Where have I been?

I’m cheating a bit here, because I’m using this blog to answer a question that I’ve been asked rather a lot over the last four weeks and I’ve used it as the title. It’s not a short answer, but a fairly long and complicated one. For iworthing-430x269n the first two weeks since I went off radar, I’ve been in hospital, not forgetting any of you but totally unable to answer you. To tell the story shortly; I had a heart attack during the night of Tuesday the 11th September and was in hospital early Wednesday morning. But these bald facts lead us straight in to the most extraordinary story of dedication, kindness, patience and all the very best aspects of our beleaguered NHS.

I had two rather lengthy and difficult procedures, during the second of which four stents were inserted into two of my arteries, I was astounded at the skill it took and how complicated the machinery was, quite amazed to be told that two of the stents actually took my blood around corners. It was as if I’d moved into a completely different world. I was attached to two very complicated machines, neither of which I understood at all, but which were obviously keeping necessary records, because from time to time during the night and day, a nurse would appear at my bed-side to say I’ve become detached and would gently plug me in again. And when the staff nurses, sisters, doctors and consultants did their rounds they had one of their number pushing a portable machine about with all of our details on. It was high tech and then some.

But the thing that impressed me most and absolutely stunned me on occasions, was the kindness, gentleness and thoroughness of all the staff involved. We take them for granted and we shouldn’t. They are sterling. And their attitude to the job, extends to every member of the team, the night staff, who never seem to be able to sleep and are always loving at dark times when you need it most. The doctors who take time to explain everything over and over again to all of us. It would give me the screaming ab-dabs but to them it is normal, the young boys who cleaned the wards very thoroughly and with gentleness when they removed any of our belongings so they could get to the floor. My favourite was a boy called Callum, who asked me very gently if he could move my bag so he could clean where it stood, and when I said I felt a bit of a fraud lying there and doing nothing while he was working so hard, he said “I’m sure you’ve worked very hard all your life. Now it’s our turn” I could have hugged him. And another young man who brought us tea and breakfast and always smiled, his name was George and very suitable. But probably the most amazing of the lot was the staff nurse called Marilyn who encouraged me to admit to being afraid and not to feel bad about it, now there’s a skill. And the consultant, came to the ward to tell me what he was going to do during a very complicated procedure and somehow or other, made me believe and understand that complicated though it was, he would do it and it would be a success. As he did and as it was.

They are stars. And we should be down on our knees, thankful that we have such people in our NHS. Respec’ to every single one of them.

So there you are, that’s what I’ve been doing. And now I’m home and recovering slowly and with a lot of support from my family. Thanking God for being given such a lot of help from so many directions. Even Dixie, has donned an imaginary white coat and appointed himself night nurse extraordinaire.

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This entry was posted on October 9, 2018. 4 Comments

A shower with a will of its own

Hello there blog fans. No I haven’t left the country, although I can understand why some of you thought I had.

I’ve spent the last ten days in a CCU in Worthing Hospital, where I have been treated so amazingly well by the clinical staff that I’m still reeling at the thought of their patience and their skill and their ineffable kindness, which I will tell you about in tomorrow’s blog. But today I thought we should have a bit of cheerful idiocy.

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I thought i had met the height of curiosity in the parking ticket dispensing machines that won’t dispense tickets at all, no matter how carefully you might kajol or persuade them. But now I have met the ultimate in superior machinery.

The hospital shower room is so totally and relentlessly mechanised you can barely persuade it to give more than a teacup full of water. Everything about the room is mechanised, nothing will persuade it to flush the toilet, now matter how carefully you look for the handle. You could approach it from any angle, hopefully, but it won’t do anything unless you hold a hand in front of it for 20 seconds and wave it. Then it takes abrupt and rawing action, growls at you tiger fashion and flushes like a wild thing. Thereafter it will repeat the trick whenever you approach it, with total and cheerful abandon.

The hand basin had a similar will of its own. You have to hold your hands under the tap in just the right position to persuade it to part with any water at all, and then if you take your hand away in order to persuade the soap machine to dispense a soupçon of foam, when you return you have to go through the whole rigmarole over again.

But it was the shower that was the pièce de résistance.

