Wednesday, 7 December 2005

letter to Mum's Solicitor

...As for my Mum's mental health, I am confident that you will be reassured when you meet her that she is not incapacitated. I believe she is competent enough to shop for herself and organise her weekly cleaner, her hairdo and the dog grooming (though she has on more than one occasion left her handbag at the supermarket!). My worry is that she doesn't understand how much money she has after this. When I visited in August, I found to my horror that she was giving away by direct debit and by individual donations three times what she had coming in before her own spending began. This had been going on for some time and she had quite severely depleted her savings. Feeling like a miser, I helped her cancel a lot of charity direct debits, plus some redundant ones (she had two dental plans, two pet insurances and was also paying insurance for electrical items she no longer owned). I am sure I will find a few extra direct debits when I come down for Christmas as she is a soft touch for any sales pitch or sob story.

After Dad died, Mum was often confused whether he'd left her with £50 or £50,000 to her name, and would ring me up either terribly worried or offering to give me sums of money that I knew she couldn't afford to give. This hasn't really improved very much. Despite being on a decent income, she's consistently sold off her shares to pay for things, running down her assets. When I intervened in the Spanish flat fiasco, I found that Mum didn't know how much money she'd already paid (we recovered £25,000 but it was never certain that she'd not given more). Blissfully unaware of her own vulnerability in Spain, I watched my Mum walk past her hotel bedroom door each night and morning, even trying her key in the door of the gents bathroom on one occasion. Discussing the exchange rate, I found she had no idea of simple maths and thought that 250 Euros was a fair tip for the hotel maid, after 4 nights (she thought this might be £10). Mum still has a problem with zeroes, and her account of the cost for something varies by a thousand percent within one conversation. She is unable to reliably read things out to me over the phone, as each attempt contradicts what she's said before.

I get panicky phone calls from Mum almost every week, and have to intervene on her behalf to sort things out that she doesn't understand. Mum's visit to your offices last week was a case in point, by no means untypical of the stuff I have to sort out all the time. Most of the time it's simple stuff, like explaining that she doesn't need to buy a Freeview box because she has a digital TV already. Unfortunately, sometimes I am unable to easily help, like when she's been signed up for a BT package she doesn't need or understand how to use. I don't imagine that taking Power of Attorney will stop her doing things wrong (I usually only get to hear about something AFTER she's done it - arrgh!), but if it could mean that I can represent her for organisations like BT or her Car insurance company, then that would be a help. I'd also like to be able to log into her bank account and just see what Direct Debits have been set up, but I'm not sure if that's allowed....

[To clarify about Mum's visit to the Solicitor, she had received an offer for some shares which we determined that she should accept. Since she had given all the shares to her Solicitor, she needed to obtain the details and post the form she had been sent. I organised an appointment for her to attend and reminded her on the morning to go. Apparently by the time she arrived at the office, 20 minutes later, she had no idea why she was there or who she was to see. She waved the form at the receptionist and asked for a signature on it. She then posted the form off incomplete and managed to lose around £5,000 in one morning]

Friday, 18 November 2005


Mum's apartment is so dark, she needs the lights on even on a mid-summer's afternoon. Her apartment is at the back of the development, so naturally the developers felt no need to spend any money on planting where no prospective buyers would be looking. The car-park is heavily landscaped and planted in comparison. Mum's view is of about 5 feet of mud and then a wall. Cheekily, the managing agents have introduced a gardener who will plant up the bare earth outside her windows at her expense.

Mum: ....and the gardener is so good. I mean he's re-planting the whole thing for free
Me: Well, he's charging you £300 for plants, isn't he?
Mum: (angrily) He's not charging me! The only thing he's asked for is £300 for plants!!!
Me: ?

Mum: I just heard the door click. I wonder if it was my neighbour. I often leave my door unlocked and he just lets himself in.
Me: Yes, you really ought to remember to lock it
Mum: (outraged) I HARDLY EVER...EVER LEAVE IT UNLOCKED. It's just now and then...

Monday, 17 October 2005


Well, the solar car battery charger arrived today and though it only needs to be plugged into the cigarette lighter, Mum got the part-time Warden at her apartment to help her fit it this afternoon.

She rang me this evening to tell me about it.

