My Dad’s a Goldfish – pushing a wheelchair isn’t easy.

When I was doing my Threave Castle circuit today, which I wrote about on MarySmith’sPlace, here I met a woman pushing a wheelchair. The path is supposedly accessible to wheelchair users but the expression on her face clearly said ‘accessible it isn’t. I felt for her, remembering how I struggled on it three or four years ago – and nothing has been done to maintain it, let alone improve it, since.

I took the Goldfish down to Threave Castle to see the Ospreys, which were nesting there. He was always a keen bird watcher and was still able to identify and name them. It never failed to surprise me what things were kept in his memory bank, and what slipped away. His interest in birds started when he was a young boy, when he did as many young lads did in those days, he collected eggs, only ever taking one egg from a nest. Perhaps those  memories laid down in childhood are the strongest.

The path goes across farmland and there is often stock in the fields so there are quite a few gates at junctions with fields. I scarcely notice them when walking on my own but it was a different matter when having to negotiate them while pushing a wheelchair occupied by a fairly heavy man.

Eventually, we worked out a reasonably effective method. I pushed the chair as close to the gate as I could, leaned over, opened the gate and pushed it away from us. The Goldfish helped by prodding it further open with his walking stick then, as he removed his stick, I rushed through before the gate closed.

From time to time the Goldfish offered to get out and walk to give me a rest! I assured him it was no bother – though it was hard work, much harder than I’d ever anticipated. Short stretches of path were cemented but mostly it was rough path with unexpected dips and hollows.

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As we round a bend and the castle came into view, it was worth the effort as the Goldfish was delighted, saying he’s never been so close to it before. I vaguely wondered if I could get him into the wee boat which ferries people across but dismissed the idea. We moved on to the Osprey viewing platform where every year volunteers set up a telescope trained on the nest across the river. We are very proud to have ospreys nesting here and Wee-sis and I are regular visitors in the evening, as are lots of local people so it is quite a social outing.

At first the Goldfish couldn’t see anything but after the telescope had been adjusted I heard him exclaim and knew he’d seen the bird on the nest. The Goldfish looked round at me, beaming with pleasure.

We returned to the car park – it was much harder work going back as there is more uphill work but we managed. I mentally thanked my Pilates teacher for my strong core and decided it was a great workout for my arm muscles.

A large banner advertising the ospreys was hanging outside the visitor centre. The Goldfish read it out aloud then turned to me and said: “Ospreys, my, they would be something to see.”


My Dad’s a Goldfish – New Year, Old Post


Happy New Year!

Lots of blogger friends use this time of year to look back at the stats for the previous months on their blog – which were the most popular, which worked, which didn’t do so well. I thought about it but I because I so hate numbers I dismissed the idea pretty quickly.  I decided instead to have a look through old posts from early in this blog’s life and share one which I particularly enjoyed writing – because it was such a happy day – and which didn’t get many views as so few people followed the Goldfish back then.

A friend invited the Goldfish to visit his farm so he could get up close and personal with cows. Did I mention, before retirement the Goldfish was an AI man – artificial insemination? Of cattle – that is. I smile writing that because living here in what was the heart of dairy farm country saying AI is enough, everyone understands you mean cattle insemination but once, when the Goldfish was in hospital, the doctor asked the DH what the Goldfish’s job had been. DH said he had worked in artificial insemination. The doctor, looking a bit startled, asked: “In humans?”

Anyway, when the Goldfish was the AI man he went to my friend J’s father’s farm. J always remembered how nice the Goldfish was to him in those far off days and he invited him to visit – only someone connected with farming would understand what it would mean to the Goldfish to be amongst cattle again.

A scene from the farm.

It was a dreich day but dry. J had fastened a sort of carriage thing – made from an oil drum – to the back of his quad bike. It had a seat – quite small as it’s mainly used by his granddaughter. We managed to install the Goldfish in this and I sat on top of the quad bike – feeling grateful for my years of riding sidesaddle on the pillion of motorbikes in Pakistan – and off we went. My years of being the AI man’s daughter mean I like cows and have no fear of being amongst them and the Goldfish was delighted.

J kept up a running commentary about everything we saw and whenever I looked back at the Goldfish, who couldn’t actually hear a word being said, he looked happy, alert and interested. In one field we stopped amidst the cows and J asked the Goldfish what breed he thought they were. The Goldfish studied them for a moment and said: “They look like Ayrshires.”

