Dinesh Gohil has carved out a new way of life since his dementia diagnosis. He’s adapted to slowing down after running a successful business for decades.
Dinesh Gohil has a prime view of the planes that soar from the RAF base stationed behind his smart bungalow in west London.
Plane watching from the doors leading out onto his tidy garden is just one of the ways Dinesh relaxes since retiring three years ago.
But after several decades working seven-day weeks in his successful sewing machine repair business, Dinesh found it a tough adjustment.
I loved my job so it didn’t really feel like work. It kept me busy and I was good at what I did, so I really enjoyed it.
A better life
Dinesh was just 18 when he came to the UK from Nairobi, in Kenya, to seek a better life.
His older brother had already moved over in 1950 and one by one all seven brothers came over.
Starting as an apprentice with the Singer sewing machine company in north London, it took Dinesh seven years to train as a sewing machine engineer. But he had to start at the bottom.
I came to the company looking for a job and they said I could have one as long as I swept the floors. I said I’d do it and they liked me so much they sent me to college.
He admits, ‘When I started I couldn’t use a screwdriver.’
But after seven years of study and training, Dinesh qualified as an engineer and there was no stopping him.
In more than a decade with Singer, Dinesh travelled all over the world – from Germany to Hong Kong – researching the latest sewing machine models.
His work took him into hospitals, hotels, schools and even Buckingham Palace, where he recalls needing a special badge to enter.
Unfortunately, he never met the Queen!
In 1980, Dinesh went into business on his own. Starting from his home garage, he diversified by selling sewing machine accessories and knitting machine parts.
He did so well that he set up a shop with his older brother, Manubhai.
They clinched an impressive list of prestigious clients, from Harvey Nichols and John Lewis to Windsor Castle and the Emmanuels, who designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress.
Based in Southall, the brothers’ shop was ideally placed to meet the needs of the local Indian community, many of whom liked to make their own clothes.
His study and research over the years meant he knew how to fix just about every sewing machine on the market.
Customers appreciated his work ethic and attention to detail.
He wouldn’t leave a machine until everything was perfect.
‘And he never took a day off sick,’ says his wife Rasila.
Dinesh’s hard work paid off and, after only a few years, he branched out with a second Southall-based business – RD Sewing Machine Shop.
It’s very apt his business combines his own initials with those of his loving wife Rasila, who’s been by his side for the last 52 years.
Rasila fled to the UK from Uganda in 1972, when dictator Idi Amin ordered thousands of Indian community members to leave the country within 90 days.
She was only in the country on a one-month visa, and Rasila and Dinesh had a swiftly organised marriage.
Five decades later, they are as happy as ever. And with three daughters – Deepa, Beena and Chandni – and six grandchildren, they are a close-knit family.
Beena and her family only live 10 minutes away, so they come over every Tuesday to spend time with her parents.
Dinesh’s other daughters, who live about an hour away, make the most of every half-term to come over and sample Rasila’s fantastic home-cooked food.
There are some excellent restaurants nearby, but they haven’t been to any as Rasila is a skilled cook.
I know it wouldn’t be as good as my cooking, so we just stay home!
Dinesh and Rasila are a good team. His engineering skills mean he can fix any appliance you could name.
He’s also an expert washer-up and can rustle up a mean puri – the delicious, crispy Indian fried bread.
Frustrating memory changes
Dinesh has always been such a sharp thinker, and it was striking when he started having memory problems about three years ago.
‘We noticed Dad starting to forget things, but put it down to old age,’ says Deepa.
Customers in his shop started getting angry as he would sometimes misplace orders, he couldn’t keep up with paperwork and bills weren’t getting paid.
‘Once he came back from work and didn’t know where he’d been all day. Another time, he said to me he hadn’t seen my sister Beena for a while and I said, “Dad, she was only with you an hour ago.”
'The other thing we noticed was the change in his character. He has always been a very chilled, happy person, but suddenly he started becoming aggressive and temperamental.
‘It wasn’t like him, but I think it was frustration that he kept forgetting things.’
Deepa says ‘something didn’t feel right’, so Dinesh went to the GP. They referred him for an assessment at the local memory clinic.
After tests and a CT scan, Dinesh was given a diagnosis of mixed dementia – Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
His daughter Beena remembers this time.
He deteriorated quite rapidly, but we were lucky the GP got things moving quite quickly.
The diagnosis had a radical impact on Dinesh’s life.
Beena says it was a blow when he was no longer allowed to drive. It was even more difficult when he had to give up his shop.
It was very tough for someone who had always been so independent.
For a long time, he would get in the driving seat and Mum would have to remind him he wasn’t allowed to drive.
Deepa says the switch in routine was also hard.
‘It has been a difficult transition for Dad,’ she says. ‘He was used to working seven days a week and being really active.
'After he retired he was really bored to begin with, but Mum has done her best to keep him busy.'
She certainly has and the couple go out most days.
After golf on Mondays, they go to a weekly yoga class, enjoy regular museum trips and catch up with friends at an Alzheimer’s Society run dementia café at their local community centre.
‘We have tea and biscuits, and when it’s someone’s birthday the cake comes out,’ says Dinesh.
But the best thing is being able to talk about the past – your first car, how you met your wife and about your family.
They visit Rasila’s sister in India for a few months at the start of every year. They look forward to swapping the UK’s grey winter skies for sunshine, delicious food and reconnecting with family.
Bubbly and outgoing
Dinesh is taking medication to help with the symptoms of his dementia.
His family think there may be a genetic link, since his mother also had the condition.
Dinesh remains a bubbly and outgoing man.
‘He recognises all of us still and, despite everything, he is quite happy,’ says Deepa.
His career was very important to Dinesh, but now he is ready for a new stage of life.
I worked hard and really enjoyed it. But now it’s time to relax.
He’s certainly earned it.
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