Wednesday, 20 November 2013

an easy kick

Today was a cup final moment for us. We brought the Spaghetti Maze life stories that we've been working on for over a year back to their owners. They are life stories as recollected by people with a dementia diagnosis and the contents are in the form of poems, art and reminiscences. These tiny autobiographies are full of life and resonance. They are usually 20 or so pages per person, sometimes a bit more, or less – but many of those pages are the result of much effort – and often  much hilarity - to recollect and then to re-construct memories.

Ivy and Kath with Life Story Boxes.

A group of five of our regular participants sat around the table with us. We'd not been in for awhile and for the first moments we were all slightly estranged. And then people saw their life story boxes – and the atmosphere transformed, we became a team. They opened the boxes like presents. The first image - at the top of each piece – was a photo of the maker, at work. There then followed poems, artworks of varied sorts (inked, sketched, abstracts, pattern-making) and conversation snippets, together with some recorded conversations on CD. It was a pleasure – mixed with a liberal shot of relief – to see their faces transform as they became absorbed in their work, their words. I overheard Lois say to Kath - “You suddenly look younger!” And it was true, Kath's eyes were sparking with laughter.

As people progressed through their work, we travelled with them and asked how it felt to dip into this album of the self, of their own selves.

Kath, normally forthright and loud, went into reverie: “My mum, the old house, boats on the River Irwell, amazing memories. I think we all have something to look back on...”

Ivy, Kath and carer Joanne

Jackie took the ideas sketched in her work and ran with them, plunging into a thicket of play and wistful hide-and-seek. Then she stood back from the memories themselves and said, “I had a good time at home, it was a happy home. Nice to talk about it, to go back. But you always have to leave.”

Doreen commented on just that act of going back: “Seems funny, thinking of playing – we used to do it automatically, now we don't easily play but we could. Singing Humpty Dumpty while we were skipping, it's in this drawing. Now I'm with my grandchildren, I stay with playing – it keeps us close. You know what they're up to and they understand you too... These (drawings and writings) I can bring home, go into them. It's reminding me of before people died. I can remember where I lived, go backwards, put the feelings of the past to them.”

Ivy hooted with glee at the content of her box. She leafed through it again and again, chuckling: “Seeing these it's bring them to me. We was always together my family, helping each other. It learned you. I've had a good life because of it.”

Kath and Dr Caroline Swabrick

We also discussed the work with Dr Caroline Swarbrick the dementia specialist researcher who's been part of our work for the last three years and who came to the celebration. Caroline fitted in easily with the talk around the table, as she always does. She commented on the subtlety people have brought to this body of work, both in the pieces and the making: “It's made from different layers of relationship. The key is that this is not just 'an activity' called reminiscence that can be applied to people. It's about what they want to share and how. Reminiscence can be looked on as a process if you're not careful, but if you really meet someone, you have a conversation and that is made up on the spot, it is truly personal. If there's trust, safety, the right environment, familiarity, then it all snowballs.”

Finally, I read Gordon's pieces back to him and he smiled at the depictions of outdoors: “Always there outside, always football.” I asked him why he loves football so much – and why is it so important to so many? It's a question that has always foxed me. We leafed through his drawings and poems, slowly. The poetic pieces bounced around the pages, the words described movement, play, dance – the joys of being alive in a body. “It's an easy kick,” he said. 

Phil with Gordon

Thanks to all the participants, staff and volunteers at The Pinfold Lane Day Centre, who have made this project possible. Plus the Arts Council England and Bury Council for funding this project.

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