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Another Well by Colin Angwin

A few years ago, some sparky copywriter came up with use of the word “silver” as a euphonious euphemism for “elderly”, which is itself a euphemism for “aged”.   The usage has become widespread and a week ago last Sunday I attended a session on Creative Writing given as part of a series of events for oldies grouped under the title of “Silver Sunday”.

 

The tutor, Robert, mentioned a piece by one of his students who came from Eastern Europe, I think, and who recalled that in her childhood she had had to break the ice on the well in order to draw water.   Others from warmer climates had indeed had to use wells for water supplies, but not through the ice.

 

This reminded me of a well I came across as a child.   I must have been about 7 or 8 and I was with my parents in some remote part of India.   One day, as I wandered about the countryside, I saw a magnificent well-head.   It consisted of a huge horizontal wheel linked by a system of large cogs to an equally huge vertical wheel.   This type of irrigation apparatus was and probably still is widespread in Asia and the Middle East and I imagine it has been for centuries.

 

My eye was caught by the third component of the structure, a rope festooned with earthenware pots at regular intervals and looped loosely round the vertical wheel so that part of it trailed down into the well beneath.   An ox was lashed to the horizontal wheel and rotated it by plodding round in a never-ending circle.   This made the vertical wheel rotate in its turn, so that the pots came up out of the well filled with water which, as they passed the apex of their circuit, was tipped into a channel leading to the fields to be irrigated.

 

I picked up a stone and threw it at one of the pots which shattered satisfyingly, shedding its contents onto the dry earth.   I repeated the act with another stone, another pot.   My memory is that I hit a pot with every stone I threw, but my later experience on the cricket field showed that my hand and eye coordination is very shaky so that is unlikely.   It is, however, true that by the time I had finished my little game every pot was broken, and I headed for home well pleased with myself.

 

I dawdled on the way, so that the owner of the well got there well before me and was pouring out the story to my father, who took decisive action.   He paid the man for the damage done, more than generously I have no doubt, and he took a slipper to me, also quite generously.   This is the only beating that I remember his giving me.   I also remember his clear explanation of what the beating was for.   It was not for breaking the pots.   It was for not considering the effects of my action on the farmer, whose whole livelihood depended on the irrigation system I had destroyed.

 

Looking back on the episode many decades later, I also draw two other possibly unfashionable conclusions.   First, corporal punishment can be good – this slippering certainly impressed the desired lesson on me and did not in the least diminish my love and respect for my father.   Secondly, you could be one of the colonial rulers and still behave thoughtfully and fairly to the ruled.

 

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Age by Kate Simpson

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Thank you to Open Age member Kate Simpson for sharing her wonderful, lively piece of writing about ageing…

How do you count age? Is it by years, memories or months. I personally measure it by moments.

These can be happy, sad, angry, vengeful, laughable or just plain mad. If I were to choose I would measure my life in mad moments.

Mad conjures up so many things that have happened in my life. From being in an asylum to laughing myself almost to death. It also encompasses my youth when craziness was almost a necessity, clubbing wearing unsuitable clothes, listening to unsuitable music and reading unsuitable literature ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ for example.

Moments cannot be measured by time. We have brief moments, long moments, and wishful moments.

As I grow older my wishful moments become a bucket list of what I can and want to do in the here and now. I fully intend to grow old disgracefully. In the meantime of course I feel I’m still 21

To hell with my aches and pains. My wheelchair and the host of medical equipment in my home. I’ve had moments when my electric hoist has been fun to swing on (the carers horror adding to my glee!)

My wheelchair used as a racer (with the help of my friends). I’ve been to Ibiza, USA and fully intend to travel more.

I shall listen to unsuitable music, wear unsuitable clothes, and read what I want to. I can act like a child, a teenager or adult. I don’t care and will be deaf to the frowns and murmurings of others.

My own deafness is incredibly useful. Without my hearing aids I sleep peacefully at night. If I get bored of conversation out they come.

I have already crossed two things off my Bucket List. Swimming with Dolphins and meeting Mickey Mouse. I also met Pooh Bear and Tigger and thoroughly enjoyed it with childish glee. Some friends could not understand this second item on my list.

No 3? I have several ideas but at my age I have plenty of time. Don’t I?

