Dementia is a ticking timebomb in society. It makes strangers of loved ones and is arguably the cruellest way to part company with a friend or relative.
I’ve covered the subject time and again over the years and it never gets easier - least of all for the unpaid unsung carers and support workers who deserve a lion’s share of David Cameron’s pledge of extra investment in dementia services. Perhaps our local MPs should pass their £7,500 pay rise their way ?
I remember - while I still can - the time I dropped by at a local care home specialising in residents with dementia.
It was the first and last time I have ever followed a donkey up the access ramp of a home.
The therapy donkey had just visited Brian House, the hospice for children.
Three things struck me. Some residents, within the lounge, didn’t register the donkey’s presence, or comment upon it in any way.
Others did. They smiled, they patted the donkey, some even sang to the donkey. They talked of beach trips and candy floss and donkey rides - from their own childhood or that of their offspring.
But half an hour later, when I sat and chatted to them, most had forgotten the donkey.
“Did you like patting the donkey?” I asked one lovely old lady.
“What donkey?” she replied. I could have cried. She took me for her daughter. She never comes, she told me. Staff at the home assured me her daughter visited daily. When I stood to leave she rose with me, gave me one of the best hugs of my life, and a big kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for coming to see me, love,” she said. “Don’t be a stranger.”
And I hugged and kissed her back knowing she’d have forgotten me by the time I’d got to my car.
One marvellous man stands out in my mind. He told me he had been singing with Sinatra the night before. What on telly? I asked? No. on stage, he replied. Ole Blue Eyes had told him he had a great voice and I agreed for he had been singing to the donkey and was a fine light tenor.
He started playing keepy uppy with a balloon with the son of one of the staff who had turned up at the home on the promise of seeing a real donkey in the lounge there.
You’ve got all the makings of a good footballer, son, the old boy told the lad. “Now when I played with Bert Trautmann...”
As a lifelong football fan, I knew the name, but shrugged it off as Alzheimer’s kicking in again.
Trautmann, one of the greatest Manchester City goalkeepers of all time, died earlier this year, at 89.
He was the former prisoner of war who made 545 appearances for the Blues between 1949 and 1964 and passed into club folklore when he continued to play in the 1956 FA Cup final, despite breaking his neck in a challenge with Birmingham City striker Peter Murphy. The Blues won 3-1.
And, you know what, this chap, on respite care at the local home, may not have sung with Sinatra but he HAD played with Trautmann, and had also coached countless kids at home and abroad.
And when he told the young boy that he had talent as a footballer - he knew what he was talking about...
Now where’s what to do with that £7k pay rise...
You’ve got to hand it to Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys.
He’s come out fighting against the proposed pay rise for honourable members - and pledges to give his 11 per cent rise, if approved, to the credit union and other groups helping the needy if re-elected in 2015.
It works out at £7,500 which is more than my annual pension but I don’t actually grudge it. I think Blackburn MP Jack Straw makes a fair point when he says higher pay will encourage recruitment of members more representative of society - and not some independently wealthy gentlemen’s club.
That said I don’t want our MPs to stash the cash. I’d suggest they grab it with both hands and dole it out to local charities or council social enterprises to claw back some of the frontline support services lost to cutbacks - or shore up others.
For the record, most councils have put paid to the moral bankruptcy of paying chief officers more than the Prime Minister.
Here’s what to do with that pay rise. Stick it - into a charity collection box. Your choice, honourable ones.