Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Hooptedoodle #344 - Martin's Dad

My personal context for this post is just a regulation-issue, time-of-life thing. I visit my elderly mother in her nursing home each week - always at an odd time and on a random day, so that I can't be accused of being late, or of having missed a visit. No problems with this - obviously I am happy to visit my mum. She enjoys my visits, though she doesn't remember them, but it is taking me longer and longer to recover from them. She is increasingly confused, often distressed by her chaotic interpretation of the real world and her own memories, and has become (I regret to say) surprisingly vitriolic and actually quite racist in her views. She is regularly unpleasant to her carers, which of course they handle with cheerful, professional indifference, though it causes me much agony on their behalf.

Stock photo - the elderly resident is the one on the right
From my own point of view, each visit helps to convince me a little more that extreme old age has no upside - it seems like a very mean trick indeed. In my heart I know this cannot be true, but the evidence is overwhelming. I make these regular visits to an old lady who is no longer anyone I remember; she is mostly angry, or upset, or depressed - she thinks that the staff are trying to steal her belongings, she doesn't like the other residents, because they are old and stupid, and so on. Each time I leave I feel oddly privileged to be free to walk out of the place, and I take the long route home through the lovely countryside. My wife has come to dread the days I visit my mother, because I always come home very gloomy.

This, I hasten to say, is not a whinge - it's a situation shared by a great many of my friends and contemporaries, so I have to shape up and get on with it. Apart from vague stuff like duty, I wouldn't want it any other way. It's the very least I can do for my old mum. I try not to think about how long I have until it's my turn to be visited, but it's inevitable that aspect of it should bother me a little as well.


Along these lines, I've recently been exchanging occasional supportive emails with my friend Martin, whose father, Ben, is becoming "a bit difficult" (to use Martin's phrase). Martin, by the way, is happy that I should post this story here. [All the names, of course, are changed!] 

Martin's mother died suddenly a few years ago - she was, I am told, a lovely but rather mousey little lady, who never had a great deal to say for herself. Martin has been surprised by the extent to which his dad, who always made all the decisions and was very outspoken ("never suffered fools gladly") has shrunk into himself since he was widowed. They rarely heard from him, they were concerned that he chose to spend all his time on his own. They bought him a big TV a couple of Christmases ago, and after a month he put it back in its box and stored it in the garage. Martin suggested that his dad might join an evening class, or do some voluntary work at the local hospital, or renew his interest in photography, but he got very short answers. He got an old friend of Ben's to arrange to take him down to the pub occasionally - that didn't go well - they fell out after a couple of weeks, and Ben came close to starting a fight at the bowling club. Ben phoned up Martin a couple of times at about 3am, to tell him that there was a car parked in the street outside his house, and it shouldn't be there. Ben's street, apparently, is full of cars from end to end. Martin told his dad not to worry about it, so his dad phoned the police instead.

Round about the same time, Martin got a quiet heads-up from the family doctor that his father didn't seem very well, might not be eating or looking after himself properly, and refused to answer the door if anyone called. Martin's wife, Angie, is a treasure - she's energetic and kind-hearted and all the things which Martin claims he is not. She suggested that they should take Ben with them on their Saturday groceries-run to Sainsbury's. It would get him out of the house (they could pretend that they needed him to help them), and it would give an opportunity to make sure he was buying some decent food for his own larder.

To Martin's astonishment, his dad was delighted to go to Sainsbury's with them. It all went very well - maybe, ominously, too well, Martin thought.

The only problem initially was that the old man found the shop too noisy - too many kids, too many people. So after he'd put his own shopping in their trolley he liked to go and stand outside in the car park. On the drive home he would tell them at great length of all the examples of dangerous or antisocial parking he had observed. Martin was not invigorated by the subject matter, but old Ben was more animated than they had seen him for years, so they decided that even a rather weird interest was better than none.

By the third Saturday there was trouble. Sainsbury's had received quite a few complaints. Ben had printed a little supply of notices, and he spent his visit putting them under customers' windscreen-wipers, explaining that they had used the disabled spaces without displaying the requisite Blue Badge, or had parked in the mother-and-child spaces when they patently did not have a child with them, or had parked carelessly, protruding over the painted white lines or (more subjectively) thoughtlessly close to the next vehicle. Some customers thought initially that Sainsbury's themselves had issued these notices, but the supermarket staff had observed Ben at work. Tactfully, they mentioned to Martin and Angie that they'd have to ask for this to stop, and immediately.

