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Ms A Fires Time’s Arrow

Well, that bitch, Ms Alzheimer’s certainly knows how to scupper sense of time – as in whether today is Tuesday or Sunday and whether we’re doing what we discussed last night or  dealing with some future arrangement, mentioned in passing.

My lovely loved one now frequently asks me what day of the week it is. Last Sunday we were due to pick the cherries from a tree in a Kent Orchard – Rent a Cherry Tree is an annual Christmas gift from my sister. On waking (early on the alarm clock) I asked him what we were going to do. “Aren’t we going to a funeral?” he replied. Well, I’m learning to read the surreal workings of his impaired brain now. MLO was thinking of a memorial service we were due to attend 48 hours later. My mistake was to have chatted about it at what must seem to him the “wrong” time.

Time and its complexities is one of the last abstractions a child conceptualises. It’s no good telling a two year old, in September, that we’re all going to Granny’s for Christmas. If he or she takes it in at all there will be misunderstandings. “When” is much trickier than “where”. And parents of young children know that instinctively. It isn’t, I suppose, therefore surprising that time is one of the first things to go when the brain is regressing. It reminds me of Martin Amis’s 1991 novel Time’s Arrow  in which the protagonist is living his life in reverse, speeding back towards the womb getting younger as he goes.

Meanwhile I have to find practical ways of dealing with it. So I have a new policy. Each night  I say: “This is what you (or we) are doing tomorrow and I’m not going to tell you about anything beyond that because you’ll get in a muddle”. He smiles gratefully. Then we go through it again in the morning when he may or may not remember some, part or all of it.

It’s another slant on “ take every day as it comes” but it’s far from easy because it destroys (bloody Ms A) much of the fabric or normal discourse and the kind of chatty conversation which has been part of our lives for decades. If I find myself trotting downstairs from my office and saying “Good news! I’ve got press tickets for Fiddler on the Roof at Chichester next week” or “We’re going to lunch with the family on Sunday” or “I’ll have to leave you a snack on Tuesday night because I’m working” I have to bite it back. Such bits of information are toxic. Within hours they bounce back at me garbled and misunderstood.

And I resent that a lot because I’m a communicator – forthcoming and informative by nature. Both as teacher and journalist, I have always been a disseminator – of stuff, at all levels. Having to desist from sharing quite ordinary things feels horrible. It means conversation isn’t quite spontaneous any more. Hate it.



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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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