It’s the right thing to do: the Scottish Budget and human rights

In announcing his budget for 2023 the President of the United States Joe Biden made a speech in the White House in which he said:

“My dad had an expression.  He said, “Don’t tell me what you value.  Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”  “Don’t tell me what you value.  Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Never were truer words spoken because when we strip away the rhetoric and soundbites so often the currency of contemporary political debate we reveal the reality of what is considered a priority and what is given importance. A national budget can either walk the talk or continue the deceptive delusion.

These thoughts were in my mind this past week as, with colleagues at Scottish Care, I continued a tour of the country where I heard from frontline staff, managers and employers about what they considered to be the critical issues of the moment in care home, care at home and housing support services. Amongst all the issues raised the ones that stood out were how we reward and recognise our workforce and how we fund sustainable social care services especially in remote and rural communities.

Our Scottish Government will publish its annual budget in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 19th. Many groups and organisations have called for their sector to be prioritised and protected. Many have argued against and raised concerns about the cuts to funding which have already been experienced in what is a time of growing austerity and restriction. Scottish Government ministers have been consistent in arguing that this is going to be the hardest budget within the devolution era. Put simply Tuesday and its message is going to be challenging. But it will inevitably demonstrate the values and priorities of the Government and I hope will be divergent from the Westminster’s Chancellors recent finance statement which evidenced tax cuts above funding public services.

It is at such hard times that I think we need to hold an external mirror to our collective decision making and when political leaders need to be influenced by the neutrality of standards and rights rather than attracted by the allure of popularity or political expediency.

It’s maybe an accident of timing but no less interesting for that, that this Budget comes 9 days after Human Rights Day on which I reflected in last week’s blog.

Over the last decade the concept of human rights budgeting has become more and more talked about. This current Scottish Government has openly declared the significance of human rights legislation and indeed we are shortly to see the publication of a planned new Human Rights Bill. But legislation alone does neither protect or help to realise and fulfil the human rights of citizens. The way a government spends its money, the choices it makes in fiscal spend and priority can either take us further down the road towards realising rights or can put up added barriers and blocks in the way.

As a recent briefing paper stated:

‘Human rights budgeting [HRB] means that decisions on how money is raised, allocated and spent are determined by the impact this has on people’s rights…

HRB means that the process of setting a budget should be driven by three principles.

  • Transparency

Parliament, civil society and the public should have accessible information about budget decisions.

  • Participation

Civil society and the public should have opportunities for meaningful engagement in the budget process.

  • Accountability

Budgets should be subject to oversight and scrutiny that ensures accountability for budget decisions and the impact these have on human rights.

HRB means that the actual content of a budget (i.e. the decisions taken around how money is raised, allocated and spent) should be in line with the government’s human rights obligations.’

I think we can all agree that we are some steps away from a human rights budgeting process and content. But it is the latter I’ll briefly conclude with.

Is our Budget on Tuesday going to better realise the human right to social care and support?

Is it going to protect and further the human rights of older Scots?

Those are the two lenses by which I’ll reflect on the words that come from the ministerial benches. In Biden’s terminology will it show what is valued?

Will we value the astonishingly dedicated frontline staff in care home and homecare services I’ve been meeting over the last few weeks who are continually told ‘We value you’ but for whom £12 an hour will not cut it but fairness at £15 an hour will help to make words of solidarity sound real and not hollow?

Will it recognise the shameless lengths of time that people are waiting on for a social care assessment, for a place in a nursing home or a package of care and support?

Will it do something for the reality that more and more care homes are closing and homecare organisations are going to the wall not because there is no need but because they simply cannot make themselves sustainable with what the State is prepared to pay?

Will it move us to ending the inequity of local authorities being both provider and contractor and hypocritically treating one group of staff (their employees) so much better than another (the third and independent sector) through their contracting process?

Will it put social care at the heart of our economic strategy recognising at last its contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of Scotland?

Will it walk the talk or just flatter to deceive?

In all this talk of finance and priority and value, I am reminded of the current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and his poem about a ten-pence coin from its making in the mint. It touches in a humorous but direct way on poverty and true societal value.

Ten Pence Story

Out of the melting pot, into the mint;
next news I was loose change for a Leeds pimp,
burning a hole in his skin-tight pocket
till he tipped a busker by the precinct.

Not the most ceremonious release
for a fresh faced coin cutting its teeth.
But that’s my point: if you’re poorly bartered
you’re scuppered before you’ve even started.

My lowest ebb was a seven month spell
spent head down in a wishing well,
half eclipsed by an oxidized tuppence
which impressed me with its green circumference.

When they fished me out I made a few phone calls,
fed a few meters, hung round the pool halls.
I slotted in well, but all that vending
blunted my edges and did my head in.

Once I came within an ace of the end
on the stern of a North Sea Ferry, when
some half-cut, ham-fisted cockney tossed me
up into the air and almost dropped me

and every transaction flashed before me
like a time lapse autobiography.
Now, just the thought of travel by water
lifts the serrations around my border.

Some day I know I’ll be bagged up and sent
to that knacker’s yard for the over-spent
to be broken, boiled, unmade and replaced,
for my metals to go their separate ways…

which is sad. All coins have dreams. Some castings
from my own batch, I recall, were hatching
an exchange scam on the foreign market
and some inside jobs on one arm bandits.

My own ambition? Well, that was simple:
to be flipped in Wembley’s centre circle,
to twist, to turn, to hang like a planet,
to touch down on that emerald carpet.

Those with faith in the system say ‘don’t quit,
bide your time, if you’re worth it, you’ll make it.’
But I was robbed, I was badly tendered.
I could have scored. I could have contended.

Simon Armitage: Ten Pence Story (typepad.com)

Donald Macaskill

Humanity thrives through human rights: a reflection for Human Rights Day

Seventy-Five years ago the nations of the world gathered in New York and after a massive collective effort of discussion, dialogue and debate brought about the creation and publication of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Across the globe tomorrow on Human Rights Day many countries will recognise and celebrate this event and special anniversary.

Almost inevitably there has been a lot of commentary in the national and international media this past week about the anniversary and about the status of human rights so many years later.

That reflection has been against a now almost common backdrop of both resistance and rejection of human rights legislation on the one hand and an articulation of their significance and importance on the other. Undeniably in some parts of the media and political punditry human rights have a negative image or at least the modern articulation and implementation of what human rights legislation seeks to protect and achieve does.

