Wednesday, 1 August 2012

I've been me

Caring for someone with dementia can be a huge task and the carer is in danger of becoming swamped. Their life and needs are often subsumed. Many accept this task willingly, because of love, though the price comes high. Margaret started the conversation below with reluctance to talk about her life, because she'd become used to putting herself second. But then, as we chatted, the pleasure of remembering overtook her and - as she described it - 'I've been me.'

Salford Buddy Cafe, 26 Jan 2012

D'you know St John's the cathedral? Chapel Street, The Crescent? There was my school Delta House, then Salford Royal, then St John's which was our church. If you go to Betsy Square, you'll see the old Town Hall and the courts; the gates where they took in the prisoners. Buildings around there were made of stone, it was hundreds of years old – Olde England. My dad had a grocers on the corner. Salford 3, Rosamund Street.

We were the first set who were taken for 'regeneration' as they now call it. To my mind that was the ruination of families and communities. They moved families miles, put them in places they didn't know with people they'd never met. My dad got a new shop with a maisonette; it was the modern world.

I was May Queen in 1951, at the cathedral. I was on the Pathe news, in the procession. Used to nearly live at the cathedral. I'd go in first thing in the morning with my mum, then back with my aunty at 11 for benediction. It was a way of life, everybody knew everybody.

We moved near Ladywell Sanatorium. That brings a memory. I went into that Sanatorium. I had polio when I was eight. (My arthritis was bad this morning and I wondered if it was a throwback.) They said mum and dad had to put me in the bath four times a day and massage me. Hated it.

How I got it in the first place. It was the first time after the war they put on the Blackpool lights. They put on a coach trip to Blackpool. I went there with a cold and picked up polio on the coach. Couldn't walk by the time we got to Blackpool.

I remember that night when they got me in, they had a gas fire going, warming me in blankets. My mum stayed up all night warming the blankets and wrapping me in them. Then I was in Ladywell Sanatorium with the polio.

And then another coach trip - we went to Saint Winifred's Well, a healing place. D'you know it? Blood on the steps. They didn't usually let people get close to the well, but for some reason they let me go to it. At the well, they let me stand on the steps freezing, shivering. When I got off the coach, I ran to my dad. It was a miracle. They should've written to Rome, people often do to report a miracle.

My family we moved to Fairhope, then to Little Hulton. Why they had to keep moving us I don't know. Why they couldn't just upgrade the building. I was there ‘til I was 19 then we moved here, to Swinton.

Salford as it was – a community. Manchester was all about shops and business, Manchester was money. Salford was different. It was considered the other side. Industry. Coal-mining. My husband is from a coal-mining family. Underground there's a warren of tunnels.

My grandad had a bungalow in Pickmere. There's a bottomless lake and my dad and grandad built a bungalow by the lake. I went every school holiday. Beautiful, I loved it. Go down the lane with my little milk-churn to get the milk. I was pampered. Grandpa built a boat – I could row really young. Went over a stile to pick the mushrooms.

Growing up in a war, I think my childhood made me stronger. We used to play on bombsites - they wouldn't let you do that now. If you're too protected you don't strive. One of my friends, a carer, is two years older than me and we have the same mentality. Another friend who's younger says, 'I need a counsellor.' In fact the doctors wanted me to see a counsellor. I saw this girl and she sat open mouthed at what I told her. She couldn't believe it. I don't need to speak to someone younger than my daughters to get advice. She didn't have the life experience to help me. So I didn't go again. I think people generally today are too soft. They EXPECT - rather than fighting.

It feels strange talking about myself instead of the dementia. It’s a bit uncomfortable, at first, feels selfish. Me, me, me, talking memories. I’ve been to the past, my past. I’ve been me, not a carer.

No comments: