Pass It On

It has been fifty-five years since Mum lived in a flat and the noises off are new and disturbing. I expected a period of difficult adjustment but I did not anticipate delusional paranoia.

    baton pass

    At our favourite cafe, hard on the Shoreham shingle, before the sea glittering with sailboats she cannot see, Mum did as her son does: she fussed. Mum was hungry but also concerned about dinner tonight so she did not want to eat too much and yet it would be nice to join me in brunch. I made a decision and bought her a children’s portion of egg, bacon and chips. How many times on trips to the seaside, sometimes in Sussex, more often the wilder Welsh coast, had she done this for me? And laying the plate down on the plastic table I saw exactly how our roles have reversed. In Brighton she lives next door and has become my seventh, and most demanding, child. Mum has never really shaken off her first childhood (she is self-centred, petulant, given to talking and talking) but now on top of loosing her sight she is loosing her marbles.

    It has been fifty-five years since Mum lived in a flat and the noises off are new and disturbing. I expected a period of difficult adjustment but I did not anticipate delusional paranoia. She will not meet the young couple upstairs although I have twice. I met a South African bond trader and his girlfriend both recently moved from London. Mum hears guttural voices, foreign and sinister. She tells me they slide in and out of the building. She hears running water and the setting up of bizarre plumbing contraptions purloined for treatment of his illness or – she hints – his nefarious practices. Her voice drops, she will not pronounce the acts of evil (what on earth are we talking about : the dismembering of young women? the disembowelments of infants? what…?) Shew confides that he draws gas from her boiler but first she must switch it on. She confesses she has been very naughty, she has bathed in cold water to deny him what he needs. He stalks her from above, his footfall tracing her movments. On fine days he stands on the balcony (he smokes outside his flat like most nowadays) and lowers something: it could be a microphone. I sit in the living room and strive to hear what she hears but I am told he has cunningly installed insulation while she was in Lanzarote last month. Mum is on to him, he drove out another tenant, his minions come and go. He wants her out, or something worse. Can she call me in the night? I am reliving Gaslight and the madness is conatagious. When Mum told me she had not rested after brunch because she heard an accident in the street, alarm from upstairs, running and shouting, muffled cries, murder, I raced up the stairs to knock on Paul’s door. No injuries, no strangers, no blood. ”We got back half an hour ago and brought up the shopping. Fiona’s cooking, we are both fine. By the way how is your mum settling in…?”

    With my anger barely in check I took Mum’s arm and walked her unwillingly to an artist’s open house the other side of Seven Dials. She enjoyed the rooms, she loved the garden, she was greeted and feted and flattered by the family who lived there. We had tea and home made carrot cake and stroked the cats. She enjoyed it as I knew she would. Mum has always the same impact on new faces: they are struck by her elegance, her diction, her fortitude and in front of their appreciation my own is recharged.

    We were both different persons on our return. Mum relaxed, settled into our sofa and put her feet up. I fixed her a Martini. I pulled Chicken Kievs (Tesco’s finest) from the fridge, washed the broccoli and potatoes, and set them cooking. Deftly, to leave her dignity intact, I cut up her portion. I noted approvingly that she finished her plate. I congratulated her on her appetite. I walked her next door where we hugged hard as we do every night. At home again I caught up, made calls, and set tabs on the teenagers in my life. I saw the lie of the week ahead and went to bed.

    My wife is in LA at the big trade show and I am not. For two months I have worked at my new business but I have yet to generate any income. I have not dispelled this large uncertainty over money. And for no clear fucking reason my right elbow twinges and worse, my left foot has a stabbing pain. The doctor has told me to rest so I have not run for a fortnight ( if I walk briskly I hobble). I hate it that I am not earning. I hate it that Julie is not here. I hate it that I cannot run. I feel the press of the advance guard, the early scouts of age and decreptitude. I am baffled, bewildered and I want to protest. Life’s the wrong way up.

    Even I as feel it I can sense the folly because, like a capsized dinghy, many of these things will right themselves. However deep down there is a current running and in a slow heavy revolve something has turned over for good. I am a son by birth, a father in deed, an orphan in prospect. My mother’s mum moved next door to her before she died and now my mum is my neighbour. A baton is passing from one aged hand to another slightly less aged and if I quell the blather, if I am quiet for half an hour, I feel its heft and its age. It’s been travelling for generations (it’s as old as the species) and in time, if I am fortunate, I will pass it to my carer.

    In that instant I know sadness and I know joy. There is honour here, there is love, and there is service.