Bluebell Ward

To find Bluebell Ward you have to enter the grounds of Winterwood Hospital through a pair of tall gates at the end of an ordinary, residential street. You walk down a tarmac road past the entrance lodge with its white gabling, past the car park next to it and round a bend in the road. Buildings of various ages and sizes cluster around small lawns. You walk slightly downhill, following the road, until you see a low level red-brick building in the distance in front of you. You walk towards it and find the path which leads across neat grass to a low, wide window next to a white door. The grounds are very quiet. Through the window you can see people, older people, sitting asleep in armchairs while staff move to and fro. You press the button on the entryphone beside the door.

Josh and I are let in. We sign our names in the visitors book in the small lobby between the outer door and the door to the ward, which isn’t opened until the outer door is shut. A member of staff in pale blue overalls and a name badge opens the door to the ward and we walk into what looks like a large doctors’ waiting room, with plastic-upholstered armchairs and sofas arranged together next to an office. And there, straightaway, is Dad, appearing from somewhere just to our left, beaming.

‘Ah, Josh, Chlo, you’ve saved my bacon!’ We hug and kiss him under the gaze of two women sitting on a sofa, one holding a black handbag to her chest, the other wearing a sari and wrapped in a blanket. Dad is looking at us expectantly. ‘Well, are we off then?’ he asks.

Josh and I grin inanely at Dad, trying to take it all in. Dad is wearing a thick, cabled, navy jumper. His hair is sticking up on the top of his head and his grey beard is untrimmed, giving him the air of a castaway. It’s so good to see him, his loved face so familiar in this strange place. Behind him are tables and chairs arranged around a large open space with a food serving hatch at the end of it. Through an open archway we can see a lounge area with plastic chairs lined up along its walls and a TV showing the news. There seem to be doors everywhere, some operated by keypads, and to our right is a set of double doors which appears to lead out into the garden which Ellie has told us about.

‘Let’s go and sit outside,’ I suggest, and Dad comes along with us. There are heavy benches set along the side of the building and we sit down in the full glare of the sun.

‘How are you Dad?’ Josh asks.

‘Ah, not too bad, I’ve been down to the beach, the islands are OK really. But what I really need is a pair of bolt cutters to get through this fence. Do you think you could get hold of some for me?’ Dad gestures to the tall chain-link fence on three sides of the pleasant, spacious garden with its flowerbeds, octagonal greenhouse and little wooden summer house. He suddenly sucks his cheeks in to make a fish-face pout.

‘Does my face look thin?’ He laughs. Josh and I laugh too, bewildered. I’m holding a packet of chocolate covered biscuits which I realise are melting in the heat. I open them and give one to Dad. He eats it quickly and asks for more.

‘Well it’s a good thing they’ve sorted out the locks on these windows,’ he says. ‘I think you could make a half decent club out of this building. Weights room over in that bit, changing rooms down the side there.’ He notices an Afro-Caribbean man with white hair sitting two benches along from us. ‘All right? Lovely and hot isn’t it?’ The man is fast asleep, his chin on his chest.

‘You know, I’ve been thinking you could turn this garden into a cycling track,’ Dad says, looking at us seriously. ‘Yeah, yeah…’ Josh says, looking around at the circular path. ‘I want to go home,’ Dad says. He makes a sad little face, turning down his mouth.

We try and distract him by asking him how he is sleeping and what the food is like, and telling him some bits and pieces of news from outside this place. ‘Dan says hi,’ I say.

‘Ah, and how is he feeling about impending fatherhood?’ he replies, lucidly.

An Asian nurse comes out into the garden, wheeling a metal trolley with a blood pressure kit. She pulls up a garden chair and sits opposite us. ‘Blood pressure, give me your arm.’ She wraps the thick grey nylon band around Dad’s bicep.

‘Do you know,’ he says to her, smiling mischievously, ‘with a bit of warning I can slow my heart rate down to five beats a minute.’ He looks at her, his lips twitching. ‘I’m like an elephant. They can live for a hundred years.’ The nurse makes no response.

