I’ve been stuck at home for a few days, keeping an eye on a pup. A couple of days ago she gave a sharp yelp of pain when she came outside with me, but I wasn’t able to isolate the cause. We checked her limbs – feet, lets, joints, back, felt her gut (in case it was bloat), looked for any other possible causes – and she let us do all of that without twitching. Then, later, it happened again – and again – when she climbed onto the couch and when she lay down. A very distressing sound, a very unhappy dog and a very anxious me. So – vet time.

Dr Kelly has known MissM since she was a puppy and she could immediately see that she was off her usual enthusiastic crazy-pup form. She checked her out from top to toe and found her vitals all normal, weight perfect, gut fine, legs all okay — but the muscles in her neck were very stiff and MissM didn’t want to turn her head from side to side. Up and down was okay, but sideways no. And she didn’t shake her head at all either, as she often does after an examination.

Prognosis? Well, it could just be that she’s hurt her neck racing around, but Kelly reckons it could very possibly be wobbler syndrome – a narrowing of the bony canal that the spinal cord passes through, resulting in compression. This was a definite ‘no, wrong way, back out’ sort of moment. Delighted that it hadn’t turned out to be bloat, but wobbler?

For now, MM is on meloxicam (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) and gabapentin (anticonvulsant & analgesic), with another appointment booked for Monday. If she’s not significantly better, then X-rays are the next step so that Kelly and/or a specialist can identify the precise locations of the spinal cord compression and recommend suitable treatment…

Sad pup

Meantime, she wants to be close – and by that I mean closer than usual (!), is anxious and a bit dopey because of the gabapentin. Except of course when there’s food in the offing, someone comes to the door or she moves her neck in a way that makes her yelp. This part is very stressful all round. If you’ve ever heard a dog cry in pain, you’ll know what I mean. She’s got to be kept quiet and indoors except for nature-stops – which is tricky. So I cancelled various things and have spent the last couple of days sitting/lying with an extra-close, anxiously dopey dobermann and a rather worried springer spaniel circling the edges.

Anyhow, between dog-things, I read Acacia House, by Vivien Stuart. Of all the topics in the world to be reading about at present, this book is about palliative care > what a funny old place the universe is! (For clarity, I’m talking humans now, not pups… just in case that wasn’t apparent!) Acacia House packages various views about end of life decisions, treatment and hospice funding – or the lack thereof. It’s thoughtful, sometimes funny, and very touching.

With my sad dog curled up next to me, I found myself wondering once again about why it is that so many humans avoid conversations about end-of-life issues, arrangements and preferences? I get it that no-one wants to lose a loved one, and I get it that most people would prefer to think about happier things. But surely it’s better to have these conversations before ill health or accidents alter the way final treatment decisions should or could be managed? Particularly for those of us who any sort of advanced chronic condition or life-limiting condition, or may perhaps be at risk of developing a dementia-related illness.

After all, who will speak for us if we’re no longer in a position to state our preferences? Will they understand what it is that we want – rather than what they think we want… or would prefer us to want? When it gets to that stage of the game, the emotions of people with vested interests of one sort or another can tend to cloud issues and complicate them, taking away the final choices people should be entitled to make for themselves.

Many people have told me that they’ve tried to have these sorts of conversations with their loved ones, only to be shut down. They get variations on a theme of “We don’t want to think about it!” or “You’re still able and fit, so there’s no need to go there.” Is this perhaps because talking about our mortality and decisions around that makes these people confront both the notion of loss and the notion of their own personal mortality? If so, surely this is very narrow-focus thinking? After all, talking about something doesn’t make it so – otherwise we’d ALL be lottery winners!

By the time I’d finished the book yesterday afternoon and contemplated how I felt about it, snuggly-sad dog by my side, I’d concluded that having these conversations with loved ones is an absolute must. If you get stonewalled, perhaps wait a while and try again. It may turn out to be a bit like a war of attrition, wearing them down – one conversational gambit at a time, but it’s worth it in the end, I reckon.

