House Mother Introduces
Friend (I may call you friend?), these are also
our friends. We no longer refer to them as
inmates, cases, patients, or even as clients.
These particular friends are also known as NERs,
since they have no effective relatives, are
orphans in reverse, it is often said.
You may if you wish join our Social Evening,
friend. You shall see into the minds of our
eight old friends, and you shall see into my
mind. You shall follow our Social Evening
through nine different minds!
Before entering each of our old friends’ minds
you will find a few details which may be of
interest to you. A CQ count, for instance, is
given: that is, the total of correct answers
which were given in response to the ten classic
questions (Where are you now? What is this
place? What day is this? What month is it?
What year is it? How old are you? What is
your birthday? In what year were you born?
Who is on the throne now — king or queen?
Who was on the throne before?) for senile
You find our friends dining, first, and later
singing, working, playing, travelling,
competing, discussing, and finally being
~ ~ ~
Sarah Lamsonage 74 marital status widow sight 60 %hearing 75 % touch 70 % taste 85 % smell 50 % movement85 % CQ count 10 pathology contractures; incipient hallux valgus; osteo-arthritis; suspected late paraphrenia; among others.
… not like this muck, they give us muck, here, I made him
a proper dinner, gave his belly a treat after all that Gas,
but he could hardly eat, the poor boy, what I put before him
was faggots in a lovely gravy, it was something special I
made, for him, just for him, then, not like this slimy brown
muck they slosh on everything here, can’t think why they do
it, what the point is, not on my life, no. And
I could see his eyes light up as he saw it, it was really
like being at home for him, that’s when he realised it, for
the first time that first day, I think.
But then he couldn’t eat it, the first mouthful and he
was sick, he had to rush out the yard to the carsey and I was
left — Now what’s she done wrong? Mrs Ridge
in trouble again, she asks for it, she must like the twitcher,
really. I could hear him in there, standing
at the door as I was, looking at them faggots and the new peas
I’d shelled that morning, and thinking of the butter I’d
mashed his taties with and how little Ronnie had had to go
without for a week, though I gave him his Dad’s later, he
did enjoy it, that day, for his tea.
And when he came in from the yard you could
tell he was that ill, by his colour, and he asked me to come
up and lie on the bed with him, and I did, though it was just
after midday, and he just sort of lie
there, with his eyes shut and his face all
without bothering to turn down the counterpane to rest
his head on the pillow, and it was greasy with brilliantine
or something suchlike, but I couldn’t say anything could I?
Not that he touched me, he lie there with his hands crossed
across his belly, like he was dead already, not touching me,
just wanting me near him, he said, to feel I was there, and
I don’t think he could have done anything with me anyway,
then, it was months before he was a real husband
to me again, ah.
up, clear up, it’s all on the hurryup in this place.
Now what’s she
saying, how can you be quiet about clearing up knives and
forks, how can anyone? Though these cardboard plates
can’t make any noise, because if — Here, Ivy, no, I
haven’t finished yet! Last scrapings of this muck,
muck they give us here, but I’m hungry, there’s nothing
else, nothing. There. I’ll walk, at least I can still
walk, though that means she makes me do the running about.
I have to clear up and wait on the others, these bent forks
and knives, the knives not sharp at all, down here, I’m
not washing up today, the sitters can at least do that,
sitters can — Now Mrs Bowen’s knocked her plate down,
now she’ll cop it. Yes.
Her and that
dog, shouldn’t be surprised if House Mothers aren’t
really supposed to keep pets, could write to them about
it, her and that bloody great dog
Get on with it, help Ivy, get on.
She won’t get
it done sooner by shouting at me, I go as fast as I
can, yes I do, can’t go any faster.
There, at last that’s done, sit down again, next to
Charlie, later I’ll get round him for a cigarette, I
know he’s got some. Oh, not
that song again. What good does it
Better sing, though, don’t
want to cross her again, no.
The joys of life continue strong
Throughout old age, however long:
If only we can cheerful stay
And brightly welcome every day.
Not what we’ve been, not what we’ll be,
What matters most is that we’re free:
The joys of life continue strong
Throughout old age, however long.
The most important thing to do
Is stay alive and see it through:
No matter if the future’s dim,
Just keep straight on and trust in Him:
For He knows best, and brings good cheer,
Oh, lucky us, that we are here!
The most important thing to do
Is stay alive and see it through!
Well, I suppose it
pleases Her, at any rate.
her now, work, work, I’ve known nothing else all
my life, who does she think she’s taking in?
Good deed indeed, she must make something out
of all this, though it’s not sweated labour by
any manner of means, I will say that for her, it’s
not arduous, and she can’t get much for these
Christmas crackers they make, wonder who does
the fillings, the mottoes, we used to enjoy
crackers that Christmas before he went, there was
an old-fashioned Christmas if you like, it snowed
that year it did, very unusual for London to snow
on Christmas Day, don’t remember any other years
it happened, in fact, and how it changed the look
of everything, people started acting differently,
too, people you knew only to nod at suddenly
joined in snowballing in the street outside as
though you’d all been kids together, had grown up
in the same street. And we had some money for
a change, had a bird instead of a joint, a capon,
the baby had some giblet gravy with roast potato
mashed up in it, very nourishing for him it was.
Knowing he was for the Front made him
depressed, then suddenly he’d be so cheerful, such good
company, he made it a wonderful Christmas for all of
us, him and his brother, they did a sort of act for
us, Jim got up as a woman, makeup and all, we ached
from laughing, they were so comical, the pair of them,
ached from eating too much, as well, I never — Me?
Me and Charlie? Trusties, she talks to us
as though we were doing bird, indeed, one of these
days I’ll show her how trusty I am!
What’s Charlie got in them bottles, then?
Looks like gin, smells like spirits, too — she
must be at it again, the crafty old chiseller!
Still, what’s it got to do with me?
Glad I haven’t got the job, anyway, never could
stomach the smell of spirits, I told him that before
we were married, stick to your pint, I said,
don’t you come home here reeking to high heaven of
spirits, I won’t have it in my home.
Little bottles, what are they?
Soak the labels off, I bet. Use the bowl from
the sink, I’ll stand them in that, in water, would
some soap help? Do you want me to keep the labels?
My nails are broken, have been for years,
but give the bottles a good old soak and they’ll come off.
Shall I use a knife?
Good, this is an
easy job, I can get on with that, it helps to pass the
time, I don’t mind, get the bowl, fill it with water.
What’s in these little bottles? Chloro-benzo….
Can’t read it properly, whatever it is. No matter, none
of my business anyway. Charlie, have you got a fag?
Mean old sod. And
I know he smokes. Like my Ronnie, always telling
lies, I’d catch him with the fag in his hand
and he’d put it behind his back and drop it and
breathe out the smoke all over the kitchen and
swear he wasn’t smoking at all.
And he married a like one, his kind, oh I hated
that creature, bad as my Ronnie was he didn’t
deserve her, no, never. Lie, she would
lie her way black and blue out of anything, you
could catch her out any number of times and she
would still deny it. I gave up in the end, you
just couldn’t rely on anything she said, anything
at all, anything even as simple as just meeting
you for shopping, she’d lie about who she’d just
seen and what she’d just bought and how much
money she’d won on the bleeding dogs. I’d no time
for her, it must be twenty years since I saw her,
fifteen since I last saw my Ronnie, too. He came
into the pub we had in Strutton Ground then, I
was so surprised to see him walk in, he had a
Guinness and no more than a dozen words to say to
me, a dozen words, and most of them he could
hardly get out, he was that ashamed, I think,
ashamed of not going to see his old Mum for all
that length of time, months it was, perhaps a year.
Not like Laura’s son, twice a week he used to
visit her regularly, once for a cup of coffee at
lunchtime early in the week, and later — There,
that’s enough soaking, let’s see if these little
labels will come off now.
No, tough little customers they are, it’s not
waterproof paper, is it, can’t be?
Perhaps it would help if I scratched them a bit,
to let the water soak in better. A fork would
Yes, that’s easier, let’s try doing that
to all of them.
I wonder if
Ronnie knows I’m here? Not that he’d want
to visit me, no one gets any visitors here,
anyway, but I’d like to see him just the once more
before I pass over, just the once. He
wouldn’t have to see me if he didn’t want to, no,
as long as I could see him, out of a window,
perhaps, going along the road, just the once.
