Tuesday 31 March 2015

Candid camera

Katie Price of all people has highlighted the abuse that occurs in some nursing homes, and suggested they should all have cameras in every room so relatives can see what's going on and be sure everything's okay.

She says she knows what she's talking about because at one time she was a carer for the elderly in nursing homes. So she can tell the good homes from the bad ones.

"Sadly over the last few years we've seen too many cases of abuse in nursing homes - places that you trust to care and look after your elderly relations" she says.

Her solution is cameras - so everything is visible 24 hours a day and nothing untoward could escape the public gaze. Anyone could check on what's happening - not just relatives but social workers, doctors, or just concerned individuals.

"Some will say this is an invasion of privacy - I say it's helping protect those who can't protect themselves."

What would the residents think of having cameras everywhere, I wonder? Would they welcome such routine monitoring or would they dislike the intrusion into their daily lives?

My sister, who has MND, is in a nursing home right now because my brother in law, who usually looks after her, has just had a major operation. I'm assured she's happy there and has no complaints. But it would be especially reassuring to see everything on camera and be certain she's being well-treated.

The fact is that there have been some absolutely shocking examples of outright cruelty and neglect in nursing homes, behaviour that could have been nipped in the bud if those outside had been aware of it.

It seems to me that only those with something to hide would object.

PS: Some American states have passed laws to allow electronic monitoring in long-term care facilities. They include Texas, New Mexico, Washington, Oklahoma and Maryland. Hidden cameras have caught abuse three times in Pennsylvania - they recorded mocking, manhandling and slapping. There's an interesting article about cameras in nursing homes here

Thursday 26 March 2015

Toxic cake

The utterly absurd row over a gay-themed cake shows no signs of abating. The Northern Ireland bakery that refused to make the cake has been taken to court by the Equality Commission while Christian groups are weighing in with support for the bakery.

It all started in November last year when Ashers bakery rejected an order for a cake with the message "Support Gay Marriage" and the name of a gay organisation, Queerspace.

The bakery said their deeply-held Christian beliefs made it impossible to provide the cake, so the customer got it made by another bakery.

Ashers Bakery is now defending itself in court against the Equality Commission's charge of unlawful discrimination.

It's ridiculous that a disagreement over a cake should have escalated into a full court hearing with both sides earmarking thousands of pounds for the legal costs. The Equality Commission has already spent £8,500 on the case while Christian groups have pledged large sums in support of the bakery.

Surely the initial disagreement could have been settled in a few minutes in some simpler way?

The bakery could have taken the attitude that the message on the cake was the customer's concern and nothing to do with the bakery or its religious convictions. They could have easily baked the cake and ignored the message, just as they ignore a thousand other "irreligious" messages they come across.

Customer Gareth Lee could have shrugged off the ludicrous objections, got the cake made somewhere else (as he did) and thought nothing more of it. He could have simply dismissed the bakery staff as intolerant diehards incapable of treating other people as human beings rather than religious hate-figures.

But Mr Lee agreed to front an Equality Commission court case which turned the whole thing into a global cause célèbre in which Christians and gays have been hurling abuse at each other for months.

We now await the court's verdict. Even if Judge Isobel Brownlie decides in Mr Lee's favour, it will be a rather hollow victory, as the bakery won't be keen to change its practices. It may simply look for ways of getting round the law.

And the case has led to the infamous "conscience clause", a proposed law about to be debated at Stormont, which would allow Christian businesses to turn away gay customers whenever they felt like it.

This one will run and run.

Pic: the sinful cake

PS: The case has now finished, but the Judge will give her decision later. "It is not a straightforward area of the law. Obviously this is a case in which I propose to reserve my judgment."

Friday 20 March 2015

Family values

If ever there was a phrase that means precisely nothing, it's "family values". Or rather, it can mean anything you want it to mean, usually to criticise those households that are seen as weird and degenerate.

It's one of those phrases that are used to conjure up some idyllic, nostalgic paradise when everyone lived in a perfect family made up of happy, carefree individuals smothered in love and affection.

Not many families are that perfect. Most families are full of frictions and frustrations and grievances of one kind or another, and for them "family values" probably just means putting up with people who drive you nuts on a daily basis.

And if "family" implies two heterosexual parents with children, then where does that leave childless couples, or those who're on their own, or gay couples? Presumably they're a bit blemished, a bit lacking, unable to share the deep joys of family values, whatever they may be.

I'm particularly sickened when politicians pose with their spouse and children, as if that's the ideal arrangement we should all be aspiring to, and as if only politicians with these credentials can be trusted to run the country properly. As opposed to say, lesbians, who are sure to turn the country into a hopeless basket case.

Even Barack Obama feels obliged to parade his wife and kids at every opportunity, just to prove he's a regular joe who's fit to be president.

As for those politicians who regularly extol "family values" and are regularly caught with prostitutes or shagging their buxom interns, how nauseating is that?

To hell with family values. A bit more compassion, empathy and human kindness will do me fine.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Give us a clue

I don't like uncert-ainty. Or at least not the type of uncertainty that significantly affects my life. It makes me feel too vulnerable, too adrift.

Some people thrive on uncertainty. For them, the more of it the better. They love having absolutely no idea what the future will bring and what fate's going to throw at them. They find it exciting, stimulating, challenging.

I don't feel that at all. I would feel a lot more secure and confident if I knew what's in store for me. How much money I'll have, whether I'll get a serious illness, when I'm going to die, whether I'll lose my mind.

