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Shows show how Ms A is tightening her grip

Last week we – My Loved One, Ms Alzheimer’s and me –  went to Chickenshed (“theatre changing lives”) in North London to see Monolog directed by Lou Stein. To do that we have to travel from London’s “Deep South” to Cockfosters at the northern end of the Piccadilly Line and it’s a bit of a hike involving car, two trains and two walks each way – although the show was very interesting and well worth travelling for. And I have long been an admirer and supporter of Chickenshed’s diverse inclusivity.

Anyway, on this occasion I decided it would be a good outing for MLO. It’s a welcoming venue and I thought it would be a nice change for him  – and it was.  It made me realise, though, that travel is getting ever more difficult. I now have to allow at least an extra half an hour for loo stops (at the garage next to Cockfosters underground, for example and at Charing Cross station both ways as well as several times at the theatre and in the restaurant we got a bite in before the show). Then there’s the trudging gait. I can stride from Charing Cross to Leciester Square tube in 5 minutes. With MLO it takes quarter of an hour.

He had to ask me several times during the journey where we were going and why, too. And rather poignantly I can often see him not knowing but not asking (I do know him rather well after all) in case I tell him off or snap at him. When we saw Of Mice and Men at Marlowe Theatre Canterbury recently, MLO actually grinned at me because he recognised that the dynamic between George and Lenny has so much in common with our life together has become. Theatre, empathy and all that.

At Chickenshed I was touched to find him chatting to Susan Jamson, Press and PR manager, whom I’ve known for a long time, when I came back from the loo before the show. Susan had been chatting to both of us and was now very gently trying to get MLO to talk – he’s become very reticent because he’s afraid of looking silly. At the point at which I returned to the table and stood away because I didn’t want to interrupt he was stumbling through a garbled account of having heard Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s first performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto at Maidstone the week before. He couldn’t remember Sheku’s name but somehow there was communication and it is excellent for him to have something resembling a normal conversation with someone he doesn’t know very well.

Shows are always tricky. I go to several, of various sorts, every week but more often than not I now go alone. For a start – as last Thursday – I sometimes see two in a day without coming home in between and I know that would now be far too tiring for MLO. Ms A ensures that he flags very quickly. In the past he would have travelled to join me for the second one but that’s no longer on. I’d be afraid he’d forget where to go or how to get there. He isn’t reliable at locking the house securely behind him either. So it’s a case of his coming out with me or staying at home.

At the weekend I reviewed a classical music concert in Hastings on Saturday night and another in Brighton on Sunday afternoon. We stayed overnight with our younger son, Felix, and his family on Saturday and made a Sussex weekend of it. But my word, MLO got confused. Drinking tea in a Hastings teashop before the concert he had no idea why we were there or what we were doing. “Is Felix joining us here?” he asked, vaguely And an hour or two later the tiredness caught up with him and he nodded off during Winterreise.

 Then on Sunday morning he started packing his things until I told him to stop because he might want some of them later. “Aren’t we going home in a minute?” he asked. At that point I flipped (no, I don’t have the patience of a saint and never did) and told him that I wasn’t going to give him any more information. “I’ll just tell you when the time comes and you need to know” I snapped crossly.

I later discovered that he then went to Felix and asked him what the plans were for the day. “You’re going to a concert at the Dome. Then I’m cooking you dinner” said kind Felix, very patiently.

In short Ms Alzheimer’s clutches are gradually tightening. It’s only 10 months since diagnosis but I don’t have to look far for evidence of the inexorable downward tug.

So how do I stop her destroying me too? Well I try to keep a sense of humour. It was quite funny, I suppose, in a grim sort of way, when I asked MLO to bring the concertina clothes airer downstairs and he got the cleaning lady to help him carry it erected because he didn’t know how to collapse it. I’m not sure, incidentally, whether she didn’t know either or was being tactful. Either way it was a nice bit of sit com when they arrived in the dining room carrying it between them.

And a bit of respite is good occasionally. At the beginning of last week I handed all my responsibilities to our elder son and escaped to Yorkshire for three days. There, a dear and lovely friend spoiled me rotten with tea in bed and gin by the fireside before delicious dinners in her beautiful home. And I came home feeling very refreshed. Being in sole charge of another human being – ie a baby or two – is one thing when you’re in your twenties as I was. It’s a bit different a few decades later.




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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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