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Archive for July, 2010

UN AMORE PER LA MUSICA

La musica è stata una parte importante nella vita, almeno da quando avevo tredici anni.  Prima di quello, non posso ricordare nessun musica nella casa.  Però, quando avevo tredici anni, ho cominciato ad ascoltare la radio.  Al quel tempo c’era un canale chiamato Radio Luxembourg.  Era un canale commerciale dove i DJ suonavano la musica popolare, mentre sulla BBC si poteva ascoltare la musica per i nonni!  Non esattamente la mia tazza di tè preferita.

Ascolterei Radio Luxembourg a letto mentre leggevo un libro.  Una sera ho sentito una canzone che ha avuto su di me un impatto molto emotivo.  La canzone si è chiamata Hide Nor Hair, e il cantatore era Ray Charles.  Persino ora sono ancora un gran tifoso di Brother Ray – Il Genio.  C’era qualcosa della sua voce che ha sempre toccato il cuore e l’anima.  Sebbene lui sia morto nel 2003, Ray rimane un artista iconico, unico.  Era l’ispirazione per tanti artisti, ad esempio Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, i Beatles, tra molti altri.

Mentre la sua musica era basata sul jazz, c’era anche una fusione del blues e del gospel che ha fatto Ray il padre della musica soul.  Senza di lui, è molto probabile che non possano essere stati artisti come Sam Cooke, James Brown, Otis Redding e moltissimi altri.  Molto certamente, non ci sarebbe mai stata l’esplosione della musica R&B negli anni sessanta.

Quando i miei genitori mi hanno dato un giradischi, ho cominciato di comprare i dischi, e uno dei primi che ho comprato è stato ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’.  Questa canzone rimane una delle mie favorite, con la voce di Ray, il coro, l’orchestra, che insieme, secondo me, fare una registrazione senza paragone.

Però, sebbene mi piaccia molto la sua musica, ho sempre preferito quella che lui ha registrato durante gli anni cinquanta, perlomeno da circa 1954 quando Mess Around era distribuito.   Prima di questo, Ray aveva lottato di trovare la sua vera identità, perché lui suonò troppo come Nat Cole e Charles Brown.  Con Mess Around, Ray aveva trovato la sua vera voce e i prossimi anni sono stati il suo periodo migliore, quando era moltissimo creativo.  Certo, non c’è nessun dubbio che, a un grado, la creatività era il risultato della eroina e dopo si è sottoposto la crisi di tossicodipendente non era mai così creativo.  Però il nuovo ‘pulito’ Ray Charles è diventato un’icona nazionale e internazionale.  Ascolto ancora la sua musica, e cinquant’anni dopo l’ho ascoltato la prima volta mi sento tanto le stesse emozioni.  Mi manca lui ora, ma grazie a Dio ha lasciato un sacco dei canti fantastici.

Come conseguenza del mio amore per la musica di Ray Charles, sono diventato un amante del jazz (Dave Brubeck, MJQ, Jacques Loussier, Oscar Peterson, tra altri), del blues (particolarmente Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson (non è un website ufficiale, ma quello di un gran tifoso di Sonny Boy), Howling Wolf), del R&B, del soul.  Gli anni sessanta erano il tempo quando la musica soul era nei tempi d’oro.  Ciò che passa per tale musica ora mi lascia freddo.  Secondo me, non c’è nessun mica passione.

Più tardi, ho scoperto la musica country, sebbene sia parso che tutte le donne sembravano le stesse, con i capelli biondi, spesso come un alveare!  A dichiarare la verità, alcune anche suonano lo stesso.  Ma, c’è qualcosa della musica country che mi è sempre piaciuto.  Forse è perché gli artisti cantano della vita e i problemi che tutti noi incontriamo, com’è il caso con il blues.  Ci sono i cantanti come Willie Nelson e Johnny Cash, con voci che sono così ricci e caldi.  Infatti, ho ascoltare di più Johnny Cash negli anni recente; Maggie mi ha comprato un CD per il mio compleanno due anni fa.  Il CD riflette la carriera di JC, e include canzoni dagli anni cinquanta e sessanta, per esempio Ring of Fire e I Walk The Line, e dal tempo moderno con una delle ultime canzoni che lui ha registrato solo alcuni mesi prima di morì.  Non mi stanco mai di ascoltare la sua musica.  Aveva tanto sentimento.  Ma, allo stesso tempo c’è un buon umorismo, che era vero anche di Ray Charles.

Gli anni sessanta videro un’esplosione del talento nel Regno Unito.  Non ti annoierò con una grande lista!  Per me i migliori gruppi erano i Moody Blues e Procol Harum, che musicalmente erano più maturo di molti altri.  Erano i Moodies che hanno introdotto l’idea di un ‘concept album’, nel quale tutte le canzoni hanno esplorato lo stesso soggetto.  Secondo me, ‘On The Threshold of A Dream’ rimane uno delle miglior registrazioni mai!

Poi, nel luglio del 1990, ho guardato un programma in tv, la sera prima della finale della coppia mondiale in Italia.  Il programma era chiamato I Tre Teneri, con Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras e, d’accordo, Luciano Pavarotti.  Come ho guardato il programma mi sono chiesto perché non ho ascoltato questa musica di prima.  Non avevo mai realizzato come bellissime erano le arie di Verdi e Puccini e, com’era il caso per moltissimi altri, l’aria favorita era Nessun Dorma.

Di nuovo, avevo trovato un tipo di musica che ha toccato l’anima.  Non è possibile, almeno per me, apprezzare la musica che non trasmetta emozioni, altrimenti è semplicemente un rumore, una sorta di noioso sfondo sonoro.

Nel 2000, il nome di Andrea Bocelli era diventato noto in aumento.  Però, era solo per caso che ho guardato Una Notte in Toscana.  Non avevo sentito una tale voce.  Ecco un cantante che, non come gli altri, sembra a suo agio con sia la musica classica sia quella popolare.  Sono un gran tifoso di Andrea da quel tempo.  Penso che, delle tutte le canzoni che ha cantato, la mia favorita rimanga Il Mare Calmo Della Sera – ma domani potrebbe essere Canto Della Terra o Romanza o Sogno o…

Nel 2001, io e Maggie abbiamo celebrato il nostro venticinquesimo anniversario.  Mio fratello, Philip, ha saputo che mi è piaciuto Andrea e quindi ci ha comprato due biglietti per il primo concerto che ha fatto Andrea nell’UK, a Hyde Park.  Che sera!  Ovviamente lui ha cantato Con Te Partirò e molte altre canzone e arie classiche, ma l’aria che si è diventata una delle mie altre favorite, E Lucevan Le Stelle, era il clou.

Devo ammettere che trovo la musica moderna molto noiosa.  Certo, c’erano alcuni artisti che mi sono piaciuti, come la deliziosa Katie Melua.  Nei molti modi però, sono rimasto in un salto indietro nel tempo.  Sono un dinosauro!  E penso che rimarrò così.

Può sembrare strano che i miei due cantatori favoriti sono Ray Charles e Andrea Bocelli, tutti i due di cui hanno dovuto vivere con la cecità e sono venuti dagli sfondi molti diversi.  Tutti i due, però, hanno toccato il cuore, nei loro modi diversi.  Però, tale è la magica della musica, e perché ha avuto su di me un tale impatto.

Non posso immaginare mia vita senza musica, così è la sua importanza.  È strano, davvero.  Sono totalmente stonato, e quando tento di cantare, i cani e i gatti ululano e gli uccelli strillano e volano via.

PETER HEAD

21 aprile 2006

Rev: 12 gennaio 2009

Rev:  19 luglio 2010

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A Love of Music

A LOVE OF MUSIC

Music has been an important part of my life, at least since I was thirteen years old.  Before that, I cannot remember any music in the house.  However, when I was thirteen, I started listening to the radio.  There was a station called Radio Luxembourg where the DJs played pop music, while on the BBC one could listen to music for grandparents.  Not exactly my favourite cup of tea.

I would listen to Radio Luxembourg in bed while I read a book.  One evening I heard a song that had a huge impact.  The song was called Hide Nor Hair, and the singer was Ray Charles.  Even now I am still a great fan of Brother Ray – The Genius.  There was something about his voice that has always touched my heart and soul.  Although he died in 2003, Ray remains an iconic and unique artist.  He was the inspiration for many artists, for example Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, The Beatles, among many others.

