Tag Archives: business

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.

 

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

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

Bear with…….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look at me

I saw a few posts on social media this week about people who ignore their children in order to check their phones and messages…..you know the sort of thing, a picture of a fed up child and a parent staring at a screen. In my study (I am on the fourth floor and commonly known as the Mad Woman In The Attic, not without some justification) I watch parents taking their children to school and some parents even have earphones in – blocking out not only the wonderful sounds of the morning, birdsong and breezes, but also their children, who stump along next to them glumly, often trotting to keep up as the uncomprehending parent  marches ahead in order to get that task out of the way and get on to other important things such as staring at a screen and drinking coffee. It makes me feel sad…..

It also makes me angry that we are still at this point in our evolution. For the past thirty-plus years I have been attempting to inject humanity into health and social services on different levels, since the horror of student nursing (about a hundred and fifty years ago….)  when, on my first mental health ward for elders (the clue was in the shorthand title: PsychoGerries) I trotted along for my first day to discover a shabby-coated and smoking staff nurse standing – slouching – in the centre of a semi circle of commodes on each of which there was a naked elder. Both men and women were lined up together for ritual and casual humiliation. After a brief pause to get my breath as I stared at him I sent him home (well, there were a few well chosen and short words as well) and along with some chums set about restoring a little dignity. At every stage, for years, I have seen that same ritual and casual disrespect and humiliation handed out to all and any people using services by people who, if you met them elsewhere would probably seem like decent human beings. From elders having crap food shovelled into their mouths by smoking and grubby “carers” to people with learning disabilities ignored and belittled for being who they are, not even allowed to choose their own bedtime, their own food, the people with whom they will spend their days – their lives.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some brilliant support people, some fabulous organisations who strive to be good, to deliver humanity in their services and campaign for change. I know, and have worked with, many fab people who actually care and understand what that means (ie that it isn’t just about smiling a lot and nodding, but it is about taking risks, liking and respecting the people around you and understanding that each of us is individual – and encouraging that). But in the grand scheme of things these people are too few, and the others are tolerated because of where we are in our evolution. Which takes me back to where I started.

Being with people – supporting people, caring, whatever word you use, and the words matter because you will behave in a way that the words expect – IS the point. The things we do, taking children to school, supporting someone to eat, going to a gig with someone, supporting someone to put their clothes on, shopping with someone, they are all component parts, each as important as the other, as important in how we do them as well as that we do them at all. Those grubby “carers” shovelling food into someones mouth are indeed performing the task in their job description but their main task – of being with someone and having that relationship with someones humanity, their person-ness – has been lost. How much more time and effort would it cost to look at the person in front of them and see their person-ness and be kind? But that kindness is by and large not factored into how we commission, deliver, train for, reward and recruit to support services. Our task oriented focus takes us from task to task, KPI to KPI, box to box and target to target. When was the last time you saw the word “kind” in a job description……?

I remember – and I wish I could forget – watching a “carer” stand up, walk over to an elderly woman with dementia, and without a word roughly haul her up and out of her chair because it was “toileting time”. I sent a nurse home one night years ago because as we were nursing a comatose dying woman in her bed the other nurse leant over her – right over her – and said quite audibly to me “I don’t know why we are doing this she will be dead by the morning.” Casual cruelty, thoughtless indignity, the view of people as lumps of meat to whom we have to do things in order to earn a pay packet. Hauling ourselves and the people we support from task to task as quickly as possible…..for what? That task is a means to an end, a conduit through which we can nourish and nurture the relationship – it is the means, not the end.

It is that corporate and individual refusal to see people as human, as individuals, that allows learning disabled people to die in hospitals they should never have been in far away from the people who love them and allows the people who allow it to happen to bear no meaningful consequences.  It allows elders to be warehoused in buildings from which they will never leave until they die, who will never again feel the breeze on their faces, hear the birdsong or the sea, have someone look them in the face and hear what they are saying, be useful, be heard. Be a person. Have fun. If we are not having a little fun along the way what is the point?

Please take some time to look at the links here. Stay Up Late is a brilliant grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives. That it is needed at all is telling.

