Friday, 30 December 2016

AUTISM, CHILD PROTECTION & MISREPRESENTATION December 2016

COMMENTS MADE PUBLICLY OR PRIVATELY IN DECEMBER 2016
BY INDIVIDUAL PARENTS &/or THEIR FRIENDS &/or SUPPORTERS

IN RESPONSE TO A QUESTION ON FACEBOOK BY
PARENTS PROTECTING CHILDREN UK
ABOUT AUTISM SPECTRUM FAMILIES ACCUSED OF
MUNCHAUSEN'S SYNDROME BY PROXY
&/or FICTIONAL AND INDUCED ILLNESS
&/or EMOTIONAL ABUSE through seeking diagnosis & testing

Parents Protecting Children UK  01/12/16: Autism & Child Protection - There's quite a bit flying around in the ether on this subject at the moment and I wondered if people here could help? If you are an Autism family, or know a family with Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties, who have been pulled up on Child Protection concerns, then can you just add the name of the local authority to the list below as a comment. One entry per family. No other information.

Comments below collated by Jan Loxley Blount, T Cert. Diploma in Child Development

 parentsprotectingchildren@live.co.uk                https://www.facebook.com/PPPC.UK/

"It doesn't seem to make any difference whether mums are diagnosed or not. They just use the diagnosis against mums anyway. The research also shows it's autism families, wether the mum is a Neuro-Typical or Autistic."

"The level of ignorance among social workers and other professionals in this area, quite apart from the obvious human cost, must cost the country millions in court and fostering /adoption costs - and every child wrongly taken from their families over autism and similar conditions, is a foster placement that isn't available for a child that genuinely needs one - court time that isn't available to protect a child at genuine risk."

"What I find, is that its the parents who don't have a confirmed diagnosis, but who show traits, who are at greatest risk of being measured against neuro typical standards and expectations. I recommended the book "Child Protection and Parents with Learning Disabilities" to my Local Authority and they purchased two copies!"

"So much human cost too. The pain and isolation is unbearable. Not every mother is blessed with the strength to recover and fight back."

"Autistic Mothers are being railroaded in the family courts. They are treated appallingly. They are so vulnerable to the predators in child care proceedings who see them as easy targets and abuse their positions. They are totally misunderstood."

"This harrowing experience demonises isolates and stigmatises, but in my personal experience provides entertainment and pleasure to many social workers, who really should not be in the profession. I was accused of having Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy in relation to my  younger children, who both have Autism Spectrum Difficulties. The head of service said that she did not want my children further assessed, as it would undermine the Local Authority case against me."

"The problem never stopped 'surfacing'. Just its only recently been noticed."

"Issues with ......... Council. Is there any parent that would like to contact me to enable us to work together locally?"

"Oh God, ...... I'm from there. Child Protection cases are happening all the time."

"My friend was also accused and its devastating her. There's three of us in my area. The other has a young child at a special school and her older children are autistic. Social Services are really giving her a hard time."

"I am compelled to say that my personal experience of social workers and the lynch mob at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services is that, any parent who takes the time out to try and learn about the issues that might be making  life difficult for their child, is extremely likely to be the subject of attack and hostility - A few years back they had a Doctor working for CAMHS, who nearly killed my child with their unfounded hostility. Had I not gone to seek help at the Court of Protection the Doctor could have caused my child to loose their life. Fight fight fight for your children - but be mindful always that you will likely be attacked yourself."

"One Council stole a friend's nephew which the family wanted tested for Autism. The Council Social Services told lies to take him away. They tried saying he was behind, when he wasn't at all. The family just wanted him tested for Autism, which he was showing signs of. The Council blocked the rights of the child and family.That is a disgrace. I would like to name and shame the Council Social Services."

"I can't believe this is still going on instead of giving families and disabled children the support they need."

"Let's take away the power of public secrecy, services internalised prejudice and general ignorance. These are what they thrive on in order to make wrong decisions daily and to ruin lives."

"It needs exposing quickly , I'm gobsmacked it's happening in our day and age , it's very Victorian / workhouse !"

"GPs and paediatricians are so blinkered and unwilling to listen to parents who are genuinely worried with a child with a whole spectrum of weird symptoms and illnesses which are not easily visible."

"Lets turn the isolation we feel into positive energy and stop this pain happening to more beautiful families."

"I'm glad this issue is gaining recognition. I'm a mother who has been through it and who's autism was the key to survival of it and who succeeded."

"I'd be happy to help others in my area."

"It's hell!"

"Please can you help me? I cannot find any service who will accompany me and be my advocate at meetings! Every service only seems to cover Education Health & Care Plans and nothing else. I have a Looked After Children Review to attend THIS WEEK and have literally only just been told the time of it despite asking for weeks. I am terrified to be in front of the very people who have me in court with false and made up allegations of FII and terrified to even state what I think my child needs in front of them."
"AUTISM PARENTS ARE YOU HAVING PROBLEMS WITH SOCIAL SERVICES IN OUR AREA? Such as unwarranted child protection procedures? Solutions may be at hand, unity in numbers. Email me ASAP."

"I do have a solicitor but I feel really let down by her. She sat on what had been sent to her and  didn't pass it on. She clearly had not looked through it all as she should have pointed things out and chased more evidence!"

"The CAMHS service totally failed my child, they wouldn't listen to my concerns around Autism Spectrum Difficulties. After two years of going around in circles I went private and proved my child was Autistic."

"How do you ever get over seeing a little lad on a positive adoption photo, when you know his mum is going through hell on earth, its like watching someone being shot in the heart."

"I also have 2 friends with SS involvement , just 2 us were put on CP , both off now , 1 is going to court so I've not tagged her in to protect her identity."

"We are misunderstood because my child can be violent.
It just exacerbates a stressful situation. How can we stop it?"
"A Child Protection meeting has been convened to decide whether they will put the children on Child Protection plans. They have ignored evidence and not sought any family member's views, ignoring the children's voices."