Age is therefore to each and own. Never judge a book by its cover. Underneath we may be surprised. The child may have the wisdom of an adult. The teenager may be ‘right not wrong’ and behind the wrinkles a lifetime of laughter. I find it sad when people resort to the surgeons knife to restore or maintain their beauty. They live behind a literal mask imprisoned a slave to vanity.

I have had the privilege of being at the bedside of many in their dying moments. I have watched as their pain becomes peace. And how then their face loses its lines and natural beauty is restored.

They say ‘Age is a Many Splendid Thing’ and in my measured moments I smile and agree.

© Kate Simpson

Fundraising through art at New Horizons

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We’d like to share an engaging art blog post Review: Fundraising through art at New Horizons from Kensington & Chelsea’s City Living Local Life blog written by Open Age’s creative writing tutor Robert Silver: about an art exhibition at New Horizons Centre in Chelsea and Open Age’s endeavours to raise funds for such a great cause!

Magical Realism

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Today we would like to share a wonderfully inspiring Ted Talk by South American writer of magical realism Isabel Allende:

How to Live Passionately No Matter What Your Age

After you have clicked onto above and watched the short Ted Talk why not try out our magical realism creative writing exercise! – from Open Age tutor Mike Loveday…

About Magical Realism:

‘Magic Realism’ or ‘Magical Realism’ is a genre of writing “in which magical, fantastic, or supernatural events take place in an otherwise realistic context.”[1]

  • “It’s a chiefly literary style or genre originating in Latin America that combines fantastic or dreamlike elements with reality.”[2]
  • “The term ‘magical realism’ was first used by the German art critic Frank Roh to describe the unusual realism of primarily American painters such as Ivan Albright, Paul Cadmus, George Tooker and other artists during the 20s. It grew popular in the 20th century with the rise of such writers as Mikhail Bulgakov, Ernst Junger and many Latin American writers, notably Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.”[3]
  • Notable books containing Magical Realist elements include One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez), The House of the Spirits (Allende), Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel), Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie), and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)
  • Magical Realist stories “tend to treat reality as completely fluid and have characters who accept this as normal… characters are subjected to strange and bizarre events, but the background remains stubbornly ‘ordinary’. As Julian Birkett notes in his Word Power: A Guide to Creative Writing, ‘The point about magic realism is that the realism is quite as important as the magic.’ ”[4]
  • “When writing a magical realist story, concentrate on keeping it dream-like… a weird kind of logic underlying the strangest events. Settings should seem odd, yet familiar. When magical events occur, they should seem normal. Don’t comment on them. Don’t express surprise. Don’t explain.”[5]

Magical Realism Exercise:

  • Can you think of any unusual gifts or strange curses?
  • Spend 5 minutes brainstorming a short list.
  • The gift/blessing or curse can be positive or negative.
  • It can be about one person or a group of people. What happens to them or the people around them?

Here are some examples:

1) A whole village – one morning all the racist people wake up with green noses

2) Somebody who when their mood changes the weather changes in the local area

3) Someone who changes into an animal i.e an angry person who turns into a snake. A happy person who changes into a fish. Or a sad person who changes into a cat… etc.

f you’d like to share your short stories on our blog please send them to Hester at: hjones@openage.org.uk

[1] Zoe Fairbairns, Write Short Stories – And Get Them Published, London: Hodder Education, 2011, p.136

[2] Catherine Smith, ‘Myth and Magic’ in Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story (2nd edn.), ed. Vanessa Gebbie, Norfolk: Salt, 2013, p.154

[3] Smith, p.154

[4] Smith, p.154

[5] Fairbairns, p.138

‘It had been years since I’d felt so excited’ by Dorothy Adibi

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Many thanks to Open Age member and writer Dorothy Adibi for contributing her wonderful, inspiring story to Wordwise – about the meeting of an old love:

“It had been years since I’d felt so excited”

It had been years since I’d felt so excited. I was going to see him again. We were now old people, and then, then we’d been misty young lovers. I suddenly felt anxious – would he even recognize me? Now I wished I had given him my address, and he’d have come to the flat and there wouldn’t have been any possibility of error. But sitting here in a café? But then I thought, “No, it’s all right, I’m the only elderly woman here.” But again I wondered anxiously if his memory of me would lead him to expect the same pretty girl he’d known? But surely I’d remember him and recognize him immediately, even though he’d grown just as old as I had.

I looked around, wondering if he’d arrived before me, but there was thank goodness nobody who could have possibly been him.

The café door opened, but it was only a stout woman carrying a bunch of flowers. Would he bring me flowers? I hoped not, because there’d be all that fuss about getting them into water, and I wanted us just to sit there over a cup of tea and talk. Talk about what? Well, of course, about what each of us have been doing since we parted. “Parted” – that’s a semi-poetic word. But it fits the situation. I remembered it so well. “Tell your parents,” he had said. Or would we talk about the old days, our time together, when we were in love? At least I had been, I know that for a solid-gold fact. I remember how for a long time my every thought ended with him. I likened it to a tram that runs along its lines and always ends up at the same spot.

The door opened again and this time, this time an elderly man came in. He wasn’t carrying any flowers, but there no doubt in my mind. I was sure I’d have known him even if we were rushing past each other at a station or something. The man looked round and I half-stood up. He looked at me and began slowly walking towards me. I was suddenly acutely aware of my clothes. A very ordinary blue trouser-suit, but obviously chosen with great care from the wardrobe. I was even wearing matching shoes and gloves, bought specially for the occasion the day before.

He reached my table and smiled in a sort of perfunctory way, and said with a question-mark “Laura?” I have what I hoped was a dazzling smile back and said “Oh, Jean, how lovely to see you again after all these years.”

He sat down at the table and immediately looked round for a waitress. I felt a bit put out, that his first through would be about getting some tea, and not about drowning in my eyes or something. He ordered coffee and brought his attention back. “I wasn’t sure I’d recognize you, it’s good that you recognized me when I came in.” That wasn’t quite right, somehow, but his voice hadn’t changed, although his accent was less pronounced than I remembered. “But of course, I’d have known you anywhere,” I gushed, at the same time feeling even more put out.

“Anyway, how are you? How’s your family?” because in the last letter I’d had from him all those years ago he’d informed me that he was married and had a child.

“Everyone’s fine, look, I’ve got some photographs.” This was dreadful, two old buddies now. I glanced at the photos, two little girls who should have been mine, and a fair-haired woman who was, I had to concede, quite good-looking, although she didn’t look a bit like me.

“Oh, they’re lovely, I didn’t have any children.” I didn’t explain that the abortion had left me unable to have children.

© Dorothy Adibi

A Day in the Life – Creative Writing Inspiration

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Here’s an inspiring photography project on Feature Shoot about A Day in the Life of single elderly women in New York City, USA.

In Life Ever After photographer Patrícia Monteiro shows how four women in their 80s and 90s, living alone, live life to the full: soaking up the art, culture, social activities and life in this buzzing city.

“In these four women, the photographer found fiercely independent souls, constantly evolving and engaged with the goings on around them. Despite physical difficulties—Rita, for instance, has a few disabilities—each pursues her interests with as much fervor as ever.”

“At this age, the women have seen the deaths of lifelong friends and companions, but they have learned to cope with loss. Their late husbands are abiding fixtures in their lives, and Sonia still wears her wedding band. Rita got giddy reminiscing on her boyfriend, Molly shared relationship advice. At one time, they all had careers. A few of them shared photographs from their pasts, although nostalgia was sometimes tinged with heartache. For the most part, explains the photographer, the women didn’t dwell on or concern themselves with thoughts of their mortality, focusing their attentions instead on the joys of the day-to-day.”

Today’s Creative Writing Exercise: A Day in the Life..

Write about a day in your own life, or in the life of a neighbour, or a friend… It can be fictional or biographical, a short story or poem – let your imagination decide! But use Patricia Monteiro’s inspiring photography project as a springboard to get your creative ideas flowing!

You can see more of Monteiro’s photography here:

http://www.patriciapmonteiro.com/life-ever-after/

Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover by Kate Simpson

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Here’s another terrific piece of writing by Open Age member Kate Simpson – Thank you Kate for sharing this inspiring short story about an older lady and her husband who is living with dementia – a very captivating piece of writing!

Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover

Days of sorrow are etched sometimes in the core of one’s lifetime like the rings round the bark of old oak treas.

I thought of this as I watched the elderly lady in the supermarket carefully pick out her shopping. Something about the way she chose her goods and hovered over the amount made me wonder if  she was recently bereaved. One or two of this and that, and finally at the till her basket seemed empty and meagre. Her purse worn and by far from full.

