Sunday, 17 March 2019

Be Kind to Carers of Dementia Sufferers

A friend of mine felt so upset at a thoughtless remark by an acquaintance recently that she found herself moved to publish a short letter in the village Chronicle. Since then she has had a lot of positive feedback from other dementia carers as well as people looking after sick and disabled people. None of us can be certain that the task of carer will not be our fate too, so it well behoves us to be kind and understanding.

When a diagnosis of dementia is made, the sufferer looks the same as before and in many ways the changes in their mental capacity are not obvious. Careless people think nothing is wrong and query why a family carer has put their loved one into a home.

What the public does not see is the constant drain on the carer’s strength; the accidents that ruin a carpet; the ’nappy’ changing and vast quantities of pads etc. that are required, the persuasion to get dressed and undressed.... 

When you see the person with dementia out for a walk looking perfectly well and smart, you are seeing the results of exhausting and time consuming care. You do not see the angry outbursts, the constant repetitions or the interruptions.

A carer gives 110% of their life and energy to keeping their loved ones well fed, clean and entertained, while getting very little back. A good day is a reward, when there is a response, but this becomes less and less.

So - when you see a dementia sufferer, the carer with them is suffering too. Please do not make thoughtless comments. You do not understand that the carer’s limits have been breached. It is to save our loved ones that they go into a home because, if they don’t, we may well cause them harm.

Another friend of mine has very recently realised, after years of devoted and dedicated care for her husband who is suffering the ever increasing physical and mental effects of Parkinson’s disease, that she can no longer cope without seriously endangering her own health. What is she to do? What else is there but find professional help in residential care?

The carer suffers all the guilt and torment that ‘failing’ at continuing personal care causes without some thoughtless remark by a chance acquaintance to add to the pain and anguish. So remember, if you feel inclined to sit in judgement, it might be you one day.

Friday, 8 March 2019

"Have A Nice Day Out”,

my friend said. "Enjoy yourself, stop worrying, I’ll look after Millie for the day." The man who arranges such things in Valley’s End had promised a rip-roaring time at the Malvern Theatre for Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rough Crossing’, a play to make us laugh until we peed ourselves.

I took him at his word, booked the trip, paid an exorbitant amount of money up front for coach and ticket and looked forward to the entertainment. Except the nice day out turned into an (almost) unmitigated disaster.

It started as I left in the morning on the way to the bus stop, about 15 minutes walk away from the house. It was blowing a gale, with driving rain. All the way there my umbrella turned itself inside out, every few steps I had to stop and right it. No matter how I held it, into the wind, against the wind, sideways on, the damn thing flapped and creaked and dripped. By the time I got to the bus stop I was drenched, trouser legs sodden from the back of my knees to the hems. Did I say it was also bitterly cold? A little chap walking by on the other side of the road as I was struggling laughed happily. “A bit wet today, isn’t it?” Hahaha. Sadist.

Some of my fellow theatregoers assembled at the bus stop shivered but others were made of sterner stuff. The shelter would normally accommodate six or seven people but a man in a motorised buggy, who had been the sort who feels “entitled” long before he became slightly disabled, assumed that everyone else would gladly leave the shelter to him and stay exposed to the elements. I didn’t, I had been the first to arrive, and I stayed perched on my little seat. Make of that what you will.

The bus arrived and we climbed on board. Luckily, the heating was on and gradually, during the two hour journey, my clothes dried on me. When we got to Malvern the rain had stopped. The mass exodus from the bus duly effected, a large knot of people formed on the pavement, everybody was making arrangements for the hour before lunch and where to have it. Didn’t they have time during the two hour journey to do that? I needed the loo and made for the theatre, shouting to a couple of friends that I would meet them at ‘The Italian’ in an hour’s time, wanting to visit a posh supermarket first to buy some of their famous ‘cook’s ingredients’ to take home to my back-of-beyond-village where such things are only dreamt of, never available.

