Grandad is flying the nest

My niece was bewildered by the plastic key sets she received from elderly relatives for her 21st Birthday.

“What is all this?” she asked.

“They’re symbolic keys. It means you’re old enough to have a key to your own place.”

“Oh? 21? I’ve had a key for years.”

Her expression said I would have preferred money.

My expression agreed, you’re not wrong there.

At the weekend, Arnie, Ray and Mimi go off with reluctant husband to their swimming and Dad and I set off to the estate agent to get the key to his new flat. He’s old enough to have a key to his own place. As we get in the car, my heart is light. The oldest child is leaving home. Sure, there will be washing, cooking and back for the holidays, but I am not too anxious. My hope is that Dad makes lots of new friends and remembers to take all his drugs. Perhaps he’ll find a nice girlfriend?

It’s the lovely estate agent Katy again. She greets us as faamily, tells us how wonderful the flat is and produces piles of paperwork that Dad must sign a billion times. He declares loudly that there is too much and I whisper back, “it’s normal.” Even louder he says that the deposit seems very high, much higher than he thought, and I hiss, “It’s what we agreed,” and Katy shrugs. “Oh, that’s standard.”

I remember that while I have rented perhaps ten different properties since I was nineteen this is Dad’s first time. He left his parents home in his early twenties and went straight into his own property. It only cost the price of a button or something. Times have changed.

I watch him scrawl his name on the endless forms next to the crosses. I can do Dad’s signature. When we were kids, he thought it was funny to get us to sign his cheques. I spent many a happy hour improving my forgery.

“Ok, now the money,” smiles Katy but not before she’s offered to move in with Dad.

“I’ve got my cheque book,” says Dad.

“We don’t take cheques,” says Katy as though Arnie has offered her one of his pre-chewed bogies.  I think her being my step-mother is looking unlikely. Then she says brightly, “how about a card?”

“I don’t have a card.”

My Dad is a dinosaur. I can hear husband’s gentle and encouraging voice in my head and he is saying: you idiot.

The first bank I drive to is shut. The next one is shut. It’s Saturday. Most banks are shut. I do what I should have done twenty minutes ago and google it. There is one open about thirty minutes away. Dad says, “Why does everything go wrong?” and I think ah, so this is where I get my quick-to-dishearten spirit from.

I pull up on the double yellow next to the side door of the only bank open on a Saturday. Dad struggles out the car into the road. I text husband who, while a hands-on father, is only hands-on with all three children for a limited period. “Sorry darling. Had to go to bank.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I realise Dad has not crossed the road to the bank. Instead, he is wandering in the other direction towards the high street, where the streets are paved with chewing gum and you are some kind of wuss if your dog is not a massive illegal breed.

“Dad,” I holler. I can’t leave the car because I’ll get a ticket. The traffic wardens are on commission round here. “This way.” I gesture wildly. I parked right outside the bank. Why has he not gone into the bank? Is it merely a symbolic bank?

He doesn’t hear. I shout. I shout again. People are looking at me. Finally, I leave the car and run towards him, clenching madly, and shout from there. He stops in the middle of the road. He cups his hand to his ear. “Wha-at?” A line of cars rev furiously behind him. The hooting commences. I imagine the massive illegal dogs in the back of the cars frothing.

“Wrong way!”

He comes back and tells me he doesn’t see so good. “Why don’t you wear your glasses then?”

“Oh yeah,” he says. So he sets off, once again, to the bank that I had parked next to.

When he comes out, he is as smug as if he has produced a rabbit from a hat. He has just found out something amazing: The bank gives you money! It’s not just buttons.

“I’ve got £500,” he shouts.

“Eh,” I can hardly speak for my frothing. “You need £700.”

“Big S owes me £200,” he says.

I groan. I don’t trust Big S. And the reason I don’t is because Dad has told me repeatedly that this he is untrustworthy.

For fucks sake.

We haven’t got Big S’s number, naturally, so we have to ring up Big S’s friend first. When we eventually get through, Big S tells Dad he’s got flu but if we go and meet him, (twenty minutes in the other direction) he’ll have the money. Its all him doing us a favour.

“What are we going to do?” says Dad, a man in despair. “It’s all going wrong. I’m going to lose this flat, aren’t I?”

Husband texts me. “When you coming home?” I want to text back: ‘stop being Asda-dad’, but I write: ‘Nearly done.’

We are NOT going to lose the flat. I drive to the meeting point. I tell myself this is normal and this is standard.  Sneezing, Big S hands over the money and I feel it would be churlish to check the notes in front of him. Not with all the flu germs on. Not with his dog looking at me like that. Husband will kill me if I get killed.

Finally, we go back to the estate agency to see what Katy does next. The money is handed over. Big fluey S has done us proud. We shake hands. We get the key. The key to the door. The nest is emptying. Out in the big wide world, we are 21 again.

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Schindler’s Lift

Homecove court is a massive tower block over-looking the Thames Estuary. I have convinced Dad we should see a flat there: “Just a look won’t kill us.”

Dad doesn’t like the look of it. It’s on a hill and, stupid me, I drop him by the fire doors not the actual entrance so he has to stagger up. It’s only 50 metres but in Dad steps that’s 5 miles. By the time, my sister joins us, Dad is in a bad mood.

Dad doesn’t like the sound of Sheltered housing. I think when he hears ‘sheltered housing’, he hears death. “It’s different to a care home,” I try to convince him. “It just means there will be lots of people like you in there.”

My sister chimes in. “Which means you won’t get some yob living next door playing music late at night.”

“I like yobs,” he says defiantly.

