memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘therapy’ Category

The Lonely Swimmer

Starting the day with a swim is highly recommended.

So I enrolled at my local Municipal Baths.

These were modern, strategically located facilities with a 25-metre pool (half-Olympic size) and a circular shallow heated pool for children and for hydro-therapy for the physically-disadvantaged (such as I am now).

I opted for the free regime three times a week during the dead middle-of-the-week morning and started to build it into my routine.

I must confess at this point that I am not a very good swimmer.

I was simply never taught how.

When I was at my Prep school the sadistic gym-teacher would herd us 9-year-old white and shivering boys, down to the deep-end of the pool where, one by one, we had to jump in … sauve qui peut … in a water-gulping splashing panic most of us managed make it to the side of the pool which we gripped, gasping for air.

(One poor little wretch, doubtless assuming that all was up with him, refused to move his limbs and sank like a stone to bottom of the pool, so that the gym-master had to spoil his fancy track-suit by diving in and fishing him out).

I never learned how to breathe correctly, for example, so I ended up with a limited repertoire of only two strokes – the breast-stroke and the back-stroke.

Nevertheless I read somewhere that swimming exercised more muscles of the body then any other sport.

THE SWIMMER – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

So I would slowly churn (or ripple) my solitary furrow along the watery lane towards the future.

Sometimes there was a swimming class for a group of middle-aged women who used to cluster at one end of the pool and exercise the only part of their bodies that didn’t really need it – their mouths.

From time to time a white-skinned girl, a Municipal Goddess, with the wide shoulders and streamlined hips of the professional swimmer would dive in and cover 20 lengths of the pool in an unbelievably short time, cutting through the water efficiently with her lazy powerful strokes and her flashy racing turns.

Then she would unhurriedly climb of the pool and stalk gracefully from the hall (leaving us, the doggy-paddle brigade, feeling somewhat rueful and chastened).

Yes, there’s nothing better than a good swim to start the day.

Asymmetry

How to restore order out of mental chaos and paint a meaningless picture at the same time.

I have a theory that painting symmetrical shapes randomly is both soothing and therapeutic.

First you take a piece of gummed A3 paper and a pencil and then (sticking firmly inside your comfort-zone) you play around for about an hour and come up with this:

STAGE 1

The next day you start to colour it in. you are unsure about the colours but are vaguely thinking yellow and green. You use a water-colour wash and by the end of the hour your uncertainty is showing.

STAGE 2

On the following day you decide to deploy the acrilics.

STAGE 3

STAGE 3

And finally after doing the fine brush work and just generally fiddling around with it and tidying it up you consciously decide to stop before you spoil it any further.

You sign it and then pause to give it a name –  asymmetry

ASYMMETRY – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

Invisible Paintings

AN INVISIBLE EXHIBITION - by THOMAS MILNER

Since last Thursday there has been a little show of my paintings up in the entrance hall.

So far, not only has no one commented on them, but I don’t believe that anyone has even noticed them, which certainly puts me in my place, doesn’t it?

I do believe that I’ve discovered the formula for producing an invisible painting.

What you do is the following:

First you contrive your life in such a way as to end up in an Old People’s Home full of nice, but culturally innocent, inmates.

Then you take a sheet specially treated A4-size gummed paper and with a pencil in your right hand (because you’re experiencing slight tremors/twitches/tremblings/spasms/shakes etc.on the right side of your body because your tumor was on the left side of your brain) and sketch vague lines and shapes in the hope that eventually they get to resemble something or other (anything will do) so that you can later impute an intention or purpose.

Next, with your paint-brush in your right hand, you apply various coloured tinctures, water colours (acrilics only to be deployed in an emergency) onto the prepared surface to see how it turns out and with any luck you’ll produce a painting.

Repeat this periodically over several months and then, and this is the tricky part, get someone to group them together and display them on a large stand in the entrance hall.

Et voilá, there you have it – invisible paintings (painted by The Incredible Shrinking Man).

ANOTHER INVISIBLE EXHIBITION - by THOMAS MILNER

Please allow me to introduce myself

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste … thus the opening words of a famous song from my youth – Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones.

Not particularly wealthy and of uncertain taste, I am an Englishman in late middle-age who, over the last eight years, has endured three brain operations to remove benign but aggressive brain tumours. For reasons, which will in time become clear, I have somehow managed to end up in an Old People’s Home in the north of Portugal overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

I didn’t survive unscathed however; after the second procedure (six years ago) I was left with what the surgeons rather euphemistically described as a slight deficit in my right side.

