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My Demented Dad: sometimes all we need is one person to be thoughful

It’s been over three months since I moved back to Glasgow to look after Dad but I still feel like a stranger - especially when I need help and can’t easily get it.

This week the radiator in Dad’s bedroom started to come away from the wall. It would soon reach a tipping point, fall, snapping the two inlet pipes and causing hot water to spew out all over the carpet. The insurance company would start the long, tedious process of raising a claim, sending a loss adjuster, appointing a builder and, eventually, getting the work done.  And all the while Dad would be in a cold bedroom, or a bedroom warmed by a noisy and thirsty fan heater borrowed from a neighbour.

I pushed the heaviest chair I could move and stuck it in front of the radiator to keep it just this side of upright while I called Scottish Gas. Although this particular problem was not covered under the terms of our maintenance contract with them, they said they would happily come and have a look for £50.

Their engineer came the same day and we exchanged tales of illness and carers – Thomas’s Mum contracted MS and needed constant help by the time she was 43, and he was just a teenager. He disconnected the pipes, drained the radiator and dragged it into another room, out of the way.  He said that I would have to arrange for a new piece of wood to be attached to the wall as a baton so that the radiator could be re-hung.

That sounded like a pretty simple job to me. But no! Dad’s home care support contractor – Cordia - has a handyman service but they said it would be seven days before they could come out and even have a look. And I would have to buy the wood and the fixings myself. Seven days!

“We’re not an emergency service,” they told me, and I wondered what sort of job, needed by elderly and frail folk, could wait seven days? Changing a light bulb? Unblocking a sink? Installing a smoke alarm?

I called various numbers in the local phone directory. I either got no reply, was told the job was too small, or they were booked up till after Christmas. One joiner had an answering machine which declared itself full and unable to take anymore messages. Not very encouraging. I searched the internet, sending details of the job to various web-based sites and got precisely nothing in return.

The neighbours opposite have been having a swanky extension built – they started work the week I arrived back in Glasgow  -  and have had builders working on it six and sometimes seven days a week ever since. Despite the dawn chorus of wheezy air brakes and reversing beeps, we’ve enjoyed watching the new building take shape and imagining what the inside might be like. I even pictured us being invited over for a festive mince pie and a glass of mulled wine when the work was finished, by way of thanking us for our patience.

But when I asked the owner if I could borrow one of her builders to look at the radiator job she was rather unsympathetic, telling me that the only person on site that day was a specialist fireplace installer – who only worked in marble, never in wood.  Not that my job needed a specialist anything, just someone to show an interest and point me in the right direction.

I wondered if this woman might also be one of those drivers who park across the dips in the pavement. Or make no effort to move out of the way as people pushing wheelchairs, or prams, negotiate the narrow gap between the tables and chairs that sit outside cafes and the endless lampposts and electricity boxes that fringe the kerb. Until you’ve had to push an adult in a wheelchair you don’t realise how difficult it is, and how vital those dips are.

I guess if it’s never happened to you it’s hard to imagine the frustration of waiting desperately to use a disabled loo only to be greeted by an able bodied person coming out; or driving round and round looking for a parking space and watching while lazy shoppers tip-toe back to the cars they’ve parked in spaces reserved for Blue Badge holders.

In London if you park across a dip in the pavement you get a ticket and a fine of £80, but not so in this part of Glasgow. I’ve occasionally mentioned this to drivers if I happen to be passing when they are getting back into their cars. They mostly look blankly at me and say ‘but it’s not illegal’.  Like those tax avoidance schemes – strictly speaking not illegal, and perhaps in the case of thoughtless parking not exactly immoral either, but unhelpful and unnecessary. There’s usually plenty of space to park elsewhere.

I might see if the Parking Services folk at Glasgow Council would like to splash out on a tin of yellow paint and get busy drawing some protective lines around the dips. Hell!  I might even do it for them!

And perhaps one day the neighbour across the road might be in a situation similar to mine; she might want help and not be able to get it. But she won’t remember our conversation – my pleas made absolutely no impression on her at all, because she probably can’t ever imagine not being young and able bodied, and in a position to fix things, just like that.

And to be fair, this wasn’t what you’d call a real emergency.

A real emergency is finding the locks of your car frozen solid at 9.30 at night in Glasgow’s Charing Cross, trying to get home after being at a stirring concert by Shona Brown’s SoundRoutes Choir at the Mitchell Library.

I asked a selection of likely looking passers-by if they had a cigarette lighter but no-one did (And I thought everyone in Glasgow smoked!) The RAC said it would take three hours for them to get to me.  So I began walking to a nearby pub - with not much idea of what I would do when I got there - when I passed a 24hr Vets Now emergency clinic. I went in and told them my problem. The young receptionist said she had some de-icer in her car and was halfway to her feet to go and get it when the vet said he thought that surgical spirit would do the job.

He followed me back to the car and used the spray until the locks defrosted. I gave him a donation for the PDSA and drove home, much relieved.

So not everyone is unhelpful and it’s not necessarily about age. It’s about being thoughtful and willing to put yourself out to help someone else.

As for Dad – I’ve borrowed a quieter, thermostatically controlled oil filled heater from another neighbour so he can be warm for as long as it takes to find a joiner or a builder to do the job.

Perhaps I should’ve taken a note of that emergency Vet’s number.

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