13th June 2014 was definitely a funny old day. I’d love to say that a funny thing happened on the way to the forum but rather two funny things happened on the way to Rhyl Library, which doesn’t have the same ring about it.
Rhyl, North Wales was the venue of my first visit to a dementia workshop and thanks to my dodgy Sat Nav, the second place I was directed to. Sat outside a random church and praying that a passing jogger had a better sense of direction, I had to admit that my research might have started already. I was lost, confused and relying on strangers on the very day I was hoping to discover what a dementia friendly community looked like. You just couldn’t make it up.
The second funny thing?
I emerged from a dementia workshop feeling uplifted. The world had turned on its head. Yep, there was definitely something funny going on…
Funny was one of the words I looked up when I realised people didn’t like saying the D-word; when I was trying to find a positive in a sea of negative labels. Yes funny had an association with the odd and unusual but it had a more powerful link to the humour and enjoyment that I had seen in the groups. The funnies were also the printed cartoons in my Nan’s newspaper which had inspired my love of comic art.
I remember that there always seemed to be a man standing on a tiny desert island surrounded by sharks or stuck there with a stranger, both cut off from the mainland. Now somehow their isolation seemed strangely poignant.
Cartoons and labels were one of the many things I thought about as I drove between venues, sitting in traffic jams, admiring people’s fluffy dice or reading comical stickers in car windows. Here I recalled the bantering double act I nicknamed Sid and Sunshine, the references to iconic comedians and TV sketches and the support acts who smiled from the wings.
But I also remembered the times I heard people felt invisible, when the telephone stopped ringing, when the loss of a driving licence meant the loss of independence, lifestyle and friends. I sensed the fear of being labeled with the big letter D and directed onto life’s hard-shoulder when there was still so much more road to travel. But how could I capture these journeys as well as the simple joy of people making art, making friends and making each other laugh? More worryingly how could I present it to a bilingual audience when my Welsh was a bit ropey?
And then cartoon pensioners Doris and Ivor mysteriously moved in; not that very far away. I didn’t see any removal van, nor did I see anyone pushing a cartoon piano with a wonky wheel or Doris’s potted palm that never needs watering but maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe that’s what happens when real and unreal worlds meet. Either way I definitely saw a light go on. Perhaps they had been in the community for years and nobody had noticed? Maybe they had just trimmed their high hedge to let more light in or show off their new cartoon wishing well?
Whatever their story it was just darn spooky that their initials were D& I just like the Dementia and Imagination study and that Doris was still motoring. Could Driving Miss Doris help me discover what this dementia friendly community looked like? More importantly could a comic couple, literally in a world of their own, start a conversation on a seriously unfunny condition that for many families was a reality? I thought it was worth a shot.
Luckily thanks to a friend of a friend who knew a bit about cartoon pensioners, Doris was persuaded to join Twitter where @Dorisabitfunny she is currently following a famous gardener and TV detective without the need for night vision goggles. (Ivor prefers his cryptic, cartoon crossword.) Neighbours tell me that they have gone on a road trip but have left the landing light on should people think that nobody’s home. They, like them, have no idea what the journey will hold but they are living in the moment and taking each day and destination as it comes.
Doris and Ivor might be invisible now but they won’t be for long. In the meantime there is a Funny Summer to be enjoyed and since they have promised to send me a postcard, I will certainly keep you posted.