Schools Tour.

1.3 million people are employed in the arts in the UK. Why do some people think that in austere times, the arts must be on the back burner? When children are encouraged to participate in the arts, it enhances all their learning. Creativity is about empowerment. The arts touch everything we do. To make anything, you need imagination and creativity. To appreciate what you have created takes an ability to understand how creativity works. How to imagine something and make it into a reality, is part of a creative process.

To give children a love of learning at an early age is a goal all teachers aspire to. Access to the arts means that they will come through their school careers as fully rounded individuals, with an inate love of art and culture, as well as an understanding of maths and science, because the arts should be a conduit through which children learn all subjects. Science can be taught through creative arts, as can maths. Music is full of maths.

Children who have access to the arts are happier and learn better. To say that the arts have to come second to maths and science is short-sighted. The arts enable children to blossom and understand imagination. Creativity is in every part of our lives. To not be able to use creativity leaves a huge vacuum in a life.  Funding for the arts must be seen as essential and not some sort of icing on the cake.

Perhaps there is a fear of the arts in education; a fear that kids will go to university and gain arts degrees that are  perceived as useless, but I say again, 1.3 million people are employed in the arts in the UK. People’s lives are enriched by the arts. It allows you to express yourself and find yourself in a way that nothing else can. Dance and Drama and Music should be as valued in the school curriculum as any other subject. It should be at the core of any curriculum. Creative practice should be embedded in every subject taught. The power of a creative approach to learning can never be underestimated.

For years, secondary education has been geared towards passing exams. Government must understand that we are losing many children who, through more investment in the arts within schools, would  succeed where they are currently failing in their education. Many families cannot afford music lessons for talented children. Those children should have access to music within school; it should be serious access where schools can recognise children with real music talent and support them, but not at the expense of other children. All children should be given the opportunity to experience music, dance, drama, in fact all the arts should be a part of their total education. Are we really content to produce of frustrated and narrow school- leavers who do not have the skills to appreciate or participate in the arts at all?

There needs to be a real sea-change in how we see and value the arts. Businesses should realise that the arts teach young people empathy, creativity, the ability to use imagination, effective communication and an ability to see the bigger picture – all skills that employers look for in their staff. The arts stand you in good stead in later life. When the work life ends, imagination and creativity enhance retirement. To know how to access the arts as an older person, will enable you to have a fuller and richer retirement.

A cultural education must be integrated into all subjects learnt at school. It’s not just about teaching maths and science. The idea that the only thing to prioritize are targets that have to be met, is worrying. Parents need to work far more with teachers to introduce children to culture. There should a be cross cultural approach in schools. Children should see a cultural education as part of their everyday learning. We appear to be educating a class of kids that can only pass exams but are turned off education. Education is life long and the arts can encourage children to understand this. Schools tend to focus only on getting the good exam results. But we know that participation in any form of creativity, helps children to get better exam results.

In my working career I have run music and drama sessions with children. I have taken productions into school and  have seen how young people have not just embraced creativity but have also learned team work, responsibility, the ability to think in a new way. I have seen very difficult kids develop in extraordinary and unexpected ways. Sophie’s Choices is a play about Young Carers. It toured Devon as Forum Theatre, enabling children to discuss the content of the play and attempt to solve the problems shown in the piece.



tesco slough
 (Photo credit: osde8info)

Why do advertisers focus on women so much? Is it because women are thought to do nothing else but shop? Is it a national assumption that we women have no other interests, no hobbies, no reason to live other than to wander around stores looking for pretty things, cheap rubbish and bargains to add to our credit cards? Do women keep the economy going round?

I am sick of shopping. It’s an assault on the senses. All I want is a bottle of washing up liquid but to find it, I have to trawl a thousand shelves, while some woman with hideous diction yells at me over a tannoy about special offers, and I am pushed in the behind by a zealous shopper’s trolley filled to the the brim with packaged stuff – God knows what’s inside those cardboard boxes, but to me, most of it isn’t food! All I want is A BOTTLE OF WASHING UP LIQUID!

But I am a woman, so I must want to buy everything. I cannot possibly be satisfied with one item alone? I am a lady, so I will be tempted by all the pretty colours, all the jingles, the hype, the buy-one-get-one-free, the sheer insanity of it all!  And if I decline, I am made to feel guilty. You MUST buy or the economy will go under, the banks will fail, an asteroid will hit the earth, a plague will descend…

The only way to navigate a supermarket without filling a trolley is to put yourself in a trance. Not the one that you sink into as you walk down the isles under all that neon lighting, or the one that is bought on by competition – that women in front of me has more and better stuff in her trolley than me, I must step up! No, it’s the self induced trance you must enter, in the car park, long before you go through those glass doors into the jaws of shopping hell. It’s a trance of self control, a dream time of critical integrity, a coma of decision.  If you do not put yourself into this state in good time, the supermarket will get you.

