I wrote and performed in this sketch in the early 1990s – aided by a fairly willing colleague – at a volunteers’ party given by the branch of Age Concern (now Age UK) where I was then working. At that time the community care legislation was sometimes used by councils as an excuse for cutting services. Similar things are happening now, except that these days poor Mrs Crumbling would probably get even less and have to pay a lot more for it – and of course many of the services have been privatised.
SHIRLEY EAGLESTAR [SOCIAL WORKER]: (coming in in a great rush, with a Filofax in one hand and a huge bag in the other) Mrs Crumbling? Mrs Agnes Crumbling?
MRS CRUMBLING: Yes, dear?
SHIRLEY: I’m the social worker, Shirley Eaglestar. Do you remember I wrote to you about four months ago and said I might come today if I could?
MRS CRUMBLING: (tottering on Zimmer frame) Well, no. I can’t actually say as I do. What was it about?
SHIRLEY: (puts down bag in front of frame, then struggles round it to help Mrs C) Just a minute, let me help you sit down. You’re very lucky, you know. I can spare you nearly a quarter of an hour. I’ve only got fifteen more visits this afternoon. (General confusion, with both of them manoeuvring round bag, frame and chair until Mrs C is sat down.)
MRS CRUMBLING: It’s very kind of you to come, dear. I think I did say to the doctor about a year back I could do with some help. You’re not here to do the cleaning, are you? Only they stopped the home help and I can’t do it myself like I used to.
SHIRLEY: No, I’m afraid I can’t possibly do that. Not my job. And you know there isn’t time or money these days for luxuries.
MRS CRUMBLING: Oh well, I suppose the council knows best. Not that I’d call that a luxury. Cleanliness is next to godliness, my mother used to say.
SHIRLEY: Yes, well times have changed and I’m sorry to say God didn’t get re-elected.
MRS CRUMBLING: What? You’re not from one of those funny religions, are you, trying to convert people?
SHIRLEY: No, no, no. I’ve come with your community care package. (Lifts up bag with great difficulty.) After a thorough assessment, which I’ve just made–
MRS CRUMBLING (looking puzzled): What’s that, dear?
SHIRLEY: –we are pleased to be able to offer you a comprehensive multi-disciplinary package of care, designed to meet the needs of differing individuals within an increasingly frail client group.
MRS CRUMBLING: Sorry, dear, you’ll have to excuse me. My hearing’s not too good these days. Only I still don’t understand what it is you’ve come about. Are you collecting for the jumble? That’s such a big bag for you to carry.
SHIRLEY: Oh, that’s all right. I’ve delivered six of these today already. No, Mrs Crumbling. As I was explaining, this is your community care package.
MRS CRUMBLING: Oh, you mean it’s for me. Like a Christmas hamper. How lovely; they are kind. And what’s it got in it, dear? Would you like a cup of tea, if I’ve got any left? Nobody’s got me any shopping for four weeks now. But perhaps there’ll be a packet of tea in that nice parcel.
SHIRLEY: I doubt it. And anyway I haven’t got time for cups of tea. We’re not allowed to make social calls.
MRS CRUMBLING: Oh, what a shame. You’re the first person I’ve seen for three weeks or more.
SHIRLEY (very businesslike): So I’ll just tell you what we’ve brought in the package, then.
MRS CRUMBLING: (smiles eagerly).
SHIRLEY: How long was it since they stopped your meals on wheels?
MRS CRUMBLING: About a couple of months, I think. I’ve stopped eating a lunch now, otherwise the food doesn’t last me. Still, I needed to lose a bit of weight.
SHIRLEY: Well, you won’t have to worry now. (Delves in bag and pulls out a pile of sandwiches wrapped in plastic.) You’ll get these delivered once a week.
MRS CRUMBLING: Thank you. What are they?
SHIRLEY (getting impatient): Sandwiches. For your lunch. Nice ham sandwiches.
MRS CRUMBLING: I’m sorry, I don’t eat ham. I’ve been a vegetarian for over fifty years. Could you get me cheese instead?
SHIRLEY: No. This is what you get. If you don’t like the ham you’ll just have to take it out. They say bread is quite nutritious, and it is brown bread. Oh, and you also get these. (Pulls out large bottle of vitamin tablets.) Just so they can’t say we’re not feeding you properly. Why don’t you put them in the sandwiches instead of the ham? That would make them a bit more filling. (Ticks off item in Filofax.)
MRS CRUMBLING: In the sandwiches?
SHIRLEY: (briskly) Now, what else have we got? Oh yes, bathing. When was the last time you had a bath? (writing in Filofax)
MRS CRUMBLING: Oh, I haven’t been able to get in the bath for over three years now, and I couldn’t manage a shower. I used to be able to wash myself all right but now I can’t even do that. And to think I always used to be so particular. Can you send anyone to help bath me? I hate having to ask, but what can I do?
SHIRLEY: I’m afraid social baths are another luxury these days–
MRS CRUMBLING: But I never had a bath from the Social. I always did it myself, like I said.
