Keeping keepers.

If you tried to have a look at this website yesterday or previously, you may have found nothing you were expecting.

This website is hosted by WordPress.  They sell space which I buy yearly.  You can see everything I have written here for the last twelve years by clicking around and, in theory, as long as I keep buying the space it will always be here.  However, as the last days show, in a bit of pre-pantomime, oh no it isn’t.

I am not very computer literate, when it got started in a way normal people could join in, in the 1908s, the OH sold his Japanese sword and bought a keyboard that was joined with a wire to the back of the television. He then watched BBC ‘how to compute’ programmes every Saturday, babysitting the S&H, while I was teaching crammer classes at college.

So they both treated the computer as boys toys and I let them get on with it.  The S&H, having learned to compute before he could walk, became very clever at it, frequently confounding his teachers at school, and eventually went on to do a five year degree in it, though most of the interesting stuff he found out on his own,

So the following information is all from him.  When you are on a website, or writing one, sometimes the server goes down.  What is a server?  It’s another computer somewhere else.  You can store your information in the cloud.  What is the cloud?  It’s another computer somewhere else.

While the S&H was starting a business while sofa surfing, he made a virtual computer for a firm because the employees kept logging on and doing computery things wrong.  So he built a virtual model of the computer, sandboxed (separated) from the real computer so that, no matter what the employees did, the original computer programme was still there undamaged.  I don’t think he ever got paid much for this clever idea, which was the forerunner of the cloud.

The actual machines, the S&H assures me, are located in very neutral countries, in huge buildings in specialised storage facilities guarded night and day.

If they go down it’s usually something wrong with the programme or programmers.

When you pay for computers, including smartphones, some of the cost is the secured facility, some is the cost of mining rare metals used in component manufacture, some of which are located in some of the most war-torn parts of the world.  The extraction is not necessarily planet friendly.

The uncomputery bit.

You are a reader, that’s why you’re here, I am another.  In times of trouble I revert to reading the stuff I love because it soothes and cheers me.  I had got through the entire cannon of Terry Pratchett by the third month of lockdown.  If it had gone on much longer, I’d have had to get the Beano annuals out of the loft.  As it is, I have saved the third volume of The Far Side cartoons, unread, in case.  In their case, unread.

I first became aware that some readers put me in the emergency reading category while I was doing fairs and writing my column for Dolls House World, twenty years ago.  Strangers used to loom out of the throng, mutter: I save your stuff, you know, and lurch off.  After a few years there were letters to magazines explaining how in times of trouble readers burrowed through the pile in the spare bedroom and read all of my columns until they were laughing again.  And quite a lot of letters said the same thing.  One lady wrote in to say her husband was cross with her because she had read my column in bed and laughed so much she wet the bed and they had to get out and change it.  And she really wrote a paper letter to say so and the editor really published it.

The computery bit.

If you are an emergency reader of any category; if you enjoy the Parrot has landed, or you need the dementia diaries in the dark of the night, I hope you can see from the explanation in the first computery bit, that the writing may not always be available.  Aliens from another planet could land and take out the Internet and we would all be so stuffed.  Global electricity shortages or a meteor strike could take out the servers.  Now you know the servers and the cloud and whatever else is currently being invented, depends on real metal machines in a building somewhere, I hope you will back up your emergency reading.  You could, of course stick it all on a memory stick, but that’s worked by electricity too.

When I began this site at first I printed everything out and was quickly drowning in paper.  However, if you were to print out your favourite bits, that might not be a bad idea.

It’s art of a sort, this website.  Art with words.  The nature of it is transitory, the words fly in through your eyes, flit around your brain and flit off.  A bazillion other writers did it better than I which is why I always know where to put my hand on my Shakespeare or my Pratchett.

If you are au fait with copyright issues, I confirm that you may not pass the contents of this site on as your own work or sell it.  I will always (servers permitting)  give it to you for free and you are always free to download it, save it, print it off for yourself and your use and point anyone you think would enjoy it in this direction.

I am honoured to be your emergency reading, or just your free five minutes with a cup of tea (which is what I was asked for when I began to do this).

It’s just lovely that I can write something (because I like writing) and wherever you are on the planet you can read it (because you like reading).

Long may it continue!

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ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This is the post I’m too tired to post.

Half way through the morning yesterday the S&H rang to ask if they could pop in for a speed visit.

How lovely.  I ran around vacuuming everything, tidied up all the junk and then quickly made some dinosaur cakes and some Paw Patrol cakes.  I would have to say, unexpected visitors are much less stressful since the house makeover.  Having a place for everything and a room for whatever I’m making, with a door that can be shut, is much less panic inducing than living in a little dump.

The family had been to the Christmas markets in Birmingham and popped in on the way home.

