blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Week in the life of an old lady

Having spent two weeks in the lives of my grandsons, I flew across the Atlantic and spent a week with my mother, who needs just as much attention, but of a different kind. She is looked after at the nursing home where she lives, where they make sure she has daily medications, wash her clothes and serve her meals. Glad as she is, not to have to take responsibility for these things any more, she doesn't like being told what to do (wear her hearing aids, add Poligrip to her dentures) and when to do it ("She gets angry with us ..." one of the staff told me). In spite of twice daily Activities -- quizzes, puzzles, poetry sessions, Songs of Praise (hymn singing), knitting circles, flower arranging and the like, some of which she enjoys, many of which she doesn't -- her routine is monotonous. Breakfast from 9 till 10, "dinner" at 1, "supper" at 5, with far too short a gap between those meals, and then a seemingly endless stretch till she's ready go to sleep, usually after listening to the radio in her room. Her eyesight isn't good enough to allow her to watch TV or read comfortably. Sometimes the monotony is relieved by a doctor's visit or by someone coming to give her a hairdo or pedicure; Mum lives for my sister's visits.

Mum's sense of home is now reduced to one room, with her father's paintings on the walls, family photos on the shelves, flowers on her windowsill, and a chaotic bedside cupboard containing her necklaces, toiletries and magnifying glasses, with her her "lifeline", the telephone, sitting on it. In the nearby communal room is her piano, now shared with other people, strangers, but at least it is being used. I played it when I was there, sang a few songs, and persuaded Mum to play too, although she can only tackle one piece now, Bach's Prelude in C that she once learned by heart. We copied it for her in large print, but even that is too tricky for her to read the accidentals.

Following my overnight transatlantic journey, Tuesday and Wednesday were recovery days, so to start with, Mum and I didn't go far afield. I wanted to see how far she can now walk, which is about half a mile, beyond which she chooses to ride in her "pushchair" as she calls it; we lunched out in Whitchurch and lingered in the parks and shops, though she is no longer interested in shopping.

On Thursday -- this was my sister's idea -- we took her away for a three day holiday. It required some effort but it worked. We treated it as an adventure and went to Abergavenny, via Cardiff central, by rail. Fortunately we had sunny weather that day. The first challenge was to get Mum and the wheelchair and the luggage down the steps at Llandaff station, the lift being out of order, and then onto the first local train. Faith had a rucksac to carry; I had brought a small suitcase on wheels, and the wheelchair is a folding one. At Cardiff we changed onto the train to Manchester, travelling through Cwmbran where, twenty-something years ago, I used to live. Abergavenny is not far, but the scenery makes it feel like a different part of Wales. For me, seeing the mountains / hills was like greeting old friends: first the Mynedd Troed at Cwmbran, then the Blorenge, the Sugar Loaf, the Skirrid: Mum remembered them too. There was a smaller one I'd forgotten, near Abergavenny, the Deri, with CROESO (Welsh for Welcome) carved in the bracken on its slope facing the town. We managed to walk the whole way into town from the station, Faith pushing the chair, me trundling the case down a steepish hill, then up the main street. Having found some lunch and explored side streets, we carried on trundling, through Bailey Park with its playing fields and lovely, big trees, to the street where our guesthouse was.

The Guest House is extraordinary in that it is also home to a considerable number of animals. Three cats live there (and a dog whom we didn't meet), two tank fulls of tropical fish, two caged parrots, Eric and Alfie, and outside, many more exotic birds in an aviary, as well as the flock of prolifically egg-laying hens, ducks and quails. My sister made quite a friend of Alfie who fluffed up his feathers, "talked" and whistled when she approached him. He could say "Hello" and "Goodbye" in male and female voices, as well as "Go away!" and "Take cover!" He did a convincing wolf whistle. I tried to teach him some Chinese, to no avail, although I could see he was listening. Mum liked the company of the ginger cat, Squeak (whose companion Bubble was no more, apparently) who sprawled on her lap and encouraged her to stroke him.

Setting off back into town for supper, we wandered along a path by the Gavenny River, Mum on her feet this time, helped along by my sister and her stick, through some woods, before returning to the pavement and the wheels. Supper was a good discovery, at the Regency 59 restaurant adjoining the Kings Head Hotel. It is run by a Nepalese family and the food was splendid. We had the chef, Krishna Bhandari, come to our table so that his colleagues could take a photo, once they'd heard that one of their latest customers was 97 years old.

Abergavenny seems to have gone steeply up-market since I used to stop here in the '90s. I gather this is due to the popularity and success of the annual Food Festival, taking place this coming weekend, in fact, attracting tourists from afar. Londoners like it (and the local house prices) so much that they tend to move here.

