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The bells! The bells!


The first part of this is almost all true . . .


MY eighty-seven-year-old friend, neighbour and valuable member of my small handbell group, had just moved into a private nursing home after a ten-day stay in hospital. There they were still employing safety protocols similar to what you would have expected if trying to visit someone in Broadmoor (unless you’re a Jimmy Savile lookalike, when you’d probably been given your own set of keys). Anyway, their strategy had been most effective, and I hadn’t even attempted to get in. However, once she was in the nursing home I decided I needed to make a real effort. I rang the office on the Monday and managed to book a one-hour slot for the Wednesday. I was informed I would need to bring a negative LFT.

I arrived ten minutes early. Outside the main entrance two care workers in full PPE, their masks supporting ample chins, chatted happily whilst the spring breeze wafted their cigarette smoke. My feigned cough alerted them to my presence.

Care worker, pulling her mask up to her nostrils: Hello.

Me: Why did you do that?

Care worker: Do what?

Me: Why did you pull up your mask? We’re outside!

Care worker, giggling, pulling the mask back down: Oh I know, it’s just habit.

Me, pointing to the cigarette: Hmm, you do know lung cancer is much more scary than catching Covid, don’t you?

Care worker, strained smile: Are you here to see someone?

Me: Ah, yes, I’ve booked a one-hour slot to see Mrs Irene Grainger.

Care worker, pulling up her mask to bridge of her nose: No problem, follow me.

I duly followed, unable to fight the rolling of eyes and tutting urge. Just inside the entrance was a desk covered with all types of PPE items. I looked around: there were several staff and a trades person, but not a bare face in sight.

Care worker: Do you have a mask?

Me: No, all mask mandates have been dropped, and anyway I’m exempt due to a medical condition.

Care worker, handing me a white plastic pinny and blue plastic gloves: That’s fine, can you put these on please?

Me: Why? Has Irene got a nasty vomiting bug?

Care worker, smiling: Oh no, it’s just the rules.

Me, sighing loudly whilst putting on the pinny and snapping on the gloves: Whose rules exactly?

Care worker: Do you have your LFT?

I sighed again (perhaps a little too loudly) whilst peeling off the plastic gloves to deep dive into my pocket.

Care worker, handing me a pen: Could you complete this form?

Me, incredulous: That’s not a form, it’s a booklet! Oh, OK! (Muttering under my breath) Do I agree to being tested at any time during my visit? Do I agree that I will not remove PPE at any time? Do I agree that my personal information can be forwarded on to the UKHSA? WHAT? Do I agree that I don’t have Covid? Oh, for goodness sake. Cross, tick, cross, tick.

Care worker: Lovely, I’ll just take you down.


Irene, smiling: Oh, you made it! Did you have to do an LFT?

Me: Yeah, it’s fine, the dog hasn’t got Covid.

Irene: I’ve been in this room for five days. They won’t let me out. They say it’s because I might have Covid. I don’t think I have.

Me, looking around the room: I’m pretty sure you haven’t. It’s very bijou in here, isn’t it?

Irene: And my TV doesn’t work. Did you bring the toilet roll? The stuff in here is dreadfully thin.

Me, sitting on the bed ripping off the pinny and the gloves: Yes, and I brought you some biscuits. Now, let me see what I can do with that TV.

A lady wearing a light blue nightgown suddenly appeared in the open doorway. She quickly scanned the room before disappearing.

Me: Who was that?

Irene: Oh, that was Davina. She’s in the room next door. She often comes to visit me, usually in the middle of the night to tidy my drawers . . . Did you practise handbells last night? I do wish I could come along. I haven’t seen anyone but the staff since I got here.

Me, lightbulb moment: I know, what if me and a couple of the others came in this weekend with some bells? You could join in.

Irene, much livelier: Ooh, that would be lovely. Yes, let’s do that.

Me, passing Irene her walking frame: Right, I better go, they’ll be throwing me out in a minute. Why don’t you walk with me to the front door. It’ll give those legs a good stretch.


I walked beside Irene who, supported by her walking frame, shuffled slowly down the corridor. Ahead was the manager’s office, with Stella at her desk. She looked up, a sixth sense alerting her that danger was nigh, and her thin smile changed into a grotesque twisted expression. She leaped off her chair, ricocheted off the corridor wall and towered over me.

Stella, loudly: Why aren’t you wearing a mask?!

Me, calmly: Oh, hello. Yes, I have a medical condition. I did explain . . .

Stella: Then you’ll have to wear a visor. Sally, who let this woman in without a face covering?

It would appear that the care worker who had otherwise meticulously gone through the meet and greet protocol was called Sally. Her face flushed, she hastily disappeared into a store cupboard, reappearing with a brand spanking new visor.

Me, still calm: No need to worry, I’m just leaving.

Stella, angry, handing me the visor: You still need to put this on.

Me, pointing to the door a couple of steps away: No, I’m leaving now so there’s no need. Actually, can you spare a minute? I’d like to speak to you.

Stella, snapping: I’m busy. You’ll have to wait.


I admired the wall-to-wall cherry blossom until Stella finally emerged into the sunshine, looking no less annoyed.

Me: Urm, Irene is actually a member of my handbell group and I thought it’d be nice if myself and two others came along this weekend and brought some bells so she could ring with us.

Stella, stern expression: Oh well, you can but the rules are different for professionals.

Me: Believe me when I say we are definitely not professionals. We just want to . . .

Stella: And there’s only one person allowed in a bedroom at a time. You can’t all come in.

Me: Well, what about if we all went straight into the communal lounge and played for everyone? Wouldn’t that be . . .

Stella: Well, you’ll have to book a slot and bring evidence of vaccination.

Me: WHAT! That’s personal, private information!

Stella, adamant: It’s the rules for professionals.

Me: So much for the Data Protection Act . . . Listen, I’ve told you we’re not professionals; we’re just a couple of ladies who’d like to cheer up a friend.  And what if I don’t have any evidence of being injected?

Stella: Then you can’t come in. It’s not safe.

Me: But I’ve just been in.

Stella: Yeah, but you’re not a professional today.

Me: And I can assure you I won’t be a professional at the weekend. Look, what if I came on my own and brought some handbells, would I just be a visitor then?

Stella, not listening: It’s the rules.

Me, walking back along the path: There are rules about handbells?

Stella, determined to hammer the final nail in the coffin: And you’ll need to bring proof of public liability insurance.


The following Sunday, determined not to be thwarted by the evil Stella, I packed two handbells into a rucksack and slung it over my shoulder. I was just out of the door when I remembered I needed an LFT.

Me: Now where’s that bloody dog! Can’t be too careful, can we?


Care worker at the desk in the entrance hall, handing me as much PPE as I could hold: Do you have an LFT?

Stella, appearing from her office holding a visor she’d made earlier: It’s all right, Suzie, I’ll admit this lady.

Me: Admit? No, I’m just here to visit my friend.

Stella, handing me another booklet: You’ll need to fill out this form.

Me: Ah, it’s OK, I did one the other day.

Stella: Well, we don’t keep ’em so you’ll have to fill it out again.

Me: Wouldn’t it be easier to keep the forms until the resident dies, I mean leaves?

Stella, firmly shaking her head: We’re not allowed. Data protection.

Me, now looking like a welder on a space mission: Right, I know where I’m going, I’ll just . . .

Stella: Follow me.

I swung the rucksack over my right shoulder. A gentle clinking sound could just be heard over the swishing plastic.

Stella: What was that noise?

Me, looking around: What noise? I didn’t hear anything.

Stella: A clinking noise, like a bell.

Me: Ooh, I don’t know. Do you have a cat? Look, I know which room she’s in. I don’t need an escort.

Stella didn’t reply. She stared at me suspiciously before turning back towards her office. Feeling like a naughty schoolgirl, I gingerly walked on so as not to produce any more unexpected dings or dongs.


Irene: Oh good, I’ve been looking forward to this for days! Where are the others?

Me, ripping off all PPE: Ah, she who must be obeyed said they couldn’t come in.

Irene, disappointed: Oh, why not?

Me: Well, because, apparently, we’re professionals so there are lots of rules and we don’t meet the criteria. Not to worry; look what I have in my bag!

I unwrapped the bells and gently placed them into Irene’s hands.

Irene, with a radiant smile: Ding, dong, ding . . .

Me, quickly closing the door: Quietly, Irene. We don’t want to attract any unnecessary attention.

Too late! An enraged Stella, who must have been lurking in the shadows not too far away, burst into the room.

Me, pointing at the open window: There was a cat in here, just a moment ago. Look, it escaped through the window.

I was escorted by a silent, scowling Stella to the entrance.


It was a great relief to hear from Irene’s daughter the following day that Irene was being moved to a care home closer to her family, and I would be pleased to know there were . . . NO RESTRICTIONS.

Ding, dong, ding, dong.

‘I’m on my way from misery to happiness today, aha, aha, aha, aha.
 I’m on my way from misery to happiness today, aha, aha, aha, aha.’


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Julie Sandilands
Julie Sandilands
Julie Sandilands is an English/business teacher who worked in several secondary schools in Fife until 2017. Now based in Cumbria, she works as a private tutor teaching children both in and out of mainstream provision.

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