I often think that those who gathered together in New York would have struggled to understand the antipathy or indeed opposition to human rights legislation. I think the reason they would have struggled is because the development of a modern human rights framework was not an exercise in philosophical utopianism or aspirational dreaming but rather it was the result of a traumatised international community where after the horrors and hell of the Second World War millions lay dead across the world and yet more were wandering homeless, destitute and refugees in their own lands. If you read the biographies and narratives of the day you cannot but escape the sense of a whole swathe of leaders and jurists desperate to put something on paper so that we as a world would never go back to the nightmare that so many had lived through. And undeniably there have been over the last 75 years wars and acts of violence which have left their own horrific legacy, but I really do believe that when we put human rights on a balancing scale that the international conventions and laws we  saw created have resulted in many more millions having their rights defended and their lives preserved.

The inspiring figures who sat around that table and who framed our human rights were realists in a hard world but they were also trying to articulate what words and concepts such as dignity, equality, non-discrimination, fairness and even humanity meant in the lives of our diverse communities and cultures. So for people like Eleanor Roosevelt, my continual heroine of rights, it was not in the court-room that human rights would come alive and be made real but in the ordinary unextraordinary places of human living and loving, in the ‘small places’ of our being in community with others.

It is in our ordinary living that I feel we witness both the challenge and call of human rights today and I would suspect over the next decades.

Take this past week as an example.

On Monday we saw the Home Secretary James Cleverley announce a host of measures in response to the growth in numbers of people coming legally into the United Kingdom. This was soon followed by plans around ‘illegal’ immigration, resignations and lots of political toing and froing.

I will leave aside commentary on what it says about a nation that we should seek to use another country in Africa, to host those trying to come to our shores. Though in truth it does not say a lot that I would wish to value.

It is the changes to legal migration which are a particular concern for those of us in social care because many social care and health organisations have come to rely on international recruitment both for carers and nurses. What some have failed to recognise is the demographic reality that we simply do not have enough people in Scotland to work in social care and nursing within our own indigenous population. As  a result over a long period Scotland has always recruited and attracted women and men to come from different parts of the world. They have come and brought skills and excellence, compassion and care and have become us, become part of who we are as a community, they have nurtured and nourished our place and people, and we have for a long time been better and more because of them and their contribution.

But we now have a set of proposals which will in practice limit the ability of our health and social care organisations to recruit internationally and even if we were to increase salaries exponentially (which by the way I have been calling for for such a long time) we would still need people to come. But it is not the quota restrictions, or salary threshold changes, or changes to the Shortage Occupation List, that I find most galling and appalling – it is the decision to deny people the ability once they have become part of our community, to bring their children and dependents to join them. What does it say for the way in which we value people as a society that we are saying we want you to come and work but we do not want you to create family, settle and put down roots? What does it say of the value we give to social care workers that we feel their families and dependents are so uncontributive that they are dismissed by phrases such as ‘economically valueless’?

The last few days I have taken calls and exchanged communication with quite a few people who are now not coming to Scotland or are probably going to leave their social care jobs to go back home – because of a thinly veiled racist, xenophobic, immigration model directed at appealing to the lowest common denominator of populist demand.

Human rights are when we strip everything away about our humanity. We ask what it means to be human? And we answer in words such as dignity, respect, tolerance, and fairness. We ask what it means to value a person and I cannot see that the ideas and motives behind the immigration announcements this past week enshrine anything other than a twisted and perverse view of human dignity or community cohesion.

We call for human rights to be defended and enshrined across the world, not least in places of violence and strife, but are unable to see them embedded in the actions of our own nation.

We are 75 years on from a time when people searched deeply inside their hurt and brokenness for the answer to the aching question of what did it mean to be human and how could they create a world of human togetherness. I feel we are still asking that question in so many places and the events of the last week show why we must all of us continue to ask that question.

Human rights are not about statute and law books, they are not about courts and conventions, they are about our humanity one with the other, they are about how we relate to difference and diversity, they are about how we value the least by celebrating them the most; they are about making sure all our actions are rooted in dignity and equality of treatment.

Whether for the old or young, the refugee or asylum seeker, the person living with disabilities or those protecting themselves from a pandemic, human rights require all of us to be the agents of dignity in times of challenge. They are as vital, real and necessary this week as they were 75 years ago.

With others I can but dream that in decades to come we will grow more into a community and society that does not simply mouth words of value, but one where we all, politician and people, live out our common humanity in all we do and say.

It is our shared humanity beautifully described in the words of Maria Stella Milani in ‘Being you being me’:

‘Rights, wishes and thoughts.
Face to face, mind to mind, heart to heart.

Eyes intersecting,
Hands touching,
Vibrations of sights.

We are all the same.
We breathe, we die.
We feel something, we are alive.

Being equal:
Being one when being two,
Being friends, lovers, brothers, individuals, humans.

Suffering and being happy,
Breaking down and standing up,
Why we fight against each other when so similar we are?

We are the authors of our destiny.
Let’s believe that we are one
Let’s feel free, to be free.
Let’s respect who is in front of us.

When we look into someone’s eyes, there is the truth:
You are part of me, I am part of you.’

https://www.qmul.ac.uk/law/humanrights/poems/#ThisfirebyKrystaAmyYan

Happy Human Rights Day.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Grieving through words that speak.

From today until December 8th the annual Grief Awareness Week is held. It is ’ a dedicated period for individuals, organisations, and communities to come together to acknowledge and address the various aspects of grief.’

As regular readers will know I have written a lot about grief and bereavement over the years. Lots of words, some with purpose and meaning, but I suspect others which are but searches for solace and an attempt to grasp substance out of something so hard to hold.

The older I get the more comfortable I become with being silent around grief and quiet around dying. It is not, I think, that I have run out of things to say but more that I appreciate that there is a tremendous strength and energy in being silent and not feeling that you have to fill the void of emptiness with sound, either for my own heart or the lives of others.

I suppose I especially appreciate silence in those aching gaps of time. Those times when I go to pick up the phone to make a call to someone who will never answer but for a moment love’s forgetfulness was lost to memory. Those times when a flashing image comes to mind or I see something which has a particular resonance and I simply want to share it. Those times when I daydream touch and presence only to wake into the cruelty of cold truth and the knowledge of absence. Those times when I see a figure walking in the distance and try to catch them but know every step is towards a stranger. Time aches.

