26 July 2011

On death and life

Death as the clich√© goes is part of life. You can pay an accountant to avoid taxes but even those rich enough to be able to buy into cryogenics cannot avoid death. As a child I was shielded from the deaths of elderly aunties and uncles by never being part of the conversation. There were no funerals to attend, children weren’t part of that, people just ceased to be there. Now and then when someone who had been well loved died I saw my Grandfather shed tears but never my Mother or Grandmother. It was all about not showing the children how upsetting death was and so I grew up not knowing anything about real grief.

Of course as the child of a God fearing family I became acquainted with the afterlife in the forms of a floaty, high above the clouds heaven, where everyone was happy and smiling and contented and of the stark alternative of the fire and brimstone with added torturous pain forever through eternity, of hell, through regular attendance at Sunday School but these were abstract concepts to the child and never really spoken about except when I had been a particularly naughty child (and I was frequently) and was told that if I carried on as I had been doing then I would end up in hell. So what I thought, I'm going to live forever.

My first real encounter with the finality of death was the demise of the family pet guinea pig, who one day whilst eating his weetabix at the table suddenly fell sideways and ended up on the floor doing a little guinea pig fit. He was taken to the vets and never came home and so death and death by special drugs only available to animals entered my life experience. I cried and missed little Titch for a while.

When my Grandfather died when I was 15 his death hit me like a pole-axe. I could not imagine a world where he wasn't there, could not countenance a life where he wasn't around giving me hugs, supporting me, encouraging me and loving me. His funeral was the first I ever attended and in retrospect I can see that it was a good funeral to attend for a first. Lots of people there, a Vicar who said some pretty astonishing things that have stayed with me to this day even though he had never met my wonderful Grandfather. Grief was not hidden this time. I saw how his death affected my family and relations; their tears and tantrums; nothing was hidden. I stayed with my Grandmother for over a week after his death and we grew close. She talked about her childhood and about her life with my Grandfather and I learned. It was those days with her that I treasure and that set me on a life long hunt for my pesky ancestors, some of whom prove most elusive after 30 odd years.

A few days after Granddad died, Elvis was discovered on his lavatory no longer of this planet and I was annoyed by what I thought was a so-called faux grief displayed by fans. I remember thinking that these people on my TV screen obviously had no idea what it was to lose through death a magnificent and wonderful man like my Grandfather, who was real and known whereas Elvis, well he was just a bloated, self obsessed, self indulgent has been as far as I was concerned.

Life did go one despite what my feelings were on the day my Grandfather died and in continuing I attended many more funerals including peers who died far too young and children who died in cruel ways. I witnessed grief in many forms and not just caused through death but from the breakdown of precious relationships. Death is not the only form of loss.

Since 21st March I have discovered new levels of grieving. It is a myriad of emotions and a roller coaster ride endured because I'm not sure where or when I get off if indeed ending the rise is an option. It’s not just that you miss someone, it is the realisation that although you always meant to, you never did get around to telling your loved one just how much they meant to you on a day to day basis. We all do it. We love our family and friends even worship the ground they walk upon but we let every day life get in the way, small insignificant things cloud the one true and most important reality of how much we do care and so we forget to let them know. Then comes the guilt, it is a heavy burden even if in more lucid moments we acknowledge that guilt is not an appropriate feeling because there should be none; we did our best and the person whom you loved knew that even if they didn't acknowledge it during life.

There has been laughter as well as the tears, remembering the good times, the ways in which my Mother made me laugh, cared for me, the little things she did that made the world a much better place, the way she loved me and all of her family. Oh but I miss her so. I go down to see Dad most days and his grief has been rather more intensive than my own because they were together for nearly 54 years and I have my children to look after whilst he now has nothing. Little has been moved or changed since Mom died because that is the way he wants it but I find this crippling. Every day I have to face her coats hanging in the hall, still with traces of her perfume lingering upon them. Her shoes, her bag, her paperwork, her toiletries, her perfumes and make up, her clothes; everything as it was the day she died, awaiting her return, a return that will never happen. I would love to talk with Dad about Mom, memories shared but he’s not ready to do that and so I cannot move on with my own grief.

I'm not ready to philosophise on all of this but I do know that when someone dies we don’t talk about them enough. It seems that people go to great lengths to avoid talking about the person no longer there. Why does this happen? If we talked more and shared memories wouldn't that help us all deal with a loss that is all encompassing and so very difficult to deal with?

I don’t share my Mother’s deep Christian faith but as it meant so much to her I like to think of her, in her own room in God’s house, surrounded by all the things she enjoyed and loved so much in life, laughing and enjoying and being free from pain.

12 July 2011

An Open letter to Ken MacLeod

You may be wondering who Ken is. Meet him here.

Dear Ken,

I see from your photograph in the Birmingham Mail that you appear to have a disability; a physical disability, open for all to see. Maybe because people see your difference to an able bodied person they treat you a little more kindly, open doors for you, take a little more time to listen to you and your needs, give you a little respect.

I would like you for just a short while to imagine that your disability is hidden and what that might be like. It's inside. It's real enough but people cannot see it. Imagine that your mind and brain are all there but the wiring got a little muddled and so sometimes you don't understand what is happening around you. Perfectly normal day to day situations can be a challenge because communication is sometimes a little difficult or even very difficult. You don't understand something or get scared of a hostile reaction or something that really doesn't scare anyone who doesn't have your difference and so you become frustrated and because perhaps you're young, people around you make judgements about you as a person and your behaviour and when adding up that two plus two make a sum that is not four. Assumptions are made about you. Incorrect assumptions. You are judged. No jury of your peers, no understanding and no desire for understanding. Can you do that Ken? Can you put aside your own personal prejudices for a little while and put yourself into the shoes of a young person, with a hidden disability? If you can then you're in a pretty scary and judgemental world.

Autistic spectrum disorders are very misunderstood. As a mother of a child who is on the spectrum I sometimes find it very difficult to understand my child but the difference between you and me is that I try to understand and I do put myself in their shoes in an attempt to make some sense of what is happening and what is needed. These children and young people are not delinquents. I could go into massive detail about what it is like to watch your child come home from school day after day, year after year bullied to becoming a complete wreck, just because they are different, tell you how bad provision is for such children let alone that when they become young adults provision becomes virtually non-existent but I will not. All I ask is that you reconsider your comment...

"things they wanted to do there weren't right for the area"

Is Streetly an Autistic free zone? Are there no young people there that suffer from this hidden disability? I suggest that there are but that you have blinkers on and refuse to see anything other than your own prejudices. Knowing a person young or old with Autism is an amazing experience. They see things differently to an non-Autistic person and with that can bring joy at embracing an alternative view of the world. I issue and invitation to you and your supporters. Come and meet with us or perhaps with a group that helps such children and young adults. Come with an open mind and an open attitude. You may be surprised at what you discover about this world and about yourself.

Welcome to the Big Society!


And for those who do want to learn a little more here is a useful place to start.....

8 July 2011

To The Manor Born

Back in July 2011 I blogged the following about The Manor House Youth Club in Aldridge. Seems they've gone and pulled the rug from under the young people of Aldridge and surrounding areas. The Manor will close on 31st August. Seems the six councillors of Aldridge don't know an awful lot about this. Why not? Whose interests do they represent? Why has there been no consultation as promised and why are the people of Aldridge the last to know about this?

We are all in this together. Well unless you're young, old, infirm, disabled, unwell or perhaps a single parent, then you have to shoulder a little more because after all it was the greed of such groups that caused the mess the country is apparently in right now. Taking on that little extra hurts and it seems that government be it local or national is taking the lead sadistic role with pleasure but then that's what sadists do.

I've blogged before about inclusion and provision for young people and also a little about my utopian pipe dreams of how local life can be made a little better for all by concentrating resources in a positive and pointed way towards our young people. They are as the cliché goes, our future. Love 'em or loathe 'em it's the young people of today who are going to be taking care of us in the years to come, so you would think we would like to make sure that they get a good start, learn some decent values and have a little fun along the way in order to develop into the well rounded adults that we want caring for us old dodderers.

I learned my life skills from a variety of sources including in my teenage years, The Manor House Youth Club in Aldridge. I learned about mixing with others who didn't go to my school, didn't come from my estate, didn't share my religion, race or sexual orientation, or my taste in music or TV viewing. There were never any arguments about what channel the TV should be on when Charlie's Angels was on and I recall the collective experience, joyful though we were not Scousers, of seeing Liverpool beat Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977 but those times apart, selection of the right channel required careful bargaining and negotiating skills. This was true of getting on pool tables or table football or even selection of records on the old juke box in the coffee lounge. Oh what innocent times, well except Friday nights and the disco when it seemed to me that every teenager in Aldridge was indulging in a snogfest except me! Well I suppose even that has to be learned. The point is that The Manor provided a safe environment for me and all the other young people in the area, under the supervision of some pretty excellent Youth Leaders to be ourselves and to endure the pains, trials, tribulations and angst of the teenage years.

When I arrived back in Aldridge after a long exile in London I was pleased to discover that The Manor was still there and still functioning in pretty much the same way as it had when I was a spotty teenager albeit with a beautifully equipped music room and much better facilities in general than the 1970s. My son has spent many happy hours there, indeed he even did his Year 10 work experience there under the wonderful supervision of a very dedicated Youth Worker by the name of Matt Gough, sadly for the young people of Aldridge now working elsewhere. My daughter is now of an age when she can enjoy the delights of a vibrant youth centre. Unfortunately it looks as though the experience is to be ripped away from her in the name of budget deficit sadists.

Back on 6th April Walsall Council announced it plans to sell Aldridge Manor House. My immediate thought was what is going to happen to the youth provision? I spent the next couple of weeks tweeting @Walsall Council to no avail and so on 10th May I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the council and asked 'Once the sale is agreed and goes ahead, will the Youth Club held at the Manor House be closed or will it be relocated to other premises in Aldridge?' The response was a very long time in arriving considering all it consisted of was one devastating sentence

'I can confirm that any decisions in the future relating to the Youth Club will be subject to consultation with all interested parties and will include efforts to relocate the service.'

So there we have it. There are to be consultations on the future of Aldridge Manor House Youth Service...when? Has the decision to withdraw youth provision in Aldridge already been made behind closed doors where the walls had no ears? And these 'efforts', what will they consist of? I've been racking my brains to try and come up with a set of suitable premises in Aldridge that could be converted (no doubt at some considerable cost thereby rendering such a plan non-viable in the financially penny pinching climate of the moment) for our young people and I cannot think of any. How concerted will such 'efforts' be or, forgive me for being cynical I've lived a while after all, is this it? The end of something so valuable for all our futures and all because some are more in it together than others?

Another cynical thought. Aldridge Manor House is a Grade 2 listed building. Who would want to buy such a building, standing as it does in the very heart of a conservation area in Aldridge with the sort of restrictions that such buildings bring with regard to usage? I fear the heat of the flames that will inevitably follow after years of neglect and dereliction. It appears after all to be a Borough Wide Sport here in Walsall, available to all as long as they have patience, money and a steadfast belief that local authorities and local communities are to be ignored at all costs

Will any of the six councillors for Aldridge North and South make a stand for the young people of Aldridge and pledge support for ensuring that youth provision for the area remains in place or will they continue to play follow the leader?