Leaving is awful. We haven’t planned it. I mutter to Josh that we should try and slip away but it’s impossible because Dad follows us back in and right up to the door. ‘Right, well we have to go now, Dad,’ I say. ‘Annabel and Ellie are coming tomorrow.’

‘You don’t have a spare mobile on you, do you?’ Dad asks worriedly. ‘I don’t have mine here for some reason.’ He has a paper napkin in his pocket and asks me to write my mobile number down on it. ‘In case I need to get in touch with you,’ he says.

We have to say no, we don’t have a spare phone. We have to kiss him goodbye, and we have to leave him there, making his Stan Laurel now-I’m-in-trouble face in a last, anxious attempt to make us laugh, locked in, confused.

Access

For three days we play Bodgana’s game. When we call her she tells us that the doctors recommend waiting a while before we visit Dad. Dr Robinson tells us that this isn’t true, but still insists that we need Bodgana’s permission. We speak to Patient Services at the hospital, who warily acknowledge that we have a ‘moral right’ to see our father, but state that ‘every case is different’. We discuss whether we should just turn up at Bluebell Ward but are held back by a fear of being labelled ‘difficult’, which might weaken our case for access to Dad. On the second day Dr Robinson tells me he has asked Dad whether he would like to see his grown up children, and Dad has said yes. Just knowing that we have been mentioned to Dad helps a little bit. I think about him all day and much of the night, trying to picture the ward, wondering how he is coping with being held in a secure unit, unable to go home, wondering if he feels abandoned, wishing I could explain to him why he hasn’t seen us for so long.

On the third day, I ring Bodgana again, and in as neutral a voice as I can manage, ask her if there is any news.

‘Brian is doing well. It will be OK for you to visit him.’ In a friendly voice, Bodgana then gives me detailed, helpful instructions on how to get to Bluebell Ward.

‘Chloe, I must warn you that Brian has deteriorated. Take care.’

Perfect

‘If your parents can’t make it,’ my friend Luke said gloomily, ‘no one can.’ He sat opposite me at the kitchen table, holding a cup of tea between both his hands to warm them. Mum and Dad were paying him to break up and remove the old crazy paving in the back garden and this work was continuing despite Dad’s departure.

I knew what he meant. Everyone, including me and my siblings, thought that Mum and Dad were the perfect couple. Dad was good looking, fit and strong, Mum was graceful and gentle. They had both published books and followed their separate interests, but teased each other affectionately and shared long-standing private jokes. They bought old wrecks of Victorian houses which no one else would touch, and transformed them with small amounts of money but plenty of creativity into beautiful, light, spacious homes. They had brought up four children, now aged 12 to 22, who got along brilliantly. Every night we all sat down together and talked and laughed and shared a meal. We had never seen them argue or even snap at each other, and it had not occurred to Annabel, Ellie, Josh and I that they might have difficulties in their relationship. The only clue that things were not as good as they seemed had been Dad’s spells of moodiness over the last few months, which (if we had given much thought to it at all) we assumed were business-related.

‘I know,’ I said. Nothing felt real anymore; it seemed that everything had fallen to pieces around me. Dad was living in the former weights room of his club, which he had converted into a cold, windowless bedsit. Mum was red-eyed and exhausted and unwilling to talk to us. ‘It was out of the blue.’

I had said this to other people and it was how I visualised it, something dark and unknown falling out of a clear, sunny sky. It filled me with a brand new, strangely comforting cynicism.

Someone else

There was a row of five red telephone boxes on Broad Court, just off Bow Street, which were usually empty. I walked there from the office in my lunch break, chose the box furthest from the traffic and dialled the number of Dad’s tennis club. He answered on the second ring.

‘It’s Chloe,’ I said. ‘I need to come and talk to you after work.’

Dad hesitated for a moment, but he didn’t sound surprised.

‘Come at 6.30 then. Ask for me at reception.’