While his music was based on jazz, there was also a fusion of blues and gospel that made Ray the father of soul music.  Without him, it is very probable that there would not have been artists like Sam Cooke, James Brown, Otis Redding and very many others.  Most certainly, there would not have been the explosion of R&B music in the 1960s.

When my parents gave me a record player I started buying records, and one of the first that I bought was ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’.  This song remains one of my favourites, with the voice of Ray Charles, the chorus and orchestra together, to my mind, making a recording beyond compare.

However, although I like his music a lot, I have always preferred that which he recorded in the 1950s, at least from about 1954 when Mess Around came out.  Before this, Ray had struggled to find his true identity, sounding too much like his own heroes, Nat Cole and Charles Brown.  With Mess Around, Ray had found his true voice and next few years were his best period, when he was most creative.  Sure, there is no doubt that, to an extent, the creativity was the result of heroin and after he had gone through ‘cold turkey’ he was nowhere near so creative.  However, the new ‘clean’ Ray Charles became a national and international icon.  I still listen to his music, and fifty years after I heard him the first time I still feel the same emotions.  I miss him now, but thanks be to God that he left a huge number of fantastic songs.

As a result of my love for the music of Ray Charles I became a lover of jazz  (Dave Brubeck, MJQ, Jacques Loussier, Oscar Peterson, among others), of blues (particularly Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson (nota an official website but that of a great fan of Sonny Boy), Howling Wolf), of R&B and soul.  The sixties was the golden age of soul music.  What passes for such music nowadays leaves me cold.  In my opinion, it has no passion at all.

Later I discovered country music, although it seemed that all the women looked the same, with their blonde hair, often in beehives.  And to tell the truth, many sounded the same.  But there is something about country music that I have always liked.  Perhaps it is because the artists sing about life and the problems that we all face, as is the case with the blues.  There are singers like Willie Nelson e Johnny Cash, with voices that are so rich and warm.  Indeed I have listened more to Johnny Cash in recent years; Maggie bought me a CD for my birthday two years ago.  Il CD reflects Cash’s career, and includes songs from the Fifties and Sixties, for example Ring of Fire and I Walk The Line, and from modern times with one of the last song that he recorded only a few months before he died.  I never tire of listening to his music; it has so much feeling.  At the same time, however, there is good humour, which was true also of Ray Charles.

The Sixties saw an explosion of talent in the United Kingdom.  I will not bore you with a long list!  For me the best groups were the Moody Blues and Procol Harum, who musically were more mature than many others.  It was the Moodies that introduced the idea of concept albums, where all the songs explored the same subject.  In my opinion, ‘On The Threshold of a Dream’ remains one of the best recordings ever!

Then, in July 1990, I watched a programme on TV, the evening before the World Cup final in Italy.  The programme was called The Three Tenors, with Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and, of course, Luciano Pavarotti.  As I watched the programme I asked myself why I had not listened to this music before.  I had never realised how beautiful were the arias of Verdi and Puccini and, as was the case with many other people, the favourite aria was Nessun Dorma.

Again I had found a form of music that touched the soul.  It is not possible, at least for me, to like music if there is no feeling, otherwise it is simply a noise, boring, aural wallpaper.

In 2000, the name of Andrea Bocelli was being increasingly noted.  However, it was only by chance that I watched A Night In Tuscany.  I had never heard such a voice.  Here is a singer who, unlike others, seemed at ease with both classical and popular music.  I have been a great fan of Andrea since then.  I think that of all the songs that he has sung, my favourite is Il Mare Calmo della Sera – but tomorrow it could be Canto Della Terra or Romanza or…

In 2001, Maggie and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  My brother Philip, knew that I liked Andrea and therefore bought us two tickets for the first concert that Andrea played in the UK, in Hyde Park.  What an evening!  Obviously he sang Con Te Partirò and many other songs and classical arias, but the aria became another of my favourites, E Lucevan Le Stelle, was the highlight.

I have to admit that I find modern music very boring.  Sure, there are some artists that I have liked, like the delightful Katie Melua.  In many ways, however, I have remained in a time warp.  I am a dinosaur!  And I think I will remain so.

It may seem strange that my two favourite singers are Ray Charles and Andrea Bocelli, both of whom have had to live with blindness and have come from very different backgrounds.  However, both have touched my heart, in their different ways.  That is the magic of music, however, and why it has had such impact on me.

I cannot imagine my life without music, such is its importance.  What is strange, however, is that I am totally tone deaf, and when I try to sing, the dogs and cats howl and the birds shriek and fly away!

PETER HEAD

22 July 2010

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A week in Norfolk

A WEEK IN NORFOLK

19 JUNE – 26 JUNE 2010

Why Norfolk?  Well, why not?  I know many people think that Norfolk and Suffolk – East Anglia in general – are boring, flat counties that lack interest.  Such a view could not be further from the reality.  There are many places of great interest in both counties, but we went to Norfolk because Maggie had found a place that was specifically developed with the disabled in mind.  We had a week there last year and loved it so much that we booked one of the other cottages on our last day.  It also provided the opportunity to visit my dear Aunt Joan, my late mother’s elder sister.  This year, Maggie’s sister, Marianne, and her partner, also called Peter, just for confusion’s sake, also came, although just for half the week.

SATURDAY 19 JUNE

“Is that everything?” we ask each other.  After yet another check to see that it was indeed everything, we start the journey to Bircham Newton in Norfolk, a journey of just under 170 miles.  Within five minutes we hit a problem.  The main road from Horsham to Crawley is closed off due to an accident.  This means we have to take the country route to the M23 motorway.  About 2 miles from the motorway we come to a grinding halt as all the traffic that would have used the main road has also used this little road instead.  It seems to take an eternity to get to the motorway, so in the course of just 8 miles we were already more than 20 minutes behind where we would have been.  It was only to get worse, with horrendous delays leading up to the M11.

Coming off the M11, we arrive at Fourwentways Services for lunch.  So far the journey, at nigh on 100 miles, had taken a good hour and a half longer than it would on a good day.  After about forty minutes, we carry on as far as Mildenhall, where we turn off on and make our way to Swaffham and the A47.  Swaffham is a very nice town, close to where Stephen Fry lives.  Indeed Kingdom, the TV programme in which he starred was filmed in the town and the surrounding area.

From the A47 we take the country roads that eventually lead us to the ever so very small hamlet of Bircham Newton (so small you really would not be aware that you had driven through it!).  This is where Norfolk Disabled Friendly Cottages is situated.  The journey had taken four and a half hours actual travelling time, almost two hours more than it should have.

For getting away from the hurly-burly of life, this is an excellent place.  Deep in the Norfolk countryside, from the patio there is a view across to the windmill, of which more later.  There was a total stillness, the music of silence never was so loud.

A little later, Marianne and Pete arrived.  To be honest we did not do very much at all that first evening, except rest up, chilling out with a nice glass or four of Namaqua wine and having dinner.

SUNDAY 20 JUNE

I slept well but am still somewhat jaded from yesterday’s journey.  We spend most of the morning just chilling out.  I spent a fair bit of time trying to do some Sudokus, while Maggie read.  She had looked through all the leaflets etc that were in a big lever arch file and thought a trip to Priory Maze and Gardens would be nice.  First up though was lunch.

Marianne and Peter had had a bit of a tour round before actually arriving yesterday and had seen one or two promising places to stop off for lunch.  Peter drove, while I relaxed in the back of the car.  After a couple of non-starters we found Briarfields, situated in Titchwell, near the RSPB reserve.  That was fine and we had a very nice lunch there.  Then it was off to Priory Maze, situated just east of Sheringham.  It was, in theory at any rate, a straightforward drive along the North Norfolk cost road, the A49.  I really was not taking any notice of where we were going, simply content to look out somewhat dozily at the passing scenery.  So it was something of a surprise when Peter asked which way he had to go.  The signpost said Fakenham.

“How did we get down here?” I asked.

“We drove down here,” was Marianne’s enigmatic reply.

We did not want Fakenham, so Peter took the other route, which would take us through Holt and on to Sheringham.  Eventually we arrived at our destination.

Priory Maze and Gardens is so called because they are situated on the site of an actual Priory, the ruins of which we could see, but most frustratingly could not explore.  The full name of the Priory was the Priory of St Margaret-in-the- Meadow, and it dates back to the twelfth century.  It was certainly aptly named, because almost all the area is still essentially meadowland.  There were a number of ponds, with reed beds and water lilies, and the meadows contained several beds of wild flowers.  It is a very tranquil place, and if there had been some seats I could easily have just sat and drunk in the peacefulness.

We continued to explore the site and discovered the maze, although we did not go in it.  That was probably just as well, since we had got a little disoriented as to which way to go to get back to the car.  Eventually, and to my surprise, we found we had come round in a circle and found ourselves back on the path leading to the car park.  It really is a wonder I get from A to B in the car with my sense of direction!!

I drove back to Bircham Newton, going back via Holt and Fakenham, a journey not without a hiccup as I missed a turning.  (See what I mean!)  But we got back and after a while Peter put together a very nice chicken salad meal.  I put together another couple of glasses of the Namaqua!

MONDAY 21 JUNE

Today it was Titchwell Marsh, the RSPB reserve, and one of the jewels in the charity’s estate.  It really is a wonderful place.  As a bird lover (not a twitcher – that is something completely different!), Peter was in his element.  First, though, was a bite to eat, and they do excellent jacket potatoes at Titchwell Marsh!

We then spent some three hours, maybe a little less, in the reserve.  There were thousands of birds, but the big attraction really was the Marsh Harrier, of which there were at least six couples.  They were too far away to photograph, but we got good views of them through the binoculars.  Like so many birds of prey they are so beautiful, and it is an absolute delight to see them gliding on the wing, then hanging there in the sky as they look down for a little titbit, a little something for supper.

The reserve has at least three hides, the main one being the Island Hide, from where you have a very good view of one of the stretches of freshwater marshes.  One bird that I had not seen before was the knot (I did not think I’d heard right at first!).  But there were also redshanks, plovers, reed buntings, avocets, and of course the eponymous gulls – not my favourite bird, although there is something about their mournful cries.  Peter was keeping a note of the birds he saw and, when we were returning to the car, he had listed 43.  You have just got to know your birds to be able to do that!!

The RSPB does such excellent work at Titchwell, as of course they do at all their reserves.  However, Titchwell and other coastal reserves round the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts present special problems.  The reality is that the coastline is being quite seriously eroded, and it is becoming increasingly clear that man will have to let the sea have its way.  The RSPB are doing this at Titchwell by building a barrier, which will eventually include another hide, which they believe will prevent the salty seawater from penetrating the freshwater marshes, so preserving the habitats for thousands of birds.  Doubtless they will be considering something similar at Snettisham, a few miles further round the coast on The Wash.  The work that the RSPB does is so important in maintaining and enhancing places like Titchwell Marsh and Snettisham, and our own Pulborough Brooks here in West Sussex.

TUESDAY 22 JUNE

After the usual very relaxed morning, during which Maggie got her watercolours out and started painting the view across to Bircham Windmill, we decided to have lunch there.  Peter walked – it’s about 2½ to 3 miles walking distance – and we left somewhat later, meeting him there.

The windmill is the centre of a rural enterprise.  There is a little tearoom that provides a variety of light lunches, a children’s play area, and various birds and animals, including a cockerel who clearly thinks he rules the whole shebang!  Flour is milled there and you can buy many different types of flour, from ordinary self-raising to more exotic types.  You can also select from a whole range of different types of bread that are sold there.

You can climb right up to the top of the mill, to where the mill cap is.  The views across the Norfolk countryside are excellent from here, and the holiday cottages are visible, although you would probably need a longer lens than those I have  to get a decent photograph.  Peter had been up to the top before me and apparently the cap was revolving.  He said it was rather a weird feeling, even though it was moving very slowly.  Unfortunately, it had stopped doing so when I went up.  They are, really, extremely interesting buildings.  The one at Bircham, like so many across the country, was built in the nineteenth century, and like so many fell into disrepair.  The original cap had collapsed taking the upper part of the original mill with it.  However, thanks to the dedication of many people over a number of years, the mill was rebuilt and now stands proudly over all it surveys.

From Bircham we decided to visit Houghton Hall, ancestral home of Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister.  When we got there, though, we found it was closed.  Maybe I should have checked that small detail when I was looking at the brochure in the morning!  So we went to Sandringham instead.

Maggie and I had been to Sandringham last year, when it was chucking it down with rain.  I don’tthink I’ve ever spent so much time looking at so many clocks and other varieties of timepieces!  However, this year, the weather continued to be glorious and so we were able to walk round part of the park, the interesting part where the lakes are.  There are two lakes that are adjacent to each other, the first one being some 400 yards from the House.  In the sun the water glistened and reflected the beauty of all the trees and bushes that grew down towards the lake – a photographer’s paradise.  At the end of that lake a member of the staff was feeding the birds, almost entirely ducks but there was also a couple of Egyptian geese.

The second lake did not have anywhere near as much colour, so we walked the length of the House to where there was a small walled garden.  The predominant colour in that garden was blue, with many fine specimens of digitalis.  At the end of the walled garden is a statue of Father Time, looking a bit bored I thought.  Then turning left one came across a Golden Buddha, flanked by two lions.  The old boy looks like he’s in need of a good dose of TLC, as he does not seem to be weathering well.

Clearly if you wanted to do the whole Sandringham thing you would need the whole day, for there is also the museum as well as the House and Gardens.  The museum is very interesting, possibly more so for the boys rather than the girls as it consists of a lot of the cars that the Royal Family have owned over many years, including the State Rolls Royce.  There are also the model cars that were presented to Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princes William and Harry, when they were all young lads.  I can thoroughly recommend it, even if you may blanch a little at the entrance fee.

WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE

Marianne and Peter left for Horsham at about quarter past six in the morning.  Peter has his own business and needed to return to that.  The previous evening both Marianne and Peter said how much they had enjoyed their stay.  So that left Maggie and me to enjoy the rest of the week ourselves.  Today we were going across to Hethersett, a village some three miles south of the beautiful city of Norwich.  Here, we were meeting my cousin Wendy and her husband Stephen for lunch at the Queen’s Head, before going on to visit my dear Aunt Joan, who will celebrate her ninety-first birthday in August.

We knew the Queen’s Head well, and that it served good food, and Wendy and Stephen makefor delightful company.  Maybe the service was a little on the slow side, but that really added to the relaxed atmosphere of the occasion.  So, we had a good, long chat about this and that, but principally about Aunt Joan, and how they are having to sell her little bungalow to help fund the costs of having her now reside in a Care Home.  Joan will be ninety-one in August, and as a result of a fall she had last year, in which she broke her right leg very badly, the general view was that she could not return to her home.  Thankfully, she seems to have settled in well at the Care Home.

After having had lunch, Wendy and Stephen led us over to East Carleton, where the Care Home is.  It was so good to see Joan again, and to see her looking so well.  OK, her memory is not great, but there is nothing malign about it, unlike there was with my own dear Mother.  We spent a good couple of hours at the Home, just chatting and enjoying each other’s company.  There is always a twinge of sadness, though, as with the realisation that Joan is now such a grand age, Maggie and I left wondering if that may have been the last time we will have seen her.  I do hope not.  She is a very special lady, and has always been my favourite aunty.

So, we said our goodbyes and started off back to Bircham Newton.  It does seem an awful long way along the A47, and it did seem to take about half-an-hour to get to the turning we needed.  It does not look that great a distance, and in reality it is not; it is more the nature of the road, which is only intermittently dual-carriageway.  Then it was another half-hour winding our way along the country lanes to where we were staying.

And that was the end of another nice day.

THURSDAY 24 JUNE

Where to today?  Houghton Hall.  But first, I had to go and get some provisions, which meant going up to the Spar shop at Docking, a village just a couple of miles north of Bircham Newton, then down to Great Bircham, where there is a small shop that sells things such as really good local ham etc.  We had another relaxing morning, with Maggie doing another painting of the windmill – she really is her own worst critic, never satisfied with what she’s painted.  Then we went the few miles to Houghton Hall.

