- About the Author
- On Active Service
It’s always an effort to visit an elderly relative in an old people’s home. You put it off and put it off. You know you should do it. You’ll probably be like that one day and you’ll look forward to someone coming to visit you. But you agonise over what you’re going to talk about. Little goes on in their lives after all. A lot goes on in ours, but where do you start? And if they’re deaf you have to keep repeating yourself. And the old people’s homes are all the same, full of old ladies (seldom old men), and there’s an all-pervading smell of wee and boiled cabbage. You arrive to find an old lady earnestly talking to a potted plant. Another one accosts you. “Aren’t you the man who cut down my trees?” she asks to your utter bewilderment. And there’s always one trying to escape. “Watch out, Nellie’s on the loose again!” the carers cry as she hurtles past you and rattles the front door. She’s led back, willingly enough, to her room, with promises of ice cream and television, if she’s good. “Old men are babes again.”
But we have no real excuse to put off visiting my godmother. The home she’s in, which probably costs a fortune, is one of the better ones, an old house divided up into rooms for the elderly. No smell of wee or cabbage here. No mad old ladies (or none we can see anyway). The staff are wonderful, caring and welcoming, a cup of tea is brought to us, in cups and saucers not mugs. My godmother’s room on the third floor (up a lovely sweeping oak staircase) overlooks the front of the house, where she can keep an eye on people coming and going. She’s ninety-eight, though you’d never believe it. No sitting around in nightie and dressing gown for her. She’s smartly dressed, her hair nicely done. She gets up (slightly unsteadily) to greet us, knows exactly how we are, asks about our house sale, even though it’s three months since she last saw us, and she could be forgiven for having forgotten all about it. Nor has she forgotten about our new grandson and she asks if we’ve brought photographs. She herself is the founder of a huge dynasty, five children and goodness knows how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The dozens of framed photographs around the room show weddings and babies, most of whom she can’t identify. The hour we are with her flies by. Conversation moves on from our news to her family news: her eldest son is in Australia, there’s a new great-grandchild, though she’s not sure whose, but she doesn’t think the young couple is married. We talk about the change in social mores, the way marriage is now out-moded. She tells us how she met her husband and how different things were in those days. She lived in “digs”, where she wasn’t allowed to hang her “smalls” on the line, in case the male residents saw them! The hour flies by and on the way home we say, like we always do, that we really should go more often.
Bethany Askew is the author of five novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days and Poppy’s Seed.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Future projects include a new short story, this one for the young adult market, and another full-length novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.