Celtic Illumination, part 381, “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,”
I suppose it would be fair to say that I was confused with the world of learning disabilities. The theory was all very good and proper but it didn’t match what was happening in the real world. People were living in communities and they were being supported but they were not participating in those communities. They didn’t have jobs, they were not members of the local amateur dramatic society, they didn’t play football every Saturday morning in the local park. In fact many of them were quite old and had had their lives stolen from them. It would have been easy enough to become a barrack room lawyer, although in my case I suppose I would have been a barrister, and played the old semantics game.
And thank you to Ken Clare who yesterday sent me a link to a project in Liverpool that is trying to highlight the lives, that some of these people endured, although their focus is now on creating a better future for them. I remember that at Natural Breaks a fellow, Stan, who would have been Jan’s deputy, encouraged us all to get the people we supported to record their views, opinions and memories of the institutions they had been in, on video tape. Some of this stuff was very basic, I know that Stan used to take people back to Calderstones and, with the hospital in the background, would ask the person supported a series of questions to which we would be given either a thumbs up or a thumbs down gesture. We were unsure how this material could be brought together but knew that the first step was to get it recorded.
I think that the biggest problem in learning disabilities is the fact that most of the staff are not up to the job. I am aware that they subsequently invented qualifications but they are not worth the paper they are printed on and are not viewed by management as having any real worth at all. I suppose I am a bit of a dipshit really as in I am quite a trusting fellow, I see no reason to go around lying my arse off, so I don’t expect others to do so. Not really the sort of view one should have in this cruel world of ours. Richard had been asked to take over NWCS and brought his crack team with him. I never questioned his or their ability. Joe was my service manager for all of the four houses that I managed. At my new main house was a chap called John. For months he had been promised his own house, but nothing had been done about it.
Joe took me to one side and told me that he was far too busy to even begin looking for a house for John. Every time I saw John he would ask how the search for his house was going and I had been told to lie to him. I had been told to tell him it might happen next week. Not a bit of wonder many of these people exploded in rage now and again. There really was a mountain of work to get stuck in to, it was new to all of us but it would never get completed unless we made a start somewhere. Like the old Chinese proverb states, the journey of one thousand miles starts with a bird in a bush. I was doing what I could to give the people I supported the life they wanted as best as I could. I was lucky that I had some very good staff members, even though some of them couldn’t read or write, they did what I asked without question.
It was the world of the service manager where I needed to be, where the life changing decisions were being dealt with. Richard not only ran the Liverpool office but the Manchester office which I believe was in a much worse state than Liverpool. A vacancy came up in the Manchester office for a service manager and I didn’t hesitate in applying for it. This time I couldn’t care less what people thought of me, I just knew that I could do more good as a service manager than as a team leader. In fact there had been a social evening arranged in the Liverpool office, where the families of the people we supported were encouraged to come and meet the staff and have any questions or queries answered. I got on really well with Jimmy’s brother. In fact Jimmy’s mother had died and his brother asked me not to tell Jimmy but then asked if I could submit a benefit claim so that the system would pay for her funeral on Jimmy’s behalf.
It was during this social gathering that I was moving about meeting and greeting people when I met another team leader, Kath, she was with someone’s mother and introduced me as, “He thinks he’s the best, but he isn’t.” I thought it was a strange thing to say, especially as it was almost out of the blue, but it certainly kept me on my toes. It didn’t concern me too much as I had been asked to come forward for the Manchester post whereas Kath had not. Richard had arranged the interviews to be held in some sort of motel on the outskirts of Manchester. I couldn’t understand why he just didn’t give me the job and save the company some money, but such is life. I arrived at the motel and eyed up my opposition, there wasn’t really any to speak off.
I think there would have been about six of us. Richard introduced himself and then explained that, we would be given a group exercise, and then we would have lunch. After lunch we would each be interviewed and would have to prepare a short ten minute presentation before the interview. Once briefed, we were led in to an anti-room, which had been laid out ready for us. It was a map based problem so I knew it was right up my street. The position of service manager is quite a senior position so I decided that I would show Richard what a real manager could do. I took over. I wasn’t forceful, I didn’t bully anyone, I just used reasoning and took over the project, coordinating everything and seeing the problem through to a satisfactory conclusion.
You don’t normally expect the person who will be interviewing you to join you for lunch, but Richard did. Two of the six had left so the five of us sat and ate, in a most awkward setting. It was bad enough that we were eating quiche and rabbit food when what was really needed was a bit of comfort food, like a juicy hamburger and cold beer. I was informed that I would be the final interview of the four remaining candidates. Well; I suppose they do say that you leave the best to the last. I was sitting in the foyer of the motel when the receptionist came over and gave me a slip of paper. She told me that my interview would begin in half an hour and I was to prepare a ten minute presentation on the statement written on the piece of paper.
Seems that Richard had an interview format that fitted all occasions. He had been very clever, making sure that those who had completed their interviews did not communicate with those still waiting, and as for being monitored by the reception staff, well; pure genius. So speaking about myself I may as well tell you that I cannot remember what the presentation had to be about but it was a technical based talk based loosely around the proposed new white paper. I might not have been a great supporter of the proposed new white paper but I did know what it contained, shame that my copy was in my briefcase, which was at home. I took out my mobile telephone and called Irene. I asked her to get my briefcase and open it. I then asked her to take the actual white paper out and let me check one or two facts. It wasn’t really cheating, it was using ones initiative.
I knocked them dead with my presentation which this time contained no jokes at all. I amazed them at the interview and went away from that place quite content that I had been successful. It was about ten days later, I remember I was catching forty winks on the settee when the telephone rang, it’s all right I was at home, not at work. Richard had called to tell me that I had been unsuccessful and that if I would like to book an appointment he would be happy to explain to me why I had failed. It was a few days before I could get myself in front of him. Seems that I had been too militaristic in my approach. I had forced myself in to the practical situation and taken over. It didn’t matter that I had successfully led the team through the project.
Learning disabilities needed people who were calm and easy to approach, not ex-army people like me. I was furious because I could see that Richard had not even read my CV, ex-army indeed. But I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t, I was confused. The Manchester operation was in disarray, people were stealing and cheating and conning the system left right and centre. People with learning disabilities were being abused. The position was paperwork based, so who better to send in than a fearless, ex forces, well educated, person who actually cared about people with learning disabilities. Richard, in his infinite wisdom, gave the job to a dyslexic, homosexual, from Blackpool who looked as if he would fall over if a gust of wind caught him unawares. Kath seemed happy that I had failed and wasted no time in telling me. What she didn’t know was that I lived my life according to my old squadron motto, Aut Pugna Aut Morere, Either fight or die.