Sunday, 19 May 2019

My Dad - A Tribute

The tribute I wrote and read at my father's funeral in April. Some of which includes references to memories in earlier blogs. I shall continue to feature my stories here. 

When Dad took his last breath and slipped out of this world on March 14, being with him became one of the defining moments of my life. As he lay there I did not see the elderly man locked in the fossil of Dementia which had become his prison. I saw the boy running free around the streets of Rangoon, Burma, boxing and wrestling, and swimming in Great Lakes with his friends. A time and a land, with its pythons and tigers and golden Buddhist temples, so very different from our own.

I saw him with his sisters and brothers, and his nieces and nephews, singing along and dancing around a gramophone player. This vivacious family one of many in their mixed community described as the cafe au lait of Burma because of the colour of their skin, prejudices as described by writer H E Bates in the Jacaranda Tree. I feel proud today dear daddy to be one of your offspring and the clan of cafe au lait!

As he lay there I saw him and his niece Diddy, only three years younger than he, as children carrying a pole over their shoulders with a great bag of money dangling from it as they tried to escape with their family when the country became over run by the Japanese. The pole and bag eventually left in the jungle as they become too exhausted to carry it anymore.

I saw the boy watch helplessly after they were captured as his baby niece Clare and then his father died from disease.  The mischievous boy aged 12 who suddenly had to become the man of the household alongside his elderly and frail mother, sister Theresa and nieces Diddy, Ann and Collette.

As he lay there I saw the boy named Taro (brave boy) by the Japanese officer Capt Tomamoto educated in America who befriended Dad, the officer who tried to protect him when he was badly beaten by another after putting a fly down the back of his shirt for a joke.

I saw the boy who become a man when aged about 16 he packed his rucksack and jumped on a lorry to take him to the city to find a job, his nieces weeping at his departure, after he heard during the same evening his doctor brother in law complain to his wife about all the hangers on living with them after the war.

I saw the young man who had by now lost both parents with letters in his wallet from his mother and a book of prayer dated 1948 from his Aunty Kitty, both of which I have here today, arriving at the docks in Tilbury, England. I saw the man he became looking cool and sophisticated in the best clothes his money could buy going to jazz clubs, Maxine’s and the Tahiti Club in London, and then being captivated by our beautiful mother who he met at a new year’s eve party. We still have the love letters he wrote her on the back of Senior Service cigarette packets. 

As we left the former old vicarage looking over green fields where Dad spent his last days and took his last breath, I thought about his very own unique circle of life. The trouble he sometimes had fitting in. If my London-born mother felt like a square peg in a round hole where we grew up as children on a large council housing estate in Cambridgeshrie, you can imagine how he felt. But he and mum made it our home, the home where all the kids on the block were welcome to come and play and did many times, and have a lick of the curry spoon on a Saturday night.

I can hear dad now singing affectionately to me as a small child ‘Little Coquette Why You Keep Foolin, Little Coquette.’ I hear him telling me off in no uncertain terms when I misbehaved and how after he always came to my bedroom, where I had been sent, to sit with me among the sheets and blankets I had pulled off the bed in petulant rage, to talk about why I had been reprimanded. I remembered when as I grew up how Important he said it was for me as a woman to get a good education and a job to always maintain my independence. I recall how he wept and fell down on the bed where he was folding up laundry when I said I was leaving home to set up home with my boyfriend. I knew you would come home and tell me this one day, he said. I recall his joy at my successes and the despair he felt at my personal tragedies.

Dad in the last couple of years as Dementia stripped you of your personality you would sing over and over again the line from this song. 'Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain? As long as I can be with you it’s a lovely day.' I hope now somewhere in the midst of time and space you are eating see byan curry, boudee in the boungee, kow sway, mohinga and sagla chi, spending endless lovely days with your mum and dad, listening to Hoagy Carmichael or Al Bowlby on the gramophone - perhaps you’ve introduced them to the songs of Frank Sinatra or Simon and Garfunkel - in a house on the shores of Inle Lake or the Irrawaddy as the sun sets. Now wouldn’t that be a lovely day.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

He's petrifying

He's petrifying my Pa - before our very eyes. He's becoming a fosssil, a fossil that leaks! It's so sad because as he has petrified we have not been able to say goodbye. We lost the man he was during his fossilisation and did not realise until it was too late. This is dementia.


petrifaction or petrification is the process by which organic material becomes a fossil through the replacement of the original material and the filling of the original pore spaces with mineralsPetrified wood typifies this process, but all organisms, from bacteria to vertebrates, can become petrified (although harder, more durable matter such as bone, beaks, and shells survive the process better than softer remains such as muscle tissue, feathers, or skin). Petrification takes place through a combination of two similar processes: permineralization and replacement. These processes create replicas of the original specimen that are similar down to the microscopic level.