Of course, I bought too much, now being burdened with an extra load of groceries, my large handbag (purse), my wet umbrella. True, I can’t blame anyone else for this oversight. I am still not a good walker, still limping when I’m tired or when the effort of walking straight and upright gets too much. I no longer use a cane, though. Malvern is a hilly town, I frequently had to stop on the way to the restaurant to catch my breath and straighten up. Gosh, I am an old crock!

The next two hours were a pleasure, I enjoyed my Tagliatelle Bolognese and we all had a couple of glasses of wine, not something we usually do at lunchtime. Everybody got merry, greatly helped by the waiters who flung their ‘per favores’, their ‘pregos’ and ‘grazies’, their ‘signoras’ and signores’ around with wild abandon, who burst into song while sinuously weaving  and undulating between the tables and made much of their giant pepper mills. I bet they were from Roumania really.

Finally it was time to go to the theatre and take our seats, having left coat and groceries at the cloakroom. Stoppard can be a bit of an acquired taste but he has written some really good stuff. Sadly, ‘Rough Crossing’ is far from good, it has the thinnest of plots:

Two famous playwrights, one jealous composer, an unorthodox waiter, and a mistimed lifeboat drill… let the sharp Atlantic winds turn to gales of hysterical laughter as our colourful characters become tantalisingly tangled in a Stoppardian string of absurd events…

If only. The Art Deco set looked splendid and promised much. The moment the actors appeared the promise evaporated and within the first ten minutes several of our coach party were sound asleep. The sound was bad, the dialogue barely distinguishable, the action messy and incomprehensible. The cast (all fairly recognisable TV actors)was lacklustre and seemed tired and bored. We were all disappointed and two of my friends decided they’d had enough and left at the interval, as did several of the others. I had nowhere to go and, in any case, couldn’t face lugging my groceries around, so I stayed to the bitter end. The action perked up for the last ten minutes but by then I’d given up on the play and was simply waiting to be released from captivity. All I wanted was to get on the bus and go home.

But my trials for the day weren’t over. I couldn’t swear to it but I may have, in fact, actually peed myself, even if for quite another reason as the one promised. When I came out of the loo right at the end, before climbing back aboard the coach, I felt a dampish kind of warmth spread over my belly. Yes, the front of my trousers was wet. I had been hovering over the toilet bowl, being loath to sit on the seat which appeared a touch insalubrious. But I had also been sprayed with warm water as I washed my hands afterwards. Enough to cause a damp patch in my trousers? We will never know. Suffice to say that I kept my coat on the whole journey back to Valley’s End and the first thing I did back home was to take a quick shower.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Lost In Space

Have you ever felt that you’ve lost your way, that life isn’t what it was, that you’d dearly like to become positive, active and energetic? That you’ve lost that magical special power, drive and energy which allows you to become effective and successful in your daily life, perhaps only in a modest way, but detectable, all the same. In other words, life is flat and purposeless. You’ve lost your mojo.

In other words, depression sets in.

Dear friends of mine invited me to share Sunday lunch. While tucking into a 'roast and three' I realised that I hadn’t had that for weeks, not just the pleasant food and drink, but more importantly, an easy, animated, flowing, intelligent conversation. Words came easily, I could hardly drag myself away and probably outstayed a normal lunch invitation. I came home alive and happy to be so.

And then the darkness descended. I came home to an empty house (Millie came with me), to silence. That in itself was fine, I had had my fill of interaction for the day, possibly for several days. I know that quite often interaction with other, less interesting people, leaves me bored, impatient, and that I often prefer my own company to company for the sake of it. Occasionally, I seek the company of people whose conversation is homespun, gossipy, unchallenging. It may be comforting at the time, not a bad thing. Like those ladies’ luncheons I mentioned recently. They get me out of the house, we commiserate with each other all being newly single and we share a giggle and relate tales of solitary adventures. Two of the ladies are relentlessly positive, admirably active and keen to hold forth. Not me, but who am I to mind. I should try and follow their example.

My problem is that I literally have no purpose. No engrossing hobbies other than the solitary one of reading. No involvement in charitable organisations, no interest in sport other than the gym, which is another solitary activity. I am not artistic, I don’t do crafty things, I like writing but have more or less given up on that sine Beloved died. Lectures happen far away, and the local talks take place mainly during cold and wet winter nights. I find it really hard to motivate myself to get off my behind and leave my warm and comfortable nest to shiver in a village hall, no matter how interesting the talk.

