change through music, folk music, music festivals, social work and child care

It all comes round again. A week in Cropredy

Well… not quite Cropredy but just down the road in Warmington. A week in 100 words a day. Can I do this……..difficult for one who always uses too many words and repeats herself!

Sunday.   Arrived at Barry’s lovely cottage to a warm welcome. Having stayed here many times we have become friends and so seeing him is a great start to the week. It’s as hot as hell everywhere is brown , dusty and the soil has gaping crevasses down which  small creatures could lose their lives. It reminds me of that wonderful Oysterband song Mississippi Summer. I hum it while unpacking.  Later sat outside with Barry, one of his ex foster children, talked care ,social workers, cars,and drank wine till dark.

Monday.   Lay in. No dog to walk. Beautiful clear peaceful morning. Even having to splat several wasps didn’t detract from the calm. Walked round Cropredy village. Mused on the Battle of Cropredy Bridge, the Festival Bell and the chapter in history this Festival has written. Thought about living on a boat while watching the narrowboats slide by.  A man is painting the bridge and its so quiet, so calm, but there’s a trace of something in the air; memories ,anticipation, familiarity, maybe the unfamiliar too. The ‘festival family’ gathering to celebrate music, summer, and comradeship. The tribe will be here soon.

Monday evening… is this cheating?! Off to the Brasenose. For the uninitiated that is the pub in the centre of Cropredy . It has a festival fringe. Brilliant gig with the Gerry Colvin Band. Chatted with  a few regular festival goers about this years line up, the good , possibly not so good and the unexpected. Always an absolute pleasure to see Gerry and Tom Leary who turned up on his way back from Wickham festival. Late night then….

Tuesday.   Early start ?! I think not. Had lunch in Hook Norton with Ruth. There are  no barriers with the oldest and best of friends. The conversation is easy even when visits are not that frequent. Years ago we talked about new work events now it turned to the sadness and challenges that getting older brings and our determination to not give in. Loss is such a huge theme in later years and I recalled reading the “we are only on holiday here and all holidays come to an end”. I love Ruth’s positivity and thoughtfulness. Oh and she may help me out of the rut I am in with the book.

PS Also pranged my car in a slight argument with a difficult lady next door because I had parked by her bins. Life is too short to worry.

Tuesday evening.   Really cheating now. Had dinner with Barry and a young man who is ex care and lodges  with him. He cleaned my slightly battered car. It shone. He was reluctant to have dinner with a social worker. I find it so sad that those we are meant to “advise, assist and befriend” ,to use a favourite expression from the old description of a probation officer, dislike and distrust us so much. He was lucky that he was fostered by someone who will continue to care for him throughout his life and to give him a home when he left care. We agreed that everyone in care just needs that one person to care enough to help them turn their life around.

Wednesday.    It all begins to today. Great meeting with Wendy CEO at Rees Care Leavers Foundation. Ideas flowed. Very positive. Next wristbands and the chatter, hugs  and laughter in the queue starts a weekend of friendship, fun and great music for the tribe. The tent next. Simple. A pump up tent. Takes minutes, absolute genius. Set up and off to eat. Then on to the Trades and Labour club in Banbury for Trad Arrr’s festival warm up concert. Now becoming a tradition in itself. Fab gig. The music starts here.

Thursday.   Relaxed and thoughtful morning. Considered blogs and books, the ideas from yesterday about care leavers life stories and records. Forget about the complexities of the Data Protection Act and Local Authority regulations and legalities for a moment , there is a simple truth in all this . My family  and personal history is mine and accessible to me so why is this simple dignity not afforded to those who have been in public care? The struggle to get records, the heavy redactions, the counselling if you are adopted, the gaps, the emptiness of not knowing, is just cruel. There must be a better way. Not everyone can get on Long Lost Family. Maybe that is the Kinder Shores project.

Thursday evening.   4pm .Fairport take the stage and we are off. The chairs and flags are staking out small territories on the field while the rest of us drift around the edges,  the bar and the pit. Police Dog Hogan have a bit of a technical nightmare, the Oysterband sound is too low (shame as they are one of my all time favourite bands)and Brian Wilson despite being a legend is not quite with us. A great evening. Great music from everyone. I get quite over excited by the sight of Kinder Shores on the Cropredy merch stall racks,  in the programme and mentioned on stage. There is a familiarity about it all, same stalls, layout, timings, and I wonder if this is a good or just that we are now the elder tribe who like that comfort. But it is the people and the music who make this festival so maybe this doesn’t matter.

