jmgoyder

wings and things

Dementia dialogues 2

My last post raises the question “but how can you listen to someone with dementia who is either incoherent or totally silent?”

There are two particularly talkative women in the dementia house where I work. One of them fluctuates between English and her first language but, regardless of what language she is speaking, her monologues are extremely difficult to understand.

The other woman, who is bedridden now, is so talkative that it is difficult to give her food or drinks because her monologue can be unceasing, but, interestingly, when she loses the thread of what she is saying, she hums a tune. Here is an example:

“And I said to him, said to him, you go go go to the shop and … humming … And there is, is, is a … humming … (takes a mouthful of food) … Oh that’s good, and he said to me that it’s, it’s, it’s a one, two, two, two … humming … What on earth are you do-doing? It’s a very nice dress … humming … chuckling … Oh no, damn … chuckling (takes a mouthful of food) … You shouldn’t, shouldn’t do that … humming … How dare you! I’ll have to, have to do, do, do that … chuckling ….” And on and on this goes.

In my ‘shut up and listen’ mode there are all sorts of nonverbal ways of validating that what these two women are saying is important. I can nod, smile, laugh, hug, hold hands, shake my head and I can pretend to understand. And the ‘shut up and listen’ mode doesn’t mean you can’t say anything at all of course; it just means that you give the person with dementia the floor so to speak. I’ve found recently that one-word responses on my part are much more effective than attempts at coherent conversations. Exclamatory words seem to be particularly successful in eliciting smiles, laughter, pleasure. “Yes!” and “What?” and “Really?” and “Amazing!” and “Thankyou!” and “Please!” – accompanied always with suitable facial expressions – can be a gift to those with dementia who are talkative.

But what about those people for whom speech has become difficult (e.g. Anthony) or even non-existent? This is very difficult because, unless you are psychic, you cannot possibly know what that person might have said/wants to say/feels like saying but can’t. How do you listen to utter silence?

To be continued when I figure that last question out!

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Dementia dialogues

When I first entered the world of blogging, “Dementia Dialogues” was my chosen title. I wrote a few posts but nobody read them and now I can’t even find the site (I thought that once something was on the internet it was there forever!)

Anyway I’m rather glad that those first few clumsy attempts at blogging are now in the trash because I feel a bit stupid now for even trying to write about these kinds of conversations. I also feel presumptuous in thinking that I had some sort of secret solution to the dilemmas faced by carers of people with dementia because there is no one-size-fits-all. Every single person with dementia is an inviolable individual with a history, attitude, idiosyncrasy, personality, humour, passion, memory, skill, dream, ability that is theirs and theirs alone.

In my new job in the dementia wing of the nursing home where Ants resides (he is in the high-care section), there are ten amazing women who are utterly different from each other but, due to their dementia, are also the same.

Getting to know each of these women as individuals has been a learning curve for me. Of course I have travelled this curve before as a young nurse working in nursing homes many years ago. And now, of course, I am dealing with Anthony’s Parkinsons’ disease dementia.

We all have conversations with each other where we forget to end our stories, leave loose ends, lose the plot of the point, pause, interrupt, argue, joke, and forget what was said. Sometimes we worry about our manners, our bad hair days, our inability to bring perspective to a situation, our dirty shirts, our sneezing fits, our unswept kitchens, and our fear of dementia.

For me, a ‘dementia dialogue’ is a conversation between a person with dementia and someone without dementia and I think it is very important for the latter to just shut up and listen.

I am so lucky to have a job where I can actually do this!

(To be continued….)

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Lost and found 1

One of the most wonderful things about the last few weeks of decluttering the house has been finding things I thought were lost.

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Dina, Ming and I have found a multitude of keys but the one pictured is rather important as it is the front door key. This is going to make getting into the house so much easier than climbing through the front window, which I actually had to do yesterday because Ming had taken the found key. As for the back door key, I am sure it is somewhere in the bowl of keys.

I have been telling Anthony a heavily edited version of this extraordinary decluttering experience by describing Dina as ‘the lovely woman helping me to spring clean the house for you.’ This works well because (a) despite being a bit of a wardrobe-hoarder, Anthony was, once-upon-a-time, an extremely organised person. He did all of the paperwork, milked the cows, looked after his mother, fondly known as ‘Gar’, and had various cleaning women in to help with polishing the silver and brass, wash the windows and, basically keep this beautiful old house in order.

