A decade ago I used to amuse Prospect readers with tales from my parents' residential home for the elderly. All the residents are now dead and I've had a wobbleby Jeremy Clarke / October 22, 2005 / Leave a comment
Ten years ago, when the Prospect editor rang to propose I write a monthly column, I was a mature student. Home was a residential home for the elderly run by my parents. There were nine fee-paying residents who my parents treated like an extended family. I described some of them in my column. A decade later, Sergeant Death has been around feeling collars. Mrs Gibbens, Commander Eliot, Betty, Violet, Miss Busby, Molly, my father’s Uncle Jack, and my father—all nicked.
So much death in one house in just ten years, yet each death different, and more often than not unexpected. Miss Busby, aged 105, hung on for weeks, made a surprise recovery, went from strength to strength, then died. (For six weeks before she died, I slept on a camp bed beside her, to help her on to the commode if she needed to go. One night, woken by her fidgeting, I stood over her, trying to work out if she was asleep or awake. She opened her eyes and said, very uncharacteristically, “Ooh darling! Are you going to make some custard?”) Mrs Lane, here for a fortnight’s respite care, and not particularly unwell, ceremoniously shook hands with everybody before going to bed, saying it had been nice knowing us all, and was stiff as a board by the morning. The only constant—I know because I kept a record—was our residents’ tendency to pass away on the ebb tide.
Some we were sorry to see go; others less so. The moment abusive alcoholic Uncle Jack’s soul left his body, we were punching the air. After the death of Violet, on the other hand—dear, blithe, club-footed Vi, so illiterate she didn’t know, for official purposes, what sex she was—there were wet faces all round.
Shortly after Vi died, I became depressed. Unwelcome effects of my first bag of lethal White Widow skunk had something to do with it, I think. West Ham being relegated. A romantic reverse. Money problems. Finding myself middle-aged. All these hits, added to living at the beck and call of the elderly and the dying and trying to maintain a cheerful interest, caused a systems crash. To reboot myself, I moved to a rented flat in the nearest town. But too late. I walked in, sat down at the kitchen table and stared at a bunch of daffodils in a glazed blue china pot night and…