The Alzheimer’s Carer

This is Stephen Gerard Scullion.  He is  a friend of mine.  A Facebook friend.   I have never met him, never had a coffee with him, never spoken to him.  All I know of him has been gathered from the posts he makes on his timeline.  He posted this image, only a few days ago,  on that very timeline.

Alzheimers  2

The Alzheimer’s Carer

Just look at  him in this daft silly image.   On the surface it is just that, daft and silly and those who know him made comments and observations about “Dads Army”, “It ain’t half hot Mum” and Benny Hill.

But I think it is a most beautiful and poignant image and I shall tell you why.

He is ex Royal Navy and retains a firm affection for the service.  He has an ex-serviceman’s sense of humour and indeed I started to follow him because someone shared with me one of his very funny posts.   They can be fairly politically incorrect at times and are all the more glorious for being so.   He also, occasionally posts images of beautiful women in bikini’s,  for no other reason than that they are beautiful, and that the women know they are beautiful and wish to share their beauty.  I rather like those occasional postings.

He lives in Felling which is in Gateshead, Newcastle, County Durham and he has a fine sense of the importance of local history and is for ever banging on about the history of the old Felling mining community to which his parents and grandparents belonged.   It gives to him, I think, his political values.  Another feature which becomes obvious if you make him a Facebook friend is his absolute abhorrence of any form of cruelty to animals and he has a fairly typical Facebook addiction of posting cute pictures of animals and funny pictures of animals but also, quite often, pictures of animals in distress as a result of cruelty and abuse.

But this image has little or nothing to do with such matters.   He belongs, and only mentioned it almost by accident, to a group of volunteers in Felling who visit care homes for those suffering from Alzheimer’s.  They dress up and perform and do silly things for the Alzheimer residents.   This is him, in his daft army uniform, ready to perform for the residents of the Marigold Court care home, you know, the one,  up by the ASDA store, near the Felling byepass.

Why?   The residents, who live in a condition of scattered confusion, are lonely, isolated, alienated and desperate, they won’t know who the volunteers  are, probably won’t know what they are doing and almost certainly will be unsure what is going on.    The best they can hope for, these volunteers, is perhaps a flicker of a smile, a spark of something remembered, a raised hand, a pointed finger, maybe nothing..   Perhaps some of the residents were soldiers once, or were married to soldiers or had sons and daughters who were soldiers, or just remember “Dads Army” on the tele.

It is hard work. Beautiful work, completely unselfish work, and without reward, or recognition.

And it makes this image a poignant and beautiful portrait.  It reminds us all, for all out  failures, doubts, insecurity’s and problems, with debt or relationships or  work, how good it is possible to be.  Of course it’s not technically, a great photograph. Probably taken on a phone and if that fierce man on Master Photographers, him with the blue glasses saw it, he would certainly be angry at the photographer.  But  it touches my heart.

In Westminster, some very rich very selfish person, who might have given money to the Tory party, will be honoured by the Queen.  Perhaps even ennobled so that they can have a say on the legislation which will govern the resources provided for the Alzheimer’s patients in Felling, County Durham.

I know who I would prefer to honour.

Stephen’s Facebookpage does not carry his own photograph.  Instead there is a photograph of his mother.   She suffers now form Alzheimer’s.


Barry Humphries’ Weimar Caberet

usher's hallWe have visitors at our George Square Edinburgh Festival house, amongst them my dear friend Rob Hain, an artist from the Scottish boarder s who created this wonderful canvas of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall from where all her scholars take their graduation honours and where all the great orchestras of the world come to play.



And it was to the Usher hall we went to listen to Barry Humphries introduce and compere a programme of songs and music from the German Weimar Republic, the music of Weill and Krenek, the music of the cabarets of the smokey “degenerate” Berlin, before it was all banned and outlawed by the rise of the third Reich.

Yes, presented by Barry Humphries, he who as the legendary Australian Cultural attaché sought to persuade us that the one thing Australia did not have was any cultural appreciation of the finer things of life. The lying bastard! He evoked for us an Australia of the 1940’s and 50’s of tea shops and book shops, where sheltered the refugees, Jews and Germans, fleeing the horrors of Europe. A Melbourne where as a boy, he bought a battered European suitcase, in a barrydusty second hand book store, full of the sheet music of the Weimar. He could not read music but he treasured the hoard and now, he opens the suitcase, so full of music and memories, and shares them all with the Usher Hall. It was an Australian night, a European night, a Berlin night, a night of Jazz and of Tango and of cabaret and of sexy smokey songs, including the sultry Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata erotica. It was the music and the writing and the musicians and the songs of those who either escaped from or were consumed by the Holocaust. It was all in Barry’s rescued suitcase.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra, provided the music, talented beyond the size of their continent, and Meow Meow sang in throaty German. Barry danced the tango, how old is he, in his 80;s now, and he sang too, with passion, in the ruins of Berlin.

He didn’t say so but it was also a tribute, the most wonderful of tributes to all that our fathers fought for, for all the bits and pieces of civilisation that they saved, and rescued and preserved, for their children and their grandchildren and among what they rescued among the treasures they saved for the world, was surely, this magical night at the Usher Hall.