Friday.    Meet school friends Denise and Linda. We are now all rising 70. We talk families, grandchildren(I’m a bit out of that one!), holidays, other friends from the grammar school days and inevitably illness and aging. I always said I would never do this but health is so critical in this phase of life it is unavoidable. We think we are much the same people as we were back in the day. This is may be true.  We review whether we reached the potential we thought we had then and if we took the predicted direction. Decided that the teachers predictions were well…..wrong. Love these meetings. Back to the music. Excellent. Some not my taste but good. Kate Rusby did a beautiful set and Cregan and Co and Le Vent du Nord rocked it. COLD cold evening, needed woolly hat and gloves.

Saturday.    How quickly the last day comes around. Festivals are fleeting joys, a time limited oasis away from our usual lives. We sit in the rain and sun, stand till we ache, cheer, dance, wave paper hankies for Richard Digance’s biggest Morris dance ever, wear strange colourful clothes and hats, paint our faces, make new friends, meet old friends, drink too much or not enough, eat food that should have a health warning, suffer chemical toilets and go home happy but sad it’s over till next year. For the musicians it’s a great festival in the run of summer festivals , just another gig?  Not this one, this is different, this is “family” , this is the Fairport tribe.

Oh well. Same time, same place, next year. See you all somewhere down the road.

meet on the ledge

care leavers, change through music, Getting older, music, social work and child care, Uncategorized

Stuck on an incoming tide.

Oh my ……..I have been quiet of late. It’s all been rather hectic, in a good way I hasten to add. Change is one of those life events that scares most of us although there are many who, probably whilst denying how difficult it is, talk about it as “a good thing” or”just an opportunity to be grasped”. There’s a school of thought that reckons we are in a constant state of change and I can subscribe to that in a very broad sense but believe me there can also be a severe lack of movement forward in one’s life . Without any technical term it’s “the state of stuck”. It is a position often not recognised until some movement has been achieved and one can look back. Psychological constipation maybe?

stuck image

Here’s one of those Hemingway writing moments coming up…. just sit at the typewriter and bleed!  I have just looked back at my last few years and begun to understand just how stuck I was. It was uncomfortable being in that place but even more painful to look back at my pathetic attempts to make my world more amenable. Don’t get me wrong it was not too awful or else I might have done something radical sooner. It was more along the lines of living in a cosy fog in a pretty graveyard. Nothing terrible, nothing challenging, no excitement, nothing to look forward to except more of the same. I lived in the prettiest town in a charming comfortable cottage among lovely people. How could I be dismissive of all of that? So many would happily choose just such an option with gratitude. My grandfather whose level of praise never rose above “nice” or “quite nice” was the most contented of men. He would have loved it . Perhaps surviving being in the Army Medical Corps during WW1 had much to do with it.

It’s a beautiful morning on the beach and the tide is coming in so are the fishermen with their morning catch. The beach is difficult to negotiate with the tractor to pull up the boats even with generations of experience.   Gently shelving with a combination of soft sand and pebbles it draws the tractor down into impossible ruts rendering it immovable. A fisherman is clearly struggling to get enough traction to pull out his boat, the tractor is stuck and the tide moving steadily towards its height. Slowly the tractor disappears under the water no longer able to struggle and the engine sputters to a halt. The fisherman turns his boat to another landing-place to save his catch, his livelihood depends on it. The tractor will wait for another tide, rescue, repair and return to its work on the beach. The dog and I watch this drama unfold in the warming early sun.

I  too was stuck on an incoming tide. Retirement and aging brought losses I could not have imagined. There’s much truth in not really knowing what you have until its gone. Trying to revive the scrap end of my career believing that my passion for my profession,my experience and former glories would carry me through left me frustrated and further devalued. Social work has changed, the tide of change had overwhelmed me but I was still struggling to stay afloat. It had given me up rather than me giving in gracefully.  In my pretty cottage that was the person I had been, I could not see myself in another incarnation. Bricks and mortar however lovely can be a trap, a prison. My history with that cottage had made it so for me. So I moved my home, myself and all that I had been and would be to another landing-place.

