Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wall of Death v Wall of Silence

The “Wall of Death” motor-cycle stunt show is currently drawing audiences at the St Helier People’s Park as part of the Jersey motoring festival of speed.
The cars and bikes are giving us another chance to confront death at the sprint and hill climb events. Death is everywhere – in the news, at the cinema, in literature and even our popular songs. We cannot get enough of it. Murder, war, the wild-west or history – we just cannot see too much of tragic death.

Yet I “reluctantly” attended Chris Larner’s one man show “An Instinct for Kindness” at the Arts Centre yesterday evening and was enthralled and impaled.
Tragedy, pathos and humour – the three musketeers of theatre – were here all right but I was confronted by a reality that we should all experience. It is something that “society” as a whole needs to address and discuss.

This is not a review of Chris Larner’s extraordinary play. I don’t understand theatre enough to attempt that but I am amazed that one person can fill a stage with characters and images with no other prop than a chair.
But even the chair acted its legs off. As a wheelchair, hospital bed, airline seat it was presumably predictable enough but this was also an empty chair dammit! Somebody was of course ultimately missing…
And the lighting was perfect and poignant. Don’t ask me how or why, it just was.

If you have already looked at the video interview with Chris Larner here you will know what this is all about.
It is a very personal and painful experience that Chris has “acted out” seventy times all around Britain. He must ride the “Wall of Death” at every performance and I have no idea how he does it.

In every audience there will be many people who have knowledge and or experience of the subject matter.  Some might even be considering the one way trip to Switzerland that ends in “assisted suicide.”
After this Jersey performance there were people discussing their own experiences among themselves and it was simply surprising to hear the similar concerns being spoken.
In other places, performances have been followed by an organised discussion so that audiences can participate to some purpose. This did not happen in Jersey but there surely must be a much wider discussion here soon of the issues raised by Chris.

So far we have only had the Jersey Minister of Health’s recent personal declaration that she will not contemplate any change in Jersey law or practice. This was in response to a UK Report that urged a review of current practices in the UK and of course, she is a nurse who cared for her own terminally ill late husband.
Jersey’s doctors, lawyers and other professionals are, so it seems, determined to remain silent - which is a great pity because the discussion needs steering based upon knowledge.

It is especially relevant that this current posting follows on from that on “Changing Places” and the provision of the £88,000 public toilet in St Helier for the use of severely disabled persons in Jersey. There are so many questions and there is not a Chris to speak every disabled person’s thoughts or defend their rights - but at what cost should we try to prolong or support life?
Of course that name “Changing Places” is very deliberately chosen because it invites us all to put ourselves in the empty chair.
What would WE want if our unlucky number comes up or we have to manage the painful death of a most beloved companion?

Chris has become involved in the UK campaign “Dignity in dying” and this can be contacted via Google or

My own agenda seeks a discussion of the wider issue of suicide in Jersey because this is at a very high level within this little community.
My previous posting on the death of Ronnie Allan addresses many related matters but so far, seems to have provoked little response.

Thanks Chris

Thursday, May 24, 2012

CHANGING PLACES in St Helier    

Click to see video

“Changing Places” is the name of a UK campaign to improve public toilet facilities for those of us with severe disabilities.
A new facility has just been opened at the back of the St Helier Town Hall in
Seale Street
and should be in full operation by the time that this blog hits the stratosphere.
Admission to the facility is strictly controlled in accordance with user criteria and requires a “swipe card”

Enquiries should be addressed to the Town Hall tel. 811811 for details.

For this video we looked at the toilet facility and interviewed some of those in attendance for what was billed as the “public opening.”

Of course as a mere blogger we received no press release and just turned up on the day having heard about on BBC Radio Jersey.
We video recorded the ceremony and proceeded to interview some of those present alongside the BBC reporter but having done this without complaint Deputy Hilton then got to work over the orange juice to agitate those interviewed.
As a result of this intervention several said they did not want to be posted on the blog so that is why the faces of those speaking do not appear here.

Deputy Hilton, that well known protector of  freedom of expression further explained that she would be reporting fully to Scrutiny about my appalling behaviour – especially because “I” have made life so difficult for “them” at Scrutiny in the past….It is nice to be appreciated.

Deputy Hilton will no doubt also be promoting the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities as a priority now in Jersey….

This all prompted me to return to the empty facility the day following in order to video again and this turned out to be doubly useful.

In fact the room is bigger than it appears when full of people and is much better designed than it seemed. It is about the size of a double bedroom. Certainly much larger than the average bathroom and has been produced in consultation with Changing Places – see   or  changingplaces_blog.aspx
(sorry but I cannot do links),
The WC is a combined bidet/wc (standard in Japan for everybody’s use but very rare in Britain).
The wash basin is adjustable in height.
The hoist is on a double track so that all parts of the room can be accessed. Thus a user can be hoisted from wheelchair to WC or changing platform or to the wash basin and back to wheelchair. This is very important – but the user must provide his or her own sling – so must be planning in advance to use this facility.

