2016: where do I begin?

I’m currently sat on a train from London to Suffolk, a journey which I never envisaged I’d be doing so regularly at the beginning of the year, trying to write my review of 2016.

It really was one of those years for which only “where do I begin” seems an accurate appraisal. The EU referendum, the ‘Chicken Coup’, slaughter in the Middle East and sustained attacks by the Conservative government on disabled people and society’s most vulnerable all feature at the forefront of my mind. But my own life does also, this year, and the (get ready to cringe) ‘journey’ that I’ve been on.

So, here’s my take on 2016.

Mother: if you’re reading, I apologise in advance for the language…

Chaos at home

The EU referendum has to have been one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a sitting government – intentional or not. Simple as.

As I previously wrote for The CommonSpace, the British public were essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side, the European establishment propped up by banking giants like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, all garnering succour off the Military Industrial Complex and big oil. On the other side? Essentially the same. But with a lesser veil of democracy and attempted egalitarianism.

If the UK had voted Remain, then the EU project would have been safe; Britain would have gone further down the rabbit hole of corporatocracy; it would have lost all veto powers in 2017, and the union would have continued on a path to monolithic, greed-driven totalitarianism.

But we voted to Leave. So instead, we have the most right wing government in living memory controlling our future. As I have frequently commented, I spoiled my ballot. The question the public were being asked was wrong, and the referendum itself an utter stitch-up.

Politicians, however, have struggled to get their pretty little heads around the result. The precious snowflakes can’t understand why so many working-class communities didn’t vote in the way the blatant propaganda was telling them to. The Tories put it down to Nigel Farage’s magic UKIP wand casting a spell over the public, and the public being too stupid to understand what they were voting for. Labour put it down to the Tories leaving so many communities financially and socially behind, and the public being too stupid etc etc. Neither are wholly correct. The rot started with Margaret Thatcher’s scorched earth industrial and social agenda in the 1980s; continued with Tony Blair in the 1990s and 2000s, and, this decade, was compounded by David Cameron. People no longer feel society works for them, and made their anger at the establishment felt via the referendum.

We’ve seen a revolt like no other in modern history. Sadly, it was only at the ballot box – and true revolution never happens there. The public voted to kick the establishment where it hurts. But now, predictably, the same establishment, clutching its blisteringly-red bollocks, are tasked with shaping our future outside the EU. See the stitch-up, yet? We’ve been sold a pup; and are going to pay a heavy price for the privilege. The establishment: One. The public: Nil.

Chaos in the Labour Party

Meanwhile, in the Labour Party, chaos ruled supreme. I don’t think anyone ever believed that Jeremy Corbyn would have an easy ride as party leader. But, as a non-Labour supporter, even I was shocked at the sustained attacks, hatred and vitriol displayed by both the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Constituency Parties and certain elements of the grassroots.

Let’s not beat around the bush, though. This was always going to happen. While Corbyn is by no means the anti-establishment, radical socialist Messiah many would have him be, he is a threat to the order of things. I’m not, and probably will never be, a Labour voter. But Corbyn could be the catalyst to lasting political change in the UK. And such was (and still is) the threat to the established order, that an appallingly-timed ‘coup’ was attempted, the mainstream media have been harshly biased against him, and many in the party will not accept him as leader.

In part, this hostility is down to a fear of upsetting the corporatist apple cart. The ‘right wing’ in Labour cannot believe that the consensus that has reigned for over thirty years can be broken. They are more concerned with winning elections than actually serving the best interests of the country. And yes, many will cry that only by winning can you change things. But what’s the point in a victory, when the ensuing lap of honour is merely danced out in a similar fashion to your opponent? By that I mean there’s no point Labour winning, if they go on to simply water-down Tory values. Blair and Gordon Brown are evidence of that. And that is all the Progress/Labour First/Blue Labour elements in the party will do.

But for many in the PLP, the problem runs deeper than this. Corbyn wants to change the way policy is made. He aims to put control of the process in the hands of members. And this has literally scared the shit out of certain MPs. Historically, Labour Party policy has been designed by representatives of big corporations, in the form of consultations. Then, these are presented to Labour’s Executive Committee, policy forum and conference, to decide upon.

If corporations no longer had this power over decision-making within Labour, many MPs would be thrown off the gravy train that is the Westminster system. And the revolving door between politics and business careers would be slammed in their pious faces. The bottom line is Corbyn is a threat to self-serving, careerist MPs like Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Jess Phillips and their contemptible ilk. And 2016 showed that these cowardly, greedy, nauseating pissants would stop at nothing to try and preserve their own shameful interests. And I’m not even a Labour voter.

Chaos in the Middle East

For me, 2016 had to be one of the most horrific years in the Middle East in recent memory. Not just because of the bloodshed, although this is tragically still incomparable to many periods in modern history. But because of the disgraceful propaganda, the selective reporting by the mainstream media, and the naivety of so many campaign groups, political parties and individuals over what’s really going on.

