Category Archives: Families

Smell the coffee, make a difference

If you click the picture a charming video plays. Please take a couple of minutes to watch. I think this makes an effective point, and one with which I agree. These days I make sure to spend time smelling the coffee, so to speak. For years I rushed, head down, trying to do good stuff. When my parents died I realised how much I had missed and how much I had made other people miss in my hurry to be good. In my hurry to be good I had been, perhaps, less effective. Now I take time to sit on my front steps and watch the birds in the sky and listen to their songs; I watch people as they hurry by, perhaps missing things too; I watch the clouds and wonder how to paint them properly and then go and try; I smell the earth. I still make a difference sometimes, and still try to be good: I work doing things I believe in with people I admire and respect, but I don’t do it exclusively any more. I also choose words for stories, colours for paintings, actually hear the music I am playing. My life is the better for it and I think I make a better difference now. Working smarter not harder is a cliche, but it is a cliche because it makes sense. I just wanted to share the point…If you have some interesting work, let me know. I am your woman.

 

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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………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of One

I am outing myself as an Only Child. Not only an Only, but also dual nationality and on the easy end of the autistic spectrum with synaesthesia thrown in for good measure. Good grief, I am even professionally interested in myself.

 

There are tensions and delights to be had from all the above. I am Irish/English, and until I started school at a convent where I lived in London I had thought I lived in Wexford with trips to Dublin. I only ever met Irish people and they only ever talked about Irish things. My streets were Irish streets filled with Irish people and Irish papers. We visited Ireland many times and it was where Family was and where Family happened. Good stuff was there. So………slowly realising we lived in London and I was a little bit English was a bit of a moment. And the accent! Well, that was finally knocked out of me once I hit Grammar School in the Shires. As a bright pupil I was lucky enough to have earned a proper education for which I am grateful, but no room for diversity back then! Conform or suffer, the stuff of Grammar and Boarding Schools throughout the  Counties back in the day, and I am not sure it has changed much.  I chose not to suffer. Well, not too much……….

That flaccid grip on national identity has an upside. As an Only I am not a natural joiner, I stand back and evaluate, I overthink, buying into something is not an easy gig for an Only and that apartness, the sense of being outside, brings strength as well as missed opportunities: strength to say no, to weigh up friendships ruthlessly, to maintain integrity and authenticity even at the expense of relationships or career choices – to maintain rightness. Juggling the Irish English that is deep inside is made easier by the lack of joinership – without that need to be within, to join, there is less of a sense of loss of identity as the roots are not firm but swim and sway back and forth under the connecting Sea. The downside is the crushing disappointment that can be had if what one has bought into is revealed to be corrupt or decayed. Childish disappointment in an adult can be corrosive. And that smug integrity can mean an intolerance for others who disappoint, personally and professionally. But, topically, this background makes it easier to understand current cultural issues: amidst the multitude of “communities” that take root around the UK many individuals claim to be ignorant of some of the dreadful things some people within those communities plan and commit. Nonsense. An entire community that can maintain its identity so precisely within another host community does so only by knowing what is happening within and either supporting it or allowing it and by controlling its members. I do not believe those protestations of innocence that are paraded on the tellybox when an atrocity happens. They are not credible. I was on the verge of radicalisation myself – although of course we didn’t know what that meant then –  as a young girl with family members in Sinn Fein when the IRA was casually sold to us as a romantic and necessary part of our culture. My apartness saved me then, and I am grateful for it.

I was “home” recently in Enniscorthy. Travelling alone allowed me to reflect as much as I needed to: I went to see family and friends, spent time simply watching and hearing the Slaney and listening to the birds and the horses, soaked up the familiarity of the places and enjoyed the simaltaneous detachment that is in the DNA of an Only. I watched and listened – something Onlys do a lot. My synaesthesia means that listening is an often joyful and often inadvertent experience, as well as sometimes complex and distracting. The sound of the horses hooves on the turf became a very visual experience for me, the birdsong I enjoy every morning provides a colourful backdrop to activity. I can be surprised by a visual experience from an unexpected sound or some music that I had not expected to hear – delightful, if a little unnerving at times! And Ireland has the best beach on the planet in Curracloe, and I spent time there too. My children all had their first experience of sand there as babies, deliberately.  Saving Private Ryan was filmed there. The fine pale sandy beach is in surroundsound and stretches away right and left fringed by the magnificent dunes and rushes, and the ocean, with its mauves and greens and blues rolls away to the horizon where everything surely falls off and magically glides back home………It fills the vision and the senses and recalibrates everything within a few short breaths.

