My mother bleats on at me that if she has some kind of incident that involves her being found in a heap on the floor, she does not want to be resuscitated. She goes on about it, then finishes off with a great crescendo, shouting "Do not resuscitate!" Uh-huh, I say, then ask her if she has actually mentioned any of this to her GP. She doesn't seem to understand that of course she'll be bloody resuscitated unless she either has the instruction tattoed on her forehead or, at the very least, noted prominently on her medical records. She's been dragged off to hospital on a couple of occasions, having been at the KitKats and fallen into a diabetic coma. "I don't want to live any more," she says. The thing that baffles me is that an insulin-dependent diabetic has only to leave out their evening dose, or shoot up an extra couple of cartridges, and it's Goodnight Vienna. It's no good her shouting at me that she doesn't want to be resuscitated when we're sitting there watching Bargain Hunt, is it? Old people, eh? It's enough to make you want to strangle them.
I SEE DEAD PEOPLE
My mother is 84 now. Not only is she blind, she has also become deaf, although she refuses to believe it. Telephoning her is a nightmare. Firstly, it's quite likely that she won't answer because she can't hear it, which means that muggins here has to then get in the car and drive for an hour to check she isn't lying on the floor like a tortoise. Secondly, if I do get through, I then have to scream down the phone until my tonsils feel like they're going to explode. Even then, she'll go "hello? hello? are you still there?' and sometimes hang up. Going to visit her is no tea party either. Her top ten conversational topics go like this...
1. Dead people, particularly people who have recently died, and the method of their demise. 2. Soon-to-be-dead people, with all the details of what's wrong with them. 3. Dead pets, including the dog in the house fire that was apparently overcome by fumes, even though nobody was around to verify this report, and the dog may well have caused the housefire itself in an delibereate act of arson because it was sick to death of living with an old person. 4. Old sick people with horrible diseases that will probably kill them. 5. People I don't know or care about, who are either sick, or know somebody who's sick, or dead. 6. Diabetes (hers). 7. People with diabetes who have contracted gangrene and had to have parts of their body amputated. 8. Ready meals, and how they are not suitable for diabetics, which is a scandal. 9. Dead people, because she can't remember that she's already told me about them several times (see No.1). 10. I'm sorry, who are you?
MAXIMUM SECURITY TWILIGHT HOME
My hairdresser is gay. Nothing odd about that, you might say. His father is gay as well. Naturally, his mother turned a blind eye to this small detail during their 40 year marriage, then promptly dropped dead one Saturday morning while doing the washing up. With the wife gone to the great supermarket in the sky, the father was free to be even gayer than he was when he was married, and that's really saying something. As the recent years rolled by, my hairdresser became increasingly burdened by his father, who would insist on popping into the salon regularly (ie. six times a day), wearing hotpants, little doggie under one arm, 'manbag' slung casually over his shoulder. And when he wasn't visiting the salon, he was on the phone, going on about heaven only knows what. Then, about a year ago, something miraculous happened. The gay dad got some kind of urine infection that went to his brain, and now he's away with the fairies. (Boom-boom.)
In a dazzling feat of jamminess, the father has been put into a local nursing home, and not only is the council paying every penny of the bill, but he's also getting his full pension paid into his bank account, and has left an empty house which is paid for, lock, stock and two smoking squirrels. My hairdresser can't believe his luck. His father is 'rolling in it' (his words, not mine), and he has managed to secure Power of Attorney because the dad is, as I've mentioned, stark raving mad. The house has been rented out, and the money is, quite literally, pouring in. My hairdresser said he'd never banked on making a profit out of his old man, particularly not while he was still alive.
Good for him, I say. After suffering the frustration of having one of the most flaky, irritating men in the world as a father, and after years of being the primary carer of this seriously fucked-up pensioner, my friend looks a million dollars now that he's no longer stuck in Carer Hell. He visits the nursing home ever now and then, although he says his father doesn't have the faintest idea who he is and whether he has been there before. It's great, he says. Brilliant. He calls the nursing home 'The Piss & Shit Home' because that's what it smells like. Nice, huh?
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF
You've already had the full nine yards when it comes to the dead father and the blind mother. Yet, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the whole shebang is about to kick off again. Only this time, it's with the in-laws. After being checked in to investigate a mystery, but non life-threatening illness, Granddad Scotland has contracted the dreaded C. Difficile thanks to the unhygienic state of their local hospital and is now on the critical list. The reports we have been receiving and wearyingly similar to the indiginities we suffered when my old man was in the local hospital. Rude nurses. Invisible doctors. Slow tests. Nobody wanting to take responsibility. No information. Then, at the end of it, a corpse in a sideroom that nobody even noticed for a good few hours. It's scandalous.
