Celtic Illumination, part 393, If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.
Although I found myself moving further and further away from the people I wanted to help, I still managed to find the time to get involved at the ground level, so to speak, and do some good. Again, whether or not you were actually doing any good was quite difficult to determine as usually there would be no verbal communication. Most of what I did was carried out on a gut feeling. You would find that the weakest of excuses had been made to lump people together in houses. In one of my houses where four people lived I had two elderly ladies, both approximately mid-seventies and two young fellows both mid-twenties. I can’t really blame it on social services as they were only trying to fulfil their political masters will and they didn’t really have the ability to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery.
It was at this house where the staff had asked me to report Delia for abuse. One of the young men was incontinent and wore a nappy. One day he refused to tolerate anyone near him to change the nappy. This of course allowed the social workers to argue that he had the right to sit in a dirty nappy all day long if he so wished. Then there would have been the hygiene aspect to take in to account and the effect the smell would have on the other residents. To me it indicated that something else was wrong, there had to be a reason for him acting this way and we should try to find out what that problem was which might help us resolve the nappy problem. Delia decided that she would go and talk to the fellow, she knew him from Calderstones. She went in to his room, closed the door and two minutes later came out, triumphant, with a full nappy in her hands, like Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waving his, ‘Peace for our time,’ treaty with Hitler.
The young man was not a very happy bunny but he now allowed the staff to take him away and bathe him. It was the following day that I was asked to take action against Delia as some of the staff felt that Delia had in fact physically abused the fellow by forcibly removing the nappy from him. It wasn’t the first time I had experienced this type of reaction, in one house one of the fellows went for a carving knife any time he saw Delia, something she laughed off. Delia really was the closest I have ever come to meeting the embodiment of Nurse Ratched from the film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact it would probably be safe to say that Delia was our very own Nurse Ratched as she could seemingly do whatever she wanted and the owners of the company allowed her to do so, as she kept order. It really was a strange situation and I remember talking, over a couple of beers, with the deputy head of social services in Manchester. I asked him outright how on earth someone like Delia could be allowed to work in learning disabilities. He looked at me and said, “Look, we know she is a liar and that we couldn’t trust her as far as we could throw her, but she gets the job done.”
I was confused; I still thought that Jan, with Natural Breaks in Liverpool, was the best boss I had ever come across in learning disabilities. Richard was a management freak, all paperwork and procedure, not a people person at all. Delia was a bully, plain and simple. She once gave me a glimpse into her personal life, telling me that when she was a newly married nurse, her police officer husband used to bring his girlfriend home and hammer lumps out of Delia if she raised any objection. I could understand her hating men or policemen, but she seemed to hate everyone. She always seemed to know about everything before you did; she terrified the team leaders, yet supported her mates. One of her mates, the bingo freak, who was now a service manager, I learned had been a cleaner before taking up her post with NWCS. No experience or qualifications, Delia just gave her the job, which of course she couldn’t do.
I was on such a sticky wicket, I knew that my only option was to leave and find a new job somewhere else but of course I wasn’t able to tell anybody about my intentions. I couldn’t even tell Garry during our regular moaning sessions. I found the worst thing I could do was think that I was on top of things, I’m not a great believer in luck but like fearing the number thirteen I would fear feeling confident that things were tickityboo. It was the same house where staff wanted me to report Delia for abuse where the trouble started. It was a sort of industrial action, the staff refused to work with the team leader. It was one of those problems where you know the best solution is to go and stick you head in a bucket until it goes away. Unfortunately I didn’t have a bucket with me that day. I arrived at the house to find an impromptu staff meeting had been called.
Seems that someone, here the finger of blame was firmly pointed at the team leader, had stolen a mobile telephone charger from the house. The amount of time I wasted listening to people who had seen this, that and the other, but not the team leader take the telephone charger and put it in his pocket. But all the staff knew it was him. The team leader was at his home so I went to visit him there. He was ex-army so I had hoped for a bit of direct communication from him. There’s a hell of a difference between army personnel and air force personnel. Army chaps can lift heavy things, repeatedly; air force chaps tend to be a bit more cerebral. It was like when I worked with the American Marines and I asked why certain members were referred to as ‘Grunts,’ seems that they would grunt when they lifted heavy things. Mind you, they would also grunt if you asked them their name, or what the time of day was, it would be fair to say that their vocabulary, and social skills, were somewhat limited.
This team leader decided to fight fire with fire; he was refusing to return to the house unless all the staff were dismissed. I promise you I was sitting in his tiny little flat at the top of a tower block in back street Manchester and I wasn’t in the mood for any of it. I could see that negotiations would be required but I wasn’t in the mood for running between the different parties, especially if I returned and found the lift was broken. I also realised that I couldn’t just tell him to shut up and get on with it, Delia had managed to get herself involved and was telephoning the team leader as I sat there talking to him. Despite the fact that I had pegged him as a typical ex-army thicko who had pretentions of being a barrack room lawyer he secured a good deal for himself. He would not return to the house and would step down from the company as long as NWCS paid for him to get his care managers license.
Not as thick as he was stupid looking. The problem may have been sorted but it now created another problem as in I didn’t have a team leader for that house. None of the staff were interested in applying for the post so the proverbial ball was back in my court. I managed to get one of the staff members to eventually step forward and take on the role of team leader. I assured him that I would give him as much support as he needed. I wasn’t that comfortable with the situation but it was the best I could do with what I had got. What really got to me was that Delia was still spending money buying people flowers and chocolates at thirty pounds a time and she was shovelling money toward any problem that raised its head, such as getting the tricky ex-army team leader to move on. All this cash came from the pool of money that was meant to help support people with learning disabilities to live in the community.
It didn’t seem right to me. But things have a way or resolving themselves. Richard’s three amigos, the three service managers in Liverpool were now about to move on. Garry had been made boss of the Liverpool operation, Joe had decided that, as I was now in effect his boss, he would go back to retail and had found himself a job in a shop that repaired microwave cookers. The third fellow, Nick, had found a job in Southampton and was moving away from the area although remaining in the world of learning disabilities. Garry was only acting boss of the Liverpool operation and apart from wanting three new service managers for Liverpool the feelers went out for a new director of operations.
Garry had a degree in history; he also had more tattoos than me and shaved his head every morning so was quite obviously much better qualified than I was for the position. But there was no reason I shouldn’t apply for it. This time I had to mention it to Delia as I would need her support, but she assured me that she would actually recommend me for the post to the two directors, her friends. I raised many a glass that evening to my old air force chums, our proposed, ‘employment with rapid promotion,’ scheme seemed to be coming true, if I could pull it off I knew my air force buddies would be chuffed for me but I also knew that there would be many support staff in both Liverpool and Manchester who might begin to wonder what form of skulduggery was behind my success.
Celtic Illumination, part 392, Bona to vada your dolly old eke!
It has been interesting to keep an eye on the media over the last few days and read about the shenanigans surrounding the former public relations guru Max Clifford. Clifford always admitted being a self-confessed liar and I don’t know how I feel about the fact that I tried to get him to represent me against the thief Paul O Grady. He seemed to have some form of control over the media and that is where many of his successes were pulled off. We all know that Freddie Star never went near a hamster, never mind bite its head off, that David Mellor did not have sex with his mistress while wearing a certain football club top and that the Hamilton’s were in fact innocent of his claims that they raped Nadine Milroy-Sloan. When we discovered that Clifford would want between ten to fifteen thousand pounds per month to represent me, both Jeffrey and myself thought that it was a bit steep.