As I said earlier, this was the home of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, and it remains in the family, the currentowner being David, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley (pronounced chumley) (http://www.houghtonhall.com/htmlfiles/1024index.htm).  It is a very impressive house, with stables, a museum and other buildings, but we had come for the gardens.  And what gardens they are!  Indeed, in 2008, they won the prestigious Garden of the Year competition sponsored by Christies.  And it was easy to see why.  However, I have to say that their lunches would not win any awards.  For the amount of food there was, they were overpriced quite considerably.  We could not fault the service, however, which was quick, efficient and friendly, but elsewhere on the holiday we had more food at what was relatively cheaper cost.  But, as I said, we were there for the gardens.

The main attraction in the gardens is the rose garden, which includes many, many old roses, including some fantastic damask ones.  Many were in bloom, but it seemed that the majority were not, or had already gone over.  All the same it was most impressive, and the scents of so many of them could very well send one delirious!


However, there was more to the gardens than just roses.  There are wide herbaceous borders full of seasonal bulbs, rugosa roses and catmint.  (Sky would have been in a seventh heaven – she knocks the stuffing out of the little bit of catmint we have!)  Then there other, themed, borders, and an extensive vegetable garden.  Here, you will see a special little area that effectively celebrates the winning of the Garden of the Year competition.  What you see here is a Morus nigra, or black mulberry, which was taken from a tree planted in London by James I in 1606.  I wonder if someone will take a cutting from this one in the year 2414.

There is also a Water Garden that Lord Cholmondeley had built as a personal memorial to his grandmother, Sybil.  Indeed the whole garden commemorates her long life.  The Water Garden consists of a water feature, at the centre of which is a fountain, and box hedging round beds of lavender and rosemary.  However, the piéce de resistance is the water feature that one can see from the Water Garden – the Water Flame.

We still are totally perplexed at how this works.  What we saw was a spout of water that varied its height, at the top of which played a lot of flames.  How does it happen?  Is it magic?  But happen it does.  After a while the water stops spouting for a few seconds, then the flame appears and that is then lifted into the air by a new spout of water.  It was just simply incredible and we were really mesmerised by it.

This was the one day when the weather misbehaved itself, unfortunately.  Threatening skies were everywhere and there was some light rain.  It was annoying, since such weather takes the colour out of things and it was a struggle getting photos with which I could be halfway satisfied.  Thank God for Photoshop!!

At last we decided to leave, but I wanted to take a photo or two of the House.  It was while I was walking towards it that I noticed that it had its own small cricket ground; there seemed to be just a couple of pitches and the area was on the small side, but I could not help feeling how wonderful it must be to play the greatest game on God’s Earth in such surroundings.

FRIDAY 25 JUNE

Maggie did not want me to do much driving today as we had the return trip home tomorrow.  We had thought about visiting Mannington, where there were gardens including a rose garden that was developed by rose specialists Peter Beales, who are based in Attleborough, several miles south of Norwich.  There was also somewhere else that looked interesting but was quite a distance from where we were staying.  In the end we decided to return to Briarfields for lunch and then take the North Norfolk coast road, just for a little outing.

Lunch was marvellous.  I cannot actually remember what we had for main course (I had panna cotta for desserts), but it was cooked and presented very well.  It was also very reasonably priced.  It was definitely food to savour, so we took our time, and took our time, and then we took our time some more.

We turned on to the A49 and ventured eastwards to Wells-next-the-Sea (so called because it is not actually on the coast).  It was here that Peter had had a problem on Sunday, thus causing us to end up close to Fakenham.  Maggie had explained that we had followed what seemed to be the main road on Sunday, and had missed a turning.  Once we got to Wells, therefore, I took it slowly so that we would find the right turning to take.

“Ah, here we are,” I said.  “I’m not surprised we missed it on Sunday.”

There was indeed a sign there, but it would have been easy not to have noticed the word Cromer on it, as it did not stand out at all from the other information on the sign.  So, we were able to continue on the coast road, in the hope that there would be places to turn off and get good views of the actual coastline.  We had no such luck, though, and eventually we came off the coast road on to a side road that took us to the small town of Holt, from where we took the A48 back inland.  In the end, I must have driven some sixty miles, but it was relaxed driving.

On returning to the cottage we started packing for the journey home.  This is something I never like doing, especially when we have had such a lovely relaxing week as this one was.  We spent the evening relaxing even more!

SATURDAY 26 JUNE

We had breakfast, finished packing and did a little tidying up.  I took some photos of the cottage, views across to the windmill, and some shots of the rose beds that were between our cottage and the neighbouring one.  It was time to leave.

We set out just a little before 10.30.  It being a Saturday, there was more than the usual amount of traffic, and it seemed to take an eternity getting to Mildenhall, where we connected with the A11.  Then it was foot down and full speed all the way to the Little Chef at Fourwentways, where we stopped again for lunch.

The M11 could have been quicker, but the M25 – again – was the main problem.  Although we had to contend with the road works that had severely delayed our journey up, the real problem was from junction 29 (the A12 turning) to the QE11 Bridge.  It took the better part of an hour to get to the Bridge.  Another £1.50 in the toll booth and we are able to start moving relatively freely.  After a while I can let the car have her head and we drill along pretty nicely before heading on to the M23.  Nightmare!  We hit a queue of traffic that stems back from the Gatwick turnoff.  Once past that all is fine, and it is not long before we come off the motorway and take the country lane to Horsham, arriving home about 3.00pm.  Strangely enough, I did not feel so bushed, even though the journey had still taken a long time.

It had been a lovely week, particularly for Maggie.  Although the weather was fine it had never been unacceptably hot.  The air always managed to remain pretty fresh, as you would expect in an area like Norfolk that is pretty open to the elements.  The highlights had been Titchwell Marsh, Sandringham and Houghton Hall, with our day with Wendy, Stephen and dear Aunt Joan right at the very top.  However, we will be looking at somewhere else to stay next year.

One of the problems with staying in north-west Norfolk is that many of the attractions are not (or not fully) disabled-friendly.  The county is quite large, larger than one may imagine, and if it takes an hour to get to Norwich, then you are looking at closer to two hours to get to the eastern side of the county.  And you can only visit the same attractions so many times before they start losing their attraction.  Norfolk is a county I can recommend for the type of holiday that Maggie and I enjoy, ie finding interesting places to visit, nice places to eat, places where I can snap away with the camera to my heart’s content.  Hopefully we will return one day.

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MY DEAR MOTHER

MY DEAR MOTHER

HILARY BRENDA HEAD – 1921 – 2009

My Mum, Brenda Head, died on 13 November 2009.  She was 88 years old, but for the last two had existed in another world, in a parallel universe, as her whole being was consumed, destroyed totally by senile dementia.  Her death was really a great comfort to her family, because with the passage of time she became more afflicted and we watched the person whom we loved so much, some of us obviously for all our lives, disappear.  The last fifteen months, in particular, were truly difficult and there were times when my wife, Maggie expressed her concern over the impact that the situation was having on me.

During this time I often said:  I know that the person sitting next to me is my mother, but the person who was my Mum was not there any more.  More than anything else, because I loved her so much, I sincerely wished that she would go to be reunited with Dad, in a better place.  Seeing her disappear before my eyes was very painful for me, and for the rest of the family.

When we visited her on the Saturday before she died, Mum was complaining of a pain in her chest, although she was gripping her stomach.  It was clear that she was not at all well.  I returned to the home on the Thursday, and by chance met the doctor.  He told me that Mum was suffering a lot and he had prescribed some medicine for her.  If that did not work, then he would have to consider the possibility of moving her to a hospital, something that I did not like at all, knowing that Mum would never come out again.  Obviously the doctor did not consider that Mum was close to death.

On the Friday morning, Jo, the Nursing Manager at the Nursing Home, telephoned me to say that Mum had passed a comfortable night and it seemed that she was a little better, which was good news.  I felt a little happier and got on with the usual daily things.  At 4.30 in the afternoon, however, the telephone rang.  It was Stella, the Assistant Nursing Manager (and also Jo’s sister).

