Alice Sluckin died, aged 99 years and 6 months, on 15th February, 2019. Alice Sluckin, Fellow in the School of Psychology and the School of Education, University of Leicester, was a senior psychiatric worker for many years. She wrote widely on selective mutism and other allied conditions. She was one of the founders of the Selective Mutism Information Research Association (SMIRA), set up in 1992, and was its chair until 2017 when she reluctantly stepped down due to increasing deafness.
Sluckin, A. and Jehu, D. (1969) A behavioural approach in the treatment of elective mutism, British Journal of Psychiatric Social Work, 10, 2, 70-73.
Sluckin, A. and Kanner, A. (1973) On autism - report and reflections, Communication (Journal of the National Society for Autistic Children) Vol. 7, No. 1.
Sluckin, A. (1973) Focus on childhood autism. Social Work To d a y, Vo l . 4 , 4.
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On January 17th, 2019. the well-known American poet, Mary Oliver, died in her home in Florida at age 83. She had won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Influenced by both Whitman and Thoreau, she is known for her clear and poignant observances of the natural world. He poems refused to acknowledge boundaries between nature and the observing self. Her creativity was stirred by nature, and Oliver, an avid walker, often pursued inspiration on foot. Her poems are filled with imagery from her daily walks near her home: shore birds, water snakes, the phases of the moon and humpback whales. In Long life she says " go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world but, to me, the emblem of everything."
When Death Comes:
By Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
Report by Robin Lloyd-Jones
The Scottish Parliament's futures think-tank, Scotland's Futures Forum, looks beyond the electoral cycle to stimulate debate on the long-term challenges and opportunities that Scotland faces. One of this series of discussions was Scotland 2030: Growing older in Future Scotland. As the author/Editor of two books highly relevant to this topic (Autumn Voices: Scottish writers over 70 talk about creativity in later life and The New Frontier: making a difference in later life), I was invited onto the panel for this seminar.
Chaired by Ross Greer MSP, the seminar considered the experience of growing older in Scotland, the challenges and opportunities for the future, and the question of how an older population may change Scottish society by 2030.
Professor David Bell and Dr Elaine Douglas from the University of Stirling presented on the Healthy Ageing in Scotland project, a longitudinal study of people aged 50+ in Scotland. This presentation can be seen on video by clicking on Life in Future Scotland.
They were then joined in a panel discussion by writer Robin Lloyd-Jones and Robert McCall (a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament) from Communic18, exploring questions of inter-generational relations, the future for older workers, and cultural position of older people in Scotland.
The panel discussion is not part of the video and no report is yet available. However, some of the points I recall making were:
- Instead of seeing old people as a problem, we need to start seeing them as an asset. These are people who have greater maturity, more experience, deeper self-knowledge and a wider perspective than any other age-group.
- We need to raise our expectations of what old people are capable of. Otherwise, negative attitudes and stereotypes about ageing become self-fulfilling prophecies.
- We should beware of generalisations and ball-park statistics about ageing. There are adjacent postcodes in Glasgow, for example, where life expectation differs by twenty years.
By Robin Lloyd-Jones
Elsewhere I have argued strongly that there is no better way to fully appreciate a landscape than to be in it, part of it, experiencing it at the natural human pace and being able to stop and admire the details whenever one wants. However, for a majority of people in modern Britain, particularly urban dwellers – which is most of us – this is not how we experience landscape. For the most part we see it from a moving car, coach, train or aeroplane, the first of these being the most common. A friend, recently returned from his first visit to America, said to me, ‘Everything I know about America comes from a moving screen.’ He meant the windscreen of his hired car, the window of the train, and television and cinema screens. For me (and for everyone, I suppose), driving through a landscape is a very different experience from walking through it. Despite the fact that there is a minimum of contact with anything outside my insulating capsule, I find that landscapes in motion have their own special delights.
There is the obvious point that, on a drive in the country, I might average thirty or forty miles an hour, whereas, on foot, these days, two miles an hour is likely to be my norm. Number of miles covered, in itself, is not necessarily a positive factor, but it is when it enables an increased panoramic perception. It allows me to see the contrasts between one area and another in a more immediate and sharper way than if I was walking the same route. The change from one kind of scenery to another arrives sooner and with greater impact. By being able to contrast barren moorland and lush valley, or steep-sided mountains and flat lowland my appreciation of each is enhanced. That five-mile stretch of land covered on my walk can now be appreciated as part of a wider design and structure, part of what contributes to forming the character of the region as a whole. It is not often in a day’s walk that I can follow the course of a river from its source to its end, seeing all its phases from turbulent youth, through middle-age, to its final sedate, meandering miles. In a car a lot is missed – the sound of the water, the flora and fauna along its banks, for instance – but other things are gained.
