Friday, 5 July 2019

D Day letter from a young nun near the Pegasus Bridge.

Chère Maman,

I’m imagining writing this letter to you as it’s unsafe to put my thoughts on paper in case the German soldiers find it. I want to try to remember every single moment as such exciting and terrifying and important things are taking place, right here, right now. Reverend Mother has let members of the French Résistance use the Convent. We get messages from London, from the Allies who are trying to rescue us. It’s a waiting game. I’m sitting here quietly, waiting until I’m needed in the kitchen, wondering what’s going to happen tonight. 
We thought the British would come yesterday, but the weather was so bad. We hope they will come today. We’ve had the signal but the weather is still dreadful. This can’t go on any longer. Something has to happen. 
The German soldiers have taken all the food from the village shop, all the meat that the butcher had in his cold store, vegetables from the farmer’s barns and simply everything from the tabac, they cleared the shelves into boxes and bags. There’s nothing left. People are starving. 
Villagers are breaking up treasured pieces of furniture to make heat to boil kettles as the water is unsafe now. One man called Sébastien even broke up his wife’s piano, he said she didn’t need it now that she’s dead and he was sure that she’d prefer he gave the children safe water. Water on its own isn’t enough for growing children, they are crying with hunger, but there’s nothing for them. 
Reverend Mother has been very bad or very good or very good and bad together. She is very clever and has hidden food in the chapel. I helped her because I’m strong and because it’s my job to prepare vegetables and clean the kitchen. Reverend Mother took down all the robes used by the choir, I had to take one robe to each sister to hang by her bed so nothing looked suspicious and then we hung all the special robes used by the Monsignor and the Priests on the rack where the choir robes go and moved the big chest the clergy robes usually go in, to right in front of the altar. We filled it with bags of oats and flour and other dry stuff that the farmer and the baker had brought here for safe keeping. Mother locked it and told me to put a special cloth over the top, one of those white lace ones that are so very difficult to iron.  She put a cross on top and candlesticks and a little pot of flowers from our garden. It looked like it was part of the altar and had always been there. 
The butcher had brought hams and saucisson sec, we took all the candles out of the candle store and I had to arrange them on a high shelf at the back of the chapel, so it looked like we always kept the candles up there. That was hard work, climbing up and down the rickety old step ladder, we really do need a new one. Then we got Sister Belina to help us push the big heavy wooden candle box to a dark corner. Reverend Mother sent Sister Belina to do a job upstairs so she didn’t see what we did next. We quickly hid the hams and saucisson sec inside it and piled hymn books and bibles on top of it, nobody would think of looking there. I put all the bags of rice and beans and lentils vert and things like that right under the altar itself. Reverend Mother had thought of everything. 
When the Soldiers came she showed them how little food we had in the kitchen and the larder, they took some of it but left us some too, maybe they thought their souls would be damned if they left nuns to starve. She had organised a rota of sisters to always be praying and singing in the chapel, with some big old candles that were quite rancid, always burning to cover the smell of the ham. The soldiers could only look in so as not to disturb the praying sisters. Reverend Mother assured them that the sisters were praying for the souls of Germans as well as for the French. 
We’ve just had another coded message from England, I think they are on their way. I pray they are on their way. I’ve heard the men from the Résistance whispering to each other. The English have to capture our bridge over the Caen Canal and the one next to it over the River Orne so that Allied troops can move towards Paris, and the Germans can’t get from the Somme to where the boats land. It’s all very secret and I’m not supposed to know. That’s why I can’t write any of this down. I think the boats are coming to Arromanches Les Bains.
I remember you and Grand-maman taking me there to make sandcastles and paddle in the sea when I was little. It’s a pretty town. I went there not so long ago with my friends, it was our last outing before I gave my life to Jesus. Arromanches has a lot of sand. I used to think the beach went on for ever and ever, but then the sea would come in so quickly and steal it all away. It will be cold there in weather like this, the sea will be bitter, the wind blows along the coast because there’s nothing to stop it. The weather here is gentler as we are further inland. I think I’ve just heard something. This might be it. Mary and Jesus please take care of them.
Reverend Mother told Sister Margarita and me to make an extra big vat of soup today and to save some in a hidden place for tonight. We’ve been making soup every day. It has a lot of water as we have to eke things out because we don’t  know how long our supplies will have to last. We put in some of the dried foods from under the altar and Reverend Mother has given me special permission to go out into the grounds to find herbs and things to make flavour. The weather has been bad so the wild garlic is still here, in a good summer it would be gone by now. I have found lots of mint and lemon balm growing wild and thyme and roquette and of course nettles, I know the idea of eating nettles sounds horrid but they are very nutritious and you can’t taste them too much in soup. Some days we stir eggs into the soup. We were really lucky that the soldiers let us keep our chickens. Some days we add ham or saucisson. I have to cut it up very small so it goes a long way. 
There’s not really been much sign of fighting or anything round here. The Germans play football on the bridge and stand around like they’re on holiday. Every day at 1 o’clock they have their lunch. They all go to a big barn just the other side of the Orne to eat together. They leave just two men in the box on the bridge in case it needs to be opened for a supply boat coming in for them from Ouisterham. Generally the two in the box play cards. Reverend Mother has changed the time of Mass. It used to be early in the morning but now it’s at 1.10 each day to make it easier for the villagers to attend. They each bring a cup or mug or bowl hidden in their clothing and on their way into mass Sister Margarita and I give everyone a ladle of soup. They take it into the chapel with them and drink it quickly whilst they pray. It’s a short service and once they are refreshed the villagers lick their vessels clean and hurry away before the Germans have finished their lunch. Reverend Mother says that if Germans come to visit us during the service I’m to waste all the rest of the soup and spill it on the steps by the chapel as if I’d tripped. That should cover the smell but it would be a sinful waste of soup. I told you she thinks of everything. 
The people who come can’t really take soup home with them, because if they got caught it would give the game away. I was worried about Sébastien’s children so I carefully washed and dried one of my socks and filled it with rice, beans and lentils and squeezed it into his hand. He hid it inside his clothing. I know it was a dangerous thing to do but I was so worried. It wasn’t stealing as I fasted three days so I wasn’t eating and they could have my share. I got into trouble for losing my sock, I said it must have been when I was looking for herbs so I was sent to look for it, but of course it wasn’t there. As a penance I was made to get down on my knees and scrub the floor all the way from the kitchen to the chapel, it had got into a right state with peoples muddy feet and drips of soup. I felt very weak so I had to start eating again but I’d confided in Sister Thérèse and she fasted two days to get some more food for the children, Sébastien brought my sock back but I thought I might need it again so I hid it under my mattress. He brought me a stocking which used to belong to his wife. That was better for carrying food as it was thinner and easier to hide, His wife must have had very shapely legs. 
Gliders have just landed in the field between the canal and the river. They came so quietly until the last minute when they made a bit of a racket as they landed. We’d told them that the Germans all went to their barn to sleep so there were only two of them on each bridge and they’d probably been drinking wine. The English took over both bridges just like that. It was amazing. There were more English than Germans and they’d had a lot to drink. The English set out over the Orne and the Germans all ran away. 
The English must be hungry, so I got out the hidden pan of soup and Sister Margarita got out the bread she made this afternoon. I’ve just added some extra herbs and a bit more ham by way of a thankyou. The English soldiers are coming down here three at a time for soup and bread. They’ve got flying horses on their uniforms, like the Greek God Pegasus.. Just think Mamam, my soup fed the first British Soldiers to land on French soil. What an exciting night this is. Praise be Mary and Jesus. 

