‘You don’t see a pipe much these days’ he said in his soft Lancashire burr. ‘I had one when I was demobbed, smoked St Bruno flake’. I stopped filling my pipe and looked at the smiling old man addressing me.
He said he’d lost his wife Edna 2 years ago and how he’d sold his house in Rochdale and now lived in a caravan near Blackpool, but that he couldn’t live there all year round and had to spend 6 weeks of the year living in the hotel we were sat in.
86 he was and he talked about the business he’d set up in the 60s with his business partners tuning cars on rolling roads, long before the advent of on board in car diagnostic computers. How rally teams used to drive down over night from Scotland in convoy to use their services, arriving in the early morning light.
He talked lovingly about how he and Edna had travelled on the Orient Express to Venice and how they’d fallen in love with Venice, how he’d looked at property there, but couldn’t afford any.
He talked about how he’d almost moved the business to Canada, but how the ill health of one of his partners had made that a non starter. How his life might have been different if he had. He certainly wouldn’t have been sat in a hotel in Blackpool on a cold and windy February day.
He explained how his father had sworn him to temperance when he was young and that he’d never drunk alcohol since except for unknowingly once, on VJ day, when someone spiked his drink. He’d served in Simla in Northern India during World War II.
He loved train journeys and talked about his plans for going up to Scotland in the summer with a female friend that he had. We talked at length, or rather I listened. He clearly wanted to talk.
I suspect that his life was far from perfect and that he missed the life that he once had, but in a strange way I admired him. He’d lost someone that he was devoted to, quite clearly he was a bit lonely, but he’d made a life for himself, maybe a life less complete than he’d hoped for, but a life nonetheless.
I leave my home this week, prompted by circumstances beyond my control to embark on a life much different than the one I once envisaged, but I draw inspiration from the old man who smiled and shared his life with me that day.