I have a strange mix of “skills”. In fact, I’ve had quite a mixed and varied life and still to this day I don’t think you’d describe as “ordinary” a lot of things I like, do, or say – that’s just the way these things turn out.
Something I did do for a period of time about 16 years ago was to nurse a 96 year-old French grand-mother (unrelated to me) who was suffering from fairly advanced dementia brought on by a series of strokes. She spoke only French and having moved here after she became ‘confused’ was not aware that she lived in England. I used to sit with her and we would sing French nursery rhymes and poems from a book she had which her daughter had specially written in effort to help her stay in this reality and not another one – I still remember many of them such as “Le bon roi Dagobert” and one about La Tour Eiffel being “on fire” (which if you’ve ever seen it lit up at night you’d understand). Her normal speech was a tormented turmoil of afflictions brought on by the dementia.
She was in many ways a very remarkable woman who, when younger, had swum in what was seen as an “indecent” bathing costume to the outrage of the local population – just because she could. She died peacefully and with dignity, surrounded by her family with me holding her hand. It was one of the most human and powerful things I have ever been involved with.
This is a poem about her. I’ve also recorded it in a way that tries to convey the cruelty of a snapped-open mind – if you do download and listen to the audio please try to listen to it the first time in stereo and preferably on headphones because mono will not do it justice.
Until then: à tout à l’heure.
Download the audio by right-clicking on this link and selecting “save as”. If you have speakers or headphones connected you can left-click and the link will download and play the track straight-away.
So I tap, tap, tap.
White you go
but I’m still waiting.
I’m still waiting.
Who are these boys,
the ugly man that runs the country?
A mere twinkle when I was first an
old woman. A pretender who
hides his heritage for the love
Til I roll my eyes again and repeat
the nursery rhymes that I taught you
which spill out between the cracks of my
White you go –
but I’m still waiting.
I was the suffragette who first
dared The Channel.
I was the crooked smile who
cocked a snook at the stiffened
shirts of the gendarmes.
I was the mother who rocked the baby
you in my arms.
And I was the granny who bit the
nurse on the commode.
I was the face in the photograph,
tiny torso in a wheeled chair.
I was the groaning carapace who,
pinched the shawl about my
knees and swore like a navvy
at the lady in St. Nicholas Park
and smiled like a treacle mouth so
she didn’t know.
Until I rattled my last.
Until I sighed out my submission
as you held my hand – and fingers
loosened their grip on this moment
and slipped from you without the
chance to sing again about the
tower on fire and the good prince
with the baggy trousers like we used
to in the glimpses of the past.
You brushed my hair again and
washed my face one last time and
crossed my suffragette arms
across my suffragette chest. One
You kissed the face of what was
left, red-eyed with a crunchy
smile at the memories.
And the people sang in French. One