An advanced health directive is the next step. This can be amended at a later date if your preferences change. But in the interim, it provides medical professionals and your loved ones with a clear idea of what you would prefer if you’re no longer able to make or communicate decisions. I downloaded a copy of the pro forma this morning and plan to complete it and then lodge a certified copy with my GP – ‘cos you never know what happens next in life.

It’s wildflower season in WA, a time when the usually grey-green landscape north of Perth puts on it’s holiday colours for an all-too-short time. This was as good an excuse as any for us to head off on a country jaunt. It also gave us the opportunity to use up our non-refundable  van hire ‘credit’ from November 2021 (the defunct Ghan-Nullabor adventure).  

I anticipated bush walks, photo opportunities and other wildflower-related shenaningans. And, whilst it was all that and more, the wildflowers also provided a glorious backdrop to an additional mission goal: hunting down the best vanilla slice north of Perth! 

The last time we were further north than Lancelin was en route home from our Darwin to Perth road trip, via the Gibb River Road (Oct 2019). On that trip we encountered a random couple also on their travels who, on discovering a mutual interest in vanilla slices, were effusive in their praise of the vanilla-flavoured delights of Northampton. “Make sure you go to the bakery,” they exclaimed. “You’ll love their vanilla slice. It’s the best in WA!” Sadly, the day we went through Northampton, the Shearer’s Shed Cafe (aka local bakery) was short staffed and the pastry cabinet was bare.

So Northampton was a definite ‘must do’ stop along the way on this trip. We got there on day three (of 14), with Himself by now as keen as mustard to finally enjoy his long-awaited and much-anticipated tasting of what we’d been referring to as ‘World’s Best Vanilla Slice‘ ever since 2019.

For those not familiar with a classic vanilla slice, here are the basics, as described by my resident  connoisseur: the slice should have a smooth, slightly rubbery set-custard filling, sandwiched between two layers of crisp puff pastry; this should be topped with a generous layer of (preferably white) vanilla icing glaze. To be clear, this means: no cream, no coconut or powdering of icing sugar on the top, no lattice (or other) biscuits as pastry replacement. If any of these options come into play, then it is, quite simply, NOT a vanilla slice – it’s just another pastry in the pastry cabinet.

So, back to Northampton and Himself’s tasting of ‘World’s best Vanilla Slice’…

From the moment we entered the cafe I could see the slice would not pass muster. It looked delicious in the pastry cabinet, but the ‘custard’ was clearly not ye olde bog standard yellow rubbery goop. It it was a fluffy, soft looking filling (pastry cream) that was definitely not going to get the tick of approval. And lo, this did indeed prove to be the case. The verdict was that, whilst very tasty, this just wasn’t ‘the real thing’. It was more the French style mille-feuille and Himself rated it about a 6/10 on the vanilla slice scale.

After waiting for almost three years for this tasty treat, disappointment levels were high. At least until we looked at the bigger picture, namely that most medium/small towns have at least one bakery. This meant that we (he) could do some active research along the way, comparing vanilla slices from each bakery we’d come to on the rest of the trip! The hunt was on!

Whilst not every place we visited actually had a bakery, those that did all seemed to have a clear understanding that a vanilla slice is a key component of any baked goods line-up in Australia. In the remaining 11 days of travel, several more slices were put to the test; overall Himself averaged a slice every other day and enjoyed every mouthful. 

The tastings :

#1 Northampton – The Shearing Shed Cafe: Custard not really custard; it was ‘tasty creamy goop’ – nice, but not authentic. Icing on top a bit thin and runny. 6/10.

#2 Denham Bakery: Custard authentic, but could have been a bit ‘chumpier’ (a technical term in the world of vanilla slice tastings, it seems). The icing (pink!) had coconut sprinkled on it (a definite no-no), which detracted from the overall score. 7.5/10.

#3 Coral Bay Resort Bakery. Custard a bit low on flavour; pink icing, but a reasonable 7.5 – 8/10. 

