“I was held up at a conference call so…” Sarah explains herself as she takes a seat beside her mother outside the building. She already has her cigarette pack out of the bag and lighting up. This is her cigarette break. Sarah is eighteen. She has just secured for herself a job as a trainee counselor. She has white blond hair with half of it stained shocking turquoise. Now let us step back a minute to see what this “conference call” was about. Let me walk you back into the building Sarah has just left. She is seated in front of a medium sized screen. There are three faces looking back at her. The faces are of elderly people living in their own homes and looking at Sarah through their own screens. This is the new “old”. Computer literate and aged.
Sarah:- “Now Frank, what have you been up to”?
Frank:- “Nothing much, really…”
Sarah:- “Have you been out for a walk today? I see you live near a park.
It is a lovely park. Lots of things to see.”
Frank:- “Ok, if you say so”
Sarah:- (in her most official yet polite manner) “Now now Frank, that’s not
the attitude. I am only trying to help”.
Frank knows that. Hew is 94. He has been a town Councillor and Mayor of this town. He helped build the park all those years ago before Sarah or her father or her grandfather were born. So he knows. He looks at her balefully. Sarah’s pale hair and paler face stirs something distant in his mind. He is away munching into some comforting thoughts
Sarah:- “Okay, Gladys, lets us talk about you now. I see here you have eating
difficulties. What did you eat today?
Gladys:- “Can’t remember”.
Sarah:- “Common Gladys, you must remember. Did you have any breakfast today?”
Gladys:- “Don’t know”.
Sarah:- “Gladys, can you go to the fridge and see what food you have left in
the fridge please.”
Gladys dutifully gets up and disappears from the screen. Sarah turns to Barbara. Barbara sits bolt upright. Her hair is rinsed a rich royal blue. Her dress of expensive silk is delicately buttoned up. She is 88 years old and very aware of her specialness. She should be. She was personal secretary to the Commander in Chief, Far Eastern Naval Command after the war. She oversaw the movements of town sized battle ships and she was in charge of the shifting of thousands of naval personnel from port to port. Barbara does not like this girl. What’s the world coming to these days? Her baleful glare is specially grating to poor Sarah. But Sarah knows she is in charge so she does not let it depress her, although she is on anti-depressants because of work stress.
Sarah:- “Okay Barbara, did you talk to a counsellor like I told you to?”
Barbara:- “No. What’s the point”?
Sarah:- “You need to get over your son’s death and counsellors are trained to
Barbara:- “But she is younger than my grand-daughter. She didn’t have a son
die on her; how would she know how I feel”
Sarah could empathise with that. She was not that unfeeling. She just had a job to do.
Sarah:- “I see your point Barbara, but if you click on the button to the
top right hand corner of your screen you could choose another
Barbara gives her frigid glare and keeps silent.
Sarah:- “Well Barbara, if you will not help yourself I cannot help you much
more. You need grief therapy and that’s that. Have your other children visited you”?
Barbara:- “No; it’s a long way from America”.
Sarah:- “I see…”
By now Gladys has returned from her trip to the fridge by way of the toilet.
Sarah:- “Well Gladys, what have you got in the fridge?”
Gladys:-“Don’t know really… a bit of cheese and spring onions. I have
some oranges on the kitchen table.”
Sarah:- “No wonder you are not eating Gladys, there is no food to eat. I can
see from the map you are only a few yards from Lidle. You have a
mobility scooter. You get over there and get yourself some food. I’ll
check on you tomorrow”.
Gladys has been a dinner lady most of her life. She knows all about food. But her real problem is, she is lonely. That is the only reason she gets on to the screen, to be able to talk to somebody.
Sarah looks at the clock on the screen. Her allotted time is up. She must wind up. Okay then I’ll see you all tomorrow. “Frank, get walking or you will lose the use of your legs”. Sarah has heard this told to her. Her boyfriend is always going on about “you use it or lose it”.
Back on the bench mum and daughter exchange small talk. Mum has popped over from the care home across the road for her cigarette break. “And how are you mum”? “You know that Daphne, I hate her. She is so bossy, she thinks she owns the place”. “Mum, like I said, if you only knew how to do computer work you could be like me. I have an easy job. If I get any jip from them I just switch off the screen”. “Well I can’t be bothered to learn at my age. Anyhow, how is Sean? Is he still hanging out with that Darren, that thieving bastard?”
Cigarette break over, it is time for mother and daughter to go back to the caring profession, the mother, in her own words, to “scrape shit” and the daughter, in her own words, to manage a client load and do conference calls.
So she could say “I was held up at a conference call, so…”