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Ms A goes to Amsterdam

Well we’ve been to Amsterdam, My Loved One, the terrifying Ms Alzheimer’s and I. I’m drafting this on the train heading home to London.

The toxic monster kept a fairly low profile for most of the three days we were away but of course she’s ever present in the shadows. I’m continuously aware of her in the corner of my eye. She got at him, for instance, while I was snatching forty well needed afternoon winks in our hotel room – eye of the ball for a few minutes. When I surfaced MLO had showered, changed and was looking very dapper. “Are you going somewhere?” I asked. “Well I thought I’d better get ready for the birthday party” he replied. I never ascertained whose birthday party he thought we were going to. It would be funny if it weren’t so bloody tragic.

But of course there were lovely bits too and for most of the time we’ve been able to have sensible, adult conversations which more or less exclude the hateful Ms A, thank goodness. The whole point of the trip was to get Mr E into the Concertgebouw to hear the Royal Concertgebouw orchestra on their own turf – a hitherto long held ambition of his. We heard Radu Lupu play Mozart’s 24th piano concerto and then some pretty wonderful Strauss and Wagner. MLO’s eyes shone throughout and it was a tear-jerking sort of evening for more reasons than one.

Otherwise it’s difficult to know what do with him given that Ms A pecks away at him all the time so that he’s perpetually tired. Ninety minutes in the Rijks Museum (Rembrandt, Vermeer et al) was all he could manage. And soon after that we had to go back to the hotel to rest. A walk round the lanes and canals in the Jordaan area was really too much too and crowds are always difficult.

I naturally walk at a moderately brisk pace – allegro ma non troppo perhaps. Because Ms A seems to drag him back as if he were carrying a couple of sacks of potatoes, MLO now walks at lento. That means that within a few hundred yards a congenial walk becomes a tedious trudge. And that was what happened in Amsterdam’s lovely Vondelpark. I find myself doing a lot of hand holding – not out of romantic affection (although of course that’s still there) but rather as you hang on to a child as a  means of anchoring him or her. And I find the slow pace very wearisome. If I let go I inevitably I walk ahead, MLO drops back and then I look round and he’s out of sight in the crowd. It happened repeatedly in Amsterdam. I’m turning into an anxious, protective mother hen – oddly, much more so than when I had young children.

Always slight of build and pale of complexion, MLO now looks quite frail – an adjective several friends have used lately. And that means that when we’re out and about, most people are helpful and considerate – giving up seats on public transport and being patient in restaurants when he dithers, for example. I keep “My husband isn’t very well” up my sleeve as trump card but haven’t so far needed to play it very often. People can see how things are.

It fills me with desperate sadness to watch the physical decline, though. He still automatically reaches for the larger of our two small wheeled suitcases – then finds he can’t lift it across that ridiculous “gap” even wider on some continental trains than British ones. So I have to do it and he hates that.

He also feels the cold more than he used to. One of our days in Amsterdam was chilly. “Perhaps I’ll buy a jacket. I could do with a new one”. I told him, not very seriously, that what he needed was a nice warm hoodie and to my astonishment he went into a GANT shop and bought one. MLO! In a hoodie! Who says that leopards (especially demented ones) don’t change their spots?

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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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