Teenagers – What do we see?

teenage hoodies


We were having a laugh last night at supper. I was telling the story of going into a local Carphone Warehouse. I was standing by the counter waiting as the assistant went to get something when a couple of lads came in – low slung jeans, hoodies over their heads and muttering angrily. Instinctively I thought ‘shoplifters’. Then I caught myself and told myself off for being prejudiced. As I watched, one of them nicked a couple of things and they walked out. I just stood and gaped. My son suggested that instead of shouting ‘thief’, I should have run after them and told them off for the disservice they did to all hoodies by fulfilling the stereotype 🙂

This does not mean of course, that all hoodies are shoplifters. When I reflect back I also remember a sense of hyper-attentive energy and tension that they brought into the shop which is more likely to have triggered my ‘shoplifter’ response.

I’m told that we don’t ‘see’ with our eyes, we ‘see’ with our brains. Our eyes pick up a vast array of information and our brain sifts through to make sense of it. Life experience, habit and mood are just some of the things that will influence how we interpret what we see. We may or may not be right. I have found ‘mindfulness’ practice invaluable in helping me understand this.

It is important because how we respond can have potentially catastrophic or life-saving outcomes for ourselves or others. In Oxford where I live, police and social services failed to ‘see’ 350 teenage girls (and some teenage boys) who were systematically sexually abused and exploited by a gang of adult males. 1 of the 3 key attitudes identified by the subsequent “Bullfinch” Enquiry was:
 Girls were disbelieved due to the interpretation of their “precocious and difficult” behaviour.

The short film that I’ve made with Andy Carslaw – now called “Emmi” (http://www.fernyfilms.co.uk/emmi/) looks at how adults ‘see’ teenagers and what happens when a teenager feels trapped and frightened.

When all we see is a difficult, threatening or irritating teenager, how do we get beyond that? How do we begin to see the bigger picture, pick out warning signs and information that might give us a different interpretation? We can only begin by recognising that we have not seen the full picture. We need time to see other things. Perhaps the first thing we see is sloppy posture suggesting indifference. This could be indifference or it could be fragility well defended. And we need to notice our own response to that sloppy posture – how much it annoys or threatens us.

I was an annoying teenager. I was also a fragile teenager but I wasn’t going to let anyone see that. I’m now a mother and have had 3 teenagers. They are now all adults. They were also annoying and fragile.

Let us take that extra time to ‘see’ ourselves and each other more fully.

And with kindness.

Erasing and Recalling the past – Hong Kong – Part 2

One of the 10 tourist wonders of HK

One of the 10 tourist wonders of HK

‘It will have a changed a lot!’ people advised when I said I was re-visiting Hong Kong after many years. As if this wouldn’t have occurred to me. Nobody asks if I have changed.

“Did you know that this lady’s father was an Executive Director of the Bank?” Chris tries to interest and impress a Chinese staff member at one of the 10 tourist wonders of Hong Kong – the Hong Kong Bank Building. The staff member nods politely. I’m squirming. It’s our first full day and we’ve been on the concourse below viewing photos and information on the history of the Bank. Chris hasn’t noticed that the only photo of white British HSBC staff is during the Japanese occupation – defeated, bedraggled gentlemen being pushed along at gunpoint by Japanese soldiers. The ‘Great British Colonial Period’ has been erased.

We’re following a tourist trail and we head off up Bank Street. I tell Chris of a memory that haunts me. It’s like a dream. I’m maybe 11 or 12 years old and I’m walking down Bank Street with the chauffeur, Ah Fan, in his grey uniform with his smart cap. That would be enough to deal with – walking down Bank Street with the chauffeur. But there’s more. As we walk down I become aware of a scrawny beggar on the pavement, squatting on some cardboard. Beside him, a dented bowl for money. He has no fingers. The chauffeur and I walk passed.

If only I could erase that piece of history. Today no beggars sit on Bank Street. In fact I’ve seen very few anywhere. I’m grateful.


As we walk on, something grips me. A sense that I ‘know’ this place. Not in an intellectual, ‘Oh, I remember that’ sort of way… but a warm physical buzz…. my body remembers this place. We’ve been following a map but I insist we change direction. There will be old stone steps on the opposite side of the road – steps I walked up often. As we approach they materialise and now I remember they will lead to the cathedral, the same cathedral where the flocks of widows waited for us after the service. They aren’t there today. Where have all the poor gone? Has Communist China done a better job of providing for them?

After a steep, sweaty climb we’re there. I don’t normally like cathedrals, but I like this one. It’s not big and it has a comforting feel, almost womb like with the smell of mahogany and old fans whirring soothingly above. On the right transept is a stone font where my younger brother was baptised.

The cathedral claims to have a maze which turns out to be a set of faded lines on cracked tarmac outside. I want to mark the beginning of this pilgrimage, so despite the bemused looks from a lunch time couple, I take slow steps, following the maze. The path teases me. I seem to be almost at the centre and then I’m away, right on the perimeter, apparently going nowhere. The path rambles back and forth and I become impatient and embarrassed at how stupid I look. Finally, it dives straight to the core and I’m there. Of course, this is what pilgrimage will feel like. As I stand there, it comes to me that Hong Kong was the birth place of my faith. This cathedral was the beginning and 20 years later this land and these people would give me the gift of a faith that would change my life… I had forgotten.

HONG KONG- Part 1 – ‘Going Home?’

Hong Kong Harbour and the Peak

Hong Kong Harbour and the Peak

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I used to live up the Peak in Hong Kong. Only rich people live on the Peak. The richer you are the further up you live. We lived half way up.

“Middle Gap Road?” I ask the taxi cab driver. We used to live at no 19.
He looks at me blankly. Not because his English is bad as it turns out. My friend Chris is more resourceful and points out a landmark nearby.
“Ah!” Says the Taxi driver, “People who live on that road don’t use taxis. They have private cars and chauffeurs.”
I tell him that I used to live there 40 years ago.
“So why you not speak Chinese?”
“My bad” I reply.
He laughs and takes us to Middle Gap Road.

View from The Peak

View from The Peak

“My Bad. It’s been ‘My Bad’ for nearly 53 years. In 1962, when I was 6 months old my family came to live in Hong Kong, leased for a 100 years to the British from Mainland China (well, 99 years and more complicated…). Sounds like Sleeping Beauty but there’s no happy ending. For 100 years, the Great British Empire, did not see fit to give the Hong Kong Chinese the vote. When the time was up, the British passed the land and its people back to Mainland China. No fighting the dragon. No Handsome prince. No Democracy.

By the time I appeared in 1962, my father was on the rise. He was a banker. With the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). Anyone wealthy had servants. ‘Everyone’ had amahs. These are women who ‘live in’, clean your house and look after your children.

When I was sent to boarding school in England at the age of 11 (my brothers were sent at age 7 – it wasn’t deemed so important for me, a girl), my mother impressed on me the necessity of not ‘bragging’ about all the servants I had so as not to incur the jealousy of my peers. 35 years later, as my teenage son teased me about my wealthy early days it occurred to me how ridiculous it was for a child to ‘brag’ about such things. As I pointed out to him, he didn’t need servants, he had me….

There was so much ‘not to brag about’. I was brought up in a country taken from the Chinese during the opium wars (Britain was the baddie – look it up) and now under British Colonial rule. A rule apparently based on the philosophy of: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.” Memory replays a Sunday morning as we leave the Cathedral to be met by a flock of begging Chinese widows in black. We walk past them to where the chauffeur waits with the Jag.

It’s now 2015. I’ve come back to Hong Kong on a sort of pilgrimage. To make peace. To recover memories. I lived here solidly for the first 13 years of my life. My father remained until I was in my 30s. I’m a white British, Colonial Ex-Pat, I never learned Cantonese and I have no right of abode here. In what way if any, can I call this land “Home”?

I’ve come to find out.

Burning Trees

We stand
In cool, blue winter air
Field space, acre clear.
But the trees!
The sun has set them on fire
Burnt bronze and amber,
Hot orange, radiant,
Shimmering they blaze
and yet remain entire.
Is this how Moses saw the bush,
When barefoot he bowed
before the One
Who would set him alight.

Poem by me Susie Stead 2015
Photos as background and header by Hugh Turner


Me, a chocolate bar?  don't be ridiculous..

Me, a chocolate bar? don’t be ridiculous..

I’m told that if you want a beautiful garden the first thing to do is spend 1 year watching it. You see what plants flourish and what don’t – in each season.

