On Monday this week, my mum and I went on an adventure. She’s 90. She looks after herself and is a very joyous person. Unfortunately, with me as her wheelchair pusher, she was in for a bumpy ride. When you’re with the elderly or infirm, it’s easy to forget that things take longer than you think…even when you think you’ve given yourself enough time. I did not budget for 25 minutes choosing something off the menu at Le Quotidien where we had lunch before boarding the train to Edinburgh at Kings Cross. When Mom arrived in the UK in the mid-50s, it was very easy to get a job. One of her first jobs was working in a restaurant…and the cleanliness of said establishments was the cause of her never eating in one, until very recently…so she’s just not used to them. I didn’t budget for coming out of the wrong exit, turning back and racing along with wheelchair and my mom’s wheely case, and getting to the train only 5 minutes before it left. Good thing she was strapped in. We sat for close to 5 hours (and 400+ miles) on the train. We looked out of the window and she admired the countryside and the lights of the cities of York and Newcastle. I took out a pack of cards and taught her to play trumps and we bet on our hands, best of three. It was close, but I won £3.50, which is just as well, cos all the stake money was mine anyway. The lady opposite was reading a massive tome about 3 inches thick. I choose books almost solely by their thickness, so, War & Peace, and the book in question – The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, is a joy I will forgo…even though this woman liked it so much she was reading it for a second time, and the lady on the opposite side of the aisle had it on pre-order. We arrived late and took a taxi to our accommodation where Mom made it clear that I had to turn the heating up to maximum in our twin-bedded room. And I know this will be me when I get to my mum’s age…cos I’m always cold….just not this cold, yet. My mum put everything on (including electric blanket) and got into bed. I sneakily switched off the heating, removed my pyjamas and got under the covers. And I woke up early the next morning to whack the heating back up again. And then we made our way by wheelchair, through the Royal Botanic Gardens towards the Western General Hospital, resorting to low tech asking for directions when the GPS repeatedly insisted we batter our way through the closed gates of some private college grounds.
My mother was the second youngest of 7 siblings (I think). She was going to see her little brother (86 years old and about 6’3″ tall), who was in hospital with anaemia…and convinced he was going to die. Siblings….I know from my own experience that however mature you think you are, you revert to child when with a sib. My mother and Uncle H did not disappoint, and I had to apologise to the other chaps in the ward. An hour or so later, the taxi firm came to my rescue by insisting that a 30 minute ride to Waverley station for our return journey was going to take 1 hour and 5 minutes. Having metaphorically pulled them apart more than once, I finally called time and just about managed to get them to kiss and make up before we left. It’s the last time she will see him. She was sad but accepting. But at least he was out of bed and well enough for a squabble.
I guess this must happen to many people in their 50s observing their elderly parents: One day, that’s gonna be me…one day, someone will be shouting so I can hear; waiting while I walk a few yards, and one day someone will be accidently tipping me out of a wheelchair. But maybe we’ll be laughing while I mis-hear, eat too many muffins and Salt & Vinegar crisps, avoid drinking so we can avoid the train toilets, and maybe we’ll enjoy taking time to do everything at an un-usual, but perfectly sane and unhurried pace.