My Pa's body has or still is being taken over by the fossilised version of himself. It is difficult to recognise the man he once was. And yet he is all too familiar to anyone who knows someone with dementia because they all begin to look the same. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Wonderful wonderful day

Warning. Don’t read this if you are about to eat or have a delicate constitution.

Dementia is shit. I mean sometimes it is simply that, shit. So this morning the upstairs toilet is covered in it. Looks like Dad just didn't get to the loo in time. This is when you regret having textured flooring so that it looks like wood!Cos the shit gets stuck in the grooves. Then it is on the cream carpet outside. Oops another bad design choice. What cleaning product to use on the carpet? I go for a good detergent and the loo brush. Then just when you think the loo is clean you find another load of shit down the side of it. And when you look at the light switch. More shit. There were also treads of a shoe in the shit. Find the shoe. More and more shit. Dementia is shit. But life isn't. We are lucky to have it. Most of what used to be my dad has left him and what he has been left with is shit. But we have to make the best of every day. This morning he does not want to get out of bed. I love you I say come and get up and have breakfast. No he says like a defiant toddler. So I play Wonderful Wonderful Day from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers really loud on my iPhone and leave it outside his room. He starts to get up.  It must be the lyrics I mean how could they fail "Ding dong, ding a ling long, were the steeple bells ever quite as gay".

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

It's Easy to Forget

Some of you may have read this before as I wrote it for United Against Dementia Week

When I was little my Dad used to sing to me "my little coquette". He calls me "dear" now. "Thank you dear" he says. Because he can't always remember my name. When dementia takes over a person it's easy to forget the people they once were. My Dad was a tough little boy who didn't have it easy as a youngster. Aged 11 he was in a Japanese internment camp in Burma where a soldier called him Taro which he told me meant Brave Boy. His father died in 1942 and his mother just after the war. 

He came to the UK and was lucky to meet my Ma. He was handsome, debonair and an aircraft fitter, with a voice like Frank Sinatra. He cooked fabulous curries, our friends used to queue up to come round ours on a Saturday night. He was always sentimental and used to cry at movies. One bath night Sing Something Simple was on the radio and a song came on that made him cry. We asked him why he was crying. He said it reminded him of his brother Buster who had died in a diving accident. 

When we were poorly he would go to town and come back with Lucozade and a present to cheer us up. I used to think he was trendy because he liked Simon and Garfunkel and watched Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange at the Hippodrome. He would stay up late at night as he was an insomniac watching Indian films on BBC2. He would carry both my brother and I up the stairs to bed at night. Me on the front and my brother on his back saying "up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire!" I can remember him having chilblains on his feet I guess from working on a cold factory floor. One day when it snowed he went out walking in the snow in the garden to relieve the itching. He did strange things like make a contraption out of hankies to keep his hair flat after he had washed it. 

He was clever with metalwork, made a trolley to help move heavy things, ornate wrought iron work for the stairs, and a tray for the bottom of my little brother's pram. He was always tinkering with cars and even replaced a few clutches in his time with the help of books from the library and mates from work. He had a temper on him and could get really angry with us if we were naughty. But I remember he would sit down with me in my bedroom and "discuss" my bad behaviour and what I could do to in future to put it right. He always wanted me to do well at school because he struggled having no schooling himself between the ages of 11 and 15 due to the war. He also wanted me to have a profession as he felt it was important for a woman to be independent. A very political person, he spent the 1980s shouting at the telly at Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan as they appeared on the news. I remember when I told him I was leaving home to set up home with my boyfriend and he cried. How proud he was of us kids and all our achievements. I remember how much he loved my kids watching Red Dwarf with Rory or Barney the Purple Dinosaur with Tiffany. How proud he was when I received my degree from Cambridge aged 40! How beside himself with grief he was for myself and my children when I lost my husband aged just 48. He remembers none of this now.  
He has always enjoyed a flutter on the horses and can still walk to the bookies and put a bet on. But he does not know what he is betting on and he would walk there in his dressing gown and slippers with his hat on if we did not stop him. He cannot make a cup of tea or dress himself properly.  He will wake up in the middle of the night walk around the house and leave all the lights on, shout out, clap very loudly or sing "We'll Meet Again" very loudly. He'll open the doors to our bedrooms and say "what are you doing?" "We're sleeping Dad/Grandad" we reply. 

