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.
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.
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.
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.
Back down to see Mum, which means getting up at the crack of dawn. I’m up and out of the house showered, dressed, packed in under an hour. I can still do it if I have to, but not like the old days.
The train carriage fills with half a dozen middled aged and very loud Germans, who hold chats on loudspeaker with various friends at home and laugh like drains. It would be fine in a nightclub but on an early train the volume control is just all wrong. There’s no malice in them, so the rest of the carriage does the tight-lipped protest. They don’t get it of course, any Brit would have left the train at the next station and curled up in a foetal position of embarrassment. We all exhale when they get off and meet one another’s eyes with a nod that speaks volumes.
They are replaced by six women singers who practise sotto voce their various harmonies. We are delighted and would happily have them singing at full volume after the noisy Germans. They are surprised that no one objects.
I still cry when we go through the familiar stations of home. A pheasant reminds me of Dad driving me in the autumn mists to catch the train to uni, of the species I used to count on the early train to work (deer,pheasant, hares, rabbits etc) of the great story Mum used to tell of the young French teacher who ran over a pheasant and took it home to the very English people she was lodging with. Who gave the bird a proper burial in the garden complete with a rousing version of Jerusalem. I always loved it when Mum told this tale to French relatives, who would laugh incredulously.
Mum is on fine form, we have a delicious meal which she manages to eat herself. B at our table decides to turn the plum cobbler and custard ( which Mum wouldn’t have touched when she was well, but now devours) into a sandwich with her paper napkin as the bread.
It’s strangely lovely to be back on planet dementia.
Going out after even two days in bed feels like rejoining the human race in slow motion. With a stick every wet leaf feels like a siren call to A and E, everyone else bustles about at warp speed, while I creep along avoiding leaves.
I bump into someone I know who tells me how well I’m looking (maybe ask don’t tell?) and wants to have coffee next week. When I tell him I’m off to see Mum, he comments that I go down there a lot. I haven’t the patience to explain, so simply say that she’s not going to be around for much longer and every visit is precious. I realise I may have been over harsh by his reaction, oh well.
A bit of shopping then a coffee and croissant as a pausing manoeuvre. Feels very odd to have the ‘real world’ humming around me, conversations and people with things to do and people to see. Not quite rejoined the human race yet.
But a glorious piece of hake from the market should see me right this evening.
Had a few busy days and then a few very rough days in bed. The rough days are unpredictable, I wake up feeling so tired I have to bargain myself to the loo, have a glass of water, then fall back into bed and sleep for hours. The unpredictability is the most difficult thing; mornings are usually difficult but the rough days can’t be argued with. The day just disappears in sleep and listening to the radio. I usually manage to get up in the late afternoon and rustle up some simple nosh.
But these last two days I haven’t even managed to get out of the house to buy the paper or have a shower. Just lots of water and sleep.
Looked at my emails this morning and a close pal wonders if she’s offended me as I haven’t replied to her email. I write back reassuringly, hard to write emails when you are face down in bed.
I have a cleaner now but cancelled her on Thursday. She rang this morning to see if she could come tomorrow and suggested ten o’clock. No way even on a good day that I could be ready by then. She suggests eleven and I hesitate. She doesn’t know that I’m seriously ill, just that I spent time in hospital and now walk with a stick.
Perhaps I should tell her, though I recoil from the pity party that usually follows. I agree to eleven and she says eleven in the incredulous voice of the seriously well.