Presumably the user must also come equipped with own towels and clean clothes - and it was a very sunny warm day for the May opening - hopefully it will be just as snug in mid-February.

Of course this facility is not cheap. The equipment is expensive.  About £88,000 they advised and of course the structure of the building already existed. So something built afresh could be well over £100,000 and we should bear in mind that the Home Disabilities Adaptations Fund operated by Social Services only has a total annual budget of £50,000 and that is not ever spent!!! Wonder why?

This facility has been funded through public/charitable involvement but the Health Department proposal for future Care in the Community proposes that more aged or disabled people will look after themselves in their own homes – not in “institutional” care at all.

Obviously very few private homes could be altered to this standard – even if the funds were available and these issues were discussed on this blog in previous postings.

See the video interviews for 5th and 6th January 2012 and listen to what Paul Harding (Architect) or Senator Le Gresley (Minister for Social Security) had to say on these particular matters.
If you are approaching retirement and expect to be alive in 20 years time you should be very worried…especially if you do not own your own living accommodation, or will not have fit relatives to care for you.

The Parish of St Helier has a similar changing places facility waiting to be opened in the new Gas Place/Town Park but as always there are fears of vandalism.

It will be interesting to see how long before other Parishes undertake similar projects and how successful this facility is in practice and how often it is used.

The Jersey Building Regulations have already been amended following a proposition from Deputy Green so that certain larger “public” buildings (which can include buildings in private ownership) shall provide facilities to this standard.
In a community that shows no great enthusiasm for employing persons with “disabilities” at all, the likely provision of “changing places” must be very low.
We will try to do a follow-up visit with a user in a few months.

So there you have it – the true cost of being a severely disabled person exposed for all to see. Can YOU afford it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Another Jersey march in May...but what for?

Jersey Liberation Day comes and goes every year along with Holocaust Memorial Day and the service at the Crematorium in memory of the "slave workers"...

Here, on Liberation Day 2012, our 51 Elected States Members march along with the brass bands together with VIPs from the  government and adminisitration of Jersey, young people in military uniforms, and church officials - all in front of an audience of thousands  of residents and visitors.

Yet this week,  another report is published drawing attention to the lack of the most basic anti-discrimination laws in Jersey.
This time it is the failure, not only to safeguard the rights of all women but also reminds us that this Island has still not even ratified the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

What sort of a community is this? How is it possible that 51 elected representatives can so resolutely fail, year after year, to implement the necessary regulations and reforms so that Jersey's International Profile is worthy of respect? Why also is it possible that Jersey's 250 lawyers allow this international scandal to remain unchecked and in silence?

Who in our States will grasp this matter as a matter of urgency now that  Bob Hill is no longer a Deputy?
Shall Senator Bailhache have the courage to demand that this Island achieves international human rights standards in parity with other territories?
Who will demand that funds are allocated so that the people of Jersey are educated and informed on human rights matters and who will undertake to promote ratification of the many outstanding treaties and conventions that protect for example,  the rights of children and disabled persons in this Island?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Shady Side of Sunny Jersey by George Seymour Tett

It is very unlikely that a copy of this book will be included in the house contents auction sale that has attracted so much attention in Jersey this week.

In fact it’s not a book that can be found in any public library, bookshop or even on “Amazon.” It is a truly rare first edition with a plot set in Jersey - any copy would be unique – yet nobody seems even to know of its existence.

Surely the prize item in such a sale of rare items - since it was actually written by George Seymour Tett himself (with a little help from a paid professional “ghost writer”) - but it has strangely been consigned to oblivion. Why?

Of course, the book was not very flattering about Jersey, as might be gathered from the title.

When I last saw Mr Tett in December 1978 he was trying to decide what to do next with the typescript of the book. Publish and be damned he wondered or go back to the courts to seek further satisfaction for the wrongs that had been spoiling his life for the past decade?
He even had a scheme in mind whereby he would donate a piece of land as a play space for local children near his home in St Saviour to be paid for out of the award of damages he was expecting.

He was planning to spend that Christmas and New Year at “Reid’s Hotel” in Madeira enjoying some good food and company and mulling over the various possibilities.
My last sight of him was of an incredibly agile 82 years old man skipping between the traffic in a town street just a few days before he was due to depart.

Sadly, his departure was to be much more final because he died within a day or two. He never reached Madeira and any thoughts of seeking justice or publishing the book evaporated. Yet strangely he apparently left final instructions that the contents of his house should only be sold after his wife had died too. That came to pass last year – hence Mr Tett’s extraordinary life-time collection of antiques is being sold off.

Death was no stranger to Mr Tett.
He had served in the First World War and had experienced mustard gas and been marooned in no-man’s land in freezing temperatures.

