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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

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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!

Collage & Storytelling

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As part of London Creativity & Wellbeing Week 2015 here at Open Age we organised a number of exciting events and workshops including an exhibition with performances at Paddington Arts inspired by fairy tales, storytelling, folklore and all things magical!

These wonderful collages were made by members of Open Age Create Expectations art class led by myself Hester Jones at Olive House – a Housing and Care 21 sheltered housing – in Fulham perched on the River Thames. The collages were also exhibited at our Paddington Arts Once Upon a Time showcase in June with lots of brilliant feedback from visitors!

The accompanying stories were made collaboratively in a group storytelling workshop at Olive House. Many of the members in this group are living with dementia.

In our weekly class Create Expecations we certainly experiment with lots of different mediums, inspired by many different artists and writers. We have dabbled in Pop Art, Impressionism, Poor Art, papier mâché, decoupage, candle making, poetry by William Blake, photography, and storytelling.. the list is endless! We hope you enjoy these collages and stories as much as our members enjoyed making them!

“I’m Watching You”

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There was a big eagle in Grandma’s flat, a singing bird, a hawk. “If I was a blackbird” was her favorite song. There was a picture of flowers on the wall with a lampshade dangling down. She was just watching her lunch – the little mouse. Suddenly the big bird decided she didn’t want lunch and instead had a whisky on mice!

“Mary Had A Little Lamb”

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Once upon a time I was expecting a baby and her name was baby Sheila. She was a professional dressmaker and she made suits, and they were well-made. She also made evening wear for ladies. She knitted jumpers from the sheep’s wool too. She made lovely coats and lovely shoes to match.

“A lady called Joan”

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There was a lady called Joan. She was in her living room admiring her collection of nick-nacks. She was out of the bathroom, suddenly, a lion came and broke all the crockery.

“Don’t worry love, I’m not after you, I’m not hungry.”

“Motherly Love”

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Once upon a time there was a panda holding a baby in bed (the only two people to vote for the liberal democrats in the general election in Scotland)

“Hush baby, mummy’s coming now to feed you… some bamboo!”

“The Nanny Goat”

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There was a nanny goat. The nanny goat lived in a field where he used to play chasing the birds and butterflies around in the fields. There was a polar bear and a brown bear. The Queen of Hearts lived in the red hat and the King of Spades lived in the black hat. One day the brown bear decided to go for a walk in the forest, he saw a great big sheep with horns. Then came a lion and butt the sheep with his great big horns. Then, the sheep had a baby! A young lamb.

“Down Under”

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Once upon a time when I was in Australia in the outback I was pleased to see animals hopping about. The meerkats, the kangaroos, and lovely birds, parakeets, wallabies, snakes as well. The meerkats were walking on the sand.

“Oh what a beautiful doll!” “Oh what handsome creatures the way they walk, the way they talk, the way they are all looking at the sea. They were all running about chasing the butterflies and the sheep and all the native animals.

With special thanks to Haynesh Johannes the activity coordinator at Olive House for all her kind support.

The report Creative Homes by the Baring Foundation demonstrates how the arts can contribute to the quality of life of people in residential care. Open Age is delighted to be a member of Age Action Alliance Creative Working Group:

“A vibrant group of representatives from national to grassroots organisations across a wide range of arts activities with interests in active to the most frail and vulnerable people. These different perspectives allow for new innovative ideas to emerge.

We could be a “hot-house” for new ideas and ways of working to make creative arts mainstream for all. This work could bring positive benefits to older people at whatever stage in their life-course; for policy and decision-makers; organisations providing care services and arts opportunities; as well as families, carers and arts practitioners. The impact could affect neighbourhoods and have regional and national implications.”

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

The Long-Term Health Benefits of Participating in the Arts

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Here is a very interesting blog with links to academic research that looks at the long-term health benefits of participating in the arts – right click on the top right hand box to access the various researches:

An international evidence base.

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