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Posts Tagged ‘The Little Girl in the Radiator’

The Little Girl In The Radiator, Martin Slevin’s funny, bittersweet memoir of life with his mum as she descends into the pit of Alzheimer’s, continues to attract great reviews.

This picture tells its own story:

LGITR Amazon page

We’ll have some news about the book soon (it’s embargoed for a while) but in the meantime, Christmas arrived and Martin’s mum has been out to get a turkey:

ON THE MONDAY BEFORE that Christmas, I came home from work to find mum sitting in one armchair in the living room watching television, and a great featherless and headless bird sitting in the other armchair, as though watching the box with her.

It had been positioned in the armchair the right way up, so that its enormous, drumstick legs pointed down, and it was resting with its back against a cushion facing the TV screen. It had been placed there while frozen, but it had begun to thaw out and a great wet patch was now spreading out behind and below it across the fabric of the chair.

‘What’s this, mum?’ I asked, expecting her to explain to me how some long-lost relative had come to stay with us for Christmas, or something like that.

‘It’s our Christmas turkey, of course,’ she replied, as though I was an idiot. ‘I got him from the supermarket this morning. I couldn’t resist him. Isn’t he smashing?’

There was a paper tag on one of the creature’s legs which announced proudly:

 

GIANT CHRISTMAS GOOSE.

WILL FEED TWELVE PEOPLE.

 

The damned thing was the size of a Rottweiler.

‘How the hell did you get it home?’ I asked, struggling under the weight of the mighty bird as I hauled its frozen carcass off the armchair.

‘A man gave me a lift back,’ she said.

‘What man?’ I asked.

‘He looked like your Uncle Bernard,’ replied mum. ‘Only fatter.’

A feeling of déjà vu swept over me. Her eyes never moved from the television screen.

‘Never mind,’ I sighed. I wasn’t going through all that again.

I hauled the huge goose into the kitchen and threw it onto the floor. It landed with a sloppy splat like some sort of suicidal nudist, with splinters of ice flying up into the air. I looked at our small fridge. Shaking my head, I knelt down and took out most of the contents and two shelves. I could just about get the goose in now, but I couldn’t shut the door. I sat back and sighed. I’d not expected to spend the evening wrestling with a headless 25lb bird. Like I said, it’s amazing what you get used to.

I hauled it out again, put the fridge back together and wondered what to do next. Christmas Day was still nearly a week off, and unless I could cold-store this thing somewhere it wouldn’t be fit to eat. I checked our small freezer: it was also full. (I established this by quickly pulling out the three drawers, one after the other, seeing they were stacked, and shoving them closed again, without examining their contents. Only later did I discover it was actually packed with 50 packets of chocolate biscuits; but that’s another story.)

I thought about the people I knew who might have a fridge large enough to take a giant goose, but I couldn’t think of anyone. I began to walk about the house looking here and there for inspiration, and found myself in the garage. Like so many people, we never put our car in there, even through the harshest winters; instead, we left it sitting all night in the street, and filled the garage instead with a lifetime’s collection of useless junk and worthless memorabilia. My old school reports (must try harder), rolls of carpet (must get this cleaned), a mostly cracked, china dinner service (must glue this all back together one day), my dad’s tools (you never know when you’ll need an Allen key), the lawnmower we no longer needed after dad had paved the lawn…

Dad’s tools! I spun around and spied his old saw; it was a bit rusty now, but if I sawed the goose into quarters, perhaps people would be able to store it for me then? I picked up the rusty saw and waved it about me like it was Excalibur. Then a little voice in my head told me I would probably poison the both of us if used it on the bird. Back to the drawing board.

It was bitterly cold at night that winter…

A few moments later I stood back and admired my ingenuity. The goose was sitting on a wooden garden chair next to a small round garden table. We used to take our meals out there in the summer. It could sit outside, the temperature would be cold enough and the meat wouldn’t go off; it was too big for a stray cat to drag away in the middle of the night. I smiled: another problem solved.