She said:  “Peter, I am sorry but your Mum is ill.  She is having problems breathing.  I am so sorry, Peter…”  “Stella, are we talking end of life here?”  “Yes,” replied Stella.  “OK, I will be there as soon as possible.”

Maggie looked at me and said that she did not want me to drive to the Nursing Home myself.  She felt I would find the situation too painful and so telephoned our brother-in-law.  While we were waiting for him, however, the telephone rang again.  It was Jo.

“Peter, I am very sorry, but your Mum died five minutes ago.  It was very peaceful; she died in her sleep.  She did not suffer any pain.”

“Thank you, Jo.  I am still waiting for my brother-in-law.  We will be there as soon as possible.”

My brother-in-law waited for me at the Nursing Home while I went to say goodbye to Mum.  Jo and Stella met me at the entrance and together they embraced me.  Words were difficult; everything seemed so surreal.  They took me to the room where Mum was.  I looked at the lady who had brought me into the world, I kissed her on her forehead, and tears welled up in my eyes.  Stella found a chair and Jo asked for some tea, then they left me with Mum.

What can one say?  What does one do?  At times like this one tries to think positively, and to search for some good memories.  As was the case when Dad died, however, I found it impossible; recent memories were too strong, the emotions too raw.  Then, I broke down completely as the realisation of the loss of my dear Mum hit me.  After a while, I recovered and I simply sat there, feeling a great love for the person who was lying there, in the bed, a person whom I had always loved so much and whom I will always love.  Eventually, I felt I had to leave.  I said a couple of prayers, bent down and kissed Mum for the last time and whispered gently:  Until we meet again.

The funeral took place eleven days after the death.  The priest of the parish church of the area of Horsham where Mum had lived for more than eighty four years of her life conducted the service; my brother Philip spoke eloquently about Mum, of the person we two had loved so much and a cousin, Marion, who we brothers regard as a ‘big sister’, read a poem called God’s Garden.  Marion had heard it at a funeral that she had attended the previous week.  The poem was absolutely appropriate in the circumstances.

The strength of the emotions that hit me at the death of my mother surprised me.  One thinks that one is prepared, particularly in the circumstances that we had had to contend with such a long illness, when one is almost in a state of living grief.  Perhaps the fact that both Dad and Mum were now no longer with us had a certain impact, something that at first I found very difficult to confront.

Verily, dementia is one of the cruellest illnesses.  It strips the person of all their dignity, almost all their reason, as firstly the short-term memory slowly goes away, then also the medium-term memory disappears, with the result that the individual finds themselves in a second childhood, senile, not recognising anything or anyone.  Nobody deserves such an end to their lives, and when I think of Mum as a lady who was so lively, even in her sixties and seventies, I feel very angry that the dementia stole her from us, leaving a huge emptiness and a deep sadness.  I have a lot of bitterness and rage in me still, not so much regarding the illness, but more for other things, which I will explain at the end of this essay.

Now, though, the good memories have started to assert themselves.  Mum always enjoyed doing crosswords, anagrams and other word games.  She also had a great sense of humour and I well remember all the times when something was said or done, and we would look at each other and burst out laughing with an almost infantile abandon, something that Dad used to think was extremely silly!

Mum was born on eleventh September, 1921.  Her father was a blacksmith and her mother, as was the case in those days, was a housewife.  They had two daughters, Mum and her sister, my dear Aunt Joan, who will beninety one years old in August.  Times were very difficult, what with the Great Depression of the Twenties.  Despite this, it was a happy, and also very religious, family.

As I have already said, Mum enjoyed very much word games, a sign of an above-average intelligence.  I am sure that, if she had had the opportunity, she could have gone to the local girls’ High School.  Unfortunately, in the Thirties it was not very easy for a family such as ours to be able to send their children to such schools.  Naturally, finances were tight in those days.  Granddad always found it difficult to earn more money and, as a consequence, Mum had to leave school at fourteen and went to work in a shop selling ladies clothes.

At the shop there were two other young girls, who Phil and I were to call Aunty Phe and Aunty Eva.  Mum had found in them two very good friends and their friendship lasted more than sixty years.  It was 1935, and Mum worked at the shop for almost four years before World War II broke out.  A few months before the war started, however, a beautiful thing happened; Mum met Jack Head, the man who was to become her husband.  It is clear from the letters Jack sent to Brenda from Northern Africa and from Italy that the two were very much in love.  Because of the War, Brenda and Jack had to wait six years before being able to get married.  They were married on 8 July 1945 and they had fifty five happy years together, until Dad died in September, 2000.

They were two marvellous parents, and Phil and I consider ourselves to be very fortunate in this respect.  We havemuch to be thankful for.  We were born into a loving family, in which Mum and Dad taught us right from wrong, to haverespect for the rights of others, to be polite, to see the funny side of things, to be the best we could be.  And speaking for myself, I like to think that, in general, I have been able to do all this, even if I have often failed in very spectacular ways!

Like others of their generation, the marriage between Mum and Dad was of their time, very simple.  The man went to work, took the majority of the decisions, took care of the finances, while the ‘little woman’ looked after the domestic chores, took care of the children, did the shopping, made and mended the clothes, cooked.  I am not saying that things were exactly like this between my parents, because Dad did his best to help Mum.  Such a marriage is totally different to those that exist now; it was a time when the couple married in preference to living together.  Indeed, the idea of living together simply did not exist.  I know which of the two I prefer, but then I am a little old-fashioned in this respect.

As I say, Dad did his best to help Mum, and it was only after he died that I realised that Mum did not know how to do many ordinary things, for example, how to write a cheque.  She had never filled the car with petrol.  These were things that only Dad did.  Such things were revelations for her.

It was clear that Mum was not able to cope with life without her husband and soon I found it necessary to invite her every Sunday for lunch with us either at our house or at a pub.  What was more worrying for me was that with the passing of the years she slowly started to lose interest in the things that she had always done, the crosswords, the word games, the housework, etc.  Then the neighbours told me that she went to the paper shop several times because she had forgotten that she had already paid for the papers.  Clearly there was something that was not OK, and this was very worrying for me.

Consequently, I arranged for the local Social Services department would send people to Mum’s house, to help her and to ensure that everything was alright.  Certainly all this did not please Mum, and the ladies who visited had much difficulty dealing with her.  The dementia had already started its implacable work.  This arrangement continued for a little over a year, when things became more difficult still, and the confusion from which Mum was suffering grew.  It was not unusual to find on our return home from work that the answer phone was full of messages from Mum.  The answer phone we had at the time could contain sixty messages and I would cancel all of them before going to work, only to find there had been another sixty on our return.

It goes without saying that all this drove me mad, and often I got very angry.  I knew that it was not Mum’s fault, that it was the confusion (at the time, I did not use the dreaded word dementia), but I defy anyone not to react as I did.  Truly, this period was one of the most difficult that I had ever had to confront, although it was nothing compared to what was to come.

In the end I had to make a decision.  It was increasingly clear that Mum was not able to live alone.  It was too dangerous to leave her by herself.  Notwithstanding the visits by the ladies from Social Services, there was always the risk that Mum would leave the oven on, with the fear that house would catch fire.  There were also concerns for my health, which in my opinion was more important than Mum’s.  I discussed the situation with Maggie, Philip and Marion, and they all agreed; Mum had to go into a care home, where she would be safe and there would be people who would look after her.

As a result, Marion and I visited four nursing homes in and near Horsham.  We discounted two almost immediately.  They were both in a bad state and I would not have been happy putting Mum in such places.  We visited two homes in the morning and two in the afternoon and it was the last one, Longfield Manor, which was clearly the best and met all the requirements.  So, on 18 February 2006, Mum left her home for the first and last time.  She left the house where she had lived all her life, the house that had been in the family for almost ninety years.  It was very sad, since I too was born in that house, bit it was absolutely necessary.  In myself, I knew it was the right thing to do.  With the passage of time, this belief was to be proved correct.

At first, Mum never accepted the situation of living in a nursing home.  With much sadness in my heart I had to ignore her appeals to return to the home that she had always loved.  Often I left the Nursing Home with tears in my eyes, continually telling myself that it was for the best and for my peace of mind.

