Tag 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.

 

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……….

I write therefore I am…….

 

I sit in front of a nude page, stark and scary with no place to hide. I realise I have nothing to say but I type anyway, words falling like snowflakes

Down

To

The

 

Bottom

 

 

Of the

Page

 

Where They

 

 

Form

SludgeAndSedimentAndCongealDirtily

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

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/

 

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!

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!

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