Uncle Billy – 98 this year!

It wouldn’t be right if my first blog of the year wasn’t about Uncle Billy, who amazingly turns 98 this year! A lot has happened with Uncle B since my last post about him, but it’s all been good. I suppose I should start with the most recent events in his life and work backwards, to make it easier for me to remember! I was sat at Uncle B’s yesterday whilst writing this blog, and he hadn’t long been awake. We were waiting for some repairmen to come and make good some things around his home. It was sardines for breakfast with a couple of slices of bread and a large cup of tea, for Billy, not me. It was all a bit too fishy for me in the morning, but I’m learning more and more as to what keeps him going strong since 1913…

Last week, I collected the medical results from his GP, as a result of a routine check-up for someone of his age. Well, someone usually about 67-years, not 97! Everything came back fine – he’s 98 this year and everything about him is ticking along nicely. He’s young in mind and body. My friends and I are some 60 years plus younger than Uncle B, yet we’re falling apart. Modern times, I blame. Uncle Billy and I were talking a while ago, about what actually keeps him going. He told me the trick is keeping active, not giving up. Taking the stairs instead of the lifts and so on. But, there is one special ingredient he added… ‘Cod Liver Oil’. Yes, it is Cod Liver which has kept Uncle B strong all these years. The thought of it, makes me feel sick. Totally, a different generation!

I too continue to get an insight into Uncle Billy’s life, when he first came to Britain as a young man. It’s inspirational all the stuff he has gone through and done, yet he still has a positive outlook on life. It’s as if he’s not been scarred in anyway, with the negative things that have happened in his life, good and bad. He told me how he once went to the London Carnival in his 90s, and writing this sounds mad… It was here that a gang of young lads tried to intimidate him, an elderly man. He didn’t allow them to as he thought they would see a weakness, so one of the lads hit him and he fell to the floor. My family or I didn’t know about this. Uncle Billy is a very proud man and doesn’t like to bother people. This is why he has now told me, some 7-years after the event.

Uncle B talked again about his time working in the North of England when he arrived in the UK, before his move to London. In particularly, how he worked in Wigan, Lancashire. He recalls how racist some people were to him and other black people, at the time. It’s strange, he’s telling me of racism in Wigan some 60-years ago in the 1950s and only 10-years ago in the naughties, I had experienced it myself, when I coincidentally happened to work in Wigan. Time may pass, but somethings don’t change, especially some people’s views.

Uncle Billy says that one man in Wigan hit him in the back of the head for being black and this too made him fall to the floor. But he isn’t bitter, as he tells me with a smile on his face. This is because, Uncle Billy says the man was a coward. I ask why? Uncle B says because he would have had more respect for him, if he had hit him from the front. A coward sneaks up behind you and then strikes! This made sense. There was nothing fair about this man’s actions. Uncle Billy also reminds me of the horrid words he and others were called during the influx of migration. He tells me not of the local racist man or woman, but of the police. I’d never heard this before, but in the ‘old days’ a black man was called a Sambo by the police. This is how they referred to people of colour. Even now, it still shocks me.

I could listen to Billy forever, hearing his life stories, which are rich. He’s a wise man who has lived nearly a century, but has a sense of humour too. I very much look forward to a couple of years time, to see his face when he receives a 100th birthday card off The Queen. Even when we go out and about, he says ‘hello’ to everyone and many in his neighbourhood, white, black, young and old recognise him and say hello back. What a life he has had and continues to have. To this day, he still tells me I’m my mum’s baby (which I am), even though I’m now much taller than him and definitely put on a few pounds since I was younger!

It’s also good to hear things about my mum’s life, when she was younger, which I didn’t know. It’s not all about the past with Uncle Billy though, as his ways continue to make me laugh. It was only a few weeks ago that Alex and I popped over to see him. We went the shops together. On the way home, Uncle B headed towards a tree on the main road. I think Alex thought he was going to hug it! He only starts to have a wee. Alex and I didn’t know where to put our faces and we definitely couldn’t have stopped him, even if we wanted to. Later, he tells Alex and I… ‘at my age, you’ve got to go, when you’ve go to go!’ This is true. Everything he does, he does for a reason. Like a thought-through operation. The three of us laughed for some time.

I wrote last time that Uncle Billy is considering moving home, nothing to do with his age, he just feels like a change. A change at 98! Because of his age, Social Services have to carry out a yearly review, to make sure everything is good for him and he doesn’t need any additional support. They sent me a book to show Uncle B – it was about sheltered accommodation. Something ‘they’ thought he might want to consider. I went through some places with Billy and his conclusion to me was… ‘why would I want to live with old people?’ He’s 97 and doesn’t want to live with people in their 60s, 70s or 80s who might get him down and make ‘him’ feel old. He’s a legend.

Finally, the incident with the hospital I wrote about last time – were they failed to look after him properly during an audio department day visit. I addressed the matter directly with the NHS Trust Chairman. He is a good example of a leader and led from the front, dealing personally with the issues highlighted. This is to ensure no other patients, young or old, are given the care expected of such an important institution. This has been, yet another insightful period with Uncle Billy, oh and the repairmen arrived. I was worried that if they didn’t turn up, Uncle B was likely to have fixed things himself and bill them! Take care, Max x


© 2011 Kevin Maxwell Film, Media & Performance – Published by My Mum