We moved to a new house. Left our 10th floor Manchester perch without Bess. Liberated our stuff from storage. The odd bit of fruit inadvertently packed seven months ago generating thoughts of passing time, change and cone of shame wearage.
We now live in the highest market town in England. A nifty 55 min commute to Manchester. Bitterly cold with numerous dogs to vicariously enjoy. Stunning walks in every direction. High Peak. Children and partners pitched up for a lateral flow test filled Christmas. Love and laughter. Labour and walks.
Unpacking tales continue. A poignant note in with the crimbo decs.
At the centre of town is water action. A town pump for people to take the water(s) not bottled and sold by Nestle or funnelled off to the nearby Crescent Hotel.
A woman filling two bottles she carefully packed in a small, well worn backpack. Do you come here often? Twice a day. Every day. It’s like walking a dog. Without the dog. I haven’t got a dog so this is my dog walk. In fact I am the dog. Laughter. Back up the hill. With her backpack.
An older couple. Filling a bag with large plastic bottles to pack in the boot of their car. Like a supermarket shop. What’s the water like? I’m 78. Eyes crinkling from an oversized, brightly coloured face mask. Can you tell?
A loosely bunched cloth bag of small, battered Buxton water bottles and lids balanced on the edge of the pump basin. A woman neatly filling and lidding. It’s good for my arthritis.
You here for the water? This is my last bottle. Will be finished soon… Windswept mop and builders gear. A Sainsbury’s bag packed with numerous 1-2 litre bottles. I’ve not drunk tap water for over 25 years. I wouldn’t. It’s full of plastic and rubbish. I used to drive over here before we moved to just outside Buxton. How often do you fill up? Shrug. Depends how much pasta me and the wife eat in a week.
It’s hard to imagine what it will be like to live here. I remember my nephew asking my younger sis soon after Connor’s funeral what happens if we move away from Oxford. I’ll never move I thought without missing a beat. During that long hot summer of 2013. Never.
Eight years on. We’re a long way from home. What was ‘home’. Then.
We live on the edge of town. It seems easier to think about life and loss away from dense suburbs. Space to roam, silence and beauty. And pump encounters. I reckon it will be ok.
She arrived as a pup sixteen or so years ago, joining a family with some big personalities, noise and laughter. Chunky Stan was already in situ, solid, demanding and desperately seeking solace. Manchester United level footy skills (in Alex Ferguson days). Out-dribbling us with dazzling paw and head work.
Connor. Laughing Boy. His bond with Stan extended to a special dialect and much face licking [I know].
“How was your day, Connor?”
“Hey Connor, how was school?!”
“Connor, Stan wants to know how school was today.”
“Weioll Schtanny it wasch a gwood dway. Schue was lawghing in aschemblee.. Phwarhawhaw!”
If I said Bess wants to know, Connor would adopt a high-pitched sing-song voice and say something short. And closed. A tick Bess exercise. We knew she was a brief stand-in for the main pooch.
It was always about the Chunky one.
An unusual dog
Bess didn’t like us going away. Dog sitting mates would anxiously report they’d not seen her for a couple of days. She’d not eaten her food.
When friends took her for a walk on the local rec she’d scarper when off her lead. Crossing three roads to home. Sitting patiently on the doorstep. Waiting to be let back in. A comedy catch up caper for those passing…
“You looking for that little dawg? She ran thatta a way!!!”
And fear coated experience for the chaser.
When Connor was admitted to the unit, a mate brought round a large box of homemade coffee cupcakes. A proper cupcake plastic storage box with an airtight lid. We came back in later to find the box on the kitchen floor. Open with several missing cakes.
“Gawd,” we said. “Bloody dogs.”
Rosie woke a few hours later. With a crushed cup cake under her shoulder.
There was a cake under the covers in each bed.
Connor died. We grew older. Stan lost his sight in one eye and then his eyeball in the other. Before the operation to remove his eye, the vet warned Jack Russell dogs were not good without sight. The next day we returned to the specialist surgery in the leafy Abingdon suburb. The vet walked into the waiting room cuddling a contented Stan, and handed him over. He was good to go.
The next few years involved negotiating grief, fighting for accountability, love and family life. The house became quieter as we slowly left childhood behind. The kids, their friends, the cooking, feeding, scrapping, laughter, chafing, chiding and noise reduced. Stan almost imperceptibly withdrew, his exuberance and affection demands became quieter and his presence shrank. He no longer came out to greet (or growl at) visitors, instead hovering in doorways and melting away to find quiet spaces. He died in January 2017.
From March 2020, life consisted of online catch ups with family and friends, short lived quizzes, work and walking round the local park and neighbourhood. Bess became our focus, our comfort stone.
“What about Bess...?” a constant refrain.
Without trying, she filled some of the complicated spaces of love, loss, absence and trauma. The whiff of dog breath, fleeting touch and intimate nearness. Always sitting or laying close by.
Bess in Manchester
We moved. Bess remained stoic and undemanding.
“Christ. How’s a 10th floor, city centre gig gonna work with Bess?” we wondered, as our lives were decanted into crates and we set off for northern adventures.
Bess rolled with it.
A 10th floor routine was soon established in which she would walk to the window and front door to let us know it was time to go out and about. She became a city dog. Frequenting cafes and bars, canal walks and frequent petting.
The building we’re living in is dog friendly with resident red carpet hounds. Milly the British Bulldog. Branston the French Bulldog, dachshunds, chihuahuas…
Only two weeks ago, a young couple in the lift commented Bess was their favourite dog in the flats. A week later, after speedily deteriorating, she was put down peacefully.
I dunno. She was old and had heart issues for the last three years. I thought her dying would be sad. Inevitable. Almost welcome given her increasing discomfort and the 10th floor hikes in and out. A friend messaged. Clear the decks of meetings tomorrow and ignore your emails. Nah. I’ll be ok.
Bess was a beautiful soul and much loved family member. I agree with George. I hope you are chilling somewhere with Connor and Stan and they ain’t treating you like a tick-Bess exercise. You were always so much more. It just took us [me] a while to realise.
Been distracted by the emotional, physical and other work involved in changing jobs and leaving our beyond loved, comfy, tatty home of 20 years. Grubby, sticky finger prints, lego bits, detritus, memories invisibly tattooed in every space. Dust. Stuff.
Still. Job done. Belongings in storage in Southall. Currently in a rented flat 10 floors above central Manchester. Our lives involve scooping up Bess several times a day for a blitz around a newly landscaped area just off the Oxford Road. Trip tropping along a small section of the River Medlock, dodging diggers, picking up shit, passing the soon to reopen Fac251 and a long line of Ubers dropping off food to the students in the block opposite.
We roam the compact city in awe of the friendliness and vibrancy, density of buildings and building work, sights, sounds, smells, broken glass, canals, trams, buses. Manchester Met too is quite the revelation. Grounded, ambitious, enthusiastic, lively, committed. It feels a good fit. State school (first-generation university) hovering in exclusionary spaces can be uncomfortable despite good intentions.
Catching up with this week
I’m not sure what to write about learning disability related stuff this week. It feels suffocating. Reviews published documenting horror and brutality (again). Recommendations responded to in a woefully incoherent way by Helen Whatley, Minister for summat. Empty wordage?
Evidence around the ways in which people with learning disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic (mirroring how they are disproportionately impacted more widely in life) continues to be published.
I sat in on a Court of Protection hearing earlier.
A person with learning disabilities detained for over 20 years in an Assessment and Treatment Unit. [Can we ditch this nonsensical name for what are effectively prisons?] Ready for discharge in 2013 while a home – with stuff, memories, more memories and dust – has yet to be sorted. The unfolding hearing involved a stand-off between a well thought through plan for a home/support by a specialist provider working with the family, and business as usual cruelty by the other ‘interested’ parties. Including commissioners and NHS England and No Improvement.
