Friday 2 August 2019

The Joy Vacuum

I work with a bloke who hates support. Can’t stand it. But needs something.  So I’ve persevered for a few years – for the first two years he barely tolerated me. For the past year he has allowed me to talk to (or at him) him while we play snooker in Newcastle.  I arrange to meet him at the snooker club and he frequently doesn’t turn up.

Last month he was waiting for me with the snooker cue in the picture.  From a charity shop, with a hand written name tag attached with sellotape.  I had to fight back the tears when he gave it to me – thinking of him, thinking of me while he was buying the cue, then finding paper, pen, scissors and sellotape in his house – which would have been a supreme challenge.

So the joy at a breakthrough and a profoundly human act lasted until I remembered - this wasn’t just a profoundly human moment – it was a social care interaction.  I’ll have to register the snooker cue as a ‘gift’

Tuesday 30 October 2018

And What Do You Do?

I’ve been thinking a lot about a question we often ask strangers; ”...and what do you do?”

La Isla Bonita

As a family when we go on holiday, somewhere hot with a pool – we always start with the rather selfish intention of not really speaking to anyone, to dull the pain of the fact we can’t afford a private villa with a pool, except once in Menorca.

Inevitably, you do get talking, a few pleasantries and then usually, “And what do you do?”

I can answer that really quickly, with an answer which describes a role and a purpose instantly.  I’ve become smarter at judging my poolside companions and tailoring my response, I’ve made the mistake of saying ‘Social Worker’ a couple of I might say, “I work for a small charity” or something vague (but worthy!)  I could answer, ‘Renegade Priest’ or ‘Lumberjack’ they’d at least be an opening gambit for a conversation.
It is a great question though, “And what do you do?” gets to the heart of the purpose of your life.  A nicer, more open way of asking “What is the point of your existence?” 

Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful?

If you are lucky enough to meet the Queen - and if you are prepared to bow and scrape to the apparent superiority, accept the divine rights, ignore the sack loads of ill-gotten inherited wealth and brush aside the systemic national inequality her office embodies – you may discover that the Queen is also a fan of the question.

That is probably treason, or at least something to do with GDPR.  I’m sure she is lovely.

The Point

Anyway you can see from the cartoons where this is going.  What would people we support say in response to that question?

Would people even ask? Is that because the holiday makers would not expect people to do anything?

How quickly would people’s answers describe a positive role, a sense of purpose, some meaning?

We routinely organise people’s lives into a series of often random activities – in order to prove to regulators that WE are busy, we have to prove that people we support are busy, so we encourage them to be busy, so activity planners are created - any empty slot on an activity planner has to be filled with an activity. Busy is the goal. Repeat. Review. Repeat.

A full week or a fulfilled life? If I wrote out my own activity planner, my weeks are often pretty similar and often routine.  But they are also filled with love, struggle, fun, anxiety, chance and ultimately purpose. Often ill defined purpose, and unfulfilled purpose, but purpose nonetheless.

I asked someone we support that question – he is an artist, accomplished, talented and has exhibited.  He didn’t say “I’m an artist” he gave me a run down of his weekly activities.  Perhaps I asked it badly, perhaps he’s not interested in being an artist. 
Going back to the poolside, I can visualise a bit of chatter around the pool, “see that bloke over there? He’s a Renegade Priest” – or – “oh yeah him he’s a lumberjack”

“him? Oh yeah, he does some activities...”

And what do you do? feels like a question worth exploring though.  That might become my purpose for a bit.

Songs in the Key of Citizenship;
I’m a lumberjack
La Isla Bonita
Isn’t She Lovely
Past the Point of rescue

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Nothing but the Same Old Story, badges and that.

3 years since I bothered my arse to write a blog.  I've drafted a few, then got bored, or got tangled up with a misguided view that song titles have all of the answers, the title of this blog is an obscure Paul Brady song, about immigrants, outsiders, there's a YouTube link at the end, so please stick with it.

