Category Archives: age

Hay Festival 2019 part one, edited highlights

I arrived at Hay on Wye under a sky covered in monochrome laburnum clouds that soon gave way to a warm dry green wonderland. And my gosh I loved Hay this year. My first joy was where I stayed – a beautiful house with lovely hosts and an enviable, huge  and eclectic art collection which brought great happiness –  I wish I had had more alone time to inspect it. But even more delightful were the three women with whom I shared a breakfast table. They were a similar age to me, that is to say mature, and it quickly became clear that around that table no fucks were given, not a one, and we laughed and chatted. We fell easily into our roles: There was a woman-in-charge who poured the coffee and passed the butter unprompted, a mildly forgetful, hesitant  widowed healthcare professional who twittered (in the old-fashioned non-technical way) and a sharp but warm social comforter who reached out and oiled the conversation. They were charming, spiky and lovely, and only one of them liked Dylan Moran. And that didn’t matter. My role was mostly as audience for a welcome change – this break was an intended opportunity for me to speak less and be more alone. Our hosts were a fascinating mix of charm and snob – if he had crowbarred Prince Charles into the conversation any more it would have consisted only of the words Prince Charles – but were warm and accommodating and most importantly made excellent coffee. They opened their house to us without boundaries and with considerable skill and character and displayed  the talents one would expect of creative psychotherapists. They sat in the middle of their wonderful, colourful, often surprising home which was set in the most diverse and pleasing grounds and hosted us with ease and care. Interesting and ingenious they contributed brilliantly to my Hay Festival.

 

As for the Festival……..

Billy Bragg was possibly not at his most comfortable on stage surrounded by a clutch of white middle class privilege but the room was with him and he more than hit the spot with wit and charm. Boom. He built up and promoted the three dimensions of freedom: liberty, equality and accountability. My heart sang as he described their importance, they chimed so closely with me and yet are not trendy or popular and indeed are casually  trivialised, often manipulated. Hearing them normalised and promoted was a good, good feeling and he did it with passion and skill. He equally efficiently destroyed the current faux freedom that veneers the neoliberalism we endure while it imprisons us, but always with respect and courtesy towards other viewpoints. That was, in essence, the point. I needed that.

The poetry collective,despite busting a gut to be diverse and inclusive ( LGBTQ, people of colour, some disability) they failed. No older people. Inclusivity doesn’t cease to be relevant when one is over 25. They were brave and heroic to stand on stage and expose their poetry, but for me they were selfobsessed and selfserious. The phrase “write about what you know” hung heavy on the air and that’s ok, many of the poems were (while being formless, also ok) were worth hearing and benefited hugely from the speaking, offering a degree of depth and clarity. After a while, though, and I own this, they merged, made up in equal measure of pain, victimhood and wistfulness. Also ok. All ok, but not attractive to me. Which is also ok.

Last one on this post, best till last and all that. Benjamin Zephaniah. What can I say? Best gig ever. Possibly, if it mattered to me (it doesn’t), a tad age inappropriate for me, I loved the heat and energy of not only the performers but the audience too. Audiences are a large part of a gig for me and these did not disappoint.  I hugely admired the woman singer in the band, not dressed to thrill or please anyone but herself in her choice of comfortable t-shirt and baggy trousers, her voice and her hot energy blew me away; the bass player who played a fabulous butt-throbbing bass was a greybeard and rocked right alongside Benjamin and the woman singer (apologies I didn’t hear her name) and way harder than the young people who tentatively at first and then bolder and bolder got up to dance at the front of the room. Those dancing people were as much a joy as the performers, all of them memorable, and their happiness when Benjamin left the stage to join them and dance with them was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Zephaniah was a force of nature who absolutely re-connected my politics and my poetry engaging and connecting with the whole room. A funny, kind and passionate man and performer who charmingly took Trump et al to pieces without malice and without violence. He reminded us of our power and our hearts. But he definitely left Trump and others in pieces. I couldn’t dance – never have, too self conscious and now too disabled – but my head and heart danced and my feet beat the rhythm. Zephaniah bounced, rocked, smiled, taught and charmed all evening. And his music and words, the powerful intoxicating music and words, moved us, caught us up and took us alongside the troupe to a magical musical poetic place. The politics and poetry of fun and fairness. Priceless.

