I sat on the bench outside WH Smiths in Hammersmith to drink the warm bottle of diet coke that I had just bought from the store. “Sorry the fridge isn’t working,” said the lady at the check out. She seemed genuinely sorry for the refrigerator malfunction. I didn’t really mind. It was going to get warm in my stomach in any case. I just needed the liquid and the caffeine hit. I was feeling pretty tired. There have been a lot of late nights and early mornings recently – mainly to do with work – and I’m still not over the weekend where I had to drive to Oxford for a gig at 3am on Saturday, then up to Kendal for a gig in the evening and then back to Nottingham for a Sunday performance and then back home.
It was about 9.30am and I’d been up for two hours already. This was not like me.
I had just done a supermarket shop and put my bags on the bench beside me and sipped my room temperature beverage. I saw an old couple shuffling very slowly towards the bench. They were a man and a woman, probably in their eighties, using sticks to get about, but nattering sweetly to each other. They had an air of familiarity and affection that suggested they had been together for many years and were now assisting each other through their various physical deficiencies. I moved my bags on to the floor. “Don’t worry,” chirped the sweet natured old man, “Only one sitting down. Only room for one required.” He was a happy old man. I hope I get to be one of those. He was infirm and it became apparent, only partially sighted, but he was enjoying his life. I hate the grumpy old men. I like the happy ones.
The man was popping into Smiths to buy a paper while his wife had a rest on the bench. She had the money though and got her change out of her pocket and they tried to count out the necessary two or three coins to buy their tabloid. The man couldn’t really see the coins properly and the woman wasn’t holding on to them too well. A couple of coins fell on to the floor.
I didn’t hesitate to come to their aid, realising that neither of them were in any fit state to get down on their hands and knees. I could not have bothered, or if I had been inclined could just have run off with the pound I’d picked up, but that would not have made such a sweet blog entry. So you kept me honest. You’re like a kind of omnipresent judgemental force of nerds keeping me on the straight and narrow. A lot more effective than the whole God idea. Because you definitely exist. Though do I have proof of that? Maybe you don’t and I’m doing this for no one.
I sat back down again, with the happy thanks of the oldies ringing in my ear. They joked about their clumsiness and the man told me about his eyes, but with humour and no desire for pity.
Another coin fell to the floor. A less saintly person that me might have shouted, “Oh for fuck’s sake” and maybe punched the old woman in the face in an attempt to teach her to be less foolish. But I was down to recover the copper and put it back in the lady’s hand. I was going to try and help them count out the right money, but they looked like they wanted to do this themselves.
And sure enough after a couple of minutes the man had his money and shuffled towards the shop to pick up his paper – a paper that I presume his wife would have to read to him. I looked at his bent back and his bandy legs and I wondered how many years I had before I was similarly stricken down by age. Every simple task is like a Marathon for our old folk. I felt sad and happy at the same time. He was so chirpy that it was impossible to feel too sorry for him.
He got there eventually and got to the front of the queue and bought his red top. He cheerfully chatted with the woman at the till for a couple of minutes. A queue was building up behind him as he bantered cheerfully, passing the time of day. “There are people behind you,” his missus shouted beside me, but he couldn’t hear. “Hurry up, silly,” she again shouted playfully, clearly loving the foolish and happy old man that she had been lucky enough to end up (now almost literally) hitched to. He bid the woman at Smiths goodbye and came back to the bench. I was getting up to leave. “The people behind you must have been getting cross. You were holding them up,” chirruped the wife. He just smiled.
It was genuinely lovely. Probably won’t make the papers or the news.
I walked off with my functioning, though tired legs, considering what the rest of their day might involve and how long it might take for them to do whatever they were going to do.
I knew, whatever it was, that they would enjoy it.