Sunday, 9 July 2017

Fostering Failures

I should like very much for the reader to watch the following short, a mere twenty-six minutes, film (movie) called "Home(less)", as it covers the topic of fostering and how the system often fails fosterees.

The description of the film is as follow:
Home(less) is the story of Ben, a gay seventeen year old on the verge of aging-out of foster care. He has been in six different foster homes and three group homes over the past five years. Becoming accustomed to conditional love, Ben has lost hope in finding a forever family. He struggles with establishing a relationship with his boyfriend and finding his older sister.

I commented in the section on YouTube below the video, along with other commentators from across the globe. The comments come from fosterers, potential fosterers, fosterees and other interested parties.

I think the acting by the two leads is terrific. We are led to understand why Karen is so concerned and why Ben is so self-protective. I love that we are given background info on both these characters - Karen's home & work-place; Ben's disappeared sister & romantic attachment - as it gives them more depth.
Being passed from pillar to post is, lamentably, not uncommon for such youngsters. Foster homes have to work for all concerned, including the foster-parents and foster-siblings. I should like to see different ideas explored for fosterers and fosterees to meet socially prior to placement, to see whether there is compatibility with the foster-family. Studying & learning from systems that are more successful might help; but I suspect in many systems it is [the] lack of funding which is its downfall.
I think the design of care-systems around the world tend to be proscriptive and inflexible. In the UK, due to constant cuts to budgets, there are insufficient staff to adequately check on children's welfare. Despite many high-profile cases of abuse & even killings and subsequent investigations making countless recommendations, rarely is anything done in actuality to ameliorate the situations.
My housemate & I are both queer, well-educated and financially sound. We have the space to home a youngster. However, I am disabled (requiring some carer support) and chum works during the day. We are not deemed acceptable as a potential foster-home, because the social-workers cannot tick ALL the necessary boxes.
Instead, thousands of children are left in a system that ultimately means they will, on average, do less well educationally, at work, in relationships, are more likely to become involved in crime and even die younger.
Most families are far from perfect; so the system ought not to only want perfect environments!
I hope the sequel you are planning gets off the ground and is successful.
May I ask for a listing at the end of the film of organisations which might be able to assist?
My thanks for a touching film & wishes for future success!

The company that produced the short are hoping to create a feature-length film exploring the issues in greater detail as well as progressing the narrative. If the reader would like to financially contribute the film-makers, please do contact On-Ride Entertainment, LLC. directly. Thanks.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Cachitos, Rambla de Catalunya, Barcelona: a Review

On my fourth day in Barcelona, with the wonderful heat, I felt sufficiently well to leave the barrio of Poble Sec and explore the city; although, admittedly, pushed in my wheelchair by my ever sturdy assistant.

Initially we thought of dining in the restaurant of El Corte Inglés at Plaça de Catalunya; but on arrival on their top storey, we discovered that only a self-serve cafeteria was available, requiring one to queue for each and every course and drinks separately. For a chap in a wheelchair, even with an assistant, this would have been an arduous experience. It was a no-no.

So, we set off to explore Eixample, the shopping area of the city. It is also nicknamed Geixample (pronounced gay-shample) due to the concentration of LGBTI businesses and residents. Obviously any eatery we selected had to be wheelchair-accessible in the first instant, but also it had to appeal to the tastes of two different individuals. After a wonderful amble, we stumbled across Rambla de Catalunya. This had covered terrace eateries up and down its length. My pusher pushed and we scoured menus. We spotted a lovely fish restaurant and held it in reserve. However, there was a table on the edge of the covered - thus shady - terrace, which meant I could tuck under the wheelchair and transfer to an ordinary dining-chair, so Cachitos it was.

[Image description: the writer, his wheelchair at his side, at table with a glass of cava rosé]

The maître d' was warm and welcoming. Funnily he assumed I was French and my chum English. Not the first time my Spanish has been assumed to be spoken by a Frenchman. Richard glanced through the wine list and made his selection. Alas, the poor waiter had to return to inform us they had run out. Rico opted for a Juvé y Camps Cava rosé. This was priced at €22, approximately double its price in a Spanish wine-merchant's.

We were not so hungry that we wanted a three-course repast. I selected tuna tartare on an avocado base (below, top left). My companion opted for lamb cutlets with potatoes (below, bottom). Both meals cost €24 each. To share we chose a goat's cheese & pomegranate salad at €10.90 (below, top right), which was very tasty and priced about right for a city centre.

