Duncan and Mabel
I pull up at the care home and open the boot of the Renault prior to laying the platform on the ground by the front passenger door. Mabel’s red carpet - and her carriage - awaits.
A member of staff who is sitting on a bench outside the building returns my greeting but tells me not to ask her how she is. Why not? Because she is not a happy bunny. I make myself stand there and listen to her gripes. The individual from head office who has taken over management of the home seems to have ruffled a few feathers. According to the member of staff I’m talking to, several workers are considering putting in their notice and one of the cooks has been traumatised by a bawling out he’s received.
As I step towards the front door, I say hello to the resident who is sitting there. Close to tears, she tells me she has been left there for ages and she wants to be taken back inside the building. I tell her I’ll let the carers know right away. Just inside the front door another resident, looking perturbed, is trying to get out of the building without using the entry code. It seems that, today, the care home is in a right old state of flux.
When I phoned this morning, and wasn’t able to get through to the senior carer, I tried to get through to the manager, only to be connected to the voicemail of the former manager. Calm and reassuring as her voice is, it’s not much good to me or anyone else now that she’s no longer an employee.
The manager of another care home in the group was supposed to be looking after ours in addition to her own until a new permanent manager could be appointed. However, when she turned up to look around the place, she changed her mind about so significantly increasing her responsibilities. Perhaps this was because the home she is already in charge of is purpose-built and newly designed, while this one was converted years ago. Corridors are narrow, rooms are on the small side and the buzzer system needs updating. And so, in the absence of the intended temporary manager, it has fallen to someone from head office to take the reins. How long until a new permanent manager is in position? Well, the residents’ relatives were invited to be involved in the interview process but we haven’t heard anything more about that since we accepted the invite.
Anyway, all has not gone to rack and ruin, because Mabel is ready and waiting for me in her wheelchair. And so I push her outside and past the resident who was desperately wanting back inside and is now about to get her wish. Ian already has his window wound down so that he can greet Mabel and extend his arm towards her. He holds Mum’s hand as I detach one side of the wheelchair and manoeuvre the chair up on to the platform. Then I collect the transfer board from Ian, clamber into the car via the driver’s door and slide the board under Mabel’s bottom. Hauling Mum from wheelchair to passenger seat is sometimes done smoothly and silently, at other times Mabel yelps her unease. But, as always, she is soon in position A, and, as usual, I ask her how she is. “Fine,” she tells me. She is all right despite the absence of a new manager, not because of it.
It takes us 20 minutes to drive to the village where ‘our old manager’ is now working. En route Ian treats us to a song. I’ve heard him singing this one before, but have never really listened to the lyrics.:
‘Take me back to dear old Blighty,
Put me on the train for London Town,
Take me over there, drop me anywhere,
Pompey, Leeds or Gillingham, well I don't care;
I should like to see my best girl,
Cuddling up again we soon should be;
hurry me home to Blighty,
Blighty is the place for me.’
After a cup of tea overlooking the cricket pitch, we soon find the care home in question. Our old manager gives me a guided tour of her new home, which seems an excellent one, spacious and well-staffed. Beatrice then comes out with me to the car park to greet Mabel and Ian. I sit in the car at Mum’s feet, so that she can see me and we can have some low-key physical contact, while Beatrice and Ian talk about one of the residents in this care home. That’s Derek, a guy in his nineties that Ian and Mabel used to play indoor bowls with. Ian had last heard from him about three years ago when, knowing of Derek’s interest in World War Two plane design, Dad had given him an old Airfix model of mine that Mabel had assembled and painted for me when I was a child. It strikes me as oddly reassuring that such a casual conversation can touch so many bases.
I realise why I’ve driven all the way out here today: to get some reassurance from the company of our ex-manager. Am I going to try and arrange a transfer of Mabel to this new home? Not at the moment, because the length of the drive would soon become a barrier to our visiting Mabel as often as we do. Also, the staff at our existing home have been well trained and we feel loyalty to them too. Hopefully, the present state of fractious flux won’t demotivate the carers. Hopefully, when the new manager is appointed things will settle down and our care home can get back to what it’s supposed to do. That’s the message that our old manager would like me to take back to the staff at our care home. It’s just this common sense attitude and sense of loyalty that makes her such a good care home manger in the first place.
I still do not understand why the group felt they had to let her go. But that’s a fait accompli now. We just have to accept it.
Ian has already accepted the situation. He seems in his usual good spirits. I can’t help asking him: “Shall I take you back to dear old Blighty, Dad?”
He replies happily enough and in verse: “Drop me anywhere. Pompey, Leeds or Gillingham, well I don't care.”
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