Category Archives: A Wake

Real Lives for Real People

I love eating and drinking………actually what I was going to say was “I love eating and drinking in different places” but I could just have left it at those first five words!!

Anyhoo……I like trying out new and very different places to eat and drink. I enjoy a sophisticated restaurant as much as I enjoy a greasy spoon, depending on how I feel and where I am, and I guess also on with whom who I am eating. Being veggie makes it a bit of a hit and miss affair sometimes, but that says as much about the restaurant as it does about my dietary habits. Eating out isn’t just about the food though – it’s nice to go out for a meal with friends or the Old Man or alone, and one of the best evenings I have had in a while was when my three daughters and I went out for a pub dinner in Ireland one evening recently, simple fun, talk, hugs, food and some good beer and a bit of an unplanned but very necessary private wake for my Mother.

Just like the meal in Ireland when my daughters and I relaxed into an informal evening oiled by a few beers and some traditional food, some of the best and most rewarding meals out have been in simple surroundings with basic food. On that occasion we  had good company which didn’t intrude but kept us happy, was amusing and warm with a charming smile, and made us feel happy. Where I live now in the UK there is a simple eating house called Aminas. It serves basic but well cooked food in a simple environment and with a smile, and when my Mother and I used to go in there they always accommodated her wheelchair without a fuss, no big deal, just one of those things. That felt nice. And very different to places like some coffeehouse chains (not Cafe Nero which is always a pleasure) where there is hardly room to walk never mind place a wheelchair, the staff generally grump around and behave as if they are doing you a favour, and bring out the vacuum around 16.30 so that you don’t outstay your welcome and hold up these young things pretending to work there from their evenings merriment spending their wages to which you have contributed for the pleasure of being grumped at.  And the punters in the coffeehouse in question are often a little, well, homogenised and dull.

In Aminas it is possible to sit for hours watching people and not get bored. All human life passes through the doors and gets a welcome and a smile. I sit and read the paper or scribble bits of dialogue overheard from other tables and find endless interest and fun, and there is a communal feel to the place, the feeling that whoever you are you will be welcomed and the tea will always be hot and strong, the eggs perfect and the toast just right. People smile and greet one another and the odd bit of behaviour that might attract attention elsewhere simply doesn’t. It is, in short, a place of comfort and good tea and a fab people watching venue. The meals are always the sort of meals that people actually want rather than what they say they want and they hit the spot perfectly.

I love splendid food in rich surroundings, look forward to experiencing complexity of cuisine and maybe a new taste and a bit of fine dining, but for simple all round daytime pleasure and people it is the coffeehouses like Aminas that get my vote. Like the B&B in my hometown in Ireland where we stayed last month, Killurin Lodge in Castlebridge, Wexford,where the food was terrific (the breakfasts were like the ones I have at home but oh so much better and I didn’t have to wash up or chop the fruit……bliss. And the cooked breakfasts made with the eggs laid that morning by their own hens were pitch-perfect) and the accommodation was so comfortable, the room actually seemed to cuddle me the bed was so soft and clean and warm. But the glue holding the entire experience together was the people: warm and caring, charming and fun, they made it the kind of place you recommend and re-visit, and especially given our own rather sad reason for being there (funeral, estate sorting and other things you prefer not to think of until it is too late) they made it easier and less traumatic simply by being kind and pleasant.

So, however the environment is dressed up, as long as it is hygienic, it is the people that make a meal memorable and comfortable. And the same goes for any business: however well presented the premises and however pretty or clever the advertisements, if the people are not warm, friendly and go the extra mile it is still a second rate business and less likely to attract returns and recommendations. Whatever the surroundings, what the punters will remember are the receptionist who did not smile, the lengthy wait as other appointments run over time and no explanation is offered, the arrogance of the people on the front line, the lack of a handshake or even worse the flip-flop handshake of someone in a hurry who doesn’t care if they impress or not . No amount of pretty wallpaper or plantpots will rectify that. This principle applies whatever the business. The guys who managed my Mothers funeral last month and my Dads three years ago, Brownes in Enniscorthy, were terrific. They were warm and kind without being so kind as to prompt loss of control, charming and gracious, sensitive and surprisingly amusing,  and absolutely perfect in what they had to do, slick and practiced at the graveside as much as they were warm and charming in their offices. I couldn’t have asked for more.

There is a great emphasis on the environment in the delivery and inspection of nursing and residential care services, and quite right – it matters and should be taken seriously. There is no justification for shabby premises or tatty decor and to deliver support services in a poor environment simply sends out the message that the people using the services do not matter enough to smarten it up. Not acceptable.

BUT, some of the warmest and most person centred services I have encountered have been delivered in untidy and less than perfect environments. Not shabby, not neglected, not dirty, just lived in and comfortable. The kind of places that don’t mind if knitting is left lying around or books left open and squashed, where the odd sock on the bedroom floor or a few plates in the sink aren’t a hanging offence and there is evidence of people actually living there rather than inhabiting the space where their “care” is delivered or, worse, getting in the way of the staffs routine and tasks. The people living in the house own the space, and they matter and have lives, and that is shown by the stuff lying around and the “real life” gribble. People don’t, as a rule, live in hotel environments, so why should we expect people who need support to do so?  My house is perhaps more shabby and untidy than most, stuffed with paints and paintings, books and papers, files and guitars. And I love it like that. Maybe a little tidier……perhaps I shouldn’t find, as I did recently, the tin whistle I was looking for weeks ago under the piano along with some coins, two books and a half eaten biscuit. And actually my office area is as organised as can be with filing cabinets and desk clear and easy to manage. But where I live, where I relax and do other stuff, is comfortable and interesting, and we all need that.  Inspectors and commissioners need to bear that in mind when assessing services – look under the surface and into the heart of the place and accept the gribbly every day living stuff that makes a house a home. Hospitals and clinics are not the same, they are workplaces where people visit for treatment and move on. Homes, places where people live and have lives, should always be treated differently with different criteria, so that the people living there can really live there. Real Lives – that’s what we want. It’s what attracts me to Aminas (along with the perfect fried eggs and the wonderful people-window…) and what everyone deserves whether we need support or not. And frankly, if we don’t need support today tomorrow could be a different story. Would you give up your Real Life because you needed help to wash and dress or support to shop?

Real Lives for Real People. Now that’s what I call Living.

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