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.
Well I wasn’t in the right place or the wrong place; I was in Warrenpoint, walking around like a man on the moon but without the lead weights. The drugs may have taken some time in getting in to your system. but they were in no hurry to leave. Gerard must have thought he time travelled back five or six hundred years as we were surrounded with quite a collection of people, must have been like sitting in a pirate den. He had only seen The Troubles on television so to be sat sitting drinking beer with IRA men was a little bit freaky for him. I was well used to it but what interested me was Pat, the old girlfriend. There was no pretence with Pat, so for a young lady to be drinking pints of draught cider was not too out of place. But to be off your head after two pints caused me some concern. The doll’s house had been delivered, now her sister Gerry wanted one, good excuse to come back.
I had managed to speak to my brother on the telephone but we were unable to meet up during the time that Gerard and myself were there. However when I got back to the UK my sister, the one I had been speaking regularly to contacted me. She was concerned that we or at least they were keeping secrets from our mother. The oldest sister was angry that I had contacted our mother in the first place so they had come up with a plan. They were going to tell our mother that they knew about me and had been in contact with me. The next step was that they were going to tell all of my brothers and sisters about me and then make a decision about whether or not they would have any contact with me at all. It was strange that it was all mother focused because I had found out quite a bit about my father.
He was a bit of a hero in the county of Tyrone, being the captain of the county football side at nineteen years of age when they won the all-Ireland football championship. And when I say football I mean real football, gaelic football. Since then he had become a leading figure in the Tyrone GAA, a well know local figure and like myself liked to stand in a river, or Lough, for long periods of time. Although I had spoken to my mother once, on the telephone, and she told me not to contact her again, a request she backed up in writing, there was still hope that I might actually meet my blood relatives one day. Eleven brothers and sisters, many married with children of their own. There’s no point in dragging this story out for since the day she explained their great plan I have never heard from one of them. I think they may have reached a decision and I think it may have been a little negative. Their loss.
Of course I wasn’t aware that they would never want to speak to me again when I spoke to my sister, at that point there was still hope and a little excitement in the air. There was also the impending job interview which I had been invited to attend. North West Community Services had invited me to attend an interview for the position of team leader. They had a selection of houses across Liverpool where groups of people lived and were supported to be a part of their local community. The team leader role was to run one of these houses, so you could be in charge of a team supporting one person or a team supporting five people. NWCS had been so badly run they had been suspended by social services and the whole top management structure had been fired. Social services brought in a new man to manage the company and he insisted on bringing in his own senior management team.
I arrived, thinking that I would be in for a one to one interview, or two to one, or whatever, but once again I found myself in a group interview situation. All of the old team leaders had to reapply for their old jobs alongside a group of new people like myself. Once again I was suited and booted and really stood out as the only one there in a suit and tie. I found the group exercise quite embarrassing; some of the people joining in discussions were as thick as two short planks. The group exercises lasted for about an hour and a half. Richard was the new boss and his senior management team was three service managers. The four guys called each of us forward and we were either invited back after lunch or advised to reapply in a years’ time. I was invited back after lunch so skipped out of there and went back over to Natural Breaks for a coffee, a slap on the back and any pointers I could pick up about what I might be expected to go through.
No one had any pointers for me so I went back and took a seat. Like the fellow in Manchester who had thrown away any application that had been hand written, the three service managers stopped each person returning and if they could smell alcohol on their breath, where they would have shown they had gone to the local pub for lunch, they were told to go away and re apply in one years’ time. Certainly was one way of cutting the numbers down. I was then shown in to an empty office and given a little strip of paper. On it there was a statement and I was told that I had thirty minutes to prepare a ten minute talk on the major problems facing learning disabilities. As you all know, the first thing you do when planning out a ten minute talk is doodle, so I began to draw lines and squiggles on the blank sheet of paper. Then it hit me, crap, that was the main problem facing learning disabilities these days.
So I made some notes, structuring my talk, then put my feet up and relaxed for the following twenty nine minutes. I was invited up to the CEO’s suite of offices. Garry, one of the service managers, shaved head, goatee beard and Liverpool football club tattoos all over his arms escorted me. This was the first time Richard and myself had met, I had heard a little about him, mainly that he was brilliant, and I assumed that he had heard similar facts about me. Richard had no tattoos, well; none that I could see, but he did have a full head of hair. He was an accountant and looked like one. He explained what was about to happen. I was to give my ten minute talk and then I would be invited to sit down and be interviewed for forty minutes by he and Garry.
I noticed that whoever had been in before me had covered the flip chart with a series of numbers and calculations. I briefly had second thoughts about what I was going to do, but thought ‘sod it’ they never remember the boring ones. I prepared a new page on the flip chart for myself, took a couple of pens of different colours and checked that they worked, then turned and declared that I was ready. Rather than give a detailed presentation I gave a general overview of learning disabilities. First of all I talked about money, the lack of it, the waste of it and the theft of it. Then I went on to the often unhelpful input from relatives, the attitude of the general population to people with learning disabilities and finally the staff and their questionable suitability for the job.
Thankfully I had the use of a clock and was determined to have my presentation last exactly ten minutes. At the appropriate point I changed my pen colour and said, “And so gentlemen those are some of the problems facing learning disabilities. Money, the filthy lucre, wonga,” and here I wrote a huge letter C on the flip chart, while saying, “Cash.” Then I talked about families, advocates, next of kin, the relatives, and a large letter R goes up underneath the C. When I put the A up I think the penny dropped with the pair of them so I finished off with a flourish and a P. “So there gentlemen,” I said. “That is the main problem facing learning disabilities these days, Crap!” Richard smiled but Garry laughed. I waited to be invited then sat myself down for the remainder of the interview.
It was your standard interview and the forty minutes went past rather quickly. Once over Garry escorted me out to the front doors and rather than a firm friendly handshake gave me a cuddle and said, “You’re a fecking star!” When I got back to Natural Breaks Jan wanted to know how I had got on and I told her what I had done. She wasn’t sure that I had done the right thing for Richard was a very strict born again Christian who didn’t like bad language. I thought I had done well, so once again sat back to wait. I was waiting for everyone in the world, bloody celebrities, NWCS, my siblings. I got changed as I was going on duty with our eight to one fellow. In order to relax a little I took him over to Bootle for a pint of beer. There was an Irish club there declaring itself to be The Famous Bootle National Irish Club. I passed it almost every day so decided to check it out.
We were welcomed in and I could see immediately that it was a drinking den, everything was wipe clean. We sat at the bar and spoke to the barman. I was told that I could have a couple of beers but if I wanted to come back I would have to become a member. “How would I do that?” I asked, and was told to put my name and address on a piece of paper, pin it to the notice board and I would be considered for membership at the next committee meeting. I did, but printed everything and used a ball point pen, didn’t want them to think I was pretentious. I asked what benefits there were being a member and was told that I could get a drink any time of the day or night. If the door wasn’t open just knock on the rear door and you would be let in. As we left I smiled for I was becoming a real little English gentleman being a participant in an exclusive private members club. Couldn’t wait to tell people I was off to my club for a drink.
So; I suppose I believed that I was in what is often considered to be the right place at the right time. The three or four massive local Victorian mental asylums were turfing out their inmates as fast as they possibly could. The local mental health services couldn’t handle the sheer volume of work; the local authorities I don’t believe were up to the job. What services were available were not fit for purpose, most of the staff were inappropriate. Perhaps all of the people being released in to the community may have had the right to live within whatever community they chose, but many of them should have been placed with the appropriate amount of specialised care and trained staff.
I finally got to meet John O Brien, the American fellow from America. He was almost spoken about in hushed tones; we quoted his guidelines like a mantra. I can remember waiting in a meeting room for him to come in. I expected, as ZZ Top sang, a sharp dressed man, but got something more along the lines of Zebulon Tyler Walton, or as you might know him Grandpa Walton. I really was expecting the sharp suit and flashy briefcase but in came this fellow in his late fifties, gentlemanly air, dressed in a pair of denim trousers, with bib, and a head full of grey hair and beard. He was softly spoken and had a real lively sparkle in his eyes. He had two members of his senior team with him and we settled in for instruction in the proper way to do things.
I was disappointed to find out that there was no magical solution; in fact John O Brien was advocating a simple straightforward approach that always put the person being supported at the centre of every decision taken about them. It was a perfectly simple approach, but so simple, that British social workers couldn’t accept it. What should have happened normally, as in when a person is to be moved from a long term institution into the community, you should find out what they like to eat, wear, live, be involved in and support them to get those things. It was decided that a plan would be designed for every person, especially if they had no verbal communication. Friends and family, old members of support staff would all be asked about the individual and a complete picture of their lives their likes and dislikes would be put in to a book.
