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Bags of worry

When My Loved One first started to lose things Big Time – keys, credit cards, phone, rail card, wet wipes, pens and all the rest of it – I issued him with a handbag, a neat grey canvas cross body job. Our elder son and his wife refer to it as his “manbag”.

“Right” I said, “It’s easy. You keep all your everyday bits and pieces in here. You never leave the house without it and you keep it with you at all times when you’re out. Problem solved”.

If only it were. I’d reckoned without the cunning of busy Ms Alzheimer’s.  For a start the bag has lots of compartments and he struggles to find things inside it.  He likes, for instance, to keep his coins, in a polythene bank bag. On at least six occasions I’ve been told, mournfully, that he’s lost them. Of course I then go through the bag and produce said coins like a chinking rabbit out of a hat. But that doesn’t help if he’s in the Co-op buying a loaf of bread on his own – the sort of small errand I’m determined he’ll go on doing for as long as humanly possible.

Moreover, that bag has been left at home, in people’s houses, in restaurants and in the car more times than I can remember. It is little short of miraculous that it has never been permanently lost. But people are awfully good. Several relatives and friends have very kindly put themselves to considerable trouble to return it to him when it’s been left in their homes. Waiters scamper helpfully after him in restaurants – or look after it carefully until he returns for it. And so far the car has not been broken into.

Of course, we all remind him all the time but we’re none of us infallible. Sadder, really, is the anxiety it causes MLO. “I think I’ve left my bag at home” he’ll often say from the passenger seat in the car when we’re a few miles on our journey. “No you haven’t” I reply. “It’s next to mine on the bag seat under our coats”. He and Ms A, have, of course, completely forgotten what they did when leaving the house. But she has got at him and he has started to fret and worry.

These days, in restaurants and coffee shops I usually put his bag and mine together on my side of the table. I know I shan’t forget mine so that ensures that his is safe. But once or twice during every meal he’ll say “Have you got my bag? I don’t know where it is”. I’m used to that now but it still seems pretty tragic if I pause and allow myself to think about it.

When I grumble at him about his carelessness he will sometimes point out that it’s different for women most of whom carry bags from childhood so the habit is deeply ingrained. Manbags – although now pretty widespread – are a relatively recent thing which have come in with lap tops and tablets.  He’s right of course – I’ve been carrying a handbag since I was about 11 and it’s as much part of me as my knickers or shirt. Glued to me, in fact. Twenty five years of teaching in some very challenging secondary schools with known criminals in many classes taught me to keep my bag always within a few inches of where I was and never to allow it out my sight. Bag awareness is second nature. In the same way, I’m a Londoner through and through so don’t my put my bag down in a public place and walk away from it, even for a few seconds unless I’m with a trusted companion.

It would seem that if a man doesn’t carry a bag for the first 50 years of his life it is probably too late to learn such behaviour especially if Ms A is pecking away at him like a malevolent woodpecker.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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