The judge was an odd mix of righteous anger and irritation about the lack of progress, and apparent carelessness about the ongoing brutalisation of lives. [Paraphrasing] ‘I would have said this was glacial progress but recent global warming has made glacial movement faster. Do we have an end date in mind or an end of decade date…?’
The hearing leapt to discussion about an adjournment. No decision today. More information was needed. Eight years on. Diary talk. The end of October for one day. November for two days? Busy, important people. Would new witnesses need cross-examining? Yes.
X’s [sorry, (no) transparency order in place] parents sat in court, barely visible through the Microsoft Teams lens. Their mum fiddled with something throughout. A tissue? I almost can’t begin to imagine the pain of listening to a set of well oiled, privileged bods treat someone’s life as a thing to poke, prod, describe as clinical presentation and dismiss. And then of course I can. I well up again writing these words. Nine hours later. The sadness in listening is indescribable.
Towards the end of the hour, after (dis) interested parties talked about adjournment like the moving of a Hermes delivery, X’s mum spoke up. Disrupting the proceedings. The order. The power. Unruliness. A smirk from one counsel. Teams court unusually offering the view of the judge.
Her frustration, disbelief and despair were palpable. She asked how this delay was possible. She and her partner were in their late 70s and early 80s. They would be dead before their child was released and living in their own home. Their lives had been destroyed.
In a different city now, mate. We’ve finally scattered. Or scarpered from home.
Belongings in storage.
The usual countdown to July 4 disrupted. Places and spaces stuffed with memories, family and friends, distant and muted. The annual, chaotic nosh and booze gig halted by a pandemic you know nothing about. Though I think of those years you’d ball your fist tight, shove it under our noses, ask ‘Did I sneeze on you?’ and wonder.
Losing well worn, familiar grief spaces I worry about not missing you with the intensity and pain that is the lot of the bereaved parent. With so much new to see, hear, smell, absorb, distract I almost forget at times.
That’s ok, right? We’ve carried on, smashing life in our different ways. As we always did. Celebrating the joy, brilliance and laughter you brought to the party.
We moved this week. After months of sorting. Loft archaeology revealing the mundane, treasure, in between and more (shite). Filling a skip, sneaking bits out. In out, in out, shake it all about. A dance of memories, devastation, detritus and love.
Loft work was nothing compared to saying goodbye to people in a series of planned and impromptu gigs (thank you). A lost Saturday afternoon at the farm where Connor worked with teaching assistants Big Sue and Tina, and Fran. Nosh, drinks, karaoke, walks and hang outs. Family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and ‘strangers’. Boundary smashing in the best possible ways. It was almost too much when Tom’s mate (the half ear on the cover of my book) came round for a shower because their boiler was broken.
Twenty years is a long time in one house.
We met with the paramedic lead who attended the unit on the morning Connor died. He got in touch a while back through a friend of Rosie’s. A decent, clearly brilliant health professional who remains ‘stumped’ by what he and his team experienced. The carelessness and disregard layering that day and everything before it. Overshooting the Slade site entrance with no direction. Banging on the door to be let in. A decorator outside oblivious to unfolding devastation. No answers in response to key questions repeatedly asked around how, when and what? Or why?
A never (ever) event.
We also received the draft tv script about what happened to Connor. I can’t say much more other than reading it felt right. Reference to the London bus tour Connor and I did as not sentimental or perfect but ‘the opposite of sad’ stayed with me. Yep. It was just this.
With belongings in storage, we called into the cemetery. For a bit more sorting and tidying. And headed up north.
Laura Booth’s inquest started this week after four long years. I’m not going to write much here*, I’m too enraged and upset for her parents (and for the families who have had similar experiences). Laura’s death (aged 21) was originally labelled as natural causes. Her inquest came about after Jayne McCubbin intervened.
