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No, not the dentist's appointment I just had, but the waiting for the bus on the way home and the elderly gentleman I met.
So, there I am waiting for the bus. Old codger propping himself up on the Spar supermarket front. I confront him: "So I assume you are waiting for the bus to ********, has it gone yet?"
He eyes me up. Checking me out. Looks me up and down.
**** me it was a simple question.
We got talking, hit it off. We worked out the next bus would be half hour away, and he wasn't too comfortable standing up in the cold and wet, so we crossed the road to the pub for a sit down and a half of bitter.
When I approached him, he looked just like another old nobody. Another one who did nothing with his life. Another no mark. Just step over them, as you go, as you do...
Turns out, he used to fly some of the first jets ever made. Vampires specifically, and even trained others in the dual seat version.
I believe him. For one, he's a bit too old to be walting around at the ripe old age of 94! And if he was a walt, he would have claimed that he flew the ones that were used on the aircraft carriers.
He looked pretty good for 94. He had a lot of trouble walking and it took ages to get to the pub across the road. The cars would not stop. We had to walk ages to get to the zebra crossing, then walk back down. Sheer frustration, and a taste of what it must be like to be old. I was more put out than he was. He took it in his stride.
He bought me a half. He even had one himself. We got nattering. Absolutely fascinating. He described his job as 'Her Majesty's taxi service', and told me he could reach any point in the UK in under 20 minutes. This is over half a century ago.
He told me about life in the service. Fitness exams. Perks for staying fit (so they kept super fit). He was just flying it off (forgive me) and I just lapped it up. He also drank his half quicker than me whilst doing all the talking. Some feat.
94 years old mind you!
For some reason I mentioned that my brother was dying from cancer (might have been trying to make him feel better about dying of old age), and he did that pause again, that 'check out' kind of thing. Canny lad. He said, a few seconds later after measuring me up: "Aye, I just came back from the doc's for another checkup for my prostate cancer - the injections they gave me worked really well, but they stopped working now, and I'll be damned if they put me under the knife again."
We talked a lot about St. Athan. About the airshow. He had many memories from there.
On the way to the pub (100 yards away) I made the mistake of trying to help him across the road by taking his arm. He nearly beat me to death with his walking stick. He told me in no uncertain tone that he did not need my help.
Having said that, on our way back out of the pub, the old ****** nearly ended up tripping on the step outside the pub and breaking his neck. He regained his balance pretty quickly - years of training I should imagine - he righted himself, and there we were, waiting once more for the bus.
His wife died a few years back and he still holds her in dear memory. He has two sons, one who has just started getting his pension! A farmer, around Hereford area (Welsh borders anyway) getting bled dry by the supermarkets and going broke having to test his cattle for TB.
He told me about when he left active service, he went into intelligence. Apparently the pilots of the time were given options for desk jobs. But there weren't always that many to fill. He himself was happy to do it and he did it for 4 years after stopping flying and training. I got quite a shock when he told me that he worked out the best places to drop atomic bombs on the enemy. We had a good long discussion about that one. The red menace.
Talking of the red menace. When we got off the bus, he had his mobility scooter waiting ready to go. And as soon as I could say: "My name is ****, call me anytime if there is anything you want", the ****** was half way up the road without so much as a by-your-leave. Cloud of smoke. Whoosh. Gone!
Sounds like he is happy where he is. He's in an old people's home that is very nice. They let you have your own furniture. He's from this town, born and bred. He left home, flew the world, fought in the war, his family own farms here too. But still he is happy with his 'old people's home'. He has his two sons who are knocking on a bit now. I don't think he is totally abandoned. He's got protection. He's cracking on with the old prostate cancer, even managing the odd half or two.
What a chap.
He really loved what he did. We talked about modern fighter jets and he knew his onions. We talked about drones and he named some places that I think are 'off the map' about where they operate from, at least I had never heard of them. He knew all about it though. None of this was new to him.
94, and still totally compos mentis and on the ball.
I'd really like to do something for this old fella while he's still in the land of the living. But maybe it's not my place. Maybe he wouldn't want that. But there was a light in his eyes that lit up when he told me about his first target practice... about how he had his first air rifle at the young age of 8, and he just progressed from there really.
I doubt he would have many peers left now. But he's open and amiable. He's still got his wits about him. I think he has already come to terms with things.
Yet, still, he has that spark of life, and he is happy to share, strong enough to trust.
Today I was truly humbled.
(sorry, dug this thread up as I didn't want to start a new one, and it had 'vampire' in the search results, so...)
For anyone that doesn't know the de havilland Vampire: