Frank: How did a dementia sufferer get into a children's book?
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
In my mother-in-law’s first care home there was a magnificent gentleman who became ‘Frank’ in It’s Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella. When we first met him he looked like a rather wizened grumpy old man but, as with many dementia sufferers, he emerged as a huge personality with as many highs and lows as a mountain range.
When Frank was happy he would sing “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,” over and over in a beautiful soft voice. It was so melodious, everyone would stop to listen, and Frank thoroughly enjoyed the attention and praise. But there were dark days for Frank when he would stamp his feet and shout, “I want to go home! Take me home!” again and again. It was distressing for everybody and I remember marvelling at the patience of the care workers who quietly took Frank to his room to calm down. On the wall outside Frank’s bedroom were photos of the Spitfires he flew during the second world war. I would have loved to hear his stories but he couldn’t remember anything about his early life at all. He did, however, inspire a great character, and the Frank in my book certainly has stories which he loves to tell anyone willing to listen. I wish I could have told the original Frank how he helped me with my writing.
Extract from It’s Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella:
After school I asked Frank to help me with my maths homework. Frank lives on the Nostalgia floor at Autumn Days but I’m not sure why because I don’t think he has dementia. He can remember everything! He certainly remembers how to do maths. He doesn’t do it the same way as we do maths at school, but he always helps me get the right answer.
I decided to tell him about Jude and the bullying. I like telling Frank about school because it starts him off on one of his war stories. Nothing that happens to me could ever be as bad as the things that happened to Frank during the war. He was a soldier in the Second World War, and he likes telling me about the sergeant major who was always picking on him:
“I couldn’t do anything right for that man. Me boots weren’t shiny enough, me hair weren’t short enough, me trousers weren’t ironed enough. He told me I was so ugly, me face weren’t on straight enough! And all the time I would have to answer, ‘Yes sir! No sir! Whatever you say sir!’ Drove me crackers. He was in charge and I had to do everything he said.
“You see that’s the answer, son, when someone’s in charge, you just need to go along with them.”
But Jude isn’t in charge,” I pointed out.
“In that case just smack him one on the nose!” said Frank.