Just one envelope lay inside the door when Ian got up on the Monday morning. At least it was addressed to him by name – Mr Ian Brockett. Ian hated those that just said ‘To the occupier’. The downside was that it was on what looked like a mass produced mailing label with no stamp or franking on the envelope. It was obviously local and had been delivered by hand.
He wandered into the kitchen with it, picked up a knife from the draining board and slit the envelope open. Inside was a single white card. As he started to pull it out he saw the words ‘You are invited to attend…’
He let the card slide back into the envelope and left it on the worktop with the other bits and pieces of paper that had accumulated there over the weekend. People could have no idea how much that phrase ‘You are…’ turned him off, whatever the subject might be.
He was happy with his life as a carer for a group of lovely people in the area. He could not think of anything that suited him better. He loved the one to one relationship that developed. He became a part of that person’s family – very often the only part of the ‘family’ that connected with them.
He got himself ready and set out for another day. He had two clients to see before calling into base for the regular Monday morning briefing.
First stop was Mrs Jeavons, a nice lady in her early 80s and still fiercely independent. She had been suffering from a cold for the past few days and he just wanted to check that she was getting better. It had taken him six months to get her to allow him to do anything for her except sit on the sofa for a chat while she made them both a cup of tea.
Second stop was Will Rowlands – an independent old soldier who loved to talk about today’s ‘soldier boys’ and the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’ he had been watching on television over the past few weeks.
When Ian arrived for the morning briefing most of the team were there. They were hanging around, waiting for team leader Freda to arrive to start the meeting. Julie said something to him about an invitation she had received. Had he had one? He couldn’t remember what he said, but it wasn’t important, anyway, and Freda had arrived and the meeting got underway.
As the meeting was breaking up Freda asked him if he had received his invitation for Friday. “Why are people so fixated about invitations?” Ian thought to himself as he mumbled “It’s on the table or somewhere” in reply before heading out to see Mr & Mrs Scott. Helping them cope with Charlie’s increasing immobility was a lot more important than some invitation to something or other.
On Tuesday morning Ian bumped into Julie at Cyma Tower – the 22 story relict of 1970s modernity that was hell to live in – just as she was leaving. “Are you coming Friday evening?” she asked in her bright and cheerful ‘Julie’ manner. She was probably the longest serving member of what had become a great team to work with. Her enthusiasm and compassion appeared to be boundless – and was most definitely contagious.
“What’s happening on Friday?”
“It’s on the invitation. It’s a reception at ‘The Bull’s Head’ and most of us are going. You’ve got to come along.”
“You know I don’t like things like that. I’ve got better things to do with my time than stand around exchanging pointless conversation with people as they become more and more childish under the influence of whatever they are drinking”. There was an edge to his voice that made Julie mentally back off.
“Fine”, she said as she shrugged her shoulders.
“Oh, by the way, the lift won’t go above the 19th floor. An engineer has been called the notice says. Take care.”
With that she went on her way while Ian mentally fumed about the lift. Mrs Peterson had enough difficulty with her claustrophobia in the lift without the added problem of two flights of stairs. With that he mentally straightened his back and got on with his life.
‘I’ll make her a cup of tea when I get up there,’ he thought, ‘then we’ll look out of the window across the town where she has lived all her life. That’s a big plus for her living up here. She can see for miles and loves talking about her childhood beyond the town centre in the Wellworth area. From this height it appears to have hardly changed but down at ground level it is a real problem area – but there is no reason to upset her memories with modern-day truths.
Wednesday morning was wet, cold and cheerless. The sort of day that was easy to feel depressed about. For Ian it was his ‘very nice’ day because it took him out of the town into the surrounding villages. There were six visits to make and all were to nice, lovely, welcoming people. All had challenges in their life that could have made them bitter, grumpy, rude or abusive. But everyone had a smile that lit up the room when he arrived. Tea would be offered at every visit and woe-betide him if he refused or said he would make it. They all insisted on doing it while he ‘got on with his work’. He had long since given up any challenge.
His work was indeterminate but vital to each. He helped Caroline make sense of any ‘official’ letters she had received and usually had an entertaining conversation about EastEnders and Coronation Street. ‘Things were never like that in my day’ was a guaranteed comment about something or other.
Wilf made a strong cuppa and talked proudly about his window box. As a younger man he had always been out in the garden but now a man came to do it – under Wilf’s strict guidance – while he created miracles in the boxes. Ian often brought him seed or plants – many of them from Mrs Williams down the street. Ian was sure she had a soft spot for Wilf because she was always talking about him. Ian often thought that they would make a lovely couple and at times mentioned the thought to Wilf. It always provoked a snort of indignation but today, Wilf smiled a little and said ‘You never know young man.’
As Ian finished the visits and headed back to town he felt at peace with the world. Everyone today had told him how much they looked forward to his visits, and wouldn’t it be nice if he could come twice a week. It would be nice, he thought, but there were too many people in need of visits and care, and too little time. That jolted him back to reality. Instead of increasing the number of visits it was quite probable that they would be decreased, or at least shortened. He knew it would be hard to tell them this but time, people resources and funding pressures were already biting into the work they did.
‘I bet that’s what that invitation’s about’ suddenly came into his mind. ‘A softening up before the crunch, or maybe both would arrive at the same time. Damn the world.’
