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North Heaven

I gotta tell you, auntie at the door.jpgI’m a bit worried. My aunt, who’s ninety something not out, is in a nursing home. She has been for awhile. Used to have her own little self-contained flat there but was moved into care after she nearly burnt the whole place down. She was drying her nylon nickers in front of the electric heater and forgot about them. The fire brigade had to be called to put out the resultant fire. All the other oldies were evacuated so Auntie was not exactly “Geriatric-of-the-Month” after that. Although some of them thought it was quite exciting I believe.

The nursing home is called “North Haven” but mail often turns up addressed “North Heaven”. It’s run by the church and is quite good as nursing homes go. But unfortunately it’s on a noisy major highway as it used to be a motel. I suppose if you were a retired Christian truck-driver you’d feel right at home. And if you’d had enough of the place and wanted to do a runner, you could just stand out the front with your thumb out. (“Where you off to love?”...”The Gold Coast thanks driver”.)

Reception is a kind of portico affair lit up like an R.S.L. Club or a Five Star Hotel. There’s a jolly woman behind the front desk ready to greet you (“Welcome to the rest of your life. No-one gets out of here alive...should you require complimentary oxygen in your room, please don’t hesitate to ask”) Ah...it’s not funny is it.

There’s a restaurant off to one side and a lounge full of sick-looking potted plants on the other. Background Musak is usually playing some selection from Ferrante & Teicher while the guests sit around shooting-the-shit and placing bets on who’s going to pop it next. Well, I wouldn’t call them “guests” – more like wall-to-wall vegies. You know they’re alive because their eyes follow you across the room. No, I’m being cruel. Can’t be much fun for them. But whatdya do? It’s not like Asia where the elderly are revered. Or at least looked after by their rellos at home. Here we just park ‘em and forget ‘em. That’s what worries me.

I don’t want to end up in one of these places. Having some Nurse Ratchett put a bib on me and wheel me from Bingo to “meat & three veg” for dinner. Just let me die. Or better still we’ll go down the casino and I’ll put my last pension check on the blackjack table. Maybe I’ll scull a schooner or two if I can still bend the elbow. Or let me choke on the Kettle Chips. Just keep me away from a Nursing Home. I don’t wanna be nursed. I’m not into Bingo. I’m over jelly & custard. I hate plastic undersheets. And no bastard’s gonna lift me into the bath and run a flannel round my freckle I’m telling you that much.

Auntie says the food is “muck” but we take no notice of her because for years that’s all she’s been used to. She was the “World’s Worst Cook” and when you went to see her she’d serve up leftovers that’d been in the fridge for God-knows-how-long. Her idea of a slap-up dinner was an over-cooked leg of lamb with bullety potatoes, over-boiled vegetables and lumpy gravy. Through experience we learnt to say “uh no thanks Auntie...we’ve just eaten”. Had to be cruel to be kind to yourself. It was either that or stick two fingers down your throat.

At the nursing home, Auntie complained that she was still a bit “peckish” of a night. So after they’d done the medication rounds they’d bring her up a glass of milk, some crackers and a little packet of cheese like you might get on an aeroplane. Or a nursing home. She’d sink the milk, scoff the bickies and stash the cheese in her little bar-fridge “for later”. But somehow “later” never came. My father went to put something in the fridge for her recently and here were all these tiny packets of “Coon” cheese. Hundreds of the bastards. Some of them dated three or four years ago. She had cheese for Africa! When he asked her about it she got a bit stroppy. Said she paid extra for this little nighttime snack so she could do what she bloody-well liked with the cheese. But he could take some home if he liked. She’s very good like that.

When we were kids she never forgot a Birthday or Christmas. We always got a card with a ten-shilling note and “love from Auntie and Grandma & Grandpa”. The Christmas presents became more bizarre the older she got. She tended to shop in bulk so everyone in the family got the same things. Couple of years ago it was a packet of “Sensodyne” toothpaste, a face washer and a bar of cheap soap. Never mind. The thought was there. Something to do with “look after your face and teeth”.

Auntie still talks of leaving “North Heaven” and getting a house. Or starting an olive farm. Or buying a Rolls Royce and learning to drive. She’s got a few quid in the bank from the sale of her flat. It’s in some under-performing term account that pays next-to-zip interest. The bank’s always trying to get her to move her money to a higher-interest account but Aunt’s convinced she’ll have to pay more tax. And she likes to stay liquid just in case an opportunity comes up. Like an olive farm or a Rolls Royce.

My mother looks after Auntie’s “business empire”. She sees this money sitting in the account doing nothing while Auntie slopes around in some ratty gown she bought Circa 1972. And dries herself with patched towels and sleeps on patched sheets. Or she did right up until the nursing home. Patched towels . Who do you know that patches their towels ? And the patched sheets had patches over patches . I ask you...is this a definition of poverty-thinking? Or is it just that she hasn’t got over the Great Depression?

Mum takes her out now and again and tries to buy her clothes. But when the old girl is told the price she jacks up. So she still gets around in these gravy-stained numbers that would do a bag-lady proud. And the money sits in the bank account earning 2% per annum or something. We’re convinced that when she pops it that dosh will go to The North Shore Womens Knitting Group or the Association for Underprivileged African Heads of State or some bloody thing. Fair call. It’s her money.

Auntie goes on about “Divine Retribution”. This theory holds that because our family were once wealthy English sugar-planters and slave-owners in the West Indies, God, in his wisdom, has seen fit to punish subsequent generations for the sins against the slaves 200 years ago. She might have something there. I’ve been struggling for years. Can’t take a bloody trick. And it’s all because of those rum-soaked planters and what they did to their slaves. Bastards!

I think I’ll pop up and see my Aunt now. I fancy a bit of “Coon” and a cup of tea. Maybe I’ll take her some olives and the road test for the new Roller.

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