Layers of ‘Phil’ and a New York break

A short break in New York last week. Arriving mid-evening Wednesday Rich and I were determined to stay up late to nail the time difference. The hotel bar was packed and we ended up in a two person booth with someone waiting for his mate, Phil.

“Hey, sit down!” said booth mate in a booming voice when Phil pitched up. Shaking us from a firmly wedged in, warm, exhausted, sneaky pre-slumber.

“Nah, I’m good. I’m too fat to sit there!” said Phil cheerfully dismissing the 6 inches of seat on offer and ordering a Four Roses bourbon.

A Four Roses bourbon.

It turns out, Phil, an expansive, personable New Yorker, had worked for 30 years at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. Working with people now called ‘developmentally disabled’. So many different labels over the years, he said with feeling, holding his hands up. Reminding me of Joyce Davidson’s ‘More labels than a jam jar’. My exhausted brain puzzled over how we’d landed in John F. Kennedy airport only an hour or so earlier and were now talking to someone intimately immersed in New York learning disability history.

Creedmoor where?

Over a couple more bourbons and with the lightest of prompting, Phil talked about his (working) life. He’d worked his way up from carpenter’s assistant to carpenter to estates director after his parents died in his teens. He was on a countdown to retirement in the next few years with a cracking state pension. His long term aim. He’d stopped making padded cells in the late 80s…

Patients at Creedmoor seemed to be people to Phil. He was concerned about the push toward deinstitutionalisation by New York State because of inadequate community facilities. How can people get their haircut, see the dentist, chiropodist, get healthcare and hang out when they are scattered and isolated? People should be ‘supported to progress’ he said.

What did good look like to Phil? “Managers who are on the phone to me all the time to mend stuff, to sort stuff. They’re the good ones.”


I dunno. The strands, the brutality, the human rights breaches, the glaring and yet apparently fine smashing of rights. I mean rights are right, right?

I’m left wondering about the layers of ‘Phil*’ in these spaces. In ATUs and supported living places in the UK. I don’t know if Phil was who he seemed to be. But he seemed to be a decent guy. How much did Phil do? How much did he ignore? Did he call out brutality? Are there gradients of brutality in practice and if yes, how are these measured? And who decides?

Why are learning disabled people routinely terrorised?

Day One (two)

The next day the sun sliced through the freezing air, bouncing in, off and between buildings. We walked, talked, watched, saw and listened with only a vague plan of what to do and where to go. Late afternoon we fell into the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village. Where pride began. Happy hour. Over the next hour or so, sitting at the bar we heard first hand accounts about the Stonewall riots, spaces and original places. Tree, the barman, has worked there or thereabouts for more than 40 years.

“I met the queen once in England”, he said, in between serving customers and dishing out happy hour tokens. A mate had invited him along on some London gig back in the 70s. Another customer, an HIV activist, wearing a natty red suit, white shirt and red sparkling tie provided more detail about the riots. He was concerned New York State thinks HIV is sorted now when it isn’t.

Tree came back with his phone. He swiped through to a faded photo of a young queen and a couple of young men.

“That’s me,” he said. Pointing to the back of a tall 70s hair head.

He swiped through a few more photos.

“And here I am in the 80s and, yeah, the 90s”. Extraordinary photos from pre-selfie days.

The Stonewall riots in the late sixties. Fifty years later the bar was heaving, loud and joyful. Phil stopped making padded cells in the late 80s. Why the less than snails pace on change for some people?

When we were leaving, I asked Tree I could take a photo of him. He darted out from behind the bar to be in a (rare) photo with me. He’s about to turn 80.

The next day or so we walked some more. And simply enjoyed. It was a good break.


This isn’t about Phil.

6 thoughts on “Layers of ‘Phil’ and a New York break

  1. Pingback: Layers of ‘Phil’ and a New York break

  2. Yesterday I finally got the guts up to order a headstone for my 20 year old daughter who was in a Devon hospital mental health ward when she was ignored for 4 hours, despite being suicidal and on hourly checks. The way vulnerable people are treated in the UK is disgusting. I have tried to see that the hospital changes things that have been brought to Thier attention time and time again. They have paid out millions to other people and yet my daughter’s life according to my lawyer is worth 25k. Really? Is there any justice in this country? the last thing I wanted to do was take the NHS to court but the obnoxious attitudes I’ve experienced was beyond my level of tolerance. Now the NHS are being nasty and “closing ranks” on me!!! We are the victims. At least where I was born and raised, the USA, we are held accountable for our mistakes. And the worst part is this is going to keep on going on with no repurcussions except the funeral homes will stay busy. Rip daisy and to all the other people who have lost Thier lives unnecessarily. The person who wrote the article about NYC seems very eloquent and bravo for being fortunate enough to have a holiday in the city that never sleeps.
    Lara Victoria Eads for
    Victoria Lauren Marquez April 10 1996 to August 24 2016.

    • Lara – words fail me but, if practicable financially, change your lawyer. If they think your daughter’s life is only worth £25K, they need to do some lateral thinking.

      Try Alice Stevens of Broudie Jackson Canter: she and the Counsel she instructed did a first class job over the death of Ellie Brabant. (BBC report at

      Alternatively, you might consider the lawyers who represented Sara. Have you tried Crowd Funding to cover your costs but I’m so expert on that?

  3. Very sorry to hear about your daughter and what happened to her. i hope you achieve some resolution but i do not agree with your view that it would be better in the usa. world over no one cares about the vulnerable, the sick the dying that is the sad and horrific universal fact that some of us get to live with forever

  4. Sara – NYC, wonderful! Worth trying in Jan/Feb too – Central Park stunning with snow on the ground – especially early in the morning – and the cold will contribute to overcoming jet lag! Unfortunately, with the weakness of the pound, I don’t suppose the January sales in NYC are quite so attractive to Brits as they used to be pre-9/11 when I was there. My (adult!) son arrived back at the hotel looking like Lily Savage after a day in C & A!

    E-mailing you separately with confidential information.

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