As he pulled into the parking spaces at the office he noticed Julie’s car there. Everyone else seemed to have gone home. He looked at his watch. It was just after six. ‘That answers that then’, he thought.
Julie was in her car but got out as Ian walked across the tarmac.
‘I was hoping you’d be dropping in,’ she said. ‘I have a problem and wondered if you would help me please.’
‘I will if I can’ he replied. ‘How?’
‘I was going to this Friday’s reception with Dave,’ she said, ‘but something has come up where he works and he can’t make it. I know you don’t like these things but would you be a dear and come with me? I just don’t like going to these things alone but I feel I must go to this one. With this review going on it seems sensible to be visible at all times.’
She looked so woebegone as she stood there that Ian found himself agreeing before he had really thought about it.
‘You’re an angel’ she said. ‘Thanks. It’s smart casual clothes. I’ll pick you up, if you like. About half seven at your place?’ Her relief was obvious and Ian just nodded.
‘OK’ he said as Julie got back into her car with a quick ‘Must rush’ as her farewell.
On the Friday Julie arrived dead on 7.30 outside Ian’s flat and tooted her car’s horn. Ian appeared, reluctantly it seemed, and walked across to her. “Have you got your ticket?” she asked.
“You’ll need it.”
With a sigh Ian went back indoors and returned with the envelope, un-read invitation inside. “What’s this all about”, he asked. “Telling us money is tight and we have to be more careful, or not spend so much time with our people.”
“’S’pose we’ll find out soon enough” was her non-committal reply.
There appeared to be a heck of a lot of cars in the ‘Bull’s’ car park. There were quite a lot of ‘posh’ ones there. ‘The big-wigs I suppose’ thought Ian. ‘They get these and the people I care for have to make do without so many things. After tonight’s get-together I suspect they’ll get even less. It just isn’t fair.’
He almost turned round and left there and then – but he had promised Julie so he followed her through the door and into ‘The Bull’s Head’s’ big hall. ‘Yep’, Ian thought, ‘lots of people here for a free-be and plenty of big-wigs as well’.
Ian started to get edgy. ‘Why the heck had he allowed Julie to bring him here?’ he asked himself. It was then that he realised that she had gone off to ‘mingle’. He was now alone in the gathering.
Suddenly there was a loud banging. What looked like a formal Master of Ceremonies was standing by a rostrum on the other side of the hall.
“My lord’s, ladies and gentlemen” he began.
Ian’s heart sank. He stood all alone, in a place he didn’t want to be – and now there were going to be speeches! He cursed himself and began to head for the door. He couldn’t go home because of Julie and her car, but at least he could get a beer.
“Hello Ian”. It was Freda, and she was blocking his exit. “Isn’t this great?”
“That depends on your viewpoint.”
“Oh, Ian,’ sighed Freda. “Look, Sir William is just going to speak. Let’s get a bit closer and hear what he’s got to say.”
Ian was trapped.
“Ladies and gentlemen: thank you all for coming here tonight. As you know, we are going through tough and challenging times. It is at times like these that we must all work as a team, providing care, compassion and understanding for those that we support: those ladies and gentlemen that benefit so much from the care and consideration we can provide for them. Over the past few weeks we have been in contact with as many of our ‘customers’ as possible, seeking their advice, and their feelings, toward the service we provide.
He paused – then continued..
“I am pleased, though not surprised, that the feedback was extremely positive throughout.
He paused again..
“Now, during this whole exercise, we also asked our ‘customers’ if they had a favourite carer – one who made them feel wanted and also went that ‘extra mile’, or maybe more, for them. They were asked to rate them on a scale of one to ten – with ten being the top notch. We asked that they kept this all quiet for a while.
“Without letting on about this enquiry, we also asked our staff to, anonymously, rank their colleagues. I suspect you all remember this”
Ian could hear some groans and mutterings from the listeners. He had thrown his form in the bin as a waste of time and an infringement of privacy, and it sounded as if others had too.
Sir William went on: “These were all passed to an independent firm many miles from here. They were asked to analyse the information and report back to me. They were, like me, impressed by the responses overall. There were a few elements that would benefit from attention and we shall be addressing these in the coming days. Overall, though, the view of our customers was that we – you – do an excellent job. I, and the board, thank you all most sincerely.”
He and the board members behind him stood and applauded – and the audience joined in. Alongside Freda, Ian gave a huge sigh of boredom and turned to leave. Freda was still standing in his way.
As the applause died away Sir William continued: “We also asked the company to analyse the feedback from our staff. This data they then merged with our customer feedback. With this they were able to tell us who was voted the best carer in our area by our customers and by our staff – your colleagues. We also asked them for a consolidated analysis. We received all three.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Ian murmured. “I’ve had enough of this.” Again he found Freda in his way and he was tempted to push her to one side.
In the background he heard Sir William announce that…
“The winner on all three counts is” …. as he paused Ian again tried to get past Freda but this time she was positive in stopping him as Sir William continued…
“Mr Ian Brockett’
The hall exploded into cheers, clapping and whistles of delight. Ian froze and then headed for the door. Freda made sure she was in his way.
“Ian, wait.” She put her hand on his shoulder, then wrapped her arms around him. “This is for you – and the way you bring life and happiness into the world of so many people. Let’s go and say thank you for all those that recognise the tremendous job you do to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”
With her arm round his shoulder she led him through the cheering and clapping colleagues to the dais where Sir William waited to meet him.