Lucy Beevor in conversation with
Phil lives in a care home in south Belfast. Before lockdown, a friend and I visited Phil and her fellow residents once a week and took them out for fresh air, coffee and chat.
Preparation time: 26 weeks
2 parents, both working from home
3 teenage daughters, with varying amounts of schoolwork
1 greyhound, requiring regular exercise
4 mobile phones
a deluge of Belfast weather
patience and kindness
songs, sung by Phil
- Put humans, dog and technology devices into a large mixing bowl and stir gently. Initially, the ingredients will combine well. However, stir too long or too vigorously and they will separate.
- Add three servings of Covid-19 and leave.
- Line up the kindness of friends and neighbours at the front door in the form of bags of groceries and boxes of paracetamol sourced at distant pharmacies.
- After three weeks, place the mixing bowl in the sunshine and allow the contents to rise.
- Remove the father and almost all schoolwork from the mixture, leaving mother, work, three children, dog, devices, garden and torrential rain in the bowl. Ensure mother focuses on “one day at a time” rather than on “how on earth are we going to last until schools return in September?” This has the benefit of not agitating the other ingredients and ensuring the mixture remains at room temperature.
- Make a tremendous effort to season daily with patience and kindness.
- Schedule regular chats on What’s App with Phil and her fellow care home residents during which, unprompted, they will break into rousing renditions of ‘Molly Malone’, ‘Danny Boy’ and, “for Lucy’s parents in Kent, ‘There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’”.
- From time to time remove all technology from the bowl.
- Add sewing machine.
- Discard sewing machine.
- Add acrylic paints, colours selected by Daughters 2 & 3
- Add sign language course for Daughter 1
- Add Disney+, sketchbooks, yoga mat, Zoom, fancy dress, pyjamas, a new item of loungewear each, hair dye, skipping rope.
- At about week 23, run a knife around the edge of the bowl and lift mixture out. There will be some evidence of the stirring process but over time, and with the right treatment, this should subside.
- Let the mixture acclimatise to its new surroundings.
- Warm gently, dust generously with icing sugar, and serve back into the world.
“I’ve had the vaccine, Lucy,” Phil announces on the phone, swiftly followed by, “And I’ve written a poem! I found a phrase or a word that I liked in a book or a newspaper, and then an extra word or two came into my brain, and I pieced them together. I’ll write it out and give you a copy.”
She tells me her good friend A will be leaving the care home soon; she’s moving to a specialist facility where they can support her dementia. “I’ll miss her,” Phil says quietly.
“We all will,” I say. “I’d love to read your poem, Phil.”
“What do you think?” Phil asks from behind the window which is propped open a few centimetres. She is bundled up in a woollen scarf, a blanket tucked around her knees. I am outside, standing in the winter sunshine, mask on, clutching the poem in my gloved hand, stamping the icy ground in my fur-lined boots.
“I love it, Phil!” An idea is swelling in my mind – we have another contribution to make to 26Weeks….
“If you read it very slowly it has more meaning. Or maybe that’s just me,” Phil says.
“A left this morning,” she adds. “She was crying. She didn’t want to leave. I missed her beside me at the table at lunchtime. We always laughed and sang together.”
Right now, I really want to give Phil a hug. Instead, I check that I can keep the copy of the poem and I tell her I’ll see her soon.
I return home, sit down at my laptop, and propose that Phil O’Neill’s first poem be published as part of 26Weeks. My Editor agrees.
by Phil O’Neill
Memory Lane is a lovely place
where thoughts are warm and true.
I travel down there every day,
just to be with you.