J nodded. “They do, don’t they? In fact they are Montbeliard cows, originally from France,” he said. A discussion about the breed and milk yields followed and it was so good to see the Goldfish totally engaged in the conversation.

Montbeliard cow

There was a bit of a problem when J stopped the quad bike back at the house and we tried to get the Goldfish out of his carriage. He was stuck fast and it took our combined efforts to prise him upright and then he started quivering from top to toe, all his muscles in spasm. I was terrified he would topple over and didn’t see how we were ever going to get him out and safely on the ground. Finally he was able to stand upright and somehow J managed to get him down and he tottered into the house, none the worse for his shakes.

J’s wife had put on a lovely afternoon tea and the Goldfish tucked in with gusto, scoffing pancakes and scones with jam and cake and several cups of tea.

Driving home I asked what the step-monster (of course I didn’t call her that. I gave her real name) would think when we told her he’d spent the afternoon driving over fields on a quad bike.

“Oh,” he said, “have you been on a quad bike?”

“You have, too,” I said.

“I don’t remember.”

Even so, it was a really good outing. With these kinds of trips out and interaction with other people talking about things with which the Goldfish has a connection, it’s the lasting feel-good factor which is more important than the fact he forgets the event almost immediately.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – remembering and celebrating


As the third anniversary of the Goldfish’s death arrives I wondered how to mark it on the blog. I could write about how much I miss him still and how often I think of him. I could write about how I wish things had been different for him; that he hadn’t had dementia, hadn’t  been abandoned by his wife at the worst possible time in his life.

But, I’m not. Instead, I’m going to share some photos from his grandson’s graduation. The Goldfish might not have understood what a Masters in Biomedical Sciences means (not sure I do!) but he would have been so proud.

He always showed great pride in any of my achievements. He attended everything from my graduation to my first book launch. He turned up at my poetry readings even read my poems, even though he was of the ‘proper poetry ought to rhyme school’ so I know he would be (perhaps is?) incredibly proud of his grandson’s achievement.


Photo from Jon Gibbs-Smith(27)

Masters graduates, 2017

Photo from Jon Gibbs-Smith(23)

Robert and David

Photo from Jon Gibbs-Smith(10)

Says it all, really!


Photo from Jon Gibbs-Smith(26)

Proud parents with scientist son!

Oh, the Goldfish would have so enjoyed the day (well, if it had been a bit warmer!) and been so very proud of his grandson.




My Dad’s a Goldfish – Don’t ask, don’t get


It is truly astonishing the amount of equipment required to allow someone to continue living in their own home when the person has dementia combined with mobility problems and other medical conditions.

Most things are actually available through social services or the NHS but it’s not quite as simple as putting in a request and receiving what is needed. For one thing, you don’t know what you’re going to need at different stages. The handrail by the back door, which was helpful when the Goldfish started to become a bit tottery but could still manage steps with his walking stick in one hand, was utterly useless when he had to use a walker on wheels. Try getting that, and him, down steps!

Also ‘they’ don’t always tell you what is available even though they are the ones supposedly trying to keep people living independently in their own homes. And sometimes what they provide is not what is needed.


The wheeled walker. Can you imagine getting it and the Goldfish down the steps at the door without mishap? And can you picture the Goldfish sitting on it laughing uproariously as I ran up and down with it?


The Goldfish couldn’t get to grips with the NHS model of walker, which doesn’t have wheels and can’t be pushed along the ground so we bought him a walker on wheels. We were advised to go for the four-wheel type, which has a lidded storage box which doubles as a seat if the person needs a rest. The Goldfish thought it was hilarious to be pushed around the house while sitting on his like some god-like creature while I sweated and built up arm muscles which would have been useful on a building site. He also once mistook the lidded box for the toilet – but we’ll draw a veil over that.

When the Goldfish began to go walk-about at night, one instance involved the police who reported it to social services. We were given a door alarm and he was also – after being found unconscious on the floor one morning – given a fall detector.

Then came the time when the Goldfish couldn’t walk any distance and we requested and were provided with a manual wheelchair. We still had the crazy performance of getting him down the steps and into the car, out of the car at our destination and into the wheelchair. By the time they were able to provide a banana board, which fits between the chair and the car seat, the Goldfish, although physically able no longer had the mental capacity to understand what he should do.