So, I have found my washing-up stuff. But there are fifty different bottles, all containing different brightly coloured liquids. What mood-colour am I in today? What colour will look good on my window-sill, will blend with the paint on the wall, will flatter my skin tone? If I choose the green bottle, I may regret it. Green can be difficult to match. But it will care for my hands, the label says. So perhaps I should buy two; a green one and a red one. The red one can sit in the cupboard under the sink, because by the time the green one has run out, I may want to change the colour of the kitchen walls to grey – grey will be on-trend soon and there is a new paint I’ve seen advertised on TV, showing an attractive thirty-something admiring her new grey kitchen – and red goes with grey, doesn’t it? Next to the washing up liquids is a shelf full of kitchen utensils. There are some lovely pots in red and grey that I can store my tea and coffee in. Do I need them? No, but the colours will match my washing-up liquid. And I only bought the stuff to wash up the dishes!

Ah, those halcyon days when you went into a grocery store and asked a man wearing a beige linen jacket to help you. You weren’t afraid to ask for help. You weren’t scared to speak to the hurry-up face behind the checkout. You knew that the man was there to assist, to answer you questions, to attend to your whims, to serve you just what you wanted, no more, no less. And the shop would be empty – time expanded. You could have a chat, talk about your kids, discuss the weather. You would watch him use a small copper shovel thing to scoop out sugar from a barrel and put the right amount into a brown paper bag, fold over the top into a nice V-shape and stick it down with a hidden role of sticky tape that he kept under the counter. You wouldn’t feel stupid buying one banana, or nothing at all, because you just felt a bit lonely and wanted a chat with someone. The shop would always be open and you could even phone the man in the beige jacket and place an order that would be delivered by a jolly boy, who would carry your purchases in and have a glass of milk and a cookie with you. (Okay, I know supermarkets deliver now, but it’s not the same)

But time marches on and things do change. Supermarkets are not all dens of evil. I suppose it’s helpful to be able to shop at three o’clock in the morning and on a Sunday. I guess it’s helpful to be able to buy food from every region of the world and find it all under one roof.  But I feel such a responsibility to avail myself of all these facilities. As the woman in the house, I am the one who decides on the contents of the food cupboard and the fridge, not to mention the freezer. Worrying about whether or not I am spending money wisely on food and other domestic stuff, makes me feel like a sinner. I practically have to go to confession and ask the priest  to absolve me from wicked shopping; to give me at least five Hail Mary’s for the deplorable sin of buying too much. 

Is it only women who become debauched by the contents of a supermarket? Do our men folk succumb, too? My husband manages to go into the den of shopping  iniquity without even a carefully written list! But he does sometimes come out with some strange things. Did we really need a bottle of Chinese wine, or a packet of coloured dusters, or a bright orange beach ball? Apparently we did. The wine made us drunk, which made him agree to do the dusting and then go to the beach and play football…  Mind you, we had nothing to eat.

Perhaps women need to stand up and be counted. Perhaps we should fight more actively to preserve the small shop, the neighbourhood grocery store, the man in the beige jacket?  But now there is another temptation. Internet shopping. HELP!


Punch cartoon (1907); illustrates the unpopula...
Punch cartoon (1907); illustrates the unpopularity amongst Punch readers of a proposed 1907 income tax by the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the news told me that the in the UK, our Treasury lost £42bn through tax fraud, avoidance and underpayment of income tax. This means that our public services, already in the red, will lose out when the next round of funding is again, pared down. £5.8bn should have been paid in tax by people under-declaring their earnings on tax self-assessment forms. People who are paid ‘cash in hand‘ managed to evade £1.3bn in tax and those working second jobs without declaring them, got away with not paying £1.8bn. And that’s just the individuals. Limited companies were even better at dodging tax bills,  to the tune of £6.9bn! (Figures from The Independent) This dishonesty worries me. It’s not a joke to fiddle the Treasury, even if they fiddle us, and we know that corruption is a two way street, but that doesn’t make it right.

In business reputation is everything and that means being straight with everyone you have dealings with.  I would say that integrity is a very necessary component.  It builds trust. In these difficult financial times you must feel you are dealing with an organisation that works to an ethical code, has built a reputation for this and is reliable and honest. Tax evasion, once discovered and publicised, will not help.

Finding the way to make your contact with clients, staff and others as honest as you can, will be challenging. Avoiding tax, making unrealistic promises about deadlines or expectations, denying that things are going pear shaped are all ways to make an organisations fail and lose a previously good reputation. Competitors are out there, waiting for the next mistake.

