Celtic Illumination, part 389, Two little ducks with the key to the door.
There was a pretty decent turn out for Tony at his funeral, the church was packed, pity he couldn’t have been there to have seen it. Events like that certainly make you reassess your own life. I suppose it makes you think about things you usually normally wouldn’t consider. I used to pride myself and still do, believing that advertising does not affect me. I love listening to adverts and dissecting the absolute hogwash they come up with. Especially the hair, or beauty, treatments for both men and women, that have these special new-fangled ‘scientific’ treatments. So if I believed that multi million pound advertising campaigns didn’t affect me then what hope did one fellow and a painted sign at the side of the road have?
It was never there first thing in the morning but during the day when I would return to the office I would see the sign at the side of the pavement advertising a tattoo parlour. It was something that interested me as we had often discussed whether or not getting a tattoo, or a piercing, was borderline self-abuse, self-harm. It is an interesting discussion and continues to this day; however not many tattoos can be seen as self-harm. People who get tattoos tend to want to show them off and talk about the pain they endured getting them. People who self-harm, tend to hide their scars and almost never talk about the pain they experience; so on that level no, tattoos are not self-harm. I suppose like many people I associated tattoos with prison, or bikers, and that they were dirty in some way or another.
There had been a fellow, an American Marine, down at Shotley who would go off on a Saturday morning and sit in a pub at Pin Mill from eleven in the morning till they closed at two in the afternoon, then stagger his way over to one of the house boats where a tattoo artist plied his trade. He would then come over to the families club where he would show us all his latest addition. He eventually found a side kick, a local teenager who like the Marine would get himself tattooed but nothing as grand as the Marine was having done. The Marine was having leopards and tigers applied to his back. One day the pair of them staggered in to the families club and the usual game of, ‘I bet you can’t guess where we were tattooed today?’ would begin.
This day they pulled down their lower lips to expose the inside of their lip where they had had their names tattooed. Yes, it does make your toes curl. The Marine, as with all military people moved on and the teenager joined the British Army. He was back the following week as the army didn’t think his range of tattoos were acceptable for a serving member of the armed forces and he had been asked to leave. My only other experience of tattoos was when the television presenter Donal MacIntyre ran an investigation into a gang of football hooligans associated with Chelsea football club, the Chelsea Head-hunters. MacIntyre was trying to make a name for himself as a tough, no nonsense, type of reporter, and at the time the story was relevant as he was able to show the connection between football hooliganism and white supremacist organisations such as Combat 18, the National Front, Loyalist paramilitaries in the North of Ireland and the infamous KKK.
Macintyre let himself down badly as for authenticity he decided to get a Chelsea tattoo on his arm. He was filmed as the tattoo was applied and fainted as the process began. I could see that tattooing was becoming more popular and not just with young people, so perhaps like a lot of people I always wondered if it really did hurt. It was one day after a particularly serious bout of paperwork that I stood up, pulled on my jacket and announced that I was “Off down the street, for a message.” It was about a ten minute walk to the tattoo parlour which was just opening for the day. I went in as the tattoo guy set his equipment up and as you might expect was drawn to the Gaelic themed tattoos. I chose a small, about two inch square, Celtic knot and asked him to apply it to my upper arm.
The tattoo was high enough on my arm so that no one would ever see it as even if I was wearing a short sleeved tee shirt or shirt it would still be covered, which for me was an interesting fact as people tended to show off their tattoos. Did it hurt, well, not really; in fact it was that sort of pleasurable pain. It didn’t take long and it didn’t cost much. It wasn’t long before I was in the local chemist buying some cream for the tattoo and then back at my desk with no one in the office being any the wiser. I consider it to be more of a brand mark rather than a tattoo, and at least I hadn’t fainted. Tony would have been impressed. I tried to get a bit of a session going, a wake if you will, after Tony’s funeral but no one was having any of it. We all dispersed and dealt with our own grief in our own way.
I now found myself, and my new tattoo hammering up the M6 motorway toward Lancaster and its university. The course was full of social workers from Manchester, Lancaster and Liverpool with a fair old smattering of people like myself from the private sector. There were four of us from NWCS Manchester; I knew a lot of the people who were facilitating the course and it was nice to see that respected people like John O Brien, the American, had a lead role in the whole thing. It was nice too to see him turn up again in his denim jeans with the bib while we all sat sweating cobs in our business suits. I really hoped that something good would come out of it all but as the first day wore on I began to think that this was pure unadulterated social work bullshit. I attended a workshop where we were discussing the best way to support people who opted for individual payments who would organise their own support. I began to ask how we could protect them and was ignored.
It was so frustrating to have people refuse to acknowledge that people with learning disabilities could be cheated out of their money. I didn’t want to stand up and declare the absolute mess I was involved in cleaning up in Manchester and Liverpool, but it was as if we were back to the intransigence of the equality argument. By lunch time on day one I was convinced that ninety nine per cent of social workers are absolutely useless. I wasn’t impressed with my colleagues from NWCS who couldn’t stay that night at the University as one of them couldn’t miss her game of bingo. They would be back the following morning. That was fine with me as I paired up with the deputy boss of Manchester social services and we went off on the rip, visiting as many of the student bars as we could.
We helped each other into the bar that had been designated for our course and were surprised to find a live rhythm and blues band performing. What was really surprising was that it was comprised of social workers from Lancaster and even though quite a lot of drink had been taken I have to admit there were toe tappingly good. The food was good, the beer was good, the entertainment was fantastic but the best thing about Lancaster University was the showers. My room was on the ground floor of a tall block of flats and when you stepped into the shower the water would try to flatten you. It was brilliant, never mind washing away the dust and grime of the day it worked a treat on the hangover the following morning.
We were asked to write a five thousand word essay, or report, about the problems people with learning disabilities might face if they opted for personal payments and tried to arrange their own support package. I could already see a whole new industry springing up as support staff, who knew how to use a ball point pen, were now offering their services as consultants to people with learning disabilities who would like to opt out of the system and arrange their own support. We had been told that one five thousand word essay would suffice from all of us. About three days after our return from Lancaster at a senior managers meeting I announced that I had already started the essay on the computer. I had written about two and a half thousand words. I asked if anyone want to change what I had written they were free to do so, but if we all chipped in the exercise would be complete in no time at all. The service manager who was a bingo addict announced that she didn’t know how to switch on the computer so she wouldn’t be contributing. Pauline stated that as I had already written half of it I could finish it off and Delia concurred. I would do the work but we would all receive the credit. I suppose that is the point I began to wonder if I was actually being appreciated or being used.