It wouldn’t turn itself on unless you held your hand at exactly the right angle and then you had to wave at it for several seconds and in several positions before it would oblige by actually spraying your toes with water. But when you are foolhardy enough to remove your hands from the controls and snatch a palm full of shower gel, you are back in the water-less desert again and have to start the whole coaxing and waving bit all over again, while it sits in front of you, flashing it’s light but resolutely refusing to provide any water for you to actually wash with. On one or two occasions I assumed a stern face and said ‘are you going to allow me to shower or aren’t you?’ at which it switched off all its lights and retreated into the water-less shadows. It wasn’t open to any sort of compromise at all. I did try just enough to slouche off the soap suds but it didn’t even snort at me. I could hear it chuckling to itself tinnily from somewhere inside the apparatus. So I walked away from it back to the hand sink to do battle with that.

At the end of it I was more or less clean, but sticky in parts. It wasn’t so much taking a shower as being engulfed in wonderland.

But I am home now and what a joy it is to stand in my wet room and be thoroughly slouched all over.

This entry was posted on September 27, 2018. 5 Comments

Profits before Pupils

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If you care about what is happening to our schools and our children as many of us do, please don’t miss the BBC Panorama programme which – with luck – will be aired on BBC One on Monday the 10th September at 20.30. This is an unashamed flier for the programme, because a) this is a scandal and a lot of us know it and b) it is rare for the BBC to come down so strongly on the side of ordinary people against the power and might and greed of the mega rich.

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If when you’ve seen it, there are still questions you would like answered, please get in touch with me via this blog or with Waltham Holy Cross School, for we both know a great deal about it and all of us would be happy to keep you informed.

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This entry was posted on September 5, 2018. 2 Comments

War horse out on the road in full fettle

Since I last wrote about the way our schools are being forced to accept academisation, I have received a lot of information from a great many schools and it is now very clear indeed that our schools are being steadily forced to accept being handed over to academies.

For a start, just take a look at all the schools that have been handed over to one particular academy trust. It is called the ‘Flying High Trust’ (what grandiose titles they do give themselves) and has already taken over 18 schools, here they all are:

  • Candleby Lane School, Cotgrave
  • Hillside Primary and Nursery School, Hucknallwarhorse
  • Peafield Lane Primary, Litten Road, Mansfield, Woodhouse
  • Earnhale Junior
  • Beeston Fields Primary and Nursery
  • Edwalten Primary
  • Bilsthorpe Academy
  • Greythorn Primary, West Bridford
  • Greenwood Primary and Nursery, Kirkby in Ashfield
  • Killisick Junior
  • Horsendale Primary
  • Haddon Primary and Nursery
  • Leammington Primary Academy
  • Porchester Junior
  • Mapplewells Primary and Nursery
  • Stanstead Primary
  • Pinxton Village Infant Schools
  • Kirkstead Junior

These are all in one area of the country and there might well be several of them who were forced in to academisation against their will, or having been forced, now wish they could return to their local government authority.

But, this is very big business we’re talking here. The CEOs of the grandiose Academy Trusts and the men and women in Ofsted that they employ to put the pressure on the schools they fancy, are making a great deal of money out of their new found powers. Last year there were 8 people in Ofsted who got paid over £135,000 a year and the Woolwich Polytechnic School for Boys pays a full time head £165,000 a year and a part-time co/head £105,000 a year. The CEOs of these huge and obscenely wealthy companies, pay themselves exorbitant salaries. And it isn’t as if they are taking good care of the children for whom they are now responsible. Quite the reverse in fact. Great Yarmouth Charter Academy removed 81 undesirable pupils from their role, so that their poor results couldn’t bring down the average grades. I wonder what their parents have to say about that. Maybe they wish they could get the academy order revoked.

The parents at Springfield Academy Primary School are already struggling to do just that but they need as much help as they can get to discover the best way to do it and are talking about forming a parents union.

The parents of Fernwood Primary School, which has had excellent Ofsted reports for five years, but is now deemed to require improvement, have been told they’re going to be part of the ‘Flying High Trust’ – the same Flying High Trust that has already gobbled up the 18 schools I listed above. Like so many other parents in this situation, they don’t know where to turn for help either and are also thinking that a parents union could give them the power and support that they need.

