part of the sustainability index which is reported at the highest level of Boards and no lived experience can be left out, you’re not going to get it all right but you need to keep asking again and again and again, it is no longer acceptable.  If we come out of all of this excluding people, I really wonder what on earth have we learned, no human being is more important than the other.

 

Perito:     (44.34) Well following on from that I’ll skip ahead to a question further down then so I feel at the moment that the Coronavirus has given momentum for these changes to occur particularly in the workplace and our homes and we’ve kind of covered that off, what does that vision look like for you and to see what will come out of this current Covid-19 crisis?  We’ve touched on a couple of points.

 

CC:            Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, well the most important thing I need to tell you after this crisis I have got to hug somebody, I am hugging trees, so like I do hug my tree, so I think what we’ve learnt is, first of all human beings are communal and we’re social, we’re doing our very very best and we’re showing that systems adapt, we’re showing that systems change, so knowing that systems change then we need to fix our broken systems that exclude and there is no excuses, none, there are no excuses for that anymore, we know our systems can adapt, we know when we want to, they need to change.  The second thing is that we really need to understand, I believe, that we are as a race we co-exist as human beings, human beings we are not numbers, we’re not widgets we’re human and I hope that we have all leant a sense of collective exclusion so we have the empathy and compassion and I hope that we use that really well, and I think thirdly, more importantly, I wonder what will our leaders, what will we expect of our leaders, like lot will our CEO’s, I’m going to just talk about business leaders, what skills are those leaders going to have to have.  They’re certainly going to be very different skills then before and I’m just really interested in what leadership looks like post Covid because it’s going to have to be, I believe, a far more balance between the head and the heart, it definitely is going to have to have the human and the economic at either side we are going to have to rebalance that in play.  I’m really interested in what, how do we help our leaders, I’m really interested as I say about that inclusion means inclusion for all and everyone and I just wonder that it’s going to take time because I do want to be mindful that every year how many people die of Diabetes or Cancer or diseases in the global south that never stopped our global economy.

 

Perito:     Yes, very interesting point.

 

CC:            I’m very scared about that, I don’t know how anybody else feels but this crisis is around us okay, this is horrible, I’ve nearly lost a brother because of it, a 41 year old incredibly healthy young man he nearly died right and I have friends who are losing people but I also before Covid how many millions of people are dying without me knowing, without us knowing, that didn’t stop our economy, what does that mean for the world that I’ve been colluding in around inclusion.

 

Perito:     (47.24)  There’s another comment about it in the FT for Saturday at the weekend where some American General, this is back in a couple of years ago, I’ll have to refer to back to the author later but he was apparently speaking to a General and he said if we could prove that the Zika virus carrying mosquitos were actually Isis controlled mini-drones we could get as much funding as we wanted and that harps back nicely to what you were saying in terms of Malaria, in terms of all these other things how does that play it, why is this one particularly different?

 

CC:            Yes well why and I think what has blown my mind a bit through this time I can’t help thinking was I colluding that our world was trying to be equal because I’ve realised now actually did I do enough, was a lost in own inclusion bubble around disability inclusion when actually there were people dying under my nose, in my world, in the millions, in the millions and the millions and millions and they continue to do whether it’s through conflict or disease or poverty.  Why didn’t we just globally stop that so they’re questions are going on in my head at the moment which have I no answers for that make me feel not very proud of myself as well.  I’ve been going down this angle and people might say well you can only do your bit and your whatever and yes I know that but I just have lots of questions I think, lots of questions but I don’t have answers.

 

Perito:     (48.50) I think my conclusion drawn on it was that the mistake I’ve possibly made with this is to only to start looking at inclusive environments from a social distancing because of this particular issue but you need something to ignite that spark and what you’ve got with the Valuable 500 is a tool to go out there and effectively weaponise the inclusion diversity gender and to get it into these companies that need help to make the transitions so although you are right in the fact that it’s probably incorrect that we’ve only just started to have these discussions based on something that’s a Pandemic now but actually it almost doesn’t matter because the end result here is that the change has to happen and you mentioned about changed management at the beginning, change only really happens when people want it to and at the moment with the Covid-19 my belief is that this is an excellent opportunity because people are looking for change and the Valuable 500 can happen.

