I don’t know why exactly, maybe it’s Olympic boredom, but my brain just took a trip back in time to the early years of when I moved into the same flat I live in now. That was in 1981 when I was young, strong and pretty, but not half the man I am now – though my life was (or seemed) more together and fulfilled then than it does now.
The flats I live in used to be owned by the church (given to them to provide housing for poor people by some wealthy philanthropist), and at the time the whole estate was full of old people and families. My flat had previously been inhabited by an old guy who had lived here for fifty or sixty years and died here, who apparently spent his last few lonely years sitting in the kitchen all day, listening to the radio and smoking capstan full strength cigarettes. I can’t prove the radio thing, but the toffee of nicotine that coated every window frame and every inch of paintwork certainly proved the strong tobacco thing. When I took up the old crumbling lino in the kitchen, I found newspapers dating from the queen’s coronation and the kitchen cupboards were still black with coal dust. That’s how long the old guy had been here.
Next door lived an old lady. I mean really old. I think she was Jewish, but I can’t be certain. Soon after myself and my wife of the time moved in next door to her, this old lady would occasionally ask me to help her with things. Nothing too strenuous. She would tell me her kitchen cupboard wouldn’t open and I would go over to find the latch needed a touch of oil, or maybe a little of the old paint chiselled away to stop the doors sticking together. I didn’t mind. Took moments and she clearly had no one else to help her out.
Another day she told me her TV wasn’t working. I went into her flat and it was like a trip to the 1950s, all flock wallpaper, heavy drapes and chiming clocks. Her TV was black and white and in a mahogany case. We’re talking valves and tubes and “hello, this is the BBC calling”. I had no idea what I could do to get it working again, but I changed the fuse in the plug and blow me if it didn’t spark up again. She was so pleased and grateful, it made me really happy. I felt like a bit of a hero, if I’m honest.
As the months went past, my wife (ex-wife thank God), started saying things like, oh no, it’s not that old cow again, if someone knocked at the door and then her sisters when visiting would say things like is that old bitch next door still pestering you? I used to say she’s just a lonely old lady and it’s no big deal, but they would act like she was taking liberties and I should tell her to get lost. I should have told them they were just heartless, thoughtless and hard-hearted, but then I wasn’t the man I am now, so I didn‘t. Boy would they get it now. Both barrels.
This old lady was like a sparrow, well under five stones or I‘m no judge. To get across our six-foot landing from her door to mine, she had to hold onto the wall and her spindly little legs could barely hold her up even then. I wish I had told my wife and her sisters what heartless shrews they all were, but I didn’t. I did the next best thing, though, and when the old girl needed a tiny bit of help, I was only too happy to give it, despite the coven of witches who sneered at me as though I was being taken in by some elderly con-woman.
How you can be so cold is beyond me. This was a tiny, frail old lady, who lived alone, had no visitors that I know of and no one to help her. Once, she was probably pretty, full of life, laughed and loved and cried, made jokes, worked hard, had friends and loved ones, and now she was alone with nothing but loneliness and fear, and yet people could not only dismiss her but blame her like it was her own fault. Well, I did my tiny little bit and was glad to, but I just wish I’d been the man I am now instead of the boy I was then, because I would have sat with that lady for hours, read to her, made her food and done my best to make her last year so much better than it was.
Yep, she was dead within a year of me and the missus moving in. God rest her soul.
As for my ex and her sisters, they deserve to lay awake at night. They won’t though, cause they don’t give a shit for anyone but themselves.
My mother in law was a German. Maybe coldness is in the blood.
I know that’s not fair and an outrageous stereotype, but then what is fair in this world?