Reflect on my trip to the Far East – I got back yesterday –
where I was mesmerised by a television soap opera about hospital
social workers. I don’t speak Mandarin so lost the nuances, but the
facial gestures and dramatic poses tell the story. On the screen,
beautifully dressed women wrestle with the angry wives of dying
patients, who have only the memories of the sweet seduction of the
same social workers to soothe their journey. Others of our
colleagues steal money or drugs to support a partner’s lifestyle we
poor plodders can only dream of. Meetings between patients
confessing to crimes and saintly social workers lead to discoveries
that one is the parent of the other, thought lost years before in
the jungle. Agony aunts have different problems, too. One young man
cries that his girlfriend from a different culture refuses to wear
red for the New Year and will upset his traditional Chinese
parents. He is cheerfully reassured (any bright colour will do, and
what about a dramatic red scarf on a black dress?) and I realise my
multicultural knowledge is not as good as I think. London, 15
degrees colder, is dull reality. And I’m not prepared to wrestle
with any of my clients, recalcitrant or not.


The only enjoyable light on this cold day is being shown a
letter signing off as being from the “Social Worm Service”. That’s
what we are. Social worms.


Rumours abound, and a strong hint is given that them up there
are considering changing what we down here are doing. I never like
dealing with rumour. Evidence-based criticism I’ll listen to and
probably ignore – but so far little has been produced. However,
lots of small groups of social work staff are imitating hens
flapping, and I find it fun to join in.


I interview a walk-in guy who tells me he lives at Victoria
railway station. As he mutters through a luxuriant beard, his
broken teeth twinkle, but it is difficult to understand what he
wants. Not money, which I offer and he refuses. Not a meal at the
local community centre – not that I blame him. Not new clothes,
rehousing, medical treatment or a dentist. I think he has come in
for recognition and to tell his story. English-born, he tells me he
is thinking of applying for refugee status. He won’t listen when I
tried to explain the impossibility of this. He insists it is up to
the government to prove he isn’t a refugee, and that he will pick
up tips from his friends and the new arrivals at Victoria


Finish off this disjointed week by typing up a prize essay
written in 1920, by a woman now aged 95, as an account of her east
London school journey to the Wye valley. She marks the contrast
between the noise, chaos and convenience of Stepney with the
beauty, peace and sparseness of the country. Boys and girls stayed
in separate houses, travelled in separate “char-a-bancs”, raced
each other in boats on the Wye, and met only on site. Her use of
language and clarity of speech make the essay as fresh nowadays as
when she wrote it. I doubt if many of today’s 13-year-olds could
match it.

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