My Dad’s a Goldfish – A dangerous tilting to the side

Sometime after the Goldfish died we put his house on the market. The solicitor emailed me after the photos had been taken for the sales brochure. At the end of the usual solicitor-speak explanation of how things would proceed he added, ‘There appears to be a boat winch bolted in place in the hall cupboard?’ Like maybe I didn’t know.

I emailed back, ‘Don’t all bungalows come with their own boat winch?’ He suggested we remove it before people came to view the house. He didn’t have much of a sense of humour.

Why did we have a boat winch bolted to the floor of the cupboard in the hall?

It all began when the Goldfish started to tip to one side. He seemed quite unaware of the fact he was tilting over. 20141106_163917 (Small)

We’d encourage him to sit up straighter but there was no response. We tried propping him up with cushions stuffed down the side of his wheelchair but that didn’t work either. No sooner was he propped up than he started sliding over to one side again.

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Driving anywhere became a nightmare. I’d look in the mirror, see he had tipped over, head almost touching the floor, stop the car and hoist him partly upright, rearrange the cushions to support him and drive off. Ten minutes later, I’d have to repeat the process.

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We spoke to the Occupational Therapist. I think I’ve said in previous posts we were so lucky with our OT – she was fantastic. She really cared about the Goldfish. She should be cloned. She immediately referred the Goldfish to the specialists from Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital (succeeded by the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital). They visit the various regional hospitals and the Goldfish was lucky to get an appointment almost immediately.

The DH took the Goldfish to his appointment and was very impressed by their can-do approach. It seemed our problem was by no means unique. They could help. The only drawback was that, even when the wheelchair was ready, the team would not be back in Dumfries for weeks. When the DH offered to drive up to Glasgow with the Goldfish, they, seeing our desperation, agreed.

The DH was so excited when the Goldfish tried his new chair he texted me to say it was a miracle – he could sit up straight again. The chair was wonderful. It was easy to manoeuvre except for getting it in and out of the house. Neither Wee-sis nor I could do it. The steps were shallow and we had a ramp but the chair was unbelievably heavy. We did try. Coming down, even backwards was terrifying. I don’t know how the Goldfish felt about it – he seemed remarkably calm. One tiny slip and I knew the chair would be on top of me. tilt-wheelchair

We had to find a solution or acquiring the wonderful new chair would curtail the Goldfish’s outings unless the DH was always going to be around to take the chair out and in the house. Wee-sis and I could manage everything else, including winching the chair into the Doblo. It was the vehicle winch which gave us the idea – so we fitted a boat winch inside the hall cupboard, which was directly opposite the front door.

It worked a treat.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Photo from Jon Gibbs-Smith(27)

Masters graduates, 2017

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Robert and David

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Says it all, really!

 

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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 – making a movie

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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!

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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.

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The DVD: This Worked For Me

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Glimpses from the past

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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.

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Dad and Mum on a picnic on Islay

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

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

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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!!

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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.

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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.

 

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

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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.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Wishing I’d listened

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I’ve been sifting through a box of the Goldfish’s old photos wishing I’d paid more attention to the things he told me: about his childhood, his school days, his army days, his life as an adult on Islay (as opposed to my life as a child on Islay).   

I know he was in the Lovat Scouts. I think he joined up in 1944, which is when he turned 18. I think he may have done his initial training near Aberdeen. He was at some point stationed at a prisoner-of-war camp but I’m not sure where – possibly what’s now the Barony Agricultural College – though he told me of wonderful models the prisoners made of water wheels and bridges. He went to Greece, via Italy and when he talked about being in the army it was usually about that time in Greece he talked. He was stationed in Athens, billeted with a family there. Image200714143218-000

I know he loved it there – the people, the sunshine, the historical sites. I remember him talking about the fun of bargaining for things in the markets until the Americans arrived. They had so much money in their pockets and everything was, in their eyes, already so cheap they saw no need to bargain. Prices shot up making it harder for the British soldiers and taking away much of the cultural exchanges enjoyed before.

Anyone he served with still alive will be in their nineties. Maybe, though, their sons and daughters are, like me, now wishing they had paid more attention to the stories they were told. Maybe they have some old snapshots with faded names scribbled on a couple of them and are wondering about the pals their fathers had in Greece.

Here are some of the photos the Goldfish kept all those years. I’d be pleased if you could share far and wide just in case one of them rings a bell with someone whose father was in the Lovat Scouts from 1944. Some if not most of these photos seem to be taken in Salerno on their way to Greece. He also took many in Greece but mainly of the sites he visited rather than people. However, many photos remain to be sorted out.

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On the left is someone called Trevor. Possibly in Salerno.

 

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John Dunlop on the left

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John Dunlop second from the right – others unknown

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John Dunlop in the centre

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Tea time outside the tents. John Dunlop on left. I’m assuming this is the camp at Salerno before they went to Greece.

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In Greece? Unknown person on the left.

 

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Man on left called Bob

 

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On the back of this photo is written: Taken at the camp in Salerno Thursday 28/12/45. Dad was 19.

 

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Dad is not in this photo of what I take is a football team.

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Unknown soldier but must have been a friend of dad’s for him to have kept it.

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Dad on right on second row.

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John Dunlop on left, front row.

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RMS Otranto. This is not the HMS Otranto from WW1. RMS – Royal Mail Ship – became a troop ship and I think John Dunlop sailed to Italy in it or from Italy to Greece.