The first three months of 2020 haven’t been quite what I expected – and this doesn’t have much to do with COVID-19.
To set the scene I need to go back a few months. If you have ever read anything about us you will already know that we spend much of our time designing, knitting, teaching online and pursuing other crafty activities. You probably also know that Steve’s other passion is Barbershop singing. He belongs to Cottontown Chorus who have been National Champions seven times. Their last gold medal was in 2018. By the rules of the national organisation they were not able to compete in 2019 and have been preparing to fight for the crown in 2020.
In 2019 they did enter another competition, as half of a mixed chorus, called A Kind of Magic, with Amersham A Cappella. Another gold medal! These are their competition performances.
They were scheduled to sing together again this year. Obviously all performances are now cancelled or postponed.
I have a 91-year old stepfather who has no relatives other than the three of us. He lives over a hundred miles from where any of us are. He has been living on his own for eleven years and managing very well until last year. Despite his age he is still a very intelligent man who does The Telegraph crossword every day and still enjoys playing snooker, having been a very serious, and successful, player in years gone by. His other love is TV comedy programmes and a weekly copy of Radio Times is one of his few requirements. Unfortunately, his short-term memory is not as good as it was and, by his own admission, he is ‘easily persuaded’.
I think he is of the opinion that any advert in the Radio Times must be good. He seems to have bought several things by responding to adverts, including unbelievably expensive hearing aids.
During 2019 he was visited several times by people doing unnecessary work on his house. His neighbours have been keeping an eye on him. Nevertheless two lady gardeners came back several times and charged extortionate amounts of money for very small jobs that didn’t really need doing.
In the summer we suggested he might find a mobility scooter useful and he was quite keen on the idea. He was beginning to find the uphill, mile-long, walk to the newspaper shop a bit demanding. We were determined to prevent him ordering one randomly from an advert so we took him, there and then, to a local stockist. He enjoyed riding round their car park and decided he didn’t want a ‘sporty’ version but he did want the 8 mph version that would allow him to ride on the road. He was happy to have the one he tried out even though it had vivid green panels on it. This probably had something to do with the discount he got for it being a display model. It was delivered the next day and he was like a kid with a new toy. It gave him a new lease of life and he started going to places he hadn’t been for a while.
When Autumn came I was worried that he was still going out in his car on cold and wet days. We first bought him a new warm, waterproof, mountaineering coat and then ordered, and paid for, a see-through cover for the scooter. This was supposed to take about three weeks to arrive but that is not quite what happened.
As Christmas approached we tried to persuade him to spend Christmas with us but he wanted to stay at home. He said he was happiest at home, in his own chair with his own television. Steve and I stayed at home and Ben came to visit. Nothing is conventional when Ben is around. Having checked the weather forecast, and finding that Christmas Day was likely to be the only clear day, he wanted to spend it taking photographs from a hill near Stalybridge (which is near Manchester). We duly trundled off to the hill but it wasn’t as clear as he anticipated and the photos weren’t good enough. However, he went back, alone, a few days later and produced this. The aim was to show the city of Manchester in the foreground and the city of Liverpool in the distance.
Click here to see how the video was made
2019 turned into 2020 and life started to get chaotic. We went to visit Arthur around New Year. One good thing about this was that he still had his Christmas cards up and amongst them was one from the company he had bought his hearing aids from. Until then I had no idea where they came from and he couldn’t remember anything. I only knew that they didn’t work. Once I had a name I was able to contact the company and insist that they went to see him to sort out the problem.
They made an appointment. He wrote it on a piece of paper and, apparently, stood it on the table. I phoned him the night before to remind him. The person turned up – and Arthur wasn’t there. He had followed his daily routine of fetching his own newspaper and those of his neighbours. He came straight back because he knew he had to be in but then forgot and went out again. The appointment was rearranged to late February and then, by some happy fluke, they had a cancellation and turned up on February 10. This was a very good thing because a lot had happened in the interim. There was an easy solution to the hearing problem – he had spent a year trying to put the aids in the wrong ears.
In-between times the two women had been back. According to the neighbours they always seemed to turn up when it was raining. On this occasion it was raining and they ‘painted the fence’. This fence is three uprights with a couple of slats going across. There was also a very garbled story about one of the tyres on the car having a hole in it. We don’t know exactly what happened but it resulted in them taking him to the bank and he paid them £800. It was very unfortunate that he had that amount of money at his disposal. I took over his financial affairs some time ago and, under normal circumstances, he would only have had a very small amount of money. On this day some money had been returned to his account because of some complication caused by the Power of Attorney rules.
