Category Archives: Integrity

Horticulture it ain’t…….

My garden, my net, my sanctuary, where I feel safe, has sanctuary for my friends too.

Pigeons, like fat blokes trying to be cunning, sneak faux-stealthily past me to the seeds and crumbs I share with them.

Seagulls wolf down the curry I threw out, only needing a foaming pint to be the lads that they are, a gang of Ross Kemps with feathers.

My garden, where the shade I sit in calms the shade inside me.

My garden, where the sunshine dances with the bees and magpies in a whimsical waltz that makes me smile.

My garden, my net, my sanctuary.

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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

 

 

 

Reality? Are you serious?

Having recently experienced, as a relatively inoffensive sort of cove,  being blocked on social media by a couple of determinedly and avowedly  right wing chums I have reflected on how we choose our interactions, especially in our modern media-managed culture. I am very carefully neither right wing nor left wing – I think that party politics is part of the problem, not part of the solution. That leaves me free to admire or dislike policies from wherever I like without concern for dogma or loyalty, which is probably a good thing but some seem to find it a challenging concept.

Here’s the thing: thinking that the way wealth is currently distributed is inappropriate and damaging does not make me a communist any more than thinking a hand up not a hand out is the best approach makes me a Tory. And they are not mutually exclusive. My circle of chums is exceptionally diverse and through having conversations with all of them I have been able to – and continue to – challenge myself and my circle and think things through. My thoughts have changed considerably over time largely because I have had the brilliant opportunity to talk to so many, so many different, people with such a wide scope of views. It is quite possible to find Marine Le Pen charming and bright and bang on with some things, ditto Tony Benn when he was still here, and not have to clap on a pair of  left or right wings as a result. Really.  I have a lovely chum who is so right wing he falls off the edge and he is charming, bright, funny and has made me think, and has caused me to change my mind about more than a few things in the past few years. Yes, Barry, I am looking at you. And another achingly hip and alternative left winger who frustrates me to bits but who has also made me think and develop my ideas.

I have blocked a few people in my time, but always and only for abusive behaviour. It would have been a terrible loss to me not to have the chance to discuss things with people with fresh or complex ideas. The ones I have blocked have taken their interesting or complex ideas and made them into belligerent tools with which to hurt other people. Dogma and extremism are the enemies of humanity and taken to their conclusion have supported the development of tyranny and terrorism across the world. Wow. Blocking people certainly escalated quickly….

I suppose it is that microcosm of social media expanded to a global level that fascinates. Social media has so many advantages – the chance to meet people we might otherwise not meet, to share and engage, to see more of the worlds stage and understand it, to learn, to reach out. It also has its dark side – the trolling, the abuse and death threats, the groups that seek each other out in order to perpetuate and stoke their hatred, who urge violence and disorder. Nothing is off limits now. We see events happening in real time but through the lens of the people bringing them to us, not in reality. The BBC News teams, reduced in recent times to simple readers of entertainment rather than the joyously independent and courageous journalists of old, choose to show us their own version of events usually accompanied by sad or emotive music, while dragging the emotions out of victims of crime asking ever more intrusive questions and encouraging people to “tell us how you feel, you must feel awful/angry/gutted/whatever” for our enjoyment and gratification, not happy until a tear has been shed on air. The use of words and pictures in newscasting has become propaganda rather than literate – saying terrorists are “inspired by” with positive connotations rather than indoctrinated as they are, or  the use of the same tired old pictures of zimmer frames in items about older people, fat bottoms in jeans walking away from us in items about obesity, blurred faces dragging on cigarettes or hands holding cigarettes in items about smoking or poverty or addiction or anything else that might be a bit working class. News? Not really. And that gives people with something to hide an opportunity to hide behind the “fake news” barrier and cherry pick their own versions of events and present them as reality. Reality…..as in Big Brother? Or The Only Way is Essex? Or The Apprentice….? Or what is happening outside your own front door every day…….

So, this doggedly non partisan contributor urges caution. Listen, reflect, embrace. Question, even if it means you are rejected.  There is a bit of fabulous in everyone. Maybe I should mourn the loss of the people who blocked me…or perhaps I should not have blocked the abusive ones but should have tried to engage with them. But perhaps after all life is too short. Social media offers an opportunity not just to discuss and gossip but to make a difference, to join with others to change lives and reach out. Losing a few “chums” in order to do that is probably a sacrifice worth making.

