RIP Roaring Red Mum

May 12, 2016

Blue Bell Burial !
Hastings Green Burial Ground Friday April 29, 2016
Shirley mary hearn 3rd October 1926 to 5th April 2016
Last time we were here, it was late January 2007. Snow in January is usual, falling as it did that year, between my father’s death and his funeral. The ground still coldly soaked, but the earth firm enough.
Now there is no sign of where he is buried. The woods have grown up around and across the graves. This time the two family dogs are absent, both being long dead. Today promises to be a much better behaved affair. The woodland is carpeted with blue bells, so I am told. The trees, some mature, some young, encircle us protectively; their feet covered in flowers and nettles. The soft grey sky is high. There is no sun, but there is no threat of rain either.
A solo violin drifts across as we reach and take the handles of the coffin. Slowly, carefully, we begin to move forward, gently shuffling through the nettles. We place her on the planks across the grave. Netting is looped into the handles.

I prepare to put my back into the task of lifting the coffin, engaging my core muscles, as taught. We lift. She is light when all four children take her weight, as we once were when she lifted us for the first time into her arms.
There’s a science to how we manoeuvre the coffin on the boards over the grave. We slip the long mesh strips into the handles, and loop them under the coffin. Lifting and lowering her gently down into the grave is done without mishap. We do all this. No one falls in and no one drops her.

Russian words join the violin as we sing The Volga Boat Song. I’m not sure why this song is chosen, other than because it was a presence in our childhood, especially sung by Paul Robeson, whose communism and human rights activism, mum admired. Anything Russian, interested her anyway, so why not. And mercifully it’s easy.
Circling together, we gather to celebrate her life, on this soft rich earth, carpeted with bluebells, their fragrance drifting to us on the wind. I breathe in the scent of new leaf and crushed baby nettles. This bitter-sweet tang is edged with salt and seaweed, from the sea beyond the high cliff and shielding trees. The soft richness of new turned earth offers calm solidity beneath the inconsequential intangibility of a grey sky and brisk little breeze.
One by one we children tell our stories of her. One by one, the friends, neighbours and colleagues speak their experiences of all she was. Together we paint a picture so typically her, yet interwoven with things that were surprises. Amusingly, animatedly, affectionately, we honour who she was to us.
The violin tenderly nudges the tune of “Moscow Nights”; the guitar adds it sustaining rhythm. A man’s mellifluous voice joins the dance of music as we hum and sing along. The soft rich Russian words, though incomprehensible to many, speak eloquently of beauty. I smile to remember the somewhat more prosaic version rendered by mum, when she was at her happiest. Not this well turned performance but an enthusiastic rout!

The little red flags are small for our fingers. Nevertheless, we wave them aloft and sing “The Red Flag” with gusto. I love the words: “It well recalls the triumphs past,
and brings the hope of peace at last,
the banner bright, the symbol plain,
of human right and human gain.”
Human rights, equality, socialism, fairness and the preserving of the world’s resources, the things that mattered most to mum. We honour these as we offer her physical remains to the earth, as we toss the brave little flags into the grave. She is given up to the worms and all other organisms that will play a part in the breaking down of her tissues.
The grave diggers, who have been skulking in the trees, begin to emerge, as we turn away. High in the sky, a pigeon sings; There is comfort in its “Droo-droo-droo, droo-droo”. Like a lullaby, it sooths and eases. We can leave her now so we do; walking from the shelter of the little gentle woodland, past the regimented ranks of the organised dead in the other cemetery and the fierce coastal wind beyond, for it is time for tea and cake.

Sick of Exclusion

September 25, 2015

Sick of Exclusion
I’m sick and tired of having to challenge inaccessible practices within the Labour Party (an in the rest of life too). I’ve got better things to do than be tied up bashing down the doors, so I and others can participate. The discrimination spans all access issues, so all disabled people are targets.

