This week’s writer is social work manager in a voluntary agency


I spent the weekend at the first part of an international health
and social sciences conference, and was escorted most of the time
by a thick-set Eastern European who thought I looked like his
mother. He insisted on giving me a small gift, because this is what
his mother would expect. He said: “This is a gift from my country.”
I thanked him for the charming carving. “This is a wooden carving
from my country. It is of a bear. You will take it and one day you
will visit me in my country and meet my mother.” It took my family
generations to get enough money together to leave eastern Europe.
I’m not going back whatever mother says.


Three colleagues from African countries attending the same
meeting, are shown round the agency by our director. I explain how
we work in partnership with local authorities and how primary care
groups should work. They too approve of me. As they leave one of
them says that although I am an old woman, he will give me the
blessing they give all young girls in his tribe: “May you grow to
be a large breasted woman.” Blessing? More like a curse. And what’s
this “old woman”?


Today there is a planned evening of “home hospitality” for the
overseas delegates. The idea is that we take them for supper to our
typical English home, whatever that is. I’m fine with this, as I’m
used to looking after the overseas surgery students who work with
my husband. I guarantee that whether you are Muslim, Buddhist,
Hindu, Jewish, vegetarian or vegan, you can eat in my house.
However, no one had considered colleagues living in small
bedsitters, or where their children sleep in the sitting room, who
cannot offer hospitality, and the whole idea fell flat. Good thing
too because the delegates only wanted to shop in Marks and
Spencers, no doubt buying heavy duty night-dresses for their
mothers, or immense bras for their young girls.


Having been minute taker at the keynote address, I shut myself
away to write up my notes. They are quite, quite meaningless. I
started well then tapered off, and there are one word entries
underlined, one section just says Points 1, 2, 3; another “Collect
jacket from cleaners”. I phone a few people who remember nothing of
the speech so are full of admiration that I got anything down at
all. Feel greatly cheered by this as I know no one really reads
reports of meetings. All we want is to see our name listed, and to
check whether the group photos make us look fat so I cobble up a
document that records what should have been said.


Final reception at the Royal Society of Medicine, hosted by one
of last weekend’s speakers. My friends the Bear and the Bust are
there, the latter quite glorious in bright robes, the Bear, alas,
showing the effect of good living in his bulging suit. They part
with me emotionally, giving short speeches. I have my arm patted,
my hand kissed and a quiet concerned male voice says “You look
pale, Madame, are you menstruating?” I reply, calmly, “I am past
the age of child bearing.” I guess social work training really does
prepare you for anything.

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