Honesty in business is the only way to create trust. But what sort of honesty? It is comparable to the honesty we promote in out own personal lives? Once, there was a notion that business was like a card game and standards were different. A statement in the Harvard Business Review, January 1968 was entitled ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical?’ Albert Carr, the author put forward his theses that some measure of deceit was pretty much acceptable. He wrote: ‘Executives from time to time are almost compelled, in the interest of their companies or themselves to practice some sort of deception when in negotiation with customers, dealers, labour unionsgovernment officials or even other departments of their companies. By conscious misstatements, concealment of pertinent facts, or exaggeration – in short, by bluffing – they seek to persuade others to agree with them.’  You had to play the game and if you didn’t…

But, I hear you say, there must be times when telling the complete and utter truth is not appropriate? You wouldn’t tell a mate  that her new dress didn’t fit her and she looked ungainly and fat in it, would you? Maybe you would.  But you might suggest she wears something warmer, cooler, more conservative, with a jacket?  In business, could tact sometimes become little white lies? Establishing when this is apt is the secret. Clarity  is a priority because it is only one step from all that careful tactfulness to telling downright lies.

Where staff are concerned, how open should you be? Giving away every last detail is not a good plan, especially when things start to unravel. Uncertainty is threatening and while every business goes through periods of doubt, employees like to feel that it will succeed in the long run. A vision is crucial when times are hard. Openness in meetings creates a sense of working together and sharing the good and bad times. Every business has its bad times. A workforce who work in an atmosphere of trust and inclusion, will be ready to be there when the chips are down. The payoff is respect and loyalty. And I believe it encourages creative thinking in a workforce. Resolving problems may need confrontation. But this can be creative, too. In a safe open arena, anything can be discussed. Even if bad news is the outcome.

There are so many good things that come out of honesty that it is hard to believe that some people will discount it. The current global culture of seeing what you can get away with, for as long as you can get away with it, has to change. For some time now, corruption and dishonesty have been seen as acceptable. Look at the Murdoch scandal. And it permeates down through society, so that smaller businesses and even Councils find ways of ‘getting away with it’, be it tax evasion or secret hand-outs to get planning applications passed.

Finally, it’s as well to remember that clients can be dishonest, too. Making promises to honour contracts and then pulling out a day before those contracts are signed, or refusing to honour a contract, with all the time and costs that might incur in the courts, is often seen as acceptable. It’s not. All good relationships are based on trust and business is no different. It can only thrive and prosper when there is a true belief that what one is doing is truthful.




If you are a man reading this, how do you behave when you arrive home after work? You’re probably exhausted, right? Maybe you’ve had one hell of a day? Your boss has been a complete nutter, or if you are the boss, your staff appear to have spaces where their brains should be.

You arrive at your front door and know that your blood pressure is going down. Behind that door are the people you love and who love you, if you are lucky enough to have a family. Your partner will be waiting.  She wants your friendship, your love. There may be kids who are also looking forward to seeing you. Your home is a place of sanctuary. It’s where you can be yourself and relax. But as you turn the key in the lock, are you ready to take that leap; to make that switch from working man to emotional human being? From power chaser to intimate lover, father, companion? It’s not easy but your happiness and that of your partner and kids depend on it.

If you don’t handle this change sensitively, so what? Life will go on. But stop and think. Your kids will still love you but they will have witnessed your inability to leave your work persona behind and become a simple uncomplicated father, giving them that most precious commodity, time. Your wife will tolerate you, but something will be missing. You aren’t connecting and she will know this and live with that uneasy feeling that things are not quite right between you.

So what does it mean, this word intimacy? Come to that, what does emotion mean? How do you allow intimacy and emotion into your life without feeling like a sissy, like a half-man? If you don’t make an effort to include intimacy and emotion in your personal life, your family will see you as an unapproachable, cold and insensitive man with no feelings. Yes, that’s how you will come across. If the only feelings you can show are the ones expressed when you see a new sports car you would like, or when the team you support loses, then your world is a very narrow one.

When women start to rabbit on about ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’ men often become defensive and shut down. If you shut down, women become angry. Your lack of feelings, your inability to express emotion or show real intimacy, upsets them, because without a complete glossary of these human attributes, the human race would have died out years ago. At the risk of sounding smug, women know this.

Maybe you should fight the stereotype a little more? Maybe you should put out the notion that men should stop being defined by what they don’t have? Maybe, take a good look at what emotions really are; think about how you experience them, and how they impact on who you are? A bit of self-knowledge goes a long way in improving relationships. It also might stop your partner constantly asking you that question! I think it is time to stop pigeonholing men by the things they don’t do or say. A more positive approach is needed.

