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Neelam and the Dementia Floor

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

If you have read It’s Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella you will know that one of the main characters is Neelam. Neelam runs the dementia floor at Autumn Days care home and she is also Billy’s guardian. She is kind, patient and completely selfless.

I was glad Neelam wouldn’t need to find out what had happened. She’s always worried about me. She says just because she’s not my real mum it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. I’m lucky really. Well, I’m not lucky that I don’t have a mum or dad but I’m lucky to have Neelam.

When I had the idea for this character I wanted an unusual, but lovely name that wouldn’t place her geographically. Neelam was perfect. The name conjures up a slightly exotic but completely stable character.

Neelam was a good friend of mine at school. I was at an all-girls boarding and day school and I was a day-girl who travelled to school by train. Neelam arrived as a new boarder aged eleven. She was great fun and we got up to all sorts of tricks, such as creating a secret alphabet so that we could pass notes to each other during our boring maths lessons. When the teacher caught us, she couldn’t decipher what we’d written, so we wrote all sorts of rude things about her. She was hopeless; she didn’t tell us to stop, or translate, or even to tell us off; she just stood there clucking and looking bewildered. We had to endure this woman for five maths-wasted years. I shall call her Mrs Goings in my next book. It wasn’t exactly her real name, but anyone who ever suffered maths lessons with her will recognize who I mean! Another great trick Neelam and I used to play, was to reflect the sunshine off our rulers into Mrs Goings’ face. We did it every time the sun came out, and it worked brilliantly. The woman must have been completely stupid – she never worked out what we were doing. Everybody in Mrs Goings’ class failed maths O’level. However I think we all passed eventually, because a new teacher divulged a secret – something we had never seen before – a past paper!

Neelam and I remained good friends until we finished school. With no computers, emails, WhatsApp or Facebook we lost touch completely, I had a mug to remind me of my friend. She had given it to me for my birthday one year; it had our shared star-sign, Pisces on it. But the mug was broken and Neelam became a fond memory.

When I needed a name for my lovely care home manager, Neelam popped into my head. When you write a book, the characters become very real and it was as if Neelam was back, and I had got to know her again. Just as I completed It’s Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella, another school friend got in touch. She was arranging a get-together in London for as many of our school year as we could all find. We met up in January this year, just before Covid struck. It was wonderful to see my old school friends again. It was as if we had never been apart. There is something about sharing bad experiences that forms a special bond.

Neelam wasn’t there, but after the get-together, people started discovering other friends and Neelam was found! She has been living in Germany for more than thirty years and it was wonderful to be in touch with her again. It was quite a moment when I told her that she was a character in my book!

Neelam tried to distract herself by smoothing down her skirt and twisting her hair around her fingers, but when she looked back towards the plane and saw the small woman standing at the bottom of the steps looking fragile and lost, Neelam felt nothing but sympathy.

Now we’ve had a chance to chat via WhatsApp, I’ve found out that she isn’t a manager in a care home after all! She actually works for a company making x-ray devices. I don’t know what Mrs Goings would say about that!


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