 

Part Two of the edited highlights to come soon. Hay is made up of the visitors as much as the performers and this year they charmed and entertained equally and the venue was also unique.

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Bosom buddies over the years

My bosoms have been around the block a bit.

Early development brought early attention from older men as well as other students, long bus rides to school being littered by moments of leering and lurching, scary intimations of what being a grown up would be like. I was not alone in that, it just happened a little early for me, while I was still colouring in my future and playing with dolls. Fascinated by the appearance of maturity I soon became shy of the evidence, covering them up to stop the leers, rejecting them as evidence of change, and slowly having their deficiencies brought to my attention. Too big for comfort when horse riding, too small for instant popularity, too this, too that, two much.

And then I began to understand they could be fun as well. If I chose to share them it could be quite nice and they have joined me in a few lovely moments bringing some happiness to me as well as to someone else. Large and juicy and bouncy they caused me some joy, and spread a little of that stuff too.

And next thing I knew they were useful. I fed four children with them, nourishing my children, making them strong and healthy, bonding with them deliciously and creating memories for me and relationships for us all.  I spent a decade or so either pregnant or breastfeeding and it was, perhaps, the best time in my life. A wanton, verdant space in which my body made things right and that was all that mattered.

And after that, another opportunity for some joy. Short lived, but memorable. Because then I noticed things of all kinds changing, a little less overall bounce and more wobble and not just in the bosoms, part of a generalised weary reduction in joy and upswing in tasks and a tangible draining of verve, less noticeable purpose and a slipping away of meaning and value. The devaluation of the bosoms echoing a reduction in worth. The bosoms that had created such fear, then joy, then deeper joy and meaning, were entering a new and unexpected chapter. Cause and effect, or effect and cause? Outwardly so much was satisfying, so many achievements, but inside there was a little necrosis every day, a spreading of the dark shadows and the loss of significance, the essence bleeding away into a sticky vacuum of regrets, guilt and exhaustion.

But then, with little ballyhoo but with such a warm and welcome relief, it stopped mattering. My bosoms – MY bosoms – triumphed and became part of my story. They were mine and I dressed them for me, washed and cared for them for me. This old feminist remembered who she was and hacked and whacked through the  flourishing detritus uprooting the pernicious growths of expectation and control, flinging them onto the waiting pyre and planting nutritious saplings and mature thoughts in their place, where they have established and now thrive giving me colour, energy, the scent of a life to be lived. These bosoms have been through the mill, alongside the rest of me, and here we are having emerged from that vacuum into glorious sunshine and promise, with some beautiful hands to hold and memories, some obscured and some hovering on the surface, waiting patiently for me to sift and sort and calibrate them with proper reflection and some context. It may take a little while but I know now I am up to the task.

Two of my favourite, doubtless irritating, phrases are A Work In Progress and Onward and Upward. I have come to realise that both are applicable to almost everything, including me. And you.

Whoever you are, if you feel the pull of that vacuum, the quicksand beneath your feet, please: remember your unique merits, own your Self, live your life. It is yours, colliding with others but yours to fit into whichever jigsaw you choose, yours to steer or not, to enjoy the ride and harness the journey as well as savour the peace when it happens. Hard to see when the waters are closing over you, but swim upward with all your might and take the hand that opens for you. It is there.

Onward and Upward.

 

 

 

 

A divot in the verbiage

Today I have found a divot in my verbiage.

I am apparently at the age which has become “the new forty” but I am sceptical. However vibrant sixty is – and it is –  it will never have the juice of forty, ovaries have thankfully ceased to be a challenge although their loss was mourned for a while, and I am finding a few other things melt away on the weary climb to the pinnacle of decrepitude before falling off the other side. Slower on the stairs;  tins are more of a challenge, inexplicably; bearing four live children and a few who did not survive has left some scars literal and otherwise; when I stop moving not all of me does.  Nothing I had not expected. But.

Words. My main hobby and place of work. Worshipping at their altar and making a living manipulating them perhaps I began to take them for granted and they are making their presence, or absence, felt simply as a reminder. I take a shade longer to identify the best word for a sentence or description, it takes a mite longer to recall names, running up against white noise instead of the expected tumble of potential sentences is shocking and unexpected. I do not think it is a clinical issue but having noticed it, it matters to me. I can sort-of bear the loss of sinew, suppleness and strength and there are compensations: as an old lady I can be less careful and more legitimately honest – although that was never really a problem – and can walk away from crap more easily, if a little stiffly; I do not feel any pressure at all to dress appropriately; knowing more stuff means I can reflect more effectively and that is a blessing and a curse. Grateful to have reached an age at which I have become a closer approximation of who I am and have learned about a variety of things, I am also burdened with that learning, the realisation of things.  Understanding is often over-rated. Comprehension can be crushing.

My usually lush and well watered verbiage that has grown and thickened over the years is becoming a little pock marked and faded around the margins. It takes a little longer to grow – still lush, still a pleasure to walk on, still fragrant and opulent but with signs of fatigue and some of those heavier footprints take longer to disappear, the turf breathing just that bit harder when forced to restore itself. And that divot, ah that divot…….for now I will walk around it and stand on the abundance that all but covers it. Because who knows if it will heal itself, or the lawn wither and die anyway, or if it will simply sit as a divot and behave itself with grace as a reminder that  am just lucky to be here, now, at all.

Poetry will continue, my life as a storyteller will continue. My colours may simply be a slightly different shade and bleed into one another a little more.

 

 

Us

When did you become the grit in my eye?

The stone in my shoe?

The itch in my arse?

Which door did I go through that closed behind me?

Waiting…..

Waiting.

Waiting for my Dad to get home from the pub triumphantly and unsteadily carrying before him his bribe of chocolates and bread-and-cheese.

Waiting for my Mum while she cleaned someone else’s house and I sat in their front room reading, or colouring, or dreaming.

Waiting for the sibling that never arrived.

Waiting for my Dad to get home from work, smelling of tobacco, brickdust, cement, beer.

Waiting for the coach to France to take me to the monastery.

Waiting for the assault to be over.

Waiting for test results.

Waiting for my turn in the bathroom.

Waiting for my soon to be husband to make his mind up.

Waiting for Christmas.

Waiting in the Post Office queue.

Waiting for the sales.

Waiting for the music to start…

…and stop.

Waiting at the vets.

Waiting for the paint to dry.

Waiting for the rejection letter.

Waiting outside the court.

Waiting for the pain to come.

Waiting for the pain to go.

Waiting for my children to be born.

Waiting for my children outside the club/venue/station/school/hall/clinic/university.

Waiting for the phone call.

Waiting for her to speak.

Waiting for him to speak.

Waiting for them to settle down.

Waiting for the kettle to boil.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Waiting for the alarm to go off.

Waiting for the letter.

Waiting for my grandchildren to be born.

Waiting to finally grow up.

Waiting for my Dad to die in hospital.

Waiting for my Mum to die in hospital.

Waiting by the graveside.

Waiting for the ferry.

Waiting.

Waiting for the waiting to be over.

 

 

My Fizzog

I look up into the mirror as I brush my teeth. I see not my Mother as women are expected to see, but my Dad…..

….his jawline, the indentations on his cheeks where he smiles, his neck, the way he holds his head.

Tears, like yawns, are contagious. The tears of the woman in the mirror catch my throat and cause me to sob.

I sob for my selfish self, lonely and fatherless, motherless now too.

I look at my face. It is a different face to the face I had a decade ago.

It is my Dads face, my Mothers face, my face, the face of my childrens mother, the face of my childrens childrens grandmother. Less lovely than when I hated it but easier to love.

The sobbing stops and is at a distance. It belongs to someone else.

Staring at the red rimmed networked green eyes I see only me again. I smile a rumpled smile.

You old fool.

I am worried about you……

I am worried about you. Seriously.

Scene setting: I have matured well, professionally. I do a pretty good job without fanfare and hullabaloo. I am ambitious, always, for the organisation hiring me, but personally, not much. I just want to do a job that is engaging, makes a difference, pays the bills and allows me to do my thing and meet people I like. Mostly that means being quite a bit senior, responsible,  knowledgeable, and I enjoy that. It is where I sit best. Worth hiring, more than competent, happy where I am, unimpressed by job titles, efficient, a bit zippy, a bit quirky, funny when you know me, incredibly (possibly surprisingly…) interested in what makes you tick, passionate about some stuff, and I know what works, really well. Have been there, done that, and understand the value. In short I have been around the block and have knocked it into shape a few times.

