November 9, 2012

Mabel was due a run in the car with Ian and me today but it’s not going to happen. Dad and I spent the morning at Ninewells Hospital, an appointment concerning his eyes, and this afternoon I’ve just dropped him off at the doctor’s re concern over his prostate. I do have time to pop in on Mum before collecting Dad from the surgery, so that’s what I’m doing now.

I walk in to the lounge with a large cork board full of images of skiing on Glenshee.

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Edith notices it straight away and asks to see it. So I lay the collage out on the floor in front of her while I go and see to Mabel. Mum is slumped in her chair. I try to rouse her but she won’t come to. What I mean is, she’s awake but she won’t emerge from her reverie.

“Is it for an exhibition?” Edith asks.

I tell her it will be going up in Mabel’s room.

“That’s marvellous.”

As Edith has responded so brightly to the visual stimulation, I take the cork board with me to the middle of the room so that others can have a look. Sadly, Doris seems beyond communication for the moment. But Bill, who was looking glum when I walked in to the room, asks about the scenes portrayed by the photographs. His eyesight isn’t good, so I have to help out. I point out a rudimentary ski-lift. I point out Mabel skiing. I mention that the laughing group in the middle of the composition is celebrating the opening of their ski-hut.

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“What year would that be?” asks Bill.

“Oh, the '30s,” I say without thinking about it.

“Too early for me. I was born in 1930.”

“Sorry, I mean the early '50s. Mabel began to ski in 1952.”

“I used to drive the snow plough up Glenshee,” says Bill, looking a bit less befuddled.

“In that case you may have helped Mabel go ski-ing. She used to catch the bus from Blair on Sunday morning and I believe the snow plough drove in front of it, clearing the road.”

Bill smiles and tells me it was the '70s when he was driving the snow plough. He’s looking less baffled than he was. It doesn’t take much.

I mention to Ilene, who doesn’t know the area, that Glenshee is about ten miles north of the town.

Bill gently corrects me: “Glenshee’s a wee bit further away than that.”

“You’re right, Bill. About 20 miles.”

“Near enough. I’d say it was 18 miles to the Spittal. And, it’s much easier to get right to the top now they’ve done away with the Devil’s Elbow.”

Ilene admires a recent colour photograph of the mountains, asking me what’s in the foreground.

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That’s the same ski-hut whose opening was celebrated in style in 1952. I made a trip to look for it not long after Mum had moved into the care home in 2008. The hut has been completely flattened by time and the elements, but all the old wood and corrugated iron is still scattered there on the heathery hillside. Or at least it was four years ago. A wreck, but still with us.

I turn back to Mabel. She still won’t respond to my words. When I stroke her cheek with my hand, its coldness from being outside makes her yelp.

“That was a dirty trick!” says Edith, smiling. “What’s that for?” she asks again about the collage. Is it for an exhibition?”

“Yes, and this is the private view!”

“In that case I’ll have a glass of wine.”

The senior carer happens to be in the room when this is said, and a minute later Edith is sipping from a glass of Chardonnay.”

“Who’s the artist?” she says cheerily.

“I’m the artist,” I reply.

“You’ve got a remarkable talent.”

“Oh you flatterer, Edith.”

She laughs and her fluttering fingers make contact with mine.

Shortly after, I’m in Mabel’s room. With a sense of shame I take down Mum’s summer corkboard and replace it with the winter one. The shame comes from not having done this last year. The summer scene has been up there for 18 months, and is showing signs of fading. Some of the images have even fallen out of the composition.

Why did I allow that to happen? I suppose, knowing that Mabel is so unaware of her surroundings now, I just didn’t think it mattered. But it surely does matter to keep this room cheerful as well as tidy. What’s cheerful about a collapsed hut on a windswept hillside? Well, that part of the collage is not upbeat, I must admit. But it’s personal to Mabel, it’s poignant and it’s going up on the wall for six months unless someone can convince me that Mum would be better off with something else in its place.

On the way out, Gerty looks at the cork board under my arm and asks what it is. Basically it’s some photos taken of wedding guests outside a church in the town. Mabel is pictured in her prime and with all her sisters, brother and father. I’ve juxtaposed the black and white photos from June 1956 with colour ones taken in front of the now disused church on a sunny day in June 2008.

Gerty nods and starts to cry. But Gerty cries a lot, so I’m not unduly perturbed. I give her a consoling pat on the shoulder and exit the building. The sadness hits me when I consign Mabel’s faded summer to the cold dark boot of the car.