Best Exotic Marigold Hotel author Deborah Moggach on the perils of late life care
PUBLISHED: 10:21 03 July 2019
Ahead of her July 9 talk at Keats Community Library the Kentish Town authors tells how her mother’s difficult last years inspired her social comedy The Carer
Deborah Moggach's mother Charlotte Hough "famously went to prison for helping an old lady to die".
Small wonder that the issue of late life care has worked its way into her writing.
2004's These Foolish Things - which became the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - imagined outsourcing our retirees to India.
Her latest novel The Carer, "a social comedy with dark themes," is inspired by Charlotte's difficult death from dementia, but like her previous book asserts that life certainly doesn't stop for the elderly.
It follows the arrival of Mandy to care for an ailing Professor James - and the effect on his resentful offspring.
When Charlotte became ill, Deborah and her sister engaged a trio of Irish women to tend to her.
"After a fall, we were visiting her at the Royal Free and saw a lovely Irish woman massaging the feet of another patient," she says.
"I took her phone number and she came with her two Irish friends to live in my mother's house in Kentish Town and look after her round the clock. I lived opposite, and we entered into this really interesting relationship with these women whose surnames we never knew. There were no proper references, it was all cash in hand."
Like James' children Robert and Phoebe, Moggach found her feelings towards Charlotte's carers was complicated.
"They were doing the dirty work that I wasn't doing, and while I was incredibly grateful, I was also resentful that they were costing so much and turning my mother into their creature, infantilising her. She seemed to enoy their company - but it was like parents who are jealous of the nanny.
"At the begining and end of our liees we entrust our beloved possessions into the care of others and are critical of the way they are doing it.
"It's your fault for trying to have a life and a career and not do what one daughter would always have done, seeing out the ailing parents."
Moggach relishes the comic class clash as James prefers Mandy's company over his neurotic children.
"This distinguished old pensioner starts enjoying scratch cards, eating at Nandos, taking trips to Bicester Village outlet and visiting hedgehog sanctuaries, I had a lot of fun with it," she says.
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"It's a new lease of life for this rather lonely man who is enjoying the jolly, uncomplicated company of Mandy from Solihul with her sturdy legs, Marigold gloves and nodding dog in her car."
"James lives in one of those dead Cotswold villages that only come alive at weekends when people from Notting Hill arrive in their Porsche Cayennes with mutinous teens and Waitrose bags. As a people person Mandy discovers all sorts happening in the village."
She also had fun with the middle-aged angst of siblings who start to suspect Mandy of having a sinister agenda.
Phoebe is an unsuccessful painter in an inappropriate sexual relationship with an old hippy who lives in the woods, and her brother writes unsuccessful novels in the big house in Wimbledon he shares with his beautiful TV newreader wife.
"They and in their sixties and both felt neglected by their brilliant charming father and their chilly mother who gave up her own promising studies to bring them up resentfully. There are a lot of people in NW still in therapy in their 60s, banging on about how their fathers didn't come to sports day. I mean call an amnesty and move on!"
"Churning underneath" is the issue that saw Samaritans volunteer Charlotte jailed in 1985 for assisting the death of a desperately ill woman.
"My generation wants to have control over our death," says Moggach. "It's not this dirty secret any more, people talk about death openly nowadays, there are death cafes, we hug and talk about cancer. One of my mother's carers was having a sexy affair with a baggage handler at Luton airport who sent her explicit texts.
"I thought how much nicer for my mum to be surrounded by life and sex and laughter rather than doom - she used to get the giggles. We had some larky times."
When Charlotte died in 2009 it came as relief rather than grief.
"My mother had been drifting further away from me, she started not being able to recognise me and was getting closer to the carers. Even her face changed. I had said goodbye a long time ago.
The carers came to the funeral then after three years they were no longer in our lives, they slipped away and disappeared."
After a long spell in Hampstead then Wales, the ex-Camden School for girls pupil is back in Queen's Crescent near her son and not far from her novelist daughter Lottie.
"I loved having chickens and swimming in the ponds but Hampstead wasn't ever quite my place, I am more of a Kentish Town girl and love being back in my hood," she says.
Her next task is turning Best Exotic into a stage play for the Chichester Festival Theatre - creating some juicy parts for older actors.
"Yes! they love parts where they are not having to die! I am terribly proud of that book, which set a huge trend in how we look at older people - they have just the same loves and complexities, they're just more wrinkly. People think you should be put out to grass, but I am 70 now and just the same as I ever was on the inside."
Deborah Moggach gives a fundraising talk at Keats Community Library on July 9. keatscommunitylibrary.co.uk
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