Transitions and Travels

The alarm vibrates, sending my mobile towards the edge of the bookcase. I fling my arm out to catch it.  I’m too late. It plummets to the floor, sending the back cover and battery flying. It’s 7:30am. I’m on my hands and knees, rummaging through clothes for my SIM card.

With my phone still in pieces, I drag myself to the kitchen. I flick on the kettle and return to bed to snatch a few extra minutes of sleep.  The fact that he’s plonked this bed in the study hardly makes it ‘my bedroom’. London is my base but I felt more at home waking up in that shabby hostel in Ireland.

The breakfast times were more flexible and at least the universal-rules of hostelling allowed for some personal space. I always slept-in, taking advantage of the late check out or paying for the extra night just to have a little more sleep.

The kettle clicks ready and I get up to make his tea: one and a half sugars, three squeezes of lemon juice and a quick dunk of the tea bag. I add some cold water from the tap; filling the mug within an inch from the top, I dip my little finger in to test the temperature.

I hear him stir. “Dear, I’m awake”.

“Hello, just making your tea” I call out, in our usual morning exchange.

I go to my room and swap my pyjama pants for jeans. I throw a cardigan over my singlet, buttoning it up on the way to his room.

“Good Morning! How did you sleep?” I ask my 93-year-old client.

He smiles and nods, pretending to hear. “Good Morning, dear. How did you sleep?”

He sips his tea and then we begin his physio for the morning. We do ten leg raises on his left and ten leg raises on his right leg.  I assist him to catheterize and have a shower. I take the towel I’ve placed on the radiator, wrapping it around his shoulders. “Ooh, lovely dear, lovely” he coos.  It’s an endearing morning-murmur that makes me smile.

He dresses while I prepare breakfast. He’ll have Special K; I know this because he has had Special K for the past 67 days in a row. I fill the bowl a quarter full, slicing half a banana over the top. I prepare a shot glass of orange juice and a shot glass of water. Two prunes are placed on his side plate. Sometimes I try to give him three or four, but “two is plenty dear”. I’m not really hungry this morning – just worn out. I miss the big Irish fry-ups and family breakfasts. Just like the ones my cousin’s wife would make.

I’d mistakenly told her I wasn’t hungry that morning but that just encouraged her to load up my plate. There were eggs, bacon-rashers, fried chips, beans, tomato, mushrooms; black and white pudding. Breakfast was always followed by our light-hearted quarrel as I declined yet another cup of tea. She’d always insist “Ah, go on, of course you’ll have cuppa tea. I’m just after putting the kettle on for myself and Tommy” And before I knew it there would be a cup in my hand. “There you go lovey, you drink that up”.

He sips his tea and we look out the balcony-window. The sea gulls won’t join us for breakfast now that winter has moved in. The looming BT Tower reads “915 days” in its rotating Olympic countdown. After breakfast he turns on the wireless and “BBC news at 9 o’clock”. The volume suggests we’re broadcasting to the city of London. The static and talkback is a harsh contrast to the trad music that filled the little Ballydehob pub that night.

The session grew from two musicians to twelve. There were guitars, an accordion, a bodhran, fiddles and flutes, a tin whistle, violins and many floor-tapping feet. Each musician shuffled around the table, with their ciders and Guinness, to make room for the next. I shuffled around the bar to make room for the locals as the tiny town filed in. We chatted about Guinness, the recession, dream-catchers and music.

He’s not very chatty today. He reads and listens to the radio through the morning. I change the bed sheets, do the shopping and check the post before lunch. In the same time I’d climbed the Spinc and the Wicklow Way – an 11 kilometer mountain hike – still managing to write some post-cards and collect supplies from the co-op.

At supper we have our soup and half a slice of toast each. We watch our favourite show about a Swedish detective and then he blasts the radio on to hear the “BBC news at 10 o’clock”. Later, I assist him to catheterize and get into bed. We end our routine with his physio for the evening. We do ten leg raises on his left and ten leg raises on his right. I turn off the lights and finally finish my day.

On that trip I’d ended my days drinking, set-dancing and singing with locals. But not tonight. I go to the study and climb into bed.

And I reset my alarm for 7:30am again.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Candice Walsh
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 00:03:41

    This is a really sweet piece Rebecca, very heartbreaking. Just a question though, who is the lady who appears halfway through? I’d love to hear more about her!


    • Rebecca Kinsella
      Jan 27, 2010 @ 00:20:37

      Thanks for the comments! The lady is my Dad’s Irish cousin’s wife..haha..might see if i can try & make a reference to that.


  2. Barnaby Davies
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 09:16:26

    Really nice links: using tea and music as transitions to the past appeared effortless. A great read.


  3. Felicity
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 00:33:59

    I like the start it hooked me right in. Great ending with the alarm as the piece began – left a me with a melancholy feeling at the end that the 68th day would be just more of the same. I was sort of waiting for a climax in the past story though, like there was a particular moment or something you were building to, but nevertheless the transitions worked really nicely –subtle enough to keep the flow of the story going. I really liked all the detail you put in it gave a really good sense of place to both. It left me wanting to find out more about both storylines! Great job!


  4. koangirl
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 00:23:55

    Nicely written, with spot-on descriptions. The one thing that caught me up and made me reread it a few times was the first transition: I’d mistakenly told her I wasn’t hungry that morning but that just encouraged her to load up my plate.

    I thought, oh, I thought she was looking after an old fellow. Who is she? Whups. After a few reads I realized this was your transition. Either I’m a bit dense (quite possibly) or this needs a little tweaking. Otherwise, a good read with excellent sense of place. Are you doing care/nursing in London? I did that for three years and your descriptions brought back a lot of memories.


    • rebeccakinsella
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 18:27:43

      thanks for your feedback – that transition definitely needs a little work, it’s a bit of a jump, hey?

      Yep, i’m working in central London as a live-in carer for a lovely man. Nice to have the thoughts of another carer on this piece 🙂


  5. Jenna van Schoor
    Apr 06, 2010 @ 15:39:37

    hey rebecca, really enjoyed reading this.

    i went to ireland two years ago and fell in love. reading your piece took me back to those awesome greasy breakfasts with black pudding, irish tea and guinness.

    i thought your intro was very effective, and i liked your the way you described your day to day routine, in contrast to heavy drinking hostel life.

    the only thing that confused me is that it wasn’t clear from the beginning that you were in london, which took me a little while to figure out, but maybe that’s because i have never spent time there.

    otherwise i thought your piece was interesting and sincere, and i look forward to reading more!


  6. Richard
    Apr 07, 2010 @ 08:35:07

    Hi Rebecca

    I loved it. The morning and evening sections really pulled on my heart, and made the free living in the bar and the musicians resonate with a sense of really living.

    The piece left me with so many internal questions about age (my own and others) and how I feel about it, that your story doesn’t try to answer – the perfect place to leave it.

    Thanks for a great piece.


    • rebeccakinsella
      Apr 07, 2010 @ 11:11:05

      Hey Richard, thanks for your thoughtful comments. It is a job that makes you reflect on your own age and health, so it’s nice to hear that that came through in this piece.


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