By the following week, Ben was driving to Sainsbury's in his own car on Saturday - purportedly to do his weekly shopping. Martin and Angie's pleasure at this news was short-lived. He wasn't shopping. He hung around all afternoon in the car park, harassing the customers and telling them off for parking badly, or driving too quickly, or not controlling their children, or (apparently) speaking too loud. 

The manager at the local Sainsbury's had become quite a good friend of Martin's by this time, and he went to visit him, to discuss what they could do. They hatched a cunning plan.

The next Saturday, Ben arrived at Sainsbury's on his weekly mission. You are allowed 2 hours in the car park, maximum (this to prevent local workers and residents jamming up the place), and after 2 hours Sainsbury's clamped Ben's car and issued him with a parking ticket, for repeatedly breaking this rule, and parking in "an inconsiderate and antisocial manner". Ben was mortified - ashamed. He agreed with Sainsbury's that they would destroy the ticket if he promised never to hassle their customers again.

That, of course, does nothing to address Martin's other, related problems, but he is quite pleased with that outcome. He says you have to celebrate what little successes you have, as they come along.

Who's that in the car park, dear?


  1. Interesting! Insight into growing old. I share your feelings following your visits to see your mam, the last two years of my mans life were very draining watching her deteriorate.
    However to counter that my grandfather was 94 before he was called away and was as bright as a button, my gran was 106 and didn't go into assisted care until she was 102. Apart from going deaf (selective hearing) her mind was good she said it was all down to sherry at 11am and 2 Gin and Tonics at 7pm 😀 So I hope I have their genes. Only thing is I hate sherry.

    1. Sherry is a problem - there must be an alternative.

      My mum is now 94 - she's losing her physical capabilities now, but the brain still works, albeit very confused, and often very angry.

      My dad enjoyed pretty good health until he was 86, when he went into hospital for tests, and died of a massive heart attack. A shock at the time, but that looks like a decent way to go out as time passes.

  2. Agreed. And sadly very familiar. My maternal grandparents have booth been gone for a dozen years or more, but lived their last several, less than happy years, with my uncle and his family before entering hospice care when their respective ends grew near. My happy memories on them when I was a child and teenager are mixed with recollections of exactly the same kinds of behaviors you describe above in addition to financial mismanagement and even embezzlement by my uncle and his wife, which caused no end of family stress at the time to put it politely. There has not been a day since their deaths that I have not wondered and wished how I might have done something to make their final years more comfortable and happier. Was there anything to do? A heavy cross to bear indeed.

    Best Regards,


    1. I guess it is hard to avoid feeling guilty to some extent - we could probably all have done more, in lots of instances, if we'd only known. It's very tricky to hang onto the personality of the person you once knew. When I was student, a friend of mine suddenly lost his mother - she suffered a brain aneurism, aged about 40. He spent weeks in hospital, sitting with her, keeping watch for signs of consciousness, but she never recovered and after a few months they switched off the life support. He said he had a long time to think about what was happening, but the hardest bit was that he had to look at old photos to remind himself what his mother had been like before she was ill.

  3. You have my sympathy - dementia is not nice. My mother spent the last two years ofher life in a residential home and yes, it was difficult visiting her. Dementia is written onher death certificate - she was really far gone when she died.

    1. It's sad - I think we have to try to recall our loved ones when they were still in good shape. I read somewhere that, when we die, all that really remains is what people remember of us - far more important than monuments or tweaked biographies. I guess it must be important to remember the person that existed before the final period of illness and dementia - that's who they really were.

  4. My parents both died relatively young for these times - my Mum at 69 and my Dad a couple of weeks shy of his 75th - but the upside was that they were both compos mentis right up until their final days. In my wife's family, by contrast, longer life with later dementia seems to be more the norm. It was hard to see my father in law, who was a lively, intelligent and enormously dignified man, lose all his independence and his dignity in his last few years. I am thankful that my memories of my own parents, which are so positive that I find them physically warming in stressful times, are untroubled by any such loss of self. I'm sorry to hear about your visits to your mother and I can relate having seen similar in my wife's family. I think on the whole you are right, it is difficult to see much of an upside to extreme old age although of course you do hear of those who live to advanced ages and remain remarkable robust. At 55 I feel that I would like to have a decade or two more of reasonable health, but I'm also thankful for the time I've had, and without wanting to seem too morbid, I think one needs to be ready to depart at any time. None of us are guaranteed another sunrise.