#4 (and #5) Kalbarri Hot Bread Shop: Icing was good (although pink) and custard just the right level of rubbery-solid (apparently!). This one was good enough for a return visit the next day, much to the amusement of the staff. 9/10!

#6 Jurien Bay Bakery: Authentic, but not very nice; possibly stale. Also, the staff was pretty grumpy. 7/10 max.

#7 Lancelin Offshore Cafe: Tasty, but not quite as good as Kalbarri Bakery. Lovely cafe though – and super friendly staff. Worth a second visit to try other goodies if we were there for a bit longer. 8 – 8.5.

So, for our in-house vanilla slice connoisseur, the winner was definitely the Kalbarri Hot Bread Shop. The only reason they didn’t get 10/10 is that Himself never gives a top score; that way, he says, there’s always room for improvement!

On the last leg home, after the final tasting, we developed the following tasting notes. They would have been helpful to have earlier, no doubt, but can (and will) be used in all future tastings. After all, we’re heading down south in a few months, and we’ll make sure we’ve compiled a list bakeries to visit by then!

Vanilla Slice – tasting notes
Filling: must be custard (not pastry cream).
Custard: consistency – rubbery & high density; must bulge when poked – but not be penetrated – and spring back on release quantity – not so much that the slice is too tall to bite; colour should be a nice deep yellow.
Pastry:  crisp puff pastry, not gluggy must have good adhesion to the custard, i.e. the top must peel off in one piece, leaving either a thin layer of pastry on the top of the slice or a thin smear of custard on the underside of the pastry top not biscuit!
Icing: vanilla icing glaze, preferably white stiff, not too thick or thin no coconut or powdered icing on top.
Flavour:  vanilla, but not too strong

Note 1: Just to be clear, these were not tasted by me – well, not more than a nibble to try the filling, anyway. I’m far more the ‘choose your pastry in the moment’ kinda person, although the Kalbarri Hot Bread Shop also do a deliciously indulgent jam doughnut (just saying).

Note 2: We did do heaps of other things, such as snorkel with green sea turtles in coral bay, go quad-biking, wave at whales from a sunset cruise boat, beach walks, adventured in Kalbarri – skywalk and suchlike, slurped best-ever mango smoothy (#bumbaks-in-canarvon), visited the space museum and replaced a much-loved 2019 coffee mug, hunted wildflowers, consumed yummy lunch (!) at Dongara pub (unplanned, but excellent) and heaps more.

Note 3: An Apollo Eurotourer is not necessarily the best choice for adventures of this sort. The van was comfy enough, but very cramped inside. But now we know – the grey-nomad-in-a-van life is not for us!

When did I stop feeling – and being – creative?
It’s mystery, really. Does creativity gradually shamble off as we get older, going into hibernation for some or other reason? Or does it just run its course – the allotted ration used up at some point, the well running dry? Research says this isn’t the case, so perhaps I just got used to doing the things I do and stopped looking around for new inspiration, ideas and alternatives? I can blame work, life, commitments, etc., but the reality is that the blank page stays blank, the art/craft workshop is tidy, the mosaic project unfinished. Why?

I’m increasingly conscious that it’ll be curtains down at some point no matter how many things remain on my to-do list. So, how do I sidestep the procrastination bandwagon that seems to have rolled into town and moved in lock, stock and all barrels loaded? How do I get back to a version of me that I recognise – one that enjoys being creative and actively seeks out opportunities to do so?

Ah yes, how indeed? Tomes have been written on this topic, from academic papers to new age self-help books and everything in-between. There are any number of tools out there for the self-confessed procrastinator to use – it’s just a matter of getting around to finding them, acquiring them and implementing them… Right.

Instead, I decided it was time for me to have (another) close look at the what-when-why-how of my specific procrastinations to find a pathway through them – hopefully back to the creative me that’s been hiding out somewhere. It turns out that this process required a teensy bit of effort. Surprise!

