Relative values

Visiting relatives and friends with dementia is not for the fainthearted. Some cope by not visiting at all or come and pretend all is well, trying to drag their loved ones back into the normal world. So husband or wife says something odd and they contradict. W was asking his wife for some money for when he leaves and she says that he can’t leave and if he gets better, he can jolly well come home. She’s in denial about his mental and physical state. She tells him to get up and when he struggles, whacks him with her umbrella.

C’s husband comes every day, but leaves before meals when she refuses to eat. She whacked me with a cushion today twice, but not at all her fault.

D holds my hand and kisses it repeatedly. When her brother arrives, she clings to him and they spend the afternoon clutching each other. He sits there quietly weeping.

L comes and visits her mum sporadically,  trying to chivvy her back into her old self. It doesn’t work of course, just causes them both more distress.

Mum smiles broadly at me all day and tells me she feels the world is safe when I’m here. When I ask her how come, she shrugs her shoulders in the way only a French woman can and says, ‘it’s magic.’



Custard apple

You never forget your first custard apple. It’s such a contradiction in terms, a fruit that looks like a cross between a squished apple and a green mango. Open it up and it has black seeds, but the yellowish green flesh tastes exactly like stewed apple and custard. The first mouthful is a surprise and you keep tasting, not quite believing.

I saw some at the greengrocer this morning on my way to visit Mum and thought of our holiday in Madeira when we gorged on them,  after visiting the Christmas market in Funchal which was such a riot of colour that it hurt our eyes.

A pear on the road in front of me made me look up, beside the supermarket car park was a valiant pear tree. None of them reachable unfortunately.

Fruit hits the memory like snatches of song. Melons, peaches and nectarines from my French  childhood summers that were so perfectly ripe that we used to eat them in silent appreciation, quite something for our very chatty family.

Mum still loves fruit, I imagine it takes her back too. New arrival B sits next to us at supper. He seems clearheaded and makes normal conversation. Then he tries to eat his pizza with a spoon and my heart lurches.  I point him towards his knife and fork and he says, ” it’s all a learning curve.”

Ain’t that the truth B.

A good customer

Today I went to the pharmacy to get a new rubber end for my stick, the official name is a ferule. I’d bought one elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t quite the right size and had already worn through to the metal, making walking dangerous.

The pharmacist found the right one and fitted it for me. He refused payment and generously said,”You’re a good customer.”

It’s only since I’ve been ill that this is now my designated pharmacy, to make getting my numerous prescriptions from the Gp as smooth as possible. So I never run out of essential medicines that are keeping me alive. Two years ago I rarely set foot in any pharmacy and had never heard the term ‘designated pharmacy’.

I was very touched by the pharmacist’s generosity. But Lord, what I wouldn’t give not to be a good customer.

Antonio Carluccio

I once went mushroom hunting with Antonio Carluccio on Wimbledon Common. It was early in the morning and we came well equipped; me with camping gas and frying pan, him with stick, sharp knife, garlic and a small bottle of olive oil.

It was an absolute delight of discovery, his enthusiasm was overwhelming and infectious. Nobody about except a couple of dog walkers.At first the mushrooms were difficult to spot, but under his brilliant teaching, I eventually got my eye in. We gathered enough for a panful, eating a glorious picnic. He’d even got a lump of bread in his pocket to soak up the juices.

As we walked back to the car park, with me marvelling at our morning’s feast, we were stopped by a warden who accused us of lighting a fire on the Common. One of the dogwalkers had reported us. Antonio deployed all his charm and we got off with a warning.

As we got into the car, Antonio giggled and said, “Only in England.”

A lovely, generous, life-enhancing man. Ciao Antonio.

High wire act

We managed to sit out in the garden for half an hour today in the sunshine until the wind chased us indoors, Mum dozed and I read. Suddenly a squirrel danced along the telegraph wire thirty feet above our heads, a furry funambulist with no hesitation or fear of falling.

The diet on Sundays in the care home is an Olympic sprint all of its own. So coffee and biscuits, followed by poached salmon with veg and mash, sponge and custard. Mum loves it all. Then at three it’s downstairs for activities, which today consists of a cheese and wine party. All the residents love it, taking them back to their younger days. We don’t have the wine, but lots of brie, then tea and more biscuits. We sit in her room to recover and I cut her nails, never an easy task. She has a moment of panic when she sees a car park in the road ouside, not sure why.

The panic lasts until tea, when she has soup, sandwiches and trifle (another English abomination she would never have touched in her well days) all lapped up with enthusiasm, totalling  much needed several thousand calories for the day. She lost a lot of weight when she was very ill, so needs to make it up.

The panic subsides as quickly as it arrives, I tell her I’ll be back tomorrow and she smiles in delight and gives me a big hug.

I walk the ten minutes back to the b and b emotionally shattered from the day and fall into a deep sleep for an hour or so. These days I’m doing my own high wire act, but with serious illness, one good leg, a stick and constant fear of falling. Nothing like the furry funambulist, or any other funambulist worth their dancing shoes.

Would give a lot for a smidgeon of that squirrel’s grace and energy.

Pm on planet dementia

Every day is different in a dementia home, where each resident is living an alternative and often challenging version of reality. Today was lovely with Mum, we did the usual round of meals followed by garden, reading and snoozing, lashings of tea, biscuits and cakes.

But today several of the residents were very off kilter. The care home staff deal with it sweetly, with great patience, but in a matter of fact way. Because I’m regularly here for a few days at a time, the residents get used to me, I know their names and they know I’m neither a resident nor staff, but attachd to Mum and mostly speaking French. So we become a stop on the dementia q an a roundabout. G asks me if the RSPCA are looking for him and will they send dogs. C continues to pick up leaves one by one with a great sense that of urgency and asks me for a black bag. I have an almost normal chat to J, a former concert pianist about her favourite composers. Then twenty  minutes later while I’m quietly doing the crossword, she bats the paper out of my hand and says ‘fold  it up’ over and over again.

M is always agitated in the pm, wanting to go home, clutching an armful of dolls and pacing  up and down. She’s given to sudden bouts of distressed and inconsolable weeping,  but will then stand in front of you telling you off in a very strict voice. Today she stands in front of Mum  and I brace myself to gently lead her away. Much to Mum’s astonishment, she begins to stroke her cardigan very gently and says ‘ I really do love you, you know.’ Mum looks to me and I just smile.

FIve of us have a game of whacking a balloon across the room as hard as we can, much giggling ensues. Then M picks up the balloon, adds it to the three teddy bears she’s already holding and triumphantly sprints off down the corridor.

I come back to the b and b full of admiration for the staff and emotionally exhausted.



Daily rituals

Days down here with Mum have their own pattern. After a good b and b breakfast, I potter into town and buy a paper then have a coffee. Yesterday there was a family with a barky puppy who kept repeating  ‘no barking’ which the dog kept doing. After ten minutes it began to get on everyone’s nerves as they blithely carried on drinking their smoothies. Today a toddler and Mum at the next table both had hacking coughs which they neglected to cover (toddler I’ll let you off). My immune system started twitching and I moved tables.

Mum was happy to see me and my brother for lunch and we had a lovely hour or so in the sunshine in the garden, while C swept up the leaves, one by one. It was such a lovely day that we went down to the beach, people were swimming and getting in the last rays of the season. Nothing quite like the sand between your toes and jumper off.

We left Mum to her afternoon sing song, which bizarrely had a Halloween theme. Even stranger, the first song was ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered’ , one assumes an unintentionally hilarious and accurate description of the audience.