Wednesday, December 29, 2010

72. Getting lost in Milton Keynes

I could write a book just about getting lost. One afternoon in Milton Keynes I decided to go for a little walk around the houses to look for the Post Office which I knew was quite near. I spied a lady walking her dog and asked her if she could direct me there and she said that she was going that way, so I joined her. At the post office we parted company, but not before my new found friend had pointed vaguely towards a short cut home! FATAL! “Go down past that hedge until you come to the main road, and then turn left. I don’t know the way well, but it should take you back to the roundabout where we met”. I wanted to cling on to her pleading “Don’t leave me!” but she was gone.
If you have ever been to Milton Keynes you will know that it comprises hundreds of small ‘villages’ all exactly the same and all running into each other. Between every six or so villages a lake is thrown in with a few ducks. All very pretty if you are driving through in a comfortable car, not so pretty if you are hobbling along on sore feet, and I was wearing sandals, not walking shoes. After an hour or so I saw a man cleaning his car and asked if he could direct me. He looked at his road map, pointed in several directions while making the not very comforting remark that “It’s a long way from here.” A South African man would have said “Hop into the car, I’ll take you.” But this was England and maybe people were suspicious and unwilling to jump into people’s cars.

I kept on walking while the blisters that had formed under the soles of my feet burst and were squishing around in my sandals. I was lost in a deserted jungle of bricks and tarmac. The sound of cars drew me to the motorway where I could see, in the distance, a large shopping centre and a petrol station. Walking now on tiptoes, I defied death by crossing the motor way at a point where no sane pedestrian would venture, and finally reached the petrol station. A young lady kindly telephoned for a taxi which was supposed to arrive in ten minutes. Ninety per cent of the taxies in Milton Keynes were driven by Asians and, half an hour later; a turbaned, bearded man drove in to pick me up. After the incident in Germany when I got lost in the cemetery, I never go out without some form of identification and the address where I am staying, so I handed the driver a card on which was printed Helen’s address. Surprise, surprise! We were only two streets away! I looked at the clock and saw that I had been walking for almost three hours.

And then, as promised, I returned to the Cotswolds. The Patient, I now realised, was a serious tippler, starting on the gin at around 10.00 hrs and all things considered, I cannot say that I blamed her. She could also be extremely rude and impatient with the staff, though not with me. My first job was to share out the linen, much of which had been ruined through being starched, folded and ironed flat. Over time this causes the threads on the folded edges to dry out and break, so much of the hand embroidered, fine Irish linen was useless. Not many people know that starched linen should be hand folded, not ironed. Many of the pure wool blankets had provided holiday homes for numerous moths and were also spoiled.

It took three days to sort and divide the library; The Husband had many rare and valuable books inherited from his first wife; lucky man, to have married two rich women. I helped out in the kitchen, kept The Patient amused and generally made myself useful and kept the butter flowing; plenty was needed because the atmosphere was tense. Unfortunately, one evening The Patient was extremely rude to Maureen in my presence, the rebuke was undeserved and uncalled for and I was very embarrassed. Maureen left the room and I followed as soon as was politely possible. She came to my room later and asked me to make some excuse to leave in the morning, two days before my visit was due to end, so that she could walk out at a minutes notice if she deemed it necessary. So, after breakfast I went into The Patient’s room to say my goodbyes. She apologised for her behaviour the previous night, but I said the apology was due to Maureen not to me. She then asked the nurse to bring a packet she had prepared for me. It was a very large, very expensive bottle of perfume.

Maureen asked The Husband to replace her as soon as possible, and said that she would be leaving at the end of October, when the move was completed, regardless. He then became kindness itself, told her to write herself a glowing reference, said that she could use the car to attend any interviews if necessary and even paid for her to consult a physiotherapist because lifting the patient had caused a great deal of damage to her back. They must have realised that they had treated her very badly, wrecking both her back and her spirit. I think the final insult was that they replaced her with a black Zimbabwean nurse aid, a lazy lump whom they had previously dismissed for stealing, at a higher salary than Maureen had been receiving! There just isn’t any justice.

Maureen stayed with the Patient until they had moved house before sending an S.O.S.. Helen had just returned from a business trip to Spain, and had driven from Heathrow to Milton Keynes, when the call came, but she got back into her car and drove out to rescue Maureen and all her belongings, including a new mattress. A large car can be very useful sometimes! I cannot remember how long Maureen stayed with Helen, but I think it was well over a year before she found her own place.

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