Mrs Roberts, from number twenty three, likes her John Collins made with Sapphire Gin and I was just opening a new bottle when the phone rang.
‘Can you get that dear?’ I called out to my wife Isabel.
‘I’m up to my elbows in canapes and guests, you’ll have to get it,’ she replied.
So, there I am at eight thirty in the evening on New Years Eve, standing in my hallway with a long John Collins in one hand and the telephone in the other. A yellow paper party hat sits at a jaunty angle on my head and I’ve developed an annoying tic in my left eye. Mrs Roberts shouts from the lounge, ‘Have you got my drink Charlie?’
I ignore her and speak into the receiver, ‘hello, Charlie Speke.’
‘It isn’t Charlie, it’s Sister Mayborne from the nursing home.’
‘No, My name is Charlie Speke, how can I help you Sister?’
‘Is your mother with you?’
‘No, she should be with you, isn’t that what we pay you for?’ I couldn’t help it, the sarcasm just came naturally.
‘We have a problem Mr Speke, we can’t seem to find her.’
I experienced a slight dilemma at that point, should I say something flippant such as; you can hardly miss her, she’s eighty five and confined to a wheelchair or should I err on the side of brevity and just say, Oh dear!
Truth to tell, I wasn’t worried because as I had stated to the Sister my dear old mother is eighty five and is confined to a wheelchair. She suffers with arthritic hands, second stage COPD and has to rely on a member of staff to push her from A to B. How far could she go in a small nursing home?
‘Are you still there Mr Speke?’
‘Yes Sister, I’m still here. Sorry for the silence but I was just puzzled as to how you can lose an old lady. She is hardly likely to have climbed out of a window as she is permanently hooked up to an oxygen bottle which she carries on her wheelchair and if she had made a dash for the door your security would have seen her. I take it that you have searched thoroughly?’
‘Mr Speke, I didn’t call you on the telephone for a lesson in sarcasm! We are extremely concerned for the safety of your mother and I thought, no, expected that you would share in our anxiety!’ She said tersely.
‘Believe me Sister I do share your anxiety, what I do not share is your responsibility. My mother, who we have trusted to your care, is missing and you ask me if she is here. We live exactly thirty six point eight two miles from the nursing home according to my sat nav and unless you are suggesting that my mother snuck out of the Home and propelled herself the said thirty six point eight two miles to my home in her wheelchair then I’m afraid you will need to look closer to home. Have you called the police yet?’
‘No, she couldn’t have got out of the building, all the doors are locked at eight pm and the two gates to the grounds are locked at the same time. I thought perhaps either you or your wife had visited earlier and taken her for the New Year.’
‘No, we planned to visit tomorrow and my mother knew that …
‘Where’s my John Collins?’
‘I’m on the phone, Mrs Roberts, be with you in a moment.’
‘You have obviously got more important things to do than worry about your mother..
‘Hang on Sister, leave the guilt trip at the home for the bewildered! My mother hosted this New Years Eve soirée for forty years and this is the first year she has been absent. She asked me to take over for her and that is precisely why we arranged to see her tomorrow and not today. . .’
‘In a minute Mrs Roberts!’
My wife comes up to me and I gesture for her to take the damned John Collins out of my hand and give it to Mrs Roberts. Its a wonder I haven’t got frostbite of the fingers by now. My wife takes the drink and is mouthing at me, w h o i s i t ?
‘Its the Home, dear. They’ve lost your mother-in-law!’
‘I’d hardly put it like that Mr Speke,’ wails the Sister.
‘Unless she has been abducted by aliens or a psychopathic porter I can see no other way of putting it, can you Sister? As a matter of interest, when was the last time you did see her?’
‘She was in the dining room at lunch time and in the afternoon she was in the day room playing cards with Mr Aphrodite. They seemed to getting on like a house on fire, then at around four one of my staff had to wheel him away in order to change his bag and give him a shower. We assumed that your mother had retired to her room.’
‘From where did that assumption spring? We have already established that she cannot propel herself anywhere.’
‘Actually Mr Speke, she can! We try to discourage it but she is a very willful woman. The arthritis in her hands has reacted well to the new drugs she has been prescribed although her main problem is the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It distresses her when she does too much and it doesn’t help that she still sneaks off for a crafty cigarette every now and then.’
‘Let me get this right, you allow her to smoke, you allow her to propel herself around in the wheelchair; which part of “Care and Home” and I missing here Sister?’
‘Good bye, Mr Speke, I am going to do as you suggest and phone for the police. Goodnight!’
I put the phone down and stand, staring at it. Giving the appearance of being deep in thought but not actually thinking anything. I’m just angry, angry with the Home and angry with my mother. My wife walks up to and asks, ‘what on earth is going on?’
‘You know as much as me dear, apparently “The Home” can’t find mother. I mean, for God’s sake, how can they be so careless? She hasn’t been seen since four this afternoon and they decide to phone me at, what? What time is it now?’
‘Eight forty five or thereabouts dear,’ replies my wife.
‘They haven’t seen her for nearly five hours and they decide to ring me at eight bloody forty five!’
‘Calm down Charlie, here have a drink,’ she says and hands me a glass of whisky. ‘I wasn’t sure how long you were going to be so I thought you might like it.’
‘Like it,’ I said, ‘ I’ve never needed a good strong drink so much in my life!’
