Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Upstairs Downstairs

I am now in possession of a commode.
The gentleman to my left is perhaps not, but the picture captures something of the essence I feel surrounds the mere mention of the word.
I love words, much as I don't always love their meaning, or their reality.
Those who recall my aesthetic tendencies won't be surprised to learn that on receiving the news that a commode was considered necessary I indulged fanciful notions of decking out a corner of my back room with palms and aspidistras, seating myself regally upon something involving much wicker or fine inlaid woodwork and, ahem, a porcelain po.
But porcelain being somewhat heavy, and my po-carrying abilities somewhat reduced at present, my fearful imaginings of what could happen on the stairs on the way up to emptying it went into territory far more gruesome than I could bear.
Nevertheless (oh the predictability) something plastic and ugly arrived this week from social services. So very ugly, it can't possibly be pictured here. Something which really should not be graced with such a lovely word as commode (from both French for convenience and Latin commodius, which paradoxically means spacious and roomy - not to be confused with Commodus, a particularly nasty Roman Emperor. Also, further research reveals, a commode was a type of headgear worn by women in the 17th century. But I digress).
Did you spot the other paradox? The helfnsafety one?
A commode is useful to those who find reaching an upstairs loo difficult, or who cannot get from their bed or chair to a loo.
I have a commode because there is no downstairs loo here, and I am having to minimise time spent going up and down the stairs.
On the occasions I have had to use the commode, the po (well, okay, plastic bucket with lid and handle) has to be emptied. Whether plastic or porcelain, this poses something of a problem.
Getting a po to the only place where it can be emptied requires a certain person of limited strength and balance to navigate a set of stairs without both hands free to grab the bannister or lean on a wall for support.
In practice, there is therefore in my humble opinion a paradox in me being provided with a commode.
Why have one when you have to go upstairs anyway to empty it?
Less energy consumed on the stairs at points where energy may be utterly lacking, yes. But hugely increased risk to self climbing stairs to upstairs loo to empty the po. And yes, I do like the word po very much as well. It comes from the French pot de chambre, hence chamber pot.
The lady from social services helpfully pointed out that normally a carer would be the one to carry out such duties.
I politely pointed out that yes, I knew this.
There was a pause. Absence of carer noted. No way would I ever, ever expect my son to do it, even though (wonderful child) he offered in the blink of an eye, arguing that he had to do much the same at Scout camp. But without the stairs, I immediately thought. And yes, I will be writing a post on the subject of 'young carers' at some point. It's not a helpful label to give a child, in my opinion.
Mental note to consult advocate. This is why we are fighting for direct payment, so I can buy in my own help at home. Even if it's just someone to come in of an evening, help prepare a meal, empty the po, and go.
And so the commode has been consigned to the cupboard under the stairs, where occasionally I can be found looking out pondering a new perspective of the garden through the window opposite. Is it undignified? Should a youngish lady like myself be seated thus in a cupboard under the stairs?
Well, I think it's quite funny, especially when I reach for the flush that isn't there. And I am a veteran of many Guide camps myself, so do not mind going back to basics. If you have to po, you have to po.

Afterthought: I googled commodes as I wanted a picture of an antique one for this post. But the only antique ones that came up looked more like sideboards or chest of drawers. Which caused me great confusion.
Finally, after a little looking around I found an unexpected delight.
Some health bods in Canada have come up with handy hints for making life around the home a little easier. Now some of it is actually quite useful. Some of it quite hilarious. There is a section on converting a kitchen chair into a commode, complete with a 'pretty skirt'. Also, aviator shades with holes drilled in the centre...for applying eye drops. My favourite? The converted flying saucer complete with traffic cone centrepiece that doubles up as a handy revolving tray for all your electrical bedside implements. Yes, really. Laugh? I nearly...

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