Well ‘steep’ would be the wrong word. I really thought that the, ‘litigation expert’ I was consulting in Liverpool was just as big a con artist as Paul O Grady so Clifford with his monthly stipend certainly surpassed the pair of them. And now we see that he wasn’t a public relations guru, he was in fact a liar and he must have been quite a good one as people like Simon Cowell paid him two hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year to keep certain stories out of the media about them. I often wonder what stories Simon Cowell, once described at the beginning of his career in pop as the biggest Queen in London, would want kept out of the newspapers? It would appear that the fun might just be starting as Clifford has been pestering his old celebrity mates for cash to help pay his legal fees. It’s not just the women who have successfully had eight guilty counts upheld against him and seen him convicted and sent to prison for eight years that he has to pay for, but according to the police more women have now come forward. Clifford is threatening to spill the beans if his celebrity mates don’t fork up the cash. Come on Cowell get your purse open ducky.
From a public relations aspect I was doing quite well, I attended the second session at big school and was pleasantly surprised to find that the American delegation knew all about me and wanted me to participate in their discussions. It was nice to be recognised but I still wanted to make it as a writer and only viewed the world of learning disabilities and mental health as something that interested me and where I could actually make a positive contribution. NWCS had noticed how effective I seemed to be and even Delia gave me career advice, which was basically I would proceed no further unless I had some sort of university degree behind me. They actually suggested that I could attend John Moore’s University in Liverpool and they would pay for my course, the unfortunate thing was that it was a degree in social work. It made sense that as the recruitment process I had experienced so far in the learning disability world would not get any better the further up you travelled, so a degree it would have to be.
But I wasn’t convinced that a degree in social work was the answer, Richard was an accountant and the further up the greasy pole you moved the further away from people you were and the more business orientated you became. So I felt that rather than just get any old degree I should study subjects that would actually contribute to my career. If the truth be told I would have gone to Manchester and studied creative writing with Carol Anne Duffy but I think that even the most brain dead social worker might see a flaw in that plan. Instead I opted for the Open University which meant that I could study in my own time and I would study accountancy, management and English. It certainly meant that I would be busier than ever, but as it was all new ground I was covering thankfully I found it interesting and threw myself into the work.
The other service managers in Manchester had become bored with the course at Lancaster so gave up attending, the hope was still that I would complete the course work and they would receive a qualification. I thought Delia had a bit of a cheek saying that I could complete the initial essay on my own and the others could benefit but I now discovered that a new qualification, that had been brought in for the team leaders, an NVQ, a National Vocational Qualification, was my domain also. One of my own team leaders approached me and told me that she had a problem with her course work but that Delia had said I would help. We were approaching a point where there simply would be far too much work for me to handle. For example the new accounting system I had introduced in to both Manchester and Liverpool wasn’t complete.
The system was in place and it worked, in fact it worked very well, but I still hadn’t decided the best way to store the documents once they had been received and checked. I was positive that I had managed to stop most of the cons that had been going on and that the new system was simple and straight forward but I needed a system to store all the receipts. At the moment they were stored in a brown envelope with the house name and relevant month written on the outside. It would have to do until I decided whether to have a special storage case constructed or find some suitable filing cabinets. I hadn’t given up on the writing either and was still approaching celebrities through my agent Jeffrey. Although I detested anything to do with Simon Cowell I realised that his shows provided some good fodder for what I was up to.
I had heard Susan Boyle sing once and thought she was terrible, there was no depth in her voice at all but the sheeple refused to believe me. Cowell was a genius as far as music was concerned. I was quite embarrassed to approach the clients we were after, but sadly I was pushing a book deal for Jedward, the two young Irish boys managed by Louis Walsh. They were so cringe worthy it was difficult to watch them prance about however the sheeple followed them in droves and it was up to Jeffrey and myself to try and divert some of the huge stream of cash that followed them in to our own bank accounts. The Irish situation didn’t help either. Not that I was getting any hassle from Ireland, in fact there was still zero communication from my family, either of them. I was told that my cousin who had a holiday flat in Warrenpoint would visit my mother on Sundays after attending mass and sit and talk with her. It would have been nice if one of them had lifted a telephone and told me how she was.
I had to get my old girlfriend Pat to visit my mother and report back to me. Luckily most of the girls who worked in the home where she was, knew me so they all helped and kept me in the loop as they say. So for a period things seemed to settle out, I was back to playing the waiting game. Waiting to hear from Jeffrey, waiting to hear from Ireland, waiting for the next ‘situation’ to erupt in Manchester. As her newly created deputy Delia kept me informed of any new developments as and when she thought fit. I was called in one day to be told that we were going after some contracts in a place north of Manchester known as Chorley. Delia wasn’t sure if she should go to Chorley and supervise the setting up, or if I should be sent, either way, one of us would be supervising Chorley and the other Manchester.
I think most people in Manchester prayed, myself included, that Delia went to Chorley. If I was to say that she was full of surprises that would be the understatement of the year. Many of the people supported in Manchester wanted to stab her, which I think spoke volumes about the way she treated them in Caldertsones. I was invited to sit in with a meeting between Delia and a senior female social worker. She was a nice woman, and I would have said a little bit above the ability of the average social worker. Delia was sitting behind her desk and I brought the social worker in, we both sat down but the moment our arses hit the chairs Delia launched herself at the social worker. She was spitting and screaming, I’d never seen anything like in in my life. It was all verbal, but such an attack I had never seen before, really, really, vicious.
I think the worst she did to me was I had a team leader who was not very good, she was going to have to be replaced so I was going to have to ask her to step down. This would involve a loss of money for the girl although I have to say that I found disciplinary decisions very easy to make on behalf of people with learning disabilities. If I was right, I was doing my job to support and protect them If I was I the wrong then; sorry. Delia suggested that I bring the team leader to the office and she would fire her. The house where she worked was twenty minutes away so I went and picked her up. All the way back, she kept asking why Delia wanted to see her and I lied through my back teeth saying I didn’t know. The moment we walked in to Delia’s office, Delia said “She’s your team leader you can deal with this.” If that wasn’t bad enough that I had to dismiss her, I had to spend the next twenty minutes driving her back to the house so she could collect her things. The only certain thing you could say about Delia is that she kept you on your toes.
Celtic Illumination, part 391, Honor your father and mother.
Despite the fact that I hadn’t spoken to mother number one for at least two years I still felt a duty towards her. You sort of forgot about all the nasty stuff, well; you didn’t really, but it was placed at the back of your mind. All I could see now was a frail old woman and I had a duty to care for her. It was also strange that my good friends in Warrenpoint knew that none of my family would have bothered contacting me to inform me that mother number one was in hospital. It meant that you constantly wondered what on earth you could have said, or done, that had been so wrong. Well; I knew what I had done, I had married a non-Catholic.
I wonder how many of you feel embarrassed when you watch the news. I do, almost every night, Catholics versus Protestants, us and them, them and us. Even the greatest antagonist of them all Ian Paisley has now stepped forward and said that perhaps he had been wrong. I can’t wait until I take control of Ireland, I’ll give them religion. Of course my sister, the almost genius, the one who had the monks and priests with her Uber Catholic wedding in five languages in the oldest monastery in Northern Italy and the two choirs was now divorced. I, on the other hand, the heretic who got married in a registry office was still happily married with four beautiful children. This would never be acceptable in Ireland often called the land of saints and scholars, the land of backward feckers would be more like it.
I had immediately telephoned Daisy Hill hospital in Newry and managed to get through to the ward where mother number one was being cared for. I even managed to speak to her. She told me that she was being released the following day and would be returning home. I knew that she already had a home help come in once a day, which we were not very impressed with. It was the wife of an old school friend of mine and on our last visit we dusted away the cobwebs in the hallway which was more like curtains of ivy. What concerned me the most was that I had been told that my cousin’s two children had been at the service where mother number one had collapsed, so why they hadn’t bothered to contact me really worried me, it was an insult beyond belief. Knowing that mother number one was to be home the following day Irene told me that I was to call her every evening and I was to get Pat involved, to make sure that someone was keeping an eye on the situation.
