Written by tjmstroud
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Monday, 17 September 2012

Dear Constituents

I have had a most relaxing few days. This is not what I expected after I moved into Grey Gables Old Persons' Home two days ago, but the service has been excellent.

On the other hand, I suppose, I was fortunate in that my residence here was temporary and voluntary.

Unlike the other long term residents I had not really been abandoned by my family to live amongst health and safety posters, the combined smells of death and cottage pie, to play Bingo every Wednesday afternoon and listen to Max Bygraves and Dorothy Squires.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to find the odd moment to check my emails on my Blackberry and at one point after lunch got hold of the remote control on the communal TV to watch a live Parliamentary debate on Secondary Education.

But my disguise - grey wig, pale green cardigan, hat (with feather), brown stockings (two ladders now), brown shoes, matching brown handbag and thick tweed skirt - worked far better than expected. I kept the Blackberry in my handbag but most of the residents were so deaf they couldn't hear the Black Sabbath ring tone.

My only problem arose on Wednesday afternoon (I was trying to avoid the sing-along with Bing Crosby and the catch-a-beach ball session) when Mrs Ricketts (the lady in charge) caught me having a crafty shave in the toilet by the TV room. However, I got around this by saying I suffered from severe halitosis and, being a very self-conscious sort of person, liked a spot of privacy whenever it got too bad.

Mrs Ricketts said she hadn't smelled anything too bad so far but that she'd got used to all sorts of things after six years and nothing bothered her any more. Anyway, even if I had bad breath, why did I need to shave with a Gillette Turbo-Prop Excel with added Aloe Vera?

I apologised and said that because of my age (eighty six) I was also prone to occasionally using wrong words and that what I had meant to say was that I suffered from hirsutism not halitosis. If she needed to check that I was, indeed, hirsute in all the usual places then I would need to undress. However I also suffered from double incontinence and my nappy needed changing so it was up to her.

Thank goodness she chose to leave the bathroom at that point. My knickers were already hanging around my knees due to the elastic failure and my equipment was on full display.

I am telling you all this to demonstrate how a fifty year old male MP can, when required to understand the deep social problems caused by the growing numbers of old people, stay for three days in an old people's home surrounded by twenty eight old ladies and only one old man (Cyril) without being detected.

Cyril became a good friend and I chatted to him one afternoon using my best croak.

He is in his nineties, an ex-Paratrooper and Desert Rat but now suffers from poor eyesight and Parkinson's Disease. Cyril told me he was very popular with the ladies because his hands shook so much that they used him as a vibrator.

Cyril said that he was, though, very grateful for not being able to see who or what he was vibrating as he dreaded what the old dears really looked like. But he had used his poor eyesight to regain his old, vivid imagination and found it comforting to know that some of his body parts still worked.

Clearly my croaking voice was very convincing as he then asked me if I needed anything done although he thought he might have already seen to me earlier that morning. I said it couldn't possibly have been me that he'd done earlier as he might have got a shock if he had ventured too far inside my knickers. I then gave an excuse and shuffled away with my stick as his hand was already advancing up my thigh.

By Thursday morning Mrs Rickets was, however, becoming suspicious as I'd left the toilet seat up and had dribbled on the pan.

In the presence of Josephine (Filipino nurse - nice little thing in blue uniform) she challenged me once again over my claims of halitosis, hirsutism and incontinence. So I said (in my best croaking voice) that I was, at eighty six, inclined to be a little confused from time to time as I was, quote:

"Overburdened with the cuts and bruises of eighty six years in a high profile profession - including service during the second, world war - and my brain was in need of a serious de-clutter. Such was the huge amount of information now stored in my head that I probably needed to delete a large number of old files or fit a new hard drive."

Unfortunately I now realise this may have sounded like the start of one of my better speeches in the House so I'm glad I stopped in the nick of time - once I'm on a roll nothing stops me.

I was saved by my Black Sabbath ring tone suddenly erupting from inside my handbag. I gave it a quick smack, luckily hit the off switch and scuttled away. I scuttled away probably quicker than they expected but still slow enough to ensure my knickers stayed up.

However, let me return to when I checked out of the Travel Lodge on Monday morning, took a taxi to Grey Gables, paid my fare with my Visa card and rang the bell.

Mrs Rickets had opened it and I noticed she had a blue uniform with her name and title and a corporate slogan (clearly Grey Gables was part of a chain offering similar services). I had already put on my new glasses (plain lens) in readiness for my arrival but lifted them up onto my forehead in order to read the slogan.

I think it was supposed to read "Life after Life." Unfortunately some of the letters were now frayed and it said "Lie after Lie," so I've been taking everything she told me with a pinch of salt.

But I was immediately struck by the smell. Cabbage, urine and pine disinfectant is not something I have smelled before in that triple combination and especially at 9am on a Monday morning. Portcullis House in Westminster is known for its pine disinfectant but only early mornings after the cleaners have left. The other smell - coffee - gets a bit much by mid-morning (I hate Kenyan and much prefer the Ethiopian).

However, Mrs Rickets, seemed very welcoming as I stood in my grey wig with my hand resting on my stick (bent handle - Oxfam £2.25) and my wide rimmed glasses (Oxfam £1.50) now back on my nose.

I had practiced by tremulous and croaky voice on Sunday night over several late beers and by Monday morning and with the hangover, it sounded perfect.

But, constituents - let me introduce you to the bare facts of Homes for the Old and Completely Abandoned for this could well be you in a few years' time.

First, make the most of your lives and save for a decent pension. You see, Grey Gables was, very crudely, grouped into the living and the dying sections. Fortunately after a few questions from Mrs Rickets which I must have answered correctly, I was put in the living section but we passed the dying section on the way to the living section.

The dying had all been put in dark rooms in a corridor. They were so dark that I don't think any of them knew whether it was night or day and most of them looked like ghosts already.

We stopped at one and I said "Good morning" to the old lady while Mrs Rickets smoothed her pile of pillows and stroked her forehead. The old lady just stared at me and I stared back. This was Kathy - once Professor of English Literature at Oxford - abandoned not only by her family but by academia itself. I felt I should at least try reading to her for a while.

I was told that the dying stay in bed but that the living (which is what I was) start their day shortly after six when staff begin hoisting them from their beds with cranes, remove their soiled night clothes, wash them with a sponge, dress them, transfer them to their wheelchairs and push them into the day room. If this was a Romanian orphanage there would be an outcry.

I told Mrs Rickets not to bother hiring a crane for me as I still managed to struggle out of bed on my own although six o'clock sounded a bit early - especially if I'd been up watching Newsnight and was still feeling angry about Jeremy Paxman.

However, I was already getting the hang of my croaky voice and shuffle and was led to a room with a large table, allocated a big upright chair, shown how to operate the leg rest, given a pair of fluffy slippers and told to wait while they sorted out my room.

I was just starting to get bored when the wide doors opened and in came a row of wheelchairs like the procession of vintage cars at the Krupton Show. I was soon to meet my fellow residents - Elsie, Peggy, Maggie and so on.

Introductions over, we sat and stared at each other. I fought a terrible urge to check my emails but, instead, joined in the silent staring around.

That was until Peggy (bronchitis and loud wheezing) asked "What shall we do today?"

"Let's go on strike," I shouted in my best tremulous croak.

"OK, after Bingo," said Elsie.

And that was it for my first morning. After Bingo we went on strike. I'll tell you more later.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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