Friday, 16 October 2009

Barbara's Story, from Notbornyesterday website

Barbara's Story

In and out of the UK's Care System all her life, Barbara Richards' story is a tragic and terrible indictment of a society turning to cruelty and abuse.

You can find various amateur home videos made by Barbara Richards and her friends on Youtube. Although many things have been taken away from Barbara's life, a scholarshop to RADA isn't one of them. On the videos, this woman looks what she is: a little desperate, very naive, poor, stressed and worn out.

Since she was a young girl, Barbara Richards has been treated like a nutter - with all the indiginity that goes with such a term. But defying the odds, she has turned herself into a nuisance: a one-woman printing press of letters to everyone from Jack Straw to the Archbishop of Canterbury. For come what may, Barbara will find little tranquility until the system that nearly destroyed her is rebuilt from the ground up - and all the memories therein thus expunged.

She first came to my attention when nby broke the story of suspicions in relation to Gordon Brown's health. Typically, she agreed with my diagnosis that he is 'a sick man', but begged me to persuade him that packing in the job would be good for both him and his family. I pointed out that I had zero influence among his ilk, but Barbara bombarded me with emails anyway. At the time, to be honest, it was the last thing I needed.

But right at the start of our correspondence, she had typed one terse sentence that brought me up short: 'I am a survivor of the pindown scandal and the secret family courts'. I had a vague idea what pindown was about: but when had it been - five years ago? Twenty? The memory plays tricks about such things. As for 'secret family courts', I'd never heard of them: it sounded like classic paranoia. So as the emails continued to arrive in my inbox - and the allegations got wilder - I put them to one side to focus on what I knew was going to be a rough ride from New Labour's denial machine.

Eventually, I emailed some questions to Barbara, and asked her to stop sending for a while until I'd digested the anwers. This she did - along with profuse apologies - and so I began to check out her version of events. To my surprise, virtually everything she alleged turned out to be a matter of record. And so this is Barbara's story.

As a pre-pubescent child, Barbara Richards suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her brother. "I didn't know what it was except I didn't want him to do it" she says, "And I felt I couldn't tell my father". After passing for her local Grammar School and demonstrating a talent for music, the traumas of her childhood helped bring on a total breakdown at the age of thirteen. There was an obvious dysfunction in her parental situation, although Barbara finds it hard to talk about or explain this. But her parents could no longer cope, and so at age 14, she was placed in a children's home: the infamous Chadswell centre in Staffordshire - later closed down because of the appalling level of child abuse (both sexual and physical) taking place there.

Barbara Richards describes her time there:

"I was punched by the man in charge for crying in the night, and put into a cell

I was left in the cell day and night with the lights on all the time so that I became confused. I believe that is a psychological torture technique that has been used by the CIA.

I was left alone in that cell, and no-one made any attempt at all to find out why I had been crying, they were just dead cruel to me.

When they let me out of the cell, I went straight up to the bathroom and jumped out the window on the 1st floor to escape."

As readers may have spotted back here in 2009, there's been rather a lot of jumping out of windows going on at the Scottish Good Shepherd centre: so far this year alone, 232 girls have run away from the place....and of course, two girls died when they committed suicide rather than go back.

"I ran down the road and the man came running after me and got two road workmen to catch me. They threw me onto the pavement then the man twisted my arms behind my back and got me back to the home.

I had read a suicide letter which another girl had written and she said in the letter that they were letting people come into the "home" to have sex with her against her will. I just thought that if I smeared snot and shit all over the place they would keep out. That's why they got St Georges Psychiatric Hospital to take me away."

So in July 1972, at the age of fourteen - already a veteran of sexual and physical abuse - Barbara was placed in St George's Psychiatric hospital in Stafford .

"One of the male nurses repeatedly tried to have sex with me....the psychiatrist told me there was nothing the matter with me and that I was only there as a "place of safety". It's a funny place to keep a young girl safe though, isn't it, on an adult mixed sex ward where there are drug addicts, sex offenders and people with serious mental health issues.

I recieved no schooling for a year at least. They would not let me go to school, and the school did not send me any homework. No-one from the school came to visit me, and as far as I am aware, no-one from the LEA did either"

After a year in St George's, Barbara changed schools twice to avoid 'you're a nutter' bullying - yet still passed five O-levels. But circumstances at home were tricky: her father suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, and the family was financially desperate. So despite wanting to take A-levels,

"... I had to get a job. I got a job at an agricultural firm, Burgesses. I hated it, it was rubbish pay as well. I felt like rubbish most of the time, and although I applied for other jobs, no-one wanted to take me on, because of me being in St Georges."

It is one of the many scandals in contemporary Britain that employment prejudice based on mental health remains rife - and does not represent a criminal offence in the way that sexism, ageism and racism do.

Around this time Barbara Richards began to receive unwanted attention from a family friend, freemason and one-time Labour deputy Mayor of Stone, David Haswell. Still mentally fragile and with a decade of abuse behind her, she was suffering from appallingly low self-esteem. Haswell persisted and eventually raped her.

"My son was concieved as a result of the rape. I didn't report the rape at the time, because I didn't realise that I had been raped at that point - I had been abused so many times that I didn't know what the definition of rape was, I thought a rapist had to have a gun or a knife or something, and I didn't realise that just saying "no" and "please don't" counted. Neither did I know anything about predatory grooming. I was being treated for mental illness at the time of the rape, because I was always crying, and people were calling me a "nutter" because of that, but I was crying because I was suffering from PTSD*, because of all the things which had happened. David Haswell was fully aware of my mental state, he knew I was ill, he pretended to help me, in the capacity of a family friend, and then he raped me. I didn't go to the police, but when I found out that my son had Aspergers Syndrome, the North Staffs clinic who diagnosed my son with this disorder sent a community nurse to my house to help support me..."

* Post-traumatic stress disorder

Thus, after a lifetime of endless mental, physical and sexual abuse, the first time Barbara Richards received any form of positive treatment at the hands of the State was after being raped and then giving birth to an Aspergers child. (This was a genetic inheritance from her father). It wasn't to continue. After several years of relatively normal life, she eventually managed to put into mature perspective what had happened to her. This was the start off her persistent campaign to reveal the widespread abuse apparent in most forms of social and mental care.

"I didn't want revenge, because I'm a Christian. I just wanted justice, and I still do. I just felt the truth had to come out"

But Barbara Richards discovered very quickly that there were many who didn't want the truth to come out. She wrote to everyone from the Queen to Jack Straw and downwards. Her MP Bill Cash was, she feels, less than helpful. And she wasn't the only one to notice this - for by now she'd enlisted the help and support of Lord Ramsbotham.

"Bill Cash did eventually tell me that he had been involved in the Pindown investigation, but he told me that there had been no conspiracy, and as a persecuted survivor I'm sure that is simply not true. Lord Ramsbotham told me that Bill Cash was not answering the letters that he wrote to him concerning me, when he very kindly offered to help me...he wrote to say he couldn't understand the silence from Cash."

Although the eventual Pindown Report was damning, events in the intervening years demonstrated all too tragically how little or nothing had changed. Bear in mind that Barbara's ordeal began thirty-seven years ago. When 11-year old care child Gareth Myatt died as a result of pindown-style abuse in 2004, once more there was a report. This Hansard extract sums up the continuing dereliction of our Parliamentary representatives: Northampton MP Sally (now Baroness) Keeble spoke as follows two years after Myatt's death:

'Ms Keeble: I ask four things of my right hon. Friend the Minister. First, there should be a public inquiry into the use of restraint in secure training centres. I say “public” because there was a review in 2004, at the time of Gareth’s death. A 113-page report was produced, which I have with me. It was rewritten several times and was finally reduced to a one-page summary, which was posted on the Youth Justice Board website. That is completely inadequate. Internal reviews have not dealt with the issues, which only emerged into the public domain as a result of Gareth’s death and inquest. They would not have emerged if it had not been for the work done by an organisation called Inquest.' (My highlighting)

We have skipped forward here because what Ms Keeble saw in 2006 was an attempt to paper over an enormous and very unpleasant settlement crack in the edifice known as the UK Care System. This has - if Barbara Richards' testimony is to be believed - taken the form of persecution by the authorities (especially those engaged in social work) in order to stop the victims revealing the extent of the problem. Richards again on what has happened to her since as a mother clashing with the infamous system of Secret Family Courts:

"They came up with this trumped up charge that I was abusing my son and I had this PAS [parental alienation syndrome]....which is absolute rubbish, it was just an excuse to stick me somewhere quiet. PAS is a totally discredited diagnosis used by paedophiles in the US to separate struggling parents from their young children".

This is a serious charge - but the evidence fully supports her view.

Dr. Paul J. Fink, a past President of the APA and President of the Leadership Council on Mental Health, Justice, and the Media, states categorically that

“PAS as a scientific theory has been excoriated by legitimate researchers across the nation. Judged solely on its merits, Dr. Gardner [the original 'inventor' of PAS] should be a pathetic footnote of psychiatry, or an example of poor scientific standards.... Gardner and his bogus theory have done untold damage to sexually and physically abused children and their protective parents."

This is because paedophiles can position themselves as 'safe alternatives' to mothers diagnosed with PAS. US attorney Richard Ducote goes further:

"Parental Alienation Syndrome is a bogus, pro-paedophiliac fraud concocted by Richard Gardner".

But Barbara Richards - and others at Mothers For Justice - allege that PAS has been used to shut up the whistleblowers here in the UK. Incensed by the way in which former pindown victims were being apparently persecuted, from 1998 onwards Stoke solicitor Richard Wise began to both 'spring' and then represent women being treated in this way - including Barbara. Partly as a result of this, he was voted Human Rights Lawyer of the Year. Profiled by both the Guardian and Independent newspapers around this time, he was, it seems, the man who could hear about a case at breakfast and get the victim out of jail in time for tea. Barbara needed his help badly, as by now her life experiences at the hands of our 'caring' society had become too much for her:

'I was picked up by Stafford police round about 1999, following a failed suicide attempt, and I had been taken to Stafford Hospital and discharged myself, because when I woke up in the hospital I was frightened that they were going to shout at me and make me serve the patients their tea, as had happened when I had been taken to hospital when I was 16 in Devon, after a suicide attempt.'

