All posts by markr

The Paralympics: a celebration of ability

When neurosurgeon Lutwig Guttmann launched the first Paralympics in 1948 he could hardly have imagined the event 64 years on. From the humble beginnings of a makeshift athletics field at Stoke Mandeville Hospital to a global reach of hundreds of millions of people, the Superhumans (as UK TV broadcaster Channel 4 has dubbed the competitors) will display their immense talent in front of sell-out crowds at every venue. A combination of huge sponsorship money, South African athlete Oscar Pistorius whose ‘blade runner’ prosthetics and talent have won over millions of fans from the able-bodied Olympics and the excitement of a summer the British people never want to end are making these Games an irresistible prospect. In London 2012, disability is at last cool. Even The Sun, never known for taking on social issues ran a front-page splash today on squaddie Derek Derenalagi who had been given up as dead while on duty in Afghanistan and who will be ‘going for gold’ at these Games.

signage at the Paralympics 2012
Positive signs: Let the Games begin
At Careimages, we are proud of our involvement, albeit small, in highlighting disability (learning, physical and sensory) issues through our photographs and blogs. And to celebrate the Paralympics we have commissioned photo-journalist Julio Etchart (julioetchart.com) to provide images from the Games. His shots will not only reflect the athleticism of the Superhumans but also of able-bodied and disabled people watching them, as well as interesting background reportage that Julio specialises in.

We respect and admire the Superhumans but there is still much work to be done for the also-rans in the world of disability in relation to access, inclusivity and prejudice. I understand that Channel 4 need to raise the ante and a strapline with Superhumans will put bums in front of TV screens, but my wager is that disabled people round the world would rather be seen first as humans, equal to those with two legs and so-called intellectual ability and as a first resort being able to watch a film in a cinema and fly on a plane with them.

Guttmann’s legacy lives on and we are delighted to represent his vision through Julio’s lens. Watch out for the images, they reflect a very different world from 1948. Maybe, just maybe, after these Games, people will start using the word ability to describe disability.

A home Games fit for heroes

Fast backtrack a year, with parts of the UK in flames, rioting and looting, the country seemingly in freefall. How had our green and pleasant land become so unpleasant, even repugnant? And with the Olympics only a year away and the world’s greatest athletes arriving and hundreds of millions of people watching our every move, there was an inevitable and justifiable aura of doom and gloom.

Olympics 100m final
We can be heroes: The London 2012 Olympic men's 100m final gets underway.
Image: Ori Lewis
So how did we turn it round? The cynic in me suggests that it was money, the billions of corporate and government money that bought us love, medals and a logistics triumph (not to mention the 80,000+ volunteers – including myself), or ‘games makers’ as we were spun in corporate speak. But emerging from my cynical skin, there was something quite remarkable about these Games, remarkable inside and outside of the citadels of sport which produced so much drama. The fact was, that for two weeks London became a wonderful place to live. People out there who frequent public transport as I do will testify to the fact that the buses, trains, underground and DLR, whether near or far from a venue, were full of hope not despair. We interacted, helped, conversed and enjoyed. Daily issues which blight our society and which emerged with so much venom a year ago; race, class, hatred, envy, greed, selfishness and violence were wiped off our streets, our buses, our roads, our pubs and our estates by the awesome feats of not only our Olympians (and step forward Mo Farrah and Jessica Ennis for their gigantic efforts) but also by modern folk heroes led by the irresistible Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

When a human being’s run, swim or striking of a table tennis ball arouses senses hitherto the monopoly of great composers or artists, we know we have reached a Utopia where meritocracy trumps colour of skin, class and lifestyle. And that is what happened in London, we became a meritocracy. The best won medals, the rest were awesome too. The rest of us watch with admiration and respect, qualities that were conspicuous by their absence in last year’s inferno.

