“Did you hear the knocker?”
In the autumn of 2008 I had the opportunity to revisit three people with whom I’d worked in 2003. With the agreement of the home manager I began to document more of the background in order to see how Daisy and Meg were interpreting their current environment. I could then show the carers how details such as lighting and the position of chairs, the sound of vacuum cleaners and the comings and goings of uniformed staff could, because of past associations, seem both frightening and menacing. Fun and Games is taken directly from these notes.
Fun and Games records a series of distressing encounters between two women - care home residents for ten years - and their carers. Although both women had been changed by their dementia, and the experience of living in care for so long, there is a strong sense that these are the same people as the 2003 storytellers. Neither had become passive victims, both still retained their unique personalities, and both were still capable of fighting with and deceiving the care staff and other residents.
Whilst there were many good carers in the home the piece reveals an underlying power struggle between dominant carers and weaker residents. Daisy, being the most rebellious and physically the strongest, occupied the lowest rung of the social ladder and frequently faced the consequences by being segregated and victimised. The strength of this psychology is evident in the speed with which some new staff picked up on Daisy’s pariah status and began to §go against their training in order to be accepted and liked by a more socially rewarding circle of long term carers.
Although the carers cannot be freed from their direct responsibility for the abuses in this piece it is important to see that they too were trapped in a faulty system. Each person was being asked to cope with long hours of unpleasant, hot, smelly, tiring work and occasional acts of physical violence with little reward. Most had started the job with good intentions and they as much as Daisy and Meg had been failed by low staffing levels, paltry activities budgets, unimaginative training and little understanding of their own need for support, or praise for their efforts.
Meg had rarely spoken during her years in care. She began to talk in response to a single photograph of herself as a young lady in a rowing boat with an unknown man. For weeks we pointed out the brass buttons on his jacket, the pattern on her dress, any detail to capture her fleeting attention. Once Meg began to talk, it quickly became clear that she couldn’t stop. She’d often laugh at her own comments, reprimanding herself for talking too much, dancing in her chair, nodding and repeating “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.” The material included here is a transcription of one complete session.
I’m thinking and dreaming of someone… someone who’s far away… I’m thinking and dreaming of someone… someone who’ll come back one day. Where is this? Is it Harrow Road Nursery? My friend Kathleen? I was brought up in a children’s home on the King’s Road. The training ship Exmouth? My brother Sydney was on the boats. Sydney… are you Sydney? My Brother Fred. I have a brother… Peter… he was in the Air Force on the guns. My sister Daisy… she was a cook. She was in domestic service. Daisy Hartsfield. We used to go on outings. Dancing with sailors on the Isle of Wight. Dennis Maynard? I used to be his domestic on the King’s Road… he wanted me to have his children. Dr Shaw? Dr Ferguson? Major Webb? A lord… he was a doctor. Captain Vicarage? Bridestone Court? Just off George Street. Tom? He was a window cleaner. My mother had a terrible life… she died of influenza. My father used to drink. I was brought up in a children’s home. Central London District School, Hanwell, Middlesex
You sitting next to me… did you hear the knocker? I thought it was God and Jesus coming… fighting battles… I lost sight in my eyes… the bombs are falling… my husband frightened me… I was frightened to stay in the house… I went to the soldiers… where was it they said I have to go? Fancy coming all this way and forgetting where I live… Bonar Law… 1…2…3…4…5… I know Prime Minister Bonar Law… 1…2…3…4…5… take it out of my mind… it’ll be in the papers… I was fourteen… I had to take off my badge… I was in the ATS… they said stand at the front door… they gave me a letter… I had to go and stay in the country… yes… I know Bonar Law… they had guns… do you know the colonel? They said, “Get out”… My George, he went mad when he found out… he picks things up and chucks them… did you just hear the shouting? Is that why you came in? Did you hear us fighting? It’s a wicked life.
What is this? A biscuit? A biscuit, I thought it was a stone. Here, are you listening to me? Do you think I’m going mad? I must have my wrong mind… I should remember… isn’t it terrible? I’m sitting here now and I don’t know where I am. I’m counting the chairs over there. I had to think about something because I’m making things up in my mind sending me half mad. What am I doing? What’s the matter with me?
I don’t know. In my mind I know there’s 1-2-3-4-5-6 people… I can’t tell you… it’s absolutely stupid… I thought I’ll have to go to the police station and tell them I’m afraid I’m in trouble… they told me off terrible… they said, “Look Mrs Price if you keep on like this they’re going to put you away in a home and you won’t be able to do anything”… “Oh don’t do that to the hospital”… I said, “You’ll be alright if you keep quiet and keep stopping talking about people, about your life and what you are and everything.” They said, “Stop it”… that’s the police station… Harrow Road… yeah… there was a policeman… he was really rotten… “What’s the matter with you, woman, pack this up, stop it going around these houses.” I said, “I wasn’t doing that sir.” They said, “Well where are you doing it?” I said, “I don’t feel well.” They said, “Don’t make excuses, we know about you and what you’re up to.” One gentleman there said, “You pack it up, we’ve had enough of you… stop this gossiping, girl.” I said. “I don’t gossip.” They said, “Yes you do, we know where you live.” They told me off. I got a bit panicky. “We’re going to put you away… you and your brothers and all.” My brother came up and we had a terrible row. He said, “Look Meg stop this, we’re getting fed up with you. They’ll be putting you away in a mental home.” I said, “I’m not.” They said, “Stop making excuses, we already know about you and who you’re mixed up with.” I got warned.
