May 27, 2011

“Hello, Petal-dust,” says Dad as I push Mum towards the car. Mum doesn’t reply, but she smiles and puts her hand up to the window in order to clasp her husband’s hand. Not a bad start to our visit, then.

As we drive through the town, Mum asks me what I’ve been doing this week. I remind her that I’ve been to LONDON, and that as a result she got a visit from my brother, who was covering for me, on Tuesday. “You remember John’s visit, don’t you?”


“We drove to Kirkmichael, Mabel,” says Ian.

“Oh yes,” says Mum, doubtfully.

I remind Mum that I was in London because
our blog had been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. We didn’t win the award, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I met my literary agent who told me that the book that I’ve written, which makes use of Mabel’s diaries and Ian’s memories, has gone off in electronic form to lots of publishers, with the fact that it’s been written by an Orwell-shortlister duly flagged. The book is called Zimmersong: A Lifelong Love Story, and I am so proud of it.

“Shall we stop for an ice-cream?” asks Dad.

Ice-cream plays no part in either Ian’s diet or mine. But Mabel says she wants an ice-cream, so that’s that.

When I pull up at the shop, I ask Mum what flavour she wants: “Vanilla, strawberry…”

“I don’t care about that sort of thing nowadays,” she tells me.

“But you do want an ice-cream?”


Two minutes later I come back to the car with a tub of toffee and Orkney fudge, a plastic spoon stuck solidly into the sludge. Mum takes the tub, bends her head and starts sucking the end of the spoon. “It’s a spoon, Mum. Not a straw.” Her look says, ‘silly me’, but she gets stuck into her treat. After a minute or two, she looks sideways at me and says: “Do you want some?”

"I don’t, Mum, but thanks for asking. And Dad can’t have any cos he’s got diabetes.”

From the back of the car, Dad suggests, good-naturedly, that he can presently be found in one of the lower circles of Hell. As we drive on it occurs to me that Mum is in pretty good shape. She’s speaking more than she was earlier in the year and is more alert. How about her general awareness of what’s going on in the world? Well, let’s see:

“Mum, can you tell me who the Prime Minister is?”

She hesitates. “When was the vote?” she says eventually, in what I interpret to be an effort to stall for time.

“The present Prime Minister has been in the job for about a year. Can you tell me…”

“Oh, I was just about to get it then and you jumped in!”

“That’s a very political answer, Mabel,” says Ian, admiringly.

“What would you expect from an Orwell-shortlisted bloggee?” I say over my shoulder.

And we leave our political discussion at that, Mum having given as good as she’s got.

We do a bit more driving through the landscape, lane after country lane. While passing a field of rhubarb going to seed, Dad bursts into one of his favourite songs. He sings the first line on his own, but Mum is there or thereabouts for the rest of the verse:

"There was a farmer had a dog.
His name was Bobby Bin-go.
He wrapped him up in cal-ic-o.
And sent him to Amer-ic-o."

By the time we get to the chorus the three of us are singing as one:

“B. I. .N. G. O.
His name was Bobby Bin-go.”

Why do I like the ditty so much? Because it reminds me of the wonderful world of P.G. Wodehouse, and because my father has always sung it with such gusto. Why does Dad like it so much? Oh, surely because it’s such a happy-go-humble celebration of life.

When we get back to the care home, I begin to help Mum out of the front seat of the car as usual. I’m holding both her hands and have got her to swing her legs round and place her feet on the ground. The next step is for her to put her right hand onto a handle in the car door and to stand up.

“I know this bit,” she tells me. But when I let go of her hand she swings her legs to where they were and lifts her feet back into the car.

“We’re going out of the car now, Mum. We’ve been for a run and now we’re back home.”

“Are we? Well, why didn’t you say so?”

And so Mabel transfers, without any further difficulty, from car seat to wheelchair. Not such a bad end to a visit. As I drive away, it strikes me that I could not possibly have spent the last two hours in a more satisfying or productive way.

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