Sunday, 20 July 2014


I recently attended a performance of Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre in London as part of the social programme we had organized for the European partners of the Remembering Yesterday Caring Today Training project who attended the symposium. 

This is one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest productions. It narrates a series of barbaric events that culminate in a banquet where a woman is tricked into eating a pie made with her own sons’ flesh. Rape, mutilation, physical and psychological torture and murder are offered to the spectators in such a stark way that it makes some people feel physically sick. 

I had been warned about the negative reviews this production had received because of its sensationalistic use of violence, an attempt to make a Tarantino-like version of Shakespeare. Actually, there wasn’t so much blood – it was theatre after all. What really shocked me was a scene when a girl is found in the woods by her uncle after having been savagely raped, tortured and maimed. It wasn’t what you could actually see, but the look of madness in the young woman’s face. This reminded me of a performance of the ‘Vagina Monologues’ I saw a few years ago in which one of the actresses reflects on the fate of the thousands of women who were systematically raped during the Bosnian-Serbian war of the 1990s.

Later on in the play, the girl’s father asks the emperor if a parent should kill a daughter that has been raped. The emperor answers that he should, so he murders her in order to save his honour. It’s chilling to think about how often I have heard the same story in the news in the last few years. 

Has humanity changed so little? Yesterday I was in the underground station and I read an announcement of Amnesty International asking people to sign a petition to save a teenage boy from being hanged. His crime? Being gay. 

Fortunately, there are moments when you can see a silver lining in such a bleak panorama. On the same day I attended the performance of Titus Andronicus, I was walking up Whitehall with a group of people who had come to London from all over Europe. When we reached the monument that commemorates the fallen in the wars, we came across a parade of members of the three services of the armed forces. 

As soon as this celebration finished, members of the police moved some fences and the floats of the Pride in London parade took over. In seconds, the sound of the army boots were substituted by the songs of Gloria Gaynor and other divas and the choreographies of topless muscular men and drag queens followed the same route that had been covered by the army march a few minutes before. 

This is one of the things I love about this city, the rich mixture of ways of living and the opportunity to express yourself and live the life of your choice. 

I leave you with the photos Lorenzo took during in Pride in London celebration in Trafalgar Square, one of my favourite places in London.

Lorenzo takes a break from photography in Trafalgar Square

I just caught the London eye celebrating Gay Pride with my mobile

Photography: Lorenzo Hernandez                                                                            

Thursday, 3 July 2014


Drama workshop at the RYCT Reminiscence in Dementia Care Symposium
After spending a month in Malaga working at the Official School of Languages in Fuengirola, I am back in London. Going back to my old life in Spain wasn’t as hard as I expected. It was weird to meet my students on the last week of classes, but the teacher who had been standing in for me, Tamara, was such an amazing professional that she made the transition really smooth. After a couple of days I felt as if I had never left my post. It was also really nice to discover that many of my old students had been following this blog and had been connected to me somehow throughout the year.

Living at my mum’s was great: she and her partner, Julian, spoilt me rotten and I must say that I have never eaten so much “jamón serrano” in my life. They live far from my school and I have spent a long time commuting to work, but I also had a delicious sandwich in my bag. Travelling by train wasn’t that bad after all, I spent the time doing useful things such as reading Anita Berlin’s wonderful account of how her grandfather arrived in Spain or writing my contribution for the forthcoming symposium Remembering Yesterday Caring Today. Reminiscence in Dementia Care”.

However, life has been far from relaxing. I left in the morning and came back almost at midnight. To make matters worse, my permission to come back to London to help at the symposium wasn’t properly applied for and it wasn’t clear whether I would get it until the very last minute. Finally, I was given the green light to come to London less than 24 hours before my flight was supposed to take off. I was sighing with relief when I was told that my flight had been cancelled due to the French air controllers’ strike. It was 19:00 and I had to be in London the next day. The airline I was booked in could not offer me a place in the next 48 hours and I would miss the symposium. My colleague Paul helped me find another flight with another company. Fortunately, this one wasn’t cancelled. I travelled all night and I arrived just in time for the conference.

Workshop on the use of visual arts-based activities
Again, going back to my life in London was really easy (I must have become a very flexible person). After a few hours, I felt I had never left. Fortunately, Sue Heiser and a group of wonderful people (I can’t mention all of them now, but I am extremely thankful to them) had helped Pam in the last legs of the conference preparations.

Most of the members of the European Reminiscence Network have worked together in the framework of a Grundtvig Learning Partnership (Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today) during the last two years. This symposium was the culmination of this project. Delegates from all over Europe (The Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Northern Ireland Poland, Slovakia, Spain) joined specialists from all over the UK to share experiences and ideas.

Josep Vilar and Duna Ulsamer give their presentation on the impact of RYCT on staffs and residents in the care home context
What was the symposium about? Well, Sally Knocker, summarised it very well in her introductory talk. First, she asked the audience to choose three pieces of information they would use to define themselves. Some people chose things related to their work, hobbies, family, personality... Then, Sally explained that when you are diagnosed with dementia, this is the only thing people see in you; all of a sudden, the rest of your defining features disappear.

The Slovak team led a series of activities on the use of visual arts
The day was packed with workshops focused on the experience and needs of participants with dementia, the impact of “Remembering Yesterday Caring Today” in the care home context, the needs of family carers, the use of drama, music and the visual arts in the RYCT sessions, and how to work towards an artistic product, training and evaluation. All these workshops had a common goal: to focus on the person, not the patient. Artists met social workers, care home managers, specialists in dementia, writers, family carers and persons with dementia who have made different contributions to the RYCT project according to their own skills.

Drama activity led by Pam Schweitzer
The day went by like a dream and I would like to share with you a few moments, illustrated by Lorenzo’s wonderful photos: the participants of the drama workshop lying on the floor reproducing the frozen image of a holiday, the people who joined the visual arts workshop writing and drawing on the paper-covered walls, Anita Berlin looking at the series of portraits that her son Alex had made of her father Ludwig, Josep and Duna talking about the impact of the project in the care home context... Of course I missed a lot. I wish I could have been everywhere, but you can get a taste of the exciting atmosphere of the day.

Anita Berlin looking at her father's portrait
We had lunch in the beautiful hall of the town hall in Woolwich (Pam managed to convince them not to move us to the basement, even if we were almost 100 people), and we had the “official” group photo on the impressive staircase, one of the landmarks of the building.

Dinner at the Town Hall in Woolwich
One of the pluses of this symposium was the outstanding theatre performances we enjoyed during the day. The first one was “Going Back”, the new reminiscence show by Eastern Angles, which tells the life story of Sid, a 94-year-old veteran and his wife Hettie throughout the 20th century. This was a brilliantly performed show in which I would highlight the amazing choreography and use of sound effects.

Pam Schweitzer and Jon Tavener (director)  converse before the Eastern Angles show 
"Going Back" by Eastern Angles
The second performance was Wioleta Pietrasik’s homage to her grandma, who lived with Alzheimer’s during the last years of her life. This intimate piece was developed by the actress herself with the help of Pam Schweitzer. I loved the mixture of Polish and English and the humorous use of body language.

Wioleta Pietrasik shows how her mother used to stir the mashed potatoes
There was also an exclusive one-to-one performance by Clare McManus, “Tread Softly”, which took place in the kitchen, but only ten people could attend it and I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.

I had to speak at the end of the day, during the launching of the Reminiscence Theatre Archive, so I expected that by the time my turn arrived, everybody would have fled or would be half asleep out of exhaustion. To make matters worse, there was a break for “wine” right before my speech. Amazingly, everybody enjoyed my presentation (maybe it was the wine). I guess my life had been such a rollercoaster for the last seven days that I was too tired to get nervous. Actually, I really enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm about the hidden treasures of the archive.

To finish this entry, I would like to thank all the European members of the network for their support and appreciation. I met most of them in Poznan in October, when I had just arrived here, and now it’s great to see them at the end of this project. They are great professionals and wonderful persons as well. This is the end of one of their learning partnerships and the beginning of a new one, this time led by the very capable Catalan team. Pam knows that the future of the network is in good hands.

Mark, Duna and Josep enjoy their meal at Pam's
Petr Veleta shows his dancing skills to the group
P.S. The next day Pam invited all the European partners to have dinner at her house and relax after two days of hard work. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was lively and warm. Each country was invited to sing a song and the Spanish team chose “Eva Mª se fue buscando el sol en la playa”. 

Probably not the best song of the night, but we enjoyed it

 Photos: Lorenzo Hernandez