Ode to a lift: unlikely source of inspiration sparks 90-year-old’s poetry

A 90-year-old grandmother who rediscovered her love of writing when she moved to a nursing home has had one of her poems installed ‘pride of place’ in the centre’s lift.

Cherry Hastings-Bernays said she was “nagged” into writing again after stopping for several years when Highgate Nursing Home’s music therapist Phil Evans came across her vast collection of poetry.

He then suggested that she write about the Hornsey Lane nursing home’s lift to decorate the space and to provide a moment of reflection for the residents, though Cherry was not keen at first.

“I thought it was most peculiar, but the idea of a poem about the lift appealed to him,” she said. “It has been great. He comes along and nags me.”

The poem, called The Lift, was installed last week in time for Cherry’s 90th birthday.

Its themes touch on astronomy, heaven, life and death and the poem is printed boldly in white on a mirror inside the small lift.

Cherry, who has Parkinson’s Disease, contracted polio while serving as a nurse during the Second World War, restricting her mobility and keeping her mostly housebound.

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But she kept herself busy and dabbled in a wide variety of cultural hobbies, though her greatest creative passion has always been for writing.

Over the course of her life she has composed around 135 poems, which are kept in a black folder, though she has never been a published author.

Her son Peter Bernays, 64, who lives in Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, hopes to turn the collection into a book that she can keep by her bedside.

He said: “She is always looking to do something and often likes to break the rules.

“She used to take us [her four children] on long walks even though she wasn’t supposed to because of her polio.”

As an astronomy enthusiast, Cherry thinks her next creative work might be about space and the stars, though she is currently in the middle of writing a poem about the squirrels that she sees from her window. The grandmother-of-eight said her renewed creative flow is all down to her music therapist.

Mr Evans said: “I think Cherry is an inspiration. Her poetry is wonderful and she shows that it is still possible to lead a creative life while living in a care home.”