I also spent some time at my parents grave. No comfort there, I thought, just pain and grief. I was on the verge of an internal meltdown as I sat on the edge of the grave and ran my fingers through the pebbles and stones covering what remains of my parents. And then, a tiny dog appeared from nowhere. Genuinely, I was sitting in the centre of the graveyard and the dog had not been visible, and then he was, and he made a fuss of me and insisted on sitting on my lap and I had no option but to fuss him and talk to him. And slowly the world righted itself again and things came back into focus. Job done, he ambled off, only to return magically just as I was about to leave, insisting on a final fuss and chat. Small wonders make ones day. And as a wise friend said, The universe can be a calm and comforting place , the gentleness of its messengers can heal and support in the most unexpected ways.

So, in a circular way, we are back at Integrity and Rightness. A part of grief grows directly out of regrets: regrets for things done and not done, for mistakes that can never, now, be put right, conversations that can never, now, be had, and love that can no longer be shared or spoken.  However we treasure our integrity – my integrity – it will always fail somehow. And that is because we are all flawed and broken to some extent and we will forget to do things, or will choose activity that we later regret. And sitting there next to the place my parents now share as they shared so many years together before that, I started to understand it better. In the end we are all alone with our grief and our regrets as well as with our triumphs and achievements.

I feel grateful that things conspired to make me aware very early on of the Power of One. It made me a better leader and a worse follower, oddly both non-judgemental but also intolerant of hypocrisy, created in me an over-thinker but thoughtfully balanced that with a resilience and drive that has led me along a fabulously interesting and rewarding pathway. Not an easy companion but I hope a rewarding one for those who choose to be close to me, and I cherish those who choose to be so. Celebrating your own Power of One and connecting with that solitude that nourishes, you will discover the strength within. Trust me, I am an Only!

 

 

 

 

Freedom this Bank Holiday Weekend……..

Every morning I wake up and whatever else is happening I recognise my good fortune and articulate my gratitude. I think about the day ahead, and reflect on the day before. This morning, looking out of my study window at the world outside my thoughts drifted down a path that pondered Freedom.

Living in a democracy, perhaps I am politically free, although that is dubious given how much people pay to become politicians and how much it costs them to retain power. Their wealth supports their power grab.  But I have a vote which matters and for which people gave their lives, so partially free perhaps and indebted to those courageous people.

I am free to work and earn my living, earn my self respect. Dependent on the people above to enable jobs of course, and dependent on me doing a good job.

I am free to marry whoever I choose, and that freedom has been refreshingly extended recently, partly because of our democracy and our right to lobby and protest peacefully – although that too is under threat when police measures so obviously discourage peaceful protest and peaceful and passive campaigners are taken to court for exercising their peaceful rights.

I am free to have a religion or not have a religion, but sadly not free to express serious doubts about religions because the weight of those religions are impacting my own, and their money and votes talk.

I am free to live in the expectation that I will not be abused, although that too is impacted by others who might disregard my freedom to live safely and securely and the impotence, ineptitude and apathy of those who might want, or be tasked with, protecting me.

Despite the limitations, I live in what we call a free society. But on what does my freedom depend?

While 9 year old girls can be bought and sold and abused and raped in “marriage” in some cultures, how can I be free?  While a country with whom my own country does business and exchanges money and with whom we have a relationship, is passing into law the right to stone to death someone who has sex with someone who is married but will not pass a law to protect those children who are being sold off how can I be free? When cutting into a child  of any genders genitals and mutilating them is accepted and condoned, how can I be free? When entire corporations condone the use of an animal slaughtered in a way that my society had rightly decided was barbaric and disallowed but which has, somehow, become acceptable again, how can I be free? How can I ever be free when my fellows are trapped?

Our freedoms are bought with our courage and our vigilance. Without the bravery of the people who marched, fought and died for my right to vote I would not have that democratic right; without the real struggles of people who valued freedom I would still be my husbands property and married to someone chosen for me; without serious campaigning and people prepared to endure hostility and violence I would not be able to earn a living wage. The key to life is movement, when we stop struggling and moving we die and that liberty is lost .

