There is a wonderful public park in Liverpool called Sefton Park. It is huge and has lots of attractions such as a boating lake, tennis courts, fountains, miles of pathways and of course, the café. When I was with Natural Breaks I was invited in to the inner circle of support staff and given the most important tool that you could have in learning disabilities, like a Mason being given his silver trowel. I was given the RADAR key to the disabled toilet. RADAR stood for the Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation. The key will open over nine thousand disabled toilets in the United Kingdom. They are about four times the size of a normal toilet cubicle, always clean, and warm, and a safe environment if you need to get someone out of the public gaze for ten minutes or so. Any support staff, out and about with someone who could turn violent, will know exactly where the closest disabled toilet is. It is like second nature to you.
There’s a disabled toilet in the café in the centre of Sefton Park. Normally you would ask a staff member in the café for the key but we all had our own, still do. Of course they were a good, clean, safe environment that we used on many other occasions I think the one I favoured most was one of the disabled toilets in the Albert Dock complex. Inexperienced staff liked to use the café at Sefton Park as an informal meeting place as usually there would be more experienced people about who would lend you a hand should you need it. So during the week you would find the café full of support staff and the people they supported. The people supported tended to know each other, as they would all have come from the same mental asylum, so for them it was quite a social occasion. Outside lolling about, especially in the fine weather, would be a dozen or so drug addicts all stretched out, dealing or tripping. Now and again the local constabulary would provide some entertainment as two or three van loads of them would race toward the café.
We found it quite funny as there would be no attempt to make a subtle or concealed approach to the café. The white vehicles with their Day-Glo orange stripes, which I have to admit did stand out a bit against the prevailing green of the grass, bushes and trees, would hammer their way along. The druggies would raise themselves up on their elbows and watch the approaching coppers who would screech to a halt and erupt from their vehicles chasing whichever druggie that had taken to his, or her, heels. While the main body of police would begin to round up the druggies all sorts of shenanigans would unfold usually resulting in a free for all punch up, involving Tasers, CS gas and batons. It would be a grand form of entertainment and it was free.
You would never know what would happen in Sefton Park. While still with Natural Breaks myself and another fellow, a qualified social worker, would pick up one fellow and take him to Sefton Park where he would walk around for two hours. We stayed about ten feet behind him as he liked to feel that he was on his own, while he shouted at the trees and expressed himself with all sorts of involuntary arm movements. After the two hours walking about we would then drive across Liverpool to the area where he lived and buy him two cans of beer and a serving of curry and rice from a chip shop. He would drink one can of beer in a single swig and then eat the curry and rice, as if he were in an eating race, then, almost without taking a breath, he would swallow the contents of the second can of beer, emit a huge burp and consider himself satisfied. We would then take him home and leave him with his parents.
There were two of us with him as he could be quite unpredictable and if we came close to any other people we would close the gap between ourselves and he, just in case we had to leap in to action. So here we are one day, we arrive at the park and we are strolling along. Our man is shouting and waving away to his heart’s content while in the distance we see two young boys come on to the path and begin to approach us. Trying not to make the situation obvious we remain at a safe distance but gradually begin to close the gap. We watch our charge very carefully for any change in his behaviour which might indicate that he had noticed the pair of fellows approaching. Both of the young chaps approaching have bicycles and are pushing them. As the gap closes sufficiently, so that we can begin to identify features, we see that the two boys are about twelve or thirteen years old.
We close the gap and, if I dare say, almost with military precision, now find ourselves flanking our charge as the two youngsters pass us. I promise you my heart was in my mouth as I expected that at any moment I was going to have to leap in to action. Having passed each other we begin to fall back, to allow our charge his personal space again. The two young fellows had stopped and were getting on their bicycles, but were watching our small party of three. The danger had almost gone. Our fellow was happy, shouting and punching the air, when one of the youngsters called out an insult. I suppose if you were walking along with a fellow who was shouting random obscenities at the trees and punching the air erratically, you might expect some little guttersnipe to call him names, like the school children who would taunt Gordon, but no, they left him alone. It was me they were insulting. My colleague was a slight five foot six tall fellow, nothing out of the ordinary. I was an impressive Irishman, even though I say so myself, but I did not expect a twelve year old boy in Sefton Park in Liverpool to start shouting, “What are you looking at you fat bastard?”
Had they attacked or insulted my charge I would have dealt with them swiftly and sharply but I was stunned. I may have carried a little more poundage than the ordinary fellow in the street but I couldn’t believe that they were insulting me. I do remember that I was embarrassed beyond belief and when we reached the café my ears were still ringing. As a team leader I was beyond giving one to one support now, I am not saying that I was above it and I have to admit that I loved going around all the historic buildings in Liverpool, admiring the architecture and detail of the buildings. In fact I felt that I needed to get much higher so that my level of employment would match my skills. But despite how good I thought I may have been I was only far too aware that I was still learning every single day.
I was now directly responsible for supervising the direct support given to eight people living in the community. Each one of those individuals brought their own specific requirements that could involve violence, but one brought much more trouble than that, he brought his brother. It was rare that we would meet relatives, we would be aware that they existed, and would facilitate meetings or get-togethers as and when they were wanted. The only relative I had come across who had a regular meeting was Jimmy and his brother. In my new house one of the guys had a brother who insisted on attending every team meeting and demanding that his brother was first in the queue for everything. At my first house team meeting most of the staff warned me about his attitude with lots of raised eyes and most of them stating that he was a real pain.
The brother arrived and sat himself down. It was quite obvious that he thought himself to be in charge of the meeting. He was an officious little oaf, a four feet six tall Englishman who would have made a proper little modern major general ordering the char wallah to polish his boots. I honestly didn’t think that this fellow had much interest in his brother; it was as if he was interested in telling us all just how important he was and that we should be pleased he was there as he knew how to run a meeting, properly. It was strange that the four points I had highlighted in my ten minute presentation during my interview were not just correct but were coming back to haunt me. It may have been nice to secure myself away in one of my offices and immerse myself in the accounts but every now and again life seemed to be so much more simple and pleasant just wandering aimlessly around Sefton Park, watching some fellow call the trees and bushes every name under the sun. Come to think of it the worst thing that had ever happened to me in Sefton Park was being called a fat bastard, which in a way I missed for all I had to do now was walk out of my office with my hair combed the wrong way and I could have started world war three.
What is it they often say? “Be careful what you wish for, as it will come around and bite your arse!” Well they do where I come from. I can remember driving in to Liverpool on that first morning, the first morning that I had four houses to manage. I wanted more, but I was terrified. I wasn’t playing a game; I knew that I was actually dealing with individual lives and just how important that was. I wasn’t out to prove that every social worker in the United Kingdom was a waste of space; they were doing a pretty good job of that themselves. I felt that with the approach I had learned at Natural Breaks and my ability for coming up with weird and wonderful solutions, I could actually do some good for these people we supported.
I think it would be fair to say that I felt lost, there was just too much to do, but I knew this was the environment where I functioned best. If I had to sit around with absolutely nothing to do I could be dangerous, ever wonder why they called me the Newry Bomber on the Desert and Mountain Rescue teams? I checked in with Jimmy and Andrew, like touching base, looking for a bit of reassurance and then with the standard deep breath taken and expelled walked my way over to my new house. I suppose I only considered myself having two main houses as the other two, both requiring six hours per week, were more of an irritant that an involvement, like spinning plates on poles. One of the fellows at the new house, John, had a Motability car. Many disabled people in the United Kingdom are given a financial benefit by the government for help in getting around. Some people use this to buy into a scheme where they are given a brand new, taxed and insured motorcar every three years. All they have to do is put fuel in it.
I was surprised to see that the car was missing, but not as surprised as the staff were to see me. John’s car was missing but John was sitting at the kitchen table eating his breakfast. John’s car should never be used unless he was in the car; after all, it was his car. I asked where the other member of staff was and was told that he was doing his normal morning run, which was picking his girlfriend up, from her home, in John’s car, and dropping her off at her place of work. He would be back soon. I think in the armed forces, the moment you are promoted in to a position where you can take disciplinary action against another person you promise yourself that you never will. Here I was finding myself feeling that a paperwork disciplinary exercise would not be enough, behind the bike sheds with baseballs bats kept springing to mind as an alternative.
