memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘inmates’ Category

Quack quack

Quack quack.

A room with a view

I have just spent most my morning  admiring the sporadic flocks of migrating birds on their way north in the early spring (while at the same time catching up on Radio 4 podcasts of The News Quiz).

The birds winter in North Africa (lucky them) and then rendezvous in the environs of Algeciras in Morocco to await to their turn for streaming funnel of avian life crossing the Dire Straits to Gibraltar and beyond. My particular contingent then wheel west along the Algarve coast until they reach the Cape of Sagres before turning north and eventually crossing in front my bedroom window – left to right using the narrow corridor of pine and eucalyptus forest between the village and the ocean.

later they will build their nests in the bosky fields of Hampshire (lucky them).

A miraculous cycle of nature, a spectacle laid on just for me. The message is clear – relax and be in harmony with nature. Go with the flow.

The view from my bed in the morning

After lunch (stewed chicken with pasta – a culinary mésalliance in my opinion) I return to my room for a nap/siesta/snooze/40 winks from I wake 30 minutes later. I then dutifully carry out my physiotherapeutic exercises. First an isometric routine for beginners (even I, handicapped as I am) can do them in my chair followed by a lurch/stomp/stumble on my walker/Zimmer frame down the corridor outside my room.

Up the corridor to the right is a bathroom into which I enter/slip/pop to lean back against the radiator for my straighten-the-back-to-improve-my-posture exercise (with some deep breathing thrown in). After a while I get tired/bored with the straighten-the-back-to-improve-my-posture exercise and put my hand into my pocket where I encounter my mobile phone (not a «smart» phone but-pretty-intelligent-for-the-price) and take a rather eery picture of myself, taking a rather eery picture of myself, taking a rather eery – OH JUST SHUT UP WILL YOU!



I return back down the corridor to the end and turn right to admire the fine view of our local church (I don’t mean that the church per se is particularly fine – just the view of it).

After tea (the old dears can’t be doing without their tea, you know – it’s a lifetime habit, useful survival skill as well in case they starve to death between the twin fueling stations of lunch and early dinner. They dunk (good word) their bread or biscuits into heavy outsize cups of tea or milky coffee made from turnips (you have to be a weightlifter to be able to raise them to your lips) instead they crouch devotionally in front of the heavy cups and spoon the resultant pap into their mouths) so after tea, I spend time in my atélier working on my lastest painting.



Back in my room I’m beginning to run of steam.

«… Fragments, that I have shored up against my ruin»

And at the end of the day the sun sets at the orbiting rim of our world.

Fruta da Epoca



Sweet Cherry.

Vigorous tree with strong apical control with an erect-pyramidal canopy shape, capable of reaching 50 ft. In cultivation, sweet cherries are maintained 12-15 ft in height. Leaves are relatively large (largest of cultivated Prunus), elliptic with mildly serrated margins, acute tips, petioled, and strongly veined.

I love cherries – I reckon they are just about my favourite fruit, except possibly the-perfect-peach (do I dare to eat a peach?)

Consider the cherries which are harvested in due season from the orchards of the Douro valley – red, plump, succulent, delicious.

I doubt that these will end up on the shelves of Sainsburys or Safeways like the strawberries of the Algarve that are whisked away by the waiting refrigerated trucks, throbbing in the misty dawn and driven along the hot dusty motorways of Spain and France and through the Chanel Tunnel to the London vegetable warehouses at dusk.

No, these cherries will flood the fruit markets of Penafiel and Bom Successo and each kitchen-table in the region will have a laughing overflowing abundance and children shall dangle them from their ears and youths and maidens shall dance joyously in the church-squares of the golden valley.


In the Home the appearance of cherries will be greeted by the incurious and unexpressed satisfaction of the continuance of the seasons – of course, cherries, what else? The old people will think.

Because we are not anywhere near this season, the presence of a bowl of shiny dark cherries in front of one of the old dears (brought that afternoon by a visiting daughter) drew tacit attention from some of us.