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The Little Girl in the Radiator is Martin Slevin’s very funny and extremely moving account (don’t ask us, read the reviews) of his much-loved mother’s slide into the cold grip of Alzheimer’s.

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It’s just before Christmas, and Martin has thrown all the food out of his mother’s kitchen cupboards after finding it’s all years out of date. Here’s his account of their subsequent shopping trip to buy new comestibles:

We drove to Tesco and parked the car.‘Can we buy some cream cakes and chocolate biscuits?’ asked mum brightly, seeming to have forgotten the events back at the house.

‘Sure we can,’ I replied. ‘We can buy whatever you want.’

She beamed at me.

It was Saturday morning, a cold, late November day, and Christmas was only a month away. The supermarket was packed with shoppers, and the shelves were stacked with fancy Christmas knickknacks. Mum was like a little girl again. In the centre of the store stood a huge Christmas tree with tinsel and streamers all around its splayed branches. Hundreds of little fairy lights winked magically on and off.

‘That’s so beautiful,’ observed my mother, standing and gazing at the tree. ‘I wish we had a tree like that.’

‘We will have,’ I replied. ‘I’ll put our tree up in a week or so, we can decorate it together.’

She opened her mouth wide with delight.

‘Can we really?’ she gasped.

I nodded.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, she hugged me. Mum had never really been one for hugs, and it took me by surprise.

We started to shop for tinsel and cream cakes. Mum would see a chocolate éclair and put it in the trolley. Then we would move on to another aisle, suddenly she would rush back and get another cream cake.

‘Just in case,’ she would say, putting the extra one in the trolley.

We wandered around Tesco that morning stocking up on all the healthy stuff: chocolate biscuits, chocolate bars, jam sponges, éclairs, jam doughnuts, and ice cream. I think we bought one or two bits of the boring stuff as well, for form’s sake – a chicken and some potatoes come to mind – but they were more of an afterthought.

‘This is lovely!’ declared mum, as we wandered about. I had not seen her this happy in ages.

When we came to the Christmas decorations she really went to town, strewing tinsels of a dozen glittering hues around our shopping trolley. She found an illuminated pair of plastic elf ears, and put them on. She looked like Mr Spock on acid as we bustled through the busy supermarket. She was clearly having the time of her life.

‘You didn’t tell me it was Christmas,’ she said. ‘I haven’t bought anyone a present yet.’

‘We can sort that out later,’ I replied, hoping she would forget about it. The thought of buying presents for all our dead relatives didn’t really appeal to me.

Mum nodded thoughtfully and pressed on through the busy aisles, totally heedless of the amused glances she was drawing from passers-by, her elf ears flashing like mad as she went.

 

 

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Little Girl In The Radiator-AI cover v2For bookshops awaiting delivery, we’re just reprinting The Little Girl in the Radiator. There’s some exciting news about this title in the pipeline, but we’re currently sworn to secrecy.

The previous print run sold out just as the government announced its surprising new plan to pay GPs £55 for every person they diagnose with dementia.

I’m not sure what Dr Tony Copperfield would have to say about that, but I can hazard a pretty good guess… probably along the lines that he’s already diagnosing people with dementia if they have it, and that it might be better to give this money to scientists and researchers who are currently trying to find a cure?

At The Going Down Of The Sun is at the printers and will be available very soon indeed. We will be donating a percentage of profits to a suitable charity or charities. More details on this book over the next few days.

Elsewhere:

The world’s fastest manned flight: Today’s flight profile has one objective: speed. It is an attempt to set a maximum manned-flight speed record. The X-15 will be a piloted projectile blasting through a violent acceleration from 500 MPH to nearly 5,000 MPH in only 75 seconds. Six times the speed of sound. On the downside of this flight profile the X-15A-2 will decelerate so violently that a rearward-facing crash pad is installed in the canopy, in front of the pilot, so Pete Knight’s helmet can slam into something soft as the friction of the atmosphere slows the plane after its explosive fuel burns out.

The world’s loudest recorded sound: Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Travelling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance.

The world’s best lightbulb: Still burning after 112 years.