The inquest is being live tweeted by George Julian. Following a now familiar route of a reputation obsessed NHS Trust instructing a well practiced barrister who draws on a bag of grubby tactics (parent/patient blame, witness coaching/discrediting, obfuscation, etc…) with no apparent regard for the devastated family sitting in front of him.
This week Laura’s parents listened to their daughter reduced to an ‘unstable and complex case’ with ‘a mental age of 18-24 months’. Too complex to feed while an anecdote of noshing a bit of mashed potato and peas was repeatedly shoehorned under the coroner’s nose to try to discredit weighty evidence of malnourishment.
She ate mashed potato and peas.
Ma am, I want to make sure this witness who wasn’t here yesterday is aware evidence has been given she ate mashed potato and peas.
Laura was starving.
So many questions raised by witness testimony carefully obscured by the work of the Trust’s barrister. Double take moments lost in ‘moving on swiftly’ sleight of hand activity. A medic who claimed an abbreviation in medical notes always confused him. A nutrition supplement not stocked by the Trust only sourced a week later despite copious notes that the patient hadn’t eaten for weeks. No feeding charts kept because, because ‘the parents’.
We’ve seen across the live tweeted inquests that coroners are often ill-equipped to understand and respond to the deaths they are examining. However well meaning or enlightened they may be (and many aren’t), they face the likes of Paul Spencer (or Peas as he is now in my mind) and other regular state funded barristers. Families don’t have recourse to funded legal representation and don’t know they need to. The years (decades) of work these barristers have in cementing relationships with coroners and the trusts they work for is pervasive. I was struck earlier when Peas told the coroner to make a note about a particular point. Evidence of chummy ease and privilege dripping across the coronial system while Laura’s parents sit traumatised.
Various Trust staff gave evidence this week, meithering about Laura’s lack of nutrition while doing crap all about it. An uncomfortable witnessing of buck passing, of trying to duck out of responsibility, claims of lack of ‘specialist knowledge’ alongside claims that the best care possible ‘in the circumstances’ had been provided.
Laura was starving.
There were drops of sense and brilliance. I remain in awe of these drops of sense and brilliance [I know I shouldn’t]. The piecemeal yet rock solid set of allies. This time Prof Sam Ahmedzai, a retired palliative consultant who became friends with the Booth family, especially Laura with whom he had a lovely relationship. He described how:
Earlier, Dr Patel an expert gastroenterology witness took the stand. A shift in the shape and tone of evidence. Dr P was baffled by illogical evidence. You try and feed patients, he said. The risks involved in not feeding patients are obvious. Staff didn’t engage with these obvious risks and yet there was email discussion about the risks of stopping nutrition. Dr P said no one gets better by continuing to ‘try harder’ which is what the records were suggesting and this emphasis places responsibility on patients to get better. Which is wrong. He said [bleary screen] Laura’s parents had tried as hard as they could to help her. Medical intervention was essential.
Storm clouds must be gathering in Trust towers in the face of this unassailable sense, knowledge and expertise, I thought, reading the tweets. Dr P couldn’t be dismissed as a ‘biased’ family friend.
An adjournment was immediately requested.
Ma’am I’d like to invite you to adjourn to enable me to take instructions from my team here, I’ve received lots of instructions…
I can imagine the maelstrom Dr Patel generated with his openness and honesty. We witnessed it during Connor’s inquest. Footy match type cheers when a witness ‘scored’ for the Trust and agitation/mobile phone activity when sense was spoken. Virtual inquests are different in terms of the visibility of these reactions though the distress experienced by the Booths was obvious as it was mentioned by the coroner.
Cross-examination restarted and the barrister kicked off with a question around how complex Laura was. Previous witnesses had expanded their complexity claims under questioning to the point she was the most complex patient in the whole, wide world. Dr P said, yes, Laura was unique and robustly deflected clunky attempts to place the blame on her (and her parents). Peas immediately turned to the speed with which Dr P had written his expert report.