The missing member of staff came back in, his name was Kev. I took the car keys off him and went out to give the vehicle a quick check. It was a nice little standard run about, brand spanking new, although I cannot remember what flavour it was. I do remember switching it on and noticing that there were only about fifty miles on the odometer and the petrol tank was empty. I knew that the other member of staff would not admit to having snitched on Kev so came back into find him, in my face, saying that he had a personal emergency that he had to deal with. Normally he wouldn’t have used John’s car but he had no alternative, it wouldn’t happen again. By the way, could I give him twenty pounds as, here he hands me a receipt for twenty pounds, he has just put twenty pounds worth of petrol in the car. I promise you I was screaming at myself inside my head not to rip his face off.
I retreated to the office, which was a converted front bedroom, and told them to bring all the paperwork in the house to me. I am now of course in geek heaven, working my way through all the accounts and diaries. I wasn’t impressed. I trusted my original staff with Jimmy and Andrew implicitly, even though Tony would always be whispering in my ear, “Do you want some knock off gear?” Tony lived in the Bootle area of Liverpool which kept up the age old tradition of looting from the docks. I knew that if I wanted to buy guns, or drugs, or knock off booze, or even half a dozen flat screen televisions Tony was my man. He didn’t steal the items he was just one of thousands of middle men in Bootle. But I also knew that I could trust Tony with the accounts in the house, a strange dichotomy, but I really do believe that when you are fed a diet of how corrupt our politicians and supposed leaders are every day of our lives and they see that they take no responsibility for their actions many people think along the lines of what is good for the goose…….
Well, I certainly thought along those lines, not exactly, I thought what is good enough for a sneaky little shit who steals from disabled people is to be fired, publicly humiliated and never ever allowed again to work in this environment. I began to build a case against Kev but I was worried in case he wasn’t the only one involved in corruption in the new staff team. Where I had seen corruption in Natural Breaks and obviously wanted to stop it, I was now in a position to do so but wasn’t really sure where to start. I knew that the whole affair would have to be presented to Richard, so understood that everything would have to be provable and in black and white. It was only because I managed both houses that I discovered another con that Kev was involved in and I have to say that it was so cheeky I was impressed.
I mentioned some time before that Gordon came from his house every Friday evening and sat with Jimmy in his house watching films. It was always Kev who dropped Gordon off and who returned to pick him up and escort him back to his own house. I had been there once or twice and could see that Kev was always in a real hurry to get back to his house. Now that I managed both houses I could see that there were always two people on duty every Friday night, specifically for this visit. However Kev was supposed to stay with Gordon. We, in Jimmy and Andrew’s house thought he was running back to Gordon’s house, the staff member in Gordon’s house thought he was with Gordon in Jimmy’s house. He was in fact working for another company and took a fellow out every Friday night to a local pub for beer and darts. So while the rest of us were busy dealing with Gordon, Kev was in a pub somewhere being paid an hourly rate by two companies to drink free beer.
Now apart from being so cheeky you have to admit that it is quite a con. It was the only provable fact that I could record against him. Richard as an accountant agreed with me that the receipts for fuel and beer were quite obviously not genuine but we couldn’t prove that he had fiddled money from the company. Richard didn’t impress me. I didn’t expect Richard to hold Kev across his desk while I battered seven bells out of him with a pair of brass knuckle dusters, I’m sure Tony could have found me a set. But an indication of indigence that the people he was responsible for supporting to live in the community were being ripped off didn’t come, absolutely nothing. Richard went through the disciplinary process and fired Kev. He refused to inform the other company that were being ripped off on a Friday night what Kev was up to, which I couldn’t understand.
In fact he didn’t speak to me about the incident until I was summoned to his office a week or two later. I hoped he would turn in to a human being and say something along the lines of, ‘I know where Kev lives lets go and get him,’ but no, this was born again Richard. I was now under investigation as he had received two written complaints about me and my treatment of the people I supported to live in the community. Despite the fact that we could open the house diaries and match the hand writing in the letters to various entries in the diaries and with the fact that they belonged to the old team leader and Kev, both of whom had just been fired, Richard insisted that he would have to follow the investigation through.
I couldn’t believe it; I had never met a boss like it before in my life. Richard was a proper civilian manager, he knew nothing about leadership. I often remembered Jan in Natural Breaks putting the violent fellow in the front seat of her car to take him to a family barbeque at her house while Andrew would ask me who Richard was and what was he like. The problems I faced in my present position were difficult enough without receiving what I considered to be the proper support and encouragement. But as I was aiming for the top, I knew that once there, there would be no support, so I may as well get used to it now. They say that it is lonely at the top, but no one ever mentions how fecking lonely it is as you begin to make your way up the slippery pole.
I am going to ask you to imagine a square. On the bottom right hand corner was the house that I managed where two people, Jimmy and Andrew, were supported to live in the community. It always annoyed me that such a phrase was used, ‘supported to live in the community,’ because we couldn’t really let either of them out into the community unsupervised. It truly was a misnomer and it did make me constantly question what was going on. The only logical explanation I could come up with was that it was a small part of the government’s bigger plan to close down the NHS. They could get rid of a huge lump of the NHS without too much resistance, especially by constantly claiming that these people had the right to live in their community.
Anyway, back to the square. If the house that I managed was the bottom right hand corner then at the bottom left hand corner was another house managed by our company. At this house four people were supported to live in the community. Both houses were lovely red bricked middle class residences, solid and respectable. Now look at the top right hand corner of the square and there you will find a secondary school. This is a school where children between the ages of eleven and eighteen will attend. One of the guys who lived at the other house was Gordon and Gordon would patrol outside the house that I managed, when the school had closed for the day, warning passing children that, “You don’t drink ink.”
I don’t know why Gordon warned people not to drink ink, but this is the first thing he would say to you upon meeting you. The school children would not be as understanding, or as polite, as most adults and would fire back their own warning to Gordon and even sing to him. Unfortunately when they sang they would choose lines from the Jilted John song, stating that ‘Gordon is a moron.’ I knew Gordon, as he would come over most Friday evenings and sit with Jimmy and watch a film on the television, so to hear him outside getting involved in what could be quite aggressive banter, was concerning to say the least. The social workers would say that Gordon had the right to involve himself in such shenanigans and that we should try to get involved with the school and educate the children.
The interaction happened almost every school day and if I was around I would ask Gordon to come in and have a cup of tea with his friend Jimmy. The confrontations would agitate Gordon and someone could end up getting hurt. I felt it was better that he was safe and calm, drinking tea and eating biscuits rather than working himself up into a frenzy. But then what did I know. It was a pretty exciting time as we all knew we might be given more responsibility. NCWS were busy picking up contracts left right and centre. There were a lot of people who had been given houses to live in but only five or six hours support per week. This five or six hours support really had to be the best form of support that person would need and might involve shopping or managing their budget. The reality was that you spent a lot longer than six hours a week with them, but the illusion that they lived in the community, with minimal support, was maintained.
We began a process of getting to know our new charges. I was horrified, the guy I was to support was determined that he needed no support at all. I went to the house where he was living and my heart sank. He deep fat fried everything that he ate. Apart from the health issues, there was the mess, as he was not the most careful person in the kitchen, and of course there was the fire hazard. He couldn’t see the point of cleaning up the mess after every time he cooked because it happened after every meal. I liked his logic but I knew that unless I documented my worries, anything that went wrong would be my fault. The same sort of blinkered reasoning that the social workers used time and time again seemed to prevail throughout and across the world of learning disabilities.
Then one day the manager of the other house came in asking if we had seen Gordon. I tolerated this fellow as he was a real barrack room lawyer type. You couldn’t have a conversation with him without him bringing it around to the rights and wrongs of employment law and of course focusing on our own employment. I hadn’t seen Gordon and told him so. This wasn’t something simple like Gordon being thirty minutes late for his tea, Gordon had been missing for twenty four hours. Nobody had surplus staff members that they could send out looking for Gordon, where would you start? This is just one incident where the inadequacies of the system erupted into plain view. Now that we knew someone could go missing what plan were we going to come up with to prevent it from happening to anyone else?
At the time mobile telephones were becoming more popular and there were location monitors, the most common being the notorious ankle bracelet used for individuals under house arrest or parole. As you may expect the suggestion that any of these devices could be used was dismissed as it would be a breach of the individual’s human rights. Why should Gordon have his movements monitored as he had not broken the law? I wasn’t suggesting that Gordon be fitted with an ankle bracelet, but I was suggesting that either a mobile telephone or monitoring device be given to him to be kept in his pocket so if a situation like the one that had arisen, came about, we could locate Gordon and make sure he was safe.
