Wednesday 30 October 2013


Hallowe'en reclaimed by Hafal! See more fantastic pictures from Hafal Bridgend's party here. I particularly like the look of the cakes...


I have commented on quite a few novels with a mental illness connection and here's another one...

A M Homes' May We Be Forgiven will disturb some people with a portrayal of a violent secondary character whose lawyers assert mental illness as a defence - a matter never resolved.

But don't be put off: the key character is his brother and the novel describes his progress from guilt, repression and loneliness to self-forgiveness, engagement with other people, and happiness - all the while encompassing a biting satire on modern America. Vastly funnier than the cheap shots fired at the US by British comedians who clearly don't get the place at all.

These quasi-religious but in fact earthy and relevant American novels have no match in UK or other anglophone literature because they dare to be redemptive and idealistic.

Definitely good for your mental health - I found it uplifting after the trough of my recent physical ill-health and attendant low mood.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

National Cat Day

National Cat Day, our friends in the Mental Health Foundation tell us (follow links from Hafal's popular Facebook platform), along with the information that your pet can be good for your mental health.

I agree, although in the case of cats it isn't altruism on their part, just self-interest in comfortable interaction - as illustrated above.

Calon Lân

Great interview on Calon FM with Hafal's staff who spoke about Hafal’s campaigning work, the Mental Health (Wales) Measure, and our Big Lottery-funded Short Steps project, among other topics.

Especially good to be given time to explain in simple terms the symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Also an eloquent exposition by our staff of how the Mental Health Measure came to pass because of Hafal Members' pressure.

To listen to the interview go to this link.

I'm off to North Wales myself tomorrow - a long drive and an interesting test of my recovery from the sciatic nightmare which engulfed me last summer. I'll let you know...

Saturday 26 October 2013

Gone Nutting

A little harmless law-breaking does wonders for your soul (or for your "well-being" if you must - but let's steer clear of that mental-health-speak) by reassuring yourself that you are a free spirit and enjoy independence of action which transcends even the social contract in our democratic state.

Cripes, I hear you say, where is he going on this one - announcing an anarcho-syndicalist manifesto? Or allegiance to a new Caliphate?

Not quite, reader, let me explain...

It is a fantastic year for chestnuts - a profusion of prickly casings and big, conker-sized nuts within. Mrs Blog is competing hard with a local Chinese family and the canny Polish population in West Wales to gather in the nuts available on publicly-accessible National Trust parkland. I suppose this is technically theft as I point out to Mrs B (to snorts of derision).

However, I am too lazy to pick over the same territory and so take a further moral leap (past a sign officiously forbidding public access) and then a physical one (over an 8 foot deer fence - extremely carefully in view of my back trouble) to find a remote, natural sweet chestnut orchard where you can pick up as many as you want in a minute or two - Shangri-La (or should I say Avalon?).

And what to do with the nuts? Roasting on a fire is traditional and hard to beat (prick them before roasting and serve with a glass of sherry: that's exactly what I'm doing as I write this) and I have previously mentioned using them to stuff the Christmas bird.

Mrs Blog also puts about 4 oz of cooked chestnut as an extra layer for each lb of potatoes in a Dauphinoise recipe (see this standard version not including the nuts of course - that's pure Mrs B): sheer luxury, kind to your wallet, and seasoned delightfully with the recollection of mild criminality.


My father's last words were "Gone nutting" - scrawled on a note and left on the kitchen table. It was doubtless the strain of illicitly climbing a farm gate (aged 85) into a neighbour's field to collect hazelnuts which caused his heart to finally give up. A good way to go in many respects and it would have pleased him as a lawyer with anti-establishment tendencies that he was technically both trespassing and thieving at the time.

Not that he had a spotless criminal record - he was done in 1980 for refusing to pay his TV licence during the famous campaign for S4C - but that is another story.

Although it occurs to me that perhaps we should be campaigning for a posthumous pardon...

Friday 25 October 2013

It's a Wrap!

A last call for anybody who wants to attend the finale of our Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign - the "It's a Wrap!" event in Builth Wells on 7 November. It's almost booked out but there are a few places left if you are quick - contact

Goodies on offer include sessions on...

* Getting the most out of your Care and Treatment Plan: an interactive session to help you get a plan that meets your needs

* Carers’ Forum: have your say about what Hafal can do to improve the lives of mental health carers

* Short Steps towards work: hear how our Big Lottery-funded programme has helped prepare mental health service users for the workplace

* Housing Forum: explore how we can resolve the housing-related problems of mental health service users

* Wrap! music workshops

* Users’ Rally: help us to set our campaigning objectives for the year ahead

* Gaining financial skills for life: Get top tips from the Citizens Advice Bureau about how to manage your money

* Psychological therapies today: a brief look at psychological therapies and how they can help people with a serious mental illness towards recovery

* Official Screening: Lights! Camera! ACTION! The Movie (Director's Cut)

* The Haftas (Award Ceremony) (don't ask - but I fear I have some kind of humiliating role to play in this)

You can also visit the It’s a Wrap! newsroom (digital media workshop) and help the Editor produce a round-up of news from the day, have a go at Tai Chi, hear about the latest research from the National Centre for Mental Health, and talk to our partners in the Mental Health Foundation, Bipolar UK and Diverse Cymru.

And, if have time left, you can visit our interactive Exhibition Zone where you can engage with staff and volunteers at a series of displays showcasing Hafal’s work across the 22 counties of Wales.

Oh, and it goes without saying, the trusty VW campervan will be loyally parked outside, no doubt in the rain, looking forward to a loving wax and polish before hibernation in our lock-up...or will she be needed this winter for further duties?

Incidentally she features prominently on our revised Facebook header, set in a sunny but autumnal Tenby - worth stretching the blog template a little to show you here...

Friday 18 October 2013


Generating electricity since 1889

Many of Hafal's clients - both users and carers - suffer disproportionately from increasing fuel bills. This is because many of them have low incomes and therefore heat and light represents a substantial proportion of their unavoidable expenditure. It costs just as much to keep warm whether you are rich or poor.

So what about the current hikes in fuel bills which the press and politicians are so exercised about?

I won't enter the debate about whether an enforced price freeze would be sensible or effective - you can't do anything about it right now.

Shopping around for cheaper prices is worth doing although there is some doubt about whether that is wise during the time when suppliers are matching each others rises; if you go for a variable rate you may just find that your new supplier puts up prices a few days later.

Certainly worth looking for a fixed rate - quite quickly before all the rates rise - and the best advice on this can be obtained from that annoying but ultimately informative telly consumer pundit Martin Lewis - follow this link. Incidentally this website is what I use for advice on just about anything to do with savings, utilities, etc - it's an excellent one-stop shop.

And don't forget the other side of the equation, namely reducing consumption through insulation, smart timing of heating devices, etc - if you haven't addressed those opportunities quite aggressively already you might be surprised by what you can save. But be wary of very expensive options - you might never recover the cost of new windows or a "fuel-efficient" boiler for example.

The price hikes have also drawn attention to the hidden costs loaded onto fuel bills by successive governments which have got nothing to do with market forces or the wholesale cost of economic fuels but are imposed in the name of the environment - or, to put it another way, as a subsidy for opportunistic businesses and rich people who produce ludicrously expensive electricity using windmills turning unpredictably in the wind and photocells catching those scant rays of sunshine which occasionally strike these islands.

It must be a matter of doubt whether these cranky projects make any difference to global warming in the context of massive industrialisation of the emerging third world economies. But meanwhile poor people are being beggared by the hidden costs - about £130 a year at present and this will rise to £270.

If the cost was worthwhile it would be fairer to raise the money through taxation. But some realists suggest saving the money and bringing forward commissioning of nuclear capacity on the grounds that it's clean, cheap and reliable - and Chinese businesses are queuing up to build the power stations for us.

If anybody feels strongly about having to pay these subsidies through fuel bills take a look at the Soaraway Sun's campaign here.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Institutional Bias

Pen-y-Fal hospital 1851-1996

Disturbing revelations this morning about the running down of mental health services for people with a serious mental illness in England - see the story on our Facebook platform here. Beds have been closed and those that remain are rammed so that patients frequently have to travel long distances to get a bed (extremely distressing in an emergency) or indeed don't get one at all.

Common sense tells us that you always need spare capacity - 15% is about right - because admissions can't be planned: that's the nature of mental illness. But in England at least 1,711 beds have been closed since April 2011 (277 between April and August 2013) - a staggering 9% reduction. And, remember, this is in the context of a protected NHS budget in England.

How can this be? Well, we all know, don't we? Mental health remains the Cinderella service. When health budgets come under pressure managers feel much less ill at ease if they cut mental health than they do cutting other services. And why is that? Not because they are wicked people but they assume rightly or wrongly that their political masters and the public care much less about mental health services.

And yet...

Care Minister Norman Lamb tells us "There is an institutional bias in the NHS against mental health and I am determined to end this". Good for him for being so candid and let us hope he gets the message across to NHS managers that the unfair treatment of these patients has to stop.

So, can Wales smile complacently from the sidelines? I fear not. As in England successive Ministers have proclaimed varying degrees of priority for mental health services and there is useful legislation and many of the right words in the new strategy Together for Mental Health.

But there is nothing to suggest that Welsh mental health services are superior to those in England - indeed it is pretty obvious that modernisation in terms of hospital care lags behind - not the same thing as bed capacity but still a significant deficiency.

One of the weaknesses of the Welsh strategy is that it is light on prescribed levels of service - ie concrete things you can count in terms of what is available. Rather the strategy concentrates on "outcomes" ie targets in terms of improvement of mental health. Nothing wrong with that but it may not be enough to persuade hard-nosed NHS and council commissioners and providers to give due weight to resourcing mental health services.

It is a kind of acknowledgement of this that the Welsh Government remains committed to ring-fencing NHS mental health funding - a crude, unsexy instrument but, in the end, easily the most important part of the Welsh strategy if you are a realist. We badly need to make the ring-fence work effectively through transparent reporting - it remains near impossible to hold the Local Health Boards to account for the ring-fence, something we must focus on relentlessly.

You bet mental health services will be run down if we don't keep right on the case.

Monday 14 October 2013

Llanelli Beach

The very best thing for my bad back is to keep moving, especially walking and swimming. So off to Llanelli yesterday to knock out 10,000 paces on the sea-front at what I didn't know was called "Llanelli Beach" although I have visited many times before.

Everybody is smiling and happy, not just because they always are in this curious bit of urban Carmarthenshire but because the underdog Scarlets unexpectedly walloped Harlequins the day before in the Heineken Cup.

We had lunch in the Coast Path Visitor Centre - about £5, not bad and any deficiency made up for by the view over to the Gower (left), the coast up towards Kidwelly (right) and the Whiteford Point Lighthouse just visible on the horizon (middle), which I mean to visit some time - it is accessible at low tide, remarkably as it seems so far out when the water is in.

The water is very clean these days and there is commendably little modern detritus on the shore but a huge quantity of industrial debris including furnace clinker and building materials - I liked the rounded "boulders" in which you can see laid bricks...

Swimming for now is confined to my Health Club and in any case never suited to this spot...


Just finished Ban This Filth! Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive , a cheap shot editorially (because sneering and dismissive) at the legendary clean-up-TV campaigner but worth reading for what Mrs W actually wrote.

It comes as a surprise to find how flirtatious she was with her opponents in the BBC and elsewhere - evidently a sensuous sort of person who knew what she was talking about when it came to "adult" themes.

Of course much of what she said, especially about homosexuality, looks other-worldly or prejudicial now but her attack on pornography still resonates. She didn't see it from a feminist perspective but rather from concern about the corruption of young people - which is definitely the leading argument nowadays. Incidentally she commanded a lot of support in Wales where the influence of Nonconformism was still strong at that time.

I suppose she represents a classic case of being anti-intellectual and, though she was wrong about many things, she comes out rather well in exposing the self-righteousness of establishment intellectualism.

Interesting that Malcolm Muggeridge took up her cause in the 1970s and was widely mocked for it. He had visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s and reported what he saw - millions of people being deliberately and unnecessarily starved to death. Most soi-disant intellectuals of that time rubbished what he said - and their delusional conviction carried on in spite of the evidence until all but a few "tankies" grasped the reality as the unmistakable news came in from East Berlin (1953), Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968).

We really do need people to challenge the "intellectuals" and one of the qualifications for doing so is being prepared to be ridiculed.

Muggeridge is no hero, mind. He was a spectacularly brazen and persistent botherer of women in his private life while espousing Mrs Whitehouse, Mother Teresa, etc in public...

Friday 11 October 2013

Dynamic and Flourishing

Two classicists and our Assembly liaison specialist Junaid Iqbal

A great day yesterday at the Senedd where we celebrated World Mental Health Day in style with a crowd of 70 plus including the Minister of Health Mark Drakeford AM, many other Assembly Members, dignitaries and user and carer activists - all there to mark the conclusion of our best ever campaign Lights! Camera! ACTION! run by mental health service users and carers and supported by Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation.

The Minister tells me that he is also a classicist (I didn't know that) which prompts me to suggest that with our infinitely relevant and applicable (as opposed to completely impractical and irrelevant) education together we could sort out all the problems of mental health services. He is too polite to point out that he went on to qualify as a Social Worker (and the rest - he's a Professor of Social Policy at Cardiff University) whereas I am still winging it on Horace, Euripides, and a gradually receding recollection of irregular Greek verbs (note to self - must relearn these).

At today's event we presented the Minister with our Campaign Report which points local services and national policy makers to good practice in mental health service delivery across Wales – and tells them what changes we want to see in services. The message is there's more to do – including...

• We want all service users to have an excellent and ambitious Care and Treatment Plan which identifies long and short-term goals in all relevant areas of life

• We also want a turnaround in the approach of commissioners so that all services are planned in response to needs identified in Care and Treatment Plans (as opposed to the other way round)

• We need a Welsh solution for giving control of resources to service users and carers

• We also need to evolve new policy and legislation in the next 5-10 years not only to provide greater empowerment to service users and carers but to address inequalities in all areas of life including training, employment, physical health, housing, etc.

A huge thank you to the thousands of people who took part in the Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign including...

• The 2000 Members of the partner organisations

• Over 3000 service users and carers using partners' services who took part in local film projects or made individual film blogs at the projects

• Many thousands of people who attended the 22 county events, the launch of the campaign by Health and Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford at the Assembly, and the Royal Welsh Show event

• Over 5000 people who followed and interacted with the campaign via our online social media channels (including over 2000 new followers of the campaign on Hafal’s Facebook platform)

• The 40,000 people who have received a copy of the Care and Treatment Planning guide (provided on request to service users, carers and professionals).

A big thank you too to Emma and the rest of the crew who put on such a spectacular show yesterday.

See more reportage and pictures on the campaign's dynamic and flourishing Facebook platform.

Not sure why I was remonstrating with the charming and blameless lady from ITV?!

Animal Magic

Finally got round to downloading pictures from my holiday last week. I am still angry at missing the great sunshine this summer (how quickly will the rest of you forget how fantastic it was and revert to grumbling about the weather?) and it was a bit of a challenge to find colourful subjects to photograph now that most of the floral variety has passed.

But try these from the beach at Caerfai, a mile south of St David's...

And see my David Attenborough-style film of a heron taking off and landing at the other end of the beach. Twitchers will no doubt tell me it's common but I haven't seen a heron hunting at low tide like this...

Meanwhile back home we are dealing with two other life-forms - cats and the fleas which have infested them on and off throughout the aforementioned torrid summer.

In the old days you could buy a deadly spray from the hardware shop (was it DDT or Agent Orange, not sure?) one idle squirt of which would eliminate the whole teeming mass of nasty insects and they wouldn't come back for months.

Today the odds have evened up considerably. The feeble chemical still legally available (some kind of herbal dilution - so that's not going to work, is it?) is virtually a waste of time (the chemist admits frankly). The best approach is to apply the Dyson meticulously every two days, treat the moggies themselves with one of those spot chemicals on the back of their necks, and let them go around attracting and so killing the remaining fleas.

This takes some nerve as all one's instincts are to banish the cats from the soft furnishings: ours were evicted to the top of the freezer until we learnt the hard way that they can help you clear up the problem...


We learn today that elephants are smarter than monkeys - see the story here - which has surprised the scientists. Well it doesn't surprise me nor surely anybody else who learnt all about animals from Johnny Morris on the BBC in the 1960s and 70s.

Morris (a Newport man) understood that animals are profoundly boring for the most part so he made them interesting by giving them funny voices and a script which he delivered himself. Quite accurately his monkey voice and script made the brutes appear idiotic and annoying whereas the elephants were a bit slow but sage and measured.

Needless to say the Beeb has destroyed the archive of these brilliant shows and we now endure an avalanche of humourless nature programmes in which the animals have nothing useful to say but go about their business rather disgustingly - mainly eating (or having sex with) each other and when they are not doing that they are defecating. I know, that is nature, but I'm turning over.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Onwards and Upwards

Here's a sneak preview of some of the conclusions of our User and Carer Panel in their report at the end of this summer's Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign (to be published tomorrow when it is launched at our World Mental Health Day event attended by the Minister and other AMs and dignitaries along with a big crowd of user and carer activists - more on this in due course)...

The feedback demonstrates how as service users and carers we feel that while there is sound legislation and policy in place, now is the time to follow through and deliver responsive and empowering services...

• We want all service users to have an excellent and ambitious Care and Treatment Plan which identifies long and short-term goals in all relevant areas of life.

• We also want a turnaround in the approach of commissioners so that all services are planned in response to needs identified in Care and Treatment Plans (as opposed to the other way round).

But more radical change is needed even in the medium term. We cannot simply rely on the implementation of the new law and policy to address the huge inequalities faced by people with a mental illness and their carers...

• We need a Welsh solution for giving control of resources to service users and carers and this is part of a wider debate about access and choice when it comes to health and social services.

• We also need to evolve new policy and legislation in the next 5-10 years not only to provide greater empowerment to service users and carers but to address inequalities in all areas of life including training, employment, physical health, housing, etc

... so they are truly thinking ahead!

There is plenty more in their report about the immediate challenges of implementing the Measure and the Strategy but they are dead right to point out as well that the present legislation and high level policy, sound though they may be as far as they go, will not be sufficient to get us onwards and upwards over the coming decade.

Let's hear it one more time - we will never achieve really excellent services until we leave behind the "take it or leave it" approach and give users and carers choice which keeps providers on their toes.

A Welsh solution is needed for this which will have to embrace more than just mental health services. Current arrangements for choice - really only in social care, not health - are limited and very hard to navigate.

But the universal, legally-supported Care and Treatment Plans offer an ideal platform for choice and control by patients - so why not pilot an approach to patient choice and control in the mental health field?

It would make a change to see mental health services take the lead instead of stumbling along behind...