Moving is something that I know from experience will give me new vitality and new challenges. Its pretty drastic and financially not always wise! But if it works….. and it works for me. Here, by the sea with the constancy of the tides, the sound of the rolling stones, the freezing east winds and the beautiful classic summer days, there is a new life. Age is a great driver, time gets shorter but it does not preclude another chapter to the exciting rollercoaster ride of life. I had given my self to my career. It had left me stranded and lonely. I now have my family close by and that is an absolute blessing because as a social worker I know the damage that the loss of family can bring more than most. They can bring a sense of belonging that can never be replaced no matter how good friends and acquaintances are, or how busy and successful you have become. I have shared the care experienced child and adult’s lack of real belonging in some ways until now. It is a loneliness of a different quality to that of not speaking to anyone over a whole weekend or going to the theatre alone.

My long-term partners death , whilst desperately sad, has released me from the waiting. I can share with those who wait for change to come to their chaotic childhoods, for parents to return and how the waiting prevents moving on.  If only we could somehow all have the chance to leave the baggage of the past where it belongs. For those I have worked with in the care system and afterwards this is the most difficult aspect of recovery, a physical home and material things can be provided and measured but the psychological repair can take a lifetime and the services are simply not there for them . So the Kinder Shores project has been wonderful. Changing lives through music has been therapy for me too. My new relationship has opened doors for me to engage with music in a way that has brought me to a new world of possibilities, opened my soul to new creative possibilities and to new friendships. The Kinder Shores project for those who do not know is providing services for young adults who are care experienced. See http://www.kindershores.org for information and CD sales.

I will always be a social worker but now I can release myself to a new life backstage with music, theatre costumes, family, a great companionable partner to share these things with, the beach and even a boat on the Broads. A blog, a Charity and even a book which will now come unstuck too I expect.All these things seemed so far away a few years ago. But like the tractor I waited for a new tide, was rescued, repaired and came to a different landing-place.

siutcase image

www. kindershores.org

care leavers, folk music, leaving home, social work and child care

Kinder Shores and the power of music

Can music change things? I hope so or else I am definitely heading down the wrong path at the moment. Kinder Shores is a CD and a concert to raise money for a project to provide specialist counselling for young parents who have been in care during their childhood. To find out all about it go to http://www.kindershores.org.

There were two inspirations for this project. The first my years in social work and my continuing contact with those who were in care as children and young people. I am privileged to still know them. I know that they may leave care but it never leaves them. The issues that come with being separated from parents as a child  continue on into adult life colouring a whole range of life experiences particularly those to do with relationships and parenting. I have long-held that if while in care more therapeutic help was available this would be partially resolved but I know too that sometimes we have to work on issues when we are ready. For some young people who, in their adult years, may want the help it is sparse in availability and certainly not specialist enough to deal with the specific issues about being parented outside your birth family. So this project is greatly needed in my opinion.

Having left care more than 30 years ago, and on the surface, a successful adult life, it was only when I became a father in my 50’s that I realised I still needed to talk about my childhood. I was lucky to have the ongoing support of my social worker who helped me through some of my issues. It amazes me that there isn’t counselling available to all care leavers. Not only to deal with issues that took us to care but often for the inhumane way we feel treated whilst in care, especially feelings of abandonment when we do leave, often without the skills to cope alone whilst so young.

These are the words of David Akinsanya brought up in care he is a journalist and campaigner now and they encapsulate perfectly the need for this counselling service.

The second inspiration came through my love of music. Much of the music in the folk and folk rock world is driven by exploration of injustices, by the world of the ordinary working man, of politics, of  opening up emotion and feeling, and the need to change the world for the better . Often the  songwriters observation of the world and people around them is unerringly accurate and it can connect us with  feelings we have hidden, ignored, or that simply relate to our experiences in life. More importantly they can sometimes connect us to other people’s feelings and life experience bringing awareness and understanding. And so there was a song that provided the final push to get this project underway, when I heard this song I knew exactly what it was about. It speaks of so many of the young people I have met, of their pain, their anger with the world that has treated them so poorly. It tells too,of the complex nature of the “rescue” of any adult attempts to make their world safe and secure and  of the nature of therapeutic endeavour in whatever arena. She’s the One written by Suffolk singer/songwriter Eric Sedge became both the inspiration and gave me the title for the CD, the concert and the project. Kinder Shores is exactly what I want to help to achieve for these young people, to find peace and tranquillity in their lives for them as individual adults and for their loved ones and children.  The words speak for themselves , here are the lyrics reproduced with Eric’s permission.