It was frustrating to have to listen to such bollocks, but then again, what did I know. It was three days before we heard Gordon shuffling his way along the road, warning all passers-by that they shouldn’t drink ink. He was dishevelled and agitated, but at least he had returned. Unfortunately with social services and the police involved in the search for Gordon, the moment he started to complain of having a sore bum, matters took a more serious turn. I was pleased to see that the police took the same view as myself that some sort of tracking device should have been given to Gordon, but the social workers were not convinced, but then I suppose that is the price you have to pay for being a moron. Gordon had been abducted by a person, or persons, unknown, taken to a house somewhere and repeatedly raped.
It is horrible when you learn about just how depraved some people are, but such is the world we have created for ourselves. The social workers insisted that Gordon still had the right to go for walks on his own and that he would not have to carry any form of tracking or location monitoring device. We were all quite annoyed at their intransigence, but if the truth be told didn’t expect much more from them. The manager of the house where Gordon lived was incensed and went straight to head office to Richard. I know that he demanded that he be given an extra member of staff so that Gordon could have someone with him at all times. Richard, as we were all learning, was a business man. I couldn’t understand how or why he had such a good reputation in the learning disability world as the people the company supported to live in the community didn’t even know what he looked like. None of his decisions were people based; he could only operate if it looked good on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, NWCS was a large company, with over one hundred and fifty people supported in Liverpool and a similar number supported in Manchester. It was a ‘going concern,’ it had to make a profit. In fact the main focus was on winning contracts as more and more people were being returned to their community, and every company was fighting for the new business. At one manager meeting Richard introduced us to his, ‘Bidding formula.’ It appealed to the inner geek in me. He had produced a formula where you could work out exactly how much it would cost to support one person; depending on the total amount of weekly hours support they had been awarded. It covered three pages and was very detailed, but he assured us that by using this formula you could submit a bid that would be the exact figure needed so you would never lose money. This he considered to be very important as some companies would put in lower bids just to secure the contract and have their margins squeezed in the long term.
I remember that we were all sitting in a large lazy circle and he gave us all a copy of his formula, told us to select one person we supported and work out how much the annual budget for supporting that one person would be. Time for me to shine, again. I chose Jimmy as my subject and set about the calculations. Five minutes later I waved at Richard to say that I had completed the task as many of the other managers were still working out how to switch on their calculators. Richard cast his eye over my calculations, nodded and walked away. It would be safe to say that we didn’t have a very friendly working relationship. So I was expecting a bit of a confrontation when I was summoned to his office after the Gordon affair.
I expected someone had reported something I would have said, or had been accused of saying and I was in for a telling off. But no, he was nice to me. He still didn’t acknowledge that we were both Irish, which annoyed me, slightly. Instead he informed me that the manager of the house where Gordon lived was no longer employed by the company and would I step in to the breach and manage both houses until he could find a suitable replacement. This would mean that I would actually be managing four houses, which put me a good bit ahead of the pack. He may not have given me any praise but being such a dry and calculating fellow I knew that he would only put someone he thought capable in to that position and he had chosen me. I may have felt good leaving head office knowing that I now managed four houses, which put me one step closer to achieving promotion to service manager, but this was now replaced with the knowledge that I was now responsible for supporting Gordon to live in the community.
It’s quite appropriate that today, Sunday, but not just any Sunday, Easter Sunday, I can announce a sort of rebirth, a new beginning. But I’m not going to say anything until you lot are all sitting up straight, that means you Ed Mooney, sit up straight man, has no one ever taught you how to sit to attention? Bloody civilians, he’s probably sitting there dreaming of a dry stone wall in a remote area of county Kerry. And by the way Colonialist I don’t want to have to mention haircuts again! Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, it would appear that the Celtic Illumination blog, the life blood of The Illuminati, is to be turned in to three books. So you can all congratulate yourselves on a job well done. If everything goes to plan, then the first actual, physical book, or downloadable file, will be ready in four months’ time. All I have to do is re-write the beginning of the blog, smooth out a few bits, here and there, add a few more funny tales and we are home.
So thank you all very much for your support and your comments, and when we get the first book to the top of the best seller lists you can tell your friends that you had a hand in it. At your next lavish dinner party you can casually mention, to your assembled guests, that your great friend, the King of Ireland, has five books, yes it is a five book deal, only three on the blog though, you can say that your great friend the King of Ireland not only has five books in the world best seller lists but is well on his way to becoming the greatest Irish novelist of the twenty first century. And of course once again you can claim to have played a part in it.
When I first began to write these stories I clumped them together under the title, “Do Abseiling Spiders wear Crampons in Winter?” As perhaps the more funny incidents, and the ones I wrote about the most, were during my time spent on the Desert and Mountain Rescue teams, this is where the focus of the work was. The more astute among you may have noticed that this title is perhaps a direct rip off of the title of the book from which the film Blade Runner was taken, which was, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by the American writer Philip K Dick. As we will now be judged by professional critics, I feel that I should change the title, they would perhaps see it as a form of plagiarism, and we can’t have that now, can we?
So I need a main title for the three books, perhaps something along the lines of ‘The life and times of the King of Ireland.’ Which even I will admit is a bit boring, but does it convey the thrust of the narrative? You tell me, for as the reader you hold that information and I really need to know it, please. Then a sub title for each book, I was thinking the first book covering my life in Belfast, sleeping with priests, having three hundred, pitchfork waving, torch burning, Orangemen standing outside our house asking us to leave so that they could set fire to it, and being used by the President of Ireland for snogging practise as, ‘The Formative Years.’ The second book would be about my time in the armed forces, not just being a hero, but a hero with the loveliest legs in Ireland. Being left naked, tied to mountain tops, getting demoted more times than I got promoted, celebrating my twenty first birthday in Venice and missing the flight back home, meeting some fantastic chaps and chapesses, I would be tempted to call this book ‘The Big Stagger,’ in deference to The Grand Tour, of Victorian times.
The final book, where I discover that I actually am the next High Chief of the Clan O Neill and therefore the true King of Ireland, where I begin to gather my trusty and dedicated followers, The Illuminati, around me, could be called The Return of The king, although Peter Jackson and J R R Tolkien may have a few things to say about that. So if any of you would like to make a suggestion, and no Clancey, I know what you are going to suggest, and I don’t think “Don’t get the fecking things published in the first place,” to be a very helpful or constructive suggestion. So if anyone has a suggestion, it doesn’t matter how wild or daft you may think it to be, I would love to hear it. Perhaps the sillier the better, as we have to have something eye catching, something memorable, as we are entering the world of the public relations people. Normally about now I would mention something like the fact that the title of the satirical novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller was originally Catch 18, when it was submitted to a publisher. So we need to get our thinking caps on people, please.
It is a very interesting time for as the audience will increase from the three and a half thousand of you, that read this blog every day, I begin to wonder about the names I mentioned and the trouble that may be coming my way. Many of you might immediately think of the thief Paul O Grady and that what I have said about him could see me in a little bit of legal trouble. I couldn’t care less about the lying, cheating, thieving, asshole, Paul O Grady. I have tape-recorded proof that he, indirectly, stole food from the mouths of my children and if the multi-millionaire would like to hire the most expensive legal defence in the United Kingdom I welcome the challenge as I will defend myself. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. No, I am not worried in the least about that fellow, it is some of the other stories I have told that worry me. Everything that I have written in this blog is true, all five hundred and twenty thousand words, so far.
Initially I worried about my very good friend John Games, Docker. The stories I told about Docker were all true, but didn’t really show him in a very good light. I hope that you could tell that I never intended to belittle Docker, I love him to bits, he read the stories, was a little flushed with embarrassment, but gave me permission to go ahead as he knew my intention was not to offend. The stories about Clancey’s wedding, and Tim’s wedding, were all true, it’s just as the great Frank Carson used to say, “It’s the way I tell ‘em.” Rick Stocks taking his fountain pen to be serviced, Dave Magee emitting an enormous fart in a German brothel making me race to the toilet with laughter, while he told all the prostitute’s gathered around that I had shit myself.
