Tina’s surname is Redmond but everyone calls her Tina Dreadful.
Nothing prepares you for her. Nothing. Not meditation. Not medication. Not prayer.
You’d have to say Tina is following her vocation. She’s raised nastiness to the level of art. Made rudeness a competitive sport. Transformed vileness and good ol’ fashioned meanness into a spiritual quest. She’s racist, sexist, casually abusive. She’s uncooperative, obstructive, distracting. Now and again she’s content, in the way that torturers turn off the loud television sometimes, to soften you up for the next onslaught. Mostly, though, she’s just a bully.
I defy anyone to visit Tina and keep their cool.
The Dalai Lama would stomp across the road and kick a trash can.
Mother Theresa would storm out of the front door, tear off her headdress, fling her sandals up at the window. (And then swear at you for tutting).
The Pope would hurry outside, kiss his cross, light a fag, jump in his Pope Mobile, and do a doughnut in the street in his hurry to get away.
Tina is on a slowly repeating cycle, a sine wave of sickness and degradation. On the downward phase she self-neglects to the point of ill health, gets admitted to hospital (when she’s so far gone she can’t protest); the deep-clean team goes in to steam-blast the floor, replace the bed, buy in new sheets and towels and so on; Tina gets discharged back with a package of care, and the whole cycle starts again. Over the years, Tina has left many tearful health care professionals in her wake. She’s had umpteen multi-disciplinary meetings between the council, social services, neighbourhood representatives, psychiatrists and police, but no amount of special delivery letters, no amount of signed contracts or verbal consents, have done anything to change her situation or her character. She does have mental capacity. None of this has been found to be an expression of mental illness. It’s just plain cussedness, and no-one seems able to do anything about it.
I met her daughters once. They were the loveliest, most caring women you could imagine. But they’ve lived so long in the foothills of this dark and forbidding personality they can only protect themselves as best they can, apologise, try to make amends, and wait for the next rockfall.
However, I have to say, now and for the record: Malcolm can handle Tina.
And I’ve finally figured out how he does it.
Malcolm is a robot.
Here’s what I think happened.
I think a scientist – mad or otherwise – sat in on one of the multi-disciplinary meetings. I think this scientist patiently listened to everyone moaning on about the latest awfulness, and then when things fell quiet, calmly got up, went to the door, opened it, and invited Malcolm in.
Malcolm is perfect. He’s average height, medium build. He has a hairless, wipe-clean head. He has cool, evaluating eyes and realistic hands. He speaks with great modulation, in phrases designed to advance understanding and minimise flare. He moves with economy – but there’s power there, too, on a graduated scale from 1: puncturing the film on a microwave meal or 2: kicking through a wall. His demeanour is gyroscopically monitored, one hundred and eighty degrees of equanimity and poise. And his battery is good for eight hours.
You might think it’s a bit extravagant to use a robot such as Malcolm in this banal social situation. But maybe this is a field trial. Maybe this is part of the stress-testing you’d want to put such a unit through before you send them off to recolonise Mars or something.
The fact is, he’s amazing.
And the reason I think he’s a robot? Two things.
1: When the other carers see that they’re down to visit Tina they wail and plead and do everything they can short of throwing themselves out of the window to escape having to go. Malcolm just smiles.
2: Reading his notes afterwards. He writes coolly, neutrally, with great measure. You get a sense behind his words of the vile language Tina is using, the awful tenor of the situation, but nowhere does Malcolm rise to it. He describes himself moving through the scene, relaying the facts with a detachment that borders on nervelessness.
But the biggest giveaway?
He talks about himself in the third person.
For example: The Carer suggested that Tina roll to the left a little so he might change the inco sheet. Tina declined to do this, saying that she did not want to. The carer pointed out the negative effect lying on urine soaked sheets would have on the integrity of Tina’s skin. Still, Tina declined to cooperate. The carer asked Tina whether she would like something prepared for lunch. Tina declined, saying there was nothing in the fridge. The carer suggested he look in the fridge. Tina said that he could if he liked, it was a free country. The carer looked in the fridge and discovered a microwave meal – sausage hot pot and dumplings. The carer presented this to Tina. Tina said she was sick of sausage hot pot and dumplings and she would rather starve. She then went on to describe issues she was having with her mobile phone, a Sim card problem the Carer was not able to resolve at this time. Tina made comment about this in a generally abusive manner. Tina then requested the sausage hot pot and dumplings be heated anyway, which the Carer proceeded to do. The carer made tea, which Tina declined in favour of pineapple juice. Then Tina said the tea was not sweet enough, and she required apple juice not pineapple juice, and not in that beaker. Then she spilled the tea and had to be cleaned up. The Carer then presented the sausage hot pot and dumplings in a bowl. Tina used many swear words when the Carer placed the bowl beside the bed, saying that ‘it was no good there, was it’ even though she could easily reach the bowl. The Carer took action to remedy the situation, and with nothing further to be accomplished, left the scene, all being well at that time.
We need more Malcolms.