I couldn’t even sign my own name! Part of my rehabilitation therapy was to draw and paint for about an hour each day.

I also had lapses of memory and after a long while in a very dark place I pulled myself together – It’s sauve qui peut in this place (pardon my French), I thought – and began to tap out with one finger my memories in order to fix them in my mind.

So here, in this slightly strange and surreal place, I produced and (self)published my book THE WAITING ROOM.

What therapy! What catharsis! I can’t recommend it enough for fellow victims – your memories will lead you into rich meadows in which you may graze at will …

COURAGE

(Pardon my French)

S.JORGE - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

No Country for Old People

There is a tradition in most of Asia of reverence of and respect for the old. Here in the West however, owing the urbanization of society, the disintegration of the extended family-unit and the frenetic nature of people’s life-styles, we stick our old people into Care-Homes where they are sometimes neglected and disrespected.

I am not in such a Home, but even so dining downstairs can be a somewhat depressing experience – the atmosphere muted, senescent and crepuscular. The three carers, who are nearing the end of their working day, are impatient to get home and who can blame them. After the meal, which is rushed through at record-breaking speed, the walking wounded stagger off to their rooms while the wheel-chair brigade are briskly lined in the hall up in front of the elevator; one or two of them are dribbling slightly from the corners of their mouths.

They are patient, silent and exhausted.

Painting entitled 'flight attendant' by Thomas Milner

Painting - Flight Attendant - by Thomas Milner

And what am I (also a wheel-chair job) doing? I have stayed at my table near the double doors of the hall and am writing this.

There’s quite a crowd of them by now which is tailing back into the dining room, the last two old dears are sitting here beside my table; they are both wearing black; one of them is telling off the beads of her rosary and the other pulls a tired smile at me. I smile back. The others are all in serried ranks now, as though on a tired and murky Gatwick evening, waiting for take-off.

Oh, ye daughters of Jerusalem, cry out, cry out!

The Swimmer

Starting the day with a swim is highly recommended.

So I enrolled at my local Municipal Baths at Feira. These were modern, strategically located facilities with a 25-metre pool (half-Olympic size) and a circular shallow heated pool for children and for hydro-therapy for the physically-disadvantaged (such as I am now).

I opted for the free regime three times a week during the dead middle-of-the-week morning and started building it into my routine.

I must confess at this point that I am not a very good swimmer. I was simply never taught how.

When I was at my Prep school the sadistic gym-teacher would herd us 9 year-old, white and shivering boys down to the deep-end of the pool and, one by one, we had to jump in … sauve qui peut … in a water-gulping splashing panic most of us managed make it to the side of the pool which we gripped, gasping for air. (One poor little wretch, doubtless assuming that all was up with him, refused to move his limbs and sank like a stone to bottom of the pool, so that the gym-master had to spoil his fancy track-suit by diving in and fishing him out).

I never learned how to breathe correctly, for example, so I ended up with a limited repertoire of only two strokes – the breast-stroke and the back-stroke. Nevertheless I read somewhere that swimming exercised more muscles of the body then any sport.

THE SWIMMER - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

So I would slowly churn (or ripple) my solitary furrow along the watery lane towards the future.

Sometimes there was a swimming class for a group of middle-aged women who used to cluster at one end of the pool and exercise the only part of their bodies that didn’t really need it – their mouths.

From time to time a white-skinned girl, a Municipal Goddess, with the wide shoulders and streamlined hips of the professional swimmer would dive in and cover 20 lengths of the pool in an unbelievably short time, cutting through the water efficiently with her lazy powerful strokes and her flashy racing turns. Then she would unhurriedly climb of the pool and stalk gracefully from the hall (leaving us, the doggy-paddle brigade, feeling somewhat rueful and chastened).

Yes, there’s nothing better than a good swim to start the day.

Rehabilitation through Art

I cannot claim to know Portuguese people really well (give us a chance, I’ve only been living here for 30-odd years – a couple more decades should do the trick and get it nailed).

More than a few years ago, a combination of circumstances and setbacks (and just sheer bad luck) obliged me to enter an Old Peoples Home in a coastal village in the north of the country.

How have I occupied my time? Well, for one thing, I have proved the theory that a happy, rewarding, busy, dynamic and interesting life occupies exactly the same time continuum as a dispiriting, uncomfortable, restrictive and boring one.