Surely it is only sport that can make such an impact on people’s lives. I’m sure the chattering classes – conspicuous by their complex analysis of art, literature and music – would argue that the pen is mightier than the fencing sword and it is ideas, literature and jazz music, not volleyball and boxing that shape the world. Not so. Sport’s simplicity and accessibility are perfect entry levels for the likes of Nicola Adams, the young woman from Leeds who took gold at boxing who has won the hearts and minds of the nation. And one year on from meltdown UK, for every youngster from a sink estate who wants to emulate Nicola, and walks into a local gym with a dream of earning gold rather than looting it, we have the raison d’etre for what has been the greatest show on earth.

Upwardly mobile, the parents who really care about their kids

I admit it; I’m a grumpy old man always complaining about kids doing this and that. Yes, the truth is that I’m just jealous that my 12-year-old can read War and Peace in the time it takes me to text a message and when he can tear himself away from i-this, i-that, I say ‘Please can you do some homework,” and get a stare that resembles Celtic and Rangers fans after a particularly feisty Glasgow derby.

child using mobile phone
Kids and tel: Parents need more control of children's mobile phone usage
But there is one thing that does get on my nerves and that is kids, and I mean young kids, who are literally glued to their phones. I hear stories from teacher friends who complain that kids in Year 7 are constantly messaging, texting, Facebooking (the verb will be in common use within five years), anything except LEARNing. Step onto any bus and you are confronted by a raft of hand-held devices held by kids as young as seven.

But of course there is a worrying side to this seemingly inescapable march to technological meltdown. In my day, bullying meant a good hiding in the playground; today it’s much more sophisticated with texting replacing the the boot and with parents seemingly in much less control of their youngsters than ever before it came as a pleasant relief to see this product hit the market this week.

BBC News: SIM card to help parents protect children from bullying

Bemilo represents the first time a phone company has addressed the problem of our children’s obsession with the mobile phone. But the really good thing about Bemilo is that the concept is about enabling rather than punishing children. The company is to be congratulated for helping children use their phones safely with the fall-back of their parents monitoring and controlling their usage in case they run into problems.

On this piece on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme some older sounding kids objected to their parents being able to ‘snoop’ on them. But I applaud this company for caring about kids who can’t speak up for themselves, who need a phone to let mum and dad know where they are and who can be part of the technological zeitgeist without worrying about the consequences.

Anything that enhances safety of children gets our approval; this product looks like the perfect way for a parent of a nagging child to say ‘yes’ knowing that the child will be protected.

Not rich? You haven’t a Lord’s prayer of watching international cricket

For some reason, inexplicable to me, sport assumes a great importance in my life and millions of fellow sports addicts. In my case it is football and cricket that are responsible – depending on which way you look at it – for me wasting or enjoying thousands of hours of my life either playing, watching or officiating (I qualified as a cricket umpire two years ago).

disabled fan at Arsenal's stadium
Rich pickings: Are true fans being priced out of football?
Followers love the excitement of their chosen sport and there is nothing like the banter in the pub or workplace (or both if you happen to be the landlord) after a controversial event or match.

In these difficult economic times sport assumes an even greater importance in enabling people to escape to a place where the grass is greener and where your favourite team or sports star is keeping you on the edge of your seat. That is, of course, unless you want to watch the event live. The cost of attending live sports events is becoming increasingly prohibitive to a growing majority of already dispossessed people in the UK; fancy getting a season ticket at Arsenal (to name but one of many Premier League football clubs)? Don’t expect too much change from a grand. Want to spend an enjoyable day in the sunshine at Lord’s this summer to watch the England-South Africa cricket Test or England-Australia one-day international? That’ll be £128 or £160 please. And let’s not even go near the price of attending F1 Grand Prix, and dare I say in this season of sporting nationalism, some of the Olympic events (and that’s if you are lucky enough to get through the Stasi-like application process online).

