Appropriate attire

The recent hot weather has produced a rash of shorts adorning the male members of staff;   the look is topped off by a variety of garish T shirts celebrating football events and band tours.  The Enforcer has weakly protested about dress codes but they are unabashed.  They were predictably sneery when she suggested ‘smart shorts’ were acceptable.  “What’s not smart about these?”  Why do women spend so long agonising about their appearance, masking bits of flesh & undergoing agonies of depilation, when men happily flaunt their chubby knees, hairy legs and mottled flesh without a care in the world.  Greasy Nan, who admittedly has rather shapely legs, and marginally more style than Stoke City or New Boy, retains his awfully grubby collared shirt in case he has to nip up to a Judge, and prefers not to wear socks with his trekking-type sandals.  With his shoulder length pony tail hair he really does look outstandingly scruffy. The Enforcer, however, is not in a strong position to criticise since her everyday garb  is an increasingly shiny and threadbare pair of navy trousers and assorted charity shop tops.

The temperature in the listing office is high and the humidity is worse, the place steams gently despite numerous fans paddling the warm air around and air conditioning units that roar away without producing any noticeable drop in temperature.  An opportunity to cool down presents itself when I need a judicial decision on a curfew variation – the Judges’ Chambers and the corridors that serve them have air conditioning.  The Chambers have a Marie Celeste air but in the distance (the corridors are long and winding) I think I see HHJ Bunter heading for his chamber.  I go after the figure and hear the door shut.  I pause respectfully outside the door to give him time to sit down, rearrange his desk, straighten his blotter – the good judge is obsessive compulsive – and am just about to knock when I hear a terrible groaning and howling from within, and is that the sound of his head banging?  I shy away and run upstairs in search of someone not so angry.  Unsuccessfully,  the chambers are empty and the judges in court.  Then my conscience starts to worry – perhaps Judge Bunter was having a fit and is now in need of medical assistance?  I run back and lurk besides the door, all is silent. I knock.   “Come in” rings out.  He is sitting perfectly composed at his desk, waves me to a chair and peruses the application with weary resignation.  “From from being allowed to go to his cousin’s wedding this man should be locked up” he comments angrily.  He allows the curfew to be varied in order for the applicant to be allowed to attend the wedding but not the evening knees up the evening before.

Judge Bunter is well known for his idiosyncrasies; he once allowed a defendant to change his curfew on the grounds that he wanted to spend more time helping his partner with their young children in the evening (needless to say he didn’t actually LIVE with them having doubtless been kicked out by same long-suffering partner) on condition that he provided a list of the bedtime stories he had read them over a 3 month period.  As literacy, or lack of it, seems to be widespread amongst habitues of the Crown Court, the good judge was probably just being cynical, but he likes to make his point.

Back at the Listing Office I tell Stoke City about the howling outburst; he reminds me that Bunter is engaged on a case that has been running on for weeks involving a young woman, serious accusations, possibly perverting the course of justice.  “He really hates it.”


Walk in progress

A couple of weeks ago I asked Margaret how she had got on with the physiotherapist whom we had sent in to work with her.  The physio had reported back to me so I knew she had visited.  Margaret looked completely blank and assured me that no physiotherapist had been to see her.  It was a shock to realise that her memory is now so poor for recent events, and also sobering because it means that any instruction or information we give her is not going to register for more than a few minutes.  I guess I knew this really, but didn’t want to accept it.

So maybe not much point in getting someone to help her walk if she isn’t going to remember how.   All the same I decided to get the physio back to advise on her various bits of equipment as I wasn’t happy about the height of her chair, zimmer frame or commode.

Full marks to Mum who is unfailingly obliging – Clare introduced herself, reminding Margaret that she’d visited the previous week and my mother gave every appearance of recognising her as an old friend; perhaps she did recognise her even if she couldn’t remember why.