For me it was taking simplicity a step too far. By all means create a list, but a book? Social services decided that this was a brilliant plan and determined that everyone supported to live in the community would have their very own Person Centred Plan. The situation now seemed to focus on producing these plans, not only would social services inspect these plans but various companies were springing up offering how to teach people how to create them. A whole new diversion had been created. I attended a course to learn how to produce one of these plans. I promise you I could have taught the course without ever attending one, but what got me was that to deliver the course for six people the company was charged twelve hundred pounds.
I was still asking stupid questions as you may have guessed, like what if the person supported changes their mind or their tastes? There was also a big move to allow people to be given their own budget and hire in their own services. One fellow I knew was determined to get his own support staff and he told me, in a rather lascivious way, that he was only going to employ young blonde haired girls with ample bosoms. Apart from the regular benefit payments these people, who were being resettled, were given they had also been awarded compensation. Many of them had between twenty to thirty thousand pounds in their bank account. I was worried as the fiddling and well; basically theft, I had already seen could become even more widespread.
There was one company that had set itself up as a consultancy firm for all things to do with learning disabilities. They boasted experts in everything and would offer courses for anything. I asked why no safeguards were being put in place for those who wished to manage their own budgets and was told that this is what being equal was all about. But it was far from it. If someone fiddled me out of twenty thousand pounds I would be able to fight to try to get it back or get a job and earn it back. A person with learning disabilities would probably not be able to do either. Seems that I didn’t understand business, again. It really did feel that I was standing on a cliff surrounded by lemmings that were feeling an urge to run towards the edge.
Some of the other things that were going on were quite amazing too. In order to take on specific contracts, say for example a house where five complex people were being supported to live in the community. In order to encourage a company to take the contract on the local authority would give them the house. The ownership of the asset would be given to the new company. People were desperately trying to meet targets and would do almost anything to ensure this happened, but all of this was happening on paper and almost no care, or attention, was being given to the individual person needing support.
I noticed that another Liverpool company, North West Community Services, was looking for team leaders so I applied for a position. Once again it was exciting, social services had suspended the company, the whole top management had been fired and a new management team had been put in place. The new boss, an Irishman, had fired all of the team leaders and was now looking for new ones. With two Irishmen involved in learning disabilities in the north of England it wouldn’t take us long to sort things out. So there was only one thing to do while I waited for them to invite me for an interview, where once again I would tell them how good I was and then gratefully accept their job offer, and that was to head off to Ireland for a bit of craic.
I had built a dolls house for my old girlfriend Pat. She was very special to me, my first ever girlfriend and we still spoke to each other almost every week; it also gave me an excuse to go to Warrenpoint. This time it was just my eldest boy Gerard and myself that would travel over. The dolls house was so big it took up most of the rear of the car, and that was a large estate, or as some people call them station waggon, with all the seats folded down. We were sailing from Liverpool to Belfast and I pulled up at the Pier Head in Liverpool. I was used to soldiers and police with search dogs but there were so many of them it seemed to unsettle Gerard. I told him to calm down. I wasn’t sure what was going on but there did seem to be an awful lot of search dogs about, with handlers.
There must have been six search dog teams and as each vehicle pulled up they were taking the passengers out and allowing the dogs to run about the cars before the police gave each person a thorough body search. Sitting in the middle of what is obviously a large search operation is not the best place for your son to inform you that he had a bag of marijuana in his pocket. I could see two dogs and handlers approach my car. Soldiers and police officers were approaching too. Something like this could put the brakes on any career aspirations I had in the world of learning disabilities so I explained to Gerard that we were going to have to do the only thing possible, which was to eat the marijuana. There was far too much for one person to eat so we were going to have to share it.
The pair of us must have looked like we had just eaten some spinach lasagne as our teeth were peppered and splattered with green foliage. At least there was no evidence in the car and the dogs, although a little agitated, found nothing, neither did their handlers or the police officers who rubbed their hands all over our bodies. I remember Chris in London, when he bought the opium and he had eaten it, telling me that the best way to take drugs was to eat them. You got a slow release, which I can assure you is the case and probably similar to the brownie cakes you can buy in the coffee shops in Amsterdam, or in the pizza I was once accused of feeding to some police officers which I can assure you I never did. It was mid voyage when the drugs started to kick in and I wondered if this time I had found myself to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? But then again, as the journey was proving to be so mellow, perhaps it might once again have been the right place at the right time.