Again, and again, and again, we give guidance on how to make docs accessible. “What part of the words “PDFs are inaccessible for people using text to speech assistive technology, so give us a word doc instead”, isn’t clear? It’s hardly any different in impact from “what part of the words, I haven’t got wings you know so how am I going to get into that riddled-with-steps venue you insist on having your meetings in?”; or “What did you say?” (when a sign language interpreter or an induction loop, isn’t present.
I’ve just opened an email from the Labour Party re the women’s conference tomorrow. Granted, it arrived yesterday evening, but I was chairing a scrutiny evidence session at that time and chose to go to bed afterwards, rather than download my emails. I chose also to do my day job today rather than read my home emails. As a consequence of this, I am only now dealing with yesterday’s backlog. Oh and I have checked, there’s nothing in today’s bunch which provides the accessible document.
Arguing for inclusion within the Labour Party is definitely one of those part time unpaid jobs that I am forced to do if I want to participate in the party. I could use that time instead building a stronger party and working to deliver a Labour Government headed by Jeremy Corbin, in 2020. I don’t care that because of the leadership election and the shadow appointments process, it’s been hard to confirm speakers etc. How difficult is it to produce a word version of a conference agenda, which was initially created in word, anyway? I mean …. !
Providing inaccessible documents is at the very least laziness, but it could hardly be argued that the Labour Party is ignorant, since they have been told. Yes, if poked,, they will deal with access requests, but we shouldn’t have to keep reminding them. It’s not like disabled people have only just been invented; or that we havn’t been campaigning for inclusion since the dawn of time. My question is, why are these mistakes still happening? I don’t know how disabled people can effectively influence party policy, raise the issues of concern to disabled people out there, in the party, if we can’t even get in the door, metaphorically or actually without kicking up a stink. So, not having enjoyed women’s conference last year in Manchester, I thought I wouldn’t go to the women’s conference this year; then when Jeremy was elected, I thought I would, in anticipation that the leader is going to address the women’s conference. Now, thanks to not getting accessible info about the women’s conference, I’ve decided I’m not going. So there will be one less stroppy disabled woman there tomorrow …. and I am sure that lack of clarity about access, belief that things won’t be accessible, feelings that disabled women are not important, are also reasons why less disabled women than perhaps who want to be there, will go to women’s conference tomorrow. And I’ve no doubt that other members of disability labour will have to spent time and energy battling away at conference, trying to fire-fight on access when we could be doing something much more important, like effecting policy, talking about why the austerity agenda, whether heavy or light is the greatest attack on disabled people in our living memory and why labour must not only defend disabled people’s rights but actively promote a disability rights based agenda. Not that I’m repeating myself, but I and others have been saying the above since exclusion first politicised us, in my case for 40 years. When will non-disabled people get it that they can remove disabling barriers if they want to.

If you want to hear more about Disability Rights as human rights, come to Disability labour’s fringe meeting What have human rights done for disabled people?
Monday 29nd September
12.45-2.00, Lancaster Room, Hilton Hotel.
The Human Rights Act 1998 entrenched inviolable rights for disabled people in British law and made them enforceable in British courts. Recent decisions, made in the fields of social care and mental health have used the Act to secure legal and political recognition of the equality of disabled people. The Conservative government proposes the replacement of this Act with a British Bill of Rights.
We ask:

What are the implications of a Bill of Rights approach?
What could be gained from it for disabled people, our campaigns in the Labour party, the disabled people’s movement and wider society?

A renationalised anthem

September 22, 2015

Dr Vole wonders if Jeremy corbynn would prefer to sing this version? Do join in!
A re-nationalised anthem

Dr Vole, September 2015

This is our broken land.
We need to understand
What has been done.
What has become of us?
Are we oblivious?
Why don’t we make a fuss
In unison?

Refugees by the score
Flee poverty and war
On deadly seas.
Sleeping without a tent;
Meanwhile in parliament
We watch the one per cent
Do as they please.

Financial criminals
And neo-liberals –
They made this mess!
Tories have blamed the poor –
Bring it back to their door.
This must be done before
We can progress.

Time to get serious
On social ju-us-tice
No time to shirk.
We need green energy,
A fairer society,
An end to austerity:
Let’s get to work!

Questions to London Labour Mayoral Candidates from Disability Labour

August 8, 2015

Questions to London Labour Mayoral Candidates

1. Why should disabled people vote for a London Labour Mayor and Labour Assembly in 2016?
2. Economic development: As London’s Mayor what measures will you apply to remove the barriers which stop disabled Londoners getting and keeping jobs.
3. Health:
3.1. As London’s Mayor what will you put in place in a London Health plan, to promote the independence, dignity, choices and rights of disabled people?
3.2. What does a 21st century vision for a London mental health care system look like?
4. Crime, Policing and Justice:
4.1. As Mayor of London what will you do to ensure disabled people get equal access to justice?
4.2. As London Mayor and Chair of MOPAC what will you do to address the policing of Disability harassment, discrimination and disability hate crimes and domestic violence?
5. Housing:
5.1. What will you do as Labour’s Mayor for London to solve the London housing crisis facing families which include disabled or older people? 5.2. What will you do as Mayor for London to make sure that Lifetime homes standards are implemented throughout all types of housing in London? 6. Transport:
6.1. What will you do as Mayor for London to promote the “Right to Ride” across all modes and in all parts of London for disabled people? 6.2. As Mayor for London will you work to extend the freedom pass to national rail services which run throughout the whole of the Greater London and in particular where there are no tube or over ground services such as in parts of South London?
6.3. A quarter of London’s tube stations are step free from street to train, what is your plan for extending this to the rest of the underground system?

