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Archive for August, 2014

Memories of Luton 1

The Luton I Remember

Windsor Walk

It was the centre of my world for about 15years and was situated on the corner of Dumfries Street (number 56) and the Walk

We moved there during the war and my mum set about making it a place for heroes to live in – the special hero being my dad, who arrived in 1945 to a home he had never seen and to a son who didn’t know him.

For a small child the Walk seemed to be a wide and long thoroughfare. At the Adelaide Street end stood out the imposing Ceylon Baptist Church where I was sent every Sunday afternoon for Sunday School and which gradually, and more and more, became the centre of my social life until I finally left Luton in 1960.

A few steps up the Walk was the depot where our milkman John loaded up his milk float for his deliveries. The hum of the engine and the rattle of the bottles went well before him as he did his work. There was a good neighbourliness about John; he knew who could afford his produce and who had a struggle and he worked hand in glove with the young people of the Ceylon Church so that they could deliver Christmas hampers, full of goodies, into the arms of needy, astounded and extremely moved old people.

Walking up the lane one passed the back yards of houses which fronted Wellington and Hastings Streets and since they were hardly used by the owners it became an empty, safe and enjoyable place to play hop scotch and other games.

The back entrance to Fleckney’s the Florist (Hastings Street) was in fact a large stable and there was room in it for Mr Fleckney’s car and for the horse which Mr. Darbyshire used for his removal business. Generally the horse was quiet and safe to visit, when the gates were open, but at other times it reared and neighed and was extremely frightening.

There was a small hat factory next to this, the side wall of which adjoined our back garden. Since my mum was a milliner this was one of a number of places she did work for. They were extraordinary places those factories. At ground level men worked with the gas heated model heads which the felt hoods were placed over and compressed to various fashionable shapes of the day. Steam hissed out of them when the tops were pressed tightly together and then, when dry and more stiff, they were taken upstairs where the women sowed, decorated and sometimes feathered them. Health and safety wasn’t strong in those factories and there were famous examples of dreadful fires in which the workers were burned to death. This factory, in particular, had a serious fire one evening and I remember my dad playing a water hose onto the wall to ensure it didn’t collapse in the heat.

The side to our house which fronted the Walk was long and high and perfect for use as a tennis court. Hour upon hour people had to put up with the thump of the tennis balls as they hit the wall. My back hand and fore hand strokes must have been brilliant – the neighbour’s headaches less satisfying.

There were about 8 of us kids who played in the Walk. Mostly we got on well together and enjoyed ourselves but when we took to tying peoples door knockers together with string, and thus making people unable to open their front doors or when opening them making other peoples knockers, across the street, bang, we were less popular. Tying the lids of pig bins (where food scraps were deposited) situated on the corner of the street to door knockers, so that the occasional car would plough through the string and make the lids clatter on the pavement, was also not popular.

Across the street on the opposite corner of the Walk was the brightly plastered imposing structure of the Ebenezer Chapel. It was only used for one evening a week and then on Sundays, morning and evening. The people who worshipped there were Strict Baptists; were they strict like my teachers and caned people, I wondered? The caretaker of the church was forever coming out and telling us off for making a noise but that was nothing compared to the noise the people made in the church. They sang without an organ accompaniment and sounded as though they were human sirens, like the ones we had heard during the war. When they finally left at about 11 they used to kiss each other but they never seemed to smile.

The four corners of the Walk at Dumfries Street were memorable for all kinds of reasons. I remember the piles of snow during the winter of 1947 which were so high that I couldn’t get to school. The corner was where an old couple used to meet almost every evening – my mum said that that they weren’t married to each other and were meeting secretly; I couldn’t understand why they were always arguing. That corner was also the place that people coming out of the nearby pubs, the Fountain and the Standard, used to congregate. Often they would shout but sometimes they would fight and my dad use to sit in our front room just in case our windows might be broken. Finally the corner was a sad place because I remember seeing an old lady collapse there; I ran to tell mum and she was brought into our front room and mum told me that she had died.

Further along the Walk was a carpenters business and another big hat factory which my mum worked in. Clearly we didn’t have a lot of money and so mum had to work long hours. After school I was allowed to go to the factory and wait for mum to finish and then as soon as she got home there was a knock on the door and a man would bring in huge boxes of hat shapes which mum would turn into fashionable hats. Sometimes the hats were black ones and called ‘flu’ hats because it was thought there might be a flu outbreak, people would die, and they would need black hats for the funeral. In the 1950s it was fashionable for hats to be covered in feathers which were stuck on with glue. That glue was extremely pungent and smelled like ether. For all I know we were all high as kites as we inhaled the glue, the smell of which never seemed to leave the house.

I rarely went further along Windsor Walk, it was foreign territory! I do remember an event one day however. On occasion cows were herded along George Street to go for sale at the market in Park Street. One time one of the cows broke free and raced up Wellington Street only to reach the top part of Windsor Walk for sanctuary. A lady happened to be carrying her shopping along there and turned round to have a cow looking her in the eye. She yelled, dropped her shopping and ran. I had to tell mum, we were hysterical.

Round about 1958 we went up in the world and moved from 56 to 83 Dumfries Street. It was good bye to Windsor Walk and, even though our move was a couple of hundred yards, I rarely went back there. We were now in the big league. We had a hall, a third bedroom and a larger kitchen but it wasn’t until I went to university that I lived in a house which had a bathroom and an inside toilet. We now have 3 toilets in our house, a testimony to having escaped the horrors of walking outside in the depths of winter, just to go to the loo.

 

LGBTs and Dementia 4

The diagnosis of any serious illness is a huge challenge for any of us whether LGBT or not, however  the one significant feature of our situation remains that we are more likely to have to cope with it alone – the majority of us are single. So for the LGBT person making a Will and creating Power of Attorney is not just important but surely essential. For the person diagnosed with dementia,  to say clearly and precisely what their future care should be like, is so important and it is wise to do it as soon as possible. For some LGBT people past relationships with family may not always have been happy and it is wise for everyone, both relatives and friends, to be clear what one’s wishes are and thus avoid any conflict. Here are some case histories:-

When Joan’s dementia diagnosis was confirmed, both she and her partner were somewhat startled to receive renewed interest and visits from her long separated family and both doubted their motives.

When Peter said quite clearly how he wanted his care to be conducted, his family intervened and eventually went to court to contest the ‘rightness’ of his caring situation; fortunately they were unsuccessful.

There is also surely a need for advocacy services tailored to meet the needs of single people, like LGBTs, who, not having the support of partners and without close family ties behind them when making applications and responses to various agencies and government departments, might need  assistance.  

Fortunately we now live in a world where dementia care is more widely available and effective but, however well intentioned the provider may be, there remains for so many Lesbian and Gay people a feeling that they are different and this makes incorporating them into established care situations difficult, and for some, impossible. Consider again those defensive walls which have been created because of past attitudes to sexuality. What those walls have done is to enable us to construct a distinct and separate world. It is a world where a gay radar has been created so that we can recognise other’s sexuality without a word being said and without making too many mistaken assumptions. It is a world where, certainly for men, and to a certain extent for women there is even a separate language – talk to a gay man about ‘cottages’ and you have entered an entirely different universe of discourse. It is a world where our appearance and manner of dress can say a great deal about behaviours and choices. It is also a world where our cultural interests have a direct relationship to our sexuality. All these factors and others have a significant bearing on the value of the support which providers might give to LGBT people, and not to consider them would be a mistake and a failure of personalisation. For example:-

Pat’s local dementia group has a monthly singalong event which is fine for those who find singing along to World War 2 songs enjoyable, but since she has been a professional singer and still knows what she wants from singing, wild horses couldn’t drag her along to take part in that activity.

David loves film and the dementia group has occasional showings, but the assumption has been that as a man he wouldn’t want a Judy Garland film or a viewing of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and in his case that assumption is wide of the mark.

Similarly watching TV can be a valuable resource for occupying those with dementia but don’t assume that stereotypical men’s and women’s programmes are likely to be the choice of Lesbians and Gays.  It is a gift for LGB and T people that  advances in technology such as ipods, ipads and downloadable films can ensure that activities for those with dementia do not have to consist of a one size fits all experience but instead can be directly tailored to the personal interests of each one. This is where local LGBT groups could service the needs of their carers and those with dementia to supplement other care provided elsewhere.

When we consider  the nature of our relationships and those deeper feelings surrounding our sexuality, dementia care ignores them at its peril:-

As Brian’s dementia deepened it became clear that he really did need residential care, but from the moment of him entering the home he started to become a different person. Gone was the hugging and kissing one always received on meeting him. Gone was the outrageous campery which had always been hilarious to his friends; and gone were the stories, which even at the 50th recounting were a joy to hear. The residential home didn’t intend to have that effect on Brian but its failure to understand and encourage him to give vent to the depths of his sexuality had effectively forced him to give up on being the real person he was.

Then there was Jim who, previously always kissed his partner wherever they were and now, with the onset of dementia, the hugging and kissing actually increased, but his partner now felt uncomfortable about this  because effectively they were out of their private world and now in a different one. The partner felt that they might have to temper their behaviour, not for their own sake, but for the sake of others around them.

Then again Jennifer and Brenda, both residents in a care home gradually became inseparable and walked around hand in hand all day. The home owner said that the one believed the other was actually her husband, but when they were found in bed with each other, Jennifer’s family intervened and demanded that Brenda be moved to another home.

 There are other challenges too, not least for example where it is suggested that as many as 1 in 12 gay men over the age of 60 may be HIV positive – this has repercussions for health provision but, since HIV dementia can exist, it also provides a separate challenge for dementia care.

Then there is the matter of sexual activity related to those with dementia and whether consent is really possible as the condition develops. It is surely right that some have not shied away from dealing with the issue and there remain unanswered questions. Whatever the outcomes might be it is surely right that homosexual activity should be treated on an equal basis as heterosexual activity.

Out there, throughout the UK, it is highly likely that there are at least 40,000 LGBTs with dementia but where are they? Only a proactive approach to reaching all communities will ensure that this group is not left uncared for.

 

 

 

 

 

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