To make matters worse, the mother-in-law then went down with some strange but awful bug and has been confined to her house. Naturally, all the fall-out has landed squarely in the lap of my sister-in-law, being the only daughter. Then, and here's the cherry on the cake, her husband decided to slip over on their garden path and break his leg in two places, a fortnight before Christmas. I'm surprised she didn't pack a bag and go screaming to the nearest airport. (Oh, right, that's just me then.) She rang here last Sunday, no doubt at the end of her tether, with the result that the husband went schlepping up to Scotland on Friday to offer whatever help he could in the 24 hours he had before he had to come schlepping all the way home again. Being a full day's drive away, we're not exactly just around the corner.
Aside from shipping all our ailing wrinkly-fold to Switzerland to enjoy a fizzy euthanasia cocktail before slipping off peacefully to the great bingo hall in the sky, surely there has to be a better way than this, don't you think? Why are we spending all that money on prisons when what we really need are a whole load of new places specifically for old people? If criminals need more facilities, they should bloody well build them themselves. It's not as though they have anything else to do. And if the build quality is crap, well, they have no-one to blame but themselves. I hate this bloody government. They've done their usual and wasted vast amounts of public funds - and I'm talking mind-boggling numbers here - throwing it around like water, spending it on the wrong things and the wrong people. I've lived long enough to know that Labour governments do the same thing every time. They trash the economy, blame everybody else, then get kicked out, leaving the Conservatives to sort out the mess. Don't get me wrong - I'm no political activist and I think Margaret Thatcher was downright dangerous - but it doesn't half make me cross.
My eldest brother would rather do anything than visit his mother. It's her 80th birthday on Saturday, and we have arranged for a nice big celebratory lunch at a swanky restaurant. Naturally, the brother was given plenty of notice, but has since decided that he can't make it. Like all the other arrangements that he 'can't make'. His excuses become more and more convoluted. Of course, the mother is full of sympathy for him and thinks that the sun shines out of his arse. Making constant excuses for him... 'He's very busy, you know.' (as if my sister and I are not) 'He has to work, you know.' (What, like I don't?) I have lost count of the days that she has been expecting him to visit, sitting around fretting by the window all day, having made some hideous lunch for him and his family which sits in her oven congealing for six hours as the day draws to a close and darkness falls. Sometimes he will ring her, hours late, with the usual lame excuse about why he isn't coming. Sometimes he won't bother to ring her at all, and simply won't turn up.
When the old man died, my brother was supposed to sort out the finances, having been named executor of the will, for some bizarre reason. My father warned me in the hospital that he was lazy, giving me one of those knowing nods, and saying that mum had insisted that he be named executor as the eldest son. What a load of old crap. I was shocked, but unsurprised, when the brother sneaked all the paperwork out of the house, became very secretive, and yet did nothing with it. With my old man being a shrewd cookie, he had wisely written me up as second executor. To cut a long story short, I ended up having to demand everything back from the brother and insisted that he sign a document so waive all executor duties. He had done absolutely nothing for over six months, while in the meantime the mother was going out of her mind with worry and not receiving her proper income. His behaviour beggars belief, yet there the mother is, fawning around him, singing his praises to all and sundry. Me? I think he's an arsehole.
As they say... you can't choose your relatives.
IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?
The mother is convinced that her telephone isn't working. She says that it doesn't even ring most of the time. Then she starts phoning me and my sister, demanding to know 'Did you just ring me?'
I call her most days, just to check that she's still alive, but of course now that I am ringing and getting no answer, chances are I will end up jumping in the car and driving over, thinking in my head that she must have fallen down the stairs or come a cropper in the bathroom. Yet whenever I arrive, there she is, happily glued to Bargain hunt. I ask her, trying to mask my exasperation: 'Didn't you hear the phone ringing?' (My sister and I have tested it several times and it rings just fine. We think she's probably going deaf.)
My sister rang me yesterday, having finally got to the bottom of the big telephone mystery. 'I know why we're not getting an answer when we ring,' she explained. 'I turned up today and found mum trying to answer the television remote control.'
My mother is driving me insane. Six months after my previous posting, we have finally found some sucker who's prepared to buy the house, although God knows they've only offered a handful of beans for it. So, with any luck, the granny will be moving relatively soon. Sadly, she seems not to have taken this on board, and has got herself into a complete tizz, almost like she has to move out within 24 hours. She keeps ringing me up and saying the same things, over and over again. I went round there yesterday to spend the afternoon trying to talk her off the ceilings, but I swear, it's like dealing with a nut case. She can't get her head around moving all her stuff and keeps going on that she has to get rid of it, but every time I make a suggestion about chucking things out or giving them to charidee, she says 'No! I might need that!' We're talking really bizarre things here, like a Hostess trolley that has never worked, piles of pointless kitchen contraptions that have never been used, like salad whizzers and egg slicers, still in the boxes.
