When Frank starts working with Dennis he worries he might be out of his depth. How right he is.
Frank has a problem. He wants to retire, but his wife won’t let him. ‘What do you mean, you want to retire?’ she scoffs. ‘You’re only 62!’ With that, she encourages him to try a new career in the arena of social care: ‘You’re a very caring person; you’d be good at it.’ Frank is not so sure: according to his late mother, he hadn’t a caring bone in his body.
Enter Dennis, a young man with learning difficulties who will test Frank’s caring side – and his patience – to the limit. He talks non-stop, has a thing about women in baths, and hates cats. He also has an inordinate interest in Frank’s wife and why her coq au vin exploded out of the oven. ‘What’s cock o van? Did she put the chicken in the van and drive off with it?’
Over the course of 16 months, Frank learns a lot about the world of autism – and about himself – as he staggers from challenging (and surreal) encounters with Dennis to just as challenging yoga sessions, bridge gigs, and German beginner classes. Retirement? Frank has never been so busy!
I make no secret of the fact that Frank Kusy is one of my favourite authors. The evidence is here in my blog with so many of his books reviewed. I was waiting for this one to come out with great anticipation.
Frank’s memoirs are second to none. His numerous trips to India. The newer memoirs about his growing years and now this latest book The Clueless Companion.
As always in Frank’s books, his sense of humour is a massive part of his books and he is one of the few authors that can make me howl with laughter. He’s like a Bill Bryson, only much funnier. He is his own worst critic and his humour is always self deprecating.
In The Clueless Companion: His Diaries With Dennis, we meet once more the compassionate side of Frank that he rarely acknowledges exists and his mother once thoughtfully informed him that didn’t have a caring bone in his body! He does.
Frank’s humour is present once more but the subject of the book Dennis (fictional name, home details and age not given to protect his privacy) is most definitely the teacher here and Frank does indeed become his clueless companion.
Sometimes Frank is like an innocent abroad who is still learning about life and at other times, as in his India memoirs, he’s an excellent market trader, wheeler dealer, shrewd businessman and now in this book a carer of a very special young man.
Frank, with the job title of ‘care home manager’ already on his CV, was persuaded out of his wish to retire by his formidable but magnificent wife Madge and signed on to an agency specialising in carers, or assistants to carers of those with special needs to help them to maintain their independence. Frank would be an additional carer to take the strain off Dennis’s more or less full time carer. Both carers shared the responsibility of spending time with Dennis to give his mother a rest too. Dennis was close to his mother, but with his very demanding personality and character she most definitely needed a break.
Frank’s interview for the job with Dennis was in the form of meeting Dennis’s primary carer and Dennis in an informal setting to ascertain if Dennis would like Frank, an important factor if he was going to play any part in his life. They all met in Krispy Creme, a favourite hang out of Dennis.
‘So how come you’re looking for new staff?’ I changed the subject. ‘What happened to the old ones?’
Dennis rose to the occasion. ‘Some people take advantage,’ he confided darkly. ‘They turn up late without telling me, or they don’t turn up at all.’ ‘That’s terrible,’ I assured him. ‘How rude!’ An energetic nodding of Dennis’s head told me that I had said the right thing, and that the first part of the interview had gone well. Before we start,’ Rob turned to me with a serious look, ‘there are some do’s and don’ts you need to know about Dennis. One: don’t interrupt him or speak over him when he’s talking. .:.Two:. ‘If he gets upset, leave him alone for a bit. Then, when he’s calmed down, try to talk to him.’ I gave a short nod of understanding. Twenty two years with my wife had made me an expert in talking down upset people. ‘One last don’t is the most important,’
‘Rob drew my instructions to a close. ‘Den has to do things at his own pace. He’s doesn’t like to be…’ ‘Rushed?’ I hazarded a guess. ‘Exactly!’ Dennis clapped his hands together. ‘You just read Rob’s mind!’
Later Rob rang Frank to inform him that Dennis also had a sort of phobia about women’s hair!
The relationship between Frank and Dennis developed and progressed. Dennis loved to cook, unfortunately as Frank was warned by Rob, Dennis couldn’t be rushed. The preparation of the meals would take hours and hours to complete with varying results and the washing up by Dennis himself, who scrubbed every dish and vessel as if his life depended on it making Frank’s seven hour shift run over and make him late home. His time sheet for his hours with Dennis needed to be signed by his client. Dennis, who couldn’t be rushed.
During Frank’s time with Dennis he would often be treated to hours of one way conversation with Dennis.
Frank was informed by his care agency after he rang them for more information about Dennis that he had not only Asperger’s but also dyspraxia and a high degree of OCD
We didn’t want to put you off,’ they apologised. ‘But Dennis has had a troubled history. The council only gave him that flat of his two years ago. Before that, he was living with his mother and they were driving each other crazy.’
Throughout the book it seems clear that Dennis was very much loved by his mother, but she needed some respite from caring for her son which is where Frank and Rob, his joint carers came in. Dennis tried their patience to the max but they both grew to love him and Frank with his Buddhist faith came to realise that caring for Dennis helped him to learn aspects of his own personality that were in need of change. Madge, Frank’s long suffering wife was loved by Dennis who found her both fascinating and wise.
There are hilarious snippets throughout the book of Madge and Frank attending yoga classes and the various characters they encounter, including the rather scary yoga instructor whose yoga lessons sounded more like torture training!
Frank and Dennis both liked a lot of the same things, going to the cinema and Dennis reintroduced Frank to bowling. At times Dennis found Frank fascinating and wanted to know a lot of details of his life and enjoyed listening to Frank’s hilarious anecdotes. They entertained each other and although at times the relationship was a difficult one, with Dennis’s often intractable and stubborn nature the book was a very heartwarming and at times heartbreaking read.
It was a Saturday night and Tesco’s–where we immediately adjourned to because Dennis wanted some water–was packed with drunks and policemen. I was so discombobulated that I lost my hat: the perky, peaked hat which made me look like Jeremy Corbyn. ‘I’ve lost my hat!’ I wailed to nobody in particular. ‘No, you haven’t,’ said Dennis. ‘It’s on your head!’ ‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘Sometimes I wonder why I’m looking after you. You should be looking after me!’
I laughed and cried at this book and felt very privileged to have ‘met’ Dennis in this book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born and raised in the fog-shrouded streets of 1960s London, and with more than 30 years of travel writing experience under his belt, aspiring Buddhist and incorrigible cat-lover Frank Kusy is a SUNDAY TRIBUNE RECOMMENDED AUTHOR