Sunday, 23 December 2012


Ever felt as if you could burst with joy?  Excited that something at last will happen?  Some people might be very cynical and say 'well carry on waiting!' or 'who are you kidding?' or 'not again!'

Well life can be joyous but perhaps not all the time.  We would never notice if joy became the norm, BUT, just maybe, there could be a bit more of it.  I have friends in Malaysia who are running projects such as 'Coming Together, Being Together' in Penang, and 'Laughter for Healing' in Johore Bahru, where people come together to play.

Lets bring playfulness back into the agenda in daily life and enjoy something that is fun.  And why shouldn't therapy also be fun?  I cannot go with the 'pain is gain' approach to healing: medicine does not have to taste nasty in order for it to work!  

Having surfaced partially from my bereavement earlier this year, I know that my beloved Peter would want me to enjoy the rest of my life.  I cannot follow this received wisdom that it needs to take two years for recovery from major loss.  Of course the reminders come back, especially at this time of year when he began to be seriously ill.  However it would not be helpful for every Christmas to be a time of personal suffering.  I have to be able to both live with it and to see it anew, and to be joyous that we had such an amazing time together.

Its is not something that I will 'recover' from - rather my life with Peter continues to enrich me and sustain my way forward. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dancing on the Ceiling

Dancing on the Ceiling is the name of presentations and workshops I am currently giving in Malaysia to doctors, psychologists, teachers, care-givers, therapists of all kinds, nurses and corporate staff.  It emphasises the need for playfulness in how we work with others, especially children and adults with difficulties.

The full training in  Neuro-Dramatic-Play shows how early playful attachment between mother (or other) enables security, trust and empathy to develop, resulting in resilience and confidence.  Babyhood is the time for social interaction to become established and it cannot be replaced by computer games, TV or toy smart 'phones!  

The brain is still soft-wired when we are born and very sensitive to external stimulus, so a family world where parents and siblings are being kind to each other, actually influences the baby's growth.  This is not just 'setting a good example', but influencing the connections being made in the brain itself through 'mirror neurons'.  Thank you neuro-science!

The idea of Dancing on the Ceiling reminds us to be playful - maybe a little bit of play everyday!  And people are amazed, just as with the Changan, that we can solve our difficulties, increase our concentration, and indeed put a smile on our faces!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Rowan Centre Re-born in Romania

When I had to sell the Rowan Centre in Glastonbury, after Peter died, it seemed for a while that the Centre had died too.  The Rowan Centre with its studio, shop, play room and wonderful garden was like a dream come true.  We had waited in the hope that this property might come free in order to have our own special place.  And so we did for 5 years.

Now I realise that Rowan Centre can live again in our house in Romania.  Peter and I bought this house shortly after we met, especially because it has amazing views of the Carpathian Mountains.  It has a large garden and the beginnings of an orchard and we can make as much noise as we like and not disturb anybody!  At times when gazing out of the window there are storks grazing in the fields.

Already the plans are drawn up for a large messy play room, a studio big enough to dance in, and a library and tutorial room.  And enough residential accommodation for both individuals and families in the house or in tents.  More people can stay in the farmhouse five minutes away.

People attending the International Summer School can see all these developments and be a part of them.  A creative environment for creative activities! 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


Whereas Greece is in the media on a regular basis, Romania gets less compassionate coverage in the press.  We tend to hear about the scams and cheats that form a tiny minority of people here in the  UK.  It is as if the enormous instant help, given when the orphanage scandal became public, is seen as the solution and we can walk away, job done.

Not only are the small children now teenagers and young adults, often sleeping on railway stations and in abandoned cars, but also the economy is suffering enormous cuts.  Five of my mature students were unable to attend a recent training course because they had not been paid since February, and had families to care for!

The projects we run in Romania provide employment for local Romanians in cooking, gardening, maintenance, crafts and well as spending in the local shops and markets, tourist sites and transport.  Think about the International Summer School 30 July - 13 August in glorious mountain scenery: email or Facebook: Dramatherapy and Creative Care.  You will have fun and gain a certificate as well as helping Romanians themselves.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


The media is full of the anger and rage that is felt in Greece with the savage cutbacks and austerity measures. Certainly I came across road barriers on 17 November as being revolution day they expected demonstrations.  The cuts continue and are deep.

