get it right

Mrs Heywood is ninety-seven but looks older. She’s lying in bed tucked up to her chin, hands gripping the quilt either side of her face, blinking anxiously and rapidly, like an ancient dormouse in a converted matchbox in an illustration by Beatrix Potter.
‘Please help me,’ she squeaks. ‘Phillip hasn’t been in. I can’t remember the last time Phillip was in. Not the carers, not anyone. Please help me.’

I might be worried – if I hadn’t passed the carers on the front door, just leaving, and if the carers hadn’t told me that Phillip had been in that morning and was due back at lunchtime. And even without those things, I would still have guessed Mrs Heywood was mistaken about things, by the warm mug of tea, cup of fresh water and plate of bourbon biscuits on the trolley by the bed, the newly-ordered and spotless shine of the commode, the neatly folded clothes on the armchair, the general air of everything having been done.
‘Don’t worry, Mrs Heywood. I’ll do your blood pressure and what have you, make sure you’re alright, then I’ll call Phillip and we can have a chat about things. How does that sound?’
‘I’m terribly ill,’ she says. ‘No-one’s been in.’
She’s so thin, I have to change the cuff for an infant size. Despite her frailty, though, all her observations are good.
‘Let me write it down before I forget,’ I say.
Mrs Heywood pulls the quilt more tightly about her, frowning and pouting, like a child who’d been put to bed for no reason, and I was writing a letter to the teacher or something.

Flipping through the folder I notice that her surname has been spelled in two ways – Heywood and Hayward. I ask her which is right. She levers herself up on both elbows, lowers her chin and fixes me with a severe expression: ‘It’s Heywood!’ she says. ‘H-E-Y-W-double O-D!’ Then, after a pause to satisfy herself I’ve received the information, she carefully lowers herself flat again, and draws the quilt back up to her chin.

Just then the front door opens and a man’s voice says: ‘Hello? Mum?’
‘Phillip!’ says Mrs Heywood, sitting up again.

A second later and Phillip clumps into the room. He’s a heavy, hearty-looking man in his mid-sixties, with a chin so square and scrubby he could kneel down and sand the floor with it. As he stands there looming over us in his vast fluorescent yellow tabard, dusty combat trousers and beaten Caterpillar boots – it’s impossible to think of Mrs Heywood ever giving birth to such a figure. We shake hands, mine getting lost in his hefty builder’s paws, calloused and capable, a grip that could dent a pipe.
‘I tried ringing you before I came but it just went to voicemail,’ I tell him, in case he’s cross I’m here without him.
‘Yeah – sorry about that,’ he says, swiping off his beanie and scratching his head. ‘I got the message, but reception’s terrible. Anyway – I was only working round the corner so I thought I’d pop in and catch you.’

After we’ve settled his mum we go into the kitchen to chat. His demeanour rumples a little when he talks about their situation. His dad died a couple of years ago, it hit his mum hard, her dementia’s getting worse. She’s got carers four times a day and Phillip comes in as often as he can, but he doesn’t think it’s enough. She’s up and down, often unhappy, doesn’t remember things. It’s becoming dangerous.
‘She’s had a few falls,’ he says. ‘The only reason she hasn’t hurt herself is ‘cos she’s so light it’s like dropping a feather. Thing is, all this time she’s always been dead against going in a home. Don’t you go putting me into one of them places she says. I’m not going into no old people’s home. But I can’t think what else to do. I know you can get live-in carers, but she wouldn’t want someone strange in the house. It was hard enough getting her used to the carers. It’s a worry, that’s for sure.’
‘Maybe you could try getting her in for a spot of respite. Just for a couple of weeks. See how she goes. My bet is she’ll settle right in. There are people there all the time, keeping her company and making sure she’s safe. There’s a lot of resistance to the idea of residential care, but it’s not what they think. She’d have her own room, nice n’ cosy, familiar things around her. I think she might like it.’
‘How do we go about doing that, then?’
‘There’s nothing to stop you looking around for yourself. Asking people for recommendations. But if you’re worried about the financial side of things I could always get a social worker to talk to you. This is more their domain.’
‘Could you? That’d be great. I just need to get a clear idea of where we are and what’s to be done.’
‘I’ll do it today.’
I start coughing. Phillip pulls out a packet of Fisherman’s Friends cough lozenges.
‘Try one of these!’ he says. ‘I swear by ‘em. When you’re outside all the time you need something with a bit of a kick.’
It certainly has that – and it stops me coughing.
‘I’ll tell you the best cold remedy,’ says Phillip, putting the packet back in his pocket. ‘Drop one in a glass of vodka. Sloosh it round. Down in one.’
‘A bit like sloe gin for builders.’
‘Something like that,’ he says.

After I’ve said goodbye and let myself out, I notice a huge lorry parked outside the house. On the side of it, in great, big, block white capitals: HEYWOOD & sons.
H-E-Y-W-double O-D

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.’
‘Oh.’
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.’