The plunge into or exit from a patch of mist or fog is more sudden and therefore more dramatic. The same is true of coming over the brow of a hill and seeing the ocean, or a green and fertile plain laid out below. In walking it is the slow anticipation; with driving it is the surprise. The experience of near and far is also quite different given greater speed, the time-span between tiny and imposingly large being short enough to create a sense of wonder. Especially at night, or with my eyes shut, when in rapid motion across the countryside, I feel its rhythms, its curves and contours, its rise and fall, the ripple and swell of its topography. Not all roads follow the natural line, and here are new rhythms, counter-rhythms and two-part harmonies.
What fascinates and attracts me most about viewing the countryside from the passenger-seat of a car is the way the vehicle somehow transfers its speed and energy to the landscape itself. Sometimes the ribbon of land on either side of the road becomes a river in full torrent, greens and browns and assorted shapes pouring and tumbling past the seemingly stationary viewer. If kinetic art is defined as art which depends on motion for its effect, then to combine spectator, fast-moving vehicle and landscape is to create a large-scale artistic ‘happening.’ Motion is the medium; and beauty, as well as being in the eye of the beholder, is in his velocity. Joy-riding through the kinetic countryside I am learning new ways of seeing.
I like how the foreground moves faster than the background; the way trees, buildings and other objects constantly change their spacial relationship to each other; and, if the road is curving, the way front, side and back are seen in quick-time – a fluid, shape-shifting scene of altering angles and juxtapositions. Side-roads and paths bend and unbend, writhing like snakes, while furrows and rows of crops spring open and snap shut in dizzying succession. I enjoy a low-lying sun dodging and winking behind a wood; and a full moon playing peek-a-boo, first on my right, now on the left, before hiding behind a hill, only to jump out again minutes later. There is enjoyment, too, in whizzing past stands of tall straight trees. My eye is gratified in the same sort of way as is my finger-nail when it zips across corrugated cardboard. In Winter a row of leafless trees beside the road can blur into a flimsy veil, lending mystery and enchantment to what lies behind, half-hidden. If the roadside trees are spaced at regular intervals, the images flicker by as on a reel of film. And I am in the best seat in the house.
BY FIONA HAMILTON
This piece was originally written by Fiona as a blog for The Age of Creativity website (www.ageofcreativity.co.uk/) on 19th September, 2016. Fiona has generously granted permission for it to be used on the Autumn Voices site.
Fiona Hamilton (www.fionahamilton.org) is a writer, facilitator, tutor and researcher. She is a highly experienced facilitator of groups and individuals
and designs creative projects for varied purposes. She works for Orchard Foundation and Metanoia Institute London and is Honorary Research Associate at the University of Bristol.
Stories for Wellbeing in Later Life
Stories are vitally important to people. Facilitating people’s stories is my job in a variety of settings. Sometimes this is with people exploring
themes in later life.
I employ a range of techniques and materials, from conversation, to
pictures, to creative writing drawing on literature, to objects people are
asked to bring in or that are provided and spread out on the table.
I bring a particular interest in oral and written stories, together with a passion for combining art forms to meet different needs.
Stories I Tell Myself and Others
This is the title of a course I devised for older people that was delivered for the first time this year in Bristol. It is designed for people aged 55+ and is an initiative with arts organization Orchard Foundation in association with the Portland Centre for Integrative Medicine, which specializes in person-centred healthcare. The holistic aims of both organisations converge, aiming to enhance people’s wellbeing through providing outlets for expression and opportunities for meaning-making in a supportive environment.
The arts in healthcare can have many benefits, such as increasing
confidence, and the sheer pleasure of creating something that is shared with others. Other research suggests that when people are able to write out their concerns as well as celebrate what they value,
health and wellbeing, psychologically and socially – and sometimes physically – can increase. To quote a pioneer researcher into the benefits of expressive writing, US -based psychologist James Pennebaker:
‘the essence of the writing technique is that it forces people to stop what they are doing and briefly reflect on their lives. It is one of the few times that people are given permission to see where they have been and where they are going without having to please anyone. They are able to prioritise their goals, find meaning in their past and future, and think about who they are at this point in life’ (Pennebaker, J. in 'The Writing Cure' edited by Lepore S J and Smyth JM, 2002).
