In Sickness and in Health: Small joys in the shape of a cardboard leprechaun

I don't usually celebrate St Patrick's Day, but in care homes annual festivals are a big deal

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The Independent Online

Last year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident.

I’ve never done anything to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish, I’m not Irish-American, I haven’t been to Ireland on 17 March. I don’t even like Guinness, at least not since I drank six pints of the stuff the night before my art GCSE practical and spent a day running from easel to loo. That gave me plenty of time to vow never to touch a drop of the black stuff ever again.

It’s one of many annual events that only crosses my radar because my work inbox fills with press releases that are tenuously linked to the festivities in question. I also fail to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and Chinese New Year passed me by, so I’ve only just found out that 2015 is the rather biologically broad year of the sheep/goat.

But in care-home land, these festivals are a big deal. Pancakes are flipped and dragon dances are showcased. Right now, there are leprechauns left, right and centre. Made from card and adorned with honeycombs of tissue paper, they’re pinned up alongside notices about an Irish dancing session and a St Patrick’s Day cake sale.

When Nick first arrived here, it was the day before Halloween and the place was laden with plastic pumpkins, fake spiders and other spooky tchotchkes. There was a party the following day on the home’s forecourt, with a barbecue, a pumpkin competition, raffle and face painting. Residents, staff and their families were there, a few – the ones in wheelchairs – swaddled in blankets and duvets to keep out the autumn chill. There have been Christmas carols and a New Year disco since then. There’s a Bo Peep theme for Easter and a Wimbledon party coming up.

At first, I was taken aback by the enthusiasm with which each of these events was greeted. The different decorations alone – paper dragons, light-up snow scenes – must take up a hell of a lot of space in a loft somewhere. But spending time in a place where things are the same day in, day out, when the most exciting moment of an average day is dinner, it makes sense to seek out things that mark the changing seasons and that give people something to look forward to. And the effort that the staff makes to involve people never fails to move me. Touches such as the sparkly felt stocking with Nick’s name on, attached to his door at Christmas, or the poppy that appeared on his wall to mark Remembrance Day, make me happy and sad at the same time.

Still, I’m not the one who lives here. As someone who has always bucked against socialising with strangers and who is suspicious of organised events that are described as “just a bit of fun”, Nick is a much tougher customer to please. He’d probably prefer a wine-tasting evening a deux or a VIP garden party with a DJ playing chilled-out Ibizan beats. But even he admits that he thinks some of the festivities are good and that, for those people who don’t have families or regular visitors, they break up what must be a horribly textureless existence. Sometimes it’s hard to be cheerful; a bit of enforced jollity can, on occasion, turn into the real deal.