Sometimes you are just going about your own business - when you meet somebody quite extraordinary.
It happened to me the other day, at the entrance to the Food Hall in
Marks and Spencers. I was in a hurry because I needed to do my shopping and catch the Pulse bus home in time to cook lunch for Mr B and myself before we headed off for the U3A monthly meeting (or kerfuffle - see yesterday's blog for more harrowing details.)
I had spent rather more time than expected collecting Certain Toys for the Twinkles' 1st birthdays which are, I concede, a good few weeks away but I wasn't prepared to wait until nearer the time only to discover that my Toys of Choice are out of stock. It
has happened to me before and, quite apart from my own feelings of bitter disappointment, I would have to run the gauntlet of Mr B's disapproval. "I told you to order them straightaway," he would say, "It's your own fault!" Knowing something is true does not
make it any more palatable, I find.
Have you ever purchased items from Argos? You order your goods, pay over the money, say you don't need to buy a plastic bag at 5p, thank you very much while brandishing
your Bag For Life from Tesco / Sainsbury's / Waitrose / the Co-op / Supermarket of Choice just to show how (i) well prepared; (ii) environmentally responsible; and / or (iii) stingy you are. Then you are given a receipt which shows you how many minutes you
will have to wait for your order to arrive via one of two large lifts and at which Collection Point your goods will arrive.
I like the system in principle but not so much in practice. On this particular occasion
there was just one fella manning both Collection Point A and Collection Point B, rendering the distinction somewhat redundant. Moreover my toys were delivered several minutes before the time I had been given but sat, enticingly and frustratingly, on the other
side of the counter until my number was called at the allotted time.
This all made me a little more stressed than usual when I presented myself in M & S's Food Hall. I made to grab a wire basket, only
to get tangled up with another shopper on a similar mission. She was clearly older than I am, so I stepped back and helped her with the topmost basket. I might have thought "Age before beauty" but then I noticed that, aged as she might be, my fellow shopper
had the most amazingly beautiful blue eyes. She thanked me, saying she was having a bad day and did I ever experience those? Doesn't everyone? I laughed - and we went our separate ways, me in search of sliced runner beans for Mr B, she I knew not where.
Ten minutes later we met again in the queue for the checkout. I had just swiftly unpacked my basket, arranging my shopping on the moving counter. Could you possibly do the same for me? a voice behind me asked. Of course
I could. I am not nearly so proficient at lining up shopping as Mr B who groups all the vegetables together, all the tins, all the packets - in the interest of more efficient packing he explains to anyone sufficiently interested to ask (no, you are correct,
nobody has so far. Funny, that...)
There were four people in the queue ahead of me, so we had plenty of time to get better acquainted. Here is what I learnt about her. She was ninety-seven but still did all
her own washing by hand. She did, however, she admitted as if to a secret vice, own a spin dryer. She came into town by bus (just like me) having given up driving several years ago. Would I believe, she asked me, that she had been driving since 1939 in the
days when cars (hers was a Morris 8) had a split windscreen and no indicators. There she stood in the checkout queue demonstrating the hand signals for turning left and right. I had to learn those for my driving test too, I told her, so we both made circling
actions with our arms to show we were turning left. What everyone else in the queue made of us I shudder to think.
She had never married, I heard, having lost
the Great Love of Her Life in the Second World War. No other man had matched up to her lost love. Nevertheless, she maintained stoutly, she had had a marvellously full life, travelled widely and learnt much. She didn't exactly say "and I've not finished yet!"
but that was the distinct impression she gave me. I told her, most sincerely, that I hoped I would be as lively as she was, if and when I reach the Great Age of 97.
We bade each other goodbye as if we were
old friends. I told her to "take care" and she said "You too!" When I left her she was telling the woman at the checkout that she would be perfectly happy to pay 5p for the plastic bag to hold her shopping. I guess when you are 97 a Bag for Life doesn't seem
like such, well, good value.
What an amazing chance encounter! What a truly splendid character! I feel enriched by her story.