The kindness of strangers – things I’ve learnt from Twitter (now there’s a sentence I NEVER thought I’d write)

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers

Blanche Dubois – A Streetcar Named Desire.


Apologies Tennessee Williams fans but A Streetcar Named Desire is truly a tedious play.  The only mitigation for it’s inclusion in the A’Level English syllabus during my youth was that the film adaptation allowed a group of hormonal seventeen year old girls (and boys) a glorious introduction to a young Marlon Brando before the booze and doughnuts turned him into a morbidly obese blimp (honestly if you’ve never seen it take a look; body honed to perfection, brooding, manly, smouldering…. I digress).  I’ve always quite liked the quote though.  To a certain extent we are all reliant on the kindness of strangers; just watch ’24 hours in A+E for proof (I LOVE that programme) – and aside from those who are contractually obliged to be helpful and kind there is an instinctive desire to help those less fortunate inherent in most of us (psychopaths and hedge fund managers potentially less so).

When somebody returns the purse you lost without stealing your cash or committing identity fraud it fair warms the cockles of your heart doesn’t it?  If a kindly samaritan gives you their pay and display ticket because it still has an hour left on it – and it just happens to be the day that you didn’t have a sodding fifty pence piece in your car – and it’s raining – and you only needed to dash into the library to return the book that you found behind the radiator that is now five weeks overdue – couldn’t you just weep with joy?  When a patient who has been waiting for over half an hour to see you waves away your apology as they enter the room and says “It’s fine doctor – I can see you’re busy and the thing I want to ask you about will genuinely only take ten minutes as I know that this is my allotted consultation time and I might even make it a bit quicker so you can catch up” – No, OK that never happens.  Anyway – random acts of kindness are plentiful and it would appear that this philanthropy extends beyond those in our immediate physical proximity; when we respond to an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee, when we encourage the kids to parcel up their old toys and send them to children who don’t have as much at Christmas (admittedly this is basic housework and de-cluttering dressed up as charity), when the ladies of the WRVS (Women’s Royal Volunteer Service I think) knit thousands of tiny hats for the babies on neonatal intensive care – that is pure, unadulterated kindness.

But kindness was not what I was expecting to find through social media and it was certainly not what I expected to find on Twitter.  I had always found the idea of touting my wares on in the internet faintly abhorent and wondered what would possess individuals to share banal information about their day with the world.  Those who totted up their Facebook friends or Twitter followers and confused them with actual social interactions struck me as disillusioned and sad so it was not without trepidation that I began my foray into the world of blogging.  I wanted to write something (anything) and I wanted to cheer up a few people who were in the same boat but I was conscious that by ‘putting it out there’ I was potentially opening myself up to ridicule, criticism and from what I could gather, rape threats from trolls, just by opening up a Twitter account.  I remembered the horrible tweets that Tom Daley had received when he came out and the ludicrous campaign against Caroline Criado-Perez who had the audacity to suggest that a notable female should be on the British ten-pound note – this is a classic example of the media scaring us witless about the media itself – it certainly scared me.

And then I thought sod it and signed up to Twitter anyway and discovered….. a whole bunch of really quite lovely people.  Admittedly some of these lovely people are pushing their own agendas but by doing so they are raising awareness on a whole host of important topics (dementia, cancer, migration, war-crimes, how funny cats look when they fall off sofas) and actually the shameless self-promotion I was expecting is fairly limited.  This of course may just be a reflection on the type of hashtags I’ve been searching under – I suspect that if I had started looking for #formerstarsoftowie I may have unearthed a veritable feast of self indulgence / selfie indulgence (do you see what I did there).  The reality is that that whilst there is a load of old crap circulating out in the Twitter ether, there is also a whole world of support and communication from strangers who have nothing in common other than the desire to help someone else.  So here are a few of the useful things I’ve learnt in the past few weeks simply by tapping my thumb over a little blue bird (how utterly mental is that?)

Top tips from twitter:

  • Ideas for matching games. Either using pre-made children’s games (works well in my house as we have tons of the bloody things) or by asking mum to match lids to containers / pairs of socks etc.  Hopefully can be made to feel like a useful task without seeming patronising or contrived. In fact, can actually BE a useful task in a house as disorganised as ours – wonder if there would be issues regarding minimum wage if I asked mum to sort out all the kid’s jigsaws and boardgames?
  • Hanging entire outfits on hangers in wardrobe so mum can make simple choices each day or putting clothes out in order of how they are put on (i.e. pants first unless going for superhero look).
  • Useful information about benefits (I was utterly clueless when Dad asked me what a PIP was – Personal Independence Payment in case you’re interested – about the only non-means tested thing out there).
  • How to introduce care.  Slowly and early is usually best and this advice comes from a variety of sources as well as Twitter including the lovely woman I met from The Alzheimer’s Society who said that if she could have one thing tattooed on her forehead it would be “Don’t wait for a crisis before getting carers in”.  Very wise although I’m not sure I’d endorse the tattooing.  Also advice from a geriatrician colleague to get a cleaner if the person with dementia is resistant to the idea of carers.  It gets them used to someone new in the house and a different pair of eyes on the situation.
  •  How it feels to make decisions about residential care and how to deal with the guilt that comes with that decision.
  • There are books and websites out there specifically targeted at talking to children about dementia – who knew?  Certainly not me last year, sat trawling through Amazon because it was the only place I knew to look.

I realise that there is no real coherence in this list but these are all things that have struck a chord with me over the past month and I’m going to update it as I go along to keep a record for my own benefit.  So there.  Clearly as mum’s dementia progresses different things become relevant and this particular list may be of no use to anyone but me.  But hopefully at some point I will have useful information to pass on to someone else in a kindly fashion.  And that’s what it’s all about!

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