As long as she wasn’t
with him, the barren sow, she could never give him
any kids, and I know he always wanted kids, my
Ronnie, he was ever so good with them, look how
he used to go and play football with them until
he was quite a grown man, used to run a team for
them as well, he used to get me to wash the team
shirts each week in the winter, it was a trial
getting them dry, it was, she wouldn’t wash them,
I doubt if she washed Ronnie’s own things properly,
let alone the team’s, she was that lazy, Doris
was her name, yes, Doris, I wouldn’t want to see
her again, no, just my Ronnie, once.
Does he think I’m dead? How could
he know I’m here? Could I find him? How?
Could ask House Mother. She’d laugh at the
idea, brush it aside, take no notice, I’m
afraid of her
Now let’s see if they’ll come off Yes,
nearly there, if I have a good scrape at this one
then by the time it’s off the others will be even
more soaked, all ready.
What does she want with them?
Yellowy sort of stuff inside, yellowy, runny.
In summer there everyone seemed to take life
easily, so easily, it was as though there were
no pain, no work either, everyone had time to
just walk about, go swimming, sunbathing, get
up boat races, and go dancing. They danced a
new dance called the gavotte, or it was new to
me, anyway, being a foreigner. And they danced
in the streets, too, that was new, the streets
lit by paper lanterns in their fashion. And the
sun so hot at midday that the market-women
put up their red umbrellas for shade, and the
men went into these sort of cellar pubs that sold
wine, I never went into one, could only see down
into them that they were cool and shaded, and there
was a lot of laughing and the tables had zinc
tops and so did the bar, a long bar, the bottles
kept in holes, no labels, I was so thirsty I
went to a café down on the promenade with the
children, little Ronnie was all right but that Clarissa
was a little bastard to me, she knew she could
play me up with safety and she took advantage
of it. I could have been so happy
there, there was so much sun and the life was easy
apart from Clarissa, and she was my job, to
let her parents have some time free, free of her,
that is, for she was a little bastard to them
as well as to me. I wonder what she
could have become, she was already an Hon., I
think, Clarissa, and it was doing little Ronnie
so much good, the sea air and three good meals a
day, the food was good in that hotel, even for
those in service, and it seemed as though it
would go on for ever, the summer, the sun, and
for the first time since the War I really felt
that things were getting back to normal, though
all the ones who could remember better than I
could were saying that things would never be the
same, never could be, after the War, which I could
understand in the case of someone like myself,
who’d lost their husband because of the War, but
not those who’d not lost their nearest and dearest
in it. And it was there I
think I first got over Jim’s death, not got over
it, exactly, but accepted my lot, that I was a
young widow with a young kid, like lots of
others, that this was what my life was, that
this was what I was. In that seaside town in
France, France where Jim had got Gassed, though
not the same place, of course, and I think
Clarissa’s father may have had something to do
with it, it was the first time I had seen a
man’s parts when he tried to get me down on
my hotel bed, since Jim’s, that is, and I think
that must have made me realise there were other
men in the world, seems silly now, though at the
time it was a frightening thing to happen,
perhaps if he’d asked me, or gone about it in a
different way, I’d have let him, though I knew
it was wrong and I respected his wife, I might
even have enjoyed it, it was two years since Jim
had gone, but he was so rough and arrogant with
it, he seemed to think because I was a servant he
could order me about in anything, order me to do
that like he could order me to clean his shoes,
which I didn’t like, the brazenness of it, just
came up to me while I was at my dressing-table,
unbuttoned already he was, and seized my hand and
made me hold his part, and when I drew back,
naturally, he got rough and threw me on the bed and
would have had his way with me had I not yelled and
screamed fit to make the whole hotel hear. And
so he got up and buttoned himself up with his back
to me, swearing all the time vilely at me, and
little Ronnie woken up by all this noise, standing
up in his cot and wondering what was happening to
his Mum. And of course I didn’t last long after
that, he couldn’t look at me after that.
Clear up now. Nearly finished. Just scrape off
these last two.
There. Now give them all a wipe.
And put them all back in their nice little cardboard
sockets. One two three four
six seven forty-eight, two cases of
twenty-four is what I started with. The satisfaction
of finishing. A job well done.
Here, Missus, I’ve finished.
How nice to be thanked. The warmth.
Very pleased indeed, she said.
That pleases me. A job well done. And the time
passed, too. Now what’s she want?
Pass the Parcel? We used
to play that, didn’t we? Don’t want to
play much now. Why does she give us games?
I just want to sit quietly after working so much.
But I suppose I’d better be sociable.
Me to start?