Last week, the journey south was unusually easy; the stretch from Sheffield to Leicester was a positive joy. A train with eight coaches, and about as many passengers. I did not only have a table, but enjoyed it all to myself, a situation so rare that I was tempted to empty out the contents of my bag all over the table, just for the hell of it, which made a change from being given dirty looks from the person opposite me because my sandwich and propped up Kindle is encroaching one millimetre into their designated laptop territory. No grizzling, unrestrained kiddies, no person in the seat behind discussing the ins and outs of the meeting she has just attended, at a volume that suggests this information is of interest to every person in Coach D.
I must have used up all my Good Train Day credits on that one hour-long stretch, for the journey back was what people these days describe as 'challenging'. When I hit the Leicester to Sheffield leg, I realised that I was to pay for the blissful journey of four days earlier. Remind me never to travel on the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend again.....
The train was so packed that I had to abandon all good manners just to force myself and my extremely heavy case into the coach. Having elbowed my way past youngsters with earbuds in place who couldn't hear me saying 'excuse me please', I finally reached my booked seat to find that, of course, someone was sitting in it. I did my usual; I produced my seat reservation, smiled, and politely told the girl sitting in it that she was in my seat. Her answer: "Yeah but there was a woman with a little kid sitting in mine, like."
I tried to point out, delicately and politely, that her generosity in giving up her seat and the fact that she was sitting in mine were actually unrelated, to which she said, "Yeah but she had a little kid like," and looked at me as if I'd suggested she make the mother and child walk to Sheffield. In the end, I decided to make it simple. I showed her my seat reservation and said, "This is seat B 61A, which I've booked, and I'd like to sit in it, please." She started doing that rolling eyes and 'tssk' thing to the other people sitting round the table, some of whom joined in, clearly also unable to grasp that though her decision to give up her seat was admirable, it did not qualify her to nick mine. Eventually a young man sitting opposite very kindly offered me his seat, I believe to stop a fight breaking out.
|Leicester to Sheffield|
The train from Sheffield to Newcastle was equally sardine can-like. I oozed into the coach from between several ear-budded, cagouled bodies to find that someone was using the end-of-coach luggage rack as a seat. He had made himself very comfortable, laptop beside him, and was most surprised when I asked him to get off so I could put my case on the shelf. He must have been about a third of my age and stood by, most patiently, while I wrestled a case so heavy that it took me three attempts to lift it onto the rack. I had to admire the way he waited for several minutes without complaining about the inconvenience, hands in pockets, grinning, for me to finish this feat, before squeezing himself back into the space beside it.
Then I had to manoeuvre my way to my seat by clambering over all the cases in the aisle, because, it appeared, everyone but me was too polite to ask the lad to get off the damn luggage rack so they could use it for the purpose for which it was intended.
|Sheffield to Newcastle|
But the few days away were worth the struggle of the journey back. On Wednesday, in the church where my dad used to go, a plaque has been put on the pew where he always used to sit, and the vicar gathered the small congregation round to see it and say a few words for Dad, which was lovely.
In the afternoon we went to see Mum. She is 92, has had Alzheimer's for ten years, and has been in a care home for about six. She can still walk around and, although she talks gobbledegook most of the time, now and again she comes out with some understandable words in response to something we've said. When we visited her in June, there was a chap playing a guitar in the large dining room, and Mum was clearly enjoying the music. I said, 'You used to sing in a choir, didn't you?' (Kings College London in the 1940s, when she was at university, I believe), and she looked round at me and said, 'Yes, I did', quite clearly.
|Us managing a conversation with Mum a couple of months ago!|
This time, Julia talked to her about visiting her godmother, a friend of our parents' from many years ago. Mum said, 'Oh yes', and tried to say her name.
She usually recognises us, too. My friend Zoe, who worked in an old people's home (all types of dementia) for many years, said that she can probably recognise our smell; Mum always picks up our hands and kisses them, as she did with Dad. Also, she pointed out that as we stay in our parents' old house when we go to visit, we probably bring with it its familiar smell, too. Thanks, Zoe; I hadn't thought of that. It's logical, though, isn't it? Because smell is the most evocative sense of all as far as memories are concerned.
Zoe believes, as I do, that people with long-term Alzheimer's remember and know about stuff all the time, even just for brief moments. They're not just ga-ga. Which is why it is so important to keep visiting and talking to them. When Dad died eleven months ago I told Mum about it, and she didn't say anything, but she held my hand, looked into the distance and nodded; the nurses said she seemed very depressed and deteriorated for a few months afterwards, but has now perked up again. Odd but true: they said she seemed depressed for the two days before he died, and on the day, before anyone at the home knew about it. It's in her notes that are written up on a daily basis, to which we have access.
Last week Julia took this photo of her and me, which I think is lovely.
This is a picture of her taken a few years before she became ill; I love this one. Julia took it; one of those snaps that turns out so perfectly.
....and her, me and Julia, 59 years ago ~ I'm the one in the shawl!