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On The Bright Side : The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
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Nap time is over, the rheumatic rebel is back!’

On The Bright Side : The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is the second in a series of books recounting the trials and tribulations of one man’s journey through his harvest years in a nursing home.

Described by some as ‘a geriatric’ Adrian Mole, we first met Hendrik in The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4. Here he introduced us to his life and to his friends. We travelled through twelve months with him as he experienced all the ups and downs of growing old.

Beautifully translated by Hester Velmans On The Bright Side was just published by Michael Joseph in January 2018.

Hendrik Groen is back!

I read and reviewed the first book in the series and fell completely in love with this funny and charming man. Hendrik Groen is a character that represents so many folk in society today. Aging is something none of us can stop, but how we can hope to deal with it is a choice.

‘Stop spending so much time studying life’s instruction manual. Just do it! Yes, you may fall down a few times, but so long as you get up again, you’ll be ahead of where you were.’

What an inspiring few words for us all, spoken by fellow resident at the home and a member of the ‘Old-But-Not-Dead’ club, Ria.

Hendrik is lucky. He has found the most incredible bunch of people with a similar attitude and an exuberance for life. The ‘Club’ has become a life-line in an otherwise grey world. With his seven friends, including his best buddy Evert, Hendrik has adventures. They take a minivan and go off on trips to galleries, to new restaurants, to parks. They laugh, they cry, they look back but they also live very much in the present. Friends pass on and, as all are very much aware, their own time is short. As a group they decide to make the best of their days remaining.

Hendrik is grieving since his last exposé in Book One. A very close friend has passed away and this has had an enormous impact on him. He picks up his diary, a year later, and decides it’s time. It’s time to get back living again, it’s time to write down his thoughts, his feelings, his funny observations of life in general, of society, of his life and of his friends.

On The Bright Side re-introduces us to Hendrik and his friends as their concern mounts over the possibility of the nursing home closing down. They decide to ‘take-on’ the management themselves by getting elected as the home’s Residents Committee. One of the elements I found really interesting in Hendrik’s account is his reference to the unexpected personality traits of some of the other members. As folk age I sometimes think, as a society, we forget. We forget that the elderly weren’t always old. We forget that among the residents of care homes, there is a CEO, a CFO, a head chef, a matron, a teacher, and, as in Hendrik’s case, a Headmaster. The list goes on. All these folk were…and still are someone.

Hendrik and his buddy Evert have a very special relationship. Evert lives in sheltered housing nearby, so he is outside of the rules and regulations of the home. Evert is quite the unconventional character with a penchant for speaking out. I oft hear people say that as you get older it becomes easier to just say it as it is without fear or concern about hurting anyone’s feelings…Evert is a class example of this. He can be rude, crude and funny, getting up to all sorts of unlikely shenanigans, but in On The Bright Side we get to see a softer side to his personality.

Evert, Hendrik, Ria and the rest of the ‘Old-But-Not-Dead’club have an incredible approach to life. Unstoppable in many ways, they support each other through the difficult days with laughter, tears, food (lots of food!!) and hugs.

As these books are laid out in diary format, they really are a snapshot of the life of an elderly person. Hendrik highlights many aspects of the local, national and international news of the time, as we get insights of the politics and cultural happenings on a local and global level.

Many of Hendrik’s words struck a chord with me. The day-to-day difficulties faced by an older person, through lack of mobility or otherwise, is portrayed in a very realistic fashion. The camaraderie that develops is so touching and sweet, the attitude to life, the proud manner in which they all face their days….these friends are just an inspiration, almost a reassurance that life does go on and more importantly life can still be fun as we face into our senior years.

There are many lines quotable from this book, but I will share these rather inspirational words from Hendrik:

‘I wish you had a bit more love for the job, and a bit less ambition. I believe that’s what makes one happy.’ – Wise words indeed!

Who is Hendrik Groen? Who is behind this work of fiction? Will we ever know? Do we want to know?

I said in my review of Book One that Hendrik will steal your heart and he still does. I’m not so sure I want another book in this series though, because an inevitability lies head for Hendrik and his club mates and I’m not so sure I’m ready to lose any more of them!

Poignant and filled with realism, On The Bright Side is a very touching account of how to grow old with your dignity intact and your head held high.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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