My mother was 81 when she moved into her new bungalow. She had a knee replacement soon after dad died having been putting it off while he was ill. Never one to exercise or indeed do anything that might be considered ‘good’ for you if it didn’t fit her own current ideal of what was ‘good’ she wasn’t especially mobile. In designing the refurbishment I managed to persuade her to have a wet room installed which, despite reservations, she loved. No steps into the shower and a seat to perch on as she abluted. ‘Yes, darling, it has been a good move.’
If that was a plus the other item I persuaded her to include was less successful. The video entrance system. The concept is, of course, simple and the technology well-tried and tested. From the start she didn’t like it.
‘I really didn’t like his attitude. He wouldn’t look at the camera.’
‘It’s stopped working altogether. Waste of money. I expect it’s German.’
This last comment came some two months after she moved in. On my next visit I promised to look at it. When I asked what was wrong she told me she couldn’t hear what they were saying. And she couldn’t see the visitors at all.
I checked the sound; after a while I realised the volume was turned right down. I asked mum. ‘I need to lean in close and it makes my deaf aid fizz so I fiddled with it until the fizz went.’
Feedback. I spoke to the company and they started by suggesting I tell my mother to stand further away. In the end they agreed they would send someone to try to sort it out. Better that than I try to explain.
As for the picture, the camera was pointing down so, indeed all you could see was the bottom half of any visitor. I adjusted it and showed mum. She nodded but remained non-committal.
I asked her a few days later, after the technician came, if it was still alright. ‘The man sorted out the feedback. I just need to stand back a little or get them to speak up. I’m surprised they didn’t tell you that. It would have saved them coming out.’
‘Good. And the picture?’
‘Oh that. It’s gone again. I think the camera must be loose.’
Well she had sound, at least. I’d sort the camera out next time, see if I could fix it in place.
I was visiting, unusually on a weekday some couple of months later when the doorbell went. Mum was in the hall so went to the front door. I stood in the kitchen door, drying my hands. To my surprise mum opened the door on some utility man. ‘You need to speak up. In there.’ She pointed at the external fitting and shut the door. Then and only then she pressed the intercom. ‘Yes? Who is it?’
The surprised utility man said, ‘Gas madam.’
‘The meter is round the side. Thank you.’
Mum turned to face me. ‘What are you laughing at?’
‘Do you really do that for all visitors or was that just to show me how useless my idea was?’
She maybe grinned a little as she walked past me. ‘Don’t be silly darling. If I knew who it was I wouldn’t close the door on them, would I? Tea? Orange polenta cake?’
I didn’t give a lot of thought to the camera and it’s constantly drooping lens. Mum wasn’t taking the intercom seriously after all. Then we went out for the day, to a garden centre and bought some bags of topsoil or similar. So, unusually, mum went to the front door to let herself in while I pulled the bags from the boot. Normally, as a well-trained young man I would have done the door opening bit.
Something made me watch. I had fixed the camera on my arrival the day before. As she approached the door she rummaged for her keys. She pulled them out and looked up. Even though her back was to me I knew what that depression of the shoulders meant: disapproval. She reached out with her free hand and pressed on the entrance camera before opening the door.
When I got inside I asked about what she’d done.
‘It’s awful. That mirror thingy makes me look like Ken Dodd after he’s done his tax return. I just moved it a little.’
‘So you move it?’
‘You know that’s why the camera only shows the visitor’s shoes/’
‘Darling, it’s bad enough seeing myself in that thing but I can’t have my friends being forced to go through that. They’ll think I can see them looking distorted when they come to the front door. It might work with your friends but, really, it’s simple not on.’
The next year, when the renewal contract came in, we filed it under ‘pending’. It remained pending.