If you want to get to the best bit of this blog straight away, go to the last YouTube link, and scroll along to 4 mins 20 and you'll see Van Morrison doing what can only be described as 'high kicks' whilst wearing a burgundy, sparkling play suit.

Anyway, I've always thought I was the kind of person who had the possibility, with allies, to transform care.  Then the government set up a whole programme called Transforming Care, so I put my feet up and relaxed.  No need for me.  'Sit back and polish your arrogance,' I said to myself.

Then I got dragged in, and NOTHING MUCH HAS CHANGED. Not even a little bit, then I remembered that during the sultry heat of 'Putting People First' we were meant to have undergone a Total Transformation...I honestly mean no disrespect to people who have been working tirelessly to transform things, you will be, and have been much better at it than me.

In my defence, let me remind you I have spent considerable time polishing my arrogance.


Listening deeply, searching for capacities, seeking connections and not taking 'no' for an answer.  So here's the punchline, while working with a young woman who wanted to live by herself because she's sick of sharing and wants to try and make a go of turning her talent for upcyling into a small business. Wants to TRY.  Not be the Chief Executive of a FTSE 100 upcyling empire, just try and sell a few tables, see where that goes.

At her CTR (I can't be bothered to remember what that stands for) we were all informed that she had done some 'Therapeutic' work on the ward around 'Setting Realistic Goals' the attendees nodded sagely, 'ooh that's good' 'yeah lower your sights' 'you don't want people like that Tim raising your expectations' I've since heard the 'setting realistic goals' therapy a couple of times, so it must be real, to my shame I haven't challenged it, I said I was arrogant - not effective.

Yeah, that Tim, gently encouraging people to have small dreams for an ordinary life.  It was the same old story when I first started doing this work, and probably the same for people doing it long before me... 'all you are doing with that Person Centred Planning is raising expectations' what a great and necessary role, raising expectations.  Encouraging the  'outsiders' to expect the same as we all take for granted. The cartoon accompanying this incoherent drivel is an update of an original I made in 2001, when Valuing People came along and I stood accused of 'raising expectations'. Well here I stand again...wearing my badge with pride.

As Eleanor Roosevelt probably once said, 'Aim for the shit, even if you miss you'll land among the shit'

For my next Tale from Serviceland, in about 3 years time, I'll write some drivel about a really funny cartoon I did about a caravan, safe in the knowledge that people don't read the words, they just steal the pictures...if only I could think of a song title.

Friday 20 November 2015

Bringing Home the Bacon

I've thought of a few titles for this tale.  Tonight I'm Going To Party Like It's 1971, Pigs Might Fly, It's All Gone to Shit are just 3.

I've just come back from the Housing and Support Alliance Conference, amazing, inspiring, brutal...

I reacquainted myself with some great people and met some new ones.  I drunkenly met Sara Ryan, was lost for words, and wine wasn't the reason.  I vaguely remember saying that I try to make things funny. It's not funny.  Not for the dudes.

Anyway here's the tale...

I was recently dismissed by a Social Worker in one branch of a local authority as 'not being a professional' (while doing some canny work in another branch of the same authority.)  I was slightly piqued and almost fired off a big-headed email in which the subject heading may have read, 'Do You Know Who I Am?'  Like a '90s boy band member trying to jump the queue at a seedy nightclub. Then I began musing about 'professionalism' and how people and families are dismissed with much harsher consequences than a slight prick to their over inflated ego.

The backdrop of all of this is another of the appalling story of a young man abandoned in an ATU.  While the 'professionals' argue about who pays, solicitors piss about not sharing info with the family, the hospital makes the young man's emotional and physical health worse, social services departments in two areas of the UK do either nothing or precious little, both at the pace of a sloth hitching a lift on a snail. The DoH sends in a team and no lives appear to improve.

In the middle of it is a young man and his family, lost in the system, desperate, drowning in reports, advice and professionalism.

I'm glad people don't think I'm a professional, you could train a pig to be a professional in these situations, and it wouldn't be a long course of study.  I remember a quote, "don't wrestle pigs, you'll get all muddy and the pigs will love it."  I think we are pig wrestling on a grand scale and it isn't the professionals getting muddy.