We bought various bits and pieces to help – a thing which hooked on the door so the Goldfish could pull himself in could double as a tool to smash the window if we had a crash. Finally, we bought a vehicle


It was lucky the Goldfish had some savings and could afford to buy this vehicle which allowed him regular outings – so many people arre not in such a fortunate position.


which was adapted to take the wheelchair up a ramp into the back. I am well aware many people are not in a situation to be able to do this. I guess their Goldfish can only enjoy outings within chair-pushing distance.

We were so lucky we had an exceptional occupational therapist who visited whenever we needed help. She recommended the handrail in the early days and, later, a raised toilet seat, a handrail by the loo, had joiners in to remove the raised lip in doorways and to re-hang the bedroom door so it opened in such a way we could wheel the chair in. It meant dad’s dressing gown hook was now on the outside of the door! But life was much easier when we didn’t have to dodge around a door.


The Goldfish rather enjoyed using the stand aid – gripping the handles like he was on a motor bike!

One of the things which made the biggest difference to our lives was the stand aid, which enabled us to help the Goldfish out of his easy chair and into his wheelchair. We’d seen one used in the hospital. The DH said we needed one for home use. I think they just laughed at his request in the hospital but our wonderful occupational therapist was soon on the job and managed to obtain one for us. Without it, we were liable to put our backs out plus the Goldfish was likely to end up with pressure sores if he sat in his chair all day every day. Again, it was a case of asking for what we needed and again, I’m so aware that people who need such an aid probably don’t receive it because they don’t know about its existence, don’t know it is available and so don’t ask. And probably don’t have the exceptional occupational therapist the Goldfish had.

A major problem was that the support workers who came in would not use it without a second person helping – health and safety! This meant one of us always had to be on hand, which rather undid the benefit of having a carer in to give us a break. I read and re-read all the literature which came with the stand aid and nowhere did it say it required two people to operate it.

The second invaluable piece of equipment was a hospital bed. Getting the Goldfish into and out of bed had become a nightmare. By then he could do little to assist us and the strain on our backs was dreadful, plus it was horribly undignified for dad to be heaved around like a sack of coal. The bed had an air mattress to prevent pressure sores, it went down and went up, and the top could be raised, as could the bottom part if he needed to keep his feet up. I’m sure it could have made the bedtime drinks if we could figure out the programme!

We would not have had any of those aids had we not asked. No one told us they were available for use at home. Obviously, I can only speak from our experiences in south west Scotland – things may be different elsewhere (though I suspect not any better) but I’d advise anyone caring for a relative at home to ask and keep asking for anything and everything which will make life easier. They want to allow people to stay in their own homes (cheaper than residential care) so they need to make it easier to do so.

The other thing we were able to access for the Goldfish was a new, made to measure wheelchair – but this post is long enough so I’ll keep that story for next time.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – And now for something different

cropped-goldfish-87-1254566814ncva1.jpgAnd by different, I mean totally unrelated to dementia or Goldfish. As followers of this blog know I have been posting rather infrequently over the last few months. One excuse reason has been that I’m in the process of converting the material from this blog into a proper memoir.

I have another excuse – I’ve been working on the publication of a short story collection – and it’s now up there  as an ebook on Amazon.

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Here’s the back-of-the-book blurb:  Shot through with flashes of humour the stories here will entertain, amuse, and make you think. Mary Smith’s debut collection of short stories is a real treat, introducing the reader to a diverse range of characters in a wide range of locations. A donkey boy in Pakistan dreams of buying luxuries for his mother; a mouth artist in rural Scotland longs to leave the circus; a visually impaired man has a problem with his socks; and a woman tries to come to terms with a frightening gift – or curse.

At only 99p (just over a dollar if you are across the Pond) it’s so much cheaper than a cup of coffee – and you can re-fill re-read it as often as you like.

It’s already got a couple of reviews on Amazon UK, one of which, on LindasBookBag blog,  had me wearing a huge grin all day. You can read it here. There’s also a sample story on Marcia Meara’s blog.

The ebook is available now on Amazon.

I promise I’ll get back to the Goldfish and dementia in my next post but I’m so excited at getting my new book out – first fiction I’ve written for ages – I wanted to share with everyone.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – making a movie


Well, a DVD. I was asked to take part along with some other carers and some Alzheimer charity and nursing staff. We’d gather in small groups to chat over tea and biscuits about different topics and the things we’ve found which work for us.

The topics included communication, eating and drinking, washing and dressing and moving around. The idea behind it was to create a film which would be useful for other unpaid carers like us as well as health and social care practitioners. I was with the eating and drinking group.

