Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Penny’s Farm

by anonymous

Editor's Note: This account was sent to BEATNIK anonymously to protect the author from legal recrimination. He or she assures us that nothing said in the piece is untrue, even if some things are presented in fictional form. But since money speaks louder than truth or justice the author fears he/ she may be persecuted for speaking out, and never get a job in care again.  We normally prefer to publish author's names but we feel this is an important piece of writing, and something everyone should read at a time when the care of vulnerable people in our society has become such an issue.

You have to deal with a lot of people you don’t like in the course of a working life, and the worst of them all, for me, was Penny. Penny Thow, manager of the last-but-one care home I worked in, 42 Cambridge Street, on the outskirts of the city of Middletown. It was part of the Moore chain of small homes for people with mental health problems, learning difficulty and acquired brain injury. Small, anyway, relative to the battery farms that homes for old people were allowed to be without a second thought from anyone. But I’m not sure I’d want to live with nine or ten other people like the poor bastards in the Moore homes had to either.

But anyway, Penny Thow. I hated her, and I’m sure she hated me, although neither of us ever said it face to face. I once told a Care Assistant, when he asked me why Penny hadn’t been at work today (she was actually – or supposedly – off sick), that she was at home hanging upside down in her cellar being fed baby rabbits by her husband, who was the Moore accountant. ‘All we have to do to make sure she doesn’t come back is put lots of crosses and garlic over the front door,’ I said. The Relief Care Assistant, a very serious Nigerian man and a devoted Christian, managed somehow to smile and frown at the same time. ‘You shouldn’t make jokes like that,’ he said.

I’m not sure why I disliked her so much, or why we didn’t click even for a while, when I started working at the home. I have a reputation, bigger now since my run-ins with her, for ‘having a problem’ with authority, but that’s only partly true. I’ve had good relations with supervisors and managers in the past at least for a while, although, to be fair, most of them have deteriorated eventually. I am not good at the false deference to arseholes that you have to perfect to be a success in the workplace. I’m not very good either, it must be said, at performing at a consistently high level week in, month out. I can do it, for a certain amount of time, but because I don’t want to be working at anything other than my writing (and I know how affected that sounds), my concentration inevitably lapses and then I make a horrendous fuck-up which gets me into trouble. And when you do that, in care work, the bosses attack you like piranha just to cover their own rear ends (and mortgages).

It was something in Penny’s manner that grated on me instantly. She was always aggressive and brash, always talking too loud and interrupting other people’s sentences before they had the chance to compose their thoughts; she always misinterpreted everything that you said to her, filtering it through her own narrow, intellectually limited and emotionally strangulated view of the world, and spitting it back at you as something bearing no resemblance to your original comment or request. She also had an inferiority complex the size of the Telecom Tower. Some might say this is a sentimental view of people exhibiting that much aggression, but the only workers in the home she related to were those she thought less intelligent and more working class than her. The people who called her ‘boss’ and ‘babe’ and had strong local accents, typical local hairdos, typical local bellies and big arses – those people she loved, chatted in corridors with, went for walks with in the alley that ran past the side of the house. When I came along, with my semi-middle-class accent, my declared interest in poetry, and the air of snobbery I carry around with me – instant freeze-out.

Ironic, really, considering she was making more money in two days than I made in a week. Considering, too, that my grandfather had worked on the docks in Liverpool and my mum grew up without a penny to her name – until, that is, she married my dad, whose own parents were ‘comfortable’ ( as the moderately well-off still say) after the husband’s long career in science and the M.O.D. By the time I came along my dad was a rising star in the world of magazine publishing and the sense of self-worth we all had was raised a few notches more than it should have been, probably, by his considerable achievements. I was a bit of a snob. I still am, although I have no right to be (if anybody does). I may have been able to talk on subjects she knew nothing about – since work, horses, her daughter and the fundamentally rotten nature of human beings (she wouldn’t have put it that way, but that’s what she believed) were her only topics of conversation, her only areas of knowledge – and in the last topic she would have known I believed she was wrong – but she was the one with all the power. Capitalist society, having, as it does, a definite tendency to reward aggression and stupidity over reason and intelligence. Why, I wonder, did I make her feel paranoid – before, anyway, our various disputes broke out? (and before I transferred out of that godforsaken place there were many).

