This is a story I wrote a few years ago and put on Shortbread Stories. It's based on my experiences working in an NHS day care centre many years ago. I'm sure things have changed hugely in the intervening years. At least I hope so...
Shortbread Stories is sadly neglected these days. It's a shame.
Short Story: Suzy Day Care: Why Bother Waxing If You're Not Going To Get A Spray Tan?
“Dave “Call Me Dave” Dave’s on Twitter you know. He’s joined the rest of us jaded fucking pervs.”
Suzy’s head snapped up from her paperwork as quick as a shot bolt. “ Jaded fucking pervs? Speak for yourself Willie. I’m not a jaded fucking perv and neither is Dave Dave. We're both highly-trained, professional professionals. I bet he's on it for some worthy professional reason, like trying to raise the profile of mental health. Or lower it or something. Fighting stigma and that. In fact it’s probably a research project. I’m only surprised he hasn’t mentioned it to me, but I’m not at all offended or upset by his choice. It’s entirely up to him who he confides in, as a professional. In whom he confides, sorry. As a professional. And if he’s not confided in me I’m sure he has a very good reason. What with him being professional and that.”
The sneaky, lying toad, thought Suzy, pretending to have a coughing fit in order to hide her furious expression. On Twitter indeed. Without telling ME! Thinks he’s so right-on and trendy, and he gets it SO butt-fucking wrong by the way. Especially with his clothes. Rocking up to the morning meetings in his boring shabby chic Gap cords and a boring Aran cable knit in winter, and boring Gap chinos in summer. And that over-sized Oasis hoodie that he wore to the open day with those tiny football shorts was just an embarrassment. It looked like he had nothing on at all, on his bottom half. I’m sure he waxes his entire body. His legs were like lard. Why bother waxing if you’re not going to get a spray tan? The style-challenged, 1990s throwback. What a plum. I still fancy him though. I’d love to see him in a leather jacket with a plain white T and designer jeans, and sculpted hair, and maybe a pair of geeky specs. I should be his stylist! I do like his Timberland boots. And he smells lovely. I saw moisturiser and shaving gel in his man-bag last week! Not that I was looking or anything but he just happened to leave it open on the desk while he went to the toilet. He bought me a coffee in the canteen a week past Tuesday. So why the FUCK am I the last to know about this fucking Twitter account? This will not fucking do. I’m fucking livid!”
“Nope, it’s nothing to do with work Suzy. He just seems to like a laugh and that. His Twitter name is @Psychoman2, if you’re interested.” Health Care Assistant Willie Dick flicked his fag ash into the daffodil border and glanced inadvertently at the grubby white Primark towelling socks peeping from between his one-size-too-small chinos and his worn, be-tassled Stead & Simpson slip-on loafers. He’d pulled the socks from the wash-pile that morning; he knew they smelled but he reckoned nobody would notice unless they sat really close and in any case if they did, he could always blame it on a service user. He was outside, addressing his remarks through the duty room window while he enjoyed a smoke in the Spring sunshine prior to the Monday morning Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain Memorial Mental Health Day Care Centre for the Criminally Insane staff ‘n’ service user meeting. Suzy was indoors sitting at her desk with her favourite “Squishy-squashy” shoulder-bag on her lap, knocking back her third coffee and tidying printed sheaves of A4 into a ring-backed binder labelled “Creative Group Work: Revisiting the Revolving Door”. Her eyes, outlined in turquoise kohl and three coats of Ginnel No. 3 “Clag-free” Electric Blue mascara, glowed in the white light of the computer screen in front of her. She reached into her bag for her 1950s vintage-style vanity mirror and flipped it open to check she wasn’t looking too puffy after necking two bottles of Value Label Cava, a mega-bag of hot ‘n’ spicy tortilla chips and six crème eggs last evening while lounging in bed watching the box set of Sex and the City in her leopard print onesie and spying on people’s Twitter timelines on the Samsung tablet that she’d got free with her latest Android phone.
“I’m not interested Willie. Why would I be interested in someone who clearly has no interest in me, albeit for reasons incomprehensible to me and anyone else with a semi-functioning brain, but which are obviously paramount in importance to himself? Although I must say I like his Twitter handle. It's miles better than yours. @Biggus_Dickus, Willie- I mean really...” she replied, squinting as she applied some concealer to a spot that was developing under her left nostril; she reckoned it wouldn’t come to a head for a day or two, but with Dave “Call Me Dave” Dave due in at any second, she wanted to be sure. Belt and braces, as her beloved dad would say. Or fanny pad and tampon, as Bigboy Ted, the rather less beloved hospital porter and Union Rep. would say - generally with a horrible and fairly terrifying leer.
Call Me Dave reckoned that Ted was overcompensating with the leering and aggressively sexual remarks because he was an ex-coal-miner traumatised by Thatcher’s emasculation of the unions in the 1980s. Everyone else merely considered him a creep. People said the only reason he hadn’t been sacked years ago was because he knew where the bodies were buried. And he’d probably been the one who buried them, as he would freely admit to anyone brave or bored enough to listen.