My freedom is your freedom, and yours is mine. As fellow humans, as people, we share the right to the freedoms that do not reduce other peoples freedoms. I will never be really free until all people are free and for that reason I will continue to strive for freedom for all of us. Freedom from the tyranny of crime, substance mis-use, abuse and the after effects of abuse, poverty, violence, oppression, political deviance, homelessness, fear and prejudice. In my small life there are opportunities to make a difference and I have an obligation to take those opportunities and pay back some of the debt I owe. It is my pleasure to do so.

 

I am looking out of my study window enjoying the birdsong, the breeze and the people passing on the pavement below. I can do this and I can write about it because of my liberty. Let us value those freedoms and strive to enable everyone to experience the same liberation. Let us not take our eye off the ball and let in those who want to reduce our freedoms – there are many of those, and the most dangerous are those who do it only because they believe they are right, who have a belief system that values their own principles and degrades mine. The picture outside my study window is beautiful because it is my view and I value the things in it, and one of the things I value most is that those things are not reducing anyone else. As I play golf this afternoon I will rejoice that I have the freedom, means and desire to do so, and can enjoy the wonderful company of my friends. We all deserve a life worth living, in freedom and in peace.

Have a great bank holiday weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A criminal waste, a disabled society. Unlock Your Future.

Easter is a time for reflection. I have been reflecting on the many people it has been my privilege to meet over the years. Many of the people I have worked with are people that the Jesus that I like to imagine would recognize: vulnerable, damaged, disenfranchised, hostile, broken, pathetic, lost, abused. I like them.

Disability is a strange concept, and many of the people with disabilities who I know would strongly suggest that it is not them with the disability but society, culture, which is disabled or which provides the disability. We build streets fit for the able bodied, buildings that exclude all but the well and the fit, work that suits only the driven and the straight and “normal”.  We see “work” as a means for economic growth and acquisition, and ignore the very real other benefits work can bring such as purpose, esteem, quality of life, respect. We patronise the successful disabled and express astonishment at their success. We create targets and drivers that take no account of alternative talents and aspirations, that fail to value otherness, indeed in a tabloid sense disability is so often viewed simply as a problem, a drain, a fiscal error.

If you look for the word “disability” online these are some of the words you get:

handicapafflictiondisorderdefectimpairment, disablement, infirmity  incapacityweaknessinability • Disability can make extra demands on financial resources.

Transfer those words to our environment and see what happens. Our shops have defects and will not allow wheelchairs in, our streets are afflicted with high kerbs and a lack of ramps, many work environments lack the capacity to value a range of people and talents and are, as a result, weak and impaired. Recruitment is afflicted by a set of rules and processes that despite legislation and encouragement still often excludes too many and that handicaps the workforce.

I would go further and suggest that people with a criminal history have been handicapped or disabled by society. Their forensic history effectively cripples their employment potential and afflicts their family life. If we suppose that it is indeed society and our culture that creates disability, in effect cripples its citizens, it follows that society can redress that. Some legislation attempts to do that by supporting “equal opportunities”, but equal ops can only happen if we view all candidates with an equal eye and the work environment is capable of accepting all candidates equally.

If you look for the word “criminal” online these are some of the words you get:

unlawfulillicitlawlesswrongillegalcorruptcrookedviciousimmoralwicked, culpable, disgracefulridiculousfoolishsenselessscandalouspreposterousdeplorable

I notice that none of those characteristics is irreversible. They are a description of how it is at the moment, not how it will be in the future. If we continue to exclude people from employment, to ignore the many benefits a varied and experienced workforce can bring, to expect jobless hopeless futureless people to suddenly somehow behave like employed, hopeful people with aspirations on release from prison, we set ourselves up to fail, and we fail our communities.

I don’t suggest for a moment that we employ anyone and everyone into any vacancy without safeguards and safety nets. I don’t do soft and fluffy. I do however suggest that we create those safeguards and safety nets and take the trouble to include the excluded and create a properly integrated and cohered environment in which everyone is valued, has the space to grow, and has their aspirations valued. Not because it is soft and fluffy, but because it reduces the risks of offending, of disaffection, and increases the chances of people buying into their communities and making the effort to support their futures and crucially it means we reduce the risk of missing out on some serious talent. Back in the day when social and health care services were even more rigid in their outlook than they are now, I employed an ex-offender who had done time for murder. I employed him in elder care. This was not universally welcomed…….But I ran the checks, created the risk assessment, spoke to the people I needed to speak to and importantly offered him a mentor and some effective support to re-adjust. It was a success.

