My Dad’s A Goldfish – return of the step-monster

Although the Goldfish kept asking where his wife was, he appeared satisfied when I explained she was on holiday at her sister’s. Of course, he immediately forgot where she was so I had to answer the question many, many times, especially in the evenings. A few days before her return he seemed less satisfied with the answer. “Well, no one told me she was going away,” he would exclaim.

Within days of her return, even the joy of sleeping in my own bed had evaporated and my mood swung between raging temper and a deep sadness. She never said a word about the new carpet or the chair. Only when her granddaughter commented on the lovely carpet and pointed out that green was the step-monster’s favourite colour did she grudgingly admit it was ‘nice.’ The commode was out and the bucket back in place. I had told DH to remove the bucket from the premises but he didn’t think she would actually swap them over, especially as the Goldfish had been using the commode. When I challenged her about it she said, “It’s only for a few nights until he gets to used to it.” The urine-soaked cloth was back in the bathroom, which stank to the heavens again.

The arms and back of the Goldfish’s lovely chair were covered in mis-matched throws and the back  twisted out of place. I pointed out the damage to the chair, asking why she had moved it.

“No one moved it,” she said. “It’s too heavy to move.” Quite – but she’d had a good go at it. I called the shop and someone came out to fix it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there when he came and the step-monster persuaded him to move it to where she wanted it so it was too close to a wall and could no longer recline. I wanted to cry.

The CC came for a meeting to discuss the new care plans including having someone in to help the goldfish have a shower at the weekends. As we expected, the step-monster was not happy. She liked to have peace and quiet on the weekends (remember, the carers come in for half an hour each morning) and she goes to church on Sundays. We know she often sends him back to bed while she goes to church and he remains unwashed and unshaven all weekend. Having someone come in at night to give the Goldfish his meal didn’t go down well, either but the CC knows Wee-sis and I are struggling now. We’ve been providing three meals a day for months. We stopped going in at lunchtime but left soup and a sandwich for her to give him – we suspected she shared the soup so the goldfish was only getting half his lunch but we reckoned if he had a good enough breakfast and evening meal we could still be sure his calories intake remained high enough. Finally, after lengthy debate, she agreed. Well, she said: “You must do what you think best.” As far as she was concerned the discussion was over.

Two days later she was threatening to leave the Goldfish and live on her own. Her arguments were that she can’t cope. It’s too much work. She said the Goldfish keeps pressing his fall detector button – something he only did once before she came home. I told her we’ll find out how often he does it because all calls are logged and we’ll be sent a record. I don’t know if they log the calls or not and I’m pretty sure we won’t be sent a record but it stopped her in her tracks and we heard no more about false alarms. She said it is too much work for her. We agree and explain this is why we are putting in extra help. She then shifts the argument to how she can’t cope with the intrusiveness of having people coming in to provide the extra help. She said: “I have to think of myself, you know.” Like she’s ever done anything else.

Wee-sis and I were stunned to say the least. Is this something she was planning while away at her sister’s? Was it really anything to do with the new care package? Did the thought of what the Goldfish had spent on the new carpet and chair tip her over the edge? Whatever, she seemed to have second thoughts and was overheard telling someone how relieved she was to have extra help.

Needless to say the dominoes and jigsaws and books have been tidied away out of reach of the Goldfish. Really, she makes me want to cry – and she makes me want to scream. And I so wish I could make her see what she is missing out by her refusal to engage with the Goldfish.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – home at last

The Goldfish was delighted to be home. DH collected him from the hospital while I shopped and cooked. The three of us ate together before the DH went home leaving me on overnight duty.

The Goldfish seemed not at all worried by the absence of the step-monster. We explained she was visiting her sister and he only asked once in the evening where she was. We settled to watch television but nothing seemed to suit until I found a football match which he watched with apparent interest. When he got up I thought he was going to the bathroom but he said he was looking for the football. I explained it was on television. He sat down again but was very tired and losing his words. He would start to tell me something but the words just weren’t there.

Although he began to repeat he was ready for bed, he made no move to go. It took me a while but I eventually realised he didn’t remember what to do to get ready for bed. I started saying I was tired, too, and that seemed to help motivate him towards the bedroom where he managed to get into his pyjamas and into bed.

The Goldfish slept well and I didn’t do too badly, only waking up a couple of times. He was obviously up several times in the night to pee as the commode (the hospital provided it so I was able to get rid of the bucket) was pretty full.

