Category Archives: Life

Bosom buddies over the years

My bosoms have been around the block a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and Upward.

 

 

 

 

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Is that it?

Jesus in a latte, Narcissus in a pond,

A saint to hear the prayer we make, a star to wish upon.

Jesus in a piece of toast, Narcissus in a lake

When I lay me down to sleep I pray you my soul to take.

There is no sorry, no second chance, no room to make amends.

It stops, sucks dry, bleeds out, falls flat. The light fades out and bends

Towards the loss, the lack, the well of nothing. Empty, done.

No moon, no stars, no breeze, no dew, no rain, no clouds. No sun.

 

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.

My Fizzog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You old fool.

I am worried about you……

I am worried about you. Seriously.

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

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

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

It makes me happy to do that.

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

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

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

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

Go, make coffee. Bring me cake. xx

 

 

 

A life struggled

I resisted birth

Resisted life

Resisted death

And yet, here I am….

…….a shadow sitting in a waiting room without windows. There are obscure voices like the distant ooze of sea on pebbles, the sound of a party to which I am not invited,  where love is visible and vital. If the invitation came I should decline. Parties have colour: I am a shadow dissolving to silver powder settling on the chair, on my memory.

There is a different party over here. An invitation like the crooning and cooing of birds calls me in.  The dust settles, spilling softly here and there over the chair and the floor. Love corrupts and drifts away, slips away, slithers.

I am dust.

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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