When you visit a museum, a palace or stately home, what do you find most interesting?
Do you like to gaze at the brilliant architecture? Visit the wonderful gardens? Do you most enjoy the expensive works of art? Statuary, gold, silver and jewels? Yeah, me too. But most of all, I am excited by the small things.
It is the ephemera that I go to see, and I’m never happier than when I’m lucky enough to visit a place that is packed with the little things of daily life that connect the past with the present and show us the REAL human lives behind the curtain of opulence on display. Ephemera is the wonderful word that we use to describe those everyday things that are used and mostly thrown away. Bottle caps, tickets, matchbooks etc. collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. I get a real buzz when I get my hands on an old bus ticket, a ration book or a cigarette card. The sight of an old fashioned pram or a mangle brings back a flood of memories. I connect with these small everyday items in a much more intimate and personal way than I ever could with the grand stuff I often see preserved "for posterity". In fact, it is my considered opinion that posterity would be better served by preserving the ephemera rather than the grandiose. If you know someone who is living with dementia, then you will know EXACTLY what I mean. Show us an art catalogue and we will be interested, even animated. But show us a shopping catalogue from the 1960s and THAT will often be the start of many an anecdote and reminiscence.
Show us some old packaging with the quaint brand names we grew up with.
We'll tell you how our mum used to collect the tacky plastic flowers that were given away free with packets of DAZ and OMO washing powder. Let us tell you about the sweets we ate, the little plastic toys we got in our cereal packets.
Hand us something we remember from our schooldays that we no longer see out and about and we'll tell you about slide rules, fountain pens, inkwells on our desks and all of the other paraphernalia that has become ancient history.
We'll tell you about milk monitors, ink monitors, the games we played, the songs we sang.
It'll all come flooding back.
and, if we're in a group, we'll feed off each other, swapping anecdotes. It's the best therapy EVER!
Ephemera can return someone deep into dementia to the present for a while, reviving and animating them. It is as powerful as music and other sensory therapies when introduced correctly.
Time for a confession... I collect ephemera. I can't help it. It's an obsession. A Green Shield stamp. A Co-op token. an old yo-yo. I've got the "Acme Thunderer" whistle that my dad blew when he worked as a shunter on British Rail and a collection of old bus and tram tickets.
I also have a purse full of old pre-decimal coins and a "ten bob" note. I love them. I love the texture, the weight and the smell of them. They take me back to a place and time where I am comfortable and happy. They transport me.
The real beauty of ephemera is that it can be acquired for free or bought really cheaply from junk shops or online. I have an old suitcase where I store mine. It's covered with old stickers from hotels and airlines that no longer exist and it's bent and battered, but that only makes it more valuable to me. Do YOU collect ephemera? Do you ever use ephemera as a tool to connect with people who are living with dementia? In my experience, there is no better way to rescue someone deep in dementia for a short time and reconnect them with other people.