Christmas Day. Another day when I do not need to get up early. The kids are off to see their grandparents in Wales. Lakshmi is looking forward to taking Alfie for walkies and we are spending the day with our neighbours. Patrick and Susan from across the road have invited us over for dinner.
Norman, our previous neighbour, is in hospital. I tell Doreen that I will take her to the hospital. I have plenty of time and might as well do something useful. Also, it would be lovely to spend some time with them. They are both in their early nineties. Doreen is the older of the two but the more fitter one. I’ve known them since Kavitha was in her primary school and yet I only find out today about the secret of Doreen’s youthfulness. I pick Doreen up at around midday and drive to the hospital.
There are five other patients in Norman’s bay. The nurses are busy but very pleasant and helpful. I am not normally used to nurses being this cheerful and have recently noticed a difference in attitudes. It seems that they are starting to see the profession as a vocation rather than just a job. Maybe the feeling was always there but it is becoming more evident nowadays. I have always noticed that the demeanour of the team always depended on how the ward matron behaved. If he or she was a kind friendly person then the rest of the team followed suit. This makes it a much more pleasant place to work in and also be a patient in if you ever were unfortunate enough to need the services of the NHS.
Norman is very happy to see us. I get a couple of chairs for us to sit by his bedside. Only two of the other patients have visitors. The guy visiting the patient in the corner is hardly speaking to him. They both are ignoring each other and I wonder why he has even come to visit as he stands by the window staring into his phone. The lunchtime trolley arrives and Norman gets his Christmas lunch of turkey and pudding. He has no appetite. Doreen cuts up the food and tries to feed him but he doesn’t enjoy it. The nurses try to wake the other patients up and get them to eat their lunch. I look around and wonder if this is what old age is all about. Christmas Day in hospital on your own. Even in a busy place like this the look of loneliness is much too evident and unsettling.
Doreen and Norman bicker away lovingly as Doreen chides him for not eating. I wonder if they would like some time alone together but they want me to stay. Doreen tells me not to get old. It is not fun she says. I ask her when she started feeling old. When she stopped playing badminton she says. When was that I ask. In her late seventies came the reply. She used to be very athletic, she tells me that she used to play squash and other sports. The only activity she didn’t learn was to swim. A bad experience after her first trip to the seaside put her off. No wonder she is so agile and active. It also reminds me that keeping fit and extending your life doesn’t guarantee a happy existence into your old age. I find this thought a bit depressing.
I drop Doreen back at her home and get back in time to go to Patrick’s house. Susan’s daughter has come to visit. She is a national judge for equestrian events and owns a horse. She tells us that she needs to go back to the stables and feed her ageing horse and make sure he is warm enough with extra blankets on her way home this evening. Over the past twenty years even the lifespan of horses have increased. In her younger days an age of fifteen was considered old for horses. Now her horse is in the mid thirties and she will not let the vet put him down. She had two. One died of old age.
We spend a lovely afternoon tucking into a sumptuous Christmas dinner with turkey and the trimmings followed by traditional Christmas pudding. Susan’s dad used to be a professional football player. He used to be a goal keeper for West Ham in the thirties. We stayed and chatted well into the evening.
It has been an absolutely perfect day. One of our first Christmases that we have spent with our neighbours instead of our family and have enjoyed every minute of it.