My sister "drew the short straw" as my husband puts it, and shared a room at the guesthouse with Mum who had a small, low bed beside the window. That's good, since she might have fallen out of the larger, higher one and slipped on the hard floor. The birds in the yard were surprisingly quiet during the warm night, must have been asleep on their various perches.

Friday kept relatively dry, so that once again we could walk around with the wheelchair. We took Mum to the Linda Vista Gardens near the ruined Abergavenny castle and thence to the Castle Meadows by the River Usk, as far as the 15th century, seven arch bridge at Llanfoist. Not only is the view of the bridge and weir very pretty from there, but the walk is also dominated by views of the towering scarp slope of the Blorenge, its "Punchbowl" side, with the Sugar Loaf in the distance too. The riverside path was OK for wheelchairs, fortunately, although Mum's eyesight didn't let her appreciate the views very well. These meadows have recently been the site of the National Eisteddfod, and a festival thoroughfare was being deconstructed there as we walked by. In the gardens, a prominent Pawlownia tree had been yarn bombed, which Mum seemed to think a degredation; she felt happier under the weeping silver birch. In the afternoon we also toured the castle ruins and history museum alongside, though it was coming on to rain by then. We had afternoon tea at a little place called Cwtch (Welsh for cuddle) on the high street, and supper at the Farmers Arms near the market.

It was as well that we had the market hall to revisit on Saturday morning when the rain came down in earnest and we had to cover ourselves in waterproofs. We looked in a few conventional shops too, including the longstanding Abergavenny Music Shop where I bought some Songs of Wales. Going to the indoor market is not like normal shopping, being full of surprises. I found an inexpensive fossilised shark's tooth and an ammonite there for my grandsons. High above us flew, as it were, stuffed goats and Welsh flags. A life-sized Alpaca llama stood against one stall, and we could have bought any manner of old music recordings and unfashionable paintings, necklaces, jars of honey, soft scarves, fresh fruit and vegetables, tea cosies, free range eggs, or plaster dogs.

Our journey back to Cardiff started off worrisome, since it was cool and damp that afternoon, the train we'd hoped to catch was cancelled and the following one delayed by half an hour. No real concern, except that the waiting room on the other side of the railway bridge at Abergavenny with its four flights of steps was padlocked shut and Mum was getting to feel chilly. I went to find someone to complain to, and the only official I could find was the lady in the ticket office, who took the trouble to come across the lines and unlock the waiting room for us, which smelled strongly of fresh paint, but was at least warm. We completed a crossword to take our minds off the fact that there weren't any public conveniences on that platform, and when the train finally rolled in, I was relieved to find that it had plenty of free seats. By the time we'd ridden a few miles south of Abergavenny we were in bright sunshine, and Mum was back at her nursing home in time for tea.

Sunday, rest day! I suggested Mum come to see the place where I was sleeping, the Whitchurch Travelodge, so I wheeled her there a mile or so through Whitchurch, which meant crossing the busy A470 dual carriageway, but on the other side there is a recreation ground, the premises of the Rhiwbina Rugby Club; we spent a good hour round the perimeter of that field, sitting on benches in the sunshine. Mum had a cup of tea and an afternoon sleep on the spare bed in my hotel room, then a filling vegetarian supper at The Plough. On Monday we had more energy to spare, therefore took a taxi to Cardiff so that we could walk through Bute Park to the water bus stop, where we caught the Aquabus for a there-and-back cruise down the Taff River and around Cardiff Bay, before lunch back in the park at an outdoor cafe behind flowery brick walls, The Secret Garden. During our taxi ride from the city to the nursing home we heard that the taxi-driver had a grandmother the same age as Mum, so we compared notes. That night I shared supper with Mum at her nursing home, with the other residents. Mum's table of choice is by the window from where she can see the mountain ash tree against the fence between the home and the school playing fields. The old chap at the next table said, "Oh dear, I feel very old these days!" and was comforted by his uniformed helper.

I wanted to take Mum out of doors on my last morning with her too, but it was not to be, due to teaming thundershowers. We remained at the nursing home and looked at photo albums, full of imperishable memories (photos of my dad conducting at rehearsals, photos of me and my sister and our children very young, wedding photos, other holidays, other outings, the poster for the inaugural concert of my parents' youth choir ...). I'm glad that my sister was able to drop by before I had to say goodbye to Mum to set off to cross the Atlantic again, because that's the heartbreaking part; there was someone left behind to cling to after I had departed.

1 comment:

DeSelby said...

Wonderful post Ally. Love is love.