Two days ago I celebrated (mourned?) my forty-ninth birthday. Like every other person of a certain age, I live in a no-man’s-land extreme maturity and utter childishness. I can be relied upon to give reasoned advice on almost any problem whether it be teenage spots or how to use a self-contained breathing apparatus and … then when I get in the car with my sister, St Francis, we slap the beejaysus out of each other when we see a yellow car or a mini. (With a mini you punch the other person and yell ‘punch buggy – insert colour of car. Woe betide if you get the colour wrong because you get six punches back for your mistake followed by a punch for the correct colour!) I am very aware of my age but despite the knowledge that I am now a crumbling ruin, I utterly refuse to grow up.
When I lived up north with the love of my life (he is still the love of my life despite the 300 miles that separate us), I felt myself growing older by the minute. He is fun and daft like me but hangs out with a lot of older types. We went to a lot of funerals. I made one friend who is as juvenile as I am and she helped me stay sane but, sadly, I needed more. A move back south was the only way to protect my inner child.
But. Even an eternal bambina like me gets pulled up short sometimes.
St F’s neighbour, The Morrighan is a feisty (and I don’t use that word lightly) pensioner who keeps herself to herself. It’s taken years to get close enough to be invited into her house and we both know that we are privileged in this. In the last year she has asked me to help with her rather large garden and, recently I’ve dismantled a storm damaged shed for her. St F has taken her shopping once a week and all was well up until about three weeks ago. The bad back she complained of was diagnosed as arthritis. She also has a frozen shoulder. The prescribed painkillers knocked her out and she napped much of her day away. Suddenly, almost overnight, she became a pain-wracked old woman. She was unable to go shopping so St F shopped for her. For fear of disturbing her (and getting a flea in my ear) I worked in the garden and left again without seeing her. We were no longer allowed in the house.
Today, The Morrighan was due to have a blood test at the local surgery. St F and I assembled at the car, waiting for her. She is usually punctual but not today. Five minutes past the agreed time, St F went and knocked on her door.
‘Lorraine, come and help me,’ St F called. ‘Morri has fallen over and can’t get up.’
Morri’s children are grown up and live far away. They visit often but they are out of reach in a situation like this. St F and I took turns to talk to Morri through the letter box until an ambulance turned up followed by a police officer who broke a window so that we could get in. Living alone for so long, even in such a quiet area, had made Morri concerned about security. No windows were open, all the doors were locked and the security chains on. With out the police officer and his truncheon, we couldn’t get in. Once in, we realised why we had been denied access lately. House-proud Morri was unable to cope. OK, this only meant a bit of washing up in the sink and her fire had gone out but to her, that’s unforgivably lax.
Dazed and a little bewildered, dehydrated and hungry, Morri had been on the floor since 6 a.m. It was gone 4 p.m when we gained access. She was still on the floor in her nightdress but as ornery as ever. After climbing in the window, St F patted her arm as she passed to let the paramedic and the copper in.
‘I don’t need patting,’ Morri grumbled. ‘I need lifting off the damn floor.’
Tonight, Morri is in hospital where they are monitoring her low blood pressure. Tomorrow morning I’m going to her house to finish the washing up that St F and I started while the paramedic examined Morri.
Morri has long wanted to move somewhere smaller and no doubt she will get her wish now but in the meantime, we want to make sure that her home is clean, tidy and welcoming when she comes back. I hope that will be soon.
I, meanwhile, am looking in the mirror and saying to myself, ‘How long, Lorraine? How long before you can’t manage? St F and I are two tough, physically capable old birds but we both have arthritis of the spine and we’re both accident prone ( I currently have a black eye from a frisbee-related incident. Yes I threw it. Who knew it was going to act like a boomerang?). What if I fall over and can’t get up? I live with a food obsessed dog who was once starved. Is he going to think all his Christmasses and birthdays have come at once?