Talking with Ray
Ray, you have always said that writing and photography interested you. Can you tell us a little of how this interest became a pastime for you?
As we grow older the pressure of work usually diminishes and we think of how we can fill in our spare time. It is a time when we can look for fresh ideas or try a hobby we have dreamt about. That is what happened to me. I thought that perhaps I could share a few ideas from my life that might perhaps be helpful to others.
How did you get started with your writing, Ray?
I always enjoyed writing. I still get a boost from using that skill in different ways to what I did some fifty years ago. Then I began contributing news items to the local newspapers at Toowoomba and Dalby.
You said you like to use photos as a way of supporting your recollections, Ray?
Yes, that’s right. Photography is a wonderful hobby as one photo can be often worth many words. Photos can give us a glimpse of the past. They are also essential when writing about people, useful in recalling locations or people the way they were, even capturing an incident that has just happened. Once when I was travelling in a tourist bus in the Blue Mountains it rolled off the road and plunged into the bush below. Luckily, I was not hurt and I was able to take some photos of the passengers crawling back up to the road. Photos of an incident captured for all time.
Tell me a bit about your introduction to photography, Ray.
In those days we started taking transparencies which could then be projected on a screen. Photography has changed a lot over time. Cameras, over a hundred years ago, were big and hard to transport. However, some of them recorded excellent sharp pictures. I was impressed with a visitor to the Bunya Mountains in 1914. He wrote a daily diary of his visit and supplemented it with excellent descriptive photographs which showed timber getters at work in the dense rainforest He developed the negatives in his tent that night and washed them in the creek next morning. I think they were some of the clearest photos I’ve seen that were taken in the rain forest.
So if someone is going to take up writing about local history or their family, as you have done, Ray, what suggestions would you make to them?
Diaries, if you have kept one, can give us a way of reliving the past. If you have never kept one then start today. They might not seem so important for those of us in our senior years but they come in rather handy when we have names and dates all in order. Unless you can write in a neat and clear hand, then try printing in a note book. Keeping a “People” book is a good idea. This is a book where we record names of new people we meet. The pages could be listed with headings of groups we become involved with, such as:- Social, Neighbourhood, Church, Business etc.
Ray, it is easy to see that every bit of information counts. What would you advise others with regard to filling their time doing something interesting?
Everyone has different interests so experiment a little and see what satisfies you in the quieter time of your life.
Talking with Peter
Calligraphy is such an interesting and lovely skill to have, Peter. How did this come about for you?
I spent my career as a signwriter for close to 60 years - following in the footsteps of my father – and in my day, all signwriting was done in the traditional way with brush in hand.
So, your skill followed you from your workaday world into retirement?
Yes, it did. When I first retired from the commercial world, I spent the first 8 years or so as the volunteer signwriter for Downs Steam Tourist Railway Museum. I worked on many signwriting projects including train carriages, rail motors and various other railway signage. As my Parkinson’s Disease slowed me down, I was not able to continue my train railway restorations, mainly because I was not mobile enough to work on scaffolds and ladders over railway lines, etc.
Sensible decision, Peter. I am sure your wife agreed with that.
Yes, I had gone as far as I was prepared to go.
Rather than losing your skill, Peter, what did you do?
Leaving the volunteer work behind left me spare time to pursue my hobby – which has now become my passion – calligraphy and hand lettering. The fact that I can work away at my drawing board – and not climb any ladders – makes this much more enjoyable for me these days. I continue to use letter fonts I used when painting signs, and instead of using a paint brush, I spend time with my calligraphy pens. Of course, I now have my Parkinson’s tremor to work with, and in those early days I was somewhat shaky. Interestingly enough though, now I don’t shake as much when I’m concentrating on my lettering.
That is amazing, Peter. How do you use your passion now?
Now I write as many greeting cards as possible for family and friends – whether it be for birthdays, Christmas, the odd Sympathy or Get Well card, or any occasion I can find to send a card. I also design and write the Certificates of Appreciation for the guest speakers at our local Parkinson's Support Group meetings. I get great delight in being able to create something that brings joy to others.
Talking with Joe
What made you take up vegetable gardening, Joe?