I’m sitting here counting the people sitting on the chairs taking it all out of my mind… 1-2-3-4-5…
5 people… I went in to see if I could talk to someone… if I could just talk to them for five minutes… “We’ve had a fed of you.” I said, “I only want to go to the toilet.” They said, “You’re not to go to the toilet, it’s full up. That’s it for you, girl, you can’t go in there anymore.” I tried to get out. I said, “Look I’m all right.” They said, “No you’re not. You talk too much.” I said, “I can’t help it”… Do you know about the name Sydney? Fred? Two or three girls’ names and all? The private school where people go to church? Do you know Church Street? Where? Nearby? You’re not Tom are you? I don’t know… is there something wrong with me? I keep imagining things. I’m sitting here with two over there… 1-2-3-4-5-6… chairs… just to remind me I’m here… that’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 over there…
Honestly I’m real daft. I got a brother Sydney just like you… a younger brother… he’s in the Navy… have you seen him in uniform he looks so smart… he shaves and he’s clean… I wish he was here now… do you know my brother Sydney? You’re like him. One man said, “Look, stop talking.” He caught me off. He was in the Navy… I don’t know where… he was a sailor… uniform and everything. This morning I came here and looked around and I thought 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 people. I thought, “Will they know me?”
You know the man Sydney in the Navy? “We’re coming to see you and your husband to talk to you.” I went in such a temper. I said, “I don’t care where you send me or what you do.” They said “Stop talking or we’ll come any day now and lock you away.”
I don’t know if I’ve got a brain in here. I don’t know. I imagine things that don’t happen. I had to see a doctor. Three or four of them came… and policemen from Harrow Road Police Station and Sydney… my brother… and Fred… in the Navy… he’s very tall… oh he’s very tall. They said, “Mrs Price we need to have a talk with you.” I said, “What have I done?” They said, “Never you mind. Get into that room, we want to talk to you private.” That was that. That was Sydney… my brother… you’re not Sydney are you? I keep looking at you and thinking of my brother Sydney… and Fred… he’s tall… oh he’s very tall… when he was in his uniform he looks very smart… long trousers and all that… sailor’s uniform… oh dear… I wonder if I’m all right… you remind me of someone… Sydney would it be? Do you know my brother Sydney? Fetch him here to meet all these children and see what’s going on in my mind… they said, “If you don’t stop this silly nonsense we’ll be running you in… in prison.” They said, “Shut up! Be quiet!” I’ve got them here now… sitting here… looking around thinking what am I doing here…
Wondering… how long have I been here? Do you know? Do you know the church? I can go to church… I’ve got my private shoes on… a costume… navy blue costume… two pieces… they look so smart when I wear them… one gentleman came up to me he said, “I know you.” I speak. I’ve got friends. He said, “Stop it with these places… gossiping,” and he said the name of Sydney. Sydney Price. Do you know him? Do you know my brother Fred? He’s in the Navy… on the boats… on the ships going backwards and forwards… my father was a real devil… he used to drink… I pulled him up about it. He said to me, “Look we’ve had enough of you. Stop going round gossiping.” He told me off. “They’re going to put you away,” he said. “Stop the excuses. We know who you are.”
I was born on 27th December 1926… my father’s name was George… he was an engineer of all manner of things… big wheels… he was lovely… good-looking… a real tough guy… strong… but not tough with his manner… he was gentle… a gentle man… I’ve never known him fight with any man at all. I don’t know how I could live without my father. He just helps people. He was terribly wounded in the 1914 war… blown up… thrown up… he had terrible headaches and one leg shorter than the other… he’d go into the kitchen and we’d hear him crying because he was in such pain but he always let other people come first… he was lovely… he had a club foot… a platform on one… an iron on his leg. I used to go and meet him from work and hold his hand. I loved him dearly. Children used to laugh at him in the street because of his big boot… but he wouldn’t walk with a stick… he was too proud. I’d say, “Daddy use a stick,” but he wouldn’t.
I remember he had a tattoo of a lady on his chest… not a lady… a queen… I said, “Who’s your queen?” He said… he came right up to my ears and said, “You.” He tried to make me look… I haven’t got big wide eyes but I can see… I always wanted to see his lady. When I was frightened I’d always go and cuddle my dad… he always showed he loved me… he used to call me Curly… or Digsie, because I was always digging in the garden. I thought I was planting flowers for him. He was a lovely dad. He took the conservatory down when war broke out in case we were injured by falling glass from the bombing… I was thirteen.
My mother’s name was Rose… Rose Mary Anne. Mother wasn’t fair… I always thought she resented me… Bertie was her favourite. She put me off women… ever since I’ve been closer to men… as friends… as brothers. I had three brothers… Georgie… named after my father… he died… he was a beautiful boy… Georgie was the eldest… what a beautiful boy with big curls… Georgie, Frederick and Burt… I was the youngest… my mother couldn’t have any more… she couldn’t do anything… she had ulcerated legs after me… one of her legs was more the other way up than the other.
We lived in Essex… then my brothers all moved out to different places… Freddy moved out to the country… miles out… I was the only one who stayed. Bertie died… he was a wonderful person… full of life… but he died… like they did years ago… from nothing… the measles… like a plague… and he caught it… my parents never talked about him again… but what a little man he was… he was so lovely… he was very kind and gentle.