Without question, Wise sensed something rotten behind the Family Courts persecution. Barbara again:

"Richard Wise was a good man. His brother Ian works at Doughty Street Chambers to this day. Richard was so angry with Stoke MP Mark Fisher for not caring about this issue, he stood against him at the 2001 election. But then he got liver cancer and died. It was so sad. Everyone admired him and he had helped so many people."

Seven years on, she is still fighting the appalling injustices faced by her and the hundreds of others both let down and terrorised by the care system itself, and - Richards continues to allege - those in it who want all these events to be seen as the one-off, the small minority, the lone rotten apple that's in every barrel. But in recent years, the mainstream media have latched on to the appallingly controlling behaviour of care staff, social workers and Court solicitors when it comes to cases like hers.

The two senior Government ministers technically responsible for this area are Harriet Harman and Ed Balls. In 2006, following Baroness Keeble's somewhat abruptly demanding question, Harman replied:

'"The idea that people are sent to prison without any reports of the proceedings makes even more important the work that we are undertaking with the family courts, and with the important intervention of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, to open them up so that they act in the public interest while maintaining personal privacy."

In April 2009, the Government did indeed allow some media ‘access’ to the Secret Courts – but effectively neutered it by insisting that ‘In the interests of children, for the safety and protection of parties or witnesses (or persons connected with them), for the orderly conduct of proceedings, or where justice would otherwise be prejudiced, the court will have the power to restrict the attendance of the media’. (My emphasis)

This is merely gesture government. A further Ministerial statement added that freer media access will be given "when time allows". Why couldn't it have been given this year? Or in 2007?

Everything proceeds pretty much as before. These were Ed Balls’ exact words following the recent Rocking Horse Nursery abuse trial:

"This is a deeply distressing and disturbing case. It is vital we find out how an adult could abuse their position of trust in such an evil way, and we must do everything we can to prevent this kind of abuse happening in the future".

There’s that ‘everything we can’ mantra again. But on the ground, the reality (in the case of Barbara and those like her) is nothing. But if Mr Balls cares to read this piece (and stop slandering me as 'an extreme right-wing blogger) he'd know a fair bit more about precisely how it happens - and why it will happen again and again and again....until such time as whatever cancer at the heart of social care is detected and clinically removed.

Next in the series: the iceberg lying underneath Plymouth's Rocking Horse Nursery

Thursday, 8 October 2009


I'm posting this because:

1) This is the school I attended

2) Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate also attended this school while I was there

3) Stafford does not seem very proud of this school, and I find that puzzling. It was an excellent school, so why does Stafford not want to laud its merits? Anyone would think they were hiding something!

Winning linesAt 14, Carol Ann Duffy was determined to be a poet. Today, she is a literary star who has been compared to Larkin. Despite her success, Peter Forbes finds that, with her taste for caravanning and her passion for gambling, she remains resolutely down-to-earth
Buzz up!
Digg it
Peter Forbes
The Guardian, Saturday 31 August 2002 Article historyAs Carol Ann Duffy makes coffee to accompany the rather rare experience of being interviewed, The Marriage of Figaro is playing in the room. She has just finished a libretto for The Magic Flute for Opera North, due to be premiered next April. It's a cut above the average poet's commission and Duffy says: "It's just the most marvellous work I've ever been asked to do. I'd like to do them all now" - the Mozart operas, she means. Her appetite for work is legendary and she keeps raising her game. So why not? After the success of The World's Wife (1999), her book that brought a huge new audience, a friend was rash enough to suggest that perhaps she'd earned a break, a bit of resting on the laurels. He was severely reproved, perhaps in a tone learned from her strict convent-then-grammar-school education: "I'm busier than ever - it is a vocation, you know."

Duffy is a Scot brought up in the Midlands, politically left-wing, in a gay relationship, and with a wonderful feel for idiom and contemporary culture, especially low-life, she has been able in her work to unite timeless themes to a sense of life as it is lived now. The poet laureate, Andrew Motion, who has known her since before she achieved success, says, "I have a particular fondness for her early books; poems like 'Adultery' and 'Warming her Pearls'. There was a mixture of direct address and something slightly surreal, fanciful, tender-hearted and whimsical."

She has been on the school syllabus since 1994, which means that for once a poet is being taught whilst the language of the street is still fresh in her lines. Not surprisingly, she is popular in schools, something that wasn't always the case. In "Head of English", from her first book Standing Female Nude ( Anvil, 1985), she recorded a gruesome encounter at the chalkface where educational Eng. Lit. and new writers meet and often don't understand each other: "Today we have a poet in the class. / A real live poet with a published book. / Notice the ink-stained fingers girls. Perhaps / we're going to witness verse hot from the press".

