Sunday, 2 November 2014

Whatever you want - put it into your Memory Suitcase, Pod or Hen-house

No one chooses when they are born. I was born in 1955. Some 11 years later, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine appeared at the Round House (Camden, London) when it was owned by Centre 42. I missed these performances – but they were playing at the launch of the underground newspaper International Times (IT). These days in the UK it’s difficult to think what an underground newspaper might be, or why we might need it. The main stream media picks up (often in real time), social injustice, political wrong doing and human tragedy. We are all able to write the odd polemic email, and as individuals we can use social media to communicate our feelings and concerns and share these with like minded others.  

However, back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s it was a different story. Back then the liberalism of contemporary thinking and the stratification of the prevailing social order was very different. Then IT, and its sister underground newspaper OZ were prosecuted for what were seen to be obscene images and messages, for having lonely hearts ads that sought same sex relationships and so on. I used to read these newspapers and still have a large collection of the spin out Zap Bijou comic books featuring amongst others, the cartoons of Jay Lynch and Robert Crumb.

You may be wondering what has brought on this wave of nostalgia. Well it was Status Quo actually. Now I have seen many live groups including Led Zeppelin, the Incredible String Band, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, Rod Stewart to just a few, and often at the Roundhouse, but I had never seen Status Quo in concert. Last week their acoustic concert at the Camden Roundhouse was being shown on a televised version of a radio show. I don’t know how that works but you just press the Red Button and there you are, almost sitting in the audience able to see and hear every note being played.

Watching the concert I was transformed right back to the days of my youth and the world I grew up in. It was an almost magical experience. My neural pathways were buzzing, with memories (good and bad) and thought connections that weren't quite random. Francis Rossi (the bands co-founder) is just 6 years older than me, and 5 years ago he cut of his trademark ponytail, something he had for 35 years! Last week, a well-meaning friend suggested I cut mine off as it would make me look 10 years younger – as I write this it’s still there.

So in what was a busy week, it was wonderful to enjoy this oasis of warm memories intermingled with future thoughts. I was dipping into my memory suitcase and not only enjoying every moment, but also thinking about what some of those experiences have meant for me. I have written previously about the award winning memory suitcase initiative for those living with dementia or caring for those with dementia (see here). It’s a fabulous project, created and run by the Liverpool Museum, and it was Carol Rogers (the Director of Education and Communities at the museum) who suggested that 'museums look after memories' a delightful notion.  

It is the contents of the suitcase that are important. An artefact can prompt a memory that can start a conversation where a conversation perhaps hasn't been possible due to an individual’s short term memory loss. As dementia progresses, cognitive skills and short term memory reduce – but often longer term memories can be tapped into. Last week I was due to see a slightly different approach at the Wrighington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust innovative dementia pods.  

Dementia pods are a creative approach that uses pop-up  rooms designed to be reminiscent of a bygone era, and can help reassure patients who are living with dementia. Designed in retro themes they are filled with authentic furniture and memorabilia enabling and encouraging patients to talk about memories they still retain. The dementia pods simply pop up or down so are ideal for a ward environment and can turn any care space into a therapeutic and calming environment. I didn't get there due to a problems with the ward that meant it was closed for the 24 hour I as due to be there. I am looking forward to having the visit re-arranged. 


The greatest boost to my memory suitcase last week was seeing the wonderful article in Fridays Telegraph newspaper. This featured the work of the brilliant HenPower project, something I first heard about this summer when I met, serendipitously, the charismatic Jos Forester-Melville (a henologist) and HenPower Project Manager. I really like the idea of using hens to tackle loneliness in older men and the difference hens can make to older men living with dementia. Read the story hereAnd if anyone is looking for a Christmas present that would also double as a artefact for my memory suitcase, well 'The Complete Zap Comix' edition is due to be published on the 22nd Nov, and absolute snip at just under £300!