She’s The One

She’s the one with bad behaviour,

She’s the one who wants to fight,

She’s the one with the reputation,

She’s the one who bites.

She’s the one with all the bruises,

Tears in her eyes,

She’s the one who talks the loudest,

Covers up with lies.

Hush now Babe, I know you’re Frightened,

Hush now Babe I know you’re Scared,

Don’t you know your Daddy Loves You,

Don’t you know we all care,

 So breathe in and out again

 I saw you drowning off the headland with the waves coming in,

Shackled to your history, chained by your father’s sins,

So I raced into the shallows, to set you free,

But the undertow from long ago knocked me off my feet.

And the waters near engulfed me, but life has made me strong,

So I pulled you from the wreckage of a life gone wrong,

And we built you the finest clipper, now we’ll be your faithful crew,

So set a course to kinder shores may your path be true

Hush now Babe, I know you’re Frightened

Hush now Babe I know you’re Scared 

Don’t you know your mummy Loves You

Don’t you know we all care 

                                                         So breathe in and out again                                                          Eric Sedge

 

So can music change things? Yes it can. It can change how individuals feel, it can provide comfort in difficult times, it can offer explanations, it can make us dance and sing, give us joy, share our happiness, it can inform, explore and inspire. This CD has a narrative to the tracks that explores the issues that face these young people gthe world often without the skills and support to cope  but it also has songs that speak about the possibility that in overcoming the difficulties there will be a better future out there. This music informs and inspires hope. If we all come together and share this music it can change things for these young people and their futures.

For more information

http://www.kindershores.org      http://www.reesfoundation.org    http://www.ericsedgemusic.com

john lennon 2

 

 

 

 

 

christmas, Social work, child care and history of social work, winter festivals

When the world takes time to breathe: reflections on Christmas.

Nearby  a father and husband is dying, the nurses and family are coming more regularly as the days pass. My first love posts messages between bouts of chemo and my life’s love died of self neglect and depression in an age of outcome driven social welfare unable to be reached by anyone. I  switch on the TV for light relief and it reminds me of donkeys dying of thirst carrying their heavy loads of bricks, an albatross feeding its young with plastic from our seas, of orphans living on the streets,  a toddler in a cardboard box on a main street seemingly invisible to passing shoppers, refugees with nothing and no home, the homeless and friendless. A friend posts on social media that for no apparent reason she is overwhelmed by a great sadness. I understand this. It’s Christmas.

christmas image 3

I am driving home on Christmas Eve from Christmas celebrations , the cloak of darkness is pierced  by homes and houses covered in light, trees flicker at me in the night and inside I picture the families relieved after hours of shopping but with that twinge of anxiety that something which will make the day tomorrow perfect has been forgotten. The cranberry sauce, or the rum butter or more likely the indigestion pills for tomorrow tables and stomachs  will be groaning with food. This is the season of gluttony, of overindulgence, of celebration?? Celebration is often about feasting. I guess this harks back to a time when food was basic and for many in very short supply and for most just enough to keep body and soul together. Now it is not a rare and happy occasion to sample good, special or extra food but a time for eating and drinking ourselves into a stupor and of giving the supermarkets licence to tempt us to evermore extreme delights each year. Our overindulgence extends to present buying, to the yearly increase in the number of strings of lights attached to our homes, to the party bags and the number of gin varieties in fact to every aspect of what we could consider to be our already very well provisioned lives. So what exactly are we so heartily celebrating?

The possible options are numerous, the birth of a Saviour is one. Certainly churches  see an increased attendance at Christmas and that can only be a good thing  giving people a moments quiet and respite from the stress of world at Christmas. A festival of winter is another and certainly we need something to brighten the dark days of the year as we make the slow progress towards spring and the renewal of life. There is much talk of a time for families, of valuing the things that are important to us and of remembering those who we miss or are living away from their families.  There are flaws in all of these , if you do not share the beliefs of the Christian church, are not in tune with the changing seasons and the natural world, have no family or are separated from them, are alone, old or ill then all these reason to celebrate become difficult to accept. Remembering the losses may become very real and only add to the sadness of the daily unhappiness. So what exactly are we celebrating?