Indeed, I do not think Mum ever accepted living in the Nursing Home.  She was a very private person, one who resented the nurses who had to help her with her personal things.  She thought she was still perfectly capable of looking after herself.  Unfortunately, it was not at all the case.  The poor love was too confused and the confusion was only increasing.  Having said that, though, the staff told me that Mum was very sweet, placid, unlike some others who were very difficult to manage.

With time, however, Mum became more difficult, obstructive and to a certain degree even violent.  During all this time, though, it was the dementia that was making her act like that.  All the time, the dementia was tightening its grip.  All the time, it was destroying the person who had been my Mum.  There came a time when, for the sake of my own health, I was not able to visit her every week.  The situation was destroying me, and Maggie was very worried about me.

Then, in September 2008, there seemed to be a great deterioration in Mum’s health.  Something had happened that made her start refusing to eat.  She rapidly lost a lot of weight, becoming a shadow of the lady the family had always known.  Indeed, shortly before Christmas, Phil and his wife Barbara visited the Nursing Home and asked to see Mum.  When they saw a member of staff bringing her along the corridor Phil was horrified at how she looked and he turned to Barbara and said: That is not my Mum.  And again when Mum entered the room he repeated ‘No, that is not my Mum’, before he realised that it was indeed his mother.

It is true to say that the last year of my dear Mum’s life was an absolute nightmare.  This period was, without any doubt, the worst of my life, as I watched her vanish before my eyes.  She had become very incoherent, often struggling to say the words, blurting them with every breath, not making any sense at all.  Her arms and legs were full of bruises as a result of falling or resisting the staff who were trying to help her.

It was during this time that Jo and Stella started the process of accumulating evidence to give to the local Primary Care Trust, with the aim of obtaining central funding to cover the nursing costs.  Eventually they were successful, which meant that the family did not have to pay a good £3100 every month.  Phil and I were very grateful.

We had always had a problem with the rules regarding funding, because they always penalised those people who had been prudent, who had saved all their lives, making huge sacrifices, and who had behaved responsibly.  At the same time, the rules allowed immediate payment to those who had not done any of these things.  We do not have a problem in cases where someone, through no fault of their own, found themselves in difficulties.  We could not help comparing the treatment given to those who had never paid into the system.  In our opinion, in recent years, under the totally appalling socialist government, it does not pay to be English, heterosexual, white, Christian, live in the country, do everything to improve our lives, to have aspirations and so on.

I said earlier in this essay, that the bitterness that I feel is not about the death of my mother or the dementia.  I am very bitter, however, at a system that treats with such utter contempt people like my parents, who had always done what had been right, who had always lived their lives totally honestly and honourably (not like the politicians who make the rules, though, provided the rules do not apply to them), who had lost six years of their lives because of the War, who had suffered a lot of hardship.  All this, yes, makes me feel very bitter.

We knew that Mum was nearing the end of her life.  It was just a question of when.  Every day I expected a telephone call from the Home.  Every day I prayed it would be the day that Mum would be re-united with Dad.  I thought often about him, and how he would have been mortified at seeing his dear wife suffering in such a way.   I know he would have been extremely saddened, and now it pleases me to think they are both happy, now that they are together in a better place.  Thinking this gives me a sense of tranquility.  I had promised Dad a few days before his death that I would look after Mum.  I like to think that I did so, and that what I did over the years had been for the benefit and well being of dear Mum.  It is not for me to say how well I managed to do it, but I can say that my conscience is clear.

Dementia is very cruel, for the reasons I have described above.  The tragedy is that, still, the politicians do not want to accept the fact that this illness will become more common, they do not accept that there is not sufficient finance and research.  As the population grows increasingly older, the incidence of dementia will also increase.  Therefore, what we have here is a time-bomb that is ticking away inexorably.  I know there are many problems; every case is different, simply because everyone is different.  It is a truth that if one is in a happy frame of mind when one starts suffering from dementia, then one remains happy.  In the same way, someone who is not in a happy frame of mind will remain discontented.  The illness hits everyone in different ways, affects the mind differently, makes one behave in strange ways, and so on.  Dementia is not a simple illness with which one can live, to confront, and I do not know the answer to the problems that come with it.  One day, hopefully, someone will find a solution, but unfortunately I do not think it will happen in my lifetime.


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LA MIA CARA MAMMA

HILARY BRENDA HEAD – 1921 – 2009

Mia mamma, Brenda Head, è morta il 13 novembre 2009.  Aveva ottant’otto anni, ma per gli ultimi due di loro lei ha esistito in un altro mondo, in un universo parallelo, come il suo essere era consumato, distrutto totalmente dalla demenza senile.  La sua morte era davvero un conforto alla famiglia, perché con i giorni che passavano diventava sempre più afflitta e abbiamo visto svanire la persona che amavamo molto, alcuni di noi ovviamente per tutte le nostre vite.  Gli ultimi quindici mesi, in particolare, sono stati veramente difficili e ci sono state volte quando Maggie, mia moglie, ha espresso le sue inquietudini dell’impatto su di me che la situazione stava causando.

Durante questo periodo ho detto spesso: Io so che la persona che siede accanto di me è mia madre, ma la persona che era la mia mamma non c’era di più.  Più di nessun altro, perché l’ho voluta così bene, ho sinceramente augurato che andasse a riunirsi con Papà, in un posto migliore.  Vederla svanire davanti i miei proprio occhi era molto pensoso per me e per la famiglia.

Quando l’avevamo visitata il sabato prima della morte, Mamma si è lamentata di una pena nel suo petto, sebbene si aggrappasse il suo stomaco.  Era chiaro che lei non stava mica bene.  Sono tornato alla casa di cura il giovedì, e per caso ho incontrato il dottore.  Mi ha detto che Mamma stava soffrendo molto e lui le aveva prescritto alcune medicine.  Se la cura non abbia fatto effetto, dovrebbe considerare la possibilità di trasferirla in ospedale, qualcosa che non mi è piaciuto affatto, sapendo che Mamma non ci avrebbe mai lasciato.  Ovviamente il dottore non ha considerato che Mamma era vicina alla morte.

Il venerdì mattina, Jo, uno dei direttori della casa di riposo, mi ha telefonato per dirmi che Mamma aveva passato una notte comoda e sembrava che stesse un po’ meglio, che erano buone notizie.  Mi sono sentito un po’ più contento e mi occupai con le solite cose giornaliere.  Alle 4.30 nel pomeriggio, però, il telefono squillò.  Era Stella, assistente direttore che era anche la sorella di Jo.  Disse:

“Peter, mi dispiace, ma tua Mamma sta male.  Sta avendo molti problemi respiratori.  Mi dispiace, Peter…”  “Stella, parliamo di fine di vita?”  “Sì,” disse Stella.  “OK. Va bene, arrivo al più presto possibile.”

Maggie mi ha guardato e ha detto che non mi ha voluto guidare alla casa di cura me stesso.  Si sentiva che troverei troppo dolorosa la situazione e quindi ha telefonato il nostro cognato.  Mentre lo aspettavamo, però, il telefono squillò di nuovo; era Jo.

“Peter, mi dispiace molto, ma la tua Mamma è morta cinque minuti fa.  Era molto pacifico; è morta nel suo sonno.  Lei non soffriva nessuna pena.”

“Grazie, Jo. Sto aspettando mio cognato.  Saremo lì al più presto possibile.”

Mio cognato mi ha aspettato alla casa di riposo mentre sono andato di dare l’addio a Mamma. Jo e Stella mi hanno incontrato all’entrata della casa di riposo, entrambi mi hanno dato un forte abbraccio.  Le parole sono state difficili; tutto era così surreale.  Mi hanno portato nella camera dov’era Mamma.  Ho guardato la signora che mi ha messo al mondo, l’ha baciata sul suo fronte e dopo di che le lacrime mi sono sgorgate dagli occhi.   Stella ha trovato una sedia e Jo ha richiesto del tè, poi mi hanno lasciato con Mamma.