My plate was delicious, the quality good; but was definitely not worth the price paid. This was no cordon-bleu dish. My companion ate all his ration; but, similarly, it was the kind of dish that can be bought for far less in many a Spanish eatery.

For dessert I had to try crema catalana (image above). The vanilla custard was exquisitely light. The sugar-toffee topping ultra-fine. By far the best example I have ever had in Spain or anywhere for that matter. At €5.30 completely worth the price.

Richard chose cheesecake with a blackcurrant coulis (image above). At €6.00 this is more expensive than pâtisserie prices. It was good - but again, not that good, so did not represent value for money.

Service was very good and both our waiter and the maître d' were extremely enthusiastic about their offerings: we were made very welcome. The service level was spot-on, neither too lax nor too fussy.

The total bill with gratuity came to €100. Admittedly we were sitting in a wonderful location and really enjoyed our meal; but the price compared to the standard & quality of cuisine, with hindsight, was far too high.

We had a lovely time and do not regret the experience. However, I cannot recommend Cachitos to you, unless of course money is no object to the reader.

Friday, 23 June 2017

La Federica, Poble Sec, Barcelona: a Review

On the evening of day three in Barcelona, I had recovered sufficiently to take a short stroll into the district in which we were residing, Poble Sec. This is a trendy quarter rapidly becoming known for its culinary highlights. For an example, see my last post on Camilo Hock's Atelier Pan & Cook.

Prior to actually making the trip, I had done some research on places to see, dine at and so on, as well as determining whether there are any gay bars in the vicinity. Spain is not like the UK when it comes to bars specifically dedicated to the queer community, as most bars are welcoming or at least tolerant of one & all. However, there is a concentration of gay-friendly businesses in Eixample, which also happens to be the area for best shopping. So concentrated with LGBTI folk, the area is often nicknamed Geixample (pronounced gay-shample). However, Poble Sec has just the one gay bar - La Federica.

[Image description: (left) the outside façade & hoarding; (right) inside looking out.]

Unlike many bars in Manchester's Gay Village, this bar was frequented by all the stereotypes (bears, leather boys, trannies, lipstick lesbians, denim dykes, disco bunnies, nervous twinks, hipster gays, camp gays, etc.) and aged from twinks to polar-bears. What struck me most was that they all talked to each other - even the lesbians! I was really surprised at what a family atmosphere there is here and told Albert the barman (and co-owner) so. He said that was the vibe they were aiming for. They even permit heteros, as long as they are queer-accepting, gay-friendly.

The top image is myself standing at the trendily retro bar. Whilst the width of the building is somewhat narrow, one can gain a sense of its depth from the bottom left photo of me savouring my dry Martini, expertly shaken not stirred by the delightful, chatty & amiable barkeep. Best dry Martini ever! And to add to my joy, Albert gave me his tip for making it so! - but my lips are sealed! 

Be not fooled by the bottom right portrait of Rico: that is a Moscow Mule and no soft-drink whatever the label on that can of ginger-beer!

Whilst there, we were privy to an art exhibition by the collagist, Randomagus. This link should lead you to the artist installing, previewing and selling his works. The photograph (© La Federica) below is of the artist between the other barman & co-owner (also named Albert) and Albert, the shorter chap on the right as viewed.

Randomagus is extremely tall - his head can be seen popping over the head of the blonde lass behind me in the image below, where I am celebrating my purchase of a limited addition print, signed by the artist himself.

Depending on the night and time one turns up at La Federica will determine the type of ambience from a place for a quiet pick-me-up to a boisterous bacchanalia of imbibing, chatting, laughter and music.

We loved the place so much we popped in twice for wee drinkies. When we are next in Barcelona, nothing will keep us from saying ¡hola! to Albert and his affable clientèle. And anyway, we need to continue working through and sampling all the cocktails on the list!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Atelier Pan & Cook: a Review

[Image description: the external façade.]

For our final meal in Barcelona, we had wanted to return to our favourite taparía cum restaurant; however, despite the place being almost empty, they were fully booked up. We were disappointed but knew there are many other eateries within my hobbling ability. The previous night we had passed Atelier Pan & Cook as the waitress was closing down. She appeared tired, but gave us a beautiful smile, so we decided to try there next. This time we were not disappointed, we turned out to be the only diners and so were able to choose any spot in the restaurant. We opted for the table where the cool air from the air-conditioning could be most felt.

