SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

I’m sitting in Mum’s room. She’s dozing. Her eyes opened when I sat on the bed to say hello to her. She didn’t smile at me, or respond to my presence in any way, and now she’s closed her eyes again. She’s lying on her back with pillows supporting her head. Her knees are making a tent shape out of the sheets so I guess there’s a pillow underneath them too. She seems comfortable.

I see from her ‘turning record’ that Mabel was put to bed at 9.30pm last night. She was turned from her left side to her right side at midnight. Then back to her left side at 2am. At 4am her pad was changed and she was turned onto her right side. At six she was turned onto her back. And then at 9am she was given breakfast and transferred to her wheelchair. Quite an active night, then? No, not an active night at all. Other people’s activity just makes it seem so.

Nevertheless, Mabel looks healthy and does not seem to be in any distress. Eventually, I turn from my scrutiny of her and take in the main decoration on the wall. It’s a collage of winter elements, basically a record of Mum’s skiing years. In one image, Mabel and fifty other young people are inside a ski-hut, celebrating it's opening with smiles of happiness and a toast. Close by are photos of the hut I took sixty years later, which is to say some sheets of corrugated iron scattered amongst the heather. Ah well, we all know it: things fall apart.

Within the collage, there is also a cutting from a paper reporting the night Mabel got lost on the hills when a sudden fog separated her from the rest of her skiing party. She ended up walking all night. Though she couldn’t see where she was going, she knew that she had to keep on the move if she was to survive the cold of the winter’s night. Just as the care staff know that Mabel must be kept on the move nowadays if she is not to develop bed sores.

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But it’s another element of the collage that my eye dwells on. A photo of myself taken in 2009. I’m holding Mabel’s skis, just before I set off to retrace Mabel’s footsteps of that time she got lost up Glenshee. I feel I made a fair stab at that expedition, though the first thing I did was put down the self-same skis that Mabel had carried throughout her ordeal. Why did I leave them behind? Because they were much too heavy for me; far too heavy for a not particularly fit 51-year-old to carry for any length of time. Why did Mabel not dump them on the night? I suppose because she was in her twenties then, and the skis were her prize possession.

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Although it’s only four years since the photo was taken, I’m not sure I could do what I did that day, which was to walk fifteen miles up and down mountains. My obligations towards my parents and commitment to my writing, between them, have meant that I’ve virtually stopped going for walks. When I last looked at myself in a full-length mirror I could see that I’d lost the musculature that always used to be present in my legs. Will I be able to get it back?

Even if I do, it’s a sign of what will happen to me sooner or later. I mean in many respects I’m still the 25-year-old I once was. But I’m bound to lose some of my physical well-being between the ages of 55 and 60. And I’m bound to lose more of it between the ages of 60 and 65. How do I know? Because I have to accept that, by the time I’m Mabel’s age, there will be very little left of me.

It’s funny that. Between the ages of 20 and 55, nothing much happens. Between the ages of 55 and 90, everything is lost.

My partner’s father died last week (R.I.P. George Clayton). Kate remembers visiting him in North Wales and being struck by how fit he still was in his mid- sixties. His physical well-being lasted longer than most. But by Mabel’s age he was as Mabel is, flat on her back.

I’m 55 and Kate is a few years older, yet until last week we were able to say we had four live parents between us. We can’t say that any more.

What can we do? Well, I’m planning for the day, in my 80s, that I retrace Mabel’s movements of last night, which I’ve committed to memory. That’s to say, I’ll put myself to bed at 9.30pm. At midnight I’ll move from my left side to my right. At 2am I’ll turn from my right onto my left. And at 4am I’ll change my pad whether it needs changing or not.

Or will I have lost my sense of humour by then? Indeed, am I beginning to lose that already? I do hope not. I’m planning on it being the one thing that gets me through my eighties.

As it got me through my teens and twenties? Exactly.