Beverley Elphick

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Coming Home


By Beverley O’Connor




St Remy de Provence, France October.  28 degrees

Lewes, UK, 14 degrees


Dad has lost his teeth.  I have searched everywhere drawing a blank with all the normal hidey-holes.  Finally, we locate a spare set in the ‘rubbish’ draw.  He had all his teeth removed in the 1950’s when he was quite young.  Apparently, it was the thing to do, replacing your own with  dentures.  Who in their right mind would take out a full set of teeth and put dentures in instead.  Perhaps, even in those days he wasn’t in his right mind.  


The very next day the spare set went missing as well.  Hayley, the favoured carer, and I searched again finally locating the spares on top of the wardrobe, neatly wrapped in tissue paper.  What was he thinking?


St. Remy de Provence 17th October 25 degrees

Lewes, Cold.


Is it a co-incidence that my places of choice to live, St. Remy in France and Lewes in Sussex are associated, in my mind, with madness.

St. Remy is the place where Vincent Van Gogh incarcerated himself in a sanatorium after mutilating his ear.  I loved living there.

Lewes is where I grew up, and have now returned, to care for my father who is suffering from dementia/madness.  Actually, it is me who is suffering.  Returning from the bliss and sunshine of the South of France to live with an incontinent (in both senses of the word) and dolally old man.

Dad, however, is in blissful ignorance of his state, he merely eats, sleeps and pees etc. (The etc. will lead you in the right direction of understanding) the sky is always blue in his world.


St. Remy de Provence 19th October 27 degrees

Lewes, cloudy and grim


Dad went for a walk along the shop.  He buys a paper and some Werthers Originals.  The shopkeeper gives us a bill at the end of the month and sends him home if he goes in there more than once a day.  Today, however, he did not come home and after he had been gone for an hour we begin searching.  Eventually, after visiting all his haunts, I ring the police and describe his predicament as being lost, frail, wandering and possibly unable to find his way home, and, it is getting dark.  As I told the young policewoman I could hear myself wondering why, exactly, had I let him out.  I explained, even though she didn’t ask, that he insisted on going for a walk most days and his doctors encouraged him to do so.  


We waited on tenterhooks until the police rang to say they had found him - in Brighton Hospital and would we please fetch him home.  

He had a bump on the head and a few cuts and bruises where he had fallen over but there was no information as to what had happened to him.


St Remy de Provence  October 24 degrees

Lewes Raining


There are three of us living in this house now but according to dad there are ‘others’.  He sits on his two-seater settee and asks me to make a cup of tea for him and the young fella sitting alongside him!

There is no one there but I have to make an extra cup of tea.  

When it is time to go to bed he asks “what about the others?”

“What others?” I reply.

“Well, you know, all the others”

They have all gone to bed already I say.

“What about mum?” he says

“She is upstairs dad” I reply, even though she died 4 years ago.

He is happy with that, and follows me up.


We have a television in our bedroom where we escape to, but we never quite get away as he might come in at any time in the night, usually with no clothes on, to say goodnight, again.


I try to keep up with my friends in Remy, they are in touch to wonder at my new lifestyle.  I tell them how I have had to cut giant holes in dad’s bedroom carpet.  I simply couldn’t remove the mess with soap and water, or cleaning fluid, or bleach.  They think it amusing, carpet with holes in.

It takes time to organise vinyl replacement and when it does come there is a further problem.  Osmosis.  The floor is easily cleaned but it is too late for the divan base.


St. Remy de Provence - November, I don’t care how many degrees or if there is a mistral blowing.  I want to be there.

Lewes. Dreary.


Still haven’t found the original teeth and we have now lost his glasses.

Hopefully, they are at the day centre, blessed place and my saviour of sanity.

He comes home, groping his way up the path with someone else’s glasses and cardi on.  I open the front door, his face lights up when he sees me.


St. Remy de Provence – Lost to me

Lewes. I can do this.  He is my Dad.