There is plenty right with cutting edge comedy that makes us look at how our world spins lies, distortion and half truths. Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle has made a huge success of poking fun of everything and everyone – nothing is off limits, Madeleine McCann and 9/11 are just two of many subjects covered in routines.
But maybe this time, the comedian has crossed the border without a visa. In the last gig of a recent tour the ubiquitous panelist of the BBC hit comedy show Mock the Week poked a very sharp finger into the chest of Down’s Syndrome and the content of the routine has caused offence to a member of the audience who happens to have a young daughter with the condition. Sharon Smith wrote about the incident on her blog.
I don’t have a problem with Boyle’s right to say what he wants on stage but there is an issue of him making money out of routines where vulnerable people do not have the intellectual rigour to fight back. In the gig that Sharon saw, Boyle parodied the so-called ‘accent’ of a person with Down’s Syndrome saying: ‘I’m looking forward to my birthday present this year, a pair of flared trousers.’ It is indeed funny that a person can fuel a lifestyle from such drivel.
But it works both ways, so on the basis that Careimages is all about accentuating the abilities of people with Down’s Syndrome and other groups marginalised first by society and further by Boyle cowering behind the ticket booth of free speech, here is a little joke:
Frankie Boyle was being led to the gallows by a fella with Down’s Syndrome and it was pouring down. ‘Not a very nice day for it.’ says Frankie. ‘It’s all right for you’, says the hangman, ‘I’ve got to walk back in this.’
Does the name Stephen Gough mean anything to you? His other perhaps more well-known sobriquet is The Naked Rambler, who first came to prominence in 2003 when he walked naked, apart from a backpack, hiking boots, socks and sometimes a hat, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The authorities, most notably in Scotland, took a dim view of his public nudity and he has spent a large slice of time since then locked up in jail.
Last week, as reported in The Telegraph, he was released from Perth prison, only to be immediately re-arrested outside as he continued to refuse to wear clothing.
Now, apart from questioning the sanity of anyone who doesn’t want to put on at least three layers given the recent arctic-like weather conditions, I can’t help but despair that the only approach to this issue the authorities can find is sticking the man behind bars.
He is undoubtedly eccentric and perhaps obsessive. But is he a danger to himself or society? His biggest crime seems to be simply that he refuses to do what he’s told, with the result that the punishments are becoming ever more draconian.
Most comments around the internet that I’ve seen follow the general line that in this case the law is being an ass. Though a few people ask what are you supposed to do with someone who persistently re-offends and one commentator condemned him with that old rhetorical chestnut “would you want to live next to him?” Personally, I have no trouble thinking of a whole bunch of people I’d prefer not to live next to and Stephen Gough doesn’t even make the reserve list.
Seven years into this saga and the best that the latest judge can do is send him back to jail and ask for psychological and psychiatric reports. Don’t tell me no-one thought to ask for those before now. Surely it’s time he was getting care in community. Or better still, just left to his own choice of winter clothing.
Today, Christmas day, in China, there was a ‘legal’ verdict which was an affront to all democracies in the world. Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for eleven years for the ‘crime’ of promoting human rights in the country of his birth. Liu is the founder of the Charter 08 campaign for constitutional reform. Although he had previously been held for a year without trial, the offical Chinese news agency, Xinhua, released a statement that said that the court had “strictly followed the legal procedures” and “fully protected Liu’s litigation rights”.
According to The Guardian’s report the case has raised fears that other drafters of Charter 08 could also face retribution from the authorities.
We sometimes moan about legal punishments in the UK, for instance when a rapist gets two years but a fraudster five. However we are not imprisoned in this country for ‘thought crimes’, at least, not yet.
Reading the gutter, and indeed occasionally the pavement press, you get the idea that social work is not exactly flavour of the month. Every social services chief in the country must be dreading a phone call from the Sun newsdesk before having to trawl the media centres explaining why a youngster in care has….
I know a few social workers and all of them repeat the same mantra; ‘why do we only hear about the tragedies?’ And so to redress the balance here’s a little tribute to a friend, let’s call him Harry, who at 60 is starting a very happy retirement after 35 years outstanding service to social work.
I first encountered Harry in 1979 when he interviewed me for a basic grade residential social work job in what became one of the pioneer horticultural model units for adults with physical disabilities. Due to our shared passion for football, we became good friends and I had the good fortune to be deputy to Harry in another pioneering project in Hackney where we opened a residential provision for adults with learning disabilities and successfully helped former Hackney residents who had been shipped out to dreadful institutions in the infamous ‘mad Surrey’ region to rebuild their lives.
Harry never climbed the management greasy pole, he remained a basic grade social worker all his career (although he was top of that basic grade early on). He worked in a variety of settings, for the last few years of his career he was on the front line of provision, working as a forensic social worker in one of the most difficult inner-city areas on the UK.