In a way I loved the war… I was young and silly and I loved all the men in uniform… I love soldiers… and my boys… my brothers… they built… you know… they used to have a… like a tin hut… have you ever been in an air raid shelter, the tin ones? My mum had terrible bad legs… ulcerated since giving birth to me… she couldn’t depend on herself and her body to get her in the hole… I always thought if death is coming I’d rather not already be in a hole… they knew… my dad knew… mother couldn’t walk… she couldn’t go out in the street… she could pull herself along against the railings but nothing else… or to the beach with the British Legion… she would never go in a wheelchair… she always said, “I’m not an invalid”… she was aggressive about her independence… not nasty but firm… so they had a sort of conference between them and the three of them built an air raid shelter… all around the sides they had seats… but oh, it was frightening in the air raids… if my brothers had been a couple of years older they’d have been pulled into the war… what is it when the raids were coming over and they had men to prepare and save the people?
My brothers did that. If the siren went they had to tell the mothers to get their children into the shelters… what were those shelters called? They were named after a famous man…
We didn’t have one of those, we had a room like this because my mother couldn’t walk… my father was an engineer and he built his own shelter… steel with bricks inside… the neighbours used to come… there used to be so many of us… all those people… Mum and Dad, three other people, me… Dad used to make gallons of tea… and Mum would always have a caraway cake ready… Dad liked caraway cake… I used to pick all the seeds out. Sometimes it was like a party… everybody laughed. One night the siren went just as Mum was putting food on the table. I was at the dance in Piccadilly… I grabbed my coat and ran all through Central London in the blackout… skinny as a rake. Once the siren went you were on edge all night… the worst night everyone cried… the top of the road was bombed… a big bombing session… you can’t describe the noise… I used to put pillows over my ears but you could still hear it… the sound of people screaming and crying… people running up the road… little children all covered with blood… babies burnt black… you can’t describe it… the smell… terrible.
Dad died after the war… though they reckon it was through the war… I mean through the throw-up… the stress… and having to live like that all that time… he went and got meningitis… you don’t get over meningitis… it’s the brain… nothing anyone can do about a brain… it’s unknown. I was frightened of him and the things he’d say. I’d say, “Daddy’s gone mad, Daddy’s gone mad.” He was ill. He didn’t know. It was so sad.
At first I worked in an office, then I met this family from America… they had a little girl… I was fourteen when I started work… and I had to look after this little girl... I can see her little feet now… how she ran after me calling my name… children’s love is always so true… her mother was the problem… the family split and she would tell stories about me… not lies… stories… but I got another job working with children… when I was about… say 20… and by the time I was 25 I was married.
It was alright but not what I thought a marriage would be like… you don’t actually have a dream but… he was a good man… but we didn’t have the same temperament… he’s changed now… I can’t even think what he was like… good-looking… a bit of a womaniser… I met him dancing but he didn’t dance… he’d have a drink and I’d go and have a dance… put my crown on… my special shoes… like in the dream… I suppose he was quite nice in his own way… but not like my father… I wasn’t miserable but I couldn’t say I was happy with him. I had a child but lost it… a miscarriage. My dad said, “You’re my big girl.” He just said to me, “What do you hold yourself on your tummy for? You don’t have to hold your tummy for that. You only have to go like that when you have your little baby.”
What could I say? I was so ashamed… It was so beautiful… my child… mine… she died just after… just a few days after birth… broke my heart… life is so sad… I still cry about it when I see a baby… we gave her a funny name… Cynthia… I think it was… I can’t remember… I tried to forget it… I think it was Cynthia… Dad took her away.
Four years later Daisy is sitting alone in a small dark lounge at the end of a corridor within a large modern care home. The lights are turned off. Her chair faces into the room towards the door and a brightly lit corridor where uniformed care staff can be seen to come and go. The unit is filled with the clatter of trolleys and the various sounds of showers, the shouts and cries of distressed residents, a radio playing pop music, a vacuum cleaner and the general commotion of breakfast time. There is a strong smell of urine. On a tray table in front of her chair, Daisy has a large bowl of cornflakes filled to the brim with milk. With great care she removes some of the cornflakes from the bowl, placing them one at a time in a wet pile on the table.
Daisy. I can’t do this… oh no.
With each spoonful she spills a few drops of milk, which puddles around the cornflakes. A few minutes later a cleaner walks into the room, sprays a prolonged jet of air freshener, and starts to vacuum around Daisy’s chair. Daisy starts to cry. The vacuum cleaner knocks repeatedly against her chair and the tray table causing more of the milk to spill.
I can’t do this… I can’t do this… I can’t do this… put it out... put it out... put it out!
A nurse walks in and turns on the lights.
Nurse. David, she’s been bad all morning. We’ve had to sit her by herself. Come on Daisy. Eat your breakfast. Please, for me?
Daisy pushes the bowl filled with milk off her table and onto the floor.
The lounge is crowded with residents and staff. Meg has taken off her hearing aid, which is now missing. A carer is typing on a computer terminal in the corner. Nurses and uniformed care staff are handing out and collecting photocopied pictures from a pre-school colouring book. It is extremely noisy.
Meg. Oh God… where am I? I don’t know… I live here somewhere… I got lost… try to find out where... where I am... I don’t know who I am… lost… I’m lost in here… somewhere… I don’t know what to do... I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve lost my mind… I’m here… I’m there… I don’t know where I am… I’ve been told to sit here and not to move… I don’t know anything any more… please look after me… get me out of here… look after me.
A nurse walks in with a pillow. Without speaking she props up a disabled lady who has been leaning awkwardly against the arm of her chair. The lady begins to grimace and clench her teeth. She closes her eyes as the nurse waves a teddy bear inches from her face. After a few seconds the nurse puts down the toy and moves to walk out.
Daisy. (Trying to attract the attention of the nurse) How are you doing? (Smiling) Why can’t we all die and go to a different place? They said no, but I’ve got stacks of money… I want to go now.
Nurse. Go where?
Daisy. I don’t know where I’m going… up there… go flying up like my grandma.
Nurse. Would you like another colour?
Daisy. I’ve got one here.
Daisy takes her original pencil, wraps it carefully in a tissue and rolls it in the hem of her jumper.
It’s mine… the special day belongs to Jesus… my Uncle Jesus… they helped him do things… to get dead… to die… it’s not real… it’s a pretty story… (She holds up her coloured picture of a girl with balloons) Look at the pretty boy Jesus… he’s a boy but he looks like a girl. A man outside was selling them. That’s my Daisy… I love her so… she’s pretty… she’s my Jesus… (Picks up a white tissue) See it’s always black… always black… always seems black.
For several minutes Daisy remains completely still, expressionless and quiet, staring at the teddy bear.
Hello boy… Hello baby… (Kisses the bear. Places it flat on the table. Picks up the pencil and begins to colour its white plastic eyes) Uncle Jesus, help me… help the little girl… (To the bear) What is it sweetheart? This is your baby... she has curls in her hair. Uncle Jesus… so soft… 16… now. I was girl until I was 21… I’m 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28… now I want to go back to the other place… nothing’s wrong with me… nothing, never, ever, ever wrong… don’t keep secrets it’ll make you sick. I’m my mother’s name now… bad as her… (Daisy has recently lost the ability to walk) Can you take me home?
Daisy is sitting in the same small room as before. On her table, there is a photograph of Daisy and her brothers as children. There are twelve other residents and three care staff crammed in the room. Half of the residents are sitting behind tray tables. A radio is playing loudly. One of the carers is standing in the middle of the room tossing a balloon towards the residents; most are unresponsive. One is attempting to read a newspaper. The balloon bounces off them and on to the floor. A male resident sitting next to Daisy is extremely disturbed. Trapped behind his tray table, he tries again and again to get himself out of the chair, his fingers curled into fists. The carer repeatedly throws him the balloon despite his evident distress.
Male resident. Fucker!
Carer. (Laughing) See. Do you see what he said?
Daisy has her head in her hands and her eyes closed. Her face is flushed.
Daisy. No… No… No… (After some time she opens her eyes and sees the photograph on her table)
Ssshhh… What does it mean?
The carer with the balloon bursts it close to Daisy’s ear.
DC. What are you doing?
Carer. Don’t ask me, it’s my first day. They said it’s an activity. (She walks out of the room)
Daisy. Bang… Bang… Bang… I don’t like the bangers… I’m going home… I’ll get under the shed (in the air raid shelter?)… my ghost… under the shed… what’s it like under the bed with you… your face and your body? Are we safe here? I want to go to my prayer house… we’ll all go under together. (To the photograph) Go home my sweet… pretty girl… an angel… and she was like an angel… I’m not grey there but I am now… I was so pretty… I look in mirrors and I can’t find her… look… the little girl Daisy. Is it still me now looking for me? Such a good girl… do you see me?
Meg is sitting in a room with one other resident. A radio is playing pop music. She is trying to remove a plastic apron, which has become knotted tightly around her neck and fingers.
Meg. I can’t properly… I don’t know… I don’t know… I don’t know… good night… good night… good night…
I remove the apron.
Thank you… thank you… for helping me… one thousand times thank you… you’re a nice lady… I’ll write to you privately. You’re my brother! Will you see me home now? You won’t believe it but you look so much like my brother Sydney… we’ll go out together like brothers and sisters… I’ll write you a letter… you… I’ll meet you outside… we’re going out together… like my brother sister… have you a brother and sister?
DC. A brother.
Meg. A brother… just a brother… I’ll write you a letter. Private letter. Write to me… thank you… thank you… thank you… I like you.
A nurse enters, picks up a cup and walks out without speaking.
She’s coming round now… we’ll talk on our own… private. Are the two of us married? Let’s me and you get married. They’re all looking in here now… watching us… lets go outside… we’re being watched.
Meg closes her eyes and immediately falls asleep. I leave the room. Twenty minutes later Meg is still sleeping, unaccountably she now has a brightly coloured feather duster in her hand and a teddy bear on her lap. Ten minutes later she wakes up and sees the duster.
What the devil? What are they doing here? What are they doing? Doing! What… do… these… things… doing? Where? Pink? Pink! Trespass. What is it? What is it? What is it? Never… Never… Never… (She looks around her in disbelief, pointing at the floor and ceiling. Tucks the Teddy Bear into the side of the chair with obvious disgust) Unspeakable… never… nnnnnevvvvvvverrrrrrrrrr. What if? What if? What? They? What did I do? Oh… How did I get here? They knocked at the door… soldiers at the door... (Points at the door) so where am I now? Somebody’s playing with you Meg… oh dear… what was there? A door? Knocking at the door? Bloody hell! What did I do?
Meg is eating a bowl of cornflakes. A radio is playing pop music. A male carer walks into the room and picks up the bowl.