Other parents in other places are moving towards a similar idea. But would a parents union be possible? Waltham Holy Cross are showing us how it could be done and I have been making inquiries on your behalf.

I have contacted the Trades Union Congress at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3LS. And a young lady called Jenny Rockcliff has given me some very helpful advice to pass on to my parent friends. The part of the organisation that would be able to help them most easily is the Community section of ‘Unite’ which has been formed for people who being unemployed or parents of small families and therefore need a different kind of union. All those who are out there wondering what to do next, might find that a good start could be made by phoning Unite on 0333 240 9798. Jenny was well aware that parents and teachers are being pushed around so that their valuable land and all the possibilities for making money that the land and the school represent, can be passed over to the grandiose trusts.

But whatever you do, keep in touch, and I will pass on your news to everybody else and help you in any way I can. It is an absolute scandal that you and your children are being treated in the way you are being treated to satisfy these rich mens’ greed.

 

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We are all the same now

Yesterday I found an interesting item of news on Facebook. It was about an article featured in the Bookseller, announcing that a working class writers’ festival was being planned for 2020. It is being organised by a Cornish writer called Natasha Carthew and it seemed to me to be both admirable and necessary. It provoked a lively exchange, some writers welcoming it and seeing the  need for it, others aggrieved that we should be discussing class at all because as one said, ‘We are all the same now.’ I wish! So here’s my sevenpenn’orth – for what it’s worth.

I have been a published author for the last thirty two years and my thirtieth novel is currently with my agent, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe what happens in the publishing world and to wonder why it does. One thing was obvious right from the start and that was that the big publishers were only interested in a novel if they thought it would earn good money for them. Fair enough. But it wasn’t long before I also became aware of other things too, one of them being how snobbish and superior some of the Oxbridge crowd could be.

My new agent, who had not only discovered me but had got me a staggering advance for my first book, took me to lunch in a prestigious restaurant to get to know me. In the course of the meal, he quizzed me about my education and asked if I’d gone to university. I told I him I had – with some pride because it was a relatively rare thing for anyone at my grammar school to have done. And he pressed for details. ‘What college?’  I told him King’s College London, again with pride. His answer brought me down with a bump. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Poor you!’ London University plainly wasn’t good enough. He’d gone to Cambridge.

Two weeks later I was taken to lunch in a seedy café by two of the young Turks from the publishing house, pretty girls with long blonde hair, false eyelashes and upper class accents. They didn’t have much to say to me, they were too busy polishing their own egos. They compared the colleges they’d attended, both Oxbridge needless to say, and spent the rest of the meal pulling one of the company’s star earners to shreds. Her name was Lena Kennedy and she was a huge best seller, who wrote stories about the East End where she’d grown up – a bit like ‘Call the Midwife’ and good strong stuff. But one of the young Turks had been given the job of line editing her latest book and she was scathingly critical of it. ‘You should have seen her spelling!’ she said, and she gave her friend some examples, screaming with laughter. Then she turned her attention to Lena’s grammar and tore that apart too, while her friend enjoy the mockery.  I listened and thought how arrogant and self-satisfied and unkind they were. And how inaccurate. The grammatical ‘errors’ they were mocking were examples of perfectly grammatical East End speech but they didn’t know such a language existed. Class prejudice again.

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From then on I was careful to keep my opinions to myself and do as I was told, more or less. But I gradually became aware of how often upper and upper middle class writers only wrote about their own class. The working class didn’t seem to exist in their world. There was the occasional butler who spoke in carefully smooth butler-speech and various servants and underlings who said ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’, but the raw speed and power of working class speech was missing. To find that you had to read popular working class writers like Lena Kennedy, Catherine Cookson, Maeve Binchy, Gilda O’Neill and our superlative and working class Charles Dickens. Even more significantly, none of the modern working class writers appeared on the list for any prizes beyond that run by the Romantic Novelists Association, and they were spoken of rather scathingly as ‘women’s fiction’. I certainly never found any put up for the Booker Prize and I checked it every year. There were times when I used to think that all the good people who worked in the great publishing houses simply couldn’t see us. Or was it that they couldn’t hear us.

