My toes are loved, they have been caressed and fondled, warmed and made to tingle. They are the only parts that can fit in on the single bed allowed in the care home, where my partner lies.
I went to visit my partner of sixteen years standing who now lives in a home much given to phony flowers and cheerful wall paper, but with staff with the imagination of a pet rabbit. They care for his body, change him and make sure he eats. It is a good care home, clinical and clean. But they don’t care about him. They won’t buy him a newspaper even, or take him outside. It is his body not his brain that is decaying but that is not their responsibility. I bring a picnic, all garlic and cream with white wine chilled in a large thermos. There isn’t a proper table in the tiny space I have found, so we make do and he spills his food on the carpet. We go back to his room and since a wheel chair is not designed for kissing and cuddling he clambers into bed and I slither into the base so that we lie, toe to toe with our legs able to fondle each other. It’s the nearest we can get to exploring each other’s bodies and it’s not enough. Of course it’s not enough, just because fate has reduced Peter to living in a home it doesn’t mean we dont care for each other and dont need the reassurance and memory of what our bodies mean to each other.
When I become prime minister I shall insist that every care home has a decent visitor’s room. A room big enough to have a table for two, with pretty table cloth, china and wine glasses and a screen where we can watch a favourite film. There would be a micro wave to heat some delicious dish, brought in to relieve the tedium of institutional food, and a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine. In the same room there would be a double bed, to make up for the mean single beds that so many care homes put their residents in.
As it is I’ve found a small room, I suspect for grieving relatives. It’s all purple and black with more phony flowers. His body is disintegrating but his mind is still living and in need, but no one will acknowledge this.
We are not alone, many older couples long for the comfort and affection of intimacy that having a double bed would allow, they love the idea of a special meal, some wine and finish off with a film watched from the comfort of a bed. Normal, comforting life despite being in a home. Get real, sex and intimacy don’t wither and die. How can partners who visit each other even touch over the metal rims of the wheel chairs, the single beds and the institutional spaces. It is ageist and at it’s very worst, it is unkind and unnecessary. So enough of the dreary meaningless hypocrisy about how everyone respects each other in the home, and think realistically about what older people really want when visiting each other.