Posts Tagged ‘2015’

‘And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future,
it is murder’ – The Future by Leonard Cohen

I will never forget that night. I found my beloved partner on the floor. She had made a makeshift bed for herself and was surrounded by her favourite JellyCat soft toy dogs. She takes these everywhere with her; a source of comfort. I froze for a moment as I saw the empty packets of medication and then the note she had left for me.

Then the adrenaline kicked in and I desperately tried to remember the first aid courses I had undertaken. I checked her breathing. It was there, just. I checked her airways for blockages. There were none I could find. I couldn’t rouse her and I was concerned that the position she was in wasn’t helping her breathing. So I moved her into a more suitable position. As I did this, I heard a loud crack. It came from within me. My hip had decided this was the appropriate moment to partially dislocate as it is want to do at times. Usually I feel this a LOT but the adrenaline must have kept the pain at bay. I grabbed my phone and called 999.

The emergency services are brilliant. I was told an ambulance was on its way and the person on the phone stayed with me to reassure me. She kept me busy by having me count my partner’s breathing. I also collected all the packets of medication that I could find so an idea could be had as to how much had been taken and what kind. The door bell rang; the ambulance had arrived. At this point I was reminded about the state of my dislocated hip. The pain hit, hard! The ambulance crew were greeted with a torrent of swearing as I painfully manoeuvred my hip back into place. Another crack; there back in place.

After spending the night in emergency my partner was moved to an ITU bed. She was to stay there, unconscious, for a week. I phoned the hospital and visited at every opportunity hoping for news as to her progress. I brought up her favourite JellyCat dog to be with her. Don’t tell the other dogs but she does have a favourite.

It was heartbreaking to see her in that ITU bed with drips, medical machinery and tubes down her throat to assist breathing. I shall never shake that image.

Strange thoughts go through one’s head at times like these. Well they did mine. For some reason, I thought that I was going to get ‘told off’ by my partner for getting her medical attention. This thought was intense. I couldn’t rid myself of it. I really thought I was in trouble.

Thankfully, my lovely partner finally did wake up, and was later moved to another ward. She had contracted pneumonia due to fluids entering her lungs as she went into one of several seizures whilst in emergency. This had also resulted in some damage to her brain, though the medical staff thought this would rectify itself.

Suicide is a complicated issue and there are often many reasons involved that might build up to cause an individual to consider or carry out an attempt upon their own life. It is important to note that my partner had recently received a letter from the DWP in reference to her ESA claim. She was to face another reassessment and this scared her, indeed it weighed heavily upon her mind. As my partner said to both myself and the Crisis Team, that DWP letter, well, ‘it didn’t help’.

I spoke to many Doctors, staff at the Crisis Team and social workers, who worked with my partner, and they all stated that this is happening far more than is being reported. The fear is real and felt by many. These ‘reforms’ are having huge negative impact and causing harm. I have read several cases of suicide attempts and deaths linked to these damn ‘reforms’ but I never thought that that it would hit so close to home.

In addition to the cuts disabled and carers are facing, there is also the real fear of the, now, infamous sanctions regime.

My partner lives with severe mental health concerns. She has great difficulty reading, interacting and communicating with others. People frighten her.

She fears that she would end up sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of her diagnosis. The presentation of her symptoms could easily be misunderstood, or even exploited, by DWP staff intent on their quota of sanctions. Yes, we hear claims that there are no quotas but who believes Iain Duncan Smith or Esther McVey? Lying comes as easy to that pair of irresponsible, reckless Ministers as breathing.

I stated above that suicide is rarely about one issue but this must not be taken, by any supporter of the Coalition welfare ‘reforms’, as mitigation or an attempt to dismiss the impact of the ‘reforms’ upon my partner. Fear of these ‘reforms’, fear of the arrival of the next brown envelope from the DWP, played a major role within the reasoning behind her actions. As she said, ‘It didn’t help’.

These ‘reforms’ have been both cruel and unnecessary; an added extra burden, and worry, upon people who already have a lot to contend with as it is.

Now, we hear that we are to face a further £12Bn in cuts should David Cameron, and his Conservative Party, be elected on Thursday. This fills me with dread. My partner and I barely survived the past five years. The attacks never seem to stop. We have also faced an increase is disability related abuse. I describe this abuse in an article here.

