Whistle the Right Tune!
At little bit of a change for this blog. My month-long migraine has vanished and the fog has cleared. It’s time to create a stir. This is probably what’s known as a heavy one. Put the kettle on and make yourself a large pot of tea with something sweet to go alongside it.
As many of you know when The Magical Tearoom on the Hill closed in March 2020 due to Covid 19, we were devastated. The tearoom was my dream come true and more. Over the five years we were lucky enough to be open we met some truly amazing people who became friends. Actually, we’d like to think that everyone who walked into the tearoom became our friends – “arrive as a stranger but leave as a friend” was our motto.
There were many laughing, giggling and, yes, gossiping sessions in amongst the tea and cake eating (which was of course the main thing). More than that though, we realised we had somehow created a secret hideaway offering peace and safety. Those who were lonely, those who were sad and even some who were frightened, seemed to find their way to our door. I remember one person, after I had wiped her tears, telling me she didn’t know why she’d come to us that day as she never even knew the tearoom was there but that she’d woken up that morning and told herself she was coming to Mother Murphy’s Tearoom.
What was really strange and peculiar was that if a customer was needing to talk to us or needed the safety of our cosy tearoom, they always seemed to arrive at a time when the tearoom was empty so we could chat, cry, hug and recover without the intrusion of other people.
In time, the tearoom became The Tearoom on the Hill and then The Magical Tearoom on the Hill. We were even called the Healing Place and it was said that we had a beacon above our door that only those who needed us could see.
But it wasn’t just the customers who were helped by us. The customers also helped Mr M and me. There were times we had our problems, our grief, our sadness, our fears and our memories that we shared at times, often suddenly out of the blue, with customers.
Always enjoying crafting of any sort, I introduced informal Craft, Chat and Cake sessions where people could come, eat cake, chat to people and do some crafting. When you’re stressed, don’t know which way to turn or what to do, a session of craft, chat and cake is just what the Doctor ordered. The crafting was another way of getting people together and as a group, we chatted and helped each other. We put the world to rights as we ate cake, drank tea and did a whole host of crafting from crochet, to quilting to candle making.
I began to realise that we had created a unique place and that other tearooms and cafes just did not provide what we did and wished there had been a place like The Magical Tearoom on the Hill for me over my younger years. Our tearoom was a place where people could talk about things that were shrouded in secrecy or that people were ashamed of, humiliated or frightened by; things that should be openly discussed in society but which were frowned on if people wanted or needed to talk about them. Talking about these things is seen as a weakness, shameful or embarrassing, but not in our tearoom. Any problem could be shared and discussed.
As the tearoom became known as a community hub, I was asked to do a talk at a local ladies’ group. I thought about what I wanted to base my talk around and decided I was ready to tell my story. I saw an opportunity to tell people that they were not alone, that even if their problems were different, many people have been through similar situations and that life can get better, but most importantly it was ok to talk. I wanted to tell people that there is always somebody who will listen. Sometimes talking as somebody really listens is all that’s needed. I was ready to reach out to people and tell them, come to us, we will listen (and feed you with tea and cake of course). I set about writing my story. I had 45 minutes to fill for my talk. I typed the talk in one session, then read it out to Mr M to time it. Mr M sat in silence as I read out my story and tears flowed from both of us. It took exactly 45 minutes! The only things Mr M asked was are you sure you are ready to share this with the world and did I want him to come with me. Yes and no were my answers. I was ready to tell the story of Finding Debra but I needed to do it alone.
I’ve put a link here for you to read Finding Debra.
I carried out my talk then posted it on the internet to the whole world. The reactions from far and wide were amazing. People who had suffered similar traumatic events but had never felt it ok to talk about it opened up and told their stories. There were people who came to the tearoom for the first time to talk to us, customers we had known for years speaking about things, posts and messages on face book from people I didn’t know thanking me for giving them the strength to tell their stories. Of course, there were many tears and hugs but my talk had done everything I wanted it to do.
The tearoom continued to be the magical place it was and we were looking forward to being there for many years to come. But then along came this little bug, Covid 19, which closed the tearoom in March 2020.
What was I to do? How could I go from being in that magical place in Ladysmill where I felt I was helping so many people to being at home alone. Of course, I wasn’t completely alone as I have Mr M and Beatrix, but you know what I mean. It also meant of course that our small husband and wife team now had no income. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be so grateful for being married to a pensioner as Mr M became at the end of March 2020!
I know I thought. I’ll get a job in a care home where I can feel that I’m helping vulnerable people at a time when they are not getting to see their own families. I could become a care assistant with no responsibility of running a business but just offer my help to people. I’d be able to put food on the table too. Win, win situation if you ask me.
(Just a little note here that a number of years ago I worked for a health care company as a training manager, designing and delivering training courses across Scotland and Northern Ireland on subjects such as preventing abuse and challenging behaviour in care homes).
Mr M rolled his eyes when I told him my plans. To be fair there are many of my plans (especially the ones I share with him in the wee small hours) that he rolls his eyes at. “I’ll give you 3 weeks”, said he. No, it wasn’t that he thought I’d only last out for 3 weeks in the role, that was how long he felt it would be before I raised concerns about things happening in the home. “No”, I declared. “I’m just going to do my job as best I can, help the residents all I can, come home and have no other responsibilities”.
