Frances's story read by Alison Steadman

Frances, a woman with dementia, worked for the communist controlled state radio in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring. In this incredible story – told in Frances’s own words when her dementia was already quite advanced – she draws on memories of life under the communists (when she felt she was watched and her freedoms were limited) to make sense of her life in a care home… where she is watched and her freedoms are limited! On at least three occasions Frances claimed to have seen a man on fire (a memory of Jan Palach?) running through the corridors of the care home. Frances’s story (compiled by David Clegg, edited by Sarah Hesketh and read by Alison Steadman) is complicated and not for everyone, but the layers of metaphors and cold-war historical references make it, for me, one of the most important. It’s also a personal favourite. Communication problems run throughout the piece. She explains her current ‘muddled’ speech as a way of getting information past the Communist censors and combines a description of her Parkinson’s disease; “the signals don’t get through” (word for word the same thing a doctor told my mother, who was suffering from Parkinson’s “the signals don’t get through from your brain to your feet”) with the difficulty of getting coded information to people involved in the Resistance. Frances sometimes thought that her room in the care home was part of the radio station in Prague and that during our conversation she was broadcasting live.