On Saturday I went to Cardiff Mini Film Festival: my first experience of a film festival and my first experience of Cardiff. I had in mind big posters everywhere, people queuing up to watch the films, loud music, panache. Cardiff has a great buzz feeling on a summer Saturday afternoon. There was plenty going on – hen parties, homeless people, fun-lovers. There were however no festival posters up despite the fact that there was a lot on offer at 3 different central venues. The “Big Top” where “Emmi” was to be shown, turned out to be the upper room of a pub, beautifully laid out in ‘big top’ style with rows of gilt coloured chairs and a few funky sofas, to accommodate about 50 people. My first hit with reality came when no more than 10 people showed. That included volunteers and the projectionist!

The quality was there if not the audience. Andy (Director) and I spent a fascinating 2 hours watching a range of short films. The ones that remain with me are: a wistful young man disappearing into a childhood photo in order to see his mother one more time, a surreal one with a man swallowing rocks and jumping off cliffs, a carefully shot film with sharply distinguished shapes and colours about an OCD woman, and a ‘super power’ one with young man who discovers when he’s 18 that he’s one of a group who can go back in time – but only once in his lifetime and there are always consequences…

At the end a woman came and thanked me for my film and said it made her cry. Result!

We came back on Sunday for the Film Festival Awards Ceremony at the ‘Tramshed’. There was a decent turn out and a delightful presenter with downplayed humour. One of the people giving out the awards had been chosen to give the evening a ‘weirdness’ twist. Before opening an envelope he’d bellow out things like “Anyone here ever murdered anyone and got away with it?”

Sadly our film did not win. A romantic comedy beat us. However, while the judge was clearly biased and wrong …. We coped. I’m buoyed by an acutely observed wonderful review that Dan Marshall, one of the Cardiff team wrote for our film. I’ve copied it in full below:


There’s something deliberately unsettling about the first few moments of Emmi. Graceful piano notes chime as we look up into the sky. “Emmi” the short presents in its first titles, there’s even a little heart to adorn the “I”. While it may not be sudden there’s a gear shift in tone. The music gives way to the dull passing of cars on the duel carriageway. The camera pans to a high rise, the stark monolith towers into the grey sky. Then passed the hum-drum of traffic to the grimy underpass with it’s rusty railings and stained walls. Yet, in spite of it’s visual repugnance, a lone tenant decides to brave it. Just at the point of no return hoodies appear at the other end. It’s anxiety inducing in its familiarity, particularly when you’re already uneasy. However, Emmi plunges further into darkness during its short running time and does so unflinchingly.

Regardless of being feature length or short films, it’s a rare thing to truly challenge an audience. Moreso to lay down the gauntlet to its audience and not provide all the answers. Writer/Director team, Susie Stead and Andrew Carslaw, are careful not to tip their hand as the events unfold and are careful to still offer something of a reward come the credits.

Emmi herself is woefully familiar. A torrent of hostility that keeps those around her at a suitable distance. Then there’s teen-mum, Ally and the soft-hearted tenant from the underpass, Sarah. The archetypes may be something you’ve seen, but there’s something in the atmosphere that has you thinking any of them could 180 at any time. The intrigue filling the stairwells of the high rise they share is almost palpable. You just know that all is not as it seems, but the clever way in which Stead and Carslaw create a tone of unsettling anticipation is enthralling. Even when Emmi reaches its darkest depths, you’ll be hard pushed to avert your gaze.

There’s no denying that the conclusion is provocative and hard hitting, but there’s certainly no shock tactics involved. If the subject itself and final message weren’t challenging enough, how you digest it will be.

Hong Kong – Part 4 – Views from the Peak

Panoramic view from the Peak

Chris and I get off the no 15 bus at the Peak Tower and walk into soggy, heavy fog. So much for the panoramic views; we buy postcards instead.

The fog refuses to clear and it’s drizzling so we take a taxi to my primary school, a mile up the hill and imaginatively named “The Peak School”. It started life in 1911 and moved to this spot in 1954. When I attended it from 1967 to 1973 it was English speaking and private, filled with white privileged ex-pat children of which I was one.