Perhaps we are all using our overindulgence to celebrate or remember something special and unique to each of us and the trick is to work out what and how best to use this time of celebration. To do this we need, it seems to me, to rid ourselves of the prescriptive demands of materialism and to develop our own rituals and special moments throughout our winter festival. For me it’s great value is that it is a quiet time, a time when the world stops for a day or so and breathes, of calm and reflection. There is no other moment quite like it, driving home from a family dinner or a Christmas concert in the dark with no one else about, to quote the carol,” All is calm, all is bright.” In the brightness of that reflection I can only conclude that the message of these festivities for me is in the sharpness of the contrasts. That while I am grateful for my good fortune and can celebrate that in whatever way I choose it is also the time to recommit to ensuring that the world is a better place for all those who are sad, lonely or suffering. It matters not that this commitment come from questioning the overindulgent and wasteful materialism of Christmas.  Dying, loss, loneliness and sorrow are in fact just the same whatever time of year the experiences visit us. It is sentiment that makes it seems worse. Or dare I suggest that these untoward events somehow blight the perfection we are led to believe is so important at this time of the year. It only matters that the desire to help lasts all year round. It only matters that we offer ourselves as agents of change , of help, company and solace at Christmas as at any other time. Just  think what could be achieved if we all had a little less and used the money for charitable purposes throughout the year. Or all visited a lonely person on Christmas day or simply stopped to say Happy Christmas and chat to the homeless man who is sitting in the same spot as every other day of his life.  It would be amazing.

christmas image 2

I do hope that you all have had a very Happy Christmas and wish all my readers the very best for 2018.

 

 

 

Homes, Social work, child care and history of social work

Home Sweet Home?

I have had many homes and many lovers as I said in my last blog, but it is the homes and not the lovers that are the subject of this blog! Maybe the rest will come  later though perhaps not wise in the current climate. Several things that have happened recently have left me reflecting on the nature of “home”, a friend moving after twenty or so years from the house that had been her son’s childhood home, a visit to my “home” or do I mean “house” in Cornwall, a new chapter for a book about the meaning of home in relation to a children’s home, the movement of people across continents looking for a new  safe home, the rise in homelessness and the crisis in the availability of homes.

“Home is where you hang your hat”         home is where you hang your hat

I don’t think so! I have put my hat on many a coatpeg overnight but in no way did it constitute home. That may be a sentimental quotation designed to make anyone who is somewhat transient in their lifestyle feel more settled and easier about their lack of a more permanent base. Indeed all dictionaries  exclude temporary accommodation or residence from their definition of a home. This includes hospitals, prisons, care establishments and other institutions. This in itself is interesting as certainly care, nursing, convalescent and children’s homes have traditionally used the designation home. In the example of children’s homes this suggests that they cannot be that possibly amazing place we can know as home. This maybe supports the recent trend to transfer most public care for children to family based care.Both my research and experience would refute the idea that a children’s home cannot provide “a home “albeit temporary. There is a fundamental problem though with research which is based on individual experience and unable to be verified by any measurable statistical or quantitative evidence. What are we measuring? Does home mean the same to each person? Do we mean our childhood home, a geographic location, where our family live, does this change with phases in our lives, does it rely on the presence of certain people or possessions in that dwelling place, can one have more than one place that we consider as home? How we use the word may be relevant, do we mean somewhere that is homely  or feels like a home even though it is not our main residence. It is certain though that our first experience of a place called home was as a child.