[Image description: Camilo, the chef & owner working hard in his galley.]

We literally had no idea what type of food we were to be served. We quickly ordered two beers. Refreshing, slightly citrussy, slightly sweet Estrella Damm was delivered to table in goblet glasses (copas ballon). The light beer hit the spot and after a few minutes chit-chat between each other and checking out the restaurant décor - soft industrial - and observing the chef in his wee cell, the ebullient waitress, Mariana, came back and explained the menu.

The speciality of Pan & Cook is a sort of fondue which is served in a small cauldron topped with fresh bread in the form of a mini loaf. The same fillings can also be served atop a crêpe. Neither option appealed to me as I wanted a light meal; but my companion opted for one of the crêpe dishes.

There are three options for selecting from the menu: à la carte and two table d'hôte options, one at €21 or the second at €14. We opted for the cheaper of the latter, simply because we were not that hungry. Included were a drink, the appetiser of the day, a seasonal salad, any main and either a dessert or a coffee.

Aperitivo del dia (image above):
The appetiser was a small pot of delicious mushrooms, simply cooked in a little oil and sprinkled with sea-salt. Delish!

Ensalada de temporada (image above):
Lettuce, radish, cherry tomatoes & avocado with a mustard dressing. Also delicious!

Colin's main course - El ceviche de Atelier (image above):
Cebiche is a Peruvian dish. The white fish used on this occasion was hake - or colin in French!

Rico's main course - Lomo de ternera con salsa de 4 quesos (image above):
This was a crêpe with four cheese & veal/beef

Postre/Dessert (image above):
We both opted for the pear cheesecake. It was a combination of an American-style and a traditional baked cheesecake. Delish AND moreish!

We ordered a glass of rosé apiece to go with our mains and desserts. At under €40 for the two of us an extremely reasonably-priced meal.

Atelier Pan & Cook, has a great, modern ambience. Its clientèle was made up of mainly locals of a range of ages, but two other tourists (from US) also dined whilst we were there. The place was spotless. The toilet is accessible, however there is one quite high step to initially enter the building, which might make it difficult to enter by wheelchair. The WC is not suitable for wheelchairs in any case. Above all, the food is delicious, of very good quality and well presented. Service was spot on.

Highly recommended.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

PIP at last

The letter (image of letter-heading below) from the DWP regarding my Personal Independence (PIP) claim arrived whilst I was in Barcelona.

I have been granted the "enhanced rate" for both mobility AND daily living needs. Furthermore, I have been given a rare (per benefitsandwork site) "ongoing" status - which I have now determined means I am "unlikely to get either better or worse" in the future.

However, apparently DWP can randomly decide to check whenever they wish - so it is hardly re-assuring and is certainly not giving me any sense of settled stability. So it looks as if I shall be on the anti-anxiety meds until such time as the DWP is reformed or the PIP laws are altered to be less intrusive & menacing.

Oh, I have just found a section which states that they will check me again after 22nd May 2027. To all intents & purposes knowing such still makes no difference, due to the we-can-check-on-you-at-any-time catch-all clause.

I was awarded 28 points for daily living (12 points needed to get enhanced rate) and 16 points for mobility (also 12 points needed to get enhanced rate). I disagree with some of the points given; but there is little point in arguing as it would make no material difference and would simply delay payments being made to me.

The decision-maker's conclusion reads:
I made my decision using information about your health condition or disability including details of any treatment, medication, test results and symptoms. This information is the best we have available and enough to decide how much help you need without aface to face consultation.As your needs vary, my decision is based on the help you need most days.The information shows your health condition or disability causes you great difficulty with Daily Living activities.The information shows your health condition or disability causes you great difficulty planning and following journeys and moving around.This is consistent with your medical history, the available evidence and the information you provided about how your disability affects you. (sic)
The award letter is ten pages long. After three read-throughs I think I have grasped it and that the above are the pertinent points.

In conclusion I ought to feel happy & relieved; but I feel no sense of satisfaction and still very much unsettled by it all.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

La Despensa Familiar, Benalmádena: a Review

I am a regular visitor to Benalmádena. And I think La Despensa Familiar has been open about three years or so. The staff are knowledgeable about what they sell. On several occasions I have visited advising what I intended to cook and have been recommended a perfect wine to accompany the food, and without breaking the bank.