Women are considerably more emotionally articulate than men, so they say. Is this really the case? The consensus is that the male brain simply cannot spend time conversing about feelings. If you believe that, then how did all the great male poets and writers express emotions and feelings so beautifully in their work?

Neuroscientists have been using MRI scans to look at male brains. When men were shown scenes of brutality and violence, their brains reacted differently to women. It’s been documented that women’s brains react in several more areas than men’s, shown the same scenes. That sounds logical, because women are programmed to protect, otherwise babies would never survive the first few months of life. But how much of this male behaviour and brain reaction is down to how males are raised, how they are nurtured, not just by parents but by society at large?

Computer games are predominately about competition and violence. They are the ones that sell, so there is also an economic slant to all this. Boys are taught from an early age that showing your feelings is something that only girls do. If you are a boy who shows his feelings, you open yourself up to ridicule and abuse. But a man must be very sure and comfortable with his masculinity to show his feelings and more importantly, to understand why he has them in the first place and what their role is in any relationship.

We have just learned that a young man walked into a cinema in America and randomly shot 12 people. He wounded dozens more. In one horrendous day, he changed the life of hundreds of people and of their descendants, because tragedies like this reverberate through the years. He has been described as a loner. Experts will examine his background in minute detail. Is he mad or bad? Why would anyone do such a terrible thing?

Was using a gun on his fellow human beings the only way he could express his feelings?


Today, the third edit of my book has been published by Feedaread. Thank you to their team for making the experience of writing and editing almost stress-free.

It’s been a HUGE learning curve and I’m not finished yet. I started writing my book PRETENDING five years ago. If you read my ABOUT page, you will see that I have been a writer for some time, but in the past my work was all about raising awareness of health and social issues and I have never attempted a novel. I had no idea how difficult it would be.

I’ve always loved to write. Since I was a child and got top marks in a competition at primary school, writing has enthralled me. I am not brilliant at either spelling or grammar, but I love the way I can create a unique world and people it with all sorts of odd balls.  I love how the characters talk to me and at times, seem to lead me through the story.  I like the puzzle that writing becomes; never more so than when you try to write your first novel.

Some writers make copious notes and have a very clear plan. I used to do that when I was writing to a deadline and using research given to me by  commissioning organisations. Now, I want to experience freedom. I am sure I will be criticised for this ‘free’ approach, as writers infinitely better than I am, have written tomes about structure, plot and character.

To sanction myself too much at the start, restricts me.  So, I simply write and write and write and usually the first draft is utter drivel. The second, not much better and by the time I reach the third, there is a glimmer of hope that I might be on the right track. That’s why the publisher Feedaread is so great. They allow for that process to happen.

As I am reasonable happy with the third edit, I am about to take the plunge and put my book out there in the wide world on and other Internet sites. ( in 3-6 weeks time) You must be mad, you might well say. I am opening up my book to a barrage of criticism. Well, that’s the only way to learn. I hope there will be some encouraging remarks, but I am happy to take the flak, too.

Writing this first novel has been a fantastic experience for me and I hope it will be a good one for my readers. I have already started the next one and I know it will be far harder to complete. I will be tougher on myself and my expectations are higher. I know I need to read a lot more and listen to what other good writers say about the craft. I have to have humility and understand myself a little more. That is the only way I will understand this new cast of characters that are lining up to talk to me. I will place them in my literary world and give them a chance to talk, without too much hinderance from their creator, I hope.

The Lottery and The Arts Council have funded Feedaread so that new authors like me can stretch their literary muscles. I cannot tell you how excited I was when the postman delivered  the parcel that contained my book. Five years of work meant that I have earned nothing, but that doesn’t matter, I have done it. I had something to say and I have found a way to say it to my readers. It’s a small miracle. Thank you Feedaread.


By Lyn Ferrand
PRETENDING is the story of six actors and a director convinced that theatre will change the world. Based at a converted chapel in rural Devon, the theatre company struggles with a lack of funding and local prejudice. Invited to tour a new play about global warming to small town America, they succeed in upsetting their benefactors and audiences. They return to Devon and an uncertain future, where they are forced to confront reality and their own relationships, including inconvenient pregnancies, gender issues and fraud. In this parallel universe of fantasy and truth, the actors search for a way to compromise, without losing the thrill of pretending. Life, they discover, can be as ephemeral as theatre, unless they accept responsibility for their actions. Humorous, with a serious undertone, the book takes a sideways look at how these theatre practitioners think, behave and interact with each other and the community, on and off stage. Events change everyone, though strangely, pretending prevails…
ISBN: 9781781765623
Total Pages: 380
Published: 18 July 2012


A delicious-looking meal
A delicious-looking meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mum was a stickler for three good meals a day. No snacking, no crisps, no nibbles in between.