I'm having a bit of a struggle at the moment, I cant remember a time in my 'non professional' career when I've felt so powerless professionally or politically.  I've always felt I was on some kind of I think I'm just bringing home the bacon.

The conference fired me up though, not to back down, to 'fuck the label' to not accept the cuts, to stop the shit holes.

And it WAS funny especially the uvavu bit...

Disclaimer.  I'm not describing anyone as a pig. It is a metaphor or a simile or a split infinitive or summat like that.  I also stand by my long held view that professionals are usually really good, and try really hard.  They are great tireless workers struggling in a pretty broken system.  You do unearth the odd truffle...


Wednesday 10 December 2014

Taking the 'U' out of 'ATU'

I mulled over the Bubb report, and made this picture quickly after reading it - planning some incisive, ascerbic post.  Then I read other people's posts and realised I haven't really got anything to add......perhaps my contribution is a couple of silly pictures......

Thursday 20 March 2014

The Magical Shrinking Envelopes and Going Forward Bingo

I sometimes feel really bad writing this, like I'm some kind of dinosaur who 'resists' change, who fails to rise to the challenge and see the destruction of local services as an opportunity for communities to rise again.  I think I might be a dinosaur. Never mind.

What I think is that state bad - communities good is a bit of a pointless argument.  There's just us.   And I reckon if I knocked on my neighbour and asked him to help me in the bath - we'd have a pretty frosty relationship - rather than the really good one we have built over the years, reciprocating tasks exchanging gifts and chatting so long I'm sometimes late for work.  So if I want a different type of support than that which I'd want my neighbour, family, friends to do - I think tax in and support for those who need it out is not a bad deal in theory.  And at the moment there's just us as citizens, residents, tax payers, and local government employees to figure that out.

I think what I'm arguing here for is a reminder to local government workers that they are just US.  And therefore we can all face a bit of honesty, and don't need to be deflected by a party line.

The picture above is TRUE!  The phrase used was GOING FORWARD WITH A REDUCED FINANCIAL ENVELOPE.

A reduced what?

I think I wrote one of these about Partnership Board Bingo.  There is another game called 'Going Forward Bingo'

Here are the rules;

1 Count how many times a presenter says 'Going Forward'
2 Gnaw your own legs off.

There's probably a technical term for cunningly using language to cleanse it of any real meaning - but for the moment 'Bullshit' will do - surely everyone is aware of the attack on the safety net which we all, at any time, may come to rely on.  Even that has been 'bullshitted' into Austerity.

MORE, CHEAPER, BETTER is my new cry - just so people don't think I'm a dinosaur.

Next time who knows, see what happens.....

Friday 6 December 2013

Necessity is the mother of underpants....

Necessity is the mother of invention?

Here we go again.  I've heard a few people say recently that hard times force us to innovate.  There's truth in that - but hard times also tempt us to turn on each other.  I've heard people say, "it's not fair, we need to bring the learning disability spend in line with older people" - yeah go on there's progress...look how shit it is over there, let's make this as shit as that!

For years people have been talking of people's gifts and building stronger communities - in times of plenty those conversations were sometimes ignored.

Now times are tough and the voices who largely ignored the 'community' call are couching the vicious cuts in the language of opportunity.

Technology to assist people to take control is being used to justify the cuts. Dressed up in 'assistive' language.  We are clothing cuts in the language of plenty.

Not so much 'Emperor's New Clothes' more 'Emperor's Weekend Underpants' - you know the one's that you only use in an emergency...saggy elastic, washed out colour, perhaps a little hole starting, even perhaps some mysterious stains......everybody's got a pair.

I'm going to carry my emergency underpants around with me - and whenever anyone disguises a cut with bullshit - I'm going to put them on my head.

I urge you to do the same.  A movement.  We've got to do something.  Underpants is as good a place to start as any.

I know that the my use of 'emperor's new clothes' doesn't really fit this situation - but I can't think clearly with these underpants on my head....