March 28, 2013

I arrive to pick up Mum. It’s raining, so I park the car close to the entrance, get the platform in position outside the front passenger door, then make a dash for the front door of the home. Mabel is in the corridor wearing her coat, hat and new purple slippers that don’t bruise her heel as the old black leather shoes did. The care home manager volunteers to help me get Mabel into the car. I can manage this on my own, but the new system is for me to get help to ensure Mabel’s legs don’t get bruised as I pull her along the shiny transfer board and into the car. Once I’ve got the seat belt around her, I settle down to drive off. Then something hits me: Mabel’s lively today. She grinned when she first saw me. She made an effort to speak when we were getting her into the car. And she replied to me, if incoherently, when I asked her if she was ready for a drive. The words ‘think so’ were part of what she said. Her eyes are as wide open as a baby’s.


We swish east and I turn down by the river Isla, urged towards flowing water by the rain falling from the sky. Where we park we have a view of a green metal bridge over troubled water. I say so and that starts Dad off on a Simon and Garfunkel medley as I distribute the tea and cake. With Mum being alert, it is easy to get her to eat and drink. She coughs while swallowing the tea to begin with, as usual, but unusually she comments on this, with a word I don’t catch followed by ‘sorry’. I tell her there is no need to apologise, and generally milk the opportunity to communicate. Her eyes are like saucers.

I also have stuff to talk over with Dad. Carolyn, the daughter of Alice, Mum’s sister, phoned us this morning to say that Alice had fallen a few days ago. She’d broken her wrist and was now in hospital. The doctor has suggested that the 90-year-old, showing signs of confusion, is not going to be well enough to live at home any more. So when she comes out of hospital she will be going into a care home. I should have known that when Alice phoned last October, in respect of her 90th birthday, wanting to talk to Mabel, that that would be the last time the sisters would speak to each other. The few words that Mabel spoke that day, she couldn’t manage now, even on a bright day like this one. Those words she dredged up for her sister were a kind of leave-taking of all six of her siblings. I can see that now.

Dad has also had a phone call this week about his own sister, Joan, who is 89 in May this year. Joan too has been showing signs of confusion and has been in hospital for a couple of weeks. She won’t be going home either. Her daughters are going to find her a good care home in Edinburgh where they’ll be able to visit regularly.

Mabel, Joan and Alice: 88, nearly 89 and 90, respectively. Collectively demonstrating that pushing 90 is not an easy thing to do.

But today Mum is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I think that explains why Ian is singing a song that keeps repeating the words ‘Tickety-boo today’. Let me listen:

“Put your thumbs up, and say ‘It’s tickety-boo!’
Cause tickety-boo means everything will be fine.
You’ll always wear a smile, if you’ll only say:
‘It’s tickety-boo, tickety-boo, tickety-boo today.’”

I ask him about the ditty, which I’m half-conscious of having heard before. He tells me it was around during the Second World War. While marching, a sergeant or officer would ask the troops ‘Tickety-boo?” and the troops were supposed to respond in time with their step:
“We’re tickety-boo, tickety-boo, tickety-boo today.” Oh, the innocence of it all. 1940 has never seemed so long ago.

Mum has been listening (or not) to our long exchange in silence. “Tickety-boo, Mum?” I say hopefully. She seems to raise her eyebrows and look at me disdainfully. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I translate this as:
‘Tickety-boo, tickety-boo, tickety-boo today.’

Back at the ranch, Doris and Edith, two stalwarts of the home, greet my entrance with Mabel. “Can I help you with her,” says Doris, who is stuck to her seat like roadkill. “Thanks Doris, but I think I can manage.” “Done your duty?” asks Edith. “Tickety-boo, Ma’am” I say, standing up straight and saluting, to Edith’s amusement.

I’m finding it easy to be chipper because Mum smiled and spoke when I told her I’d see her tomorrow (though that is shorthand for the day after tomorrow). She puckered her lips for a kiss when I put my face close to hers. And she responded to my waving hand by fluttering her own fingers. That’s a full house; the works. And I walk out of the home with a spring in my step.

“Tickety’boo, Dad?” I say, on getting back into the car.

“Tickety-boo, Dunc.”