English country garden

At the end of the year, you’ll have a strong sense of the character of your garden. Now you can begin to plan. What do you want to keep? What do you want to get rid of? Is there anything new you fancy trying?

I’m no gardener. I’m interested in people. I’m interested in myself. It seems to me that the same rules apply if you want to change yourself. I’ve been practising mindfulness now for over 3 years. This is what mindfulness is. Paying attention to what is.

You want to change? Start by observing yourself for a year or 6 months or a week. Don’t change anything. Just notice. Maybe write it down.

Bad Hair Day

Bad Hair Day

At university, I wasn’t working. Finally I went to see a student counsellor. He advised me to simply record what I was doing for a few weeks. Then report back to him. I never went back. I started to note when I worked but it was pitiful. I was so ashamed, I gave up and went back to socialising. Nothing changed. I did not do well at University….

a) Notice what you’re doing,
b) Notice how much shame you feel
c) Stop judging yourself, justifying yourself or lying to yourself!

If you have ever tried this, you will know how difficult this is. You may need support from a friend or partner.

Let’s take an example… Deciding to cut back or stop eating so much fatty food. Start by just noticing how much you do eat of it. After a cholesterol test, without blinking or even noticing (at the time) I lied to my doctor.

She asked me what my diet was. The words that came out of my mouth said that I had a breakfast of wholemeal cereal, a lunch of whole meal bread, soup and cheese and an evening meal of meat and 2 veg….. oh yes and the odd glass of wine. I failed entirely to mention the chocolate biscuits, crisps, snacks, the puddings with cream, the yoghurts, the bars of chocolate or precisely how many glasses of wine constituted the ‘odd’ glass….

And even though I’ve been trying recently just to notice what I’ve been eating, I hear myself feeling bad and saying ‘well it’s Christmas, it’s New Year, it’s January, it’s been a hard day…. I haven’t had any for AGES….’

So. I’ve noticed something. I’m lying to myself and justifying myself. That’s interesting. And uncomfortable. I’m not the self-disciplined healthy eater I like to imagine. I’m an ordinary person with sugar cravings. this is not shameful. It simply is. I think I’ll start here, this year.

‘The Choice’ – FILM TEASER

4 women, 1 night, 1 block of flats and ‘the choice’ that will change lives .

Thank you Andy for putting this ‘teaser’ together. We’re hoping to have the completed short (around 11 minutes) ready for 14th March showing at Pegasus Theatre in Oxford as part of Film Oxford screening:


tasty flapjacks!

These are easy and quick to make (honest!) and truly the best flapjacks I’ve ever eaten. Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. I think its the golden syrup that does it….

A friend gave me this flapjack recipe and I’ve been making them for 10 years. The only problem is that when I make them I just keep eating them…. I’ve made them for my children, for school events, social events, church events. People love them!

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees or Gas Mark 6. I have a fan oven and put it to 180 degrees.
Get a large deep baking tray, grease it and line it with baking parchment. If you don’t the flapjacks will stick like cement!
(the one I use is about 30 cm x 35 cm)

Take a large pan and melt the following:
450g block margarine
450g Sugar
4 tablespoons of golden syrup
(hint: put tablespoon in bowl of v. hot water before scooping out golden syrup. Stops it sticking)

Once everything is melted take it off the heat and add the following mix:
450 g porridge oats
340g Self Raising Flour
Adjust if too sticky or too dry.

Now put the mixture in the baking tray and cook for 10-15 minutes. Afterwards the flapjack mix in the baking tray to cool but start cutting it into pieces while it’s still warm.

You can do half quantities but use a small swiss roll tin instead for the right size.

with thanks to Clare Tomlinson for giving this recipe to me years ago.

Underground Weather


The tube is full.

The grey upright pensioner
Reviewing the advertisements –
That’s me.

I sit,
Hands folded – body still.

The hurricane within
Continues unabated.
Shaking, shattering,
Sheering, breaking.

The shell holds.
No fragment escapes
To challenge the shapes
Of your reality.

Tell me –
What’s the weather like in you?

by Susie Stead©2008

Making a Short Film

Gillian and Marley the cat10633587_10152330301406222_8340966665857971963_o

We’ve finished filming. My 12 minute screenplay has being filmed out of sequence over 2 weekends, at 6 different sites. We’ve now got the film equivalent of 10 boxes of jig saw puzzle pieces except they could be put together in an almost infinite range of sequences.