I am not about to fling myself into Scientology or any other religious sect, won’t be taking up the Kaballah, do flower arranging, write bad poetry, see myself as a benefactress, take up long distance running, discover the only true health giving diet. None of the above and a whole host of other obsessions. But surely I ought to do something?  Learn another language? Properly learn to take pictures? Travel is not possible while Millie is alive, although that appears an attractive thought now. I expect I won’t be able to drag myself away come the opportunity.

That’s me all over, negative, always finding reasons for NOT doing something. True, I’ve done things to the house, soon the garden will need attention, I’ve taken up the gym again, reluctantly and much against my inclination and I’ve booked a ticket to go on a coach trip to Malvern to see a play, which only mildly interests me. And I’ve come back to blogging. It’s been a pleasure to see your comments and I am trying my damnedest to stick with it. Thank you for your patience.

If only I could stop being a contrary, dissatisfied crosspatch. Any advice ?

Friday, 22 February 2019

Miscellany, or This and That, if you prefer

 closed crocuses
 open crocuses

all pretending it’s spring. The last few days have been sunny and much milder than normal. Is climate change showing its claws?;  maybe we are going to pay for the sudden display of nature’s kinder side in March. It was pleasant enough this morning for me to grab the secateurs and chop back some spent perennials. I must ring old gardener and ask him to come and restart our gardening year. Something to look forward to. The sun has brought out my own sunnier side; a frequent first thought on waking is : why get up, there’s no one to care and nothing to do : but then Millie starts scrabbling on the carpetless floors, I shout at her furiously - she can’t hear me, being completely deaf now - and the day has begun in earnest.

I believe I have grown up; many years ago I bought Diana Athill’s “Instead of a Letter” in hardback, it may even have been a first edition. She died not long ago, at age 101. The blurb on the original flyleaf said that Athill had “written this autobiography in order to discover the truth about herself and about what her life has been for. Her book is uncompromisingly honest. Yet although she discusses with unusual frankness matters not usually discussed by conventionally reared daughters of British colonels, she is never embarrassing because nothing embarrasses her.” Why I did not appreciate this frank and honest account of her privileged childhood,  falling deeply in love at an early age, before being jilted by her lover, mystifies me. I still remember exactly the space on my bookshelves where her memoir sat, yet I must have given it away decades ago. The other day I searched for it in vain, having read several others of her memoirs since and loved all of them. So I ordered “Instead of a Letter” from Blackwell’s in Oxford and instantly fell in love with this classic of modern memoir finally, and for the first time. 


My study is all finished now, the computer is downstairs, books and music and TV have been installed. Instead of climbing upstairs  I can now get to my computer more easily and it’s more fun to sit and type, for short periods of time, unplanned and unhurried. My painter, who is also a friend, was looking over my shoulder during a break and asked what I was doing. “Tinkering with my blog”, I said. “Blog? What’s a blog”. I explained and he came up with this remark: “So, this how it is, a man in a shed, a lady at a keyboard.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The problem is that he is now one of the few people in Valley’s End who know, but I shan’t let it cramp my style.


A bit of housekeeping to finish, Google no longer lets me comment on Google+ blogs. Sorry, Google+ bloggers who visit here.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

When did I become this irritating old person?

There is nothing easier than becoming a recluse, by accident or deliberately, they say. It doesn’t require action, no effort at all, in fact, it just happens and before you know it, you live in a world of one-and-a-half, the half being an elderly dog suffering from dementia. The dog doesn’t know that she is lacking in mental agility; so what if her circadian rhythms have changed, she is fed on demand and let out on demand.

But nobody feeds me and nobody lets me out when I scratch at the door and howl in frustration.

Back to me, the recluse-in-waiting. Loneliness can kill you apparently. It can cause heart disease and depression. Lonely people are more likely to develop Alzheimers. The UK now has a Minister for Loneliness although there is no pill yet. Just give it time.