The more difficult read is the piece about assessment and treatment centres. Read it and weep. And then sign up to the 7 days of action. Please

And please read about Connor Sparrowhawk and his phenomenal circle of support. Even after his avoidable death the people responsible have had little or no consequences, even after compounding the pain by denying wrongdoing, doing a bang up job of saving their own skins, and reducing the humanity of everyone involved. Shameful. Painful. And his Mother has responded with dignity and energy – I listened to her on the radio a few months ago while I was driving and I had to pull over and stop because I was weeping too much to continue driving.

Home

https://theatuscandal.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/natural-causes/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/clare-sambrook/on-connor-sparrowhawk-s-avoidable-death

The “care” industry is regulated more now than it has ever been – there are audits, documents, inspections, investigations, inspectors, investigators, commissions, boxes to tick, all manner of things supposed to keep us safe. And yet the abuse is still there, as open and filthy as ever. Safety is not guaranteed – and anyway, is safety the most important thing in life? Isn’t fun –  and autonomy, and independence, and risk, and loving and laughing, making mistakes, and pain and heartbreak  – as important? Aren’t those things the things that make us human? Those safeguards will never take the place of kindness and humanity, of seeing the person in front of us and respecting them just for being themselves. Let’s try that – and owning it when we get it wrong – for a while and see what happens………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramblings about Christmas (I know, sorry…) and about Charity, charities and Love

It’s that time of year again. Chillier mornings, frost taking a run up, and Christmas bits appearing in the shops. I have heard some Christmas music being played in some places as well, mostly pappy lift Christmas muzak but it still sets out the stall for the coming deluge.

I was educated mostly by nuns and brought up on a diet of kissing the feet of icons, taking communion, or the body and blood of Christ as it was more attractively known, emptying myself of sin every Saturday in preparation for Sundays consecration and a general acknowledgement that I was not good enough and Must Do Better as the sins filled me up again over the next calendar week. Christmas was a big deal, a time to celebrate the Baby Jesus and be kind to people we didn’t like and to patronise the needy. A time to remember our difference from Anglicans in that we were clearly the chosen ones and should never, ever, utter Anglican prayers or hymns for fear of damnation. That one got me a detention in my Grammar School as I extravagantly nudged a Catholic chum in assembly (where we had to file in separately in case there was someone who hadn’t noticed we were different, to allow them the opportunity to clock us) who was joining in the “wrong” Our Father. I was saving her soul at the expense of a detention with the Chemistry teacher who hated me, not without reason. When exam time rolled around we all had to visit the teachers individually. I rocked up to the Chemistry Teachers den and breathed in the sulphur. She looked at me. I blinked at her. She said “I don’t think we have anything to say to each other, do you?” I left. It was a relief.

Anyway.

Christmas remained a big deal, especially when I married and had children. My husband was and is an atheist so it became less noticeably Catholic and more secular – more fun, really. Me going to Midnight Mass was tolerated with affection. We cooked, cleaned and preened for Gods sake for at least three months before the Big Day, bought gifts, decorated, made card lists, planned menus. The house was warm, golden and tinselly and we loved it. I wept when carols were played on the radio and filled up at the scent of candles. And that is where I am going with this. As my faith ebbed and flowed so the experience of Christmas changed. I am a recovering Catholic immersed in a Buddhist ethic and I am happy with that. I have gained so much from the path I have followed: the wisdom to know I am not as wise as I think, the contentment of being comfortable in my own skin, and the deep understanding of my transience. I have also lost things: the comfort of certainty, the cuddle of my God, the simplicity of Faith. Christmas, however, remains a big deal. We cook, clean and preen as much as ever although as the children grew and left and our Granddaughter arrived it took a different shape, a shape that was just as warm and lovely but was opened out and closed down all at the same time. And over the years that my Faith also changed so the ability of Christmas carols to move me decreased – that nipple-tingling, teary, warm, gut-filling emotion that Christmas Carols used to create was not there, and I miss it dreadfully. I remember each of my childrens Nativity plays at which, every time, I had quietly wept because it was so lovely, and the awful realisation on that final day in the final year of Primary School for my youngest child that Nativity plays would never be the same for me again, and I sobbed quietly at the back because it was beautiful and sad all at the same time. Of course my comedy nose gave it away when I had to blow it and people wondered how the Queen Mary had managed to pull up alongside……….

Anyway, again.

I still love Christmas and value more each year the opportunity to share it with a widening circle of family and friends as well as the opportunity for solo reflection and consolidation which has become more important than ever.   I will play carols again this year and hope for the thrill but without too much expectation. I will also play Stabat Mater by Pergolesi and know I will get the thrill that always brings. Perhaps I should simply be happy I can still be thrilled at all………

A lot of of this pondering about Christmas, and thrills, and change, was prompted by the obvious early marketing of Christmas which is in itself disappointing. It led me to reflect seriously about authenticity and ethical behaviour, two qualities I prize highly. Even though my own Christmas is not based in Catholicism any more, it is still based in faith and in love, it is authentic. It does not need the gaudy support on sale in the shops or the approval of someone ordained to approve. I do not need the prompt of religion to do the right thing ( or recognise the wrong thing) or love my fellows, or to enjoy festivities that are designed to bring people together – they stand on their own merits. The Stabat Mater moves me not because it is about Jesus but because it is about Love, Mothers love, turmoil and grief, cruelty and suffering and the sweet and bitter pain and joy of love and loss. It is as valid for our current world as for that world 2000 years ago.

Working with so many terrific people over the years I recognise authenticity in someone very quickly. Authenticity, passion and experience are things that underpin a great deal of work in the Third Sector and indeed are qualities that have created the genesis of many charities and organisations, and if married with talent and skill can produce formidable results. In their absence the tinsel quickly fades and good intentions are crushed under the weight of misconceived marketing and misunderstood motives, but if all those things are in place there is a lightness and a brightness about the business which lifts it above others and supports the drive which created the organisation in the first place. Hope and warmth are the driving force underpinned by all those more concrete talents of organisation.

So……..I look forward to Christmas in the same way I look forward to any event that excites me, but with that added thrill of knowing why I love it so much and the anticipation of some cracking meals and evenings to come, with people I like and love. There is no substitute for genuine commitment, authenticity and real affection, at Christmas, at Home, or at Work. My wish for this year is that you find all those things, in all those places, and enjoy them as much as I do.

Re Blog courtesy of Heavy Load – check out the website too

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD

How to change the world

Some big news – Jerry Rothwell and Al Morrow, the director and producer of ‘Heavy Load’ the movie have got a new documentary coming out; ‘How to change the world’ opens on 9th Sep.

Jerry’s a master at telling human stories and if you’ve never seen one of his movies then I suggest you check them out. Through his films he manages to create amazing insights in to different human stories. After all he managed to follow Heavy Load around for 2 ½ years and somehow crafted a coherent story from our crazy and often incoherent way of carrying on.

4) Movie poster

His latest film ‘How to change the world’ tells the story of the founders of Greenpeace and on the opening night he’s also got Vivienne Westwood on the panel for the Q&A – looking forward to that.

Jerry came in to our lives by chance, he’d been commissioned by the Cambridge User Parliament to make a film about disability rights and advocacy (‘Real Power’) and it was felt that whilst this was an obviously worthwhile subject it could also be seen as a little dry and needed an extra element to lighten the mood – cue Heavy Load! Through that experience we formed a friendship with Jerry and he decided to make a feature documentary about our world – something that is still find hard to believe actually happened.

“FILM OF THE WEEK” – MARK KERMODE, BBC 5 LIVE

Meeting Jerry totally changed the worlds of everyone in Heavy Load and we went from playing social care garden parties and day centres to Glastonbury and Wychwood Festivals, New York City, various European cities and wrote the theme tune for Channel 4’s Cast Offs drama series.

3) Burnstock

On top of that our movie was premiered at SXSW, Texas and appeared at various international film festivals and was broadcast on the BBC. It also got screened on Finnish TV and I have no idea whether it had any role to play in the Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät story, but they formed that same year (2009) and have gone on to do unbelievably brilliant things. Nearer to home we do know we inspired bands like Zombie Crash (who toured with Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät in 2013) and with thanks to organisations like Carousel and Constant Flux there’s an learning disabled amazing music scene in our home city, Brighton and Hove.

PROJECT FART

During the filming Jerry phoned me one day and said it could be worth considering creating some sort of organisation taking inspiration from the release of the movie ‘Children of Agape, we are together’ which created a foundation to further the work of the orphanage featured in it. We realised the Heavy Load movie would offer us a great platform for something but we’d not worked out quite what that might be – for some months the idea lived in our heads under the code name ‘Project Fart’.

Michael straightI’ve told the story before about that lightbulb moment when we decided to launch the Stay Up Late campaign, that moment when Michael (our drummer) was told to drink up by his support worker because it was time to go home. He disagreed, he still had half a pint in his glass and was in the middle of a conversation. We launched Stay Up Late later that year with several hundred leaflets and a banner at one of Carousel’s Blue Camel Club nights. We had no particular plan other than to raise awareness of the issue of people in receipt of so called ‘person centered support’ not being a able to make chaoices about simple things like what time they went to bed and how they spent their evenings.

Jerry’s movie gave us the unique position of being able to get our message out to many thousands of people all sharing our frustrations and we’ve always adopted the approach of being free and easy with our logo, figuring that it makes sense for as many people to be doing things in the name of Stay Up Late as possible. That approach has enabled us to punch way above our weight, giving the impression that we’re a much bigger organisation than we are, and in fact it was only in 2013 that we employed our first ever paid worker. The approach of being free and easy with our logo hasn’t always worked with a small number of situations backfiring on us where other organisations have claimed our work for their own, and not really worked with us in the way we’d hoped, but it’s been risk worth taking and has largely paid off I think. (I’ll probably blog about this issue in a bit more detail in the future).

Our friends from C-Change in Glasgow

Our first employee was of course Madeline who’s now joined by Kate and Holly who make up the team running our Gig Buddies project across Sussex. To think we’d have an office with 3 staff supporting over 60 people with learning disabilities to get out to gigs regularly with their volunteer buddies is something we hadn’t even dreamed of. And what a dream team they really are backed up by our lovely board of trustees.

Gig Buddies Harry and Jeff at Southseafest

Now we’re just about to announce details of how we’re going to make use of £202,000 funding from the National Lottery to develop this work even further and support other organisations to set up their own Gig Buddies, just like ACL Disability Services in Sydney have done, and also Thera Scotland in Midlothian.

So in our small way Jerry’s movie ‘Heavy Load’ has helped us change the world we work in, even if at times it feels like the challenges are getting harder and harder for people with learning disabilities living in the UK right now. We’ve always known exactly what needs changing – the challenge is just exactly that ‘how to change it’.

Gig Buddies has also enabled us to widen our work to involve the local community, not just our wonderful band of volunteers and local arts organisations and support providers, but also venues and promoters (such as One Inch Badge, Music’s Not Dead,Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar and The Brighton Centre) all of who support our work in showing what a community should look like, with people at the margins welcome in the middle (or even in the mosh pit).

We also work within the wider community working with other organisations such as Attitude is Everything, Paradigm, Heart n Soul, Learning Disability Wales, Mencap and many others all striving to improve lives for people with learning disabilities. (And we were recognised as one of Nesta’s 50 New Radicalorganisations making a real difference in their community).

The thing that I’m not sure of, and what we really need to do, is how to connect with that potential army of support workers out there and get them thinking about how they can be part of the change we need to see, the change that people with learning disabilities are calling out for, to be able to live their lives how they want. We’ve connected with loads of people who agree with what we’re doing – but we know there’s many more who are working in systems and settings that create institutionalised practices and these are the people we really need to create debate with.

HOW CAN WE CREATE DISSENT AMONGST SUPPORT WORKERS?

They surely can’t be happy with how they have to work so we need to hold on to that hope and find ways to create dissent and provoke a response that drives positive change, delivering truly person centred support.

So we’ll be pondering this one – any suggestions gratefully received.

