My Dad’s a Goldfish – In the garden centre cafe

I know it has been a very long time since I posted on this blog. I haven’t completely abandoned it but life – various writing projects, a temporary job over the summer, a new book out – has got in the way. I am now, finally, working on pulling the Goldfish blog posts together to form a coherent (I hope) memoir.

I have also been writing more poems – I call them my dad poems. I’ve posted one or two here in the past and this is a fairly new one although I wrote a blog post about the event a while ago. I’m experimenting and really would appreciate comments on whether it works or not. Has the story been pared down too much? Does it work as a poem or does the story only work as prose?

In the garden centre cafe
You only manage one bite of banoffee pie
before you need to ‘spend a penny’.
I push the wheelchair to the toilets
but you want to go in alone
totter off, stick in hand while
I wait.

And wait.

Should I bang on the door?
Find someone to break it open?

Finally, you emerge, sadness
in the eyes which meet mine.
You hand me
with quiet dignity your underpants
I place them with equal care
in my handbag.

You settle in the chair. In the loo
I use up all the hand towels
to dry the floor.

When I come out you have forgotten. Sometimes
I’m glad for the dementia. We return
to the banoffee pie; your favourite.


My Dad’s A Goldfish – Diary entry (February 2014)

“Last night he was only up a couple of times and used the commode – no pee on the floor. Tonight, he has been up twice already, peed all over the floor in the bedroom and is terribly confused. He seems to be worrying about something but can’t articulate what it is. He loses his words terribly at night and can’t say what he wants to say. He keeps trying, which is frustrating for us both.

Fourth time up already. He’s like a jack-in-the-box tonight. He went into the study and sat on the chair by my computer (which is where the Step-monster had her computer). My heart sinks when I hear his bed creak. I suppose it’s not as bad as it seems as it’s not yet midnight. If I feel he’s settled by 1am, I think of it as a good night.

He’s had a dram, two herbal sleeping pills (I’m sure they only have a psychological effect so won’t work for the Goldfish, but I’ll try anything), toast and butter – no sweets, no chocolate, no sugar. Here we go again!

He keeps going in the study so I think he is looking for the Step-monster who spent a lot of time in there. It used to be his room – one wall taken up by his books, his desk where he used to work on Clydesdale genealogies for local breeders – then she took over with her computer and television. He’s up again!

I have no idea what to do next. Phone Alzheimer helpline? I don’t know where he is. I think the study again and this time he’s shut the door. Better go.

Nightmare. I don’t think he’ll sleep. His mind is all over the place – or, in his mind, he is somewhere else. Said he was going to sleep in the study until I pointed out there wasn’t a bed in it. We’ve managed ten minutes back in bed – is it possible we’ll get any longer? I’ve tried intercepting him before he gets out of the bedroom but nothing works. I’ve sat with him in the living room, in the kitchen.

Thinking about the support we need, I’d say I need a complete break of around three to four hours a day, especially if I’m ever going to get any writing work done, and a couple of consecutive nights off but what worries me about that is how it will affect the Goldfish having someone else in the house. And would I trust them to be kind to him?

He’s wandering again. I heard the study door squeaking and now he’s in the toilet, door firmly closed. I’m going to wait for a few minutes.

He’d shit himself before he reached the toilet so twenty minutes plus to get him washed and into clean pyjamas and back into bed. His stomach rumbling ominously as I said goodnight for what felt like the hundredth time.”

My Dad’s a Goldfish – a little incident

I took the Goldfish for coffee and cake at the garden centre. He loves the banoffee pie they serve there.

We had a tour of the shopping area first, which he always enjoys as there is so much to look at. I ask several times if he needs to go to the loo before we went to the coffee shop but he says he doesn’t need to go. He tucks into the huge slice of banoffee pie with gusto but moments later he announces he would soon need to spend a penny.

“Do you need to go right now?”

“No, it’s all right, I can wait.” He sips his coffee. “I hope they have a loo here. I’ll need to spend a penny soon.”

“Shall we go now? We can leave our coffee until we come back.”

“No, I can wait.” He takes another sip of coffee. “I’ll need to spend a penny soon.”

I gather up my bag and take the brakes off the wheelchair. “I’ve not finished my coffee,” he protests. “or my cake.”

“I thought you wanted to spend a penny? We can go to the loo and come back to finish your coffee.”

“Oh, all right then.” I wrap the remains of his pie in a couple of napkins and put it in my handbag, knowing it was unlikely we would come back.

I push the wheelchair to the accessible toilet, open the door, get him out of the wheelchair, hand him his walking stick and he totters over to the loo. I retreat to give him some privacy and wait outside the door. And I wait some more. I’m close to the gardening books but the more interesting books are further away and I don’t want him not to see me as soon as he comes out.

I wait some more. People who pass me several times smile in sympathy when they see the wheelchair.

Eventually, I notice the door handle turning and jump to attention. The Goldfish emerges very slowly, looking rather upset. He vaguely indicates behind him before flinging himself into his chair.

I see the floor is awash with water – well, on closer inspection, I realise it’s urine, some of which has wet his shoes and the hems of his trousers. In a corner of the toilet I spot his abandoned walking stick – and his underpants. At least he had the sense to take them off, which explains the length of time he was in there.

I pick them up, roll them up and shove them in my handbag, thinking the banoffee pie is now beyond saving. I give the floor a bit of a wipe with paper towels and we leave, looking as dignified as we can. To be honest, the Goldfish has already forgotten whatever happened in the toilet and I am reaching the stage of no longer being embarrassed at things which happen when we are out.

Things will happen, even worse things might happen.