First Clare tackled the Zimmer; it was only as she turned it over to lower it a notch that I realised the Zimmer was labelled Adele Boydar – not my mother’s name at all!  How long had she been using it, God knows.  Stormed down to the nursing station as Adele was asleep in her room and I could hardly start substituting her equipment.  Turned out that she hadn’t got Margaret’s Zimmer, just some other grotty substitute which was missing its ferrules as our physio gently pointed out, making it dangerous on a polished floor (as they have in the dining room).  (Thing I learnt today – frames have ferrules and ferrules wear out; nursing home does not replace ferrules, family do; no family – no ferrules I guess).

An intrepid carer eventually  ran M’s walker to ground so I took advantage of sticky labels provided free of charge by the management – big deal! – to name it.    The physio, who is a treasure – even if she can’t persuade Margaret to walk – contacted the CareHome Support Team (this is an NHS team which visits care homes and residents to help, advise and support with the aim of keeping residents OUT of hospital.  Seriously hospital is the last place you want your frail elderly parent to be unless his or her life is in acute danger  – infections, falls and possible starvation or malnutrition await them)who promised to supply a  lower commode and to measure Margaret for a wheelchair.

The commode arrived quite quickly – I happened to be there  when it was delivered although the nurse on duty said it would have to have a ‘risk assessment ‘ before being put in Margaret’s room. Hmm.  When I went a week later it still wasn’t there.  I raised this with the Manager who gave a pleased exclamation and said ‘Oh it’s for Margaret!  We wondered who it was for…’  (But it must have been labelled because I spoke to the man who delivered it and he said her name).  Anyway, without any further ado or risk assessment it was put in her room.

Costly proceedings

The longer I work in the Listing Office the more I wonder about the sense of what happens in court.  Take the unfortunate Basque lorry driver who was brought in on a bench warrant today. (How did that happen – that her Majesty’s finest plods chanced to pass a lay by/ lorry park and find this foreigner who’d skipped bail nearly 3 years ago over some fiddling to his tachograph ?   Who snitched on him?)  To continue, everybody in the office must have had a hand in managing his subsequent appearance in court, mainly because he needed a Basque interpreter – not something that can be conjured up very easily by our now contracted out interpreting service.  The presiding judge, a veritable Prince Charming compared to the majority of his peers here, even spoke to him in Spanish to convey the general tenour of proceedings.  The case was adjourned, nonetheless, and threatened to drag on till Friday – the earliest an interpreter was available.  Then the company – all of whose employees spoke excellent English – suggested that their best linguist should interpret via phone.  This seemed acceptable and was only slightly complicated by the fact that no phone in the courtroom can dial abroad.  OK so the firm is happy to ring in but then there’s the problem of passing the landline around… eventually Judge Prince Charming lent his  own mobile to be passed between himself, counsel and the defendant.  Busy little court clerk scuttling between the parties.!

Job done, sentence confimed, which involved costs and a large fine.  For the firm, the fine obviously represented a small part  of the value of the lorry’s contents, which they were anxious to get en route (“was it prawns?” suggested greasy Nan) so they undertook to pay it immediately via the Magistrates Court who have paying in facilities.  Such rapid settlement is practically unprecedented, so more phone calls were involved to warn staff at the magistrates to expect a small man with a few words of English (but actually rather more than anyone expected) bearing large amounts of cash and a compliment slip from the Crown Court certifying his credentials.   Someone drew him a map, another ordered him a taxi.  I wonder – was this the best use of resources?

Pinch, punch, no returns

Finally escaped from coalface yesterday seriously in need of alcohol.  ‘No returns’ is the barristers latest weapon against Chris Grayling in the ongoing battle over legal aid cuts.  Basically if they can’t meet an obligation to appear in court on behalf of a client instead of handing back/ returning the brief they are insisting it be relisted for another hearing.  As counsels’ clerks  invariably overbook their barristers  this is leading to a great shortage of available talent.  All day long emails are pinging in from solicitors telling us that X is unable to represent Y at his hearing and will we please vacate the hearing and relist..   It means delays to trials, longer spells on remand, upset to vulnerable victims and witnesses.   Phones ring off the hook.    The resident judge  is taking a hard lline and insisting all cases have got to go to him or a colleague to give directions.  CPS are their usual humourless selves.  Solicitors are wringing their hands with annoyance and embarrassment.  Counsels’ clerks  are driven to providing ever more ludicrous excuses to account for their barristers sudden inability to appear.   Funerals (mortality rates have shot up amongst relatives)  are the most common.  But there have been partners going into labour, floods, long booked holidays and severe accidents involving broken limbs…they never had such dramas before.