We immediately contacted the police and the local safeguarding team. They weren’t able to do a great deal but I have to say that they went out of their way to reassure, and try to help, all the elderly people nearby.
At this point we decided that Arthur was becoming too vulnerable to stay where he was. We had never before mentioned that he might be better elsewhere. We were sure he wanted his independence and he was, on the whole, coping well. He went out every day for newspapers and shopping. It was worrying that he was still driving. The police had also asked about that and I was able to say that he was legal. He had tax, insurance, MOT, and his driving licence was up-to-date.
We started to make enquiries about where he could possibly move to. We found a place that seemed ideal. It was a self-contained flat in a secure building that was specially built to accommodate mobility scooters (even large ones) in the corridors and lifts. It had dining and recreational facilities, etc. and enough care to be sure that people were safe but still able to be independent. The only tricky bit was that, under their particular rules, he could not buy the property without selling his own house as it would be considered to be a second home.
We were very hesitant about broaching the subject to him but we needn’t have worried. The house was put up for sale and the process started. There were several viewings, which weren’t without incident. Following the warnings from the police he refused to let the estate agent into the house even though an appointment had been made and I had told him to write down that someone was coming. Fortunately the agent is the owner of a small family business and was happy to phone me so that Arthur could check it was OK.
Within a couple of weeks he received an offer but we turned it down. We were hoping for more. It proved to be a good thing because almost immediately Arthur started to hint that he might like somewhere where there would be more care. In particular he would like someone to cook for him.
Complete change of plan! We started to look at care homes. He didn’t like the first one because it was full of ‘old people’. A high point was when I recognised a name that I knew, on one of the doors. It was the person I thought it was so the staff went and found the lady in question. She was someone that Arthur had been at school with, more than 70 years ago, and I had worked with, nearly 50 years ago. She was delighted to see us but a rather strange conversation followed.
The next home looked better but the staff there suggested that one of their sister homes might be even better. Arthur has lived in the same town all his life and this other home was about six miles away so we weren’t sure he would want to be so far away from friends. We took him to visit and it couldn’t have been better. He could take his scooter if he was happy to keep it in his room. It is just across the road from shops and the bus station. Less than half a mile away is a proper old-fashioned snooker club. We visited on Friday. They had vacancies. On Sunday, on our way home, we called in again and told them he would like to go there.
There should have been two assessments but they were able to circumvent one because they had already seen him and talked to him enough to know that his problems were only old age and poor memory. There was nothing more serious. The official assessment was on Wednesday. On the same afternoon they phoned to say they were happy to take him and asked when would we like him to move in. The reply was, ‘As soon as possible.’ To my amazement, they said, ‘This weekend?’
How do you start from scratch and move someone from their home of 40 plus years in just a couple of days? We dropped everything else and went. ‘Stressful’, ‘hectic’ and ‘chaotic’ probably describe what was really going on whilst appearing to be calm and normal.
From Arthur’s point of view, Saturday went without a hitch. We took his clothes, books, television, a few possessions, and his favourite chair. The room was furnished and the furniture could either be left or removed. He was happy to keep what was there but needed a bookcase. Fortunately there is an Ikea only about ten miles away so Steve and Ben trundled off to buy a tall bookcase and proceeded to assemble it in the room, much to the amusement of the staff. Arthur settled in so quickly that at one point we turned round and realised he was missing. It was tea-time so he had gone off to one of the two dining rooms.
We called in again on our way home on Sunday and, as things have turned out, that day, February 16, was the last day we were able to see him ‘in the flesh’.
By one of those strange coincidences the mobility scooter was ready for delivery on the Monday. This was several weeks after originally intended as there had been problems with Christmas holidays, getting the metal for the frame, etc., etc. It was delivered direct to the home and they were even able to find a room where it could be stored.
His car didn’t hang around long either. As soon as it became known that he was going, a neighbour asked to buy the car. Who wouldn’t want a car that is 15 years old with less than 14,000 miles on the clock, and a full service history to prove it.
The next question was what to do about the house. To cut short a long story, we decided to rent not sell. It was taken off the market and we needed to get it ready for rental. I have forgotten exactly when, and how often, we went back but, with a lot of hard work it quickly got cleared and cleaned. We were very fortunate that there was a warehouse-style charity shop only about two miles away and the refuse tip was a similar distance. The charity shop would take absolutely everything so we took most of the furniture and several carloads of smaller items.
