After working in The Citizens Advice Bureau for a few years I really should have learned to be less judgmental. Even on a Monday morning after New Year’s Eve we sat and listened carefully to the procession of the usual local suspects who had lost their wallets, “honest we have honest, we didn’t piss our money up against a wall on New Years Eve” But no, we as advisers sat there and listened intently and somehow managed to hide our ‘yeh of course you did’ face. We filled in forms for people who were perfectly capable of filling in their own forms and we made phone calls to bailiffs to set up payment plans which we knew would never be maintained beyond week one. All that is just part of an adviser’s job because amongst the tall tales and downright lies, we witnessed the tired faces of the disenfranchised, disregarded and downright forgotten in society. In an ever-tightening girdle of legal aid cuts and welfare support withdrawal we were the last line of help for many people. I used to a have client, a lovely elderly man in his late eighties, who didn’t really need our professional help; he admitted in one appointment that I was the first person he’d spoken to for longer than ten minutes that month. THAT MONTH. So whenever I saw his name on the board I knew he just wanted a natter and to tell me about his late wife and recently deceased son. There had been times I was brought to tears in those little interview rooms; not always by those who were facing injustice and frustration at the hands of an incompetent Government department but more so by the small, ordinary voices of people trickling out their lonely desperation and regrets at allowing their lives to get to this state.
Don’t think I’m a bleeding heart softie for one second because I’m not. I know that some older people think they demand respect simply for being alive on the planet longer than me. I know for a fact that some old people are alone with no family or friends around them because they were nasty bastards in their younger years. I don’t mean the usual family squabbles which begins with, “Our Mam promised me that coffee maker you witch” and ends with full police attendance and a night in the cells for everyone concerned but not before the final volley is sounded from the back of a police van, “Who do you think you are to call my lad a druggie you sour faced meddling smack-rat, well if you think you’re getting an invite to our Chelle’s bairn’s christening you can just think on” ** No I am not talking about the everyday lives of folk who live too close to each other, instead I’m referring to criminally insane arseholes that should have been sectioned in a secure unit indefinitely. I think we may have had one or two of those in our family and possibly still do.
One of the few remaining shreds of self-restraint snapped on one cold winter morning whilst getting the bus into work; a bunch of shrivelled old coffin dodgers were complaining bitterly to anyone who had the misfortune to over hear them that they “didn’t fight in two world wars to have to stand in the cold for fifteen minutes waiting for a bus”. My response to this bunch of whining old farts was, “Given you’re all about sixty five years old I doubt very much unless you have a T.A.R.D.I.S* that any of you fought in anything other than a jumble sale and if this is the worst thing to happen to you this week then you’re fucking lucky’ ***
They grumbled something about disrespect and continued muttering about the state of the UK, youngsters (I was 43 at the time) and the shocking bus service in our area. All the while clutching their FREE bus transport passes in their gnarly grasping little hands. These are the old people of the future who will then go on to complain that no one ever wants to talk to them! I have met some genuinely exceptional people, whose life stories are far more engaging than most books I’ve read, these are the people without an ounce of self-pity and often fall between the cracks of support in our communities, these are the quiet clients I had who just need to feel the warmth of a hand on theirs and a kind word for more than ten minutes. A lovely person (my husband) once told me that respect is earned and the bus-stop whiners earned none from me that day.
Someone who has earned a lot of respect from me is my husband John. Three weeks ago he retired after twenty years of running his own business and before that, twenty years plus of a life at sea as an engineer, before that he tried working down a coal mine for a while until he realised life in a sunless stinking hole was not for him, before that he was a sex object who was groped mercilessly by bored housewives whilst working as serving staff in a social club. No, he was really, it wasn’t uncommon for the women whose husbands worked shifts to pop their phone numbers in his apron pocket with the times their other half would be out. I think his exact words on that matter were, “my balls were black and blue by the end of a shift”. Before that he worked a paper round and even before that he and his friends made money by stealing old railway sleepers and used his Dad’s old saw, hacked the sleepers into pieces and sold them as kindling on street corners. It can never be said that my husband hasn’t earned this retirement.
For those who read my keyboard-diarrhea outpourings, you’ll know that running his own business was neither an easy nor a smooth journey. John’s retirement has been a long time coming and I am not ashamed to say that there were some days I thought that the hours, the stress and the travelling would kill him. So what’s next?
I know what is not next. I came face to face with an alternative reality last week. We had returned from our annual hippy-fest at WOMAD, full of love, music and cider. We came crashing back to suburban hell when we had to leave our after-glow of teepee love and find me a pair of insoles for my hiking boots. Not a difficult task in the grand scheme of things. The big problem is Beige World, or Outdoor World Shopping Outlet as it’s known officially. To me it is Beige World. Everyone in there is grey skinned and lifeless (which is ironic when the shop sells extreme adventuring kit) they drive beige cars, wear beige slacks, have beige socks under their beige sandals and sit in the little coffee shop drinking beige coffee eating beige cake with blank expressions of beigeness. Yes yes I know, some people are incredibly happy but just don’t show it, but these people walking around had a look of beige horror when they stopped at the checkout and fully comprehended that they had just spent two hours of their lives deliberating over two pairs of beige socks and they did not exhibit happiness on any level. I could be completely and utterly wrong; at weekends these beige people could be proper little ravers who engage in rampant partner swapping parties and drink bat’s blood every Sunday.
I just know that having stared our possible future in the face we are going to fight beige with every last breath in our bodies wherever that takes us, who can say? We’re going to have a lot of fun finding out, probably piss off a few people along the way and yes I promise to work on being less judgmental.
* It’s a fictional time machine. Google it, please do because then the wonderful world of Dr Who will flood into your life
** I was there man, it was hell.
*** This has become a little bit of a mantra of mine. Some call it first world problems, I call it get a fucking grip.