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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.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Caring, coach trips and that bloke off Countryfile .

Know Adam Henson--the smiley farmer on TV?

He hasn`t got a clue.

Don`t get me wrong--he knows his Cotswolds, and his countryside and his conservation.

But when it comes to grasping just how happy he made Phyllis by signing a couple of autographs at his Farm Park the other day; he`s in the dark. No idea at all.

This was a long awaited outing for Phyllis, and meeting Adam was the icing on the cake. She`s a country girl; and loves Countryfile on a Sunday night on BBC1. The local coach company was offering a day trip to Adam`s place, and she managed to get the last three tickets, taking her brother and a friend, too.

It`s not easy for Phyllis to get out for the whole day usually, because she lives with, and looks after my dad, who has Alzheimer`s.We`re in the process of trying to sort out a better pattern of care for him, which may include respite, but on this occasion my sister and I were able to step in. This was the first time, since dad`s dementia really took hold, that we`ve been alone with, and `responsible` for our dad. And we were very anxious about it.

Apart from being very forgetful, and seemingly bewildered a lot of the time, he has additional health issues, and we were lucky to have the help of a care assistant to visit twice during the day to attend to the personal stuff. That went well...the first time. The second time was more challenging than cheery. The lady was lovely, but Dad wasn`t happy, and was clearly frustrated at needing help in the first place. He took his anger, and embarrassment, out on an elderly bloke he spotted on the telly when he walked back in the lounge.

"See that old fool..?" he hissed, waving his stick at the screen, "well he couldn`t have bloody managed it on his own, either."

That was one of the many moments during the day that my sister Ali and I looked at each other, gulped, sniffed, and put the kettle on.

And one of the small mercies of dementia was that the sharp words were forgotten in moments.

We knew we weren`t there to step into Phyllis`s shoes. The `job` is too hard for that. There are plenty of quiet times, when, just as you`re grateful when your fretful baby has a nap, you can breathe, and get on with some jobs, or read the paper. But the times are quiet because dad`s brain  is slowing down. So you feel sad about that; all the time. It`s draining.

He insists on reading the Times, still. He used to love poring over the law reports; boring the pants off us all sometimes with the minutiae of some court case or other. This day, I watched as he held the front page close, then closer, scratching off a speck of dust. Then turning it over, gazing at the soccer shot for a while, and placing it back down on the table beside him.

I`d brought some art stuff with me. Dad was always a competent painter--watercolours mainly, and loved to sketch, too. After lunch I unpacked a clipboard, some paper, some pastel crayons, and a pack of sketching pencils from 3B to 2H. I scribbled on the paper with a couple of the pencils, and the pastels, by way of encouragement. He signed his name on the empty sheet with a flourish in green , then placed the whole lot on top of the Times and turned away. You can`t be hurt when an idea doesn`t work, or when a smile or a hug isn`t returned. That`s just how it is.

When he nodded off in the chair, Ali and I caught up on family news, then she polished off some ironing and we made some calls. And drank tea. And thought about how, if you were caring alone, you might really consider climbing the walls around now. We were lucky to have each other there, and to have a professional to call by, and we`re going to get down more often so that Phyllis can disappear for a day, or even a weekend. She needs it.

Anyway, when Dad woke, we got on to music, and some of his favourites. Al Jolson singing `Mammy` via YouTube on my phone had him nodding, smiling, but looking close to tears. Mind always did. Gear change.We laughed about the hot summer of `76 ; a holiday in Somerset, that David Dundas track.....a flicker of recognition at the rhythm of those opening bars....but not what I`d hoped for. I tried Ray Stevens` `The Streak`. He ALWAYS used to shout `Don`t Look Ethel...!!! `. But not today.

Next stop...the Seekers, singing `I`ll never find another you`. It was a black and white clip from their Farewell concert, with the pure, clear voice of Judy Durham. Surely he`d remember that? After all, he`d made a right pig`s ear . decades before, of trying to record the gig off the television .Yep...on to a reel to reel tape recorder, holding the mic up to the screen. Low tech at its finest. But this song had clearly made its mark.


Tears sprang to his eyes, and ours, as he joined us singing......`I could search the whole world over..........until my life is through.....` ("How LOVELY"...he interjected....before his baritone rendition struck up again....)...`but I know I`ll never find...another you....`.

And I realised, that with one phone playing that again via YouTube, and the other phone held in front of the three of us on `video`, that we could, in the next two minutes, sing it again together, record it, and produce something pretty special.

I`m not sure how many times I`ve played that back now. But I`ve laughed and cried every time.Dad in his chair. Ali perched on one side. Me at the back, giggling through the high notes.It`s backed up on my computer for safe keeping, and is currently my most treasured possession.

Phyllis loved it too, when she got back from the farm, with her Adam autographs, and her souvenirs of a top day out. She landed on the sofa and kicked her shoes off--little tiny size 3s, she wears, so neither of us could literally spend a day in her shoes.

But we got a taste of her day....a day in the life of a carer; one of millions of carers around the UK who take on that role without warning or planning, or training.... because of what life throws at them, and because of their love.

PS: I write about Dad, and his dementia from time to time. Click on the links below if you want to read more, and please get in touch if you have any thoughts on what you`ve read, or advice for us about caring, or respite. Thanks so much already to Lee Lewis from the WRVS where I live in Shropshire, and to Mandy Thorn, for their expert and professional advice and contacts.

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