I left the office early and took the tube to Bethnal Green. I stood packed together with other commuters while Annabel’s words from the night before looped in my mind. She had been out walking with Dad in the evening, Dad swinging his stick as they paced the familiar route around the edge of the cemetery, when Dad had suddenly said to her that if he did anything strange over the next few days, she had to remember that it was nothing to do with her, or me, or Ellie or Josh. He wouldn’t say anything more and Annabel was too surprised and scared to press him. She had phoned me in tears, already stressed because she had an A-level exam the following day. I tried to reassure her. ‘Don’t worry, he’s just being a weirdo. I don’t know what he’s on about but I’ll talk to him tomorrow.’

‘Let’s go and sit in the car,’ Dad said when I arrived. He didn’t smile. The car was parked on a side road which led to the housing estate opposite his club. We sat in the front and I knew by the knot in my stomach that Dad was going to tell me something very serious, something I didn’t want to know. I said that he had freaked Annabel out and asked him what he meant. He paused for a long time.

‘The situation is… complicated, Chlo,’ he said finally, looking straight ahead. ‘Mum and I have been having some problems.’ He cleared his throat. ‘And, ah… I have been having an affair with someone else.’ The words didn’t sound like they belonged to him.

‘Does Mum know?’

‘No.’

I had no idea know how to respond. I looked down at Dad’s hand, which was resting on the handbrake, and saw that it started to tremble. I looked up and saw that Dad’s whole body was shaking lightly and that his lips were pressed together hard as if, with an enormous effort, he was keeping some sound inside himself. I had never seen him cry before.

‘Who is it?’

‘She… ah… she works for the club.’

‘When are you going to tell Mum?’

‘Tomorrow.’

We must have talked a little bit more, and I think he told me that he was moving out, but all I can remember clearly is Dad’s body shaking, and the grey side street.

Shut out

Dear Dr Robinson,

I am Mr Brian _____’s sister and I am writing to you on behalf of myself and my brother, Mr Martin _____. We were very shocked and distressed to hear that our brother was sectioned more than a week ago and that we have been given no knowledge or information about this. How can this happen?

It is important that you know of the strong love, care and support that his adult children (Chloe, Eleanor, Annabel and Joshua) show towards him and how important it is that Brian has a continuing relationship with them. They only have his best interests at heart and they are all people of great integrity. They are very concerned that they have had no access to see him yet. We know that Eleanor has a document that states that she would be kept informed of any changes in my brother’s status. It is Brian’s wish that this should be so. However, this has not happened.

I would also like to stress the importance of Brian’s relationship with his wider family and in particular his siblings and grandchildren. There seems to have been a complete lack of communication between the medical services and our wider family.

I hope that you will address these issues for us.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Anita ______

 

Admitted

On Tuesday morning I get into the car and drive to Dad’s house. I park, ease my seven-months-pregnant bump out from behind the steering wheel, and stand on the street for a moment in the hot sun, heart thumping.

I climb slowly up the steps to the front door and knock. Again, no answer. One of the sitting room blinds is open and I lean sideways to see as far in as I can. There’s no sign of movement and the dog isn’t barking. I knock again. After another few minutes I decide to try the next door neighbours. Perhaps someone has seen Dad coming or going and can put my mind at rest… but there is no answer from any of the flats to the left or the house on the right. I stand on the street at a loss. I know Bodgana is in there. I ring Dad’s landline, and in the quiet of the weekday morning I hear the phone ring. I decide to go back up the steps and knock one more time, and as I do I see Bodgana standing at the kitchen window. Our eyes meet. I wave.

After a short pause the front door opens. ‘Yes?’
‘Can I see Dad?’
‘He’s not here.’
‘Where is he?’
Bodgana hesitates. ‘He’s being… assessed’.
‘At the memory clinic?’
‘You can come in’.

I sit on the sofa and Bodgana sits at an angle to me on the wicker chair, very upright, calm and composed. ‘Brian is at the hospital,’ she says. ‘He is being assessed. His behaviour has become worse.’
‘When did he go to hospital?’
‘Oh, a couple of days ago. I have been desperately trying to get help for him. I have been asking doctors, I have been asking many questions, but we have been left alone. The tests do not show how bad he is. But the last time that the doctors came to the house to ask him questions, they were very shocked. They asked him what year it was and he said it was 1945, and he was rambling and talking about many things that are not real. So they decided, he must be taken for assessment. They won’t give him any medication, they will simply… observe him. The children and I will be allowed to visit him next week. He is eating well, they say.’

