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101 years of wisdom

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

The day I met 101 year old Alison was joyous beyond belief. Life had not been the kindest to her; the love of her life taken 30 years earlier, no children to call her own. As a younger woman she had volunteered in the Scout movement and her 'boys' as she called them kept in contact long after they had grown. She really was like a benevolent grannie to everyone. I went along to meet her on behalf of my old radio station and talk about the 70 year anniversary of the NHS. I specifically sorted out an interview with someone who knew life before and after the NHS. Alison was my person and she was the first of two centenarians I met in 2018. More about that later. I was immediately struck by her joyous 'can do' attitude. She asked me many questions about radio, flying, the equipment, my life and used her memoirs sparingly, preferring to remain in the here and now. It was me who dragged her back to those blitz memories. Even life before the NHS seemed to tick along nicely in her mind and her time in the Bank of England back in the war days was told in the manner of a Disney movie. She had a wonderful way of giggling after she told you something about her life then she would reflect on how lucky she had been.


Alison left us in the penultimate month of 2019. I attended her funeral in January 2020. The crematorium was packed upstairs and down. Even standing room at the back was full. The vicar made reference to how astonishing it was that a 102 year old could pack out a ceremony when clearly her peers had all long gone. It wasn't astonishing for me. Once met, never forgotten. In lots of ways I am grateful she didn't have this awful two years that we have had. Alison loved company and company was one thing that was denied us in 2020.

It was just after I had met Alison that I was introduced to 100 year old bell ringing Dennis. I climbed the belfry struggling for breath as he shot up ahead of me showing me the big bell and then telling me about his life of bell ringing. Dennis like Alison was full of gratitude and life was just gorgeous to him. Bell ringing was his passion.




At the start of the first lockdown I was reading 'A hundred years of wisdom' by Alice Herz Sommer a holocaust survivor. I was struck by the similarity in focus. Every day to Alice was a bonus and she had a houseful of visitors yet her story was harrowing. Something about reading that book in such uncertain times was reassuring and soothing. As we emerged out of our first lockdown, Apfelstrudel cake made, church steeples painted in oils and the wisdom of Alice taken wholeheartedly onboard, I realised that life would be very different from now on. It had taken a earthquake on a Richter scale of 10 to wake many up, some were still sleepwalking but I think if you are a alive long enough on this earth you get to see that everything is not as it may seem and the knowledge of that acts as a balm to the hysteria which surrounds us. As Captain Tom said (lest we forget another Centenarian) 'Tomorrow will be a good day'.



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