*The Mayfair: a 50-room hotel in Shanklin, Isle of Wight, where I spent five weeks a year for the first 15 years of my life. Not the posh place in London.
I’ve been overdoing it on the exercise lately and my muscles are not my own. I wince and moan at every movement so arriving at the Mayfair yesterday, I felt like an old person, climbing the stairs, negotiating every step with my bag. The place looked different through pain.
It’s gone even further downhill since the last time I came. When I got to room 17 (now 16) yesterday, I didn’t experience the level of emotion I felt last February. I guess we’d already been reacquainted so the rush of reconnection was missing. In fact, I felt quite differently about the room this time. I was angry.
Any former glory was well and truly gone. It wasn’t even trying anymore. The bathroom was freezing and the wardrobe wouldn’t open and the beds were made with the cheapest covers that smelt of dirty hair. I felt angry that the host of some of our happiest memories had been cheapened to this: an unimpressive shell.
Last time I came here I could almost smell Nana. I could imagine her in front of the window, bathing in the bathroom, choosing an outfit at the wardrobe. This time, nothing. I just felt tired and empty. It’s like I’d exorcised something already and it wasn’t willing to be summoned again.
I was also angry because I’d taken all these happy photos with me. I was sitting on the bed surrounded by them, saying “take me back, Room, take me to a place and time when I was happy and carefree.” What a stupid thing to wish for. Life is not carefree. Life is complex and full and there are emotions we don’t want to face, but we have to. Or we don’t truly live. When I sat in that lifeless little room, I didn’t want to be back on the parquet dancefloor or in the swimming pool now full of concrete. I wanted to be back in that palliative care home. I wanted to be rubbing Evening Primrose Oil on Nana’s wasting arms and singing Calamity Jane songs to her. I wanted to stroke her matted hair and tell her that she was safe and that we loved her. How dare this room sit here, on its laurels, just because it has a link to a time when I smiled the most? She was no less precious to me in those last few moments than she was shining on Hope Beach.
I didn’t expel the anger before I left, but I did add some worry to it. Why wasn’t I feeling the connection? Why was I numb to the emotions that overcame me last year? Had I stopped grieving? Was I losing something? Had I forgotten her? I went to a nearby pub and ordered a coffee and sat high up on a barstool, looking across the family room where we used to sit. And then this old song came on, and this songbird voice trilled through the speaker system, and it sounded like her somehow. And I choked.
Now I have to put all this, or at least the essence of it, into a live performance. And as with everything I do, I am sitting here overwhelmed by the bigger picture. By the biggest picture of life and loss and grief and dementia and disconnection and memory and her: larger than life, loving, kind, funny, rude, offensive (at times), frail, living, dying Nana. I have spent hours writing and there is no thread. No clarity is coming forward and hugging me up. I just have reams of thoughts and emotions and anecdotes – no structure, no look, no framework, just a meandering line of stories with no sequence.
Watch this space. But don’t hold your breath, ok?
PS Whether I find a thread or not, I will be performing something at Lincoln Drill Hall on May 30, so if you want to see where I get to and hear more about my funny little Nana, put the date in your diary, won’t you? #MakingTracks
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