I’m home. I’m afraid this is going to be brief because I am just so shattered, but I know you’re all so lovely that some of you keep checking in to see how it all went, so I wanted to tell you that the general feeling between my sister and myself is cautious optimism. Yesterday was an extremely long day. And Nana-related anxiety gives me insomnia or, if I manage to drift off, nightmares, so as you can imagine the last few days have been a bit shaky (I accidentally wrote ‘years’ first off – how’s that for telling?!). Still, we got there without any major dramas, although our departure was delayed by more than an hour – which doesn’t remotely measure the unit of time I experienced sitting it out with Nana. But overall, we again travelled together better than I expected. This time, scones were my secret weapon. Gigantic scones with jam and cream. Plus cappuccinos. And a fat magazine. Llew chauffeuring us to the airport didn’t hurt either – Nana’s a big fan. Anyway, the trick I’ve found is to be very upbeat and keep the diversions coming. Oh look, here’s that coffee you wanted. Oh yummy, scones! Wasn’t that little boy at check-in adorable? Weren’t they nice to seat us together? Hasn’t Olivia Newton-John aged well? Let’s go to the toilet!
You’d be surprised, I think, just how tiring it is keeping this kind of chat up for a day. It sounds so simple, is so simple, and yet it is incredibly taxing for reasons I don’t quite understand. I was duly exhausted by the time we touched down in Ballina. I retrieved Nana’s bag from the carousel and we went outside to start what soon became a lengthy cab queue. My arrival in Ballina seems to precipitate its annual rainfall, and the windchill factor was raw. Nana – and who could blame her? – started loudly complaining. The state of her windswept locks was a particular sore point. I quickly went back into the terminal, picked up the white cab phone inside the door, and simply told them they had quite a line of customers waiting. Big mistake. A cab finally turned up. Just as I was hefting the bags onto my shoulder, the cabbie got out and said, “Anderson? Cab for Anderson?”
A guy near the back of the queue stepped forward (did I imagine the slight smugness in the smile..?), hopped into the cab and merrily drove away. Fuck. Talk about a trap for the uninitiated.
“Oh,” I said to Nana. “I didn’t give them my name because we were at the front of the queue. I just said there were people waiting.”
“Look at my hair!” she cried. “Oooh, that wind!”
“Do you want to go wait inside and I’ll come and get you when the cab arrives?”
Nana glanced doubtfully back at the terminal.
“Look at me!” she said. “I’m a wreck!”
“Well,” I offered, “you’re in good company.”
This pleased her.
“That’s true,” she said, and then she started fondling the tweed sleeve of the elderly gentleman standing behind us.
“This is lovely fabric,” she said. “Don’t you think this is lovely fabric?”
I smiled at the gent.
“Did you book a cab?” he asked.
I explained that no, I hadn’t.
“Quite a trap for young players,” I said.
He laughed delightedly.
“I’m just back from Wagga,” he said. “It was freezing down there.”
“It’s freezing here,” I said. “The same thing happened the last time. I’m starting to think it’s me.”
“Where are you going?”
“Cherry Street. Crowley.”
“Well then,” he nodded. “I’m going right near there. I booked a car. You’re welcome to share with me.”
It turns out that Tom is a War Veteran and lives in a unit on the vast spread that is Crowley.
LOVELY OLD GENTLEMAN ALERT. Nana stroked his tweed some more.
“Oh, thank you,” I said. “That is so generous, thank you. My name’s Diana, and this is my nana, Doreen.”
I shook hands with Tom but Nana was sort of semi-frozen at that point, so wasn’t really interested in observing the social niceties. And sure enough, it was Tom’s car that turned up next, not a cab for any hapless newcomer who just joined the bloody queue. He explained the situation to the driver, we loaded up the boot (the driver carefully placing a large white cake box out of harm’s way as he told us it was a sponge cake with which he planned to woo his wife), and we were away. Nana sat in the front and the cabbie understood the moment Crowley was mentioned that if she wanted to talk about Currumbin, where she lived more than 30 years ago, not the 4 she guessed when he asked, then it was best to just keep her talking about that. I sat in back with Tom and his tweed, and he was just the loveliest man, a real sweetie. He’d been down in Wagga for his son’s retirement, and was duly abashed by what that revealed of his own age. He knew my neck of the woods, too, since his daughter keeps a holiday flat here. We had a fine time. I tried to insist on shouting the ride to repay his kindness, but of course he wouldn’t hear of that, the best I could do was beat him down to dutch.
Anyway, Kate and two of the kids were waiting for us at reception. Nana was very… pliant. I think that’s the best word. She just went along with the tour, and the room, and the fact that there was someone else in there with her (yes, unfortunately she has to share with one other lady, whom I didn’t see awake over two days and who didn’t stir when Kate inspected the room last Thursday. So far as we can make out, she does little more than, well, breathe). She thought she’d been to a service in the chapel before. She was very happy with the water views, and the cafe, and the – wait for it – bar. Apparently they have happy hour twice a week. Right on.
After a long afternoon of checking Nana in, I collapsed in a heap in my hotel room and seriously got into bed at 6:30 pm. I didn’t sleep, I read, and then I tried to sleep but couldn’t, but I was so tired and sort of shell-shocked it was really the only place to be. Of course, I woke up at 5:30 am, but no matter. I just wanted to know how Nana was overnight.
I went around town buying her some stuff – toiletries and a phone – then walked to Crowley. The lady on duty said the night nurse said all went well, Nana had a good night, and so far, so good. I went to the room. No Nana, but there was a very nice bedspread. I don’t know why, but I found this non-institutional manchester profoundly comforting. I wanted to sit there stroking it the way Nana had stroked Tom’s tweed jacket the day before. That bedspread made me feel better about everything, even the sleeping woman on the other side of the room.
“Does she, um, wake up?” I asked the lady on duty.
“Oh yes,” she laughed. “She might wake up for day and then spend the next two days in bed. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?”
I thought about my night.
“You have no idea.”
I found Nana in the main living area. Her back was to me, so I stood watching for a minute to see how she was getting on. There were half a dozen or so residents all sitting listening to one of the activities directors reading news items aloud from the paper. Nana was leaning right over in her chair chatting happily to the lady sitting beside her. When I approached, she smiled and said “This is my granddaughter.” After that all broke up, we wandered back around to Nana’s room. She had no sense of being ‘left behind’ when I said I had to go home, and clearly no idea that last night was her first, but as I said to the Darklings, most important was that she didn’t say “When will you be back?” This was always my tip-off that she was lonely in her flat. And she didn’t ask. No, she waved me off.
I thought it was important to keep the smile on my face, then unloaded to my very nice female cabbie all the way to the airport, then sat in a teary stupor in the waiting lounge, then slowly started to compare where she was with where she had been, and that made me feel better. You should see the activities roster for the month – Nana’s dance card is full.
POSTSCRIPT: brief?! HA! This may well be a record on DoctorDi.