Celtic Illumination, part 368, Coz every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.
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.