Carer. Are you finished? (He already has the bowl in his hands) Are you finished Meg? (He takes the half full bowl away. Meg still has the spoon in her hand)
Meg. What am I supposed to do with this? I don’t know what’s the matter with me… I’m here… I’m there… Please tell me where I am… I don’t know where I am… I’m not all there… you’re my brother! You and me… brother and sister… you are my brother Sydney? Sister Sydney? Come to take me home? Let’s go… you and me go.
Meg begins to trace the floral pattern on her skirt with the spoon.
What’s all this?
Realising his mistake the carer comes back and takes the spoon out of Meg’s hand and walks out of the room. He doesn’t speak to her. Meg calls after him:
I like you… you’re my friend… I know you… are you my sister? Please help me then… I don’t know where I am. Look at all this mess… (She lifts up her skirt to look at the pattern) You’re not George are you? (Taps her head with her hand) Nothing… empty…
Look! Fred! Fred! I know you! I’ve seen your painting… do you know my brother Fred on the sea? Working on the ships? He was at sea…. oh, I do like you listening to me… do you work on the boats? Can you help me I’m so worried… I’m worried sick… are you in the Navy? Are you a sailor?
Oh, what can we do? Take me home… Do you know, Sydney? Tom? Fred… Emily? Emily! She’s my other sister… she cooks… oh, she cooks… she goes out cooking… she’s waiting for me when I go home today… oh dear… she’ll be upset with me for being so late… she’ll come and walk in here and tell me I’m in trouble… I was waiting for her when you came.
Meg notices a napkin in her hand.
Here and there… Do you know me? (Folding napkin) I fold it… I count it.
A carer walks in and turns off the radio and walks out. Meg picks up a piece of paper, folds it in half, opens it and checks both sides.
Refolds paper, folds it in to quarters, opens again and checks both sides.
Refolds paper, presses each fold between her fingers, adds a new fold and opens it again.
Nothing! (She shakes her head in disbelief)
Puts down the paper.
It’s a hard job, isn’t it nurse? This and that… such a hard job… I’m too old for it now.
For more than thirty minutes Meg silently folds and unfolds a small pile of napkins, making smaller and smaller parcels until the napkins fall apart, the fragments of tissue landing in her lap.
Meg has been shouting for over an hour. There are five other residents and one young carer in the lounge. Each resident has a soft toy on his or her lap. Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin is being played at high volume on the CD player. Meg’s face is flushed and her hair is in disarray. The carer sits by the window looking out into the garden. Although the room is not overly hot Meg is sweating profusely. She appears to be in a state of panic.
Meg. Leave me! I’m not sitting down… Don’t tell me! I’m not sitting down. Pink, pink, yellow, yellow table… I’m not sitting down at the pink, pink, yellow, yellow table… No! Leave off… leave off! Stop! I’m very, very tired… of you… I can’t worry any more over you. I’m not sitting down at the pink, pink, yellow, yellow table… It’s all because of you! All you! This is you! Get off me… (She picks up the teddy bear and violently tugs at its arms and legs) They’ve taken my house… my house! They told me to stand outside… stand in the field... they told me to go… get out! In the country… go and stand in the field… soldiers in the field. I’ve nowhere else to go… what am I to do?
Having been awake all night Daisy slept throughout the day. She is now sitting alone in the dining room. Throughout the following session Daisy grimaces, sticks out her tongue, makes choking noises, searches amongst the tablemats and condiments and slams them down violently on the table.
Daisy. You… come over here and show me… show me… I love you… I’ve got no flowers here… (There are flowers painted on the tablemats) Blood… blood… blood.
D.C. I have a picture you might like to see.
Daisy. What? What do you expect me to do with that? It’s just a picture. You idiot! Don’t ask me any questions. Oh, but look… That little baby… she’s so gorgeous… two and three and Mummy’s got four. Was that underground? Shit! She’s a lonely girl… 1,2,3,4… is she safe? (Daisy suddenly spits on the floor) See… it’s shit… coming out… I must be mad.
She picks up the photograph.
It’s my brother… is it?
D.C. Yes, it is.
Daisy. He’s my favourite… he’d bash you… he’s so gorgeous… where is he? Come on boy… lets get going… lets get back where I started… in injuring… that’s a… what’s that? (Daisy picks up an aluminium plate cover)… There’s no one here! Where’s the little boy? Just pigs here… pigs… (To the photograph) You’re such a girl… yes you are… Jesus, she’s a she! Oh my little girl what happened to you? Johnny, Johnny… get my brother… she’s such a beautiful girl… shit it out… we’ll have no more Daisy… that’s not my name… she had a baby… darling little girl… she’s pretty… she couldn’t cry… oh… let’s go… I’m going home… I want to go. Daisy, what happened to you? Johnny, Johnny… who was your mother? I don’t know… hello Billy Boy… my mum said… (A nurse walks in and begins to make herself a cup of tea. She looks exhausted. Whilst the kettle boils she leans over the counter staring at the wall supporting her head in her hands)
Are you my mother?
Nurse. (Without turning round) No, Daisy. I’m not your mother.
Daisy. I’m you’re daughter… say I’m pretty…
Nurse. You’re pretty.
Daisy. Daisy was so beautiful… take it and shit it all out… I’m going home. I’ve had my fill of it... all this dying. Did you come to see the mother? The mother... she looks like a fool… right… next door… she’s so stupid.
Daisy and Meg are sitting alone in a small lounge. It’s raining heavily. A radio is playing pop music. Other than looking a little flushed Daisy appears to be very well. Meg is sitting directly opposite. With both hands she is tugging the hem of her knee-length skirt towards her feet. Throughout the following visit Meg agitatedly arranges and rearranges her clothes and the objects around. For the next hour there is an almost constant clatter from the colliding legs of the tray table, her chair and her walking frame.
Meg. Stay, stay and stay where you are… stay where you are…
Daisy. Hello you… where have you been? It’s been about two years. You’re wet… are you cold? Come and sit down… I like it when it’s cold… I’m always hot now… let me feel your hand… oh, you are cold… la, la, la… How long have I been here? Guess how old I am… I’m 20… no, 70… no, 20, 28… I don’t know.
DC. I think you were born in 1926.
Daisy. (Laughing) That’s too old… I’ll have no man want to come out with me now. I’m old today… you look just like my husband… my dad… my dad, I wish he’d come again for me… he lives too far away now… I don’t know where he’s gone… (She points at Meg)… That’s my sister… sister-in-law… I’m all mixed up today… she’s nice, I think… I’m not worried at all… why am I here? (She looks at the clock opposite. It’s stopped at 3.15)… tea time… quarter to nine… I’ve had enough… I’m Daisy Rose… God Bless… let’s go home… sit on my knee… like I did with my dad… oh, that was my dad… he had terrible wounds… he was such… (A carer walks in with tea and cake)
Carer. Tea, Daisy? Here you are.
Daisy. Thank you sweetheart. What’s your name?
Daisy. Oh lovely… she’s nice… (When the carer goes Daisy sticks out her tongue) She’s black… they’re all black today. My Freddie he was so posh… he likes people of all sorts but… men is… he liked everyone… (Daisy dips her fingers in the tea and draws a line on the table)… here… (She reaches forward and places her hand in mine)… it’s wet.
DC. It’s raining.
Throughout the previous conversation Meg has been pulling at her dress, picking up crumbs from her table, trying to wrap herself tightly in her cardigan and skirt, arranging and rearranging the position of her walking frame, tray table, napkins and a dishevelled teddy bear. She seems to be increasingly annoyed with them.
Meg. Stay where you are… that is there… (Tugs at the walking frame)… that is there… pink… yellow… (Pulls the frame in close. Pushes it away. Picks up a napkin. Places it on the arm of the chair. Replaces it on the table)… No… No… No… (She pushes at the frame until it topples over)
Daisy. ...under the shed? (I pick up Meg’s frame and put it by her chair. She pushes it over) My brothers are out… I’ll tell them to go away… we can have the place to ourselves… (She puts her fingers back in the tea) I think I’m dying.
Meg. (Shouting) Yellow! Yellow! Table! Sit down! Stop! Stay!
Daisy. Where’s the man who knocks at the door? I don’t know what he keeps. I’ve had it with my husband… sod him!… look it’s dark outside… he’s had his chance… Johnny was a soldier… a beautiful boy… so gentle with me… he said I have big wide eyes so I can see how beautiful you are…
(Daisy closes her eyes and takes deep breath. When she opens them she reaches for an old scar on her leg) Oh it hurts… oh… you worry me… Daisy… you worry me. What happened just now? I slipped on the step. I was married such a long time ago… but Daddy was so ill… he didn’t know what he was talking about… I’m so worried… tell Daddy Daisy still loves you.
The carer returns with a plate of biscuits and some sandwiches.
Daisy. Aren’t you tall? I haven’t got my heels on but I can still… oh dear… shut up… never try, Daisy… never, never try… never… never… never… not any more... oh, rotten sod! (Daisy picks up a teddy bear from the table)… He’s always happy… he has eyes… a little gun… I’m so happy that he’s happy… can I go away? Can I die? (She glances towards the carer as she puts a saucer with two small flattened sandwiches in front of Meg)… she just wants to see us fighting.
Meg. (Meg is hoarse. She picks up the sandwich) Eat it, nurse… do you want me to eat it? (She reaches out towards me waving the sandwich in her hand). Please… please… don’t go… take me away… I’ve had enough… I’ve had enough (pointing to Daisy) of her... her… her.
Meg is eating a bowl of cornflakes. A radio is playing military band music. For over an hour Meg slowly and carefully eats her breakfast, picking smaller and smaller pieces of cereal from the edges of the bowl. When the bowl is entirely empty she continues to wipe it with her hand and lick her fingers. A carer walks in.
Carer. Hello Meg… That’s nice, that’s nice. Did you like your breakfast?
She picks up the bowl and puts it on top of the piano. Meg mumbles a few words in response.
Carer. Good morning, Meg. You look lovely.
Meg. What am I doing here, nurse? Am I dead?
Carer. Would you like some music?
The carer turns off the radio and puts on a CD of Christmas carols. She starts to dance in front of Meg’s chair.
Carer. Hello, Meg… what would you like to do? Should I dance for you?
Meg. I’m very old. What am I doing, nurse? What am I supposed to do?
Carer. Dance, Meg… dance like this…
Meg shrugs her shoulders and starts to swing her arms and shake her head.
Carer. Good Meg… good Meg.