Several people said they liked his politically incorrect manner, but they were mostly Ted’s favourites, for whom he smuggled in cigarettes and pretty much anything else they wanted, in the huge metal heated dinner trolleys that he laboriously wheeled round the hospital every lunch-time; they were in the extra-stringently secure stringently secure unit and were unlikely ever to get out except under the heaviest sedation and the most stringently secure security.
“He’s quite the card is our Dave,” Willie continued, “His account was locked for a while so I didn’t know he was there till he started fucking following me. I followed back, then he DMd me…”
“He DMd you? He DMd you?”
“Fuck off. Oops,” Suzy was forgetting herself. As Charge Nurse of the Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain Memorial Mental Health Day Care Centre, it was her role to rebuke Willie about his foul language rather than joining in with it herself. Mind you, he’d been counselled about it three times and was on his second verbal warning, and it had made no impact on his behaviour whatever. She was beginning to wonder if he might have some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, or maybe Tourettes Syndrome. Perhaps she should ask Call Me Dave. It would be a good excuse to get him on his own. The two of them, pub lunch maybe, couple of drinks – back to hers for “pudding”, perhaps.
“What did he say?” Suzy tried to sound casual but her eyes narrowed, and she tugged at her dyed blonde fringe, a tendency she had when she was nervous or excited. Which was most of the time. And most especially when Dave “Call Me Dave” Dave was around.
“Oh, hi, thanks for the follow or something, yeah. Nothing much. The usual fucking shite. There’s a whole group of us now, all tweeting back and forth with Dave. It’s a right laugh. Why don’t you log on now and have a fucking look?”
“I’m sure it sounds lovely Willie, but I couldn’t possibly,” sniffed Suzy, dragging herself back into Charge Nurse mode. “I’ve got loads of paperwork and stuff to do before the morning meeting. You know how I always like to stay ahead of the game and quietly keep things running smoothly for others without them asking me or me expecting a thank you or a box of choccies and maybe some smellies and a Next voucher and some decent Markies’ fizz at Christmas or anything like that. Oh, and when you’ve finished your ciggie for God’s sake don’t nick it – your fingers are quite yellow enough as it is. Which reminds me - pick a few daffs while you’re out there, and stick ‘em in a jar or something on top of the Wurlitzer. Cheer the place up a bit for the punters. We don’t want them complaining to their carers and slash or rellies that we’re not seasonal. Oh no maybe not the Wurlitzer – someone might knock ‘em over and electrocute themselves. Put them on a high shelf out of reach. No don’t do that either – they might fall off and land on someone’s head. On second thoughts don’t bother with daffs at all Willie. They’re much too dangerous. Just make sure the downstairs loo is locked. We don’t want Edie blocking it again with one of her Monday morning number twos. We’re not on a main drain here.”
“What if she needs to fucking go? And she will Suzy. You know she saves it up all weekend so she can use our soft toilet paper. We have to have a downstairs facility available for the disabled. And Edie’s disabled. Technically. It’s the fucking law. Isn’t it?” added Willie doubtfully.
“I don’t know and I don’t fucking care,” said Suzy, tossing her head, “’Scuse my language. I don’t like to rub it in but I’m not like you. You’re only – and I mean it in a nice way - a health care assistant. As the day centre charge nurse with a degree and that, I have to look at the bigger picture, i.e. the overall needs of the service, and a law’s only a law, Willie, if someone finds out you’ve broken it. I learned that at uni. What I’m saying is, I’ve risk-assessed Edie using the toilet, and I’ve done a care plan as a result of that, which is that for health and safety reasons she is not to get access to it, ever, and it is to remain locked at all times. Besides, Big-boy Ted says he’s not unblocking the lav. again unless he gets “extras” – you know what he’s like – and he can whistle for them. Here’s the master key,” she said, unhooking it from a heavily-loaded key-ring with a worn fob marked “Blackpool Pleasure Beach 2002”.
“Fine,” shrugged Willie, grinding his cigarette stub into the pock-marked windowsill and flicking it into the flower-bed, “You’re the boss. Just don’t expect me to clean anything fucking up.”
Suzy closed her vanity mirror with a snap and headed through to the day room. It was 8.59 a.m. and all the service users were seated in the customary circle in their customary chairs. Most were the orange plastic stacking kind, but there were also two worn chintz armchairs and a burst settee that had been gifted to the Centre along with the Wurlitzer and a bone china tea service by a retired hospital secretary from the Records Department, now closed. The tea service had been first prize in last year’s Christmas Raffle, but no-one had claimed it. It was now in the stationery cupboard, awaiting a Silent Auction.