None of these worried me but I have to admit that the time Graham and myself were offered ten thousand pounds to kill a guy, might have the local constabulary around, asking questions. Is admitting smoking a spliff on the Queen of England’s front lawn, in Windsor, an offence? To say that all social workers are idiots, will probably see me get another award on the New Year’s Honours List. And what about actually admitting being the leader of the world’s newest double top secret society, The Illuminati, will that get me in to trouble? It could be embarrassing as we don’t even have our secret handshake worked out yet, so come on you lot, all I’m asking you to do is work out our secret handshake and come up with the main title for the three books and then a sub title for each book. I’m not asking much when you consider that I am now off to a darkened room to re-write the beginning of this stuff.
You know it’s been a good journey, hard going sometimes I suppose, especially when I go off on one of my rants, but hopefully I’ve made you all smile along the way. That was the single intention of this book, plus to deliver a good read, which I hope I have managed to do. It annoys me when I see people who published one joke a day, or one hundred words a week and then call what they do blogging. As I have said before I have spoiled you lot, fifteen hundreds words per day, every day, but then you deserve it, after all, you are The Illuminati. But please do not think that the story is over, there’s so much more to come, there’s not just a fantastic journey though the world of learning disabilities and mental health world, there’s death and destruction. There’s me setting up a secret military network where we have a certain, ‘Pact,’ between us. The fun and games when I attend a local university, for a course, with most of the other students being social workers. Remember this is a double top secret society where you all have taken a blood oath so, if you are not a part of the solution….
Despite the fact that I was an up and coming star in the learning disability world, well; to the people supported and hopefully most of the staff, I was a star, those in charge, the social workers, felt, I think, that I was more of a pain in the arse; it was all still secondary to me. Apart from being the best dad in the world I was determined to be the most famous Irish novelist of the twenty first century and still have at least two days a week off. Once I had re-arranged all the procedures in the house where Jimmy and Andrew lived things settled down. I could put on a nice film for Jimmy and Andrew was happy to watch as long as there was a steady supply of beer. This allowed me to stay in the dining room and write, or read, which can be as equally important.
There was still a flow of suggestions, plots and plans between Jeffrey, my literary agent, and myself. For some reason the celebrity world had really thinned out and there really was no one of quality about and those that did fall within my remit were all as gay as a bag of chocolate marbles. I hated gay men, they were always well dressed, usually with fit bodies, great well paid jobs and they always seemed to be happy, bastards. My next prospective client was a fellow called Craig Revel Horwood, an Australian dancer. He came to prominence on one of these daft celebrity dancing shows with his acerbic wit delivered with his drag queen persona. It was nothing new to me to work for gay men or even a drag queen. Jeffery and myself were still chasing the thief Paul O Grady and his boyfriend manager Brendan Murphy. The final contact between us was when I had spoken to Murphy, and I still have every word of the conversation preserved on tape, when he actually apologised and agreed that we should move forward with the book deal.
Murphy agreed to allow Jeffrey to set up the best publishing deal that Jeffrey could find for the two Lily Savage books I had already written, and that they had read and loved, and we would see what happened, I agreed not to write the third book until we could see how successful the first two were. So once again Jeffery and myself complete our end of the bargain, I have the two novels typed, edited for the umpteenth time and ready to go, Jeffrey has secured a publishing contract, a cheque was waiting for me in London all Murphy had to do was sign a bit of paper. We were used to waiting around for Murphy and O Grady, Jeffrey still thinks the funniest time was when he tracked them down on to the Orient Express, I didn’t think it was funny then. And I didn’t think what Murphy did next was funny either. Murphy went and died.
O Grady now had his excuse to go to ground, but I refused to let him rest and still wrote to theatres, where he was appearing, advising the venue manager that Paul O Grady was a thief and a liar and he should be careful while the fellow was on his premises. I wouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush but Craig Revel Horwood made me cringe a little. I know we are all supposed to live in a more enlightened era, but after years of being brought up as a Catholic in Ireland and then years in the British armed forces, it had been beaten in to me that homosexuality was wrong, even though I could probably claim that my first boyfriend was a priest, not that I knew what the pervert was up to. To get a bit of background on Craig Horwood I read his biography. He was very open and truthful about his life and on the one hand I admired him for having the guts to do what he did, but on the other hand my upbringing had me throwing buckets of holy water at him and shouting, in a very Monty Python sort of way “Unclean!! Unclean!!”
He freely admitted that while surviving as a struggling actor in Australia he operated as a drag queen and prostitute. His big break came along when a wealthy admirer offered him a free around the world trip in exchange for one years’ worth of sexual favours as and when required. Craig says that the man wasn’t exactly repulsive but the deal was too good to refuse. Despite the fact that occasionally my Catholic education backed up with the instilled armed forces revulsion towards homosexuality, I would find myself having mini outbursts of Tourette’s. But I have to admit I kind of liked working with gay men; I liked the frivolity, the gayness of it all if you like. Whatever project I was working on, for a gay person, would always involve music and of course with Craig being a dancer, and choreographer, it made things that much more believable.
On top of all the hassle from London and the gay mafia, not to mention the ridiculousness of my new managementspeak role in Liverpool, I still made sure I had time for my children. We still went fishing and hiking, dragging my poor mother in law around every mountain, lake, river and beach in North Welsh Wales. We always claimed that the children could do as they wanted, career wise, but of course, as parents, we were lying, every action and every word we spoke to them would be to guide them along one route or another. They were teenagers now, well; the eldest three were and they all attended a school in the next town. It was called Cross Hall and it was supposed to be a very good school, well; it was supposed to be ten times better than the existing schools in Skelmersdale.
You may think my poor regard for social workers stems from the learning disability and mental health world, but you would be wrong. My attitude toward them was only reinforced there; it was at school where I first held them in contempt. At Violent Hell we were all expected to become doctors or dentists, lawyers or surgeons or barristers or even priests, real jobs. There would be a secondary level of acceptable positions like architect, or vet, or pilot. For this we would be expected to attend Trinity in Dublin. If you were too stupid to get a real job then you would be considered a failure and would go to Stranmillis teacher training facility. However if you were too stupid to become a teacher, you could become a social worker, and that is where my attitude stems from. Since then social workers have not let me down in helping me to maintain my estimation of their abilities, unfortunately teachers haven’t fared too well either.
Like any parent I knew that my children were quite able, I had put a lot of time and effort in to their upbringing. The one statement from a parents teacher evening at their primary school was, “We don’t know what you are doing to them, but whatever it is, keep it up.” What I now found was that each school had one or two good teachers, the remainder were run of the mill. At each parents teacher meeting you would find one teacher who was strong and disciplined who the children would respect, and this would usually be the best teacher. Gerard the oldest boy did what he was told, as did Jane, but James was running rings around them. They couldn’t handle him.
Gerard’s plan was to finish Cross Hall then move on to Sheffield University where he would study electronics, while being sponsored by the RAF, which he would join as an engineering officer on completion of his degree. The deputy head at Cross Hall called me in one day and told me that his own daughter had become the first girl from Cross Hall to be accepted to Oxford University to study medicine and that he hoped Jane would be the second. We were impressed, not just with Jane but with Cross Hall. James was a real boy, he couldn’t sit still for a moment, he had to be doing something, as long as it was outdoors. He really was, and still is, a most beautiful boy, six foot six tall and a smile that could melt your heart at twenty paces. He’s almost as good looking as his father too.
James refused to do any homework at Cross Hall, it was boring, the subjects were boring, the teachers were boring, he was turning in to a parent’s worst nightmare. It was bad enough for a parent to think that their child might waste their natural talents but of course the school now had league tables to contend with, comparing them against other schools. They could see that James would be a negative mark against them so one day I got a call from the head teacher, He explained that James had problems but there was a solution, a specialist team was coming to the school to assess the more difficult children, would I give permission for James to be assessed? Stupid question, the more I could find out about what made James tick, the better.
It was some time later that the head teacher rang me to say that the assessment had been carried out, not just on James but on a number of children at the school. I could see that this was nothing more than an exercise to manipulate their statistics. James had been graded as above average. I told the headmaster that this was great news, that as James had been officially assessed as being above average, then I could expect him to achieve above average grades in his upcoming exams. Seems that once again I didn’t understand things, but I quickly explained to the head teacher that I did understand, only too well. I explained to him that in my opinion most teachers at his school were hopeless and that if my son didn’t achieve above average grades then he too would have proved himself to be utterly useless. The telephone went quiet for a moment or two. The head teacher informed me that he was just finding my address and asked if this was still where I was living. I told him it was. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘I think I’ll have to pop around and we can sort this out on your front lawn.’ Probably shows that perhaps not everything you are told as a child is true.
