Wednesday 26 June 2013

Newport, Newport, Newport

Nothing ever really happens around here
Just smoking, fighting, and drinking beer

Newport's own rap satirists Goldie Lookin Chain were proved wrong yesterday - it was all happening because of another successful visit for the Lights! Camera! ACTION! "motorcade of cinematic thrills" - camper-van and mobile studio - to the city including a forthright plea by Rachel Ayriss for basic information to be provided to carers telling them what's available locally - see the film here.

For Hafal's guide for carers follow this link.

It is quite difficult to find repeatable lyrics from GLC but I like this...

Twinned with Guangxi, Province in China
There's no province finer
Josie D'Arby's from Newport
Yes, it's strange, we didn't know either...
Thank you Wikipedia
Let's say some more
Newport, Newport, Newport.

Monday 24 June 2013

Capital Gain

A lot of blokes in a garden - including Mark Drakeford AM (left) and Kevin Brennan MP (front right)

A great Lights! Camera! ACTION! event in Cardiff on Friday and the sun shone unexpectedly making the garden setting at St Fagan's a real delight.

Mark Drakeford tipped up in his capacity as the local Assembly Member - showing great interest and commitment to the Campaign which he had launched in his ministerial capacity just last month - and gave us a great interview which you can see here.

Local MP Kevin Brennan also came to lend support and gave a useful insight into the problems of employment assessments for people with a mental illness: see the interview here.

Gender balance restored

A reminder that the Campaign is calling for...

• high quality Care and Treatment Plans for everyone receiving secondary mental health services
• full choice and control for service users on the content of Care and Treatment Plans
• prompt delivery of quality mental health services in response to those Plans and to the needs of people with a serious mental illness using primary care services
• further reform of services which increases service user and carer control over the choice and commissioning of services
• a longer-term move towards full equality in Welsh society for service users and carers including equal access to health and social care, housing, income, education, and employment.

Our iconic VW camper-van and mobile studio are on location at 22 local county events taking place throughout the summer and the Campaign will conclude with a red-carpet event at the Senedd on World Mental Health Day in October.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Military Duffers and Clerical Boobies

Dancing Baroque-style (but without a wig) last night in Newton House

My Mum lent me and I've just finished reading Rodney Bolt's The Impossible Life of Mary Benson about the eponymous wife of the Victorian Archbishop of Canterbury Edward Benson and mother of six including E F Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia novels.

The Archbish almost certainly suffered from bipolar disorder and most of the children had serious mental health problems, particularly Margaret who spent long periods in fairly benign (and incredibly expensive) asylums.

Mary herself was not ill but her life was made "impossible" by the fact that she was betrothed to the future Archbishop while still a child when she was in fact gay and actively so throughout her adult life, something which troubled her at first but which she reconciled with her deep Anglican faith by reasoning admirably that her physical relationships must be okay with God as they were manifestations of love and didn't do anybody any harm. And several of her children were also gay and apparently at ease with that if not with many other aspects of their lives.

The Archbishop went along with this so long as Mary's partners didn't annoy him - some did. When Edward dropped dead suddenly Mary lived with Lucy Tait, daughter of another Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mary Benson

The book is most fascinating because the author resists applying any modern labels or commentary either to the family's mental health challenges or to homosexuality. Rather their own words are simply reported, giving an entirely different slant to these matters and not in some respects an inferior one to today's - essentially they accepted how they were, saw only the consequent practicalities and had no interest in the opinion or strictures of wider society or of the law. This was the privileged perspective of a wealthy family of course. See Hafal's leaflet on Bipolar Disorder here.

For all that it was difficult to enjoy the book because all the members of this family were spectacularly self-centred, self-regarding and opinionated to the point of being intolerably irritating. I can imagine no worse experience than spending the weekend with them, rather in the way that I wouldn't have wanted to spend time with Charles Dickens in spite of his brilliance and humanity.

To understand just how annoying our 19th century forbears could be read Lytton Strachey's wicked set of potted biographies Eminent Victorians.

No, much better to set the dial on your time-machine 150 years earlier, not forgetting to pack a powdered wig in order to fit in unobtrusively...

Last night I did just that but forgot the wig - attending a Baroque soirĂ©e at Lord Dynevor's pile Newton House under the glare of portraits of the assorted military duffers and clerical boobies (no match for the formidable Rev Benson, inventor of the Christmas service of nine lessons and carols) who were the successive Barons - none of whom seems to have lived up to the glory days of their ancestor Sir Rhys ap Thomas, possibly because they didn't refresh their genes or bank account by marrying clever or rich women (the secret of the success of the British aristocracy through the ages).

The house, a fairly hideous Victorian gothic blot covering an 18th century neoclassical gem (there's my prejudice again), is now in the hands of the dreaded NT but this event was organised in support of the excellent Marie Curie Foundation and made full use of the elegant interior.

The dancing was fun but the best bit for me was our own local soprano Julia Jones singing Purcell, Monro, Arne, and best of all Handel. Also I have to admit enjoying the Ave Maria played by Gerald Jones (piano) and Abigail Hammett (violin) - actually a combination of Bach (early 18c. Baroque) and Gounod (19c. sentimentalist). So, there you are, the two eras working together.


Another recent jaunt was to see the Mousetrap in Swansea - pretty fair rubbish not up to Agatha Christie's usual mediocre standard. Search me how it's lasted 60 years in the West End - possibly by playing it much more for laughs. Of course I won't tell you the plot but I was intrigued to find that it relied on a flabby and faintly offensive take on mental illness. But I enjoyed sitting outside the Swansea Grand in the interval...

And I'm pleased with this photo from Laugharne last weekend...

And thanks to Dan and his Breton partner Claudine for playing at Mrs Blog's big birthday party...

Friday 21 June 2013

Catching Up!

Oh dear I have neglected this Blog for quite a while so here is a rapid catch-up...

The camper van and Mobile Studio rolled into Caerphilly last week - see the latest news on the campaign here and take a look specifically at the film of the event here where Ruth Squires makes the immensely practical point that people need help and contact at weekends.

It's not rocket science but it is all too easy for services to forget that Sunday in particular is a potential time of strain where enforced solitude and lack of opportunity to engage with other people can make it a long wait until Monday.

Meanwhile take a look at the Mental Health Foundation's latest piece of thoughtful research on the baby boomer generation here. I was on the panel which created the report (though credit really to their excellent research team). I'm no baby boomer (too young) and it can be difficult to work up sympathy for the generation which stereotypically enjoyed the benefits of post-War largesse and then got out before the bill arrived.

In fact this is a false picture as so many people didn't get the free tuition fees and the rest of those sort of goodies. Read the report even if you are younger because it helps understand the issues which we will all face growing older now that we are in increasing denial of the idea of being old at all (mainly a healthy perspective, mind you).

More follows soon...

Friday 7 June 2013


Lee McCabe (left) shooting the breeze yesterday with the S Wales Constabulary

Inspirational film blog by Lee McCabe from yesterday's Lights! Camera! ACTION! event in Merthyr.

Lee is himself an inspiration: his story, which is eloquently set out in Twelve Lives, shows how people can progress from the shocking place which is the first onset of serious illness to personal success and then go on to make a big difference to the lives of those who face the same starting point. Lee does this in two ways - directly as a Recovery Practitioner with Hafal and indirectly by engaging with our successful campaigns including the epic struggle which brought about the Mental Health Measure.

Cool shades too, Lee.

And back in 2010... Lee and Jonathan Morgan AM marking the Royal Assent to the Legislative Competence Order which paved the way to the historic new Welsh law

Tuesday 4 June 2013


Prof David Kupfer, Pittsburgh University

Really interesting discussion this morning between Radio 4's John Humphrys and Professor David Kupfer, the author of DSM5 - the "psychiatrists' bible" here (2hrs 36mins in). The prof was defending DSM5 from the widespread criticism that it invites psychiatry to interfere with normal feelings and behaviour like grief, sadness and childhood naughtiness.

He half convinces me that you can't blame his book if it's misused by practitioners but the fact remains that this text can be used to dress up normal conditions with fancy diagnoses.

And it is not just a matter of interfering with normal conditions - it's also about lazily over-simplifying real conditions.

Many people have quite severe symptoms of mental illness for which there is no easy diagnosis, still less a meaningful label. In these cases it is necessary for clinicians to take time to analyse the set of symptoms and carefully explain them back to the patient and work through options to treat them whether with psychological or medical treatments or life changes which can alleviate the problems. This takes time.

An alternative approach is to get rid of the patient quickly by deploying a simplistic and vaguely scientific-sounding diagnosis like "Generalised Anxiety Disorder" and giving them a prescription for "happy pills".

If you are told by a doctor that you have G.A.D. how sure can you be that he/she doesn't really mean "I don't know what is wrong with you and I haven't time to find out. In fact I have a private consultation in two minutes time where I will get £300 for ten minutes work so that an overworked high flier can blag some Ritalin in order to shut their boisterous toddler up (diagnosis "Conduct Disorder"). Here are some pills and now please get out of my office"?

Monday 3 June 2013

Yet Another Ceredigion Libel

June at last and weather to match!

A good year for buttercups as you can see from my snap taken Sunday afternoon. Everybody knows the buttercup test - you hold the flower under the chin and if it reflects yellow then the person likes butter. It always reflects yellow because everybody likes butter, don't they?

But do you know the origin of the buttercup? Some fairies (members of the Tylwyth Teg) stopped a man from Tregaron carrying a sack of gold coins and asked for alms. The man refused so as he passed the fairies surreptitiously cut a little hole in his sack and the coins sprinkled out as he walked and that is how buttercups came to be.

And the bluebells have stayed out late (picture from the same walk below). Unlucky to take them into your house, they say, but it isn't true that it's illegal to pick them in spite of what some busybodies tell you.