She stops and looks at me, triumphant. I want to get out of the house, as quickly as possible, but she is enjoying herself now, and, gesticulating in her chair, tells me many more things, some of which I already know. ‘He has been hallucinating. The doctors tell me that he has the third most common kind of dementia, it is not Alzheimer’s. There are no drugs to treat him. He has had two CT scans but both of them showed nothing. There is not a tumour or a cancer. Brian has been able to fool the doctors, saying he is writing a book and other things like this, but now they have realised how ill he is.’

She tells me how difficult her life has been, how aggressive Dad is towards the children, how he is completely unmanageable by the evening, how they keep him in a strict routine as this is the only thing that helps. Once more she talks about the involvement of social services last year, justifying her actions by saying that reporting him was a ‘cry for help’ in order to make the doctors see how ill Dad was.
‘I tell you, you are very brave to drive him,’ she says. ‘The doctors say that it is dangerous to be in a car with him because he may grab the steering wheel at any time.’ Her tone suddenly changes and she tilts her head to one side. ‘Listen, we love him.’ She smiles. ‘We want him home.’ I nod blandly as if I believe everything she is saying. ‘Don’t worry about him,’ she continues. ‘To be honest with you it is a relief not to have him here. I feel I have been looking after three children. He is very controlling towards us. We have our life back.’ She crosses one leg over the other and smoothes the fabric of her dress with her hand. ‘You can ring any time.’
‘I’ve been ringing every day,’ I say.
‘We go out a lot,’ she says. ‘It would be nice if you rang, we have been alone.’ She smiles again.

I get up. I never want to sit talking to her like this again.

Back in the car I start googling… hackney services older people, hackney mental health older people… and quickly find a number for the Hackney Community Mental Health Team.

‘I’m ringing about my father, Brian _____. I believe he is in hospital for assessment somewhere in Hackney.’ To my great surprise the woman who answers the phone tells me straightaway that Dad has been admitted to Winterwood Psychiatric Hospital.
‘He’s on Bluebell Ward. Unfortunately the whole team are having an away day today, but I can take your number and someone will call you back tomorrow.’

Keep calm for the baby, keep calm for the baby, I say to myself on the way home, trying to breathe more slowly. Almost as soon as I let myself into the house, my phone rings. A man called Dr Robinson introduces himself and tells me that he is the consultant looking after Dad.
‘Your colleague told me that my father is on Bluebell Ward at Winterwood,’ I say, and there is a slight pause at the end of the line.
‘Yes,’ Dr Robinson says slowly, ‘he was sectioned last week, about ten days ago. Did you not know?’

I tell Dr Robinson that we didn’t know, that we have been going out of our minds with worry about Dad, that we have been trying to speak to Bodgana for days. I’m crying now in a mixture of shock and relief and I want to tell Dr Robinson everything. He interrupts me.
‘I am afraid that this is rather awkward for me… Your stepmother has asked us not to involve you and your siblings. I’m afraid that as she is the nearest relative we are obliged to take account of her wishes. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m quite shocked that she didn’t tell you what has happened to your father. I’ve only met her once, but I have to say she appeared to be a rather… unusual, determined woman.’

When I repeat some of the things that Bodgana told me earlier, Dr Robinson seems to relax a little. He tells me that they can see from the scans that Dad has a shrunken frontal temporal lobe and will probably be diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia, one of the least common variants of the disease. He explains that with this illness, language is affected but that memory can stay intact for longer. Apparently Dad will be allocated a social worker in the next week or so. Because he has been sectioned, there will be a Mental Health Tribunal on Friday to decide what to do with him. It is possible that he will be discharged. But Dr Robinson says he can’t tell me why Dad has been sectioned.
‘Is he very distressed about being there?’ I ask.
‘No, I wouldn’t say he is too distressed… but he is bewildered and he does get agitated at night.’
‘Can we visit him?’
‘I’m afraid that you will need your stepmother’s permission for that. Why not give her a ring?’