I started by making a list – yup, a boring old list, but a list of EVERYthing I’ve been avoiding, from mundane things like household tasks to work-related goal oriented activities, from exercise and fitness activities to keeping up with friends. That bit wasn’t too hard – it just took time to figure out all those WHATs.

The next bit was a more complicated; it involved annotating each of the things I’d listed with two WHYs: 1) why it was even on the list (it’s an allocated chore, it’s a hobby, I need to get fit, etc.), and 2) how it’ll benefit me if get to it or, better yet, complete it. This took some serious soul searching, some WTF moments and some embarrassing realisations… but I got there in the end.

Onwards to WHEN I procrastinate? I had to figure out whether it’s as I set out to do item X on the list, or before then… when I think about doing the thing. Got it in one: avoidance in all its various guises has become my go-to. There always seems to be a plausible ‘reason’ to have a Scarlett O’Hara moment – to decide to put it off and ‘think about it tomorrow.’

And we’re almost there. To close the loop and move on, I had to figure out HOW it happens. What is it I do INSTEAD of the thing I’m avoiding? Am I putting the thing off completely, i.e. replacing it with another thing to fill the gap, or actually rescheduling? Thinking about it, I realise that, more often than not, ‘rescheduling’ turns out to be just a variation on a theme of a rolling, ever-expanding avoidance. Ouch. This introspection thing can be a real downer!

Anyhow, down to the nitty-gritty now: what to do about it. Well, every week we (Himself and I) write a to-do list up on the whiteboard in the family room. It serves as a memory jogger as well as a prompt, making it more likely that the various things will be remembered and be factored into the week. The list usually goes up on Sunday and includes work, appointments (personal, pets and for others, medical and other appointment with MiL / FiL), my time at the indoor pool, his at Watch School and so forth for the week ahead. We update it as the week evolves. Sometimes appointments change, sometimes things get added or removed – but it’s all up there, a shared mini schedule.

Even so, the daemon that is procrastination regularly has its way with us: the lure of email, cat videos (!), yet another Netflix series, ‘googling up’ some or other piece of information – and disappearing down a wormhole of links. Thinking about this, I conclude that when I don’t do a thing I’ve committed to do (whether the commitment is to myself or to others) it’s simply because I don’t really WANT to do it. Figuring out WHY I don’t want to do it starts with what I’m replacing it with.

A case in point is my current (and ongoing) mosaic project. I started it 18 months ago to cover up an unsightly section wall out on the patio. It’s the bottom section of wall that we never quite got around to tidying up, about 4m long and 30cm tall. A plan and a design for a mosaic frieze gradually emerged and, with it, a distinct sense of creative accomplishment and anticipation. Step one was to get Himself in to help with filling the biggest of the ugly-wall gaps with render and smoothing it over, and to lay a row of colourful tiles along the top of the little wall. In due course I was presented with a cheerful tile pattern and mostly flat surface to work on. Success! Whiteboard updated accordingly, positive feelings all round. Yay. (Take that, Procrastination!)

In my (debatable) wisdom, I’d decided to work directly onto the wall. So the next was to transfer the design onto the surface. Some delays here, which literally included the dog eating the plan (!), but the design finally went up and work began. It was fun. Slowly but surely two geckos emerged on the wall and the piece started to really take shape. The five central dragonflies were planned on paper, and the ceramic tile pieces cut, ready to go up. Happiness factor increased.

Then, after several weeks of regular activity – once the dragonflies were up and the background (so much background!) was started, I gradually stalled out. Instead of spending an hour or so out there each evening, listening to an audio book, cutting tile pieces to shape and fixing them to wall around the critters I’d already completed, I started to binge-watch a TV series, I read a couple of books and spent more time surging the internet. I baked and made freezer meals. I went to WASO concerts and had lunches out with friends. I gardened – a lot!

