Monthly Archives: November 2013

It`ll be lonely this Christmas.


Christmas is a particularly difficult time of the year for those parents who do not have their children with them.  At the charity I work for, Solihull Action through Advocacy, for many of the parents we support it may be that the children are in foster care, or waiting for a family to adopt them and whichever way you look at it, whether parents haven`t done a very good job of parenting or whether they just haven`t had the right kind of help that they need, Christmas can be a very lonely time and a time when many tears are shed behind closed doors.
I was thinking today of a family I supported a few years ago whose child had been adopted.  Unusually, the family were given leave by the court to see their child once a year.  This is hardly ever an arrangement which the courts agree to and for most children who are forcibly adopted in the UK, once the paperwork is signed that`s it, they don`t get to keep in touch with their birth parents at all other than through letter box contact.   Letter box contact means you get to write to your child perhaps once or twice a year and so long as you don`t write things like,  “me and dad love you so much”   or,   “we miss you very much,”   (because such sentences are immediately censored,)  then letter box contact is entirely at the discretion of the adoptive parents.   In other words, you can write to your child and the adoptive parents can just put your card or letter straight into the bin.
For the family I am talking about here, there were always issues over contact which happened to be at Christmas.  It was often not arranged for all kinds of reasons, the adoptive parents were too busy, the person supervising the contact could not make it, the children`s social worker was too busy to co-ordinate the contact and so on.  It was a bitter blow to the family when this happened and they generally had to wait until the new year, for their contact to take place.
There were other issues too that were perennial, mostly relating to the way the professionals spoke to the birth mum and dad.  They always felt that they were being spoken down to and belittled which is of course why advocacy is of such importance.  One of the most upsetting things for the family was that during meetings, the adoptive parents always referred to themselves as their child`s mum and dad.  Quite understandably, the birth mum and dad would become distressed about this and open mouthed, say to me, “But they are not their mum and dad – we are!”  When you have a learning disability, it`s very hard to understand what the law says and how it is applied.
One Christmas a contact meeting had been set up which was a Christmas miracle for this family.  I telephoned the social worker and asked,  just as a modest suggestion,   “Do you think that the adoptive parents might call themselves that very thing during the contact meeting, just for the purpose of the meeting?  It would help lessen the distress the family feel when the adopters call themselves mum and dad.”
Back came the response which I felt was sadly lacking in compassion,  “Certainly not, these parents have been made mum and dad legally, in a court of law.  We would not expect them to call themselves adoptive parents under any circumstances.”  So that told me then.

I thought,   “boy, you`re all heart.”  but of course I am highly professional so I wouldn`t dream of actually saying this aloud.

It just made me think, the recent Equalities Act in the UK asks for people to make reasonable adjustments for anyone with a learning disability, so that they are better able to accept and deal with whatever life may throw at them and so that they are treated fairly and justly.  I would have hoped that this small and unobtrusive request could have been interpreted as a `reasonable adjustment,` for a one hour meeting once a year.
But sigh……   who am I?  Just a foolish advocate who doesn`t know the law and has to have it explained to them by a social worker who is much more clever than I.   And another thing –
Bah Christmas humbug!

A cow blog for Norman.


Today my colleagues and I were all attending an away day.  During one of the exercises, we had to discuss things we liked and disliked and I overheard Norman, our wonderful office manager come man of all trades saying,  “Ah, cows –  I don`t like cows, they lick your head.”  Indeed they do if given the opportunity and very raspy tongues they have, which isn`t entirely pleasant.  It reminded me of a number of cow experiences I have had and I thought for Norman`s amusement, I would write about them here……

