Category Archives: women

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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Waiting…..

Waiting.

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

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

Waiting for the sibling that never arrived.

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

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

Waiting for the assault to be over.

Waiting for test results.

Waiting for my turn in the bathroom.

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

Waiting for Christmas.

Waiting in the Post Office queue.

Waiting for the sales.

Waiting for the music to start…

…and stop.

Waiting at the vets.

Waiting for the paint to dry.

Waiting for the rejection letter.

Waiting outside the court.

Waiting for the pain to come.

Waiting for the pain to go.

Waiting for my children to be born.

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

Waiting for the phone call.

Waiting for her to speak.

Waiting for him to speak.

Waiting for them to settle down.

Waiting for the kettle to boil.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Waiting for the alarm to go off.

Waiting for the letter.

Waiting for my grandchildren to be born.

Waiting to finally grow up.

Waiting for my Dad to die in hospital.

Waiting for my Mum to die in hospital.

Waiting by the graveside.

Waiting for the ferry.

Waiting.

Waiting for the waiting to be over.

 

 

Clopping through the shop

A Brace of Biddies

Wimmin who shop

Cagney and Lacey, Butch and Sundance, Weatherwax and Ogg

Confident Women

Giving no fucks

Loving the shopping, happy to be, zero fucks given

 

 

Germaine Greer at the Folkestone Quarterhouse, childbirth, and the Universe. (Warning, some dubious language is employed……..)

I nearly didn’t go. I was behind with everything and had so much to do, and am still working on not being a workaholic, which prompted me to actually go – take time for me. So, I went to the audience with Germaine Greer at the Folkestone Quarterhouse last week. And I am so glad I did – and a massive thank you to Stephanie Karpetas who arranged it.

Germaine has morphed so many times, as indeed we all have. We have to morph to keep up. And we have to keep up to make a living and to stay afloat – if we don’t morph we run  the risk of drowning in redundant self images and out of date mores, a painful way to go as they can stick in your throat.  Her current incarnation suits her well – a slightly world weary battle scarred Grande Dame who has worked out that she hasn’t worked it out yet but is still having a damn good try and is happy to take us with her. As a Spare Rib veteran and a bit of a Grande Dame myself I found no startling revelations and no new truths in the evening, but I wan’t expecting any. What I did find were prompts and nudges, a few winks and pointers towards where my natural urge for introspection should go. And a bit of a jolt. I found myself remembering how I had been, how I had felt all those years ago when I had realised the world was a bit off balance, that some people did not have the same opportunities and rights as others, and quelle horreur, I was one of them! As a woman there were some barriers to  what I might achieve. I remember as if I were back there watching how it felt and what I thought: fuck ’em, bring it on.

I am not going to get into the details of inequalities and all the complex events and factors that reduce a persons or a groups opportunities – those have been done to death and only those with something to lose if it changed would say that those inequalities do not exist or are easily overcome with “hard work” and “persistence”. Those help, but do not address the core challenges. I am also not going to list the multiple groups affected, such as women, people of colour (I think that is still safe to use), people identified as disabled, people with a forensic history………too many to list here. I will only say that coming from a Convent education it was a bit of a shock to realise that women might not be powerful, clever and interesting to everyone else. Even the unpleasant ones in my youth had been clever and interesting, and certainly powerful. And if they also made me laugh – which most did – I could forgive them almost anything. Actually that still works now. Dammit.

Germaine talked about many things, and in particular how our biology impacts our lives. Especially apt with Wolf Hall doing so well on the Tellybox. I think all of Henrys wives would agree that their biology dictated their lives and even their deaths. I was reminded – how could I forget – of the birth of my first surviving baby in the 1980s. We had miscarried a few beforehand so I was almost surprised to find myself in actual full term labour. Being a dutiful middle class educated woman I had, of course, attended NCT childbirth classes with the Old Man and we had made a loose birth plan which specifically said we don’t expect it to go according to plan but here are a few things I would like you (the health care professionals) to notice and we had been careful not to be demanding, only make suggestions. I will not bore you with details – or scare you with them. It was a long and difficult labour and I met a huge variety of people all primed and ready to patronise me and on whom I was dependent. One image I carry still, and which memory Germaine prodded into the front of my mind , was when I had almost had enough and was exhausted but still polite and meek, and the shifts changed on the ward – remember how long ago this was! – and a new doctor arrived. She loomed over me and said – and I remember the words, the voice and the tone as clearly as if she was here now – ” I have read your demands. You have to remember that you have a precious package in there”. I panted, I rocked forwards, tetchy by now, and I said ” And there was me” pant pant pant “thinking it was” pant pant pant “a bag of FUCKING SUGAR”  collapse pant pant. Not my finest hour.

And even then I was aware of how dangerous and precarious childbirth is and how it changes things. And I was surprised at how it – my biology – changed me over the next few years. I had made all sorts of plans about returning to work within weeks without even considering how I might feel. The Old Man – also at that time an unrepentant feminist – was going to stay at home and I would go back to work. I was earning more, it all made sense. What took no notice of sense at all, in fact it looked at sense, threw it to the floor and stepped on it, several times, was emotion. I could not leave my baby. Why had I not considered that might happen? My feminism and independence were both kicked into touch by my biology. Who knew…….

Things are better now. Even my subsequent experiences of childbirth were better, less botched – there was no non-English-speaking doctor Down There stitching me up silently with the odd disturbing giggle, for example. Yes, that did happen. And the midwives were more assertive and in control – a much better situation. And one of my own daughters recent experience of childbirth was excellent – although it was overnight, and seeing the day staff and watching them work I think that might have been sheer luck and in large part down to her magnificent awesomeness. But it was what it was and she had a good experience so we will just be grateful. And another daughter is herself working in Maternity and Obstetrics and I know she will make a positive difference.