As luck would have it there was no response from mother number one on the Friday. No response on the Saturday either. On the Sunday Pat was dispatched to the house, formally known as home, to find it empty. The only thing I could think of was that mother number one had gone to my aunt Margaret’s, her sisters, where they would have looked after each other and been safe and sound. On the Monday I had had enough and telephoned my aunt’s house. Jimmy answered. Jimmy had married my cousin and was a lovely fellow. He was one of the most popular men in the county having captained the county football team then led the all-stars on a tour of America before returning and becoming the voice of senior Gaelic football as a reporter for the BBC. Not only was he one of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet he was always helping other people, cutting lawns, trimming hedges and fetching and carrying for the elderly in the community. So I found it strange that he was shouting at me.
“Where have you been? Everyone’s been trying to contact you.” Next thing I know is that the pervert priest has taken the telephone from Jimmy and is speaking to me. Well; he was speaking, but it really felt that he was speaking to everyone else in the house and I was purely incidental. “Your auntie Margaret is dead and we buried her today.” I suddenly realised that the house would have been full of mourners and he was speaking to them, not me. Having Jimmy shout at me was bad enough but to learn that my favourite aunty was dead was all a bit much. And not only was she dead but she was now dead and buried and my family had decided not to include me in that process. Never being invited to any of the weddings, or christenings, or standard family get-togethers was almost a fact of life for me but this was taking things to an extreme.
I managed to keep myself together and asked about mother number one. The pervert priest crowed at me down the telephone that mother number one was now in an old peoples home in Newry, she was too infirm to be looking after herself at the house in Warrenpoint. I have to admit that it took a few moments to pull myself together; I couldn’t believe what was happening or what I was hearing. So much for the Christian values of forgiveness and unconditional love, especially from a priest. Perhaps the double top secret cabal preparing me for the throne of Ireland had put me into these difficult situations in Liverpool and Manchester to prepare me for this. I promise you, I often thought that there was something strange about me as I had two families who didn’t want to have any contact with me and I hadn’t even met one of them.
It didn’t take me long to find the contact details for the old peoples home in Newry and I was able to speak not just to the ward sister but mother number one. She was adamant that she was going home the following week something the ward sister wasn’t too sure about. At least I now knew what was happening and could now sit down with Irene and discuss what we were going to do about it. We both thought that I should get myself over to Ireland and make sure mother number one was getting the proper care and attention she deserved. I rang social services in Newry and was pleased to find that the fellow in charge of the elderly was an old school friend. That certainly eased our conversation so I was able to explain to him that I was the Deputy Director of Operations for a large firm involved in learning disabilities and mental health covering Manchester and Liverpool with a specialty in the more extreme end of the business.
I should have known that old school friend or not, this fellow was a social worker, so it didn’t matter what position I had achieved, I needed a qualification in social work before he would even consider me for any available position. Oh and by the way the employment laws were now so stringent in Northern Ireland there was no way the old boy system could be brought in to play. The next time I spoke to the matron at the old people’s home where mother number one was impounded I enquired about the private companies in the area. The matron informed me that they actually had men at their establishment who turned violent every evening and they were desperate for experienced people to help them control the situation. If I wanted I could have a job, there and then, with them.
It was tempting but I would have to take such a huge drop in wages I don’t know if I could have afforded to live back in Ireland. Sure there was the house in Warrenpoint, but would I be allowed to stay in it? Of course the one big question remained. I may have been fulfilling the role of the decent Irish son and was willing to go to the ends of the earth to look after mother number one, but was I wanted there? Not one member of my family in Ireland had contacted me and in a way I was fine with that. I had my own support network of friends who were helping me out, but it still niggled away at the back of my mind why they were treating me like this. And then one evening I telephoned the old peoples home in Newry to be told that mother number one had been released. She had gone back home.
I could tell from the conversations that we had had with mother number one that she was losing it. Her mind would wander and I would change from being her son to her brother, or father, or friend. Being in the industry myself I knew that she would need an awful lot of support. Pat was put on standby and kept an eye on what was happening, she would call me regularly to tell me who was looking after mother number one and in her opinion how she was doing. Pat was calling in now and again for a friendly cup of tea.
That’s when I got the first telephone call from a member of my family, it was the pervert priest. He didn’t engage in a normal human conversation, instead he was factual and to the point. I think I can remember our conversation word for word. I don’t think he even used my name. He just said, ”Your mother’s going in to a home in Warrenpoint. We’re selling the house to pay for her care. If there’s anything you want from the house you’ve got two weeks to get here and take it.” That was the end of the conversation between myself and a Christian priest, someone who I once had thought was my father, but who I now knew, through the newspaper reports I was receiving, was about to be declared as the biggest pervert in all of Ireland. Well; at least he was keeping the family tradition alive and well, by being the best at whatever it was you chose to do in life.
Celtic Illumination, part 390, Fassbender, Neeson, Farrell et moi.
I suppose if I wasn’t Irish, God forbid, I would, if I had the choice, be French. And it is not that I wish to be some sort of French crooner, no, in fact recent reports, or surveys, state that the Irish accent is sexier than any other European accent. I think people like Liam Neeson, Michael Fassbender and Colin Farrell might have something to do with those choices. The French are renowned for their liberal employment laws which put the worker at the forefront. As the future King of Ireland I wouldn’t want a bunch of them coming around to my house and chopping my head off, Vive la Revolution, but I do think that they had the right idea at the time. This is the reason most British people are encouraged to hate the French, or at least think that they should hate the French.
The French have managed to cut their retirement age by two years, enjoy six weeks paid leave every year, extremely generous sick leave and still have rights concerning going on strike. However the latest addition to their employment laws is one I wish they could have brought in to the UK. In France you may have to work thirty five hours per week but during the other one hundred and thirty three hours of the week, designated for rest, employers are no longer allowed to contact staff. So if you were employed on a standard nine to five contract it is now illegal to respond to telephone calls or e mails after six o clock in the evening. So while my French counterpart can raise two fingers to his, or her, boss calling them at nine o clock on a Sunday evening I unfortunately would have to respond.
And it did happen, not just one Sunday evening at nine o clock but throughout the week. The company provided you with a mobile telephone so that you could be contacted as and when required. I got a call one Sunday evening from Delia explaining that complaints had been made by a member of the support staff, at one of the houses I managed, that one member of staff had been showing pornographic material to a person supported to live in the community. It didn’t faze me as I had come across this problem when with Jimmy and Andrew. Although Andrew would sell himself for sex he wasn’t a homosexual, in fact he was interested in women, in a sexual way. I would buy him pornographic magazines each month which he seemed to enjoy, so even though I was way out of my depth on this aspect of his life, from a physiological aspect, I felt that I was at least making some headway in moving towards a better understanding of him, his likes and his dislikes.
I was also very aware of Richard and his born again Christian status and knew that I would probably be in deep trouble for buying porn for Andrew. I still went ahead and did it but my next step, which was to take Andrew to Amsterdam and book him in to a special brothel that catered for people with disabilities was be dangerous in the extreme and not for Andrew but for my career. My assumption was based on the reaction of mother number one who not just averted her eyes, but looked as if she would have gouged them out if she could, when I pointed out the local brothel where we lived in Germany. I felt it was a very interesting addition to the argument that disabled people were to be considered equal in our new society. Andrew was up for it so Tony and myself were going to take short weekend break to Amsterdam and not really bother to tell anyone about it. Seems strange that someone who is to be considered equal, has to get permission to do almost anything out of the ordinary.
