Saturday, 20 June 2009


Once in a while; only once in a while, one of our residents goes missing. She doesn’t actually abscond, neither does she escape; nor does she go AWOL. She just disappears from the confines of Twilight Lawns plc for a few days, and usually reappears after some time; none the worse for wear… more or less. We have become quite inured to some Old Bird wandering across the gravel and into the side entrance with her metaphorical tail tucked between her metaphorical legs.

Sometimes she doesn’t even know where she has been, and, more often than not, she doesn’t know who she is either. On occasions, if she’s a bit rank… or more so than usual, we just hose her down and shove her into Nurse Smythe’s office for a quick checkups; then it’s back to her room, or The Queen Alexandra Day Drawing Room and Recreation Area, or to take her place in the queue at Medication Time. Then we get on with more important things

A similar case occurred recently. One of our Older Residents, Maisie, who has been here for so long that no one can remember when she arrived… or where she came from, did just this. Old Maisie’s fairly harmless, all things considered.

She wandered into the kitchen one Friday morning, demanding a packed lunch. Cook assumed that she was going for a Jolly Jaunt with several of the other residents who were going to limewash the latrines at the back of the Scout Hut in Ponce Lane, Merton-on-the-Water. The Little Sisters of Selective Charity, Streatham Hill had organised this Fun Day Out but, as it was a Friday, Sister Mary Perpetua had decreed that her Sisters wouldn’t be able to touch the limewash, in case they contravened an old Papal Bull that stated that not only must fish be eaten on a Friday, but one would be in danger of extending Purgatory by seven years if one were to touch a paintbrush or lime in any form on that day.

So a small contingent of girls from Twilight Lawns and one or two Novices who didn’t look as if they were fit for the life of one of the Sisters of Selective Charity, had been delegated for the cleanup.

Cook assumed that Maisie had been one of the lucky participants, but this was not the case. Maisie had simply decided that her mother would be visiting her on that day. During most of her stay at Twilight Lawns, Maisie had been convinced that a visit from her mother was pending… in fact, imminent. Whereas most of the Old Dears of her age would preface a statement with, “I’m almost ninety, you know”. Maisie’s catch phrase was, “My mother’s coming to see me today. We’re going out for tea”.

But cook didn’t enquire and indicated a cardboard box in which there were a number of packed lunches; enough for one each of the residents who were going for the limewashing. Maisie took two packed lunches and went to the front steps of the Home where she aimed to wait for her mother’s arrival, and sitting on the stone steps, began to eat the first packed lunch.

Presently, Sister Mary Perpetua arrived in the Saint Benedict’s white van, to collect the limewashing party.

“My mother’s coming to see me today. We’re going out for tea”, said Maisie.

Sister Mary Perpetua, true to her vocation, and to the tenets of her Order, ignored her; she returned shortly with a group of the more able Residents, most of them carrying packed lunches and looking forward to a Jolly Day Out. Edna and Esther were complaining that there weren’t enough packed lunches to go round and Sister Mary Perpetua was explaining to them that if only they had been born Roman Catholic and of a Better Class, they could have partaken of the Poached Salmon a la Paige with Dill, Vidalia Onion and Cucumber Relish that was on the luncheon menu at the convent that day. Sister Mary Perpetua slipped into the driving seat, forced the gearbox somewhat, and with a screech of metal against metal, took off with Novices and Residents squawking like Raj’s Black Orpington hens.

Shortly afterwards, The Reverend Hugh Halitosis marched quickly and importantly up the stone steps. He had an appointment with Mrs Plantagenet-Featheringstonehaugh (Matron) and hated being late.

“My mother’s coming to see me today. We’re going out for tea”, said Maisie and gave him her biggest smile. She liked The Reverend Halitosis. But he was far too busy and also far too important to talk to any of the Residents singly; he much preferred to talk to them in small groups. So he swept past her and entered the house.

Maisie was starting on her second packed lunch when the Refuse Collection Lorry drove through the side gate and disappeared around the back of the Main House. The driver leant out of the window of his cab as they passed.

“Oi! Oi! Oi!” called out the driver, “Is this Wrinkly Greens, terminal home for Old Farts & Crazy Old Birds?" The astute chap had obviously read the signpost at the Great Gates. And he drove on, his loutish friends guffawing along with him.

Maisie rose to her feet and called out, “My mother’s coming to see me today. We’re going out for tea”, but neither the Refuse Collection Lorry Driver nor his amused friends heard her, so Maisie sat down again and gazed into space.