The bathroom stinks. The Goldfish’s aim isn’t always very good (I think this is probably true of most men!) and there is often a little puddle on the floor. This takes a minute to clean up but the step-monster’s answer is to place a cloth on the floor by the pedestal to catch the spills. Unfortunately she leaves it there for days so instead of a wee puddle which can be instantly wiped up, a stinking, urine-soaked cloth lies on the bathroom floor. I am on a mission to have it stink-free by the time she returns.

Wee-sis and I had meeting with social services. The Goldfish greeted the CC with a big grin and promptly fell asleep. The CC is happy to increase the care package to include a carer to come in for shower and personal care at the weekends. We also discussed having a teatime companion to supervise the Goldfish having his evening meal, which I and Wee-sis would continue to provide but would give us a break in the evenings.

There was some discussion about how the step-monster is going to react. We all know she will be furious. CC said the Goldfish is a vulnerable adult and if he is at risk because of the step-monster’s lack of care they can take steps to ensure he is not at risk. I said I was worried it could lead to removing him from here if this is deemed to be the place where he is at risk but she says that won’t happen. If need be it would mean getting someone in overnight and during the day.

She also arranged for the Goldfish to have a fall detector and we try out the door alarm, which was installed months ago after the Goldfish went walkabout early one morning. It works fine and is very easy to use – though we all know the step-monster will continue to steadfastly ignore it – she prefers to lock the doors and hide the key.

I’ve asked a decorator to come and do some freshening up of paintwork around the house and we’re ordering new carpet for the living room to replace the threadbare remnants of what is there. It’s going to be a busy week getting everything done before her return.


With taking the Goldfish out at least once a week, plus taking him to appointments with the doctor, with practice nurses, to have his hearing checked, not to mention dealing with the care agency who provided the personal care, I was struggling to keep on top of my writing work – both freelance journalism and preparing a poetry collection for publication. The step-monster never took him anywhere apart from the occasional trip to the supermarket.

The CC came up with various suggestions – there’s a lunch club, for instance, which the step-monster and the Goldfish could attend together. The step-monster didn’t like this idea, nor had she any interest in meeting with other carers in a similar situation. She was enthusiastic about the CC’s suggestion that the Goldfish could perhaps go once a week to the day centre. “Oh, yes,” she chirruped, “he’d enjoy going to meet people.”

CC said she would be happy to refer him for a place. She wasn’t sure how long the waiting list was and someone from the charity would come and do an assessment to see if the Goldfish was suitable. CC said transport wasn’t available – would the step-monster be able to take him there? This is to a church hall a five minute drive from their house. The step-monster’s face changed (I recognise it as her ‘I’m not very happy with this’ look) and she was quiet for a bit before, grudgingly, muttering, “Well, I suppose I could, if I have to.”

This is the woman who want to get the Goldfish out of the house so she can have some ‘me’ time, what she refers to as ‘respite’ and she’s being offered the opportunity to have time on her own nearly all day and she’s reluctant, almost to the point of refusal, about having to give up around fifteen to twenty minutes of time to take and collect the Goldfish. Words failed me. The CC and I look at each other. She looks a bit stunned.

“You could hire a taxi, I suppose,” she suggested, to which step-monster instantly agreed. I just as swiftly vetoed the idea.

“I don’t think you can expect dad to get in a taxi with a strange person to go somewhere he doesn’t know. I’ll take him and bring him back.”

I wanted to go with him to start with anyway to see if he really is happy there, if someone really does talk to him or if he’s left sitting staring into space. They say there will be someone to talk to him about things which interest him but as they don’t know the Goldfish and he doesn’t volunteer information, I’m not convinced. Besides, how many will have any understanding of artificial insemination, cattle breeding lines and Clydesdale Horse pedigrees?

The Goldfish in his younger days. He still retains his love of horses, especially Clydesdales.

The Goldfish in his younger days. He still retains his love of horses, especially Clydesdales.

CC phones next day to say she has made the referral. Someone from the dementia charity will be in touch. When I ask if she still thinks the step-monster’s behavior is simply denial, as she once suggested, she replies that she has never met anyone so resistant to engaging with her husband’s welfare.

Day centre was a great success. The Goldfish was quiet at first, though he happily accepted coffee and biscuits and later tucked into his lunch. He refused to play dominoes. I played, occasionally showing him my hand and asking for advice. After the third game, he reached for the dominoes when they’d been shuffled – and won the next two games. Next time I’ll only stay for part of the day.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Personal Care


The new shower looks good, there’s a shower chair as well so the Goldfish doesn’t have to stand up and it will be easy to keep the shower area clean. The Goldfish says he likes it but can’t remember if he has actually used it. Step-monster says he has.

