‘It’s not that I prefer one place over another, it’s just that I find myself more interesting in…..’

Adelaide Writers Week is one of my favourite literary events- a glorious outdoor setting in the Women’s Memorial Gardens by the River Torrens, usually end of Australia summer, programme packed full of famous names from across the globe. All events free as well (though it does cost a bit to get there from Northumberland).

I was lucky enough to be there when Australian writer Robert Dessaix was talking about his work and his travels including ‘Twilight of love:Travels with Turgenev.’ Somebody in the audience asked him what was his favourite place to visit, and he replied ( I’m paraphrasing but some degree of accuracy as I did take notes) ‘It’s not that I prefer one place over another, it’s just that I find myself more interesting in Hobart than in, say, Manchester. ‘

This has stuck with me as I have reflected on my own compulsion to travel, my response to new places, the ones that linger long after I have returned home. So it is with Vancouver- I still feel the pull of the city with its watery inlets, ferries, islands and city high rise. But so good to get back to ‘my beach’.

But I also think about travel on the inside, our own internal journeys through the stages of ageing which bring dementia in many cases. My study visit shows creativity can increase in later life and many individuals living with dementia start to paint, write poetry, sing, dance, well into their seventies and eighties. Maybe during my own ageing/internal travel in the future I might be saying
‘I find myself more interesting in my dementia than in, say, my arthritis.’
Back home on 'my'beach.


Back home but where is my suitcase?

So good that British Airways warn their passengers that things might go astray- so I took their advice and kept the essentials in my hand baggage with my fancy, personalised luggage label (birthday pressie from Toby and Cecile)  but everything else is somewhere between Heathrow and Home.

Home. In all the excitement of travelling to new places, its easy to forget the pleasure of coming home- back to my own bed, mad dogs, homemade soup and salad,  Julia and her campervan.  Home.  I’m also reminded of  all the meanings of that word for some of the people with dementia in my creative writing workshops- whose fear of losing their home is all consuming. And I’m reminded of First Nation Canadians who have recently reclaimed their land and their languages.

Home. Flopping about in favourite jeans, watching BBCiPlayer(so good), opening the mail, hugs with dogs on the sofa.

Very Snazzy

  Very Snazzy


Is this England?

Next time the Tories and UKIP want a debate about ‘What it means to be English?’ they should come over here to Victoria, especially Oak Bay which is very much like Torquay with same demographics and same climate. Even the locals say it is more English than England with its pubs and tea shops. Actually,  the houses are  more Canadian with weather-boarding, porches and local trees. See pic of the only indigenous broad leaf species- the Arbutus- specially for the horticulturalists reading this.

Today I had a totally ‘study-free’ day. Instead went for a long walk along Beach Drive and a trip to the lovely, gorgeous, wooden-floored Munros bookshop and bought a novel by my favourite Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje.

So, last day here and end of Study Leave Phase 1 (going to New York, Milwaukee and Nova Scotia in September for Phase 2)so I’ll continue blogging but maybe less frequently as I process all the information I’ve gathered, not to mention the escapades of the hounds, Indigo and Juno. IMG_0562[1]


Looking back, looking forward, a love of purple.

Leaving the mainland, heading for the island.

Leaving the mainland, heading for the island.

Today I met with a local writer who works with individual older people using poetry, memoir and letter-writing. She was kind enough to invite me to her weekly session with an older woman with significant memory loss; they have been working together for nearly two years. Each week they spend time in a private study room in the local library looking at travel books and photos, sometimes taking a walk in the park to sit under an old Garry oak. Throughout their time together they have written numerous poems based on conversations about past and present moments. Today when the client heard these poems read back, her eyes filled with tears and she clutched at her stomach, saying repeatedly ‘I feel it here, I feel it here.’ Sometimes the emotion was loss, sometimes it was joy, mostly it was the connection between client and writer that gives her the possibility of being simply present in moment of sharing words, thoughts, memories, a love of purple.

This evening I also had another invitation from a local contact for drinks and dessert in their lovely home. What a fab chocolate cake with berries and ice cream. Then a tour around local places of interest as the sun went down- local deer with its babies grazing in the University grounds, a view of Washington state from the highest point in Victoria, then the lights of a huge cruise ship docked in the harbour, en route for Alaska. This Canada is quite a place.


Ferries, fanny bags and Fan Tan Cafe.

IMG_0559[1]Eleven nights in Vancouver city and I was feeling like a local.   Anyway, time to move on to Victoria, Vancouver Island,  via coach/ferry package.  Several Americans were on the same plan so I had four hours of their company;  although we speak the same language, I was still bemused by the guy asking his wife to hand over her ‘fanny bag.’

It was a scenic ferry journey between several smaller islands that looked almost uninhabited apart from dense pine forests  and occasional beach shacks.  Victoria is the ‘legislative capital’ of British Columbia, built by Mawson from Leeds in 1898 – and it shows- bit like Harrogate on  Sea.  It’s a popular place for tourists with  whale watching and   ferries to the USA which is just a few nautical miles away.

I certainly don’t  get the same ‘buzz’ that I experienced all the time I was in Vancouver which is probably because I like to be either ‘Uptown Cultural Capital’  or ‘ Out of Town Deserted Countryside and Beaches’.    Sadly I won’t have time to see much of the wild side of Vancouver Island which is apparently  spectacular.

However, there’s always the opportunity to try a new place to eat   so I sought out Chinatown. I had thought  that maybe I was  falling in love with tofu, until I had dinner in the Fan Tan Café, now I’ve fallen out of love with tofu-again.
Tomorrow I’m off for the day with a poet who writes memoirs and life stories with individual older people.


‘To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.’

'You have given me freedom and it tastes so good.'

‘You have given me freedom and it tastes so good.’

It’s Saturday and mercury is racing up the thermometer, hitting 30 degrees. Vancouver is in holiday mood with buses full of people heading for the beach and Saturday farmers market in Bute St. where local residents are also selling off books, clothes and shoes on the sidewalk. Well I was on one of those buses heading north over the Lions Gate Bridge over Burrard Inlet and back to Ferry Building Gallery at Ambleside Landing where the Society for Arts in Dementia Care held two more presentations from experts.

First Jeanne Sommerfield, Creative Moments in Everyday Relationship, gave us a brilliant overview of her approach using poetry, art, conversation, drama, encouraging expression of thought, giving back to  individuals with dementia their sense of self.   Then Michael Berg involved us all in a practical session of improv and physical activities which he uses regularly with older people with dementia in an assisted living facility, enabling vitality.

Isn’t this what we want for all of us? We live in a society of ‘them’ and ‘us’ but one day soon we will be one of them . When we look back through history and cringe over our paternalistic attitudes to people of different ethnicity or physical ability or gender, it seems a bit shocking that we  still perpetuate an attitude that strips people with dementia of any individuality.  Words and art  from the exhibition say it all above.

Tomorrow I’m off to Victoria, Vancouver Island via ferry and three more days in beautiful, watery, friendly Canada.

Heritage Houses in Bute St.

Heritage Houses  in Bute  St.



Who do we think we are?

Although my head is spinning and my note book is full of information, I’ve begun to make some connections between my Vancouver cultural experiences and the aim of my study visit about creative writing with people with dementia.

Last night I went to the Indian Summer Festival for the event called 5 X 15. Five ‘thinkers’ talking unscripted for fifteen minutes; I’m not sure if it was planned but all five talked in some way about their sense of identity, especially when their ethnicity resulted in discrimination.
Anita Majumdar talked about growing up in Canada with an Indian background, eventually writing her own version of a Bollywood musical. Michael Yahgulanas spoke about tensions in a childhood divided between Haida First Nation reservation and contemporary Canadian society which led to his work as a visual artist and activist for Haida rights. (See pic, which I saw at the Museum of Anthropology.) Reza Aslan explained his theory that tensions and political conflicts may appear to be religious but are really a question of personal identity rather than religious belief. Even Douglas Coupland exhibition about the 21st Century Brain seems relevant.

They all raise questions of identity which reminded me so much of the older people with dementia in my writing workshops where I encourage them to express their ‘sense of self’ which remains firm- even though their abilities and memory are reduced. When I read back their own words, whether in poetic or memoir form, they often say ‘That’s ME’ or ‘THAT is who I am.’

ption id=”attachment_72″ align=”alignnone” width=”224″]Michael Yahgulanaas Michael Yahgulanaas[/caption]

M.Y. 2

M.Y. 2