However no one seems to be acknowledging the very deep sadness in Greece, the despair and feelings of loss. Greek people have lost not only their jobs, businesses, houses, possessions and life-style, but also their belief. Belief in the world, especially Greece, being a good place to live, that bought deep satisfaction through culture, arts and a living legacy of the good things from the past brought into the present.

At a recent workshop I used the theme of The Quest - going on a journey, meeting with danger, finding the treasure, and returning to tell my story.  Usually the meeting with danger is facing the shadow or the monstrous, but the collective response was deep deep sorrow, as people chanted and danced lamentations and grief.  It was very moving for everyone and took us on another journey.

The play's the thing....

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Life after Winston...

The impact of a Winston Churchill Fellowship continues to make an impression on me and my developing work.  It is a continuing process, and every few days there is a 'ping' as another insight slots into place.

The extraordinary resilience of the people I met is very inspiring.  Despite the many difficulties in different countries, especially the challenge of changing attitudes towards elderly people, and the low priority given in government budgets, nevertheless there was amazing artistic work taking place and a fundamental attitude of real care.

In Malaysia and Romania I was most impressed by the sense of 'network' - nobody was working in isolation, even though there was a shortage of funds; there was a developed sense of community and people supported each other.  Many projects were carried out in memory of a relative with dementia who had died, and families were very happy to see their loved one's name being carried on.  

The UK can learn a lot from programmes overseas, and rediscover local networks of support.  There is far less chance of abuse and neglect in an environment where people have time to take an interest and visit.  

I recommend Winston!  It has certainly helped me stop in my tracks, and give practice and programmes a new appraisal!  (Winston Churchill Memorial Trust)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Creative Care and Playful Dementia

I have been pestering people about the importance of understanding attachment and playfulness with older people: especially with  those people who have dementia.  At last, at last I have been heard!

The British Association of Play Therapists who publish a magazine have asked me to write their lead article about play with older people.  My excitement is growing as I realise what a break through this is.  Most people regard play therapy as an intervention with the very young who have troubled or muddled lives.  What is important to realise is that older people also have troubles and muddles, often being disrupted from their home with perhaps a few of their possessions.  They are placed in a care home that is usually not of their own choice, and join the invisibles.

Furthemore, Musack will not satisfy people with a deep knowledge of classical music or who enjoy literature or plays, for example.  Many care homes now have activity organisers who arrange programmes every week, from keep fit to bingo, all of which is fine.  However, what about the people who do not enjoy activities, who are used to a different kind of cultural life, and who have skills and  experience, such as being able to play the piano?

As I write this article I realise that I have too much to say!  Maybe I feel a book coming on...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Romania Still Needs You!

So much help poured into Romania after the fall of Ceaucescu and the Communist Dictatorship, 100s of NGOs were created within days in order to take money, food and clothes, after everyone witnessed the appalling photographs from the orphanages.  I have worked there consistently since 2001 to support projects in children's homes, psychiatric hospitals and residential centres for adults with profound learning needs.  We also have continuous programmes in Roma villages and with young people who sleep on the railway stations.  There is now a pioneering centre called 'Crystal Children' that provides education and support for children and teenagers who are on the autistic spectrum.

Generally, funds are decreasing, and sometimes I get the reaction of 'We have already given to Romania' or 'Look at the crimes committed here by Romanians'.  A nation tarred by the actions of a minority.  However most of the people I know are hard-working, desperate to provide for their families, and keen to develop higher education.  Nevertheless, unemployment is very high, 50% where I stay, living costs are rising with the proliferation of huge foreign stores, wages are being cut to try and stave off a crisis such as in Greece or Spain.

The Rowan Tree Trust, UK charity that supports our Romanian work has a new angle to raise funds.  By creating an International Summer School for professionals from all over the world to both study and have a holiday, it is doing several things: bringing much needed cash into the local economy, creating local jobs in guest houses, as well as raising funds for local projects in children's homes and the training of their staff.  It is a win-win situation!

Please join us for 'Water, Dreams and Attachments: the streams of living', 30 July - 13 August 2013.  More information next week!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Is There Life After Winston Churchill?