(C) Jan Loxley Blount 19/06/2019 
This piece of writing is entirely fiction and (whilst close to real events) IS NOT AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE  historically or factually accurate. 

It began as a very short “Letter written on D Day” for an exercise during a session at Arts Depot Finchley on 17 June 2019.  In the session we honoured the experiences of one of our members, who is a 94 year old D Day Veteran. The stimulus was a Son et Lumière at the Pegasus Bridge - with thanks also to two popular films and a much loved TV series.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Tonight at Westminster

Tonight at Westminster. 

I’m recovering from an infection and am due on a ferry to France tomorrow morning - so regretfully I probably won’t make this evenings meeting. I’m especially disappointed to miss the opportunity to catch up with the indomitable Jean Robinson.
After a career in children’s services (including heading the nation’s response to what were then called ‘Latchkey Children’ for UK International Year of the Child),  I belatedly married and gave birth to two extremely bright and talented, but medically and neurologically atypical children. One has Autism spectrum differences. Both have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and mast cell issues etc.
In 1999 a school reported us to social services because they feared that my son’s attendance figures would adversely affect their forthcoming OFSTED inspection. Despite my career history and the children’s medical conditions I was wrongly accused of MSbP and came close to losing both children. 
We were saved by the late Dr Rudi Vis MP (Labour Finchley & Golders Green) and Cllr (now Lord) Monroe Palmer (Lib Dem Barnet) both of whom knew the family and took on Barnet Council and it’s social services department on our behalf.

My husband and I were interviewed by Michael Rosen on John Peel’s ‘Home Truths’ and I sent the transcript to many parliamentarians, including Dr Liam Fox MP, then shadow health spokesperson. Dr Fox recognised the issue from his Scottish GP experience and asked Earl Freddie Howe to investigate. 
In a speech in November 2002 Earl Howe said of my letter as forwarded to him by Liam Fox
“ .... two and a half years ago, as Opposition Health spokesman in the House of Lords, I received a letter out of the blue from a lady living in North London, and her letter told a disturbing story. Her son, who suffers from learning difficulties and various medical problems, had been taken a number of times to the family doctor without much positive result. All of a sudden, the family received a visit from the local social services department. Before they knew what was happening, social services were accusing the boy's mother of Munchausens Syndrome by Proxy and of perpetrating abuse on him by fabricating his illness. They threatened to put the boy on the child protection register. The boy's parents, who are highly educated professional people, got in touch with their local MP and with one of their local councillors. As a result of representations from those people, social services dropped their allegations against the mother. The boy has since been diagnosed as suffering from autism and assessed as being in need of special educational help.
That case opened up for me a parallel world of which I had previously no knowledge at all - namely the hundreds of people who are accused of child abuse in its many diverse forms and guises, and who are pursued and often hounded and persecuted by the authorities, but who steadfastly maintain their innocence.......”