"I have written to my MP about parents being wrongly accused of Fll, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and emotional abuse. He is looking into this very distressing situation for me and other parents who are trying our best to get medical care or a diagnosis in difficult circumstances. I should be hearing from him soon and will let you know what the outcome is. This includes Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties, Ehlers Danlos and other Syndromes.
It's an ever growing scandal."

"We got our girl back home where she should have always been. I did the application and permission hearing to discharge the SGO.  We went through assessments and passed with flying colours. The parenting assessors said she should never have been taken away. At court no one opposed. 5 minute hearing and it was done."

"You can include my authority on this list as well. We were on the Child Protection register until a few months ago because of Autism and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and other medical issues."

"I don't want my name coming up in your post about Autism Spectrum Difficulties and Child Protection. Can you add my authority to your list. I have kids with ASD and my ex is possibly ASD and we have been accused and threatened many times- no one understands the complexities of multiple kids with disabilities - now the blame game is on me."

"As you know. My friends child was taken by the Council following their false allegations against her devoted mother.  The greater good won the day, with the child going back home, though much damaged from the suffering inflicted on her in LA care!!  And on and on the sick and twisted authority go!"

"Congratulations on getting information on parents of autistic children who have been involved in child safeguarding. The ignorance of social workers never ceases to amaze me - and their ignorance is often accompanied by utter self-confidence that they know it all.  Of course some of the children may not even have been diagnosed. yet. The problem is complicated by the fact that females on the autistic spectrum are less likely to be diagnosed, and that mothers of children on the spectrum may also be in that group."

"As much as I would love to be able to enjoy Christmas, it won't unfortunately be possible. I will put a brave as face for the children, but inside I am in a complete state."

COINCIDENTALLY- DURING THE TIME THAT THIS QUESTION WAS OPEN ON FACEBOOK,  THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER - it quotes the campaigner Monique Blakemore of 'Autism Women Matter' and research by Professor Simon Baron Cohen and colleagues at the University of Cambridge.
Autism: 'hidden pool' of undiagnosed mothers with condition emerging | Society | The Guardian 26/12/16hî
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/26/autism-hidden-pool-of-undiagnosed-mothers-with-condition-emerging?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Parents Protecting Children UK was formed in October 2001 at the time of the House of Lords Debate on False Accusations of Child Abuse. The debate was led by Earl Frederick Howe & Lord Tim Clement-Jones CBE

“Once the label of child abuse has been attached to a parent it is extremely difficult to remove. Yet we know that there are many hard to diagnose conditions that have been mistaken for parental maltreatment with devastating consequences for families.”
Earl Frederick Howe to House of Lords 12 02 03

“I am reminded of the witch hunts of previous centuries. This time, the victims are frequently nice middle class families whose only fault is to be concerned about their child, who has ill-defined symptoms from which he or she does not rapidly recover. …, some social workers…..are not prepared to consider that those conditions might be organic.”
Margaret, Countess of Mar to House of Lords 17 10 01

“The line of cases through Rochdale, Cleveland and the Orkneys must surely convince us all of the dangers. Use by a powerful group of individuals--paediatricians, social workers and the police--of some dubious diagnostic technique or social work theory,…. can lead to massive injustice and family break-up without any objective justification at all.”
Lord Tim Clement Jones CBE to House of Lords 17 10 01


https://www.facebook.com/PPPC.UK

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Lost musicians

2016 saw the passing of David Bowie, George Michael, Leonard Cohen and so many more wonderful musicians. Someone on Radio 4 just reminded us of the vast number of musicians lost a hundred years ago in the war which failed to end all wars. Last summer David Loxley-Blount and I visited the Somme during the Australian Commemorative Weekend. One of the special events was a beautiful and poignant concert of music, by composers who didn't survive the war. Some of these are listed here below. I especially loved the Australian F S Kelly, who's work I hadn't heard before, and of course our own treasured George Butterworth.
We are in a time of so much political uncertainty, in which wars and conflict in all communities, countries and continents are daily killing potential future musicians, artists, dramatists, novelists and others who could have enriched the cultures of their own lands and the world.

Composers who died in WWI - Many composers and musicians died during World War One. Here are the greatest and best known composers. 




http://www.michaeldrislane.com/2014/08/25/composers-who-died-in-wwi/


MICHAELDRISLANE.COM

Sunday, 25 December 2016

A Boxing Day gift to Autism Families wrongly involved in Child Protection matters!

A BOXING DAY GIFT TO AUTISM FAMILIES BEING DRAGGED THROUGH CHILD PROTECTION PROCEDURES!
READ THIS - TODAYS GUARDIAN - WITH INPUT FROM MONIQUE BLAKEMORE
BRILLIANT BRILLIANT ARTICLE
Since the introduction of EHCP instead of Statementing combined with Cameron's directives on adoption targets and on education health and social work professionals 'Working Together' (which puts many more of them than ever used to be outside their comfort zone of expertise and understanding) - Parents Protecting Children UK, FASO and similar groups (helping families with health or disability issues wrongly accused of child abuse) have seen an exponential rise in the number of families with Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties erroneously drawn into child protection enquiries etc.
I put a simple question about this the Parents Protecting Children UK page on December 1st and have had just over 100 responses covering around 50 authorities - I've attached my most recent summary of results showing 97/48 but there are more I've yet to add.
NEEDLESS TO SAY - the highly defensive official responses quoted at the end of the article DO NOT t reflect my observations and experience, or those of the many other volunteer groups and online support pages who are attempting to help such families.
Well done to Monique Blakemore and colleagues who've been working tirelessly to expose this issue.
And well done to the Guardian for printing it - I knew that interviewS had been done but never thought they would publish, as they are usually afraid to upset social workers who buy the paper for the job ads! I'm very glad to have been proved wrong!
BRILLIANT BRILLIANT BRILLIANT
Thankyou so much. Jan Loxley Blount 

Friday, 23 December 2016

ADVENT & CHRISTMAS LETTER 2016

Advent and Christmas Letter 2016
The year seems to have disappeared so quickly, but a lot happened in it.

