Friday, 12 June 2015

My GP has been branded as 'inadequate' and it's wrong, so wrong.#nhsunderattack

My GP in Nottingham, Dr Mark Stevens, has been branded as ‘inadequate’ and it’s not right. It’s more that, it’s viciously wrong.  It has nothing to with his qualities as a GP or the professionalism of his staff. The hidden agenda is obvious. His is a one man practice, it’s not seen cost effective. Try telling his patients they don’t get value for money.  The bean counters want him to enlarge his practice and they’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing.  What makes me so angry is that they can drift in for two days in March, and on little or no concrete evidence label a caring, devoted, doctor as inadequate.

I have read the CQC report
and my first response is anger that Dr Stevens should be maligned by such a shoddy, document. My second is to wonder why anyone would want to be GP when their clinical excellence and compassion is ignored and they and their staff are criticised for being overwhelmed with regulations, directives, and paper work.

We have been patients of Dr Stevens for over twenty years. You don't have to be a medical expert to recognise when you're lucky enough to be registered with a doctor who gives you confidence, inspires trust, is caring and who is willing to put himself out for his patients. None of which is reflected in the report the subtext of which is 'we told you to get a partner and you haven't'.

I don't care if the waste bin in the practice nurse's room has not been emptied. I don't care if someone hasn't remembered to sign a cover sheet to say they've read the latest directive on washing their hands. I don't care that a computer behind the glass was once observed to be at a slight angle so that a patient leaning through might have been able to read what was on the screen. I care that when I need help, it's given. I care that when I need someone to listen to my concerns and explain what's going on, that's what I find.
Read the report and you won’t find one concrete piece of evidence that the service is unsafe (sic), that anyone has come to harm, that any infection has been passed on.  In fact you might be forgiven for thinking that someone went in a brief to find fault wherever and however they could. But that couldn’t possibly be the case.

I hope that should those who dropped into his practice for a couple of days, talked to a handful of patients, and produced a report that does not reflect the experience of those of us lucky enough to be on his register, if they should fall ill and need a doctor find one half as good as Dr Stevens and then they might realise that there is more to practicing medicine than ticking boxes.

A good man has been badly damaged.  Make no mistake the NHS is under attack.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

On the road with Malala - A Girl With A Book - the last night of the tour.

It’s cold as I walk into Keswick.  I cut down from the theatre across the car park. A man with a dog nods to me as we pass.  The streets are emptying, it’s getting dark, the snow I drove through to get here surrounds the town in a white band about three hundred feet up the fell son all sides. The get in is finished. The lighting cues have been sorted.  My clothes are hanging up in the dressing room.  It’s a five past five on Monday, 2nd March 2015. 

I need a pasta salad, a bottle of water, and a couple of bananas to see me through till I eat when we come down.  I’ve been touring the play I wrote A Girl With A Book off and on for the last eighteen months. Tonight in the Studio at Theatre by the Lake will be the twenty ninth performance.  The last one of the spring tour.  Possibly the last one ever. 

I find what I’m looking for in the SPAR at the end of the High Street.  Time to kill. I wander back slowly.  In the dressing room it’s almost too hot.  I eat the pasta salad and one of the bananas. Have a drink of water. Change into the jeans and the shoes I’ll be wearing. Six o’clock.  

I go back to the studio and start what has become a nightly ritual. First I run the show in my head, as fast as I can sometimes mumbling the words out loud, making all the moves, getting familiar with the space and sightlines. Reassuring myself that I know it so well that no matter what happens in the fifty five minutes I’ll be on stage nothing will throw me.  It occurs to me that I probably do know it backwards.

Halfway through I’m interrupted.   Rachel’s had to change one of the lanterns since they rigged for the show. Can I check it’s okay?  It’s fine. I carry on from where I left off.  As I work my way towards the end of the play the words tumble out almost without meaning. But they come out in the right order and none of them are missing. 

After I’ve finished I check the position of everything on the set. Map, notes, laptop, pencils, paper clips, polystyrene head, scarf, chairs, desk. I sit behind the desk. Lower the lid of laptop a fraction. Put it back where it was. I sit back against the front of the desk. It wobbles slightly. I adjust the legs. It’s fine.

