I notice a difference in him immediately. His blue eyes are less focused, and he looks confused when he first sees me. As if he's thinking "I know that girl, but I just can't place her". His soft, wrinkled hands are shaky when he grasps mine in his, as I help him up from his chair. His smile is wide, but uncertain.
Lonely. The word hit me like a dull blow down the phone line. For a man of his years to admit to loneliness to someone he had not met and hardly spoken to before seemed beyond belief. I know elderly men: my grandfathers and their peers don't 'do' emotion, and would balk at sharing them - even with their nearest and dearest, let alone a stranger.
All too often people put care and retirement living in the 'too difficult' box and just don't think about it until they really have to. The misperception is that it's a care home or nothing. And what that can mean is people end up at crisis point, with no idea of the options open to them, and make a rushed decision under pressure.
Although it seems a lifetime ago, it feels like yesterday. Time doesn't heal; it just makes grief go out of focus. And anything can bring it sharply back again: a photograph, a scent, a memory or just the endless yearning pall of homesickness so familiar to people who've lost their parents too early.
What is it about rock stars that won't make them quit while they're ahead? ... I mean, just think of some of the more hedonistic behaviour - eating bats (Ozzy Osbourne), the shark episode (Led Zepellin), urinating on the Alamo (Osbourne again) - if any of them behaved like that in a nursing home then they'd be dosed up and diagnosed with senile dementia.
Exactly why the middle bands of the class structure, which contains around half the population, contain less ethnic interaction is unclear. One explanation mooted by social theorists is that this group has less of an achieved status than the professional class, and therefore invests more strongly in its ethnic identity...
For many guests the happy occasions of spending one afternoon per month having tea with a group of older guests and volunteers, are the only cross on the calendar. Contact the Elderly would like to draw public attention to what complete isolation feels like and what people can do to help solve the problem.