I began my new part time role, working 2 nights a week. I’d never worked nights before in my life and what an eye opener they are! Not quite knowing whether I was eating breakfast, dinner, tea or supper, I just ate and tried to sleep at strange and weird times during the day. Just after working there 3 weeks or so, I sent my email to the manager about my worries about different acts of abuse, neglect and embarrassment happening on my shifts.
Debra had become a whistle blower. Do you know what that means? If you look at the definition in the dictionary, a whistle blower is “a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity”. Yes, that’s was I was and I felt that it was the right thing to do.
Mr M was right behind me, telling me that I’d never be able live with myself if I didn’t report these things and that it was these morals and honesty in me, he fell in love with all those years ago.
But wait, underneath that description of a whistle blower were more descriptions, such as “informant, betrayer, traitor, judas, double-crosser, turncoat, tattletale, rat, squealer, snake, snitch, supergrass”, to mention a few.
This is 2020 though it would be ok. Or not!
Already struggling with sleep due to the night shifts, I was now unable to sleep worrying about the effects of my revelations. Who would be affected by my reporting? Would anyone loose their jobs? How would the other staff react?
In truth, me. That’s who it affected.
Ok, so the things I reported somehow seemed to stop and the people I mentioned were given additional training. Nobody spoke to me about my email. Nobody had a meeting with me. Nobody made sure that I was ok and doing ok. It became like a big white elephant in the room when I was on shift. The people I identified had their shifts changed so I didn’t need to work with them.
What did management think? Well, I was informed, via email, that because these people had worked there over 17 years and I was a newcomer, there was no reason to believe me over them. Everyone else denied they knew anything about my concerns.
Debra became the girl who grassed.
Fast forward a couple more months and having to deal with some bullying, harassment and humiliation, I finally gave my notice in.
Now the management wanted to see me face to face as they felt I was raising a grievance (or was it the fear of a constructive dismissal case!). So said investigation carried out. What was the outcome I hear you ask? I think maybe a bit of copying and pasting by the management here to give their decision as I was informed, via email, that because these people had worked there over 17 years and I was a newcomer, there was no reason to believe me over them. Everyone else denied they knew anything about my concerns.
Oh, hang on, they did say that there may have been a bit of “cold-shouldering” and to save me any more worries they would guarantee as much as possible that my shifts would be changed so I never had to work with the individuals if I would retract my resignation.
Debra at that moment went from the girl who grassed to the girl who lied. It was like being transported back years ago to the midst of my tale of Finding Debra. Why should people believe all these horrible things I was saying. Why would these nice, trustworthy people do these horrible things? Of course, Debra must have made them up. There is no evidence to believe Debra.
What do you think I did? Did I retract my resignation? Not in a million years.
It was that moment that I realised our society has not moved on and improved. Oh, the outcry when the Jimmy Savile and similar cases were investigated. Loud and clear, the public declared this must never be allowed to go on again. Victims and whistle blowers must be believed. Those observing the abuse must be supported to stand up and tell of things they have seen or heard. Ignoring the abuse will not make it go away. Never again will society be shamed by such acts being ignored.
Do you remember feeling like that at the time?
What would you have done? Would you have reported this? Would you on minimum wage needing the income and the job report this knowing that it would cause problems? Would you be frightened? Would your family and friends stand beside you or would they encourage you to just brush it under carpet and ignore it. Would you be encouraged to just make sure you do your job properly and ignore what others are doing. Would you be encouraged to keep your head down and stop making waves?
Fortunately, I have a fantastic husband, incredibly supportive children and some amazing friends who gave me the encouragement to report this and stand by my reports, despite it being obvious the organisation were choosing to ignore it.
How many other people have found themselves in this situation but are torn between feeding their family or walking away from a desperately sad battle that cannot be won? How many people do not have anyone to talk to about this or are wracked with guilt at having to continue to work in such situations?
So, we go back to having a place like The Magical Tearoom on the Hill where topics like this can be discussed in public. Sadly, we do not have a tearoom to do this at the moment, but we have this blog and social media.
People will be uncomfortable at reading this. “Shhhh, don’t talk about such things. Things like that don’t happen now. Don’t let anyone hear what you’re saying”, I can hear it now.
Victims and whistle blowers need protection. They need to have a voice, a voice that is believed. They need protecting, supporting and praising for their strength in coming forward. They need continued support for the effects of suffering the abuse or witnessing the abuse. They need to know that they are going to be ok. They need to know that it’s not their fault, that they are not to blame and they are not the ones who have done wrong.
Hopefully somebody will read this who is feeling in a desperate situation at the moment and they will know they are not alone.
Maybe somebody will read this and realise that they are one of the ones ignoring things they know they shouldn’t and do something about it.
And me? I am proud to have had the strength to raise my concerns but saddened that even with the support of my family and friends I still feel like I have walked away. I do know that some things changed in the home before I left so perhaps I was successful. Perhaps I did make a different to those vulnerable people I tried to protect.
As for The Magical Tearoom on the Hill, it’s closed for good at Ladysmill, but if anyone has perhaps a castle with a couple of spare rooms, give me a shout. If Mr M, Beatrix and me could live above said two rooms that would be even better. Oh, and just to go with my rose-tinted glasses, if the view from one window could be snow-capped mountains, the view from another other, the private fishing loch for Mr M to use and if standing on the drawbridge you can see and hear the sea that would be just perfect.
And a song for the blog? "I'm still standing" by Elton John.