Journey

Everybody has a book in them, or so it's said. But it's something else again getting it onto the page and to a place where it might be shared.

I have been writing since I was a child. Always, my dream was to see my name on the spine of a book. Books gave me life, a dream to live by. Through their portals I could escape easily into other worlds. Books also saved my life ... yes, really!

This is the story of my books and my journey as an author. I hope it will inspire and give hope to writers young and old.

Getting published can be a waiting game. It's hard .. and it's getting harder. But then sometimes it happens in unexpected ways and suddenly, we are living the dream. And we realise that it isn't after all the winning that is important so much as the journey along the way.

I would love to hear from anyone who connects with what is written here. A signed copy of any of my books is available. You have only to write and ask:

janineharrington53@gmail.com







Friday, 2 December 2016

THE PRECIOUS GIFT


My special friend 'Snowy' above comes out each year, a reminder of magical Christmas' past. He sits to one side, drawing in all the memories, and each time we catch one another's eye, he sends out signals, cameos of the way it was in yester-year ... of times shared.

As the festive season gets into full swing, everyone is stepping into the Big Countdown, thinking of gifts to buy, creating lists, and lists of lists, food to buy before it disappears off the shelves, hoping to make The Day special, wondering who is hosting the party this year? However, for those living alone - lost, afraid, vulnerable, uncertain how to get through the holiday with festivities at every window, in every shop, showing on every channel on television, people chattering excitedly outside - it can be a very different experience. All they're left with are memories of times past, with the small things others take for granted taking precedence ... like whether to heat or eat. People laugh when I say that, but it is a harsh reality of life. I know. I'm one of them asking that particular question now.

No, this isn't a 'Poor Me' scenario, so don't switch off just yet. However, I need first to introduce a Group not mentioned before who have, over past months, become firm friends.

I am a Dementia Friend, supporting someone with Dementia. 

My background as an experienced Counsellor and Consultant of some twenty years and more, together with having worked as a Disability Co-ordinator in the West Midlands engaging with a range of disabilities including Dementia, gives me a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from. It is also a personal issue as Dementia took control of someone I loved. It's impossible to bury the memory of watching this awful disease take away the essence of a family member, draining from them precious memories of the way things were, gradually leaving them unable to recall how to switch on the TV or boil the kettle for a much-loved cup of tea; sucking from them the life that was, leaving them a shadow of their former self.

So what is Dementia?


DEMENTIA is not a specific disease, but rather an overall term describing a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 - 80 percent of cases.

However, it is important to know that each person is unique and will experience Dementia in their own way. There is no text book definition as such. Different types of dementia affect people different ways, especially in the early stages. How others respond to that person, how supportive and enabling they are, including their surroundings, also greatly affects how well someone can live with Dementia on a day-by-day basis.

A person with Dementia will have cognitive symptoms (problems with thinking or memory). They will often have problems with some of the following:

  • day-to-day memory - difficulty recalling events which happened recently,
  • concentrating, planning or organising - difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks, such as cooking a meal,
  • language - difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something,
  • visuospatial skills - problems judging distances (for example, on stairs) and seeing objects in three dimensions,
  • orientation - losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.

With Alzheimer's Disease being the most common cause of Dementia, it is important to understand what these terms mean and their significance both to the patient, their family, and their main Carer.


ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE is named after the doctor who first described it - Alois Alzheimer. It is a physical disease which affects the brain. There are more than 520,000 people in the UK who are affected. It means proteins build up in the brain to form structures called 'plaques' and 'tangles'. This leads, in turn, to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue. People with Alzheimer's also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These brain messengers help transmit signals around the brain. When there is a shortage of them, the signals are not transmitted as effectively. Current treatments for Alzheimer's disease can help boost levels of these chemical messengers in the brain, which in turn can help with some of the symptoms. However, this is a progressive disease. It means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop, and become more severe.

A wider awareness of these conditions is vital if we are to create the kind of understanding, compassion and sensitivity so necessary when meeting, speaking to and supporting people affected.


