This week Joy Lennick shares some shenanigans from her visits to an old people’s home where life was celebrated as much as possible, and sometimes romance overcame the sensibilities…
Sweet Pea Lodge by Joy Lennick
Having joined a ‘Help the Community’ scheme initiated by the local Branford Council, I had changed my usual visiting day to the present one to help celebrate resident Kitty’s birthday, and upon arrival at the ‘House,’ could hear raised voices and singing coming from the lounge….
“Father had a donkey;
stuck it in the yard.
One summer’s day it was snowing effing hard…”
sang Kitty in full throttle, before ‘Matron’ (as I privately nicknamed her) – in fact the head carer – intervened. Her name is Veronica, but I always think and refer to her as Matron as she has a ‘no-nonsense-take-no-prisoners’ persona which masks a kind heart.
“Really, Kitty!” she said, tutting, “ Control yourself…”
Kitty, aged 90 years old on that very day: a tiny, jolly lady with an earthy sense of humour which even Alzheimer’s – somehow or other – hadn’t completely destroyed, had no intention of controlling herself…. I gave her a birthday card and said two of the most over-worked words ever, while giving her a hug. She may have been 90, but Kitty had magically retained or refashioned ‘a little girl’ mentality, and swished the skirt of her favourite cotton dress like a ten-year-old. The effects of her illness were still evident, but her lively personality shone through.
“Is this for me?” she asked, tearing open the envelope. The card was a funny one intended to make her laugh. She duly obliged.
“Yes,” I answered, “What does it feel like to be ninety, Kit?”
“I’m not!” she refuted hotly, ‘I’m seventy!’ Well, whatever age she thought she was, she had worn well and had one of those soft pink and white complexions which now and then endure the ravages of time.
“By the way, I like your hair do!” I said to placate her. She didn’t answer, but patted her newly permed grey curls with a satisfied smirk.
“Tea and cake in the dining room soon, Kitty!” announced Matron. Another voice belonging to a friend piped up: “Goobedly dando!” she said and grinned. A newish visitor to these ladies, I hadn’t met Margaret before that day. Matron had just introduced us. “Bludog verly…” she replied. I had to stop the tears from spilling as she was such a sweet person, quite oblivious of her dysfunctional state. That could be me in the future, I thought…
Before I continue, I must tell you where this worthy ‘establishment’ is sited…
Starting with its name, ‘Sweet Pea Lodge’ is, on consideration, an unfortunate epithet for the sprawling, not unattractive, brick built building, as it houses a motley collection of mature folk of both sexes (mostly female), some of whom are – how can I put it? – well, slightly (and sometimes more so) incontinent.
Someone once wrote on a London wall ‘Harwich for the continent and Frinton for the incontinent,’ but I mustn’t labour the point… I am not being indelicate by pointing this out, as it is a fact of life for some of us unluckier souls. Cans of lavender spray, and bowls of carefully placed pot pourri are not uncommon sights in Sweet Pea Lodge. (The latter placed higher up in case they are eaten by the residents!)
This particular ‘Home for the Elderly & Infirm,’ is situated on the outskirts of Branford in Essex and squats on one corner of an average-sized park, generously planted with various trees and plants, providing a ‘child friendly’ area with swings, slides and so on. (The park, that is!) The building is well thought-out, with airy, private rooms containing a sink unit: bathrooms being separate. Both lounge and dining room have been carefully ‘colour co-ordinated’ and are bright and cheerful. Outside, there is a large patio area with tables and chairs, where the residents are encouraged to take the air, weather permitting. Architects periodically receive a lot of sometimes deserved flak, but whoever designed this place earned a thumbs up.
Branford has a fascinating history for, in the distant past, at least two Kings, with their Queens and retinue regularly visited nearby Havering-atte-Bower, situated a few miles east of the town, during the summer months to escape the steaming London streets, which literally stank to high heaven. Havering-atte-Bower and the surrounding countryside – still lush in parts – and now dotted with attractive, often detached houses and bungalows, was relished for its cleaner air; and trips to the perfumery (vital in those days among the rich); the milliners; glove and parasol-makers; dress.- making and leather-goods shops in Branford – all treats for the royal entourage.
The shopping centre then consisted of two rows of stores facing each other over a cobbled square. Now, of course, hundreds of years later, Branford presents a somewhat different face to the new visitor. Glass and steel edifices pronounce the ‘new religion” (according to some): shopping! Public houses – some of which have out-witted time – stand cheek to cheek with more modern large and small stores, most of which seem to do a fair trade, despite the sad economic situation which prevails today; although ‘Charity’ shops are growing apace. But I digress…Back to Sweet Pea Lodge.
“Come along Kitty! We have lit your candles. You have to blow them out.” (nine to represent the decades) said Matron. En masse, our group shuffled into the dining-room.
