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Altered perceptions – a sorry saga

In which I make a complaint and end up being banned from a shop.

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Oscar likes trumpet practice time

Oscar sings with the trumpet

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Crochet frustration

In which I don't understand why I don't seem to be able to follow a simple crochet pattern.

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Where did all that water come from?

 

Oscar is thinking twice about jumping into the normally limpid river Ravensbourne this morning. He’s been a bit of a wuss about water since (I think) he fell into the pond in our garden as a puppy. He loves paddling and splashing in puddles but never goes out of his depth, preferring instead to tiptoe gingerly around the river bank to find a safe place from which to lunge and grab a stick.

 

It’s terribly frustrating for him as he stands and whinges, too frightened to swim, despite having webbed feet specifically designed for use by a water dog. He’s only swum properly once, when safely attached to the Boywonder or the OH, already in the water,  with a lead. We’ve even thought of buying wetsuits to encourage him to swim.

 

On this occasion, however, it was pouring with rain and all the rainwater from the surrounding flooded fields was cascading into this normally slow-flowing stream. I’m glad Oscar didn’t dive in, I didn’t fancy going in to rescue him. Not that it would have made any difference: I don’t think I’ve ever been so wet on a  dog walk.

“An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him…”*

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I recently lost my engagement ring. I’d had it for 22 years and to was hard-won, believe me. When I say I lost it, it just suddenly vanished in all the kerfuffle surrounding obtaining my Overseas Citizenship of India and  being so ill with that horrid coughing virus and taking my mum to India with her dementia and that. It disappeared from the ring holder in the kitchen where it had been placed for safekeeping while I did the washing up. I’ve had bad luck with rings lately. Two of them keep shedding their stones or breaking, and I’m now very cautious about wearing the engagement ring I used to have constantly on my finger.

So we duly processed the insurance claim and I have more or less chosen a replacement. It’s not exactly the same as the brilliant solitaire diamond in the original largely because nothing could replace the original that has such emotional value attached to it.

I telephoned the sales representative of our regular high-end London jeweller last week and made an appointment to choose the sort of thing I’m looking for. On Friday I duly walked into the shop with my husband. We were the only customers and, despite being greeted warmly, the staff did not appear to know who were were. So OH introduced himself and shook hands with the assistant, the one with whom I had spoken at some length on the phone, who continued to look at me quizzically and with complete incomprehension”

And you are?

Mrs. B.

And I watched as it suddenly dawned on him that I was neither my husband’s PA not the maid nor, perhaps, the mistress but the very person to whom he had spoken about the replacement ring. He knew I was coming in at that time with my husband, but somehow could not reconcile what he was seeing with the details of the appointment. Was it something about the way I was dressed? Or had he not expected me to be…err…brown?

 

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I’ve encountered this sort of thing before. When I worked, our cleaners were let in by our nanny every Monday but I regularly dealt with the cleaner over the phone. Once I had a day off and opened the door to them and the woman’s face fell.

Oh,” she said, with some disdain. “Who are you? The new nanny.”

No. I’m Mrs B. We’ve spoken on the phone. A lot.”

You don’t look like I expected. You don’t look like you sound.

I wonder just who she expected.

 ***************

It was shortly after we moved into that same house, when I was in my dressing gown late one morning as the Boywonder was about 3 months old and I wasn’t really coping very well. The doorbell rang and I opened the door to my neighbour across the road, who had arrived with several bags of clothes.

You take in washing, don’t you? Could you do mine?”

She’d observed the weekly arrival of my laundry company to collect my ironing and jumped to conclusions. It was her husband, I later discovered, who asked other neighbours at parties, to which we were never invited, how they liked living next door to us. I wondered whether he complained about the smell. I never cooked curries. This is why I am never surprised at the popularity of the UKIPs.

Funny, isn’t it? You can present some people with all sorts of evidence and facts and they still prefer to stick to their prejudices.

 

*This is a quote from My Fair Lady. Still pretty true, I’d say.

 

The Last Post?

