Sunday, 23 June 2013

Up the Ladders and Down the Snakes: My Suitcase of Memories.


Last week I was on holiday. Regular readers of this blog will know that means being up here in Scotland, and it was a glorious week, weather wise, to spend beside the sea, walking on the hills or through the woods. I wasn't going to write a blog, just post a message saying gone fishing or something similar. However, some of the activities of the week made me think about one of the projects I was working just before leaving to come away. This was a project on dementia, and what we as a College could do to improve the quality of life of those living with dementia.

One of the things I have been exploring is what others are already doing. One such group is the House of Memories, part of the National Museums Liverpool. The House of Memories run a programme for those working in the health and social care that recognises that to acknowledge and understand an individual’s personal history and memory is of great value and significance, especially for people living with dementia. The programme not only raises awareness and understanding of dementia but provides practical examples and fantastic resources for those wishing to develop their own memory activities. The resources include: A Memory Box, a Suitcase of Memories, and a Memory Toolkit

Thinking about my holiday I wondered what would be placed in my Suitcase of Memories.  One experience this week that I hope wouldn't be there was an encounter with an Adder. This was a young one sun bathing in the early morning sun. I was only wearing sandals and shorts, so slightly worrying as it lay on the path I was walking on. In the UK, adders are the only venomous snakes to be found in the wild. Worldwide, there are over 5 million snakes bites every year, resulting in 400,000 amputations and some 125,000 deaths a year. To keep the adder encounter into proportion though, over the last 100 years there have been 14 people killed as a consequence of being bitten by an adder in the UK. The last death recorded was in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1975.

The Department of Health advice if bitten is to stay calm and dial 999. Dr Robert Harrison from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine advises that most bites occur in coastal areas (like Kippford). The adder venom carries proteins which attack blood vessels and makes them leaky and as such can cause internal bleeding. For some reason the anti-venom used to treat adder bites in the UK comes from Zagreb, Croatia.

There is one experience from this week that I do hope would find its way into my Memory Suitcase. This week I walking Cello in a hay field where the grass was being cut and baled into those old fashioned rectangular bales. It was the sweet and very distinctive smell of the cut and sun kissed grass that sparked the memory.  For many years when I lived in Wales I would cut and gather hay in this way. All the local farmers would help each other, and I have spent many a happy hour throwing and stacking hay onto a hay cart and then transporting this back to the barn. 

It was hot, dusty and very itchy work, but also work that was about marking the seasons, fostering and renewing a sense of community and of course preparation for the winter.  And in those dark winter mornings and evenings there was nothing better than climbing the ladder to retrieve the hay for the animals, in my case to feed my milking goats. The smell of the stored hay would instantly remind me of the summer. Smelling the newly cut grass this week evoked the same kind of memory  and with it a huge sense of well being and contentment.