Yesterday afternoon, I took my uncle Billy born 1917 to the ear hospital to get his new hearing aids checked. Well, he took me really! It was yet another opportunity for me to see what a day in his life was like. What a day and insight into his amazing life it turned out to be…
The day started with me arriving at his home, 1/2 an hour later than I said I would be there, but an hour before his hospital appointment. Having all his faculties in tact, he made it clear to me that half an hour late was not good. He still holds punctuality close to his heart. I had been told! I ordered a taxi, as I thought London buses would be too much for him. My second mistake! When he realised we were getting a cab, he reminded me that public transport was very good and got him to places just as easy as a taxi would of. Hmmm, this was my second lesson for the day!
We set off in the taxi and got to the end of Uncle Billy’s road. Now, I didn’t know this, but the taxi ordinarily would have turned right at the junction heading towards the hospital. The driver however had already told me there were roadworks, so we couldn’t go that way. The driver went left (the only way he could) and Uncle Billy noticed instantly, asking me what the driver was doing. Uncle Billy even at 93 was sharp. The driver was impressed and we all laughed.
We got to the hospital and I was about to pay the fare. Uncle Billy stopped me and paid the driver, he even gave him a tip. He is such a proud man and even at 93, he still feels it’s his duty to look after anyone younger than him. That’s probably most of the nation. He wouldn’t however let anyone take advantage of him, which gives me peace of mind. We got inside the hospital and I headed to the lifts. “Nope” he said, we take the stairs to the first floor. Take the stairs I thought to myself, you’re 93. We took the stairs, with me keeping a careful eye on him. I pretended I wasn’t looking at him, so he wouldn’t tell me off further. His independence is important to him.
Unfortunately when we got to the audiology department we established all appointments had been cancelled due to a electrical fault with the equipment. I was thinking, they could have at least called him. I then realised his hearing isn’t the best, so he might not have understood anyway. The hospital didn’t know I was coming with him, so they didn’t call me. We rescheduled an appointment for him and left. When we got outside, I suggested to Uncle Billy that we go and have a cup of tea at the outside hospital cafe. He told me he knew of another cafe nearby and took me. Uncle Billy at 93 took me to ‘Starbucks’, how cool is he? We had coffee, sandwiches and some ginger crunch biscuits, it was great. This naturally was my treat. The best of it was the stories he told me of his 93 years of life.
As we were walking into Starbucks, there was a young lad pushing a child in a pram in company with a girl. Uncle Billy stopped in front of the lad and said to me “look at that”, the lad overhearing. The lad had his trousers hanging down, showing his underwear, the fashion of today! Billy didn’t like it, he thought it was disrespectful showing your underwear in public and told the lad. The lad said something and walked off with the girl, I grinned with a touch of embarrassment. The lad wasn’t going to say anything to Uncle Billy whilst I was there. During our coffee, I told Uncle Billy how well he looked for 93. He said people didn’t believe how old he was! We laughed and he told me stories about my mum when she was younger and my brothers and sisters when they were young. My mum herself was born in 1936, but sadly died in 2004. She would have been 74 this year. Billy said the key to good age was drinking less alcohol now (he loved his brandy) and eating small portions!
After Starbucks, we headed to the local train station to go home. Uncle Billy was determined to show me the delights of London’s public transport! We got to the ticket gate and I swiped myself through with my Oyster travel card. I laugh now, but Uncle Billy didn’t have his free London travel pass on him. The ticket office staff member asked him for his card, which proves his age. It was apparent that the staff member then realised what he had just asked Uncle Billy and opened the ticket gates. I mean, Uncle Billy is 93 and may look younger to some, but not 30 years younger which is the age at which you get free travel!
On the way to the train station, Uncle Billy told me the secret of getting to 93 was looking after yourself. Nothing more, nothing less. Quite simple really. We passed a newsagent and I asked him did he want a newspaper. This is when my third lesson of the day came. Uncle Billy said “what do I want one of those for?” He went further to tell me that newspapers were full of rubbish these days and he didn’t need to read that sort of stuff or be influenced by it. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I only asked him did he want a newspaper as in the past he use to buy The Mirror, but as he told me, that was some time ago. Next time I’ll be more observant!
We got on the local overground train, which was a new coach and clean, well operated actually. Uncle Billy told me how he preferred this train over the tube as the staff were courteous and the train didn’t just drive off with people trapped between the doors like the tube did. He went further saying, the staff waited for everyone to get on board, before departing. We walked along Uncle Billy’s road and I thought to myself again… in all the years I’ve been coming to see him independently from the age of 16, I’ve not really stopped and thought about what an amazing life he has had. My mum use to take me previously. Even at 93, Uncle Billy speaks three languages.
Before we got to his front door, Uncle Billy told me what it was like first coming to Britain when he was a young man. He said he endured racism, but things are much different now. He spoke about how white men would gang up together and assault black men, many of them coming to the UK as sailors. Billy has a lot of respect for the police and loves London life. He went on to tell me how ‘half caste’ people (as it was known then) had the hardest time many years ago ,and especially white women in relationships with black men in Liverpool and London. My own mum is white and my dad black. I suppose I can’t imagine the struggles people faced in the 1950s, not just discrimination but what it was like after the war.
I truly had a life enriching day with Uncle Billy and look forward to the many more.
This has been another ‘View from the Bottom, Max x
© 2010 Kevin Maxwell Media & Performance – Published by My Mum