The following is based on a true event. One of the most difficult things about having Pearlie living with us is the struggle to hold on to a sense of myself as a fairly decent human being. There is no feelgood factor.
A few weeks ago I went on a shopping expedition to get Pearlie some decent clothes. Pearlie has never had the remotest interest in clothes and, as long as I’ve known her, has garbed herself in layers of hideous greying underwear, jumpers, cardigans, vile skirts, men’s socks, battered footwear and the lot topped of with a horror movie of a headscarf and a home-made and much patched apron. She had the look of a poverty-stricken Eastern European peasant from the nineteen-forties only with added nylon and polyester.
But now it’s up to me launder this gruesome stuff so I’ve been sneakily throwing out the worst of it and replacing it with decent clothes from Marks & Spencers and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill. There will be no more baggy, outsized interlock cotton vests with fraying hems in this house.
Sure ye could put a stitch in them.
Excuse me Pearlie. A stitch? I do have a life. (Or at least I used to)
Her hideous long-legged cotton knickers bought from the packman are slowly being replaced by similarly granny ones from M&S only the Marksy ones are light and thermal and almost pleasing to the eye.
Where’s all my other knickers? Did Margaret take them home to patch?
In the bin long, long ago.
I spent over three hours picking out a skirt, a cardigan and underwear for Pearlie. Had I been shopping for myself I’d have completed in half the time. But I know how hard she is to please. Skirts must be lined, they must not be too long or too tight. Knitwear must not be bulky but it must not be too light. The sleeves must be roomy, likewise the neck. Colours must not be too bright. I played safe and got dark green. I’ve seen her wear dark green a lot. The underwear was thermal, soft and it fitted her. Exhausted I made my way home.
I didn’t show her the new duds at first. I knew she’d be bound to hate something and I even had a notion of packing them in her case so that the first time she saw them would be when the care assistants at the respite home hung them up in her wardrobe. But next day she was in a good mood and I felt I could handle the criticism so I showed her what I’d got. And amazing joy – she liked everything! I was delighted.
But that was Sunday. On Thursday Favourite Niece came out to pack her suitcase. That evening I didn’t get home until nearly eight and I was feeling pretty tired. I was surprised to see that Favourite Niece’s car was still in the yard. Moments later FN bounced out of Pearlie’s room went straight up to me and said, “That skirt’s no good. It’s falling off her. Can you get it changed? And she doesn’t like those knickers. Says she’ll be far too cold in them.”
Did I stay cool? Not exactly. I swore a bit ( a lot) then I did get cool. Well maybe more cold than cool. You know that cold anger thing where you might like to kill somebody? That was me.
Since then I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’ve been thinking about choices and how it is supposed to be important to give old people as much autonomy as possible. And I was also thinking about how great it would be if middle-aged people got to exercise some choices too like whether we wanted to launder patched rags or not. Or maybe we could choose whether or not we welcomed an aged dictator and a haphazard team of carers into our lovely home.
So anyway after thinking long and hard I have decided that these are the really important choices to offer my aged dictator.
- Milk or Tea.
- Pink hot water bottle or blue hot water bottle.
- Shape up or Ship Out.
- My Way or the Highway.