It’s been an intense experience – thrown together with a wonderful eclectic crew, some of whom I’ve never met before. Over the first weekend there are up to 20 cast and crew plus baby and cat at any one time. We start on Saturday at 7.30am and part company about 11pm on the Sunday. Then 9 of us re-group the following Saturday.


Among the crowd are a baby, a cat, a group of teenage hoodies (my daughter and friends from Cheney) and Barbara Deane, who is approaching 90. There are 4 exceptional professional actresses from London, otherwise everyone else is local. There’s our make-up artist, Diego who creates a silicon pregnant belly over the weekend, just for fun; Danny, camera-man and tree surgeon who scales walls to cover a skylight, and Ollie who feels someone should be holding a clip-board. Polly sorts our sound (with Ollie) and helpfully informs one of our actresses that childbirth is like being chopped open with an axe.

barbara and diego

Andy directs with almost inexhaustible energy, arguing over a shot from time to time with Phil, DoP and cameraman who can be overheard growling ‘get on with it.’ Alex and Adam regularly save the day by finding essential bits of equipment or collecting forgotten people or things. Laura brings our star cat and an endless stream of cakes and food, Dan quietly sorts the lights and Jo patiently changes her baby, Isis into the correct clothing for each scene, sharply aware of continuity issues.


There is a strange mix of all-consuming activity and waiting. Everyone on the team is switched on. Until they are switched off. Suddenly they laugh, grab biscuits, water, coffee. People coo over the baby or the cat or share stories. Swathes of time pass as each set is prepared: skylights covered, camera angles argued over, lights shifted, locks blue tacked to doors. There are beats when we’re told to be silent as the sound is tested or a scene is shot. I find myself holding my breath. The actresses are made up, and wait with an extraordinary patience. Lights are adjusted. Director and camera men obsess about the image. They repeat the scene. Mel grabs a photo. They repeat the scene. Every now and then, a particularly intense moment seems to transmit itself
through all of us, a collective hit. Sometimes a shot is repeated and repeated, with exhausting commitment.

I obsess about details which turn out to be irrelevant. The curtains MUST be ironed! We must have a ‘real’ rape alarm, the hoodies look too nice, One of the actresses has forgotten her dressing gown… At other times, I observe only just in time that the scene needs a mobile phone or glass of wine or…


There are great moments – The cat runs off on cue in the right direction with the camera on him. Andy, the director, has been angsting over how we achieve a flickering light – Adam appears with one he’s made earlier. The corner by the stage must look like the entrance to a flat. A piece of flowery staging is discovered which fits perfectly as a wall.

Then there are the glitches – an actress who can only come for one of the days, the central venue is suddenly not available on that day except between 8am and 1pm. A furious care-taker has not been told about us, Crew mistakenly take food supplies from a theatre production when we leave the venue after filming (we return them). Then there’s the bemused employee who reports CTV footage of some apparently relaxed fly-tippers dumping old mattresses, bin bags and a fridge outside his place of work.

Throughout all this and over all this Mel, our photographer, casts her spell. She is everywhere, snapping photos with speed and ease. At the end there we are – caught and transformed. We are cast and crew of “The Choice”.

choice team photo

Happily Ever After

Once upon a time a long time ago, there lived a king and queen of a great kingdom. They had one daughter. Like any parent, they did not want their child to suffer. But unlike most parents these two had the power and the money to achieve their aim. They had a huge wall built and their daughter grew up within these grounds. All the servants and visitors were required to be happy and positive at all times. The Princes was blissfully happy. Everyone loved her – they were paid to.

One day, on the cusp of adulthood, the Princess became curious and found her way onto the streets. The suffering she saw there overwhelmed her. She wanted to make it all better. Her parents tried to tell her that these people were used to their way of life – they were mostly lazy or brutalised and would not appreciate her warm and caring heart. However to please her they gave her a generous allowance which she spent on the poor. The poor were very grateful.

However, some time later, an arthritic old man seeing the warmth in her eyes decided to tell her the real problem. Her parents. It was they who were the main employers in the area – they paid low wages and charged high taxes. She went home immediately and told her parents his accusation.

The old man was brought before the court tried and summarily executed for treason.

The Princess never left the castle grounds again. She married, had many children and lived happily ever after.

Susie Stead 2014