And Dad doesn’t like the smell of it. In the perfectly fine foyer, he screws up his noise. “Smells like cooking,” he says, as if, eurghh. On the noticeboard, there are signs about Tai Chi classes and coffee mornings, bingo and salt beef bagels.

The estate agent Katy, comes, shakes our hands in the much practised way of salespeople. I feel her clocking me, my sister and my dad, deciding who is the brains.

The flat is 717 and Dad perks up.  He decides he likes number 717 – the superstitious sod. (He is not the brains.)

And the flat is fine: it really is. In the bedroom there is room for a double though Dad prefers a single, and there are built-in wardrobes.  The phrase ‘built-in wardrobes’ sends a frisson down my spine and it has the same effect on Dad too. That is posh. The lounge is bright and white with a small balcony and if you crane your neck to the left, there is the sea. Today, it’s hard to see where the sea ends and the sky begins.

The bathroom is fresh, with a low bath – great for those with crap knees – and emergency cords a plenty – ditto. What more do you need?

“Is everyone here retired?” I ask.

“No, but you have to be over 55.”

My sister says, “Goody, I can come here soon then.” She’s only half joking. Incredibly, my sister will be fifty next year, although to me, she’ll always be the fifteen year old Kate Bush lookalike pushing me out her room so she can snog her boyfriends to the sweet strains of Motorhead.

It is perfect! Dad says, “its like a luxury holiday home!” I laugh but I can see why. It reminds my of where we stayed on my first holiday abroad. The Hotel Bouganville player in Tenerife. Here, there is also a communal lounge where I imagine the over-55’s ordering orange juice starters, steak dinner and a knickerbocker glory.

The lift is just outside his door, (again, perfect!) and its operated by a company called ‘Schindlers.’

“It’s Schindler’s lift,” my sister says and we grin at each other.  Everything is a sign and the sign says Yes!

“There a communal laundry,” says Katy and my dad replies contentedly, “it just gets better and better!” If I meet my sister’s eye I will laugh so I gaze determinedly at the ‘what to do in case of fire’ information. “There are three wardens so if you have any problems let them know. The flat is soundproof too.”

“Don’t need that,” says rebel Dad.

“Oh you might!”  Katy, who is now so my best friend that I want to write her name in hearts all over the property list, says.  “Some people here have their TVs on really, really loud.”

I feel like a winner. I got the right answer. Me! I found this place. It’s convenient. It’s easy. There’s parking. And at £600 a month with no service charges its a bloody bargain. Dad’s hideous flat will have to be let out first, as quickly as possible but that’s ok. We tell Katy we want it and I arrange to go to her office and pick up forms.

I call husband and tell him. He says, “I’ll start dismantling his bed then, shall I?” and I laugh. “In a hurry, eh?”

But the best thing, as we walk out grey sea to the right, town centre to the left, is that I had thought coming here would be the beginning of the end, but I do believe now its the beginning of a new beginning. Dads eyes are sparkling too. He is one of the 1200. We have dodged the inevitable: things are looking up.

The lift

I make up the sofa bed for Dad. I fetch him pillows, sheets and a blanket. The room looks cosy. He is not overwhelmed with gratitude but hey.

In the morning when I go down, he is sitting on the floor about one meter from the bed. He can’t get up, he says. I feel sick. It is a terrible sight: my dear Dad is on the carpet and he can’t get up. I remember when he was young, when we both were young, he slipped a disc while loading his van and the noise that came from just beyond the back door was terrible. This is different though. A whimper not a howl.

I try and help him but he won’t budge. It’s like he’s not even trying. The sofa is so near. It’s as though a boat is capsizing one yard from the shore.

“Why did you make it so dark?” he says. “I couldn’t see a thing and I fell over.”

I think, so now I’m responsible for the sky at night.

“You should have called me,” I say.

“I did,” he says.

I send Mini up to get my husband, the muscle. She disappears up the stairs, sucking her thumb. She knows this is important. Arnie comes down and looks frighted. I tell him, “It’s fine honey. Grandad is on the floor.” Ray comes down and starts reading his Warhammer book on the sofa.

My husband does not appear. I go up trembling.

“Didn’t Mini come up?”

“Yeah I told her off, she was pulling at the door.”

“Oh,” I say. Poor Mini. “Grandad’s stuck.” My voice is croaky. “He can’t get up.” It seems like the worst thing that’s ever happened.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” he says. I try to make my eyes say its urgent but he’s not looking at my eyes.

I can’t tell if he is playing a power game with Grandad – this is my house and I’ll come down when I like – or if he urgently needs a poo. I think its the latter.

Ten minutes pass. Grandad doesn’t want tea. Or a biscuit. He too is getting desperate.

Ray puts down his book and holds Grandad’s hands. I hover behind. Na-da. He will not budge.

“I’m a dead weight,” sighs Grandad.

Husband comes down brightly. He has an idea. He demonstrates the lifting manoevre we will employ on little Arnie. Arnie laughs and laughs. It involves the tickly elbows. He laughs bordering on hysterics.

“It will never work,” I announce. Me and Grandad look at each other. We are united, for once, in our mutual scepticism of husband. I get in position one side and my husband on the other. “He’s a dead weight,” I say.

But Grandad glides upright to his feet. He is Lazarus!  Husband is as smug as he is running late. “I can’t remember where I learned it but it was good, wasn’t it? I’d better go. Bye.” I want to say that this is the jam jar effect. One person does all the hard work to no avail only for the other person to come along and achieve it – based on the first’s efforts. But it wouldn’t be true, I have flapped but I have not done anything.

There is more news from Barcelona. My sister is staying somewhere near Las Ramblas and she is having a brilliant time.

Later that day, I see there were three missed calls on my phone from Dad at 4 am.