O For the Memories

Crouch End has always been a wonderful place to live. It’s a suburb of our capital city but has a unique village feel which compliments a vibrant London arts’ vibe. I’ve always felt safe and secure and barely witnessed a cross word.

That is until I entered the world of our senior residents. In talking to friends, this is not a phenomenon unique to N8 and seems to penetrate our senior community globally. I wonder if the swearing nan in Catherine Tate’s show inspired our genteel senior community to be more verbally expressive…

After an afternoon of community bingo deteriorated in such a fashion last week I wanted to know what happened thereafter, but also didn’t want to know. I hadn’t heard from Lil or Armando since the episode with Bill, which I hoped was a positive sign.

The sun was pouring through my bedroom curtains and I had no time to dawdle or procrastinate further and was up and ready to go – shorts and an Amy Winehouse T shirt prepared me for Breakfast Club.

Lil wasn’t yet in situ and I took the opportunity to extract an update from Armando.

‘I found him two streets away sitting on someone’s wall. He looked a-confused. He couldn’t explain what happened.’

Armando paused his explanation as our first pot of tea arrived. I could feel the warmth radiating from its welcoming centre. It didn’t matter how high the outside temperatures climbed; I had to start Breakfast Club, or in fact any day, with tea.

‘I took him home, and let me tell you, he hadn’t been looking after himself properly for quite a while judging by the state of his flat. I telephoned his daughter and she asked me to stay with him until she arrived, which I did. I haven’t heard anything else.’ Armando finished his story and started to pour our tea. I always appreciate a china cup, irrespective of a mismatched saucer. Is it in my mind or does tea taste better when consumed from china crockery?

‘Pour the third cup please Armando,’ said Lil as she sat down to join us.

We greeted with our routine, tender kisses. Lil was not decked out in finery this week, and had a simple white blouse with a beige cardigan. Her hair, however, was electric blue. She’d been at the rinse bottle again.

‘Nice hair Lil,’ I said. She nodded her gratitude at my comment. ‘Tory blue is it?’ I added.

Armando jumped in before Lil had chance to answer. ‘Any news of Bill? I didn’t want to trouble his daughter.’

The waitress was back to take our order. Armando and I requested granola with yoghurt and berries. Lil ordered a full English. I wasn’t surprised; not only because it was habitual but the hair would require feeding too.

‘It’s been a dreadful week for Bill and his family. I spoke to Penny, his daughter. She went to his GP’s the morning after she arrived, which would have been Friday, and demanded an emergency appointment. He was on a waiting list to get memory tests completed as you know, and they brought the session forward to Monday.’

Lil stopped speaking and looked towards the door. I wondered if she were hoping Bill would walk through and save her from continuing. From our previous discussions we knew the percentage chance of Bill developing dementia was high at his age, and that the memory tests were a key component of diagnosis.

Lil was distracted as she greeted another elderly patron of the café. Apparently this one was called Mrs McAleen. She spoke with a strong Irish accent and was waiting for her brother Marty who was joining her for morning coffee, although she would be having a Coca-Cola, or so she informed us. Her spectacles wouldn’t have looked out of place on Dame Edna Everidge. Mrs McAleen moved away to await her company as our breakfasts arrived. I managed to drain another cup of tea for myself from the depleted pot and sent for another. I was particularly thirsty today. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the bottle of Oloroso which evaporated in my presence the previous evening.

‘I took a chance and paid an impromptu visit on Tuesday morning to find his sister packing up some of his stuff. She explained that the tests had proven inconclusive, or at least confirmed that he wasn’t suffering from dementia but they were concerned he was confused to such a degree and not taking care of himself. Anyway, Penny told me that they had decided to take Dad, as she called him, back to theirs for an extended visit to keep an eye on him. Bill and I went out for a morning tea, at her suggestion, while she continued loading items into battered suitcases.’

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the departure of Bill. He was jolly and fun, and for a time had made Lil happy. I wasn’t confident their journey together should as yet be snuffed out.

Lil was carving a fat, skin encased sausage. She dipped a piece in the semi-congealed yolk of her egg before inserting the fork into her mouth.

‘Armando, I think this sausage is off. It tastes weird,’ Lil exclaimed as she extracted the contents of her mouth into the handkerchief which was conveniently tucked into the sleeve of her cardigan.

Armando didn’t appreciate the sudden change of conversation or the criticism of his produce, and put his hands on his hips and said ‘Nothing wrong with sausage. They are fresh,’ and glared at Lil.

‘Maybe it’s the new flavoured sausages,’ said a passing waitress.

‘What? What’s wrong with the bangers you usually serve up?’ asked Lil.

‘Lil, please stop it. We are using local wild boar and apple sausages, and we never used what you call bangers.’ Armando was being firm despite Lil’s latest woe. The café was his business and he was proud of its achievements.

Lil realised she had overstepped the mark and had already, adeptly, slipped the squelching full hankie into her handbag.

‘Sorry. Maybe I overreacted. I’ll try again. I thought it was off, not apple.’ Lil cut a thinner sliver of sausage and coated it in ketchup, added a button mushroom and popped the new combination into her mouth. I didn’t want sausagegate to stunt the story and decided to encourage its continuation.

‘What happened next Lil? Did you go out with Bill?’

‘Yes Wayne.’ Lil looked relieved to be back to her traumatic tale and away from potential disagreement with Armando.

She continued, ‘We went to small café near Bill’s flat.’

Armando huffed gently. I hoped we weren’t now going to get knocked off course again to discuss the choice of café.

‘We wanted somewhere quiet to talk. I’d have preferred to come to Armando’s, but it’s too bustling.’ Good Lil, very smooth I thought.

‘“I don’t know what is wrong with me Lil, and I’m scared” Bill said as soon as we sat down with a pot and two slices of walnut cake. I didn’t know what to say to that,’ said Lil.

She hesitated and added additional salt to her setting yolk. I refrained from pointing out that she’d already salted it once.

‘“They said it isn’t dementia…yet. So does that mean it’s on its way?” he’d asked next. There was a real fear in his eyes.  Goodness I still didn’t have any answers and instead took a bite of my cake.

It then got worse.

He took me hand and said “I’d wanted you and me to enjoy a few good years together, before we had to deal with anything like this.” I went to speak and reassure him but he wasn’t finished.’

Lil paused again. Armando and I were finishing our bowls and trying not to scrape our spoons against the sides as we extracted the final remnants of yoghurt covered granola.

‘Oh Wayne, he carried on,“I don’t know what to do next, but I know if this is a sign of what’s coming then I don’t want you to be part of it. It’s not fair and I’m decided. I’m going to Penny’s for a while.”’ Lil put down her cutlery at this point and put her hand over her face. I hoped she wasn’t going to cry. She was obviously upset, but we’d had enough of that lately.

Lil picked up her paper napkin and dabbed the corners of her mouth before taking a long, slow, sip of tea which revived her to continue.

‘We just looked at each other for what seemed like ages. Neither of us knew what to say or how we should feel about it. In the end we just continued with our tea and cake. It was all we were able to do.’

‘That is too sad,’ said Armando as he placed his spoon into the empty bowl before him and picked up his cup.

‘He was right, and I don’t mean to sound unkind. It put the fear of God into me. We’ve seen so many friends and other members of the community start suffering from these dreadful symptom and it robs life and enjoyment and replaces it with confusion and panic.’ Lil delivered the latter part with remarkable stoicism but she made a good point. People are living longer and the chances of dementia increase with age. We worry about cancer, HIV and it’s no different for the elderly to worry about a devastating affliction which affects them. Lil hadn’t declared a finality to their relationship and I wasn’t going to ask but it sounded over to me.

Fortunately it hadn’t suppressed her appetite and she looked up and wiped the last slice of toast across her plate.

‘How’s your love life Armando? Still with Jason the ticket inspector?’ asked Lil.

She was bloody good at this. She avoided getting to the nub, the painful part, of the conversation and moved on. This must have been how it was with Bill. They’d reached a part of their conversation which was too excruciating and instead of dealing with it, they returned to their cake. We didn’t know how she felt deep inside and it was clear she didn’t want us to ask.

‘Yes, and he works in the ticket office, not a ticket inspector. Although we don’t get much time to see each other. He has such silly shifts, and I’m always at the café.’

Another pot of tea arrived. This was a serious Breakfast Club and we hadn’t even established whether Lil had seen Mavis in the week.

I sat back and watched Lil and Armando chatter about Jason. Dating can be traumatic and whether it’s kiss-chase in the junior school playground, clubbing in Soho, or a companion for your later years, it’s fraught with drama, or it can be. My thoughts turned to my Michael and I was grateful he was in my life. We had a relatively drama-free romance.

‘What you thinking about?’ said Lil nudging me in the ribs and interrupting my thoughts.

‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘so who did your hair this time?’

Lil pursed her lips before she allowed them to part and released one of her famous, eardrum-shattering cackles.