A month on

I wrote the previous bit about 4 weeks ago but felt so anxious about the nursing home didn’t feel I could upload it. But she’s been there over a month now and although there’s no way she regards it as ‘home’, I think she’s getting accustomed to it. The staff all know her now, her leg is mending and she’s made it to 94!

There are some things common to all nursing homes – like the impossibility of hanging on to your own clothes. I’ve labelled all of Margaret’s but for 2 weeks running half her trousers were missing – and she was wearing a completely alien pair once when I visited. Yesterday, she was a bit casual in a nightie (having been rather poorly for a few days she decided not to be fussed with getting dressed) which was definitely NOT hers. When I queried this she agreed but said ‘but they told me it was definitely mine as it was labelled’.  I peered at the neckline. Written on the label was not her name but the number of the room she occupies – 22.  Ergo it was Margaret’s;   presumably it belonged (or had belonged) to the previous occupant.

On the plus range, her complete range of trousers was restored to the wardrobe…

Another common problem is the difficulty of getting a bath or a shower if you can’t manage your own toilette. In Margaret’s case total immersion (ie bath or shower) seems on average to be achieved once a week – a bit miserable for a lady who loved her daily bath. However I asked a carer for her to have a bath and hairwash on Friday in readiness for the hairdresser, beloved Sonia; the carer ‘put it in the book’. Will be interested to hear whether the booking resulted in a clean, freshly hair-washed Mama on Friday.

Four days later

On Monday I visited Margaret at the home.  Relief – she was sitting with a group of other ladies, not dozing in a corner.  It looked a friendly enough group.  i was struck by the immaculate appearance of her companions – beautifully coiffeured, elegantly attired, careful jewellery and makeup.  Margaret looked like a small scruffy dormouse at the actually quite sane tea party.  Her clothes need a press and her shoes need polishing.  At least she’s seeing the hairdresser this week but I’ll need to do a whip round M & S before too long if she is to keep up appearances.

We adjourned to her room and I started to check off questions as I put her freshly nametaped clothes away.  Yes there had been porridge for breakfast today – at the weekend there hadn’t been any, only cereal which she doesn’t like.  (How can you run out of oats? )  The night staff were nicer to her now.  On the first night they told her crossly that she should take herself to the loo; clearly the handover to the night staff had omitted to mention that she cannot get out of bed at the moment without assistance.   Come on –  would you call for help to go to the toilet, unless you really needed it?

Had she had a bath or a shower?  A contemptuous negative.  ‘But I had a throrough wash – though I don’t think I want that young man  washing me again.’

‘Why?’ – though I think I know what I’m about to hear.  She glances at the door and I close it.   ‘ He was just a bit too… well I didn’t like it.  I’m thinking of him really.’  My insides churn as I ponder her words.  She doesn’t seem too upset, although later she admits she was stuck in the lavatory for some time as she didn’t want him to come and help.  My mother does have  fantasy life, sometimes quite lurid.  Recently she told me that there was a rumour that my brother was getting into bed with her, because he went round to her flat every evening (to put her to bed).  Another time she was convinced he was having an affair with the mother of one of his daughter’s friends.  Maybe it was just efficient washing of her rather than inappropriate behaviour? But she is terribly vulnerable.    I decide not to go in mob-handed with accusations but for the time being just to insist on female carers.