Her ventriloquism has been remarkable throughout her career. She has been a tourist tout in "Translating the English, 1989" ("For two hundred quids we are talking Les Miserables, / nods being as good as winks. Don't eat the eggs . . ."); an old-style macho man in "You Jane" ("She's borne me two in eight years, knows /when to button it. Although she's run a bit to fat / she still bends over of a weekend in suspenders." In "Fraud" she brought Robert Maxwell gruesomely back to life. What we have of these male voices may be all we're going to get. Her recent voices have been women and she says: "I now probably wouldn't write a poem like 'You Jane', because although it was based on a real person it might come across as a stereotype. I doubt I would now write a poem in the male voice."

The name Larkin often comes up when Duffy is discussed. She is, of course, in many ways Larkin's antithesis, but they do occupy the same niche in their respective eras. Duffy is the poet of the multicultural noughties as Larkin was the bicycle-clipped representative of the dowdy, repressed fifties. The critic Justin Quinn has noted how many of Duffy's poems echo themes of Larkin's - you can pair them off: "Larkin's 'Posterity', Duffy's 'Biographer'; 'Ambulances', 'November'; 'Mr Bleaney', 'Room', etc". The Larkin/Duffy story has taken a surprising turn recently. Duffy's new book has a long poem set in her girls' school of the 1960s, "The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High", an allegory of the rise of feminism, sweeping away dowdy post-war austerity and buttoned-up emotional sterility. And here is a fat new Larkin book, recently published, Trouble at Willow Gables, girls' fiction written for private entertainment. Duffy's last word on Larkin: "As anyone who has the slightest knowledge of my work knows, I have little in common with Larkin, who was tall, taciturn and thin-on-top, and unlike him I laugh, nay, sneer, in the face of death. I will concede one point: we are both lesbian poets."

Standing Female Nude was quickly followed by Selling Manhattan (Anvil, 1987). What instantly attracted attention here were the brilliant monologues, giving voice to characters such as the "Psychopath": "When I zip up the leather, I'm in a new skin, I touch it / and love myself, sighing Some little lady's going to get lucky / tonight." Her technique is absolutely distinctive and has been much copied. Using lashings of slang ("dough", "stash", "readies") and a buttonholing style ("squire"), it grabs the attention.

As her books came out through the 80s and 90s, although this voice was always present, there was a steady move towards the elegiac, the more personal. Duffy's third book, The Other Country (Anvil, 1990), is dominated by nostalgia and sense of rootlessness: "Now, Where do you come from? / strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate". "The Darling Letters" demonstrates her universality: these are the love letters that are kept "in shoeboxes away from the light": "Once in a while, alone, / we take them out to read again, the heart thudding / like a spade on buried bones."

Mean Time (Anvil, 1994) continued in this nostalgic vein with the addition of poems about broken and budding relationships. It contains what are perhaps her finest short lyric poems. The title poem, "Prayer" ("Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer / utters itself") is a sonnet and a prayer for faithless times. Does she think that in a secular society poetry to some extent takes the place of religion? "It does for me: I don't believe in God." Then came The World's Wife (1999), with her new publisher, Picador.

Duffy's rise rather wrong-footed the Oxbridge poetry establishment. The first issue of the Oxford little magazine Thumbscrew (Winter 1994/5) carried a critical essay by Simon Brittain. He concludes: "By employing simplistic language and overstated imagery, Duffy is perfect for those no longer accustomed nor inclined to close reading". But according to her supporters, he comes to this conclusion by ignoring her best poems.

In person, Duffy's mild, sympathetic manner belies the ferocious, fire-eating tone of many of her poems. There is no trace of Scots (she left Glasgow at six) in her voice, rather a Midlands-cum-Liverpool intonation but minus the classic Scouse twang. Modest personally but exceptionally confident in her writing, she has an infectious sense of fun and can talk dirty with the best of them; she has the best repertoire of street slang in poetry. She is very loyal to longstanding colleagues in the art and has helped many younger poets through teaching on Arvon courses, editing the anthology Anvil New Poets 2 (1995), and generally tipping editors in the direction of new talent. Colette Bryce, Kate Clanchy and Alice Oswald are among those who have received her support and encouragement. This is not a case of the poet admiring her own reflection in the pupil. There are poets who write in Duffyesque but the ones she has supported are originals, none more so than Alice Oswald, whose poems offer a defiantly rural counterpoint to Duffy's city muse.

Carol Ann Duffy was born in the Gorbals of Glasgow in 1955. Her mother's parents and her father's grandparents were Irish. She has four brothers (to whom her new book is dedicated) and she is the eldest child. Her father worked as a fitter with English Electric (later GEC, and now Marconi). The family moved to Stafford when she was six. Her father was a dedicated trade unionist and became a local councillor and Labour parliamentary candidate in 1983. He also managed Stafford FC in his spare time. The relative anonymity of Stafford suited her: standard middle England. "Market town, church, football team, River Sow, great indoor market, Cannock Chase for picnics, Izaak Walton's cottage, piano lessons every Saturday morning with Mrs Bear, Brownies, Cubs. I stopped being a Glasgow girl."

