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Other Possibilities

A Selection of Short Stories from Coohreen and Beyond

Other Possibilities A Selection of Short Stories from Coohreen and Beyond. Compiled and facilitated by Sarah Fuller Participants: Kathi Helena Olive Monica Greta PJ Michael Harry Nora Jimmy Mary Kate Katherine John Mary

Sarah Fuller Biography Sarah Fuller was born in the UK and moved to the Burren in the west of Ireland in 1992. She is a visual artist and puppeteer and has exhibited and performed widely in Ireland and beyond. She holds a BA honors in Textile Design from Central, St. Martins College of Art and Design, London and an MA in Visual Arts Practice from IADT, Dublin. She has many years experience working as an artist with older people and in 2012 was awarded a bursary from the Arts Council to develop and explore new ways of creative engagement with people affected by dementia. This project evolved out of this research phase and was kindly supported by Create, the National Development agency for Collaborative Arts.

Photography: Sarah Fuller. Graphic design: Michael Walsh

1st page/ key hole image

The Participants stories in this book were created through ‘Timeslips’ method of creative storytelling, devised with and for people affected by dementia. All of the words are their own, nothing has been added or changed.

Dear Reader, This little book of stories and images is the culmination of a project that took place in St Brendan’s Nursing Home Loughrea with a group of people affected by dementia and some of their family members. Over the course of a couple of years I spent time on Coohreen ward running a series of arts based activities involving puppetry and storytelling. These sessions were experimental and playful, I had to make things up as I went along and not be afraid to try out new ideas. It was a wonderful playground and together with the participants we entered a rich world where anything was possible. Alongside these sessions at St Brendan’s my own work in the studio took me on a somewhat eccentric journey of collecting random discarded objects that no longer had a use or function. I made drawings of these odds and ends and they took on a meaning and new value to me through this process. I brought them to the group of storytellers to see if they too could invest these cast offs with new purpose. To my amazement the tiniest most insignificant things sparked the invention of people, places and events that were beyond my own limited imagination and kept the whole group focused for the best part of an hour. These objects became portals to other worlds outside the walls of Coohreen ward and took me there too. The stories and objects that relate to them in this book are different from my found objects, these have been especially chosen by family members as things that hold a shared meaning or memory of times spent together. It has been a real pleasure to spend time with the storytellers on Coohreen ward and I hope that this little book gives you a sense of the creativity, humour and playfullness that was shared in this process. With thanks to all the participants involved and the wonderful care staff at St Brendan’s for their support over the years. Sarah Fuller May 2015

Dear Monica, Sarah here again! I thought it would be a good idea to email you and give you an introduction to the project before we meet up. Since May I have been working with the residents on Choreen ward using objects as starting points for creative storytelling sessions. For the current stage of the project I am inviting family members to participate and ask you, Would you be willing to bring in an object, (not a photograph) from home that has a shared personal significance to you and your mother. An object that holds memories and meaning and would you be willing for me to make drawings and take photographs of this object and to record your words. Would you also be willing for me to use it in the group storytelling session and for the residents to create a story that is inspired by it? One of the key concepts of the storytelling sessions with people affected by dementia is that it focuses on the present moment rather than trying to bring back the past. I am interested in sharing these different perspectives in the work and presenting them alongside each other. For the sessions with residents I have brought in a case full of packages that contain different found objects. Everything is wrapped in brown paper and I invite someone from the group to choose one. It is always a surprise and follows the structure of a game. The more playful things are, the more people seem to enjoy it. Many stories have been created in this way and it is my intention to share them with a wider audience. I am hoping to conclude this phase of the project over the next couple of weeks and if you are interested would need to meet with you first to record your story about the object and what it means to you. I am planning to do the next storytelling session in St Brendan’s this Friday and if it is at all possible it would be wonderful to be able to share your object with the residents and get them to create their own story from it. I really appreciate your help with this and look forward to meeting you again on Thursday, With best wishes, Sarah