I grew up in an Italian household. Food was important. Okay, we were all a little overweight, but when I went to have a checkup with a thin friend, my internal fat – that’s the fat around my organs that you can’t see, was far less than hers. Why? Because of those three healthy meals a day, I say. I sound a bit smug, but we do seem to have lost our way in the UK when it comes to eating habits. Anorexia and obesity are on the rise. We either eat to much or too little, We don’t equate food with family any more, like I did as a child. Eating together was a way of reaching each other. It was how we connected, stayed in touch, heard about each other’s lives, whims, ideas, future! Every meal was more than just a place where you shove food down your throat. There was a real appreciation of the way the meal had been put together; the thought and care that had gone into preparing our sustenance. Today, kids are plonked in front of the TV with a plate of something that hardly resembles food at all, because it is so processed.

And what about understanding how food, good – bad – lack of it, affects your brain, your powers of reasoning, your mood? Well, believe me, it does. The brain runs on two things; nutrition and oxygen. It’s the petrol that keeps the engine going. If you starve your brain of either, there will be trouble, that’s a certainty. Eating well and regularly helps you deal with your life in a rational manner. It makes life easier, yet some people can’t see that. We starve ourselves to look like air-brushed magazine bimbos, we skip meals and wonder why we feel depressed, or irritable, or both. We are stupid about food!

In the Western world we are lucky enough to have an abundance of food. We have choices. Perhaps that’s the problem. If food was scarce, if we had to walk miles just to get a glass of water or some bread, maybe we would value what we have – the ability to feed ourselves well on abundant food.

But this is now changing, even in the UK. With the recession, food banks are over subscribed. Mothers go without a meal to make sure the kids eat. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. We need to value food a whole lot more and our government must stop messing around with pasty taxes and sucking up to Newspaper moguls and get their act together, because facing food shortages is no longer something that happens in third-world countries. It is now really imperative that we learn how to eat well and how to cut out the trash on a daily basis, because soon there may not be enough to go round.

Making the right choices about what we eat to keep our bodies and minds working properly, takes thought and planning. We’ve become the saps of advertising and mega food manufacturers. We believe all the rubbish we are told about the nutrition in a processed pack of non-food; we believe, because like the rest of the sheep, all the pretty pictures and weasel words convince us. Can we not think for OURSELVES? All this shows how detached we have become from ourselves. How we live in a mind universe that accepts an incoming bombardment of total nonsense from those who want to make money from our stupidity. We avoid the truth.

Sweets are not and never will be, good for our kids. Many breakfast cereals are full of sugar – read the label! Do you want to bequeath the legacy of diabetes to your kids? DO YOU? Have the balls and the guts to show your kids that it is important to eat real food and show them that you are willing to take time preparing it. All that stuff about not having time because you have a job and you are exhausted is rubbish. Whether you are a man or a women, I guarantee that you will slump down on the sofa and watch TV or fiddle with the PC for hours every night, won’t you? You’ll find time to go out and have a good time at the pub, won’t you? Just shift your priorities a bit. Make time to LOVE FOOD! By that, for those of you too stubborn and set in your ways to understand what I mean, I mean – think about food as you do your car, or your favourite pair of shoes, or your children… LOVE IT and make it something worth preserving, researching, caring about! Make it something more than an inconvenient habit to keep you alive. Make it an art form.

I am often irritated by all the TV cooking shows we see. The food shown is often far too difficult to cook, makes you feel inadequate and can turn you off cooking altogether. I think of those programmes as putting icing on a very good carrot cake.  The secret of making food that will enhance both your mind and your body, is imagination. We’ve become a nation of duds or posers where food is concerned. We have lost the wonderful art of seeing our food as a way of making our lives more colorful, more interesting, more everything! Some TV shows do that, but while I am wasting time watching them, I could be making bread!

Learning to cook is not rocket science. It can be science, however. I used to watch my mother clean and pluck a chicken. In those days, chicken came into the house like a dead bird, not the plastic package you get today from the supermarket. I learned about livers and spleens and hearts by watching my mother prepare a chicken for dinner. I learned about words by reading the menu in a restaurant, descriptive words, ways to make my food sound amazing. I learned about heat by seeing the way a sloppy goo turned into a loaf of bread in the oven, I learned about microbes watching the yeast rise and slide over the edge of the jug like a wild animal trying to escape. I learned.

Eating badly and at irregular intervals makes you crazy. Remember that. It’s the truth. Your mind is a precious one-off. It’s an amazing piece of kit and it reacts like the most sensitive of barometers. It will react to rubbish food and drink. It will start to slow down when it’s not nourished properly. It will let you down, big-time, if you don’t look after it. And you only ever have the one mind. You can’t replace it with a newer model.

