28th May

Tidying Up

My father and I are reading the papers. Dad’s daily paper is the Herald, a broadsheet. After a while the pages get out of control and he spends a lot of time trying to reorder them. I offer to help but he says he’s fine. He isn’t. This is one of the things that has changed: he can still take in and retain a lot of information from the paper, but the physical organisation of the pages causes him great difficulty, and tires him. When he falls into a doze, I rescue the paper and restore it to its correct page sequence. I have a go at the cryptic crossword, something we used to do together but which is now beyond him.

He wakes up. ‘Do you want the paper back?’ ‘No, I’m fine,’ he repeats. He turns his attention to the jumble of pens, CDs, keys, coins and junk mail on the shelf beside his chair. I can see he’s decided to tidy this all up. He becomes completely oblivious to my presence. He can’t reach every item with his hand so he uses a pen to nudge things closer. A bunch of keys falls to the floor. I force myself not to go to his assistance. This is an opportunity for me to observe, not to help.

Slowly, stiffly, he stretches down and retrieves the keys. He uses the pen to guide a CD case to the edge of the shelf, and manages to grasp it before it falls. He’s less successful with the coins but they drop within reach and, with agonising slowness, he picks them up. Item by item, he transfers the pile into his lap. This takes about twenty minutes. He dozes again. I finish the crossword.

Waking again, he starts to move everything from his lap back to the shelf. The pens, coins, CDs, keys and junk mail return to where they were, in a different order that is no tidier than before. This is what my father does these days. This is what he can achieve, unaided.

‘Do you fancy a cup of tea?’ I ask.

He smiles. ‘Lovely,’ he says.

I go to put the kettle on.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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