Saturday 7 July 2012

I Shall Wear Purple

"76 year old female, dizzy spells"

There is one thing that never ceases to amaze me in this job and that is the characters that I meet. Sure, there are idiots in the world; there are also time wasters, hypochondriacs, grumpy people, angry people, rude people and ill people, but there are just as many people that make my day. They may not be ill, they may not necessarily need an ambulance, but they are polite, funny and interesting. I had spent the morning with the aforementioned  idiots; every single patient I had seen had been rude, ignorant and a complete drain on resources. I needed a pensioner to cheer me up. I think it's a generation thing. Their generation was formed on respect. They are more often than not happy to see you, grateful for your presence and forever apologising for wasting our time. Over and over again I tell them they are not and it is an absolute pleasure to be with them. 

We arrived at the house, let ourselves in via the key safe and shouted the usual 'hello, ambulance' as we entered. Our patient was sitting in her armchair, the broadest of smiles met us as we approached. To say she had a wacky outfit would be an understatement. She was wearing a green skirt with pink and white polka-dot tights underneath. On top she had a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and a purple suit jacket with shoulder pads. Her glasses were similar to that of Dame Edna Everage and her hair was a pale yellow, styled like GI Jane! I started asking the usual questions to ascertain what was wrong with her but she quickly changed the subject:

"Do you like my outfit?"

"It's certainly a lot more fun than mine!"

"There is no point in being boring is there?!"

"This is very true!"

"My daughter hates it, she is embarrassed to take me out! What a prude"

"I'll take you out then!"

"I'll hold you to that! I was so fed up of my clothes being boring, you see of these fashion sorts on the box, there are no rules saying that just because you are old you can't wear what you want"

"Very true, why the hell not eh?!"

"When my husband died I decided I would never look like a bore again, so I wear what I want when I want."

"Good for you!"

She pointed at the wall opposite and told us to have a read. On the wall, in a frame was a poem by Jenny Joseph. She told us that she read it, loved it and has lived by it ever since. We both stood and starred:

When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

As I turned back around to her she said:

"I've been practicing, now i'm a master of it! If you don't like me in purple, tough!"

This is why I love my job. You just wouldn't meet people like this stuck in an office. She wasn't that ill, she'd had a couple of dizzy spells and had called NHS direct. She didn't want to go to hospital so we referred her to her GP. Obviously that had to be done over tea and biscuits. She was an incredibly proud woman; proud of her appearance and proud of her home. Her look may not be everyone's cup of tea but it doesn't have to be. This was her time to rebel against the norm and 'step away from the mundane' and she was doing so in style and with a smile. As she said, 'two fingers up to anyone who poo poos me'! Priceless!


  1. brilliant, I hope I'm the same at that age,
    Joy xx

  2. I'd not heard of that poem before but what a great sentiment. Fair play to the old girl, who says you have to grow old gracefully!

    1. She said she wanted to grow old disgracefully!

  3. That is my most favourite poem in the world. And I will be living by it as if they are RULES.

    1. Please post photos! As the first generation of internet friendly pensioners in will be interesting to see what happens!

  4. I was in London a month ago and saw about 20 ladies of a certain age all wearing purple, with red hats that didn't go and didn't suit them! Living the dream

  5. lololo I love that poem. I've read it before & agree totally. One of the things we used to say in the call center and in the control room was that we would be so bad when we get old. I plan on ringing 999 & singing down the phone at the operators (I've had many of these calls- some of them were dreadful, some not so bad), I shall insist on seeing lovely bobbies just to have some company, (had these too). They make a welcome change from the normal time wasters who complain that their human rights have been violated cos they're pissed and can't get into a club to get their coat back (had that one too) or one of my personal favorites- on New Years Day- 'the neighbours are hoovering and they've been hoovering for AGES!'...

    I plan on being an embarrassment to my family & to do wild things. In my family when my uncle hit 60, he took up potholing and cave rescue, my mum took up abseiling and other mad things for charity. God only knows what I'll do, but I'm looking forward to it :-)

    1. I think it is our duty ti continue embarrassing our kids for as long as possible! Why change the habit of a lifetime!

  6. I met a fabulous old woman in the opticians the other day. She pretended to pinch the optician's bottom, told me I had a "beautiful face" and once they'd given her her new glasses she said "right that's me off to wetherspoons to get pissed and show off my sexy specs. Walk behind me so I can fall on you if I fall over will you lovey...?"

  7. LOVE this! When I am an old woman *I* shall wear purple too! This poem is on my mum's wall and as she gets older she gets closer and closer to becoming the woman I have always imagined when I read the poem.

  8. Great post. Thanks for sharing this lovely poem.

    My caveat is that, if you've ever been sectioned, you kinda have less leeway with the wacky behaviour. Things that, in this dear old bird, we all consider to be delightful eccentricities and an expression of independence earned by a lifetime of hard work and conformity are not viewed that way by the world of psychiatry.

    Check out the mental status exam if you want to see what I mean. Things like hair colour and clothing are specifically noted, and even used as indications of psychiatric disorders.

    So, bearing in mind the local psychiatric hospital has my number and the local coppers have s.136 up their sleeves, I think I will have to conform for a while longer. I'll have to wear weather-appropriate clothing, have a culturally-appropriate hair colour, keep food in my cupboards and keep my house clean for the psychiatric domicillary visits. And I will have to make sure I don't draw attention to myself in the streets.

    I am, however, looking forward to the time when there's sufficient distance between me and my section so I can start practising for my purple hair days.

    1. Good point! This is true! I have said before our paperwork is marked. If the patient has a diagnosed psychiatric problem there is a list of criteria we have to write down on paperwork to get 100%. Included in that is 'describe patients appearance' which is odd! It doesn't account for eccentrics! Though it also says we must 'assess their thoughts'. Sadly my psychic powers are not all that so I get marked down! I look forward to you being allowed to grow old disgracefully!

  9. I've sent this to my mum, who loves this poem and has been threatening to live it ever since she first read it, just to let her know I'll never be embarrassed if she decides to dress that way (although she's always been far more stylish than me!) Great blog, as always.



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