I walk round the stage. Long strides. Across the front. Across the back. Corner to corner.  Swinging my arms. Just like I do before every performance. I start humming.  I let a full sound come out at the end of each hum and go up and down the scale. I stop. Start to stretch. Stretch the tendons in both legs.  Don’t want cramp.  Stretch high. Breathing in. Let the breath out and relax until I touch my toes. After several attempts.  I pay special attention to my back.  There’s an old injury there and I know if I tense up there’s always the chance it could go into spasm. It hasn’t happened in a while but it might. 

I walk round again. This time I’m thinking about my voice. Fifty five minutes is a long time. I don’t want my voice to give out, croak, become inaudible or lose its range.  Consonants first. Then the vowels. Tongue twisters.

What a to do to die today at a minute or two to two
A most particular thing to say and harder still to do.

Breathe. Relax.  One last check of the props. It’s a twenty to seven. Fifteen minutes to the half. Back to the dressing room for the first of many trips to the loo. No.  I’ve left the mug on the set.  Go back and get it. In the dressing room I half fill the mug with water. I change my shirt, whip some deodorant around, and put on the glasses I’ll be wearing, and get everything ready for a quick getaway. After squeezing out another pee it’s ten to seven.  I have to go back to the studio for another one last check that I know is completely unnecessary.  In the dressing room I hear – ‘Mr Wood, this is your half hour call for A Girl With A Book in the Studio. Your half hour call.’

I prop the door open. It is too hot. Much too hot. I swill some water round my mouth and spit it out. Is my throat going to dry?  No.  I clean my teeth.  Now that we’ve got to the half I don’t feel nervous. There’s an excellent house.  I’ve got a job to do.  I want to get on with it. I go outside and stand in the corridor chatting to the techies. Dylan Moran is on in the main house. He nods as he passes us.  Twenty past seven. In five minutes Hugh will come to lead me up through the offices to the entrance to the studio and then into the space behind the curtain stage right from where I’ll make my entrance. I go back into the dressing room and close the door.

I sit in front of the mirror and start to build up, out loud, the frustration my character feels about his difficulty in coming to terms with how his research into the shooting of Malala has revealed attitudes in himself that make him uncomfortable, but despite that he won’t give in, he will make the play he wants to write work.  I ruffle my hair. Polish my glasses. Have another one last pee.  I like the feeling that all over the country at this moment there are people like me in dressing rooms, or in wings, waiting.  I pick up the mug and go back outside. I’m going to do this.  I’m ready.

Only the audience aren’t. We’re holding for five minutes.  There’s a crush of people trying to get into both shows and we can’t go upon time.  More chat.  At half past seven Hugh and I walk through the back corridors to the studio.  I’m shown through to the edge of the stage. Hugh squeezes my shoulder ‘Have a good one’. I’m on my own.

The house lights go down. The pre - set comes up to full. I give it a beat then leading with my upstage foot I walk out onto the stage.

I look with disgust at the desk and the prospect of work. I don’t want to spend the day writing. I want to be outside. I take a sip from my coffee mug and walk downstage right. I look out the window. I turn and look back at the desk and become aware that I can hear a noise.  It’s conversation. It’s not from my audience.  There’s a speaker or an intercom on and we can all hear the audience in the main hose. If it isn’t switched off soon we’ll all hear ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, will you please welcome, Dylan Moran!’  I can’t start yet. I pick up a book and flick through the chapter headings. I look at the notes I’ve made. Scribble something in my notebook.  Someone will turn it off. I can see people getting restless, looking for the source of the sound. If we do hear the announcement or it doesn’t go off in ten seconds tops, I’ll stop, make a joke of it and suggest that if it’s okay with them we start again from the top.

The sound disappears. I sit at the desk.  Start up the laptop. Begin playing spider solitaire. Lose and say the first word in the play, ‘Bugger’ and we’re off.

Fifty five minutes later practically to the second I quieten the applause and tell the audience that there will be a short Q and A in about five minutes. Time for us all to get a drink, and for them to think of some questions. I sprint back to the dressing room where I change back into my own clothes, have drink of water and wolf down the second banana.