I try and explain, again, the difficulties of communicating with Bodgana, and say that she said they weren’t allowed to visit Dad until next week anyway. Dr Robinson, who seems to be in no hurry to end the conversation, tactfully says that he doesn’t know anything about that. Then he offers to ask Dad if he wants to see us.
‘I will make my own judgement about how lucid he is at the time. I will be seeing him next on Thursday.’

That night I lie awake, staring into the dark, unable to stop thinking about Dad, alone and bewildered in hospital, not having seen a familiar face for ten days. It’s almost too much to bear.

Gone

The following Wednesday it occurs to me that I haven’t heard from Dad for a few days. I try his mobile, which goes straight to voicemail, and the landline, which rings and rings. None of the others have spoken to him either.

On Thursday I try the landline again. Bodgana answers, sounding flustered and breathless.
‘He is out,’ she says, when I ask to speak to Dad.
‘Do you know when he’ll be back?’ I ask.
‘I have to collect the children from school, call back later.’ The line clicks dead.

I try the landline and mobile later that evening, the next day and the next, which is a Saturday. There is no answer. Josh and I are getting worried; it is so unlike Dad to be out of touch. We wonder if there is a fault with the landline, if Bodgana has taken the battery out of Dad’s mobile to prevent him from speaking to us, or if Dad is ill in bed. Josh decides to go to the house. He knocks on the door and peers through the window. He can see that the back door to the garden is open, but there is no answer. On the Sunday he tries again. Beata comes briefly to the kitchen window and looks at him, but no one comes to the door.

We keep ringing and leaving messages on both phones. I speak to Mum who tries to reassure me that there is something wrong with the phone, that Dad is being absent minded. But as Sunday turns into Monday and I realise that two weekends have passed since any of us have spoken to Dad, I can’t stop wondering if he is hurt. Perhaps he has tripped and fallen down the stairs. I imagine him lying in bed, unable to charge his mobile or get to the phone, hungry and helpless. I ring the local hospital, but he hasn’t been admitted.

Getting out of here

I knock on the front door and wait on the step. It’s a cool and cloudy Friday evening in the middle of June and I’m tired after a week of work. Dad has suggested coming over for dinner. He opens the door to let me in and sits down on the stairs to put on his shoes while I listen to the children’s voices downstairs in the kitchen. Dad’s large leather satchel rests on the carpet, stuffed to bursting with papers. When he stands up and tries to lift it onto his shoulder he staggers slightly.
‘What’s in the bag, Dad?’
‘Oh, papers, papers,’ he says, as if that explains everything. ‘Need to keep them with me.’

Out on the street Dad struggles to move the heavy bag from his arthritic shoulder onto the back seat of my car. We drive away from the house. Dad is frowning and preoccupied. He talks without pause about Bodgana, how impossible she is, her spending, their lack of money, the arguments they have had.
‘You know, this morning, I woke up and I finally felt there was a ray of light,’ he says heavily. ‘All I need to do is get a… a… what do you call it… when you go to the bank… an influx of cash…’
‘A loan?’ I say.
‘Yes, yes, that’s it, and I’ll just simply get a flight to Sweden, get out of here and put the whole business behind me. The bank should give it to me, then I’ll get a flight out of here, get back to England and say goodbye to them all.’ Dad seems weary and low. All of a sudden, as we slow down and stop at traffic lights, he rouses himself.
Anyway Chlo, that’s enough about me. How are you? How’s the pregnancy going?’ I reply to Dad and he asks me more questions, about Daniel and a situation at his work.