She has turned most circumstances of her life to good use in her poetry. At her convent school, she says: "They did nothing but lists, relieved only by the Latin Mass. We had one 'poet' who came once - a local eccentric who recited 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by heart, holding a daffodil, and fainted in the middle." Her poems abound in lists, if not always the ones she was taught at school ("... I've seen my fair share of ding-a-ling, member and jock, / of todger and nudger and percy and cock, of tackle, / of three-for-a-bob, of willy and winky; in fact, / you could say, I'm as au fait with Hunt-the-Salami / as Ms M Lewinsky."

Besides the list-making nuns, she did have two inspiring English teachers at her secondary schools: June Scriven at St Joseph's Convent School and Jim Walker at Stafford Girls' High School. Duffy kept in touch with Scriven until her death this year and regrets that her foremer teacher was not able to read the "school" poem, "The Laughter at Stafford Girls' High", in the new book. At school Duffy absorbed the English canon but her teachers' knowledge stopped at Dylan Thomas. Duffy wanted the contemporary. She found it in the local bookshop, where on one shelf she could browse and buy (with the proceeds of a Saturday job) the Penguin Modern Poets series. These writers - Neruda, Prévert, Aimé Césaire - had a stronger influence on her writing than the English poets she studied at school.

At 14 she decided she was going to be a poet and gambled everything on this. When she began to publish, her parents would ask "Yes, but what's your real job going to be?" And it wasn't the critical acclaim that eventually reconciled them to the poetry job but "a medal from the Queen" (she was awarded the OBE for services to Literature in 1995 and the CBE in this year's New Year Honours).

Duffy's strong sense of direction and vocation has always impressed. Andrew Motion says: "She is extraordinarily well balanced, in her work and in her life. She knew what she needed and where to find it". When Duffy was 15, June Scriven typed up a manuscript of her poems and sent it to Outposts, a well-known publisher of pamphlets. A copy found its way to Bernard Stone, the maverick poetry bookseller and publisher, who became a good friend and published several of her poetry pamphlets over the years. The next year in Stafford she met Adrian Henri at a gig by his band, the Grimms, and decided she wanted to be where he was. She applied to Liverpool University to read philosophy and went up in 1974. Liverpool was then a city of painters and playwrights rather than poets and she became friends with Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale, had two plays performed at the Liverpool Playhouse, and wrote a pamphlet, Fifth Last Song, in collaboration with six painters, who provided illustrations.

She lived with Henri until 1982, gave readings, and published two pamphlets. Henri said of her that she "seemed to arrive fully formed. She was obviously talented, and was always going to make it as soon as she found the right direction". Liverpool made a deep impression on her and she still supports the football team. The Liverpudlian novelist Beryl Bainbridge has said: "Although she has only 'lived' in Liverpool as opposed to being born and bred in that city, it seems to me that her verse beats to a rhythm that I recognise."

The publisher of her first four books, Peter Jay, of Anvil Press, believes that despite her forays into drama she never really wanted to do anything other than poetry. In this she resembles Tony Harrison, another northern poet from a working-class background. For one who began so young, her mature style was slow to develop. In the pamphlet written whilst still at school the poems are romantic, tinged with surrealism, and there are slight traces of the Liverpool poets. Her rise to literary celebrity began in the early 80s when, living in London, she became a writer in residence in east London schools, was awarded a C Day Lewis Fellowship and, most significantly, won the Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition with "Whoever She Was" in 1983. That year, Jay was a judge of the Greenwich Poetry Competition, which Duffy won with "Words of Absolution", a poem about her grandmother. Jay then heard her read and invited her to send a collection. Standing Female Nude was published in 1985. For Roger McGough, who had known her from her early days with Adrian Henri, it was a revelation: "She was a strong person, funny and sharp but we'd assumed she was under Adrian's influence; Standing Female Nude showed that she was more formed than we had thought, a poet all along." From this time on she was regarded as a star in the small, tight, contentious world in which poetry reputations are made.

Through the late 80s and early 90s Duffy was one of the busiest poets on the circuit. She took residencies, gave readings, visited schools, encouraged younger poets on Arvon Foundation courses, was the Guardian's poetry critic 1988-9, and every three years or so came a new book, always stronger than the last. She looks back on that paying of dues with something of a shudder: "As Larkin put it, 'the readings pretending to be yourself; pretending that the poems you've read countless times are being read for the first time or the last; the dinners afterwards.'"

In 1995, after 15 years on the London poetry scene, she decided to become pregnant and to raise a child without the involvement of a father. In 1996 she moved to Manchester where she lives in the leafy suburb of West Didsbury with the poet and novelist Jackie Kay in a house with a largeish, child-centred garden. Her daughter Ella has had a huge effect on Duffy's life and the move to Manchester was partly with her upbringing in mind. Duffy loves the north of England and says, "I measure the north/south divide every day to see if it's getting wider." She and Kay have recently acquired a caravan to make it easier to explore their beloved Lake District. Scotland and Ireland are also on the holiday circuit.

