Hop Jan


10th July 2017.

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Pučišća, (pronounced Puchistcha, in the island of Brač (pronounced Bratch), on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, opposite splendid Split.

The crickets knees are deafening in the Pine forests lining the inlet which hosts the little town of Pučišća,. The Croatian language is still evolving from crickets rubbing their knees together. The word for sausage sounds like chptichee. Blitva is the national potato and spinach dish, (Boil chopped potato and spinach together til the potato is cooked, then mash and drain well – push the moisture out with the masher. Mix in chopped garlic marinated in lots of good olive oil. Serve with BBQd fish. It’s excellent.). The Croatian word for Croatia is Hvratska. They actually have an island called Krk, where all vowels have been deleted.   Another, called Pag, has a vowel, but almost no trees, save for the world’s oldest olive grove, where trees have supported crickets and olives since well before the time of Christ. The Croatians should arrange an Adriatic vowel exchange with their Italian neighbours, or maybe with Wales. The Welsh have vowels to spare. They could sort out some more equitable weather allocation too while they are at it, the Welsh and the Croatians. It’s hot here. That’s why the crickets are rubbing their knees. It keeps them cool. Doesn’t work for me. I’ve been mainly in the clear blue sea, which is like the best of the sometimes soupy Mediterranean, but with added water.

The island of Brač is a giant high quality limestone, with some fertile soil strewn on the top here and there, enough for olive trees, and vines, which aren’t very demanding. We saw a productive vine growing out of a wall of a monastery which in turn grew out of a limestone cave.

The flora of Brač has learned to flourish on nothing very much at all.


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Diocletian Palace, made of bits of Brač, 4th C AD.

Stone from Brač was used to make the Diocletian Palace in Split. Diocletian, (an Illyrian – that’s to say he was born somewhere above Greece, opposite Italy), was very religious, which meant he was very anti rival religions. He was the last great Roman persecutor of the Christians, and he retired to his palace, and his allotment, without his wife and daughter who had converted to Christianity and were banished to Brač, where they are buried in a museum made of the same stone in the small town of Škrip, now the haunt of an old lady who will sell you a bag of lavender for a quid.

But there is some fertile soil. All the Brac farmer has to do to access his fertile soil is get rid of the stones which cover it. And so about a third of the usable space in the fields in Brac is piled high with stones. Generations on generations of farmers have picked up stone after stone and placed them on ever growing piles to make space for their crops until one day they spotted the ferry leaving from the capital Supetar, and split for Split,  jumped oceans to the New World. They left stone houses and terraces on hillsides bordered and punctuated with stone piles.

Abandoned stone house in the stone landscape, Škrip.

We are in a school for stone masons and sculptors in Pučišća with our Croatian friends, Gordona and Damjan, and they are translating our guide’s words for us into their own cricket version of English, dropping many definite and indefinite articles. The school is for some 84 children from 14 to 18, and they board here. The teacher:pupil ratio is 1:3. It is state financed and French children have the opportunity to come too. We are surrounded by their creations: many will go on to do restorative work and there are large rococco windows, and big christening fonts which ring like a bell when tapped, (this means that the piece has been successfully carved from a single piece of stone with no cracks). There are small sculptured pieces and some large ones, and huge chunks of unblemished white rock ready to be turned into windows, door frames, heads of gods, mother and child pieces.

We are shown how copies of carvings are made: a frame of wires and screws and a fine chisel provides the exact template for the young and presumably nervous teenager to work from.

Tools for the job haven’t changed for generations.
Here the guide is showing how points for the frame are referenced from a wooden carving.
The frame is then applied to the nascent carving.
The end of the small metal pole is now ready to be tapped with a chisel.

“Hope Young, Hope Young.”, I hear the guide say, clearly in English, amid his baritone chirrups.

“What is he saying?” I ask.

Gordana replies; “We ask him, how is stone quarried. He said there is documentary. They havent got it here. Hope Young, he said, I don’t know what is this, Hope Young. it’s not Croatian word.”

The guide nods vigorously. “Hope Young. You-tube.”