The ALZHEIMER'S SOCIETY leads the fight against Dementia.


DEMENTIA FRIENDS is one way they do this, creating a network of people which is proving to be the biggest ever initiative in changing people's perceptions of Dementia, aiming to transform for the future the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition. Becoming a Dementia Friend means making a pledge to make a difference, actively supporting on a one-to-one basis a person with Dementia for a regular amount of time each week or month, depending on how much time you can offer. In turn, you receive training, support, and a huge welcome ... especially at the monthly Support Group.

With our older generation increasing, so the numbers of those with Dementia are swelling, meaning more and more people are needed to help and support and work alongside those for whom life has shrunk, memories lost, small everyday tasks proving frustrating and impossible to cope with. As we get older, we all get a sense of what this is like as we climb the stairs for something, and having reached the top, forget what it was we came up for. It's a common trait. But then, for those with Dementia, this state of being extends into all areas of their life, so that those who become familiar to them are all the more precious in an increasingly fragile, frightening world. Companionship is what they crave ... just sitting, holding hands and talking is a comfort, reassurance and strength ... the sound of voices talking, laughing, sharing ... a cup of tea and slice of cake lovingly handed to them. Such moments become an injection of Life and reality, acceptance and Love.


TALK: 'Confound & Destroy'
Tuesday 29th November 2016

In past months, I have been working and training with my local Alzheimer Society, gradually moving to the point where I support someone on a one-to-one basis. Once a month, we attend a mutual Support Group, together with families, Carers and workers. The Group offers a wide range of different activities aimed at stimulating the brain, with colouring books, puzzles, brain teasers, songs, discussion, with laughter filling the room between cups of tea and plenty of biscuits and cake. It is a place to meet and share personal experiences, presenting a wonderful safe, warm, welcoming mix of people. I enjoy our time together.

This week, I had been asked to give a Talk about my writings and the RAF 100 Group with whom I remain actively involved. We often have Speakers or Singers, and my idea was to inspire people in the Group to share their own wartime experiences.

My lift arrived on time to carry boxes of books and memorabilia into the Hall. Already, I realised from the mood of the lady and her mother she accompanied to the Group, how excited people were, reminding me of a child waiting for Father Christmas.

What gift would I bring?

For the past year, Life had thrown all kinds of unexpected curve balls. I'd had that wonderful time travelling around the south of England, meeting men and women veterans of RAF 100 Group in their own homes. But then I'd been laid low with a secondary breakdown brought on by recent events. With a low immune system never going to right itself, emotionally I'd been in a 'blue funk'. A head cold escalated into bronchitis, holding me breathless, with a bad chesty cough and on the edge of pneumonia like last year. I was threatened with hospital if it persisted or became worse. I'd remained home alone, wrapped up like a 'pig in a blanket' on the sofa, watching back-to-back films to take my mind off my condition and pain. Every which way, I felt fragile, vulnerable, afraid. Then, over past weeks, my legs went from having swarms of ants just below the surface of the skin, wriggling and squirming, giving me no rest, which my doctor explained were caused by nerve-endings. This condition worsened, first to painful raging toothache reaching down both legs, to losing the use of them altogether.

Scary when you live alone, with stairs to cope with!! There's always the fear, what if this is the way it is from now on? What if I can't walk again?

My first thought was to cancel this Talk and the Session. But now the day had arrived, I could walk small steps, while a lady promised me a lift to the door, otherwise there was no way to get there. However, finding the courage and confidence as a Speaker was something else again! My comfort came in prayer, having faith the right words would come when I needed them most from a place beyond. I tend now to speak from the heart, rather than prepare copious notes. There's nothing worse than watching someone shuffling papers, reading words he needs to say. But still, it takes confidence to stand and speak, however well you might know your subject. I knew the lady I supported on a one-to-one was coming. She worked with the MOD (Ministry of Defence) in wartime, and we'd talked and shared her memories so many times, discussing how they related to RAF 100 Group. She was happy just to sit with me over cups of tea and bikkies and breathe new life into past times. It was a wonderful gift to watch her eyes sparkle, and for her whole persona to come alive, throwing off the mantle of the disease even for the short time while we shared.

