Breakfast Blues

Turtle Song

Having worked extensively with people with dementia for many years, in 2016 I was involved as composer in a Turtle Song project with Turtle Key Arts. It took place in Wolverhampton and was one of the most enjoyable projects I have ever done. Turtle Song are celebrating their 10th Anniversary and have shared a video of one song from each of the projects on their website. Do click the link to see the wonderful work they do. Our song, Breakfast Blues, is here: https://vimeo.com/256636243

Suitcase Stories 2

banner - Reminiscence and music dementia social media banner 2018

I have just started work on a new project, as you will know if you read my recent blog post Grandma’s little box. Suitcase Stories 2 is an 18 month reminiscence and music project for people living with dementia and their carers in the Wyre Forest, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Wychavon districts running from November 2018 to March 2020.

Fortnightly music and reminiscence sessions will run on Mondays at The Museum of Carpet from 10.30am to 12.30pm and Forge Mill museum from 2.30pm-4.30pm and Fridays at Wallace House, Community Centre in Evesham from 10.30am to 12.30pm for just £2.50 per person. I will be kicking things off with Museums Worcestershire staff supporting with their handling objects.

There will also be monthly music workshops/performances in Bromsgrove on the 2nd Tuesday of the month from 1.30pm to 2.45pm just £2.50 per person.

This project is generously funded by Arts Council England, Elmley Foundation, Bransford Trust, Wyre Forest District Council, Redditch Borough Council, Bromsgrove District Council, Worcestershire County Council, John Martins Trust, Wychavon District Council and Museums Worcestershire.

If you want further information and to book contact Jenny Davis, Project Manager from Arts Uplift CIC jenny@artsuplift.co.uk 07946 585978

Suitcase Stories: Grandma’s little box

I started work on a new project yesterday. Organised by Arts Uplift under the title Suitcase Stories, it’s an 18 month reminiscence and music project for people living with dementia and their carers in the Wyre Forest, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Wychavon districts running from November 2018 to March 2020.

Yesterday we held a taster session in Redditch, singing familiar songs and looking at objects from a suitcase containing all sorts of things to trigger memories as a starting point for conversation and songwriting. Here are some lines I wrote using what one of the participants told me:

Grandma’s little slipper-shaped box

I’d never seen her take it before,
so it came as quite a shock
the day I saw my grandma
open up her little box,

pinch out the yellow powder
and push it up her nose
then try to hide her fingers
behind the dominoes.

Her handkerchiefs were horrible –
stained by that yellow stuff
but the little box was beautiful,
filled with grandma’s snuff.

© Heather Wastie

Here is a link to more information about the project. There are places available, should you know of anyone who may be interested, and there’s a mentoring opportunity for music students too.

Tonight I’ll be performing in Malvern with four other Worcestershire Poets Laureate. Happy National Poetry Day! 

After my time

I regularly take my poetry and songs to dementia cafés organised by the Alzheimers Society. We chat about a whole range of subjects – gloves, cooking, vinegar, hair – you name it! And often I go away and write something inspired by what we talked about. Sometimes the poems are humorous and sometimes serious. Here is a serious poem I wrote last week based on words spoken. It started to form in my head as I walked round a park near where the sessions are held:


After my time

No more buzzing of bees
No more rainforest trees
Ah, that was after my time

We can’t see the sun
And the ice has all gone
Ah, that was after my time

No more footprints, no more sand
No more green and pleasant land
Well, that was after my time

We traded earth for speed
We didn’t see the need
Well, that was after my time

No fish or polar bears
but I ask you, who cares?
I don’t know, that was after my time

No more rivers, only flood
We would stop this if we could
But you see, that was after my time

No more us and no more them
Though we know that they’re to blame
No more time

© Heather Wastie
October 2017


Success in Carers UK Competition

I have written several poems and songs inspired by people with dementia and those who care for them. I’m delighted to say that one of my poems has just been awarded second prize in the poetry section of the 2016 Carers UK writing competition and has been published in the anthology I belong here. Here’s what the judge, Cheryl Moskowitz, had to say about it:

‘Holding on’ by Heather Wastie is a poem I liked instantly on first reading and one in which I continued to find new meaning and power on each subsequent reading. This is a moving portrait in the voice of a grown up child who must exercise the kind of watchfulness and steely patience in looking after their mother as might be needed to keep a wayward toddler in check. She will plummet to the floor/ to pick up a fleck of fluff, / dart into the road / to pull up a weed.

And yet the mother in this poem has sentient moments in which she dislikes herself and we find ourselves in utter sympathy with the disorder she creates as well as the one who has to learn to cope with it.

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Lyrics for dementia and a poem for autism

Here are the song lyrics I mentioned in the post I wrote yesterday, the ones which are included in the ‘autobiography’ of a man I met at an Alzheimer’s Society memory cafe. The song is one of 3 on a CD I have recorded to raise awareness of dementia as well as funds for the Alzheimer’s Society.

I have also included a poem I wrote for publication in The Mortal Man, a book of poetry inspired by a young autistic man who lost his life at the age of 19. Details of the book, being sold in aid of the National Autistic Society, are here http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/jae-alexander-linsey/the-mortal-man/paperback/product-21004984.html  The poem was written with the help of disabled adults in the Skills for Life Performing Arts Group, Wolverhampton which I used to run until we lost our funding.

Thanks for reading.


I hope you’ll listen to me

I want to tell you what I’ve lost
I hope you’ll listen to me
I want to help you understand
why I cannot be free

I struggle to do the simplest thing
I’ve done a thousand times before
like opening a can of beans!
I feel confused and insecure.

I’ve lost the skills I used to have,
I lose my way, forget my name,
lack independence, confidence,
I feel embarrassed and ashamed

I want to tell you how it feels
I hope you’ll listen to me
I want to help you understand
why I cannot be free

I’m isolated, agitated,
muddled and exasperated,
scared to speak in case I’m wrong,
stigmatised, humiliated

All because of this disease
which any one of us could get,
a tangling up which kills the brain
slowly, surely, bit by bit.

I want to tell you how to help
I hope you’ll listen to me
I want to help you understand
why I cannot be free

Please don’t treat me like a child
or tell me what to do and say,
I’m not stupid, I do my best,
dementia doesn’t go away.

Please have patience, please be friendly,
show me that you understand,
treat me as you would be treated,
if I falter, hold my hand.

I want to tell you about the people
who help me to feel free,
friends and family, those I meet
who empathise with me

Those who help me every day,
welcome me and care for me,
cope with me without complaining,
help me to live normally

or near to normal as I can,
who talk to me and make me smile,
people living with dementia,
my dementia, all the while.

Those who listen with affection
as I struggle with my words
try to understand my message,
making sure that I am heard.

© Heather Wastie
April 2014


Autistic Spectrum

Draw an imaginary line
from the North Star
to the ground

Walk along the line
your routine
never changing
cut and dried

The star is fixed
the straight line
your boundary
a spectrum of blocks

Only the strongest
defy the magnetic pull
turn the line by 90 degrees
so it becomes

a bar to be raised
a barrier to be opened
a frontier to be crossed

© Heather Wastie
January 2013

The arts make a difference – how do I know?

Recently I’ve been performing and running workshops with older people in care homes, people with dementia and young people with disabilities. In these settings it can be difficult to know what the impact has been. So how do I evaluate what I have done?

Working for other organisations usually means there’s an evaluation procedure at the end and this is always valuable. There’s a lot to be learned from evaluating, from everyone’s perspective, and people who do the kind of work I do need also to be reassured that they are on the whole getting it right. A recent project in a care home, commissioned by Wychavon District Council, ended with these wonderful words which boosted my confidence. (You’d think by now I wouldn’t need that, but I do!)

“The poetry with Heather was a big success. Heather has set a spark amongst our residents and inspired us all to have a go at poetry. Everyone who attended these session has asked me to re book Heather for more groups. She had everyone in the room hanging off her every word, we had funny moments and thought provoking moments …. She talked with the residents and everyone warmed to her straight away. What a wonderful woman she is. I hope she will be coming here for many years to come.”

When working with people who aren’t able to express themselves in words, it can be more difficult to assess the impact. This week, 2 people in particular have demonstrated very positive reactions. During a session yesterday, a young woman with severe autism who had stayed in her chair for all of the previous sessions, came up and danced with me then later stole my tambourine and sang Yellow Submarine whilst tapping a rhythm in perfect time. She thought it was hilarious, the rest of the group joined in and I was so pleased that we had made such a connection. This session was part of a project run by Creative Health http://www.creativehealthcic.co.uk/ who commission arts and health work in the West Midlands.

This morning a man with dementia danced, hummed and whistled as I played my song Alzheimer’s Army which –  ahem – is available on CD with 2 others songs to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. You can listen to the song here https://soundcloud.com/heatherwastie/alzheimers-army-by-heather-wastie. Contact me for details or come to one of my performances; I always have CDs with me. Here’s a link to my performance diary http://www.wastiesspace.co.uk/Wasties_Space/DIARY.html.

Another man this morning (at an Alzheimer’s Society memory cafe) thanked me for the lyrics to one of my other dementia songs, written especially for his group. He keeps it in a folder which he described as his ‘autobiography’.

All of this shows how much difference the arts can make and I’m so lucky to be able to use my skills to be one of the many people out there making that difference.

 

Working Women in Kidderminster

I regularly perform for Alzheimer’s Society cafes. In January I was booked to do a performance/workshop for the Kidderminster group and, for obvious reasons, focused on the carpet industry. Here are the lyrics to a short song which quotes some of the women who were there that day. The photos, taken by Liz Evans, are from a session at a day centre for people with dementia, Among Friends, also in Kidderminster.

I’ve added a new poem by Eric Harvey to the Your Stories page. It’s an atmospheric piece called Memories of a Draw Boy.

Heather Wastie at Among Friends 1

 

 

 

Working women in Kidderminster

Clocking in early
or clocking in late.
Shopping in the town at lunch time,
passing through the gate.

Reelers, Doffers, Colour finders,
Pickers, Weavers, Setters, Winders.
Working women in Kidderminster.

Laughing with good yarnHeather Wastie at Among Friends 2
or struggling with bad.
Independent working women.
Such good times we had.

Reelers, Doffers, Colour finders,
Pickers, Weavers, Setters, Winders.
Working women in Kidderminster.

© Heather Wastie
January 2014