The Peak school sits on a sharp hillside bend and on the corner, in front of some flaky old garages, Pinky, the shoe shiner used to lay out his wares. I have a warm but faded memory of this man and his rippled kind face. My mother and I must have stood there watching as Pinky attended to the shoes, while Ah Fan, our chauffeur, waited in the car. I have no idea why he was called Pinky – he was Chinese, he was old and he certainly didn’t wear pink.

A Hong Kong Shoe Shiner

I’m staring at the school gates and Chris tells me to go in – I squirm but she sensibly remarks “what’s the worst they can do? Say they’re busy?” It’s 4pm, the children are gone and the staff are welcoming. As a staff member takes me round the school she asks me who the head teacher was when I was there. I have no idea. Instead I blurt out “I remember that staircase!” A 9 year old ghost runs past.

We walk around the classrooms, gym and hall but although this is the original building nothing prompts a memory except the staircase. I cannot remember a single teacher’s name or any lesson they taught me.

The fog refuses to clear.

Peak School entrance in the fog

Outside, I borrow an umbrella and climb alone up the steps to the big playground. I can see almost nothing but that strange sensation returns, my body remembers. I ‘know’ there are steps on the far side of the playground, steps we used to run up for sports, dressed in little white shorts and T shirts with coloured squares pinned on to them to show which ‘house’ we belonged to.

On one side of the fog is a 9 year old racing around in PE, break or lunch, looking for tadpoles in the ditches or playing kiss chase. On the other side is a 53 year old holding an umbrella in the rain. The 53 year old walks slowly round the perimeter of the playing field, in the footsteps of the 9 year old. Her skin and her heart tingle.

However hard we try, we cannot have a different past. I have been ashamed of mine. As I walk around, like a mother gathering her children into her arms, I gather in that 9 year old that was me – and the 8 year old, the 7 year old, all of them – and I hold them tight.

Together, we walk out of the school gates collecting Chris up as we go. Before we leave, I turn to face those old garages and I bow to the ghost of Pinky.

Real Stories at Lo-No Pop-Up Cinema — Ferny films

See below post from Ferny Films about Andy and my recent trip to Lo-No Pop-Up cinema, London

We experienced some success last weekend when Emmi was selected by two film festivals (one in Belgium, one in London). Whilst browsing festivals over Easter, I spotted something called ‘Lo-No Pop-Up Cinema’ in London looking for ‘real stories’ to shown. Being as Emmi is inspired by a real story we decided we should give it […]

via Real Stories at Lo-No Pop-Up Cinema — Ferny films

Hong Kong – Part 3 – Doors to the Past

I was brought up, the daughter of a banker, in British run Hong Kong. In 2014, aged 52, a feminist socialist, I went back to recover memories and to make peace. This is a diary of that trip.

The Park at Middle Gap Hong Kong
Today I’m going up ‘The Peak’ to visit a child… the one I used to live inside.

The morning before leaving, I look out from the 17th floor of our hotel. Below is a roof garden on a nearby aging block of flats. It’s a concrete tiled square framed with potted plants. A grey metal door stands open and a slim Chinese woman is hanging up a single sheet on the clothes line. In the cool silence of my hotel room I watch it flap in the strong wind. I’m intrigued because she has the sheet pegged up but she keeps moving and re-pegging it, grasping it in the high wind. Then I see the metal door slam and finally the woman leaves her sheet pegging. The door won’t open. She returns to the sheet, shifts a peg. She then repeats this door pulling/sheet pegging routine several times. Finally she bangs her fists on the door. I assume she’s shouting. Nobody comes. I can do nothing but watch through the glass.

Chris, my friend and fellow traveller, calls me and we leave.

[I take this photo a day later, relieved to see ‘my’ Chinese lady safe]

We travel up the Peak with the bemused taxi driver (see post “Going Home”) and get dropped off half way up by the park I used to play in. It’s still there. And the old bus stop where I used to catch the No 15 to primary school on The Peak.
As we walk along a residential road, on our right thick jungle foliage falls away steeply into mist. The cicadas crackle. Through fog and rain we pass the ghost of my 8 year old self lagging behind her mother and cowardly corgi, Jemima , her attention caught by an amah squatting across some drains to relieve herself. Today a Chinese man is walking 2 enormous Alsatian guard dogs. One calmly places his jaw around Chris’s leg until his owner intones a command and they leave. She only has a bruise but it feels shocking and anti-climactic.

