Symbols, Strength, Support and Magic

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In the dim and distant past, when I was fruitlessly trying to warn non- compliant adolescents of the danger of their ways,  I often wished that, instead of lecturing, I could just lay down the cards. A bog standard teacher has little credibility.  (As one pupil in a truly dreadful school acidly commented,  “If you know so much about everything, Miss, what are you doing working here?)

A Tarot reader, on the other hand, is a keeper of the mysteries, a seer, a purveyor of ancient wisdom. 

In the 60s, when such things were terribly hip, I had learnt to read the cards.  I gave it up, because it became a bit alarming how readily and unquestioningly people welcomed their interpretation.

Had I laid out a tarot spread for my sullen teenager and revealed the Tower, one glance would have had more effect than preaching.

The image is worryingly uncomfortable.

But the cards could be comforting too. They could convey the joy of fellowship, the presence of supportive figures and the reassurance that you could survive difficult times to win through.

Sometimes people just needed a symbol. One that said “You may not recognise it, but you have the ability get through this.”

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We all need comfort, support, affirmation and reassurance when faced with cruel blows in life. 

Sadly, the bereaved families facing a battle for accountability and transparency over the deaths of their children are having to find almost superhuman strength when they are at their lowest ebb.  No wonder despair is hard to overcome and the struggle for justice is so hard.

Yet one of the most valuable aspects of #107days and #107 days of action is the bringing together of all kinds of people with a variety of knowledge and practical experience to share their individual insight and counsel, thus building a common resource of support and information.

This is the real life magic, the impetus and the strength that is going to carry us through.

Though an image to help remind us wouldn’t hurt!

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Expelled from Eden

Myths are powerful.

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Since I’ve been part of Justice for LB and have come to know the other individuals or families involved, I’ve been increasingly struck by the similarities between professional attitudes to the learning disabled and to the old.

Mark Nearly and Sara Ryan point out how those with learning disabilities are regarded as somehow less human, so that their rights are seen as quite OK to overlook.

Well, I’m sorry to tell all you younger folks that it’s becoming worrying similar the older you get. Fear and dread of “care” is rife amongst my age group because, like the learning disabled, we oldies tend to have, or develop, complex medical needs. Older people are also seen as not worthy of certain categories of treatment.

I’d hoped that some older campaigning groups might see it politic to join forces in supporting the learning disability lobby, but possibly active Golden Oldies are too busy making the most of their lifetime’s Indian summer, or it’s just too uncomfortable to confront the realities of being vulnerable in the UK today.

Or perhaps, at our age, we just hope to be mercifully carried off before it comes to that.

When I was young I used to be part puzzled and part amused by my elderly Irish neighbour who used to pray diligently for “a good death”.

Now I find it horrific, that decades later, my generation should do the same, not because of lack of medical knowledge or facilities, but on account of a cruel, systematic downgrading of the rights of the vulnerable to decent, humane consideration.

And it is the cynical abuse of power by the authorities charged with our “care” that induces such disillusion and despair.

I can only liken it to being thrown out of Eden after eating from the tree of knowledge.

But, in our case, the knowledge we have sadly gained is of inhumanity and naked corruption where once we had trustingly believed to find honesty and a desire to serve.

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Surviving – Lessons from East German Activists & the Stasi

https://network23.org/infiltrators/2015/03/02/surviving-surveillance-east-german-activists-and-the-stasi/

I’ve blogged before about my addiction to audio books and my eclectic reading/listening habits. Well, last night, instead of bemoaning my insomnia, I was listening to “Mafia State” an account of Luke Harding’s experiences as a journalist in modern Russia, where he was a target for the rejuvenated Secret Police.

All of a sudden I was jerked completely awake by an account of the current methods used to drive opponents of the state to despair and breakdown. (Apparently the Stasi in East Germany had honed these to a fine art. They found them more effective than conventional torture in discouraging and subverting opposition.)

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The approach was known as “Zersetzung”, roughly translated as attrition, corrosion or disintegration. Basically the Stasi harassed their victim till they succeeded in breaking down their mental health and their resolve in campaigning against state authority.

