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Tumbling down the rabbit hole

I know how Alice felt. Conversations between My Loved One, Ms Alzheimer’s and me become “curiouser and curiouser” by the day. I now get so many surreal non-sequiturs in response to casual remarks along with strange comments and questions that I can almost feel the walls racing past as we fall together further and further down the most famous rabbit hole in fiction. Sometimes, as in Wonderland or beyond that crazy Looking Glass, it’s quite entertaining. More often it’s pitifully puzzling.

Here are ten examples from the last week or two:

  1. I’m trying to explain (and I’ve also written it down) that I’m off to review a show and that a carer will arrive in an hour’s time to spend two hours with MLO. His comment: “Well I don’t think it’s on any sort of syllabus.”
  1. I say I’ll make us a mid morning hot drink. Him: “Good idea because I can hear a dog barking.” (Shades of Sherlock Holmes, curious incidents and the like?)
  1. Me, dizzy with tiredness in the middle of the night and getting a bit fraught, when he’s laboriously trying to get up for about the fourth time in an hour: “PLEASE stay in bed.” Him: “Well are you doing all the proper things?” When I press him about what these duties might be, he replies seriously: “Well, like mending the potholes.” I can’t resist observing tartly that I’m a very busy woman trying to spin a whole cupboard full of plates but that, thank goodness, pothole repairs aren’t on my job sheet. I just drive round them. And now, for goodness sake, let’s go to sleep.
  1. I’ve just helped MLO to shower and into his underwear. I say: Now go into the bedroom and put your trousers on while I fetch a clean shirt” whereupon he asks me anxiously: “We’re not expected to bow to anyone are we?”.
  1. I tell him a decorator is coming to give me a price for painting the ramps our elder son recently built for his father’s safety round the house. “But are you sure that’s OK?” MLO asks, worried. “Have you checked with the management of this place?” This is an ongoing problem. He often thinks we’re in some kind of holiday let. So I painstakingly explain for about the 35th time that we own the south London house which we bought in 2016. I am – effectively – the “management”. I need no permission from anyone else to make changes. “Oh I see.. .” he says mildly.
  1. It’s and we’re in bed but MLO is fidgety. I say for the fifth time that it’s the middle of the night and therefore time to go to sleep. “But what about the benchmarks?” he says anxiously. Me (weakly): “Benchmarks?” He fires back witheringly: “Yes. Surely you know what benchmarks are?”
  1. I make him a nice cheese sandwich for lunch all cut up neatly. Eventually he sits down to eat it but something is clearly bothering him? “What’s the matter?” I ask, so patiently that I’m quite impressed with myself. “I think it’s about nine and a half per cent” he says earnestly”. Have we reached the Mad Hatter’s Tea party, do you think?
  1. MLO is havering and hovering aka as “faffing about”. I tell him, several times, to sit down and eat his breakfast. “Yes, we’ve had the message haven’t we?” he mutters mysteriously.
  1. I’m in my office, trying (with great difficulty) to get a bit of Real Work done. I hear MLO come out of the dining room downstairs and laboriously start to climb the stairs. My heart sinks. When he arrives – and it takes several minutes – beside my desk it’s to ask me earnestly if there’s a WC in “this place”.
  1. A folded piece of paper has arrived on my bedside table. On it – in MLO’s now very spidery hand – is written: 2+ chile whilrst. No, I haven’t got a clue either. Perhaps Humpty Dumpty is right when he tells Alice that words mean what you want them to mean.

I’ve thought a lot about Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll – lately. I reckon, tucked away in that Oxford college (Christ Church) of his, he would have known all sorts of eccentric reclusives some of them quite elderly and perhaps afflicted with what we now know as dementia and a symptom of Alzheimer’s. Now that I have to live, partly anyway, in a sort of parallel Wonderland universe I can hear the echoes quite clearly.

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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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