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.

 

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.

Brexit. Trump. Strictly. No, don’t click me away! Bear with.

Cards on the table, I don’t much like the tellybox. I watch, occasionally, stuff like Railway Journeys with Portillo, or that wonderful Canal programme with Timothy and Prue, but on the whole most of it passes me by. Most of what I do see is caught accidentally when the rest of the family are watching and I stumble into the room on my way somewhere else. However, I have become surprisingly interested in Strictly Come Dancing this last couple of series – maybe it’s because I remember watching the original all those years ago, usually with an altered state of mind which helped.

Bear with…….

This year has been in interesting year for anyone with half an eye on politics. We have, allegedly, seen a rise in the proletariat offering a bit of a slap to the people who have seeped and dribbled into offices of power and decided they know best. Not only that they know best but that the proles know nothing and need to be kept in their place. Our place. To that end, arguably, Education and Health, and to a large extent the Criminal Justice System and Housing, have been morphing in recent decades, leaving behind much of the social construct and responsibility that most of us value and developing a profit motive that no longer has to try to hide. Priorities in socially important organisations changed of necessity – it was do or die –  and in part that has been supported passively by people still believing that someone with a lot of money and a private education knows better than them. Pair that with the desperate need of many to simply keep body and soul together leaving little time to be involved in much else and a consistent lowering of expectations and we have a perfect storm of passivity and fatigue that allows people who do have the time and money (and the networks developed at school and Uni and by family connections) to buy a pathway into power. I mention no names…….

And then came 2016. Hands up who approached 2016 thinking “Thank Goodness 2015 is over, what a year, it can only get better”…..? Yes, well that went well, didn’t it? Apart from lots of lovely people dying who had created my history and the musical and artistic backdrop to my youth, we also had Brexit and Trump. Divisions created deliberately by the powerful to conquer the masses led to the very public murder of one woman, an increase in the confidence of people with shameful attitudes, a legitimising of all kinds of isms from ageism (the older generation have spoiled things for the young/the young don’t understand the issues) through racism (go back to where you came from/who will you blow up next) and a general atmosphere of mistrust and hatred. Conversation was replaced by brick throwing and chanting, voting was seen as an act of defiance rather than an inalienable right and duty and more people voted for Brexit than at any General Election for years. Public dissatisfaction with politicians who fiddle expenses and despise their electorate was having some practical results. Trump had already hopped onto the bandwagon and shamelessly – alongside some of his opponents and supporters – traded insults and lies rather than debate and detail, whipping up his gang to hatred of others, violence, intolerance and a lack of facts. Taking mansplaining to a whole new level, and behaving publicly in a way that many parents would justifiably have slapped their children for, he set new and deeply unattractive guidelines for public debate and demeanour. In both of these events we witnessed the powerless grasping onto something over which they believed they had some control, a new experience for many. In reality the power and control remained exactly where they already were but the illusion of influence was conferred, more expertly in some areas than in others. That precious vote, hard won by ordinary people over the years, wrestled from the wealthy and powerful and certainly not given freely by them, was being manipulated to support the very people who stood to gain most. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is politics in the 21st Century. Ordinary people are encouraged to think they have had enough of the elite – by some of the elite – in order to get them to vote for the elite.

But something did happen. The idea of sticking it to the elite has taken hold. The concept that perhaps people can make choices, sometimes dangerous or wrong choices, and define their own reality and outcomes and live with the consequences is becoming clearer. And so we arrive at Strictly. I told you to bear with. Ed Balls joined the Strictly dancers and immediately gained the publics support for dancing badly, but with charm and warmth. The pubic enjoyed his efforts and his ineptitude, his determination to do his best and move forward – they liked it much better than some of the other dancers who danced better but were less appealingly human and had less distance to go to dance well. Someone who until recently appeared as part of the elite was shown to be Like Us. Not only Like Us, but likeable and funny. He charmed. The judges were ghastly to Ed and that just increased his popularity – they gurned when he danced, were outright discourteous, were way less encouraging to him than the other “better” dancers and generally behaved like, well, like the elite. Clearly they are the experts, clearly they are dancers, but their unpleasant behaviour rendered that immaterial – we liked Ed because he wasn’t an expert and wasn’t elite. We didn’t like the judges being smug and telling us what to like and what not to like. We Brexited them. We Trumped them. We voted in droves for the Little Man. Apparently. Well, job done. Ed is rehabilitated and the People have spoken. He has worked hard and redefined his place in the public eye.