Having come to the end of my actual journeys to Malaysia, Czech Republic and Romania, there is a feeling of what now?  I have met all these people, given out some medals, seen some amazing arts work with elderly people, and people with dementia.  I have this huge knapsack full of experiences, and I am still in transition.

First there is the press release, then the long and illustrated report.  That is now putting it into some kind of perspective.  But the real work is in bringing it all home.  How does this experience translate into the needs of day centres and care homes in the UK?  How do I communicate with colleagues here?  Once I start I will not stop talking!  So I have decided to create some shared space and time.  Next week there is a seminar for carers from a dozen care homes in the South West.  In January I am holding a chocolate breakfast in London to talk about 'sensory integration' and I have just finished a coloured booklet called Creative Care to give to carers and others.

My answer to mooving on, is to find innovative ways of communicating what I have experienced, showing that indeed, the WCMT has not only helped me discover new experiences, but has also fired me to share them in unconventional ways, as well as the more usual!  

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Unthinking after Deep Loss

Everyone talks about 'coming to terms with...' after bereavement: being single after being paired, finding new interests or taking up old ones, having appropriate reminders and tributes without being maudlin.  For example, your loved one's ashes set in crystal jewellery is going a tad too far.  Perhaps we could market the idea of 'ashes in a snow storm', as a memento to place on your desk and shake occasionally for inspiration?

The 'unthinking' is my word for the process of having to unlearn routines and tasks that have somehow become embedded in our brains.  For example, just yesterday when out in the town, I automatically went to talk with a window cleaner, (increasingly hard to find), to clean the shop windows.  Just remembering in time that I sold the shop earlier this year when Peter died.  Similarly I have to keep unlearning not to buy strength 3 Arabica coffee, which was his coffee preference, whereas mine is 5 strength, or the New Scientist, his only magazine.

It is almost as we have to learn how to forget, rather than struggling to remember.  The sensory memories are ever present, but his routines and our routines, have to be unlearned, and unthought.  And it takes time

Thursday, 18 October 2012

For She's a Visiting Fellow...

What a day!  And the feeling of awe when everyone is talking about me and my work.  This was an extraordinary experience when the British Association of Dramatherapists and Leeds Metropolitan University hosted a Festschrift, or celebration, of my work and publications over the last 40 years.  Different academics and practitioners spoke on my anthropological research in the Malaysian rains forest, the pioneering work in Dramatherapy and Play Therapy, the development of Healing Rituals in  therapy and performance, and my bold statements in 1977 during times of unrest and turbulence...  And much more.

Attended by over 100 people: former students, colleagues, friends and family who listened to papers, anecdotes, letters and then watched DVDs from overseas contributors.  It is taking time for me to process it all.  The contributions will be published in a special edition of The Prompt (BADTh news), early in 2013.

At the end of the day it was announced that I have been awarded a Visiting Fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University.  More about this to come!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Creative Care Training

I am delighted to announce that the first training day of the new intake for the Creative Care Course is full with a waiting list!  Despite such times of hardship and lack of training budgets, 10 care homes in Somerset are sending carers and activity officers to learn more about Creative Care.

Across the country,artists and arts therapists are realising how much they have to offer to people with dementia or who are elderly and frail.  Brain cells need stimulation or they will atrophy, and everyone needs a little surprise every day.  Not a shock, but a pleasant surprise.  Repetitive cycles of institutionalised routine bring about the decrease of alertness and awareness, and ensuing greater dependency.  

I strongly recommend John Killick's (with Clare Craig) 'Creativity and Communication in Persons with Dementia.'  It is a highly practical book and shows how creativity can 'maintain and enhance' people's communication.  The book also draws attention to individual identity, their 'personhood'.  Published by Jessica Kingsly in 2012.  (See JKP's specialist list in the area of dementia and elderly care).

And more soon on my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust activities. I have just completed my journeys to Malaysia, Romania and Czech Republic to study 'Arts and Older People'. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Fresh Air

Why do we succumb to the pressure of advertisers and spray our houses with air-fresheners?  This fear that our house or loo or car will smell is very powerful, so we try to improve on nature and make it smell 'natural'.

I had a ride in a cab that had an oil freshener, and the driver, by way of conversations, said to me, 'Human bodies don't smell very nice, do they?'  I was streaming at the eyes, but was asked not to open the window because of pollutants outside!