Duffy is a keen gambler and the wager appears often in her poetry: from "Poker in the Falklands with Henry and Jim" (1985) - "We three play poker while outside the real world shrinks to a joker" - to "Mrs Beast" in The World's Wife (1999) - "I watched those wonderful women shuffle and deal - / Five and Seven Card Stud, Sidewinder, Hold 'Em, Draw". In a recent pamphlet, A Woman's Guide to Gambling, she outlines a poetic strategy for betting on horses: "I go for the sound of the words, the beauty they hold / in the movement they make on the air."

She is a romantic who is currently obsessed with Mozart, a believer in high art who loves the tang of the street. She has an exalted sense of the nobility of the poet's calling but becomes uneasy when poets put on purple robes: "I don't like poets to be like priests, as though you were hearing the Mass: I know where that's coming from because I went to Mass as a child." In this context, she once said: "I'm not interested, as a poet, in words like 'plash' - Seamus Heaney words, interesting words. I like to use simple words but in a complicated way."

A strain of nostalgia for childhood and the mysteriousness of its contours runs through her poetry (she once quoted André Breton with approval: "childhood is the only reality"), and this has been brought into a new focus through her daughter, for whom she has written many poems. "Childhood is like a long greenhouse where everything is growing, it's lush and steamy. It's where poems come from," she says. She believes that "having a child turns you into an echo - the child is the real living voice". She articulates this feeling in the title poem of her second children's collection The Oldest Girl in the World (2000): "Truly, believe, me I could all the time see / every insect that crawled in a bush, every bird that hid in a tree, /... Can't see a sniff of it now". These days the sharpness of Ella's perceptions feeds back into Duffy's poems. So, unlike those writers for whom children and writing are the great incompatibles, motherhood is a boon. She says: "The pram in the hall, Connolly's Enemy of Promise - I think for a woman writer a pram in the hall is not the death of art."

She doesn't feel that artists living together necessarily have to be a bomb waiting to go off in the manner of Plath and Hughes. She has lived long stretches of her life with poets and is very down-to-earth about poets and relationships. "I think it's just what your job is. You meet people at work, and I'm more likely to come across people in poetry and literature." She and Kay met on an Arvon course, the poetry world's prime dating agency. Christina Patterson, director of the Poetry Society says: "They're both exceptional. As a partnership it seems a very enviable one: it's a household bursting with intense literary activity, happiness, and pleasure of all kinds; they're both exceptionally warm and kind and natural people."

Most poets probably start from a feeling that their life isn't on a par with their imagination. The force of their work comes from realising their imagination in a concrete form. But isn't there a danger that if you succeed in art and life, life seems the more important? "It is," says Duffy, emphatically. "I think Larkin minded when the muse went away but I couldn't care less if it did. I don't think in my case it would abandon me because it's part of how I see things."

The World's Wife (1999) was the watershed in her career. She widened her audience and perhaps slightly bemused some of those who'd followed her until then. The harrowing personal note of The Other Country and Mean Time was replaced by a roistering, wickedly spiced burlesque. As Peter Jay says: "She wrote The World's Wife to entertain herself and to entertain others, and it succeeds." The book is thematic, every poem being in the voice of the wife of a great man of history, fiction or mythology: Mrs Aesop, Mrs Midas, Queen Herod, Anne Hathaway and so on. It caught the imagination of readers and has sold more than 35,000 copies, making her one of poetry's biggest sellers. For Motion it was "a very brave thing to do. There's always a danger that a book with an overriding idea runs the risk of being the servant of that idea, that you overrun the idea to get the book, but in The World's Wife there's enough petrol in the engine to keep it running." A few men think the poems are a bit too anti-men but Motion says: "There is a sense that as a member of the gender one is under attack but I didn't feel her face was turned against me."

It is hard for anyone, male or female, to resist the book's best jokes. For instance "The Kray Sisters" sets up a sisterly version of the revisionist attitude towards the Krays - they were kind to grannies, didn't touch little girls, kept the district orderly. Then, there is a scene from their prime, when "we'd leant on Sinatra to sing for free". Of course, the reader is thinking: Sinatra with his mob connections; then it hits you that this is Nancy Sinatra, singing the feminist anthem "These Boots are Made for Walking".

In her new book, Feminine Gospels, Duffy hasn't tried to write the daughter of The World's Wife. She says, "When you've finished a book, you're standing in a different place; the landscape has changed". The narratives in the first part of Feminine Gospels play on ideas of gospel truth and tall stories. The element of exaggeration in the idea of tall stories is taken literally (one is even called "Tall"): the poems start with a simple idea and extrapolate it to extremes that tell us something about the times we live in. She is also writing in her own voice again. "The Map Woman" takes up the strain of the "identity" poems from The Other Country, and marries it with the more expansive style of The World's Wife poems. "White Writing" turns Montherlant's aphorism "Happiness writes white" (often quoted by Larkin as a justification for the gloom of his poetry) on its head; "No prayers written to bless you, / I write them white."

