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I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Coal, koalas and a dad with dementia

Who cares? Well, you do, when your baby`s new. Every blinkin moment. Later in life, when you`re old and infirm, maybe those roles will be reversed.

It`s a perfect blend of pride and panic, isn`t it,when they hand your newborn over.You`re completely responsible for every nanosecond of their life. And you really don`t have a clue how you`ll cope. It`s like starting a brand new job in a blindfold. Terrifying. But you feel your way. Learn as you go. And the rewards just keep on coming.

Not that there aren`t screamingly manic moments along the way. Those supermarket toddler tantrums when everyone stares.That aching tiredness from a week of sleepless nights. The fraught mornings when you`re late for the school run; late for work, your youngest is wearing two left shoes and is massaging a dollop of strawberry jam through her long hair like a Trevor Sorbie conditioning treatment. Oh and the car won`t start.And when it does,alongside the revs, is the gleeful repetition of the F word that she heard you scream. Been there?

Years down the line...they help you a bit in return, don`t they? Show you how to synch your i-phone and stuff. Download music. Retrieve lost files.They know you need their help. So it`s their turn to provide it.

There was more of that role reversal thing in New York last summer. I was standing alone in Times Square while the girls `finished` their shopping. (This was a lie. It never ends). I was completely absorbed as a television team filmed some interviews. And while I watched them work, one of the camera crew had apparently been watching me. He ambled over. And invited me to a party.Yes I know he was probably a complete creep but I felt strangely flattered. I was New York! And as I opened my mouth to reply...I heard my voice, my tone, only younger. My 14 year old had returned silently, peeped over my shoulder, clocked the date on the invite and told the bloke: " She can`t. She`s flying home tomorrow."

One day, maybe, I`ll be glad she`s looking out for me. I saw dad today. He lives three hours away. He`s 83 and has Alzheimer`s. We had coffee and sandwiches, and posh cookies from M and S. Only a few years ago, we`d have spent those two hours laughing endlessly about our shared family memories, or sparring over politics, fighting to get a word in edgeways. Now, the task of remembering what he had for breakfast is a challenge. And there are no questions back. No natural dialogue. His once razor sharp mind has been dulled; dumbed down, by dementia.

You sometimes get a flash of those long held memories though. They`re moments to cherish. Like the day I rang, and told him I`d spent the day by the sea. He broke into a near perfect rendition of Sea Fever, by Masefield; which was pretty stunning.

How many pictures does his monochrome mind retain now, though? Can he see himself as the 14 year old following his dad and grandad into the same Scottish coalmine..because that`s `what they did` in those days? Can he recapture the moment when he decided to get out of the dark, study hard, leave the village and take his first ever trip to London on the sleeper down to King`s Cross? How terrified was he on his first day on the beat as a London bobby in Harrow Road, with that stiff, scratchy collar and an accent no-one understood? How often now, does he compare those days with what was to come--selection for an amazing, elite role which saw him travelling the world, in private jets sometimes, destined for sparkling palaces.No coal. No dust. No crawling through low, dark tunnels because that`s `what you did`.

Even though he hardly ever got a break on those trips abroad, he`d always find local markets and buy gifts
for us. Today I could remind him about how much pleasure they gave us: Koalas from Canberra; trinkets from Katmandhu; hippy scarves from San Francisco. There were African dolls made of black cotton and raffia, with baskets full of fruit on their heads, silver bangles and turquoise rings from Mexico; grass skirted dolls and rows of beads from Tonga-- no one got `business trip` gifts like the ones our dad brought back; and the stories about the places he`d seen were worth a million geography lessons.

Even when he had to spend weeks at Balmoral in Scotland one year, and summer turned to autumn, he gathered dozens of different leaves from the local woodlands, and stuck them in two, identical books; one for me, one for my sister, with all the tree names labelled, so we could get a sense of the glorious changing season around him. You could smell the pine and squeeze the little Rowan berries till the juice spurted out.

Today, when it was time for them to take me to the station, I helped him on with his coat. Found his walking stick. Remembered his tough,tall presence beside me at all kinds of moments in my life. Today it was a frail frame leaning on me,as we walked tentatively to the car.That blend of panic and pride I felt as a new parent was back again.Fear, this time, about what lies ahead for dad. But so much pride about his past.

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