One can never seem to draw breath before the next letter from the DWP arrives. Your heart stops in fear as you see it pushed through the letterbox. You hold your breath as you open it. What bad news will it bring? What fresh horror has Iain Duncan Smith seen fit to dump upon you today?

For many, the Social Security ‘reforms’, and their impact, are the straw that broke the camels back. To repeat, as I think it very important, my partner said, ‘It didn’t help’. In truth they are not helping because they are not designed to do so. These pernicious ‘reforms’ are designed, on first principle, simply to save money.

The Conservative Party want to place the Social Security safety net so close to the ground that it renders it useless, even fatal. You may not need it now, but you do not know what is around the corner. Can you really afford to lose its protection?

My own health has also been impacted by Iain Duncan Smith’s awful legacy. My Doctor is having to, not only treat the symptoms associated with my existing, deteriorating disability, he is now looking to the stress based illnesses I find myself with. My blood pressure is through the roof, blood has been found where it shouldn’t be and the additional stress is playing havoc with my chronic pain and state of mind. I worry that I may become too ill to act as carer for my partner, and I worry what will happen to her in the future. I worry about not being able to work. I worry, worry all of the time. I have difficulty sleeping due to constant worry, constant stress.

I never used to worry like this. I was always a glass half full ‘kinda’ guy. When I worked in education, I was often ‘named tutor’, and looked to the pastoral care of my students. I was the one with the answers; the person they turned to for solutions. Well, things change and, I am not ashamed to admit that, I now find myself going through counselling. Thanks Mr Cameron, thanks Mr Clegg, thanks for nothing.

My partner has been expressing fears again. She is deeply worried that the Conservatives will return to power and enact further hurt. She has talked about taking her life again, should they do. She is classed as ‘high risk’ by her medical specialists and they are offering what help they can with limited resources.

I have been critical of many a government before but this Coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been the first government that I have been scared of. The first government to put me in fear of, both, my and my partner’s health and future. Is this really a fairer society?

I am terrified at the thought of David Cameron and the Conservative Party being returned to power.

By the way, in case you are wondering. I wasn’t told off by my partner.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

2015 will see the publication of three monographs featuring fine art photography by Christopher John Ball. Watch this blog for further details.

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Evening Standard announcing death of Thatcher on 8th April 2013 - news stand at Kings Cross London (c) Christopher John Ball 2013Like many people, I hold very strong views on Margaret Thatcher and her politics but I can differentiate between the politician in office and the frail old lady who died. This is why, even though her policies had a huge impact upon my life, most of it negative, I refrained from exploring my views within this Blog until after her funeral had taken place.

It should have come as no surprise that Baroness Margaret Thatcher would have proved to have been as highly divisive a figure in death as she was in life: one either loved her or loathed her and death didn’t change that. Coming from the northern town of Blackburn, and having seen it torn apart by the policies of Thatcherism, I would be lying if I said I didn’t fall firmly into the latter camp.

Without doubt Baroness Thatcher and Thatcherism served to politicise me; her policies, and the effects they had upon the people I cared about, such as my father, heavily influenced my political leanings, writing and photography. Indeed my first major photo-documentary project, exhibited in the 1980’s and funded in part by the Arts Council, was a study of the effects of Thatcherism upon my home town.

The work was entitled ‘Blackburn: a Town and its People,’ and Baroness Thatcher’s death came at an interesting moment; I was, at the same time, in the process of digitising and collating the images I had produced with the aim of releasing it in book form later on this year. So, I was already reminiscing about the period of time Thatcher dominated when the news of her death was announced.  Sadly, much of what I photographed during that period, the poverty, hopelessness, division etc., is returning. It is doing so with such ferocity that I fear it will be far and above that which was witnessed during Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister due, in no small part, to this Coalition’s austerity policy.

With the simplistic politics of ‘greed is good’ and ‘empathy is weak’ Baroness Thatcher put in place the very means by which she and successiveDiscarded UB40 from Blackburn - a town and its people. (c) Christopher John Ball politicians, in particular the current Coalition, would be able to cut society to its core. Splitting communities and rupturing the very social fabric essential for any civilised society, if it hopes to live, nurture and thrive in a spirit of fairness, especially in times of crisis.

