The Trebus Project captures the memories and insights of people with dementia before their words are lost to history. Our archive of over 200 carefully assembled stories includes everything from an eyewitness account of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to a unique hangover cure. Many of the storytellers talk openly or in metaphor about their dementia and the problems it has caused. Although the archive is of great importance to academics and researchers, it is also hugely entertaining. Despite the stories being told in trying circumstances, they are often full of life and extremely funny.
Such characters as a member of the Hitler Youth, a cowboy, a professional boxer, a Bletchley park code-breaker and two self-proclaimed spies, told stories for the archive, as did others from the vast cast of ordinary people, housewives and odd-job men, ‘the disappeared’ who fill every care home. Their stories weave together a complex mesh of fragmented references and memories to reveal the subjectivity of personal experience.
The words of the narrators are maintained throughout. Where things were difficult to understand, unresolved or troubling in the interviews they remain difficult, unresolved or troubling in the stories. Some stories place a high demand on the reader’s creative imagination and willingness to take an active interpretative stance to fill in the gaps and disentangle the real from the symbolic. Even for the storytellers it was often difficult to know for sure what did and did not happen. ‘Ancient Mysteries’ - a title chosen for her story by one of the participants - describes the feel of the project perfectly.
Despite surreal digressions and frequent dead-ends, we were careful to follow conversations rather than lead them, even though this sometimes meant that it took many hours to get past the repetition and add a few words. Some of the stories took well over a hundred visits to piece together, a handful contain the last words the person ever spoke.
The Trebus Project is named in homage to Edmund Trebus, heroic accumulator of the seemingly insignificant.