So it was that I found myself at nine o clock on a Sunday evening speeding across country toward Manchester. The telephone didn’t stop ringing during the sixty minute drive and it was only as I neared Manchester that I realised that Delia had called Pauline out too. It must have been pretty serious for the two of us to attend. As Pauline lived in Manchester she was at the scene before me, she came outside when she saw me pull up and explained that in her opinion it was nothing serious. As I knew she ran her own sex chat line I decided to investigate the matter myself before taking her word for it. I settled myself in the kitchen and began to interview the support worker. The pornographic magazine was produced and I was surprised to find that it was in fact a supplement to one of the Sunday newspapers.
British newspapers are rubbish at the best of times, especially the more popular ones, extreme and sensationalist, but pornographic, no. Although having said that, that is my interpretation of pornographic, someone else may have a different perspective. I began to ask the support worker about her religious beliefs and discovered that like Richard she too was a born again Christian and found the magazine offensive. So imagine it, you have two young men sitting at a table, one is flicking through a magazine, he comes across a picture, or series of pictures, of young women in seductive clothing and poses. Is he going to make some sort of comment to the other fellow, well; I would say yes. Some sort of comment, or joke, will be made and therefore it could be considered to be a natural, normal, exchange. It was obvious that the whole situation had been blown out of proportion.
Not only had I wasted one hour driving over to Manchester I now had to waste another hour driving back home. I wonder if I had been subject to this new French law if I would have refused to answer the telephone to Delia. In fact the strangest call I ever got from Delia was when she was in a pub quiz and rang me to find out the name of an actor who had played the character ‘Bomber’ in the television series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. For you geeks out there I am sad to say that I knew it was a fellow called Pat Roach. The only reason his name stuck in my mind, I think, is because he was a huge fellow who used to be a wrestler and participated under the name of Pat ‘Bomber’ Roach which I found interesting as his character name, in a totally unconnected project, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, was Bomber. Told you I had a screw loose.
I did stick up to Delia once. It was a senior managers meeting and she asked for volunteers to cover the position of duty manager over Christmas and New Year period. She volunteered to cover Christmas Day. Ever since the armed forces I had worked Christmas holiday periods and every other public holiday going. I was sick and tired of it and I said so. I suggested that as senior managers we put our feet up for once and relax. That we allow the junior managers, who wanted to make themselves known, to step forward and cover the duties. It didn’t really matter if we were on duty or not, if an incident was serious enough, than we would be called out anyway. My suggestion didn’t go down too well and was perhaps too French for Delia’s liking.
Sometimes I would get a completely unexpected telephone call from someone you wouldn’t have dreamt of hearing from. It was a Thursday evening and the telephone rang, I’m sure you had already worked that out by yourselves. It was John, the younger brother of Pat my old girlfriend in Warrenpoint. John and I didn’t really speak, even if face to face, not since I had hit him across the head with a house brick, but that’s a different story. And before any of you start thinking that I was some sort of thug, no, I wasn’t. It was an accident. John had a wheelbarrow and was crossing the field next to their house. I was turfing bricks from the garden into the field and John suggested that I try and get a brick into the wheelbarrow he was pushing. Say no more, like Jeff Capes himself, I put myself behind the brick and launched it in his general direction. It would be of no surprise to any of you to learn that the house brick landed fair and square in the metal wheel barrow, but with a mind of its own, it leapt out, although I believe the technical term is bounced, and connected with John’s head.
Anyway, ignoring the seven stitches and whether I did it on purpose or not, as if, John asked me how mother number one was. “Fine,” I said, I thought, slightly embarrassed to admit that I hadn’ t spoken to her for over two years ever since her and the pervert priest had thrown me out of what was supposed to be my own family home. “Oh right,” says John. “Because she passed out in Church on Sunday morning and was taken to Newry hospital.” Despite the fact that mother number one was surrounded by priests and nuns and a whole array of God fearing Christian’s, that wouldn’t say boo to a goose, not one of them had the common decency to contact me or my sister. It made me wonder also that none of my other eleven brothers or sisters had bothered to contact me and I was finding it difficult to accept that all eleven of them had decided not to contact me, their very own flesh and blood.
With neither family wanting to contact me I had no option but to begin believing that I was perhaps evil or perhaps that I hadn’t been marked by God but by Beelzebub himself. Of course what I wasn’t aware of was the double top secret cabal working away in the background making sure that when I became the true King of Ireland I would be in a position where no one could emotionally touch me. That’s why I had the most loveliest legs in all of Ireland to help carry around the sexiest accent in the whole world. Jealous yet? Yeah, thought you might be.
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.
Celtic Illumination, part 388, Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince.
On the one hand it was difficult having a foot in both camps so to speak. I had enough problems in Manchester to keep me going for a lifetime without being dragged into anything new in Liverpool. But at times it was nice being able to let off a bit of steam with Garry; I suppose I was using him as a sounding board now and again. He was a heavy smoker so we would stand outside and he would smoke away to his heart’s content as I would warble on about this, that and the other. I had to visit Liverpool once a month to drop off the wages paperwork, this allowed me a certain degree of flexibility so I would normally give myself an extra half an hour and go and have a cup of tea with Tony and Jimmy and Andrew.
I don’t think Jimmy or Andrew understood what had happened to me and although Tony was my good friend I didn’t want him to let me down. He trod a very fine line between being laid back and being lazy, his time keeping was abysmal, but I don’t think he did it on purpose. He seemed to have managed to forget how to prepare and submit his monthly accounts so I had to do it for him. I really didn’t mind as it only took me a few minutes and I talked him through the process every time I did it for him. It was getting more difficult to bounce from one project to another as the more work I was given the more my timetable suffered. Every week blocks of time were given over to meetings or assessments, the actual time I had to meet with the people we supported and hopefully address their problems diminished each week.
So I was really impressed when I was told that I would have to spend two days a month at big school, big school being Lancaster University. They had a leading department there led by a professor who was instrumental in the implementation of the government white paper, ‘Valuing People.’ The eighteen month long course was to dissect and understand the full implication of the white paper and to suggest changes or amendments. I suppose I could only remind myself of the quote we used so often in the forces of, ‘If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined up.’ In preparation for the Lancaster course there were lots of little side meetings and groups springing up which I had to attend. The other service managers had to attend too but they only did when it suited them.
At one of the meetings I met the head of social services for Manchester, a Welsh fellow and his deputy. I have to admit that for social workers these two guys were actually, ‘switched on.’ We seemed to hit it off immediately and formed a great relationship. I was pleased to find two people who I considered able in the world of social work, pity there wasn’t more like them, but there was always hope. It was a bit embarrassing that they knew so much about the problems I was dealing with at NWCS but it was nice to see that they knew I was on top of the problems rather than drowning. They didn’t know all of the problems I faced and sometimes I wished I didn’t either. I wasn’t impressed with the Motability scheme. Up until Manchester I understood that it was a simple scheme, you basically exchanged your Motability benefits for three years, during which time you were given a fully insured and taxed brand new motorcar. After the three year period you gave the car back and got another vehicle, the process started all over again.
One of my Motability cars was due to be exchanged and rather than a straight forward exchange and swop of keys I was told that the old car had to undergo an inspection. The vehicle was then returned to me and I was given a list of faults that had to be fixed before the vehicle could be accepted. I was expected to put an insurance claim in for little scratches and dents, perhaps a broken wing mirror as well, and have everything fixed before they would accept the car back. This would mean that the voluntary excess insurance for the vehicle would increase for me whereas the Motability Company were the ones who would benefit in the long run as they got the vehicle back in showroom condition. You have to admit that only an idiot like me would sit down and try to set up your own scheme that would provide a better deal than the nationwide Motability scheme.
