Ungroomed for good effect

For Eileen Hughes, Kitty Barrett and Allen Rodriguez–and everyone else living with dementia.

I am now a world record holder in a field event. Look out for me in the next Guinness Book of Records, under S for scarecrow. I joined 250 people in Taunton’s Goodland Gardens to raise awareness of dementia through participation in a scarecrow walk. Would-be record-breakers had to sport straw tufts and patched clothes, plus a broomstick,shoulder to shoulder. We also had rosy cheeks and stitched on smiles. I brought my own snaggle teeth and was glad of my crumpled linen shirt.  Richard wore a fetching red spotted rain hat. Both Valerie and I drew the line at carrot noses.On our backs, we had stickers sharing information about Alzheimer’s and vascular and Lewey body dementia. Patients feel a full range of emotions, and should be encouraged to express how they feel. A doll or mascot can bring comfort and should be treated with respect. 62% of those diagnosed say they feel lonely. Red and yellow remain the easiest colours to recognise and read as the diseases progress. There were many more.

The turn-out was so high in Taunton there was a straw shortage, and very nearly mass carnage as the scrimmage (or should that be a gummidge?) of scarecrows all simultaneously tried to thread their broomsticks through their shirtsleeves and across their backs, whirling like dervishes. We paraded past the bridge and alongside the cafe where the public loos used to be. Then we had to stand still for five minutes, looking scary while the Guinness people did a tousled headcount. “Give yourselves a round of applause” said the organiser through his megaphone as news of our record broke. You try that with a pole that runs palm to palm.

All crows suitably cowed, we lined up for the duck race. Unfortunately, the River Tone was not exactly in tumult and so the ducks had to be encouraged towards the finish line by paddles brandished by kids in canoes. It was like ice-hockey except slower; on water; and with ducks instead of pucks. The ducks, two thousand of them, had been  borrowed from Cancer Research. We were standing beside the Cancer Research lady on duck duty at the finish line–she had counted them out and was counting them  back in, very eager that none of her floating fundraisers should make a bid for the Bristol Channel. She gave us some useful intelligence  invaluable to those planning their own duck race: ” We got the ones without weights because they were a pound cheaper and for ten thousand ducks that’s a lot of money. But when we tested them, they turned over in the water and that didn’t look good. So we got volunteers to weight each one with a screw and a couple of washers. When they came to a coffee morning we sat them down with a screwdriver and a couple of dozen ducks and a bag from the hardware store. Ten thousand ducks. It took a while.”

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