Under Thatcherism the country became not a community but a business, the United Kingdom PLC., where profit became King and the ‘bottom line’ the enforced end to any discussion. Despite its failure, we are still told, by the likes of Dr Liam Fox, that there is no other way. Its effect upon the country has been such that it has left many, even today, far too weakened, frightened and demoralised to put up the fight needed to counter the Coalition austerity policy.

Thatcher believed that ‘market forces’ and ‘minimum regulation’ were the answer to everything but she never provided an answer to the biggest question, the one inherent within such a philosophy: What do you do for those for whom market forces has no need? Apart from offering up some vague notion of ‘trickle down’ economics, I’m not even sure if she ever seriously stopped to ask that question of her policies or even cared, something shared with many of her apologists and acolytes today.

I will concede that, during the late 70’s, the country was in poor health and that something had to be done to help it move into the modern world. But it was both the nature of the medicine and the manner in which Thatcher callously administered it that was the problem: she had no comforting bedside manner.

When a doctor treats a patient s/he takes into account the effect that the medication might have upon the patient. S/he anticipates any potential side effects and looks to alleviate them. Thatcher, for the most part, did next to nothing to alleviate any side effects of the medication. Other countries faced similar problems, such as inflation, but solved them by taking a different, less divisive path: administering the medicine with more thought for the patient. It was Thatcherism’s thoughtlessness, the lack of foresight and the unwillingness to empathise that I find hard to forgive. We are still suffering today for that lack of thought…and yes, Labour should have done more to rectify those errors whilst in power.

from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John Ball

As stated, it is my belief that much of the problems we face today are a result of the policies of Thatcherism: the Big Bang, deregulation, Building Society Acts, removal of employment rights and privatisation, which in some cases has put essential services into the hands of foreign companies and out of our control. Her much lauded ‘right to buy council houses’ scheme and ‘stated’ desire for a ‘property owning democracy’ had hidden intent. Thatcher hoped that wider home ownership would turn people away from socialism but I believe she intended to do this through extra burden and fear of loss. She wasn’t unduly worried if the ‘right to buy’ scheme failed to turn people into ‘conservatives’ because it would still serve a purpose; that being a simple, cynical attempt to tie people, long term, to a mortgage. Having done so, it was thought that people would be more wary of endangering their job and income by striking for better conditions or pay. It could be argued that it was one of the ways in which she was able to take away workers rights with a minimum of trouble, rights that had been hard fought for and still to be returned.

Income generated from the ‘right to buy scheme’ was not used to replace the affordable social housing lost to sales. Indeed, many of the houses sold have found their way into the private rented sector but at much higher rents. There is an argument to be made that the current high housing benefit bill, money that goes not into the claimants pockets but into the landlords, is in part the result of a combination of the ‘right to buy’ scheme and the Thatcher Government’s 1988 Housing Act. This saw rents rise along with the introduction of far less secure tenancies, no doubt as a result of lobbying by bodies that represented landlords. Whilst there was short term gain for a few individuals, in the long-term, Thatcher’s housing policies have made a major contribution to the housing crisis that this country faces today.

Far from saving Great Britain, as David Cameron has tried to claim, Thatcherism’s unquestioning faith in the free market, and the refusal of those who came after her to challenge it, came to a head in 2008 as the country was brought to near financial collapse.

That financial crisis, being made worse by Thatcherite inspired austerity measures, has shown that Thatcherism, as a political philosophy, has Coal not Dole - from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John Ballended in failure. A failed experiment whose shameful conclusion is one where huge sacrifices are being demanded of those who can least afford to pay the penalty, whilst at the same time, seeing those actually responsible for the disaster bailed out and made richer.

Unless challenged, her legacy will be one of increasingly entrenched wealth in the hands of the very few, and, nothing but the crumbs of austerity for the many. For in the end Thatcherism simply paved the way for the selfishness that is the Coalition and that is far too high a price to pay, no matter what you are trying to achieve.