In the following two and a half hours there was: four minutes on the naughty step, eight rides in the lift, three goes of Henry the vacuum cleaner upstairs, three goes of Henry the vacuum cleaner downstairs, a Christmas card, an explanation of how to make more, ten photographs, one demonstration of how to cut down a perennial sunflower, tea and cake or fizzy pop in spiral straw glasses, burps, a railway, four adults trying to turn the train off, a look at a telescope, half a chapter of a Horrible Henry book, the choosing of four more books to take home, almost building an aerodrome, more vacuuming, a temper tantrum (I really must stop doing that), demonstrations of how very difficult astronomy is, small presents (just a pterodactyl), retrieval of scattered socks, one last go in the lift, OK one more and this is the last, into the car, copious tears (not to worry you’ll be back for Christmas any minute now) and a wave bye bye.

So most of today was spent falling asleep in front of the computer with every intention of doing something.

When ageing pop stars marry young arm candy girls, I do so laugh, when what follows is a second family in your seventh or eighth decade.

Grandchildren are lovely in every way, including on the way home.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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Apologies if you tried to find me earlier today and couldn’t do so.  The host, WordPress has been having technical difficulties, more about this tomorrow.

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The C word

I am making my Christmas cards.

Last year, as you may remember, because of lockdown, I made a theatre and wrote the play to go with it, so folk could entertain themselves.

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This was very popular.  People who are normally just recipients got in touch to say that they liked it.

This year I have to outdo myself.

This is the thing about life, isn’t it?  The only person you are ever in competition with, is yourself.

Before the building began, during the huge tidy up, I found some of the first Christmas cards I made, well over thirty years ago. They were scenes that I arranged with the dolls I had just started making.  I photographed them, with a camera, with film in it.  Then I picked the best one, returned from the chemist, got it photocopied on to the bottom corner of a sheet of A4, which I folded twice to make a card.

There was a fireplace with a boy hanging his stocking.  A snowy hill in town with people sliding along and so on.

For Christmas 2000 I made and sent out a porcelain manger and a porcelain flocked sheep. The next year it was a pantomime horse.  The third year was going to be the three wise men on a camel.  In porcelain, pull-along.  I started in March but reality kept getting in the way and I never fired the men.  I still do have a box of about fifty camels with axels and wheels somewhere.

In the year I fell in love with heat shrink plastic it was a slot-together tree and the decorations, that all fitted in an envelope.

Next there were a few years of arty stuff with cards done by different techniques.

Then my mother’s illness took over.  I made my cards from commercial components, stuck together and hers from similar but different.

Then I had broken arms and cancer and did simple arty ones.

Then it was the lockdown; I decided it was my job to cheer everyone up.

I have always felt the major component of Christmas to be the expectation.

As opposed to the expectoration of a row of elderly uncles on the settee with pipes and pints.

Or the conflagration of the cook setting fire to the gravy.

Or the determination that everyone should have a present, even for the unexpected guest that ends up with the three year old unbranded box of chocolates.

Or the railway station that the last person out of the office is going to spend two days at until the trains start running again.

Yes, actual Christmas can be a bit of a let-down, can’t it? All that hope and effort loaded on to making one day perfect.  Just after you have made the house perfect and all the presents perfect (especially the ones that cost a lot, ensuring we will all have to live on fresh air during the coldest months of the year.)

If you supermarket shop late on Christmas eve you can watch them wheeling the giant trolleys of baked beans into the loading bay.  Ready.

So Christmas is all about the expectation, which is why I like to make a very nice card.

I expect I will if I stop chatting to you and get on with it.

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Beautifully articulate, articulated beautifully.

There are never any adverts on this site, unless they are interviews with artists, or something I think you’ll enjoy.  I don’t share content generated by other people, this site is original me.  However, breaking my own rules, this link is to the John Lewis Christmas advert, which I think is art, I hope you agree.  If you are reading this outside the UK, John Lewis is a department store.  We have a tradition in the UK of large department stores and high street chains broadcasting specially made Christmas adverts.  This didn’t happen much last year as we all scraped along the bottom in the pandemic, for which reason spending a lot of money to make something as lovely as this is a real act of faith in the future.

www.johnlewis.com/content/christmas-advert?s_emlid=HERO&tmad=c&tmcampid=81&s_emcid=JLE2869_ATR_20211104_&s_emuid+a5aac1f576d84defa7251b33ff4660d6

The reason I’ve copied the link (by hand, if you’re looking for technical efficiency, you’re on the wrong site) that John Lewis emailed me, rather than just suggesting you search, is that this contains wonderful content about the making of this little masterpiece,  the effort, the actors, the music and performers.

It makes me cry each time I watch it.  So many of us, who were not able to spend last Christmas with people we love, have lost friends and family to the pandemic, or simply were robbed of chances to spend time with those who are no longer here.  I count the little cat who died as family, I could have seen her last Christmas but couldn’t go because of the travel restrictions and by the time we could go, she had gone.

Great art has the ability to evoke emotion, it tells a truth about the world and our place in it.

John Lewis asked for feedback, I wrote utterly beautiful, beautifully uttered.  It is.

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Thick knickers

Welcome to a new category- astronomy.

At the outset, outside (of which more, shortly) let me be crystal clear.  This is not the one where if it is your birthday today you are a Libra and the forecast is for a strong chance of stuff in the post and cake later.

This is the one where you go outside at night and look up.

Last night it was me looking up (instructions in the booklet in the dark with two pairs of glasses, his and mine) while the OH tried to work the telescope.