“Good morning all!” trilled Suzy, aware that her three coffees hadn’t quite cleared last night’s Cava cobwebs from her throat. “What a glorious Monday morning! Hurrah for Spring!”
“Fuck off,” muttered service user Mags, a heavily-built woman of about forty with long black hair wearing a purple tie-dyed T-shirt, ill-fitting skinny jeans and a lot of silver jewellery depicting skulls. She was slumped on the settee with her arms folded. A battered pack of Amber Leaf tobacco protruded from her jeans pocket. Next to her sat Edie, the oldest service user at ninety three years of age and unwitting subject of the new toilet care plan. Edie had propped her walking frame against the end of the settee and was dunking a digestive into a mug of stewed tea.
“I’m making a positive decision not to challenge that,” said Suzy, as Dave burst in. “You’ve clearly had issues over the weekend Mags and you can share that with the group. I’m sure we’ll all be glad to offer our support. Good morning Dave. Or should I say evening.”
“Sorry I’m late!” said Dave, throwing himself into an armchair - the most battered, sunken one, with broken springs. “Ow-ya bastard – sorry everyone. Sorry.” He raised his left buttock and moved the cushion over to cover the protruding spring. “I couldn’t just nip out and make myself a coffee could I? My espresso machine’s on the blink.”
“Nobody’s allowed out of the room once the group starts Doctor,” said Edie through a mouthful of digestive biscuit.
“Can I ask about my meds. Doctor?” said Mags.
“Don’t call me Doctor, people! Call me Dave,” grinned Dave, wiping some of Edie’s sprayed digestive off his immaculate cream chinos. “We’re all equal here. All friends.”
“No you can’t Mags,” Suzy butted in, “We spoke about this before, remember? When it is and isn’t appropriate to ask about individual stuff? This is group time. It’s important that we all respect that and keep our own stuff till later.”
“Or never,” said Mags. “I never get to talk about my fucking stuff.”
“Neither do I. Where’s Willie?” asked Edie. “He’s my favourite staff.”
“Probably banging one out in the bogs, as usual,” said Mags.
“I should really have gone before the meeting started,” said Edie anxiously, “But the door was locked for some reason. I wonder if I could just…”
“Willie will be joining us in a moment. We’ll continue without him meanwhile,” said Suzy briskly, ignoring her. “Anyone want to take the minutes? No? Right I’ll do them as per usual.”
“I’ll do them,” offered Mags, “I’m a neat writer.”
“No Mags, because I’ve already said I’m doing them. Try to remember the social skills training we did last week – you wait till someone’s finished talking and THEN you reply. Now. Any items to add to today’s agenda?”
“Yes. How come it’s appropriate for me to share about my weekend and not appropriate for me to ask about my meds.?” asked Mags, truculently.
“Not appropriate Mags. We’ve already discussed that.“
“No we haven’t!”
“That’s enough Mags. I’m going to have to review your care package if you don’t stop this carry-on. Right. Let’s get started or we’ll never get out of here. I’ve put a special item on the agenda today. Poetry. I know none of you will have read any, except for birthday cards and that, but nevertheless I’ve asked a real live poet to come in and do poetry with you. It’s creative and it’ll do you all a power of good.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a user-led day centre,” said Mags after a silence, ”Person-centred it says on the leaflet. I don’t like poetry.”
“What DO you like?” asked Dave, with a poorly-veiled leer.
“Smoking, and drinking, and reading shiny magazines with lots of pictures in,” said Suzy. “She told me that when I did her initial assessment. Isn’t that right, Mags?”
“Pretty much. Only you forgot about the shagging and the pie-eating.”
“Well I’m sure that everyone else here agrees with me that we should give poetry a try so it starts this afternoon. Steve will be here at two sharp, and don’t be late. It’s rude.”
“Oh it’s not Smelly Steve!” groaned Mags. “He’s a washed-up actor who chunters on down the Brickie’s Arms every Saturday lunchtime before the footie starts. He does it for pints. Only nobody ever buys him one.”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Edie, ”I think it sounds rather fun!”
Suzy scribbled a few words on her notepad and then looked up brusquely. “Well if that’s everything? It is, isn’t it. Good. Now that group-work is over Edie can I remind you that it’s in your care plan that today’s your special individual self esteem day?”
“It is? How lovely! Do I get pampered?”
“No. You’ve to set the lunch tables and you’ve to do it quick. Life doesn't grind to a halt just because you're ninety three. Think of it as exercise for the mind AND that creaky old body. It will boost your self esteem through giving you a sense of achievement - if you manage to do it. Which you didn’t last week. We’d all to fetch our own cutlery, remember? And nobody was pleased. You’d better hurry up and get on with it because I can hear the distant rumbling of Big Boy Ted’s heated trolley and it’ll take you a while to get through to the dining-room with your zimmer. You don’t want to fail again.”
“May I visit the – “
“No Edie, you can't. Right everyone - 'til this afternoon then. And poetry."