Tuesday, 6 January 2015

When an older person dies a library burns

Everyday there are stories in the media about dementia and it seems to me that the vast majority focus on loss, particularly memory loss.  There is no doubt that dementia is a cruel and debilitating disease, but there is always another story and stories are what we are Phil and I are interested in. 

We are just starting the new project The Homeless Library which will attempt to tell the untold story of the History of Homelessness, shared through poems, reminiscence and artwork. It seemed very natural to us when starting such an ambitious project to go and visit our favourite library, 'older people'.  And for the last two sessions, not just older people, older people with dementia. Our first sessions were at Pinfold Lane Centre in Bury with a group of people we got to know during the Spaghetti Maze project.  Thoughtful, contemplative reminiscence and discussion unfolded, taking us in new and unexpected directions. It was as I was saying goodbye to one of the ladies that we got the most obvious reminder of health condition they are living with as she told me of her mother waiting for her at home, perhaps unsettling, or just maybe a comforting thought to a lady in her 80s.

The following are snippets from the conversations focussing on Christina who grew up in Poland and Bob from Belfast:

Notice board for the Flying Angel and Stellia Maris Seamans Mission, Salford

Now times have altered and poverty knocks at the door. 


Salvation Army. I like em, my parents brought me up with em. Seen em everyday, I'd describe em as always being there. But. They had to interfere which didn't always go down well. Supposed to be helping us get closer to our religion, I didn't see much of that.  If you said, "Please could you help me?"  they'd jump in.  


Lose family, stay single, suffer like hell. In Poland, Russia. When he is so poor, so useless. tramp, tramp. Like leaves go off the tree. Break their nerves, can't cope with themselves. Hungry so they beg, a lot in Poland. If you try to help the tramps you will be a tramp yourself. 

The communists destroyed Poland, they were bastards. A lot of tramps in Poland. The communists grabbed things for themselves. My mother was a clever lady, we had a reasonable life.  Russians were starving, came begging to Poland. 

It's up to you how you plan your life, in any country. You have to plan. But some are lazy, some have brain trouble, some get involved with drinking. My mother was very brave, we did not suffer. You have to learn how to live proper, then you survive. We had potato, wheat, quite a bit land. We used to sit with mother. See soldiers coming, "Mummy, mummy, the Russians are coming!" 

The Foundation Stone from the Stella Maris Seaman's Mission, Salford

Salvation Army, they gave me a lot. They give me the money to come here when I was 15. I asked them for the money. No more work in Belfast so I came here. Near 60 years ago.

Sailors always down at the dock in Belfast. Seaman's Missions, hostels. Took you in, give you a meal. Sleep and drink. Maybe give you a night's sleep if there was any beds left. We were only inEngland a couple of weeks, nowhere to go, so stayed in the hostel. I was working from 14, when you were 14 you general started work. Left for England age 15 and a half. Living in hostels in England for about 10 years.

My parents, they had no money. You got out as soon as you could. Just after the war, no jobs, no nothing in Belfast. Bad bombing in Belfast, I remember the buildings bombed.

Travellers? I've known quite a few gypsies. Travellers, it's a way to get through life. Different sites, I went to different sites. Caravans, some painted, some rough and ready. You're glad of anything when money's short. It's a hard life.

It's a good life, a hard life. Can get stuck there. Worked for grub a lot of times on building sites. You get stuck on a site they might not pay you, but if you were a good worker you always got fed. If the kids needed to go to school, we'd move. The kids, we kept them at work. It's a hard life for kids, sleeping in the back of vans or whatever. Meet different people, have a drink with them. I'm too old now, give me 10 years I'll be in my box.


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