Between the Michael Rosen interview and the speech above, Earl Howe and Lord Tim Clement Jones had taken matters further and the issue was debated in the House of Lords on 17th October 2001. Key speakers included the Countess of Mar who as an ME sufferer is particularly concerned about false allegations relating to families with debilitating illness. 

On January 25th 2004 the Sunday Times picked up my story and used it to illustrate the lack of care and concern by Margaret Hodge MP and Harriet Harman MP (I had known Harriet when I worked for UK IYC and previously through NCCL so she really should have listened to me). The story was taken up by the London Evening Standard the following day and was returned to by the Sunday Times the following week.

There was then a minor flurry of activity in Parliament with Tim Loughton MP using my name to berate Hodge and Harman. Earl Howe had informed many colleagues about the issue, amongst these were Dr Liam Fox, Caroline Spellman, Dominic Grieve, Tim Loughton. Until his untimely death we had the strong support of the former Attorney General Sir (later Lord) Nicholas Lyell with whom I’d worked in International Year of the Child. For the Lib Dems we had the support of Lord Tim Clement Jones, Baroness Shirley Williams and others. In Portcullis House, Baroness Williams made an impassioned speech to leaders of Social Services and major charities, but found them extremely defensive. The only Labour support was from Claire Curtis Thomas MP who was a friend and associate of Shirley Williams. The rest of the Labour Party were always too much on the defensive.  This was a scandal which had been allowed to develop when they were in power and they therefore needed to defend their position. 
The Tories promised action if they came to power but promptly forgot all about it. Earl Howe was given government responsibility and therefore claimed that he “couldn’t cross departmental boundaries”. In opposition he’d frequently referred to the Edmund Burke / John F Kennedy / John Stuart Mill quote “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing” in power he broke all his promises and did nothing at all - neither did Liam Fox or Dominic Grieve. Tim Loughton changed his tune from acknowledging this to be a widespread problem to suggesting that it was a handful of isolated instances.

Tony Blair exacerbated the issue when he started the system of rewards for adoption but this has been massively escalated by the Tory Government.

The change from Statements of Special Educational Needs to EHCPs and associated directives on working together has massively increased the problem as many are working beyond their level of expertise, experience and training. I first wrote about this in February 2017 but am astounded by the rapid escalation since then. 

I founded Parents Protecting Children UK in 2001 following the Lords Debate - initially as a website and now on Facebook with 2000 followers. Over the years I’ve written many articles, attended and spoken at many conferences, supported many families. I have much historical knowledge to share and vast amounts of case notes and information from families. I’m getting older and am delighted that Leigh Jackman and Fiightback are now allowing me to take more of a back seat in terms of family support, but I’m ready, willing and able to share my knowledge and to be involved in political and research initiatives. I hope all goes well tonight and that this is the beginning of the end. 

I felt a sense of irony during the recent Irish visit of Pope Francis, when senior politicians and church people were falling over themselves to apologise for the past forced adoptions and transportations - whilst there is an ever growing sandal of today’s forced adoptions on false allegations of Fii and MSbP. Children are removed by the family courts, not because any actual or proven abuse has taken place, but because a group of over excited people got together in a secret meeting and fantasised that there may be a possibility of future emotional abuse. Whatever they were imagining would surely be far far far less than the actual abuse then inflicted on that child by being ripped from parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. 
Our daughter, who was five at the time we were investigated, became fearful of being taken from me, and lost much of her independence; this has never been fully regained. I overheard two of her friends plotting how they would rescue her if she were taken into care. Jan Loxley Blount 

Jan Loxley Blount 

11 September 2018

Friday, 25 May 2018

“Please don’t let me be misunderstood.”
A few nights ago my daughter & I attended a preview of “Return to the Forbidden Planet”. If you are in or near North London and looking for a good night out this comes with our recommendation! It’s on until 17 June.  

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Please don’t let me be misunderstood.” Sang Dr Prospero who was discovered with his daughter Miranda and their special friend Ariel, abandoned for 15 years on the planet D’Illyria. During this time Miranda had grown form a babe in arms to a feisty young women, ready for love. 
Overseen by Angela Rippon, who appeared from time to time on the control screen of the spaceship Albatross, the talented young cast in John Plews exciting production for Ovation (Theatre Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate), romped their way through rhyming couplets from Shakespeare, strung together with two dozen, nostalgically popular rock standards of the 1950s and 60s.
The plot was loosely based on the Tempest with additional material adapted from Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth (Is this a dragon which I see before me?), Hamlet, Richard the Third, Henry the Fifth, Twelfth Night and other well known plays. Amongst many other greats, the music included ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ (Animals), ‘It’s a Mans World’ (James Brown), ‘Good Vibrations’ (Beach Boys), ‘Great Balls of Fire’ (Jerry Lee Lewis), ‘Teenager in Love’ (Dion and the Belmont’s), ‘Shakin All Over’ (Johnny Kidd & the Pirates).
When the festivities were over, instead of the expected favourite which ends:
“We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep.”
William Shakespeare The Tempest, Act 4

Angela Rippon bade us farewell with Puck’s farewell :
“If we shadows have offended, 
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest sort,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else myself a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.”