However, more and more people began arriving with families, Carers and support workers. It was the most they'd ever had attend, I was told after. The hall was now crowded. Tables kept being put up, more chairs laid out. Everyone had that air of expectancy, making the atmosphere electric. No-one really knew what to expect ... least of all me!

I began to lay out memorabilia, like wares on a table at a Fayre. People became curious, drawing close to touch, to hold, wanting to know and understand the story behind them. It was fascinating to watch. To be a part of the intrigue. A model of a Mosquito took centre stage as always, an exact replica of Vic and Jack's Mosquito Mark IV, DK292. This Talk was being given in their memory, killed a few days earlier, in 1944: 26/27 November. It was the only Mosquito lost on that night. Large glossy photographs freshly printed to their best lay beside the model ... one of Nina (my mother) in WAAF uniform, another of Vic, and one of Jack standing proud, each of them a head and shoulder shot. These represented the characters in the story which first inspired me to write in the field of Aviation, as Mum and I became founding members of the RAF 100 Group Association. She would have loved to be here now, sharing these moments. Misty-eyed, I placed an equally glossy colour photograph of Blymhill Church where Vic and Nina exchanged their wedding vows, and a pair of inner silk flying gloves, Vic's name still clear after over seventy years marked on the inside. They were the only thing sent by the Air Ministry after his death, yet I'd had them checked by an historian to prove they had never been in the sea, proving he hadn't been wearing them at the time of his death. Every airman had a spare pair. These were they. It endorses the fact that a mystery still surrounds where they were going on the night of 26/27 November 1944, how they were killed, and where their final resting place might be. Alongside, were two piles of books: 'Nina & Vic - A World War Two Love Story', and 'RAF 100 Group - Kindred Spirits'. A newly created Special Edition 2017 RAF 100 Group Calendar was set in position, illustrating two American crews of the Eighth Air Force's 36th Bomb Squadron (RCM - Radar/Radio Countermeasures), two of the twelve wartime images each linked with a month in the year.

U.S. 8th Air Force's 36th Bomb Squadron: Iredell Hutton w McCrory crew of The Jigs Up
U.S. 8th Air Force's 36th Bomb Squadron: Lt McCarthy with Beast of Bourbon crew

These talks are a way of keeping memories alive, giving recognition to 'forgotten heroes' who served in RAF 100 Group, together with the U.S. 8th Air Force's 36th Bomb Squadron (RCM) who flew in partnership with them. I would be sharing one of their many hundreds of stories to illustrate how war affects not just those who take part, but families left behind, sweethearts and loved ones, thus changing the course of history and the paths they would otherwise have taken ... in turn, offering a heritage of which we should be proud to pass on for generations to come.

Silence fell as strains of Vera Lyn filtered through, echoing around us from a CD. I let it go on for a minute or two, watching bodies sway in time, many mouthing the words with their lips, smiling wistfully, enjoying the soft threads of the past weaving in and around us, drawing us into another time, and a very different world. They knew nothing about me other than being a Dementia Friend. So, as the final notes of music began to fade, I told them of a child, known as the 'cripple on the street' who's favourite days were Saturdays. Her father worked in London through the week, but this day was theirs, and they spent it visiting the library down the High Street, walking hand in hand, playing peep-bo either side of the hedge opposite the Common where the fair would come. The library was her favourite place in all the world, filled with portals leading into other worlds. 'One day', this little girl would tell the librarian who gazed in pity at this small delicate child with auburn hair, feet caught in calipers, irons reaching up her legs, dragging one foot clumsily behind the other, tripping her way through the door; 'One day ... my name will be on one of those books on a shelf in the library, just you see!' The librarian would nod pitifully. 'Bless!' Then return to diligently stamping books which she handed down to the face peeking over her counter.