We are witnessing the first global war of the 21st century in Syria. There are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in the almighty mess that was once one of the most successful, secular countries in the region. Both Russia, the West and their respective allies are playing a game of geopolitical chess. And the winners are corporations, big oil and some of the richest individuals on the planet.

But so many people would have you believe that one side is in the right, here. Whether it be Western powers, with their bullshit veil of humanitarianism barely masking the craven greed that’s driving them to fund terrorists and repeatedly lie to the public. Or Russia, with its relentless spinning of propaganda, nefarious military campaign and disregard for human life – also under a bullshit veil, which is of the same hue as the West’s. And the charities and non-governmental organisations (NGO), acting as blatant proxies for whichever side is the highest bidder.

It’s not fucking difficult. No one is in the right, in Syria. Except the millions of innocent civilians caught up in the despicable games of those who have money to make. How do we end this relentless carnage? I don’t know; short of toppling every imperialist power, in both the East and the West, in one fell swoop. But I do know that no one can be trusted. Except those whose lives have been devastated by the conflict .

But for me, 2016 was also all about Yemen. I first wrote about the situation in January, before every Guardianista, their silver-grey cat and YouTube channel woke up and jumped on the bandwagon, seeing the career-miles that could be made.

Yemen appears just as complex as Syria. Countless warring tribes with uneasy truces; the Bab-el-Mandeb strait; Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province, where all its oil is to be found; the Kingdom’s terminal decline and its fear of losing control, and Western geopolitical games in the region. But in reality, it boils down to the same, disgusting greed that we see manifest itself in Syria. And while the public, and certain politicians, are seemingly more aware of the devastating situation, which is on a humanitarian scale that dwarfs that in Syria, Western corporatist powers care not. They simply carry on, regardless; aided and abetted by campaigners and politicians who condemn Western intervention in Yemen but blindly support it, albeit often mutedly, in Syria.

In 2016 we created one, almighty, fucking mess in the Middle East. And such is the nature of the chaos, that most don’t seem to know, or care, what is right or wrong anymore.

Chaos in British society

This year, I felt like I was constantly repeating myself on one subject in particular. That of the Tories’ sustained attacks on disabled people, the poor and society’s most vulnerable. A week didn’t pass where I wasn’t writing or being interviewed about yet another shocking piece of analysis; another buried assault on a marginalised group disguised as a money-saving, life-improving Tory policy, or a protest by people, sick of protesting, but with little else left in their artillery.

There would be too much to write about if I wanted to detail every vile policy, every staggering statistic and every campaign group fighting for life’s most basic rights. But for me, two incidences sum up the year. The two occasions that the UN have condemned the Tories for their attacks on those of us on the lower rungs of British life.

Essentially, the UN has twice accused the Tories, and their shitheels Lib Dem former partners in countless crimes, of breaching people’s basic human rights. “Grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights accompanied “deep” and “serious” concerns of the UN over the attacks on the poor, working families, single parents, homeless people and the elderly. This, of course, was all in the name of ‘austerity’.

The first report, which covered all marginalised groups, was published in June. And it was unprecedented in its criticisms of the Tory government and its predecessor. It was, in fact, only comparable to Honduras in its severity – a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and one which is subject to travel warnings from most governments.

The second, published in November, was specifically about violations of disabled people’s rights. And it was even more severe, saying the Tories had contributed to creating a society where disabled people were viewed as ‘benefit fraudsters’, ‘lazy’ and a ‘burden’, and that countless international conventions had been breached.

But, as is always the way with the flaccid, impotent and highly compromised UN, there wasn’t anything in these reports that was legally binding. Essentially, the Tories just shrugged their shoulders and said “And? Just WTF are you going to do about it?”

And the public? Essentially, they have done the same. Years of neoliberal, race-to-the-bottom, ‘envy thy neighbour’ conditioning from Tory and Labour governments has left us socially bankrupt. No longer are people valued for what they contribute to society; merely what they can contribute to the economy, and therefore, ultimately, rich people’s bank balances. But it’s the contribution to the last bit that most people don’t seem to think about. We, as a society, have become all-consumed by what we can ‘aspire’ to in life. Anyone who is seemingly getting a free ride, regardless of whether they have fibromyalgia, MS, cancer, mental health issues, addiction problems, or any manner of other reasons, are not worth as much as those who go to work. Remember Eugenics? It seems that many of today’s politicians have a fondness for that most despicable of pseudo-sciences. We really are regressing to a time last seen over a century ago.