Oh yes, the OH having done withdrawal in lockdown, saving the world working at the Coronavirus lab, which he quit subsequently, and going to Cambridge (for the day at ninety miles an hour, scroll down) has now enrolled for two degrees (tilt and pan, are we near the azimuth?).  One in astrology and one in cosmology.

Anyone who is wondering: What is it with your husband, Jane, why can he never do things just a bit? has a fellow feeler in me.  I wonder that.  Constantly.

I have hoped in the past that he would not treat me as a workmate.  I don’t mean the bloke who asks you where you got your boots in the tea break, I mean the piece of equipment with the moveable bars that you jam the wood in, prior to tackling it with a saw.

I have held wooden poles at my arm’s length up in the air with no visible support while he drilled holes in them (Hold still! Why are you wobbling? You’re making this very difficult.)  Caught a bag of spanners with my eyeball (Why are you yelling?  I only tilted the fridge!) Held the step ladders steady and braced while he leaned all his weight and a huge power tool, at full stretch over the hedge (Oh look at that! I’ve cut through the cable and it’s gone off.  Why did you let the cable get in the way?)  And, holding the ladder, caught a massive tree branch with my skull as he lopped it off (the branch not my skull, but close call) and gravity unexpectedly caused it to fall downwards. (Try not to bleed so much until I’ve finished these other branches, then we’ll go to casualty if you really want to.)

I am not a big strong girl as you might expect reading all of this.  I am the same height as the Queen. Would that I got treated with the same deference.

The first three questions are – what is the difference between astronomy and cosmology then, hmm? Other than Carl Sagan saying Cosmos so cutely?  Hmm?  And – why did you expect this to be any different from any of his other enthusiasms?  Did you not realise you were going to get roped in, you idiot?

That may be four questions but the universe is vast (and getting bigger, I’ve seen the maths), it can cope with an extra question.

The initial effort where the OH was horrified at the cost of the textbooks, couldn’t make his laptop work in time to catch the online introductory lecture and couldn’t understand any of the maths at all but finally produced an equation that looked like the chant for the chorus in an ancient Greek play, and then asked me to check it out – I just laughed, was sheer entertainment.  It all went down hill when the telescope arrived.  I was co-opted from day one sorting out the legs.

‘I’ll just hold the scope where I want it and you adjust the telescopic legs to suit.  Just undo the screw, while you hold the other two legs where they are.  Careful now, it mustn’t get unbalanced and hurry up, this is heavy.  No, you can’t stand there, I’m standing there.  What?  Just reach.’

And this bit of joy was in daylight on the lawn.

A trillion years ago the OH’s mother had a pet rabbit that suffered from red water.  This is basically as I understand it, some poor animal being forced to live in an unheated hutch in the North East, in the winter and consequently bleeding into its urine, poor thing.

Last night, though not a rabbit, I had the red water too.  It was better by about four in the morning after some hours under a duvet and three quilts and I’m OK now thanks but it was very instructive on the necessary equipment for astronomy (and cosmology).

We went out at eight to set the scope.  I put on the old fleece I wear for doing the books and the bins in the winter and with the usual (left hand down! Not there!  Here! I’ve got the weight, no I haven’t, you hold it!) palaver, got the scope onto the patio.

The telescope comes equipped with a torch thingy that has a red light, and, like all the other bits of kit, is adjustably fastened to the telescope’s telescopic legs.  This gives it the opportunity to slide down the legs while you are trying to read the instruction book by it and undo the leg height screw on the way down.  I have no idea why circus clowns bother with a comedy car, a comedy telescope has much more scope for comedy.

The task at hand was to read the instruction book in small enough doses to be comprehended, remembered and followed.

(What?  What did you say?  No, before that. No, not that, you’re repeating yourself. I know that.  The next bit, no, you just said that.)

The handset is some sort of computer with buttons.  Utilising these, the location and time are entered, the scope is pointed at three objects in the sky which are entered into the handset and then it knows where it is.

(I’ve done that, that’s Jupiter.  Obviously!  No, that’s too faint, somewhere we know but in a different bit of the sky.)

I pointed out that Cassiopeia was helpfully ranged over our shoulders, above next door’s chimney, but was ignored and various other suggestions, all wrong.  We were not helped by next door’s cats who were out prowling, or, to look at it another way, ‘stupidly setting off the security lights.’ Nothing blocks your red vision of an instruction booklet quite as successfully as a sudden security floodlight.

Three quarters of an hour on the patio, outside at night in November later, it turned out that the reason the handset was not talking to the telescope was that someone, who had last had a go with the scope three nights previously, had forgotten to turn something off and flattened the batteries, which is why nothing got recorded and we would have to do it all again on the next dry, cloudless night, with new batteries.

So we got the tripod legs, which are wider than the doorway, and the rest of it, back indoors, switched everything off and then I discovered the red water.

Turns out that what you need for astronomy (and cosmology) is not a big telescope, or three books costing nearly a hundred pounds each, or a laptop that works during the lecture, instead of afterwards.

It’s thick knickers.