The inquest has been adjourned till Tuesday. Leaving Laura’s parents and family in a liminal space of further brutalisation with more to come. The actions of Trust barristers are deliberate, calculated, cruel, practiced and formulaic. It’s becoming possible to anticipate the direction questioning will take. We’ve faced the same barrister (and colleagues from his chambers) in various proceedings as have other families.
The archive of live tweets George has been creating since 2015 is now a substantial evidence base which enables the identification of similarities and patterns underpinning the preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities, and the practiced response of the state to these deaths. A starter for ten:
People are denied basic health care and dying of starvation, drowning, scabies, constipation with little comment.
Medical (or even public health) knowledge is erased when health professionals come into contact with patients with learning disabilities.
No one takes responsibility for the patient’s health care. Action is punted into the next week/never never without scrutiny.
There’s a collusion around this abdication of responsibility. An acceptance that doing nothing is fine. No one asks ‘why?’
This, in turn, is underpinned by a belief/acceptance or even desire that the patient will die early.
State funded response:
Protecting the Trust’s reputation is key.
Winning is key. There is no low too low to sink to in terms of winning points.
The patient is non human and therefore irrelevant. Their family are non-human by association.
The coroner is a sitting duck in terms of schmoozing with fake charm and too often oven ready to be swayed by othering techniques.
I hope the Booths are able to find some peace this weekend. And hold onto the moments of the inquest which were about love. Laura, her mum and dad. Prof A. Love and social justice. Dr P. George Julian. Jayne McGubbins. And everyone following, retweeting or engaging with the live coverage.
An overland truck trip in the late 80s. Amersham to Kenya with a bunch of strangers who answered an ad in Time Out. The above thread continued to explain how 12 years ago on holiday in Devon (the yurt gig where Connor thought the farmer was wanted by Interpol) we met a photographer who said that the last Super 8 developer globally was closing that October.
By this time, these two tatty films had travelled across Africa for 6 or so months, been sent home to me in the post (I jumped truck halfway through the trip), and moved house at least 6 times. They featured on this blog during a half arsed decluttering period back in 2011.
I tweeted asking if anyone knew of anywhere that developed this film or if I should finally chuck em. Bruce Bennett, a film studies academic, pointed me at Gauge Films who, in turn, said the Super 8 Reversal Lab in the Netherlands was my best bet. There I ‘met’ Frank.
Frank talked me through the process of getting the films developed by an arm of Canadian Film Rescue International. I had to courier them to him by Dec 17, prepare myself for a Brexit related hike in price [groan] and not expect to hear anything until March this year. The charge was pricey (you had to pay a set fee if there was nothing on the film and more if there was).
It was unlikely there would be anything to see given how much time had passed. Could I really not find out?
I’d pretty much forgotten the whole shebang when Frank emailed this week to say there was footage and the films were being couriered back home. Wow.
It was exciting holding the super smart package earlier. The revisiting, rediscovery even, of a piece of the past. The transformation of yellow ripped covering, of black snappy plastic casing and film into something else. I emptied the carefully wrapped content onto my lap.
What the actual fuck? Noooooooo….. I shook the padded envelope. Just a postcard. And two reels of film.
What do I do with these?! I asked Rich.
Er, find a cine projector…
We both laughed. He laughed more than I did.
I dug out Frank’s email to work out what had gone wrong. There was mention of a download. I emailed him and within seconds had the link. Two files. The first was black and white arial footage of Niagara Falls. [No idea. Rich laughed even more.] The second, 3 minutes of eerie, silent, grainy, washed out, truck trip footage. [40 seconds below]
The significance of holding onto artefacts is something I ponder over. My recent skip experience was a cracking example of a ‘gone schmon’ phenomenon. A mountain of stuff erased. The loft lighter. I’ve one sister who’s a stern custodian of the keys to a life clear of unnecessary stuff. I imagine her baffled, impatient even, by the tale of Frank and the Super 8 movies. Of the holding onto crappy, dusty bits of plastic for decades. Not responding to the random deadline issued on a Devon campsite or bothering to do anything with them before.