"I had to get D to help me practice with it."
"Practice what? You just plug it in and leave it, don't you?"
"No, it was jumping. I had to learn how to press it"
"I'm sorry, Mum, you've lost me. Press what? What are you talking about?"
"I've explained it already. The car was jumping. There's no other way to tell you."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Mum. Surely you just plug the charger into the lighter socket and leave it there. What was making the car jump?"
"I was trying to back the car out and it shot backwards when I pressed the accelerator"
"Where was your other foot, Mum?"
" er.... the clutch"
"Sounds to me like you need to practice your clutch control, Mum. This has nothing to do with the charger. Perhaps if you used the car more often....etc"

[sounds of consternation]

Friday, 14 October 2005


"Happy Birthday, Mum!"
"Thank you, Dear. I'm just enjoying one of my chocolates. From the big box. The one's your brother-in-law sent me."
"Chocolates at 9 in the morning! How decadent. So, have you opened anything else?"
", yes, I'll open the other one"
[scuffles for about 3 minutes]
"Oh, lovely, I haven't had Chocolate Gingers for a long time. I've got so much chocolate here!"
"I'll read you the card that came with the chocolates"
[proceeds to read my brother-in-law's card]
"Wasn't there a card with the Gingers? I sent one as well. The Gingers, Mum, they're from me!"
"I'll let you know if I find one"
"What about the third parcel?"
"What? Er...."
"You had 3 parcels yesterday"
[Goes off searching in another room]

[Eventually] "Oh, well that was the one with 'The Aviator' in it!" [spoken as if I'm being stupid]
"Well, you're welcome for that as well. Happy Birthday!"

She asked me to thank my brother-in-law for his present. Maybe at some point she'll thank me as well?

Thursday, 13 October 2005

low battery

Mum rang just now to tell me that the car battery is flat again. I get the same call maybe 5 or 6 times a year and we always have the same conversation where she'll mention that some (non-mechanic) person has suggested it might be her alternator at fault and not the fact that she doesn't use the car enough to keep the battery charged.

As always I tried to establish what it could NOT be before we started speculating on mechanical faults, so I asked her when was the last time she used it.
"Oh, it's been a while now."
I asked her to be specific, then she suddenly remembered and said, "I took it out for a run 3 days ago".
Okay, I said, Where was that to?
"I took it to the supermarket to do a big shop".
The supermarket is about 100 yards from her apartment.

So I went over the same stuff I always do. That she needs to get the car up to speed over a distance of at least 10 miles once or twice a week. She was indignant, but couldn't really pretend that she'd managed to get the car up to 50mph on the village High Street.

She's currently ringing the insurers, as she always does, to come out and jump-start it. Last time they did this she rang me afterwards, triumphantly telling me that it WASN'T that she wasn't using the car enough because they'd told her that she'd left the lights on and had drained the battery. Because they'd said that she wouldn't have seen the lights were still on in the summer sunshine this became translated as "the battery went flat because it's summer, not because I did anything wrong".

She insisted that it's been a year since this last happened, but I reminded her that the battery had been newly installed this summer. "Yes," she said, "and it's under a 4 year guarantee, so we should get them to fix it". I tried to explain that the battery was behaving quite normally in discharging through lack of use. Any moment now she's going to ring me again.....

.... that was her - all smiles because she's talked to a lovely helpful insurance person who's sending someone out tomorrow.

I'm going to buy her one of those solar car battery chargers that you leave out on the dashboard. Maybe that'll do the trick.

Saturday, 24 September 2005


Mum keeps pestering me for news of my Sister's family, which I find distasteful. I know she's bored and lonely, but it's as if she's impatient for them to divorce just for the soap-opera drama of it all.

She rang me up a couple of days ago to confirm that her friend's funeral was at 09:40. I said that no, it was at 11:40. Acting on a hunch I then I asked her what day she was planning to go.
"Well, tomorrow of course!".
I had to tell her to write down FOR THE THIRD TIME that the funeral was on the 27th. She was mortified, because she'd just told everyone at the apartments that she was picking out her outfit for the event the next day. I can imagine her turning up and being the only one there, or maybe attending someone else's funeral by mistake without perhaps realising....

One of the aspects of Mum's decline that I find saddest is her growing selfishness. She never visited her friend towards the end, either in her home or in hospital, despite making shopping trips where she parked nearby. I also know she will expect to be the centre of concern and attention at the funeral.