After several months of this, my internal hall-monitor started asking very pointed questions about the mosaic project. Initially I blamed the weather (too hot, too cold), the wildlife (flies, mozzies, dogs!), the uneven surface (to which the tiles really don’t stick very well). But a long hard look at the what-when-why-and-how of it all has made me realise that I’ve simply been finding the physicality of the project too much. My body and mind have conspired to rebel against the idea of crouching down or sitting on the (cold, hard) ground to work on it. In addition, what I haven’t wanted to acknowledge is that, somewhere along the line, tedium has replaced the initial enthusiasm. I quite simply fell out of love with the idea of it all.

So where to from here? The project is about half done – and can’t be UNdone; nor can I simply bundle it into the back of a cupboard like a half-finished jumper… Clearly I need a plan. And a deadline with clear milestones to ensure I stay on track. I’m reluctant to say Gantt Chart, but that’s about the size of it if I’m to visualise achievable steps and navigate myself back to creativity!

Over the course of writing this, a Master Plan has emerged (without resorting to flow charts!) It’s not on the whiteboard yet, but it will be. Bottom line is that I’ve found something to goad myself into getting back into it: it hinges on FiL’s 90th birthday celebrations in mid-July, some of which will be here at #10. So now there’s a plan: Day 1 (5 June) – review progress to date, decide on completion date. Get cracking! Days 2 to 32 – shape and place no fewer than 10 pieces every day. Day 33 (8 July) – Final pieces cut and placed. Grout the entire frieze and clean up. Done!

I think I’ve worked myself up to believing I’ve got my mojo back: I’ve written a blog post – the first in over six months – AND cut and placed 10 mosaic pieces! Good outcome for all that soul-searching!

(Note to the reader: Give it go – the process does require a certain amount of soul searching and, with that, acknowledging some home truths, but it’s worth it – really.)

The Covid-rollercoaster continues to find new ways to make life fun for all. On that uncertain landscape, disrupted holiday plans are really a comparatively minor glitch. Even so, the past week turned out to a bit more of a challenge than we expected as we navigated our very own version of Covid-glitchiness.

To be fair, we’ve been remarkably fortunate here in Western Australia so far. Unlike Victoria, New South Wales and (recently) the ACT, where Covid-consequences have been rife, people within WA have (mostly) been free to wander-out-yonder in their ‘backyards.’  And, with no adverse border conditions in place between WA, the Northern Territory and South Australia, we decided that it seemed like a reasonably safe bet to plan a trip that included travel through all of them.

After all (and with apologies to Dr Seuss), with brains in our heads – and feet in our shoes – we can steer ourselves in any direction we choose. What we came up with in the end was a cunning plan that involved a plane, a train and an automobile: we’d fly to Darwin, hop on The Ghan, adventure through Katherine (enjoying the Nitmiluk Gorge cruise off-train experience) and Alice Springs (with the Mount Gillen helicopter flight add-on, just for the fun of it) in the NT. We’d arrive in Adelaide after 3 days, just in time to pick up a camper van for the next stage of the journey.

This would involve nipping into the Barossa Valley, dropping past Port Augusta, stopping in Kimba (halfway across Australia) to visit its Big Galah, then heading towards the WA border via Ceduna and the Head of Bight (such views, apparently!). After crossing the Nullabor (to ‘baptise’ me as a real West Australian!), we’d head home via Esperance, the new Wellington Dam wall mural and so forth. This sounded nice and flexible and the camper meant we could stop wherever / wherever we felt so inclined. Hi-ho, adventures!

So leave was arranged, pet sitters organised, bookings made, and deposits paid. With every state having its own rules and regs around Covid and border control, we also had to apply for Northern Territory and South Australian border approvals, as well as a G2G pass to get back into WA. The approvals and relevant apps then had to be loaded onto our phones for ease of access. Sorted – or so we thought…

As is the way of these things, however, just days before we were due to leave, two new cases of Covid emerged in Katherine. A collective groan from all and sundry as we heard that the first case was a fully vaccinated person in Katherine (who initially tested negative for Covid, then positive 4 days later), the second a close personal contact, and both were infectious in the community for several days. None of that boded well for our trip.

Every day friends asked us whether we were still going / would the borders stay open / would the trip go ahead / would we lose our deposits – and so on. With no crystal ball readily to hand, no formal mandate from the WA Police regarding border closures and no notification from various hire companies that the trip was cancelled, we just thought good thoughts and pragmatically hoped for the best.

We ensured there was plenty of dog food in the house, had our fabulous pet sitters Jess & Chris round for afternoon tea and a catch up on the latest dog feeding regime etc., paid the balance on each leg of the trip, packed a laptop in case one of us ended up having to work remotely, booked an Uber and, at last, headed for the airport – appropriately masked.

Four hours of Business Class relaxation later (thanks to frequent flyer points) we landed in Darwin, where we turned our phones back to this charming message from the WA Police:

Your G2G Pass application: This means you are not permitted to travel into Western Australia.

Application status:UNSUCCESSFUL
Reason for unsuccessful application:Travel from/via Northern Territory

The full implications of this message were unclear, other than that our previously ‘successful’ applications had been revoked and that we’d need to reapply for WA border entry when we got to Adelaide at the end of the week. All we could do was to claim our baggage and, as per advice from authorities, make our (still masked) way directly to our hotel.  There we stayed, venturing precisely nowhere until the morning in order to limit any possible exposure – even MenuLogging some pizzas rather than trying to hunt down a nearby restaurant. Many good thoughts were thought and Zen moments attempted as we waited, hoping like crazy that the other shoe wouldn’t fall…

Zen contemplations, Darwin

In the morning, we masked up, checked out, hopped into a taxi and headed over to the Hilton – the designated pick up point for The Ghan. As it turned out, the train had had some sort of issue just out of Adelaide and been delayed for many hours, which resulted in it getting in to Darwin later than expected. For us, that meant a few more hours hurry-up-and-wait, so we had a leisurely breakfast at the Hilton, used the facilities and chatted to other Ghan-hopefuls. We were finally bussed out to the rail passenger terminal at midday, about 20km out of Darwin. We were on our way…

But no, another surprise awaited us there: more cases of Covid had come to light in Katherine and the town had gone into a snap lockdown. This meant that our scheduled stop there was cancelled. Instead, we would continue on straight through to Alice Springs, which would actually make up for the late departure and result in us arriving there more or less on time – so there you go: swings and roundabouts!

The Ghan, Alice Springs

It was a relief to finally settle into our tiny-weenie, cute-as-can-be cabin (with its equally cute en suite). Dumping our bags, we headed down to the lounge car for drinks and socialising before lunch – and the food and drinks just kept on coming! The train was only at about 1/3 capacity (as a result of NSW and Victoria cancellations) and the group in our section bonded quite quickly. About half the people were from WA, one from Brisbane and the rest from South Australia. Lots of shared stories and laughs and a stunning sunset – a good evening after such a ragged start.

We woke at about 3am to find the train stopped in the middle of nowhere; I’m guessing the absence of the soothing clickety-clack train sounds is what disturbed us. There we remained until sunrise (about 5am), before carrying on towards Alice. About an hour later there was an announcement: many apologies wrapped around the fact that South Australia had closed its borders in response to the Katherine outbreak and that only SA residents would be permitted to cross the NT/SA border; our border passes had been revoked and all non-SA passengers would have to disembark in Alice and make their way home.

Consternation ensued. More announcements. More apologies. Breakfast. More announcements. Assistance with arrangements, if required, etc. At the end of all that, we a) didn’t get to go on our fabulous helicopter adventure in Alice, b) didn’t get to spend our last day and night on The Ghan, c) missed lunch completely, and d) and had to cancel our camper van pick up in Adelaide. We DID get to a) hurry-up-and-wait a whole lot more, b) let our pet sitters know that we’d be back a whole LOT sooner than planned, c) scurry to find a flight back to Darwin and then on to Perth, d) find a hotel to spend the night in, e) reapply for returning-resident G2G pass back into WA and f) load the WA Police home quarantine tracking app – with facial recognition – onto our phones (!) 

