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Trump: a toddler in a kindergarten nation

The USA is in its infancy. Colonised by the English in 1620, it became the United States, an independent nation, in 1776. That’s only 240 years ago. Is it any wonder then, that its people are so naïve when it comes to politics, culture and gun law?

In the UK we marvel at how a sad, dangerous and uncomfortably comedic figure like Donald Trump can possibly be allowed to hold a position of power. Since moving to the USA I’ve been trying to comprehend how such a ridiculous turn of events has come about, and I have been fortunate, in a way, to experience the Trump phenomena from both sides of the Atlantic.

In England, Magna Carta, the Great Charter of the Liberties, or the first written laws, if you like, was signed in 1215, or shortly after lunch. The Declaration of Independence, arguably the American equivalent, was signed in 1776. That puts England roughly 560 years ahead of America in terms of social and political maturity.

560 years ago, in England, we were in the 1450s. Henry VI was King, and we had just lost the Hundred Years’ War to the French. If you believe Wikipedia, the earliest known reference to knitting in England occurs around then, and more memorably someone up north started the Wars of the Roses. We were still fighting battles with longbows; firearms had only recently been introduced as weapons of war. Executing women for ‘practising witchcraft’ was still 200 years in the future. We probably made up the rules as we went along.

Imagine a politician or a soldier from 1450 having access to modern weaponry, the internet, nuclear technology, motor cars. Imagine, if armed with little education, or mindfulness, how dangerous that could be. That’s where the Americans are today. They have all the bravado, enthusiasm and naivety of a new nation, but with none of the hindsight, maturity or lesson-learning that England has gathered in the intervening 500 years. It is a frightening thought, but goes some way to explaining the air of invincibility that the US wears like a suit of armour. Trump blunders around like a petulant teething toddler on the verge of a tantrum because he is a product of this dangerous combination.

Here in Arizona, folks are still living in the Wild West. Gung-ho, gun-toting enthusiasm is rife, privacy laws virtually non-existent. It’s like living in a culture which is a cross between The Virginian and 1950s Britain. Men strut around town wearing Stetsons and holsters. I can’t get a decent radio signal. This part of the state has a pervading small-town mentality. Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to voting habits, its inhabitants want to be on the side they see as the winning team, with all the accompanying glitz and glamour? Policies really have nothing to do with it. You might as well have a shiny new convertible running for President, or a brand-new washing machine. Small town America just wants to win the Star Prize, regardless of whether or not it breaks down after the first couple of weeks’ use.

 

Marnie Devereux is an English writer living in the south-western United States.

 

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A Big Old Love Story

In the mid-1970s, Nick and I were at school together in a small town in the south-west of England. Nick was my boyfriend Simon’s best mate. We were all the same age, and were a very close-knit little group of friends. Nick was the coolest kid in school. Always immaculately dressed, always had the beautiful blonde girlfriend. A bit of a bad boy, cheeky grin, black leather jacket, curly black hair, Italianate good looks. We used to call him ‘The Fonz’ after a character in a popular TV show of the time. Nick and Simon were inseparable.

Simon, my boyfriend, died, in very tragic circumstances, when we were twenty years old. When things like that happen, it either brings you all closer together, or splits you all up. It split us up. Nick moved to Hawaii to do his PhD; I got married way too young, and we lost touch.

Fast forward forty years, and I’m living in a different town in Somerset, and by complete coincidence, living next door to Nick’s step-mum, Lorna. I was managing the local public library, and Lorna would come in and tell me news about Nick: how he was a big, important Professor of astrophysics, how he worked for NASA, how he had got married, been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and moved to Ireland, got divorced, moved back to the USA. I never bothered to get back in touch with him; after all, he was a high-achiever and I had done nothing with my life, and there was no way he would remember the shy girl from school who wasn’t very bright.

