Thursday, 4 September 2014

OldMaSock and the Gay Men on the Prom


At least it isn't flytipping

The Germans have a word for those annoying tunes that get stuck in your head - Ohrwurm, or ear worm. In OldMaSock's case she has brainworms,  rather than tunes it is 'things to repeat time and time again often cued-in by external factors'.  As OldMaSock's short term memory is shot to pieces telephone conversations with her mostly consist of the regurgitation of various brainworms. An old favourite is "They are always showing Brighton and the pier on the television aren't they?" prompted by the fact I live in Brighton. The answer is obviously "no" but as this will be repeated various times through what passes for the conversation, it is easier just to agree. This brainworm has recently gained a companion "Do you remember all those gay men we saw on the promenade?"  "No".. It's by no means impossible,  I wouldn't have noticed - although she does manage to make it sound like marauding hordes of gay men were storming the seafront. OldMaSock has recently embroidered this brainworm to  "...all those gay men holding hands".  I'm wondering if she has seen the Brighton Gay Pride march on the TV.

Earlier in the year one of my nieces married her girlfriend, I hate weddings and was hoping for a Big Gay Wedding celebration that might at least offer something a bit different. Sadly, apart from there being two beautiful brides and a Best Woman, it came with all the tedium of traditional speeches, hanging around, and having to talk to people you will never see again and have nothing in common with.  OldMaSock was spared the ordeal on the grounds of being mad but a month after the wedding, the newlyweds made the trip to see her.  Short of conversational gambits OldMaSock's brainworm cued-in and her first words to the happy couple were "Oooh there were a lot of gay men holding hands on the Brighton seafront!"

OldMaSock keeps cheerful - the 'brainworm' phone calls to an extent reassuring me that she is happy if more than a tad demented.  But I am concerned. My sister-in-law has recently died from Motor Neurone Disease, rather sooner and more suddenly than expected, leaving the rest of my small family devastated.  OldMaSock was not up to travelling to the funeral - she is as fit as a flea and twice as active but can only mentally deal with things inside her daily routine.  I haven't seen her in a long while due to a bad relapse in my M.E. and her needs have been put to one side for too long.  I am worried that she is being left alone with her grief - there are no friends or neighbours who she can turn to (in part due to her 'extreme pruning' and 'flytipping habits') - the least I can do is to be there a while and share it. In any case I need to ensure she is still coping and managing her day-to-day life. The last time I asked about her garden waste disposal (see blogs passim) she said she now waited til dark before dragging it out to a nearby grassed area and dumping it. I am hoping this was a joke.

When I arrive at OldMaSock's, exhausted after the long drive, everything looks superficially in good order.  The garden is now fairly spartan - OldMaSock is no longer up to buying the bright summer bedding plants she favours - but the shrubs are extreme-pruned and the lawns well mowed. Indoors everything is tidy and neat but closer inspection shows a filmy grubbiness and tired, worn, look to the house.  Worse, there is the usual cloying, overheated, slightly stale smell around.  I wander around the house throwing open windows, letting the late summer, clean, fresh, sea air flood in.  OldMaSock scuttles behind me, closing the windows as fast as I am opening them.

OldmaSock gets the usual niceties out of the way "Your hair is rather dry - have you combed it?"  OldmaSock's hair, rather than mine, is another reason I am making the visit. The last time I saw her she promised me she would get her hair cut as it was clear she hadn't done in ages.  A year of telephone prompts from me and fibs and excuses from her and I am correct in my expectation that she looks like the Wildwoman of Wonga.  In fact her whole appearance is that of a bright-eyed bag lady, her clothes old, worn, stained with food and grubby.  She doesn't care, she has never spent money on clothes, or indeed anything else because she is a miser and hates spending more than is necessary on anything. I have already made an appointment for her to have a haircut and set, her usual hairdresser closed some years ago and I have been on the interweb searching for a local salon that might specialise in mad old ladies. Discounting 'Jordan's', 'Brush Strokes' and 'Venus', I phone 'Elise'.  "Hi, I'm looking for a hairdresser for my elderly mother who is a tad demented and needs someone very patient and understanding to cut and set her hair.  I want a sort of 'traditional' hairdressers not a trendy salon."  Too late I realise I will have just totally insulted the owner by inferring that her business is old-fashioned but in fact, she kindly says she will look after OldMaSock's hair herself. I make the mistake of telling OldMaSock she is going to the hairdressers the following day which gives her ample time to fret and try to wriggle out of it with numerous lies and evasions. I harden my heart and tell her this is payback time for all those years I cried after she made me have my hair cut short.  These things open old wounds, I feel the pain of my teenage years when she forced me to wash and set her hair for her, an intimacy that I hated as I hated her, wanting to jab the hair pins into her skull as I pushed them through the rollers. I know people who have disowned their parents for less than OldMaSock did to me.. The resentment and pain of my teenage years is still not far below the surface but the mother that I have now is a different being and I feel protective towards her in a way she never felt for me.

