Nicola Barry

Monthly Archives: November 2012

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Prisoner voting rights

Cameron spews forth on prisoner voting rights

David Cameron, oh puh-lease.

article on prisoner voting rights, David Cameron image

Contemplating porridge, Prime Minister?

The Eton-educated Prime Minister has said that the idea of prisoners being given the vote makes him “physically sick”.

What a weak stomach the man must possess. And, what on earth do they teach people at Eton – certainly not concern for the less perfect; the less well-off or those whose lives are wrecked by poverty and deprivation.

Yes, Prime Minister, you did go to a good school and you should know better. I expect more of a man in your position. I went to a little-known convent where the education was so bad that we were all given a day off if any girl got into Oxford or Cambridge. In six years at that school, we only had one day off, but, at least, we learned to care about other people.

If you are unfortunate enough to be banged up in the UK – unlike in other countries such as The Netherlands and Spain, you can’t search for the party that’ll be nicest to prisoners and put a firm cross on a ballot form and have your say. You’re in the clink so no way are you going anywhere near a ballot box, it is simply not allowed.

The trouble is, Mr Cameron, most inmates are not the vile murderers and sex offenders you imagine. The truth is that a vast number are in jail because they cannot afford to pay fines for minor misdemeanours they have committed.

And that makes me feel physically sick. It isn’t fair. We all make mistakes. Fortunately, and especially if we have been educated at Eton, we can afford to pay any fine imposed.

Isn’t the truth behind your dislike of the idea of prisoners being allowed in the ballot box quite simply that such a reform would not be a vote winner and would enrage your rabid Right devotees; I mean the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade? Let’s be honest, staying in power is everything to politicians. We all know that.

Like it or not – and you obviously don’t – voting is a basic human right, not, I repeat not, a privilege or a benefit which can be earned or lost. Withholding the vote from prisoners is an archaic law in urgent need of reform, even if it does make our PM throw up in the process.

In fact, for prisoners, the right to vote would be far more meaningful than exercising a human right. It could be a first, crucial step towards engaging with society in a positive way. Isn’t that what you want: to cut down on the high rates of recidivism in this country? Supporters say giving prisoners the right to vote would help with their rehabilitation and keep them in touch with society and their role as citizens within the wider community.

People like Cameron, on the other hand, believe that if offenders have failed to conform to the laws of our society then they should have no influence on how that society is run.

However, regardless of whether a person is in prison or not, he or she is still affected by the laws and the government of the country. Because of this, prisoners just like other adult citizens, should have the right to vote.

David, have you forgotten that we live in a democracy where everybody is equal, irrespective of how much or how little a person has contributed to society.

Allowing a prisoner to retain the vote is not the same as awarding them champagne and caviar; it simply means that the custodial system, which is condemned year after year, might stand a chance of being reformed.

Also, you are forgetting the innocent families of these offenders who make you want to vomit?

Or do they make you feel sick as well?

At least, in jail, there is an infrastructure of sorts to support prisoners. There is no real equivalent for the families. Relatives are rarely prepared for the verdict. Hence, there is almost always shock, panic and a great deal of distress when someone is sentenced. Often women lose their one and only breadwinner and, if the crime is bad enough, they sometimes have to face the disgust of neighbours plus the anger of the victim’s family.

It’s bad enough being inside but, at least, a prisoner gets three square meals and a roof over his or her head. Some offenders’ families are left utterly devastated by a sentence.

The paradox of imprisonment lies in society’s expectations: the community wants rehabilitation, but, importantly, retribution as well. Imprisonment is not enough for the public. They want prisoners to suffer in jail. They want their pound of flesh and prefer to ignore the famous law which demands that deprivation of liberty is the one-and-only punishment.

That’s what I call sickening, Mr Cameron.


Article focus: prisoner voting rights



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Schizophrenia requires expert care

Today’s report from the Schizophrenia Commission says that care for people with schizophrenia in England (or, rather the lack of it) is falling “catastrophically short” and requires a major overhaul.