On the last occasion, having done a supermarket run next-door, on a hot & sticky day we were fully ready for some refreshment. There is seating inside, which I think is air-conditioned - at least it is cooler than on the terrace. We sat outside on stools at barrels which serve as tables. I had a deliciously fruity, chilled rosado/rosé at €2,30 and my companion a caña/draught beer, for €1,25. Perfectly reasonable prices.

At Spanish lunch-times and dinner-times, the place is packed. So popular is it with locals that the place is open seven days a week, including Sundays now.

[Image description: the platter of four types of charcuterie plus cheese]
From the deli counter we ordered a platter of Iberian charcuterie & cheese for two. This was very reasonably priced at €15 for take-away (take-out). The assistant's attention to detail meant that when he noticed a slice of cheese had slipped from its position, he unwrapped the platter and started afresh - dedication! We had it that very evening for our evening meal, over a couple of hours, with a lovely bottle of Rioja.

[Image description: the platter as centre-piece of our dinner on the balcony]

Staff are friendly and helpful. I speak Spanish; but English is spoken when needed.


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

La Canasta, Málaga: a Review

La Canasta is my favourite coffee haunt when in the city of Málaga. This particular branch of the small provincial chain is extremely handy for the largest El Corte Inglés department store in the city. I have never been when the place is not packed and the waiters are run dogged; but they are fair and serve each in turn. In actuality, one is served very rapidly.

On this occasion we were ready for our first shot of caffeine for the day and the milk that we did not have on the cereal we missed by setting off to the city as early as possible. Each café con leche cost €1.35, was hot, strong and delicious.

[Image Description: coffee in a logo'd cup with an almost demolished cake]

Of course, it would have been rude to visit a pâtisserie (amongst other things) without sampling the cakes. My companion tried the new Bracito Pio X and I opted for natural mousse café-turrón. Each at €2,15, they were delicious and nought went back to the kitchen.

Refreshed and sated, we paid as quickly as we had ordered and set off to do our shopping…

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Viva Lola, Málaga: a Review

Having completed our list of shopping chores at El Corte Inglés, the main store just west of the casco (old city centre), we went up to the top floor to visit the Gourmet Experience. Here one can purchases beverages and foodstuffs from across the globe, from delicacies to locally sourced products. Furthermore, there are several eateries: some are parts of chains; others are independents.

[Image description: my companion with just some of our shopping
with Viva Lola's signage in the background]

Málaga being a port-city and a fishing-port as well, I of course wanted to sample the harvest from the sea. A new sea-food restaurant has recently opened, named Viva Lola. It is part of the Los Mellizos group of restaurants.

We selected our own table and were glad to sit down in extremely comfortable, ice grey coloured, Vitra Eames chairs. I find sitting due to my disabilities to be be extremely uncomfortable if not outright painful. These seats had plenty of lumber support and sufficient give to let me relax long enough to dine.

[Image description: the writer toasting with his wine; behind kitchen & bar staff at work]

Almost immediately a waiter was over and took our drinks orders. We were hot and did not yet know what we intended to eat, so selected rosado/rosé, a large glass of a fine wine cost an unbelievably low €3,10 (for city-centre prices). The waiter then brought over the menus for us to peruse.

[Image description:the menu and a chef's appetiser of a chunk of fresh tuna
atop a bed of chopped tomato on a mini bruschetta]

My dining companion & fellow shopper oohed and ahhed at the offerings. I, of course, ever mindful of my food allergy, kept an open-mind as to what I might be permitted to sample. We were hoping to try the whitebait, but Paul (the maître d'-manager) said when he had been to the fish-market that morning, they had not been good enough. So, instead we chose the special board of the day (left image below), pata de pulpo con mojo picón which would be octopus tentacle with a piquant sauce & lime (right image below).

It was absolutely delicious. The octopus flesh had not been overcooked, so instead of rubbery we bit into a meaty, steak-like texture. The flavour was somewhat like chicken, but far more delicious. This plate was emptied and got the thumbs-up. At €12 perhaps on the pricey side - but well worth it from my perspective for the mouth sensation, and quality. And believe it or not, on a blind tasting several years ago, it transpired that friend's favourite 'fish' is in fact octopus; so a contented chum too.