    1. Very true. There are moments when I really do wonder why we have been looking after ourselves all this time. I guess it's a lottery, like everything else. I had a mate at work who was one of the best sportsmen I ever met - he played rugby for Scottish schools when he was a lad, he was a terrific tennis player and squash player, and in later life he was a low handicap golfer and a senior marathon runner and keen hill-walker. He took early retirement at 57, and died of a single heart attack a month later. Never been ill in his life. On the other hand, my great uncle Dennis was a heavy smoker and boozer all his life, was very overweight and never walked anywhere - he lived into his late nineties.

  5. I didn't mean my post to be quite so negative - Martin and I both thought the story of his father's parking obsession had a certain dark humour which in some ways is really the best I can hope for - old Ben's situation is not good, but the spin-off humour - non-PC though it may be, might be the only clue we have that life goes on, despite everything - to give us an outside perspective. I believe that I would prefer to be remembered with laughter at something I once did or said than with weeping over my passing. I don't know - ask me again in a few years...

  6. The first part of this post, about your visits to your mother, rings true to my siblings and I. You have to be in the right frame of mind for it, and even then I have to take a good run up at it. Not good on the whole. My father died of the big C nearly 13 years ago. Horrible what it did to him, poor bloke. But on reflection he had his faculties when he died. I remember him how he was. Always interested in things, active mind, always with a book in his hand, always good for a conversation. Always ready with a daft dad joke. But my mum, well my mum died a while ago. The woman we knew. The person in that home is someone else. Or is that just something convenient to tell myself?

    As for Martin's story, I'm glad you mentioned the dark humour. I was thinking there's something wrong with me because I couldn't help but see the funny side. The positive thing for me in that is how the supermarket manager dealt with it. There's hope yet when people can still react that way in that situation.

    1. Your comment is a considerable comfort! It was only when I realised that no-one had clocked that the post was supposed to be (at least partly) funny that I realised I'd done it wrong.

      I suspected that my unerring ability to fail to express myself properly had left readers unsure whether I had meant it - and, in any case, people might not like to dwell on that bit, in case I hadn't

      Or, alternatively, people realised that I have no taste at all, so drew a veil over that bit.

      Martin and I agreed that the Adventures of Ben would make a fantastic TV series - better make it a short one, though.

      Thanks anyway. It isn't a funny topic, that's for sure, but if I can't laugh about some aspects of it then I shall just slit my wrists now and save all that expenditure for my own long-term care later on. When my dad was still alive, he and my mum spent a lot of their later years in hysterics as they tried to cope with dwindling memory. "You know - that bloke - that bloke that was in that other film - you know - what was it called, now? There was another bloke in that same film - very famous American - I think he was American, anyway - or he might have been Irish..."

      My dad said his last few years should have been subtitled "Give Us a Clue" - they had some good laughs about it though.

    2. In fact that Irish bloke wasn't in that film at all - he was in another film altogether.

      It's also infuriating how actors don't speak clearly in modern films - not like they used to.

    3. I know who you mean. He was in that thing with her off the telly. You know, that programme I like.

    4. I thought you liked that other programme?

      One of the more bizarre aspects of my visits to the care home of late has been my mother's theories about her rings. She sits and fiddles with her rings all day. One is her wedding ring, which she has now decided is her mother's, and therefore she gets upset when she tries to think what happened to her own wedding ring, and how she came to lose it. The other is a humble piece of costume jewellery which she bought out of a junk shop in Market Bosworth when she and my dad went to visit the battlefield. She now reckons she found it on the battlefield (which, of course, probably wasn't the battlefield at all) and she calls it Robin's Ring, because she just knows it was his. When she says Robin, of course, she means Robin Hood, though she REALLY means Richard III, because she has now become confused between the two. Also, to add depth to the riddle, when she says Robin Hood she really means Errol Flynn. My mother's love of history is now held together with memories of various film stars that she and her sisters fancied when they were in their teens. Yes - quite so. I can't complain too much, since apparently I am named after Anthony Quinn, though I am pretty certain we are not related.

      I don't think I'm related to that other bloke, either.

      Another weird theme is a little framed picture on the wall of her room. It is a rather charming little portrait of an unknown girl, Russian, in a fur hat. She has now told the staff that it is a noble ancestor of hers, which was presented to her by the Russian government - the staff were concerned in case the picture was valuable. I assured them that it isn't. What I didn't tell them was that my mother cut the picture out of Paris Match magazine, long, long ago, and that my grandmother had it framed by a little shop in Smithdown Road. Ye gods and little fishes.