 

“Home is where one starts from” (T.S.Eliot)

childhood home

Perhaps this is why it is, for better or worse, so fundamentally important to us all . Our home defines who we are  throughout the various phases in our life, it is part of our self-definition and the public face that we choose at any point in time. This need to provide an outward facing expression of our life probably accounts for the need in some for houses so much larger than required or the placing of Georgian styled porticos and reclining lions at the front of ex local authority housing after the right to buy sell off. So if indeed it is the root of ourselves what makes it so critical to each individuals life. Home can be anything from a cardboard box to a million pound mansion but it is so much more than an estate agents description of the building. It is where we find sanctuary, peace , comfort, safety and where the relationships that are the most important to us are centred. It is where we learn about the domestic detail  and patterns of living that will form the basis of our whole future life. In some ways home is a feeling rather than a description of a place which is why it is so difficult to quantify the elements that make it or to find set of general principles that would define it. Each of us has a sense of what makes our safe place, each of us can describe how it feels though increasingly it seems we choose descriptors that are to do with the style and materialistic content. However it seems so many images we might choose to illustrate home hark back to a less materialistic time and focus on family and friends gathered by the fireside in a picture of probably unrealistic nostalgia.

“Curses like chickens come home to roost” Old proverb

chickens on perch

My memories of my childhood home can be easily brought to mind by the smell of Sunday lunch cooking  as it takes me back to opening the back door after Sunday School to the warmth of a kitchen rich with roasting meat. While my memories of home are happy, warm , fun, and secure  it is not true of so many. Children and young people for whom home represents fear, hunger, pain, uncertainty, anxiety or sadness can be taken back to those times equally quickly by a wide range of triggers. For those of us who have chosen to live alongside young people in care and to make a home base for them know how sudden these changes can be and how sometimes they can be seemingly inexplicable. An excellent songwriter and folk singer from Suffolk Eric Sedge captures this perfectly in a song called “She’s the One”  when he talks of the “undertow from long ago” sweeping him off his feet when trying to reach a child who is drowning ” chained by the father’s sins”. We have to work from a very secure place ourselves to be able to work with these changes but I think we have to be prepared to recognise that whatever the horrors of that childhood place were it remains home to that child. Too often I have heard workers talk in disparaging terms about a child’s home, even tell the child that is was to awful a place to be a home.  Just about every young person I have lived alongside has wanted to go back there and many do just that when they leave care. It may be a fantasy that it will be OK or that it wasn’t as bad as they have been told, it may be that they want to make it OK somehow. Whatever the reason right there are relationships with the most important people in their lives, right there was the beginning , the defining moments of their lives. It matters not what curses there were and or even when their return is treated like a curse they have to return , to try, to see, to learn, because it is their home and theirs alone.

Make yourself at home….make yourself a home….

home sweet home 3

As adults we can develop new contexts for our home with our own children, partners, friends, lovers, and so on.  But  as adults carers we have to develop a regime that will hold those young people for whom this coveted place home has terrors and at the same time teach them new ways of living  in a place that may offer security, safety, warmth, and good memories. In this way they may be able to move forward to build homes in adulthood that do not repeat the patterns learned in early life but where they are able to hold that first experience safely.  May be I have not answered my own question about what makes a home, but Debbie when I asked her about what made 11a Corve Lane Children’s home feel like home said “It was where I could curl up on the settee and watch TV”. Maybe there is an element of freedom and choice in the definition of home too. A place where we can be ourselves.  It is an ever-changing idea, not constant but changing with time , memories, age and the people who come and go in our lives. A complex concept so much more than concrete and brick that underpins so much of who and what we are.

 

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“She’s the One” Words and Music Eric Sedge on Plenty More Fish in the Sea Broadside Boys 2016.

 

Getting older, Social work, child care and history of social work

Slips, trips and falls.

It is not all about social work! This was not my first thought as I lay on the bathroom floor in pain surrounded by a variety of debris that I had knocked to the floor on my way down. My first thought was **** that hurts, followed swiftly by the notion that this was the beginning of something I did not want to face or think about. The first step being  waiting in A and E at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital with a suspected broken hip just another elderly person who had slipped and fallen at home. Indeed I had slipped and fallen while taking the nail varnish off my toes with my foot on the bath edge and on reflection it could actually have happened whether I was 40 or 60 plus.  Having decided that no matter how much it hurt I couldn’t stay there on the floor I hauled myself to my feet and made my way to lay on the bed through increasingly blue air.A few minutes later after taking stock and I  decided that while it hurt I had not broken my hip nor anything else. Relief.