I like to think that it is not accidental that December was chosen as Grief Awareness Week because this is such a hard month to grieve. A month of communal celebration, you simply cannot escape the invitation if not command to be joyous and happy, whether in our real or television worlds. And to top it all there are the highpoints of family togetherness when you sense inside yourself the empty seat and the absent face, when you smile through the inner tears of loneliness and grieving. When you sometimes feel that your very presence is a declaration of the missing.

At all such times I like to wear the cloak of silence to become invisible and to be allowed to grieve alone.

I suppose this desire to sit and cradle memory in grieving is why I feel words so often fail to speak my language of loss. It is I suspect why for me poetry is such a solace and help. Because in truth it is nigh to impossible for me to write a sentence which can describe grief, but I relish those whose poetry opens a door to understanding and offers some comfort.

Earlier this year I came across an article which tried to explore why it was for many of us that both reading poetry and for some writing it can help us in our grieving and in our journey of bereavement. The writer states:

“Poetry allows us to tap into a range of feelings – from sadness and despair to hope and resilience – and to do so in a way that feels authentic and true to our experience. Reading poetry can also be a cathartic experience, as it allows us to connect with the emotions of others and find comfort in the shared human experience of loss.”

There is nothing new in that truth – it has been known for centuries and there is a long long line of poets who have been companions for the grieving.

Poems for me are the truthtellers and promise keepers of hope when all around you seem to be full of words that simply don’t seem true or are so platitudinal that they are empty. ‘I will not get over it’ ‘It will not be alright soon’ ‘I will not learn to live without him’ ‘I will not adjust to a new way.’ And okay they may all be right and have truth inside their words, but right now, right here, in this moment, for this time, I want to sit and ‘rage against the dying of the light.’

Poetry allows me to mourn on my own time, in my own way, at my own pace, without having to be ‘well and whole’ for others or even for my self.

This desire for silence or for words of poetry that walk with my grief, is I suspect why I am comfortable with the Gaelic concept of the lament, of which I have written previously:

‘Lament is not a wallowing in the pain and distress of the past, but rather a gathering up of the threads of brokenness until they are woven into a rhythm of resonant recollecting. To lament is to mouth or sound out one’s pain, to seek to make sense and to simply be present in grief. Its insight is that the act of grieving and remembering are woven into our humanity. We cannot have hope unless we remember.’

So I am going to find my quiet place, my touching place, and sit and listen to the silence and when I want I will pick up a book of poems and go and visit some old teachers of life. One of them is usually Iain Crichton Smith, whose short poem When Day Is Done take me to the place where even silence cannot be heard.

‘Sorrow remembers us when day is done.
It sits in its old chair gently rocking
and singing tenderly in the evening.
It welcomes us home again after the day.
It is so old in its black silken dress,
its stick beside it carved with legends.
It tells its stories over and over again.
After a while we have to stop listening.

When Day Is Done by Iain Mac a’ GhobhainnIain Crichton Smith – Scottish Poetry Library

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Belonging demands compassionate action.

Belonging and what it means not least for older people has been a common theme in my blogs and talks over the years and yet again it’s a subject that I’ve been reflecting upon over the last few days. For instance yesterday I took part in recording an interview with Amy Callaghan MP for the Channel Four programme ‘The Political Slot.’ The theme was the critical workforce shortages in social care and the extent to which Brexit has been a contributor to those and whether the immigration system has supported the sector. I’ve written enough on Brexit over the years for it to be no surprise that my personal and professional perspective is that the referendum decision has been an unmitigated disaster for social care in Scotland – for many reasons. Equally the current immigration system and its cumbersome barrier-approach to attracting new workers is damaging and unworkable. Not helped by the latest round of rhetoric calling for increased restrictions on social care and health visas. When will some politicians and commentators own up to the reality that for Scotland at least there are simply not enough people in our population to deliver essential services without significant inward migration?

The interview pushed me to think of what does it mean to belong to a community and a country. It’s probably a theme which will be uppermost in a few minds as we approach that annual celebration of national identity which is St Andrews Day on the 30th November.

National days can become parodies of stereotypes and serve to perpetuate tropes and I know for one that there is much more to a Scottish community or our nation as a whole than an annual celebration of tartan, bagpipes and shortbread. Not to do the day down I recognise that there is an attempt to celebrate what is best about Scotland. – hospitality, inventiveness and innovation, entrepreneurship and adventure. But national days should if they do anything force us to think about the nature of the community or nation we want to belong to and build.

What does it therefore mean to belong to Scotland?

For me as someone of Gaelic origin I am continually drawn to the notion and concept of dùthchas and not least its association with the land and what it means to belong to a particular place and space. It’s a complex phrase that is often used in many contexts but for me it’s one of the many words that suggest ‘belonging’ – that sense of being at one and at home amongst a community or in a particular location. For many Highlanders the physical land and local space over generations has a pull and appeal that makes you feel uniquely different in that place compared to anywhere else they may have been.

In an excellent article on dùthchas Col Gordon writes:

‘ Crofter and world-renowned knitwear designer Alice Starmore from Lewis described dùthchas as

“a feeling of belonging, of where everything is linked, completely linked. Where you belong to the land, and the land belongs to you – there is no distinction. It’s like a hand in a glove. Everything fits in, and your culture is part of that as well, and everything you know that’s around you; every part of life that’s around you is all interlinked and interdependent, and it’s all about ancestry, knowing where you’ve come from and that you are a continuation of all that.” ‘

But though this chimed with my own sense belonging, especially to Skye, it is not sufficient on its own to describe dùthchas – it also denotes as Gordon states – responsibility both to people and place. He summarises this when he writes:

‘Dùthchas is a critically important word within the Gaelic worldview but I believe it needs to be understood as more than simply a slightly woolly feeling of belonging and interconnectedness, but as a

“tangible conduct and action motivated by a sense of ethics, respect, and responsibility for said place and community to maintain ecological balance.”

Belonging demands and necessitates responsibility. It roots respect into moment and ethics into conduct and behaviour in and for a nation and people. So what are the responsibilities incumbent in belonging to Scotland. I’ll mention just one from my world view.

For me the overarching responsibility of any community or nation is how we treat those who need care and support. Intimately linked to this is how we value the unpaid and paid carers who enable compassion to come alive in our midst.