There are thousands of Harrys in social work; more importantly, there are tens of thousands of people in the UK whose lives have been enriched and even saved by the intervention of social workers. We know the Sun will not be bothered about you Harry, so this blog entry is for you. Happy retirement!
What price do we pay for enabling people with mental health problems to live in the community?
The case of the convicted killer and paranoid schizophrenic being allowed to study “the knowledge” to become a black cab driver was all over the media last week. But I ask the question from a selfish perspective as our small, quiet street with beautiful Victorian houses undergoes a demographic change. First, a housing association has placed a woman with a violent criminal record in a property it owns in the street. Over the weekend outside the property there was an ugly stabbing (not fatal) which left neighbours extremely worried. And earlier this year a private company that provides residential care for people with mental health problems got planning use for the terrace adjoining us as a residential facility for up to five people.
And before mental health providers and charities get precious about me not having the needs of their service users at heart, they need to understand that already in our area, three similar terraces have been bought for the same purpose with some worrying incidents of service users walking the streets having not taken their medicine and one instance where a woman was approached in an inappropriate fashion by a resident of one of the homes.
Care in the Community is the mantra of policymakers who would think twice if the same kind of service they espouse was the terrace next to them (how many architects of comprehensive schools sent their kids to the one they designed?)
I understand that people with mental health problems are as entitled to enjoy the benefits of living in the community as I do; but you know what, I am entitled to as much as they do and if it means my lifestyle is curtailed because of problems then what has been achieved? All I can say is that I hope myself and my family do not incur mental health problems as a result of the experience. What was the line from the song by Madness in the 80s? “Our house, in the middle of the street…”
Today, anybody who had not managed to find out the information online was able to read pages of information online or print. The horrific circumstances behind Baby P’s tragic death, including details on his mother Tracey Connelly and the two men involved in the mayhem, were presented to the British public.
I can see where Anna Motz is coming from here but expected more from a practitioner armed with a sizable collection of theory and case studies. The article represented society’s drift to a philosophical liberalism in ‘understanding’ perpetrators of crime. But this kind of theorising has done little at best and nothing at worst to prevent abuse continuing. The liberal broadsheets’ obsession with explaining such ‘dysfunctional’ behaviour so that their readers will feel better about why it all happened is actually no different to the tabloids’ approach of ‘flog and hang ’em’. I would find it far more enlightening if Ms Motz had written an article about people who had been abused in childhood but who did not then go on to abuse. I would wager that this group far outnumbers the group she so eloquently describes in this article.
An interesting book that I am reading at the moment is Commandant of Auschwitz by the notorious commandant Rudof Hoess. The allies ordered Hoess to write the book between his trial and execution and despite the original manuscript being semi-illegible, the book gives a valuable insight into how evil transcends social norms. In a superb introduction to the book the late Primo Levi wrote: “This book…………is filled with evil……it has no literary quality and reading it is agony. The author comes across as what he is: a coarse, stupid, arrogant, long winded scoundrel. And yet …..it is one of the most instructive books ever published.”
And herein lies the problem with educated people like Ms Motz trying to ‘understand’ and ‘explain’ evil; it simply does not work. How ironic that the words live and evil mirror each other.
I count myself as having been dealt a reasonable hand by the good Lord; despite the recession, the two companies I am involved with are still going (in itself an achievement these days). I have a lovely family and support the best football team in the world, Leyton Orient (it’s all relative).
More to the point, I live about 1.5km from my office and walk in every day past huddles of folk at bus stops either on their way direct to work or, perish the thought, to the underground to be ‘sardined’ to the office. Walking there and back five or six days a week however, has taught me something I had never given much thought to; the level of noise pollution in London is unbearable.
OK, you expect unbearable noise on the Euston Road during peak times; but not on roads which are generally ‘quiet’ by London standards. And herein lies the problem, the noise levels are not generated by the volume of traffic but rather by the volume level of individual drivers. A white van is not by definition a dangerous beast. But when the driver has been forced to stop at a zebra crossing to enable a mother with toddler to cross, and is angry by being held up for five seconds and then sets off as if he were in pole position at Le Mans, the beast becomes a behemoth if you happen to be walking next to the incident.
A group of schoolchildren may seem an innocuous target but do I really have to listen to their ‘conversation’ from a distance; and the more the distance is narrowed the more unbearable it is. And why is it that the most powerful motorbikes make the least noise of their fraternity? A rider with the mother of all exhausts knows how to control their machine in populated areas whereas the ubiquitous pizza delivery chap on a machine that should be hanging in a motorbike museum rides at 60kmh in second gear. The noise is simply intolerable.