Today I rang the manager of the home, Margo, she has a soft Scottish accent and is easy to talk to.  I explain about the wash and my mother’s dislike of being washed by a young man; ‘she was widowed at 65,’ I say ‘and she’s a bit of  a prude…’  But before I can finish the sentence, Margo says(too fast?) ‘I can understand that, yes of course, she must have a female carer.’    The cloud that has been sitting on me since I left the home lifts a little.

Well meaning friends –  and even my sister for Chrissake – told me that I could tell  a lot about a home ‘by the smell’.  Seriously did they think I went around with my sense of smell turned off?  I’m a qualified aromatherapist, my sense of smell is quite refined and I’ve spent more time in nursing homes than most people.  That’s where you go to practise as a trainee aromatherapist.  I can tell when an air freshener is being used to mask an odour.  Sadly  abuse or bullying doesn’t have a smell.

Safe Inside

By 11am I had drunk too much coffee and was feeling sick at the thought of introducing Margaret to her new home. I paced round her flat picking up a few more things for her room (she had given me a list of the pictures she wanted – ‘all the gold-framed ones & the Chinese one of birds’) and waiting for the phone to ring from the hospital announcing that she was on her way. I only had to wait three more hours, not so long compared to my mother.  The ambulance service, I guess its the non-urgent, not-blue-light-flashing-siren-blaring department, who trundle people round to clinics, and to & from hospital, had been ordered for 10.30am.  As they sometimes arrive early, however, Margaret had been up dressed & breakfasted by 8.30.  The transport did not arrive till 1.50pm.  I missed her arrival as I had gone back to her flat to fetch the wheelchair, which is quite nice and clean and has most of its bits attached unlike the typical nursing home model which generally is missing a footrest or seat belt.

As I arrived at the room she was tentatively manouevring herself from her armchair to a wheeled plastic chair that in fact turned out to be an electronic scales.  She was being weighed, but it took her so long, even with help, that the machine timed out just as she sat on it (you’d have thought the manufacturers might have realised that anyone who needs to be weighed in a chair must  have mobility problems and allowed a bit longer).  Maybe it just registered the weight or maybe the nurse made a guess, anyway she wrote something down.

In the end there were no tears, no sighs, she was just relieved after the dramas of the past 4 days to be sitting quietly in a room with a view, on her own.  There is NO privacy in a hospital: you have to tune out your noisy, possibly barking neighbour,  just get on with using the bedpan or commode with only a curtain between you and the rest of the world,  put up with the PAT (pets as therapy) dog who is brought to you to pet whether you like dogs or not.

Drama is never far away, however.  I was just phoning younger sister when Mother suddenly woke from her doze in a state of panic, convinced that a small boy was about to fall into some imaginary gap.  When I said there was no small boy she shot me a look of angry disbelief and said I didn’t understand the dangers.  Within a few minutes she was entirely sensible again and realised it was a dream, albeit a bit reluctantly.  I sometimes wonder if she thinks her life lacks drama and decides to shake things up. Once at her flat she called out the fire brigade as she was totally convinced she had heard someone call out ‘Fire’.  They duly arrived and inspected the entire 30 flats in the sheltered accommodation complex before deciding it was a false alarm.  But she was delighted at the attention, not to mention the size and handsomeness of the firemen.

And so, for now, Mother dear, goodbye.  Please keep out of harm’s way for the next few days.


My Mother

It’s harder than I thought to write about Margaret.  The last few years have been difficult with her requiring more and more input from her aging children in order to keep her in her own flat.   A fall before Christmas put her in the John Radcliffe, followed by a stint in the local community hospital.  The relief of having her in 24 hr care was palpable for her son and daughters so we finally seriously began to look for a nursing home for when she emerged from hospital.  Not so easy.  Like good schools, reading clubs and Michelin starred restaurants there are waiting lists for care homes in Oxford.  It has a large and well-heeled elderly population so the fact that you can pay your way is no advantage, at all.   But we have found her a place in one in Summertown.