No-one would suggest  there is an easy answer or that it is a simple matter. But that is not a good enough reason not to try.

No Offence CiC is a social enterprise  and I am lucky enough to be on the Board. We are not driven by private profit and we facilitate open access to crime and justice information. By challenging barriers to positive change and influencing future policy, our objective is simple: to make a difference. My own organisation, Mayall Management Ltd, is proud to support the Unlock Your Future project that No Offence is driving.

http://www.no-offence.org/

Unlock your Future

‘Breaking down barriers to employment for people with convictions’

This project will focus on identifying and breaking down the barriers to employment for people with convictions, to bring employers and employees together.

A simple key discreetly placed on a job advert will indicate that this employer will consider all applications on their merit and not their past.

Many employers have a skills shortage and would benefit from an increased pool of suitable candidates from which to recruit.

Unfilled vacancies can have an economic impact on any business and increase pressure on other employees attempting to make up the resourcing short fall.

We need a network of champions to raise awareness of this project and support employers to use the key either on their own website and/or on our jobs board and spread the word to those people looking for a job and also recruit other champions. Could you help us?

Employment provides us with a significant opportunity to break the cycle of reoffending. If you are an employer please join our network and we will send you the key to use free of charge.

http://www.no-offence.org/static-page/unlock-your-future/

 

Coriolanus at The Donmar. A little closer to Heaven.

Shakespeare reveals us to ourselves relentlessly. Prepare for some pain and some joy: your Mothering will be exposed and scrutinised, your integrity questioned and your capacity for denial cruelly interrogated. Hear the words and witness the actors tears, smell the sweat, live the life. And exit powerfully uplifted and enriched.

Tom  Hiddleston is Coriolanus at the Donmar. He actually is Coriolanus. There was nothing he could have done differently or more that would have enhanced the role or created a more vivid or wounded picture.  From the moment he stepped onto the stage – a sparse stage managed with skill and infinite wisdom – he owned us. He was also surrounded by actors who almost without exception  understood the context not just of the words but of the building and the stage. His performance was breathtaking and mesmerising, his body entirely used up in offering us the internally broken son inhabiting the Warriors body, struggling with the effect of the power-ebb-and-flow and the political flexing of the ruthlessly under-educated and under-prepared.  Deborah Findlay touched chord after chord as the Mother. Josie Rourke has nurtured and created a piece of history.

A difficult play to stage, in  many ways, and more challenges at the Donmar than in some other venues because of the proximity. Startlingly efficient use of the space, staggering beauty delivered through blood and light, and a fearless viciousness allowed inside the audience space  created a wonderful Shakespearean intimacy that made it impossible not to engage. Apart from the eejit sitting next to my husband who fidgeted and looked at his watch throughout the performance and should therefore, of course, be slapped many times. He even managed to chew the lid of his cup and flap his programme about irritatingly while the play was on. I needed to ask him why he had bothered coming at all but didn’t trust myself not to administer the required slapping if  I spoke to him afterwards.  Regretting the missed opportunity even now – I suspect he still doesn’t know how close he came to off stage violence. The only jarring note on stage in the entire event was the first speaker, an actor trying a little too hard inside the context of this theatre, out-acting herself and creating a slightly discordant sound next to the exceptionally engaging and variegated performances of her colleagues, who managed to maintain their performances even when not centre stage without drawing attention to themselves or causing dislocation – one of the most difficult jobs on the stage. And a word in recognition of how very uncomfortable Tom must have been during some of the bloodier scenes, particularly the final scene – but worth it, Tom! Very very worth it.

If you haven’t yet been, just go if you can. I can’t say more than that.

The Light Of The World

You are light for the world… your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that he is the light of the world. Here, in Matthew, each of us is told that we, too, are light for the world.

Sometimes we miss the point of light: complacently we accept it as just light, the element that allows us to see. But we forget that it does not illuminate itself, it enables vision. We shine a light away from ourselves in order that sight is allowed. Humility can be difficult to practice, especially in a competitive and often adversarial environment, but practice it we must. As regular readers and colleagues who know me well already understand, I see business as a means to an end and not an end in itself, with integrity and respect at its heart. If business is not enhancing life, what is its point? Without that humility we will miss the point of what we do and we will have failed. Success so often means highlighting others aspirations, successes and ways forward – shine your light and let others dance in the spotlight.