Things were ticking along quite nicely; no one had been damaged too badly, or killed, yet. I was still two members of staff down, which my team didn’t mind as they were all getting extra work. Normally there would be no problem getting cover if one of my team went off ill, but the problem was Jimmy’s reaction to new members of staff, so we tried to keep him surrounded with familiar faces, so that we were not covered in faeces. I bought steam cleaners and carpet cleaners so that we could all feel a little better about our working environment. Then one day I get a call to inform me that I have a new member of staff, she would come around and introduce herself to me that afternoon.
It was Joe, my manager who had called me, so I hoped he had found me someone good. It was a lady, Mary, in her late fifties, perhaps early sixties. She was a local girl, had never done this sort of work before and was looking forward to getting started. So first thing the following morning she started, we brought her in to work day shifts so that she could learn the job and meet most of the team. She settled in very quickly and got on great with Jimmy. She loved to cook and would prepare proper almost family type meals for us all, as we would normally be pulling easy cook meals out of the freezer. She was perfect; at least on the surface you would have thought that she was perfect. I started getting complaints that she wouldn’t fill out any of the paperwork like the daily diary, or activity books, or even the medication records.
As the system had Joe come to me every month and give me an assessment, I had to give every member of my staff team an assessment each month too. I was still convinced that these were utter horse shite, I mean if a sixty year old lady has managed to find herself a little job, does she really want or need an assessment every month to encourage her to improve her career options? No matter what I thought of them I had to complete them and submit them for Joe to read, which annoyed me. I thought we were there to help people live in the community not play stupid management games. I waited for Mary’s assessment to come around and settled her down for our chat.
Being ex forces meant that I never had a problem with addressing issues, we spoke our minds, told it as it was, or as they say in Ireland, called a Lurgan spade a Lurgan spade. Mary hesitated when I asked her about why she didn’t seem to want to complete any of the paperwork. It took her a moment or two to compose herself but then she told me that she couldn’t read or write. I felt sorry for the woman who must have had to hide her secret for so long. On the one hand I thought she had done so well, filling out the application form and getting the job was one hell of an achievement for her. She was a really hard worker, everybody liked her, she was easy to get along with and Jimmy loved her cooking, in fact I would say it had a calming effect on him.
My problem was the medication, if she couldn’t read then she would not be able to follow any of the written down procedures. I could colour code the medication bottles and have her issue the routine medications that way, but when it came to issuing PRN medication we could have problems. By the way PRN is a Latin phrase, Pro re nata, meaning as the circumstances arise. It is commonly used in learning disabilities and mental health to describe the medication used when the situation requires it. I understand that in the asylums the patients understood that if they were good they were given their medication, even their PRN orally but if they were bad it was needle time. A system that is understood by every person who ever came out of a mental institution?
So once again I needed the wisdom of that fellow Solomon. I felt that my primary duty was to Jimmy and Andrew, to protect them and support them with the best staff team possible, so it would be easy enough to let Mary go. But on the other hand she was a hard working member of the team and she did contribute to the both of them having an improved life. At least I could pass the problem on, so waited for my monthly assessment and explained my predicament to Joe. Joe was shocked, he never knew that Mary couldn’t read or write and I mean really shocked. It was now that I discover that Mary is Joe’s Aunt, there had been no application form in the first place, Joe had simply given her a job.
We agreed that Mary would be allowed to stay on the team; we would all chip in and fill out her paperwork for her. I think I did the right thing, although to tell you the truth I’m still not sure. The one good thing that did come out of it was that Joe agreed that we needed a recruitment drive, perhaps he didn’t want to give any more of his relatives’ jobs and be embarrassed by them. I now needed one new staff member and looked forward to a bumper recruitment day. I was surprised to be told to report to head office on the recruitment day bright and early, but did so. Another team leader was there, the girl who I had stood up for in the managers meeting, Joanne. We could see eager hopefuls gather in the foyer and gave them the once over, as you do, to see if anyone caught our eye, perhaps I might have seen someone I knew from Natural Breaks.
I was quite surprised to be told that Joanne and myself were running the recruitment day. To me recruitment, interviewing, staff selection, was almost a specialist task and it was strange that Richard had not given us any training or arranged any training in interviewing techniques for this event. We were told that we were to get them all in to one room, do the old group interview thing then split them in to groups and have them build a platform from newspapers, then select who we wanted, interview them and report back on who we thought was suitable. I was quite angry because I felt that the people we supported to live in the community deserved better. For me the two sides of the equation did not match up. On the one hand you had people who needed practical support to live in the communities and on the other side, rather than deliver that support; we were focusing on playing at being managers and learning managementspeak.
I can remember walking around, listening to the groups discuss the phrases, or statements, we had given them, wondering if any if them suspected that I didn’t know what I was doing. It was an interesting exercise for me because I knew that in this situation many people might judge a person on how they dressed, or how they looked, or even how they spoke. Although I have to admit every one of them had a Liverpool accent that day. It was also interesting realising that you had a little power and perhaps saying ‘little’ is the wrong thing to say, when you could actually give someone a decent job and improve their life no end. The people we supported deserved better and the applicants deserved better too.
Joanne admitted to me that she felt lost but we had no real option but to soldier on and see what happened. The practical exercise was a bit of a laugh where we gave them all newspapers and sellotape and asked them to build a platform that would hold an egg four feet off the ground. It reminded me of my time at Hereford where I had been told to build a platform to hold my men and our weapons four feet off the ground, I don’t think I had been laughing as much that day. Whether they succeeded or not didn’t bother me, I had no way of knowing what I could deduce from their actions. After lunch we settled down and began the interviews proper, Joanne led on the females and I led on the male applicants.
I found it really interesting that having read the application form and then began talking to the person just how much information you could pick up from them. I don’t know what it was but I seemed to have a natural ability for working people out. But what I also realised was that it didn’t matter what they were saying to me at the interview, it could have been lies it could have been half-truths, for me, the job would determine if they could do it or not. If I thought they were capable then I would give them a chance and the job itself would determine if they would be successful or not. If they could handle waking Jimmy up after their very first night shift, then that to me would have been a much better selection process than building a fecking platform out of newspapers.
I think one of the great things about working in the learning disability and mental health fields is that no matter how good you are, or no matter how good you think you are, almost every day something will happen that will reduce you back to the cretin that you really should be. It was almost impossible to teach Jimmy anything and I mean simple life skills, like making a cup of tea or switching on the telly. Would it have improved his life if he had been able to do any of these things, I really don’t know. I spent an awful lot of time with his brother listening to stories about Jimmy, seems that he liked old movies, Fred Astaire type musicals and he liked big band music and sitting in a vehicle watching the countryside roll by. Those could be easily sorted for him.
Andrew was a different story altogether, he was a survivor, so I began to spend time with him. All of his teeth had been removed, I understand it is the high sugar content of the medication they are usually given that rots the teeth so quickly, plus poor diet, lack of hygiene and brutal ward staff. I noticed one day at the dining table that Andrews’s teeth were horrendous. The teeth were perfect but it looked like he was chewing mashed potato and this was just after breakfast. Apart from having to ask a fully grown man if he knew how to wash his teeth, how do you ask a fully grown man if he knew how to wash his teeth? I can remember him sitting there, smiling at me and shaking his head. Again I think these situations I treated as matter of fact, Andrew did not know how to wash his teeth, so I would teach him, if he wanted to learn. There was no judgement call on my part, although I have to admit you would often like to get your hands around the throats of some of the old staff who would have dealt with him in the institutions.
Andrew seemed to want to learn to do more, he wanted to learn basic cooking skills, and he wanted to wash the dishes. He had no understanding of basic hygiene and because his lifestyle had the spectre of AIDs constantly looming in the background the staff were not impressed, and so I had to buy a dishwasher so that after Andrew had washed the dishes they could be boiled clean. I was determined to try and get him dressed appropriately in clothes that fitted him and that were suitable for his age and body. I took him to a shop in Liverpool, T J Hughes, quite a well-known store. I always found it interesting how you would always place yourself between whoever you were with and members of the public, I don’t know who you were protecting more, but it was obvious that you were always on edge, always expecting violence.
