What a memory!
The six older gentlemen in the silent bay gave me, and my team, a vague look when we walked into the ward. We introduced ourselves and explained that we had brought books of familiar poetry and short stories with us and would be delighted to share them with anyone who remembered a favourite from when they were younger. As there was little response, I decided to ask if they would like The Lion and Albert, made famous by Stanley Holloway. Several men smiled.
I read it and I could see even the most frail of the gentlemen start to mouth the words with me. At the end, one beckoned me to come over. His name was Fred. He told us he was 93.
"My favourite poems come from Tales of the Yukon but I bet you don't have that."
As I got out my phone to Google it, he began to recite his favourite: The Cremation of Sam McGee – all 15 verses. In all my years of reading poetry, I have never heard such an unexpected ending. It was brilliant. At the end, he beamed at us, clearly delighted by how well he had entertained us and also thrilled to have public evidence that his long term memory was still sparklingly intact.
I looked at my phone and discovered there were several recitals of the poem on YouTube. I selected an old recording which featured old photos of the Yukon. I gave the man my phone and he then watched, in amazement and delight, as the film played. As he listened he joined in, this time doing various actions to accompany his performance.
Fred then started to recite another from the same collection , The shooting of Dan McGrew. When he couldn’t remember all of it, I searched Google again and found a recording by Margaret Rutherford. Clearly loving the mischievous words, again he joined in delightedly.
Afterwards, we asked him why and where he had learned these poems. He explained that he first heard them during the war when he was in the army and the words resonated with him. He then told us about his amazing travels across the world and how, at 93, he felt happy that he had seen all he needed to see.
That afternoon he had delighted us, the patients, their visitors and the staff – and he was clearly very proud to have done so. When we eventually left him, he shook our hands and told us we had “made his day”.
He had made our day too.