Thank you Barbara

A few years ago as I wandered along a London street looking for a parking ticket machine, I saw an immaculately dressed, petite blonde I recognised.   “Hi,” I said.  “Hello,” she replied, giving me her trademark beaming smile.  It was only then that I realised the woman was Barbara Windsor – familiar, yes, but not […]

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The Little China Clogs

It’s not often that you get to travel the world on a Monday but recently I did just that, escaping to the sun of Barbados and the oriental delights of China via Brighton, Southend and Cuba (my geography was always appalling) then zooming back to my childhood via a pair of tiny blue and white […]

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Old Fools

Two people, a piano stool and Tristan Bernays’ script are all that constitute Old Fools, currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, and there isn’t even a linear plot.  Yet somehow, in just 60 minutes, we’re taken into the world of Vivian and Tom, from their first flirtatious dance, through the trials of early careers to […]

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Somebody I Used To Know

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Wendy Mitchell’s memoir, Somebody I Used To Know, gives us dementia from the inside out, from the first, fearful inklings that something is wrong to the nitty-gritty of daily life with a progressive disease that gradually forces her to give up those things (from her work to her running) that make her who she is.

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Singing Together

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Anyone out there remember Singing Together?  It ran on BBC radio for 60 years from 1939, when it was introduced to reach schoolchildren evacuated all over the country during the war.  At 11 o’clock every Monday morning school teachers across Britain would tune in and their pupils would, well, sing together.

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Dancing With Dementia

Aneta Zwierzynska & Takeshi Matsumoto
Photo Julia Testa

I studied ballet for fifteen years and, for me, a trained dancer’s body responding to music is one of the most powerful communicators of emotion, often transcending words. So I was fascinated to hear about a professional dance theatre project inspired by people living with young onset dementia and their families and funded by the […]

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Extraordinary Individuals

Dr Hannah Critchlow addresses the audience at Neurosense

  I often say of my writing that other people go out and actually do things while I merely observe and record in an attempt to join the dots, to make sense out of what I’m hearing and seeing, and hopefully offer a few meagre insights. Never was this truer than the other night, when […]

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Why Mr Trump has made me angry

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Every time I see the television clip of President Donald Trump describing the suspect in the Las Vegas attack – the worst mass shooting in modern US history – a  “demented man”, I get angry.  It was such an insensitive and harmful thing to say.  By attributing the killing of 59 people and the injuring […]

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Ouch! Tiny break, big lesson

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I broke the middle finger of my right hand playing tennis this summer.  It didn’t even hurt much at first, but once we’d returned home I thought I should probably go to the doctor and, much to my dismay, he referred me to a consultant.  “I think you’ll need to get that splinted,” he said.   […]

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Alfred Barlow’s Medals

When I heard of a blind Second World War veteran’s appeal for the return of his lost medals I was very moved.   Alfred Barlow, who took part in the D Day landings, was on his way back from visiting Normandy with his family when he realised that all four of his medals had gone […]

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The Debenham Project

It must be pretty obvious now that I love stories – telling them, writing them, reading them and most of all, discovering them.  The other day as I was researching something else (my ability to wander off course is legendary in my family), I stumbled across a corker. It begins eight years ago in Suffolk, […]

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Losing The Fear

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It’s only fair to say that when I heard that a man had slept next to his dead wife’s body for six days I felt a bit squeamish.   But earlier this week – Dying Awareness Week as it happens – I heard a wonderful piece of radio that challenged my reaction and made me rethink. […]

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Creative Ageing

Over the past few months London has played host to a clutch of plays about old age, death and dementia.  Not the jolliest of topics, but as they are precisely what I write about, I went to see each one.  They were all very good.  What really intrigued me, however, was the youth of their […]

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The Magic Of The Mede

At the end of a small cul-de-sac in the charming town of Topsham, Devon sit three modest bungalows.  Only their location – each has stunning views over the estuary – hints at the magic within.  For together they form The Mede, a holiday home-cum-day club for people with dementia and their families, created by Sallie […]

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In Other Words

  Fly me to the moon Let me play among the stars Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars In other words, hold my hand In other words, baby, kiss me Written by Bart Howard, 1954   Matthew Seager’s debut play IN OTHER WORDS distils dementia – what it is to have […]

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The Blame Game

My mum, who had dementia, lived the last seven years of her life in two nursing homes.  The first was carefully chosen by dad, vetted by us three children and considered the most loving environment of those on offer.  As many people do, we found ourselves chasing a care home place in a crisis – […]

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Life Stories Written In Invisible Ink

As some of you may know I’ve just had my first novel published; I’d like to thank everyone who has said kind words about it and generally supported me in all kinds of ways.  Publicising Invisible Ink, writing and talking about it, I’ve come to it afresh and gathered one or two insights into dementia, […]

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Dementia Duty

When I heard that Wendy Mitchell had had her state funded personal independence payment (or PIP) taken away I could, sadly, believe it because I’d had much the same experience with my parents who were both denied state funding for which they quite obviously qualified.  Only after a protracted battle on their behalf did I […]

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Reflections on life, love & dementia

I’ve been in reflective mood recently.  My only daughter left home for university last month.  My role as a mum has changed, my nest is empty.  As I – and doubtless countless others before me – have found, at pivotal times in my parental role I remember my own parents as the realisation of what […]

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The Price Of Care

Seventeen care workers are suing a council contractor for failing to pay them the minimum wage in a case which their union says involves the worst breaches of wage law that it’s ever seen. The employees’ wage slips appear to show that they are being paid £3.27 an hour – less than half the national […]

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Kate Granger

Dr Kate Granger was bemused when people told her (as they often did) that she was inspirational.   She described herself in typically down-to-earth fashion as “Just a Yorkshire lass trying to deal with a horrible situation in the most positive way I can manage”. Kate, who has died of cancer aged 34, used her experiences […]

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Growing Support

I love gardening, as did my dad.  It’s being outside, hearing the birdsong, smelling the earthiness of the soil, seeing green shoots magically appear from seeds you’ve sewn. Now this fulfilling pursuit is increasingly being used to help care home residents and those with dementia reconnect with nature, with other people, with life itself.  It’s […]

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Chris Roberts’ Story

The first thing I’d like to say in this blog is: thank you.  I’m not a fan of capitals, but if I were those two words would be in the headline writer’s huge 72 point, all upper case. My 72 point thank you is to Chris and Jayne Roberts and their family for having the […]

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A Sadly Underwhelming Elegy

Nick Payne’s short, intense play Elegy, currently playing at the Donmar Warehouse, is undoubtedly clever and thought-provoking, but it left me feeling curiously underwhelmed. The acting, from its three protagonists, particularly Zoe Wanamaker as Lorna, a late middle-aged woman suffering from a nameless brain-debilitating disease very much like dementia, is superb.  But I wondered if […]

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Jane & Phil’s story

A few days ago when out walking Bert, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for years and the two of us stood chatting for a good ten minutes or so before resuming our paths with our respective dogs – hers, a lovely black Labrador called Rye.   Our exchange, though, wasn’t the normal stuff of […]

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The Mum Tab

As part of my website revamp I’d intended to ditch the Mum tab (above) which – despite my best intentions – is hardly ever used.  The fact is I now blog almost exclusively about dementia.  It was only because the very basic framework of my website wouldn’t allow me to replace the Mum tab with […]

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Speaking Out – About The Social Model

I caught a fascinating programme on the radio the other day.  A group of people who had campaigned to end disability discrimination in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s gathered to share memories in The Reunion on Radio 4. Their discussion was chaired by Sue MacGregor, who recalled that in the 1970s the campaigners adopted what […]

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I’m Sorry Mr Humphrys But You’re Wrong