Cosa dire?  Cosa fare?  Volte come queste si tenta di pensare positivamente, e a cercare alcuni bei ricordi.  Come fu il caso quando Papà morì, però, lo trovavo impossibile; i ricordi recenti erano troppo forti e le emozioni erano opprimenti.  Poi, sono crollato completamente come la realizzazione della perdita della mia cara Mamma mi ha colpito.  Dopo un po’ mi sono ripreso, e io semplicemente sedevo, sentirmi un grande amore per la persona che ci giaceva, nel letto, una persona che avevo sempre voluto molto bene e che amerò sempre.  Finalmente, mi sono sentito che dovevo andare.  Ho detto un paio delle preghiere, mi ho chinato e ho baciato per l’ultima volta Mamma e le ho sussurrato dolcemente: Finche non ci incontreremo di nuovo.

Il funerale avvenne undici giorni dopo la morte.  Il prete dalla chiesa parrocchiale della zona di Horsham dove Mamma era vissuta per ottantaquattro anni ha condotto il funerale; mio fratello Philip ha parlato eloquentemente di Mamma, della persona che noi due abbiamo tanto amato, e una cugina, Marion, che noi fratelli riguardiamo come una ‘gran sorella’, ha letto una poesia chiamata God’s Garden.  Marion aveva sentito la poesia a un funerale al quale era stata la settimana precedente.  La poesia era assolutamente adatta nelle circostanze.

La forza delle emozioni che mi ha colpito alla morte di mia madre mi sorprendeva. Uno pensa che é preparato, particolarmente nelle circostanze che abbiamo dovuto contendere con una tale malattia lunga, quando uno è quasi in uno stato del dolore vivente.  Forse il fatto che sia Papà sia Mamma non fossero più con noi mi ha fatto un tale impatto, cosa che ho trovato molto difficile d’affrontare.

Veramente, la demenza è una delle malattie più crudeli.  Può privare una persona di tutta la dignità, quasi tutta la ragione, come in primo luogo la memoria breve a poco a poco va via, poi anche quella media sparisce, con il risultato che l’individuale si trova in una seconda infanzia, senile, non riconosce niente o nessuno.  Nessuno si merita una tale fine di vita.  Quando penso di Mamma come una signora così vivace, persino nei suoi sessanta e settanta, mi sento molto arrabbiato perché la demenza le ha rubato da noi, lasciandoci un vuoto enorme e un profondo dolore. Ho tanta amarezza e collera in me, non tanto per quanto riguarda la malattia, ma per altre cose, che spiegherò alla fine di questo brano.

Ora, però, i bei ricordi hanno cominciato ad asserirsi.  A Mamma è sempre piaciuta fare i cruciverba, gli anagrammi, altri giochi di parole. Lei aveva anche un grandissimo senso d’umorismo, e ricordo bene tutte le volte quando qualcosa era stato detto o fatto, e ci guardavamo e poi scoppiavamo a ridere con un abbandono quasi infantile, cosa che Papà (tra altri) pensava che fosse veramente stupidissimo!

Mamma era nata l’undici settembre, 1921. Suo padre faceva il ferraio, e sua madre come le usanze di allora, era casalinga.  Hanno avuto due figlie (Mamma e sua sorella, la mia cara zia Joan, che avrà novant’uno anni nel agosto).  Quindi, i tempi furono molto difficili, con vissuti la Gran Depressione degli anni venti.  Malgrado questo, era una famiglia felice, e anche molto religiosa.

Come ho già detto, Mamma si divertiva moltissimo con i giochi di parole, un segno di un’intelligenza sopra la media.  Sono sicuro che, se avesse avuto l’opportunità, sarebbe potuta andare al liceo per le ragazze.  Sfortunatamente, negli anni trenta, non era tanto facile per una famiglia come la nostra poter permettersi di mandare i figli alle tali scuole.  Naturalmente le finanze erano molto strette a quei tempi.  Nonno lo trovò sempre difficile guadagnare più denaro, e di conseguenza, Mamma ha dovuto lasciar la scuola all’età di quattordici anni ed è andata a lavorare in un negozio che ha venduto abiti da donna.

Al negozio c’erano due altre signorine, che io fosse chiamare Zia Phe e Zia Eva.  Mamma aveva trovato in loro due ottime amiche, e la loro amicizia durò più di sessant’anni.  Era il 1935, e Mamma lavorava quasi quattro anni nel negozio prima che scoppiasse la seconda Guerra Mondiale. Qualche mese prima che cominciasse la guerra però, é successa una bellissima cosa; Mamma ha incontrato Jack Head, l’uomo che è diventato suo marito.  È chiaro delle lettere che Jack ha mandato a Brenda dall’Africasettentrionale e dall’Italia, che i due erano innamoratissimi.  A causa della guerra che Brenda e Jack avevano dovuto aspettare sei anni prima di potersi sposare.  Si sono sposati l’otto luglio 1945, e hanno passato cinquantacinque felici anni insieme, fino a quando Papà morì nel settembre del 2000.

Erano due genitori meravigliosi, e io e Phil ci consideriamo moltissimo fortunati in questo rispetto.  Abbiamo molto da ringraziare il cielo.  Siamo cresciuti in una famiglia affettuosa, nella quale Mamma e Papà ci hanno insegnato il bene dal male, di aver rispetto per i diritti degli altri, di essere educati, di vedere il lato buffo delle cose, di essere il migliore che potremmo essere.  E a parlare di me stesso, mi piace pensare che, in generale, io sia riuscito a farlo, anche se spesso ho fallito in modo molto spettacolare!

Come altri della loro generazione il matrimonio di Mamma e Papà era del loro tempo, molto semplice.  L’uomo andava al lavoro, prendeva la maggioranza delle decisioni, e si occupava delle finanze, mentre la ‘piccola donna’ sbrigava le faccende domestiche, badava ai bimbi, faceva le spese, rammendava gli abiti, cucinava, ecc.  Non sto dicendo che le cose erano esattamente come queste tra i miei, perché Papà faceva del suo migliore ad aiutare Mamma.  Un tale matrimonio è totalmente diverso da quelli che esistono ora; era un tempo quando le coppie si sposavano più volentieri di convivere.  Infatti, l’idea di convivere semplicemente non esisteva.  Io so quale dei due preferisco io, ma poi, forse sono un po’ all’antica in questo rispetto.

Come dico, Papà faceva del suo migliore ad aiutare Mamma ed era solo dopo di lui morì che mi resi conto che Mamma non sapeva fare tante cose ordinarie, per esempio come scrivere un assegno.  Lei non ha mai fatto la benzina.  Queste cose erano i compiti che faceva solo Papà ed erano rivelazioni per lei.

Era chiaro che Mamma non riusciva ad affrontare la vita senza suo marito e presto ho trovato necessario d’invitarla ogni domenica per il pranzo con noi a casa nostra o a un pub.  Più preoccupante per me, però, era che con gli anni che passavano, ha iniziato lentamente a perdere l’interesse nelle cose che aveva sempre fatto, i cruciverba, i giochi di parole, le faccende, ecc.  Poi i vicini mi hanno detto che andava dal giornalaio alcune volte perché aveva dimenticato che aveva già pagato per i giornali.  Chiaramente, c’era qualcosa che non andava bene, e questo era molto preoccupante per me.

Di conseguenza, mi sono accordato che la sezione dell’Assistenza Sociale locale per mandare persone a casa di Mamma per aiutarla e ad assicurarsi che tutto era a posto.  Certamente tutto questo non era gradito alla Mamma, e le signore che la visitavano trovavano molte difficoltà trattare con lei.  La demenza aveva già cominciato il suo lavoro implacabile.   Questo sistema ha continuato per un po’ più di un anno, poi le cose sono diventate molto più difficili come la confusione dalla quale Mamma soffriva è cresciuta.  Non era insolito trovare al nostro ritorno a casa dopo il lavoro, la segreteria telefonica piena dei messaggi da Mamma.  La segreteria che avevamo a quei tempi riusciva a contenere sessanta messaggi e ne cancellerei tutti prima di andare al lavoro, solo a trovare ce n’erano sono altri sessanta al nostro tornato.

Vale a dire che tutto questo ha cominciato a farmi impazzire, e tanto volte ero molto arrabbiato.  Lo sapevo che non era colpo di Mamma, che era la confusione (al tempo non voglio dire la parola spaventosa, demenza), ma sfido chiunque a non reagire come ho fatto.  Veramente questo periodo è stato uno dei più difficili che avessi dovuto affrontare, sebbene non fosse niente in confronto a quello che c’era d’affrontare.