So, it is today as the GMB union organises a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament under the banner ‘fight for fifteen’ that together with other unions, provider groups like Care England and many others that I personally am proud to support ‘Fairness at Fifteen.’ This is about putting flesh on the bones of a Fair Work agenda which is about recognising and valuing frontline care work by paying those staff a salary and wage which is not minimum, not even about a living wage but about a flourishing and thriving amount to say loudly that you are what we should all be – carriers of compassion for those who are the best of us in community.

It is simply time that we pay our social care staff a decent wage! That for me means that this moment of belonging has to be to a nation that cares and that means in practical terms no less than £15 an hour for our care staff.

By extension that means that we properly resource the organisations that employ them – there is no point in saying to someone we are giving you £15 an hour but your employing organisation will probably go to the wall and you’ll be redundant soon!

If belonging means anything, if it is a true sense of dùthchas – then for me it has to be about a nation and community that values social care in all its rich glory. That’s something when it happens that will be worthy of a day of celebration and I will live then in a place worthy of belonging.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Petia Koleva on Unsplash

Still breathing: time for television to grow up.

I cannot be the only person who has had a life-long fascination with television. I can still remember the first time we got a colour television at home which like many was not bought but came under a rental arrangement with a well-known company which rented out televisions alongside many other electrical white goods. Part of my fascination with television was the result of an old neighbour who was very much a Glasgow granny to us. Katie came from Tiree but had lived in Glasgow for most of her life and had either known or worked with John Logie Baird but either way she had a small television which was enclosed in a beautiful mahogany box which sat in the corner of her room. It was signed by the great man himself. Katie effused about all things on the television – both good and bad!

In a few days’ time on the 21st November it will be World Television Day. I didn’t even know such a day existed but on reflection it makes complete and utter sense.

It states that the day is ‘a global observance that celebrates the impact and importance of television as a medium for communication, information, and entertainment. It acknowledges the role television plays in shaping public opinion, promoting cultural diversity, and fostering dialogue among nations.’

That description chimes with the famous quote of the first Director General of the BBC, the 6ft 6-inch irascible Scottish titan and pioneer of public broadcasting Lord (John) Reith who stated that the purpose of television was to ‘inform, educate, entertain’ which remains part of the mission statement of the BBC to this very day.

Television has a huge influence upon society and if anything, it is deepening and developing. What you see or perhaps what you do not see on television has a considerable impact on the attitudes, behaviours, perceptions and understanding that you develop as you grow into adulthood and citizenship.

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending a forum theatre event in Alloa as part of the University of Stirling’s ESRC Festival of Social Science which linked to the amazing work at that university on Reimagining the Future of Ageing.

One of the themes that came up a fair bit was the stereotypical images of ageing that often appear in our media and no more is that the case than in television. On the one hand we have the continual representation of older age as being all about decline and decay. The representation of older people as frail, feeble and with wrinkly hands.

Older age characters in popular television are so frequently typically negative stereotypes. We have the sad, vulnerable and depressed, the grumpy and bad-tempered, the nosy neighbour, the poor and destitute pensioner. Where are the designers, the thinkers, the planners, the workers? I don’t see the story of the contributors and creatives, of the dreamers and visionaries. Why is it all about the old being a cost and drain, being a burden and barrier? Why is it that the future only seems to belong to the young, when it is all of our tomorrows?

At the other extreme of negative stereotypes, we have the ultra-positive – the ‘supra old’ – the bungee jumper at 102, the marathon runner at 99, the concert pianist at 95 and so on. All laudable in their exemplary excellence but hardly descriptive of the breadth of ageing.

In a room of a hundred older people there are a hundred stories to tell about growing old and older age, some good, some sad, some brilliant, some full of mundanity. Television and the arts in general fail to be authentic if all they do is speak to the extremities and edge of the human condition and the human person.

And why is it important that we should have a truthful and broad representation of older age – well put simply it is because it matters. What appears on television matters, and we are light years away from a mature, broad and truthful representation of ageing in all its colour, variety and diversity.

It also matters because we are people who require to hear our story and see our lives portrayed in the popular culture and the visual landscapes of our eyes and heart. There is not a little evidence to show that not being able to see our own narrative in the culture of the time has a negative impact on our mental health. Regardless of who I am, if I am living with dementia or living through the days of my loving to the end, I need to be able to recognise myself in television. Yet most of what is produced is but a shadow of the truthfulness, real and raw, broken, and glorious, of older age.

When challenged, as I have done in the past, playwrights and producers I spoke to made the statement that is often made namely that an audience does not always want to see itself and that it is not what the public wants. I would contest that assumption and would re-iterate the words of Lord Reith: ‘He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for low standards which he will then satisfy.’

There is a particular necessity for those of is who work in older age services and social care supports not to swallow the stereotype of older age but to challenge the societal presumption about those who receive social care at any age but especially at older age.

I make no apologies for finishing with one of my favourite Maya Angelou poems “On Aging” which asks younger people to treat older people with understanding and respect. She wrote it when she was 50 and it started a whole canon of some of her best work. It challenges the stereotypes of older people as ‘lonely, pitiable, and helpless.’ I hope we will see much more rounded representations of older age on television and in the creative media in general in the months and years to come.

On Aging

When you see me sitting quietly,

Like a sack left on the shelf,

Don’t think I need your chattering.

I’m listening to myself.

Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!

Hold! Stop your sympathy!

Understanding if you got it,

Otherwise I’ll do without it!

When my bones are stiff and aching,

And my feet won’t climb the stair,

I will only ask one favor:

Don’t bring me no rocking chair.

When you see me walking, stumbling,

Don’t study and get it wrong.

‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy

And every goodbye ain’t gone.

I’m the same person I was back then,

A little less hair, a little less chin,

A lot less lungs and much less wind.

But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Maya Angelou

On Aging poem – Maya Angelou (best-poems.net)

Dr Donald Macaskill

Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash

 

Service at the heart of remembrance: a reflection.

Today is Remembrance Day and with current global events there is an added poignancy and relevance to a day which focuses on remembering those who sacrificed their lives for others and to renewing our focus and efforts on the struggle for peace.

This year the Royal British Region has designated the theme of this years’ Remembrance as ‘service.’ They state:

‘Physical, mental or emotional injury or trauma; the absence of time with loved ones; or the pressures that come from serving, highlight why the Remembrance of service is so important. This year we mark significant anniversaries united by the theme of ‘Service’.

