Iman B&W

Iman…supermodel, entrepreneur, wife, mother, photographed here in 1977 by Francesco Scavullo.

About eighteen months ago I started following someone on Facebook — a celebrity, no less. I am not usually one to click the Follow button simply because someone is famous, but there was something about what this person was posting — consistently — that often made me stop and consider. Or smile. Or laugh out loud.

That person was Iman Abdulmajid.

Of course, in the light of her (monumentally) famous husband’s death a month ago, the quotes and thoughts that Iman posted over the past year or so no longer surprise me: she knew, even though the world did not, that her husband of more than two decades was dying of cancer.

Looking back, the posts now have an added poignancy that I don’t think the passage of time will take away. In the week before her husband’s death, for example, she shared quotes like, “Life isn’t about avoiding the bruises. It’s about collecting the scars to prove we showed up for it”, and a thought from the poet Rumi: “Do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”

But during the past year, in between sharing incredibly beautiful fashion photographs and promotional material for her husband’s Blackstar album, there were also thoughts that made me chuckle, such as “Sometimes you have to burn a few bridges to keep the crazies from following you”.

Overwhelmingly, however, there were messages of hope, of faith, of gratitude, and of determination to overcome. And the majority of the thoughts she shared she tagged with a single word: Rise.

Iman & DB

Iman and the inimitable Mr Jones in 2003, from a Tommy Hilfiger campaign styled by Edward Enninful.

It’s a powerful concept.

Rise, every day. Rise, above adversity. Rise, to the challenge — whatever it is.


And, just as her husband appears to have made very conscious decisions about his approach to death, Iman seems to be approaching the transition to life after his passing with the same hope, faith, gratitude and determination to overcome that she has displayed over the past year.  Today, she posted a quote from Rune Lazuli: “Each tear is a poet, a healer, a teacher.”

Despite her grief, which must be as raw as it is real, there is true graciousness in the way Iman has responded to her husband’s passing. There is also humility, intelligence, and — like her husband — a considerable amount of style.

There is, I suspect, a lot I could still learn from Iman Abdulmajid — not least of which is to rise.



Who’s Afraid of the Wizard of Oz?

Miss Malaprop came home from preschool the other day and informed me that one of her little mates had brought in a DVD of The Wizard of Oz. Now, given that both my children are in equal parts blessed and afflicted by active imaginations, The Wizard of Oz is one movie we’ve, shall we say, kept in reserve for the time being.

Not because we’re cruel, unfeeling parents — no, no, no.

We simply value uninterrupted sleep. Possibly to the point of obsession.

“Did you watch it?” I inquired, as casually as I could, trying not to hold my breath or to further elevate my already rapidly rising blood pressure.

“Well, not all of it,” came the initial response, at which I might have winced: my sleep deprivation sensor had, even at this early stage, been well and truly triggered.

“Did you like it?” I asked, unable to keep the slight tremor of trepidation from my voice.


Cue klaxons, sirens, alarm bells of varying intensity…

Yes, true to form, instead of merrily singing, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, my poor Miss Malaprop proceeded to inform me that there was a wicked witch with a horrible green face and finished up with a plaintive, “Oh Mummy, I just can’t get it out of my head.”

And so the fun began…

Oz Plot

Lee Winfrey tells it like it is…

We dealt with the green faced witch first, given that this was Miss Malaprop’s main object of preoccupation. Marvel Girl raced to her room and returned with a Guardians of the Galaxy poster she had pulled from her wall, pointing out that Gamora not only has a green face but that she is also roughly twenty-seven kinds of amazing.

Gamora: it's OK to be green.

Gamora: it’s OK to be green.

Now I should point out, as I have before, that our kids are not old enough to watch any of the Marvel movies yet, though we do explain various plot lines to them and leave out the parts that are…most graphic and violent? That said, it didn’t seem like a good time to tell either of my girls that before she became a Guardian of the Galaxy, Gamora did a whole bunch of dirty work for Ronan, the Kree fanatic, or that she probably listed her occupation as “assassin” on any official intergalactic paperwork.

It did seem like a good time, however, for me to draw Miss Malaprop’s attention to various outrageous acts of artistic licence that MGM took when they made The Wizard of Oz way back in 1939, including the fact that in the book the Wicked Witch doesn’t have a green face at all. No, L Frank Baum did say the Wicked Witch was hideous, but he certainly did not say she was green.

Then, quickly applying the First Rule of Parenting — which is, of course, Distraction — I went on to express my umbrage at Dorothy’s shoes being glittery red in the movie (no doubt sparking an untold multitude of shoe fetishes around the globe), when in the book the shoes are specifically described as being silver.

Our discussion then moved on to how the movie actually finishes, and the standout role performed by Dorothy’s shoes (regardless of their colour) in returning her safely to Kansas with Toto — whose name, naturally, means “everything”. I may have proceeded to wax lyrical about how it wasn’t the Wizard of Oz who was powerful, it was Dorothy, and finally brought matters to a head when I explained that once you are no longer afraid of something, it has no power over you.

David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King.  If you want to see the spandex pants in all their glory, you'll have to look elsewhere.

David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King. If you want to see the spandex pants in all their glory, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop were both fascinated by this idea, and it appeared that the image of the green faced witch was finally be fading from my younger daughter’s highly impressionable mind. Seeing the opportunity to apply the Second Rule of Parenting — which is, of course, When in Doubt Change the Subject — I sneakily steered the conversation in the direction of another movie entirely, Labyrinth, and regaled my eager listeners with tales of Sarah triumphing over the Goblin King.