My M.E. is quite bad and I'm so tired.. it's like wading through mental and physical mud, worse.. every 'task' completed with OldMaSock leads to two new ones.  Although she, herself, is clean and showers every day, her clothes are a disgrace and I can't take her to the hairdresser's like that.  The washing machine broke down years ago and it is too late to get her a new one which she will never remember how to use. She tells me she washes things in the sink but it is more likely that the row of tatty knickers on the line have just been rinsed under the tap.  There is no washing powder, no washing-up liquid to remove the film of grease and stains over all the crockery which has already made me gag, no soap in the bathroom and no shampoo - she has been using conditioner to wash her hair.  She shops for food regularly at a local store, raiding the reduced bins for sell-by-date ham, bread and basics.  Cleaning materials do not figure in her idea of things she needs to buy.  I get up early to take as much stuff as possible to the laundrette before it gets busy. I open OldmaSock's wardrobe and start to load the cheap, polyester, home-made, clothes into a bag. As fast as I put something in OldMaSock is pulling it back out "that is silk it won't wash", "that is clean", "that will fall apart if you wash it!". Only the last is true. At last I wrestle as much stuff as possible from her and head off to the laundrette and an hour of contemplative peace and quiet.  I feel mean as I remember how attached I am to a sixteen year old skirt which is falling apart and recently relegated to 'gardening only'.  It is so comfy and I do wear it to the local shops even though it has holes worn in it. Am I so different to OldMaSock? Both of us potential bag ladies.

Later, with OldMaSock wearing some of the freshly washed clothes which have survived the laundrette we set off for the hairdressers.  I have spent the last twelve hours patiently explaining, over and over again, what she is having done and why and she has repeatedly argued that she doesn't want it cut short as it will lose the perm and go straight. Eventually I resort to bribery and say I will take her out for coffee and cake but I'm not being seen in public with her until she's had her hair cut.  I have already told the stylist it needs to be cut short to last until I can next march her off to the hairdressers which may be months.  Before we leave the house OldMaSock says "Will you brush your hair Arabella - just for me?".  "I already have!" I snap back at her.  I sit reading magazines and drinking tea in the reception whilst OldMaSock is being shorn.  After a while the stylist comes over with a big grin of delight on her face "Your mother is hilarious! She's just been telling me about all the gay men holding hands on Brighton seafront!"

Eventually OldMaSock emerges with her newly set hair, silvery, soft and curling. And too long. "Mmmm she looks very pretty but I hoped you'd take a bit more off" I say to the stylist. "Oh, she insisted I shouldn't take too much off as it will cut off all the perm." she replies.  I sigh and feel somewhat sorry for myself.  I can't help feeling I have lost this battle.

There are some battles I am determined to win.  I have replaced all the disgusting tea towels, oven gloves and hand towels with new ones.  This has involved a certain amount of subterfuge as I am learning that it is best just to do things without consulting OldMaSock.  The old ones have been bagged up and driven to the dump as the last time some bit of old rubbish was replaced, OldMaSock had it back out of the bin as soon as my back was turned.  We are going on a trip to an out of town shopping centre to buy a new, incredibly simple to use, microwave as the old one has packed-up. Praise the Lord for this as I suspect the ancient one, she wouldn't part with, has been leaking microwaves over the years which have helped fry her brain.  OldMaSock doesn't drive any more, the conversation about not being safe on the road was had with BroSock a few years ago, although that still doesn't stop her being surprised every day when she finds there is no car in the garage. Nevertheless her road skills and directions are spot on - "Left at the lights", "keep to the right down hill then second left", "watch where the road narrows".  Totally sensible and no repetition.  We park outside a Marks and Spencers and encouraged by this burst of coherency I suggest we get her some nice new knickers. I'm surprised she doesn't put up a fight but we head off to the lingerie department and look for suitable underwear. Lacey, lacey, frilly, but no straightforward big pants. "Can you tell me where the old lady knickers are?" I ask an assistant, anxious to get them purchased whilst this window of opportunity is open. She leads us to a rack of large comfortable pants "What size?" she queries.  OldMaSock replies "Ooooh I don't know I'll have a look" as she starts to take down her trousers and peel back her knickers to find the size tag. "I don't think we all need to see your pants Mum"  I say quickly grabbing a pack that looks most similar to the ones that will shortly be on their way to the dump.  I pay for them before the protests start up - so far so good.  We are on a roll! I briefly contemplate buying vests, nighties, a new dressing gown to replace the ghastly old thing that she fought tooth and nail to stop me taking to the launderette.  No - I have won this battle so I'm not going to push my luck.