In 2014, Nick’s step-mum passed away, and Nick was over in the UK arranging her funeral; staying in the house next door to mine. I had been separated from my husband for two years at this point, and had been through an extremely difficult time. But I couldn’t let my old school chum disappear back to the United States without letting him know I was thinking of him, so I plucked up my courage and knocked on his door. I had convinced myself he would have absolutely no idea who I was, so was completely taken aback when he cried out in surprise and recognition and gave me a great big bear-hug! The next evening we went out for dinner and caught up on more than thirty years of ‘So what have you done with your entire life, then?’. It turned out that Nick lived in a small desert town in Arizona, and I had stayed in that town for one night the previous year as part of a road trip whilst visiting my son who had studied in California for a time. Nick and I could have passed each other in the street and not recognised one another. ‘Come and visit me in Arizona!’ was the invitation I received, though an air fare was the last thing I could afford. I was just moving out of the marital residence and buying my own house for the first time, and money was tight. But a voice in my head told me never to turn down an invitation, and I scraped together the money for a plane ticket. Nick had said I could stay with him for a couple of weeks, or he could help to pay for a hotel, whichever I preferred. The last thing on my mind was a relationship. I was still trying to piece myself together after a 25-year controlling marriage, and had no thoughts of getting into a relationship with anyone. So, a few months later I was on a long-haul flight for only the second time in my life, for a much-needed holiday in the sunshine. Nick had agreed to meet me at the airport in Phoenix, and as we drove the two hours north to Prescott, he told me a little about his life in the States and how he had been through a difficult year. I had found him to be quite a private person, and wasn’t even sure if he was gay, straight, married or had a partner waiting to greet us at home.

Well, waiting to greet us was the girl with whom Nick had shared his life for the past fifteen years. Her name was Sooty, Nick’s elderly black-and-white cat. Nick and I talked long into the night about our schooldays, our precious friend we had lost, and the paths our lives had taken. We laughed, and cried. I realised then that here was, quite simply, the sweetest, kindest man I had ever met. We are a lifetime older, and have our fair share of grey hair and wrinkles, but I look at him and see the boy I knew forty years ago. Nick Devereux. The Fonz. Nick Devereux from school. Wow.

 

Two years later…after too long apart, we jumped through the final hoop for me to be granted an immigration visa. As I write this I’m looking out over the banks of the creek where we live in northern Arizona, and I wonder if that terrible time we went through as teenagers happened so that, a lifetime later, we could find each other again. Nick and I are getting married next week, just after Valentine’s Day. We may not have a lifetime left to share, but we will treasure every moment.

Great British icons: six of the best

Which one do you miss? I expect every ex-pat has their own list of goodies they would take to their desert island (or, in my case, northern Arizona). Here are a few of mine:

 

PG Tips

pg_tipsOh how I miss a decent cuppa! OK, you can get them in the USA – if you’re willing to pay $13 for a small box, which I’m not. I shall certainly be stocking up on these next time I visit the UK…

 

Marmite

Marmite

Love it or hate it, it’s been a British breakfast staple for several generations. Dr Nick and I were both raised on Marmite-on-toast and Marmite sandwiches for tea…

 

Bird’s custard

InstantCustardI admit to cheating on the custard front – I much prefer instant. But whether you make it the old-fashioned way or like me prefer to boil a kettle, it’s still the ultimate in comfort food.

 

Bisto

BistoFavorites

Gravy as we know it. Order gravy in the USA and you’ll get something white and glutinous, triggering one of those ‘spit or swallow’ conversations…

 

Fray Bentos steak & kidney pie

Fray

Dr Nick’s favourite. Don’t ask me why, but there are some things a man just can’t go without.

 

Walkers cheese & onion crisps

WalkersNo other crisp even comes close. Why does the cheese and onion crisp not exist in America? Discuss.

 

Which Great British Icon do you miss? Which food items would you miss if you lived away from your home country? I’d love to know!

 

2015 in review

People in 21 countries around the world read this blog in 2015 – a huge thank you to you all. Great things to come in 2016 – a new book, new name and a guest appearance at a literary festival to name but a few!!! Thanks to everyone who shared, commented or read my first book – if you would like to leave a review at amazon.co.uk, amazon.com or goodreads.com I would be, as they say, dead chuffed…

Marnie

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 440 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Psychic Art Festival

It was all a bit trippy. I’d never been to a ‘psychic art festival’ before, but when my girlfriend Naomi invited me along to an event in Glastonbury, I thought it would be churlish of me to refuse.

We roll up at Glastonbury Town Hall. Back in the day this venue was host to bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Elton John when he was still Reg Dwight. Now it has degenerated from hosting the innovative and ground-breaking to housing the predictable, and some might say manufactured, ‘alternative’. Next to the man collecting the entrance fee is a sign which declares ‘Open the doorway to manifesting abundance. Each artwork is created by channelling universal energy’. There is a strong aroma of bodies. Perhaps the use of deodorant would interfere with the channelling.

