Monday 27 May 2024

Happy St Theo's Day 2024!

 
In advance!... Apologies, but I will be away on St Theo's Day itself this year, so... On behalf of every serving hospital porter, every former hospital porter, and everybody else who loves, appreciates and supports us, with all the Pride and Dignity of my Extremely Proud and Dignified Brother and Sister Porters, I'd like to wish all my friends and readers, a very happy St Theo's Day; in advance for this St Theo's Day, Saturday the 1st of June.
See here for The Gas Spanner St Theo 2023: (coming soon).
See here for the HPANWO TV St Theo 2023 video: (coming soon).

Friday 24 May 2024

Cabal on Nurses' Day

 
Nurses have an equivalent to the hospital porters' St Theo's Day, International Nurses Day. This takes place on May the 12th, although in the United States they have National Nurses' Day which is on May the 6th. (Americans stubbornly insist on being different about almost everything!) My brother porter "Cabal", an articulate poet, essayist and commentator, has written his own opinion piece on Nurses' Day. It is honest and fair, and positive; being complimentary where compliments are deserved. I totally agree with his assessment of a HP's carbolicky cohorts. He also links to a rock video with a very nostalgic 80's ambiance. It is of a Polish new wave band called Lady Pank. I'd never heard of them before Cabal told me about them; but then Poland does not export a lot of its contemporary culture. The vocalist looks a lot like the actor Rufus Sewell. The song is called Ratuj Tylko Mnie which means "Rescue only me" and it is about a sick man in hospital with a desperate desire to be attended to by a nurse, with the sexual insinuation inevitable in pop music. Source: https://dreamingspireart.wordpress.com/2024/05/12/tribute/.

Sunday 12 May 2024

"We're Porters Through and Through!"

 



A reedited version of an article I wrote on the original HPANWO blog in 2008.
I guess by now you'll all be thinking I'm a bit bigheaded. "What a conceited sod that Ben is! Strutting around like that, posing in his uniform." Well in a way you'd be right. I'm a bigheaded hospital porter, an arrogant tradesman! But I'm not bigheaded in the sense that I think I'm better than anyone else. I don't believe I'm worth more than any other human being; I just don't believe I'm worth any less. I think I've unknowingly created this image of myself as a persona that is meant to be a kind of satire of other arrogant tradesmen, simply because HPing is not meant to have them. It's fine to be arrogant if you're a celebrity or in the armed forces, and this satirical self-character I've created is a reaction to this elephant-in-the-room double-standard that is blindly accepted and rarely questioned. I suppose I want people to ask the question: Why, oh why is it different if you're a HP, or cleaner, dustman or in any of the other so-called "lowly" jobs? Why are there even such things as "lowly" jobs as opposed to "non-lowly" ones? As I explain in the other articles, the reactions I get from people vary from ridicule to rejection to hostility and even violence: "But you're only a porter! What do you mean you're 'proud'!? Hang your head and bow your shoulders in shame! Do it! NOW!... Please! You have to for my sake! Don't you know what you're doing to me? You're making my whole worldview fall apart. I have to reassess everything now!"

Monday 6 May 2024

Hard Work by Polly Toynbee

 
A reedited version of an article I wrote on the original HPANWO blog in 2008.
I was given a copy of the book this book by a retired doctor I met on July the 6th 2008. I was attending a party hosted by the Lord Mayor of Oxford to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service; I was representing the porters for our hospital's principle trade union UNISON. The doctor had been a young GP in 1948 and was one of the first British physicians to sign her practice over to the NHS. The 2003 book Hard Work by Polly Toynbee chronicles her experiences as she does some of the worst paid jobs in Britain. The author is a veteran liberal journalist who has been raising awareness of social injustice for almost forty years. There is serious poverty in Britain today; and for a change it's not because of unemployment. Fewer people are out of work than during the Thatcher years of the 80's, and most of the poor are not unemployed, but working. A whole sector of super-low paid jobs have emerged under the Blair regime. This has resulted in the emergence of an underclass of employed poor numbering over three million. The majority are women and a large proportion are foreign workers; simply grateful to be in this country after having escaped even worse poverty in their homelands, they are ripe picking for slave labour by public service contractors. The poverty today is less in-your-face than it used to be. Poor people don't wear cloth caps and flannel and more; because of low-cost fake designer clothes, poor people dress the same way as the rich. I found this book very poignant and the author is clearly enraged over the issue, quite rightly. She spent a few months with an employment agency going from one low-paid job to another: care home worker, shop assistant, school dinner lady, bakery worker and... hospital porter.
 
