Yesterday – Sunday – my sister rang shortly after 10.00am.
“Have you spoken to Dad today?”
“No – why do you ask?
“Because I’ve tried to call him this morning, he’s not answering …”
In another situation one might have been referencing déjà vu, or possibly the Groundhog Day movie [1993 – directed by Harold Ramis, written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott]. By which I mean, a sense of ‘Here we go again …’
Let me explain. The day before, having spent a couple of days with my aged father in the country, I had left him sitting watching the television – fuelled by a cup of tea and a slice of cherry cake – and driven home. My last act before departing was to insist he don his ‘watchstrap’ Age Concern alarm and place the lanyard of his newly-charged mobile phone around his neck (the phone itself into his shirt breast pocket), just in case he should fall or need assistance for any reason.
When you are siblings and you have a parent with dicky legs and balance problems, who loses his balance and falls, or nearly so, regularly – but far less than he tells anyone – and who has hurt himself by doing so twice in the past four months and who is also (relentlessly stubborn and proud) strongly resistant to losing his independence and/or seeking help or bothering anyone, you can sometimes be excused for feeling that you are on a hiding to nothing.
With apologising for the disrespect inherent in the inappropriateness of the comparison, you feel rather like two RAF squadron leader fighter pilots on standby at Biggin Hill and Tangmere in southern England during the Battle of Britain [10th July to 31st October 1940] sitting outside your respective Nissen Huts in the sunshine, killing time by playing cribbage, drinking tea and/ or smoking and chatting, waiting for the telephone to ring with news of another swarm of Luftwaffe bombers approaching the Seven Sisters white cliffs.
In other words, on high alert and ready to ‘scramble’ …
[Unless, of course, via due process of consensus, persuasion or imposition, you have previously arranged for your errant parent to accept the inconvenience – but hopefully in time boon – of having day or live-in care to look after him].
As a direct result of the phone call referred to above, instead of having a quiet family Sunday morning relaxing and reading the newspaper supplements and then afterwards going for a picnic with my daughter in the park, I spent the day up to tea-time fretting in anticipation of going into ‘action’ mode.
There were three possible scenarios as to what had happened in the country.
Firstly, my father might have taken himself off – and that’s another issue (at his age and state of physical health, should he be at the wheel of a car at all?) – to visit his similarly-ancient sister in the near-by village.
Secondly, he might have been persuaded by particular (helpful, not to say interfering) neighbours to go for lunch or out in the harbour on their motor launch.
Thirdly, he was somewhere in the house, perfectly fine and going about his business, deliberately ignoring the telephone because he just couldn’t be bothered to answer it.
Or fourthly … at some point since tea-time on Saturday afternoon, when I had left him alone … he had fallen and was now lying on the floor … possibly awake yet incapacitated … or unconscious, or even dead.
Which of those might it be? Without a contact from him, or indeed someone who was with him, or someone who could pop round to his house and check, we had no means of finding out – well, other than the obvious one of jumping into a car and driving for nearly two hours to get there.
My sister had taken initial responsibility for ringing my father’s house on the hour, every hour, until mid-afternoon. If she had not been able to make contact with him by then, we would have to act.
At the appointed ‘zero hour’, my sister rang.
Everything was fine. My father had been out for the day in the motor launch of the particular neighbours referred to [in Option 2].
In one sense, good for him.
But, in another, how inconvenient and selfish of him – and also of said neighbours – not to just let one of his siblings know that this was his programme for the day. This could have saved two families having their weekends blighted by worry at not being able to raise him, or even one of them having to drive to the coast lest he had been lying on the floor somewhere, unable to summon help … as indeed had been the case on the last occasion he fell, only three weeks ago.