And I worry about people. You. People being urged to set goals, reach for the stars, be the best, win win win, go for it, push push push, told they can have it all if they only work harder, strive better, sleep less, plan better, attend the courses, buy the product, network network network.

My best networks are made up of people I just like and respect, I don’t really give a damn if they will “further my career” (whatever that is) or be “of use”. And I don’t usually go without. It works. My best pitch is just to do a great job. That works too. And my most enjoyable, satisfying  work has come from places I am passionate about – not furthering my career  or making my name, but making things better for people who have to use or work inside services and facilities. Not covering up when an organisation screws up, but facing that and making it better, making amends, making stuff happen in the best way it can. Validating and valuing everyone.

It makes me happy to do that.

What I have seen – increasingly – is that those people working in health or social support or allied organisations for their career prospects, to make their name and their fortune, are the ones whose mess I sometimes have to clean up. The ones who cause pain and grief rather than reducing it, who misunderstand what health and social care and support or charitable groups are actually for. Their drive to set career goals, to win, to achieve (for themselves) sets aside all other considerations and removes the ability to view the people they serve as, well, the people they serve. That is not right, attractive or humane. Sometimes, for sure, it is just that they have been promoted beyond their ability and capacity, usually by people with the same outlook. And perhaps malice doesn’t enter into it, just incompetence or avarice, the road to Hell being paved with such. But it is definitely a Thing…….

With all the complex safeguards and governance we now have, one would hope that cruelty, negligence, incompetence, abuse might be eradicated, but far from it. The very complexity of the systems creates a vacuum in which chaos is allowed to thrive and systems are so muddled and misused that people with an agenda and an axe grinding away behind them can use the system expertly and avoid – mostly – consequences.

And there we are: I worry about people being told to strive for “success” with very loose parameters around what that means. Numerous courses, sites, companies, ready to sell people ways to succeed which take little account of genuine personal happiness, desire and responsibility. As an old battleaxe I can see from the top of this hill (and not yet over it by a long way, most certainly……..) how dangerous those things are.

A plea – enjoy what you do. Success is measured in different ways and your way is probably not my way and is almost certainly not the way of the people selling you success plans and schemes. Smell the coffee, taste the cake, see the people, enjoy their company, believe in what you do. Make chums. Make coffee. Eat cake. Did I mention coffee? The most attractive people to work with and for, for me, have been those who genuinely give a damn about their purpose and believe what they do matters, not those who just want to climb. There are many of them about, thank goodness. And here’s the thing: they are often, almost always, the most successful………….

Go, make coffee. Bring me cake. xx

 

 

 

Clopping through the shop

A Brace of Biddies

Wimmin who shop

Cagney and Lacey, Butch and Sundance, Weatherwax and Ogg

Confident Women

Giving no fucks

Loving the shopping, happy to be, zero fucks given

 

 

Audit, Inspection and Scrutiny: the three ugly sisters?

This popped into my inbox today:

“The need to drive up the quality of care for patients, whilst delivering efficiency and productivity, is a key principle for the NHS. As pressure on NHS finances continues to build, UKAS accreditation is increasingly being used as an effective way for purchasers and commissioners to demonstrate that they can achieve ‘more for less’.”

I felt a stirring of irritation. This blog is the result……….

I know organisations have to behave commercially and tick boxes in order to thrive. I spend part of my working life encouraging and supporting charities and NFPs to do exactly that, but without losing their heart and soul to it. It is possible. But as an old nurse (registered about a century ago) and vehement supporter of the NHS original principles of free at the point of need and paid for by the entire community I am increasingly dismayed by the passionless, sterile performance of the people tasked with – and paid handsomely for – managing “public” health services. I have seen patients become the enemy, clinical standards side-lined in favour of improvement on the balance sheet, kindness become irrelevant, and buzzwords and trends take the place of clinical and compassionate behaviour. Health and social services are scrutinised, inspected, audited, governed, examined, professionalised more than ever before and we still have Winterbourne, elder abuse, Southern Health (pauses to spit), frequent reports of casual abuse and cruelty (that we know of), and we will all know those “care” homes with a good CQC rating which pong and employ people you would not want to sit next to on the bus. We will all know of supported living services that are little more than one person institutions with little or no meaningful activity and engagement – or to put it another way, that warehouse people in units of one, creating the illusion of choice and a Life but deliver isolation and fear. We have seen Southern Health reduce victims and loving families to statistics and irrelevancies, destroying people in order to prop up a system that sucks and protect the very people who allowed and encouraged the system that killed people and fixed the blame on others, with lies, obfuscation and bluster.