I browse the artists’ work on display, each one weirder than the last. They run the whole gamut of alternative iconic images. Glastonbury Tor features quite heavily in these paintings, as do wolves and hummingbirds, hares and bears. Badgers, antlered Green Men and standing stones are in abundance. Jade sells crystal jewellery which is guaranteed to ‘amplify learning from lifetimes’. Quite whose lifetimes she does not specify. Nor does she explain exactly what that meaningless phrase, well, means. I begin to smell snake-oil laced with a generous dose of codswallop. I briefly consider purchasing a pair of earrings made with ‘totally vegan polymer clay’. Just in case I got peckish, or bored, and was considering eating my own head.

I could have my soul portrait painted. Soul portraits take one hour, and with a ‘soul reading’ cost only £30.00. A medium hugs the woman to whom she has just given a reading and I realise there are some truly touching moments here. In a box I spot the top half of a painting sticking up from behind some others. It looks like Keith Richards in his Pirates of the Caribbean phase. At least this is something I can relate to on a non-astral level. I lift it out and discover it is actually meant to be an aborigine. On reflection perhaps this isn’t the right place for Keith to put in an appearance. On another stall is a selection of ‘channelled Chakra swirls’. A Chakra Swirl, rather than being a type of holistic breakfast pastry, is a 15cm square canvas with a single swirl of colour. A bargain at £15.00 each or two for £20.00.

I begin to develop a distinct feeling of ‘down the rabbit hole’ when I meet Hannah, a lady in her mid-60s with the compulsory hennaed red hair, who makes shrines decorated with beads, glass, gold spray-painted daleks, pictures of Superman, madonnas. ‘Chaos shrines represent with archetypes what’s going on in our inner selves’ she explains, in a high-pitched voice reminiscent of a stressed-out mouse on helium. The shrines are a riot of colour and sparkle, beautiful, chaotic, yes, and decorated with a hedonistic mix of images: The McDonalds golden arches. Marmite and Spiderman. Tiny toy record players and remembrance poppies. Cut-outs of comic book characters from the 1950s.’They are portals into otherworldly realms, or at least that’s how I see them.’ Cupcakes. Marbles (that’s where they went, I think). ‘There’s a lot going on there’ she whispers ‘on all levels – psychic, spiritual…everything.’ Her voice trails off as I inspect a 2” rabbit in Victorian dress which stares out at me from one of the shrines, one of its paws patting a pink alarm clock as tall as itself. Part of me, the part of me that would really love for a few moments to be inside Hannah’s head, wants to buy one of these portals, if only to see which otherworldly realm I would be transported to next time I drive past a McDonalds sign. Sadly, at £25.00 each, shrines are rather out of my price range. I don’t notice anyone buy one all day.

A beautiful young woman with maroon-coloured hair, arms sleeved with tattoos, wearing a tiger-print dress and sporting a pair of cat ears hovers hopefully next to her display of painted shamanic drums. On the next stall is a book of mandalas ‘inspired by Bridport’ for you to colour. It’s good to know that West Dorset is a hotbed of spiritual inspiration from the far east.

Mostly the Festival is full of mediocre paintings by people probably more spiritual than talented. A lady sits patiently having her portrait drawn in pastels by Steve, a spirit artist who sports a broken nose. Those spirits definitely pack a punch. He has cleverly painted a wash background in the same shade of pale blue as the T-shirt his customer is wearing, thereby, I imagine, creating a feeling of empathy. The customer looks slightly disappointed when she sees the result, but these are portraits guided by divine spirits; they see the inner you, which doesn’t necessarily look like the ‘you’ you would see in the mirror. She chats to the artist about the spirit guide who visits her regularly. ‘she comes to me fairly often; she wears lots of jewellery in her hair.’ I imagine it must be a little like receiving a visitation from the Queen Mother, but maybe I’m just being cynical.

In a far corner of the Town Hall, Dave offers interactive encaustic art sessions. Encaustic art uses coloured wax which is applied to paper, then melted with a tiny hand iron to form patterns. Dave collars a potential customer ‘You choose the colour, I will iron it, then you can take it to a Medium (there’s one over there) and they will give you a reading from it.’ With each stall-holder charging around £20.00 for each reading/portrait/channelling, I momentarily think about rushing home, grabbing my ironing board and some of the kids’ old wax crayons and setting up shop myself.

