Well almost. I parked the car on our street yesterday and was just unloading the shopping from the boot, when a little old lady pulling a tartan shopping bag on wheels stopped and said something about how there were too many cars on our road now. She was short and stout and wearing a smart black fur jacket over a red cardigan and a black and white scarf over her hair, tied under her chin.
I paused, she kept talking about her dog. ‘We used to take her for a walk, four times a day, down our street, round the block and back, then Wimbledon Common at the weekends. But she didn’t walk on the pavement, oh no, out in the middle of the road, head up, if there was a car coming, it just had to wait. Nobody minded. Off she’d go to the newsagent and carry the newspaper back in her mouth – down the middle of the road. She’d go to the chemist to be weighed and he’d give her a barley sugar. Then back home. She’d dance for the children and beg. Her name was Sue.’
Sue used to bark goodbye to the bus, when her sisters came to visit from Croydon: ‘Bark, bark.’ One day the bus conductor and the driver both got off the bus to admire the cleverness of the dog. ”What did that dog just say?” asked the conductor. And none of the passengers minded, no-one said ‘hurry up, lets go.’ They were looking out the windows at the dog’. That was in the forties. She died in the sixties.’ Quite a life for a dog.
I asked her if she’d lived here all her life – yes, she was born in the Nelson Hospital. ‘You must have seen a lot of changes,’ I said.
‘Oh yes, and not for the better. There used to be an army camp, where the gym is now. One day, they were sounding the ‘all clear’ and everyone was out in their gardens, but there was another plane coming over, so low we could see the pilot and he waved at us. He was just a young man, like ours, didn’t want to be fighting. We’d come out of our Anderson shelter but there was still a plane up there.’
She kept talking, about her sister who had raised money for the soldiers. She still has the letter written to say thank-you – the soldiers had bought themselves beer and cigarettes.
So much history, so easy to lose it all. Maybe I should have introduced myself. Maybe I could have gone round for tea. Instead, I picked up my bags, she started walking. I wanted a camera and a microphone, but these words from memory are all I can do. Respect to you, old lady. Many blessings in your last years. May you have time to talk and people to listen, may there still be good days with old friends, may you come, at last, to a happy ending. Amen.