As a young student nurse, on my first medical ward, I was encouraging an elderly woman to walk down the centre of the ward, after a stroke. This woman had come to the UK after the last war as a German Jewish refugee and her hard life had made her a strong character, but now her recuperation was slow and she was struggling to get back to the independence she longed for. She was a delight and a nag and an outrageously funny woman, and we couldn’t bear that – having survived so much – she would be defeated now. She tired easily and soon became exasperated so that the more we tried to coax her to walk, the more stubbornly she shouted “Enough! Enough! I vant my bed!” It was hard to deny her, we loved her a lot and she had been through so much.
That day, as she struggled to lift her feet, just wanting to be back in bed, disorientated and anxious, she had taken just about as much ‘recuperation’ as she could take. I was trying to be encouraging as I recited a mantra of the times “This is easy, and you can do it”, trying to find a natural rhythm for the words, to match her steps “This…. is…. easy….” but she was exhausted by the effort of putting one foot in front of the other. Finally, as I again murmured “This… is ….easy… and… you…. can …. do …it.” she shoved my guiding hands away and shouted “If it’s so bloody easy, darlink, you do it!” and with that she folded her arms, buckled her knees and sank defiantly to the floor. And yes, we all saw her triumphant grin as we carried her back to her bed.
She’s long dead now, of course, but I think of her often. I thought of her last night, as I clambered up the steep steps into my tiny yard. It’s just big enough for the dogs to do a late night wee, and for me to look up at the moon and have a few daft late-night thoughts. I love the night sky. The steps leading up to the yard aren’t just steep but also deep, and the passageway is narrow and twisting. Four years ago when I moved in, the builder said “You’ll never manage them without a hand rail.” and he put one in, in spite of my airy protestations that the steps were no problem at all. Well, now the steps are a bit of a problem, sciatica doing for the leg and ear problems doing for the balance, but I can no longer use the hand rail as it’s rotted away. Last night I was stranded, four steps up, neither leg lifting, nothing to hold onto. I stood there, trying to work out which bit of me to tackle first and I thought of my old German friend and sent a little smile her way, telling my three dogs (all watching me, with question marks above their heads) “This is easy and I can do it.”
So. You know what I’m going to do this week? I’m going to measure that hand rail, I’m going to work out how to remove it from its anchors (should be easy as it’s as the consistency of soggy weetabix), I’m going to find a place that sells lengths of that sort of and shape of wood (wood shop? woodery? handrail emporium?) and then I’m going to buy a replacement lump of wood. Handrail. Then I’m going to work out how to fix it on the anchors and then I’m going to varnish it or paint it or something. And then…. how fabulous will that be? Me, Lucy G, actually doing something practical. Amazing! I’m almost looking forward to it.
No, I’m not. I’m just grimly determined. And if it all gets a bit much, I’ll sing out that mantra.
Times like this I remember another of the advantages of having a husband. I do love blokes. I admit it. I love blokes. I love the blokeishness of them, the can-do ness of them, the way they know stuff. I even like their unfunny jokes. Men. They’re lovely. When George died and it was suddenly a two woman household (me and my daughter) I missed not only George, his humour and calmness and Scottishness and wisdom, but the blokeishness of him too. I remember driving through Derby and watching men with a sort of hunger, not for their company or their attention, but just to feast my eyes on their other-ness, a beard here, a hairy arm there, a deep laugh, a broad shoulder. All things bright and beautiful, the Lord God made them all.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
He didn’t have to make men and women, two genders. We could have been hermaphrodites. But we are men and women. Vive la difference! I think God likes the difference. I think he likes blokes too.
Hey, when I do the measuring of that handrail, I will be using this….
It’s the only momento I have of George! It’s treasured and special, because when I look at it I can see his hands, remember him so clearly. How strange that this is the only thing I have of his, apart from photos and a snatch of his voice on a tape. But I love this little lump of metal. I see it in his hands, I see him slipping it into the pocket of his sawdusty jeans, I see him measuring a piece of wood on his radial arm saw, dropping it into his toolbox, I hear him humming as he works.
Do you want to buy my Stanley Powerlock Measure?
Hard luck. There isn’t enough money in the world.