Book Review: I'll Die After Bingo
I’ll Die After Bingo: The Unlikely Story of my Decade as a Care Home Assistant, by Pope Lonergan
Pope Lonergan spent nearly 10 years caring for the elderly in care homes. In this memoir, he details the humorous, heartbreaking and sometimes hazardous nature of the caring profession.
At the same time, Lonergan rails against a social and political system that underfunds and undervalues care work and the people who do it. Ultimately, Lonergan leaves the care sector due to burnout; unfortunately a common story among carers due to low wages, physically and emotionally intense work, and long shift hours.
Lonergan writes about bodily functions and excretions with the nonchalance of someone who has seen it all before, and there is something very refreshing about his matter-of-fact approach, so at odds with the squeamishness with which British society regards ageing, bodily failures, and death. We are more than our bodies, Lonergan shows, and good care helps people to maintain their dignity when their physical abilities are dwindling.
Part of this dignity depends on people being treated as unique individuals, rather than inanimate cogs in the machine of a care home, and I really loved the warmth with which Lonergan writes about the people he cares for. Lonergan offers us a holistic sense of his residents, and throughout the book we meet a cast of characters with chequered histories and strong personalities.
These characters provide much of the entertainment and humour of the book – as with the title quote, in which an elderly lady decides to postpone her death until after bingo has finished – but crucially, Lonergan portrays his subjects without caricature or cliché.
I found the form and structure of the book to be a little less successful; Lonergan blends reminiscent stories with social/political commentary, and while both parts are valuable, I, like other reviewers, found the combination to be clunky. The book would have been improved by some editing to make the transitions smoother or to weave the commentary into real-life examples; reminiscences of Lonergan’s own.
So, I preferred some aspects of this book to others, but it is undeniably an important addition to the existing literature on social care. I’ve been a fan of the ‘professional memoir’ genre since reading Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, a darkly comedic diary of Kay’s time as a junior doctor in the NHS – and Lonergan’s book is a valuable contribution from the rarely-heard perspective of a care worker.
It’s important that the public, and politicians, have access to no-holds-barred accounts of what life in care is like for residents and staff, but stories of care are sadly few and far between – and there is definitely scope for more.