I wake up whenever I hear the post falling on the hedgehog-shaped mat behind the glass-panelled front door so if the post man is late, I get a lie-in. However, our postman is fairly regular and it is only when he is on holiday that I manage to snooze for a bit longer. Today, he was on time so I resigned myself to no more beauty sleep and lazily opened both of my eyes.
I slowly stretched my limbs and stood up with a little effort for a Monday morning. I ambled from the dark hall into the sunshine-filled kitchen where my breakfast was already waiting. I don’t eat much on a Monday because it tends to be a day when I snack a lot and I need to watch my figure. I'd had a good run in the park yesterday but it had been a bit drizzly and the damp can affect my hair. It’s important for my job that I am well-groomed and so when I got home after the run I had to have a few treatments applied in order to get my hair back to its usual shine. The procedure was a bit tedious but I had endured it patiently.
I decided to delay breakfast and instead wandered into the garden for some fresh air. I headed to the hedgehog feeding station which was a little house set up alongside the back fence in the shelter of a tree. The dish there was empty so these spikey creatures had obviously paid a visit during the night to have some food. They don’t come every night and when they haven’t been for a while, I get concerned about their safety. It won’t be long before they are getting ready for their winter hibernation so they might start coming a bit more often to stock up on supplies. I am usually already in bed when they are out on their nocturnal explorations, but our paths have crossed when I have been out late at night. I don’t want to scare them and just stand still and watch them forage for food before disappearing through the hedgehog highway in the fence to see if my neighbour has anything for them. Last night they had obviously had a good feed and I felt comforted knowing that all was well with them.
The grass was still a little moist from the morning dew and there was a slight mist in the air. I breathed in a faint whiff of bacon, no doubt coming from our neighbour Mr. Giles who makes himself a sandwich every morning. My mouth began dribbling but I resisted the temptation to go to the fence in the hope he would spot me and give me a slice. Instead I made my way back indoors because I had work to do.
The cool of the autumn was starting to encroach on the last days of summer and I wondered when I would need to start wearing a coat again. However, today it was still not necessary and after a good hair brush I scrambled into the car ready to head to work. I love the journey to the care home, full of interesting sights and leafy green lanes, which will soon start changing colour and become a mass of red and gold. Pausing at some traffic lights I glanced across at the car in the next lane. The mother appeared to be a little harassed as her two children were clearly playing up and the younger one looked about to start crying. Obviously the mother was occupied with driving and was quite helpless to be able to do anything. I pressed my nose against the window of the car in a desperate attempt to be spotted. My effort was not in vain as the younger child caught sight of me and pointed me out to her sibling. Both of them just burst out laughing and they stuck their tongues out at me. The mother sat back in her seat, clearly relieved that the tantrum had been averted. The lights changed to green and the children happily waved as we went our separate ways.
The care home was set in a large garden and there was a long drive up to the front door. On arrival, the large oak entrance door was swung open and I could see that the jolly matron was on duty. There were three matrons in total and they were all different. One was very jolly, another was extremely strict and the third one was grumpy. Usually the grumpy one was on duty during the night and I could not work out whether working the night shift was the cause of her grumpiness. After all, I know what I am like when my sleep pattern is disrupted. If I caught her on a good day, she would sneak me a special biscuit. In fact, she was never directly grumpy with me and often gave me a squeeze while I was waiting to start my visits. I think she needs it and enjoys it just as much as I do because she just has a knack of finding that lovely ticklish spot right behind my ear. The jolly matron in her never pristine dark blue uniform smiled at me and I heard her saying that Mr. Lowe had had a bad night and that Mrs. Grace had been getting worse, but I didn’t catch what she said after that as I was keen to get started and my attention drifted towards the stairs.