In Meg’s room there are two large cardboard boxes and a small blue vanity case that arrived with her and were put immediately into storage. The recently rediscovered boxes contained her only possessions: a jumble of handbags (each stuffed with hundreds of dirty tissues and knotted handkerchiefs), a number of empty spectacle cases, a decorative fan, a medical insurance certificate showing her date of birth as 1918, a box of costume jewellery, utility bills and a television licence, a small souvenir doll in a plastic tube, a rosary, three small Bibles and a Prayer Book, two empty diaries from 1974, an empty address book, a broken hearing aid, a hair dryer and several battered photograph albums. Everything in the boxes is filthy. The majority of the photographs are in a very poor state. An envelope contains only photographs that have been torn in half, cut up or scribbled on in blue pen.
Daisy is spooning mashed potato into her hand and eating it with her fingers. There are three strings of plastic pearls on her tray table. I am sitting in the far corner of the room. Daisy does not appear to have noticed me. Meg is sitting directly opposite. A female carer is sitting beside her.
Daisy. I want to get fat… so I can have a lot of babies… la, la, la… what can I do with it to make it stop? Oh dear… if you’d seen my poor mum… she’s been in hospital… years and years and years… Daisy…
A second female carer walks in.
Second carer. Meg… Meg… (To her colleague) You’re joking, is that all she’s had? Did she have a milkshake? Give her some more.
First Carer. I was told to finish. I’m going home.
Second Carer. Leave her. She can do it herself. She’s very slow. She needs time.
A young male carer walks in, the second carer walks out.
Male carer. Are you finished Daisy?
Daisy. Where are you from?
Carer. The Philippines.
Daisy. That’s not far… Do you have a family… do you love me? (The carer stands with his back to the far wall, looking at her. With a very sad expression Daisy offers him a handful of cold mashed potato; he doesn’t respond) It’s sad this isn’t it? Whose food is this? The destroyed? Let’s go away… oh please… you and a rose and a little bit destroyed… (She puts the potato in her mouth) Ugh… it’s horrible. (The male carer picks up Daisy’s plate and turns to leave the room) You’re going to be old one day… (She spits the potato on the floor behind him. She turns and starts to talk towards an empty chair. It’s not clear whether she is addressing herself) Oh shut up, you… shut up… shut up…
After a few moments I take the seat next to Daisy. I pick up one of the strings of beads. The string immediately comes apart, spilling half a dozen beads on the floor. The male carer walks back in.
First female carer to her colleague. Look what she’s done now. (She takes the plate away from Meg and puts it on top of the piano)
DC. It’s my fault.
Male carer. (Laughing) Do we need to call the police?
Daisy. Silly sods!… where’s it all gone… (She picks up some spilt potato from her table and offers it to the female carer sitting next to Meg) … no babies… I chucked them out… you have it… I’m embarrassed… (The first female carer picks up a napkin and without speaking moves towards Daisy’s face to wipe her mouth. Daisy raises her hand to block the carer) … No… fuck off!… fuck off! Get out of it. Immediately the carer raises her hand in a fist and holds it inches above Daisy’s face. She swipes Daisy’s hand out of the way and aggressively wipes a tiny piece of mashed potato from around her mouth. The carer throws down the napkin)
Carer. Do you see? Fucking write it down. See what she’s like? Do you see what she’s doing? She’s fucking disgusting. (She walks out)
Daisy. (Shouting) The shit… look what she’s done… oh look what she’s done... she’s frightened me… la, la, la… oh God… shit… la, la, la… she died… I’m going away from here… Jesus I want to die... I’ve got my bags packed (She gestures towards the male carer still standing against the wall) He’s no man… he won’t protect me… I surrender… I surrender. I thought I saw her putting my beads on… I told you I’ve got to go home… I don’t like it here now… (Apparently bored, the male carer starts to play with a toy xylophone) Who was it came and I wasn’t there? Shut up. (She tries to get up and fails) lovely Daddy… he never hit a child… he’s had that limp for years.
A female resident walks past shouting. (“Fuck you… I’ve got no time... I can’t go on my own. They won’t let me get out.” She starts to bang on the exit door.)
Carer. You can go. Of course you can go. I’ll go with you.
Daisy. I’m hot… my Granddad was (Unclear) they held me tight when I was frightened… (She tries to look at a strand of her previously long hair, which, because she refused to go to the visiting hairdresser, has been cut very short by the care staff) Is my green all brown now?
DC. It’s grey now. It suits you.
Daisy. Really? It can’t be… I’ll show you my clocks… oh but it makes me smile to know it… when I get back in the cages… my mum… my brothers… easy and strong… my aunty said, baby don’t die.... Daisy… don’t die… I never left her… I never hurt her… I didn’t mean to kill you… all those boys… let’s chuck them in the past… jealous that’s why. (Daisy closes her eyes. She is talking continuously. A stream of half words and sounds. Smiles and frowns flicker across her face) I’d pay two… two thousand pounds for a nice medal… yes… that one… me… I surrender. (She appears to fall asleep)
Accidentally the tape recorder is left running while I go to speak to the nurse on duty. On the tape three female staff can be heard taunting Daisy with the suggestion that one of the other residents is her boyfriend. “Where are you going tonight?” “Be a good girl and Johnny will take you out tonight.” “Go on give him a kiss.” After a few minutes there is a loud peal of laughter from the carers.
Daisy has been provided with a new cotton skirt as her own clothes had fallen apart with repeated washing. Having being dressed in the new skirt she immediately pulls it to pieces. She is now sitting in a vest and underwear with her torn skirt bunched up onto her lap.
