Diary: A lighter take on the working week

Monday: Visit a psychiatric day hospital to see a patient who has become depressed because of a stroke. It has left him prone to forgetting where he is in a conversation, and now mixes only with relatives and people he knows well. He used to visit the synagogue daily but now feels unable to cope with the embarrassment of talking to people in the congregation. I find the conversation hard going but eventually the atmosphere warms and he begins to sound keen on coming because, as he says, he can “get some Yiddishkeit” (Jewish life) at the centre that he can’t at the day hospital. As I leave, he thanks me for having spent time with him.

Tuesday: Home visit to south Manchester (“My children live in the south” means south Manchester, not Bournemouth, to members of the north Manchester Jewish community, which confused me at first) to see a man with Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration. He is registered blind and pays a private carer to look after him – with the typical health pattern of the carer collapsing first, she has had a heart attack at 49. He is cobbling together his own care package of Filipino workers while other members of the community are urging him to go into residential care. Try to advise him of the risks of employing people without going through a care agency and organise a joint visit from his local social services and the southern branch of the Jewish social services.

Wednesday: A day to be a Tudor goodwife with a group of school travellers. My job today is to teach them how to thresh wheat without there being a terrible accident with a scythe, a billhook or the flail. We try to get over to children the skills of people who lived before supermarket shopping divorced us from contact with the origins of food and the precariousness of living off the land. It is often children whose family are not originally British who understand this best as many have families only one generation away from the farm or themselves come from a rural background.

Thursday: A day in the National Trust mansion. At the start of the season it can be peaceful but it is also freezing cold heating only goes on to prevent humidity, not to warm the staff, so it can be freezing in winter and boiling in summer.

Friday: Family learning day at the farm, when schools bring vulnerable parents with their nursery school age children. The idea is the adults learn basic communication and literacy skills. We have all been wound up by reports of how difficult these groups can be with parents as well as children who can find it difficult to stay together peaceably in the wide open spaces of National Trust estates. In fact, our groups are enthusiastic and six sets of mothers and three- and four-year olds groom donkeys, wash horse harnesses and make rubbings of horse brasses with minimum wailing and good co-operation between parents and children. The donkeys are a lesson in patience as they allow themselves to be constantly tied and untied, stroked and groomed.

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