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The Bruch Violin Concerto has been going round and round in my head for the two weeks since its spectacular performance by the lovely Chloe at the school’s annual concert at St. John’s Smith Square, the London concert hall. Not all of it. Just those few bars about six minutes into the first movement where both violin and orchestra explode into a torrid flourish. To me it’s an expression of a battle against incipient and seemingly unavoidable doom. Yes. My earworms have an uncanny way of encapsulating my mood.

It is the Boywonder’s final full week at school ever. As I write this, he will have had his last trumpet lesson ever and bade farewell to his respected and admired, beloved actually,  trumpet teacher of the last seven years, who has given him nothing but support and kindness and patience and encouragement. The Boywonder was once a very promising young trumpeter, you see, and a musical career was just one option of many. Having firmly decided at two years old that he wanted to play the trumpet, he started learning on a cornet four years later, when he was able to hold it. He delighted everyone with his solo playing and in concerts, and I think the music was the one thing that prospered throughout his dismal time at international School in Paris when we lived there. He passed his Grade 5 with the highest mark in the whole of that exam session in France having a few months previously secured music scholarships and awards at several local London day schools.

Yes, a bright future lay ahead of him. And then things suddenly became difficult, beyond his comfort zone. Just doing the practice became hard to fit in with a daily commute to school, hours of homework, co-curricular activities and a piano practice too. Yet some people manage it.

What happened for the Boywonder? Well, he seems to have given up. His teacher felt that he was playing so well at Grade 6 that he should progress directly to Grade 8 level where the pieces suddenly required more stamina and, we discovered, a complete change of approach for the Boywonder and his full half-Indian lips. He was required not to play anything challenging but instead to practise playing easy exercises in a revised lip position, or embouchure. This often happens to young players when they go off to music college: they have to unlearn everything they have previously assimilated in order to progress.

He tried, you know. But the embouchure change became an insurmountable obstacle for a teenager who was determined to dig in his heels and do exactly the opposite of what everyone around him was telling him. Despite all the support from school, from teacher, from music school tutors who at one stage put him touch with the Royal College of Music’s embouchure change expert, he never quite managed it. Because sometimes in life you’ve just got to plug away at stuff for years before you get where you want to be.

Music making that was originally a joy had become a chore. Having passed Grade 7 piano, all the extra practice required for Grade 8 was simply too much and he gave that up, despite being a fine pianist. Having once been Principal Trumpet, the poor Boywonder watched as all of his music school trumpet crew jumped over him in seniority. It did not help that his year at school also contained at least two fine and ultimately better trumpet players. If you’re quite good, it can be demoralising rather than a positive challenge to be surrounded by brilliant people. More than once he almost gave up the trumpet too, and it was only my begging that persuaded him not to. Giving up the piano when overwhelmed by O level work at 15 was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, you see, and I wanted to save him all of that heartache.

Yet he has struggled on and his undoubted musicianship has carried him through. Despite all of these setbacks he still plays in the Youth Windband, winning gold medals in national and international competitions. He has managed to secure a position as one of four trumpets in the prestigious Symphony Orchestra. Yet my daydream of being in the audience to watch him play the Haydn Trumpet Concerto at Smith Square has come to nothing, and nor has he ever played the trumpet solo in St James’s Infirmary Blues. Not to my knowledge, anyway. Grade 8 has eluded him thus far. We don’t know what he will do next.

Sadly the progress with music has mirrored his academic performance. An academic scholar, the Boywonder has only recently himself come to the realisation that not even prodigious natural ability will ever succeed without a an equal or greater amount of hard work and effort. It is not for lack of support from us, from teachers, from everyone. We have torn our hair out. It has been the most frustrating challenge in our lives for the past seven, ten years. But sometimes, people just have to earn these lessons for themselves. There is no telling them. And people often tell us that boys are more likely to behave like this than compliant, hard-working girls. Is this true? I don’t know. Perhaps boys do take longer to mature. It is just such a pity that so many life-shaping habits and hurdles crop up in the years before they are fully mature. Besides, there are plenty of boys who do seem to manage it.

Many, many rows have been had and it’s convenient, at the moment, to blame me. So I inevitably blame myself. Was I too pushy? Not pushy enough? Should I have engaged tutors or just backed off completely and left him to find himself in peace? I really don’t  know although I’ll guess that there are plenty of people just queuing up to let me know. I’ve already had one extremely hurtful character assassination. How do I feel? Weary, frustrated, sad.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know. He’s 18 now and must make his own life. We sat in the sunshine on the garden swing seat a couple of days ago, sadly contemplating this last week of school ever. I mentioned that a former schoolmate of his told her Grandma, my friend, that she’d like to go back and start all over again.

So would I,” replied the Boywonder.

“Would you?” I was taken aback.

“But this time, I’d work harder.

 

 

My Mum, the Elephant and Me #4: Doing the needful…

IMG_1877Yes, well, I’ve neglected my blog. You’ll all know why, but why not set it all out? It’s about time, after all. This is what happened:

I returned from India in mid February pleased and excited about the place for my mother at the Dignity Foundation’s Dignity Lifestyle Township in Neral, India. There was a place for her there but I didn’t feel able to reserve it for her. After all, she hadn’t quite reached that point, had she, and there were all sorts of formalities to prepare. It’s not the kind of thing one imposes on someone, is it, to admit that they can’t look after themselves and need full time care? And anyway she was shopping for herself, going out, making her own meals.

The thing was, she wasn’t.

I stayed away from my mum’s as I had the inevitable aeroplane cold on the Monday after I came back and besides I had to spend the whole day at Great Ormond Street Hospital with Miss DD. When I went to see her the following morning, it was clear that my mum hadn’t eaten for a while, perhaps a week? OH had checked on her a few days before and reported that she seemed perky and fine in herself but the house managers of her warden-assisted block had reported her shouting in the corridors and saying “Something has happened!” But what? I’m wondering now if my mum had a mini-stroke that precipitated a rapid worsening of her dementia.

She’d lost so much weight and appeared much more confused even than usual. It was imperative to get her to eat something but, try as I might, she kept refusing, assuring me that she was cooking and eating rice for herself and angrily rebutting all my attempts to feed her at least something.

It was at that point that I decided that I had to try and get her to India as soon as possible. She was in such a bad way, dressed in a dirty nightie, dehydrated, literally dried up, regularly coughing up the contents of her lungs and spitting them out wherever was convenient. I suspected bronchitis or a chest infection. She seemed so ill and hopeless that I thought just keeping her alive for the two weeks it would probably take to sort out the medical screening for the Dignity Resort was going to be a tall order. I set to work.

We have a private hospital about 2 minutes’ walk from our house and I arranged appointments for screening tests to be carried out. But they needed several referral letters from my mother’s GP, the very GP practice that had, last April, refused to listen to me and decided they could do nothing for my mother until there was a crisis. The GP practice that had ignored a request for a referral to Social Services for months.

At first the GP refused to produce the test request letters in case the tests showed up something that they would have to treat, but when I pressed him he finally consented. The couple of hours spent getting my mum to do an MRI scan; an x ray; a CT scan and blood and urine tests were fun. At one point she stood up from her wheelchair in her filthy slippers, her filthy petticoat trailing under her encrusted nightie and told me that she’d had enough and was going home. I’d had enough too. “Go on then.”  But of course she was dependent on me for everything, while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that in any way.

But nor would the doctors, it seemed. Honestly, they seemed to be trying to do as little as they could to help her. I mentioned to one of her GPs that she had taken a turn for the worse and he didn’t bat an eyelid. I felt that they were happy to leave her there to die. I honestly thought, as I climbed the flight of stairs to her flat once or twice every day with soup, bread, cake, biscuits anything she might fancy to at to raise her calorie intake, that I would walk in and find her dead on her sofa in front of the television. At one point my Nancy bag contained two leaky bottles, that OH had purchased from Boots – neither GP practice nor hospital could provide them – full of urine samples that I had urged my mother to give and I was delivering personally to the GP. I’m not kidding, I was there at least twice a day for a week.

