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Dear Mr Farmer,

You have just been awarded a CBE. You have just been voted most admired charity leader of the year and seen the findings of the task force you led adopted by the NHS as grounds for hugely increased investment in mental health care. Your career as a charity bureaucrat is beginning to look rather spectacularly successful.

I remember the beginning of your rise to prominence. In the early 2000s you were recruited as director of public affairs by the then National Schizophrenia Fellowship, an organization founded by one, John Pringle, in 1971 to campaign on behalf of people afflicted with schizophrenia. It had formerly been run largely by parents and volunteers. In 2001 you and Cliff Prior, your boss (also since awarded a CBE), staged a palace coup, railroading a change of name to Rethink on the grounds that the presence of the word schizophrenia in the original title attracted stigma and deterred both potential funders and people who might actually benefit from the organisation’s help. I use the expression “coup” because only 14% of the total membership voted; those who favoured change amounted to only 9%. A majority of members did not like either of your proposed alternatives, Reason and Rethink, and only 5% of total membership approved of Rethink, the name chosen by the Board of Trustees. A member of NSF staff at the time told me that “the balance of power within the organization had shifted: the professionals had gained the upper hand.”

I mention this because it does not seem to fit very comfortably with your standard rhetoric about consulting the people most concerned, carers and those they care for: the sick, now known, I notice with horror, as “experts in lived experience.” But right from the beginning you have adopted the woolly and evasive jargon of political correctness with gusto. “The ethos of optimistic realism” was the empty slogan you coined in your campaign to change the National Schizophrenia Fellowship’s name. And there were many other semi-literate horrors you perpetrated in your campaign literature, which I kept for many years but have now, unfortunately, thrown away.

You are not alone of course in your enthusiasm for the new sub-Orwellian mentalhealthspeak. Doctor the language and all that is disorderly, unsavoury, difficult, embarrassing: all that tends to suggest that anyone might belong to a category of being that might be perceived as inescapably inferior must be eliminated. Thus, illness has been abolished; we are all on “journeys of recovery,” as the CEO of our local mental health trust wrote to me à propos of my son’s schizophrenia some ten years ago now. Now we are all more well or less well, just as we are less able to stand rather than unable to stand or just older rather than old or elderly. And if you query the sense of talking about recovering from afflictions from which recovery in the normal sense is not possible, you will be told that actually recovery does not mean what you thought it meant: it means rather whatever you want it to mean. In effect, if I say I have recovered or you say I have recovered, then I have.

Suspiciously convenient, one might think: sort of useful for bureaucrats who love positive outcomes and ticking boxes. Is this perhaps what you meant by the “ethos of optimistic realism”?

The losers in all this: the people like my son who suffer from schizophrenia and other serious mental illness. You of course do not talk about mental illness any more. Your talk is all about mental health problems: how one in four people in the population will suffer from a mental health problem in the course of a year, which is a statistic that only makes sense if taken to include Monday morning blues, disappointment in love, missed job opportunities, bereavement and many of the things which through most of human history have been regarded as routine life experiences. You talk endlessly about psychological services, about making talking therapies more widely available. Very likely these things help with the kind of existential problems life throws in our paths… But, even in France, where talking therapies have been in regular use with schizophrenia, psychiatrists will tell you they rarely work in psychotic illness.

You wheel out Stephen Fry and Jonny Benjamin as examples of how people can recover from psychotic illness. I do not in any way underestimate Stephen Fry’s suffering when he is ill, but there is plenty of evidence that people with bi-polar disorder can function very well between bouts of illness. Even Jonny Benjamin – admirably courageous young man that he is – is very much the exception rather than the rule where schizophrenia is concerned.

Your achievement in changing the name of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship to Rethink has ensured that for ten years and more the staff have scarcely allowed the word schizophrenia to pass the barrier of their teeth. Terry Hammond, one of the organisation’s trustees, has himself written: “Schizophrenia is fast becoming the neglected illness and all this is happening in the name of recovery – empowerment – independence…I believe there is no comparison between the life-changing effects caused by schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness…Most people who develop schizophrenia do not go on to live ‘normal lives.’ Most are unable to work. Few get married or successfully socially integrate nor do they become prime ministers, spin doctors, comic geniuses or award-winning actors…too many policy makers and politicians have been taken in by the ideological claptrap which has been preached over the years by the mental health extremists…empowerment, independence, normalisation, recovery: all worthy aspirations, yes, but in the hands of politicians and Primary Care Trusts, they are simply excuses for delivering community care on the cheap…most of those who are campaigning at this level are individuals with depressive and anxiety disorders – not schizophrenia.”

