Tag Archives: prison

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……….

A little pain goes a long way…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Fault, Your Fault, Our Fault

Ever since the breaking news of Jimmy Saviles alleged offences I have been reflecting with sadness. I worked in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and other local health services for a short period in the 70s and 80s while he lived there – in the nurses sick bay, for goodness sake –  and was one of those who “knew” and did nothing.  I can barely describe how appalling that makes me feel – although we did not “know” anything at all, we simply knew he was someone who made us uncomfortable and witnessed some odd behaviours like an unusually high interest in the younger and more vulnerable nurses and dreadful social skills with anyone other than the vulnerable or the star struck. I never saw this man do anything other than be odd, but I am left wondering why I did not put the facts together.

Back then, being touched up in the pub, wolf whistled in the street, and having leering men make unfunny jokes about sex or bosoms at parties was par for the course. It was expected, unchallenged and if we made a fuss we were lesbians. I was a feminist, still am a feminist, and make no apology for that even though my interpretation of feminism has developed over the years and bears little resemblance to my 70s feminism – but if I am claiming the political and moral high ground how can I explain not twigging some behaviours that were, if what we hear is true, going on in front of me? And now it is all breaking, it is so obvious that I am stunned by my own stupidity.

It was an era when children, especially disadvantaged children, were routinely dismissed as liars  or simply ignored, women were routinely patronised and abused, and the disabled were still called cripples and expected to stay indoors. The culture of celebrity was in the ascendence and the Telly was King. People were beginning to seriously worship the famous average and the famous odd. Throw some serious money from fund raising into the mix and we begin to see the shape of this picture.

This man was courted by people because he could get them dosh. He solved money problems for institutions and they grovelled for that. The institutions and the people running them dissolved the usual failsafes, ignored the usual safety measures, fell at the feet of that potent sludge of money and fame. The rest of us were too busy working to pay much more attention than t0 notice the guys odd manner and feel repulsed. This begins to look even less satisfactory the more I reflect.

We are a little complacent now – we see the paralympics and marvel at how “the disabled” now have the same opportunities to compete and win as “the able bodied” – we don’t really question whether that impacts on disabled people who just want to live an ordinary life, we just stand open mouthed at crip power. We reel back in horror at some of the “antique” words that were commonplace a few years ago, like “nigger”, “dyke” (although that has now been wonderfully reclaimed!), “spastic”, “dolly bird” (a personal pet hate), and we turn our noses up at “black coffee”, the term of endearment from strangers such as “love” or “dear”, and find new forms of offence to be taken every week, new words and phrases with which to struggle and stammer over. No offence.

But have we moved on that much? We worshipped a rich-girl-made-good when Diana died – she never had the opportunity or perhaps even the desire to just be a woman. I used to wish she would break wind savagely when she got out of a car in one of those  fab dresses just to break the spell.  We follow the slebs lives slavishly, young women have surgery and starve themselves to be like the famous average and people line up to be humiliated on national TV in the hope of being famous for a while. We profess horror when a footballer says “black” to a black man but still have room for the BNP leader to tweet an incitement to harass a gay couple for winning a court case. Young women are still less likely to follow a career in Physics than their male colleagues. Charmless rich men still trot about with tall totty with boob jobs and bleach jobs, wide smiles and silent acceptance.

I think what I am saying is that the revelations about the alleged offences committed by some famous men over the past few years – probably decades – has caused me to take a long hard look at how we have all been living. Perhaps doing that can help to make sure we reduce the risks of abuses happening in the future. Abuse isn’t just about force, or about sex, or even about  violence. It is about violation and lack of respect. It is about reducing people to objects, or to things that we can make use of – the vulnerable, the young, the minorities, the poor. People with little or no voice. People who have been in prison, people with mental health issues, the homeless, people with learning disabilities, many many more – a long list of groups and individuals who have been – are – abused without consequence. When was the last time you were enraged when you heard about a homeless person being beaten up? Properly enraged?

Until we  take the time and the effort to see people as people, human beings, with worth and value, abuses will be a risk, and we will open the papers again soon to find ourselves shocked about another story of inhumanity, perhaps a story about human trafficking, about an “honour” killing, about something dramatic enough to excite the papers. We will not see the wifebeater next door, the abusive Father and his submissive daughter, the homeless guy in the shop doorway, the celebrity with his own set of keys to a place that offers asylum to some of the  most dysfunctional and voiceless people in the UK.

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