The concept of ‘service’ has been much in my mind in recent times. A few weeks ago, when I was in the family home in Skye, I looked out an old box which contained ‘war medals.’ I knew they were there and in truth when younger they were objects, we used to play with. This was probably the first time, however, that I looked at them seriously and was surprised by what I discovered. They belonged to my paternal grandfather who I knew had fought in the First World War but who never spoke about his experiences. He was even at his best a gruff, strict disciplinarian who to a child who met him infrequently seemed to be quite a source of fear.

What caught me by surprise was the discovery that he had been awarded two First World War medals and it was only when I explored more and chatted to family that I discovered that as a young man he had joined the Royal Navy and had fought in the First World War before then joining the Army and specifically the Lovat Scots where he ended up as a decorated soldier. He ‘’saw service in two services.’ To offer yourself in one service is remarkable in itself but to then transfer to another theatre of war which was even more dangerous struck me as remarkable. Like so many young islanders he left his community to go to distant places with a concept of ‘service’ which was one which sadly led many of his peers to their deaths as the local memorials attest only too clearly. Service to your nation and community which cost many their futures and which rightly those who will have had loved ones in any war or conflict will remember today and tomorrow.

There are numerous meanings to the word service and each of them conveys something about the depth of relationship to and for others. It could be service which once was the act of religious worship or the dedication of a life as part of a religious community; it could be used to suggest the work of an employee in a household (as my late granny who spent years ‘in service’) or more contemporaneously it could be the service you receive from an artisan or the service you receive in a restaurant;  So many meanings for the one word. It is therefore maybe not surprising that the etymology of the word is complex with some scholars suggesting that it is rooted in the Proto-Italic word serwo meaning “shepherd,” and others saying it has the connotation of ‘guarding and looking after’. Both convey a sense of protective care and support. Whatever the origins of the word there is an undoubted sense of a dedicated and focused giving of your ‘self’ to another which lies resonant within service.

I know many people who give and offer service to others. There are few who nowadays are required or who choose to offer service militarily like my grandfather, but there are countless thousands who offer service in smaller ways in their communities and to others.

There are so many unsung volunteers who continually give of their time and talents to support others in a wide range of activities and charities; there are thousands of individuals who every day offer service to a neighbour through simply being there to have a conversation and spend time with them, or for those who are unable to do so, to do their shopping or to take them out. There are hundreds who volunteer in charity shops and foodbanks, and who work for community groups, youth organisations and support groups.

Service seems intrinsic to the best aspects our humanity – the regard for others before a focus on self.

Today I will find a place to sit and be quiet, to think of the service to others which led so many millions to pay the ultimate sacrifice of their life not for a political cause or even a national interest but so that those they loved more than anything could be free, and safe and healthy and what they considered to be true evil would be vanquished.

I will find a place to think of those I knew personally who are no longer here but whose heroism was hidden by their hurt and yet shone forth through their concern and compassion for others.

I will find a place to remember all who across the years gave and still give to others, because for them to be human is to be connected in care in a chord unbreakable, even as they fail to recognise their actions as true human service.

I hope you too can find such a place to remember the service given yesterday, the service still offered, and the service still to come.

I hope to also read afresh the words of the American 19th century poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox whose poem ‘The Two Kinds of People’ still I think rings true with its challenge today:

‘There are two kinds of people on earth to-day;

Just two kinds of people, no more, I say.

 

Not the sinner and saint, for it’s well understood,

The good are half bad and the bad are half good.

 

Not the rich and the poor, for to rate a man’s wealth,

You must first know the state of his conscience and health.

 

Not the humble and proud, for in life’s little span,

Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.

 

Not the happy and sad, for the swift flying years

Bring each man his laughter and each man his tears.

 

No; the two kinds of people on earth I mean,

Are the people who lift and the people who lean.

 

Wherever you go, you will find the earth’s masses

Are always divided in just these two classes.

 

And, oddly enough, you will find, too, I ween,

There’s only one lifter to twenty who lean.

 

In which class are you? Are you easing the load

Of overtaxed lifters, who toil down the road?

 

Or are you a leaner, who lets others share

Your portion of labor, and worry and care?’

 

Two Kinds of People – An Ella Wheeler Wilcox Poem

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem from Unsplash.

 

Donald Macaskill

 

 

It’s time to imagine better: making a new social care reality happen.

I have been through in Edinburgh a fair bit this week and on one day found that I had a lunchtime hour to spare on Princes Street – I then remembered that the new Scottish Galleries had just opened in the refurbished National Galleries. I popped in and I wish I had had the whole afternoon free. This is a must see if you are in Edinburgh and definitely a reason for us west coasters to travel through!

Personally, I think the designers and curators have done an amazing job in making the new space accessible and intriguing. But of course, what matters most are the art works. There is something for everyone on display, though still admittedly but a small percentage of the treasures of the National collection. Personal loves were the seascapes of William McTaggart, the breathtaking spirituality of Margaret MacDonald Macintosh, the display of the Celtic revival and most of all the vibrant beauty of the works of Phoebe Traquair. I’ve see her works in situ in Edinburgh over the years but this was the most coherent museum exposition I’d come across.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) has pride of place in one part of the new galleries. She was an Irish born artist who was a major contributor within the Arts and Crafts movement not least in her adopted Edinburgh where her skills as an embroiderer, painter and jewellery maker flourished.

I find artistic imagination both inspiring and thought provoking. The success of this new gallery is that it allows you to find your own interpretation and sit comfortably with it. It doesn’t treat the viewer as in need of introduction and education but as capable of their own mature personal insight. One of the problems of some modern gallery refits (and I think especially here of my beloved Glasgow Kelvingrove which I visited almost weekly as I grew up) is that sometimes they are so earnest in their desire to inform that they crowd out personal perspective and treat you like a child. But I am sorry – I do not want my imagination to be curated by somebody else’s interpretation. The National Gallery in Edinburgh brilliantly granted me space to be inspired and to imagine.

Imagination is an intriguing phenomenon. It possesses an astonishingly powerful capacity. It is the energy that sources through the veins of inventors, it is the spirit that turns an impossible ask into an achievable task, it is the fire which burns away the sameness of the known and lets the human mind and collective society dare to be and do differently.

Our neurological ability to imagine is controlled by the neocortex and thalamus alongside the brain’s other functions such as consciousness and abstract thought. The developing discipline of neuroscience is leading us to discover fascinating insights into the power of imagination for human individuals. It recognises that the food and fuel of our imagination is our experience and memory – the new and innovative is birthed from our openness and awareness to the world around and within us, but is not constrained by any sense of traditional ‘knowledge.’