He will ask us who we are and what relationship we are to him. And then is upset because he is so sorry that he can't remember. It is difficult for us to remember who our loved ones with dementia once were when you live with the disease every day as it strips them of their personality. We had a lovely day the other Sunday. He sat in the garden with Ma and I asked Alexa to play some Frank Sinatra songs. She obliged as she always does. As I was cooking dinner I could see his feet tapping to the music. There are still traces of the old Jimmy left, Jimmy who took my mum to the Flamingo Club, or Maxine’s and sometimes to Ronnie Scott's to dance the night away in 1950s London. Jimmy who wrote love letters to Ma on the inside of flattened out Senior Service cigarette packs! I hope family and friends will join me united against Dementia for Jimmy and all those like him.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Who laughs wins

I say I say I say. My dad has dementia. It is not funny.  He is though. When he came downstairs one morning with just one sock on and was asked why, he looked down at his foot and said it's empty. Another time when he went to go out with different shoes on and was informed of the fact, he said they had argued. The other afternoon I touched the top of his head. I was worried that he may have a temperature as he felt so hot. I have been thinking a lot, was his reply. Strangely he can still find his way to the bookies in the town centre, a 10-minute walk away. Ma bumped into him as she was walking back from the market. Ah, she told him, we can walk back together. He smiled saying I don't pick up women in the street.

This week both he and Ma were in hospital in the same ward but in different bays  having both been struggling with chesty coughs, Ma probably due to the weak immune system leukaemia has left her with and Dad because his lungs are degenerating progressively, I think that's kind of how the doc put it. When we were told that he too would be admitted two days after his beloved Pamela he just said, it's becoming the fashion.

 We had been to the surgery when the GP said she wanted him to go to the ambulatory centre for tests at the hospital  straight away. It was 5 PM and we spent the evening sitting in high backed chairs  as they carried out a series of tests. I don't know whether it was because she was Asian, but as one doctor was writing notes after examining Dad he wanted to share with her something of his heritage. He told her proudly, I'm from Burma. She did not look up or respond. He said it again. She did look up then.  Pardon, she replied. I'm from Burma, he stated once more. Oh are you, she said and went back to her notes. No smiles, no engagement. I guess just too busy.

Finally after midnight he was admitted.  We were exhausted. Dad knew that Ma was in the ward.  But for some strange reason he thought that the elderly gentleman in the bed next door to the one that had been allocated was mummy.  He went up to the bed and bent over its occupant saying Pamela Pamela. He got such a fright  when the head covered in a mop of grey hair not dis-similar to Ma's turned towards him. This poor patient had severe dementia and just writhed in the bed with a stream of incomprehensible sounds coming from his mouth. His limbs were constantly moving and in the darkened ward with just a feint light from the corridor he did not look human. It was as if some creature was lying there. That's dementia for you. Not funny! Dad got very upset. I don't want to stay here, he's mad, please take me home, he said. We managed lto get him into bed and I told him I would stay until he fell asleep. Suddenly he became very sensible, lucid, my parent, the one in charge, who had the control. No you go home, get some sleep, I will be alright, he whispered.

 I went home and my son Rory was still awake bleary eyed. He'd cooked a delicious fish dish so even though not sensible to eat at this hour I tucked in and watched some rubbish on television while having a little weep at the thought of both parents in hospital.  I thought after what I should've done was watched some Dave Allen on YouTube, he always makes me laugh - the one about the bishops shoes – who got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning? A classic.

Dad was only in for 24 hours as they gave him oxygen as well as  steroids, anti biotics and something else I'm not sure what. Ma is still there in her usual good spirits, spreading her wonderful warmth and good humour.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Who Cares Wins

Who Cares Wins. The first of my blogs. 

We have to care. If we don't what's the point of getting out of bed in the morning? I have had my share of life's ups and downs and there were days when I did not want to get out of bed, did not want to wash I was so overcome with grief and trauma. I felt like I was swimming in dung and every now and again I would see some light and come up for air. My family and friends were the light, the oxygen I needed. When I faced my own life threatening illness and spent terrifying hours in intensive care one Christmas just a few years ago, as I felt myself slipping away there they were again to help pull me through. Friends have often told me I should write a blog - so here I am! It's stories that can breathe new life into our veins, give us the oxygen we need, to help us care. I grew up in a small house, among rows and rows of identical houses on a large overspill council housing estate, in fact the locals called it rather bluntly the 'spill. 

My parents did not have much but what they lacked in material things they made up for  In personality, love and care, and both blessed thank goodness with boundless energy and a great sense of humour! My mother was the clever creative one who made sure we could all read and write before we went to school. It was her love of  telling stories through drama, writing scripts, sketches and pantos for our school PTA that has been passed down through the generations. My father was the sentimental emotional one who shared stories and songs with us of his life in a world so different to that around us growing up in the Seventies,  a world of hot sun, exotic food and golden temples in a land then called Burma, where he was born in 1931. They cared for us, their family, our friends, work colleagues, and they taught me how to care through love, sharing and telling stories. 

My Dad - A Tribute

The tribute I wrote and read at my father's funeral in April. Some of which includes references to memories in earlier blogs. I shall co...