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John Gordon: How InterAct Saved My Mind

On an afternoon two years ago I was completing my weekly column for local newspapers, which for the past twenty years had given readers advice about their state benefits. I broke off to make a coffee and, upon reaching the kitchen realised that the wording on the coffee jar label was all higgledy-piggledy. Returning to my computer to resume the column, I found that I could not recall what the minimum age was for claiming Attendance Allowance, a fact I had known for years. I tried to speak to my wife, but all that I uttered was gibberish. I realised I must be having a stroke, and the funny thing was, despite the alarming symptoms, I was not bothered. That is what a stroke does to you.

The urgent treatment I received at the hospital took care of the most extreme symptoms, but my state of mental confusion was such that my wife was convinced I was showing the early signs of dementia. As my condition failed to improve, and I was diagnosed with an even more sinister condition of the spine, I was admitted to hospital and thereafter to a rehabilitation unit, causing me to be away from home for the best part a year.

The one event that broke the tedium of life as a guest of the NHS was the regular visits I had from Zoe Lambert and Alison Dean from InterAct. At the time when they first came into contact with me, my mental state was far from good. I still could not remember such commonplace items as my home telephone number, my PIN numbers or the name of the condition with which I had been diagnosed and I would lose the thread of conversations. The first reading that was chosen for me was the famous monologue of Stanley Holloway,’ The Lion and Albert’, about a boy whose inquisitiveness gets the better of him at the Blackpool Tower Zoo, with disastrous consequences. Hearing it took me back to the comfort zone of my 1940s boyhood when our family’s only luxury was what we in those days called the ‘wireless’. It gave me entertainment and contributed towards my education, and my favourites were the variety shows, the content of which was often the ‘comedy rhyme’ from such artists as Tommy Handley, Cyril Fletcher, Murdoch and Horne and Max Miller.

During one visit, one of my guests noticed something I had written in the note book in which I recorded such pieces of information as my phone number and the name of my condition. ‘Nurse, nurse, book me a hearse’, it read. My visitor was genuinely excited, ‘You write poetry?’‘ Well, just a bit’, I lied. My scribbling had been inspired by the particularly irritating nocturnal behaviour of a fellow patient and comprised my entire ‘back catalogue’. ‘Please show me some of your other stuff when I come next time’, she implored as she left.

The promise to produce some ‘other stuff’ was just the kick start my soggy mind needed. The requirement to remember corny old jokes, find rhymes, keep to a meter and paint a word picture concentrated my mind powerfully. The exercise was worth a thousand Sudoku puzzles! By the time my InterAct visitor returned, ‘Nurse! Nurse!’ had become a fully-fledged Spike Milligan-style piece of surrealist nonsense and there was a new work concerning a hen –pecked husband visiting his garrulous, hospitalised wife, which owed much to Al Reid. My InterAct friends provided interest, advice and support which saw me through several more hospital-related rhyming romps, with my mind becoming g sharper all the time.

At home eventually, the rhyming bug was by now well embedded into my system and has be Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon. en able to keep me fully occupied during the spare time that a sedentary life-style has imposed upon me. My book of ‘Nursery Rhymes for the 21st century’ is shortly to be published. I know I paid for the publication myself and it was not cheap and that a cynic might say it was money wasted. But a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. All credit to all InterAct’s Alisons and Zoes for using their values to galvanise people like me.


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