Taking Back (remote) Control

After what seems like months in which the Old Man’s attention has been mostly directed inwards, toward the floor or in anticipation of the next and perhaps endless sleep, he suddenly asks for the TV remote control. Or to be precise, a lesson in how to use it.

The thing was glued to his palm once, to have lost all sense of how it works is troubling but being interested in using it is encouraging. Less so perhaps for Mum who has enjoyed the relative calm and televisual autonomy his apparent decline had enabled. Suddenly he’s back and curious and keen again. Let’s not get in the way of that, even if does mean watching High Noon first thing in the morning every day for the rest of our lives.

An inspection of the remote reveals the buttons are worn blank and down to nubs from his relentless pressing (Mum favours the traditional channels and so has no use for the more elaborate control). Dad is not only back, but he wants the full digital dominion.

I try and use it, but it won’t even work for me except by applying the kind of pressure from your thumb that could shatter a walnut. I order a new one. Try and step him through it. This button means pause—

“I have no memory.” He announces, matter-of-factly. OK. “Could you write it down?”

blade runner
“Lemme tell you about my mother…”

There is less than zero benefit in running some cognitive Blade Runner test on him. What I do instead is count calmly through my frustration. I am, or was, momentarily pleased with myself for getting a new remote, “stunning high definition back at your fingertips.” Now this achievement, like so many others, has vanished into  the swamp of fresh (and ancient) problems. Also, I am supposed to be going out.

I bought a printer (with their money: twenty seven quid, and I’m hedging that we won’t be around long enough for the mark up on the ink to kick in and wipe out any savings) especially for these moments when lack of neural power is invoked as a means to do or grasp less. Notes are better than verbal statements here. I print out an image of the remote and draw lines connecting each button to its function. Whilst I am at it I also cancel a diabetic eye appointment he has decided he doesn’t want to go to. Blindness now being preferable to getting out of the house, it seems. You end up not questioning this stuff. No point dying of frustration before the end of their ride. We’ve come too far together for that.

I hand him the paper and tell him the appointment is cancelled. He squints at the printout and the remote control. “I can’t see anything,” he says. Maybe you should go to that eye appointment, is what I want to say, but instead we step though the remote, and the paper.

“Isn’t there some appointment we have to cancel?” Interrupts Mum. I go to the kitchen briefly. When I come back Dad has got the TV working. Or at least a paused image of Hugh Edwards.

“Why is he on?” says Mum, annoyed. “It isn’t time for the news.”

Indeed. Dad is paused in a recording. We work through it. “We’ve seen this!” Says Mum. Yeah, well it is a recording. She sneers at the screen. She never did like the idea of seeing something twice. We were the last people in the world to own a video recorder. “This is an exact replica of yesterday!” She announces. Tell me about it.

“I understand!” says Dad, stabbing all the wrong buttons, putting aside the instructions. Grease and crumbs already on the paper.

sky remote

“Where are your glasses?” I ask, this seeming central to the problem, seeing the remote itself is now pristine. “Upstairs,” he says. “I don’t know.” He hasn’t been upstairs in over a year.  That’s about all I can take. I have had my coat on for long enough in anticipation of leaving that in the heat of the lounge I am almost on the point of fainting. Hugh Edwards shimmers in the corner like a mirage. Time to leave.

It’s raining. I am moving through town, drinking in fresh air and freedom when Dad phones. “What button do I press?” I can’t see you and it’s raining; I explain. “Oh,” he says, something in his tone suggesting that neither ought really to be an obstacle to him seeing what he wants on television. I say we’ll sort it out when I get home.

I get the control thing. With so much gone by the wayside the tiniest dominion must be madly tempting. The urge to manage something meaningful dashed against the reality of one’s impotence. The world outside indifferent, you in your chair, a network of cells you don’t even manage any more and few die-hard, hand-picked loyalists in the cave to do your biscuit bidding. The Bin Laden of bugger all.

I get back in and the TV is working fine. He’s cracked it. “Can we cancel that eye appointment?” He asks for the millionth time. As ever though the appointment I must cancel is with my own reaction. To run the world inside us, not the household, or the country. That is real control, I’m told.

See you in Control!:


Some of you have been kind enough to get in touch and ask if we were OK in light of the recent lack of posts. I am happy, and amazed, to report that yes, everyone is alive and well (or the nonagenarian version of well) at present.

The real reason I haven’t been posting so much is because in any spare time I have been working full tilt on a book! You can read more about this life and sanity saving turn of events here.


So in 2121 there will be much more to see, if a little less up here between now and then.  Thank you all for your support and your enthusiasm which is what persuaded me to take this next step, as well as everyone at Picador for getting involved.



4 thoughts on “Taking Back (remote) Control

  1. So pleased that you can channel it all into a book – a book which will be an excellent companion to all children of the unravelling elderly – your sanity will be theirs!


  2. Welcome back! I recall getting a universal remote for my dad and the agonies we went through, so well described in this piece. Good luck with the project.


  3. Lovely to see you back in my inbox and how exciting a book! I’ve started to keep a diary, it keeps me sane and it’s a good record of the slow, slow and sometimes very quick changes dementia brings. God I hate dementia.


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