“Twitter is utterly pointless”.  So says John Humphrys, Mastermind inquisitor and veteran presenter of the BBC’s flagship current affairs Today programme.   I know Radio 4’s resident Rottweiler isn’t everyone’s cup of early morning tea, but as a fellow journalist I admire his unswerving, if irascible, pursuit of an answer.   However, on the subject of Twitter, […]

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Searching For Memories

Not being able to retrieve memories is one of the many cruel symptoms of dementia.  I have written a short memoir about the poignant moment when my mum, in the early stages of the condition, told me that she’d cried herself to sleep the night before because she couldn’t remember her life. The notion of […]

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Sporting Memories

I played hockey for years, first at school and then – from my mid 20s until I was about 40 – for Leatherhead Ladies second team in Surrey. We were otherwise known as the “Lipstick Eleven” (which says it all) and even now if I pass a pitch on a Saturday afternoon I’m swept back to […]

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My New Year’s Resolution

Carers have been much in my mind at the start of 2016.   I keep bumping into them, either virtually online or in the flesh, and they’ve got me thinking about my new year’s resolution. For some time now I’ve been working on a newspaper piece about early (or young) onset dementia – when the person […]

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Bravo! Again!

In one of my very first blogs I paid tribute to husband-and-wife actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales for having the courage to speak publicly about Prunella’s dementia, and for doing so in such a constructive manner.  Though acknowledging the difficulties, Mr West said the pair of them still had “a lot of fun”.  Since […]

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What Flowers Remember & Children Teach Us

There is a poignant moment in “What Flowers Remember” when old Mr Clancy asks his 13-year-old friend, “Who will I be if I don’t remember my life?”   Needless to say Delia, a young narrator with a wit and wisdom beyond her years, has no answer. Who does?  I certainly didn’t when my 82-year-old mother said the […]

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The Father

Watching Florian Zeller’s brutally honest play “The Father” left me unsettled. It left me unsure as to who each of its six characters actually were, of where they were, and when they were there. It left me confused and emotionally drained. But boy, did it move me. This award-winning work, translated from the French by […]

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What’s in a name?

When my mum moved into her nursing home the staff called her Kathleen because that was, actually, her name. But the truth is she was never called Kathleen, or Kathy, or Kate. My mum was always Kay. As is often the case, mum’s entry into the home was the culmination of a traumatic few weeks […]

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Alzheimer’s Daughter

Jean Lee’s memoir “Alzheimer’s Daughter” is at once a moving, highly personal and informative account of how the “brain-devouring monster” simultaneously swallowed up both her parents’ lives, and a universal story.  It offers solace, through experiences shared, to millions of people currently confronting the same impossible decisions and living through the same heart-breaking moments that […]

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Tim Lloyd-Yeates

Tim Lloyd-Yeates was an extraordinary man whose life enhanced hundreds if not thousands of others because he was possessed of a rare combination of insight, generosity of spirit and sharp intelligence.  It hardly seems possible that he has gone – a gentle giant felled by acute myeloid  leukaemia at the far-too-young age of 48. Many of us […]

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The Doctor’s Dementia

If you Google Dr Jennifer Bute the first entry you see is for her website.  Its title is “Glorious Opportunity” and in many ways it tells you all you need to know about this remarkable woman. Formerly an executive partner in a large GP practice in Southampton, Dr Bute was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s […]

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A Little Bit of Magic Down Lambeth Way

I arrived at Lambeth’s Healthy Living Club at the same time as 75-year-old William.  He couldn’t find his wallet to pay for his transport.  No matter, Dave Bell, a volunteer, was on hand to lend him the money.   Later I saw Dave making sure that William, who has dementia, was okay to get home.  Before […]

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Dementiaville

Two moments stood out for me as I watched the first of Channel 4’s three-part Dementiaville series, billed as a programme exploring a radical approach to dementia treatment being used in a Midlands care home’s specialist unit called Poppy Lodge. The first was when Marie, whose 56-year-old brother has a rare form of the condition called […]

