Monday, 30 January 2012

Circus maximus*


Conversation with my mother Joan, now 101 and bedridden, has been difficult for several years. She is almost totally deaf. Sometimes visitors communicate with her by writing things down in her conversation book. She reads what has been written and answers orally. A glance through her conversation books turns up some extraordinarily bizarre one-sided conversations. I had thought at one time of writing a novel, probably a fairly short one, in which the narrative advances by means of one-sided conversations, leaving the reader to imagine the missing lines and thus engage more fully with the leading character. Towards the end of his life the equally deaf Beethoven communicated in the same way, and his Konversationshefte, many of which have been preserved, are sometimes revealing of the mighty struggles going on inside his head and the stream of often very complex music which sought to resolve them.

But sometimes my mother's hearing picks up inexplicably. A recent conversation went as follows:

Joan: I've been in Rome, you know.

Chris: Have you?

J.: They sent me there. On a mission.

C.: Who better than you?

J.: I had to get the formula.

C: And did you manage to get it?

J.: No, I didn't.

C.: A question of money?

J.: Exactly. It was very disappointing.

C.: I'm sorry. You can't do much without capital.

J.: Indeed you cannot. The story of my life.

A deep sigh and a long pause.

J.: Have you been to Rome?

C.: No.

J.: Neither have I.

Shortly after this two carers come in to plump up her pillows and re-arrange her in bed ready for lunch. She feels she has to introduce me, although I know the care home staff reasonably well. 'Have you met my brother?' she asks them. At least she doesn't say 'Have you met my father?'

She's not raving. Please don't think that. I'm very happy that she seems perfectly content and logical in the little world of her imaginings. Who knows, she may start writing music soon.

*I know, it's the Coliseum. I just wanted to suggest things going round and round.