Beloved Old Age and What to Do About it: Margery Allingham's the Relay by Margery Allingham and Julia Jones

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Beloved Old Age and What to Do About it: Margery Allingham's the Relay by Margery Allingham and Julia Jones

Category: Home and Family
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The experiences of two women looking after dementia sufferers: Allingham fifty years ago and Jones currently. Thought provoking, reassuring and highly readable.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Golden Duck
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1899262298

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We remember Margery Allingham as a novelist from the golden age of crime, perhaps not as famous as Agatha Christie or Dorothy L Sayers but certainly well regarded by those who appreciate good writing and excellent plotting. Her last completed book was not a novel but The Relay, a combined account of caring for three elderly relatives, (Em, Maud and Grace) between 1959 and 1961 and suggestions as to how other people might achieve a good old age for their relatives. Margery died in 1966 and The Relay was never published in the form in which it was written.

Julia Jones is Allingham's biographer and a dementia carer herself, as well as the co-founder with Nicci Gerrard of John's Campaign which is pressing for people with dementia to be able to have their carer with them in hospital when required. She's perhaps uniquely placed to bring Allingham's ideas to a wider audience and to intersperse them with her own views and experiences of caring for her mother who has dementia. I wouldn't normally warm to this sort of approach, but Allingham's experiences are interesting but decidedly dated, whilst Jones has current observations and the elegant contrast brings both views to life whilst allowing us to see what has changed in the interim.

Allingham identified 'protection', 'companionship' and 'care' as the human requirements for a contented old age. I've thought long and hard about this and it's difficult to disagree or add anything else which is absolutely essential. My own experiences (of which more later) tally with those of Jones: the most difficult of these to fulfil is companionship. Allingham's idea was of a dower house system where the young would look after the old who once looked after them and they, in their turn would be looked after by the young whom they brought up with care being the baton passed on in the titular relay. That does make it seem rather formulaic but Allingham and, increasingly, Jones are of the view that there's a great deal of benefit to all parties in the relationship, that there's a gain other than the purely material passed to the young. As Allingham says, the dower house permits the family, by uniting its strength into a bundle of sticks, to afford their old people the care and protection which it is its privilege to supply and their right to accept.

Although Allingham's experiences might seem dated, her writing still sings. I had to smile with recognition when she spoke of older people who may sometimes find themselves saving up for old age as if it were some sort of unpleasant holiday - full of bad weather, sickness and crooked landladies. Jones' writing is, as ever, insightful and leaves you feeling as though you've had a chat with an old friend. Reading was a pleasure.

I don't think that I've ever before read a book where the title struck terror into my heart. I'm dealing with my own old age by denying it, suppressing any evidence to the contrary and more than twenty years after the deaths of my parents I'm still struggling to come to terms with all that happened in the final decades, with psychosis, personality disorder and depression suffered by one parent and dementia by the other. Even decades later and knowing, logically, that there was no more that I could have done I am sometimes overwhelmed by guilt. Reading Beloved Old Age brought a degree of relief which nothing else has afforded. I know now that I was not alone, or even unreasonable, in sometimes being unreasonably cross, that perhaps it wasn't that I couldn't cope, but that what I was coping with was not capable of being resolved. For this I owe Julia Jones a debt of gratitude and I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

Jones speaks about whether or not dementia sufferers understand how what they do affects other people and compares this to the feelings of someone with autism and refers us to The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida and David Mitchell. We thought that was a special book. If you're looking for advice on dementia I can recommend Dementia: The One-Stop Guide: Practical advice for families, professionals, and people living with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease by June Andrews: it should have a place on the shelf of anyone for whom old age is more than just something in the distant future as it's also full of practical advice on what you should be thinking about before you get there.

Buy Beloved Old Age and What to Do About it: Margery Allingham's the Relay by Margery Allingham and Julia Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Beloved Old Age and What to Do About it: Margery Allingham's the Relay by Margery Allingham and Julia Jones at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Beloved Old Age and What to Do About it: Margery Allingham's the Relay by Margery Allingham and Julia Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Beloved Old Age and What to Do About it: Margery Allingham's the Relay by Margery Allingham and Julia Jones at Amazon.com.


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