The Home for the Elderly
Afterwards I was discussing with my mother what we found most depressing about these places. My mother's opinion is that it is the television. 'It is always on,' she says, 'too loud, and around it are all these people just sitting there in wing chairs and high seats watching it.'
I think she's right but there are other things too: the anonymity of the rooms, the way the chairs are arranged along the corridor, the cardboard labels inserted into the holders on the door...everything is temporary and has the atmosphere of a waiting room.
As we followed behind the assistant we kept up a frantic chirpy dialogue as if what we were doing was ordinary and commonplace.
'They watch the birds from here.' she said. 'There's a bird table, and though it doesn't look like much now, in the summer, they sit out. They like that...'
We agreed with her that it did look nice: the water feature with the small trickling waterfall that she switched on for us to hear in the dark; the decking; and the small terrace where they sometimes had a barbecue. And yes, we were impressed with the usefulness of the bath seat and the ledge in the shower, and the pull switch and the way the commode looked exactly like a comfortable chair in the daytime, and so very convenient for them to have a door of their own into the garden, and laughed at the story of the old lady who liked a drink and so her family brought in a crate of sherry and stashed it in one of the high cupboards so that she could be issued with one bottle every time they came, once a week...
Once a week. Every Tuesday the hairdresser came, every Wednesday the woman who did the movement classes, only if they wanted to, of course, and two months a woman came with clothes they might like to buy.
'Sometimes they wave at the children in the school next door when they pass.'
Yes, we smiled, as we went past another sitting room with the TV noise preventing all conversation.
'That's where they knit, some of the ladies...'
When we got home Hodmandod Senior phoned his mother to tell her about what we'd seen. 'You'll like it Mum, we're sure you will. We both thought so. Anyway you can come up here to find out.'
I remembered the seats, the old woman sitting in her dressing gown staring at nothing, perfectly happy but staring at nothing.
'Of course the door is alarmed in the evening. Just in case they wander. Sometimes they stop and don't remember where they are.' The assistant had said as she'd pointed at the french window.
Not they - us. Not they - me. Me in the dressing gown staring at nothing.
'Old age - it's horrible.' The superintendent said vehemently in her office afterwards, as Hodmandod Senior described his mother's condition.
Yesterday the superintendent phoned saying they had a place available and last night Hodmandod Senior has again travelled down to London for his mother. It seemed a very good place and we feel lucky that they happened to have a place available. The staff seemed caring, patient and good-hearted and my mother-in-law is going to have a four day visit which may, I suppose, extend to the rest of her life if she is not too confused and the home is suitable for her.
But the thought chills me.