Fast forward to now: As Dina and I opened the blanket chest in the spare room this week and I saw the amount of papers in there, I felt totally overwhelmed, caught between curiosity and cull mentalities. Without Dina’s help and presence, I would not have been able to cope but with her help, I was able to choose what to keep and what to throw away and, halfway through this process, I realised that these were Gar’s hoardings, not Anthony’s.

When I found a note, in Gar’s handwriting, to pay Juli (me) $60 from way back when I first came to work for her in the ’70s, I felt a bit of an emotional tug to either cry or laugh, so I laughed. Dina – always sensitive to how I might be feeling – gave me the pauses I needed to read out words written from one person to another on paper so fragmented that it sometimes fell apart in my hands.

Needless to say, much of this historical and sentimental paperwork has been put in a posterity box, including the love letter from Gar’s husband, Barr, which I thought I’d lost. More to say about these things at a later date. I still haven’t found a mass of gold (haha) but you never know!

Apart from all of this, it has been an extremely busy week in many ways so I have not kept up with other people’s blogs – sorry!

Oh yes and, now that the elusive parrots have returned, but absolutely refuse my offer of a photo shoot, I can tell you honestly that they are red-capped parrots. They are very shy of humans so I have decided to put a photo of the baby avocados instead (which the redcaps will probably eat anyway.)

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It was a joy this week to catch up with a beautiful friend who I have know since school days, but with whom I had lost touch in a meaningful/nitty-gritty way. To find that we are still the friends we were, to share stories, wine and pizza, to exchange tears and laughter, to have reconnected like this – is a gift.

Lost and found; I salute you, N.xxxxx

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Time, times, timing and a riddle….

From as far back as I can remember, I have had a problem with the seven-day week, its orderliness and its paradoxical unevenness – either Sunday to the following Saturday, or Monday to the following Sunday or any alternative combination. As a child this did my head in a bit and as for the 24 hours enclosed inside each of the seven days – well, we won’t go there. After all I failed high school maths, ha!

I would much prefer a Sunday to Sunday, Monday to Monday etc. arrangement but of course this would be impossible. Or would it?

As an adult, I still find days and times problematic if I am trying to accomplish something difficult (it used to be the writing of lectures to deliver at the university; then it was what day to do the washing; and now it is how many hours I can spend with Ants in the nursing home).

In wrestling with the aftermath of multiple situations, especially the traumatic ones, I have tried and failed several times now to get back to a normal week, a schedule, a routine, a way of fast-tracking a bad Monday into a hopeful Sunday – that kind of thing….

And earlier this week I thought I had successfully reinvented what my week would be. I had listed goals, routines, early morning meditations, bike rides, photo-scanning, photo-taking, writing ‘the book’, polishing the silver etc. and NONE of this happened!

Instead, I spent the week hugging Ants from time to time as we watched Luther, and, at home, hugging Ming from time to time as we watched Game of Thrones.

I now think it is impossible to reinvent the week. That whole seven day thing still does my head in. My preference now is for moments: Anthony’s unexpected grin; my Mama’s amazing pork with caramelised onions for dinner with my first nephew and his girlfriend last night; reconciliations with friends and relations; cheaper than usual watermelon; photos of my first great-niece, reading Elizabeth Jolley’s biography; picking the last fig today….

And the once-a-year blooms of the magical moonflower.
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1977
Anthony: Jules, come out and have a look at this!
Me: What? (amazed that he has taken my hand in his)
Anthony: The moonflower – only happens once a year, kid (removes my hand from his and looks embarrassed).

2015
Me: Ants I brought you two moonflowers, but they’re closing up already! I’ll get a vase.
Ants: You are beautiful, Jules.
Me: Really?
Ants: Just brush your hair.

Is it possible to reinvent what a week was? No.
Is it possible to fall in love again with someone whose disabilities made things difficult? Yes.
Is it possible to reinvent a week in a day-by-day way? Yes! It’s a bit complicated when you use a calendar or diary but an eight-day week, ten-day week (or anything you like) is entirely possible (I think!)

If the moonflower here only has one day of the year to bloom (as has happened here) then what the hell is it doing for the rest of the 364 days?

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Values

On Tuesday, Dina and I arranged all of the stuff I wanted valued onto two tables ready for the antique guy, Mike, to value and/or purchase. When he arrived, introductions were made and he got his little eye-magnifier-thingy out and began what ended up being over four hours of a fascinating adventure into the history and mystery of everything from chinaware to silverware to walking sticks to coins etc.

Every time Mike said “Oh, you know what this is?” or “Now that is beautiful!” I felt quite chuffed. As Anthony was/is an antique enthusiast and, to some extent, a collector, it was interesting to find out what the things he had bought, or we had bought together (prints/lithographs; a piano stool, the grandfather clock, coins/banknotes, a silver egg coddler, willow pattern china, a Gallopili photo, etc.) were actually worth.

As the three of us went through the wares, I wrote down what things might be worth and what Mike would pay me for items he was interested in. Anything chipped or cracked was either discarded or put into the garage-sale box; most of the silver-plated and brass goods were deemed low in value as nobody wants to polish anymore. Mike wasn’t interested in any of that so Dina and I put these items onto a separate table for me to sort out later.

Interestingly, it was the little tangled-up trinkets plus my grandmother’s collection of Royal Doulton teacup sets, that had more value than the bigger, more impressive-looking objects! I sold a few of these to Mike but kept this one (see the peacock?)

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Family heirloomy stuff for Ming went straight into my now decluttered office at the back of the house; give-to-relatives stuff went into a couple of boxes; stuff to keep (because I love it) will go back into the living room; garage-sale things ended up in several boxes!

Call me mercenary but I had not wanted to give away or sell anything that might be worth a fortune so, thanks to Mike, I am now in the position of being able to give/sell things more cannily – ha! And it is almost a relief to know that none of this clutter is particularly valuable monetarily.

This means that I can now retrieve the objects that have/had sentimental value for Anthony’s mother, Ants, Ming, my own mother and father, and me … and put them back on display. I particularly like the silver and brass because I can remember polishing it with Anthony’s mother, Gar, and then with Anthony. I haven’t polished any of it for some time so will not take a photo until I have, but it is beautiful!

Towards the early afternoon, as Dina and I sorted things according to Mike’s valuations, I remembered to show him the coin I’d bought for Anthony in the Christmas of 2000. It is a one-kilo silver coin produced by the Perth Mint for the year of the dragon – absolutely beautiful and very heavy. Mike was impressed and suggested I do a bit of research into what it might be worth now (I paid $600AUS at the time).

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Well, after doing a lot of googling and ebay-scouring and general research I found out that this particular limited edition coin is now worth up to $5,500! People appear to be selling them at lower prices than this, but it is interesting and rather wonderful to find that this random Christmas gift has turned into a worthwhile investment and I feel quite clever.

You should have seen Anthony’s face when I took the coin in to show and remind him, and tell him its value had increased so markedly. He actually grinned! Money does that to him.

Later that day, I was telling Ming about how it all went and he was a little nonplussed at my thrill. But, just as I was about to put Gar’s plastic tomatoes, which have hung in the kitchen for over 50 years, into the bin, Ming yelped “Nooooooo!” So they’re freshly washed and back where they were!

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It is now the fifth week of my experience with Dina, who has helped me to declutter, reorganise and create space where there was chaos. I have discovered, in this process, that I can do such things without the anxiety of Anthony’s hoarding, my sentimental attachment to objects that just made me sad (eg. a pair of glasses once worn my my father), Ming’s fickleness. There has definitely been a bit of a power struggle between Ming and me but I have now reasserted my authority haha!

I have learned so much about the notion of value and it has got absolutely nothing to do with things. Of course I already knew that but the reminder has been wonderful!

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Writing

It has been a very long time since I have had anything published, which is probably due to the fact that it’s been a very long time since I have submitted anything for publication, which is probably due to the fact that it’s been a very long time since I have written anything new. Sigh.

Of course I realise that blogging IS writing and I am very grateful for the fact that I have kept some sort of written record of the last few years’ events via this blog. And I am also grateful for other bloggers’ support. However, I am frustrated with my writing self in that I STILL haven’t put together a manuscript about Ants and Parkinson’s disease. I have begun the process of copy/pasting blog entries into an manuscript but it is quite tedious work as I have to do this post by post by post, get rid of the photos and ensure the dates are correct. I’m doing this but am still in 2012!

And now that I am spending many hours of most days in the nursing home, where this kind of job is impossible due to internet connectivity and my own iPad ignorance, I find myself slackly watching series with Ants, and always quite tired! Not that this time with Ants is wasted; it is brilliant to be together but when I began to do a crossword today (for me this is what old people do – no offence to older readers) I realised that I had to make better use of this time than pass it in such a passive way.

So, I am going to retrieve the notebooks from the top shelf of Anthony’s cupboard and begin to type our conversations out (the ones I began to jot down before he became so quiet). I can do this on either the iPad or the laptop as neither will require the internet.

I can easily put aside all of the things I don’t do very well: photography, acrobatics, raft-building, gardening, cartooning, etc. etc. because I know I can do one thing really well and that is writing. I want so much to write something meaningful and moving and encouraging for those who are afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, and those who care about them/for them. I want to write unsentimentally about the pragmatics of hope and care and comfort, beginning with Anthony’s story.

Writing.

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The irony of my one and only published book (about Alzheimer’s disease) is that I had no idea, at the time, that my own husband would one day look at his windowsill and ask me to get the dog out of the room.

http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/books/1039

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Gutsy

Gutsy, or Gutsy9, our pied peachick/hen, turned two last November. Anyway, she has now assimilated into our flock of peafowl but the others are still in awe of her audacity. If I leave the back door open even for a few seconds G9 will not hesitate to come into the house. This morning, for example:

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She is often outside one of the four doors to the house, wanting to come in.

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Or posing outside; yes, she is quite the poser and always has been.

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Sometimes she still tries to fly up onto my shoulder but she’s a bit big for that now so I usually sit at one of the outside tables and she jumps up and lets me tickle her under the chin or stroke her head feathers. I wish I could take her into the nursing home to see Ants but it would probably freak her out now (not to mention the staff!)

Oh well, I can always show Ants the photos – the old and the new.

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In the following photo she is resting on Anthony’s arm in the nursing home (2012).

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And in this one, she is looking up at him during one of his last visits home (early 2014).

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G9 has been, and continues to be, a very important addition to our lives. As many of you know, she was a bit of a foundling, rejected by her mother (whose identity I still don’t know) possibly because she is half white and half blue (‘pied’) and she has a very crooked toe on her left foot. Raising her was a learning curve for me because I had to take her everywhere with me during those first few weeks of her life, either in my pocket or underneath the collar of my shirt – a shock of course to anyone who spotted her. The funniest of these occasions was when I met friends for lunch at a restaurant and she poked her little head out of my shirt.

In many ways, G9 represents the years of our transition (Anthony’s, Ming’s and mine) from Anthony being home/coming home to Anthony being in the nursing home permanently. It is now the beginning of his fourth year there which somewhat flabbergasts me as he has outlived his advanced prostate cancer now by years. It is the Parkinson’s disease that so incapacitates him. He is now (and has been for some time) a ‘two person assist’ meaning that it requires two carers to get him out of bed/chair to toilet/dining room etc.

It’s a peculiar comparison perhaps but G9’s adorability, tenacity and head-held-highness resembles the way Anthony is coping with his situation. He is never depressed, rarely complains and is able to glean joy from the smallest of things; my presence in his room; freshly picked flowers; the domestic staff’s attention to detail; food (the lunchtime roast, my gifts of blue cheese and cherries); the occasional brandy; a soft blanket pulled up around his arms (yes, even in the heat of summer!); quips and humour from carers; slapstick comedy via Ming and me; and the pot of fake silk roses I gave him some time ago that everyone admires.

G9 is gutsy, yes, but Ants is gutsier; Anthony IS Gutsy.

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Dusk

I went outside specifically to take photos of the cheeky willy wagtails but of course they disappeared as soon as my clumsy presence was felt, so I just took photos of anything and everything. And they are not very good photos because, even though I have a camera or two, I am not a photographer.

So this is Blaze, son of Doc 3 (deceased):
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And this is Jack, the Irish terrier, who was gentle until Blaze taught him to hunt which is why we no longer have any poultry:
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Blue wren:
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Flame trees from dog yard with one of our many Christmas trees somehow flourishing in the heat:
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Blaze again:
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Feeding time – that’s Gutsy9 in foreground:
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The last figs:
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And, just a moment ago, Ming’s best friends about to take him out on the town:
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This afternoon I sat with Ants watching two episodes of our latest series, ‘Luther’ then came home around 5.30pm having told him, as usual, that I would be back later. I hate this lie but it works! When I leave Anthony in the late afternoon, or evening, and promise I will be back soon, I re-enter the reality of dusk on the farm, and a sense of peace. Of course I wonder if he will be okay as the carers put him to bed but, now that I am a staff member as well, I hear wonderful stories about his sometimes witty okayness with the way things are.

In the summer, dusk can be dusty here, but it is also rather beautiful in a dry way!

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Miscellaneous

One of the things I have had to do in all of the recent decluttering is to toss some things into a miscellaneous box to be figured out at a later date. Despite the fact that this box is getting rather full it is good to know that I have one place to put anything that I don’t recognise. I will hold the object out to Dina and say, “Do you know what this is?” (Usually it’s some sort of ancient tool – an artefact from Anthony’s past). If neither of us can figure it out, it goes into the miscellaneous box – perfect. Then it’s over to ‘the Ming’.

