Monday 19 July 2010

Could this be a sitcom – or a break out sitcom? Ever had a one word - at a time - conversation ? Fish and Chips – how do you spell it?

We had one of our old days on Friday, even though my mother cannot hear, she felt like talking and having a conversation .... but how do you do this with someone who cannot read nor hear?

How will the interpretation work ... with waving of hands, pointing of fingers, a small whiteboard with one word on it and a duster to wipe it off .. and no ability to actually put a sentence together that is ‘translateable’ for my mother?

Hardwick .. my mother's favourite travelling companion and comforter

It was excellent and we were both laughing away – but it was completely incongruous and I was laughing at the absurdity of it ... while my mother was happily laughing along - wonderful to see and share these now too brief moments.

In the days when she could hear ... these were the types of conversation we used to have .. and perhaps you can now see why my posts are so eclectic, but also include short and sharp cross links – that will lead out .... where?? We find out as we go .....

Arnold Lakhovsky painted The Conversation

My mother’s words in italics .. for some ease of differentiation .. My resources for this ‘conversation’: one whiteboard, cloth to wipe off each word and two personae: me and ‘her’!

Waving arms, pointing fingers, shaking and nodding heads, and ‘herself’ wanting to converse, which she did .. but how to reply, how to explain, how to inform ... well that’s another matter.

My mother wanted to know why she couldn’t hear – reasonable .. but with the next question ... "I’m paying enough they should be able to fix it!" (Actually the National Health Service is paying .. but that’s an explanation too far) – not so easy to answer.

So what now? I’m tired (I know, before I start!) .. so I yawn – without putting my hand in front of my mouth – immediately my mother says “I don’t want to see your tonsils” .... then “do you know what tonsils do?” I thought I’d say ‘no’ .. shaking my head to indicate that!

Well go over there to that table and look in that big book – Chambers- and it will tell you – they are your first line of defence" ... this is my mother! What I thought was interesting – was that she could not and did not recognise the word ‘Google’ ... now last year she would have done. Nor did the word ‘internet’ ring any bells for her. So she has regressed a little.

Then – "did you put the posters up? – they’re wonderful .. thank you darling .. and look at those above the curtains .. with the little dogs on! Thank you." I had put these up about three months ago – but I was not going that route!

So now we’re into "Why can’t I hear?" Remember I cannot converse, nor can I write a sentence ... so I put the words “cold, sore throat, bad chest” .. on three separate lines ... the word my mother picks up is cold – "I’m not cold". But obviously cannot relate that word to the question she asked – it would be fine if I could explain ... she’s always been grateful for my explanations .. but I can’t.

There’s more .... but enough is enough .. I’d bought soft toilet paper instead of tissues, as the staff are quite profligate with them, and I thought loo paper (as we call it here in the UK) would be fine for mopping up her mouth and nose etc. .. but my mother "I don’t want loo paper – that’s not for blowing my nose" ... you know there are no flies on her: even now.

You get the idea ... when we could chatter together it was quite enlightening and we’d have lots of laughs ... belly laughs .. as we did on Friday – and I’d be sent home to Google or Wiki for more information and bring it in for my next visit.

I hold Hardwick up for her to see .. and she immediately says "Hallo Boy ... you’ve been a good companion for me ... and you do have such an intelligent face and look": thank goodness for Hardwick is all I can say – he’s been inseparable from her .. we even had him in hospital – but I was terrified he’d be swept up into the laundry .. so I took him down for visits!

When we were London in the Acute Brain Injury Unit right at the beginning, three years ago now .. a Cameroonian lady had been brought in .. and had a radio with her tuned in to Gospel Music .. and I thought oh oh .. this is not going to please my Ma and asked them if they could keep the sound low .. misery me!

Well, I was truly put in my place on my next visit .. Jasmine said to me (yes Jannie a Jasmine here too!) – do you know what your mother said after you’d gone to get the train ... please turn the music back on!! My reaction to this ... was .. would the patients lift their sheets and bop around the ward in various states of hobble .. and have huge guffaws of laughter as they went ... I just thought what a wonderful scene could be built from this concept. What do you think?

Language and our understanding of it .. my mother thinking I was asking if she was cold .. because the fans were on (usually we have them on – my mother had said earlier she’d rather be cold than hot) .. but my one word on the whiteboard .. ‘cold’ was to imply she had a cold and it had affected her ears ... ears, nose and throat. Well that was a thought too far too.

Harry Bingham's Website – The Writer’s Workshop .. the Word Cloud where writers meet ..

I’ve started reading Harry Bingham’s “This Little Britain – How One Small Country built the Modern World” .. and he starts his little book off with “Shaw’s Potato” .. George Bernard Shaw, the playwright, and ‘would-be spelling reformer’ pointed out that by using only common English spellings, we could write the word fish as ghoti:

F gh as in rough
I o as in women
SH ti as in nation

However Bingham goes on to say .. that if we eat fish, we eat chips too and potato could be ...
ready for it? ghoughbteighpteau ...... as in:

P gh as in hiccough
O ough as in though
T bt as in debt
A eigh as in neighbour
T pt as in pterodactyl
O eau as in bureau

Now .. firstly do you pronounce the words as we do .. because if not obviously this would floor you ... or flaw you? ... but secondly wouldn’t you want to continue reading? Binhgam goes on to say ... “Other languages have their eccentric spellings, of course, but English is in a league of its own. French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian all spell more or less as they sound .... do they? – I’d be lost I think: however English of course is supernumerary?!

So going back to my mother and ‘cold’ ... in this case it’s her understanding of the word ... rather than the written ... is it ewe or you? course or coarse? .. which do we mean: gosh am I glad I’m English! It makes for fascinating reading this little book and these occur on only pages 1 and 2?!

Potato: Antoine Parmentier holding New World plants, artist: Francois Dumont 1812

And I haven’t really finished with Jasmine ... we have Jannie’s Blue Bunny, who has a Jasmine squirrel, we had our Cameroonian Jasmine, we have the flowers Jasmine – yellow or white, we have the granddaughter, Jasmine, of a friend of my mother’s and for some extraordinary reason .. we have Jasmine, a squirrel, here ...

.... Jasmine, our squirrel, made an uninvited guest appearance the other weekend .. wandering into the Home and visiting every room, hopping onto their beds, saying ‘hello’ to every patient .. and then wondering where next .. with a little help outside please! She kept us amused and occupied for the afternoon ...

When these funnies happen .. and with the extraordinary escapades and stories that have occurred in these last three + years .. I keep thinking there must be sitcom here .. with all these fantastic interweaving story lines .. well I think so – but my imagination does wander somewhat.

Diana Trent and Tom Ballard, two elderly residents of the Bayview Retirement Home are determined not to grow old gracefully. The pair of geriatric delinquents spend their time finding new ways to make life difficult for Bayview manager Harvey Baines.

Waiting for God .. number 37 Graham Crowden and Stephanie Cole play Tom and Diana

Time for tea ... Ghoti and ghoughbteighpteau .....anyone? Then we could sit and watch that tv sitcom ....

Thanks for being here Mr Postman .. and you’re right we did have another quick visit to the hospital on Saturday (when my mother remembered the loo paper – so her short term memory is there! .. amazing isn’t it?) .. and all is well now – we’re safe and back at the Care Centre.

Fish riders in a 1920s poster of the Republic of China

Four years ago .. a cancer sufferer, Maxine, wrote a song in conjunction with Billy Bragg, when he was conducting workshops at the Hospice, for her daughter Jessica .. called ..and "We laughed" .. and it always brings tears to my eyes, but is so appropriate for Mum and I .. - we've always laughed and it's so good to remember all those times: if you would like to hear more and see more .. please visit here: This is the first performance ever after Maxine had died .. with a little bit of commentary by Billy on how the song came about... This is with Maxine and Jess talking about the future and how the song came about ....

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 11 July 2010

A Century of Aces; Afghanistan to Zimbabwe ...

King Queen Czech Mate – this was a headline from 37 years ago .. that I always remember – summarising the results of Wimbledon 1973: can you work out who were the winners? Billie Jean King triumphed, in what was Martina Navratilova’s first year on the circuit, and the Czech Jan Kodes captured the men’s title in 1973.

A Century of Aces – does that sum up this year’s Wimbledon – to a point yes .. except it was a brace of centuries! What an amazing fortnight with some wonderful tennis, as well as a visit from the Royal Queen, her first visit for 33 years, who met with the King Queen, a few other legends and which produced a list of statistics as long as your arm.

The buzz was palpable for all to feel, the making of history was in the air, everyone was chattering and laughing away at their luck to be present on such a memorable day, Thursday 24th June 2010 – a day which was to offer a different dimension to the sport.

Centre Court with the new roof, used as a sunshade this year!

McEnroe, this ‘enfant terribile’ of the sport, saying that he thought it was a great advertisement for tennis .. this mix of royalty, beloved by so many, and two unknowns who were already gracing the echelons of greatness ... which member of a team sport could last as long as these guys, or behave with such impeccable politeness – a huge credit to the sport of tennis.

I haven’t even mentioned their names I see – but most of us will know who I’m talking about, even if perhaps their names escape you – the French man, Nicolas Mahut, and the American John Isner. Mahut had played through the qualifying .. his last set at Roehampton had been 26-24 – before he even started this first round match at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.

I guess they walked on court on Tuesday the 22nd never expecting to run further than four marathons, ‘bowl’ over one hundred aces each, smash many records ... just a few balls ... become celebrities over night and perhaps become truly the only people who fit Kipling’s quote, from the poem “If”, which sits above the players’ entrance to Centre Court:

If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same ..”

Neither being losers – don’t you agree?

Both men, understandably, looked fit to drop at the end ... but were persuaded that a few extra minutes for the record books, the crowds, the media would be appreciated ... that picture of their final set score splashed around the world on tv sets, transport concourses, newsprint, blogs, and the internet .... that is now recorded for posterity: a final set covering three days ending 70:68, with the whole match lasting over 11 hours.

Isner and Mahut and the Swedish umpire, Mohamed Lahyani in front of the final scoreboard c/o The First Post

Another person who shows exceptional good health is the Queen, as after her memorable visit to Wimbledon, when she walked through the grounds, past the infamous Court 18, met up with legends (Billie Jean being able to tick off another of her life’s wishes) in the game and the four top seeds in both draws .... well those, who weren’t preparing for matches: Murray and Nadal.

Everything was timed so that Wimbledon’s schedule remained – play starting at 1.00 pm – the Queen duly arrived, the players bowed (after some discussion!) Andy Murray beat the Finn, Jarko Niemann in three sets – everything as it should be.

Queen meets Federer and other seeded players pre lunch
c/o Wimbledon website: 24June 2010

A few days after her visit she was off on a State visit to Canada for Canada Day, going on to New York to open the Garden of Remembrance to honour the British citizens, who lost their lives at Ground Zero; while also making a speech to the United Nations appealing for world unity and peace.

Nelson Mandela has often said that he thought sport could transcend the trials and tribulations of the world, introducing different cultures to other nations, which the Queen’s message reciprocated that we should all, wherever we are in the world, respect this earth of ours and its citizens.

Here, at Wimbledon, we had the Frenchman and the American, the Scotsman and the Finn, an Iranian and some Chinese, a Zimbabwean from that estranged Commonwealth nation, South Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Uzbekistans, the Philippines, the European nations ... over 500 individual players taking part...

... with just 32 countries participating in the football World Cup ... the Championships encourage all nations ... and on top of that you are unlikely to see any tennis spectators fighting in the stands – well ... perhaps two female spectators, who had been waiting patiently for the third day’s continuation when they were turfed out by an official to let McEnroe and Tracy Austin sit and watch. I hope these two ladies receive guest Centre Court Wimbledon tickets from those legends next year?!

A few more of snippets of information that might have passed you by ... the stats say it all, but over and above those .. the Queen was presented with a wonderful posy.. for those flower lovers amongst ... this sounds fragrantly gorgeous ... hydrangeas, agapanthus, peonies and roses.

The lunch menu included salmon millefeuille with asparagus; orange and honey-marinated chicken on a fruity couscous with roasted vegetables; strawberries and blackberries with clotted cream and mint syrup; an English cheese plate with orange chutney, followed by coffee and chocolates ,all served with white or red wine, and I am sure water, as it was a very hot day.

I know! .. it's pretty .. it shows raw salmon sashimi

As a by-line Prince William is a very good player, taking after his grandfather, King George VI, who played in the doubles at Wimbledon, losing in the first round, in 1926 – the year of the Queen’s birth, plays quite often at The Queen’s Club .. and one day browsing in the shop saw a bag marked “Queen’s Bag” – he bought it for his grandmother. The royal family have a great sense of humour, which we do not see, as it is hidden behind the protocol.