It was supper-time and the rest of us had boring old stewed apple; but not this old dear who set about her bowl of cherries with a will, spitting out stones while the cup of her curved fingers fed another one into her chewing mouth. From time to time she would lift her crouching face from the plate and glance around with a look that said: eat your hearts out, suckers and if anyone thinks that they’re going to get a bite of my cherries, well they’ve got another think coming …

Blessed are the Ungiven for they shall inherit … for they shall inherit what? … I know, for they shall inherit all the cherries!

The mysterious case of the uneatable pears

An  inspirational book (for my generation at least) was CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller.

Wicked and hilarious this book with brilliant wordplay brings paradox to an inevitable  Zeno-like absurdity. Published in 1957 it dazzled our generations and spread across the Anglophonic world like a wildfire.

(Now, of course, we have spawned a generation which, not only has not read CATCH 22 but also hasn’t read much else either – poor them, so many lost conceits, so much lost irony).

Anyway there is a scene in the book where everyone on the base is issued with a pill to throw away into the bushes.



So it is in this place. Sometimes we are distributed with green pears so hard and unripe that those of us who still have our own teeth, should we actually attempt to bite into them … but not to worry the pears are not to be eaten but to be put into our pockets or bags and consumed in a couple of days when they are ripe.

That same impulse, the same força de vontade, which is so good for my physical improvement, impels me to be difficult about the pear situation.

I enter the dining room for dinner at 7.00 sharp and notice the small rock-like green projectiles – what’s this, I think, are we going to have a window-breaking contest after dinner or have some of us been distributed with uneatable pears again:

–          Excuse me, I don’t want this fruit because it’s not ripe, is it? I’ll have the fruit pap, please.

–          There is no fruit pap left.

–          No fruit pap left!

–          You have to warn us in advance if you want fruit pap instead of a green pear.

I’m entering The Twilight Zone again.

–          Can’t you just assume that I will prefer fruit pap to unripe fruit …?

Meanwhile someone else has tactfully produced one of the apples that they keep in the kitchen in reserve for difficult cases like mine.



That damned shout




Breaks my concentration

My brush jerks

Sour clashing colours

Stab into the heart

Staggering loops down

Writhing streaks

Smear the clouds

Obscuring my notions


I slump at the margin

Of the brown river

Swirling and turgid

Tethered to scruples


I gaze back up-stream

Whence I came

Blue clear waters

Sparkling in the sun


I contemplate the spoiled image

That’s not what I meant

Not what I meant at all

That’s for the bin

That damned shout



And yet after that

the sunset taken from the terrace

that very evening


Quack quack

His mind is full of junk

Scraps of half-digested information

From third-hand sources

A dash of religious bigotry

Seasoned with cliché-ridden

Commonplace ideas

His understanding of

The planet and universe

Has inconceivable voids

His rare excursions

Into abstract thought invariably

Produce utterances both

Risible and ridiculous

In short he has the depth

And mental clarity of a

Small puddle in the road

And the intellectual weight

Of a poppadum.

old macdonald hat a farm

Old MacDonald had a farm

And on that farm he had a duck


With a quack quack here

And a quack quack there

Here a quack

There a quack

Everywhere a quack quack

Old MacDonald had a farm


(If there were a quacking event

In the Olympic Games

He would stand a good chance

Of representing his country).

Bark bark

Bark on, sister, bark on

At the aged creature who dithers

Listless all day in a mental fog

Who’s queued all afternoon

In a gloomy crowded room

 with a thousand years

Of spent humanity

Nodding off in front of

The stultifying crassness

Of daytime TV

Whiling the long hours away

In senile topor


Suddenly whirled into tea

Mashed up dried biscuits

In an oversized heavy cup

Of milk or tea

Or milky coffee

Dunking bread

From time immemorial

Into the turgid liquid

Dazed and confused

Harried and hustled

Hectored and admonished

Muffled shouting

Hardly reaching

Into damaged mind

And broken memory.


Bark on, sister, bark on

But consider this:

Nothing divides you from them

But three odd decades.

Your present is their past

Their present is your future.

Memo from Terra

Name …………………………. Terra

Status ………………………… Planet

Location …………………….  Solar system on rim of Galaxy (Via Lactia) – North/West Quadrant

Mass ………………………….  5.974 x 1027 g

Volume ……………………..  259,875,300,000m3

Equatorial diameter …  7,926,381m

Polar diameter …………  7,899,806m

Age …………………………..  c 4,500,000,000 years

Surface gravity ………..  980 cm/s2

Escape velocity ……….  11.18 km/s2

Planet year ……………..  365.256 days

Core temperature …..  4500 degrees C (est.)

Water:land ratio …….  71%:29% (est.)

Report from Terra early 21st century CE 

Dem/S.Europe/Micro/Institution/old people/recruitment/subsection 3K.

To:               The General Council of the ISF (Intergalactic Space Federation)

From:          Agent 47sq – code name <Thomas> (N/W quadrant inspectorate)

Subject:      Care-home Recruitment Policy

Date:          20.09.2012  CE – LPT (Local Planet Time)

Your Excellencies:

The policy in an Old Peoples Home (such as this one) of recruiting all the staff from the same village has many advantages:

  • The Institution becomes the biggest employer and provides work in an otherwise inert and non-dynamic local socio-economic environment.
  • The carers, from top management to the cooks, together with the old people they care for, largely share the same socio-topographical background.
  • Thus the management is able to make value-judgement-based policy/decisions.
  • Many of carers and inmates are nearly or distantly related to each other thus a family atmosphere is engendered.

However there is a downside to the situation:

  • The policy of recruitment based purely on topography as opposed to a merit-based criterion (as is more usual) can sometimes lead to inappropriate staff/workers being recruited.
  •  It appears that in this particular area there is a culture of inter-communication by speaking loudly or shouting.  It seems to me that in sometimes treating the old people as recalcitrant or stubborn family members who are answerable to the norms of logic and correct social behaviour, the workers are drifting away from their core function which is the client/service-provider contract; moreover a few of them seem woefully lacking in what one would have thought a basic tool of their trade – an understanding of and empathy for the various types of senile behaviour/dementia.


(To be continued)

The Lombard Reflex

I get to considering local common characteristics of the village people.

They do love a good noise, don’t they? Last year I read about the Lombard Reflex, the theory developed by the French physicist Etienne Lombard (specialist subject – Stating the Bleeding Obvious) that in a noisy crowded room people will raise their voices to give weight to their opinions, thus adding incrementally to the ambient noise pollution.

That theory doesn’t apply to some of these people though – they start off loud and work their way up through the decibels to just plain deafening.
They do love a good noise don’t they, bless them. They presumably equate noise with having a good time, the pleasure principle, as exemplified by the village feast. Saint’s days, municipal holidays, football victories, none of these events goes unmarked.

It’s time for a village feast.
First the PA system is strung up among the pollarded trees of the square in front of the church and stalls of tat and seriously unhealthy snacks – egg-mixture dipped in batter, deep-fried in boiling fat and then sprinkled with sugar (a riddle inside a mystery wrapped up in an enigma) are deployed. Then comes the booming voice of the DJ testing for sound – what the system lacks in quality it certainly makes up for in quantity. Then we’re off!

The banshee wailing of some local chanteuse (with impressive tubes) is belting out folklore favourites, repetitive and relentless. The people drift contentedly among the trees in the warm summer night. (They are music-illiterate – this is the only music they know).

For me It’s a bit like living, I imagine, in a normally quiet sector of the Western Front where, every now and then, there’s a small (and pointless) battle with the whoosh and crash of in-coming shells and the bang and boom of out-going ones with the distant dull thudding crump of explosions in the next sector of the line – It seemed that out of battle I escaped/down some profound dull tunnel … Then at midnight the thunderous BOOM of the celebratory fireworks, (when I first came here to this room some years ago, I nearly jumped out my skin; I thought we were being invaded from the sea – the Greek navy’s opening straddling salvo perhaps, testing the range to strike at the air-force base down in the pine forest).


Last year was especially unfortunate for me. Now check out these dates: Thursday 23rd June was a public holiday in Portugal – Corpus Christi (a movable feast dependent on an unusually late Easter); moreover it was the night of S. João and so warrants municipal noise about 30 meters from my window as the deaf crow flies until the early hours. The next day (Friday) was the feast of S. João (there are two St. Johns on the A-list – the Apostle/ Evangelist and, the saint in question, the Baptist). This time the party comes right here to the Home.

The bad news is that per cubic litre of space these old dears were being are subjected to more decibels than at the Glastonbury Festival but the good news is that most of them, to a greater or lesser extent, have faulty hearing; meanwhile I cowered blenching here in my room on the second floor feeling the building vibrate.

The next day (Saturday) was the feast of S. Pedro, the village patron saint, so it’s time to party the night away again. The next morning (Sunday) a couple of warning guns go off at 8.30 am to remind people to wake up for the procession. Le tous Maceda has turned out to line the streets; even the wheel-chairs are shoved into a line beside the road to watch the proceedings; all that is except for one misanthropic Englishman and a couple of inmates whose minds are completely lost in the maze of forgetfulness; and finally to round off the festivities (and ram the message home) more boom-bada-bada-boom from the square at night.
Such thoughts are unseemly in someone whose life is nearing its sell-by date.

I should be more tolerant.

I should take the broader view.

I should finish up my pastimes of reading, writing and painting, close my laptop, log off my mind and join the others in concentrating on doing some serious full-time waiting.

In space no one can you scream

I was literally petrified (terrified, horrified, shocked, frozen, stunned, appalled, numb, dazed, speechless, aghast, dumbfounded, stupefied, scared stiff, scared shitless, terror-stricken, shit-scared. Or literally turned to stone, fossilized, ossified, rock-like, statuesque


Historic victory (until it is forgotten next week)

Unique occasion (a royal wedding)

There are no words to express our loss – she was a kind, brave, popular yada yada yada yada

It was an electrifying experience (oh really, how many volts?)

Hopefully, it won’t rain tomorrow (oh, I didn’t the climactic conditions had feelings!)


Actually I am in a unique position to observe (in English) that shouting at old people (unless they are deaf) is unacceptable in an institution such as this for the following reasons:

  • They are human beings
  • Only 30 or 40 years separates the shouters from the shoutees, nothing else
  • They are old, ill, exhausted and therefore defenceless
  • They are clients (i.e. they are paying the very people who are shouting at them).

There is stock of bad qualities which are attributed to the old folks and victims of dementia/Alzheimer’s, the chief of which seems to be STUBBORNNESS and an inability to answer to logic.

I must hasten to stress at this point that «they» form only a very small percentage of the staff here, the rest of which carry out their duties in a friendly and competent way under often very difficult circumstances.

What can I do? I only have useless words – the dictum The Pen is Mightier than the Sword doesn’t apply here. The English language seems to be an impenetrable code that (in this village at least) the inhabitants seem disinclined to break (even though they are subliminally exposed to the language most days of their lives – it’s just wagga-wagga to them; some invisible chip in their brains simply switches off (we don’t do that).

In a recent blog I fell back on bitter satire:

After the skirmish the captain has a debriefing session with his Sargent

–    Well Sargent, any casualties?

–    Yes Sir; one Sir, Fernandes Sir, blanket-job Sir

–    Was she stubborn at all would you say Sargent?

–    Ooh yes Sir, she could be so stubborn, that one!

–    I see; anyone else?

–   Two others only lightly injured Sir; they was caught in the-friendly-crossfire- of-verbal-abuse, Sir.

–    Jolly good; any other business Sargent?

–    Yes Sir, permission to request my transfer out of here, Sir!

–    Good lord, Sargent, any special reason?

–    I am Home-sick, Sir.

–    But I thought this was your Home Sargent!

–    Yes, Sir, it is and I’m sick of it!


  • Where are you going?
  • To the bathroom …
  • You have a nappy don’t you, well use it!

After 5 years in nappies and now happily liberated from them, I will remember the discomfort/indignity/smell/helplessness/hopelessness to the end of my days, so whenever I hear that particular one, my blood literally boils!

I must simmer down, take deep breaths and, far from the madding crowd, turn my attention to my paintings and books.

I am experimenting with collage again:


And here’s my latest yellowy therapy effort thingy:


The book I’m currently immersed in is WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel:

On the movie front I have just heard tell about Ridley Scott’s latest offering PROMETHEUS – sounds promising; think I’ll check it out (I like Ridley Scott – Bade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Body of Lies, The Kingdom of Heaven et. al.)  especially ALIEN


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