When we arrive at our house, Dad cheers up immediately and engages in his usual banter with Daniel. We light the barbecue, prepare salads, and stand in the garden trying to decide if it will rain and whether it’s warm enough to sit outside. Dad shivers slightly and we decide to eat indoors. Daniel tells Dad about an upcoming work trip to Israel. Dad, who competed in many countries around the world during his career, purses his lips and looks from side to side.
‘Just don’t go into the sea in Tel Aviv, is my advice!’ He laughs naughtily.
‘Why, Dad?’
‘You never know what you’re going to bump into, floating around… it’s none too clean out there… Better not repeat any of this to the locals though!’ Dad laughs and laughs, looking from Daniel to me and back again.

I drive Dad home again an hour or so later. He seems peaceful and relaxed. He watches my driving and tells me not to drive too closely to the parked cars. We talk about this and that, the weather, weekend plans, and he is lucid and clear.

I help him put the satchel back onto his shoulder and watch him walk slowly and unevenly across the road, up the front steps and into the house. He closes the door.

Chaos

Events accelerate once the savings have gone. Dad keeps trying to borrow larger and larger amounts from different members of the family, but we all agree that the only sustainable solution is for Bodgana to learn to live within their budget. Because of his confusion it is wrenchingly easy to fob Dad off with an excuse. One day he says to me, in sad surprise, that he would have thought someone would have been able to help them out.

One lunchtime I call Dad and he tells me that he can’t talk because the police are there.
‘And all because I can’t remember an appointment I had with some doctors’. He sounds furious. ‘Bodgana keeps telling me I’ve got this dementia thing and I tell you, it’s an absolute load of nonsense.’ I hear Bodgana and a male voice talking in the background and ring off. Later that day, Dad’s brother Martin gets a call from Dad, saying that Bodgana left him the night before and took the children with her. Hearing how upset Dad is and taking him at face value, Uncle Martin decides to drive from his home in Peterborough to see him. He finds Josh already there. They make Dad a meal, listen to his worries about the children and take the opportunity to look at some bank statements which are lying around. Uncle Martin is shocked at the extent of Dad’s illness and the scale of the spending over the last few months. He notices a loan website open on the computer with £15,000 entered into the repayment calculator. Bodgana and Beata finally arrive back at the house at 10pm. Bodgana, who is always more friendly to the men in the family, tells Josh and Uncle Martin that Olly is in hospital with asthma and that she has been with him all day. She lists many examples of Dad’s strange behaviour. He has been refusing to let them open the back door, he has been wandering around Stoke Newington at night talking to strangers, he has become friendly with some Jamaican men he thinks are old tennis players and they are now ringing up and abusing her. She says that it was Dad who called the police that morning; he reported that she had assaulted him.

The following day Ellie takes a present and card for Olly to the children’s ward and bumps into Bodgana and Dad at his bedside. When Ellie offers them a lift home Bodgana starts shouting.
‘Why are you here, there is no need! You are just creating havoc! We are trying to get over everything that happened yesterday and here you are, causing us more trouble!’ she rants.
‘I’m just trying to help -’ says Ellie, helplessly, but she is interrupted.
‘We don’t need your help, we are coping!’ shouts Bodgana.
‘Well it doesn’t look like it!’ shouts Ellie back, while the other families in the ward listen in silence.

We start getting regular calls from Dad saying that he is hungry and that there is no food in the house. One Saturday afternoon towards the end of May he complains to Ellie that Bodgana has gone out for the day leaving him without money or food. Ellie and Annabel decide to go to the house where they find Dad sitting in his car, having tried and failed to drive the short distance to Ellie’s house. Ellie and Annabel take Dad to Tesco and buy him a shopping basket full of basics, but when they get back to the house Bodgana is back and has locked the front door from the inside. They knock and ring and call, asking Bodgana to let them in. They look through the letterbox and see that she is standing in silence on the other side of the door. The children come to the window briefly, look at their father and sisters sitting on the doorstep, then disappear again. Ellie and Annabel wait for a while before calling the police. Bodgana lets Dad in when the police arrive and the policeman and woman are inside for twenty minutes.
‘Well, there’s obviously a lot of issues there…’ the policewoman says to Ellie and Annabel on her way out.