Questions to the Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates from Disability Labour

August 8, 2015

Questions to Labour Leadership Candidates

1. Employment – What will Labour do under your leadership to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people obtaining and keeping employment? 2. Social Care – How would Labour under your leadership tackle the social care funding crisis, ensuring that levels of support for disabled people with high support needs will be met in light of the Independent Living Fund being closed?
3. Social Security – How will Labour’s welfare plans under your leadership, support the independence, dignity, choices and rights of disabled people?
4. Housing – What will Labour do under your leadership to solve the housing crisis facing families which include disabled or older people? 5. Transport – What will a Labour Government under your leadership do to promote and support better access to public transport, including the “Right to Ride” for disabled people?

Questions to Labour Deputy Leader Candidates
1. Engaging with disabled people:
1.1. Why should disabled people vote for The Labour Party at the next general election?
1.2. What policies will you champion which will assure disabled people that a Labour Government is best placed to promote the rights of disabled people in society?
2. Disability and Diversity: What will you do as Deputy Leader to ensure candidates standing on a Labour platform reflect the diversity that is Britain today?
3. Disabled Candidates: What measures would you implemented as Deputy Leader to ensure that disabled people are able to stand as candidates and hold political office?
4. Activism: What will you do as Deputy Leader to promote the inclusion of disabled members in all areas of party activities?

questions to Labour Leadership candidates

July 11, 2015

Questions to ask the Labour Leadership candidates? here’s mine.
1 What policies would you support as leader which will assure disabled people that a Labour Government is best placed to promote the rights of disabled citizens in our society? 2 Why should disabled people vote Labour?
3 What will Labour do to remove the barriers that stop disabled people getting and keeping jobs? How would our right to work become a reality under your leadership?
4 What would the next Labour Government under your leadership do to create a society where good social care truly delivers the independence and inclusion of all disabled people?
5 What will the next Labour Government under your leadership do to address disability harassment, discrimination and violence?
6 what will a Labour Government under your leadership do to increase the supply of homes in all sectors built to Lifetime Home Standards?
7 What will a Labour Government do under your leadership to promote disabled people’s right to ride?
8 12 M Britons are disabled. Under your leadership what will Labour do to ensure the selection of candidates at all levels, reflects Britain today, including disabled people?

when did fairness, dignity and respect leave the room?”

July 11, 2015

Maiden speech to Haringey Full Council in the Haringey debate on Mentall health issues
Monday November 24, 2014
when did fairness, dignity and respect leave the room?”
I am honoured to address the council on this important issue. This is for my chosen sister Tina, , a lesbian mental health system survivor; who did not survive, despite her loving circle of friends.

Listen to the daily mail shouting! Fraudsters, liars, lazy parasites . Scroungers, undeserving benefit cheats. Work shy burdons on the tax payer. Just a few taunts aimed at disabled people, mental health service users and system survivors among us. I Welcome Lib Dem’s focus and commitment on mental health issue. ALL disabled people, Mental health service users and system survivors amongst us, are the biggest casualties of the austerity zealots. Mental breakdown and even suicides have resulted from cuts. Living on next to nothing is stressful to say the least. Employment Support Allowance is frightening disabled people off benefits. If claimants can’t meet their work-related activities plan, their benefits are cut. The work Capability test doesn’t measure the true barriers to employment. It also fails to measure the impact of mental health issues upon people’s lives amongst other factors.

Add this, to the torment caused by the torrent of abuse aimed at benefit recipients; and the message is shockingly clear to disabled people. they say we are too expensive; not value for money, and that we don’t deserve support.

Yet government tax plans will benefit the rich. So if you’re a banker it seems you deserve sympathy.

The government says that there’s no choice, that there’s no money and we have to take action now. We’re all in it together.

Add up: cuts In service provision, + major job cuts, + cuts in benefits, then add rising inflation, and high unemployment (green shoots not withstanding), we just don’t have a chance.

Cuts are compounded further by the fact of poverty and other barriers that face Disabled people from different communities. young Pakistani Londoner’s are twice as likely to be disabled as their Peers, reflecting the compound impact of disability discrimination, racism and poverty. In Haringey, high rates of mental ill health are compounded by racism, poverty, poor housing, joblessness and discrimination.

We have extensive equality law in the UK: But it is no protector when institutions who should be standing for us all, work only for the privilege, the establishment for the rich.

the coalition turns its back on promoting an equal society in favour of the survival of the fittest; and in which disabled people including mental health service users and survivors, are the losers. when did fairness, dignity and respect leave the room?”

Councillor Kirsten Hearn
Labour member for Sstroud Green Ward.