She's a hoarder. Always has been. Hangs on to any old rubbish, then tries to fob it off on me or my sister. We have learned to say, 'thanks, mum,' then obediently put it in the car, before hurling it out of the window on the way home. I've had her on the phone today for hours, bending my ear. I wish to God that someone would just break in and burgle her, then she wouldn't have anything left to worry about.
ON THE MOVE
My sister and I have come to the conclusion that the mother needs to move. She's stuck on her own in a house on a new-ish housing estate on the edge of the town she lives in, where she knows no-one except her GP and the lady who serves her in the chemists next door. She can't drive, doesn't know how to work the telly, and rings Dynarod just so that she can have some company for a couple of hours. It's coming up for a year since the old man died, and if you count the weeks he was laid up in our unbelievably crap local hospital, the mother's been living on her own for 13 months. And it doesn't seem to be working out.
Don't get me wrong. She's okay, so long as we visit her often (and by that, I mean making sure she doesn't go more than 3 days without one of us turning up on her doorstep - and not just for a cup of tea either - we're talking about wiping out a whole day). The long-term prognosis is that this can't go on because it's starting to drive my sister and I a bit deranged. We took her on holiday recently. How she didn't come back in a body bag I really don't know, the temptation was that strong. It got to the point where my sister was carrying a bottle of gin around in her handbag, slinging a good old slug in our 'soft drinks' whenever the mother wasn't looking.
So we've found a granny flat (or 'retirement apartment' as they tend to be called now) that seems to tick all the right boxes. At first, the mother was all positive about it and said 'yes'. But now she's gone all funny about it, saying she doesn't want to move. I should mention at this point that there is absolutely no reason for my telling you any of this, because it's totally frustrating and is bound to carry on for months before we get anywhere. I think the technical term is 'ranting.'
WHEN TWO BECOME ONE
I'm concerned about my mother. It's three and a half months since the old man checked out, and she's not good. She doesn't drive, so she's sitting on her own in her house (a good 35 minute drive from me) and waiting to die. It's awful. She's nearly blind, nearly 80, and not nearly capable of living anything resembling a happy life if she's left to rot like that. Mercifully, she's easily the most interesting person I have ever met, so I'd be more than willing to have her move in, yet my offer has opened a whole can of family worms. I won't bore you with it. I spent the day with her yesterday. She wanted to go to a key cutting place to have extra keys made for the back gate and kitchen door. I already hold one for the front door, but she started saying 'If I've had a stroke and am lying on the carpet somewhere with the chain on the door, you'll need to come in round the back.' Well, that's comforting, isn't it?
ABOUT MY DAD
It is with heavy heart that I bring you the news that my Dad passed away on May 30th. The ordeal of the two months that lead up to this terrible outcome defy further reportage. If any of you readers are currently in the throes of dealing with vulnerable, sick or elderly parents, you have my sincerest admiration.
Everything from here under was written before my
father decided he'd had enough of us all and died. It was a criminal
waste of a brilliant eccentric, and a shocking reality check on the
state of our national health prevention service.
Left: The Old Man, doing what he does best, long before I was born.
So, as I was saying, the old man's in hospital. Guess what he was given for breakfast on his first morning? One slice of crap white bread, a foil pad of marge, and a tiny plastic thing of cheap marmalade. No toast, no-one to help him with it, just what you would expect a very naughty criminal to be fed in a comic book. You can forget about getting a cup of tea either. I had to take him a flask. Nurses seem to have been replaced by 'care worker assistants' who are given a similar-looking uniform in order to bamboozle the public into thinking they know what they're doing. These are the kind of people you might expect to serve you in McDonalds. Everything is a great deal of trouble, and any requests are met with a huge sigh of inconvenience and no eye contact. It could just be that this is the way it is on the holding tank ward he was stuffed in while they tried to find him a bed in the right place. I'll check the cardio ward out later and get back to you. UPDATE: Too terrible to report.
CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
Returning momentarily to the subject of my birthday, my parents turned up on the doorstep this morning armed with flowers and gifts, and my Dad had a cold bottle of champers stuffed up his jumper. With it being almost 11 o'clock, I tore the cork out and set about it with some degree of gusto. Ruth The Housekeeper helped, as did my Mum. They had also brought me a birthday cake, and my Mum slipped a grannyish twenty pound note in my pocket before they left. They may well be old, but they're still the best parents any girl could wish for.
My mother carries a torch with her wherever she goes on account of her being as blind as one of those things that lives at the bottom of the arctic ocean. Come dusk, she is unable to see her hand in front of her face, never mind anything else. She is convinced that everyone in the world has the same handicap, so whenever you try to make a move after 6pm, she rummages in her bag for a minute then shines four thousand megawatts of industrial torch right into your face. 'For God's sake, mother,' I said (bear in mind here that we are in the middle of a real bun fight in an Indian railway station trying to get on a train), 'will you please turn that thing off.' After a week, my automatic response escalated to a re-enactment of that scene in Jurassic Park...'turn the light off! turn the light off!' My sister reckons she's trying to blind the pair of us too so that we all have to suffer like she does.