What horrified me was the chilling similarity between these methods and the treatment bereaved families are currently subject to when they attempt to challenge the Health Trusts in whose care their relatives have died.

The Zersetzung of individuals was usually carried out through systematically undermining the quality of life of the target (both socially and in the workplace) with the intention of simply destroying the confidence of the target. The tactics used took various forms, such as spreading slanderous rumours, causing trouble at work etc. Rumours and information (such as about unacceptable political viewpoints, inappropriate behaviour….etc) that were passed on to ….social circles might be based on true facts, but were often plausible untruths that were hard or impossible to refute”

I quote from the article linked to the head of this post. Read it if you’ve a moment.

The Zersetzung of individuals had the aim of ‘switching off’ that person’s efficacy by undermining their confidence and their belief in the value of their activities. The Stasi did not usually care whether an individual was switched off through disillusionment, fear, burn-out or mental illness: all outcomes were acceptable, and people’s mental health and social standing during or after an operation were of no interest to the officers involved.”

Sound familiar?

But what’s heartening about this, with regard to JusticeforLB, is that in the end, the methods didn’t work.

There were three key factors in winning through to justice – the support of friends and activists; the strength and trust within and between campaigning groups; the openness of the groups to acknowledging and discussing the oppressive tactics to which they were subjected.

So, after a depressing  Action week #107days, be heartened.

The grassroots opposition movements made the biggest contribution to the revolution that started in East Germany in autumn 1989 – despite the horrifying levels of repression and surveillance that they had faced for decades.”

This Ain’t Just Business, It’s Personal

Last thing yesterday, before I got into bed, I read Sara’s blog.  This morning I woke up realising, that for all my Grannie wisdom, in the past I’d been wrong.

You see, I’d always hoped that the whole sorry Sloven business wasn’t just aimed vindictively at one person.  I’d very seldom come across such actual malice during a lifetime’s experience of working in various branches of public service.

I’d come across plenty of bad practice – sloppy procedures, chaotic administration, hopelessly out of their depth managers, arrogant trend-driven consultants, sheer basic incompetence and plain simple idleness.  All of these were bad enough, but at least they were open to remedy, given the will, the time and the determination.

And of course families caught up in such Kafkaesque nightmares suffered, but they weren’t targetted.  They were a sad, innocent part of a big mess that needed sorting, and at one time many people entered politics, or the public services or local government, in the hope that they could help clear it up.

My Dad was one of them. He wouldn’t even accept a bottle of whisky at Christmas in case it looked like corruption.  Having taken on the job as a young man in the Depression, largely because it offered security,  he faced up to a career of sorting out corporate mess. He never made a song or dance about it.  He went about it quietly and steadfastly, simply because he believed it was the right thing to do.  

As I read Sara’s latest blog, I had to admit that my Dad’s world was dead.

A public service, part of the NHS, could whine about criticism from a bereaved family, and seriously cite this as a reason for not carrying out their own procedures efficiently. It was this that finally forced me to see that the principles my Dad lived by have become things of the past.

Nowadays, like some D list celebrity complaining about her Twitter following, a public body states  (and presumably believes) that social media coverage of a preventable death is somehow unfair to them. 

They choose to home in on a single blogger, one honestly outspoken citizen, as the unacceptable cause of their staff problems and their procedural difficulties.

So I apologise to Sara for ever doubting that the treatment of her family was more than awful indifference, maladministration and incompetence. I finally have to admit that the only rational explanation for the intransigence of the Health Trust in consistently laying their failings at her door is that they seriously believe her to be at fault.  They resent her stubborn unwillingness to be silent in grief, her friends’ determination to meticulously research and record corporate failings, the support of all who campaign and fund raise on her behalf.  All these people must be in the wrong and Sara Ryan is the wicked ringleader who stirs them up!

This isn’t just business, it’s personal.

Welcome to public service in the UK today!

 

Love Has Brought Me Around

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It’s a sad day and a low time of year.  When living and working in towns and cities, we don’t have much time or opportunity to study the skies. We forget how the seasons lift us up and pull us down.

Yet surprising things can help us through the lows.