What irked her, I believe, is that she knew I thought she was a crude woman –she couldn’t even eat quietly – and a bad manager. She must have seen my face on those mornings when she stomped into the house from her office at the back of the building shouting because this wasn’t being done or that hadn’t been done, or because she’d found a coffee ring on a radiator cover and the senior staff needed to get better at supervising the cleaner; or when she’d tell one of us off about the shabby appearance of an adult service user with a brain injury while he or she stood beside her clearly embarrassed, clearly too intimidated by her loud, angry manner to respond. You were supposed to take your beating, accepting that she had a right to ignore completely the standards set for reasonable, non-abusive behaviour that you were expected to work by; then you were supposed to cajole her out of her mood with a nice cup of tea and a chat. But I never cajoled. I was usually too busy suppressing the desire to tell her she was a cunt who hid behind the authority of her job to attack the ghosts of her childhood. And although Penny was a poor reader of other people – imposing, as she did, the grand narrative of corruption on all of them (I imagine it was a mirror of her own state) – she must have known what I was thinking.

She was a dictator in a country whose perimeters were the brick walls and hedges of a care home in the North of England, and like all dictators she wanted not only obedience from her subjects, but the assurance that behind the calm face of the obedient subject there would be no plotting. And with most of the staff that’s what she got.

I don’t know how much knowledge you have of care homes, but ours was structured in the following way: there was the manager, whom you’ve probably heard enough of for now, who was answerable to the directors; three seniors, including me, who were answerable to the manager; and three care assistants on each of the senior’s teams, answerable, of course, to the seniors. And what a motley bunch they were. Me you’ve already met, and whatever impression you’ve formed, I have tried to be as honest about me as I have been about my perceptions of Penny. Then there was June, profoundly deaf in one ear, although she never wore a hearing aid; a converted Hindu, so she said, obsessed with the local fooball team and drag racing; and a marijuana smoker – she used to skin up outside in the alley on cigarette breaks and come back in all airy and distracted, smelling of the good Miss Green. The third senior was Levi, a middle-aged African man who’d lived in England since he was in his twenties. You got the impression that he had smoked a lot of weed at one time in his life, although he probably didn’t now. Sometimes Levi’s brain seemed to malfunction in mid-sentence. He’d stop talking suddenly, hold eye contact but look absolutely panicked as he groped around in the recesses of his mind for the thing he’d been going to say; and when he’d did say something after a few seconds, it usually bore very little resemblance to what he’d begun to say, as if he’d thrown a substitute idea in hoping you wouldn’t notice the disruption. Levi was not a good senior. June was better, but still disorganised and ineffective. All of us had got into care at a time when it was possible to walk in without qualifications, as long as you had a clean criminal record and a good reference from the last place you worked. So the job was filled with eccentrics, characters, a lot of people who’d tried care after failing at other things, or after having their fill of other things; or people who needed something that helping other people – or having power over other people – might give them. Very few of us were in the job because we had a holy calling.

Penny treated Levi like an idiot. He did seem to ask stupid questions at times – once in one of our three-weekly senior meetings he asked Penny, "Can we get into trouble with the Inspectors if we don’t make service users wear slippers?" – but what Penny was too stupid to realise was that Levi was often being disingenuous when he appeared at his most dimwitted. Often Levi used a kind of faux innocence to mask criticisms of Penny’s ridiculous, autocratic policies in the home. It would have been a useful tool for a much-needed campaign of protest, too, if Penny had noticed what he was doing; but she didn’t, unless she was more subtle than all of us – which, given the fact that she was a cunt, as I’ve said, seems unlikely. What she’d do, when he said something that appeared silly, was encourage everybody in the vicinity – whether that was the confined space of her office during a senior meeting, or a lounge filled with staff and service users – to laugh at him. June, who was treated with a brutal disrespect by Penny herself, would join in with this mockery of Levi. So did one or two of the other staff who professed to dislike Penny. I couldn’t understand it. Nobody would join the union either, despite my having a brown envelope filled with application forms stuffed away ready at the back of my tray in the staff office. I talked to everyone about it who didn’t already have a reputation for being an ally of Penny’s, but nobody would even take an application form. Ronnie, one of the Care Assistants, told me she couldn’t afford the subs while fishing for something in her Dolce & Gabbana handbag. I suppose it’s a question of priorities.

The home had ten adults with acquired brain injury and, in three cases, mild learning difficulty. The idea was to come in every day on shifts, three teams of four staff, as I say, and provide the people living there with as good a quality of life as we could give them. In theory they would not be staying in the home forever – it was listed with the Inspectors as providing ‘slow-stream rehabilitation’ – but slow actually meant ‘glacier-pace’; all of the service users had been in care homes for a long time and they had lived in this one for three years, since it opened. Mostly we laid on for them what the company liked to call "activities" (the parlance used was all designed to demonstrate how far away care had moved from the institutionalised practises and terminology of the past, but somehow everything we did to appear modern made us sound more old-fashioned). When we could we took people out for cups of coffee. Usually we escorted people on walks around the estate. This was a fraught experience frequently because Ray - who was learning disabled and prone to what were charmingly called, then, "drop fits" - might unexpectedly head butt you, which hurt, since he wore a helmet, and run off to invade a newsagents or charge in front of speeding traffic; and Steve, whose emotional development had ceased around the age of 12 at the time of his accident, might take out his penis and wave it at passers-by, who he sensed were coming despite the blindness caused by his accident; or he might simply stop in the middle of the street and piss.

There were issues with the service users – and how I still loathe that phrase – but as is usually the case in care homes, the real problems we had were with each other. And in Penny’s Farm, as I called the home to myself because it reminded me of the old song about the hard times farm labourers had with a bitch of a landlady, my problems were largely, although not exclusively, with Penny. Compared to her, Dave, the bitter, solitary, occasionally suicidal diabetic Geordie who lived in an eyrie up the stairs on the second floor of the house was entirely normal and manageable. If I’d had to make a long coach trip and choose between Penny and Rob for a travelling companion – Rob, who claimed he couldn’t walk although on two canes he was reasonably mobile, and preferred to shit in a bag under his duvet than get out and go to the toilet (this was never proven but olfactory evidence suggested it strongly); Rob, who threatened suicide whenever he was asked to come down to dinner – well, Rob's endless self-pity would have been infinitely preferable to her endless vulgar self-aggrandisement. I liked all of the service users more than I liked her, and all of the staff too; and I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t like many of the staff very much. As someone who professed to be a Buddhist I was setting myself up for a long, long time spinning on the karmic wheel.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I’m not who people say I am—
& you’re not who people say you are, either.

People say I’m a poet, writer, artist—
I write, all right
& sometimes what I write is poems—
better to say I’m a so-called poet
so-called writer, so-called artist—
I create works of literature, visual art, music
sometimes, not all that often—
but I sleep, too—but don’t call me a sleeper—
& I eat, drink, shit, piss—
but don’t call me eater, drinker, shitter, pisser—
when I know what to do that might be truly useful
I try to undermine the tyrants who rule us
but I’m no revolutionary or insurgent or anarchist
& certainly not a liberal or conservative!—
sometimes I’m trying to be a good citizen, that’s all—
people call me an ass-hole sometimes, or a fool—
&, sure, sometimes I do things I later regret
out of ignorance or shame
& attempting to be thought more than I am—
I’m trying to eliminate such behavior
but I’m in no position to issue guarantees—
I’ve loaded trucks, operated machines
planted seeds, murdered weeds
ordered eggs at the counter of a diner
sung with joy
dragged my desolate self
from one place where I had no business to another—
I’m a unique being—
however much
I share physically & culturally with others
& what I do & how, or refrain from, or fail to do
has unique consequences—
it’s like that for you, too—
these labels people lay on me—
it’s laziness or stupid programming
or cruelty—a way to keep me intimidated & rule me—
same for the labels people lay on you—
same for the labels I lay on myself
& the labels you’re laying on yourself—
sure, it’s a crushing weight having to figure out
what the hell you’re going to do next—
not being able just to cruise along
as tho everything’s been decided—
having to realize that the atmosphere & Earth’s crust
& the Sun & Milky Way & the other galaxies
have absolutely no consideration for your well-being—
& how deluded & difficult others are—
some are crocodiles or like crocodiles
& you look like a hamburger to them!—
but, don’t sweat it, you’ll be dead soon enough—
if you have to call me anything, call me by my name—
it’s just a name, but it doesn’t mean anything but
whoever the hell & whatever the hell I am—
now—even more than in the past or future—
& it’s like that for you, & your name, too.

                                                                         (Eric Chaet)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Eamonn Lorigan

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Joe Milford: Three Poems

time to rob a city of its lights

what I have always wanted to steal from you is your oblivion, fair city.
authentic city, you are my chaos of restaurants.  I slaketh you to lie down
in red and green traffic lights.  you are the Golgotha of my compression
and coercion of immersion ethnic brothels huddled-up in elevators with cudgels
and I guess that the best invention was glass until the window-washer came
but I would like to parachute through your illegal airspace tonight
for you have drugged me into driving to the edges of everything for drugs
and this final epochpolis of wondrous apocalypse written on every face of grit
and on every vendor’s shirt and every marquis as your diaspora of lights
crashes up into its spread womb of a sky and I see the last lamp shoot up
into her universe seconds before my own impact with stealing the wrong light

my theory on going to bars

take twenty dollars worth of quarters
go to a place with at least two payphones
and one jukebox

you go in weighed down and loud
wear pants twice your size, at least
don’t adjust your belt and drink a pitcher

of Newcastle, you won’t have many quarters
left, but, on the jukebox play the Pretenders,
Social Distortion, the Clash, and get rid
of your twenty dollar lodestone

it is a dollar for a game of pool
or for a bowl of popcorn and you make two
calls you shouldn’t have and then
you are weaseled, bamboozled, or muscled out

then you slink home lithely, weightlessly
under the buzzing of an Iowa sky, steeples,
the skyline, the street guitarists, the closed
and locked-down bratwurst carts, and the train

is crossing the road two blocks
from your front door
as you watch it roar
and roar inside

juggler’s wish

                        I can hold all
                        of my desires in
                        one hand, and
                                    when it comes to this
                                    I am the juggler’s wish.

                        There are two bubbles
                        there, cast inside
                        the marble, or two lovers
                                    captured forever
                                    in exquisite oil paints.
                        I want to know
                        the Rosetta stone
                        in the center of every bone.
                        The lore of every pore.
                                    Your maddening core.
                                    I bind myself to you.

                        With Rimbaud’s ribbons
                        and screaming gibbons
                        with lightning and squalls
                                    I will hold onto
                                    The sinking anchor you.

                        Fold me away
                        keep me in your dry reply
                        lie me down in the crease
                                    between two pages
                                    where your perfect poem is.

                        Place me
                        in the hope-chest
                        the top drawer
                                    I will stay wrapped in
                                    your blue negligee’ skin.

                        Harlequin end this ceaseless
                        juggling.  I am no hooligan;
                        you are not a nunnery begotten.
                                    We should settle-up.
                                    A slut deserves a slut.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Kallima Hamilton


You move through me like beluga whales and red tulips,

possibly whole oceans color your slender calves

when you don stilettos

(so inappropriate in the morning.)

Heroines of West-side antics, we kick soda cans

down rain-washed alleyways, purr like rogue cats

hell-bent on cream and cramming all we can into that

ninth life.

We splash in puddles of nowhere, sully the maestro’s

majestic (pristine) art.  Original synthesis, the muddied blue.

Fishnet stockings and tennis shoes,

we romp through consumer forests like Zen monks on holiday.

Predictable cannabis and Polly wants a cracker.  Beautiful boys

on mopeds really move us, the sensual zigzag of raw fumes,

tourist trolley show-offs, disco glitter and sweet wet grass

where we roll like maniacs in the park at the edge of town.

You know what happiness is when you forget your name

and someone snaps our picture because we’re famous

in our own minds, patchouli-drenched, on fire for lucky gambit

and the subtlety of sly pigeons gleaning the curb.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Eric Chaet: Sort of an Elegy for Osama Bin Laden


I always resent obituaries
of people I should have been made aware of
while they were alive
& I might have yoked my efforts
to change what humans are doing
with theirs
for everyone’s but especially for my own benefit
everyone’s, that is, except those who have sold me out
to gain at my expense—
& sold out everyone who wouldn’t or couldn’t
contribute to their so-called success
which is a substantial proportion of humanity
so damn sad—
Osama would have killed me
I’m an American & a Jew—
he didn’t accept the responsibility of distinguishing
between those who were oppressing & those being oppressed
by those whose oppression was always nearly killing him—
you know what I’m tallking about
you who often can hardly go on—
how many janitors died in the World Trade Center?—
Lenin was like that, Hitler, too—
these are people with qualities I admire at least as much
as the qualities of those whose insight is
that humanity won’t change very fast
not enough in their lifetimes
only glacierly, evolutionally, only as it must
& not necessarily for the better
who therefore choose not to rebel
against what’s generally being done
who keep their unacknowledging distance from rebels
& whose discipline is
to pour their efforts into that which profits them
to the best of their understanding
of what profit is, what loss—
in this life-time—
who will sacrifice the truth to get ahead or stay ahead
per what they imagine is ahead or behind—
who will sacrifice the weak to the predations of the strong
& the not-too-clever
to the parasitism of the cunning—
who don’t concern themselves with history
or what preceded history
or with the future beyond this game & this season
or at most with the few dozen seasons
in which they’ll suffer more or less & enjoy more or less
& be treated well or badly—
I’ve always admired great rebels—
Crazy Horse & Geronimo, Che Guevara & Zapata
(even Hitler, damn his personality & deeds
but not his soul
likewise Napoleon, Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Kissinger)
Tom Paine, Sam Adams, George Washington
Elijah, Spartacus, the Maccabees, Jesus & his band
those who risked their lives in the main squares
of Beijing & Cairo
to whatever degree they knew what they were doing
William Blake & Walt Whitman
Phil & Daniel Berrigan—
hi, Daniel!—thanks for the $50!
the communards of Paris, the demonstrating Blacks of Dixie
& the Whites who risked their careers joining them
the resisters of the Warsaw Ghetto
Sun Yatsen & Mao
puritans like Cromwell, Marx, & Osama—
to whatever degree they were enlightened or not—
more than those who led lives
of relatively successful fitting in
even if their tools are neatly arranged
along the walls of garages
a sight that always moves me to admiration
like Bach’s Toccata & Fugue—
even if they got rich
providing hardware or software to millions
who used the hardware & software to gain the same old
bolstering of egos & comforts
& protection from the needy
only faster & with different protocols—
even Edison or Ford—
certainly more than those
who killed them & slandered their memories—
however much I steer my course otherwise
as well or poorly as I’ve managed to steer so far
as I struggle to gain control of the hands
that struggle to gain control of the wheel.