This week’s writer manages a social work service.
I have been put in charge of a new one-week Open Help Line; all
over the streets are smiley posters of helpful people, carefully
illustrated according to the local racial mix (one black face, one
Muslim Asian, one oriental, two white) with notes in seven
languages so no one gets missed out. What about the partially
sighted? The posters are now so crowded you need 20:20 vision to
read them. Everyone is urged to call a special number with problems
great or small. I do so hope they are all very, very small.
My first caller wanted help to arrange a funeral for an
HIV-positive cousin and it took 15 minutes before I found the guy
was alive and well, hoping to live for ever, and was refusing to
join her ghoulish anticipation of his end. The second caller had
read that there are games of carpet bowls in our day centres –
incontinence with style?
The third one wanted to apply for her annual grant, needing a
week’s respite away from the elderly demented parents, for whom she
cares all year. Last year’s respite was no good, she complained.
The men all wanted sex, but I wanted passion and romance. This year
she would like a coach tour to Spain to see the “flamingo” dancing.
I wonder, is the whole thing a set up; is it really 1 April?
Interviews all day, with people invited in after calling the
help line yesterday. My best one was with very large belted
raincoat benefits man, and a very tiny client with intractable
mental health problems. Think of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.
However, we resolved how to help Piglet spend his furniture grant
and both men paid me a strange compliment. Raincoat said I was not
a hairy fairy and Piglet said wistfully, “what I need is a long
Had to have a day off yesterday but now help line clients are
queuing to be seen. What bemuses me is, how come I got lumbered
with this? One poor woman wanted to talk about her daughter. She
assured me several times that the girl was lovely, and clean, only
somehow a little baby had appeared and no one knew how. No one! She
stared at me so hopefully, words died on my lips. The next person
wanted residential care for her demented mother. I asked: “Have you
had to deal with dementia before?” leaning so far forward in an
attempt to be sympathetic that I fell into her lap. She thought for
a while as I scrambled back to my chair. “No one really” she said,
“except for my aunt who used to boil kettles of water and pour them
into the piano”.
The last day of the help line. All the regular duty enquiries
have piled up while we grapple with the new interviews, so numerous
that I wonder if people are being bussed in from neighbouring
boroughs. The social services committee is delighted with the
response and is thinking of extending the help line next week.
I refuse to catch the director’s eye when this is said, and
stare so sullenly at the floor that even he took a hint, and
suggested it needed further discussion. Funerals, magic babies, tea
kettles, Piglet, pianos, and passion – let’s discuss those.