Eventually, though, I had secured all the tests I needed apart from a consultation with a psychiatrist and an ECG. My friend @Morethanmum, a GP herself, very kindly helped me with the forms for these and, in the place of my mother’s obstructive GP, helped suggest the correct person to see, a psychogeriatrician of 25 years’ standing. A week had gone. Tickets to India were booked for the following Sunday and by this time I had secured my mother’s Indian visa, although I had to fight with the doorkeeper at the private company that handles visas on behalf of the indian government when I had neglected to take my mother’s old passport with her visa from 2011 to hand in her new visa application. If it had specified this on the webite, of course I would have taken it but luckily the supervisor at the Indian High Commission agreed to let me scan the old passport and email it to her.

I spent the following week wrangling with the community social worker, who had coincidentally booked an appointment for the previous Friday, during which time she had obviously made up her mind that I could and should be looking after my mother more and that this meant that my mother would probably not qualify for any more help. “No,” she said, “Going into residential care usually makes them worse and they go downhill.” The alternative, according to her, was that I sort out some sort of carer to come and help my mother, and meals on wheels. She simply would not accept that there was no keeping my mother in her flat if she was determined to go out, and that she would never eat the meals on wheels because she had no idea how to use her microwave to heat them up, even assuming that she would agree to eat non-Indian food cooked by someone else in the first place. Or even that she often refused to let anyone, including her cleaner, into her flat. No, the social worker knew best, and I spent hours wrangling with her on the telephone. I didn’t understand her attitude to me until, discussing it all with one or two Twitter friends, it became clear that the (South Asian) social worker’s cultural expectations of me were probably that I should be looking after my mother myself in my own home and that I was therefore somehow culturally unsuitable and letting the side down because I was honest that that was not a realistic proposition for someone who will not, cannot, accept anyone else’s needs.

Then, on the Thursday, while I was at my volunteering job, I picked up a few emails and voicemails. Apparently, the social worker had decided that my mother could no longer care for herself and wanted to admit her to hospital. Paramedics had come, followed by another of my mum’s GPs and they, together with the social worker and the Community Psychiatric Nurse, had all stood around arguing while my mother, who had pointblank refused to leave her flat, sat in the middle of them, daytime television blaring out at full volume. Picture the scene for a moment. I finished my shift and drove straight to the GP practice, whose managers had no inkling of this situation.

The Friday saw an appointment with the psychogeriatrician, who came and saw my mum and actively listened to both of us, probably the first person in the whole story to do so. She was lovely and she seemed to agree that culturally-appropriate care was going to be the best path for my mum. I saw her out and walked the dog because, you know, I still have a family and a life, and then received a phone call from the (Asian) GP who had attended my mother the previous day wherein she harangued and berated me for not visiting my mother and not ensuring that there was food in the flat.

“I’ve been visiting her every day for a week and there is soup in the fridge. Did you look in the fridge?

No we didn’t find the fridge. The flat is all upside down. Anyway we tried to call you and you refused to pick up the phone. You could not be contacted.

Goodness, this GP was so rude. Damn me for having a life outside my mother. And she simply refused to listen.

Shortly after this argument, a community social worker called who was kind, and gentle and conciliatory and totally unlike her belligerent colleague. Pamela  explained that it had been decided to admit my mother to hospital but could I go back to her flat and let the paramedics in? I did this and my mum was admitted through A&E, with me apologising to the Filipina A&E nurse for my mother’s racial abuse. “You are a very bad Chinese.”

The following days saw my mother medically stabilised very quickly of course, but no-one knew what to do with her. She could not be released back to her home if she could not look after herself. Nonetheless, they had to free up the bed in a Surgical Ward that was full of confused old ladies. On the first day, my mother’s hearing aid, her only means of communication with the outside world, was lost in the hospital, with the medical staff shrugging and saying, “Oh things do get lost. They put them down all over the place.” I was so upset: it had taken 6 weeks to obtain my mother’s new hearing aid and here it was lost. We arranged for Specsavers to visit the hospital to take a new mould of my mother’s ear, knowing that she would face the medical assessment in India the following week with no means of understanding what was going on. Miraculously, though, the hearing aid had been found by the next day but I’d like to commend Specsavers in Bromley, contracted by my mother’s GP for audio services,  for being so helpful and willing to go so far to help us.