Back in the studio a gratifyingly large number of people have elected to stay. The Q and A sessions have worked well. Sometimes it feels as if I’m chairing an episode of Question Time. And the people I’ve met.  An elderly lady in Millom who hiked the Swat Valley with Ramblers’ Association in the eighties –‘and they weren’t that keen on women even then I might tell but it never stopped us.’  A gentleman who used to live in Swat who when he was a young man used to play golf with the erstwhile Prince of Swat who thanked me for showing people how beautiful it is.  A woman who was the daughter and the wife to Pakistani army men who said that the picture I had painted about the difficulties children had in getting an education was from her experience entirely accurate.  And, very special this, all the friends and ex students now spread all over the country who spotted my name on the poster and came along to say hello. Tonight I’m almost superfluous as they conduct a debate amongst themselves about the insidious nature of racism in this country and how it is encouraged by sections of the media.  Afterwards I meet the lady from the Ambleside Tourist Office who supported me as I resisted attempts to get me to pay a ridiculous and unfair parking fine imposed on my last visit, sell and sign good number of play texts, and keep my promise to Rachel and Hugh to get out of the studio in ten minutes flat.

I load my roller case, carpet, three chairs and the desk into the back of my car and head for Carlisle where I’ll be spending the night with friends.  It’s bitterly cold. I drive carefully, wary of ice. I think about the performance. Pleased that if it is to be the last one I do it was word perfect.  What have I learned?  It’s a long time since I acted for a living and I can still hold an audience. So that’s good for my confidence.   Doing a one man play is very lonely and very scary. But doing a one man play is also enormous fun.  There are three productions scheduled for Germany – as I write there are a total of seven either running or about to open - so that means if someone else wants to do it the writing must be okay. It's taken along time for me to acknowledge any success I might have had as anything but blind, undeserving luck, but tonight I feel 'I've done good work.
Steve and Ray are still up when I get back. They grin at me, ask me how it went. They can see how I feel, they're used to it, their daughter is an actor.  They know I’m not ready for bed, too much adrenalin. 

‘You look like you might need a little something to help you sleep’, says Steve, ‘I didn’t get this specially for you, it was a present from a friend, but when I knew you were coming I thought I’d keep it till you got here.’ 

He produces a bottle of Irish Malt and pours me a glass. He turns the bottle round so I can see the name on the label – Writers’ Tears. It’s been an excellent night.  We drink.

‘Cheers, mate.’

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Back On The Road with A Girl With A Book

Actually - Back On The Road - sounds a bit too rock and roll. Yes, I'm starting a tour of the one man play A Girl With A Book a week tomorrow but it can't really count as being on the road as I'll be home as soon as it's over and the next date won't be for another few weeks. Still it's something I haven't done for a long time and it is beginning to feel a little bit scary.
It seemed a good idea. You wrote the play.  You do it.  That's what they said and yes I wanted to do it and yes I have done it three times so far trying it out but Friday week at Square Chapel in Halifax will be my first paying audience for ... well. let's say quite some time.
It makes sense. It's only me, I don't need to book three weeks solid, I can pop up anytime I get a booking which means that so far I have dates though to June. I know it backwards. I've had a great director. The performances so far have been very well received.  Which is good. But it's beginning to dawn on me that it is only me.  Nobody else to help me out.  Nobody else to blame. Nobody else.
And tomorrow I'm going to have a full run through. Just me.  Getting back into the feel of it.  And then I'll think about it for a couple of days and run it through everyday next week expect Thursday. And on Friday I'll go to Halifax. Last night I dreamt I turned up at a large theatre based in a school and just before I went on I realised I'd left the set and props at home and all I'd brought with me was a pencil. Now a pencil plays a very important part but I do carry a little bit more - a table, a carpet, chairs, books, a laptop, a saucer etc etc.  I woke up as I was on my way back to the stage with the props I'd discovered around the school but I got lost and couldn't find the stage... I haven't made any of this up.
Next week I confidently expect to be dreaming about performing naked.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Nottingham Playhouse to lose 100% of its grant from Notts County Council.

It gets personal when it's so close to home.

