At the time of writing this I am sitting in a care home bedroom. If anywhere needs the spirit of Christmas to work a treat then it is the collected bedrooms of every care home across the land. Though even then the spirit of Christmas would end up fooling no one except, well, the spirit of Christmas. I am on mother-in-law duty, something I avoid as frequently as possible, not because I particularly have an issue with my mother-in-law (I only have to wink at her and she smiles, which is a fuck sight more of a result than I get from most women) but because I have a particularly large problem with care homes; and on a broader plain an even bigger problem with the way we view life once it starts getting a bit too wonky to ignore. Still, I’m sure that the Mr Arsehole who owns this care home doesn’t really think too much about that: as long as his guests stay alive in some form or other and the bills get paid he’s sitting on easy money. Have no doubt – this is a racket.
But hey, let’s try to accentuate the positives, as they say. Through careful calculation I have found a spot to sit and write from where I can regularly wink at my mother-in-law and convince Wifey I am making an effort (thereby winning on two fronts, which technically makes me better than Hitler). My position of strategic advantage also means I am close enough to an open window to slightly offset that care home bedroom kind of a smell; an odour which I shall not go into, because it is Christmas and there are already enough whiffy things to contend with. All I will say is that I am keeping my mask on between gulps of beer, a beer that I assume in a different environment would still smell of beer (note – the only time I won’t need something drinky medicinal in a care home is, ironically enough, when I am actually in a care home; which I would never want, despite all the other kinds of medicinal on offer). Ella Fitzgerald is singing Christmas songs in the background, but as much as I admire her I’m afraid even she struggles to make Christmas songs sound much better than plastic crap. I suppose she offers a degree of subtlety that we will be aching for when Adele gets a bad idea and decides to hyperventilate her way through ‘Frosty The Snowman’.
Mother-in-law is having a little nap now. When we arrived she was in the living room with some of the other residents, enjoying a few festive games. She might never realise it long enough to thank us, but after we retreated to her room they got started on a round of pass the parcel, a game which you’d imagine must last FOREVER in a care home, where most residents are crippled with arthritis or likely to drift into the land of nod at the drop of a mince pie. Many will also spend a lot of the time looking down at their laps and wondering what the hell that is, who the hell they are and what the hell they’re doing there. Pity. Anyway, she dozed off just after unwrapping a present she would actually like – a rather cosy scarf that I had nothing to do with the purchase of. Before that I helped her pull a home-made cracker (literally), from which fell a pink hat which I have flatly refused to wear, and a joke. Wifey told the joke: “What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence? Time to get a new fence!” and then waited patiently for her mother to process the hilarity. That all she got in response was a glazed expression and stony silence was, I suspect, less due to her dementia and poor hearing and more to do with the fact that as a joke it was about as funny as having your prostate checked with a scalpel. At least she still has some taste.
I could, I suppose, write all day long about the false dignity that can be offered by your average care home, but now isn’t the time to be cynical. Hey, it’s Christmas! Mother-in-law looks very cosy in her cosy scarf and has now perked up a bit, perhaps because Elvis has replaced Ella with his own versions of the same shit, or perhaps because she just got bored of pretending to be asleep purely to avoid being told another terrible joke. I wish I could tell you how long we’ll be here but as long as mother and daughter are happy in each other’s company I can assure you that I have absolutely no say in the matter. To give you some idea, I see that Wifey is now brandishing some knitting and a make-up bag, so we’ll be here long after the darkness comes. The darkness outside that is: if mother-in-law has a special power it might well be the art of clinging on. But it doesn’t really matter today. I will pop out soon to get another drink and perchance a waft of fresh Marlboro air (because I am both stubborn and stupid) and when I get back things won’t have moved on a whole lot more. Let’s just take it as a good thing that mother-in-law is having some righteous care home fun and I’ll save all the euthanasia stuff for another time. I could never forgive myself. Blessed be us all for this most wonderful time of the year. Yeah, right.
G B Hewitt. 22.12.2021