I wanted to go up and say hullo but shyness stopped me and I let her shuffle off into the distance.

Some days later I saw her again by the bus stop and as it was a cold day I stopped the car and offered her a lift. For a second a proud refusal crossed her face, but the elements won her cold frame over and she climbed into the warmth of my little car.

We exchanged only brief introductions and then she told me where she lived. The silence seemed companionable so I was loath to break it. I was therefore surprised somewhat after her reticence to be asked in for a cup of tea, on reaching her house. I accepted and followed her into the house.

Small and neat but carrying an aura of emptiness.  She showed me into ‘the parlor’ where I perched on a faded chair one of two in the room. Looking around I noted no photos, no ornaments, nothing to say who she was or had been. An outdated television in one corner looked lonely. It’s only solace a small lace doily on top awaiting a plant or object.

The only other fixture in the room was the outdated electric fire with pretend coals. And a small coffee table.

‘Here we are’ Mrs Busby said as she shuffled in carrying a tray on which sat two cups of tea and a sugar bowl. She sat in the other chair and we sipped in silence. My curiosity was growing by the second but I knew somehow she had to be the first to speak. Eventually she spoke softly, as though speaking to someone far away.

Her story as it unfolded was as I had seen that supermarket day one of sorrow and sadness of a magnitude I could barely contemplate.

As she spoke she twisted a worn wedding band. Married when they were 16 and both in service, he joined up and was invalided out with the affects of gas. Life was had after he was demobed, too ill to get a job she had to be both carer and bread winner. Still their marriage survived.

His health got worse and then in his eighties dementia was diagnosed. Still she refused to have him ‘put away’. One day as they sat in their chairs after lunch snoozing gently the door crashed open and a man with a mask on and a baseball bat came in and starting hitting her husband over the head. With all the strength in her worn out body she took a large ornament and crashed it over the assailants head. He fell to the floor. She crawled to the phone and dialed 999

Police came and ambulance. Both she and her husband and the assailant were taken to hospital. Later she was told both the assailant had died of his injuries and she was under arrest for murder.

Once considered well enough to leave hospital she was taken to the local police station and formally charged. Their home a ‘crime scene’ there was nowhere for her to go, so it was decided to keep her in custody. They were kind but nobody seemed to care that she was missing the ‘other half of her life’.

In court she was confused and admitted the crime and given a lengthy prison term. The Judge was gentle and sympathetic and sadly explained to her that because she had ‘confessed’ to murder, he had no option but to give her the only sentence for that crime there was – life.

As sentence was pronounced she looked confused – like a lost child. The police officers out of respect did not use cuffs as they gently led her down to the custody cell and then the awaiting prison van. Her lawyer was allowed to see her and gave her a big hug and when she enquired after ‘her Bill’ told her that he was being looked after.

A model prisoner she served her ‘time’ and despite her grief at being parted for her beloved Bill, almost thrived in the security of the environment she was in, working in the kitchens, quietly waiting the day when it would all be over, and she would be reunited with her beloved. Unlike others she made no friends despite other prisoners trying to help her and make her feel less alone. Her nickname was Gentle Grannie so quiet was she, and when on the rare occasions she smiled, it was as though the sun came out.

One day she was called into the warden’s office and there a nice lady from the social told her that her husband had been serving ‘his time’ in a dementia home, until the night before when he had quietly passed away.

Inside her grief and guilt that somehow she had caused it grew to such a magnitude that she considered ending her own life, and then she would she told me, give herself a shake and remember the stoicism of her generation. ‘You just have to get on with it – don’t you love’? I just nodded quietly.

Years later once again she was called into the warden’s office, this time to be told she was ‘free to go’ – A nice lady from Age Concern met her as she crossed the threshold into the world again, and drove her home with a bag of Asda groceries ‘To keep you going until you get on your feet”.

On returning to the outside world, she found it a strange and lonely confusing place. The ‘home’ she had shared had long gone and she was rehoused in this little cottage we sat in. No one had bothered to parcel up her mementoes of her previous life. It was as if that had never happened. The only memento her worn wedding band.

