She cheats, and I care: Rosalind Twist finds some elderly charges refuse to play by the rules

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I HAVE learnt two incontrovertible facts since starting my new job. The first is that if you are playing Scrabble with an elderly lady of genteel disposition, the only words you could possibly make are rude ones. Of course, you forgo your turn and lose miserably. Second, no matter how caring, kind, and sweet you may be, it is never enough.

The job definition is simple. As a temporary carer, you live in the home of elderly clients and look after them, usually for about three weeks. A carer is not a domestic help, nor a nurse, and should have full board and one day off each week. That's the theory anyway.

I suppose I was spoilt by my first job. My client was a retired naval officer, left almost immobile by a degenerative disease. He required help with bathing, dressing and 'toileting'. However, he was charming and never complained. Not when I burnt his kippers, not when all his clothes came out of the washing machine mauve.

So I was unprepared for my second job. According to the agency, Mr and Mrs D were warm and jolly, and simply wanted someone to cook and drive. They had lived in India before the war.

It soon became apparent that they thought they were still there. They were about as warm and jolly as the grim reaper on downers. My cooking was too fancy (herbs in a shepherd's pie), my driving was appalling, my manner surly and I put too much bitters in their pink gins. No, I couldn't have an afternoon off. Would I mind not wearing trousers? It reminded them of the sort of women who were ruining this country. Did I realise that Mr D had fought for me during the war to make me free to be indolent and disrespectful?

Three weeks of constant abuse diminished me to a fixed smile. Finally, I took my leave.

'We'll miss you,' Mr D's eyes had softened from malevolent to rheumy. 'You're the best we've had.' Well, knock me down. How must they have treated the others?

You can employ a carer in your home for between pounds 25 and pounds 35 a day. Depending on the amount of care required, you can have 24-hour cover, someone to cook your meals, do light housework, help you to wash, dress and get about.

Take you to the seaside? Of course. Attend the Colonel's garden party with you? Well, if you think this frock will do. Rewire your fridge? All right then, but don't blame me if your black pudding goes off.

My most recent client did not need a carer at all. She needed a farm-hand. I knew the job would be different when I walked into her sitting-room and found her in an armchair with a Muscovy duck on her lap.

But Miss Field and I got on pretty well - mainly, I think, because she was impressed by my restrained response when one of her six cats sprayed on my legs during Blind Date. Nor did I mind feeding the chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, cats, dog or goats, despite this being outside my obligations.

It was harder, though, to turn a blind eye to her atrocious cheating at Scrabble. She would use made-up words, and would dispose of unwanted letters into a nearby geranium pot. On one occasion I, having kept my 'condoms' and 'farts' to myself, was losing gracefully. I was therefore taken aback when she reached out a shaky, liver-spotted hand to put down her latest word.

'My dear,' she said, 'is this how you spell 'wanker'?' Serves me right for my ageist assumptions. But I still rather suspect she thought it was an ear disease in dogs.

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