There are many applications of creative arts with older people. Some of the approaches I have used are:
- looking at images and photographs as a way of reflecting on important life moments and sharing these, then paying more attention to them through writing a caption or short story
- taking a series of themes including ‘beginnings’, ‘thresholds’, ‘challenges’, ‘celebrations’ and providing a range of materials (sometimes literally textiles) to enable each person to find out what matters to them
- objects that have meaning – people may bring one into the session, or alternatively they are given a selection of objects such as shells, household objects, small items, useful tools, and invited to choose one and see what it evokes for them.
Creative writing for wellbeing for all
Creative writing approaches are tailored to the group’s needs and wishes. This doesn’t mean it’s all about pens and paper. Stories and writing are much
broader than this – after all, we all have stories, and we all have things to say.
For some the process might involve speaking a few sentences for the first time about something important. For others it might be writing a haiku or capturing reflections captured after looking at a picture of a landscape, listening to music, or doing some gentle yoga moves.
As facilitator I aim to provide a safe environment where the pleasures of
collaborative and individual creativity can be experienced by all.
‘Every telling or retelling of a story, through its performance, is a new telling that encapsulates, and expands upon the previous telling’ says narrative therapist Michael White (in ‘Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends’, 1990). The sessions are in community settings such as libraries, in schools, in healthcare settings such as hospitals and complementary care services.
Memory, dreams, reflections
There is increased recognition of the vital part expression and time to reflect
plays in the lives of older people. Doing this with others can stimulate cognitive
function as well as provide access to important memories, the harvesting of
which is increasingly recognised as a creative process not merely a ‘fact-gathering’ exercise. As Neisser says: 'Memory is more of a process of re-
creation and reinterpretation of the past than accurate recall.’ (in Hunt, C. ‘Therapeutic Dimensions of Autobiography in Creative Writing’, 2000)
and Bolton says that ‘Writing..can create pathways to memories, feelings, and thoughts patients do not always know that they have…’ (in 'The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing’ by G Bolton, 2000).
One participant commented that the creative writing activities had enabled him to ‘find a voice’ and reach into parts of his experience in a fresh way. Joyful things and challenges were engaged with and he found this ‘immensely helpful’.
For further information about courses see:
by Robin Lloyd-Jones
On Christmas Eve I went for a walk along the shore at Helensburgh. Thick mist cocooned me in a still, silent world of hinted shapes. Next month would be my wife’s 80th birthday. We were both getting old.
About ten minutes along the shore I encountered an old friend – a tree trunk, nine or ten feet long, which had been tossed above the high-water mark in a storm. It had lain there for the last twelve years, gradually decaying. Its bark, year by year ,had peeled away, exposing the grain of the wood. Knots, conks and cankers caused eddies and counter-currents in the flow. Sand-blasted, frost-bitten, corded, the grain bar-coded message of metamorphosis.
Beetles, millipedes, mites and worms had catacombed and labyrinthed the wood. In places it had been burned, adding dark and different textures. Slime molds, jelly-rot fungi, algae and other mucilaginous forms inhabited its surface in concentric circles, geometric shapes and magical mandalas. Colonies of colour patterned the trunk in shades of purple, green, orange, cream and brown. Lit by the low winter sun and moistened by the mist, the trunk glistened, its magnificence magnified and enhanced.
Holding my camera in gnarled, brown-blotched hands and bending on stiff knees to attain the best angles, I recorded life emerging from death and beauty born of decay.
Catrioana, who is 76, says about herself:
I live in Scotland, on the west coast by the Clyde. As a child I was interested in reading and began writing - in primary four I was sent round the classes to read a poem had written. During my teens I wrote some angst-ridden poetry. This stopped when I was busy training to be a primary teacher, marrying, producing a son and going through a divorce. However, I began writing again, both prose and poetry, and have done so ever since. I have been lucky enough to have been published in magazines and won competitions in both genres.
Gigha in July, the first of the three poems Catriona selected for this blog, won the 2018 James Muir Prize for Poetry, an annual competition run by the Scottish Association of Writers.
Gigha in July
It isn't just how, unhurried, Cathan's chapel changed to roofless walls of sleeping stones, nor the long, long creeping of the moss that hides the faded tales of its hidden bones, It's the now, slow green sea-swing of weed, the gently-feeling fingers of a rising tide and the way this wind is just a passing breath that lifts the reaching gulls to wheel and glide out where, above Kintyre's hazy hills, clouds pile and billow, soft and leisurely, or the way the white-lace path of the ferry's wake melts away to the dark jade of the sea and the lazy heaves and sighs of seals that drowse on that far point's mat of stranded dulse - all these set the pace of this island's heart; the singing summer-rhythm of its pulse.