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Asset Value

Many of the pieces I write on dementia are about joining the dots, making connections between what different people are doing in various parts of the country, or even the world. Never has this been more true than at a recent conference held by Sitra – a charity that promotes healthy, independent living – where I encountered a […]

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Ringing up Two-for-One Success Stories in Dementia Awareness Week

This blog is dedicated to Tommy and Tony.  Two men who each, in their very different ways, are helping to improve the lives of people with dementia. First up is Liverpudlian Tommy Dunne, who this week – Dementia Awareness Week (#DAW2015) – opened what is believed to be the first dementia friendly check-out in a Tesco […]

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This Is Your Life

Though I never met him I feel that I knew George Arthur Moss who was, to use his own words, “a fairly quiet man with a good sense of humour”.  Others describe him as caring and gentle. George died in 2008 aged 86, having been diagnosed with dementia four years earlier.  Now that I’ve come […]

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NHS Change Day, in the shoes of …

It’s NHS Change Day so I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog to someone who exemplifies everything it stands for.  She is, to use her own words, a disruptor and a radical who wants to bring about change.  She’s a boat-rocker, a distinguished member of the Twitter glitterati and a networker par excellence; if anyone’s […]

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“Dementia’s where cancer was 40 years ago”. Is it?

I’m old enough to remember where I was when John Lennon died – helped by the fact that his shocking, untimely death occurred on my birthday.  I was in my second year at Southampton university, vaguely getting to grips with how to cook for myself and occasionally dipping into the likes of Wordsworth and Yeats […]

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House of Memories. My First Anniversary Blog

“House of Memories is a very good idea put into practice”.  So reads the opening sentence of Liverpool National Museums’ description of a training programme designed to enhance the lives of those with dementia – and I couldn’t agree more.  As with all the best ideas, at its core lies simplicity, while its strength comes […]

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A Love Story

It was New Year’s eve at the Ilford Palais.  As midnight struck, a young man asked a girl to kiss him, once for 1966, and then again (cheekily) for 1967.  And that, as 64-year-old Jan Inman tells me, was how it all began. The story of Jan and her husband Ron runs to 48 years; […]

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Care, Farms & Dementia

I first heard about care farms at an Alzheimer Europe conference, where I discovered that they are used extensively in the Netherlands as an alternative to day care centres for those with dementia. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming concept that brings people with dementia close to the smells, sights and sounds of the outdoors, to the […]

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Hospices & their ethos of care

I used to have an irrational fear of hospices.   The very sound of the word, with its soft susurrations, whispered to me of sorrow and foreboding.  On the rare occasions I allowed myself to imagine what a hospice might be like, I conjured up visions of corridors punctuated with shadowy doorways beyond which lay sights […]

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Hen Power

Sometimes in life, in a piece of writing or music or art, at a given moment or over a longer period, everything comes together – it all just works, often seemingly by chance.  And when it does, it’s magic, with the whole providing so much more than the sum of its parts.   This is what’s […]

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Care home abuse & audio tapes. Zoe’s story.

Imagine being confronted with concrete evidence that your husband, who has dementia and lives in a nursing home, is being abused by those responsible for his care.  Think how you’d feel as you switched on the small tape recorder you’d hidden behind a chest of drawers in his room and heard people “hissing with venom” […]

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Stigma. Speaking out against the S word

Since returning from the Alzheimer Europe conference in Glasgow I’ve been thinking a lot about stigma and why it clings to dementia. It simply didn’t exist at all for the three days I was there, replaced instead by a stimulating buzz of optimism and positive creativity.  So why does it persist in the wider world?  […]

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Alzheimer Europe 2014

The tone of the 2014 Alzheimer Europe conference was set from the moment I arrived and bumped straight into the force of nature that is Helga Rohra. I’d read about this 60-year-old German – and listened to her powerful words – many times, but never met her in person.  She was bustling about, organising others, […]