Kitty clapped her hands and dutifully blew on the candles: several times… The cake was then cut and tea poured. All very civilized until Maud Canter: a contrarily quiet and moody lady who wielded a walking stick one had to keep clear of… let out a very loud fart which convulsed Kitty (having a lavatorial sense of humour) into enthusiastic guffaws. Matron tried pretending that everything was quite normal, but Kitty said “Phew – that was a corker!” to Maud, who, fortunately, was hard of hearing as well as windy. I passed around the cups of tea and made as sensible conversation as could be understood.
With mouths busy, all became quiet in the pleasantly furnished and decorated dining room until Annie, a whey-faced lady who wore a continual frown – Kitty’s best friend – let out a cry.
“Oh dear,” she said, “I nearly forgot Albert’s dinner….” And she disappeared into her room nearby, reappearing a few moments later, wringing her hands (a constant action). “Someone’s stolen the gas stove!” and she started to weep until comforted by Sally, one of the carers. Poor Albert (who choked on a fishbone in 1990) was soon forgotten.
“Shall we go for a walk, Kit?” asked Annie, brightening. And so, off they set, strolling about twenty paces down the corridor, before returning and repeating the process about four times, until they tired. Kitty reopened the card I gave her – having tucked it back into the envelope – and exclaimed in great excitement.
“Oh, someone’s sent me a birthday card!” I was standing nearest to her.
“Yes, I did,” I said quietly. That innocuous card was opened, tucked away; walks taken and then the envelope re-opened and the card re-admired no less than four times during my time there.
On another visit, it was decided that we were to investigate the ‘Art’ world… The ladies seemed quite excited when given their ‘Gainsborough’ painting-by-numbers pictures and crayons. Water colours had been banned after Matron: oblivious of the art class then taking place – having just arrived back from a trip away – found Annie with her arm covered in blood-red paint, mistakenly thinking she had injured herself!
Kitty set to with vigour – completely ignoring her picture. The stainless steel table surround soon resembled a purple snake and she took great delight in criss-crossing the table legs with yellow crayon. Fearing the nearby wall would be a perfect victim for her busy arm, I suggested poetry reading. Annie completely ignored me, so wrapped up was she on completing her picture. Picasso who? I thought…Torn, and a quarter-painted efforts, were eventually gathered up and exclaimed over.
“Have you ever heard of Gainsborough?” I stupidly asked Margaret, mistaking her for someone else.
At least she shook her head, instead of confusing my ears. “Would you like me to read you one of my funny poems?” I then asked the five ladies: anxious and fidgeting before me. Three nodded; the others were who knew where. Oh well, here goes, I thought…
I enunciated my words slowly and loudly: THIS POEM IS CALLED ‘SOLE MATES’ – S O L E, I spelled out, pointing to my feet. At least Kitty nodded. I cleared my throat.
I MUST TELL YOU OF A ROMANCE
THAT’S SADLY ON THE ROCKS
NOT BETWEEN THE SEXES (Kitty giggled at the word sexes)
BUT BETWEEN SOME CLASSY SOCKS… (I quickly picked up on several frowns on several foreheads) but carried on…
IT STARTED UP LAST CHRISTMAS DAY (“Ah Christmas” said Annie with a smile, before retreating behind her invisible wall.) I continued, nervously…
WHEN AUNT LOUISE ARRIVED TO STAY.
SHE PUT A BOX BENEATH THE TREE
CONTAINING LOVERS, HE AND ME…
Well the last bit completely flummoxed them – I could imagine their poor, befuddled brain-boxes trying to work out who the two lovers were and what they were doing in a box. So I stopped and instead started reciting: I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD.
Amazingly, one of my audience, a lady called Ruby, recited the first line with me and I found that quite touching. She couldn’t remember any more and I only read one verse, deciding that it would be less of a strain on them and me… if we had a sing-song instead.
Carer Sally offered to play the piano, and the four ladies left – Margaret had wandered off – started singing with gusto. ‘Strangers in the Night… DA DA DA DA DA…’ was soon abandoned and we sang ‘The Lambeth Walk’ instead. Both Annie and Kitty knew nearly all the words to that one, with Kitty performing a lively “Oi!” at the end.
Easter arrived, and with it, an announcement that we were to have “An Easter bonnet decorating competition.” said Matron. Sally brought along several straw hats and lots of ribbons, flowers, feathers and fluffy chicks, etc., Four of the five ladies present – Maud Canter having refused to join in – became as engrossed as they could be in the job at hand. Sally, Matron and I assisted where necessary, but encouraged the ladies to do as much as they could themselves. Lots of tongues appeared between lots of lips, plus an expletive from Kitty’s corner “Bleedin’ ribbon..” she was heard to say, untangling it. After about an hour, Margaret’s hat – a veritable farm–yard, with different sized chicks in a nest perched precariously on the crown – was declared the winner. She was so delighted, she curtsied and danced around the room. Her memory may have completely disappeared, but she was the happiest woman present!