Many hours and much anxious waiting in various places later we finally landed back in Perth, went through border control, grabbed a taxi home and  entered 14 days mandatory home-quarantine. We’d been gone for 4 days and it felt like the full 14! The longest not-exactly-holiday we’ve ever been on. The dogs were delighted! I’d guess it felt like 14 days to them too 🙂

Checking in with the G2G Now app is now to be part of our daily routine until 4 December. The app info says it’s “quick, fun and easy” and, whilst I agree with the quick and easy part, fun it decidedly is not. Our phones sound a raucous and persistent alarm when the app wants to ‘see’ us – this happens once a day at random times, different times for each of us. We then need to open the app and allow it to take our photo and check our location. Yesterday mine was at 5pm, today 8am – both times causing me to leap to my feet and to go phone-hunting! By the end of 14 days I’ll have even more sympathy for Pavlov’s cat!!

Meantime, we’ve undergone our first Covid tests (nasty!) and received confirmation of negative results. Hurrah! Test #2 will be on Day 12. Until then we hurry-up-and-wait some more, but at least it’s at home and not in hotel quarantine. BoyChilde and his lovely lass dropped off some milk (to the gate), along with chocs, biscotti and fresh cherries yesterday > champs! We have access to grocery deliveries and a well stocked freezer, the pool’s at a very pleasant 30 degrees and the sun’s shining – so our trials and tribulations are minor.  AND I’ll be able to get some work done on my ‘round-to-it’ aka my mosaic mural project, which might even be finished by Christmas, thanks to all this!

As Dr Seuss says, “Out there things can happen, and frequently do, to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along, you’ll start happening too!

From time to time I drop into the local cinema on my way home from work on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s half price movie day and I take a chance on whatever turns out to be on offer when I pitch up. It’s a pretty random thing to do, but that’s part of its appeal and I’ve ended up seeing a number of films that I would almost certainly not have gone to see intentionally. The bad ones are improved by an ice-cream, the good ones leave my mood improved no end and the challenging ones make me think. Sometimes they make me cry.

This was one of those weeks. The film was The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins as the main protagonist (Anthony) and Olivia Colman as his daughter (Anne).

Reviews describe this film as Hopkins’ performance of a lifetime and a ‘devastatingly empathic portrayal of dementia.’ I found it beautiful – and desperate – and heart breaking – and confronting – and altogether too close to home. The overwhelming feeling was of watching a mind coming undone, experiencing Anthony’s increasing confusion and disorientation and never knowing quite what’s real and what’s not. It was unsettling, to say the least.

MiL often tells us that she finds her life both frustrating and confusing. She says she feels unmoored, as though all her familiar anchors are drifting out of reach – or are no longer recognizable. We nod sagely, sympathise and support, feeling that we understand – at least to some extent – what she means. Having read up on Alzheimer’s disease, we know it progressively destroys memories and abilities and that it’s irreversible. So her feelings aren’t unexpected.

But this film put some of those conversations into a more relatable context. Writer-director Florian Zellar catapults the audience into experiencing Anthony’s shifting realities with him – both those inside his head and in the world around him. We end up about as confused as he clearly is as we all try to make sense of the conflicting situations and information. It was uncomfortable. As was the realisation that my ‘understanding’ of MiL’s situation is, at best, limited.

On my way home, Dylan Thomas came to mind. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ he says. And I couldn’t agree more. Anthony’s almost violently expressed frustration and fear, confusion and uncertainty seemed all too reasonable. He should rage, rage against all the points of light going out for him, day after day, leaving him less than he was.

Any day in which MiL feels connected to her life in some way, rather than a confused passenger waiting for the right stop, is a good one. And no matter how pragmatic I am, how full that half-full glass can be made to seem, it’s a desperately sad thing to watch dementia claim someone dear to us.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!