We were told it would be very informal and we shouldn’t bother about tarting ourselves up so I didn’t. Everyone else did. The camera focussing on us made us all a bit nervous to start with but it wasn’t long before we’d forgotten the camera and were chattering non-stop. Carers always have plenty to say!


From the DVD insert – I think you can see we all had plenty to say!

Some people with dementia seem to stop enjoying food – and we talked about ways of encouraging them to eat and drink. Although the Goldfish never lost his appetite, even when he had to be spoon fed, we had issues when he was unable to swallow and with getting him to drink enough. My top tips were mini sized Mars ice cream bars for when swallowing was a problem – the cold ice cream triggered the swallow reflex. It could, of course, be any ice cream but we found those worked best. Sometimes, I would yawn very widely and this made the Goldfish yawn – and swallow!

We were once shown on a training course various ways to re-set the swallow reflex, one of which was to gently stroke a finger down the person’s cheek. I tried this several times but it didn’t work and I felt it was my fault, that I wasn’t doing it properly. When we were filming I told the trainer, who was in my group, that for future training days I’d like to see things like this done with a real person. It’s horrible feeling useless when something doesn’t work.

We strayed off topic a couple of times which was fine because we were all learning useful things – and what wasn’t relevant could be edited out later. I was complaining about how difficult it is to get the Goldfish into the car. We’d bought one of those twirly cushion things which didn’t help in the slightest. One of the women in my groups said, ‘The best thing is a plastic fertiliser bag. They are nice and thick and slippery.’

I could visualise how well it would work but, ‘Where do you get fertiliser bags?’

She smiled and said, ‘I’m a farmer’s wife.’

We were invited to see the film after the first edit when it was still too long and it was fascinating to hear what things worked for other people. I was interested in hearing how people can’t make a point and leave it, they repeat it over and over as if trying to emphasise it when in fact by doing so what was a very good point is lost.

Some of us helped with editing the transcripts for the final cut and then we all gathered in a hotel for the premiere. It was entered in a competition but didn’t win – but, hey, we created something which may help other carers find a solution to a problem.


The DVD: This Worked For Me

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Glimpses from the past


I know, I know, I’m hopeless at posting regularly! I really meant to put a new post up days ago but I’ve been doing a bit more rummaging through photos and papers in what the DH calls the Dad Archive.

As well as finding lots of army photos, I’ve come across paperwork from those days including the order of service when the Lovat Scouts were stood down in Greece, a lovely reference from his Commanding Officer and his Lovat Scouts cap badge.

I’ve not found any photos for the period from when Dad left the army to when he went to live on Islay where he worked for the next eight years. He took many, many photos on Islay including colour slides (not sure how to deal with them so happy for advice if anyone knows) and he loved life on the island. I think if it hadn’t been for me, he’d never have left. In those days – 1950s – the school only went up to Primary 7 after which pupils had to go to the mainland and be boarders. Mum wasn’t keen on this idea (to think I might have had the opportunity to fulfil my dream of going to boarding school –  though in fact I’d have been at an ordinary secondary school and staying in lodgings) and when a vacancy on the mainland came up, Dad applied and we moved in 1960.

This time, I’m leaving the army days behind (though I’ll come back to them) to show some of the photos from the Islay days. This is where I was born and lived for the first seven years of my life.


Dad and Mum on a picnic on Islay


Dad with Betsy the dog, who growled if Mum tried to chastise me, and Blackie the cat named with enormous originality


Dad on the peat bank on the back road between Bridgend and Port Ellen with Innes McLellan whose mother was my Godmother


In full song at a ceilidh in our house, Bowmore, Islay. Dad with his arm round someone who was not his wife! Both of them smoking!!


All the best parties happen in the kitchen. Beside the packet of Corn Flakes is our tea caddy which had a picture of the Queen on one side and Prince Phillip on the other. I always thought (when I was young) Dad looked like Phillip.


Now, he’s got his arm round yet another woman not his wife! I was going to say it was possibly before I was born but I think that’s a tin of baby powder on the mantelpiece.



Christmas or New Year – whichever, a good time was being had.


I love that they still wear their ties however wrecked they are! And the man in the front is sitting on Paddy, my dog on wheels with which I learned to walk.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into Dad’s past on Islay. When I look at the ceilidh pictures I’m reminded of when I found a Gaelic CD at Dad’s. I put it on and within minutes he was singing along, though it was about sixty years since he’d last heard those songs.  The power of music and song.