Then on Monday lunchtime this week I caught the encore of “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” at the Phoenix in East Finchley. It was partly a BBC production so hopefully will reappear on TV. It has the feel good factor which would make it suitable to be scheduled as Christmas entertainment. If there’s an encore near you it’s well worth showing up in case it doesn’t make the small screen.
Four great theatrical Dames, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins on a rainy summer afternoon, at the house where Joan Plowright shared her married life with Laurence Oliver. 
They are all getting old and spoke of hearing aids and memory loss. They all spoke of being afraid of Sir Laurence! Judi Dench and Maggie Smith exchanged barbed comments and Judi spoke of being admitted to A&E where a young paramedic assumed that she should have a Carer until she told him somewhat crossly who she really was.
Their conversations were interrupted and illustrated by fascinating film clips from their lives. It was wonderful to see these great and aged ladies as feisty young things making their way into theatrical prominence. 

This filmed conversation ended with Dame Judi reciting the speech from the Tempest which I’d missed in the Gatehouse production - so I felt that in dramatic terms I’d got there in the end.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep

How I wish this was true in my life. My intentions are good but I’m frequently misunderstood, misinterpreted and vilified. I’d love to round things off with peaceful sleep, but since my traumatic 2017, this usually eludes me. Chronic tiredness is leading to mistakes and accidents. 

Jan Loxley Blount 25/05/2017

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Two 2018 Suffrage Banners created in Finchley

Why a banner for Henrietta Barnett? 

Dame Henrietta Barnett wasn’t a suffragette or suffragist, so why did we choose her as the subject of our banner, in honour of 100 years of Women’s Suffrage?

We are a group from ArtsDepot Finchley (https://www.artsdepot.co.uk/) in the London Borough of Barnet. 
Many, but not all of us, belong to the Creative Circle for over 60s, based at ArtsDepot, but working inter-generationally with a teenage group at Chicken Shed, to devise a piece of theatre and art entitled “The Space Between Us” - inspired by a song on the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album (https://www.chickenshed.org.uk/news/the-space-between-us-project).
We talk and write together, but have never before created visual art or sewn together.
Others, some younger, joined us for the banner making project, because they’d seen it advertised at ArtsDepot, locally or on the website of the 100 Banners Project. 

Our banner making group was mostly women, but we also had two men, one in his 80s and one in his 90s. We divided into two groups, both men joined the same group of about six or seven, who decided to make a banner with a clear message - they chose “DEEDS NOT WORDS” - a slogan of the suffragette movement. They have cut and sewn letters, rosettes and other embellishments with historical origins. Keith Martin has written more about this. 

The other seven or eight of us were asked to make something representing our area. As not all of us were from Finchley, our common area was the London Borough of Barnet. We considered the possibility of many different coloured or shaped silhouettes or emblems, to represent one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse areas of the U.K. We considered using the word BARNET in deep turquoise on white tiles as in Borough documents and signs. Then some of us got upset, because we have misgivings about our elected representatives who are known as ‘Easy Council’ (after the no frills airline). We felt that public libraries, which multiplied rapidly in the late 19th Century, (largely through philanthropic actions for mass education), would have been important to women who became suffragists and suffragettes. We therefore decided that we couldn’t promote a Borough who had recently downgraded or closed our libraries. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_library)

So we searched around for a local woman to depict on our banner. We tried to think of local suffragettes and suffragists. 
  • One suggestion was Gladice Keevil Rickford 1884 to 1959 who lived with her family at Clitterhouse Farm in Cricklewood, until her marriage in Hendon in 1913. She was arrested with suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst for protesting outside the House of Commons in February 1908 and spent six weeks in Holloway Prison. In a speech in July 1908: "Miss Gladys Keevil..... admitted that some of the doings of the Suffragettes had not been quite lady-like, but she pleaded that they had done nothing unwomanly."
  • Another possibility might have been Barbara Bodichon Ayrton-Gould  1886 to 1950 who was a suffragist and later became Labour MP for Hendon. 
  • If we’d had more time we might have found Miss Muriel Matters, who in 1909 "sailed aloft from Hendon” in the basket of a cigar-shaped balloon, dropping leaflets as she flew to Croydon via Westminster. 
But none of us knew much, if anything, about these women. 

Then we alighted on Dame Henrietta Barnett who seemed perfect, as most of us knew at least a bit about her. Some had relatives or friends who’d attended the girls school named after her. Others had attended classes at her (sadly now defunct) Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute, which had originally been for the education of working folk. I cannot find reference to her attitude to women’s suffrage, but in the early days she was probably too busy and by the time women got the vote she was possibly getting too old. 
Dame Henrietta Octavia Weston Barnett, DBE (née Rowland; 4 May 1851 – 10 June 1936) was a notable English social reformer, educationist, and author. She and her husband, Samuel Augustus Barnett, founded the first "University Settlement" at Toynbee Hall (in the East End of London) in 1884. They also worked to establish the model Hampstead Garden Suburb in the early 20th century. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrietta_Barnett)

Henrietta did much to support women and girls and to promote social equality and education. When living and working at Toynbee Hall, she and her husband worked tirelessly to support the poor mothers and families of the East End of London. Accounts of the Barnetts’ time there read like “Call the Midwife” before Jennifer Worth’s story began. She helped some of them to move to her dream of an integrated community in her Hampstead Garden Suburb. Some of the smaller flats and houses in her garden suburb were built for single women and widows, who would otherwise have been in difficult circumstances. She gave an apple or pear tree to all families taking up residence in Hampstead Garden Suburb, to promote gardening and self sufficiency. 