Quite a few of The Elite are chums of mine. Quite a few of The People are chums of mine. I like them all – I think there is a little bit of fabulous about everyone, without exception. Their politics are not what I admire about them – if they charm me and make me laugh, if they have a brain and a heart, are kind, and hold a conversation well that is what I admire. What they do in the ballot box is not my business. What is my business is what happens when the votes are counted and policy decisions are being made. As someone who has worked for years in health, justice and social care and across all the sectors, and as a school governor, I have seen how public policy impacts actual people. Left and Right are almost irrelevant as long as socially important organisations and services remain at the whim of people many of whom will say and do almost anything to sit in a seat of power, many of whom have no meaningful experience of the departments they lead ( I am sure you know what I mean and who I mean……), and who potentially change direction regularly every few years. When there is actually a direction to change and not just a dogma to follow.  While we have no available Intensive Care beds for children anywhere in the country, while nearly 9,000 people slept on the streets in London alone in 2015/16 – and that is only the recorded figure – and 57,750 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ in the same year, a six percent rise on the previous year, while mental health services are randomly delivered and under-funded and a false economy as so many people bounce around the expensive system, while almost as many people leave prison unable to read as entered it (this is changing, thank goodness, thanks to some fabbo people, but so slowly), while people with a criminal record are routinely excluded from jobs and housing denying them the opportunity to desist, while all of these things and more are happening Left and Right can argue until blue/red/green/yellow/purple in the face but it will remain a disgrace and the responsibility of all of them. And all of us.

There are some properly decent people in and around government and in and around some of the organisations that develop and deliver services, people who actually want to make a difference and not a fortune. I insist on feeling hopeful that the vote for Brexit – and Strictly – is an indication of the start of increased popular involvement in government. Whether or not I agree with outcomes upon which people vote does not matter – it is up to me to make a case for my view and debate properly. If votes go a different way to the one I would like I still rejoice that democracy has taken place. We have become a tad complacent in recent years, the freedoms and opportunities that have taken so long and so much painful sacrifice to attain are at risk. That complacency has allowed bad practices to slip under the wire – without some darn good journalism the expenses scandals would have remained unknown, for example, or at the least unremarked. Our inexplicable faith in people in positions of power, supported by the anaesthesia of media dependence, has let us take our collective eyes off the collective ball. My optimism tells me that people are perhaps willing to become more engaged and knowledgeable about the things that will affect their lives and less tribal in their allegiances. Brexit and Strictly both cut across most demographics…….

So, vote for Strictly! Vote in your local and general elections! Talk to your MP, find out what she or he actually thinks and don’t take it on face value – challenge, probe, question, scrutinise. And crucially, tell her or him what you think and what you expect of them. Own outcomes. Learn to Salsa and wear some fancy clothes. Dance and vote like no-one is watching.  And remember that T Blair is creating a global organisation to combat populism  – that’s you and me – and promote globalism – the thing that fills his pockets. We must be becoming dangerous……….

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………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I write therefore I am…….

 

I sit in front of a nude page, stark and scary with no place to hide. I realise I have nothing to say but I type anyway, words falling like snowflakes

Down

To

The

 

Bottom

 

 

Of the

Page

 

Where They

 

 

Form

SludgeAndSedimentAndCongealDirtily

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little pain goes a long way…..

Gosh how we undervalue our physical selves! All High and Mighty about values and philosophies and high-falutin’ principles we ignore the uncomfortable truth that without physical comfort we can sink.

