Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Outside the bus, beneath a sudden curtain of rain, a queue of people stand quietly waiting for the replacement to arrive. They are so patient and still, when I look at their feet I expect to see little plastic bases. It feels like we’ve been miniaturised and driven into a model village.
‘She’s just inside,’ the driver says, a man whose round enamelled badge is only marginally less bright than his face. He hops on board ahead of me.
Mrs Jackson is sitting on a forward seat, bulging with layers, her knitted white hat pulled low on her forehead, her mittened hands folded in her lap.
‘I’m wearing so much I didn’t hurt myself at all,’ she says. The bus driver laughs and gives her an encouraging chuck on the shoulder.
‘You’re a wonder,’ he shouts, leaning in.
Mrs Jackson’s daughter, an elderly woman herself, soberly composed in a grey woollen coat and black shoes, steps up to me and tells me what happened.
‘We’d been waiting for the bus for quite a while when Mum suddenly collapsed. She just gave out a little sigh and went down, but I think she’s all right. She’s wearing so much today it must have been like falling onto a bed. We helped her up and then when the bus came this kind gentleman got everyone off and sat her down to wait for you.’
I crouch down next to Mrs Jackson.
‘How are you feeling?’
She stares at me.
The daughter taps me on the shoulder. When I look up at her, she raises her eyebrows, smiles, and discretely tugs her ear lobe.
‘Oh. Yep,’ I say.


We unwrap Mrs Jackson on the ambulance. Beneath a full-length scarlet waterproof she has a purple fleece. Beneath the purple fleece she has a bear fur gilet. Beneath the bear fur gilet she has on an aquamarine paisley silk blouse, with a floral patterned thermal one piece and a banana yellow alpaca scarf.
‘I feel the cold,’ she says.
‘I can’t believe you're ninety eight,’ I tell her, struggling to find space to put on the ECG dots. ‘You’re a phenomenon.’
‘A what?’
‘A phenomenon.’
‘Oh. That’s good. I think.’


All her observations are so perfect you might doubt the equipment.
‘You’re healthier than me,’ I tell her.
‘Oh. I doubt that very much. But I’ve always been pretty good.’
No medication, an episode of cancer a decade ago that resolved without further complication, nothing else to declare.
She does not want to go to hospital.
‘I just want to go home and have a nice cup of tea,’ she says. ‘Karen will look after me. Won’t you dear?’
‘I think I can manage that.’
Mrs Jackson looks around her.
‘This is all so exciting,’ she says. ‘I think you do a wonderful job. Of course, many years ago I used to drive these things. During the blitz. A dreadful time. We didn’t do half what you do now, though. It was a very different kettle of fish. All we could really do was dust the poor people down – there was a lot of dust then, you know – give them a thoroughly good dusting, and then drive them off to the hospital.’


Silje said...

What a wonderful 98-year-old!

TMann said...

Nice post! It makes you wonder where the spirit that the old folk have has disappeared to. I suppose they were just brought up in an age of self-reliance and stoicism. I liked the ending about having been an ambulance driver in the war. Such modesty, yet she probably saw some terrible things.
Keep up the good work!

Gerry said...

One of your best, Spence. 'Course you had superior material to work with, too, eh? What a great lady.

Spence Kennedy said...

Silje - She certainly was one of the most remarkable elderly person I've met so far! An incredible constitution, and so bright and positive.

TMann - She lived through an incredibly difficult time. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like, living and working in London (around Paddington) during the war. She must have been a particularly inspiring and formidable person in her youth!

Gerry - She absolutely just 'wrote herself'. In fact, I don't think I came anywhere close to capturing her quirky outfit and her bright personality. Amazing!

Thanks for your comments!

lulu's missives said...

Hi S,
What a fantastic older lady! My mum was a child during the war and has horrible memories of the blitz.
Beautiful descriptive, again.
xx jo

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Jo

For example, where I used to live in North London, there was a big memorial in Abney Park Cemetery to a hundred and something people who died when a massive bomb fell on the High Street and a bus ended up in it...

Unimaginable devastation. And the constant threat of that for years. No matter how tough things get, at least we're not at war!

xx <:3)~

uphilldowndale said...

Gold dust

lulu's missives said...

Hi Spence,
I find it quite amazing that so much of 'old' London survived that particular war.
So how long were you living in Stokie? My brother loves that part of the world. It is so full of character, not too mass produced, if you know what I mean.
xx jo

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks UHDD! It's like I said earlier, though - I can't really take any credit for the piece, as Mrs Jackson was such a strong character to write about (and gave me such a quotable story about her war experiences). :) x

Jo - About 10 years in North London, around and about Stoke Newington, Finsbury Park, Manor House...

I really miss Clissold Park. x

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I love these patients. They make the crap jobs worthwhile.

Dulwich Divorcee said...


Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, DD!