My sifting of old stuff has also underlined an unrealisation of anticipatory promise which oddly doesn’t disappoint. You can’t ‘rediscover’ parts of the past because they have passed: the richness and depth of sensations; smells, textures, sounds, feelings; the context, the person you were at that time and those around you. This is fine.
At the same time the capturing [of what and why?], the sharing [with who(m) and why?], the keeping and revisiting is important. The story of my Super 8 film, the brief piece of footage taken across a three month period in the autumn of 1988 by my 23 year old oblivious to white privilege self is (living) social history. The story, the film, has woven new strands involving Frank, Bruce Bennett, Rich, my sis, readers of this post, generating further riches and meaning.
Now I need to find out if my parents ever did a fly past of Niagara Falls. Or let Frank know there’s been a mix up.
I ponder this, often. Time between thinking about Connor stretches or repeatedly collides creating shifting and unexpected shapes. I don’t think about him all the time now. [Howl.] Grief rituals seem to be slowly disappearing. The weekly Thursday morning ‘getting that call’ pain hammer has largely gone. Marking the 107 days Connor spent in the unit has receded. Comic Relief – the start of that unfolding – crept up on me this year.
We’re moving house. After twenty odd years of living here. Eight years after Connor died.
Stuff disturbed. Memories shaken from slumber and disrupted. Revisited in a different space and context. A backdrop of global pandemic. Boxes of stuff. Paperwork. Years of reports, condemnation, reviews, reports and condemnation. The paper, typeface, words, postmark, pre-internet. The careful and meticulous pathologising and marking of a tot who wouldn’t reach adulthood. Because of a lack of care, pathologising and marking.
Should we just chuck it all out?
I brusquely pat my forehead upward with the palm of my hand. Like Connor did when faced with something that bothered him.
Forget about it mum. Yep. Forget about it.
I funnel stuff from the loft into a skip that sits outside our house for weeks. Operating a piecemeal ‘keep or chuck’ operation with the aid of a giant Ikea blue bag and Rich or Tom when necessary. Precariously balancing ungainly and leaking bagfuls of stuff down the loft ladder. Emptying the content into the cold metal container out the front. Lobbing some bits from the front door with a sense of ‘fuck you’ satisfaction and achievement. Squeezing by later, to go to the Co-op or walk Bess, I rummage about and pull stuff back out. Worrying about rain and snow.
Why? I’ll do something with it. What? I dunno. Write about it. Mark it. Like it marked Connor. Marked us.
I started playing Candy Crush on Mother’s Day 2013. A week before Connor was admitted to the unit. Rosie told me about it that weekend.
It’s so good Mum, me and Becky haven’t stopped playing it.
I was heading to Manchester that afternoon to see her, see a mate and attend a stupid fucking work meeting on Monday morning.
I left Oxford early, late morning. Rich encouraged me to go. Things were not good at home.
I downloaded Candy Crush on the train.
Days (weeks?) after Connor died, a neighbour stopped and told me her daughter had died some thirty years earlier. In her early 20s. A road accident.
How is this possible? We chatted on this street for more than ten years. I sat in a meeting about primary schools with your daughter-in-law. Your grandson went through school with Rosie. We’ve talked weather, empty niceties for years. What do you mean your daughter died?
She shared kind words of wisdom. I don’t remember the detail. I could not understand how someone could weave the enormity of such loss into their everyday life without it being visible. Tangible even.
I still play Candy Crush.
We’re moving to the Manchester area.
I still don’t understand the ‘hows’ of weaving loss into everyday life though I think we’re doing it.
Another smorgasbord of conversations, chat and happenings over the last few weeks. Leaving me puzzling. Mostly about anger and silencing.
As ever, strands of love, rage, activism, academia, despair and some shite.