Germaine, with a weary but acute eye, brought all those things into focus for me that evening. She turned my gaze – which is too often on work and survival – onto me, and onto my daughters and son – also, to my joy, an unrepentant feminist – and their futures. We have come so far, so fast. Only a sockful of years since women were first allowed to vote, and we now have woman clergy, for example. But still so far to go. As long as we have FGM (as Germaine pointed out, often perpetuated by women on their daughters), rape as a weapon of war, convicted rapists lauded by football fans, page 3 as a “right” (WTF?), and violent porn freely available to offer  that warped picture of sexuality to our youngsters; as long as we have slut-shaming and twitter-trolls offering to rape women who hold an opinion, rooms full of influential politicians without a woman to be seen, the ex-prospective French presidential candidate casually abusing women and still believing it was ok (allegedly…..), women on television routinely judged and criticised for their appearance rather than their performance where men are not, and women still being scared into anonymity after domestic abuse, we will still have a long way to go. Women are not the only group to find ourselves overshadowed, but it was women we were discussing last week and women I am discussing now, unashamedly.

So, I am glad I went to see Germaine. I also met some women there who I would not otherwise have met – always a bonus. And they were all, yes, interesting and amusing and excellent company. Thinking is a genuine pleasure, and how happy I am that Germaine prompted some thoughts. Thank you Germaine. And thank you Stephanie Karpetas! And finally, a huge shout out for the Folkestone Quarterhouse – my first visit there and I don’t understand why I haven’t been before. A lovely venue with terrific staff and a wonderful menu for the next few months.

https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/

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.

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!

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.

Did You Marry A Coffee Table?

You marry someone mostly because you love them – they appeal to you, look good, fit with your tastes and lifestyle –  you want them. Much the same reasons you used when buying a coffee table. You know where they will fit into your home, your style, your image and your dreams.

Once that coffee table is in place, though, if it is a quality table, a good one, one that needs little attention other than the odd wipe or squeeze, doesn’t need to be moved about too much because it fits where it is, perfectly, you probably don’t pay it much attention. It fits it, looks good, gives you pleasure just being there, does what you expect it to do, doesn’t have any features that require repair, and no bits drop off.

After a while – sometimes a long while – you might notice almost by accident that it looks a bit faded. Perhaps it has started to peel, isn’t as shiny, has lost its gloss.  Perhaps it doesn’t fit in quite so well with the rest of your lifestyle – you look at it more closely. The rest of the room has moved on, the walls are a new colour, the floorboards have a new varnish, your tastes have changed a little. What were you thinking when you bought that chintz sofa way back? Chintz? Who does chintz any more? Thank goodness you replaced it with that handsome new brightly coloured modern sofa! Where does this quality but old coffee table fit these days? It has stood where it is for the longest time, has held your coffee cups and plates, your pretentious coffee table books, had stains wiped up, has tolerated the dogs using it as a back scratcher and the cats using it to sharpen their claws, has supported the babies when they cruised the furniture as they became more independent, has blended in with the various morphs of your home, has never mentioned those times when you dumped rubbish on it or kicked it in temper, and has never complained or asked for anything. It was just there, doing what it was expected to do, strong and dignified. Durable.

You take a long look at your table. You can’t remember what it was that you liked about it way back then, can you? Has it always had those great big feet? When did it develop that slight list to one side? Did it really look like this when you brought it home? At what point did it begin to look out of place in your house and start to chip? What to do? It obviously doesn’t fit in any more – it is shabby and too old, it needs repair and looks damaged. Those cups and plates you kept leaving on it have left their mark and isn’t that a crack where you deliberately threw your bag onto it that day when you were tired and irritable?

Well, if you value quality, enjoy reliability,  value trustworthiness, love steadfastness,  perhaps you need to step back and think. That table has been there throughout all the upheavals, the changes, the fads and fancies, the tempers and the frustrations. It bears the scars of your annoyance, and of your carelessness. It is still strong, still there and still yours. It may not be perfect, it may not be as beautiful as it once was, but isn’t that partly because of you? And isn’t imperfection also part of its charm? If it were perfect, perhaps you would also need to try to be perfect, and how would that work out?!

What is it that it needs to be what you want it to be? Some attention? Some loving caresses and nourishment? Some repair and rest? Can you offer it those things? Because if you can, you will be rewarded with a handsome, supportive, reliable, durable, quality table that actually puts your modern new stuff to shame just by being quality and dignified. And administering those remedies could be a joy in itself, part of that healing pathway that you can both savour and enjoy, knowing that when it has finished you both know it will not cease – that you recognise that in fact if you had administered that amount of care in the first place, as a matter of course, there would not be as much damage as there was. True, if the table had been able to tell you it was in need you might have listened; if the table had just once raised a voice to say it was starting to list, starting to deteriorate, you might have heard. But you  might not, and besides, tables don’t talk, and you knew that when you brought it home.  You knew what you had back then, you just forgot over the years.

If you don’t get a move on and give some of that nourishment and care you might find that someone else appreciates the properties in that table that you have forgotten about and finds they have the time and energy to deliver nourishment and affection, and will reap the rewards. If you cast off that table, send it to the second hand shop, or worse, simply allow it to continue to subside, you will have lost a real treasure. And there is little if any possibility that you will replace such a find.

Take another look. Remember. Your old table bears the reminders of happy times and sad times, both of which matter if we are to grow and learn. Nourish what you have and delight in the result.

%d bloggers like this: