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Theft of Time

“Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today” my grandmother used to say. Or, if she was feeling pithier: “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Well thanks for that, Grandma. Like you I’ve always been a doer, not given to hanging about and pretty good at time management. That’s how I could do an enjoyable but demanding full-time job, my share of home stuff (mostly cooking while My Loved One did the rest) and still have some to spend with friends and family as well as practising and playing the violin, choral singing and doing a lot of reading.

Not any more. Ms Bloody Alzheimer’s has sapped much of that away and I now seem to spend most of every day (and often the night as well) just skivvying from one mundane task to the next – sorry, I mean caring, mopping up, running errands, taking MLO to medical appointments and doing enough laundry every day for a family of twelve. It’s as if life as I knew it has simply gone – and gone at breathtaking speed too.

I try – I really try – not to sound bitter or self pitying but I feel obliged to tell it how it is. Typically I start the day around 7am, usually having been up to help My Loved One several times in the night if only to steer him out of some restless fantasy and back to bed. Then I tend to him in the shower, and assist with drying and dressing. It’s very hands on and takes a while. Nothing, but nothing happens quickly these days. Then I pull a few clothes on myself and belt downstairs to organise breakfast which eventually MLO will trudge down to eat. By the time I’ve tided the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom, sorted/pegged out etc the inevitable washing and a few other, usually unanticipated, chores, I’m lucky if I get to my desk by 10.00am and I might get a whole hour undisturbed. For years I reckoned to get my head down at 8.30am and forge on until 1.00pm.  How else did I produce over 50 books and thousands of articles? I used to be able to return  to work for several hours in the afternoon and/or get out to an evening review job perhaps via a face-to-face interview too. Those were the days. Sadly I failed to appreciate how perfectly the teamwork operated until it no longer did.

The truth is that I now struggle to find the time for two or three hours of Real Work a day and I find that intensely frustrating. I’ve never wanted to retire. Working is my thing and it’s what I want to do more than anything. I’m fortunate in having several very caring and patient editors who understand the problems and, even as things are, I don’t miss deadlines. But by golly I resent not even having the time to pitch for more work or develop new projects. I’m a creative hard worker and still  in my Jean Brodie-esque prime.

But now as the chilly, uncertain light of 2019 dawns I know that I have to accept I shall be able to do even less work this year. MLO’s health is heading southwards every day. Getting out to review, for example, is becoming problematic. Hiring a carer in to cover a couple of hours in the middle of the time I’m out of the house already seems to be too little. He often phones me (yes, he can still just about manage that on the landline) within minutes of the carer leaving. Usually he’s panicking about where I am having dreamed or imagined that I’m in some kind of serious danger – generally I’m in a theatre and can’t answer so that compounds the problem. I’ve lost count of the number of times this year I’ve seen a missed call and charged out in the interval to call him. And all this is despite my carefully writing down for him exactly where I’m going and why with all the times. Unfortunately Ms Alzheimer’s is busy destroying his sense of time and ability to tell it,  just as she is ruthlessly confiscating most of mine.

I am, therefore, now thinking very carefully before I agree to review a show and that inevitably means I shall get to fewer this year. In the past MLO would have come with me as my “plus one” to some review commitments but he now gets very tired and isn’t actually interested in much so I take him ever less often. He did come first to English National Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Coliseum and to Messiah at The Barbican just before Christmas and seemed to enjoy them but those evenings were a gargantuan effort for him as well as for me and I wonder how many more times that can/will happen.

I am far from wealthy but we have enough money to pay the bills and buy what we want without having to worry too much and, obviously, my continuing to work helps with that. But when it comes to time I am rapidly becoming very poor indeed. I read only 50 books last year, for example. In the past I’ve gobbled up twice as many. Some formal exercise would be good too but when am I supposed to fit it in? I shall simply have to continue charging up and down stairs at every opportunity, marching along railway platforms if a train’s late and doing lunges in the kitchen while I wait for the kettle to boil. And as for the Arriaga string quartet I’m trying to learn the first violin part of for a session later this month … practice in five minute stints on a good day and often nothing at all. I know my fellow quartet-ers will understand but that isn’t the point.

There’s a great deal written about almost every conceivable aspect of Alzheimer’s but nobody seems to talk about how time consuming it is and how it steals your life – carer’s as well as patient’s. I find it one of the worst aspects.




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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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