With its vinyl floor and regimented line of chairs the room has the feel of a waiting room. Daisy’s chair is positioned in the corner slightly behind a television. The volume is turned up and she is shouting to be heard.
Carer. Have you seen what she’s done? I can’t afford a new skirt.
Daisy. Let me show you… where was he the other day? My brother said… oh no… I don’t like that… the old people… oh but that young boy Johnny… he’s gorgeous. They complained… they complained about the curtains… they weren’t completely white…
Bloody liars… I’m not drunk… I’m not… that’s my Daddy… they all said he was drunk but he couldn’t help it… they broke his... my hands… my house… my hair… my brother said, “Come on… come on Dancey”… that’s what he said, Dancey. They’re not here… I don’t know where they are now… how old are they? Oh Daddy, where am I?
My aunty… I don’t know where she is now… every morning they were there… soldiers and… they told me this morning that my daddy’s dead. He went away… he lives here now.
An unknown man and a woman walk into the lounge together. They begin to have a conversation. Daisy immediately raises her voice and tries to attract their attention. .
This is me… it’s nothing to do with you… you can’t tell her… it’s not you… leave him alone, he’s married… leave her… she’s got nothing for you… you’re a wicked liar… liar… talking about me… be nice.
Meg is sitting in the lounge. She has a headscarf knotted around her hand. Daisy is still sitting behind the television.
Meg. You are… you are my brother Sydney? Sister Sydney?
Daisy. La, la, la, la, la, la… here… over here.
Meg. I don’t know what I’m doing, nurse, I’m going out of my mind in here… don’t know what I’m doing or… I don’t know what I’m doing now, nurse… I’m going completely out of my mind…
Daisy. La, la, la, la, la, la…
Meg. I’ve had enough of all this… I’m leaving myself now… thanking you for coming to see me today but I’m leaving it all up to you. You remind me of my brother sister… brother Sydney… Sydney in the Navy… he’s not here… he can’t see what’s going on… and I don’t write letters or anything like that… I’m not allowed to write any more letters… I treat myself as I treat myself. I told my family I’m in love with Sydney… they said you’re going mad… I said, “No I’m not”… and then I thought it over and I thought what a life this is… what a horrible life this is.
Daisy. La, la, la, la, la, la…
A carer comes in and puts on a CD and turns it up in order to drown out Daisy’s singing. After a few seconds the CD sticks. The carer leaves the room with the CD repeating the same tiny fragment of music.
Carer. She’s driving me mad. Daisy is driving me mad.
Meg. Come with me when I go home… when am I leaving? It’s best to keep quiet and don’t say anything to anyone, no matter who they are… say nothing… say nothing to anyone else ever again… oh, take me home.
Carer. (Laughing) Listen to her. She’s asking him to take her home.
Meg. I can’t explain… that’s the worst of getting old… I don’t know what’s matter with me… it’s my age… I’m getting old.
Carer. Is that your boyfriend Meg?
Meg. I don’t know what they’re saying… I can’t hear… I’m deaf... I worry too much… I’m getting on. I’ve had enough of this… I want to die… what kind of life is this? Don’t say nothing… it’s best to say nothing… white, white, white… dirty eyes… that’s the worst of getting old… I’m seventy… I must be getting on for seventy… oh, I wish I could behave myself… I wish I could behave myself so I can go home.
Daisy is sitting in the corner of the lounge positioned on the same seat as before behind the television set. There are eight other residents in the room. Daisy is talking to herself and pulling at her clothes. A male resident with some form of muscular impairment walks into the room. With great difficulty he pushes a chair across the room in front of Daisy’s chair and sits down facing her.
Daisy. Oh God… get out… oh please get out. This is for someone who’s not very well. Get out!
Man. (Speaking slowly and with obvious difficulty) I would like to try to help you.
Daisy. You’re wicked… yes, you’re wicked… you’re not coming in. People are dying in here… you’re not dying you silly sod. It’s not fun and games… he’s got children… oh, you shouldn’t have done it… you know what they’ll say… you can’t have ’em. (She closes her eyes and turns away from him)
Man. I wish I could help you.
Daisy. Oh, are you a good man? Have you been a good man? We’ve all got something bad to hide… since I was 16 my daddy used to say… ’cos he was my daddy.
Man. I want to try to help you.
Daisy. You’re not leaving? Good… A baby… a little girl baby… my Sid… sad... sadness… he said I’ve got to lose my baby… I know how bad it looks… it won’t hurt… catch him all those days… all these days.
A carer walks into the room and sees Daisy sitting with the male resident. She starts to laugh.
Carer. Is he your boyfriend Daisy?
Daisy. Don’t be so bloody nosey… he’s dead… he’s nearly dead.
Man. I don’t think that I can help you. I wish so much that I could.
Daisy. So did my dad… my daddy… my daddy said… said I need to eat all the food so I’d get fat… my daddy’s dead la, la, la… oh, when will it stop? These bastards… I’ve been here for years… look what they’ve done to me… (She tugs violently at her cropped hair) Please go.
Man. I’m so sorry.
A second carer walks in and the male resident gets up and starts to slowly leave the room.
Daisy. (To the carer) Get out… get out! He’s dying… can’t you see he’s dying. Let him out! (She searches amongst a jumble of objects on her table before feebly throwing a plastic cup towards the carer) Here’s your daughter. Oh what a fucking bloody sod… are you leaving me? Do you know there are dead children in my pock