A Task and a Half at Malin Road…

At the beginning of 2020 Hubs and I travelled to England for a cultural break.

It was January,

no-one goes to England in the winter for the weather,

and since London is my hometown and we’re used to carrying on regardless we spent the month visiting museums and art galleries, attending West End Shows and seeing friends and family.  Towards the end of our trip we tootled off to Littlehampton with my brother to take our Uncle Tony out for lunch.

On the journey down in Vincent’s car he was texting Tony our ETA and when we arrived, there he was standing on his back step waiting for us!

At last I saw 12, Malin Road in its rightful place on a quiet road in a seaside town; here was the house that had so baffled the twelve year old me decades ago!

We bundled him in the car and headed for Sainsbury’s to have a cup of coffee together.

Then we took him home where he politely waved us farewell and went inside.

And that was that!

We weren’t invited in but I was happy…12 Malin Road was no longer just an address on an envelope.

Unbeknownst to us this was the last time Hubs and I would see my Uncle…

The global pandemic hit the month after we arrived home stateside and we all adapted to another way of life.

I continued with my phone calls to him, he was always amazed at the clarity of the line but it slowly became obvious the lock down was changing his life.

He stayed indoors obeying, to the letter, the Government mandates that were put in place.  He was unable to make the short drive to his company a couple of times a week and when I called him he assured me that he was fine and would relate the latest lock down restrictions;

“Do you see anyone?” I’d ask.

“Oh no Vivienne,” he’d say, “neighbours are encouraged to keep an eye out for comings and goings and report them on a special number if they stay too long.”

Britain had instated a bubble system; only two people, the same two, could pop over once a day, closely monitored by the road of course.

“Surely you could go out for a drive?”

“No,” he’d say, “you have to have a reason to go more than a mile from your home and get a letter of permission.”

“Well then, surely you can sit in your garden?”

“No, I don’t do that the neighbours may report me if I stay out too long…”

I think in the end he was making up reasons not to go out even for a walk around the block or down to the beach because the government had struck the fear of God into him and many others.

NHS (National Health System) laid down the law about contracting the virus.  If anyone suspected they were ill they were to,

“…stay inside and self-medicate with aspirin and paracetamol,” I could tell this was frightening for him.

Slowly I noticed from our conversations that this enforced isolation was taking its toll on his mental health.  Always a bit of a recluse he retreated into himself and as the days became weeks and then months he grew lonely.

I heard reports on the radio that those who lived alone, especially the older generation, were scared and felt abandoned.

I worried about him.

Tony told me he was all right for food, his colleagues would drop groceries off on his back step.  Sometimes, I was told later, they were still there the following week.

At this point no-one had been inside to check up on him; they respected his privacy.

Meals -on-wheels was set up for him. I doubt he bothered eating them, his freezer was full of the vacuum sealed ready meals when I got there.

He had always been an occasional smoker and would enjoy a tipple in the evenings, but now, according to his shoppers, he was smoking and drinking  more which made it dangerous with his bedroom upstairs and his legs growing weak from inactivity.

Finally, six months in, one of his colleagues, worried that he hadn’t responded to her text asking him for a shopping list, finally used her key to enter the house and found him seated on the blood stained carpet in his living room, back against the couch, a gash in his head that required stitches; his phone was in his hand although he’d not called or texted for help.  A very stubborn man.

At this point his colleague WhatsApp’d me and told me that intervention was needed.   I knew I couldn’t suggest to Tony that I’d go and look after him, way too intrusive and I didn’t want to put him on the spot, besides, the stringent restrictions on travel turned a simple trip overseas into a quarantine nightmare with requirements to hole up at an hotel for two weeks on arrival before travelling to one’s destination.

A quick trip to organise carers and a support system could well turn into a multiple week ordeal.

I enlisted my brother’s help.

Vincent drove from London to Worthing twice a week for nine months, a gruelling task.

He ensured he had food and went grocery shopping if Tony needed anything.

He’d sit and chat and have a cuppa with a chocolate biscuit.

He’d buy fish and chips once a week and eat with him.

Tony’s life became more transparent and it was painfully obvious that the lock-down had completely destroyed the man he had been.

A successful small business owner who was fiercely independent, private and understandably difficult when it came to being told what to do.

He finally became sick with an aggressive UTI and on May 15th 2021 he passed away in hospital.

I waited until probate had been filed to go back to London, a full 8 months later.

It was once again January and Hubs and I planned to stay for six weeks.

We chose London as our base because the house in Littlehampton was really not habitable not to mention the lack of internet which was critical for the task ahead.

We waited the required two days after arrival to receive our Covid test results – negative.  We lost no time and the following morning caught the early morning train to Littlehampton.

After 56 years I was going to enter his house for the first time and tried imagining what it was going to be like.

What kind of art was on the walls?

Was his furniture Ercol like my parents’?

Were there standard lamps and wall paper?

Was the house wall to wall carpeting or wood floors?

Did the kitchen have all the amenities?

Speaking to my brother before Tony died all he’d say was,

“He spends most of his time on his sofa watching old films.”

So…he had a sofa and a television.

“He uses the small cloakroom under the stairs to wash.”

So…he had a downstairs sink and toilet.

“He sleeps on the couch now his feet are troubling him.  I actually haven’t been upstairs yet.”

So…no idea what the beds were like.

To say I was more than a little apprehensive to enter my uncle’s house for the first time was an understatement.

Hubs and I arrived, dismissed the taxi and fished out the key I’d been given by Vincent.  It wouldn’t fit any of the doors; turned out it was the key to the  safe inside the house!

Not to be thwarted we re-called the taxi and thirty minutes later were dashing off to Goring-on-Sea, where the solicitor had her office, to pick up their set.

“Make sure you bring them back tonight, you can drop them through the letter-box,” I was told.

We had copies for ourselves made.

Back at the house we entered through the kitchen door.

The house was dark and freezing cold.

We flipped on all the light switches, filled the kettle and plugged it in, and put on a couple of heaters in the living room to take the chill off.

I tentatively began to look around,

there was wallpaper, lots of it, peeling at the edges and probably original to the house.

Within minutes it became evident that my uncle, a confirmed bachelor, was not a home-maker.

Hubs and I made ourselves a cup of tea and rolled up our jacket sleeves.

This was going to be a task and a half.

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