I could pick many very special moments, but the best of all was during Evensong on Sunday 10th July, when the great organ of Rochester Cathedral mimicked the sound of fighting over Europe in the First World War and the choir joined in with 'And the Steel Wings Drumming, and the Steel Wings Drumming.... ' The music was masterful, evocative, shattering and it was written by my son David. The baby who sat the wrong way round in my womb. The child who loved nursery but couldn't handle school. The boy who drummed, sang, played the saxophone and who read notes on a stave before he read words on a page. The one for whom I had to fight every step of the way. He's graduated and won prizes, but nothing was so special as the sound pictures he created in Rochester that day.

Will they never fade or pass!
The mud, and the misty figures endlessly coming .....
And the steel wings drumming.
......a quaking bog in a mist, .......
And the dark Somme flowing.
Vance Palmer "The Farmer Remembers the Somme".

Ten days after the Rochester service, David and I were on the port side at Dover, headed for Ypres and the Somme where we joined the Australian commemoration events. It was a momentous trip, we heard glorious music in a church near Thiepval, written by young men who didn't survive the war and watched a Son et Lumiere at Pozières which told so many stories. We clambered into damp, rank smelling trenches at Hill 62, saw extensive battlefields at Beaumont Hamel, visited museums at Albert, Plugstreet Wood and elsewhere, found the grave of Roland Leighton at Louvencourt, were humbled by the cemeteries of many nationalities, too large and too numerous to comprehend and the memorials to those without a grave, who's names are inscribed on the great arches of the Menin Gate and Thiepval. We liked the mingling of the French blue cornflowers with the British red poppies. I've written about this and posted some of it on my blog spot (link at end).

Our exploration of WW1 sites was a sobering experience, made all the more poignant by the fact that we were still in shock, that a month beforehand, a campaign of lies and half truths, had resulted in a decision to unpick the coalition of nations, which has maintained peace in Europe since the end of WW2. The year then got more and more terrifying with President Putin manipulating the puppet strings of the war in Syria and it seems the American Presidential Election. I fear for us all and I fear for the environmental damage which President Elect Trump will inflict on our fragile planet.

We live at a moment every bit, or even more, worrying as the days immediately before WW1 and WW2. David recently watched a TV war history movie (research for his music) and we were both struck by the frightening similarities between the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and that espoused by Farage and Trump in their campaigns.  The Prince of Wales drew a similar parallel in his BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day on the 22nd of December : "We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith...... All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.......We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past." http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04m6l3z
BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day, HRH The Prince of Wales - 22/12/16
There have been some other excellent recent 'Thoughts' most notably from Rev Lucy Winkett, who on 14/12/16 suggested that, in keeping with the Advent message, we should use a more kindly light, with which to examine the needs of vulnerable people.  On 21/12/16 she suggested that, as we listen to the Gospel narrative of the Christmas Story, we should address the question of "what did take place, not only when Quirinius, but also when Assad, was governor of Syria." http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04m4hbr

I recently shared the recording of David's Somme music with my WEA writing class. One of my classmates said 'it was one of those "you had to have been there" evenings'. The poetry and prose written by the group, in response to 'The Dark Somme Flowing' were terrific. Some shared their thoughts and fears of Aleppo and beyond. Meanwhile on the four Tuesdays of October, David has given 80 or more workers in the City of London something to think about in their lunch hours, with four organ and solo instrument duets, based around four poems by my friend Peter Phillips. The themes were the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the plane brought down by a Russian Missile over the Ukraine, Isis in Syria and the Holocaust.

Besides the WEA Writing Class in Muswell Hill, I've been attending a WEA Art History course and occasional other related classes in Enfield, this is helping me to join up various bits of art, culture, politics etc which had previously been separate islands of my knowledge and understanding. I make occasional appearances at Carol Justin's lovely Creative Art Class in Finchley and have committed myself to doing better in 2017. I swim whenever possible, to stave off the stiffness which takes over when I fail to get there. I really must make it more of a priority. The group of friends of the late Sonia Ribeiro, longstanding writing tutor at the sadly now defunct Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute, who call ourselves the "Legacy Group", continue to meet monthly in Golders Green. We share our writing and our support for one another. There are some very special people in the group and I feel privileged to hear their stories.

During the first half of the year I had numerous stays at my mum's former home, to be with her during two extended stays in Rotherham General Hospital and to visit her in her care home. She's deteriorated enormously and is now mostly bed bound. We thought she'd gone in June, but she's a tough old bird with songs to sing and pulled through, but who knows how long for? Recently I've not been there as often as I'd like, as I've had eye problems which reduce my driving ability and the train journey exhausts me so much that I have to spend days in bed afterwards. It was discovered a couple of years ago that, like my children, I've got Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and as I get older I feel it take its toll. Malcolm spends much of his time in Yorkshire and visits my mum every day that he's there, his faithful care for her is wonderful. She also gets frequent visits from both of my sisters.

In April, Malcolm and I had three nights in East Yorkshire to celebrate the wedding of my neice Amy Knowles to Andy Clark. It was a glorious event, during which they announced that, against medical odds, they were expecting a baby. It wasn't an easy pregnancy, but Aida was born in early November and a few days ago my sister Rosy sent photos of four generations of mothers and daughters - my mum, Rosy, Amy and Aida. Simply beautiful, very tear jerking.

Malcolm seems to have recovered from his heart attack and has been given the all clear, but he is slowed down by increasing arthritis and a troublesome bunion, he'd have loved to come with us to the Somme but couldn't have managed it. He acted as Mackenzie friend to a mother, who had sought assistance from Parents Protecting Children UK, supporting her in both the Family Court and the Court of Appeal, the case has now been taken over by lawyers and still continues. He was saddened by the Liberal Democrats collapse in the general election  but is heartened by their recent rise in membership and by-election success.