I just thought that I would try my hand at growing some vegetables as an outdoor activity – a project I could manage with my Parkinson’s Disease.
And, Joe, how long have you been at the project now?
Well, once we got rid of a small jacaranda tree I was left with an empty, small, sunny, protected back yard so I started off by buying a raised garden bed but I soon found I wanted more space. I had someone dig up some garden beds for me and now I find that over time the whole of the back yard is being utilised as a vegetable garden.
Is it hard to decide what to plant?
Not really. Herbs went in straightaway. I wanted some staple trees and bushes like lemon, mandarin, lime, mulberry, chillies so they went in first. The high fencing around the yard was bare so I planted some passionfruit.
How do you know what to do with your different plants, Joe?
There is nothing better than sharing information with others. I check out the internet as well and have some favourite sites. From the internet I have learned to grow vegetables in buckets and boxes which is very useful and successful. I found that there are ways to maximise the area you plant and to make gardening easier.
So, Joe, do you have favourites that you like to grow?
I enjoy growing vegetables we can cook in our own kitchen – the usual things like spinach, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and others. I also like to experiment with less common fruit and vegetables.
That sounds interesting, Joe. What different things have you grown?
We have a tamarillo tree that is just starting to bear. I have grown artichokes, rosellas, cassava and kohlrabi to name just a few. I have some gramma seedlings in at present and I am looking forward to watching them hopefully flourish in the months ahead.
Gramma? What is that?
It is like a butternut pumpkin but has a creamier flesh. Traditionally it is made into a very tasty pie – sweet and spicy in a pastry case – a lovely dessert, especially served warm with ice-cream. Our grandchildren even enjoy it.
What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of having your own edible garden, Joe?
Being able to use my own produce to make my own pickles, chutneys and jams; label the bottle ‘From Joe’s Kitchen’; to have them on our table and to give away to family and friends. I get a great sense of satisfaction from that.
Joe, what would you like to say to People with Parkinson’s about your pastime?
Gardening has given me a sense of fulfillment. It gets me outside with a purpose. It keeps me active physically, obviously, but also mentally by researching and planning the garden. There are always plenty of people who are happy to chat with you about their gardening adventures and during this time of COVID there has always been plenty to do in my garden.
Talking with John
What made you take up a new pastime, John?
Despite keeping to a vigorous exercise regimen, I found that with the progression of Parkinson’s Disease my physical activity has become more limited. Although my external world of physical activity has shrunk, my internal world has, so far, remained in “fair” condition and I would like it to stay that way.
So you wanted to do something that would stimulate your brain, John, rather than something physical?
That’s right. Research has shown that taking on new mental challenges can help us maintain this inner world. One of the recommended mental challenges is to learn a new language - I have taken up the language of music, or music theory.
John, why choose music theory which, to many, would seem to be quite unusual?
I have always enjoyed listening to music. Unfortunately I never played an instrument or had any knowledge of music theory. Consequently, if I wanted to learn more about a particular piece of music I would be confronted by frustrating, exotic mysteries such as “seventh chords” - I was unsure as to what a chord was, let alone a seventh chord!
And so, John, how did you go about learning music theory?
Over the last few years I have taken up this study using a fairly low key approach (sorry for the pun). I acquired some books and DVDs on music theory and just got started. I use an old keyboard to explore the various concepts of music theory. I find that YouTube is a great help. On it there are numerous music teachers keen to share their knowledge. Also I have a musician friend who comes by and we are able to discuss various aspects of music theory.
As you said, John, you have been learning about music theory for a few years now so you must be enjoying it?
My study has opened up a wonderful world for me - I now not only understand most of the terms used when music is discussed but my appreciation of music is enhanced. An extra bonus is that I now enjoy listening to all genres of music.
That is really very interesting, John. What would you say to others with Parkinson’s Disease about your new pastime?
I would strongly encourage them to take up a new interest in whatever they feel drawn to. Apart from the possible benefits to brain function, a new interest can be a lot of fun and give you a sense of accomplishment. Physically, Parkinson’s Disease limits my keyboard playing to about the level of “Frere Jacques” but I can now hammer out a dominant seventh chord. And who knows? My new skill might help me keep dementia at bay.