Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bainbridge Abbey

I never thought that in helping to care for my parents, I'd be managing a staff of dozens. Since I am, does this mean that I can wear the fabulous clothes of Countess Cora Crawley of Downton Abbey as I supervise the housekeepers, caretakers, groundskeeper, nurses and cook? It seems only fitting that I should.

When Mom (Dowager Countess) and Dad (Earl of Bainbridge) moved into their apartment at Bainbridge Abbey in February, there were certain repairs that had to be made: a malfunctioning shower head, broken refrigerator door handle, etc. There has been an intermittently balky clothes dryer (it seems that birds nest in the vent), the installation of grab-bars and temperamental wi-fi service to be dealt with. It seems that every other week there is another little item that needs repair and follow up. Paul, the groundskeeper, and I are on a first-name basis, but I am thinking this should be in Carson's realm. I'll have to speak with him about that.This week, it's the dryer again. Damn those birds! I'll have to suggest a hunt.

The rent (hefty) for the apartment is supposed to include daily bed-making, rubbish removal and weekly cleaning. So far, rubbish removal has gone very smoothly.   The art of proper bed-making has eluded the young staff members who cheerfully arrive some days of the week to perform this duty. They would most certainly benefit from some instruction by Aunts Peace and Plenty. The Earl has taken to coaching them when he feels up to it, because he is an egalitarian sort. I have demonstrated hospital corners on occasion, but really, shouldn't Mrs. Hughes be handling the day-to-day instruction of the staff?

The cleaning has been sporadic at best, so I have had to go to Mrs. Hughes' stand-in and have a few chats about both quality and quantity. Fortunately, the Dowager Countess keeps a sharp lookout and informs me when things are not up to snuff. The Earl is far too permissive to be relied upon for an accurate report of such things. He has a soft heart where the staff is concerned.

The nursing staff is mostly a dedicated set and my supervision of them involves the monitoring of symptoms and frequent adjustments in medication on behalf of the Earl and Dowager Countess. Near daily (and often more) communication is typical, so we have established a collegial relationship. Fortunately there are nurses in the family (Sybil Crawley?) to provide the necessary expertise which I lack.

Unfortunately, there has been a recent staff change in the kitchen of the Abbey. It seems that the previous cook, who produced palatable, if unexciting, meals has been succeeded by a less talented chef. Much less talented. So much so that I have had a request from the Earl to purchase a few Stouffers frozen entrees. Can you imagine? The Earl dining on frozen entrees? Unthinkable. Once again, I have had to step in where Mrs. Hughes should have been attentively handling the issue. I can only hope it improves.

There have been automotive issues requiring attention, as well. The Earl's vehicle lease concluded while he was (and remains) unable to drive, necessitating the inspection and turn-in of his Lincoln. Alas, Branson was nowhere to be found, so I had to attend to this myself. I must speak to Carson, once again!

The most troubling area of oversight has been with the caretakers. We began to utilize round the clock caretakers for the Dowager Countess when the Earl was hospitalized in early February. Once he was released from the hospital after having broken his leg, he spent three weeks in the Rehabilitation Wing of the Abbey before returning their apartment. A mere five days later, he was readmitted to the hospital with a severe case of  pneumonia. Another week's stay in the hospital was followed by ten days in the Rehabilitation Wing. The Earl has not regained his strength, so we have continued with the caretakers, around the clock.

The caretakers are to assist with meals (serving only, no preparation) and "personal care"; keep the apartment tidy (no heavy cleaning); do laundry and dishes; attend to the needs of the Dowager Countess and the Earl, and communicate any concerns or needs to me. By and large, they have been lovely women who care for the Dowager Countess and the Earl with compassion and kindness, but there have been a few exceptions.

The first troublesome caretaker was the Drinker. Every staff has one, I suppose, (Thomas Barrow?) but it simply is not acceptable to have several glasses of wine while you are caring for an elderly woman with dementia and poor balance. Completely unacceptable! Moreover, the Dowager Countess was not fond of her ("She never shuts up!"). She had to go.

Soon after, she was replaced by the Emotional Basket Case. Overbearing in every possible way, she in turns browbeat me (The Countess!) about potentially dangerous conditions such as mold in the garbage disposal (horrors!), lint in the dryer vent (shocking!) and a wobbly table leg. I actually resorted to upending the dining room table, removing and reattaching each leg in turn just to silence her. She berated Lady Sybil about calling more often and burst into tears frequently and without warning. The Dowager Countess was not positively disposed toward her, either. She had to go.

Most recently I have had to terminate the services of the Lump. She schlumped into the apartment in a cloud of stale cigarette smoke (the Earl has lung cancer!), dropped her coat and bag onto any nearby chair (has she not heard of closets?) and immediately sank into the sofa and watched television. She was utterly devoid of initiative or energy and performed no task unrequested. I arrived one afternoon to see the Dowager Countess emerging from bathroom, unclothed, having both showered and cleaned the entire bathroom whilst the Lump remained immersed in TV watching. The Lump did not even notice the arrival of  "guests" despite my loud knock at the door before entering. The Dowager Countess found her tiresome ("All she does is sit there and watch TV!"). Without question, she had to go. Hopefully her replacement will be better suited to the position.

Managing an estate like Bainbridge Abbey would not be possible without sufficient staff and good people are so hard to find. Handling the financial affairs of the estate is one responsibility I simply cannot delegate to staff, no matter how trustworthy and loyal. Merely describing the goings-on of the Abbey makes me tired! I hope O'Brien has drawn a bath for me. I simply must have a good soak.


  1. This makes me simultaneously want to laugh and cry.

    Beautifully written, Ms. Meg.

  2. You are so clever.

    I find myself hung up with the request for Stouffer's--as I believe it's a fear of my lifetime to be stuck in a situation with crappy food as the best option to escape even crappier food. Why, fer feck's sake, is it so hard for people in charge of food to do something simple but good? I mean, do we not all love a fried egg sandwich, and is making one not a straightforward enterprise? With a little asparagus on the side with a crumble of feta on top?

    Make sure you have a tipple on your way up the staircase before turning in, Beloved Daughter.