The gas more or less destroyed his teeth and his first greeting to me (having discovered my bachelor status) was to urge me to have all my teeth removed and to find a wife.
But he was also a great believer in proper “behaviour,” just like the sort of Edwardian gents that might have been encountered at Reid’s Hotel or on the Orient Express in the 1920s. He really belonged to another long-gone age. He was that almost mythical beast - the English gentleman – but he was very angry about what had happened to him in Jersey.

George Seymour Tett, born 1896 in Kent, went to France in 1916 and probably served with the “Household Battalion” at Ypres and Passchendale where his battalion suffered very heavy losses. They were disbanded in 1918.

He returned to civilian life and prospered.
In 1933 he patented a design for a dish washing machine but he was mainly involved in industrial water treatment, so far as I know.
He moved to Jersey as the equivalent of an 11K in 1958 and soon settled down into the pleasant life.
On arrival he had asked his bank to suggest a Jersey lawyer to him and was somewhat surprised when a living, breathing example was promptly produced, without much prior negotiation. But in those days there were only about 50 Jersey lawyers and this one was as likeable a Methodist Freemason as any other.
In the event they worked together satisfactorily for some years and life was good.
Mr and Mrs Tett were soon part of the croquet playing set at Government House.

For their own home, Mr and Mrs Tett had finally fallen in love with “Alphington House,” St Saviour just handy to the Church and the Parish Hall. It was the inherited property of Francis de Lisle Bois (Deputy Bailiff and OBE in the fullness of time) but at the last minute Bois became reluctant to sell for some reason.
Nevertheless the Tetts bought it and spent many happy years there having renamed it “Priors.”

They also bought some properties for investments such as a small block of flats at Gorey.  All the purchases and transactions were of course contracted through the ever-attentive Jersey lawyer and several of the flats were let through the then Housing Department to States employees. The leases included a payment for external maintenance and looking after the gardens and such like as a “global rent.”

Then one day, Mr Tett was advised by William Hamilton, the States Housing Officer, that he had arbitrarily reduced one or more of the rents to exclude the global part of the rent. Mr Tett was outraged and of course consulted his ever attentive lawyer for advice…

How could the Housing Department tear up an agreed contract and re-write its terms wondered Mr Tett. What sort of “behaviour” was this? Surely it was just some simple mistake?

Of course, Mr Tett did not then know that the upstanding ex-colonial Colonel Hamilton was a former senior police officer and magistrate in Madras or that he was married to Marguerite de Lisle Bois or that he occupied premises adjacent to the Rent Control Tribunal office.
But, of course these are the sort of things we must expect in such a small Island as Jersey and Mr Tett also learned that his ever attentive Jersey lawyer – who was also an elected States Member - was about as useless as a chocolate teapot too. He had no useful advice to offer except to accept the new arrangement.

Eventually, after complaining everywhere and speaking to anything that moved, Mr Tett resorted to Mr Falle, the charming, aged librarian at the Central Library and he searched through local States enactments….
…and low and behold discovered that not only had the States (the Jersey government) recently voted for a specific amendment to the relevant law that prevented the Housing Department from arbitrarily altering a rent – but the chocolate teapot had actually voted for it!!!

So the jubilant Mr Tett went back to his lawyer and protested – but it was all a waste of time because the Jersey system, then as now, is based upon the rule of never admitting to a mistake.

Mr Tett’s frustration boiled over in 1968 when William Hamilton was sworn-in before the Jersey court as a Jurat.
He protested again by shouting from the back of the royal room – appealing for justice and against the swearing-in – but of course was removed and silenced. The JEP duly reported on the scandalous outrage and in their fine journalistic tradition failed to investigate what Mr Tett’s behaviour was really about.

So what happened next? The croquet invitations to Government House stopped arriving of course and Mrs Tett sometimes returned from the supermarket in distress because old friends had snubbed her. For Mr Tett it was all very upsetting too but he had served at Ypres and was not to be defeated by such a spat over such a silly, simple dispute.

His circle of friends changed a bit.  Norman le Brocq became an invitee at Priors and Mr Tett started writing to other Jersey dissidents and even UK MPs.

He also managed to get some hearings before the Jersey courts and lost – at least until he engaged Linklaters, an important and large law firm in the City of London to advise and instruct. As a wealthy man, Mr Tett could afford to employ them but they then held the hand of a Jersey lawyer based in London who duly appeared for him in the Jersey court

Eventually he won. The global rent was restored. But of course the illusion of paradise had been damaged. That could never be fully restored.

For the full story of Jersey’s “shady side” it may be necessary to find a copy of that very rare typescript at the auction but for those who have an eye to see, the same or similar administrative defects are ever apparent today.

After all, the States' building, which houses the courts and the government assembly, is sited on the shady side of the square.