Hold on to your dream, little girl ... I want to shout back through the years!

Janine
The child could write and tell stories long before she went to school, inviting anyone who might listen into worlds she created, brought together on paper. Most were about Cinderella-style people who grew up to become Princesses, illustrated by colourful drawings, living happy-ever-after. Always there would be a pile of precious books at her side, inviting her to join the characters in a different world. Meanwhile, she cherished a dream that would lead her on a journey, opening out into the world she knows today as an author.

Looking around, I could sense the Child within, still with that sense of wonder and excitement, inspired by Life.

It was a golden opportunity to ask the audience whether they believed technology and kindles would ever take the place of books. Heads were vehemently shaken. A conversation opened as I picked up the book 'Nina & Vic', discussing how books become best friends. They understood what I was saying as I fingered the pages lovingly, with the ability of going back a page or two, re-reading a phrase which touched somewhere deep within, storing them on bookshelves, looking up and being inspired by titles that mirror life in different shades. Now, as silence fell once more, I held this book close to my heart, praying the words would come, using me as a vessel to tell the story, inspiring others to want to know more, thirsting after knowledge and truths.

I drew back the imaginary curtains on a scene being played out on Christmas Eve 1943.

There was a dance at RAF Wheaton Aston. A young WAAF met an Officer with sparkling blue eyes and a dimple on his chin. We followed them through New Year through to Spring 1944, peeking around a door as the couple shared their wedding vows in a small country church. It is nine in the evening. It sets the time of their trysting hour for the rest of their time on earth - their promise being that, wherever they are in the world, always at 9pm, they will each think of the other, believing true love is eternal. Not until I finish the story and the final curtain comes down do people in the audience realise their cheeks are wet, as are mine. Then I share the fact that this is my mother's story, one of hundreds who either served or became a part of RAF 100 Group in wartime. An audible gasp rippled around the room. Fresh tears appeared. They hadn't realised this was personal! It made it all the more poignant, more special, more profound ...

The Talk opened out to speak of 192 Squadron in which Vic and Jack served, and their journey which led each of them to become an integral part of the lead Squadron of RAF 100 Group under Bomber Command, made up of fifteen Squadrons each based on airfields built for purpose in Norfolk. I remained with the theme of stories, sharing different worlds from which these brave me and true came ... Poland, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the States ... working together to help liberate us from the onslaught of the Germans, too many paying the ultimate price. Finally, the Association today made up of surviving veterans and their families and friends who still speak aloud the names of those who did not return from operations, Reunions when we gather to commemorate and remember, and the mutual support we share as kindred spirits.

You could say there wasn't a dry eye in the house! It could be true ... it certainly was for me, choked at times as I shared, feeling Nina and Vic standing right there at my side, encouraging and supporting me through. It was, as always, a journey we share together ... at the end of which, on this occasion, people who had listened, shared and asked questions, bought up all the books I'd taken with me, wanting to go online for more. The chatter went on endlessly, and I realised with a sense of shock, I'd been talking for more than an hour, holding a chair for support. Phew! I was exhausted!!

A taste of the emails I received after, offer a sense of what it was like sitting as one of the audience:

Hi Janine

So lovely to see you yesterday ... What a wonderful talk and session! We were blown away!! ... Never think that you are not doing enough ... what you can do is more than enough, and you are very much appreciated ...

Bernie
Side-by-Side Manager
Alzheimer's Society


Dear Janine,

Just to thank you again for such a fascinating hour listening to you yesterday ... You had us all riveted ... a spellbinding story and ongoing project. I am so glad I was in the audience, and would have hated to miss it, and heard from others how good you'd been ... Many thanks for coming and talking to us all.

Tim

Sharing personal experiences is the only way to touch people's lives. To help them remember. I will continue to support and give what I can to my local Dementia Support Group. It is the precious gift of Time that matters most.



    
 


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