Darryl, a man with a feather apparently growing out of his forehead and wearing a striped waistcoat, obligatory ponytail and a strong layer of BO specialises in cosmic light language artwork. He proudly displays his qualifications in a folder next to his paintings, which consist of many coloured dots on pieces of hardboard. These qualifications include a Diploma in remote viewing (theory and practice) from the London College of Management Science, Institute of Applied and Theoretical parapsychology. He has letters after his name and everything: Dip. Ppsy. Psych, Dip. RV Dip. ST But it’s OK, it has the word ‘science’ in there, so it must be totally Kosher. He offers light language readings and universal soul activation.

When I get home I activate my soul into Googling the London College of Management Science. From its chaotic and poorly-constructed website I learn that I too could become a psychic practitioner. For only £325.00 I could gain a qualification in Remote Viewing, Psychic Healing or Electronic Voice Phenomenon. So if all else fails, I could presumably be well-qualified to get a job as a Dalek. What the heck, with the ‘enrol for 3, pay for only 2’ offer, I could get a certificate in Sex Therapy and the Science of Alternative Universes (Dip. SC.) as well.

Steve, the artist with the bent nose, has several of his one-dimensional portraits on display. All have bent noses. They are all, basically, the same person, it’s only the hairstyle or the hat that changes from one portrait to another. For his customers, the one-hour session provides a chance to talk. ‘I’m unemployed, I’ve had a lot of epilepsy recently. I’ve been in an emotionally stressing relationship.’ says one man having his spirit guide painted. He is delighted with his portrait, and shyly asks Steve if he wouldn’t mind posing for a photograph with him. £20.00 for a reading and a spirit portrait. For half an hour’s counselling, it’s actually quite good value. The only issue I have is that it’s unqualified, albeit probably well-intentioned therapy inadequately dressed up as ‘art’.

Mark, another ‘spirit artist’ explains that each painting is channelled ‘using the universal energies.’ The universal energies are so busily being demonstrated here today they must be completely exhausted.

Naomi wins first prize in the raffle. Her prize consists of a one-hour session where five artists ‘read’ her and do a drawing. For the next hour a lady whose skills include womb clearing sits next to my friend and plays a shruti box, an Indian instrument that looks a bit like a melodeon, and which sounds astonishingly beautiful. She sings a haunting melody as the artists begin painting. Then I hear a ringing in my ears, and just when I think my tinnitus is playing up again I notice she has put down the shruti box in favour of a Tibetan singing bowl, which she is making ring loudly, like we used to as kids with wet fingers on the rim of a wine glass. The session rolls on. The artists are busily focussed on Naomi. One now has four paintbrushes in his mouth and one behind each ear. Another, wearing a garland of flowers in a circlet on her head paints Naomi as a goddess cradling the world in her hands. I realise Naomi has tears rolling down her cheeks. She is deeply moved, and so am I. Later I ask Naomi what the lady was singing. ‘Naomiiii, you are freeee’ she answers.

As I wait for my friend I notice a picture, blu-tacked to the wall, of a spirit guide dressed as a Tibetan monk. The monk has a broken nose. I realise it is the spitting image of Steve the artist. At the end of her session, Naomi gets a round of applause. She is glowing, and smiling. And wiping away her tears. It has been a therapy for her. Among the charlatans and the hangers-on, this is a moment where a human soul has been touched by art, music and above all, kindness.

It would be very easy to be dismissive of the psychic artists, but instead I think they are simply ‘artists’. Some are good, some are not so good, some are possessed of a real talent and others are obviously along for the ride. What struck me though, was the sense of fellowship, or community. Call it oneness with the universe, if you will.

‘It’s all about networking, this game’ Darryl the cosmic light language artist mutters to a friend as I pass. Apparently his feet are rooted more firmly on planet earth that at first it would appear.

Upside-Down Apple Pie

Of course, it all started long before that. It was just that the ‘upside down apple pie’ incident was the first time anyone really noticed, apart from me.