Alla fine ho dovuto decidere.  Era chiaro in aumento Mamma non poteva vivere da sola.  Era troppo pericoloso lasciarla sola.  Nonostante le visite delle signore dell’Assistenza Sociale, c’era sempre il rischio che Mamma lascerebbe i fornelli accesi, con la paura che la casa s’incendiasse.  C’erano anche delle ansietà per la mia salute che, secondo me, era tanto importante che quella di Mamma.  Ho discusso la situazione con Maggie, Philip e Marion, e tutti loro erano d’accordo; Mamma doveva andare in una casa di cura, dove sarebbe al sicuro e ci sarebbero persone che sarebbero occupate di lei.

Di conseguenza, io e Marion visitammo quattro case di cura in e vicino a Horsham. Ne abbiamo scartate due quasi immediatamente.  Erano entrambi in cattivo stato e non sarei stato contento mettere Mamma in tali posti.  Abbiamo visitato due case nella mattina e due nel pomeriggio, ed è stata l’ultima casa, Longfield Manor, che sembrava la più adatta e aveva tutti i requisiti.  Dunque, al 18 febbraio 2006, Mamma ha lasciato la sua casa per la prima e l’ultima volta.  Ha lasciato la casa dov’era vissuta tutta la vita, la casa che era stata nella famiglia per quasi novant’anni.  È stato molto triste, perché sono nato anch’io lì, ma era totalmente necessario.  In me stesso lo sapevo che era la cosa giusta da fare.  Con l’andar del tempo, questa credenza é stata messo spesso alla prova.

A prima, Mamma non ha mai accettato la situazione di vivere in una casa di riposo.  Con molta tristezza nel cuore ho dovuto ignorare i suoi appelli di ritornare nella casa che aveva sempre amato.  Spesso lasciavo la casa di riposo con lacrime negli occhi. dicendomi continuamente che era per il suo bene e la mia tranquillità mentale.

Infatti, non penso che Mamma abbia mai accettato di vivere nella casa di riposo.  Era una persona privata, qualcuno che risentiva gli infermieri che dovevano aiutarla con le cure personali.  Pensava ancora che fosse perfettamente capace di prendersi cura di se stessa.  Purtroppo, non era il caso.  La poverina era troppo confusa, e la confusione stava solo aumentando.  Detto questo, però, il personale mi ha detto che Mamma era molto dolce, placida, non come degli altri, che erano molto difficile da maneggiare.

Con il tempo, però, Mamma è divenuta più difficile, ostruttiva, a un certo punto persino violente.  Durante tutto questo tempo, però, è stato la demenza che la faceva agire così.  Tutto il tempo, la demenza stringeva la sua presa.  Tutto il tempo, distruggeva la persona che era stata la mia Mamma.  C’è venuto un tempo quando, per motivi della mia propria salute, non riuscivo a visitarla ogni settimana.  La situazione mi distruggeva, e Maggie era molto preoccupata per me.

Poi, nel settembre del 2008, c’è sembrato di essere un gran deterioramento nella salute di Mamma.  Era successo qualcosa che l’ha fatto cominciare di rifiutare di mangiare.  Ha perso tanto peso molto rapidamente, diventare un’ombra della signora che la famiglia aveva sempre conosciuto.  Infatti, un po’ prima di Natale 2008, Philip e sua moglie, Barbara, hanno visitato la casa di riposo e hanno chiesto da vedere Mamma.  Quando hanno visto un membro del personale portarla lungo il corridoio, Philip era rimasto scottato a come lei è sembrata e si sono voltato a Barbara e disse: ‘Non è la mia Mamma’.  E ancora quando Mamma è entrata la camera ha ripetuto ‘No, non è la mia Mamma’, prima di realizzasse che era veramente sua madre.

È veramente giusto dire che l’ultimo anno della vita della mia cara Mamma era un incubo totale.  Questo periodo è stato, senza nessun dubbio, il pessimo della mia vita, come l’ho vista svanire davanti ai miei occhi.  Era diventata molto incoerente, spesso lottare a dire le parole, sbottarle con ogni respiro, e non avere nessun mica senso.  Le sue braccia e le sue gambe erano tutte coperte di lividi come conseguenza di cadere, o resistere i personali che la curavano.

È stato durante questo periodo che Jo e Stella hanno cominciato il processo di accumulare l’evidenza da dare al Primary Care Trust locale, con lo scopo di ottenere finanziamento centrale da coprire il costo dell’allattamento.  Finalmente, avevano successo, il che voleva dire che la famiglia non ha dovuto pagare un ben di £3100 ogni mese.  Io e Phil ne siamo stati molto grati.

Noi avevamo sempre avuto un problema con le regole riguardano il finanziamento, perché hanno sempre penalizzato quei che sono stati prudenti, che hanno risparmiato tutta la loro vita facendo gran sacrifici, che si sono comportati con responsabilità.  Allo stesso tempo, le regole hanno permesso pagamento immediatamente a quelli che non avevano fatto tutte queste cose.  Non abbiamo nessun problema in casi dove una persona che, non per colpa sua, si é trovata in difficoltà.  Anche noi non potremmo aiutare di confrontare il trattamento dato alle persone che non avevano mai pagato nel sistema.  Secondo noi, negli anni recenti, sotto questo governo socialista totalmente spaventoso, non paga di essere inglese, eterosessuale, bianco, cristiano, di vivere in campagna,  da fare di tutto per migliorare le proprie condizioni, di aver alcune aspirazioni, e così via.

Ho detto al inizio di questo brano che l’amarezza che mi sento non é verso né la morte della mia cara Mamma né la demenza.  Sono molto amaro, però, quanto riguarda un sistema che tratta con dispetto totale la gente come i miei, che ha sempre fatto quello che è stato giusto, che hanno vissuto la vita totalmente onestamente e onorevolmente (non come i politici che fanno le regole, però, purché non le applichino a loro), colori che hanno perso sei anni della loro vita per via della guerra, che hanno sofferto tante privazioni.  Tutto questo, sì, mi rende molto amaro.

Abbiamo saputo che Mamma si avvicinava il fine della sua vita.  Era solo una questione di quando accadrebbe.  Ogni giorno aspettavo una telefonata dalla casa di riposo.  Ogni giorno pregavo che sarebbe stato quello il giorno, che Mamma si sarebbe riunita con Papà.  Ho pensato spesso a lui, e come sarebbe stato mortificato a vedere la sua cara moglie soffrire in un tale modo.  Io so che sarebbe stato tristissimo, e adesso mi piace pensare che loro entrambi siano contenti, ora che siano insieme in un posto migliore.  Pensare così mi danno tanta serenità.  Avevo promesso a Papà alcuni giorni prima della sua morte, che prenderei ben cura della Mamma.  Mi piace pensare che l’abbia fatto, che quello che ho fatto era sempre stato per il beneficio e il benessere di Mamma.  Non sta a me a dire quanto bene lo sono riuscito, ma posso solo dire che la mia coscienza é a posto.

La demenza è totalmente crudele, per le ragioni che ho descritto di sopra.  La tragedia è che, ancora, i politici non vogliano accettare il fatto che questa malattia diventerà più comune, non accettano che non c’è abbastanza finanzia e ricerca. Come la popolazione invecchia aumenta, l’incidenza di demenza anche aumenterà.  Quindi, ciò che abbiamo qui è una bomba di orologeria, che sta facendo tic tac inesorabilmente.  So che ci sono molti problemi; ogni caso è diverso, semplicemente perché ognuno è differente.  È una verità che se si sia contento quando inizio a soffrire da demenza, poi si rimane contento.  Allo stesso modo, qualcuno che è scontento rimane così.  La malattia colpisce ognuno in modi diversi, affetta la mente diversamente, farsi comportare in modi molti strani e così via.  Non è semplice, e non so quello che sia la risposta.  Un giorno, con speranza, qualcuno troverà la soluzione, ma purtroppo non penso che accadrà nella mia vita.

PETER HEAD

3 gennaio 2010

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