you'll be doing alright with your christmas of white, but i'll have a blue, blue christmas
If you don’t know, writing this blog and volunteering (at The Maudsley and The Dragon Café) have been the two major pillars of my recovery. So when, in October, the blog won an award and the volunteering led to me being offered a job at the Maudsley’s new Recovery College, you might reasonably have expected a festive season of unrestrained jubilation, fireworks and marching bands.
But that would be to ignore the fact that you can’t chart the recovery journey in a straight ascending line. Not only does it rise and fall, it also spirals backwards before continuing along. Even when your demons are at bay it’s never safe to assume that it’s more than a fragile peace.
You know how you can work your bollocks off all year and then, when you take a holiday, you come down with awful aches and pains? Well, it’s the same with we frazzled of mind, except the aches and pains are psychological – in my case self-loathing, self-doubt, anxiety and alienation. With Princes Corned Beef and Findus Frozen Macaroni Cheese for Christmas lunch – culinary, maudlin self-harm.
But fear not, because The Skintster abides, and is currently bobbing along on an ocean of wellbeing. And it’s all because I started the job three weeks ago. The first paid employment I’ve had in eight years. And what a joy it is. I hadn’t quite realised what a vast difference being a wage earner once again would mean – I’m even walking differently, the service-user shuffle replaced with a spring in the step. I should have known because, before my crisis, I’d had a long and rewarding career; had, in fact, never been out of work since I gave up studying for a law degree to run off and join the theatre. But you don’t, I guess, realise the weight you bear on your shoulders until it’s lifted from you.
The corrosive effects of unemployment aren’t limited simply to the obvious financial hardships or to the stress imposed by the current system of demonization; a big part of it is the loss of identity, of status, of a sense of self-worth, of a valued place in the community. If you find yourself without a job, without a home, and mentally ill then you find yourself in a world devoid of hope, control and opportunity. And without those three elements in place, nobody can have a satisfying and meaningful life. I’ve now got them back.
The story of my life for the past decade could, I suppose, be told in mainly tragic terms and I have, of course, told it that way on occasion, both to myself and to others. But now I’d like to tell it a different way. I’d like to tell the story of my great good fortune .
there is (or was) a safety net
I’m going back very soon, not as a service user this time but as a colleague, to talk about the Recovery College. Such a scenario would have been unthinkable back then. They couldn’t do much with me at first, though they tried their best. I’d not hit bottom yet.
Thankfully they didn't give up.
rachel sorts out my benefits
I hadn’t a clue about the benefits system and even if I had I was in no fit state to do anything about it. But Rachel took matters in hand and, by the end of the year, I was getting Income Support and Disability Living Allowance. You may be of the opinion that such largesse shouldn’t be wasted on a miserable sinner such as myself and I wouldn’t argue with you. But I am ineffably grateful. It allowed me to live with a degree of dignity these last few years, while I tried, falteringly, to get back on track.
saved from the streets
But beforehand, Rachel had arranged with the Homeless Unit on Bournemouth that a colleague of hers would take me there straight from handing the flat keys over to the bailiff and that I would have a place in a homeless hostel that very night. Otherwise…well, otherwise I don’t know. I’d have been on the streets obviously, but I’m not sure how long I would have lasted.
with all my worldly goods
a brand new home
I applied for it and I got it. Yet another stroke of good luck. I moved in during the spring of 2009.
an opportunity to volunteer
So in October 2010 I started working for Gabrielle Richards and her team. Gabrielle is SLaM’s Professional Head of Occupational Therapy & Trust Social Inclusion Lead. The latter bit of that title means she is in charge of implementing the trust’s Recovery Strategy.
I was doubly fortunate here. Firstly, I’d got a chance to be working on a variety of recovery-related projects as part of my own recovery. And, secondly, I got the chance to work in an office with such wonderful people as Gabrielle, Sarah, Alexis, Isabel and David. I love ‘em all.
All was fine and dandy for a few months but then I became unwell again and had to leave in early 2011. Most of the rest of that year was spent in a dank and dismal limbo.
But I came out of it and started putting together this website. I was bowled over by the response I got when it went live in the first week of January of 2012. A week later, and only because of the boost I’d got from that response, I got back in touch with Gabrielle and asked if I might have another chance. Wonderfully, I was taken back into the fold. And in the winter of 2012 we began working on a new project for the Maudsley – a Recovery College.
Where I now work.
i used to think i was french but i'm alright maintenant
But 2013 was about to bring even more good fortune.
my (flat white) cup runneth over
The film-maker Mark Green made videos of the winners of the OFM awards and here’s the one he did of me. It is, in part, a kind of a love letter to the food culture of Peckham.
what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?
It's hard to remember, in the current political climate of malevolence, divisiveness, rancour and fear, that it wasn't always like this. In 1945, after the fall of Germany, the people of this country, it's returning soldiers, rejected, to the world's astonishment, Churchill and his party - the Tories. They voted for a better, fairer Britain. They 'had known the 'thirties, and they didn't want it again: the dole queue, the street corner, the true poverty of that time. They wanted jobs, and security, and a better future for their children than they had had.'*
They voted for this:
The nation wants food, work and homes. It wants more than that - it wants good food in plenty, useful work for all, and comfortable...homes ...It wants a high and rising standard of living, security for all against a rainy day, an educational system that will give every boy and girl a chance to develop the best that is in them...The nation needs a tremendous overhaul, a great programme of modernisation and re-equipment of its homes, its factories and machinery, its schools, its social services...proper social security for all - social provision against rainy days, coupled with economic policies calculated to reduce rainy days to a minimum...In the new National Health Service there should be health centres where the people may get the best that modern science can offer, more and better hospitals, and proper conditions for our doctors and nurses.
- From the 1945 Labour Party Election Manifesto
I am very, very far from being a political animal, so I'd just ask this: surely we can do better than this, can't we?
Surely we are better than this?
a final word on brand awareness
So I’m going to carry on with the blog, and carry on as the Skint Foodie, if that's alright with you lot. You don’t fuck with your brand after all.
I do have a job now, it’s true. But luckily, in this regard at least, it pays jackshit. And anyway, as I hope I've made clear, it was never about eating as cheaply as you can. It was, and is, about eating as well as you can for a modest budget. I’ll be able to afford more fresh fish and fruit now it's true, but, other than that, the way I eat won’t change at all. What will change is that, instead of only being able to spend money on food, I’ll now be able to spend a bit on other things as well – books, cinema, a few clothes etc.
This weekend, I celebrated getting my first pay check by going on a trip to the wonderful Brockley Market. Treats included a lovely piece of Dexter shin of beef from Nathan Mills of The Butchery Ltd, chorizo and cheese from Flavours of Spain, raw butter from Hook & Son, ham from Moons Green and, to eat there, a buttermilk fried chicken bap with coleslaw and Korean hot sauce from Spit & Roast. Lawd have mercy!
I am now so close to getting my cooking mojo back and I’ve quite a few ideas for the blog in the back of my mind (I’m close to perfecting an almond thins recipe for example). Normal service will be resumed here very, very soon.
Unless things go tits up of course.
- From the Centre for Welfare Reform: How to Reform the ESA System
- The problem with WCA goes far deeper than Atos
- A report from The Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist, Church of Scotland, and United Reformed Church: 'Truth and lies about poverty'
- How much does each benefit really cost?
- Unnecessary suffering
- From the Joseph Rowntree Foundation: A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2013
- War on Welfare Petition
* From 'Quartered Safe Out Here' by George MacDonald Fraser (a great memoir, by the way)
** From Denis Potter's final interview in 1994. God knows what he would have thought of the utter shower currently in government.