Friday, 28 March 2014


Dear Tony

I've come on a bit strong, so haven't emailed this to everybody, as it's your group... What do you think?



On Wednesday I spoke again to Carol, who has now left The Vaughn Centre, having taken redundancy. Her concern remains  advocacy for vulnerable people: ' Shelter' has gone from our city and Legal support drastically cut. Who's left to speak out on behalf of the people these agencies protected? 

Carol would like to correct one issue I raised in my last mail, The Vaughn Centre remains open (except Thursdays) all day for rough sleepers, though with reduced facilities. Vaughn Centre staff no longer have the capacity to provide the 'Open House', for all who need it, that it once was. We should, I feel, commend them for what they are achieving, and help them  in their campaign to raise more money to replace the lost grants. Former clients have asked to help with this aspect, and are in   the process of putting together a petition. 

Carol is concerned, as are we all, I think, about the rule changes regarding switching from illness-related benefit to Job Seekers Allowance following medical re-assessment. Formerly, there was a simple two-minute appeal form to fill in that Carol would do, that at least ensured money would be coming in whilst the appeal was pending. That is no longer the case. Sick people have their benefits cut immediately, and are faced with a 4-6 week wait for their appeal to be heard. (90% of appeals are ultimately successful), which means that clients are faced with lying ie declaring themselves fit for work when they are not, (then subsequently failing to comply with the jobseekers regime and being sanctioned) or going hungry. 

I spoke to one gentlemen who was declared fit for work despite undergoing treatment for bowel cancer. You CAN work whilst undergoing chemotherapy, apparently. His appeal was upheld. 

Other agencies are feeling the pinch and having to make changes that will impact the poorest. We are being told (Mike. Curtis has heard independently of my source) that agencies that provide housing support have lost 2/3 of their funding and dozens of clients have to be re-housed by June - largely with private landlords some of whom have a poor reputation. (I have moderated my speech considerably here: the front-line worker who spoke to me used very strong language. I have  no wish to put something in an email that might bring this forum into disrepute, but I want, nevertheless to record the strength of feeling.) 

i have been asked repeatedly, "What can the. Churches do?" Many of us, however we vote, are thinking that we didn't expect this onslaught against those in society whom the gospel calls on us to protect and defend. This is not a dualistic right/left  squabble over party politics, it's a matter of justice, and one where I believe the churches, taking this stand, can be very influential.

Keeping the topic at the front of public concern is great. Church leaders of all our denominations are doing this and our unity is VERY powerful. 

I am thinking of the literal meaning of the word, 'martyr' (witness) I become this militant because i was there at The Vaughn Centre when the changes were announced. I saw the anguish and heard the hopelessness.

 'Come and see - go and hear. Then tell the stories' 

How about accompanying someone to the Job Centre to observe their treatment? Or to one of those medical examinations, or an appeal? I think there would be a double effect ( before we're barred?) Sweet, middle-class polite people like us will ensure our people are treated properly, and if they aren't, we can quietly protest and then report it. They don't you see. That's the trouble. They don't because they don't believe anyone will listen to them, and that nothing will change. 

Help the Vaughn Centre to raise money  to restore it's function as a drop in centre. 

Find out how the other agencies are coping (P3 for example) and support them too.

Find out the truth behind the rumours about the private landlords. Visit some of the properties and  lobby for the enforcement of standards, where they are not met.. 

Pray. Alone. Together. Privately. Fervently. Sacrificially. Silently. Out loud. Publicly. Every way. All the time. 

Pope Francis has invited we Catholics to get out on the streets and BE a church for the poor. I think it's a message that the Spirit is bringing to all the churches. A story from the last Papal Election that might be apocryphal, but is nevertheless prophetic: Picture the famous Leigh Hunt portrait of Christ knocking on the door to get in. Re-imagine it: Jesus  at the door of your church, my church, knocking to get out. 

We Christians know that persecution is coming. When I looked into the faces of those men and women at The Vaughn Centre and heard Carol's sense of helplessness, I saw that it is already here. It starts where it always does, with those least able to resist it.

In Jesus


PS The Cathedral Vigil for the hungry is Sun 6th April - Mon 7th April 8am -8am

Monday, 24 March 2014

Life Of Brian

His name's Brian and he's 29 years old. Long, lean and undernourished with bright blue eyes and bad teeth.

He first dropped in for lunch a few months ago, and my heart went out to him. Some of our people are so obviously vulnerable. 

Three weeks ago, I sat at his table to talk to Eddy ( A pensioner who comes to the Mission so he doesn't have to stay in an unheated house, and for the company.) I finally asked the new-comer his name and felt that he was sufficiently at ease for me to start being nosey. Yes he has a room - at The Kimbrose Hotel, and he's tucked away on the top floor with two others in similar circumstances and he feels safe there. 

Today I was joshing with Eddy about some minor misdemeanour. "You would never do anything wrong!" (Eddy was just being polite. ) " Ah no, I just never get caught! It's these blue eyes of mine." I demonstrated opening them wide with a "Who me? Couldn't be! " expression.  Brian joined in, and the opening came to get even nosier. 

Brian needed to update the photo on his drivers licence. He has tried to get help, and help IS available - to get a provisional license, some lessons and test fees. About £600 worth. But no, Brian couldn't have the £25 to go to the Post Office and have his license renewed. 

"I have £25 in The God Fund. I said, I'll take you to the Post Office and we'll get it done."

Everybody should have a God Fund. Most of you would probably want to call it something else, but it works like this. You acquire some money more or less accidently - lottery, tax refund, found it in the street ... however,  and you wait until something or someone moves you sufficiently to want to give it away, then you do. It comes with strings though. Whomsoever gets the money never owns it, but at some time, when they can, they give it away again, under the same conditions. 

The God Fund has been burning a hole in my pocket ever since my friends Chris and Robin thrust it  into my hand for sorting out their computer back in January. I can't wait to tell them where it went. 

This afternoon one young man suffering from PTSD is two weeks away from having his license back, and is filled with a sense that someone cares: and one elderly woman has a very broad smile on her face. 

I suspect The Fund Manager does too. 

I left Brian in good hands... 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Keeping The Will To Live

"Nil by mouth except cake!"

I sigh with exasperation. "I need to know what your wishes are should you become unable to express them, and you're not taking this seriously!"

My husband, Raymond,  and I have just enjoyed this exchange, and I am here blogging about it because I take the issue very seriously. ' What to do with me when I am dying.' That's the nub of it: a question that everyone should give thought to, preferably sooner rather than later. If the answer is, "Anything you like, I don't care." Then THANK YOU. At least I know. 

This life or death issue was prompted this morning when I was catching up on some back-reading. This article is from the Leader Column of The New Scientist feom March 1st 2014:

My father died the day after his 76th birthday in August 2006. A few weeks before, he had refused palliative chemotherapy for cancer,  and prepared himself for his ending in a way all his own. He announced he no longer wished to be administered insulin, and he took to a dietary regime consisting entirely of sparkling wine. 

He drifted off in an alcoholic haze assisted by a diabetic coma. 

It wasn't quite that simple of course. Can you imagine how easily this could have been construed as assisted suicide? I panicked. 

"Dad you've GOT to write this down! " I begged. So he did. He talked to the doctor, in my absence, and gave him a copy of his wishes, duly witnessed by a bemused neighbour. What induced me to do the same, was the doctor's reaction. "This is SO helpful. If we don't know what our patients'  wishes are, we go on treating disease long after we know treatment is doing more harm than good. Because we have to." 

Dad laughed and joked with the vicar and planned his funeral with him. I wrote his elegy and read it to him after he'd finally slipped into a coma, and before he died. 

My father had the priviledge of choosing his momemt to die and the courage to do it. I disobeyed his wishes in one respect. I asked the nurse to give him one final  shot of insulin to bring him back to consciousness, and as he came to, I told him, "Dad, this is it. If you don't get another shot, you will die. Is this what you really want? He nodded, and finally, I let him go. 

I believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of life. But I also believe in the sanctity of death. When there is no more that can be done to stave off death, everyone should have the right my father exercised to die with dignity. This is to be truly compassionate, this is to be human. The noisy indignities and painful endings that are often the alternative, should not have a place in a civilised world. I AM NOT advocating murder, OR that which might be construed as the tidying away of the inconvenient or unwanted, I am calling for the right of rational beings to decide how they wish to manage the end of their lives. 

To help my medical team and my family to let go of ME when I am past help, I have written an 'Advanced Decision' of my own. You might not choose to do it, a s Ray hasn't, but it's worth thinking about at least:

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Who BLOODY Cares?

I have a friend, Alex, who wants to start a street church. He is thinking of founding a sanctuary and a prayer space for the people we serve lunch to at The Salvation Army on Mondays. We have noticed that our general niceness and our offers of prayer have not got many of our very needy people into churches, and we suspect this is not a problem to lay at THEIR feet. 

Today is Budget Day. I really don't give a damn. I'm sorry, so sorry to offend, but I am angry, I am upset, and I want to kick the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the balls. Because today I was at The Vaughn Centre, in Gloucester, when one of the staff read a notice to the street people present, announcing that The Vaughn Centre can no longer act as a drop-in centre for them. Appointments only from now on. No toilets, no showers, no washing machines, no access to computers, no food. Turn up for your clinic appointment, or session with your project worker, then please go back onto the streets. 