Albert Einstein famously said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

As such imagination is an art and science which I strongly believe should not be left to be the preserve of artists and creatives alone. It desperately needs to become a key skill and attribute of the many not the few and most especially of our political leadership. The recent writings of Geoff Mulgan have sought to argue for the critical importance of our politicians being schooled in the science and art of imagination.

I thought of the necessity of political imagination, of leaders going beyond the predictable safety of the known to adventure into imagination, as I sat giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday as its Health and Social Care Committee explored the plans for a National Care Service and considered the current state of social care. Away from the technicalities and mechanics of a parliamentary bill and all potential amendments to that, away from engagement of all stakeholders and political parties and the centrality of the voice of those who use support and care services, what struck me during the whole session was the singular lack of exciting vision and imagination.

We have a unique opportunity to dream bigger and build a social care community in Scotland, one which advances the human rights and dignity of individuals. We have an opportunity to imagine bigger and better and yet what I see and hear around me is a limiting of vision and a boundarying of possibility.

I also thought of imagination but in a much more positive vein when I had the pleasure of taking part in a design workshop run by the RSA and Scottish Care on Wednesday in Glasgow Caledonian University. A room full of designers, social care creatives and frontline staff who together dared to dream about a better social care world in Scotland. It was not a diet of pie in the sky but rather was rooted reality trying to re-shape possibility. I’m looking forward to the work of this ‘Social Care Emergency’ project over the next few months because it has an honest energy and optimism about it.

But back to my Edinburgh hour – the Phoebe Traquair painting that drew me in most of all and had me gazing for a long time was ‘The Awakening.’ Painted in 1904 the museum card states:

‘This mysterious image represents the awakening of the human spirit. An angel points, with an arrow, to several figures sleeping in a meadow. They are partially bathed in the light of a rainbow, signifying better times to come…’

Scotland’s social care sector badly needs the illumination of imagination that can bathe our current reality in rainbow hope of better times to come. That will only be achieved not through the predictable mundanity of closed room discussions like the Verity House Agreement between COSLA and the Scottish Government but by an adventurous collective re-imagination of possibility. I don’t think given the reality of these challenging times that we have any alternative but to get around an inclusive table and do the work of imagining a better social care system and I’m convinced that that work should start afresh now.

In a week where the challenges and promises of AI has been much in the news, one of the few things I suspect that distinguishes us from ‘the machine’ is our art of imagination, the science of dreaming differently and creating afresh; the bringing together of spirits and hearts to re-shape reality. Whether it is social care or any other issue we are, I believe, best served by fostering our imagination rather than a sole reliance on ‘knowledge’ and I for one want to spend more time in places and spaces that feed my imagination.

Donald Macaskill

 

When a plan prepares for failure: the crisis of social care in Scotland

When a plan prepares for failure: the crisis of social care.

We are all of us used to the art of planning. Whilst there are occasions and moments in our lives which happen ‘out of the blue’ and by ‘happenstance’ most of the major events of our life involve a degree of planning. Be it the birth of a child, getting married or moving into a new house, planning is part and parcel of an event’s positive outcome and success.

It wasn’t for nothing then that planning was considered to be intrinsic to the art of successful political leadership. Benjamin Franklin (one of the greatest US Presidents) once wrote: “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail” and another great strategist Winston Churchill stated: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail”.

An examination of both their writings shows the extent to which careful, meticulous, and methodical planning was intrinsic to the successes of their leadership whether militarily or on the political and domestic front.

The importance of planning has been to the fore of my mind this past week, and it has indeed been a busy one in terms both of politics and the world of social care but we are probably in these last days of October and given its 24 hours before the clocks go forward, at a key stage in both the meteorological season and in terms of the state of our social care system in Scotland.

We are also at that time of the political and parliamentary season when the gears go up a level or at least change. The party conference season is all but over (though the Scottish Greens meet today) and the curtains are being drawn on the political conference theatricalities with their usual mixture of aspirational optimism and depressive pessimism dependent on which party you belong to, which polls you are reading or which pundit you speak to. And of course, the party conference always grants the opportunity for those in government to pull rabbits out of unexpected hats in order to leave loyal followers feeling a bit more positive as they walk, drive or train into the approaching winter. In Scotland that has seen the bizarre and for me misplaced decision to freeze the Council Tax at a time when thousands are going without social care because of a lack of funding.

In the last week Parliament started to stir itself from its post-conference slumber.

For those of us in the world of health and social care, the annual joy which is the publication of the Scottish Government’s Winter Preparedness Plan took place on Tuesday last. Presented by the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery (we now know why ‘social care recovery’ was not in the portfolio title) this work of seasonal solicitude comes this year with an empty budget and no additional resource – that is if you come from the social care world. But like all Halloween seasonal offerings it had its own mixture of fantasy and reality – the fantasy was that it pretended to be for the whole health and social care system, the reality was some extremely worrying failures to really understand the social care world and the very real crisis it is enduring.

But it has not been the only event this week because we also had the publication of the Real Living Wage and the announcement that from next April it would now £12 an hour. This recognition that those who are the lowest paid deserve a significant wage increase is to be welcomed but it poses a problem for the current Scottish Government.

Regular readers of this blog will know that for months – along with others- I have called for our First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary to come true on the promise to pay social care staff £12 an hour. A promise made in April 2023, only to be underlined 20 weeks later when it was announced that workers would have to wait till April 2024 to get that salary increase. And lo – instead of the intervention bringing real positive change, enabling organisations to retain and attract new staff through the summer, autumn, and winter – we are now faced with the reality that come next April there will be no additional benefit, no additional attraction for those thinking of staying or joining a social care organisation. A significant political misstep and own goal and before anyone opines that there was no resource available – let’s just say I am sick to the proverbial of the way in which this administration magics up money from invisible corners when others strike, protest or complain. There is resource – it is all about priorities and what is deemed to be of greater value and what is considered as of lower significance – and the social care world isn’t blind to that political and fiscal truth.

As the seasons change, we are going to be moving into a winter period which will bring about real challenge. We’ve already seen thousands spent by the Government on a campaign to remind people to make sure that they only try to access support from the right source at the right time when they really need it. Nothing wrong ordinarily with such messages but when a system is so fragile and collapsing, they have a ring of preparatory avoidance about them.

