Let us now praise famous men…

Though not all of them.  Fame is a tricky monkey, it can turn on famous people and claw them so badly that you cannot see them ever again without the scars.  It can lean down from the lofty heights it inhabits and peck the famous so full of holes that they become insubstantial and blow away on the breeze.  The murmurings of its silken susurrations can slide people into poisonous acts with ease.

There are a few, very few who have walked the tightrope and never for a moment wobbled because their eyes are not fixed on the fame, they ignore the fame because they have a purpose to which they hold no matter where the fame takes them.

Earlier this year the OH and I went to see the Gaia exhibition at Stowe school.

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This remarkable artwork by Luke Jerram is a balloon 7 metres round the equator covered in photographs taken by NASA.  It is almost 2 million times smaller than the real thing but revolves suspended by a gantry.

We went during the week in the daytime, other visitors were therefore mostly retired people like us.  Visitors were clearly moved by the display, took photographs and talked very quietly.  Everyone I overheard was praising the exhibit but instantly following the praise up with a comment on how we need to take care of the Earth.  Our group followed a group of junior schoolchildren, who, interestingly, emerged from the room saying very similar things.

Gaia, the exhibition, is touring the world, if you get the chance it is worth going to see.  In my opinion this is art doing the job it is meant to do.  I think it would be difficult to see this for yourself and not be moved.  You may have the same feelings as we did.

I was a child in the 1950s.  In the first house I remember well, there was a rifle in the downstairs coat cupboard in the hall, just leaning against the wall.  On the floor of the lounge was Bertie Adams.  Bertie Adams was a leopard skin rug complete with stuffed head in a fierce expression and a red suede tongue, which I think was probably Bertie Adams’ own tongue.  He was called Bertie Adams because I proved to be quick with language from a very young age.  One day my father tripped over the head and started to swear.. ‘Oh that damn..’ and then, aware of my big and interested toddler ears.. ‘Bertie Adams.’  I loved Bertie Adams and was sad when my father opened his retirement antique shop and sold Bertie Adams (to people who weren’t even his family. And probably didn’t stroke his nose or talk to him much, if at all.)

In the next house my father was delighted to collect a set of The Boys’ Own Paper Annuals.  These were the epitome of his very Edwardian boyhood (despite him being born in 1919) that held the Great White Hunter as the very summit of manhood and extreme bravery, with guns, in sourceless crocodile infested rivers, or against enormous beasts of one kind or another on endless plains, as the archetype of What A Man Should Be.

There were miniature Indian pictures painted on ivory, there was scrimshaw on walrus teeth, there was quite a lot of snakeskin. I grew up with collected items almost in direct line from the seventeenth century gentlemen collectors who were the first in the western world to have cabinets made with many drawers to house their wonderful treasures and withdraw them to display to other gentlemen collectors after dinner.

If you are reading this now, I’m willing to bet you would not be happy to show a drawerful of parts of rare dead animals to friends, which you might well have been delighted to do just sixty years ago.

What, or rather who, changed your mind?

Another regular feature of the 1950s for me was staying with my grandmother overnight and going to Church on Sunday with her.  Sometimes when I was staying we watched a wonderful programme called Zoo Quest.  In this, a glamorous and gangling young man lolloped around a variety of tropical beaches and far flung places gathering, alive, a variety of animals to transport back to London Zoo, via the studio, where they could be discussed and admired and salient points about the nature of the beast and its lifestyle could be made.  From the first programmes my grandmother and I watched, the utter enchantment of the young presenter with his captives was apparent.  His rapport with his subjects was as impressive as his knowledge, he had clearly done his homework.  Interestingly the animals always seemed to know that he was on their side, they obviously loved him, and so did we.  The name of the young presenter was David Attenborough.

By the Sixties collecting for zoos, and indeed zoos themselves were no longer looked upon in the same way.  The young presenter had such success he vanished behind the scenes, becoming controller of BBC Two, in the process rescuing it from a trajectory straight into boredom with some very interesting programming.  He commissioned Monty Python’s Flying Circus and deserves a medal for that alone, in my opinion.  He didn’t stay long behind the scenes, he is probably the most well travelled natural history presenter on the planet, in the course of it all collecting 32 honorary degrees.

He is one of the most famous people you’ll ever know, known in many countries round the world.  His Planet Earth, Blue Planet, Life on Earth and numerous natural history programmes showing us, teaching us, educating us and entertaining us for seven decades.  If you put his name in any search engine you will find pages and pages about him.  If you put his name into the books search engine of the Big River retailer you will find almost as many books about him as by him.

One of the most famous people on the planet, is David Attenborough and he has never put a foot wrong.  He hasn’t just been in tune with changing times, he has changed them.  My grandchildren would be as deeply unhappy with a rifle in the cloakroom as they are with any animal who isn’t alive and perky and where nature intended it to be.  He has changed attitudes in a complete volte face in three generations in my family.  What changes has he wrought in the way you think?

The OH and I finished watching the latest amazing tour de force in the shape of Planet Earth 3, as always fascinated, uplifted and educated, and I wondered if anyone had bothered to say ‘thank you’.  I know he has honours and titles and fans and followers, but does anyone ever say ‘thank you’?

When I was writing for hobby magazines, there was a saying, ‘Jane will do it.’  If you are good at something an expectation grows that you will be better next time and that you can always deliver.  No body ever thanked me, they just waited to see what I’d do next.

So I wrote to David Attenborough.  I wrote an old fashioned hand written letter just to say thank you.  I thanked him for all those years of never being boring (I don’t think he knows how.)  I thanked him for never straying from the principles on which the BBC was founded, to educate, entertain and inform.  I thanked him for the changes in my life and in the attitudes of those around me that he had made by putting in the work, doing the homework, keeping up standards and never deviating from his purpose.

I posted my letter a fortnight before Christmas and thought that was it.

And then

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he wrote back!

I was surprised but I should not have been.  I am not going to publish the letter here, it was from him to me.  I will tell you he thanked me for writing and was delighted I had enjoyed his work.

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Let us now praise famous men.  I did because just being famous doesn’t mean necessarily that anyone bothers to say thank you.  I do thank him.  I can’t imagine people would have left the Gaia exhibition saying what they did if it hadn’t been for him.

It’s not just me, of course.  I think the entire planet thanks him, including all the species named after him.  If we manage to turn the destruction of the planet around in time to save many species and habitats on the edge it will be due in no small part to his efforts.

What a wonderful thing to do with your life!  To be so enchanted with the wonderful world and all in nature that is on it that that you wish to save it and can communicate your desire so well that everyone else thinks that’s a good idea too.

I am very glad to have been alive during the time that David Attenborough has been broadcasting, writing, talking, directing, controlling, educating and entertaining. I consider myself to be the very grateful beneficiary of his thought processes and as he has lovely manners too I’m glad I wrote to say thank you.

And he has never, ever been boring.  How on earth do you manage that?  I don’t know, we’ll all have to watch and learn.

Next up on the BBC 8pm January 1st: Attenborough and the Giant Sea Monster.  And it’s real.  The chap hasn’t the faintest idea of how to be boring, not a clue.

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A trip in an ambulance.

It was almost inevitable.  Thursday before last I had a telephone consultation with the surgeon who removed eight inches of small intestine and three hours worth of scar tissue, eighteen months ago.  I told him I was wonderful, better than I had been for ages.  I practically set myself up, I should listen to myself, I really should.

Therefore I was not all that surprised a week later to be riding into hospital in an ambulance wired up to assorted machines.

Fate has Big Ears (Noddy will not pay the ransom.)  Sounding off about how well I was!  Have I learned nothing (apparently not)?

It began, I thought, the previous Saturday. (Just a day and a half after I was bragging about how well I was.)  The OH, having joined three archery societies but fallen out with two of them, we were off to the Christmas dinner of the one he still likes.  On the way he was doing boy racer on the big roundabout.  A car coming in from the left, unprepared for the OH’s car looming at speed out of the mist, nearly ran into the side of us, specifically the side I was sitting on.  I thought I was having a heart attack but gave myself a talking to and by the time we got out to the village where the restaurant was, I was OK.  The OH parked in the pub car park, so to be valid customers we went in and had a drink, then crossed the road to the restaurant.  We were seated at a large round table with various archers, had a nice meal and assorted chat and then left so the OH could make his way to another pub having dropped me at home.

By the Tuesday I was beginning to feel a bit off.  I had stomach ache, going through to my back and wondered if my intestines were playing up.  Resorting to the usual remedy I stopped eating to let them rest but felt worse.  The following day, it being bin day, I just did a lot of gardening to clear up the garden, mostly the wisteria leaves and the remnants of the squash, easily filling the green bin and thinking as always what a blessing green bins are and how very superior to trekking to the dump with soggy bags.

Thursday morning I was going to have a little lie in because I wasn’t feeling very well at all.  That desire was foiled by the OH, up uncharacteristically early, bursting in to my bedroom shouting ‘The central heating isn’t working and there’s no hot water.  You know how to do this!’  There followed quite a bit of running round a cold house in my pyjamas but I eventually got the boiler working and phoned the plumber to book a service in the new year.  By this time I was aware I had chest pains and was feeling very not well.

Arrived downstairs, I made myself a cup of tea, emptied the dishwasher, opened the curtains and generally got things started.  The OH came down. asked what was wrong and suggested I ring the doctor even though it was going to be difficult because I didn’t have the app.  An app!  When did you have to have an app to get a doctor?  And how was appless I supposed to do so?  I rang the surgery and by waiting and pressing various numbers on the phone was able to speak to a receptionist.  I said I wished to speak to a doctor when convenient as I had chest pains.  She immediately said that I must hang up and call an ambulance.  I didn’t, of course.  I rang the NHS consultation line on 111 and after about quarter of an hour of Q & A they said they were sending an ambulance, no arguing.  Ten minutes later it arrived.

Which is how about half an hour later after giving instruction to the OH on how to post the parcel, silver service, with the Christmas present to a friend that was ready on the table and running around upstairs assembling a bag in case I was kept in overnight for the OH to bring in the eventuality, I was sitting in an ambulance partially dressed  but wired up.

You can say what you like about the NHS, and many people do, but on this occasion they were fast.  I was round the back of the hospital decanted, walked to the ward, in a room and hooked up to an ECG machine before you could say heart attack, which, by the way, I never at any juncture thought I was having.  I didn’t have arm pains, or jaw ache, just a very sharp pain right in the middle of my chest. I was there all day.  I was Xrayed, blood tested, prodded, (‘What a scar!  Good gracious, you don’t often see them that long!  You have had bowel surgery and no  mistake!’) history taken and everything else.  There was even a nice young man, waiting with his girlfriend (yes some people accompany their families to hospital, that must be nice) who gave up his seat for me, when I came back from Xray (‘Oh I say, Mrs. Laverick, that’s a really impressive amount of metal you have in your arm, my goodness you don’t see that every day!’) and there were no seats.

By the time I got to see the consultant, who listened to my chest and the artery in my neck, the pain had resolved itself into two pains at the top of my lungs, that fortunately only hurt when I breathed.  So I was not that surprised to be told I had something wrong with my lungs which was pleurisy but was surprised to be told there are five different viral varieties going around currently. I was given a prescription which I collected, eventually, from the pharmacy at half past five.

As there was building work going on it was impossible to wait for the OH in the dry so I stood on the drive and rang and twenty minutes later was home, even though we only live five minutes from the hospital because there was a traffic queue so the OH went the pretty way.  At home having had nothing to eat or drink all day I put the kettle on and the OH was quite glad of a cup of tea, if I was making one.

The following day he had to return to the restaurant because they had got the bill wrong, so while he was there he collected a take out and I had half of that yesterday evening.  I’m still off my grub, and only able to sleep sitting up but I am so glad it was nothing worse.  I would have to say I didn’t know people were getting pleurisy these days, it sounds very 1940s to me.  The OH says that if it is viral, antibiotics are useless, which is true but not very comforting.  The OH declares himself quite upset and not feeling well after all the palaver of waiting at home in the warm for a phone call to see if I had died or not (I had not.  I rang him and told him halfway through the afternoon.)

I am so glad just to have pleurisy.  I’ll have a few days getting up at nine and not working out until the pain has gone away.  And despite not having the app, the NHS did the job when I needed them, how do I like them appless?  Quite a lot, as I turns out.

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A bit of a squash.

Being vegetarian, mostly, and a gardener, I am always delighted when I can grow my own food successfully.  I particularly like free food from free seeds, especially if I have eaten the rest of the item that provided the seeds.  Long time readers may recall the triffid tomato that grew up the house and knocked on the bedroom window, which was from a free seed.

This year it was a butternut squash.  I don’t do anything clever to cook a butternut squash, four minutes in the microwave will do, cooked with a sprinkling of tap water, served in a bowl and eaten with a fork.  It was about June before I noticed the seeds, cracked the tough outer layer and put them in a container of water in the sun room.  A couple germinated and were planted in little pots in seed compost and then out in the garden under the wisteria.

And then they went nuts.

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They grew at speed out of the flower bed and onto the lawn.  To the top left of the photo you can see the step that leads to the side passage and the back door.

They went exploring up there with such vigour I was half expecting them to knock at the door and come in for a cup of tea.

They had huge flowers.

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These were so spectacular I photographed them in case they would do as paintings for fairy backgrounds.

In theory every flower produces a squash from the centre.  Some did but the tiny squashes, more like squishes, little pale yellow fingers, just disappeared.  I began to suspect that I was sharing the squashes, and sprinkled some humane slug pellets around.  More little squishes appeared and disappeared.  Do we have mice?  Do mice like little squishes?  Had the magpies mistaken a squish for a finger?  Had next door’s cat gone soft and squishy?

The plant grew and grew, I almost had to open the gate so it could go in the front garden.

Along came the Min and I neglected my squash.  Then the squash was squashed by the first frost.  It went all sad and flat.

I decided the time was ripe for the harvest.  I searched among the frost scorched leaves for a squash.  Just one was left.  One whole entire butternut squash grown by me for free.  Here it is, are you ready?

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I am a gardener and a miniaturist.  Sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other and, occasionally, both.

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Second last post

I’m having difficulty thinking.  What I do think is that is probably normal in bereavement.

About this time last year, I was sending out my Christmas villages and checking the addresses where I hadn’t heard from the recipients the previous year.  An older cousin was on this list, so I made enquiries of another cousin’s son who lives near me.  He asked his mother; the answer I got back was that the cousin in question had gone into a care home when her husband had died in the pandemic and that there was no point in contacting her because she couldn’t understand.

Of course I began sending cards weekly.  Taking the bit about not understanding to heart, I just sent love from cousin Jane.  A couple of weeks ago I got a letter from my cousin’s daughter to say her mother had died in the summer.

I think this brings to ten the number of relatives or close friends I have known personally with dementia.  This has been happening since the end of the 1970s.  First there was my mother-in-law then, after my mother in the late noughties, a deluge of friends and relatives, and neighbours.

As soon as I began the dementia diaries I received emails from countries all over the developed world, with people sharing the same terrible family problem of how to care for demented relatives.  Many asked the same question: why now?

Is it that we are all living longer because of  medical advances?  We are certainly doing that.  Stories on television news broadcasts about people celebrating their hundredth birthday are now commonplace.  I did read somewhere that the person is already alive in the world who will live to a hundred and fifty.  I think they will need many years of help and care and I can’t imagine anyone understanding them.  The conditions of their childhood may be inconceivable to anyone else.

Is it that we are ingesting substances that are not good for us?  When my mother-in-law was diagnosed there was a lot of talk about aluminium pans being a contributory factor.  My in-laws did use their aluminium pressure cooker a lot.  The OH, also a keen pressure cooker user, switched his to stainless steel.

Is it pollutants in the air from petrol fumes and other noxious gases interfering with the working of our brains, that sets off the disease?

Is it our inactive lifestyle?  There has not been previously a time in history when so many people were able to sit still for so long, without needing to work in the fields, walk long distances or very actively clean their homes.  These days we ride around in cars and sit for hours staring at screens.  We can make a living doing this and feed ourselves with ready-made food, which we can cook in a few minutes in a microwave.

In the 1960s, research on colonies of rats in confined places predicted the rise of various diseases, as the numbers grew and the space shrank.

Are there simply too many of us?  I do believe that lack of space and poor living conditions breeds resentment that leads to aggression and fighting; it did with the rats, too.

Whatever the cause, the progression of the disease is now quite well documented.  As I’ve described here for the last eleven years, dementia sufferers are still individuals, the progression of their disease may vary from the textbook form quite considerably.  The moment that starts the disease process has still not been identified.  If someone manages to put their clever finger on that moment and the cause of it, and I believe they’ve got it right, I’ll tell you.

Until then I feel I need to leave dementia, the care of sufferers and the dilemmas faced by family and friends alone for a while.  I do have friends still in the thick of it but they know how to email me and are always welcome to do so.

Now I will start to blog more cheerful topics.  I used to be good at just being silly, when I have overcome the sorrow I will look for my silly again.

The last one sided conversation I had with SMIL was about the dark of the year.  Our ancestors in many places just wanted to know, if matters had been bumping along the bottom, when the change would occur that told them better times were on the way.  Stonehenge, Newgrange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Scotland are all devices to stir your optimism and let you know that the change is happening now. They are not alone, around the world are ancient structures built to show a shaft of light at times of darkness.  We just need to know that the dark will not last forever; in all of these places you can see the light.

Because of modern calendars I know it is just under three weeks to the shortest day, here in the Northern hemisphere.  It feels like a dark time indeed.

We now know that the only constant in the universe is change.  Our distant ancestors did not have telescopes of many kinds to prove that truth, but they knew and built that truth in caves, in tombs, in bridges and arches, all designed to let you know that no situation, no matter how terrible will last always.

The change is on the way, look for the light.

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The last post.

In dementia diaries, maybe.

My Step-mother-in-law died yesterday, in the care home.  Her daughter and family were there.  I spoke to her before they arrived, in the morning at the usual time, as if it were any other day.  It was obvious that her breathing was a great difficulty.  Her daughter had emailed me to say that the home had withdrawn all medication except painkillers, her daughter’s husband rang at five to say his mother-in-law had died.

I had a feeling there was more.  In the evening a care worker, who did not have good English, phoned to say the funeral directors were there with a casket but there didn’t seem to be paperwork and I was the only relative they could get hold of to give permission for the body to be taken.  Of course I gave permission, even though I had no idea who the funeral directors were and the care worker could not find a name or address, what are you going to do with an eighty seven year old dead body, if you are not a funeral director?

I rang the care home the following morning and heard in detail from the secretary, who I have been talking to nearly every week day for two and a half years, the trouble she and the laundry supervisor had gone to to lay my step-mother-in-law out nicely.  I thanked her and asked that all the clothes I had sent be distributed to other residents, preferably those who had no relatives or had been abandoned.

There were further emails today from the daughter, who registering her mother’s death, was unsure of the spelling of my father-in-law’s middle name.  I don’t have a mobile phone, so it was an hour later that I received the reiterated request, but by then it had been sorted out.

I have found that round any death there is a panic.  It’s a mixture of sudden grief and the overwhelming responsibility to do all the formal necessities correctly, that make it tricky to think logically and clearly.

I recall when registering my father’s death the sudden feeling that I was immediately going to faint.  I’ve never been a fainter but the feeling was irresistible.  I resisted it by putting my head between my knees until the feeling went away.

Shock can cause sudden drops in blood pressure, sweating, coldness and palpitations, which are not imaginings but actual physical symptoms.  Even when a death has been expected for years, even when the person has been a burden, desperately ill, raving or obviously fading, the cessation of life can be a terrible shock.  Illogically, no one expects their parent to die because the parent has been there ever since memory began.

Every day since the start of the pandemic I have phoned my step-mother-in-law.  I did it because the pandemic snatched her life from her, long before she got the dementia diagnosis.  I believe the pandemic contributed vastly to the dementia. 

My actual mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her early fifties, her illness was a terrible time for my father-in-law.  He met my step-mother-in-law shortly after his wife’s death.  SMIL was a decade younger and had just had a horrible divorce.  Each found in the other a much happier way of life.

After my father-in-law died SMIL deliberately and very carefully built a life for herself.  She was a busy person; she had something going on every day of the week and church on Sundays.  I could never get her on the phone, or if I did she was just going out or had just come back.  Once she had adapted to the loss of her husband she was her bright and happy self.  One of the societies she belonged to had a member who really got her goat, she put a lot of energy into outsmarting her.  The Church acquired a new vicar who was very nice, I heard all about him.  SMIL’s grandchildren were growing, I heard all about them.  She had a good neighbour, who drove her to the shops.  For the occasions when she walked, I bought her a shopping trolley which could be sat upon as a seat if the way home seemed long.  SMIL made things, we had enjoyed dolls’ house miniatures together, she had completed two houses and was a skilled knitter in miniature.

Then along came the lockdown for Covid and all the carefully constructed busy social life was snatched away in the blink of an eye, because SMIL, already in her eighties, was in the high risk group.  She had family in the same town, her son did her shopping and came round a couple of times a week for dinner, bringing his daughter with him.

Whenever I rang and he answered the phone, he always said they were just sitting quietly.  Then the lockdown got to him, after Christmas he committed suicide.  By then his daughter was a student.  When SMIL got the diagnosis she was utterly isolated.

So although my step-mother-in-law developed dementia, I think she was really a victim of Covid.  When the pandemic caused her world to crash she sat, alone.  Briefly she was interested in the home carers her daughter organised and, when they were allowed again, her neighbours visited.

She has requested that the funeral be back in her home town, not in the village several counties away where her care home has been.

The OH and I will not be going, although relatives of the OH in the town may do so, I don’t think there’s anyone left from my side who knew SMIL.  It’s a long way to drive in November, the OH’s gouty feet are not up to a two way four hour drive and I don’t think being told how badly I’m driving for eight hours would do me much good.

Funerals are for the living.  The dead are not there, they are in a happier place.  I hope my step-mother-in-law is in a happier place, she could not have been much more miserable for the last three years.  She fought back in the care home where she lost everything, including the speech to complain or say thank you.  Before that she had lost a husband, a son and the freedom to live her life the way she wanted.

If the care of a demented person falls to you, try your best to keep them in familiar surroundings as long as you can.  Try to keep them as busy and active in a non-confusing way as you can.  Guard your own health so you can be there for them. If all else fails you could copy me and stay in touch, when your person is taken into care.  All it takes is a chat every day, a card and a bit of chocolate once or twice a week.

Suddenly I have an extra hour every day.

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Let there be light.

I am waiting for a dolls’ house which I am not expecting any time soon but eventually.  Not only am I really happy to wait for the house, I want the builder to get on with something else.  Keen miniaturists will be wondering if I have lost the plot completely, long time readers, going back to my magazine writing days, will know that I always applaud the general good, because what is good for the hobby is good for us all.

This latest development is really good.  So good you’re going to want one as soon as I show you.

John light1

OK, so here’s a picture of a hall, so what.  So, I’ll tell you what.  This is not a real hall, it’s a dolls’ house room box, there are some in-scale switches. When you switch the switches, the light comes on.  As if you were a mini person, going into a room and switching the light on, in fact you could hold the hand of a doll and get them to work the switch and the light would come on.  The only way it would get any better is if the doll said, ‘Crikey!’

How realistic is that!  Yes, I want one too, form an orderly queue please.

The clever electrician is John at Creative Dolls Houses, whose work you first saw last Christmas in the lovely 24th scale he built for his brother.  You next saw him in my Miniatura report with lots of great houses and the authentic book nook of the Bronte hallway, which is the one I’ve ordered.

Quizzed about this recent achievement John says his Mum* had a dolls’ house with working light switches but they were way out of scale.  Keen history-researching miniaturists may have noted these, in pre WW2 houses. I remember seeing one in a museum, the switches were just very small real life switches, and the lights weren’t up to much either.  I had similar lights in my big house.  No switches, you had to crawl behind the house and plug the transformer into the wall and switch it on and all the lights in the house came on at once unless the mini plug bar in the loft had come undone in which case they all didn’t come on at once.  Apart from the bit where I was scuffling around in the dust in the loft, it was nothing like a real house at all.  In fact I was so disgusted with the awful plastic lights and the dodgy wiring, my grandson helped me pull the lot out when he stayed in the summer.  I’ve got the battery lights that work through the floors with magnets to install, which can light one room at a time but to switch them on I’m going to have to put my head in the room and knock all the furniture over.  Gulliver’s Travels on steroids, it’s such a nightmare, all the furniture is living out of the house in a laundry basket in the hall.

What is needed is a proper light switch near the opening of the house, that you can switch on and make visitors gasp.

The room box is a replica of a room in the big house John showed at Miniatura, with the chimney breast moved to the back wall so you can see the lights.

And here it is!

If you would like to see the light, John is likely to be at a show near you soon.  He will be at the York fair and Kensington’s Christmas fair.  For details of other shows please go to the website.  I will be first in the queue to be blinded by the light at Spring Miniatura.

Every now and then over the course of thirty years as a pro in the hobby, I meet someone who is so switched on to what miniaturists need, you wonder what you did before they appeared.

Have a look for yourself www.creativedollshouses.co.uk

*Ah, well, now I know.  John and his brother have genetic dolls’ houses, no wonder they are so good at the hobby.

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Mouldy

Long time readers, (hello how are you?) already know by the title what I’m doing.  To be fair it isn’t exactly a mystery because I’ve been doing it for over thirty years.

Yes I am making moulds.  After just one day of it, I am knackered.  My old tee-shirt is soaked and filthy and I’m damp through to the skin.  My fingernails are clogged with plaster fragments and Plasticene, the kitchen floor has gone all crunchy and every available surface is covered with stuff.

The mould boxes are made out of Lego.  Which is great for getting nice neat moulds that stand well to pour, but less lovely if you pour the plaster too soon when it is a bit too liquid and it seeps out under the bricks and into the bricks and between every little bump.  Then you have to take everything apart and stand patiently at the sink, picking the plaster out of the hollow backs of the bricks.  If you neglect to do so the next attempt at building mould walls will be unsuccessful, so you might as well grit your teeth and get on with the cleaning.  Three times so far, with over fifty bricks all to be cleaned individually each time.  This of course is why my tee-shirt is wet and my trousers under them.  If I were taller I might just have wet legs.  If I keep on shrinking, I’ll eventually have a wet chest, then a wet neck.  If mould making starts giving me wet hair it might be time to quit, and do something cleaner.  And closer to the ground.

The doll I am making moulds for is twenty-fourth scale Marie Antionette, for an order.  I spent several weeks researching her through assorted books.  I feel very sorry for her, she was a picked-on high-born virgin sent to marry someone she had never met, in a totally foreign country, the language of which she did not speak, with not one iota of choice in the matter.  When she got there, still a teenager, her husband, who was called Louis (because he didn’t have much choice either) was wonderfully ignorant, despite living in the French court, which was chock-full of intrigue, unbridled passion and assorted dalliances.  As a result she failed to produce an heir as the marriage was not consummated for another seven years.  In the end a friend of Louis decided that some nice long walks and a little instruction would be helpful.

Imagine it:  So, your ‘Ighness, shall we take zis path?  In ze chambre, your Grace, you need to remove ze britches.

Mais je will be un peu chilly.

Neverzeless, Your Grace.  Zen you remove ze lower clozing from ze Queen.

Zen she will be chilly aussi!

Patience, Your Grace, if you let moi elucidate you will see ‘ow you will soon be warm.

Zis ‘ad better be good.

Oh, it is.  Zen you get into le lit avec the Queen and you (whispers.)

Non!

Yes you do.  And also (whispers)  (more whispers) and, no come back (whispers.)

Mon Dieu!  Est vous absolutely certain?

Absolument.

Does she need to take her wig off?

Well, shall we take this path?……….

The instruction was successful and the second pregnancy, it being the French court, produced a Dolphin.  Really.  This is history and I’m not making it up.

I knew that Mme. Tussaud had begun her waxwork modelling in the French revolution, but I didn’t know, until I read it in a book, that the first head she modelled was that of poor Marie Antoinette, which she found in a field lying fairly close, but not joined to, her body.

And I thought it was just me modelling heads from history to turn them into decorative figures.

Did Mme Tussaud model the head in wax from sympathy?  When she found it did she just happen to have a bucket of wax at home?  (In the same way I have buckets of plaster in the garage?)  Did she rush home looking for a modelling material and grab a handful of candles and head back to the field?  We shall never know.  Marie Antoinette did not go on display but she is the reason Tussauds began.  The lifelike waxworks she started are in numerous exhibitions round the world and always worth seeing.  I think Mme Tussaud was really a doll maker, she just did hers life size.  I wonder what she would think of my Marie Antoinette who is going to be under three inches?

More mouldy moulds and crunching underfoot tomorrow.  Stay tuned later this week for news about dolls houses that you will find very illuminating.

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The one hundredth Miniatura

As promised work is underway for the one hundredth Miniatura, which is a mere eleven months away.  Last posting I promised a free gift and here it is!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Well, I hope you find that helpful.  There is also the modelling for a 48th scale side table and the junk to go on it.*

It is practically a law of the universe that if you have a table beside your comfy chair, it will collect junk.  If I were more scientific, I’d tell you the formula for it.

Side tables are various.  My father had a nineteenth century rent table beside his chair with a drawer no one could open, because of the chair.  It had a very nice lamp on it, some spectacles, some spectacle cases, an assortment of small antique things, bits of paper, slight statuary and a rota of larger antiques that was ever changing as they were bought and sold.  He never really stopped being an antique dealer and loved visiting antique dealing friends and doing deals.  I learned early in life not to get attached to objects; they invariably vanished, traded up.

The OH has a table by his chair that he made at woodwork classes, with an inlaid kingfisher on the top.  He was very keen to obtain UV blocking Perspex to put on the top, so it would not fade.  This was an interesting conceit, as the table top is rarely visible.  It is the home for the newspapers from the last seven days, all with partially completed cross words, numerous one-armed reading glasses, only outnumbered by the one-lensed variety, though not in any way overtaken by those specimens waiting to be mended.

The table on the other side supports condiments, finger napkins, several pots full of broken crossword completing pencils, nail files (the working one is the glass one and mine) and coasters.  Yes we eat in the lounge watching TV like everyone else.

On the other side is my chair, next to it a table made by my father in the 1950s, covered with small square Italian tiles, very fashionable at the time of manufacture.  It boasts a collection of bits of kitchen roll used as finger napkins and constantly recycled and turned to use all the good bits.  That’s all.

Am I some paragon of tidiness?

No because the real little table for me is the bedside table which has one lamp and a tower of books.

So that’s what I should probably miniaturise next.

I had a email from SMIL’s daughter yesterday.  She had visited her mother, I think for the first time in a while and was unpleasantly surprised to be consulted about feeding strategies because SMIL has become thin and doesn’t want to eat.

My mother-in-law was the first person I knew with dementia who became very thin.  By the time she died she was almost skeletal.  She was never over-weight to begin with.  A lot of the costs incurred in care of my in-laws was to do with trying to get my mother-in-law to eat.  I put on sumptuous spreads, all to no avail.  I remember vividly my father-in-law hammering on the bedroom door where I was trying to feed my infant son, shouting ‘Come down, I think she wants to eat.’  I plucked the infant from the maternal breast and dashed downstairs, where, of course, the sufferer had completely forgotten that she wanted to eat at all.  Left alone at home during the day when her husband was at work, four days a week, she never thought of eating.  She seemed to lose the habit, or desire.

As well as lack of food, there are contributory factors to weight loss in dementia.  Inactivity, which was my mother’s problem, can leave undigested food festering in the intestines, killing off appetite.  My mother was hospitalised at one point, before diagnosis, for this problem.  She may also not have been helped by diverticulitis, a disease in which pockets form in the intestines, though returned home and moving more, this seemed to vanish.

Additionally, as I know first hand, if your intestines are not working they are unable to absorb nutrients from food passing through.  This can be related to age, infirmity or disease.

I believe SMIL’s daughter had given consent for her to be switched to a largely liquid diet, whether or not this will help at this stage, is debatable.  I continue to send cards weekly, containing chocolate.

My mother-in-law’s death certificate gave the cause of death as starvation.  This is as shocking to write, as it no doubt is to read.

If you are the carer just give love and food whenever you can, and if that’s not working don’t beat yourself up about it.  You cannot get into another person’s body and heal it, any more than you can get into their mind and make it work again.

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*I have not stabbed myself with the scalpel.  It’s the varnish that will ensure the models glide out of the moulds**, which in this case is red nail.

**In theory.

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Some famous women.

I am at the start of the preparation for the 100th Miniatura.  It isn’t until the autumn of 2024 but I need to get a head start.

I have decided that there should be a free porcelain gift for the first 100 shoppers at my stand on Saturday, and the first 100 shoppers on Sunday.

200 free porcelain items will not be dolls but they will be in two parts, various, and glazed and china-painted so that 100 years in the future they will still exist.

At the Millennium, which I also felt was special, I changed my hand-made Christmas cards for a crib in porcelain, over a few years.  I stopped about 2004 and still have boxes of unbaked camels in the loft, as you do.  So I am well aware of just how much work there is to give large numbers of hand made items away, which is why I am starting now.

I have modelled half of the give-aways and also have the normal orders to do.  I had a request for Marie Antoinette in 24th scale, so she is being modelled, along with a couple of her children.  I read up on her quite a lot and enjoyed all of the Antonia Fraser biography, called Marie Antoinette.  I did know that Mme Tussaud began sculpting wax likenesses in the French revolution, but had no idea that her first head was that of Marie Antoinette which she discovered dumped near the rest of her.  Poor Marie Antoinette suffered a fate which has overcome some famous and beautiful women in history.  First lauded, then pilloried, many of the most famous never made it to forty.  Hounded, sanctified, demonised, lusted after and rarely with any right of reply, Marie Antoinette stood in sisterhood with Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Boudicca and Cleopatra, in my opinion.

The Christmas cards I make this year will be minimal, just Christmas cards.  I am getting a little tired of making and posting 70 amazing interactive tours de force and getting 27 purchased bits of cardboard back, (and three good ones, thank you, I kept them,)  so a year off is not a bad idea.

Meanwhile news of SMIL, which will not be welcome if you are a carer of someone demented.  Sad to say, SMIL has lost the use of her legs and is now in a wheelchair.  This can happen with dementia.  Any bodily function which is controlled by the brain can stop working at any point in the disease.  As I believe movement to be a benefit to the brain, bringing nutrients and oxygen, against the pull of gravity, I am not expecting the course of the disease to be slowed by this development.  For the last few days SMIL has been unable to respond in telephone calls at all, not even making noises.  I am told she brightens up when I ring and is still listening.

Dementia is very depressing for family members.  If you are the primary carer you may struggle to find any time at all for yourself but a quick walk, even if it’s round the supermarket, and as much sleep as you can manage, is a good idea.  Of course you know I think hobbies are wonderful for your mental health but I found the hobbies were only possible in terms of time, when the job was finished and the subsequent health issues that caring in me had raised, were addressed.

If you are a carer of a demented relative, fate has put you front and centre of a very large battle happening in our time around the world, with no answers yet as to what begins the process.  If you are joining in with the caring and not running away, or leaving the daily struggle to someone else, I salute you, you are a hero in my book.  You may get little thanks or none from other relatives who may have absented themselves in order not to know the details, but I know and, if you want to contact me and just have a moan about how very difficult it is, just click on ‘leave a comment’ below and I’ll get back to you.

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Keeping in touch.

I read on the front of the newspaper today that previous estimates of how many people will become demented were wrong.  Currently there are 900,000 people classed as having any of the various forms of dementia and these numbers are set to double by 2040 to 1.7 million.

The article went on to list some of the contributory factors as  smoking, being overweight and being diabetic.

As I have written previously, the one thing that links the seven people I have known personally who developed dementia, is inactivity.  Two of them sat for work by the hour.  One was a university professor who wrote many papers.  One was a potter.  A couple sat because they were old and tired.  My mother got up and sat down because she thought manual labour was the province of the working classes whereas she was a lady.  SMIL sat throughout the pandemic in order not to be a bother to anyone.  Whatever their reasons for sitting by the hour, they all did the same dangerous thing – they got up and sat down.

If you like to sit and watch television for much of the evening, it may be instructive to consider what you are doing if you take away the television.  You are sitting staring at the wall.  We have not evolved to sit and stare at a wall.  What did people do before television?  Victorians were famous for gathering round the piano for a sing song, doing acres of needlepoint, or taking boiled-down cow’s feet to the poor as broth, which the poor were grateful for, it being some years before a takeaway was thought of.

The other thing people did, if they wanted to eat, was cook, which you have to do standing up.  All the other activities necessary for civilised life involved hours of rushing around or standing up too.  My grandmother rose at five when she was eight years old to wash the other children’s cotton smocks.  Her father helped by putting the fire on under the copper and pumping the big jug full of water.

When I stayed with her on a Saturday night in the nineteen fifties, she was still washing her smalls with a poss stick in the sink and tackling any stains with a washboard.  She did have Daz, a modern clothes washing powder.  If you were good you got some in your bath and came out fresh as a daisy.

I am terrified of inactivity because of the risk of developing dementia.  For twenty three years I’ve started nearly every day with a work-out.  I am not huge and muscular, I am short and tubby.  I exercise at least an hour but often all morning.  I do not do it to excess, I just do it enough to make my feet warm.

All the blood that is in your body goes through your brain every seven and a half minutes, taking out the trash, bringing nutrition and oxygen, I just plan to exercise enough to give it a push.

The other thing I do nearly every day is ring SMIL.  She can very rarely talk now, occasionally she manages a goodbye.  I just chatter about all the normal family things, what’s growing in the garden, the weather, what the grandchildren are up to, cheerful, positive news the main purpose of which is to let her know she is not forgotten.

I have discovered by empirical research, that the more often you contact your demented person at a distance, the less of a trial and a difficulty it is.  I think starting early after diagnosis and making it a habit is the easiest way to approach the task both for the contacter and the demented relative.  Recalling that recall is the problem, the longer the interval between contacts the more likely the contacter is to be met with blank looks, or a worse : who are you?

I have heard from quite a few relatives of terrible upset when their demented person had no idea who they were.  They felt left out and ignored at best and deeply wounded at worst.  We know that long term memory is on a different circuit from short term, what we had for breakfast, circuitry.  Therefore the more often you contact, the more likely it is that the long term memory will be invoked.  The brain is best at the things it practises most often.  You don’t have to think how to walk, how to clean your teeth, how to go to sleep because you do them so often your brain has instituted short cuts to save time and save you working out how to do them each time.  This is learning.  If you want to be one of the things your thinking-challenged relative has learned, then frequent repetition is your friend.

It is not always easy to think what to say.  I have days when I’ve dialled the number and have no idea what the next ten minutes will hold.  There have been times when staff at the care home have not helped, or have put me off, or the telephone equipment has gone wrong, or something major has been happening.  I am fortunate that the secretary is very personable and always bright and cheerful.  She told me that very few relatives bother to contact their demented person at all.

Just imagine if you were told you had a disease of your brain.  Then, when you’d absorbed that news being told there is no cure it will kill you.  Then, just when  you were wondering how you would manage, because you knew already that your memory was on the fritz, your family tell you they are going to sell your house and shut you up for the rest of your life in what we used to call (and you will think of if you are a certain age) as the looney bin.

No wonder people go nuts.

And then they never visit, never call and you know you are going insane, among strangers, until you die.

If you are among the sane and have a relative who is not, there is little you can do if closer relatives take the care home route early or immediately.  What you can do is stay in touch.  I consider fifteen minutes a day as a prayer of gratitude that it is not me.

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