"It's due to the cuts isn't it?"

"I'm sorry, I can't comment."

I commented. The worker, who is losing her job this month, explained that to say more, was to draw down disciplinary action, so she couldn't. So I went a different way round. 

"Would it help if the churches raised the issue with the powers that be?" "PLEASE" she said. 

Pope Francis invites we Catholics to be out on the streets, and today I got it.

"What can we do sacrementally to help?" Alex asks, because he's been to Bible School. 

I want to hold a prayer vigil outside Number 11 Downing Street with a banner that reads:

"No Toilet
No Washing Facilities
No Bed
No Dignity
No Hope

I'm here for the poor . Where Are You? "

Without the projects now being progressively defunded, by George Osborne, the unemployed cannot maintain even basic dignity. I saw the disbelief on their faces. You should have seen the look on mine.

What I am saying to Alex is that the street people might indeed need sanctuary and a prayer space, but first and foremost, they need the Church of the Suffering Christ, out on the streets. Being in hopeless places and bearing witness. Making a nuisance of ourselves, reminding our rulers that what is happening to the most vulnerable people in our society is utterly shameful. 

Ultimately our society will not be judged by the way it treats the priviledged, like me,   but the way it treats the poor and underpriviliged. Shameful about fits the bill today.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Prayer: Returning The Gaze

Sticking with God is not at all easy.
My first encounter with the Divine was a mystical one, and happened so long ago I half wonder if I dreamed it: but it was real, utterly profound, and it shaped who I think I am and who I believe She is. 
The difficulty is, my God doesn't appear to act the way lots of other people's God does. She's a lot bigger for a start... "Inhabiting everything" might explain it, but I doubt it. He doesn't intervene dramatically in human history. And, this is what has me up and about this morning: She doesn't appear to have grasped the purpose of prayer.
Or maybe, that should be the other way round?
I have largely given up on conventional prayer. Though I have a book of lists. Good lists. Full of names and places and things going wrong. In my disciplined days I would work my way diligently down my lists and conclude with a great big "Amen." Did my knee-time make any difference? Don't know. Some sick people got better, some didn't. Mankind still hovers this side of the precipice, and some people are a little better off than they were, I guess.  I am quite prepared to let God take the credit for the good stuff and hold off judging the rest. But it does all appear to be pretty random. 
Facing up to this without letting go of God is a necessary rite of passage for a grown-up believer. I am by no means through this, but here's what I say to God:
"Here's the bloody list. Do as you will, I trust you. Amen." 
Business over, I shut up. What is left to do, and could as well be the whole of it, is summed up in this quote by Fr Richard Rohr: 
"Prayer itself is simply receiving the ever-benevolent gaze of God, returning it in kind, mutually gazing, and finally recognizing that it is one single gaze received and bounced back. " 
It's love-making. 
Without the sex.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Date With Death

Lying in wait for death -
 I sprang out, a little precipitately,
And rather too soon. 
I tried to look 
Young, fit 
And nonchalant. 
Death, un-phased, (For he's seen everything: Let's face it.)
Tipped his hat,
And ventured a cheery, "Good Morning"
 Which, frankly, I found a little off-putting:
Disrespectful, even. 
" Am I too early?" I enquire,
Unconsciously imitating a granny,
At the bus-stop, with her Bus Pass. 
"And, If so, do you mind if I come back
Death put aside his scythe
Plumped down on a handily placed
Wrought Iron Bench,
And sighed. 
 "I'd very much appreciate it," he said,
 (His voice! Quiet, melodious -
I know! So unexpected!) 
"If you would walk out with me today-
 I have an occasional longing for a human face 
 That isn't quite so ... .
 (In deference to the dearly departing,
 He left the sentence hanging in the air.)
Up for anything, me, 
 I look him in the sockets 
And acquiesce.
" MacDonalds?" He grins, holding out a sleeve. 
Tucking it under my arm,
I step out:

 Our first date!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Eating My Words

It's tough being a Poet
The play's lousy for a start
I am not the ONLY Word-worker
To have made NOTHING from 
This crazy craft.

(That, I assure you, is no bad thing. 
You'll hear no complaints from me.)

Let me walk you down the I'll ...
This WILL be interesting because
I have an  I N T E R E S T I N G

I think a lot! 

Meandering, unfocused: 
Beautiful thinking 
Isn't out to make you change
ANYTHING except, exceptionally 
Your mind.

Or your heart.
I mean, if a Poet can't
Persuade you to change your heart
Just once in a while ...