My first visit was on the first floor to Miss Lee, an elderly spinster who apparently had come to the home because she was bored living in her village and just loved being in company. She was a bit bossy and I braced myself as, despite her age, she had more energy than someone with half her years. Because the morning was quite chilly, she had been obliged to stay in her room, which I knew would make her displeased. Sometimes we met outside in the garden and I had to keep up with her as she strode around it in her sporty trainers and long skirts. As I entered the room today, her blue eyes lit up and she peered at me from behind her matching blue rimmed spectacles. “Bonnie!” she called out, “How nice to see you! Come and have a biscuit!” I never refuse as that would be most rude and I thumped my tail to show my pleasure. However, the residents are under strict instructions to not give me any chocolate. I waited while Miss Lee found her tin, which was stacked on a shelf among a large number of ornaments of various shapes and sizes, all of them carefully dusted on a regular basis. Miss Lee’s room always looked busy. Her tablet was always switched on, I usually had to avoid treading on papers scattered over the floor which were covered in handwriting and I wondered if this lady was ever still. I was about to find out. “Oh Bonnie,” she sighed, as she handed me a Rich Tea biscuit, “She who must be obeyed won’t let me out today. She said I needed to rest as I am still getting over a chest infection.” That was Miss Lee’s way of referring to any of the nurses who told her what to do but particularly the matrons. She reached down and stroked my head. “What lovely hair you have,” she commented, so I knew my efforts after the park had been worth it.
Miss Lee was eerily still that morning. In fact it was the first time I had seen her without her trainers and instead, she was wearing the ‘sensible slippers’ as she called them. On every previous occasion that I had seen her she had been so full of energy, telling me she had been even faster as a young gal! “Don’t look at me like this!” she would shout, “think of me as a fast and energetic athlete winning marathons,” she laughed. I could well imagine it. I had already seen some of her medals hanging on the wall by her bed, not as shiny as they would have been when originally given to Miss Lee in her athletic youth. “Hopefully when you come next week, I’ll be feeling much better,” she said as I got up to go out of the room. She waved at me but she clearly lacked her usual sparkle.
My next visit was Mr. Shepherd. He was a recent arrival to the home who had come because he wasn’t coping on his own after his wife’s death. His room was still quite sparse and not very homely. I wondered if he was having trouble settling in. He generally didn’t speak very much. During my first visits to him, I used to just go in and sit by his feet but, as we got to know each other, he would let me put my head on his knee. He would stroke my head silently and I would just stare into his eyes, which were as brown as mine, as an attempt to reach him with my affection. I just sensed that he was incredibly lonely and, despite having the company of a lot of people at the home, Mr. Shepherd apparently spent most of his time alone in his room. I just tried to bring what comfort I could by sitting with him in the silence. Sometimes tears would come into his eyes and I wondered what memories I may be evoking. Today he was sitting in his usual spot by the window and I was glad he spent time looking at nature rather than just cooped up in a dark corner. He was always neat and tidy and clean shaven, unlike some of the other gentleman residents so I was glad that he wasn’t letting himself go.
When I sat down next to him I was expecting the usual silence and initially he didn’t say anything. I put my chin in its usual place on his not so bony knee and to my surprise he looked at me and winked. “I’ve got something for you,” he whispered as he reached into his pocket. I pricked up my ears and he pulled out a napkin in which a sausage had been wrapped. “A leftover from breakfast,” he chuckled and held it out to me. I was just over the moon at seeing him smile and, of course, for getting some sausage. He had obviously remembered that I was coming. I wagged my tail and he made more of a fuss of me than usual. I always licked his hand before leaving and he would whisper “thank you” as I left the room. However, this time he called out “you’re a little gem” and I could see that some of the sorrow seemed to have lifted from his eyes. I ran back and gave him another lick and left the room with a spring in my step.
I paused before my next visit. Mrs. Grace was a particular lady and the nurses were always whispering about her moods and how to approach her. Sometimes Mrs. Grace was quite agitated and talking non-stop about unusual things and I always remember our first meeting. I had been walking down the corridor and there had been a lot of commotion going on inside her room. The nurses were busy dealing with the situation and hadn’t noticed my presence. Being a nosy type, I had poked my head around the door to see what was happening. Mrs. Grace was clearly worked up and distressed, with tears in her eyes and she was just sitting on the bed in a purple dressing gown that seemed far too big for her, wringing her hands. Her hair was dishevelled as at times she would run her hands through it and she seemed desperate about something. She was muttering words that no one could understand and talking about a problem with the prams. Then she began asking why she couldn’t go down to the air raid shelter. The nurses were doing their best to help her but poor Mrs. Grace just got more and more upset and started talking about other things that did not make sense to me. I was about to back out of the room when Mrs. Grace suddenly spotted me. In that split second a transformation took place. Her crying stopped instantly and she visibly relaxed. I could see her breathing calm down and she just stared at me. In fact, the whole room had frozen. It had had an air of disorder and chaos but at that one moment, peace reigned. I had cautiously approached Mrs. Grace, who was still sitting on the bed and just sat down at her feet and stared up at her. She patted the space on the bed next to her but I knew that I was not allowed to sit on beds. However, one of the nurses simply stooped down to pick me up and plonked me on the bed next to Mrs. Grace, whose face then just broke out into a radiant smile. She placed her hands on me and stroked me for a few minutes and from then on we were the best of friends. I saw such deep affection in her eyes as if she was longing to say something but just couldn’t find the words. She always remembered my name when I visited but I noticed that on many occasions she didn’t recognise the nurses who cared for her.