We are unaware of the dangers of phthalates, a highly dangerous chemical, that is in most air-fresheners and long-life candles.  It can damage our lungs and cause allergies, see for an interesting article, (a useful and informative site about lots of health matters).  Allergies and respiratory conditions are increasing in children, and of course they are the passive inhalants of these toxins.

However the chemical firms are a big lobby in this area, (the same with their formula milk for babies), and have an extraordinary psychological impact on our vulnerability.  So lets fill up the house with fresh lavender, rosemary and only buy the pure essential oils, if we really want sweet smells!  Just allow everything to come up smelling of roses!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Supervision? Super - Vision?

Another 'phone call, 'please could I talk to you about a difficult client who...  ' and I ask whether it is an emergency or can it wait for our usual appointment in 10 days time.  The voice agrees that it is not a crisis but it feels urgent.  Finally we agree to bring forward her appointment by a week.  When we meet, there is a feeling of urgency; not for her client, but for herself as she has begun to feel inept as a therapist in a very difficult situation.  

She accepts referrals from a local authority, of children and young teenagers who are deemed to be 'out of control', and the schools want something to be done or there will be permanent exclusion.  However they have started to say, 'We only have money for 10 sessions of play therapy, can you do something?'  There may well be children who can be helped with 10 sessions of therapeutic counselling, which often can be addressed within the school itself.  However the children and young people who are referred, have very deep-seated issues of attachment, neglect or abuse that have not responded to the usual lines of support or discipline or sanction.

As a supervisor, whose task it is to show empathy but to remain objective, I am also experiencing the feelings of frustration and ineptness in a situation where the grass roots have to fundamentally change.  I can enable my supervisee to ventilate her feelings, to support her in her work and to empower her to write yet another letter to both education and health.  BUT, there is lip-service being paid to real investment in children and teenagers, who are, after all, the citizens of tomorrow.  Despairing children will not be able to turn their lives around without support from appropriate therapists; and despairing therapists need support and supervision to enable them to bring about the alchemy of deep-seated change.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Where oh Where?

....can I get truly multi-racial and multi-cultural small figures for my sand tray therapy?  I use the sand tray extensively for children, adults, groups and trainees to explore issues in their life and work that are troubling them.  I have wild, domestic and farm animals; mythical creatures from many genres; people in their professions and people in their celebrations; there are religious symbols from all creeds as well as symbols of birth, death and loss; there are joyous as well as fearful people, BUT where is the ethnic diversity?

The black brides, grooms, graduates, priests, dancers, and so on, I have to import from US and they are made from a cheap plastic rather than their more robust companions.  I have found no Asian or Eastern figures unless I go for styalised finger puppets.  There is a set of well made native Americans but they are now discontinued, and have become expensive collectors items.

If we are able to explore diversity in therapy and education, and the crucial area of cultural and racial identity, then we need these tools.  Story books and multi-cultural history text books and folk tales and myths are readily available for all age groups.  However figures there are none.  Maybe I have missed something?  In vain have I trawled the Internet, (and for figures who have a disability or a para-olympian or just an elderly person with a white stick!).  What is the message underlying this lack?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Charlie and Lola

A lovely book about Charles and Lola 'I am absolutely too young to go to schools' really got me thinking about small children and rites of passage.  Any discussion about schools so often ends up with comments, such as 'well it never did me any harm'.  Not really what I am asking!  If a child has not attended play-school, or pre-school, how easy is it to make the transition, both for child and parents?

In the UK, children tend to start school earlier than in other European countries, and it is important to look at 'learning' as well as 'social life'.  Having grown up myself with lots of parental criticism about schools, it was hard as a child to go to school, and not feel disloyal if I happened to enjoy myself. Somehow, I wasn't meant to, so I quickly developed a double life!

It took many years before I realised that I did not have to live a life of appeasement, and be a young mediator between home and school!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Kindness wherever possible!

When I observed my young chorister granddaughter give support to a very small lad who was obviously struggling with his first solo, it was truly an act of kindness.  She did not say a word, she just gazed at him, lovingly and with belief in him, and he stayed in focus and finished.  She then gave him such a smile of appreciation.  Probably few people noticed this brief exchange, but I was sitting very close to the chorister stalls, unseen, but seeing.  Which leads me into the question of kindness and how we express it and to whom.  

