And so every Friday when we weren’t at school we’d be taken on the bus to our grandmothers new old peoples bungalow, the one on the new and exclusive development of old peoples bungalows that she had managed to snaffle by means of pulling rank on those who tried to qualify the proper way, she being the widow of a former housing officer at the council, once more proving that who you know is far more important than what you know, indeed most of the other old people on the official waiting list for those bungalows will have known far more than my grandmother, for she was, well, a bit dim, nice, but dim.
And we’d go and we’d have fish and chips from greasy plates and we’d drink fizzy pop from greasy glasses and we’d sit in her very comfortable front room surrounded by furniture that she’d collected over the past seventy something years, too much furniture for such a small room, too much furniture for the whole bungalow, and everything smelled musty.
Everything in her bungalow had that “old peoples smell”, a smell that cannot be classified as anything else, its not necessarily just a musty smell, it is a musty smell but its something else too, it undefinable but since she was the last of my grandparents to die I have stored that smell away in my museum of recollections for future reference – the minute I smell that smell in my own house at some undefined point in future I shall know that I have reached the point in my life cycle where I am officially an old person for then I will have the old persons smell.
And then one day we called on a Friday lunchtime as normal and she wasn’t there to answer the door.
My mother opened the door of the bungalow and stepped inside and even from out there on the step Ned and I knew that something was very wrong inside that bungalow for the smell that hit us was not the smell of an old person but rather it was the smell of shit, there is no other effective way of saying this, the bungalow smelled, nay hummed, of shit.
We followed our mother, holding our noses, down the short corridor towards the bedroom and stood outside it while our mother went in, as she opened the door the smell of shit almost knocked us over and our mother turned around and told us to go outside and play, no chance, our grandmother had shit herself in there and we wanted to see.
A swift clip around the ear’ole sent us scuttling from the bungalow and we hung around for ages sitting on the doorstep until a doctor turned up, then our Auntie Irene and then an ambulance and when she had been whisked off to hospital the two sisters spent forever cleaning the bedroom, washing sheets and spraying can after can of air freshener around the place, it was late evening before our dad turned up from work to take us home.
It was almost a year to the day until she died in the hospital that she had been taken to that day, a full year in which she lay unconscious and unresponsive after the massive stroke that had killed her in all but the most basic of brain functions and for the whole of that year our mother and our Auntie Irene paid the rent on her bungalow, visited weekly and cleaned around in the expectation that she’d wake up any day soon and expect to be brought home again, and every day one or the other of them went to the hospital and sat at their mothers bedside and talked to her as if she could understand what they were saying, never once did she flicker in recognition and eventually a friendly bacteria came along and claimed her to the relief of everyone.
That all happened back in 1971, I hope that it wouldn’t happen that way now, I hope that a hospital would not keep sustaining an unsustainable life for twelve months just because they can, I hope that someone at the hospital would make the decision these days that “Hey, we need that bed” for sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.