I suppose it all began when an old man dropped dead in Chard High Street. Imagine. Christmas Eve, 2001. A chilly, grey afternoon. You’re out buying your last minute bits and bobs, admiring the effort the town council have made with this year’s Christmas lights, then suddenly – bang. Goodnight Vienna, just yards from the greengrocer’s and those nice-looking Brussels sprouts for tomorrow’s turkey dinner.

They did their best, the bystanders. CPR, Nellie the Elephant and all that; called the ambulance. Then realised he was probably dead before he hit the pavement.

Hours later, when it’s almost dark and he hasn’t come home, Mother and I made the sad journey to Musgrove Park mortuary to identify the body. The body. Like it had ceased to be mum’s best friend; honorary grandfather to my children.

That was fifteen years ago now, and ever so slowly Mother has slipped away too; in by no means as dramatic a fashion as Don. No, Mother has decided to take a more circuitous route to oblivion whilst remaining defiantly alive, and, from time to time, literally, kicking.

Alzheimer’s is a funny disease. And by that I don’t mean knock, knock jokes and banana skins. I mean it develops in fits and starts; or tits and farts as Mother might describe it in one of her rebellious moments. It cruises along, like an old jalopy, clumsily backfiring on a level road, then free-wheeling downhill, taking a sudden turn down a bizarre one-way street…

It was little things at first. The nouns went. Mother, helping to wash up and put away after Sunday lunch, couldn’t recall the word ‘spoon’. We laughed it off as a momentary lapse, never guessing for one moment that the momentary lapse would grow bigger and bigger for at least the next fourteen years.

We all treated it lightly, to begin with. Stories would be repeated, every Sunday lunchtime. Mother would regale us with tales of how, once the cabbage was cooked, she would drink the cabbage water because of its health-giving properties; a story guaranteed to make my children shudder. Of the time she went to the dentist, and the dentist asked her to take out her teeth prior to examination, to which she replied ‘I’d have a job, they’re all my own’. This anecdote was always accompanied by Mother baring her teeth in a somewhat frightening fashion, as if to prove the veracity of her statement.

Ever so gradually we entered the Times of Weirdness. Taking Mother for an eye test, wondering why she was reading out totally different letters to the ones on the chart, and then realising she was in fact reading the words ‘FIRE EXIT’ above the door opposite. Having dinner together, and trying to stop Lily from pouring her cup of tea over her fish and chips because she thought it was gravy, Thereby ably demonstrating the alternative meaning of the phrase ‘out to lunch’. And the apple pie. Mum’s pies and puddings were legendary. She was a real pastry princess, a queen of puddings. I only have to utter the magical phrase ‘chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce’ for my brother and I to start drooling. So when one Sunday she somewhat apologetically brought our family of five an apple pie with no pastry and consisting of one lonely apple in a dish, saying that she ‘couldn’t remember what to do’, I knew something was seriously wrong.

Over time, the stories became muddled. Fictions were introduced as fact, so that her early war years taking her youngest sister for walks in her pram became tales of how she looked after children in London during the war, when in fact she was a land-girl in the foreign country of rural Somerset.

And then there were the times when I really couldn’t be sure what was real any more. Common enough, I suppose, when someone tells you something with such confidence in their own recollection.

This story, though, was different. I have vague memories of Mother telling me this one when I was a teenager, and the circumstances are particularly tragic.

The Tale of Two Boys Drowning
Once upon a time, many years ago, a little girl went to stay with her grandparents on the Kent marshes. It was the summer holidays, and the weather was hot. Lily, for that was the little girl’s name, wandered down the dusty lane where she met a boy from the village. He was a few years older than her, but they passed the time of day and decided to go for a swim in the river.
Lily knew she wasn’t really allowed to take the path through the gate, but it was a shortcut and she was with a big boy, so she thought her grandparents wouldn’t mind.
They went splashing into the river, Lily squealing with delight at the sharp coldness of the water. But Lily was a strong swimmer, and soon she and the boy were far out from shore. She wasn’t sure what happened next, but the boy was suddenly caught up in the tide, and was carried downstream. He shouted for help, but Lily knew that if she followed, she would be swept away too. So she headed for the shore.
Dripping and gasping for breath she looked back at the fast-flowing river. The boy had disappeared. Lily searched desperately around for a grown-up, but they were all out working in the fields far away. She raced back to her grandparents’ cottage and hammered on the door, but no-one was there. Later, when the grown-ups returned, she was too frightened to say anything, convinced she would be told off for breaking the rules and going through the gate. The summer ended, and Lily went back home to her parents. She had told no-one about the lost boy.