The "tall story" poems were under way before September 11, when its shadow "fell across the process". Many writers have agonised about the ability of fiction and poetry to cope with the enormity of the attacks. Duffy's technique is up to it. In "Loud" a woman hearing the news from Afghanistan howls with rage and the howl is heard all round the world. In "Work" a woman doing her ordinary chores becomes the whole weight of work in the world. And perhaps most tellingly of all, in "Tall", a woman outgrows the earth's atmosphere but is still able to reach down to the surface to intervene in the course of the disaster:

She looked back and howled.

She stooped low
and caught their souls in her hands
as they fell
from the burning towers.

Life at a glance:

Carol Ann Duffy

Born: December 23 1955.

Education: 1962-'67 St Austin RC Primary School, Stafford; '67-70 St Joseph's Convent School; '70 -74 Stafford Girls' High School; '74 -77 University of Liverpool (BA hons philosophy).

Partner: Jackie Kay.

Children: One daughter, Ella, 1995.

Awards: 1988 Somerset Maugham Award; '89 Dylan Thomas Award; '93 Forward Prize; Whitbread Prize for Poetry; '95 Lannan Literary Award ; '99 Signal Children's Poetry Prize; 2001 NESTA Award.

Poetry: 1985 Standing Female Nude; '87 Selling Manhattan; '88 Home and Away (ed); '90 The Other Country; '92 I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine (ed); '93 Mean Time; '95 Selected Poems; Anvil New Poems (ed); '99 The World's Wife; 2002 Feminine Gospels.

Plays: 1982 Take My Husband; '84 Cavern of Dreams; '86 Little Women, Big Boys; Loss (radio).

For children: 1999 Meeting Midnight; Rumpelstilskin and other Grimm Tales; 2000 The Oldest Girl in the World.

Honours: 1995 OBE, 2002 CBE.

· Feminine Gospels is published by Picador on September 6, price £12.99.


With cyanide.

Fears over river cyanide effects
BBC News - ‎45 minutes ago‎
Environmental groups have said they are worried about the long-term effects a cyanide leak into the River Trent in Staffordshire will have on wildlife. ...
Metalworks suspected of Trent cyanide leak
Deadly cyanide leak wipes out river wildlife
Hunt is on for source of cyanide that poisoned River Trent Times Online
Independent - Reuters UK
all 216 news articles »


From The Times October 8, 2009

Hunt is on for source of cyanide that poisoned River Trent
Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor Recommend? Thousands of fish have been killed after 30 miles of the River Trent were polluted by cyanide and sewage. Industrial premises in Stoke-on-Trent are being investigated.

There is no risk to the public from contaminated drinking water because supplies are not taken from the river or its main tributaries. People are advised, however, to keep away as a precaution.

The Environment Agency has made clear that it intends to prosecute those responsible for the pollution, which could cause lasting damage to the eco-system. There are also fears that the contaminated water will leach into adjacent farmland.

Agency officials are checking local companies that have permits allowing the limited release of substances such as cyanide. It is used in metal-plating, agriculture and mineral extraction and by pharmaceutical companies.

Anglers said that they would sue for compensation in the civil courts for disruption to fishing rights. Cyanide levels had fallen last night. The agency has been pumping oxygen into the river since Monday night.

The Severn Trent water company reported problems at its Strongford sewage treatment works in Stoke on Sunday night, when partially treated waste began to enter the river. The cyanide contamination was confirmed on Tuesday evening after analysis of water samples. Experts realised that it was the presence of cyanide, a colourless, soluble toxin, that had disrupted the sewage treatment by destroying the organisms used to treat waste.

The toll on fish species and other wildlife along the river between Stoke and Yoxall is not known. Fisheries officials are unable to conduct an audit because of health concerns.

From bridges and the river banks, however, officials have observed thousands of dead fish, among them species such as stickleback, barbel, chub, perch, dace, pike and brown trout.Thousands more may be on the river bed. There are concerns for the effects on birds, such as kingfisher, which feed on these fish species, and for otters, which have made a comeback along the Trent. Seagulls were seen feeding on the fish carcasses yesterday, but conservationists said that these birds were unlikely to be killed by secondary poisoning.

David Lowe, the agency’s environment manager in Staffordshire, said that levels of cyanide in the water were low — only one part per million — but this was enough to affect aquatic species. The Severn Trent water company said that it was not linked to the release of the pollutant.

The Environment Agency has the power to prosecute under the Water Resources Act, which makes it an offence to allow poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter rivers. The biggest fine under the law was imposed five years ago, when Sevalco, a chemical company in Avonmouth, paid £240,000 for deliberately discharging cyanide into the Severn Estuary.

