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I can’t compete with someone who doesn’t want to take a breath.

It was 2017 and I was walking up from the car park with my mum, who was upset, so I tried to encourage her to take a deep breath. She wouldn’t do it. She didn’t believe how that could help. We’d come from the clinic where my mum had just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. I had mixed feelings. I knew it would be hard, but I was thinking about how to put this into perspective, and having listened to a lot of self-help gurus over the years, one of my favourite bits of advice was to change the way you look at things.

Turns out that’s easier said than done.

The next few days went by as normal but for one thing. My mother had the diagnosis, and in talking to her, you’d believe it was the end of her world.

Thankfully, we were due to go on holiday a week later.

My mother was convinced there was something wrong with her going back about 3 years. She picked me up from work once, crying, upset that she completely forgot how to get there. She remembered in the end, and I tried to console her. That led to doctors’ appointments and eventually, a diagnosis.

Gary’s Mum (photo by Gary Thomas)

So, it’s not like she didn’t know something was coming, but it was still one of the biggest shocks she ever had.

On holiday it was the two of us, sharing a room in a hotel we’d never been to, and some of the guests were just nasty. It was all very ‘clique.’ But I was trying to do things to keep my mum entertained, take her mind off things.

Being a filmmaker, but also being me, I’d always taken film and photos of whatever we did when I thought about it. So many photos, all on my phone, and this holiday was no different. It’s like a need I have to preserve moments, whatever they are. That holiday was tough, and the first experiences of a new normal.

But in documenting things, I was also able to take my mind off what was happening, and that eventually led to a film installation I called Lost Memories.

Lost Memories Gary Thomas 9 Feb camera David Parker

In 2020 I was thinking about what I could do at home, and started thinking of a project Arts Council might fund. I thought all the videos and photos would make a good installation of some kind, something about Alzheimer’s, as I knew they’d funded things like that before. The first application was rejected, but by the second go, I was working with the producer David Parker, and we secured a week at Fabrica gallery in Brighton as part of their ‘Making Space’ programme. So, the new application was successful in July 2021.

It’s been a great project to be able to do. I’ve been able to interview scientists as well as others who’ve gone through similar experiences. At the time of my mother’s diagnosis I started a diary, and that formed the script. Whilst working with David I created something that wasn’t just from mobile phone footage, which was the original idea. The project has now been funded a 3rd time by Arts Council, this time to take the film installation on tour across England.

Gary in Space 9th March

Tour Dates for Gary Thomas: Lost Memories 2024

14 -16 June 2024 St Anne’s House, Brislington, Bristol BS4 4AB

3 -7 September 2024 Worthing Gallery, Colonnade House, 47 Warwick Street, Worthing BN11 3DH

17 -21 September Paignton Library, Great Western Road, Paignton TQ4 5AG

October 2024 Victoria Pavilion, Victoria Pleasure Ground, New Town, Uckfield TN22 5DJ

5 – 10 November Library at the Lightbox, 1 The Glass Works, Barnsley S70 1GW

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