The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen: 83 1/4 Years Old
By Hendrick Groen
'Another year and I still don't like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.'
Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn't planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he'd like. Technically speaking he is ... elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?
Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs - not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in - the woman Hendrik has always longed for - he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what's left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.
Warning this review contains spoilers
I cannot describe what a refreshing and humorous read this was. As someone who works in a care environment I found a lot of the observations made in this book were echoes of things I have observed.
Another year and I still don’t like old people, begins Hendrick in the first line of his secret diary documenting daily life in a care home. Hendrick is 83 ¼ years old and has decided to keep the diary so he can record his observations of what life in a care home is like.
“For I, Hendrick Geradus Groen am ever the civil, ingratiating, courteous, positive and helpful bloke. Not because I really am those things but because I don’t have the balls to act differently.
Initially Hendrick’s only ally is his best friend Evert who appears to be semi-alcoholic. They have small acts of rebellion like cake in the fish tank but those small acts grow with the introduction of a new resident to the home and The Old-But-Not-Dead Club.
He describes very accurately the foibles of the elderly with hilarious and heart breaking anecdotes and observations. For example,
Coffee is usually served at 10.30. If the coffee hasn’t arrived by 10.32, the first residents start glancing pointedly at their watches. As if they’ve got something better to do.
He also commented that one of the worst things you can do is sit in someone else’s seat and if you do sit in someone else’s seat uproar will follow. This is also something I see happen at work frequently.
I loved how honest and refreshing this book is and how it smashes the stereotype of elderly people all being sweetness and light instead of just being regular people with faults and prejudices just like everyone else. For example,
“Mrs Sita, seeing the toing and froing of ambulances asked if bingo would be cancelled. ‘Those who are fit shouldn’t have to suffer on account of those who are not,’ she brazenly declared. You’d almost wish that at her next bingo game she would have a stroke, break a hip, and choke to death on a biscuit.”
Not only was this bit very funny but it rang true as many times I have heard elderly people make similar comments.
I loved all the little friendships within this group and budding romances. It was both uplifting and heart-wrenching, and I loved the way The Old-But-Not-Dead-Club stood up to the management in their own little ways. I particularly liked the way the club all helped each other out in times of crisis.
At times this book make me literally laugh out loud, one time on a bus full of people. That shows how much I liked it as I get mild travel sickness if I try to read whilst travelling. One of the bits that made me laugh a lot was this:
“For myself, I’ve come up with the idea of having a small CD player hidden inside my coffin equipped with a remote control that will pipe out my voice shouting ‘Hello, hello out there (knock-knock) ‘You’re making a mistake. Let me out! I’m still alive…oh, don’t worry, just joking. I’m dead as a doornail.”
One of the things that struck me about all the characters in the book was their resilience and their loyalty to each other and I think this is one of the things that made it so emotive. I went through a whole range of emotions with this book and could have done with tissues at some points. In particular, when I got to this part.
I met someone I wish I had met half a century ago. Now I shall just have to make do with eight wonderful months and two very sad ones.
Despite this event I found the end of the book to be uplifting and loved the final lines.
This was a book I will read and reread, what a treasure.
Our Final Rating...
Read & Shared 155 Times.