As someone who was, ‘capable,’ I was making a bit of a name for myself in the company. It wasn’t very hard to do, I can assure you. The upper echelons of management seemed to favour social workers, which is probably why the whole field of learning disabilities was in such disarray. I was quite surprised at the number of support staff who were actually studying to become social workers, although when you see their hourly rate of pay it is understandable why many people would be attracted to such a job where the key employment skills have nothing to do with leadership, organisational ability or even problem solving but insist that you are absolutely fecking useless to begin with. I was an ex-military man and therefore really only understood direct, fast, positive action, an approach a social worker wouldn’t recognise if it stomped up and slapped them in their face.
One job I had been given was to support one fellow, one afternoon, each week, but there were two of us. I met up with John who seemed to be a nice chap and who was very quick to inform me that he was studying to become a social worker. John had worked with this fellow for some time and almost treated him as family. We took this fellow out every Sunday afternoon, John seemed to be a great friend of the family and I soon discovered that the other gang of useless incompetents, the DHSS, were messing them about and they, the family, were balancing on the poverty line. When I met the fellow I was surprised that there were two of us to support him. Forgive me for saying this but he was about four foot tall and walked like a monkey. That is the quickest and most accurate way of describing him and I mean no disrespect or offence whatsoever. We were taking him out for lunch and he was unable to eat anything through his mouth.
He lived on a diet of liquid food which was specially prepared for him and was fed to him through a tube in his stomach. John informed me that this fellow loved architecture, so every Sunday afternoon was spent visiting Cathedrals from Chester to Preston, National Trust properties and other historical places of interest within the area. I loved it especially being introduced to places like Port Sunlight, the model village created by the Lever Brothers for their Sunlight Soap factory workers in 1888. I never knew about the place but having been introduced to it spent many a wonderful hour there, learning about its variety of buildings and different styles of architecture, not to mention the Lady Lever art gallery which is well worth a visit.
When it came to the meal time I was always a little bit wary. We knew that the sight of us feeding someone through a tube in his stomach was upsetting to some people and once again the question of rights came in to it. Did this fellow, who got his sustenance through a tube in his stomach, have the right to sit in a public café and be fed? Did we have a duty to try and shield the public from what we were doing, should we have snuck off in to a corner where no one could see us? It reminded me of the debate that still goes on to this day, about women breast feeding in public. The guy had no verbal communication skills, so I could never ask him how he felt about the situation. He did have a fair set of hands on him and I soon learned why there were two of us supporting him.
I noticed that one of his shoe laces was undone and went down on one knee to secure it for him. I was a big roughie toughie ex-military, rugby playing, red meat eating, bloke; this was a weak four foot nothing chap, what had I to worry about. Well; he latched on to my hair with both hands and tried to pull my feet out through my head. And it was as times like this that you often reassessed your life, like drowning, where they say your life flashes before you. Luckily John managed to break his grip and I composed myself and wondered if we could get him slip on shoes in the future. We had one or two people supported in the community where the company were very pleased with the position that had been secured for that person. One day I was called in to the head office, there was a problem with one of the prime cases, could I help.
Of course I could, show me where to go. Well; it was the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, a major obstetrics, gynaecology and neonatology research hospital in Liverpool. They had managed to get a job for a fellow delivering, three days a week, throughout the hospital. I’m sure you will be glad to hear that it was the post he delivered and not babies. The usual support staff had been placed on suspension for two months so someone had to step in and cover the duty or we may have lost the position. I could see no reason why not, so agreed to accept the job. Once again everything was in place. I would arrive at the fellow’s house, well; he still lived with his parents in Aintree, and a pre-arranged taxi would turn up and take us to the Women’s Hospital. We had three mail runs throughout the day, delivering and collecting the mail throughout the hospital, and then a taxi would turn up and take us home.
Nothing too difficult, well, not at first glance. I was a bit perplexed as the fellow had no verbal communication, I could talk to him and I thought he understood me. He could use his hands and lift and reposition light objects, oh and perhaps the most important factor was that he was in a wheel chair, which he could not propel or manoeuvre. The permanent guy in charge of the mail room came in and we introduced ourselves to each other. He was a very busy and important fellow so couldn’t afford much time to train me on the job, so I went in to military mode. The mail arrived in sacks which my charge couldn’t move or lift, so I would lift them up and empty them on the counter, which he couldn’t reach. I would then sort the mail out into the various pigeon holes and then place the mail to be delivered in the mail trolley.
My only real worry was that I got the correct post to the right office to tell you the truth. So I found myself sorting and delivering the mail, three times a day in the Woman’s Hospital in Liverpool for two months, while pushing a wheel chair and chatting away to the fellow in it. It was a boring and repetitive job and it did require a certain amount of dedication to get through each day but it was so important to the company that it had to be done. At lunch time I would sit with the caretaking staff, the electricians and carpenters and painters and have a bit of a laugh. They soon accepted my friend and I felt that for that one hour at least I was doing him some good, encouraging him to join in with the banter, which of course was mostly about football which I knew absolutely nothing about. But he would smile or grimace in response to their comments.
At the end of the two month period his original support guy was found not guilty and returned to take back over the duty. I was glad to hand the duty back to him and asked if he felt that he was able to communicate with the fellow. I was horrified to learn that he had created a sheet of characters which, when laid out before our guy, would allow him a limited amount of communication. Questions could be asked, information could be given and the fellow would point to a small picture or symbol on the chart indicating his response. I was so angry and confused that something like this could happen with a company that was happy to claim that it was the best in the country. I felt awful that for two months there had been no commination between us because someone forgot to tell me that it was in fact possible.
I began to wonder what on earth was going on. I had already experienced situations where mismanagement of medication could have killed people, lack of information meant that people were being supported in a negative way and the whole shooting match seemed to be geared to keep money flowing in one direction. On my first day in the cushy job, the house in Croxteth, I was approached by a member of the team who informed me that he was a fully qualified social worker and if he suspected me of any foul play he would make my life hell and ensure I never worked in learning disabilities again. Had I taken his head off, there and then, I may have been accused of doing so for various reasons. He was a weedy little five foot nothing homosexual social worker who was deaf in his left ear, so I kept my eye on him, based on the Shakespearean quote of, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Being a mathematics nerd I would always volunteer to finalise the accounts at the end of each week, and everyone else seemed happy to allow me to do this. I began to notice that when certain people went shopping they would buy bottles of wine and as neither of the two fellows who lived in the house drank alcohol I found this strange. Certain people liked to take them out for expensive lunches, there would be a lot of, ‘buy one get one free,’ deals like for example with shampoo, but only one bottle in the bathroom. And the one that got me the most was the way people could buy twenty quid’s worth of petrol when I would have been one hundred miles away in the car at the time. I could see that the world of learning disabilities was top heavy with useless social workers; it was time someone like me was let loose on the workforce.
Once again thank you all for your comments and suggestions, and by the way no Peter Browne, I shall not be taking a long walk off a short pier in the very near future. Because the Celtic Illumination blog goes out over so many different platforms most of you will only see a fraction of the total suggestions and comments made. And as it goes out on a private military site many of you will not see the daily torrent of abuse I have to put up with from the likes of Lort, Clancey and Browne. The main underlying question seems to be why would the future King of Ireland be involved in, what could considered to be, a social services based form of cage fighting in the beautiful city of Liverpool? Well; as you all know a double top secret cabal have ruled my life ever since I was ripped from the arms of my loving mother, that’s mother number two, and taken away by a battle hardened snatch squad of Carmelite nuns to be raised and prepared to become the world’s leading Master Candle Maker, the High Chief of the Clan O Neill and of course the true King of Ireland.
By the way don’t worry yourselves about the abuse I get, I know as members of the Illuminati you have all pledged your lives to support me, and by the way if you didn’t know, you all do now, it was in the small print. I think the abuse is meant to toughen me up, for example even last evening in the luxurious comfort of my own home, I was still facing abuse. My beautiful daughter Jane was home for a few days and we had a sort of small family get together. Not all my children were there as we only invited the nice ones. We were watching the film Philomena, a film very close to my own story, when at the point where they discover that children were being bought and sold by the nuns for one thousand pounds each, I asked, ‘I wonder how much they paid for me?’
My wonderful daughter suggested that I was priceless while my eldest boy, Gerard, suggested that they would probably have paid one thousand pounds for my sister Carol while I, with the six fingers, would have been in the reject basket on a, ‘buy one get one free,’ deal. Even with the size of him he’s never too big to get a thump. So I think we can see why I am subjected to so much abuse, although we will never know unless the double top secret cabal reveal themselves, which I doubt they will ever do. So why would they place me in such an environment in Liverpool. Well; truthfully I think it is something along the lines of the Wisdom of Solomon. You should all be aware of the story where Solomon is faced with two women who each claim to have given birth to a baby and each want to be awarded custody of the child. I shall not tell you the outcome of the story just in case Russell Crowe is about to make a film about it and I could ruin the plot for you.