Food changes the way you feel. Feelings are the outward signs of how your brain (mind) is functioning at any given time. If you feel bad, check out your eating habits. If you feel sad, do the same. If you can’t make decisions, eat better! I am not saying that food if the cure-all for everything, but eating well goes a long way in relieving conditions like depression. But it has to be long-term.

This is not a quick fix. If you want your kids to grow up happy, cope with life’s ups and downs, understand how life works, find their way through all the difficulties they will undoubtedly experience (just as you have) then feed them regularly and feed them well. Cut out sweets and processed food. Don’t give me all stuff about tantrums if they don’t get their sweeties after school. You are the adult, they are the kids. It’s your job to take charge until they leave home to fend for themselves. You want them to be able to do that, don’t you? If their minds are addled by bad food, it’s unlikely they will develop into adults that can differentiate between good and bad food, and probably good and bad per se! And so it will go down the line, down the generations. Your kids will feed their kids badly and on and on and on; with all the crazyness and illness that produces.

Teach them to love the ritual of eating together, Make it a time of joy, of enlivening the senses, of LOVE. Don’t moan about it or criticize it, JUST DO IT! Finally, when you eat well, you lose weight and find out what makes you really tick…


aung san suu kyi
aung san suu kyi (Photo credit: geirf)

Aung San Suu Kyi

b 19 June 1945

Burmese activist and politician, former political prisoner and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1991)

In societies where men are truly confident of their own worth, women are not merely tolerated but valued.

It cannot be doubted that in most countries today women, in comparison to men, still remain underprivileged.

It may take time, and it won’t be easy, but what’s ten years?

The democracy process provides for political and social change without violence.

I think I should be active politically. Because I look upon myself as a politician. That’s not a dirty work you know. Some people think that there are something wrong with politicians. Of course, something wrong with some politicians.

If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

Fear is not the natural state of civilized people.

Our struggle for democracy is a struggle for our everyday life.



English: A scene from "", by Lewis C...
English: A scene from “”, by Lewis Carroll, drawn by Sir John Tenniel in 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some very odd things are happening in some of our local councils. Just recently, two women Conservative Councillors resigned from a small Devon Council and changed their allegiance. They are now Independent. Why did they do this? Because the Leader of the Council declared that he had become a Freemason. They resigned in protest against Freemasons, so one Conservative blog stated.

One of them challenged the Conservative Group Deputy at a group meeting that happened before the council AGM. She was unsuccessful in her challenge. I have read that she ‘stormed out’ of the meeting because she failed to be elected as Deputy Leader of the Council. Stormed out? Emotive language. Methinks this Conservative publication doth protest too much.

Her protest was, I believe, because she felt she could not work with a Mason controlled council. She has a point. Why was this not discussed, democratically? Why was she allowed to ‘storm out’? Did she really storm out or just express an emotion? To express emotions is a very necessary way for human beings to protect themselves. That goes back in evolution to long before the days of Mason dominated councils.

Five councillors on this Council are Masons, as declared in the register of interests. As it happens all are Conservatives. I know nothing about Freemasons, except that they roll up one trouser leg and participate in men only rituals, and that is hearsay. Could anyone enlighten me? I believe they swear allegiance to their organisation, above everything else. Does that include UK law, I wonder?

Bernard Levin has been quoted in some Conservative publications that have reported this unfortunate incident:

“Freemasonry hysteria … is paralleled to the same principles as those of anti-Semitism, and indeed it has often been to a very considerable extent a stalking-horse for the more ancient vileness. It could hardly be otherwise; attacks on suspect Jewry have almost always been inextricably entwined with anti freemasonry. Hitler lumped them together without distinction of any kind. Thousands of freemasons from Germany, Vichy France and Nazi-occupied Europe were killed in the gas chambers.”

I couldn’t agree with Mr. Levin more. Any sort of persecution is vile and Hitler’s actions were totally evil. But in printing this quote by Bernard Levin in one Conservative online blog, are the Conservative’s suggesting that because these women Councillors protested against what they perceived was a Mason controlled Council, their actions might be aligned with Hitler?

The Leader of the Council who has joined the Freemasons has defended his actions and it is right that he should be given the chance to do so. I believe this is what he said:

I joined the Masons, although I have only been to three meetings in the last 12 months because I have been busy. If that offends people, well there is no politics involved and I have not used it to my advantage.’

That is reassuring and there is no reason to suspect that he will do anything other than this. But the emotive way in which the protest made by the women Councillors has been reported in some of the Conservative press, makes me wonder if dominance by male Councillors et al, is also an issue here?

I remember talking to a local Devon MP last year, who told me that he was hoping that some parts of Devon might finally be dragged into the 21st century. I hope it happens soon. There does seem to be a sense that certain groups have influence while others do not. That is a dangerous situation. Democracy means equality for all and that means respecting and listening to everyone.