Thursday, 1 September 2005


Conversation with Mum this morning prior to my head exploding:

"Anyway, as I was telling you, I went to the doctor yesterday to tell them about my back"
"Your back?"
"You know...I was telling you that I was having pains in my b.. in.. a... I think I told you I was having shooting pains in my head"
"And she told me that I had this back problem but I forgot it's name by the time I got home so I had to ring the surgery to find out what it was and I thought you could look it up on the internet"
"Okay, spell it out slowly, Mum"
"It's S-P-O-N-D-Y-L-O-S-I-N"
"I think you might have written it down wrong, Mum, because there's nothing coming up for that"
"Well, I don't understand that. She was most careful to spell it out for me"
"Have another go reading it out, Mum"
"Mum, you've read it out differently"
"Have I? S-P-O-N-D-I-L-O-S-E-S"
"Mum, you're reading out a different spelling each time!"
"Don't get on at me! I'm really not feeling up to this"
"I'm not getting on at you, I'm trying to help. I'm just pointing out that you've spelt it out in 3 different ways so far. So, is there a "Y" in it?"
"Yes, of course there is! I've read it out 3 times"
"Well, you only read 'Y' the first time and then you said "I" afterwards. What about the last letter: is it 'N' or 'S'?"
"It's 'N'"
"I've got something coming up for 'SPONDYLOSIS' "
"That's it! That's what she said."
"Then why are you telling me that it ends in 'N'?"
"Well, I've got 'S' down here"

So, I look up Spondylosis, which turns out to be something that half of us have at age 50 and 70 percent of us have by 60, etc. It's a toughening up of the cartilage cushions between our spinal vertebrae and the vertebrae responding by growing spurs of bone toward each other to shore up the structure.

"So, the picture's pretty grim, eh?"
"Er, why do you say that, Mum?"
"Well, I was just thinking of my Grandmother. She was pretty stooped over"
"So you weren't actually listening to what I read out then?"
"No, sorry. What was that, dear?"
"Well, it's basically ageing of the spine and nearly all of us get it - it's not that unusual. Do you want to hear the treatment?"
"Oh, yes"
"Well, it says 'rest... exercise..... traction.... painkillers... chiropractic treatment... "
"Oh, we have a Chiropractor in the village!"

Typical of her to pick the most expensive option.

I'm getting increasingly concerned about Mum's inability to spell out words consistently. When I have to help her with banks and utilities, she is NEVER able to give me long numbers reliably and I've had to have her send me documents instead. In lots of ways she's still quite competent, but this weird stumbling point is troubling me. That she can read out a word in 3 different ways without knowing that she's done so disturbs me.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005


Mum finds thrills in devastation and destruction. She was glued to her TV the day a greek airliner crashed near Athens. She felt so personally connected because: 1) she's been in planes, and 2) she landed at Athens once.

Friday, 19 August 2005


2 weeks on from my overhaul of Mum's finances, she rings me up to say that she's getting the dog's teeth cleaned by the vet, which will cost £300. Once I've absorbed that figure, I ask if she'll be able to claim for it on her pet plan that she's been paying into each month.

"Ah, yes, the vet gave me some forms for a Saga Pet Plan, so I've sent off to join that one."

"Mum, why are you taking out another insurance when you're paying £20 a month into an existing one, already?"

"Oh, I assumed you'd cancelled that one"

"Of course I didn't. I only cancelled things you weren't using. Did you think of checking first?"

[an hour passes]

"I've been down to the bank and you're right. The Pet Plan is still in place."

[why did she need to check with the bank?]

Recently I drove down South and picked Mum and her dog up, and brought them up here to my house for a break. Mum had a new £100 "sonic" toothbrush, which she packed without it's charger. Naturally, within the time spent here, it ran out of charge and she had to use it as a normal toothbrush. On our return, she told me that she had to buy a new toothbrush.

"Why? What's wrong with your "sonic" one?"

"It doesn't work any more"

"That's because it ran out of charge, Mum. Have you charged it up since you got back?"

"No, threw it out. It wasn't working"

"MUM, that's a brand new VERY expensive toothbrush!..... Hang on, you had it this morning, because I found it packed with the dog's food."

Of course, I find it and it works perfectly after a short re-charge.

[why did she claim to have thrown it out?]

I think I need to take Valium or something like that to cope with Mum

Monday, 23 May 2005


I may find some stray emails to fill this gap, but a heavy workload and a nervous breakdown (on my part) kind of took their toll.

Suffice to say, Mum moved house to a semi-sheltered block of flats, insisting on managing the sale without my help. She also chased a dream to own a holiday home abroad, accepting a company's offer to take her to Spain and chauffeur her around their new development.

I wasn't happy with the deal she accepted on our family home, and I grew concerned at her confusion as to just how many payments she had made on the Spanish apartment.

Despite my Chronic Fatigue problems, I helped her move home and eventually intervened in the Spanish deal, accompanying her out there to inspect the non-existent block of flats.

When the promised refund didn't transpire, I engaged a Solicitor who recouped £25,000 for us, but I remain convinced that Mum had paid at least 3 times as much as this. Unfortunately, her accounts were too vague to back up my belief. She had liquidated a lot of assets since I had last seen her figures.