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.”

Creedmoor.

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.

Sharks on the rooftops

I went for a wander round Headington late afternoon earlier. In part to practice taking photos with my new camera and because I remain so blooming upset/agitated by the description of LB in the NMC hearing ‘determination of (un)facts’. How dare a fucking ‘panel’ of a nurse and two lay people who never met LB and have done nothing to try to understand anything about him be so callously disrespectful of who he was.

No doubt they will argue their determination is based on evidence but evidence is not statements like so and so ‘seems to suggest that…’

Distressing, unnecessary and cruel.

In the late afternoon sun I wandered past the Co-op where LB smashed doing the shopping back in the day. Still makes me chuckle. On to Posh Fish, a go-to chippy for 20 years though our visits have dropped to rarely as the kids have grown older. My mum and dad took Rosie, Tom and LB there for some nosh on the day of my viva at Warwick in 2006. Rich and I pitched up later to have a celebratory beer with them. Such a joyful day. Posh Fish rocked. Reach for the stars stuff it seemed at the time.

Sharks on the rooftops.

Then round to the other Headington shark. The one we used to go and look at when the kids were tots. Rosie was convinced for years it had been a fish and chip shop. I think maybe as a way of trying to make sense of an enormous shark apparently falling head first from the sky through the roof of a terraced house.

At the end of the shark road is the funeral home LB was in before his funeral. Well in and out of because of the balls up over his post mortem. Behind the side window is the ‘viewing room’ or chapel of rest. It’s just a room really but a room completely and devastatingly not like any other room.

[For geography nerds, the John Radcliffe Hospital is up the road there on the left.]

As I waited to cross the road directly opposite a coach went passed blocking my view. Oh my…

Angel Executive Travel. No.fucking.way.

This coach passed me on the day of LB’s funeral. Walking in distress and agitation in the park across the road (the same road). A different type/flavour/density? of distress and agitation.

I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or punch the air.

I’m taking air punching.

At the end of a week in which professional sharks (not our local fun and quirky ones) have once again been circling for blood and behaving like fucking spunktrumpetweeblewarblers we’re not going to let LB’s memory be sullied in a crass, ill-informed and deeply biased report.

On Friday we’re back to London to fight the fucking fight that never, ever seems to end; to try to establish the humanity of our fun, quirky and beautiful children.

Housecoats, aprons and mucky labour

Captivated by the women of Galicia along the last section of #CaminoLB.

“Can I take your photo?” I asked pointing at my camera. A few said no. Others stood tall. Looking me in the eye with quiet confidence. There was no artifice or prevarication.

Incredible, beautiful faces.

Lines. Life carvings. Contours of determination, humour, dignity. Resilience. Well earned, authentic resilience.

Glimpses of triumph and more. So many stories.

Housecoats, aprons and mucky labour.

Back to work tomorrow.  It’s been a long five years.


When Pittsburgh turned yellow…

L1031481Last day in the US. Teaching on a short course for researchers within the Veterans Administration at the Grand Wyndham Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh. In a conference room cut off from the outside world with air-con set to ‘artic’.

Lunch break was 1 hour 15 mins. I step out of the hotel into a beautiful sunny, beyond baking hot day. Slightly disorientating. Everywhere I look people are wearing yellow and black. Walking across the park in front of the hotel. It’s Sunday. The Steelers are playing. I walk in the same direction. Across the yellow bridge. Towards the stadium.

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L1031507I’m told/observe a few things.

American football is a family event. People head over to the stadium hours before the game for the atmosphere, pre-drinking and eating. Very, very few people do not wear the kit in some shape or form. You can take alcohol into the stadium but no bags (other than clear/plastic bags).

I saw one policeman on a bike. Looking totally out of place. As if he was passing by on his lunch hour.

A retired player posed for photos with fans. The queue was enormous.

 

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“Get your phones out and ready” people were told. No charge. A snap or two. A ‘terrible towel’.  More cheer.

I wandered back towards the yellow bridge. To the beige hotel (in the photo below) for the final sessions in this marathon trip.

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What a backdrop. What a city. What an extraordinary journey…

I cannot wait to be home.

Wolvercote 16.8.13

I’d have found this a bit morbid a couple of months ago, but I love Wolvercote cemetery. It’s a comforting, fascinating, unusual and beautiful space. I suspect I’ll end up taking a shedload of photos there. A ‘Wolvercote series’. Apologies to those of you who get naffed off when it’s a photo post. The pics are almost as cathartic as the writing.

Yesterday was an example of a perfect, late summer evening.

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Pedestrian traffic

I dipped back into Goffman’s ‘Relations in Public‘ this week, as a tasty little treat between Candy Crush lives. He writes in the preface; ‘Throughout the papers in this volume unsubstantiated assertions are made regarding the occurrence of certain social practices in certain times and among peoples of various kinds.’ Hilarious. The man is a legend.

I love his reflections on how we ‘co-mingle’ in public places. Mostly in an orderly fashion with our ‘use space’ commonly respected and reciprocated. He kicks off with some reflections around how we manage to walk around, often in crowds, without colliding into one another. And how what seems like a random activity – hundreds of people walking along Oxford Street, for example – is ordered and social. We constantly ‘scan’, ‘body check’, exchange ‘critical signs’ to signal a manoeuvre and engage in ‘near-simultaneous parallel adjustments’. We ‘step and slide’ through tacit agreement with others present making an often seamless display of togetherness. We could wrong foot people, or not play by these rules. We could engage in collisions and disruption but tend not to. Why?

The Goffmeister says the gain to be achieved doing this isn’t much, so trust is sustained.

The reason I’ve been revisiting this fantabulous book is because orderliness, manoeuvres and lack of collision are always visible in the photos I snap when I’m out.  Love him.

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