This old song, describing the sorrows of a man recalling his dead wife while standing before her portrait, was sung by my mother’s mother when one of her daughters would play the piano after supper on Sunday visits.
She sang only a few favourites….one, whose verses I no longer remember though the tune remains, had a chorus:
‘Pull down the blind,
Don’t be unkind,
Someone’s a-looking, dear,
Pull down the blind.
‘Silver threads among the gold’ would signal the end of music for the night and was the prelude to the hunt for coats, gloves and bags, the issue of tins containing home made cake and the sortie into the night air – I always remember it as being chill – to walk down to the bus stop, the lights of the main road visible at the end of the long lane from the house.
This came back to mind after listening to a programme on BBC Radio 2 which was part of a week when the Beeb concentrated on mental health awareness.
This might be a link: the programme was called ‘Dennis Skinner vs Dementia’
It was presented by someone called Jeremy Vine, whom I imagine to be some regular chat show host and took the form of an interview in which Dennis Skinner described his mother’s descent into dementia, and how he came to realise that music evoked a response from a woman who no longer recognised her own family and brought her alive in herself.
Who is Dennis Skinner?
He is now 84 years of age and has been Member of Parliament for the seat of Bolsover in Derbyshire since 1970 in the interest of the Labour Party.
A rarity in modern politics he has worked for a living in a hard business – coal mining – and gained experience in local government before his first election to Parliament where he made it his business to master the procedures of the House of Commons in order to best further his aims of protecting and promoting the rights of the weak in society.
Mark you, anyone who could understand and manipulate the rules of the compositing committees for the Annual Conferences of the National Union of Mineworkers and the Labour Party would have had no problem with the centuries’ old arcanae of the Mother of Parliaments.
Known as the Beast of Bolsover he has gained a fearsome reputation for his impassioned attacks on Tory ministers; frequently expelled from the House for his use of unparliamentary language, he is anathema to the blue rinse brigade and this was reflected in the presentation of the programme where Vine continually wailed that the listeners were not obliged to agree with one word Skinner said, nor approve of his political views…
I can’t imagine he would have found this caution necessary had the programme featured on of the Tory party Big Beasts – nomatter how objectionable their views on the deliberate impoverishment of the working class and the ruination of the NHS.
However, the meat of the programme was a description of Skinner’s attempts to communicate with a mother who no longer knew him, nor any of the other children she had slaved to bring up.
Finally he remembered from his childhood that when she was working – cooking, washing, ironing – she was always singing! So on one visit home he took her to a quiet part of the park and began to sing one of the songs from the musicals that she had loved…and in seconds she was singing along with him.
It did not bring about communication, or recognition, but for the length of the song it restored that woman to herself.
It is dreadful for the people who lose a loved one to dementia…but how much more dreadful for the sufferers themselves, cast adrift in a world with no compass….
Rest after toil
Port after stormy Seas
Ease after war
Death after life doth greatly please.
Spencer’s words may apply to those who retain control of their world…but where is the port for those tossed on the tempests of dementia?
It appears that memories laid down early remain the longest and revival of those memories allow those with dementia to return to the self that they were, that they knew…if only for a short while, to find port after stormy seas.
Sing songs may be fine for older people…but what of younger ones, brought up on the ‘worble worble bleep bleep boom’ of video games when their time comes to encounter dementia?
Will someone think to revive these blasts from the past in the way that Skinner does for the groups he visits on the care homes of his constituency?
There is no history of dementia in my family: just as well.
After all, where, in Costa Rica, would there be anyone who knew the words and music to
‘The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom’.