A project meeting earlier. Our @OlderAhead project is more than needed. We knew this, the first chunk of work has generated evidence to support it. The lives of older people with learning disabilities and family carers are largely ignored in existing research. A family carer co-applicant, and architect of the Embolden project which directly led to this study, pointed out – slightly tongue in cheek – that the funder should be pleased. Yes. [No.]
I was reminded during the meeting how our dad would come home from work every evening when we were pups and ask ‘Did anything strange or startling happen?’ It never did. Or we simply didn’t recognise if it had. Coated in love, comfort and cosiness.
A Zoom catch up later with friends. Conversation turned unexpectedly from open justice to obedience. And rule breaking.
‘I’m too obedient.’ ‘No you’re not, you’re a rule breaker.’ ‘No I’m not!’ ‘Yes you are, you’re always breaking rules!‘
I chuckled watching this exchange. And puzzled. I don’t think it is about breaking rules, as these rules are rarely written or even articulated. It’s about being bold. Forthright, direct. Uncompromising. Characteristics too often punished and punishable. Especially in women. The loose repackaging of acts as ‘not being nice’. And the silencing that comes with this repackaging.
An old blog post was randomly retweeted during the call. ‘Revisiting Tits and Trolls’. [I dunno, it’s woven through social scientists to ‘revisit’ stuff. Reflect. Agonise. Be curious. Did anything strange or startling happen?] Back in early 2012 I wrote “The trouble is, blocking ‘trolls’ (i.e., people who disagree with you) will lead to twitter becoming a tedious, turgid space where you’re surrounded by similar others, with your views and values protected as kind of cosily superior and untouchable.” Indeedy. Another form of silencing.
A formal complaint about my tweeting was made to my employer a few days before Christmas. A senior academic said I was bringing ‘Oxford University into disrepute’. Quite the allegation. Demonstrating more apparent upset with my tweets about their work than the torture and abuse they were reviewing.
I keep thinking about how angry we should be – as academics, as human rights experts, as journalists, as people – about the abuses we witness? Anger is an appropriate response. How could we not be angry about this stuff?
Yesterday, Bindmans shared news of urgent judicial review proceedings around the appalling situation of a young autistic man with learning disabilities. This isn’t news to many of us and A and his family are not alone in this barbaric situation. And yet this is apparently acceptable. The silence of those professionally involved (across years now) is quite something. A silence that can only act to further silence. How is this enabled or allowed?
During a recent Young Legal Aid Lawyers panel ‘Holding the state to account after a death’, co-panelist and barrister Mira Hammad passionately argued for greater collaboration with activists. She described how much of the training of solicitors and barristers involves learning to be ‘obedient’ [my interpretation]. On Thursday, at an open justice event ‘Does being watched change how justice is done?’ discussion focused on the importance of witnessing and amplifying the content and processes of court hearings. We talked about the micro-violences families experience in court as well oiled barristers defend the state using well worn and often nasty tactics. [I use the term micro-violences here not to diminish the impact of these actions on families, instead to convey how these are often treated as acceptable by the coroner, judge or magistrate.] Louise Tickle who organised the event said this harm underpins why she does the work she does.
I started writing this blog in 2011 as a fun project, naively optimistic about Connor’s future. It has developed into a space bursting with strange and startling. In the last decade we’ve learned, viciously experienced (and documented) how appallingly people with learning disabilities are often treated, how the state response to the death (or serious harm) of marginalised people is often brutal and how many senior, influential people are prepared to talk the talk with zero intention of walking anywhere. We know there is little or no consideration around those people with learning disabilities who live to an older age and little thought around the trauma people absorb across their lifetimes because of the paucity of effective support and a chilling void of imagination. Humanity stripped back to bone and pervading rottenness.
The various means of silencing, big, small, deliberate, incidental which include blocking, censoring, complaining, courtroom tactics, gaslighting and repeated ignoring or dismissal can be powerful tools. And it’s exhausting being depicted or viewed as troublesome, hostile, toxic etc, etc for daring to be angry.