On the way home I take the scenic route and neither I nor OldmaSock are quite sure where we are going.  As we are driving OldmaSock says "We've seen that man in the blue shirt before", "Yes, we probably have" I laugh.  A few minutes later, "I think we've seen that girl in the white shirt before" and then "we've seen that red car before" and on, and on, and on, everyone we pass she says we have seen before.  Then I realise she is breathing softly, but rapidly like a mini panic attack.  OHMYGOD! I nearly have a full blown panic attack.  "Are you alright? What's the matter?". I realise that she is frightened because she is out of her comfort zone, her known territory and she is not happy.  This is the woman who chased a young thief for a mile in Majorca before catching him and snatching her stolen bag back, the woman who has travelled the world and was scared of nothing and no-one. I am the one with the chronic anxiety.  I reassure her with the promise of a nice sherry when we get home and as we drive into familiar territory she calms down.

When we get home I pour myself a huge sherry.  I open the window to let some air into the stuffy, overheated room and sink exhausted into a chair.  Eighty-seven year old OldMaSock closes the window then scuttles off into the garden, through the window I see her standing on the wall with her extendable loppers and chopping at next doors overlarge shrubs.  My brother phones "Has she put the garden waste bags out for collections? The white ones? I've told her over and over that they go out on a Wednesday evening." He should know there is no point getting cross with OldMaSock when she won't remember instructions like that, even  the post-it prompts and calendar rely on her both reading them and retaining the information for more than a few minutes. I have no recollection of seeing any white recycling bags or any piles of garden waste so it is possible she has been doing the moonlight flytipping after all.  I check the garage - it is full of garden cuttings stuffed into white bags and various other receptacles.  I lug a few down the drive onto the pavement gashing my leg on a branch that has torn through the fabric of the bag.  There is no first aid kit or antiseptic in the house so I clean the wound with salt water as I don't want to get cellulite like LandscapeMan had. Even though the television is at full volume and OldmaSock is, as usual, flicking constantly through the programmes she doesn't watch, I fall asleep in the chair.

The last day of my visit, as I get up and dressed my finger goes through a hole in the ageing fabric of my Sloggi knickers.  Never mind, I can still get a few months more wear out of them and hopefully I won't fall under a bus.  I  check my jobs list: lightbulbs replaced, fire alarms checked, freezer, larder and wine cupboards stocked, details of outstanding tasks to be passed on to my brother, and one final task, take OldMaSock into town and reinvest a matured fund of some of the money she refuses to spend.

Mistake, mistake, mistake.... why don't I learn? I have told her we are doing this too far in advance and she has been up since the crack of dawn fretting about it.  "What time are we going?", "Where are we going?",  reassurance and explanations endlessly repeated "We are going to the Bank and we have an appointment for halfpast ten."  She has been dancing around in agitation since I got up and as I am about to drink my coffee at halfpast nine she has her coat on. "You can take that off we are not going yet, there is plenty of time." I tell her. But she won't have it, mithering on and on and working herself into such a state that I slam down my coffee and we leave - but not before she has said "Do you want to borrow my comb, Arabella?". "Not really. No."

We arrive half an hour early and are kept waiting longer with OldMaSock fidgetting and worrying as if she is going on trial. "I'm scared" she whimpers. "What of?  I'm the one who is doing all the talking and I'm going to give them a bollocking." I have been flicking through OldMaSock's disorganised file of bank correspondence and have seen something scribbled in her handwriting about a telephone call from the bank. Eventually I realise that the recently matured account I am about to transfer has already been moved to another inappropriate account. I don't need this. "Please tell me that someone from your bank hasn't phoned an eighty seven year old woman and persuaded her to transfer her money to another account?" I say sharply to the rather gorgeous looking young man who sees us.  They have but I have lost the will to fight as everything is just too tiring  and the young man easily persuades me it was all done with the best of intentions. His charms have not been lost on OldMaSock either who spends the entire drive home saying "He was a nice looking young man wasn't he Arabella?" until I want to scream.

I'm packed up and ready to go, my departure full of the usual mix of relief and sadness, even OldMaSock seems a little weepy although within a few hours she will only half remember I was there.  She calls after me as I reverse down the drive "Do you need to br......" But I am gone.