I know it’s not a week since my last blog, a day in fact but I need help. There’s an hour’s jam on the M1 and today is the day for visiting my elderly mother down the M1. I’ve just put the phone down for the third time. It is the above, no, not God, my mother!! ‘Just ringing to tell you it’s traffic chaos’ (where she lives) not the same chaos as on M1 please note. Smoothly she segues into ‘I had the worst day of my life yesterday and, here it comes, ‘I’m not being dramatic so don’t tell me I am’. I don’t ask because I know she will tell me. ‘Everybody was here’, 3 people in fact. X ( a friend), Y (her hairdresser), Z (her carer), ‘chaos, complete chaos’. Contrast this with ‘I’m bored, I don’t see anybody. Nobody comes to see me!!’ Shall I bother saying to her ‘you know mother when some people say they’ve had the worst day of their lives they mean they were mugged, robbed, murdered, the house burnt down, a nuclear bomb wiped out the whole neighbour. In my mother’s case it was having 3 people in her house all of whom had a perfect right to be there. And always the mantra ‘I’m not being dramatic’. And the day has hardly begun.
Apparently in China they’re thinking of making visiting elderly parents compulsory and fining those who don’t. Well, let me tell you they may be the world’s most flourishing economy but they’re lagging behind on this one. It already is compulsory in this country.
Let me explain. My mother is 92. She lives in her own house – her choice – with carers coming to check her and do bits I don’t want to think about twice a day. My mother wants to be at home but is she happy now she is? No! My mother is, what you might call, a very negative person. The glass has a slight moisture round the sides, it is nowhere near half full or empty. In my mother’s eyes the glass is rubbish and needs throwing out.
I am her only relative. Great you think you get the whole inheritance to yourself. This may be true but I would give all of it away if I could only avoid driving the 150 miles round trip every week. If I could set aside the guilt-driven obligation that makes my visiting compulsory. You see I have to admit I don’t like my mother. Because she’s always moaning, nothing seems to please her and conversation is a struggle. But I guess somehow it just has to be done. And my fear is that she will expect more visits now we’ve both retired. Not going to happen by the way!
Every conversation has to be about her and if it isn’t within the space of two sentences, maximum, it will be. For example, you tell her that a friend of yours has just died of cancer. She has two responses. The first totally direct – ignores the news and says “I’ve been feeling terrible” – relates a litany of malfunctions – I’m fed up with it etc. Or less direct but same outcome. Oh shame, that’s what A, B, C, whoever died off. Ooh it did upset me, made me feel terrible. Fair upset me it did.
I mean I can forgive the repeating of the same stories over and over again, that’s fairly understandable. Her favourite phrase at this point is – I’ve probably told you this before. Understand, it does not matter one jot what your response is – for example a direct – ‘yes you have’ is ignored and on she goes with the same bloody story. But this negative self-centredness is just bloody tedious.
My mother does not simply dislike or like things. There’s little in the latter category by the way. She hates or loves things. No in-between. And when she says hate it is with a completely vicious passion. Her face screws up, her voice rises, she looks directly at you and says I hate – last week it was magpies, cars that park in ‘her’ street and that roundabout outside Asda. She loves Michael Portillo, that bloke on ‘Flog It’ and her chocolate (which is frequently smeared on the sheets on her bed – or is it something worse) and her whisky (which must evaporate at an alarming rate, they, manufacturers should do something about that – better sealing caps). We wash her clothes and do her shopping every week by the way (I’m not a complete shit, although, I admit, it’s close). She has ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on the knuckles of each hand (not really but she might as well have).
All this is by way of explanation for what I’m about to write. After quite a few years away from them we have rediscovered garden centres. This is the place where old people go to die and they use them as compost. Bloody good I say and this may be why we take my mother. It’s easier to take her out, at least it is in the summer, and it’s definitely better than sitting at home listening to a litany of love and hate. All we get in the garden centre is –‘I used to know the name of every plant’ – again and again and again. Then there’s the bonus of imagining letting her and her wheelchair run away down the slope into the bamboos. This is not an option in the living room, there’s no slope (despite subsidence from the pits which she hates) and no bamboos.
So I realise that all this makes me sound like not a very nice son. And that would be true. Got to go and sit in a traffic jam now. I feel better now. More another time.