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The Story of Tall Tim

This is the story of how a (very tall) man found his vocation.  It started in 2000 when an indomitable woman moved into a care home that failed to see her for who she was.  Nine years later – via France and India – her son-in-law Tim Lloyd-Yeates set up a charity dedicated to improving […]

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Silver Sunday

Silver Sunday.  How easily it slides off the tongue.  It’s happening this weekend so it seemed a good subject to write about.   I’m sure many people will have mixed views about it; I thought I was one of them.  But having carried out a bit of research I’m far more positive. Silver Sunday was launched just […]

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Drawing From The Inside Out

Rachel Mortimer is an artist.  She is also a qualified Montessori teacher and, among other jobs she’s held, she’s worked as a carer.  At the moment she’s studying for an Open University psychology degree.  She’s clearly someone with many strings to her bow. But the reason we’re meeting – and what could be seen as […]

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Rug or lino?

At the end of a White Paper on change and transformation in the NHS comes a case study from Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  It involves a seemingly simple, grassroots project called Living Well, in which older people have collaborated with voluntary sector partners, local GPs, community nurses, and mental health and social workers […]

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The unending grief of the dementia carer

Just as I was about to post this week’s blog I set it aside in favour of another.   I did so because of a remarkable interview on Radio 4 between John Humphrys, the Today programme’s resident Rottweiler, and Denise Stevens, who cares for her husband Mike, who has dementia. It’s only a few months since […]

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Elizabeth is Missing

Elizabeth is Missing is an unusually bold and clever novel: a 70-year-old mystery narrated by an old lady with the beginnings of dementia. Maud is funny and sharp.  She is observant and self- aware.  She is also living through what must be one of the most frightening stages of her condition: she knows that she […]

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Cure. Care. Humanity.

When I heard about the three different eras of dementia that have occurred in Japan – a country whose treatment of those living with the condition is said to be one of the most progressive in the world – I was intrigued and vowed to learn more. It’s taken me a few weeks but I […]

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Risk v. Silent Harms

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a blog about risk and people living with dementia for some time now, and a recent Times article with the provocative headline, “People with dementia told to start living dangerously” provided the impetus I needed. The fact that these nudges often occur when I’m deciding on a […]

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Memory – the sum of our past

Memory.  Even before I began to write about dementia the subject fascinated me.   At university I studied for an English degree that included post-structuralist readings of the Romantic poets (don’t even ask) and decided, in my 22-year-old wisdom, that memory as such doesn’t really exist. What happened, I argued in one particularly tortuous essay, was […]

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D Day Heroes – et al

I was immensely privileged to have been invited to the Founder’s Day parade at the Royal Chelsea Hospital this week.  It took place on a bright, blustery morning just before D Day and, though I should have been prepared, I found myself ambushed by emotion as I watched the marching ranks of scarlet-suited pensioners, average age 82 […]

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Normalising Dementia

A small piece of history was made this week.  It involved the BBC’s flagship current affairs Today programme, its veteran presenter John Humphrys and the normalising of dementia. Aired in the primetime 8.10am slot normally reserved for Prime Ministers and chief executives of beleaguered FTSE 100 companies, a report by Radio 4’s most famous Welshman […]

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The complexities of grief

A few years before my dad died I sat up drinking with a girlfriend and found myself telling her – much to my surprise and with an honesty born out of alcohol – that I couldn’t imagine a world without him.  He’s been gone five years now and in the intervening period I’ve had time […]

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The Power of Stories

Scrolling through my Twitter feed (as you do) I came across Gina Shaw.  I didn’t know anything about her but I opened a link and there she was, telling her story. Very powerful it was too.  Gina, sitting in what looks like her living room, tells us that she’s 61, lives in Liverpool with her […]

