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Clare's Café highlights w/c 14 May

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Clare English Clare English | 14:50 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Working on the Book and Culture Cafés provides me with stuff to write for this blog... but it also give me plenty food for thought when the on air light goes off. Monday's Book Cafe featured the work of an up and coming Canadian short story writer, Alexander MacLeod. His father has already cemented his reputation in Canada and now "junior" is showing us what he can do. LIGHT LIFTING showcases seven stories - all of them compelling because MacLeod picks out the little details that matter to us in life and shows us what it is to be human. There's the palpable anguish of a young couple with a baby who are obliged to undertake an epic car journey at Christmas time to visit the family. The fact their tiny infant isn't looking too well is no excuse; the mother is horrified that the Christmas trip is taking precedence over her baby's health. The father, whose family are pining to see this new born baby, is duty bound to stick to the plan. In a few economical, sharp sentences we feel the tension as the mother remonstrates with her partner "Tell me you know it's going to suck? Tell me you know it's going to suck? Tell me you understand that?" His reply is resigned - "It's going to suck. I'm sorry". It's this micro view on life that brings the pages of Light Lifting to life and the stories stay with you long after reading.

Being human means we are, from time to time, stressed out. A perky little publication from The School of Life instructs us on HOW TO STAY SANE. Psychotherapist Philippa Perry is the author. Two suggestions came up in conversation. First, she advised us to write a journal, a daily diary, recording all kinds of things - hopes, fears, dreams, lists! (Er, I'm time pressed so I'm not sure adding another task to my mental post-it pad is a great idea.) Philippa had an answer for that; we need to subject ourselves to SOME pressure (not too much, though!) because without lots of things going on in our lives, they become..... for want of a better word, flaccid? Second tip from the psychotherapist - tweeting. I confess I am the most inconsistent tweeter on the planet - left in the dust by a host of BBC colleagues who seem to find the time to document their waking hours without pausing to blink. This probably speaks volumes about my lifestyle. I am fried, rushing about and permanently catching up so the idea that I have space and time to tweet regularly is hilarious. My husband seems to manage it though.. (I'm saying nothing about his ability to find the time...) I know we can all, in theory, fit in a twenty second tweet but believe me, you have to get into the habit - make yourself do it daily, thrice daily, gosh more than that, to be effective. Those whom I've chosen to follow on twitter seem to have got the balance right; they are living a life and able to document/reflect it simultaneously. My lack of twitter activity has become a joke in our house. Not so much a slide - more a "luge" run.

On Tuesday's Culture Café we had another opportunity to mull over what life is all about and what makes us happy, functioning humans. Our Café team spotted an extraordinary film posted on Youtube; an old wheelchair bound man who scarcely moved or spoke. He lived in a care home and was "existing" at best. His carer decided to try something out- knowing that Henri had once loved to sing and dance, she popped a pair of headphones on him (explaining what she was about to do first, of course!) and pressed start on the MP3. A playlist of his old favourites began to blast out. Seconds later, Henri had become an entirely different person; he was jiggling about, wide eyed with glee and humming along to the tunes. He had in effect come back to life but what followed once the music stopped was just as astonishing. Henri was asked some questions about his love of music and for the first time in years, he began to converse freely and enthusiastically; he had opinions and was energised. If a quick blast of familiar music can bring about this kind of dramatic change then why on earth aren't care homes and old people's centres doing this as a matter of course? To be fair, there are places where the staff haven't forgotten what we need to feed our souls and keep us feeling in touch with the world. Our reporter Paul Saunders travelled to Tayside to visit some workshops involving a couple of men with dementia. The same story as Henri's really; both were dancing and feeling the music and they told Paul how important music was to them, how it affected their mood. It's not just music it's writing, drawing, painting, making things, anything creative - it makes us feel connected to the world and to others. It's not just dementia sufferers and their relatives that benefit. ANYONE gains by taking part in a creative activity. Why would we suddenly stop being inspired by a song or a dance, or a piece of art just because our bodies are in decline? Our very essence our sense of SELF remains at the core even if it's difficult to see that sometimes. We all expect to live longer so we'd better start thinking about how we make those years count.

While I'm on the subject of old age and maximising our time on this planet - how brilliant to hear that Radio Humberside presenters Betty and Beryl (86 and 90 yrs old respectively) picked up a Sony Award this week. They're a feisty, funny double act. Inspirational for middle aged presenters everywhere - like the Duracell bunny, it seems we really can go on and on and on and on........................

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