As in all these situations, the first past the finishing post of nabbing the best seats in the grandstand are our old friends the corporates who treat their clients and suppliers to the sounds of munching of canapes and gentle clinking of champagne glasses while the rest of us slump in front of a TV (and if you don’t have SkySports at around £25 a month then even that is not an option).

I can live with upper-class toffs strutting around Henley or Ascot – these genial annual bashes are part and parcel of the sporting calendar and take us back to an era of debs, bounders and tiffin. But to see our mass spectator sports acquiescing without a fight to the power of big business is truly sickening. And though I really hate to hanker on about ‘the old days’ (at my age there is more to look back on than forward to), I can remember a time, not so long ago, that a day at a Test match and entry to watch Arsenal would set you back about a tenner, or even a fiver. A time when the stadia were heaving with people appreciating the finer points of their sport rather than the current crop of corporate hangers-on. A time when supporting your local club or sport meant something more than a physical presence. And a time when the greed of fat cats was confined to Ascot.

A day at the opera(tion)

The dear old NHS has come in for plenty of stick lately – today’s report on reforms the latest in a long line of bad press ( The Guardian: NHS reforms criticised by leading healthcare publications ).

Hospital entrance sign
NHS: Here's to your health
So with great pleasure I can report that my first ever operation procedure in the middle of my sixth decade was an extremely positive experience. True, the surgery was a no-nonsense Hernia procedure which these days is completed in one day. And the way I was treated by the wonderful staff at Hackney’s Homerton Hospital made me feel like a million dollars. From the receptionist who booked me in, to the wonderful nursing team, anesthetist and surgeon, an experience that I was not looking forward to turned out to be painless and worry-free (although I’m pleased to have been given painkillers for the after-effects!)

Here was the NHS at its very best; a group of superb health-care professionals who worked as a team ensuring my comfort and well-being and despite the pressure they work under, always had a time for a smile and a reassuring word. And they represented all that is good about our society, a wealth of nations represented on both sides of the operating table, giving and receiving care. This is what we pay our taxes for, so that we can be given help when we need it and that help is not provided on the basis of wealth, status, colour, creed or background. Compare this to the ‘show us your credit card’ model of healthcare in the USA and tell me which is superior.

So thank you to the staff at the Homerton; despite all the problems in the NHS with funding and reform, you proved that on the ground it is a health system of which we can be immensely proud.

For care in the community, read profits before people

Shock, horror is at it again regarding care. The review of home care by the Equality Commission has found that care supplied by agencies to people’s homes may be breaching their human rights.

Disabled girl being fed
Want to eat at home? Put it on the bill
Half of the 500,000 people receiving such care reported they are satisfied with the care provided, half are not and there is no shortage of shock, horror stories.

We have been down this road before in the treatment of vulnerable people in care homes, now we see the problem is endemic in private houses.

It is too easy to suggest that it is because the providers are mainly private companies and are stretching their resources to squeeze as much money out of the time provided for each home visit. After all, local authority provision has been found out in these areas many times. But it does leave a bad taste when you realise that profits are not only coming before people, they are also dependant on the misery of people.

I know about this first hand. Two years ago a private company bought the adjoining terrace house to us and made it into a small care home for five women with mental health problems. Having worked in this area myself when I was a social worker I know the problems associated with placing people in the community who cannot cope with the everyday pressures this change of lifestyle brings. The result, one resident had to be moved back to secure accommodation after a litany of abuse, screaming and inappropriate behaviour culminating in her hurling a heavy object into our garden and so threatening the safety of our children. And now we are being forced to complain about another resident who presents similar behaviour. Having bought such services when I was a commissioning manager, I know the kind of riches that can be made from working with vulnerable people coming form a secure or semi-secure environment. It does not take much of a mathematical brain to see why the company in question is prevaricating on our complaints.

I do not have a problem with companies which provide a good service being able to manage care services but too often ‘good service’ takes a back seat to ‘healthy profits’ with the subsequent shock, horror reports of neglect.