Just to tidy up where else would you find sport transcending politics of this world ... but in Afghanistan ... cricket, another of those games exported to outposts of the British Empire in the 19th century .. not a century of aces but a 21st century of hope with a bowled ball or six, a run or fifty ...

Afghanistan cricketers playing in Sussex

... and even here the Netherlands feature, as they will tonight in the final of the football, Afghanistan secured a comfortable five-wicket victory to secure third place in the World Cricket League’s Division One. If you would like to see how cricket is played via a cryptic summary .. please see last year’s post: Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun ...

To conclude my tidy approach .. the Wimbledon waste bins are continually emptied, they are sprayed with disinfectant, fresh liners inserted .... and one correspondent noted that on leaving the grounds at 10.00pm the site was impeccably clean ... not the sort of expectation at Glastonbury Music Festival, or a football ground and surrounding streets ... where litter would abound in ugly droppings.

What a few weeks ... trophies won, strawberries galore, scoreboards failing, centuries of aces thumping down, Queens, Kings, Macs ... a geographical tour of the world ... Afghanistan to Korea to South Africa, flowers and food to tempt our senses at any hour of the day ... tales for the future ... and the positive stories of cricket and tennis to spread the advantages of a free fair and kind world.

Trophies – The Silver Gilt Cup inscribed: “All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World” .. what would they say now – double-handed/ either or ... and for the ladies the Sterling Silver Salver commonly known as the “Venus Rosewater Dish”, which is decorated with figures from mythology.

Dear Mr Postman ... my mother would have loved to been a little more with it to have enjoyed Wimbledon 2010 .. and when her hearing comes back then I have stories to tell .. and one you will hear about in my next post .. till then continue enjoying the sunny summer days that we are lucky enough to be experiencing here.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Hotspur, the Duchess and The Poison Garden ...

A Poison Garden here in England? Is the present Hotspur’s Duchess replicating the medieval Medici dynasty with her desire for a poison garden, as they had done in the middle ages – I do not think so ... but she has incorporated such a protected space within the Alnwick Castle Gardens development.

The unexpected death of her brother-in-law in 1995 propelled the Duchess and her husband, the Duke, to the Dukedom; they moved into Alnwick Castle, the ancestral home, and set about restoring the magnificent Italianate Renaissance interior, before the Duchess turned her attention to the gardens, that had undergone several transformations over the centuries and were in a state of decay.

Alnwick Castle by Canaletto, circa 1750

This dynamic lady did not just want any old garden for the Castle grounds but a rebirth of the estates to better serve the public, the community as well as ensuring that the Percy ancestral name would continue on with this great refurbishment of the Castle and what has become a garden of breathtaking scope.

Where will you find one of the largest tree houses in the world (see below), a rose garden with more David Austen roses than David Austen (the rose man himself), gravity defying water sculptures and - through the Duchess’s personal vision – a cherry orchard with 300 “Prunus ‘taihaku’: the single biggest planting in the world, under-planted with thousands upon thousands of pink tulips called ‘The Mistress’”?

The Garden has allowed local businesses to flourish, while the cultural and educational roles have not been ignored in this socially deprived part of England, through growing schemes, nursery garden involvement, a gardeners’ forum, while using the Poison Garden to help educate about drug abuse and addiction problems.

As the Duchess says: “With children you have to engage them, I was difficult to educate but when something grabbed my attention, I was on to it”. The poison garden is the perfect paradigm: “If you come at them from the killing angle, then you have their full attention and you can work on the dangers of cannabis, for example”.*

The Cascade Garden

This lady with a thousand ideas before breakfast, this noblewoman gardener knew that a few centuries ago men like Gerard (1545 – 1612), Parkinson (1567 – 1650) and Culpeper (1616 – 1654) having grown distrustful of magic, learnt from experience and carefully controlled dosage - that even the most poisonous of plants could be used as cures.

Some plants poisonous in root and berry, others harmless in themselves, but with rank scent, sad colour or strange form and texture to excite the imagination ... captured the Duchess’s fancy ... and the creative juices flowed .. why not have a Poison Garden?

Did you know that Henbane (Stinking Nightshade) with its clammy haired leaves transfers its nauseous smell when touched – and that it belongs to the Nightshade family .. containing the potato, tomato, tobacco – and belladonna? There is kill and cure in that small list.