The Centre for Women and Democracy  have printed this article:

35% of councillors elected on 3 May 2012 were women, an increase of 4% on 2011 and 2008, when these seats were last contested.

The increase was caused by two main factors; Labour’s use of positive action measures in candidate selection over a period of 8 years, combined with a reversal of Labour’s local electoral fortunes since 2008. As a result, many women in marginal seats won where in previous years they would not have done.

40% of councillors elected for Labour were women, 34% of Liberal Democrats and 27% of Conservative.

However, the net impact of these results on the percentage of women councillors overall is less than the percentage elected; it is unlikely that, once the membership of all councils has been analysed, the net level will rise much above 32% (it currently stands at 31%).

CFWD’s Director, Nan Sloane, said: “These improvements, though small, are very welcome, and suggest that the level of women’s represntation in local government may finally be moving after a decade of stagnation. However, that improvement is heavily reliant on the ability of political parties to field women candidates in seats they have a good prospect of winning, as well as on the parties which do that doing well on polling day. We would like to see women’s advance being put onto a more secure footing, with all parties taking real steps to ensure that the diversity of local councils continues to improve, and that the rate at which it does so speeds up.”

The report published today is the initial report of a series of three; the second, in June, will deal with the results in more detail, but with particular reference to retention issues, whilst the third, to be published later in 2012, will examine the  recruitment, retirement and retention of women in local government in depth.

The report can be downloaded here: Representing Change: Women in the 2012 Local Elections

Here are few quotes from women I think are worth reading:

Feminism is the most revolutionary idea there has ever been. Equality for women demands a change in the human psyche more profound then anything Marx dreamed of. It means valuing parenthood as much as we value banking – Polly Toynbee  The Guardian, 19 Jan 1987

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off – Gloria Steinem

Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently – Rosa Luxemburg. Economist and Philosopher.

….Local Councils, please read the above and take note.




Tackling financial exploitation of elderly people

09 February 2012

Professionals who are in close contact with elderly people could soon be in a better position to spot if they are being financially exploited, for example through a lottery scam or by a deceitful relative draining the bank account, thanks to a pioneering new study funded by the UK Research Councils‘ New Dynamics of Ageing programme (NDA)

Researchers have started to untangle the complex decision-making process that professionals go through when confronted with an elderly person whose financial situation raises suspicions that exploitation may be taking place. The research was led by psychologist Professor Mary Gilhooly of Brunel University, who worked with colleagues from Brunel and the universities of Hertfordshire, Plymouth, Northumbria and East Anglia.

“The number of frail and mentally impaired older people in society is increasing, and there are growing challenges with money handling,” said Professor Gilhooly. “There are many stories of elderly people being financially exploited through scams or relatives – although there has not been enough academic research on the issue.”

The researchers wanted to find out how professionals who deal with the elderly make decisions relating to potential financial exploitation – what information they use, how they weigh it up, and whether they decide to act or not.

“It is a complex process,” said Professor Gilhooly. “First you have to notice that something is wrong, then you have to decide whether it is abuse and this is clearly not straightforward. You need to make the decision whether to do something or not, and if you do decide to intervene you need the appropriate skills. Things could go wrong at any one of these points.”

The researchers focused on three groups of professionals: healthcare workers, social care workers and bankers. The professionals were presented with a range of scenarios based on real-life cases of financial abuse and questioned on how they would respond and what ‘cues’ would raise their suspicions of something being amiss.

“We found that while there may be multiple cues that could be taken into account when considering the likelihood that financial exploitation is taking place, only two or three are really important,” said Professor Gilhooly.

Amongst social care and health professionals only two factors had a significant influence on the certainty of abuse:p/>

  • The older person’s mental capacity.
    In cases where the older person was more confused and forgetful, this increased suspicion that financial abuse was taking place.
  • The nature of the financial problem.
    Financial problems where building work had been paid for but had not been carried out were seen as the strongest indicator of abuse. Cases where there was very little money for day-to-day necessities were given the lowest certainty of abuse.

Amongst banking and finance professionals, three case features significantly influenced certainty of financial abuse:

  • The nature of the financial problem.
    Certainty of abuse was highest when the financial problem involved a customer asking to transfer money overseas to claim a cash prize.  Cases where the bank account was unexpectedly overdrawn were rated the lowest certainty of abuse.
  • The older person’s mental capacity.
    In cases where the older person was more confused and forgetful, there was increased suspicion that financial abuse was taking place.
  • Person in charge of the money.
    Banking and financial professionals were less certain if financial abuse was occurring if the older person was in charge of his or her own finances.

