Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Getting on like a house on fire with elderly relatives.

I wasn't sure who had put the gum tree in all those years ago, or the unidentified tree next to it with the long poplar-like trembly leaves on long stringy liana-like branches that hang down and catch your neck as you try to mow under them (despite not much grass surviving down there in the semi-darkness); but he or she must have had the idea of creating some kind of 'indigenous' garden of Eden in which nymphs dance and cavort amidst the native flora; but what they ended up with was untrammelled undergrowth into which sunshine barely penetrates so that while the monster gum tree expands exponentially everything else dies.

I was in the front garden. (I dealt with the back garden quite some time ago.)

Garden aside, there was a new dilemma inside the house. I had, of course, done some work in the house on many occasions, removing piles of old newspapers that had built up on, beside and behind chairs and sofas. I had also removed hundreds of plastic food containers that had clogged up several cupboards, leaving just enough to give the appearance of sufficient containers to hold a year or two of frozen leftovers. I had also helped clean up the great clipped-recipe explosion of 2009. Ten years ago! It seems like yesterday.

This winter she wanted a heater in her bedroom. I brought over a small radiator and went into the room to set it up. I opened the door and froze. You could barely see a square inch of floor space. There were enough books to stock a library lining one wall on double-thickness shelves, double thickness meaning someone at some time had built a second set of shelves out over the originals, shrinking the size of the room significantly. The second wall was the window, loosely covered by several curtains, each from a different set, on two different rails, adding a certain faded-harem charm to the room. The window would not have admitted any light anyway, as it overlooks the jungle of a front garden. The third wall was a built-in wardrobe and the fourth a full-length cupboard, the top of which was covered in old books, yellowing photos, knick-knacks, pens, old coins, items of clothing, rolls of gift-wrap and other items. The little floor space was taken up by two beds. One was hers; the other was another storage opportunity. It was covered with clothing, more gift-wrap - some used and some unused - more books, and some items that looked like they were associated with the wrapping paper - gifts in progress awaiting despatch. There was also a significant scattering of paper department store bags, with more of these on the floor in between the beds along with shoes, more books, some newspapers, store catalogues, and diaries.

There was no room for a radiator. Not even for a wall-mounted one.

Or, rather, there was room for a radiator if you wanted to burn the place down.

So that's what I told her. Not in so many words, but I said that I could not responsibly place an electric radiator amidst a hoarder's paradise.

She objected.

"What could possibly go wrong?"

"The house could burn down. And I could be charged with manslaughter given the state of this room. It would be like throwing a lit match into dry grass in a heatwave."

I picked up a few shopping bags and moved several rolls of gift-wrap and some old empty envelopes and a couple of newspapers. Then I stacked some shoes away in the wardrobe that was already full. She objected strongly. No, the shoes might not be flammable, I told her. But you could trip on them in the night and knock the radiator over.

Then I left and took the radiator with me. I came back the next day with one of those tall, flat convection heaters that take up less floor space and blow warm air out the top instead of radiating heat lower down, where the paper junk is. I set it up flush against the bookshelf where it would be less likely to be stumbled over. Sort of a compromise. But I did insist the room still had to be kept reasonably clear of combustible items.


Dr. Alice said...

Oh dear. I'm dealing with elderly parents myself and it is not easy... it's enough to make me want to rid myself of all my worldly goods every time I visit them.

Melbourne Girl said...

Similar issues in my world. Not so much the clutter, but the stubbornness, memory loss and downright nastiness at times is a real problem. The only sure thing is, it's not going to get any easier. God luck

paul kennedy said...

Good luck to you too.