Fifty years later, her teenage daughter’s boyfriend drowns in another tragic accident. All that Lily can say is ‘Why didn’t God take me instead?’ Her distraught reaction to the event is noticeably extreme; her daughter, struggling to cope with her own grief, finds her mother’s reaction strange and overwhelming. Even at the funeral, instead of being allowed to mourn, she is instructed to look after her mother.

The boy lost in the river was never mentioned again, until Lily was an old, old lady and no-one could be certain if the story was true or an invention of old age and confusion.

14th March 2015. My turn this week coincides with Mothers Day eve. On our fortnightly visit to Asda for lunch, mum remarked that she should be with Colin. ‘After all’ she said ‘I’m Lily, and he’s Colin. I should be with him. I don’t know why he wants to live somewhere else’. My brother Colin is 64 years old, and left home in 1969. It’s a strange world, Alzheimer’s, as I have observed on many occasions. Mother is vaguely aware that Colin is her son, but she thinks of him more as her husband.

I do a quick recce of the house in case of urgent cleaning up requirements, but there is nothing that can’t wait until we get home. My brother, of course, is still to some extent in denial that mum even has ‘toileting issues’. When I rang him to report the impressive cow-pat which mysteriously appeared in the conservatory two weeks ago, heralding the onset of Mother’s double incontinence, he asked if an animal could have wandered in and done it. ‘What? I exclaimed ‘And neatly closed the French windows on its way out?!!’ Even he had to admit that was a bit of wishful thinking.

I park mother with the Asda security guard while I fetch a supermarket trolley from outside. I feel a fleeting moment of guilt at leaving her for 30 seconds, but it’s easier than trying to negotiate our way out together and fight our way back inside again. Fortunately when I return she is still where I left her, and the security guard confirms that yes, indeed, she had been causing all sorts of havoc while I was gone. Mother finds this hilarious. It’s lovely to see her laugh. She has the same fits of giggles as she did thirty years ago. That, at least has not altered.

We don’t play ‘Name that vegetable’ today. Or sing ‘Oranges and Lemons’. In four weeks, she has completely forgotten ‘carrot’ and singing is another skill that has been unlearned. Instead we wander around, with Mother precariously in charge of steering the shopping trolley, and coo over the baby clothes like expectant mothers. I help her feel the fabric; the lace, velvet, fur and netting. We talk about how uplifting it is to see bright colours, and small children. We admire the little girl’s dresses hanging on display. I say ‘Of course, I never had a little girl to dress up’. ‘Neither did I’ she replies. It’s as if the child that I was had never existed, which I suppose is what she wished for my entire childhood. I’m OK with that; and yet it’s sad for us both at the same time.

I make the mistake of suggesting she tries on a pair of slippers. She clings on to the shopping trolley like a shipwrecked sailor to flotsam. Try as I might, she cannot negotiate letting loose her hold or sitting on the stool provided in the shoe department, and I can see that she’s getting frightened and tearful at this new impossibility. I abandon the project before she gets too upset, and we go back to the baby clothes aisle to cheer ourselves up.

When I take her home, she sits, mesmerised by the Six Nations on TV while I do a quick clean-up of the bathroom. When I reappear five minutes later, she has forgotten I’m in the house. We have reached, I think, goldfish moments. I leave her Mothers Day card unopened on the table. Perhaps the early evening carer will help her open it. Mother won’t know who it’s from.

850,000 people in the UK suffer from Alzheimer’s. Add to this the family, friends and carers who also share the effects of the condition, and that’s a lot of shared collective senior moments. It’s the equivalent of the whole of Norfolk living in a continuous state of Goldfish Moments. Swimming endlessly around and around their East Anglian goldfish bowl, every thirty seconds discovering something new.

850,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia. Add to this the family, friends and carers who also share the effects of the condition, and that’s a lot of shared collective senior moments. It’s the equivalent of the whole of Norfolk living in a continuous state of Goldfish Moments. Swimming endlessly around and around their East Anglian goldfish bowl, every thirty seconds discovering something new.

