Thursday, August 29, 2013

the old swimmer

Stanley is stretched out on the floor of his bedroom, covered in a quilt and with a pillow under his head. He looks comfortable enough.
‘I’d get him up myself but I lack the whatchamacallit, the oomph,’ says Barbara, his carer, standing over us all, wiping her hands dry on a towel.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ says Rae. ‘That’s what we’re here for. This is our bread and butter.’
‘Speaking of which – he’ll be wanting his breakfast. You don’t think he’ll be going in, do you?’
‘I shouldn’t think so. Do you want to go to hospital, Stanley?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘I’ll get busy then.’
She goes down the steep staircase to the little galley kitchen. We hear her clattering about.

Barbara had undressed Stanley ready for his bath, then left him sitting on the side of the bed whilst she went to turn the taps off. When she came back in she found him on the floor – a gentle descent with no damage done, and no doubt the UTI he’s being treated for a factor in all of this – but she couldn’t get him up on her own.

Stanley bears his weight well for a man of ninety-odd. The liver-spotted parchment of his skin is stretched over his frame so you can see the exact construction of it, every nub and rib. Putting a dressing gown over him is like throwing a drape over an old canoe.
We settle him in a comfy chair.
‘Do you two want a cuppa?’ shouts Barbara up the stairs.
‘No thanks. We’ve only just put one out.’
‘It’s no bother.’
‘We’re good, thanks.’

The sitting room is hung with several framed photographs of men in swimming costumes, either posing in ranks, arms folded to accentuate their biceps, in front of promenade arches, or coned and hatted Bank Holiday crowds, or striding purposefully down an empty beach through a snowstorm. In the earliest pictures he looks about forty; in the most recent, he looks only slightly fuller in the figure than he is now.
‘Stanley’s one of the old Helmstone swimming club lot,’ says Barbara, coming up with a tray. ‘Every day since god knows when. Didn’t you, Stanley?’
‘Never missed a day, apparently. Rain or shine. That’s probably what kept him so young. They say it’s good for you. A cold dip.’
She hands him a slice of bread, which he starts to eat in a series of gummy and convulsive snaps.
‘Oh Stanley. What’re we going to do with you?’ says Barbara, putting a beaker of tea in his other hand.

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