For me a new love came into my life quite unasked and undeserved.

It was my granddoggie.  I never did anything to merit his adoration. I didn’t feed him, except on the odd mercy mission when his family were held up in traffic. I didn’t keep the roof over his head or take him for walks in wintry weather.

Yet he just loved me. When I came to the door he would rush from wherever he was comfortably snoozing and go into an ecstasy of tail wagging and welcome whimpers. When I finally sat down he would leap onto my knee. It was a source of huge entertainment and amazement to the family.

Of course I loved him in return.

He’s old now and he was never particularly clever, but he was long-suffering and forgiving. He put up with all the silly costumes the grandchildren made him wear, the endless idiotic tricks they taught him.

Even now in his more tetchy, less energetic old age, he welcomes every day in the world with cheerful anticipation.

Here he is, forever puzzled but patiently accepting of the strange things life throws at him, trying to lick up a frozen puddle in the park.

Yes, in unexpected ways, in life’s bad places, love has brought me around.

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Vacancy -Monster Fighting Change Agent Required

On “turning things round”

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Before Florence Nightingale, “nurses” enjoyed a deservedly dodgy reputation.  Dickens, always plugged into the popular culture of his time, knew what he was doing when he created the ghastly Mrs Gamp and her dreadful friend.

Caring is a role that brings with it a very dark side. It is dangerously easy to take advantage of the weak and the sick.  It is so simple to blackmail or terrorise them into silence and acquiescence. 

The vulnerable quickly learn that, to get even half decent treatment, you have to be “good”. And good is always defined by the care provider as giving your  “carer” an easy time.

It was bad enough in the past, with gin-sodden, slovenly Mrs Gamp, but now we seem to have created something even worse: a whole monstrous system which is based on not giving the care provider a hard time.

Whether it be the Hospital Trust or the Local Authority or the judgemental Social Work Department, we little people are blocked from attempting to criticise or question. As patients, clients or employees, we are expected to be “good”: to be quiet and compliant; to accept without complaint every idiocy of chaotic administration; every petty cruelty of poor organisation; the endless esteem-sapping disrespect and indignity.

Because otherwise we know we’ll suffer, in body, pocket, mind or spirit, or any combination of the above.

Now Florence Nightingale was a ferociously determined and successful change agent, but she also had a good few things on her side. She was well connected, with privileged access to people of power and wealth. She had a highly successful market image, a sympathetic press and popular support. She was not a little person.

How are we little people going to fight our newly created monster?

I’ve seen institutions change, but it’s a big ask, as they say nowadays

1. You find a leader with determination, endurance and integrity.
2.  You get a board/cabinet/party/pressure group to back her/him.
3.  You get rid of the bad staff by (a) making them work (b) dragging them through disciplinary procedures, tribunals etc.
4.  You promote and reward the good staff, so that the balance of power & influence in the workforce changes, with good practice becoming the norm.

A big ask indeed! We’re going to need a monster fighting change agent, to battle alongside us little people.

Any good politicians out there any more?

Anyone with principles and a bit of backbone?

Situation vacant.

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The Pub That Time Forgot 2

On the importance of individual choice

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Fed up of Saturday stuck in the house, Wisegrannie & Grandpa ventured out into the biting wind (by London UK standards) & headed for the pub that time forgot.

An important part of traditional English local pubs was always respect for individual choice.

After you had served your probationary period (which could vary between weeks and months depending on the pub’s locality and clientele) when you walked in, the person behind the bar would greet you by name and say –

“Evening ……… & …….. , usual?”

Thus indicating that not only were you known as an individual, but your personal preferences were remembered as important and worthy of respect.

This afternoon a friend of the family was helping out behind the bar. She was unaware of all the intricacies of this demanding situation, but was doing well. She gave Grandpa a straight glass for his half (European translation – small beer) because Grandpa holds the traditional English opinion that beer glasses with stems are for female customers.

But then one of the long established regulars came up with an all time winner in the personal preferences stakes. As she was on the point of pouring out his pint, he called out to remind her of his particular individual choice.

“No, not that one, dear! I have a glass without any writing on it!”

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