memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘Lar’ Category

Tom would love to hear from you

Hi everyone

Jo here, Tom’s niece, gatecrashing his blog again!

Tom is back at the Lar working very hard at getting better. He’s medically stable, well looked after but rehabilitation is slow and frustrating. Tom’s mind is sharp as a razor as ever, but he’s frustratingly not able to type, read or use the computer. However, he’d LOVE to hear your messages, words of support, notes or anything else. It really does make a difference and lift Tom’s mood. Do leave a comment here (They’ll get read to him) or email me jo[at]

x Thanks


Saramago & Censorship



I read somewhere that during the time of Portuguese dictator, Antonio Salazar, The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin was banned.



Several Portuguese intellectuals have showed how the various forms of censorship have hindered the cultural development of Portugal with the cultural elite becoming something of an aristocracy, disconnected from the rest of the population.

This is evident by the prevalence of a gap between popular culture and high culture, with the arraiais (popular gathering with light music and ball dancing), pimba music (based on double-entendre or straightforward sexual slang) and racho folclórico (folk and ethnological dancing and music groups) on one side, and literature, drama and classical music on the other.

I stepped from one side of the divide to the other.

Portugal has become one of the countries in Europe with the lowest attendances of theatre and the lowest rates of book-reading.

So during my years here, in this place,

Physically I have taken one step forward

Spiritually I have taken one step sideways

But culturally I have I have taken one step backward

Of course, philosophically, none of this should matter

But it matters to me

It matters to me



In 1992 the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Souza Lara, who had final say on applications from Portugal, prevented José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from participating in the European Literary Award, positing that the work, rather than being representative of Portugal, was divisive for the Portuguese people.

As a result and in protest against what he saw as an act of censorship by the Portuguese government, Saramago moved to Spain, taking permanent residency in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.



In 1996 José Saramago won the most prestigious award in the world for a writer – the Nobel Prize for Literature.


The reaction of the Portuguese government was muted and ambivalent. On the one hand the (very natural) desire to vaunt the achievement of a Portuguese citizen was offset by the writer’s evident hostility to the culture of his native shores to the extent of becoming a permanent resident of a Spanish island.

The Home where I live

The Home where I live is situated in the north of Portugal in a village called Maceda

that thread of good luck which has run unobtrusively through my life, I have found myself in one of the most reputable Old People’s Homes in the district. Modern, spacious, clean and fairly well designed, it’s a large building salubriously situated on a hill overlooking the sea.

The sea-view makes all the difference to me – satisfying my sense of aesthetics and soothing my troubled psyche.

The Home was the brain-child of the parish priest Sr. Padre Florentino Sousa and all honour to him for that.

Padre Florentino is the President of the Centro Social Paroquial S. Pedro de Maceda, (facebook ref. CSPSPMaceda) which includes a pre-primary school, a day-care centre and a meals-on-wheels service as well as the Old People’s Home, which was formally opened in 2003 by the then Bishop of Porto, D. Armindo Lopes Coelho. (There is a polished brass plaque attesting to this in the entrance hall). The funding for the project came from local worthies, one of whom donated the building land. The project is certified and supervised by the Social Security in Aveiro.

If the Padre is the President, then the driving force (the beating heart) of the Home is the Technical Director, Dra. Marta Reis.

This wholly admirable young woman has worked tirelessly to improve the level of care and professionalism of the whole team of care-workers. When I first arrived here not long after the place had been opened and before Marta & Co. came on the scene, some of the care-workers didn’t care and some of the cooks couldn’t cook and I was in too dark a mental place to be a position to assert myself.

Now, about eight years later, conditions have greatly improved, both with me and with the Home, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Marta and her team and I would like en passant to express my gratitude for being so well and kindly cared for.

Here is a rather inadequate sketch I recently made  of the Home from the garden.

Between you, me and the gatepost, dear

You might not believe this but I have little better to do after lunch than to come up here to my atélier that I’ve made for myself in the book-museum, which is situated (open-plan) directly above and separated from/by a waist-high parapet to/from the entrance and reception area.

So I’m obliged to concentrate a fraction of my attention in ignoring the mind-bogglingly uninteresting and unwanted information and opinions often expressed in ringing/rasping tones beneath me (gobby cows).

Another smallish part of my brain is occupied with a new sketch/painting;

A while ago I gave up searching for a new style – this isn’t an Art Course after all; so I curve the curves and colour the colours in my usual self-indulgent fashion.


There was a teacher, I remember, in the school in Lisbon all those years ago, middle-aged, pleasant and with the forceful delivery of a person born and bred in Dublin.

If she had a fault it was that she was frankly a bit of gossip; she would lure one into a corner of the staffroom and start in a loud whisper with the words: between you, me and the gate-post, dear …


Tomorrow is the 8th birthday of the Home so the Bishop and other nobs are visiting us plebs for lunch (different food, mind you – reminds me irresistibly of the prefects and masters troughing away at The High Table, raised up on a dais in the Refectory at school).

Eight years, eh – between you, me and the gate-post, dear it looks and feels like rather more …


Between you, me and the gate-post, dear, I sometimes get sick of living in an Old People’s Home and wish I lived in a Young People’s Home instead.

What a commotion down there!

Mouthy mares!


Back in my room now and I’m watching the dénoument of Amanda’s trial in Italy – what a result!

I think I’ll name the painting after her.


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


19th Nervous Breakdown

All the thousand pin-pricks of exasperation
All the thousand needles of annoyance
All the thousand grits of irritation
That we are heir to,
Accumulate drop by drop,
Month by month,
Dripping inexorably into my mind’s chalice,
Filling it, filling it to the brim
And then, pausing at the lip,
Surface-tension brimming
Suddenly spills over, silent wine-red tears
Flowing down the silver vessel’s curved side
Staining the white cloth,
Running down the table-leg
And spreading a damp pool
On the dusty floor.


I’m Home-sick

Noise, noise, noise
Loud voices cracked and graceless
Bounce around the walls
Of the chamber
Of my damaged skull.
Irritation blurs my vision
Sunspots inside my eye-lids.
I am depressed but I can’t think why.

The figures wrapped in blankets slump
Lacklustre and inert, crouched to
Withstand some in-coming stuff
The bombardment of imprecation
The barking tirades
The high whine of moral indignation
The boom of the opinionated
The squawking and the bluster
«Oh she’s so stubborn, that one»!
(No, not stubborn, just old;
Old and weary and quirky
Just as you will be one day my dear).

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 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 transfer, Sir!
–    Good lord, Sargent, any special reason?
–    I am Home-sick, Sir.
–    But I thought this was your Home Sargent!
–    Yes it is, Sir, and I’m sick of it!

I am depressed but I can’t think why
I can’t paint, I can’t paint, my hands tremble so.
I am demotivated shred by shred
And please witness the dismantling
Of my fragile self-esteem.

I am on the terrace now,
Soothed by the cold evening sun
And contemplating a misshapen cactus
Against a brick-red wall.
On the terrace
In my peace.

«Midwinter-spring is its own season, sempiternal
Though sodden towards sundown»
So I think, quoting the Poet, as I gazed through smoky chimneys
Then lift my eyes towards the open sea.


Ghosts of Christmas Past

When I started out with this painting lark about three years ago, when the festive season came around, I attempted to do something «Chistmassy» but all my damaged sub-conscious managed to come up with was this troubled image:


That was three years ago. Today on Christmas Eve I feel well and content (though it’s still not ideal to spend Xmas in an institution).

It’s been a good year for me (and I value life per se so much more now)

I revel in the beautiful heaven-sent day & and have just spent an hour on my terrace.

Thank you for the day!



I visit my flat

On Sunday I visited my apartment; big deal? Well, actually yes.

To visit my apartment I need are the following:

  • Two kind and patient friends from Funchal, Madeira, Adam and Jane, who are taking an extended weekend on the mainland driving around visiting places and friends;
  • Their car;
  • My collapsible walking frame;
  • A light medium-sized suit-case (for the loot);
  • My digital camera;
  • Keys of the apartment;
  • Remote-control thingy for the garage door;
  • Sun glasses and cap;
  • And a lot of energy.

What happens is this; in the morning, instead going down on my number one walker, (light, high and almost up to my height – only dwarfish creatures seem to need Zimmer-frames in this region, rather like, I imagine, living a remote Welch valley), I use my number two walker (lower, heavier, sturdier but collapsible). Meanwhile my wheelchair is waiting me at my table. After lunch (rice with roast unspecified pig meat) at about two-ish my friends show up and we’re all ready for the off – they know the routine as well as me – first they push me in reverse out of the door (this Home, for all its spacious amenities inside, is not particularly wheelchair-user-friendly when it comes to exiting – there is a small oh-so-near-but-oh-so-far gap in the lintel), to the strategically-parked car where I hoist myself up onto my feet and, holding on the opened door, swivel my backside onto the front seat while lowering my head to avoid cracking it on the door-jamb, a bit like a duck about to give birth – not a dignified manoeuvre.

Leaving the wheelchair behind, we drive along the sunny road for about five minutes down to the sunlit sea where my flat is situated.


And eventually, after a stressful tussle with the too-high step connecting the floor of the underground garage with the lift door, I step into the hall of my humble abode. Back in my comfort zone.  I peer into my kitchen,


then pass through into the living room where I sit resting and looking around appreciatively at all my books; my feelings are bitter-sweet.


Memories come flooding back … I could have been perfectly happy here were it not for illness and affliction; I remember the silence and the fresh sea-air; I remember the pine trees outside the window:

I look at more of my books.

But enough wool gathering, we have work to do stuff to sort out. We pass through the hall again to a small inner-hall off which there is a bathroom (all in black marble tiles!) and two bedrooms; there should three technically but the people I bought the flat from chose one large master bedroom with bathroom – I’m glad they did. This is my bedroom.

The inner-hall is lined with book-shelves and decorated with the piece of faience and bric-a-brac.

This a Quimper St. Anne with Portuguese tiles in the background

And this a Quimper bowl on an early Victorian maple-wood card-table

Here is a closer view of the bowl

And finally here is a plate of Dante.

After two hours the suitcase is bulging, Adam and Jane have chosen two books each and I am all flatted out, I’ve run out of steam but I’m pleased with myself.

(I’m all blogged out too)

Sometimes I just can’t bear it

Sometimes I can’t bear it.

Today has been one of those days. On getting dressed this morning I was given the news that Sr. Manuel had died in the hospital yesterday (remember Sr. Manuel, he of the Alzheimer’s?) Ok, no big deal, a passing pang of sorrow and let’s move on, oh well that’s life etc. etc. … but suddenly I just can’t bear it.

I can’t bear the fact that I couldn’t even offer the basic courtesy of offering my son, who’d come to visit me for a couple of hours, a cup of tea. No visitors allowed in dining room during meals without special authorisation by the person in charge, I was told; so I wheeled down the corridor to get authorisation to have my tea bought to me on tray like the olden days. No can do, I was told, an inmate has to be ill to be served in that their rooms; all inmates must take their meals in the dining room.

(Does this remind you of anything?)

Vexed, I stayed with my son in my room and went tea-less; no big deal, we had a good chat, he’s a nice boy and it was a pleasure to see him.

But sometimes I just can’t bear it. I can’t bear passing whole days without speaking my own language! (Sorry folks for this rant, I’ll be fine tomorrow, but you see, this is my only line of communication. Suppose I should just pick up the phone or e-mail people but, you see, I get tired easily).

It’s no big deal


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