I was angry that once again disabled people were being ripped off, but what could you do about it. I really did spend about two weeks trying to set my own scheme up but couldn’t work out a better deal than Motability were providing so I had to accept their terms. This is where I moved over to approach number two; Motability was run by civilians and was government sponsored, so the standard of employee should be quite low. I was asked to report to one of the houses I managed where they were preparing to exchange their vehicle. They had a people carrier type of van. The team leader explained to me that when they had got the van, three years previously, no one had bothered to check the oil or water in the engine which accordingly blew up or seized. They weren’t sure which, but in effect the engine refused to work anymore. Rather than worry anyone, or admit to their negligence, the then team leader changed the engine himself and that was what was in the vehicle now. I think the van was Volkswagen and the engine was a Ford.
Never mind the engine number and chassis number not matching up; the fecking name on the thing didn’t really match up either. There wasn’t much wrong with the van, a few scratches here and there but the only thing I could do was to let it roll down a hill into a wall and then put in an insurance claim for a new engine. As long as the accident ruined the existing engine enough to warrant a new engine the plan might succeed and who was going to take the blame as the original perpetrators had long gone. It was a real mess so all I could think of doing was to take the van down to the dealer myself and hound him with bullshit. It actually worked. We had managed to select a new vehicle and were waiting on the report on our vehicle before we could exchange vehicles. I went in to overdrive and was asking all sorts of stupid questions, distracting the mechanics and being a right pain.
The mechanics decided their best course of action was to get rid of me so the exchange was made and with the new paperwork signed I was happy to drive away in our new vehicle and couldn’t have cared less what they discovered once I had gone, they had accepted the old vehicle back and that was a done deal in my book. So on days like this it was nice to nip away from Manchester and visit some old friends in Liverpool. The company had kitted me out with one of those new-fangled mobile telephones so I could contact people as I drove across the country. I rang Tony to find out that he was un-well, again. He was a fine figure of a man, like myself he probably could have done with losing a pound or two of weight, so to look at him you wouldn’t ever had thought anything was wrong with him.
I went straight home and relaxed for a while. I called Tony’s home to be told that he had been taken to hospital so I decided to go visit him and tell him to shake whatever, was annoying him, off. He was always complaining about stomach pains and most of us thought he was swinging the lead. He was in Fazakerley Hospital where I had spent many an hour with people having ball point pens, or paint brushes, removed from their arms and legs. On some of the wards and department I was on nodding terms with many of the staff. I reported to the main reception desk and gave them Tony’s name. I was a little surprised when they told me that he was in the intensive care unit but still thought nothing of it as I made my way up.
I remember reaching the doors to the intensive care unit, which were locked. I was about to press the buzzer when the door was opened by Tony’s father, a lovely old Jamaican gentleman who was always sending fish based dishes over with Tony for me to sample. He immediately invited me in and brought me to a curtain surrounded area where I found Tony in a bed. He was sitting up, wearing an oxygen mask, and didn’t look too well, there was no sign that he recognised me when I entered. His mother, sisters, partner and daughter were all there. I wasn’t prepared for this, we all knew each other and nodded our recognition. “What’s this fellow playing at?” I announced, trying to lighten the mood and moving to the foot of his bed. “Come one Tony, I said, we’ve got work to do, let’s get you up and out of that bed.”
There was some sort of movement in his eye. It was like a smile, as if he had recognised my voice, and I would like to think that he heard me and that it was a smile, because the alarms had started going. The nurse, I hadn’t noticed in the corner, came over and was fussing about. I stepped back, more medics came in and were surrounding Tony. His relatives were holding and hugging each other, while all I could do was stand there and wonder what on earth was going on. It didn’t take long before the medics stepped back and announced that he was gone. We all lined up and placed a kiss on his forehead and wished him farewell, then left the intensive care unit. I got in to my car and began to drive away. My telephone was ringing and I could see it was Manchester and for the first time ever I switched it off. Manchester and whatever problem had arisen now was going to have to wait, I had to find somewhere quiet and get my head around what had just happened.
Celtic Illumination, part 387, Two aspirin and a Mulligan please.
I am sure that some of you are madly jealous at my meteoric rise through the ranks in the world of learning disabilities. It’s only human nature, so don’t feel bad about yourselves. And I know that being such a handsome fellow with the loveliest legs in all of Ireland will upset some of your too, but once again, I would say please don’t be jealous. If it were not for humble people like me, hugely talented geniuses, blessed with good looks, wit and an abundance of charm you would not be able to see how grey and humdrum your own lives are. But the one thing you must remember is that perfection like me just doesn’t happen; there was a purpose for me, a top dog in the world of the alpha male. Don’t forget that behind every position I held was a purpose and that reason came from the double top secret cabal who were preparing me to take back the throne of Ireland.
I am sure that someone connected to, or actually a member of, the double top secret cabal became aware of the state of learning disabilities, not just in Liverpool and Manchester but throughout the country and realised that they were in a position to do something about it. NWCS really were the worst company in the North West of England; however, many companies were on a par with them. Despite the fact that the company was lurching to one side, badly, they still wanted to increase their business. I honestly do not know how the company survived because the one key skill, that everyone seemed to have an abundance of was incompetence. From feeling despondent with having far too many problems to address I was now, ‘firing on all cylinders.’
It wasn’t easy and unfortunately having proved that I was capable and not afraid of a calculator, more work was diverted my way. Delia called me in and showed me an advert in a newspaper. Social services were advertising for contract bids for three houses where fifteen people were being supported to live in the community. I was told to prepare a bid for the contracts. What they were not aware of was that I had a copy of Richard’s formula for submitting contract bids so was able to sit down and work the whole thing out. I knew that Richard was a very good accountant so had confidence in his formula. Normally people would underestimate contract bids and six months after winning the contract realise that they hadn’t calculated something like holidays or sickness absence into their final bid. There was no going back and money would have to be juggled from one account to another.
The most valuable people or contract to get was of course the violent types. People like the poor fellow in Liverpool who needed three people with him at all times would find himself, as we had, on a one to one ratio, this is how they made their money. But sometimes contracts were simply handed over, no questions asked, no bids submitted. One day out of the blue Delia tells me that a new fellow will be arriving at one of my houses where there is a spare bedroom. Normally there would be a sort of process that people would follow. Meetings would be arranged, an attempt would be made to relocate the person into an area where they had been born or had family, usually lip service. The person would be introduced to their team which would be recruited and built up. Time would be spent with the person in the area familiarising them with the surrounds.
This time I was told that the fellow was coming straight from Calderstones and was settling in to the house. There were no files, no history, here he is, and he is now your responsibility. Two elderly gentlemen lived in the house and it would be difficult to accurately describe their relationship. They enjoyed having sex with each other, but I wouldn’t say they were lovers, or even homosexuals for that matter. They had been having sex with each other ever since they had met in the asylum they had been locked up in. They had sex with each other because there was no one else to have sex with. There was always lots of inappropriate touching and feeling going on when I would visit and you soon got used to it, like having a wasp at a picnic. How the new fellow would fit in to all of this was anyone’s guess.
I arrived at the house and with the team leader met the new fellow and a social worker. I was told that the files were in the system and should arrive within the next day or two. The social worker claimed not to know much about the fellow, he was acting as a sort of escort for the day. The only thing we had to go on was his list of medication and neither myself nor the team leader liked what we saw. The guy himself was fine, a nice, well-presented, twenty five year old. He was a bit shy but in order to cater for the two old men who lived in the house most of the staff were elderly women who acted like mothers to the guys. I contacted Delia and told her that I was not happy, I was told to get on with it, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
It was the following day that I was contacted and asked to drive across Manchester at high speed. The new fellow had freaked out when inappropriately touched by one of the old guys. The staff were barricaded in the kitchen, with the two old guys, while the new fellow, the one with the carving knife was freaking out in the hallway. I arrived at the house about twenty seconds after the police. About six policemen gathered at the gate of the house and I came to stand beside them. I introduced myself and was surprised to be told that it was my problem. At the moment this was private property and they had no right to enter the premises. I would have to go to the main door of the house, entice the fellow with the carving knife out and when they could see him attack me they would intervene.