Recently, as the class war has got steadily more powerful and vicious, I’ve been watching the antics of our obscenely rich rulers and noticing how difficult it is for them to make any sort of contact with the men and women who are not multi-millionaires of their own class. I noticed that, although Jeremy Corbyn went there at once to commiserate and listen and offer what comfort he could, Theresa May never visited the people of Grenfell. She doesn’t seem able to communicate with anyone except a small and specially selected group of followers. You never see her addressing a huge crowd. Perhaps she doesn’t know what to say.

So strength to your arm Natasha Carthew. It’s time working class writers stood up on their strong working class feet and spoke loud and clear in their strong working class voices. The powerful, mega-rich elite have been side-lining us for far too long. Maybe the time has come for them to recognise that we are human just like them, all of us different and individual – we are not all the same – and all of us with something valuable to say about out human condition.

‘Rise like lions after slumber’, fellow writers. I will help in any way I can, Natasha, and God willing I will see you in 2020.

 

This entry was posted on August 21, 2018. 2 Comments

War horse still in action!

I am gathering information at a rate of knots and it is now plainly obvious that what has been and is happening to Waltham Holy Cross is typical of what is and has been going on across the country.

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Harris academy (which was formerly Downhills School) was forced to become an Academy six years ago, despite opposition from 94% of the parents. An Ofsted Inspection declared that the school was failing and the then Education Secretary, one Michael Gove, ordered the take over, because their “SATs results weren’t good enough.” Now it transpires that the Harris Academy which is in Philip Lane in Haringey, has been found to have “over-aided pupils in this year’s English reading and Maths reasoning SATs, according to the standards and testing agency.”  Or to put it more bluntly, they’ve been cheating. As a result, Year 6 pupil scores in these papers have been expunged and they will only receive scores for their spelling, punctuation and grammar tests. The Academy’s chair of governors, Susan Head, wrote a letter to the parents on Monday, describing the investigation findings as “deeply regrettable and disappointing” and said that “the school was ” determined to get to the bottom of what has happened.”  You don’t have to look far Susan!

Yesterday in the Guardian, Melissa Benn said “Our schools are broken. Only radical action will fix them… There is now widespread recognition of the drear reality, inadequate multi academy trusts, increasingly shut out of their children’s education, and executive heads creaming off excessive salaries.” 

And that of course is the reason why these academies have been allowed to take control of our schools by the political elite that now run our lives. Last year there were eight people in Ofsted who got paid over £135,000 per year (information via Paul Garvey). In education, as in everything else, we are being ripped off by the obscenely rich and greedy. High time we started organising to thwart them.

Waltham Holy Cross, have started the campaign and got off to a flying start. They had, what the organiser called, “a brilliant meeting.” It was, he said an opportunity to “gather all the letters/emails that all the other parents sent to all of the authorities.” Adding, “It’s unbelievable that they have not even had responses!”

Sadly, I have to say, the authorities lack of response to these letters is no surprise. They feel they may do and say whatever they want.

We must be sure we keep all information flowing between us, I will pass on whatever I hear, whenever I hear it and will publicise it in any way I know. We owe it to our kids. Strength to your campaigning arms!

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This entry was posted on August 10, 2018. 1 Comment

I’m on my war horse part 2: Use me as a conduit

Since I put up my last blog ‘I’m on my war horse’, I have learnt several interesting things. The first is that the struggle that the staff and parents of Waltham Holy Cross School are putting up to try and avoid being made to leave the control of the local authority and be turned into an Academy – which they do NOT want – is by no means a one off.

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Over 227 people visited that blog on the first day and some of them told me about other schools who are or who have been in a similar position. So I am writing part 2 of the blog as you see, so that people who haven’t seen part one yet can do so now and people who have something to say about what has been and is happening to them and their school, can send me the details. It is a little too easy for bullies to insist upon having their own way if they can claim that what is happening is only happening to ONE school. It is not and we need to tell one another as many details as we can collect.

So please use me as a conduit and let us see who else will take up the cudgels on our behalf. Thanks to Aditya Chakrabortty and the Guardian, the story is already out there and causing a stir, I’m very glad to say.

My war horse is pawing the ground and full of oats!

This entry was posted on August 2, 2018. 3 Comments