A trip to the seaside…

I love a day out and today I went to Brighton to see my very aged cousin Marguerite. She is living in the Blind Veteran’s home known as St Dunstans, which cares for blind veterans young and old.

The building itself is an imposing 1920s creation, sat high on a hill to the East of Brighton, with beautiful views out to sea.

St Dunstan's wide shot

It was designed to reflect the layout of a plane so that its first patients, airforce veterans from World War One could find their way about; able to navigate their way around say from the ‘cockpit’ to the ‘fuselage’ or the ‘wings’. The home’s guiding principles were not just established in its layout; in all ways the home exists to give the residents inspiration, hope and the means to live a full life. Many residents are able to return to a full independent life outside, after a spell living here. It is far more than a care home.

Of course my cousin Marguerite aged 92, is an exception to the general rule; most of the residents here are much younger, wounded in active service in Afghanistan or Iraq. I haven’t met any of the younger residents as Marguerite is pretty much confined to her home on the third floor now. The entertainment and amazing facilities downstairs like the swimming pool and art rooms, are beyond her enjoyment. Staff do take her down sometimes but it’s usually too much for her – too noisy, and, although old she is still feisty and therefore apt to tell people to shut up if she deems it necessary. I might say that she never told anyone to shut up within my earshot when she was younger, she was always extremely polite. A privilege of  old age, to say what you’ve always been thinking.

Here she is when I visited today…

Marguerite waving

Marguerite waves for the camera

As soon as I asked if I could take her picture she removed her spectacles and waved. Of course it’s sad to see her so frail when once, not so long ago she was so full of life and vitality. Here she is in her 20s…

Marguerite in her 20s

She’s had a pretty amazing life – lived in Australia, travelled back by ship with her young son Michael and after active service as a WREN, became a professional portrait photographer. So while decline is inevitable at her age I suppose, it’s also important to remember how much enjoyment she’s had. She’s had her share of pain too, but over all I think she’s lived a full and happy life; grasping opportunities when they came her way and always interested in the people around her. Now, she is in very little pain, is cared for amazingly and has chocolate for breakfast.

But she is very frustrated at times. “What am I going to do about it?” she asked today. “About what?” I said. “This physical body of mine. Things going wrong”. “I think perhaps you’ll have to accept it Marguerite” I said, “bits of your body have given up long before you”. If she had her way she’d still be dancing.

I hope she carries on going for as long as she gets some pleasure from life and for as long as she’s able to assert her wishes. And I hope her memories are mostly happy ones.

To match the mixed emotions of the day, our glorious British weather lurched from one extreme to another. As I left St Dunstans there were beautiful blue skies and sunshine…

Blue skies view from St Dunstans

But fast forward awhile, probably half an hour or so to the view from my homeward-bound train…

Rainy train window

Rain, rain, go away

Sigh.

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