Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison


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The Garden Heals by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

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The Garden Heals

by Nigel Summerley

The healing power of plants is well-known – to homeopaths and herbalists and allopaths too.

And those who garden know that to be immersed in the world of plants is to be closer to something that is rewarding, beautiful and therapeutic.

Now conventional science has concluded that gardens in care homes could play a crucial role in helping to stimulate the memory processes of those suffering from dementia.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School have reported that green spaces helped care-home residents relax, and in particular reduce the agitated states of those with dementia.

They also concluded that gardens provide welcome spaces for interactions between patients and visitors, thus helping to stimulate memories. No great surprise here, really.

The Exeter study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (and supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula), looked at the findings of 17 different pieces of research in this field. This research covered residents at 11 UK care homes, plus services in America, China and Europe.

Now here’s a bit of a surprise…

Dr Ruth Garside, one of the authors of the paper, was quoted as saying: “There’s a lot we don’t know about how a garden’s design and setting influences its ability to affect wellbeing, yet it’s clear these spaces need to offer a range of ways of interacting – to suit different people’s preferences and needs.”

Surely it’s not rocket science… or even horticultural science. Just ask a gardener.

Yes, vertiginous steps and deep ponds and vicious cacti might be ingredients to avoid if frail people are going to be in the garden, but otherwise it’s common sense, isn’t it?

By coincidence, a key character in my recent novel ‘Like A Flower’ is a dementia sufferer in a care home – someone distraught at losing her garden and someone finding some solace in just being able to be outside and to see plants.

Any garden, however humble, can be a therapeutic space. Not just for dementia patients, but for all of us.

* Nigel Summerley’s novel ‘Like A Flower’ – a story of life, death, love and gardening – is available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Like-Flower-Nigel-Summerley-ebook/dp/B00A6TSI8G

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Reflections on The Double by Rowena J Ronson

Unknown-1Reflections on The Double

by Rowena J Ronson

The Double (2013), directed by Richard Ayoade and written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky over 150 years ago, asks of us a very relevant question, even now. If you feel you are living the life of Pinocchio, and your wish is to be ‘a real boy’ (or girl), what ingredients would you use to create your own Double – the person you truly want to be?

Would the real you be more confident and push themselves forward in relationships or at work; would they make sure their voice was heard and allow themselves to be seen? Would they be a somebody whom people remember rather than a nobody whom people ignore? Would they stand up for themselves and not allow others to walk all over them? Would your Double be observed and admired by others, would they make each day count? Would their life have meaning, adventure, love and no regrets? Would they be happy?

And would you stop yourself there, or would you further potentise your Double to flip from assertion to aggression, from confident to arrogant, from pushing yourself forward to penetrating beyond other people’s boundaries as well? In having more respect for yourself, would you then lose the necessary respect one needs for others? Would you let go of your grasp on reality as you delude yourself about your own self-importance?

This rather unusual film got me thinking about the many possible lives we could lead in this lifetime if we make different choices in how we view ourselves and how we consequently behave. It also got me thinking about how we view others who seem to have a life that we wish we could have, if we only believed we could. Do we find ourselves inspired by those who have more confidence and a higher self-esteem or do we feel angry and envious?

Double Take welcomes your thoughts on this curious and deep-delving piece and asks you to reflect on what your own Double might look like inside and out….


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Reflections on ‘The Book Thief’ by Rowena J Ronson

UnknownI have not been so emotionally charged by a film in a long time, so full marks for The Book Thief (2014), as it delivered as powerful an impact as reading the book itself several years ago. Watching the Nazis burning books before their energy turned towards actually killing the Jews, was a reminder of that an inevitable precursor of the extermination of knowledge, freewill and self empowerment of the curious and questioning mind.

I write this sitting in my home which is filled wall to wall with books and I am grateful for these times of freedom, at least here in England, where I can read whatever I like, where I can live however I want, say what I feel like saying, and have complete control of my choices.

But I also wonder about the growing dark side that such liberty brings with her. Many now ‘live in the moment’ – that misused, manipulated aphorism, believing that there are no consequences for their actions. They over spend, over indulge, disrespect others and the planet and live a selfish existence, just because they can.

It seems to me that instead of the rationed, poverty stricken, controlled and fearful place where we resided in Europe 75 years ago, we have shifted so much the other way that now the excess is causing another kind of devastating destruction.

I encourage all to go and see The Book Thief and perhaps then reflect on how lucky we are to be free to read, and indeed write, whatever we wish, at least in this country and in these times. And to think further how to use that very same liberty and freedom of choice to care for ourselves, others and the planet with more thoughtfulness and consideration.


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The Reason I Jump

Nigel Summerley reviews an extraordinary book by a remarkable author

The Reason I JumpWhat does it take to have a fresh and insightful view of the world? Perhaps a condition that the majority of us regard as “abnormal”.

‘The Reason I Jump’ (Sceptre, 2013) is a beautiful little book, written in the most arduous and difficult circumstances by Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old boy with autism.

Its purpose is to tell you what it is like to be autistic – from the inside. Naoki’s words have tremendous impact, not only from their content but also from the fact that he is a great writer: enlightened, poetic and deeply moving.

He explains how autistic people see things differently, being drawn into details first and appreciating them before seeing the whole: “When a colour is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that’s the detail that claims our attention, and then our hearts kind of drown in it… Sometimes I actually pity you for not being able to see the beauty of the world in the same way we do. Really, our vision of the world can be incredible, just incredible… Every single thing as its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it’s a kind of blessing given to us.”

He is equally compelling when he talks about the down sides of autism: “I know I have lots of pleasant memories, but my flashbacks are always bad ones, and from out of the blue I get incredibly distressed, burst into tears or just start panicking…

“So when this happens, just let us have a good cry and then we can get back on our feet. Maybe the racket we make will get on your nerves… but please try to understand what we’re going through, and stay with us.”

And there is more on this theme: “The people who are looking after us may say, ‘Minding these kids is really hard work, you know!’ But for us – who are always causing the problems and are useless at pretty much everything we try to do – you can’t begin to imagine how miserable and sad we get.

“I ask you… not to stress yourselves out because of us. When you do this, it feels as if you’re denying any value at all that our lives may have – and that saps the spirit we need to soldier on.”

Naoki is neither normal nor abnormal – simply a remarkable human being with a beautiful voice.