I’ve been here over five years now. I asked the community staff the exact length of time the other day, because I felt like I wanted to celebrate. This place has felt more like home than anywhere ever before, because, despite the fact that I am a self-confessed grumpy old man, everyone here treats me with kindness and respect.
Things first went a bit pear-shaped for me after my wife died. I met her late in life. I was 43 when we married, and we were together for 11 years. I fell apart when she went. I stopped going to work, stopped paying the bills, and soon lost my home. I was staying in a Winchester night shelter when I met a guy who used to spend his winters in Emmaus and his summers picking fruit – things were a bit more casual back then – and a friend and I decided to join him when he headed to Bristol.
I worked there and at Gloucestershire as a driver and driver’s mate. Then when I got here to Hampshire I did the PAT testing and kitchen porter duties dealing with the food prep and the dishes and all that stuff for the community meals. Now though, I don’t do anything. I’m not allowed. I’m officially retired, and also officially a health and safety hazard, so everyone jokes, so I keep out of harm’s way and just enjoy sitting out in the garden or up in my room.
That’s because, in the last year, I have had quite a few strokes and funny turns. Early on in my life I did a lot of work in electro-plating and some pretty nasty jobs in farming. There was no protective gear, I worked with pesticides, fungicides, cyanide, you name it. I’ve also always had a fondness for drink and at some stages the drugs too. Not very clever, but it was my own choice.
So they’ve all had a bit of an unfortunate effect on me. I’ve got rotten kidneys, and poor circulation and however hard I try I can’t keep the weight on. I’ve cut down my drinking a lot, though I’m still struggling to give up completely. I’ve been a drinker all my life and my ideal would still be to die in the pub, with a pint in my hand.
But in the meantime I’ve got a few things I want to do. I’m trying to get in touch with my older brother at the moment. I don’t want to lay anything heavy on him, or even necessarily meet him. I just want to know that he’s alright and that he and his family are doing well.
I’m also looking to take up a new hobby. Since the stroke, my right hand has been getting weaker. Well, I remembered the other day the way my mum used to knit, her metal needles click-clacking like fury. I don’t think I’ll manage knitting but I did think I’d have a go at crochet or a bit of sewing just to try and keep my fingers nimble. What a sight, me in the corner, darning shirts! But if I can do my bit for a community that’s given me so much, then I’m willing to give it a shot.