Obviously her experience with hospital portering interested me the most. As a young journalist in 1970 she worked as a porter at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. Then the foreign crew was made up mostly of people from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean; today they are mostly from Africa, the Arab world, the Philippines and Eastern Europe. Why? For the same reason: They are cheap, willing and easy to exploit. The hospital has changed since the author's last portering tour; the greasy red-bricked Victorian buildings have been knocked down and replaced by a steel and glass PFI corporate fortress; like the new development at my own hospital, the John Radcliffe. She does an outstanding job of researching the life of a porter there. The observations she makes are very perceptive and really strike a chord with me. There's the frustration of working in a depleted department of a depleted NHS; unsanitary levels of hygiene, inadequate equipment, training and tools to do your job. She understands that portering has the potential to be a truly enjoyable and satisfying occupation for all involved. She enjoyed her contact with the patients and the camaraderie with the other porters. She realized how important the role is and says: "The porters seemed like the life-blood of the place or perhaps like the engine oil that greases the system." We have a position and duty that can help patients at their hardest times: "Trundling along, waiting for lifts patients like to chat and tell their operation stories, worrying about what happens next, confiding about their families or the doctors and nurses they liked and feared." She also became aware of the social violence we have to experience from the Conformist Regime through the absurd and inhuman status hierarchy: "We knew the snappy receptionists in some clinics, the downright rude nurses in some wards, the very friendly ones elsewhere, the places where nurses would let you stop for a quick coffee, other kitchens where you would be chased away. An arrogant male staff nurse was the worse: 'You, porter person, come here!' he snapped with deep disdain. It was ever thus, the notch above in the hierarchy is always the class in any workplace that gives you a hard time; the Kulaks, the foreman. This was hospital life from the underside; where passing doctors belonged to another universe, even the young medial students (they never held the door open for a porter with a patient, letting it swing without acknowledgement). The nurses straddled the two worlds, snooty ones placing themselves beyond communication with porters and cleaners, the nice ones helpful and welcoming. You could bet that those who were nice to porters were nice to patients too. One thing became clear: people are recognized more by their status than their face. I was now a porter first, myself second. Passing by in the corridors and wards, I saw several consultants I had interviewed in the past; one of whom I knew quite well. But porters are part of the invisible below-stairs world, the great unnoticed. None of them ever recognized me". She sees that the pay structure is "Byzantine". The contractor itself employs so many agency workers that the staff are all paid differently for doing the same job. The fact that the ancillary staff at the hospital were contracted out gave her a feeling of being divorced from the health service family (as I do too). And the agency staff were "twice removed". Agency staff also have no contractual rights to the job they do; they can be hired and fired at will, which explains why they're so beloved by the PFI cowboys. They also don't have rights to things like negotiated pay deals, most are not unionized. Things have improved slightly since Toynbee wrote the book. At my own hospital the existing crew, including myself, were transferred over on the ROE scheme- Retention of Employment- which allowed us to stay in NHS employment and merely be seconded to the contracting private company. But because of the turbo-charged turnover of the casualized portering service, we pre-contract staff are already in a small minority working alongside agency slaves.
 
Toynbee feels very strongly that the situation could be improved through proper funding and long-term investment in the cheap-and-nastyfied public sector, and I don't deny that she's right; it would be a vast improvement. But in reality the problem runs far deeper than she realizes, and its solutions therefore have to be more drastic. This is an issue I address in more detail in the other HPANWO blogs. If you are a HP or work in one of the other so-called "menial and lowly" professions then quit walking round with your head down and your shoulders slumped! Hold you head high and let your arms swing! Polly Toynbee doesn't have her own website, but here's her Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polly_Toynbee. You can find out more about Hard Work here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/991577.Hard_Work.

Monday 22 April 2024

"Don't Tell 'em We're Porters!"

 
What I consider one of the most important messages for hospital porters was one I wrote in an article in 2007 on the main HPANWO Blog so I have reposted a new reedited version here. It is still equally relevant:
A few months ago I spent an evening down town with some of my brother porters. We drifted from pub to pub as lively fellers do, sampling the beverages and talking to people. All at once a group of attractive looking women came up to us and we began a conversation. One of my friends, Steve, not his real name, immediately took me to one side and whispered fiercely in my ear: "For God's sake don't tell 'em we're porters!" He then turned back to the group without giving me a chance to reply. One of the girls then asked: "So what do you guys do for a living?" Steve replied: "We work up at the John Radcliffe Hospital." "Oh really." she said. "Doing what? Are you a nurse?" Steve shrugged. "No, we… just help out."... "We're porters." I interjected in a loud voice. There was a tense silence. Steve glared at me. The conversation continued for a few minutes then the girls said goodbye and left the pub. Steve was furious with me: "Why did you do that, Ben!? What the hell were you thinking of, telling those girls we were porters!? Do you think I want to women like them to know I'm only a hospital porter!?"

There are pimps and drug dealers who are not ashamed to declare publicly what they do for a living; why is it that HP's, people who provide essential services to society, feel that they cannot? Not only HP's like myself; but cleaners, dustmen, road-sweepers and those who maintain public toilets. We talk about getting a "good job" and "I want a better job". This usually means a job that earns more money, but not always. A policeman, fireman or member of the armed forces enjoys a high-profile job without being extremely rich. It seems to me that we live in a world where jobs have been categorized into a hierarchy of status. Different levels of status have been arbitrarily attached to jobs within the hierarchy that usually do not relate to that job's importance or contribution to the human world. A stockbroker enjoys high status, yet society could easily function without them (some might claim it would even be better off), however the man who removes and processes our rubbish is vital to human wellbeing. Without him every city would have long ago been buried under a mountain of its own waste. But if you were to meet a stockbroker and a dustman at the same time, who would you consider the most important?

Any system of groundless values is part of what I used to call the conformist regime. There's an interesting scene in the film Babe that gives a perceptive summary of the conformist regime. The scene begins with the little piglet, Babe, trying to follow his adopted mother, Fly the sheepdog, into the farmhouse. Fly turns to Babe and says: "I'm afraid pigs aren't allowed in the house." Babe asks "Why's that, Mum?" and Fly replies: "That's just the way things are." That's just the way things are. It just is. So many questions are answered with that non-explanation, and we simply accept it. I imagine that when Fly was a puppy she asked her own mother the same question and got the same response, and again when Fly's mother was a puppy etc. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp_2UmOEQvU. I've previously mentioned another example of a very frustrating and upsetting aspect of HPing, "Popping the question", see: https://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.com/2022/10/popping-question-responses.html. This happened less and less later in my service because word got round the hospital about what my answer would be. It didn't take long though until I discovered a much more sinister side to these questions, from one of the ODP's- Operating Department Practitioners, see: https://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.com/2023/05/i-lied-to-jack.html. The solution is to see the conformist regime for what it is and reject it. But that can't happen by courting favour from the system. That can only happen if your self-respect comes from within and is not dependant on how others see you. It means being proud to be a porter, or a cleaner or a toilet attendant or a road sweeper even if every other person in the world demeans you. It actually means that Steve should be willing, even eager, to tell those attractive girls we met that he is a hospital porter. If they then lose interest in him because of that then as the old saying goes "If I ain't good enough for you... then you ain't good enough for me!" Since I made the decision to do that I actually felt happier because, even though I may have fewer friends, and have had even fewer girlfriends, I know that the few friends and lovers I have had are true friends and lovers who accept me for who I am. I also enjoy the notion of doing a job that is important and essential regardless of its status. I find it more interesting, exciting and rewarding. My experience with Steve hurt me more than anything any civilian has said to me. I'm not really bothered when I hear: "Porters? They're shit!" I get bothered when I hear: "Porter? We're shit!" It doesn't matter what civilians think of us; what matters is what we think of ourselves. Unfortunately some of my brother and sister porters have a passionate belief in their own worthlessness and will staunchly defend it from all borders. As you can guess, these porters don't get on very well with me. But a friend to all is a friend to none.