I know, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I would see that all of the coppers were taller than me, they all had body armour, truncheons, CS gas and training for such events. I encouraged the loveliest legs in Ireland to carry me forward towards the main door. The guy saw me and decided to come out and meet me. Unfortunately he did not open the door and step out onto the front porch. It would appear that he had forgotten how to use a door handle and made his attempted exit of the property look more like Jack Nicholson coming through that bathroom door in the film, ‘The Shining.’ I was desperately telling myself to think positively, to transmit the thoughts that I wasn’t here to hurt him; I was there to be his friend, to help him. It was also getting more difficult to believe that a person in a frenzy could not focus on one specific target as he seemed to be making a good job of the front door.
I didn’t mind him attacking the front door, I could always get another one, but I knew it was draining the energy from him. The front hall looked as if Jackson Pollock had been let loose with some red paint and a brush. I wondered about the best way to handle him when he eventually came out, it would all of course depend on how he chose to attack me. Whatever way he came at me he was going on the deck until I could get the knife away from him. It was in those few seconds as I waited for him that you really do begin to consider if you have made the correct career choice. However I didn’t have very long to consider my options as he managed to get the front door open and charge at me. Luckily he had tired himself out a fair bit and having to negotiate some steps couldn’t concentrate fully on me which allowed me to move in and catch him.
Basically I grabbed his wrists, put one leg behind his and pushed him over. Thankfully the police were on us within seconds and I was pulled back to safety. The poor guy was now handcuffed and taken to the waiting police van. We needed to get him sedated and taken back to Calderstones. People now wanted someone to blame but I had more important things to deal with. The elderly female staff were really shocked, they had never seen anything like it. The police packed up and moved off. The two old guys enjoyed the diversion and I asked the team leader to see about getting the hallways redecorated and the front door replaced. Delia wanted to see me to hear first-hand what had happened. It didn’t appear that she wanted to complete a report or complain to Calderstones but gossip with her mates about what had happened at work.
Having debriefed Delia on what had happened I gave her the proposal I had worked out for the three houses she had asked me to bid for. I was secretly pleased as I knew the figure was perfect, there would be no need to worry later in the year if there had been enough money in the contact for us to see it comfortably through. She worked her way through the set of papers I had given her and then announced that I was asking far too much. She reduced the whole bid I had calculated by thirty five thousand pounds. There was neither rhyme nor reason behind her decision; it just looked the correct figure now. I tried to reason with her explaining that her bid would see us short later in the year but she wouldn’t have it, she knew what she was doing, she had been in learning disabilities for a lot longer than me. So how wonderful, not only was I sorting out a mountain of problems that existed now at NWCS I was helping create more down the line. Ah well, at least I could see that there would always be work for me to do.
Celtic Illumination, part 386, It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
It felt really good to have my new finance system roll out across the Manchester operation. For me it was a fantastic piece of work, in that, it was simple and straight forward; even a fool could use it. Of course there is nothing in a team leader’s job description to say that they shouldn’t be a fool and a dammed good one at that. You would not believe the excuses and mistakes that came in across my desk. I had prided myself on creating a simple and easy to use system, yet, these people, in responsible positions, were unable to follow basic instructions. Some even refused to use the new system as they only understood the old system. I understood enough about resistance to change, in the business place, to know I would face some opposition but what was happening was ridiculous.
The Harvard business school talks about pseudological reasons, chronic quarrels, and sullen hostility as some forms of the resistance one might face, but they never explain how embarrassing it is to see how stupid some people really are. Pauline had decided that as I was in charge of the accounts system, and had implemented the new scheme, that I should oversee the accounts from her houses too. I didn’t mind, in fact the way I had set the system up meant that a shaved monkey and a shaved French speaking monkey at that too, could satisfactorily check the accounts every week. What interested me was that Delia agreed that I should cover all the accounts. In my empire building way I saw this as a bonus. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t want to take over Pauline’s houses; I had enough problems with my own. I was creating a niche for myself, but I couldn’t help but think that there was some sort of arrangement, or agreement, or understanding between Pauline and Delia.
I didn’t know how, or why, or from where, but a clump of job applications had been dumped on my desk. These people had applied for jobs, there were these application forms oh and by the way you and Pauline will be interviewing them next Tuesday. It was interesting that the company did not insist that people responsible for recruitment had any formal training, sort of showed how much interest they had in recruiting decent employees. It also I felt, let down every applicant, as each of them would have put a considerable amount of effort into their application and their CV. But the most important people in the equation, the people supported in the communities, were being short changed, because the system their money was paying for, to ensure only good staff came through the filter, wasn’t there, didn’t exist. Smoke and mirrors, or as the renowned American journalist Jimmy Breslin said, “Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors… If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours.”
I know Breslin was referring to American politics but it seems to fit what was happening in the world of learning disabilities very well indeed. I do remember one or two people that came through in that batch. One had worked for the company before, his wife still worked for the company. He had been fired for drinking on duty. Now when I say drinking on duty I don’t mean nipping out for a quick half pint of beer, I mean being found on the settee at shift change in the morning with an empty bottle of vodka clamped to his chest. He seemed to be genuinely apologetic and assured me that he was off the drink. I waited until the next senior managers meeting and then asked if anyone knew the fellow. Two or three of the managers did and I explained that he had re-applied for a job. The general consensus was that he should be given the chance, a close eye would be kept on him and if he fell short of the high standards we had consistently failed to achieve, he would be out. I was happy with that decision.
One fellow did give me a bit of a smile as he had submitted two applications. Admittedly they were two months apart. In the first application he claimed that he had basic educational qualifications, no problem with that, but in his second application he claimed to be a professor of social work with a specialisation in learning disabilities. He was a Nigerian chap and perhaps wrongly but I expected Pauline to engage with him more than I could. Pauline seemed reluctant to talk to him so I began to run through the standard quota of questions. I was about to take him through the guy buying the Teletubbie tee shirt, when he stopped me and asked what Teletubbies were. I quizzed him about his qualifications on the two applications and he answered only as a Nigerian could, explaining that my shoe laces were tied too tightly. I then came up with one very quick solution. I wouldn’t give him a job; I would give him a two week trial.
If he could do the job, which would be reported on by his team leader and fellow workers, he would be given a full time post. If he couldn’t hack it he would be out. I thought this to be a much fairer system but was still faced with the problem of being short staffed across the Manchester operation and not having a budget to advertise. By the way it wasn’t long before the staff at the house where I had sent the Nigerian fellow were contacting me and complaining. Every evening at a quarter to five he would be stood standing at the front door of the house with his coat on waiting for five o clock so that he could go. He would not prepare food, or involve himself in any domestic chores as this was women’s work and therefore beneath him. He wasn’t asked to take on a full time contract with the company, despite being a fully qualified professor of social work who knew absolutely nothing about the Teletubbies. What’s the world coming to?
I felt that I had underpinned the Manchester operation with my new accounts system; I had given it a solid foundation, now I intended to take the company forward with my new recruitment programme. Like Natural Breaks in Liverpool, who determined their success by the number of people from other organisations who came to visit them and learn how they did things, I expected to have queues at the door soon, not just for my accounts system and my proposed recruitment plan but for the other ideas that were now spilling from my head. I was, as they say, on form, I had found my feet. Once again the key components of my plan were simplicity and the involvement of others. We had always said that we were supporting people to live in their communities, more smoke and mirrors. We didn’t support people to live in the community, no one did, we contained people. If they were truly members of a community they would be out and about, they would know their neighbours, be members of church groups, and form action committees.
