The Book Launch for 'Now tell me - how about you?' was held on December 16th at Eat, Drink and Be Cafe

Christina Cummings reports on the book launch for Gill Johnson and Marilyn McGregor's new book, 'Now tell me - how about you?'

 

Those who attended the launch of Gill Johnson and Marilyn McGregor’s new book, ‘Now tell me - how about you?’ received a very warm welcome as they stepped out of the chill December evening into Winchester’s popular coffee house, Eat Drink and Be. The light and airy venue twinkled with fairy lights and was soon filled by attendees including staff from local care homes, friends, family and representatives from Age UK. Greeted by the co-authors, everyone was offered a glass of fizz and a chance to survey the ‘Reminiscence table’; an eclectic display of items that Gill and Marilyn use as prompts during their Bonnie Day activity sessions for older people, including those with dementia. Trays of beautifully arranged delicious treats and colourful canapés were offered round while people mingled and made purchases of the book for themselves and as gifts for loved ones.

Thanking everyone for their support, Gill made special mention, in her speech, of those staff from Brendoncare and other residential homes that had supported Bonnie Day in its early beginnings, and the relatives of residents who truly appreciate and welcome this initiative and to Eat Drink and Be for the venue for the launch. She thanked Nina Edwards for being the cover girl; a tender photograph by Gill Johnson capturing that special closeness that comes from sharing a book.

Shane from Age UK Star Campaign in conjunction with John Lewis, was on hand to chat about their latest campaign, ‘Lonely at Christmas’, which is raising awareness of the sort of social isolation that means over one million people in the UK have no-one to talk to at all, not just over Christmas, but all year round - an alarmingly stark fact that supports the need for such a book and which made the evening all the more poignant.

Then, it was Marilyn’s turn to take us on a journey. “Once upon a time,” she began “six years ago, in fact, I met Gill at Norton Park.” Over cups of frothy coffee, this new friendship would eventually lead to their joint collaboration and founding of their company, Bonnie Day - a very different and well-received method of delivering activities to care homes.

Both ex teachers, with a particular interest in special needs they shared their experiences and ideas, discovering in the process a very similar ethos. Passion, drive and above all compassion for people united them. They also found that when they were doing weekly car boot sales together, older people would visit their stall just for a chat. One gentleman told them that they were the only people he would get to really talk to that week. Around the same time, having visited care homes and seen the activities on offer there, started them thinking that they could create better ways to interact. Their extensive background in education and SEN, meant they knew how to devise and deliver inclusive and innovative activities. “We just had to make the activities appropriate for those with a few more candles on the cake. So we took a brave step and Bonnie Day was born.”

“When starting up a new venture, the first thing you have to do is believe and then cling on,” she continued. Here Marilyn explained why a very adorable Jack Russell features in their striking logo. Set upon an eye-catching background of lime green, her much-loved dog, Bonnie, stands strong, with inquisitive eyes and one ear raised in a listening pose - a perfect ambassador for such a business. “When a Jack Russell takes hold of a bone, no-one can take it away!”

The first four sessions were held at a care home in Portsmouth. As Gill said, it was a challenge right from the start: on the way to their very first appointment they found themselves stuck in a lengthy traffic jam on the M27. But theirs was a challenge worth every ounce of determination and effort. Arriving late but with enthusiasm, they began their first session. “And what we did worked,” said Marilyn. “Residents began to sing, they began to dance, they held our hands, and… they even cried.” They both knew then that they had created something very special. Residents were able to recall and reflect upon their lives within a group, sharing a huge part of who they had been; who they were. There is undeniable catharsis in remembering and sharing not just the good memories, but the emotional ones too. It was as though they’d taken a new breath and were once again filled with life. This would be a transformation that was to be witnessed again and again in nursing homes throughout Hampshire. The change is remarkable. “You can see the difference in them, in their eyes, watch them blossom,” said Jan Lewis, Activities Co-ordinator at Brendoncare. “The camaraderie and chatter continues long after Gill and Marilyn have packed away the hats and toys.”

Some of the bespoke themes that Bonnie Day deliver are featured in ‘Now tell me ~ How about you?’ Gill’s poems are like being gently taken by the hand, back through time to familiar places. Each one is a celebration of life. Accessible to all they are written in short verses, filled with nostalgia and the comfort of rhythm. “Poetry is a powerful motivator,” said Gill, whose poems resonate, evoke and inspire. A feast for the senses, Gill’s poem, ‘Beside the Sea’, recalls childhood holidays, where once again the “sound of hungry gulls screech overhead” and rock pools teem with life. And the smell of ice creams, candyfloss and “hot battered fish with vineg’ry chips”, take us back to the golden sands of youth. Life’s treasures are illustrated in words, from ‘A Night Out’, ‘At the Pictures’… to ‘Wash Day Blues’. It’s relatable, humorous, touching and vivid.

Launch attendees were treated to a poetry reciting: ‘Shades of Autumn’, from which the title of the book derives, and ‘Playing Out’ which portrays the lost days of childhood and the beauty in remembering them:

What fun we had in years gone by,

As time passes on I, too, think with a sigh,

Yes I remember those games I played

In endless summer childhood days.

Accompanying Gill’s poems, Marilyn has set out some constructive ideas to help start conversations, including top tips, and suggestions for shared activities with visual prompts, such as seashells, hats and old coins. Touching snippets of actual reminiscences sparked by listening to the poems are included at the end: dancing at The Palais, making kites from old newspapers, collecting stamps and winning prizes, rolling marbles in the gutter and tucking in to mum’s homemade sandwiches down on the beach. Simple things. But precious too.

One attendee, Carole Hastings, pointed out that, “There are things in place to check that physical needs are met, but without this kind of interaction how can we measure people’s happiness?” And, Sharon Tucker, Manager of Flowerdown Care Home in Winchester, spoke about her admiration for Bonnie Day’s contribution to making life better not just for the residents of nursing homes, but for those who work there too. “We are so pleased to see the way Bonnie Day are helping us to help our residents” she explained. An advocate of their style of delivery, she said it sparks off feelings and memories, and teaches people to ‘love each day’ no matter how old they are.

The evening came to a close, and the message that was taken home by all, as well as copies of the book, were to ‘start something with these poems’, connect with friends, neighbours and loved ones.  And find out something new about those you think you know. Allowing people the chance to honour their own unique heritage, their losses and their highs these poems and activities deal with the real stuff of life. After all, it’s why each of us is here; not to be forgotten and alone, but cherished and alive. And just like Bonnie and her bone we must never let go of that fact. And Gill and Marilyn are here to make sure of that.

‘Now tell me ~ how about you?’ is available to buy from Amazon. Without exception the reviews have praised its message and the beautiful clarity with which the book lays out ways to engage and inspire all the senses, and most importantly to share.

© CHRISTINA CUMMINGS 2015

Order your copy or copies from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1517765005/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_A0ixwb1MRAHW1

"Now tell me - how about you’ is a collection of our original poetry written with older people in mind, including those living with dementia. The poems and activity ideas in this book provide a focus for relatives, friends and professionals to share when visiting older people in care or in their own homes. This collection of heart-warming, nostalgic poems is based on reminiscence. The poems will encourage conversation, smiles and reflection. The authors know this poetry is loved and enjoyed as they have been reading their own poetry professionally to older people for many years."

PHOTOS © Gill Johnson and Marilyn McGregor 2015