From character Clarence’s notebook:
My sisters left one by one. Samantha went to university; Grace went off to get married and Mum said Sadie went to hell.
After a few years we moved out of the semi because Mum said we were rattling around in it like ballbearings in a box and we moved into the cottage on the East Riding near Goole. It was ours, nothing to do with the other three, just Mums and mine and we were really happy. I worked for a long time in the charity shop in town and Mum did the garden and all the things that she wanted to do before she was retired from the council, like watching TV in the morning and putting a bet on the grand national, just for the hell of it. I did the garden and built raised beds for vegetables which we had with the Sunday roast. My parsnips won a prize in a show. Mum was very proud of the house and sometimes did unnecessary cleaning and became over-sensitive about muddy boots and dirty fingers and we’d have words- but not very often, we generally got on. We watched the lottery show on Saturday nights , a lucky dip ticket each, and sometimes we won a three number prize but never the bloody stupid raffle one with colours and numbers- what is the point we said if you never bloody win anything? Master chef was a favourite on the box and for my birthday one year Mum bought me a cookery book and I never looked back. For a bit we fought about who would cook the tea but after a while Mum gave up and handed the kitchen over to me. Too many cooks and all that. I would rustle something up most nights and cook carrot cake or lemon drizzle on a Friday afternoon to see us through the weekend.
I didn’t see it coming at first. No one did. It was really gentle, the change in her, like a door being shut really quietly on a latch.
She began to get words wrong, she’d say mozzerllie instead of mozzarella and keep asking me to guess who she was talking about from what they were wearing or some strange clue like what they smelled like. I called Sam then. She didn’t want to but she paid a visit. She was really annoyed because it was a campaign launch or something and the world was going to stop turning without her. She said I was to stop over reacting and that it was nothing to worry about, just Mum getting older, to keep my hair on but to let her know if there were any serious problems and then she bombed off in her fancy car- she never stayed long. Then there started to be a problem with mealtimes and eating the right food- all she wanted was cream cakes and chocolate and sometimes she’d burst out singing or crying for no reason. I think she was really sad. I had to do more and more. I tried to keep everything how she wanted it but it was hard. All the vegetables died in the garden, even the parsnips, and I had to start helping Mum to have baths. We didn’t talk like we used to. She was in her own world. And then one day we went to Scarborough like we always did for a long weekend, Mum’d booked it the year before, but we spent hours walking along the seafront because she couldn’t remember which B and B it was and in the end we gave up and just came home. We didn’t even have an ice cream. Then there was the last Christmas when Sam and Grace came over at 11 and stayed until Christmas lunch. There was lots of shouting and whispering in the kitchen and then Grace left really quickly crying. Sam told me she was getting some help in and then left us with our presents. She gave mum an electric toothbrush which wasn’t a very good present because she had false teeth and it took ages explaining what it was- eventually I just left it out in the shed and wrapped up a bar of dairy milk and pretended that it was from Sam and mum was happy with that. I loved my present though- it was a tablet and I could use it to get online (Sam fixed all that) and my life really began. Mum was difficult- I preferred the internet. The first woman came three times a week. She wore a uniform and had patent shoes. I hated her. She was angry all the time and shouted at Mum and I caught her stealing money out of her purse- I phoned Sam and that was the end of her. The second one was from Lodz in Poland and was learning English and Mum couldn’t understand what she was saying so they’d just make strange baby noises at each other and it drove me mad. That one left because she’d got a better job- she left a note with a box of Maltesers. That’s when it happened. I got really good on the tablet then.
I Love You Baby Clarence’s Mum has a long struggle with Alzheimers, providing the catalyst for a family crisis, and the renewed understanding of humanity which is at the very heart of the play.
Youth is valued and revered, age is feared, patronised, and increasingly and very sadly, in the context of an ageing population and austerity agenda, considered costly and burdensome.
The fruit of the welfare state and other revolutionary and beneficial social reforms of the 1940’s and 50’s have seen health and longevity among older people improve rapidly and the life expectancy of new babies born today leap to 100.
Sadly however there’s a palpable guilt affecting older people who are made to feel less than valued for drawing a pension, using a bus pass, receiving winter fuel allowance and simply being alive for too long when lower income and younger age groups are being financially squeezed.
The ageing process, a decelerating roller coaster we’re all on like it or not, is viewed with suspicion and fear and kept at bay with a facile focus on the physical aspects of decline- hair loss, vision issues, joint pain, memory problems- and a desire to label and compartmentalise older people as being in the throws of dementia at the first sign of forgetting a name or number (Something that affects most of us from age 8 up).
In popular comedy in recent years old age has become increasingly cruelly mocked though in some respects reversed via the ‘warmedy’ of the BBC’s Mrs. Brown Boys – though even in this instance an older women is portrayed by a man and one wonders if an actual ‘older actress’ playing the role would receive the same laugh quotient.
Older people are insightful, knowledgeable, interested, talented, valuable and, once they’re gone, missed as the cohesive glue they often are within contemporary families, providing childcare, financial assistance, emotional support and a world view informed by witnessing decades of world events and political sea changes.
The older people we meet are those who’ve survived the relentlessly rocky road of life and that in itself is worthy of respect.
Dis-ease, disability and old age affects all of us at some point, these different ways of experiencing life inform and enrich the human experience.
These terrific paintings are all by Dutch artist Marius Van Dokkum.
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