How much fun can it be? A Labour council cutting the arts?  Can anyone imagine that it comes easy? Inherited debts of £130 million.  Ludicrous and damaging cuts imposed by central government. Did they go into local politics to have to cut vital services to their own communities?  I believe that there are councillors across the UK who are having sleepless nights, for whom every cut to an old peoples' day centre, to a youth club for disadvantaged young people, to a library, to the budget for leisure, to the budget for education is another twist to the soul.

But I'm a playwright and Nottingham Playhouse has been essential to my career so this cut is personal for me too and I wonder if it skews my judgement.  £94000. That represents four jobs. It represents a source of matched funding. It isn't the end of the world, but the impact of the jobs being cut and the lack of matched funding the grant sustains will hurt and drastically diminish the service the Playhouse offers.

£94000. A fortune as far as I'm concerned but if you spread it around how far does it go?  Not far.  But if you add it to all the other slices that are likely to be taken off budgets across the county?  What's the answer?  But every area that is under threat will rightfully claim that their cut isn't justified.  If I was a councillor I'm not sure if I'd resign or stick my fingers in my ears and sign the budget cuts because I couldn't see any other way out. Perhaps there isn't another way out. Except maybe... defiance?

The arts earn money for the community. That's a given.  Arts subsidy generates income.  Slab Square, Nottingham Contemporary, the Sky Mirror, Rock City, the Theatre Royal, the Castle, Nottingham Playhouse, the Broadway, Mansfield Library, Southwell Minster these places are part of the fabric of Nottinghamshire. They make us proud.  Even if we don't visit them all that often they define us as people who live in an important county.   Take away any one of them and our sense of ourselves will be diminished.  But the arts can do more. A theatre does more.  It speaks for the time and its people and we are living in a time when we are hurting. The theatre speaks to that pain. Addresses it. Exposes it.  Dissects the causes.  Laughs at it.  Shows us how to be strong. Shows us what we could be.

It could be a play about individual courage on the main stage. Or of a journey taken in hope in the Neville Studio.  Or a story about how we deal with the loss of loved ones and the safety of the family home in a village school hall.  Our theatre opens us to the possibilities within ourselves.

But what does that mean when I know every organisation can make it's own impassioned plea.  So the thought occurs perhaps these cuts are the moment when all of us, collectively,  say, this is enough.

We reject all the cuts to any of the services we need and value.  We say to central government find another way because we're not all in this together, the majority of the country is taking all the misery for the benefit of the few. We need to give our council the courage to defy logic and say this isn't going to happen, we will trim our budget as we think fit and necessary according to the principles of good housekeeping, but we won't be a party to destroying the quality of life and culture in our county.

It's just a thought.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Lets's sell off Royal Mail! What Good idea ...

In recent years there have been two brilliant ideas concerning the Post Office and Royal Mail.
The one was to do with branding. It went like this. We have a name that everyone knows, Royal Mail. A lot of brands would kill to have such an easily recognised name that not only tells exactly what it does but also reeks of security and heritage. So why don't we spend millions of pounds changing it to ....Consignia. A name that says nothing at all about anything at all. Now I'm the last one to point the finger at someones inability to come up with a snappy title having lost hours of sleep trying to think of titles for my plays. But, really, Consignia?
It sank without trace - if you discount the huge expense incurred paying the consultants to come up with a shit name, and the IT people for changing all the systems, and the printers and the people who make the signage. In fact looked on as a job creation scheme it might just have been value for money.
Now comes the second brilliant idea. 
Remember the scramble for British Telecom shares, British Rail shares, energy shares etc etc that helped to define the greed of the Thatcher period and left us with the kind of chaos exemplified our shambolic rail system?  Well, that was good fun wasn't it?
Let's sell off the Post Office. Let's put jobs and services at risk. Let's allow those with lots of money make even more. Let's get rid of another national industry so we can show a brief upturn in the deficit when we factor in the profit we make for the sale and sod the almost certain decline of the nationwide post service.
Has anyone got the energy to rehearse again all the reasons why this is such a bad idea?  When the bastards are going to do it anyway?
If Ed Miliband wants a sure fire vote winner he should come out now and promise that a Labour government would immediately re - nationalise the Post Office without any compensation to those are now queuing in disbelief that they have been given another opportunity to stick their greedy noses in the trough.