Chaos in my own life. But with a happier ending

I’m a big fan of soundtracks to life. Anyone who has ever seen Ally McBeal will remember Tracey (Ullman), McBeal’s therapist, telling her to get a ‘theme song’. Well, art is indeed imitating life, there, as my therapist says the same thing. And on a personal level, for me, two songs sum up 2016 most accurately.

Sarah McLachlan wrote the song Angel in 1997. It is about heroin addiction, and how the illness holds a person’s life to ransom; more often than not playing a game of Russian Roulette with them. And it’s wholly applicable to alcoholism, as well. Something which I had the hardest battle of my life with, this year.

Having been an addict for over a decade, everything came to a head in 2016. I severely relapsed in May, and was at a crossroads between life and death. Literally, if I gave in again and drank, I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I would die.

McLachlan wrote:

I need some distraction; oh, a beautiful release.

Memories seep from my veins.

Let me be empty, oh and weightless and maybe, I’ll find some peace, tonight.

It’s the “endlessness that you fear”, that engulfs an addict. Learned behaviours, childhood trauma, anxiety and self-esteem issues – all are given a “distraction”, a “beautiful release” when you pour alcohol into your body, in excess. Something which I kept doing, and doing, and doing.

But this year was different. Staring drunkenly into oblivion early one morning, I had just spent all night writing about Amy Winehouse’s tragic story. It was my beautiful Amy that gave me the wake-up call that I needed, as I could see so much of my behaviour in hers. And as I wrote for The Canary, I could see her tragic death, at the end of a spiraling chaos that got out of control, being mine, too.

I cannot thank the NHS enough. I know it’s not perfect; I know it’s a postcode lottery; I know some people have horror stories and I know many do not get the help they need. But for me, my psychiatrist, my therapist and my GP have literally saved my life. I’ve had the most amazing help and support from them, and I’ve been “pulled from the wreckage of my silent reverie”. And, I’m now over six months dry. Something I have never managed to be, before.

McLachlan also said in Angel:

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance.

For a break that would make it OK.

There’s always some reason to feel not good enough.

And it’s hard at the end of the day.

Even being dry, those words still resonated with me. While therapy has helped me to understand why I drank, and begin to deal with the very negative core beliefs I hold about myself, I was still waiting for that “second chance”.

The second song that will always make me think of 2016 is Yours, by Ella Henderson.

I made a (what I thought was) humorous post on Facebook in September. I said that:

If a woman can put up with a bisexual alcoholic who has mental health issues, then I’d make a great house husband.

I had resigned myself to the fact that the likelihood of me having a relationship with a female was greater than Jess Philips coming out in support of Corbyn. And you know those odds aren’t good. I never, ever thought for a second that I would find a woman that could actually put up with my tarnished life.

But, remarkably, I have. I cannot begin to describe how articulate, beautiful, charismatic, inspirational, intelligent, loving and perfect she is. Neither can I use any more adjectives, as that would seem borderline obsessive. But, she is.

Henderson sings:

And I will find the strength to untape my mouth, when I used to be afraid of the words.

But with you I’ve learned just to let it out, now my heart is ready to burst.

Cause I, I feel like I’m ready for love. And I want to be your everything, and more.

I used to be afraid of getting too close to someone. There were always aspects of my personality and soul that I would keep hidden. But, for the first time in my life, I finally feel nearly at peace with myself. I feel I can be myself. Wholly. And that is, in no small measure, thanks to her and her amazing son. I’ve just had the most wonderful Christmas of my life with them, and am looking forward to 2017 in a way which I have never felt about a new year, before. Excited and hopeful.

Thanks

I have so many people to thank this year, I’m not sure where to begin. So, as any writer should do when they are trying to save on the word count, I’ll bullet point them:

  • Kerry-Anne, and everyone at The Canary. I never, ever, ever would have believed this time last year I would be writing for a living, full time. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity, and love every single minute of it. And the support has been humbling. May The Canary sing, and fly, even higher in 2017.
  • William (he knows who he is). One of my dearest friends, who has been with me through the really good, and the really bad times, this year. I love you dearly, ‘playah’…
  • To the amazing team at Scisco Media. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be part of the development of something so exciting. Here’s to 2017!
  • Everyone at Consented, The CommonSpace, Russia Today (especially Bouchra), Al Jazeera, Red Pepper, The Independent, Occupy, talkRadio, Talk Radio Europe and anywhere else that has given me a platform this year. Thank you.
  • My friends on Facebook, some of the nicest social media people going. You’ve seen it all from me, this year, and have been so generous, kind and supportive. Thank you.
  • Everyone who has read, shared and commented on my work, on Twitter and in the amazing Facebook groups I’m part of. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your support has been overwhelming, during what was a really hard year.
  • All the people who have contacted me with their stories. I pride myself on writing about subjects other people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, and letting voices be heard that usually are forced to remain silent. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write everything everyone asked me to. And I also apologise for not always responding to messages as quickly as I should. I’ll try and improve on that in 2017.
  • Finally, my darling, beautiful partner. I love you so much, it hurts sometimes. “And I know every day I say it, but I just want you to be sure – that I am yours”.

