Ask Mary Mary Kenny
Q My husband and I have recently retired and we’re hoping to do some of the travelling abroad we’d always hoped to do in our retirement. However, I have an elder sister who suffers from health problems and some disabilities, and I feel rather guilty going abroad and leaving her. For a variety of reasons her direct family can’t always be on hand and she has had some misfortunes in her life. She had a cataract op recently and needed some support. She depends on us to take her to hospital appointments (frequent) and shopping, as she cannot go alone. Also for social outings. What’s the best course, do you think? Name and address supplied A Your kindness and service towards your sister are absolutely wonderful. Perhaps this is what the Prime Minister means by ‘the shared society’, in which people take responsibility for their family and friends. However, you really are entitled to a life of your own as well, and you are more than entitled to go travelling with your husband, fulfilling a lifelong ambition. Of course you might ensure that your sister has access to whatever care packages are available locally – the GP can usually direct patients towards social services, where possible (though we’re all aware there is a crisis in care provision). There are often voluntary services that can help out – Age Concern should be able to suggest some options here. I had experience of a wonderful voluntary helping agency through that route. I know it’s emotionally difficult because your sister clearly wants you to be there for her, but if you don’t take the chance to do this travelling, you’ll come to resent it – and perhaps her – later. Explain that you will be back, and send her a series of cards on your travels; postcards are old-fashioned but it’s something that a person can show and display – evidence of social links. And finally, try to rope in whatever other family members you can. When you’ve done your best, enjoy your trips and don’t feel guilty. Q As a regular London Underground user, I usually avoid giving money to buskers since I find them annoying and close to being beggars. Now my daughter has informed me that there are 35 official busking pitches on the Underground and there are auditions to fill the spots. Perhaps the next David Bowie is among them. Should I change my tune and be generous? A S, Wandsworth A I give a coin to buskers if I like what they’re playing: this is a measure of market response, for the entertainer should learn to please his public. So give if you like the music, but don’t feel you have to if you don’t. To beggars I sometimes offer a banana or a bar of chocolate, rather than cash: they can be surprisingly graceful about accepting such donations. Q I have a very good friend who lives in Washington DC. For the past fourteen years I have visited her and her husband, staying in their beautiful home and taking in the wonderful sights of the nation’s capital. They are lifelong Democrats. At Christmas they sent me a card asking me not to plan a trip this year ‘as our world has turned upside down’. I am writing this a week before the inauguration. The man getting ready to inherit George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s old job is revelling in division and attacking sections of the media. How should I respond to my friend? She and her husband are obviously upset, but I do not want to lose my dear friends by neglect (we are in our seventies). I’ve an urge to fly out in the spring and surprise them (perhaps booking into a hotel). Would this be wise or just lead to embarrassment? Nancy, London SE5 A Acquire an airline ticket as soon as possible to see your Washington friends! First, those of us who are septuagenarians should take every opportunity to visit friends for as long as we can. Secondly, and more altruistically, you obviously must do whatever possible to cheer up these despairing American Democrats: a problem shared is a problem halved. And thirdly, the more ghastly a political administration seems, the more fascinating it can be to watch it up close, as every journalist knows. So don’t hesitate – just go. (It’s a tactful option to book into a hotel, but once your friends know you’re Stateside, they may well extend a house invitation.) You probably know that Norwegian – a very pleasing budget airline (this is not a product placement) – now does terrific low-price fares to the east coast of the US. And it has such pretty pictures of famous Scandinavians on the tail fins of its planes – Hans Christian Andersen, Jenny Lind, Henrik Ibsen etc.
Mary welcomes comments, problems, dilemmas and general complaints about love, life, manners, morals and the pursuit of happiness. Write c/o The Oldie, Moray House, 23/31 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PA, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.mary-kenny.com.