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Keeping up good cheer.

Again I find myself writing about the effects dementia has on the wider family.  I don’t want to encumber you with thoughts that might be depressing, if everyone in your family is bursting with good health.  If they are, enjoy every minute and, instead of reading this, click on one of the categories in the column to the right.  The Parrot has landed is all humour, so is Mrs Beetroot.

However, if you do have a family member who is struggling with ill health and it is affecting you, read on.

The situation is that my Step-Mother-in-law, whose health tumbled downhill in isolation, during the lockdown, but was supported by her adult son, who lived in the same town, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a couple of months after her son committed suicide.  Her daughter, who lived at a distance, had social services caring for her mother, four times a day, but SMIL became noticeably very strange when suffering from backache, or any pain at all.  Noticing the behaviour, the social service consultant then determined that SMIL should be placed in a facility with twenty-four hour care.  As this could have been anywhere with a space in the area, the daughter acted and took SMIL to a nursing home in the next village to her own.  This took SMIL away from all that was familiar. At first she seemed to do well, chatting to the other residents, but quickly became very demented refusing to wash or dress.

I have become involved at a distance.  Realising the implications of SMIL losing her familiar and happy life, which involved a different, busy, social activity every day of the week, I began telephoning her every day at the start of lockdown and have done so ever since.  We get on well.  My father-in-law’s second marriage, once his first wife had died of Alzheimer’s, was to a much younger person.  Not only is there is just sixteen years between SMIL and me, her birthday is the day after mine.  We share similar views and have enjoyed Dolls’ housering and card making and paper crafting together for thirty six years.

When my father-in-law remarried, he was keen to get on with his new, happy life after five terrible years.  The OH and I were a reminder of the sad years,  during which he came and stayed every other week for four days, so, whilst I wouldn’t say he shunned us, I would say he got on with other things.  His sister-in-law, who he stayed with on the other weekends, was similarly rejected and surprised.  I never really embraced his new family, he didn’t even want to visit us at Christmas, which left a void, which puzzled the S&H, Christmas always having been Grandad’s visit for one or two weeks. I didn’t need to explain that Grandad preferred his new family, the S&H was bright even at four.

As you know, my mother also had dementia, she died in January 2017.  The care of her was a very illuminating experience, particularly the way I felt after she died.  A few years later, her older sister, who reached a hundred and three, died, also in a care home, having spent most of the last years sitting in a chair staring into space.

From these experiences I would say it is almost a normal and a healthy reaction, for family members who have been involved in the care of an elderly and very challenging relative, to feel immense relief when the difficult person dies.  My aunt’s daughter and grandson were at pains to tell me that there was no need to be sad, at all, for someone who dies at a hundred and three, and they said it in very cheerful tones of voice (though the laugh afterwards may have been very slightly overdone.)

I told SMIL before she left home that she wasn’t going to get rid of me easily and I have rung every day since.  The phone calls are not direct.  She can no longer understand her own mobile phone, though she could manage to call the police on it, whilst in the nursing home. Accordingly I ring the office, speak to whoever is available, which has been a resident on a couple of occasions. I request a member of staff will find the nurse’s phone, the mobile which is shared by all the residents. I wait five minutes while the luckless member of staff charges round the home looking for the phone, then I ring the number of that phone and ask to speak to SMIL.  This doesn’t always work.  On a couple of occasions other family members have been visiting.  On a couple of occasions SMIL has shouted at me and banged the phone on the nearest resident, or furniture.  Yesterday she was lying on her bed and couldn’t be bothered to speak to me.  Sometimes the staff advise me she isn’t well enough to talk.

Some days I ring back at a different time.  Some days I am advised not to and request that staff tell SMIL I called and give her my love, whether they manage this or not, I don’t know.

One of the features of care homes, which is obvious on your first visit, is that you couldn’t possibly work there if you were a lazy person.  Staff do very little in the way of sitting down and very much in the way of keeping their temper in the face of provocation.  By now I have spoken to many of the day time workers in SMIL’s nursing home, some I like very much, one not so much.  SMIL’s daughter has a good rapport with one worker in particular.

It is apparent from the moment your family member enters a care home that it is a busy place in which your family member will be just one small problem.  One care worker was keen to tell me of the time SMIL was standing in the dining room pointing her stick at the other residents (who were keeping their heads well down and terrified) and threatening them.  I have written constantly about aggression in dementia; supposing you had charge of an entire home full of people like that?

Once you cede control, your demented person will lose their back story. The person who dandled you, knitted your school jumpers, saved up for your Christmas presents and took the dog on the last trip to the vet while soothing you, is gone.  In their place, care home staff are meeting, for the first time, a threatening elderly person with strange bodily habits and a penchant for calling the police and setting them on you, if they take agin you.

All of this is a very good argument for keeping the demented person with you or in their familiar surroundings for as long as possible.  My mother only went into the care home when the money for the monthly bill for care in her own home, £13,000 at the time, could no longer be met by equity release and the only option was to sell the house and realise the rest of the money locked up in it. Including spare funds that would ensure continuing care in the home for an unpredictable length of future if something happened to me.  Four and a half years after diagnosis, still in her own home, my mother was well enough to discuss the situation with me, understand the move was financially inevitable and visit her flat in the home to approve it.  She chose her own decorations and carpet and joined in with ‘new address’ cards to her friends and family.