The next day we decide to approach Hackney Mediation Services, who agree to take on our case and write a letter to Bodgana trying to initiate it. They don’t receive a response. Annabel takes Dad for lunch and he talks about a caterpillar on her plate that isn’t there. He mentions that London is inundated with caterpillars and thinks that maybe they have a message from God.

He calls me a day or two later and tells me that Bodgana called the police to the house the previous evening, saying that he had threatened her with violence.
‘Oh, she just exaggerates everything,’ he says, with contempt in his voice. ‘The police are getting very weary with all this. I don’t blame them – the whole business is ridiculous.’ Several hours later he calls again.
‘It’s very peculiar,’ he says. ‘I went down the road to get a newspaper, and as I was coming back I bumped into Bodgana, running down the street, hair all over the place, hysterical, accusing me of killing the dog!’
‘How strange…’ I say, ‘um… was the dog OK?’
‘Oh yes, we soon found her hiding under a blanket.’

On 12 June Dad calls again. His car has some sort of sticker on it which instructs him not to move it. The initials SORN are on the sticker. I try and pick through the confusion, do some googling, and work out that Dad must have let his road tax run out. Clearly Bodgana has not taken over this kind of task from him.
‘Do you know if you’ve paid your road tax recently?’ I ask him.
‘What’s road tax?’ he says. ‘Do you know, no one in this house has two pennies to rub together. The cupboards are completely bare.’ He has stopped asking us for money, but when he rings and says he is hungry I usually go and collect him and bring him to our house for a meal. Each day is full of texts and phone calls between Annabel, Ellie, Josh and me as we try and work out what to do about each new crisis, and debate whether to report the situation to Adult Services. Because we hear everything from Dad we don’t know what is real and what isn’t, but although we try many times to speak to Bodgana she will not answer or come to the phone.

Around this point the medical professionals dealing with Dad’s case start to close ranks. Annabel tries to speak to Dad’s GP, who had been very helpful and open the previous September. This time she says that she has discussed the situation with the other partners in the practise and that they feel they cannot tell Annabel anything without Dad’s consent. Despite the memory clinic agreeing to copy Ellie into all correspondence and reports on Dad’s health, when she rings to ask where the letters are they are evasive.

‘We know what’s going on and we are keeping a close eye on the situation,’ says the GP to Annabel. ‘But there isn’t really much we can do if there’s another family member involved – in this case your father’s wife – who does know what’s happening.’

Hitting the fan

The phone calls start on the 8th of May. I listen to Dad’s message on my voicemail, feeling awful for not picking up. ‘Err, Chlo, can I come over and borrow some money… about £200 would do it, I’ll pay you back next week. Call me back when you get this, will you?’

I call Annabel instead. She has had three missed calls while she’s been in a meeting. Two days ago Dad told Annabel that he had £32 left in his bank account, so we are prepared. But despite being in agreement that lending them money will just perpetuate the situation, and that we will take bags of food round to them instead, none of us can bear to say no to Dad. His calls come thick and fast to the four of us and eventually Annabel picks up. When Dad repeats his request for a loan, Annabel asks to speak to Bodgana. She comes onto the line, sounding flustered.

‘Oh… we have been caught out…’ she says, ‘waiting for some income bonds to come in. There is a Post Office strike today so we cannot pick up the cash.’ Post Office workers had been on strike the day before.
‘But the income bonds are all gone,’ says Annabel, ‘Chloe and Josh have seen the paperwork.’
‘No, no, that is not the case,’ says Bodgana. ‘Listen, I did not want Brian to call you, I was going to rely on my own sources. But if you can lend us some money that would be helpful to us.’

Annabel arranges to meet Dad and Bodgana after work. Later that evening she takes the bus to Church Street and they meet at the cashpoint in the dusk. The children are nowhere to be seen. Dad is clutching a recent bill from the Inland Revenue and talking nonsense about it.
‘He has been obsessed with this all day,’ Bodgana tells Annabel, who hands over £100. ‘We will pay you back next week.’

‘She looked beyond stressed,’ Annabel tells me later. ‘I reckon she knows they’re in trouble now.’