It was through Thatcherism that the Conservative Party gained the reputation as the nasty party. Cameron, upon gaining leadership of the Conservative Party, stated that it was his intention, through something he called ‘compassionate conservatism’, to rid his party of the label: he failed. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have taken politics, with the aid of Coalition Ministers and MP’s such as Iain Duncan Smith, Grant Shapps, Danny Alexander, Esther McVey, Steven Webb and others, to a new level nastiness, a level far and beyond Thatcherism; the Coalition isn’t simply nasty, it is wicked.

The fact that Cameron, upon hearing the news of Thatcher’s death, rushed away from, what were billed, as important talks in Europe to bask in the reflected ‘limelight,’ speaks volumes about the man. I have no doubt that Cameron has one eye on the upcoming local elections and will seek to try and make politic profit from the hagiography that erupted from some quarters.

Of course, along with all the adulation from within the Conservative Party, they have tried to brush over the fact that it was the Party and not the electorate who removed Thatcher from office. When it looked likely that the people were inclined to remove her at the ballot box, the Party, in an attempt to survive, robbed them of that opportunity. It might have been better for the soul of the country had she lost the next election; better to destroy the Thatcher myth by means of the will of the people than have it shamble along for a few more years under the Premiership of John Major.

Closed Palace Cinema from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John BallWhen it comes to her funeral, its cost and its nature, whilst Clement Atlee was more deserving of, but didn’t get, a state funeral, as he, unlike Thatcher, changed the UK for the better under the most trying of times, I think that it was perhaps right to commemorate her; not for her policies but simply because she was the UK’s first female Prime Minister.

There will come a time when the politics she espoused will be discredited and consigned to history. I look forward to a society were the combined pollutants of Thatcherism, the more cruel elements of Supply-side Economics and Monetarism have long been cleansed from its heart. Sadly though, for this country and its people, that time is still some way off as it would appear there are not yet politicians with sufficient courage to leave Thatcherism behind or perhaps they are so bereft of ideas that they simply have nothing else to offer…but, one day, there will be.

Upon achieving the office of Prime Minister in 1979 Baroness Thatcher famously paraphrased Saint Francis of Assisi. Baroness Thatcher and her legacy can perhaps be summed up in much the same manner…

‘Where there was a chance for harmony, she brought discord. Where there was a chance for truth, she brought lies. Where there was faith, she brought doubt. Where there was hope, she brought despair and, where there was a chance for something better, ultimately she brought us the Coalition and with it one of the most cynical of political conceits: We are all in it together.’

Looking back upon that period, my thoughts on Thatcher and her politics haven’t mellowed but for all that I disagreed with her on policy, and the manner in which she was determined to push it through, she was a politician of conviction and, at the very least, you knew where you stood with her. Perhaps more importantly, I never ‘feared’ Margaret Thatcher or her ministers.

Worryingly, I cannot say the same of this Coalition; for the first time in my life I am, as a disabled individual who is also primary carer for aOld man seated from Blackburn a Town and its People (c) Christopher John Ball disabled partner, utterly terrified of my own Government, the politics that drives it, its intent, and the gallery to which it plays. I do not feel safe and I honestly fear for my future.

Whilst I have always experienced disabilism, the nature, frequency and tone has changed, as this government, out of desperation and failure, irresponsibly tries to push through its policy via the politics of the scapegoat.

My partner, who lives with hidden disabilities, has been assaulted and even spat upon for having dared remonstrate with those who have mocked my disability.

Concerns about this government’s disability policies have even reached the point where Amnesty International UK, at its AGM on April 14 2013, felt the need to pass a resolution condemning the Coalition for its attacks upon disabled people within the UK.

Any government that, despite the lessons available to it from history, feels the need to resort to scapegoating vulnerable sections of the community has lost all moral authority to govern; I shall be exploring this issue in future posts.

It must say something about my feelings, with regard to the current political climate, when someone as anti-Thatcherite as I finds himself looking at photographs, made during the period in which she was in office, and comparing the Thatcher government with more favour than I do the current morally bankrupt Coalition we are having to endure.

That is not to say that life under Thatcher was good but that it is far worse under this current regime. This government is a union without mandate, one that can offer the country nothing more than a pernicious combination of the economics of the workhouse and the politics of the scapegoat.

I do so long for 2015 and the opportunity it affords to put the Coalition out of my misery.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

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