I’d like to write that the company arrived in carriages during a light shower of snow, bonnets and shawls were divested and outdoor shoes were changed for indoor calf slippers while mulled wine was served to all. And on and on I could go although it would never make me Austen. So we go to Pilgrim Hospital on Monday to have my bone scan. It takes 6 attempts to put the catheter in and in the end, I go to the Chemo suite where the nurse hits the vein first time. Back again to the nuclear department where they inject the radioactive stuff and then we are free to go until 3pm. I tell the team that I am a bit claustrophobic and don’t like having things over my face (including the sheets and blankets held firmly over my face at night by my father who thought my screams of terror were hilarious) and they are very sympathetic. The male nurse says he will stay in with me all the time and tell me when the plate is off my face so I can move my head and he does, touching me gently on the shoulder. The staff were absolutely brilliant and made it a much better experience. In between the injection and the scan, Mr Mason and I entertain ourselves by going to Asda to pick up a few last minute things which pretty much fill the car. After the scan, we go to Boston station and collect Mr Mason jnr. Archie, sitting in the boot of the car, maintains a steady beat of his tail in his excitement when he sees who we are picking up.
The next morning, Mr Mason sets off early to collect the aged relatives. It’s a tricky moment because although the trip has been agreed, it would not be surprising if it was vetoed at the very last moment. Mr Mason jnr and I continue putting the house to rights, including getting jolly cross with the dishwasher which refuses to work properly and leaves steamy trails of what appears to be grit across all the glasses. A decision is made that everything must be handwashed as it is used. I do not make the decision and inside know there will be at least one member of the family who will struggle with the concept of doing something immediately. There are some personality traits which are impossible to change, no matter how hard one tries, even using logic which is accepted but ignored. With Mr Mason away it becomes my task to get up in the night with the dogs should they need to go outside. Sometimes they do it for a laugh. After the first time, I put puppy pads down in the kitchen and go back for a bit more sleep.
In the morning, Mr Mason Jnr sets up the new tv in the big sitting room and I decorate the tree. The cleaner arrives in time to help sort out the chaos and make beds up and Mr Mason and his parents arrive just before lunchtime having made better time than Han Solo on the Kessel Run. He decants 2 elderly and slightly confused parents and just as we are settling them on puppy pads on the new sofas, Mr and Mrs Safaie and Mrs Safaie Snr arrive. Mrs Mason Snr has some kind of dementia. She tells me I look just like Shelley but calls me Jean. I tell her Jean was the one who threw herself behind the sofa and kicked her legs in a tantrum when she was in advanced years but she doesn’t understand. She asks repeatedly where the driver is as he has been so kind. Mr Mason Snr says he’s been sent home. “But I wanted to thank him”, she says. “I don’t know how I got here. I feel confused”. But when she says she’s confused, they are somehow her most lucid moments when it’s possible to ask whether she feels frightened or not. She says not. She says she’s surrounded by family and that makes her happy but she just doesn’t understand how she got here. She is, and always has been an ace manipulator of people and it’s like when she is confused, she is being genuine and authentic and understands we will look after her in a way that is acceptable to her. She asks who the tall young man is who is so solicitous to her. I tell her it’s her grandson. “He’s a lovely man” she says and, of course, he is. He is the one who makes sure she gets from a to b without tripping and in her own time, who suggests she might be tired and helps her to her room and who sits with her watching endless re-runs of Jonathan Creek and almost anything else which is on over the Christmas period. The people who perplex her most are Mr Safaie and his mother. The latter she hasn’t met before and has only seen Mr Safaie a few times. “Do you know that lady?” she asks, as Mrs Safaie Snr exits the room. “She’s very nice” and indeed, she chats away to them to make them feel at home but Mrs Mason Snr doesn’t really understand why Mrs Safaie Snr is there. We explain she is a family member and we wanted her to come and spend time with us. Finally, she finds a connection when it’s said for the umpteenth time that Mrs Safaie Snr is Mr Safaie’s mother. “Your son is very handsome”, she responds. Sitting down with Mrs Safaie, she asks her where she lives. “In Bangkok, grandma”. “Oh, Francesca lives in Bangkok!” she says. “I am Francesca, grandma”. It’s a very confusing world but she manages really well and we’re all so amazed that she got in the car to be driven from Hampshire to Lincolnshire when she hasn’t even been in the garden for the last 5 years or so. Before she travels, we have to check she has shoes to wear and a coat. When we go out for a trip to the beach and a walk with the dogs in the forest, she gets in the car happily. I sit with her while the rest go battling with the elements at the beach. She sits behind me and frequently asks “Are you tired, Shelley?” followed by a sharp “Are you asleep, Shelley?” If I was, my status would certainly have changed. When we go to the woods, she insists on taking a walk. She manages about 50 yards with an entourage of family members each side and one at the back in case she falls backwards.
Mr Mason Snr gets the chance to re-visit some of his old RAF haunts and to talk more about his post-war experiences, some of which were alarming in a Dad’s Army kind of way. Mr Mason cooks with help from everyone but me. I feel utterly exhausted but so pleased to have the family around us and to be able to accommodate them without feeling like we’re tripping over each other. On Boxing Day, Mrs Safaie Snr cooks us an amazing Iranian meal. She spends all afternoon preparing it, even doing a separate mild dish for the older Masons in case they don’t like the spicing of the other dishes. It is a beautiful meal with enough left-overs to put in the freezer for a treat later on. For some reason (I believe it is at my insistence) we play a card game called Exploding Kittens. It’s for ages 7 and up and they are apparently supposed to be able to pick up the rules within minutes. The combined ages of the table being several hundred years old finds it bewildering. Mr Mason is the only one who appears to have any grasp on the rules (mostly because he has the instructions) and by some fluke, none of my kittens explode and I apparently win. I am triumphant and float up to bed in a haze of glory.
After Boxing Day, the party starts to break up. The dogs are sad at losing so many of the pack. Mrs Safaie Snr departs the day after and we are happily joined by Ms Atherton. Much tail wagging in the dog department. Mr Mason Jnr has saved his stocking from Santa so they can open it together and then she can open her presents. I have to say, Mr Mason Jnr has come up trumps with ideas this year and it is bug themed, which pleases Ms Atherton very much. I go off-piste with a print from a Hungarian artist of a cat who has adopted a baby rat and also tickets to Bounce Below! which I heard Ms Atherton mention during a car journey earlier in the year. I miss nothing! Mrs Mason Snr asks quietly if we know Ms Atherton. We confirm we do indeed. “Why has she got so many presents?” she asks. “Is it her birthday?” No, it’s Christmas. “Christmas?” she says, puzzled. The large decorated tree in front of her gives her no clue. It must be strange and frightening to be in a world where you can’t remember how you got where you are, when you don’t always recognise the people around you and don’t want to accept a cup of tea in case people think she is sponging off us. The Safaies stay on another day and visit Lincoln with Mr Mason Jnr and Ms Atherton, catching up with friends. Mr Mason takes the oldies back home without incident and arrives back in time to take Mr Mason Jnr and Ms Atherton to the train station to get back to the smoke and work.
The house is quieter again now and we can get on with the mundane chores of getting the dishwasher fixed (it broke down the day before Christmas Eve) and sorting finances out but it was a terrific Christmas, one I had always wanted. Although I missed quite a bit by being in bed and felt stressed before the event, it was worth it. It’s certainly one for us all to remember.
Happy new year!