Mum could moan for England.  If it’s not the whistling in her ears, it’s the lack of feeling in her hands, then she’s too cold and if she puts a coat on she’s too hot.  But she’s 92 and her life is constricting towards the vanishing point. 


If I tackle all the complaints head on, she gets too immersed in the negative aspects of her life.  If I get her to try to remember what has happened today, then her frustration transmits itself to me. So I try to deal with the one area where she can function, the past.


Coming down from Ringinglow towards the lights of Sheffield far below us, she thinks she is on Bedminster Down looking over Bristol as the German bombs rain down.  The Centre, Broadmead and Old Market were devastated in one night.  Although I was born at the end of the war, I can still remember the bomb sites like broken teeth in the Georgian terrace on Park Street.  


‘They used to run special trams onto Bedminster Down to watch the blitz.’


‘Like bonfire night.’


‘Yes, Bristol was badly hit.’


‘You used to work on the station during the war, didn’t you?’


‘Yes, I was in the YWCA at Temple Meads.  I directed the soldiers as they got off the train.’


‘Oh like General Eisenhower.’


‘Oh no!  He was a Yank.’


‘Corrupting our girls with lipstick and nylon stockings.’





Connecting some of these memories to the present – like Carwardine’s tea dances and Strictly Come Dancing – brings her back from morbid preoccupation with death to the time of her life.  This makes her eyes bright and brings a smile to her lips and that makes me feel good too. 


Focussing on a person’s areas of competence and being interested in makes them lively and confident. It is the sort of unselfish communication we use for our children, our students or our employees, but we don’t always use it for siblings, friends, peers or partners.  Too many people are preoccupied by their own feelings, thoughts and activities.  This can bore and silence their audience.  Some boast about their achievements making their listeners feel inadequate. Others like to air their grievances, inciting a sense of obligation and inviting  rescue or perhaps irritation.  People don’t feel good about themselves make others feel bad too.  Married couples often project their grievances on to each other, passing  the parcel of pain back and forth.    


Social discourse is like mutual grooming in chimpanzees.  You rub my back and I’ll rub yours.  You eat my fleas and I’ll have some of yours.  A good host and  hostess just know how to divert the party bore and bring out their more reticent guests.  A good chair will  stimulate the energy of the meeting,  find areas of collaboration and utilise the diversity of skills and perspectives to come to constructive solutions.   A good theatre director will harness the intuition of the actors to bring out the play’s nuances; lively interpretations of the authors ideas that will resonate with the audience.   



Yesterday mum and I talked about music.


‘I used to play the piano’, she said.


‘I didn’t know that.’  


‘Oh yes.  I used to wait until mum and auntie Lil had gone out.  Then I’d go into the front room and play as loud as I could.’


‘What did you play?’


Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor.’ 


‘Oh I know that’


So we sang it together, crossing over our hands in a frenetic duet.


‘Bongg, bongg, bongg, bong-dum, bong-dum, Bonggggg!’   



It was a moment of real creative connection that I will cherish long after she’s gone.