Shortly after Arthur moved in several residents in the home contracted a stomach bug and the home was in lockdown. It opened up again for a short while, at a time when we weren’t able to get there and then Covid-19 reared its head and they were in lockdown again.
Our final trip to the house was at the time when self-isolation was just beginning and only a few days before vulnerable people like me were told to stay indoors. We managed to get there, finish what we needed to do, and get back, without having to mix with other people. The letting agent arranged for all the walls to be painted, for some minor repairs to be done, and for new carpets to be fitted throughout. Goodness knows how long it will now have to stand empty before anyone is able to move into it.
The only people we encountered were the reception staff at the home. I have always been very keen on technology and as soon as I realised that this virus was going to cause big problems we bought a Facebook Portal Mini for Arthur. We have always had trouble communicating with him by phone – but that’s a whole other story. This modern technology seemed ideal but we weren’t sure how we could get it to him and explain how to use it. We wrote instructions then went to the home and set it up in their reception. We explained it to the handyman, who is in no way tech-savvy, and he took it to Arthur. It worked immediately so at least we can now see him and talk to him.
I am extremely relieved that Arthur is safe inside the home and we don’t need to worry about whether he is managing to get food and look after himself. The speed of moving him into the home caused havoc all round but turned out to be a very good thing.
I’m not sure how so much can have happened in so short a time but it isn’t all that was going on. In the midst of this I walked into the end of the bed and sustained a nasty injury to my leg. My skin is so fragile this isn’t a particularly rare occurrence. It was the kind of injury that most people would go to A&E with but I know, from past experience, that they would only be able to pull the wound together with steri-strips and dress it. I was able to do that myself as I always carry the necessary equipment. After a couple of weeks, when it wasn’t healing as well as I would have liked, I did resort to going to the local health centre twice a week to get more specific treatment. As if that wasn’t enough I also had a lump removed from my arm so most of the cleaning and sorting was done with fifteen stitches in my arm.
February 2, or 02022020, was a significant day. Not only was it a mathematically lovely date, it was also Ben’s birthday and exactly a third of a century since I had my kidney transplant. I have written about this elsewhere. This is amazing. It also makes me a very vulnerable person.
Under the Covid-19 restrictions I am now ‘shielded’ for twelve weeks. The health centre nurse was willing to visit me at home but instead, to help relieve pressure on their services, I have been given various dressings and advice on which to use at what stage. She is always available on the phone and will come out if necessary.
To add to the fun, late one evening we were watching TV when there was a strange but small noise, the TV and lights flashed off and back on again. It was so quick it didn’t interfere with the router or anything else. We didn’t take a great deal of notice. About half an hour later there was a louder noise and the same thing happened again. More worryingly a large cloud of smoke went past the window of our upstairs lounge. Our house looks like this, from the side so you can imagine how high the smoke travelled
We went round all four floors to see if we could find anything that had been damaged and were completely mystified. By the time we had been all round and came back to look out of the window there were two electricity board vehicles outside and men looking around. Steve went out to speak to them and was told that a high voltage cable had exploded underground. By about 2 o’clock they had made it safe and erected barriers all round. I was very impressed by the speed with which they arrived. It took about two weeks to dig down, repair, fill the hole and re-lay the stones.
We acquired quite a lot of stuff when we cleared Arthur’s house. We have a big house so we’ve plenty of room – or so you might think. It is already pretty full with all our craft-related stuff. It would have been a bit easier if Steve had not also taken over responsibility for Cottontown Chorus’ wardrobe. He is Vice-Chairman of the chorus and already spends a lot of time doing things for the good of the chorus. He arrives at rehearsals early every week (with a couple of other people) to help get out the risers (The curved step a chorus stands on) and he videos and edits every rehearsal to put on YouTube for the members. When the person in charge of the wardrobe became ill late last year he volunteered to take over that job too. It is an onerous task at the best of times but was made even worse because the school where they rehearse, and store the uniforms, is undergoing a refit and everything had to be moved. Of course, the obvious place for all the spare equipment was our ‘big house’. We are now guardians of about 40 dinner suits, dozens of white shirts plus red shirts … and black shoes … and black and white shoes … and bow ties … and slim ties … and other items to numerous to mention.
We would tidy up our own stuff but the recycling centre has been closed so there would be nowhere to take the rubbish. So here we are, a quarter of the way through the year, in lockdown, safe and well, surrounded by other people’s property but able to communicate with the outside world and with plenty to keep us busy.
I end with a video, taken on a phone, on March 7. This was the last performance by Cottontown Chorus before self-isolation began. They were singing The Climb with Crystal Chords at the Royal Northern College of Music.