If I knew all that, at least I could plan my life a bit better, allow for disasters or triumphs, create a smoother path for myself. I wouldn't be suddenly overwhelmed by some unexpected catastrophe and be left floundering.

Small uncertainties, those that have no major effect on my life one way or the other, don't bother me. What the weather's going to do, whether I can get a vegetarian sandwich, whether my new jeans will run in the wash - those I can deal with. It's the big uncertainties, the potentially life-changing uncertainties, that freak me out.

It's curious that I'm so bothered by uncertainty this late in life, when my future is relatively short. When I was young and my future stretched ahead of me indefinitely like Route 66, the much greater uncertainty didn't phase me at all. I just sailed along blithely, unheeding of what the next day would bring.

How did this strange quirk come about, I wonder?

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Bumptious tourists

When I'm on holiday, I'm very conscious that I'm a tourist in someone else's country and I do my best to respect those I meet and not behave like an arrogant prick expecting everyone to fawn all over me.

I was amazed at the selfishness of the two American women who scrawled graffiti on the Colosseum and then took a selfie of themselves and the graffiti. Signs in both English and Italian warn against defacing the walls. Yet they took no notice*.

There are tourists who get hopelessly drunk and pester the locals, who expect everyone to speak English, who poke fun at local customs, or who demand special discounts and concessions. They must annoy the hell out of those on the receiving end, but they're oblivious to how their behaviour comes across.

Of course a lot of things are not the same as home, and I do my best to be patient and flexible. Different security procedures, for example, or opening times, or hotel routines. Why get in a lather over something a bit unexpected? Why not simply adjust to it and relax?

I remember once catching the ferry to Sirmione on Lake Garda. Ahead of us were a group of around 50 schoolkids. Could they issue a single ticket for all of them? No no, each child had to be issued with a separate ticket, which seemed to take forever. But there was no point in complaining - that's the way it was done.

I think a lot of tourists see their holidays as merely a commercial transaction, demanding their money's worth and complaining loudly if they're not getting exactly what they signed up for.

But it's so much more than a business deal. I see a holiday as an invitation to visit someone else's country, a bit like being invited to someone's home, and I try to acknowledge their generosity and indulgence by behaving with courtesy and consideration.

In particular, I'm considerate of all those hard-pressed employees of hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and tourist attractions who are often treated with disdain - if their presence is even noticed.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

*Police reported them for damaging the ancient site. They now face a court hearing.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Lost for words

People sometimes say that my shyness, my tendency to be tongue-tied with other people, is due to my being too self-conscious.

I don't know about that. What exactly is "too much" self-consciousness anyway? If anything, I think I'm probably not self-conscious enough. I'm more than capable of blurting out something stupid or insensitive without realising, or of saying the complete opposite of what I'm really thinking or feeling.

To my mind, the more self-conscious people are, the better. The more aware we are of how we're behaving, how we're affecting other people, what sort of impression we're making, the more likely we are to treat people decently rather than nastily.

Even if we're talking total self-absorption, that's not so awful either. Okay, so the person might be jabbering away about themself, but at least they're not planning a shooting spree or a mass beheading. The worst they can do is bore you to tears.

I think my shyness is due more to the assumption that other people won't accept me for what I am. If I just gabble away freely, sooner or later someone will object to something I've said and there will be an unpleasant exchange. People take offence at the strangest things, and I can't predict what they will be. So I find myself listening rather than talking so as to avoid sudden umbrage.

My shyness is probably also a reaction to wasting so many hours of my life listening to people confidently holding forth on things they know absolutely nothing about, or things that have already been dissected ad nauseam by all and sundry. I hesitate to add yet another ill-informed or superfluous opinion to the surrounding hubbub.

And at the end of the day, I'd just rather be a shrinking violet than a pompous windbag.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Endless abuse

I know this is grim reading, but I was horrified by the sheer scale of the sex abuse scandal in Oxford-shire, not to mention the generally pathetic response of police and social workers, who allowed the abuse to go on for so long.

It's reported that over 370 girls were systematically assaulted, raped and tortured over a fifteen year period, and that those who should have protected the girls and stopped the abuse either turned a blind eye, trivialised what was happening, or blamed the victims for provoking the abuse. And not one person has been subsequently disciplined or sacked.

I don't know where to begin in dissecting this whole appalling saga, which speaks volumes about the incompetence of public servants who are meant to be shielding the vulnerable but end up shielding the predators.

There was clearly a well-established network of men carrying out the abuse, but they were able to continue their atrocities for many years before finally being arrested.

The case review just published says that not only were police and social workers generally in denial, but they blamed the girls for their "precocious and difficult behaviour", accused them of putting themselves at risk, ignored underage sexual activity, and denied the girls had been groomed and violently controlled.

It's hard to know what can be done to prevent such widespread abuse happening all over again in the future. If trained professionals whose specific job it is to protect vulnerable children utterly fail to do so, will further training or new legislation make any difference? If those who are meant to keep children safe simply don't seem to understand the concept of safety, how will they ever change?

I can't see any effective remedy short of sacking all those who allowed this nightmare to go on for so long, and employing people with a genuine concern for children's well-being who will stop sexual and emotional abuse the moment they discover it.

And the whole insidious culture of blaming the victim, which is still so rampant, must be reversed once and for all and attention focused on those who allowed so many victims to pile up year after year.