The answer to these problems is actually quite simple; registration, inspections and follow-ups should be much more rigorous than they are. CQC on taking my complaint, made an unannounced inspection, found the resident was out and left it at that. It is this kind of intransigence that leads to shock, horror headlines.

Moving on up; how chess can help youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds

There is a joke among chess players that goes like this; two players are embroiled in a game and one says, ‘let’s make it interesting’ to which his opponent replies; “OK, let’s stop playing.’ I own up to being a lower than average club player who enjoys playing in leagues and tournaments with no illusions of grandeur. My ambition is to write a chess book, “My sixty cr*p games” a reference of course to the masterpiece by the late and more than great Bobby Fischer whose 60 memorable games is one of the greatest ever books on chess. From my archive I will have plenty of losing games to choose from!

No barriers to entry: chess focuses on ability
So what has chess got to do with the image of care? Well, the charity Chess in Schools and Community, CSC, has had success in helping young people from disadvantaged areas and communities improve their lives. The charity is pushing the game in primary schools across the UK and youngsters who have been involved in negative types of battles in gangs are now enjoying the endless possibilities offered on the 64 squares.

Chess is second only in participation to football, an estimated 500 million people in 167 countries play the game and in some countries it is on the national teaching curriculum. Chess’s unique selling points are that it is universal, with no barriers of age, gender, race, physical disability or language; it has a positive image and that it has educational and social benefits backed by academic research. And those of you reading this who have enjoyed the occasional game on the beach will testify that it is a cheap, fun pastime that can be relatively easily picked up and enjoyed.

CSC are making an impact with coaches helping a range of primary school kids across the country and from different backgrounds and the feedback from headteachers has been very encouraging. A similar scheme in the USA was adapted as a feature film Knights of the South Bronx

Chess may not seem ‘cool’ but the world’s number one player, Magnus Carlsen from Norway, starred in a fashion shoot for G-Star and plays matches with Formula-1 style sponsorship on his shirt.

So I applaud this initiative by CSC and wish the charity well.

Message to the prime minister; stop blaming the poor and tax the rich

I sometimes wonder if there is a semblance of a society or whether we are just a piece of land inhabited by 60 million-plus people. We are all struggling in this recession; it’s hard to make ends meet at the best of times but at the moment it’s becoming a harsh, mean society we live in. On a morning radio phone in this week we heard how some people are waiting a day to eat between meals so as to save money, two days later we heard how an elderly man in hospital was forced to lie in his soiled bed as the nurse on duty refused to clean him, or indeed the bed. These snapshots are not sensationalist; they are happening just as footballers paid £250,000 a week are stumbling out of night clubs and while MPs are filling out expense forms with varying levels of honesty.

Food for thought; enough money to eat?
The material gap between rich and poor is obscene but nowhere near as obscene as the way poor people are denigrated by the rich. I’m not a political activist but even I’m moved to anger when I see poor youngsters priced out of the education market by the obscene rise in tuition fees while the scum who screw us for outrageous amounts of money to buy our gas and electricity are allowed, even encouraged, by this government to rip us off even more as prices go through the roof. All in the hallowed name of the free market, of course. Those talented and spiv-like enough to play the markets laugh at the rest of us trying to eke out a living.

There is of course a very simple solution to this kind of gangsters-in-suits mugging; tax these spivs to the extent that they bugger off to a tax haven thousands of miles away. Put government money into universities so poorer kids can study and pay nurses a decent wage so they have enough pride in their job to clean a bed full of an elderly person’s s**t while he lies in it. This is not socialism, it’s common sense for God’s sake.

Robbin hoods, from top to bottom.

Care Images encompasses all areas of care and community in the UK, and dare I say, warts and all. We’re not afraid to shy away from more negative issues – clients give positive feedback on our realistic images portraying violence and issues of troubled children and young people. We were shocked and dismayed by the horrific events this week and we commissioned photo-journalist Julio Etchart to attend the scenes of devastation in Tottenham and Hackney. His work is indeed a mirror on our troubled world.