Her story having been told, her shoulders sagged and a lonely tear coursed down her cheek. I took her hand but said nothing for a while. Then my words were simple “Thank you for sharing your story with me. I feel incredibly honoured” “What a brave lady you are, may I come and see you again”?

“Don’t you think I am one of those charity cases coz I’m not”

“I wouldn’t dream of it” I replied “but we all need friends do we not and I would be honoured if you would be mine”

“Well put like that – I think we can as the girl’s taught me to say – seal the deal – with another pot of tea”! The glint of humour in her eye made me want to get up and hug her, but as my girl’s taught me ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’!

Over the years Mrs Busby or GG as my girls’ called her became an all important part of our household, I did not tell my husband even the full story until today when we finally laid her to rest with her beloved Bill, he gave me a hug and chuckled “So I have been entertaining yet another ex con under my roof!” For only he knew that I too had been ‘inside’ for a much less milder misdemeanor – but never the less I knew the fears of prison life and what GG must have been through.

© Kate Simpson

Long Lost Lady to Inspire International Art Project

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Open Age art & photography tutor and coordinator of Creative Writing Phone Groups for the housebound – Hester Jones (me!) – is organising an art event Handkind at Olive House, London, to celebrate Rebirth-Day! An international event to help create responsible social transformation – in short, a better world.

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Our collective action is to encourage arts participation for people living with dementia globally as studies and practice demonstrate the arts help improve wellbeing for older people, and with dementia in particular.  Handkind is related to an artist residency I did in October 2014 in Italy at the Michaelangelo Pistoletto foundation UNIDEE Cittadellarte.

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The Rebirth-Day event takes place on the 21st December each year – founded by Pistoletto. In 2015 I will organise a dementia art exchange between older people in Italy and UK. The project will incorporate Creative Writing & Storytelling, Photography, Film, Painting, Music and much more! We will be incorporating Kate Simpson’s wonderful piece of writing Long Lost Lady about ageing, reflecting and looking in the mirror – into the project. Pistoletto is famous for his ‘mirror’ works to which Handkind is also inspired by as well as Arte Povera – the Italian art movement.

Check out all the other Rebirth-Day events taking part across the world – Open Age is on the map!

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If you know anyone with dementia (a friend, family, OA member, neighbour, etc.) spend time with them to read a poem, a story, look at a photo, paint a picture, listen to their favourite music, visit a gallery together… even if this person is not able to verbally communicate, or seems like they are not responding, you will have much more impact than a lot of us realize. It has been demonstrated that by participating in the arts, there is also relief from confusion and anxiety. Above all, be patient, kind and become a Dementia Friend too if you live in the UK.

Museums such as the Royal Academy in London support people with dementia and the arts in events such as Coffee and Conversation. In the USA Meet Me at Moma is a similar initiative run by the Museum of Modern Art New York – making art accessible to people with dementia.

You can follow the event and updates on the Rebirth-Day Event Facebook page and the Open Age Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

Long Lost Lady by Kate Simpson

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Thanks to Open Age member Kate Simpson for sharing another wonderful piece of her writing – this time something quite magical to reflect upon about ageing and youth…..

LONG LOST LADY

There was a time when I used to look in the mirror and a young girl stared back at me. I do wonder where she has gone. Is she hiding behind it? Or maybe she is in another mirror. One day I tried searching for her. I took down all the mirrors in the house examined them thoroughly but no sign. Where are you I cried? The silence haunted me like the ghost of a forgotten age. I moved the furniture looked under beds even in the garden shed. No sign. Finally I started to ask the meter reader, the postman. Who both looked at me rather strangely but said nothing. I rang my best friend and on my asking “have you seen the lady in the mirror?” She asked me if I had seen my doctor lately. I have to admit I was so affronted by this I slammed the phone down. Needless to say I had no intention of seeing anybody let alone a doctor. I became a recluse. I was too busy in my search to entertain visitors. Dust settled on the furniture except for the mirrors which were polished daily. In case a speck of dirt hid my long lost lady. Even eating became an unnecessary chore. Occasionally cold baked beans sufficed eaten straight from the can of course. Water straight from the tap (I was too busy in my quest to boil the kettle). So it was back to the mirror. This time I spoke to all of them in the house. I pleaded and pleaded. Where has she gone? Each day I repeated my question and continued to do so until I was old and blind. It was only then I looked and there she was. Young and beautiful once more.

© Kate Simpson

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