Santorini, a final resting place for Mom

There is only one reason I went to Santorini. Mom had asked for her ashes to be left there. She first went there in the 80’s with her sister in law. Every summer Mom and Brenda went island hopping in Greece. She fell in love with Santorini. And so did I.

Oia

Oia Santorini

Windmill Santorini

Windmill Santorini

After just over a year since she passed away, I finally decided it was time to take Mom ‘home’. Just before she died she told me she wasn’t sure that she wanted ‘it’ to be Santorini. I think she was worried that it had changed from what she had remembered. And she had since travelled to so many other places she loved. Dalyan, Turkey being one.mom dalyan by the river

After she died, I was not sure where she really wanted to be, her partner and I thought Dalyan and my daughter suggested we took her to all the places she had travelled to. A lovely idea yet limited by money, I was not sure I could fit in Thailand, Egypt, Greece, Malta, Menorca,Turkey, Hong Kong, and goodness knows where else she had visited.

Approaching Santorini by sea

Approaching Santorini by sea

I had three overseas holidays last year and took a little bit of Mom to two of those destinations and one in the UK. I may have broken a Turkish law but I knew she loved it here.Dalyan

And I found the perfect place in Malta too.  I chose Marsaxlokk as it is a colourful village that hosts a lively Sunday market, and no one loved a good market better than my mom. Only after I had scattered her ashes I realised that the curtains hanging in a little house overlooking the spot where I left her are identical to the ones my mother had in her home.

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Mom had also been an actress and one of her very last proper outings was to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see The Tempest. I thought she may enjoy being here, in the shadow of The Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

In the shadow of The Royal shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

In the shadow of The Royal shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

As time went on, I knew I really needed closure and in my heart I knew I had to take her to Santorini.Oia Santorini

We could only get flights to Crete at this time of the year, yet I was pretty sure that we would be able to get to Santorini from there, by boat. As it was it turned out that the fast ferries were not running until 17 April and we flew home in the early hours of 18 April. At that point I was thinking I would only get a day trip to Santorini and have to spend the rest of the week on Crete.

I was not prepared to give up and with the help of a brilliant travel agent, Paleologos, in Heraklion, planned an itinerary that got us to Santorini on the 15 April via Piraeus. We would be leaving Santorini on the first fast ferry on the 17 April at 6pm, with plenty of time to get our flight at 1am on the 18th. Cutting it fine, and the Sea Cats don’t run if the weather is windy. Ah well I had taken out insurance and enhanced it to cover unexpected events, given our history of holiday almost disasters. If the weather made us stay longer in Greece, so be it.

It also meant that we would get an unexpected bonus of visiting The Acropolis in Athens.The Acropolis

Mom had made her first journey in Greece from Piraeus in 1980 when she travelled solo, flying to Athens and then getting a ferry to Rhodes. She loved Piraeus and the bustle of getting on and off ferries, so I was pretty sure she had had some influence on these plans. She was going to get her last bit of island hopping in before settling on Santorini.Santorini

A twitter friend recommended accommodation in Santorini. What a find! Affordable, comfortable and the owners, Katerina and Nectarios treated us like family rather than guests. And Katerina is a fantastic baker. We didn’t want to leave.Katerina

Santorini has an reputation for being expensive, and yes there are some places that are eye wateringly pricey, yet it is still possible to visit and enjoy Santorini on a modest budget.

We were based in Fira, the capital, but I had an inkling that it was Oia that Mom had stayed in, so we took the bus there with Mom in the back pack.

Oia is stunning. I had seen countless photographs and was worried that it would not live up to my expectations. It exceeded them. And I knew this is where Mom was meant to be.

We got away from the crowds and searched for the perfect place. And found it.

Mom wasn’t religious yet I thought being in front of a tiny church was appropriate.Church in Santorini

And this field of daisies just seemed to be the right place.Daisy field

This is the view.The final resting place

And I chose the right place, as after I had left her in her final resting place, although off the main drag where tourists gathered, everyone who passed the field stopped to admire them and the view. So she will get plenty of visitors. She would like that.Daisies

Why Shared Reading matters

Five years ago I started a new job with Sandwell Libraries and Information Service. I was the Community Development Manager for the Big lottery Community Libraries Programme.

Two libraries, Smethwick and Bleakhouse were to be refurbished as part of the programme. My remit was to deliver the outcomes of the Community Engagement Plan. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? I don’t do boring, I do creative, I do fun. This was probably the most fun I have ever had at work. I think I may have been a bit of a shock to some people who worked there, and a breath of fresh air to others. 

New community space and new ways of using the libraries, activities to bring the community together, engage with the wider community and improve health and well being. Work with staff to understand how community engagement could change libraries. All part of my remit.

And together we created libraries with vibrant spaces for new and fun things to happen.Vegetable shows, laughter yoga, pizza making, gaming, art groups and shared reading.

Julie Mckirdy, supervisor at Thimblemill Library, really understands how to make a library a creative, vibrant space. She works very closely with her community and constantly looks seeks for opportunities and innovative ways to bring new activities and people to the library. Bearwood Pantry, a local food co-operative use the community room once a week, and Utter Bearwood, in partnership with Black Country Touring celebrate the spoken word with a series of storytelling events.

Yet, while the veggie shows and yoga were fun, my proudest achievement, and what I want to be remembered for was being part of the team that brought shared reading to Sandwell.

I came across the idea of shared reading groups after reading an article about a project led by The Reader Organisation. As soon as I read about it I knew that I had to find a way of weaving this into delivering some of the outcomes of my project. I wasn’t really sure how it would fit in, yet I had a gut instinct that I needed to do this. I always listen to my gut!