      At least it isn't Errol.

  7. I had to read your first two paragraphs again to make sure I hadn't written it myself. Talk about striking a chord.
    My visit to my old Mum at the weekend was greeted with: "Why didn't you ring to tell me you weren't coming?" (Pause to check that I was actually standing on her doorstep.)

    1. One thing about my current situation that I'm certain of is that it really isn't so terrible in absolute terms - the old lady is well looked after, and any upset to me is not very extreme at all, and it doesn't honestly amount to very much. What I am impressed by is that nothing in my own life (which has been going on for a while, and has hardly been cloistered) has prepared me for anything like this - stupid of me, perhaps, but I had no idea.

      Do we just spend our lives avoiding thinking about this stuff?

    2. I have wondered that myself.
      A couple of years ago, Mum had a water infection and suffered from delirium - she was seeing stuff that wasn't there and imagining all sorts of awful things, such as visits from the police to tell her we were all dead in an accident. It went on for about two months and the doctors told us it was quite common and wasn't any form of dementia, but I'd never heard of anything like it. Since then I've heard of half a dozen old people having exactly the same symptoms from an infection. Is it just that it doesn't register until it happens to someone close to you?

    3. I think you need to be fairer on yourself Tony. It hasn't been that long that society has been dealing with and talking about this issue. We haven't exactly got a lot of exemplars to follow.

      My old man went through it with his mother, but he never said a lot about it. The odd anecdote about what she'd said or had done, but nothing about how he felt about things.

  8. It must be the age we are all getting to...
    The current adventures with my own 94 year old mother are fairly similar...
    She swings between the precipice of her own demise and the world of her inner dialogue... occasionally popping back into the real world to say hello...
    I am currently banned from going to back to Edinburgh to see her.... because...
    When my father was very ill.... on deaths door in fact... I went to see him... of course the inevitable happened...
    My mother believes that should I visit I will be bringing my old pal the grim reaper...
    She recently tried to do a runner from the ward... which came as a surprise to everyone as she has been saying that a man had stolen her legs and was keeping them in a green room in another dimension... She may be playing the long game... think Sawshank Redemption.

    All the best. Aly

    1. Shawshank Redemption is an interesting model - important to keep an eye on the big Errol Flynn poster on the wall. The story of your mum's theories on where her legs went is scary, but whatever medication she is on, see if you can get some to try?

    2. We are currently working on two theories with this...
      One... She has a really good dealer getting her some top end ‘gear’.
      Two... She had a really amassing dealer back in the sixties and this is just normality for her...

    3. It won't be on the NHS, that's for sure.

  9. Its at times like these that am almost glad that my own parents died very young. Younger than I am now in fact its a sobering fact that I am now ell over a decade older than they were when they died. Back then no one talked about death or the process of dying. When my mother in law was dying of cancer a couple of years ago one of the things my wife and I were very grateful for was the explanation given my the McMillan nurses over what to expect as the process went along. In fact the thing that really sticks with me was the explanation that just like being born dying takes time and isn't a simple process.

    Mind you I do quite like the concept of getting to the stage where I decide that I no longer give a Flying F*@k about the niceties of life as I'm going to be dead soon. It seems very therapeutic for Ben.

    By the way that Irish fella wasn't Irish he was Italian but he was called Victor wasn't he?

    1. I'm glad I didn't die too young, but certainly I am becoming convinced that surviving to the end of Malthus' pier is not such a great idea either. Something has definitely changed - researching my family history and reading about the guys in the armies in past centuries, I'm looking at a world where life expectation wasn't very much to start with, people had lots of kids, of whom a proportion might live long enough to become adults. Everybody knew death as a constant visitor - there was no scope to change channels to avoid thinking about it. Most families would have an old relative who lived with them.

      I'm not suggesting for a moment that there's anything backward about Poland, but a lot of the girls who work as carers at my mum's home are Polish, and they are all Catholics, which - I think - gives them a stronger traditional feeling of family and of the place of old people in the community. They are mostly superb, instinctive carers - I hope to blazes Dominic lets some of them stay here.

      I grew up with very little awareness of my elderly relatives - didn't see them much, never thought about them. That may have been a time of change, with better health care coming in, increasing prosperity - people were healthier, and had other stuff to do and think about.

      That Irish fella might have been Italian - you're right. I don't think his brother was Italian, though. They don't make films like that now.