Two fresh issues raised their head in the early part of that week. My mother was booked to have an ECG test at our local private hospital but, because she had been admitted to hospital, she would miss her appointment. However, she had had an ECG taken on admission to A&E on the previous Friday and, according to all of the medical staff there, it would be no problem to have a copy of this to take with me to India. Only no-one seemed willing to release this to me. Unfortunately, my Power Of Attorney over my mother’s affairs is an old one that has been superseded by the Lasting Power of Attorney, that specifically covers decisions relating to health matters. Of course, there was no guidance on the Government website about upgrading the Power of Attorney document and I had been advised by the Consultant Psychogeriatrician that I was making these decisions on behalf of my mother under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Sadly, the Hospital Social Worker, by whom I was harangued for an hour on at least two separate visits to my mother in hospital, did not seem to accept the expertise of the psychogeriatric consultant in the matter. Nor would she accept my pleadings that my mother was unsafe to go home to her flat because my friends had witnessed her crossing the busy road outside her block without looking.

That’s just hearsay,” she said, “You didn’t witness it yourself.”

Err no, because if I had been there myself, I would not have let her cross, would I?

Oh, Dr. C, is wrong to say that. I’m pretty sure you taking your mother to India is not covered by the Mental Capacity Act. Dr. C is  just about to retire so she’s got her facts wrong.”  

Way to impugn a senior colleague and professional. I wonder why, after 20 years, you’re still a junior?

It appeared that the nurses wanted my mother off the ward.“Your mother is going to end up killing someone by blocking the bed,” said one, particularly empathetic nurse. However, they would not let me take my mother off their hands to India because they suspected that I had no power to do so, and therefore were going to withhold the ECG printout, the last test that I needed. The hospital social worker was trying to arrange care for my mother, or was she? Apparently she didn’t want to stress me out, which is obviously why she was hunting me down to harangue me. And the community social worker was simultaneously telephoning me to tell me to have the gas in my mother’s flat disconnected because it was not safe for her to continue to live there. So which was it to be?

In the end, a call to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) secured the knowledge that I could, in fact have the ECG printout. The nurse and the hospital social worker tried to take a copy of my Power of Attorney, which I had already shown them, but by this time I was becoming distrustful of them all. Going every day to see my mother and trying for half an hour each time to find an extortionately expensive parking space and then being harangued by both my mother and the hospital staff was not one of the most gloriously happy times of my life, I can tell you. It’s not the sort of experience that puts one in a cooperative frame of mind.

By the Thursday, I had had enough and left my mother who had been repeating one sentence in a loop after a visit of 20 minutes. I yomped down the long hospital corridor towards the exit and finally became aware that I was being pursued. It was a junior doctor from the ward, Dr. Tomas Vasquez who had taken time out of his undoubtedly busy and long shift to sit me down in a conference room away from the ward whose traumas I had just left and actually listen to me. Yes, doctors, LISTEN. He’s the only one of you in this whole sorry saga who did. And he was key because his report to his senior level staff, including the psychogeriatric consultant’s findings, was an important counterbalance to that wretched junior social worker who was recommending to her superiors, sitting there in judgement over me in a situation whose facts they did not know, that they should not let me take my mother to India. If you’re out there, Dr. Vasquez, please stay one of the good guys and don’t let yourself be corrupted by the God complex that affects a lot, a lot, of doctors.

And then, on the Friday, my mum started saying that she didn’t want to go to India.

I was doing a fill-in volunteering shift on the Saturday, when OH went to the hospital and spent 4 hours trying to convince my mum that the place in India was the best place for her. Unable to listen or reason, my mother was insisting that she would go home to her flat and she could not accept that no-one was going to let her go back there to be on her own. OH remembers thinking that she was arguing away her one chance of happiness. I joined him at the hospital after my shift and reluctantly agreed that we could not take my mother out of hospital that night.

We passed a sad and sleepless evening and night, debating tearfully what on earth we should do next. If we removed my mother from the hospital bed and she refused to get in the car to the airport the next morning, or onto the plane, or if she kicked up a fuss on the plane or when we changed planes in Dubai, I would be be stuck looking after her and be a virtual prisoner in my home, supervising her until her death. My OH, in a rare emotional outburst said he loved me too much to let me do that. Aw. The authorities, having got their bed back and dispensed with her, would be happy not to have to care for her. I wrote my mother a last plea for reason, pointing out the cost of care in the UK compared with that in India and the fact that they would speak Marathi and make her own food, the key deciding factors for me. If there’s one thing that my mother detests doing, it’s spending money.