A meeting with a fantastic woman from Sandwell PCT, who was already delivering a series of activities in libraries to improve mental health and well-being in libraries further convinced me that this was something I had to make happen. She had read about the impact that shared reading had on people and had been looking for a way to introduce it to her portfolio And then I came along and she found the way to do it. Professionally and personally we clicked, she agreed to fund a ten week pilot and in Autumn 2009 Make Friends with a Book, Sandwell, was launched at Smethwick Library.

The ten week pilot got extended for a year and then a second group was commissioned by the PCT. The impact on people who came to the groups was transformational. Five years on from my first meeting with her there are now five Make Friends with a Book groups in Sandwell Libraries. One other group is in a care home, specifically for those suffering with dementia.

But the future of all these groups is under threat. This is because they all rely on funding to continue.

The groups at Bleakhouse and Smethwick will have to stop in March 2014.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) commission most of the hospital and community NHS services in the local areas for which they are responsible. 

Following the reorganisation from PCTs to CCGs, the responsibility for promoting public mental health has been passed to local authorities. Local authorities who are experiencing substantial cuts in their overall funding.

Interventions have to be evaluated, graphs have to be drawn, numbers need to be crunched. Evaluated. And services cut.

And that makes me sad. I know that funding is tight, I know that tough decisions have to be made, but how do you explain this to people in the groups? That the NHS would rather prescribe you happy pills than fund an activity that gets you out of the house meeting new people. Take away the weekly session reading poetry to people with dementia, and offer them bingo instead? How do you explain that the woman who reads to you isn’t coming any more, even though you asked her to read Daffodils by Wordsworth, a poem you remember reading at school?

How do you explain that the groups will stop to people who before coming to the groups would normally spend Monday morning alone watching day time telly and Thursday morning with Jeremy Kyle?

The groups have enjoyed theatre visits at the RSC and Birmingham Rep, watched films together, read Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and George Elliot. And having come to the library for one group, Make Friends with a Book, they subsequently have become actively involved in other activities in their library, including volunteering to look after the garden, creative writing, IT and painting and drawing.

Looking at the data, Sandwell is not doing very well to ensure people live longer lives. Of cause a lot to do with this is that there are pockets (big ones) of high deprivation. And yes money needs to be spent on working with people at risk of life threatening and preventable illness.

I am not saying that shared reading cures cancer or helps people to stop smoking. I do know that it makes people feel better. Just read these testimonials to see how shared reading makes a difference.

Good health is more than having a heathy body. Shared reading improves mental health and well being. I see evidence of this every time I go to a group. I don’t need statistics or produce pretty graphs to know this. If you came to a group you would see the difference it makes to people’s lives.

Good mental health can lead to improved physical well being. Just by getting out of bed, and dressed and getting on a bus to the library once a week can make a big difference to a person who otherwise would see no one all day. To someone like Gordon or Edith or Sylvia who I wrote about in All the Lonely People.

It makes a difference to the person who lives alone, to carers, to the bereaved. To those suffering a terminal illness.

It makes a difference to someone who has been made redundant, to someone who is job seeking.

It makes a difference to someone who likes listening to other people read, to someone who has loved literature all their life. And to someone who has never read a novel before.

It makes a difference to someone like me who is still grieving after losing someone close to them. To someone who is sometimes so sad that she cannot get out of her bed or remember to eat. Make Friends with a Book is my time to nurture and look after me. And to meet up with people who knew and loved my mom.

It made a difference to my mother, who had been diagnosed with an incurable disease, with a unknown life expectancy. A woman for whom getting out and seeing the world, meeting people and reading were her main pleasures. Those and a mixed grill.

Mom had lost her appetite, her sight and her mobility. Yet at Make Friends with a Book, Sylvia, a former actress, had a new audience. She met new people who were interested in her life on stage and the stars she had met. She had another fifteen minutes of fame.

When I sat in that PCT office five years ago, making the case for funding this project; talking about the impact it would have; who the beneficiaries would be; how it would achieve shared outcomes; all the things you have to do when justifying funding a project, I didn’t know that two of the ‘beneficiaries’ would be me and my mom.

And it was her new audience, who were there at her funeral, dressed up in bright colours. They made the last few months of her life a bit more bearable. And she would never had met them if it wasn’t for Make Friends with a Book.

Now, go evaluate that.

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford (again)

Yes, we liked it so much we did it again!

English: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of th...

English: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last October I took my mom to see The Tempest with the lovely Make Friends with a Book people. I wrote about it here.

Make Friends with a Book at Stratford upon Avon

On September 21 a whole bunch of us took another trip from Sandwell to go and see All’s Well that Ends Well at the RSC.

DSCN6138

Some of us met on the train at Snow Hill Station.

I timed my journey so that I could enjoy a bit of sightseeing and tea before the theatre.

Mom loved Stratford, and had fond memories of a trip she took with her old friend when they were teenagers. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to make it one of her last days out. And as per her wishes I left a little bit of her there, on this visit, by the river in the shade of the theatre she loved so much.

DSCN6127

The people from the group that meet at Bleakhouse Library had been very important in her life for the last year of her life and I knew that they were looking after her while I was away on my travels.

Who knew that a group that I helped to establish four years ago was going to have a significant impact at the end of her life? Not me.  They were her final audience and gave her the opportunity to share her stories from the theatre once again. She got lots of curtain calls.

And the play? Thoroughly enjoyed by all, amazing production, and the sun came out for Make Friends with a Book again.

Our next theatre visit is closer to home, at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to see A Christmas Carol. Guess what we will be reading in December?