In the last few days I have decided to enter, for the third time, the annual National Art Competition for Disabled People under the auspices of APEXA based in Albufeira in the Algarve, which is an organisation that I whole-heartedly support. The theme of Rehabilitation through Art is one I’ve been banging on about for years. Painting as an excellent recovery therapy, time-consuming, calming the nerves, improving motor responses and eye/hand coordination, increasing understanding of composition and colour chemistry and, in general, viewing one’s environment in a different way.

I was in a black pit in the early days and showed a stubborn reluctance to climb out. I couldn’t even sign my own name let alone describe a curve on a piece of paper. I had a «slight deficit» on the right side of my body; I had problems with speech, stumbling and producing a sort of verbal dyslexia – very different from the fluent, glib, firing-from-the-hip delivery of my former self. But eventually, after all the patient, nagging, nudging hints (someone produced a basic painting-kit and paper, a second person arranged a little table, yet a third lent me some how-to-water-colour books) one day I had (good) idea of trying my hand at a spot of drawing. The first results, the childlike splats, splurges and blobs went straight into the bin but I began to be absorbed. Note the heavy use of ruler and marker pen:

EARLY ATTEMPT 1

Total lack of colour-control:

EARLY ATTEMPT 2

Simplistic design:

EARLY ATTEMPT 3

Lacklustre tonality (if there is such a word):

EARLY ATTEMPT 4

But things are getting better. This one:

SIMPLIFIED LANDSCAPE

Is taken from this photo:

 

Back to the competition for us disabled people. For my entry I painted my little heart out and produced this (quite réussi) painting:

WOMAN WITH GREEN SCARF - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

It came second in a field of 120-odd runners; the prize was a glass trophy, an artist’s easel and a large wooden box of Windsor & Newton acrylic paints! Congrats all round; I was pleased and gratified. The next year this was my entry:

AMAZON - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

It wasn’t placed, but received an Honourable Mention and I got a hempen bag of this and that.

Now I’m pondering what this year’s entry shall be.

A glass of wine with you, sir

What do you suppose that the late Charlton Heston (actor in epic movies and President of the ultra-right-wing National Rifle Association) and Keith Richard (lead guitarist of the veteran rock band The Rolling Stones and improbable survivor of life-long drug-abuse) have in common? Almost nothing except for an admiration and enthusiasm for the books of Patrick O’ Brian – they’re both P.O.B. freaks!   As is Mark Knopfler, another ace-guitarist, who pays homage to P.O.B on his Sailing to Philadelphia album – a glass of wine with you sir.

I’m reading for the third time the whole of the Maturin/Aubrey Roman Fleuve by Patrick O’Brian – there are twenty books and every one of them is great and I’m writing this as someone who has devoured his way (like a maggot) through Tolstoy, Joseph Heller, Anthony Powell, Martin Amis, George Eliot … (half an hour later) … Thomas De Quincy, Lawrence Sterne, Compton Mackenzie, Proust and Malraux, Calvino and De Lampadusa, Pushkin and Shakespeare, Eça de Queiroz and Zola and so on and so forth.

For me the O’Brian books are essential comfort reading. For example, I take a couple volumes whenever I go into hospital for a brain operation. I think he must be one of my favourite authors. He has a cult following, mostly blokes, who became addicted to him from the first hit Master and Commander in 1970 right up to Blue at the Mizzen written in 1999 and each one is a winner. Queues of haggard middle-aged, middle-class men hung around their local Waterstone’s bookshop waiting for their annual Patrick O’Brian fix. My brother Gam (also an addict) once jokingly mentioned that there was a club in North London for «Patrick O’Brian widows» whose motto was: Fuck Patrick O’Brian.

I’ve got to the beginning of the last book (Blue at the Mizzen): Jack Aubrey and Maturin find themselves at Funchal on the Island as the Royal Navy called Madeira during the 18th century. Jack has just asked Maturin, a brilliant linguist, to translate for him at the meeting with the Governor of the island:

–              Interpret, is it? As I told you before I do not speak – not as who should say speak – Portuguese. Still less do I understand the language when it is spoke. No man born of woman has ever understood spoken Portuguese, without he is a native or brought up to comprehend that strange blurred muffled indistinct utterance from a very early, almost toothless, age. Anyone with a handful of Latin – even Spanish or Catalan – can read it without much difficulty but to comprehend even the drift of the colloquial, the rapidly muttered version…

CHANGING THE MIZZEN - PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

Towards the end of his life and career, O’Brian’s contribution to English Literature was acknowledged and he won the prestigious Heywood Hill Literary Prize, was awarded the CBE and received an honorary doctorate at Trinity College, Dublin. He also made a book tour of the United States. During one of his stops in the tour, at the end of his talk, a lady started gushing praise for his work; O’Brian leant gently forward:

–              What you say is very kind, Madam, but have you ever considered just exactly how much your opinion is worth?

