Celtic Illumination, part 371, If I Should Fall from Grace with God.
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.