“By systematically analysing how these decisions are arrived at, such as is exploitation taking place and should we act upon it, should allow a better understanding of the most important signs to look out for and then how best to tackle the issue,” said Professor Gilhooly. “We think that the case studies we devised could be useful training tools.” A follow-up study sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has recently been launched to investigate the potential of online training of professionals in understanding these various cues.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors:

  1. This release is based on the findings from ‘Detecting and preventing financial abuse of older adults: an examination of decision-making by managers and professionals‘. The project was carried out by Mary Gilhooly and Priscilla Harries of Brunel University, Ken Gilhooly of the University of Hertfordshire, Catherine Hennessey and Tony Gilbert of the University of Plymouth, David Stanley of Northumbria University and Bridget Penhale of the University of East Anglia.
  2. This project is part of the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme seven-year multidisciplinary research initiative with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life of older people. The programme is a collaboration between five UK Research Councils, led by the ESRC, and includes EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and AHRC.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at
  4. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK’s seven Research Councils. We invest annually around £3 billion in research. Our focus is on excellence with impact. We nurture the highest quality research, as judged by international peer review, providing the UK with a competitive advantage. Global research requires that we sustain a diversity of funding approaches, fostering international collaborations, and providing access to the best facilities and infrastructure, and locating skilled researchers in stimulating environments. Our research achieves impact – the demonstrable contribution to society and the economy made by knowledge and skilled people. To deliver impact, researchers and businesses need to engage and collaborate with the public, business, government and charitable organisations.


English: A common scold gets her comeuppance i...
English: A common scold gets her comeuppance in the dunking stool. A seventeenth century woodcut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in a beautiful part of the world. That’s why I find it very unsettling when I read in my local paper that the police had to be called to a council meeting to maintain order because local people were so irate about the council’s closed door policy, when I hear that there have been allegations of bribery of a local councillor and when I cannot get straight answers to my questions about what is going on in this beautiful part of the world!

Village gossip has always been a nasty past-time. In the past, you were likely to be put in the stocks or if you were a woman, tied into a ducking stool and plunged into the duck pond several times to make sure you kept your mouth shut. It is sometimes hard to differentiate gossip from whistle blowing. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Making the decision to put something that you feel is seriously wrong in the public domain, takes courage. You have to check your sources carefully and make sure you have concrete proof that what you are exposing has some foundation. We are not a nation of natural whistle blowers, but increasingly, we need whistle blowers because there are ever more smells on the landing, as a friend of mine put it.

When you find yourself living in an area where you suspect that your local council is not acting appropriately, then what do you do? There are procedures. You can go through these procedures and make a complaint, and if you get nowhere, you can go to the Ombudsman. You can write hundreds of letters, but if you get blocked at every turn, it takes a great deal of strength to carry on until you expose what is really happening and bring people to book. Once you open Pandora’s box, there is no saying what might fly out and bite you.

And you need support. A single voice is easily silenced. You also have to have tactics. Strategies are essential, as is good research. And while you are doing all this, where is your life? Of course, you can contact a good investigative journalist to do the spade work for you, but then you open yourself up to abuse, not only by those you are seeking to expose but by the press. After all, a story is just a way of selling news. So, you have to chose your journalist carefully. It has to be someone with a conscience and an interest in social injustice. It has to be someone who will see the bigger picture.

Increasingly, people are questioning their local and parish councils. We are demanding accountability. There must be transparency. Ask yourself a very important question: is there anyone you really trust in your local council. If the answer is yes, then you are fortunate. Mustering proof, researching your subject, standing up for your rights, recognising when power is being abused, putting your head above the parapet and keeping it there takes time, committment and courage. But we live in a democracy and in order to protect that, we have to make a stand.

The word democracy is banded about freely in local government. I recently had a letter from someone called the Democratic Support Officer; a grand title that gives you expectations. Sadly, my questions were ignored and I was told to go to that holy grail of all complainants, the Ombusdman… More time, more, form filling, more stress – all guaranteed to make you want to give up and bury your head in the sand, saying to yourself: What’s the use? But isn’t that what the people who are breaking the law want you to do – give up the fight for justice and let them carry on? Councils are under much financial pressure at the moment, but pulling up the drawbridge and refusing to listen to the people, is to my mind, very shortsighted.

Remember: Where a freehold house purchase is concerned, no one can alter your proprietary rights. Contracts are legal documents and to change them, you have to go through due legal process, using a solicitor. The view of ‘the majority’ has no basis in law. Residents associations have no legal power. If you have been promised services and amenities as part of your contract, you are not obliged to accept anything less than those services and amenities listed in your contract. You can claim compensation for the time that services and amenities were not provided as per your contract, but you would have to see a solicitor to let her/him examine your contract.