A Day in The Garden

In the silence and the silent places

Greta’s daughter brought in some tomato plants today. We pass around the plants and rub the leaves between our finger tips, releasing the aromatic smell of ripening tomatoes in the sunshine. Everyone takes a turn to inhale the lovely scent and see if they can bring to mind what plant it can be. Michael says: “It reminds you of a necklace going around the neck.” Greta says; “It will grow again and you will get a big punnet.” I ask people where this plant may be growing and Greta says, “in the silence and the silent places.” Harry says. “in the toilet!” and PJ says, “in the vegetable garden.” Greta says that “the plant is on it’s own.” “Tomato!” calls out Harry. “The trees are around it and drills for the plants.” Somebody is in the garden says Nora. “It could be nobody,” “It could be somebody, I’ll go and see,” says Greta and walks towards the window. “It’s me, I’m in the garden,” says Harry. “What does he feel like?” I ask. “He’s browned off.” replies Harry. He is admiring the plants, he sniffs them. What sounds do you hear there? I ask again. “birds are singing in the bushes, a blackbird maybe!” “There could be a man sowing flowers.” “Sean,” “He is a youngish fellow and he is making drills for flowers and vegetables.” “He makes quiet slow movements, they don’t disturb the dogs.” “I don’t know what he would look like, black hair and blue eyes.” “He is in a good mood because the weather is fine.” “He’s expecting company.” “He’s expecting my mother, she’s quiet.” “He doesn’t have to do anything for his mother coming.”

“They have gold meal in it and it’s just beginning to grow. It’s pretty good at growing.” What time of day is it I ask. “It depends on the time of year, it could be the potato harvest.” “It’s half past one.” “It’s dinner time.” “It will be all the day after that.” What do they have to eat? “Nice meat and vegetables. They will sit at the table.” “They can open up the old table and fill it up with all you need.” “What are they talking about ?” “They are talking about Harry,” says Harry. “They will be talking about the harvest,” says PJ “Settle down then, they will give them ideas. Open up the table, let them eat it, it will keep their mouths shut.” Says Greta. We decide that is a good place to end our story, and so we leave our gardener and his mother in the house and find ourselves back in the large day room again.

Helena shows me hanging baskets full of wild flowers. Her husband is enthusuastic to show me the garden too. Greta has taught him everything about gardening and he is proud to show me that all the plants are grown from seed.

The small


is perfectly and lovingly tended.


Afterwards we sit in the kitchen and talk. From out of the corner of my eye, I see him walking across the garden holding up his laptop and panning the view. A skype call to the other side of the world takes their relatives on a virtual tour of this mini oasis, culminating in the green house. Greta would be proud to know how many of her traditions carry on.

“All I can remember is

pots and literally growing anything and how she picked on tomatoes I don’t know. She would grow them everyehere and anywhere and I can

remember her getting a piece of perspex and putting it up against the house at the back yard because we didn’t have a garden so literally she grew in pots and whatever, and she put it up against the back and she grew tomato plants there and it was like a forest, literally like a forest.”

“That iron determination she has really does shine through and it’s very important to her when I tell her, you have been a really good mum, especially when she is not feeling so good or she gets weepy. And I say, “You have no idea what a good mum you are and I can see how much it strengthens her, what she doesn’t realise is that’s exactly what strengthens me as a mother and what I say to the kids, just look at your grandmother, just look at what shes been through of course you are capable of it all. You just have to tell yourself.”

An Eccentric Journey in Search of a Teapot Unable to access the original object, I decide to search for one that I imagine bears some resemblance. The clues I have to go on, are that it is a small china teapot decorated with flowers. I am unprepared for the session and lacking in funds and have left this too late in the day to find the right one. I search every shop in Gort to no avail, a similar search in another small town along the way seems to be equally fruitless but the last shop that I go into is a small hardware store. There is a limited range of products but for the size of the shop a reasonable selection of teapots. I only have a few minutes to decide and a few euros to get me to the end of the week. I don’t want a flowery tea pot and certainly don’t want to spend my last twenty euros on one. However, it is my last day of the project for the summer and I want to use an object that connects to the family story. I walk up and down the shop weighing up the pros and cons of my limited options. My eyes settle on a white china teapot decorated with roses. A man and a woman, obviously a married couple stand attentively behind the counter. I approach them with the teapot. “Would it be possible to buy this teapot and return it after an hour or two?” I ask. I don’t want to make tea in it, I’m just using it for a storytelling project in the nursing home.” They look suspicious. “Well we don’t take returned items, we haven’t done this sort of thing before.” This obviously proves a challenge and is a very eccentric request. A few seconds pass while they weigh up the question. “I can’t do a return but I will sell it for fifteen euro he replies” Alright, I reply, humored by the fact that I have saved myself three euro but still ending up with a flowery teapot that I don’t want and fifteen euro worse off. I stand suspended for a moment, annoyed with myself for succumbing. I decide to persist. “How about if I return the teapot in perfect condition and I swop it for another. I need one at home and I wouldn’t choose one like this.”

They seem dissapointed. “Lots of things remain on the shelves and we can’t sell them.” She replies. I am aware of the time ticking and that I will be late for my group. Eventually they conceed to my request on the provision that I promise not to tell anyone where I brought the teapot and that it will be returned. I promise and a deal is made. I will return at 4.00 oclock. Meanwhile the teapot takes on a different use, the focus of attention for a small group of storytellers in a hot day room. One of the ladies in the group stares at me unblinking and says, Where did you get that teapot. I think I got one like that for my daughter. Where did you get it? I reply cautiously “Galway.” “It’s not the one so.” She replies. At 4.00 oclock I return to the shop and eye up the other teapots. A shiney red enamel one catches my eye. I wait for all the other customers to leave before placing the desired item on the counter and surreptiously placing the bag with the china teapot beside it. How did you get on, did it work? The teapot is inspected for any signs of damage and all is in order. Our bargain is kept and I leave the shop satisfied and with a new enamel tea pot.

A China Teapot There was a sleepy atmosphere in the day room again today, with the majority of the storytellers in their own private worlds. The chosen object for todays storytelling is a china teapot decorated with roses. Unable to get hold of the real one, this was the best that I could manage to find. The original described to me by Mary Kate’s god daughter as an object that brings back fond memories of spending time together. It is still in the gift box and I pass it to Katherine to open. She unwraps it and puts the lid on the top, holds it and asks, were you in Dublin? I ask what kind of place would you imagine a teapot like this to be in? People I know and have a relationship to others, she replies. Don’t give it to anybody, keep it to yourself. Lovely for a cup of tea. Michael says, You could imagine it in an up to date house. Greta says, It would look lovely in your house where your car is. Michael describes the house, a two storey slate house. I ask Katherine how she imagines it to be and she says, It’s no harm, dirty smelly old things. Fowers, I have to go. What kind of people might be drinking tea from it I ask? Every sort of gentry could be up to six or seven. They would have no religion anyhow says Michael. Katherine says, Id give you fifty for it, Fifty what? asks the nurse. Michael describes the people in the story and the place. They would be an old type of people, The room would be in bad shape. The walls would be rough and bad. What are the people in the story doing? I ask. They might be doing nothing, he replies. Nora says that it is a beautiful house. Mary looks sharply at me and the teapot and says, Where did you get that teapot. I think I got one like that for my daughter. Where did you get it? Aware of my pact with the people in the hardware store I say Galway.

