One of my first visits to Brecon as part of the PhD journey, but I feel quite familiar with aspects of this place already, because of the work I did earlier this year. But not just that – all those times spent at the jazz festival, during the 90s and more recently, including friends from Donosti. That’s the puzzle really, what was in that previous piece of work has brought me to this point, my questions around hearing “we’re all in this together”, repeatedly; but I’ve previous attachments to this place, and its spaces, also: camping on the rugby fields, the canals, wandering around the squares and the market hall. De-familiarise!
Today though, sipped coffee wandered about and took a few photos. I know that they’re already successful here in terms of making it dementia friendly, and walking about you can see the little stickers – but also all the other stickers, the sheer amount of voluntary action taking place.
Anway, it was good also to be invited to the Dementia Friendly Brecon meeting, following on from the other meetings I’d had before the PhD, kindly invited to look at the next stage. The setting for the meeting was the Guild Hall, in centre there in front of Bethel Square, a lovely old building, with a mayoral presence also. Very forward facing, the talk now is of setting up a ‘Meeting Centre’ for those with dementia and their carers, this has got something to do with Worcester University.
One of my favourite Gary Snyder essays from The Practice of the Wild, which has so many thoughtful gems from someone who has seen things off the trail, not least with the Beats, while forging his own compassionate path. The following quote is also found in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s great practical book of advice for mindful meditation, Wherever You Go, There You Are. Both books are continual source of help, inspiration and reference. But this quote negates the egotism that anyone might attach to ‘practice’ – all actions can be mindful, this is an intrinsic quality we can bring to everything, not just daily sitting on the zafu:
All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher that the religious institutions originally worked with: reality.
Reality-insight says get a sense of immediate politics and history, get control of your own time; master the twenty-four hours. Do it well, without self pity. It is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool and down the road on the bus as it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning. One move is not better than the other, each can be quite boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition. Repetition and ritual and their good results come in many forms. Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick – don’t let yourself think these are distracting you form more serious pursuits. Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our ‘practice’ which will put us on a ‘path’ it is our path.
This picture also reminds me a lot of my brother, it’s uncanny…
Roedd y stori yn Golwg 360 am sefyllfa’r iaith yn Sir Gar wythnos diwethaf yn dorcalonnus mewn sawl ffordd, er doedd rhoi’r lot o’r bai ar ddarpariaeth tai cymdeithasol ddim yn deg iawn dwi’n meddwl. Beth sydd wedi aros gyda fi trwy’r wythnos yw un o’r vignette oedd wrth ochor y prif stori: rhyw gwpwl oedd yn Gymry, wedi eu dwyn i fyny yn y gymraeg ac yn siarad gyda’r plant yn gymraeg, ond ddim yn siarad cymraeg i’w gilydd.
Dwi’n wedi dod ar draws lot o gwplau fel hyn, yn dallt y dynamic fod pobol yn dod i adnabod eu gilydd mewn un iaith a bod hi’n anodd newid wedyn, ond pan mae’r ddau yn dod o gefndir gwbwl Cymraeg, does dim byd mwy amlwg fod shifft ieithyddol yn digwydd. Ond mae o hyd yn sioc clywed cwpwl yn siarad saesneg gyda’i gilydd (….yn aml hefyd, saesneg weddol ‘tlawd’ mae gen i ofn….), a wedyn gweld nhw’n troi rownd a sairad cymraeg perffaith gyda’r plentyn. Yn amlwg, beth bynnag yw’r amcanion da o yrru plentyn try addysg gymraeg ayyb, dwi’n tybio fod yna siawns dda neith y plentyn yna ffeindio hi’n anodd wedyn gweld gwerth yn yr iaith mewn unrhyw berthynas agos nes ymlaen – oes yna ymchwil wedi wneud i hyn sgwn i?
Dros y blynyddoedd mae’r gwirionedd yn y ddihareb basgeg uchod wedi dod yn yn rhywbeth dwi’n weld yn hollol wir: ni chollir iaith oherwydd nad yw’r rhai sydd ddim yn ei wybod ddim yn ei ddysgu, ond oherwydd fod y sawl sydd yn gallu siarad ddim yn gwneud hynny. Llai o gwyno am mewnfudwyr a phobol mewn tai cymdeithasol efallai.
I started a part-time Research Assistant job at the Centre for Innovative Ageing at Swansea University a few months ago, looking at health literacy, specifically with older people who have chronic physical or mental conditions, such as diabetes or depression, very interesting. Here’s a digital tory I made in a lovely workshop with colleagues and led by Prue Thimbleby, of what I think it’s about at the moment.
Worth quoting the preface in full, as it elegantly gives you a feeling for the rest of this often quoted book:
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
I want to describe, not what it is really like to emigrate to the kingdom of the ill and live there, but the punitive or sentimental fantasies concocted about the situation:not real geography, but stereotypes of national character. My subject is not physical illness itself but the uses of illness itself as a figure or metaphor. My point is that illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way of regarding illness – and the healthiest way of being ill – is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking. Yet it is hardly possible to take up one’s residence in the kingdom of the ill unprejudiced by the lurid metaphors with which it has been landscaped. It is toward an elucidation of those metaphors, and a liberation from them, that I dedicate this inquiry.
A tough book to read at the moment, but one I’m trying to get through along with Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag. This ‘biography of cancer’ gives not only a chronological account of the development of our understanding of the disease, but also a very humane portrait of what it means to be in the position of the author, because Siddhartha Mukherjee is a practising oncologist. His historical sweep goes back to not only the Egyptians and the roots of understanding though the Greeks (or the Persian queen in 500BC who performed the first recorded masectomy as recorded by Herodotus), but also onwards through the middle ages, early surgical practises, chemotherapy and then the modern ‘war on cancer’. It’s especially good on the history of this ‘war’, a campaign waged very effectively by the American socialite Mary Lasker and the early chemotherapy pioneer Sidney Farber, from the 1940s onwards (good You Tube clip from Mukherjee about this ).
But Mukherjee also de-bunks the whole notion of any such ‘war’, where things can be framed as victories, indeed maybe his central point is a question mark over our concept of ‘progress’ at all. But he makes his point in particular by examining one of the central metaphors used in the 20th century, as Sontag also observed, one which Nixon was especially fond of (another one being the ‘war on drugs’). He’s also very good at exposing how commercial interests and big business can corrupt or distort any concept of public good, as in the case of big tobacco, advertising etc The latter chapters give a real insight into how our understanding is changing rapidly because of the onset of gene therapies, and in some sense provides hope for us in our present position. However, perhaps one of his main points comes though with the rejection of cancer as any kind of metaphor, that it is quite literally a copy of ourselves and that we can no more rid ourselves of it than stop being born, ageing, healing and reproducing.
I found this a comforting, though, in the circumstances; didn’t read this to be told that everything is bright and we can all look forward to a cancer-free future. As I said, a very humane book which ends up feeling like meditation that defies categorisation as ‘history’ or ‘biography’ and is just a very good read about the subject which touches most people’s lives at some point.