It was a pleasant morning with a warm sun; the sun shone, as only the sun can shine in the better parts of Surrey; the birds chirped with dulcet tones in the hedge beside the gravel drive; and our Maisie, never the great thinker, sank into happy reverie, and from the happy reveries she slipped into untroubled sleep. In her dreams she walked beside her mother, on their way to an Olde Englishe Tea Shoppe. Her head fell back gently against the stone pillar and she slept the sleep of the good... or more correctly, the sleep of the geriatric in the warm sunshine.

And it was possibly at this juncture that she seemed to have disappeared.

Sister Mary Perpetua vaguely recalled seeing her on the steps of the Main House. But she thought little of it… she had spent many years of her life scrambling over women lying on the floor or kneeling or whatever, to notice this one.

One or two of the Residents, returning with Sister Mary Perpetua recalled seeing her there, eating sandwiches. These Residents may have been Edna and Esther.

The reverend Hugh halitosis swore that he had seen nobody… especially an old lady, and as he observed to Matron (Mrs Hilda Plantagenet-Featheringstonehaugh), “There are dozens of the Old Dears wandering around Twilight Lawns, one more or less shouldn’t really matter,” and after all, he was far too busy and important to notice such small details.

The Staff were far too busy arranging an intimate supper that Matron had planned to celebrate the visit of the Bishop of Guildford to Norbury-sur-Mer. Cook was busy in the kitchen preparing vol-au-vents, rissoles and canapés. Sharon was washing the best Wedgwood and Waterford, and muttering something to herself that sounded remarkably like, “Volley balls and arseholes, if you ask me. Who’s ‘e fink ‘e is? A bleedin’ Pope or sumfink? Looks more like a bleedin’ fairy if you aks me, Innit”.

So Maisie’s disappearance wasn’t noticed until the following Monday morning when Nurse Smythe was doing a roll call and it was noticed that there was a slight gap between Madeline and Malvina. Martha offered to be Maisie if that meant that she would have an extra breakfast, and Nurse Smythe agreed. So rather than the inconvenience of a full room to room search and dragging the duck pond and the Virginia Woolf Ornamental Lake, Martha/Maisie took up residence, and all would have gone well, except on the Friday a fortnight after Maisie had disappeared, the Lawns received an official visit from the head of Refuse Collection,. Recycling and Environmental Planning, South Surrey. He was shown into Nurse Smythe’s office. This person was accompanied by a young man in sandals and socks, wearing an anorak and National Health glasses fixed together with Elastoplast. He was earnest from the top of his head to the bottom of his sandaled feet. He was obviously a member of the local Green Party.

It appears that on the Friday when Maisie had disappeared, along with... or following immediately after by the Refuse Collection Lorry, there had come the Recycling Lorry collecting plastic bottles, card, paper, glass (No lead crystal, please!) and old clothing. The workers from RECYCLING FOR A GREENER FUTURE, SURREY, has seen Maisie lying on the stone steps to the Main Building, basking in the morning sun; sound asleep. As she looked remarkably like a pile of old rags, who could blame the well meaning workers from assuming that Maisie was just that. Before she had had a chance to say, “My mother’s coming to see me today. We’re going out for tea”, she had been scooped up rather unceremoniously and bundled into the back of the lorry in the section marked: OLD CLOTHES, RAGS AND FABRICS.

Having recounted the tale, the young man in the anorak took off his glasses and polished them on his sleeve. “I am afraid we have some news for you,” he said. We have located your Maisie, and…” There was a long, drawn-out silence “I’m afraid she’s been… recycled,”. He turned away from Nurse Smythe. Was it emotion? Was it nerves? Was it…? One will never know. He hurried to the door and spoke to someone in the passage outside Nurse Smythe’s door. There was a brief conversation with some person unknown and then, into the room walked what most probably had at one stage been Maisie. Yet it was a Maisie with which all members of Staff and Residents of Twilight Lawns were quite unfamiliar… Her eyes were glazed, there was an unnatural cleanness about her, her features were somewhat blurred. She stood there and it is fair to say, that for once, Nurse Smythe was at a loss as to what should be done.

The worthy young Green Party gentleman obviously wanted to wash his hands of her. The head of Refuse Collection, Recycling and Environmental Planning, South Surrey obviously had no place for her. No one seemed to know exactly who or what she was, and nobody wanted to lay claim to her unless she turned out to be something else. What should be done? Then when the situation became almost intolerable, the Maisie person stepped forward and uttered several words that put everything into perspective:

“My mother’s coming to see me today. We’re going out for tea”, she said.

All present exhaled a great sigh of relief. As our dear Robert Browning would have said, “The lark's on the wing; The snail's on the thorn; God's in His heaven, All's right with the world.”

“Time for medication, Maisie, off you go,” said Nurse Smythe.

And so another Fun Chapter in the life of Twilight Lawns plc drew to a close.

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