General friendly advice seemed sure that “at my age” it would be sensible to get it checked out and so I found myself sitting in the relative peace and quiet of Cromer Minor Injuries unit. Accompanied in the waiting area by two more “fallers” of an age to need bumps and bruises  checked out and a young man with a sports injury, I began to wonder how I had slipped,if you’ll excuse the pun, seamlessly from the category of having had an accident to the slipped and fallen descriptor. Age. It’s an ageism. The script goes something like this.

“Take a seat “       “I’d rather stand it hurts to sit.”   “Oh bless you. A fall?”                              All delivered by a gentle lowered voice and a kind, benign smile reserved for babies, small children and the elderly.

To the sports injury.    “Now what have you been up to.” Big broad grin and a louder and altogether jollier tone of voice.   “We will get you sorted out and back on that football field soon.

Now I could kindly believe that this was a health worker consciously adjusting her responses to each individual who presents at her desk but I rather sense that there is something far less conscious at work.

” Take a seat in the waiting area please”

So I finally lower myself to a chair and look around at my other “fallers” and wonder what back stories we all have and how sadly we have now arrived at this waiting room with the resultant injuries of our trips, slips and falls. We are , of course ,taking this all stoically and with the required smiles and pleasantries to each other. We are not too bad, bit bruised and I understand why the elderly put up this front of being OK and not making a fuss. If we gave in to making a fuss and acknowledged everything that ached , creaked and didn’t work quite right we would be talking about it all day and never talk or think about anything else! So stoicism along with the aches , pains and now bruises becomes the order of the day. That way we can find space in our lives for  other things, funerals, outings, voluntary work, families, dogs,knitting and so on.  Already my conversations with my friends usually starts with who is dead, dying, ill or having their new hip before we get to the interesting stuff. We  are not quite old enough for the first category to be the predominate discussion but definitely old enough for the replacements updates.Perhaps its just a different kind of gossip but  I think I preferred the gossip that centered around whose doing what to whose partner that shouldn’t be, sexual goings on were much more exciting.

The gentleman with the painful shoulders’ wife gently asks him every few minutes if he is OK. Maybe they have been together since being teenage lovers, brought up their children, built a life between them and now enjoy grandchildren and the garden that they have kept beautifully for the past 50 years. They bought their house when the children were small and have lovingly cared for it all these years but maybe it is becoming too much and they have to face the inevitability of leaving all those memories and the garden and downsizing. That’s another word that comes into the aging vocabulary to avoid using shrinking, shrinkage or shrunk. Shrinkage of everything just about, the reduction of life and self in so many ways is the reality but we are downsizing when we leave our beloved family homes. Downsizing our lives is the truth.

I have had many lovers and many houses, made my home where ever I have landed at any one time, can they see this in me as I sit alone with my bruises. I have had a career that spans the 50 years of that garden’s life and has been as carefully nurtured and hopefully has given as much to the people who shared it with me. Can they see that too? Maybe the other faller a lady somewhat older than me but also alone with her bruise can see that in me. She has hurt her elbow. Slipped and fell on her front path she tells me. Her children told her that she should get it checked “at her age”. I guess her husband is dead and her home is a small immaculate cottage in a town that has been her life since childhood, married at the church she now attends every Sunday and where she helps with the flowers. Her elbow may curtail that for a while.

None of these people have been wanderers or travellers except for holidays but maybe the lad with the sports injury will make a football career and have a life full of adventures, excitement and many lovers too. It will be some long time before he succumbs to the language of the slippery slope into second childhood and sits with his thoughts, his memories and his bruises in minor injuries as part of the “has been cavalry”.

“Mrs Randall? This way please.”

“How did you fall?”

“Varnishing your toe nails?! Really at your age you must be more careful.”

 

Dylan Thomas

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Social work, child care and history of social work

What am I looking for?

It was Cromer Carnival recently and I went to watch the parade. The town was packed, people waiting  along the route looking towards the direction of the approaching procession and excitement could be felt in the air. Kids, some in fancy dress waved long  tails of  multicoloured fur on sticks and ate chips while they secured their place at the front of the pavement. Local people waited hoping to see their friends and relatives go by and holiday makers happy to have an evening’s entertainment for all the family. I was taken back to a holiday for young people that I had arranged many years ago , under the Intermediate Treatment funding,  to a youth camp site  near Cromer and our visit to the town to see the carnival.