Last year, I said that in 2016:

No one, old media or new, will be telling me what to think. I will research, ponder, question and criticise, even if it goes against what the majority are saying. Finding my own truth is going to be a fundamental component of my year, because without it I will be nothing more than a cog in the ever-growing wheel. Ain’t happening.

I hope I stuck to that. And I certainly found my own truth this year, in so many ways.

There’s a particular quote that will be at the forefront of my mind, during 2017. I’m a bit of a Marvel fan, something that along with my love of Mariah Carey, may surprise people. The quote, originally from an edition of Amazing Spider-Man penned by J. Michael Straczynski in 2007, then revamped for the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War, it is simply:

Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong, is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say “No. You move”.

This will be my mantra for 2017. And I think, maybe, it should be yours too.

With lots of love and hopeful, peaceful and warm wishes for 2017.

Steve

x

Robbie Powell: a story of a systematic institutional cover-up, a quarter of a century in the making

The tragic death of 10-year-old Robbie Powell more than 26 years ago is a story without an ending. Allegations of gross negligence manslaughter, forgery, perverting the course of justice and conspiracy hang over numerous medical professionals. And the NHS, police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Welsh Office, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the General Medical Council (GMC), Conservative Cabinet Ministers and other public bodies were involved.

Robbie died from what should have been a treatable illness that only needed a daily intake of tablets. But, what history shows is that not only did doctors fail him, but almost everyone involved in the boy’s case repeatedly did as well – and are still doing so right up until this day.

Below are the links to my investigations into the story, so far. Please read and share widely; more articles are to follow.

Robbie: an overview of the case:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/09/26/robbie-powell-shocking-alleged-cover-10-year-old-boys-death-26-years-ago/ 

The failings of the CPS [Part One]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/07/robbie-powell-crown-prosecution-service-tragically-failed-10-year-old-boy-part-one/

The failings of the CPS, [Part Two]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/07/robbie-powell-crown-prosecution-service-tragically-failed-10-year-old-boy-part-two/

The medical professionals who could have saved his life:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/14/robbie-powell-medical-professionals-saved-10-year-old-boys-life/

The “institutionally incompetent” police who failed Robbie:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/21/robbie-powell-institutionally-incompetent-police-failed-10-year-old-boy/

The failure of UK legal and political systems to bring justice for Robbie [Part One]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/11/04/robbie-powell-failures-uk-political-legal-systems-death-10-year-old-boy-part-one/

The failure of UK legal and political systems to bring justice for Robbie [Part Two]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/11/04/robbie-powell-failures-uk-political-legal-systems-death-10-year-old-boy-part-two/

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part One]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/11/25/robbie-powell-one-crucial-document-may-hold-key-young-boys-unnecessary-death-part-one/

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part Two]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/12/02/robbie-powell-one-crucial-document-may-hold-key-young-boys-unnecessary-death-part-two/

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part Three]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/12/02/robbie-powell-one-crucial-document-may-hold-key-young-boys-unnecessary-death-part-three/

How every institution of the State has failed Robbie Powell [Part One]:

https://www.thecanary.co/2017/02/03/robbie-powell-grieving-father-nowhere-left-turn-death-10-year-old-son-part-one/

How every institution of the State has failed Robbie Powell [Part Two]:

https://www.thecanary.co/2017/02/03/robbie-powell-grieving-father-nowhere-left-turn-death-10-year-old-son-part-two/

Another state-sanctioned cover-up? This time, over the death of a 10-year-old boy.

My report for The Canary, into a possible state-sanctioned cover-up over the death of 10-year-old boy, Robbie Powell – over 26 years ago.

Robbie Powell: the shocking alleged cover-up of a 10-year-old boy’s death, 26 years ago

I’ve been a Guardian reader for 40 years, but no longer. Here’s why. 

This is excellent.

Walker's Rambles


Today, I received a routine email from the Guardian regarding my ongoing subscription to the paper. I have been a regular reader of the Guardian for 40 years including as a subscriber in recent years. But no longer.

My email explaining why is listed below.

Hi there

Thank you for your recent email.

It has prompted me to contact you regarding my Guardian subscription.
I have bought the Guardian since the age of 12; I am now 52. I have always considered the paper to be fair and on the side of people who are trying to make a difference. The paper’s campaigning work is well known and rightly so. Even though I have not always agreed with the paper’s leaders and editorial line, mostly I have and one of the main reasons I have supported the paper for 40 years has been its left of centre position on the…

View original post 585 more words

140 characters

A new blogger.

Read, read, read.

#CreativeGeordie

I’m one of the 26% of over 55’s - who use social media to garner their internet news. Oooh I do like to be – not the norm!

I’m on Twitter. Couldn’t ever get with this ‘friends’ thing on Facebook. It felt a bit harsh not to be friends with someone! And people wrote reams. Whereas a tweet had the delight (to me) of only being 140 characters long. Just like texts years ago. I loved the challenge of the limit. Still do.

My grown up children however are not too impressed. On holiday recently I was told to get off Twitter! More than once.

Not only is it my source of news but it’s my source of inspiration & fun. I’ve RTd and won tickets to the theatre once. It’s my outlet for my outrage at various issues. It has galvanised me into supporting causes by going to rallies…

View original post 765 more words

Jeremy Corbyn: is the unelectable, electable?

So, I wrote a series of articles last week, on the situation within the Labour party and the ongoing battle for the leadership.

They were actually intended as one article, but owing to the length I decided to split them into three parts, spread across three nights.

The articles look at the accusations of Corbyn’s “far left” ideology, the problems with Blair’s “Third Way” and Miliband after him, and broadly whether Corbyn is, and should be, electable as prime minister.

Here are the three pieces, linked, so if people wish to read them as an entire work they can.

Part one: the Labour leadership: the smearing of Corbyn supporters is a disgraceful game

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/11/labour-leadership-war-smearing-corbyn-supporters-disgraceful-game/ 

Part two: this is the real reason Corbyn’s being set upon by the Blairites

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/12/real-reason-corbyns-set-upon-blairites/

Part three: Corbyn must be the UK’s next prime minister – and here’s why

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/13/corbyn-must-uks-next-prime-minister-heres/

“Taking Steps” by Helen Sims – a review

Here is my review of a new book by my friend and disability activist Helen Sims. Called “Taking Steps”, it’s a collection of her poetry, short stories and “musings”.

The term “brutally honest” is a well-worn phrase, used by politicians, journalists and PR gurus often without the slightest inclination of the gravity of the sentiment. It’s frequently just a rhetorical soundbite; invariably cynical and more often than not, hyperbole.

In the context of Helen Sims’ book, “Taking Steps”, none of those adjectives are appropriate. The author is brutally honest so far as to say she, and her story, are devastating – yet poignantly hopeful.

In what is an extremely smart, well-constructed and pertinent collection of her poetry and short stories, Sims takes us through the full spectrum of her own emotional, well-worn path in life. The results are joyous.

Opening with a foreword that gives us some backstory to where the author and campaigner has come from, with expansion this could become a standalone piece in itself. An epitaph to all those who have monumentally struggled, as Sims openly has, but who have been shaped by this struggle and come out the other side. Intact.

There’s a passage which particularly stands out – that encapsulates the writer and what drives her. Sims’ talks about being at a “mainstream” primary school:

Eventually though, things settled down a bit and I found my niche. I was ‘skipping rope holder’ at play time. Part of me felt wonderful; so pleased and relieved that they wanted me to play with them. But it hurt too. I wanted to be the one skipping or playing hopscotch, and I hated being left out of ‘kiss chase’. However, I understood that it was just the way things had to be. There was, there is, no choice.”

“There was, there is, no choice” is, for me, one of the most profound statements in the prologue, and one which is crucial to understanding the rest of Sims’ work. It’s that resolution the author has come to, that acceptance, that drives her. She is, while not always content with life, unyielding in her self-awareness and determination to be more than her disability – Sims lives with cerebral palsy.

The bulk of her work is lyric poetry or ballad in style, honing in on subject matter personal to her; often reflective on past events, the author appears to tread a fine line between writing as catharsis and in some way prompting the reader to stop, think and reflect themselves.

This is apparent in several pieces, where she discusses homelessness, societal and governmental attitudes to the disabled and even pop culture (note her acerbic takedown of social media in “Faceless Book”).

There is no standardised form to Sims’ writing – she merrily skips between quatrains, quintains and even septains. Much of her work utilises the iambic pentameter, but she doesn’t stick to any particular format, dancing from “ABBA”, to “ABCBC” via “ABAB” and even utilises a Vers libre format extremely potently in many pieces.

Orthodox poetry this is not – so if you were looking for a collection that banally confines itself to set forms and techniques, then look elsewhere.

A pertinent example of this is “Write Again”.

As a journalist who lives with addiction and mental health issues, it’s a piece that touched a nerve personally with me. Sims encapsulates perfectly the struggle to emotionally garner the capacity to put words and thoughts down, after a period of abstinence from writing (in this case what would appear to be, for her, due to depression).

The author skips from the omniscient third to the first persons in stanzas, and it’s utilised to good effect:

“She’s back
And she is feeling fine,
She just needed
A little time,
We’re relieved that she can write again.