Black Henbane from Kohlers' Images

She did her research going to Italy to find out more about the medieval schools of poisoning, that the Medicis and the Borgias embraced so avidly in the Middle Ages .. visiting the poison garden in Padua, originally established by the Medicis.

The Orto Botanico in Padua still has a special collection of Medicinal and Poisonous plants: plants representing the original purpose of the Botanical Garden some five hundred years ago. Alnwick’s Poison Garden also has the didactic aim of providing scientific, medicinal, educative and social knowledge on the benefits, while explaining the dangers of dependency and effects of poisoning on the body and its organs, of numerous different plants.

The Botanical Garden of Padova (or Garden of the Simples) in a 16th century print; in the background, the Basilica of Sant'Antonio.

The Duchess in her introduction to The Alnwick Garden writes “I could feel its magic and appreciate its bones”: the Castle has been in existence for over 900 years, so there are some bones, no doubt. She envisaged a “public garden for the 21st century” ... the Duke donated £5million and 42 acres to the Alnwick Garden Trust.

The Trust brings in young offenders and excluded children encouraging them to gain confidence in engaging with the public through ticket checking and just making eye contact ... something so many find so difficult.
The Rose Garden full of over 3,000 David Austen roses ... all containing a fragrance of some sort ...

Thus once all the legal and regulatory hoops had been jumped through, the Poison Garden was added to the list of features contained within the estate; protected by high security fences, its wrought iron gates appropriately embellished with a skull and crossbones, is here to teach about the myths and legends, along with facts from science and history.

The Poison Garden is home to The Alnwick Garden’s drugs awareness activities programme held in consultation with the Drug Action Team. Specialist tours give school children the chance to learn more about the effects of drugs, and families can learn more together in an informal environment.

The garden also offers learning programmes, volunteering and many community activities ... there is a ‘Roots and Shoots’ programme where youngsters can learn about produce from the growing, picking and eating scheme .. and how many of us know that the taste of a strawberry fresh from the garden is completely different to that found in supermarkets: what a way to learn ... muddy hands, earthy smells and a taste or two at the end ..

My father and his brothers had been at school with the Percy family – those of Hotspur fame – and many years ago decided a trip up north would be interesting to see their ancestral pile: unfortunately the public were not allowed into the Castle ... so we could only view the ramparts from various angles .. and the weather was so hot, which made our break an absolute pleasure – as there is so much to see in the vicinity:

Castles galore, ‘The Cradle of Christianity: Lindisfarne (or Holy) Island with its Lindisfarne Gospels, a wonderful coastline guarded by the Cheviot Hills and northern Pennines containing a wealth of history and culture shaped by a past that was not always peaceful. The landscape is it is today has been formed over centuries from Iron Age hill forts to the legacy of the Romans, through the Middle Ages to the Victorian industrial age – and the evidence is everywhere to be seen and toured.

Bamburgh Castle

With the publicity surrounding this new garden and the recent publication of The Poison Diaries, with rights reserved for a film by the producer of Shrek – it seems that the scene is set for us to learn a great deal more about the Duchess and her vision. If you would like to turn a page or two in the Poison Diaries, go to explore and "My Poison Diary" and see the book’s plant characters that are morphing from their seeds ....

It would appear that the Duchess’s vision has ensured a renaissance that will secure the longevity of the Percy name for many years to come, much as Shakespeare has done with the dashing Hotspur when he made him the real hero of his Henry 1v, Part 1.

Title page of the first quarto (1598)

Since my earlier visit with my father, Northumberland is a place I have always wanted to return to ... and now seeing and reading more about this magnificent set of gardens, while knowing that there is so much more to be explored .. I believe I will be visiting the Castle to wander over ancient bones – see the ghost of Hotspur, perhaps bumping into the Duchess as she presides over her beloved 21st century project – will you join me?

Dear Mr Postman .. my mother watched a little Wimbledon, but as she still cannot hear I could not explain about all the excitement of a century of aces .. she is peaceful and is pleased to see me .. but returns to her sleep quite soon.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

* PS: I would have liked to have acknowledged Jane Wheatley's article from The Times, whereby I took this description, and from which the post emerged .. but as Rupert Murdoch has decided to charge - I cannot access the link: I have a newspaper version.