Feeding Time, by Adam Biles, is set in an old people’s care home, Green Oaks. Established in an old manor house, it is now owned by a conglomerate whose aim is to maximise profit. It is a place where the elderly and infirm who can no longer cope on their own go to die. The story is laced with humour but also the horror of such places. It portrays the residents with honesty and dignity, despite the many indignities that old age brings.
The reader is first introduced to Dot as she leaves the bungalow in which she and her husband had lived for the past twenty years. She has chosen to join him at Green Oaks where she moved him six weeks ago. Their only son is settled abroad with his own small family. He is dutiful, ringing her regularly for reassurance that all is well. Dot understands that institutions such as Green Oaks exist for the young as much as the old, lifting as they do the burden of care.
It does not take long for Dot to realise that life in this place will be nothing like the impression she was given when she applied to move in. The three wards are communal and staff are few. She is confused when her husband is not on the ward to which she has been assigned. Her fellow residents have multiple, age related health issues which they present to her with something akin to pride.
Dot meets Captain Ruggles who experiences life in the style of a weekly Story Paper from around the war. Each episode is presented to the reader complete with illustrations and advertisements (these are priceless!). His grasp on the reality that others see is tenuous. He believes that he is a prisoner of the Nazis having been accidently parachuted into this camp. He is eager to recruit his fellow inmates and orchestrate their escape.
Green Oaks is run by Raymond Cornish who finds the residents repellent and avoids them. Nursing needs have been outsourced so he now has just three staff to deal with day to day tasks. These young, underpaid Carefriends pilfer drugs from supplies and mitigate their boredom and personal frustrations with petty cruelties enacted against the elderly who they despise. When Captain Ruggles’ loud and lively behaviour disrupts their routine they seek to transfer him to the mythically feared Ward C that he may be chemically shut down.
There is a missing resident, Kalka, whose bed was given to Dot. He may be dead or simply moved elsewhere. The Captain remembers this man saving his life and wishes to return the favour. Discussion about his possible whereabouts, indeed about most things, is a struggle as few of the residents seem capable of retaining a train of thought. They take their drugs then sit in the day room or sleep, leaking effluence and odours while the staff concentrate on their own sorry lives.
There is no shying from the messy issues brought on by advancing age, yet each of the residents is presented as the person they still are inside their decaying shell. The Captain is a fabulous character, completely batty but living a life which in his own mind is real. It is a surprisingly uplifting portrayal of dementia.
The manner in which residents are treated by staff is grim, as is the behaviour of Cornish. What sets this book apart though is its spirit and style. There is a muted energy behind each of the characters despite their infirmities. Mind and bodily functions may have been loosened but there are still moments of perspicacity as they rage against the hand that life has dealt.
While there is still this hold on life there are adventures to be had, battles to be fought, especially against those who regard the elderly as a problem to be managed and silenced. As the staff slip further into mires of their own making, the old seek to enact their cunning plans.
This is a rare and imaginative tale filled with wit, verve and derring-do, as well as leaky, ravaged bodies. It is a story of people and life, strikingly original, brilliantly written and ingeniously presented. I recommend you order this book direct from the publisher now.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Galley Beggar Press.