It’s not the same one so, she replies. Katherine looks at it again and says, How much would that cost? I reply, well you said fifty! It’s too much she replies. Michael agrees fifty is too much. Back to the story again and I ask Michael what could happen in the house where the tea pot is and he replies, Maybe nothing happens. It might be left on the table. If they were going to eat there would be lots of things. You would hear sounds from the other room, people talking. It’s my house and you could get me out of it. You could put anyones name on it. It’s Michael O Halloran’s house. What would you see out of the windows? You wouldn’t see anything out of the windows. It’s as good as we can do now. Mary enters the circle, tea is being served now and the sleeping storytellers are waking up. I show Mary the teapot and ask what kind of place might you find a teapot like this? She replies; A thatched house, the china house. I hold it up close to her, my arm outstretched. Mind if you go on it sideways. If it goes on you it is broken. That’s it now.

The Green Wolsey Car Our meeting takes place in the Meyrk Hotel in Galway. It is a beautiful day outside and inside a fire burns brightly. We sit at a small table and share a coffee. I ask about her mother and if she can bring to mind an object that would represent her in some way or that might hold shared memories and meaning. She tells me that her mother wasn’t really interested in things and that she was always getting rid of stuff. She liked to go to the bank and do deals. They had a green Wolsey car with leather seats. Once a week they would drive to Dublin, she always liked to be going places and to be on the move and she especially liked her trips out in the Wolsey.

Have you a c ar out t he re ? I have a c ar, it’s Mar t in’s. I’m going to be here all day. Well sure it’s the whole day now.

I think I have the price of a ticket for home.

I think it’s in the bag that’s missing.

I have no ticket for it.

I’m going to Galway now. They want me at home.

I was coming home with the bag I thought, so that finishes that.

I have to go back now for my sister.

It’s Good As Long As You Can Get Out The starting point for this weeks story is a small metalic car, a vintage Jaguar. I had hoped to find a vintage Wolsey in dark green with leather seats, a car that Katherine’s daughter described to me when thinking about an object that stimulated memories about her mother and the things that she liked to do. We didn’t have this specific model to hand so I raided my toy box from years gone by. It was even hotter today and most of the storytellers were asleep. Only PJ, Harry, Nora and Greta are awake. PJ opens the small box and takes out the small car. Where could it be going I ask? Harry says, The Isle of Man and PJ says London. PJ says, There is a driver and a passenger. The driver is a man and the passenger is a woman. It’s a nice car. He is a well off man, it’s a nice day. What is she called? I ask Some little woman called Fred, says Harry. PJ says Freda They are going to Pier Head PJ says that they are happy. The radio is on with, It’s a long way to Tipperary. They have the windows down. They are talking about the weather and the journey to London. Paddy is the driver. Harry says, he’s Irish, I can’t see it. I ask what kind of road is it. PJ says, It’s a main road so it’s going fast. It goes up a hill. I animate the car as if it’s driving along the road and up the hill. Then it goes down, where are you going? Says Harry. The small car speeds rapidly down the imaginary hill. Harry says “they are in town and it would be raining. They are all tidied up there. PJ describes the town. “There are high up buildings, they are tall. They park the car in the car park. Someone could pinch the car, says Harry.

I ask Nora who might pinch the car and she says, you answer. PJ says that they get out and look around. What do they see? I ask. They will go to see what they go to see. What is there relation to each other? They are courting, they are gobshites, says Harry. They are in their twenties says PJ. What are they going to do now that they are in the town I ask. They are going to see money, they are going to ask for it. They are going to the bank. What’s it like in the bank? It’s good as long as you can get out replies Harry. It’s called the Old Bailey, everybodies there. That’s a court, the Old Bailey. It’s the Westminster, says PJ Do they take out any money? A couple of thousand. They are going to spend it on the horses. I ask if he means betting on the horses, On real horses he replies, thorough breds. We step sideways from the story for a moment and PJ tells me about the horses and how he enjoyed riding them, galloping across the fields. Harry pipes up “the two of them are going to the Isle of Man, the Isle of Man is great as long as you can get out! They could ride the horse to the Isle of Man.” PJ says that he will ride the horse. I am aware that the heat is making people tired and that we should find an end point. I stand holding the little jaguar and ask the storytellers if Freda and Paddy will make it back to the car and how our story might end. PJ says that they will go back to the car. They will probably ride around for a while. They will go to the circus, it’s called Flannagans. We decide to leave our characters parked up at the circus. They have been on quite a journey and everyone is too tired and hot to take them any further.