• Clean-up operation Contamination with cyanide, which cannot be detected in water by the naked eye, was identified by laboratory tests on the Trent only on Tuesday evening. By then, some 200 million litres (44 million gallons) of toxic fluid had entered the eco-system The method used to cleanse the water is to introduce oxygen into it to break up the solid matter. This is achieved by use of aerators or oxyjets — a system of pumps on a trailer — which take in river water and inject it with hydrogen peroxide before the water is then sprayed back into the river Two aerators, each manned by a team of three or four agency staff, are being operated around the clock

Saturday, 3 October 2009


From the excellent blog spot "Notbornyesterday", reposted here in the interests of preventing more institutional child abuse in the form of state legalised human trafficking via the secret (illegal) family kangaroo courts


In the wake of another horrific sexual abuse scandal, top Ministers are 'too busy' to stop it happening again.

Harman (l) and Balls: did nothing for three years

Following the guilty verdict in the Vanessa George trial earlier this week, Ed Balls told the BBC that ‘this kind of abuse’ represented ‘a deeply distressing and disturbing case’.

But ‘this kind of abuse’ is not only more widespread and endemic than he appears to understand… is also only one (paedophiliac) form of it.

Children from problem homes - and their mothers – have been abused in various ways for years by the secret Family Courts system designed to help with their problems. Since 2001, the system has been the responsibility of Cafcass, a quango answerable directly to…….Minister for Children Ed Balls.

Abuse No 1: their human rights. Mothers entering the system now (themselves previously victims of care-home sexual abuse as children) find themselves diagnosed with ‘syndromes’ which have little or no psychiatric validity, and are sent for ‘remedial treatment’ – with little or no form of redress or appeal. The Minister for Women is….Harriet Harman.

In 2006 she told the Commons, “The idea that people are sent to prison without any reports of the proceedings makes even more important the work that we are undertaking with the family courts, and with the important intervention of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, to open them up so that they act in the public interest while maintaining personal privacy."

In April 2009, the Government allowed media ‘access’ to the Secret Courts – but effectively neutered it by insisting that ‘In the interests of children, for the safety and protection of parties or witnesses (or persons connected with them), for the orderly conduct of proceedings, or where justice would otherwise be prejudiced, the court will have the power to restrict the attendance of the media’. (Our emphasis)

This is merely gesture government. The campaign MothersforJustice is linked to nby and waits impatiently for this cancer at the very heart of our legal system to be removed....without anything tangible three long years on.

Abuse No 2: sexual abuse. Both the problem mothers and their children have been put into separate ‘care’ centres, and then abused sexually following their ‘diagnosis’ with psychiatric illnesses.

M4J and the various victim support organisations in the UK are snowed under dealing with the many cases involved. One such is Barbara Richards – herself a victim of the pin-down scandal many years ago (See below) . On the basis of what many now believe to be a bogus theory, Barbara Richards was placed against her will in an institution where she had already been sexually abused as a child. The ‘theory’ concerned is Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Ms Richards told us:

“PAS is a trumped-up excuse, the brainchild of a long-discredited US psychiatrist”.

She appears to have a point. Dr. Paul J. Fink, a past President of the APA and President of the Leadership Council on Mental Health, Justice, and the Media, states categorically that “PAS as a scientific theory has been excoriated by legitimate researchers across the nation. Judged solely on its merits, Dr. Gardner should be a pathetic footnote of psychiatry, or an example of poor scientific standards.... Gardner and his bogus theory have done untold damage to sexually and physically abused children and their protective parents."

This is because paedophiles can position themselves as 'safe alternatives' to mothers diagnosed with PAS. US attorney Richard Ducote goes further: "Parental Alienation Syndrome is a bogus, pro-paedophiliac fraud concocted by Richard Gardner".

Abuse No 3: physical abuse. Despite the appalling Staffordshire ‘pin-down’ scandal of seven years ago (as a result of which 11 year-old Gareth Myatt died) casual and gratuitous physical restraint continues. After the tragic Myatt case, in 2006 popular Labour MP Sally Keeble made a Parliamentary fuss about it, pointing out how Court secrecy underpins and protects the abusers.

Three years on, the Government says it will further

“….revise the law on reporting restrictions as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

The two Ministers responsible for making this happen are…..Harriet Harman and Ed Balls.

These were Mr Balls’ exact words following this weeks Nursery abuse trial:

"This is a deeply distressing and disturbing case. It is vital we find out how an adult could abuse their position of trust in such an evil way, and we must do everything we can to prevent this kind of abuse happening in the future".

There’s that ‘everything we can’ mantra again. But on the ground, the reality in this case is ‘nothing’.

Perhaps if Ed spent less time Tweeting, and smearing sites like nby as “the ultra-Right spreading groundless rumours”, he might get around to it. As for Ms Harman – well, as you can read elsewhere, she and her Insignificant Other Jack Dromey are busy building up a war-chest with which to fight for the post-Brown Labour leadership. She may be an active Minister for Women, but she’s not doing one helluvalot for Mothers.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


To defend myself against the accusation I recieved, that I have tried to bully the Prime Minister. I am certainly not a bully, and do not deserve to be accused of being one - I detest bullying and always have, all through my life.