Wednesday 29 February 2012


Well done to the National Eisteddfod for copying Hafal's iconic camper-van motif. Following our van's appearance in the Wrexham Eisteddfod last year they are hiring a 1963 split-screen called Dilys to tour the Vale of Glamorgan and drum up some business in advance of the event. They will certainly need all her help as they will be competing with the dreaded Olympics which will be happening down the road in London the same week in August.

I don't want to sound sniffy about Dilys but she just isn't a match in any beauty contest with Hafal's classic as she has a style-free dormobile roof and lacks the chrome trim (only fitted to the De Luxe models) and the 21 windows. Still, she is elegant enough and could be effective in exciting interest in this anglophone tip of Wales (did you know that Barry is well south of Bristol?).

It is regarded as rather unpatriotic and spoil-sport to oppose the London Olympics but I don't apologise for flagging up the enormous, truly eye-watering price which tax-payers and indeed charities (because of the huge subvention of Lottery money) are having to pay for professional athletes to meet over a few days. But rather than cavil perhaps I could just celebrate two previous Olympic games which I think provide excellent models for how these things should be done.

The 1948 London Olympics have received some patronising and sneering coverage because they cost almost nothing and the athletes were put up in army camps and had to catch a bus to the venues (thoughtfully they were given special ration cards - the same as were provided to miners and dockers). But guess what? The athletes were able to run and jump just as well as if enormous amounts of cash had been spent.

The 1996 event in Atlanta was a lot more lavish...but didn't cost the American public so much as one dime. This was because somebody worked out that the sponsorship possibilities were extensive and with ticket sales could easily meet all the costs. In fact the games made a useful profit of $10 million. Lord Coe and his chums might have benchmarked that approach instead of chucking £15 billion - yes fifteen thousand million pounds - at this glorified school sports day - sorry I meant to say "celebration of all that is good in Britain, centre of world attention, lasting legacy in East London, etc, etc".

Sunday 26 February 2012

Descending, Ascending Those Stairs

Exclusive: that try-line conversation in full -
Leigh Halfpenny: Ref, may I refer you to Berkeley's "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge" and specifically his theory of objective idealism?
David Strettle: But contrast John Locke's robust exegesis of objective reality.

Warm sunshine in February - can't quarrel with that and I spend much of the weekend outside in shorts and shirtsleeves, only ducking inside yesterday to see the drama from Twickenham.

Metaphysicians endlessly debate whether events wholly unwitnessed and unrecorded by humankind can be said to have happened at all - a conundrum raised by George Berkeley in 1710 and only made more complex by quantum mechanics where Schrödinger's cat may be alive or dead or both (look it up - I'm not going to explain).

I would gently refer these tiresome philosophers to the no-nonsense rules of the International Rugby Board: no (credible) witness so no try (sorry England), a famous victory and the Triple Crown goes to Wales. Mind, they will have to fix that line-out or the French will punish them for sure.

While I agonise in the closing minutes Mrs Blog continues to transform our garden from the quaint and aesthetic mix of flowers, terracotta and a few veg (which I used to essay when I was still doing any gardening) into an industrial food-production unit with plastic agricultural containers and similar like a proper allotment or nursery. It's evidently her unsentimental farming background and I'm not arguing as I get to eat well - and cheaply - year round. I can see excellent purple sprouting broccoli is on its way already to stave off the scurvy.

In spite of all the other fun I still have time to read a novella by Julian Barnes lent by Hafal Chair Elin Jones which I recommend. Elin says she understands the subtext of The Sense Of An Ending is an exploration of the writing of history and I think I see that; it also exposes neatly the myth of "reasoned suicide" by people of superior intellect; finally it is also a successful example of a literary device (of which I have made an idle study) where a whole lifetime is encapsulated by juxtaposing just the beginning and the end. Barnes' 150 pager sends me off to look at R S Thomas' rightly famous poem A Marriage...

We met
under a shower
of bird-notes.
Fifty years passed,
love's moment
in a world in
servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
`Come,' said death,
choosing her as his
partner for
the last dance, And she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird's grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather.

And Thomas Hardy's less successful (and slightly overplayed?) On One Who Lived And Died Where He Was Born...

When a night in November
Blew forth its bleared airs
An infant descended
His birth-chamber stairs
For the very first time,
At the still, midnight chime;
All unapprehended
His mission, his aim. -
Thus, first, one November,
An infant descended
The stairs.

On a night in November
Of weariful cares,
A frail aged figure
Ascended those stairs
For the very last time:
All gone his life's prime,
All vanished his vigour,
And fine, forceful frame:
Thus, last, one November
Ascended that figure

On those nights in November -
Apart eighty years -
The babe and the bent one
Who traversed those stairs
From the early first time
To the last feeble climb -
That fresh and that spent one -
Were even the same:
Yea, who passed in November
As infant, as bent one,
Those stairs.

Wise child of November!
From birth to blanched hairs
Descending, ascending,
Wealth-wantless, those stairs;
Who saw quick in time
As a vain pantomime
Life's tending, its ending,
The worth of its fame.
Wise child of November,
Descending, ascending
Those stairs!

But it's a bit unfair to compare one of RS's best with one of TH's slighter efforts.

Back to Barnes: if you are anxious about eternity - especially after reading the above poems - you can do worse than read his thoughtful and amusing meditation Nothing To Be Frightened Of.

Wednesday 22 February 2012


Your correspondent (looking strangely smug for no good reason at all) and the Health Minister

The launch of Time to Change Wales went smoothly last night the highlight being Dave Smith's speech (to a large crowd of the great and the good including two government Ministers and leading lights of Welsh industry) during which he started to take off his clothes...

For a few seconds I did wonder but mercifully Dave revealed that under his conservative suit and tie he was wearing a Time to Change Wales T-shirt which transformed him appropriately into a dashing Superman-like hero.

More pics here.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

In Our Own Voice

We must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent

Time to Change Wales, a service user-led campaign aiming to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, will be launched by Health Minister Lesley Griffiths AM at the Wales Millennium Centre this evening. I will be there and I will of course report back to you but meanwhile please see further details and links here.

Hafal's members, people with a serious mental illness and their families, are looking forward to joining with our partners and people across Wales to build a mass movement of service-users dedicated to removing stigma and discrimination backed up with appropriate publicity.

The jury is out on what the most effective way to reduce stigma and discrimination might be so during the campaign we will monitor our approach to see what works and what doesn't work. We will also look beyond Wales for ideas and indeed Hafal's contribution - training people with experience of mental illness to deliver training or to challenge discrimination informally - is inspired in part by the "In Our Own Voice" movement in the USA, a country with its share of discrimination historically and today but also a track record of the people affected (rather than governments or do-gooders) tackling it effectively.

What is clear is that no group which has been discriminated against has ever succeeded in tackling that discrimination without doing it for themselves, by going out and courteously but assertively challenging discrimination within their community and more widely in society.

I am certain that if the people affected choose to "come out" and demand equality then they will succeed in due course, though no doubt major breakthroughs may take longer than the three years for which this particular initiative is funded. By contrast no amount of publicity or messages delivered by well-meaning professionals (including me) will touch the problem without the active, mass support of those affected. That's the challenge in a nutshell.

The campaign, which is funded for three years by Big Lottery Fund, Comic Relief and the Welsh Government, is being supported by Hafal and our friends Gofal and Mind Cymru.

Monday 20 February 2012

Watch This Space

Once again Dave Smith has not ducked controversy in his column in the Western Mail (find it via this link) where he exposes the haphazard and inconsistent delivery of mental health services and his dependence on using his own initiative to check out treatments, side effects, and so on.

Dave describes having to do his own research on the internet in order to find out about medication (health warning here - by all means investigate treatments on the net but please don't act on your research without consulting your doctor) and to track down an organisation which could help him - in this case Hafal's good friends Bipolar UK (until recently MDF).

It is inspiring that Dave has worked these matters out for himself but disturbing to consider that many people, by reason of their illness or simply because they haven't the skills or confidence, would never have found out what treatment would be best for them and where to get help beyond the statutory sector. Hafal is working on a whole new set of guidance materials to coincide with the coming of Care and Treatment Plans under the Mental Health Measure in June this year. Watch this space!

Meanwhile for guidance on treatments for serious mental illness go here ; and for an holistic guide to recovery try this.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Devo Max

A very active weekend comprising three good walks and a vigorous session at the gym this morning including a few lengths of the outside pool in bright sunshine and intermittent shower bursts - most invigorating.

Like the Roman (or Muslims in many parts of the world today) I like to exercise, steam, bath and finish with a cold dip. Today this doesn't quite go to plan. I mentioned before that little Richard Branson has taken over running my gym and, while I'm in the steam room, he nips out of his office and closes the hot tub with an officious sign that there is too much chlorine in the water. He's gone by the time I emerge from the steam and I can't find him to suggest he runs some fresh water into the tub until balance is restored. I expect he's too busy with his trains and planes.

Later in the morning I visit the Mission Gallery where there is a remarkable installation by Keith Bayliss called "Hortus Conclusus" (picture above and more on the gallery link I've given). This is Latin for enclosed garden and is a term I recognise as a late Mediaeval metaphor for the Virgin Mary - and reading the blurb it isn't clear but that does seem to be the artist's inspiration.

But to me the piece is distinctly classical and pagan, reminiscent of the cosy little enclosed courtyards in Roman villas (peristyles is the technical term) with water features and pagan religious statuary, painting and mosaics referencing household and more universal deities. I always find them very seductive and mysterious just like Mr Bayliss' piece.

You can see peristyles of course at ground level in excavated villas in Britain, in fossilised "3D" at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and in full working order (though shorn of the pagan bits) in the Islamic world in examples from over 1,000 years ago and up to the present - alongside the bathing arrangements (see above) which that culture sensibly also inherited from the Romans while Christendom chose to stink until about 1960 when we grudgingly started to take the odd bath or shower.


Radio 4's Today programme has noted (as I had) that the term "Devo Max" (the concept of independence short of defence and foreign affairs which some Scots including their wily First Minister are looking at) reminds us of the USA's only authentic punk band Devo. I was a fan for a few weeks in 1978 during which I could be found dancing in disturbing, robotic fashion to this finest piece from their slender oeuvre Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!

Today managed to get ageing lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh on the phone to comment on the current Scottish political situation. I think I heard him say rather profoundly that Devo Max wouldn't satisfy "coz you're still in a cage - you just have to travel further to find the bars" - Alex Salmond should get them over to support his referendum campaign.

Monday 13 February 2012


Take a look at this important story about the American Psychiatric Association's new edition of their "bible" called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the next edition of which is usually referred to as the sinister-sounding "DSM-5"). What's that got to do with us, you may ask, and the answer is quite a lot because it is used in the UK and in all parts of the world as the main reference point for diagnosis of mental illness.

But it has a much more significant influence beyond defining terms. Specifically it defines what is a mental disorder and therefore what areas psychiatrists - and in effect all mental health services - can meddle in.

Hafal's good friend Professor Nick Craddock, from Cardiff University, who is one of the world’s leading experts on bipolar disorder, said DSM-5 will include more categories, which will mean more aspects of human behaviours and emotions are classified as problematic. He said this was tantamount to "medicalising normal human behaviours".

"At the moment, if someone has an episode of severe low mood, if it has certain symptoms and severity it would meet the accepted diagnostic criteria for depression. If it follows a bereavement, that would be an exclusion for depression because we would regard it as normal that someone would feel low. But in DSM-5, they are planning to remove that exclusion and it would mean someone having what most people would regard as a normal reaction would then attract the label of having a depressive illness. It seems to be an unhelpful direction of travel."

And Richard Bentall, chair of clinical psychology at the University of Bangor, said: "Like earlier editions, this version of the manual is not based on coherent research into the causes or nature of mental illness.

"It seems likely that the main beneficiaries will be mental health practitioners seeking to justify expanding practices, and pharmaceutical companies looking for new markets for their products."

But it isn't just about medicine: it's about the whole question of what is the business of mental health services. There is a considerable similarity between the American Psychiatric Association's point of view and that of those involved in mental health services who believe that they have something useful to say about how the public should lead their lives and pursue their happiness and fulfilment.

In fact those of us who provide mental health services have only a very little to offer to the public, mainly focused on helping people to recognise symptoms in themselves and others and to respond intelligently and without prejudice to these. The last thing we should seek to do is to start applying mental health terminology and treatment (however modern or progressive), let alone medicine, to matters such as uncomplicated bereavement.

The most pernicious aspect of spreading mental health services' ideas around is the disempowering nature of the language used. Where once people said they were unhappy or sad if they experienced tough times today many say they are depressed; where once people said they were anxious or worried about real problems ahead of them many now say they are stressed.

Of course some people do have difficulty with depression and stress but we should not encourage people to reach straight for such words without first using the ordinary language of unhappiness or anxiety which invites them to look for the reasons why they are sad or anxious and to look for practical solutions which may best be found not with a doctor or therapist but with the CAB, family, or friends.

The latest manifestation of this unhealthy recourse to the language of mental health services is people without any diagnosis of illness describing themselves as "a bit bipolar". Now they may have a real problem to deal with but they are unlikely to make progress in resolving it if they use that sort of language.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Yes Sir I Can Boogie

To the gym on sunny Saturday morning where I break the still surface of the deserted outside pool creating a shimmer of refracted light like a David Hockney painting (my Mum reports that his new exhibition at the Royal Academy is excellent although she says the rooms aren't big enough for some of the huge works).

The evening takes me to a friend's birthday party which goes very well. For once I strike the right balance over the six hours, spending just five minutes arguing (on my usual hobby-horse about why the oppressive BBC licence fee should be abolished, why should I pay a tax on pain of going to prison to pay for EastEnders and the Vicar of Dibley, etc, etc - all pointless as my collocutors are meeja people) and five hours and fifty-five minutes dancing. In the early hours I compare notes walking home with Mrs Blog who seems also to have enjoyed herself.

This morning the incipient cold I've had for few days has taken a fierce grip so I am attemting to swamp it with sweet tea and settling in to watch the rugby.


Cheesy Iberian disco duo Baccara is often referenced as an example of trite lyrics but I'm not so sure. There is a poetic and subtle, self-satirising quality (and certainly it captures the spirit of last night) in these words...

No Sir
I don't feel very much like talking
No, neither walking
You wanna know if I can dance
Yes Sir
Already told you in the first verse
And in the chorus
But I will give you one more chance.

The alternating "Yes Sir/No Sir" motif is especially effective, in a long tradition of teasing, "can't make my mind up" love poetry. To hear the first verse and indeed the rest of this splendid masterclass in unashamed 1970s hoopla go to this link. And note the hesitant, poorly-synchronised, and yet strangely alluring dance moves. Sensational!

Friday 10 February 2012

Captain Cat

You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I have had more interest in the naming of my new cats than in all the other posts, covering such matters of vital importance as health and social care, criminal justice, blah, blah, since the inception of this Blog.

My favourite was from Hafal's Tracy Lee who came up with Captain Cat and Mog Edwards from Under Milk Wood - D. Thomas is not my favourite poet but the names would have been fun. Both characters are also obsessed with sex which you might think would be appropriate for two tom-cats but not after their trip to the vet next Wednesday for an irreversible procedure. Ronnie and Reggie came up more than once but this could have been in bad taste I guess.

Anyway, all your suggestions were in vain as Mrs Blog vetoed the lot and called them Rhys and Huw (ginger and black notes respectively).

Thursday 2 February 2012


I was very interested in this story from Hafal's Young People's web-site...

Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane has claimed children are under threat "like never before" and there are "dark clouds ahead" because of threats to their mental and psychological wellbeing.

The Labour MP this week secured a debate in which he raised concerns about what he says are the multiple dangers to wellbeing faced by children today, ranging from poverty to self-harm and screen violence.

He told MPs: "Our children are under threat like never before. In the past, threats to children were mainly physical. Many died in infancy, when working, or of diseases. The modern threat to our children and young people is more to their mental and psychological wellbeing.

"There are dark clouds ahead and we all need to monitor this area".

For more on this including both the UK and the Welsh Governments' responses (and for lots of other excellent news and information) follow this link.

This raise two key questions: (1) Does the current social and economic climate increase mental health problems among young people? and (2) Is it appropriate to have a substantial mental health focus in supporting all young people?

No doubt there are young people and others whose mental health suffers as a consequence of unemployment, for example, and common sense tells us that a harsh external world can push more vulnerable people over the edge into serious mental health problems.

However, we should be very wary of letting mental health considerations influence wider policy to any great extent simply because we have got too much wrong already in our ideas and practice concerning mental health.

On the whole the general public has better instincts, better habits and better language for getting on with life and dealing with distressing or difficult events than the ideas purveyed by the "wellbeing" agenda which is the latest buzz in mental health services. Most anxieties and distress, even when somewhat disproportionate to the circumstances, are best addressed through practical support by family, friends, and specialist agencies such as the CAB, not through mental health services, though these should be responsive and well-resourced for those whose troubles reach the point where they are needed.

I know that those who promote the wellbeing agenda do not intend this but the consequence of implying to people that the best ports of call to deal with life's problems are mental health services is to increase the already tragic over-prescription of drugs which numb distress but disempower people from addressing their problems. Wales has one of the worst records in the world for this shocking mistreatment of patients.