But it was the fuel strike that brought it all together for me. I had fallen in to the same trap that many people may have. I needed staff so I would place an advert in the local newspaper, and pay for the privilege. People would respond to the advert, apply for jobs and the whole meaningless process would trundle through its paces. When you set it all out it really does become a meaningless process with no real positive outcome. To describe it as a hit and miss affair would be generous in the extreme. I decided that we should focus on the community for each person supported. Each house would now become an individual unit and we would only recruit people who lived within walking distance of that house. This way the staffing situation would not be affected by fuel strikes or transport disruptions.
If the staff lived within walking distance then we should have no problems, plus, if the staff lived within walking distance they were already part of the local community and who better to assimilate the people we supported into the local community than the community themselves. In Liverpool I would drive for thirty minutes to my place of work where I knew nobody, I didn’t know the history of the area, who ran the corner shop, where the local church hall was, who the local police officers on the beat were, who the trouble makers were and where they hung out. It seemed to make sense to me. Advertising in local church halls, shops, post offices, by placing a card in a window cost nothing. A carefully created story for the local free newspaper served as an advert and got good coverage. Each team leader was now responsible for their recruitment, we were even finding ourselves with an excess of staff.
Liverpool now wanted to have a word with me, like the accounts system they were interested in learning about a recruitment procedure that produced an excess of suitable staff for no cost at all, unless you took in to account my time spent placing and creating ads and stories. I was sat sitting with Steve, the director in Liverpool who ran the finance side of things, explaining my new recruitment approach, when the two owners of the company came in. I had seen them before, never spoken to them, they were far too important for something like that. There was a lot of hand shaking and smiling and congratulations on the new project. It was going to be difficult launching this new system in Liverpool if I was over in Manchester, so they were creating a new position for me. Would I be interested in becoming the Deputy Director of Operations, deputy boss of both Liverpool and Manchester, which would allow me to straddle both camps and act as boss should the Liverpool or Manchester boss be absent. Deputy Director of Operations, I couldn’t stop smiling for a week, but I knew there would be some support staff in Liverpool who wouldn’t be too happy with my success. But as I say, these people had started at the bottom and liked it.
Celtic Illumination, part 385, Be — don’t try to become.
The best part of the working day in Manchester was the drive to work. It took me one hour, but that was only if I left home at seven in the morning. By the time I got to the Denton turnoff I could see the traffic backing up in front of me, and although I was in work one hour early, I wasn’t snarled up in the morning rush hour. A bit of a misnomer that, as nothing rushes, everyone just drives to their nearest motorway and parks up. I would like to apologise to most people in the North of England, especially those living along the West Lancs Road between Liverpool and Manchester. That seventeen year old with the crazy loud music passing your house, and waking you from your slumber, was in fact little old me. It was like when I was writing, I needed something to blank everything else out.
At this very moment I have David Bowie performing Drive in Saturday playing on a loop. It’s already been going for an hour and a half, but hey ho, if it aint broke and all that. The hour long journey would actually pass very quickly, all I knew was that my head was usually throbbing when I got to Manchester. All my team leaders knew that I was in work for eight so if they were on night shift they knew they could contact me should they need me, before going home. I don’t know how to describe how I felt at that particular time. There was so much to do I really didn’t know where to start. I’m sure some smartarse would say remember the old Lao-tzu proverb about the longest journey beginning with the first step, well this was more like Riverdance, first step my arse. And don’t you think problems are like the fabled lemmings and their cliff diving? They don’t come in ones.
I can remember sitting at my desk, shell shocked would probably best describe my mood. One of my team leaders had been acting as duty manager the previous evening so in he comes to hand everything over to me. Nothing much out of the ordinary except he has had a little problem with the duty manager’s telephone. He pressed the wrong buttons and now the whole telephone will only function in Spanish. And there’s no apology, the phone is now in Spanish, it’s your problem, get on with it. Neither was I impressed with Delia and her recruitment procedure, which is a bit pot calling kettle and all of that, I know, seeing as how she chose me. But as I had compiled a report stating that Pauline should be fired I was concerned that she now was a service manager, like me.
I was worried but decided to put my military head back on. If I worked harder than everyone else then I would become invaluable to the operation and could feel proud of myself. Although I wanted the position so that I could actually make a positive improvement in people lives, I also knew that I was now in a world of back scratching and stabbing. I needed to distance myself from the other managers. There were four service managers altogether. Pauline and myself ran all the houses, we had seven each. Another service manager ran the respite side of things and the forth manger ran the low level support, the people who only needed two or three hours support per week. I was the only male on the team, plenty of people were warning me to be careful, that such an environment could turn nasty. Truthfully I never thought like that and I don’t think I ever had a sexist thought about the abilities of any of my colleagues.
They were all women, but that wasn’t the reason they were not very good at their jobs. What I now became involved in was what was known as, ‘empire building’ in the forces. You would build your own little empire, within a section or squadron, where you could ensure that you remained top dog. I knew that most people were afraid of mathematics so I volunteered to take over the accounts system. You could tell that an awful lot of people were pleased that I had stepped forward on the accounts front, but I often wondered if they secretly hoped for me to fall on my face. They would have a long time to wait for that to happen, for not only did I have the most loveliest legs in all of Ireland, I was a fecking genius too.
I realised that all of the houses both in Liverpool and Manchester had their own way of submitting their regular accounts, but each house was different. Really couldn’t believe that Richard, a professional accountant, hadn’t picked up on this. Perhaps he thought that other problems like the theft or sexual abuse needed his attention before this. For me this underlined the whole problem, it would provide a solid base from which to build. I did a wee bit of research and came up with a set of forms that I felt covered all requirements. I passed it through the senior management team and they all nodded their approval. I then took it to the local printers and asked for two examples, one A5 size and one A4. I would choose from the examples they provided me with.
All I had to do now was wait. I wasn’t sure what sort of budget or accounting system Delia was operating from but she seemed to favour buying people flowers. I have always looked on buying bunches of flowers as a complete waste of money, despite the fact that I found out mother number two has her own flower shop. And neither am I a follower of Osho, who said, “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.” Delia was buying bunches of flower at forty pounds a time and sending them as thank you gifts to other people in the company. For a start why someone should be given a gift for doing their job was beyond me, Delia was currying favour; she was playing the long game. The reason I remember the flowers and extravagance of it all was that when I got my examples back from the printers, I decided on the smaller A5 accounts book, and asked for five hundred pounds to order enough in for the Manchester operation.
This was a decision she would have to pass to the directors. So it’s okay to buy flowers and chocolates and wine but not anything that will improve the operational effectiveness of the company. I was summoned to Liverpool and met with Steve, one of the directors and company accounts director. He was impressed with what I had set up and offered there and then to fund my project, explaining that if it worked well in Manchester, he would bring my system over and implement it in Liverpool. I knew that I was theoretically one step ahead of the pack but of course this was civvy street. I had intended getting each team leader in, explaining what the new system was all about and how it worked. I would be able to address any question or queries they had but no. I would have to organise a training day.
Present the project in one foul swoop and make it official. I knew that half the team leaders were bent and that in a group I was going to face some opposition. My new system would stop any little scams they had going. And they did, they bitched and argued, mainly Pauline’s lot, saying that only my team leaders should do this, they, as Pauline’s team leaders wouldn’t have to do it. I was certainly learning how to be very diplomatic very quickly indeed. The people in Manchester had been allowed to do their own thing for so long they felt that it was their company and basically who the hell did I think I was coming in and telling them what to do. I knew that I was going to have to replace at least half of them but I had been told that I had a zero budget for recruitment, by the way, which I was now in charge of. Delia could spend two hundred pounds a week on gifts but I could have no money for advertising for new staff!