This afternoon I took some of her possessions there; it’s a small room and there’s not much space to personalise it.  I suddenly wanted to cry at the way her world has dwindled.  Even her one bedroom flat – so tiny after her beloved 3 storey house in Ludlow – was a palace compared to this.  Perhaps it’s not so uncommon to find sniffling relatives having a moment, for suddenly a cup of tea and slice of cake appeared and Margot the Manager suggesting that I take my time.  Rationally I don’t have a problem putting my mother in care – I still work and we don’t have a house in any way suitable for her,  but it’s hard not to feel a   bit treacherous.  My sister-in-law likened it to being left at boarding school (as she was by her parents)…

Tomorrow she moves in; she will make an impression I fear for the wrong reasons – two falls at the hospital  (I know, one was excusable, two was careless of them)   mean that her still attractive features are wreathed in bruises of different ages – ranging from yellow (2 weeks ago) to purple (3 days ago).   And that’s just the superficial stuff; she also has a splinted arm and a huge bandage on her leg where an unfriendly table leg sliced into her shin.  (‘Goodness, I can see muscle’ remarked the A&E doctor as she removed the first aid dressing and I scraped myself off the floor).

Actually I think nursing homes can take her wounds in their stride; at least Margaret doesn’t wander around, or take her clothes off or shout abuse.  She’s a bit of a show-off and doesn’t suffer fools gladly but she can turn on oodles of charm.  Fingers crossed, she’ll fit in.



The resident judge also shops at Aldi I note as I sit in his office waiting for him to pronounce on a case I have brought up to him for directions.  Or it could be Lidl.  Either way his box of lens wipes comes from one of those useful no-nonsense continental supermarkets that are such fun to haunt. He probably picked them up with half a dozen bottles of their cheap but highly rated champagne.

I respect the resident judge.  For a start, he knows my name.  I admire the way he can read and understand a convoluted request from the defence  solicitor (solicitors write bloody awful ungrammatical letters and emails) frown slightly, pick up his pen and then write a   fully formed sentence of instructions – without a single crossing out.  His writing is elegant and perfectly legible, another tick for him.   My colleagues and I spend minutes at a time trying to fathom Judge Beetle’s awful scribble; we usually decipher every other word and then try to string them into something that makes vague sense.

A day of action?

How glad am I to job-share, especially on Monday.  It’s pouring rain outside with more than usual ferocity and I’m wondering whether my fulltime colleagues are being entertained by the sight of bewigged barristers picketing the Crown Court in support of their ‘day of action’ called to draw attention to the miserable, and dwindling rates they are receiving for legal aid.  Hard for us employees of the Ministry of Justice to feel total sympathy with their struggles to keep up their huge mortgage payments as they really don’t get how little the folk who keep the courts ticking over earn, but if they go, we go too I guess.  The protest ended at 2pm and there were some blatant attempts at horse trading last Friday as various firms tried to get their cases moved from a 10 o’clock to a 2pm hearing.  But we were wise to them…Still further protests would have a disrupting effect; if hearings are postponed and trial dates slip, things could get nasty and personal.

But it’s no secret that this Government would really like to outsource the whole of legal aid to a few giant bidders and get rid of all the pesky small firms
with their individual specialisms and quirky ways in order to reduce the ‘massive’ legal aid bill.

It would be criminal to see the courts go the way of schools and hospitals, all work contracted out say to Tesco, Carillion or – God help us – GEOAmey who at present have local charge of prisoner transport.  (Just to give an example of their efficiency locally: in order to achieve economies of scale GEOAmey invested in extra large prison vans, so large in fact that the vans are too high to pass through the underground tunnel leading to the cells.   In order to ensure no-one legs it to freedom, the whole place now  has to go into lockdown  when a van arrives so that the prisoners can be escorted some distance to the cells.  Very irritating if you happen to be  driving to work just behind the prison van as you then have to sit in your car in the street as the van unloads its tricky cargo.  And everyone, including the clocking in machine, just assumes you are late for work.)