We moved on to an escalator and went to the second floor where I attempted to buy him some new shirts. Andrew couldn’t make up his mind so we ended up buying him some new bed linen. It was a start, he was learning how to do things for himself, he was out in public, and he was with me, what could go wrong? Well, when we came back to the escalator Andrew refused to get on it. I leapt on the escalator and as I began to descend smiled and held out my hand asking him to follow me; I didn’t want to make a big thing of it. Apart from being terrified of the escalator, which he had calmly come up on, he now thought I was leaving him alone in this massive shop and began to panic.
He wasn’t the only one panicking as I tried to fight my way up the down escalator with bag laden shoppers, unaware of Andrew skipping from foot to foot behind them, tutting their little hearts out at me as I tried to squeeze past them. Some shoppers were stood standing watching Andrew go in to mild meltdown, but as I reached the floor he began to punch himself and it sure felt like every shopper was now watching. This is the time you realise that you have not done a course that has covered this situation, but you must deal with it, because if you didn’t, very soon T J Hughes was going to have a Tasmanian Devil running about its second floor and there wasn’t even a sale on.
First of all I grabbed Andrew, in a great big bear hug, pinning his arms by his sides so that he couldn’t hit himself anymore. I then made straight for a fire escape and smashed through the doors. It was nice and cool out on the staircase, which was an internal staircase. Andrew was pacing about but appeared to be calming down. Two or three staff members came and I assured them that we were fine, I apologised for any fright we may have given them and then asked permission to use the staircase, which we did and left the building. I tried to get Andrew to explain to me how he had managed to use the escalator to go up but was terrified of it going down. He was unable to explain it to me so I left it, far too deep for me to explore.
I think, or at least I hope, the staff started to fall in to line behind me as they knew I was a ‘can do’ sort of fellow. My team was still short two members and I kept asking Joe when I could have two new members of staff. Joe was always extremely busy, apart from one afternoon a month when he would come around to complete my assessment. This was one of Richard’s ideas where we were always trying to improve ourselves. Joe asked me what I thought of NWCS and I can remember telling him that I loved it so much I was going to get a big tattoo of the company name and crest on my forearm. The reason I remember saying this is that the following month he checked his notes, and asked me if I had got my tattoo yet. It was a waste of time and a pain in the arse, but ours is not to reason why I suppose.
I really could see nothing in Richard’s personality that made him stand out as a leader. He was a typical stereotypical accountant. He would always come in to meetings with an apple, which he never ate, but one day he did, which I found rather strange. If I was chairing a meeting I would never eat an apple, or anything, once the meeting had started, but Garry was having a go at one of the female team leaders. Something had happened and he was giving her a telling off in front of everyone. I felt that Richard was eating the apple, thus allowing Garry to speak, but by being there he was actually reinforcing Garry’s position. To me this was bullying and there’s nothing I hate more than theft, or social workers, than bullying. The girl was holding herself together well, but it was quite apparent that she was shaken. I could see that some others were taken aback and now began to feel that the drama was a lesson for us all. I immediately stood up and told him to stop. I didn’t ask him to stop, or suggest that he might stop, I told him to stop and in the back of my mind I kept telling myself not to swear.
It was Richard who gave the nod to Garry, who sat down and I knew that he had been behind the whole thing. He was going down in my estimation and going down very quickly. As an Irishman who is ten times more better looking than most others on the planet, and the best looking member of British MENSA I feel it is my duty to help people. Richard, probably not in MENSA, seemed to want to tell everyone how good he thought he was, which to me was a weakness, but explained why he religiously followed policy and procedure. One day he introduced us to a management technique where we could assess every manager for a specific task. He was in his element talking about Core Team Members, Matrix Management, and Situational Leadership. This would allow any manager to put the perfect person in the correct position and contribute to a successful management project.
In the forces I was used to whoever was in charge coming in and saying, “You will do this, you will go there, you will do that.” Real, practical and positive, management. I could imagine twenty six of us, middle of the night, standing in a white out, half way up a mountain with Jack saying, “Hold on chaps, I think I’ll just complete a matrix management plan to determine who does what.” I had many names for what Richard did, horseshit being the most common, but I settled for the fact that he was doing nothing more than getting us involved in some sort of Victorian parlour game. I wasn’t the sort of person who believed what people said and did spend a lot of time in libraries so looked up Richard’s Management Matrix to discover that it could be used once. That because people changed, within themselves, the matrix had to be carried out every time you were given a new project. Unlike Jan who had turned herself from a social worker into a brilliant and inspirational leader, Richard seemed to be heading in the other direction.
Where Jan had proved herself to me as being a most wonderful and positive people person, Richard was proving himself to be a bit of a dick. For team building and bonding Jan would take each team out and have a fun day, usually involving beer, and far too much beer at that. She led from the front. Richards’s idea of bonding and leadership training was to give us all a book, Stephen R Covey’s, The 7 habits of highly effective people, in fact. Richard wanted us all to be managers, everything had to be formalised. You could see his accountancy training behind everything he did. He decided that for every monthly managers meeting, each team leader should submit at least one subject, or motion, that would be discussed at the meeting. I decided that I would submit three.
I could see that it was going to take some time for Richard to realise just how utterly brilliant I was so I brought my attention back to my own house. There were one or two factors that I wanted to investigate. Jimmy could speak but didn’t, however you could easily lead him in any conversation that you wanted. So who decided that Jimmy wanted a holiday in Spain? As I said before many people, resettled into the community had twenty to thirty thousand pounds compensation sitting in their bank accounts. If Jimmy went to Spain for a week then Jimmy paid for the staff to accompany him. I had been out with a group of Irene’s workmates and had heard one of their partners bragging that he worked in learning disabilities. He claimed that he had convinced the fellow he supported that he liked formula one racing so every year had to go to Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix.
You could spend your whole life uncovering fraud in the world of learning disabilities. I did investigate it as much as I could but most people were under the impression that it was normal to go on holiday every year therefore what Jimmy was doing was normal. I also discovered that Jimmy always had an up to date bus pass because he loved sitting on the back seat of a bus and simply watch the world go by. The staff would never take him on a bus because he would attack school children but as regular as clock work they would make sure his bus pass was up to date. This is how stupid the system was. His personal lifestyle plan said he loved travelling in buses therefore each time the social worker came along for an inspection they checked that the bus pass was valid and there.
Jimmy had a brother who came and took him out for the day once a week. The first time I met him I spent as much time as possible with him trying to learn about him. I even helped as we manoeuvred Jimmy out through the front door on his wheelchair. It was an old NHS wheelchair, rickety old wheels and a bugger to push. Being the team leader allowed me to have a certain amount of flexibility so one of the first things I did for Jimmy was to go and have him fitted for a wheelchair. It was a little expensive, light weight, manoeuvrable, and it even had a go faster stripe, but Jimmy had thousands in the bank and I thought it better that the money was spent on him rather than jaunts to Spain for the staff.
I had to reapply for Jimmy’s benefits which meant stretching the truth a little. There was a huge questionnaire booklet that I had to complete detailing all of Jimmy’s aliments and conditions. I filled it out as best as I could and then asked the staff to have a read through it and if they felt I had left anything out to let me know. We were all waiting for the second fellow who would be living in the house to arrive, once again I didn’t know what to expect. Another thing I didn’t expect was to be summoned to Richards office, perhaps he had realised just how utterly brilliant I was and wanted to promote me. Once again I was wrong, he had had a complaint.
Seems that one of my staff members had read through the list of ailments I had put down for Jimmy and was horrified. She had contacted Jimmy’s brother and said that I was making stuff up about Jimmy. Ever had one of those moments where your head explodes. I may have stretched the truth a little but everything I had written was geared for one thing and one thing only and that was to make sure that Jimmy got his full entitlement of benefits. I had no gauge as to exactly how many conditions or ailments he should have to qualify, so I put down everything that I thought I could get away with. Being ex forces you can accept stupidity, most civilians have it, some more than others, in fact you probably expect it, but to have one of your own team go behind your back was the worst form of insult possible.
