22 Jan The Blighty Nightly
I call Glasgow every evening. It’s just the same when I’m at home, the evening call to Mum. But, somehow, when I’m in London I don’t think of it as the Blighty Nightly. Well, when you’re actually in Blighty you don’t think of it as Blighty, do you? And, in any case, it’s completely inappropriate for a call to Glasgow – too far north of Blighty’s border. But the word has connotations that seem just right for the situation. Here, the call has a lot more intensity. Here, I approach it with a palpably greater sense of foreboding – there’s a lot packed into that last word, a lot about Mum and even more about me.
In the Blighty Nightly I never know quite what I’ll get after the muffled, cautious “Hello”. Mum is suspicious of the phone ringing in the evening, with some justification given the number of ‘funny phone calls’ that she and her chums seem to get. When she realises it’s me, of course, the ‘Hello” is followed quickly by “Oh it’s you, dear”. After that it’s a bit of a lottery.
Occasionally, everything will be fine. Life is in order, it’s the same time of day in Mum’s world as it is in the real world, and nothing untoward is taking place in the southwestern suburban reaches of Glasgow. More frequently, even though my calls are always made in the early evening and timed to be soon after the carer’s final daily visit, I’ll be greeted with, “Good morning, dear? And what are you doing today?” Or perhaps, when I ask her how she is, “I’ve just got dressed”. And further, “ I was hoping to have my shower this morning but it seems that’s not going to happen. So I’m going to have my breakfast”. Then there’s the more bizarre, though, thankfully, still rare conversation where she asks me to wait while she goes to the other room so as not to disturb the people occupying her sitting room. They may or may not be staying for dinner; they may or may not be watching the TV. But they are clearly ‘there’ as far as Mum is concerned though, for the moment, she can’t remember their names. And I have gradually learned not to ask.
There are other more alarming conversations where Mum feels alone and displaced, as if she recognises things around her but feels she’s not at home. These are the ones that vex me most. They would do whether I was in southwest London or southeast Spain; the physical distance is as nothing compared to the sense of being, in those moments, so very remote from her internal world. These are the ones that bring me face to face with the realities of her frailty and my misgivings about my temporary truancy, my escape from the frontline.
But this increasingly fragile mother of mine retains a miraculous ability to not despair. To be sometimes a wee bit scared but never to be despondent. She can sometimes chuckle at her faltering grasp of the temporal and her muddling up of breakfast time and teatime. When she says to me, “I seem to have been busy today but I don’t know with what”, I imagine that much of the time has been taken up with getting dressed and undressed – that slow and tiring process that probably happens several times in a day – with falling asleep then waking up again, with working out what she ought to be doing then maybe doing some of it, with sometimes laughing at herself. But does it really matter? For now, she knows who I am and she knows that I love her.