It was a ritual of love: his wooden pipe held tenderly in one pale hand, he scoured with a bristled tool, screwing with gentleness into the bowl - five turns. As he tapped the rim into the hollow of his palm, his fingers were smutted with fine ash; the ghost of times before. He would happily have sucked on its emptiness, savouring the taste of singed briar, but the filling of it was part of the love affair - sensual, unhurried: pinches of brown shreds tamped in, the scratch and flare of a match, the agile flame sucked down, released, sucked down by the pop-pop of his wet lips on the stem, till the bowl glowed then - the small ecstasy of breathed smoked that melted in the bar of sunlight above his chair. After he was gone, his jackets scented the dark air of the wardrobe with the memory of smoke; to smell it was to resurrect my grandfather.
Pearls lie like drops of milk caught in satin, their coffin-box a softness and a swagged prison far from the beat of the ocean and its green depths; far from the gape-mouthed oysters that itched them into being. Her red nails blaze vulgar against their subtlety, as she lifts them, sets them against a neck as pale as they. Perhaps the thrum of veins in her throat will echo, for them, that far, long-ago green pulse of the sea.
ALISON PRINCE: AN AUTUR There can be few readers of this blog who do not remember the children’s TV series, Trumpton. The scriptwriter for that marvellous programme was Alison Prince.‘I was asked if I’d like to write the scripts for a puppet programme about a fire station.
I went to see the puppets, which were like bendy toys, and was shown the opening sequence, where the wee men slide down the greasy pole into the fire engine. They all looked rather alike, so the first thing was to give them names. There could be a pair of twins, to deal with two at one blow, and the rest would have to get whatever characters I could dream up. So there they were – Pugh, Pugh,Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. Freddie Phillips, who wrote and played the music, put them into that order, but I invented the names.....I never thought Trumpton would become a classic. I was paid £15 per story, no repeat fees. It seemed OK at the time.’
Alison also wrote the Jackanory scripts, children’s fiction, two acclaimed biographies, one of Kenneth Grahame (famous for his book The Wind in the Willows),and one of Hans Christian Andersen, as well as several collections of poetry.
In 2017, when she was 86, I interviewed Alison at her cottage in Whiting Bay on the Isle of Arran for my book Autumn Voices.What follows is an abridged version of her chapter in that book. With several breaks while a care-worker came to see if she needed anything(Alison has three visits a day), and friends dropped by, Alison and I talked:
‘There is no lack of ideas coming to me, but my imagination is becoming more scrupulously looked at because you have less time left and you haveto be
hard-headed about how you use that time and how important the various ideas are.
The different kinds of writing I have done - screen, fiction,non-fiction, poetry – are very different things. The basic process might be the same. Although the sounds made by a double base and a French horn are very different, you still need to know the principles of music to play them. The difference between writing for children and for adults is mainly technical. You have to strive for a greater clarity of meaning and avoid long, complicated sentences. You have to be able to hear the words that come off the page into the reader’sear. Writing, after all, is only a way of notating a spoken system.
Arran is very much part of my background because I came here as a child. I had wonderful holidays here. It was everybody’s dream childhood. I always planned to come back. When I did, it still smelled the same as I remembered it. I have now been here thirty-six years. I try not to be too specific about the setting of my books, but a lot of the settings of my children’s books are, in fact, on Arran.
The aspect of ageing I fear most is becoming a nuisance to other people. There are health issues, too, but I can accept those as part of life.Last year I had a heart valve transplant, which made me breathless and playing the clarinet difficult. In the mid 1950s, I travelled around Europe for three months on seven pounds. And I then went to India. But I don’t travel much these days.
You don’t have the power to choose what things in your life influence your writing. They either lodge in your mind, or they don’t. I think my creativity has changed over the years. The physical energy is less. I used to be able to keep going almost without a stop. I am writing far more poetry than I used to, partly because I work in shorter, but more intensive bursts. Also, I no longer want to do that huge output thing. A lot of my writing is by hand in notebooks, which I carry around with me.
Quite obviously I don’t have the memory that I used to and I have just lost my driving licence which means a huge loss of freedom. There are moments, when the batteries are low, that I think, O sod it!’
Alison read a poem to me she was working on at the moment about the care-workers who visited her three times a day:
‘They now write notes about me to each other
And leave them on the table in full view
It’s kindly meant, but makes me feel like an item on display
That must be checked at intervals
In case a part should be absent or defective.
This appears to happen gradually
Though they’re quick to say, She’s not all there,
The odd thing is, they never look for what’s been lost
You can’t have everything, they say,
But don’t know what it is you haven’t got.