Something very interesting happened then, there was some form of national fuel strike. People couldn’t get any petrol so couldn’t make it to their place of work. This of course affected me as people couldn’t drive to work and the public transport system was in chaos. It was bad enough being understaffed but now with staff not turning up for shifts I was in a right pickle. The team leaders, who should be dealing with the problem on the ground, threw their arms in the air and then came to me for help. They knew the people being supported better than me, they knew the staff and how closely they lived, they were the people best suited to sorting the problem out. I’m sure Richard and all those other professional managers in the UK would have some form of parlour game to sort this all out, but I didn’t have the time to play games. We got through it with a lot of pleading and overtime, but one morning soon after the fuel strike I was blasting my way across the country, probably with someone like ZZ Top with me in the car, when it came to me. A new approach to recruitment, you will buy flowers but not advertising for staff, well, as they say in all the best public relations firms, watch this space.
Celtic Illumination, part 384, “You must have chaos within you, to give birth to a dancing star.”
It was nice to think back to the numerous discussions we had in the air force based on the, ‘If you could start all over again knowing then what you know now,’ theory and realise that there may have been some sensible reasoning in our drunken ramblings. Some people were generally against my rapid rise through the ranks, they tended to be support staff who had been so for years, the sort of people who started at the bottom and liked it there. The people who supported me tended to be the Jan’s of this world, as if they too realised that learning disabilities needed able and forthright people to lead from the front. When I started I hadn’t a clue what the job or situation would present me with, however I now saw an environment where I could do some good and I liked being there.
I wish I could have said the same for Manchester. I arrived and was given seven houses with the associated staff teams where thirty people were supported to live in the community. I was now responsible for thirty people, I held their bank accounts, even was responsible for their motorcars, I think I managed a fleet of two dozen Motability cars. I was also responsible for the staff who had been allowed to do whatever they wanted for the previous six or seven months. As you may imagine many of the staff did not appreciate me coming into their world, the ones who were conning the system didn’t want their scams detected or ended. On top of all of this I had seven team leaders who all wanted to be service manager and couldn’t see why one of them hadn’t been promoted rather than bring a new person in from Liverpool.
At a managers meeting I was introduced by Delia as ex-military, someone who was coming in to sort things out. The word spread through the company and I’m sure the grapevine waited to see what my first move would be like. I couldn’t help but think of the time at boarding school when we got the new dean, Bam. Bam was six foot six tall, pure muscle. Every evening before second study juniors who had been naughty, Brian Lavery and myself had been caught smoking, were to line up outside the Deans office, open the doors to the senior study hall and be punished in front of all the seniors, some of whom were betting on who, among those being disciplined, would be the first to cry. We were the first boys to be punished at the school by Bam so everyone waited to see just how vicious he was going to be. Most of the priests at the school were cruel bastards, we expected Bam to top them all. When he told us to go get our towels we thought he was going to make us mop up our own blood, but instead he gave us cold showers. I knew the staff at Manchester expected heads to roll, but I knew I would have to come up with my own version of a cold shower for the miscreants.
That is until Delia called me in. You could never really tell what Delia was thinking, so I waited for her to speak. My first task was to investigate and report on an incident at one of my houses. A support worker was taking one of the people supported to his home where his boyfriend was continually raping him. Apart from the sexual abuse the pair of them had stolen thirty thousand pounds from the fellows account. The police were involved as were social services. I was to complete a report so that we could run through our own disciplinary procedure and fire the guy. My first thought was to grab a baseball bat and go pay them a visit, my second thought was to go back to Liverpool and ask for my old job back. I couldn’t believe how cruel people could be, but I also knew that unless good people, like myself came forward, the corrupt system would keep on rolling. I couldn’t help but think of the words of a fellow Irishman, Edmund Burke, who came up with what is claimed to be the most popular quote of modern times, in that, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”
Bolstered by the rumours Delia had spread about me I was able to get some immediate respect and response from the staff in the various houses. Team leaders were upset that I now claimed the houses as my own and was taking their authority away from them. Having an ex-military man in charge was bad enough but an ex-military man who was a bit of a maths geek was really bad news for them. I can assure you there was not enough hours in the day and I wondered if I would ever get the job completed or at least feel that I had control of everything. You could sort one problem out and six more would be hammering away at your office door, not that I was ever in my office.
If the staff were not trying to steal the money from the accounts of the people they supported they would be at the opposite end of the scale and be afraid to touch it. Before I had completed my first week I had been called in front of Delia again and asked to open another investigation. This time it was a team leader and one of mine at that. Pauline was a big, black, loud, lady who ran a bungalow where four people were supported. Certain members of staff were complaining that Pauline controlled the house far too tightly and that the reason she did this was to cover her activity with the accounts. She would do the shopping every week, claiming that it was better to bulk buy. There was never anything out of the ordinary on the receipts but the staff complained that half of the shopping remained in Pauline’s car and they would often run short of food. She even kept the disabled parking badge, to enable her to do the shopping and the staff, using the Motability car, were now getting parking tickets.
It was frustrating when all you want to do is focus on people and try to give them a decent life. I had forty such souls but could never concentrate on these problems as there were so many others. And meetings, what is it with social workers and bloody meetings? The amount of time wasted travelling back and forth across Manchester was unbelievable and the meeting usually didn’t achieve anything, but I had to attend. Sometimes I would have to team up with a social worker and make a visit to sort some situation out. I was to meet up with a young female social worker one day, I went to the offices where she worked and presented myself at the front door. It was a mid-terraced house rather than a purpose built office block. A social worker opened the door and began telling me off saying that I shouldn’t be there unless I was supported by my staff. I know I was tired and confused but to be pegged as having a learning disability was a new one on me. He was told where to go and what to do with his attitude rather sharpish.
The social worker I was picking up was a little black girl and as we got in to my car she was squealing with excitement. I asked her why so excited and she said she loved Irishmen and their cars because they always had such interesting music playing. I don’t know about interesting but when I thought about the tape she was trying to get to play contained Mongolian throat singing and Japanese drumming I understood she may have a point. It’s the only music to travel to. So you spend half an hour driving to her office another half an hour going to the fellow’s house, ten minutes talking to his mother and then reverse your route back. Waste, waste, waste and not much achieved. I’m sure some of these people have never heard of telephones.
I was making headway with my investigation into Pauline. The senior staff member at the house was an Irishman and we bonded immediately. He was comfortable enough with me to sit down and tell me everything that went on. Pauline’s main business was as a temporary foster mother. She provided care for children who had been taken away from their parents for whatever reason. This is why she was almost never at the house, but she was contactable by telephone and would pitch up as and when asked. It was an in house joke that she used the house funds to provide food for the house, the staff and the people supported there, but she also bought food for her own house and wards using the house fund. Hard to prove but this guy tells me he has seen it with his own eyes. She was also very handy handing in petrol receipts especially as she didn’t normally drive the Motability car preferring her little sporty Mercedes.
Her second business was providing a telephone sex line where she had interesting conversations with gentlemen callers. The guy said it was quite funny when her telephone would ring and she would have to excuse herself but could be heard going in to the “Hello big boy do you want to know what I am wearing,” routine as she moved away to a more remote location. I knew that she was bad news and that I would have to set a few traps, involving the house accounts such as the shopping and petrol so that I could get solid evidence against her. What she did outside was of no concern to me; apart from tell me to use a twelve foot barge pole when dealing with her. I got back to the office and constructed my report, what I had found out, what my proposed course of action would be and Pauline being fired as the end result of the whole operation. So I presented myself to Delia and handed over the typed report. As she took the report, in a sealed envelope from me, Pauline came in with a cup of coffee for Delia. “Oh,” says Delia, “I’m sorry but you will have to find a new team leader for Pauline’s house.” Great, I thought, she’s fired her already, but no, this was learning disabilities. Delia had promoted Pauline to service manager.