Friday, 24 August 2012

The legend of Bellevue

We're currently working in Bury, doing life story work with people who have a dementia diagnosis.

Our morning in the Pinfold Centre was a memory-visit to the legendary Bellevue of long-gone childhood: once a zoo, park, dancehall, boating lake (complete with steamboat) teashop and general entertainment Mecca.


The parrots would call 'Shut up, we're closed!' when it was shut. They'd say 'Morning' in the morning and 'Brush your teeth' at night. There was a lake, you could go on the steamboat. Come off and you'd be sick as a dog. Take a ride around on a giraffe.


I've never ridden a giraffe. Imagine it'd be difficult.


I never went to Bellevue. Can't remember it. Probably playing football...

The afternoon session was centred around memories of mothers: the whole edifice of care and love and discipline and the person who built it. For some these sessions were a rosy-tinged stroll, for others it was a more ambivalent recollection.

Mothers tend to be publicly remembered in a cotton wool wrap of sentimentality. But under the cotton wool is control, giving and withdrawal, protection, punishment... All of these things may be done with love and care, but they're part of everyone's upbringing and in some cases they can be very brutal.

“No family allowance – if you had nothing, you had nothing. We lived a few doors away from the pawnshop. Some people would be in and out of there to survive.” (Kathleen)

Perhaps it's impossible to imagine now the pressures that these women were under, the toughness of their lives. It's certainly impossible to deliver a soft-centre confection of childhood when you're working all the hours to keep a family clean and fed.

“I didn't see much of my mum, she was busy all the time. 'If you don't behave you'll get a smack.' She was always busy, always in the kitchen. That was the only time we'd see her, if we went into the kitchen to get a cup of water. I never seen me dad either, he was working.” (Jackie)

And and another perhaps: mothering in that soft-soap way would've made the children too vulnerable for their environment.

“My dad, he worked in a foundry., he was a planer. Many a time he'd come home with his eye patched. 'A bit of steel in me eye that's all.' No time to be soft, no one could be soft back then, not any of us. A good hiding does you no harm.” (Ivy)

Remembering parents once they've died is at least partially an act of grief, along with all the other mani-foldings of reminiscence. It can bring great sadness, as well as joy, although in these sessions there seemed mostly pleasure.

In the subtext of these transcriptions is always dementia and it too brings grief, of another sort. But alongside that is the relief that remembering can still be a pleasure. As in the snippet of conversation I started with, between Kathleen, Paula and Gordon:



Bellevue was our patch. All Salford people knew Bellevue; it was famous through Manchester but we knew it best. I lived on 35 the Crescent, Salford. I remember boys playing football on the meadows.”


Ah football, there's a subject...

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