To drive from head office to Jimmy’s house meant that I had to pass his brother’s house so I called in for a chat. A female member of the team had complained to him that I was lying about Jimmy and she thought it was awful. I explained to Jimmy’s brother not only what I had done but why I had done it and he apologised. Thankfully Richard and Jimmy’s brother were easy enough to deal with, but what would I do with the female member of staff who had let me down? I was sat sitting having a cup of tea pondering my problems when my new problem arrived, Andrew. A social worker was delivering him to his new home.
I was hugely unimpressed. I thought the whole system was geared for people like Andrew to choose where he wanted to live, which at a rough guess might have been closer to his sister who now lived twelve miles away on the Wirral. He was to live with Jimmy, because I had a couple of spare rooms, did not sound like personal choice to me. Andrew was also sixty years of age, but he was a small, skinny, man. His clothes were too big for him and were twenty years out of date. All his personal belongings were in black plastic bin bags that lay about his feet, I felt awfully embarrassed with the whole situation as there was no dignity at all for Andrew. I don’t think he was aware of this but I certainly felt bad. I organised the staff to take his belongings to his room and one to take him through and introduce him to Jimmy. You would think that someone might have thought of bringing them together months before, to see if they would get on, but social workers always know best.
The social worker and myself waited for a few moments in the hall listening for any commotion from the front room. The introductions seemed to go peacefully so we headed out to the back kitchen for some privacy and where the social worker could give me a detailed brief on Andrew. My day had already been going from bad to worse and as it was now heading for catastrophic I saw no reason to stop it. It didn’t matter what I thought about what the social worker was saying to me, my personal feelings did not come in to it, so I tried not to show any expression that I was disappointed.
Andrew was a drinker, not an alcoholic, not even a heavy drinker, but as we say in Ireland, he liked a drop of the hard stuff. And for someone with a learning disability he was quite resourceful. I controlled his money, but the social worker warned me that if I gave it all to him at once he would blow the lot in one afternoon. He would be plastered after four pints of beer but he loved buying everyone else in the pub drinks. When he was drunk he would become aggressive and demand more money, so I would have to be firm with him. I saw this as a possible ruse for getting rid of the two faced female member of staff. If, his own personal money was exhausted, or as normal people would say he was skint, he would steal money or he would sell himself for sex and then use the money to get hammered.
This was not a random affair, as there was a regular customer who lived in a wonderfully large house facing Sefton Park. I can assure you that this is the point where my brain stopped functioning and the thought of being locked in a room for twelve hours with a naked and violent man throwing poo at me seemed appealing. I really did feel out of my depth, as so many issues were now brought to the fore and I knew that the staff would overreact to most of them. I needed to trust my staff team and get them behind me, unlike Richard I wasn’t going to give them a book to read. Richard must have noticed my managerial abilities as he had me organise an evening out for all the managers in Liverpool. I organised a wonderful evening staring with a quiet meal in an Italian restaurant followed by lashings of beer in most pubs along Mathew Street.
I can assure you I didn’t let the side down and got quite drunk, not legless, but drunk enough to know I should go home, if I could find it. I wandered my way through the streets of Liverpool until I came to Saint George’s Hall. For the heathens among you Saint Georges Hall is a neoclassical building containing concert halls and law courts in the centre of Liverpool. It is a wonderful building to visit, however that night all I was interested in were the large sandstone steps that surrounded the façade, they just seemed so warm and soft and appealing. I sat myself down and wondered if I could make it across the road to Lime Street train station where I could get a train to Ormskirk, if they were still running. Next thing you know is someone is waking me up. The husband of the two faced female staff member. ‘I thought it was you,’ he says, helping me to my feet and leading me off to his car, which is pulled on to the pavement by the traffic lights. He took me back to Jimmy’s house and along with his wife bundled me in to the self-contained flat where I collapsed on the bed. Next morning, apart from wondering where I was, all I could think of was that perhaps I already had a good team around me; perhaps if we had a day out, on the beer; things might not be so bad after all.
Despite the fact that I had found so many problems within Natural Breaks I was still convinced that it probably was one of the best companies in the UK. The reason for that was Jan, a real people person, even though she had once been a social worker. Richard, the new boss of NWCS was an accountant, he had been working for one of those big companies you always hear about on the news. He had one hell of a reputation and was considered to be one of the top men in learning disabilities. This was no surprise to me; the best pilot in the air force had been George Lee, an Irish fellow, so why should the same logic not apply to learning disabilities?
For the first time in my life I think I had a career plan. After two to three successful years as a team leader you would be in a position to apply for the position of service manager. A service manager would manage six or seven team leaders and their teams. I told myself that within one year I would be back at Natural Breaks as a service manager. It really was nice not having to come in to work and face violence, or at least spend the thirty minute drive to work wondering if the day was to be spent cage fighting or having a nice walk. Of course I still didn’t know what the two new fellows I would be supporting held in store for me. I did have their personal lifestyle plans, which I read and still couldn’t work out much about them.
The contingent arrived back from Spain and I sent them all home, I would spend the night in the house with Jimmy, give the team a break. Jimmy was a sixty year old gentlemen who could speak, but didn’t. The house was quite scary, it was huge, three stories with a massive basement covering the whole footprint of the house. I followed the directions in the plan for Jimmy and got him in to his bed. I then came downstairs and put my feet up with the television on. I then found myself laughing. It occurred to me that thousands of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities and sometimes both had been relocated back into the community where they had the right to enjoy their lives as they saw fit. But that meant that about three thousand people in Liverpool, all with learning disabilities or mental health problems or both, would be getting up at half past eight the following morning.
The book said that Jimmy liked to get up every morning at half past eight. No he didn’t, the shift changed at nine o clock, as every shift in the country did. The person or people being supported were up, scrubbed, fed and washed and on parade for nine o clock and shift change. The thing is that these sorts of observations were far too simple to be taken on board by social workers, I hoped that Richard would be on a similar wavelength as myself. For those of you who have read a good deal of this blog you know that I have been through some strange and extreme initiation ceremonies in my time. I wasn’t aware that Jimmy was waiting with one for me in his bedroom the following morning when I came to wake him.
I had already noted that Jimmy liked to eat porridge every morning for breakfast. I had also noted that none of the staff thought themselves capable of preparing porridge and a new saucepan was required every two or three days as they kept burning holes in the one they were using. God only knows what tasteless rubbish poor Jimmy had been given every morning. A lot was missing from his personal plan, which rendered the whole thing useless to me. Sure it was fine knowing that he liked porridge every morning, but it would have been nice to know, that if a new person was on a night shift with him, Jimmy would defecate in his bed and then throw it at you when you came in to wake him. A sort of welcome to my life routine. He was also autistic and having pelted you with poo would then jump out of bed and go into each corner of the room and kick the corner. What didn’t help is that there would now be a trail of poo around the bedroom like the breadcrumbs poor old Hansel and Gretel left in the woods.
I knew that this was learned behaviour; I knew it wasn’t personal; it was a situation that had to be dealt with. You could see why some support staff with less tolerance, or understanding, than me would react in a different way and stories of people being put back to bed, as a lesson, would often be heard. In fact I had been told that the previous team used to lock Jimmy in his room and have drink and drugs parties downstairs to which the local constabulary were often summoned. I sorted out the immediate situation and got Jimmy downstairs to have my number two lesson of the day. And yes, the pun was totally intended.
I searched about the kitchen for porridge but couldn’t find any. There were some boxes of cereal on top of the cupboards but no porridge. I called Jimmy in to the kitchen and brought down the cereal packets from the top of the cupboards. I apologised to him and explained that there was no porridge but that he could have cornflakes, or Cocopops, or Weetabix. Jimmy pointed at the three cereal boxes and said “Porridge.” So his personal living plan was wrong, not to mention with important information missing, but at least social services had checked to make sure he had a personal living plan. Some dipshit social worker had come around seen the actual hard copy of the plan and determined that Jimmy’s life was perfect. Poor Jimmy had been given burned porridge every day of his life for God knows how long, not to mention the expense wasted on saucepans.
I gave Jimmy a large bowl of Weetabix, with warm milk and sugar, some toast and a nice mug of tea. I sat down opposite him at the breakfast table and tried to engage him in conversation. Jimmy would only grunt at me as he shovelled the Weetabix into his mouth. To me it was a good sign that he was enjoying it, I was pleased that I had spent the night in the house. I wondered how much more was wrong in his life but knew that I was the fellow to sort it out. The staff were due in shortly and I would have to start to get to know them, their abilities and their shortcomings. There is a saying in learning disabilities that the people providing the support often need support themselves, so I knew I didn’t have an easy ride in front of me.