On the Sunday morning we set off for the hospital in total trepidation, not knowing what the day ahead would bring. It seemed that my final plea to my mother more or less did the trick and she agreed to go to India. While her discharge papers were being prepared and she was being washed and changed, the Matron of the ward, came and met us and talked through our problem. He agreed that the place in India was a good bet and that we did not seem like people who posed a safeguarding risk. To my immense and everlasting relief, he agreed to keep my mother’s bed open for her until the take-off time of the plane, so if she refused to board at the last minute, they would accept her for the night and then the social workers would try on the Monday morning to find a care home place for her in the UK. We could at that point have said that we had done our utmost to secure her future happiness.

My mum sat in the front seat of the car and enjoyed the drive to the airport. The Heathrow assistance staff did a first class job and whisked us through the formalities. Saying goodbye to OH who rushed to see us off after hastily parking the car was like a scene out of a film. “Have faith,” a text from the Boywonder had read, “You’re doing the right thing for Aji.”

It is probably best to draw a discreet veil over the journey to Mumbai during which my mother appeared to regress to the mentality of a demanding and not very nice toddler. I had to sit on top of her while we queued to land in Dubai to stop her taking off her seatbelt and going to the back of the plane to sleep, having forgotten that she was in an aeroplane 39,000 feet up in the air. Her feeble pinching, toothless biting and pummelling were like being set upon by Montgomery Burns. I’ll never forget the kindness of the Emirates Airlines Crew when they came and whispered to me reassuringly that I should take no notice of what anyone might say or think but that I was doing an important job and they were her to help me. I can’t fault Emirates, actually. The staff were all incredibly kind and helpful and I’m sure I would not have been able to make this journey with my mum without their constant help and consideration.

When we eventually landed in Mumbai, my mother was seized with an immediate hunger and was begging everyone around her in the immigration queue for food. I had a small spattette with the Immigration Official, who in his highly-accented English quibbled with my pronunciation of our destination. I’m afraid they can be like that in India. Having eventually cleared Immigration, we found ourselves in the new terminals’s duty free shop and I bought my mum some chocolate. But the shop would not accept Indian Rupees and had no change for a £20 note. Since I had neither Euros nor US Dollars, I had a little spat about having to pay by Debit card. After all of this my mum decided that she did not want the chocolate: she wanted something savoury. We went downstairs to find something, me not rising over a nasty pompous man who decided to pick a fight with me in the vein of “Who has flown further today?” He had flown from Chile, apparently. Like I cared. Knob.

So I changed some money and bought her a sandwich in the only open snack bar. Any good? No. It needed salt. Of course it did. And I was unable to pluck salt from the air because I am a bad person and a bad daughter.

Anyway, we found our lovely pre-arranged driver, Mr. Yuvraj Sharma who was most bemused at my mother’s condition and demands for salt.  Don’t forget that in all this time I had no idea whether my mother would be granted a place at the Dignity Resort, conditional on the agreement of the doctor on site and of the President of the Dignity Foundation, Dr. Shailu Sreenivasan. If they did not admit my mother, we’d have to return  to the UK and be back to square one, a prospect I simply could not face.

This is getting dull now but eventually we reached the Dignity resort and the heroine of the hour, the lovely and dear Dr. Asha Manocha decided to waive some technicalities and admit my mother on the spot. She said she had done this in recognition of exactly what it had taken to get my mother this far. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to her and how I continue to be astounded by her good grace and, well, dignity.

So there we are. My mother fell and broke her osteoporous hip a week after I left her to return home. I felt terrible that I’d left her there so far away but she could equally as well have fallen here, in her busy road alone and with no-one to care for her. Over there, she is surrounded by Marathi speakers and round the clock attenders to look after her. It was a tough decision but, on balance, I think, the right one.

And here endeth the tedious tale. No-one’s interested in my blog anyway, according to the Boywonder so I probably haven’t bored too many of you rigid.