Then we have the actual winter plan. It is not a plan worthy of the name because to my mind at least (and dare I say for most people involved in contingency, emergency, and resilience planning) you prepare for an impending challenge by making sure (amongst other things) that you have all the data, all the information, all the facts available to you. This plan is devoid of reality because singularly in its development and political articulation it has failed to fully and realistically involve those who are going to be responsible for delivering the majority of social care provision. Now I have no problem in the public sector saying this is our NHS and public sector winter planning – but I do have an issue with the pretence that this is a plan which is for the whole system and that it has included all. At the risk of repetition nearly 70% of social care provision in Scotland is delivered by the third and independent sectors. A plan which does not include them, speak to their reality, address the challenges of their workforce is not a plan worthy of its name – it is a delusion, deceit and exercise in political spin-doctory.

The third and independent sectors do not have all the answers to the crisis of workforce, lack of integrated working, misplacement of resource, lack of preventative and community-based care and support – but asking us might just have helped. It is not too late – so Scottish Government could start to pay social care staff £13 an hour from now (working up to a Fair Wage); we could invest in community based homecare to ensure people really are able to remain independent at home for longer; remove competition from care and increase collaborative practice; pay the registration fees for all those wanting to enter the social care system (regardless of employer); remove requirements for qualification if you are in the last years of career and so on and so on. We are not short of ideas just a system and political leadership wanting or willing to listen.

I really hope the winter will be one which we get through without long waits at A and E, increasing delayed discharges, a rise in the number of people unable to access urgent social care, and a continued drain of workers from social care organisations. I really do hope the early signs I am seeing of delayed care packages; people being told they do not meet ‘emergency criteria’ and perversely care workers being laid off because of a lack of ‘work’! are not harbingers of what is to come. But the failure to include, involve, listen to, and learn from the social care sector does not give me much confidence.

Apparently another political leader, Dwight Eisenhower, this time said ‘”a bad plan is better than no plan”. That may be true philosophically but the quality, naivety and lack of whole system thinking of the Scottish Government and COSLA’s Winter Preparedness Plan 2023-2024 is leaving most of us in social care extremely anxious about the weeks and months ahead.

Donald Macaskill

Knotted words : stammering love. A reflection

I’ve been spending the last few days in Skye where as many of you know my family originally came from and where I still have close relatives. It is always good to return ‘home’ and to catch up with folks, explore parts I do not know and get on with some tasks. It is an escape from my world of work into a place that simply possesses another rhythm and pattern of living to anywhere else I know. In October the seasons meld into one another on Skye but this time despite the robust winds the weather has been glorious, and I have rarely seen the place look more beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Yesterday with other members of my family I spent some time re-painting the lettering on a family gravestone. Might seem an odd activity but it was both rewarding and humbling to spend time in making sure that the names and memories of my kin would be visible despite the Atlantic gales which sweep that part of north-west Skye. It was good to share stories, learn new things and be together. One of the people whose name I repainted on stone was my uncle Donald who sadly died in his forties now some forty years ago.

Donald was my mother’s only sibling which in itself was an unusual fact in a Hebridean family pre the Second World War. His birth was difficult, and it resulted in him developing some learning disabilities which included a stammer and stutter that more pronounced the more anxious he was. But I absolutely loved Donald as a child and adolescent and very much regret the fact he died when I was in my late teens. His instinctive knowledge of nature, of animals and the seasons was far more important and impressive to me than the fact he struggled to read and could barely write. His influence on me was marked not least in that I became aware through the time I spent with him how much he was the victim of bullying and harassment because of his disabilities and especially his stutter. Although at times he found communication difficult what was certainly the case was that with patience and interest anyone could communicate with him and vice-versa. Sadly, not all people showed him such patience. Far from it. He had a manual job and one of his foremen made his life a simple hell with constant mimicking of his speech and other behaviours which today would have resulted in dismissal. But not then. The truth was that though Donald tried to hide his upset I knew how much it hurt him to be the victim of such belittling inhumanity and to be continually the object of another’s derision and amusement.

I thought a lot yesterday about how hard his life was as I re-painted his name on his gravestone. So, it was with some sense of synchronicity that in searching as I often do for what is happening in terms of the global calendar of events and occasions that I found out that tomorrow is Stuttering Awareness Day.

Organisations like the Scottish Stammering Network use the day to raise awareness of stammering and also to challenge and address some of the stereotypes and presumptions which exist around this remarkably common condition. They and other groups are well worth exploring not least if you are involved in the world of social care and support where many individuals who receive services and support in their own home or in a residential home live with stuttering or stammering.

Stuttering or stammering is a disruption in speech pattern involving disruptions, or dysfluencies, in a person’s speech, but there are nearly as many ways to stutter as there are people who stutter. Yet like so many conditions it is often misunderstood. It is now widely recognised that stuttering is a neurological condition which impacts and influences the production of speech and the use of language. But as with my uncle so many presumptions are made about people who stutter, and they are often the victims of discrimination and inappropriate treatment. In addition, the impact of such behaviours upon the self-esteem and self-value of those who live with stuttering can often be very negative indeed.

In exploring a world, I knew so little about I discovered that there are many myths and misunderstandings around stuttering, including amongst other things that:

‘Because fluent speakers occasionally become more disfluent when they are nervous or under stress, some people assume that people who stutter do so for the same reason. While people who stutter may be nervous because they stutter, nervousness is not the cause.

Emotional factors often accompany stuttering but it is not primarily a psychological condition. Stuttering treatment/therapy often includes counselling to help people who stutter deal with attitudes and fears that may be the result of stuttering.

Adults and children who stutter may sometimes be hesitant to speak up, even if they are not otherwise shy by nature. People who stutter can be assertive and outspoken, and many succeed in leadership positions that require talking.

Although the manner in which people stutter may develop in certain patterns, the cause of stuttering itself is not due to a habit. Because stuttering is a neurological condition, many, if not most, people who stutter as older children or adults will continue to do so—in some fashion—even when they work very hard at changing their speech.’ (see About The NSA – National Stuttering Association (westutter.org))

It is estimated that perhaps one per cent of the total global population stutter but that perhaps as many as 5% of all children go through a period where they stutter. It is also generally accepted that stuttering is more common among males than females. In adults, the male-to-female ratio is about 4 to 1; in children, it is closer to 2 to 1.