Again, my imaginative kids are not likely to be watching Labyrinth without adult supervision any time soon — not least because the sight of David Bowie clad in spandex could be detrimental to their otherwise normal development — but I did manage to successfully skirt the issue of Jareth the Goblin King snatching a child in Sarah’s care and skipped straight to the moment of Sarah’s victory. “My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great,” I intoned solemnly, “You have no power over me!

The kids cheered, and the rest of the evening unwound as it usually would, excepting the fact that I may have shoved a bottle of wine in the fridge — which I wouldn’t generally do on a Wednesday.

And I won’t lie.  I gave Miss Malaprop the most carbo-loaded evening meal she has had in very a long time, and sent her off to bed hoping against hope that digesting said dinner would act as some kind of nightmare-preventative and she would slumber blissfully until morning.

To her credit — and my eternal relief —  she did.

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.

Turn to Face the Strange

I woke up this morning with a throwaway comment I made yesterday afternoon when picking up Marvel Girl from school running through my head.  It wasn’t a dreadful thing that I said.  But it was a careless, offhand remark that was completely unrepresentative of what I believe and frequently stand up for (and makes me think less of myself for saying), and it also had the potential to cause undue offence or hurt to those who heard it (and, quite possibly, for them to think less of me too).  The sort of aside that you wish could be unsaid, that you later think of at least two hundred and seventy-three different things you could have said, but it’s what you did say that sticks in your head.  On repeat.

Some days, silencing the insidious voice of the Inner Critic can a be difficult thing to do.  Today, however, I was fortunate that my early morning self-loathing session was interrupted by a phone call from The Bloke’s mother: a serious truck smash had occurred near our house, she said, people were trapped; The Bloke had better take an alternate route on his drive to work.  By the time I’d hung up the phone and he’d shut off the shower, I could hear the news and emergency response helicopters circling.  Nothing shuts the Inner Critic up faster than a dose of reality — particularly the life or death perspective changing kind.

And yet, as I walked down the hallway into the day, that devious, persistent voice was still attempting to sneak back into my consciousness, and I realised that today I would need to pull out the big guns: caffeine (of course), but far more importantly, music.  For me, music is right up there with oxygen on my list of life’s necessities.  It comes in on top of tea and even above sleep.  So as the kettle boiled, I scrolled through the iPod menu searching for the one artist — and I use the word ‘artist’ deliberately here — who could pull me out of my funk and send that Inner Critic packing.  I needed David Bowie.

DB Astronaut

David Bowie Astronaut Print. You can get it on Etsy here.

“Ooh Mummy, are you playing the space music?” asked Miss Malaprop, running in from the play room upon hearing the opening chords of “Space Oddity”.  She was referring, of course, to the much-viewed YouTube clip of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing in the International Space Station, but her interest had also been piqued because — weirdly — she and Marvel Girl were in the middle of building spaceships and lunar modules out of my old Lego (yes, you know the set: grey base plate with a couple of craters, mini NASA figures and tiny control panels, all circa 1984).  “Yep,” I replied, “but this is the original version.”

The original, and still the best.

Growing up, our house was filled with nothing but classical music and the occasional blast of blues or jazz.  Commercial radio and pop music were not things I discovered until I was about ten years old, and yet for some reason, David Bowie’s music is familiar to me as…as childhood itself.  And this morning, it really did the trick.  For all of us.  By the time the tea was brewing the girls had abandoned their space Lego and were romping and rollicking to “The Jean Genie” (while I thanked every deity I could think of that Miss Malaprop doesn’t yet know the real words to that one), and I was fixing them porridge for breakfast, complete with a lightning bolt of cinnamon sugar across the top à la Aladdin Sane.

Bowie is rock’s original chameleon, a man out of time.  To someone who grew up on a steady diet of Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt, his compositions are awe-inspiring: I would love — really love — to learn the piano part to “Life on Mars” one day, and play it on a concert grand.  A Steinway, preferably, like the one my first piano teacher owned.  With as much drama and rubato as I dare.

Shut your mouth, Inner Critic: I wish I new who to credit for this artwork, but I believe the original photograph was taken by Gavin Evans.

Shut your mouth, Inner Critic: I wish I knew who to credit for this artwork, but I believe the original photograph was taken by Gavin Evans.

And then there are the lyrics: layered with meaning and richly imaginative, deftly evocative of specific times and places, and yet as relevant today as they were the day they were written.  This morning, packing Miss Marvel’s lunchbox for school, the words that struck me most came from the closing bars of Bowie’s duet with Queen, “Under Pressure”, the part where he’s singing beneath Freddie Mercury’s soaring “Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? / Why can’t we give love?” vocal line:

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves…

“Last dance,” I told the Inner Critic, daring it to leave.  “Go on, put on your red shoes and dance the blues.”  Daring myself to change my way of caring about myself, to be a hero — just for one day.  And with that, the voice was successfully banished.

I know it will return, no doubt unbidden and relentless as ever, but for now it is gone.

And in the space that remains — all that glorious space that opens up when the Inner Critic has been silenced —  there is room to think, to dream, to forgive myself for the occasional social blunder, and even to wonder: are Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop old enough to watch Labyrinth yet?