The people in bold are those whom I owe a debt of gratitude for their invaluable help and support. x

A little bit of history

 

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My mother has dementia.  Fiercely independent, she lives in conditions that  healthy people might call squalid.  She has not been well for the last couple of weeks. She has chest and urinary infections and, though she protests otherwise, it is clear that she has not been eating or drinking, She will cheerfully tell me that she has made her porridge for breakfast or masala rice for her lunch and she probably believes that this is the truth. In fact her condition is such that she probably actually believes what she is telling me.

As I write, my mother is “blocking” a bed in the surgical ward of our local hospital, having been admitted from A&E yesterday. She is utterly frustrated. More so since, as I discovered this afternoon, somehow her hearing aid has gone missing and her precious lifeline to any sense of reality has been cut. Apparently, she is medically “stable” and ready to be discharged but in fact if she refuses to eat or drink and cannot remember whether or not she has taken her medication, it is difficult to know how her care can be managed until I can take her to India next week. She wants to come and live with me and is furious that I will not say yes to this. I can understand how awful things must be for her.

But yesterday, when I cast an eye over her filthy sofa cushions, trying to decide what she should take to hospital, I found this letter tucked away in the corner. A scrap of pale blue airmail paper, amazingly well preserved for 53 years. I’d never seen it before and it moved me profoundly. It was written in 1961 when my mother was 26, on the P&O  ship S.S. Strathnaver, on her way to join my father, who had moved to the UK as a student 9 years previously. He had gone back to India to find a bride, seen her ad in the paper, married within days and then left again for the UK. My mother had no idea what awaited her in the UK. She has always said that she was ready to work to fund her return home if my dad had not been at Tilbury to meet her. This is what she wrote in what, we should remember, was then her third language, to a man she barely knew:

 

Wednesday

29.3.61

10am

 

Dearest

 

I received your letter of 20th and am eagerly waiting for receiving from you another which I will have towards evening when the ship will reach to Marselles. One thing I want to let you know beforehand that I am having two baggages with me,  I will reach to Tilbury Dock at 12.45pm, Those who are travelling independently will disembark first that means at 3.30pm, so I will allow to get down at 3.30pm. As you told I did not purchased any ticket for London and it is good that if you will reach to meet me at Tilbury towards 3pm. Don’t you think so?

I purchased cigars, widies (on ship) and the rest things you have told me but I am sorry that I could not help myself in purchasing the Camera you want, as you know I hardly collected 75 Rs with me. I could not ask to your father as well as my father too. Whatever I owes, I managed to start with that only. Howsoever my father gave me 100 Rs intime. Really speaking I don’t want to explain all this at all but I hope you will agree that the essential things I ought to buy I spend money.

Did you get the remaining sum back from Cooks? We have the problem what hour and when to be returned. You can return it soon. I know that I must not worry but when I seems a thing is to be done (especiall of money) I starts thinking over that. I am your partner, no? Then it is clear that I too must partake the problem which you have to solve.

I left Port Said on 24th I felt sea-sick too much. For two days I was absolutely bed-ridden, no tea, no food, nothing. But now I am getting used of this sort. It is too cold outside. I had four three cardigans with me, but no idea what will be there when I reach to Tilbury. Now sea is quiet and I am thinking about our future, ‘Keshav’ really I cried and cried when I left Bombay and your father too. I promised him that I will come back soon but do not know quite when!

Here on the ship everything is quite nice, (food too. Of course I am vegeterian I do not like any of that but still I realise what is an English food suppose to be, Tur Dal or Mug Dal is available there? If so will you have it so that soon I will be in our home I will manage to cook. This evening we will reach Marselles. I will get ashore just to have a look, but return soon anxiously for having your letter.

Keshav I really do not know how to express my thoughts, I want to see you, to meet you, to be with you and to be in our home but when? I am counting hours, minutes and passing my days. I am yours

 

Sanjeevani.