We knew enough about her to get started and planned to represent Henrietta as a tree, with its roots firmly placed in education (and libraries) for all. Initially we intended just five very uniform apples and pears. As we worked we got more ambitious and the numbers and diversity of apples, pears and leaves increased. They have beads, buttons, sequins, fabric scraps and stitching to make each one unique - like the residents of our multi faceted borough. 

All manner of materials and reminiscences are included in our tree. On one occasion, someone who sewed professionally turned up and made us a beautiful golden pear, so we remembered (and some of us sang) the nursery rhyme which mentions this. One day I was alone, sewing leaves in the bar area at ArtsDepot and a young man on crutches was watching with interest. On the next occasion he brought me a shiny maple leaf sequin to attach and was keen to see where I put it. Another day, an artistic lady, with hands too old and arthritic to sew, really enjoyed arranging and rearranging the unattached apples and pears, she chose the position of the golden pear. Someone had suggested we bring fabric with significance, so I brought a tiny bit of my bedroom curtains (which have seen my children develop from babies to adults), it made a few leaves. Fabric from my daughter’s childhood made flowers below the tree.

We made reference to the London Borough of Barnet by writing Henrietta’s name in the borough’s house style deep turquoise colour - so our banner does say BARNET, in capital letters, in the right colour - but it has an extra T for Henrietta BARNETT. 

It was a challenge to finish in time and on the final day some bits we’d have preferred to sew, had to be glued - but we did it and hope that others enjoy and draw some significance from it. 

Jan Loxley Blount 01 03 18



DEEDS  NOT  WORDS
was a most appropriate slogan chosen by the Suffragette movement in and after 1918 to epitomise their campaign for women to get the vote in Great Britain.
Their epic and heroic campaign, which included breaking unjust laws, was eventually successful.

The motto has resounded down the years and is and has been as relevant to subsequent activists as it was in 1918.

In 1963 the annual CND Easter march from Aldermaston to London included members of the Committee of 100, among them Bertrand Russell who, unafraid and favouring direct action, inspired peace demonstrators by distributing a “Spies for Peace” leaflet and leaving the march to expose the secret details and whereabouts of Regional Seats of Government bunkers at a Berkshire RSG. Bertrand Russell was among those arrested by the police for his beliefs.  

On Maunday Thursday 5 April 2012, coincidentally also at Easter, Barnet Council without notice closed Friern Barnet library, despite a vigorous local campaign to save it from closure.
Five months later on 5 September 2012, a small group of squatters from Camden led by Peter Phoenix walked through an open window, reopened the library and invited the community to join them in restocking its shelves with donated books and reopening the library to the public.
After a Crown Court case the squatters were evicted, but the magistrate allowed a stay of execution for Barnet Council to negotiate a lease with the local community to run the library.
Six years later in 2018 they continue to perform this function.

DEEDS  NOT  WORDS


Keith Martin February 2018

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

RARE DISEASES DAY 28 February

Today 28 February is RARE DISEASES DAY - in the couple of hours remaining and over the next few days - please spare a thought for the countless families who know that everything isn’t as it should be with the health or development of a child or siblings or a parent or parent and children - but they are fobbed off by supposed professionals with meaningless reassurances - and when they fight for proper diagnosis or services or SEN support in school they are accused of causing or imagining or fabricating the difficulties. 
This practice is becoming more and more common. Instead of getting vital referrals or support, vast numbers are dragged into erroneous and damaging child protection procedures and investigations. 
There was no money to sanction a referral for hospital investigations or for a laptop with special software or for a high tech wheelchair or for a part time classroom support worker or for a place in a specialist school or unit - but suddenly there’s endless money for solicitors and barristers and expert witnesses and court process and foster care placements. 
Families are being temporarily or permanently separated on the flimsiest of untested evidence which wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny by a jury in a criminal court. Adoptive placements break down when the new parents realise that there’s something unusual and difficult to cope with about this child.
There’s increasing evidence that very many of these tragic stories begin with failed diagnosis of a rare illness or neurological condition in one or more generation of the family. 
When it’s parents as well as children who are affected - then it’s even more likely that social workers, teachers, ancillary workers, lawyers and judges will get it wrong. 