Some inspection agencies, several tiers of consultancy and management and many more are too often yet another layer of “approval” or box ticking to chuck at organisations. Along with services like 111 –  a dangerous irrelevance that often removes much needed funding from frontline services for the return of reduced standards and increased risk –  they also create a cash cow for canny providers without delivering any improvement in clinical outcomes, or supporting real people with the very real challenges of everyday ill health. We seem to simply carry on increasing layers of approval, fresh hoops to leap through (some with fire) rather than examine very basic factors. Often the people creating those hoops are not clinical and have little understanding of how  things actually work in the real world. I keep hearing that we need more funding for this that and the other – I keep seeing a variety of groups being blamed for an ever increasing number of failures and deficits: currently GPs are getting a hammering despite being possibly the last group of professionals who should be blamed and who, along with dedicated skilled nurses have kept things going against the odds. Commissioning services is clunky, inappropriately targeted, poorly contracted and badly managed, which is a criticism of the process –  again often created by people who do not understand the real workings – and not the people who have to work with it. The competition itself reduces the capacity to develop and really grow health and social care support services because contracts are not only badly drawn and managed but are up for renewal so frequently it is impossible to invest in services and also make that holy grail of profit. Profit is not going to be the first thing to go.

I firmly believe in a skilled and educated workforce well managed and led and supported with career choices and pathways. I also firmly believe in holding organisations and individuals to account. I believe those can be delivered without the huge self-propagating self- perpetuating roundabout of new mandatory qualifications and accreditations, incompetent inspections, and without the workshops, consultancies, projects, papers, enquiries, processes, requirements and bottom feeding organisations that have sprung up around services that are actually intended to protect, care for and nurture us.

There comes a time when the volcano erupts, the boil is lanced, the pus drains and healing can take place. We need to recognise that the privatisation experiment which was trumpeted as the way to increase choice and competition which were equally being promoted as in our interests – I am pausing for the laugh here –  is a failure, delivering little more than profits for largely incompetent organisations and draining the body of the NHS of resources and talent. Choice is not what sick people want, overall – they want skilled professional care, close to home, delivered kindly by people they trust and with their involvement in the process. And answers if something goes wrong, with a meaningful apology attached. Dividing professionals and organisations with “competition”, asking for innovation when compassion is good enough, blaming good people for systemic failures and expecting mountains of assessments, graphs, justifications, and hounding good people for honest mistakes does not result in decent health and social support.

Have a look at this: Laugh and then weep.

Look at me

I saw a few posts on social media this week about people who ignore their children in order to check their phones and messages…..you know the sort of thing, a picture of a fed up child and a parent staring at a screen. In my study (I am on the fourth floor and commonly known as the Mad Woman In The Attic, not without some justification) I watch parents taking their children to school and some parents even have earphones in – blocking out not only the wonderful sounds of the morning, birdsong and breezes, but also their children, who stump along next to them glumly, often trotting to keep up as the uncomprehending parent  marches ahead in order to get that task out of the way and get on to other important things such as staring at a screen and drinking coffee. It makes me feel sad…..