Friday 19 April 2024

Cabal on Breathtaking

 
My Extremely Proud and Dignified Brother Porter known as "XCABALX" has done other reviews I have examined, for example: https://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.com/2022/08/cabal-on-paper-mask.html. Now he has reviewed the new medical drama series Breathtaking. This new programme is set in a British NHS hospital during the Covid 19 pandemic and has an illustrious wellspring in the form of its writers. Rachel Clarke is somebody I probably met because she was a medical student and junior doctor at the John Radcliffe while I was there. She has written a fascinating book about being a doctor called Your Life in My Hands, see: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/35223582. Jed Mercurio is another former doctor who also wrote one of the best comedy series I've ever seen, The Grimleys, see: 
https://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/07/grimlys.html. He wrote another medical drama called Cardiac Arrest that I never liked. I have actually not seen Breathtaking, so I'm breaking one of my own rules reading a review of it. The series has brought back a lot of painful memories for Cabal of health service under the jackboot of the pandemic restrictions and the plight of those who suffered as a result of it... not to mention as a result of the jackboot too! This is something I never experienced; I was discharged eight years earlier. It makes me wonder how I would have coped with it. I can see myself there. In a strange way I feel some misplaced guilt, as if I've committed a dereliction of duty. This is a ridiculous emotion, but I can't help it. Cabal praises the creators, including the third screenwriter Prasanna Punawarajah and the director Craig Viveiros. The main character is played by Joanne Froggatt. Source: https://dreamingspireart.wordpress.com/2024/04/10/breathtaking-a-review-of-itv-docu-drama-miniseries/. Cabal touchingly dedicates the article to our Brother Porters we lost during the pandemic and describes the shadow their tragedy casts on today's JR portering department.
See here for more information: 

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Lift Dignity Statements

 
A Dignity Statement of a particular kind; basic, third party, physical, telephone etc, has its own unique effect; however each of these formats can have a different effect compared to others which are alike depending on the situation. Most hospitals have lifts. In fact any hospital with more than about a hundred beds will have more than one floor and so as a HP you will regularly be using lifts, usually the big ones for patient transport. Some hospitals, especially the very large ones, are multi-storey and you will be using the lifts for almost every journey. A lift, what Americans call an "elevator" is like a pause or moment of stasis in the course of your duties and any civilian you happen to be sharing the lift with. You enter the lift and press the control buttons and then you secure the vehicle, make sure it is clear of the doors and other lift passengers, apply the brakes if necessary. Then you have nothing to do for a number of seconds to several minutes. Obviously if you have a patient then you just do your job, like the nurse or other civilian present must do. However, imagine a scenario, one that will definitely happen for real at some point. What if you get into a lift and you have no patient and then the lift stops on a floor and a potential target enters. If it is just the two of you in the lift together then you probably will not be speaking to each other because of his or her routine antipathy towards you. It is possible he or she may mumble something like "Hi, Ben. You okay?" as a perfunctory gesture. Then you can choose to reply normally, ignore them, which you might not feel comfortable doing, or reply with a DigState. Alternatively if your potential target ignores you, why not try singing a porters' song. Just croon it quietly to yourself without looking at the target; do not scream it in their ear. Then again you might have a fellow porter in the lift with you. This is a far more productive situation because you then are under no pressure to speak to the target; and it's a perfect place for a third party DigState. The same goes if you are called on the radio because then you can adapt the telephone method, see: https://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.com/2023/12/telephone-dignity-statements.html.
 
You may have noticed that in truth there is no fundamental difference between lift Dignity Statements and any other. There is however one way the lift DigStates stand out. The fact that you are standing still, in a confined space and may be alone with your target or with your target and stooge, the impact and effect will be far more intense. It is therefore even more essential that you conduct yourself correctly. Remember, if you overdo a DigState or act beyond the boundaries explained in the tutorials in the background links, you might commit a misdemeanour that he or she could report you for. This will make him/her the good guy and the one who benefits. In fact I recommend not trying a lift DigState until you have a bit of experience with regular ones. However, if you can deliver the DigState properly in a lift it will pack a punch (not literally!) of a dozen in any other situation.
See here for background: https://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.com/2020/08/the-gas-spanner-programme-2.html.
And: https://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2013/07/physical-dignity-statements.html.