‘Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.’ 

It was like a metronome, every second.  Simon worked out that at this rate, she would say oh dear, 3600 times an hour,  up to 50,000 times a day,  15 million times a year.  But the mantra had some more intense variations;  ‘oh no,  oh no, oh no’ or just ‘no, no, no no’, and worse still, ‘oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please’ and then ‘oh Nick, oh Nick, oh Nick’  Anybody listening to this would be bound to think, ‘Whatever is he doing to that poor woman?’ 

Every so often she would stop and ask where we were going.

‘We going to Chatsworth mum. You know to my cottage’ and I’d make a motion with my hand as if to open the latch. 

‘Chatsworth.’, she’d say puzzled and then she would get it.

‘They brought the lambs in.’ 

‘Yes that’s right.’

‘What are we going there for?’

‘We’re going to have tea; turkey sandwiches, Christmas cake, mince pies.’

‘You going to leave me there.’

‘No, of course not.’

‘We’ll have tea and then take you back home.’


‘Yes, to your flat.’

‘My flat?’

‘Yes, number 9 the Woodlands, Shore Lane.’

‘Do I live there?


‘And then you’re going to leave me to walk?’


And the litany would all start again, ‘oh no, oh no, please, oh please’.

It is all very tiring.  Although I am not doing anything awful to her, it feels like it.  The reality is that her life is dreadful. She has lost her identity.  She cannot remember anything from one moment to the next and so everything is alien to her, confusing. She  doesn’t know where she is or what is happening. 

And so a pleasant drive in the country is torture to her.  She has been taken out of her environment along roads she can barely remember to an unknown destination for no clear purpose.  And because she has never really been able to trust that things will be allright, she fears she will be abandoned and never find her way back.  It must be terrifying. 

When the Red Army invaded East Prussia in the winter of 1945, millions of people were forced by fear of murder and rape to flee their homes and join the columns of refugees escaping in sub zero temperatures towards the west.  That was their dreadful reality.  They didn’t know where they were going or why and many died on the way. Mum’s world must seem just as threatening.  She does not know where she is, she has no home and she sees confusion and danger everywhere.  Sometimes when I have to repeat the same facts to her for the twentieth time, it is important to realize that this an anchor point, however ephemeral, in a devastated world.