Rethink Mental Illness logo

Rethink Mental Illness

Perhaps England can get over itself for a moment and remember the rest of the UK, where the situation is sadly similar.

The report says patients spend too long in “demoralised and dysfunctional” hospital wards, prompting the head of the brilliant charity, Rethink Mental Illness, Paul Jenkins, to say, “It’s been over 100 years since the term ‘schizophrenia’ was first coined, but care and treatment are still nowhere near good enough. It is an absolute scandal that, in 2012, people with schizophrenia are dying 15-20 years earlier than the general population.”

The fact is mental illness is the disease nobody has. The eternal cry goes like this: “Mentally ill? Who? Me? No, no, I’m fine, thanks”. Denial is – has always been – emphatic. To make matters worse, someone who denies he or she is ill is unlikely to seek treatment, so their illness, inevitably, becomes more and more acute. Unfortunately, a diagnosis of mental illness can be overwhelming, because the sufferer knows the subject is taboo and doesn’t want other people to know they are in a psychiatric ward. Sometimes they don’t even tell friends and family. The stigma is that bad. Whereas, The truth is psychiatric illnesses are every bit as real as heart disease or cancer and they need to be treated with the same expertise.

Why is the stigma so bad? Because we promote the idea that mental illness is a weakness or character defect; that people would improve if they’d only just pull themselves together. Horror of horrors, we also peddle the notion of dangerous killers, who happen to suffer from schizophrenia, roaming the streets seeking out innocent people to kill.

In the past 20 years or so, research into psychiatry has been progressive. Where once mentally ill people were warehoused in public institutions because they were disruptive or harmed themselves, today most are treated – highly effectively – in the community – where those who see themselves as ‘normal’ persist in using labels such as psycho, wierdo and nutter, words you see every day in the papers, words of the ill-informed and badly-educated and words which reflect the sad truth about how the average person perceives mental illness.

The typical media scenario is this: a person with schizophrenia kills an innocent passer-by and the press goes wild. The question journalists should be asking is: what about people who are murdered in fights outside pubs every weekend? And, why do their deaths, however violent, only merit a few tabloid paragraphs? Isn’t it really strange how – when someone is ill – others are so keen to point the finger?

Don’t get me wrong. For the family of any murder victim, their horror and suffering are inexpressible. No one deserves to be the victim of a brutal and violent crime. However, schizophrenia is an illness which can bring fear into the hearts of even the affected person’s closest family members. Unfortunately, we tend to under-estimate what it can do to a family; ignore the fact that it can drive those who live with it to the very edge of despair. Schizophrenia involves terrifying periods of mental illness – during which the mind is invaded by voices or delusions and the person’s world becomes totally distorted. Its progress can be so gradual. Like a slow train approaching, an impossibly silent one, it can creep up on young people and strikes them suddenly, without warning.

Imagine that your son starts staying in bed all day or sitting up all night, plays loud music and has a TV blaring at the same time. It’s fairly standard behaviour for a young man, isn’t it? Sooner or later, however, his behaviour is no longer standard. He starts making accusations such as: ‘this food tastes funny’, ‘you’re trying to poison me’, ‘someone is trying to kill me’. You notice he is holding strange conversations and there is nobody else in the room.

Finally your son threatens you with a knife. Fortunately, someone manages to calm him down. Then you do something you never imagined yourself capable of. One day, when he is out, you change the lock and bolt all the doors – because now you are really frightened. The son you used to worship has gone forever and the young man in his place is not someone you want around the house. You have reached the end of an extremely long tether. And then it happens. Someone is attacked in the street, left for dead. You hear it on the news. You feel outraged on behalf of the victim, but, you never expect, not in a million years, that it will be your door the police knock on; your son they want to question about a murder. Hey, it could happen to any one of us.

However – and this is the crucial point – most schizophrenics are not violent. Ever. There is more danger outside any pub in the world on a Saturday night. Did you know that a staggering one in seven schizophrenics commits suicide? Unbelievably, there is there never any public outcry about this little known statistic. Yes, you heard me right. One in seven.

Isn’t the sordid truth that we only want to know about schizophrenics when they have committed a crime, when it is too late for us to offer them any help? No, I’m not just talking about journalists. We are all complicit. Shame on us.


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Men cry

Article focus: men cry. Image of Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart

Real men cry, but only when it matters

All my life I’ve been told that crying is for babies, women and wimps. Let us be honest for a change and add one more to that list: men involved in sport, especially Scotsmen. For marathon, read blubathon.

Maybe in other parts of the world, crying is OK for blokes, but, in the macho Scottish culture, for a man to boo-hoo is out-and-out taboo territory.

Of course, there are many stages to the process of crying: eyes filling with tears, silent weeping, great big blubbery sobs … right through to full, go-for-it caterwauling.

But there is a time and place, and, apparently, it should never be in public.

Nevertheless, old Rod Stewart blubbed away after Glasgow’s Celtic beat Barcelona 2-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday. The man was squirting for Scotland. The spectacle was quite excruciating – almost as bad as Andy Murray blubbering when he lost Wimbledon earlier this year. Boo hoo, fans, look at me, I’ve lost again.

Oh yes, said the commentators, “At last, we’re seeing another side to Andy Murray’s dour nature. Look, oh, do look, he’s crying, aaaw, diddums. Poor Andy Pandy.” Murray’s blubbing really annoyed me back then. I mean, pardon the pun but it seemed so very wet.

Most of you will remember – who could forget – Gazza, aka Paul Gascoigne, the former England midfielder, whose tears became one of the iconic images of the 1990 World Cup – all because he lost a game … not a very good sport, eh?

Another sports legend prone to sudden and unpredictable bouts of weeping is the ghastly David Beckham. Remember how he sobbed because he was taking his son to school for the first time. Sorry, no prizes for identifying the biggest baby there.

So, why do bawling men bug me so much?

Because, when women cry, it is always written off as a sign of weakness, especially in the office environment, where, inevitably, it means it’s her “time of the month” or that “she’s using her womanly wiles”.

For some reason, unlike Rod Stewart, who sobbed for several minutes over a few blokes running up and down a field with a football, a woman is not allowed to be upset about anything at all.

Why not?

It is so human to express emotion and it should be absolutely central to the way we conduct our lives – to how we build our families, pursue our goals and whether we feel good or bad about ourselves.

In fact, being able to show emotion is one of the few qualities that supposedly separate us from the beasts. The capacity to handle the complexities of our emotional lives was as widespread as the ability to read and write.

It won’t happen though, not as long as men interpret women’s tears as weak. Not as long as they refuse to tolerate crying, unless it is they who are doing it.

A lot of men see women as over-emotional, soft-centred and best suited for child-rearing and crying in the Ladies.

All the same, it must be confusing to be a guy. So many men don’t show emotion but remain trapped inside macho images, brought up being given mixed messages about what it means to be a real man.

Psychologists have reported that, while society accepts men cry occasionally, there are limits.

If, for example, a man were to burst into tears with fear at the thought of visiting the dentist, most women would consider him an out-and-out wimp.

So, there is crying and then there is crying.

In the Sixties and Seventies, during the birth of feminism, men were encouraged to cry; to get in touch with their female side. In those days you weren’t a real woman if you didn’t date a man who could burst into tears at the drop of a hat.

For at least a decade, the strong, silent type was out, regarded as a defective person, a cold potato.

In this century, however, men are allowed, admired even, for crying but only – and I mean ONLY – when the cause of their tears is something manly and important. Witness President Barack Obama!

After 9/11, the legendary American news anchor Dan Rather cried on David Letterman’s show while talking about the tragedy.

What he had to say was utterly mesmerising; partly because a man like Dan Rather did not normally cry.

But there was a clear underlying message: that it was acceptable for a REAL man to cry at a time of such unprecedented horror.

