February 15, 2013

I’m driving us towards a regular afternoon tea-spot. Mabel is fast asleep which just shows how smooth my driving is these days. Well, no, Mum often sleeps through all sorts of weather and road conditions now. If it wasn’t for the fact that Dad enjoys the drives maybe we wouldn’t do them any more. Getting Mum in and out of the car is a hassle that she and I could do without, I’m beginning to feel.

Today’s real hassle has been to do with moving a chattel of Mum’s, not Mabel herself. From 1996 until she went into the care home in 2008, Mum slept on an Adjustamatic bed. Beds made by this company cost a fortune, which is why my parents only bought a single, with Ian sleeping on an ordinary single pushed hard against the Adjustamatic, the two beds sharing double-sized sheets and duvets. The headrest at the top of the bed featured a long wooden rail that completed the impression of a double bed. No, what completed the reality of a double-bed was the van Gogh landscape I copied in oils in the early Nineties and which Mum chose to hang above the bed’s headrest. The restful landscape remains in place while all else shifts.

vangogh 007

For the last year or so, Ian’s bed has been on the ground floor and he only goes upstairs once a week for a bath. However, I’ve come to realise that Ian is not comfortable on this bed. It’s a sprung mattress on a sprung base and when I watched him the other day - when he rolled over in bed - it was as if he was moving on a bouncy castle. It looked dangerous, never mind uncomfortable. I tried swopping the mattress with the one on the Adjustamatic, but that was no good and my heart sank. Why? Because the solution was obviously to move the base of the Adjustamatic, and that bed weighs a ton, containing the levers and counter-weights which allow the head and the foot of the bed to be raised or lowered at the press of a button. My brother declined the opportunity to help me move the monster, claiming that his back had just recovered from a strain. However, the partner of a carer, who regularly works out with weights, kindly volunteered to help (not believing that a bed could be as heavy as I was suggesting) and we did between us manage to manoeuvre it downstairs.

On the ground floor it stays – we wouldn’t be able to get it upstairs again without four headstrong young men. Luckily, Dad is looking forward to the greater stability that his heavyweight bed will bring. If he finds himself on the floor of his bedroom - as he did last week in the middle of the night, having lost his balance when using the commode - he should be able to pull himself to his feet using the bed, which he couldn’t do last week because of the bed’s lightness and its castors.

OK we’re at the churchyard by the rowan trees. I’ve poured Mum’s tea on the assumption she’ll wake up now.

“Mum, time for tea. Time for cake.”

No response. I shake her gently by the shoulder.

“Come on Mum. Wakey, wakey.”

She’s not coming to. OK, I’ll just let her tea cool off a bit on the dashboard and chat with Ian while we drink ours.

“Let me take you back to 1996. When you and Mum were 70. Whose idea was it to buy the Adjustamatic? ”

“I suggested it would be a good idea to have the bed in case either one of us needed it at some stage, and Mabel agreed. Though the ex-guardsman who sold it to us was very keen that we bought a double.”

“I bet he was. That would have been another £3000. I remember my outrage at the time, thinking. ‘
Christ, my parents have decided to spend all their money. It’ll be luxury cruises next. There goes the inheritance!”

“Ah, Dunc, one of the rare occasions when we splashed out on ourselves.”

“Yes, my fears were unfounded. Of course, it was Mum who always slept on the Adjustamatic, not you. I remember her taking advantage of the raising the head function so that she could sit up in bed. When would that have been?”

“Mabel liked a lie in on Sunday mornings. Didn’t you, dear?” says Ian from the back seat, in case Mum is hearing us at some level. “And you did have the odd day in bed when you weren’t feeling well. Usually, by the evening you’d want to be watching TV. So again the top of the bed was raised and – hey presto! - you’d be sitting up for Coronation Street.”

Like she is now? “Are you sitting up in bed, Mum?”

I still can’t wake her. Well, I could wake her, but what would be the point? Let her sleep. Is this a new kind of sleep, further evidence of letting go? Or does Mabel need extra sleep just now while her body/mind tries to repair itself? I don’t know. Anyway, there’s enough tea left in the flask to offer her another cup when we get back to the home, if she’s more lively then.

Driving back, I realise that Ian was right about the Adjustamatic, as he’s been right about so many things in his married life. Seventeen years down the line and still functioning, it’s been a good investment. Mind you, I don’t think I wasted my time when I painted those van Goghs. Alternative therapy, is how I think of those pictures these days. There’s
Artist on the Road to Tarascon in Mabel’s room now, acting as some sort of dementia deterrent. There’s Wheatsheaves above Ian’s bed in his downstairs bedroom, doing what it can for a man who’s had diabetes for nearly forty years. And then there’s the painting of fields under a cloudy sky, the original of which was painted just a few months before the artist’s own death. It may be overlooking a deserted – indeed, dismantled - double-bed now, but it’s time will come again. It just has to patiently wait until two new people turn up and want to share their dreams together, head to head.

vangogh 006