Despite ongoing medical difficulties, Helen is surviving and in many respects thriving at Royal Holloway University of London, she's due for sinus surgery in early January, which we hope will help reduce some of her infections. Her ultimate mission is to save the planet and its people, through her study of Environmental Geoscience, which can help to locate, extract and conserve clean water supplies. She is busily helping her fellow students as a Residential Support Assistant and a St John's First Aider. She was forced out of Founder's Choir for standing up for issues she believed in. She's now got her own car and a special friend called Simon who makes her happy.

My friend Francesca has not been in good health and had a recent stay in hospital with pneumonia. She generously lent Helen and me her family flat, for a week in Pozzuoli on the bay of Naples. We had a wonderful time, including an exhilarating day spent in what Francesca calls 'Naples Split', about which I've written on my blog spot. We feasted on local mozzarella, olives and other goodies. We visited the island of Ischia, the volcano of Solfatara and swam in the heated waters of a spa by Lake Lucrino, which was first used by Nero's soldiers. I enjoyed our trip and the chance to spend time with Helen. I also had a few lovely days in deep countryside, near to Canterbury, in the home of a special friend. David joined me for part of this and we had an afternoon out in Folkestone.

My Facebook page, Parents Protecting Children UK, goes from strength to strength, now with close to 1,150 likes. In some ways that's gratifying, I'm pleased that people find it helpful. In other ways it's devastating to realise that it's still and increasingly needed. On the first of December I asked on the page if people knew of families with Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties, who had been misjudged and accused of MSbP, FII or emotional abuse. Within about ten days I had over 80 responses covering more than 40 Local Authority areas. Numbers are still rising, a number of authorities appear to have multiple cases i believe this to be the tiny tip of an enormous iceberg,  covering not just autism but also a variety of medical, neurological , mental health and learning disability issues, most notably ME / CFS and connective tissue disorders (such as Ehlers Danlos and Marfan Syndromes). It's very very far from what the government believe to be a 'handful of isolated cases'. Besides the public responses, I've had a plethora of private messages, telling harrowing stories of the persecution of vulnerable families, by the authorities who should be helping and supporting them.

For seventeen years, since the social ostracism which resulted from my own family being vilified by idiotic and prejudiced 'professionals' with no understanding of Autism, ME / CFS or what turned out to be underlying Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, I've lacked confidence in many social situations and especially around children.
This year, more than any year, my confidence has started to return and I'm now more able to be spontaneous, in ways which haven't been possible for a very long time. I've been especially boosted by :
David's triumphs in Rochester and at St Lawrence Jewry; knowing that he is writing music which is capable of arousing people's spirits, to help them understand and hopefully become agents for change in our increasingly fractured world.
Helen's passionate understanding of politics and the environment and her accounts of life as part of the support team in her university; I'm  awed by her capacity to care for the world and its people in any kind of need and I know that (before graduation) her life is already making a difference.
An early morning playtime with a little girl called Zoe; who reminded me of children I used to know.

I realise increasingly how important it is to be yourself. As Christmas, Hanukkah and the year end approach I wanted to remind everyone to stand up for what you believe to be true (provided that it doesn't harm, degrade or undermine anyone else). I remember the song from "La Cage aux Folles", which Beverley Knight made famous at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, "I am what I am". Here is a link to it sung by Shirley Bassey in 2009.  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fx227986hc8

And I've been thinking that as the years advance :
"....... maybe I ought to practise a little now
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple! "
Jenny Joseph
http://www.barbados.org/poetry/wheniam.htm

This Advent I've heard some wonderful music, bringing light into what feels a very dark world. Most notable were : Derbyshire Handbells rung in Ulley Church in South Yorkshire, the BBC Singers performing Tavener in St Giles Cripplegate, the FT Choir (including David) with Paul Ayres in Southwark Cathedral and Kate Rusby performing her win versions of Yorkshire Pub Carols in the Union Chapel, Islington. Kate Rusby included her version of 'Sweet Chiming Bells' and a few days later the Choir of St Jude on the Hill performed David's arrangement of the same song. I've written about the origin of this and similar songs : SWEET CHIMING BELLS http://janloxley.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/sweet-chiming-bells.html

I look at my children and sometimes get moments when, despite the horrors out there, I feel that I've helped create two rays of hope for the future.
Very Best Wishes for Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year,
Yours Jan

P.S. Today as I've been writing this I heard that Joan Bailey MBE of Peterlee in County Durham, died this morning on her 87th birthday. She was one of the very special people with whom I worked, in the 1980s to develop and promote Children's Play provision, through the IYC & BASSAC Latchkey Project and the National Out of School Alliance. Joan did much for the children of Peterlee and contributed to the development of Nationwide after school and holiday provision. I almost saw her last year, but didn't quite make it, now I can't. She will be missed.

Jan Loxley Blount, Finchley 23:12:2016

MY BLOGSPOT BLOG :
for pieces about Naples, Ypres & the Somme, and other matters.
http://janloxley.blogspot.co.uk/
MY FACEBOOK PAGE :
https://www.facebook.com/jan.loxleyblount
PARENTS PROTECTING CHILDREN UK :
https://www.facebook.com/PPPC.UK
parentsprotectingchildren@live.co.uk

D J Loxley-Blount : Composer
http://www.twitter.com/BritishComposer
http://www.BritishComposer.uk
http://www.djloxley-blount.co.uk/home.html
http://www.djloxley-blount.co.uk/RolandLeighton.html

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Ypres & the Somme July 2016 - to be completed later but I wanted to share this with my Christmas letter.

Three weeks and a day after seeing blue cornflowers and red poppies at Theipval on my bedroom television, I stood in the cool of its great arches and saw them for myself. David foraged in the longer grass beside the manicured lawns and found blue and red paper petals, released during the televised ceremony and scattered by the wind
Wreathes of poppies with cornflowers and small wooden crosses were laid under the dome, in corners and on the sides of stairs, in remembrance of the horrors of war or as tokens to the memory of individual forebears. I'd seen that Theipval looked like the  Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church, with touches of St Judes, but I'd no idea of its scale. Television reduces everything to the size of a screen. Being at Theipval it appears vast. You would need to stick St Judes (minus it's spire)  and the Free Church  on top of one another to give the height of Theipval, to say nothing of the great bulk of its massive pillars.
"In the New York Times, Roger Cohen slots Brexit into an apocalyptic pattern that includes Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and, Cohen reckons, may spell the end of that “a interlude that began in 1945” that saw “the construction of a rules-based world order, undergirded by visceral knowledge of destruction and acute awareness of potential Armageddon”.