Tea I meet her in the car park opposite the pub. We drive together to her house on the edge of the village. Everything is neat and organised and lovingly kept. We stand together in the garden and talk for a while. The house is dark by contrast to the bright sunlight outside. A small room with a large fireplace, wooden floor, panel ceiling and handmade furniture. The feature of the room is the table of a modest size, perfect for two. It is laid with a beautiful cloth in blue and white and on it a fine spread. Tea and cake, homemade bread, jam, jelly and a bowl of cream. Everything is displayed with utmost care and attention. It is a work of art in itself. We sit side by side and talk and eat together. Two radios play classical music from different parts of the house. One upstairs in the bedroom and one beside me on the bench. Now the doors and windows are wide open and the sunlight pours in, but in his latter years he liked to keep them tightly closed. Above the table are some beautiful tapestries in frames. One shows the letters of the alaphabet and in capitals, the letters, H and K. Their initials. Embroidered by her to commemorate their wedding day. “What would you choose as an object to remember him by?” I ask.

“Everything,” she answers looking around the room. “He had a rucksack, he was always ready to go but when he met me, he gave it up. He was never really settled, but he settled with me,” We talk all afternoon and she shows me around the house and photographs of their life together. My visit culminates at the workshop, a place where much of his time was spent. On the far wall above the workbench are a series of faded black and white photographs. Some have abstracted into a textural pattern that reveals the wood behind them. One shows a man busy at work, another of a man standing beside a boat in the landscape. This is the boat that he made and sailed down the Rhine.

The Galway Bay It’s a clever man who must have put it together. The Galway Bay. It’s setting off from here to the Aran Islands. It’s going to Inis Ir. It’s a mild day. The captain, captain Jonas, he’s a good sailor. He’s one of me. He’d have to be a little fella! He’d be a smart man with a lot of wealth. He’d be like you. The captain is very particular, everything is looked after. He’s a very proud man, proud because he is working on the ocean. I don’t know how you’d save him, the storm must be pretty severe. He has five or six sailors, I don’t know. They’d be locals. The first mate- Thomas, he’s a small man as well! William, he’s an ordinary sailor, a happy go lucky kind of a guy, most sailors are anyway. It hit some rocks, A bang Don’t knock the rock! They’re going to shorten the sails. There are no holes in the boat, just seaweed. They have to change course. The storm dies down and everyone was safe. They reached the islands. They settled on the island now and they decided to refresh. They concentrated and they talked about it. They went onto the quay and fixed up the boat with the help of the local people. By: Greta, Jimmy, PJ and Harry

The lady in the black hat

She comes here every Wednesday

She is always smartly dressed, smiling.

Ten good years and ten hard years she says.

We sit together in his small room, he lies on the bed

We talk and the nurses bring her lunch.

On the wall are photographs of him as a young man.

A picture of their wedding day.

She tells me of the craftsman he once was and his love of music.

How he built a boat and sailed down the Rhine. Those skilled hands that knew so much. Pulling at strings, a little instrument in a case. Opening, undoing, unravelling, pulling apart. Trying to figure out how it all fits back together. He lies silently on the bed, no words spoken, A look in his eyes like the sun behind the clouds.

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Other possibilities  

A little book of stories and images created through ‘Timeslips’ method of creative storytelling, devised with and for people affected by dem...

Other possibilities  

A little book of stories and images created through ‘Timeslips’ method of creative storytelling, devised with and for people affected by dem...


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