a well-travelled bear

Greenacres Residential Care Home has had a revamp since I was last here. Now there’s a smart porch on the front of the house, glass and white aluminium. It reminds me of those airlocks in space films; I expect to hear a hissing of vapour and see flashing lights as the pressure’s equalised and I’m decontaminated, but in lieu of all that, I suppose, there’s simply a wall-mounted bottle of hand cleanser. The visitor’s book has been replaced with a touch-screen pad, the home page a tastefully blurred picture of the home overlaid with two buttons: Check In and Check Out. I touch the Check In button. It takes me to the next page: Visiting. When I touch the Name field, I’m presented with a series of text boxes, First name, Last name & Company. I enter those things. The next page says Welcome Jim! visiting Rapid Response Team. I think maybe I’ve misunderstood or done something wrong, so I use the back button. It asks me whether I’m sure. I tap yes. I go through the same procedure, end up visiting myself again.

I give up and ring the bell.

And after a while, I ring again.

Eventually, through the frosted glass, I see a moving splash of green. I knock on the door. The splash pauses, gets bigger, a hand – and the door opens. A carer in the Greenacres uniform, with a badge pinned to her lapel saying Hello! My name’s Julie! stands in front of me, frowning.
‘Did you ring the bell?’ she says.
‘A couple of times.’
‘Well I didn’t hear it. Did you hear it?’
‘No. I thought maybe it was one of those discrete bells that only rings in the office.’
‘No, it’s not. It’s a proper bell.’
Her eyes drift down to my badge. I tell her who I am and where I’m from.
‘I’ve come to see June’ I say. ‘I tried signing in on the pad but…’
‘June?’ she says. ‘Alright. Follow me.’

I think it’s just the porch and the pad that have been upgraded. The rest seems pretty much as it was – a disorientating warren of bedrooms, lounges, kitchen and dining rooms, threaded by a narrow, luridly carpeted hallway that creaks and sags so alarmingly in places I’m worried about the joists. Just when I wonder whether Julie’s actually forgotten she’s being followed and is hurrying back to the heart of the burrow, she stops outside a door with a plaque decorated with a bear and the words I live here!, knocks and we both go in.
June is sitting in an armchair just inside the door. She’s immaculately dressed in a silk blouse, pearl necklace, pressed linen skirt and red plush, slip-on shoes. Immediately opposite June is an ancient teddy bear, sitting on a tiny Windsor chair. It’s so striking, the way they’re sitting, quietly staring at each other, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see the bear dressed in exactly the same way, but instead it’s wearing a crocheted outfit of pink waistcoat, blue trousers and white bootees.
‘June?’ says Julie. ‘You’ve got a visitor, darling. Someone from the hospital.’
‘The hospital? Whatever for?’
I introduce myself, shake her hand, explain why I’ve come.
‘Well!’ says June. ‘My husband will be home from the factory, soon and he’ll want to know the ins and the outs. He tends to get a bit frustrated with this sort of thing.’
Julie catches my eye, gives a terse shake of the head.
‘Well I can’t wait to meet him!’ I say. ‘Meanwhile, would you mind if I took your blood pressure and so on? I won’t keep you long.’
‘How exciting!’ says June. ‘All this attention!’
I unpack my kit and cast an eye over her notes. Julie sits down on the bed.
‘Your bear looks very comfortable’ I say, as I clip a SATS probe to June’s finger.
‘You must say hello properly!’ she says.
I go over, shake his paw, tickle him behind an ear.
‘He likes that’ she says.
‘Where’s he from?’
‘Aberdeen,’ says June. ‘Oh yes. He’s a well-travelled bear.’

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