SHIRLEY: (getting impatient again) The NHS can’t go bathing people when there’s nothing wrong with them; they haven’t the time. I’m sure you can make do if you try. (Fishes in bag again, pulls out a long-handled bath brush, a stick of deodorant and a can of air-freshener.) Here you are. (Hands them to Mrs C.)
MRS CRUMBLING: Thank you, dear. That’s very nice. What’s it for?
SHIRLEY: Well, you use the brush for washing yourself, of course. It’s got a nice long handle so you won’t need anyone else to help you. And… well… if you can’t wash, you’ll have to use these. (Points to deodorant and air-freshener.) We just have to manage as best we can.
MRS CRUMBLING: (looking dubious) But I can’t get to the bathroom, I fall over. And my frame’s broken.
SHIRLEY: We can soon mend that. (Takes out roll of parcel tape, grasps hold of frame and winds tape round.) There we are. That’ll do.
MRS CRUMBLING: Is that safe?
SHIRLEY: Oh, and if you can’t get to the bathroom we can give you these. (Pulls out an incontinence pad.) One should last you quite some time if you recycle it carefully. Or you might get a few more delivered, if you’re lucky.
MRS CRUMBLING: That’s not very hygienic. What about Health and Safety? I think I’d rather do without, thank you all the same.
SHIRLEY: I shouldn’t take that attitude. These aids are designed to increase your self-respect. (Looks at Filofax.) So that’s meals, bathing, equipment repairs, continence management. Now the cleaning. If there’s no emergencies and no sick leave, we should be able to get you a home help once a month to do the shopping, so with the sandwiches you’ll be all right there. The cleaning… probably once a year, but someone will come in every six weeks or so just to empty the rubbish. (Gropes inside bag.) Now, here’s your supply of black bags and a clip to put them on your chair, so you don’t drop things all over the floor.
MRS CRUMBLING: (finally rebelling) But I don’t want a bag of rubbish on my chair. It smells.
SHIRLEY: Well, we have supplied you with the air freshener so you may as well use it.
MRS CRUMBLING: I can’t. It gives me the asthma.
SHIRLEY: (Pulls out a long-handled feather duster and hands it to Mrs C.)
MRS CRUMBLING: (looking more and more dismayed) And what’s that for?
SHIRLEY: So you can do your cleaning in between times. It’s been specially adapted for use by the disabled, so you can just get in your wheelchair and whizz round the flat with it.
MRS CRUMBLING: They never got me a wheelchair, they said it was cut. And anyway I can’t lift my arms. So what am I supposed to do with it?
SHIRLEY: I do think sometimes people could be more adaptable. Use your ingenuity; that’s what the council have done.
MRS CRUMBLING: (Puts feather duster down beside chair, where it falls over.)
SHIRLEY: (looking up from Filofax) Now, careful what you do with that. We’re not allowed to create safety hazards… (thinking) Which brings me to my next thing…
MRS CRUMBLING: (with some trepidation) Yes?
SHIRLEY: It’ll probably be about two years or so before I can get round to see you again and, as I say, we never know when the other services are going to be cut… So for your own protection I’d like you to have one of these. (Takes out large leaflet marked ‘Funeral Plan’.) The council can’t afford to bury people any more, you know, so before we take anyone on we have to make sure that we’ve covered ourselves – I mean, that you’ve covered yourself – in case of emergency. And in there it also explains how you can’t sue us because we’re carrying out our duty of care.
MRS CRUMBLING: But if I was dead I couldn’t sue you anyway. Sounds as though I might be better off dead, from what you’ve been telling me.
SHIRLEY: (with exaggerated sympathy) Now Mrs Crumbling, that’s no way to talk. Just think of all that the council are doing for you. Which brings me to the final thing. (Fishes out another leaflet entitled ‘How You Can Save Your Council Money’.) I’m sure that after everything we’ve given you, you’ll want to do your bit and help us as much as you can. So we’re asking you to give us just a little extra money with every rent or Council Tax payment. That’ll help us cover our costs in having to collect it from you. The booklet gives you lots of other ideas too, like doubling your heating charge when the radiators aren’t working – that’s a very popular one. (Hands her the leaflet, which Mrs C puts straight in the black bag.)
MRS CRUMBLING: Is that all you’ve got for me? I thought it was going to be like Christmas, you coming with your great big bag.
SHRLEY: And hasn’t it been? Just think how much better off you are now than you were before.
MRS CRUMBLING: I don’t understand. The council people must have some funny ideas.
SHIRLEY: Well, that’s what the government say they want us to do. (Shuts Filofax with a bang, looks at watch and picks up bag.) I’m afraid I’ve given you sixteen minutes already, Mrs Crumbling, so I’ll really have to go. Bye bye now. Take care.
MRS CRUMBLING: (Gets up to see her out and wobbles on frame.)
SALLY: So sorry I can’t stop now. I’ve delivered your care package and you’ve got all your services. If you fall over you could try calling an ambulance. There may be one available.
MRS CRUMBLING: (Falls back into chair and groans.)