The events of the week have left a terrible scar on our community. The poor Malaysian student, already dripping with blood after having his jaw broken by a mindless thug, then being comforted by another hoodlum while yet another looter emptied the student’s bag of whatever remained. The poor father having to bury a son; the pensioner beaten by a gang of hoodlums; the parents running terrified from a burning building carrying their baby to safety.

Burning issue: street scene from Hackney
A once proud nation who defied Hitler’s Nazi thugs was left powerless by social media columns of thugs of all races, creeds, ages and it seems lifestyles (would you employ the graphic designer or classroom assistant caught extending their white goods range?) And the same old same old on radio and TV as hang ’em Tories sparred with tree-hugging criminologists as to where the blame lay, and to boot, a revolting new word ‘criminality’ entered the lexicon. If it makes you feel better we can employ water cannons, the military, even lock them up in Wembley Stadium as one gentleman suggested on a phone-in, (I think The Emirates is a better option, at least it will give those poor Arsenal fans something to get excited about). We can shoot them, hang them and bring back the birch. We can ‘understand’ them, have a group hug with them, maybe send them on a re-birthing weekend before enforcing them to join a ‘book group’ and sign a contract to eat organic rice cakes until they mend their ways.

Or we can recognise that we are ostensibly at war with our own youth and find a long-term uneasy truce as we did in Ireland to relative success since the Good Friday Agreement. The ferocity of the hatred and venom among the perpetrators of the disgraceful mob violence tell me that this gulf in understanding cannot be mended for at least a generation. And that, along with the young people who have lost their lives and the older people fighting for theirs following the mayhem, is the real tragedy.

And when the government, along with the economic and chattering classes come to make this truce with the thugs, they might like to consider how they have been looting from us in a less violent but similarly smug way. Are the scum who looted our banks and then stuck two fingers up at us after we bailed them out before walking off with millions more in bonuses a better class of thug? What about the MPs who were lining up to pull the electric lever on all the hoodies this week? Presumably these are different MPs to those who thought it perfectly acceptable to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds on porn, duck ponds and London love nests under the hoods of expenses.

Broken Britain, yes. The rioters have no moral compass; they are a disgrace and I’m angry with them. But please don’t tell me that the behaviour of looters in suits is a more acceptable style of a robbin hood.

Is no News of the World good news?

I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the News of the World …until all the allegations about the disgraceful phone-tapping and illicit payments to Mr Plod. To be honest, I’m pleased about its closure, this kind of sleazy, spiv-like behaviour has no place in a society that prides itself in a free press.

All the news that's fit: Goodbye NOTW
That said, it is remarkable how in a 168-year history, NOTW transcended class and political divides. Aside from the white van man that the likes of the Guardian believes to be NOTW’s readership, the paper was read by Winston Churchill, George Orwell and a raft of liberal friends of mine who hid it under their copies of the Observer on the way back from the newsagent before reading the sports pages on the khazi. I think it’s fair to say NOTW was a brand that enjoyed a love-hate relationship with British people, a Fleet Street jar of Marmite, so to speak.

And I think I know the reason why. The British are a prudish, reserved people so the NOTW’s Sunday titillation was welcomed on kitchen tables which for many years had creaked under the weight of ‘we don’t talk about s-e-x’. How nice it was to read about cabinet ministers’ sexual preferences and the shopping habits of footballers’ wives. So while the broadsheet-reading paragons of virtue were putting the world to rights over Sunday breakfast, NOTW readers were enjoying a real Sunday roast of sex lies and videotape.

After the current round of allegations, the ubiquitous Mr Mudoch had no choice but to shut up shop. The staff in question have brought shame and disgrace to journalism in the UK and have consigned a much-loved British institution to the dustbin. Shame on them.