Old Man Jim

29 Jul

During my time working as a builders labourer, I did many jobs at Care Centres, Nursing Homes and Mental Institutes. The rules were always the same; never leave any tools unattended, keep the van locked (very annoying), lock yourself in the room you were working in (a pain in the arse in the Summer when ventilation was required) and do not speak to the patients/residents. Obviously, we didn’t adhere to these at all times, be it through laziness or forgetfulness, but nothing bad ever came of it. I did see some interesting sights at these places. At a home in Slough, I witnessed an elderly man escaping into the grounds of the centre, with his trousers and pants around his ankles. As 3 nurses chased him, he bent over, pulled his bum cheeks apart, laughed, and then carried on with his attempted escape.

Another time, I was plastering a new en suite bathroom.. Feeling like I was being watched, I turned around to find an 80-something year old woman with the bulgiest eyes I’ve ever seen, just starting at me, holding a big bit of skirting board in her hand. When I turned to face her, she just handed me the skirting board, turned and walked away shaking her head. I was clipped round the ear by one old man for ‘listening to tripe on the radio’ and a nurse also told me off for playing cards with another elderly fellow during my lunch break. Big deal! (excuse the pun).

 

I hated working at these places. The atmosphere was always horrible, and they all smelled the same. I did however gain a lot of respect for the staff that work there; getting paid a pittance to care for these elderly people, who were either incapable of looking after themselves, were mentally ill, or had just started to lose the plot – and I don’t mean to sound offensive saying that, it was really sad to see people with no recollection of who they were, what day it was, where they were etc. I lost count of the amount of times I saw an elderly person soil themselves. I hated the shouts and screams I’d hear from some of the bedrooms during the day, or seeing people wandering about in a daze. When people truly start ‘lose it’, it is a horrible thing to witness.

 

However much I hated doing building work at these places, it was something I had to do, and more often than not I could try and find some humour in certain situations, which made the days more bearable. My one true highlight though, was Jim.

 

Jim must have been in his late seventies, or early eighties. I first had the pleasure of meeting him on a rainy midweek morning, as I arrived to do a job in Buckinghamshire at a place called Cherry Tree Nursing Home. It was a big job; we were changing every window at the home, as well as knocking a few walls down and laying a huge patio. As I walked down the corridor towards one of the bedrooms that I was going to start in first, I heard a deep, almost Sergeant-like voice say, “What are you up to, boy?”. I glanced to my left, and in the doorway of the bedroom adjacent, stood a elderly fellow dressed immaculately in a grey pinstripe suit. He had white wispy hair, what was left of it combed over into a side parting, and a big crimson nose. I also noticed that he had massive hands – they were like dinner plates.

 

“Just here to start some work”, I replied. I admit I was quite nervous.

 

“And your name?”

 

I told him my name, to which he responded, “Pathetic! I’m going to call you Simon instead”. When I asked him why, he just smiled and said “Because it’s your name”. The conversation was interrupted when a one of the nurses/carers came down the corridor. “Come on Jim, back in your room please”.

 

“Bastards!” Jim muttered, and then turned his back on both of us and walked into his bedroom. The nurse told me to just ‘excuse Jim, he can be a bit of a pain’.

 

Over the coming weeks, I had many conversations with Jim. When I was working near his room, he would come out and speak to me. He always wore a suit. Every time he saw me he would say, “Good day, Simon”, then pat me on the head. It was scary the first couple of times, but I soon realised that Jim was harmless and just wanted a bit of interaction, a bit of banter even. He was one of the grumpiest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting; it was done in such an infectious, naive way. He would tell me how most of the staff were ‘boring old farts’, the food was worse than ‘foreign foods like curry’ and that he ‘should be at home still, not stuck in here‘ on a daily (sometimes even hourly) basis. We never went into proper conversation about his life etc, one of the reasons being I didn’t know how much he could remember himself, I just liked listening to him lambasting the care home. I found it funny. I think Jim also liked my company, not that he would ever admit to it. He would often interrupt me mid speech and say, “Simon, it’s been ok. I’ll catch up with you later, boy” and then just walk off.

 

He scared the shit out of me once, by creeping up on me in one of the bedrooms, flinging a pair of black pants (thankfully clean – I think) in my face and shouting “SPIDER!” at me, before chuckling a big hearty laugh and walking out.

I’d get a lot of ‘they are definitely up to something in here, Simon’ – what it was though, Jim would never say. I was caught on quite a few occasions talking to him, I couldn’t see the harm in it myself, and each time Jim would just roll his eyes, mutter an obscenity and walk off.
If Jim was losing it, or had indeed already lost it, he would never let on to me. Perhaps he was the sane one? I do miss Jim.

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