There’s a petition online to ask Jeremy Hunt to stop restricting referrals for hospital investigations - you might like to sign it but also you might like to write to him personally to explain how vital this is when a child or family may have an undiagnosed rare illness or neurological condition. 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Learning Disability Parents - Mia (stage production)

Mia 
"when you are pregnant you want to do everything to be ready for your baby - but we were afraid to decorate the room because we didn't know if we'd be allowed to keep her"
I saw Mia - Daughters of Fortune - by Mind the Gap Theatre Company - last night at artsdepot Finchley - do try to see it in Waterloo or Deptford or somewhere. 
As Shakespeare said in Hamlet "The plays the thing wherein to catch the conscience of the king" - this should be on prime time TV and it should be compulsory viewing on every training course for government ministers, family court judges, barristers & solicitors and for every social worker in the land. 
In the show the cast ask the audience - if a learning disabled person is having a baby who is the most important person?
A GP receptionist
B social worker
C midwife
D mother to be
The audience at artsdepot voted D but they were wrong - I'll bet readers of my Parents Protecting Children UK page could get the right answer! 
There's a lot of use of film within the show - in one clip a very capable learning disabled mother said - "when you are pregnant you want to do everything to be ready for your baby - but we were afraid to decorate the room because we didn't know if we'd be allowed to keep her"
They use the clever device of an onstage video camera, feeding back to the audience, to expose the gruelling agony of the 135 question parenting assessment - so many questions are irrelevant or class and income based and would never be asked of a 'nice middle class family' or to which a 'nice middle class family' would answer 'we have insurance or a policy with British Gas to cover that' - and yet not being able to do lots of difficult household things (which I'd personally never attempt) are recorded as failures for a poor or learning disabled family. By packing the assessment with ridiculous questions the social workers ensure that the percentage score for the poor or learning disabled family is kept low.
When asked if she knows how to sterilise bottles, the young pregnant woman says 'yes I remember from the last time' and you suddenly realise she already had a child, but it was taken away.
One of the characters, in a very low key way, tells that one day she got a phone call - to tell her not to pick her child up from school -because social services had already collected the child and placed him with a foster family. She hadn't even been given the opportunity to say goodbye, she'd delivered her son to school and would never see him again.
The free programme and accompanying written material - points out the extent to which advocacy groups believe that children being taken from learning disabled parents is under-reported.
Mia is coming up again at Waterloo on 1&2 March and in Deptford on 14 March - I don't know about non london showings - they are from Bradford and already took it to the Edinburgh festival.
Daughters of Fortune - Mind the Gap
http://www.mind-the-gap.org.uk/projects/daughters-of-fortune/

Saturday, 3 February 2018

To catch the conscience of the king.

There’s a massive recent increase in the number of families falsely accused of MSbP / FII - methinks “The devil hath power t’assume a pleasing shape.”

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2 William Shakespeare. 

Having over the past four weeks been gripped by the Chanel 4 TV Series Kiri, starring Sarah Lancashire as Social Worker Miriam Grayson; I thought I’d explore some erroneous Child Protection stories from the angles of the various participants, hoping that seeing the ideas and actions of people portrayed here might catch the conscience of everyone involved in children’s work policy and practice today.

The adoptive mother in Kiri reminded me of someone who I wish I’d never known. I wanted to write this whilst I’d got the characterisation from the Kiri story in my head. The story is basically true, although in some instances time and events have been conflated. Additional characters, all conversations and thoughts are imagined.

The Peripatetic Music Teacher’s Story.

Woman : I was hoping you’d be here, I need somebody to talk to. 

Man : Sorry I’m just going out again. I got off work early and just popped in to get my things to go to the gym.

Woman : Do you have to? 

Man : I’m sure I’ve got time for a cuppa, shall I put the kettle on? 

Woman : I was rather fancying sharing a nice soothing bottle of red wine.  But if you’d rather not..

Man : Oh hang it, I’ll go to the gym in the morning, let’s open the vino and do a bit of catching up.

Woman : Are you sure that’s okay?

Man : Yes, I wouldn’t have said so if it wasn’t.

Woman : Thanks then.

Man : What’s spooked you? 

Woman : It was on the radio in the car. A new piece of organ music, surprisingly good. The organist knows what he’s doing, plays for some big occasions in the Abbey and St Paul’s, but it was who wrote the piece which gave me a shock.

Man : Come on then spill the beans. 

Woman : His name won’t mean anything to you, it was before I knew you.

Man : OK you don’t have to keep reminding me that I’m not your first love, but I know I’m the best.

Woman : Yes of course you’re the best. The music was written by someone who I taught when he was a little boy. 

Man : What’s so surprising about that? You’ve taught some very good young musicians and helped them on their way. Quite a few seem to have got into the Conservatoires or Oxbridge. You deserve recognition for all your work. Maybe he’ll put his thanks in a programme note when his music gets played in the Albert Hall or on the Southbank. Hey, we should be celebrating your success, not drowning our sorrows. 

Woman : That won’t happen. This one wasn’t any good at all and he had an idiotic mother who didn’t like me. I really don’t understand how he’s now writing music as good as that. Maybe someone is helping him. 

Man : Come off it, nobody would allow someone else to pass their work off as their own. If it’s got his name attached, you can bet your last dollar that he wrote it. 

Woman : He must have been seven or eight, but very small and looked younger. Apparently he told the headteacher that he’d been listening to jazz on the seashore at a festival in France. It sounded as if his parents had let him stay up all hours. He wasn’t often enthusiastic about anything but came back dreaming of playing the saxophone. The headteacher didn’t want to be the one who discouraged him, so she said he could have a test to see if he could manage. We didn’t expect anything to come of it as he was asthmatic, the school had to look after his inhalers, he was unlikely to be able to blow hard enough. 

Man : It sounds from what you said earlier, as if he passed the test after all. 