Contrast this with the behaviour of SMIL, who, only six months after diagnosis, constantly asks where she is.  Of course, my mother had not had a global pandemic and the loss of a child to deal with.  During the pandemic repeated blows of fate and their affect on mental health, has been a recurring motif in news broadcasts, I suspect in most democracies.

We are pre programmed to feel most confident in familiar situations.  The lift engineer told me that of all classes of people stuck in lifts, those that panic least are, reliably, children.  For them, everything is new and they are just learning how to respond to situations.  I remember interviewing a South African miniaturist whose parents were horrified on a camping trip with her as a child, to find her stroking a puff adder because she thought it was pretty.

By the time you get to your eighties you are likely to be set in your ways and find comfort in the familiar, whatever that is for you. Abrupt removal from the familiar on top of numerous other blows would be enough to destabilise a sane person, as news broadcasts bear witness.  For the demented person, it’s the push over the edge.

You may now be ready to cast SMIL’s daughter as the villain of the piece.  She is not.  She lost her brother recently under difficult circumstances, has been trying to help her niece, who is only a student and yet managed to move quickly to save her mother from possibly being sectioned somewhere terrible miles away. If that had happened her mother would not have been rescuable, unless she exhibited calm and sane behaviour, guarantee able by her relative, which in light of subsequent events, would never have happened.

Her daughter is currently fighting a Deprivation of Liberty order by swatting up and begging for an extension of current circumstances, in pursuit of which she is in attendance and coaxing her mother to get showered and dressed.  I went shopping in a well-known high street store with a good returns policy and sent SMIL a new outfit, as encouragement.

The truth remains.  Every person is an individual.  How they respond to a situation may have similarities to other people in the same situation but will still be an individual response.  You absolutely cannot control their response.  You cannot control the response of other individuals to your relative.  The first night in the care home, my mother’s engagement ring was stolen by another resident, who then went round showing people her new jewellery. My mother never got the ring back.  My mother, racially prejudiced, hated the second-in-command, who was Jamaican, with such a passion, I was glad she died before the second-in-command was promoted.

The government has been caught wondering what to do about the care crisis.  There are nations who do not have a standing army.  Instead, all able bodied citizens are expected to do a few weeks every year as soldiers, most regard it as free keep-fit.  Perhaps we should have a similar system in which everyone spends a week as carer in a care home, or a geriatric nurse.

At the very least it would help you to value every day of your life and freedom.

At the most you might find a new career in which, if you have the patience of a saint, are physically fit and don’t let things you can’t control get you down, you’ll have a job for life.

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Reasons to be cheerful, part several.

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Here are the new perennial sunflowers, blooming in the place of the triffid, which is now just an envelope of seeds and compost. As you can see, unlike normal sunflowers, which are one stalk and a flower, these bear multiple stalks, each with multiple flowers, on one plant.  This is their first year planted; I cannot say if they will flower earlier in future but here in late October in the northern hemisphere, despite frosts, they are flowering profusely.

Why am I writing about the garden? I am doing so because it is cheerful.  The situation with SMIL is grim, she is hitting people with the phone and her daughter is now frightened to visit her.  As I am too far away to visit, (four hours return trip with a half hour of difficulty in the middle,) and can only get hold of SMIL on the phone intermittently, though I ring everyday, I am trying hard to focus on the positives.  For me the garden is always positive and a great source of optimism and interest.

I had three sunflower plants, bought from a shopping channel as unusual specimens, which they are. I gave one to the GDD in a 14 inch pot with permanent feed, hers is on the balcony outside the kitchen window and flowering away. She is proud of it and does the watering.  I put this one in a big pot for me and this one

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in a south facing flower bed, where it is happy.

I also have an end of season, cheaply bought, supermarket passion flower, flowering.

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The dahlias are having a last hooray

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they are keeping the bees busy, as you can see.

Raymond Evison’s autumn flowering clematis are lovely.

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I bought one plant for me and one for Sasha next door.  I delivered hers in a big decorative pot on wheels, while she was back in Russia, visiting her mother and trying to recover from long Covid.  She does not have green fingers, but you need to be spectacularly awful at gardening to kill off a Raymond Evison clematis.  You need to buy them from Raymond in the Channel Islands, find him at www.raymondevisonclematis.com.  Although Raymond’s clematis are easy to locate in any garden centre, they are, when not bought from him, all too easy to find neglected.  Buying them directly from him by post is not cheap but you really do get what you pay for: absolutely top quality plants in peak condition.  My plant isn’t even planted properly, I had used up all the John Innes compost for Sasha and, because of the shortages couldn’t get hold of any, so it’s planted in a right mixture, predominantly supermarket potting compost, which does not have the correct structure or nutrients for clematis. I will add the proper stuff when I can get it, a trowel full at a time, meanwhile just look at the blooms. blooming from layers of rubbish, poor thing.

