Bert wasn’t a usual sort of 94 year old. Definitely not the sort of 94 year old found at Sunnyacres retirement complex. It was obvious in his refusal to dress according to the unofficial Sunnyacres colours of beige, dove grey and powder blue. He was a vision in Technicolor, resplendent in his array of multi-coloured cravats. Without his raspberry chinos it just wouldn’t be a high day or holiday. To anyone who might comment on the vibrancy of his attire Bert was quick to reply “Aye, I like colour. If I’m found dead in beige I’ll haunt the sod responsible.”
His refusal to conform ran deep. Rules were a particular flash point. He might have been 94 but he was still in the grip of Peter Pan syndrome.
The majority of Sunnyacres’ staff were unequivocal in their belief that the secret to his ripe old age was down to the sheer amount of whisky in his system, pickling and preserving him. Wendy Baxter was rather more cutting in her justification of his advanced years. Her, oft repeated, belief was “the auld git is powered by spite and a stubborn determination not to do anything expected of him.”
Wendy Baxter required Sunnyacres to run to the regimented order that she had engineered and demanded in all aspects of her life. But for Bert, it would have. Aware that any sign of annoyance would spur him and his cronies on Wendy Baxter maintained her detached, professional, dead eyed smile and convinced herself he was blissfully unaware of her need to reign supreme.
Perfectly marinated in malt he may have been but Bert was proof that you don’t live for close to a century without learning a considerable amount about people. He was able to read Wendy Baxter like a book and liked nothing more than teasing her. Rather like a cat with a mouse.
Sunnyacres was thriving. Wendy Baxter misguidedly insisted her ‘firm and fair’ professional approach, keen eye for detail and methodical manner resulted in the low staff turnover. It was lauded in Board Meetings and Wendy Baxter foresaw a glittering future for herself at head office. She was wrong on both counts.
The real reason was that staff could never bring themselves to leave and risk missing Bert’s next episode. No matter how bad things got under Wendy Baxter the chance to regale families and friends of his exploits was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The story of the naked protest over the change in laundry detergent was a firm favourite. Bert had insisted that the new brand was leeching the colours from his clothes, adamant that Wendy Baxter was on a mission to destroy the raspberry chinos. It took three au naturel trips into the communal dining hall for Bert to persuade her that it really was worth the 3p extra per wash.
Another favourite was his police warning after a whisky fuelled attempt to educate the masses on the merits of good fiddle music. He liberated an amp from the store cupboard, positioned it on his window ledge and was having a rare time until the police car pulled up the drive. Wendy Baxter’s biggest grievance wasn’t the police car outside Sunnyacres but that one of the Police Officers left on less than steady legs. Rumour has it that whilst issuing the verbal warning the Officer received a little musical education, without amplification but with whisky flavoured lubrication.
Encountering Bert was never dull so the fact that Bert’s encounter with Death was so quiet, without pomp, ceremony or even a small fanfare was a shock. Bert was found, empty whisky tumbler in hand, eyes closed, looking serene in death. A career in a retirement home has a tendency to make one rather blasé about dead people but Wendy Baxter found the sight of Bert frankly unnerving. She excused herself from the room rather more quickly than was ordinary. Struggling to reconcile the wee man slumped in the chair with her adversary, despite the auld git wearing those bloody pink trousers.
She oversaw the funeral arrangements with none of the relief she had expected and life at Sunnyacres quickly faded to the beige of her wildest dreams. Wendy Baxter felt none of the usual satisfaction from creating order and routine. She began to fidget, daydream and doodle. The staid routines of her life felt like constraints and she found herself rebelling.
She stared small; black stockings with a navy skirt, then a fish supper eaten in the paper for a Tuesday night tea, moving on to rashly purchasing red curtains for the dayroom. Admittedly hiring the stripper to help celebrate Mavis’ 85th birthday would not be considered a career high. Resulting in 3 angina attacks, seven cases of dangerously high blood pressure and a minor stroke. But with her newly acquired devil may care attitude Wendy chalked that one down to experience. After-all, Mavis still hadn’t stopped smiling.
Using a good malt whisky she moved further from the beige raising her glass to toast a worthy opponent and absent victor.