Woman : Yes, it was strange really. He wouldn’t look directly at me and wasn’t very talkative, but to my amazement he could blow well and sustain it and even made quite a nice sound. To the headteacher’s regret I couldn’t refuse him a place. “You’re making trouble for yourself” she warned. 

Man : So what was the problem? 

Woman : Where do I start? The class teacher said “you’re going to have trouble teaching that one. He’s quite bright but he can’t read, so I’ve no idea how he’ll cope with music.”

Man : That sounds difficult, what did you do? 

Woman : Well the first few weeks he was just leaning the notes and got on quite well, if I said G he could play a G and if I asked for a B or a D he could play that too. 

Man : Promising.

Woman : When I asked him how he’d got such big lungs to blow so hard, he told me that he could swim underwater, more than half way down the pool. That struck me as very dangerous for an asthmatic child, I wondered what his mother was thinking of? 

Man : Hang on a minute, you might be wrong there. In 2012 when we had the Olympics, I read about several of the British Olympic Swimmers having been asthmatic children. Apparently those were the ones who’d spent sufficient time in the water to develop the lungs you need for competitive sport. I thought that was fascinating. Some people think that swimming is the best way to overcome childhood asthma.

Woman : Are you questioning my teaching ability ? 

Man : No I’m just wondering if that’s something you’d thought of? He’s probably about the same age as some of our medal winning swimmers and his mum might have heard it somewhere. 

Woman : I don’t expect his mother would have known that. She was just interested in making a fuss, not in doing the right thing by her children.

Man : If you say so. This is getting interesting, what happened next.

Woman : I thought that despite everything, it was all going to be alright, so after a few weeks I found a book of easy tunes for saxophone and laboriously wrote out the letters, to make it easy for him.

Man : I don’t understand.

Woman : Pass me that bit of paper and I’ll show you.  

AABADCAABAEDAAAFDCBGGFDCD (she wrote)

Man : What’s on earth is that supposed to be? 

Woman : Can’t you see? It’s something you know well, everybody knows it and I thought he’d soon pick it up.

Man : Did he?

Woman : No he didn’t. As I said, I’d taught him all the notes, well most of them, he wasn’t ready for the top A. 

Man : Top A, I can’t see a top A. 

Woman : It’s the third one, there where there are three As together. I thought it best for him to play it as another A natural. 

Man : So what happened? 

Woman : Nothing really, he stood there stupefied and then asked me if there was any music with lines? I told him he could progress to music when he’d leaned to read, but that for now I’d help him by writing the letters out. It was time to send him back to class, but I told him to practise at home. He looked really upset.

Man : More wine?

Woman : Yes thanks. The next week he’d got a piece of paper on which his mother had drawn a giant stave with a ruler and she’d marked all the notes I’d given him as crotchets with their tails going up, even if they were right at the top of the stave. There were no bar lines, so when he tried to play it there was no form or rhythm. It was ridiculous. I screwed the piece of paper into a ball and threw it in the direction of the bin. His face puckered as if he was going to cry, so I gave him another tune that I’d carefully written out in letters and sent him back to class. I told him to practice both tunes for next week. 

Man : This is becoming a very long story.

Woman : Sorry, I’ll try to hurry up. He was off school the next week. The headteacher thought he was faking and showed me the note his mum had sent, saying he’d got cold on a school swimming trip and it had made him unwell. I told her that I thought he was supposed to be a good swimmer. When he came back she asked him about swimming and he said his mum takes him to a warm pool, but the school took him to a very cold pool and it upset his asthma and made him feel poorly. 

Man : It was probably private. Some kids are just plain spoiled, when I was at Sherborne we had to play rugger in all weathers. 

Woman : Anyway whilst he was off sick I got an envelope from his mother. It had a poorly printed booklet from the British Dyslexia Association about Music and Dyslexia and a letter from his mum, which she’d printed on her home computer in her attempt to look important.

Man : What did she have to say? 

Woman : She wanted us to read the booklet as it might help us understand why her son could read music when he couldn’t read words. I was furious and dashed off to the headteacher, she’d got the same booklet and a copy of the letter. We were both flabbergasted. Did this boy’s mum think she could teach us our jobs?  The headteacher was a concert standard pianist and an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. She could have had a glittering career as a musician, but had given it up because of her passion to teach children in school. I’d trained at the Royal College of Music and graduated with distinction. How dare this boy’s mother send us instructions on how to teach music.

Man : But it sounded like she was trying to tell you about her son’s Dyslexia.

Woman : He had no formal diagnosis! He was just lazy and manipulative and had been over indulged by his mother, so he’d never learned to read. She got him books on tape to listen to, instead of making him get on with it. 

Man : Well at least she got him to listen to stories, one of my dyslexic friends says she taught herself to read by playing the same taped story over and over again and following it on the page. Maybe that’s what this boy’s mum was hoping for? 

Woman : I’m beginning to wonder who’s side you are on? Her letter was totally out of order. She said that although her son couldn’t read words on a page, he could read notes on a stave and had been able to do so for some considerable time. She said that when she transcribed my capital letters into a string of crotchets, he wasn’t happy because there were no time signatures or bar lines and because he thought that maybe some of the notes should be quavers or minims. She asked me to supply him with photocopies of the sheet music, or to tell her which book it was from so she could buy it.