In other words, these are remarkably common phenomena. It is therefore really important that appropriate support and resource is identified to addressing the issues of those who stutter or stammer.

I leave you with a poem written by Natasha Foster called ‘Lighting Candles’ . Natasha wrote of the poem:

“Sometimes I have felt that my stammer stole the words from my mouth, but in writing, I can express things as I want to. There are losses and gains connected to having a stammer, and I tried to reflect that in my poem.

‘I called my poem ‘Lighting candles’ because when I’m open about my stammer, and share my experiences, I like to imagine lighting a small candle of awareness in others. I find motivated to think of increased ‘light’ being shed on the subject, and how this might help me, and others like me, who stammer.”

LIGHTING CANDLES

Knotted words

Angry Heart

Shame and pain

A faltering start

A sense of grief

At a life a bit bashed

By a loss of speech

Some opportunities dashed

My stammer is my uneasy friend

One that will probably stay till the end

City Lit, Stamma, and my fellow peers who know

Helped me change my thinking, learn and grow

I’m working on being a woman of pride

My stammer lives within me, part of me,

By my side

I’m free to speak with a stammer

And share who I am

My person, my experience, my spirit, I can!

Unknotted words

Thankful heart

Self acceptance and hope

Every day is a new start.

(Taken from Poem: ‘Lighting candles’ | STAMMA)

Donald Macaskill

Before the dawn: anticipating loss.

In just under a month on the 1st November the working group which published Scotland’s Bereavement Charter for Adults and Children will be holding a webinar entitled ‘The Space Between: understanding anticipatory grief.’ You can sign up for it and get more details here. On the day we will hear from invited speakers who will reflect on the loss of a parent, the loss of a child and sibling, and the loss of a loved one who you have cared for. The day will also see the publication of the refreshed and updated version of the Charter Guidance document which contains advice and guidance on grief and bereavement. At this time there will be a new section focussing on anticipatory grief.

The phrase might seem a bit strange or alien to those who are not part of the bereavement and grief support world. Sadly, however I suspect the experience of anticipating grief will be all too familiar to many of us.

Anticipatory grief is variously described but in essence it is the grief which starts before someone dies. It is a grief which is often not talked about and sometimes people can be made to feel guilty if they talk about the loss of someone who they know is going to die. So, they shut up and dismiss their feelings. Yet for many of us who have known a loved one who receives a terminal diagnosis like cancer or who has been diagnosed with a condition such as dementia, the grieving can start there and then. It can be terrifyingly immediate and overwhelming. All the lost dreams and possibilities, all the dashed hopes and aspirations, all the places unvisited and the plans unfulfilled. Knowing that someone you love and care about is going to die is a waiting which paralyses the soul and empties you of the few tears you may have left.

My twin brother died from cancer close to 6 years ago and it has taken until now for me to mention that truth in this weekly blog despite all the writing and speaking I undertake on grief and loss. Many twins reading this will recognise that there is often a connection between twins which you feel to be unique and special. It might not always be easy, and distance and the passing years might lessen it, but growing up so inter-connected with another person from the first moments of life onwards can make the sense of grief all the sharper and more painful. And in truth having spoken to a few twins it is a grief that is rarely talked about or shared.

After my twin’s death one of the most challenging series of statements I had to deal with came from those who said things like ‘it was good you had time to prepare’; ‘at least it wasn’t a sudden death’ or ‘you’ll be content that he is at peace now.’ There is a grain and a morsel of truth in some of those sentiments, but their uttering is a dagger to the heart. I know I am not the only person who has heard such words. So many people today will have recently experienced the death of a loved one who they knew was going to die … but we always hold onto the hope, the dream that they would have more time, that there would be more space to make memory and build togetherness… and yet it was not to be. There is no peace in waiting for hurt.

Waiting for someone who means so much to you to die does not prepare you it exhausts you. Waiting for death to come does not make the emptiness of absence any easier it makes it feel even more hollow. Waiting for death does not make the sheer sorrow of the moment any less raw and real.

Years of working and being amongst the dying and the grieving has taught me how little I know about living and dying. But one lesson whose truth I sense as authentic is that grief is not a moment but a series of memories; it is not a task to be undertaken and fulfilled, but a work to be struggled with for what seems forever. It is a journey whose destination is unknown and whose completion is ever in the future.

Maybe that is what those who are anticipating grief and those who are living through it share. A sense that we are changed because of the love we feel for another here and yet absent, present and gone. For they have riven us through with their loving and we are moulded into who we are by our knowing of them.

As for my twin, I think about him every day – like so many bereaved I hear his voice, sense his presence and catch myself wanting to talk to him; I hear his laughter and his passion; I want to pick up the phone and tell him my news or just hear his voice again. To just have another minute to say what was left unsaid and to say a proper goodbye knowing in truth that I could never finish the sentence of love in any time of minutes and hours. Even as I write this, I can feel the shiver inside my body. Grief sits with me, and I have grown used to her presence, but it is one that continually empties me of energy. So, no I cannot accept the experience of some that knowing about the inevitability of death, that anticipating it, prepares you for the reality.

As many of you know I find solace and escape in the reading of poems. Sometimes I find myself coming across esoteric and rare poems. One such which I recently discovered was in a famous group of poems in the tenth-century manuscript known as the Exeter Book. They are stunningly moving medieval reflections on isolation, loss and grief. One of the most famous is called (in a modern translation) The Wife’s Lament, and speaks of the loneliness felt in summer day, a loneliness brought about by isolation and grief. It introduces to the reader a word ‘uhtcearu, a compound which means ‘pre-dawn-sorrow’, ‘grief at early morning’. In Old English uht is the name for the last part of the night, the empty chilly hours just before the dawn, and so a particularly painful time for grief and loneliness.’

I resonate so much with that sense of uhtcearu because for me at least it is in the last hours of night, when the world is still and strangely silent, that loss feels more intense and memory of those not with me seems to settle in beside me, both to soothe and in love to call me into another day. As we anticipate the dawning of the day we move our grieving heart to face the light of another absent day and we know the task of living through memory is to mould our lost love into a new beginning, however hard, every day. But the morning only comes if we allow the uhtcearu.

Donald Macaskill

Dr Eleanor Parker from Oxford University has written a brilliant piece on the Wife’s Lament. See The Wife’s Lament. A Medieval Poem about Isolation | TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities

Photo by Abbas Tehrani on Unsplash