 

CC:            Well I hope so but I also think we need to be mindful and when you want change to happen and being a changed management consultant which essentially one of the things is you also need to take people, me included, where we are and acknowledging where people are and accepting where people are, human beings by our very nature are tribal and topologically we are tribal, we know we like the same so inclusion is going to be, I mean real inclusion is going to be, let’s not deny it, it’s going to be hard because it requires us to be less selfish and me absolutely included in that right and I think it’s hard and I think until we own it it’s really really hard and I think we have to be gentle with ourselves in knowing that and then also not gentle with ourselves, do you know what I mean, because I think we fear that if I give you I take away from myself, currently our world is based on a scarcely model and inclusion, real human inclusion cannot flourish with a scarcely mindset, we must be allies for each other and that is a lovely sentence to say but it’s really hard to do so every small whim we need to jump up and down and high 5 ourselves on cos we’ve gotta just build on success cos it’s hard.

 

Perito:     (51.01) Absolutely agree and the ?? focus is a great way of looking at it.  So thinking from an inclusive design point of view then so Ann as a partially person what do you feel has been the greatest challenges that we haven’t talked about so far just setting up your company that’s Binc and running the Valuable 500 as well?

 

CC:            My greatest challenge without a shadow of a doubt is myself, I think I can honestly tell you is we all are better when we are being ourselves, and that Oscar Wilde quote that my husband and my father constantly quoted at me, be yourself cos everybody else is taken, your greatest challenge in anything that you do is where you on this self-acceptance journey, the more you know and are aware of yourself and accept who you are that is to me, that’s the dew dew that’s the sweet spot for sure so I would say to you that as a leader and a founder of several organisations I definitely I think I get better (laughter) like why I get better as I get holder I hope so I think that’s the No. 1 thing.  The second thing is we were very much all of our work is being very pioneering, very green site, very ahead of its time and I think getting funding for our work has been very very difficult hence re-mortgaging the house and thirdly I think the other challenge but also the kind of cool part of it, you know when you’re doing something that nobody else has really done you kind of and if you really believe in it because I really, really, really believe in our works as with all of teamwork fantastic really believe in it, there’s something very very exciting about pushing through when nobody else really sees it, do you know what I mean.

 

Perito:     I do yes.

 

CC:            There is something, I’m the entrepreneur there, at times it’s desperately lonely, god almighty it’s so much nicer when everybody agrees with you (laughter) they think you’re great but actually I really, listen I know in my heart this is part of a solution so in a way I’ve nothing to lose really do I, I’ve nothing to lose because you’re only building on something that’s so unique and new and I’ve stopped taking everything as I’ve grown older so personally I take my work very very seriously, I just don’t take myself as maybe seriously as I would, like I would have thought every failure that I ever had before was cos I was shit or something do you know what I mean, I’ve now been able to detach my work from myself so my work and my, which I’m very passionate about as you can hear, it’s what I do it’s not who I am and that’s a very healthy place to be in now.

 

Perito:     (53.44) Well it is a special achievement the Valuable 500, Binc and everything that you have done in the past has been driven by your stubbornness, your blend of ambition and aim and your kind of your go get it attitude so it’s interesting as you say you’re getting older, your being able to kind of almost diversify your own skill set out there as well.

 

CC:            Yeah and I think if you were to say what’s in my secret bag of tricks I could definitely tell you I have lived a very difficult life, I’ve actually had quite a lot of trauma which I don’t speak about and I don’t make that my story it’s irrelevant but it is where I’ve learnt my greatest, my greatest secret weapon is the life I’ve gone through which has actually got nothing to do with my eyesight, they always it’s to do with my eyesight it’s not, so I have kind of flexed that grit muscle, I’m highly creative that it does help greatly and I do believe in magic, (laughter) I do believe in the phosphorus which is like this, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but if you swim in certain seas around the world and my favourite is off the coast of Crete, you can swim at night in the sea and you shake the water and it lights up and that’s phosphor essence and I love that and that to me is the hope in the world.  So that’s my kind of ingredient for success.

 

Perito:     (55.06) So the tools that you’ve used and the barriers that you’ve come across how could they have been designed better to help meet your needs and I’m thinking more from maybe Caroline as probably a younger person perhaps now rather then where you are now and what were the worse ones and why were they bad?

 

CC:            Glass doors bad, can you put marks on glass doors, things that have become brilliant is when I go into certain shopping into supermarkets now I can have people who are sighted to help you shop, I have to say Google Maps as being the best thing of all time.

 

Perito:     (laughter) It’s handy.

 

CC:            Having a camera on my phone so I can take pictures of it so I can see things when I never could see things, it would be really nice when you into a takeaway or you know like when you’re trying to, you know the way that menus are often behind people and they don’t have a hold menu like seriously would you just not have a menu so that I can actually read I don’t understand, let’s be honest.

 

Perito:     Do you not want to sell this.

 

CC:            Yeah like really do you not want my customer space.  I also know learnt through doing the Valuable 500 that when I use to do videos, I’m really bad at social media by the way which is dreadful for a campaigner, why was I not captioning my videos, how horrendously exclusionary was I so I found this thing called Clipomatic. It’s brilliant. so I was actually doing captioning videos like why would I exclude somebody from a conservation so as far as I’m concerned every single piece of communication online needs to be captioned for people who have hearing impairments but more importantly if you’re in an environment where you can’t have your sound on anybody could read it and also for people who don’t have the same language like simple things like that’s amazing.  The other thing that I think that has really really helped is training when teams of people are trained, for example in airports, on aeroplanes or in gyms, another great one, if you go in and you say “listen I’m visually impaired” and the team have been trained to know what a visually impaired person is brilliant, they’re not scared of you and so they help you and we just get on with the business of training, do you know what I mean and the last thing most importantly is seeing visually impaired or people with disabilities in the media talking about who they are, what they are and anything but disability it’s amazing how much that can change things and so that means you need to have the accessible online technology, yeah.

 

Perito:     (57.26) Good list yeah thank you very much for that that’s great, so drawing to a close then so I’ve kind of left the last question a bit open so basically any final things you’d like to add on, any topic at all, any kind of observations, you can sing a song if you like or you can whatever you like, anything that springs to mind?

 

CC:            A few things I would suggest to anybody who is interested in inclusive design Cat Holmes, yeah I love her, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to, follow that lady she’s amazing.  I would also suggest anybody around the issue of vulnerability you’ve heard me speaking about vulnerability a bit today and I think we talk about inclusion, inclusion has to start with yourself alright, regardless whether you’re a designer, an architect, a business person, it doesn’t matter you have to be inclusive with yourself so I would say understanding who you are and what you are and vulnerability, Brené Brown I know she’s talked about a lot but please just, she’s incredible and I think that’s a place where I’ve got an awful lot of resource recently and a song (laughter) the song that just comes to mind when I think about, I wish I could sing to you, I love singing but I can’t but I wish I could is sometimes when you’re doing something and you’ve, when you’re trying to make something happen and you can’t, you can kind of feel a little lost and there’s this beautiful song that I’ve been listening to recently called “I say” and it breaks my heart.

 

Perito:     (50.00) Who is it by?

 

CC:            I’ll have to find out whose it by now for you.

 

Perito:     I’ll add it to the directory.

 

CC:            (59.10) I think it’s a lady called Lauren. That’s a typical Caroline Casey thing. This song makes me feel that I can fly and so I often think finding a song just to bring you back or reading a book or taking a walk outside, when you’re trying to make change happen it is hard and that’s okay because if it was so easy somebody would have done it before and so when you feel a bit lost and you feel like you’re going to give up go find your thing, find your song, find your run, find your ice cream, find your film, find your friend, hug a tree and for anybody right now whose feeling a little disconnected even though we’re supposed to feel all connected (laughter) I really do suggest you might hug a tree or lie on the grass if you can because it makes it all feel a little bit better and the last part I guess I want to say is for anybody whose losing or has lost somebody through this Pandemic I just want to say I’m really sorry having lost a father very recently and missing him deeply at the moment, take your time, be where you are and I’m very sorry that that’s and I have real compassion for what anybody’s going through right now.

 

Perito:     Thank you Caroline that’s great so I’ll draw the podcast to a close, so thank you for joining us today Caroline.

 

CC:            Thank you so much.

 

Perito:     It’s been really good to hear about everything you’ve done with the Valuable 500 but also for the attention and the effort you put into the podcast as well, I’m definitely impressed by the progress you’ve made with it in such a short space of time and the fact that you can go to all these big events and really push it out there and you’re actually making change happen so it’s really impressive and I know everyone will want to see what they can do to help out, so if listeners want to find out more or perhaps they work for a business that could be a signatory then head over to Caroline’s website that’s www.thevaluable500.com I’ll add the details to the transcript and the podcast introduction information too along with the name of the artist for that song, so don’t worry if you missed that out as well.  You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World without Boundaries thanks for listening everyone everywhere.