I struggle with being kind to the Tax Inspector or to the salesperson who rings me 'cold canvas' or to the security people who repeatedly give me body searches because I have metal in my bra and a piece of crystal in my suitcase.  So I struggle with my kindness being conditional, towards people who deserve my kindness! This now leads me into my personal arrogance, that chooses the recipient of a kindly act or word.

This leaves me with a lot of discomfort, because a kindly attitude towards the world is without condition, it strives to show kindness wherever possible.  Perhaps I am allowed to struggle just a little, with some feelings of impossibility!

Monday, 13 August 2012

O wind of Tizoula

'O wind of Tizoula, O wind of Amsoud
Blow over the plains and over the sea
Carry, oh carry my thoughts
To him who is so far, so far,
And who has left me without a little child.
Oh wind!  Remind him I have no child.

This plaintive and moving song of Berber women is a reminder of the pain and loss, caused through infertility.  It is with great sadness that I learned that Sammy Lee, an embryologist and fertility counsellor has died very suddenly from a huge heart attack.  Sammy was a remarkable person and straddled the divide between counselling and medicine with humanity and clarity.  We worked together as part of a counselling and therapy team in the Rowan Clinic at the London Hospital Medical College.  We were able to offer drama, dance and art therapies, for couple and for groups. This was when doctors paid attention to the arts therapies and counselling as part of an infertility treatment programme.  Sammy and I pondered whether the sudden loss of funding was because we were indeed having more pregnancies through a non-medical approach, than the clinic, with state-of-the-art medical interventions!  

I make a sudden jump to the roar of the crowds at the Olympic ceremonies with every possible artistic contribution.  Could this mark a re-kindling not only of the importance of sports on the ever decreasing playing fields, but also a firing up of the energy for the arts for all ages, in rapidly disappearing studio spaces in school?

We shall miss you Sammy.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Weaponry in Play and Therapy: Playing for Real?

I was sitting in a cafe next to a market stall with a range of war-toys as well as soft cuddly animals, dolls tea-sets, girlie hair clips and tin drums and blowers.  A father and young son, both dressed in combat fatigues were looking at the toys.  Dad large and beefy, tattooing up both arms, 4 year old child, very thin, pale and anxious. The child was drawn towards a large blue, fluffy rabbit, half as big as himself.  Dad pulled him away and showed him a wind up soldier, in fatigues and rifle, who crawled along on his belly, pointing the gun.  The child turned away to the rabbit, Dad looked exasperated and pulled him back.  In the end Dad dragged him off looking angry but also deflated.  Something had failed for him that day.

My particular interest lies is what message is being communicated by having the aggressive toys in the first place.  By having weapons in the play room  or the play therapy room, we are endorsing weaponry as being all right.  Play therapists tell me that weapons are needed to express angry feelings - but children have never had difficulty in finding something to express anger: whether it is the drum sticks or a splodgy picture!.  I have to put this in the much wider context of the peace process, the current increase of violence in language, and the philosophical implications of our practice.  Can we really be honest about moving forward in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect when we continue to say that weapons are OK?

People will say, 'But what about violence in the theatre and all those weapons in Shakespeare?' - that is the subject of another blog which shows that the 'distancing of theatre' creates a different response from having violence in our faces and on our screens.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Non-Directive Therapy

Many people ask me whether I am a non-directive therapist or a directive one.  What does this actually mean?  Unless I am there to proffer advice, give opinions, set my own agendas and lead the activities and conversations then surely in the broad sense of the word, I am 'non-directive'.  However there is no such thing as a purely non-directive therapist as our very presence sets some kind of direction.

When people talk about 'non-directive' play therapy, or any other therapy, it needs to be qualified with the actual reality of 'what happens'; therapists are also role-models by the very way their are in the therapy room: how they dress, their voice and gestures and choice of words.  Added to which, therapists choose what is in the play room, dramatherapy space or consulting room.  This includes the toys, art materials, theatre props, scenes on the walls or paper weights.  They create the decor, they have rules and set boundaries (which vary between individual therapists).

Lets be more honest about our own directiveness, of our own choices, of what we like to have in our environment.  The early psychoanalysts pretended they were the 'blank screen' for their patients who were prone on the couch; let not pretend that we are the 'blank playmate' but a vibrant interactive partner in the play or drama or counsel.  Led of course by the child, adult or group!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Floods of tears...