As a child I was often taken to visit my relatives who lived in a beautiful and quaint cottage in a village called Haselor.  Haselor sits in the Warwickshire countryside where my uncle Albert`s home was also a small holding and an operating cider mill.  Uncle Albert would take me and my siblings to the cider press to watch the murky apple juice being squished out by the grinding stone.  It`s still there, it has remained as a garden feature.  Uncle Albert told us that it was customary in those days (the nineteen fifties) to throw a dead rat into the first pressing as the enzymes from poor old ratty`s rotting body would aid the fermentation process.  We would giggle and squirm at the thought like children do.  It was here that I was taken for my first ride on a cow, she really was called Daisy and at only four years old I felt as though I was sitting a million miles up astride Daisy`s wide girth as she swayed and sashayed me around the field, led on a halter by my uncle.   Uncle Albert would also allow us to visit the new calves in the warm, hay strewn calving sheds where we would stick our fingers into the baby cows` gummy, wet mouths and they would suckle and tickle our skin, we loved it.

Those wonderful, worry free childhood days are long since over.  Gone is the sticky, fly paper which hung above the kitchen table where as children, we would tuck in to apple `rough me doughs` baked by aunty Alice and be fascinated and appalled in equal measure by the poor bluebottles, impossibly stuck and uselessly waving their fly legs around as they realised their fly fate.  Gone is the outside loo which boasted a wooden seat with three holes in it, one for large grown ups, one for medium sized people and a small one for children.  Gone is the well where we would pump up buckets of water with their accompanying resident frogs.  The cottage remains as a desirable residence in a perfect location and was recently valued at slightly under £800,000.  My uncle Albert will be sucking on his celestial pipe and smiling at the bemusing and ridiculous changes to his marvellous home….

Which brings me nicely to my final cow tale.

I still enjoy visiting Haselor and the lovely and ancient church which sits atop Haselor Hill.  I love to walk there, (take note my children, I`d like my ashes scattered there.)  My ex old man and I visit from time to time and wander around the village and go and sit in the peaceful quiet of the church and leave prayers there for people who we care about.  One day, it was a very hot, summer`s day, we took a long stroll and wound up by a field of cows.  Having walked about three miles we were tired and thirsty and beaded with sweat we decided we would take a short cut and climb the stile and walk across the field inhabited by the cows.  Out of curiosity and as cows do, they all started to walk over to us.  They herded into the corner where we were and stared at us and our old dog, Charcoal.  It was really uncomfortable, their stares can only be described as rather hostile.  Tony and I looked at one another, he said, “Well I`m not risking it are you?”  Faced with the thought of a three mile hike back the other way in all that heat I replied, “It`ll be fine,” and hoicking my leg up over the stile I made ready to enter the field…….   It was then I noticed a definite change in attitude amongst the cows.  They weren`t at all scared of me, in fact quite the opposite, they had a mean, menacing look in those big brown eyes.  I hesitated, I withdrew my leg back onto the safe side and turned to Tony……

He said, “Do you think it would make any difference if we sang to them, I think cows like music?”  I wasn`t sure which edition of Countryfile he had been watching but going along with the idea we decided to sing Santa Lucia to the assembled cowmpany.  We have been singing this song together forever, in mock operatic style, he as a baritone, me as soprano.  I recall one time when we were on holiday and having heard us singing on the beach, our next door neighbours thought we were professionals which made us laugh.  However once we began singing to the cows, the cows clearly did not agree.  They stared balefully, some might say in a kind of evil cow-like way and did not appear at all reassured that we were friendly.  Call it cow revenge for all of those roast beef dinners I have enjoyed through my life, call it divine intervention from a higher power who knew they meant busines, call it what you will, neither of us was prepared to take the risk.

It may be that I haven`t captured here, how scary those cows were. By golly they frightened us as in a horror movie. A cow version of that marvellous Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds, they were all around us.

Taking up the lead of our weary old dog Charcoal, we turned our backs on those malevolent cattle and trudged the three, hot, dusty, thirsty and wearisome miles back to our starting place, occasionally calling out, “Which way to Cowtoum, which way to Cowtoum `owrence?`

So Norman, I do understand.   With huge respect however, you may be interested to read the following article:

It`s not a suggestion!  It made me smile.    🙂

Did I say that was my final cow tale?