We approach one of my childhood homes. The loop of the drive is warmly familiar but the house has been replaced by 3 flats and a guard house. This guard is friendly.

The previous one was not. Our taxi had parked by the huge metal gates and he appeared instantly, insisting we leave.

19 Middle Gap Road. I look over his shoulder to the grand exterior. That house had 5 bedrooms, an attic playroom and a raised garden with swimming pool. We never had a guard.

Which made it easy, 40 years ago when I was 15 years old, for a gang of Chinese men to burgle our house in the early hours of the morning. My father, my teenage self and my 9 year old brother were asleep. They drugged the dogs, tied us up and walked away with cash and easy valuables.

We never talked about it. I got blind drunk, my brother got mumps and my father had a solid grey metal door built half way up the stairs.

This morning I watched, soundless, behind glass as that Chinese lady banged on her grey metal door. This afternoon as I look over the guard’s shoulder, I wonder if that door is still half way up the stairs. The memories slip out. I watch them, soundless behind time’s glass.

We walk back and catch the no 15 bus.

Nature and Nurture

The poem below lays itself out slowly and carefully and turns on the very last line.

Community Garden by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

I watch the man bend over his patch,
a fat gunny sack at his feet. He combs the earth

with his fingers, picks up pebbles around
tiny heads of sorrel. Clouds bruise in, clog the sky,

the first fat drops pock-mark the dust.
The man wipes his hands on his chest,

opens the sack, pulls out top halves
of broken bottles, and plants them, firmly,

over each head of sorrel — tilting the necks
toward the rain. His back is drenched, so am I,

his careful gestures clench my throat,
wrench a hunger out of me I don’t understand,

can’t turn away from. The last plant
sheltered, the man straightens his back,

swings the sack over his shoulder, looks
at the sky, then at me and — as if to end

a conversation — says: I know they’d survive
without the bottles, I know. He leaves the garden,

plods downhill, blurs away. I hear myself
say it to no one: I never had a father.


I’ve been out all day. I walk in the door and see my teenage son reclined on the sofa with his laptop in front of him and the TV on. He’s also texting. He looks up and says “make us a cup of tea will you?”

It’s all very well being asked to love and communicate with teenagers but they’re so bloody irritating sometimes! Remembering what I was like helps sometimes. The short film “Emmi” which Andy and myself have just finished ( explores the tensions. It’s a dark drama, based on a newspaper story I read over 20 years ago, flavoured by experiences since and spiked by my own past teenage struggles..

Neuroscience tells us that teenage brains are different to adult brains. They’re not good at being able to look ahead, see the consequences of their actions and choose NOT to do the stupid thing. Emotion triumphs over reason and late-developing frontal lobes lead to the mood swings, impulsiveness and lack of judgement. The very last thing teenager develop is ‘empathy.’ Telling a teenager to ‘stop being selfish’ is like telling a lion to go vegetarian…

One way we can help our teenagers is learn more. You might enjoy this short Ted Talk:

Me – I like stories – Once, long ago the Sun and the Wind were arguing about who was the most powerful. As they were arguing the Wind saw someone walking along a deserted strip of beach with a coat on and said “I bet you I can get that person to take their coat off quicker than you can”. The Sun accepted the challenge. The Wind had the first turn and began to blow and blow. The harder the Wind blew the tighter the person clutched their coat around them. Finally the Sun asked for a turn. The Sun chose to glow very gently. The person visibly relaxed. After only a few paces they began to undo the buttons on the coat. Within 5 minutes the coat was off.

One summers day, one of my teenage offspring came downstairs after a party, hoodie covering his face and slouched into the kitchen. He didn’t talk, didn’t eat, just sat. It felt like the room had filled with 100 invisible pissed off versions of him. I wanted to ‘blow’ hard – nag, cajole, complain. That was my habit. Instead I carried on clearing and let him sit there. I’d been growing a sunflower seed and I asked him where I should plant it out. There was a short silence and then he came over to me and let me hug him. After that a whole story unravelled.

    If you’re a parent, remember: Your teenager needs you 🙂

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” ( 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