Butlins

I let go of my nan’s hand, as she instantly finds half a dozen people to greet, and stand at the door to the lounge. The short distance between here and my grandfather’s chair is one he and I struggle with for different reasons.

“And a happy new …”

Loud gasp for breath. I turn to see one elderly resident conducting with both hands while being backed cautiously out of her bedroom in a wheelchair.

“Year!”

They process along the corridor, choir and conductor singing in chorus.

“Now, where do you want to go?”

The carer stops the wheelchair next to me and leans in, firstly so her loud, calm speech is projected straight into her charge’s auditory canal and secondly to hear the complex deliberation over each available chair in the lounge. The passenger gives her considered, but mumbled verdict.

“That one. I think that’s your favourite chair, don’t you?”

The carer winks at me and I look back at my dosing grandfather. The resident looked well kept, hydrated and hadn’t notably lost weight since I last visited. I was satisfied.

“Hallo, Bett!”

My nan turns from greeting her 3rd friend along the row of recliners and holds out her arms to the carer. They pay brief homage to the weather and their medical histories before turning their backs to me and facing my grandfather.

“He’s brilliant. Did I tell you we had our own Strictly up here yesterday?”

I step across the room and rest at the waypoint they have created in the middle of the lounge. My grandfather is asleep in the middle of the day, oedema is pushing the slippers off his feet and labouring his breathing. His scalp warrants a dermatological opinion.

The carer rustles one of the other residents into life.

“Are you going to mark me then, like we did yesterday? Like a Strictly.”

This particular resident’s hearing has further deteriorated and her family have taken to communicating with her through the medium of a 10×15 inch whiteboard and dry erase pen.

My nan starts the whole room clapping as the music plays. I sit silently and press my hand onto my grandfather’s arm to see if he will wake.

“Are you ready now? Are you watching? I want a proper judgement here. This is my best dance. I’ve been training all week for this.”

They are. The carer river dances her way across the room, carefully side-stepping the electric hoist. My grandfather does not stir. The clapping is accompanied by whistles and shouts from the audience, but only one opinion matters. I raise my arm to bring my wristwatch into view and count my grandfather’s breaths as the carer faces judgement.

“Rubbish!”

Fast. I take his wrist between my fingers and notice new purple leaks of blood under paper-thin skin. The resident who just arrived in their wheelchair needs the loo now.

The judge offers more sage wisdom from the other side of the lounge.

“Dont’ give up the day job!”

The resident shuffles back into her wheelchair, closely watched and easily steadied if her balance left her.

The lounge settles back. My nan returns to her round and the local two-woman-choir serenade us.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!”

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Butlins

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