I find that a lot of water imagery has entered my vocabulary since my beloved Peter died in January.  I referred to 'the sea of one hundred beds' in a care home that I visited in Malaysia.  I talked about waves of recrimination in a family feud, and everyone being awash with emotion when feeling overwhelmed at seeing a beautiful sunset.  It is not just the tears of grief, it is the words to express the enormity of the grief.

Peter and I were involved in a language project over the last couple of years, as we were struck by how various violent words had slipped into everyday conversation: 'I could murder a  bacon sandwich', 'I could kill a decent cup of coffee'.  We started to look at the frequent use of the word 'grab'.  Mainly it was used in relation to food.  There is a brand of potato crisps that is called 'grab-bags';  there is a prominent notice in a supermarket that says 'Grab and Go'; there is another at the airport that invites you to 'Grab and Fly'.  Years ago children were taught, 'Don't grab - just wait' or 'Its rude to grab, just wait to be offered'.  I notice that these example both have the word 'wait' in them.   Maybe that is the issue - we have lost the capacity to wait...

And yes the floods and the rain are other metaphors for how I am feeling at the moment.  Torrents of rain is just one way to express my deep sorrow.

'And the rain it raineth every day'

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

'Please don't shoot, I'm only playing...'

There are many versions of sand-play and sand-play therapy since Dr Margaret Lowenfeld introduced her ground breaking work in the postwar years; or should I say following WW2!  Play Therapists and Dramatherapists and Jungian therapists all have collections of small  objects and trays of sand in order for people to create small worlds, and tell stories about their lives.  The objects can be small stones, shells, buttons, buckles, items from dolls houses, animals for a farm yard, wild animals and mythic animals, and lots of people from different occupations, ages and ethnicity.  Also there are usually trees, bridges and fences, birds of the air, creatures from the sea and domestic pets.  And more.

The debate I am having at the moment with friends and colleagues is the use of weapons in the play room.  Most people say, 'Oh it is harmless - children have always played with bows and arrows - or guns - or plastic swords.  Surely knights with spears or soldiers with guns don't do any harm'.  After all 'they are only playing'.  My mind shifts to the child soldiers being trained to shoot their families, the fact that many countries have been riven by war long term.  Are we living in a culture of war or a culture of peace?  Or a culture for war or a culture for peace?

By arming children in the play room, in an age when fantasy and reality are often confused, especially on television, is reinforcing the weapon culture.  I just don't buy this, 'children need to be able to express their anger so thats what the guns are for' - there are plenty of ways to express anger without weaponry.  Anyone for a jog?

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Elsie Bartlett (1910-2012)

Elsie joined the Creative Care drama group from the very beginning, some 18 months ago, at the Glastonbury Care Home.  Already over 100 years old, she showed a zest for living, and an insatiable curiosity.  Elsie would join in  every  creative activity, from sand play to drawing to music and movement.  She participated in our 'Seaside Holiday' interactive performance and her immediate participation encouraged others to follow suit.  She will be remembered for many years to come, and as a tribute, a new book for carers and therapists, 'Creative Care: creating an alternative pathway...' is dedicated to Elsie.

Which leads me into the sheer excitement and discoveries of my first Churchill visits to Malaysia and Czech Republic, and the great frustration with actualising of the visit to St Petersburg.  I have heard that there is amazing work with the arts and especially masks and theatre, with elderly people.  But to get access to it and a formal letter of invitation, which is necessary to get a visa, is quite another matter.  Watch this space!

As a follow up to one visit in Malaysia, I am returning in September to see if an arts initiative can happen in 100 bed ward for elderly people.  I shall divide them into groups of 10 beds, and work with trained volunteers to do music and movement, singing and storytelling.  Lets see what happens!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Cute little Cubs

Ah, Cute Little Cubs...but beware the telephone iron fist!

Increasingly we are seeing appealing images on our screens, especially in the afternoons, of cute leopard cubs that need saving, desperate children that need feeding, disasters that need supporting.  If we give just £5 per month or even £3, we will be making an enormous difference.  AND we will receive a cute little toy or regular newsletter...

What we are not told is that we will also receive persuasive telephone calls: telephone calls that try to re-assure us they are just giving us exciting new information, or an update on the campaign.  What the 'phone calls are really about is asking us to give yet more money.  Psychologically these calls or promotions feed into an area of our brains that feels we have not done enough, rather like those school reports that merely said 'Could do better'.

Furthermore, is it really allowed to make such calls at 8.45pm to pensioners living alone?  A recent example illustrated how trapped people become in these situations; a pensioner's daughter answered the telephone as her mother was unwell, and when challenged was told coyly, 'Is it really that late - I AM so sorry - we will we ring your mother in a few days'  When asked not to ring, the same coy voice said that only the pensioner in question could make that request!

Yes I could do better, and be more of Friday's Child who is loving and giving, but I am a pensioner, too,  and Saturday's Child who has still to work hard for a living!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Dancing with respect!

As part of my Churchill Fellowship I have visited residential care homes in Prague and have seen some wonderful creative and artistic work with people with dementia and people who are elderly and frail.  The 'Dancing Man', Petr Valeta is extraordinary with the energy he transmits to older people, many of them in wheel chairs or with frames.  Petr dances both for the residents as well as with them.  His sessions comprise group work that gets feet tapping, hands clapping and an anticipation for what is to come next.  He dances with each individual, enthusing them to go beyond their body limits and really dance, treating them all with the utmost respect.  Then he performs for the group and they are enthralled.  As a former professional ballet dancer, Petr is able to combine his own talents with his therapeutic care-home experience and provide something truly magical!


Dr. Petr Veleta was born in 1952 in Prague, Czech Republic.
He graduated from the Dance Conservatory in Prague, one-year internship at the London School of Contemporary Dance, Academy of Music in Prague - majoring in choreography,
Charles University in Prague - Ph.D – "Dance and exercise program for seniors”.
He worked as a ballet soloist in Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, Music Theatre in Prague and as a chief choreographer in Theatre in Olomouc. As a dance teacher and choreographer, he worked at Slovak and Czech Republic and in several projects in England and Germany. Until 2011 he worked as an assistant director of the National Theatre in Prague. He is a director of Peter´s Dance Centre Prague.
Other activities include dance a movement therapy for seniors with mental and physical disabilities, which is carried out within Czech Alzheimer Society programs and  the Center of Gerontology in Prague 8.

Watch this space, as I plan to bring Petr Valeta to UK as part of our Creative Care training programme.

Friday, 29 June 2012

In My Spare Time...

I am visiting other initiatives in Malaysia and made a recent trip to Taiping to visit the facilities of the Psychiatric Hospital, especially their initiatives with older people.  The psychiatric services are strapped for cash to bring about lasting innovations but I witnessed a lot of very creative thinking.  In former years Malaysian doctors did not choose to be psychiatrists, it was a last resort if you were not very bright!  Forty years ago we rescued a 12 year old 'Orang Asli' (aboriginal) boy who was going to be given ECT - the Filipino psychiatrist said that he could not communicate and was 'out of it'.  When my younger son started talking his own language and brought out a pack of cards to play, the young lad was perfectly able to communicate and interact!  But it was a near thing.

Recently there has been a mudslide that wiped out some Orang Asli houses, killed and injured and rendered people shocked and homeless.  Several of them are in the psychiatric hospital suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression.  This was unheard of in the past when the Orang Asli proved to be very resilient people with a life style to be envied.  However they are losing their homelands and more rain-forest is being decimated for oil palm plantations.  So mudslides are becoming more frequent as ancient forests are being cleared.  (for more about the Malaysian aborigines got to the link on:, and also see 'Theatre, Ritual and Transformation: The Senoi Temiars, by Sue Jennings and published by Routledge, 1995).

Isn't it time we took positive action to halt the so called 'march of progress' and considered the loss of habitat, wild life, and an indigenous life-style that could be a role-model for us all.  The Orang Asli, after all were the original inhabitants of Malaysia, long before the arrival of Indians, Malays, Chinese, Javanese and more.  All these people make up the extraordinarily colourful and rich tapestry, that now makes Malaysia.  But it is the Orang Asli who made the fabric into which these new threads are woven.

Monday, 4 June 2012

First stop Malaysia

First Stop Malaysia for my Churchill Fellowship 'Arts and Older People'

Malaysia is a country of extremes.  Of so much pleasure and such a lot of pain.  Totally overwhelmed by a 100 bed ward of elderly people, many with dementia, all dressed in peach cotton and scrupulously clean.  'They don't talk about their families' said one staff member, yet one woman of 100 was stopped from telling me that her son had not visited.  Just where can we start with creative and interactive activities?  Trying to find volunteers to go in in teams and work with small groups.  I drive away and there are all the amazing colours and smells, all the sensory stimulus one could hope for, so I have suggested we find a way for them to have a sensory garden with plants and water and stone shapes.

I go to Ipoh and meet Dr Goh who is President of the Malaysian Dementia Society and find such vision and commitment to finding solutions for older people, especially those with dementia.  He has already implemented the idea of a herbal garden with sweet fragrances, and he has invented a proto-type whereby people in wheel chairs can stand and have eye contact with others instead of being looked down upon.  He is very committed to cross cultural creative stimulus and is encouraging carers to do massage and storytelling.  

As I said - Malaysia is a country of extremes! 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Churchill Fellowship: Malaysia First

Part of my research for Arts and Older People is to try and discover peoples attitudes towards the ageing process and whether people believe in an active or passive old age.  How committed are people and authorities for the arts provision?

The arts can also be active or passive - there is a lot of fun entertainment for older people in care homes, and concerts and poetry readings.  However there seems to be less participatory arts activities, i.e. 'active arts' once people get older.  I am especially interested in drama and theatre through interactive workshops and also performances with older people involved in the production.  There is potential for all aspect of performance, not only playing roles but also directing, stage management and technical support.

Next month when I go to Malaysia and it will be stimulating to discover if participatory arts are shared amongst the diverse cultural groups: Malay, Chinese and Indian.  Certainly when I lived with the Temiar people in the Malaysian rain-forest, everyone participated in the singing and dance-dramas, the shamanic seances and the bamboo music.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Arts and Elderly People

Good News!  I have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship for 2012-2013.

I am able to travel to the countries of my choice to study and research my chosen themes 'Arts and Elderly People' for up to 8 weeks.  My travel, insurance and lodging are paid by the Fellowship.  This means it is a bit tough for freelancers who are not salaried and therefore cannot get paid leave.  So I am having to work twice as hard for the moment!

I shall go to St Petersburg (3 weeks) for my main visit because they have a hospital and centre where all the arts are developed with older people, and I shall be documenting the visits on this blog as I go.

I am also going to Malaysia (2 weeks) because I am particularly interested in the attitudes towards older people and their roles, as well as what the arts are contributing to their well-being. My third country has to be Czech Republic, (2 weeks), birthplace of my beloved late husband.  I shall be carrying out interviews with leading care workers as well as seeing the work in several homes and day centres for older people.  This gives me one extra week for any necessary follow-ups.

Watch this space for updates and do let me have any contacts you may have in these countries  What an adventure!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Who is helpless?

In the moment I felt completely helpless - being screamed at by a young female Israeli  at a checkpoint just outside Jerusalem.  The setting was just glorious, expansive blue sky, masses of cherry blossom, and hibiscus.  I had been to Beit Jala, a Palestinian township just outside Jerusalem to meet with an old friend and colleague Marina Barham.  She runs a remarkable theatre group 'Al Harah' who perform social theatre and political theatre as well as leading workshops for community leaders and people working in rehabilitation.

We had a simple but delicious meal in a well known street cafe and then started the journey home.  The sign post said Tel Aviv and there was nothing to suggest I should not be there or that special documents were needed.  I was travelling with an Arab friend, actor and dramatherapist, and we were stopped by a male soldier who said I needed a blue card to go through this check-point, and we asked very nicely to speak to his senior colleague.  A young woman of about 20 years started to abuse me verbally at the top of her voice, screaming to go away...  I won't repeat the remainder of her vitriol, but I was shaking as a result.

Why does this need to happen?  Will anything go anywhere for anybody if this is communication.  And of course it is far worse for the Palestinians and Arabs who live with this all the time.

Is this woman feeling helpless?  If I saw her in my clinic I would know exactly what to do  But why should anyone, let alone a foreign traveller, be subject to this abuse on a public highway?