What Did Come Next

For those of you good enough to read and comment on my last post about my mother: http://www.judithbarrow.co.uk/memories-and-what-comes-next/, I’d liked to let you know what did come next.

We found a lovely care home for her.



From the moment we opened the doors to Stoneleigh House in Springhead near Oldham, we knew this would be her next home. The manager and staff were so welcoming:. we watched how they looked after the residents, we were allowed, even encouraged, to wander where we liked (and we’d called unannounced, probably at the worst time – lunchtime!), we saw the room she could sleep in.

Stoneleigh House was one of many that we visited. It’s an old ex-mill owners home. We felt it fitting that  Mum should live here; my mother was a winder in a cotton mill, in Oldham and, after the second world war, lived in Springhead.

When she worked in a mill in Saddleworth, and well before the days of Health and Safety, I would go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school. I remember the muffled boom and then the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through the small door, the sound of women singing and shouting above the noise, the colours of the threads and cloth – so bright and intricate. Above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area – the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales.




We went for a visit this week. A  ten-hour round trip for three hours – but so worth it.

Mum is walking; something she hasn’t done without help for the last two years, And she chatted to us; rather than the  monosyllabic answers we used to get. Best of all she is enjoying the company of the people around her  (we  ignored the rude comments – at least she’s recovered her sense of humour – and at ninety-three she’s allowed  a bit of rudeness).





I’d gathered together as many photographs as i could and made a collage of her life. Right at the left hand side at the bottom is a baby photograph of Mum and her sister Olive. Love the ‘pudding basin’ haircuts! In the middle is Mum as a young woman and next to her my father who died some twenty years ago.

mum stoneleigh2

Auntie Olive lived with us as part of the family for many years, here in Pembrokeshire.  After she was diagnosed with dementia at the age of eighty, and it all became obvious she needed better care than we could give, she went into a lovely care home, nearby; first for respite care, and then permanently.

I sat with Auntie Olive many times; both when she could carry out a conversation, and later, when she couldn’t, we sat together holding hands and watching what was going on around us. The poem below was one I wrote then after a particular incident – you’ll soon see why. ( Obviously it’s mostly a collection of snippets over many visits. And I wrote it from a first person point of view for empathy.)

Waiting for Alf










I ask her – ‘what time is Alf coming?’

She answers, ‘soon, Alice, soon.’


I try to stand, to check my hair in the mirror – but fail.

My frailness surprises me – but holds no terror.

Across the table Lily’s still picking her nose.  ‘Your face’ll cave in,’ I tell her.

Then see that the new feller has pissed himself. Again!

I shout for the woman. ‘When are you going to see to this one?

And what time will Alf get here?’


She ignores me.


Olga’s crying: not really a cry – a drone; a painful keening under her breath;

Mourning death; her own?


Gets on my nerves!


She’s serving tea.

I grab her arm. ‘What time is Alf coming?’

‘Soon, Alice, soon.’

I snort – she’s lying, you know: she thinks I’m daft,

But if I say his name he’s still here and the shaft of pain is easier to bear – just.


I must stand up!


Ivy’s muttering,

Sylvia sings; brings memories to life.

The new chap, now dry, nods and snores.


The noise!


‘Time to move.’ I shove back the chair – push on the table,

Wait until I’m stable.

Then, poised, look down: my slippers are tight –  are they on the wrong feet?

I shout for the woman – she says, ‘no, they’re right’,


I ask again, ‘when will Alf arrive?’


She doesn’t answer, so I pinch her. ‘When will he arrive?’

And she replies, ‘soon, Alice, soon.’


Silly cow!

 I should say that as the lady in this particular incident said the last two words of this poem, she winked at me and laughed. ‘Who’s the daft one here, then?’ she said.


5 Responses to What Did Come Next
  1. E. L. Lindley
    February 1, 2015 | 10:35 pm

    I’m so pleased that you have found somewhere nice for your mum and she is being well cared for and actually flourishing. I love your poem – the combination of grief, humour and knowingness really captures what it’s like to spend time with old people. The way their moods, memories and awareness can suddenly switch.

    • Judith Barrow
      February 2, 2015 | 12:39 am

      Thanks EL. it was a great relief to see her. I’m thrilled you like the poem. Don’t write many these days but always try to get the balance of life as we live it. x

  2. David Prosser
    February 2, 2015 | 3:54 am

    I’m really pleased you found a suitable home for your Mum and that it’s obviously made such a difference to her.Company can work wonders sometimes.
    Many years ago I had the great pleasure to run a local authority home for the elderly and believe me your poem is spot on.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  3. Judith Barrow
    February 2, 2015 | 7:05 am

    Hi David, thank you. And I’m so glad you thought the poem portrayed a true scene from a care home (didn’t realise you’d run one; I have great respect for those who look after our elderly with such tenderness – and anger for those exposed as bullies – having been in touch for a while now, sure you were one of the former)
    Have a great week. x

  4. Skilbey
    February 22, 2015 | 10:52 pm

    Love this poem. It sounds so authentic.I feel like you understand some of the preoccupations and issues the elderly experience living in a residential home.
    With every good wish for your Mum- and what an elegant lady!

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