Fureai Kippu and the silver-haired ones

On two occasions this week the people of Plymouth might have spotted a woman poorly attemting to park a Vauxhall Corsa, then lugging a large shopping bag of puppets up to a random doorstep. That would have been me, in what appears to be my newly-developing role as a Mobile Puppet Therapist. It’s a role not totally dissimilar to one I fulfilled several years ago as a care worker, except this time around the pay is a lot better and my primary task is to use puppets in order to truly get to know people, and help them to know themselves.

One of these visits was to a particularly lovely residential care home for the elderly specialising in dementia care. On this, my second visit to this extremely comfortable establishment run by friendly and happy staff, I spent an hour circulating through the different living spaces and floors of the building with my rod puppet Lucy, letting her interact with whoever she came across. As previously, the hour slipped by quickly. Lucy simply wandered around in her slightly dizzy way (having developed a bit of a ‘friendly local TV news presenter’ facade of late) approaching people to say hello and then see if a nice little round of smalltalk might emerge. No more of a plan than that was needed. Some residents stared at Lucy without speaking. Some managed to tell her their name. A few managed to talk of their lives, families and pasts, describing beautiful gardens, seaside walks and memorable smiles. But generally Lucy encouraged the simplest of fleeting interactions during which she watched distant gazes turn into bright, focused concentration and neutral expressions open into smiles which implied comfort, recognition and connection. As Lucy said her goodbyes one enthused gentleman stooped to flamboyantly press her wooden hand to his lips for several fierce seconds, whilst another lady repeatedly cried “I love you! I love you! I’m so glad I met you today.” Teary eyes were later admitted to by nearby care professionals.

Taking responsibility for the proper care and honouring of our eldest co-inhabitants seems to be another important item on the to do list of our culture. At a recent talk by green consultant and Totnes REconomy project founder Jay Tompt I learnt about Japan’s Fureai Kippu scheme, through which younger generations are encouraged to volunteer their time to help the elderly, in exchange for credits which they can use to access services when they themselves become sick, elderly or in need. Apparently the elderly are found to prefer those willing to be paid in Fureai Kippu than standard Yen, due to the closer connection forged through the exchange. Lucy and I certainly feel all the richer from the time we spent with these people.

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