Sunday, 29 May 2016

Old Age – A Brief Family History

My father, Cla, was a fairly high-flyer (Perren Professor ofAstronomy, UCL; Astrophysical Quantities). But he suffered a pulmonary embolism just before he retired back to Canberra. Initially, Cla had an office at the Mt Stromlo Solar Observatory, where had originally worked in the 1930s and 40s. This helped him finish the 3rd edition of Astrophysical Quantities, 1973. After that he was left much to his own devices for intellectual activity.

Bryony and I visited Rose (my mother) and Cla in 1977/78. He had written up his experiences of “Hiking in Early Canberra”. Bryony and I had tried to get bookshops in Canberra to take copies. Our sales pitch was not hugely successful.

Cla was still interested in bird song and had devised a notation for writing down bird calls. He had also devised a bell tune for the Canberra Carillon. Nevertheless it clear, even then, that Cla’s attention span was dwindling. His attempts to teach Bryony to drive in Canberra were a near disaster.

Rose and Cla visited us in England a couple of years later. Meredith was 15 months and quite adorable. Family panic set in while picnicking at Greenwich Park. Cla had taken Meredith to see The Cutty Sark, without telling us. Thankfully Cla returned with his granddaughter without incident. But Alzheimer’s syndrome had clearly taken hold. Cla died in 1987.

Rose survived Cla by nearly 25 years. She was a vehemently independent soul and lived on her own the whole time.

All my life, I remember her attending adult education classes, but she seemed to graduate into giving lectures to her classes after Cla had died. She continued to give lectures until about a year before her own death. Indeed the family was alerted her passing by a colleague, who had called to take Rose to one of her literature classes and could not raise her.

My elder brothers, Clabon, Bryden and Russell, each have their own methods of keeping both mentally and physically active. I confess that in each case their choices of mental stimulation seem mildly eccentric, but that does not seem to matter. Indeed, I wonder whether Bryden’s accident 15 years ago has enhanced his eccentricity. You may be interested to go to his web page and see for yourself.

Significance for me is that Cla had suffered a major medical condition. Could this have predisposed him to changes in brain activity resulting in Alzheimer’s syndrome? If so, was there anyway that he could have staved off the loss of brain function?


In my own medical condition the brain itself has been damaged. The long term effect of this is a matter of guesswork. Taking Rose, my elder bothers as examples, staying both mentally and physically active is a sensible way forward. This blog records my attempts at staying active, not least intellectually.

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