I’m back
And I told them all is well,
But they don’t know
How far I fell,
I wish that I could write again.”

But two of the most devastating pieces in this collection are “Dead” and “Baby, unfinished”. In them Sims openly talks about suffering a miscarriage, and the effect it had on her and her relationship with her husband. Gut-wrenchingly honest and brutal, she cares not for dressing the pieces up; merely, she hits the reader with the moving, stark and tragic reality of the event:

“I really don’t know why I’m writing to you now,
I guess the private me needs to come out
Somehow.
I’m sorry baby that you could not stay,
And because I flushed you away.”

However, the masterfulness of Sims’ work is the way she manipulates the reader, by interspersing the harrowing with extremely light, often laugh-out-loud pieces – which also presents her as an astute social commentator. There’s something of the Ayckbourn about her in “While you’re at the shops”:

“While you’re down there,
Put the lottery on,
This time don’t get the numbers wrong!
Get some polish for Cindy’s shoes,
Find a cure for Andy’s flu.

Granny rang,
Don’t forget her gin,
Or plastic bags for the kitchen bin.”

Sims also musters some of this unembellished grit in to the second and third parts of her book, which are a collection of short stories and “musings”, if you like.

She shows a precocious talent for storytelling, especially that aimed at a younger audience. There are some delicious tales surrounding Christmas, which could easily be extended into books in their own right.

But Sims also burns glaringly bright with the ability to talk to her audience about subjects they may not understand, or have experienced.

In “Depression: The Hand Around Your Ankle”, she says “It isn’t simple, and maybe I over simplify things a bit here”, as if almost questioning the clarity of her prose and her argument. I feel she misses the point herself – the very fact she does oversimplify things, is what makes it so commanding.

The various “musings” she has written also demonstrate she has a deft hand at social commentary, especially surrounding disability. Many a Guardian columnist could learn a lesson, or two.

Overall, “Taking Steps” is not the work of a poet and writer who has learned their craft through the educational system, without actually living.

What “Taking Steps” is, is a glorious collection of work spanning a writer’s lifetime, that transcends the conventions of academia-led verse into a full-blown, gutsy miscellany of reflections on an individual’s world. It is the work of a writer who has “lived”.

Sims is a writer with an impishly rebellious streak, that shines through every piece in her collection. While not transgressive, it is modern, raw and unrefined. The way all the best writing should be.

Open your mind, withdraw from convention, and take some steps yourself into Helen Sims’ world. You won’t be disappointed.

“Taking Steps” is available to purchase here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taking-Steps-Helen-Sims/dp/1533347182

Brexit was an opinion poll, nothing more

Best article of the week.

READ.

Left at the Lights

Brexit has caused ‘economic PTSD’!

Brexit has forced the Tories to retreat from austerity!

Brexit has broken everything.

Whilst these headlines are presented as facts they actually mean very little. What is economic PTSD? Do you suffer flashbacks to the EURef whenever your eye accidentally catches the Euro symbol on your keyboard perhaps? Maybe the Tories will start throwing cash at everything now, they couldn’t have foreseen the collapse of our economy, not even with all the world class economists on speed dial. Also, when they say Britain has broken *EVERYTHING*, define ‘everything’. Do they really mean ‘every’ ‘thing’ as in every little thing that ever existed? Or do they mean everything that exists to their knowledge, so anything outside their sphere of experience isn’t actually a ‘thing’?

I’ll tell you something else Brexit hasn’t caused; racism. In the days that followed the referendum racism became impossible to ignore…

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Dotted lines in the sand.

Unless you’ve had no internet access, been caught-up in all the EU referendum hokum or don’t read my timeline, you couldn’t have missed the fact I’ve just had a very public relapse (as an alcoholic) and a near-mental breakdown.

I wanted to write a few words, on a number of things.

I thought it important to put the three articles I’d written together, in one place – as they may be useful to someone else who is suffering. Useful as an example of how you come from a very dark place and then end up somewhere brighter.

The first piece I did was on Amy Winehouse, and the misunderstanding that still exists surrounding alcoholics. At this point I was at the bottom of a very deep pit, and was struggling to cope. I had no support, no one to turn to – and was *literally* crying out to be saved. Because Amy hadn’t been.

www.commonspace.scot/articles/8431/steve-topple-we-cant-help-addicts-if-we-dont-understand-them-read-my-story

The next piece was based on a Rihanna song, “Russian Roulette”. I had had a medical intervention, but was utterly struggling with it. Self-detox is a dangerous game. You wait for who’s going to pull that trigger first – you, or the drink. I’d had issues with trying to fight it, issues with the professionals I had encountered (not their fault), and issues with the NHS. But also (most importantly) issues with the persistent public sneering at addicts and people with mental health issues.

www.consented.co.uk/read/the-public-dont-like-drunks-but-they-have-to-learn-to-love-them/

But the final piece I wrote was based on a Mariah Carey song, “Almost Home”. I went through nearly every aspect of starting off in that pit, working through the self-loathing and hatred of yourself, but gradually beginning to come out the other side.  I wrote this because with the right support, the right people to reach out to and some honesty, you can get there – and I wanted to try and provide some hope. That was the hardest thing to write, as I had to be so honest. But I had to be.

www.consented.co.uk/read/almosthome/

I had to be honest with all of this, and write them. Because (and THIS is the point) if any of these – and I hope it’s the final piece – helps just one other person, then all the shit I have been through has made it all fucking worthwhile.

I hope it helps more than one person – I hope a lot of people have drawn some sort of hope from this. But one would be enough.

So, I’ve drawn some dotted lines in the sand.

I say dotted for a reason. The most important thing with mental health and addiction is that you look after yourself. Because neither of those things ever go away. You never draw a full line; you just learn to manage. And you keep one eye on those demons, as they can slip through your dots. You “check in” on a regular basis. Because something can always catch you, unawares.

No, there is never that “full” line drawn. But, by God, you can try your hardest to make sure nothing gets through those dots.

But as long as you know this, and stay as safe as possible – then you CAN beat each battle.

I just want to thank all my Twitter friends, as well. I wouldn’t have done it without you.

And if anyone else ever needs someone – you all know where I am. @MrTopple.

Much love to you all.

xxx

 

Jeremy Hunt: the “nuclear option” goes into meltdown – #JuniorDoctors contract imposition illegal?

“Imposition”.

A word that was the starting gun for the increased periods of industrial action we have witnessed by the BMA appears to have backfired on the Health Secretary, yesterday – as the news broke that Jeremy Hunt (faced with a High Court challenge over the legality of his actions), would now only be “introducing” the divisive “Junior Doctors Contract”; a possibly spectacular retreat, and one which may well leave the Health Secretary in a position of precarity – but one which he has denied through his medium of choice for official press statements when something is hitting the fan. Twitter.

In a letter from the Department of Health to the solicitors representing the “Justice for Health” group, in court today challenging Hunt, it was clearly stated that the Health Secretary would “proceed with the introduction of the new contract” (note no use of the word “imposition”).

It went further, outlining that under the National Health Service Act 2006 Hunt has the power “to take a leading role in negotiations and discussions between NHS Employers… and employees representatives” (the BMA); it also states that it enables him to “approve the terms of national model contracts” and “take steps to lead to the introduction of national model contracts by the various employers of … junior doctors”.

The semantics in this are key – because there is a world of difference between the Secretary of State being involved in the contract, and him forcing the imposition of one on employees of various NHS bodies. There also appears to be another world of difference between what this letter states, and what the Health Secretary has been saying in the House of Commons and publicly – something, potentially, which could be the undoing of Jeremy Hunt.

Hansard records and media interviews show that Hunt has referred to the, or positioned himself to appear to be advocating the forcing-through of the new contract (or the “imposition” of, or to “implement” it, or that “Enough is Enough”, or any other phrase or word which isn’t “introduce”) here, here, here and here, without ever denying the terms “imposition” and “impose”; potentially more damning, however, is Prime Minister David Cameron specifically saying the Government couldn’t rule out “imposing” a contract here.

But – and here’s the money-shot – Hunt is on record saying that “We did not, and do not, seek to impose a new contract” last October – after saying in a speech to the King’s Fund last July that “We are ready to impose a new contract”.

Update: Jeremy Hunt said, in Parliament this afternoon, that “Yes, we are imposing a new contract”. This is the first time he has used the word “impose” in the Commons, and one can only assume this is an attempt to sever a line of attack from the Junior Doctors, after yesterday’s Guardian piece; that is, he is basically saying “Right. We’ve said ‘impose’ – now what are you going to do about it?”.

This is where, legally, it gets messy – and throws up at least three issues.

One: whether Jeremy Hunt has the right, as Secretary of State for Health, to force Junior Doctor’s employers to accept a new contract without the approval of its employees; the wording of the letter from the DoH solicitors would indicate not, as it appears Hunt is neither their employer nor can he do more than “take steps leading to the introduction of” contracts according to the 2006 act. He has also financially been pressurising Trust’s over the contract, with threats of forcing them to dismiss Junior Doctors or pull their funding if the former won’t impose the contract

Two: if an employer wishes to “impose” a new contract, they must give formal notice of the termination of the old contract, dismiss the employee and offer re-engagement on the new terms. This throws up a myriad of problems with doctors who are on longer, multi-year contracts with a ‘lead employer’; it only applies in uncomplicated terms to the new, August intake of trainees or those whose contracts expire – and even then, the contract is still deemed unworkable, dangerous and completely irrelevant to a “7-day NHS”, so why should “rookies” be used as guinea pigs?

Three: Jeremy Hunt is not the “employer” of Junior Doctors who work for NHS Foundation Trusts, councils and GP practices. He can only “instruct” (as noted above), but this can only be after a public consultation has taken place looking at the effects of his plans – which has not been done.

As Heidi Alexander, Labour Shadow Health Secretary put it: “(Hunt’s) motives, judgement and competence are now being called into question. If Jeremy Hunt is now claiming he isn’t imposing the contract, then this also raises the prospect that he has misled Parliament. (He) needs to urgently clarify whether or not he has the powers to impose a new contract”.

It matters even more, because the basis for the BMA’s industrial action has been the apparent “imposition” of the contract – and if this is not going to be the case, the Health Secretary has not only misled parliament, but also doctors, professional bodies and the public as a whole.

deloitte

But this developing situation is just the thin end of the wedge regarding the debacle of the Junior Doctor’s contract – a story which has, from start to the current chapter, been littered with dubious statistics, manipulation and misrepresentation by the Health Secretary.

As I have written about previously, the conception of the new contract was, to say the least, suspect – involving right-wing think tanks, private companies and the skewing of information and evidence. In short, the contract is in no way leverage for a “7-day NHS”, nor increased patient safety. It’s about cost saving, public perception and ultimately putting the health service into such a torrid position that the only option the Government have left is to privatise it.

I also investigated the debacle surrounding the “6,000 additional weekend deaths”, where Hunt used unverifiable statistics as an argument for the new contract; a tale of claim, counter-claim, backtracking, manipulation and the highly suspicious involvement of Deloitte and their access to data they weren’t legally allowed to have – plus the seeming collusion between them, the Department of Health, NHS England and possibly one “Sir” Bruce Keogh.

Of course, none of this is surprising to doctors who are at the sharp end of a Government Minister’s inane and underhand approach to this situation.

Speaking to me last night, Dr Ben White, one of the 5 doctors from the “Justice for Health” group challenging the legality of the contract, said:

“No matter what the Judge decides regarding this toxic contract, this process has called into question the Secretary of State for Health’s decision making power and process. We, Justice for Health, say that he has no power to impose, and that he has failed to act rationally and reasonably, also failing to conduct a lawful consultation process.

Despite concerns from public, patients and professionals, he has refused to listen and instead pushed on with a politically motivated agenda for an unfunded “7-day NHS”.

We already have seven-day emergency services staffed by junior doctors. Trying to stretch staff further would tip an NHS on the brink over the edge into the abyss. He has proffered a scenario which would be a perfect storm for patient safety.”

roshana1

But here’s the crux of the matter.

Put to one side the arguments that doctors are classed as “essential services”, and any other counter subversive measures the Tories may try and use to sway the public onto their side; just because someone works in an “essential service” doesn’t automatically bestow the right upon the Government to shit all over them.

They are employees, like many of us, who are faced with a change to their legal terms and conditions. If they are not happy with these T&C’s they are well within their rights to take what action is necessary to try and prevent them being enforced (which they have done). If Hunt (which he has consistently appeared to be) was/is intending to “impose” a contract upon them, after they have pursued all other avenues, the only route left would be for them to not sign said document.

This would result in an even worse situation than they are already in, as it could (theoretically) result in a greater stalemate or possibly the dismissal of swathes of doctors. All because the Secretary of State is, quite frankly, too pig-headed and ignorant to listen to the genuine concerns of industry professionals – and is more concerned with a covert agenda of a scorched earth, privatisation-by-stealth policy for the NHS.

The Junior Doctors, as employees of an organisation, have as much right as anyone else to object to a change in their terms and conditions (by someone who in reality isn’t even their employer) and – most importantly in this case – raise concerns about the safety of their patients which is what is at the heart of this; therefore, as such, deserve the full support of the public – and still appear to garner that in large quantities.

Jeremy Hunt, in this writer’s opinion, has more than a lot to answer for. His position as Secretary of State for Health should be, by now, thoroughly untenable. With a court date for the “Justice for Health” legal challenge rumoured to be the 8th-9th of June, just what does it take for a Cabinet Minister to lose their job in this Government?

Unfounded provocation outside of their jurisdiction? Misleading Parliament, professional bodies and the public? The use of unquantifiable statistics against the standards set out by the regulatory watchdog? Presiding over a department which provided sensitive data to a third party, possibly illegally?

Or just being a duplicitous, snivelling, unprofessional pissant with the tact of a used commode and the people skills of a poorly-executed bed bath?

It’s no longer “Time to Talk”, Jeremy Hunt.

It’s now time to go.

If you wish to support Justice for Health’s legal challenge, go here: http://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/nhs

Follow them on Twitter: @Justice4Health_

#JustHealth