(Oh how cruel, how cruel …)

More Painting Therapy

Oh, these warm July afternoons! I decide to fill in the time between lunch and tea by starting a new painting. Accordingly I wheel myself up to the first floor to my painting room, take up a fresh sheet of gummed A3 paper and sit in front of it for about five minutes, my mind as blank as the paper in front of me … I pull myself together and sweep a confident pencil stroke diagonally the paper and then another and a shorter one and then I’m off.

STAGE 1

The next afternoon I enter the uncomfortable world of colour. The picture is indicating organic growth of some sort (there are no straight lines; I have denied myself the comfort of my trusty ruler).

STAGE 2

Next day I’m two minds about whether to carry on with it or abandon the wretched thing but, being irredeemably lazy, I settle for the former in the hope that my retrieval skills can rescue it.

STAGE 3

The final afternoon sees me doing some major tinkering, touching up, colour adjustment and generally fiddling about with it. At ten minutes to four I stop, spray it with a cheap and rather nasty-smelling hair fixative and call it a day.

BULB TO FLOWER - PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

Another Sunday in the life

Sunday lunch in most societies, whether rich or poor, is generally supposed to be set apart from the other meals of the week either in form or content or both.

I can see the cooks all rubbing their chins in front a couple of giant turkeys (grossly pumped full of steroids to increase size and weight) and thinking, um … what we shall we do with these old birds – I know, let’s hack them into manageable chunks and bung them all into the oven …

Or maybe the chunks came from meat-retailer already hacked with the instructions: meat to roast – just stick in oven for 3 hours

Anyway we are all served with an amorphous square of roast turkey (peru assado) which is as tough as an old boot, dry and overcooked. I am interested in where the struggled-with or untouched chunks of meat will go next as they disappear back into the kitchen at the end the meal; will they continue along the food chain as dog food or to feed the pigs, if the latter we will possibly meet again in about a year’s time.

I have to remind myself that this is after all Sunday Lunch and that here badly-cut meat comes with the territory and resolutely try to concentrate on my book and block my ears to the savage berating some poor old dear is receiving for refusing to eat her soup (whence comes so much anger?) or the loud mocking echo of the moans of the demented Maria dos Anjos from the other one. I’m just starting to read Emma again and the first paragraph immediately puts me in a good humour:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

There is a time and place for all writers and the noisy environment is wonderfully offset by Jane Austen’s cool and limpid prose.

Suddenly the hoarse shriek of chairs scrapping against tiled floor signals the end of the meal and I retreat with battered ear-drums to the calm of the second floor for the afternoon; I start a new painting, sketching for an hour and feel better. After tea I spend an hour on my splendid terrace and am soothed even further. I walk up and down the corridor on my frame, consciously striving to improve my posture.

ROAD TO NOWHERE - PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

At dinner the tragi-comic farce continues. Both my table companions complain that the soup lacks salt; but guess what, they are wrong! Their taste buds have deceived them again. My father used to quote a Latin tag to us children; I can’t remember exactly how it went but it ended up the words … de gustibus and was to the effect that it was unprofitable to argue about matters of taste; (it was probably Pliny the Younger or someone). Anyway, the teachings of Pliny the Younger evidently have not reached this village … shades of Monty Python: is this a five-minute argument or do you want the full half-hour?   

(Emma has just decided that her young protégé, Jane Fairfax, would make an excellent match for Mr. Elton, the local curate …)

Later, with the low evening sun slanting in lighting up the motes of dust in the quiet hall, I wheel across the room, greeting the few left-over people still at their tables (sometimes my wheelchair is a tired old Toyota pick-up and sometimes it’s a Porsche zig-zagging adroitly among the tables – living dangerously) to the recumbent side of my old friend who used to anxiously ask me what the time was in the old days; these days however she is lies speechless with eyes closed she sleeps her breathing ragged and shallow I hold her old hand lightly and stare out into the garden meditating on a whole raft of thoughts and ideas …

And finally I arrive back in my room to find some flowers in my vase arranged Feng  Shui fashion, left doubtlessly by one the (many) kind-hearted people who work in this place.

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