I cleared the breakfast table and Jimmy seemed to be content. I once again sat down opposite him and tried to engage him in conversation. I came to what I thought was an eureka moment. Jimmy looked at me and stretched both his hands out across the table. To me it was an act of friendship, a sort of thank you, perhaps even an apology for treating me like a coconut shy that morning, so I reached out to him with both my hands. Before I knew what he was doing Jimmy had dug his fingernails into my wrists and had begun to drag his hands along mine. It was like a cat extending its claws. He immediately held his hands under the table and kept saying he was sorry. My hands were on fire and I began to think through what was in the medial cabinet. The fecker had drawn blood and what was worse, was that it was mine.
The first member of staff came in Tony. A black fellow, and I mean a real deep, deep, black colour, but what made him stand out was his short cropped hair which he had dyed blonde. Tony laughed at me and explained that Jimmy always did this to new people, then remembered what he should have told me the previous day about the welcome gift in the bedroom. I only had a few minutes that I could spend with Tony as I had to get up to head office for a managers meeting. Richard was calling all of his team leaders together and it wouldn’t do to be late. I tided myself up and set of for my first managers meeting.
Richard wanted to get to know us, wanted us to get to know him and wanted us to get to know each other, in the air force we usually did this by drinking beer. Normally if I ever met another person from Northern Ireland I would shake their hand and join in some friendly banter with them. Of course our tribal conditioning would have loaded questions at the ready so that we could determine what foot they kicked with, or as you might say what religion they were. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem and opposites could laugh away their co called differences but sometimes you could meet a person so stupid that you knew they would cause problems in your life so there was no point wasting good air getting to know them. Only because they are so stupid and entrenched in their outdated, bigoted, views that the only cure for their dilemma is extinction through time.
Richard had us all sit in a large lazy circle and asked for each of us to stand up and state who our favourite singer and song was. It was tedious as we moved around the room, there was no repartee, no craic, then he came to me. ‘I don’t have a favourite,’ I said. ‘But if I had to, I would say that Pavarotti singing Ave Maria would be my favourite song but my favourite singer would be Shane McGowan from the Pogues. So I would determine that my favourite song would have to be Shane McGowan singing Ave Maria.’ Even a normal person would know that a combination like that would have the dogs in the street howling but Richard passed me by. At the end of the meeting Richard made a bee line for another team leader, Jim. Jim was like Richard, an ardent, born again, Christian. I could see that there may be two Irishmen in this company that would be in a position to do some good, but I could also see that perhaps only one of us would be capable of doing so.
It began to occur to me that I might be leaving Natural Breaks, which was a shame in a way as it was a really good company to work for. Once you had proved yourself, you could work as many hours a week as you wanted. To get paid for accompanying someone to the cinema still tickled me. Of course there were the dark hours, the violence and stress, but no one got that badly hurt and we can look back on those times now and have a laugh about them. I can assure you that you would not be laughing or smiling when you walked in to a room where you knew that for the next twelve hours you would be locked with an unpredictable character who would be in such despair, that he could only express himself through violence.
I only worked with a couple of other people, one, a black fellow who was a really nice chap, but had to shake hands with you every five seconds. He was following a catering course at a small college in the centre of Liverpool and the teacher made me put on whites so that I would fit in. I could see that the fellow was getting some racial abuse and that his attempts to shake hands with everyone didn’t go down too well. When I raised the point that he might fare better in a different institution I was told that he not only had the right to go there but he wanted to go there. I’m sure if he had been shown a nicer place, friendlier, less abusive, he may well have changed his mind. But who was I and what did I know. This equality of rights bullshit was a double edged thingy, far too many people were using it as an excuse for shoddy workmanship. I was getting really frustrated at not being able to do anything positive so finally and thankfully the letter came through and I learned that I had been accepted as a team leader with NWCS.
Some of the guys at Natural Breaks were furious, one team leader at Natural Breaks complained that he had been support staff for two years before he could even consider applying for team leader while I had the audacity to apply for the position after six months. He was a bit of an idiot, Jan, the boss of Natural Breaks, would take each team out for a day socialising, now and again. Everything was paid for and it was basically a pub crawl. We were in Blackpool and drinking quite heavily when this fellow decides to tell everyone his thoughts on homosexuality and how it was against the word of the Lord. No one joined in or even began to discuss the subject with him as Jan’s son was gay and none of us wanted to get involved.
He did try to apologise when he learned about Jan’s son but of course the damage had been done. We even learned that he would take the violent fellow along to his church meetings hoping for a miracle from the Lord. I suppose having a few idiots around makes the world a more interesting place. But they were a good social crowd at Natural Breaks; luckily there was a novelty type of pub close by. I think it was called the Liverpool Steam Beer Company. They had four large copper vats in the window and their claim to fame was that the beer they sold was brewed on the premises. It was a real ale sort of pub, bare wooden floors, and available beers written on a blackboard, I’m sure there would have been a bucket of sawdust behind the bar too. A group of us gathered there for my farewell session.
Jan was away for a few days so didn’t attend but her deputy was there. Stan and myself knew each other quite well, so I settled down beside him and explained that there was an old system we used in the armed forces that I would like to employ now. If you were posted to another unit, you had to go around each section on camp and sign out of that section. You had a card which each section had to sign proving that you had been there and were clear. Many of us would pass the card around the crew room and have our friends sign it but the theory was good. The final stop would have been Station Headquarters where you would have been signed off the camp strength, however your second to last stop was your boss.
You were always, well depending on how you got on with your boss, nearly always, invited to sit yourself down, have a brew and tell him what you really thought of him and his squadron. This was no slanging match, or avenue for you to let off a bit of steam for a long held grudge. You were allowed to speak your mind as long as it was constructive. I explained to Stan that this is what I would now like to do with him. There were incidents that I had witnessed in Natural Breaks and I felt that I had to pass this information on, so that something could eventually be done about it. I think that Stan thought I was joking but as I began to speak he straightened himself up and began to listen. I told him all about the theft through the accounts, how two people would be down to work one shift but only one person would actually attend. I gave him the whole low down on what I had experienced and hoped that he would do something about it. Happy that I may have done something positive for the people supported by Natural Breaks I moved over to NWCS.
I arrived at their head office and was brought in to an office by a fellow called Joe. Joe introduced himself as my service manager; he was a small man, but had that Liverpool wit about him. Garry, the other service manager who had interviewed me along with Richard came in to join us. They explained to me that they had a problem. They wanted me to take over a house where two gentlemen lived. They were supported by a team of six, but two of the six were brothers. They were also ex-army and it was thought fiddling the accounts at a serious level. As I was ex forces I would be able to handle them. I was to go to the house, inspect the accounts and if I found irregularities, fire the pair of them on the spot. Oh and by the way, we have told them you are coming and why you are coming.
Not exactly the sort of situation you would want to start your new job, but it was all a part of the good fight so I rolled my sleeves up and set off for my new house. I arrived to find the house empty. It was a huge place, six bedrooms with a separate self-catering flat attached. The staff team had left me a note to the effect that most of them had gone to Spain for a week with one of the fellows supported. The second fellow hadn’t arrived yet. I hadn’t been there that long when the telephone rang and Joe, the service manager, told me that the two brothers, I had been sent to deal with, had resigned and left the company. That was good news for me. What was also good was that the house was nice and quiet and I could set out all the accounts before me on the dining table and work my way through them.
It was quite obvious that someone had been fiddling the books but with the two main suspects having gone and not feeling that there was enough evidence to actually point the finger at anyone, I drew a line under the affair and began to inspect the house. It was in good condition but needed a lick of paint so I bought some paint, some extendible rollers and set about the place. There’s something about manual repetitive work that I find very soothing and so was quite content to keep painting. When the telephone rang at five to five in the evening I was surprised to hear Joe who was checking up on me, making sure that I hadn’t left early, as I was employed to stay there until five o clock. My only thought was that this was a little bit petty, surely in a company that supported people to live in the community you would have more pressing problems? Richard had brought his three service managers with him when he took over the company, Joe, Garry and Nick. They told everyone that they should be called the apostles, which I think, was a loose sort of link to Richards strong Christianity. It wouldn’t be long before I would be submitting dipshits instead of apostles.