Man : I’m on your side of course, but her request seems fairly reasonable to me, I couldn’t understand your AABADCA either. 

Woman : You haven’t even tried to figure the notes out.

Man : Please put me out of my misery.

Woman : DIY! And NO it wasn’t reasonable! It was an over fussy mother trying to interfere with her son’s education. The headteacher said she’d put her foot down and make sure nothing like this ever happened again. We put both of the leaflets about Dyslexia in the bin where they belonged. 

Man : Wasn’t his mother paying for your lessons? 

Woman : Yes, but what’s that got to do with it. 

Man : Well I just wondered if she thought she’d got a right to ask you to do it her way, if she was paying? You know the old English saying “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. 

Woman : I’m getting fed up of your siding with the mother. 

Man : Sorry I’ll try to keep quiet, here have a top up.

Woman : Thanks, it’s quite a nice wine. The headteacher wouldn’t have parents interfering in her school. Anyway we struggled on for another few weeks, getting nowhere. Then one day, before his lesson, I was in the cloakroom and through the window I overheard him in the playground. He was telling one of the lunchtime supervisors that someone had come to his house and taught him to play the “Pink Panther” on the saxophone. She said that she was a fan of Peter Sellers and asked if he’d play it for her. He asked her to hold the book for him and launched into it. I could hear other children singing along bedum, bedum, bedum bedum bedum...bedum..beduuuuum... they were probably dancing about, 

Man : (Laughing) That must have been quite a shock. What did you do?

Woman : Stop! It wasn’t funny at all! When he came in for his lesson I asked if he’d got a book of saxophone music? He said it was in the classroom, so I sent him to fetch it. I opened it at the “Pink Panther” and asked him to play. He looked a bit startled, but as soon as he started up his confidence came and he played it. I closed the book and put it in his bag and said there would be no more saxophone lessons in school. This was goodbye.

Man : How did he react? 

Woman : He just scurried away as quickly as he could. 

Man : This is the last dregs of the wine.

Woman : His mum wrote to the headteacher saying that learning the “Pink Panther” had been to boost his confidence and to show that, if he was given sheet music rather than a string of letters, he could actually play the saxophone. She asked if he could continue with school based lessons, so he could play in school concerts, as she was sure that he was now good enough and it would boost his confidence. (Getting cross) That was all she wanted, attention attention attention, “please let my son play in your school concert”. As if!  The headteacher showed me the letter and then it followed the sheet of crotchets and the Dyslexia booklets into the bin. 

Man : So that was the end of that?

Woman : Not really. A year or two later I heard he was in hospital with pneumonia. I ask you what mother doesn’t take her child to get antibiotics before an infection develops into pneumonia? She said she’d tried but the doctors wouldn’t listen to her, who’d believe that?  After the pneumonia his school attendance was even poorer and his mother said he’d developed ME / CFS, but of course we didn’t believe her.

Man : Poor kid. 

Woman : What for having such a ridiculous mother? Anyway, we were due an OFSTED inspection and the headteacher was concerned about his poor attendance.  It might affect our statistics and our place in the league table. We were a small school, so it wasn’t possible to hide anyone in the returns. She was worried and sent the Education Welfare Officer to try to counsel him back to school, but his mum blocked that by insisting that he was ill. The EWO found that he’d got a little sister, hiding away in a different school. He contacted the other headteacher, the GP and Social Services and they had a full blown Child Protection Conference. 

Man : That sounds like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Woman : You are so predictable. I knew you’d say that. 

Man : So I’ve obliged.

Woman : In her evidence our headteacher said how difficult the boy’s mother was and how she’d upset me by questioning my professional judgement and sending me information about how to teach music to students with dyslexia. This had been insulting and attention seeking and there were big questions to be asked about the mother’s parenting style and ability. 

Man : So what happened? 

Woman : They couidnt find any evidence of wrongdoing but they put both children on the Child Protection register.  They thought that the mother was likely to inflict future emotional harm to them.

Man : Wow! Did you ever see him and his mother again? 

Woman : As a matter of fact I did. One of my colleagues in the music service started up a small saxophone ensemble. They sometimes did a couple of numbers before a concert by our flagship Wind Orchestra. They actually got quite good and played some gigs at places like the Garden Museum during the London Jazz Festival. One day I realised, to my great amazement, that this same boy was one of their most important members. He could play not only the alto that I’d taught him, but also the soprano and the baritone. He ended up playing baritone sax in the Wind Orchestra. Quite amazing. 

Man : Was his mother at any of the concerts.

Woman : Yes, but she always pointedly avoided me.

Man : This boy sounds intriguing. Give me his name and let’s Google him. 

Woman : (Name given)

Man : Oh my goodness, he’s got his own website. Not only has he had his stuff played on the radio, but also in lots of Cathedrals and important churches. 

Woman : Really?

Man : Yes and I just looked at his CV. I thought you said he had learning difficulties?

Woman : His mum said he was dyslexic, but some dyslexic people can be quite clever. 

Man : He must be one of those. He got a First class degree and the Dean’s prize for an outstanding contribution to the performance arts. So I guess he must have learned to read and write words as well as music. 

Woman : Yes I guess so. Pass me the newspaper, lets see what’s on the television.

(C) Jan Loxley Blount 04/02/18