Sunday, 27 October 2013


One of my favourite places to work is the Reminiscence Theatre Archive in the Old Baths, Woolwich. As soon as I arrive, Jason, the caretaker, hands me the keys with a big smile on his face. I have to sign in on a register book and then I go up the stairs to my little office. I switch on my computer and I start travelling down memory lane.
Pam Schweitzer donated the Reminiscence Theatre Archive to the Drama Department of the University of Greenwich. This archive contains her work of thirty years. Each box contains all the material related to a single play: photos, flyers, touring schedules, scripts, recordings of the interviews that inspired the play, etc. You can discover all about this archive at
Last Tuesday I had a visit from Finland! It was Elvira, the lady who had preceded me as an assistant at the ERN. She told me about how much she loved the place, she asked me not to forget to water her dear plant and she told me a bit about the boxes she had been working on until she left. The last one contained all the material related to Can we afford the doctor? This play is based on the testimonies of people who lived in the 1920s and 1930s and who were interviewed in 1985. In those times before the creation of the National Health Service, the first question that many people asked themselves when someone got ill was exactly this one. In a time when the health cuts make the front pages of our newspapers, both in the UK and Spain, this play becomes especially relevant.
Can we afford the doctor? was first performed in 1985. There is a very interesting Channel Four documentary about the making of this play, directed by Pam Schweitzer and performed by the original Age Exchange Company. You can watch it at

Today, the Reminiscence Theatre Archive Company  (RTA Co), whose members are drama students at the University of Greenwich, is preparing a new version of this play, directed by Ross Crossby, a very enthusiastice graduate from this university, and Pam herself. Lorenzo and me were lucky to attend one of the rehearsals.

After some warm-up exercises, which everybody joined, including us, Pam asked us to remember a time when we were children and had to go to the doctor. Then, in groups, we had to act up these short sketches. For example, a girl called Jo remembered how she had to be given stitches at the age of ten and her mother nearly fainted at the sight of her blood.

Then the members of the company showed another sketch they had prepared the previous week based on one of the memories gathered in Can we afford the doctor? A girl remembered feeling very ill and being taken to hospital to be put first in an isolation room and then in a ward full of adults who told her to shut up whenever she cried at night. The worst was that she had her hair shaved by the nurses. 

The performance was very well choreographed and we could really feel the atmosphere in the hospital ward. The actors and actresses played different roles each, and moved from one to another skilfully. Still, Pam and Ross made them change some things, which improved the final effect.

Then, Pam divided the company into two groups and gave them the same extract of the original play. It was very interesting to see how different people interpreted the same text.

And finally, we had to practice some of the songs from the play. It was good fun, as some of the names of the remedies were real tongue twisters.

And this was our night at the theatre. It reminded me of the Jumble Sale Theatre Company sessions. It was really good fun. 
Photos: Lorenzo Hernandez

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Today I would like to have a break from work and tell you about my first free days in London. It all started like a normal working day. I was supposed to work in my computer and wait for Pam to call me, as we had things to discuss about the conference Remembering Yesterday Caring Today, which is going to take place in London in June 2014. I expected to spend the day discussing papers and figures, but Pam suggested that we go to the University of Greenwich, and see the venue where the conference will take place.
It was a wonderful autumn day; the sun was shining and the mild temperature kept our spirits up. We took a walk across Greenwich Park, past the Royal Observatory and the meridian towards the university. Greenwich Park is one of the biggest green spaces in London. It's on a hill and from its top you can see the Royal Naval College and London's new skyline, so different from the one I remembered from twenty years ago, when I studied at the Polytechnic of Central London. Now, apart from the Canary Wharf you can see the new skyscrapers such as Norman Forster's Gherkin, or Renzo Piano's Shard.
As we walked, we discussed how to solve a problem related to the Reminiscence Archive. One of the plays we are cataloguing at the moment, Can we afford the doctor?,  has missing material: the transcripts of thirty interviews with older people about what it was like to be ill in the 1920s and 1930s, before the creation of the National Health Service after the Second World War, have disappeared. Each recording, made in the 1980s, is about one hour long, so you can imagine the amount of work it might entail to transcribe all of them. We needed volunteers, and we wondered where we could find them.
When we arrived at the university I was impressed by the beauty of the buildings, all by Christopher Wren. We entered King Williams Court, one of the buildings, as Pam wanted to show me one of the lecture halls where the conference will take place. We got to the third floor to find out that there was a class in progress in that room. I looked through one of the little windows on the door and saw the professor at the bottom, in front of a powerpoint presentation that read: What is volunteering? Pam opened the door a little bit, and of course, the students next to the door moved their heads towards us. In that moment the professor asked: Has anybody worked as a volunteer? Only five or six arms were raised. We could find some volunteers here _ I whispered to Pam. It's worth giving it a try _she said. In that moment, Pam entered the hall saying out loud: Excuse me for interrupting this class, but I happened to hear that you are talking about volunteering and I am here to offer you the possibility of working as volunteers for the Reminiscence Theatre Archive. She gave such a great performance that we managed to get twenty volunteers!! This is what makes Pam Schweitzer so great.
Later on, Pam took me to the amazing dining hall and chapel of the Royal Naval College and we were so lucky that there was a free harpsichord concert by an amazingly talented Japanese performer. Nothing could improve this day: we had sunshine, art, music, we had found the volunteers... And we almost saw the Duke of Edinburgh renaming an ancient ship that had been brought from Scotland and was going to travel all the way to Australia to be repaired. This time Pam didn't manage to convince the security guards to let us in, but she almost did.
That evening we attended the opening of an exhibition of our friend Phil's paintings.
It was a very lively event, full of family, friends and people interested in his art. In the picture you can see me talking to baby Layla and her dad.
The next day, Lorenzo and me decided to become tourists and took a bus to central London, mixing ourselves with the hundreds of Spanish and Italian tourists who visit the area camera in hand.

We saw the horse guard (with two boys marching behind the soldier, as you can see in the picture), a demonstration in Trafalgar Square against the cast system (notice how the protesters are contained by a white ribbon that is moved by the police as they walk on), and a noisy walk in Covent Garden.

We ended up in Green Park, where we sat on a bench eating our sandwiches and witnessed how an English couple had a monumental row. I thought they were two actors rehearsing but no, it was real. Finally they stormed in opposite directions. Viva el amor.
Sue, our landlady, has lent us a book called Quiet London, a guide to hidden places where you can find tranquility. I think we'll try one of these next weekend.

Photos: Lorenzo Hernandez                                    

Sunday, 13 October 2013


You’ll wonder what I am going to do in London during the next nine months. Well, I am going to work for Pam Schweitzer, founder and coordinator of the European Reminiscence Network.

What is reminiscence? Reminiscence is the act of remembering experiences and events from the past. And this is what Pam has been helping people do during the last thirty years. She describes herself as a person who likes to listen to people’s stories and she really knows how to make them feel comfortable, how to ask you the right questions and create the right mood for remembering.

Pam started as a drama teacher in the 1970s and one day she experienced by chance how a group of old ladies became young again while telling stories about the time when they were seventeen. She also observed that the act of remembering together created links between them. She then invited a group of her students to record these ladies’ memories and create a piece of drama, which was performed at school and in the residential unit where the ladies lived. 

The show was a success, but it was only performed twice, so Pam decided to set up a professional company, Age Exchange, which would make plays out of people’s memories and go on tour to residential homes, community centres... From the very beginning, they decided that they would not perform in theatres but would take theatre to the places where older people lived or met. After the play, there was a discussion with the audience and this would trigger new memories.
Many were the topics of these plays: childhood memories, people’s first jobs, going to the doctor before the National Health Service existed, emigration to the UK... Along the years, Pam worked not only with professional actors; she also founded The Good Companions, a company of senior citizens that also performed together with young actors.

You can read more about Pam and her projects in her website:
There is also a very interesting book I’d recommend you: Reminiscence Theatre: Making Theatre from Memories, pulished in 2006 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Pam founded the European Reminiscence Network in 1993 with partners in 16 European countries. The Network now has partners in 20 countries and many associates in USA, Canada, India, Latin America, Australia and the Far East.
Since 1997 the members European Reminiscence Network have worked with people with dementia and their carers. The first project was called Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today. This led to further projects: Making Memories Matter (which involved artists from seven countries working with individual older people to create ‘Life Portraits’ or ‘Memory Boxes’ around their life experience), or Sites and Signs of Remembrance.

The ERN latest project is Remembering Together: Reminiscence Training (RTRT), which is a development of Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today. According to the ERN website, in these projects “families who are caring for a relative with dementia at home can participate in a series of reminiscence sessions with professional and volunteer support. The purpose of these sessions is to engage families in remembering, recording, celebrating and sharing their long life histories and increasing their social integration in their local communities”. The current project aims at creating reminiscence groups in the countries who participate and train people to facilitate these groups.

This training comprises two stages:
·      A two-day training course.
·      A four-month apprenticeship period.
This year I am going to train to become a facilitator of reminiscence groups. I’ll tell you about this experience in my following post. 

Photos: Lorenzo Hernandez                            


So many things have happened in the last two weeks that I don’t know where to start. Today I’ll just tell you about our trip and our first impressions of London.

Our trip to London was unusual and surprisingly very pleasant. First, we decided to avoid the traffic around Madrid and took the Silver Route (Ruta de la Plata) that crosses Extremadura and continues up north until we reached Leon. There we were welcome by our friend Isabel, who has just moved there to study at university and become a vet, and Leo, Isabel’s lovely golden retriever. Both Isa and Leo are settling in very well in Leon, the city and its character really suit them. Isa offered us a wonderful vegetarian meal to show Lorenzo that eating without meat is not that bad and her flatmate cooked a wonderful gazpacho Albacete-style. We didn’t spend much time in Leon, but I started to feel relaxed after the last two crazy months. The atmosphere at Isa’s student flat is peaceful and full of good energy. It’s funny to think that Isa has ended up in Leon because there was a mistake with her selectivity marks and couldn’t go to Cordoba. It seems to have been a blessing in disguise.

The next day, we set off towards Santander in order to take the ferry to Plymouth. We found out that we were the only Spanish people on board; the rest of the passengers were either bikers or people who owned amazing cars. Most of them were over sixty. The views of Santander port on departure were breathtaking. The voyage took twenty hours, but they passed really quickly, as there was plenty of entertainment: a showman singing cover versions of Robbie Williams, an indoor swimming pool on the deck... We slept very well despite not having a cabin because the people were really respectful of each other’s rest.

The arrival in Plymouth was also impressive, so green and picturesque. Then, we had to drive to London. The problem was that the directions we found online sent us through central London and it took us a while to figure out where we were. Finally, we arrived at Sue and Phil’s home, where we are going to stay, at almost midnight. They were really nice and Sue offered us some delicious leek soup and made us feel at home immediately. Their house is decorated in a very cosy style and our rooms are full of light and comfortable. Lorenzo’s and mine have a view to the street, which is very quiet and Carla’s is under the roof and looks as if it came from a fairy tale. We also have our own sitting room and kitchen, so even if we are living with a family, we feel independent. However, Sue and Phil are there whenever we need them and Sue constantly offers us delicious treats such as homemade bread or chocolate cake. Besides, we can park on the street for free, which is a luxury in London.

The next day I met Pam Schweitzer, the person I am going to work for this year. Immediately, I knew we were going to get on well. Pam came to the house and accompanied me to the place where I am going to work: the University of Greenwich Drama Department, which is not in Greenwich but in Woolwich, a very multicultural area near the river Thames, in a building that used to be a swimming pool. Actually, the place is called The Old Baths. There are even rests of the balcony around the swimming pool in some places. Of course, there is no swimming pool anymore, the building has several classrooms, offices and a theatre. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. I met Jason, the caretaker, and Thom, the IT specialist. I was shown the place where I am going to work, a small office on the first floor next to a big window (Thom envies the natural light I enjoy). She also showed me the staff kitchen (a luxury when you have to eat out every day).

Pam is a lovely person, very attentive and worried about our wellbeing. She’s a very talented person, extremely bright, but she’s very approachable and really, really likeable. She showed me the Reminiscence Theatre Archive, which I have to organize and told me about the work I have to do.

My first week at work was intense, with a two-day training session and a trip to Poland. I’ll tell you about it on my next post.

Talk to you soon!