 

Brick wall

Good morning Ms Handler of Passport Enquiries, Newport, Gwent.
In reply to your email suggesting that, because of Data Protection issues, you cannot discuss my complaint with me, made about the person at your Victoria Passport Office, who was rude and brusque and appeared to think that I had forged my mother’s signature when I was picking up her passport on her behalf, please note the following points:
My mother’s name is Mrs S xxx. Her date of birth is xxx. Her new passport number is xxx, issued on 30/1/2014 with an expiry date of 29.02.2024.
My mother has dementia and is very frail, and is currently in hospital with suspected chest and urinary infections. She is, therefore, unlikely to write the letter you request.
I am her registered Attorney and only carer. It was as such that I filled in her passport form, asking her to sign it. It was as such that I collected her passport at Victoria passport Office on her behalf.
Is it possible that you can now see how ridiculous your data protection statement, cut and pasted and in a different point size from your introductory remarks, looks on your email to me?
My whole point is that there is so little understanding by so many unaccountable civil servants on petty power trips of just how difficult it is to be a carer or someone with dementia.
This latest email of yours neatly reinforces my point, don’t you think?

On faceless, unaccountable power tripping civil servants

Thought I’d share my letter of complaint to the Passport Agency, just in case it gets “lost”:

 

Good evening.

I have been helping my elderly mother with her passport renewal application. My mother is 79 and now has mid-stage Alzheimer’s-related dementia so is unable to process complicated paperwork like this.
Due to her having been categorically failed by her NHS GP and local Social Services Department, I am hoping to take her to India, where she can be cared for in a culturally-appropriate environment, which is why I needed to renew her passport.

I elected for her passport to be delivered to her by courier but, as she is so forgetful and cannot process information very easily, she was out when the courier tried to deliver her new passport. She was sent a letter by DX explaining how she could take delivery of her new passport. She promptly forgot that she had this letter. So far, so easily remedied.

I tried to arrange online for a redelivery but DX are unable to deliver to me ( a different residential address) or my husband (a different person at a work address.) Clearly, my disabled, elderly mother cannot take delivery at her work address as she does not have one.

I then called the DX office to arrange for delivery, explaining the situation. At first your call centre representative did not want to listen to my explanation of my mother’s issue, a common problem with Government employees, I find, but then she was quite helpful. She explained that I could collect the passport this morning at the Eccleston Square Passport Office if I produced a letter of authorisation, signed by my mother; two utility bills as proof of my mother’s address and photo ID for me. As my mother cannot work a computer, I produced a letter of authorisation and asked her to sign it, which she did.

On arrival at your Passport Office this morning, I was told that my mother’s signature was not exactly the same as that on her passport and that they thought that someone else had forged her signature. I assured the rude, abrupt “customer services” employee that this was not the case and that she had signed both documents herself in her own hand. I even produced my mother’s expired passport to show that the three signatures were the same, and explained that my mother has dementia and therefore her signatures might well not exactly match, although to my untrained eye in this case they did.

More surly denials. In fact this was irrelevant, as surely a courier would not have checked for matching signatures in such detail? Your customer services assistant was very rude and abrupt and did not seem to want to listen to me. In fact it was my word against hers that my mother had actually signed both the application form and the letter of authorisation. This woman made me wait, without explanation, until her more conciliatory colleague confirmed that both signatures did in fact match. Then she pushed the passport in its envelope towards me under the counter silently, and with a sneer. I had to check that I could indeed take away the passport.

I was very upset to have been treated like this. Is life not difficult enough for those of us who have to care for elderly relatives with dementia without being impugned and doubted in this way? Is this really the way that your government wishes to treat people like me who give up our time and effort for free and are worn down by faceless, unaccountable bureaucracy? How, exactly, was I supposed to prove that my mother had indeed signed both documents? By remembering to take a photograph of her signing them, with a date imprinted on the shot? No doubt I would have been accused of faking that. What if your over-reaching jobsworth employee on a personal powertrip had decided to retain my mother’s passport? What recourse would I have had then?

This attitude is really disgusting and unacceptable in so-called “customer service” staff who are, after all, paid by the taxpayer to serve the public.

I would urge you to ensure that your staff treat those who pay their secure salaries with a little more respect and compassion in the future. And might I suggest that if you are going to make cuts, that this staff member is the first to be cut?

Yours faithfully,

MsAlliance

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