One week, an attractive, middle-aged male dancer/singer entertained the ladies and I was surprised to witness the difference in their behaviour. Most seemed to have lost their normal nervousness, and at ninety, Kitty became a sort of ‘mature coquette’ flirting, and – for a brief twirl – dancing, with the handsome stranger. Turning to me, she said “He’s a bit of all-right, isn’t he!” He was a real sport and quite charming. I mused on the fact that vestiges, while minute, of earlier engagements with the opposite sex, still remained!
The weeks and months rolled by, with the staff more than aware of the need to entertain their charges to keep up their morale. I’d be a liar if I said that it was easy…And then, just before Christmas, there were two more birthdays to celebrate. A certain ‘Marion’ – a comparative newcomer, about to have her sixtieth birthday – and a very gentle man, soon to be 79, whose name was Sam. His mind was intact but his physical needs were such that he could no longer live alone. My heart went out to him and we had lots of chats. Marion, on the other hand, while able to sustain a reasonable conversation, had a mental problem of sorts plus a disability. About twenty of us were gathered in the prettied lounge; resplendent with decorations and balloons (the lounge not us), and I was aware of another man they referred to as Stan, who had only arrived the day before. Like Marion, he was much younger than most of the other residents and I had yet to learn of his history. Little did I know what was destined to follow that innocent event…!
Having helped to see that everyone was suitably fed: (sausage rolls, dainty sandwiches and iced cakes) and watered (tea and fruit juice), I had a few words with an entertainer who was providing the music – this time a guitar! He played well and the atmosphere grew quite jolly, with Kitty out front prancing around as was her wont. However, she soon tired and plonked herself down next to Annie, who was looking lost, as she often was. I was humming in time to the music, when I noticed Kitty nudging Annie in the ribs, and moving her head in the direction of Marion and the newcomer Stan, who were seated opposite, next to each other. Seemingly oblivious of anyone else in the room, Marion was caressing Stan in a most suggestive way, while giggling like a school-girl.
He seemed to be lapping up the attention, until Matron noticed and intervened. Defusing the situation, she whisked Stan off to speak to someone else, leaving Marion looking crestfallen. I then checked my watch; the party wound down and it was time for me to go. I left Kitty and Annie still tutting over the amorous incident.
When I returned the following week, Sally took me to one side and told me what had happened after lights out on the party night…Shaking her head, she said:
“You’ll never guess what Veronica found when she checked on Marion last week!” I shrugged.
“Stan and Marion ‘in flagrante’ on her bed, stark naked!”
“What! You’re joking!” I said, giggling, “Well at least some of them had an extra good time!”
When I approached Kitty and Annie to have a chat, they both said “Hello – are you new?” I didn’t feel particularly new; rather sad actually…and thought how they would have enjoyed the story of Marion and Stan. Both ladies were particularly quiet, when Kitty broke the silence and said:
“Did you hear about that bloke giving that new woman one last week?”
What an amazing organ is the brain!
I have fond memories of the ladies of Sweet Pea Lodge, and knowing how some gossip ‘leaks out,’ I bet many of the inhabitants of Branford had a good chuckle over the last, amorous, episode too!
About Joy Lennick
Having worn several hats in my life: wife, mum, secretary, shop-keeper, hotelier; my favourite is the multi-coloured author’s creation. I am an eclectic writer: diary, articles, poetry, short stories and five books. Two books were factual, the third as biographer: HURRICANE HALSEY (a true sea adventure), fourth my Memoir MY GENTLE WAR and my current fiction novel is THE CATALYST. Plenty more simmering…
A selection of books by Joy Lennick
One of the reviews for The Moon is Wearing a TuTu
This book comprises of a number of unusual poems that certainly force you to think deeply by Joy Lennick and a few poems, limericks and humorous one-liner jokes by Eric Lennick. There are also two, clever 50-word short stories by Jean Wilson.While the entire book was entertaining to read, I really enjoyed some of Joy’s wickedly humorous poems. She uses her words like little knives to cut into the body of a matter and expose its beating heart in a manner that is humorous but sharply to the point. The one that I related to the most was Think Outside the Box:
“I think out of the box
and why not?
(Are you wary your copybook you’ll blot?!)
I’m fed up with sheep
who seem half asleep
individuals they certainly are not.
To say “aab” not “baa”
For a change why not try it today!
The fox you could fox –
confusing his “box,”
just say “aab” and get clean away.”
Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joy-Lennick/e/B00J05CJLY/
And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Joy-Lennick/e/B00J05CJLY
Find all the books, read other reviews and follow Joy on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3124773.Joy_Lennick
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