I am also very thrilled that my intestines have suddenly started working again properly, without the pain, after a mere four years of agony.  My rib that I cracked a few weeks ago is OK without the Ibuprofen gel and right now next door’s cat is chasing leaves on the lawn.

SMIL is always at the back of my mind.  I am trying to leave her there until I pick up the phone.  When I have replaced the receiver I allow myself no more than half an hour reflection, then I get up and do something else very deliberately.

Of course it is easy for me, I am not the primary carer. I am trying to support SMIL’s daughter, who is, with my experience, when she asks.

Worry is like a rocking chair, it doesn’t get you anywhere but it does give you something to do.  I find success in getting out of the chair and going into the garden, doing hobbies, getting busy. In dementia, I believe family members and other ranks have a duty to care for themselves.  Not permitting the disease to consume any more lives than that of the person in whose head it is situated, is the secondary focus, after the welfare of the demented person.

Don’t sit and worry, get busy.

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Posted in About artists., Dementia diaries. | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Enter the dragon.

My Step-Mum-In-Law has been in a nursing home for a few weeks. I have tried to keep contact with her, not least because one of the reasons demented people go downhill rapidly upon entering residential care, is their disconnect with all things familiar. 

Unless you are a seasoned world traveller, you will have some understanding if you have ever been on holiday to a country with a culture very different to your own.  There may be guards with guns at the airport and the toilets could be strange. The currency looks odd and needs to be scrutinised and you don’t understand a word anyone is saying to you.

This, magnified, viewed through the fog of dementia, is the world of anyone newly resident in a care home. At the time everything in the surroundings most needs to be familiar to give reassurance, it isn’t.

For these reasons I tried hard to keep contact with SMIL, to be the familiar in the unfamiliar.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain, the bit behind your forehead, is the place where all the complex interactions with other humans take place.  In dementia, as in alcohol or drug use or withdrawal, these most delicate and nuanced workings are unavailable.  Thinking happens by electrical jumping between the synapses, the ends of the nerve fibres, to grossly over simplify matters.  Our brains are not hard wired, any nerve ending can connect with any other nearby nerve ending, which has to be one of the best designs in the universe.  But it is fragile. Fraying the nerve end with a drug or blocking the space with a plaque is like cutting the toaster lead with scissors.  No toast.  All the new thinking is doughy.

However, in the demented brain, well worn thinking becomes hard wired.  If you are out rambling through rough grass, you can see the trampled pathways and follow them because the walking is easier.  So the demented person is happy with familiar thinking, they know where it is going.  As my mother’s dementia worsened, one of the few things that would sooth her was getting out the old photograph albums.

So, doing what I could do, I tried to keep chatting to SMIL.  However, this involved ringing the main office, requesting whoever answered the phone to find A) the nurse’s mobile phone and B) the SMIL, then ring the Nurse’s phone number and be connected.  If she would talk.  At first she would talk, unless she was making friends with the other residents, in which case the phone would be put on a table and forgotten.  She does have a mobile of her own but cannot use it, or understand what the ringing noise might be, although she has twice used it to call the police, her daughter informed me, very upset.  As my mother used the phone in her flat at her care home to call the fire brigade three times, who did turn out, in case she was the last resident in a burning care home, I was less upset.

All the official pamphlets and literature about dementia tell you that, as the demented person is incapable of functioning in your world, you have to enter their world, to get inside their head and appreciate their world from their point if view.  This can be very like entering not just the dragon’s den, but the dragon.  An utterly irrational world is a frightening place.

Since the start of the pandemic I have been sending photographs of her step great grandchildren, taken by the DIL to the SMIL’s tablet.  The SMIL loves the photos and the little videos of the GGCs playing in the park, whooshing down slides and spreading ice creams down their nice clean clothes.

She has recently lost the know how to work the tablet.  The GGCs had visited Legoland for a birthday treat.  I printed off the photos and sent a concertina booklet to the SMIL.  When I rang, she told me she had just got out of the shower and that it was the first shower she had had for ten years.  Rejoicing in her cleanliness, I enquired if she had got the photos, she replied that she had and then began swearing at me and hitting the phone on the table.

This sort of scorching is always a surprise. Slightly charred, instead of running round fanning the flames, I endeavoured to do thinking.

I knew the SMIL was on antibiotics for a water infection and, the first course having proved ineffective was on a second course.  Which, given her response, didn’t look as if it was working either.  Now, why was that?

One of the characteristics of dementia and old age which has not been adequately explained to my liking, but which, if I live long enough, I’ll tell you all about, is the problems caused by human plumbing.  It’s not just the waterworks, which, I can already tell you (hurrah! knowledge.  oh.  hurrah.) suffer from lack of collagen as we age.  Collagen is the body’s elastic which makes things that ought to be plump, plump.  Your body decides not to bother making as much, starting at about age thirty. At my age even your wrinkles have wrinkles and if you are still working on losing weight, your wrinkles’ wrinkles have wrinkles.  And so has your bladder.  Your previously elastic water carrier is thinner, weaker and needs emptying more often because it is thinner and weaker. If it was a bag for life supermarket carrier you’d have swapped it for a new one ages ago.  This problem affects both species and all the intermediaries. Then there’s male hydraulic problems and all the inherited female difficulties caused by balancing heavy babies on just the one pelvic floor.  Human plumbing is long overdue for a redesign. My old family doctor was fond of explaining that those bits and your nose would work perfectly all your life if we still walked on all fours.  He used to chuckle about it mightily until he got older himself.  I strongly recall an episode of a Star Trek spin off in which a pregnant crew member, struggling to give birth, just had the baby beamed out of her and on to the table beside her.  That would be handy and save a lot of subsequent bother.