I call social services and the CC comes to assess the Goldfish’s care needs and how they might be met. I said I thought he needed someone coming in for personal care – washing, dressing and shaving in the mornings. The step-monster lied through her teeth, telling the woman everything was just fine and they could manage perfectly without any help. At one point I cut in and pointed out this whole process was started when she was crying she couldn’t cope and wanted to send dad to the residential home for a shower. She just smiled and said she thought they were managing very well.

I walked the CC to her car, apologizing for the step-monster’s refusal to accept help. She said not to worry, she’s seen it all before, step-monster (she didn’t call her that, of course) is in denial and will come round.

The sun shone for our outing this week so I packed a picnic and went for a run on country roads and through part of the Galloway Forest to a lovely riverside picnic place. The Goldfish remembered driving those roads when he was working and commented, as usual, on the trees: not the Sitka Spruce in the forest, which he dislikes as much as I do, but on the broad-leaved trees by the roadsides. He always liked trees and it is lovely that he can still identify them, hasn’t forgotten any of their names and takes real pleasure in seeing them.


When we started to drive home he lost his bearings and didn’t recognise the road. “Are you sure you know the way?”

“Yes, dad, I know the way. We’ll reach the main road soon.”

“Oh, well, that’s all right then. I’m glad you know where you are going.” He looks anxiously out of the window. “Are you sure you know the way?”

“Yes, dad….”

The moment we came to a junction for the main road he knew where we were and relaxed.

I know it was a hot day, which may account for it, but there was a distinctly whiffy aroma in my car, which lingered even after I took him home. Mentioned it to Wee-sis who said she was mortified when she took the Goldfish for a chest x ray recently. “When he took his shirt off, the smell was terrible. He hadn’t had a shower that morning and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d not had a proper wash for days. I don’t believe he is using the shower at all.”

The Goldfish would be mortified if understood his lack of hygiene. Finally I plucked up the courage to speak to the step-monster about the Goldfish’s personal hygiene. She said he has a good wash every day. I said: “He smells.”

“Do you mean, do you mean… Do you mean his pants?”

“No, I mean body odour, an unwashed, unpleasant dirty body smell.”

“Well, he has a good wash at the sink every day.”

“Why doesn’t he have a shower? What’s the problem with the shower?”

“He doesn’t want to use it.”

“You mean he can’t use it. It really is way past time to have someone in to help with showers.”

“I don’t want a lot of strangers coming in to the house.”

“But if you can’t manage to help dad have a shower we need to get someone in.”

“Would it be male carers?”

“I don’t know. We’ll have to discuss with the CC and see what she can do.”

“It’s just – well, you know your dad likes the ladies – it would be awful if he did something or said something inappropriate.”

Yes, the Goldfish always did like women around him and had a habit of putting his arm round a female waist but I’m fairly certain he’s extremely unlikely to do so with a carer – besides which, a carer would know how to deal with such a situation. He’s 87. I phone the CC to make an appointment.

In the meantime the mental health person came to do an assessment. When I arrived at the house to meet him the Goldfish looked really scruffy, unwashed and unshaven. When I mentioned it, the step-monster shrugged and said: “Well, he’s got all day.” Surely if he has a wash and shave in the morning it would help him feel a bit brighter?

As expected it was very clear his memory loss has worsened. Step-monster wittered on and on about him ‘doing fine’, despite what she was hearing. He managed to get the day of the week, the date, and the month and the season wrong and clearly had not the faintest idea who the Prime Minister is. How can she convince herself everything is fine? And that she is managing?

When the CC came to discuss dad’s personal care the step-monster started to insist they were ‘managing fine’. This time I wasn’t going to let her get away with it and told the CC that the Goldfish was often smelly, unwashed and unshaven – and the new shower was never used.

“Well, he can have a good wash at the sink,” said step-monster.

“He could if he knew what to do,” I replied, “but he no longer understands what he has to do to wash. He needs someone to help him and if you can’t do it then we need to have someone coming in.”

She finally agreed to have support workers come in but only three mornings a week – and not before 10am because she likes to have some time to herself in the mornings. At least for three days a week the Goldfish will smell a bit sweeter. A small victory!