Ann Read By Maureen Lipman

This story might be a useful for people who are struggling to understand the conversation of a relative or friend with dementia. Ann was well into her nineties and living in a care home when we met. She had been a primary school teacher for 40 years and during our conversations still adopted the tone of ‘classroom storyteller’ (though I was 45 and she’d retired 30 years previously). Maureen Lipman portrays her character perfectly. The threads connecting Ann’s autobiographical memories had come apart, leaving them scrappy and out of sequence. She says “her book” (i.e. her memory) is “all there” but “not in any order”. Her stories contained innumerable short digressions that don’t go anywhere; memories of shell-shocked soldiers, shipyards, miner’s lamps and a half-remembered anecdote about a biscuit. The effect is something like William Burroughs cut-up method being applied to a pile of Catherine Cookson books. The full story is available to read on the Trebus Project website. I love the development of her brother’s story, though he’s only mentioned twice (and very briefly). Listeners will need to piece together the clues. Ann repeatedly returns to the memory of “her beautiful doll”, a doll’s house, which her mother gave away (a gesture that seems never to have been forgiven or forgotten) and a “little house” (very like a doll’s house in appearance) on the transporter bridge in Middlesbrough (pictured). Ann’s father was involved in building the bridge and he may have managed to take Ann on what for a child must have been a fairy-tale ride as the ‘little house’ lifted off and moved across the river; of course, it could also be a childhood wish reformed as a memory. Ann repeatedly comes back to these stories (indeed she can’t seem to stop returning to them) mulling them over, trying to figure out how they might be connected and why they seem relevant now. An undercurrent of poverty runs through Ann’s stories. She was malnourished and “rickety”, and one of her siblings died. Various experiences of loneliness are also mentioned. She says she got “very good at being alone” when she was sent to Ireland to convalesce. I can imagine some of these thoughts / memories (whatever we might call them) are brought to the surface by the move into care. Ann was certainly isolated in the care home – her room was at the end of a long corridor; few people walked past and she had no regular visitors. Noticeably she jumps at the chance to tell her story, even instructing me to ‘nudge’ her if she’s sleeping. It is not until later in her story, when she has had time to organise her thoughts, that she remembers that it was in fact her mother who broke her doll. The sense of unfairness still hurts almost a hundred years later. Traumatic memories of war fill many of the Trebus Project stories. However, the slow-burn traumas of poverty, parental favouritism and feelings of unfairness come close behind. These often relate to childhood experiences that might seem relatively slight, such one sibling being taken on a trip while the other was left behind. Yet in our tellers’ narratives they are anything but. Listeners might like to know that Ann married William Easton (Billy).