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Nana forgets, so I remember

I’ve been delighted by recent reports of German day centres that take different generations, from older people to toddlers.  The idea isn’t merely practical – logical in many ways – it warms the cockles of my heart.  There’s something just so right about it. As I’ve grown older and particularly since becoming a parent 16 […]

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Quartet: over-sweet but precious too

Over the Easter holidays current husband and I passed a rainy afternoon watching Quartet, the 2012 film about a colourful if not always harmonious group of residents living in a retirement home for professional musicians. Despite its stella cast – Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Michael Gambon, Sir Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, the list goes on […]

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My Mum

A few days ago Kate Swaffer wrote a post entitled “Big life, small suitcase” about the potent symbolism of packing someone’s entire existence into a modest piece of luggage. Describing how she brought her late friend’s belongings back to the UK, Kate said, “As I lifted the small suitcase at the airport for weighing and […]

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Where Memories Go

“Where Memories Go – why dementia changes everything” is a memoir so beautifully written that at times it reads like a love letter from a daughter to a mother. It is also, as its title suggests, something else altogether: a journalist’s investigation into what it means to be old and infirm in today’s society – […]

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Cheers! Why Twitter Matters

In last week’s blog I described Twitter as a fabulous global cocktail party, which was later – in a gratifying example of just the sort of exchange I was promoting – nominated by one of my tweeps (or followers) as her quote of the week. Of course, as I said then, it’s better than an […]

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Open All Hours

As one door closes, another opens.  I kept this hopeful saying in mind when pondering recent reports that a giant vending machine has replaced a village shop.  I wasn’t thinking so much of the plastic swing door at the bottom of the automated shop, or even the tinkling bell alerting Granville of a customer’s entry into […]

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Perfect Moments

Eugene O’Kelly was the high-flying CEO of one of the world’s largest accountancy firms, with a packed diary for the next 18 months, a rock solid marriage and two loving daughters when, aged 53, he was told that he had inoperable brain cancer. “I was blessed,” reads the opening sentence of the book he wrote […]

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Please Read On

A blood test that can detect early signs of dementia – good news, surely?   When I saw the recent reports I hoped it was, but knowing how these things work – and being a cynical cove – I wondered about the upbeat certainty of many of the headlines. These are the facts.  Researchers from Georgetown […]

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Bravo!

“Basil!”  Anyone of a certain age will remember Sybil Fawlty’s voice imperiously summoning her gaff-prone hotelier husband in the ’70s sitcom, Fawlty Towers.   Prunella Scales seemed to inhabit the role of Sybil: organised, efficient, bossy.  She had to be with a husband as disastrous as hers. Now we learn from her real life husband and […]

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Conquering the Eiger

To Wengen, Switzerland, where CH and Emily skied and I walked in glittering snow among conifers laden with icy white blossom.  The views – of the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Männlichen – were stunning and the air was nectar after the fumes of SW17. As so often after a holiday, I came away with […]

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Happy Days

Recently a confluence of events has started me thinking.  Always dangerous but on this occasion, positive. First up was some great news involving my daughter Emily.  Modesty, and the threat of being disowned as her mother, prevent me elucidating further; suffice to say, my current husband (I’ve been married before and like to keep this […]

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Word Games?

As a journalist I’m wary of word counts and in the past I have been known to refer to “dementia sufferers” rather than “people living with dementia” because two words are always better than four in the world of the hack. Now my use of language is being challenged.  Not by pedants (I’d easily see […]

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People Not Body Parts

As I’ve become more and more interested in the way those living with dementia are treated by both health care systems and society I’ve realised that, given we don’t yet have a cure, the best way forward is to encourage and enable everyone who has the disease to live as well as they possibly can.   The inspirational […]

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Hello!

So, here I am.  Finally.  Writing my blog.   I suppose it was inevitable really, given that I love writing and it’s what I’ve done, in various guises, throughout my career.  I can also be pretty determined (others call it bolshie) when I put my mind to it.  And I don’t like injustice.  So when I […]

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