Brexit, Cohen says, was fuelled by lies. The referendum result illustrated a thirst for disruption at any cost. It was the supporting act for a possible American leap in the dark, that would place Trump’s portrait in United States embassies around the world."
Guardian Newspapers 2/8/16.


Our journey to the Somme really began in 2013 when David achieved notoriety by winning an important organ music composition prize. Shortly afterwards he was singing with North London Chorus and there was an article about him in the programme. Unbeknown to my son there was another David in the audience. David Leighton, nephew and literary trustee of the late Roland Leighton. David Leighton and his daughter Sophie asked to meet David Loxley-Blount and offered him the opportunity to set to music the collection of poems which Roland sent to Vera.

Part of this was heard in 2014 as 'Blood of Sunset' and was well received.
The complete cycle will be known as 'Does Aught Come After' but for a variety of medical and other reasons is still incomplete. However, knowing about his work on the Leighton poems, the Eric Thompson Trust has commissioned David to write four duets, inspired by four poems by Peter Philips, on the subject of war and terrorism, these will be heard in the City of London in October 2016.

 The Cathedral of Rochester also commissioned David to set the Australian poem by Vance Palmer 'A Farmer Remembers the Somme' for a service of Remembrance on the 10th July 2016 as part of the Nation's commemoration of the Tragedy of the Somme. His music was entitled ''The Dark Somme Flowing'.  The congregation were awed by the emotion of this piece and I'm sure the girl choristers who learned it will grow up with a heightened sense of the dangers and effects of war.

A couple of days later I spoke to my daughter on the phone..
'The Somme piece at Rochester was his best ever, The clergy and congregation loved it. I was close to tears. There were only two orders of service left on the seats afterwards.
'Mum, he's got to finish the Leighton before it's too late.'
'I know, but I think after all that's happened to him in the last couple of years he's lost the plot, maybe we need to get him to the Somme.'
'He needs to go NOW whilst it's all happening.'
'How soon can you get insurance to drive in France?'
(She only passed her test last summer)
'Not soon enough, I'd love to go, but Mum, you take him, go now! I'll come home and look after the rabbit and everything here.'
'Are you sure?'
'Yes, but only if you go NOW'
I looked online and discovered that the Australian ceremonies and surrounding events were the weekend of 23/24 July. This was our moment.

We ordered maps and guide books, booked ferries, 2 nights in Ypres, two nights near Thiepval, one night near St Valery sur Somme and the Son et Lumière at Pozieres. Then David discovered that his EHIC card was AWOL and his passport expired. There was nothing we could do about the EHIC card except hope he'd be well or the insurance would be kind, but we couldn't go without a passport. He had to travel all the way to Peterborough and pay extra to get one in time.

We left early on Wednesday morning , 20th July, the day after my 66th birthday, ten days after David's triumph at Rochester and despite David's usual difficulty with getting himself out of bed. Progress was surprisingly good through London and along the A2, but we came to a halt just outside Dover. All hope of catching the 10.00 am ferry and having time in the Flanders Museum in Ypres disappeared. When we eventually reached the port we discovered that there was a problem with French border security and wondered if this was more closely related to the French reaction to the Brexit vote and the immanent meeting between President Hollande and our new Prime Minister May, than to the increased security following the terrorist attack in Nice a few days earlier?

After a long hot wait we caught the noon boat, but with the time adjustment docked in Dunkerque at 3.00pm and arrived in Ypres at about 5 minutes to 4, just as a school party from Towcester were finishing their brass band performance in the shadow of the rebuilt Grote Market. Everything looked so old, it was disconcerting to realise that all the buildings were reconstructions. Nothing at all had remained standing after the First World War, Churchill had suggested that the ruins should remain as a monument to war, but the people of Ypres had wanted their town back, so with German money and labour from around the world, including China, it was all rebuilt to look as if nothing untoward had happened at all.

We wandered around the cobbled Grote Market Square and enjoyed the cool of the fountains. I bought guide books and postcards in the museum bookshop, postage stamps to the UK were extortionate. Then we found our apartment which belonged to Stefan's small pottery studio, about six or seven minutes walk from the square. It was attractive, compact and functional, although  smelling very slightly damp. Parking was excellent and we had a dishwasher and a fridge with a generous freezer compartment! There were beds for two and a sofa could have accommodated a third, but if we'd been three we might have struggled with the limited hot water. I transferred the contents of our cold box to the fridge and freezer, we had a snack and another wander round the Grote Market. I was tired, so I went back to the apartment and lay on the bed, where I fell fast asleep, fully clothed. David summoned up the energy to walk around the ancient town walls and stumbled on the ceremony of the Last Post at Sir Reginald Bloomfield's Menin Bridge to the 54.896 soldiers from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India and the West Indies who died in Belgium and have no known graves.

Next morning I was up early, it was Belgian National Day so all the shops and offices were closed, except for the nearby Spar shop which opened for a few hours. Long enough to sell us water, salad, apricots and salt. After breakfast we used my guide book (intended for school parties) and on its recommendation headed for Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, which was quite small and tranquil and a good introduction to the devastating effects of the First World War. Roses and other flowers grow between the headstones as if this is an English cottage garden.