I don’t read as much as I used to. Partly because so many books fall into recognisable and predictable categories - but not the classics, like Trollope, for example. They transcend categories. I love reading other languages. I can read in French, German, Spanish, Russian.
from the Island of North Uist.
Pauline, now aged 78, is one of the people I interviewed for the book, Autumn Voices. She is both a poet and a painter. Pauline has lived on North Uist since 1997. She trained as an actress and a drama teacher and later took an advanced degree in Special Needs and Dyslexia at Birmingham University, going on to become an adviser and trainer in this area of education.
A storm is forecast. It's the perfect day for blogging indoors. The wind is howling outside and the rain is lashing the windows. We never have to clean the windows or clean our cars.
My writing room which is in the roof above the kitchen, faces north, looking across the sound towards the hills of Harris and Lewis. The sea is at the bottom of the field about 200 yards away. The view is never quite the same in the changing light across this land of wind, and water, and stone.
Robert and I have been living here for twenty years now. We moved here from the county town of Warwick in England, and have never regretted it. Scotland has always been a favourite place of mine. My aunt lived in Edinburgh and as a teenager I spent part of every summer holiday traipsing round enjoying the festival as it used to be, and we often went hosteling up in the highlands.
We spent our honeymoon travelling what is now known as route 500. In those days the road was quite rough. Occasionally we had to move rocks out of the way. When the children were young we trailed our dingy to Loch Ewe, camped in a crofters field, and sailed around for weeks at a time.
I’m three quarters Yorkshire and one quarter Irish and as a girl lived within easy reach of the sea, but Warwick is just about as far inland as you can be. In the summer of 1997 we visited North Uist for three weeks, and after two weeks, we began to look for a house and found this croft house. In 1998 we moved in. We came for the sea, the space, the peace, the calm of the place, and found
security and a wonderful sense of community and the kindness of neighbours.
Up until then, my poems had always been about the preoccupations of women, our juggling lives, coping with husbands, children, the domestic scene, as well as working full time outside the home.
I didn't really imagine writing about the sea. I was just happy walking beside it; sometimes swimming in it. Gradually though, on my walks, I began to scribble bits and pieces in my notebook, often sitting in the dunes out of the wind to write about the sea, the shore, the light. This lead to my first collection about North Uist, called “Storm Biscuits” and then to a pamphlet called “North Uist Sea Poems”. It was a bit like a journal; diary entries which became short poems, recording the state of the sea and the shore on my frequent visits from October 2004. It ended with poems about the violent storm which swept the island in January 2005, devastating many homes and drowning a whole family, grandfather, mother, father, and two young children.
To my amazement, the pamphlet won the prestigious Callum Macdonald Memorial Award. That was when I got to know Tessa Ransford who was so kind and supportive, introducing me to a whole host of wonderful Scottish poets and making opportunities for me to read. It was through her that I became a registered poet with the Scottish Book Trust.
Perhaps this is the place to mention painting. Write about the landscape, made me realise I was going to need a new vocabulary and a way of looking closely, so I decided to enrol on the art course which runs at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre and Museum in Lochmaddy. It is a UHI course and I studied painting and drawing part time for three years. At the time I didn't imagine that I would become a painter as well as a poet. Taigh Chearsabhagh has a very important place in my life. For the past 18 years I have been organising monthly poetry events and running a monthly writing workshop. I have served time on the TC board and on the Uist Arts Association committee as chair, secretary and now committee member for literature events.
Last year, I published a selected works of my poems about women called “Be an Angel”. This year a revised edition of “Storm Biscuits” includes many more of my island poems.
Just now I am working on a collection of poems called “Written on the Shore”. There are poems about footprints, shells, what the sea leaves on the beach, thoughts people have when they find themselves in this vast emptiness. A wool coat features several times and there is a mention of angels, but at the heart of the collection is a sequence about the sea being in love with a woman who walks along the edge of the tide. I'm hoping to launch it in 2019.
arriving at the sea
it is as if
until this moment
we have held our breath
tight in our chests
and only now
dare to let go
as if in towns
we are not free
and only the sea
we are all in love
with the sea.
We hadn’t seen him for weeks.
I’d just sprinkled incense
into the hot pool,
was lying there in starlight
sipping iced nectar
listening to the nightingales.
He appeared out of nowhere
in complete meltdown
bellowing my name.
I stood my ground
without a towel,
“It was only an apple for god’s sake.
And I only took one bite.
Get over it.”
He crept away and I
stepped back into the pool.
It was a fundamental moment.