Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Faith and Rose are in their late eighties and have lived together all their lives. A pair of little troll dolls, white hair sticking up as fine and fluffed as polyester stuffing, perfectly round eyes, a permanently surprised expression, as if our breezy ‘halloo’ was the most incredible thing they had ever heard.
‘You were quick,’ says Rose, momentarily stunned, but then giving herself a busy shake and hurrying about the flat, pushing clothes and things into what looks like a toy suitcase.
‘Don’t forget my slippers,’ says Faith.
‘They’re on your feet,’ says Rose.

The block is eerily quiet. Every door has gradually had its letter box sealed with parcel tape so the postman can see which flats are empty and which occupied. Even though the flats have only been up twenty years, the main sewers have collapsed, and under-pinning is too expensive. So all the elderly residents are gradually being re-housed around the county. There are ten left. When the last letter box is taped, they’ll tear the place down and start again.

‘The hip’s gone,’ says Faith. ‘I woke up like it.’
‘She’s in a lot of pain,’ says Rose, tossing the suitcase on the bed.
‘Watch it!’
‘How’s the pain, Faith?’ I ask her.
‘Terrible. You’ve never known pain like it.’
‘We can give you something.’
‘I’ll ask for help when I need it,’ she says, but lets me take her by the arm to make the move from the bed to the carry chair.

There are two girls with silver party balloons laughing and fighting in the street outside. They stop and stand either side of the pavement as a guard of honour as we pass between them. Faith looks straight ahead, but Rose nods and smiles at them, and raises the little red suitcase like the Chancellor on Budget day.


‘So what line of work were you in before you retired?’ I ask them when all the paperwork’s done and we’re still miles from hospital. ‘What did you do for a living?’
‘During the war I made parts for Spitfires. Then after that was all done we changed over to barometers,’ says Faith. ‘I made it to supervisor, so I must’ve had something.’
‘I made locks,’ says Rose, leaning round the seat and smiling.
‘Do you remember, Faith? We used to finish work, go home for tea and then go straight back out fire watching.’
‘We had the energy then.’
‘It was terrible. Worse than you can imagine.’
‘A German bomber crashed just over the road, in the old cemetery.’
‘The pilot was dangling by some strings, but no-one could help him.’
‘The bombs hadn’t gone off.’
‘Dangling, like a puppet.’
‘There was nothing anyone could do. We thought the bombs were going off.’
‘So what happened to him?’ I ask.
‘I’ve no idea,’ says Rose, her eyes shining. ‘I can’t remember.’
The ambulance suddenly pitches from side to side.
‘Sorry!’ says Frank from the front.
‘Honestly,’ says Faith, pulling the blanket about her.
Rose sits back and hugs the suitcase.


Ellie said...

I love these vignettes.

tpals said...

I've read your entire archive and love these where your patients reminisce about their lives the most. Thanks for sharing!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Ellie

Sometimes I think it's a clunking question to ask someone - 'what line of work were you in...' - almost as bad as talking about the weather. But loads of times in the past it's led on to some interesting little stories. In my own defence, you don't have much time in the back of the van to make more subtle explorations of someone's past!

Anyway, thanks again for reading, and the lovely comments.

Hi tpals!

Blimey - I think you must qualify for some kind of medal. Or a beer at the very least. If you were here I'd be more than happy to stand you a pint. What flavour crisps do you fancy?

Thanks v much for your support, tpals. Very appreciated.

William said...

i love stories the elderly tell. As with what you've written here, they always have something to offer, if we only listen.

Spence Kennedy said...

Me too, William. That's def one of the perks of the job - those unexpectedly vivid little stories you hear sometimes. One of my favourites was from way back - a woman telling me about an unsolved murder when she moved house...

Thanks for the comment! :)

mrkester said...

Hi Spence.

Long time reader.........I've enjoyed reading your posts for quite a while now.

I've been an AP up in Yorkshire for just over a year now,m and absolutely love the job.

I know what you mean about the 'clunking question' but the response it gets can be interesting. I usually find it's the older generation who have a good story or 3 to tell, although some of the younger ones can be just as enthusiastic.

Anyway, keep up the good work


Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, mrkester

I'm with you: never afraid to ask the 'clunking question' - because it often works!

Great John Peel pic, btw! :)

Carla Humphreys said...

Working with the elderly I often ask them about their past jobs and the war. Although I get more or less the same story,(mainly because of the dementia) they add little bits in each time. I could listen all day to them!

Spence Kennedy said...

It's always interesting - definitely one of the perks of the job!