After a week of volcanic uncontrollable pain which I knew was temporary but that didn’t help, the pain is coming under control and the say-it-quick-and-it-won’t-matter cause, a massive infection, is starting to abate. Good grief I even got dressed for part of today! The worst is over and I am re-entering the world of humans again even though I still can’t talk without sounding like Sylvester Stallone chewing socks. I want to stay awake all night and read poetry! Write poetry! Get that sunrise that has been in the back of my head right to the front and then onto canvas. Read A Brief History Of Time again until I actually get it. Having spent a week unable to do anything other than lie down and let my mind rattle around I want to jump and dance – not that I could realistically anyway with two left feet and a dodgy knee but the urge never goes. Actually it’s more like three left feet when I get going – how on earth do cats and dogs and other cleverly quadruped creatures co-ordinate four limbs? I struggle to keep the two legs I have under control, on a good day.

I have dived deep into the many dreams that came courtesy of the analgesia and had the time to understand them – without that luxury I would have romped out of bed the morning after my dreams and failed to reflect enough to see that, for one example alone, on one night the unrecognisable woman in the dream was my Mother and lying there following the dream backwards I was able to start to understand a few things that had foxed me for years. With eyes closed and mind open I could travel around inside my head and find some of the obstacles there, and start to remove them. Thank you analgesia.

Moving from almost unbearable pain towards comfort it is possible to close my eyes and instead of the scary black holes that were there until today, see in their place now a multitude of constellations that give light and warmth as well as shade and comfort and I can watch and follow them behind my eyelids enjoying their shapes, colours and variety. They offer entertainment and reflection. During the worst times of the last week as a distraction I forced myself to stop and listen to the birdsong outside my window – a window through which I have, with great pleasure, watched the seasons changing for more than fifteen years and through which I have watched my children play and grow, and where my granddaughter now plays too. I was as warm and as comfortable as I could be given the pain and it was possible to start to look forward to the Spring listening to those birds, to picture the flowers and hedgerows and smell and taste the asparagus, spring greens, cucumber, strawberries, rhubarb as if they were already here. I was in my own bed, my own house, with my children making sure I was comfortable and my books and cushions around me and a shedload of pain relief making life ok.

I was able to look forward past the pain because I was physically secure. How much would I have coped with the pain had I been cold, wet, outside and without comfort? I have little enough to be grumpy about even with the temporary illness, but I still managed it from time to time. How dreary, how impossible to cope with each day had I been homeless or stateless, insecure and alone. I am one of many people fortunate to have the opportunity to work and create an immediate environment that is comfortable, happy, peaceful. I have provided for my family, alongside my husband, and we have done it pretty well. We can be satisfied that we have done a decent job and we reap some of those rewards in terms of love and affection, support and security, wellbeing and happiness. Damn, I am lucky! There are however many people denied that experience, denied the opportunity to raise their children in safety and warmth, sometimes even without adequate water, food, protection. As I look forward to Spring and those strawberries many others look forward to nothing at all, hoping simply to exist for another day, hoping to keep their children alive, if not safe. There are people living in hospitals who should never have been there and who have suffered infinitely as a result, the product of arrogant careless models of “care”. There are people bereaved because someone didn’t give enough of a damn.There are people who sleep on streets and benches because they struggle with a world of barriers and expectations. There are people in prisons because they have no meaningful means of breaking away from the ropes that hold them in place and fix them in the amber of chaos. There are elders locked inside “homes” who will never ever feel the breeze on their face again because there is no-one to help them outside because of “staff shortage” and because of people who don’t get that some things matter enough to make them happen even if they don’t show up on KPIs and audits.

Creative as I am I cannot even begin to understand how that feels. I can empathise and I can witness – and both of those things matter and support a greater understanding and tolerance. I can try to make a difference, and I do try. But those things, those terrible circumstances, will continue for too many people. That is almost as unbearable as the pain…….

As I recover and anticipate with pleasure and gratitude the rhubarb, spinach and strawberries I will keep in my head all the people who I know are not as happy or lucky as me. I will offer them my love and respect and will continue to try to make a difference in the tiny ways available to me and I will try to create more ways, and I know many many fabulous people who do the same and more, and it is a genuine honour to know them.  We will keep on trying, in gratitude and humility and this last week has helped me to focus on that. Otherwise what is the point?

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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