Lost Boys

July 11, 2015

Another blog piece found in the depths of my writing file.
Lost Boys
Friday May 22, 2015.
Walking down the road last night, I am greeted by a friend’s grandson who I know has stepped onto the path of destruction, which begins as he hangs out on the fringes of a street gang. the grandson is at the truenting, petty thieving, running away, foot soldier of older gang member kind of place. Sweet voiced and polite, he engages me in conversation, courteously and well manneredly, as his grandmother has taught him. But I know that he has been in another gangs territory, getting up to goddess-knows-what and that later tonight, he will continue, this is what his nights are like, according to his grant mother and auntie.

I am reminded of the journey taken from terrible gang violence to remorse for wrong and determination to live a life as a loving parent to his children, as described to me once,by a prisoner. Redemption, for him, brought about by his own actions, is so clearly, alive and kicking. for both young people, their parenting was less than helpful to their future. I tell the grandson about the prisoner, how after a very long prison sentence, he has built a life and a future worth celebrating, but that he will always look over his shoulder to see if the gang he bore witness against, is catching up on him. The grandson sounds impressed, but I suspect this is what he wants me to hear.

We part, amiably enough and I walk slowly home pondering on the craziness of a world in which possessions and money and the something-for-nothing culture are prized above and beyond love, nurturing and support. Is the difference between these two young men, the fact that the grandson has a loving grandmother and tough-love auntie, or is this not enough to turn him away from a path that may lead to something that will blight his life, even possibly take his life?

In the grandson’s case, the agencies attempt to intervene but he has to actively engage for it to work. In the prisoner’s case, he made a choice, then actively engaged, which is why he has stepped over the threshold into a new life.

Huge rounds of cuts in criminal justice services are on their way. I shudder at the thought of Michael Gove in charge of justice

Caribbean Queen RIP

July 11, 2015

Caribbean Queen RIP
Sunday March 23, 2014:
“Returning from dinner at a friend’s, this evening, my taxi driver tells me he was a regular attendee at my upstairs neighbour’s soirees, more than 20 years ago. We fall to remembering Ian Warred, DJ, club manager and photographer, a larger than life, supremely camp pink-kaftan-wearing Jamaican gay guy, wild locks and all who died 20 years ago this month. One of many brothers in struggle lost to AIDS in the dark days before retro-viral drugs made it possible to think of life with HIV, he was my cheerful, noisy but friendly and yes protective neighbour for more than 6 years. .
Heavily into lesbian grunge at the time, I would sneak out of the house hoping Ian wasn’t looking out of the window. If he caught sight of my scruffy arse hi-tailing it down the road, he was not shy about bellowing his disapproval for the whole street to hear. It was a bit like having a gay man for a mother!
“Put some colour on, girlfriend” he would shriek as I shuffled away, clad from head to foot in black and matching black, with a bit of toning black to go with it.

Ah the days when we were young and could party all night and didn’t get fixated about what we looked like, because of course, fashion was a patriarchal plot!
RIP Ian Warred, you are still missed, 20 years on.

A gap at our baracade

July 11, 2015

Unpublished blog from 2014
A gap at our baracade
RIP Jenny Cook
Wednesday July 16, 2014
A friend said on hearing that Jenny Cook (60) has died today; “another empty space at our table”. For those of us who have at points during Jenny’s life, spent time sitting at table talking, we who consider ourselves to be family, & that family to include Jenny, today the table is thinner, emptier, quieter than before.

In a week since Jenny was rushed to hospital with a terrifying chest infection, we are in in that strange place of explaining the variety & difference that is Jenny, to a medical world a little baffled by her difference an uniqueness, but who, to a man & woman stands up to the challenge of treating her best they can, with every skill they can muster. Cancer, chemo, chest infection, a body which has not stood up well to the ravages of time & a serious of ailments, illness & health crisis after health crisis, in combination, in a parade of what must have at times felt like cruel twists of fate have assaulted her. Yet she has stood up to their attack, somehow reshaped & regrouped, worked out another way to be, found the most amazingly devoted personal assistants to help, & stayed the course, sometimes against all odds.

In recent years, she ran her life from her bed. But in my memory & in evidence of the many photos of Jenny taken by Ruth Bashall, a history of activism, of fighting back, of saying “no”, is revealed. Today as her heart stops, rallies again & stops again, we who witness her last hours of life, see in this final dance of her heart’s rhythm on the screen, a fighter, a warrior-crip-dyke, a woman who says “no” & “not in my name” & so much more.

Our Jenny lies curled on her side in that signature at rest, safe & in comfort pose, a little frown on her brow. In her stillness, I still feel the energy of her determination, for she is not lying on her back with her hands folded across her chest, all neat & prim. In death she defies convention as she did in life.

Yes, a space at our table, but also a very big gap on our barricades. Rest in peace, Jenny Cook, 1954 to 2014.