On today’s visit I couldn’t hear any noise coming from her room and, in fact, the door was closed. I wandered up to it and sat waiting expectantly as I could see a nurse coming down the corridor. “Oh hello Bonnie,” I heard her say, “I know you’ve come to see Mrs. Grace but unfortunately she isn’t with us anymore.” The nurse patted me on the head as if this news wasn’t important to me and opened the door to Mrs. Grace’s room. Indeed, the room was bare and there was no trace of the chaos and disorder that I remembered. I was conscious of my head drooping and my tail just slumped to the floor. I recalled the jolly matron’s words and I felt very sad that I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye to my friend and wondered if I would see her again.
Still coming to terms with Mrs. Grace’s absence, I walked down the corridor to Mrs. Best’s room. I loved its smell and it was always friendly and welcoming and I think I needed a little tonic myself at that point. It was painted a lilac colour and tended to smell of gardens. Apparently Mrs. Best had been a keen gardener and her room had plants and flowers in various places. Every time I went, there was always a fresh bunch of flowers on the table by the windowsill. “From my secret admirer,” she would say, winking. I later found out that her son brought her a bunch every week but I didn’t let on that I had discovered her secret. Mrs. Best always had a digestive biscuit for me but on this occasion she was bundled up in her blanket fast asleep on her chair, her swollen ankles elevated on the stool I usually sit on. She was wearing her rose coloured fluffy slippers which were against the rules in the home because the matron said they were unsafe for walking. However, when sitting and relaxing she wore them to keep her feet warm and cosy and because she said she sometimes liked to break the rules. I knew she needed rest and so I didn’t want to wake her up. My special tin was on the table next to her so I knew she had been expecting me. I could also see a fresh bunch of yellow roses on the window sill and reluctantly I backed out of the room and headed downstairs.
With my two ladies not available I felt a little flat as I made my way down to the day room for my final visit. This was sometimes a place of hustle and noise and other times a haven of peace and quiet, depending on the occupants and the activities. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Lance snoring in the corner wearing his usual tracksuit of claret and blue and was rather relieved as he could get a bit over-excited when he was behind his walking frame. Once he had caught my paw and I had had to stifle a yelp so as not to upset him. A nurse had seen the incident and rubbed my paw to ease the discomfort but I learnt early on to avoid those metal frames if they started heading in my direction. There was only old Mr. Jones sitting by the window, still in his dressing gown as he often refused to get dressed. He just snarled at me and growled something incomprehensible and then turned away from me. I had clearly got the impression that he didn’t like me and I never impose my company on anyone. I gazed around the room to see if anyone else was there to go and say hello to but apart from a cleaner who was busily dusting the shelves, no one was around and I sensed my morning’s visit was over.
As I was leaving through the big front door I glanced up at the windows on the first floor and particularly the one with the roses on the sill. To my delight, there was a face at the window and Mrs. Best was there waving at me. Unfortunately the matron had now shut the main door but I remembered that I had once used a side door to exit during a fire drill and I ran round to it in the hope that it was open. Fortunately it was slightly ajar and I squeezed through it and bounded up the back stairs. I ran to Mrs. Best’s room and she was standing there waiting for me with a biscuit in her hand. She liked me to sit on her lap and nuzzle her, which was also slightly against the rules, and she would squeeze me to her while calling me her favourite visitor. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay very long but it was enough to bring a smile to her face and to finish off the visit with a biscuit, which brought a smile to my heart. Feeling positive again, I ran back down the stairs and headed to the car.
I settled comfortably onto the seat ready for the drive home. Looking back at the building of the care home while heading down the drive, I reflected on the day. No visit was ever the same and I was both happy because Mr. Shepherd seemed to be settling, but sad about Mrs. Grace. I sighed deeply and placed my head on the cushion. I hope that I can bring as much pleasure to them as they all give to me. However one thing that I do have in common with the residents is that I also like to have an afternoon nap and I will be doing precisely that as soon as I get home.