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Monday, 3 May 2010

Annie's Song

Something serious for a change. We were invited by a friend to an art exhibition at his village's community hall. We said we'd arrive at noon and met him and a few friends he'd also invited.

I'd shared a house with him 37 years ago and the last time I saw him and his partner was less than 2 years ago after a gap of some 20 years. I'd phoned him a few weeks back to tell him about a mutual friend's death; and out of that reconnection came today's invitation.

He met us near his house as we were walking from the car. Conversationally he said; " Just so you know, Ann (his partner) has Alzheimers."   We didn't break step; he said it in such an undramatic, matter a fact, way but before we went into the house we spent a considerable time admiring his garden - preparation/adjustment time I suppose. He was having the garden landscaped.A new courtyard (ample room for a car he couldn't drive), newly laid lawn, attractive gravel path and exciting plantings.

Ann was not in the living room when we arrived, Alan introduced  one of his neighbours and we began exchanging nicities. Ann then arrived, very quietly, smiling broadly as Alan introduced us to her. Alan had warned us that  her memory was not that good - and it proved to be so. When we last saw her less than 2 years ago there was no hint of the illness. She couldn't remember if she had ever seen us before; or how old was Alan. She did remember her days as a school teacher - only 7 years or so before. She recognised her old friend, who had taught with her 30 or so years ago.

The rest of the party joined us by and by and we headed off to the local pub for a bite. Throughout the meal Ann smiled but said next to nothing; never initiating a conversation; trying desperately hard, I thought, to string words together to reply to a simple query.

After the meal we walked on to the exhibition. Each year the village holds an art sale: anyone can put in an item and there must have been over a hundred of varying quality. Some, I thought, were very good - especially the watercolours; but I'm afraid I didn't have much time for the others. My wife and I hit on the same picture of three sparrows. We love these little diamonds, wonderful, busy, chattering spives who enliven any garden bird table. So we bought it.

While the rest of us were looking around the exhibits Alan had tenderly place Ann at a table in the tea room. After our "viewing" we joined her. She was still smiling - looking not blankly but certainly not engaged. And as we left she got up and followed.

Walking back to their home; I talked to Ann, trying  to find something that would connect. "How old is Alan?" I asked, "I don't know", she replied "It's not something I ask about."  "Do you share the cooking?"  "Yes, at least that's what I say!" and she laughed as she spoke. We continued in silence and as we were walking I became aware of people passing in cars  waving, and as we passed, people on the pavement said "Hello".

We left Alan and Ann just outside their house with its lovely new garden. I'm sure it's been created  so that Ann can sit out in sunny days and stunning sunsets enjoying the warmth stroking her smiling face.

Life can be a bugger can't it; but how some people handle it is amazing.


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