Jeremy Clarke retreats to an old people's home, but finds it far from restfulby Jeremy Clarke / May 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Most of the time I live in a residential home for the elderly. Some people might think that at 39 I am a little young to be availing myself of the country’s dwindling health care facilities for the aged, so I hasten to add that I make myself quite useful about the place, principally by helping my fellow residents to stand up again when they fall over. There are nine of us altogether, with a combined age of 789. For physical or psychological reasons, three choose to remain in their rooms; and one leads a hectic social life and is never here; so that leaves just five of us (not counting my mother, who runs the home) who regularly inhabit the large sitting room with its framed sea-charts on the wall and panoramic view of Start Bay.
Although the high-backed chairs are arranged to encourage sociability, we sit facing each other in a contemplative silence, emphasised by the slow ticking of an old clock on the mantlepiece, occasionally broken by flatulent tumults which pass unremarked. Such outbursts vary greatly in pitch and register. Some sound like the deep hoots of supertankers anxiously calling to one another through a still, resonant fog bank; others are like a single mellifluous note of birdsong. Some of them bubble away for an unbelievable length of time, peter out, then recommence and continue as effortlessly and unflaggingly as before. I ought to time them, for if there were any special prizes on offer for that kind of thing, and our ladies were assessed by a panel of judges when they were in mid-season form, they would sweep the board.
Verbal interaction, should any take place, is less articulate. Often it consists of brief, incomprehensible soliloquies. However, there are unexpected moments of bilateral curiosity, aural clarity and mental co-ordination which give rise to sustained exchanges. As conversations go, they might not be very ins- piring examples of that most subtle of all the arts; and you can guarantee that they will revolve around questions of personal identity; but after several days of no conversation at all, they can be as galvanising as if the family labrador had got up stiffly from beside the fire, stretched, and asked for his tea.
One of our most popular residents is Commander “Jim,” 98, a large, lop-sided, limping man and consummate gentleman, who served at the Battle of Jutland.…