It’s Easter Sunday. I’m visiting Mum in the nursing home. The sun has a smile on its face wider than Jurgen Klopp’s after his FA Cup semi-final win yesterday against Manchester City. ELO’s Mr Blue Sky is booming out of every radio station. Hey, hey, hey.
Choirs of lollipop men
At the roadside, daffodils sway like choirs of evangelical lollipop men singing their favourite songs from the HighWay Code hymn book and the Archbishop of Canterbury has just called the Government’s plan to hand asylum seekers a one-way ticket to Rwanda ‘ungodly.’
The world feels, for a moment, clear eyed and righteous.
As I turn into the car park of Mother’s nursing home, I slip the car into neutral, turn off the engine and try to glide the last few feet into a parking space imagining I am Lewis Hamilton pulling up with a flourish at his favourite casino in Monaco.
I’m not Lewis Hamilton
Unfortunately, our ancient 1.4 litre Vauxhall Astra is not a Mercedes. And I am not Lewis Hamilton. As I disengage the gears, it splutters like a coal miner with emphysema, stalls and then stops dead sideways across two parking places at the front door of the nursing home. It’s a pitiful pit stop, more Mr Bean than Lewis Hamilton.
Luckily, no one is there to see it. In fact, the car park is completely empty. Strange. It is only ten o’clock. I guessed more people would be here today of all days. This is Easter Sunday, after all. The Day of the Resurrection. A day when miracles might happen, perhaps. A day when one might hope to arrive at a place like this to find the tired minds and crippled bodies of its residents rewired and restored to working order. Some hope.
Mum has had Covid
I haven’t visited my mother for ten days. She’s been boxed in her room with covid for a second time. They say she’s brushed it off. Let’s hope so. Each time I see her after a break as long as this, I’m not sure who I’ll meet.
I finish parking properly and head into the home with a little less va-va-voom than before.
Mother is in the resident’s lounge leaning on a table with her head in her hands.
The woman next to her is asleep, head on the table, a Cadbury’s mini-easter egg nestled next to her grey hair.
Mother sees me and winds herself up from the table, slowly.
‘Do I owe you anything?’ she asks.
It’s an odd opening remark. Is she auditing her annual accounts?
‘Owe me what?’ I ask.
‘Money, you fool.’
‘No, you owe me nothing.’
Fear of debt
Old people often fear running out of money more than death itself. Mother runs with this pack. She fears dying in debt or with an unpaid or unacknowledged obligation.
Unfortunately, I’ve had this conversation before. It tends to go badly, stirring up anxieties from her childhood. Money can’t be discussed rationally but once she’s locked onto the issues it’s very hard to close down.
‘I must owe something to someone?’ she says. ‘I had a haircut last week which must be paid for.’
‘It has been.’
‘But how? I don’t have cheque book.’
‘You pay by direct debit.’
She shakes her head. She’s forgotten what direct debit means.
‘I don’t have a red card, so I can’t be paying anything.’
By red card she means cheque card.
‘You don’t need a cheque card to pay,’ I say. ‘It’s all taken care of automatically. Don’t worry, please.’
She shakes her head again. She is frustrated. Something is not right but she doesn’t know what. The world isn’t what it was or how it ought to be. She wants to continue.
‘Why won’t you give me my cheque book? I want to give the sisters a little something for their kindness.’
She calls the nursing homes’ carers sisters, as if they were catholic nuns.
‘It’s better you don’t have a cheque book and card while you’re here,’ I say. ‘We have talked through this before, let’s move on.’
I’ve slipped into school master mode. I promise myself I won’t do this, but sometimes I can’t help it.
‘You don’t owe anyone anything,’ I say. ‘Don’t worry.’
Dreams of cake
She pauses and then starts up again in a more wistful voice.
‘Are you sure?’
‘100%,’ I say.
‘Last night, they held a farewell party for me. They asked me to make a speech. I didn’t want to. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing. But I did it. Half-way through, my speech went flat. Nobody understood a word I was saying and then they brought me the bill for the cake. I didn’t have a cheque book to pay for it. And I felt so ashamed.’
There was no party. This is another recurring dream. But I’m not going to leave her wallowing in shame.
‘Well, it’s just as well that I paid for the cake beforehand.’
‘Of course, I did,’ I say, and try to look her in the eye.