The history footnote here is that in the very early days of Intermediate Treatment, the fore runner of Youth Justice, we used the funding rather non specifically for holidays for young people who we considered to be unlikely to have time away from the issues they were facing at home and to give them new and exciting experiences which maybe  be more attractive to them than criminal activity. This was usually done as part of a weekly activity programme and as a general preventative support strategy.

So we are waiting near the cinema and the group are pushing out into the street to look in the direction of the  expected parade and then one  young chap of about 12 or 13 looked at me and said” Miss what am I looking for?”

This memory prompted me to think about the nature of deprivation. The deprivation that is not obvious, not as visible as the scruffy and dirty clothes being worn to school or the sadly increasing queues at food banks, the kind of deprivation that cannot be measured by statisticians and inspectors. Indeed the kind of deprivation that social workers have long since ceased to address as part of their work due to lack of time, funding and the inability of anyone to be able to successfully measure the outcomes of their efforts. Fortunately there are some projects often run by charities, community groups and churches that fill this gap to some extent. This is the deprivation of social, cultural and life experiences, the opportunity to extend the boundaries of daily existence to learn new skills and ideas and to acquire through these experiences a sense of self and direction in life.

Of course education provides some of these opportunities but less so in the current educational climate geared to measurable success ie exams. It has always struggled to provide these experiences for the children of poorer families. They have not had the resources to pay for trips ,provide packed lunches or appropriate clothing and resources for their children to take part. Parents who themselves have had limited life experiences will make choices about opportunities for their children based on their own perspective of what would be worth the money. So if they have never been to the theatre for example they are likely to feel that their limited finances would not be best spent on that trip even when it is offered. I have never been a fan of the expression ” the cycle of deprivation” but it could be used to describe the passing on of a very limited life view from one generation to the next. It is , of course, creating a culture of its own and there is a view that no one should be trying to find ways to change that and to do so denies those families choice. I struggle with that knowing that there is so much wonder ,excitement and joy to be found in the world and hold to the opinion that everyone should have the chance to find their own way into sharing new experiences and  cultures. Not understanding the concept of a carnival or that milk comes from a cow in a field( same young man) is a level of poverty of life I find unacceptable. Today in the age of amazingly easy access to information and knowledge these examples are probably outdated and would not apply but the principle remains.opportunity 1

Is it any different for children in public care, many of whom will come from backgrounds with very little opportunity of any kind? Targets are certainly set for educational achievement and have made us more attentive to ensuring good school attendance and outcomes even though for some this is a struggle with all the other competing issues in their lives. But how would we measure the giving of life experience and its outcome which for some may be more important and critical to how they live their adult life, the job they choose and their sense of self belief than their O level tally. Perhaps it is why it is not a priority. Recording of a child’s care experience is now so sanitized that records are unlikely to contain more than a passing reference or request for funding. So it is difficult to measure retrospectively and for young people looking at their records to pick up threads of childhood experience extremely complicated. Those in good foster homes probably fare better as the family will have interests, hobbies, holidays etc that they will share. But I have known children in foster care who have not always been included or have been given the choice to reject activities and often that rejection is based on a fear of something new. For those in residential care their experience will be limited only by the imagination and previous experiences of the care staff and is therefore something of a lottery.

Digging into the dim and distant past of my career there was a time when social workers would put together ideas for trips, activities, experiences, theatre ,music, some free( I could always talk some freebies out of someone) holidays etc. I have tried all sorts of things from taking children on a trip to London who had not been on a mainline train never mind the tube even though they live only 20 miles away from the city,  to a UB40 concert at Wembley , climbed mountains, canoed, camped, cooked outdoors, theatre trips, stately homes, amusement parks and yes carnivals and everything in between. Funded largely by the Local Authority who to their credit thought that it was a good use of their finances, or from free offers and sometimes from local businesses who would want to support children in the community without  using it as a publicity stunt and guess what social workers gave their time for free or were able to take some time in lieu with their employers blessing. These may have been golden days but I now meet adults who have those memories, for whom the events opened doors that they have since used to further their careers, education or a life long interest and many who have shared something they did then with their own children.  It seems to me that even in these days of austerity and stricter health and safety requirements the lack of funds and the need for a risk assessment should not prevent us from giving such a gift to our young people.

PS We might even have some fun together!! xgreat experiences are better