CARRY ON GRANNYING
Like the devoted daughter that I am, I will be taking my mother on holiday with me next week. This makes me look like a deeply caring person with endless patience. The reality is that I can then park wherever I want to, tell people she's deaf/blind/about to die and get better service and a room with a nicer view. If she starts getting on my nerves, I just up her prescription drug intake, tie her to a chair and go out clubbing for six hours.
The parents are coming over for lunch tomorrow. They were supposed to come last week but Dad forgot. He's been getting a bit absent-minded recently. Fetched the shopping in the other day and left the car wide open - door, tail-gate, the lot. Two hours later someone knocked on the door. I'm not sure he even remembered having been out. Anyway, I digress. So they're coming for lunch and Mum keeps insisting that she wants to bring it with her to save me cooking. 'Please don't,' I said, to which she replied 'It's no trouble, dear.' Oh yes it is. You have no idea of the food offerings she brings along. Massive door-stop corned beef sandwiches laced with anchovy essence. BTF sprouts. A pre-cooked chicken she found in the road a couple of days ago. The teenagers groan and complain then eat a load of sweets instead. So do I, for that matter.
Things must be looking pretty dire around my house. The parents keep turning up with food parcels. Anything that's on BOGOF, they buy up like refugees then bring over to me. I currently have about five thousand cans of value tuna and vegetable soup in the pantry. I'll probably die of mercury poisoning before the year is out.
IT DOESN'T GET ANY BETTER
Mum's finding the housework a struggle. Dad says, 'Oh just leave it,' when she starts puffing around with the hoover. But will he pick it up and do it for her? Perish the thought. We had a chat about it yesterday. The more she talked about how she has to do everything, the more riled she became. I joined in, with a similar list of complaints. We concluded, if you want something done, do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you. It's quicker (even if you have to save up for a year), easier, and less likely to cause you to go on a deranged husband killing spree. She's 78 next week, been married to dad for about a million years, and living proof that it really doesn't get any better. Anyone for an overdose?
My parents departed yesterday for a two week holiday in the good old US of A. Mum didn't want to go. Dad doesn't take any notice of what Mum wants. So they're on a plane now, somewhere over the atlantic, and I'm not entirely happy with the whole thing. I'll bet you a pound to a penny that they haven't any travel insurance and Dad will make Mum drag her own bag. It's even entered my head that they could very well die at some point in the next 14 days, such is their incompetence. It's like watching a couple of toddlers who've decided to cross a dual carriageway, wearing blindfolds.
Update: I'm pleased to report that the grannies are back in one piece, apart from their sky-rocketing cholesterol levels as a result of living on the traditional American diet.
EDUCATION FOR OLD PEOPLE
I notice they're running courses at the village hall for OAPs who fancy beaning up on various newfangled topics. There's a six week evening course about to start entitled 'How to use your mobile phone'. Six weeks! I suppose they have to take Alzheimers into account.
QUALITY TIME (although the food's a bit dodgy)
I try to spend at least a day a week with the old fogies. They're partial to a matinee at the cinema. My mother has a habit of making really strange pensioner sandwiches and sneaking them in her handbag. I wouldn't mind except she then spends the whole film trying to foist them off on me. Lamb and salad cream on brown. The old dear's a bit blind. Rather, a lot blind. As soon as she enters the cinema experience, she freezes to the carpet and has to be led everywhere. The old man, typically, just stands around like a useless particle. God knows how they manage to get from A to B on a daily basis. He's deaf. And he's the most appalling driver you ever saw. He knows only two speeds: really, really, really fast, and; STOP. Not a single one of the road accidents he has had have ever been his fault. Amazing that, isn't it?
I have noticed a phenomenon. The grannies round where I live seem to know what time the chops get marked down in Waitrose. They hang around the meat counter trying to look inconspicuous. One of them had her eye on a leg of lamb which was on sell-by date. I saw her hide it at the back of the beef then get it out again when the marker-downer appeared with his bargain sticker gun. She might have been ninety-odd, but clearly the old girl still had her wits about her.
GRANNIES ON DRUGS
Like so many other pensioners in their swinging seventies, my parents walk around rattling with prescription drugs. They came to stay for a while, and my dad laid out his breakfast of pills on the table in the conservatory, watched by my eldest daughter. To add some degree of entertainment to the proceedings, he pulled out all the patient information leaflets and read aloud the 'unwanted effects' panels, which included warnings about blurred vision, disorientation, and death. As he lifted the first of the tablets to his lips, my daughter said, 'Bye, then.'