Carrying on with the Meals on Wheels saga, just for the sake of thoroughness.
After I learned to drive, I sometimes took over the delivery round from my mother, because she suffered from frequent migraines after my father died, for the rest of her life. There was always someone else due to do the delivery with her or me, but that person was pretty casual and sometimes made other arrangements and didn’t let her know. So my mother dropped her after a while and it was just the two or one of us. I remember once, when Weeza was a toddler, looking round and seeing her eating a Bonio dog biscuit in the back of the car. She’d found the bag, obviously. They were just wholemeal wheat dog biscuits, nothing to harm her, but my mother was shocked; more because people might have seen than because of the eating of a dog biscuit.
Once Al was born, I had to give it up and then my mother moved house, so she did too. But when I moved here, I volunteered again and used to deliver round the village. There were two sisters, Mrs Greenmore and Mrs Agar, who had been born in this house, the one I live in. This isn’t altogether surprising, there were two families, each with ten children living here back in the 1920s. Mrs Agar was quite a nice old woman, whose house stank of cigarette smoke. Mrs Greenmore was lovely and her house was immaculate. She put a pan of hot water on with a plate on top of it, so that it was warm for the food to go on.
Mrs Agar, after a few years, told us that she was worried that she was losing her mind. Her memory was going and she’d forget things she’d known for years. We tried to reassure her, which was not what I’d do now. I’d listen more and help more. It was the start of Alzheimer’s, I’m afraid, and she ended up going into the local care home in the village called The Elms, which was where our meals came from. They were very good, it was a council-run home and it had an excellent reputation. Mrs Greenmore was fit and well into her nineties. Then, one day, i arrived, knocked on the door and walked in calling, as usual, and she appeared from the living room looking surprised. She hadn’t realised it was Wednesday – and, I’m sorry to say, she never expected us again and never had her hot plate ready.
There were so many people I became fond of over the years. Mrs Smith lived to 100 and still grew tomatoes every year. Billy – can’t remember his surname – was a dear old man. He always asked for a hug and I obliged. I remember once, him holding me and muttering “this is what I need, this is what I need.” Touch is needed, it’s actually one thing that so many people have missed immensely during lockdown and what many old people don’t have enough of. It’s not just loneliness but lack of actual contact; which those who prefer to keep a distance can’t be expected to understand, nor vice versa.
There were others, of course. Mr Campbell had been in the merchant navy and was a captain. But he had a filthy house. His living room was dirty and chaotic and stank of his pipe smoke. As you walked in, you could glance through to his kitchen, with brown stains running down the cupboards and oven. Once, he left the toilet door open and the lavatory was disgusting. He had difficulty in paying for his meals because he spent his money on whisky and, usually, he raked together odd pennies. My mother and another kind woman, in the end, paid for his food so that he would have at least two good meals a week. He never thanked anyone. He contacted the Rector once asking for money and the Rector contacted me. We agreed that the village charity would give £10 as a one-off and I’d shop for food. I delivered it, it included tins and packets, tea and milk and so on, and Mr Campbell was clearly disappointed as he’d hoped for whisky money. In the end, he was found collapsed on the road to Bungay, having had a stroke. I pitied him but couldn’t really sympathise.
Lorna Green was one of the lovely ladies. She still lives in the village and we always looked forward to our chats. She kindly gave all the people who delivered her meals a Christmas present, usually a tin of tea or biscuits or chocolate, which she could buy from the milkman. I miss these nice people.
A few years ago, bewilderingly, Meals on Wheels was put out to tender by the council. How paid people could cost less than volunteers is a mystery, but the WRVS’s services were no longer needed. Of course, in a short time, there were no subsidised meals at all and the whole thing folded. It has been picked up by private companies and I believe they do a good job. And Meals on Wheels was only ever two days a week and those that need it could do with more. I suppose it had outlived its usefulness in its form.