“Damjan, will you remember these words, Hope Young?,’ asks Gordona of her husband, who is convinced he will. Gordona is doubtful.

“It must be the name of the director, Hope Young,”, I say, helpfully. “I’ll remember that.”.

So Gordona asks the guide if Hope Young is the name of the the person who make the film. No, it was made by a Bosnian, he says. Hope Young is the words the quarrymen say to beat the time of their work. Hope or rather Hop Jan – pronounced Yan.

This is the video. It was made in 1967, and looks like a pretty timeless method. One can imagine the stone for Diocletian’s palace being cut the same way.   Wiry men pitch themselves against sun and stone, using chisels, iron bars, sledgehammers and the rhythm of words. Man wins, but ultimately working the stone must have shortened their lives. That end scene of the young man, at the beginning of his working life in the quarry, is a poignant one indeed.


It made me think about manual labour. I come from labouring stock on my mother’s side. Some of my uncles were navvies, others carpenters, some had more technical skills. All have had their health affected in one way or another by their work. I thought about miners, factory workers, the seventies, Thatcher versus the Unions. How blue collar workers were the last to get inside toilets, and baths, bank accounts, holidays. How society was divided, how it still is. How the Unions are denigrated, how vital their job is and was.

These men worked in Socialist Yugoslavia and their lot was hard but their society and rates of pay were less divisive then ours.

Now entire quarries are worked by a couple of men and advanced machinery. It’s still hot – the average mid-day temperature in July is 30 degrees C, but it must be a lot easier.

Later on we visited a quarry.


Here’s my husband in the corner – the individual blocks are carved off the rock in pieces about 30 feet high.  fullsizeoutput_2721fullsizeoutput_2720


Even here, the crickets were making a racket. Small knees, big communal effort, big noise.

All Calls Are Being Diverted To Us.

3pm Friday September 30th 2016.


Vapid young female South London voice. Hello?

Me: Is that Social Services?

VYFSLV……..All calls are being diverted to us.

Me: And you aren’t Social Services switchboard then?


Me: Who are you?

VYFSLV: We are in another building. All calls are being diverted to us. Really sorry.

Me: Well could you put me through to Katie Xxxxx. She’s my mum’s social worker and it’s really important.

VYFSLV: I can try.

Me: Well yes please, try.


VYFSLV: Hello?

Me: Is that you again? You were putting me through to social services!

VYFSLV: All calls are being diverted to us. Really sorry. We are in a different building.

Me: A different building? And you can’t connect me to social services? What are you? Some sort of dead end?

VYFSLV: I’m really sorry but all calls are being diverted to us.

Me: Could you try someone else? Try Rxxx.

VYFSLV: Well I’ll try.


VYFSLV: Hello?

Me: You again.

VYFSLV: I’m so sorry. Really frustrating isn’t it. It’s been like this all day. All calls are being diverted to us and we are in a different building. Really sorry.

I was calling from the acute care ward at St George’s Hospital London SW17: Mum had been blue-lighted there after a suspected stroke. (We are finding out that she may have had a mini-stroke, but her acute collapse is as a result of an infection, probably urinary,  which had penetrated her blood cells.) I particularly want to talk to Social Services, as this emergency is partly the result of the inactions of the carers employed by their agency. I don’t know what to do about Mum’s care.

But all calls to Social Services in my now Kafka-esque world are being diverted to a tired young woman in a different building, including the calls she makes herself.

I can see now, on the CCTV recordings of the two calls that the carers made to Mum, that she had been very unwell that morning. She was too ill to get out of bed at 6-7, and she refused her breakfast, both very unusual. They washed her and left her and turned the lights out. She had actually asked to go to hospital. On their return at 10.00 am she was still very unwell, could not get up, and they fed her her porridge in bed. I was unaware of all this but I phoned at 10.30 to ask if she was alright before I went out with a friend for the day. I was told no, she couldn’t move her left arm and could not get out of bed.