The main question, I was going to say when you are locked in a room with a naked man wrecking the place, however I shall not, as the main question then is how do I survive this? For many of the people supported to live in the community the main question concerns the balance of rights, already highlighted by one member of the Illuminati, Colonialist. I would say that without a doubt every single person had the right to live in their own community but I didn’t think that enough was in place to protect the rights of those already in the community. And these questions were raised in so many different environments. Take for example one young lady who was supported to live in the community, she was a black woman so social services decided that she should live in Toxteth, an area in Liverpool where the local population would have been mostly black people. It wasn’t the environment or locality where she had grown up, before being sent off to a lunatic asylum, but they felt that because she was black she would fit in.
Ever since the riots in Toxteth in 1981 the area had gained a certain reputation for being a little on the rough side. Truthfully it can be quite an intimidating place with gangs of youths hanging about looking for something to do. We would be trying to support this individual young lady to live as normal a life as possible, but any time she saw a black person out on the street she would begin screaming, “Why don’t you fuck off back to where you belong you black bastard!’ This was not the only statement she would come out with and I often wondered not just why, but where, she had learned such behaviour. I could only assume she was repeating what had been said to her. But that was only one question, or problem, I had with the decision for her to enjoy her equal rights and live in the community. She was a self-harmer. Again, self-harm is a very interesting area to learn about, understanding it may not be so easy, but it happens, and therefore has to be dealt with.
Normally, well; I would think that normally if any one of you came across a person slicing their fore arms or legs you would immediately try to stop them. But we were told that as her self-harm was a personal form of release if we tried to stop her harming herself we would be guilty of abuse. So we had to ensure that she had clean razor blades and dressings available and accept her behaviour as normal. This, I promise you, is as difficult, if not more difficult, than being locked in a room with a man suffering so much stress that he can only express himself by trying to destroy everything within his world, with that sometimes including you yourself. Because it was difficult to find females to work with this young lady most of her team were male. Although we could ‘handle,‘ it, I don’t think one of us condoned the practise or enjoyed having to sit through it. There should have been a fully qualified nurse there and not some fellow who could hopefully talk his way out of starting another inner city riot, time and time again.
For me it was like being in a Stephen King movie or book. She would sit there and draw the blade across her skin while staring you in the eye. I often wondered if she was trying to shock me or was she looking for this ‘release’ we had been told about. Every time the blade sliced in to her flesh I prayed that she wouldn’t hit a major artery or decide to have a go at me. When I watch something like The Exorcist I feel like it was Regan I was sitting opposite with these eyes staring through me. I do feel that these people needed specialist care and not people who could, ‘handle,’ it. There were some clever people involved in all of this and I was quite excited that I was about to meet one of the world leaders. John O Brien, an American fellow from America, is a pioneer and leading light in the field of learning disabilities. John was not just coming to England but he was coming to Natural Breaks. I was so looking forward to meeting him.
The people supported were very complex and I felt that the standard of staff employed was not high enough. It was early days and everyone was still learning. Natural Breaks had supported the first two people with learning disabilities to move in to their own home, from a long term mental asylum. This was a big step and quite naturally people wanted to boast about their success. The local newspaper the Liverpool Echo covered the story even offered colour photos of the two men outside their bungalow on the then relatively new Croxteth estate. It hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind that the local burglars would be reading the local newspaper, although one month later, after the house had been burgled and ransacked twice, they decided not to publicise any more successes.
In fact I was asked to attend an internal interview for that house as the team wanted me to work with them. It was regarded as the best position within Natural Breaks, a quiet and pleasant place to work. Although I was being paid more than your average support staff because I, along with a handful of others, was at the more extreme end of the scale, this house was regarded to be a bit of a bonus. They had plenty of money and a lovely brand new car. At the first staff meeting I was asked if I would like to take them out on regular drives as they really enjoyed sitting in the rear of the car watching scenery slide by. By drives I mean in and around North Welsh Wales and the Lake District. I was back to my rich blond nymphomaniac with her own pub type job. So as I spent many a day driving through wonderful mountain scenery, my two passengers in the back laughed and smiled and relaxed and appeared to be happy. I was happy to have all the time in the world just to drive and think, what would Solomon do about all this?