Whilst Paul tried to find a dish I would like for my mains, he sent over two steamed scallops, each designed for our respective tastes (image above). My chum is not the biggest fish-lover, but it was at this point that even he was making orgasmic noises on the other side of table. His was spicy; mine was sweet & sour. Mmmmmmm…

Richard's tarantelo de atún served with home-made French fries (image above) finally arrived with our next glass of wine. This is the bees-knees of tuna, the cut to dine upon. And my friend wolfed it down.

As you can see from above, there was little left on his plate.

In the meantime, I was treated to the most divine tuna steak, for me perfectly cooked - just seared on the outside and cooked hot enough to heat through the flesh. I was in heaven. Not a scrap was left on my plate.

By now you are probably wondering what we would have for dessert. If you guessed more fish, you would be right! Sea-bass sushi and raw red tuna on mini bruschettas (to the left and the right respectively in the image above).

I can not overstate how exquisite is the seafood at Viva Lola. This is a must-eat-at eatery. I shall be making a bee-line for it when next I am in Málaga.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Per ATOS/DWP: Able to Leave Home, Fit to Travel Anywhere

Those poor folk at ATOS appear to be working the bank holiday as I have just received a response to the complaint I did not make!

On 24th May ATOS issued the following letter in respect to my last email to them, outlined in my previous blog-post, ATOS & DWP question whether disabled can go abroad.

Dear Mr Hunter
Thank you for your recent communication, in which you expressed concerns regarding your application for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
An investigation will now take place into the issues you have raised and we aim to complete our investigation within 20 working days. However, if the investigation takes longer than anticipated I will continue to update you of our progress.
Should you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact our customer service team on the above telephone number or myself at the address below.
Yours sincerely
Annmarie Cowley
Client Relations Officer
Atos Healthcare
PIP Customer Relations
PO Box 1006
TS19 1UL

Today's response is:

Dear Mr Hunter

Thank you for your email, in which you express your concerns with regard to your application for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

As part of Atos Healthcare’s commitment to provide a service of the highest standard, it is important that we continue to be open and receptive to the views of those whose lives are affected by the service that we provide. I am, therefore, grateful for your feedback.

I understand from your correspondence that after you received a letter for a face to face assessment you contacted the Customer Service Centre and the Agent requested a Home Consultation (HC) which unfortunately was denied.

Home Consultations (HC) are reserved for claimants who do not leave their properties for any reason due to their conditions. In some instances, exceptions can be made to this rule providing that certain criteria can been met. Upon review of your questionnaire, it was established that you were able to travel abroad therefore could attend an Assessment Centre (AC), however you have explained the circumstances behind this and a Paper Based Review (PBR) has been completed after Atos Healthcare spoke with health professionals involved in your care.

I am pleased to tell you that the report has now been completed and returned to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for a decision to be made. For any further update the DWP can be contacted on 0345 850 33 22.

This concludes the investigation carried out in regards to your complaint. I understand you feel we have not met your expectations during this time and I would like to apologise for
any distress or upset caused; I can assure you this is never our intention. I do hope that any future dealings you may have with our service will not cause you any further concern.

Yours sincerely,

Annmarie Cowley

Apparently: "Home Consultations (HC) are reserved for claimants who do not leave their properties for any reason due to their conditions."

What an absurd position!

You can get to a hospital appointment - no HC

You can get to your GP's - no HC

You can get to the dentist - no HC

You can get to the optician - no HC

You can get to the podiatrist - no HC

You can get to the physiotherapist - no HC

You can be wheeled out for a breath of fresh air - no HC

Such absolutist stances are disablist and contrary to common-sense. No account is taken of fluctuating conditions; the need for medication prior to, during and post appointments, nor their effects on one's mental capabilities; the ability or not to travel over distance; the amount of stress, whether physical &/or emotional; the need for support to attend appointments; the ability to travel on public-transport; and so on.

And note: I only got somewhere because I had the gumption to stand up for myself and wrote back to ATOS pointing out the stupidity of their position. Most folk would probably have done as instructed, i.e. refer back to the DWP. At the point where I raised the possibility that attending a medical examination centre would not be possible, ATOS ought then to have acted pro-actively and contacted my medics for their medical opinions. I had to press them to do so.

Health is not black and white: if x then y. It is innumerable shades of grey: if a then b or c or d or…

ATOS' standard of healthcare is illogical, unreasonable and contrary to common-sense and additionally costs the tax-payers of the country each time they carry out a review. As I stated previously, if ATOS returns cases to the DWP, they can then claim a further payment for a further review.

Scotland is getting rid of private contractors from the social security system. It's about time England followed suite!