Category Archives: Work

Smell the coffee, make a difference

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

 

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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.

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/

 

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.

Life and Business and a Major Thank You……

Going into the New Year I need to offer a Huge Thank You. A Thank You so huge it has its own postcode, so warm you will need to wear sunscreen to carry on reading. I want to thank all the people who have been so marvellous, so warm, and so caring while I was unwell in the last few weeks. Life and Business, eh? Always something to learn……..

My Old Man took me to see the new Bennett at The National on Saturday as a celebration of the fact that I am now able to both go up and down the stairs, and cough without passing a kidney and half a lung. A measure of how ill I was is that we had tickets to see Fiona Shaw at The National in December and I couldn’t go. A measure of my wonderful Old Man is that he chose also not to go. He also chided me very gently, reminding me that it isn’t worth it, for continuing to work as much as I could, doing all the things I was able to do without being seen in public – it was not a good look. I found having a head the size, shape and texture of a football was surprisingly repellant and I found a good use for that spare hooded jacket we have lying around. (It had fallen into dis-use as we were all too scared to use it in case a Tory MP started to hug us.) Given that I also lost my voice and most of my hearing the work I could do was reduced to that which could be done remotely, and that I was glad to do. Those who know me will know that I will be working until I peg out and belong to that merciless club formed for  the Workaholics among us. He was, of course right, but please don’t tell him that!

So, I am now able to get up the stairs to bed – comfortable as the wonderful recliner is, there is no substitute for a bed – and able to speak and hear again. Hurrah! And the most wonderful thing to emerge from the last few weeks is the certain knowledge of who my friends are and who I can trust, who has warmth and humanity within them and who has not. Not a bad lesson to be learned! I am grateful to all of you – you know who you are! – who were kind. I cannot believe, incidentally, that my eldest daughter spontaneously did the huge pile of ironing that had mounted up and which she knew would be bothering me. Ironing!!! Blimey! Thank you!

Given the lessons learned I should fess up and say that the lessons I have learned have not surprised me, they have simply confirmed for me what I really already knew and shone a light on those people I am so lucky to know and lucky to have met. I am a reasonably tough and ruthless woman with a sound and hard business head, but I know that underpinning all the ruthlessness, all the toughness, all the business decisions, there has to be a purpose and a warmth. Without that scaffolding the rest is worthless, its value is brittle and cold. Those of you who follow my posts, and those of you who know me,  will know how much I value the heart of a business, the beating heart that informs the purpose and the ethos of an organisation. You will also know that I view success from a sideways perspective, not solely in terms of P&L (only one of the tangible range of measures of success) as much as in the balance of achievements, the path that is developing, and the ability to survive. Life and Business are not too different (for me they happen to be the same thing….): they both need purpose, a raison d’etre; they both need  planning and effort but also the ability to take an unexpected turn, to field a curve ball, to take a punt; they both need some tough decisions to be taken sometimes; they both benefit from a firm but loving touch. They both need the interactions of the people inside them in order to survive. It is not good enough for a business to exist, it also has to have a reason to exist and a benefit to the communities it touches – that includes the workforce as well as those who use its services and the wider environment. No namby pamby soft centred rubbish here – those who don’t pull their weight need to be managed – but rather a holistic view of business as a force for good and for change. The Big Issue is successful for that reason – Richard Branson is  a man I admire for that reason!

Life is packed with lessons to be learned, adventures to be had, and achievements to be made. Even the hardest, most punishing of experiences is an adventure and an opportunity to learn – often those are the very best opportunities to learn. So, Thank You kind people for re-affirming my already warm and appreciative view of you. And thank you, too, to the others outside of that circle for, well, for the same! A lesson learned is always worth learning!

Happy New Year to all of you. Here’s to more adventures, more lessons, more warmth and more achievements.   Here’s to 2013!

Alan Bennetts People

I saw People by Alan Bennett last night at The National. I need to start  by saying how much I like Bennett – I have never previously read anything or seen anything by Alan Bennett that I haven’t enjoyed and was glad to have read or to have seen. And Frances de la Tour was the lead – how perfect! But……

There are times when I want a rant. I usually then go on  to have one, sometimes via blog, sometimes in person. I can’t remember ever writing a play in order to scratch that itch, but it is something I may well now consider. This play was a good old fashioned rant but not Bennetts Best Play. I felt, as I left the Lyttleton, as if I had just read a tetchy letter in the Telegraph – or perhaps more likely in the Guardian. And that would have been cheaper and shorter, and probably better lit. I am passionate about the National, about Bennett, and probably about Frances de la Tour – probably even about Peter Egan who I have admired for years – so I am not being critical of any of those as individuals, just about the entity that was the play. But I am not complaining, Bennett at his not-best is still relatively enjoyable, and the rant was worth having as the points made were good points, well delivered by Frances de la Tour and it was good to hear them being aired with such sharp skill, however patchy and at times blunted by the production that was.

Now I expect I will  be castigated for criticising a National Treasure, much as I am sure some will castigate Bennett for doing the same, albeit in a much more structured way than me.

The Accidental Buddhist

How are you doing? Do you sleep well? Do you manage to hold all the boxes in your life inside the one container that is you? It isn’t easy. We all have to find our own pathway to peace.

A few months ago I was casually clicking about, as you do, on the laptop in between doing more meaningful stuff (I bore easily!) and I started to read a blog about Buddhism. To my astonishment I recognised myself. Raised a Catholic, and now a Buddhist. I was a little surprised……….