No, I haven’t misread my script. That last paragraph lasted exactly thirty seconds. And then repeated itself as if it was a new thought. It’s not long, is it? How very strange, to the observer, to realise that, from literally one moment to the next, the connections between those nerve cells have been lost and the moment has not only passed but been deleted from the memory. It must be exhausting to experience. Imagine climbing Mount Everest, over and over again. The mind-numbing hit of that view from the top, knowing with absolute certainty that it’s a vista you have never seen before. How emotionally tiring that is. Then imagine experiencing that, all day every day, roughly every thirty seconds. And that’s without adding the effects, more often than not, of extreme old age. My mother is 94, and every thirty seconds she climbs Mount Everest, and takes in that mind-blowing view.

Reading back over what I have written, it shocks me that these events happened as recently as six weeks ago. Lily’s decline increased so rapidly, and once Alzheimer’s had taken away all those things she had once cognitively learned, Alzheimer’s then deprived her of all those innate skills – speech, movement, eating, drinking and swallowing.

Once we could no longer nourish her body, we knew we were reaching the end. Moved to a specialist Dementia care home, Mother’s lucid moments were few. We had a momentary breakthrough with a home-made memory book, pictures of family and pets. Five days later, she was an empty shell. I make what I know will be the final trip down to Exeter to see her. Her elderly siblings have visited, said their goodbyes. My brother cannot bear to stay any longer. He drives our aunts to the railway station while I sit with mum in this anonymous room, a room for transient strangers, just passing through.

Someone has left a radio, loudly tuned to the local radio station. I suppose they didn’t want mother to feel alone, but to me it seems brash, intrusive, impersonal. I turn the radio off, and sit beside my mother. The nurses have dressed her in amethyst blue, matching her eyes. She is lying on her back, eyes half-closed, breathing heavily. Her hair is brushed back, revealing a high forehead. Her face has a suntanned pallor, her cheekbones standing out from shrunken skin. In profile, she resembles an Egyptian queen awaiting burial. She is quite beautiful.

I have brought a book with me. Alice in Wonderland. Mother’s world has been irrational for so long I decide the story would make as much sense to her as anything else, so I read aloud, so she can hear the sound of her child’s voice, even if she is incapable of understanding the words. When I reach page 9, I falter. Alice is about to drink from the little glass bottle, and eat the magic cake. My mother has not eaten or drunk for ten days. Her body has starved itself to death. Even the cancer which had slowly spread across her face has disappeared entirely in the past 24 hours, as if knowing that it has leached all the nourishment it is going to get from this frail old body. My voice breaks. I want my mum to drink from the little glass bottle. To eat some magic cake that will make her all better. To bring back my mum who in reality disappeared fifteen years ago.

I take a break from reading, and sing to my mum instead. An old song, from when she was young. Whether it was the effect of my singing or just bad timing, mum begins to moan in pain. I stop with the singing. The nurse comes in, and we agree it is time for morphine. I ask the nurse to call my brother, to tell him to get his ass back here or he’ll regret it for ever.

The palliative care nurses arrive, bringing death with them in a hypodermic. They are kind, and practical. They encourage me to hold mum’s hand, to talk to her, to get close. I despise what they are doing, and yet at the same time I am grateful to them for easing the pain. Mum’s and mine. After the nurses are gone, my brother arrives. We wait, and time stands still. Mum’s breaths grow further apart; the silences increasing. Just when we think it’s over, she breathes again. Then, nothing. ‘She’s gone’ my brother says. Mum’s eyes are empty, staring into nothing. I try to close her eyelids. Mum breathes again and we jump, have a sudden, inappropriate fit of the giggles, hoping mum couldn’t hear us killing her off five minutes early. Moments later, Lily dies, held close in my brother’s arms.

The dead always seem so wise to me. The friends I lost when young seemed in death wise beyond their years. So too Lily had transcended those Goldfish Moments and in her passing seemed to recognise better than all of us, the mysteries of making that transition. I hope that for Lily there were moments of clarity in those last hours; to hear the music, see our faces and imagine following Alice, tumbling headlong, into Wonderland.

‘Fractured: poems of love and desire’ out now in paperback!

I’m very excited to announce that ‘Fractured: poems of love and desire’ is out now in paperback! The perfect Valentine’s Day gift at just £4.99 or $7.50 with free delivery in the UK on orders over £10.00.

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