Diabetes, then…..tch!

You have probably not been wondering where I have been as you have better things to do. After regular blogging there has been a pause, a whistling  tumbleweed silence unfilled by words or thoughts. I have missed you, though.

Like many women of what used to be called “a certain age” but is now called the New Forty I have discovered that  I am not a grumpy tired old bat, but that I have diabetes with a side order of thyroid malfunction and some yummy cholesterol. Well, ok, I am also a grumpy old bat, but I now have a lovely ready made off the shelf excuse for it and I’m not afraid to use it. With a vivid memory of the PMT I used to suffer, or rather my Old Man used to suffer, pre-menopause (men, look away now) I put the  recent irritability and low moods down to being a woman. Call myself a Feminist?! I should be ashamed, bringing dishonour on the lovely bright green dungarees I used to proudly wear in the 70s, with the universal Feminist sign all over the front. In case the short hair, dungarees, free-flow pit-hair and  belligerent attitude didn’t give it away.

So, the low moods, exhaustion and annoyance are the result of diabetes. Another confession: I used to be a nurse (technically I still am, which is scary), and I still don’t understand diabetes. I tried to convince the diabetes nurse that my blood sugar was raised because I have honey for breakfast and that the dizziness, fatigue and biting the heads off small children was probably because the Old Man was annoying. Which is true. But it wasn’t the reason that getting out of bed in the mornings was becoming less of a pleasure. I am a natural early riser, every morning, around 04.00 or 05.00 at the latest, up and at ’em, starting the day with meditation, focus, honey (of course) and tea – I love the start of the day. But in the last few months my mind has continued on the same plane but my body has been dragging behind whispering ” do we have to do this….?” and generally loafing around making my mind think twice. And when I was first identified as diabetic I dived straight into denial, taking to it like an old hand: it wasn’t diabetes because I eat properly/don’t smoke/it can’t be/I haven’t time for this. I thought that I could eat my way away from diabetes. Partly true, but a little optimistic I think. I think I thought I might grow out of it, like acne………

So on the whole I made a nuisance of myself avoiding the inevitable, bobbing and weaving to miss the headlines and warning signs, finding plenty of sand in which to bury my head and making a pain of myself.

Running alongside the diabetes was a serious dip in confidence. Hitting fifty (and the rest) can be a shock to the system, especially if the usual things all happen at once – and I can almost hear the rumble of agreement from other “New Forties” out there as you anticipate what I am going to say. My parents both died within a couple of years of each other (horrible circumstances, for another blog), I became disabled enough to need a blue badge, and the kids started leaving home/having babies/getting married/being grown up. And I continued to run the business and work hard. I wasn’t about to let grief, disability and pain, and the empty nest stop me! Oh no, because I am Superwoman, hear me roar.

Except I didn’t roar, I shrieked, snapped, snarled and moaned. I lost the ability to step away and see the bigger picture, and my assertiveness began to drip out of me and stain the carpet. I am used to achieving and have high expectations of myself, not unrealistically.  I know what I am doing and that bigger picture is what informs me. I always think my work is like being the conductor of several orchestras – the job is to lead, to show the tempo and understand the destination, and to make sure all the component parts get there at the right time and that any improv enhances the show. The energy and thrust needed for the business gives me energy, feeds me, and gives me purpose. And when all of those other things, those Life Events, converged, I lost the Kerpow Whoomph. I no longer really knew if  knew what I was doing even though I thought I knew that I did, I wasn’t sure. If you see what I mean! Where once I would have known with certainty when something was actually mine and the buck stopped at my feet, and when it wasn’t and that buck needed to be re-directed, I suddenly found it harder to tell, and started to think it was indeed all my fault, that I was wrong, it was me, and that I didn’t know anything. I think it is fair to say I was confused. But confused on the inside. My Fellow New Forties,  you know what it’s like – you are the one in the middle holding it all together. You have the reins, the strings and the plug that could be pulled and let it all swirl away, so you can’t let it go. So I didn’t, and the music played on. But I did shut down for a while, which is why I haven’t been here for a few months. It took all my energy to keep the plates spinning and I didn’t have any left over for Life.