This literally orchestrated attack on my senses is but an hors d’oeuvres in preparation for the final ear drum splitter – the emergency service siren. While I feel for the poor soul in the back of the ambulance who needs to get to hospital quickly; is it fair to ask him or her to arrive at A&E with split ear drums? Would the police car not get through stationary traffic at the same speed if the siren was down a notch?
The truth is that society’s aggression is manifested in many different ways but you never hear anyone talking about noise pollution. Maybe it’s because they can’t hear themselves think.
It’s the little things which put the bigger things into perspective. Last week two minor events in my life brought home how precious and precarious life can be; and how luck and fate plays a part. First to a hospital in north London to visit a friend from the chess team I play for who was admitted the previous weekend with a serious complaint and who was, and is, very poorly. Seeing a guy who two weeks before was playing alongside me in the National Chess League now barely able to walk to the lavatory was a real shock. The daily grind of work, making ends meet and hoping there is enough left at the end of the month for the odd visit to a restaurant suddenly becomes meaningless when you see a person you know well suffering like this.
Then the next evening to interview a potential model for Care images (actually her mother) as the model is a five-year-old disabled girl. They live in a council tower block on one of the higher floors and as I waited for the lift to come down I thought to myself; ‘what would happen in the event of a fire?’ The answer, chillingly, stared at me from the TV screens on Friday as news of the tower-block tragedy in Camberwell came through.
We are caught up in the minutiae of our lives, especially the economic climate. As long as everything is OK for me, then why should I worry about anyone else? This is a philosophy which brought great success to one Margaret Thatcher and is one that has permeated all aspects of our society. Maybe we need to take a step back, draw breath and take stock of what kind of country we have become. One minute, two happy families were busy with the minutiae of their lives in a tower block, two hours later they were trapped, unable to escape the flames. I may well be all right Jack, but what about those people who are not?
I like to listen to late-night phone-ins to help me get to sleep; but one recently on BBC Radio 5Live certainly kept me awake.
To mark National Carers Week listeners were invited to ring in with their stories and as the evening unfolded, so a pattern emerged of people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity basically saving the government millions by caring for relatives and friends and not being paid for the service. Radio is excellent for graphic imagery; we were asked to picture a businessman moving from the boardroom to his mother’s bathroom and talking of losing the plot when she wet the floor of the kitchen.
I have been around care a long time but only from the point of view of a paid carer; either as a residential social worker or social worker/commissioning manager. More latterly, since changing careers and working with helping care organisations with publicity and marketing, I have come to realise that this army of unpaid social workers is fighting an unjust war. Stephen Nolan’s programme highlighted the flaws in a system that allows teenagers to spend leisure (and sometimes school) time looking after a disabled relative instead of enjoying a youth they will look back on as empty.
And as the programme presented Stephen Nolan pointed out, he has run this story on a number of occasions and nothing much seems to have changed, other than potential tax breaks for adult carers. Carers organisations are doing fantastic work helping carers with respite breaks and support but it does seem absurd that a country as rich as the UK has to rely on what is little more than child labour to care for its disabled and elderly population. But then I read today that the chief exec of British Airways is asking staff to follow his lead and work for a few weeks gratis to help the company out of its financial difficulties. That’s really nice of him to give up £61,000 (one month of his annual salary). Presumably, if one of his relatives was in the unfortunate position of not being able to control their bowels he would still be able to pay for luxury care, despite his noble gesture of giving up a month’s salary.
We don’t have any images of Susan Boyle in our library, but after what has happened to the lady with the fabulous voice over the past few weeks we could approach her to model for us under the category ‘victim of the media’. Susan’s story tells us more about our society than it does about her remarkable talent for singing. The Britain’s Got Talent formula is the 21st century equivalent of the fairground knuckle fighters, elephant men and Houdinis; all that is missing is for the contestants to be churned out to the lions. No problem, the gutter press have an abundance of talent filling that role.
Susan’s fortune is her obvious talent, her misfortune is that in order to realise it she has to combat the icons of celebrity lifestyle; front page of the Mirror, Star, Sun followed by a few nights at The Priory and rounded off with a hefty contract a large percentage of which is bound to make her agent enough dosh to keep him off the front pages of the tabloids.
I would wager that had Susan not made the semi-finals she would never have been admitted to a clinic. And the lame excuse put forward by the producers that auditioning for the show is voluntary is no different to our MPs telling us that the money they took was ‘within the rules’. The show makes millions of pounds for the producers; with those riches comes a responsibility to protect the people who are making the money for them. Don’t tell me the PR behemoths that open all the doors in the press for these money printing enterprises cannot tell the same press to go easy on vulnerable people who are dreaming of whiter Christmases. Ah, I get it, having Susan Boyle splashed across the front page of the Sun is an integral part of the PR campaign. How silly of me.