It also makes me angry that we are still at this point in our evolution. For the past thirty-plus years I have been attempting to inject humanity into health and social services on different levels, since the horror of student nursing (about a hundred and fifty years ago….)  when, on my first mental health ward for elders (the clue was in the shorthand title: PsychoGerries) I trotted along for my first day to discover a shabby-coated and smoking staff nurse standing – slouching – in the centre of a semi circle of commodes on each of which there was a naked elder. Both men and women were lined up together for ritual and casual humiliation. After a brief pause to get my breath as I stared at him I sent him home (well, there were a few well chosen and short words as well) and along with some chums set about restoring a little dignity. At every stage, for years, I have seen that same ritual and casual disrespect and humiliation handed out to all and any people using services by people who, if you met them elsewhere would probably seem like decent human beings. From elders having crap food shovelled into their mouths by smoking and grubby “carers” to people with learning disabilities ignored and belittled for being who they are, not even allowed to choose their own bedtime, their own food, the people with whom they will spend their days – their lives.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some brilliant support people, some fabulous organisations who strive to be good, to deliver humanity in their services and campaign for change. I know, and have worked with, many fab people who actually care and understand what that means (ie that it isn’t just about smiling a lot and nodding, but it is about taking risks, liking and respecting the people around you and understanding that each of us is individual – and encouraging that). But in the grand scheme of things these people are too few, and the others are tolerated because of where we are in our evolution. Which takes me back to where I started.

Being with people – supporting people, caring, whatever word you use, and the words matter because you will behave in a way that the words expect – IS the point. The things we do, taking children to school, supporting someone to eat, going to a gig with someone, supporting someone to put their clothes on, shopping with someone, they are all component parts, each as important as the other, as important in how we do them as well as that we do them at all. Those grubby “carers” shovelling food into someones mouth are indeed performing the task in their job description but their main task – of being with someone and having that relationship with someones humanity, their person-ness – has been lost. How much more time and effort would it cost to look at the person in front of them and see their person-ness and be kind? But that kindness is by and large not factored into how we commission, deliver, train for, reward and recruit to support services. Our task oriented focus takes us from task to task, KPI to KPI, box to box and target to target. When was the last time you saw the word “kind” in a job description……?

I remember – and I wish I could forget – watching a “carer” stand up, walk over to an elderly woman with dementia, and without a word roughly haul her up and out of her chair because it was “toileting time”. I sent a nurse home one night years ago because as we were nursing a comatose dying woman in her bed the other nurse leant over her – right over her – and said quite audibly to me “I don’t know why we are doing this she will be dead by the morning.” Casual cruelty, thoughtless indignity, the view of people as lumps of meat to whom we have to do things in order to earn a pay packet. Hauling ourselves and the people we support from task to task as quickly as possible…..for what? That task is a means to an end, a conduit through which we can nourish and nurture the relationship – it is the means, not the end.

It is that corporate and individual refusal to see people as human, as individuals, that allows learning disabled people to die in hospitals they should never have been in far away from the people who love them and allows the people who allow it to happen to bear no meaningful consequences.  It allows elders to be warehoused in buildings from which they will never leave until they die, who will never again feel the breeze on their faces, hear the birdsong or the sea, have someone look them in the face and hear what they are saying, be useful, be heard. Be a person. Have fun. If we are not having a little fun along the way what is the point?

Please take some time to look at the links here. Stay Up Late is a brilliant grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives. That it is needed at all is telling.

The more difficult read is the piece about assessment and treatment centres. Read it and weep. And then sign up to the 7 days of action. Please

And please read about Connor Sparrowhawk and his phenomenal circle of support. Even after his avoidable death the people responsible have had little or no consequences, even after compounding the pain by denying wrongdoing, doing a bang up job of saving their own skins, and reducing the humanity of everyone involved. Shameful. Painful. And his Mother has responded with dignity and energy – I listened to her on the radio a few months ago while I was driving and I had to pull over and stop because I was weeping too much to continue driving.

Home

https://theatuscandal.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/natural-causes/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/clare-sambrook/on-connor-sparrowhawk-s-avoidable-death

The “care” industry is regulated more now than it has ever been – there are audits, documents, inspections, investigations, inspectors, investigators, commissions, boxes to tick, all manner of things supposed to keep us safe. And yet the abuse is still there, as open and filthy as ever. Safety is not guaranteed – and anyway, is safety the most important thing in life? Isn’t fun –  and autonomy, and independence, and risk, and loving and laughing, making mistakes, and pain and heartbreak  – as important? Aren’t those things the things that make us human? Those safeguards will never take the place of kindness and humanity, of seeing the person in front of us and respecting them just for being themselves. Let’s try that – and owning it when we get it wrong – for a while and see what happens………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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