The world’s most hardcore sniper: Hathcock only removed the white feather from his hat once during his entire tour, and it was to carry out the most dangerous assignment of his military career. When asked if he would be willing to volunteer for a solo mission targeting a high-ranking NVA general, he accepted before hearing any of the details. Those details, as it would turn out, involved crawling more than 1,500 yards inch-by-inch through heavily guarded enemy jungle, painstakingly timing his incremental movements with wind rustling the grass around his hidden position.

It took Hathcock four days and three nights without sleep or food to reach a suitable shooting position. As it neared sunset, he lay completely motionless and camouflaged as a patrolling foot soldier nearly stepped on top of him as he passed by. At one point a venomous Bamboo Viper slid inches from his face, and he had to struggle to retain the presence of mind not to move and reveal his position. When the target finally exited his tent that night, Hathcock took aim, held his breath, and squeezed the trigger.

The world’s best sausage news: Belarus’s sausages are guaranteed free of loo paper (says the President).

And still no news on how Edgar Allan Poe died.

 

 

https://huckberry.com/journal/posts/the-white-feather-sniper

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The Radio 5 phone-in this morning is all about terrible conditions in some care homes, and the suggestion that hidden CCTV cameras might be installed in some of them to keep an eye on the staff. It sounds Orwellian, but I’m not sure that I’d be against it if I were one of the old folks.

In The Little Girl in the Radiator, Martin Slevin talks about the decision to have his mother taken into care, a decision which made him feel as though he had ‘betrayed and abandoned’ her. In the end, she went through three homes, with varying standards of care. She was treated reasonably in the first, though her clothes were all lost or ruined; in the second, the treatment was exemplary; in the third, to which she was admitted following a stroke, it was terrible.

On her admission to the hospital where she died, following another stroke which happened at that third home, Martin was taken aside by a doctor:

‘What can you tell me about the nursing home she has just come from?’ he asked.

‘Not a lot, really,’ I said. ‘She only just moved in there a few days ago. She was in Walsgrave [Hospital in Coventry] for about 10 weeks before that. Why do you ask?’

I had the strangest feeling there was something he wasn’t telling me.

‘She was not admitted in a favourable condition,’ he replied. ‘The nurse who first admitted her commented on her condition.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Heather. ‘What condition?’

‘The admitting nurse wrote some comments in the admittance book, which is a very unusual thing for a nurse to do. I think she was covering herself.’

‘I still don’t understand,’ I said. ‘What was mum’s condition when she arrived here?’

‘I didn’t see her personally,’ he said, ‘but the notes written by the admitting nurse state that she was covered in faeces. Some of it had dried onto her legs, and looked as though it had been there for some time. There was also dried faeces under her fingernails, again indicating that she had not been washed in some time. Also the feeding peg on her stomach was caked in dried blood, again indicating a lack of personal care.’

I thought I was going to be sick.

‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this,’ he said. ‘You can go through and see her now.’

Meanwhile, there is another excellent review of the book, this time in the GPs’ trade magazine, Pulse (written by Dr Natalie Smith, a practising GP at The Manor Surgery in Headington, Oxford):

‘Both medics and laymen alike stand to learn an awful lot from reading this book’ says Dr Natalie Smith

This book is a heart-breaking account of the author’s personal experience of coping with his mother’s deterioration with the cruel disease that is Alzheimer’s.  It is not meant as a medical text, nor should it be taken as one, however both medics and laymen alike stand to learn an awful lot from reading this book.

Don’t be put off by the subject matter; the book is incredibly well written and is very entertaining and even amusing in parts.  Mr Slevin manages to recount some of the more distressing aspects to his mother’s condition with a hint of humour, and throughout you feel that he is sharing his experiences in order to help others to cope.

Some of the more harrowing episodes relate to the lady’s treatment in a care home, which opens our eyes to the distressing and harsh attitude that some of these supposedly caring places may have. Fortunately, in the end [as above, this is not quite correct], Mr Slevin finds a wonderful home for his mother, where she is suitably cared for and lives out her last days in relative happiness, unaware of her condition, and talking always, to the little girl in the radiator.