John Pringle in the 1971 letter to The Times that led to the foundation of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship wrote that, while some people may make a partial recovery from schizophrenia, thousands “level off like my son at a low level of adaptation, physically fit and normal-looking to a casual outsider, but without application or anything that can be called will-power, and finding most inter-personal relations almost impossibly difficult… they are incapable of looking after themselves without special guidelines and supervision…”

They need help even with the daily routines of life and they are not getting it.

When are you going to acknowledge your debt? Your career has been founded in a sense on schizophrenia, but through your uncritical espousal of the fashionable discourse of the care services you have contributed in no small degree to silencing the few voices that once spoke out for schizophrenia.

 

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If I were a Greek watching the coverage of the Greek crisis by the British media I would be inclined to believe that someone in Britain was orchestrating a massive campaign to ensure a No vote in our own referendum on EU membership by blackening its name for causing the ruin of Greece. Its accusers range from The Spectator‘s Charles Moore (poor little Greece, July 4) to David Davis MP (he would, wouldn’t he), Paul Mason of Channel 4 News, who sees pro-Syriza demonstrators as “ordinary Greeks” and pro-EU ones as “cashmere-wearing nouveaux riches, “ and Jenni Russell in The Times (July 2) who thinks that Syriza, “not yet corrupted…is the country’s best hope for genuine change.”

Or is it Putin, who wants a warm sea port and free supplies of feta cheese? Remember Encounter!

Jenni Russell does at least have the wisdom to see that the real problem is Greece’s political culture: in effect, bad habits learnt as the only available means of protection against the arbitrary and despotic rule of the Ottoman sultans under whose yoke they lived, along with much of the Balkans and the Middle East, for several centuries. The state is used as a mechanism for enriching “your” people, through dispensing patronage, in the form of jobs, contracts and so on. Samaras, the last PM, visited by a proud schoolfriend when first elected in 1981, was found to be going through lists of constituents to whom he had promised jobs: something that all MPs have done. A regional police commander, for example, will receive “sweeteners” (a lamb at Easter and Aug 15th perhaps) from shepherds who twice a year pass through his territory on their transhumant journey, as an insurance against trouble he might otherwise cause them for trespassing on other farmers’ land.

Since the state is not to be trusted you learn to rely on family and long-established networks of favours given and received or on outright bribery. If you want a favourable outcome in a lawsuit you pay the judge. If you want your tax bill reduced you pay the tax man…if you pay tax at all. Out of 800,000 registered freelance professionals (this includes doctors, lawyers, language school owners), 500,000 claim not to earn more than €8,000, the threshold for income tax. If you want to pass an exam you buy the questions in advance. I was investigated twice by London University’s chief exam security officer on suspicion of selling A-level questions.

There is a finely calibrated vocabulary to describe all these gradations of what we think of as dishonesty. We know we are doing wrong, in a sense, but volevòmaste. We make a sort of accommodation with our conscience; after all everyone else is doing it too. But people, like foreign journalists who cannot speak Greek, do not see any of this and therefore fail to understand what the Greeks themselves call the “Greek reality,” the ellinikì pragmatikòtita . Yet this is what has brought about Greece’s undoing. It is no fault of the Germans, who also, let us not forget, have voters to think about before lavishly disbursing their money.

As for the idea that Syriza “is the country’s best hope for genuine change,” well, that is a bit of a teaser. Schauble, Germany’s economics minister, found that negotiating with Tsipras and co was like dealing with student activists, which is exactly what Tsipras has been – all his life. In fact his government has just reinstated a law that allows student organisations to control universities and students to remain students for years without passing their exams, while himself personally intervening to prevent the introduction of electronic voting at elections. So much harder, after all, to intimidate the reluctant than it is when having a show of hands at the factory gate.

The Kathimerini newspaper recently carried an article about tsapatsoulià, that characteristic Greek way of doing business: botch it up, make it up, improvise something at the last minute. It is a word of Turkish origin. Once, trying to replace a spark plug, I showed the old one to the spare parts man. He returned with one plainly not the same. When I demurred, he replied, “It’s a spark plug, isn’t it?” A friend trying to get noticed by the post office clerk leaned over the counter to see what she was doing. She had a bowl of lentils on her lap which she was cleaning. She held it out. “Do you have a family?” she said belligerently.

I suspect Tsipras went into those negotiations in rather the same way, with ill-thought out proposals written on the back of a cigarette packet. No wonder the Troika lost patience with him, especially when the minute he left room he accused them of blackmail and criminality. And why would they trust him when he comes from a political tradition that has been resolutely anti-US, anti-NATO and, latterly, anti-EU? Indeed, why should one believe that he went into the negotiations with any kind of sincerity when failure allows him to preserve the “purity” of his ideological commitments, which seems to be closer to his heart than the long-term interest of the nation? And you would think that his ideological references might give his English fans some pause: the Communist Party of the 1940s with its kangaroo People’s Courts and summary executions of class enemies and its incessant attacks on other Resistance groups of different political persuasion.

People are suffering, that is for sure – though let us not examine the veracity of the statistics too closely – and you can certainly argue about the wisdom of the Troika’s proposed solutions to the Greek problem, but to suggest they caused it is both absurd and extraordinarily irresponsible. Six months with Tsipras’s hand on the till have made matters very much worse.

At the risk of repeating things I have said about Greece in previous posts…

Paul Mason is Channel 4 News chief economics editor. He, along with other Leftie reporters like Patrick Cockburn (The Independent, Feb 1st) and Serge Halimi (Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2015), has swallowed the Greeks’ own self-serving view of the jam they find themselves in. We are not to blame. It’s the Germans.

Paul Mason obviously knows nothing about Greece. This has has been clear throughout his coverage of the current crisis and Syriza’s coming to power. He clearly does not speak Greek and is not aware of the extent to which he cannot see behind the language he does not understand. He re-iterated his version of events on The Spectator‘s Diary page on February 28th in a piece which contained a curious little passage in which he referred to his name appearing on a TV monitor in Greek letters: Πωλ Μεισον (sic). What was the point of this? one wonders. Did he think it lent authenticity to his reporting? Or was it a not uncommon kind of patronising – these funny little people with their quaint language and odd way of spelling foreign names?

Be that as it may, in an embarrassing interview for Channel 4 News with the German deputy finance minister on Feb 23rd (embarrassing not least because unbelievably rude and aggressive) he accused Germany of having twice overthrown Greek democracy. The first time was presumably meant to be in 1941 when German troops invaded Greece. But at the time Greece was not a democracy. It was an openly Fascist dictatorship under General Metaxas, who had seized power by coup d’état in 1936.

Mason also suggested to the minister that he could hardly ignore the “moral authority” of Manolis Glezos, an old-time Communist and now MEP for Syriza, who as a teenager tore down the Nazi flag from a corner of the Acropolis. But Glezos, for all his teenage bravery, has no moral authority. He has made a career out of that act, posing as a kind of political Zorba, ferocious and unbowed in his heroic and solitary rebellion against God knows what. He was honoured by a Soviet postage stamp in the 1950s, if that gives you some idea of the role he has played. And he blames the Germans – still unrepentant Fascists in his view – who owe Greece anyway, in payment for the terrible sufferings they caused in WWII. They may not have won that war, but they are hell-bent on establishing a new kind of reich under the guise of the European Union…

The second overthrow of Greek democracy of course is supposedly now, by the imposition of the conditions of the EU bail-out. “What do you say to the Greeks whose democracy you just trashed?” Mason asked the head of the Euro Group. But no one is trashing Greek democracy, if they ever truly had one. They have trashed it themselves. As a Greek friend said to me on the phone the other night: “It has always been like this, since the beginnings of the Greek state 150 years ago. How can we change this mentality?”

Greece is a clientelist state. Government, public office, is a means for enriching oneself, one’s clan, one’s supporters. When there is a change of government, the incomers adopt the same approach; it is our turn now. Result: no one trusts the state and they are right not to.

I have 80 sheep. I declare 350 for EU subsidy. Lots of other livestock farmers are doing the same. The subsidy man knows the score. Why does not he say anything? “Ton taïzome. We feed him.” Which means a lamb at Easter and August 15th and 50kg of feta cheese in the summer. He is happy. I am happy.

800,000 tax payers claim to be self-employed professionals. These include lawyers, doctors, language-school owners and such like. 500,000 of them claim not to earn more than €8,000 per annum, the threshold for income tax.

The introduction of the euro in 2001 made the giving of receipts fairly common. Before that, if you asked for one, people would look at you as if you had perpetrated some terrible insult.

If you want a favourable judgement in a lawsuit, you pay the public prosecutor. If you want the doctors to look at you in a public hospital, you had better hand over the proverbial fakeláki, the little packet with cash in it.

I am not making these things up. I have lived them.

The last Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, was the youngest MP ever when first elected to the Parliament in 1981. A proud school friend went to visit him, expecting to find him busy with affairs of state. He was shocked to find him going through lists of people to whom he had promised jobs in return for votes – something which has been common practice since the inception of the Greek state, whence the size of the civil service, equal to that of France, with more than six times the population.

How else could the finance ministry possibly need 600 cleaners? They have been camping outside since they lost their jobs because of the cruel Germans and their bail-out conditions. Syriza is going to re-employ them.

And the billions that the EU has poured in since 1981 through various development funds. How much of that money has found its way into private pockets? I have seen numerous small-scale rural development projects in remote mountain areas funded under the Leader programme: access tracks to ancient monuments that peter out round the corner, old footpaths cleared perhaps once and left to fall into ruin…Did anyone ever come and check whether the money had been properly spent?

And the gigantic scheme to dam the Achelöos river for hydro-electricity and divert its waters through tunnels from its mountain gorge to irrigate the plain of Thessaly: a scheme that dragged on for more than twenty years in contravention of numerous important international environmental accords and of decisions by Greece’s own supreme court, only to be abandoned in the end. At what cost, both to the Greek exchequer and to the EU, although the latter eventually pulled out?

None of this can be blamed on the Germans or anyone else. When anything goes wrong in Greece, it is always the ‘foreign finger,’ to kséno dháktilo, that gets the blame. It used to be the Turks, then the British, then the US; now it is the Germans. If Mason could read Greek, he could have read an article in Kathimerini on Feb 8th, which told the story of a similar Greek debt crisis in 1897, equally blamed on foreigners.

This is the Syriza line and Paul Mason has swallowed it, as did Paul Cockburn in The Independent. That Greeks are suffering as a result of the bail-out conditions is undeniable, though it is a city rather than a village problem. And I strongly suspect that part of the responsibility lies with the way that previous governments have responded to the crisis, introducing heavy-handed measures in an entirely characteristic manner without proper forethought or preparation: what the Greeks call tsapatsoulià – both the word and the bad habit borrowed, like so many others, from the Ottoman Turks who ruled their country for 600 years.

Mason talks about Glezos “defying the rule of law in 1941.” What has that got to do with it? It is unforgivably offensive to suggest that there is the remotest connection between Germany’s influence in the eurozone and anything that it might have perpetrated during WWII. “It’s a shabby time in the eurozone,” Mason concludes. The only shabby elements I can detect are the Greeks’ refusal to face up to their responsibilities and Mason’s arrogance in playing the role of ill-informed inquisitor rather than reporter.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

First, full marks to Sajid Javid, the new Secretary of State for Culture, for telling Asian and other immigrants that they have a responsibility when living in England to learn the language and adapt as far as possible to English ways. Good for him for having the courage to say this: you live here, vote here, use the education and health systems and many other services and institutions which basically you have not paid for, fought for, struggled for. You can’t go on as if you had never left the Punjab. And good manners require it. When in Rome, they used to say…

Well, you are in Rome. You should try to be as English as possible, to fit in, rather than make demands for special treatment all the time, for special dispensations for your children, and going out of your way to look as different and as foreign as possible. There are of course immigrants from all over the place, but no one makes more noise and causes more trouble, out of all proportion to their numbers and importance, than the immigrants from Muslim countries. We are told repeatedly that the noisy ones are unrepresentative, are not the majority. Wouldn’t it be nice, then, if some imams or so-called Islamic scholars were to speak out against the atrocities committed by people claiming to be their co-religionists like Boko Haram or the murderers of nurses trying to eliminate polio in Pakistan or seizing hostages on oil wells in North Africa or advocating the stoning of women or their exclusion from education  or just the bombing of ordinary people in ordinary European cities? What a welcome development it would be if such grandiloquently named outfits as the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain were to recommend to those it claims to represent that they try to be as much like everybody else as possible rather than the reverse, try to fit in rather than being as contrary as possible, rather than going out of their way to look and behave as differently as possible. Oh, they whinge about Islamophobia and discrimination, but have you ever tried to walk, say, down Golbourne Road in London’s Portobello district after prayers when the pavement is packed with aggressive-looking men determined to make themselves look as separate and as unfriendly as possible?

You have to ask, why, if the English way (and other people’s too) of doing things is so distasteful to them, they still remain here. If the reason is that in spite of their distaste they find it rather more convenient to be here than in their countries of origin, then they should remember their manners. And wouldn’t it be nice if some of their more accommodating co-religionists were to remind them of this?

It would also be timely if they could be reminded that Islam is a religion, not a race. Being disturbed by things done in the name of Islam is not racism, any more than objecting to practices like human sacrifice is. Birds of a feather flock together, the old saying goes. And there is nothing surprising or reprehensible about that. Feeling comfortable, forming a group, with like-minded people is an entirely normal human instinct, without which there would not be society. It is entirely natural to go towards those with whom you have things in common and shrink away from those with whom you have nothing at all in common. The cohesion that is the glue that binds society comes only with long shared experience, or at least with sufficiently shared experience, customs, values. To flout that commonsensical observation by insisting on totally strange and alien customs and values at the very least invites disapproval, aversion and even overt hostility. There should not be any surprise about that.

There has been a lot of fuss recently about halal meat being sold without being explicitly labelled as such. I think it should be and I don’t particularly like the idea of having my food associated with Islamic prayers. However, I think it worth pointing out that until very modern times all animals were killed by having their throats cut. That was – and in many, including European, countries – still is the only method of slaughtering, for example, your sheep. From time immemorial the shepherd who wanted to eat one of his beasts has had to kill it with his own hand with a knife across the throat. I have seen it done many times. And when you consider that the man who kills the sheep with his own hand is the man who acted as midwife to the sheep when it was born and has handled it every day of its life, so there is no alienating journey in an unfamiliar vehicle to an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar smells, sights and noises, I cannot see that there is any particular cruelty in that and I cannot see that there is any great reason for horror and outrage either.

But aside from the question of strange customs and unfamiliar beliefs, it is clear that no society can absorb more than a certain number of outsiders without there being uncomfortable tensions. You could argue until the cows come home about precise percentages, but it is abundantly clear now that in the UK the balance has tilted to the out-of-kilter side. The more different, the more difficult. The problem is not going to go away. We have to find a way of dealing with it. It seems to me that the native people of these islands – pace Bonny Greer with her peculiar notions about what indigenous means – have leant over pretty far in their willingness to accommodate a lot of strangers; it is time some of the strangers did some leaning. They are touchy enough about having their sensibilities respected, it is high time they became wary of offending our sensibilities, because, pace Bonny Greer again, there is such a thing and a perfectly legitimate thing as “our.”

TODAY, May 9th, Putin is celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany by wheeling out his military hardware in Red Square and dropping in on the Crimea, the piece of Ukraine that he has just helped himself to, on the grounds that he is merely responding to the will of the people there and reclaiming what is anyway Russian territory. It is in short a day for nostalgia, sentimental bullshit about our great and glorious, not to say holy, Mother Russia, a day for the kind of ultra-nationalist propaganda that is not in the least concerned about truth and fact and that is such a feature of Russia’s view of itself.

Well… for a start, whether or not Crimea is historically Russian territory rather depends on what view you take of history. Russia has certainly occupied it for the last couple of hundred years, but there was nothing Russian about it before that. Herodotus records Scythian tribes inhabiting the surrounding steppes. The coastal towns were independent Greek city states from around 600BC, later incorporated into the Byzantine Empire, by which time the residents of the hinterland were Turkic-speaking Tatars, ruled by their own Khan, whose capital was at Bakhchisarai: a state of affairs which lasted until Catherine the Great grabbed the Crimea for Russia just short of 1800. Bakhchisarai is a Turkish name, made up of bahçe, a garden,and saray, a palace (see photo). Many towns’ names may have been Russified, but topographical names, for rivers and hills, for example, remain Turkish, albeit in Russified form – Uçun-su (Flying-water), Tepe Kermen (Castle-on-the-Hill). A sure sign of who was there first.

Bakhchysarai 2

Under both the Czars and the Communist regime the Crimea became the summer watering-hole for the ruling classes, and many less exalted Russians moved in as well. Russia has always been an aggressive, expansionist, imperialist state – the workers’ paradise bullshit notwithstanding. And racist, to boot. Just listen to the Russians who settled their Central Asian possessions like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. They speak of the natives as wogs.

The Russians are meddlers in other people’s affairs. They occupied a large chunk of north-eastern Turkey between 1878 and the end of WWI, drove out the local populations and imported a whole lot of Christian settlers, posing as ever, when it suited them, as champions of the oppressed Christians of the Muslim Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Putin is doing what Russia’s rulers have always tried to do. Furthermore, he is by training and inclination a policeman, and a secret one at that – another long-standing Russian tradition under both Czars and Communists: if you don’t like the look of them, lock ‘em up – his nose put out of joint by post-Soviet Russia’s diminished status in the world.

As for the glorious victory over the German Fascists… Again, well… of course there was heroism, stoic endurance and dogged resistance. But are the thousands of Soviet soldiers shot by their own secret police, the NKVD, pour encourager les autres even in such battles as the siege of Stalingrad…are they being remembered and celebrated today? And the Soviet POWs in Germany who returned to their deaths in their motherland? Not to mention all those other many thousands of good Soviet citizens whose last contact with their families was a 3am knock on the door, followed within hours by a bullet in the back of the neck or death by exhaustion and cold in the prison camps of Siberia and Kazakhstan?

Death to Fascism is a slogan you see all over Soviet-era monuments. If by Fascist you mean those people who exercise unchallenged and unchallengeable authority over those they govern, is not this a matter of the pot calling the kettle black, especially when Putin has the nerve to call the new government in Kiev Fascist? If there were Ukrainians who looked with favour on the arrival of the Germans during WWII, it was largely because they were sick of being sat upon by Communist Russia and saw the Germans as potential saviours. As for the new regime in Ukraine, it is there because Ukrainians, especially the young, are sick and tired of being ruled by the old gang, the people who profited under cover of the Soviet Communist regime and profited under its corrupt successor. The ousted president Yanukovich and his like were Russia’s legacy to all the countries of eastern Europe “liberated” by the Red army. Fascist indeed! You can’t even open a beauty salon without paying some nasty racketeer. Do you think a law degree allows you to practice as a lawyer? Not without bribing some gangster.

Sure, you find people who are nostalgic for the old days. They tend to be the poor and unambitious, people who fiddled around half looking after twenty-five cows on a collective farm, asked no questions, received a pitiful wage (but received it), were housed at very low rents (in shockingly horrible circumstances often, from what I have seen visiting just such friends), had their heating and hot water supplied from some central factory through a rusting system of enormous pipes arching over roads, received their pitiful pensions…If they kept their mouths shut and wanted no part of responsibility for any aspect of their lives…If they were content to be ranked, as Macbeth says, in the very lowest file of humanity… Such people do complain about their lives today and regret the passing of Communism. I suspect a large proportion of the so-called Russians of eastern Ukraine come into this category.

And their heads are stuffed full of nationalist propaganda, by their education system no doubt, ably aided and abetted by the Orthodox Church. I like many aspects of Orthodox practice, but they do seem dangerously attracted to the ugliest manifestations of nationalism – the Greek and other branches of Orthodoxy too.

What do Russians know of democracy, of dissent, of acknowledging the right of those who disagree with you to express their opinions too? Three quarters of them were slaves, were somebody else’s property until 150 years ago. They have been ruled uninterruptedly by one kind of authoritarian regime after another, whose only response to dissent is to “disappear” you. If you sit on people brutally enough for long enough, you can destroy their humanity. A friend, trapped for more than forty years in Hodja’s Communist Albania, said to me once: “Hodja had us like rats in a cage. We lost our humanity.” It is not difficult to brutalise people. If you travel in countries where Russia’s writ has run you will see plenty of evidence of that. Just try getting information from the bus depot in Odessa or buying a train ticket at the mainline station in Sebastopol or negotiating with the conductor on a Romanian train: dealing with anyone in any kind of authority you will get the sense that “Off with his head!” or “Off to Siberia!” is the response that still would come most naturally.

When I visited the Crimea in 2009 I was taken aback by the number of Russian Federation flags flying from roof tops in Sebastopol and the presence of Russian folk dance troupes performing on the seaside promenades. Sebastopol is – was – after all part of the Ukraine.

But it was also home – albeit rented – to the Russian Black Sea fleet and Russia has never hidden its aggressive designs on a warm water Black Sea or Mediterranean port. How “convenient” that the ethnic Russian – whatever that means – population should want to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia!

None of this of course justifies just grabbing a piece of someone else’s country. And what will happen to the substantial Tatar population, who most definitely don’t want to be part of Russia? Stalin rounded them up and deported them at a hour or two’s notice to the “stans” of Central Asia in WWII. It is only since the collapse of the USSR that they have been able to return home and they too, it would seem, did not behave in a very gentlemanly way towards the people they found occupying their homes and lands in their absence. A guide in the Danube delta told me that she and her family had fled there to escape the murderous revenge of some of the returning Tatars.

A plague on all their houses one feels like saying. How is this for an idea: let Putin buy the bloody Russian troublemakers of eastern Ukraine and see what he can make of them?

What sort of a lie is a nation living that can build itself monuments like this? As if the humble proles ever received any kind of honour or respect…

Sevastopol

Death to Fascism is the slogan on this WWII locomotive by the Sebastopol bus station. Who is kidding who?

Death to Fascism

And here are two photos of Kerch, where Putin wants to build a bridge joining Crimea to Russia. They show Crimea’s Greek connections, much older than those with Russia.

Kerch

Kerch: John Baptist

Ginsberg HOWLED once. It’s time we HOWLED too. But how to HOWL so that anyone hears? Lots of influential gay men HOWLED when AIDS was cutting swaths through their ranks. Result: massive amounts of money were spent on research and they came up with an effective treatment. Now it’s the turn of Alzheimer’s. We are all going to get old, we have all got ageing parents and relatives. Result: the government pledges to spend vast amounts on research, which sooner or later will produce an effective treatment. But schizophrenia… Basically only those personally affected are even aware of its existence and those organizations supposed to champion our cause spend their time and money pretending that mental illness is something practically everybody experiences, so what is the big fuss? Nutters are no different from anyone else, because we are all nuts. The only problem is stigma et cetera. Baloney! If they had spent half the money spent on AIDS over the last thirty years, we might have got somewhere.

Nothing changes. We have to say the same thing over and over again. I am tired of hearing myself. It is depressing.

What prompts this? Most immediately, the mental health charity Rethink’s annual general meeting, which I attended, briefly, a few weeks ago. Okay, it is an occasion for a lot of people in the same boat to get together, the activists, especially, the selfless people who run the support groups, without which, and its advice line, Rethink would be a waste of time. There is comfort obviously in an annual get-together.

But the organization itself: what does it achieve? For the first thirty years of its existence it had edge; it was run by and for people who had schizophrenia in their lives, every day. They knew where it hurt. Okay, it became too big for a bunch of committed amateurs and volunteers to run, but the palace coup that put a gang of career-minded professional bureaucrats in charge in 2001 emasculated it. Removing the word schizophrenia from its title gave their show away: showed exactly what they were about: not ruffling feathers, raising money to pay for an attractive career path, becoming an establishment organization that could sit down with government agencies as an equal: stuffed shirt to stuffed shirt.

And for thirteen years, what have they done? Turned themselves into another version of MIND and spent relatively huge amounts of money bleating about stigma and employment. The usual p.c. agenda: must not offend, must not do or say anything that suggests that anybody might in any way belong to a subordinate category. Thus, we have well-being and recovery instead of illness; stigma, lack of employment opportunities and victimhood  instead of the devastating effects of an illness. And, besides, we are told over and over again: one in four people in this country will suffer from some kind of mental health problem in the course of their lives. Which might be the case if you include grief, divorce and chronic piles in the same category as schizophrenia, which, for anyone who knows anything about schizophrenia, is absurd. Nuts and not nuts, we are all equal. And by such a sleight of hand as this you can organize anti-stigma events and put Churchill in a straitjacket with a good conscience and think you are achieving something.

Have thirteen years of concentrating on this stuff contributed in any way to helping those whose minds are so disturbed by hallucination and delusion, by loss of concentration and the cognitive power they were born with that they cannot organize the most basic routines of everyday living: sensible diet, cleanliness, home-making, tenancies, banking, using public transport, emptying the dustbin, making and maintaining friendships, filling their days with anything other than alcohol and tobacco, never mind things that most of us take for granted like marriage and family, employment…? Not that I have noticed.

Have they helped put pressure on the powers that be to provide anything resembling the kind of care people in such need require? The kind of care that we are told we can indeed expect from them. A safe haven in a hospital bed at times of crisis? Sufficient personal care when out of hospital to keep you off the streets, out of debt, away from noxious drug abuse…? Not that I have noticed.

In twenty-five years I have not met a single person suffering from schizophrenia who has recovered in any sense of the word that I recognize. Of course the illness itself makes people afflicted by it extremely difficult to deal with; that goes without saying. I know people who manage better than others, but recovered? Forget it.

For thirteen years the word schizophrenia has scarcely been allowed to pass the barrier of official teeth, since that 2001 palace coup when the then-CEO Cliff Prior, now ascended to ever greater heights in the Orwellian world of professional caring and rewarded with CBEs, delivered the CEO’s address at the annual general meeting without even mentioning the word schizophrenia. Now, suddenly, curiously, mysteriously, schizophrenia is all the rage again. At this  year’s AGM the CEO could hardly speak for falling over schizophrenias. The organization is as pleased as Punch with itself for having rediscovered schizophrenia, apparently through the findings of its schizophrenia roadshow which toured the country last year and discovered that rather a lot of people felt like me and the people I know: that schizophrenia is indeed “the abandoned illness,” as they are rather smugly calling the report of their roadshow’s findings. Perhaps they will soon admit that stigma has little to do with it and that the problem is neither fear nor ignorance but the illness itself. Perhaps Cliff Prior might even be induced to return his CBE as having been won somewhat fraudulently, to say nothing of Paul Farmer, now CEO of MIND, who also owes his position to the wrecking of the old National Schizophrenia Fellowship – his contribution being a barely literate campaign designed to bully members into accepting the intended coup. I see that Mr Prior’s c.v. makes rather a lot of his boss role at Rethink and its status as a “membership based advocacy organization.” I find that a bit rich as I have in my possession a letter from someone on the Board of Trustees at the time who told me in confidence that there was very little of democracy about the way in which he forced through the changes he wanted in defiance of members’ wishes.

Water under bridges. They have all advanced their careers and made their marks as selfless champions of the oppressed and afflicted…while the oppressed and afflicted and those who love them are still mopping up, wrangling with the Care Teams and Foundation Trusts, trying to get housing, trying to clear debts, trying to get access to information…

Wouldn’t it be nice if one of them could come forward and say openly: “Yes, we did rather push schizophrenia into the background. We  recognize that we made a mistake and now we are really going to try to do something about helping to improve the treatment and care of those who suffer from this illness.”

These are committee men: they are into procedures and minutes and not rocking the boat. Orthodoxy is the only answer, as a slogan I once saw on a wall in Athens proclaimed.

I stood up after the CEO’s  address at the AGM this year and asked whether Rethink might consider running a campaign to win tobacco prescriptions on the NHS for schizophrenia patients, all of whom, practically without exception, smoke heavily and have to spend a disproportionate amount of their benefit income on the habit. The CEO replied predictably that, while not wishing to appear a health fascist, he thought it better to stick to their policy of trying to persuade people to give up smoking.

Of course, what else would he say? But it is precisely this kind of “respectable,” “official” response that underlines the breadth of the gulf that separates the bureaucracy of “caring” from a true understanding of the daily reality of the illness. Smoking kills, is the official, rational, universal line of the responsible classes. How could we possibly be so un-p.c. as not to support such a notion?

But schizophrenia-sufferers live on benefits and cigarettes cost up to £8 a packet. Their lives are difficult enough as it is. Why should they be made to suffer more and more as the cost is pushed up, when smoking is one of their very few distractions, pleasures? You can marshal all the good intentions in the world and you are not going to persuade my son and many like him to stop smoking.

A  friend’s brother recently stopped taking medication, disappeared from home and was taken in by a local convent, luckily for him. But he disappeared again, only to be picked up by police while hitch-hiking. He is now under Section in a hospital in a town where nobody knows him. His sister has been trying to find out what is going on. The hospital refuses to engage with her. Any attempt to talk to a responsible doctor, discover when and how they might be planning to discharge him, is countered with a formal letter stating that under Article 8 of the European Convention ….they are not allowed to give any information without the patient’s consent…

She has now discovered, via the one visitor the brother will allow, that he has been diagnosed with cancer. His closest relatives are not allowed to know anything. As is in the nature of the illness that is schizophrenia, his paranoia has merely been reinforced by this  news and he refuses to believe the diagnosis. His relatives are confronted by a wall of silence on the part of the medical and caring staff. They do not know how severe the cancer is, they do not know what the prognosis is, nor what treatment is proposed. It is not hard to imagine their distress.

Who the hell is going to look after an impossibly tiresome relative if not family? My friend is not asking for the revelation of confidential information. Does the law not allow for the use of a little common sense, discretion, on the part of the doctor? If it does not, it is an ass and should be ignored.

Consulting with carers, getting someone “sectioned” in good time, finding a bed in a hospital nearby…You would think that by now these were things that we could count on. Oh yeah? The police can only spare officers to take part in Sections on two days a week. Don’t go crazy on a Sunday! And when finally they turn up and all the neighbours have been alerted by the commotion, it turns out they have got the wrong warrant…

I hear such stories all the time. Carers cold-shouldered, not consulted; relapsing patients not taken in hand in time because of pussyfooting nonsense about consent and rights.

And caring is a lonely, always anxious and sometimes frightening, business. What about us?

Happy New Year!

I have written about my experience of schizophrenia in a book called Schizophrenia: Who Cares? – A Father’s Story. You can find details at http://blackbird-digitalbooks.com/news/schiz3web/