It wasn’t until the end of our conversation that Lindsay’s voice started to crack.
“I love the wee soul,” he said, his tears audible. “It is my job to look after her, I just have to hold her tight.”
It is not that long ago that Lindsay Walls’ wife Daphne, 82, was one of the most powerful women in Edinburgh. Daphne Sleigh was a Conservative councillor for 21 years, the leader of the city’s Tories for nine. She was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Edinburgh in 2007, along with other Edinburgh luminaries, including best-selling author Ian Rankin.
In 2003, she was awarded an MBE for services to local government, and from my days as a Labour councillor in the 1990s, I remember her as a clever, formidable woman with a quick wit. She was always beautifully dressed, with never a hair out of place.
“She was good company, enjoyed a glass of wine and a laugh,” recalls one of my council comrades, Frank Russell. “Until I met her and Lindsay, who was also a councillor, I didn’t realise Tories were human,” he laughs.
“Daphne wasn’t a Thatcherite, she was not particularly ideological, but she always had the best interests of the city at heart.”
Lindsay, himself a city councillor for 22 years, has always had his wife’s best interests at heart. For two decades he supported her successful political career, visibly proud of her achievements.
This morning, like every other morning for the last few years, Lindsay lifted Daphne gently from her bed, showered and dressed her, before taking her upstairs to wash and blow dry her still beautiful hair.
Daphne, like 90,000 other Scots, suffers from dementia. “Her illness was actually diagnosed in 2010, but the family knew something was going wrong before that,” explains Lindsay.
“She would constantly ask questions, forget things. Two or three years after the diagnosis, she was put on medication which has calmed her down.
“And about five years ago I contacted social work to say I am coping… but just. I might need a little help; I am putting out a feeler to see what you can do.”
‘Get social work involved right at the beginning’
Lindsay now has 14 hours of support a week, organised through Edinburgh City Council’s Social Care Direct. “I have had great help from social work, and Daphne’s carers are lovely people. My advice to anyone in a similar position is get social work involved right at the beginning, as soon as there has been a proper diagnosis. You may not need help immediately, but you will be in the system.”
Lindsay is just one of an estimated 700,000 Scots who care for someone at home. Coronavirus has had even more of an adverse impact on their lives than on those of us lucky enough to still have our health.
We may complain about not being able to go to the pub or cinema whenever the mood takes us, but we can pour a glass of wine and reach for yet another Netflix box set. We are fine, all things considered.
Lindsay is trapped in his Buckstone home. Daphne’s carers still come for their allotted 14 hours a week but, at 78, Lindsay is barred from his weekly trip to Sainsbury’s or escaping to his favourite Morningside pub for a pint and a bar lunch. And Daphne can no longer make her beloved trips to her hairdresser of 30 years.
“I wouldn’t dare cut it,” laughs Lindsay. “Before lockdown, I had been able to put together a routine that suited me and Daphne, and it worked, as much as it can.
“The biggest impact is that Daphne’s daughter and sons are not able to come in to help. I now have to do the whole thing. I still have the care assistants coming in, they take quite a lot of the weight off, but there are days when I am absolutely knackered, but that goes with looking after someone with dementia.
“The saddest thing is that we never really got the retirement we had looked forward to.” He pauses. “Life’s a bitch isn’t it. It is the strangest of times, it is never going to be the same again. The world will change, for the better I hope.”
Good government essential to life
We are all hoping the world will change for the better once the virus fades. Social media is full of conversations about how we need to rebuild our economy, so that it is more equal; that we must care better for the more vulnerable members of our society, like Daphne; that we will, finally, start to tackle the looming threat of climate change.
Andrew Cuomo, the robust governor of New York, who has had to deal with America’s worst outbreak, argued earlier this week that the pandemic has been transformative, proof that good government is essential to life.
“For decades you haven’t seen government this essential to human life,” he thundered during his daily broadcast. “... people want government to perform... they’re paying for it, they deserve it. And they deserve competence and expertise and smarts and for government to be doing creative things and learning like we’re doing here today.”
And here in the city that Daphne Sleigh once helped run, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has set up the Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission to “address some of the immediate policy implications and challenges arising from the coronavirus outbreak and support thinking around some of the bigger questions it raises”.
It is easy to dismiss Cuomo’s elegy to good government as nothing more than New York hyperbole, a soundbite for cable news. Even easier perhaps to brand RSE’s latest committee as yet another well-meaning, but essentially pointless, talking shop. Scottish civil society is littered with such panels, where the great and the good enthusiastically network while showing off their progressive credentials, often to little effect.
But Lindsay Walls is right. It is the strangest of times, and the world is never going to be the same again.
As we come towards the end of our conversation, our first in nearly 20 years, I ask him why he has cheerfully sacrificed his life to care for Daphne.
“Love,” he says simply. “I love her more than I ever did.”
A miniscule virus, invisible to the naked eye, has almost destroyed our way of life. Let’s make sure the strongest emotion of all, love, informs our future.
Alzheimer Scotland offers support to people living with dementia. Visit their website at www.alzscot.org
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