Most women cry a lot. We think it is normal. Visit any ladies loo in the UK and you will find the same scene: one woman bawling her eyes out and three others in attendance with hankies. One is regaling the others with the words: ‘do you know what that bastard said?’ while the others listen open-mouthed and suitably appalled.

This is no witches’ coven mercilessly feeding off each other’s misery. Crying is just one of the ways in which women express emotion and there is nothing wrong with that. A good blub is very healthy, because, contrary to popular belief, it is the stiff upper lip, the bottling up of emotion, which is bad for you.

Good old Rod. You’re in my heart, son, you’re in my soul.


Article focus: why can’t men cry openly?

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Research, damned lies and statistics

Article focus: research statistics

‘I’m not one to bitch, but if Agnes isn’t on the botox, I’m Daniel Craig’s new lover.’

Every day, yet another, often fatuous, piece of research hits the headlines.

It may be about obesity, global warming, whether single men are more content than their married counterparts or some tenuous proof that broccoli cures cancer.

Occasionally, there is something serious and worthwhile, but, it is rare.

The latest in silly research subjects comes courtesy of the Scottish Government’s Equality Groups Health Survey which claims that atheists and agnostics are the people most likely to drink excessively.

So what?

One in four of those questioned, who said they did not belong to any religious group, apparently drink harmful levels of alcohol every week.

According to the same study, Muslims did the lowest amount of physical activity while on the other hand those with no religious faith took part in the most sport and other activities to keep fit.


How can they find time to play sport when they’re boozing 24/7?

Wait, it gets worse:

The study said homosexuals were significantly more likely to drink to hazardous or harmful levels than the national average, but, wait for it, even more fascinating, gay people are significantly less likely to have diabetes than the national average.

The report also revealed differences in the social and eating habits of various religions and groups of people.

Catholics are addicted to fish and chips.

No, not really. I made that up. But Buddhists and Hindus have the lowest levels of obesity, while Church of Scotland members have significantly higher levels than the national average. They drink more too.

I didn’t find any explanation for this random conclusion but I live beside a Church of Scotland kirk and the congregation all look pretty skinny to me – and scarily sober.

You might as well say that people who like cabbage make good upholsterers.

This fatuous piece of research was described by one newspaper as a fascinating insight into the changing face of Scotland.

Some people don’t get out much.

To be blunt, research, who needs it?

Yet, it is a burgeoning industry.

Naturally, we can never make the mistake of condemning all research out of hand.

That would be absurd.

But, not to put too fine a point on it, some universities and organisations have better reputations than others.

One of the most ridiculous examples of research – paid for, incidentally, by us – Joe Public – involved researchers finding out which end of the bath people sat and why.

Just as ridiculous was Glasgow Caledonian University spending a staggering – staggering being the operative word – £40,000 proving that a hangover makes you feel bad.

Wow, ground breaking, or what?

There are notable exceptions: the North East of Scotland, for example, is a source of first-class research – possibly because there are so many excellent academic establishments in the area: Robert Gordon University, the Rowett Institute and the University of Aberdeen.

For example, RGU’s Centre for Research in Energy and the Environment, study ways to minimise the impact of climate change, in particular water availability and sustainability. These have a massive relevance to society; providing an effective treatment method for removing highly toxic material from drinking water supplies.

However, even Aberdeen University has its off moments.

In 2008, a study showed that women became less bitchy as they got older; claiming that those aged 50 and over were more likely to warm to other females because they no longer saw them as rivals.

I do not understand the significance of that – at all.

After all, we have always known, that, officially, men don’t bitch.

When blokes get together, they are “networking”.

When women do the same, they are “bitching”.

I am an older woman and I am as bitchy as ever.

There is nothing better in this world than a really good bitch, particularly when the target of your vicious words deserves every bit of it.

In the words of Alice Roosevelt Longworth: “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come and sit next to me.”

Do we really need to pay researchers to tell us the age at which we bitch best?

Article focus: Research  & statistics

Photo credit: Flickr, Ed Yourdon, http:[email protected]/2650142503



photo by: Ed Yourdon