So, reading about the dangers lurking in solitude I reluctantly made my way out of the house. It’s been cold and windy, not conducive to being out of doors. Besides, I like my own company. I accepted an invitation to join a ladies’ luncheon club, went to a supper for two at the pub, a birthday luncheon at a very nice cafe which was new to me, renewed visits to the gym, ad hoc chats with neighbours and dog walkers. Fine, all fine. By the end of this mad whirl I was searching the diary for an ‘empty’ day, a pottering day I call them. I am truly my Dad’s daughter, he too found the delights of company palatable only ever in small doses. Still, mindful of the dire warnings, I persevered. The ladies’ luncheon has become a fixture. One has to eat, after all, and not cooking my own dinner one day a week will be a welcome change.

Except, there’s a snag. There I was, having enjoyed eating what the waiter called “Spanish pork casserole” - rather tasty, the Spanish part being black olives in the sauce - I made my way to the cashier. A cane, a bag, my gloves, my purse, all in my hands, dressed in a bulky winter coat, I navigated through a narrow aisle and came to a full stop at the till. Well, maybe not a full stop. Momentum took me a step further than the counter and I tottered uncertainly. This caused me to a) drop the cane, b) my gloves. The cashier came out and picked them up for me. I then opened my purse and took some notes out. English notes are now made of plastic, very slippery. Obviously, I dropped the notes next. There was a fire close by and one of the tenners floated gracefully towards it. I snatched it up just before it hit the flames, again dropping my cane. I had stuffed the gloves into my coat pocket. The cashier didn’t bother to come out to pick it up this time, I imagine he was leaving that until right to the end of my transactions. My bill came to a tenner plus coins. I did that thing that old people in queues always do, I rummaged around in a separate little coin purse to find just the right change, promptly dropping several coppers. Picking them up - with difficulty - and handing them to the cashier he said “sorry, we don’t take coppers, there’s just not enough room in the till for them.” I resumed rummaging for silver, and found exactly the right amount. The problem of disposal of the coppers remained. I suggested he should put them into one of the charity boxes. Unfortunately, they were located behind me, in the narrow aisle, not easy to get at. By now there was a queue, naturally. I am not sure but I may have heard the faintest sigh from the person behind me, who took the coppers, turned and deposited them in the tin, all in one fluid movement. I really need to practice that.

If I had to accompany me out somewhere, I wouldn’t.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

(My 1000th post) - A new Beginning


I’d like to make it so, but who knows? I have tried so many times since Beloved died but have, so far, not kept my word, either to myself or to others.

I had hoped that the new year would bring renewed physical and mental application, stamina, enthusiasm, reliability, confidence as well as physical well-being. No such luck. No sooner had the back healed when I caught a nasty cold turning into a chest infection and unpleasant cough. I am only just getting over the side effects.

However, there are signs that all may not be lost: I went back to the gym today for the first time for  many months; I am having to relearn to walk upright rather than a) as at first, like a penguin, and b) following on from that, like a very old person bent forward, leaning on a stick. Under strict supervision I am crawling through exercises, the very first, very mild stand biking, tread milling, getting up from a chair without leaning on aids, step ups, and just plain walking along a straight line, head up, chest out, eyes forward. "Do that twice a week for an hour or so to start with", says Dan, my fitness instructor, "and we’ll have you back where you were by summer." He’s a nice boy, very fit, enthusiastic and encouraging. “You’re doing really well”, he says, looking at me out of his earnest dark eyes. Maybe. When I came home afterwards Marzenna was there, my new Polish cleaner, a lovely young woman, very friendly, very clean and tidy. “You’ve been to the gym?” she marvelled. “So you keep active before?” She’s only known the penguin me. “That’s good, it’s better to move.” Her English is a bit lacking. “Now things will change. You be positive and things will change.” Blimey, I must have been a right old grump if the mere mention of the gym can make her see me in a new light.