In the meantime I’ve got my ticket for How To Change The World, 9th Sep, Picture House Central, London and we’re also holding a screening of Heavy Load the movie at The Cowley Club, Brighton on Tuesday 18th Aug. There may be members of Heavy Load present to do the Q&A, who knows? (I’ll be there) – as ever with Heavy Load I never knew what was going to happen next, and that’s been the story so far with the running of Stay Up Late the charity.

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/

Decisions Decisions…….

Decision making is a hot topic, in Government, in Business, in our personal relationships. Politicians like to be seen as “decisive”, strong leaders, capable. Their decision making can speak clearly about who they are and who they represent. We make decisions every day from the moment our eyes open, mostly not challenging decisions (which cereal to have…..) but the process will be similar to any decision making: reduce and select the options, weigh them up, obtain corroboration as required, risk assess, choose.  Some decisions then have to be verified – not the cereal decision, but pubic-impact decisions! They have to be demonstrated as good and in the public interest. Doctors, for example, can be held to account in a very public and structured way for their decisions, and quite right too.

In this modern, vibrant savvy age of entrepreneurship, business, public relations and increasingly rapid development of products and policies it has been fascinating to attend local council meetings and watch the archaic and frankly absurd methods used to reach and share decisions. I can recommend it as a means to explore power and how it moves around people and traps them.

Well-intentioned people of all sorts run for government, local and otherwise – and some less well intentioned people too. To be elected all we need is a bit of cash and some voter apathy – produce the right words on the leaflets, smile and kiss babies (or promise toilets in the town centre), get your name known so it is familiar on the ballot sheet and Bob’s your uncle. With voter turn out at its lowest in decades you only need a handful of people to recognise you, a sockful of cash and favours to distribute as required, and not have too much visible mud sticking to you and you can lever your way in. Once in, there are a multitude of ancient processes designed specifically to protect you from scrutiny and consequence. Public council meetings, for example, are run by a Town Clerk who positions him/herself, like the Presidents Bodyguards, ready to take a bullet for the people authorising her/his salary and apparently relevant education, rottweiling away any pertinent and grown up conversation behind the smoke and mirrors of process and protocol. Understatement of the day at my last meeting was “this is not a conversation, not interactive” barked at a member of the public daring to supplement her already submitted, then scrutinised and whitewashed questions with a mild query after the tepid and qualified response from the council.  Not interactive indeed, not there, not anywhere.

One wonderful example of the antithesis of voter engagement was at the last meeting I attended after which a councillor (famous for audibly addressing a colleague with whom she disagreed as a prat, in front of a variety of members of the public including children after the Remembrance Day Ceremony) cantered over to the group  of the public attendees specifically to make a point of her own, and then when someone asked her a question backed off so quickly she almost fell over herself arriving saying “I don’t answer questions”. If not then, when? A gold plated gift wrapped opportunity to engage with voters about a hot local topic. I know – let’s ignore it. Maybe they were all prats? Sadly that is not  an isolated councillor behaving inexplicably but a realtime indicator of some local government attitude.

If I were in that elite group of elected officials who have the privilege to serve their community at the communities expense (and that has Precious Little chance of happening I hardly need to add) I think I might start to question those processes. Yes, they have been there for centuries (as have Scarlet Fever and Plague, both thankfully almost eradicated with universal approval) and yes, they are traditional, but until recently so was sending kids up chimneys and wife-beating. We have civilised ourselves past that. Those protocols, processes, trip-wires, smoke and mirrors, call them what we will, are man-made – like nylon, like poverty – and we can un-make them and create a better, more accountable, more engaged, more people friendly way of making decisions that will, ultimately, impact the entire community. It is probably about time we did so, and in the process expose some of the decisions made on our behalf and their consequences. Good people get elected all the time – as do the less good and the downright dreadful. It is probably time we freed the good ones up to do what they want to do – a bit of good for the community and a bit of proper public engagement. Some of those good ones who sit around, and at the head of, that local council table are becoming stained with their colleagues fallout and grime – how lovely it would be to liberate them.

The Light Of The World

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

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

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

Diabetes, then…..tch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed…………

 

 

Another powerful argument against Yes-Men and Yes-Women!

 

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