For a few years I have been doing what I discovered to be meditating – spending time focussing on nothingness and depth, breathing, and looking straight ahead reasonably fearlessly. Re-aligning myself, if you like, every day. I fell into doing this after a turbulent period, a time when I was not sure if I knew who I was or what I wanted to be, if I had any meaning. Very selfish! It took me years to realise that in fact being centred and sorted was the best thing I could do for my family, friends and colleagues.  I accidentally started to meditate while taking a break from paid work some years ago to re-evaluate things. I had come to a full stop and needed to do some real things like painting pictures, writing poems, playing some music. During those activities I found myself lifted into a new place and a new way of thinking and it was apparently and very naturally simply because I was deliberately creating things – I began to think around corners a bit, think not harder but better, with more colours and less white noise. I had to let the colours and words in my head out of their boxes in order to create the things I wanted to – needed to – create. There was no option – it was a simple need. It was accidental. I now make time to do this, often just before sleeping, but sometimes at work, or I pull the car over into a parking space and tap out, and it happens anyway when I am painting or playing music. I make the time. That isn’t always easy either: washing piling up, letters to answer, work to be done, people to see. But the best way for me to manage all that is to make the time for the tapping-out-thing.

Accidents are such a huge part of what we do – the incidental or accidental conversation, the inadvertent over-hearing of a radio programme that chimes with you, meeting someone at a conference or dinner. The excitement of knowing that most of what happens is by virtue of accident is truly liberating! And this from a woman notoriously wedded to GANTTs and action plans, who examines all the What Ifs with a fine toothcomb. Who knew!?

A large part – the largest part –  of my drive at work, before and after my break, has been around respect, dignity, Human Rights, giving a damn. When I began reading – accidentally – about Buddhism I realised that I had been practising the basics of Buddhism for years. Accidentally. I don’t think the diagnosis of Buddhism made a difference to what I was doing, but stumbling across the name for how I live was extraordinary. And I don’t want a cure!

What works for you? How do you re-arrange the shelves in your head so that they fit?

Disabled or Liberated?

This is a first:I stopped myself talking this morning. What was I doing? I was about to say that my disability was “only caused by age”.

I am no Spring Chicken – in my fifties and with a grandchild I think I can claim to be comfortably middle aged. I became disabled a couple of years ago with severe joint pains and deteriorating ligaments and have struggled with my mobility and the pain since, using my walking stick and relying on my car much more.  It has been a challenge at times, but as I blogged a while back it has also brought blessings. It forced me to re-evaluate what I do and how I do it – from a bouncy and energetic boss (probably rather irritating in hindsight…!) to a more paced and interactive leader, I think my style of management improved. I know the quality of my relationships improved as I had no choice but to take time to listen and engage with people rather than hop around being dynamic! I see people doing that whole energetic-crazy-lookatme-letsgetitdone crap now and frankly it simply annoys me and I can see it annoying others. It fails to engage, fails to create the right relationships. So I am grateful for my disability, however weird that sounds. It liberated me and gave me better relationships and much better insight into how people, organisations and relationships work. It also, incidentally, showed me who my friends were………

So, I am middle-aged but only in my fifties, not ancient (although I suspect my children might disagree). And I was about to say this morning  that my disability was “only” about age; to reduce and trivialise it and degrade it as unimportant because I am older. Well,  sod that for a decade of the rosary. Age, disability, even simply being a woman, are too often trivialised. We are expected, as we get older, to put up with more and more crap, to recede into the background and fade away, to sit at home, be grateful, and wait to die. Either that or lose our dignity in the rush to appease the Gods of Youth and have ever more flesh tweaked and sliced and be more and more uncomfortable in our own skins. But whatever we do we are trivialised – my own Mothers experience of hospital care as she was dying, in her eighties, was cruel, undignified and inhumane beyond belief. The recent outcry about the Liverpool Pathway is entirely justified, and certainly from what I witnessed during that time nursing as an overall profession has lost much of its claim to moral high ground and to “caring”,  notwithstanding the few – very few – nurses who still seemed to give a damn. The elders on the ward my Mother was on – a Stroke ward which was bizarrely touted as excellent by inspectors who mercifully never had to actually use the service – were stripped of any dignity, denied care and compassion, and hardly viewed as human beings by the people with the word “care” in their job descriptions. If it had been a childrens ward there would have been a justified public outcry. Why should age reduce that need for dignity and care? Our expectations should not be lowered incrementally with our increasing years.

And that, my friend, is why I stopped myself saying that my disability was “only” age related. That does no favours to either elders or the disabled. Whatever age we are, whatever the disability, wherever we come from, we should never be expected to tolerate less than humane treatment and compassion. Whether we are ex-offenders or inmates, elders or children, Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Jewish, living in poverty or comfortably off – whether we live in an affluent state or a developing nation – we deserve the benefit of humanity. It is never “only” age, colour, status.

There are many organisations who deserve our support in order to protect our humanity and dignity. Please check out, for that reason, the following organisations, as well as your own, more local, ones and others:

PACT http://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/

NACRO http://www.nacro.org.uk/

Spark Inside http://www.sparkinside.org/

AGE Uk http://www.ageuk.org.uk/

The National Autistic Society http://www.autism.org.uk/

Hft http://www.hft.org.uk/

St Martins Emmaus http://www.emmaus.org.uk/

Porchlight http://www.porchlight.org.uk/

Demelza House http://www.demelza.org.uk/

The Big Issue http://www.bigissue.org.uk/

UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.uk/

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