The Sanctuary Wood Monument, like those in many other Commonwealth War Cemeteries from both World Wars, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose two great churches in Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb are  part of our family's lives. This one at Sanctuary Wood was much more modest than Thiepval, which I'd seen on television and Etaples (primarily WW2) which we'd visited on a previous trip.  As the cemetery has over 1,000 burials it also has a Stone of Remembrance designed by Lutyens and inscribed with words from Ecclesiasticus 44:14:
"Their Name Liveth For Evermore"
We learned that these Lutyens stones, looking much like church altars, are in all the French and Belgian Cemeteries with 1000 graves or more. Smaller cemeteries with over 40 graves have a Cross of Sacrifice, designed by Sir Reginald Bloomfield, showing the sword of St George pointing downwards in mourning. It was Bloomfield's idea to plant the roses around the graves.
We lingered too long in the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, because we got interested in the inscriptions below the names,
"A loving son so good and kind, a beautiful memory, left behind."
"He died that we might live."
"Forever with the Lord." "
Their glory shall not be blotted out."
"Peace perfect peace."
"Known unto God."

Two minutes further up the road we found the Sanctuary Wood Museum and the trenches of Hill 62. This was beyond our expectation, these are not the preserved sanitised trenches, of which we'd seen photographs in tourist brochures, these are largely untouched in 100 years. They are damp and muddy, their walls held up by crumbling corrugated metal sheets and in places covered over by rusting metal arches. They smell of rotting plant matter, but 100 years of rain has washed away the stench of blood and decomposing flesh. Such a contrast to the perfumed roses between the well ordered graves of the nearby cemetery . Stacked here and there in corners and in a shed were piles of shell cases and bits and pieces of weaponry and other debris of war. There were hollows apparently used as sleeping holes. There was a cart and a stretcher and a folding bed. Two small buildings contained an eclectic collection of wartime memorabilia including endless photographs, many uniforms and a room lined with recruitment posters.
 "For particulars and conditions of enlistment apply any recruiting office."
"Your arms uniform and accoutrements are ready and waiting for you." "It's our flag, fight for it, work for it."
"Women of Britain say go."
"Remember Belgium, enlist today."
"Join your country's army."
"Forward to victory."

We thought about Roland Leighton and his friends on the brink of taking up their hard won university places and deciding to delay these and go to fight in the war which was supposed to be over by Christmas.

We drove to Poperinghe but sadly Talbot House (the first house of the Toc H Movement, set up in memory of Gilbert Talbot, buried at Sanctuary Wood) where soldiers of all ranks spent time recuperating, before returning to active service or being sent home, was closed. Maybe we were too late in the day, or it had never opened on the Bank Holiday?’ La Poupée café was still busy in the town square, as it had been when officers had been comforted by Madame and her three young daughters.  Poperinghe was lovely in the afternoon sun with a horse drawn tram on the cobbled streets, we could see why the soldiers had enjoyed being there, but then we found the cells where those who could no longer take the pressure of the war were kept during their court martial and to await their execution. The audiovisual presentation, viewed through a small hole in the cell window was simply heart wrenching, as were the scratched images they had left on the walls of the other cell.

We headed back towards Ypres but stopped off for rather too long at the seemingly enormous cemetery of Lijssenthoek with its 10,785 graves. We were overcome by its scale but as the days went by we were to see many bigger than this, including the French cemetery at Neuville-St-Vast with 11,443 WW1 and 767 WW2 graves.

Back in Ypres we parked near our apartment, grabbed bottles of water and headed off to the Menin Gate. The Bank Holiday had swelled the crowds, it was packed to overflowing. The Last Post was sounded and a Canadian Choir serenaded us with mournful songs as wreaths were laid. Then a minutes silence and the trumpet sounded again before the crowd began to disperse. We looked at some of the engraved names, arranged by regiment. My son is a graduate of Middlesex University and was especially moved by the vast numbers from the Middlesex Regiment, young men like his friends and himself, killed on the brink of their careers and adult lives.  We were starving and bought frites on the way home. My son cooked gnocchi for supper and I fell fast asleep, I wasn't feeling good having acquired many mosquito bites in and around the trenches of Hill 62. This would have been another hazard for the young soldiers, living in its damp, foul smelling trenches.

Next morning, after stopping at the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messen, commemorating their 69,000 casualties from the whole island just before partition, we headed south on the trail of Roland Leighton. We headed for Ploegsteert from where he wrote about the contrast between the blue of the violets he had pressed and was sending to Vera and the red of the pool of blood around the head of the dead soldier he found in Ploegsteert Wood  (usually referred to by the soldiers as Plug Street) .
"It is strange they should be blue.... when his soaked blood was red".

We watched a film in the Plugstreet Experience museum which gave the history of conflict leading to war and then picnicked by the place where it is reported that the troops played football in No Mans Land on Christmas Day. Parts of its famous trenches remain, much preserved but, no longer meeting health and safety requirements, they are fenced off with barbed wire and overgrown with rather spindly poppies.

Heading South, the temperatures were extreme and we were tired, driving was difficult. Soon after crossing into France we stopped at a pharmacy as my bites from the Sanctuary Wood were in urgent need of antihistamine. I also wanted other pharmaceutical products difficult to procure in the UK. I awaited my turn in the queue and was summoned forward by a woman assistant.
"Parlez vous Anglais?"
"Non." She answered.
" Avez vous Onctose avec Hydrocortisone, s'il vous plaît?"
"Pour les piqûres d' insectes?"
" Oui, Merci."
C'est complète?
"Non, aussi, avez vous ....."
With a mixture of my poor French, accompanied by a certain amount of pointing, demonstration and gesticulation, I got the things I wanted and was leaving the store when the tall male pharmacist or manager approached me.
"I'm sorry, I was busy with another customer. I don't quite know what happened there. She speaks better English than I do".
I shrugged my shoulders in puzzlement.
"It's OK, thanks, I got what I needed."
He wished me a safe journey and I got back in the car and we continued southwards, passing cemetery after cemetery, Portuguese, French, Indian... eventually arriving at our accommodation in Mailly Maillet.

The village was festooned in fabric, plastic and cardboard poppies of various sizes, peeping out of trees and affixed to key  buildings. The walls of the church had visible bullet holes. Our accommodation was a pretty farmhouse with a delightful garden. The host was a tour guide from the museum in Albert, friendly and full of information but not really geared up for doing bed and breakfast. This wasn't somewhere we'd recommend except for its position so close to Thiepval. However we were allowed to use the freezer and were given a large home grown bulb of garlic.
We unloaded our belongings and made for the Son et Lumière at Pozières. We'd deliberately chosen to come to the Somme during the Australian Centenary Celebrations, as we knew there would be added extras which we could participate in and learn from.

To get there we had to drive past Thiepval which like the spire of St Judes can be seen for miles. Thiepval dominates the entire landscape, I'd no idea it was so big. The queue for admission to the Son et Lumière was just about as slow and badly organised as could be imagined, with ticket checking, security bag searches and the supplying of English language headsets to Australian, American, Canadian and British guests all taking place in the same two square metres. We sat for a very long time waiting for the seats to fill up, oh so slowly. Just as the performance was about to start, using a mixture of French and English, I politely asked a press photographer, who had at the last minute noisily plonked himself on the chair next to me and was intent on obstructing our appreciation of the proceedings with his loudly clicking, giant phallus of a lens, to go elsewhere. We had travelled a long way and paid a lot of money for our seats. He answered in perfect English,
"I don't talk English, you will have to speak French."
That's when I understood what had happened in the pharmacy, there must be a movement, by some of those annoyed by our Brexit vote, to refuse to use our language. He refused to move until someone two seats along swapped with him, but we were still conscious of his intrusive activities. There were many other photographers recording the proceedings without causing his level of audience disruption.

The show started at least 45 minutes late but the wait was worthwhile. The spectacle was at points absolutely brilliant but lasted a very long time and could have been improved by faster scene changes and at times the use of an editors pencil. We saw everything, real horses, a schoolroom, an English village with Morris Dancing, a French salon and the open plains of Australia. There was terrifyingly realistic gunfire and trench warfare, an ambulance, a tank and an aeroplane. There were live singers, bagpipes and recorded music before the inevitable firework finale. It was one in the morning when we passed the lights of Thiepval on our way to bed.

Next day was Saturday, after a somewhat disappointing breakfast we set out to find Roland Leighton's grave at Louvencourt. Roland's grave is the first on the right just inside the cemetery. It's a small cemetery but has a Lutyens stone. There are several French graves, a British Brigadier General


When we signed the visitors book we discovered that Roland's nephew David, was there three days before us, on the day we left London. I thought how much I'd learned already and how much better a conversation I could have if and when I meet him again.

Then long white roads
TO BE COMPLETED

Afternoon Thiepval
"Here are recorded names of officers and men of the British Armies who fell on the Somme battlefields July 1915 February 1918 but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death."
On the 16 Portland stone piers are engraved the names of over 72,000 men who were lost in the Somme battles between July 1915 and March 1918 but who have no known resting place. 90% of these lives were lost in the five months of the First Battle of the Somme, in the summer and autumn of 1916. There are gaps where names have been removed when some soldiers remains were later found, identified and buried with military honours in the Cemeteries closest to the places where they fell.
TO BE COMPLETED

The memorial is 140 feet (43 m) high, above the level of its podium, which to the west is 20 feet (6.1 m) above the level of the adjoining cemetery.[5][6] It has foundations 19 feet (5.8 m) thick, which were required because of extensive wartime tunnelling beneath the structure.[

St Jude Externally it is 200 feet long and the spire rises 178 feet above the ground.


Then museums at Thiepval and albert and then the crater


Evening concert

Next morning the Newfoundland site at Beaumont hamel and following the Somme to the sea and the Chinese Cemetries

TO BE COMPLETED


Seeing the vast cemeteries of all nationalities and the lists of names on the Menin Gate and the Thiepval Memorial of those without graves, seeing the trenches at Sanctuary Wood (Hill 62), the place near Plougsteert where the Christmas Day football truce took place and the extensive Newfoundland preserved battlefield site at Beaumont Hamel, was far far far more powerful than seeing the poppies at the Tower of London or any number of movies and TV documentaries. I think we experienced some of the 'visceral knowledge of destruction' of which the NYT columnist speaks.

A day in Naples September 2016

Diary - Friday 2nd September 2016.

We had breakfast with stunning views over the bay, did our hand washing and, like seemingly everyone else in and around Naples, hung it out on the balcony to dry in the sunshine. We bought tickets from a little shop crammed with all manner of things and got the train from by the lake at Lucrino to the terminus at Montesanto in Naples. As my friend Francesca had predicted, this was by a street market where we bought a banana, a pinafore and a hat, but most loved the stunning fish displays with lots of ice and running water. We walked a long way through the narrow bustling Naples Split and looked in three very differing churches (although sadly we missed the mosaics at St Chiara because I misread the instructions). We bought a slice of cold cooked pressed courgette slices in olive oil, from one of many shops with beautiful displays of hanging lemons and pasta shapes in decorative bags. We picnicked in a square and found the hedonistic statue of the reclining naked man with a horn of plenty in his hand and his feet on a crocodile (said to represent the Nile).
Many of the shops sold models of humorous and historic characters, some of whom represented our images of Sir John Falstaff, the Montagues and Capulets, Friar Lawrence and a whole load of Shakespearean characters. Last year, at the age of almost 65, was the first time I'd been to Rome, where in the Jewish Quarter by the Tiber, I saw the theatre of Marcello. At the time I had a very strong feeling that those great works of literature, first performed by William Shakespeare's group of players in Stratford on Avon and London, could not have been written by someone who'd never set foot in Italy. My walk through Naples Split yesterday brought that feeling back. There are several possible contenders for the authorship, I'm convinced that whoever wrote those plays wasn't a poor man from Warwickshire and must have spent time in Italy.
The very best part of Naples Split, was when, as Francesca had said we would, we found a whole group of little shops and workshops making and selling the special local crib figures and the crib structures, animals, groups of villagers and workers which I'd seen with Francesca (and Michael Palin!) in the National Museum of San Martino in 2015. There were also many models of white robed clown type figures with back masks which seem to be a symbol of Naples. It was an entirely delightful experience. It's the detail in expressions on the faces of these small figures, cooking pizza, mending shoes, tending the animals and generally going about their business which I love the most of all. I bought a hen, a duck, a rabbit and a camel to add to our own crib and a masked tambourinist as a reminder of our day.
We headed away from the Split, through narrow streets and pathways smelling of soap powder and fabric conditioner (from the vast amounts of hanging laundry), frying onions and baking bread, mixed with motorcycle exhaust fumes and in places stale urine. The smells of Naples are totally unique. Helen contemplated going down 164 steps to see historic parts of underground Naples, but the English tour was an hour later and that was a long time to wait. Instead we headed for the Archeological Museum. It's said to rank amongst the best in the world but we were really too tired to take it in. The disabled loo was out of order and the lifts didn't entirely link up, so it wasn't the easiest of places for two hot, tired travellers with difficulty on stairs. The whole place felt somewhat cash strapped and many galleries were closed because of staffing shortages. However Helen saw three or four mosaics which she had studied in GCSE Classical Civilisations at the Mount School, so she was very pleased we'd been there. I could see why they'd had to move the vast numbers of spectacular marble statues from Pompeii and Herculaneum to a museum to preserve them, but here, devoid of all context, they lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. I also wished they'd put replicas back into Pompeii and Herculaneum as without them these towns appeared much more humble than would have been the case if the statues were in place. Most disappointingly we were unable to visit the scale model of Pompeii, which had been the thing I'd most wanted to see. Maps don't give a good picture and on the ground Pompeii is so vast that it's difficult to work it all out, seeing the scale model would have really helped me understand it. It was tantalising to stand in the doorway of the room and see it there ahead of us but not be allowed in.
We walked slowly back towards Montesanto, Helen tried on a couple of things in clothes shop sales but nothing was quite right because of her height. As we neared Montesanto we saw ahead of us what Francesca had described as a 'cable car . I'd imagined pods on wires and dismissed the idea of using it as I'm afraid of heights. This was what I'd describe as a cliff lift, something we'd used a lot on the East Coast of my native Yorkshire when we'd been children with an ailing father. I'm not afraid of cliff lifts, so despite our tiredness I persuaded Helen that this was an unmissable experience. On my first trip to Naples, Francesca had driven me to the monastery museum of San Martino above us, where on the terrace we'd found Michael Palin and a film crew. They were recording a programme about Artemisia Gentileschi, against the spectacular views of the roofs of Naples backed by Vesuvius. The walk round from the top of the cliff lift to the terrace was somewhat further than we'd anticipated and we struggled as we were very tired, but the views were worth it, we took photographs and I was able to show Helen the Naples Split where we'd spent our day.
Back down the cliff lift, through into Montesanto station where we had a ten minute wait for a train to Lucrino. During the journey two musicians entered the carriage, one had a recorded music machine with speakers strapped to his legs and a guitar in his arms, he was playing Italian and American music  including 'My Way', accompanied on tambourine by the other guy who also used the tambourine as a hat to collect contributions. They made a good sound and it certainly brightened the journey as the sun was setting.
Back Lucrino we bought mozzarella and olives, then headed home to eat them with tomatoes, rice and bread before collapsing into bed.

Jan Loxley Blount 03:09:16

Thursday, 15 December 2016

SWEET CHIMING BELLS

Sweet Bells SUNDAY 18th at 6pm St Jude, Hampstead Garden Suburb NW11.
Sweet Bells, Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells, Sweet Bells, Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells, They lead us on our Heavenly Way, Sweet Chiming Bells.

This is one of the alternative choruses to the carol we know today as 'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night'.

It comes from the tradition now known as 'West Gallery Music' - you may have seen and heard this in film and TV adaptations of Thomas Hardy and other novels of the era. (There was a cinema version of 'Far From the Madding Crowd' in 2015 starring Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, et al, in which the folk singer Eliza Carthy - daughter of Norma Waterson & Martin Carthy - replicated music of the genre).

Wikipedia says : "The term derives from the wooden galleries which were constructed at the west end of churches during the 18th century upon which the choir would perform. Victorians disapproved of these Georgian galleries, and most were removed during restorations in the 19th century."

In most of England, when the pious Victorians, with their bright new Pipe Organs, drove out the village choirs, the tradition of these lusty songs with a religious theme all but disappeared. It survived primarily in the area around South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire (and apparently also in Cornwall) where the singers moved into the public houses and carried on. Around Sheffield (where I grew up) they still sing these traditional versions of Christmas Carols in pubs, from Advent Sunday until New Years Day. I encountered this year on year, through the Handsworth Sword Dancers, who on Boxing Day morning perform their unique sword dances, followed by a Mummers Play and carols in the open air, before retreating to the Cross Keys (one of the oldest pubs in Sheffield) to lubricate their voices with a few pints of ale, whilst singing well into the afternoon.

Many of the West Gallery songs were collected and archived by Cecil Sharp but others survive only in aural tradition. In the last two decades West Gallery Music has started to become popular again and there are now a few quires as well as more people packing into the pubs around Sheffield.

The folk singer Kate Rusby has recorded many of these songs as a solo artist, with folk and jazz instruments and sometimes with added brass. Her concerts are extremely popular and are one way of saving this musical tradition and passing it down through the generations.

My son the British Composer David Loxley Blount http://www.djloxley-blount.co.uk/home.html https://mobile.twitter.com/britishcomposer has done something quite different. He's listened to and recorded these songs in the Sheffield area pubs and for several he's written down the tunes in standard musical notation - following the Cecil Sharp tradition. With a handful of songs he's gone further and returned these songs to church usability, by setting them for SATB choir and church organ. 

If you are around in North London this weekend - on Sunday 18th December at   6pm, you can hear his version of Sweet Bells in the Carol Service at St Jude on the Hill http://www.stjudeonthehill.com/ all are welcome, entirely free, including to mince pies and mulled wine afterwards. David and his sister Helen will be singing in the choir. I hope to see friends old and new.

Jan Loxley Blount 16:12:16