I once had the amazing job of providing leisure and cultural activities for over a 100 adult clients in a large, private care home in the Midlands. There were 3 large, very different units and I tried to get around to talking to each client each day to offer something individually that would help them to be more comfortable, and hopefully interest them in gentle exercise or new activities. The oldest resident was 100 and the youngest 20 so it was a huge challenge.
I was responsible for outings, visits, concerts, the library, arts and crafts and other resources for the carers to use whenever they had the need to use with clients at anytime. I also drove the minibus and put together a newsletter for the clients and their families and as a trained reflexologist I offered hand or foot massage to those unable to go out or who needed palliative care. I was also responsible for training and supporting the carers who supported me in my role and for organising activities when I wasn’t there. It was also part of my role to ask,”Who cared for the Carers?” I tried hard to make sure I did at a professional level.
In training sessions I got the carers to put themselves in the place of someone entering the home as a client for the first time – to choose the 10 favourite items to bring with them and to try to imagine how this would feel. This brought up a lot of emotions and led to a greater understanding of just what a huge change it is for clients to enter a new, completely alien, communal way of life when a new start was the last thing they were probably anticipating.
I soon discovered the carers and senior staff who really knew their clients and were willing to work with me to ensure they got the most sensitive and appropriate care. Some were hugely talented and it was a joy on occasions to have the whole unit drawing, painting and enjoying looking at books or joining in the singing of prewar songs at a concert or dancing and singing along to Harry Belafonte tapes. Yet, probably the most appreciated activity was to sit out in the garden, tucked away under the trees with just a blackbird or robin hopping about in the peace and quiet. Clients instantly changed, they relaxed, no matter how agitated they had been, in the peace and quiet of the fresh air. Yet it cost nothing but a bit of organisation as we had to have sufficient staff to bring them down in the lift and walk them safely along the path. Then they would sit for as long as possible in the peace and the quiet of the fresh air. Sometimes, especially in the summer when it became so hot and airless inside, I would be very frustrated to be told that there wern’t enough staff to be able to take anyone out. Walks along the canal were always greatly appreciated as was going to the local post office or shop. Shopping outings were very popular but the greatest treat was to sit like a normal family in a teashop at a garden centre having a cup of tea out of china cups with no divide between staff and clients.
I loved the job but it was hugely demanding and was going to expand even more. I felt I needed more time for myself, my family and the traveling I had always promised myself I would do.
So, as my son left for his second year at university, I packed up and sold the house and went off to India on a tanker and spent 3 months traveling around Rajasthan on my own.
Today there has been a bitterly cold wind although there has been a fair amount of bright sunshine making the cold a surprise as I went outside this morning. My fingers were tingling by the time I came in for a hot bowl of stoneground porridge. Irish Stew they called it on the east coast of America when I visited in 1986. Sunday — a day of rest — a day to take things easy after a delicious soak in the bath with the sun pouring in. When I came downstairs I fanned the remnants of the woodburning fire which is always reluctant and sluggish when there is no wind. So much for wind turbines – it is surprising the number of days when there is no wind even though we tend to think of this rural, high spot as extremely windy.
The black birds are squawking as they find somewhere warm to roost out of the wind. They are one of the last birds to go to roost before dark and the reign of the owls begins. The other day a male was pulling moss from the top of the wall so there must be an empty expectant nest hiding away somewhere. Two other males were lined up on top of the wall as the posturing heralding the start of the mating season begins.
However, it’s back to winter today with them stoking up on food as the main priority. They enjoy soft foods such as oats, fruit, sultanas, just as the chaffinches, dunnock and ring-collared doves do from a bird table or the ground. There are clouds of other birds rising when disturbed, busily taking advantage of the hanging bird-feeders, the blue tits, great tits, greenfinches, goldfinches, coaltits, a tree creeper and greater spotted woodpeckers. These all enjoy peanuts or the high energy suet balls with the bits falling on the ground to be pecked up quickly by the waiting chaffinches and dunnock who in their brown colours are easily overlooked. A robin also manages to manoeuvre onto the feeders although they havn’t bothered so much since they’ve been offered mealworms from a hanging feeder or on the ground.
As I draw the curtains and pull down the blinds, the fire begins to draw so that at last I have a good blaze. Outside in the dusk the birds are silently roosting, but it isn’t long before I hear the male tawny owl calling. He’s very hungry as well. My supper is ready and I can enjoy the glow of the fire and the peace and quiet until I hear the the blackbird in the morning.