‘What are we going to do?’ She asked.
By ‘we’ she meant ‘you’, have you noticed how women have this subtle way of putting things. She really meant, ‘I’ll tell you what to do but you must do it;and do it now!’ Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I’m grateful for the intervention, its just that on occasion I would like to just sit and mull things over before I’m forced to spring into action. Mother typifies the species, take this party for instance; she gave me a guest list two months ago and a shopping list last week. The invitations had to read, eight for eight thirty and we were to eject everyone by one a.m. Drinks instructions were written on a separate piece of paper, for example: Mrs Roberts only drinks John Collins and these have to be made with freshly squeezed lemon, caster sugar, Bombay Sapphire gin and soda water.
She had written the quantities below the instruction. The instructions went on to say, limit Fred Perkins to two port and lemon otherwise he gets silly. His wife Hilda only drinks tea but she will have a pale sherry to see the New Year in.
Six pages of instructions, I ask you! The only person not having a good time is me. The ringing of the door bell is a welcome distraction. ‘Hello Alf, hello Gertie; nice to see you, go on through. My wife, who is now stationed at the living room door, ushers them through. No sooner are they ensconced, the door bell rings again; Mr & Mrs Atkins from number thirty five. He’s got a gammy leg, apparently he fell off the number twenty two bus and fractured it in three places. That was four years ago on his forty fifth birthday, hasn’t worked since and has to rely on his wife Lil for support.
“Hello Andy, hello Lil, how you both doing?’
‘It’s been hard this year Charlie what with me leg and our Lil’s gout, be glad to see the back of it I will, won’t we Lil?’
‘Excuse me Andy,’ I say, ‘Geoff and Molly Crosier are just coming up the path and I’d better help him with her wheelchair, Isabel will see to you.’ I did a silly thing there in trying to engage Andy in conversation. He’s got a world record in boredom has that bloke.
‘Can I help you there Geoff, hello Molly; let’s get you inside.’
According to my watch it’s now nine fifteen and the Home hasn’t called back yet. All the guest have arrived and are tucking into prawn vol-au -vents, sausage rolls and any other free snack they can get their teeth into. I’m standing in the hallway hovering over the telephone although I’m not sure what I will do if it should ring as I have a glass of whisky in one hand and an onion bhajee in the other.
It isn’t even my hallway, my mother insisted that Isabel and I move into her house when she went to the Home. It was a sort of short term compromise. We agreed to stay for six months and put it on the market if she agreed to go into the Nutkin Paradise Home for the Elderly. She went into the Home in October and we are still in the throes of getting the house into a saleable state. The Estate Agents reckon we should aim for the first week in February to put it on the market.
Anyway, I’m pacing the well trodden parquet flooring when the door bell rings. I automatically reach for the knob on the Yale lock and realise, just in time that I still have an onion bhajee in my hand. I put it in my mouth, holding it between my teeth. Imagine my surprise when I open the door to find a fully uniformed police officer standing on my doorstep. ‘Good evening sir, does a Mister Charles Speke live at this address?’ he asks me.
‘Yoo wha wha,’ I answer.
He looks puzzled and no wonder, in front of him stands a dribbling idiot with something brown and nasty sticking out of his mouth and a glass of amber liquid sloshing about in a glass loosely held his hand. To top it all, he can’t speak! I wonder he didn’t go straight for the pepper spray.
I take the soggy bhajee from my mouth and try again. ‘Sorry Officer, I’m Charlie Speke.’
He seems to relax a little and then says, ‘My colleague and I have a lady in our vehicle who claims to be your mother, would you mind stepping outside, sir?’
My gob has never been so smacked, I drop the onion bargee onto Mother’s parquet and follow him down the path, spilling whisky at every step. I reach the gate and see her, sitting in the back of the patrol car with her clear plastic tubing in situ feeding life giving oxygen through her nose. The officer opens the door and mother says to me, ‘what have I told you about drinking in the street, Charlie? You’ll go the same way as your father. Now, help PC Wainwright get my chair out of the boot. Charlie! are you listening? Help the officer.’
I put the whisky on the wall and do as I’m told, once we have re assembled the chair PC Wainwright and I help her out of the car and into it.
‘Run along inside Charles and get these gentlemen a cup of tea each, PC Gooding will push me to the door.’
It is at this point that I come out of my temporary shock. ‘Hold on a minute Mum, why are you here? You realise that you have got the staff at the Home running around like headless chickens looking for you?’
‘Well you can phone them and tell them not to worry, that is, once you have made some tea for theses two gentlemen.’
I turn to PC Wainwright and ask, ‘where did you find her?’
‘We didn’t, she arrived at the police station in town and asked if we could take her home. I don’t know how she managed it but our sergeant agreed and called us in to the station to pick her up.’
‘How did she get to the station? How did you get to the station mother?’ I asked, getting angrier by the minute.
‘Taxi’, she replies, matter of factly. ‘Now are you going to get the tea or do I have to wheel myself inside and do it myself?’
‘Taxi!’ I exclaim. ‘Do you realise the trouble you have caused tonight?’
‘Charles, dear. Did you really think that I would let you host my New Years Eve party in my absence? Of course not, now run along and sort that tea out these gentlemen lead busy lives.’
I shrug my shoulders, turn and head for the house. Outwardly I’m seething but inside I’m quite proud of the old stick. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do what she has just done.