Having read this, I for one, shall look at my patients with dementia in a new light, as well as treating their carers with even more respect, admiration and sympathy than I have done until now.

9/10

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Sheila Hollins – that’s Professor the Baroness Hollins to you – has posted up this very nice piece about the recent BMA Awards, and in which The Little Girl in the Radiator won one of the leading prizes.

I was honoured to choose the Board of Science Chairs prize and I had no hesitation in recommending Martin Slevin’s moving and humorous book The Little Girl in the Radiator: Mum, Alzheimer’s and Me, an account of caring for his mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

It provides a great insight into a carer’s perspective and any reader would get a great sense of connection and empathy with Martin Slevin’s story about the decline of his mother and this illness. It not only covers Alzheimer’s but also the terrible dilemma of deciding to place a family member into residential care.

This is a funny but heartbreaking account of a mother’s decline into the world of serious memory loss and Alzheimer’s in particular.

I laughed and cried. It is very well-written and would bring many useful insights to doctors, as well as to other people dealing with similar life experiences.

I know Martin is very grateful for Baroness Hollins’ support, and so are we.

Incidentally, I wasn’t aware of her very sad family history; perhaps having faced even greater sadness in her own life helped her to understand Martin’s situation.

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Martin Slevin’s The Little Girl in the Radiator has won the overall Chairman’s Choice award at the annual British Medical Association book awards for 2013 – beating much-fancied titles including Ben ‘I Don’t Read Books’ Goldacre’s Bad Pharma.

It was also Highly Commended in the popular medicine category (which was won by Chris Williams’ I Feel So Bad I Can’t Go On*).

The book tells the story of Martin’s struggle, as a newly-divorced father of two, to care for his mother as she fights Alzheimer’s disease.

It doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but it’s actually extremely funny.

The Daily Mail described it in a serialisation as ‘Deeply loving yet wryly comic… The most moving portrait of this cruel disease you’ll ever read’.

It was up against some strong competition; 641 titles were entered for this year’s awards.

Meanwhile, it continues to garner fantastic reviews from readers on Amazon.

*My kind of read.

Little Girl In The Radiator-AI cover v2

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I had an interesting discussion with the Observer‘s complaints guy the other day (see blogs passim). (As an aside, what a way to earn a living: dealing with people whingeing about stuff all day long, while knowing that your newspaper, and your job, probably won’t see out 2013.) He, in turn, had spoken to Nick Sherbert: Sherbert maintains (apparently) that he was told by ‘someone in the Home Office’ that Gadget was not an Inspector. Obviously, this person was mistaken – we’re, of course, not suggesting Herbert is a liar. The very idea.

However, he made the statement and it has the aforementioned implications for us. We’re now wondering whether or not to take matters further. Our lawyers advise us that we would not have to prove that Gadget was an inspector (or above). It would be for Herbert to prove the opposite, which he could not.

However, when you pull the pin on a grenade like this, the shrapnel can hit people other than the intended target. Could Gadget be damaged, collaterally-speaking? I’m not sure. We’re sleeping on it for a bit.

Meanwhile: what would happen if you jumped in a swimming pool full of booze?

Finally, no apologies for mentioning yet more very positive reviews of The Little Girl in the Radiator. Eight have been placed on Amazon since Christmas Eve alone, all five stars (barring one four star).

To take a couple at at random,’Yimsakin’ says, ‘This is the best book that I have ever read… I could not put this book down once I started reading it.’

Nicola Eggleton writes, ‘Very well-written book, I work in the care industry and it was fascinating to read the experiences Martin had with his mum and his struggle in understanding and coming to terms with this terrible illness.’

We still haven’t achieved the cut-through that this title deserves; it’s selling well on Amazon, and as an eBook, but I think Waterstone’s should be doing more with it. Possibly a superrmarket, too. People don’t just like it, they love it. One chap has bought nine copies.

In related news, Bobby Womack has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Here’s one of my favourite Womack 70s tracks:

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