The back episode frightened me so much that I decided there and then that I’d need a new shower room rather than a bathroom, as well as a downstairs study rather than a dining room to seat twelve. It is most unlikely that I’ll ever have twelve people sitting down to dinner again. The shower room has been installed and the dining table has been placed at one end of my sitting room. Sooner or later it will probably disappear altogether. I’ve moved a large sofa which is now in the sun room. The former dining room has become my study, it is a bright room with two windows, both of which look out on to the garden. I’ve lost the upstairs book walls, but there are enough shelves in the new study to satisfy this reader. I have also bought myself a music centre, the modern but old looking kind, which plays vinyl LPs, cassettes (remember them?) of which I have many still, and CDs. My computer is there too, my TV with many European channels will follow shortly and a large chair stands by the window, ready to receive me and my book. My cave awaits. If and when the time comes that I can’t manage stairs there is enough space for a bed, provided I scrunch up some of the other furniture.

Other than that I have been dealing with Beloved’s writings, old diaries (goodness, I am not sure that I would have been as fond of the young man as I was of the middle-aged one), and now, his books. What a bright spark he was, there are books on the sciences, geology, geography, history, politics, all many years old and, probably, long overtaken by modern day research. There are his shelves of novels, some of which I will keep, classical literature, art and photography. And poetry books by the metre, most of which I will have to sift through and either dispose of or keep. Being wrapped up in memories of Beloved and our time together has made me miss him all over again, in a deep and sad way now rather than the earlier, raw and painful heartache. The loneliness doesn’t fade away.

But spring will come and the garden will beckon. Maybe Marzenna is right, “you be positive and things will change.”

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Valuable Time of Maturity

I counted my years and discovered that I have
less time to live going forward than I have lived until now.

I have more past than future.
I feel like the boy who received a bowl of candies.
The first ones, he ate ungracious,
but when he realized there were only a few left,
he began to taste them deeply.

I do not have time to deal with mediocrity.
I do not want to be in meetings where parade inflamed egos.

I am bothered by the envious, who seek to discredit
the most able, to usurp their places,
coveting their seats, talent, achievements and luck.

I do not have time for endless conversations,
useless to discuss about the lives of others
who are not part of mine.

I do not have time to manage sensitivities of people
who despite their chronological age, are immature.

I cannot stand the result that generates
from those struggling for power.

People do not discuss content, only the labels.
My time has become scarce to discuss labels,
I want the essence, my soul is in a hurry
Not many candies in the bowl…

I want to live close to human people,
very human, who laugh of their own stumbles,
and away from those turned smug and overconfident
with their triumphs,
away from those filled with self-importance,
Who does not run away from their responsibilities ..
Who defends human dignity.
And who only want to walk on the side of truth
and honesty.
The essential is what makes
life worthwhile.

I want to surround myself with people,
who know how to touch the hearts of people ….
People to whom the hard knocks of life,
taught them to grow with softness in their soul.

Yes …. I am in a hurry … to live with intensity,
that only maturity can bring.
I intend not to waste any part of the goodies
I have left …
I'm sure they will be more exquisite,
than most of which so far I've eaten.

My goal is to arrive to the end satisfied and in peace
with my loved ones and my conscience.
I hope that your goal is the same,
because either way you will get there too .. “

Mario de Andrade
Brazilian poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and critic, lived1893-1945

Although I would like to be firmly convinced, that all the wants, intentions, resentments, deliberations, judgments and realisations go for me too, I ask myself, where do we find the paragons of virtue we yearn to pass our time with towards the end of our life.. Shouldn’t we start with ourselves? It’s all very well to set up no-go-zones for others, exclude people who don’t come up to our exacting standards and consider others boring, mediocre, either overconfident or faintly dishonest. Of course, it would be nice if we could measure ourselves by these wonderful maxims, personally, I can’t quite see it happen. We could strive for perfection, reaching it is another matter. I only know that I have a very long way to go.

Someone brought this poem to my German Conversation group for distribution. At first I thought it worth sharing, then I felt slightly uncomfortable. It makes me feel that the poet has a very high opinion of himself which puts him firmly in the category of self-importance. Still, it is perfectly true that age brings indifference to how others see us and a certain urgency takes over where patience with the foibles of others once resided.

What do you think, am I too harsh?