I thought it might be quite fitting to write a bit of a miscellaneous post, having discovered that ‘miscellaneous’ is a definite, and quite acceptable, category. So here goes:

Most of the grapes are ripe now and I can just pick them and eat them whenever I go outside. I think it’s just the one vine and the wild birds get to them as fast as I can so there is almost no point picking them. They grow just outside the back door and I’m not sure if Anthony planted them or if they were there before the family came here.

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The figs are nearly finished for the year as the heat is getting the better of them – and the butcher birds (which Gar, Anthony’s mother, used to hate). Last year I just let most of them fall of the tree and frizzle in the sun but this year I have given many bags away to friends, family, the local pub, the restaurant where Ming works (my mother and I went there today for lunch and the fig and coconut muffins were a hit), neighbours etc. I have also eaten quite a few with Ants in the nursing home. I also went to another restaurant and asked if they wanted figs and they said YES and I asked what I would get in exchange, suggesting a lunch voucher and they said yes to that too, though a little less enthusiastically.

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After lunch with my mother today I went in to the nursing home to spend some time with Ants before my 3 – 7pm shift in the dementia house. I had my camera with me so took some photos through his window of the outlook from his room. This garden area – one of many – is where he often ‘sees’ calves and often asks me to go out and check if they are all okay, which of course I always do and the calves are always okay.

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Periodically, I rearrange or change the pictures on his walls. The photo of younger Anthony has pride of place very high on one wall where there happened to be a hook and he rather likes looking up at himself!

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Me: You really like looking at yourself don’t you! Such vanity, Ants.

Ants: Men need to love themselves.

Me: Why?

Ants: In case nobody else does.

Okay I am kind of cheating here as the above conversation happened over a year ago. Ants doesn’t articulate so well anymore but he sure as hell likes looking at the photo and so do I. It kind of pulls us both into the time warp of when we first met.

Then there is the oil painting of cattle that I commissioned from an artist friend years ago; a calendar my mother made of moments/months in our lives (e.g.. Ming recovering from his first spinal surgery); and one of the few photos of Anthony and his mother in her latter years, that I had framed for him once upon a time.

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Then I took a picture of the rose plant I gave Ants not long ago. Everybody has remarked on their blooms and many people, including Anthony, thought they were real until I finally had to own up to the fact that they were VERY expensive fake roses made of silk. Some people are still fooled though, especially when I spray them with rose perfume – haha!

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Well now that all of the ancient rose trees on the driveway of the farm are either dead or dying, the fake rose tree seemed like a good idea. In my defence, I am hopeless at gardening and every time I water something the pump makes the electricity bill soar!

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Just before 3pm, after watching Judging Amy with Ants, I went into his bathroom and quickly changed out of my t-shirt into my new uniform, put my name tag on and explained I was going to work. He always only remembers a bit of this new situation so I have to explain again that I am not going somewhere else but will be working just next door and that I might be able to see him a couple of times during my shift. This reassures him and whenever he gets anxious I just tease and tickle him into his new half-smile and all is well.

This afternoon it was a bit too humid to take many people for a walk outside or through the complex and it wasn’t until I took a teary S for a wheelchair walk that I saw Ants again (just as I saw many of the people in the high-care section as S and I did a lap of the gardens and hallways).

S. Who’s that old chap?

Me: My husband.

S. Not bad-looking!

Me: Keep your hands off him, S!

S. (chuckling and sticking her tongue out at me) All right.

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Miscellaneous….

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Feathers and figs

Well the whole lawn is strewn here and there with the feathers shed by our peacocks. Periodically I go around picking them up and last week Dina (my decluttering expert) tied them into bunches to be sold and she bought 20 herself, so I made $20!

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Don’t worry. I don’t keep a display like this on top of the stove ordinarily; I just put them there for the picture.

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As you can see, peacock feathers are varied. The above picture shows the underneath feathers.

The lawn underneath the two ancient fig trees is also strewn – with dead figs. Tip: never step on a dead fig and, if you do, clean the sole of your shoe immediately. Dead figs are like superglue!

I have been picking and giving away as many figs as I can because the heat is killing them off fast. This morning was a bit cooler so I picked heaps and they are now in a sink full of water to drown the ants. I’m taking them into the guys at the restaurant Ming works at. They go very well with blue cheese.

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Picking figs always reminds me of Gar, Anthony’s mother. She would always want me to try to pick the topmost fig by hook or by crook and, yes, we usually used her walking stick to do so.

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So, with the figs and feathers, I am feeling quite rich!

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