It takes a village
We’re all familiar with that old expression that it takes a village to raise a child. I'm beginning to think that we may need to tack another phrase onto the end: and a Village can sustain a senior. I say this after spending some time recently in England with Nicky's mother Iris. On this recent 14th of April she turned 100. I took this photo of her on the day before her birthday. Tell me honestly, does this look like a woman who 99.97 years of age? Does she?
Iris has lived in a small rural village for the past 35 years. Mentally, she is as sharp as a tack. She is not as mobile as she once was, having suffered a series of falls in recent years. The village really has prolonged her life: we are convinced she would never have reached this milestone had she remained living in London. Iris and her husband Bob (now deceased) lived in the capital until they retired. Then, with the help of their other daughter Julie and son-in-law, they settled in the tiny village of Pitton. It has a population of 500 and is nestled in the rolling Wiltshire countryside, six miles outside Salisbury.
Pitton has three things that any village needs to survive: a shop; a church and a pub. The shop is a little of everything: it's a newsagent; a liquor store; a post office and a grocery store. The church - St. Peter's - traces its history back to the twelfth century. It is now shared by Church of England and Methodist congregations, following the closure of the Methodist chapel a few years ago. Nicky & I attended a Methodist Sunday service recently. Sorry, John Wesley, but this grape-juice-as-communion-wine thing is a bit of a let-down.
The pub - the Silver Plough - has been a fixture in the village since the 40s. I was amazed to learn that an All Saints chorister had once used it as his local, when he was stationed at a nearby barracks. There’s a tab in the snug with his name still on it.
The Village should really be called Midsomer Pitton, because it shares some traits with the TV series of the same name. Now, I'm not suggesting that there's all kinds of murder and mayhem taking place. Not at all. The only crime that occurred recently was when the newsagent delivered the Daily Mail to Joyce Froggatt. And if you know Joyce, you'll know that she's a Telegraph kind of gal.
No. The reason for the Midsomer moniker is that it shares a similar demographic to that series: Midsomer Pitton is populated almost entirely by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There’s hardly a person of colour in the entire Village.
Nonetheless, they are a kindly bunch, who treat Iris as the matriarch that she is. Since she became widowed, sixteen years ago, they have gone out of their way to ensure that she remains involved in village life. When she stopped driving, they made arrangements to get her to church each Sunday. A painting class at a nearby village? Someone will drive her there and back. (Iris is a talented watercolourist, by the way). If there is an event at the village hall, they will make sure that she can attend, if she wants to. She has become hard of hearing, latterly, so tends not to go to noisy gatherings.
Various people visit her at home, though Iris seems almost to discount this. When Nicky phones her, Iris will gripe about the fact that she has seen nobody lately. This is code for "I've not seen (my daughter) Julie lately". (Truth be told, Julie now had six grandchildren on whom she dotes, yet still finds time to take her mother to all medical appointments, as well as doing all Iris' shopping).
When pressed by Nicky, though, Iris will admit that she had three carers visit that day. . The carers literally visit Iris morning, noon & night, to help her with dressing, meals & the like. Iris will also concede that Fiona, from across the close, dropped by. Oh & her Filipina cleaning lady, who is devoted to her, was there earlier that morning. Plus the phone call from one of her three grandkids.
Truth be told, Iris’ well-being is due in equal measure to the hard work of Julie AND the good people of Midsomer Pitton. Iris, who still lives at home, needs a lot of help to remain there. It’s a commitment that all concerned continue to keep. How long will Iris remain Matriarch? One of her carers candidly said - out of earshot of Iris, of course - that she thought she could go another five years at least.
So the question for us, good people of All Saints, is what are we doing to enrich - the lives of our most senior citizens? Many of these seniors are feisty, and not always appreciative of our efforts. But if we are going to “love our neighbours as ourselves” maybe we have to set our reservations to one side.
Just a thought.
Written by Cliff Caprani