Magazine article The Spectator

Leaving Home

Magazine article The Spectator

Leaving Home

Article excerpt

Well, that's that then. The last old lady left yesterday, led out through the front door by her daughter. They tried as hard as they could not to cry, but failed, and when I hugged and kissed Molly for the last time I got a wet cheek.

Mum's been running this place as a residential home for the past 12 years, but had a heart attack just before Christmas and has had to give it up. Dad's been dead three years. Now the old place is up for sale. Until someone buys it, it's just Mum and me rattling around in a huge house with nothing in it but echoes and memories.

Memories of old ladies like Doris, who was blind, and who used to pick her nose in front of everybody until it bled. Poor Doris starved to death in the end, despite this extra source of nutrition. A cancerous tumour grew across her gullet. The day before she died I went in to see her as she lay in bed. 'How are you Doris?' I said. 'Oh, I am a damn nuisance!' she said. Doris was from Lancashire.

And memories of Mrs Swift, who had been out in India and sometimes saw elephants in the field opposite. And of Mrs Lock, a gentle, pious, flatulent woman who constantly imagined she could hear rain and, towards the end of her long life, a heavenly choir. And memories of our gallant Commander too. He heard church bells, and once reported seeing a party of 'little people' making off with his belongings.

'Most extraordinary,' was Commander's comment on the affair, though he used to say this about pretty well everything. I suggested we go to the police, but Commander thought they were probably supernatural beings - some sort of goblin perhaps -and therefore out of the police's jurisdiction.

Memories, too, of Miss Violet Joint, a superstitious countrywoman who had only ever been out of her village once before and didn't know what sex she was. The day Violet arrived, my father was having trouble with the sewers. When I went into the sitting-room to introduce myself, my father was already quizzing her, very publicly, about the calibre of her stools, and making a ruling there and then on the future maximum length allowable.

And of Betty Potter, an ex-psychiatric hospital matron with Parkinson's disease, who never spoke about the husband whose body was never found. …

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