Monthly Archives: July 2014


All this week I’ve seen dead babies. Dead children, dead babies. In one photo, tiny infants lie dead in blood soaked sheets. In another, a small boy is smashed in half on the sand; his legs are pointing in impossibly different directions as his tiny face rests on the beach.

I don’t know if these images have changed my mind about anything. They have upset and distressed me – that much I do know.

Maybe I deserve to be upset and distressed; maybe it’s important to shock people who would otherwise look away. My discomfort might be part of the problem. How dare I care about my unease when these people have had their lives away? What they would give for the choice to feel uneasy about seeing such carnage from the comfort of their armchairs.

I understand that. But I can’t help thinking of something else: that these images are part of something intimate, something private. A person’s dead body is taboo for a reason. I know we’ve all been desensitised by trawling through splattered corpses and being confronted with shock sites since the worldwide Web first cranked into life. But there’s something that makes me wince beyond simple visceral repulsion.

Later this week, more corpses, scattered over fields from a plane that was shot down. Then, the intrusive photos of crying, shocked, grieving, desperately upset relatives. Somehow they seem even worse, the creepshot snaps of broken people whose lives have been wrecked; they seem more hurtful, more unfair, more harmful than the photos of dead people, who at least aren’t suffering any more.

I don’t know if my mind has ever been changed by a photo of a dead person or a dead body. I don’t know if I ever really needed to see one to emphasise the horror of death or war or violence. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a place for war photography, just that the repeated exposure might not have the effect that some people might want it to have.

I must be some kind of ancient relic. I just think there ought to be some dignity in death, some privacy. And that for those who are grieving and shocked and hurting, there needs to be a little more consideration. I don’t need to see a photo of a father or mother in tears to know the impact a tragedy has.

I must be in the minority because it keeps coming and I keep seeing it. It seems we want the power to shock, all the time, with the graphic image, the picture of suffering. I am becoming, not immune to it, but weary. But it seems that’s something I have to come to terms with.

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Posted by on July 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


All creatures will make merry

You can tell three things about whoever thought it might be a good idea to take away benefits for unemployed people who refuse therapy for depression.

First, they have never been unemployed. Second, they have never been depressed. Third, they have never been unemployed and depressed.

Since I have, I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t work that way. Unemployment makes you depressed, even if you weren’t depressed. Unemployment makes depression worse, if you’re prone to it. Unemployment and depression is a dark spiral in which your diminishing self worth is constantly attacked by the evidence around you of your failure. Failure to work, failure to stop being depressed. Failure all round.

Another reason I can tell whichever person scribbled this fag packet proposal down has never been through depression is that you can’t just get therapy. You get put onto a waiting list. Depending on your postcode, this could be six months if you are lucky or a year and a half if you’re not. A bit of a poser if you’re depressed and need help right now. In that intervening time, things could get a lot worse.

And that’s if you seek help. By its nature depression can force you inwards. It causes shame and despair. It can make you shun the outside world altogether. It’s a huge effort just to make it down the shops sometimes or talk to another person. Going to a GP, with the attendant negotiation with a receptionist who wants to convince you that you don’t want to go and that if your problem isn’t “urgent” then you don’t deserve to see a doctor, is stressful in itself. Not a task to complete when you’re in the depths.

But imagine getting all the way there, to realise you have a problem and that you need help, only to be told that you have to wait over a year for help. Imagine what that would do.

Of course you can go private for 40 or 50 pounds per hour, but guess what? When you’re unemployed you don’t have that kind of money.

Sure, antidepressants help. They saved my life. But far from “rejecting” talking therapies, unemployed people – those who have reached the point where they realise that they need that kind of help – are crying out for something that is denied to them.

But here is where we are. People must be happy under pain of punishment. If you’re depressed and unemployed the best thing to do is be punished and sanctioned. If you don’t demand the treatment you can’t actually have for months or years, you will be blacklisted.

I’m sure whoever decided this possible policy had the best intentions. By which I mean they had the best intentions of looking tough on “scroungers” for their cheerleader tabloid friends without caring in the slightest about the human lives involved. As such it’s effective.

But for anyone who has been there it’s another lie. Another piece of demonisation. Another boot kicking at your face. Another deliberate misunderstanding. They don’t understand and they don’t want to understand.


Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


Hospital cake shop

I went to a cake shop in a hospital today. Well it was a coffee shop-cum-cake shop. No, wait that won’t do: it was a Costa Coffee. A Costa Coffee in a hospital. In an NHS hospital you go to a cheerfully corporate coffee franchise.

Is that… Is that wrong? Or is it Ok? I can’t work out what it was about it that jarred so much. I think the branding was a big part of it, the bright branded colours making a hospital seem like part of a motorway services or shopping mall. I used to work in a hospital and you got your coffee from vending machines and your cakes from the WRVS shop, staffed by volunteers, selling Puzzler magazines and boxes of chocolates. There weren’t corporate colours; it was all function, necessity and NHS paint jobs.

The hospital itself is a masterpiece of anonymised glass and stone, like a sad chain hotel lobby, or regional airport minus the pink-stetsonned masses off to Ayebeefa. I usually rather like these bland bright spaces that belong to everyone and no one, hotels or airports or food courts… There’s something faintly whimsical to find in the lack of humanity, the Hopper like emptiness. Not here though. It’s a hospital. It seems wrong. To me, anyway. It seems unfriendly, uncaring. Unhappy. Cold. Ever so clean but ever so vacuous.

There’s something about the whole hospital experience that seems so commodified today. You start by paying to park a car, as if this is some kind of luxury destination that befits the insertion of coins into a slot rather than a place where people walk around heartbroken and shattered, their lives forever changed. Then you wait for a screen, not a person, to tell you where to go. And in some point in the future you’re going to have to pay for it. We all are.

A shop in a hospital sells giant calorific cakes. I don’t begrudge any underpaid, overworked member of staff the chance to fuel up; and if shocked, tired and emotional patients and families want to stuff themselves, comfort eat, keep awake and whatever, then that’s nothing to complain about. Who can blame them? We’ve been there. But shouldn’t the unhealthy, sugary, fatty, nasty foods be tucked away somewhere? After all, they’re not Good Things. As someone who used to be Morbidly Obese, I know how seriously diet is taken by health professionals… Yet there’s a branded shiny cake shop front and centre of a hospital. It sends a strange message about acceptability, like when footballers advertise junk food. Why not have a pub, or a tobacconist? Less absurdly, is the only reason why smoking isn’t allowed in hospitals because money can’t be made from it, while calorific coffee and cakes are a nice little earner?

A cake shop in a hospital. Treat yourself to a ton of fat and sugar while you’re waiting for that weight management appointment. Go on, it can’t hurt.

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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized