My mother, Mabel McLaren, suffering from dementia, had already been living in a care home for eighteen months when I began to write a regular blog about visiting her there.

The over 50s' company, Saga, published 'Visiting Mabel' on their website from May 2010 until July 2014.

The early blogs describe my time with my mother and father either at the care home, where the staff did their best to make Mabel's life comfortable, or out and about in our red Renault Modus, where Ian and I did what we could to make Mabel feel alive, tapping into what remained of her memories, her links to the here and now and her
joie de vivre.

 - 099
Mabel and Ian in 2011

Ten of the blogs written in 2010 were shortlisted for the
Orwell Prize in 2011. I was going to list those ten submitted blogposts below, but then I recalled that every single time I sat down to write a new blog, I tried to come up with something fresh and honest. The series went on for three more years and here are the links to all 99 of them:

(Saga has got rid of the Visiting Mabel archive. The links are inactive. Bear with me while I find another home for these blogs.)

May 20, 2010: time check
June 4, 2010: birthday boy
June 18, 2010: The chiropody lesson
July 9, 2010: Emergency at Backwater Dam
July 23, 2010: Blossomtime
August 6, 2010: “Look who’s here to see you!”
August 20, 2010: the unbreakable umbilical cord
September 3, 2010: money matters?
September 17, 2010: the strawberry tea
October 1, 2010: home is where the heart is
October 15, 2010: Huggering
October 29, 2010: Happy days
November 12, 2010: Two weddings and a brick
November 26, 2010: Glass half full?
December 10, 2010: Funeral alarm
December 24, 2010: bad company
January 8, 2011: hokey cokey
January 21, 2011: birthday girl
February 5, 2011: diamond glints on snow
February 19, 2011: Good company
March 4, 2011: Teddy bears' picnic
March 18, 2011: The whisper
April 1, 2011: Mother Shakespeare
April 15, 2011: The F word
April 29, 2011: Yes, yes, yes
May 13, 2011: The Owl and the Pussycat

That's the first year.

May 27, 2011: Zimmersong
June 10, 2011: Of tables and chairs
June 24, 2011: Now what do I do?
July 7, 2011: 4.44am
July 22, 2011: "Who are you?"
August 5, 2011: The strawberry tea dance
August 19, 2011: Oddiology
September 2, 2011: Brideshead Revisited
September 16, 2011: The black bat
September 30, 2011: Lady MacBeth
October 14, 2011: What to do with a wreath
October 28, 2011: The once-happy eater
November 11, 2011: car crunch
November 25, 2011: And so we carry on
December 9, 2011: Revised care plan
December 23, 2011: Speechless
January 6, 2012: Ghost of Christmas present
January 20, 2012: Alive, alive-oh!
February, 3, 2012: the big picture
February 17, 2012: the Van Gogh in the room
March 2, 2012: Carry on chomping
March 16, 2012: An appetite for life?
March 30, 2012: The physio appointment
April 13, 2012: The 50th blog
April 27, 2012: Diamonds
May 11, 2012: A pair of Levi 501s

That's year two, when moving and eating gradually became more difficult for Mabel.

May 25, 2012: Waltzing Matilda
June 8, 2012: Respite
June 22, 2012: Caring for the care home
July 6, 2012: Strawberry fields forever?
July 20, 2012: Wimbledon revisited
August 3, 2012: Under new management
August 17, 2012: Between regimes
August 31, 2012: A bit religious
September 14, 2012: Trouble on the nightshift
September 28, 2012: Alice is 90!
October 12, 2012: Head injury
October 26, 2012: All the world's a stage
November 9, 2012: Putting the clock back
November 23, 2012: A late lunch
December 7, 2012: Nostalgia
December 21, 2012: Departed Joys
January 4, 2013: A light lunch
January 18, 2013: 88 today!
February 1, 2013: Going down?
February 15, 2013: Pillow talk
March 1, 2013: No sap rising
March 15, 2013, Precious cargo plus pig lead
March 28, 2013: Tickety-boo
April 12, 2013: Wanted: Bright, young person
April 26, 2013: Six-month review
May 10, 2013: Ballochmyle

That's year three. A tough one for Mabel; a tough one for Ian and me.

May 24, 3013: The lost voice
June 7, 2013: Responding to treatment
June 21, 2013: Role reversal
July 5, 2013: Great expectations
July 19, 2013: Alarm at Blackcraig castle
August 2, 2013: Burns revisited
August 16, 2013: The night visit
August 30, 2013: New picnic time
September 16, 2013: Off piste
September 27, 2013: 1962 revisited
October 11, 2013: Tupperware days
October 25, 2013: The last party?
November 8, 2013: Visitors' book
November 22, 2013: Driving test
December 6, 2013: Apollo 11 comes to 4 Townhill Road
December 20, 2013: Christmas cards
January 10, 2014: The pickle survey
January 24, 2014: We are stardust
February 7, 2014: Aftermath
March 14, 2014: Aftermath (2): The silent spring
July 11, 2014: Aftermath (3): Mountain bird

And that's it. All over.

Towards the end of her life, I was trawling Mum's diary to make up for how little life was left in her. Mabel's diary served us well, it really did.

The blog below, the 100th, was written after Saga had terminated the commission. But what son ever stops revisiting the memory of his mother? In her prime, Mabel brought me - helpless - into the world; and when our roles were reversed, it felt like a blessing to be there for her when she left it.

Until the next blog, then:

VISITING MABEL
Blog 100
October 31, 2014: The clock of clocks

 - 297


Above is the photo that was used on the front of the order of service that was given for Mabel at Perth Crematorium on January 20, 2014, nine months ago as I write. Note the mantel clock which you can see about half of, on top of an electric fire in the bottom right corner of the image.

That photo was taken in 1976, when the McLaren family (Ian, Mabel, John and I) lived in a detached house on an owner-occupier estate in Hemel Hempstead, the Hertfordshire town from where Ian used to commute to London and John and I sat for our A-Levels.

I found another photograph showing the clock on a table in our front room in Hamilton in 1970, when Dad worked for British Gypsum in Glasgow and my brother and I went to Townhill Primary. And I found a third photo in the albums Mum meticulously maintained, showing the clock on top of the mantelpiece in our lounge here in Blairgowrie in 1994, the home town of both Mabel and Ian and the place they retired to.

I think of it as the clock that has witnessed the home life of our nuclear family. One day recently I asked Dad about it, referring to the copy of the order of service that still stands in his room. He told me that the mantel clock had been a wedding present for him and Mabel from his Aunt Daisy, and that Mabel had always looked after it, winding it up once a week and re-setting it when the clocks changed in autumn and spring. Year in, year out, it had been our source of the time of day in one, two, three, four, five, six, seven eight homes up and down the country. Ian thought it probably still worked, but suspected the key had been lost.

I found the clock on a shelf in a shadowy corridor upstairs, where Ian can’t access now. I’d walked past it every day for however many years without noticing the heirloom. I looked at it with fresh eyes and, of course, wanted it to be working again. So I took it to a local clockmaker who told me he would clean it, replace an essential part that was on the point of breaking, and would soon have the clock as good as new. A few weeks passed before I got the call saying the clock was ready, but I hadn’t forgotten about it and immediately went out to collect.

As I drove through Blair with the timepiece ticking away inside a plastic bag on the front passenger seat - the seat that Mum had occupied every second afternoon from October 2008 to December 2013 - I got a new perspective on what was happening. The repaired clock was an attempt to bring Mum back to life. After all, her heart had ticked all the way through my life until it had stopped on the 12th of January of this year. I know it stopped then, not least because I was in the room when she took her last breath... her last breaths. Oh, the last beats of her failing heart, the heart that had served her so well all life long. Emotionally, it was not an easy drive back to the family house.

But it’s been easier since. The clock is on a shelf in the room in which I work. I hear it now. Its tick is loud but it doesn’t disturb me. After all, did not this same tick sound throughout my childhood and adolescence? The face of the clock is marked with dividers symbolising the twelve hours of the day, though only the quarter hours - ‘3’, ‘6’, ‘9’ and ‘12’ - are enumerated. The clock chimes once on the half-hour and it chimes out the hour. If I’m sleeping in this house and I’m awake in the night, I hear the clock from where I lie in the bedroom and count to four or five or whatever. Again, the sounds do not disturb me. For did I not lie in bed upstairs as a child in Hamilton, listening to the clock strike downstairs in the lounge? A chime that implied the words:
‘You are lying in bed in a Wimpey house chosen by your father… You are lying in bed in a home created by stable, loving parents… Fall asleep, boy; rise again in the morning, young man.’

Almost the day after I collected the clock, the time needed to be changed, British Summer Time ending for another year. In order to put the clock back an hour, I had to gently push the minute hand in a clockwise direction, pausing to let the clock sound out each hour and half-hour. Maybe I overdid the pausing business, because it took me almost an hour to put the clock forward the eleven hours that were needed. But that gave me plenty time to remember Mum, dressed in ‘slacks’, crouching down in front of the clock doing the same job. Perhaps one October she thought:
‘That’s Duncan settled down at primary school at last.’ And a few years later: ‘That’s Ian’s promotion in the pipeline, we’ll be moving again by next summer’. And a few years later: ‘Both my boys out in the world now, but I’ll be seeing them again at Christmas.’

Now responsibility for the clock is mine. That’s how it seems anyway. So here goes:

‘This is the first of all the 57 winters I’ve known where Mum hasn’t been around.'

That's well said, but it's only half the story:

'This might be Ian’s last winter, but if so he is prepared for it. Ready to join his wife in what I think of as life beyond time.’


There is something Dad’s said in the car on a couple of occasions recently, at least once as a result of me mentioning the family clock:

“Tak tent o time ere time taks tent o thee.”

I will, Dad. Between us and the care home, did we not take care of 2008-2014? And does that not stand you and me in good stead for taking care of the time to come?