Being angry about injustice, cruelty and worse is important, valid and appropriate. It should concern us, generate engagement and a commitment to both understanding what the anger is about and what we can do to reduce it. Or get shot of it altogether.
Early in the new year, Steve Unwin tweeted a photo of him and his son Joey with a short strapline. This gently humorous pop at the largely ignorant (not in a pejorative sense) world, generated a thread of photos of children, young people and adults doing the stuff they love to do. A virtual slide show of brilliance, joy, fun and laughter. The stuff of love. Steve was invited onto the Radio 4 Today programme on Monday morning to talk about Joey and this celebration.
The Maple House Management Suite
Last Saturday, a grey and mizzle-drenched day, I walked to Slade House. I took part in Katherine May’s Wintering podcast a few days before Christmas. During a sensitive and perceptive chat she mentioned how it had emerged at Connor’s inquest (2015) that he’d died in the STATT unit at Slade House. Not later at the John Radcliffe Hospital as we’d thought [howl].
I never went back to the unit after Connor died and was oddly reminded, nudged, bothered about this. Thinking about the place and space where he actually died. Simultaneously within and outside of (anything resembling) an NHS hospital and what this might mean. Words that, even as I type them, generate a mix of sadness and incredulity that continues to defy articulation.
I walked past still familiar landmarks; the Londis (now Best-One); Tim’s Kitchen takeaway; the Corner House pub (now closed); the fire station. My legs and heart slowed at times by quiet dread and sadness. I crossed the road at one point to walk in a different direction. Fuck it, I almost thought, I’ll head off somewhere where the pain is lessened. I barely touched the kerb before crossing back.
I recalled brighter (in light) early and later spring evenings, nearly eight years ago. Driving along this road to visit Connor, returning home without him. Half an hour, longer, shorter, later, earlier trips, with and without family and friends. Sometimes hearing about a trip to Londis to buy coke and crisps. Often hearing little. It always depends on who is on duty.
I reached Slade House. The initial monstrosity of depressing, dark brown brick structures, an unfinished car park, patches of scrubland and cultivated grass areas. I walked past the main office block with meeting rooms and offices where Connor as a pup had occasionally been coaxed to attend appointments. Where, less than four weeks before he died, he was finally paraded in front of a room of who or what? [I still don’t understand.]
On the fence at the far side of the car park was bright new signage pointing towards the STATT unit.
The Maple House Management Suite
The Maple House Management Suite.
There was talk of developing a ‘state of the art’ unit at Slade House a few years back when Oxford Health finally took over from Southern Health. A place to support young people with plenty of space and a shell to work with.
A moment. That became the Maple House Management Suite.
10 years or so ago I was on the slow train home from a long meeting in Whitstable. A mate rang to say Fran’s son J had been sectioned and admitted to a unit in East Anglia. Around 140 miles away. He was 16. I remember crying on that train. Through horror and devastation. Connor…mydaftlife.com
A has (extraordinarily?) remained in this 136 suite since July. He was given notice just before Christmas that he is being turfed out on January 7. In the five months since July (and the months and years before this) no interim space has been found or created locally for him to live while necessary home improvements (a heightened fence) are carried out. Instead, mediocre/failing units in different parts of the country are under discussion. He has a cracking legal team who are working to stop him being moved miles from home. Again.
As staff turn up at the Maple House Management Suite and wider Slade House site tomorrow, A will be finding out where he will spend the next chunk of his increasingly institutionalised life. It could have been so different.
Another moment of utter failure.
Joey and all our children
What Steve, Joey and everyone who contributed to the twitter thread this week did was express, and make visible, what every parent of a disabled children knows, thinks and feels. Our children, like all our children, are loved off the planet.
The moments captured here are well worn, trodden to death (literally) and brilliant. I’ve run out of time to try and present a polished end to this post. I dread to think what will happen to A tomorrow. At the same time I’m left holding onto the power of the disruptive energy which catapulted our children onto a mainstream, flagship news programme. A reminder of the #JusticeforLB campaign and the making of moments.