The SMIL had two children, a little late in life, as she had been told she couldn’t have children. Much later on, the pelvic floor problems occasioned by late pregnancy became evident as she aged.  She had a prolapse, which she told me about on the phone. A prolapse consists of organs which ought to be inside of you, falling out through the holes. I assured her it was a medical problem and really did need help from the doctor.  She was reluctant but having frightened herself by physical evidences of the prolapse on several occasions, was eventually encouraged to get help.  The doctor assisted with an internal anti-gravity device, which needed regular replacement.  SMIL was not happy about the outcome and used to complain to me each time the date rolled around, but the fix worked and she was OK.

Now, remembering this, I considered that if the SMIL’s son had taken her to the doctor, the last time he could have done so would have been over six months ago, as he had committed suicide in the spring.

I also recalled how very off the planet and aggressive my mother used to be with a simple water infection.  If you get such a thing, you will know it. You’ll be able to pinpoint the source of the misery every time you crawl to the bathroom.  This information seems to be unavailable to demented people.  One of the first items to be brought into my mother’s house by the carers was incontinence pads.  I was assured she would need them but she never did.  How much this had to do with the fact that she had never had a great weight sitting on her pelvic floor, as I am adopted, is difficult to calculate, but I think it had a significant effect.  She continued to know when to visit the bathroom for the whole of her life, which, although you might be young enough not to have to consider such a thing, is a great blessing.  This did not stop her having frequent water infections and being aggressive every time.  After a couple of years we eventually got wise to this, and if she was really ratty, suspected an infection and got started on the antibiotics before the ambulance rolled up at the door.  Eventually she was on antibiotics permanently, which of course, left no resources when matters worsened.  This common fix helps to explain why viruses can romp through care homes.

Back in the present, putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, I rang the SMIL’s nursing home and, speaking to the chief nurse, acquainted her with the situation as I saw it.  The nurses are not able to access the residents’ medical notes, but the doctor, who visits every Monday, can.  He will read back through the SMIL’s notes and find out if an elderly festering anti-gravity device is the source of the infection.

If you have not yet reached the stage of involuntary dribbling, weeing and hitting passers-by with your walking stick be glad of every moment. If your body works, look after it.  Be really nice to your relatives in the hope that, if you need looking after and can no longer do your own thinking, they will do so for you.

If like Captain Picard, you are engaged with someone temporarily or permanently off-world, just try to keep the lines of communication open.  One day it could be you breathing fire at the villagers and hoping someone knows how to work the extinguisher.*

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*This entire post sponsored by MixedMetaphors4U and Spot the Brane board books.

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Difficult telephone chats.

Once again I am having some difficult telephone chats with a demented family member.  It’s my step-mum-in-law.  Cared for at home, a couple of hours car journey from her surviving child, her daughter, she went down hill so rapidly under the effects of constant back pain, that the care authorities were suggesting to her daughter that she needed to be in a facility, where they could keep an eye on her and were going to do so within the next twenty-four hours, whereupon her daughter got in a car and moved her mother to the nice care home in the next village to her own home, at speed.

I have talked to SMIL most days by telephone.  Not every day, as sometimes whoever answered the phone said she wasn’t well enough to chat.  Her daughter has been going to visit, mainly to collect complaints from her mother and be told how bad she is and now the daughter’s husband has tested positive for Covid, so she can’t go in anyway.

Needless to say the daughter is beating herself up at every opportunity.

How you view the world and your place in it, is an individual view dependent on many factors, such as genetically inherited personality and the life circumstances acting upon that base. Like flower bulbs planted under concrete, some of us still twist this way and that to get to the light.

I have known a number of doctors, nurses and care workers, trying to cure a loved one by proxy.  I know a policeman who would dearly have loved to arrest his errant brother.  I have an aunt who, as a magistrate, sent her unloving mother to jail repeatedly.

You cannot control what another person is doing or is going to do.  You can and should, to a certain extent with your children but can’t absolutely; the first time you cannot stop a baby crying is exceptionally educational.  Child psychology informs us that at the age of two or three, as children are more able to physically affect their environment as their motor skills improve, they begin to evolve magical thinking. Dress up a five year old and give them a magic wand and see how happy they become.

In the matter of dementia and other conditions that affect the working of the brain, we find ourselves powerless to even reach or interact with the affected person.  If their brain is not working they are not susceptible to reason.  It does not matter whether the condition affecting the brain is amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s, alcohol withdrawal, or drug saturation, normal exchanges are no longer possible.  Not only can we not control the person, we can’t even help them, and sometimes are unintelligible to them.

The last conversation I had with SMIL, she complained that her bedroom was not her bedroom at home, demanded to know where she was, and in various other utterances was challenging and aggressive.  Eventually she hung up on me.

I have found under these circumstances, a phrase I read in a booklet for relatives of demented people to be helpful.  It said that the demented person was unable to enter your world, so you have to enter their world.  If they say they are the Queen of Sheba, you enquire how many elephants her majesty would like today.

In practical everyday terms I have found demented people, but not those suffering from drug abuse or withdrawal, to be reachable through tone of voice.  Soothing, calming and reassuring is the ideal tone to adopt, even if you are being sworn at.  In their minds all the sufferer can detect is a threat and they react with aggression. If you can find a way to remove the threat verbally, or to be obviously not part of the threat, this can help.  I remind the SMIL that in her own home she was occasionally looked after by her neighbour who could not be there all day.  SMIL is not well today and needs round the clock care which she is getting.  She is surrounded by nurses who can attend her immediately, unlike home where the neighbour couldn’t get hold of the doctor at all.  And so on.  All positive, all reassuring, all related to the physical immediacy of SMIL.

I have found dementia patients to be easily overwhelmed with fear, especially in the presence of pain.  It is almost as if the brain is magnifying the threat so that the compromised sufferer will take notice and act.

I understand being consumed by fear. I was fearful in cancer, especially if I was tired.  It is not such a jump to realise if I had been removed from familiar surroundings, was in pain, bereaved and had had a diagnosis of  a disease affecting my brain, inside which I live, that I too would be frightened and lost.  It would be almost unreasonable to be reasonable.

Whether caring for someone directly or indirectly, in your general dealings with other people, sane or insane, I believe the greatest help to yourself and others is to be kind.  I think it is one of the greatest virtues. It is, under duress, tricky to hold on to.  It is hard to espouse when you yourself are tired, in pain or fear.  The assistance to the necessary attitude is life itself.  Anything can happen to anyone and often does.  Being the sympathetic ear, the generous comment, the gentle understanding gets easier with practice. My grandmother practised these virtues all of her life and eventually excelled at them all.  My mother took the reverse view and was always fighting life.  Towards the end of her life my grandmother was never short of help or company; she was a nice person to be with.  Towards the end of my mother’s life there was really just me.

Anything could happen to you or me. If it’s already happened to someone you know, being kind is a good idea if you’re the one with the working brain.

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Symbiosis.

In a bit of long overdue housekeeping, I have tidied up my links.

New readers clicking on the word that says links in the top bar will find themselves on a page with other websites’ addresses.  Clicking on these links will take you directly to that website.  I had an enquiry whether I stocked items from other websites.  I do not.  If you order an item from another website you have reached with a link, your transaction is with that website not this one.  I used to have a shop on this website full of dolls that I make.  That was lost in a change of computers.  Although I may have recovered the information, I am not sure if I wish to start an online shop again.

I enjoy having a site with free reading written by a writer (me.)  I hope you enjoy it too. Unless I am away, for reasons beyond my control, recently health, though I hope very sincerely that is now finished and restored to normal, I post new writing at least once a week.  If I have more to say, more frequently, it’s always worth scrolling down to the previous piece to see if you recognise it.  I have been looking through my older posts.  I have been posting here for twelve years, so there’s at least 624 writings to sieve through, I hope some of it is gold. I’ve been doing it myself and find I can make myself laugh quite easily, though I tend to do it late at night, so I might just be tired.  You can select a topic by clicking in the side bar under categories or tags.  Posts appear always with the most recently posted first, scroll down to travel back in time and click on ‘older posts’ to go further back.  Yes this website offers time travel.  Free!*

If you wish to contact me, please do so by clicking on the link at the end of this piece of writing, where it says leave a comment. I always respond to emails unless they are spam, or you have entered your own email address incorrectly.  I can only use the information you give me.  A reader in the last week had an incorrect address so I was unable to answer her email because her email address did not work.

I have removed links to websites that are no longer working.  I have added mini epilogue, which is Marilyn’s online miniature construction diary.

If you have a website which is miniatures related, or you feel readers might be interested in, please email me for consideration. It’s called the World Wide Web because we can scuttle along the links to find each other, not for a larder of dead flies in the corner of the room, though if you stay glued to a screen for long enough, that may happen too.

I began this site to give publicity to Miniatura artisans but it evolved and has brought and shared friendship round the world.  Everything I write here is original, nothing is copied from anywhere else.  If I make a joke, it’s my joke (which accounts for how terrible some of them are.)  If there’s a photograph either I am the photographer or someone, usually a miniaturist, has given me permission to use their original photography.

I wrote for hobby magazines for many years.  Visitors to shows and senders of handwritten correspondence frequently asked for more to read but not always about hobbies and preferably funny.

Here it is.  If you have been reading for twelve years, thank you for joining in.  I write because you read it, you read because I write it.

Symbiosis.

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*Only backwards in time, so far.  Though I am willing to predict rain and the government (any government) doing something you don’t approve of.

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