So……..now I am diabetic and proud! I remember when I first became disabled, and I kept thinking “when this gets better I will get the bike out again” until gradually (d’oh!) it dawned on me that this was as good as it got and I was disabled. Diabetes received the same treatment. I have now reached acceptance and along with it the ability to take the advice and the pills, and I am living again. Maybe next time I have a Life Event you will be kind enough to send me a copy of this blog post so that I don’t waste too much time on denial and faffing. And, a bit like the Walking Stick club that I inadvertently joined – that band of walking stickers who with a nod and a smile, and a comment about the stick, offer unity and solidarity in disability – I have found a new club of diabetics that I hadn’t known existed. The more impaired I become, the more clubs I seem to be invited to join…….Happy Days!

Freedom fighters and terrorists

I was brought up in an Irish “community” which yo-yoed between London and Wexford – I didn’t even know I lived in London until I started school – I thought, if I thought about it at all, that we lived in Dublin. And the Convent did nothing to reduce that view populated as it was with weatherbeaten old Irish nuns and a few young and timid Irish nuns all of whom appeared to think Galway was the centre of the Universe, priests were Supermen, and who spent a lot of their time blushing. And using their ebony crucifix as a weapon of mass destruction in the classroom – I still have the migraines to prove it – but that is another blog entirely. Most of the Irish in that community had integrated well with the Brits, worked hard, played hard, were charming and funny, generous in the boozer, and made no trouble. Making no trouble was important: if you made trouble you were visible and if you were visible you were a target. I am old enough – just –  to remember the No Dogs No Blacks No Irish signs. I am young enough for that not to have hurt me as much as it must have hurt my Dad. Making no trouble also lost me most of my Irish identity at my Shires Grammar School where it was clear that British – or even better English – was the only way to be so that is how I sound. And then in the ’70s when some Irish people were committing appalling violence on the mainland sounding English was another good way of being invisible.  It is what it is.

We have heard a great deal in the past few months about “communities” responding to news of terrible crimes, the dreadful murder of a young man in Woolwich for example, a crime to which many of us, including myself, responded with anger, rage and a profound desire to show support and to evidence our own corporate abhorrence, a complete refusal to tolerate that kind of offence. For most of us the complexity of the West’s involvement with the Middle East was not relevant – one of our own had been violated and that was enough. It always will be. I was never asked, at any time, for my communities response. “Muslim communities”, “religious communities”, “local communities” were all asked for and gave their responses. Which was my “community”?

There is so much accepted wisdom about “communities” and the need to belong. Belonging to a community implies a committment, a shared identity, a shared purpose and some shared experiences. If those shared experiences, which are often deliberately re-told to include and sometimes encourage a shared sense of being wronged or misjudged by another “community” in order to consolidate the brethren nature of the group, are used by people with their own agenda, then we have “radicals”. Or, people with strong political beliefs. If these communities really do exist – and I remember with love my own splinter community in Kilburn where I felt safe and warm – then they will inevitably harbour dissent.

It is all in the words. Semantics rule. One mans radical is another mans believer; Freedom Fighter or Terrorist depends on where you stand when the landmine goes off.  If your community tacitly agrees that there is another community that oppresses yours, that there is a valid reason for dissent, then the people who resist perceived oppression will be Freedom Fighters, people to be if not feted then supported and protected. Our Own. The other community calls them terrorists. Whatever we call them they still kill and hurt people. The name does not mitigate the behaviour. There are many people today in the “communities” who are being asked for their views who make it clear that they do not know of anyone who is “radicalised” or a threat. Nonsense. I may not have known names or specifics as a youngster but I knew that there were people being hidden, supported, funded and fed by people who were good people, but who were supporting bad things because they were Ours. It is not possible to be even a small part of the group and not be aware of something. And that implicates the whole community. I remember my Dad and indeed our family being viewed with suspicion just for being Irish despite the fact that he was the least likely person ever to be a radical. Ever. The community was tainted.

Cards on the table: I support British troops to the max. My wonderful son in law is in the British Army and I don’t think I even have to add anything to that sentence. This piece isn’t about me, or him, or the British Army, or any communities. It isn’t even about politics. It is about perception. Perhaps because of my experiences I do not feel a need to belong to any particular group or community. That feels good. It means I am free to like anyone, or dislike anyone, based not on their community or group, their culture or their colour, their beliefs or their appearance, their criminal record, politics, height, weight, dis/ability, status or wealth but on their behaviour and their charm. That means I have a lovely eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances who give my life colour and depth. It also means that I would not shelter any one of them if I thought they had behaved oppressively or had hurt anyone. I don’t have to. I am free. I am free to love and support them whatever they do, but also free to disagree and not to feel obliged to shelter them if they do wrong.  That liberates both parties.

One of the first things that will support Radicalised people – people passionate about a cause –  to stop doing bad things to other people is for them to see those other people as people and not part of a group or community. Oppressing people will never relieve the oppression of another group, it will just complete the circular journey of hatred. But those groups will resist – why would they give up the power they have? It is in individuals that the answer lies. That means you and it means me.

Food Glorious Food?

Sharing meals allows us to come together and spend quality time with each other. It increases communication and understanding.  How many of us had our first experience of another culture through food? And coming together to prepare and eat food is part of many rituals and traditions. Food plays a big part in faith and in worship. When one shares in the Eucharist, it is said to be a  sharing of Christ’s body and blood, and worshippers are reminded of their responsibility to share all our meals with others. As St John Chrysostom once said, “You have tasted the blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognise your brother…You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal.” Most faiths and religions have food rituals, most cultures have food rituals and norms. Food is significant. Food rituals – cutlery or lack of, how the food is produced (is it Halal? Organic? Vegan? Kosher?), how it is presented, how it is eaten – matter deeply to us all. The only people for whom those things no longer matter are the hungry, and even then I have known seriously hungry people refuse non-kosher or non-vegan food. So it is quite simply that important.

So…..

How many times recently have we heard about nurses now being expected to “feed and wash” patients for a year before they train? How many times do support workers and health professionals refer to “feeding” their patients or clients? The act of eating is reduced, for some, to the passive “feeding” offered by “carers”. It is reduced, for the care-givers, to a task to be got out of the way before the serious business of training, the important job of “nursing”, can be carried out. This simple attitude reduces human and humane care giving to the status of animal welfare. Now, let us acknowledge that there are similarities between the two, and animal welfare is very important. But in offering to care for and support other human beings we need to respect and acknowledge their humanity, and one of the few things that identifies humans as distinct from other animals is the development of specific and identifiable social rituals, especially around food, and the food rituals often define what we are as people: they indicate and specify how we live, what we believe, what matters to us.

The attitude that accepts us saying we are going to “feed” people when what we should  mean is that we are going to help them to eat or support them to eat is the same attitude that allows nurses and care givers to say things like “I have done Mrs Brown” when they mean they have helped or supported Mrs Brown to wash, or dress, or change her colostomy bag, or any of the other deeply personal, uncomfortable and intimate things carers do for us.  Those words, casually used and casually accepted, reduce our collective humanity, remove our independence. They remove the respect for our humanity that we properly expect our nurses and carers to demonstrate. They allow the casual neglect – and even the active cruelty – that we have seen in Winterbourne and at Stafford, and the many other places that have not yet hit the headlines. How can we pretend to be surprised by those events when we use the words that support the attitude of neglect and cruelty?

The words we use define how we behave, demonstrate how we think.  Let us challenge the use of words that encourage patient-passivity such as “feeding”, let us encourage the words that support active care such as “supporting, or assisting, to eat”. The former gives us a picture of food being shovelled into a patients mouth as a “carers” task, the latter gives us a picture of  someone in control of their food, being helped to perform their own task.  Notice the difference between “bathing” someone and “helping someone to bathe”.

When we become vulnerable through age, illness, disability or other reasons we often lose the option of privacy or dignity only because of the attitudes of the people tasked with supporting and assisting us. There are many discussions about why care can be poor, and often the poor wages are cited. And that is a factor – pay peanuts and you get chimps, and low wages do not reflect the importance of the job – but there is never, at any price, wage or  reward any excuse for reducing another persons humanity, for dragging away another human beings respect and trampling on their dignity. Individuals are responsible for their own behaviour and we should expect people recruited to care and support to behave properly – but the modelling of those good behaviours will flow from the leadership. If the people leading the services and the organisations do not demonstrate the crucial behaviours that indicate respect, humanity and the support of autonomy and independence for all then the people following those leaders will have no incentive to do so.

If you offer someone care and support, please, feed your dog but support your patient to eat.

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