I went round, the carers were gone and all signs were positive for a stroke – tongue tracking to the right, lop sided smile, not able to lift left arm, confused and dozy. So I called 999, the paramedics arrived and wanted to know when this happened……..well it was before 6, which meant that the crucial 4 hour window for stroke treatment had overrun.

Social Services came in in April this year when I stepped down from my role as Mum’s carer, exhausted and overwhelmed. I found myself overseeing the motley crew of carers from a private care agency and their various disastrous interventions some of which I’ve blogged about before. The low point was when mum was thrown on the bed, her arm in plaster, by a carer who was frustrated at the lack of equipment supplied to help her. This went to the police, as my son had seen it on CCTV and Mum had complained to her support worker the next day. The matter was eventually dropped after weeks of police intervention. Other carers have just been rude or stupid and I have complained endlessly, changes are made, hope is created, and then one way or another, shit happens again.

For instance, on September 6th. Mum has just returned home after staying in a respite home, organised by Social Services – in some ways they are really very good to us, and credit where its due – so I could get a break.

The night call.

Video 1

Two carers. Mum in the front room in her arm chair.

Carer 2 does not say hallo but stays in the hall.

Carer 1 sashays across to turn the telly off

Carer 1 How you like your stay in the home?

Mum, animated and friendly It was quite nice actually. They were very good to me there.

Carer 1 now on her way back towards Mum.

Carer 1 How you going to like living there?

Mum shocked. I don’t want to live there. I want to stay here in my home.

Video 2

Mum is hovering above her seat, but can’t get up. The two carers stand looking at her.

Mum Well help me won’t you? You can see I need some help.

Carer 2 Oh, you want us to help you.

Carer 1 If you want us to help you, you must tell us.

Video 3

This is sound only. Mum’s arm is broken and in plaster. I think Carer 2 is helping her out of her clothes.

Mum You are hurting my arm. Please be careful.

Video 4

Carer 1 and Carer 2 stand watching as mum tries to get into bed

Mum Give me a hand will you? You know I need some help getting into bed.

Carer 2 gives her a shove and Mum falls on the bed. She’s not hurt but she’s really cross.

Mum Oh! You’re just fucking horrible you are. What’s the matter with you!

Video 5

Carer 1 and Carer 2 leave and put the light out

Carer 1 I don’t know what was wrong with her tonight.

And they leave without saying good-bye.

After I complained and sent the videos up to the agency, these two women have become model carers, polite, and helpful. I think they were particularly rude to Mum at that time because the police were pursuing their colleague on her behalf, but who knows. It’s a tough job, underpaid, and fairly easy to get. They don’t get paid for their travel time. Generally they do as little as possible in as short a time as possible. I’m sure that’s not true for everybody. But it is for most of the people mum has had “caring” for her.

And now, after this particular crisis last Friday, I can’t even phone Social Service’s switchboard. So I try Rxxx’s email address which I had taken down by hand at a meeting a few days before. After about half an hour, and no reply, I think I have noted down the wrong address – it’s quite a complicated one, and so, battling with intermittent 4G, only accessible at the end bay of the Acute Ward, which is fortunately empty, I google her and send an email to the address listed on the official Trust web-site which differed by one letter from the one I had noted, and got this in return:



Delivery has failed to these recipients or groups:

Rxxx Social Services (her email address with one letter wrong).

4G has now disappeared and I have to leave Mum to go outside. It’s now 4.55 and I try the number I have for Occupational Therapy: Mum’s OT is nice, sensible, and surely, I think, will be able to put me through to a Social Worker. But she doesn’t answer the phone, and I speak to a very cross woman who clearly thinks I am stupid.

I try email again, adjusting that one letter from the official entry on the web-site to the one I had scribbled down, and get through to Rxxx after the end of the working day, only because she happens to be working late. She replies and phones immediately.

As of now Mum is still in St Georges, her acute care was phenomenally good, but she has suffered from some very indifferent care on the ward there too. Some amazing nurses and some who really couldn’t give a shit. But at least I can complain to the right people.

Mum might be going home today……………………I have to talk to Social Services this morning.