November 24, 2010

Entrance to the grounds of Glamis Castle is free throughout November and December. So here we are in the car trundling along the drive towards the grandest house in Strathmore. And what a sight it is, with the autumn sunlight coaxing the red sandstone turrets to life. As we approach the front of the castle, Dad reminds Mum of times when she’s been here before. But Mabel’s minimal response suggests she doesn’t remember the summer concert, or the tour with Canadian relatives.

We park, and I push Mabel’s wheelchair towards the ‘Victorian Kitchen’ café. For the first time this winter she’s wearing her red coat, fur hat and leggings. I wasn’t convinced that the café, being an enormous old room in the castle itself, would be warm enough for Mum. But a massive stove is belting out heat, so the place is very cosy indeed. Dad draws Mum’s attention to the row of 25 copper plates on the wall. Are they for cooking variously sized pancakes or omelettes? he wonders. Mabel doesn’t seem to understand the point he’s making about the copper circles, which range so much in size. Oh well, at least she’s enjoying her cup of tea and her scone. As for me, I’m looking forward to exploring the myriad wonders of the building on another day.

In due course, we go in search of a loo. There is no sign of a disabled toilet, but when I say this aloud, another visitor tells me there is one just round the corner. Great. However, when I open the door I find that the room isn’t big enough for me to get to the front of the wheelchair to help Mabel. Perhaps, once Mabel is standing up, I’ll have enough room to play my part. So I ask Mabel to grab the rail on the wall to the side of the toilet. She has to reach forward, and, instead of grabbing the rail, she grabs the long handle of a tap that immediately gushes water into the sink, disconcerting us both. With a bit of manipulation of the wheelchair I manage to squeeze around it and sit on the toilet seat so that I’m facing Mabel.

“Take hold of the rail, Mum.”

Her hand again goes towards the tap.

“No, not the steel tap. Here.” And I place my hand on the brass rail.

But Mum won’t grab the rail. Either because she is having to stretch too far or because she thinks the brass tube is a hot water pipe rather than a handrail. Again I put my own hand around the rail, but this is not enough to reassure Mabel who now wants out of the room. Really a disabled toilet needs to be designed with so much more empathy than is evident here. I tell Mum that between us we can beat this awkward set-up. But she is adamant that she wants to get out. Which is fair enough.

As it happens, only this week I’ve established a system whereby the staff at the care home not only take Mabel to the loo before I arrive of an afternoon to take her out, but that the relevant carer tells me whether or not Mum has actually ‘been’. Too many times recently the first thing Mum has done when she’s got into the car is claim she needs to relieve herself. Today I know she’s emptied her bladder an hour ago and suspect that the single cup of tea she’s drunk since won’t in itself be making her need to go yet. Not urgently. The bottom line is that we’ve only had one ‘accident’ in the last two years and that wasn’t the end of the world in anyone’s eyes.

Outside, Dad volunteers to go and get the car, allowing me to push Mabel to the front of the castle and the most spectacular view of it. She doesn’t seem that impressed with the facade, but I am, and I step back from the chair in order to take a photo of my mum in front of the old Queen Mum’s fabulous childhood home. I keep having to step further back in order to get more of the castle in the viewfinder. When I finally get most of the building in shot, Mabel is a tiny red dot in the foreground. I realise that’s because I’m standing about a hundred yards from her. Perspective: the castle is enormous and the disabled toilet can only account for about a millionth of its cubic capacity. Something wrong there.


Inside this stupendous country house is the most inadequate disabled loo for the general public that I’ve yet come across. Something very wrong there. Another perspective strikes me: that I have abandoned my mother. So I trot to her side and together we await the arrival of the car.

The next day, I’m briefly at the care home in order to return a hearing aid that I’ve borrowed from Mabel. I’ve taken it to the Audiology Department of Perth Hospital to have a new piece of rubber tube inserted between the mould and the casing that contains the digital workings. Is it functioning properly? Having pushed the mould back into Mabel’s ear, I test it out.

“Can you hear me, Mum?”


“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow. And we’ll go out somewhere in the car.”

“What time?”

“Two o’clock.”

I’m about to leave her to her lunch, when I add: “Do you remember yesterday’s trip to Glamis?”


“What do you remember about it?”

“It was funny,” she says.

Hmmm, not sure I know where she’s coming from there.

But I keep thinking about what Mum’s said. And I realise that Mabel being able to look on the positive side helps us all to cope with her dementia. If, in her view, her glass is ten percent full, not ninety per cent empty, then we can still drink a toast together.