- Published: 30 July 2018
- ISBN: 9781405930307
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 400
- RRP: $26.00
On the Bright Side
The new secret diary of Hendrik Groen
Wednesday, 31 December 2014
According to the statistics, on this last day of the year a man of eighty-five has approximately an 80 per cent chance of reaching 31 December 2015. I am going by numbers from the National Public Health Compass.
I shall do my best, but there’s to be no whining if the diary I’m starting tomorrow does not make it all the way through to the end of the year. A one‑in‑five chance.
Thursday, 1 January 2015
Evert used to be partial to planting his New Year’s firecrackers in dog poo or, even more spectacularly, horse droppings, but those were, of course, less common. He’s only sorry that the bangers were much smaller back then than they are now.
‘It’s only that I’d risk blowing myself up, wheelchair and all, otherwise I’d love to set off a few crackers in the hall.’ That was his contribution to the pyrotechnics debate that’s been going on for days.
In spite of a petition from the residents, our director, Mrs Stelwagen, did nothing about getting our care home declared a firework-free zone. A short statement on the noticeboard announced she did not think it ‘opportune’ at this time. She probably had a point, some of the residents decided, especially those who didn’t know what ‘opportune’ meant. Others thought Stelwagen didn’t want to get into a spat with the local authorities.
Our Old-But-Not-Dead Club celebrated New Year’s Eve in Evert’s sheltered housing flat, where cooking is allowed, an activity that’s not permitted in the rooms of those of us living in the care home. With top ex‑chefs Antoine and Ria in our ranks, we can’t afford to pass up any gastronomic occasion.
At 11:45 we all trooped up to Graeme’s room, on the top floor. We watched the fireworks from his balcony, and Evert fired off a single illicit rocket on behalf of us all, as a mutinous raspberry aimed at the management. It was very pretty.
We can’t wait to see who will snitch on us.
Edward volunteered to be the scapegoat chewed out by the director, if it should come to that. He promised to make his speech even harder to understand than usual, and to present a report – in writing – at the next Old-But-Not-Dead Club meeting.
In short: we had a blast.
I did not get to bed until 2 a.m. It’s been decades since I’ve managed to stay up that late. Bravo Hendrik.
Friday, 2 January
This past year there was a great void in my days. I had spent all of 2013 faithfully keeping a diary. That hour (or hour and a half) of daily writing had given me a sense of usefulness and value. The most salient hallmark of life in an old-age home may well be the lack of duties or responsibilities. Everything is taken care of for you. There is no need for reflection. Life goes down as easily as custard without any lumps. Open up; swallow; all gone!
There are plenty of residents who are quite satisfied with this permanent, all-inclusive holiday, but for myself and a number of my friends, the idleness of the care- home existence does nothing for our day‑to‑day contentment. This diary will give me a sense of purpose again. It forces me to stay alert, to put my eyes to work and my ear to the ground, and obliges me to follow the developments in our care home as well as what’s happening in the rest of the world. I shall be exercising the brain cells on a daily basis to keep my thoughts fresh and organized. Brain gymnastics to keep the mind sharp. This past year I found myself thinking all too often what a shame it was that I was no longer writing things down, when, for instance, another old geezer made a spectacle of himself, the staff made a dog’s dinner of something, or the director lorded it all too snootily over her underlings. I feel like throwing my hat in the ring again.
Saturday, 3 January
One care home director has set a good example in the papers by telling the truth: ‘The standards that we, as a society, have set for the professional care of the elderly cannot be met under the present circumstances.’
In other words: it can’t be helped if, from time to time, a nappy doesn’t get changed promptly enough, or a set of teeth goes missing, or an inmate has to be tied to the bed for a while. Unfortunate, but alas. If all the activists, all the sensation-seeking scandalmongers of the press and all thirty-two care home inspection agencies want this to change, they will have to persuade the electorate to agree to a hefty insurance rate increase. Good luck with that!
I intend to press that article personally into our director’s hands.
Yes, that’s a surprise, isn’t it? Meek Hendrik is no more. He doesn’t yet deserve to be called Brave Hendrik, but a year ago, at my dear friend Eefje’s funeral, I did resolve to drop my fainthearted caution once and for all. I am more and more inclined to speak my mind, and it usually feels great when I do so. I do still need to work up my nerve, my heart in my mouth, but after some hesitation I’ll jump in with both feet from the high diving board, coming up for air sputtering but triumphant. The support I receive from the other members of the Old-But-Not-Dead Club is invaluable. Especially from Evert, who is not only my best friend but also someone who has no trouble at all speaking his mind, and always has my back.
This year we have once again been promised a ‘horror winter’. In spite of all previous erroneous predictions of extreme cold, this prognosis is being taken very seriously. My fellow inmates have stocked up for winter like nobody’s business. The cupboards are bursting with biscuits, chocolates, soft drinks and loo paper. This last item is on account of the fact that we now have to provide it ourselves, due to economic cutbacks. Ever since these were instituted, we are being much more frugal about wiping ourselves, with all attendant consequences thereof. What is saved on paper is spent on extra laundry soap.
I am in the spare room, which doubles as my office, and I have just finished my day’s work.
Dear Girls, You are prohibited from reading this book until you are twenty-one years old.
I had my first panic attack on a quiet sunny morning in Berlin. It was mid-summer.
In September 1970, two sites squared off for the title of the center of the world: Piccadilly Circus, in London, and Dam Square, in Amsterdam.